Carradine had not been gone more than twenty minutes when Marta appeared, laden with flowers, books, candy, and goodwill. She found Grant deep in the fifteenth century as reported by Sir Cuthbert Oliphant. He greeted her with an absentmindedness to which she was not accustomed.
‘If your two sons had been murdered by your brother-in-law, would you take a handsome pension from him?’
‘I take it that the question is rhetorical,’ Marta said, putting down her sheaf of flowers and looking round to see which of the already occupied vases would best suit their type.
‘Honestly, I think historians are all mad. Listen to this:
“The conduct of the Queen–Dowager is hard to explain; whether she feared to be taken from sanctuary by force, or whether she was merely tired of her forlorn existence at Westminster, and had resolved to be reconciled to the murderer of her sons out of mere callous apathy, seems uncertain.”
‘Merciful Heaven!’ said Marta, pausing with a delft jar in one hand and a glass cylinder in the other, and looking at him in wild surmise.
‘Do you think historians really listen to what they are saying?’
‘Who was the said Queen–Dowager?’
‘Elizabeth Woodville. Edward IV’s wife.’
‘Oh, yes. I played her once. It was a “bit”. In a play about Warwick the Kingmaker.’
‘Of course I’m only a policeman,’ Grant said.
‘Perhaps I never moved in the right circles. It may be that I’ve met only nice people. Where would one have to go to meet a woman who became matey with the murderer of her two boys?’
‘Greece, I should think,’ Marta said. ‘Ancient Greece.’
‘I can’t remember a sample even there.’
‘Or a lunatic asylum, perhaps. Was there any sign of idiocy about Elizabeth Woodville?’
‘Not that anyone ever noticed. And she was Queen for twenty years or so.’
‘Of course the thing is farce, I hope you see,’ Marta said, going on with her flower arranging. ‘Not a tragedy at all. “Yes, I know he did kill Edward and little Richard, but he really is a rather charming creature and it is so bad for my rheumatism living in rooms with a north light”.’
Grant laughed, and his good temper came back.
‘Yes, of course. It’s the height of absurdity. It belongs to Ruthless Rhymes, not to sober history. That is why historians surprise me. They seem to have no talent for the likeliness of any situation. They see history like a peepshow; with two-dimensional figures against a distant background.’
‘Perhaps when you are grubbing about with tattered records you haven’t time to learn about people. I don’t mean about the people in the records, but just about People. Flesh and blood. And how they react to circumstances.’
‘How would you play her?’ Grant asked, remembering that the understanding of motive was Marta’s trade.
‘The woman who came out of sanctuary and made friends with her children’s murderer for seven hundred merks per annum and the right to go to parties at the Palace.’
‘I couldn’t. There is no such woman outside Euripides or a delinquent’s home. One could only play her as a rag. She’d make a very good burlesque, now I think of it. A take-off of poetic tragedy. The blank verse kind. I must try it sometime. For a charity matinée, or something. I hope you don’t hate mimosa. It’s odd, considering how long I’ve known you, how little I know of your likes and dislikes. Who invented the woman who became buddies with her sons’ murderer?’
‘No one invented her. Elizabeth Woodville did come out of sanctuary, and did accept a pension from Richard. The pension was not only granted, it was paid. Her daughters went to parties at the Palace and she wrote to her other son — her first-marriage son — to come home from France and make his peace with Richard. Oliphant’s only suggestion as to the reason for this is that she was either frightened of being dragged out of sanctuary (did you ever know of anyone who was dragged out of sanctuary? The man who did that would be excommunicated — and Richard was a very good son of Holy Church) or that she was bored with sanctuary life.’
‘And what is your theory about so odd a proceeding?’
‘The obvious explanation is that the boys were alive and well. No one at that time ever suggested otherwise.’
Marta considered the sprays of mimosa. ‘Yes, of course. You said that there was no accusation in that Bill of Attainder. After Richard’s death, I mean.’ Her eyes went from the mimosa to the portrait on the table and then to Grant. ‘You think, then, you really soberly think, as a policeman, that Richard didn’t have anything to do with the boys’ deaths.’
