Thus Was Adonis Murdered
Sarah Caudwell

Sarah Caudwell

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Thus Was Adonis Murdered


detective fiction

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Thus Was Adonis Murdered

Copyright © 1981 by Sarah Caudwell

Chapter 1

Scholarship asks, thank God, no recompense but Truth. It is not for the sake of material reward that she (Scholarship) pursues her (Truth) through the undergrowth of Ignorance, shining on Obscurity the bright torch of Reason and clearing aside the tangled thorns of Error with the keen secateurs of Intellect. Nor is it for the sake of public glory and the applause of the multitude: the scholar is indifferent to vulgar acclaim. Nor is it even in the hope that those few intimate friends who have observed at first hand the labour of the chase will mark with a word or two of discerning congratulation its eventual achievement. Which is very fortunate, because they don’t.



I shall set down what happened, as it happened: and if, in the cause of Truth, I am unable to minimize my own achievement, I hope that the wiser spirits – I refer, in particular, dear reader, to yourself – will not think the worse of me for it.

On my first day in London I made an early start. Reaching the Public Record Office not much after ten, I soon secured the papers needed for my research and settled in my place. I became, as is the way of the scholar, so deeply absorbed as to lose all consciousness of my surroundings or of the passage of time. When at last I came to myself, it was almost eleven and I was quite exhausted: I knew I could not prudently continue without refreshment.



Cantrip is a Cambridge man – it is not always easy to understand what he says. ‘Nobbled? By whom, Cantrip? Or, to adopt the Cambridge idiom, who by?’

‘But since,’ said Ragwort, ‘her income for the previous year included the rather substantial sum raised by William to pay her previous liabilities to the Revenue – ’

‘She now owes them even more than she did last year. And she’s really rather despondent about it. Because it seems to her that every effort she makes to reduce her liability will in fact simply serve to increase it. And it is difficult to point to any fallacy in her reasoning.’ Selena gazed sadly into her coffee cup.

‘It is still not clear to me,’ I said, ‘why she now feels able to afford a holiday.’

‘It is true,’ said Selena, ‘that if she takes a holiday, she can’t afford to pay the Revenue. But if she doesn’t take a holiday she still can’t afford to pay the Revenue. On the sheep and lamb principle, she has decided to go to Venice. I think it’s very sensible.’



Chapter 2

The captain has announced that we are about to take off. He has recommended us to read the safety booklet. I have done my best; but it is all in pictures, with nothing to explain them. There is a picture of a female passenger sitting upright, then an arrow, then a picture of her leaning forward with her head in her hands. Is the only thing required of me in an emergency to lean forward and put my head in my hands? If so, I shall be equal to it. I may, however, be missing some deeper significance. The artist intends, perhaps, to depict an act of contrition – the lady is preparing to meet her Maker. That is a less agreeable idea.

The armour-plated matron has vented her martial spirit in complaining to the stewardess about the food. She is displeased with both the quality and the quantity. Her views on the former would make her, one might think, indifferent as to the latter – but not so: she declares it uneatable and demands a second helping.



Chapter 3 I allowed him, therefore, as he clearly wished to do, to give a little lecture on the law of domicile. The nub of which was, as I recall, that if you are resident in one country but intend to spend your last years in another, you will not necessarily be domiciled in either, but rather in the place where your father was domiciled at the time of your birth. If he, at that time, happened to be in a similar equivocal condition, then your domicile will be that of your paternal grandfather at the time your father was born. And so ad infinitum, if Timothy has explained the thing correctly, through any number of ancestors of migrant disposition, till domicile is finally established in the Garden of Eden.
Chapter 4 He studied his Wine List with the furtive squint which has characterized the English abroad since the decline of the pound sterling: it comes of comparing prices while pretending to study the vintage.



Chapter 5

The Venetians, it seems, adopted St Mark as their patron saint in the ninth century, at which time the mortal remains of the Evangelist were reposing in Alexandria. To demonstrate their piety, the Venetians sent out a body-snatching expedition, which abstracted the sacred corpse from its resting-place and brought it back through Customs packed between two sides of pork, so discouraging investigation by the fastidious Muslims. [...]

Having secured the body, they spent three hundred years building a church to house it, during which time they pillaged the Levant for suitable building materials. In the meantime, they lost the corpse; but they did not allow this to discourage them. The opportunity to put the finishing touches to the masterpiece came in 1204, when they more or less hijacked the Fourth Crusade.



She spoke of it tenderly: it had been, it seems, a splendid constitution, full of senates and committees and checks and balances and other things delightful to the political theorist.

‘If it was that fine,’ said Stanford, ‘why didn’t it last?’

‘It lasted six hundred years, signor,’ said Graziella. ‘And when it was quite worn out and would not work at all any more, it was exported, of course, to the United States of America.’



‘Really, Julia,’ she said, [...] ‘you seem to take a very cynical view of marriage.’

