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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 3)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 3)

An awkward silence ensued in which both DeLacey and Arran simply sat and looked to Titus, awaiting his response. The words had been said impassively, but this had simply added to their import and the longer the silence lasted the greater that import grew. Eventually Titus asked the obvious question tentatively. There was no tactful way of phrasing it. “Ormonde is dead?”
Sir John started at the question. “No, Mr Perry, we have lost him. He is missing.”

There are some occasions when comprehending the sense of individual words lends little or no comprehension to their meaning combined. This was one of them, and Titus found himself struggling to understand just what it was that DeLacey had said. The words were plain, but their implications fantastic. Had they somehow ‘mislaid’ the Irish Lord Lieutenant James Butler, the Duke of Ormonde, Ireland’s most prominent statesman? How could one ‘lose’ a Viceroy? Could the embodiment of the regent’s jurisdiction over an entire country simply disappear? The questions were almost as ludicrous as the statement that had prompted them and Titus knew that his expression must only have betrayed his bewilderment.
His secretary shared his sense of the absurdity of what had just been said but inevitably had a more predictable response to it. Flitch’s laughter burst out like a gunshot and the steely gazes of the two men boring into him from across the table only served to send the man’s paroxysm to a higher plain. Eventually, almost sobbing with the effort of suppressing his mirth, he turned to Titus and said in an audibly strained whisper, “I do believe they need the services of a map maker to help locate their missing Duke!” Another roar of laughter erupted from him and the other three had little choice but to wait for Flitch to recover himself, something he thankfully mastered quite quickly, given that his counterparts across the table, and especially Arran, seemed ready to run him through with their swords.

DeLacey managed to speak first, no doubt saving Flitch from being executed on the spot by his colleague. He addressed his remarks, perhaps wisely, to Titus directly and ignored the mapmaker’s impudent secretary pointedly. “Your employee has a sense of humour. Good, he may require one soon, though it would be meet if he could refine its ‘vigour’, I feel. He is essentially correct however – though your profession is not as important as the mobility it grants you here. That is what I meant by you being known to us, Mr Perry, our people in London decided that it was you who might be of service to us.”
“That is odd,” Flitch’s interruption had given Titus time to recover both his composure and his thoughts. He had been amazed by DeLacey’s previous admission, but this one merely annoyed him. “I don’t recall meeting your ‘people’.”
“Oh but you did, or some of them. You may not know it but your commendable work for the crown has not gone unnoticed.”
“I make maps for god’s sake!”
“Very good ones too, I commend you. However it’s another aspect of your work that has been noted as useful. You are shrewd in your dealings with others and have, how shall I put it, a healthy sense of perspective regarding your … betters. You are in a land now where many people you will meet will not be what they appear; those traits may be essential requirements for what we will ask you to do.”
“And before you enquire, you will be handsomely rewarded for your efforts too.” Arran threw in the last remark with the flourish of a rhetorician, as if this promise alone should counter any argument and settle the matter outright.
Titus ignored it completely. “You say that you ‘ask’ us”, he said with suspicion, “and I assume therefore from that and from what you said earlier that I am in a position to refuse your ‘request’. Am I right in my assumption?”
“Yes, but not if you value your life.” DeLacey sat back in his chair. He rubbed his eyes vigorously with his fingertips in the manner of one who has spent too long reading by candlelight, though on this occasion it seemed to indicate a man who was gathering his wits before an important utterance. He looked up again and, studying Titus closely as he spoke, he added. “Though from what we hear you have had less than a regard for your life in the past, and it is time we talked of that. A stint in the gutters and doss houses of St Giles I believe?” This sudden change of topic alarmed Titus, and DeLacey let him know that he had observed the fact. “I apologise for being so indiscrete, Mr Perry, but this is something we must know now. What was it, can you tell us, that sank you to such squalor, Mr Perry? A love of liquor? Self pity after an unhappy romance? Self-loathing or guilt perhaps after a crime that maybe haunts you yet? I will admit this is my only concern regarding your aptitude.” DeLacey’s tone was something less than impassive, almost accusatory, and Arran did not try to hide a malignant smile that erupted when he saw that his colleague’s remarks had stunned the mapmaker.

Suddenly to everyone’s surprise, not least that of Titus, Flitch exploded. He leapt to his feet, slammed his hands flat on the tabletop and leaned across to within almost an inch of DeLacey’s complacent face, his own features twisted with disgust and rage. “Hold your horses a moment DeLacey!” He shouted the words, despite his proximity. “I know your sort, spies of the court who have never done a day’s honest work in your miserable lives, and I won’t sit here and listen to you slander Mr Perry like that.” DeLacey tried to respond but Flitch just shouted him down. “Better men than any of us here have hit low ebbs in the past. It’s the measure of a good man that he can clamber out of a pit, not that he stumbled into it in the first place! You can threaten me all you like, I’ll take my chances, but I’ve had enough of this.” He turned to Titus. “Mr Perry, if what these jumped up clerks say is true – which I doubt – then they need you more than you need them. If they want your help let them truly ask for it, not threaten you to gain it, nor insult you either!” Now his scorn was directed to both of his adversaries. “You can both go and learn a dose of civility, the pair of you! And you,” pointing to Arran, who recoiled visibly, “can stick both your handsome reward and your arrogant sneer up your arse while you’re at it!”

