By Oliver Briscoe, Bristol Alumni
Epigram Arts presents part of a short story, or 'Bristory', about the romantic entanglements of a Bristol student.
A novella and a social satire of Romantic poetic Russian inspiration, Charles St Petroc follows the eponymous hero who, world-weary, manically suicidal, tenuously religious, graduating from Bristol University, falls in love with a young woman from the varsity shooting club, Ophelia. Courting her away from her relationship, they are separated as the first lockdown hits and Charles goes off to his home in North Cornwall.
Looking up, the whole of Somerset lay like hot-cross buns on a baker’s tray, hoar-frost like sugar dust. Rays shone blood orange, thawing the morning’s puddled mist.
Charles always shook slightly waiting for the flush, hearing the first guns down the line. The thrill coursed through his hands, stiff-nervous and numb, which later by the fire, holding a hot mug, would sting and glow like white coal, puffed and pinkish.
There is great sport in watching a bird stretch out impulsed, to sight it and with a light touch, send it into a head-spin. To cut short its flight under the nib of two barrels, propelling shot into a sentence. So that at the end one has, in the clearing above the withered copse, composed a stanza, full-stopped where the birds have crumpled and dropped leaden with a rolling thud; a georgic to country sport.
However, at university, clays would do.
University shooting was a certain freedom. Every week, whether under English sun or English rain, a group of boys and girls, in mostly Barbour-Schöffel-Hunter, with money to spend and a sense of naughty fun would pack into cars, drive out to the country and play with guns; then back home, cold and tired, rush off to bathe and dress for an evening’s gossip, drinks, dinner and silly games, from house to house, later trailing off in twos.
There were very few people of any note at the club. Most of the young men, tall sons of England with flowing spaniel locks and that droopy almost slant-eyed look, had only distant links to a baronetcy or some dead family. None of whom were said to be in any danger of becoming Prime Minister. None of whom wanted to. Unfortunately Sandhurst no longer took them either.
Some then would never rise above their signet ring; young men who could ill afford to bank the family name and did so anyway and would probably end half-ruined in almost forgotten exile, somewhere far; an odd uncle or godfather, too old for young man’s fun, too late for ageing grace.
Or, perhaps more terribly, keeping alive only as hallowed servants to that great atavistic duty, paying school fees. A service eased into old age with a black lab or a brown spaniel and the hunting, shooting, stalking seasons.
But the vain, louche side which all social young men have, knows all too well the draw of such a spendthrift life, especially when it could be afforded at university on a few hundred pounds.
Of the women, there were a few sloaney daughters, well brought up girls who still lived easily between Town and Country, pretty in that sylvan Saxon look; blonde hair tucked behind out-turned ears, a soft button nose and a couple too many teeth.
Or there were the Aga-hunters, provincial and contemptuous without reason, with more money than sense and not that much of either, for whom Sloane Square was a ‘day down to London’ and shooting another step up, in pastel wellies.
There was also foreign money, Russians, a Jordanian, a German, an Afrikaner, and the New, with their large shiny rings which ‘I swear weren’t there last week’, minding their U and non-Us.
The whole was a precocious social fantasy, affluent neglect, broken into cliques more or less accepting of each other ‘people like us’ but who, when stood about, pretended not to notice one another. Not many joined for the shooting, quite a few had never shot before and quite a few hangers-on never shot at all, and almost no-one deigned to pay club fees. ‘A drinking club with a shooting problem’ so the joke went.
As such Charles had long ignored the club but enough fun for mixed company, with a couple ‘good chaps’ as they would say, there was little else better on those sporting Wednesdays. In those small circles this was Society.
‘Charles, estoy aqui!’ Peter called out from across the shoot room. His steaming mug sat on the carpet by him. He was lying on the sofa in his gartered socks, natty in the English manner as foreigners are–well, Peter was half English. Charles poured himself a drink and made through the ruddy, sore, muddied bodies knotted in chit-chat. He sat on the arm of the sofa, pushing his friend’s legs off
‘Ai Peter, how was it my friend? ¿Bien?’
‘Alright, alright, I got my few. I came close to hitting Andrei though.’
‘You know he’s so bloody arrogant, so bloody Russian. So proud just because he went to one of those minor public schools. Rude bastard.’
‘Oh calm down, he’s a cunumi.’
‘Un cunumisaung’ Peter laughed ‘you’re learning’ and with that let the matter go, too sore to be angry. His eyes closed, he started offhand ‘Do you want to know who they paired us with for Friday?’
‘This Friday? I thought it was next weekend? Anyway how do you know? They haven’t given out the invites.’
Peter drew a long ‘Yes…remember, it was moved to fit with the reel. They’ll give out the invites when we drive back but I was talking to Ophelia just now and she has put us together and at hers, so stop being such an Eeyore.’
‘Ooh, good, good.’
‘But we also have Izzy.’
‘Izzy Fitzvillin, pfff, can’t stand her. Anyone else?’
‘Yes, we’re in sixes, but I can’t, uh…anyway, tranquilo, lo que pasa, pasa…oh yeah, George is the third man and I think Ophelia chose Ana, you know the one…yes, you know, anyway you’ll see her there.
‘What a hard life you live, being cooked for and drinking nice wine, which we have to bring by the way.’
Stiff, Charles yawned, stretched and stood slowly ‘It looks like my car is off. Well, I’ll…if not before, see you then.’
To read the full story, go to https://chargedaffaires.co.uk/art
*Feautured Image: Unsplash / Markus Winkler
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