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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 4)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Calm Before" (part 4)

But such matters receded to the back of Titus’ mind as the summer progressed. For now, it seemed, his usefulness to the country’s great players had come to an abrupt end. As the days, and then weeks, passed by without interference from the policy makers he found himself, to his immense relief, once more a mere mapmaker. More importantly he found himself once more a private man, and as time progressed, a happier man for it. He had stayed with the Quinns for a few weeks, glad to see Quinn himself recovered from his gunshot wound, and was more than happy to assist his old friend around the farm until Jack’s return while he used the house in Balbriggan as a base in which to draw up his plans for the continuation of the survey. On their arrival young Lynam had been reticent to accompany them to Quinn’s door and had only done so on Titus’ insistence. The cold look the soldier had received from Quinn and then his hasty departure soon after had suggested that all was not well between the two. Gráinne’s equally dismal demeanour in the days following suggested a reason for all this, though Quinn himself never broached the subject and Titus, as his guest, felt it would be impudent to do so, despite several requests from Sarah who was bursting with curiosity about the subject, it seemed.


When Jack did come back with news that Charles Holly had been found hanged in his cell on the morning prior to his intended transportation to London, Titus had felt a momentary return in his mind to the fears and despair that had visited him in Armagh. But he had quickly recovered, as if such things were no longer part of his universe any more, and had thrown himself with even more vigour into his work. Pleasantly, this now involved an enthusiastic correspondence with William Robinson, and even a few meetings with the man in various taverns and coffee houses around the city, appointments that Titus always looked forward to. Robinson had begun to take a keen interest in the project, as if he had suddenly remembered that he was a surveyor himself, at least in title, and should make up for lost time. Things were in fact looking up for the architect. Petty had moved to London for the summer, no doubt to be ‘in situ’ when the caveats rolled in for his newly published atlas, and Robinson had found himself deluged with commissions himself, not the least of which was the assignment to rebuild the castle at the city’s heart. He was proposing a bold departure from that which went before. He intended not just ‘filling the gaps’ left by the disastrous fire in April. Instead his plan was to all but demolish everything else that still stood and start again from scratch – even to the extent of excavating and removing the castle’s deepest dungeons.

This was good news also for Titus’ friend Robert Cuffe – the engineer found himself sub-contracted by the architect to oversee the foundation work of the new complex. Where once the country’s most dangerous political criminals endured unspeakable tortures and languished abjectly awaiting death or transportation, now would run a network of drains and conduits delivering fresh water and drainage to the administrators of state. The military engineer’s past successes on the drainage front were acknowledged and admired by more than Quinn it seemed! Cuffe was delighted with his appointment. Like Titus, he had had enough of politicians and their intrigues for the minute and was relieved to apply himself again to the trade at which he excelled, though privately Titus reckoned that Cuffe had been no mean practitioner in the ‘dark arts’, as he called them, when he had needed to indulge in them somewhat himself.


Titus’ happier frame of mind had been encouraged also by two pieces of news that arrived through Lynam, who was still loath to call to Balbriggan but who would occasionally meet with Titus in a pre-assigned tavern. The young soldier along with his friend and colleague Griffin, no doubt due to Cuffe’s insistence, had both been promoted to special sergeants-in-arms in their regiment, now called the Irish Horse and Foot. Griffin had no sooner received his promotion than he had found himself seconded to the Duke of York’s own army abroad, and Lynam, much to his initial dismay, had been assigned duties of liaison with the various crown militia around the country. The discovery that the duty carried with it certain benefits normally associated with much higher rank ameliorated the young man’s views though, especially when he found that one such benefit allowed him the freedom to billet himself and the men he now had under his command wherever he chose. Ireland had many more inns and taverns whose hospitality Lynam had yet to experience, and now he was being paid to broaden that experience to boot! The purpose of his task was ostensibly to ensure that, if necessary, the crown forces could be mobilised and deployed readily when the occasion arose, much as Ormonde’s policies had always intended to achieve and now Richard Talbot, in advance of his official appointment was apparently bringing to fruition.. But even Lynam knew that his role was more to ensure the compliance and obedience of the disparate militia when, as was now a generally accepted certainty, they all came under the command of the Catholic general. One piece of news that he brought followed a visit he had paid to the sparse – but strategically vital – Ulster forces. He had stayed for a few nights in Tyrone and had made a point of seeking out Cormac in Omagh. To Titus’ great relief he could report that the old man had indeed set up his tailoring shop along with Holly’s widow, as she now was. Lynam, who knew nothing of Flitch, innocently reported Cormac’s exact words – ‘tell Mr Perry that the sick dog he was worried about recovered sufficiently to skive off one night unbeknownst to us and we haven’t seen it since’ – as if he was indeed reporting on the welfare of a household pet. While news that Flitch was abroad again was disconcerting, it at least meant that he had defied the odds and mended. This seemed to confirm what Cormac had guessed upon seeing Titus’ secretary near death when they installed the poor wretch in the cart bound for Omagh – that the man had been poisoned on top of everything else. Using slow poisons as a mode of execution was very much a rich man’s predilection and Cormac did not need to say who he thought the intended executioner had been. Now only fate would reveal if Titus was ever to see his secretary again, or ever finally learn the man’s motives, both for his treachery and his seeming change of heart. But at least the possibility existed.


