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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 8)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 8)

It was time for the mapmaker to make his courtesy calls, starting with the Surveyor General. William Robinson’s offices were situated in a large house of his own design in the newly opened suburbs near Oxmanstown Green. This was land owned by Sir Humphrey Jervis – another man who Titus hoped to meet that day - and that in itself contained a small irony. Jervis was very much a Corporation man; he had even served as Lord Mayor a few years previously. Indeed it was his influence with the municipal authority and strong contacts there that had helped him assemble his large holdings on the north bank of the Liffey. Robinson’s commissions on the other hand were mostly for the state, in the person of the Lord Lieutenant. He wasn’t above working for the Corporation on the odd occasion – their headquarters’ refurbishment in Skinner’s Row had been largely to his design – but his preference was obviously for the more grandiose schemes, and deeper pocketed funding, of Ormonde’s embellishments rather than those of the more parsimonious civic body. Both parties had their own ideas of how the development should proceed – the corporation leaning towards the facilitation of commerce above all else while Ormonde dreamed of creating a new Versailles with Robinson as his own Hardouin-Mansart - and this had led to confrontation at almost every turn. The result of this was that Dublin’s expansion displayed all too much evidence of compromise between the two ideals, and Ormonde in particular harboured well publicised grievances against his municipal authority, who he felt were sabotaging his grand design. It was strange therefore to find Robinson encamped in the other’s land, and not only that but on land that Ormonde himself had once hoped to acquire for the construction of a three mile long boulevard between the city and his Phoenix Park residence.

Robinson’s ideas, when funded sufficiently, were often very bold in execution – and their aesthetic qualities were rarely questioned. They owed their concept in terms of dimension as much to classical Greece as their embellishments did to the more fashionable styles of the day, but in all cases their function was accommodated with the utmost efficiency and priority. The combination could sometimes be breathtakingly elegant in its simplicity, and Robinson’s renown rightly extended far beyond Dublin and Ireland. But, other than a few projects undertaken around the island and in England, the bulk of the fruits of his genius resided, like him, in Dublin - and his patrons knew that they had in their midst a man who would advertise them and their ambitions, to posterity.
Titus expected almost therefore to find something of a classical genius at work in his Oxmanstown residence, some Vitruvius or Kallikrates in flowing robes, poring over pencil sketches of Doric entablatures and Ionic friezes, giant columns supporting vast, gravity-defying plinths of marble and granite, in a studio that itself would represent the atrium to a man-made reconstruction of Olympia on earth. What he actually found therefore rather surprised and deflated him. William Robinson was seated at a desk, and there was a plan on the table too. But the plan – or what one could see of it - was of a modest house, and the desk stood in a studio that was little other than a dining room used for the purpose of an office. The architect was slumped over it, his face rested full on the pencil and ink delineations, his toothless mouth wide open, and with drool dribbling from the cavernous opening onto the paper under it. The noise emanating from the snotty nose, and the empty bottle that rested on the plan beside his head confirmed the scenario. Robinson was fast asleep and dead drunk.

