Evening everyone, I must admit, I've been suffering from a severe case of WB the past few weeks, which had left me unable to write anything except my History coursework -.- Sod's law, really.
Anyway, I'm getting back into the swing of things what with my Extended Project (the sequel to E & A) and E & A Ch.27 is coming along nicely, if albeit a little slowly. I still have both my coursework and my EP to do, but since I see my EP as fun rather than work, I do it in conjunction with my usual writing. My coursework will be outta the way by next Tuesday, so all I have to do over the holidays is polish off my English coursework, and the rest is left to writing my EP, my stories, and some gentle revision :)
My life aside, this maybe-maybe-not oneshot came to me after watching BBC's Frozen Planet, when Sir David Attenborough mentioned (in his beautiful voice) about the first Antarctic explorers in 1910. Us Brits know it as the tragic voyage that five men didn't complete, the Norwegians know it as the triumphant voyage of endurance by a great Scandinavian hero, and the world knows it as the Race to the Pole. Scott vs. Amundsen. Now, I'll confess, aside from the Nazis and 1930s, I'm a big sucker for the Edwardian era. And the race to the pole is no exception :D
Most people have heard of the famous quote by Captain Oates "I am going outside and may be some time". I first heard it from my dad when I was 7. I imagined Oates then as a weather-beaten middle aged man with the utmost courage to walk out into a freezing blizzard. However, in research, I found Oates to be a young, virulent cavalry officer who died on his 32nd birthday. He never married in real life, but, since we all love a bit of what if fiction, particularly me and particularly because I have the artistic license to do this as they're all long dead and he was never married, I am writing this as if he was married. And had children.
Sorry for the long introduction, just wanted to apologise to my regular readers for my tardiness and to explain the following piece :) Also like to point out this has no connections, whatsoever, to any of my other stories, so no easter eggs!
I hope you all enjoy all the same.
A Very Gallant Gentleman
15th March 1912
In the past few weeks, as our journey has become increasingly more desperate and tragic, my thoughts have become ever-increasingly self-centred.
I think there is fair reason for me to be so selfish. I'm dying. It's not a nice thing to admit but it's true. I've lost all proper feeling beneath my waist, my lips have crusted over and turned a peculiar shade of blue, and I now daren't remove my boots for fear of my toes coming away with them. My wound has also reopened, it's all fatty and oozing a clear liquid. I knew the damned thing would be the death of me.
Actually, on second thoughts, I've been perfectly fine for the past ten years with it. It's never reopened before. So it wouldn't have been the death of me had I stayed at home in Ripon.
Or indeed if I had turned back when I'd had the chance.
God knows why Scott picked me; he knew I had an old wound, and a bad back, but he still insisted on me marching with him to the Pole. So, I suppose I can only blame myself, I am a grown man, I have the ability to say no, and I haven't been known to be scared of saying it.
I should've listened to Lucy.
If she could see me now...
I think the only positive of this march is that she'll be proud of me. Whatever happens to me, she'll be proud, I expect.
My only hope is that she doesn't cry. I've never been able to watch her cry.
I look up from where I run my broken, cold, bruised fingers over one another, feeling the long-ago touch of my Lucy's delicate, soft palm across my cheek as I do so. My eyes scan the three men who are sat together, huddled in their reindeer hide, their eyes blinking at the devastation that is me.
"What?" I surprise myself with the ability to actually speak. My voice is considerably quieter, but still possesses some of its old strength.
"Are you fine, Soldier?" My gaze at the man who speaks is long and deliberate. He is sitting on the far left, his hands bare as he documents another day's fruitless marching in his diary. This man is the reason why I'm in this bloody mess, and he has the nerve to ask me if I am fine. If I was not firstly in this intrepid state, and secondly so ill that I can barely blink without it hurting I would belt him one. Yes, I'd probably be disowned by the entire team, but at least Scott would pay for his cheek. The other two, Bowers and Wilson, sit next to him, Bowers still mercilessly recording stocks and temperatures, not that there's much use, and Wilson is reading something. Shakespeare I think.
I open my mouth to reply and give the monosyllabic answer "I'm fine," I pause and then remember to add "Sir."
Scott nods approvingly and says "Good." He then returns to his writing. My eyes fall again to my reindeer hide sleeping bag, and the little pile of things tied up and tucked away inside it. I reach down, wincing as my fingers make contact with my wound. It feels as if they're rifling away down there in search of nothing, but they soon find their prey.
I grimace again as I pull out and throw onto my sleeping bag the pile of letters which I have been in the process of writing. When I realised the chances of me making it home were ever waning, I started the painful task of penning letters to my nearest and dearest; my indelible mother, my two lovely sisters, my four marvellous children. But I've realised that there's one person who I haven't written to.
My wife Lucy.
