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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 6)

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nordmann
Nobiles Barbariæ
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Join date : 2011-12-25

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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 6)

For Collier to fully open up, Titus suspected it would be necessary to make him understand that it was not only this strange English mapmaker who was insistent on learning what he might know. Collier’s earlier admission that DeLacey and he enjoyed something of a business relationship had already resolved Titus to use the threat of Ormonde’s right-hand man’s displeasure in enhancing his promise of dire consequences should the innkeeper withhold information. Of course in doing this he would have to admit the truth; DeLacey had seen Collier’s letter. But even if such a threat had not been necessary, Titus understood in any case that the innkeeper deserved to know that his private correspondence had been read by another, and the prospect discomfited and embarrassed him. Whether accidentally or not, Titus had betrayed the trust of an illiterate man and this was something that had been weighing heavily on his conscience all day. Life contains few absolute rules, but never to abuse the trust of a dependent was one that had been drilled into Titus from birth. He coughed lightly. “Your comments interest me greatly, Mr Collier, and I will hear more of them, if I may. But I feel that before we go further I should apologise to you. You see, earlier today I … inadvertently … allowed Sir John DeLacey to see your letter.”

Titus had expected a howl of outrage from the man, or maybe even a wail of anguish, but to his surprise Collier raised his hand in a placatory gesture and smiled. “I know. He told me.”
“He told you?”
“Yes, in the tap-room before ye came up. He says you nearly died of shame where you stood when you cottoned to what you’d done. But don’t worry Mr Perry. Of all the men in Dublin, you couldn’t have picked a better eavesdropper to its contents than Sir John. He’s a private secretary to no less a man than Ormonde himself, did you know that? Oh, of course you would. Well anyway, no harm done. In fact a lot of good most likely. If the old man hears that decent men of business are being murdered in their beds he’ll be bound to come home and put a stop to it.”
Titus noted that Collier was blithely quoting from an apparent conversation with DeLacey that he had earlier denied had ever taken place, but he chose to let the matter go for the moment. He was simply relieved that his news had not upset this man, and pleased that his assessment of Collier as a generous soul seemed correct. A betrayal of trust, however much abrogated by good fortune or clemency, is still a betrayal of trust. He felt some reparation was in order and found himself making a promise that he hoped he could keep. Moreover it was one from which he hoped the innkeeper might deduce that his intentions were at least honourable and in accord with Collier’s own. “Then I can assure you that whatever you say to me will find its way to Ormonde, or leastways to his secretary, should you wish it Mr Collier.” The innkeeper seemed suitably impressed by the remark. Now was as good a time as any, Titus reckoned, to raise the other subject that needed examination. “And there was just such a murder today,” he said. “I myself had the misfortune to find the poor devil.”

Collier’s features contorted themselves immediately into a gesture of disgust, and then great sadness. “Eoin Reilly?” He managed to maintain some composure in his voice but Titus could see that it was only with effort; mention of the dead man had struck a chord in the innkeeper, and a melancholy one at that. “Yes, that was bitter news indeed. He’ll be sorely missed by many!”
“So I believe. A popular man, by all accounts – at least to all save his killer.”
Collier eyed Titus with a mixture of surprise and suspicion. “You knew him?”
“No, nor of him until today. But believe me, I find myself with good reason to learn as much as I can of the poor soul as quickly as I can.” There was no response from Collier and Titus felt that the innkeeper deserved somewhat fuller of an answer. “As I said, I was there when he was found and so too was Captain Briar, who lost no time in making two very strange and erroneous deductions, first that I had something to do with the poor man’s death and then that Eoin Reilly had committed suicide. I dislike being implicated in things that don’t concern me but I would be a stupid man, given what I’ve learnt of Briar, not to interest myself in matters that he connects with me, however wild his reasoning. A man who can jump to two such insane and contradictory conclusions could well jump to a third, and I have no intention of enduring false accusation, from him or any man.” This got a nod of agreement from Collier but he still said nothing and it was becoming patently obvious that he had something on his mind. “Is there something you would like to ask me?”
“Yes, I mean no. I was simply wondering …” he paused in an obvious effort to phrase his question with care, “… was there anything you have learnt already that might throw some light on ...” he hesitated again.

Collier’s discomfort at having to ask this stranger for news suggested that Reilly had been more than an acquaintance of the innkeeper, and his question might be prompted by nothing more than trying to make sense of a senseless act that had robbed him of a friend. Titus genuinely wanted to help the man but at the same time it was vital that the role of questioner in this matter be reversed at once. It was he, after all, who had been hoping to learn as much from Collier as Collier was now trying to learn from him. “Well, for one who, a matter of a mere twelve hours or so ago, was completely ignorant of Mr Reilly’s tenure on this earth at all I have learnt much, but not enough to cast light on those who dispatched him.” Collier appeared deflated, and still very worried. “However there is much that you can probably do to help me there.” Titus added. “As I said, I have already made some enquiries regarding the man, but I would benefit greatly from knowing more about who you might suppose his enemies to have been – or his daughter’s for that matter.”
Collier struggled to keep his voice even, but Titus’s mention of Sarah Reilly had caused the man’s eyes to look up sharply and regard him imploringly. “Miss Reilly, have you news of her?”
“Better than that, I have spoken with her.”
The innkeeper could not restrain himself. “She is alive, thank God! How is the poor girl? Where is she? Christ, the bastards! I mean, is she harmed? Is she alright?”
“I take it from all that you know the lady well?”
Collier’s cheeks reddened, though it was hard to see if it was embarrassment or anger that was fuelling them this time. “Not really, well of course I have met her. Is she safe? Christ, tell me, man!”
“One moment, sir! Permit me the observation that you show great compassion for someone who you say you do not really know and have merely met.”

