Authors: Jo Walton
Tags: #Alternative History, #Mystery & Detective, #General
Carmichael looked at her. There wasn’t any “if” left in the matter of her telling him, whether she realized it or not, nor was she in a position to make bargains. “When I know where they are, I’ll undertake to have them arrested immediately. They’re not at your home?”
“No. There isn’t anywhere to hide them there. Too many children.” She shrugged. “They’re at 141 Acacia Gardens, Golders Green. They’re in the attic, my father says.”
Royston wrote down the address. Carmichael watched him then looked back to the girl. “What does your father do, Miss Grunwald?”
She seemed a little disconcerted by the question. “He’s a doctor. He was a doctor in Holland, and now again here.”
Yes, she looked like a doctor’s daughter. “And how many brothers and sisters do you have?”
“There are five of us,” she said. “I don’t quite see why you’re asking this?”
“And is your mother alive?” Carmichael continued.
“Yes, of course she is!” Rachel Grunwald looked frightened now.
“So you think your father is risking the seven of you for the two Greens, and that he’s making a bad bargain?”
She looked at Royston, who was writing, and back at Carmichael. “Yes. That’s exactly what I think.”
“Do you like your uncle and aunt?”
She pushed back her smooth dark hair. “To be perfectly frank, no. Uncle Hem has never made anything of himself, he’s a servant still, after all these years. And my aunt Louise is always putting on airs about being born British, as if it makes any difference, when I’m as English as she is after all this time. And they’re so Jewish! I mean we keep the Sabbath and have two sets of dishes, but that’s not good enough for them. And now building a bomb, or whatever they were doing. They’re mad. I just don’t want them to drag me and my family down with them.”
“Well, thank you, Miss Grunwald, you’ve been very helpful,” Carmichael said, standing up.
“And you won’t tell my father I came here?” she asked.
“I can’t make any promises, but I’ll do what I can,” Carmichael said, in the old formula of the Yard. It reassured the girl, and she went out, clutching her bag.
“Sickening, somehow,” Royston said, shutting the door behind her.
“However sickening, get a team of nice solid constables together and go and pick up the Greens, and whoever’s hiding them. We’ll need to talk to Mr. Grunwald too, to see what sort of feelers he’s been putting out to try to find the Jewish terrorist underground. But get the Greens, right now, before she thinks better of it and tips them off.”
“Not coming yourself, sir?” Royston asked.
“I have to see the Chief about the Hitler box thing,” Carmichael said. “He might be waiting for me now.”
Indeed, Humphries sent Carmichael upstairs to Penn-Barkis. The lift once more wafted him to the top of the building, and the astonishing view of the kingdoms of London spread out before him, looking particularly enticing in the sunshine.
“News on the Gilmore bomb?” Penn-Barkis greeted him. “I hope so.”
“Yes, quite a bit of news,” Carmichael was pleased to report. “I know what they were going to do with it. It seems when Mr. Hitler’s in London next week, he’s to see
with Mr. Normanby, and it’s the production Gilmore was going to be in.”
Penn-Barkis nodded briskly. “Good work. Is there proof?”
Carmichael shook his head. “Balance of probability only.”
“Well, they’re dead,” Penn-Barkis said. “The play can go on uninterrupted.”
“There is the question of Nash,” Carmichael said.
“Who’s Nash?” Penn-Barkis frowned.
“Marshall’s friend, the one who has disappeared. He and Marshall were apparently like David and Jonathan.”
The implications of Penn-Barkis’s sneer angered Carmichael, but he plowed on regardless.
“There are Gilmore’s servants as well, the Greens, the ones who vanished, but we’ve got a line on them. In fact, Royston should be picking them up as we speak. But I’m worried about Nash.”
“You mean you think he might try to carry on where Marshall left off?” Penn-Barkis asked.
Carmichael hesitated. “I suppose it’s a possibility. I expect Marshall and Gilmore being blown to kingdom come put an end to it, but I can’t rule it out altogether.”
“Do you think we ought to warn the security services, and the Germans for that matter? We could cancel the visit to the theater. But it is being announced today, it’s too late to cancel without publicity. Is there enough of a risk to make it worth it? It’s a big thing, canceling something like that, makes it look as if we can’t handle our own people, in front of the Germans, who certainly do know how. Bit of a black eye for us, really.”
