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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 7)

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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 7)

One comment that Collier mentioned in the course of their conversation reverberated in Titus’s mind after the innkeeper had left the room. It was enigmatic, but it also in some way satisfied Titus’s curiosity regarding where the root of Collier’s allegiance actually lay; a man with such obvious sympathy for his Catholic neighbours but a pronounced conviction in his own faith would be rare to find in England. When asked why he was so sure that James Butler alone could impose a solution to Dublin’s dilemma, Collier had replied gravely. “He is one of us. Well, he knows us best, is what I’m trying to say. You have to understand, Mr Perry,” he had said, “History has made us neither one thing nor the other here in Dublin. We’re no more Irish than the blackest Mussel man nor are we English either – at least in the eyes of London. Any solution to our woes forced on us from outside, be it by those to east or west of us, is bound to cost us dear in this city. It always has and always will.” To the complexities of those disparate elements that combined to form the realm could be added another, Titus could now see – the Dubliner, inhabitant of a town where a humble Protestant innkeeper’s loft could contain a Catholic chapel that itself was used as an extra office by the secretary to the king’s viceroy himself.

Having bid the innkeeper goodnight, Titus found Flitch and Jack Quinn waiting as instructed and dragged them from their beers outside into the pool of light from the spluttering lantern hanging over the inn’s door. The youngster was very tall for his age, which Titus adjudged to be about eighteen years, and he was obviously as strong and robust as his father too. In the lantern’s light his complexion was ruddy, though that was probably as much down to the drink he’d enjoyed in the White Hart as the tallow flame that illuminated him. He’d obviously learnt how to pace his drink however; his walk and speech were steady at least.
“My father says to give you a hand with anything as needs be done. But isn’t it a bit late to be fetching and carrying tonight sir?”
Titus smiled. “It is, Mister Quinn. I would be obliged to you however if you would meet with me in the morning. I have a small chore for you if you’re interested. I’ll explain as we walk back to the castle. I have a chore for you too Flitch, so prepare to rise early. Where do you lodge tonight, Jack? I can easily have a cot found for you in the castle if you want?”
“No thanks, Mr Perry sir – as I told Mr Flitch I’d sooner not see the inside of that accursed place again. I have a room in the college.”
“Good. I’ll meet you outside the college gate so. How do seven bells sound?”
Jack laughed. “Bloody loud – damned things are right outside my window! Don’t worry, Mr Perry, I’ll meet you there.”

In fact, Jack Quinn’s distaste for the castle was one that many of its own inhabitants would have been in full agreement with. The complex had grown from an old Norman fort built at the only strategically suitable point in the original Viking town – the confluence of the Poddle River with the Liffey – and it had remained largely unchanged through its half millennium of existence. The curtain walls, punctuated by four massive stone towers, hid from view a warren of decaying, rat infested and damp apartments that housed the administrative heart of the city. It nominally held the office of the Lord Lieutenant, though in practise Ormonde had years ago despaired of ever improving the gigantic hulk of horror and had moved both his living quarters and his offices to a house designed for him by Robinson in Chapelizod. His son had been given the dubious honour of maintaining the administration’s presence in the castle – and Lord Arran had tried in vain to modernise at least his own suite of rooms. Lack of space was at the heart of the problem facing renovation – the city hemmed the castle in on all sides. Arran’s apartments, for example, were separated from the powder magazine only by the coal yard - a cramped and volatile combination of functions by anybody’s standards. Every square inch was being utilised. The dormitory which had been allocated to Titus and Flitch was really a converted loft in the Kitchen Tower, and between them and the ancient kitchens in the depths below were several floors of miniscule ‘offices’ housing a fraction of the castle’s large staff and the bulk of all the legal records of the state, ancient and modern. Although the few habitable rooms each had a small fire grate – one improvement that Henry Cromwell had insisted on during his term as governor of the island – they were not equal to the task of actually heating the draught-ridden and damp-stained cells.

