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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (part four)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (part four)

“Very well, so you followed me from the warehouse to the bridge - am I right? - and eavesdropped on DeLacey’s conversation with me.” There was no response, so he continued. “And it was there that you heard me state my intention to come here, and who I intended to meet.” He wondered privately how much else she might have overheard on the bridge but kept his suspicions to himself. For now it was important that she be allowed tell her story in her own words.
“I did not follow you to the bridge.”
“You didn’t?”
“Not quite sir, when Briar dispersed us, I was afraid I would be too conspicuous if I should be seen alone on the quay. I had no choice but to follow the crowd back across the bridge and it was just by chance that I saw you again there.” Then, almost as an afterthought she added. “I arrived just as you and DeLacey concluded your conversation.”
Titus wondered about that. For all the world she had been simply another beggar on Essex Bridge that afternoon, and who notices beggars or how long they crouch in their pathetic stations on the city’s streets pleading favours from an uncaring public? They were as close to invisible as a human being could get. Even DeLacey had failed to see her arrive or detect her presence until he had almost fallen over her. But he kept his reservations to himself. “And from that you resolved to follow me here? So, you first followed me back to the castle?”
“The castle?” She seemed genuinely surprised at the suggestion.
“That was where I headed next.”
“I did not know that.”
“But were you not following me then?”
“No sir.”

Her response surprised him. “But yet here you are. Miss Reilly, for someone intent on not following a man you have succeeded admirably in dogging his steps.”
She let his sarcasm pass without response. “I had not decided anything. In truth I was at a loss as to know what to do, believe me.”
For some reason he did. “So when did the idea occur to you that it was worth risking life and limb to shadow a worthless mapmaker across the Dublin landscape?” He phrased his question as friendlily as he could, but it was one neverthless that he wanted an answer to.
“After prayer, sir.”
“Prayer?” That was an another answer that he had not expected.
“I found myself wandering the lanes by Wood Quay in the rain, not knowing where in hell I was headed, as if my feet had decided to take responsibility for my direction themselves. God knows my mind could not. But my feet proved the wisest part of me. They brought me to Christchurch, and for a while I simply took refuge in the cathedral vaults. Then after a while I found myself in a chapel and…” Her statement was left unfinished, leaving Titus only to imagine the plight she had found herself in, and which even now defied her ability to express it. But that which had preceded it - the aimless wandering, her arrival at the cathedral – had the ring of truth about it. Her feet, as she said, had indeed chosen wisely. The crowds in the cathedral had provided her with the anonymity to take stock and to recover from the terrific shock she had suffered. But, as Titus could well understand, time to think had also meant time for the full terror of her situation to sink in. Soon, a person in that position would have to make a stark decision between two simple options – to succumb to her terror completely, or to do something, anything, to occupy body and mind and hopefully assuage the agony of despair. She had chosen the latter course. “I prayed to Saint Jude. Protestant church and all as it is, I knew he would hear me. Whether it was Jude’s answer or something born from within me, I determined I should talk with you, sir.”
“Did Jude say why?” Titus, even in these circumstances, could not disguise his contempt for superstition.
She ignored his flippancy. “The reason is my own, and one that no saint would approve of, sir. There, in the chapel, under Jesus himself on his cross, I swore that I would take my revenge on the scum that had killed my father. There is only one man in the country who can help me - James Butler - and the good Lord in his mercy, I thought, had sent me one who might lead me to him.”
He ignored her reasoning that the good Lord had less qualms about revenge than His saints might have. “But he can’t, alas. I am afraid St Jude and Jesus are as guilty of overestimating my powers as you are.”

She nodded wearily and seemed almost to shrink before him. The truth of his assertion that he could not help her in that regard had finally, it seemed, made its mark.
But Titus had need to know something else before grief at the increasing hopelessness of her predicament should overcome her. “The cathedral. Was it there that you procured your weapon? Or had you it about you all the while?”
He had hoped to catch her off guard with his remark and perhaps thus judge from her response exactly what ill intent, if any, she had harboured against him. But she hardly missed a breath in her narrative. This after all was less a confession on her part, Titus knew, but as much the girl’s concerted effort to reconstruct in her own mind the events of the day, probably in the hope that a by reciting the sad litany of what had befallen her she might place a distance between those events and herself – a vital first step in the process of healing one’s grief. He could not fault her for that. It was a process he knew only too well.
“I stole it from a stall in the Fishambles on my way to Christchurch,” she answered, and added almost without thought, “it seemed wise, though God knows who I intended gutting with it. The first man who stood in my way, I imagine.”
“I pray that you, St Jude and God, see me as no obstacle to your path, then.” Titus tried to smile as he said it, but knew that his trepidation regarding her intentions showed.

