Authors: C J Sansom
Tags: #Historical, #Deckare
I was held up. A rich man's funeral train was passing, black horses, black carriages and poor men dressed in black following behi
nd, singing psalms. A dignified-
looking old man walked at the head of the procession carrying a white stick — the steward of the dead man's household carrying the symbolic staff of office he would break and cast into the grave. From its great size I guessed this must be the funeral of Lord Latimer, whose wife the King apparently coveted. I took off my cap. A large carriage passed; the shutters were open. A woman looked out, her face framed by a jet-black hood. She was about thirty; a receding chin and small mouth made a face that otherwise would have been pretty, merely striking. She stared at the crowd with wide, unseeing eyes as she was borne along. It seemed to me that there was fear in them.
The carriage rumbled past, and
the Lady Catherine Parr disap
peared from view.
I passed under London Wall. A little beyond I came to a pair of large wooden gates in a high wall. They were open, and riding through I found myself in a wide, earthen courtyard, stippled with snow, a chapel at its centre. The backs of houses formed three sides of the yard; a long, two-storied building of grey stone, which looked very old, made up the fourth. Some of the unpainted wooden shutters on the windows were open. People were passing to and fro across the yard, and I saw a couple of narrow lanes running between the houses. The Bedlam was not, then, a closed prison. And I heard no shrieks or rattling of chains.
I rode to a large door at one end. My knock was answered by a thickset man with a hard, sardonic face, who wore a dirty grey smock. A big key-ring dangled from his greasy leather belt.
'I am Master Shardlake,' I said. 'I have an appointment to see Adam Kite.'
The man studied my robe. 'Lawyer, sir?'
'Yes. Are you Keeper Shawms?'
'No, sir. He's out, though he's due back soon. I'm another of the keepers, Hob Gebons.'
'Are young Kite's parents here?' 'No.'
'I will wait.'
He stood aside to let me enter. 'Welcome to the chamber of the mad,' he said as he closed the door. 'You think you can get Adam Kite released?'
'I hope so.'
'We'd be glad to see him go, he makes the other lunatics nervous. We keep him shut away. Some think him possessed,' he added in a low voice.
'What do you think, Gebons?'
He shrugged. 'Not for me to think.' The man leaned close. 'If you've a bit of time, sir, I could show you some of our prize specimens. King Commode and the Chained Scholar. For a shilling.'
I hesitated, then handed over the coin. The more I knew about what went on here, the better.
Gebons led me
along a whitewashed corridor running the length of the building, windows on one side and a row of green
painted wooden doors on the other. It was cold and there was a faint smell of ordure.
'How many patients do you have?' 'Thirty, sir. They're a mixed lot.'
I saw that viewing-
hatches had been cut in the green doors, at eye height. Another grey
smocked attendant stood in an open doorway, looking in.
'Is that my washing water, Stephen:' I heard a woman's voice call. 'Ay, Alice. Shall I take your pisspot:'
The scene appeared civilized enough, almost domestic. Gebons smiled at me. 'Alice is sane enough most of the time. But she has the falling sickness bad, she can be on the floor foaming and spitting in the wink of an eye.'
I looked at Gebons, thinking of Roger.
'She's allowed to come and go. Unlike this fellow.' The warder had stopped at a closed door with a heavy bolt on it. He grinned at me, showing broken grey teeth. 'Behold His Majesty.'
He opened the viewing hatch, and stood aside to let me look. I saw a square cell, the windows shuttered, a candle guttering in an old bottle on the floor. The sight within made me gasp and step back. An old man, large and enormously fat, sat on a commode that had been painted white. He had a short beard cut in the same way that the King's was depicted on the coins. An extraordinary, muldv coloured robe, made of odds and ends of cloth patched together, swathed his heavy form. He was holding a walking stick with a wooden ball jammed on the end to resemble a sceptre. On his bald head was a paper crown, painted yellow.
'How are you today, Your Majesty:' Hob asked.
'Well enough, fellow. You may bring my subject in, I will receive him.'
'Maybe later, sire. I have to clean the jakes first!' 'You insolent fellow—'
Gebons closed the hatch, cutting him off. He turned to me, laughing hoarsely.
'He's convinced he's the king. He used to be a schoolteacher. Not a good one, his charges used to mock him, play football in his classes. Then he decided he was the king and his mind flew away from all his troubles.'
'Mocking the King,' I said. 'That's dangerous.'
Gebons nodded. 'That's why his family put him here, out of the way. Many lunatics proclaim many dangerous things, being loobies they forget you must be careful what you say these days. Now,' he grinned again and raised his eyebrows. 'Come and see our Chained Scholar. He's two doors down. A fine educated fellow.' He looked at my robe, mockery in his smile. 'A doctor of common law from Cambridge. Failed to get a post there that he wanted, and attacked his college principal, half killed him. He's all right with the likes of me, but hates seeing anyone educated. You should see his rage then. If you went into his room he'd leap at you and scratch your face off. He's one we keep locked up carefully. But I could open the hatch up for you to have a look.'
'No, thank you.'
'He loves drawing maps and plans, he's redesigning the sewers for us. You'll note there's a stink in here.' 'Indeed, a bad one.'
I heard voices nearby, and recognized Daniel Kite's, raised in anger. 'Where is he;' I asked.
'The parlour. They must have come in the back way. Sure you don't want to see the scholar?' he added, the mockery now clear in his voice.
'No,' I answered curtly. 'Take me to the Kites.'