Titus had hoped only to remind the innkeeper that, despite his earlier apology for having been less than careful with the man’s correspondence he was still the interviewer here and Collier the plaintiff under examination. His observation however had been clumsily phrased. As soon as he had made it he realised that his words could be taken to mean something very sordid indeed, and from Collier’s reaction they just had. For the first time there was a hard, cold edge to Collier’s tone of voice, and Titus understood immediately that he had overstepped the mark with his inferences. The innkeeper spoke purposefully, but the guarded tone of earlier had reappeared. “I do not know Miss Reilly as a …,” he paused, “… personal friend, no, but I won’t hear a word against her. She’s an exceptional lady, and I mean it. She does great charitable work for needy folks around here. My daughter Letitia often gives her ould clothes and books when she’s collecting, and I chip in some beer at Christmas too. That’s what I meant, sir!”
Titus attempted to make amends for his gaffe. “I did not intend insult to either of your characters, Mr Collier. I am simply trying to gauge both, and I can tell that Miss Reilly therefore is a woman who commands some respect, when even a person of so slight an acquaintance as yourself thinks so highly of her.”
Collier’s umbrage seemed only slightly diminished. “I have always liked the lassie’s manner when she’s come round to the inn. She’ll argue the toss with anyone she has a mind to and not shun another on grounds of the cut of his clothes or his faith. She’s an old head on young shoulders in many ways, is Sarah. Her father’s daughter, and no mistake. An admirable woman in the making. That is what I know of her, sir!””
“And I am beginning to learn, sir,” he accorded with Collier’s statement. Titus recalled how Cormac had earlier described the young woman in similarly glowing terms, and with even less familiarity with his subject. Sarah Reilly, it seemed, was a person who struck an immediate impression far beyond that which pertained to most young ladies, or else she was simply benefiting enormously from the respect that was afforded her father. He suspected the former assessment when he suddenly realised that he also could now include himself amongst that number. “And to answer your question, Miss Reilly believes that her life is indeed in danger and I concur with that view.”
“Where is she?” Collier asked again, then realised the effrontery of his question and hastily added, “Is she in harm’s way as we speak?”

This was something that Titus could not honestly answer. “I hope not. She is at least hidden for now, but without help however I fear that her old head, as you say, may not sit on her young shoulders too much longer. Has she family or friends that you know of? I take it from what I’ve heard that there was only herself and her father who lived in the house.”
Collier pursed his lips and shook his head sadly. It seemed he had forgotten his anger with Titus already and was now preoccupied with Sarah Reilly’s peril. “The mother passed away when she was a bairn and there was only ever the two of them, as far as I know. She was from the country I think and Reilly himself never said anything about his kin, to me at least, so I don’t know.” He groaned audibly. “If there’s aught I can do, I shall. There’s many of us around here owe a debt to her father over the years, not just of friendship either. He was a good man who looked out for his neighbours, all of them, and there’s many, myself included, who might not have a living at all, were it not for him. Believe me Mr Perry, she’s welcome here, and safe too. Sometimes living next door to the castle can have its uses.”
Titus surprised himself at how readily he considered Collier’s suggestion of aid as genuine. He was not normally one to judge a man too hastily, but in this case his earlier assessment of Collier as a man to be trusted had simply grown with the conversation. He could not help but feel a little churlish therefore in pointing out the obvious flaw. “The same castle that houses our friend Captain Briar? It would not seem too safe to me.”
Collier did not hesitate a moment in his reply. “He’s a bad apple alright, but he thinks in a line, as we say here. A blinkered horse might run fastest to the quarry but a blinkered dog will never catch the fox.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Collier smiled. “A hard man to stop in his tracks but an easy one to predict, is Briar. And to outfox, come to that!”
Titus decided that he liked the analogy, and earnestly hoped that it was right.
“Leastways,” continued Collier, “he’s been and gone from here for the moment.”
Titus doubted that. DeLacey’s earlier insistence that he had already made enemies in Dublin had been taken by the mapmaker to include Briar in their number, even if there was no obvious logic to the enmity. The coincidence of their two meetings that day, and the sinister implications of Briar’s remarks on both, had left Titus in little doubt that their paths would cross again. It even struck him now that perhaps he and not Collier after all had been the subject of Briar’s curiosity that morning. Now was as good a time as any to satisfy his curiosity. He asked the innkeeper if Briar had said what he was after, or if Collier could guess.
Collier shrugged. “He never says, oh no. He checks a few bills and receipts and tests the whiskey for water when he’s here. But that’s just for show.” Then he leaned towards Titus. “But his timing gives him away. He’s hoping to catch us during a …, while we’re …” Collier realised he had strayed dangerously close to saying much more than was needed. His words dried up.
Titus had had enough of Collier’s self imposed censorship. “Look, Mr Collier. You could be Guy Fawkes himself, and your inn a den of gunpowder plotters for all I care. I am concerned for the moment only in finding out what I can about Eoin Reilly’s murder, and in ensuring that no harm comes to his daughter. What Briar thinks of your inn is between you and him, but I need to know if he is a threat or simply an annoyance. Do you understand?”
Collier seemed a little abashed. “I understand that, sir, and I apologise for my … for my … well, it comes from habit, you see. Especially when I am talking to friends – what they don’t know can’t hurt them.”
“Well it might seem a strange thing to say, but it is exactly that information you deem most dangerous to me that I need to know, Mr Collier. Do you understand me?”
Collier nodded.
“So, I take it you did not mean that Briar hopes to catch you during a stocktaking exercise. This room looks like it has seen recent use, and as more than simply an extra office for DeLacey. Has he grounds for suspecting clandestine meetings are afoot?”
“Not really, sir. I mean, none at all, sir. Not what I think you’re thinking in any case.”
Titus strove to reassure him. “I’m not thinking anything, Mr Collier.”
“It’s harassment, that’s all. If he’s drunk enough when he comes he asks for money to ensure he won’t come again. That’s what the bastard is really after, though round these parts he’s not made much headway in that line of business. At least up to now.” The last comment had been added almost with a sigh.

