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Charles Palliser
Charles Palliser

Charles Palliser was born in Massachusetts, but has lived in the UK since the age of three. A graduate of Oxford University, he has published four novels. He lives in London, where he writes full time.

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Rustication: Excerpt


Excerpt from Rustication by Charles Palliser (Norton - November 2013)

 

 

Foreword

 

What follows is my transcription of a document which has lain unnoticed for many years in the County Records Office in Thurchester. It is a Journal which casts light on a murder that attracted national interest at the time but which, since nobody was ever charged with the crime, was subsequently forgotten.

          The book in which it is written is a leatherbound quarto volume of three hundred pages of unlined paper of which the Journal takes up two hundred and eighty. At an unknown date in the past someone had pasted into it a number of the anonymous letters relating to the case. I have reproduced them exactly as and where I found them. One of them, however, was not stuck into the Journal but came from another source and it is the last and the most revealing.

          This is part of that letter:

 

You think you can fuck any girl you like and just walk away because of who You are. Well you can fuck your whores as much as you please but if you lay hands on a decent girl you must pay for it. I don’t mean money. I am going to make you pay with your blood. You think you have got away with it. But you are wrong. You won’t be able to hide behind your friends the next time we meet. I am going to kill you but before I do that I am going to hurt you so badly you will scream for mercy. You are so proud of your cock. See if it will get you an heir when it’s stuffed down your lying throat!

 

          That threat was executed in full.

          Near the end of the Journal a police-officer reads out a section of that letter but admits that he has not been allowed to see the whole. I was intrigued by that and, wondering if something crucial had been suppressed, I decided to try to find the original. I will return to that topic in my Afterword.

 

CP.

 

 

The Journal of Richard Shenstone:

12th of December 1863 to 13th of January 1864

 

 

Saturday 12th of December, 10 o’clock at night.

 

I’m baffled by Mother’s reception of me. I’m sure she blurted out either William or Willy when I caught her by surprise. But I can’t think of anyone of that name she could have taken me for and I don’t see how she could have been expecting a visitor at such a late hour in this out-of-the-way place. What is even stranger is that she wasn’t pleased to see me.

          As for Effie! She was obviously horrified at the sight of her brother.

          I wonder how long I will be able to endure this benighted backwater. When I lifted a corner of the curtain and looked out a moment ago I saw nothing but the moon shining palely across the silvery expanse of mud and waves—both so smooth that it’s hard to see where the marsh ends and the sea begins. Nothing. Not a house. Not a light.

          I’m astonished that the house is in this state. Almost nothing seems to have been done to make it habitable. Yet they’ve been here for weeks.

          And I have lost my trunk! Because that wretched carter who brought me from Thurchester station was afraid of getting stuck in the mud, he forced me to deposit it at a grimy beer-shop along the way. And the brute of a landlord charged me a shilling but would not give me three minutes to unlock it and remove its precious contents. From now on I must keep an account of my expenses and not fall into the old ways. That should not be hard: there is nothing here to spend my money on.

 

· · ·

 

Memorandum: OPENING BALANCE: 13s. 4½d. EXPENDITURE: Carriage to Whitminster (2s. 3d.) and storage of trunk at 4d. per diem for three days (1s.) TOTAL EXP: 3s. 3d. final balance: 10s. 1½d.

 

· · ·

 

Then 2 hours on foot along a winding muddy way until at last I rounded a threadbare hedgerow and before me lay an inland bay filled by a salt-marsh that spread towards the distant sea like a great black stain of ink on a blotter. In the fading twilight I could just see an ancient house with a muddle of high chimneys like an age-bent hand raised against the grey sky. This truly is the last place in England.

          I opened the iron-studded door and found myself in a large hallway with an ancient oak staircase. It had black panelled walls and narrow casement windows. No fire burned in the hearth. The place was so dark and musty that I believed I must have mistaken the house.

          I passed through one comfortless chamber after another, ducking my head beneath the low cornices of the doorways. Then in a cramped scullery lit by a flickering oil-lamp, I came suddenly upon a little old woman bent over a sideboard with her back to me. She turned. It was the mater! For a moment she recognised me no better than I had recognised her.

          That’s when she said: Willy? I wasn’t expecting you so early.

          I said: Who is “Willy”?

          Richard? Is that you? Now she sounded frightened.

          Who did you think it was, Mother?

          She came towards me and I thought she was going to kiss me but she only stretched out her hand and touched my coat as if she thought I were a phantasm.

          Who is the “Willy” you expected?

          I did not call you “Willy”. You misheard me. I cried out in astonishment

because I didn’t think you were coming until after Christmas.

          I said: Why weren’t you expecting me?

          I thought you were going on a walking holiday.

          Didn’t you get my letter?

          She shook her head.

          I had overtaken it!

          I said: Mother, aren’t you glad I’m back?

          She came up to me at last and raising herself on tiptoes, she kissed me. Then she stood back and looked at me. You’re thin, Richard. You haven’t been eating well.


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