The view from Titus’s window however as he gazed out that night was one worthy of its memory, or at least might have been if the castle itself was in better repair and did not intrude into the view. In the light of an almost full moon, Sheep Street’s tiled roofs merged in the pale glow with a shadowy patchwork of brick chimney stacks and gables, standing like mute sentinels among translucent fields of slate, stone and thatch down to the tall spires of St Audoen’s and Christchurch by the river, beyond which the dark masts of ships could be seen swaying and dancing in the night breeze, the melodic chatter of their stays quite audible even from this distance. Unfortunately this benign prospect was shared, when he looked down, by the ruinous and ghostly remains of what was once the Parliament Hall within the castle walls, now being utilised as stores and barns, and almost perceptibly slipping into further ruin as one watched. The ground floor, with its once elegantly pillared walls now cracked and chipped with age, supported an upper story of exposed brick and gothic arched windows, none of which had retained their glass and few of which had retained even their pointed capstones. The hall was almost devoid of roofing and resembled a farmyard more than it did the stylish gallery that it once had been, with its population of goats, hens, pigs and other animals kept by the kitchens in the nearest and most practical space available. Indeed the sight of these creatures being shooed down the very stairs on which Ireland’s most prestigious men had once passed on their way to councils of state was a source of great amusement to the locals. Nor indeed was the irony lost on those soldiers with the misfortune to be billeted in Dublin’s centre of administration. They had to suffer what could arguably be described as even worse accommodation, though at least the presence of a surgery in the Constables’ Lodgings adjoining their barracks meant that there was also a bath and water-pump available for those who were inclined to use them.

Titus gratefully availed of this latter facility the next morning. Though Flitch had left already half an hour beforehand, daylight had yet to insinuate itself on the dark clouds above and the rain had returned overnight, so that the trip to the bathhouse had involved a scurried dash in his underwear through the dark across the castle courtyard to the Constables’ Lodgings, dodging the larger drops while simultaneously attempting to shield his bundle of clothes from the elements too. The sight had reduced the two constables guarding the entrance of the barracks to convulsions of laughter, and the noise they generated had awakened the castle’s most eminent resident. A sash window above Titus slammed open and the irate face of Lord Arran himself appeared through the portal glaring down at the unfortunate mapmaker. “What the hell is going on? Mr Perry – if this is your idea of how not to draw attention to yourself I suggest you revise your methodology!”
“Sorry sir, you catch me at a rather embarrassing juncture. Forgive me.”
“Not in my nature! Don’t forget, this wretched hovel still has some dungeons in perfect working order. About the only bloody things that do work around here!” Leaving Titus to wonder was the comment made in jest or anger, Arran’s head disappeared and the window was slammed shut again. The chastened mapmaker dived past the still giggling guards and in out of the deluge. A great start to the day, he thought wryly.

Less than an hour later and he was again breathlessly dodging the drops, this time at a canter down the cobbles and pathways of Dam Street to Hoggen Green and the entrance to the college. Here, the cobbles ended abruptly and the entire area became a landscape of mud, drainage ditches and pools, some of which hid treacherously deep potholes into which one would not wish to stray for fear of actually drowning. The aspect around the Green indeed resembled a scene that any puritan would immediately recognise as Armageddon itself and the ruination of this world. This was largely due to the amount of ‘improvements’ underway in the area, changes that made a mockery of the Dublin maps from a mere ten years before which Titus had studied prior to his arrival. A mass of scaffolding monopolised the Green’s northern aspect. Chichester House – an intended hospital in its initial construction that had become the seat of the erstwhile Irish parliament - was in the process of being aggrandised yet again, this time to be transformed into a palace double the size of the original. Situating the parliament here in fact had an ancient historical precedent, though Titus appreciated that the choice of Chichester House owed little to heritage and a lot to the speculators’ ambitions in promoting this end of the city as a fashionable quarter. Until only a few years before the great Thingmote had dominated this Green, a huge tumulus that had once been the site of ‘parliament’ for Dublin’s Viking rulers. Now it was all but totally dismantled, only its southern slope still discernible as a gentle rise in the cobbled streets near the old bowling green at the end of Exchequer Street. Many believed that the Vikings had built this mound themselves, creating an eminence by the then shoreline commanding an impressive view both of their town and of its seaward approaches as they deliberated schemes to raid and ravage, and eventually subjugate, their adoptive island home. But some, while agreeing that it was indeed an artificial hill, said that it was in fact much older than that and had been raised by the fey people, those supernatural beings who had inhabited the land before the arrival of any man, let alone the Norse invaders who had taken their turn in believing themselves its lords. And it was this theory that had gained the most currency of late amongst Dubliners, especially the superstitious ones who saw the demolition of the mound as a portent of disaster for their town and who had followed the excavation with a morbid fascination, much like the crowd at the execution of an admired figure who might heartily disapprove of the deed being enacted before them but are nonetheless compelled by curiosity to witness it. And their vigilance had reaped them a reward of sorts. As the final layers around the mound’s core were peeled away a massive stone structure had been unearthed that was too great, it was claimed, to have been assembled by mere men, and which enclosed a void that even its excavators admitted was of much too uniform a design to be solely the work of nature.