Titus suspected that Collier had deliberately watered down his explanation, even if he was innocent of watering down his whiskey. Reilly’s death, he had no doubt, was the reason why Collier thought now that Briar’s attempts at extortion might begin to succeed. And if Reilly, as he suspected, had been using Collier’s inn as an office as well, then Collier would most definitely be in Briar’s line of sight from here on. “And yet you say that this house is safe?”
“Yes indeed. It wouldn’t be the first time we’ve had reason to hide a soul here being sought by our good neighbours next door. But don’t worry Mr Perry, we have ways in and out that the constables haven’t an inkling of. And believe me, even if Briar comes around unexpectedly we have enough practise in distraction to cope with unwelcome guests such as him!”
Titus, despite his serious misgivings, had to admit that he had no option but to trust the man’s faith in his assertion. The woman could not remain in the Royal Hospital, that was certain, and he had no better suggestion himself. “I’ll put it to her, Mr Collier. Distraught and all as she is I believe her to have her wits still about her. If she holds you in the same regard as you hold her, then she can decide for herself whether it’s the safest option.”
“You’re wise to be cagey Mr Perry, but then I could tell that this morning. You are a man with brains in that head of yours.”
“And that’s where I intend to keep them, though the more I find out about this town the more I think that their tenure is precarious!” Collier laughed at the black humour, but quickly grew serious when Titus resumed his questions. “Back to these Modellers – how well organised are they? Have you an idea how many members they have in their ranks?”
The innkeeper shook his head. “I would not imagine too many. But with gangs like that it’s not how many that counts. It’s their position, and we think the Modellers have members, or at least friends, highly placed.”
“How high?”
“We don’t know. High enough to keep a supply of funds on tap for their purposes, and high enough to shield them from investigation, but not so high that they can be brazen about their identity. We assume that they have no friends of stature behind those walls there,” he jerked his thumb in the direction of the castle, just as DeLacey had done earlier, “at least as yet.”
Titus could think of one candidate. “What of Briar? Is he one of them?” The man’s appearance at Stanhope’s warehouse door had been too uncannily timed for mere happenstance.
Collier shook his head. “No, leastways we don’t think so. They survive through secrecy and to maintain secrecy a man must have a degree of wits about them. Briar might be of use to them, but I would doubt that he’s a member, no.”
“What do you know of their policies? Why would they have killed Reilly in particular?”
The question seemed to bewilder Collier slightly. He looked questioningly at Titus. “Do you really think they were behind the act?” he asked wonderingly.
It was Titus’s turn to be flummoxed. “Don’t you?”
“Oh goodness, no. Leastways, we didn’t think so. If it was them, then something has changed. But then if something had changed we should have known, and we didn’t, which means that it wasn’t them, or else their previous work was just clever by accident, which we don’t suspect either.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“The timing was wrong, and the method. So we think in any case.”
“Timing?”
“No assizes at the minute and the lenders on holiday too. If Eoin had not been targeted at the height of the Gogarty inheritance case last winter why on earth now? And to hang him? Behind closed doors? No sir, not The Modellers style at all. Least so we think.”

