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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 4)

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nordmann
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PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 4)

But his experiences over the last few months had taught him nothing if not to distrust apparently tidy solutions to thorny problems, and he had to admit that this one was all too neat indeed. Besides, if the deed had been perpetrated by hot headed youths in a fit of rage driven by a simple, if insane desire to avenge a brother’s death by killing an eminent Catholic as reprisal, then there were elements to the murder that just did not add up. The knot used to tie the noose still figured large in Titus’ own assessment of the crime. Could a young saddler know how to use it? And even if he did, could young men acting in such rage and blind passion stop to employ such a slow and cold blooded technique for their coup-de-grace? Then there was the matter of the door.

“When Stanhope and I discovered Reilly’s body the next day it was in a locked warehouse. Yet you say that McVeigh and his associates fled in haste. Could he have stopped to lock the door behind him?”
“I must confess that we did not ask him about that. We did not know that the body had been found behind a locked door, I am afraid. I can only surmise what happened, the same as yourself. One man’s definition of haste may differ from another’s. Perhaps they did indeed lock the door, even as they fled.”

Titus considered Burke’s reply for a moment but still found it hard to believe that the youth and his friends would bother to lock up behind them. At seven in the morning, flight would have superseded caution as the quays began to fill up with merchants and tradesmen – men who would most definitely know Stanhope and Reilly’s warehouse, and who would almost definitely suspect anyone seen loitering near the door other than its owners. In any case, Titus reckoned that if the youths left at seven o’clock, then Reilly was indeed still alive as McVeigh had claimed. When Titus found the body it had only begun to stiffen – a good seven or more hours after the gang had fled. The boys may have pulled the door after them, but he doubted very much that it had been locked. They had left an open door, if not an obviously open door, and a severely injured man in their wake. Someone else had availed of the access to finish the poor man off in the sadistic manner that Titus had surmised from the apparatus used. This would have to have been someone who knew that Reilly lay inside, too injured to defend himself or to seek sanctuary, someone therefore who had been aware all along of what the lads had been up to, or who had been informed of the botched burglary very soon afterwards. Their ‘superior’ in The Modellers would be one explanation. But it could be equally true that the gang had been watched unbeknownst to themselves too. Burke had already said that they had been unable to elicit from McVeigh an admission of who that superior might be, but there might yet be a way to deduce it.

“Did McVeigh say what he wanted to do with Reilly’s list when he got it?”
“To pass it on to ‘them that needs to know these things’ was as near as we got to an answer. Why?”
“Nothing really, just thinking aloud. I thought if the lad himself had no original purpose for obtaining the document, he might thus parrot instead what he had been told by his instructor. Maybe by his motive might he then be identified.”
“I see your point. But I am afraid there is not much can be made by way of deduction from his remark, save that he might have benefited from more lessons in grammar as a child.”
“Did he at all suspect that they were followed on the night?”

Burke shifted in his seat and rested his arm on the table. “Look, Mr Perry. I admire your intelligence, and the way that you are trying to detect from meagre clues a canvas so broad that it defeats even we who study it constantly to fully comprehend. But dare I suggest that it is merely wasting time in the context of our current discussion? I have told you what we learnt, and much of what we deduced ourselves, even if I personally differed from my colleagues. There is really little else to add to it.”
“Yes, Mr Burke, and I realise that this is a trade we are conducting, and not merely a pleasant chat. But indulge me one more time, if you will. These missing documents that you seek. Do you really believe them destroyed?”
“No, I do not. And I was hoping that this was an area in which you might enlighten me.”
“I will of course tell you anything that I deem fair in this trade of ours. But first, tell me what you suspect with regard to the papers.”

Burke smiled again, but there was little mirth in his eyes. “You asked if the boys had been followed that day and night. Well I wondered the same, Mr Perry. We know that Reilly’s daughter took them from the warehouse and apparently brought them home. We know that McVeigh and his band of thugs failed to find them there. We know also that the house was later torched by hands unknown. What I surmised from that is that there was indeed a second prowler on the day – one who did not trust the boys to do the job properly, or one who was coincidentally in their wake. Either way, I believe he – or they – also failed to find what they were looking for in the house and set it on fire to ensure that no one else ever would either. But no, I do not believe that the same hand killed McVeigh after the boys had fled. He would have had to suppose that it was to the warehouse that they had headed – not an obvious destination given the circuitous route, not to mention the time, that they took to get there. Once there he would also have had to wait an extraordinary long time more to get his opportunity to commit his act, unsure even if the opportunity would arise at all.”

“And the documents then?”
“In the hands still of someone who is not our enemy, I feel, and as the weeks have elapsed I have become convinced of it, or else we would already have seen evidence of it. No, they are held by someone sympathetic to our aims who does not know how to contact us, or one who probably does not know in fact what they hold.” He eyed the mapmaker cagily as he spoke, and when Titus volunteered nothing in reply he sat back in his chair and gestured across the table at his companion. “Which is where you enter our canvas, sir. Or at least she who you are protecting.” Still Titus said nothing, though his mind raced to anticipate the turn that the conversation had just taken. Burke again waited a few moments, and then filled the silence with a final prompt. “Look, Mr Perry. I need not tell you what danger your friend is in. Reilly’s partner Stanhope told us quite readily that Sarah Reilly took command of the documents so crucially close to the events that I described. If he told us, then who else has he also informed? I have to admit that you did an excellent job of concealing her from our view Mr Perry, and that of others, at least until you could secure for her the protection of important people, as you apparently have. I commend you for that, but if you think that you alone can stand between her and those who pursue what they believe she is holding then you overestimate yourself man, and that could be fatal – to you and to her.”