Whatever their purpose, the stones had now been broken up and removed, and the many thousands of tons of earth had been redeployed as land-fill on the side of the college where flooding from springs had always proved a problem, thereby creating a new street of some length running along the college’s entire western boundary and poised some three yards in elevation above its grounds until it met natural high ground at the old bowling green that until recently had sat at the foot of the great Thingmote. The green, now the district’s highest remaining point, was itself in the process of sprouting a church, unusually shaped for a church in that its rising walls formed a neat circle, echoing the original purpose of the site on which it was being constructed. The rest of the hill was covered in a mixture of grand houses and new commercial enterprises, all neatly terraced and fronted with the brown-red brick that had become the most evident symbol of Dublin’s progress. In fact all the lands skirting the college in this north-eastern corner of the city were also witnessing the fruits of this progress, as the ancient common was subsumed beneath brick, mortar and cobble. A giant swathe of property was under construction in the lands that lay between the newly elevated Patrick’s Well Lane and the Green of St Stephen at the city’s new southern extremity. This Green, though much reduced in size, was now being laid out as a square for the use of its new inhabitants in the style of its London counterparts, a meadow surrounded by a ditch with designated walks and copses within its boundaries.

When a new Irish parliament, as was hoped would be assembled in the near future, eventually relocated to Hoggen Green, this whole area would surely not only become a most fashionable quarter, but also it was presumed the starting point for the city’s next planned extension across land that was already being reclaimed along the river’s banks where it met the bay. Long-sighted businessmen, many of whom had invested heavily in the reclaiming of the estuary slobs, and who were in need of as ready a return as they could get for their capital, were wasting no time therefore in erecting luxurious premises on the southern bank to lure tenants wealthy enough to avail of them. In addition they were laying out new streets and lanes often named in honour of just such tenants, and were even discussing the feasibility of building a bridge to link with their properties on the opposite side which stood ripe and ready for the same intense development. In short, the marshes and mud banks that had until recently marked the boundary between city and sea by the College grounds had become almost a city in itself overnight, or so it seemed to the marvelling Dubliners who saw their town almost double in size and grandeur through this riverbank development, and who could only wonder at the potential it revealed for even further expansion eastwards to Ringsend, and northwards as far as investment and will could bring it – directions that would have seemed totally fanciful even to their own parents. In recognition of this elevation of status (if descent in height) the Corporation had only recently decreed that the focal point of all this planned development, Hoggen Green - a word derived from old Norse that referred to the now vanished mound - should instead be known as College Green in deference to its principal tenant.
The only green that Titus could see however in the expanse of mud before him as he approached the College gates through the gloom of the driving rain that morning was the tattered flag of the Duke of Leinster, a man who owned much of the land now being developed and who, it was claimed, would profit more than the city itself from the work. In the rain-laden breeze his damp and ragged banner fluttered forlornly amongst other patrons’ emblems on tall poles set above the college gates. And there beneath them, in the timber-arched gateway as promised, waited Jack Quinn.

“Soft day Mr Perry – eh?” was his cheery greeting. The rain, if anything, had intensified into a deluge.
“Hello Jack.” Titus dived into the doorway alongside the lad. Once in, he removed his hat and drained the water that had collected in its tri-cornered folds onto the cobbles at his feet. “Thanks for meeting me – I have need of a guide today.”
“Is that all? No problem there sir – though in weather like this it will be fishes, most likely, in need of a guide, not knowing where the sea ends and the city begins!”
“I swear I passed a few on Dam Street on my way down!”
Jack laughed loudly. “I hope they are enjoying their day out in the city, it normally has little enough to impress its visitor.”
“But more than enough to implicate him it seems.”
“Sir?”
Titus smiled. “Forget it. Jack, do you know a gentleman by the name of Sir William Petty? He lectures here now and again when he’s over from England.”
“Puritan Petty? Of course sir, well I know of him rather than know him. I’ve had the pleasure of sleeping through a few lectures of his in the last few weeks. Philosophy I believe, some day I should start taking notes!”
Titus could see that Jack was no academic, despite his father’s obvious intentions. “They do help, Jack. Anyway, can I take it from your comment that Mr Petty is in Dublin at the minute?”
“Not only that but he’s due here later I believe. One reason why I was glad to be excused lessons I can tell you.”
“Excellent – can I leave a message for him?”
“The beadle there will take it and pass it on.” Jack nodded to a nearby office. “Though I don’t envy you. What on earth do you want to see him for?”