Cormac, unbeknownst to them, had by now abandoned his vigil up the lane and had arrived in time to hear her last comment about the knife. “You were right, lass,” he said, startling both of his audience. He apologised with a simple nod and spoke more softly, addressing the woman directly. “I’d have done the same. But you can see why it makes us a little nervous. It’s not every day a pretty lady asks a man for help while armed enough to gut him in a moment at the same time.”
Her eyes flashed anger. “Today is not like every day!” She turned to Titus. “And who the hell are you to question me like a common criminal? Christ, have I not been through enough?”
Cormac shushed her soothingly. “Now, now. Don’t get us wrong, Miss Reilly. You’ve
had a day from hell, t’is true, but my friend’s day hasn’t been a bed of roses either. Believe me, he has a right to question you...”
Titus interrupted him. He had been expecting her patience at his questioning to snap, and had frankly been surprised that she had lasted so long. “No, Cormac. Miss Reilly is right. Enough questions for now. It’s rest and food that this lady needs, not further harassment, from me or anyone else today.”
“And I came back to say the same thing,” Cormac agreed. “There’s no one on the road and it’s drawing late, master Titus, if you’ve to honour your appointment in town.”
Amazingly, it was Miss Reilly who protested. “No, please. Let me continue, if you will. I swear I shall not detain you much more.” There was a quiet, but earnest, desperation to her plea.
“Very well,” Titus had already deduced that this was a story she needed to tell. He admired her strength in doing so, but could see that the relation of it had become a race against the understandable anger welling up inside her, and the absolute fatigue to which her surrender was already overdue. If it meant he was late for his meeting with DeLacey and his friends, then to hell with them. If what they had to say was so important, then they would not be averse to waiting, however unused to it they might be. “Say as much as you want, and stop when you will. What happened after you left Christchurch?”
She took a breath before plunging on with her narrative. “I took a chance and waited in hiding by the widow Halpin’s beer shop in Thomas Street in the hope that you might pass.” She caught his sceptical look. “It’s the easiest road out to Kilmainham, especially in the wet – one a stranger would be advised to use.”
“The way things have gone for me today, if I had been advised to take it I probably would have made a point of going a different way.”
“The thought occurred to me, believe me. Or that you had changed your mind, or already had passed, or had taken a coach, or had been arrested by Briar, or even been lying about Kilmainham. But I couldn’t dwell on such doubts. I had fixed on one idea, and I swear I let nothing deflect me from it. Silly, I know.”
“Perhaps, but not in the circumstances I think. I admire your resolution.” He meant it.
She shook her head. “It was resolution for the sake of it, sir, and not very intelligent, I fear. As time wore on I grew convinced of my folly, though I could think of nothing else to do. Indeed I had just about given up when I saw you, and we followed you then, me and Bran.” She glanced at the dog as she spoke and stroked it, and the action seemed to help her maintain her remarkable composure. Titus could only marvel at her self-possession, and privately wondered what composure at all he might portray if he should suffer even a fraction of the misfortunes that had befallen her today. “We trailed you for a mile or so. You’re a fast walker sir, and I could hardly keep you in sight, let alone keep up. Bran did his best but I confess we lost you around Cromwell’s Quarters. There was nothing for it but to try and find you at the Hospital itself. I found a good place to hide across there, by those yews, but then Bran ran off in pursuit of something and I panicked. He ran through the gates and headed towards the field on the rise towards the river and I set after him. I know it sounds stupid, but I had no thought of anything except losing him. That would have been ...” She struggled to find the word.
“T’was the bones he scented!” Cormac interrupted her and nodded towards the field that she had mentioned. “That’s Bully’s Acre over there, a cheery neighbour for us ould eejits waiting for death’s release to have.” Titus looked confused so Cormac elaborated. “It’s a graveyard, my boy. One that we’re all headed for up beyond, and so close we could nearly make the journey unaided when we die! But tell me girl, you didn’t look like someone in pursuit of anything when I found you. Were you not skulking in the bushes back there?”
There was a moment before she replied. It was obvious that his sudden question had unnerved her. “I saw you coming and hid,” she answered flatly.
Titus noted her discomfort but decided not to pursue it.

