Date: September 17, 1852
My Dearest Jack,
I hope this letter finds you well. Hopefully the blistering heat of India has not driven you Totally Insane. I am well as I can be, and quite more excited than I ought to be. What must you think of your little sister now, adventuring in the deepest jungles of Africa? While you are conquering natives and building roads to the interior with the army in India, I shall be fully occupied collecting Strange Specimens of Anomalous Fauna for the National Institute of Zoology in dear old London. I assure you, brother, that I am taking good care of myself. Before I left England, Mother and Father saw that I was well outfitted with the very latest supplies. Our expedition force is well equipped, and we have several native guides to direct us throughout the treacherous jungles.
Mother and Father went to the trouble of securing for the voyage a truly peculiar fellow to be my personal manservant. He insists upon referring to himself as Bernie the Whipmaster. When I first met him onboard the HMS Oceania, I could not help but wonder if this title was truly deserved. He soon proved me wrong by demonstrating his prowess with a long bullwhip. Dear brother, he was able to snap a carrot in half right out of my hand as I stood on the deck! He has a very strange accent, perhaps from Australia or some obscure part of Her Majesty’s African Empire. He is rather short, scarcely above my shoulder, but the way he carries himself makes me feel that he is ready for anything. He may be a bit odd, but I am convinced that Mother and Father chose wisely.
We took ship aboard the HMS Oceania at Dover; from there we went to Lisbon, Portugal, and on to the Canary Islands. From there we rounded West Africa and set our course for the Gulf of Guinea. The Congo, as you well know, is right on the equatorial line, and the air here is most sticky and rather unpleasantly warm. But that is the price of having adventures.
There were many in London who did not approve of Mother and Father’s decision to allow me to come on this expedition. I say boo to them and hope they rot in their opera boxes and silk gowns. Mother and Father, however, were a bit more charming and polite than I ever could be. Father was magnificent. He very sternly told Lord Worthing (That odious fellow. I wanted to stomp on his toes the last time I saw him, but something stopped me. Perhaps I’m more well-mannered than I thought.) that I was perfectly at liberty to go and spend my vacation term any way that I liked. I love Father. He did, however, send me off with an ultimatum. I must find and capture the beasts I am after in this one trip, else ‘twill be back to London society, silk gowns, and the university. I detest silk gowns. My muslin dresses serve just as well, and I don’t have to worry about Tearing Them. I much prefer the dungarees, muslin shirt, and good leather vest that I wear now. With those, a fine pair of boots, and a good safari hat, I am well prepared for any calamities that should arise.
But of course, Brother, you do not care to know about your younger sister’s fashion preferences. Instead, I shall tell you about our mission. We are to capture and bring back to England certain of the Strange Animals said to abound in the interior jungles of the Congo. I am sure you shall laugh when I tell you the names they have been given. For instance, there is a certain bird, standing the height of a medium-sized child, which is said to repeat incessantly the word ‘whatever’. Father’s esteemed colleagues at the National Institute have put their learned minds together and christened it the Jerzicus quidda, or the ‘Whatever Bird’. I imagine it would look very much like an ostrich. Eyewitness accounts conclude that it has a crest of brightly coloured feathers on its head, is probably flightless, and is Most Annoying. Personally, I believe the sightings to be no more than the symptoms of too much Whiskey. I have outlawed the consumption of alcoholic beverages on my expedition. There will be no bizarre stories from MY men.
Another creature we have been sent to recover is one that seems to have sprung right out of a Rather Bad gothic novel. The clever chaps at the National Institute have called it the Sylvilagus humanus, but my guides and those who have encountered it refer darkly to it as the ‘Were Rabbit’. Described to be about the size of a small child, in rabbit form it is purest white, walks upon two legs, and has an affinity for milk. However, its other form brings its strange name. Eyewitnesses report that it can change its form to appear as a child, five or six years old, that seems to be devoid of all rational speech. I can scarcely believe these tales, but I must admit they intrigue me.
Dearest Jack, we are approaching the camp now, and I must end. I pray that this letter reaches you in good time, and that you are well. Please, accept my apologies for the many sketches throughout this letter. You know how my mind wanders on long journeys. This is beautiful country, and this expedition is sure to bring so many opportunities for sketching. I fear I shall return to England with more sketches than scientific notes. I remain always,
Your loving sister,
I’ve just visited your site for the first time after following you on Instagram for a little while. I saw these story snippets and just read this first installment. I thoroughly enjoyed it!! Raven has a lovely way of speaking. Proper, but strong-willed! Looking forward to reading more!
Thank you! She originated in a game I played with the kids I used to babysit. Their idea of a proper explorer is what really gave birth to her unique voice.