On the afternoon when Carradine reappeared in the room at the hospital Grant had walked to the window and back again, and was so cock-a-hoop about it that The Midget was moved to remind him that it was a thing that a child of eighteen months could do. But nothing could subdue Grant today.
‘Thought you’d have me here for months, didn’t you,’ he crowed.
‘We are very glad to see you better so quickly,’ she said primly; and added: ‘We are, of course, very glad, too, to have your bed.’
And she clicked away down the corridor, all blonde curls and starch.
Grant lay on his bed and looked at his little prison room with something approaching benevolence. Neither a man who has stood at the Pole nor a man who has stood on Everest has anything on a man who has stood at a window after weeks of being merely twelve stones of destitution. Or so Grant felt.
Tomorrow he was going home. Going home to be cosseted by Mrs Tinker. He would have to spend half of each day in bed and he would be able to walk only with the aid of sticks, but he would be his own man again. At the bidding of no one. In tutelage to no half-pint piece of efficiency, yearned over by no lump of out-sized benevolence.
It was a glorious prospect.
He had already unloaded his hallelujahs all over Sergeant Williams, who had looked in on the completion of his chore in Essex, and he was now yearning for Marta to drop in so that he could peacock in front of her in his new-found manhood.
‘How did you get on with the history books?’ Williams had asked.
‘Couldn’t be better. I’ve proved them all wrong.’
Williams had grinned. ‘I expect there’s a law against that,’ he said. ‘MI5 won’t like it. Treason or lèse-majesté or something like that it might turn out to be. You never know nowadays. I’d be careful if I was you.’
‘I’ll never again believe anything I read in a history book, as long as I live, so help me.’
‘You’ll have to make exceptions,’ Williams pointed out with Williams’ dogged reasonableness. ‘Queen Victoria was true, and I suppose Julius Caesar did invade Britain. And there’s 1066.’
‘I’m beginning to have the gravest doubts about 1066. I see you’ve tied up the Essex job. What is Chummy like?’
‘A thorough little blighter. Been treated soft all his life since he started stealing change from his Ma at the age of nine. A good belting at the age of twelve might have saved his life. Now he’ll hang before the almond blossom’s out. It’s going to be an early spring. I’ve been working every evening in the garden this last few days, now that the days are drawing out. You’ll be glad to sniff fresh air again.’
And he had gone away, rosy and sane and balanced, as befitted a man who was belted for his good in his youth.
So Grant was longing for some other visitor from the outside world that he was so soon to be a part of again, and he was delighted when the familiar tentative tap came on his door.
‘Come in, Brent!’ he called, joyfully.
And Brent came in.
But it was not the Brent who had last gone out.
Gone was the jubilation. Gone was his newly acquired breadth.
He was no longer Carradine the pioneer, the blazer of trails.
He was just a thin boy in a very long, very large overcoat. He looked young, and shocked, and bereaved.
Grant watched him in dismay as he crossed the room with his listless unco-ordinated walk. There was no bundle of paper sticking out of his mail-sack of a pocket today.
Oh, well, thought Grant philosophically; it had been fun while it lasted. There was bound to be a snag somewhere. One couldn’t do serious research in that light-hearted amateur way and hope to prove anything by it. One wouldn’t expect an amateur to walk into the Yard and solve a case that had defeated the pro’s; so why should he have thought himself smarter than the historians. He had wanted to prove to himself that he was right in his face-reading of the portrait; he had wanted to blot out the shame of having put a criminal on the bench instead of in the dock. But he would have to accept his mistake, and like it. Perhaps he had asked for it. Perhaps, in his heart of hearts, he had been growing a little pleased with himself about his eye for faces.
‘Hullo, Mr Grant.’
Actually it was worse for the boy. He was at the age when he expected miracles to happen. He was still at the age when he was surprised that a balloon should burst.
‘You look saddish,’ he said cheerfully to the boy. ‘Something come unstuck.’
Carradine sat down on the chair and stared at the window.