“Ahem!” Titus knocked on the open office door to which a rather indifferent secretary had led him. “Ahem!” – he tried coughing louder and with a sharper rap on the varnished wood. The great designer and master of the Royal Survey merely accelerated and amplified his snores. Titus approached him tentatively and shook his shoulder. “Sir William?”
Robinson jerked to attention. “What? What?” Then he looked up with bleary eyes and spotted Titus towering above him. “Who the hell are you? Come about that bloody library?”
“No sir, I’m here about the survey. Do you remember – I wrote to you some time back?”
“Survey?” Robinson reached for the bottle and a whiskey glass on the table, succeeded in knocking the bottle over - then noticed it was empty anyway and promptly threw it into the fireplace across the room, where it bounced intact from a burning sod of turf and landed with a clatter on the grate. For a drunk his aim was very accurate. He’s not only drunk, Titus thought to himself. He’s raving mad!
“I heard of that!” Robinson exclaimed.
Titus started – surely the man wasn’t a mind reader too?
“That survey thingummyjig! I heard of that! Bloody stupid idea! Isn’t that elongated fart Petty doing that? Thinks he’s Socrates, Ptolemy and Pythagoras combined he does! Not to mention bloody Poseidon himself to boot! Someone should tell him to emulate his mentors and take a swig of that hemlock they always had for emergencies. Put him out of his misery and ours – eh?
Titus seriously doubted that all of the aforementioned ancient Greeks had employed the same suicide technique to end their days, especially the god of the seas, though tactfully said nothing.
“Now he wants us all to join his bloody Philosophical Society and listen to him prattle even more. He’s talked Molyneux into helping him set it up for god’s sake! Even asked me to design a bloody building to house his damned self-eulogium fraternity! Do you know what I said to him? I said the only thing I’ll take pleasure in designing for you Mr Petty is your bloody grave. And by that I don’t mean a mausoleum, I mean a plain granite slab as I’m sure that’s as far as the public subscription will amount to!” As he spoke he opened and closed a series of desk drawers, rummaging through each until his hand rested on what he searched for. A fresh bottle of liquor appeared on the desk.
Titus was beginning to wonder if he didn’t prefer the man asleep. He thought he’d better steer the conversation back to the point. “Sir William, I must say I am a great admirer of your work. The Royal Hospital does you proud.”
“Damned copy boy, that’s what that is. I purloined a few ideas from that Wren fool. Improved on them a bit, mind you, but then that’s not hard. Still, the old man liked the plans. He who pays the piper – eh? Paris, he said! Reminds him of bloody Paris. Bloody Paris? Parish I say! A Parish Hall for Dublin. Hah!”
“And this project?” Titus pointed to the plan, then realised he was also pointing at the bottle and withdrew his index finger promptly.
“A bloody library boy! For Marsh, the parasitic bookweevil. Damned fool has been made bishop of Ferns but we see more of him in Dublin now than when he was skulking in the college. He wants somewhere to leave his books when he dies, he says. The only saving grace is that only the good die young so I’ve many years to complete it. Did he send you? Oh no, of course not – you’re the Petty man aren’t you? I saw your name on the letter, I remember. You a relation of the misery stick?”
“No sir, Perry is my name, not Petty, though I do wish to meet with him before I leave the city. I’m here as I was told I should obtain a letter of authorisation from you sir if you would be so kind – you are master of the Royal Survey and convention insists that you must co-authorise my contract with the navy.”
“I am? Oh indeed, so I am! Molyneux must look after that end of things – I hate maps myself! The world keeps changing, it seems such a thankless task!”
“William Molyneux to you boy. Great man for the maps is Willie, even if he’s a damned fool to help that Pettyfog buffoon. Maps of the heavens he’s engaged in now. Never see the fool in daylight anymore – he’s up all night with an eyeglass observing the bally sky. Bloody fool!”
This was news to Titus. “You mean Mr Molyneux is the Surveyor General and not you? They told me otherwise in London.”
“London? I tried a few ideas out there after the fire but they wouldn’t have it. Wren has that bloody place sewn up you know! More fools them – eh? They don’t know their arses from their elbows in London. No, they think I’m their Surveyor General and I think Willie is mine – d’ya ken?”
“Not quite sir. So my letter of authorisation should be issued by you then?”
Robinson took a deep swig from the glass, drained it, and immediately re-filled it. “Letter? Me of course boy!”
Despite his ravaged features Titus guessed that Robinson was probably only about ten years older than himself, so being called ‘boy’ was beginning to gall him. His irritation showed in his voice. “I have not been a boy for quite some years, Sir William. And if it is alright with you then I’ll request that letter now if I may – my time here is limited. I hope to meet with Sir William Petty later this afternoon.” All these Williams were getting a bit confusing.
“Then don’t for Christ’s sake tell him your time is limited here!” If Robinson had noticed Titus’s irritation he did not show it. He smiled. “Time is a pet topic of the man at the moment, I understand, probably because he knows his own is running out. He’ll lecture you on the theological use of temporal allegory and its implications for the appreciation of mortality – or some such rot I’ll wager. Still, it’s your own precious time you’re wasting going anywhere near the old fart. If you’re wise you’ll skip your appointment altogether and skedaddle about your surveying.” He began to peruse his plan and seemed to grow oblivious to Titus’s presence. Titus coughed and Robinson swung round to face him, apparently surprised to see anyone there at all. “Oh yes, your letter. Talk to my secretary, Mr Cally – he’s the scribbler around here. He’ll write any damned letter you like! Good day, kind sir!” He stressed the last words with a wicked smile, winked and then abruptly returned to his plan, and his whiskey.
Titus thanked him curtly and, smiling with satisfaction that he had at least managed to elicit a more courteous term of address from Robinson, made to leave. At the door however he was arrested in his progress by a sharp “And boy?”
“Yes, Sir William?”
“If you come across Molyneux in your travels – tell him to disengage from the celestial spheres and come into the earthly office of his every now and again! His work here is building up in his absence! Oh, and good luck with the survey thingy!”

The letter safely procured, a still smiling Titus directed the carriage to the college once more. His driver’s look registered approval of the venue, though if it was because he thought his commission was nearing completion, Titus had bad news for him. When they reached the college gates he requested the driver make himself available again in an hour for a further excursion that afternoon. If the man was disappointed he concealed it well and merely nodded agreement. It appeared Titus’s earlier tirade had chastened him somewhat and curbed his propensity to complain, or, as Titus half suspected, the man’s curiosity regarding a passenger who picks up sharp-tongued tramps and clothes them in the same journey as he visits the country’s foremost architect had been aroused sufficiently to preclude any objection to further hire from this source.

The beadle had indeed passed the message to Petty, and a short note had been left for Titus telling him he might visit the man in his rooms between eleven and twelve if he wished an audience. The clock in the beadle’s office indicated that he had only ten minutes left. It was a rather breathless Titus who therefore found himself knocking on yet another office door, this one in the top floor of the Jacobean complex that housed the college dons. He was instructed to enter.

