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IT WAS OBVIOUS TO ALL that the two men making their way down the second fairway were at opposite ends of the corporal spectrum. One, a bluff, hearty individual, was tall and physically robust. The other, slight of build, short and bespectacled, sported a semi-military moustache – the only faintly hostile feature in his make-up.
“I thought you said this was fun,” the diminutive fellow muttered.
“It is when you remember what I taught you,” the other said impatiently. “If you will keep lifting your head every time you strike the ball, heaven knows where it’s going to go.”
“If I don’t look up I won’t be able to follow its flight,” the shorter of the players countered.
“I’ll tell you where it’s going. You can’t see it anyway, even when you do stare into the distance.” He added under his breath, “Not that the ball goes very far, or even straight.”
“Well, I haven’t had much practice, Col, I’ve been busy.”
‘Col’ was an abbreviation of his nickname, ‘Colossus’, bestowed upon him by the Allahakbarries, his cricketing teammates.
“What have you been working on?” Col queried, as he addressed the ball for his second shot.
“I haven’t finalised the title yet, though I’m thinking of calling it As Easy As ABC. It’s a futuristic tale set in the twenty-first century.”
“ABC? What, as in the alphabet?”
He hit the ball which headed unswervingly towards the green.
“What club should I use, Col?”
He peered into Joseph’s bag and lifted a club.
“Take the jigger, you shouldn’t go wrong with that.”
In a rare moment when coordination, balance and a large slice of luck worked in his favour, the ball followed the same path as his opponent’s.
“Good shot!” Col exclaimed, glancing at Joseph disbelievingly.
Gathering up their bags they continued down the fairway.
Joseph, encouraged by his efforts, was suddenly in an expansive mood.
“A.B.C. . .I thought I’d told you. It stands for Aerial Board of Control. A de facto world government, set to reign in a hundred years time.”
“A departure from the usual, isn’t it, Joseph? You’d do best sticking to your tried and tested ways. You don’t want to mess with that sort of stuff. You could lose your readers.”
They neared the green to find both balls lying close to the pin.
“My putt, I think,” muttered Col.
The large-framed man, attired in plus-fours and tweed jacket, carefully noted the trajectory. He placed his ample feet either side of the ball and aligned his putter. Moving his arms to and fro in a brief series of gentle arcs, he inched forward to deliver the telling blow.
The putter head was within an inch of its gutta-percha target. The correct weight and speed had been applied to send it plumb into the centre of the hole. . . when, at that very moment, Joseph declared:
“Hah. . .the tale you’re trying to tell is as far-fetched as mine. Whoever heard of a plateau inhabited by weird animals?”
They were still arguing when they returned to Col’s home.
“The point is, who’s really interested in futuristic fiction? It is far beyond our comprehension of what life will be like, what machines will be invented, what universal politics will be in force,” Col declared forcibly. His Scottish accent even more heavily pronounced whenever the conversation became heated.
“But don’t you see? I could capture readers’ imagination by painting a make-believe existence. One where cars and lorries are driven at fantastic speeds, as much as sixty miles an hour. Aeroplanes that fly the Atlantic carrying lots of passengers. Even fly to the Moon, like they did in that French moving picture, Le Voyage dans La Lune.”
“Arrant nonsense, Joseph! Who on earth is going to read that rubbish? If the book is published, it will sit on the shelf until it is pulped. You mark my words.”
“That’s what will happen to yours! Creatures from the Jurassic Age living a quiet life up a mountain until someone climbs up there, and all is revealed. Really! What tosh!”
“At least such animals once existed. They weren’t the figment of someone’s twisted imagination!”
Col’s wife came into the room, followed by a maid bearing a tea tray.
“I can hear you two from the orangery! What are you arguing about this time?”
“Do you know, Jean, this wee fellow wants to write about life in the twenty-first century! There’s enough going on at present without having to dream up such fanciful notions.”
“He can talk,” said Joseph vehemently. “Do you know the subject of the story he’s penning at this very moment, Jean?”
She shook her head.
While the maid served them tea, Joseph grinned at Col, and said with relish.
“Prehistoric monsters! What about that for idiocy?”
Jean leaned forward and took a delicately trimmed sandwich. Then she looked intently at the two men seated by the fire.