I untie the bundle with my teeth and watch as letters and photographs scatter everywhere, sliding down my sleeping bag and onto the floor of the tent. I watch with wide eyes as Scott dares move to pick up the photograph of my son and eldest daughter.
"Fine children, Soldier," Scott nods, examining the photo "Especially the lad, what's his name...," he searched for the name "...I...I can't remember his name."
"Thomas, isn't it?" The calm, melodic voice of Dr. Edward Wilson, 'Bill' to all of us, breaks through into the conversation with the correct answer. I look to where Bill is sitting next to his old friend Scott as he repeats himself "Thomas is your boy's name, no?"
"Thomas, that's right," I nod and reach out for the photo.
"And the little girl next to him is Violet, am I correct?" Bill identifies my eldest daughter correctly as I take the photo back.
"Yes, Bill," I say as I find myself a fresh sheet of paper and a pencil with which to write "Yes, the girl next to him is Violet," I place the photo on my leg along with the others. I glance up momentarily to see Bill staring at me through half closed eyelids. Bill Wilson is a devoted Christian, a great friend of Scott's and a revolutionary scientist. He and his wife are planning to start a family when he returns home. That's if he returns home. I could easily see him with children.
"Do you want help writing, Titus?" The third man speaks. I look up and smile. 'Birdie' Bowers stares back at me, blinking in his own rather adorable fashion. He has a sweetheart back home, I'm the only one he's told. She's relatively young at twenty, and I'd felt both honoured and slightly embarrassed when he told me he thought my decision to marry my wife when I was twenty and she nineteen a very noble and romantic one. Birdie has had a tough life compared to me, but he has made the best of it, and has reaped the rewards. But, I imagine as with the rest of us, meeting his end in a frozen wasteland wasn't what he had in mind for himself.
"No, Birdie," I smile and answer him "I'm alright, thank you, I...," I chuckle softly "I want to write things in this letter that only one pair of eyes shall ever read."
Birdie nods and returns to his logs and calculations. I then turn my eyes back down to the blank paper in front of me.
I bite my lip.
How in God's name am I going to write my last ever letter? The last testament to myself as a human being and what is also the last testament to my wife as her husband and the last testament to the mother of my children as the father of her children?
I feel no inspiration.
And then, as if by magic, the words start forming on the page.
If this letter reaches you then, I am afraid, that you are a widow. It is a sorry prospect for one so young and so beautiful as yourself. I am trying to be as formal as the situation dictates, for I fear that if I say what I really want to-no what I need to-then I will crack up and sob like a child.
Oh, my dear, dear Lucy...
How much you mean to me...
And to think, we haven't caught a glimpse of one another since that fateful day on June 15 1910. It's nearly been two years since I last held you in my arms, since I last caressed your sweet, soft face, since I last had my breath taken away by your Aphrodisiac beauty.
I want you to know, my love, that the most memorable day of my life was the day that I married you. The day you became Mrs. Lawrence Oates. That's a day I've never forgotten. You in your ivory chiffon and me in a suit that I had been stitched into that morning. Oh, it was all a shambles, wasn't it?
But we didn't care, did we?
On that cold Autumnal day in October, we were only thinking of the other.
And then it couldn't have been more than three months later... in fact it wasn't, as I remember us being at the memorial service held for Queen Victoria in the local church, with Mother and Lily and Old Vi sitting to our left. I was annoyed with you because you'd been off with me, but then you leant into my ear and whispered that you were "In the family way." Had I not been sitting in a memorial service for our most beloved dead monarch, I would've jumped for joy, as it was, I remember squeezing your hand tight. He's turned out alright, hasn't he? Our Tom. Is he still studying hard? Please God, Lucy, make sure the boy turns out more academic than his father. Please force him to go to school and never ever EVER let him do this. For the love of God don't.
Then it all went belly up, didn't it, my darling? I got posted to and got my leg shattered by a bullet. I missed Tom's birth and I still say, my love, I deeply regret it even today. But, I came home and my leg healed, slowly, and we both had to sit properly at the table with Mother every evening whilst we held hands underneath the table like naughty schoolchildren.
Then we got our little place, didn't we? I can still smell the roses and the hyacinths and the lavender as fresh as if I was walking amongst them now. I can see the stone walls and slate roof. I can feel the soft grass beneath my bare feet. I can taste the fresh country air. I can hear the shouts and giggles of the girls as they run through the gardens and hide in the mazes.
Little Vi, Grace, and Kitty. I remember the day Violet was born, five days before Christmas. I honestly thought you were going to die in childbirth, I kept telling myself that I'd have to shoot myself, because I wouldn't be able to raise your son and baby without you.
But it didn't come to that did it? Violet came out, kicking and screaming, and everyone was fine. And now, or at least from what I recall, she is a stunningly beautiful, charming, cheeky nine year old with a passion for flowers and animals. Particularly horses.
