Summer Reading 2022
All week I’m sharing excerpts from a standalone chapter from my work-in-progress, The Descent of Chloe Jackson.
To read previous excerpts, click here…
William is being haunted by intimate letters sent to his childhood friend, Teddy, which are being mysteriously returned to him. Teddy is equally shocked by the discovery that William’s letters have been stolen from Teddy’s room, and might be used to blackmail them both. William takes an awkward stroll in the park with his fiancée (and Teddy’s sister), Alice, and they recall their visit to the great Dublin Exhibition earlier in the year, and it’s peculiar “Somali Village” where Teddy found a new spiritual commitment which put him at odds with William and their illicit relationship.
Your Affectionate Friend
(Chapter 5 of The Descent of Chloe Jackson)
Paul C. Mercer
(part five of seven)
‘Do you think their Majesties enjoyed the Exhibition? Princess Victoria seemed quite indifferent, I recall.’ Alice clearly remembered different details from that day.
‘That old man, with the infected insect bite…’
‘Oh, William, that was quite the most disgusting thing I have ever seen. But his baby goats were the dearest things ever, and you wouldn’t buy me one. You got me that ugly little pot instead.’
‘The goats were not for sale. Is that truly all you remember?’
Alice scowled at him, but said nothing.
‘That was when it all began. Teddy’s obsession. That was the moment.’
She still didn’t respond. He reached for her hand, but she pulled it away, and walked on a few paces.
‘I believe he would have embarked tomorrow without a word to me. He is so distant.’ He caught up with her, and she quickened her pace. ‘We were so close, the three of us, and yet…’
‘And yet.’ She turned on him, defiant. ‘Now, we are not so close.’ She turned again, and walked away with a purpose. Away from him.
William strode to regain her side. There was clearly some measure of apology required. ‘I did not mean that you and I were estranged in any way.’
‘And yet we are, William. Where have you been these last few months? Teddy has at least had the excuse of being in London.’
‘I have been preoccupied.’
‘So, you have said. Do you love me?’
Out of nowhere. They had been talking about Teddy, and suddenly a great chasm was opened up. ‘Well, of course, I love you. We are engaged to be married. Will you stop walking at such a pace?’
She dug in her heels, and he overshot by several yards before turning back to face her. The expression on her face was quite shocking. So much so, that he feared for a moment that she was in acute physical pain.
‘Shall we be happy together, William?’
‘We will have a splendid wedding, and a wonderful honeymoon?’
‘Everything you desire.’
‘And will you father them yourself? Or will you spend your evenings with the Molly Boys behind the barracks? I believe there are several establishments in that vicinity that cater to such as you.’
She seemed almost as shocked as him, realising perhaps that she had given no thought as to how her words might ever be unspoken.
He had no response. There was no response that could adequately address the injustice of her accusations, and their fundamental truth. There was no way to dissociate the nature of the accusations from the horrific revelation that she knew his secret. How could she know that carnal relations of that ilk were even possible? How could his Alice know anything of Molly houses and the lusts that were sated there? What could he possibly say that addressed any of these fleeting, competing horrors?
She found her voice before he did. ‘I know it all, William.’
Dear God, how much did she know?
‘My fiancé is a sodomite. I am engaged to be married to a man of depraved habit, a man who would drag my own brother into his sordid den.’
‘You have driven him away.’
‘You and your unnatural perversions. Why do you think he is so determined to run to the other side of the world? To hide his shame from civilised eyes?’
‘You don’t understand.’
‘Oh, I do.’
‘You cannot.’ How could she? How could she possibly understand the honest bond between two men? ‘My affection for Teddy is not what you have called it. I am not that man. I do not frequent those houses. What I feel for him is a thing apart. It does not diminish my feelings for you. I love you, Alice.’
There were tears in her eyes, but no forgiveness. ‘I don’t doubt that you believe it, that this is what you tell yourself. But you do not love me, William. If you love me, why have you never written to me as you write to him?’
The sudden clarity was devastating. She delved into the bag she always carried about her, and pulled out a small bundle of letters in a familiar hand. She selected one, glanced over it briefly, and presented it to him. ‘If you truly love me, how can you write this to him?’
He took the letter. There was little need to read it, but the action gave him a moment to collect his thoughts.
My Dear Teddy, I think I could bear your absence better than this cruel indifference. To have you in Dublin again is nothing if I do not have a place in your heart. I am wretched without you.
If I do not have your love, can I not still retain a place by your side, a place of companionship and fellowship? We have ever been friends, and are soon to be brothers. Write to me, my dear fellow. Call upon me, as you once did. Albeit with a heavy heart, I assure you that I do not seek to rekindle the intimacy which you now find so insufferable. I miss my dear friend, and would have him by my side once more.
Believe that I am ever yours, William
‘It means nothing, Alice.’
‘I have done everything in my power to end this. I have thrust the evidence of your perversion repeatedly before your eyes, and threatened you with exposure. If you had any honest feelings for Teddy, and any respect for me, you would surely have seen that all further intercourse between you and him should cease. And yet, this morning, you call upon him. You still believe, apparently, that you might remain “dear friends”.’
Ouch! Join me tomorrow as William scrambles to contain the damage.
I hope you’re enjoying these glimpses into the tortured life of young William. If so, I’d take it as a personal favour if you’d share it with all your book-loving friends, and encourage them to join our adventure.