“It strikes me,” she proclaimed, “that you are both as bad as each other. So what if you do choose subjects you’ve never written about before? If anything, it’s stimulating. It allows you to go back to what you do normally, refreshed, perhaps with a different perspective.”
She lifted her cup. But before she drank from it, added:
“Frankly, instead of arguing, you should be helping each other.”
A few weeks later they met at a London club.
Over drinks in the smoking room Col began a hesitant conversation.
“Look. . .err. . . Joseph, I may have been somewhat harsh in my comments about your current offering. It was unthinking of me. . .as Jean was quick to point out.”
Joseph glanced across at him, and grinned.
“Col, my friend, we always argue. To tell you the truth, I enjoy our encounters. Life would be so much more tedious without them. But, in this instance it is I who should apologise. It was unforgiveable to criticise your writings when I was a guest in your home.”
There was a lengthy, amicable silence. Each studying the flames in the grate.
“Jean also remarked,” Col added, “that if we are going into unknown territory, we need an incident, a happening, that would prepare readers for our new material. Something to encourage readers to buy our books.”
Col glanced at his companion.
“What I could do with is an event that stirs the imagination about the past. I’m not talking about the last thousand, or five thousand years. I’m talking about pre-history. When man was just walking the Earth.”
“Joseph, I think I may have the answer.”
The voice was thin, echoing and fading every few seconds. But it was undoubtedly Conan Doyle speaking excitedly on the telephone.
“Do you think you could spare time to visit for a few days?” “It’s crucial, Joseph. If you could come today I really would be grateful.”
“You mean to say that we are going out in this weather? I got soaked yesterday when I came over here. My cape is still wet through!”
“Don’t worry, we’ll go in my motor car. It’s got a hood, you’ll be perfectly dry.”
“Hmm. . .”
“So, where are you taking me?”
“Barkham Manor. It’s ten miles from here. We’ll do it easily within the hour.”
“It all sounds very mysterious, Col. What are we going to see?”
“A gravel pit, Joseph. To meet a fellow called Dawson. He’s an antiquarian and amateur palaeontologist,” explained Col. He went on conspiratorially. “He believes something of significance is buried in the gravel, and he wants to be the first to discover it. I think you’ll find him a most interesting character.”
Half an hour later, over the noise of the engine, Joseph shouted, “If this fellow Dawson is an amateur, what’s his line of business?”
“He’s a solicitor with a practice in Lewes. I believe he’s a friend as well as doing some of the legal work for the tenant, a Mr. Kenward, who lives at Barkham with his daughter.”
They turned down a narrow lane, and came to a halt by a pony and trap. When Joseph saw this bedraggled figure sheltering under an umbrella he was thankful for the dry seat in Col’s motor car.
The rain had eased sufficiently to view the area being gradually exposed by two labourers, who, regardless of the weather, continued with their routine of digging and sifting through a bed of gravel.
Introductions were made, and Joseph listened intently as Dawson gave account of what first prompted his interest in the site.
“Jack, over there,” he nodded in the direction of the fellow filling a sieve, “was clearing the verge where it had encroached on the roadway, and happened upon some flints.”
He drew a hand from a pocket, and palm upwards opened it to reveal several, small, razor-edged stones.
“Well, knowing my interest, he passed them on to me. I was convinced they had been shaped for use as cutting tools. I must admit I became quite excited, especially when, a few weeks later, he found a piece of animal bone, likely from a deer, and some fragments of teeth I couldn’t identify. I contacted Arthur Smith Woodward, a good friend of mine. He came down from London and gave his views on the site.”
Col murmured. “Woodward is president of The Geological Society and a fellow of The Royal Society. He is also an assistant curator at the British Museum.”
“In his opinion,” continued Dawson, “it very much resembles sites in France. On gravel, close to a river, it has all the hallmarks of settlements of the Upper Pleistocene Age which they’ve come across in the Loire.”
“Really. . .how long ago was that?” queried Joseph.
Again Col was quick to answer. “Anything between twelve thousand and two hundred thousand years ago.”
“And you’re hopeful, Mr Dawson, that this site at Barkham Manor will reveal something positive?”
He looked at Joseph intently. “I’m banking on it, sir.”
“So, Col. . .the fact that I’m sitting here discussing the excavation. The fact that you dragged me from my home to come here. I presume the summons and the dig are connected?”
Col returned his cup to the saucer.
The accent intensified when he said softly. “Aye, you could be right, Joseph. You could be right.”
