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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 1)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 1)

Robert Cuffe, when asked by Titus to use his connections in providing a mode of transport northwards that kept the mapmaker free from malevolent vigilance, had secured him his berth on The Unicorn at short notice and had excelled himself in the process. This fleet vessel, when compared to the cargo vessel Corinthian that had transported himself and Flitch to Ireland a mere five months ago, though it now seemed an age, was like contrasting an albatross with a seagull. She was a ship-of-the-line fourth rate, not yet baptised in battle and looked it too, her timbers gold-red above the water and not a trace of a barnacle beneath. In fact Dublin had been her first port of call since her launch from the Thames estuary and her crew were as yet learning her manners, her idiosyncrasies, and above all her capabilities.

As a result, with a favourable wind behind them, Captain Bramall had decided to make her short trip to Belfast into a speed trial, and as they cruised along the coast on a calm sea at an impressive rate of fifteen knots or more, Titus found himself at her rail observing the low hills of North Dublin and County Meath slowly receding into the distance, and could not help but wonder at the weight of menace and adventure such a seemingly benign land, as it looked from here, had already placed his way. Once the small island of Lambay had been rounded, he could clearly see the small white dots of farmhouses close to the shore, one of which was surely that of his friend Quinn at Balbriggan. Behind these lay wooded hilltops and slopes of patchwork tillage amongst which stood the house of Lady O’Carolan and the woman who he now understood as a close friend but who he was beginning to appreciate might mean much more to him. Soon the long yellow sands of Laytown hove into view, and the dark waters at the mouth of the Boyne River where the town of Drogheda stood, the ancient monastic settlement of Mellifont a mere amble up its fabled banks.

Six months ago such names would have had little meaning to him beyond map references. Now each name provoked already a flood of memories, not all of them unpleasant, as each also triggered pangs of doubt and misgivings for the chain of events that he was about to set in motion and in which each had played its part in making such a drastic action necessary. So lost was he indeed in these reveries and qualms that he failed to notice Captain Bramall by his side until the man coughed and pointed to a small promontory ahead in the distance.

“Cooley,” he said triumphantly, and turned to Titus. “By my clock we are already half an hour ahead of schedule. We should be in Belfast well before dusk! We might even set a naval record, methinks!” If the man had intended unnerving Titus by the stealth of his approach, his open and amiable countenance belied such motives.

“She’s a flier, captain,” Titus agreed, hoping that his terminology did not betray his complete ignorance of all things nautical.
Bramall laughed. “She is that, alright. Though I reckon we could squeeze another few knots out of her too. There’s a yard more could be added to the fo’sail without even straining the yard arm. Still, I dare say her speed, as it is, suits you. Cuffe said you were in a hurry. I hope we’re not delaying you!”
“No, indeed captain. I am grateful that you could take me at all.”
“Aye, so I believe.” He spat into the foaming waters below. “You know Cuffe well?”
“Since I arrived here only, though I consider him a good friend.”
The captain nodded. “A good man, surely. A good man in a crisis at any rate.”

Titus wasn’t sure what the captain was inferring and was loath to admit in any case that it was in discovering just how good the man was in a crisis that he had indeed first met Robert Cuffe. He decided to steer the conversation into less controversial waters. “You know him then? Robert is a good engineer by all accounts but I did not think he had been engaged by the navy ever.”

“No, he has not to my knowledge,” Bramall answered ambiguously enough. “At least not officially. It’s through the horses we know each other.”
“Horses?”
“Aye,” Bramall smiled again. “He has an eye for a good mount.”
“You ride?”
“Me? No! For the racing I mean.”
“Ah. You’re a betting man.”
“Aye. We’re from the same town, Dunstable. Have you ever heard of it?”

All the time Titus had known Cuffe he had not mentioned his birthplace once. Nor had he told Titus when he had informed him of his berth that he was on such apparently close terms with the ship’s master either. Still, he could not help but feel that Bramall was approaching a subject in a roundabout manner and thought he had better play along. “I have indeed. I worked once not too far from it on a commission. A pleasant part of the country.”
“It can be, though no part of the country may be pleasant ere long.”
Titus ignored the last cryptic remark and reverted to the subject in hand. “They race there?”
“Aye, several courses. A Bell Course, even. But you can't beat strand racing, I think. We have just passed such a course a few miles back on the shore. Laytown, as you know.”