"Not for fear of discovery. I am afraid that it was the thought of losing the dog. Stupid, I admit, but intelligent reasoning hasn’t been my forte today, I fear. That was when the giant found me…” She glanced at Cormac ashamedly and he smiled back.
“You were heading into Bully’s Acre, lass.” Cormac advised her. “There’s always a watch on the fresh graves there, and if I hadn’t found you it would most likely have meant trouble for you.”
“I could have been heading into Hades itself along with the Acre’s occupants and I would not have cared. And you needn’t look at me like that, old man. I know it makes me sound a complete fool, but I could not contemplate losing Bran as well…”
Titus realised that she was fast reaching a point of utter exhaustion beyond which further enquiry would yield little by way of sensible reply. “Listen,” he grasped her elbow and helped her to her feet. “If I can at all, then help you I will, believe me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“But I am sorry to say that even should I wish to, I could not bring you to Ormonde. He is in England as I have been told here, though in England I was led to believe that he was in Dublin. That should tell you as much as you need to know of how privy I am to the Viceroy’s movements – or need be. I am but a hireling at the minute in any event. No one of importance knows me, nor I them, and you have deduced all too much from seeing me with DeLacey. It was he who approached me, and merely to summons me to a parley tonight, which for all I know could be to commission a drains inspection in the castle.” He was lying, but only wished to ease her hopes down gently. From her expression he could see that was failing in this with every word he spoke. But there was nothing for it but to have her know the truth, and the true extent of his uselessness. “And as for your poor father’s death. Well, all I can say is that I have rarely seen such absence of respect to a departed soul as that which the soldier Briar exhibited, and I admit, as I said, that the whole thing struck me as a fouler deed in its entirety than murder alone. For what it’s worth I share your sentiments in that regard, but alas I am not the man you think if you see me as a worthwhile aid in your efforts to avenge his murder.” He knew that what he had just said must have rung like a death knell in her ears to all the false hopes and expectations that had sustained her throughout the day.
“I have wasted your time then, sir,” she said. “I apologise.”
He was stung by her apology. For some reason it made him feel terribly guilty, and he suddenly felt that it was important she not be allowed to collapse into despair with his last words ringing so desolately in her mind. Perhaps it was because a part of him was still curious about why she had gone to such lengths to meet with a total stranger in the absolute belief that he could have helped her, or perhaps it was simply that he knew only too well the abyss of despondency whose precipice she hovered over, and how it was to be plunged into its void, but he determined at that moment that he not be the one to push her over that edge. It was vital that she be forced to continue her narrative, if only to keep her mind occuoied in its recounting. Besides, there were gaps in her story that he would as yet have filled with that recounting. He indicated her rags with his free hand. “But I asked you to tell me everything, and I am afraid that you have glossed over a crucial part. You mentioned that your house was ruined? How so?”
Her voice was deadpan. “It was burned to the ground.”
“Good God, when?”
“Early this morning while it was still dark. I had stayed awake, or tried to, waiting for my father …” Her words petered out and her gaze fell on a point whose focus lay beyond that which could be seen in the gloom of the roadside where they stood. Her face contorted in the struggle to hold back her inevitable collapse, and when that struggle at last failed, the howl that she emitted was almost inhuman. Even the deafest guard within the hospital walls would have heard it, and Titus knew that his time for interrogation was fast running its course.
Cormac squeezed her shoulders as she sobbed. “You cry away, my love. It seems there’s pain enough has been visited on you this last day to merit it. But for all our sakes can we call a halt to our little meeting here.” He gestured with a nod to the gates. “I’ll go back up along, master Titus, and see if I can detain them if they heard our young friend here. But I pray that you defer your questions till the morrow.”
To their surprise she stifled her sobs at once and shook her head resolutely, a defiance in her eyes that dared them to contradict her. “No, I must tell this tale. I am no callow chit of a girl, despite what you might think.”
“Believe me,” said Titus softly, “that was not what Cormac meant, nor indeed what I think either. But you’ve no need to prove your courage or soundness of mind to either of us. That you have done already, and that’s the truth.”
Her face grew grim. “I will tell it, and you will listen,” she said with emphasis, and then added a “please”, as if as an afterthought.
“Very well,” Titus said. He glanced into the darkness half expecting to see armed sentries swooping down through the Hospital grounds to arrest them. He could hear nothing. “I will listen, of course, but perhaps we should move again. This is a poor spot for a parley.”
But she had not heard him, or could not. Her effort, it seemed, was committed totally to recalling the events as they had transpired in those fateful early hours of morning. The Hospital could send a whole battallion to arrest her if they wished, she was seemingly beyond caring. “The clock in our kitchen stood between three and four, that much I could see. I had obviously fallen asleep waiting, and the first thing I knew was Bran’s mad barking waking me. The next was the smoke. It was pouring down the stairwell like a river and the timbers in the ceiling were already cracking with the heat of the flames above. I stood to get out and fell back at once, so foul had the air become, and it was only by crawling that I could make it to the back door at all. It wasn’t locked but even then I hadn’t the strength to stand and unlatch it. If it wasn’t for Bran scratching on it for all he was worth I was done for. Some neighbours had already roused and it was they who heard him, thank god. They got me out and tried to tackle the fire with whatever water was to hand but by then it was far too late. The top storey was already well ablaze and the whole house was set to collpase.”
A thought suddenly occurred to Titus, and he interrupted her narration. “So, at that point you could not be sure that your father had not returned?”
She shook her head. “I was sure he had, and I screamed as much to my neighbours. Even before the flames had died they were helping me search for him.”
“I know this might sound heartless, but can you tell me at what point you realised that he had not been in the house when it burnt?”
“I didn’t, not until the message.”
“Yes, this is why I am curious. The message to meet your father - what time did that arrive?”
“It was almost noon. We’d been through the ruins since light ...” She shuddered, and Titus could only imagine the terror of those few hours – sifting through the charred debris of one’s home in the hope and fear of finding one’s father. But she must not be let dwell on that thought. He had a reason for asking his question. He forced her into one last examination of the events.
“Did you know this man? Or would you know him if you saw him again?”
“Yes,” she answered, but then shook her head resignedly. “I mean, no. Come to think of it, I hardly saw his face. He had a hat with a fine felt brim pulled low over his features. A good coat too, I noticed that, with the collars turned up.”
Someone not wishing to be remembered, thought Titus. “Did anyone speak to you before this stranger arrived with his message? Other than your neighbours, I mean? Was there anyone else there, possibly even helping you, who you did not know?”
She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate, shaking her head with the effort until at last she raised it and Titus could see only pure exhaustion etched in her features. “No,” she answered, though her voice seemed distant, as if divorced from her being. “I don’t think so. I don’t …”
Her words trailed into the ether, and she seemed to watch after them as they disappeared, all too prepared to follow them there. It was obvious that the trauma of the event had finally overcome her. Having at last put words to the terror that had infused her throughout the day, she now seemed drained to the point of emptiness. But at least she had answered his question. If the fire was an attempt on Reilly’s life then not only had it failed, but his murderers had somehow learnt of its failure even before she and her neighbours had deduced as much from their vain search through the rubble. So how had they known? Of course they might have simply spotted him abroad that morning and abducted him, but that seemed very unlikely. More possibly – and all the more probably, he realised – they had never had reason to deduce it at all. They knew already that Reilly had not perished in a fire because they themselves had set it for a different reason entirely. It was merely some kind of a ruse, one devised to cover their tracks and cause confusion. They had abducted the man and used the fire to mask their deed, perhaps?. But that was where logical deduction failed him. If such was the case, why go to so much trouble when they intended making a spectacle of his hanged corpse in the heel of the hunt? And if it had been purely vindictiveness on their part, why take such extra risks when the abduction and murder of their victim carried risk enough? Such stupidity did not coincide with the obvious intelligence they had employed in the execution of their foul murder, however perverse that intelligence had been.
The woman before him showed with a narrowing of her eyes that she too was now probing the logic of what had occurred. Titus’ question had prompted her to consider something that she also had missed amidst the tragedy and trauma of her day. “Do you think that this has all been then just to terrorise me? To destroy me? The fire to rob me of all that I hold dear, and then my father’s murder to take the only thing left worth having?” She looked astounded as she asked it. The enormity of what had happened to her was even yet sinking in, but now its absurdity was dawning on her too.
Titus was about to answer that the fire had come close to robbing her of much more than her possessions, even by her own account. It was much more likely to have been set in order to murder her than merely to terrorise her, but he never got a chance to say it. Suddenly a loud cough in the distance interrupted his thoughts and caused them both to jump. To his relief, he saw that it was merely Cormac who emerged from the shadows.
“Only me, don’t fret. No guards around yet, but I see lights and activity in their barracks. Probably drawing lots to see who’ll venture out into the damp and identify the howler.” He peered at the young woman and again placed a protective arm around her shoulders. “Look a stór – the time for chatting is over, and you’d best not set foot on the streets tonight! Master Titus, you have business you must attend to. I’ll attend to our friend here, she could do with a drop – or two, ‘sé mo bharúil! You come with me Miss Reilly, we’ll see can we find somewhere more accommodating than a pantry to station you in. Bring little Bran too. It seems he could do with a dram or two himself. We will talk with master Titus tomorrow, please God.”