“I was thinking. . .if he were to find something. Something of considerable importance. . .the news of the discovery in the newspapers and journals would likely create interest in early man. It would be no great step to ally the find to the prehistoric monsters that roamed the world. People’s imagination would be piqued.”
“Are you, by chance, referring to the monsters and the ape-men in the manuscript about to be published?”
The big man grinned. “I suppose I am, Joseph. . . I suppose I am. So, I wish Mr Dawson every success. More tea?”
Some weeks later, Col’s wife answered the telephone, and then called her husband.
“It’s for you. Someone demanding to speak with you personally. Come on, dear, don’t dawdle, it’s long distance.”
Col took the receiver, but waited until his wife had ventured into the kitchen before answering.
He listened intently, several times he remarked simply: “That would be fine.”
“Who was that on the phone, dear?” he was asked at lunch.
“Oh, I want another side mirror for the car, Jean. To go on the passenger side, so I can see what I’m passing safely.”
That afternoon he shut himself away in a shed, and did not return until teatime. In fact, he followed the same routine the following day, and the one after when a parcel arrived.
“Hobbs, I want you to take me to the station tomorrow morning, I’ll be away for a few days.”
He had explained to his wife he was spending time with his publisher, to review the edited version of his current manuscript. He would be staying two nights at his club.
On Tuesday, 15 February 1912, Arthur Woodward, Keeper of Geology of the British Museum (Natural History), opened the mail. Among the letters was one from Charles Dawson.
The letter from the Lewes solicitor was significant.
“I have come across a very old Pleistocene bed overlying the Hastings bed which I think is going to be interesting. It has a lot of iron-stained flints in it, so I suppose it is the oldest known flint gravel in the Weald. Moreover I have retrieved a portion of a human skull which will rival H. Heidelbergensis.”
A month later Woodward received a packet containing two flint tools and the tooth from a hippopotamus. His appetite whetted by Dawson’s description of the skull fragments, Woodward counselled Dawson to secrecy until the provenance and exact circumstances of the discoveries could be verified. In the meantime, he and Dawson commenced working in the gravel pit in the hope of retrieving more remains. They were not disappointed. Almost as though a divine hand was guiding them, each week they happened upon cranial fragments.
‘Dawson’s Dawn-Man’, Eoanthropus dawsoni, was officially classified as a major link in man’s evolutionary chain. Moreover, when a further find, a worked artefact made from elephant bone came to light, it appeared to demonstrate that Eoanthropus dawsoni had created tools for himself and had been a thinking, rational being. It was even possible that the flint tools themselves had been fashioned by the ape-like human.
The headline first appeared in the local newspapers.
‘THE MISSING LINK IN THE HUMAN CHAIN’
The first national newspaper to carry the story was the Manchester Guardian. The message screamed out: ‘THE EARLIEST MAN?: REMARKABLE DISCOVERY IN SUSSEX. A SKULL MILLIONS OF YEARS OLD’, adding that the find was ‘the most important of our time’.
The news spread quickly: anthropologists, geologists, and archaeologists all voicing their eagerness to have sight of this most profound discovery.
A reconstruction of the skull was examined with great care by Arthur Keith, conservator of the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons. Also participating were a number of learned men, pre-eminent in their fields of anatomy, orthodontics, geology, palaeontology, and zoology. They had little hesitation in declaring the discovery was the authentic remains of the earliest known human fossil.
“Sorry, he is not here, Joseph. He’s with his publisher in London. . .Yes, he has, very, very often. . .Well, he did say he would be home on Thursday. . .You’ll come over? . . ..Can you make it late afternoon, and stay the night? . . .Yes, good-bye, Joseph.”
Jean put down the telephone. She was perturbed by Joseph’s insistence that he see her husband as soon as possible. There was something in his voice. She could not put her finger on it, but it raised an uncertainty.
Jean rose from the rattan easy chair. “I’ll go and see how dinner is coming along. In the meantime,” she prodded her husband. “I’m sure Joseph would enjoy another drink.”
When Col proffered another dry sherry, Joseph said to him casually, “How is the new book coming along?”
“Good. Is your publisher going to promote it?”
“I think so, but we’ve had a bit of luck. Do you remember the lunch we had with that archaeologist fellow, Charles Dawson?”
