Stluka Island

Dear Aunt Justine,

As my previous letter indicated, I've been waiting in Cape Town for a week now, waiting on the weather before we set out. Sir D- and Captain P- have been in one of the local officer's clubs each night, arguing if we shall set out following morning. These disagreements, shall we say, have gotten quite out of hand on more than one occasion, though I'm led to believe that their overindulgence in spirits in the evenings has led to consensus in the mornings as they nurse headaches!

Captain P- is one of the most superstitious men that I've ever met. He's undoubtedly a brilliant captain and possesses a nimble mind but he has refused to sail for the past week because of some mystical sea chart that he refuses to share with Sir D-. Being of the scientific persuasion myself I scarcely understand why the Captain chains himself to the occult. I believe that Sir D- has finally persuaded him to set out regardless of those childish charts.

The weather is quite pleasant here, even as I know the coal carriages come rumbling through the alleys back home. Sir D- complains about the ice, he fears the ice, credits the ice with much more lethality than is strictly necessary. Though the ice is no doubt to be considered, it is difficult to fear the cloudy sheets bobbling as gently in the ocean as newborn waterfowl, especially as the warming spring breeze blows in off of the ocean.

I've just received word from one of my fellows - tomorrow at dawn we set forth to Stluka Island. According to Sir D- we shall have frequent resupply missions, so I hope that my letters shall not be irregular. I should hate to be out of touch for two whole months.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Cape Town November 12, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

Our ship, though it doesn't do justice to the rest of His Majesty's fleet to be described by such nomenclature, delivered us to Stluka Island two weeks ago. Even though it is spring here, it is still very cold. I can't help but to imagine spring in England, at your manor, watching the first blooms of hyacinth and primrose wave in the breeze. It's a comfort that I shall not miss the blooming of that marvelous time of life when I return. I should be home in time for Easter and the colours will bloom even brighter for the colourless desolation that surrounds me now.

Stluka Island is in the shape of a large bowl. Mountains tower around the outside, save for a narrow strip of beach ringing the towers of stone. We saw the peaks long before we landed, and as imposing as they appeared on the horizon, when one stands in their shadow one feels insignificant and exposed. I suddenly have sympathy for those ants crawling across our picnic blankets!

We arrived on one of those sorts of bright days when you can see just as far as you care to, and I could just make out the Antarctic mainland on the horizon. It sparkled just like a diamond. The sight must be comparable to that of a mouse considering the cheese in a trap, and like mice we must carefully weigh our attraction to the promise of transcendent reward. This may sound quite poetic to be coming from your pragmatic nephew, but there's something about the place which makes a man contemplative.

The voyage itself was comfortable enough, though I discovered quickly that several of my bunkmates were quite the snorers. There's one fellow, E-, who is an incorrigible snorer but who despite of his nocturnal failings is quickly becoming a good friend. He says that his family business is in raising cattle and intends to return to the pasture after his time in university.

I credit you and Uncle Jeffery for your esteemable patience with me and my childhood sea sickness for my success on this trip! When the the chill and the wind and the shuddering of the ship became too much to endure I had merely to remember those warm days upon the lake.

We were greeted on the shore by a group of penguins. They are most extraordinary creatures. Their wings have turned to flippers and they are extremely awkward on land, wobbling to and fro like small children, but in the water they took on a completely different nature. I intend to study them as thoroughly as my time here allows.

I am sorry that I am missing the Christmas holidays with you and Uncle. I hope that Yule brings you health and happiness.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Stluka Island November 29, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine

I'm glad to know that we will have regular post, although once a week must sound like quite the lifestyle of a hermit to those of you back home! Post twice a day sounds like the height of civilization. We have made expeditions into the interior of the island and pierced the ring of mountains. It is quite breath-taking. In a previous letter I referred to Stluka Island as a large bowl, but I would like to revise that to instead say that it is in the shape of a king's crown. The edges of a ring of mountains abut the sea and their peaks sparkle like jewels. The interior contains a large, frozen lake. The lake itself is barely larger than the lake that we used to sail on, and great rocky plains stretch from the mountains down into the lake.

What is especially amazing is that there is a type of skua here. They simply lay their eggs on the ground, in the open, which likely means that they have no natural land-based predators. They still have a protective disposition, however, as E- found out when he attempted to measure one of the eggs. Luckily his leather cap afforded him some protection from the skua's beak and the skua ceased its attack when we retreated. After E- removed his cap and saw a bruised and bloody gash on his head from the attack, he swore that he shall take one of the camp-guns and put an end to the "confounded nuisance and measure that egg!" but it is likely his wounded pride talking.