Titus knew that Collier was trying to be as straight as he possibly could, but he felt exasperated nevertheless. He had an uneasy sensation that he was losing the logic of Collier’s testimony, and though he hoped he was wrong he began to suspect that Collier himself might even be purposefully accelerating the process. It was time to wrest control of the conversation back once more, and the first step was to establish just who comprised this nebulous group of which Collier was seemingly a member, and who had already applied such thought to the case that they had begun to eliminate suspects. In a gesture of his frustration he threw himself back on his bench, cupped his hands behind his head, stared at the rafters and groaned loudly before returning a cold gaze that had Collier almost recoiling in fright. “We? Who are we, Mr Collier? Am I talking to a man with a mind of his own, or the mouthpiece for yet another secret society?” Collier seemed too stupefied to answer. “Look, sir,” it was Titus’s turn to lean forward, “you have claimed no conclusion regarding Reilly’s death for yourself, but instead have ascribed every deduction to some cabal, with yourself playing Hermes to their Olympian councils. Just what sort of bloody gang are you a member of, Mr Collier?”
Collier looked both uncomprehending and hurt. “I’m in no gang, Mr Perry.”
“Then who the hell are we?”
“His friends, Mr Perry. Eoin Reilly’s friends.”
Titus immediately felt himself an oaf. The past two hours he had spent digesting nefarious plots, seditious perfidy, abduction and murder, and now he realised that he himself had begun to strain all that he heard through such a grotesque prism of human behaviour. He had forgotten how natural it would be, especially in the wake of such a gruesome tragedy, for a murdered man’s friends to congregate on hearing the news and attempt to apply reason to such a senseless deed. Collier’s inn earlier would have been a logical venue for just such a congregation. He spoke contritely. “I apologise, Mr Collier, but you must understand that I have had a long day, and have had to learn much in its course. I am attempting to piece together a puzzle while holding only a few fragments, and even those that I have are proving elusive to the grasp.”
Collier smiled, apparently forgiving Titus his outburst. “It’s alright, sir, I understand. I can see that you mean well, and it has been a long day, hasn’t it, for all of us?” It seemed that the mapmaker had not been the only one assessing character. “Besides, there’s much that is common knowledge here that might as well be happening on the moon for most Londoners.”
“Especially this Londoner, Mr Collier.”
“Willy used to say it was the same with noses.”
Titus hadn’t a clue what the innkeeper meant. “Willy? Your dead brother? Noses?”
“Well if you take a nose in isolation it’s a very meaningless lump of gristle and flesh, is it not? Comical almost. Willy used to say that it’s only in the context of a face that a nose could make any sense at all!” In the mistaken belief that he had defined his analogy he then attempted to apply it. “Well that’s what it is with yourself, Mr Perry. You’re sat here holding a nose, and no matter how much you prod it, and poke it, and hold it to the light you’ll never figure its purpose if you can’t deduce the face behind it.”
Despite the laughably gruesome imagery, Titus could now see Collier’s point. “And you’re suggesting that you can describe that face to me, Mr Collier?”
“Probably not every pimple and wart on it, no. But look here; it strikes me that the hour is getting very late, you need a lot more information than you probably have questions for, and I have a bar to close tonight, if I can. Why don’t I collect another two drinks, and then you let me fill you in on what I know, in my own words as it were. We’ll see if we can’t get your piece to fit into the puzzle, and I’d dare say we’ll find out all the sooner if you just let me do the talking.”
The innkeeper had a point. Interrogation, after all, might not be Titus’s forte, he realised. Trying to elicit or deduce information from questions that merely exposed his extensive ignorance was proving not only time consuming but counter-productive, raising more questions than answers and increasing the risk of mistaking presumption for fact on his part. On the other hand there was nothing to lose, and most likely many hours to be saved, in simply letting the man explain everything in his own terms He humbly and gratefully agreed to Collier’s suggestion.

Collier was as good as his word – and indeed there were many of them – as he painstakingly filled in the details that served as the context for Reilly’s death. It was a murder that could only have happened in Dublin, he alleged, and over the next half hour or so he explained why he thought so.
Religion played its usual role of course. Collier himself was an Anglican, he explained, though in the area where he plied his trade, the parish of St Bridget, that faith was now a minority. By far the greatest number of its inhabitants was Catholic and in recent years there had also been a sizeable influx of French Huguenot refugees, enticed by James Butler to his city as much for their industriousness as for reasons of asylum. The old city wall might run through the parish but its parishioners very much regarded themselves as outside that wall in every sense and a part of that ancient settlement known as Dublin’s “Liberties”. Indeed the population of this area, once a settlement outside the city’s protection that was exempt also from its taxes, now rivalled that of the rest of the city in size. It fell far behind it in terms of wealth however, and it was this relative poverty, combined with the Liberties-dwellers’ renowned passion for doing things ‘their’ way regardless of what the city dictated, Collier claimed, that provided the ultimate backdrop to both Eoin Reilly’s life and the probable reason for his murder. Here, impoverished Catholics and Huguenots, and a significant number of Protestants, had struck up an uneasy, but necessary, partnership in trade. Put plainly, the refugees brought in skills and enterprise sorely lacking hitherto in the area while the natives in turn provided the labour for this enterprise, most especially in the textile trade. This nascent industry was just beginning to reap dividends, financially for the individuals employed in it, and politically for James Butler who had long supported a policy of ‘quiet integration’, in the belief that his Roman Catholic subjects would be less rebellious if allowed a stake in the development of the commonwealth. That it should be ‘quiet’ was prudent on Butler’s part. He had made a name for himself as an agent of Catholic persecution, over a career spanning three monarchs and the interregnum years, that was not without justification. Outside of Dublin his authority was despised by as large a proportion of his Catholic subjects as it was mistrusted by the Protestant, and his recent eagerness to facilitate the crown in its prosecution and banishment of priests and their superiors was cited as evidence that the old Catholic-baiter had not changed his ways. Within Dublin however the critical view held by many was muted considerably by his insistence that the betterment of the citizen’s lot should apply to all, regardless of their religion. Here, Ormonde reckoned, in his country’s capital, a model for all the rest to follow could be established in which the Catholic, as long as he knew his place, might participate in and contribute to the new society that James Butler envisaged. And it was here, in the Liberties that the great social experiment was beginning. Just as it was hard to hear a good word said about Ormonde outside of Dublin so was it almost impossible to hear a bad one in this area whose regeneration was astounding even its architects, let alone its beneficiaries. Collier was simply typical of that attitude, and his admiration for the Lord Lieutenant was grounded not in their fellow faith but in the real economic benefits accruing from the old man’s policies to the innkeeper and his neighbours.

