‘Well,’ said Marta when she came again, ‘what did you think of my woolly lamb?’
‘It was very kind of you to find him for me.’
‘I didn’t have to find him. He’s continually underfoot. He practically lives at the theatre. He must have seen To Sea in a Bowl five hundred times; when he isn’t in Atlanta’s dressing-room he’s in front. I wish they’d get married, and then we might see less of him. (They’re not even living together, you know. It’s all pure idyll.’) She dropped her ‘actress’ voice for a moment and said: ‘They’re rather sweet together. In some ways they are more like twins than lovers. They have that utter trust in each other; that dependence on the other half to make a proper whole. And they never have rows or even quarrels, that I can see. An idyll, as I said. Was it Brent who brought you this?’
She poked the solid bulk of Oliphant with a doubtful finger.
‘Yes, he left it with the porter for me.’
‘It looks very indigestible.’
‘A bit unappetising, let us say. It is quite easily digested once you have swallowed it. History for the student. Set out in detailed fact.’
‘At least I’ve discovered where the revered and sainted Sir Thomas More got his account of Richard.’
‘From one John Morton.’
‘Never heard of him.’
‘Neither did I, but that’s our ignorance.’
‘Who was he?’
‘He was Henry VII’s Archbishop of Canterbury. And Richard’s bitterest enemy.’
If Marta had been capable of whistling, she would have whistled in comment.
‘So that was the horse’s mouth!’ she said.
‘That was the horse’s mouth. And it is on that account of Richard that all the later ones were built. It is on that story that Holinshed fashioned his history, and on that story that Shakespeare fashioned his character.’
‘So it is the version of someone who hated Richard. I didn’t know that. Why did the sainted Sir Thomas report Morton rather than someone else?’
‘Whoever he reported, it would be a Tudor version. But he reported Morton, it seems, because he had been in Morton’s household as a boy. And of course Morton had been very much “in on the act”, so it was natural to write down the version of an eyewitness whose account he could have at first hand.’
Marta poked her finger at Oliphant again. ‘Does your dull fat historian acknowledge that it is a biased version?’
‘Oliphant? Only by implication. He is, to be honest, in a sad muddle himself about Richard. On the same page he says that he was an admirable administrator and general, with an excellent reputation, staid and good-living, very popular by contrast with the Woodville upstarts (the Queen’s relations) and that he was “perfectly unscrupulous and ready to wade through any depth of bloodshed to the crown which lay within his grasp”. On one page he says grudgingly: “There are reasons for supposing that he was not destitute of a conscience” and then on a later page reports More’s picture of a man so tormented by his own deed that he could not sleep. And so on.’
‘Does your dull fat Oliphant prefer his roses red, then?’
‘Oh, I don’t think so. I don’t think he is consciously Lancastrian. Though now that I think of it he is very tolerant of Henry VIPs usurpation. I can’t remember his saying anywhere, brutally, that Henry hadn’t a vestige of a shadow of a claim to the throne.’
‘Who put him there, then? Henry, I mean.’
‘The Lancastrian remnant and the upstart Woodvilles, backed, I suppose, by a country revolted by the boys’ murder. Apparently anyone with a spice of Lancastrian blood in their veins would do. Henry himself was canny enough to put “conquest” first in his claim to the throne, and his Lancaster blood second. “De jure belli et de jure Lancastriae.” His mother was the heir of an illegitimate son of the third son of Edward III.’
‘All I know about Henry VII is that he was fantastically rich and fantastically mean. Do you know the lovely Kipling story about his knighting the craftsman not for having done beautiful work but for having saved him the cost of some scroll-work?’
‘With a rusty sword from behind the arras. You must be one of the few women who know their Kipling.’
‘Oh, I’m a very remarkable woman in many ways. So you are no nearer finding out about Richard’s personality than you were?’
‘No. I’m as completely bewildered as Sir Cuthbert Oliphant, bless his heart. The only difference between us is that I know I’m bewildered and he doesn’t seem to be aware of it.
‘Have you seen much of my woolly lamb?’
‘I’ve seen nothing of him since his first visit, and that’s three days ago. I’m beginning to wonder whether he has repented of his promise.’
‘Oh, no. I’m sure not. Faithfulness is his banner and creed.’
‘His motto was: “Loyaulté me lie”. Loyalty binds me.’
There was a tentative tap at the door, and in answer to Grant’s invitation, Brent Carradine appeared, hung around with topcoat as usual.