Titus grabbed his companion and slowly hauled him back onto their bench. Flitch’s outburst had astounded him. It was not just out of keeping with the man’s demeanour up to that point, but was completely out of character for a man whose anger was always best expressed with derisory comments or sullen silence. He silently implored his secretary to resume his seat, but nodded a gesture of sincere gratitude nevertheless for the man’s support. Then he turned to answer DeLacey himself. “I don’t deny my past. But I do deny any man the liberty to judge me who does not know me, or now that I know him care even less for. If you have offered me anything this evening of worth it is a good reason to refuse you. Believe me, you may think I have little regard for my life, but I would have none at all for it were I to entrust it to those who would employ threats to acquire my services. If neither of you have anything further to say,” and he stared at both in turn, “then I think my secretary has relieved me of the need to say further myself. We should end this ‘parley’ now and consider it an evening wasted on all our parts.”

Flitch rose again and Titus was just about to follow him when Arran raised his hand in a gesture for them both to wait. He had recovered quickly from Flitch’s near assault. “You were right, John,” he said evenly to his companion, though his eyes never left Titus. His voice might have been soft but it held within it the steely tone of one used to his own authority and of exercising it too. “I am sorry, Mr Perry, but it was necessary for me to ascertain for myself what Sir John reported regarding your character. And your colleague’s too.” There was the briefest exchange of glances between Arran and DeLacey at this remark but Titus could not fathom what it might mean. Arran continued in his reasonable tone. “Forgive us our little test but I am afraid the provocation was necessary.”
“A test?” Titus was incredulous.
“Quite, and I can assure you that you have both more than confirmed our expectations. Please sit down again both of you; I beseech you.”
“Why the hell should we?” It was Flitch who spoke and his earlier anger had not dissipated in the slightest.
“Because if you don’t, Mr Flitch, you and your master will walk out that door and into perils that neither of you understand, perils from which we will not be in a position to protect you.” An edge had grown to his delivery and something in it prompted both men to resume their seats, albeit slowly and with wary eyes on their adversaries across the table. Arran ignored their obvious reluctance and merely nodded in gratitude when they had both settled back onto their bench. “Good. Good. Now, Mr Perry, you are of course right to demand to know why we should ask you to assist us - for you this must seem after all like an Irish affair in which you need play no part.”
Titus allowed himself a few moments to collect his thoughts before finally answering. “I could not care less if it is an Irish affair or an English affair, or for that matter an affair of any description except that it is a political affair. I am a man who has assiduously avoided politics and politicians all my life. By that I mean no offence to you or your colleague, but it is true all the same. All I want to do is map this bloody country as I have been contracted to do. Even if as it turns out the commission was just a ploy to get me here, I have papers that say otherwise.”
“You hold that commission in the name of James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, my father. You might find it worthless should what we fear be true. Still if it’s what you have decided, let me assure you; you are free to go. I guarantee that no harm will befall you on the strength of your action, by our doing at least. All I must insist on is that you, or your colleague, mention nothing of this conversation to anyone. Should we learn otherwise, then I cannot guarantee even that.”
“Fine,” said Flitch, apparently back to his old sardonic self. “I can’t see it becoming one of my more entertaining anecdotes in any case! Are we going then, Mr Perry?” He half rose from his seat but halted when he saw that Titus had not moved. “Are we off then? You have given these men as much of a reply already as they deserve.” But Flitch’s question went unanswered. Titus stayed seated and seemed deep in thought.

“No,” he eventually said, and after his secretary had slumped with obvious disappointment back on to his bench his next few words were spoken almost tentatively. “Lord Arran, Sir John, you must forgive me when I confess two things. That I am less than pleased with the manner in which you and your colleague have brought me here I hope is evident. You have employed trickery and threat in equal measure to ensure my audience and you hope to do the same to ensure my acquiescence in whatever it is that you have planned. This I find as insulting as any man would who values honesty in his dealings with others and expects the same integrity in return.” He did not wait for a protest, and none came in any case. “But I must confess also that I am a man currently perturbed. You speak of peril that assuredly awaits me outside this door, and in the next moment assure me that this peril will not come from you. So now I find myself having to ask an obvious question. What is this peril? If it is obvious to you then why are you so reticent to divulge its complete nature? If it is not from you then why be reticent at all?” Neither man across the table raced to answer his question, so he pressed on, addressing Arran directly. “And that is not the only imponderable. You say you have gone to great effort to get us here, and even greater effort to ensure that we comply with your request for help in locating your father. But for all your ‘tests of character’ and your ‘investigations of my past’ you cannot know that I am capable of even beginning to comply with your request, even should I wish to. You express a faith in my ability that is blind. Yet there is an entire army in Ireland under you and your father’s command, not to mention a network of other … agents … at your disposal, men capable of and bound to perform whatever tasks you set them. What could I ever achieve that these men could not?”

Arran glanced at his companion for a moment and then emitted the smallest of sighs. Titus thought he understood the men’s dilemma. They had obviously hoped to impress him into accepting their proposal without first having to divulge too many details of the task they wished him to perform. But now Titus was making such revelation a precondition of even entertaining their request. Sworn to secrecy they all might be but, judging from his demeanour at this point, for Arran to say more represented an obvious risk. It was a risk, however, that the man chose to take. “The truth is we cannot trust the army,” he said quietly. “The chain of command is the strength of any army, but it is a chain that binds nothing when one link is removed. We have lost the largest link of all. As for those who you call ‘agents’, and your secretary refers to as ‘spies’, well, they have their uses, yes. But those uses are limited, and we have already found to our cost in this case where those limits lie.”
Flitch made a wry smile. “Sounds to me like you weren’t our friends’ first choice for the job, Mr Perry. Am I right, gentlemen?”