Petty stood facing out the window, looking down at the leafy quadrangle at the core of the college grounds, and kept his portly back to Titus as he spoke. “And you are?”
“Titus Perry, map maker. I believe we are both engaged in similar work presently and I would like to humbly request some assistance if I may.” It was disconcerting addressing a man’s back but Petty still refused to turn around. An elaborate wig sat like a pet hound on a wooden globe by his side and he gently fingered its curls with one hand as the other rested on the painted window sill.
“I would seriously doubt that our work could be similar Mr Perry. I have made enquiry regarding your commission here – I am after all Naval Commander in this land, amongst other posts, and it is a naval commission you hold. You should have written to me first before you arrived – such would have been the polite course I feel. And if you had I dare say I could have saved you a journey!”
He chose to turn at this point and Titus saw first the portly frame that moved with the cramped struggle of a man fighting pain, then the waxy and blotched skin stretched taut over his cheekbones, and then the lank grey hair almost glued to the scalp with grease. Finally, and most impressively, he noticed the cold steel-grey eyes of this austere man. They bored into Titus as the sonorous voice was raised a notch in tone and ill disguised anger.
“I, sir, am constructing a map of the entire island!” He paused. “The entire island, I say! It will be the first geographical map of this land that will accurately represent its contours, coastlines and boundaries – both political and natural. It will be rightly seen as an invaluable addition to the collective lore on which the livelihood of sailors, merchants and property developers depends. It will be printed soon by my London publishers and the acclaim with which it shall be doubtlessly greeted will be equalled only by the gratitude these people and others will extend to me for its presence.” His bile had raised his voice so much in tone by now that Titus, though shocked at the delivery of this tirade, still found himself wondering how high the man’s screech could get. Not much - was the answer. Petty dropped back to his earlier tone and commenced another verbal broadside, again with an articulation that raised itself in pitch and cadence as it proceeded. “You sir, are here to stick poles in the bog and measure their distance apart with looking glasses. You will walk great distances. You will fall into a thousand bog holes. You will cost the exchequer a king’s ransom in the process and you will arrive at a conclusion that merely verifies that which I am about to publish in any case. My enterprise however has been conducted at no cost to the crown and has been achieved through the application of reason, experience and intellect alone! You, Mr Perry, are too callow to emulate this method and, I dare say, too puffed up with your own importance at securing this foolish commission to recognise such a truth. You may imagine yourself more than your worth if you wish, but you can be damned sure you will receive no assistance from me in inflating it or your perception of it further!”

Titus felt a sense of indignation rise within him that he could barely contain. With considerable restraint in his voice he responded to the old man’s taunt. “I am aware of your forthcoming publication Sir William, and I dispute your assessment of its cost, sir! I believe you have utilised the results of the Down Survey in which you participated some years ago. Did I not read that this set the commonwealth back a trifling amount at the time? Forty thousand pounds I think I read. Its cost in human misery, I would add, has been incalculable!” It was obvious he was not going to receive any assistance from this self-opinionated fool. He decided he might as well burn all his diplomatic bridges. “And as for your position of Naval Commander – it is my understanding that such is an honorary one. It is also the understanding of the Admiralty in London, who I think would be surprised to learn that they must run their designs and policies past yourself!”
The elderly man’s nostrils literally flared with rage. “You are addressing your superior, young man, and I must warn you not to test just how much your superior I am! Your impertinence has been noted. Now, good day!” He turned and faced out his window once more.

But Titus could not resist one last shot. “I had hoped for your assistance sir, and have received instead the inane rhetoric of a vain and misinformed old man. But in one respect you are right, Mr Petty. When my map is published it shall indeed verify yours – as the inaccurate and misleading notions of an insolent fool who for one thing cannot see the futility in basing a map on forty year old intelligence which was dated even when it was new, and for another is blind to the odium he generates in still trying to squeeze a few shillings from a project that contributed in no small measure to the misery of his fellow man.” Titus thought he could detect a tremor in Petty’s stance as he gazed out through his window and he assumed it to be the result of mounting rage. But there was one other charge that Petty had levelled at him which merited a riposte. “And as for your assessment of my character and my worth, may I say I find this rich indeed coming from one who’s ‘philosophy’ of life now is not above accepting and enjoying a livelihood sponsored by the very institutions he did his damnedest to usurp and overthrow then to boot. In a man who recognises this in himself, such a course could be deemed pragmatism. In one who discreetly ‘forgets’ this embarrassment in order to maintain a fraudulent social standing acquired through abetting a tyrant, then sir, where I come from such is called hypocrisy. Good day to you too.” Titus had turned on his heel and passed through the doorway before Petty had the chance to lunge. The loud slam of Petty’s door echoed around the stairwell as he descended the rickety wooden steps of the old quarters.