Titus had learnt from a bookseller in London that Sir William was in the process of publishing a map of Ireland himself based on the extensive information that he had gathered over thirty years earlier during the great Down Survey. To mapmakers like Titus this was something to be awaited with baited breath. The Down Survey had been deemed a landmark in cartography for the breadth and scope of its remit as much as for the new and innovative techniques used to produce it in so short a time. But Titus realised that it held another significance entirely, especially to Irishmen. It had been commissioned by the Cromwellian government in the aftermath of their leader’s triumphant, if catastrophic, sojourn through the island, initially to itemise and enumerate all the confiscated lands in the wake of his campaign, a Herculean task given the thoroughness with which he had ruthlessly removed the bulk of the arable land from its ancient Catholic ownership. The survey therefore needed to be both meticulous and quick, given that its primary function was to account for the redistribution of this territory to Cromwell’s followers, and to other English landlords who wished to avail of the rich bounty that resulted from the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands from their land to a life of hardship and poverty west of the Shannon. In some ways these exiles had been the lucky ones. Countless others had been deported as slaves to the penal colonies of Barbados in the Americas, and yet more had been simply dispatched to their maker in the great campaign that had changed forever the political map of the island. In fact so ruthless had Cromwell’s army been, and so prone to excess in their savage treatment of those whom they conquered, that even some of his own supporters had balked at his methods at the time, and there was scarcely a man left in Ireland, even were he the most strident parliamentarian, who did not privately wonder if the man’s policies had been undermined by his own brutality. His domination of the island was unquestionable, but he had made few friends, if any, in its execution. It did not take a genius to see that the dissent he was sowing was extensive and that unless he followed through and eradicated his opposition completely, such dissent would inevitably lead to later trouble for those associated with its architect. His Protestant subjects in Ireland were at once grateful and fearful. His actions may have removed the immediate threat of Catholic rebellion directed against them but they had also guaranteed that there was nowhere left in the island where the term Protestant could be understood by the remaining Catholics except in association with the man whom they regarded as a tyrant, a thief, a murderer and an agent of Satan himself. The country, if anything, had grown more dangerous in its ‘pacification’. As a result, the task of surveying the ‘conquered’ territories was allegedly so unpopular that it had been found difficult to recruit any Irish-born person to take it on. William Petty however, then an ambitious and rather poverty stricken Romsey merchant who had arrived in Ireland as physician to Cromwell’s army, had accepted the role with glee. His master stroke, and that which earned him the immense gratitude of his employers, was to save the government a fortune and much unwelcome delay by using soldiers instead of surveyors to do the work. He had been well rewarded with considerable monetary remuneration, not to mention his own title to quite a portion of this confiscated land himself, and had immediately set about utilising both to establish himself amongst the nobility in this adoptive country that he had played no small part in redefining. Nor was that the only way in which he sought to claim eminence. As one popular pamphlet had phrased it, Petty had (in the absence of anyone with more wit, connections or opportunity to compete with such a big fish in a small pool) duly appointed himself as Ireland’s leading philosopher, economist, political analyst and general genius-in-residence. The fact that he was no longer technically ‘in residence’, and had not been for some years, did little to deter him from enjoying the fruits of his rather self-declared genius status. Nor did it prevent him from enjoying the more tangible financial rewards from his Irish lands and investments. While his intellectual status had long been publicly established and above reproach, his material status was something that he shrewdly avoided admitting. While the rumours of his wealth most likely exceeded the fact, there was no doubt that the ‘physician’ who had arrived in Ireland worth a mere five hundred pounds by his own admission, had left the country twenty years later a very much richer man.

But in truth, both his academic and financial stature had taken him not only many years, but quite a bit of political manoeuvring to establish and protect. The restoration of the crown had forced the old Cromwellian to surrender much of the land that he had acquired in the aftermath of his Down Survey success, but Petty was fortunate in that he had enjoyed a rather public falling-out with Cromwell’s immediate successors just prior to that, and it was this crucial fact that had probably saved him from losing everything. As it was, Charles Stuart was happy to come to an arrangement with a man whose public profile and renowned intellect could well prove a thorn in the royal side if he be alienated completely. In the end, what Petty retained by way of land grants was still considerable, and he had made the best of things by using this land to pursue his ambition of proving his own economic theories – especially those involving effective utilisation of resources. He introduced mining, sawmills, new crops, new farming techniques and new equipment (often designed by himself) to areas that had traditionally supported only meagre livings, and had managed to engender some little success with his methods. Even after he had moved back to England he had spent considerable time and money in travelling backwards and forwards, overseeing his innovations and ensuring that his standing among Dublin’s intellectual elite retained its lofty standing. He maintained several houses in and around the capital for his own use, and was uncharacteristically generous in allowing his property to be used for the purposes of promoting Dublin’s fledgling scientific community, as he also was in devoting his time and expertise to the cause of establishing that community as a rival to anything that London or England’s university towns could produce. His reward from the crown for his efforts had been to hold, at different times, many civic and academic titles that did much to elevate his intellectual and social standing even further, if little to augment his finances. Now, in his latter years, the old man currently divided his time as such an administrator with being Admiral in Chief of the Navy in Ireland, co-founder of Dublin’s “Philosophical Society”, and – as Jack had ruefully pointed out – an occasional lecturer in diverse subjects at Trinity College.