Titus wondered if Burke had heard of Sarah’s detention in Armagh. He chose not to raise that subject just yet, and merely nodded an acknowledgement to the man’s comment, which was a fair one. The danger he spoke of was real, and it was true that both he and Sarah had stupidly underestimated it, especially once the threat Briar posed had apparently been nullified.

Burke took Titus’ silence however to indicate a reluctance to fully appreciate his plight however, and chose to turn the screw even tighter. “Which raises another point, does it not? Don’t think that I didn’t notice your surprise when I described the contents of Reilly’s papers. Could it be that our friend Miss Reilly has been less than forthcoming with the facts, even to her chief protector?” Another glass of wine was poured and he sat back in his chair, smiling as he studiously gazed at the mapmaker, letting his question hang in the air between them, and obviously enjoying his companion’s discomfiture. Eventually he leaned forward again. “However that can wait, this is a trade and at least you might now have deduced one item that you can offer me. But I’ll continue for the moment, if I may.” He sipped his wine by way of punctuation. “There is another piece of intelligence that we gleaned which is pertinent to yourself. I will give it to you as a bonus, just to establish a bit of good faith between us, as it were, and show you that even though you came to our attention early, we have never thought of you as our enemy. In the days between Reilly’s death and our apprehension of McVeigh, we were left with little option but to stretch our resources to the limit and keep a watch on everything in the hope that something might turn up. Captain Briar is one we like to keep a close eye on in any case, but we gave him some intense scrutiny nonetheless at the time. After a few days we realised that Briar was intensifying his – let us say – extra mural activities. Outside the castle walls the man normally likes to operate with his uniform as both his authority and his shield. But then we heard that he had been seen organising parties by night to search Lord Drogheda’s Dublin estate, and not ones comprised of his own soldiers, or at least not in uniform, so we knew that something was up. When a fox like Briar breaks cover it is only because his tail is on fire, and whatever had lit that fire could only be good news. So we made some further enquiries and lo and behold if we didn’t find out that a certain mapmaker and his friends were the ones who had smoked him out! And quite preoccupied was he too for those few days. I cannot begin to express my gratitude to you for that. It made our job so much easier, I can tell you!”

Titus could not help but smile. “We were searching for my secretary, and Briar was searching for us as a result.”
“Ah, your secretary! We have come to the next item to trade!”
“It strikes me that there is little useful I can tell you about the man that you do not already know. Perhaps you might tell me how you knew enough to warn me of his character?”
“I will of course, and to do so we must return again to the famous Rye House plot, that dastardly plot that may never have existed but which our friend Lord Arran was so quick to utilise to his own ends. Do you remember when I said that we had trouble initially identifying the informer?”
Titus nodded.
“Well when we resolved that little conundrum it was only to find that the solution presented us with yet another. If our suppositions were correct, then we had unearthed a second plot, or else a very stupid Earl.”
“I do not follow. Nor do I see what it has to do with Flitch.”
“Let us leave the matter of your secretary to one side for the minute and keep with the subject of Arran’s plans, such as we understand them. Now, for whatever motive on his part, let us assume that this plan included accommodating the crown by providing the gen on a few individuals who might prove hindrances to its policies.”
Titus nodded tacit agreement.
“But the action carried a wider effect, whether its perpetrator appreciated it or not. We suspect not. Richard Butler is not an astute politician, whatever about his cleverness in amassing wealth. And his action has precipitated a chain of events that many a cleverer man than he could not even have foreseen. You see; if a man will so easily sell one group of associates so cheaply, who of his other associates can then fail to suspect that they are next?”
“Only those who are as sure as you that it is he, I would say, and I doubt if many are as yet.”
“Oh you can be sure that the puzzle has been figured out by more than us, Mr Perry. But that is less the point than who these associates might be. Arran has a problem there, you see. Few of his Irish associates, and I dare say fewer of his English ones, leastways the ones who matter, are his own. They have all been inherited from a shrewder man”
“His father.”
“Yes, and a man who has forged associations, if not friendships, with most diverse individuals. What Arran lacks is the genius of his father in being beloved by each with almost equal ardour. Ormonde is a valued member of many fraternities. His son is not, and that is where his action carries more import than he could ever imagine.”
“He did not need to be though. It was enough to have access to the information required to execute his plan.”
“So he apparently thought. But then he probably also thought that in jettisoning his Whig associates he would still at least have his Tory associates to fall back on. The man, you see, has a rather limited understanding of the true divisions in the halls of power. He sought through his actions to castrate the Whigs and placate the Tories in one drastic act, and thereby gain a few extra months, maybe years, to pursue his own personal ambitions. In the short term he may even have succeeded. In the long term however he has merely accelerated something beyond his understanding, and that is where your secretary comes into the proceedings.”
“I fail to see it.”

Burke laughed. “Nor would I expect you to, Mr Perry. But then, you lack the vantage point that we Irish enjoy in this matter, or at least those of us unlike our good Lord Arran, so uniquely poised as we are to benefit from the simple misguided notion he shares with you English that one must either lean to Whig or Tory sentiments in defining one’s politics. You come from a world where such crude distinction is sufficient for the purpose. We don’t. You see, no man in Ireland is a Whig, save those from England who have painted themselves into that corner. But then that is not to presume that all others are Tory either. These are distinctions of meaning to Englishmen, not to us Irish. Look to Europe for the true distinctions if you must. That is where the real battle is being fought – not between opposing views as to how one kingdom should be run, but between those who would dispute a kingdom’s right to exist at all! You are a mapmaker. You should know therefore how easy a map is to re-draw.”