DeLacey winced but said nothing. Butler answered Flitch tetchily. “We did try to resolve this matter using the resources at our disposal, and yes, they proved inadequate. This is a task that can best be performed by one who is as … anonymous … as is possible in this land.” He turned to Titus. “So, yes, we do need you more than you need us. But hear me out and you will see why we have chosen such a seemingly bizarre course of action in getting you here. I will begin with the circumstances surrounding my father’s disappearance.” Butler struggled to maintain the reasoned tones of a man adept at getting his own way through force of argument and logic, but he could not disguise a desperation that had slowly crept into his delivery. Titus, to Flitch’s obvious displeasure, decided he would listen to more, though he privately wondered if anything about this man was as it sounded. There was something about Arran that suggested duplicity all the stronger the more he strove to portray honesty. His mood as expressed by his demeanour was volatile, but even that very volatility seemed simply a contrivance to an end, and Titus reckoned he was being spoken to by a man who cared less for how honest he might be than in how honest he could sound. It was an artifice employed by politicians, he knew, but in Arran it was apparently something more intrinsic to the man’s character even than that. De Lacey’s own advice not to take anyone in this land at face value already seemed an apt one. “Very well,” Titus agreed, keeping his reservations to himself. “I will hear more.”
Lord Arran nodded with convincing gratitude and proceeded. “Here are the facts as we know them then. My father and his entourage were reported leaving Derby on the last day of January. He had been summonsed to the court of assize there from Oxford to attend a case brought against him by the Earl of Rochester involving … well, it doesn’t matter now. Suffice to say that after a meeting with Rochester’s lawyers all charges against him were dropped, as they usually are, and he then left with six of the Earl’s own bodyguard to Bristol.”
“The Earl’s own bodyguard?” Titus found it odd that a man should avail of his accuser’s facilities. “If the charges were dropped…”
“He was not under arrest, Mr Perry. There is a game being played by Rochester and his friends. The point of it is to keep my father out of London and away from the ear of the king. They use the law, and very real threats conveyed through it, to achieve their end. It is an old game, played by Buckingham and others before him, that Rochester plays with even greater consistency, and always with absolute chivalry. The provision of a guard is just one of those chivalries.”

Titus remembered what Cormac had told him earlier. “I am simply surprised your father accepts such chivalrous generosities. The game as you describe it has put him in real danger before.”
“Then you know nothing of my father’s views regarding frivolous expenditure. Guards are expensive accoutrements. If Rochester is prepared to foot the bill then my father is even more prepared to let him. It’s Rochester’s game, after all. Besides, Rochester’s offer included a comfortable carriage that was closed to the elements. You will recall what the weather was like, and my father is not a young man.” He paused to re-gather the thread of his narrative. “Anyway, in Bristol he was to meet a ship four tides later that would bring him here to Dublin. But he never arrived. Instead, two of Rochester’s guards alone turned up in Bristol on the day of the rendezvous, apparently having ridden their horses ragged through the snow to get there and with a disaster to report. They told the captain that their party had been waylaid near Cheltenham by a mounted brigade of Scotsmen, or so they had deduced from their accents. There was an exchange of fire in which four of their number had been slain, and in which the carriage containing Ormonde had been commandeered. They themselves barely escaped with their lives.” Arran’s eyes dropped momentarily, but he then continued his narration, and with extra vigour. “The captain of the vessel was suspicious however. The horses were ragged, but the two men upon them seemed too well turned out and barbered to his liking to be survivors of such an assault. He smelt a rotten fish and was astute enough not to raise a general alarm, but instead had the men secretly followed after releasing them. They went together to an inn not far from the docks. There they met with, and received moneys from, a man known as Jacob Tramaine. Tramaine is, or was, a notorious smuggler and well known to the coast watch around Bristol. Political skulduggery was never thought to be in his repertoire, but then neither was outright piracy until a few months ago, and we believe – well, now we know – that it was Tramaine who was behind several cargo thefts of vessels in the Irish Sea in the last year. In any case, all three conspirators were promptly arrested by the captain’s men and questioned again, this time with more, eh, conviction let’s say.”

