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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 3)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 3)

London, once it gets into the blood, is like the most potent spirit or the most insidious drug. Soon one develops a dependency on its presence, often even as one loathes oneself for that same enslavement to its heady aroma, which promises much but delivers little, save often a path to one’s own ruination. Even in the depths of his despair in Armagh, Titus, on finding by chance some copies of the Gazette broadsheet in Adams’ inn left by a previous guest, had found himself transported for a while from his woes, hungrily devouring news and gossip from the city with which he had parted company so willingly only a few months before. As The Unicorn came into sight of Wren’s impressive Observatory perched on a high bluff in Greenwich Park, its sun-bleached brick in stark contrast to the dark pallor of the city’s sky looming tantalisingly beyond the river’s bend, he found himself unconsciously erasing in his mind all that had happened in the interlude since last he had set foot on this soil. Although he liked to think that he no longer wished to think of her as his home, he knew that such a wish was forlorn. She owned him, if not in body at least in soul, and no matter where in the world his life might take him, he knew there was only one place on earth that could ever lay such a claim on his very being. As he climbed the greasy steps that led from The Unicorn’s dinghy up the western staves of New Quay by London Bridge, and saw the scaffold shrouded spire of St Magnus the Martyr casting its long shadow across the cobbles in the late afternoon light, he had to forcibly remind himself that this was just a fleeting visit. If the old lady wished to grasp him back to her avaricious bosom, she would have to wait a while longer yet.

His reasons for revisiting the old mistress of a town had been originally twofold. Cormac’s communication regarding Flitch’s sudden departure had set him thinking. The man was privy to information that Titus and Sarah reckoned was key to their plan. Whatever truth might be in Ormonde’s assertion that the wretch had turned over a new leaf in his life, there was no doubt that the contents of some of his old ones might well be essential to their own understanding of the men that they were about to pit themselves against. Besides, there was much that Titus himself wanted to hear from the man’s own lips in any case, not least how one could so successfully lead a life as false as his, and for so long, without even one’s closest associate, or at least one who mistakenly believed that he was, suspecting the truth. Despite all that he had learnt or surmised regarding Flitch’s duplicity, Titus still reckoned – foolishly perhaps – that he was owed at least that much from their friendship; and that it had indeed been a friendship, despite all that had transpired, was a conviction that Titus could not, or would not, shake. He had agreed with Sarah to make a search for the man based on the few things that he knew about Flitch and which were most likely founded in truth. With Flitch, that didn’t amount to much, but of some aspects to the man Titus felt more certain. For one thing, he knew it in his bones that Flitch, on quitting Cormac’s care, had headed straight for London and nowhere else. The man had often made reference to his family having an interest in warehouses by St Botulph’s wharf, and had regaled Titus with stories from his childhood and youth in the area, which if they were fictions, were works of storytelling genius in their detail. Titus reasoned that that much at least of his secretary’s background was true. That the man would return to London in any case seemed impossible to disbelieve also. Whatever the man’s next plans were, Titus calculated that he would pursue them within the city, a milieu outside of which a man like Flitch would have no purpose, so much of a Londoner was he.

He had therefore promised her to at least try and track his old retainer down, though he kept to himself his own reservations that such could be achieved given the limited time he had available to him. Also, if Titus’ new suspicions were true, then Flitch had reneged on some very powerful men indeed, more powerful even than the king who’s fractured realm they soon sought to turn to their advantage, and would have good reason not to be found in any case. Given the man’s obvious expertise in these matters, it was more in hope than expectation that Titus would conduct his short search.

The second point of his visit was also one originally based on hope more than expectation. He was about to request an audience with a very powerful man, which by necessity would be at short notice, so might not even be granted. Even if it was, Titus, on boarding The Unicorn, had not even fully formulated what he would request at this meeting, or even how he would phrase it. He and Sarah had agreed though that the approach must be made, however badly prepared they were when Cuffe had told him that a ship had been arranged to take him. Time had been of the essence then, so he had taken the opportunity to travel, and had hoped that inspiration might visit him on his journey as how best to proceed, and hoped just as fervently that fortune would smile on him with regard to putting whatever strategy he settled on into action. As things turned out, his need for inspiration and his dependency on good fortune in London were all but negated completely thanks to an even greater stroke of luck on The Unicorn itself, namely his interview with Oliver Burke. Moreover, what had been a vague plan involving a hopeful request to one of the most important men in London for aid would become, by the time he stepped onto the quayside and lugged his satchel through the maze of casks and crates that all but obscured its cobbles, a most definite strategy in which securing that aid was all but guaranteed, thanks to Burke’s information. In fact, with the facts as he now knew them, even the purpose of that strategy had itself changed fundamentally. They had always known that there was much at stake – even their own lives – in what they were undertaking. Now he could see that there was more even than that being risked, much more. So much in fact that it was almost better not to contemplate it. But he had to admit - the sensation of resolution, and the knowledge that he now at least held the means to put into effect what he had resolved, was gratifying indeed.

The passage itself from Belfast had been uneventful, at least in a nautical sense. They had managed to keep ahead of the foul weather pushing down from the north that had hastened their departure, and Bramall had also decided to chance making the run without calling into any port on the way, though this time he had nursed his new vessel with a bit more tenderness and had striven for a steady pace rather than a fast one. Consequently by the time the ship had passed the Medway and the dark shroud in the sky that inicated London eased into view beyond the Thames’ banks, it was early evening on the second day since they had weighed anchor in Belfast harbour. Titus had seen the shadowy figure of Oliver Burke being spirited on board just prior to their departure, but Bramall had suggested that they postpone their parley until the morning. On the wave, he suggested, one should take one’s chances to sleep whenever the elements conspired to make it safe. They do not do so often and even short voyages such as this one can become a sleepless purgatory when their whim dictates. With the possibility of being overtaken by bad weather in the offing, both he and Burke should avail of the present calm to get some rest.