This time there was no mistaking Bramall’s inference. His tone was still amiable, but his last comment had been accompanied by a strong look at Titus which the captain held, obviously awaiting a response. “I was there earlier this year, yes, with Captain Cuffe actually, though I suppose that is how you know.”
“Well, yes, he told me. Though that was not how I knew. I was there myself.”
“At the race?” Titus was suddenly aware of the fact that he was on a ship at sea commanded by this man and from which there was no ready escape. Whatever the captain was driving at, he could do so at his leisure and in any way he chose. His companion was not going anywhere soon in a hurry.
“Aye, and at a certain dinner later that day too.”
“Ah!” There seemed little else Titus could say.
“Ah, indeed! And a marvellous entertainment it was too! In fact it was a great day all round.”
“It was?” Titus was now more at sea than the vessel on which he stood.
“Oh, aye. You remember all the clever money that went on the horse that broke down in the open race?”
Titus nodded.
“Well you see, it struck me before the race that though the rider was unknown to me, there was a certain familiarity about the horse!” The captain was now smiling broadly at the memory of it. “So I had a little look around and sure enough, there was my old friend and tipster Robert Cuffe, and he perched on an old nag that he normally wouldn’t even consider fit for the knackers, let alone be seen astride! ‘Aha!’ says I, ‘I can have a little sport here!’ So I stride up to the man as bold as brass and salute him. ‘Is there a grey in the next race you might fancy Robert?’ I asked him as innocently as a wee child, and the poor bastard shrivelled on the spot, though whether it was at seeing me there or because I had rumbled his little plan I didn’t know.” Bramall laughed and nudged Titus with his elbow. “Anyway, the long and short of it was that our mutual friend advised me that if I wanted to make a few shillings for myself to keep an eye on the brown mare in the red colours, in fact any horse bar his beloved LaMancha!”

Titus remembered the remark Cuffe had made afterwards about being recognised. Then it had seemed merely a warning that their charade had carried more risk than they had appreciated. Bramall had obviously been the old friend who Cuffe had claimed spotted him and caused him to momentarily doubt their sanity in trying to execute the plot that they had hatched. Now Titus could see that Cuffe had been right to doubt their sanity. A plot that could come unhinged by something so innocuous as an old friend recognising one’s horse was not a sound one by any standards. But it seemed Cuffe was right also about Bramall being a trustworthy friend. He had the means to scupper them twice over – at the race and at the dinner that evening – but had kept his knowledge of their subterfuge ‘under his hat’, as Cuffe had said.

The captain could almost read these thoughts, it seemed, as they passed through Titus’ mind and laughed even louder. “Don’t worry, Mr Perry! Robert and I go way back, as I said. And if Captain Cuffe has good reason to allow his beloved LaMancha fall at a ditch bringing half of Laytown’s punters with her, I’m not going to question him! I must say, did he not cut quite a dash in Mellifont when he arrived too? I was very impressed with him! And you, I must add!”
Titus reddened at the memory of it. “What had you in Ireland?” was all he could think to ask. “You obviously gave Robert a start when he saw you there.”
“Oh aye, I did that!” He laughed again, and then grew serious. “Well, to answer your question brings me to something that we must discuss, but not out here on the deck. If you don’t mind me asking, where are you lodging in Belfast?”
“I have arranged to spend a night in the house of a businessman of my acquaintance – Ezekiel Barrington. He has apartments above his business near the docks.”
“Barrington is in town? Even better! When we get into Belfast you go ahead and billet yourself with the man. I know him well. I’ll be along later once I get our unicorn bedded in her stall for the night!”
“Captain Bramall, why do I get the impression that your agreement to transport me was due to more than accommodating the wishes of our friend Captain Cuffe?”

Bramall smiled and patted Titus on the shoulder. “He said you were shrewd, and he didn’t lie. Still, maybe you are overly shrewd sometimes, I think, if it causes you to raise suspicions where none are warranted. Besides, doing a favour for a friend is a handsome motive in itself is it not? And anyway, when you think about it, much of history has been made by men doing little more than that after all!” With that he barked an order to two crew manning the sail above them and strode back to his bridge, leaving Titus alone at the rail, the captain’s parting words ringing in his ears. In the distance the dark peaks of the Mourne Mountains could be seen hovering above the horizon, and as they neared, the dark waters at their roots grew suddenly choppy. Brown flecks of foam spewed from each violent clash of wave against ship’s timbers and danced crazily in the freshening air. Above, the cry of the gulls grew more raucous, it seemed, but yet harder to hear above the clamour of the battle between the ship and the elements below. Soon the shouts of the sailors themselves, as they fought to keep the trim of the sails and honour their commander’s demand for a steady speed, were almost lost in the din of the wind and ocean as both conspired against their efforts. The wind was picking up and it whistled through the rigging, almost like a whisper, but multiplied a thousand fold – anonymous voices whose words could not be caught but which most certainly mocked the toiling of the men who dared challenge them in this, their own domain. The violent lurching of The Unicorn and the increasingly quickening breeze with its icy bite at last prompted Titus to move away from the rail and, his mind still racing with the implications of Bramall’s words, to head for the relative comfort of his small berth beside the captain’s cabin. If a record was to be set for speed of passage from Dublin to Belfast, this was not going to be that day, and Titus felt that he may as well lie on his bunk and rest as struggle to stand and witness Bramall’s failure to set it.

