On Rufus’s Island


William Shakespeare’s play King Lear is included in almost every list of the Bard’s greatest works. However, the plot leaves too many questions unanswered. For example: Why are the two older sisters such bitches? Why did Edmund turn out so badly even though his half-brother Edgar is such a sweetheart? Why did the Fool leave in the middle of the play? What happened to that nice Edgar after everybody else died?

Mary Carmen’s novel On Rufus’s Island attempts to answer these questions and others. In 2290 Rufus Leary received an inheritance that allowed him to buy a large plot of land on the planet of Matilar. After a few years of establishing his procedures and processes for this real estate venture, with its tenants of both Earthlings and Matilarians, Rufus asks the Earthling matchmaker Mrs. Chayoss to find him a suitable Earthling woman so he can settle down. By 2317 he has three daughters, and the late Mrs. Leary’s earthly remains have been shipped back home for her relatives to dispose of.

Rufus has four permanent employees: Mr. Albany handles road maintenance, Mr. Cornwall is in charge of the water department, Mr. Kent is the administrative deputy, and the adulterous Mr. Gloucester finds contractors to do everything else. When Mr. Albany and Mr. Cornwall suggest that their sons would make good husbands for Rufus’s older two daughters, Gloriana and Rosaleen, money changes hands.

The central part of the novel includes a translation into modern American English of much of the action of the great Shakespearian play, including the death of Rufus. Finally, the story follows Edgar’s adventures as he continues in Rufus’s role as property administrator, with the help of the Matilarian king and his daughter Princess Chloe.

Sample Chapters

From Chapter I

Rufus was well known on Matilar. He and his brother had traveled to that planet in 2290 from a small town in western Pennsylvania, Turtle Creek, where they had been born and raised. Their parents had died within three months of each other and had left their boys a sizeable plot of land that had been vacant for nearly a decade.

The brothers quickly petitioned the zoning commission to re-designate that land as suitable for industrial use, and, with these revised restrictions, they sold the land for thirty times as much as their parents had paid for it.

Regis, the older brother, had been reading about Matilar and its thriving community of Americans.

“We could turn this cash into ninety-eight thousand square miles there,” Regis insisted.

“Are there women on Matilar? Real Earthling women?” Rufus asked.

“I have heard the sexes are about equal in the American sector,” Regis replied. “You wouldn’t need to accept a proposal from a woman who already had two or three husbands.”

“I didn’t accept,” Rufus insisted. “She wanted me to build a house that would include four separate master suites.”

“You could be the king of your own castle on Matilar,” Regis pointed out. “No need to compete with these pretty boys or these lazy intellectuals who know only how to talk.”

Within six months of the close of the sale, the brothers were on a craft headed toward Matilar.

It is true that some Earthlings do not have the stamina for space travel. Spending three months going back to the Initial Instant and then forward again takes energy, even though the craft does all the work. Some report a buzzing in the ear, others see ghosts wherever they look, and still others smell a putrid gas and search continually for a leaking pipe.

Regis experienced all three sensations, and he was chronically sick. The captain, a female from the planet of Drintde, spent her time pacing outside his cabin and sending messages to experts who assured her in their replies all this would pass.

A week before the landing on Matilar Regis was dead. Rufus determined he himself would live out Regis’s dream of ninety-eight thousand square miles of land. He sent what was left of Regis back to Turtle Creek, to lie in perpetuity with their parents in the family plot, and he toured the available parcels on Matilar with a slick salesman, an Earthling who had been named Salesman of the Year for twelve years running.

“This is essentially half of the big island,” the salesman told him. “You have your southern half and your northern half. The Earthlings in the northern half are wild things, giving to fighting for fun and believing in predestination. The Earthlings in the southern half are much more civilized.”

“How civilized will they be if somebody buys the property out from under them?” Rufus asked.

“They don’t own it now. It is owned by four separate interests, all willing to sell for the right price. You would inherit some very desirable tenants,” the salesman assured Rufus.

“And how do I keep the ruffians in the north from interfering with my collection of rents? Huh?” Rufus asked.

“The owners put up a long wall to separate the two halves,” the salesman assured Rufus. “You will never have to worry about anybody coming down here from up there.”

“How about that island to the west?” Rufus asked.

“Those entities are crazy,” the salesman admitted. “They keep their distance, though. They have too much trouble keeping the peace over there to worry about you over here.”

“I’ll take it,” Rufus decided. “Let’s write up the offers, and then I will look for a suitable site for my home.”

“The present owners will be vacating, and we can look over their houses. You are buying all that property too, so you might as well make use of it,” the salesman said.

“Something to start out with,” Rufus agreed. “Where are the present owners going to go?”