Lynam’s other piece of news concerned a man who Titus had not forgotten, but who he hoped had been written out of the drama for good – Captain Briar. The one-time yeoman, whose last contribution to Titus’ woes had been the near fatal shooting of Quinn at Lord Drogheda’s horse race, had reportedly fled to Holland along with some other renegade soldiers who he had recruited to Monmouth’s cause. The man, it seemed, had not been idle before his flight – covering much of the country as he had in a few short weeks as a ‘press man’ for the would-be king in exile abroad - and his efforts had brought him close to arrest on several occasions. But he had managed to evade capture while enlisting his disaffected colleagues and had even begun to earn something of a highwayman’s reputation in the process, being referred to jokingly amongst those he failed to seduce from the ranks as ‘Black Briar’. While the news that he had fled the country was good, even better to Titus was to learn at last what the man’s rationale had been. It helped in the assembly of the puzzle.

And a puzzle it surely was. When he and Sarah had agreed in Ardee that they must dispense with conjecture and work solely from what could be taken as hard fact, they had been dismayed at how little was left. Given that they had cheated death only by a whisker and had survived too many other miseries inflicted by men who they barely understood, let alone knew by name, both of them were woefully lacking in the means to reconstruct even a sense of the forces arraigned against them. But what neither could avoid was the certainty that they must see their task through to its conclusion. In this, Titus understood that Sarah’s wish for retribution exceeded his own. She was driven by the desire to avenge her father’s murder, he merely by the desire to wrest the reins of his life back into his own hands and if the truth be know, lay to rest the ghosts of his wastrel existence. One ghost in particular deserved that at least. In Sarah’s case, he reckoned, retribution was an end in itself. In his, helping her to this end was a means of salvation of sorts. But beyond that neither had looked too far or dared even guess what might lie beyond their objective. Nor could they, until at least the enemy be correctly identified and a plan made.


When it had become obvious that their opportunity for making enquiries in more exalted circles was at least temporarily suspended, they had still done what they could in the matter of acquiring intelligence. Since returning to Dublin, Sarah had reinstalled herself as a ‘guest’ of Lady O’Carolan’s, much to the old woman’s delight. When Titus called, as he did frequently, it was always to find the two of them deep in conversation – sometimes indeed quite heated debate – so that he often felt much like an intruder. But whether the old lady had overcome her distrust of all things English in his case, or whether simply that she saw him as an unavoidable extension to her darling Sarah, she always made him welcome. In fact she had been more than useful in helping them both in their set task. In Ardee they had drawn up a list of those whom they knew they could trust – a very short one – and Imelda’s name had figured prominently on it. Now she repaid that trust completely, and with interest. Her marriages had not just bequeathed her a seemingly wealth of great anecdotes; they had also left her real wealth in the form of properties around the city. One of these she put at Titus’ disposal, for use as a home and as an office for his survey work. The building was in Werburgh Street, a thoroughfare that Titus had last passed through as an invalid suspended from Robert Cuffe’s shoulder in a frantic haste to escape from an exploding castle. It was a street that Titus now grew to like, standing as it did on the border between the commercial and legal vicinity surrounding Christchurch Cathedral and the less affluent markets of Bride Street and The Coombe, so ensuring an eclectic and entertaining blend of characters inhabiting its environs. Titus was beginning to realise that there was much about his ‘wasted’ years in St Giles that he actually missed, not least the ‘commonality’ of ruin, where penury and disaster had made equals of men from all walks of life and social station. To a man grown heartily sick of the world of the so-called ‘privileged’, who were no better in Titus’ eyes than any base character who might use a small advantage to gain at the expense of others and in their case all the more reprehensible as their advantage had been handed them at birth and did not even have the saving grace of having had to be earned, it suited his newly appreciated egalitarian sensibilities to reside in an area that at least hinted at an alternative, where social rank mattered less than the ability to use one’s wits and earn one’s living by them.