So it was over a rudimentary breakfast of coarse bread, cheese and wine in the captain’s cabin that Titus finally got to meet the man whose manuscript had launched him into such uncharted and perilous waters of late, whatever the elements might conspire later to provide by way of emulation between there and London. Burke was in his thirties, a surprise to Titus who had imagined someone twenty years or more older, and was wearing the uniform of the new Irish regiment, whose inauguration Titus had heard of in the tavern in Balgriffin, but the manifestation of which was not intended, he understood, until the accession of the Duke of York to the throne. More surprising still was his first remark as he sat at the table opposite Titus, keeping his voice low so as not to awaken Captain Bramall, who slept in his bunk only yards away.

“Is she alright, young Sarah?”
Titus, who had spent an almost sleepless night, despite Bramall’s advice, rehearsing his interview with this man, had neither expected Burke to make the first enquiry, nor its nature. As a result his reply was unsatisfactory, even to his own ears. “Fine, yes.”
“Good. From what I hear she has you to thank for that.”
Titus nodded in thanks, but was unwilling to allow Burke dictate the interview further. He decided that he should riposte with his own line of enquiry immediately. “I am gratified that you share my concern for Sarah Reilly’s safety. But that is not what I wish to discuss with you. There is much that I need to learn from you.”
“What, exactly?” Burke folded his arms and leaned forward. His clear blue eyes bored into Titus’, rather like a card player who has seen a stake being raised and suspects a bluff, and who wishes that his opponent should be in no doubt of his suspicions.
Titus was glad to see it. It meant that, just like him, Burke was also hopefully contemptuous of double-talk and would value plain speaking. “Everything, in effect,” he answered. “For a start, what happened to your planned escape through Howth? You see, I have read your correspondence with Collier, the innkeeper.”
Burke smiled. “I know you have.”
“You have spoken with Collier since?”
“No, but he is a man who does his friend’s bidding. He was instructed to have you read it, or haven’t you realised that yet?” Burke’s tone bordered on the sardonic.
Titus, in as even a voice as he could muster, asked Burke why.

“Well, it was obviously over subtle, but my letter contained a warning to you, about your travelling partner. I take it the warning went unheeded.”
The postscript of Burke’s letter returned to Titus’ mind. At the time he had read it, he had indeed dismissed it as a vague piece of advice about choosing one’s friends, and most likely directed at Collier. “You warned me of Flitch?” he asked.
“Was that his name? We knew of him only as an assassin and that he travelled with you.”
Titus was still finding it difficult to absorb that Burke’s letter had been intended for his eyes all along. “But why the subtlety? And anyhow, how could Collier have known I was coming to his tavern?”
Burke smiled. “The subtlety was because even what little we suspected, if it had been phrased as a direct warning, would have been dismissed by you out of hand, would it not? And it was important that the fact not be stated so boldly that Collier might understand.”
“Why not? Are you not in league?”
“Not at that level, no.” He sipped his wine thoughtfully, as if choosing beforehand the best words to explain what he meant. “Let’s just say that I was aware of the commission that you were about to receive from the castle regarding Lord Ormonde. It was important that you undertake and succeed in that task, and not be deterred by alarmist propaganda, as you might well have deemed a more overt warning from me, or be prevented altogether by villainous murderers in your employment. Charles Collier is indeed a man I am proud to call a friend, and for that reason alone needs be implicated in events no further than he already is. He is a staunch fighter for the preservation of honest citizens and neighbours from the menace of avaricious bullies but that is the extent of his battle. There is a greater war of which he knows nothing, and I pray to God that he need never have to learn. And no, he could not depend on you coming to his tavern. He was to seek you out. If you did so then it was pure good fortune.”

Titus wondered for whom, but did not express it. “I have spoken with the man many times since then, and have found him an honest one, and unsubtle in his ways. Yet I never detected even a hint from him that had ever been directed to show me that letter.”
“The man may be simple in his understanding of what pertains, but that reflects only his station in life, not his intellect. Believe me, Charles Collier can be more subtle, and to greater effect, than many who would style themselves masters of the politicians’ crafts. What’s more, he obliges his friends and does as he is bid, which is more than can be said for many.”

This gave the mapmaker pause for thought, but he reminded himself that there were more important things to be discovered just at the minute than the extent of an innkeeper’s trustworthiness. “Whatever, I have already learnt to my cost since arriving here that I was considered a stooge, and by men of far less worth than Charles Collier, though it seems from what you say that even he has taken me for a fool.”
“No sir,” Burke interrupted him. “A fool is a man who sees the truth and ignores it. I would venture to describe you on your arrival as an innocent, but not a fool. And I for one depended on that.”
“Innocent or fool, to me it makes no difference. But much has happened since then, and you will not find it so easy to play me as either from here on. Now, answer me. What happened to prevent your escape? That much of the letter, I take it, was true?”
Burke smiled again. “Forgive me, I did not mean that I required you to be an innocent. I required you not to be a fool. Indeed, I was relying on your integrity and intelligence even though I knew next to nothing about your own character, Mr Perry. If anyone could be accused of being foolish I am afraid it was I, not you. Or at least rash, but such was the desperation of a man in a tight spot. And yes, the letter stated my true intention at the time. I did go to Howth but found it teeming with Briar’s men. And by that I do not mean the castle constabulary.”
“They had been warned in advance?”
“No. It was in haste, as I said, that I had arranged to leave through Howth and I did not realise how advanced was the strategy to capture me. But it is known that I have boats there and Briar was never a man to overlook the obvious. By the way, I have heard that you were more than instrumental in his undoing, Mr Perry. There will be many an honest man with cause to thank you for that.”
“I am beginning to wonder if there is such a thing as an honest man left in this place, Mr Burke.”
“Oh many, I can assure you. In any case, my plan thwarted, I had no option but to lie low as best I could. I was fortunate to get out of Dublin but I am afraid I cannot tell you how, or what I did next. But with my avenue of escape blocked I was forced to make a virtue of my captivity. I have spent the last few months gathering intelligence covertly, some of which I can share with you. Forgive my secrecy, but such is the way sometimes. Now, I believe that you wish to know more about the death of Eoin Reilly, or so I was told was the point of our meeting?”
Titus nodded. “Partly, yes. But as I said, I will not be taken as a fool again, and I am not so much a fool as to think that Reilly’s death stands in isolation.”
“That is correct.” Burke paused, and then smiled briefly. “Nothing stands in isolation. Everything is linked, as I am sure you appreciate. But I had better tell you now before we proceed. There may be some intelligence I cannot share.”