“South. Everybody wants to retire near the Great Warm Sea, and this sale will allow them to realize their dreams,” the salesman confided.

“Maybe I should investigate that area around the great sea before we settle on this,” Rufus suggested.

“There’s nothing there of this size. You would have neighbors peering into your bedroom from all sides, and the food is fattening. No beef, just pasta and shellfish. And having to bow and kowtow to the king every day,” the salesman told him.

“The king? Does he live there?” Rufus asked.

“Never leaves. He’ll stay in his great city-state and send you a bill for ten percent of your income. If you keep your nose clean, you’ll never be bothered by him or his agents,” the salesman told Rufus.

“Ten percent!” Rufus cried.

“You just need to add it onto the rents as a surcharge,” the salesman suggested. “Only another expense of doing business, like maintaining roads or watersheds.”

“Maintaining roads? Maintaining watersheds?” Rufus asked.

“If you are going to collect rents, you have to be ready to support your tenants with services,” the salesman insisted. “The constitution of this land specifies what you owe the tenants and what they owe you.”

“Constitution?” Rufus cried.

From Chapter 6

While Rufus was contemplating his next meeting with the matchmaker, Mr. Gloucester was broaching a delicate subject with his wife.

“You want this half-and-half to move in with us?” Mrs. Gloucester cried, her eyes widening. “You want me, a decent Earthling woman from a distinguished family, to help you raise this bastard? Alongside our own son?”

“Now, dear, Edmund is very smart,” Mr. Gloucester countered, as if intelligence could make up for an unfortunate start in life. “Some of this intelligence will rub off on Edgar, and our boy will be the better for it.”

“How old is this creature?” Mrs. Gloucester asked.

“Just two months younger than Edgar,” Mr. Gloucester replied, leaving himself wide open for Mrs. Gloucester’s next words.

“Are you telling me, right here, that you were humping this Matilarian female after our marriage? While I was heaving my guts out with morning sickness? After you had accepted that extremely generous dowry from my father, may he rest in peace?” Mrs. Gloucester exploded.

“She and I were together for several months before I met you,” Mr. Gloucester mumbled. “Then two years later, out of the blue, she called and asked for a luncheon appointment.”

“And you were too much of a lily-livered weasel to just refuse this appointment? To say you were now married and had taken a vow to remain faithful? To just wish her well and terminate the conversation?” Mrs. Gloucester hissed.

“Well, one thing led to another,” Mr. Gloucester put forth as his excuse. “You know how these things go.”

“No, I do not. When I take a man for better or worse, I do not expect the worse to occur while I am bending over the commode with horrible, horrible retching. To bring you Edgar I suffered more pain than you will ever experience,” she assured her husband.

“That is probably very true,” Mr. Gloucester assured his wife.

“And now you want me to have this unchristened nonentity at my own table?” she asked.

“Actually, I successfully petitioned the king for dual status for Edmund. He is now fully an Earthling and fully a Matilarian. His skin is a nice ecru color, and his eyes are a deep blue. He is very handsome, even though he is just twelve years old,” Mr. Gloucester argued.

“And where do you expect me to find a spare bedroom for this Adonis?” Mrs. Gloucester snarled. “This house is full already, with the three of us and the ten employees.”

“I have asked the housekeeper to prepare the Garden Suite,” Mr. Gloucester replied.

“The Garden Suite? That suite is my father’s favorite accommodation when he visits,” she snapped.

“Your father has been dead for seven years, my dear,” Mr. Gloucester told her. “I am having his toys boxed up, and you are free to do anything you want with them. I have ordered a new carpet for the Garden Suite, one that will not be stained with your father’s oil paints. I also have ordered a new set of drapes and a brocade bedspread.”

“And what is this mother saying about these plans? How can she endure a separation from this charmer?” Mrs. Gloucester sneeringly asked.

“I have found a nice vacation house in town for her, just four miles away. Edmund can take the limousine to visit her whenever he likes since I have programmed the route already,” Mr. Gloucester said.

“And where is the money coming from for this nice house? And where will I find a limousine when I want to go out?” Mrs. Gloucester wanted to know.

“One of the suppliers had a spare guest house, and we just happened to need the materials she had on hand. As for transportation, I have ordered two more programmable limousines, one for you and one for Edgar,” Mr. Gloucester explained.

“So now you are taking kickbacks from suppliers,” Mrs. Gloucester rightly guessed. “My father always thought you were too free and easy with your expense account, but he did not suspect this level of criminal activity.”

“Edmund will be here by Sunday,” Mr. Gloucester said, ignoring Mrs. Gloucester’s accusation. “His school keeps him out of the house five days of the week, but he will spend his weekends here and, of course, his vacations.”

“My god, are you paying for that fancy preparatory school for this bastard? The one your own father sent you to? The one you could not afford for Edgar?” she screamed.