Another astonishing factor is that seals and penguins apparently clamber out of the ocean and into the tremendous bowl and cannot find their way out. The mummified remains remind me exactly of the brown, leathery skin of the unwrapped kings of Egypt at the British Museum. Their eyes have been plucked out of their head by the skua but the rest of the creatures have been left intact and slowly drained of their moisture by the dessicating wind

Yours, Theodore Krumple Stluka Island December 16, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

Bad weather has greeted us. The cold here is bitter and it feels like I can never get warm. We've had some trouble with the furnace. This letter represents all of the ink that I could thaw.

Unfortunately, Captain P- has decided that we must extend our stay because the seas are too treacherous and he's back to checking that confounded mystical chart again. I can promise you that they're not too treacherous for anything, as the resupply ship has had very little problem navigating them, but he says that the resupply ship is nimble enough to avoid trouble.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Stluka Island December 22, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

It is Christmas Eve as I write this. I apologize greatly and profusely for not being able to attend one of your Yuletide parties, though I must admit that I apologized first and foremost to my appetite! We've been here too long and I think that I shall be sick if I open another tin of beef, but despite Captain P- assuring us that the we could sail, now Sir D- demands that we continue! He says that we must have more data or else this whole trip will have been a waste. No matter the reason I am upset that I am being kept from my beloved England.

When I think of a roaring fire in your drawing room with a snifter of brandy in my hand, warming my bones further, I feel a longing in my heart I must say, my travel here in this blasted wilderness forces me to admire Uncle's hunting trophies all the more.

To that end, please give Uncle the trophy that I've sent along with this post. E- found it with its beak deep in one of his packs. E- has been long-suffering with influenza, and in a fit of fever-rage stole one of the camp guns without first acquiring permission from Sir D- and as such E- will be on the next ship home. I feel sorry for the wretch, though the trophy will prove to be magnificent. To be here in the throes of a fever is bad enough, but to have a fever shipboard is worse. He came into this expedition with such high hopes but now he rises in fits and spurts and wakes in the middle of the night, hollering like a lunatic. I once caught him out of doors with no coat on, just his shirt and britches. He reported his fever to be so fierce that he claimed that he couldn't feel the cold. No doubt, for when I touched his skin it felt like a tea kettle on the boil.

To you and Uncle a happy Christmas!

Yours, Theodore Krumple Stluka Island December 24, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

Even though it is summertime here, the weather has gotten worse. The winds blow angrily and wreck havoc with any expeditions that we send into the interior. P- went out with an expedition for an overnight trip to the great basin and awoke when the wind lifted their tent from its moorings and sent it onto the lake! They are not confident in the thickness of the ice and have abandoned the tent, though I myself believe the lake to be sturdy enough to support a cavalry charge. Regardless, the loss of a tent is infinitely preferable to the loss of a man.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Stluka Island January 15, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I would like to apologize for my tardiness of letters. I have been in Cape Town for several weeks. I had come down with influenza on the ship back and so spent many nights recently unable to speak, let alone able to put a pen to paper. I don't remember most of these days and my doctors tell me that my fever was quite intense. Thankfully, I am well enough to be writing now, but the doctors inform me that I am not to travel shipboard in case I spread it to those men onboard. So instead, I send you my wishes in place of my visit.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Cape Town February 20, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I have suffered greatly from this influenza. My legs are not as strong as they once were, though my doctors have recently cleared me to return home to England. I have acquired a cane that I find quite fitting, though I'm afraid that I shall not return to boxing at the university upon my return. They say that my constitution may rebound, being a young man, but that I may never regain full musculature. I say that I will once again be as fit as a racing horse, but only time will tell.

It is a better outcome than that poor fellow E-, who I understand has become a total cripple and who has returned to his father's farm without completing his studies or being able to take over the farm. A tragedy for he was such a kindly fellow.