Titus felt his fist clenching and it took great restraint to resist raising his voice in anger as he spoke. He had had enough of duplicity to last him a lifetime, and had hoped at least that Burke, given his desperate straits, had little to lose through straight talk. Already his hope was being dashed – the man was going to be circumspect in his answers and had admitted as much. Besides, the man’s smile as he said it had irked him. He swallowed hard as if to swallow his rage and almost whispered. “Please do not make me threaten you with exposure in order to elicit answers from you Mr Burke, but believe me, such I will do if I suspect that you are withholding information I deem pertinent.”
Burke held up his hand and seemed about to utter something but then deemed it better unsaid. He coughed lightly. “I think we understand each other. Ask away.”
“I believe you are a prominent member of what is called ‘the ladder’ locally. Is this true?”
Burke nodded. “It is.” He sipped from his wine and eyed Titus above the glass’ rim.
“And that Eoin Reilly was also …”
Burke lowered his glass and held up his hand again. “Ah! A presumption is about to be made which I must contradict immediately. Forgive me, Mr Perry, but you have warned me not to stray from the pertinent, and now you are doing so yourself.”
“Oh?”
“Oh, indeed! Tell me, do you recognise the uniform I wear?”
“I do, and was going to ask you why you wear it.”
Burke laughed lightly. “I am a new recruit, I believe, or so I was convinced was the case by our slumbering companion yonder! Captain Bramall is delivering me into the care of a, em, ‘colleague’ sailing to France. It seems that the ship is carrying a few more uniforms such as this one for a mustering of the troops near Dunkerque. Fetching, is it not? I should blend in admirably.”
Titus ignored Burke’s levity. “You wear it as a disguise?”
“One of the less offensive I have been forced to in recent weeks I might add. But that is not the issue. Do you know who will lead this new regiment of ours Mr Perry?”
“Richard Talbot.”
“And do you know the man’s history?”
“Somewhat.”
“Then sir, you can see that the ladder has many steps, and some of them are in surprisingly high places. Do not think of it as a club, please. It is a system, and one moreover that is about to be vindicated by the crown, no less.”
“Very well, but is it not true that groups like The Modellers and their friends see this ‘ladder’ as a club themselves, and one whose membership needs pruning?”
“Indeed they do, but they are not men of integrity, or even of much intelligence.”
“Yet they succeeded in hounding you out of Dublin!”

For a long moment Burke stared, as if assessing Titus for the first time, and then broke into an abruptly loud laugh. “You jest! Surely you have not presumed all this time that I am running from such buffoons!”
Titus admitted that he had, and that from what he had heard The Modellers were not such buffoons as Burke averred. What was more, Burke himself had implied as much in the letter that had led ultimately to this bizarre meeting of its author and reader so much later.
Burke shook his head, almost in astonishment. “You have done remarkably well in staying alive so, Mr Perry, having identified so erroneously where true danger lies. I commend you on your good fortune, but fear that your trust in it is misplaced.”
“Danger to you or to me?”
“Both, as things now stand. You stated at the outset that you desire to learn everything you can from me. Let me correct you slightly and state that you require to, sir, if you value your life!”
“So tell me.”
“Right, we will start then with first principles. You are obsessed with ‘clubs’ and ‘plots’, so let us begin our lesson with one such. You are familiar with the Rye House plot?”

