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Authors: Harry Bingham

The Sons of Adam

BOOK: The Sons of Adam
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HARRY BINGHAM
The Sons of Adam

DEDICATION

To my beloved N,
My writing partner

 

May this marriage be laughing for ever,
Today, tomorrow and all the hours of Paradise.

Rumi (1207–1273)

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Prologue

Part One

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

Part Two

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

25

26

27

28

29

30

31

32

Part Three

33

34

35

36

37

38

39

40

41

42

43

44

45

46

47

Part Four

48

49

50

51

52

53

54

55

56

57

58

59

60

61

62

63

64

65

66

67

68

69

70

71

72

73

74

75

76

77

78

79

80

81

82

83

84

85

86

87

88

89

90

91

92

93

94

95

96

97

98

Part Five

99

100

101

102

103

104

105

106

107

108

109

110

111

112

113

114

115

116

117

118

119

120

121

Part Six

122

123

124

125

126

127

128

129

130

131

132

133

134

135

136

137

138

139

140

141

142

143

144

145

146

147

Part Seven

148

149

150

151

152

153

154

155

156

157

158

159

160

161

162

163

164

Historical Note

By the Same Author

Copyright

About the Publisher

PROLOGUE

The Somme Battlefield, France, 23 August 1916

A man crawls forward on his belly. He’s covered with mud. It’s night-time.

The man is young, a British lieutenant. Although he moves carefully, there’s urgency in his movements, something breathless, something desperate. It’s a dangerous attitude at the best of times. Out here in no man’s land, just three dozen yards from German lines, the attitude seems almost suicidal.

For almost three minutes, the lieutenant moves in silence. Every now and then there is the crack of a rifle or the whine of bullets. He appears to ignore them. Eventually, he comes to a shallow shellhole and rolls down into it. He catches his breath a moment, then shouts.

‘Tom! Tommy! Tom Creeley!’

For a moment, the night is silent. A scrappy moon plays hide-and-seek. Earth and flint scrape beneath the lieutenant’s boots. In the distance, big guns thump the horizon.

Then a voice answers. It’s no more than a groan, but the lieutenant is instantly alert.

‘Tom? Tommy? Is that you?’

His hope is painfully evident. He climbs quickly out of the shellhole in the direction of the voice. He wriggles forwards, hardly concerned to keep his head and body low.

Within forty seconds, he has covered almost thirty yards. The voice belongs to a young boy, a British infantryman, horribly wounded in legs and belly. The boy is obviously dying.

A look passes across the lieutenant’s face. It’s one of painful disappointment. Whoever this boy is, it isn’t Tom Creeley. But the look passes.

‘All right, sonny,’ says the lieutenant. ‘I’ve come to get you home.’

The boy’s face is shockingly white in the moonlight. ‘I’m hurt pretty bad, sir.’ His voice is a whimper. He is afraid of death.

‘Hurt? Nothing too bad, son. We’ll get you patched up in no time and on a train back to England. How’s that?’

‘Oh, yes, sir! Oh, yes!’

The lieutenant nods. In one hand, he holds a canteen of water to the boy’s mouth. ‘Drink this.’ The boy drinks. As he does so, the lieutenant’s other hand snakes round in the mud, holding a revolver. The boy lowers the canteen. His eyes are grateful.

‘Good lad,’ says the lieutenant. He holds his gun to within an inch of the boy’s head and fires. The boy drops back, dead.

The lieutenant lies low for a minute or so, then briskly searches the boy’s pockets for any personal papers. He takes whatever there is, then, once again, flattens himself against the earth. He lifts his head and shouts.

‘Tom? Tommy? Tom
Cree-leeeeeee?

And this time there’s no answer. No answer at all.

PART ONE

Rise early, work hard … strike oil.

J. Paul Getty

1

Whitcombe House, Hampshire, 23 August 1893

The beginning?

To hell with beginnings. Beginnings are excuses, apologies for failure. If things turned out disastrous – and they did – then that had everything to do with the way three young men chose to behave, nothing to do with the way things started out.

On the other hand, people are only human. Once a ball starts rolling it’s hard to stop it. A beginning is a beginning, and on this occasion, the beginning wasn’t just bad.

It was awful.

It happened like this.

A small boy, a seven-year-old, stands in a kitchen. He’s building himself a blackberry pudding as big as his head. The cook stands by, face red in the firelight, managing pots of water boiling on the stove, a newly made pot of coffee steaming to the side. The scene is domestic, quiet, happy.

Upstairs, the little boy’s mother, Lady Pamela Montague, is in labour for the fourth time. Of her first three children, only one – the blackberry-pudding-guzzling Guy – survived more than a few weeks. She and her husband, Sir Adam, are understandably anxious this time, but everything is proceeding normally. The doctor and midwife are in attendance.

So far, so nothing.

No births. No deaths. No hatreds. And best of all: no beginnings.

But, in a second, that changed.

All of a sudden there was a bang at the door, the jiggle of a latch, a blast of cool air. A tiny girl flitted in, as though blown by the wind. A sweep of rain washed the step behind her.

‘Please miss, please sir, please help.’ The tiny girl bobbed and curtsied, desperate with anxiety. ‘My ma’s ill. She’s having a baby, only it’s got stuck, and she says she can’t, and she’s gone as white as anything, and my dad said to run to the big house for help as fast as I could, and please miss, please miss, please miss.’

BOOK: The Sons of Adam
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