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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 2)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 2)

And so it was that Titus found himself in the unexpected, disconcerting, but not altogether uncomfortable position of being escorted down Dam Street by two young ladies, arms akimbo, both of them obviously relishing being spotted on such a promenade, at least if the animated “Bon soirs” and “Good evenings” imparted to anyone who even looked sideways in their direction were any indication. Letty and Ezzy proved to be diverting company too. Between their enthusiastic salutations to all and sundry they plied him with tales of the ‘Trinity Boys’ - seemingly social acquaintances of theirs, despite Ezzy’s earlier inference - and what they got up to. If only a fraction of these anecdotes were true then Jack Quinn, as one of their number, had to be commended indeed for his academic prowess and gentlemanly restraint! In fact Titus began to wonder when exactly these ‘students’ found time to study, or even why they attended classes at all except as convenient assembly points to muster their forces before what sounded like full-blooded assaults upon the town’s citizenry. As they turned up St George’s Lane and then down Chequer Street his companions continued to amaze Titus with ever more gruesome accounts of the city’s adolescent academic population, and the mayhem they wreaked upon their neighbours, and each other, during the course of every college term.

“The medical students are the worst, isn’t that right Letty?”
“You’re right there, girl. Do you remember the Battle of Ballybough?”
“Jeezus yes. And the Mulhuddart Massacre. Sure that was even worse.”
Titus was finding it hard to square these references to military atrocities with a career in medicine. “Did they administer to the wounded at these engagements?” He asked innocently.
“Jeezus no Mr Perry. They added to them!” Both girls erupted into laughter. “They’re bloody lethal – god help their patients when they qualify. Who was the Mulhuddart Massacre against again, Ezzy?”
“The Drovers wasn’t it? Sure the poor animals had to make their own way home from market the next day!”
“And Jeezus, Ezzy. Remember the Oxmanstown Bridge Stand?”
“Against the Butcher Boys?”
“The same! Christ, didn’t they hang them that they captured up on big bloody meat hooks afterwards.”
“They didn’t! Oh, Letty, I’m feeling queasy just thinking of it. Aren’t them butcher boys just bloody animals!”
“No, it was the other way round. Sure t’was them that was strung up!”
“By the Divinity Boys?”
“None other! Oh look, here we are.”

They had arrived under a tavern sign on which was depicted a lady’s gartered leg protruding from behind a large curtain. Titus almost felt regret at this curtailment to his education regarding Dublin’s academic pursuits, and was about to say his thanks to the girls for their escort at this point, when to his amazement they walked straight through the doorway ahead of him, practically dragging him in their wake.

What Titus saw when they entered was something of an anti-climax after the girls’ account of what type of tavern to expect. The Courting Curtain had a rather well decorated interior, with walnut panelling and heavy oak beams, and an assortment of polished tables and sturdy chairs around which sat several groups, mostly of younger people but by no means exclusively so. Judging by the garb of the older patrons the place was just as popular with the college dons as with their students. Titus spotted Jack Quinn and Sarah Reilly seated in the corner. They were in earnest conversation with some others, two ladies elegantly dressed, and two young gentlemen who, if anything, were even more ornately dressed than the women. The men stood as Titus approached with his escorts. There was no sign of Flitch.

Letitia recognised Jack. “Hey, you owe me for a beer you scallywag! You left our place in a fierce hurry earlier.”
Jack smiled and stammered an apology to her, then quickly addressed Titus. “Mr Perry, can I speak to you?” He looked a worried man. Titus indicated a door nearby into a small hallway and they stepped through together. Once he was sure that they had achieved some privacy Jack spoke, but still barely above a whisper. “I know you told me to keep her in Collier’s inn but, well, you’d better hear this” He proceeded to tell Titus how, late that afternoon, the inn had been visited by half a dozen soldiers, one of whom was a captain. By his description Titus knew that it was Briar. Jack had eavesdropped on Briar’s conversation with Collier with some difficulty as it had been conducted in low tones by the bar and Jack had had the wit to hurriedly retreat into the dark ante-room behind the taps when he had seen the soldiers enter. But he could still hear enough to know that this was no idle inspection by the militia. Briar told Collier that he had been reported as having been seen in Newgate prison making enquiries after the murdered Reilly’s remains. Briar wanted to know what his interest was in the matter. Collier had replied that Reilly had been a good customer and neighbour, and that he merely wanted to reassure himself that someone was taking care of the burial preparations. As it turned out, it was as well that he had. No one had claimed the poor man’s corpse as yet and it was not unknown for Newgate to dispose of unwanted cadavers with an indecent haste, especially those of Catholics, and especially Catholics consigned there by Briar. Collier had slipped a shilling to the men on duty in the morgue to hold the body for as long as it took to locate a relative, or for a funeral undertaker to be appointed, with the promise of another shilling to be paid on the body’s collection. Fortunately the men’s desire for easy money exceeded their fear of Briar and they had agreed.

