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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 3)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 3)

The gardens sloped gently to a small stream, on the other side of which sat the ‘factorium’ to which Cummins had referred. It was a brick-built structure with a fine slate roof, obviously well illuminated within from the many large paned windows along its length. A large barn adjoining it was where the flax was stored. Over the Easter period a stockpile of bundled flax had accumulated outside the main door and an army of workers was toiling to move this mountain into the shelter of the barn. At the opposite end of the main building, where a millwheel revolved slowly above the stream, stood some wooden structures with pitched roofs. These were the weaving sheds, and Sarah, who had some experience of this particular end of the process, broke her silence to express amazement at the size of the installation. Cummins and Dobbs were thinking big – such was obvious. Nothing in Dublin’s Liberties could match in size the accumulation of enterprise in one location before them and she wondered aloud how many looms were in operation within. If this was a ‘small experiment’ as Cummins had described it, in advance of larger applications that he and Dobbs envisaged, then she could only wonder what the future held in store for her own people in Dublin. To compete with this level of production would be next to impossible given the legal restraints under which the Dublin weavers worked, and with little or no investment from the business community in the capital, who seemed more intent on eradicating the weavers from the planet in pursuit of their properties than in sponsoring their industry. She found the view depressing and asked Titus could they get back to the house.

Titus too had been reflecting in silence, but on altogether different matters. As they strolled along a bridle path that skirted the ornate gardens and meandered through old woodlands back to the house, he voiced what was on his mind.
“I think the nature of my task has changed fundamentally.”
“How so? Ormonde is not worth the effort of seeking?”
“Indeed. I fear that DeLacey was naïve thinking I would learn much of the matter through subtle enquiry in these parts.”
“Or knew that only someone as naïve as yourself would agree to the method. They are, by their own admission, desperate men.”
Titus smiled. “Thank you good lady for your vote of confidence in my intellect. Still, I fear you are right. It seems that the matter of Ormonde will have to resolve itself without my intervention. Your Cathal’s intelligence in that regard outweighs mine totally. He may still accompany us in our endeavours here if he wishes, but I have a suspicion that these endeavours will have everything to do with surveying and little to do with espionage.”
“So why not just admit defeat and return to Dublin? Or even London? The surveying can proceed without your constant presence”
“That is not my method. Even before I was landed in this mire of intrigue I intended to keep a close eye on every aspect of the survey I had been commissioned to do. Such has not changed. And in any case, I have still a reason for whatever enquiries I can make here.”
“Your secretary? Flitch?”
“Yes. I have a feeling in my gut that my friend still lives, and that it was our initial inquiries that led to his disappearance. The captors of Ormonde might well be his captors too. I have no doubt he is a hostage to my ineptitude, and I am bound to correct this however I can. Finding Ormonde, even if the old man himself is running us all on a wild goose chase, is a step to finding Flitch. I am sure of it. And there is another reason too.”
“Whoever killed your father Sarah is thinking at this moment that he is above or beyond whatever justice exists on this island. I am determined to find him and prove the opposite. I think what I find here will help me in that aim.”
“And you think allies such as the barrister Cummins will help you in that regard too?”
“Such tasks as I have set myself are made easier by his presence, and his like. I pray there are more like him.”
“The man protects the local business community, and is well rewarded for it. His interest in defending Catholics stems from his distaste for those whose vested interests might work against his own. I cannot see how he has duped you so utterly.”
Titus sighed. “You have made your views on Mr Cummins quite clear, Sarah. And I am amazed that you should decry anyone who would defend Catholics in these parts and times, whatever your view on the law or the man’s motives.”
“Then you truly fail to understand what Catholics need defending from, Titus.”
Titus heard her point, but failed to understand its motive. He assumed that Sarah was against Cummins based on his position of privilege and nothing else. He was determined to disabuse her of the notion. “Still, should we apprehend the one who had your father murdered, I would dare say we would be grateful to have a man like Cummins prosecute him.”

Sarah halted and looked directly into Titus’ eyes. “My desire, if we do catch him, is only to kill him.”
“And that may well be what happens. But we can only pray that the retribution does not cause you more grief in its execution than you have already suffered. I say that as your friend.”
“And as your friend I warn you that what I said is true. Kill him I will, and gladly. I agree that what we can learn here is a step towards that end. It is why I am staying here.” She paused and gazed at Cummins’ house, now in view. “But my father is owed much more than retribution for his murder.”
“I believe you. And I realise that you hold the aim of avenging your father above any other political intrigue in which I have embroiled you. That is indeed why you have remained part of my ‘project’ after all.”
“No it is not!” Sarah sounded genuinely hurt. “For an intelligent man Titus Perry you can be such an absolute fool sometimes.”
Titus was taken aback. “In what way? Did you not just say that very thing?”
“Oh never mind!” Sarah quickened her pace as they left the woodland and approached the house.