Arran took a piece of paper from his pocket. He looked at it once and then placed it on the table, his hand resting upon it as he spoke.
“Anyway, it appeared that the two men’s original story had been, in fact, largely accurate, but had been left wanting in two crucial details. They had, for example, omitted to tell us that they had been pre-warned of the attack by Tramaine himself beforehand. Indeed they had been paid to play a role in it. Their instructions were to quit the scene and make for Bristol with news of the attack, as they duly did, for which they would then be further rewarded, which they nearly were. The other omission on their part was in identifying their attackers – the brigade was not Scottish, but Scots-Irish, a difference with crucially distinct implications. The intention of this particular deception was obviously to anticipate and confound any response to the capture on our part. Tramaine told us the rest, or as much as he knew. It seemed our pirate and smuggler friend had in fact branched into politics of late, albeit of a rather sordid sort, and not in the least voluntarily. For once in his life it was not the prospect of profit that motivated him, but self preservation. He had, some time earlier he said, been approached by a stranger who threatened him with exposure and arrest if he did not comply with some rather mysterious, but specific, instructions. This person was anonymous to Tramaine, but apparently knew a lot about him, more in fact than Tramaine had thought anyone could ever know about him, including the coast watchmen and soldiery. We are not quite sure what threat he used but it was sufficient to deter Tramaine from attempting to do anything but comply.”
“And you believe that this character existed, that Tramaine did not invent him to disguise his true motivations?”
“A thought that crossed our minds also, believe me. A man like Tramaine is adept at hiding the truth of things – indeed so adept that he is almost addicted to it. But we have ways of peeling onions such as him. The stranger existed, and in truth Tramaine was so frightened of him that even after his apprehension it took great efforts on our part to prise the information loose from him. We are confident in the truth of what we did extract however. Tramaine was being recruited to assist in a kidnap, and his role in this was clearly defined by this mysterious imprest officer who had so terrified him into his service. Firstly he was to provide a small vessel with room enough for six or seven men, and also to nominate a place for embarkation removed from watchful eyes on the coast. Secondly he was to deploy his considerable experience in such matters and suggest a suitable place and method for the ambush of a notable person who would be travelling some days hence from Derby to Bristol, escorted by six of Rochester’s soldiery. He would never meet the men who performed the ambush, but they would be following his instructions, which were to be relayed by the anonymous contact once they had been devised.”
“A strange request, to lead a group of men who one is not allowed ever to meet.”
“Yes, Mr Perry, and Tramaine was not happy with it, or so he told us. It struck him that the perpetrators must have been unused to such exercises. They wanted to know how best to go about it, but they did not want him there to command them, we must assume on the grounds that he could not then afterwards identify them. Tramaine however was no fool. It was very much in his interests that their assault succeeded, and he knew that if they were as callow as they seemed then their plan stood a better chance of success the less it hinged on an armed attack.”
“A very noble concern for the safety of his troops.”
“A very ignoble concern that the whole thing could go awry and bring soldiers knocking on his door! Instead he suggested bribing the guards to ensure that their resistance to the ambush would be limited and ineffectual. It would be as well that they put up a token opposition for appearance’s sake but essentially they should be recruited into the plot. The stranger took some convincing to agree to this, but in the end saw the logic, though he insisted that he would arrange it himself. This displeased Tramaine, who likes to do his own accounting in these matters. He was given a week to organize what he must do, which was enough time as it turned out for Tramaine to find a good spot to do the deed, but not enough for the stranger to keep his end of the bargain and bribe all the guards. To Tramaine’s dismay he had managed to approach and compromise only two of them, the two who turned up in Bristol. The other four would be ignorant of the assault. It was agreed that they must therefore die in it”
“How did the stranger know that Rochester’s soldiers would amount to six in number?”
Arran gave him a brief puzzled look, as if Titus was trying to trick him with the question, before satisfying himself that the enquiry was genuine. “You are obviously not accustomed yourself to the privileges of status, sir. It is simply the minimum number courtesy demands in this case for a man of my father’s rank. Rochester is chivalrous, but not flamboyant.”
“But still, your father could have had brought his own bodyguard.”
“He brought two men to Derby, but dismissed them on arriving. They are an expensive requirement, and all the more expensive if they are not a requirement any more. As I said, this was not my father’s first such visit under such terms. He and Rochester have it down to a routine. The stranger had simply been observant in the past.”

It still struck Titus that this mysterious stranger had been very confident in the intelligence he had relayed to Tramaine, but he said no more about it.
Arran resumed his tale. “At this second meeting Tramaine explained the locality he had found, a place near Cheltenham favoured by highwaymen for the lie of the land, and for the fact that few regular army patrols ever came within twenty miles of it. His associate was pleased with what he heard, but not with the other piece of information Tramaine imparted; he had not as yet found a suitable boat. His own vessels were now under too close a scrutiny – thanks to his recent activities – and he was having problems finding someone he could trust to undertake the crossing or lend a vessel for the purpose. The stranger grew so livid indeed that Tramaine feared for his own safety, so he assured the man that the matter would indeed be resolved, though in truth he knew that he could most likely not honour his obligation. He had neither the time nor the contacts to do so.” Arran tapped the paper on the table. “The stranger chose to believe him however and it was arranged that this piece of information be transmitted by letter when the details of the vessel were known. There would be no more meetings, and we are satisfied that there were none.”
“Could Tramaine give any clue at all to the identity of his strange associate? His walk? His speech? Anything that might distinguish him?”
“No. He suspected the man’s accent was an impersonation; ‘Gloucester, but with none of the gloss’ was what he said. Apart from that, nothing. We questioned Tramaine severely on this matter, so we are satisfied that he never knew, or could even guess at, the identity of this fiend.”
Titus well understood what the term ‘severely’ meant, and from Arran’s earlier comments it was obvious that the smuggler had not survived his interrogation. Yet Richard Butler’s reasonable tone never varied as he spoke – as if the need for torture was an everyday fact of life, a simple mundanity encountered in the course of obtaining information, nothing more. It suddenly struck Titus that it was this man’s own father who had been abducted, if not killed, and yet not once had he seen even a flicker of fear or trepidation regarding the old man’s welfare cross his son’s face or tinge his words. This was either evidence of a supreme optimism or of an unnatural coldness in the man’s nature. Titus suspected very much the latter, and it made his flesh creep. If this was what political life did to a person, then his instinctive disgust for that world was all the more justified.