Barrington came to his door himself to greet Titus, and insisted on tipping the two crewmen who Bramall had insisted escort the mapmaker to the Quaker man’s offices and carry his luggage, short though the distance was. When Titus informed him of the captain’s intention to join them later, rather than be annoyed at such short notice and the inconvenience of the late hour, Barrington instead expressed pleasant surprise that Bramall was in port and seemed delighted indeed at the prospect of the visit. Titus felt it prudent to warn him that the captain’s humour might need some soothing when he arrived.

Bramall had been in foul mood as Titus had disembarked on the quay, so much so that Titus had accepted the captain’s insistence that he be accompanied on his short walk without protest, though his luggage was light and the men, if their sullen expressions were a reliable guide to their feelings, could obviously think of better things to be doing in a new port than serving as porter and bodyguard for a man who was well capable of looking after himself. It seemed the captain had set his heart on the record he mentioned, and had taken it sorely that his chance to claim it had been scuppered. In fact, in the end it was well past dusk when they finally limped into port. The squall they had encountered in the last two leagues of their journey had not only put paid to their speed, but had also caused damage to two unseasoned booms in the process. The damage was easily repaired but would mean Bramall having to account for what happened to the naval commander in Belfast, a formidable old campaigner by the name of Forbes and a man who the captain would rather not meet at all, let alone have to account to in the matter of damaged naval property. He had decided to get the encounter out of the way immediately rather than prolong the agony, so advised Titus to warn Barrington that it could well be very late before he would call on him, but call he would.

“You did not tell me you knew Kenneth Bramall when last we spoke, Mr Perry,” Barrington said as he poured a grateful Titus a glass of much needed whiskey. The chill from the sea winds had penetrated to Titus’ bones and it would take more than an open fire to readily dispel it.
“No sir, as I did not then. He is a friend of an army acquaintance of mine. It is through Captain Cuffe that we now know each other, and only met this morning.” He accepted the glass from Barrington with thanks and took a large gulp of the warming liquor.
Barrington drained his own in one swallow and then raised the empty glass slightly at the mention of Cuffe’s name. “Robert, yes, of course. Now, there’s a surprise.”
“Surprise? You know Robert?”
“Yes, you see only two days ago I received a letter from Robert Cuffe. And now, here are two acquaintances of the man calling to see me. Isn’t it rum how life can throw up such coincidences from time to time?” Barrington smiled briefly.
“As you knowing Robert is one to me.” Titus replied. “He never mentioned that he knew you I confess.”
“Well, I know of him, of course. His work is exceptional. The corporation in Belfast has been trying to lure him here for years to oversee their civic construction works and inveigled me to approach the man. I am afraid they rather overestimated my influence with the Dublin administration, but I did send him a letter some time ago. He replied saying his hands were full with responsibilities enough.”
“More so now. He has been appointed to Robinson and the castle reconstruction project.”
“Indeed, so he has said in this last letter that I referred to. And much more I should add.” Barrington crossed to a small bureau and began fingering through some tightly filed papers as he spoke. “Some of it concerns you, Mr Perry.” He paused, inviting Titus to respond, but received nothing more than a raised eyebrow from the mapmaker, whose experience in recent times with the apparent Irish love of springing such rhetorical broadsides had trained him not to respond with rhetoric of his own that might betray his surprise. The Irish seemed to derive some kind of debased pleasure from flabbergasting their English cousins and he reckoned that he had gratified their wish in that respect enough. If the man had something to say let him complete it without further theatrical embellishment. Barrington, realising that Titus was loath to add more by way of enquiry or entertainment, smiled apologetically and resumed his search through his files. “You see, while I have never met the man in person, I must confess that I would be rather misleading in ascribing my association with him purely to matters of civic engineering.”

Titus had arranged to meet with Barrington for two reasons. One was simply that he had so enjoyed the man’s conversation at their last encounter, but had left the man’s company convinced that there was more to be learnt from him regarding Eoin Reilly. If he knew the man well then he might also know his enemies too, and even unbeknownst to himself have sufficiently grounded suspicions to help identify his killer. Barrington had then extended what seemed a genuinely friendly invitation to Titus to visit again, and it seemed silly not to avail of that offer while their conversation, and the invitation, were both still fresh in the man’s mind. The second reason was to do with the as yet vague plot of his and Sarah’s. Barrington had displayed a keen knowledge of Petty’s secret ship, and a keener insight into the man’s mind. If he cared to expand on either topic the information could only be of benefit to the two conspirators, who required to learn as much as they could about both. He had expected a friendly conversation over an evening meal while he gently probed the man’s expertise in all these matters and would have regarded any insight of Barrington’s shared as a successful encounter, though even if none was forthcoming he had still reckoned on at least a cordial and hospitable experience – a welcome and worthy respite in itself. What Titus had not expected however was for the conversation with Barrington to so quickly take such a cryptic, and unnerving, turn. He knew by the man’s wry smile when he had cited the ‘coincidence’ of his and his two guests all knowing Robert Cuffe that he had meant it was anything but. His subsequent remarks confirmed as much. But how well did he know Robert? And what did he mean by his last remark regarding his association with the man? He was struggling to find a way to couch the question when Barrington, still leafing through his papers, raised a finger as if to silence him.