The next few days passed quietly, a blessed relief for Titus after what the previous weeks had caused to transpire. Cuffe’s two soldiers returned with news of the house at Tandragee but could report only that it was now securely locked up, with not a sign of life within – indeed nor was there in any of the farm buildings and cabins on the grounds. He thanked them and asked them to perhaps check again a day or two hence.

Using Cummins’ library as his office, he sent letters to all the local estate owners requesting that they submit details of their holdings, and especially any surveys conducted in the past that would ease his task. Each evening Sarah, in the guise of agent for Titus in the matter of ordering work clothes for the surveying team, visited with Charles Holly, who had appointed several ‘spies’ in the area to report back on what had actually happened at the Ironsmiths’ estate, and what might be happening now. Holly seemed to find it easier to speak with Sarah than her English friend. And she, Titus noticed, had grown very quiet since their conversation in Cummins’ garden, but had willingly acceded to being Holly’s go-between. In truth it raised less suspicion than if he himself should be seen dealing with the tailor directly. It would be assumed by any prying locals that Sarah was relaying measurements and specifications for the surveying team’s clothes, a task the team’s master would hardly be expected to have lowered himself to. And the intelligence coming back was interesting, even if Sarah had taken to reporting it dryly and succinctly, without much adornment and interpretation of her own to add to it.
Once he asked her if something was the matter, but she had merely shaken her head, her eyes averted, and continued with reporting the latest piece of news from Holly. When she had finished he tried yet again, but this time she had simply muttered a denial and quickly left the churchyard of the old cathedral, the place where they had arranged to meet for privacy when such news was being imparted. He watched her walk briskly down the hill and around the corner, never once lifting her head or looking back in his direction.

Titus could see that he had transgressed in some way in her estimation, but for the life of him could not see how. When next they met he asked her this directly, and though she assured him not, her eyes betrayed that his suspicions were correct. After that their meetings grew briefer and less frequent, and by the week’s end had ceased altogether, with Sarah having told him that Cathal Ó Chaoileann’s mine of news had been exhausted. Titus noted that she used the tailor’s forbidden Gaelic name as she did so.

While the mine had flourished however, it had produced some nuggets of good information. It was now almost certain that it had indeed been Ormonde himself incarcerated there. One especially rewarding titbit had been gleaned from an unlikely source, a young boy who had been hired by Stanley’s staff to dig a latrine two Mondays prior to Easter. During his excavation he had overheard an argument inside the house between two men. Both were obviously aristocratic. The latter, an older man judging by his voice, was berating the other for “chasing windmills”, a phrase the boy did not understand but which tickled his fancy so he remembered it. The younger man was almost screaming in defiance, so much that he was very hard to understand, but at one point he had shouted that “you and your family’s day is run!” to which the older man had laughed heartily. A slammed door ended the exchange. The following day, when the boy returned with a cart of stones to bed the new latrine, one of Stanley’s men with a musket had stopped him on the road and told him to come back the next day. The man seemed agitated and the boy was frightened that he might actually be shot so he left the cart and ran. Going back with his father in the morning they had arrived to retrieve the abandoned cart only to find the house empty, save for a very refined lady who met them at the door, and who paid them a handsome sum even though the job was yet to completed, after which she bid them good day with instruction not to return. In their astonishment at their good fortune they had actually forgotten to bring their cart along with them, and so the boy went back an hour or so later to fetch it. This time the house seemed completely deserted but when he tipped the now unwanted stones into the latrine pit he heard a voice come from a grill that served as a window for a cellar beneath the kitchen. Though he could not see a face in the gloom within, the man was asking him for a rod of iron or some such tool to be passed in through the grill. The boy located a rusted rake that the man within accepted with thanks. Much to his amazement a silver shilling had then been tossed out in payment! The boy had returned yet again in the days following, in the hope of ‘earning’ some equally easy wages, but now the house was truly deserted, and on the last occasion a large chain had been locked to the gate to bar entry.

