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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 1)

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nordmann
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20121116
PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 1)

Jack apparently met with Lady O’Carolan’s approval once she had ascertained his Irish surname. Poor Captain Cuffe however didn’t fare as well when he arrived, handicapped as he was by the burdens of an English accent and a castle uniform, accompanied by three more of his men similarly attired who he had detailed for what he had only half-jokingly referred to Titus earlier as ‘the bog-striding mission’. She relented when Titus vouched for his character, though she expressly forbade his men entry to the house, admitting them only to the stables if they required shelter should it rain. She did agree however to have food sent out to them since, as she put it, it was never to be said that a true Irish lady would see even a dog go hungry if it was a guest in her house. An appreciation of irony was not Imelda’s strong point.

Once all the sensational news of the day had been duly reported, and all assurances as to the safety of everyone concerned known to her had been made, Imelda resumed directing affairs. Jack was dispatched to the bathhouse to administer to his bruises and any other legacies of having spent a night as a guest in the prison. A bottle of brandy was dispatched with him for the same purpose. Cuffe found himself appointed surgeon and bartender by Imelda, who sent him to attend to Jack’s injuries and alcoholic needs if needs be. When Cuffe left, and she had Titus and Sarah together alone, she called them both over to her fireside chair like two children being summoned by their elderly grandmother.
“Sarah dear – you remember what I told you now.”
Sarah nodded.
“All that I told you! Remember, he may be a good man but he’s still a man nevertheless! Oh, I wish I was young again! I’d be off with the pair of ye like a shot! Now you!” She looked at Titus. “If I hear that one hair on this lassie’s head has been harmed because you failed in your duty, I swear I’ll swing for you. Do you get my meaning?”
Titus smiled. “It’s more likely protection from her I think I might need Imelda after your tutelage. But don’t worry – we’ll take good care of each other.”
Lady O’Carolan lowered her voice. “It’s none of my business and yet it’s all of my business, but here’s a piece of advice from beyond three score years and ten. Don’t underestimate the elderly!”
“I doubt if I could ever be guilty of underestimating you Imelda.” Titus replied.
“It’s not me I’m talking about – it’s that ould rascal Jimmy Butler, and him gone to ground as he is!”
Sarah, who had not heard Lady O’Carolan’s remark to Titus and DeLacey the other day, gasped and looked at Titus with eyebrows raised. “I swear – I said nothing Titus.”
Imelda laughed. “No darling, you didn’t. And if you did it wouldn’t have been news to me anyhow. I make my own enquiries in these matters and in my own way. Ould Ormonde is as cute a hoor as you’ll find - if you ever do find him that is. If Jimmy can’t be found it’s because it suits him to stay missing. The man has his own ways of doing things. Did I tell ye about the time he was carted off by Blood? You may find solace from the tale, no doubt you’ll find amusement!” She narrated her version of the story.

About twenty years before, Ormonde had been captured in London by the notorious Captain Blood, the same Blood who went on to surpass himself later in life by attempting to steal the crown jewels. Blood fully intended to murder the Duke, who he held personally responsible for the decline in his own fortunes, being vain and ignorant enough to fail in distinguishing between misfortune caused by his own ineptitude and that caused by government policies. His life indeed had been a series of misadventures and poor decisions, including one in the past of leading a faction of accusers against Butler for what they saw as his ‘papist’ tendencies. Such a ridiculous accusation had earned him nothing in the end but the enmity of James Butler, whose career had indeed been briefly tarnished by the slur, and eventually a public perception of Blood’s own character which rapidly slid from that of a zealous stalwart against Roman perfidies to being a public laughing stock. A more intelligent man would have learnt a valuable lesson and quietly withdrawn from public life, or even life altogether. At the very least he would have been on his guard against making any more calamitous errors. But Blood was not the brightest star in the firmament, and this time he made yet another mistake in delaying the execution of his prisoner due to an obsessive as wellas foolhardy insistence that it must be done from a Tyburn gallows at dawn, in the way all traitors and notorious criminals were dispatched.

