July 9th, 1863
The good Father Kettrick has supplied me with this foolscap and pencil, and further agreed to forebear the redemption of my soul and instead to give me solitude for my final hour. I think that this evidence of my literacy has shocked the poor clergyman into acquiescence. I shall therefore attempt to explain for the benefit of those still baffled by the mystery leading to my conviction the circumstances, largely of my own doing, which lead me to this, the very shadow of the gallows. I shall present it in the form of a story, so that those who have not already heard my whispered and unbelievable claims will not be hopelessly confused at the outset.
Rory Calloran was born into a family of means, and discovered as he matured both the blessings of his station and the limits of material blessings. He was a quick and studious boy, but only a few years into his primary school education he discovered that his body was not the equal of his mind. By the time he was twelve years old, he was forced to walk with a cane. Prior to his matriculation into university, the cane had become two crutches. His diploma, with honors, was received when his strength had degenerated to the point where the crutches were at times supplanted by a wheeled chair in the hands of one of his household staff. His parents had used both money and influence to secure the advice and attentions of those in the top echelon of medical achievement, but this congenital wasting was not something they could halt or even concretely diagnose; it was, in the words of one practitioner, a “defect in the germ,” and as such could not be corrected without supplanting God Himself. He would never be a husband and father, nor would he ever inherit from his own father the management of the family estate and holdings. At most, young Rory could be made comfortable, and the household could anticipate the needs of his impending helplessness in all personal matters within the next decade.
But as I have said, Rory Calloran was studious and intellectual, perhaps more so owing to the imbalance between mind and body. He was aware from an early age that even as he enriched and expanded his brain, the fragile body from which it drew its sustenance would continually degenerate until he was left imprisoned in a withered husk. And thus it was also from an early age that he turned his greatest resource, his mind, to the solution of his overshadowing doom.
Owing to both the university library’s impressive holdings of antiquarian books and manuscripts and the Calloran family’s history of considerable financial support to said institution, Rory was allowed to explore the dusty stacks to his heart’s content, far beyond the liberty accorded to his fellow students. Accompanied by his Negro servants, who were entirely illiterate and thus could not report back any unease stemming from the nature of his self-directed studies, Rory made himself the master of the library’s holdings beyond the mastery of any of the librarians paid to maintain the collection. He plumbed storerooms in which the contents had been stored uncatalogued for years beyond counting, ostensibly waiting for a resource of expertise among the staff which such specialized curation would require, but in actuality neglected because those few of the staff who had ever known what those holdings included had shrunk from intimate contact with such questionable materials…