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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 2)

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nordmann
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Join date : 2011-12-25

20130611
PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 2)

The innkeeper arrived to clear their table. When he recognised Titus he smiled. “Oh, Mr Perry, it’s yourself. I believe we may have located your friend – the tall old soldier you asked about?”
“Oh?” Titus had been startled out of his thoughts by the innkeeper’s interruption. “Thank you. Where is he?”
“Well Robert McGann who brings me my milk every other day says he saw the man in question yesterday, out by the old abbey grounds. Says he got talking to him, thinking the poor old divil was lost. There’s naught but a ruin in that field now. Said he was up from Dublin and McGann recognised the Hospital tunic. Tall man too, very tall.”
“And was he? Lost, I mean?” Titus found it hard to believe Cormac could ever get lost.
“McGann says the man said ‘no, but that so much else is’. He was quite taken with the remark. He repeated it several times. Then he refused the offer from McGann for a ride back into town. McGann says he looked like he was looking for something in the field. When he went past the field an hour or so later there was no sign of him. It must be him though, and at least he’s around.”
Titus nodded. “Yes indeed, thank you innkeeper. If you hear more in the meantime let me know. Oh, by the way if my friend Miss O’Reilly enquires, can you tell her that I’ll be back here by eleven? I need to go out for a while.”
“You be careful now sir, it’s dark and they call a curfew at ten these days.”
“Of course, thank you.”
“And sir?,” The innkeeper’s expression betrayed his discomfort. “I will not want to talk out of turn, but it is only fair to say that Mister McGann remarked none too favourably on the man’s accent and demeanour.” He seemed unsure how better to elaborate so simply stopped at that.
“And?” Titus asked sharply.
“Well sir, that’s the second man you’ve inquired about whose name suggests they would not be welcome round these parts, and this one you say is a friend. It would be remiss of me not to advise you, as a visitor, that such inquiry could lead to certain folk round here taking exception …” he trailed off, at last having run out of ways it seemed to make his point without imparting offence.
Titus recognised the man’s discomfort and its reason, though struggled to disguise his contempt nevertheless for its motive. “I have authority and a duty to map every inch of ground in this land regardless of who is standing on it, Mr Adams. Folk round here can think what they bloody well like but if they impede me in my task for any reason, no matter how petty, there will be repercussions that might offend them rather more than simply hearing a Gaelic name from my lips. And you can tell them that they’ll likely hear me utter some more before I’m gone, so they’d better get used to it. They can set their noses back in joint after I’m gone.”
Adams’ expression could be taken as indicative of regret, but for whose sake it was being felt was not too obvious. He simply nodded and left the table without another word.

As Titus left the inn and turned down English Street towards the Market Square he noticed Lynam and Griffin, Cuffe’s men, peering into closed shop windows ahead of him. The poor lads must be bored out of their wits, he reckoned, maybe it was time to give them something to do. He called out to them and they waved, waiting for him to approach.
“Men! I believe there’s a curfew in two hours. We’d all better be safely tucked up by then.”
Lynam snorted – he’d been here before. “Curfew doesn’t apply to soldiers. But you’re right, Mr Perry. There’s little other to do in this town than sleep.”
“In that case,” Titus asked, “which of you would welcome a bit of excitement?”
Both their faces lit up. Titus laughed. “Well maybe there’s room for both of you in it. I dare say I can survive here without your protection for a day. Listen, we can’t talk here in the street. We need to find somewhere quiet.”

They ambled up the hill towards the cathedral, its dark mass silhouetted against the evening sky, dappled with thick grey clouds scudding quickly across it, driven by the freshening wind. Stepping through the gates they wandered around to the graveyard, sloping down from its eastern walls. Griffin, to whom Titus had yet to speak, pointed to the gravestones, appearing like gnarled teeth in the weak light which caught their slanted and crooked surfaces but was absorbed completely, it seemed, by the dark soil beneath. “They say Brian Ború is buried here.” He spoke reverentially.
Titus had heard of the name, but knew little about the man. He asked Griffin to expand on his comment, as much as to hear Griffin speak – his taciturn demeanour had led Titus to suspect that the man was melancholic – as to hear the legend of the High King of Ireland who, as Griffin explained, united the great tribes while still a young man and fought the Viking invaders, defeating them at Clontarf, only to die in the battle and his hard work be unravelled by treacherous allies in his wake. His body, it was said, had been borne on a chariot to Armagh, where he was buried in the chapel of Ireland’s greatest saint. There was no evidence of his grave here at all anymore, but that just added to the mystique and worship of one of Ireland’s most enigmatic leaders of old.
“The story reminds me much of Alexander the Great.” Titus remarked when Griffin had finished his tale.
“There are some similarities yes, but there are important differences.” Griffin replied, almost apologetically, as if he should not have gainsaid Titus’ opinion.
“Oh? How so?” Titus was warming to the lad, and once Griffin sensed that he was not being criticised for his view, spoke more readily.
“Well, for one thing, Alexander was forging an empire and met his death in doing that.” The lad knew his legends. “Brian Ború’s empire was well established, and he died defending it.” He paused.
“That is the only difference?” Titus could see that the lad’s answer had not been his first thought, and had been said for the sake of diplomacy.
Lynam muttered under his breath jocularly, “Oh - oh. Here we go.” But his companion was not to be deterred.
“No,” Griffin replied, after a moment’s reflection in which he obviously assessed how much he could say to this mapmaker without causing offence. “Ború was a man driven to heroics for the cause of keeping what was his and denying his enemy their claim over it. Alexander however was more akin to the Dane than Brian Ború, an upstart who wished to rule the world. A childish ambition allowed to go unchecked, and which brought only tragedy in its wake, even for Alexander.”
“And you think England is a modern Alexander?”
Griffin’s face was flushed with embarrassment. He knew that he had spoken out of turn, and risked offending the man who was, for the present, his commander. But he had made a point, and wished to refine it. “Sometimes, you do have to ask yourself, why? Is the effort she makes to secure what she covets not greater than any benefit she may derive from it? We may speak the language, and wear the clothes, and even mimic the government with your king as ours. But will we ever be English for all that?”
“You ask two very good questions Griffin,” Titus replied. “And I know the answer to neither, except maybe that the effort England exerts, as you say, can secure nothing until those it governs will it. It is one thing to forge an empire, and another thing entirely to maintain it, as both Alexander and the king Ború discovered to their cost.”

