The following morning, I joined Sir Edgar's guests gathering for breakfast, none of whom I had met before this trip. The conversation around the kedgeree and devilled kidneys centred on two topics. The first was last night's dinner, which had indeed been both very grand and quite delicious, made all the more impressive by the fact that it had been entirely prepared in a camp kitchen.
The second and more speculative topic was on the nature of the hunting trip we had been promised for this morning. Of course, many of us had been on hunts before; it was not a new experience for me, and I am sure it must be just part of the daily grind for Angus Macintosh. Nevertheless, Sir Edgar had promised us all a new and unique experience, described in excited but elliptical prose which left the party in a frenzy of speculation as to exactly what was to be revealed later today.
As we just completing our breakfast, Sir Edgar himself appeared at the door of the dining room. He appeared a little flushed, red-faced, beyond that expected of a white man exerting himself in the African heat.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he said without preamble, "I wish to present to you a grand innovation, an invention which will revolutionise the sport of game hunting. It represents a huge advance in the art of the kill, as you will soon see, and in the business of the exploitation of these endless and bountiful plains."
He paused, taking in the room with a sweep of his gaze.
"So, if you would join me at the steam cars, we will make our way onto the savanna."
With that, he turned and strode out of the room. Behind him, the buzz of puzzled and curious conversation swirled like a June swarm of bees.
Aside from my position as a society hostess, patron of the arts and supporter of numerous charities in East Africa, I have another and, of necessity, rather more secret role whose precise nature I perhaps need not fully describe in these pages. This gives me a certain access to reports and accounts not generally available to the public, and certainly well beyond the reach of even the most persistent newspapers.
These accounts at least hinted at a rather darker background for Sir Edgar, or at least presented a long list of unanswered questions. There was no apparent reason why he had chosen to leave the American colonies where, by all accounts, he had established some considerable business interests and later, why he had decided to abandon his carefully-developed position in London society for the relative backwaters of the African continent.
My cogitations on the mysteries of Sir Edgar's previous career in no way impeded me in making myself ready for the morning expedition. In less than twenty minutes, I made my way to the part of the compound where I expected to embark the cars, accompanied by the single manservant I deemed essential for such an endeavour. Furling my parasol, I allowed myself to be assisted into the second of the cars, dispatching my man to one of the rear cars with the rest of the staff.
In a hiss of steam and the huffing of steam engines labouring to accelerate heavily-laden vehicles, we set off. I had expected to settle myself for a long drive, but it was not fifteen minutes before the convoy rounded a low rise and snaked into a wide shallow valley which, I could immediately see, effectively hid anything within from casual observers out on the plains. The valley broadened ahead and I could make out several other steam-powered vehicles already drawn up in a neat line. I glanced down; the churned-up tracks on the ground clearly indicated that many cars had passed this way over a period of several months.
Beyond the stationary cars, I could see that some kind of vast pavilion had been thrown up, a rambling collection of canvas structures which seemed to surround a larger central marquee. There was some kind of engine-house, too, marked by a short chimney that would not be seen from afar and, unless it was not working at the present moment, seemed to be emitting an astonishingly small amount of smoke. Even more curiously, there was a second, taller, thinner tower, one made of riveted steel with some complex machinery at its summit, at a height which might just be visible over the rim of the valley.
Our cars drew up at what must be the main entrance to the strange structure and Sir Edgar leapt down from the lead vehicle. A score of servants hurried up and assisted us from the vehicles; my own trusted manservant silently appeared at my left elbow.
"Ladies and Gentlemen!" he said loudly, "I would now like to present to you the greatest advance in armaments since machine-calculated artillery targeting."
I was confused. I could see nothing here which spoke the language of guns and warfare, still less of new inventions in those areas. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by his announcement, and I could feel a certain frisson drawing the attention of those diverse skills I have acquired as part of my less-public, indeed rather secret role.
"So, please, follow me!" Sir Edgar boomed, then turned and marched towards the entrance.
We hurried to follow him into the darkened opening, where yet more uniformed servants held aside a series of heavy black curtains which would otherwise have impeded our progress. I might have expected that we would have emerged into complete darkness, but the circular arena which we entered was brightly lit and completely astounding in its appearance.