But for all that the bulk of the Liberties’ inhabitants were still anything but rich and the distribution, no less than the behaviour, of its citizens was not representative in any case of what was happening in the rest of the country, or even of the city for that matter, where such cooperation was perceived in the main as a threat to the wealth of the established Protestants. Nowhere was this threat perceived greater than amongst the civic leaders, and even more crucially by the trade guilds themselves, both institutions being representative of the well-heeled Protestant merchants, tradesmen and speculators who up to now had enjoyed a free rein in the city, and for whom a large part of that freedom had been secured with the confiscation and exploitation of assets once in Catholic hands. Their fear was justified too. Many Catholics made no secret of their belief in the fact that their rising star would one day eclipse that of the Protestant impostor, and when it did all that had been taken unlawfully would be returned, and with interest. Of course such an ambition might have been nothing more than wishful thinking, and dismissed as such, were it not for something else that struck these men as portentous in its implications. Since his return as Viceroy Ormonde had been tacitly aiding just such a resurgence of Catholic confidence in their eyes, or at least was doing nothing to prevent it. His clampdown on Catholic clerics in the Popish Plot had been forced on him, as these men knew only too well being a party to that very coercion, but all else that stemmed from his statutes smacked of appeasement and implicit support for the Catholic demand for a return to status in the community. To this small but powerful group of wealthy men’s dismay his policies, despite their concerted opposition to them and his frequently stated denial that he would ever allow the reversal of fortunes that they so feared, had even begun to bear fruit. Ireland might never be as wealthy as her neighbour, but in a land that had been reduced to less than nothing even such slight improvements were welcomed and closely guarded by people of all walks of life, ordinary people of all faiths it seemed who had grown weary of living in murderous, insecure and impoverished circumstances. Collier’s opinion was that after the ‘restoration’ - by which he meant Ormonde as Viceroy rather than Charles Stuart as king - Ireland had even entered a benign and profitable period, probably the first such period since the English had set foot on the island and the very reason why England now attempted to strangle this rival economy at birth.

Many Dubliners had grown wealthy in the last few years, and now with the massive development of the city as devised by Ormonde, even more fantastic riches stood to be earned. It followed that where fortunes were to be made, murder and deceit were never far behind, and where ‘freed slaves’ grew wealthier than their ‘masters’ there would always exist resentment enough to give cause to both. Of course in strictly legal terms the slaves were not free at all, but although the law stated that a Catholic could not own property in many towns, or hold high office anywhere, these laws were rarely enforced against the more prominent members of the Roman faith who’s businesses were amongst those driving the wealth of the country to heights never before imagined. However this progress depended on two crucial things continuing – the presence of a monarch who was at least kindly disposed to Catholics, and a Lord Lieutenant who actively pursued the economic betterment of his countrymen. In recent years the influence of the former and the authority of the latter had proved to be in sharp decline.
The turning point, according to Collier, was the arrest a few years before at the height of the Popish Plot of the two Catholic archbishops – Peter Talbot, a cousin of Lord Malahide and bishop of Dublin, and his superior, Oliver Plunkett, the archbishop of Armagh - on charges of treason so obviously contrived that the affair embarrassed even many staunch Protestants. Ormonde himself had facilitated the arrests, but then was vocal in his pleas for clemency when he realised the extent to which those who bayed for Catholic blood were prepared to go. Even he could do little in the end but stand and watch as the men were ordered to be taken from his custody, where they would have had some chance in a trial, and sent to London, where they had none. Nor was the men’s fate influenced even by the fact that Talbot, an old and frail man, had once been a close personal friend of the young Charles Stuart in exile. Nothing availed them in the face of the single-minded determination of their accusers, believers in Oates’ and Tonge’s lies who were riding high on the wave of anti-Catholic hysteria that they themselves had whipped up, and who regarded these men’s executions a convincing proof to their enemies of their new-found strength. Talbot, in the end, helped the king avoid the ignominy of his execution by dying in Dublin while yet in Ormonde’s dungeons. Plunkett was taken to London however, and then hung, drawn and quartered in an execution that disgusted many Englishmen and Irishmen alike, and was perceived by Irish Catholics in particular as a cruel and needlessly vicious signal from a Protestant parliament in London that they should not think their time had come just yet.