Lynam, who Titus reckoned couldn’t ‘give a flying fart’, as Briar had once remarked, about Brian Ború or Alexander’s campaigns in Asia, tried to reintroduce the original topic. “You said you have a job for us?”
Titus nodded. He knew that what Griffin had said, for an Irish soldier employed in the king’s service, and to an Englishman at that, had been a brave statement. As much to put the man at ease as hint at confidentiality, he rested his hand on Griffin’s shoulder. “Yes lads – but nothing so bold as defeating the Danes or the Persians. How good are you at telling white lies?”
Both men smiled bashfully, which Titus took to be a ‘yes’. “Good. I’d like you to take a small ride tomorrow – about ten Irish miles or so to a place called Tandragee. Find some innocent excuse – a lame horse or something – and then call at a certain house there for assistance. You get my drift?”
“You don’t want them to think we’re there officially?”
“Yes, Lynam. And all I want you to do is come back with your impression of the place and those in it. That’s all. How big is it inside do you reckon? How many people? And especially anything you might notice as odd. Do you think you can do that without raising suspicion?”
They nodded assent.
“Good, report back to me tomorrow evening.”

They left the church grounds and wandered back towards the deserted marketplace. A patrol of militia entered from the other side at the same time. Both groups saluted each other and the soldiers marched past quickly. Titus, who was anxious about his friend Cormac, asked the lads to return to the inn and hastened to catch up with the patrol, hailing its commander as he did so. They stopped and the captain of the guard saluted Titus again.
“Sir, it is not advised to be on the streets this late.”
“I know – I have been looking for a friend. A tall man. Wears the tunic of the Royal Hospital in Dublin. You haven’t seen him? He is elderly, and I fear he may be lost.”
One of the patrol answered. “I think I know of whom you speak sir. He arrived here only two days ago. We spoke to him.”
“Did you learn where he is staying by any chance?”
“Of course. There is a small inn on Abbey Street and the corner with Callan Street known as the Gullion. He is there.” The young soldier spoke courteously, but Titus was sure he detected a note of derision in his voice – enough to raise the hackles but not open enough to challenge. He let it pass and thanked him. The captain reiterated his earlier warning. “I would leave it till the morrow to make any social calls, sir. Where are you staying yourself?”
“In The Inn on English Street.”
“Then you are not far from your bed. I suggest you make to it. We will be calling curfew in a few minutes.”

The patrol marched off down Scotch Street towards the barracks and Titus headed back towards his inn. On reaching it however he proceeded up English Street and turned into Abbey Street, ever watchful for more patrols. At last he saw in the darkness ahead the lighted sign of The Gullion, though all seemed very quiet inside. On reaching it he found the door bolted from within and it took several raps on both it and the window before a young boy opened the heavy door tentatively.
“Yes sir?”
“I wish to visit a friend who stays here. A man called Cormac?”
The boy was visibly uneasy, as if he did not quite know what to do next. He muttered something about coming back tomorrow but Titus, nervous about being on the street lest another patrol make its rounds, grew insistent. “Please, if he is here, convey a message immediately that his friend Titus awaits outside.”
The door was closed and Titus waited for a nervous minute or two before it opened again. It was Cormac himself who stood in the doorway and he beckoned Titus in.

Once inside he shook his hand vigorously and motioned him to the back of the inn. A small taproom there held about twenty men, all of whom ceased their conversations and looked up as Cormac led Titus inside. Cormac indicated a stool by the bar and gestured Titus to sit down. The bartender nodded to him and asked him a question in Gaelic. Cormac interjected immediately. “Titus is not familiar with our tongue Stiofán, but it is not a mark against the man. He is a friend of mine, and one to be trusted. He’ll have a whiskey.”
The barman eyed Titus warily but poured a whiskey for both of them and left them to talk in peace. “So Titus mo bhuachaill, how was your journey? Not as sad as mine I hope.”
“Sad? How so?”
“It is a land that has outgrown me I fear. I belong nowhere now. Even my name in this town has died. I was challenged by some soldiers yesterday as I searched for what was left of the old abbey and the grave of Saint Patrick, would you credit that? Many years ago a priest told me where to find both should I ever come here, and not to believe what the locals told me as to where the grave lay, but he may as well have been describing the moon as Armagh. It is gone.”
“It was the same soldiers who directed me here, though with some reservations on their part. And speaking of here, where am I?” He looked briefly around him.
“In an Irish inn, full of Irish people Titus. It would seem in Ireland such is now a strange thing.”

