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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 3)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 3)

Titus lost no time in getting the two letters to Arran, though it was with some relief that his trip to the Phoenix Park quarters did not occasion him meeting the man in person. He had had rather enough of the Butlers for the moment and trusted none of them to let even a simple task, such as receiving their mail, pass without transforming it deviously into some other purpose to the detriment of the messenger. He was beginning to think that duplicity had so long been in their nature through political necessity that it had now become so ingrained in their constitutions as to be employed at all times, even if for no better reason than merely ‘to keep their hand in’. Instead it was DeLacey who met him at the door of the Lord Lieutenant’s house in the Phoenix Park and accepted the dispatches on Richard Butler’s behalf. With a knowing wink he waved aside Titus’ half hearted objection that he had been entrusted to deliver them into Arran’s own hand and slotted the two documents swiftly into a pocket in the folds of his great cloak.

But if Titus had hopes to make a fast escape from Arran’s new headquarters, they were dashed when DeLacey produced a bottle of claret and motioned him to be seated in the large library of Ormonde’s house. The room had been built as a private office for the Lord Lieutenant, with some large closets adjoining it that originally served both as the Duke’s wardrobes and as his secretary’s quarters. The largest of these, no doubt, had been DeLacey’s own lair in his capacity of private secretary to Ormonde and like the rest of these ante-rooms its door presently lay wide open; no doubt to ensure that the two men were not overheard in their discussion by unseen clerks or officials. DeLacey glanced frequently in their direction, especially towards his own old office, and Titus could not help but wonder if this was less as a safeguard against intrusion and more in wistful remembrance of the time only recently past when the country was steered on its course by one of the ablest generals it might ever know, and when Sir John had been secure in his post as that general’s closest aide. That role, just like his little office, had ceased its function - the office slightly before its time since Arran had been forced to assume residence after the destruction of the castle and the library had been hastily pressed into service as the effective seat of government. Yet it was obvious that he still felt very much at home in the room, as was evidenced by the manner in which he had helped himself to a wine of his choice from Arran’s cache of the stuff stacked neatly in racks by the chimney breast in the darkest corner of the room. Some portraits of earlier Lords Lieutenant glared down at him disapprovingly as he did so. They, as well as a great banner depicting the country’s royal insignia, had all been rescued from the blaze in the castle and brought here to hang incongruously in the limited space available between the great mahogany book cases. Others, disproportionate entirely to their new surroundings, even hung in the small dark chambers dimly visible through the open oak doors of the main room. If the intended effect was to impute a majesty to the room in its new function, and to its new chief occupant in equal measure, it had abjectly failed in its purpose. Instead they served only to make the place resemble a particularly indiscriminate auction house, and a busy one at that. Given what Titus now knew about Arran, the analogy seemed apt.

Over their wine – a particularly sweet Spanish vintage not to Titus’s taste - DeLacey questioned his returned spy rigorously about what had befallen in Ulster. His manner was more that of an old and concerned companion, Titus noticed, rather than that of the taciturn, pensive, frequently offhand and overly serious official who had set the mapmaker his errand all those months before. His own impending retirement had obviously mellowed the man somewhat. Perhaps he even felt a relief of sorts in being extricated from the diplomatic mess that was this land. More likely, Titus reckoned, given that his two most recent task masters had been the Butlers, father and son, his relief was even more heartfelt and personal than that. He seemed genuinely concerned when Titus expressed his fears for the safety of those he had left behind – Cormac in Omagh, Jack Quinn as he supervised the remainder of the survey under Cummins’ and his friends’ noses, and even Flitch, who, though proven to be treacherous, had not fulfilled his deathly commission when given the opportunity and now lay close to death, if not already dead. Sir John graciously hinted that whatever protection he could yet offer would be extended to their aid, should they ever require it, and even apologised for his impotence in aiding Titus after Sarah’s arrest. Then, as Titus’ story unfurled, he seemed both relieved and delighted in equal measure upon hearing of the subterfuge used to effect her release. That O’Neill had abducted Jebediah Stanley was news to him, and he made no secret of it. Titus could almost hear the man’s brains calculate how this could be used to an advantage. It seemed though retirement was imminent, it had not quite overtaken the man yet. Such was obvious also when Titus summarised his conversation with the ‘missing’ Duke. He attempted to delete those portions that had been prompted by his own enquiries regarding Reilly’s murder but it seemed that it was this very detail that most interested Sir John, even more than the revelation that his grandson was one of a group of people secretly negotiating with the Dutch husband of the Duke of York’s daughter. DeLacey, through subtle perseverance, cajoled the information from him however, and several times he asked Titus to especially iterate what Ormonde had said regarding his own son. Titus had to be careful – much of what he had surmised about Arran had come from sources outside of his parley with Ormonde, the great man merely confirming what Titus had suggested – but if DeLacey surmised as much he didn’t seem to care. He was apparently fixated on the question of whether the Butlers – father, son and grandson – were at odds or as one in their policies, and cared little what steps had led Titus to raise the subject with his old master. The news that a shared purpose appeared to exist, at least between James Butler and his young namesake, seemed to dismay him somewhat, though he did not say why, and when he had apparently heard enough he hastily ushered Titus to the next points on his agenda of enquiry.