Titus knew no such thing, but left that thought unsaid. “I have come to terms with the fact that my secretary was other than he pretended to be. But to speak of him in the same breath as the great conflicts on the continent defies the imagination, I am afraid. At least it does mine.”
“Then let me inform your imagination, so. We have discussed how Ormonde has spent a lifetime developing alliances that transcend these trifling distinctions I mentioned. And that his son has now used some of the knowledge accrued in this to his own ends.”
“Yes?”
“Well then, let me draw an analogy. Suppose.you are a craftsman. Let us say a stonecutter of high renown. You have decided to commit your life to the erection, say, of a great cathedral and have set about carving each individual stone to be used in its construction so that there are now thousands lying about, each one is a work of art in itself, merely awaiting the final act of placing one onto the other, your dream to realise. Now let us say that you have a son, a practitioner of your trade also but highly inferior to you in his own ability. Worse, you suspect his honesty. You know that he is as likely to sell your stones when you are not looking as aid you in your construction. Indeed, that is exactly what has occurred. Now, imagine that there is someone who was impatient to see the cathedral built, a bishop perhaps. He is angry at this development and tells you so, advising you to discharge the one who sold the stones, son or not. In fact, he tells you that your son was actually so stupid as to try to sell the stones to him! God knows to whom he might sell some next. You refuse, knowing that you can replace the stones eventually, but not your son, even if he is wont to let you down from time to time. Naturally this only makes the bishop angrier. Now he sees you as the obstacle to his desire, not your son. As long as you protect him, so also is there a likelihood that the cathedral will never be built at all. It would be better to eliminate you, through foul means if need be, and get some other mason to finish the job. But you are highly renowned, so such elimination is not as easy as all that. Instead the bishop goes to the very man who he knows he can coerce to do the foul deed, using the evidence of his past crime as a lever to that end; your own son. Of course he will also offer him an assurance that he can continue his trade under the new mason to mollify whatever qualms the proposal may cause him.”

Titus was growing impatient. “I accept all that, whatever it means, but what of my secretary? Are you suggesting that he is the bishop?”
Burke laughed. “No, but he was part of the price.”
“Price? For what?”
“For Arran’s betrayal. Such a body blow to the Whigs carried a payment, of course. How could it not?”
“Payment? In what way?”
“You said already that no development can take place in politics other than someone is poised to benefit from it, did you not? Well here is the proof of it, Mr Perry. While Arran might have been motivated by purely avaricious concerns, his actions affected others too, and by that I do not mean just the royal family and their desire to rid themselves of some annoying hindrances to their schemes. Forget for a moment even that everyone in England can be loosely banded into Whig and Tory factions, even the king. Consider that there is a third party too, and one that exercises more power than is understood.”
“The bishop from your story?”

Burke laughed and raised his glass in a mock salute to Titus’ shrewdness. “As I said before, consider the bigger picture. Look at Europe, and especially France. Consider the alliances that she has made and broken, neither of which has seemed to make sense at the time. Consider how she pursues an ideal of a Catholic continent but is not afraid to forge alliance with her Protestant foes when it suits her, nor even take on Rome itself, the font of her religious justifications. If we are to believe her alliances as they stand, then we see her dragging her recalcitrant and aggrieved Catholic sister Spain screaming and kicking into a ceasefire with the Protestant might of the Germanic states, while the Pope himself sits in his palace making secret treaty with Protestant Holland, and cursing this ambitious Catholic bitch for daring to piss out her territorial claims right at his Alpine doorstep. Hardly a logical pattern when you look on it as a theologian, is it? But now, consider that even the mighty France herself is but a pawn in another’s game, and ask yourself what might their objective be?”
“I am lost.”
“And that is where you are supposed to be. The people I talk about wish never to be known, nor their purposes identified. They are quite happy to let the rest of us reside in a simple world where our borders are defined by monarchs sitting in rule over populations divided by the rhetorical niceties that we call politics and theology. They are, in effect, men in waiting. But while waiting, they are not idle. Any who step on their toes or thwart their schemes can expect to pay a price, normally a heavy one. Arran might have said to have got off lightly, or else they see a function that he can yet serve for them.”

Ormonde’s letter to Arran sprang to mind immediately. This was exactly the term that he had used when advising his son of his enemies – men in waiting. The phrase had seemed ominous then, even if Titus had not fully understood what the old man had meant, save that they were people who regarded themselves as being outside the commonly accepted rules of the ‘game’, as Ormonde had phrased it. Now Burke was using identical language in describing the same men, and as an explanation for his secretary’s real employers too. “Who are these men then?” he asked, hoping that his question revealed no more than that he wished to divine Flitch’s motives.

Burke shrugged. “Some are obvious. Most are not. There are some of the older families of course, and especially those who have retained their wealth, if not necessarily royal favour in whatever land they inhabit, in recent years. But there are new men too – bankers, investors, insurers, shareholders in the new companies, armaments manufacturers, the list goes on. They are the men without which there is not a country that can now exist viably, and are lately come to that conclusion too. You see, for them the world is a bigger and more lucrative place than most of us could even dream of and its potential, they know, has merely been scratched. A rewarding scratch, but a mere scratch nonetheless and now the race is on to develop that potential to its fullest. Up to now that race has been run by countries, as up to now it was only those countries’ rulers that could afford the fleets required. But that is no longer true. The great companies set up in Holland and England to vie for trade from the Indies have merely shown the way that it can be done, with or without royal patronage. In fact the reverse is now true of what passed before when mighty nations like Spain and Portugal financed such ventures from state coffers. Now the funds most likely comes from private sources, and when a venture proves successful, only then is the state more than happy to take a cut of the profits in return for its patronage. Those that have risked all have grown to understand and accept such a relationship – there is still a benefit after all to having the state underwrite your capital investment, even if belatedly so. But they are not the only ones woken up to the fact that they are in effect almost more powerful now than the countries that spawned them. It is not just in England that the crown finds itself under a compliment to its businessmen rather than its parliament to fund its existence. The old balance of power has shifted fundamentally and there are many in the wings – nay, on the stage itself – who are intent on profiting from the new reality. Just look at the Jesuits for example; beholden to no one ruler but riding on the backs of many to extend their arms of influence across the globe. If they succeed in their ambitions then few will be able to engage in trade with exotic lands save through them, as well they know. And if I may be so bold as to speak for all my countrymen, we in Ireland also stand in the wings, and will benefit in like manner, you mark my words!”