“His mother is paying the tuition,” Mr. Gloucester calmly said. “She is much, much better off than you and I, even with the fabulous inheritance you received from your father.”

“Don’t get started with that again,” Mrs. Gloucester shrieked. “It was not my father’s fault he promised too much in all his daughters’ marriage contracts. He had seven girls, and, what with the dowries and the wedding expenses, he was always feeling the pinch.”

From Chapter 15 (Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear, Act 1, Scene 1)

Mr. Kent would not rest. While Cassie’s young men were coming to join the meeting, Mr. Kent continued, “Rufus, you need to remember that flattery and soft words cannot substitute for true love. I will not stay silent while you reject your most loving child.”

“Pack your bags, Kent, and leave my property,” Rufus said very sternly. “I will not tolerate insubordination, particularly from one who has been so well rewarded for past loyalties.”

“Leave?” Mr. Kent asked. “I paid my fees to the king, and I was assigned to assist you when you bought this place.”

“I don’t care about the king’s assignments!” Rufus shouted. “I alone will determine who will be allowed to live on my property, and you are being exiled. Go see the king. Go anywhere. But do not remain here for more than five more days.”

Rufus pounded on the table with nearly every word, and Mr. Kent was stunned. He turned to Cassie and said, “God bless you, Miss. When I am reestablished, I will write to you to offer you my hospitality.”

Cassie, who had remained quite stoic during Rufus’s ranting, nodded and wiped tears from her eyes.

Mr. Kent then turned to the older girls and said, “I hope you truly will be a comfort to your father. He has done more for you than you will ever know.”

Gloriana and Rosaleen ignored the deputy and so did their husbands. There were no handshakes as Mr. Kent gathered his briefcase and left the room, brushing past the staring Willis and Bertie.

“Sit down!” Rufus roared, pointing to each young man in turn and indicating where he was to take a place at the table.

“There have been some changes today,” Rufus went on. “I have taken Cassie’s dowry and divided it between her sisters. She has only a few dollars a year from her mother’s people.”

“No land?” Willis asked.

“None of my land. Willis, will you offer her marriage?”

“I already have commitments, sir,” Willis said. “I have an impoverished maid at home who awaits my decision here. I cannot choose your Cassie over my own people if she has no dowry.”

“Well said,” Rufus agreed. “And you, Bertie. Will you offer her marriage?”

Bertie had listened to months of praise from the old man for this youngest daughter, and he was unable to reconcile that with this recent announcement.

“What has Cassie done?” Bertie asked. “What, in just the few minutes you have been in this room, has caused you to change your mind?”

Cassie herself answered her suitor, “Bertie, I was asked to tell my father I loved him best. With you here, I will say again that I cannot love my father more than I will love my husband, should I ever have one.”

“My dear,” Bertie said, “you are yourself a great prize. Willis, won’t you change your mind? For the sake of love?”

“Yes, Bertie, I will change my mind if our prospective father-in-law will honor that commitment he made to Mrs. Chayoss about Cassie’s dowry,” Willis said, with an air of righteousness.

“No!” Rufus shouted. “I have made my decision.”

“I am sorry to have lost both a wife and a father,” Willis concluded.

Cassie extended her hand to Willis and said, “I cannot be your wife if you want me only for my dowry. God bless you, Willis.”

Bertie sighed, fell to his knees, and grasped the girl’s hand. “Ah, Cassie, I thought there was no chance for me, with Willis’s charm and good humor to attract you. Now, though, I can claim my greatest treasure, if you will have me. My house is not the great mansion Willis could provide, but you will be my only love and my precious wife. I will take you home tonight,” he said.

“I had already told my father I would select you, Bertie, if I received your proposal,” Cassie admitted.

“Then say farewell to your sisters and we shall be on our way,” Bertie said, coming to his feet and putting his arm around Cassie’s shoulder.

“Yes, to my sisters I ask only that their words be honored in kind care to our father. Farewell,” Cassie said, with sadness in her voice.

“You little vixen,” Gloriana spat out, “don’t tell us what to do. You have spoiled our father with your supposed devotion, and now you have received your just reward for your duplicity. Just be sure to leave our mother’s jewelry in your room.”

“I wish you good luck,” Cassie told her sisters.

“Come, Cassie, we will depart immediately,” Bertie repeated.

Rufus looked up from his exercise with the map. He had to redraw the property lines, but he needed Mr. Kent and his instruments so he could make sure the two halves were equal.

“Eh? Gone, is she? Well, that means I’ll spend every other month with one of you two in my western or eastern house,” Rufus said.

“Come to Percy and me first, Father, and then to Rosaleen and Chatham,” Gloriana told Rufus.

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