The remainder of their meeting was spent in recording Titus’s finding regarding the political leanings of the landowners that he had met during his survey – a gloomy enough task in that Titus had not met, again to DeLacey’s obvious dismay, even a single one who saw Dublin and its policies as meaningful in their lives any more. This, after all, had been Titus’ second-most important of the tasks set him in Ulster, and the only one upon setting out that he could be confident in achieving. Throughout his time there he had never failed to apply himself to it, and had given over much time not only to its execution, but also to the depressing report that his findings had led him and to how he would deliver it. Not only could he return Delacey’s list of landowners with a detailed account in each case as to why Sir John had been wrong to presume that any of them might prove allies to his cause, but he had also prepared a summary of his impressions, honed into rather an eloquent – if gloomy - speech. Neither pleased the old secretary, but he never once attempted to contradict Titus’ summary, or even to interrupt it.

To the mapmaker it seemed that the politics of Europe – the titanic struggle between Catholic France and her Protestant neighbours to establish a hegemony over the continent – had shrunk to a microcosm of itself within that tiny province, with all the rancour, bitterness, cruelties, injustices, duplicitousness and strife of that conflict being played out with equal ardour on this miniature battlefield, a model of its European parent, where peasant farmhands, insecure landlords and dispossessed men with notions of grandeur played counterpart to the great battalions and princes that strutted the greater stage abroad. It was not even true to say that they were suspicious of events in Dublin and London any more; or perhaps they had simply harboured such suspicions so long that they now accepted nothing advantageous to their position could ever emanate from either source. Indeed ‘indifference’ was the term more apt to describe the reaction that Titus had encountered to his gentle probing in that regard on DeLacey’s behalf. Perhaps it was the nature of the precarious tenure in which they held the lands that they did, or simply the lessons that they had learnt hard and well during the time of the Confederacy when it seemed only a miracle could save them – and the miracle when it occurred had been Cromwell, a man whose like would never again be allowed grasp the mantle of absolute power – or perhaps it was purely and simply the conservative, yet opportunistic, nature that had brought many of them to Ulster in the first place and lent a dogged and stubborn character to their dealings in any case, and to their determination to turn a profit from their efforts. Whatever the reason, the landowners in Ulster were no longer, if ever they had been, enthralled by offers of aid and support from any outside of their own tight community. More than ever before they were taking strong measures to ensure their own survival, regardless of how the royal succession may or may not pan out, or even of how much their allies abroad vowed to assist them. And worst of all, if DeLacey or his associates wished to control their activities through the sowing of dissent or the fostering of division in their ranks, the tenacity with which they were taking these steps was one shared by all, it seemed, who professed any faith other than that of their impending monarch. In a province where the policy of plantation had been implemented so thoroughly as to withstand all of Ormonde’s efforts after the restoration to restore at least some Catholics to their pre-Cromwellian estates, the implications of such resolute resistance to interference from outside were manifestly plain. If Ireland was a powder keg waiting to explode, then it was not hard to see where the fuse wire lay ready to be lit.