Other sources also provided some valuable snippets and corroborations. Stanley and his guest Elizabeth Croft had sailed to England from Rostrevor a few nights ago, along with a small entourage of armed men, though not uniformed soldiers. Several reports had come in from around Ulster that prominent families of Gaelic stock had been contacted anonymously through enigmatic letters delivered by various surreptitious means, but all with essentially the same theme – “Bide your time. A big change is coming. Sharpen your weapons and await the word.” The local militias, both Presbyterian and English, on hearing this rumour had been placed on full alert, and searches of person and home were on the increase. Wild talk was already in currency of the ‘ghosts of yesterday seen wandering the land’ and a farmer in Tyrone claimed, much to the amusement of his neighbours, that he had been hired to carry the Duke of Ormonde himself in his cart to the market town of Omagh. He had been questioned by the militia but released owing to his obvious simple mindedness, a character assessment of which he had done nothing to disabuse them.

One piece of information gave Titus a surge of hope in relation to Flitch, even more than the story of the rake sold for a shilling through a cellar window. The home of the man who ran the militia responsible for the Tandragee townland had been broken into at night and a pistol had been stolen. A farm hand, arriving in the wee hours to attend to a cow in calf had met a stranger walking from the house who greeted him cordially, in an English accent. Though the night was dark the farm hand could see quite clearly that the man was worse for wear – his beard was thin and matted, his clothes stained and worn, his body was in dire need of a wash, and his movements betrayed an injury to his side, which he clasped with one hand. The stranger had quite unexpectedly pressed a silver shilling into his fist with an instruction not to relate that they had met, and then asked for advice as to how he might get to the best road for Dublin. When the robbery came to light in the morning it was found that no money had been stolen by the thief, who the farm hand had deduced the man to be, and that the discrepancy between his apparent wealth and apparent condition had puzzled him from then. He had honoured his agreement not to tell the authorities of what had happened, but thankfully he did not include Cathal’s informants in this definition.

While waiting for the arrival of Cuffe and Jack Quinn with the surveying team, Titus recorded his own impression of these reports in a letter that he sent to John DeLacey. He wrote also to William Robinson, not so much to tell the architect anything of import but in the hope that Robinson would respond. Titus liked the man and he hoped his letters might be as erudite and entertaining as his word. Young Lynam eagerly accepted the mission to deliver them – anything to escape the boredom of Armagh, Titus reckoned – and was even more delighted when Titus ordered him to call into Quinn’s house on his return and bring news of his condition. Titus assumed that some sly looks he had noticed exchanged between Lynam and Gráinne, Quinn’s daughter, might be a clue to the young man’s obvious pleasure with this directive. Each evening he sought out Cormac, who was fast becoming something of a fixture – albeit a popular and respected one – at The Gullion, and the two old friends shared memories and speculations in the warmth of the inn’s taproom as the chilly evenings drew into night. If Cormac wondered about Sarah’s absences he didn’t mention it, and Titus, who was unsure as to their reason himself, was glad to be spared the enquiry.

Word of Quinn was encouraging when he did receive it, upon Lynam’s return a few days later. The old soldier was up and hobbling about, and under Grace’s strict care was well on the mend. Proof of the respect in which he was held by his labourers (or proof of Jack’s worth as a foreman in his absence) was to be found in the fact that his farm had not suffered for want of tasks done during his convalescence, though as Quinn had said, thanks to the times that were in it, the tasks to be done were less than they should rightly be. On this front though, there were also indications of improvement in the offing. Lynam returned with the rumour that was buzzing around Dublin when he was there – that the embargo on exports looked set to be lifted by the English parliament. Or at least it would be when the Earl of Rochester took office in Dublin once his appointment to succeed Ormonde was ratified. This would no doubt leave several farmers in the Meath area doubly pleased. The parson Hughes had returned from his meeting with the bank in Drogheda with a pledge that the deeds of their land would be returned to them, their debts would be reassessed and they would be given the option to mortgage or repay, whichever each deemed fair.