Titus nodded in assent. There was nothing further to be gained here in any case, having reached a point where dissecting what had occurred was raising more questions than answers. Eoin Reilly’s daughter deserved answers to those questions, however, and he realised that it wouldn’t hurt for him to know those answers too. Even as he agreed to return the next day, Titus realised that the prospect did not dismay him, at least not as much as it might have done earlier. His reasons for dismay were many, he knew. He had grown to detest the fact that his day had become a series of disasters, of which his agreement to help Sarah Reilly, he knew in all honesty, was in all likelihood another. He had already seen and understood that his simple desire to be allowed go about his legitimate business had become a remote, if not altogether unattainable possibility, and that this responsibility that he had undertaken was, most likely, nothing but another impediment to that aim. But there was a certain gratification to be found in the undertaking also, and while this gratification surprised him, it also gave him a curious solace, as if by committing himself to her aid he had at least begun also to reclaim his own destiny, stamping something of his own will at last on the chain of unfortunate encounters and developments that had sucked him so unwittingly and unwillingly into the quandary in which he now found himself. Besides and in any case - he assured himself with the justification one applies to a decision after one has made it instinctively - she had not yet said all that she knew. The more she had spoken the more he had grown convinced that her testimony, however flawed, might yet throw some light on those very events that were unfolding in his own life. Unbidden and unwelcome though they might be they needed clarification, and the sooner the better, he had realised.