They spoke a bit more about the place and their impressions of it. Cormac, when challenged, had had the wit to state his name in English and took pride in having found a first name that meant the same as his own. Cormac, in the old tongue, indicated a charioteer, and he had remembered hearing many years ago that the Latin name Marcus meant something similar. However he had refused to sully his surname by translation so had invented a fictitious one on the spot. In deference to his mission here to pray at the grave of his saint he had declared himself to be a Fitzpatrick for the occasion.
“Marcus Fitzpatrick?” Titus said it aloud. “It has an air of majesty about it all right. Suits you Cormac.”
Cormac scowled and then laughed. “The good lord will know who I am well enough when he gets to see me. That’s all that matters!”
“Then the good lord has one over on me, Cormac my friend. What is your surname?” Titus knew that this was a question that had hung between them unasked for all the years they’d known each other and was expecting his inquiry to be rebuffed. Instead Cormac closed his eyes, and with head bowed, practically intoned the words ‘MacGiollaidh Mór Ó Luadaigh as Tír na Feitheamhraigh’. Then he raised his glass in salute to an invisible guest before him and swallowed a large gulp of whiskey. Placing the glass back on the counter he turned to Titus. “I swore I would never say those words in any company where they would meet with ridicule or disrespect, or even lack of comprehension. But that was when I was young and foolish enough to think a time would come when I could say them with pride to any man. I was wrong Titus. The time will never come. It is fortunate even that I can say them with pride to a friend.”
“Thank you Cormac. But I have to confess a lack of comprehension, as well you know. Would you honour me with a translation? I have heard that Tír means a land. What is Tír na Feitheamhraigh?”
Cormac smiled ruefully. “Once it was an ancient legend – the Land of Those Who Wait – now it is the truth. It turns out it was a prophecy after all. It was from this land that An Luadaigh, my ancestor, sprang and it is in this land his poor descendants now find themselves. We’ll drink to it though, it is not every day a prophecy is seen to be borne out to its conclusion. Stiofán, dhá Uisce Bheatha le d’thoil!”

If Titus’ presence had caused some unease on his arrival it appeared to have evaporated, and those in the bar who had eyed him with caution earlier now saluted him in passing. It seemed that the patrons already held Cormac in some respect and Titus was the beneficiary by extension of this. His initial wariness had also deserted him and he chatted freely to Cormac and anyone else who joined their company as the night progressed. Maybe he had one whiskey too many, but he found himself relating the story of his Laytown adventures a little too loudly to Cormac and noticed too late that he had acquired an enthusiastic audience for the tale, who insisted he proceed when he stalled at this realisation. Quickly editing the details as he spoke and leaving out the names of those involved, he recounted the duping of the corrupt magistrate and the coup de grace at the big lord’s banquet (demoting himself to the role of spectator at the proceedings) to much merriment and applause from his listeners. It seemed that anyone with the nerve and know-how to put one over on the nobility was all right in their eyes, and he was regaled for further narrations, which he politely rebuffed. In fact, when he heard the innkeeper’s clock chime the hour he realised that he had better be off in a hurry. Making a quick arrangement with Cormac to meet the next day, he headed for the door and waited for the innkeeper’s son to open it, check the street, and declare the way free of patrols. Once the coast was declared clear, he made with all haste through the pitch-dark streets back to The Inn.

Sarah was waiting in the taproom when he arrived. She sat alone, and one did not have to be a savant to see that this met with the disapproval of the innkeeper and his other clients, who numbered about a dozen. Compared to the raucous good humour of the place he had just left, this place seemed more akin to a funeral parlour than an inn. She had before her a pot of coffee, which had long since grown cold, and as she sipped from her cup she looked studiously ahead of her, not turning her eye to left or right at all. When Titus stepped into her field of vision she smiled.