Jack’s nickname for him reflected his rabid and well advertised anti-clericalism, though to Petty’s credit he despised clerics of all faiths, seeing the church – both established and Roman – as primarily structures that allowed insincere and spurious men achieve a false academic standing, using theological debate as a substitute for the more rigorous discipline of scientific theory in an effort to be regarded as intellectuals. This trait at least was one that Titus had some sympathy with, even if he privately assessed William Petty as a man who had ultimately profited from human misery at the time of Cromwell’s Irish campaign, and had merely escaped the judgement passed on his peers by virtue of some astute political sidestepping - a ‘talent’ that Titus rated little higher than the skill any bold child might display in evading arrest after theft from an orchard, or the mountebank in convincing the gullible to buy his new product even when all his previous goods proved fake and faulty. However he shared Petty’s views that religion had done as much to retard human achievement as advance it, and intended, if he got the chance, to demonstrate his affinity with the old man’s view. Such intellectual concord established early might help him in what, after all, was his real reason for now wishing an audience with Cromwell’s old surveyor. He hoped that the old man might lend some assistance to him in his current commission – the information from the Down Survey, never before published or available to anyone outside the land registry offices, would be an invaluable aid to his own work, outlining in detail as it did the great estates and natural features in the bulk of the island. Petty’s notes alone, dated and all as they were, could literally save years in preliminary fieldwork. It was not an interview that he was particularly looking forward to, but for the sake of the venture that he had undertaken he sincerely hoped that it went well. He therefore left a rather grandiloquently phrased request for just such an audience with the beadle at the gatehouse, peppered it with as many flattering remarks as the letter could bear without appearing overly fawning, and so returned to the waiting Jack. He greeted him again and added. “We need to hire a cab for the day. Do you know a place?”
“We can get one on Patrick’s Well Lane. They’ve a thriving trade there ferrying lecturers in and out from their lairs around the city!”
“Good – lead the way.”

Jack took the command literally and set out at once and at pace through the rain and mud with Titus in close pursuit, around the college wall and into the new street, where immediately could be seen a line of carriages, their horses and drivers sitting forlornly in the deluge while they awaited business. On a day like this they would be glad of it too, Titus reckoned.
He was wrong. The driver of the first cab they approached simply waved them on to the next, who likewise seemed less than pleased to be asked to sacrifice his whole day in such inclement weather to the earning of mere money. “Jesus man – are you the king of England or what?” had been his initial retort, though Titus only understood this when it had been deciphered by Jack who was more familiar with the nasal whine and grunts that seemed to constitute what passed for speech amongst Dublin’s lower classes. After several assurances that he would be well paid for his hire, the driver at last begrudgingly allowed them enter his carriage – with instruction not to sully the cab with mud from their boots. In this town, and in this part of it particularly, that was as logical as asking your customers to remove their feet before boarding and Titus was glad that he could not understand the man’s incensed mutterings when he looked with disgust at his carriage floor while closing the door after his guests had climbed aboard. Once underway however he proved at least an accomplished driver, steering his horse and carriage with practised ease through the ever shifting obstacle course of Dublin’s narrow crowded streets at the start of a new day’s commerce.

Their first stop was the Royal Hospital, where, as had been arranged, Cormac and Sarah Reilly waited in the shelter of a large birch tree by the gated entrance. Sarah leaned her back to the tree while Cormac paced a little to and fro. Both, judging by their gestures, were engaged in animated discussion. Her dog ran from her heels and barked excitedly at the carriage as it approached them but even this did not disturb their conversation or cause them to look up. Titus noticed that she still wore Cormac’s great frock coat, but that beneath it she had now acquired the incongruous combination of a pair of labourer’s pants and an ancient army shirt, as well as a pair of military boots many sizes too large for her feet. The coat was open to allow her to plunge her hands into the pockets of the oversized breeches, by which method she was obviously holding them up. Cormac, it seemed, had done what he could at short notice to clothe her, and the effect would have been comical if it did not reinforce in his mind the memory of the piteous state in which they had found her, and the necessity to do what they could to alleviate her misery. As he alighted from the carriage and crossed to greet them he could overhear their conversation, and was amazed to detect from the singsong tone and rolling vowels that they were speaking in Gaelic. Her mongrel Bran barked even louder as Titus approached and they broke off their conversation abruptly. When Cormac saw his friend however he smiled.