Given that his meeting with Petty had taken a lot less time than he had envisaged, Titus found himself cooling his heels and his temper on the college steps, waiting for his driver’s return, and with time to review his two interviews that morning. He knew already how dangerous prior impressions could be, but here was a classic case, he thought, of why that was. He had expected Robinson to be the man who would jealously begrudge him his commission, on the basis of their first communication, thinking the young mapmaker to be encroaching on his official territory, and Petty the one who would be willing to grant assistance in the spirit of like-minded and learned men exchanging resources and findings. The opposite had proven to be the case. Robinson might be stark raving mad, though Titus knew that there was obviously an intelligence in the man that his behaviour belied, but he had the measure of Petty alright. Petty’s tirade had revealed him to be a man so unaccustomed to opposition and so absorbed in his inflated opinion of his own self that he was blind to the hypocrisy of levelling the same charge against others. Titus’s project, given the time it would take to accomplish, could never be construed as a threat to the validity of Petty’s forthcoming atlas, unless the man was so vain as to assume that his atlas could never be surpassed through time. Titus reckoned the man’s antagonism was based on something that ran a lot deeper than mere professional rivalry. Despite his exalted standing in the Irish community, Titus reckoned Petty knew that there was an opinion abroad believing he owed this position to having abetted in the destruction of the old order by a man now vilified, both here and in his native England. Though the royal administration had forgiven the man and boosted his fortunes, he had been effectively consigned to remain a large fish only in the backwater of Dublin society, a far cry from the ambitions he must have harboured once when riding on the coat tails of Cromwell. Also, in this country memories were long, and for men like Petty the storm of change that was on the horizon could bode ill indeed. Of those who classed themselves the ‘gentry’ in this volatile quarter of the realm Petty was amongst the epitome of his class, the ‘made man’ who had profited from the Civil War and its aftermath, and who now dreaded the appointment of a Catholic monarch and what it might entail. If such was not enough to make a man antagonistic to change, little was, Titus reckoned, and it made him wonder if Petty himself might not be classed amongst the coterie of enemies to the castle’s policies that DeLacey and Arran had mentioned. And, if so, could that mean he was in league with others of like mind? It hadn’t escaped Titus’s notice that Petty had obviously been well briefed about both his arrival and the nature of his commission, and he very much doubted if it had been by the Admiralty – such a brief would only have been sent with Titus’s knowledge – or by the castle - DeLacey and Arran’s wish was that Titus go about his business with all haste and with as little advertisement of it as possible. It was something that Titus found a bit unsettling, to say the least.

His thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of his coach. He climbed back on board and dismayed the driver with his next instruction, to bring him the five miles to Coolock and to the Belcamp demesne, the estate of a man whose cooperation was not mandatory by any means but whose opposition could potentially jeopardise any project involving a survey of land in the counties of Dublin and Meath – Sir Humphrey Jervis. It wouldn’t hurt the survey to have Jervis as a supporter of the project. Moreover it would also be a chance to possibly progress his other enquiries on two fronts. Jervis, a man who one could assume kept himself informed of everything that occurred in his town, might have something by way of a theory himself on the matter of the Modellers. Even if Collier had doubted the Modellers’ direct involvement, Titus felt that the coincidence in timing between McVeigh’s murder and that of Sarah’s father could well be significant. It would also be a chance to learn a bit more about two of Jervis’ near neighbours, Oliver Burke of Raheny and the Talbots of Malahide, both in adjoining parishes and both who might well themselves have been bit-players in the recent events that led up to the hanging of Eoin Reilly. Two elements of Collier’s testimony had only struck him afterwards as a little odd; why had Burke fled when his enemies had just suffered so grievous a blow and how come a man like Courtney had found employment at all in a household which could only be regarded as a figurehead for resurgent Catholic ambitions? Both Burke and Talbot’s actions required more examination to be understood. An insight into their character might help explain it and Jervis might be the man to provide it.

Flitch should have already passed through the area earlier in the morning. He had been given a letter from Titus to deliver to Belcamp alerting Sir Humphrey that he requested an audience, and an apology that time constraints meant he could not wait for a reply but would travel in the hopeful assumption of its acceptance. It was cheeky and could well result in no interview at all but he knew that Jervis was in residence and he hoped that the man’s curiosity in seeing the new Irish surveyor might override his annoyance at such a fresh assumption. On the way he looked upon the passing greenery of the lush farmland that separated Dublin from its satellite villages. This was obviously agricultural land of the highest order – if Sir Humphrey’s estate was as large as the Belcamp grange and barony holdings delineated on Titus’s map then the man could rely solely on his farms alone to maintain his fabulous wealth, without having to speculate in the Dublin property market at all. What was it that drove men like Jervis? The acquisition of wealth alone must not be his motive – and his social status had been assured many times over. As Lord Mayor Jervis had enjoyed a rank almost equal in authority within the city to the Lord Lieutenant himself. Yet still he risked all in his grand enterprise on the north bank of the Liffey. As the carriage rode between the tall ornate granite pillars framing the entrance to the Belcamp estate, and the opulent house with its turreted corners came into view, Titus wondered if men like Jervis were ever really happy. This thought made him laugh – if opportunity presented itself would Titus himself not risk the occasional depression for even a hundredth of Jervis’ wealth and the security it would provide?

The carriage was met at the steps of the great house by a liveried footman, who advised Titus neutrally that Sir Humphrey was at home, had received Titus’s letter and was favourably disposed to speak with him. There was nothing to indicate that offence had been taken after all with the mapmaker’s effrontery. Titus was escorted through a large oak panelled hall into a similarly decorated chamber where a grey haired, balding man in a leather overcoat stood on a small ladder in the act of laboriously retrieving a large tome from one of the room’s many bookcases.
“Ah – Mr Perry, good day to you, sir!”
“And to you, Sir Humphrey, thank you for receiving me at such short notice.”
“Whisht man. Here, take this from me before my bloody arm falls off!”
Titus received the heavy book into his grip and almost let it fall with its unexpected weight. He looked at the title on its spine and his heart skipped a beat.
Jervis laughed devilishly. “Thought you’d be interested young man. The old bastard Petty doesn’t know I have it. His nose would be quite put out of joint if he did! Ha!” It was a bound edition of the Down Survey, with annotations and maps of the estates confiscated after the 1655 Act. “I got it in London many years ago. It’s been damned useful I can tell you. If you’re going to covet thy neighbour’s goods it always helps to know just what you’re coveting and from whom, what?”