“Thank god. If I get one more frown from the good people of this establishment I swear I will hurl this blasted coffee cup at them.” She spoke softly so no one else could hear her.
“You drink coffee?” He asked. “A fine drink if one can afford it.”
“It’s all they would give me!” Apparently, she had deduced, the sale of intoxicants to ladies was against the policy of The Inn.
“It’s a wonder he can accommodate any pilgrims here so!” Titus remarked. “No matter, I’ve found a place you might prefer should you want to imbibe, and I found Cormac there too. He sends his regards and will meet us in the morning. By the way, I decided shortly after you left me earlier that we should indeed take Holly if he wants to come. I must apologise if it sounded like I was ignoring your counsel. You were right to be vexed with me.”
“Well it is I who should apologise. I have been sitting here being stabbed by every glance from our fellow guests for long enough to realise that it is obviously my purgatory for having been so vain earlier. I think I get a bit above my station sometimes.”
“You could not stay in your room? Solitude must be preferable to what you describe down here!”
She grimaced. “Solitude should imply silence and not the din of your neighbours reciting the bible at full volume to each other. They are obviously preachers and are learning passages by heart. I swear if I heard once more how Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt I would have been tempted to join them!”
“The preachers?”
“No, the bloody children of Israel! Forty years in the wilderness has its attractions sometimes.”
Titus laughed out loud, which drew a flurry of glares from The Inn’s patrons and some audible ‘tutt-tutts’. “When it comes to the enemies of his state I think Arran could add Particular Presbyterian Patrons to his ‘P’ list! Well thanks for waiting up for me but I’m afraid, ranting preachers or no, I must a-bed.”
“I waited to apologise to you Titus.” Sarah said.
He paused. “Then thank you, you put me to shame, and rightly so, in the matter of my own consideration for others. I vow I will endeavour to consult your opinion more in the matters that face us, as they face us both now and not just me.”
“Titus Perry,” she said, placing her cup down gently, “in time to come I may give you reason to regret that statement.” Then she smiled.
“It is a regret I feel I shall gladly suffer. Allow me to escort you to your chamber door madam, I feel a minute has passed so it is high time the good patrons here are scandalised once more!”
Taking his arm, she rose and they stepped out to the stairs together, while the room behind erupted into a bronchial seizure of disapproving coughs and splutters.

Breakfast at The Inn was surprisingly good – fried eggs and bacon, with an apple curd dressing and as much cider as one wished to wash it all down. The meal was served by the proud maker of the curd, a young girl called Ruth, whose friendly chatter and general joviality was in marked contrast to the demeanour of most of those whom she served, the bulk of whom being the same patrons who had spent yesterday evening glaring at poor Sarah. The innkeeper, who Ruth told them was her father John Adams, had taken advantage of the fine weather to move the tables and chairs out to a small garden near the orchard behind the inn, a most agreeable location as the flower beds that marked it out were just beginning to come out in summer blooms.

Between visits to the kitchen and the other guests’ tables Ruth, who had struck up an instant rapport with Sarah, explained in snatched conversation that the monthly convention of the Presbytery Court was taking place in the Meeting House – hence the influx of so many elders and ministers to the town. The general area had a small Presbyterian flock but it was deeply rooted, and they obviously were quite assiduous in maintaining their unity by the use of the Court system of administration. This fascinated Sarah, who had grown up in a similar community in Dublin. The Huguenot worshippers however, who had also derived their faith from Calvin’s teachings, had been more or less told to abandon this form of administration when they were granted refuge in Ireland. The crown, both King and Parliament, abhorred the lack of hierarchical command in the system and saw it as a fertile source of rebellion and insubordination. The Huguenots had therefore settled for a mixture of two methods, still meeting locally in groups led by a minister but using the facilities, and even some of the terms, of the Anglican episcopacy in which they had taken refuge. Here, however, there was no such concession to the church of the land. While Ruth Adams might have laughed at the sternness and lack of humour of her father’s guests, both Titus and Sarah could deduce that in a world where one stood to be slain by one’s neighbours, and indeed one’s rulers, should circumstances decree it, it was no wonder that the business of survival and self-administration was conducted with such earnestness.

As if to prove his thoughts as accurate, a sudden explosion startled everyone and elicited a scream from some of those dining. A bottle had been lobbed from behind the cover of some bushes that separated the garden from the orchards outside, and the delighted laughter of young children could be heard as they ran off. It had landed harmlessly between the tables and had smashed against one of the flowerbeds, but the incident had shaken a lot of the guests and some rose to leave without finishing their meals. John Adams came running out and pleaded with everyone to remain seated, then he roared at his scullery boy to go and kick the lard out of the youths responsible. The scullery boy, a rather simple looking but well built lad, did not hesitate, and vaulted the bushes in pursuit of the perpetrators of the crime. Moments later squeals of pain coming from one of the guilty party could be heard from down at The Commons. The guests seemed satisfied that justice had been done and continued their meal. Titus and Sarah, having finished theirs in any case, stood up and went back inside.

“A lovely breakfast Mr Adams, and first class entertainment!” Titus remarked jovially as he passed the innkeeper, who was taking advantage of the absence of furniture to give his dining room floor a good wash with a mop.
Adams just grunted in reply as at that moment the scullery boy reappeared grinning broadly. “Bloody Teegues, Mr Adams, eh?” Before the youth had a chance to say anything further Adams barked at him to resume washing the bottles out back.
“There’s children in this town that no one owns.” He stopped his mopping. “I hope you weren’t put off your food?” He asked Sarah.
She laughed. “It would take more than a broken bottle to put me off your breakfast Mr Adams. It was delicious. I’ll even forgive you for making me drink all that coffee last night.”
His voice lowered and he nodded in the direction of the garden. “Once they’re left you can drink something stronger if you want. But I’ll make no bones about it, they’re good trade for me, and they only use my inn on account of the fact that I stick to their principles when they’re here. I apologise if that doesn’t suit you. I should have told you when you arrived.”
“It’s not a problem at all Mr Adams,” Titus said mischievously. “We can always escape to The Gullion in the meantime for a drink.”
Adams froze where he stood, and studied the head of his mop for a moment before he spoke, obviously trying to select his next words with some care. “Look,” he said. “You’re guests here and you can come and go as you please. It’s no business of mine. But I would ask you not to go there, not when you’re staying here leastwise. I’m afraid I must insist on that.”
This seemed to astonish Sarah, but Titus had been half expecting such a response to his remark. “Well you’ve asked now Mr Adams, and my reply is also as you said. We will come and go as we please. In a day or two we expect a colleague from Dublin to arrive with about a dozen men looking for accommodation, and with the money to pay for it too. Now I would hate to think that they should be deprived a chance to sample your excellent cooking because you evicted their foreman beforehand. I’ll leave you to think about that. Miss Reilly and I will be back this evening to enjoy some of that wonderful cider your daughter tells us you brew here, that is if our fellow guests don’t object of course. Or perhaps we’ll dine in The Gullion tonight. Either way, I look forward to seeing you again. Good day.”