DeLacey thanked Titus for his report on its completion and spent not a few minutes in silent contemplation. It was as if he had been equally astounded and disappointed by the mapmaker’s news, and struggled to decide which emotion to express. Eventually when he spoke however, it was to return again to that one portion of the account which had perplexed him most, it seemed, upon hearing it. “This man Stanley,” he said at last. “You say that he purports to support the ambitions of Monmouth, yet he actually harbours those of William of Nassau. And you say that such a counterfeit stratagem is shared by his friend Pringle.”
“It was the essence of our leverage on Pringle to have Sarah Reilly released.”
“And then you assert that Ormonde’s own grandson shares this stratagem also? Is this not supposition on your part?”
“It would be, except that my supposition was confirmed by your master himself when we met with O’Neill in Armagh.”
“So you said, yet you were not so forthcoming as to how exactly you had formed such suppositions, whether Ormonde refuted or confirmed them.”
“I assure you, Sir John, that this came as news to me, as did the fact that Arran himself is also privy to the plot.” Even as he said it he realised his error. His earlier account had glossed over this fact, in the hope that DeLacey would not quiz him with regard to the conversation that had elicited it. After all, Ormonde himself had not openly stated it, though the letter to his son confirmed it plainly. He had no doubt that DeLacey would waste no time in examining that letter’s contents himself, but he dared not reveal that he and Sarah had already done likewise, even if the old man deduced as much when he read it. DeLacey eyed him coldly for the first time since they had sat down together, and for a long time neither man felt inclined to break the silence.

Eventually DeLacey shrugged, as if shaking a spectre from his shoulders, and his stony features softened abruptly to a congenial smile. “You were well chosen for the tasks set you, my friend from the gutters of St Giles. I salute you.” He raised his glass in mock toast to his companion.
Titus felt a flush of anger at DeLacey’s slight, but almost as quickly realised the jest intended as the memory of their meeting in Collier’s inn returned to him. He raised his own glass in reply. “I thought at the time that it takes one sewer rat to recognise another, Sir John. In one respect I was not wrong!”
DeLacey laughed. “Let us drink to the sewers from which we are each escaping so. You have done well, Titus Perry; better maybe than you know. You have survived, for one thing, and that is something not to be discounted in your favour, believe me! But more than that, you have done so having shackled yourself with a task all of your own that from the outset would only ever mean peril to you all by itself, and still does!”
Titus did not need reminding how much pure luck had played a part in that survival, or how much truth there was in what DeLacey was inferring. “And so you told me at the outset. You were not wrong.”
“I rarely am.” DeLacey’s smile froze, and then dissolved completely. “At least not until now.”
“It is not my place to interrogate you, Sir John, I know. But you have been forthright with me at all times, I feel, and more than gracious in the kindness you have extended to the woman at the core of the very complication of which you mentioned.” Titus saw that DeLacey was about to interject and hastened his delivery to divert an interruption. “No, seriously sir. You might say that you have done only what political expediency demanded at the time, but I know that Sarah Reilly could not have been found a better mentor than Lady O’Carolan, as I know that such arrangement on your part was motivated by much more than mere expediency. Moreover, when something was not in your gift, such as aiding in Sarah’s release, you were honest in that admission also. I was raised to acknowledge ever my debt to honest people, and if I did not owe you so much else already, that alone would be sufficient to earn my friendship, sir, and my fealty!”

DeLacey seemed taken aback at such an unexpected torrent of gratitude from his spy. He smiled, and was about to say something when Titus again deflected him.
“So it is as a friend, albeit one in your debt, that I ask you this. I cannot help but see that you place an importance on the intelligence – if such it is – that all three generations of Butler are in accord in the matter of which horse they are backing in the race about to start. Ormonde is a man who will never be without great influence, even after his death I would imagine, so I can see why his opinion is crucial. His grandson has ambitions, probably exceeding his capability but as great as his grandfather, so I can see why his activities, especially if in accord with Ormonde’s, matter greatly also. But without wishing to denigrate the man, it seems to me that Richard Butler is a man who has little by way of ambition or capability exceeding that which he commits to his own personal benefit. Why does it matter to you that he also supports his relatives’ stratagem? His father will hardly live to see their fruition, and his nephew’s ambitions so far exceed his own that they will hardly include him much, even if they succeed. The man seems to know it himself, and is content merely to exit the stage as soon as possible, taking as much of the scenery with him as he can on the way!”
DeLacey smiled at the remark. “Essentially true, but even in his exit, and even encumbered with so much weight as he carries, he is still capable of turning the plot in the drama he yet plays in. He has the capacity to facilitate others. That is enough to make him important, right to the end.”
“But that is not what dismays you.”
“No … and yes.” He bowed his head, but chose to say no more on the subject.