Ormonde took great delight in relating to all later how he had escaped. Under guard in the cellar of a Holborn house he had impressed the man guarding him, a fool no brighter than his master, with tales of his childhood in St James Palace. The man was convinced to remove the sack that had been placed over Ormonde’s head to hear the story better, and as Ormonde continued to cheerily relate his childhood capers amongst the nobility of the land, was even induced gradually to release Ormonde’s wrists and ankles from the ropes with which they had been trussed. Once the blood had returned to his legs and arms, and whilst still in the midst of a jovial anecdote, Ormonde had suddenly pounced on the unsuspecting guard and succeeded in overpowering him. In no time he had reversed the situation – now it was the guard who was bound hand and foot, gagged, and with the sack over his head. Ormonde had even swapped his tunic and trousers with those of his guard’s. He then simply hid in a corner behind the door and waited.

When the other abductors, including Blood, arrived in the early hours of the morning, they wondered aloud at the guard’s absence, mistook the hooded and gagged fool to be their victim, and proceeded to haul the unfortunate man to the cart they had parked outside. Ormonde, meanwhile, slipped out without being noticed and went immediately to the Sheriff’s house on Holborn High Street. Rousing the Sheriff from his sleep he impressed on him who he was – not with much difficulty as news of his abduction was already the talk of London – and now fully armed he, the Sheriff, and the Sheriff’s men stealthily approached Tyburn in the hope of intercepting Blood and his gang. To Ormonde’s delight he found that his little piece of subterfuge had yet to be discovered, the poor guard was still trussed and hooded in the cart and Blood was merrily preparing the gallows tree for his ‘captive’. They surrounded the gang so that there was no chance of escape, and then Ormonde walked nonchalantly up to Blood who was securing a knot on the gallows rope with cross-eyed concentration and his tongue protruding between his teeth. “Might you need a hand there?” Butler asked. “Those ropes can be damned tricky to tie on a cold morning like this.” Blood had simply stood there frozen in astonishment, except for his head which, its look of concentration still intact, swivelled between regarding Ormonde on its one side and the ‘prisoner’ in the cart on the other like a person watching a game of racquets. After the bold captain’s arrest Ormonde himself had made representations to the court for leniency in sentencing Blood on the grounds that a man so stupid would easily engineer his own eventual execution some day and save the Exchequer the expense. Time had borne out the wisdom of Ormonde’s prophecy.

Sarah and Titus laughed at the story, though at least in Titus’ case it was one he had heard before – a favourite yarn even today in the inns and taverns of London. “Anyway,” said Imelda, “don’t ye worry too much about Jimmy Butler – he’s one tough nut to crack. Besides, there’s this.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a scrap of paper. It had obviously been torn from a book - one side of it was covered in print. On the other, scrawled almost illegibly by someone in a hurry and with a rudimentary pen were the words “These men make Blood seem like Solomon himself. Rest assured the old fool still has his intellectuals.” “I knew my friend Jimmy could never leave me fretting. I found it jammed in the doorframe this morning. It fell before me when I opened the door to go out.” She handed it to Titus who examined it closely. It was a page from a bible, the last page of the last book in fact, the Apocalypse of Saint John the Divine. Of the four verses on the page the same hand had placed quotation marks around one of them and had also underlined one sentence in particular. “And he who gives this warning says, Indeed I am coming soon.”

So, it seemed that Titus’ deductions had probably not been so fanciful after all. Jack’s interpretation of his interrogator’s remarks had been absolutely correct. Ormonde was indeed a free agent, free enough in any case to send cryptic messages to his friends. Of course, he corrected himself before he found himself making yet another false assumption to his own detriment in this affair, it could also simply mean that someone was astute enough to employ a tactic guaranteed to keep a nosy old woman fond of intrigue and with powerful friends from making too many more enquiries. The note could in fact be interpreted several ways, he conceded, but that it had satisfied Lady O’Carolan that her old friend was out and about again was apparent. However, as with much of what had happened in recent days, it raised more questions than it answered once its face value was ignored. “Did you see who might have placed it there?” Titus asked.
“Well I’ve no way of knowing when it was put there. But for a gust of wind it might be there yet. I’ve no doubt though that it’s from the man you seek, and that he has reason to remain hidden yet.”
“Then our journey north is pointless.” Sarah added.