I am, as you know, Selena, by no means cynical, being on the contrary sentimental to a fault; but if people are going to let sentiment interfere with their tax planning, there is no helping them.



Chapter 6

The funeral rites of the rich are a signal for vultures to gather: among whom one may class, with all respect, antique dealers and the Chancery Bar.

This observation was not well received. Timothy suggested, a little waspishly, that if I thought so ill of his source of income I might not wish him to buy me a brandy. I reassured him on this point.

I reasoned, however, as follows:

(1) either Kenneth is deeply and sincerely attached to Ned or he is not;

(2) if he is not so attached, then my pursuit of Ned will cause him no distress;

(3) if he is so attached, then either the attachment is reciprocal or it is not;

(4) if it is reciprocal, Ned will reject my advances and my pursuit of him will accordingly cause Kenneth no distress;

(5) if it is not reciprocal, Kenneth will suffer distress whether or not I pursue Ned;

(6) if Kenneth will suffer distress whether I pursue Ned or not, my pursuit of Ned cannot be the cause of Kenneth’s distress;

(7) it is therefore logically impossible for my pursuit of Ned to cause Kenneth distress.

I had taken up my pen to report to you this example of the usefulness of logic – without which I might have come to an altogether different conclusion [...]


Logic (examples)

‘I don’t believe Shakespeare told Julia to try fainting,’ said Cantrip. ‘He’s dead.’

‘She is referring,’ said Selena, ‘to his early poem “Venus and Adonis”. Julia read it at an impressionable age and has since regarded it as a sort of seduction manual.’

‘It is a most indelicate work,’ said Ragwort. ‘Not at all suitable reading for a young girl.’

‘It’s hardly Julia’s fault,’ said Selena. ‘They told her at school that Shakespeare was educational.’

‘As I recall,’ I said, ‘the methods employed by the goddess in her pursuit of Adonis, though forceful, achieved only limited success. Doesn’t Julia find that discouraging?’

‘No,’ said Selena. ‘No. On this point alone, she believes that Shakespeare has been less than candid. She is persuaded, you see, that the poem is based on personal experience. The historical evidence shows that he yielded.’

Venus and Adonis

She displayed a great interest in life at the English Bar, and I was happy to gratify her curiosity. I gave her, I think, a pretty fair and balanced picture. That is to say, I did not dwell exclusively on the forensic triumphs attributable to my own skill and brilliance, but mentioned also the forensic disasters brought about by the idiocy of my lay client, the incompetence of my instructing solicitor or the senile dementia of the tribunal hearing my case. It was, in short, a very similar account to what she would have got from any other member of our profession.



Chapter 9 [...] I happened to call to mind some advice once given me by my Aunt Regina, who told me that the surest way to a man’s affections was to let him think he knew more about something than you did. It seemed worth trying – my Aunt Regina must be regarded as an authority on such matters, for she has had four husbands; though I cannot actually recall her thinking that any of them knew better than she did on any subject whatever.


Women and Men

Chapter 11

The tone to adopt, I felt, was one of sympathetic encouragement, as to undergraduates when they are explaining how the complications of their private lives have prevented them from writing an essay.



Chapter 13 ‘The whole object of an Oxford education is to ensure that when you want to know someone you know someone who knows them.’




‘I would go so far as to say that we are twin souls. The last time I saw her was at a party in Balliol – we both got very drunk and sat on the stairs all evening, talking about you, Desmond. We began by talking about your virtues and went on to talk about your vices.’

‘But Benjamin,’ said Ragwort, ‘I have no vices.’

‘It was,’ said Benjamin, ‘our mutual regret in reaching that conclusion which established that we were twin souls.’

‘Do you think me the sort of man to say such things if they were not true? Or at least partly true? Or at least widely believed to be at least partly true?’



‘You surely are not suggesting,’ said Ragwort, ‘that an antique dealer might actually wish to have a reputation for dealing in stolen goods?’

‘Well, yes, Desmond dear – a certain kind of antique dealer. You see, what people like best – that is to say, what collectors like best – is to think they’re getting a bargain. Now, if you see something that looks nice going terribly cheap [...] then the obvious conclusion [...] is that the thing’s not genuine. But another possible explanation is that it’s been come by dishonestly – and that’s what the collector wants to believe, because that means it’s a bargain. So that’s the belief that Bob sets out to encourage. He doesn’t actually say, of course, that anything is stolen [...]

‘I see,’ said Selena, ‘and if, after all, it turns out simply to be a fake, the purchaser can hardly bring proceedings under the Trade Descriptions Act on the ground that the goods were falsely represented to have been stolen.’

Chapter 14 ‘That’s hers, you see. And the star means it’s sold. For rather less, I dare say, than she could earn with a fortnight’s temporary typing – and Frostfield’s, in any case, will be taking the lion’s share. These considerations, however, do not weigh much with an artist who has just discovered, for the first time, that a total stranger may care for their work enough to pay hard cash for it.’



text checked (see note) Jan 2005

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