‘I’m quite sure that they were alive and well when Henry took over the Tower on his arrival in London. There is nothing that would explain his omission to make a scandal of it if the boys were missing. Can you think of anything?’
‘No. No, of course not. It is quite inexplicable. I have always taken it for granted that there was a terrific scandal about it. That it would be one of the main accusations against Richard. You and my woolly lamb seem to be having a lovely time with history. When I suggested a little investigation to pass the time and stop the prickles I had no idea that I was contributing to the rewriting of history. Which reminds me, Atlanta Shergold is gunning for you.’
‘For me? I’ve never even met her.’
‘Nevertheless she is looking for you with a gun. She says that Brent’s attitude to the B.M. has become the attitude of an addict to his drug. She can’t drag him away from it. If she takes him away from it physically, he spends the time harking back to it in his mind; so that she mightn’t exist as far as he is concerned. He has even stopped sitting through To Sea in a Bowl. Do you see much of him?’
‘He was here a few minutes before you came. But I don’t expect to hear from him again for some days to come.’
But in that he was wrong.
Just before supper-time the porter appeared with a telegram.
Grant put his thumb under the dainty Post Office lick on the flap and extracted two sheets of telegram. The telegram was from Brent.
Hell and damnation an awful thing has happened (stop) you know that chronicle in Latin I talked about (stop) the chronicle written by the monk at Croyland Abbey (stop) well I’ve just seen it and the rumour is there the rumour about the boys being dead (stop) the thing is written before Richard’s death so we are sunk aren’t we and I specially am sunk and that fine book of mine will never be written (stop) is anyone allowed to commit suicide in your river or is it reserved for the British.
Into the silence the voice of the porter said: ‘It’s reply-paid, sir. Do you want to send an answer?’
‘What? Oh. No. Not right away. I’ll send it down presently.’
‘Very good, sir,’ said the porter looking respectfully at the two sheets of telegram — in the porter’s family a telegram was confined to one sheet only — and went away, not humming this time.
Grant considered the news conveyed with such transatlantic extravagance in the matter of telegraphic communication. He read the thing again.
‘Croyland,’ he said, considering. Why did that ring a bell? No one had mentioned Croyland so far in this case. Carradine had talked merely of a monkish chronicle somewhere.
He had been too often, in his professional life, faced with a fact that apparently destroyed his whole case to be dismayed now. He reacted as he would have reacted in a professional investigation. He took out the upsetting small fact and looked at it. Calmly. Dispassionately. With none of poor Carradine’s wild dismay.
‘Croyland,’ he said again. Croyland was somewhere in Cambridgeshire. Or was it Norfolk? Somewhere on the borders there, in the flat country.
The Midget came in with his supper, and propped the flat bowl-like plate where he could eat from it with a modicum of comfort, but he was not aware of her.
‘Can you reach your pudding easily from there?’ she asked. And as he did not answer: ‘Mr Grant, can you reach your pudding if I leave it on the edge there?’
‘Ely!’ he shouted at her.
‘Ely,’ he said; softly, to the ceiling.
‘Mr Grant, aren’t you feeling well?’
He became conscious of The Midget’s well-powdered and concerned little face as it intruded between him and the familiar cracks.
‘I’m fine, fine. Better than I’ve ever been in my life. Wait just a moment, there’s a good girl, and send a telegram down for me. Give me my writing-pad. I can’t reach it with that mess of rice pudding in the way.’
She gave him the pad and pencil, and on the reply-paid form he wrote:
Can you find me a similar rumour in France at about the same date?
After that he ate his supper with a good appetite, and settled down to a good night’s sleep. He was floating in that delicious half-way stage on the way to unconsciousness when he became aware that someone was leaning over to inspect him. He opened his eyes to see who it might be, and looked straight into the anxious yearning brown irises of The Amazon, looking larger and more cowlike than ever in the soft lamplight. She was holding in her hand a yellow envelope.
