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  Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 8)

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nordmann
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Post Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 8)

There was something macabre and distasteful about dressing up for a ball in the clothes of a man who lay grievously wounded, and those of a wife who stood vigil by his sickbed. Yet it was Grace herself who assisted Sarah into her gown and even spared the time and effort to run an eye over Titus too. The suit of clothes he wore was Quinn’s, and when Titus remarked with a smile that it was rather ornate for Quinn’s tastes, Grace replied that he had returned from England laden down with crates of similar ‘spoils of war’ – as Quinn had phrased it – and had told Grace that she should go through the contents, keep what she wished, and give the rest to the poor. When she had sifted through the crates she had found some wonderful things – silverware that was probably worth more than their farmhouse itself, whole wardrobes of elegant clothes that seemed never to have been worn, pictures in their frames, porcelain from the Far East and many expensively bound books. Quinn had never elaborated on how he had come by these items and Grace knew not to draw him on it. Most of the items remained in their crates – impractical as it would be to use them in the farmhouse – but Grace had not had the heart to give any of it away. “You never know when you might need something,” she said softly, nodding her head slightly towards the bedroom in which Quinn rested. “I’ve no intention of losing my man yet, but it’s a good job one of us sets aside to the future.”

This was obviously the hoard from which Titus’ wig had been plucked for the occasion, and the reason also why Quinn had been reticent to explain how he had come by it. Then Titus remembered a remark that Quinn had made once many years before, shortly after they had first met. England had just been plunged into turmoil yet again. It was at the height of the paranoia induced by Oates and his cronies, and Catholics were being hunted from their homes once more on charges of treason and conspiracy. Some of these families were rich, but their wealth was no protection against the prejudice being whipped up across the length and breadth of the kingdom. In fact both Titus and Quinn reckoned that it was their wealth alone that had often made them the targets of those who wished to denounce them. Property was being ‘confiscated’, sometimes without the crown’s prior knowledge, and even more drastic ‘punishments’ were being meted out without benefit of court, judge or jury across the land, but which were being ratified after the event by a parliament eager to accept the revenue accruing from the dispersal of the estates that ensued, and by a king who was powerless to stop them. Quinn had made reference to one such incident when he and his men had intervened to stop what was, in effect, a mob led by a local man who styled himself a ‘minister’ besieging a house near Gloucester. They arrived in time to disperse the mob, but not apparently in time to save the besieged man – an elderly physician who’s heart had given out under the stress of the ordeal. Quinn’s troop had remained at the house while the old doctor lingered before death and his family came to see him off. A sister arrived who took charge of proceedings until the man finally lost the fight to live and passed away. Quinn’s remark to Titus had been cryptic at the time, but now made sense. The dead man’s sister had told Quinn that it was a sorry pass this world had come to when a king robbed a dead man more effectively than any highwayman could when he was alive - a reference to the excessive death duties applicable to Catholics. Quinn could only agree with her. “So,” he had said enigmatically, and without further elaboration, “we split the egg ‘twixt white and yoke and gave the crown the shell!” Titus reckoned he now had a notion of what Quinn had meant. He smiled again at Grace. “The man may live for many more years, Grace,” he said. “But trust to providence? That’s not our Quinn!”

By around nine o’clock that evening they were ready to depart. As with all the more fashionable social occasions the entertainment was not due to commence in earnest until about eleven o’clock at night. Arriving too early before this hour was deemed a breach of etiquette, as it obliged your host to make time for you – arriving too late equally so, as it advertised indifference to your host’s efforts. Titus reckoned that early was still a better option. He wanted to lie in wait and try to see who else might arrive before he and Sarah entered. Sam and Jack had obligingly cleaned the black carriage ‘loaned’ by DeLacey, and had greased its axles so that it looked and sounded the part. Patrick, Quinn’s farmhand, had groomed the horses as well as he was able – the poor boy seemed in some state of shock over his master’s condition and kept bursting into tears at intervals, though even when crying he persevered with his task of brushing the coats and unmatting the manes of the horses, as if devotion to the animal’s needs would somehow keep his mind off that which he deemed too painful to contemplate.

