Read TW09 The Lilliput Legion NEW Online
Authors: Simon Hawke
The Lilliput Legion
Time Wars: Book Nine
by Simon Hawke
"Go on, ask him about the little people," said Pontack, grinning and nudging Addison in the side.
"The little people?" said Joseph Addison, taking a small pinch of snuff and then sneezing prodigiously into a Mechlin lace handkerchief. "You mean the leprechauns?"
"Leprechauns?" said Richard Steele, who together with Addison published
daily periodical of news, essays, philosophy and gossip that was very influential among the citizens of 18th century London. "What's this about leprechauns?"
Pontack, the proprietor of the fashionable French eating house that bore his name, shook his head and chuckled. 'No, not quite leprechauns, exactly," he said. "Something a bit more original than that, near as I can tell. Something even smaller, on the order of six inches."
"Six inches?" Steele said, frowning. "What, you don't mean six inches tall, surely?"
"The very thing," said Pontack, as he conducted them to a table in the back around which a small crowd had gathered. "Six inches tall. Or so the man insists. And he swears that every word of it is true. I thought perhaps it might make for an interesting story for your paper."
"And a bit of free advertisement for your own establishment, is that it?" Steele said, with a wink at Pontack as they pressed through the crowd, "Very well, we shall ask this adventurer of yours about his leprechauns."
"Not leprechauns," said Pontack. "Little people."
"L'il pipils," slurred a disheveled-looking man slumped over at the table.
"L'il pipils . . ."
His eyes were bloodshot and wild looking. His clothes were tattered and filthy and his hair stood out in all directions. His hands trembled.
"The poor man looks hopelessly demented," said Addison, with concern.
"The poor man looks hopelessly drunk," commented Steele, wryly.
"L'ilipipils . . ." the man stammered, having difficulty getting out the words.
boomed a stentorian voice behind Addison and Steele. They turned around. "That's what we shall call them, gentlemen, Lilliputians!"
“Swift," said Addison, rolling his eyes. “I might have known."
"Addison!" said Swift. "Pontack, you old poltroon, since when do you allow Whigs upon these premises?"
Addison turned to his friend and collaborator. "Richard, allow me to present Mr. Jonathan Swift, indefatigable champion of the Irish resistance, Tory politics, and any other lunacy that happens along. Oh, and he writes a bit, as well," he added, as an afterthought.
“ Steele!" said-Swift, as if it were an accusation. "I've read some of your essays.”
“And I’ve read some of yours," said Steele. "Quite amusing. Are we witnessing another in the making?"
"Perhaps, perhaps," said Swift, evasively, elbowing some people aside and resuming his place at the table beside the drunken man. Having made room for some more wine, he immediately started to fill up again. He had, apparently, a capacity far greater than his friend.
"Gentlemen," he said, "allow me to present Dr. Lemuel , Gulliver, late of the good ship
under Capt. William Prichard, which was tragically lost at sea while en route to the East Indies. Dr. Gulliver was the ship's surgeon and the only one to have survived the disastrous shipwreck somewhere in the waters off Van Diemen's Land."
He turned to Gulliver with an expansive gesture. "Dr. Gulliver, these two gentlemen are Messrs. Addison and Steele, late of that eminent journal of philosophical and political buffoonery,
and currently publishing
wherein one may find all manner of portentous nonsense concerning which nostril to stuff snuff in and the etiquette of breaking wind and whatnot. Perhaps you would care to repeat your fascinating tale for their benefit?"
Gulliver grunted and passed out, striking his forehead on the wooden table with a resounding thud.
“Brief, but effective," Steele said, wryly.
The people standing around the table laughed, all except for one young man who stood at the edge of the crowd. He was in his early twenties, tall and well built, light haired and fair complected. He looked like any other young London dandy, but there was something about him that was different. Just prior to the arrival of Addison and Steele, he had been listening intently to Dr. Gulliver pouring out his tale as Swift poured in the booze and continued to encourage him, occasionally adding editorial embellishments of his own.
It was difficult to separate fact from fancy when it came to the whimsical Swift, but it seemed that the satirist had encountered Dr. Gulliver in a pub somewhere not very far from Pontack's in Abchurch Lane, though one that attracted a considerably less-well-heeled clientele. Swift claimed to "hate and detest that animal called man," meaning he had little use for society as a whole, but he had an affection for the common individual, the ordinary working man, and he often frequented their watering holes, ever on the alert for inspiration. In Dr. Lemuel Gulliver, he had struck the mother lode.
"Dash it all, Swift, now look what you've done!" said Pontack, indicating the unconscious and thoroughly disreputable-looking Gulliver. "I simply cannot have this sort of thing in here!"
"Indeed?" Swift said. "My good Pontack, you have 'this sort of thing' in here all the time, only the patrons are generally better dressed and have bigger Purses which you considerately lighten for them while they're resting. Here, you may lighten mine a bit if it will improve your disposition."
Everyone laughed once more and Pontack pretended to be outrageously affronted.
"Now see here, Swift, that is most egregiously unfair—"
"Egregiously'?" Swift interrupted, raising his bushy eyebrows in mock astonishment.
He glanced at Addison and Steele. "He
been reading your modest little journal, hasn't he? Egregiously, my buttocks!"
This elicited another burst of laughter as Pontack sputtered and turned red in the face. Addison and Steele merely smiled at one another, thinking that the incident might indeed make for an amusing bit of reportage in their paper. And it would serve Pontack right for raising the prices on his claret. Only the dapper young man who stood at the edge of the crowd seemed unamused. His expression remained alert and somber.
"Say what you will, Swift," Pontack said, "but I cannot have this . . . this sort of person lying about senseless on my tables as if this were some seaman's tavern! You brought him, now you must get him out of here. Take him outside and let him sleep it off in an alleyway somewhere, where his sort belongs."