‘I didn’t quite know what to do,’ she said. ‘I didn’t want to disturb you and yet I didn’t know whether it mightn’t be important. A telegram, you know. You never can tell. And if you didn’t have it tonight it would mean a whole twelve hours’ delay. Nurse Ingham has gone off duty, so there was no one to ask till Nurse Briggs comes on at ten. I hope I haven’t wakened you up. But you weren’t asleep, were you?’
Grant assured her that she had done the right thing and she let out a sigh that nearly blew the portrait of Richard over. She stood by while he read the telegram, with an air of being ready to support him in any evil news that it might contain. To The Amazon all telegrams conveyed evil tidings.
The telegram was from Carradine.
It said: ‘You mean you want repeat want that there should be another repeat another accusation question mark — Brent.’
Grant took the reply-paid form and wrote: ‘Yes. Preferably in France.’
Then he said to The Amazon: ‘You can turn out the light, I think. I’m going to sleep until seven tomorrow morning.’
He fell asleep wondering how long it would be before he saw Carradine again, and what the odds were against that much desired instance of a second rumour.
But it was not so long after all until Carradine turned up again, and he turned up looking anything but suicidal. Indeed he seemed in some queer way to have broadened out. His coat seemed less of an appendage and more of a garment. He beamed at Grant.
‘Mr Grant, you’re a wonder. Do they have more like you at Scotland Yard? Or do you rate special?’
Grant looked at him almost unbelieving. ‘Don’t tell me you’ve turned up a French instance!’
‘Didn’t you want me to?’
‘Yes. But I hardly dared hope for it. The odds against seemed tremendous. What form did the rumour take in France? A chronicle? A letter?’
‘No. Something much more surprising. Something much more dismaying, actually. It seems that the Chancellor of France, in a speech to the States–General at Tours, spoke of the rumour. Indeed he was quite eloquent about it. In a way, his eloquence was the one scrap of comfort I could find in the situation.’
‘Well, it sounded more to my mind like a Senator being hasty about someone who had brought in a measure his own people back home wouldn’t like. More like politics than State, if you know what I mean.’
‘You should be at the Yard, Brent. What did the Chancellor say?’
‘Well, it’s in French and my French isn’t very good so perhaps you’d better read it for yourself.’
He handed over a sheet of his childish writing and Grant read:
Regardez, je vous prie, les événements qui après la mort du roi Edouard sont arrivés dans ce pays. Contemplez ses enfants, déjà grands et braves, massacrés impunément, et la couronne transportée a l’assassin par la faveur des peuples.
“Ce pays”,’ said Grant. ‘Then he was in full flood against England. He even suggests that it was with the will of the English people that the boys were “massacred”. We are being held up as a barbarous race.’
‘Yes. That’s what I meant. It’s a Congressman scoring a point. Actually, the French Regency sent an embassy to Richard that same year — about six months later — so they had probably found that the rumour wasn’t true. Richard signed a safe-conduct for their visit. He wouldn’t have done that if they had been still slanging him as a murdering untouchable.’
‘No. Can You give me the dates of the two libels?’
‘Sure. I have them here. The monk at Croyland wrote about events in the late summer of 1483. He says that there was a rumour that the boys had been put to death but no one knew how the nasty slap in the meeting of the States–General was in January 1484.’
‘Perfect,’ said Grant.
‘Why did you want there to have been another instance of rumour?’
‘As a cross-check. Do you know where Croyland is?’
‘Yes. In the Fen country.’
‘In the Fen country. Near Ely. And it was in the Fen country that Morton was hiding out after his escape from Buckingham’s charge.’
‘Morton! Yes, of course.’
‘If Morton was the carrier, then there had to be another outbreak on the Continent, when he moved on there. Morton escaped from England in the autumn of 1483, and the rumour appears promptly in January 1484. Croyland is a very isolated place, incidentally, it would be an ideal place for a fugitive bishop to hide-out till he could arrange transport abroad.’
‘Morton!’ said Carradine again, rolling the name over on his tongue. ‘Wherever there’s hanky-panky in this business you stub your toe against Morton.’