Jonathan did not participate in the preparation for the excursion in any way, but instead busied himself in the kitchen, sitting sullenly in a corner with pen and paper. He was coy about what he was writing when Sarah asked him - he merely shrugged and continued his script. Yet she had thought she spotted that it was a poem from the pattern of the letters, and that its title was the rather terse, and abject, ‘Culpability Through Omission”. She told Titus she reckoned that it was just Jonathan’s way of dealing with the sombre humour into which they had all been cast by the day’s tragic turn. If it eased his heart to write, then it was better for him that he do so. “I wish I could say the same for myself.” She added. “My own heart is heavy indeed. As for our little charade,” she sighed. “I really don’t think I can do it, Titus. God give me the strength!”
“All going well we can have the whole thing over in an hour.” Titus reassured her, though he had to admit to himself that he was not looking forward to it either. “If we can time our arrival within minutes of Cuffe we should be all right. Let’s hope the other cast members are there themselves!”
“Do you think Briar will show up?” She asked with real fear in her voice.
“I’m sure he won’t. Whatever his association with Drogheda, I doubt if the Earl would want him there in the man’s present circumstances, both physically and in the eyes of the law, whatever there is of it in these parts. It might cause too many awkward questions to be raised.”

He didn’t express his own fear; that Beresford, Briar’s ‘companion’ earlier, might be there. When Quinn had mentioned his name Titus had recognised it immediately. It was on DeLacey’s list – Beresford’s small estate near Dundalk was one that his father had acquired from Cromwell’s administration for his services during the 1647 campaign. In latter years the son, Edward, had been involved to a large extent in the extensive land development around Dublin and had amassed a tidy sum from acting as a ‘name’ – a person who temporarily held title to an allotment of land so that the real buyer did not exceed the quota set by the civic authorities. It was a lucrative business, what with the amount of property speculation that was taking place. The legislation that Ormonde had enacted to avoid one powerful man, or group of men, from rivalling his own extensive influence over the new development had patently failed to work. ‘Names’ by definition could never end up as major landlords in the city, at least as big as those that they facilitated, but they allowed people like Moore, Jervis, Stafford and others to nominally remain within the legislative restrictions, while still amassing huge tracts of the new city and the future revenues from it for themselves. It was a common practise, and one that Ormonde had obviously decided to turn a blind eye to, now that his reign was drawing to a close and with so much that he had envisaged still to be accomplished. If Beresford’s shooting of Quinn had been prompted by something other than an over reaction to Quinn’s rather ‘enthusiastic’ attempt at creating a diversion, then this indeed added a sinister twist to things. Quite what the implications might be Titus had yet to tease out fully, but he knew in his heart that they could only be calamitous, especially if Beresford, or Briar, guessed of Quinn’s association with Titus. Still, whatever the implications might or might not be, the night’s work had yet to be completed.

The road from Balbriggan to Mellifont, the Earl of Drogheda’s home and site of an ancient abbey that once rivalled Armagh in importance, was part of one of the two great northern coastal routes that had existed since antiquity. Both were well-known haunts of footpads and highwaymen each night as darkness descended. ‘Raparees’, as they were known in Ireland, came in all shapes and sizes. Some, like their English contemporaries, were in it purely for the profit, and even enjoyed a roguish popularity despite their lawlessness, much as many of their English counterparts who drew huge crowds to their executions in the Tyburn fields. Others, however, were members of an embittered class peculiar to Ireland – people from families despoiled in character as thoroughly as their fortunes had been ruined by English confiscations and persecution. These were no dashing highwaymen, but instead often ruthless and well organised bands of ruffians who saw anything English about those whom they encountered on the public highways as indicating a valid target for their rapaciousness, be it even just an accent or a mode of dress. They were most rampant in those areas where the borders between English influence and the old Irish traditions were defined, however vaguely, and where a recent, or a major incursion into the old way of life was still remembered and resented bitterly. There were many such areas in Ireland, but the land that separated the old English Pale from the Ulster colonies was a fertile one for such bitterness, and these two ancient routes both traversed this territory.

