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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 3)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 11 "Allies" (part 3)

Once in the carriage outside Jack began to regain some of his composure, and DeLacey questioned him softly about what he had learnt in his investigation. In a weak voice he recounted events as if he were speaking of someone else, though what he said gave the men some hope for Flitch’s safety, if not much. The bailiff Malley had indeed justified DeLacey’s faith in his investigative abilities. He and Jack had followed up several leads. Flitch had been sighted at different points, the distinctive white mare that he had taken from the castle stables being a great aid to his identification. The track ran cold near the townland of Stamullin however, though rather worryingly some people there claimed to have heard a gunshot that afternoon. An extensive search in the area where the shot had been reported yielded nothing however, though both Malley and Jack very much doubted the truthfulness of the men working on the local farm, who all flatly denied having heard anything. This was exceedingly strange as all those questioned on the estate, especially the farm workers, would have been closest to where the shot had been fired. The impasse was broken only when a neighbour reported that she had seen a black carriage with curtains drawn racing apace from the area along the Dublin road. She also told them that the land, though farmed by a local man, was owned by Henry Moore, the Earl of Drogheda. It was a carriage in his livery that she had seen, and she was sure of that fact as her sister was in service in the Earl’s household in Mellifont and she had therefore seen his coat of arms many times before. Most suspiciously of all, the carriage was accompanied in its haste by a riderless white mare tied to its rear. Puzzlingly though, the carriage was heading north on the Dublin road, though no town of any worth lay on that road for many miles. It was strange to see fine horses driven so mercilessly on a route that contained no provision to shoe or feed them, should they inevitably break down from the pace, and it was obvious that the beasts were already fatigued to the point of exhaustion. It was this that had aroused the woman’s curiosity initially, even more than the racket they were making. She bred horses herself, as did many of the farmers in the area, and no one who lived and worked with horses could fail to wince instinctively at the abuse these poor beasts were enduring. She had followed their progress with her eyes as far as the hilltop of Knocknagrow, some two miles away, and their pace had not slackened once. Malley had therefore elected to make further investigation in the locality while Jack had volunteered to check for news at the Earl’s other great estate – the large tract of land near Dublin earmarked for development and from which the carriage may have headed.

It was here that Briar’s men had found him, though Jack reckoned he had been most covert in his investigations and had done nothing to arouse suspicion. The house and grounds in which he had been trespassing belonged to a parson called Smiles, a man whom Jack had already understood from his enquiries to be out of the country and yet in whose house several rooms were lit. When he had received no reply at the front door, he had let himself into the rear of the premises through a hedge, only to find two of Briar’s men already in the garden waiting for him. He was also surprised at the size of the patrol that arrested him – it seemed a mite too large to have been on normal police duties.

Of what had transpired when ‘questioned’ by Briar’s officers Jack was reluctant to express in full – the memory of it caused him great distress – but one interrogator had inadvertently let slip a remark that provided a glimmer of hope for Titus’s secretary’s survival. Infuriated with Jack for his recalcitrance in answering his questions, the officer had sneeringly informed him that his ‘friend’ had had no difficulty in spilling the truth when ‘properly’ motivated and that “there are still fruits to be picked by the blackmouths from that particular bush!” Jack could think only that this meant Flitch himself had been arrested too and was being questioned. But if he was, then it was not in Newgate that he was being held, and most definitely not by army men – or at least he had never heard of any army division that had been described before as ‘blackmouths’. Indeed, the way the man had spoken of these ‘blackmouths’ - with such thinly disguised contempt that it bordered on absolute hatred – had led Jack to deduce that whoever had taken Flitch, even if an alliance of sorts was indicated by the fact that one set of abductors knew of the other, were most definitely not under Briar’s influence or control.

DeLacey thanked Jack for his services, and said he would ensure that the lad was compensated well for his trouble. He had already stopped the carriage at a cobbler’s shop on Werburgh Street and replaced the shoes stolen from Jack in Newgate, and he gave the lad a tidy sum in coins from his own purse to replace the clothes sullied and damaged during his ordeal. “The memory of your night in the cells may linger, but the stench need not!” he said. “Attend to your recovery, young man, and be assured of my gratitude, though that is poor compensation indeed for what you have unjustly endured on my account! Consider yourself retired as a spy,” he added with a gentle smile. “I will contact Malley for any further news.” Then, after Titus had collected his own belongings from Mrs Coates’ house, Sir John took leave of them outside the Tholsel and told the driver that he was to carry the two men to Kinsealy, and then to anywhere Titus required if necessary. “Well there we have it gentlemen!” He added just before he left them. “Our instinct to head north has been justified. The ‘blackmouths’ that Jack heard tell of are nothing other than Presbyterians, or at least as they are so described by their less charitable countrymen. It seems that your secretary has found himself in the hands of some of their members, and I would guess that none would be brave enough or numerous enough to organise such an abduction outside of their own territory and the protection of their own militia. But what they have done nevertheless entails much risk on their part, and I do not reckon that such perilous effort would be expended simply to abduct a mapmaker’s adjunct either. You did very well, Mr Quinn. Very well indeed!”