“I don’t want to decide that now,” Carmichael said. “I want to talk to the Greens, who may know something about Nash and about the plot. Probably, without Gilmore to get the thing inside, the plot will be off anyway. But if we have to cancel, since there would be publicity whenever it happened, we can get them to cancel right up to the last minute, can’t we, and there’s still a week.”
“A week, yes, plenty of time,” Penn-Barkis said. “Very well. Don’t tell the press anything, let them think you’re still investigating. We don’t want to tip Nash off. And we’ll increase security on the theater, and on Covent Garden as well in case they change their venue with the loss of the actress.”
“Yes, sir,” Carmichael said.
“Good work, Inspector,” Penn-Barkis said. “Take the weekend off. Rest. You can afford the time. Go to a show. Relax.”
“Yes, sir,” Carmichael said again, more decided than ever that he would hand in his resignation at the end of this case.
don’t have to explain, do I, that when we went to Coltham Siddy and Uncle Phil were of exactly the same mind as Devlin and everything was perfectly bloody? I can hardly bear to think about it. I’ve already written far too much, there’s no need for me to go into the details of all that. We all sat there in Coltham, all the same people as the week before but in the Chinese parlor, because it was raining, and ate scones and seed cake and little delicate cucumber sandwiches, and they tried to explain to me that a sister more or less made no difference, if you could get rid of a couple of dictators at the same time. Siddy at least had the grace to look as if her conscience was a bit troubled by it.
I’ve said I almost never saw my family and kept up with them from Mrs. Tring reading the society papers. That’s true. I often went for months without seeing any of them. I saw Dodo most often, once or twice a year when she came up to London for the day. I hadn’t seen Pip for years. I could dislike them quite intensely—at that moment, I almost hated Siddy. But we’d all been brought up together in a way quite unlike the way normal people are brought up, even people of our class, and that made a bond. Whether I saw them or not, whether I wanted to see them or not, they were my sisters and I cared about them. From one angle, I could see how ghastly they were, and that was the angle on which I had changed my name and made my life in the theater. There was another angle though, a very deep one, and from that angle everyone else came and went but my sisters were the only ones who were real.
There were six of us. Pappa wanted a son, and so he made Mamma keep on having babies, as fast as she could until she just couldn’t do it anymore, and they kept being girl after girl. There’s a story that when Ma was carrying Rosie she made Pa promise that this was the last, and he’d agreed because he was sure it was a boy this time. A gypsy told him. Then when Rosie was born they both wept, Ma with relief and Pa with disappointment, and afterwards he would never allow gypsies to camp in Gypsy Hollow.
The title, and Carnforth Castle, will go to some boring Larkin cousins in Northumberland. You’d think this was a tragedy and the end of a way of life the way Pa carries on, but it happens every couple of generations in every family in England and somehow everything stays the same. For that matter, Grandfather was the nephew of the previous Lord Carnforth, and Pa himself was a younger son. If Uncle Bartie hadn’t been killed at Ypres he’d not have inherited. In fact, Pa was in line to inherit anyway, because according to some letters Tess found inside
our sainted uncle was as bent as a paperclip. But if he’d had to wait for Bartie to die in the usual way, we wouldn’t have been brought up at Carnforth.
Carnforth isn’t much like Elsinore really. It’s in Oxfordshire, about twenty miles from Oxford itself. They call it a castle, but there’s only really the keep and one tower that’s medieval. Most of the house is eighteenth century. The medieval castle was built by some Norman Larkins who tramped over tediously from the Continent with William the Conqueror. They lived in it through the Middle Ages, no doubt finding it drafty and inconvenient, assuming the rest of it was like the bits that are left. The Elizabethan Larkins had the good sense to move to London where they could go to see original Shakespeare plays, and let the castle decay. I always say I’m a throwback to them. After the civil war, unfortunately, the Restoration Larkins decided to go back to Carnforth. Perhaps they didn’t get on with Nell Gwyn. They built a charming manor house beside the falling-down castle. That manor house burned down at the end of the eighteenth century, just in time to be regarded as charming ruins by the Regency Larkins, who rebuilt the castle. There’s a painting of the Restoration house in the billiard room, and one room of it survives as a sort of barn. We used to spend a lot of time in it.
People think it must be frightfully grand living somewhere your ancestors have always lived, but they don’t think of the horrors of eighteenth-century kitchens, miles from the dining room so that the food is always cold. They don’t think of trying to heat the Hall—that’s the old keep, the central part of the house, where you come in. Most of all they don’t imagine being cooped up there for eighteen years seeing almost nobody but your family.