But even as he congratulated himself on his reasoning another, darker, justification suggested itself to his mind. Suddenly the damp air grew denser to his senses, and the swirling evening mist began to ebb and flow in his sight like the eddies on a deep river. An image loomed into his mind of oars breaking the black surface of the waters, and he killed it only for it to be replaced by something else breaking through those same dark waves. A terror gripped him as he realised, even before it presented itself to his imagination, what it must be. He shivered involuntarily against the damp chill that had begun to bore through his very flesh and clenched his eyes shut, shaking his head as if to wrestle himself from the grip of this vision that had so suddenly consumed him.
But it was the voice of Reilly’s daughter that dispelled the gloom into which he had been immersed, and just as suddenly as it had arisen. Even in the depths of her own despondency, and exhausted as she must surely have been, she had seemingly noticed his sudden and drastic change in demeanour. “Are you alright sir?” she asked earnestly, and the genuine concern in the question seemed to impinge on his conscience even before her words, pricking that bubble of despair that had so quickly enveloped him, and bursting it so that it felt as if it was he himself who was the one breaking through the dark river’s waves to gulp the life-giving air above.

For a second or two he was unable to speak, and when speech came it was as if it was being uttered by a stranger and he a mere witness. “We will indeed talk, you get some rest,” he found himself assuring her.
She simply nodded – whether in gratitude or acknowledgement of his obvious turn was impossible to say. “What is your name?” she asked. “I know only that your Christian name is one that no Catholic will ever give their child again.”