This unexpected turn in the conversation took Titus completely by surprise. Of course he had heard of the plot, there was no one in the kingdom could have failed to do so, what with the king declaring a public holiday to be celebrated each year in celebration of its discovery and the execution of its leaders only last year. Some very prominent men had been involved in the plan to assassinate the king and his brother as they rode from Newmarket past Rumbold’s Rye House, and most of them had ended up as ‘clients’ of Jack Ketch, the public executioner. Providentially for Charles and James, a fire in Newmarket while they were there had caused then to return early to London, thus foiling the plotters’ scheme. When, through an informer, word of what had been intended was relayed to the king, Charles Stuart had wasted no time and effort in rounding up those involved. Indeed, such was the speed with which this was done, and the flimsy evidence used to prosecute some of the plotters, most notably the nobleman Algernon Sidney, that seditious rumour was already rife in London’s taverns prior to Titus’ departure concerning the veracity of the charges and the actual innocence of those condemned. Charles, it was alleged, had merely used the plot as a crude opportunity to eliminate his most vocal opponents, and to silence through fear those others who might have a mind to criticise in the future his policy of absolute monarchy. The Earl of Staffordshire, for one, had taken such rumour seriously enough to escape to Holland before he too could be arraigned. It was as Titus remembered this detail that Flitch’s notebook came to his mind and he felt a small shiver run down his spine.
Burke seemed to spot this. “Ah, the pieces of your jumble are beginning to fall into place I take it.”
“Not that they still make sense, no.”
“Then let me assist you. What if I were to tell you that there was no such thing as the Rye House plot? That the whole thing was a figment in the mind of our monarch, or at least a falsehood designed to serve his purpose?”
“I should say I am ready to believe anything and nothing at the minute, and would find neither surprising. But proceed.”
“I exaggerate of course. Oh, there may indeed have been a plot against the king and his brother, even several, though I would doubt that a rye house figured in any of them, let alone those who paid with their heads. There most definitely was an informer however.” Burke paused, almost as if expecting Titus to supply the name of this man. “Though we were for a long time unsure of his identity.”
“Who are ‘we’ now?”
“Most assuredly not ‘The Ladder’ club I can assure you!” Burke laughed. “Nor am I referring to our little ‘guild’ either, who have me as a member on the same understanding of my business as Charles Collier has.” He hushed and glanced to Bramall’s door, as if he had suddenly remembered where he was. “But let us leave it as ‘we’ for the moment,” he spoke more softly. “What we know is that the informer himself knew details of those arrested that only a confidante of some description could have had access to. And we know that save for our monarch’s dislike of them and their Whig tendencies, those accused shared little in common. Socially they lived at quite a variety of levels, and politically inhabited an equally surprisingly wide spectrum too; from outright republican to those with their hearts set on a Protestant throne for a Protestant people. Some even hated the sight of each other indeed. A most unlikely set of conspirators you might think.”
“If you say so.”
“Oh, but I do, and half of London says so too, as you well know! Yet the crown felt secure in tarring them all with the same brush, based on the ‘evidence’ supplied by this man. It served their purposes to do so. And a name to the conspiracy that rolled so easy off the tongue was no impediment, or accident, either. It served to cement supposition as fact in the public consciousness all the quicker, which was also in the crown’s own interest.”
Titus had to admit that Burke was only voicing reservations that he himself had harboured at the time, even without subscribing to much of the bar room gossip that his companion referred to. The aftermath of the Rye House Plot had seen much activity by way of retribution on the part of the authorities and very little by way of establishing the proof of it, at least publicly. It had been very much a case of ‘the crown has established…’ with very little to suggest just how the crown had established anything at all. “Yes, I have heard that the evidence in some cases was little more than innuendo. But if innuendo was all that the informer could come up with, then it could have been any man who has read even one of those scurrilous pamphlets pressed into one’s hand by shady creatures that abound in the crowd at Smithfield.”
“Innuendo, yes, much of it was. But in Sidney’s case, for example, there was more than that, and it was supported by documents from his private library and diaries in his own hand that were not known to anyone outside a very small circle of good friends. Forgive me for being circumspect about on whose behalf I speak besides my own, but trust me, it was imperative that we learnt who this informer was. You see, if he behaved as he did through a love of the Stuarts and support for the succession of James to the throne, then he was a friend, though one posing as a foe. If he did so merely for some personal benefit, then he could well have been our foe, but posing as an ally. You see our dilemma?”
“No, but I take it that you have since deduced who this man was, then?”
“Ah, but in this game deduction is only half the battle. Unless one has proof such deduction is facile. So let me elaborate on where our deductions led us. I think you will find it salient to your own, em, purposes.” Burke drained his wine and poured himself a fresh glass from the bottle between them. He offered it to Titus, who refused with a polite nod. “At first, as you say, we had as many names to conjure with as there are people with an axe to grind against the monarch and his brother, but people not so set on using that axe just yet that they couldn’t bury it for a while longer. Half the kingdom, in other words, and the more intelligence we gathered the bigger that half appeared to grow. So we employed a different test against our intelligence to see if we could refine it into a more meaningful morsel – the same test that Cicero tells us was advised by the Consul Cassius Longhinus Ravilla when advising his judges how best to arrive at any judicious truth. ‘Qui Bono?’ we asked ourselves. Who benefits?”
“You can be bloody sure in politics that there is always someone poised to benefit from any development, no matter how sordid. But surely your royal friends in Whitehall could have simply told you who it was, could they not? After all, it was to them that he ran with his tales.”

Burke winced at Titus’ crassness. “Please sir, be not so bold as to call the Stuarts our friends, nor so presumptive that you might think we are in a position to trust them, let alone request such information. It merely shows that you have yet to fully realise the position we Irish are in. But your earlier observation is true enough. There is, in politics, always someone who thinks he can benefit, as there is always someone on the climb. So, as I said, that is why this line of reasoning also led us nowhere, for a long while. Again the list seemed impossibly long. But you see; we were falling into a trap, and one that had been set for us too. We had looked for political gain, and therefore we saw too many answers. Such a gain sought by an informer, be it for himself or his cause, was too obvious, and had too many potential claimants. Besides, the Stuarts are not the most dependable paymasters either, even when rewarding their own die-hards, let alone turncoats who have done them a good turn. They see plots against them in their sleep these days. They would as likely ruin the man who brought them the news as reward him politically, what with him having established himself as untrustworthy in their eyes. So no, this was not a fruitful method of deducing our mystery man.”

Titus could see that Burke was merely setting the stage for another twist in the narrative, whereby he and his anonymous colleagues resolved the dilemma that Burke had earlier said confronted them. The man seemed to be enjoying this opportunity to speak freely to someone at last and was making the most of it. He deemed it prudent therefore to play along in the role of the rapt audience that Burke apparently presumed him to be. Hidden in the man’s verbose testimony might be some solutions, after all, to some dilemmas of his own. “Until …,” he prompted his companion.
“Until we realised how short sighted we had been all along. We were trying to think as politicians ourselves, and English politicians at that. We had only to look closer to home to realise our error. And then the answer presented itself on a plate, as it were.”
“You had your man.”

Burke laughed. “Well no, not quite. Identifying this man as our chief suspect was one thing. ‘Nailing’ him was, and is, another task entirely. But this time we could at least be sure that our suspicions might at least be validated in fact. Our problem now was in unearthing these facts, and still is.” Burke paused again, for little more than dramatic effect Titus suspected. He leaned forward in a conspiratorial manner, though the only man within earshot, Captain Bramall, was still dead to the world – the snores emanating from his berth confirmed as much, and Titus had shared enough barracks dormitories in his time to recognise them as genuine. He thought it best however to reciprocate Burke’s theatrical gesture with one of his own and leaned forward in like manner, inviting his companion to continue. Burke took the cue. “You see, what we should have been looking for was a man who stood to gain in some other way from his deed, if not politically - someone, say, to whom politics now means little, but to whom another prize is well worth such a massive treachery as informing on past allies and all the risk it contains. Now what does a man crave if not political power, Mr Perry?”