“Ah, young Titus! This is one lively witted duckling we bagged last night! An ‘ea?” and he nodded his head towards Sarah with a sly wink.
Sarah took a step towards Titus, her face in a frown of concern, but halted abruptly when she remembered the precarious suspension of her breeches. “Good day,” she remarked almost impatiently. “Did you learn of my poor father, Mr Perry?”
“Good morning to you ma’am,” Titus replied, pointedly ignoring her garb for fear of embarrassing her. “Yes, the innkeeper near where I am billeted has made enquiry on your behalf. Your father lies in the Newgate morgue – Stanhope is making arrangements apparently to bury him in St Mary’s. When I know more I shall inform you immediately.”
Sarah blessed herself, though with a motion so fast and subtle before her hand returned to the task of holding her apparel together that you would have to have been keen eyed to notice it at all. “Thank you, Mr Perry. That is a load from my mind.” Her gratitude was expressed with as much grace and dignity as the circumstances allowed.
Titus, already shamed on her behalf, felt humbled by her gratefulness and sense of relief. He felt he had done little to earn it, merely relay information at no cost to himself. It was Collier who had made the enquiries and Stanhope the arrangements that had effected the assuagement of her concerns. He hid his discomfort by spurring the conversation hurriedly on. “I trust the Hospital authorities didn’t get wind of their extra guest Cormac? It is I also who must thank you for your help!”
“Ach no, it was a pleasure Titus. The cailín slept like a baby!” The old man put his arm around Sarah’s shoulders in a gesture of friendliness that almost caused Sarah to lose purchase on her clothing. He quickly withdrew with a gasped apology and she hurriedly resumed her stance against the tree’s trunk, her cheeks reddening as she gathered her attire closer to her again.
“Cormac has been very kind,” she suddenly said, probably as much to divert attention from her own embarrassment as to ease his. “He slept seated by the window and gave me his bed. He wouldn’t listen to reason! But I’m grateful.”
“As I told you a hundred times, a stór – in the army sleeping under a roof itself was deemed a luxury!” Then his voice grew grave and he turned to Titus, shaking his great head. “And I’d add that this girl’s stout heart would make her the equal of the bravest men I ever served with! Sarah has the courage of a lion but I’m thinking she’ll need more than that. The girl’s not telling a lie about being in danger.”
“So I understand, Cormac.” Titus turned to Sarah. “And we need to know more of this danger if we are to help you.” He tried to relay the urgency of his request without sounding too demanding, and for a split second it seemed that she was about to say something.

But her eyes were suddenly averted and she spoke to the ground rather than the people around her, almost as if she knew the inadequacy of her information. “They will kill me too, I assure you,” she mumbled and then, perhaps in acknowledgement that her new associates needed a little more than this she added with more vigour, “You see, I know who they are, or some of them at any rate.” She fell abruptly silent, as if berating herself for saying too much.
Cormac, who had obviously tried to tease information from her after Titus left last night, waited patiently a few moments as if in hope that she might say a little more this time. When there was only silence she shook his head and turned to the mapmaker. “The poor lass is too terrified to say more of it, Titus lad, and God knows I asked her enough times.”
“And why not, if you know them? I will tell you no lie. I spoke with men last night who have the power and the motive to arrest them.” As Titus asked the question he saw both a glare of anger and look of remorse pass quickly through the girl’s eyes.
“Well,” she said contritely, “maybe ‘know’ is too strong a word. My father would not approve of me stating ill of anyone without proof, but in this case I know he might make an exception. It is just that I am not sure, though my suspicions are well founded. These are not men you accuse lightly. I would of course be sure when they kill me, but that’s not a way of earning a measure of certainty I readily welcome!”