Another invaluable asset that Imelda placed at their disposal was her extensive list of contacts, amongst whom an endorsement from Imelda opened doors, both figuratively and in reality. Apparently in Dublin society, to be a friend of Imelda’s was deemed an honour in itself, at least in some circles, and those to whom she endorsed the young couple dared not jeopardise that friendship by being anything less than courteous to her charges. Titus was pleased to discover that Sir Humphrey Jervis was one such contact. He had not met the man since that fraught encounter by chance at Lord Drogheda’s dinner, when Jervis unexpectedly, if for mistaken reasons, saw fit to lend credulity to Titus’ pretence of being a property lawyer. Of course by now he was sure that all at that dinner would have learnt the truth of the subterfuge. Drogheda would have made it his business to find out, and in any case their sham to trap his agent Wilson was played out in such a public and spectacular way as to make gossip surrounding it unavoidable. By now Jervis must have been asked more than once why he had played along, and Titus, though dreading the encounter, knew it only polite to at least thank the man privately and offer him the true explanation for his deceit. Besides, there were other good reasons why it was important that he reacquaint himself with the wealthy property dealer – not least being to gain access to the library that Jervis had graciously placed at Titus’ disposal. But more importantly, he was a man who could answer many questions regarding the property trade in Dublin, and Titus earnestly hoped that he had not alienated such an important source of information. With luck, the charm of being a fellow member of Imelda’s ‘inside circle’ would open that door too.
Imelda’s own knowledge of Dublin trade, and its practitioners, was impressive enough too. Her information gathering over the years apparently had not been devoted solely to the cause of her grand daughter’s survival in the royal court. Not only did she know many of the men who Eoin Reilly had stipulated as suspect on his list, but even some of those whose livelihoods had been destroyed by Arran’s unscrupulous and aggressive land purchases were known to her, or at least their businesses. It seemed that over the years Lady O’Carolan had not been content to live off her considerable endowments as a widow, but to put them to making profit also. Her close association with Ormonde’s court over the years had meant that, although legally proscribed against doing so due to her religious persuasion and gender, a blind eye had been turned to her investments, which were many and varied, and which often unashamedly sponsored small Catholic enterprises, though by no means exclusively so. The lady’s acumen for generating wealth would have been the envy of many a proud ‘adventurer’, had the so-called leaders of Dublin trade but known, and activities that harmed or limited that capacity did not go unnoticed by her. Arran’s schemes had cost her dearly it seemed. Without even having to be shown Reilly’s list she already knew most of the facts it contained, many of the people named, and shared also a desire to get even with those who had cheated her, as she saw it, from her money.


Another who they knew could be trusted was Collier. The Ship Street inn owner had already stuck his neck well out on their behalf for no apparent reward. And if anything, the news of Briar’s defection to Holland had seemed only to further the man’s devotion to Titus’ efforts, as if he held the mapmaker personally responsible for ridding the streets of this most unwelcome creature. Titus’ protests to the contrary had fallen on Collier’s deaf ears and the innkeeper had pledged his services to their cause, which in the main involved eavesdropping and subtle inquiry. In fact, while Titus and Sarah had been in Ulster, he had still maintained a vigilance concerning matters relating to Eoin Reilly’s death. Dublin might be a city, but in terms of salacious gossip it was no different to any small town and word carried fast, even if most of it might be ill founded rumour. Collier was ideally placed to hear the most of it, and had the wit to separate the useful from the absurd.


And so, about a week after Jack’s return from Ulster, Titus had relocated from Balbriggan to Werburgh Street, where his first guest was John DeLacey, on his way to Ringsend to board a vessel bound for Bristol. His visit was primarily a social one, thanking Titus for his past help. He praised him for his intellect, which Titus regarded as high praise indeed coming from so astute an old spy, and asked in all earnestness to be kept informed of events in Dublin – not, he hastened to add, that he lacked others who would do likewise, but that he liked the mapmaker’s ‘twist on things’ and reckoned him an honest reporter. His visit also had a business motive. A sum of money had been promised at the outset for his and Flitch’s services. This he had brought – and he had placed great emphasis on his words – as he trusted no one else to honour the transaction. Lord Arran’s name was not stated, but the slur on the man was all the more prominent for that. He had also brought copies of the deeds of contract relating to Titus’ survey work. “God only knows,” he had said, “who will be polishing the doorstep of my office soon with their shoe leather, or of any castle office for that matter. It is as well that you hold on to these in case a reminder of your commission is required to jog certain peoples’ memories in the future! And alas I may not always be in a position to vouch for you.” This comment, added almost wistfully and spoken with a deliberation that hinted at a meaning beyond that which the words alone expressed, was the first thing to spring to Titus’ mind when he learnt of Sir John’s tragic death shortly later. But, as things turned out, another apparently innocent comment, DeLacey’s last to the mapmaker, was to play on Titus’ mind much more. As he had boarded his coach outside, he had turned to face the mapmaker for the last time, though neither knew it. “That girl of yours, Titus. Keep her safe, won’t you? She’s a real treasure, make no mistake!” Then with a wink he was gone.
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