“So you are saying that the true rulers of Europe are the East and West India companies, both in Holland and England, and a handful of zealot papists with ties to no ruler save a pope in Rome?” Titus was finding Burke’s analysis a trifle hyperbolic, redolent of the drunk talk one might hear in any London tavern on a Saturday night in which Londoners were ever assumed to be a people standing alone against the tyrannies of papists, royalists, Anabaptists and anyone else who took the speaker’s fancy, and in which every ill visited on the city, from the plague to the great fire, and even inclement weather, was accredited to the plotting of these nefarious elements. As an adopted son of the city he had always found such talk disquieting, as if the Londoner saw himself and his city as the centre of the universe, and all events everywhere as important only in so far as to how they affected him. Burke seemed dangerously close to the same perspective, except as an Irishman with his country as the universal epicentre, no matter how broad minded and far sighted he might claim to be. Titus was failing in any case to see what this all had to do with Flitch, the subject he wanted discussed, or for that matter Ireland itself, the subject into which Burke had digressed. But Burke had warmed to his theme and was not to be so easily deflected from it.

“No sir, I am saying that these companies of men have shown the way to others, but are themselves almost run their course, at least as they are presently constituted. English and Dutch men may both be reaping vast profits from the Indies, but think of how much vaster the profits might be were both not ploughing so much back in keeping the other from their sources of it. Or indeed what other markets a union of the two might reach that now they are denied – Japan, for instance, or China itself. It is mere politics now that stands in the way of such a union, but the lure of fantastic wealth is a strong one. Men whose appetites have been whetted now will seek always other ways to achieve their ends and if politics proves an obstacle, at least as it is defined nowadays, then those same politics will be redefined, or merely circumvented altogether. We are at the dawn of a new age, the age of commerce, where countries will matter less than the companies they foster and will fast become merely convenient banners of diplomacy – masks to disguise the faceless ones within who serve no country, only profit, and will make whatever alliance such a master demands. In fact they have already started. But still they need a good mask to hide behind. France now looks a most likely tool – her monarch’s territorial ambitions mirror their own and his policy towards dissenters even more so, what you might call a perfect mask. Holland also might serve their purposes well. Her ambitions run in parallel to theirs also and she has invested much in creating a viable network, one which suits their needs exactly. Her religious ambivalence in matters of trade attracts them too. Unlike the Jesuits she is unlikely to want to waste their profits on vainglorious attempts to convert the heathens who inhabit the lands where the wealth lies. Though having said that, even the Jesuits can be used too. Their motives are suspect, but they too have established a network of influence that suits these men’s purposes well. So you see, already these men are halfway to their goal. What is needed now are just a few more political alliances, a merging of dynasties here and there, and the stage will be set. They have found the masks they require and have identified both the resources and markets that they wish now to exploit. And of course, this is good for Ireland.”
“I noticed that you omitted England from your list. These faceless men will do England down. Is that what you are saying?”

Burke smiled. “Nothing so simplistic, nor need it be. England is useless to them as things stand because the country is a walking contradiction. Her men of commerce and her fleet are second to none on the planet – and both ingredients they have need of – but the whole is administered by a body at war with itself, and this is its undoing in the new scheme of things. The squabble between monarch and parliament, whether you split them on religious or constitutional grounds make both institutions of state unstable and potentially catastrophic commercially. Without a resolution of this conflict England’s power will wane even as France’s waxes. Though English men may still make fortunes through alliance with the real commercial potentates, in time even the great English companies will find that events have overtaken them and they will lose their hold on those resources that they have already thought secure. Without an effective government in whose name they can stake their claims abroad they will forfeit those claims, as surely as any troop in battle, no matter how daring or brave, will lose the ground they have gained for the want of a general who knows how to utilise it and who fails to reinforce the position in time. Some of us in Ireland, Mr Perry, are desirous that so it should remain. In fact it is France’s strength wherein lies our own best chance to extricate ourselves from the influence of a most meddlesome and catastrophic neighbour, even if that neighbour is a little embarrassed by his riches just at the minute. It is something of an artificial wealth he enjoys in any case and has not bought him the security he requires to keep it, whatever he might think – no offence intended of course.”

Titus smiled wryly. “I am sure. Of course, if what you describe is true, then a small land such as Ireland will most likely just become the target for someone else’s ambitions if not England’s - part of someone else’s destiny and not masters of your own.”
Burke wagged his finger. “Not necessarily. In this game the size of the player matters a lot less than his guile, believe me.”
“I doubt it. Even by your own admission the state is an illusion in any case and without the means to enter this game you describe, where the stakes are high and the entry fee more than the English crown itself can bear, then Ireland stands poor chance indeed as a nation alone.”

The man lowered his glass and studied Titus for a few moments, the self satisfied smile temporarily departed from his lips. “I had you down as a more astute man than your comment displays, Mr Perry. But our aspirations are not what need concern you. You asked about your secretary.”

