Grant had switched off his bedside light that night, and was half asleep, when a voice in his mind said: ‘But Thomas More was Henry the Eighth.’
This brought him wide awake. He flicked the light on again.
What the voice had meant, of course, was not that Thomas More and Henry the Eighth were one and the same person, but that, in that business of putting personalities into pigeonholes according to reigns, Thomas More belonged to the reign of Henry the Eighth.
Grant lay looking at the pool of light that his lamp threw on the ceiling, and reckoned. If Thomas More was Henry VIII’s Chancellor, then he must have lived through the whole of Henry VII’s long reign as well as Richard III’s. There was something wrong somewhere.
He reached for More’s History of Richard III. It had as preface a short life of More which he had not bothered to read. Now he turned to it to find out how More could have been both Richard III’s historian and Henry VIII’s Chancellor. How old was More when Richard succeeded?
He was five.
When that dramatic council scene had taken place at the Tower, Thomas More had been five years old. He had been only eight when Richard died at Bosworth.
Everything in that history had been hearsay.
And if there was one word that a policeman loathed more than another it was hearsay. Especially when applied to evidence.
He was so disgusted that he flung the precious book on to the floor before he remembered that it was the property of a Public Library and his only by grace and for fourteen days.
More had never known Richard III at all. He had indeed grown up under a Tudor administration. That book was the Bible of the whole historical world on the subject of Richard III— it was from that account that Holinshed had taken his material, and from that that Shakespeare had written his and except that More believed what he wrote to be true it was of no more value than what the soldier said. It was what his cousin Laura called ‘snow on their boots’. A ‘gospel-true’ event seen by someone other than the teller. That More had a critical mind and an admirable integrity did not make the story acceptable evidence. A great many otherwise admirable minds had accepted that story of the Russian troops passing through Britain. Grant had dealt too long with the human intelligence to accept as truth someone’s report of someone’s report of what that someone remembered to have seen or been told.
He was disgusted.
At the first opportunity he must get an actual contemporary account of the events of Richard’s short reign. The Public Library could have Sir Thomas More back tomorrow and be damned to their fourteen days. The fact that Sir Thomas was a martyr and a Great Mind did not cut any ice at all with him, Alan Grant. He, Alan Grant, had known Great Minds so uncritical that they would believe a story that would make a con. man blush for shame. He had known a great scientist who was convinced that a piece of butter muslin was his great-aunt Sophia because an illiterate medium from the back streets of Plymouth told him so. He had known a great authority on the Human Mind and Its Evolution who had been taken for all he had by an incurable knave because he ‘judged for himself and not on police stories’. As far as he, Alan Grant, was concerned there was nothing so uncritical or so damn-silly as your Great Mind. As far as he, Alan Grant, was concerned Thomas More was washed out, cancelled, deleted; and he, Alan Grant, was beginning from scratch again tomorrow morning.
He was still illogically fuming when he fell asleep, and he woke fuming.
‘Do you know that your Sir Thomas More knew nothing about Richard III at all?’ he said, accusingly, to The Amazon the moment her large person appeared in the doorway.
She looked startled, not at his news but at his ferocity. Her eyes looked as if they might brim with tears at another rough word.
‘But of course he knew!’ she protested. ‘He lived then.’
‘He was eight when Richard died,’ Grant said, relentless. ‘And all he knew was what he had been told. Like me. Like you. Like Will Rogers of blessed memory. There is nothing hallowed at all about Sir Thomas More’s history of Richard III. It’s a damned piece of hearsay and a swindle.’
‘Aren’t you feeling so well this morning?’ she asked anxiously. ‘Do you think you’ve got a temperature?’
‘I don’t know about a temperature, but my blood pressure’s away up.’
‘Oh dear, dear,’ she said, taking this literally. ‘And you were doing so very well. Nurse Ingham will be so distressed. She has been boasting about your good recovery.’
That The Midget should have found him a subject for boasting was a new idea to Grant, but it was not one that gave him any gratification. He resolved to have a temperature in earnest if he could manage it, just to score off The Midget.
But the morning visit of Marta distracted him from this experiment in the power of mind over matter.