Rumour was abroad also that the king’s health was failing rapidly. It would be in months rather than seasons when the throne would be vacated, many now reckoned, and his brother James was already far advanced in his preparations to claim it when this sad day occurred. Already several regiments of the army in England were being placed under the command of the Duke of York’s own military men, and his soldiers stationed in French territories were being mobilised to return. The expected reaction to this was also well underway. Pamphlets and broadsides were circulating in London and most other towns of the kingdom exhorting good Protestants of all persuasions to rally in opposition to this development. What exactly they were to do was not spelled out, but in the south west of England, where dissident Protestants were eager to champion any available challenge to a Catholic successor, there was no such ambiguity and there was open talk of disobedience and rebellion should the crown pass from Charles Stuart to his brother. The Duke of Monmouth, it seemed, was beginning to make his own political play for the same throne, and it was under his banner that he wished these dissenters to unite. While he bided his time with his small army in the shelter of Protestant Holland, he had already started an ‘offence to win the hearts of good Protestants of England’, and pamphlets, songs and rumours extolling his praises were in wide circulation.

DeLacey had more specific news. Wilson had proved to be very co-operative under questioning about his activities, both as Moore’s agent and as a member of the Modellers, as the castle had well suspected he was. Already warrants were being issued for the arrest of several men around the Dublin area, including some well-known men of commerce and land. DeLacey had named in his letter some of the more prominent of these that Wilson had fingered, but Titus had noticed with real dismay that Edward Beresford was not amongst them. For a moment he had even hoped to see Stafford’s name there, but in the same moment he dismissed his thought as ridiculous. The man hadn’t risen to the heights he had, and been granted office in Arran’s circle, without being adept at disguising his baser activities, that much was certain.
DeLacey explained a slight dilemma regarding what to do next with his very informative captive. They were in two minds about releasing Wilson in advance of a trial, even though the Earl of Drogheda had generously offered personal assurances that he would not abscond. Once the names of the eminent men who Wilson had implicated in his testimony became public knowledge, his release might be tantamount to a death sentence in its own right. On the other hand, keeping him incarcerated carried its own risk. Wilson shared his politics with powerful associates, who might attempt to turn the situation to their advantage. Such people were adept, if they so wished, at whipping up public opinion to their own ends and might portray Wilson’s arrest as evidence of the castle’s adoption of an anti-Protestant policy. Arran could not afford to antagonise that sector, especially now with things so finely balanced and ready to tip into disorder in any case. DeLacey’s solution to this dilemma was to bring the trial forward. Wilson was due to face the charges in court that coming Saturday.

On the subject of the missing Duke, DeLacey was more circumspect in his letter, offering nothing by way of news and only the vaguest direction in response to Titus’ own news that the man was most likely at liberty but was now effectively hiding himself, for whatever reasons. He asked Titus to continue his enquiries in that regard, as no word had been received from Ormonde as yet. Assurance of the Duke’s safety and well-being were the reasons DeLacey cited, though Titus suspected that it was Ormonde’s stated support of his son’s strategies that the castle needed now more than anything. It was also important, DeLacey stressed, that the castle be urgently informed of which landowners in Ulster could be relied on if needs be, and also what the current state of play was with the local militia that had sprung up all over the province; what masters they served, and in what number.

The only other piece of news he had deemed worth mentioning was that Arran’s nephew, the Earl of Ossory, had decamped to Holland, no doubt ready to nail his colours to the mast of Monmouth’s ship when the expected move on the latter’s part came to pass. The surprising thing was how few of his cavalry officers had followed suit, a heartening development as those cavalry left in Ireland could now be immediately placed under the command of Richard Talbot, all the less for Rochester to assume under his own authority when he arrived. No mention was made of Arran’s reaction to either his nephew’s absconding or his own impending political emasculation. Titus could be sure that the wily Arran would not disappear in the manner that it seemed had been allotted him, and could only guess that James Stuart had given him assurances to that end.

With delight Titus saw that Robinson had also replied, and in anticipation of an entertaining missal he had delayed opening it until after he had read DeLacey’s letter. The humour did not disappoint him, merely the brevity. Robinson had obviously been in a hurry when he wrote it.

Dear boy, greetings from the sickbed of WR, consigned here due to advanced melancholia induced by having to attend what are strangely called ‘meetings’ of the more strangely named ‘Philosophical Society’. The only things meeting at these events seemingly being what passes for the minds of the attendants, all of whom are subject to the fallacy that Petty is some manner of genius. Their ‘philosophy’ seems entirely to consist of one precept, namely that every emanation of hot and foul gas from the mouth of P. is infused with enough erudition and intellectual innovation to run a large university. I am afraid that in my service to the crown I have inhaled too much of this fetid breath. I must recuperate. I see that you are faring better but then that is to be expected. You have had the sense to place an appreciable amount of geography between yourself and his odious presence. I trust that at least your own venture is proceeding well.