“What, the one looking for signs of an ape-man? You can’t open a newspaper or journal without some reference to the project.”
“Well, you see, that’s it. . .all this pomp about a missing link has fuelled people’s appetite. I think when it comes out, people will snap it up.”
“What an amazing coincidence. . .or was it a coincidence?”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“Of course you do. I’ll bet you wish you’d never taken me to see the dig that wet, miserable day. You were up to something, weren’t you? You were involved somehow. Admit it.”
“Absolute piffle! How could I possibly be involved?”
“Col, have you really been spending time with your publisher?”
“What are you suggesting, Joseph?”
“My friend, I’m not suggesting anything. All I’m doing is remarking upon a coincidence. “
Joseph rose from the chair and crossed the orangery to look intently into his friend’s face.
“Or is he of a mind to interfere with certain events taking place at Barkham Manor, a mere eight miles away?”
At that moment, Jean came through the door to announce dinner was being served.
After breakfast the next morning Joseph took a turn around the flower beds and stopped to admire the rhododendrons and azaleas. He met with the gardener, and spent time in the potting shed talking about the soil variations between his Burwash home and the acid brown earth of Crowborough.
It was eleven o’clock before the two men took coffee in the morning room.
After a short silence, Col said. “So, you want an answer, do you? If you must know I did visit my publisher. . .but I also spent time doing research for a new book featuring my know-all detective. The action takes place at Birlstone Manor in Sussex. Actually, I’ve based the building and grounds on Groombridge Place. I stayed at the Chequers Inn near East Grinstead. From there my nocturnal exploits were to gauge the time it takes to get from London by train, acquire a trap, and lurk in the Groombridge hedgerows.”
There was an even longer silence.
“Col,” his companion said. “It won’t be long before people start to question your involvement in this ape-man affair. Others will wonder why you were staying at the Chequers instead of your home, which is only eight miles away. The fact that you went out at night will raise even further queries. What was he doing going out when it was dark? In no time at all, there will be reports circulating of your mysterious behaviour. What then?”
“I’m telling you, it was research. It’s for another book I’m writing My nocturnal exploits were to gauge the time it takes to get from London by train, acquire a trap, and lurk in the Groombridge hedgerows.”
“Is this true? People will recall you trained as a doctor and probably still have access to bones and bits.”
“Joseph, don’t be crass. How could I possibly create a false trail of prehistoric bones and tools?”
“Col, you’ve been studying fossils and ape-men for your book The Lost World. There’s a very obvious connection, which people will not be slow to recognise.”
“Tell me, Col, why did it take so long? That many nights of, as you say, lurking in the undergrowth.”
“Because I wanted to come up with a more elaborate plot. It was turning into a repeat of A Study In Scarlet. So I’ve decided to bring in Moriarty, to create a little more tension. I have to get his involvement just right.”
“Hmm. . .”
Joseph was packing his overnight bag. Col lounged in the bedroom doorway.
“You ought to get yourself a motor car, Joseph. No horses to take care of, no feed or water, and you could easily convert your stables at Batemans into garaging for a motor vehicle.”
“I dare say you’re right, Col. The trouble is I’m a bit of a traditionalist. One day, perhaps.”
They walked down the stairs. As they descended, Col murmured, “You’re still not sure are you, Rudo?”
Joseph Rudyard Kipling stopped, and turned to look up at his host.
“Col. . .Arthur, surprisingly, it matters a lot to me. Still, you’ve told me you’re not involved, fine. . .I accept your word, banishing all thoughts to the contrary.”
Joseph descended a few more stairs before halting again.
“By the way, what is the new Sherlock Holmes book called?”
“The Valley of Fear.”
Kipling nodded, hesitated, and turned to his host.
“Two things, Arthur.” He gazed into Conan Doyle’s face. “Tell your gardener to get rid of the bone fragments and all those dyes in his shed. Secondly, if anyone asks, deny all knowledge of this so-called Piltdown Man.”
The authors’ remarks heighten the controversy.
‘That Doyle’s name, surfacing in this way seems, at first, merely coincidental. But in reviewing the limited roster of those who enjoyed access to the Piltdown site during excavation, and who knew Dawson and Woodward beforehand, his name comes up again and again. Not only did he live in Crowborough at the time, only seven or eight miles from the site, he also appears to have visited it openly in 1912.’
Read here for more about author Patrick Gooch.
Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.