‘So you’ve noticed that too.’
‘He was the heart of that conspiracy to murder Richard before he could be crowned, he was in back of the rebellion against Richard once he was crowned, and his trail to the Continent is sticky as a snail’s with — with subversion.’
‘Well, the snail part is mere deduction. It wouldn’t stand up in court. But there’s no peradventure about his activities once he was across the channel. He settled down to a whole-time job of subversion. He and a buddy of his called Christopher Urswick worked like beavers in Henry’s interest; “sending preuie letters and cloked messengers” to England to stir up hostility to Richard.’
‘Yes? I don’t know as much as you about what stands up in court and what won’t, but it seems to me that that snail’s trail is a very allowable deduction — if you’ll allow me. I don’t suppose Morton waited till he was overseas before beginning his undermining.’
‘No. No, of course he didn’t. It was life and death to Morton that Richard should go. Unless Richard went, John Morton’s career was over. He was finished. It wasn’t even that there would be no preferment for him now. There would be nothing. He would be stripped of his numerous livings and be reduced to his plain priest’s frock. He, John Morton. Who had been within touching distance of an archbishopric. But if he could help Henry Tudor to a throne then he might still become not only Archbishop of Canterbury but a Cardinal besides. Oh, yes; it was desperately, overwhelmingly important to Morton that Richard should not have the governing of England.’
‘Well,’ said Brent, ‘he was the right man for a job of subversion. I don’t suppose he knew what a scruple was. A little rumour like infanticide must have been child’s play to him.’
‘There’s always the odd chance that he believed it, of course,’ Grant said, his habit of weighing evidence overcoming even his dislike of Morton.
‘Believed that the boys were murdered?’
‘Yes. It may have been someone else’s invention. After all, the country must have been swarming with Lancastrian tales, part mere ill-will, part propaganda. He may have been merely passing on the latest sample.’
‘Huh! I wouldn’t put it past him to be paving the way for their future murder,’ Brent said tartly.
Grant laughed. ‘I wouldn’t, at that,’ he said. ‘What else did you get from your monk at Croyland?’
‘A little comfort, too. I found after I had written that panic wire to you that he wasn’t at all to be taken as gospel. He just put down what gossip came his way from the outer world. He says, for instance, that Richard had a second coronation, at York; and that of course just isn’t true. If he can be wrong about a big, known, fact like a coronation, then he’s not to be trusted as a reporter. But he did know about Titulus Regius, by the way. He recorded the whole tenor of it, including Lady Eleanor.’
‘That’s interesting. Even a monk at Croyland had heard who Edward was supposed to have been married to.’
‘Yes. The sainted More must have dreamed up Elizabeth Lucy a good deal later.’
‘To say nothing of the unspeakable story that Richard based his claim on his mother’s shame.’
‘He says that Richard caused a sermon to be preached claiming that Edward and George were his mother’s sons by some other father, and that he, Richard, was the only legitimate son and therefore the only true heir.’
‘The sainted More might have thought up a more convincing one,’ young Carradine said dryly.
‘Yes. Especially when Richard was living in his mother’s house at the time of the libel!’
‘So he was. I’d forgotten that. I don’t have a proper police brain. That’s very neat, what you say about Morton being the carrier of the rumour. But suppose the rumour turns up somewhere else, even yet.’
‘It’s possible, of course. But I’m willing to lay you fifties to any amount that it won’t. I don’t for one moment believe that there was any general rumour that the boys were missing.’
‘For a reason that I hold to be unanswerable. If there had been any general uneasiness, any obviously subversive rumours or action, Richard would have taken immediate steps to checkmate them. When the rumours went round, later, that he was proposing to marry his niece Elizabeth — the boys’ eldest sister — he was on to it like a hawk. He not only sent letters to the various towns denying the rumour in no uncertain terms, he was so furious (and evidently thought of it such importance that he should not be traduced) that he summoned the “heid yins” of London to the biggest hall he could find (so that he could get them all in at one time) and told them face to face what he thought about the affair.’