Postscript – the turd told me last Wednesday that he was delighted to see me in attendance at so many meetings, and that he hoped I was benefiting from his discourses. As an aside he informed me that his London cronies have urged him again to accept an earldom but that he has felt obliged to decline again on grounds of modesty. I think that was what finally consigned me to this nursery.

Post Postscript – you say you have met with Christopher Cummins. Here is a coincidence. I have just heard at one of our ‘silly fossilical society’ meetings that Mr Cummins has been a member since its inception and is much admired by Petty for his agricultural endeavours. I had thought better of my old fellow student. Consider my former high opinion of him duly revised.

The final piece of news came from Cuffe himself when he finally arrived, with Jack and the men his father had hired, on the Friday evening, and found Titus and Cormac seated at their place by the Gullion’s bar. Wilson had solved DeLacey’s dilemma about releasing him after all, and had hanged himself in Newgate prison that morning, no doubt to the chagrin of its avaricious governor who, in losing his prisoner, was thus deprived of both a lucrative source of revenue and the probability of a big day out at his execution. With dry wit Cuffe added that there was reputedly a queue of fellow inmates who wished to claim credit for the deed.

And so it had progressed - as news had diminished in frequency and import Titus, at last, could concentrate on the real task at hand. His teams assembled, his jobs assigned and his equipment prescribed and insured, he prepared himself for what he assumed would now be three or four weeks of little else but traipsing, measuring, recording and annotating their progress through the Armagh environs. And for a week or more so it had seemed, though even he was unprepared for the violence with which such mundane and peaceable routine would be shattered.

The arrest of Charles Holly took everyone by surprise, except Holly himself, who’s look of resignation when the soldiers had marched into Titus’ camp and apprehended the tailor seemed to advertise a belief in the inevitability of it all. Titus had demanded of the arresting captain that he state what charge was being pressed against the man, but the militia’s commander had merely cast him an odious look, as his men bound their prisoner roughly and bundled him onto the back of a cart. Even Cuffe’s intervention later that day had yielded little from the Bridewell’s gaoler, except that Holly would stand trial for treason on a date yet to be decided. It being treason, Cuffe could do little but relay the news, his authority in these parts being little, and even less in the face of such a capital charge.

In the two weeks that Holly had worked with Titus’ men he had proven himself both able and eager, and the past fortnight had seen considerable progress made in Titus’ surveying of the lands between Armagh and the Down coastline, a terrain that included the majestic Mourne Mountains, a cartographer’s dream in the pleasant early summer weather, when visibility was perfect and the heights of the mountains had lent themselves well to the accurate mapping of distance and contour. Jack Quinn, with the minimum of training and instruction from his father before he had left Meath, had also proven himself in the field very quickly, such that Titus could entrust him with commanding his own team, thereby freeing the mapmaker for the more peripatetic role of general overseer. Holly had insisted on accompanying Titus on some of these travels around the gorgeous Mourne foothills and valleys of the Armagh and Down countryside, and the mapmaker was sure, owing to Holly’s frequent ‘detours’ on these trips, that the tailor was making the most of this rare freedom of movement to meet with his fellow informers in the great network of spies that he had alluded to when they first met. While Titus had visited with the local landowners, notifying them officially of his mission, Holly had availed of these visits to converse with the labourers and farmhands employed there, and it was this, Titus reckoned, that had drawn the militia’s attention to his activities. Yet the charge of treason seemed a harsh assessment of the tailor’s behaviour, and Titus wrote to DeLacey immediately after the arrest to intercede quickly on his behalf, citing Holly’s value as a source of information regarding Ormonde to spur Sir John’s intercession. Lynam had run his poor horse ragged getting this letter to Dublin, and was equally swift getting back with DeLacey’s disappointing reply. Ormonde’s chief secretary stated sorrowfully, but emphatically, that the Dublin authorities could not, or would not, dare interfere in the matter. The tailor was at the mercy of the local military court and there was nothing anyone could do to obstruct or interfere with its process. By the time this bad news had reached Titus however, much worse had already come to pass.

