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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 10 "Mortals" (part 2)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 10 "Mortals" (part 2)

He dismounted and greeted Robinson, who turned to scrutinise Titus momentarily, waved, and then returned to look again at the entertainment that was taking place before them and diverting all those assembled at the tavern. A deal had gone awry it seemed - mainly due to the fact that one dealer who obviously reckoned he had finalised the purchase of a particular beast earlier, had now seemingly interrupted a negotiation between two others involving the sale of the same item, or so the heated and voluminous argument between the three parties indicated. The large cob in question complicated the argument by repeatedly attempting to break free and join a fourth party - a young mare in heat with its owner struggling to hold her still as she in turn desperately tried to avoid being mounted by yet a fifth party to the exchange, an amorous and persistent young stallion. The volume and chaos of the whole performance were in the ascendancy, abetted and encouraged by the toffs in Robinson’s corral, who cheered and raised their tankards in salute and encouragement at every escalation of the commotion.

The matter was eventually resolved – or at least drawn to a conclusion - by the cob bolting in the direction of the mare with its vendor still attached, sending the mare and her stallion suitor both fleeing in frenzied fright and leaving the accuser alone on the spot pointing an angry finger at empty air. The gallery assembled before the tavern added a final punctuation to proceedings and made their loudest cheer yet, then all raised a toast to the entertainment and returned to their own conversations. Robinson slapped his thigh with laughter and turned again to Titus.
“Well, well – it’s Petty Junior again!” He winked. “How are you boy?”
“Feeling very much less a boy and more a beleaguered old man, Sir William. I was on my way to your office to talk with you.”
“Oh yes? And on a Holy Thursday Horse Fair day? Good god boy, have you no sense of religious observation about you? Still, parley over barley is the sign of a lazy farmer or a rich merchant, as they say!” Robinson smiled broadly and proffered Titus a glass. “Bring that inside and join me won’t you? And be sure to tie up that castle nag of yours well before it’s sold from under your nose – unless you could do with the money of course!”
Titus pocketed the glass and tied his horse securely to a post. An urchin, for a small fee, agreed to stand guard over it, and Titus followed Robinson into the inn. Compared to the bedlam outside, the noisy room still offered a respite of relative calm, and he and Sir William seated themselves at a table by the window.