There was, of course, one quarter in Ireland that saw Plunkett’s execution as anything but an ominous signal. Those Protestants who had felt under threat from what they perceived as a terrifying revival in Catholic fortunes, received the news as an indication that their views were shared by London and took succour from it. After all, the implications of the archbishop’s execution were patently clear to all parties – Protestant and Papist alike. Neither the king’s Catholic leanings nor Ormonde’s patronage had saved Plunkett. Both these powerful men’s influence, the combination of which had in fact been the sole platform on which the fragile Catholic resurgence had been built, was proven, in other words, to be on the wane.
But while some highly placed Dublin Protestants might have been content simply to be relieved at this reversal of what had seemed like an unstoppable Catholic advance, others within their ranks sought to ensure that it remained so. Now that the frenzy of the Popish Plot had subsided and its originators exposed as the frauds that they were, such men simply felt obliged to redouble their efforts at making sure the ground gained by the plotters, however fraudulently, not be lost. Their supporters, who up to now had been reticent about airing their views, began to speak openly of something a little stronger than simply ‘putting the Tadhgs back in their sack’. It was as if the Popish Plot had flung open a door, long locked to them, and the road to their ambitions revealed. Time could not be wasted in taking that road, they knew; the door was already swinging back on its hinges. Should they not press their advantage now, they might never get another chance. They mounted legal challenges to prominent businessmen who they suspected of contravening the Catholic ban, and were not afraid to secure these prosecutions through employing expensive lawyers to take their cases. Where even the most expensive of lawyers were not deemed sufficient guarantee of success, it was common knowledge that they secured just as many prosecutions by simply bribing officials and juries when the opportunity arose. Money seemed no object in either case.
But when honest juries or un-winnable and weak cases meant that prosecutions could not be ensured, there was yet another method whereby the slow infiltration of Catholics into the business classes would be halted, and it was a method that was becoming all the more availed of in the recent past. At first the murders had been of lower class functionaries, but soon they had risen through the social strata as confidence grew that the Lord Lieutenant would not, or could not, intervene. This was not due to any lack of concern or political will on his part, but often due simply to the fact that in recent years James Butler had found himself more and more tied up in London, defending both himself and his administration against ludicrous charges, not to mention blatant plots against his person. His adversaries in England had organised well, and their more extreme counterparts in Dublin had done so likewise. Their network, according to Collier, was suspected now of having stretched its reach into nearly every walk of life, so much so that one just did not know any more with whom one might really be dealing, and the ruses and tricks used to identify and eliminate victims were devious in the extreme. In some cases Catholic men had unwittingly committed themselves financially to a commercial enterprise run by their own executioners. In other cases Catholics wishing to start a business had received unexpected offers of loans from banks that otherwise would not have entertained them as customers, though neither the offer or the ‘new businessman’ lasted longer than the time it took to discover and then do away with this new ‘pretender’ to a status that was not his due. Of course collusion could not be proven, just as the identities of the perpetrators always escaped detection, though Collier and his allies had begun to piece together enough of the pattern to harbour justifiable suspicions. The situation however was spiralling out of control, and lately even a new fear had been added to the terror that prevailed. Now, it seemed, Protestants themselves were not safe from attack from their own brethren. Those deemed to be abetting Catholics were being targeted, and the criteria by which such ‘aid’ was defined were growing ever more general. Secret militia – like the Modellers – were only too grateful, it seemed, for the target practise, and all the more so when they knew that their crimes would not be classed as the organised and politically motivated acts that they were, but as ‘simple’ unconnected murders, and even then only on the rare occasions that they were investigated by the castle constabulary at all.