Titus was so taken aback at the directness of the question that his fugue was dispelled in that instant and he was once again returned to his surroundings. “Titus Perry ma’am!” His answer was prompt, and a little too loud, causing Cormac to turn and wave him quiet with an urgent movement of his hand. The old man then beckoned just as urgently for her to follow him.
But she remained where she stood. “You have been more help than you know, Titus Perry,” she said quietly.
Her words disarmed him. He knew that he had been anything but. There was, however, at least one concrete way in which he could be of service to the poor woman, so in an effort to leave her with some vestige of hope in her heart he risked Cormac’s impatient wrath by assuring her of his intention. “Tonight, as I said, I meet with people who may be able to shed some further light on what transpired today. I will see what I can glean from them, though I promise nothing. If nothing else, I will also try to learn more news of your poor father’s remains and what is to be done with them, I assure you.”
Cormac’s patience had expired. He strode back to where they stood, took a firm but gentle grip of her arm, and turned to steer the woman back up the path towards the Hospital. “Enough chat for now. Safe journey, Titus,” he said over his shoulder. “Please God we will meet again in the morning.” Then, to his charge he said more quietly. “Come, mo chailín, I’ve my own door round by the kitchens. No one will see us.” They set off up the path, he with a slow and purposeful gait, guiding her frail form as she made a painful and stumbling progress by his side. But the old giant had led her only a few yards when she stopped again suddenly, twisted herself from Cormac’s grip to his gasped dismay, and called back to the mapmaker. Even in the poor light Titus could see again those defiant eyes, and, to his great surprise, a smile hovering on her lips.
“Thank you,” she called. “I am Sarah Reilly, and I thank you.”

Titus bowed curtly by way of reply and turned on his heels, her last words ringing in his ears as he walked hurriedly back along the darkness of the Kilmainham Road towards the city. It was some time before he realised that he himself was smiling too, and though he knew that it was a smile quite incongruous with what logic dictated he should be feeling, he had no doubt why he did so. Had he and Sarah Reilly met in less tragic and uncommon circumstances, he knew, then the pleasure he felt in their encounter could merely have been more explicable, but could not have been less welcome. It is rare, as Cormac’s old story all those years ago had intimated, that one encounters truly courageous people, he reflected. It would surely be a long time, he knew, before he could ever meet one braver.

The walk back into town along the treacherously winding lane in the darkness seemed half the length in distance and time that it had taken him earlier in daylight’s full radiance. As he picked his way between the hedgerows that could now be discerned best as black voids in the star-studded heavens, his mind mulled over all that had transpired since his journey out. Then his most immediate problem had been how to locate a man without a surname, and to figure out a way whereby he could halt what seemed an inexorable descent into complications that he had not wished. Now, for reasons he himself did not fully understand, he had embraced those very complications with a vengeance. By agreeing to help Eoin Reilly’s daughter – and by agreeing to meet with this DeLacey character that evening as a step in providing this aid – he had made a mockery of all that he professed was essential in his life, and he knew that. But something fundamental had occurred in this meeting with the murdered man’s daughter. Her plight, pitiful and tragic as it was, was not what had swayed him. Nor was it her attractiveness or courageous spirit that had pierced his armour, though he could not deny that the woman possessed both. And he knew that Cormac’s entreaty to help her, much and all as he valued his old friend’s intuition, would never have influenced him to take such a bold departure from his normally guarded self. No, it was something else that had reached within him, seized a door long sealed and burst it open. Behind that door lay parts of him that he had hoped were buried for good, and which now, in a dark country lane on a chill April evening, he did not wish to contemplate. That there were fears buried there, he knew well. That there were doubts, he knew even better. But what that door had guarded also, and that which he dreaded most to think of, was a particular memory, and one which Sarah Reilly’s testimony had reawakened.

He shuddered involuntarily at the thought and tried to shrug himself free of its grip. At the same moment a corncrake squawked in a field behind the hedgerow, and he heard the startled flutter of its wings as it flew in panic from the sound of his heavy footsteps on the gravel. Its sound alarmed him, probably more than he had alarmed the bird, but it also had the unexpected effect of dispelling the gloom that had been encroaching his thoughts. Its startled flight, in the work of a moment, had revealed something to him. It had illustrated the crucial difference, he now knew, between himself that afternoon and now. Coming out from Dublin he had been not unlike that corncrake, panicked and upset by all that had befallen him and seeking only to fly back to safety. Now, as his pace quickened to a stride, he realised that whatever awaited him in Dublin that night, or in the days ahead, it was something that he should, and would, meet on his own terms. Sarah Reilly’s courage, he knew, was what had triggered this change in him. A door might have been blasted open, and behind it might lie demons that he had hoped never again to tackle, but what it let in was the fresh air of purpose, and it tasted good.