Once seated, and each with a fresh glass of malt before them, Titus broached the subjects he had on his mind. Robinson was in genial form and agreed to answer Titus’ questions as fully and as directly as manners and knowledge permitted. On the subject of the Philosophical Society and in particular William Petty, he was scathing but informative.
“The problem with Petty is that he doesn’t know how much he is loathed. Do you know on what he bases his reputation as a scholar? Plagiarism boy, every damned word out of his mouth or scribbled in one of his damned essays is purloined from some other poor fool without the wit or social standing to do much about it. Why do you think he persists in his college lecturing for god’s sake? What he gains from his student’s treatises far outweighs what the poor sods will ever gain from recording his inane mutterings I can tell you!”
“Then why don’t his peers take him to task? Surely the other members of the Society are aware of this. Your colleague Molyneux is president after all?”
“That crowd of lickspittles? No! Sure look at their membership for God’s sake – social climbers, aspiring intelligentsia who judge a book by its binding and moneyed buffoons. There isn’t one amongst them who’d dare admit they were party to a sham! Can’t see how Molyneux was talked into it – a chance to spout about his beloved astronomy I assume. He’d better watch his back. Next thing we’ll be importing copies of Petty’s latest volume regarding the celestial orbs, once he’s pilfered enough of Molyneux’s notes!”
Titus smiled. “Is nothing he professes original then?”
Robinson frowned in concentration. “He does come up with the odd thing now and again which surprises us. Twenty years ago he claimed to have designed a boat with two hulls. Said it was faster and less inclined to capsize on the high seas. Damned thing worked in principle but sank in practise! God knows who he stole that one from but it was original in concept, I’d grant you that. In fact, I heard only yesterday that the old fool has designed a superior model and that it is being built as we speak. The crazy thing is scheduled for a trial this summer – bound to be entertaining!” He almost licked his lips in anticipation of the event. Any chance to see Petty fall flat in his face, or to the bottom of Dublin Bay, held much appeal for the Surveyor General.
Titus agreed that the event in prospect sounded like it might indeed be a great entertainment. Then Robinson raised a forefinger in the air. “Oh, and accousticks, I nearly forgot!”
Titus’ attention was seized – “Accousticks? I heard that word before.”
“You may indeed have, boy. Narcissus Marsh’s nose is quite out of joint at the minute and is making no secret of the fact that Petty has purloined both his studies and the term from one of his own publications. It’s looking like the whole thing will end in a duel, if either lickspittle has the gumption for such a course! Which they don’t of course. Petty’s claiming to have originated the term himself. It’s to do with sound or whatnot. If he’s measuring the sound of his own voice, then he’s in for a tedious bout of research I can tell you! Have you been boning up on Petty’s ouvre perchance?”
“No, Sir William – only yesterday morning a captain in the castle guard, no less, gave me a brief synopsis of the principle.” Titus neglected to expand on the context of this ‘synopsis’ he had received from Briar.
“He must have been at the lecture then – last week in the old Orange Street Music Hall – Petty bored a full house with a speech on the thing by all accounts! But the evening wasn’t without some excitement!”
“Oh, yes sir! It seems that some friends of Marsh had paid to attend, but with the sole intention of walking out again at an agreed juncture in protest over this latest of Petty’s thefts. Oh, look boy! I made a jest! Petty theft - ho, ho!”
Titus tried valiantly to disguise his wince as a smile. “And?”
“And? And? Oh yes, and they did so – to a man, all together, in the highest of dudgeon and swearing oaths at the speaker as they left, stout men that they are.”
“That was the excitement?”
“No, not quite all of it. You see, they hoped that their action might precipitate a following in their wake, if you see what I mean, and leave Petty high and dry at his lectern spouting to an empty hall. But instead they found themselves being jeered for their insolence by the distinguished assembly, not to mention being educated rather loudly and swiftly in the subject of what the same ‘academics’ thought of their friend in Ferns!”
“Marsh is not a popular man?”
“I find him a rather mean and dry stick myself, but no, that’s not the point, don’t you see?”

He fixed his eye on Titus with a look of scrutiny that might have been intimidating in its severity if it had no been accompanied by his several concerted, but futile, attempts to then lift his glass from the table without first locating it by sight. Eventually he gave up on the attempt, averted his eyes from the mapmaker, located his prize with an audible gasp of relief, swallowed from it deeply, and then turned back to Titus, who was desperately trying to keep a straight face despite such entertainment. “Do you really think that the audience went there to actually learn something? Good God, man. If they were all sitting down, then there wasn’t a brain amongst them that wasn’t being employed for something else already! Do you get my drift? These peoples’ understanding of education does not go further than calculating the return on their investments, and even then they employ others to do that for them. Improving their minds is tantamount to ‘improving’ Dublin’s sewers. You can but speed up the delivery of the shit through them, but never exchange their original function! Though fat chance there is of improvement in any case, I would venture, if it’s Petty they depend on to teach them!”

