Preliminary Report on Some Mid-Victorian History
[This department has been scanning the archives still remaining at the offices of Chamber’s Magazine. Some of the files contain unused submissions for articles. Within the file from early 1849 there is one particularly bizarre and interesting submission, which is quoted here.]
It was more than half a century ago, before Her Britannic Majesty (on whom may there be many blessings) ascended to her Imperial throne, that I was privileged to be present during the time that a very frail man, ancient of years and from a distant land, haltingly spoke in the last moments of this earthly life, recounting, as much as he could, to us, certain ancient tales of his people. Though I was then still young and immature, I none the less took care soon to record in writing as many of his words as I could later recall. Some of his speech was, alas, indistinct, and furthermore I sincerely apologise to you, dear reader, for my own inevitable mis-understandings and imperfect remembrance. Here now I offer to you such of his words of which I still have record.
“We were a proud people, old on the Earth. We lived on good land, by the rich waters of the Cold Lake, and the flowing waters of the Great River. In later times men did not honour us, and we did not honour the Ancestral Spirits. Thus from us everything was taken. I am the last one of my people, and after me there are no more.
“Our fathers tell of a visitor – an alien – in the early days, before the coming of the men with iron and black powder, the pale men. The visitor, the alien, he too was pale. He was from the Spirit People – or so our people thought. He spoke much to us, but we could not hear him well. What he spoke was strange, in words we had never heard before. By some the memory was that he said to us “Kall Ah Kash”, and again “Vay Sall”, and sometimes “Kann Owwer”. Others say these were not the words he spoke, but rather “Proo Noh Tar” or “Bab Ort Tree Bord”. Still others say “Frast Av Nah” and “Fee Oh Vah”. After he left us, we thought long over these, but could not agree. But one of us remembered his final, secret words to us. He remembered them well. We have told these words over long time, father to son, uncle to nephew, down the generations.
“The last words he spoke to us were the first curse, and the first blessing. But which was curse and which was blessing, we knew not. On high times these words are still used, but not in open, not to the people. I am old. I am passing on. I have little time left here. To keep the memory going, I tell you them now. The Secret Words.
“The Spirit Marr Ee Coh said to us ‘Ah Zool’ and then ‘Juss Kah’. These are the words of power, high words. You must not utter them apart, but always – understand this – always together. But you, the men with iron and black powder, have found out – we do not know how – some of these words. Just some of them. You have tried to take them from us. You speak these words apart. We have heard – yes, often we have heard – that you call out ‘Ah Zool’, but never ‘Juss Kah’. Are you bringing the curse upon us?”
I tell you, dear reader, that the old man was so much moved through his own words, as we could well see by considering his change of countenance, and tearful eye and straining voice. Those who were with me as this was said, looked at each other and nodded in some agreement to which I was not party. The ancient man continued:
“Later, yes later, there was a second Spirit Man who came to us, speaking like the first. Often he said the name of the first Spirit Man. The Second man was called The Spirit Akh Medd. He taught us many things. The greatest was the piling of earth. For before then we lived in flat places, and when the wind passed, it went through us. We were a cold people. But the Spirit Akh Medd (Ah Zool Juss Kah), taught us good shelter. But in time, within the warm season, he too pointed across the Great River. We thought he was seeking to follow the first Spirit Man.
“With fear we took him to the bank of the Great River. We brought to him our finest canoe. The best of our hunters humbly offered by signs to row him over. The Spirit Man performed strange dances by the boat. These are dances we still repeat, on high times. He seemed to both want to enter the boat, and also not to enter it. Then The Spirit Man entered the boat and bowed his head to greet the Spirits of the Great River. As the canoe crossed the Great River, he kept his head bowed at all times. We were told that often he made a strange click, repeated many times. That he made a sound we cannot repeat – like a gurgle. That he said ‘Klav Klav Klav’ and ‘Vom Ay OOO, Ree Vom Ay OO’.
“Some of this is now shown to us. You, the men of iron, say each of you is ‘OOO man’. You ask each of us – often you ask us – to speak of ‘Ay Men’. But the other parts...”
His voice became weaker, and the old man was panting: it was clear to us that the end was very nigh. He lifted his right hand a little off the bed as he struggled to say – or so I thought:
“Vom... Klav... Some of you speak of ‘Klav Ee Kord’ and Vom.. vo...” It was then, finally, dear reader, with a last sigh, that his hand fell back as his soul departed.
Those others who were with me were keen to quickly dispose of the old man’s mortal frame and then depart, indicating that they thought these words of his were spoken from madness, or perhaps as the result of liquor, or both; though with these opinions I did not agree, but could not, through my youth, speak out and tell them so. They directed me to assist in carrying his body outside to the end of the yard, there to dig a rough hole into which it could be thrown, with no ceremony or ritual of prayer. And this – Ah, forgive me, dear reader – I did. But as we piled the earth back upon him, I murmured, as best I could, the blessing he himself had told us. “Juss Kah”.
[Here the submission ends, with the words “Rejected. Author must be mad!” written upon it in red ink. As yet we have not traced the writer of this proposed article, though that is the subject of further research by this department.]