Marta, it seemed, was pluming herself on his mental health very much as The Midget was pluming herself on his physical improvement. She was delighted that her pokings-about with James in the print shop had been so effective.
‘Have you decided on Perkin Warbeck, then?’ she asked.
‘No. Not Warbeck. Tell me: what made you bring me a portrait of Richard III? There’s no mystery about Richard, is there?’
‘No. I suppose we took it as illustration to the Warbeck story. No, wait a moment. I remember. James turned it up and said: “If he’s mad about faces, there’s one for him!” He said: “That’s the most notorious murderer in history, and yet his face is in my estimation the face of a saint”.’
‘A saint!’ Grant said; and then remembered something. “Over-conscientious”,’ he said.
‘Nothing. I was just remembering my first impressions of it. Is that how it seemed to you: the face of a saint?’
She looked across at the picture, propped up against the pile of books. ‘I can’t see it against the light,’ she said, and picked it up for a closer scrutiny.
He was suddenly reminded that to Marta, as to Sergeant Williams, faces were a professional matter. The slant of an eyebrow, the set of a mouth, was just as much an evidence of character to Marta as to Williams. Indeed she actually made herself faces to match the characters she played.
‘Nurse Ingham thinks he’s a dreary. Nurse Darroll thinks he’s a horror. My surgeon thinks he’s a polio victim. Sergeant Williams thinks he’s a born judge. Matron thinks he’s a soul in torment.’
Marta said nothing for a little while. Then she said: ‘It’s odd, you know. When you first look at it you think it a mean, suspicious face. Even cantankerous. But when you look at it a little longer you find that it isn’t like that at all. It is quite calm. It is really quite a gentle face, perhaps that is what James meant by being saint-like.’
‘No. No, I don’t think so. What he meant was the — subservience to conscience.’
‘Whatever it is, it is a face, isn’t it! Not just a collection of organs for seeing, breathing, and eating with. A wonderful face. With very little alteration, you know, it might be a portrait of Lorenzo the Magnificent.’
‘You don’t suppose that it is Lorenzo and that we’re considering the wrong man altogether?’
‘Of course not. Why should you think that?’
‘Because nothing in the face fits the facts of history. And pictures have got shuffled before now.’
‘Oh, yes, of course they have. But that is Richard all right. The original — or what is supposed to be the original is at Windsor Castle. James told me. It is included in Henry VIII’s inventory, so it has been there for four hundred years or so. And there are duplicates at Hatfield and Albury.’
‘It’s Richard,’ Grant said resignedly. ‘I just don’t know anything about faces. Do you know anyone at the B.M.?’
‘At the British Museum?’ Marta asked, her attention still on the portrait. ‘No, I don’t think so. Not that I can think of at the moment. I went there once to look at some Egyptian Jewellery, when I was playing Cleopatra with Geoffrey — did you ever see Geoffrey’s Antony? it was superlatively genteel but the place frightens me rather. Such a garnering of the ages. It made me feel the way the stars make you feel: small and no-account. What do you want of the B.M.?’
‘I wanted some information about history written in Richard III’s day. Contemporary accounts.’
‘Isn’t the sainted Sir Thomas any good, then?’
‘The sainted Sir Thomas is nothing but an old gossip,’ Grant said with venom. He had taken a wild dislike to the much-admired More.
‘Oh, dear. And the nice man at the Library seemed so reverent about him. The Gospel of Richard III according to St Thomas More, and all that.’
‘Gospel nothing,’ Grant said rudely. ‘He was writing down in a Tudor England what someone had told him about events that happened in a Plantagenet England when he himself was five.’
‘Five years old?’
‘Oh, dear. Not exactly the horse’s mouth.’
‘Not even straight from the course. Come to think of it, it’s as reliable as a bookie’s tips would be. He’s on the wrong side of the rails altogether. If he was a Tudor servant he was on the laying side where Richard III was concerned.’
‘Yes. Yes, I suppose so. What do you want to find out about Richard, when there is no mystery to investigate?’