Titus smiled at her dry humour. Even if it did border on that of the gallows variety it proved as he suspected, that the woman was not one to surrender long to the hysteria of grief despite a provocation that would have left many supposedly stronger men shattered, and that she had regained control of her wits and faculties, despite even the abject humility of her new situation. To a person who values clarity of thought and reason, the absence of either will always eventually prove more appalling than either the tragedy that causes them to be lost or the pitiful exigencies accruing from it. Titus could both identify with and respect her wish to set reins on her emotions, but was dissatisfied nonetheless with her response. “Please do not underestimate what I have just said. I am telling you, Sarah. Just say the word and whoever you suspect can be behind Newgate’s bars by noon. I swear it.”
“Not if they own Newgate.” She opened her mouth as if to add to her retort but closed it again as quickly. It was obvious that such was as much as she was prepared to say on the matter.
Titus shrugged. There might indeed be some truth in what she inferred about the status of these ‘enemies’ and that their station rendered them immune from prosecution and her afraid even to voice her suspicions of them, but there was also a more plausible and likely explanation for her reticence, and he knew it. It was probable that she simply suspected anyone and everyone, whether with good reason or no, and such indiscriminate suspicions could even be forgiven in her circumstances. Her father, according to Collier, had indeed made enemies in high places in the course of his political battles, but his death on the basis of the evidence could be due as plausibly to a botched burglary or a particularly vicious attempt at extortion as it could to any political enmities. Sarah, in the natural manner of one who will attempt to ascribe meaning in the face of such a meaningless tragedy, had simply latched on to an explanation that was both conspicuous and, perversely, worthy of her father’s memory. Her reticence might be down to nothing more than that she suspected as much herself.

There was no point in pursuing it now in any case. “Well Sarah Reilly, alas the riddles don’t stop there either. What we do with you next is just as big a puzzle. I’ve had assurances from a Charles Collier, the innkeeper I referred to, that you are welcome to hide out in his establishment. He claims to know and like you well enough to aid you, and that his inn offers a temporary security for you should you wish to avail of it. Is this to your satisfaction?”
At the mention of Collier, the tension in Sarah’s expression all but disappeared. He was obviously someone she both knew and trusted. She nodded assent.
“Very well. Your carriage awaits so.” He indicated the hired cab and for the first time Sarah noticed the young man seated inside – the broad smile that he beamed in her direction indicating that he was enjoying the view, if not the banter, which was out of his earshot. “Who is he?” she asked sharply.
“A friend, don’t worry. It seems to me you’re in need of as many as you can find. His name is Jack Quinn, son of a man I trust with my life and by all indications as trustworthy too.” Her frown did not disappear but she voiced no further opposition so he took it that she accepted his word. He had hoped to have a quiet word with Cormac but decided it could wait; it was essential that Sarah got underway as soon as possible. He thanked Cormac again and they shook hands in parting, but just as the old man released Titus’s hand he suddenly gripped it again. He looked his young friend straight in the eye and spoke so low that it was almost a whisper, “Níl aon duáilce gan a suáilce féin”.
“I hope that’s not a curse!” Titus tried to sound a little jocular.
“Anything but,” Cormac answered in all seriousness. He released the mapmaker’s hand, turned to go back to the gates and then abruptly stopped. “Just remember you have that testament, mo bhuachaillín! And hark at me – curse or blessing diminish not with age, and nor does the strength of a vow. James Butler knows that as well as any of us!” Then the old man walked through into the courtyard without another glance or word.
Titus led Sarah, walking as fast as her apparel allowed and carrying her small dog, to the hackney, where she was greeted with an effusive ‘Good Morning’ from Jack and a derisive snort and a muttered remark, obviously lecherous, from the carriage driver.
Sarah glared at the driver seated above her. “Have you a problem with your nose, amadán?” She almost spat the words. “Or is it just that you’ve stuck it into other people’s affairs once too often?”
The driver was about to answer but caught Titus’s expression.
“Miss Reilly is a guest of mine, driver.” Titus felt a strong anger well up from within him and his tone rose to a command. “Open your foul mouth once more in her presence and I swear I’ll make sure you’ll be bloody lucky to make a living cleaning up your horse’s shit in this town. Do you follow me?” The driver’s insolent stare evaporated. “Now, as you can see the lady’s attire requires refurbishment, so our first call will be to the dressmaker named Hourihan on Thomas Street - I saw it on the way up and it looks the job. And fast about it!”

Titus sat into the carriage with a slam of the door and, as the carriage lurched into motion, noticed that his two fellow passengers were staring at him, Jack agape and Sarah with a smile – the first smile he had seen her make and a welcome one for that. “A guest Mr Perry?” she asked with one eyebrow arched, “or an encumbrance?”
Titus felt strangely uneasy. He coughed. “A bit of both I suppose,” he said. He had intended it to be a light remark but he knew his uneasiness showed.
“Then I shall try to be as polite a guest as can be, by being as little of an encumbrance as possible. You have done more than enough for me. I should be grateful if you simply leave me at the inn you mentioned, but you need not go to any more expense on my account, I implore you.”
“Nor shall I,” he replied with a smile. “It will be on the castle’s account, though they know it not.” He pointed to her labourer’s trousers – frayed thin in the places where ragged holes had not already appeared. “It would seem impudent and remiss of me to shield you from one doom, only to then leave you open to your death of cold. Your attire is rather conspicuous as it stands, I am sure you will agree, and still inadequate for the elements too. I suggest we remedy that first, if only to avoid drawing unwelcome attention.”
She smiled again. “It seems I can only concur with your logic sir. I am further in your debt.”
“Lord Ormonde’s, I insist.”
The smile disappeared. “I know what I meant, sir.”