The anonymity of these militias’ members was their greatest asset, of course. As long as their identities remained unknown they effectively remained above prosecution - Arran, even more than his father, being seemingly unwilling or unable to commit the resources it would take to unmask them, let alone prosecute them. It was also one of their greatest weapons in establishing an atmosphere of terror in the city and beyond. That was why Courtney’s accidental identification of McVeigh after too much to drink one night in a Malahide tavern had been so significant. It had not only revealed the preacher to be working for the Modellers, but it identified Courtney himself as a member. By tracing the man’s known associates it should now be possible at last to begin the task of unravelling the mask behind which his co-conspirators hid. Moreover, according to Collier, discovering Courtney had been a godsend in another way too. It could at last be understood how the Modellers, above all the other private militia, had enjoyed access to intelligence and information regarding their targets that would have made the most veteran of spies in the castle’s employ green with envy.
Courtney’s job as agent for Sir John Talbot of Malahide had been a perfect position from which to operate. His employer’s relationship with the administration of the Butlers – father and son – could best be described as sweet and sour. The sweetness arose from the fact that it was Ormonde who had restored Talbots’ lands after Cromwell’s confiscations had robbed him of his entire fortune and estates. But there was still much to temper the man’s gratitude, as there was reason for Ormonde to hold a cool opinion of the Talbots in general. Sir John Talbot’s cousin was none other than the late bishop who had died in Ormonde’s custody and the dead bishop’s nephew Richard, whose meteoric rise through the ranks in military service on the continent had made him very much a man to be dealt with on his recent return to Ireland, was making no secret of the fact that he held James Butler partly responsible for his uncle’s death. What stopped the enmity breaking out into open hostility was political expediency it seemed. If the remnants of any cordiality remained between the Talbots and the Butlers it was through the two Richards that it was being maintained. As Richard Butler had inherited more and more responsibility for Irish affairs while his father was busy in England, not only had he honoured Richard Talbot with the grant of more lands in Dublin, but so too had the man’s claim on high military command in the Irish regiments found favour in recent months. No one knew why Arran favoured the man as he did but most assumed that he did so against his will, directed to pursue this policy by his father from England, perhaps as atonement for his earlier ineffectualness in preventing the older Talbot’s death but unwilling to be seen openly to do so. Whatever the reason, the Catholic Talbot’s military promotions alarmed the army’s Protestant high command, but since their own appointments hinged on currying favour with Arran, as yet there had been no concerted opposition to the new man’s rise through the ranks. Richard Talbot had, in recent times, become almost a permanent guest of his cousin in Malahide, as had other members of his family who were riding on the coat-tails of their relative’s high favour; so much so that it had become a common jest in the locality to refer to Malahide Castle as ‘the other castle’, by which the jokers meant – half in earnest - that the one in Dublin city was no longer the only one in which the future of the country was being decided. Courtney, in an eavesdropper’s paradise therefore by virtue of his work, had been able to learn much more than his lowly position in life might suggest. This information he had then passed on to McVeigh, a man of the cloth who complemented his spiritual activities with more secular and sectarian ones, and who had used his peripatetic profession to disguise his other role as The Modellers’ chief coordinator – the carrier of messages and instructions, and one well placed to select which unsuspecting innocent would next be a target of their murderous ambitions.

The killing of McVeigh showed that someone had at last decided to fight fire with fire, and though the invincibility of The Modellers had at last been punctured and a clear signal sent to all others who had murderous ambitions towards Catholics and their perceived supporters, Collier did not welcome this development. Retribution was all very well, but this particular type of retribution might well only play into the Modellers’ hands and the hands of those that sided with them. In Ireland there was a crucial difference between ‘breaking the law’ and ‘taking the law into one’s own hands’. The former was seen as a criminal matter, but the latter was a political one, and when chosen as a course of action by Catholics, an action tantamount to a declaration of war. It would almost certainly have two catastrophic effects – one immediate, and the other not long in its wake. Like Courtney, who had vanished and defied all attempts at finding him, it would inevitably cause the murderous cabals to add an extra cloak of secrecy to their activities in their effort to evade detection. Worse still, the murder of Protestants would be bound to force Ormonde to take action against the Catholic population, a policy he was even warier of in the aftermath of the Popish Plot than before, and which he wished to avoid. Of course that could mean that Ormonde might try instead to diffuse the situation by at last pursuing the cabals themselves as well, but one thing was certain in any event. Without his intervention the situation could only get worse, and its deterioration would be rapid.
Dublin, if not Ireland itself according to Collier, was on the verge of an internecine war that only the old Viceroy himself had a chance of averting. The situation regarding the ailing king and his successor didn’t help matters either. The whole kingdom itself was about to be plunged yet again into political turmoil – and in Ireland that always had one tragic outcome. Lord Arran and DeLacey had stressed that Ormonde’s disappearance must remain secret. Now Titus could see why – the news alone might be enough to spark the powder keg.