‘Oh! I seem to be butting in. I didn’t know you were here, Miss Hallard. I met the Statue of Liberty in the corridor there, and she seemed to think you were alone, Mr Grant.’
Grant identified the Statue of Liberty without difficulty. Marta said that she was in the act of going, and that in any case Brent was a much more welcome visitor than she was nowadays. She would leave them in peace to pursue their search for the soul of a murderer.
When he had bowed her politely to the door Brent came back and sat himself down in the visitor’s chair with exactly the same air that an Englishman wears when he sits down to his port after the women have left the table. Grant wondered if even the female-ridden American felt a subconscious relief at settling down to a stag party. In answer to Brent’s inquiry as to how he was getting on with Oliphant, he said he found Sir Cuthbert admirably lucid.
‘I’ve discovered who the Cat and the Rat were, incidentally. They were entirely respectable knights of the realm: William Catesby and Richard Ratcliffe. Catesby was Speaker of the House of Commons, and Ratcliffe was one of the Commissioners of Peace with Scotland. Its odd how the very sound of words makes a political jingle vicious. The Hog of course was Richard’s badge. The White Boar. Do you frequent our English pubs?’
‘Sure. They’re one of the things I think you do better than us.’
‘You forgive us our plumbing for the sake of the beer at the Boar.’
‘I wouldn’t go as far as to say I forgive it. I discount it, shall we say.’
‘Magnanimous of you. Well, there’s something else you’ve got to discount. That theory of yours that Richard hated his brother because of the contrast between his beauty and Richard’s hunchbacked state. According to Sir Cuthbert, the hunchback is a myth. So is the withered arm. It appears that he had no visible deformity. At least none that mattered. His left shoulder was lower than his right, that was all. Did you find out who the contemporary historian is?’
‘There isn’t one.’
‘None at all?’
Not in the sense that you mean it. There were writers who were contemporaries of Richard, but they wrote after his death. For the Tudors. Which puts them out of court. There is a monkish chronicle in Latin somewhere that is contemporary, but I haven’t been able to get hold of it yet. One thing I have discovered though: that account of Richard III is called Sir Thomas More’s not because he wrote it but because the manuscript was found among his papers. It was an unfinished copy of an account that appears elsewhere in finished form.’
‘Well!’ Grant considered this with interest. ‘You mean it was More’s own manuscript copy?’
‘Yes. In his own writing. Made when he was ‘bout thirty-five. In those days, before printing was general, manuscript copies of books were the usual thing.’
‘Yes. So, if the information came from John Morton, as it did, it is just as likely that the thing was written by Morton.’
‘Which would certainly account for the — the lack of sensibility. A climber like Morton wouldn’t be at all abashed by back-stairs gossip. Do you know about Morton?’
‘He was a lawyer turned churchman, and the greatest pluralist on record. He chose the Lancastrians side and stayed with it until it was clear that Edward IV was home and dried. Then he made his peace with the York side and Edward made him Bishop of Ely. And vicar of God knows how many parishes besides. But after Richard’s accession he backed first the Woodvilles and then Henry Tudor and ended up with a cardinal’s hat as Henry VII’s Archbishop of —’
‘Wait a minute!’ said the boy, amused. ‘Of course I know Morton. He was Morton of “Morton’s Fork”. “You can’t be spending much so how about something for the King; you’re spending such a lot you must be very rich so how about something for the King?”’
‘Yes. That Morton. Henry’s best thumbscrew. And I’ve just thought of a reason why he might have a personal hatred for Richard long before the murder of the boys.’
‘Edward took a large bribe from Louis XI to make a dishonourable peace in France. Richard was very angry about that — it really was a disgraceful affair — and washed his hands of the business. Which included refusing a large cash offer. But Morton was very much in favour both of the deal and the cash. Indeed he took a pension from Louis. A very nice pension it was. Two thousand crowns a year. I don’t suppose Richard’s outspoken comments went down very well, even with good gold for a chaser.’
‘No. I guess not.’
‘And of course there would be no preferment for Morton under the straight-laced Richard as there had been under the easy-going Edward. So he would have taken the Woodville side, even if there had been no murder.’
‘About that murder —’ the boy said; and paused.
‘About the murder the murder of those two boys — isn’t it odd that no one talks of it?’
‘How do you mean: no one talks of it?’
‘These last three days I’ve been going through contemporary papers: letters and what not. And no one mentions them at all.’
‘Perhaps they were afraid to. It was a time when it paid to be discreet.’
