Read Caedmon’s Song Online

Authors: Peter Robinson

Caedmon’s Song

BOOK: Caedmon’s Song

Peter Robinson
grew up in Yorkshire, and now lives in Canada.

He is renowned for his bestselling Inspector Banks series, which has won numerous awards in Britain, the United States, Canada and Europe.


The Inspector Banks series
















Also by Peter Robinson





First published 1990 by Penguin Canada

This electronic edition published 2009 by Pan Books
an imprint of Pan Macmillan Ltd
Pan Macmillan, 20 New Wharf Rd, London N1 9RR
Basingstoke and Oxford
Associated companies throughout the world

ISBN 978-0-330-51448-4 in Adobe Reader format
ISBN 978-0-330-51447-7 in Adobe Digital Editions format
ISBN 978-0-330-51449-1 in Mobipocket format

Copyright © Peter Robinson 1990

Maps designed by Brian Lehan

The right of Peter Robinson to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

You may not copy, store, distribute, transmit, reproduce or otherwise make available this publication (or any part of it) in any form, or by any means (electronic, digital,
optical, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorized act in relation to this publication may be
liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47


For Sheila





Martha Browne arrived in Whitby one clear afternoon in early September, convinced of her destiny.

All the way, she had gazed out of the bus window and watched the landscape become more and more unreal. On Fylingdales Moor, the sensors of the early-warning missile-attack system rested like
giant golf balls balanced at the rims of holes, and all around them the heather was in full bloom. It wasn’t purple, like the songs all said, but more delicate, maroon laced with pink. When
the moors gave way to rolling farmland, like the frozen green waves of the sea it led to, she understood what Dylan Thomas meant by ‘fire green as grass’.

Sea and sky were a piercing blue, and the town nestled in its bay, a pattern of red pantile roofs flanked on either side by high cliffs. Everything was too vibrant and vivid to be real; the
scene resembled a landscape painting, as distorted in its way as Van Gogh’s wheat fields and starry nights.

The bus lumbered down towards the harbour and pulled up in a small station off Victoria Square. Martha took another quick glance at her map and guidebook as the driver backed into the numbered
bay. When the doors hissed open, she picked up her small holdall and followed the other passengers onto the platform.

Arriving in a new place always made Martha feel strangely excited, but this time the sensation was even more intense. At first, she could only stand rooted to the spot among the revving buses,
breathing in the diesel fumes and salt sea air. She felt as if she was trying the place on for size, and it was a good fit. She took stock of the subtle tremors her arrival caused in the essence of
the town. Others might not notice such things, but Martha did. Everyone and everything – from the sand on the beach to a guilty secret in a tourist’s heart – was somehow connected
and in a state of constant flux. It was like quantum physics, she thought, at least in so far as she understood it. Her presence would send out ripples and reverberations that people wouldn’t
forget for a long time.

She still felt queasy from the journey, but that would soon pass. The first thing was to find somewhere to stay. According to her guidebook, the best accommodation was to be had in the West
Cliff area. The term sounded odd when she knew she was on the
coast, but Whitby was built on a kink in the shoreline facing north, and the town was divided neatly into east and west by
the mouth of the River Esk.

Martha walked along the New Quay Road by Endeavour Wharf. In the estuary, silt glistened like entrails in the sun. A rusted hulk stood by the wharf – not a fishing trawler, but a small
cargo boat of some kind – and rough, unshaven men wearing dirty T-shirts and jeans ambled around on deck, coiling ropes and greasing thick chains. By the old swing bridge that linked the east
and west sides of the town stood a blackboard with the times of high tides chalked in: 0527 and 1803. It was a few minutes before four; the tide should be on its way in.

She walked along St Ann’s Staith, sliding her hand on the white metal railing that topped the stone walls of the quay. Small craft lay beached on the mud, some of them not much more than
rowing boats with sails. Ropes thrummed and flimsy metal masts rattled in the light breeze and flashed in the sun. Across the narrow estuary, the white houses seemed to be piled haphazardly beside
and on top of one another. At the summit of the cliff stood St Mary’s Church, just as it had, in one form or another, since Abbot William de Percy built it between 1100 and 1125. The abbey
beside it had been there even longer, but it had been crumbling away for over four hundred years, since Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and now there was nothing left but a sombre ruin.

Martha felt a thrill at actually seeing these places she had only read about. And she also had a strange sense of coming home, a kind of déjà vu. Everything seemed so damn familiar
This was the place; Martha knew it. But she’d have plenty of time to explore East Cliff later, she decided, turning her attention back towards where she was going.

The pubs, seafood stalls and souvenir shops on her left gave way to amusement arcades and a Dracula Museum; for it was here, in Whitby, where the celebrated Count was said to have landed. The
road veered away from the harbour wall around a series of open sheds by the quayside, where the fish were auctioned before being shipped to processing plants. Obviously, the catch hadn’t come
in yet, as nothing was going on there at the moment. Martha knew she would have to come down here again and again and watch the men as they unloaded their fish into iced boxes and sold them. But,
like everything else, it could wait. Now she had made up her mind, she felt she had plenty of time. Attention to detail was important, and it would help overcome whatever fear and uncertainty
remained within her.

She stopped at a stall and bought a packet of shrimps, which she ate as she carried on walking. They sold whelks, winkles and cockles, too, but Martha never touched them. It was because of her
mother, she realized. Every time the family had visited the seaside – usually Weston-super-Mare or Burnham-on-Sea – and Martha had wanted to try them, her mother had told her it was
vulgar to eat such things. It was, too, she had always believed. What could be more vulgar than sticking a pin in the moist opening of a tiny, conch-like shell and pulling out a creature as soft
and slimy as snot? It wouldn’t bother her now, though. She had changed. Her mother didn’t know it, but she had. Now she could probably even rip apart a lobster and suck out the meat.
But her mother’s words still stuck in her mind. The more she thought about it, the more she realized that it was not so much the act itself that her mother thought vulgar, but its class
associations. Only the lower classes went around at seaside resorts sticking pins in whelks and winkles.

A bingo caller from one of the arcades interrupted her stream of thought: ‘All the fives, fifty-five . . . Legs eleven, number eleven.’ The amplified voice echoed through the empty
auction sheds.

Martha passed the bandstand and took Khyber Pass up to West Cliff. At the top, she walked under the enormous whale’s jawbone, set up like an archway into another world. It was a hot day,
and by the time she had climbed the steep hill she was sweating. She ran her hand along the smooth, warm, weather-darkened bone and shuddered. If this was just the jaw, how gigantic the creature
must have been: a true leviathan. And as she passed under its shadow, she fancied she was like Jonah being vomited forth from its mouth. Or was she going the other way, entering the whale’s

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