Titus could not prevent his smile from spreading as Robinson spoke, though he could see that the man’s spirited commentary was only partially meant in jest. And part of what Robinson said had intrigued him. He had not thought of Petty as being a man who commanded support outside academia, least of all amongst the moneyed ‘rabble’ that Robinson claimed had stood up for him at his lecture. It might be as well to find out who such men might be. “But they allied themselves with their lecturer nonetheless.”
“Of course, boy. Have you ever seen a fungus climb a tree? Starts off as a small smudge on the bark near the grass, and before you know it it’s half-way along the branches, sprouting in all directions and sucking the living daylights out of the damned thing! Well that’s what these men are – bloody parasites, clawing their way up the trunk of society in the hope that one day they will reach the paradise of the topmost limbs, and never seeing that the ruin they leave in their wake is poisoning the very thing that gives them sustenance!”
Titus could not readily see how this might explain their support for Petty and why they might jeer his detractors, and he said so.
Robinson threw his eyes to heaven, and his derisive grunt was intended to show in no uncertain terms that he now realised he was talking to an imbecile. But just as quickly he mellowed, and started to speak in slow, methodical sentences, as if he was about to explain to a lay man some finer point of canonical theory. “Petty might not have many friends, but he is at least ‘in situ’, and therefore benefits from the sycophantic ambitions of those who might wish to raise their social station through association with the man. Associating however with a fat bishop in Wexford, and one called Narcissus at that, doesn’t have quite the same kudos attached, it would appear.”
“I see your point.”
“Heh! Your constable must be a bit of a social climber himself then – as I said, I can’t see who else would be bothered to pay into such drivel; or worse, to actually remember the bloody bore’s lectures.”
Titus pondered this for a moment. “I suppose you’re right – but I dare say he’s not a member of the Society.”
Robinson laughed. “Last I heard boy, they had more members than the sinners’ enclosure in hell. Damned fool could well be one. You’re not thinking of joining the ranks of the local intelligentsia are you?”
It was Titus’ turn to laugh. “No, Sir William. I attended a lecture once on the principles of cartography in London by a don who suggested that all co ordinates on a grid could be discerned by a formula based on a constant that he himself had devised. The Reverend Greymoor, he styled himself – member of the Royal Society, and Elder in the Association of Ecclesiastical Cartographers, whoever the hell they might be when they are at home! Anyway, his pamphlet suggested that he had devised a method of calculating distance using angular measurement, but using his formula instead of height, which as you know is the problem with dead navigation, and makes trigonometry useless out of sight of land.”
Robinson perked up. “Trigonometry? I have heard that it is claimed therein lies the answer to man’s search for the measure of longitude! Though it seems to me that a method of calculating the time one has spent travelling from a point, and the rate at which one has done so, would be sufficient. Either way, both the mathematicians and the clockmakers are each a long way from a reliable method. So, this man claimed to have solved the conundrum?”
“I wouldn’t allow this charlatan to navigate my way across a field, let alone an ocean! It turned out that the ‘constant’ he employed was the geographical location of Jerusalem according to scripture, and his method relied on one applying oneself to one’s faith with more zeal than to one’s callipers when plotting one’s course across the waves.”
“An admirable way of drowning oneself and one’s crewmates!”
“I asked him how he would demonstrate the use of his formula in a real application, such as telling us the exact location geographically of our colonies abroad.”
“His response must have been edifying.”
“Terrifying, I would say. It amounted to the statement that if the combined forces of trigonometry, his formula, and prayer couldn’t locate something, then God just did not want you to find it! Then he stated that trigonometry itself was not a branch of mathematic principle in any case, but simply a rather logic-based form of divine thought devised by God and imparted to mankind in order to facilitate the evangelists of His faith while they travel the globe searching for lost souls to convert. It seems that even those chosen by God to spread His word need something a little more tangible than spiritual guidance in getting around and about! Mind you, with this man as their guide, we’d all be heathens in no time.”
It was Robinson’s turn to stifle his laughter. In fact, he made such an effort keeping his features serious in demeanour that he managed to achieve quite the opposite effect as he struggled to speak. “I take it such a view on trigonometry doesn’t square with your own?”
“ I’m sorry to say I was ‘escorted’ from the theatre for correcting the speaker rather loudly once too often. Mind you, if they hadn’t done so then, they would have had to carry me out on a stretcher. I was damned close to splitting my sides with laughter in any case. So, no indeed. If I require to acquaint myself with any theorem in future, dullard as I am, I will wait for the paper to be published first. The local ‘intelligentsia’ can pursue their education any way they please, but without me amongst their number! Life is too short a span to facilitate learning through attending lectures in the hope that one in every hundred might be worth the effort!”
“Wise boy!” Robinson laughed. “And a philosophy that does not seem to do our students in Trinity any harm either, I might add!” He saluted two young men who had just collided with their table, already legless though the day was young, and who were attempting with some difficulty to navigate their way across the room. “It seems they are employing Reverend Greymoor’s methods!”
Titus turned to look at the lads, just as one of them theatrically stumbled, grasped at thin air for support, and landed in a heap in the floor, dragging his companion with him. When Titus turned back, Robinson’s smile was gone.
The surveyor nodded towards Titus’ pocket. “Now, what’s that scrap of paper you’ve been playing with? Not one of your maps I take it? I must warn you that cartographical critique is not one of my hobbies, though I’ve pretended to our friend DeLacey that it is. I assume it’s because you have parleyed with him that you now also seek parley with me.”