‘Yes: but I’ll tell you something even odder. You know that Henry brought a Bill of Attainder against Richard, after Bosworth. Before Parliament. I mean. Well, he accuses Richard of cruelty and tyranny but doesn’t even mention the murder.’
‘What!’ said Grant, startled.
‘Yes, you may look startled.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘But Henry got possession of the Tower immediately on his arrival in London after Bosworth. If the boys were missing it is incredible that he should not publish the fact immediately. It was the trump card in his hand.’ He lay in surprised silence for a little, The sparrows on the window-sill quarrelled loudly. ‘I can’t make sense of it.’ he said. ‘What possible explanation can there be for his omission to make capital out of the fact that the boys were missing?’
Brent shifted his long legs to a more comfortable position. ‘There is only one explanation,’ he said. ‘And that is that the boys weren’t missing.’
There was a still longer silence this time, while they stared at each other.
‘Oh, no, it’s nonsense,’ Grant said. ‘There must be some obvious explanation that we are failing to see.’
‘As what, for instance?’
‘I don’t know. I haven’t had time to think.’
‘I’ve had nearly three days to think, and I still haven’t thought up a reason that will fit. Nothing will fit the facts except the conclusion that the boys were alive when Henry took over the Tower. It was a completely unscrupulous Act of Attainder; it accused Richard’s followers — the loyal followers of an anointed King fighting against an invader — of treason. Every accusation that Henry could possibly make with any hope of getting away with it was put into that Bill. And the very worst he could accuse Richard of was the usual cruelty and tyranny. The boys aren’t even mentioned.’
‘It’s unbelievable. But it is fact.’
‘What it means is that there was no contemporary accusation at all.’
‘That’s about it.’
‘But but wait a minute. Tyrrel was hanged for the murder. He actually confessed to it before he died. Wait a minute.’ He reached for Oliphant and sped through the pages looking for the place. ‘There’s a full account of it here somewhere. There was no mystery about it. Even the Statue of Liberty knew about it.’
‘The nurse you met in the corridor. It was Tyrrel who committed the murder and he was found guilty and confessed before his death.’
Was that when Henry took over in London, then?’
‘Wait a moment. Here it is.’ He skimmed down the paragraph. ‘No, it was in 1502.’ He realised all of a sudden what he had just said, and repeated in a new, bewildered tone: ‘In — 1502.’
‘But — but — but that was —’
‘Yes. Nearly twenty years afterwards.’
Brent fumbled for his cigarette case, took it out, and then put it hastily away again.
‘Smoke if you like,’ Grant said. ‘It’s a good stiff drink I need. I don’t think my brain can be working very well. I feel the way I used to feel as a child when I was blindfolded and whirled round before beginning a blindman’s-buff game.’
‘Yes,’ said Carradine. He took out a cigarette and lighted it. ‘Completely in the dark, and more than a little dizzy.’
He sat staring at the sparrows.
‘Forty million schoolbooks can’t be wrong,’ Grant said after a little.
‘Well, can they!’
‘I used to think so, but I’m not so sure nowadays.’
‘Aren’t you being a little sudden in your scepticism?’
‘Oh, it wasn’t this that shook me.’
‘A little affair called the Boston Massacre. Ever heard of it?’
‘Well, I discovered quite by accident, when I was looking up something at college, that the Boston Massacre consisted of a mob throwing stones at a sentry. The total casualties were four. I was brought up on the Boston Massacre, Mr Grant. My twenty-eight-inch chest used to swell at the very memory of it. My good red spinach-laden blood used to seethe at the thought of helpless civilians mowed down by the fire of British troops. You can’t imagine what a shock it was to find that all it added up to in actual fact was a brawl that wouldn’t get more than local reporting in a clash between police and strikers in any American lock-out.’
As Grant made no reply to this, he squinted his eyes against the light to see how Grant was taking it. But Grant was staring at the ceiling as if he were watching patterns forming there.
‘That’s partly why I like to research so much,’ Carradine volunteered; and settled back to staring at the sparrows.
Presently Grant put his hand out, wordlessly, and Carradine gave him a cigarette and lighted it for him.
They smoked in silence.
It was Grant who interrupted the sparrows’ performance.
‘Tonypandy,’ he said.
But Grant was still far away.
‘After all, I’ve seen the thing at work in my own day, haven’t I,’ he said, not to Carradine but to the ceiling. ‘It’s Tonypandy.’