Outside on the street Sarah asked him if perhaps they shouldn’t think of changing their quarters and expressed her dislike of Adams. “The man obviously has all the backbone of a jellyfish Titus. He needed to wind himself up to quite an extent before he could even speak his mind, and his mind has only one concern on it I’d wager. He’s just thinking about his business, and the man’s business is to rank his guests in importance it seems, with some of us way down the pecking order!”
“No, he’s thinking about a bit more than that Sarah, believe me. He depends on the Presbyterian Brotherhood for more than the once-a-month trade he mentioned.”
“How do you mean?”
“Did you not notice …?”
Before he had a chance to continue they were hailed from across the street. A well-dressed and corpulent gentleman was waving a cane and shouting at them. When they stopped, he made his way briskly across the road and approached them. “Mr Perry? Miss Reilly?” He was almost out of breath as he spoke.
“Yes?” Titus asked.
“Christopher Cummins, barrister, at your service,” he panted.
“I wasn’t aware we needed the services of a barrister Mr Cummins.” Titus grinned as he said it. Then he grasped the man’s free hand and shook it. “Good to see you. Sir William advised me to contact you when I arrived here. You have saved me the task. Thank you.”
“Pish! I was in town and I heard of your arrival at the barracks yesterday. I was just on my way to meet you at your inn.”
“We have just left it, and much to its owner’s chagrin are now on our way to The Gullion to meet someone. Would you care to accompany us? Sarah, Mr Cummins is a friend of Sir William Robinson. His estate nearby is one we have marked to survey. I take it that Sir William then advised you of our impending arrival?”
Cummins nodded, but as they set off towards The Gullion he hesitated. “I am duty bound to inform you that my presence at that establishment might lead to some embarrassment.”
Titus laughed again. “Well then, this is the second hostelry in the town already today that will have to adapt to accommodate us Mr Cummins. It appears that we have launched on a crusade of sorts by merely turning up in this town.”
“I fear I am not the crusading type.” Cummins seemed genuinely nervous at the prospect of visiting the inn in question.
“Neither am I, normally. It must be the air in this country. Don’t worry, I will vouch for your safety.”
Cummins shrugged. “It’s not an issue of safety. It’s one of hospitality I fear – you’ll see.” He walked with them.

As they turned the corner into Abbey Street, Cummins offered his condolences to Sarah over the loss of her father. Robinson had obviously informed him thoroughly. “I never met the man but believe me, his efforts were well noted by some people here. My work and his were sometimes to the same end. Some legal cases he undertook in Dublin made my job here a lot easier too I can tell you.”
Sarah seemed surprised at this. “My father was not a legal man Mr Cummins. I was aware that he helped some Catholics financially to defend themselves in court when their property was under threat but I did not think it had import beyond that.”
“Oh indeed it had Miss Reilly. The law of the land is the law of the whole land, though there are many who need reminding of that fact sometimes. It helps to have a precedent set in Dublin, believe me.”
“I take it you defend Catholics then?” Sarah asked bluntly.
“I will represent anyone who feels they have been wronged Miss Reilly.”
“Then you must be a very busy man,” she remarked.

They entered The Gullion – its door, unlike last night, being wide open. Stiofán, the barman to whom Titus had been introduced last night, was behind the bar stacking jars, and froze in astonishment as his three guests entered. It was Cummins who spoke first.
“Stephen Reagh! Good morning. Pray, continue with your work. We are here apparently to meet someone only.”
“Mr Cummins!” Stiofán had got over his surprise and his expression had turned to one of delight. “Máire, look who’s here.” He called into the kitchen behind. A dark haired woman, her hair tied back in a bun, and holding the dish cloth with which she had been cleaning, peered into the darkness of the bar and ran to where Cummins had rested himself against a table.
“Oh, Mr Cummins, we never got to properly thank you. Please, make yourself comfortable. Oh, the blessings of God on you! Thank you!” She dropped her cloth and clasped his hand, simultaneously shaking and squeezing it repeatedly.
Cummins laughed, his face slightly flushed. “Now you see what I meant Mr Perry, and the embarrassment is all mine! Oh Mrs Reagh, stop that now. It was no effort on my part I assure you. Your ground and premises are owned by you and can only be taken from you by the king himself. Believe me, he has enough taverns of his own!”
“Still Mr Cummins, we would have been in dire straits indeed without you being willing to stand up for us,” Stiofán had joined his wife. “Is there anything we can do to repay you?”
“I told you at the time, people. It cost me nothing so it should cost you nothing. Adams was chancing his arm. His counsel crumbled at the first challenge. All it took on my part was the instruction to my clerk to write a letter. Send the boy a bottle of your fine Irish whiskey and we’ll call it quits. Now please!”
Titus had found himself smiling at all this. Robinson had indeed been right in his assessment of Cummins as a likeable, and friendly man. But when his eye caught Sarah, standing well to one side from the group, he could not help but notice her impassive face, with a hint of scorn in her eyes as she regarded the lawyer’s effusive disclaimers.