Titus could think of many things, but he knew the answer that Burke expected. “Wealth.”
“Exactly. And tell me; are you aware of anyone who might fit the description? A man exiting a political stage, for example, who has benefited from many alliances in the past and, in the process, learnt much that could well damn those allies should it ever be revealed?”
“I can think of a father and a son in that respect.”
“But only one of them a man now bent on amassing a fortune, and nothing else?”
“You are implying Lord Arran.”
Burke smiled. “I am, sir.”

Titus leaned back. Now it was his turn to stare at the man across from him while he composed his thoughts. “If I am to follow that logic, then I am to believe that Richard Butler is, or was, a confidante of the Whigs. I must confess that I find this hard to believe.”
“Why so? You see, you are supposing that the man’s policies reflect that of his father, who, mind you it must be said, was not afraid to run with the fox and ride with the hounds when it suited him too. Arran however is not his father. Though he may have inherited the old man’s instinct for survival, can you honestly say that you have seen one policy instigated by him?”
“No, but then he holds the office by proxy. His father is still the viceroy.”
“By proxy, yes, so like a man who buys a house already built, has little regard for the expertise or sacrifice involved in its construction. And consider this also. He arrived on the stage late too, and only after the unexpected demise of an older brother who had always been expected to follow the path that he now trods. In fact, so late has he arrived that it is just in time to see the machinations of the Butlers at last come undone, or to continue with my analogy, has quite unexpectedly inherited a house meticulously built but now surrounded by a storm so violent that it is about to come crashing down around his ears. He is neither in a position to halt this assault nor even affect it in any way, save by small interventions designed to buy time. Time enough though for him to achieve his main objective, to maximise his own wealth.”

This was a view that Titus shared, though he did not want to let Burke know how he had come to it. Nor did he wish to say that Ormonde himself, he reckoned, was now actually assisting his son to this end too. His conversation with the old Duke in Armagh, and the fact that he and Sarah had read the man’s private correspondence to his son, were not things to be divulged to anyone, least of all a shadowy man in league with even shadier colleagues. But then, Burke had initiated this topic anyhow not in the hunt for any corroboration from the mapmaker, but mainly to impress on Titus the true nature of the dangers that faced him. He decided therefore to allow the man to believe that all he said was news to him, and to steer him back to the topic that he himself was most interested in – how this news was relevant to the death of Sarah’s father. “You say that you are in the process of unearthing facts to support this suspicion of yours. Might I be so bold as to assume that this was the true purpose of Eoin Reilly’s mission also?”
“You may. I know that his daughter is aware of a document that Reilly wrote. It outlined several instances of Lord Arran using his civic power to advance his more personal objectives. Are you aware of it also?”

Titus ignored the question and countered with one of his own. “How do you know this? You may keep your friends a secret, but unless you divulge your methods then you can be sure that I will reveal nothing to you by way of intelligence.”
“So we will trade then. I will tell you what I know, as I said, and you will tell me the same. If there is something that we wish not to divulge to each other then let us indicate this fact and not waste each other’s time trying to deduce what the other is keeping secret. Let us begin with you asking the questions.” Burke, it appeared, had conducted such negotiations before. “And I will answer your last question now. I was aware of Eoin’s list from the moment he began to compile it. In the event of his demise the list, along with some other personal effects, was in fact to be delivered to me, so you might say that I have good reason to want to know in whose hands it now resides.”
“Maybe it does not reside in anyone’s,” Titus interrupted him. “It may have perished in the fire that consumed his house – if it ever existed at all.”
Burke all but sneered at the suggestion. “Please let me continue, Mr Perry, and let us not gainsay the other’s intelligence with silly hypothesis of our own. We are neither of us fools, as we have already established. So believe me when I say that there was a list, and more besides, and that these documents are now mine by right. Allow me also at least to demonstrate the validity of my intelligence so that you know it is not idle supposition.” He poured yet another glass of wine. “To disguise the true nature of the documents, the list and the other items were included in a portfolio of shipping accounts held at Eoin’s office.”
“Other items?”
“Adjuncts to the list, if you will. That is why there was an aptness to this hiding place. Besides Eoin’s list, he had also spent many years recreating the accounts of some of its more notable names. This had been painstaking work, involving much effort on his – and our – part. Clerks were bribed, documents had been pilfered from banks and libraries, functionaries had been interrogated. The task took years, but the fruit of it was that Eoin was near completion of quite a credible proof of the financial skulduggery that certain people had used in amassing the great wealth that they ostentatiously advertise today. So credible indeed that it would stand up in any court and defy refutation by these people should they be charged. The list of suspects was one thing, but these recreated accounts were quite another entirely. Given the precarious balance that we find ourselves in on these islands at the minute I would not be exaggerating things to say that this set of documents could be more effective than any army in deciding the fate of the country, and indeed of the dynasty that presently runs it. Do you get my drift?”

Titus nodded agreement to the seriousness of their existence. Privately however he was contemplating another implication to this revelation entirely. While it was true that Sarah had the list in question in her possession, she had made no mention of these other documents that had accompanied it, or even that she had ever suspected their existence. He had just about convinced himself that this only made sense – Reilly would have realised how lethal such knowledge could be and had so spared her from it – when Burke astounded him with another revelation that flatly contradicted his supposition and left his mind reeling.
“On the day prior to Eoin’s murder his daughter Sarah called to her father’s office and withdrew that portfolio, stating that her father wished to audit some accounts at home that evening. We know this from his colleague Stanhope. We know also that word of this reached other ears too, ears that understood only too well just what these accounts signified, though we do not know how they knew this or indeed how they learnt of their new whereabouts. Nevertheless we believe that events were set in motion that Saturday in an effort to procure the documents, events which were to lead to their destruction or disappearance, and which cost Eoin Reilly his life. The cost to our own cause has been even greater, and our efforts have been concerted in the last few months to one end – to learn of the fate of these accounts, and to retrieve them if possible. There is no way by which we can recreate them, nor have we the time indeed to do so even if there were.”