"His sort?" said Swift, with an edge in his voice. "This man is a surgeon, Pontack, a learned physician. 'His sort,' as you so disingenuously put it, keeps you and your establishment in business. Under other circumstances, you'd be fawning over him like the servile dog you are, because he represents the medical profession, yet because he is in tattered clothing and drunk to numb the pain of his ordeal, you so harshly and unfairly—yes, even to the point of being
a poor unfortunate survivor of a terrible shipwreck, who has gone through God only knows what manner of hardship. If it were not for me, you would throw this poor man into an alleyway like so much human refuse. Shame, Pontack! May you never find yourself in such a pitiable condition, lest you should encounter someone with as little heart as you."
"Hear, hear!" said someone in the crowd, and others joined in with similar supporting comments.
"He actually did that all in one breath, didn't he?" Steele said in an aside to Addision.
"Mmmm." Addison murmured. "You ought to hear him when he really gets his wind up."
"Oh, very well," Pontack said, relenting as he saw that the prevailing opinion stood against him. "But can't you at least prop him up and wipe his chin or something? Tidy him up a bit, can't you?"
"No, I shan't," said Swift. "Dr. Gulliver should not, even in his unfortunate condition, stay a moment longer where his presence is not wanted. We shall take our leave and dine elsewhere."
This elicited a storm of protest, though Swift showed no sign of leaving.
"Perhaps, sir, I could offer a small compromise," said the fair-haired young man, stepping forward. "Surely Dr. Gulliver would be more comfortable sleeping it off—uh, taking his ease in a coach rather than atop a hard wooden table or in a refuse-strewn alleyway. I would be pleased to let him rest a while in mine."
"You, sir, are a gentleman," said Swift, rising to his feet to shake the young man's hand. "May I have the honor of knowing your name?"
"Steiger," said the fair-haired young man. "Alexander Steiger, at your service, sir."
"Well, Mr. Steiger, it is a genuine pleasure to meet you, sir," said Swift. "Allow me to buy you drink?"
"Thank you, that would be most kind," said Steiger. "I will join you as soon as I have seen to the comfort of your friend. Perhaps one of these gentlemen would be so kind as to assist me?"
A man stepped forward and together they took the unconscious Gulliver and lifted him up, holding his arms across their shoulders. They took him outside, dragging him along to Steiger's coach. The driver jumped down and opened the door, then moved to help Steiger with Gulliver, laying him out upon the cushioned seat.
"Thank you for your assistance," Steiger said to the man who'd helped him.
"Please tell Mr. Swift that I will merely see to this man's comfort and then I will be back inside directly."
Steiger watched the man go back inside, then he turned to the driver and said, "Threadneedle Street, quickly." He got inside the coach and the driver whipped up the horses. The coachman drove quickly to Steiger's rooms in Threadneedle Street, and by the time they arrived, Dr. Gulliver had come around, though he was still groggy and hung-over.
"What. . . . where am I? Who are you?"
"A friend," said Steiger, helping him inside and up the stairs. "A friend who believes your story, Dr. Gulliver."
"You. . . . you
me?" Gulliver said, astonished.
"Yes," said Steiger, helping him into the bedroom and easing him down onto the bed. "Yes, I believe you. Here, lie down. Rest a moment."He went over to his desk, sat down and started writing quickly.
"Wh-- What are you doing?" Gulliver said.
"I'm making out a report," said Steiger, writing furiously. "A report?" said Gulliver, frowning.
"Never mind, I'll explain later. I want to make certain that I have all this written down, and then I'm going to read it back to you and I want you to tell me if I've got it all right. Are you sober enough to do that?"
"I . . ." Gulliver sat up in bed, felt suddenly dizzy, leaned back and closed his eyes. "I am not very sober, I'm afraid, but I think I can manage."
"Good." Steiger tossed a tiny snuffbox to Gulliver. It landed on the bed.
Gulliver picked it up.
"What's this? Snuff? No, thank you, I don't—"
"Just swallow two of them. It will make you feel better." Gulliver opened the box and glanced inside. "What. . . . what is it?"
"Aspirin," Steiger said, distractedly, concentrating on his writing. He was trying to recall every element of Gulliver's story and note it down in shorthand.
"Ass-prin?" said Gulliver, staring at the pills dubiously. "What. . . . I don't understand. What manner of—"
"Just swallow two of them, all right? Don't chew, just swallow them quickly. Trust me, it'll make you feel better. It's . . . it's an old family remedy. It's quite safe, I promise you."
"Safe?” Gulliver snorted. "No one is safe. Nothing and no one." He took two of the pills and swallowed them. He made a face. "Ugh. Bitter."
"You didn't chew them, did you? I told you not to chew them."
"Who are you? Are you an apothecary?"
"My name is Alexander Steiger," he said, still writing quickly in the precise characters of shorthand. "My friends call me Sandy."
Gulliver leaned back against the headboard and closed his eyes once more.
"Mine call me Lem. You are very kind, Sandy. I don't know why. Why should you believe me? Even
would never have believed it had I not seen it all with my own eyes. I would have thought anyone telling such a tale quite mad." He swallowed hard and brought his hands up to his face. "Ohh, my head is splitting. Sandy, tell me truthfully, do you think I'm mad?"
"No," said Sandy. "In fact, I'm certain that you are absolutely sane." He glanced up at Gulliver. "Whatever happens now, Lem," he said, emphatically, "you
promise me that you will not forget that. You are not insane. I have no doubt that you have seen some astonishing things that seem impossible to explain. You've been through a terrible ordeal. It took a great deal of courage to get through all that. You must hold on to that strength, resist the temptation to drown your memories in wine and keep telling yourself that you have
"How can you be so certain?" Gulliver said. "You have but my word!"