‘And what in heck is Tonypandy?’ Brent asked. ‘It sounds like a patent medicine. Does your child get out of sorts? Does the little face get flushed, the temper short, and the limbs easily tired? Give the little one Tonypandy, and see the radiant results.’ And then, as Grant made no answer: ‘All right, then; keep your Tonypandy. I wouldn’t have it as a gift.’
‘Tonypandy,’ Grant said, still in that sleepwalking voice, ‘is a place in the South of Wales.’
‘I knew it was some kind of physic.’
‘If you go to South Wales you will hear that, in 1910, the Government used troops to shoot down Welsh miners who were striking for their rights. You’ll probably hear that Winston Churchill, who was Home Secretary at the time, was responsible. South Wales, you will be told, will never forget Tonypandy!’
Carradine had dropped his flippant air.
‘And it wasn’t a bit like that?’
‘The actual facts are these. The rougher section of the Rhondda valley crowd had got quite out of hand. Shops were being looted and property destroyed. The Chief Constable of Glamorgan sent a request to the Home Office for troops to protect the lieges. If a Chief Constable thinks a situation serious enough to ask for the help of the military a Home Secretary has very little choice in the matter. But Churchill was so horrified at the possibility of the troops coming face to face with a crowd of rioters and having to fire on them, that he stopped the movement of the troops and sent instead a body of plain, solid Metropolitan Police, armed with nothing but their rolled-up mackintoshes. The troops were kept in reserve, and all contact with the rioters was made by unarmed London police. The only bloodshed in the whole affair was a bloody nose or two. The Home Secretary was severely criticised in the House of Commons incidentally for his “unprecedented intervention”. That was Tonypandy. That is the shooting-down by troops that Wales will never forget.’
‘Yes,’ Carradine said, considering. ‘Yes. It’s almost a parallel to the Boston affair. Someone blowing up a simple affair to huge proportions for a political end.’
‘The point is not that it is a parallel. The point is that every single man who was there knows that the story is nonsense, and yet it has never been contradicted. It will never be overtaken now. It is a completely untrue story grown to legend while the men who knew it to be untrue looked on and said nothing.’
‘Yes. That’s very interesting; very. History as it is made.’
‘Give me research. After all, the truth of anything at all doesn’t lie in someone’s account of it. It lies in all the small facts of the time. An advertisement in a paper. The sale of a house. The price of a ring.’
Grant went on looking at the ceiling, and the sparrows’ clamour came back into the room.
‘What amuses you?’ Grant said, turning his head at last and catching the expression on his visitor’s face.
‘This is the first time I’ve seen you look like a policeman.’
‘I’m feeling like a policeman. I’m thinking like a policeman. I’m asking myself the question that every policeman asks in every case of murder: Who benefits? And for the first time it occurs to me that the glib theory that Richard got rid of the boys to make himself safer on the throne is so much nonsense. Supposing he had got rid of the boys. There were still the boys’ five sisters between him and the throne. To say nothing of George’s two: the boy and girl. George’s son and daughter were barred by their father’s attainder; but I take it that an attainder can be reversed, or annulled, or something. If Richard’s claim was shaky, all those lives stood between him and safety.’
‘And did they all survive him?’
‘I don’t know. But I shall make it my business to find out. The boys’ eldest sister certainly did because she became Queen of England as Henry’s wife.’
‘Look, Mr Grant, let’s you and I start at the very beginning of this thing. Without history books, or modern versions, or anyone’s opinion about anything. Truth isn’t in accounts but in account books.’
‘A neat phrase,’ Grant said, complimentary. ‘Does it mean anything?’
‘It means everything. The real history is written in forms not meant as history. In Wardrobe accounts, in Privy Purse expenses, in personal letters, in estate books. If someone, say, insists that Lady Whoosit never had a child, and you find in the account book the entry: “For the son born to my lady on Michaelmas eve: five yards of blue ribbon, fourpence halfpenny” it’s a reasonably fair deduction that my lady had a son on Michaelmas eve.’
‘Yes. I see. All right, where do we begin?’
‘You’re the investigator. I’m only the looker-upper.’
‘Thanks. What do you want to know?’
‘Well, for a start, it would be useful, not to say enlightening, to know how the principals in the case reacted to Edward’s death. Edward IV, I mean. Edward died unexpectedly, and his death must have caught everyone on the hop. I’d like to know how the people concerned reacted.’
‘That’s straight forward and easy. I take it you mean what they did and not what they thought.’