Titus kept his opinion to himself. He rather hoped that there was a truth to Sarah’s remark, but he privately suspected that if he were ever to find those answers, if not Ormonde, then he would have to make the journey nevertheless. Something told him that James Butler, whether forcibly or voluntarily, was still to be found in Ulster. It seemed that Lady O’Carolan agreed with him.
“Well I’ll give it a point so.” Imelda smiled. “Seek the ould fellow out and give him a message from me. His good lady Elizabeth is looking forward to spending her last years quietly in Oxford with Jimmy by her side, and though she has a quare idea of a good place to spin out their sunset days she is right to expect it. It will serve no one any purpose for him to prolong his politicking further, or whatever it is he’s up to at the minute. Our time has passed, as Hugh O’Donnell has rightly told you to remind him, and with the death of Charles Stuart much else will pass too. But there is one service he can perform before he retires, and tell him that I said so. Lest he wants to go down in history as the biggest eejit that ever aided England in wielding her sceptre, he must follow his master’s example and prepare to return to the true faith. It would be a fine departing gesture that could only work to Ireland’s advantage. There’s a fence being erected for a joust and the ould eejit better not be caught sitting on it when the tourney starts! Now people, you get ready for your travels, though I’ll warrant it will be Jimmy will find ye rather than the other way round. This old eejit is going for her nap!”

“Do you think it is really from Ormonde?” Sarah asked when Imelda had left. Titus held the scrap of paper in one hand and Cormac’s letter in the other. Despite a span of forty or more years and the haste in which the more recent letter had been scrawled, it was obvious that the characters had been written by the same hand. Both ‘Blood’ on Imelda’s paper and ‘Butler’ on the other had been prefaced with elaborate ‘B’s that each contained identical grace lines, and other letters too showed the same distinctive style. Titus indicated that he thought indeed that it was the Duke himself who had penned the letter to Imelda, though he assumed it had been delivered by a third party. “It would be foolish, I believe, to doubt the good lady in these matters. Of course, if it is his hand, then it looks like our bird has flown, or at least has been moved between captors. It’s all assumption of course, but I’m beginning to think a sound one nevertheless. Jack heard something in prison that suggests we’re not the only ones looking for him. Still, for whatever reason, he is still absent and required by his son, and our pursuit must continue on that basis.”
“Does the term ‘wild goose’ mean anything to you?” Sarah asked. “I think we’re chasing one now.”

By early evening the small company, including dog, was ready to move on to Balbriggan, with Titus’ equipment stashed securely on a cart driven by one of Cuffe’s soldiers. Titus took DeLacey at his word and commandeered the carriage as his own, the driver being dispatched back to Dublin on horseback, while another of Cuffe’s men assumed the role instead. He and Sarah rode in it, with Bran sitting proudly on her lap excitedly sniffing the sea air, while Jack and Cuffe preferred to ride escort. Titus reckoned that Jack felt the need for some privacy and private meditation – the poor lad was coming to terms with the first traumatic experience of his young life and one that had seriously dented his confidence it seemed, though Titus hoped not permanently. They were heading for Jack’s father’s house at last, and Titus smiled at the thought that he was still lugging around his equipment, though he had yet to survey as much as a blade of grass since his arrival. Sarah caught him smiling. “For a man who’s just been through an explosion you’re in fierce pleasant humour.”
“Sorry Sarah, I was just thinking – if my own father could see me now. He always reckoned I was an imbecile to take up cartography. He said it was a career that lacked passion and that the biggest risk it carried was dying of boredom.”
“What a short sighted man he must be so. Didn’t you tell him about the ‘exploding castles’ aspect to the work when you embarked on it?”
“It slipped my mind. Mind you, I never mentioned the abductions, beatings and poisonings either. If word gets around everyone will want to be one!”
She laughed, and Titus found he liked the sound of that laughter very much.