‘I want to know what made him tick. That is a more profound mystery than anything I have come up against of late. What changed him almost overnight? Up to the moment of his late brother’s death he seems to have been entirely admirable. And devoted to his brother.’
‘I suppose the supreme honour must always be a temptation.’
‘He was Regent until the boy came of age, protector of England. With his previous history, you would think that would have been enough for him. You would have thought, indeed, that it would have been very much his cup of tea: guardian of both Edward’s son and the kingdom.’
‘Perhaps the brat was unbearable, and Richard longed to “larn” him. Isn’t it odd how we never think of victims as anything but white innocents. Like Joseph in the Bible. I’m sure he was a quite intolerable young man, actually, and long overdue for that pushing into the pit. Perhaps young Edward was just sitting up and begging to be quietly put down.’
‘There were two of them,’ Grant reminded her.
‘Yes, of course. Of course there isn’t an explanation. It was the ultimate barbarism. Poor little woolly lambs! Oh!’
‘What was the “Oh” for?’
‘I’ve just thought of something. Woolly lambs made me think of it.’
‘No, I won’t tell you in case it doesn’t come off. I must fly.’
‘Have you charmed Madeleine March into agreeing to write the play?’
‘Well, she hasn’t actually signed a contract yet, but I think she is sold on the idea. Au revoir, my dear. I shall look in soon again.’
She went away, sped on her way by a blushing Amazon, and Grant did not remember anything about woolly lambs until the woolly lamb actually turned up in his room next evening. The woolly lamb was wearing horn-rimmed spectacles, which in some odd way emphasised the resemblance instead of detracting from it. Grant had been dozing, more at peace with the world than he had been for some time; history was, as Matron had pointed out, an excellent way of acquiring a sense of perspective. The tap at his door was so tentative that he had decided that he had imagined it. Taps on hospital doors are not apt to be tentative. But something made him say: ‘Come in!’ and there in the opening was something that was so unmistakably Marta’s woolly lamb that Grant laughed aloud before he could stop himself.
The young man looked abashed, smiled nervously, propped the spectacles on his nose with a long thin forefinger, cleared his throat, and said:
‘Mr Grant? My name is Carradine. Brent Carradine. I hope I haven’t disturbed you when you were resting.’
‘No, no. Come in, Mr Carradine. I am delighted to see you.’
‘Marta — Miss Hallard, that is — sent me. She said I could be of some help to you.’
‘Did she say how? Do sit down. You’ll find a chair over there behind the door. Bring it over.’
He was a tall boy, hatless, with soft fair curls crowning a high forehead and a much too big tweed coat hanging unfastened round him in negligent folds, American-wise. Indeed, it was obvious that he was in fact American. He brought over the chair, planted himself on it with the coat spread round him like some royal robe and looked at Grant with kind brown eyes whose luminous charm not even the horn-rims could dim.
‘Marta — Miss Hallard, that is — said that you wanted something looked up.’
‘And are you a looker-upper?’
‘I’m doing research, here in London. Historical research, I mean. And she said something about your wanting something in that line. She knows I work at the B.M. most mornings. I’d be very pleased, Mr Grant, to do anything I can to help you.’
‘That’s very kind of you; very kind indeed. What is it that you are working on? Your research, I mean.’
‘The Peasants’ Revolt.’
‘Oh. Richard II.’
‘Are you interested in social conditions?’
The young man grinned suddenly in a very unstudentlike way and said: ‘No, I’m interested in staying in England.’
‘And can’t you stay in England without doing research?’
‘Not very easily. I’ve got to have an alibi. My pop thinks I should go into the family business. It’s furniture. Wholesale furniture. You order it by mail. Out of a book. Don’t misunderstand me, Mr Grant; it’s very good furniture. Lasts for ever. It’s just that I can’t take much interest in furnishing-units.’
‘And, short of Polar exploration, the British
Museum was the best hideaway you could think of.’
‘Well, it’s warm. And I really do like history. I majored in it. And well, Mr Grant, if you really want to know, I just had to follow Atlanta Shergold to England. She’s the dumb blonde in Marta’s I mean: in Miss Hallard’s play. I mean she plays the dumb blonde. She’s not at all dumb, Atlanta.’