‘Don’t these damned sparrows get you down?’ he asked, fretfully.
‘What is it? Have you discovered that there was a general rumour about the boys before Richard’s death, after all?’
‘Oh, much worse than that.’
‘Oh. Something in print? A letter?’
‘No, it isn’t that sort of thing at all. It’s something much worse. Something quite — quite fundamental. I don’t know how to tell you.’ He glowered at the quarrelling sparrows. ‘These damned birds. I can never write that book now, Mr Grant.’
‘Why not, Brent?’
‘Because it isn’t news to anyone. Everyone has known all about those things all along.’
‘Known? About what?’
‘About Richard not having killed the boys at all, and all that.’
‘They’ve known? Since when!’
‘Oh, hundreds and hundreds of years.’
‘Pull yourself together, chum. It’s only four hundred years altogether since the thing happened.’
‘I know. But it doesn’t make any difference. People have known about Richard’s not doing it for hundreds and hundreds —’
‘Will you stop that keening and talk sense. When did this — this rehabilitation first begin?’
‘Begin? Oh, at the first available moment.’
‘When was that?’
‘As soon as the Tudors were gone and it was safe to talk.’
‘In Stuart times, you mean?’
‘Yes, I suppose — yes. A man Buck wrote a vindication in the seventeenth century. And Horace Walpole in the eighteenth. And someone called Markham in the nineteenth.’
‘And who in the twentieth?’
‘No one that I know of.’
‘Then what’s wrong with your doing it?’
‘But it won’t be the same, don’t you see. It won’t be a great discovery!’ He said it in capitals. A Great Discovery.
Grant smiled at him. ‘Oh, come! You can’t expect to pick Great Discoveries off bushes. If you can’t be a pioneer what’s wrong with leading a crusade?’
The boy’s face lost its blankness. It looked suddenly amused, like someone who has just seen a joke.
‘It’s the damnedest silliest name, isn’t it!’ he remarked.
‘If people have been pointing out for three hundred and fifty years that Richard didn’t murder his nephews and a schoolbook can still say, in words of one syllable and without qualification, that he did, then it seems to me that Tonypandy has a long lead on you. It’s time you got busy.’
‘But what can I do when people like Walpole and those have failed?’
‘There’s that old saying about constant water and its effect on stone.’
‘Mr Grant, right now I feel an awfully feeble little trickle.’
‘You look it, I must say. I’ve never seen such self-pity. That’s no mood to start bucking the British public in. You’ll be giving enough weight away as it is.’
‘Because I’ve not written a book before, you mean?’
‘No, that doesn’t matter at all. Most people’s first books are their best anyway; it’s the one they wanted most to write. No, I meant that all the people who’ve never read a history book since they left school will feel themselves qualified to pontificate about what you’ve written. They’ll accuse you of whitewashing Richard; “whitewashing” has a derogatory sound that “rehabilitation” hasn’t, so they’ll call it whitewashing. A few will look up the Britannica, and feel themselves competent to go a little further in the matter. These will slay you instead of flaying you. And the serious historians won’t even bother to notice you.’
‘By God, I’ll make them notice me!’ Carradine said.
‘Come! That sounds a little more like the spirit that won the Empire.’
‘We haven’t got an Empire,’ Carradine reminded him.
‘Oh, yes, you have,’ Grant said equably. ‘The only difference between ours and yours is that you acquired yours, economically, in the one latitude, while we got ours in bits all over the world. Had you written any of the book before the awful knowledge of its unoriginality hit you?’
‘Yes, I’d done two chapters.’
‘What have you done with them? You haven’t thrown them away, have you?’
‘No. I nearly did. I nearly threw them in the fire.’
‘What stopped you?’
‘It was an electric fire.’ Carradine stretched out his long legs in a relaxing movement and began to laugh. ‘Brother, I feel better already. I can’t wait to land the British public one in the kisser with a few home truths. Carradine the First is just raging in my blood.’
‘A very virulent fever, it sounds.’