Burke’s last comments were just noise to Titus, whose mind was still obsessed with the ramifications of the man’s first sentence and he could only hope that his bewilderment did not manifest itself in his features. This was the second time that Titus had heard from another person of something that Sarah had done, and which by right he should have known about. He was disappointed that she had lied to him about how she had come into possession of the list and could see no obvious reason why she had. Even more, he was astounded that she had withheld knowledge of the existence of the accounts Burke mentioned, but he was determined not to show it to his companion. He was certain that she did not have them now, or at least he hoped for her sake, and for his own indeed, that she had not got them in her possession when her goods had been confiscated in Armagh. It did not bear thinking about if they were.
Burke seemed unaware of Titus’ discomfort, or had chosen to interpret it as horror at the political implications of what he had revealed. “We are inclined to the view that the accounts have been destroyed in the fire that consumed Reilly’s house on the Sunday. Either that, or if they have fallen into the hands of our foe, then he is a much more patient foe than we gave him credit for. We know for certain that they did not fall into the possession of the man’s abductors.”
Titus had regained some internal composure, and at least understood Burke’s rationale. If his instincts were correct, then Burke, despite his sources, was attempting to piece together this particular puzzle too and would use whatever clues to that end he was given. But he had not completed the puzzle yet, Titus was sure, hence his willingness to trade intelligence. It was essential that no clue was exchanged therefore except one intentionally proffered. He kept his face taciturn and interrupted Burke’s narrative. “And it was these abductors who burnt the house down too?”

“No, as a matter of fact. And I will tell you why I am so sure. My information came from a man called Jacob McVeigh.”
“McVeigh – you mentioned him in your letter to Collier and said that he was dead.”
“No, that was the pastor William McVeigh, a villain of the highest order. Jacob was his brother, a lad of seventeen or so, and recruited by the good pastor into the Modellers’ ranks. He was one of the party that abducted Eoin Reilly, and who also attempted to obtain that portfolio of which I spoke.”
“Surely this happened while you yourself were already in flight? How can you know this?”
“As I said, a flight that was abruptly postponed. My plan might have been delayed, but there was no point in simply lying idle while I awaited another opportunity to leave. We are ever vigilant, my colleagues and I, especially in the matter of The Modellers. It pays us well to know their structure and membership. For some weeks however we were clueless in our investigations following Reilly’s death. Those that had carried out the deed were not known to us, and kept an extraordinary silence about their role in it. This is unusual – such bravados as carry out these deeds can rarely resist the temptation to brag about it afterwards. In this case however the trail ran quickly cold, and seemed set to remain so.”
“So how did you learn of McVeigh?”
“From his own mouth in the end. As the days wore on it became accepted knowledge that The Modellers had executed Reilly, despite the official assertion that he had killed himself. As the rumour gained ground, so too did the gossip that this time they had bitten off rather more than they could chew – Reilly had friends in the castle, powerful friends, and his death had brought these friends’ attention to bear on this little group of ruffians who hitherto had enjoyed a certain latitude from the authorities that could now no longer be depended on. Agents were covertly afoot already seeking out those responsible, and should the culprits be found, they could be sure that they would be dealt with harshly, and without recourse to the law as a protection. I must say that we encouraged such gossip. It never hurts to foster a little division in the ranks of one’s enemies. It can often yield dividends, and this case was no exception to that rule. McVeigh rather stupidly protested The Modellers’ innocence of the murder in a tavern near Smithfield one evening to an associate of his, and in a way suggesting that he knew rather more about the incident than he might have gleaned from hearsay. Unfortunately for him that associate is one who makes a few shillings passing such information on to the highest bidder. And this man knew that we were the ones who would bid highest for such little gems as this one, as indeed we did. We lost no time in locating young master McVeigh and inviting him to share a few more such gems with us.” He sipped his wine slowly and smacked his lips, as if relishing the moment, intentionally making Titus wait on tenterhooks for the information. Titus tried to stifle his impatience and hide it from his companion in an effort to discourage such dramatics, but Burke was not to be so easily knocked out of his stride. The man smiled, rested his glass on the table, and continued slowly. “Reilly was taken on his way from mass early on the Sunday by Jacob McVeigh and a few friends of his, three in number. They waited for him outside his own house and escorted him inside under threat of arms – a few stout sticks spiked with nails were the weapons of choice, by the lad’s own account. Of course they risked being noticed as they waited, and indeed as they accosted their victim on an open street, but McVeigh was sore over his brother’s dispatch a few days earlier and had thrown all caution to the wind. It was mere good fortune on their part that they even got this far in their plan. The streets were still quite empty at that early hour.”
“Not the most refined of plans, then.”