“Don’t worry Mr Perry. I will explain all with more clarity shortly, though I think we had better wait for Mr Bramall’s arrival before I say more. Ah! Here is what I am looking for!” He gently extracted a folded paper from the file and handed it to Titus. “Have a read of that. And please excuse me for a moment. I think there are one or two others whose company tonight would not be amiss. I must make arrangement to summons them.” He nodded politely and left the room.

Titus had expected the paper to be the letter from Cuffe that Barrington had referred to, so was surprised when he saw that it had been printed rather than written by hand. He sat down by the bureau and unfolded it. The print was tiny, so much so that he strained to read it even when holding a candle almost against the page. It had the appearance of a legal contract and had been stamped with an official seal at its base alongside a date, February 1st 1684, barely over a month before his own arrival in the country. Here also were scrawled the signatures of some twenty or so men. Ezekiel Barrington’s topped the list, and further down Titus spotted that of William Robinson, Robert Cuffe and Kenneth Bramall. Some names were illegible, the rest were people of whom Titus had never heard . Save one which, when he read it, caused his heart to skip a beat. So much had happened since Titus last had reason even to think of that name, a man who had exited the stage before his own arrival in the play and whose only usefulness it had seemed to Titus was as a way of discovering and understanding the secret affiliation to which Reilly had subscribed, and which had led to his death But a man nevertheless whose letter to an illiterate friend, he reckoned, had set in motion the events that transpired to deliver him to where he was now, and through all the dire perils between – Oliver Burke.

Bramall arrived sooner than expected but immediately excused himself to meet with Barrington in private upstairs, leaving a rather bemused Titus alone for even longer in the office with the parchment to peruse. However, if the two men’s behaviour bordered on being rude, the letter in his hand went a long way to explaining their less than sociable behaviour, as well as Barrington’s remarks regarding Cuffe. And, if Titus’ guess was correct, there was good reason for the two to meet in advance of meeting with him. If he was not mistaken, he was about to be recruited into a fraternity of sorts, and a unique one at that.

The deed he held was nothing less than a covenant. It had taken several readings to deduce its overall point, but the items on it, listed like clauses in a contract, each had a ringing unity of purpose. The first, declaring that all men were equal before their maker, set the tone for the rest. One stated that it was the right of every man to pursue his own path in life without interference from his fellow, once that path was righteous by the commonest understanding of the term. Another stated that each man could choose to picture his god as best suited him, as god knows no face that any can say is unique, while man, made in his image, knows many. The next, inferring its thrust from this tenet, then proceeded to say that each man can worship his god thus with equal variety of method and full impunity, as vanity is a human failing and therefore no god could be so vain as to make fish of one man or fowl of another over the style in which he was worshipped. Another, in more prosaic fashion, stated that it was the duty of all who so believed to aid his fellow man who might be unjustly victimised or falsely punished for holding such beliefs. Further, it added that it was a requisite demanded by all that is just and fair for such like-minded men to organise and take whatever measures were required to make such an offer of aid as forthcoming and effective as possible. There were many more such tenets, each citing such a belief or a directive derived from that belief, until the very last one – the most important directive of all. This baldly stated that, in recognition of the fact that these views are not shared by most men as yet, it was incumbent on all who shared these beliefs to keep their adherence to them secret. Let one’s adherence to these tenets be advertised only by one’s actions, and then only to those with eyes and wit to see them in the true light. Let other men fight and die over empty words and misguided principle, but never let one’s own words betray one to those men. Even if they do not know it, such men are ruled primarily by a fear that they themselves are wrong, and they will therefore stop at nothing to obliterate any whose words or deeds remind them of their error. One day the world may be rid of such loathsome and tyrannical self-delusion, but until then let those who would be its victims keep their counsel and their silence.