‘He was the most ruthless old blaggard that ever felled timber. He started as a logger and ended up with a Renaissance castle, two yachts, and a private car. Railroad car, you know. It had green silk curtains with bobbles on them and inlay woodwork that had to be seen to be believed. It has been popularly supposed, not least by Carradine the Third, that the Carradine blood was growing thin. But right now I’m all Carradine the First. I know just how the old boy felt when he wanted to buy a particular forest and someone said that he couldn’t have it. Brother, I’m going to town.’
‘That’s nice,’ Grant said, mildly. ‘I was looking forward to that dedication.’ He took his writing-pad from the table and held it out. ‘I’ve been doing a policeman’s summing-up. Perhaps it may help you when you come to your peroration.’
Carradine took it and looked at it with respect.
‘Tear it off and take it with you. I’ve finished with it.’
‘I suppose in a week or two you’ll be too busy with real investigations to care about a — an academic one,’ Carradine said, a little wistfully.
‘I’ll never enjoy one more than I’ve enjoyed this,’ Grant said, with truth. He glanced sideways at the portrait which was still propped against the books. ‘I was more dashed than you would believe when you came in all despondent, and I thought it had come to pieces.’ He looked back at the portrait and said: ‘Marta thinks he is a little like Lorenzo the Magnificent. Her friend James thinks it is the face of a saint. My surgeon thinks it is the face of a cripple. Sergeant Williams thinks he looks like a great judge. But I think, perhaps, Matron comes nearest the heart of the matter.’
‘What does she say?’
‘She says it is a face full of the most dreadful suffering.’
‘Yes. Yes, I suppose it is. And would you wonder, after all.’
‘No. No, there was little he was spared. Those last two years of his life must have happened with the suddenness and weight of an avalanche. Everything had been going along so nicely. England on an even keel at last. The civil war fading out of mind, a good firm government to keep things peaceful and a good brisk trade to keep things prosperous. It must have seemed a good outlook, looking out from Middleham across Wensleydale. And in two short years — his wife, his son, and his peace.’
‘I know one thing he was spared.’
‘The knowledge that his name was to be a hissing and a byword down the centuries.’
‘Yes. That would have been the final heart-break. Do you know what I personally find the convincing thing in the case for Richard’s innocence of any design for usurpation?’
‘The fact that he had to send for those troops from the North when Stillington broke his news. If he had had any fore-knowledge of what Stillington was going to say, or even any plans to concoct a story with Stillington’s help, he would have brought those troops with him. If not to London then to the Home Counties where they would be handy. That he had to send urgently first to York and then to his Nevill cousins for men is proof that Stillington’s confession took him entirely unawares.’
‘Yes. He came up with his train of gentlemen, expecting to take over the Regency. He met the news of the Woodville trouble when he came to Northampton, but that didn’t rattle him. He mopped up the Woodville two thousand and went on to London as if nothing had happened. There was still nothing but an orthodox Coronation in front of him as far as he knew. It wasn’t until Stillington confessed to the council that he sends for troops of his own. And he has to send all the way to the North of England at a critical moment. Yes, you’re right, of course. He was taken aback.’ He propped the leg of his spectacles with a forefinger in the old tentative gesture, and proffered a companion piece. ‘Know what I find the convincing thing in the case for Henry’s guilt?’
‘The mysteriousness. The hush-hush. The hole-and-corner stuff.’
‘Because it is in character, you mean?’
‘No, no; nothing as subtle as that. Don’t you see: Richard had no need of any mystery; but Henry’s whole case depended on the boys’ end being mysterious. No one has ever been able to think up a reason for such a hole-and-corner method as Richard was supposed to have used. It was a quite mad way to do it. He couldn’t hope to get away with it. Sooner or later he was going to have to account for the boys not being there. As far as he knew he had a long reign in front of him. No one has ever been able to think why he should have chosen so difficult and dangerous a way when he had so many simpler methods at hand. He had only to have the boys suffocated, and let them lie in state while the whole of London walked by and wept over two young things dead before their time of fever. That is the way he would have done it, too. Goodness, the whole point of Richard’s killing the boys was to prevent any rising in their favour, and to get any benefit from the murder the fact of their deaths would have to be made public, and as soon as possible. It would defeat the whole plan if people didn’t know that they were dead. But Henry, now. Henry had to find a way to push them out of sight. Henry had to be mysterious. Henry had to hide the facts of when and how they died. Henry’s whole case depended on no one’s knowing what exactly happened to the boys.’