They were travelling along a road that would follow tightly the contours of the coastline for much of its route after the small village of Lusk with its impressive round tower, visible for a good half hour before any other sign of the hamlet hove into view. Titus had heard of these structures but this was the first one he had ever seen in actuality, so he insisted on the entourage stopping for a while as he inspected it. The towers had been built by the friars as places of refuge at the time of the Viking invasions, and it was amazing how many there were dotted around the island given that the Vikings had not taken long to figure out that their design also made them into quite efficient chimney flues and had devised appropriate methods of flushing the friars out, along with their treasures. Still, this one was impressive enough, and Titus reckoned a few saintly monks with a good supply of boiling oil could well hold their own for long enough to discourage would-be attackers from staying too long beneath it as they lit their fire. Collier had told him that up to only a few short years before an impressive example of such a tower had stood at the rear of his premises on Sheep Street – on the site of the old church of St Michael le Pole. It had survived Danish, Norman and English invasions but had fallen victim at last to nothing more malevolent than Ormonde’s recent frenzy of civic improvement - its uppermost stones having been used in the foundations of the new Protestant church being built nearby on St Werburgh’s Street, leaving only a room-high cylinder standing that which Collier had modified into a bottle store. Much as Jervis had controversially re-used the ancient stones of St Mary’s Abbey when building Essex Bridge, Dublin was fast consuming its oldest monuments to its ancient past and regurgitating them instead as monuments to progress. The old Thingmote was in the process of being dismantled and used as landfill on Patrick’s Well Lane. The stones from the old St Thomas Court were now propping up several Protestant chapels around Thomas Street and James Street. Even the very wall of the city itself was not immune from the process. Dublin, having outgrown its ancient boundary, now saw the old defences merely as an impediment to traffic and trade. Its ancient towers had long since come down, its gates mostly dismantled, and its massive Wicklow granite cladding reduced to gravel and clintstone for the building of the city’s new wider thoroughfares.

Out here in the countryside though things were different. Titus noticed more than one ruined church along the route they drove. The more recent ruins were Catholic churches recently denied their congregations. Older ones had once belonged to monasteries closed down by the command of Henry VIII almost two centuries earlier. Ruins much older than both however, choked with ivy and ruinous to the point that they could hardly be recognised as churches at all, had been vacated by their monastic builders eight hundred years before at the first wave of Norse invader. Titus saw too that even though they were often merely piles of rubble, farmers left a wide berth around them when tilling, and many had been planted with a wide circle of yew or oak around them as if to delineate where the profane ended and the sacred began.

Soon a reef of rocks and small islets off the coast came into view. In Ireland these were called ‘skerries’ and the village and harbour facing them bore the same name. The furthest one out had its own name – Rockabill – and had a notorious reputation, as Titus well remembered from his journey from Bristol, for sinking ships on their way into Dublin Bay from the northern seas that strayed too near to its treacherous roots. From here it was a short ride to Balbriggan along a straight road that hugged the coastline. Along the entire route they had taken Titus had seen not one bad acre of farmland, nor indeed one hill worth speaking of past Malahide. The surveyor’s eye in him knew good arable land when he saw it, low in gradient but well drained, loam enriched to the point of prolificacy, a feature that had not been lost on the ancient inhabitants who had first denuded this land of its primeval forestry nor on those who had gratefully farmed it intensely ever since.

Jack drew up alongside the window of the carriage and bent his head down to peer in. “We’re coming to my father’s farm now,” he said. “Here on your right.”

Titus leaned out of the window to get a view. Quinn had found himself an admirable plot on which to retire as a farmer. It sloped gently down to the shoreline from the slight elevation of the road and had been divided into uniformly sized fields – each having been put to a different use it seemed. There were no hollows to impede drainage and long ditches had been cut between each field in any case to facilitate the purpose. Down at the water’s edge tall elms had been planted against the onshore winds and in their shelter stood a two-storey farmhouse of the English design, its symmetrical façade of sash windows divided by a tall front door graced with a pillared canopy. The barn and animal houses stood well off to the north of it, and between both was a large cobbled yard. Titus knew that his friend most likely had done a lot of the labour in its construction himself, as well as having planned the design of the house.