For this reason the Earl of Drogheda had taken steps to secure the road that most of his guests would take, by deploying the local militia along its stretches – much as he had secured the race meeting earlier. A general proclamation had been declared too that anyone arrested by these militia that night would meet with the severest punishment possible, administered on the spot. And though the exact nature of the punishment had not been described, it had left little to peoples’ imaginations nonetheless, and so the road was all but deserted as they proceeded along its way. Sam, who of the entire group seemed to have retained most of his spirit, had agreed to play the part of coachman for the night and had taken great effort to look the part. Wrapped in one of Quinn’s heavy mantles, clasped tight against the bitterly cold wind that swept in from the sea once daylight had vanished, and with a stout crop in one hand, the reins grasped firmly in the other, he steered a steady progress through the townlands of Gormanston and Julianstown. From here the road veered inland and skirted the township of Drogheda, heading on up the beautiful Boyne Valley towards the old abbey estate, which in the time of Queen Elizabeth had become home to the powerful Moore family. By the dim light of the lantern swinging on the hook above his window, Titus could only just about descry the odd milestone, hedge and wall along the way – the rest was pitch darkness. Occasionally he heard the grunt of a horse other than one of their own, or a clipped salute expressed by a passing patrol, but he never saw them pass by, except as dark shadows only slightly more pale than their surroundings. Sam’s return salute was equally clipped and never changed from “Evening, sirs!” or “G’night!” when he met one. If the lad was nervous, as surely he must be, then he was doing a damned fine job in disguising it. Heartened by Sam’s performance, Titus vowed he would emulate it with one as fine if he could.

The approach to the Earl of Drogheda’s mansion was up a long avenue at the head of which stood a hugely ornate granite entrance with massive iron gates. All the guests would have to come by this route so Titus directed Sam to pull up a few hundred yards short of the gates, extinguish the lantern, and rest the carriage and horses behind some trees by the roadside. With a reassuring pat on Sarah’s shoulder he clambered out of the vehicle and ran as silently as he could down to the gates. About thirty yards from them, he stationed himself behind some blackberry brambles and waited. Although the gates were open, two guards stood sentry, and a warm brazier had been lit which served the dual purpose of warming the sentries on this chill night and indicating the entrance to the guests. It was not long indeed before a carriage bearing such guests duly arrived. Titus was pleased when he realised that the guards had been instructed to elicit the name of each party before allowing them entrance – it would help him identify who had arrived at the house before them - and one sentry had a scroll of invitees against which he checked the patron’s responses before allowing them to proceed. Titus, from his hidden vantage point downwind of these exchanges, could hear their conversations perfectly.

“You carry?” The guard demanded of the coach driver just arrived.
“Sir Francis and Lady Pilkington. Their daughter Camellia too.”
A rustle of paper indicated that the guard was perusing his list. “Very good – proceed.”
Another carriage arrived, and the same scene played out. Again, Titus didn’t recognise the names, but he could hear them well enough. For a further half an hour he kept his vigil and in the period counted over thirty coaches through the gates, listening closely for the guests identifying themselves each time. At last he heard what he’d been waiting for.
“You carry?”
“Mister Jeremiah Wilson and his wife Mary.”
“Proceed.”

It began to rain softly and the realisation that he was getting damp prompted him to move. If they left it too late to enter in any case it might well draw too much unwanted attention to their arrival. He would have to take a chance on the remaining guests. Back in the carriage he told Sarah that Wilson had arrived, but thankfully no MacCarthy, Briar, or anyone else who might know of them or who they really were. It was hard to see in the dark but it appeared that she nodded in acknowledgement. “Very well,” he said quietly. “Let’s get it over with.” With a sigh he set the blasted wig that he had come to despise back on his head. Sarah helped him adjust it. “Simon is faring well on his day off from paradise,” she attempted levity but her nervousness showed. Titus smiled to reassure her, set the spectacles on his nose, and stuck his head out of the window. He whispered to Sam to take them back onto the road and approach the guards.