He had alighted from the steps and Titus noticed that he had the laboured walk of someone afflicted with gout. “I am astonished, Sir Humphrey. I believed the only complete copy was in the Chancery in London.”
“Yes well, why should the crown hold all the good cards, eh?” Jervis replied with some ambiguity. “Anyway, Mr Perry, I’m a great devotee of maps and the profession that produces them. Feel free to consult this book at your leisure whenever you require it. I have some other good stuff here too,” he waved at the shelves around him. “My library is at your disposal.”
Titus could not have hoped for such a pleasant turn to the day’s events. This was indeed an unexpected boon. He stammered his appreciation.
“Pshaw! It’s nothing, there’s no point in the thing festering away up there. It may as well be used. I hear you are here to set about improving on it? Good job, man! It’s rather out of date these days. Petty’s been trying to reassemble the damned thing from scraps and old notes over the past few years, and hopes soon to make an atlas from it. Did you know that?”
“Yes, sir.” Jervis smiled and looked at Titus. It seemed that he awaited something fuller of a response. He had already spoken disparagingly of Petty so Titus calculated that it might not hurt to advertise himself as being now of like mind. “I met with Sir William earlier today. I’m afraid I was less than polite in my assessment of that particular project.”
Jervis’ expression altered subtly and he seemed to eye Titus with a hint of wariness. Suddenly he laughed. “Good on you man! I would have paid well to see that! There’s more to you than meets the eye, it seems.” He sat down on a trestle bench by the window and stretched his left leg out, resting his heel gingerly on the polished floor. “Now Mr Perry, how else may I help you?”
“If I could be so bold I would really appreciate a letter of introduction from you. It would be of considerable help to me in gaining permission to survey the land hereabouts.”
Jervis laughed again. “Or be a sure guarantee of getting shot by some of the land owners! But of course you may have it – it won’t hurt a few of them around here to remind them of my presence, if only so it might remind them of the money they owe me.”
“One problem I believe I may also encounter is the practise hereabouts of renting estate to former owners. It would help greatly if I could learn just who is in title to land and who is technically its tenant before I knock on any doors and say the wrong thing. I wondered if you might help me there also?” Titus was referring to the ‘back-renters’, a growing number of Catholics whose land had been acquired by Protestants, but which land the new owners found difficulty in running. The courts had made provision for the old owners in some cases to enter into agreement with the new whereby they reacquired possession but not title, which could revert only after the death of the Protestant owner, should both parties agree. It was a neat political sidestep that also got around the legal restrictions while rendering land usable again, but it had led to great confusion, especially when the tenants in an estate, who had never recognised the new owner, treated the renter with all the deference due their legal landlord. Titus knew that it represented something of an obstacle both socially and practically in his survey, and all the more so when the arrangement meant that neither party wished necessarily to draw attention to it, for obvious political reasons. A little prior local knowledge would be invaluable in this regard. Besides, it was a perfect opportunity to inquire of one landlord in particular, whose estate lay not far from Belcamp. “Your neighbour Oliver Burke, for instance. I had half a mind to take a trip there later. Is he a back-renter?”
“Burke? No indeed. I know little of the man’s circumstances but I gather that his land is his own.”