Quinn himself was waiting at the gate leading down to the house and farm compound. He saluted Jack warmly and exchanged a few brief words, then came striding up to Titus as he clambered down from his carriage. Cuffe and his men stayed mounted to the rear – Titus reckoned that the whole ensemble must have cut a pretty impressive sight. Quinn showed no sign of being overawed however.

“Titus Perry, what kept you?” He grasped Titus’ hand firmly in both of his own and shook it vigorously. “It seems your secretary slightly miscalculated the size of your party. Isn’t he with you?” He looked around and caught sight of Sarah sitting within the carriage. “Ma’am, I beg your pardon. Phelim Montmorency Quinn at your service, late captain of the Royal Irish Dragoons, but now full time sheep shearer.” He caught Titus’ glance and grimaced embarrassedly. In all the time they had worked together he had been known only as Quinn. Now Titus could see why.
“Sarah Reilly, late tradesman’s daughter and heiress of a modest living, but now full time outlaw. Pleased to meet you.” Sarah stepped down from the carriage with Bran under one arm and shook Quinn’s hand.
Quinn laughed. “Good to see that they have improved the design of outlaws. In my day they were all ugly brutes!”
“You haven’t seen her when she’s angry,” Titus said with a smile. “She’s acting as a translator for me when I head north should I need one. As for Flitch, I’ll discuss that with you inside if I may. The military men belong to Captain Robert Cuffe here. He can introduce them himself.”
Cuffe had dismounted and leading his horse by the reins up to Quinn, extended a hand that the other shook warmly. “Cuffe, the engineer?” Quinn asked.
“The same,” replied Cuffe with raised eyebrow. “I trust my obvious notoriety is well deserved rather than ill begotten?”
“I know not of your notoriety sir, only your work, and I commend you on it!” Quinn was shaking the captain’s hand vigorously as he spoke. Cuffe’s eyebrow remained raised so Quinn clarified his thoughts. “I have inspected the irrigation system you devised between the new and old reservoirs in Dolphin’s Barn. A work of art, man! And the improvements you’ve designed for the roadside drainage on the Belfast Road at Drumcondra is pure genius if I may say so. Well done, sir! It is sad but true that the architects get all the glory while the men who make it possible to build at all remain anonymous to those who benefit from their work. Allow me to redress that imbalance in some small way. Well done again, sir!”
Cuffe was startled and almost speechless.
“He’s a bit of an engineer himself,” Titus said loudly in a mock aside so Quinn could not fail to hear. “Ask him about the tow bridge he built on the River Ludd in Gloucester and he’ll have you convinced it’s a feat on a par with the great pyramids!”
“Well I never,” Cuffe had found his voice when he saw Quinn redden at Titus’s remark. “Today I was elevated by no less a man than the Lord Lieutenant’s son to Saviour of This Fair Land. Now I am to believe that I am the one without whom it could never have been built in the first place! I am doubly honoured, and glad to say so in the company of one who has matched my expertise in empire building, at least on the mortar and brick side of things!” He clapped Quinn on the shoulder and smiled as he did so. For a moment Quinn eyed him suspiciously, obviously unsure whether Cuffe was employing superbity or sardonicism in his tone, but then he twigged. A faint smile appeared, at first a twitch around the edge of his mouth, but which grew steadily broader before eventually erupting into a raucous laughter that was immediately reciprocated by the other man with equally voluminous mirth. Instinctively Titus knew that a genuine friendship had been forged before his eyes in that very instant.
Cuffe’s men each then in turn presented themselves to Quinn and saluted him as if he were still a commissioned captain. Quinn returned the salutes and shook each by hand. “Right then, let’s organise your billets for the night. Grace! Grace! Come meet our guests!”
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