Sam pulled up by the brazier. Titus bit his lip – the lad had been getting the damned name wrong all day, this was no time to do so now.
“You carry?”
“Mister Gilbert Lowe and his wife Susanna.”
Titus waited for the barked ‘Proceed!’ It didn’t come.
“One moment sir!” The guard conferred quietly with his companion who held the list by the brazier’s light as they scanned it thoroughly. Then he came back over to Sam. “I’m afraid that name is not on our list sir, and I have specific orders to allow nobody through without this authorisation.”
Titus thought that he had better intervene quickly. He stepped out of the carriage and approached the two sentries. “Excuse me, but my invitation was from the Earl himself and issued only this afternoon. Perhaps it has been added as a postscript?”
The soldier studied his paper again. “No, there is no Lowe on this list sir!”
“Can you send someone to check at the house?”
“I’m afraid we cannot leave this post sir. Sorry. Perhaps if you wish to wait you can be vouched for by another guest, but I’m afraid I cannot let you in under any other circumstances. If it’s any consolation sir, we have already refused two aldermen and a bishop already.” Titus had heard no such refusals and it struck him that the guard had started somewhat upon hearing the name Lowe. If it was the case that he had been instructed specifically to deny entry to anyone of that name, as Titus now suspected, he was not prepared to state as much, but stuck rigidly to his prepared excuse for refusal of admission. “It’s the rule tonight, I’m afraid. Absolutely no one except those on the list, or those who can be vouched for, as I said.”
“And even then it’s not everyone on the list can vouch either!” The other sentry chimed in. “Only those that His Lordship has told us as can!” He was rebuked with a sharp “Shut up!” from his companion, who obviously did not want all their instructions on the night relayed in detail to every guest – especially ones who were being refused admittance themselves.

Titus cursed beneath his breath. That was it then! As strangers with an assumed name there was nobody who could validate their identities, and nor could they leave immediately either without simply verifying in the sentry’s minds that they had indeed been impostors. Their deception therefore meant that they at least had to go through the pretence of waiting for another party to vouch for them as the guard had suggested. It at least gave them time to think of a way round this seemingly insurmountable obstacle. Sam pulled the carriage to one side as a coach-and-four veered in from the road behind them. Titus, who had stepped down from the carriage to talk to the sentry, had a clear view inside the latest coach. He couldn’t believe his luck when he saw the aristocratic, and much painted profile inside the glass – it was the young fool who had latched on to Sarah at the races earlier! This might be their ticket in.
But damn! What was his name? For the life of him he could not remember it, so eager had he been at the time to free himself and Sarah from the young fool’s attentions earlier, that he had placed the man’s absence above his identity in importance. Sarah would surely remember it, but if he went to ask her it might be too late. He’d wait for their driver to announce it, and pray that he did.