The morning sunlight filtering through the open door was suddenly eclipsed by the large bulk of a man who paused for a few moments in silhouette and surveyed the scene inside – with some amusement judging by the deep chuckle that followed.
“Good morning a dhaoine uaisleatha! Am I interrupting some legal debate here? Dia dhuit a Stiofán, a Mháire,” He noticed Sarah. “And how are you mo cailín áilinn!” He strode straight over to her and clasped both her hands. “Would you look at our little duckling now Titus? Is it not a wonder what plumage can do?”
Sarah hugged Cormac tightly and then stepped back. Her change in demeanour from only a moment before was something Titus could not fail to note. “I could say the same myself kind sir! And is it not a bigger wonder how even a short little journey can take ten years off an old bear’s age?”
“It’s not the journey Sarah a stór, it’s from seeing you! Now, introduce me to your friend here.”
Titus introduced Cummins, whose broad smile had seemingly frozen on his face, a smile that transformed into a slight grimace as Cormac’s giant hand crushed his own in greeting. Once he had extricated it from the big man’s grip he fanned it in jest and laughed. “At the risk of sounding impertinent, and strictly on the understanding that there is no further shaking of hands, may I invite you and your friends Mr Perry to my abode?” he said. “I believe you are somewhat stuck in this town until your workers arrive. May I place myself at your disposal in the meantime? I am sure the Reaghs would welcome the chance to go about their work unhindered.”
Stiofán agreed. “Aye, it might be for the best. Any more laughter from in here heard out on the street and the town will try to impose a new tax on Catholic mirth. And God knows we have little enough left to spare!”
The party therefore decided to quit, with a promise to call back again, and proceeded on up to Pound Hill, where Cummins’ carriage and driver were waiting. It was an open carriage, of the type popular in Southern England, and spacious enough for all four to seat themselves within it comfortably, even the long legged Cormac. They made a short stop at Holly’s tailor shop for Titus to ‘order a few shirts’ and then set out from town.

Cummins’ house was in the townland of Killylea, a few miles west of the city and the route took them past the ancient Navan Fort. In antiquity this had been Ard Mhaca itself – the mound on which was reputedly built the palace in which the northern kings were crowned. It was no accident therefore, Titus surmised, that the early Christians had elected to set up their own headquarters nearby, and the absence of tillage suggested that the locals still held the ancient site in as much reverence as they did their church, built by St Patrick himself.
At Cormac’s insistence the group stopped for a while and walked its slopes. There was little to see now, just a hill it appeared to an untrained eye, though Titus could discern the evidence of ramparts and ditches gouged in its ancient flanks. Cormac, it seemed, could see much more. At times he dropped to his hunkers and sat for a few minutes stroking the ground tenderly with his giant hands. At other times he stood frozen, his ear cocked as if listening intently to some distant sound that only he could hear, before sadly shaking his head and strolling on a few paces more. When he came back to the carriage he was very subdued, and looked back at the hill with a doleful gaze until the road took them away from its view. Sarah smiled at him. “Cormac, are there not times here when you can feel that we walk in the footsteps of Cú Chulainn?”
“We walk in the footsteps of Ferdia I think.” He answered sadly and fell silent once more.

Titus’ mind was on more earth-bound matters. “Mr Cummins?”
“Oh, Christopher, please if you will, sir.”
“Did I hear you say in The Gullion that it was John Adams that had tried to contest the Reagh’s ownership of their place?”
“You did sir, though the fact that it was he was just a formality. Of course I have no proof of that but…”
“You mean it was his name on the writ but it was not really him who instigated the action?”
“Such is the way things are done sometimes. Under the law a Catholic’s right to any tenure of land can be challenged by anyone who thinks they can prove that it can be worked more profitably by the challenger. Of course if the land ownership is in the form of a deed and registered with the crown, then it is not contestable, but that must be proven in court and for that a lawyer must be engaged.”
“Such as yourself Christopher.”
“Well yes, though I dare say not as cheap as me in many cases. Many Catholics sell up and quit merely because the constant cost of defending their right to stay where they are defeats them in the end.”
“And the bringer of the action. Does he not pay too when he loses?”
“Ah! Well, in theory yes.”