Titus tried to sound as flippant and jocular as possible. “Ah, good. So I have only to fear that he might be averse to trespassers. I am afraid I have not had time to secure approval to my request to walk his grounds, which I must do today. Is he the friendly sort, I hope?” It was a clumsy question, and Titus knew it. He could see Jervis’ suspicion take root even as he asked it.
“He is a good man, and an industrious one too. He’s invested much in some of my developments. But why the urgency to trespass on his land?” The question was asked flatly, but Titus knew he must be careful how he responded to it.
“It may be a small estate but it contains quite a prominence,” Titus lied, “or at least I have deduced as much from what I admit are rather inaccurate charts of the terrain in this area.”
Jervis still maintained his sceptical look but appeared to accept Titus’s explanation. “Then your charts have indeed deceived you. The land there is at no more or less an elevation than anyone else’s land around here I’d say. It’s pretty flat all round, as I’m sure you could see yourself on the way out.”
Titus realised that he was straying dangerously close to being openly challenged about his true reasons for asking but decided to make one last attempt. He had hoped to elicit some information of Burke from his family or employees, and knew that Jervis’ imprimatur would not only ease his access to Burke’s inner circle but might well encourage them to give such information to a complete stranger, even if he was on their land on official business. “That is a pity,” he said, “though perhaps his staff might give me access to the rooftop then. It often serves as good a platform for observation as any natural tor.” Jervis dashed his hopes.
“Well I am afraid you are doubly unlucky so, sir. Mr Burke has just recently gone abroad I believe, and there is no one with authority to allow you into his house in his absence, I assure you. The man has no spouse, so you will need to make contact with his brother Patrick I think, should you really require access to such a roost. He lives in The Naul, not far from here and takes charge of Oliver’s estate when his brother makes trips abroad.” Jervis lightened up. “But mind you, if it’s a hill you’re after, you might well start with Malahide or Howth. They’ve both got damned fine ones in their estates, though you’ll find one preoccupied with ridding his staff of sneaks at the moment and the other a bore.” He felt his sore leg gingerly and stifled a gasp, which he quickly turned into a snort of derision that Titus reckoned was intended to convey his opinion of his two aristocratic neighbours.
Titus could not believe his luck. His tentative enquiry about Burke might not have yielded a return but Jervis had just mentioned the other target of his curiosity, and had even made open reference to the substance of it. He decided to be bold. “Are you saying that now might not be a good time to pay a visit to Malahide Castle?”
Jervis seemed to take the bait. “You can but try, I suppose. Talbot has a fine library also that might be of use to you should you get permission to use it. From what I hear though the man is somewhat preoccupied at the minute with dismissing and hiring servants, and is further handicapped in that he has lost his estate manager.”
“Lost? Was there a tragedy?” Titus feigned ignorance.
“It was to Malahide!” Jervis could not disguise his mirth at his neighbour’s problems. “Rumour has it that the man was as faithful a recorder of minutes as the best committee clerk. The only problem was that he recorded meetings to which he had not been invited, and circulated them for a fee to boot!”
“A fee? Why would anyone pay money for the reading of them?” Titus tried to make his question sound simply a natural response to Jervis’ playful ambiguity. “Were the contents salacious?”
A pang of pain sent Jervis reaching for his calf, his brow furrowed and his eyes screwed tight while he waited for the spasm to ease. When he spoke again there was an unmistakeable edge of anger to his tone. “That all depends on what you mean, sir. I assume you know the position of the Talbots and what they represent. I will leave the rest to you to deduce for yourself.” Having tantalisingly opened the subject Jervis was slamming it closed again. But this new notion that Courtney had been a mercenary as well as a spy intrigued Titus. This was not something Collier had alluded to, and he dared make one more enquiry before his companion’s patience ran out altogether.
“I must confess I know little of either, Sir Humphrey, though it might be prudent to brush up on such local scandal also before I knock on doors. Has this errant estate manager been located?”
“Did I say he was missing?” Jervis’ voice was still sharp and Titus knew immediately that he had blundered.
“Sorry, no, but you said Malahide had ‘lost’ him.” It was a pathetic rejoinder and he knew it. The man had meant as an employee of course, and Titus’s apparently odd interpretation of the statement simply marked him out as someone with the sense of humour of a simpleton. Jervis simply glared at him, and Titus didn’t blame him. “I apologise sir, I have taken up so much more of your time than I intended. You have been very generous. I thank you again for your considerable help, and I’ll take your leave if I may.”

The glare mellowed and Jervis again rubbed his foot painfully. “If you wish, Mr Perry. As I said, you can avail of this library any time you want. I shall arrange it with O’Halloran, my aide. If there is anything else, simply ask him. He has been informed also of your visit and instructed to facilitate you.”
If only all landlords were as accommodating as this one, thought Titus, but now was not the time to insist on availing of such facility. “I would not dare to intrude further on your graciousness.”
“Bloody nonsense.” Jervis smiled. “Intrusion is your lot in life. I’m just bowing to the inevitable!” He leaned back and sighed, though Titus could not readily tell if it indicated relief from pain or the onset of ennui. “Speak to O’Halloran on the way out. His office is by the kitchen at the rear. I have suggested to him already that you both take a tour of Belcamp while you are here, your carriage and man will be looked after in the meantime.” A grateful Titus was about to take his leave, but Jervis had not finished. “Before you go, Mr Perry, may I be so impudent as to give you a piece of advice?”
“I could do with any advice I can get.”
“Well here’s my tuppence worth. Restrict your questions to contours and distances around here. There’s many a person who won’t take kindly to enquiries about much else, you follow?”
“I do.”
“What do you think makes a man bitter Mr Perry?”
Titus thought a moment, unsure what Jervis’ point could be. “It depends on the man. Some are more justified in possessing the trait than others, I feel.”
“Well, would you class betrayal of trust as sufficient adversity for most men to feel bitterness then?”
“Most, yes. The collapse of trust collapses much else in its downfall.”
“Then imagine a man whose trust has been betrayed at every level; in youth by his family and friends, as a man by his supposed allies, and in later life by the one remaining person in whom he had placed faith, both as his companion and his authority. How would he feel do you think?”
“Not very well disposed to charitable thoughts about his fellow man I would think.”
“And now to find that even those he succours and pays wages to are agin him – hardly circumstances designed to improve his humour do you reckon?”
“No Sir Humphrey, I would say not.”
Jervis let the thought linger in the air for a few moments. “Tread warily around Malahide, Mr Perry – both the estate and the man. There’s ambition in that family that surpasses what most would hold as civil, and of late a bitterness that has exaggerated that excess. Do you follow me?” He must have thought that Titus didn’t as he immediately proceeded to elaborate. “Sir John Talbot has, as I said, many reasons to despise you just for being from the castle, and you approach him, if you dare, with that in mind I hope. But that is not all. He has cousins who would despise the likes of you for sport, and they are often found residing as guests there. In that brood, the bitterness of one is absorbed by all.” Again he paused, as if to let the import of his words sink in. But this time there was to be no further advice. After a while he merely shook his head resignedly, looked up at the mapmaker and asked, “Have I made myself clear?”