“You carry?” the soldier asked.
“Sir Philip and Lady Roche.”
Roche? That wasn’t it! Was he mistaken? He peered again and satisfied himself that indeed it was the young lecher inside. The lecher in question however just stared ahead, not paying any attention to Titus whatsoever. Fortunately, the soldier peered into the coach too.
“Sorry driver, but I see you carry three passengers. Who is the third?”
“I beg your pardon, sir,” the driver replied, “their nephew, Hubert Fenton.”
Fenton! That was it! Before the guard could order them on, Titus let out a shout. “Mr Fenton! Hubert! Hoy! How are you?” Hopefully Fenton was entitled to vouch for fellow guests as the guard had stipulated, and if so, then even if the guard had been given direct instructions to refuse Titus entry, this young fool’s authority should be sufficient to either gain them admission, or at least force the guard to admit that they were indeed barred entry.
All in the coach, including its driver, turned to gaze at the approaching Titus, except for young Fenton, who, save for a sharp glance in the mapmaker’s direction, stared straight ahead, rapped the carriage ceiling with his stick sharply, and then screamed abusively at the benighted driver to proceed, or the next jab from his pointed stick would be into the man’s more private parts of his anatomy.
“He wants me to proceed,” the driver said apologetically to the sentry.
“You may,” the sentry replied, darting a sympathetic look at the driver, and the carriage rumbled off up the avenue into the darkness.
Titus and the sentry exchanged glances; the guard giving him a shrug that could mean anything from “The nobility, what can you do with them?” to “Are you still here?” and so a dejected Titus ambled dejectedly back to Sarah, who had been watching from the carriage. “Did you see that?” he asked through the window of the coach to its distraught passenger. “The little bastard ignored me!”
“You mean the little bastard who we abandoned in the company of thieves and footpads on the beach?” Sarah asked. “I think we’d as leave go. There’s no one else bar Drogheda himself knows us as Lowe.”
“You’re right. It looks like we overestimated our cunning alas. Poor Cuffe will be very embarrassed to put it mildly when he looks around for his ‘legal ally’ tonight and finds none. Let’s hope embarrassment is the least of his worries!” He tried to mask the disappointment in his voice but he knew that Sarah understood the implications as well as he. Cuffe on his own stood little chance of prizing Wilson from Moore’s protective clutches, and without that then all their plans, their work, and Quinn’s grievous injury had been in vain. Worse, there was the matter of Quinn’s farm and its ‘deed’, the document that formed the crux of their ploy. Without a charge being levelled against Wilson, the deed legally remained the property of the bank. It was of no matter now that they had brilliantly substituted the actual document for one that stood to bring down Wilson, and probably quite a few others too, when it featured in the charge. It was the actual deed to the Balbriggan farm that the bank would rightly expect to see.

If Cuffe’s part in their strategy had not met with such ill fortune as their own had that afternoon, then the incriminating document should be in the captain’s possession at the moment. But the rules of the game had suddenly changed, and in this case holding the ace now was no longer an advantage, but a deadly liability. Wilson, who was semi-literate by all accounts, might not spot the fact that the title Cuffe was about to present was different to the one he had ‘purchased’ that afternoon, but his crony MacCarthy, who had witnessed the transaction in the Laytown gambling tent and might well be a guest this evening, even though he may not have seen the document itself would immediately deduce that he and his friend had been the unwitting targets of a con and would not be shy in saying so. If Henry Moore chose to protect his agent against the charge about to be made, and their ploy hinged on him being dissuaded from doing just that, then Titus faced the gloomy prospect of returning to Balbriggan to tell Grace that she now stood to lose not just her husband, but their farm and livelihood as well.

Then an even worse scenario came to mind. If Cuffe did not realise, through Titus’ absence at the dinner tonight that their plan had been scuppered, and proceeded with stating the charge against Wilson, it would most certainly mean an even worse fate for all concerned in the subterfuge. A man like Henry Moore was not going to take kindly to being embarrassed in front of his guests by the revelation that his own extensive holdings in Dublin had just been ‘sold’ back to his bank for fifty pounds on a Meath beach! The repercussions of this monumental gaffe on Titus’ part would definitely spell imprisonment or worse, not just for him but for all those involved, including Moore’s enemies and Titus’ allies in Dublin Castle. He realised that they must try to intercept Cuffe, an almost impossible task as the captain had already decided that, given the task he had been set, he and his men would not take the obvious road to Mellifont.

For quite a few minutes he stood next to the carriage and pondered their doom, unwilling to give the order to move but growing ever more sick, and even more certain, that they had blundered badly in their assessment of their own guile. Eventually, with a sigh, he realised that this was indeed the end of the road for their adventure, and he looked in to see Sarah tearfully regarding the hedge outside her window, its leaves rustling in the chill night breeze, her elbow resting on the sill and one small bloom caught between her thumb and finger as she idled with it. Her brow furrowed as she contemplated its mean blue petals, her mind’s eye obviously contemplating something much meaner, and darker indeed. He wished to console her but in truth he needed consoling himself, as realisation of the impending disaster that he had orchestrated overtook his own conscience too. No words would come, and she, for her part, could not even bear to look him in the eye.
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