But there was a huge difference between discovering – or rediscovering – a sense of purpose, however liberating it might feel, and in knowing what that purpose was. That he should aid Sarah Reilly in her effort to contact James Butler was one such. But that in itself was not very much, and besides, he had little faith in either his ability to achieve it or in its benefit to her should he succeed. Ànd if it had only been her situation that needed addressing then it was likely that he would not even be helping her at all. No, there was his own predicament to consider too, and it was time he took stock of what that truly was.

A cascade of disasters had befallen him that day, beginning with when he had wandered in to Collier’s inn that morning and agreed to read the man’s letter. Somehow, for reasons that he yet couldn’t fathom, this had initiated a sequence of events in which he had managed to find himself on the wrong side of a powerful, and most likely dangerous, castle constable. Then, close on its heels, had he undergone a bewildering spiral of disaster in which he found himself the unwitting courier of his own execution order, publicly associated with a hideous murder, and finally coerced with scarcely veiled threat to attend a meeting with a high-ranking spy. It had all happened so quickly that he had not had time to properly think it through. Why on earth would the barrister MacCarthy – a total stranger to him, if not his secretary - wish him dead? How truly coincidental were his run-ins with Captain Briar that day? And Briar’s side-kick – who was he? What manner of man is a junior officer in the morning and a well dressed gentleman in the afternoon? What could be his interest in what transpired in Stanhope’s warehouse that he would wish to overhear, but yet go to such pains to do so covertly, his curiosity exceeding his most obvious wish to avoid being recognised? It was tempting to throw one’s hands up and attribute the whole thing to plain bad luck and misunderstandings. Meeting Briar twice had been merely coincidence. MacCarthy’s letter could well be innocuous – its menace purely an invention of DeLacey to grab Titus’ attention. And the young officer could be simply that, a man who just happened to have clothes above his station when out of uniform and a prurient interest in murders even when not on duty. But something told him that this was simply wishful thinking. These developments were indeed malevolent, and worse, they were all somewhow linked, and meeting the dead man’s daughter had cemented this belief in Titus’ mind.

Sarah Reilly had spoken ambiguously of a threat that hung over him. But that it did exist she was adamant about. He had suspected that this was something she might have concocted upon overhearing DeLacey’s comment regarding the barrister MacCarthy’s letter to his friend Wilson, but was now convinced that even if she had overheard as much, it had simply confirmed something that she already knew, or at least presumed. He had no doubt that she was deadly serious about the fact that she herself now lived under that very threat, just as he was convinced that she had purposefully withheld all that she knew regarding the men behind the threat. Her father had died at the hands of malevolent men, and it did not strain the imagination to believe that their malevolence extended beyond one victim alone. That Eoin Reilly was a man who would have incurred hostility from many quarters was a safe assumption, especially after hearing what Cormac had said about his activities on behalf of Catholics. He had seen for himself the sneering and offhand manner in which Briar had treated his corpse. But there were indications that whatever the man had been murdered for, he had somehow thwarted his persecutors or at least made them work hard for whatever it was they had wanted to obtain. It was feasible, if not even likely, that they had failed to get what they wanted from Reilly, and now sought other means to that end. Sarah Reilly, his daughter, was an obvious target. But who knew who these people were or what they wanted? Until Titus did, he would have to consider that Sarah Reilly’s assertion that he himself was in their sights also was therefore an assumption worth taking seriously, however illogical it might appear.

The memory of Briar’s offhand treatment of Stanhope’s dead business partner brought to mind also his most extraordinary interrogation of the merchant at the scene of the hanging. It had struck Titus as odd then, and now assumed much more sinister overtones. Why had Briar been so obsessed with who owned what in their business partnership? Stanhope’s answers had shaken the captain, that much was plain. But why? Sarah Reilly had said that she suspected Briar of an involvement in her father’s death, but Cormac had all but dismissed the notion. The old man had a low opinion of Briar, but an even lower opinion of his intelligence. If, as Titus wished dearly not to believe but which now had to be considered, all these sordid and strange events were somehow related and the threat over Miss Reilly was one that he shared too, then it was vital to ascertain just what role Briar may or may not play in them. The only evidence of any threat hanging over Titus himself, if it could even be termed as such, was the strange letter of the barrister. Both these things DeLacey had hinted that he could throw light on, and Titus resolved to ask him tonight.