Titus knew that he had exceeded the bounds of politeness and rank even in asking what he had. That DeLacey had deigned to reply at all had been an indulgence on the man’s part. Learning evidence – if so strong a term could be used to describe what Titus had reported – that Arran was in league with others to facilitate the speedy inheritance of Mary Stuart and her Dutch husband had seemed to take the winds quite out of the man’s sails, though Ormonde and Ossory’s involvement in the same plot had appeared to matter less. Titus almost felt responsible in some way for the man’s dejection at the prospect, even if he did not understand why. He attempted to ameliorate his crime somewhat with an honest appraisal of his own testimony. “Sir John, I can report only what I have surmised, and the clues that have led to my presumptions; but I could well have misread those clues, or even have been purposely misdirected. I am not, I readily confess, as skilled in deception as …,” he had been about to say ‘others’.
“As I am, quite,” DeLacey completed his sentence for him. “Or thought I was,” he added, almost to himself. There followed another few minutes of awkward silence. “In times past your comments might have been seen as treasonous, you know.” He looked hard at the mapmaker, and then upon seeing Titus’ discomfiture broke into a wide smile and sat back in his seat, his hands cupped behind his head. The dark thoughts that had overtaken him had been evidently dispelled, or at least relegated for the sake of politeness to be tackled later. “But in my book it cannot be treason to report on treason, so rest assured, your suppositions will not have you on a bonfire just yet! You were sent to locate our Lord Lieutenant and you have done so. I cannot quibble with such faultless service. And you have performed a duty even more important than that, which in other circumstances would have seen you rewarded with riches beyond your imagination, sir! But I fear we live in different times.”
“I did not serve you for payment, sir, as I have told you before.”
“No, indeed, yet you will have what we promised you. A sum of five thousand pounds has been set aside in an account payable through my own office and that of Sir Archibald Browne in the Royal Exchequer in London. That should cover whatever expenses you have incurred on our behalf, and even be enough to pay your secretary his, should you be mad enough to want to. Access it through either office, but I urge you to withdraw it soon. Our good offices, in every sense, may not enjoy such credit for much longer.” He paused, as if he felt the next thing that needed saying should stand on its own, apart from the rest. “And there is something you must know, if you have not already deduced it. I fear that is where just reward ends, alas. The commission you hold here, and which I know that you treasure, will also be likely withdrawn as that credit evaporates.”

It was Titus’ turn to appear crestfallen. DeLacey’s bold statement had been like a slap in the face, and he cursed his own naivety in thinking that a commission born of subterfuge could be somehow immune from the political upheaval about to take place.
Sir John noticed his dismay. “But despair not. I am not without a few friends whose friendship, thank God, transcends political expediency. I will do what I can on my return to London to ensure that such does not happen. Just be prepared for bad news. I warn you as a friend.”
Titus thanked him but DeLacey waved his gratitude aside. “I deserve no thanks, sir. Does the surgeon deserve gratitude when he tells the patient that he is about to lose a limb, even if he promises to do all he can to save it? If he succeeds, then maybe he should be thanked. Yet even then a surgeon worth his salt will acknowledge that he was merely doing that which he was paid for. Thanks do not come into it. I promise you nothing, only that I will do my best on your behalf, and that not may be much at all.”
Titus nodded. In truth he was finding words failing him. In all of his calculations, and in all the possible plans and outcomes that he had envisaged up to now, he had never once considered that his appointment as surveyor might be in jeopardy. It was as if that role occupied a separate compartment of the world to all else that was befalling him – a role concocted by faceless bureaucrats in York Buildings who operated independently of the politics that swirled above their heads. England would always need a navy, whoever was in overall command, and a navy would always need maps. At least such had been his rationale. Now his vanity in that assumption had been cruelly exposed. It was true that the navy would always need maps. But that did not automatically imply that they needed any particular man to produce them, least of all one who might prove a political embarrassment at some future date.