Just like her father then.
I remember she came with you and Tom to see me off. She wouldn't let go of my hand, do you remember, she held on for dear life. I expect if I hadn't handed her back to you then she would've come with us.
Now. Grace and Kitty...I can remember Grace, she was the feisty one who had me wrapped around her little finger. What's she into now? I think you said she was into the theatre actresses didn't you? In your last letter to me a while back? You said that she'd taken to dressing in long white dresses and putting flowers in her hair.
I can see her doing that.
And as for Kitty...well...I am afraid and ashamed to say it, but I cannot comment on little Kitty. I wasn't around long enough in her life to know her, and I am afraid that the only physical memory I shall have of her is her bouncing curls and chubby cheeks. She was a little darling I remember that. Please say she still is. I couldn't bear the idea of her, or indeed any of the girls or Tom, being such a nuisance to you. Especially when you've been so good.
I would also like to ask you to read the children, individually mind, each of the letters I have written to them. There's even one for Kitty.
And for you, my love, I have but one wish.
Please don't cry.
Love me, love me for I shall enjoy my last moments knowing that I might one day find you again. But do not mourn me. Do not cry tears of pain, or sorrow, do not cry for things left unsaid, because there are no things more that I'd like to say. It is all here in this letter.
I hope you don't mind that I've kept your necklace. It's been comforting in these past few days, to have a piece of you so close to my heart, and I'd like to keep that with me till the end.
I can see you now. Your hair, your eyes, your smile. I can feel your touch, hear your voice, smell your beautiful perfume. You're here, Lucy. You're here and I can see you in the garden with your hair down and you're running with the girls and you're threading flowers into their hair. Oh, Lucy, I can see it now.
But then I blink again, and you are gone.
And so, my love, as I meet my end in this Godforsaken wilderness, I want you to know that there has been no higher privilege, no more esteemed honour, than loving you. That being the man to kiss you and to embrace you and to hold you to my chest. I remember that first morning when I woke up to see and feel you wrapped in my arms.
The thought now warms me.
Lucy Cavill. Lucy Oates. Lucy whomever. All I know you as is my Lucy. It's a pity, but I am losing the ability to use my hands, so these words written to you and for your eyes only, will be the last I ever write.
But I'd like you to promise me one thing...
Look after them for me.
My deepest affection from so very, very far away,
I retract the pencil with a sigh and wrap my bundle back together. It's over. I can die now, happy in the knowledge that Lucy will have a part of me left. Even if it is just my words. I ask Birdie to hand the bundle to Lucy personally when they make it back, as I certainly won't be with them, he tells me to stop being stupid, but agrees anyway, and then bids me a goodnight and goes to sleep.
I don't want to wake, and as I settle down in my sleeping bag, I pray to any Antarctic God to take me peacefully as I sleep rather than let me suffer on for another day.
I think it's my birthday tomorrow.
The next day, as a blizzard raged around the tent and the men were once again storm bound Captain Scott sat and recorded in his diary, glancing over to the empty sleeping bag and pile of photographs and letters across to him. He could see the name Lucy scrawled over the top of the first letter.
Sunday, March 17th, 1912
Should this be found I want these facts recorded. Oates' last thoughts were of his beloved Lucy, but immediately before he took pride in thinking that his regiment would be pleased with the bold way in which he met his death. We can testify to his bravery. He has borne intense suffering for weeks without complaint, and to the very last was able and willing to discuss outside subjects. He did not – would not – give up hope to the very end. He was a brave soul. This was the end. He slept through the night before last, hoping not to wake; but he woke in the morning – yesterday. It was blowing a blizzard. He said, 'I am just going outside and may be some time.' He went out into the blizzard and we have not seen him since. We knew that poor Oates was walking to his death, but though we tried to dissuade him, we knew it was the act of a brave man and an English gentleman. We all hope to meet the end with a similar spirit, and assuredly the end is not far.
Friday, March 29th, 1912
We took risks, we knew we took them; things have come out against us, and therefore we have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of Providence, determined still to do our best to the last. But if we have been willing to give our lives to this enterprise, which is for the honour of our country, I appeal to our countrymen to see that those who depend on us are properly cared for.
Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance, and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale, but surely, surely, a great rich country like ours will see that those who are dependent on us are properly provided for.
It seems a pity, but I do not think I can write more.
For God's sake look after our people.
Done. All credit goes to the SPRI for Scott's diary extracts, I just modified the first one a bit ^^ So yeah...we approach the centenary of Scott's greatest achievement in January 2012, and, funny enough, today (the 14th) is the centenary of when Amundsen reached the Pole...so tonight, as we're in bed, think back a hundred years and Amundsen would've just reached the pole.
Should I keep this as a one-shot or would you like to know/want more?
Thanks guys :)