Titus had long finished reading and re-reading the document, to the point that his eyes ached from the strain, when the door opened and Barrington entered. He was with Bramall, but close behind them came two others, who Barrington tersely introduced as misters Cicero O’Grady and Lambert Tully. No mention was made of their trade or connection, though neither seemed affronted by the omission and both shook Titus’ hand warmly before seating themselves on the few remaining chairs in Barrington’s small office.
“We would meet upstairs in my drawing room,” Barrington explained apologetically, “but I have two servants on duty tonight and would prefer this conversation to remain between us.”
Titus, who felt not unlike someone who had been kidnapped, decided to make this point at the outset. “I can see why,” he said, handing the document pointedly to his host. “Much in that paper is radical enough to warrant arrest. I might add that I do net welcome being made privy to such subversion against my will. I did not come here to join any fraternity.”
“No, you did not,” Barrington replied, “and I apologise for the manner in which I have introduced you to the subject. There is never an easy way about these things I’m afraid.”
“What things?” Titus had a further point to make about what he had just read and felt now was as good a time as any to make his view known. “I have read more intelligent programmes hacked by young students who wish to change the world and issue their drivel as pamphlets on London’s streets by night.”
There was a cough from one of the two strangers but Barrington laughed. “I agree. As articles of constitution go, they are rather on the vague side. But that’s the Dutch language for you. It lacks the finesse of English and reads rather crudely in translation, I admit.”
“Dutch?”
“Written by a man named Gorontius. You won’t have heard of him.”

The conversation was already steering itself away from the issue that Titus wanted to address. He decided an ultimatum was in order. “I do not care much to know either. Why am I here? And, more to the point, what do you intend to do should I walk out the door this minute? Because, believe me, I have learnt no good reason to sit here a moment longer.”
“We will do nothing, of course.” Barrington, who had seated himself at his bureau, replaced the document where it had been filed. “Though I would beseech you to stay a while longer and hear us out. Two men who you consider your friends have signed their name to this ‘student pamphlet’. Would you not like at least to learn why? And feel free to ask anything else of us you so wish. We will give you only an honest answer.”
Titus stared at Barrington for a moment, trying to detect even a hint of malice or insincerity in the man’s demeanour but could see none. Either he was an exceptionally good liar, and Titus had met enough of those recently to reckon he should by now be able to spot the type with ease, or he did indeed mean what he said. “Very well,” he said, “But for the moment I prefer that I alone do the asking and that you restrict yourself to answers. If I suspect any deviation or deception we can consider this interview terminated immediately.”
“Of course, proceed.”
“Besides what I have read, is there a political agenda shared by the men who signed it?”
“Not in a narrow sense, no. For example, if you mean do we support any political champion, or indeed any cause he champions, then most emphatically, no.”
“And in the broad sense?”
“All men in living engage in politics. The word only means as much. When the concept is subverted to mean membership of a political alliance with a specific goal, then this is something we are opposed to. We are apolitical in that sense, but political in the most fundamental definition of the term.”
“Then what is your goal?”
“Survival, if the truth be known.”

Titus looked around the room. “I see men who are surviving quite well without the need for a secret fraternity to ensure it. And I have yet to know of any such fraternity that has not some goal common to its members. So now, answer me better. Exactly what is that goal that you hide behind the term ‘survival’?”
Bramall answered ahead of the Quaker. “There is none, Mr Perry. Mr Barrington tells the truth. We are all men who wish only to survive. Our goal is to withstand what others throw at us, be it motivated by base avarice on their part or indeed some political objective. And the latter, may I say, have lately become almost as numerous, and as dangerous, as those seeking only to enrich themselves materially. There is such a storm brewing as we speak and none of us know where it will wash us up in its wake, or even if we will get through it at all.”
“You seem all well placed to survive such a storm to me without the need to form a subversive brotherhood. Exactly what kind of extra assistance will you derive from this fraternity’s membership?”
“Very little, I should imagine,” Barrington answered. “Unless of course that we may more easily adhere to our own principles knowing that we have friends who will help us to that end. The storm Mr Bramall refers to is already whipping up. A man’s principles are about to be sorely tried. Some already have been, as you must know, Mr Perry. And as for being subversive; I would be loath to use such a term lightly these days. ‘Secret’ certainly, but we aim to subvert nothing more than the immoral and unprovoked assaults on our livelihoods that these days are sure to bring.”
“You have no political masters whatsoever?”
“None. We abhor the concept, in fact.”
“And the terms of your fellowship include that none should ever be acquired?”
“Amongst other things, yes.”
“Then are you not failures? I know two men, as you say, in your brotherhood who both serve the one master, the Duke of Ormonde.”
“Only as you do, Mr Perry. We make a distinction between being employed for one’s skills and being an adherent to one’s employer’s own ambitions. Do you not do the same?”