DeLacey’s smile returned. “We diplomats have a maxim that perhaps you would be advised to adopt, Mr Perry; ‘It hasn’t happened until it has happened – and even then, in politics, it may not have happened at all.’ Truth may be the first victim of politics, but believe me, fact runs it a close second!” He could see that Titus regarded him somewhat dubiously, which only made him smile more broadly. “Never give up. I think that is the essence of what I am saying. There is more I wish to tell you as a diplomatic ally, and I pray that the distrust you understandably harbour against me and my like does not interfere with you heeding it either! You and your ‘young lady friend’ have risked much on my behalf,” he bowed his head in gratitude, “but you have risked more on another mission entirely. You asked me once to aid you in that quest if I could, and you would be forgiven if my failure even to save that friend from prosecution should make you wonder if I am disposed to help you at all. Nevertheless, here is such aid as I can muster.” He withdrew from his pocket a small leather-bound book and held it close to him as he perused its contents. “You will forgive me if I neither allow you to read this yourself, nor even to take notes. In fact I would advise you against notes ever, as I am sure you may have deduced for yourself in recent months.” He tapped his head several times with his forefinger. “No, here is where things are safest stored; at least for as long as you can before age stiffens the drawers! And if you must resort to writing, use code. As my father used say; leave documenting to the lawyers, my son. They are happy to take to it as flies are to shit. But to the rest of us, such substances are best stepped over!” DeLacey laughed at his own witticism, and then fell silent momentarily as he continued to leaf through the book’s pages, occasionally licking his thumb. His frown of concentration indicated that he was having trouble locating the page he sought. “Alas, however,” he said between licks, “my father would wince to see me now. Thanks to cursed age, I am immured in the stuff. Ah! Here we are!” He had found a particular page and peered at it closely. “Yes, this is it. A meeting with Sir Humphrey Jervis, from about a fortnight before your associate’s father was so cruelly dispatched. We met at his behest, ostensibly to discuss the matter of scutenage , if I remember. In fact the man had other business on his mind. You have met Sir Humphrey?”
Titus said that he had, though chose not to relate his encounter with the man while working under an alias as a guest at Lord Drogheda’s dinner. “In his house. I found him most accommodating and helpful. He has a complete copy of Petty’s Down Survey that he made available to me, and took great delight in knowing that Petty himself is frantically pleading with the crown for access to his own work, ignorant that it sits extant in Belcamp.”