Arran noticed his unease, but misinterpreted it. “Men like Tramaine know well the risks they undertake in their endeavours. Their lives are forfeit in any case.”
Titus tried hard to subdue his mounting antipathy towards Butler. “Was Tramaine the only one involved?” he asked, trying to focus objectively on the facts of the man’s case, and not on Arran’s glib admission that he had had Tramaine killed. “I mean, did this stranger intimate to Tramaine that he had employed others in the planning of the deed?”
“He did not, at least apart from the band of Scots-Irish who did the shooting.”
“And did Tramaine himself employ anyone that you know of? He found a vessel, I assume.”
“Yes and no.” Arran slid the paper that he had taken out of his pocket earlier over to Titus and indicated that he should pick it up. “He had this note in his possession when we searched him. It’s in his own hand.”
Titus examined the paper for the first time. The handwriting was ornate – Tramaine had obviously been an educated man, despite his calling in life – but the note itself was brief, merely a few words and numbers, and scribbled in some haste, it seemed. It was addressed to a Mr George N. Syne.”
“A pseudonym, of course, and not even a very clever one. The St George Ensign – the flag raised when a ship of the fleet is underway. It was the stranger’s suggestion to use such a ruse, and Tramaine was too terrified to point out that its immaturity would more likely draw suspicion than repel it. As you can see, the note bears the identity of a boat and embarkation time. Tramaine had been instructed to leave it behind the bar at the Cradle Inn in Bristol addressed to this fictional character.” Arran held out his hand for the return of the document. “Unfortunately for Tramaine and indeed for us also, we arrested him before he could deliver the document to the Cradle.”
Titus remembered the Cradle Inn from his short stay in Bristol. It was the tavern that McGregor had chosen in which to relay written communications, and for good reason. The Cradle’s hostelry business was now almost secondary to its function as a secure post office. Its situation and its reputation for discretion meant that it was the location of choice for Bristol’s large sea-faring community when it came to such messages – owners’ directions to captains, officers’ orders to chandlers, crew mustering schedules, and all manners of other communications pertinent to a voyage – its value multiplying tenfold in such periods as Titus had recently endured in the city when so many ships’ schedules had fallen foul of the weather. He handed the note back across the table. “But could you not deliver it yourself, and then see who picked it up?”
Arran smiled, just a hint sardonically. “A true detective, Mr Perry. I can see even more why Sir John was moved to hire you. Yes, we tried of course. Our agent delivered the letter and then kept a watch on the inn. But it was never picked up. It seemed that our agent himself must have been watched when he left it, and Mr Jewel, the Cradle’s proprietor had suspicions to that end also. He reported afterwards that a young man with a Cornish accent had been hovering around the tavern with no obvious business to attend to up until our agent arrived. After our agent left he had pretended to Jewel that he was an acquaintance of our man and would like to see to whom the letter was addressed, in case it was for him. When Jewel asked to see some credentials first he simply ran.”
“The mysterious stranger?”
“We hoped so, but Jewel said no. He thought he had seen him before around the docks looking for work – a ‘spalpeen’ as we say here - and we have had no luck in finding him since. Most likely a hireling employed by Tramaine’s mysterious associate just to try and get hold of the letter.”

Or by Tramaine himself, thought Titus, with instructions to intercept the letter before it could go any further. He was just about to say so when Flitch, who had held his counsel up to now, interjected unexpectedly with a derisory snort. “Very astute of this Mr Jewel then, is he a friend of yours?”
Flitch’s sudden intervention seemed to throw Arran off his guard. “Mr Jewel is indeed an astute man, and he knew to cooperate with his superiors.”
If Arran’s comment was meant as a jibe Flitch ignored it. “Seems to me that if you’re the superior man you refer to, he’d be anything but astute to do otherwise. Or are you going to tell us that you have the poor devil hanging from a meat hook as we speak?”
Arran scowled at Flitch. “I resent your tone, Mr Flitch. It would be as well that you take a leaf from your master’s book and confine your questions to ones of meaning and helpfulness. In fact it would be more meet that you kept your insolent mouth shut altogether!” He turned to face Titus, but Flitch had not finished.
“A mouth is insolent in your eyes if it voices questions you don’t want to answer, but it strikes me that if you want our cooperation then it’s as well we know where such insolence might lead us. Was Mr Jewel threatened into delivering you this information or is he someone you have used before, perhaps? I ask only because you would have me and my employer fall into the latter category, and I am concerned that in the process we don’t also fall into the former!”
Titus had rarely heard his secretary speak so eloquently, or with such earnestness. Even Arran detected that Flitch, in this humour, was not a man to be trifled with or summarily dismissed. It obviously pained the wealthy Irishman to do so, but he addressed his interlocutor as succinctly and as reasonably as he could. “No sir, we did not threaten him, and no, he is not a man we have used before. He is simply a businessman who has grown to know a man he can trust from a man he cannot!”
“And you trust him in equal measure?”
“We have no reason not to.”
“Well maybe you have now.” Both men across the table started at this remark from Flitch and he let them stew for a second or two before he continued. “You see, while we were in Bristol, myself and Mr Perry visited The Cradle several times and got to know the proprietor there.” This was not quite true. Titus had simply enquired after messages there. It was Flitch who had made a point of ingratiating himself with all the taverns’ owners during their enforced stay. In a city where beer was being sold at a prohibitive price it was a tactic that had paid off, at least in terms of alcoholic reward for his unscrupulous secretary. “Called himself Mr Bowen, at least when I spoke to him. Said he was running The Cradle, he did, and had been for nigh on five years now. No mention of your Mr Jewel at all.”
“Preposterous!” Arran snorted, but there seemed to be less conviction about his derision than he hoped to impart, and both Titus and his secretary could sense it.
“So,” Flitch added, “what became of your Mr Jewel, I wonder? If he’s not lying in his grave after all, courtesy of your … eh … enthusiastic interrogations, and if his colleague in the inn knows nothing of him, just what is it that you would have us presume?”