The hackney bumped and bounced its way along the lane that led down to St James’ Gate, the arched tower standing alone on the old Leinster Road that once marked the boundary between the agricultural hinterlands and industrial centre of Dublin. There was atime that all traffic was obliged to enter the city under its arch and a toll extracted for the privilege, but now tracks led either side of it and the gate was regarded simply as an obstacle. The obstruction was enhanced by the presence around the structure of many fruit and vegetable sellers, the Catholic counterparts to the Protestant pedlars allowed set up stall in the commercial heart of the town, and their sheer number meant that the carriage had to jostle its way slowly and with much difficulty through the throng. Their driver did so with consummate care and much civility, in stark contrast to his manner earlier, and Titus wondered if his own sharp words had effected this noticeable change in the man’s demeanour or if their driver was betraying something of a bias in who he felt merited his wrath and who his forbearance. His musing was interrupted by Jack, who had remained politely silent up to now, and who obviously could contain his curiosity and humour no longer. The suspension of the carriage’s progress suggested to the lad an opportunity to ask what was on his mind. He turned to Sarah, smiled in what he must have thought was both a conspiratorial and alluring manner, and addressed her directly for the first time since they had greeted each other at the Hospital. “Pardon my asking but I am always intrigued by what the ladies in Dublin are wearing by way of fashionable attire. Should I take it that this is the latest?” The sarcasm raised not a flicker of response from its target, which the young lad – as young lads do – simply took as a signal that he should switch to another joke. Before Titus could intervene, and to his horror, Jack laughed, and adopted a more direct line of humorous enquiry. “Well, what did happen your clothes ma’am? Have you been scrapping with too many cab drivers? Or losing at cards perhaps? Believe me, if so you are dealing with a kindred soul!”
There was an awkward silence and Titus, cursing himself for not having briefed young Quinn on the way out, was about to admonish his young companion when Sarah herself did so. Without shifting her gaze from the scene outside her window she intoned flatly, “You try sifting through the ashes of your own home in the search for your father who might lie within them, and then see how dainty you end up yourself.” The tone was nondescript, but Titus could see that the eyes flashed anger. He had better rescue the youth from his folly immediately.

“Jack,” he hurriedly interjected. “Miss Reilly lost her father yesterday. He was murdered. The same people in all likelihood burnt their house to the ground. No quips please.”
It was as if the young lad had been struck in the face, so great was the impact of this information. For a moment he seemed at a loss to speak but recovered quickly and his next statement astonished Titus with its maturity. “My apologies and commiserations, ma’am. I appear to have confused fortitude on your part with high spirits. That was crass and cruel of me. I am sorry. Consider me at your service also if you require any help.”
Sarah, who suddenly seemed beyond caring one way or the other simply sighed. “I will,” she said, and turned her gaze back to the passing world outside, idly stroking Bran’s neck as the dog eyed each man in turn, daring them to affront his mistress with any more tactless comments. They proceeded in silence to Thomas Street.

Titus had already arranged with Collier for Sarah’s possible arrival and primed him regarding the need for secrecy and tact. When the carriage pulled up in Sheep Street, Letitia Collier was waiting at the inn door and shepherded Sarah inside through the rain with haste. Sarah had purchased not only footwear and a dress but also a heavy cape and large bonnet in Thomas Street which all but obscured her from any inquisitive onlookers. Once the two women had disappeared inside, Titus asked Jack to remain at the inn too, with instructions to wait there until he got back, and to take note of anyone who might seem other than a normal inn customer, especially anyone asking questions.
“You mean my job is to sit in an inn guarding a beautiful lady, drinking and eavesdropping on strangers?” Jack replied as he stepped out of the carriage. “I think I’ll like working for you sir!”
Titus laughed, but then stressed again how important it was that Sarah’s whereabouts be kept secret for now. Jack was not to touch a drop of drink, he stressed, and should comport himself in a manner respectful of both Miss Reilly’s tribulation and Titus’s authority. Above all else he was to ensure that Sarah didn’t do anything so stupid as to try to leave the place herself. She was showing great fortitude, as Jack had said, but she was still a girl who was grieving sorely and there was no telling what her distressed mind might see as rational which in fact could only endanger her more. Once a chastened but compliant Jack had alighted and fairly raced into the inn after his ward, Titus rapped the ceiling with his knuckles and the carriage took off to its next destination.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 7)

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