DeLacey laughed out loud. “Ha! That’s the man alright! Stole the bloody thing, no doubt!” Then he grew serious again. “But Sir Humphrey had more worrying issues on his mind when he came to see me than being caught for stealing books. You are aware that he was once Lord Mayor of this city? Well he was a few years ago, and quite an able one too. He assumed the reins of the city at a time when a crisis of great magnitude was looming, if it had not already gripped the place by its teeth. Land, as ever, was the issue. The city was bursting to break free from its old walls but had nowhere left to run. That land which was available for development had already been procured for the purpose, but it was too little.”
“In London such obstacles are removed quite easily. Demand puts up the price, and eventually even the most obdurate landowner is happy to sell.” Titus, after all, had commenced his career in London wholly dependent on such being the case, as estate after estate was divided and parcelled into lots to become the city’s new and fashionable suburbs.
“And that is London, where the land is owned by one man and can be sold to another. But this is Dublin, where a legacy of Cromwell is that a goodly proportion of the land I am speaking of was owned by one man, taken by another, given to yet another, and then claimed by the first again when the second man’s master fell. And they are just the simple cases. There is also the land that was confiscated twice over, by commonwealth and king, bequeathed twice over in the process, and now is subject to litigation that defies any Act of Parliament to resolve. Worse, there is the land that was vacated during the Great Rebellion, though never in fact confiscated by Act of anyone – parliamentarian or monarch. This land was assumed often into a neighbouring estate, or sometimes by a complete stranger, the deeds long lost to the winds. Now there are queues of descendants staking claim to it, and all petitioning the Lord Lieutenant to decide the matter in their favour!”
Titus raised an eyebrow. “Ormonde has the final say as to who owns what?”
“Sometimes, but only in cases where no deed or record exists, save that the land once constituted an estate in its own right, apart from its neighbours. When those cases arise, and they are very few these days, it was often the sanest policy to assume them for the crown and allot portions back to all the claimants for a negligible fee in rent.”
“And the other cases? I take it that they were not so easily settled.”
“Some were covered by the Act of Appeasement, but most not. Those that were reverted to their Catholic owner, or a descendant who could prove title. However, most such applications foundered due to lack of proof. The whole situation was becoming untenable. The Act was amended twice to forestall such litigation but it continued unabated. So ridiculous had it become that the courts were being asked to decide between third cousins twice removed of one potential owner against second cousins three times removed of the other! The Act also assumed that the original owner would be Catholic. That may have been true when Cromwell confiscated their lands but many converted subsequently, and in latter days we’ve even had a few conversions in the other direction. It was a shambles of the highest order, and while it continued the city was festering like a putrid boil in the middle of it all, about to explode under the pressure of its own stifled population.”
“And Jervis?”
“Quite simply called a halt to all litigation.”
“How could he do that?”
“Tax. It was a marvellously simple idea. All land owners pay a tithe to the city. Those who wished to claim ownership of disputed land, he maintained, should also pay the tithe, even if that meant the city derived two incomes from the same estate. He argued that since the city was being strapped for cash in providing the courts in which these battles were being fought, then it was only fair that the combatants pay towards the upkeep of the arena! If this caused hardship, then the aggrieved party could petition the crown for support, but only after he had paid his dues.”
“It seems a bit heavy-handed to me.” Titus could see that such a ruling would favour the more well-heeled litigants in every case.
“It was, but it was necessary. There is no doubt that some people may have lost the ability to fight on and therefore lost their rightful claims, but it is even more true that a greater evil was stamped out almost overnight. While these prolonged battles were being waged, many of these estates were shooting up in potential value. There is acrimony enough where land is concerned, but when you add great fortunes to the equation, the situation becomes very ugly indeed. One aspect to the ugliness offended Jervis in particular, and drove him to act. It was apparent, at least to him, that certain individuals with an eye to the ‘long shot’ were buying out the litigants – sometimes one, and sometimes both. This was being done without either litigant dropping their claim of course. The aim was obvious – use the time to assemble large tracts of land from individual estates in dispute. And it wasn’t as expensive an operation as you might think. We live in a time when those with greatest claim to the land, according to our own Acts, are those with least money, and therefore most likely to succumb to these operators’ advances. And of course, part of the deal was that they would inhabit their estate should they win it, at a small rent – which was, after all, no more than the Lord Lieutenant himself was doing to those estates he himself had procured.”
“So Jervis’ tax screwed the pitch entirely!”
“Exactly. It made the whole thing just too expensive to operate. Besides, it also robbed the operators of the time they had hoped to use to their benefit, in that the majority of cases were forced to settle almost immediately. But worst of all, it also meant that they had lost a lot of money into the bargain. The ploy could only pay off if a large acreage accrued from their efforts – Jervis reckoned on five thousand acres a man – and many of them had paid out quite a lot of money already for a mere fraction of such a parcel.”
“I am surprised he got his law enacted at all!” Titus had no doubt who some of these ‘operators’ might well have been, and many were aldermen themselves. “Though I suppose that is where you are leading with your tale, and why he came to you with his woes last spring.”
DeLacey smiled briefly. “Yes. It was clear that such a law was required, but it was equally clear that he would never get it past the Corporation’s council. So yes, he approached Ormonde for assistance. Ormonde might be aloof from his cities’ internal administrations in principle, but he was damned if he was going to preside over the country in a city fast disappearing up its own sewers! We got to work on the aldermen. In fact it turned out that Jervis might even have carried the day without our help. Those opposed to him were powerful men, but not quite the majority they would need to be on the council. Nevertheless we did what we had to do – bribed a man here, embarrassed a man there, scared the living shit out of others; the usual things, you might say.” He winked, and Titus was so taken by surprise at the gesture that he laughed out loud. “And that was the end of that, or so we thought. We’d bloodied a few noses, but those we’d bloodied most could well afford a bandage or two, and would more than live to fight another day. Then I got the visit from Sir Humphrey.” He glanced at his notes for a few moments before eyeing Titus again. “You have heard of the name Beresford – Edward Beresford?”