Titus admitted that this was reasonable. “But why the need for secrecy? It is a safe assumption that most men in service share that view.”
“Most men will not have the freedom to share that view soon. We, however, intend to retain it.”
“Who initiated the fellowship? This Gorontius character in Holland?”
“No. I am afraid you are looking at the student hack responsible!” Barrington laughed. “And one without the wit I fear to write even such a vague programme, as you say, unaided. But you will admit that the constitution does reflect the principle I have described?”
“It does. What is your connection then with this Dutchman?”
“None now, the man died last year. But he is a Quaker, like myself, a member of our society of friends.”
“And this then is a Quaker constitution?”
“No, it departs from the tenets of our faith in many ways. In fact that is one good reason why my own membership must remain secret. Were my society associates to learn of such secular activities on my part then I am afraid I would be expelled from our community without a moment’s hesitation. But that is a matter between myself and my Quaker friends. I differ from their views only in that I believe the benefits of association should extend to all peaceable and well intentioned souls. To me the society’s objectives and our own are one and the same – the protection of the innocent from unwarranted harassment.”
“From what I know of the Quakers they would not think kindly of men such as yourselves banding together to protect nothing less than your incomes. Or are you going to try and convince me that by enlisting in your fellowship my soul as well as my pocket will take a step towards its salvation?”
Barrington allowed himself a wry laugh. “Your soul is your own concern, Mr Perry. But there are more than pockets at stake too. It is a sad reflection on the times we live in, but how a man minds either marks him out as a political friend or foe to some very powerful men with resources enough to wreak terrible ruin on anyone whom they deem the latter. In fact, that is another reason behind our little ‘brotherhood’, as you called it. If you will not consider it deviation on my part I will gladly explain.”
“Please do.”
“You know of John Locke?”
“I have read him, yes.”
“And you are in broad agreement with his philosophies?”
“Many, yes.”
“And you know that the man currently resides in exile in Holland?”
“Yes.”
“Well, until last year he was a guest of my fellow Quaker friend, Gorontius, himself an exile. He was French by birth and acquired the name from his Dutch students. Until then he was simply Jean Gironde, a philosopher too of very like mind to Locke. You say you have read Locke. Then you know that his views are the antithesis to those of Thomas Hobbes?”

Titus had to admit that his knowledge of Hobbes was minimal. Barrington elected to summarise the man’s views. “Both men have been used vilely to vindicate certain politicians’ rather more base ambitions, but essentially Hobbes believed that all men share one trait, selfishness. Left to his own devices each man seeks only gratification of his senses. Stemming from that is each man’s propensity to acquire wealth, indulge himself carnally, satisfy his lusts, and so on. What stops each man from being totally subject to his lusts is the recognition that some things can only be achieved through cooperation, hence a political system. Such a system needs a figure at its head. What nature the system possesses, be it a monarchy, republic or any other, is immaterial. One figure must represent the power of the system, and from that man down power is distributed. Power, in itself, is therefore good, and it is wrong to oppose it. If one subscribes to a system and that system is then changed, then one must subscribe to the next, and so on. It is wrong to do otherwise.”

“A rather silly view, I would say,” Titus interrupted.
“Well no, it is rather an effective philosophy, and a reasonably accurate one too. You can see evidence of its success in the way this country has been governed since history began. But you are right to question it, as has John Locke. His view, as you know, is that man cannot divorce himself from his responsibility to others. Man is at heart a social being, and no one, not even a king, can escape from that reality. To him, Hobbes merely justifies a flaw, whereas he addresses it with a view to amendment.”
“I can see why the man is in exile. The Stuarts do not take kindly to being told that their desire to rule absolutely might break a natural law.”
“No indeed. And worse, Locke maintains that it is one’s duty to correct one’s fellow man when his departure from his social responsibilities causes hardship. A radical view, and a dangerous one too.”
“I have read the man. I do not remember his advocating revolution.”
“No, he does not, save that in if most men adhere to such principles then absolute monarchy is impossible to sustain.”
“So you are all followers of Locke?”
“Of his view, yes. What you have called a fraternity is no such thing really. It is merely a collection of like-minded men on one point only – that the true enemy of any man is the man who will disguise his pursuit of absolute power behind an agenda that purports to benefit others besides himself. There is a lie intrinsic to that stand, and it is one that we are all being fed daily. Politically we are a diverse crew indeed. Mr O’Grady here will have you bored to tears should you start him on the subject of democratic principle, isn’t that right Cicero?”
O’Grady smiled in response, frowning playfully at Barrington.
“The man is convinced true representation of the populace died with the advent of the first Roman emperor. We like to tease him that his principle extends from his name only. Were his mother to have called him Sulla, he would be instead a staunch advocate of dictatorship.” Barrington waved his hand in the direction of the sea captain. “Captain Bramall and your friend Captain Cuffe both adhere to the view that good government hinges on an intelligent and independent army. I for one doubt very much if such is not a contradiction in terms!” He smiled. “So you see, our little collection of souls would find itself woefully inadequate should it ever try to pursue any political agenda – and even worse off should it win by it!”