‘It did indeed, Brent; it did indeed,’ Grant said, smiling at counsel’s eager young face. ‘You ought to be at the Yard, Mr Carradine!’
‘I’ll stick to Tonypandy,’ he said. ‘I bet there’s a lot more of it that we don’t know about. I bet history books are just riddled with it.’
‘You’d better take Sir Cuthbert Oliphant with you, by the way.’ Grant took the fat respectable-looking volume from his locker. ‘Historians should be compelled to take a course in psychology before they are allowed to write.’
‘Huh. That wouldn’t do anything for them. A man who is interested in what makes people tick doesn’t write history. He writes novels, or becomes an alienist, or a magistrate —’
‘Or a confidence man.’
‘Or a confidence man. Or a fortune-teller. A man who understands about people hasn’t any yen to write history. History is toy soldiers.’
‘Oh, come. Aren’t you being a little severe? It’s a very learned and erudite —’
‘Oh, I didn’t mean it that way. I mean: it’s moving little figures about on a flat surface. It’s half-way to mathematics, when you come to think about it.’
‘Then if it’s mathematics they’ve no right to drag in backstairs gossip,’ Grant said, suddenly vicious. The memory of the sainted More continued to upset him. He thumbed through the fat respectable Sir Cuthbert in a farewell review. As he came to the final pages the progress of the paper from under his thumb slackened, and presently stopped.
‘Odd,’ he said, ‘how willing they are to grant a man the quality of courage in battle. They have only tradition to go on, and yet not one of them questions it. Not one of them, in fact, fails to stress it.’
‘It was an enemy’s tribute,’ Carradine reminded him. ‘The tradition began with a ballad written by the other side.’
‘Yes. By a man of the Stanleys. “Then a knight to King Richard gan say.” It’s here somewhere.’ He turned over a leaf or two, until he found what he was looking for. ‘It was “good Sir William Harrington”, it seems. The knight in question.
“There may no man their strokes abide, the Stanleys dints they be so strong
(the treacherous villains!)
Ye may come back at another tide, methinks ye tarry here too long,
Your horse at your hand is ready, another day you may worship win
And come to reign with royalty, and wear your crown and be our king.
‘Nay, give me my battle-axe in my hand, set the crown of England on my head so high.
For by Him that made both sea and land, King of England this day I will die.
One foot I will never flee whilst the breath is my breast within.’
As he said so did it be — if he lost his life he died a King.”
‘“Set the crown of England on my head”;’ said Carradine, musing. ‘That was the crown that was found in a hawthorn bush afterwards.’
‘Yes. Set aside for plunder probably.’
‘I used to picture it one of those high plush things that King George got crowned in, but it seems it was just a gold circlet.’
‘Yes. It could be worn outside the battle helmet.’
‘Gosh,’ said Carradine with sudden feeling, ‘sure would have hated to wear that crown if I had been Henry! I sure would have hated it!’ He was silent for a little, and then he said: ‘Do you know what the town of York wrote — wrote in their records, you know — about the battle of Bosworth?’
‘They wrote: “This day was our good King Richard piteously slain and murdered; to the great heaviness of this city.”’
The chatter of the sparrows was loud in the quiet.
‘Hardly the obituary of a hated usurper,’ Grant said at last, very dry.
‘No,’ said Carradine, ‘no. “To the great heaviness of this city”;’ he repeated slowly, rolling the phrase over in his mind. ‘They cared so much about it that even with a new régime in the offing and the future not to be guessed at they put down in black and white in the town record their opinion that it was murder and their sorrow at it.’