I hope that you are able to find the trophy that I sent you. Strange that it should disappear like that, but I suspect that one of the servants found the marvel too irresistible to pass up.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Cape Town March 10, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I am sorry that I haven't been able to visit. Sir D- demanded that I return to university as soon as possible with my data, since I recorded my books in an inconsistent shorthand. I must be here to translate the data into a format useful for the other scholars. Sir D- has been quite kind to me, considering my months-long frailty. I believe that somewhere in that hard-faced exterior is a guilt about E-, though I cannot fathom why, as it was E-'s own weak constitution that condemned him and not any decision or action of Sir D-. We all knew that the risk of destruction is always commensurate with the chance of valor.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Avesford March 31, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I should enjoy to visit you and Uncle. Not only because I haven't seen either of you or spoken to you in almost half of a year, but because I have come to miss your well-stocked larder. The university has been feeding us on a rather meager ration - I will admit that I ate better back on Stluka Island than I do here! A letter from E- tells me that there is some afflication devastating not only the stock but also the beasts of burden. Hopefully it will ease as the growing season progresses.

My research is going well. I don't know if I shall ever make it back to Stluka Island due to my crippled legs, but I should like to acquire for you and Uncle another penguin, as I doubt that it shall turn up if it hasn't yet.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Avesford April 15, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I am surprised to hear the news of your sheep. I have known sheep to be occasionally antagonistic towards their handlers, no matter how gentle, but that they are attacking your shepherds is strange to hear. E- reports something similar. His father recently had to destroy dozens of cattle because of series of repellent cases of cannibalism between milchcows and their calves.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Avesford April 29, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I should hope that you have some vegetables that can be hand-raised if you cannot rely upon your oxen to plough the fields. I would normally find it quite difficult to believe that your fields lie fallow this spring, but in this strange year I am sorry to say that I am not surprised. Many of the gentlemen here at university are the sons of estate owners, and many of them report pastoral difficulties related to the livestock. Cattle, sheep and pigs are being slaughtered by the thousands, and their flesh is foul even moments after butchering. Those that are left in the fields do no work, and even the ruminants have a strange streak of bloodlust towards their fellows.

I begin to worry about the coming harvest season.

Sir D- is preparing for another expedition for the next Antarctic summer. I will not be accompanying him but I requested that he bring Uncle another penguin to replace the one that has gone missing.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Avesford May 10, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

The university has turned us out early. The quartermaster claims that he has no more supplies for us and that there is not a scrap of food in the pantries or larders. The farmers cry for assistance from the government as the plague among the beasts worsens. The chaps here are on the verge of revolt as they are used to rich food as the sons of landed men. But they say that their fathers are not in a better position than the university. They have only that food which grows wild, as there is not an animal that when slaughtered doesn't prove to be rotten on the inside. How strange that so many are surviving so many severe infections and abscesses.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Avesford June 1, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I have joined E- on his father's estate. The pastures lie empty except for sickly, rotting cattle that attempt to eat each other. They have orchards that require little animal labor, and a sufficient garden for some food, but without meat or butter or the labor of the animals there is a definite fear in the air. It is too late to plant anything of significance, and in the summer sunsets we see the shadow of winter growing.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Kelpshire June 19, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

The university has sent word that they will be unable to reopen this autumn. I am shocked and do not know what to say. My research will necessarily go unfinished, at least for now. The paralysis in my legs was for naught. At least before there was a purpose to the sacrifice of my mobility, but now I fear that it was all for naught until I finish my research.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Kelpshire July 13, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

I hope this letter has reached you and Uncle. The post has become quite erratic because the rotting disease hasn't spared the postal horses. I get letters weeks after they have been written and I fear that mine arrive with as much tardiness. My friend's father has reached the limit of meat that hunting will provide. What game he has shot is just as rancid and repulsive upon slaughter as any domestic beasts. The same affliction seems to be spreading throughout the wild population.

I fear the thought of the first fingers of winter wrapping its icy fingers around our throats.

Yours, Theodore Krumple Kelpshire August 2, 19-

Dear Aunt Justine,

We have not been well and I would like to see you and Uncle, but without horses for taxis and the diminished coal output from the mines I'm not sure when that day will come. The local post has said that today is the last day of service until the horses have recovered. I question whether they ever will, for I have not seen an animal recover from the Rot.

I was attacked by a blackbird yesterday while out foraging for food. He dove at me over and over again, scratching my skin and puncturing my scalp with his sharp beak until I struck him from the air with my cane.

It reminds me of the skua on Stluka Island and how it unrelentlessly attacked E-.

Out of desperation I collected the blackbird's corpse, plucked its feathers and attempted to gut it, but I gave up after the first stroke of the knife, for by the smell I knew that the flesh within had already rotted. I shiver in the night even though the first chill of autumn hasn't yet come. What will we eat this winter?

Yours, Theodore Krumple Kelpshire September 1, 19-

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