Titus realised with alarm that his gainsaying of Burke had brought their discussion close to a premature end, unless he now remedy the situation. With luck, he thought, a man who adopted an ill humour with such alacrity might be induced to lose it just as quickly and he hoped that an interjection of levity might provide the means. “I did, and would like to know what you know of the man. That is, if it does not entail a further discourse on the relationship between commerce and state, and the future of Europe. I am a mapmaker after all, and it grieves me somewhat to know that such work as we produce will all have to be done again at the whim of men to whom borders are mere impediments to trade and will need to be redrawn after every transaction!” He raised his glass with a smile and saluted Burke, whose sullen expression lingered for a moment while he digested Titus’ expression and intent, and then suddenly evaporated in an exaggerated wink and a broad smile. He raised his own glass in return, laughed, and then drained it in one gulp, promptly filling it again from the bottle.

“Forgive me, Mr Perry. I can only deduce that my social sensibilities have been dulled through lack of use of late! Some other day perhaps, and in better circumstances, we can discuss the ways of the world until the cows come home and I might disabuse you of your parochial perspective. But you are right, let us stick to our agenda – your secretary. He works for these people, Mr Perry, or at least worked for them.” He waited a moment, as if expecting a question, but when none came he simply shrugged and continued. “Who employed him in person I cannot say, but it is of no importance. These men are the ones I spoke of, who owe allegiance to no crown but would rather consider that they own the one in London, and who fancy that they own those associated with it too – both friend and foe to it. When Arran assisted in helping to silence the Whig opposition to Charles Stuart, he unwittingly disturbed these men and their machinations. Rather like a dog who pursues a rabbit into a cave, unaware that the pursuit has awoken a bear that was sleeping in the darkness therein.”

“And now the dog is in more peril than the rabbit ever was?”
“Perhaps, perhaps not. Butler’s intervention was certainly seen as an aberration and these men like nothing less than surprises. It is not in these men’s nature to be rash, but by God can they be thorough. We got wind from London that they were taking measures to ensure that it did not happen again. Questions were being asked. Spies made themselves known. People who had been silent spoke up, and people who had been vocal disappeared. Ormonde himself disappeared from public view, but these men are no fools. They knew that it was his intelligence that had been used to queer their pitch, even if by a son who looks no further than his own material gain.”
“They hold Ormonde to blame for his son’s rapaciousness?”
“Not quite. They hold him responsible for providing a rapacious son with the means to do what he did.”
“You said that they were thorough, but surely that’s taking revenge a little too far?”
“Revenge? Oh, there’s no question of revenge, sir. This is business. Ormonde is a spent force, or soon will be. But Ormonde’s knowledge is still a potent weapon that can be used to the disadvantage of these men’s ambitions, and in the hands of a fool such as Arran, a weapon that is being fired indiscriminately. As any soldier will tell you, such random potshots are the worst to defend oneself against. The elimination of the shooter is one solution, but in this case it seems the elimination of the ammunition he is using has been deemed a more permanent remedy.”
“And why not the shooter?” Titus still found Burke’s theory rather fantastic.
“Because he wears the same colours of course. Whether Arran knows it or not, the men he has angered share his politics, at least for the moment. Leastways they can still find a use for him it seems, probably more if his father is removed from the stage.”
“Is this intelligence or deduction on your part?”

Burke smiled. “A little of both. In our business one is often indeed forced to deduce and wait for proof afterwards. But in this case the deduction was sound, and its proof not long in coming. And yes, soon we got word that plans were afoot to eliminate further interference and in the way that I have just described. The play is too delicately poised at the minute to allow such meddling, or so these people would say. The time had come to eliminate the threat at its source, and, as I said, this was deemed not to be the hand on the trigger but the one that provided the shooter with his bullets. Which is where your man came in.”
It took Titus a few moments for the import of Burke’s remark to sink in. His surprise quickly turned to indignant denial, and not for the first time in their conversation he suspected Burke’s testimony as fabrication. “They sent Flitch to assassinate Lord Ormonde? I find this incredible!”
“You should not. It was why you yourself were selected for your job here. Their man was already in your employ. The chance was too opportune to ignore. And if you insist on being incredulous, why not try this nugget for size while you’re at it? Arran knew. In fact, he was actively helping them – after a little persuasion on their part of course.”

This was becoming almost farcical to Titus, who could not disguise his distaste for this man who he firmly believed now was talking merely for effect. “And am I to believe that they persuaded Lord Arran to go along with this plan? That he should have his own father killed? That, sir, is ...” Then, even as he asked it, Titus realised that this was indeed a conclusion that he himself had already reached before.
Burke just smiled. “Welcome to the new world Mr Perry. Some of us have been here for a while and no longer use such crude terminology. But yes, that is exactly what I ask you to believe. Perverse as it might sound, Arran’s ambitions are of little concern to them and he is not worth the bother of elimination. His father however plays a different game. Belatedly they have realised that he could well be the author of much that might thwart their designs, and may already have. How better to kill two birds with one stone but to enrol the son in their act? Now it is time to trade.”

What Burke wanted by way of trading of information was mostly verification of the suppositions to which his intelligence had led him over the last few months, or at least as much as could be achieved from what Titus had himself experienced in that time. His main concern seemed to be the activities of Captain Briar, who he stressed was a much more than an ally or member of The Modellers and their ilk, as Titus had always merely suspected. He seemed genuinely startled by Titus’ statement that it was the captain who had shot his friend Quinn at Laytown. This then led to quite a few questions regarding Quinn that Titus found preposterous, or simply could not answer. In the end Burke seemed to settle for Titus’ own theory that Briar had either shot Quinn in the hope of pleasing the Earl of Drogheda, having somehow deduced the farmer’s role in their plan to win back the deeds of the farmers, or simply from spite as he knew him to be an associate of the mapmaker’s.

