- First published:
- May 1965 issue of Playboy
- Related books:
- Magazine publications:
This is the first story in which we meet Oswald Hendryks Cornelius, noted seducer extraordinaire. It’s a story-within-a-story that begins as the narrator explains how he came to inherit all 28 volumes of his uncle’s memoirs. It’s interesting to note that the narrator seems to be Dahl himself: a letter from Oswald makes reference to “you and your three sisters,” and Dahl, of course, had three sisters himself. Note: this is a very adult story in tone and probably shouldn’t be read by any children without permission from their parents.
Spoiler warning! After inheriting his long-absent uncle’s books, the narrator reads through them all and desperately wants them to be published and shared with the world. Unfortunately the books contain many salacious details, including the names of many (married) woman that Oswald slept with and whose husbands would not find such a scandal appealing. After consulting with a lawyer, the narrator determines that the “Sinai Desert Episode” is probably safe to print. Before launching into this, the very last entry from the diary, the narrator describes his uncle and the singular effect he seems to have had on women. He was a fastidious man who collected walking sticks, ties made from spider silk, and Chinese porcelain. He had a way of speaking that seemed to hypnotize the listener (usually a woman) and put her into a spell of lust.
The Sinai Desert episode is dated 1946 and involves Oswald’s escape from Cairo following a romantic rendezvous with an aristocratic Moorish woman (and another man’s mistress). He decides to drive to Jerusalem via the desert road and search for scorpions to add to his collection. He succeeds with the scorpion but when he stops for gasoline the diseased attendant tells him that his fan belt has broken. He will have to spend the night in the desert and wait for a new fan belt to arrive. As Oswald resigns himself to this, a Rolls-Royce drives up and a wealthy man steps out. They quickly get to know each other and the rich man, Abdul Aziz, invites Oswald to spend the night at his house nearby. The man explains on the way that he chooses to live in such a wild location in order to protect his beautiful young daughter from the unwanted attention of men. Oswald is astounded when he meets the mother and daughter, and he can’t make his mind up which one he wants to seduce. They both go immediately to their own bedrooms, though, without giving him any indication of a possible rendezvous. He is disappointed but prepares to go to sleep. In the middle of the night, his door opens and a woman climbs into bed with him. After hours of energetic lovemaking, she slips out as silently as she arrived. Oswald believes he will be able to tell which it was by a bite mark he has left on her neck. But the next morning, BOTH of them are wearing scarves! As Abdul drives him back to the gas station, Oswald fishes for an invitation back to the house. Abdul doesn’t take the bait, though, and after a while he admits that there is another reason he lives in such an isolated spot. He has another daughter living in the house… and she has leprosy. “Dear fellow, you mustn’t alarm yourself like this,” he tells Oswald. “You have to have the most intimate contact with the person in order to catch it…” Shaking, Oswald returns to his repaired car and watches the Rolls-Royce drive back off across the desert.