Titus replied that he had, but gave no indication of what that name already represented in his mind. In truth he had wondered if news of their little escapade in Laytown had ever reached Delacey’s ears. He suspected that it must have, but if so, the man had never alluded to it before. What they had done had been foolhardy in the extreme, and had almost cost Quinn his life at the hands of the same brute that DeLacey now mentioned. But the risk to his friend’s life, he was sure, would be nothing in DeLacey’s mind against the risk they had run in being exposed at the time. That would have been disastrous, both to themselves and – most importantly to Sir John – to the success of their mission on his behalf. He was sure that his companion held a dim view of the matter and wondered if now was going to be time for him to receive the tongue-lashing from DeLacey that he felt had long been coming. He searched Sir John’s countenance with some trepidation for a clue, but could discern nothing other than the placid and taciturn features of a man imparting information to a friend, his concentration absorbed in the exactness of his own language, rather than the effect of his words on the listener. If DeLacey had anything to say on the matter of their Laytown adventure then he was apparently keeping his words in check for now.
“I thought you might have. The type of enquiries you were conducting would have thrown the name up; of that there is no doubt. You might know him as a ‘Moore man’, accommodating Lord Drogheda by helping the man add to his considerable Dublin estate?”
“So I heard,” Titus agreed somewhat guardedly. He was still unsure where DeLacey’s comments were leading. “Though he is one of many engaged in such activities, I believe.”
“True, and in truth also we choose to ignore their little games for the most part. As long as the land is being used for the purpose we require, then a few shortcuts such as theirs is tolerable; or at least such is Ormonde’s view. If they make a few shillings in the process then we have other means of acquiring our share for the exchequer, have no fear.”
“I take it then that Beresford has transgressed in some other way? At least against Jervis?”
“After the vote had been taken and the land disputes settled, Jervis found himself the subject of a particularly nasty rumour – one that a man in his position would do well to recover from if it caught hold. Word circulated that he had been paid to engineer the issue and bring it to a head.”
“Paid by whom?”
“The wealthier of the speculators – the likes of Moore and the Earl of Leinster, and a few others who have amassed large plots.”
“Such a rumour would sully the names of these men equally. But are you saying that Beresford was responsible? Even against his own mentor?”
“That was why Jervis took so long to identify the culprit. It didn’t make sense to him. But I am running ahead of my own story. Even before he sought to identify the rumour’s source, Jervis did the logical thing; he paid a visit to each of these men in turn and explained the position as he saw it. If the rumours continued they could only do harm to each man’s ambition. These are powerful and wealthy men, and they were not slow to act, just as Sir Humphrey knew that they wouldn’t. It was a matter of a moment to ensure that the stories were quashed, and Sir Humphrey reckoned on that being that. But he was wrong. In fact the rumour mill ground ever faster. No sooner would one be quashed than another, even more sordid, would spring to life. And so it went on for weeks on end. Soon, incredible, but nonetheless malicious stories about his personal life were loosed to the capricious winds of gossip; fantastic tales of pox, perversion and promiscuity that, even were they true only in part, would have had the man in an early grave many years before! They were even appearing as ballads, sung on every street corner and in every tavern in the city!”

Titus remembered the night that DeLacey and Arran had arranged to meet himself and Flitch all that time ago at Collier’s inn. While they had waited, a group of drunken men had regaled the congregation with a rendition of a song that, to Titus’ ears in any case, had been bawdy to the point of sedition, but which had its audience in tears of laughter. It was obvious from the way that the audience hung on every line in anticipation of the next that it concerned someone whom they all knew, and their uproarious surprised laughter at every jibe and jest in the lyrics suggested that this was the first time they had heard it. Even Flitch had laughed at its chorus, he remembered, though not without remarking that the poor sod whose tale it told had better be dead – or if not, at least a deaf man. Even now Titus could half remember the lines of the chorus, which at the time he had assumed to concern a character with the Christian name of Jarvis; ‘Drink to ill health for the man by whose stealth did his coffers fill up fit to burst. Ould Jarvis’s need to give rein to his greed led to many man’s hunger or worse. But if there’s a God who looks down on this sod then His justice has been good and quick. For the same bastard’s cock’s dwindled down with the pox, may his wealth go the way of his prick!’
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 3) :: Comments

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 3)

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