‘No, indeed. A very gifted young woman indeed.’
‘You’ve seen her?’
‘I shouldn’t think there is anyone in London who hasn’t seen her.’
‘No, I suppose not. It does go on and on, doesn’t it. We didn’t think — Atlanta and me — that it would run for more than a few weeks, so we just waved each other goodbye and said: See you at the beginning of the month! It was when we found that it was going on indefinitely that I just had to find an excuse to come to England.’
‘Wasn’t Atlanta sufficient excuse?’
‘Not for my pop! The family are very snooty about Atlanta, but Pop is the worst of the bunch. When he can bring himself to mention her he refers to her as “that young actress acquaintance of yours.” You see, Pop is Carradine the Third, and Atlanta’s father is very much Shergold the First. A little grocery store on Main Street, as a matter of fact. And the salt of the earth, in case you’re interested. And of course Atlanta hadn’t really done very much, back in the States. I mean, on the stage. This is her first big success. That is why she didn’t want to break her contract and come back home. As a matter of fact it’ll be quite a fight to get her back home at all. She says we never appreciated her.’
‘So you took to research.’
‘I had to think of something that I could do only in London, you see. And I had done some research at college. So the B.M. seemed to be what you call my cup of tea. I could enjoy myself and yet show my father that I was really working, both at the same time.’
‘Yes. It’s as a nice an alibi as ever I met with. Why the Peasants’ Revolt, by the way?’
‘Well, it’s an interesting time. And I thought it would please Pop.’
‘Is he interested in social reform, then?’
‘No, but he hates kings.’
‘Carradine the Third?’
‘Yes, it’s a laugh, isn’t it. I wouldn’t put it past him to have a crown in one of his safe-deposit boxes. I bet he takes out the parcel every now and then and sneaks over to Grand Central and tries it on in the men’s washroom. I’m afraid I’m tiring you, Mr Grant; gabbing on about my own affairs like this. I didn’t come for that. I came to —’
‘Whatever you came for, you’re manna straight from heaven. So relax, if you’re not in a hurry.’
‘I’m never in a hurry,’ the young man said, unfolding his legs and laying them out in front of him. As he did it his feet, at the far extremity of his long limbs, touched the bedside table and shook the portrait of Richard III from its precarious position, so that it dropped to the floor.
‘Oh, pardon me! That was careless of me. I haven’t really got used to the length of my legs yet. You’d think a fellow would be used to his growth by twenty-two, wouldn’t you.’ He picked up the photograph, dusted it carefully with the cuff of his sleeve, and looked at it with interest. ‘Richardus III. Ang. Rex.,’ he read aloud.
‘You’re the first person to have noticed that background writing,’ Grant said.
‘Well, I suppose it isn’t visible unless you look into it. You’re the first person I ever met who had a king for a pin-up.’
‘No beauty, is he.’
‘I don’t know,’ said the boy slowly. ‘It’s not a bad face, as faces go. I had a prof. at college who looked rather like him. He lived on bismuth and glasses of milk so he had a slightly jaundiced outlook on life, but he was the kindest creature imaginable. Is it about Richard that you wanted information?’
‘Yes. Nothing very abstruse or difficult. Just to know what the contemporary authority is.’
‘Well, that should be easy enough. It isn’t very far from my own time. I mean my research period. — Indeed, the modern authority for Richard II Sir Cuthbert Oliphant stretches over both. Have you read Oliphant?’ Grant said that he had read nothing but schoolbooks and Sir Thomas More.
‘More? Henry VIII’s Chancellor?’
‘I take it that that was a bit of special pleading!’
‘It read to me more like a party pamphlet,’ Grant said, realising for the first time that that was the taste that had been left in his mouth. It had not read like a statesman’s account; it had read like a party throwaway.
No, it had read like a columnist. Like a columnist who got his information below-stairs.
‘Do you know anything about Richard III?’
‘Nothing except that he croaked his nephews, and offered his kingdom for a horse. And that he had two stooges known as the Cat and the Rat.’
‘You know: “The Cat, the Rat, and Lovel Our Dog, Rule all England under a Hog”.’