Gebons led me into a small room with cheap stools set around, a scuffed table and a fire lit in the grate. The walls were bare. Minnie Kite sat on a stool, looking utterly dejected, while her husband argued with a plump, surly
faced man in a black jerkin.
'You could try to make him eat!' Daniel was shouting.
'Oh, ay. Get one of my keepers to force him to his feet then another to force the food into his mouth. They haven't the time, and they don't like doing it, he frightens them. And by Mary he's frightening enough the way he lays there gobbling and muttering and calling God's name, no wonder half my keepers say he's possessed! The food's put in there and he can eat it or no as he wills.'
'Is there a problem?' I asked quietly. 'You must be Keeper Shawms,' I added as the fat man turned. 'I am Master Shardlake, the Kites' lawyer.'
Shawms looked between me and the Kites. 'How come you can afford a lawyer, when you say you can't afford my fees?' he asked them in a bullying voice.
'I have been appointed by the Court of Requests,' I said.
'Oh,' he sneered. 'Poor man's lawyer, then, for all your fancy rig.'
'Who can apply to the court to have your fees waived, and any question of mistreatment considered,' I replied sharply. 'Tomorrow, if I am unsatisfied with what I see today.'
Shawms looked at me from deep
set piggy eyes. 'That boy's hard to take care of. . .'
'He only needs feeding,' Minnie said. 'And someone to put a blanket round his shoulders when it slips off.' She turned to me. 'It's so cold in there, and this wretch won't lay a fire—'
'Fires cost money!'
I turned back to the Kites. 'Perhaps I could see Adam.' 'We were about to go in.'
'See him if you want to,' Shawms said. 'You'll get no sense from him.' He glared at me. I realized that for him Adam was a troublesome nuisance; he would not be sorry if he died. Nor would the Council; for them it would be a problem solved.
'And afterwards, Master Shawms,' I said, 'I would like a word.'
'All right. Come on then. I've no time to waste.'
We were led
to another of the green doors. It was locked; Shawms unlocked it and glanced in. 'He's all yours,' he said, and walked away.
I followed Daniel Kite into the room. It was light, whitewashed, the shutters partly open. As Minnie had said, it was bitterly cold. There was a dreadful stench, a mixture of ordure and unwashed skin. The place was furnished only with a truckle bed and a stool.
A tall teenage boy with filthy black hair knelt in a corner, his face to the wall, whispering to himself, the words coming so fast they were hard to follow. 'I repent my sins I repent please listen please listen in Jesu's name . . .'
He was dressed in a food
stained shirt and leather jerkin. A large dark stain on his hose showed he had soiled himself. There was a fetter round his ankle, a chain running from there to an iron ring in the floor. Minnie approached and knelt by her son, putting an arm round his shoulders. He took no notice at all.
'The chain's to stop him running out to the churchyards,' Daniel Kite said quietly. He did not approach Adam, merely stood beside him with his head bowed.
I took a deep breath and went over to the boy, noticing he was a broad
shouldered lad, though reduced now to skin and bone. I bent to look at Adam's face. It was a pitiful sight. The boy might once have been handsome, but now his features showed such misery as I had never seen. His brows were contorted into an agonized frown, his wide terrified eyes stared unseeingly at the wall, and his mouth worked frantically, strings of spittle dripping on his chin. 'Tell me I am saved,' he went on. 'Let me feel Your grace.' He stopped for a moment, as though listening for som
ething, then went on, more des
perately than ever. 'Jesu! Please!'
Adam,' his mother said in a pleading voice. 'You are dirty. I have brought you new clothes.' She tried to pull him to his feet, but he resisted, squeezing himself into the corner. 'Leave me!' he said, not even looking at her. 'I must pray!'
'Is he like this all the time?' I asked Minnie.
'Always, now.' She relinquished her hold, and we both stood up. 'He never wants to rise. His sighs of despair when he is forced to stand are piteous.'
'I will get my physician friend to
call,' I said quietly. 'Though
in truth, while he is like this, if I can make sure he is cared for he may be better off here.'
'He must be cared for,' she said. 'Or he will die.'
'I can see that. I will talk to Keeper Shawms.'
'If you would leave us, sir, I will try and clean him a little. Come, Daniel, help me lift him.'
Her husband moved to join her.
'I will speak to the keeper now,' I said. 'I will meet you in the parlour when you are finished.'
'Thank you, sir,' Minnie gave me a trembling smile. Her husband was still avoiding my eye. I left them and went in search of Shawms, full of anger at the way Adam had been left to wallow in his own shit. The horror of what his broken mind was experiencing was beyond my understanding, but lazy, venal officials I could deal with.
in a little room of his own, sitting drinking beer and looking into a large fire. He stared at me truculently.
'I want that boy fed,' I snapped. 'By force if need be. His mother is changing his clothes and I want to see he is kept clean. I shall be applying to the court for an order that his welfare is properly attended to, and that the Council be responsible for his fees.'
'And till then who's to pay for all this work my keepers will be put to with him, to say nothing of calming the patients who fear they have a possessed man in their midst?'
'The Bedlam's own funds. By the way, do you have a doctor in attendance?'
'Ay. Dr Frith comes once a fortnight. He's a great one for his own potions, but they do no good. There was a herb
woman used to call, some of the patients liked her but Dr Frith sent her away. I don't appoint the doctors, that's for Warden Metwys.' 'Does a priest come?'
'The post is vacant since the old priest died. The warden hasn't got round to dealing with it.'
I looked into his fat red face, angry at the thought of the helpless mad being left to such as he and the lazy warden.