Burke smiled. “Nor of planners, but then those that coaxed them into the deed depended on this. No one else would have the stupidity or rashness to attempt it, such was Reilly’s perceived protection from Ormonde himself.”
“You are sure that this was not just McVeigh’s plan alone then?”
“His method, yes. But we believe that he was encouraged, or at least sanctioned in his efforts in some way. His goal of procuring the document says as much. Besides, it is not like Modellers to act so independently, no matter how stupid they are. They mimic an army structure and give themselves titles of rank. It might be risible in its precocity, but it means that there are still some who regard themselves as superior in the outfit, and who would wish at least to vet the activities of those beneath them. Anyway, as I said, at first our little band of infantry had poor Reilly bring them into his house, which they then ransacked from top to bottom in their search for the document they sought. This, McVeigh claimed, took the best part of two hours, during which time they held Reilly in his own cellar and used force on him to admit the documents’ whereabouts. It took that long for the man to admit that they were not there at all, but in the warehouse on the quay. This left them with a small but significant dilemma. Thick as two short planks they might be, but they knew that they had already risked an abduction in broad daylight and were fortunate not to have been spotted. They dared not run the greater risk now of bringing their prisoner from one side of the city to the other during the day also, especially now that the streets were filling, and moreover, now that their enthusiastic efforts to make him talk had rendered their victim’s appearance something of a public spectacle. Reilly was a well known man, and they dared not risk someone identifying him in such straits.”
“They had no carriage?”
“These are not the most intelligent people, as I have said. They had honestly expected to be in and out of the man’s house with their prize in the matter of minutes. They had given no thought to complications arising, such as their assumptions being wrong, or indeed the timing of their raid being equally stupid.”
“So they stayed in the house?”
“Logic would dictate that this be the only sensible solution, the worst outcome being that they might possibly have to abduct their victim’s daughter also, she being the only person likely to stumble in on them as they bided their time waiting for the cover of darkness. But logic was playing no role in the actions of these hotheads. One of them had the bright idea of bringing Reilly the much shorter distance to his own house nearby, where there was an ample cellar and no one else in residence.”
“It doesn’t seem an option too lacking in logic to me.”

Burke looked at him suspiciously, as if he had made a rather flat joke. “Except that such a move forces one’s hand. Trust me, Mr Perry, when playing such dangerous games as these lads were up to, it is always wisest to stick to the plan and limit improvisation, unless you also want to run the risk of playing for stakes well in excess of those you envisaged at its outset. That is of course, if you actually have a plan at the outset. Bringing Reilly to a house that he could later identify upped the stakes considerably, and altered fundamentally the nature of young McVeigh’s little escapade. We believe that is when Eoin Reilly’s fate was sealed.”
“McVeigh did not admit as much?”
“On the contrary, he was surprised at the realisation. It seemed that the thought had not occurred to him until we suggested it. You can be bloody sure however that it occurred to the one who’s house it was!”

Titus was beginning to feel a little uneasy as the tale unfolded, almost disappointed even. Aside from the fact that she had withheld crucial evidence from him concerning the true reason that her father had died, he and Sarah had still invested much thought, some considerable risk and a good deal of their time trying to determine the motives, methods and identities of her father’s killers. In their minds the men in question had assumed an almost superhuman quality, vague shadows of beings with powerful allies and even more powerful forces at their disposal, whose activities dovetailed neatly with those of men bent on rather more than petty revenge against individuals who had wronged them, but who were not above sinking to such malice when the whim took them. Now, as Burke’s account continued, it appeared that nothing could have been further from the truth. It seemed after all their wildest theorisation and guesswork, that in fact Eoin Reilly had simply met his end at the hands of a few unintelligent ruffians whose organisational skills extended little beyond hammering a few nails into sticks to use as cudgels, who had been motivated by a thirst for revenge as base as it was misdirected, and who were most likely goaded into their actions by men only marginally less stupid – men who played at being soldiers and wished only that their operations might cause a sensation, irrespective even of whether the operation itself had any worth whatsoever.

Burke could read his thoughts it seemed. “But they were not so stupid as to dispatch the poor man in panic, even if such would have satisfied McVeigh’s lust for revenge. There was still the matter of the folio. Reilly could not be killed until it had been located. And so they bided their time until sunset and then set out again.”
“At some stage that night they saw fit to return to Reilly’s house and burn it to the ground.”
“No, as a matter of fact, and we believed him on that.. They went directly to the warehouse on Ormonde Quay.”
“Did he say who did?”
“No, Mr Perry, and you have to understand that neither was it the thrust of our interrogation either. We were intent on finding out who it was that required this folio, and time was of the essence. We had the use of a cellar in a tavern for the purpose of questioning the lad – the noise above masked our…, our method, shall we say. But come closing time we would have to terminate the interview, if not the man. Such details would have to remain lower in our priority unless we had already achieved our objective in the time we had.”
“Have you a view on that, however?”

“Possibly, but allow me to relay the events in my own way for now.” Burke was a man who relished an attentive audience, even if it meant forcing them to follow a narrative where the salient facts were purposely interspersed so as to artificially heighten their effect, and therefore the importance of the man delivering them. “Again they hoped that their visit would be over in a matter of minutes, and again they were wrong. But this time the delay was caused by no intransigence on Eoin Reilly’s part. It seemed that he had genuinely believed the documents in question to be where he had said they were – only they were not, as we know. They had already been removed the day before.”
“By his daughter.”
“Yes, but he did not know that apparently, or if he did, would not say. Our gallant heroes were faced with their second dilemma of the day. Should they abandon their operation after all their hard work and incur the ire of their superiors? It seems that they could not countenance such an option and instead chose to believe that the man was withholding the information. Or maybe just pummelling their victim gave them something to do while they decided how to proceed next. Either way poor Reilly spent a gruesome night in their care, to the cost of his life, and his abductors earned nothing for their toils – except a grisly retribution for the slaying of one of their own.”
“Yet you said that McVeigh came to your attention when he protested the opposite. Did he change his story under interrogation?”
“Well, no, but in these matters one can often make safe assumptions that bear closer resemblance to the truth than the information one is hearing. Such is the assumption that we agreed to make - his abductors used whatever methods were at their disposal to make the man talk but as you saw, their methods were crude, and some of us believe that they may have succeeded only in an execution.”

