Excerpt from Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen

by Dexter Palmer

Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer X
Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer
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  • First Published:
    Nov 2019, 336 pages

    Oct 2020, 336 pages


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Callum McLaughlin
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Print Excerpt


A Concerned Husband.

On October 13, 1726, the first day of the year that was chilly enough to compel John Howard to light a fire in his office, his first visitor was one Joshua Toft, a journeyman in the cloth trade.

The man was hulking and hirsute, and stood at the threshold of Howard's office, a faded, weather-beaten cloth cap clutched in his hands. His slumping posture suggested a diffidence at odds with his frame: with his stooped back and drawn‑in shoulders, he seemed as if he genuinely believed he was half his actual size. His eyes were at odds with the rest of him, twin glints of silver twinkling in the shad­ows cast by his hooded brows.

John closed the volume of Locke on his desk, putting it aside with a mixture of relief and regret: he was finding Locke's pedantic defini­tion of infinity to be deeply befuddling, but unpleasant as it was, his confusion had a cast to it that signaled an impending enlightenment. It would take him another morning to pick up the thread of reason­ing once he dropped it. Alas: too late. "May I help you?" he asked, stifling a sigh, feeling the flickering flame in the back of his mind go cold.

Joshua Toft took two timid steps forward, eyes on the floor. He mumbled something John couldn't catch: a stuttered sibilant, a word that sounded like "wife," and little else. "Speak up," John said, becom­ing aggravated.

"My wife!" Joshua fairly shouted, then cringed as if startled by the sound of his own voice. "My wife," he said again. "Sh ... she's. She's ... she's with child. It's time."

He looked away from the floor and at John, who was leaning back in his chair, staring up at Joshua in puzzlement. "It's time," Joshua said again, his voice now steady and even, though his posture still suggested an instinctive supplication. "We need you. Today. Certainly before nightfall. Perhaps now."

Slowly, John pushed back his chair and stood. He looked at Joshua, then down at the book before him, as if some secret were hid­den between its covers that needed urgent deciphering, then back at Joshua again. "That cannot be," John said quietly; then, again, louder: "No. That cannot be."

"I tell you, it is," said Joshua. "Perhaps I am not the expert in human anatomy that you are. But I know my wife, and I trust my eyes."

"Sit," said John, gesturing toward an empty chair.

"We don't have—"

"Sit, I said."

With slow steps Joshua found his way toward a chair and col­lapsed into it, the joints crying out as his formidable weight settled. He began to wring his cap in his large, meaty hands, as if he intended to tear it in two.

"Mr. Toft," John said, sitting down behind his desk once more and attempting to infuse his voice with a warmth and gentleness that he did not at all feel, "it has not even been six months since your wife's ... untimely exclusion in the spring. The blessing of a preg­nancy, even one that might appear to have progressed far along, is easily within the realm of probability: I grant you that. But to suggest that my services are needed urgently? That the birth is mere hours away? This defies belief—my apologies, but there is no other honest way to state it."

The silver in Joshua's eyes brightened. "I know what I see," he said, his voice rising. "We have had three children before this—James, and the girls Clara and Bridget, both taken by the smallpox two years back. I am no fool. Sir."

"I did not intend to suggest you were," said John. "I offer you my sincerest apologies, once again. But you do see the problem here, all the same? The situation presented to me requires either strange biol­ogy, or new mathematics; I refuse to ponder the latter, and cannot find any justification for considering the former. There must be some mistake; the facts must not be as they seem."

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Excerpted from Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen by Dexter Palmer. Copyright © 2019 by Dexter Palmer. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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