He had, and Titus’s nodded response was taken by Jervis as agreement that their conversation was over. He rose painfully to his feet and hobbled over to the bookshelf, retrieving the tome from his table on the way. Without turning to Titus, he slowly climbed the small ladder by the bookcase and replaced the book in the large gap that its absence had left on the shelf. Speaking softly, almost as if addressing the spine of the book in his hands rather than the guest in his room, he bid his farewell. “Good. And as I said, feel free to use this place as much as you need. I’ll arrange for that letter to be ready when you return from your walk.”
Titus thanked him again and the butler showed him to O’Halloran’s office. The estate manager was there and agreed to escort Titus around the grounds.

O’Halloran was a taciturn man. His clipped delivery and erect bearing hinted of a military background and his brogue betrayed his local roots. He was extremely knowledgeable about the lands comprising the Belcamp estate, and Titus realised that he had obviously lived and worked on this land long before it had become the property of Jervis. He pointed out where Jervis had improved the estate, but was not afraid at the same time to show his disapproval for his employer’s use of cut stone from the ruins of the old St Mary’s Abbey – which he had acquired in his Liffey-side purchases in the city - as foundation for the great wall that he had recently erected between his private gardens and the farmyards beyond. There was an irony in this, O’Halloran pointed out, as the lands hereabout for almost as far as the eye could see in any direction had once indeed belonged to the Cistercians of St Mary’s. In fact Jervis had come into possession of Belcamp only as a fortuitous bonus to his city purchases when he had discovered to his delight that the deed to this estate was still included in those of the abbey, much to the chagrin of Richard Barry, Baron of Santry, who had assumed he owned it – a reasonable assumption since Barry’s father had been granted almost everything else in the area following the land’s confiscation by crown and commonwealth over the years from the Catholic Nugent and Barnewall families. It did not help Barry’s humour either that Jervis had taken to the role of landed squire with relish, and had even financed the building of a small Protestant chapel in Santry village, right in the heart of Barry’s possessions. O’Halloran could show Titus other examples of Jervis’ acumen and industry; drainage ditches and roads improved or built from scratch, farm buildings erected and equipment purchased through lease agreements with his tenants, and - most galling of all to Barry - a tollgate on the Dublin road, the revenue from which was earmarked for the maintenance of this important thoroughfare over a length of some thirty Irish miles. All this had been achieved in five years or less, and represented the single most sudden batch of improvements in the area since the monks themselves, and especially their later Viking tormentors-turned-tenants, had first ditched and fenced the extensive cattle-grazing ‘kingdoms’ of the Gaelic lords. In fact the land where Belcamp and Santry lay was still regarded by many as a constituent part of Fingal, a name in Irish that meant “fair-haired strangers” and was a reference to those many Scandinavian settlers who had seized or had been granted great swathes of this land to set under tillage, so many in fact that the area was now littered with as many place names betraying the Norseman’s presence as the Irish.

They had come through a gap in the eastern boundary of Jervis’ private estate and onto a parcel of land still open to grazing on account of its hilly terrain with marshy hollows. O’Halloran walked his guest to the top of the highest mound – not at all prominent as Jervis had said, but from where could be seen the odd church spire and rooftop in the distance, landmarks that the estate manager used to locate and identify the townlands and estates surrounding them. Titus regretted not having brought a means of recording these names, many of which he had not noticed on any of the maps that he had memorised, and some of which sounded almost unintelligible. These names, O’Halloran mentioned flatly when he saw Titus struggle to comprehend them, were the most ancient of all, redolent of Gaelic kings, queens and heroes of old who themselves would have known this territory as the eastern extent of the great open plain of Mí. In Gaelic, O’Halloran explained, land was named after its distinctive quality, not its owner. Mí itself simply meant ‘middle’, indicating that the great plain lay between all the other great kingdoms, and the area around Belcamp was known as Tobair Bhonaigh, or the land of “sweet-watered wells”. Indeed, not only did locals still adhere to this name but just such a cluster of wells existed in the very grounds on which they had just trespassed. These were now owned by Peter Wynne, a retired army colonel who had married into the Barrys and had more recently made a name for himself as a brewer of some skill, having put the waters to use in the manufacture of one of the best beers to be found in Dublin. This piece of information was delivered with a sly wink and a nod in the direction of Wynne’s house, the first time O’Halloran’s taciturn façade had cracked in Titus’s presence. The implication was obvious and Titus, thirsty after the vigorous pace at which they had conducted their tour, smiled and nodded agreement with the notion. Besides, this opportune discovery of a brewer in the neighbourhood might even help elicit some information regarding Oliver Burke after all.