‘Perhaps they had just heard about the indignities perpetrated on the King’s dead body and were feeling a little sick.’
‘Yes. Yes. You don’t like to think of a man you’ve known and admired flung stripped and dangling across a pony like a dead animal.’
‘One wouldn’t like to think of even an enemy so. But sensibility is not a quality that one would look for among the Henry–Morton crowd.’
‘Huh. Morton!’ said Brent, spitting out the word as if it were a bad taste. ‘No one was “heavy” when Morton died, believe me. Know what the Chronicler wrote of him? The London one, I mean. He wrote: “In our time was no man like to be compared with him in all things; albeit that he lived not without the great disdain and hatred of the Commons of this land.”’
Grant turned to look at the portrait which had kept him company through so many days and nights.
‘You know,’ he said, ‘for all his success and his Cardinal’s hat I think Morton was the loser in that fight with Richard III. In spite of his defeat and his long traducing, Richard came off the better of these two. He was loved in his day.’
‘That’s no bad epitaph,’ the boy said soberly.
‘No. Not at all a bad epitaph,’ Grant said, shutting Oliphant for the last time. ‘Not many men would ask for a better.’ He handed over the book to its owner. ‘Few men have earned so much,’ he said.
When Carradine had gone Grant began to sort out the things on his table, preparatory to his homegoing on the morrow. The unread fashionable novels could go to the hospital library to gladden other hearts than his. But he would keep the book with the mountain pictures. And he must remember to give The Amazon back her two history books. He looked them out so that he could give them to her when she brought in his supper. And he read again, for the first time since he began his search for the truth about Richard, the schoolbook tale of his villainy. There it was, in unequivocable black and white, the infamous story. Without a perhaps or a peradventure. Without a qualification or a question.
As he was about to shut the senior of the two educators his eye fell on the beginning of Henry VII’s reign, and he read: ‘It was the settled and considered policy of the Tudors to rid themselves of all rivals to the throne, more especially those heirs of York who remained alive on the succession of Henry VII. In this they were successful, although it was left to Henry VIII to get rid of the last of them.’
He stared at this bald announcement. This placid acceptance of wholesale murder. This simple acknowlegement of a process of family elimination.
Richard III had been credited with the elimination of two nephews, and his name was a synonym for evil. But Henry VII, whose ‘settled and considered policy’ was to eliminate a whole family was regarded as a shrewd and far-seeing monarch. Not very lovable perhaps, but constructive and painstaking, and very successful withal.
Grant gave up. History was something that he would never understand.
The values of historians differed so radically from any values with which he was acquainted that he could never hope to meet them on any common ground. He would go back to the Yard, where murderers were murderers and what went for Cox went equally for Box.
He put the two books tidily together and when The Amazon came in with his mince and stewed prunes he handed them over with a neat little speech of gratitude. He really was very grateful to The Amazon. If she had not kept her schoolbooks he might never have started on the road that led to his knowledge of Richard Plantagenet.
She looked confused by his kindness, and he wondered if he had been such a bear in his illness that she expected nothing but carping from him. It was a humiliating thought.
‘We’ll miss you, you know,’ she said, and her big eyes looked as if they might brim with tears. ‘We’ve grown used to having you here. We’ve even got used to that.’ And she moved an elbow in the direction of the portrait.
A thought stirred in him.
‘Will you do something for me?’ he asked.
‘Of course. Anything I can do.’
‘Will you take that photograph to the window and look at it in a good light as long as it takes to count a pulse?’
‘Yes, of course, if you want me to. But why?’
‘Never mind why. You just do it to please me. I’ll time you.’
She took up the portrait and moved into the light of the window.
He watched the second-hand of his watch.
He gave her forty-five seconds and then said: ‘Well?’ And as there was no immediate answer he said again: ‘Well?’
‘Funny,’ she said. ‘When you look at it for a little it’s really quite a nice face, isn’t it?’
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Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01