A NOTE FROM THE TRANSLATOR:
I found this memoir at an estate sale in Quebec.
My translation from the original French text attempts to be as true as possible.
Without further ado
I opened the daily newspaper with excitement. Finally, I thought the mystery would be solved. Then I perceived this headline: EXPLORATORY EXPEDITION RESULTS: INCONCLUSIVE! As I read on in the article, it became clear. They had found scant evidence of the struggle. The true fate of Lucien Durant will never be known. So I commend this tale to my memoirs as the sole living witness to these uncanny events.
A few decades before the war, the Great War, I was stationed in Saint-Louis. I spent some pleasurable years on that sunny island. The beaches were fine and the women beautiful. Conflict between other colonial powers, African kingdoms and Islamic polities did not bother us, besides in reports received from the northern and Ivory Coast territories. Those were the good times. Our duties were light, allowing us ample time to enjoy the invigorating climate, excellent society, and high quality Caribbean rum. We were patriots who gained freedom through an escape into the French Empire. Fascinating conversations on the nocturnal seashore with expats of all stripes. By day, I served as a minute taker for the brass in charge of colonial administration. This memoir is concerned with the events that pertain to that cave in the Sahara.
I was in the office with the Colonial Commander, Adrien Edgard. His hawkish features broke into a grin as he took advantage of weakness in my formation on the chessboard. Recovering from a long night of celebration, I felt somewhat nauseated. A man walked through the door. He wore the uniform of the Ministry of Colonies, the Parisian delegation commanding our activities. His small stature was exaggerated by his guard, two sultry men from the Foreign Legion. I was concerned by the newcomer’s demeanor, which did not portend good news. These thoughts were cut short by the unfurling of the letter as the man began to read:
“Greetings. My name is Wyatt Grosvenor, and I am the emissary for the Ministry of Colonies. I come bearing an assignment involving the Foreign Legion. Our forces require your cooperation as we address this matter.”
“Jules!” Adrien barked at me, “Do your duty, and begin taking notes!” I reached for the pad. “May I continue?” Grosvenor asked.
“You may.” Adrien stated. His expression was clouded and I imagine he shared my misgivings about this assignment.
Grosvenor resumed. “Sirs, you may have heard of the famous gentleman, inventor, and craftsman, Lucien Durant. He was given funds to complete a prototype personal transport device for use by the Foreign Legion. Soon after, he vanished from his workshop in the countryside of La Hexagon. Neither the prototype nor any recompense remained at his abode.”
“Just hold on a moment!” interjected Adrien. “What is the nature of this ‘prototype’?” Grosvenor was visibly irritated at the interruption. The Foreign Legion guards shifted their weight.
“This prototype,” Grosvenor began through his teeth, “Is a motorized velocipede said to have the ability to outpace even the fastest horses. Fitted with a powerful motor and a suspension system designed by Durant, it was designed for use by the Legion across all types of terrain. Thanks to his wide social connections, he was able to create a fantastic construct using most extravagant materials. The motor-cycle has controls made of gemstones, electrical components of rare and precious metal, and it is plated with lustrous rose-gold.”
I was dazzled with the description of this strange contraption. Adrian sat with his arms crossed. He warily asked, “So how does this missing motor-cycle concern the forces of Saint-Louis?” Grosvenor’s lips curled in an atrocious sneer.
“You see, lieutenant, our agents believe that Durant is concealed in this backwater colony. In fact, we have tracked his movements to this very town of Saint-Louis. We can only assume that Durant has the motor-cycle in his possession. Under my command is a division of the Foreign Legion to retrieve it for the Empire. Your assignment is to quarter our troops and provide us with rations and supplies.”
Adrien became increasingly sullen as Grosvenor went on in this way. At this last patronizing sentence of the emissary, Adrien exploded from his seat, and pointed his finger at Grosvenor. The Foreign Legion guards tensed and grasped their knives. Adrien roared,
“Just one moment, sir! Your condescension is unwelcome here, and you insult the honor of my forces. My family has served in the French Army for generations. I intend to live up to that legacy! I assisted in the conquest of Algeria. I know the terrain and the peoples of this region. And I am certain you will need my assistance in carrying out this operation. How dare you call me quartermaster?!”
Adrian stood pointing his finger squarely at Grosvenor. I put my hand on my forehead and shook my head. The Foreign Legion troops exchanged ominous looks, but Grosvenor held up his hand. He grudgingly assented.
“Fine. I am a forgiving and merciful man. You can take command of military operations. I will direct intelligence operations. Together we will track down the motor-cycle and return it to the Empire.”
“How is it even possible to smuggle a device like that in without someone taking notice?” Adrian paced about the room.
Grosvenor replied, “He must have landed along the coast. With a motor-cycle like his, crossing the Sahara would be no object.”
“Hmm…” Adrian pondered, “What reason would he come to Saint-Louis?”
Grosvenor slicked back his greasy hair. “The only reason there could be! He intends to sell the motor-cycle and make a clean getaway! Damn that clever bastard.”
Adrian slammed his hand against the wall. “Durant had an obligation to construct that motor-cycle for the service of the empire. What he has done amounts to treason!”
“Yes! Treason!” exclaimed Grosvenor. “He must be brought to justice!”
I continued taking minutes. This job was about to get a lot more interesting.
STAY TUNED FOR THE NEXT CAHPTER NEXT MONDAY!