It was only one field’s distance into the grounds of Toberbunny, as Wynne’s house was called, where a small brewery had been erected over the site of the ancient well and a foreman, obviously well known to O’Halloran, was delighted to let them sample his freshest product. To Titus’s disappointment the beer did not live up to O’Halloran’s promise, all too sweet to the tongue and sour to the gullet. But he refrained from saying so; he could see that the conviviality of a shared ale had relaxed his companion somewhat, and once the beer had been adequately feted with false praise so too had the foreman, Mr Snyde. In the pretence of discussing the merits of the beverage therefore Titus managed to momentarily touch on the subject of the local vintner. According to Snyde Colonel Wynne did indeed sell his beer through Oliver Burke, an arrangement that the two gentlemen had only recently arrived at but one with which the colonel was well pleased. Burke had extensive contacts and had already begun to sell the beer as far afield as Drogheda and Dundalk. Apart from knowing that the importer had recently left for the continent however the man appeared to know little else about him. O’Halloran could supply only slightly more. Burke had acquired his house by use of one of Jervis’ lease agreements, and had immediately sub-leased its small farm to his brother Peter, retaining only the house itself and a small garden for his own use. The estate manager was not acquainted with either of them however and could only vouch for the fact that Peter Burke ran his farm well, and that neither brother played a very active role in local affairs, keeping themselves very much to themselves and restricting their contact with their neighbours to that of business since they had moved in to the area five years ago. This final comment aroused Titus’s curiosity. For one thing Jervis had made no mention of the fact that he effectively owned Burke’s property. In fact he had said in no uncertain terms that Burke himself owned the title. For another thing it meant that Burke had not only entered into a deal with Jervis to buy his property but had moved into the area at more or less the same time, a coincidence that normally threw neighbours together socially rather than estranged them. Jervis’ claim that he hardly knew the man just did not ring true. However when he tried to invite further speculation on what this might mean with regard to how well Jervis and Burke might really be acquainted he immediately sensed a suspicion arising on the part of both men of this interest he held in their neighbour, which even to his own ear began to sound prurient. He dropped the subject hurriedly, chatted a little more with them of the wells’ ancient provenance and their well deserved name, though he privately reckoned that the waters themselves might have tasted all the better for not having been turned into ale at all, and then continued his tour with Jervis’ estate manager. A farm track, well drained and maintained, ran from here along the full northern perimeter of Belcamp’s farmed estate which meant that within a mere hour or so, in which the rain eased and eventually petered out altogether, they had returned to the great house. Titus’s carriage, its cantankerous driver holding Jervis’ promised letter, awaited him outside O’Halloran’s office. Despite the driver’s obvious disgust at having been kept waiting so long, and being used as an errand boy to boot, Titus let him wait a little longer as he took leave of O’Halloran, a man who he had instinctively liked and whose detailed local knowledge was something he was sure to tap further when surveying these parts, he had decided. As a thank you to his guide he gave O’Halloran a map from his satchel that he had acquired in London showing the Santry and Coolock baronies in detail and for which the man was profuse in his gratitude. It was of little use now in his own work, Titus now realised, since O’Halloran himself had exposed the limitations of its contents, but the estate manager deserved a token of appreciation and the chart, however inaccurate, was still a valuable document as both men knew. Satisfied that he had at least made one ally in his travels that day, he boarded the carriage and instructed its relieved owner that he had concluded his appointments and wished only to go back to the city. In fact, so relieved was the man that he readily acquiesced when Titus requested that they might do this however by taking the more circuitous route through Raheny. He might have assumed that the mapmaker wanted to take in some sightseeing on his return journey but in fact Titus had a more salient reason for his request. Talking to Snyde had given him an idea. There might be one chance yet to learn more of Collier’s mysterious “O”.

The heavy rain earlier had led to some local flooding and the driver did not know the best road to take from Coolock to Raheny. At one particularly wet crossroads amongst the deserted lanes they were therefore delighted when they spotted a local labourer taking advantage of the respite from the deluge to trim a hedge. They pulled up and asked him for directions, or at least their driver did, and Titus was immediately glad that it had been his travelling companion who did the talking. All he discerned from their discussion was a long burst of that curious mixture of rolling Gaelic and grunted English which passed as speech amongst lower caste Dubliners, and then a loud laugh from both men. Once underway again he could still hear the driver chuckling to himself. It was good to see that the man could laugh at all, he thought - he had been beginning to wonder if his driver had been born sullen and now chose to stick to it on principle. In fact maybe now might be a good opportunity to establish, albeit belatedly, some mutual civility in their exchanges. In any case his curiosity had got the better of him so he swallowed whatever trepidation he might feel and asked what was so funny. The driver’s response was hardly intelligible but at least delivered in the manner of one sharing a jest and not obviously derisory or bad tempered. Titus even gleaned the core of the joke. It seemed that the road on which they were travelling was known as Tonlegee, from the Gaelic ‘tón le gaoith’, undoubtedly one of those ancient names that O’Halloran had referred to wistfully as ‘redolent of Gaelic kings, queens and heroes of old’. But that was in fact where the humour lay. To the driver’s great amusement and Titus’s delight also when he explained it, the term – ancient and all though it may well have been - referred simply to the stance adopted by cows, of which there were many in the vicinity, on a wet and windy day. They were riding indeed on ‘Arse to the Wind’ road!
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 8 "The Commission" (part 8)

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