‘Yes, of course.’
‘Only historians tell you what they thought. Research Workers stick to what they did.’
‘What they did is all I want to know. I’ve always been a believer in the old saw that actions speak louder than words.’
‘Incidentally, what does the sainted Sir Thomas say that Richard did when he heard that his brother was dead?’ Brent wanted to know.
‘The sainted Sir Thomas (alias John Morton) says that Richard got busy being charming to the Queen and persuading her not to send a large bodyguard to escort the boy prince from Ludlow; meanwhile cooking up a plot to kidnap the boy on his way to London.’
‘According to the sainted More, then, Richard meant from the very first to supplant the boy.’
‘Well, we shall find out, at least, who was where and doing what, whether we can deduce their intentions or not.’
‘That’s what I want. Exactly.’
‘Policeman!’ jibed the boy. ‘“Where were you at five p.m. on the night of the fifteenth inst?”’
‘It works,’ Grant assured him. ‘It works.’
‘Well, I’ll go away and work too. I’ll be in again as soon as I have got the information you want. I’m very grateful to you, Mr Grant. This is a lot better than the Peasants.’
He floated away into the gathering dusk of the winter afternoon, his train-like coat giving an academic sweep and dignity to his thin young figure.
Grant switched on his lamp, and examined the pattern it made on the ceiling as if he had never seen it before.
It was a unique and engaging problem that the boy had dropped so casually into his lap. As unexpected as it was baffling.
What possible reason could there be for that lack of contemporary accusation?
Henry had not even needed proof that Richard was himself responsible. The boys were in Richard’s care. If they were not to be found when the Tower was taken over, then that was far finer, thicker mud to throw at his dead rival than the routine accusations of cruelty and tyranny.
Grant ate his supper without for one moment being conscious either of its taste or its nature.
It was only when The Amazon, taking away his tray, said kindly: ‘Come now, that’s a very good sign. Both rissoles all eaten up to the last crumb!’ that he became aware that he had partaken of a meal.
For another hour he watched the lamp-pattern on the ceiling, going over the thing in his mind; going round and round it looking for some small crack that might indicate a way into the heart of the matter.
In the end he withdrew his attention altogether from the problem, which was his habit when a conundrum proved too round and smooth and solid for immediate solution. If he slept on the proposition it might, tomorrow, show a facet that he had missed.
He looked for something that might stop his mind from harking back to that Act of Attainder, and saw the pile of letters waiting to be acknowledged. Kind, well-wishing letters from all sorts of people; including a few old lags. The really likable old lags were an outmoded type, growing fewer and fewer daily. Their place had been taken by brash young thugs with not a spark of humanity in their egocentric souls, as illiterate as puppies and as pitiless as a circular saw. The old professorial burglar was apt to be as individual as the member of any other profession, and as little vicious. Quiet little domestic men, interested in family holidays and the children’s tonsils; or odd bachelors devoted to cage-birds, or second-hand bookshops, or complicated and infallible betting systems. Old-fashioned types.
No modern thug would write to say that he was sorry that a ‘busy’ was laid aside. No such idea would ever cross a modern thug’s mind.
Writing a letter when lying on one’s back is a laborious business, and Grant shied away from it. But the top envelope on the pile bore the writing of his cousin Laura, and Laura would become anxious if she had no answer at all from him. Laura and he had shared summer holidays as children, and had been a little in love with each other all through one Highland summer, and that made a bond between them that had never been broken. He had better send Laura a note to say that he was alive.
He read her letter again, smiling a little; and the waters of the Turlie sounded in his ears and slid under his eyes, and he could smell the sweet cold smell of a Highland moor in winter, and he forgot for a little that he was a hospital patient and that life was sordid and boring and claustrophobic.
Pat sends what would be his love if he were a little older or just a little younger. Being nine, he says: ‘Tell Alan I was asking for him’, and has a fly of his own invention waiting to be presented to you when you come on sick-leave. He is a little in disgrace at the moment in school, having learned for the first time that the Scots sold Charles the First to the English and having decided that he can no longer belong to such a nation. He is therefore, I understand, conducting a one-man protest strike against all things Scottish, and will learn no history, sing no song, nor memorise any geography pertaining to so deplorable a country. He announced going to bed last night that he has decided to apply for Norwegian citizenship.
Grant took his letter pad from the table and wrote in pencil:
Would you be unbearably surprised to learn that the Princes in the Tower survived Richard III?
P.S. I am nearly well again.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01