To whom it would interest, here is an introduction to the Duke himself, in the form of a memory from many years ago...
Each step was becoming more laborious than the previous as I trudged on amidst the trees. The sun was beginning to set but its dull glow remained upon the several day-old snow impeding each of my steps.
I should have gotten to the Inn by now. Somehow, I must have gotten off course.
Just off my path, I noticed that I had been approaching a small cabin. Smoke was billowing from a cobblestone stack atop the thatched roof and light glowed from the open door.
Clearly, someone was home, so, I decided to ask for directions. As I approached the cabin door, I could see what appeared to be a large man, the lone inhabitant of the cabin.
He seemed almost frantic as he scuttled about the cluttered room, however, the deftness of his motions betrayed a muscle memory indicative of ages of repetition.
Practice makes perfect, as they say.
A balance-scale shared a table in the middle of the room with tipped over towers of parchment scattered with sloppily recorded notes. With a dexterity seemingly impossible for a set of fins such as his, he meticulously scooped greyish green pebbles out of a burlap sack. He approached the scale, shuffled a fin beneath some of the assorted papers and pulled it back out holding what appeared to be a stone, which he placed on one of the platforms of the balance.
On the opposing platform, he placed the sack of pebbles.
Perfect on the first try. He let out a light chuckle of pride. He looked my way, the flames of creation illuminating his eyes.
He scurried toward a large apparatus in the corner resembling a wood-fired stove and glowing with heat, motioning for me to follow.
Of course, I did.I stopped several paces behind the bulky figure who was now bent intently over the flames he was stoking, and above which was situated a slowly turning, steel drum. The rotation of the drum was powered by a complex series of gears and belts which stretched away like some sort of Rube Goldberg machine.
The old walrus stood up, reached above him, and dumped the pouch of green pebbles through what looked like the horn of an old gramophone.
The pebbles could be heard jostling about inside the spinning drum, their cadence rhythmic and seemingly in time with the cracks of the fire.
The walrus’s attention was now turned to a series of gauges upon whose faces quivered tiny needles pointing at various numbers indicating who knows what.
“They call me The Duke,” said the walrus.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Duke,” I said awkwardly, realizing now that my curiosity had distracted me from noticing that neither of us had yet spoken a word.
“What are you doing, sir?” I asked.
“Bwahahaha,” the walrus erupted in a bellowing laughter.
“I’m not Mr. and I’m not sir. I’m just The Duke.” He turned to me with a grin, winking from behind a golden monocle. One hand played absent-mindedly with his disheveled whiskers, one was upon a lever connected to the smoking, spinning machine.
“Why, my Old Boy,” announced the Duke. “I’m roasting coffee.”
How soothing that sounded for my cold and travel-weary bones.
I’d never seen it roasted before.
“Are you a coffee drinker, Old Boy?” The Duke asked, hopefully.
“Who doesn’t love a good coffee?” I replied.
“Bwahahaha,” bellowed The Duke once again. “Jolly right you are.”
Turning back to the dials and gauges he’d been observing, one of the needles began moving. Instantaneously, as if expecting it at just that moment, The Duke pulled the lever, opening a hatch on the front of the drum, spilling smoke and the roasted coffee beans into a copper tray.
“You’ve never had coffee if you haven’t had it fresh,” declared The Duke. “And that’s no codswallop either. You’ll see.”
“Ho, ho, ho,” he laughed out loud to himself as he scooped some of the browned beans from the tray.
He dumped the scoop into something resembling a large pencil sharper and began to turn its crank.
The ground coffee fell from the appliance like so many pencil shavings and the cabin filled with an intense coffee aroma.
As The Duke transferred the ground coffee into a full of paper situated over a small, tin pot, I looked around the one large room that comprised his cabin.
Save one small walking-path traversing the space, the entire floor was consumed by piles of books and large sacks of the green coffee beans.
Old maps were pinned across the walls like a wallpaper.
Through the window, fresh snow was falling.
“What brings you to my neck of the woods, Old Boy?” inquired The Duke, slowly turning a valve situated at the end of a zig-zagging tangle of copper pipes. As he continued to turn it, steaming hot water began to drip over the funnel of coffee grounds.
“Are you a skier?”
“I’ve never skied,” I admitted. “I came out here for a change of pace. I’m writing a novel and wanted some peace and quiet. This place seemed to fit the bill.”
“Bwahaha, that it does indeed, Old Boy! That it does indeed,” my tusked companion laughed as he turned the water valve the opposite way and the water stopped.
We both watched as the remaining water in the funnel filtered down through the ground coffee.
When it had stopped flowing, the walrus removed the tin pot and decanted the brew into two small mugs, handing me one.
“To new characters and old stories,” said The Duke as he lifted his mug toward mine.
I raised my mug and nodded in agreement then moved it to my lips. Upon the first sip, a warmth surged through my body, displacing exhaustion and filling me with new life.
My eyes lit up as I took the first sip. The Duke, watching me excitedly, clapped his fins in appreciated.
“I knew you’d taste the difference!” he exclaimed. “Ho, ho, ho, I told you it wasn’t just a bunch of jiggery-pokery. I make the best coffee on this mountain. On any mountain, maybe.”
“It is very good,” I agreed. “Now tell me… how did you end up here roasting coffee on this mountain?”