The ride to Kinsealy, after a further brief stop at the Exchequer building to collect money, was quiet - both men being quite subdued by their recent ordeals. Titus told Jack of what had happened to the castle, and how his own destruction had nearly coincided with that of the ancient bastion.
“We could hear it,” Jack said. “To be honest I was glad. It meant an end to my questioning.”
“I am truly sorry to have involved you in all this Jack.”
Jack sat silently viewing the passing hedgerow and then turned to Titus. “I could tell them nothing Mr Perry.”
“I know that Jack. You were a brave soul.”
“No, it’s not that I mightn’t have eventually. Those bastards would extract a confession from a newborn child. It’s just they kept asking the wrong questions.”
“How do you mean then?”
“They kept asking over and over again – what ship? What harbour? What day? The more I told them that I hadn’t a clue what they meant, the more they asked it.”
“Was that it? They gave you no clue at all as to what they wanted to know?”
“Yes, well one of them did, though it still made no sense.” Jack rubbed his wrists gently as he spoke. “He said it was of no use to us anyway, it wouldn’t be the first ship to land in Ireland carrying a false hope and so I may as well tell them when the old man was coming. I couldn’t be sure, but I felt it was Ormonde they asked about. I know it sounds silly but at one point they called him the ‘Irish Pretender’ and I could think of no one else they could mean.”

Titus was as puzzled as poor Jack must have been. There was nothing he could think of from all he had learnt that fitted the logic of their enquiry or whose ship they could have meant. The Gaelic exiles, who indeed had an ancient claim to kingship, had already returned to play their part, and though they were operating in secrecy the rumour at least that they had already arrived would most likely be known to Briar and his colleagues, given Ossory’s involvement in their ranks. King James’ emissary Hamilton had indeed arrived covertly by ship but surely that was not the point of their question, the man had no regal ambitions beyond serving the heir incumbent. The comings and goings of a regal agent would never be divulged to a youth in any case and Jack’s interrogators would hardly be so foolish to presume as much. Nor indeed could Anthony Hamilton ever be described as an old man. His master the Duke of York might, at least to one who saw anyone over two score years as elderly, but in any case James Stuart, even to his enemies, was rather more than a ‘pretender’ to the throne. His appointment to that position had been secured already by act of parliament, whatever his detractors might think. Titus had to agree therefore that Jack’s assumption that it was Ormonde they referred to was correct. But could that mean that they were unaware of his abduction, and wished to know when he was due to return from his duties in England? That hardly seemed likely, if Briar indeed knew the truth of things thanks to Ormonde’s nephew. And if, as DeLacey had just hinted, Flitch’s abductors were one and the same as Ormonde’s, then surely Jack’s interrogators would have been told of Butler’s abduction anyway. But yet they hadn’t, it seemed.

The question vexed Titus as they rode in sullen silence along the road to Kinsealy, and he attempted to untangle probabilities and possibilities from the seemingly contradictory mass of questions that Jack’s deductions threw up. He quickly dismissed the notion that Jack’s interrogators could not have known of Ormonde’s abduction. Lord Ossory was only too well aware of his grandfather’s absence. It could be that he had not imparted this information to his co-conspirators, but that was too unlikely to be plausible. It would serve his cause better to apprise his accomplices of this development, and the more Titus thought about it the more he was sure in his mind that the younger James Butler, if only because his character demanded it, could not have failed to share the news of his older namesake’s disappearance, even if he was doing so with men in league with the very ones who had abducted him.

But that left only one other possibility and the more he thought about it, the more convinced he became that it was the right one - even if it simply raised more questions than it answered. For reasons that Titus could only guess at, Briar’s men believed that Ormonde, who they must have known had been abducted, was now a free agent again. It was not his return from official duties in England that they had inquired of Jack, it was the return of a man who had escaped his captors, fled these shores, and whose return must now be anticipated with some trepidation by his ex-gaolers. They might have spoken with intimidating bravado to a young lad like Jack, but if such was whom they referred to and why, then Briar and his men were operating on borrowed time. Ormonde’s return would spell doom for his abductors, and for all even faintly associated with them.
Of course, Titus realised, all this could well be simply wild supposition based on nothing more than a frightened young lad’s memory of some dim-witted interrogator’s dishonest boasts. The theory was fine in so far as it went, but answered nothing about why an alliance might exist between Dublin Castle constabulary and Ulster Presbyterian kidnappers, or indeed why Ormonde, if he was again a free agent, had not revealed himself even to his closest associates. Not for the first time since he had accepted his mission did Titus feel thoroughly confused and not a little discouraged by his own patent ignorance, but this time at least was his confusion tinged with a faint glimmer of hope, however inexplicable and erroneous such hope might prove to be.
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