Titus swallowed involuntarily. Burke spoke with conviction and he had no doubt that the man’s information was as accurate as he believed. But his last comment had confused the mapmaker. “You say only that some of you ‘believe’ that it ended in an execution. Are you one of them?”
“I was more convinced at the time, but I am a man who has learnt not to mistake conjecture for fact, however tempting it may be. Let us just say that I am keeping an open mind on the matter still.”
“I am surprised that your methods, as you call them, couldn’t establish the truth of it. Either McVeigh and his gang executed Reilly or they didn’t.”
“Again I must stress that this was not the core purpose of our questions. But we did press him on the subject, and he swore that they did not kill the man.”
“And did you yourself believe him?”
“It is of no matter. My colleagues can see no other explanation, but as I said, I prefer to deal with fact. Yes, the man was hanged, but no, we do not know for certain that McVeigh or his friends did it.”
“Why not? Is it not one of your ‘safe assumptions’?”
“Believe me, by the time we were finished with McVeigh he was not capable of lying about such a thing. Yet he maintained on his honour, risible surety as such might be, that they left Eoin Reilly in a senseless heap on the floor in his own warehouse, and then fled, not wishing to take the time to revive him and thus risk detection, it being a business day and therefore likely that someone might happen upon them. He placed the time of their flight at seven o’clock exactly, as it was the bells of Christchurch announcing the fact that startled them into fleeing. Our techniques of interrogation are thorough, and deliver good data in the main. McVeigh spoke with conviction about his innocence, if such a term can apply in these matters. It is of course possible that his friends hanged the man and that McVeigh missed the final deed in his haste to escape. But that is conjecture on my part, and not borne out by the youth’s own testimony, who said that they all left together in haste, and that Reilly was still alive as they did so.”
“Did you speak with any of these ‘friends’?”
“Not yet. However they are now known to us – callow youths all, and all now fled the city. But we will find them, don’t worry. Even on my travels I will be kept informed of such things, and if opportunity presents itself I will of course let you know of any further intelligence that we might obtain.”
Titus thanked him. “And what became of this McVeigh? Do you still hold him?”
“No, he is dead.” Burke must have read Titus’ thoughts at this remark and hastily added to it. “And no, our own methods of interrogation are rather more refined than his were, believe me. Those who we question have a habit of staying alive until we deem it no longer wise to let them live, or else liberate them. We did neither in McVeigh’s case, though there was little or nothing left in him to be extracted when we were forced to conclude our interview.” Then he checked himself. “Except of course that which we ourselves most desired to know – whoever had ordered the raid. But there was a great fear in the youth – greater even than his terror of us – that was making this particular nugget of information rather hard to pluck. He would only say that the whole thing had been his own idea, which of course was a lie. The timing and methodology of the raid were McVeigh’s alright, sloppy as both were, but the task itself had been set by another. Such was obvious. Eoin’s list, that McVeigh said he sought on his own initiative, would not even have been known to him otherwise, and in itself it was a rather pointless aim for an illiterate saddler to risk so much for in any case.”

Titus ventured his own thoughts on the matter. “Briar?”
“Your guess is still as good as mine. It is true that the good captain found the Modellers’ ranks a fertile ground for recruitment. But even if it was he who organised the sad event, then it is merely one more layer of the onion for us to peel. Briar is not by any means an independent man either, and has his own masters, I believe. Alas that this is one piece of data that will have to await verification another day. I am afraid that our interrogation of the youth was interrupted by the arrival of a patrol in the tavern where we had set up for business on the day. The bloody owner had been reported for selling watered whiskey to soldiers and had the misfortune to be raided himself that evening. Fortunately for him he had nothing but pure stuff on the premises when they called, but unfortunately for us it meant that we had to beat a rather hasty retreat ourselves. I am afraid that the youth availed of our haste to escape our custody.”
“Maybe you should revise your ‘methods’?”

Burke flashed his teeth in a broad smile. “Or our laws governing the purity of spirits, perhaps.” As if reminded by his remark, he took another great swallow from his glass and set it down with a thud. “Whatever you might think of us and our activities, Mr Perry, and I can see that it is not a great deal, I can assure you that we question those only most deserving of it. And even then we find that a resort to physical violence is often the last we need use – there are other more subtle methods of instilling just the right amount of terror these situations require. But we can discuss this topic another time. Suffice for you to know that they are effective, though in this case I agree that had we broken the lad’s legs in the process he might not have absconded so readily.”
“So McVeigh escaped. Yet you say that he is dead?”
The smile disappeared. “Yes, alas, to both statements. His body was found floating in the Liffey the next morning.”
“He killed himself?”
“Or others even more annoyed with him than us hastened him to his end. I am afraid that if you intended exacting your own revenge on Eoin Reilly’s murderers, then at least in McVeigh’s case you are too late. The queue that you have joined seems to have been quite long. If nothing else, that would suggest the boy’s guilt, I suppose. As I said, my colleagues definitely hold that view. But if you ask me, you would still not be taking revenge on the right man. It is the fool’s superior you need to find.”

Titus sighed. Burke was right, of course. But for a while earlier, once he had overcome the double disappointment of Sarah’s apparent treachery, and then discovering such a stupid rationale behind Reilly’s murder, a considerable part of him hoped that at last he had found the solution to the central question plaguing Sarah and himself for so long. Even now, despite Burke’s caution, he found that he wished McVeigh the villain responsible. After all, he and his fellow travellers had admitted responsibility for much that had tragically befallen the Reillys on that fateful day. He was only a youth after all, and not the brightest one at that by Burke’s own account. Perhaps he simply could not countenance that they had actually taken a man’s life, when all that they had intended was a theft and a punishment beating? Maybe things had got out of hand in the heat of the moment and their victim had died, though McVeigh himself may not have actually pulled the noose around the man’s neck with his own hand. In the lad’s mind therefore he had simply erased that part of the proceedings from his memory, and concocted a version of events more favourable to his own self esteem, one he now so wished to believe that it had withstood even Burke’s intense interrogation. But guilt is a funny thing, as Titus himself knew only too well. Sometimes it needs only the slightest encouragement to blossom in an instant and consume a man completely from within. Burke’s interrogation may have been interrupted, and the lad may have indeed escaped its pressure to relive and account for his role in the foul act, but at last this barrier that he had erected within himself may indeed have been breached, and from guilt such as that there is then no escape. He may never have openly admitted it, but he had made that more crucial admission, the one to himself, and the resulting remorse had driven the lad to take his own life.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 3)

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