Both men across the table simply sat and said nothing; Flitch had undone them it seemed. It was quite a while before one of them answered, and when he did, DeLacey’s words were chosen with obvious care. “Mr Perry, there are many, I am sure, who would wonder at your choice of secretary. Please do not count me amongst their number.”
Titus was a little confused; was DeLacey praising or criticising his colleague? In truth he wasn’t sure himself at the moment how to regard his friend. Flitch had just displayed a composure, eloquence and integrity that had surprised him, not because it betrayed a true intelligence at work – Titus had always known his friend to be clever – but because, for once, it had not been veiled behind a barrow-boy’s demeanour but had been expressed with a candour and assuredness that showed he considered himself the equal of all who sat at the table, if not in social status then at least in intellectual worth.
“He suspects us of a falsehood,” DeLacey continued, “and he is right, but not in what he assumes.”
“What does he assume?” Titus was genuinely baffled now, as it seemed was Arran, for whom DeLacey’s statement had obviously been unexpected. In fact Arran’s bad temper seemed about to erupt once more and this time it looked like it would be DeLacey who would be receiving the brunt of it.
DeLacey continued unabated. “Your secretary infers that we have disposed of Mr Jewel, or that we have misinformed you of his name. We have done neither. Mr Nathaniel Jewel is indeed the owner of The Cradle Inn in Bristol, and your secretary is right in pointing out that its proprietor is now his brother-in-law, James Bowen.”
“And your falsehood?”
“Was that Mr Jewel aided us in his capacity of innkeeper.”
“He didn’t?”
“No, sir. Nathaniel Jewel is a ‘merrin man’, or at least that’s what the riding officers refer to them as. It used to mean a man who made a living from salvaging wool from dead sheep. Now it means he who makes his living from helping customs officers identify wool smugglers.”
“Another spy.” Titus almost sighed with exasperation.
“As you wish, a spy. But one who does a valuable service for the crown and for the livelihoods of honest merchants. In latter years he has deemed it wisest to let his brother-in-law manage the day to day affairs of his establishment. His other work is vital, and is best executed without being too accessible or recognisable to the public.”
Titus realised suddenly what DeLacey was inferring. Jewel, through his ‘post office’, had access to thousands of messages conveyed in confidence and trust. Some of their contents would inevitably refer to activities that were less than legal, and Jewel had found a lucrative market for this information – the crown’s ‘riding officers’, the mounted customs patrols charged with eliminating smuggling through unapproved ports. Indeed, so lucrative had it proved that he could now afford to hand over his inn to a relation to run.

The admission by DeLacey, and Arran’s reaction to it, had illustrated something else also. There was no doubt which of the two men facing him was the true artificer when it came to the gathering of intelligence. It was easy to see that Jewel was obviously a contact that DeLacey had indeed used in the past, and the fact that Arran was as ignorant of this as he had been of the man’s true vocation merely showed that DeLacey’s trust of the man had its limits too. From what he knew of Richard Butler, Titus could only rate this as a point of favour in the matter of DeLacey’s character and further proof of his astuteness. That DeLacey had been unafraid to advertise this fact in the company of Arran spoke volumes too of the true relationship between these two powerful men. Titus owed Flitch for having been the one to bring this to light; that much was certain.
Arran, left with the choice of berating his colleague publicly for the obvious put-down or attempting to explain it away in terms more flattering to himself - either tack in which he risked appearing a total fool - wisely chose a third option instead. He simply ignored all that had just been said and leaned forward, resting his elbows on the table and clasping his hands together with a loud smack, as if with the gesture he could consciously set an audible full stop to all that had preceded it. He addressed Titus directly, his voice stern and determined. “But the note. As you saw, Mr Perry, it mentions a small hooker called the Saint Cecilia, set to leave Pembroke on the third of February and arrive in Rostrevor on the night of the fourth. Our men of course have checked both places. We indeed found such a vessel berthed in Pembroke on the morning of the third as described, but she was not readied for sailing that day, and nor was her captain aware of any such voyage. He is a man called King,” he looked pointedly at Flitch, “and, you will note, we had no requirement for meat hooks in eliciting information from this gentleman either!”
Flitch grinned obligingly, but his cheeky response merely drew a look of mingled disgust and scorn from Arran, who resumed his narrative with accelerated delivery, and pointedly avoided looking in Flitch’s general direction again.