‘Yes of course. I’d forgotten that. What does it mean, do you know?’
‘No, I’ve no idea. I don’t know that period very well. How did you get interested in Richard III?’
‘Marta suggested that I should do some academic investigating, since I can’t do any practical investigating for some time to come. And because I find faces interesting she brought me portraits of all the principals. Principals in the various mysteries she suggested, I mean. Richard got in more or less by accident, but he proved the biggest mystery of the lot.’
‘He did? In what way?’
‘He is the author of the most revolting crime in history, and he has the face of a great judge; a great administrator. Moreover he was by all accounts an abnormally civilised and well-living creature. He actually was a good administrator, by the way. He governed the North of England and did it excellently. He was a good staff officer and a good soldier. And nothing is known against his private life. His brother, perhaps you know, was — bar Charles II— our most wench-ridden royal product.’
‘Edward IV. Yes, I know. A six-foot hunk of male beauty. Perhaps Richard suffered from a resentment at the contrast. And that accounts for his willingness to blot out his brother’s seed.’
This was something that Grant had not thought of.
‘You’re suggesting that Richard had a suppressed hate for his brother?’
‘Because even his worst detractors admit that he was devoted to Edward. They were together in everything from the time that Richard was twelve or thirteen. The other brother was no good to anyone. George.’
‘Who was George?’
‘The Duke of Clarence.’
‘Oh. Him! Butt-of-malmsey Clarence.’
‘That’s the one. So there were just the two of them Edward and Richard I mean. And there was a ten-year gap in their ages. Just the right difference for hero-worship.’
‘If I were a hunchback,’ young Carradine said musingly, ‘I sure would hate a brother who took my credit and my women and my place in the sun.’
‘It’s possible,’ Grant said after an interval. ‘It’s the best explanation I’ve come on so far.’
‘It mightn’t have been an overt thing at all, you know. It mightn’t have even been a conscious thing. It may just have all boiled up in him when he saw the chance of a crown. He may have said — I mean his blood may have said: “Here’s my chance! All those years of fetching and carrying and standing one pace in the rear, and no thanks for them. Here’s where I take my pay. Here’s where I settle accounts”.’
Grant noticed that by sheer chance Carradine had used the same imagined description of Richard as Miss Payne–Ellis. Standing one pace in the rear. That is how the novelist had seen him, standing with the fair, solid Margaret and George, on the steps of Baynard’s Castle watching their father go away to war. One pace in the rear, ‘as usual’.
‘That’s very interesting, though, what you say about Richard being apparently a good sort up to the time of the crime,’ Carradine said, propping one leg of his horn-rims with a long forefinger in his characteristic gesture. ‘Makes him more of a person. That Shakespeare version of him, you know, that’s just a caricature. Not a man at all. I’ll be very pleased to do any investigating you want, Mr Grant. It’ll make a nice change from the peasants.’
‘The Cat and the Rat instead of John Ball and Wat Tyler.’
‘Well, it’s very nice of you. I’d be glad of anything you can rake up. But at the moment all I pine for is a contemporary account of events. They must have been country-rocking events. I want to read a contemporary’s account of them. Not what someone heard-tell about events that happened when he was five, and under another régime altogether.’
‘I’ll find out who the contemporary historian is. Fabyan, perhaps. Or is he Henry VII? Anyway, I’ll find out. And meanwhile perhaps you’d like a look at Oliphant. He’s the modern authority on the period, or so I understand.’
Grant said that he would be delighted to take a look at Sir Cuthbert.
‘I’ll drop him in when I’m passing tomorrow — I suppose it’ll be all right if I leave him in the office for you? and as soon as I find out about the contemporary writers I’ll be in with the news. That suit you?’
Grant said that that was perfect.
Young Carradine went suddenly shy, reminding Grant of the woolly lamb which he had quite forgotten in the interest of this new approach to Richard. He said goodnight in a quiet smothered way, and ambled out of the room followed by the sweeping skirts of his topcoat.
Grant thought that, the Carradine fortune apart, Atlanta Shergold looked like being on a good thing.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:55