Titus had rarely made it back to Armagh in the two weeks, but had slept in a tent or as a guest of local gentry while his surveying teams were in full operation, and had therefore not seen Sarah at all in the meantime. On the day of Holly’s arrest however, he had sped back to Armagh with Cuffe, and there he found her in the early afternoon waiting for him at The Inn, with a look in her eyes which he had not seen since the day that he and Cormac had first encountered her in Kilmainham. Cuffe had just relayed news of the serious charge facing Holly, and Titus’ hasty letter to DeLacey was as yet awaiting reply, so there was little he could say to assuage her fears for the tailor’s life. His assurance that a charge of treason was obviously excessive and bound to fail sounded as hollow to his own ears when he made it as it surely did to hers. For many minutes she just stood in the doorway of the tavern as if paralysed by grief, and then she had looked Titus straight in the eye, for the first time in many a long day, he realised.

“Cummins,” was all she said.
“To defend him?”
The look she gave him in reply surprised him in its ferocity. “Do you really believe that he would?”
“The charge is treason Sarah. Holly may not be appointed a defence at all. It is a military court. In any case, Cummins specialises in property matters.”

She fell silent and her brow furrowed with concentration. When she looked up again her attitude was one of defiance. “Property my arse,” she almost spat the words. “The man claims to champion the cause of anyone wronged. Let’s see if his words amount to what he boasts on their behalf. It’s one thing claiming credit for ensuring that someone gets to keep what is legally theirs in any case. It’s another to earn that credit getting an innocent man acquitted.”

Titus bit his tongue. How innocent Holly might be in the eyes of the law, even regardless of the treason charge, was a moot point. The man was no fool and knew the risk he ran in amassing the information he did, and for the reasons that he did so. Even if Cummins were to agree to defend him, it was hard to see how an acquittal could be secured. But there was more to cause Titus to keep his counsel at that moment. He was not sure if he understood Sarah’s motives in defending the man herself. Over the past few weeks she and Charles Holly, or Cathal as she insisted on calling him, had spent an inordinate amount of time together, and while Titus would not go so far as to admit his jealousy, he had to own that her apparent preference for the tailor’s company over his had weighed heavily on his mind. It begged questions that Titus was loath to ask, let alone answer to himself. In fact he had been secretly pleased, he had to admit, when Holly had insisted that he accompany Titus on so many of his trips around the locality over the past few weeks. It had limited the man’s opportunities to get back to Armagh himself. He rebuked himself for entertaining the notion even as he thought it, but yet a niggling doubt lingered like a canker in his mind. Shaking himself from the dark mood he felt begin to overtake him, he found himself agreeing tacitly to Sarah’s suggestion of meeting with the barrister. “Very well. I’ll make an arrangement to meet with Cummins in the morning.”
“No,” Sarah replied. “Now. And I will go with you.”
“Be prepared then to hear him refuse our request.”
“Oh, I am prepared all right. I just hope you are prepared for another disappointment.”
“What?” Titus was not sure if he liked or agreed with Sarah’s obvious disdain for the barrister.
“That what passes for liberal thinking in these parts does not square with whatever notions you might have yourself Titus. These are all men in corners, no matter how grand their ideas of themselves.”

With horses borrowed from Cuffe, they set out for Killylea. Sarah, as if to emphasise the urgency of their mission, kept a short distance ahead of Titus throughout the ride and only looked back in his direction, it seemed, to ensure that he was keeping up. As they finally approached the barrister’s lands she reined in her horse and waited for Titus to be near enough to converse with him quietly. “I have learnt much these last few weeks Titus. I called you naïve before in jest. I fear my jest held more truth than I realised.”
“Why?” Titus didn’t like the accusation, but he knew that Sarah would not make it lightly, so he hid his annoyance. Or thought he did.
“You are right to be angry with me. But I pray, no matter what turn our meeting with Cummins takes, please do not vent that anger, not just yet.”
“You speak in riddles.” Titus was finding it hard to do as Sarah had just asked of him, and he knew that his temper was near breaking point. “Is there something you know about Christopher Cummins that maybe I should also?”
“Much that is suspected, nothing which I know. It’s what he might think that he knows that I wish to discover.” And before Titus could seek an explanation for this infuriatingly enigmatic comment she had turned her horse and was proceeding up the tree-lined avenue to Cummins’ house.