“King had never been approached by Tramaine, and no landing at Rostrevor of any ship was sighted on the fourth, or indeed the fifth of the month either. It was obvious that the conspirators had used other means and another route to get Lord Ormonde to this island.” Suddenly he stopped. “Mr Perry, you look puzzled.”
“A little, yes. My secretary had suspicions of your dealings with this Mr Jewel, and your colleague has confirmed that he was right to do so. So let me voice one of my own, now that we have ascertained that the man is something more than just an innkeeper. You say he works for the customs men, and that you never used him before, but yet he readily agreed to cooperate with you purely because he trusted you. Now I wish no offence but if I were a man who made a living such as his I would be rather wary of strangers approaching me to devote my talents and resources to their cause, however trustworthy they might seem! Jewel, I imagine, would be as committed to keeping his own business private as he would have his patrons believe he does theirs. Your request for his assistance would be a threat on both fronts, would it not, especially coming from such an obviously political source?”
He had placed an intentionally insalubrious stress on the word ‘political’ and it prompted a sneered response from Lord Arran. “Your question advertises a little too much cynicism on your part, Mr Perry. You are in danger of sounding like your secretary.”
“Probably, and that comparison does not displease me, but this cynic has even more questions to ask,” Titus did not want to let Arran off the hook on which his secretary had so brazenly, but rightly, impaled him. “It occurred to me even before I saw its contents that Tramaine himself, and not the mystery man, might have sent the ‘spalpeen’ you spoke of to collect that note, or arranged for him to intercept it should Tramaine himself be captured. The letter contained false information after all, or at least information that was no longer valid. If it had reached its intended recipient and had been the cause of the scheme’s downfall Tramaine might have met an end worse still than that which you meted out to him, even had he evaded your grasp. Why did this not occur to you, or if it did, why do you now pretend that it didn’t?”
Arran seemed stung by the last remark but Titus still would not give his fish some line to play with.
“And that raises the other obvious question. Why did Tramaine write the name of a ship that he had not commissioned in any case?” Despite his indignation, he had become as intrigued by the details of the tale as he had grown to harbour misgivings over its narrator. “And while we’re at it perhaps you can answer my cynical secretary’s other pertinent question. Are we, as your informants, to be regarded as trustworthy men and privy to all the information that is relevant to our needs, or are we to be regarded as expendable once our usefulness, like Tramaine’s, is over? You might dismiss our enquiries as cynical, but from this side of the table they are anything but, believe me!”

It was DeLacey who answered, and his cultured tones, after so lengthy a period of Arran’s discourse, commanded audience. “The earliest cynics were men like Diogenes who placed the pursuit of virtue above all else. To me that has never been a fault in itself, but one must be wary that the pursuit of high standards does not lead one to suspect low ones where there are none. I like that you are both wary men and suspicious by nature, but in this case your suspicions are unwarranted, or at least easily answered. Our agent approached Mr Bowen first, and indeed Bowen displayed all the distrust that you claim his landlord should have exercised, especially when he saw the obviously contrived name on the letter. He refused to accept it, indeed. We were fortunate though in that Jewel was on the premises that day and overheard the exchange. Mr Jewel, as my colleague has said, is both an astute man and one who would not let the integrity of his business be left open to question, as you say yourself. Our man had the presence of mind not to advertise the true political nature of our request but to explain to both of them that the letter was a trap in which it was hoped to snare a pirate who was making life a misery for many of Jewel’ best customers. That was why he took it, and that was why he himself was on guard when the hireling came to collect it. Jewel, after all, is in the business of trapping these ghouls too, and perhaps he even saw the prospect of financial reward in the task. Asking the spalpeen for credentials was itself an astute request and not at all unusual when letters in Jewel’s keeping are collected by proxy. Jewel thought he was helping to capture a man intent on harming his customers and learning such credentials, even false ones, might indeed have led to such a capture. But the lad ran off. Tramaine denied all knowledge of him, and all that is left for us to deduce is that he had been hired by the plot’s architect himself.”
Arran leaned forward. “Satisfied, Mr Perry?”
Titus merely nodded. DeLacey’s response had seemed a little too pat and rehearsed, but for all that it had a logic to it and for a moment Titus wondered if perhaps Arran had not a point after all in labelling him an excessive cynic. The moment passed quickly though. These were not men, he knew instinctively, who could ever be presumed to be completely open about either their intentions or what they knew, and they were moreover both men well used to engineering meetings such as this so that it was their view and their version of events that prevailed. They could call him a base cynic if they will, but if the alternative was to be taken as a fool Titus could live with the description.
“And I can answer your other question,” Arran added, “with an assurance that when it comes to men like Tramaine one can be sure of nothing, but can assume much that is correct. You ask why Tramaine wrote the name of a ship that he had never intended using. With Tramaine there can only ever be one answer – treachery.” He sat back smugly, as if having delivered an incontrovertible argument.
“What treachery?” Titus could not believe he had been expected to be satisfied with such a glib retort.
Arran, for his part, seemed equally surprised that he needed to elaborate. “The treachery of a man for whom life is but a series of opportunities to extort from it what he will, and who counters every impediment between him and his goal with disdain and ruthlessness. Where clever guile cannot be employed to remove the impediment he resorts to force, and where force is matched he has wit only to employ combinations of these things until either he gets what he wants or dies in the attempt.”
“False, yes, but why stupid?”
“Stupid, Mr Perry, because he knew what would happen should he lie to us. And with such an obvious lie at that. The Saint Cecilia is a much larger vessel than Tramaine had been instructed to obtain and her captain is a man known for a scrupulous honesty in his business affairs – not the most obvious choice of recruit for what Tramaine needed. He never tried to hire that vessel. It was a crude deception, enough to fool his partner perhaps, but not to fool us. That was why it was stupid.”
Flitch had not been cowed by Arran’s earlier rebuke in the least and interrupted again. “You are a contradiction, Lord Arran. You want us to believe that you leave nothing to chance in your search for the truth, yet suddenly you will have us support your exoneration of a man purely on the strength of his reputation. So what if this King by repute is an honest man? What is an honest man? Every man has his price, as you well know who have sought to purchase us! The crossing to Rostrevor and back is a short one, with little risk of being intercepted on the way at this time of year. Maybe our good captain is not as scrupulous as to be above a bit of handy income. Maybe the note contains the truth!”