Where Titus found himself most often invoking his right to withhold information was when Burke pressed for a full account of Sarah Reilly’s actions over the summer. Burke had not heard of the arrests in Armagh and blanched visibly, even when Titus assured him that her arrest had not led to her interrogation, and that she had been released without a charge being levelled, once the case had been assessed by a Dublin magistrate. He made no mention of O’Neill’s aid in securing that release, nor could he tell Burke that he knew for certain the list had not fallen into Christopher Cummins’ hands. But the man seemed relieved all the same at the assurances that Titus did offer, and genuinely relieved also that Sarah had survived the ordeal without trauma or degradation inflicted on her in any way other than the inconvenience of incarceration. Though he had of course heard that Titus and she were often to be seen socially together, he asked no embarrassing questions regarding how he felt about Sarah. But he did press for detail regarding Sarah’s relationship with Lady O’Carolan. In fact the more Burke asked along these lines, the more Titus felt that he had still underestimated the importance of the old lady’s standing in affairs, and hoped that Sarah had not done likewise.

Their conversation was eventually interrupted by Captain Bramall, roused from his slumbers by a crewman announcing that they were now nearing The Lizzard. Bramall had obviously requested this call and spared no time in dressing and making for his bridge. Titus knew that this meant they were rounding the tip of Cornwall, and heading into the waters of The Channel, where despite the peace between England and France, it was not unusual for English ships straying out of sight of their own coast to be accosted by French vessels demanding ‘escort payment’, a euphemism often for downright piracy that led to ugly exchanges between the opposing ships. Dutch ships also ran the gauntlet between the others, and for their own reasons therefore were inclined to shoot first and ask questions later if they suspected they were about to be confronted. Bramall doubted that a naval vessel like The Unicorn would either be challenged or assumed to be challenging, but he was damned if any misunderstanding might lead to further damage to his new ship besides that which he had inflicted himself on the voyage to Belfast. Titus and Burke could plainly hear his barked orders for men to man the nests and keep watch for other vessels, and the scurrying and scuffling that indicated men on the gun deck readying their cannons, just in case. They themselves meanwhile, like two old hands in the matter of espionage, settled back into their exchange of intelligence.

In fact, if ‘exchange’ was the correct term, then Titus reckoned that he had by far the better deal at the end of the negotiations. While his own contribution to the trade had been curtailed by necessity, or sheer ignorance of the facts, Burke was a talker, or else a man so bereft recently of the opportunity to talk that it was as if a dam had burst within him and the information came flooding out in great torrents. Much was news to Titus, and much was useful news too. So useful indeed, that his fears regarding the correct course of action to take in London all but evaporated and were replaced instead by a definite plan – an audacious plan it must be admitted, but thanks to Burke’s intelligence an eminently operable one. In fact it seemed at times as if Burke was aware of Titus’ intentions in London all along, and was purposefully feeding him data that would be of use, though Titus knew that this could not be the case, given his own confusion of intent even as late as when he boarded the ship. Perhaps their intentions were akin, or perhaps Burke was by nature an intuitive and engaging man, but Titus at times had to check himself from revealing what he had already intimated was secret, and even more times marvelled at the man’s breadth of knowledge regarding the intricacies of the English power structure and the personnel that populated it. Though Burke never quite reneged on his promise to conceal who his colleagues were, it became obvious to Titus that he and his friends were, in many ways, much like those who Burke himself had already described as being poised to seize control of, and benefit from, the exploitation of those resources made available to them through Europe’s expansion beyond its borders and into the greater world. Amongst Burke and his colleagues however, the goal was much more parochial – merely the extrication of Ireland from the influence and control of its nearest neighbour. Where he differed from O’Neill and Talbot, or for that matter Ormonde, was in that the control he so despised was less political than economic. Ireland, to the likes of Burke, was a country ideally situated to benefit from the opening up of the new world, if she could only get out from under the yoke imposed on her by England, who was equally intent on filling that role herself. While his goal might overlap with many a politician’s, it differed fundamentally in that it favoured no political system, save that which stood for freedom of trade above all else. His vision of Ireland was one of honest broker, a neutral clearing house ready to serve more powerful allies, especially when these allies themselves might have a falling out from time to time, but not so much that vital trade should ever be interrupted. Of course, in Burke’s vision such an honest broker could only have allies and no true enemies, as the service she provided went above and beyond the mere ideological squabbles that plagued even the most potent European nation. To achieve this ambition in the meantime however, meant not only having to recognise such squabbles, but even getting one’s hands dirty influencing those squabbles wherever and whenever possible so that the outcome favoured the visionaries. Ironically therefore the vision that Burke shared, of a neutral Ireland aloof from her neighbours’ political differences and poised to assume the safe high ground in an era of great economic upheaval to come, had itself spawned a breed of the most politically involved and astute activists indeed, and Titus knew that he had been talking to just such a one. ‘I suppose were we viewed by an impartial man, though such are precious few indeed,’ Burke had said, ‘we must seem to him to differ from those who we are obliged to manipulate only in our tenacity and intelligence. In all other respects we must indeed seem as sordid as they.’ This comment, accompanied by a sly wink, had almost said as much of Burke’s philosophy as an entire library of volumes addressing the subject could have hoped to, and indeed after a few hours Titus was already of the mind that he had just been an audience to the equivalent.