Cummins met them in his drawing room with effusive salutations and expressed surprise at this unexpected visit. He apologised for his appearance, his clothes being mud splashed and dishevelled due to him just this minute having arrived home after a long ride that morning. The large sash window was open and even as Cummins spoke, Titus’ attention was drawn to the sound of feet, muttered conversation and hooves on gravel outside. It seemed that Cummins had not ridden alone. Instinctively he found a vague suspicion grow in his mind but gave it little thought. Sarah, who seemed aware only of her purpose, got right to the point of their visit.
“A tailor, Charles Holly, has been just this morning arrested and charged with treason. It is a risible charge. We fear for his safety. Will you represent the man in court?”
“My dear, wait a moment.” Cummins smiled and raised his hand, then sat down heavily on a chair by the window, gesturing for them to do likewise. “Now start again, if you please. I know the name. His business is on Scotch Street?”
Titus thought that he had better intervene. Sarah’s directness might defeat her own purpose and merely antagonise the man. “Yes, the same man. For the past two weeks he has been employed by myself and has proven invaluable as a guide and assistant. We are sure the charge is misplaced, but we are unfamiliar with the procedure in these matters. We would value your advice.” He shot a look at Sarah in an attempt to forestall any interruption from her, and saw that her eyes bored into Cummins as she awaited his response.

Cummins spoke to Titus, and avoided Sarah’s gaze. “Treason, you say? That is a grievous charge and never made lightly. Do you know on what grounds it is based?”
Again Titus jumped in before Sarah could answer. “No, only that whatever they are is likely an exaggeration of the facts.”
“But you don’t know these facts that may be, em, exaggerated?”
Titus glanced down at his feet. “No, but we know the man reasonably well and we both think as I said.”
“How well? Did you know him before you arrived in Armagh?”
“No. Our impressions have been formed since then, but they are impressions based on shrewd judgement of character.”
“Ah, character! Now there’s a thing.” Cummins smiled. “If only it could be used in matters of defence, it would have spared many a man from an early death at the gallows. I am afraid should you wish to mount a defence you would need more than supposition of that nature.”
Sarah’s patience had exhausted itself. “Will you at least talk to the man Mr Cummins? See for yourself if his case is worth defending?”
“But it is not, Miss Reilly. I can tell you that now.”

Sarah’s cold stare was palpable. Titus hurriedly interjected, fearing she would say something that she might regret. “You say that with certainty.”
“I do indeed. And I am afraid I have bad news for you too in that respect. You see, your Mr Holly has been quite a busy man these last few weeks. It appears that he has been out and about spreading sedition around our little corner of the earth.”
“Sedition?” Titus found himself doing just what he had feared Sarah might, angrily responding to Cummins’ words without giving sufficient thought to his own or on what they were based. “I hardly think so. He has been with me for much of that time and I can vouch for his innocence in that respect.” Even as he spoke he knew that his stated belief in the man’s innocence was founded more on Sarah’s faith in the tailor than his own. He had not been with Holly every minute over the last few weeks and could not say for certain what the man had been up to.
“And can you also, Miss Reilly?” Cummins smile had frozen on his face but his eyes were as cold as those of the woman he addressed. “You have also spent time with him. Can you swear that the man’s words and actions are free from the motive of sedition too?”
“I can.”
“Now that is interesting!” The smile had all but disappeared. “You might find that your assertion to this end will be hotly contested by others. And in matters such as these, one often finds that he who contradicts one the most is oft times the very person one thinks one is supporting by one’s evidence. You see, treason is a serious charge, and the penalty for it is cruel indeed. When they say that there is no honour amongst thieves, they can say so doubly about traitors. The prospect of being hung, drawn and quartered tends to overshadow and outweigh other trifling considerations such as fraternal obligations or friendship.”
“Yet I will gladly give evidence on his behalf Mr Cummins.”
“I am afraid that such an option will not be open to you Miss Reilly. Prisoners cannot speak in each other’s defence. It is considered a waste of everyone’s time in the judicial process, and all the more so at a military tribunal.”

Sarah blanched. All too late she was realising, as was Titus, what Cummins was actually relating to them.
A horse snorted just outside the window and the clank of a cartwheel scuffing the gravel broke the silence. Titus felt his stomach clench as the full realisation of what was transpiring dawned in his mind. “I take it your ride this afternoon took you further afield than your own lands?” He asked grimly.
Cummins raised a hand to the open window and clicked his fingers twice. “I am afraid so, Mr Perry. You see you are not the first people today to solicit my involvement in the case of your errant tailor. Mr Holly has been a stone in our shoe around here for longer than reason can tolerate or justice allow. But he has finally overstepped the limits of tolerance, and has done so in a most damning way.”