Titus showed Robinson a summary he had written of the estates on DeLacey’s list, having pruned the list down to the estates that matched his own planned itinerary through Ulster. The architect proved DeLacey’s assessment of his intellect as accurate. Placing small spectacles on his nose he perused the list and with a voice that betrayed no evidence of the imbibing or mirth that had just preceded it, he systematically went through each one, listing off topographical features and approximate areas and distances with practised ease, as well as adding brief character assessments of the estates’ owners. For a man who claimed disinterest in either his peers or in maps he had an amazingly detailed knowledge of both it seemed, unless he had physically travelled in the past through every square mile of Ulster and socialised extensively en route. He produced a small case containing ink and a pen from a pocket of his waistcoat, and set about annotating the more important points in the margins as he progressed. One could see why he detested Petty so much, Titus thought. Here was a man of true academic ability and agile mind. Such a man must grieve sorely at the prospect that there was another who mimicked his own abilities and achievements through deceit, and even used that mimicry to elevate himself in the eyes of others on the strength of his fraudulent intellect. Robinson’s sense of humour, which was evident, and his drunkenness, which sadly was evident too, were probably all that saved him from despair. Dublin was too small a city for such men as he and Petty to remain in coexistence for too long without one at least having to compromise or be compromised. Robinson had taken the initiative and chosen the former course, accepting Petty’s unfortunate existence in his midst, but not without resolving to advertise his adversary’s true character at every opportunity.

He handed the document back to Titus when he’d completed his perusal. “You know you could have shown me DeLacey’s original list, though I realise why you didn’t. You’re a shrewd one all right. You be careful up there in Ulster!”
“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t realise how much Sir John told you.” Titus accepted the paper.
“Told me? Nothing boy! But even a blind man seated backwards on a donkey could see why he wanted the names. I’ve added two that he omitted and whom you may find useful. Christopher Cummins attended Kings’ College with me. I hear he is practising law now near Armagh. A jovial man, or at least he was, but shrewd for his years, if I remember. From what I hear his law practise is at the service of any who require representation, regardless of their religion. In Ulster that suggests an impartiality you might find useful in your enquiries. The other, Ezekiel Barrington, I know from Dublin. He was one of the first men with whom I made acquaintance here – a great mind, and a kind soul. He and Petty had a rather public row some years ago and Ezekiel left shortly afterwards, alas. He has a small estate in a place called Ballygowan. Both of them are proving to be big names in the linen trade, or so I’m told. Mind you, who isn’t up there these days?” He leaned forward in a slightly conspiratorial manner. “Had me tagged as drunken old fool did you boy?” He smiled and patted Titus’ shoulder. “Common mistake, it’s the bags under the eyes give the illusion you know. But let me tell you what these baggy eyes have seen in recent months. I expect no response from you Mr Perry but hear me out.” He momentarily checked around to ensure no one was within earshot, and then leaned forward, the better to speak softer.
“Last January I met with Ormonde to discuss his plan for a grand avenue connecting the Park to the New Town. It’s a dream of his and a damned fine one too. It took us years to assemble the finance to realise the aim, and not without enlisting the aid of many men, some of whom you might know of now.”
“It cuts through Jervis’ plots then?”
“Yes, though at least Jervis and he are of the same mind on the project. It seems that others were not. When I met him he was distraught – that’s the only word I can use. He listed a whole slew of names who he said had had pulled out of the project, and between the curses and lamentations made a very curious comment to me. He waved a paper from one of them in my face – the latest clapperdogging cove to desert us. ‘You know William,’ he said, brandishing a letter from the latest speculator to withdraw from the scheme, ‘This seals my fate!’”
“The project was dead in the water?”
“Worse than that, my boy. Indeed it took me a while to figure out what he meant. When he went to London and failed to return, and now has ceased all communication with me, it dawned on me what he referred to. Those names were nothing less than a declaration of war. They were men bold enough to tell the old man through this method who his new enemies were and that his time was over.”