Collier talked also of the hanged merchant, explaining something of the dead man’s popularity, as well as the circumstances of his death such as could be gleaned from what was known. Although a Catholic, Reilly had organised the local traders of every faith in opposing the recent threat to their livelihoods posed by opportunist speculators who, in recent years, had descended on the Liberties like a flock of carrion crow. These were men who were intent on benefiting from the recent property boom, but who lacked the huge capital needed to acquire lands on the north side of the river where the ready fortunes were to be made, or the friends in high places that were required to get a piece of the old All Hallows pastureland which had been parcelled out in title to royal favourites. Their attentions had instead focused on assembling properties piecemeal in the older districts, for the large part inhabited by tenants deemed vulnerable by virtue of their poverty or their lack of rights in Protestant courts. These people, through financial inducement or pressure, were often persuaded to sell out at a reduced price. Where such willingness was not forthcoming however, the less scrupulous speculators were not averse to employing even more devious methods of removing tenants who obstructed their aims. Reilly had set up an unofficial ‘guild’ whereby each member contributed to a common fund used to finance legal challenges to the often illegal methods used by the property speculators, ranging from false accusation to outright intimidation, and worse. While the bulk of the guild members were local Protestants, it was understood that the Catholic and Huguenot tradesmen in the area should enjoy equal benefit, as once these speculators got a foothold in any street or locality their efforts merely redoubled to everyone’s cost. Collier himself was a member, and in fact acted as treasurer to the fund, so was now effectively its sole administrator since Reilly’s murder and, he had to assume, in some danger himself. Despite this Collier had been busy that day. Using his proprietary role in the guild’s affairs as his authority, he had already made some enquiries in the locality regarding what had transpired, and what had happened to the body since its discovery. He had been to the Bear and Ragged Staff in Castle Street, knowing that there he would most likely meet off-duty constables and lawyers, some of whom would have been employed by the guild in the past and whose judgement and sympathies could be relied on. From the former he learnt that the body had been taken up to Newgate morgue where it would lie, waiting to be claimed by family or friends overnight. The usual rule was that a body unclaimed was disposed of in Newgate’s lime pits by sunlight the next day so he resolved to take responsibility for the removal himself, knowing that the man had only his daughter as kin and none knew what had become of her after the fire. From the lawyers Collier had gleaned that opinion on who might have murdered Reilly was divided, but there were none who accorded with Captain Briar’s laughable deduction of suicide. His death had borne some of the hallmarks of a Modellers’ style execution, this was true. But there was confusion over what the motive could have been, and also as to why the hanged man’s warehouse had been so meticulously locked after the crime. It seemed an odd way to raise general alarm - the Modellers’ normal intent when they dispatched someone - too subtle and lacking in sensation for their usual style. There was also a belief that The Modellers, or others like them, had made a huge leap forward in their choice of victim if indeed it was they who had been behind it. Up to now their murders had been calculated to raise the greatest amount of alarm with the least amount of danger that they themselves might be prosecuted for their crimes. To murder a man as prominent as Eoin Reilly was a bold step, and an incredibly stupid step according to Collier bearing in mind Oliver Burke’s letter. If, as its contents suggested, they were in danger of losing their anonymity they might be best advised to lie low or to flee, as Courtney must have done, and not raise the game to a level that they themselves could not survive. Moreover, the murders up to now had always coincided with an event that the militia had perceived as a Catholic ‘victory’, be it the successful conclusion of a court case, a profitable inroad into a business that had been a Protestant preserve or even simply the thwarting by any means of some unscrupulous scheme against an intended Catholic victim. Nothing of note in that respect had happened in the last few weeks, and Reilly himself had always assumed that his own execution – a threat that he had grown to accept – would most likely be made to coincide with some great advance or victory on behalf of his clients. Whoever had killed him it seemed had departed from the established agenda of the militia, been unaware of it or simply cared nothing for it at all. That much could be deduced, but no more.
From the Bear and Ragged Staff Collier had raced the short distance to High Street but found when he reached the prison that someone else had pipped him to the post. A morgue attendant told him that Stanhope, Reilly’s partner, had already been and gone. He had agreed to pay for the corpse’s preparation and to finance the burial, though he had added, much to the attendant’s wry amusement, that such generosity on his part would be a heavy tax for his purse, what with the disaster that had befallen his business. The removal and burial two days hence would therefore be a simple and speedy affair. Being a Catholic, Reilly would be interred across the river in the plot in St Mary’s parish set aside for that section of Dublin’s community who were denied burial within its walls. As the route involved passing the partners’ Capel Street office, Stanhope had secured permission from the constabulary to hold a simple service there according to the deceased’s own rites, but on the understanding that no Catholics attend it, and that the whole matter be wrapped up by nine o’clock to minimise the risk of offending the sensibilities of the street’s patrons as their traffic increased throughout the day. Titus was relieved that he would at least have some comforting news for the man’s daughter when he met her again the next day, if comfort can be found at all in learning that your father is at least to be laid in a grave.

Collier had little else to add. The fire in Reilly’s house had been the news of the area that morning and he had sent a lad up to help in the quenching of it. The lad returned with the sad intelligence that the house was already a ruin, but thankfully Sarah Reilly had survived it and there was no sign that her father had been in it when it burned. It had been Collier’s intention to offer the Reillys accommodation should they need it but neither could be located by the time he managed to get away from the tavern and make the trip up to Crooked Staff Lane to see the desolation for himself. He was seeking out a neighbour with whom he could leave word when the shocking news was heard that Reilly had been found dead on the quays, the shock all the crueller in that everyone had believed him to have survived the fire. The rest of Collier’s day had been shared between attending to his inn and conducting his own limited investigation into the murder, all the while fretting over the fate of the dead man’s daughter. By the time he learnt that Stanhope had secured a funeral for Reilly he was exhausted and had come back to the inn for a short nap before his evening trade commenced. But his repose was denied him. Letitia, his daughter, informed him on his return that Sir John DeLacey’s clerk had just sent word to have the loft chapel readied for a meeting.
Indeed, even as Collier spoke of the nap that had been stolen from him his eyes began to close of their own accord and he could not stifle a large yawn. It had been a long day for both men, and Titus realised that midnight would soon be on them. He thanked Collier profusely for his help and let the man go, then went about dousing the lamps in the loft prior to departing himself.

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 6)

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