The Secret Life of Princes
That morning Dichley watched Prince Rupert shoot himself.
"At the time, they insisted the gun went off by accident," Gelda Woles gloated. Gelda was his editor. "Of course he was a closet homosexual; just tie that to a tragic suicide and there's your book."
Dichley was skyping Gelda from the 3rd International ChronoCapture Conference in London. It was raining. It had rained since he got there. There was a woman's laughter off-camera and a slim hand put a glass topped with fruit and an umbrella at the keyboard.
"Scan the chronocapture of the Prince at Balmoral," Gelda advised, absently running a finger down the beaded condensation on the glass. "Strapping stable lads and so forth. Or that stag trip to Baden-Baden."
She had to go now. No, she was in Bangkok for a few days.
Dichley kept his other find to himself.
He'd come across the Prince and the housemaid by accident, fast-forwarding through royal holidays in Scotland. Weeks of viewing had uncovered nothing more than Rupert being bullied by his elder brother.
Read the literature, Gelda had said. Read the diaries. The British aristocracy expected their sons to be neglected and bullied. It was called Eton. Hadn't King George V said he was scared of his own father and by God, his children would be afraid of him? Dichley hadn't argued, but only Rupert put a shotgun in his mouth.
Gelda might be obsessed, but she was right about it being some sort of sexual hang-up. He guessed the twenty-one-year-old, third in line to the throne, was still a virgin when he blew his brains out.
For the first time, a whole life had been downloaded, albeit, a short one. That was how Dichley had sold the biography of an obscure Victorian royal to Gelda. It was the unprecedented detail, the opportunity to witness the events that ended with Rupert topping himself. But it gave Dichley a mountain of chronocapture data to climb.
And he soon realised how impossibly complicated was a life, and how lucky for biographers that history pruned it for them. A forest became a well-spaced avenue of trees: marriages, triumphs, deaths, and even visible in the historical distance, the landscape of Napoleon, a World War. Dichley was lost in the woods.
Chronocapture revealed the Prince at fifteen, bathing in his dressing room. To fill that royal hip-bath took an extraordinary effort, fed by convoys of housemaids with buckets from the kitchens. Balmoral would have to wait another century for piped hot water.
The plump, freckled girl puffed in with a last top-up of hot water, just as the Prince was done. There was no sound of course, and thanks to low bit-rates, the past was in monochrome.
Slopping water, the Prince stood up, a teenage boy in the presence of a young woman. Dichley supposed he asked for his towel. Instead, she reached out and placed her palm on his bare, wet chest.
A secret watcher would have seen Dichley chortle with glee; he'd watched the Prince shit, watched him pick his nose, now Dichley watched him tumble the girl onto the bed and fumble with the mysteries of Victorian undergarments.
And moments later Rupert sat up, his face unreadable.
Dichley viewed it again, the girl speaking as she smoothed down her skirts. Dichley presumed she was telling him these things happened, that it didn't matter.
Flicking through more damp summers, it took him only a day to discover the sixteen-year-old Prince in the arms of a governess. Reviewing the previous weeks, it was easier now to spot an exchange of glances, a casual conversation on a staircase, a crumpled note put into her hand.
The governess was a painfully thin, frizzy-haired woman in her thirties. It was the Prince who drew the curtains on grey skies and gleaming rooftops. Awkwardly, they began to undress each other and Dichley paused the picture. It was here, just before the Prince broke away, that he told her something. Dichley froze the bafflement on her face.
When the Prince was eighteen, he, an older cousin and some friends were in Baden-Baden. It was the night Rupert was taken to a brothel. Chamber-maids and governesses belonged to the class that did not complain about their betters; but this girl was annoyed when the Prince left her untouched, worried that the Madam would blame her perhaps.
There was a scene downstairs, money was thrown, the Princes' friends emerged half-dressed to interfere, and Rupert banged out into the night. Dichley watched it all again, jotting notes.
The closer he got to the Prince, the larger his round royal face grew in the lens, the less Dichley understood. A life examined minute by minute became blurred pixels of history, concealing instead of revealing. Everything that happened to Rupert lay exposed like a dissection and still Dichley must guess.
As far as he could tell, the only other occasion the Prince risked his virginity involved the wife of Lord Grey, a Minister in Palmerstone's first government. Gelda was sure she was a beard, a cover for her husband's homosexuality, but then, she saw everything that way.
Here was Lady Grey, berating the young Prince after failing to consummate their affair. It was all good, Gelda said. The suicide was the act of a young man unwilling to admit his sexual orientation.
Dichley wanted this biography to be taken more seriously than his others. Gelda hadn't mentioned that an explicit first treatment had already interested a friend in the media.
Still, they both agreed a higher bit-rate chronocapture of the Princes' suicide was a good investment.
Dichley had become inured to this scene, the Prince triggering a shotgun, silently splashing the ceiling with his brains.
This time though, Dichley heard Rupert's last wild words.
"Stop watching me," the Prince cried to the empty air. "You are always watching me!" he sobbed. "Leave me alone."
The blast of the gun put an end to his paranoia.