Titus smiled too. “Are there other ‘little collections’ like yours? Did this Gorontius spawn a league of such cells before his demise?”
“No. The man wrote our constitution as a favour to me, I must admit. It may have been vanity on my part but I felt that we might benefit from seeing our principles written down on paper – to help the bond, you might say. In a letter I asked him to hypothesise the existence of such a loose association of individuals as ourselves and enquired if any rules could be codified that might summarise their shared objectives. In response he produced the document that you have read, little knowing to what use it would be put. To Gironde it was an academic exercise. To us it represents quite succinctly what we are about.”
“I still say the document is vague.”
Bramall coughed. “Mr Perry, may I interject again?”
Titus nodded.

The captain coughed almost embarrassedly, as if what he was about to say might not square with the views of those with whom he sat but needed saying anyway. “I am no great believer that any man’s thoughts can, or even should, be expressed in a document, least of all one held to be privy only to those who agree with its contents. I may be simple, but I judge men best by looking them in the eye, and trust no charter written in ink as much as I might its writer were I to meet him face to face. But I am not so against the written word that I am blind to any intelligence that it might contain, and this document that we signed is nothing more than a simple statement of the truth. You are right to call it vague, if by that you mean politically. But then what you fail to appreciate is that such is exactly how we would want it. Look at us. Look at those you know in our membership. We are all common in one respect above all else. We wish only to live out our lives with some degree of security. We are all professional men. We have no axe to grind with anyone. All that unites us is the wish to continue as such and avoid disaster, save that which the good lord might throw in our path. That which derives from another’s greed we hope to surmount, that is all.” He stopped and nervously glanced to the others, as if still awaiting rebuke for speaking his own mind on their behalf, and sat back in his chair only when he saw that none was forthcoming.

Titus decided to prolong the captain’s unease a little longer. “So you think I am of like mind, Captain Bramall? And even if I were, you would presume that I would be of a mind also to join you in your club?”
“No, sir. At least not in those words, no.” Bramall’s voice was tinged with impatience. He had obviously not intended assuming the role of interpreter for the group from Barrington but responded nonetheless. It struck Titus that the captain could not have cared less whether their group had been inspired by John Locke, Titus Oates or the local butcher. What mattered to him was only that it made sense for it to exist and for them to be party to it. Others could debate its philosophical origins until the cows came home. He however would be blunt. “Let me cut to the quick. We are a fellowship of men who have pledged only to aid each other in times of stress, that is all. Rather like a guild, but without a common trade. What we want is merely to offer you the same support.”
“Why?”
“You are in need of it. You are not unlike us in how you view this society we live in. That much we know, and in truth we need not know anything else.”
The room grew quiet and each man looked at Titus. Through the seaman’s blunt words their case had been made as directly and succinctly as could be hoped, and now a verdict was required from the mapmaker. But Titus was not quite ready to provide one. At their first meeting Barrington had alluded to his problems in Armagh, hinting at a greater knowledge than mere gossip or hearsay might have provided the man. Now here was another man, only a day known to him, making another such hint that his activities, which he had taken pains to keep as secret as possible, were also being reported to these strangers. If Cuffe or Robinson were their informers then Titus knew that he was in grave danger indeed. He had entrusted much to both these people. They might not have been sinister in their intent, they may even have possibly thought that they were doing him a good turn in steering him towards membership of this idealistic squad, but the potential effect of such meddling on their part might be just as catastrophic. He knew as he asked his next question that this fear was plain to discern in both his tone and his features, but he was impelled to ask it all the same. “How much of my business do you really know, sirs? And who are your informants?”
Barrington answered quickly. “Trust me, Mr Perry. Your friends in Dublin have not spoken out of turn, be assured. I said before that we are a loose association. Indeed I have not even met Captain Cuffe in person as yet, though I confess that I did ask him in writing to provide me with his assessment of your character. No, we are a group of people where one is known to another but not everyone is known to each. We have never even held a meeting of all of us, there has never been a need. And neither has there ever been a need to sit and plot, or to employ the techniques of spies to amass information on any one person. What we know of your activities is derived mostly from what we have learnt incidentally.” He noticed Titus’ sceptical face so hastily added, “You might say that we have identified certain people who pose us the largest threat, and in identifying our enemies we have identified theirs too. That is how we learnt of you.”
“Then you have apparently learnt much from inference. Forgive me if I find that hard to believe.”
Barrington seemed uncomfortable. “You are right. I…, we have told you only of how we learnt of you as a potential friend, and believe me, that is how we see you. But the truth is that there is one of us who has watched you closely, I admit, and has more or less confirmed that assessment by his own observations.” His eyes had lowered with this admission, though he raised them again to look Titus in the eye for his next comment. “He has also deduced your purpose, we think.”
“If you say the name of Cuffe then both he and you can regard yourselves as having one friend less in your little circle of potential chums and to have earned one more enemy, I swear it!”
“No it is not your friend. You have not met the man. His name is Oliver Burke.”