A loud cry from a crewman above at last brought their meeting to an abrupt close. A ship flying the French flag had been spotted bearing in their direction, and the sound of intense activity above their heads resumed apace as crewmen raced to their positions and the ship’s course was hastily adjusted to confront the interloper. Burke simply stood up, drained the last of his wine from what Titus had counted as his third bottle of the stuff, and calmly donned his uniform jacket. “One thing before I go; you are ruminating at the moment I believe, Mr Perry, on whether you should or should not join this little ‘guild’ that includes some of your newly found friends. For myself, I would advise you to do so. A great change is coming, one that none of us can rightly forecast. These are good men, and their motives are good too. And though they do not know it, they are men of the future and will be valued as such by the new order, believe me. I recommend for your own sake that you reconsider their offer of membership. Or, if your prefer, consider my own lapsed and now bequeathed to yourself! I am ashamed to admit that I was never more than a member of convenience alas, the benefit being all mine. Thank them for me when you see them again, won’t you?” He crossed to the door, steadying himself against the furniture on his way, though Titus could not be sure if this was due to an absence of sea legs or a surfeit of wine. “Anyway, it’s a new club I’ve joined for the minute. My regiment awaits me, Mr Perry.” He pointed to his tunic as he neared the stairs and laughed. “I hope they do not mind that I have designated myself a lieutenant in their ranks!” He attempted to grasp the newel post, slipped, and almost fell. Regaining his grip he turned to face Titus and bowed. “It was good to have this little chat. Let us hope that the next time we meet will be in less bizarre surroundings. I still owe you a meal at Charles Collier’s, remember.” With that he was off – climbing the steep steps from Bramall’s quarters to the main deck two at a time. Titus spent a few minutes hastily recording on paper in scribbled notation everything he had learnt from Burke and which might prove useful; indeed so much was there that it would be folly to trust it to memory alone, and besides, the full import of what he had heard was just beginning to dawn on him.

He and Sarah had formulated a strategy whereby they might not only learn the full truth behind her father’s murder, but even exact some kind of revenge on its perpetrators. Burke’s information brought both goals closer, such was certain, but also opened an avenue to achieve something else besides, something that up to now had not even entered their heads, so daring was it. Both of them had been used in ill manner and by men whose exalted positions made them invulnerable to being used in like ways themselves – or so they thought. What Titus had just learned had set him thinking. Why stop at punishing those by whose hands the foul deed had been committed? Why not aim a little higher indeed? In any case, even at this early stage of digesting Burke’s new intelligence, it was clear to Titus that their vague plan would not have worked. If nothing else, Burke’s testimony had showed all too clearly that their strategy was based on certain assumptions that just weren’t true. In the light of this new data it would have to be revised completely anyway, so why not now include as their targets the men who were the real authors of their misfortune and not just the lackeys in their employ? He had no doubt that the scribbled notes that he now stuffed into his jacket pocket contained just the ammunition he needed to achieve this. Now it only remained to be seen if he had the wit to aim it wisely and the nerve to follow it through. And, he knew, it would be his wit and his nerve alone that would be tested. There was neither time now nor opportunity to consult with his co-conspirator. Whatever strategy he arrived at, he recognized, would have to be initiated here in London, and devised by himself alone. Sarah would just have to trust him.

But could he trust her? Burke’s revelation that Sarah had appropriated her father’s documents without the man’s knowledge on the day before his murder raised too many unanswerable and worrying questions in Titus’ mind. If she had therefore known of the danger that her father was in, then why had she not told him of it? Or even if she had, and he had ignored her warning, why had she never admitted this to Titus later? He had accepted her confession that she had initially lied about the list’s very existence on the grounds that she had been at that early stage unsure of his own trustworthiness at the time. In fact, he had approved of her caution. But much had passed between them since then, and God knows there had been many opportunities for her to have told him this. So why her secrecy, even now?

His head swimming not just with the new possibilities suddenly occurring to him, but also with the implications that such a worrying revelation raised, he climbed the steps to the deck and arrived by the captain’s side just in time to see a small dinghy, bearing Burke and two oarsmen, being tentatively lowered onto the waves. A mere hundred yards or so away, a French Man’o’War, her leading cannon exposed and pointing downwards in a signal of truce, sat in the water with a rope ladder already slung over her ramparts, awaiting her guest. Before Titus could even utter a greeting the captain indicated the French ship with a derisory wave of the eyeglass and then handed the instrument to Titus. “Here, have a look at her. Do you notice anything amiss?” Titus took the glass and surveyed their adversary. She was a fine example of her class. Even at this distance it was plain that she dwarfed Bramall’s vessel many times over and would be a formidable opponent to any ship of the line in warfare, but as to what might be amiss about her defeated him. The captain noticed his confusion and helpfully pointed to the bridge, where a lone French officer manned the observation deck, his hands on the wheel and his face set steadfastly to her prow, his rigid stance indicating that he was engrossed in his duty, or that he was pointedly ignoring the ship alongside.

“I see a man intent on his business, but nothing amiss,” Titus confessed.
“You see a subordinate, and a lone one at that!”

Titus now understood. Bramall had spotted that the French captain was notably absent from the observation deck, a civility normally associated with such encounters between ships of rival fleets where it was the custom for opposing commanders to salute each other once their vessels came within range of each other’s shot. It was a courtesy, and often a vital one between English and French vessels. It was not unknown for these particular rivals to exchange rather more than salutes when the mood took them, whether their countries were officially at war or not. In this case, where the ships had met through prearrangement, there could be no confusion about the matter. The French captain might have been ordered to participate in the transport of Mr Burke, but he saw no reason to allow this enforced cooperation to deny him the chance to insult his English counterpart.