He had been lost in thought as he walked, and suddenly found himself approaching the rickety wooden bridge over a rivulet that marked the boundary of the parish of Kilmainham. On the other side lay the area that Dubliners referred to as The Liberties. Here resided the bulk of those industries that were deemed unworthy or unsuitable to be practised within the city’s walls but which sustained the city nonetheless – its weavers, its brewers, its tanners, its knackers, and the myriad of jobbers who hired themselves out as common labourers, dockers, jarveys, road sweepers, and all the menial functionaries without which any city could not exist. It was in this area that Eoin Reilly’s house had stood until that morning, and it was amongst these people – those literally pushed to the margins of life – that the man had pursued his life dedicated to their welfare. From Cormac’s description of Reilly he was one who did not overly distinguish between men of varying creeds or politics. His concern was for all who occupied this underclass of Dublin’s social strata – those who he regarded as the invisible, unregarded, but vital foundation of Dublin’s industrial wealth, and his arguments had been persuasive enough to command the ear, and even the respect, of the Irish Viceroy. A man such as that, Titus reckoned, could well have enemies enough to form a queue of would-be murderers. But, as his relationship with Ormonde and Stanhope suggested, he had also been careful to acquire the trust of powerful and wealthy friends. The decision to murder such a man would never have been taken lightly, at least not by those of high position who his daughter had intimated she suspected. It was a conundrum, and one that Titus realised might never be solved.

The sickly smell of a small brewery wafted across the stream, which, in the pitch black of night announced eloquently, if a little noisomely, the transition from farmland to city. In a small pool of light cast by two lanterns set on poles by the foot of the bridge he could just make out the shades of a small band of people, huddled by the roadside on the opposite bank. Such bottlenecks as infrequently used bridges and hillside road cuttings were favoured spots of brigands and thieves, especially in the dark, where the unwitting stranger was obliged to tread a particular path, and where escape was easily hampered. His fingers wrapped themselves around the leather bound handle of the knife beneath his coat, and he tentatively withdrew it. But as he crossed the planks of the bridge and stepped down on to the gravel of St James Road he saw that his supposed assailants were nothing but a small group of market women, baskets in hand, who had been quietly chatting amongst themselves, obviously waiting politely for him to exit the structure before they themselves mounted it. They noticed the sheen from his blade and one of them muttered a small prayer. Quickly he pocketed it again and strode towards them to apologise, but his gesture was misinterpreted by the small group, who shrieked in terror and ran across the bridge as if their lives depended on it. He stood silently watching them flee into the darkness, and felt all the more foolish as he turned to resume his passage back to the city beyond, not for having so unwittingly astonished them, but for ever having doubted the ease with which misunderstandings can occur, and the terrible consequences that they can wreak. Even if today’s events had been but a tragically ludicrous series of such misunderstandings, he was now convinced that it was more vital than ever to address them, explain them, and to hopefully dispel them.

He mused on this for a while. It was ironic, but the man who Titus had fast dismissed as a fraudulent spy – this bearded man on Essex Bridge who had spoken of menace and threat from high places being brought to bear on a mapmaker of little or no consequence – was fast becoming a key in Titus’ mind to unlocking the mysteries that he had been confronted with this day, and were now consuming his thoughts. If indeed it was John DeLacey, then the man had some serious questions to answer, and Titus found himself anticipating their meeting now with some impatience, bordering on relish. For all he knew DeLacey might in fact be the biggest real threat that Titus should face that day, but he was one that the mapmaker would meet head on and from whom he would secure that which he needed now to know.

There had been one thing that Sarah Reilly had said that had struck home with Titus much more than he even cared to consider himself. She had rebuked herself for being too long a spectator at the play, instead of its author. If she had set out to pierce the mapmaker’s armour with words designed to cut straight through his most stalwart defences and undo him, then she could not have chosen a more astute phrase than that. It was as if she was voicing the very thought that he himself had been on the verge of applying to his own life up to now, but from which he had always shied at the last moment in voicing, even in his own mind. Yet she was right, and he knew it. Disaster befalls everyone from time to time, but he who never attempts to avoid it, deserves it. The realisation of this simple truth envigoured him, just as it dismayed him that it had taken the well chosen words of a woman on the edge of insane grief to help him see it. An anger was welling within him, and it was one, he knew, that was directed largely against himself.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (part four) :: Comments

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 7 "The Hospital" (part four)

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