Titus hoped his astonishment did not show. Even if Barrington had been a character from a Wycherlie play, he could not have delivered a line laden with such import in as dramatic a manner as he had. Titus could see that the Quaker knew when he had struck a nerve but it gave him grim satisfaction to deny the man the pleasure of seeing his trust strike home. He dearly wanted to know about this Oliver Burke, but for the moment it could wait. He needed to know something else even more. “My purpose, you say? And what is that, as you understand it, pray?” He eyed each man as he asked it.
Barrington spoke calmly. “You wish to find the killer of Eoin Reilly, as did he.”
“And do you know why I do?”

The Quaker answered immediately, as if this was a question to which his answer had long been prepared. “For the only worthwhile reason that there is; your own integrity’s survival depends on the outcome of your quest.”

Titus had expected something more prosaic but had to admit that Barrington’s reply encapsulated nicely how he felt about the issue himself. However he did not wish to trade such niceties just at the minute. Something else that Barrington had said needed clarification. “You say that this man Burke shared my ambition. Why the past tense? Has the man’s mind changed in that respect, or is it that maybe he himself is no more?”

Barrington seemed to lose his composure momentarily. The man was obviously struggling to edit his comments as he made them and had got close to an admission that he did not wish to divulge, at least just yet. He checked himself visibly. “No, no, no - for the moment our friend Oliver Burke is alive, I assure you, though superhuman effort is being made on some peoples’ part to alter that fact, and on ours to keep it true. While the possibility exists of meeting him however there is much that you might learn from Mr Burke, that is if you would talk to him. We can arrange that, as we will also arrange to be of service to you in your quest, should you wish it.”

Titus swallowed involuntarily. What Barrington had just offered was almost incredible; the chance to talk to the one man whose actions had precipitated his own fate and whose testimony might go far in explaining not just what had befallen him over the last few months, but also in how best to engineer what must transpire over the next few weeks, and his own role in ensuring that it did. It was almost too good an opportunity to miss, and he felt himself instinctively distrusting its availability. He had failed to detect a threat in these men’s manner but that was no guarantee that none existed. Maybe, as they averred, there was nothing malign in their secret brotherhood. Maybe their offer of help was genuine, and might even be an offer that could be backed up with the practical means to deliver it. But these were only suppositions on his part, and as such they battled in his mind with an intense distrust of men like these who saw a necessity to draw up secret agendas behind closed doors, and who felt their bond validated through a device so obtuse as having signed their names to a document drawn up by a dead Frenchman who himself had written them thinking only that he was answering a correspondent’s hypothesis. But somehow he felt assured in this fact. It made these men either woefully inadequate conspirators – a welcome change to others more practised in these arts that he had met lately - or merely well intentioned fools, who at the moment wished to extend those good intentions in his direction. In all likelihood the latter was the closer to the truth, but he could not be sure. He knew however that he would have to risk their enmity and probe further, as he knew also that to interrogate them further would merely lend confirmation to what they must, at least to some extent, be hypothesising themselves about his own character, for good or ill. If his supposition was wrong, and there was indeed to be a sting in the tail of this discussion, then such interrogation, and whatever confirmation it might engender, might well merely accelerate that sting and make it all the sharper. But that was risk that he had to take. “You will help me to find Reilly’s killers?”
“Yes.”
“Without ascertaining first what my own motives might be? Or has your spy Burke told you those too?”
“He is not a spy. He is a man on the verge of ruin who we are also pledged to help. He knows little about your motives so neither do we. We know only that we all share a common aim.”
“I will judge whether any aim of mine is common with yours, but no matter. How has he watched me? The last I heard the man was abroad, in fear of his life.”
“He was never abroad. That was his plan but his enemies put paid to it. However he is a resourceful man, and found other ways to avoid them, so far.”
“You say I can meet this man?”
“You may, if you wish. In fact I would recommend you do so at the earliest opportunity.”
“He is here?”
“In Belfast, yes, but not anywhere near here. I can take you to him tomorrow.”
“No. You will bring him here.”

Barrington nodded. “You are right to be cautious. And I can see that no mere assurance from me will assuage your fears that this is some fiendish plot. Very well, I will ask him to come here, though the man’s own fears may preclude it.”
Titus’ mind was racing. Part of him suspected that he was being set up, but another part could see that if it was such an ambush then it was over elaborate in its construction and was therefore probably nothing of the kind at all. Barrington’s silence inferred that the mapmaker should speak next and dictate what was to be done, but Titus’ own indecision merely added to that silence, so that it became a palpably uncomfortable barrier himself and the others who sat in the room with him, one of almost physical proportions. It was as if all that could be spoken had been said, and now all that had been unspoken was finding expression, including Titus’ distrust of his companions, and Barrington in particular.  The Quaker, for his part, seemed by his expression to have arrived at a similar conclusion regarding the mapmaker, as if he was now beginning to regret that he had ever initiated the whole encounter but had gone too far to know quite how to end it.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 1)

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