Titus watched the lush hills pass as he mulled over what Cummins had said. The man was ‘avuncularly genial’, just as Robinson had said, but he thought he detected a hard edge to the man too, one that he sought to disguise with his ready smile and inclusive manner. In Titus’ experience this normally indicated either a man with political ambition, or else a man who chose to hide a secret. Though he thought he liked the man, he knew that Cummins would never be a man who could ever truly be called a friend. Sarah seemed, by her manner, to have formed an even less favourable opinion of the man, and as they rode past hedgerow and farmstead she kept her eyes firmly on the scenery, only glancing at her host occasionally. Eventually he addressed Cummins again. “Sorry, Christopher. I am a simple man from a simple land where he who takes recourse to the law expects to pay handsomely for the privilege. Here, it seems, things are done differently. So you’re saying that there are ways around expense being incurred by the bringers of the action?”
“Oh yes, many. The most usual is simply that a group funds it, and one person is nominated to take the action. In the long run they cannot lose. Bring enough actions and you will eventually secure a property that pays for the other failed actions many times over.”
“And John Adams was such a person?”
“Mr Adams, certainly. But that is not to say Mr Adams was in the group. We cannot know what method or level of coercion can be brought to bear on some people.”
“You mean he was somehow forced to sue the Reaghs? Is that not in itself an indictable crime?”
“Only if there is evidence of it, and that is seldom the case around here.”
“So what do you think might be the hold that these anonymous people might have over Adams?” Titus was curious. Adams had struck him as a spineless creature, but his business looked honest enough and he would be surprised if the man had any interests outside of it. Cummins’ smile had long disappeared and though he was willing to be subject to interrogation in this manner, it seemed that he was becoming irked. It would be rude to risk offending such a gracious host, but Titus needed the man’s assessment of what motivations were at play in this part of the country. In understanding the forces at work, it might indeed be a major help in his quest to understand why Ormonde had been abducted, and indeed his secretary’s disappearance, if both were related.
After some deliberation, in which Titus assumed Cummins weighed the possibility of terminating the inquiry, the barrister evidently chose that satisfying the mapmaker’s curiosity rather than cutting the questions short might quickest satisfy and conclude it. “I would say in Adams’ case the answer lies in the apples, sir.”
Titus momentarily lost the thread of Cummins’ logic. “Did you say the apples?”
“I did sir. Or the cider to be more precise.”
“You have lost me again, Christopher. In what way?”
Cummins sighed, signifying either that he felt he was talking to a complete ignoramus, or because his patience was eventually wearing thin – possibly both. “Oh it’s all supposition of course, but imagine you have invested heavily in a profitable enterprise.”
“Like making cider?”
“Exactly. But to realise your profit you must first attempt to monopolise the local trade in your product. Then, even when you do so in so far as you can, you find that your product is yet being challenged by a business outside your control, indeed a whole market outside your control in this case. Namely, the consumption of a rival product by a potential customer who will not, or indeed can not, buy yours.”
“You mean the Catholics?”
“Precisely. They represent a large market but they are not allowed to avail of your product by virtue of the fact that they are largely excluded from your points of sale. Of course if you remove the one or two points of sale in their market that they enjoy, then it is only natural economic law born of necessity that they will find their way into your market, or more exactly, you can assume theirs.”
“I see, so you bring pressure to bear on the man in your camp already, to take an action against the competitor and close him down. If he does it and wins, then his business improves and that is his reward. If he refuses to do it, he finds that he suddenly has no customers for his product.”
“Exactly Titus. And the law makes such a policy very tempting indeed.”
“So Adams was only doing what he was bid?”
“Yes, and was as relieved as the Reaghs that the matter went no further I would wager.”
“I would say that you representing the Reaghs and their like does not then make you Armagh’s most popular citizen?”
Cummins laughed and Sarah, Titus noticed, shot him a dark look as he did so. “Not quite, but then you see I will represent anyone who feels they have been wronged, as I said. Those that employ such policies have merely factored me into their sums as it were. If they try to eliminate me from the equation altogether the whole sum doesn’t work out.”
“How so?”
“Well I’ll put it this way. At the moment I, and a few others like me, represent the only impediment to their actions. In the scheme of things however, you might say I am but a minor annoyance. Eliminate me and my like, and then the game changes completely. It stops being business and becomes politics quite openly and quite rapidly. The merchants may as well call themselves a political party and declare war on Dublin and England together, who depend also on the likes of me to keep this little corner of the commonwealth peaceable. Now we all know that there are bigger political players than the merchants of Ulster, and we all know too what happens when those powers play politics here!”
Sarah was motivated by this remark to break her silence and addressed the lawyer with a quizzical look. “So you are suggesting that it’s not really you then who is stopping the merchants from exploiting their Catholic neighbours unfairly. It’s their fear of the crown?”
“That’s one way of putting it. I like to think it’s the law myself.” Cummins laughed again.
“How many cases have you taken Mr Cummins?” Sarah asked. “I mean cases with Catholics as defendants?”
“Quite a few my dear.”
“Indeed? Dozens? Scores? Hundreds? What is ‘a few’ around here?”
Cummins’ smile had frozen again and he looked at his fellow passengers as if seeking rescue from such tedious enquiry. But Sarah noticed this too and asked again before anyone could oblige the barrister by changing the subject. “It’s just that I would imagine such cases could keep one man gainfully employed for life in this district. How many such cases have you resolved to the client’s satisfaction?”
“More, my dear, than would have been in my absence!” His tone was sharp, but he quickly corrected his manner and the smile returned to his face. “And as I said, thankfully I am greatly aided by a healthy respect for the law in these parts. I play my part, but the law is the master of men’s morals. I am merely an agent of the system.”
Titus smiled in agreement. “Well Christopher, I fear it’s only the law as long as people like you practise it. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you, but Sir William wrote a brief character summary next to your name on a list of landowners that he compiled for me!”
“I dread to think what he wrote then. When we attended Oxford together he was almost expelled when he absentmindedly jotted down his thoughts of a tutor on an exam paper that he then handed up to the poor old man! What he might write with deliberation I shudder to guess at.”
Titus smiled. “He said – ‘Like the great woolly mammoth found in the Wiltshire bog a few years ago – a rarity and the last of a dying breed. Handle delicately’.”
Cummins laughed out loud. “I trust it was my uniqueness and not my girth that prompted Sir William’s simile!”
Sarah’s smile was patently false. “As I understand it, the mammoth is extinct.”
Cormac, seated next to Titus, laughed aloud.