Arran’s face alone displayed what he thought of this rude interruption and its author. DeLacey jumped in however before a retort to match it could be expressed. “My friend did not infer that we accepted King’s reputation as proof that he was not involved. Lord Arran strove for brevity in his statement, not an intention to deceive. We investigated King thoroughly. In fact, for all his honest dealings – perhaps because of them – the man does have large debts, and might well have been tempted into abetting Tramaine if the price had been right. Who knows? But two things stood largely in his favour; he was away in London securing a loan for the two weeks up to the date of the intended sailing and his movements in that time were easily corroborated. He is also a man who has reason to hate Tramaine and his like. Piracy and smuggling are very much what are costing the man his business. To be blunt about it, King himself has reported on Tramaine’s movements to the navy as a paid informant for some time now. It could have been very profitable for the man if he had been approached by Tramaine – such information would have earned him quite a bounty from the local coastguard, believe me, probably a lot more than Tramaine himself would have offered him. So no, we are sure that an approach was never made to him, one way or the other.”
“Then Tramaine’s note is so strange that it borders on lunacy, not treachery, to suggest that he was hiring a ship from a man who would never have agreed to it,” suggested Titus.
As DeLacey spoke Arran had sat silently wearing a petulant expression of disgust, though whether it was over Flitch’s rudeness or DeLacey’s assumption of the narrative was difficult to say. DeLacey left a courteous pause to give Richard Butler a chance to reply, but when none was forthcoming continued himself. “Not so lunatic when you think about it. Remember, as far as Tramaine knew he was dealing with men who knew no one in the shipping fraternity in the area. That, after all, was why he had been enlisted in the first place. Moreover, he knew that they were men who didn’t want to deal with the shipping arrangement themselves. Tramaine was depending on them therefore making little or no enquiry regarding his choice of vessel. And even if they did, a cursory check on King’s viability for their purposes would have simply revealed a seaworthy vessel available for hire, in the right place and at the right time.”
“But yet it was a vessel that would never be used for the purpose?”
Arran recovered. He practically shouted his reply before DeLacey could answer. “And need never either! Have you not seen the obvious yet, Mr Perry? Tramaine planned to double-cross his new friends and stage a second ambush in Pembroke – then take their ‘prize’ for himself!”
It took a moment for Titus to realise what Arran had just implied. “He planned to abduct your father from his abductors?”
“Precisely, and why not? As I said, treachery and Tramaine are interchangeable words. It would be a very lucrative move on his part, whether the money later came from his ‘associates’ wishing to buy back their hostage, or from the crown, wishing to restore my father to his liberty. The note therefore was just a credible lure for their entrapment.”
“Would he really have contemplated such a bold deception? You said already that the plot’s architect had used a very real threat of exposure to forcibly enlist Tramaine’s involvement in the first place. Was Tramaine so mad as to risk being undone by this man should his double-cross fail?”
“Madder, if by that you mean bolder. No man makes a living stealing precious cargo from beneath the very noses of the navy - and in their own backyard - without some degree of foolhardiness to his character. It’s my opinion that his intention to double-cross his new ‘partners’ had been there from the beginning.”
Titus was finding it difficult to accept that a man as cautious as Tramaine could have been swayed by simple greed to the extent that he might have lost everything. “You are surmising that his thirst for profit exceeded his fear? You have said already that Tramaine had been terrified into compliance.”
Arran seemed to have no doubt about it. “Such thirst will always prevail with pirates like Tramaine. Terror is indeed a strong motivation but one apt to subside with time, and especially as a man’s greed grows, a quality not lacking in Tramaine. But no, there was a little more to it than that this time. There was pride.”
“What the stranger wanted from Tramaine was, for a man in a pirate’s line, a rather simple thing. A sum of money would have secured his services and not a very large one either. But he threatened Tramaine to ensure his cooperation, and Tramaine was a man more used to issuing threats than to receiving them. His professional pride had been piqued, in other words. In my opinion this in fact was the overriding spur to his treacherous plan. All his earlier talk of being frightened into collusion by the man who approached him was only half of the story. From the moment he had heard of the plot, even in his fright, he had been angling to make a profit from it! He even admitted as much towards the end. It’s surprising how one’s honesty improves in proportion to the number of one’s toenails that end up on the floor.”
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 3)

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