Titus stared at the man and saw an anger slowly growing in his eyes, yet his voice remained soft and modulated. It was as if he had prepared this speech some time ago and now was his first opportunity to deliver it. His tone however had changed from a conspiratorial hush to one of resolve, and his countenance likewise.
“James Butler and I have a private correspondence. Not many know this. It has been conducted without recourse to official secretaries or through state couriers. I like to think it is based on friendship, but in fact it is more probably to do with the old man’s desire to engage in intellectual debate with someone he sees as outside the world of politics – the one which he inhabits and has inhabited all his long life. Architecture is the principal topic of course, but we have also discussed much else besides over the years. Some day I will tell you the story of the bitch Villiers and the Park, but that can wait. Hear me out now.” Robinson broke his gaze and sipped on his whiskey for a few moments, as if formulating in his mind beforehand what to say next and how to say it. “A few weeks ago I received my last letter from him. He was on his way to Derby to answer an allegation by Rochester that he had appropriated Oxford College moneys illegally to finance the purchase of property there. The runt is only a pale copy of his uncle who bore the same title. Would that we had more of the late Earl’s like around now!”
The Earl of Rochester, Titus knew, had been awarded the vacant title after the death of his uncle, a man whose renown rested as much in his lasciviousness and acerbic wit as in his learned writings and past military commands, though he had excelled in all these quarters equally. His nephew however was known as a dry stick indeed, who publicly supported Charles but privately was open to any offer which might advance his wealth and prestige. His appointment to the Irish Lord Lieutenancy, while surprising, was in fact understandable. It limited his scope for scheming behind Charles’ back while simultaneously seeming to advertise the king’s impartiality - Rochester’s Whig tendencies being well known, if often denied by the man himself. His involvement, if indeed there was any, in the abduction of his predecessor merely served to confirm these suspicions, at least to those in Ireland who viewed him in poor light, as did Robinson himself. The architect’s face expressed in no uncertain terms the distaste he had for Rochester and his willingness to aid in the obstruction of the old Duke at every opportunity.
“Ormonde faces these sorts of stupid allegations all the time. They are always unfounded but since they must be answered at source they keep him away from Dublin and that is their true purpose. But this one was different. This one was so ludicrous that even Ormonde smelled a rat. He asked in the letter that should he not return I was to prosecute with vigour the interrogation of one particular man. At first I thought he was joking. Why would he ask a mere architect to become a prosecutor on his behalf? When I read who the man in question was I was even more amazed.”

He paused and looked slowly around him. The others in the room were paying no attention it seemed to the two men but Robinson’s eye still scrutinised each in turn as if in expectation of seeing the very man of whom he spoke present. “It is now obvious to me that he expected to be abducted - or worse. And this it seems has come to pass. Don’t worry. Even Sir John DeLacey does not suspect that I know this. It seems from my last interview with him however that DeLacey thinks Ormonde is held in Ulster, and you my boy are on an errand to find him I surmise. This I find strange as it does not square with Ormonde’s own suspicion, and the reason why he asked me rather than one of his political underlings to make enquiry. The man he suspected of collusion was his nephew and namesake – James Butler, Earl of Ossory. There – I’ve said it! Now reveal yourself to be a spy of the enemy and run me through boy!” Robinson took a swig from the glass and faced Titus again.
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