Cummins’ house was recently built, but it sat in mature farmland. He employed an agent to oversee the agricultural side of things, primarily the growing of flax, the new wonder-crop that was revolutionising the economy of the region. From this flax was woven linen, and Cummins had built also a small ‘factorium’ for this purpose on his grounds. He estimated that he could have over three hundred people employed when his looms were working to their capacity, and that the total workforce should never drop below two hundred. There was livestock, but not much, just enough to supply the immediate locality with meat and dairy foods. The embargo on trade with the rest of the kingdom made a nonsense of looking to expand that end of things.

The embargo did not apply to linen though, and Cummins was already looking at ways to improve his flax production and expand that operation as far as it could go. His agent was an Englishman , Joseph Dobbs, a Lancashire weaver whose expertise in the trade was respected throughout the whole area – indeed Cummins had encouraged him to lend that expertise to his fellow flax growers and even financed the man to travel to London only recently so he could attend lectures at the Royal Society on the subject. With Dobbs as president, he had set up a society of flax growers in the region committed to sharing expertise and equipment, as well as sharing the costs of export of their product. In its short existence it had already radically improved the lot of its members. As a lawyer, he had also been instrumental in assembling an informal group of fellow legal activists whose sole purpose was to petition the parliament in London to review their stance on trade with the colonies, which, ironically, despite its supposed status within the kingdom, often equated Ireland in trade matters with the crown’s more distant holdings across the Atlantic Ocean. London’s protectionist policies, which were limited to protecting its own prosperity at the expense of the colonies that produced its wealth, were not only seen as unjust in the lands in which the English had been encouraged to settle. They were also seen as dangerously subversive by many important people within the kingdom of England itself, who took the long view and saw that imposing economic hardships on the colonies could well bring the kingdom, sooner or later, into an expensive confrontation with its colonists.

In Ireland this view was supported strongly by the Presbyterians who saw themselves, in the light of almost a century’s history, as doubly cheated. They had been encouraged to colonise a land that of all England’s possessions contained the most numerous, not to mention murderous, indigenous population. Despite having done this with no small success, they found that England repaid them by imposing trade restrictions as well as religious restrictions on their lives. Organisations like Cummins’ were natural magnets to such disaffected landowners, and the Presbyterians were helping to spread this disaffection already, by emigrating in large numbers to the colonies in the New World, and bringing the philosophy of organised protest with them. As Cummins explained this over a cider in his drawing room to his guests, Titus could more readily see why his occasional defence of a Catholic merchant or two was tolerated. The man truly had the interests of all his neighbours at heart.

This was not a view shared by Sarah, as she explained to Titus privately when they walked the grounds of Cummins’ estate after a light meal. She waved with a hand to the ornate and extensive gardens as proof of her point.
“You know about these places in England Titus, you grew up helping your father design these follies. What barrister in England, let alone one who makes a living out of opposition to the crown, could afford such luxury as this?”
Titus, whose loyalty to his father’s profession took umbrage at the term ‘folly’, could yet see her point. “I dare say few or none. But this is not England. I still think that without men like Cummins everyone here would be the worse for it. He works within a system not of his devising, but he does work for the greater good of everyone around.”
“Maybe so, in his view and in yours. But I’d warrant if Cathal were with us he’d say differently. Cummins may defend Catholics against blatant calumny and theft, but he does nothing to change the laws that guarantee he will ever be in business. Cathal says that this is as effective a way of enshrining an unjust law as any – pay it the respect of recognition and in the end you may as well have written it yourself.”
“I dare say he would alright, but if he’s a realist at all, he has to acknowledge that this is the way of things now. There is no going back, especially when the prosperity begins to trickle down through the whole community, as you can see it will. Men like Cummins will help see that it does.” He paused and looked closely at his companion. “In the carriage you risked offending our host with your none too subtle enquiry. Is there a reason you asked him to enumerate his successes in defending his Catholic clients?”
“It is an odd boast Titus, or don’t you think so?”
“It is a credible boast, if boast be the correct term. I see no reason to question it, but a lot of reason to admire the man the more for it.”
“And he knows that too. But do you not wonder why he should seek your admiration?”
Titus frowned. “I think you do him a disservice. The topic arose in relation to the case whose conclusion we witnessed this morning.”

Sarah simply shot him a look bordering on pity and fell silent.

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 2)

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