Two soldiers entered the room and approached Sarah. One grasped her shoulder as she sat frozen in terror and ordered her to come with them. The blood drained from her face and Titus instinctively jumped from his own chair, only to be forcibly pushed back into it by the other uniformed man. A bayonet was pointed at him, inches from his face.
“You see, Mr Perry,” Cummins leaned slightly so as not to be obscured from Titus’ vision by the threatening soldier between them. “Mr Holly has not just damned himself by his actions. Miss Reilly here faces the same charge I’m afraid. And count yourself lucky that you are not one of them. You have facilitated our tailor, Mr Perry, and save for the fact that you carry some measure of protection from Dublin, would most certainly be accompanying your ill chosen friends to our prison. And thank you for saving us the tedium of seeking you out, by the way, though I am sorry to say, Miss Reilly, that such consideration on your part will not mitigate your crime in the eyes of the law.”
“This is ludicrous!” Sarah shouted, but her objection was cut short by the soldier who gripped her arm roughly and hoisted her to her feet. Without being allowed to say another word she was marched quickly through the door and outside onto the gravel. Her screams as she was forcibly loaded onto the waiting cart to be transported to the Bridewell rent the air, and Titus, pinned back in his chair as he still was at bayonet point, felt suddenly cold and immobile, and completely wretched.

Once the cart had departed, Cummins resumed his address to the terrified mapmaker, his tone haughty, his voice cold and crisp. “But we are willing to overlook your complicity in the affair in any case. Let’s just say; your misadventure we have chosen to put down to an ignorance on your part. But you are ignorant no longer. Let this be your first lesson in what happens to those who wilfully work against the legal authority of our land. Now you may carry on with your commission to map our fair hills and valleys, should you wish to do so. Should you not, don’t expect us to stage a farewell party in your honour. Good day, Mr Perry.”

Titus at last found his voice. So much had passed through his mind in a few fleeting seconds that he had found it nigh on impossible to trap one thought and use it as the basis of a question. There was much that he did not understand and much that he needed this man to tell him. How could he have been so much their friend only a few days before and now be the willing agent of their ruin? How long had he harboured suspicions about them, and how much were founded in fact? Why today, and in the manner he had chosen? Why not when they had arrived in Armagh? What had changed? And if nothing tangible had prompted the change, then why the delay in levelling these serious charges? He wanted to ask all these things but his faltering voice instead found itself asking something else entirely. “Is William Robinson aware of your duplicity, sir?”
This seemed to catch Cummins by surprise, as indeed it had Titus himself. What did it really matter what Robinson, who had championed Cummins as a man to be trusted, knew or thought except that he had been so fundamentally wrong? The barrister’s look betrayed his momentary confusion at the question but the lawyer in him, who assumed any question must have a point and therefore merits caution in its reply, dictated his response. “Sir William is a good man, but he is an Englishman in Ireland, and therefore faces the same simple choice that all such must make – to stay in the safety of his ivory tower in Dublin and meddle not in that which does not concern him, or to do what he can in support of the crown to pacify this turbulent land and drag it screaming and kicking to a point of modernity by which it can properly contribute to the commonwealth, which incidentally provides so well for Robinson and his like. He has chosen the former course - I have chosen the latter. But there is a third choice one can make, and which carries with it only grief as one’s reward. You sir, I am afraid, have taken this path. For the moment you have a chance of retracing your steps, but it is a chance fast retreating. Ponder on that, Mr Perry. Now, good day.”

The soldier indicated with a lazy swing of his bayonet that Titus should now leave. Cummins, with a look bordering on disgust, averted his stare and turned to a look at a sheaf of letters that sat on the desk by the window. Although he gazed with concentration at the uppermost letter, Titus knew that the barrister was not in fact reading it. The gesture was obviously designed to achieve two ends, and it was successful in both; to simultaneously convey a contempt for the mapmaker, as well as advertising that what had transpired was merely an unfortunate detail in business now dealt with, and that other matters now pressed on the man’s time. He was not just being dismissed, but was being sent away in no confusion that in these parts, and to men like Cummins, Titus and his sort were nothing new. An efficient machinery was in place already to deal with them. In a daze, he stepped out into the balmy air of the early summer afternoon, and mounted his horse where he had left it only moments before, but which now seemed like hours ago. Gathering the reins of Sarah’s horse in his free hand, he led it back to Armagh alongside his own. Only when he reached the open country near the Navan Fort did grief overtake him, and the horses stood obediently grazing the roadside foliage as their master, slumped in his saddle, cried the tears of the utterly defeated.

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 13 "Betrayal" (part 3)

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