“Kings can forge alliances,” the captain noted dryly, “but it takes more than a royal decree for a Frenchman to proffer polite friendship, I think! I feel a lesson in civility is called for.” He waited a few more minutes. Then, when he spied the distant figure of Burke clambering up the ropes to the waiting arms of the French crew he smilingly ordered that The Unicorn turn about to land and that the artillery in her stern be readied for action. “A sight of the cannons in our arse might teach them what we think of their manners!” The manoeuvre was performed quickly and produced the desired effect. No sooner had Bramall’s ship settled into its new stance than the distant, but unmistakeable sounds of offended shouts and cat calls echoed across the waves from the French vessel, answered immediately by a loud ‘hurrah’ from Bramall’s crew, who were enjoying this little piece of brinksmanship as much as their master. To Titus’ alarm and Bramall’s apparent amusement, the French cannon that had been lowered was raised and pointed at The Unicorn, to which taunt Bramall responded by ordering the red flag, indicating that his ship was primed and ready to do battle, to be raised to a point halfway up the mast. The French could read the signal any way they liked, he argued, but if they had sense they would slink off and not risk a silly altercation.

For a few minutes nothing happened. Both ships merely kept their distance, each with their guns trained on the other as if posing in a painting of a naval battle, but without the element of carnage, smoke and flame that the painters of such canvasses often depicted almost as a thing of beauty, and not the act of barbaric butchery and destruction that Titus suddenly feared might be about to play out before his eyes. The insanity of the situation suddenly became manifest to him, and he opened his mouth to voice his very real concern to his host, whose role in this insanity was beginning to call the man’s own intelligence and judgement into question in the eyes of the mapmaker. But before he could even draw breath, a flurry of movement across the waves halted him. The large mainsail of the French ship displaying the Bourbon crest, which had been hoisted almost fully up as the ship rested, was unfurled at a tremendous speed and with an audible crash as its timber spars, travelling too fast to be arrested by halyards, collided with the deck below. The great cannon was withdrawn with as much alacrity as the ship, turning even as she did so, weighed anchor. Then her sails, with an impressive uniformity, smartly tilted to catch the wind and she set off to the south, her great hull tilted – perilously, it seemed to Titus – in her haste to put distance between herself and her antagonist. Titus was immensely relieved to see it, but Bramall, judging by his smile, was simply greatly gratified at the sight, and even more gratified when he spied the figure of her captain emerge onto his deck as the Man’o’War slowly shrank from view. Smiling broadly he saluted his counterpart with an exaggerated sweep of the hand and laughed heartily when the distant figure of the Frenchman followed suit.

Once the excitement had abated, Titus reassured himself that what he had just witnessed was merely what passed for playfulness in these highly charged days between opposing commanders on the high seas, but something within him refused to accept such an interpretation too readily. Priming guns for use in any arena, even in jest, was an action fraught with peril despite the humour it may have caused Bramall, and he found himself treating his host with far more circumspection than before for the remainder of the voyage. Instead, as the captain busied himself below decks or in his quarters, Titus passed his time above alone with his thoughts, seated on the coiled rope at the foot of the ship’s main capstan and with his back comfortably rested against the great wooden drum behind him. He faced landward, but for the most part heeded little of what he saw, so immersed was he in contemplating the options that now stood before him. A favourable wind sped them through the Straits of Dover and they rounded the Kent coast into the relatively calmer waters of what Bramall called the German Sea, but which Titus knew as the southern reaches of the North Sea. He watched with dispassion the slowly undulating thin dark line on the horizon that was his homeland, and the comparison with when he had watched the Irish coast slip past them in like manner a few days earlier, and the feelings it had evoked in him, did not escape him. For the first time he began to truly understand the minds of men like Kenneth Bramall, Robert Cuffe and William Robinson, who had all but severed every tie with the land of their birth for the uncertain life that Ireland had to offer. Against his own better judgement he even found himself fancying that he at last even understood the likes of William Petty, a man vilified by many and ridiculed by more in the country of his adoption, but loath even still to return to his native soil where an easy life of adulation and material comfort awaited him. These men, though differing greatly in character and worth, shared one common trait. In England their stations and roles in life were each largely unavoidable. Though not preordained through divine will, such lives might as well have been, stifled and channelled as they were by a society that had long ago set out the barriers by which it marked the borders between its constituent parts. To pass through these invisible barriers required one of two qualities, neither of which a man is born with – good fortune or effective patronage. The first quality can never be depended on, and the second can only be obtained often at the expense of that part of a man’s make-up that many deem too high a price to pay, his dignity. So most men elected never to try to break these boundaries, but instead to settle for fulfilment of a sort within their limits, and thus never learn what in fact their true potential might have been. What Bramall had said with regard to the men who made up their little ‘guild’ made sense to the mapmaker. As Englishmen living in England their careers would by now in all likelihood have been stifled into stagnation, or even snuffed out altogether through lack of patronage or sheer bad luck. In Ireland, if nothing else, they were men still with some hand at least on the reins of their own destinies, guild or no guild, and the sensation of control, not to mention the real dangers that came with it, was no illusion. The irony that this could be achieved in a society which was, if anything, even more warped by political intrigue and diseased by sectarian embitterment than its English counterpart was not lost on the mapmaker. To Titus, these features of a society were indeed amongst its most odious and gave rise only to the most heartfelt distaste, but as he reflected on these men who had chosen to seek their destinies in such a benighted and tormented corner of the world, he realised with some surprise that he was sure also that he could now count himself amongst their number, and that the prospect did not displease him.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 4) :: Comments

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "The Gathering Storm" (part 4)

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