We didn’t go to school. Pappa had the theory that school made girls vulgar and ordinary. Nor did we have a governess. Pappa thought Mamma quite adequate to teach us, not really considering that she had never had much of an education herself. Mamma did teach us all to read, more or less, but her lessons never got much beyond that. Fortunately there was an excellent library, mostly bought by the yard by our grandfather. None of the books were modern, except for Pappa’s collection of books on the Great War, but it was possible to read anything worth reading that had been written before 1875. Those of us given to reading read a lot. Tess did, and I did, but Pip hardly opened a book and I don’t believe Rosie ever did. For me, it was something to do. I sometimes say it was good training for an actress. I read widely. I learned to memorize and to recite—Pappa was awfully fond of having us learn poetry. I had most of
by heart before I was ten.
Beyond that we played complicated games of our own devising, inside and out. We loved animals. We had pets, which we adored, and wept when they died. We carried out a surreptitious war with the gamekeeper, who laid traps for wild animals. We were always on the side of the animal. We were close to animal ourselves. We never went to London, and though we had visitors they didn’t pay much attention to us. Why should they? We were children. They would say we’d grown and hear us recite and then we’d vanish back to our own lives and they’d sigh with Pappa over his lack of sons. We seldom met children of our own social class, though we were inculcated with a great deal of information about the social class of the children of the Oxfordshire peasants we did meet, enough to stop us making any friends. Mamma and Pappa were the ultimate authorities, inestimably above us, almost like gods. The servants and villagers could be allies or enemies, but were inestimably below us. The only people on our own level were each other.
We were six sisters, with only an eleven-year age gap between Tess, whose real name was Olivia, born in 1914, and Rosie, born in 1925. When people talk about us as sisters they always want to talk about what happened to us afterwards, when we were grown up. What they couldn’t see was what counted was what happened when we were children, at Carnforth, in that hothouse atmosphere when we couldn’t get away from each other, when we were each others’ only companions, and rivals, when we loved and hated one another and couldn’t imagine life without the others. The jokes we heard, the words we made up, everything in our lives was defined by each other. Pip, Celia, was born a year after Tess in 1915. Perhaps Pa couldn’t get leave because I wasn’t born until 1917, when he spent a year as Lord Lieutenant in Dublin recovering from wounds gained at the Somme. He was fit to go back to France again the year after. He loved his time on the Western Front and said afterwards it was terrific fun, and spent much of his time reading books about it and correcting them in red ink. He didn’t write to the authors pointing out their errors, as Tess suggested he should; he thought it quite adequate, however egregious their mistakes, to correct them by hand in his own copy. Siddy was born in 1919, Dodo, whose real name was Miranda, in 1922, and Rosie in 1925.
In our shifting alliances, I seldom aligned myself with Pip or Siddy, my nearest agemates. More often I would be with poor Tess, or with the little ones, especially Dodo. Pip and Siddy were each other’s inseparable favorites. We had our times of tormenting each other, and our times of truce, and there was always the option of “ginns,” which we never abused.
We all had our own spheres, our things, where we were the experts, that we cared about passionately and defended from the others. These things distinguished us from one another, were claimed and staked-out territories as much as anything. It was almost arbitrary what they were, and how far away from each other they were, in childhood at least. My godmother, my mother’s cousin Bea, took me to see
Romeo and Juliet
when I was ten, and thereafter I aimed my life towards the theater. Theater became my thing, my sphere, as communism was Siddy’s and academia Tess’s. Dodo’s thing was art, painting; Rosie’s was horses; and Pip’s was Pappa. It became fascism later, when she was older and fascism was invented, but there’s not so much difference as there might appear. It had to do with power. Pappa was the most powerful person in our world—physically powerful, and having all the real power as well. She was fascinated by that. I don’t think Pip ever read a book that wasn’t about a Great Man. She read about Napoleon and Alexander, she read some of Pappa’s war books, because they were, in her mind, about him. She was frankly oedipal about Pappa. She said once, at the tea table, that she’d marry him when Mamma died. She must have been about seven, which would have made me five. I remember Mamma continued pouring tea quite serenely and saying something about the funny things children say. This may be a false memory, because it was a story Mamma found funny and repeated later.