‘Yes. Of course you’re right. Richard would have made a public denial of the rumour if the rumour was general. After all, it was a much more horrifying one than the one that he was going to marry his niece.’
‘Yes; actually you could get a dispensation to marry your niece in those days. Perhaps you still can, for all I know. That’s not my department at the Yard. What is certain is that if Richard went to such lengths to contradict the marriage rumour then he most certainly would have gone to much greater lengths to put a stop to the murder one, if it had existed. The conclusion is inevitable: there was no general rumour of disappearance or foul play where the boys were concerned.’
‘Just a thin little trickle between the Fens and France.’
‘Just a thin little trickle between the Fens and France. Nothing in the picture suggests any worry about the boys. I mean: in a police investigation you look for any abnormalities in behaviour among the suspects in a crime. Why did X, who always goes to the movies on a Thursday night, decide on that night of all nights not to go? Why did Y take a return half as usual and very unusually not use it? That sort of thing. But in the short time between Richard’s succession and his death everyone behaves quite normally. The boys’ mother comes out of sanctuary and makes her peace with Richard. The girls resume their court life. The boys are presumably still doing the lessons that their father’s death had interrupted. Their young cousins have a place on the Council and are of sufficient importance for the town of York to be addressing letters to them. It’s all quite a normal, peaceful scene, with everyone going about their ordinary business, and no suggestion anywhere that a spectacular and unnecessary murder has just taken place in the family.’
‘It looks as if I might write that book after all, Mr Grant.’
‘Most certainly you will write it. You have not only Richard to rescue from calumny; you have to clear Elizabeth Woodville of the imputation of condoning her sons’ murder for seven hundred merks a year and perks.’
‘I can’t write the book and leave it in the air like that, of course. I’ll have to have at least a theory as to what became of the boys.’
Carradine’s mild gaze came away from the small woolly clouds over the Thames and considered Grant with a question in it.
‘Why that tone?’ he asked. ‘Why are you looking like a cat with cream?’
‘Well, I’ve been proceeding along police lines. During those empty days while I was waiting for you to turn up again.’
‘Yes. Who benefits, and all that. We’ve discovered that it wouldn’t be a pin’s-worth of advantage to Richard that the boys should die. So we go on looking round to see who, in that case, it would benefit. And this is where Titulus Regius comes in.’
‘What has Titulus Regius got to do with the murder?’
‘Henry VII married the boys’ eldest sister. Elizabeth.’
‘By way of reconciling the Yorkists to his occupation of the throne.’
‘By repealing Titulus Regius, he made her legitimate.’
‘But by making the children legitimate he automatically made the two boys heir to the throne before her. In fact, by repealing Titulus Regius he made the elder of the two King of England.’
Carradine made a little clicking sound with his tongue. His eyes behind their horn-rims were glowing with pleasure.
‘So,’ said Grant, ‘I propose that we proceed with investigation along those lines.’
‘Sure. What do you want?’
‘I want to know a lot more about that confession of Tyrrel’s. But first, and most of all, I’d like to know how the people concerned acted. What happened to them; not what anyone reported of anyone. Just as we did in the case of Richard’s succession after Edward’s unexpected death.’
‘Fine. What do you want to know?’
‘I want to know what became of all the York heirs that Richard left so alive and well and prosperous. Every single one of them. Can you do that for me?’
‘Sure. That’s elementary.’
‘And I could bear to know more about Tyrrel.
‘About the man himself, I mean. Who he was, and what he had done.’
‘I’ll do that.’ Carradine got up with such an on-with-the-charge air that for one moment Grant thought that he was actually going to button his coat. ‘Mr Grant, I’m so grateful to you for all this — this —’
‘This fun and games?’
‘When you’re on your feet again, I’ll — I’ll — I’ll take you round the Tower of London.’
‘Make it Greenwich-and-back by boat. Our island Race have a passion for the nautical.’
‘How long do they reckon it will be before you’re out of bed, do you know?’
‘I’ll probably be up before you come back with the news about the heirs and Tyrrel.’
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01