In reply to a question from Briar that Jack could not hear, Collier had said that he saw no reason why a landlord’s courtesy to his valued customers should not extend even beyond his client’s death, and that there may even come a day when Briar himself might be glad that such courtesy survives, at least if the soul departed can still feel gratitude to those left behind. A scornful grunt from the captain indicated to Jack that Briar was not totally satisfied with this response, or maybe he was merely peeved by the innkeeper’s inference, and the next thing the lad saw from where he hid was that two of the soldiers peeled away from the group and proceed up the stairs, obviously on a signal from their leader. Jack had done his homework, for once, and taken stock of the fact that Collier had a second service stairs at the rear. He managed to get to Sarah’s room ahead of the military, hurriedly explain their need to flee, and then the pair of them, plus her dog, had sneaked back down the same stairs and out into the lane behind which thankfully was not under the watch of Briar’s company. The lane led eventually onto the old boundary road of St Stephen’s grounds, too wide and too open a thoroughfare to remain in for long should Briar realise that he had just missed his quarry and pursue them. In a quandary as to what to do next he had borrowed some ink and a pen at a scrivener’s in Golden Lane, scribbled the note and paid a young boy a penny to deliver it back to the Sheep’s Head. Then, with a terrified Sarah in tow, he had raced directly here. This was not a refuge arrived at in a panic though, and he was quick to assure Titus of the fact. The Courting Curtain might be many things, but at least Jack knew he rarely saw a soldier here.

“You did well Jack.” Titus said. “And no word from Flitch?”
“No Mr Perry. None at all, though we had to leave before he was due to meet us so I’m not sure that he can know where we are now.”
Titus hoped that this was the case. So far everything he had learnt had only added to his foreboding. “We’d better rejoin your company. Though I’ll be honest and say that I would have preferred to find you two alone here.”
“I understand sir. But it was they who joined us, and I thought it more prudent to give the impression that we had simply dropped in socially than maybe raise suspicions and insist on sitting alone together.”
“You are right, of course Jack. If tongues are to wag it’s as well to hear what they come up with. Who are your friends by the way?”
Jack suddenly smiled and nodded in the direction of the two ladies who had accompanied Titus through the door. They had found acquaintances of their own and had, to Titus’s relief, left the company at Sarah’s table. “I was going to ask you the same. I recognise one as the innkeeper’s daughter, who would be seen as meet companionship for any man. But the other is just as comely. Are you not being a mite selfish bagging two such beauties?” Even when worried, Jack couldn’t resist a joke.
“They bagged me Jack, trust me, though I can’t say that it was an abduction without its charms. In any case, it looks as if they’ve settled on more palatable game than me. Now, let’s get back to the table before we offer tongues any more opportunity to wag unheard! Come.”

Jack playfully pretended dismay that Titus’s abductors had fled across the room, but a scowl from the mapmaker on their way to the table put paid to any quip he might have considered making, and he instead set about formally introducing his own colleagues. The girls were two sisters – Lydia and Lucinda Daly, daughters of the proprietor of the Courting Curtain. The two young men were fellow students at Trinity. Jack laughingly described them as “The Duffers” on account of their woeful lack of scholastic inclinations. “We’re an elite group Mr Perry!” one of them then proudly announced, though from what Titus had been told on the way down he seriously doubted that. Jack playfully punched his companion on the shoulder and bid him hold his tongue before his betters. “Since he insists on announcing his inadequacies so loudly I’ll start with this one so, Mr Perry. This Duffer is Samuel Wilkins, reading – or at least attempting to read - law and philosophy, so no doubt destined to be a leech on society twice over if he ever finally passes any examinations. A most unlikely possibility in any event since he spends every waking moment pursuing two other essential disciplines, debauchery and horse riding! Oh and this sad spectacle is Jonathan Swift, another one so destitute of intellect that he has had to resort to studying philosophy too.”

The second young man shook Titus’s hand. He was thin and of small stature, but his eyes twinkled with a spark of wit, probably from the brandy he was drinking. “I fear what Quinn says is the truth Mr Perry. If my uncle Godwin hadn’t offered to buy the Provost a few more books for his library a few months back I doubt if I’d be here at all. Still, one has to be philosophical about life, doesn’t one? I just can’t decide yet between Socrates or Plato, so this evening at least I’m deferring the decision to Dionysus.” He laughed. “Not renowned as one of ancient Greece’s foremost philosophers I allow, but if philosophy is but a view on life then his was as good as any, I dare say, and better than most!” He lifted his glass of brandy in salute to the mythical god. “We have been discussing politics I fear Mr Perry. Master Quinn here would have us believe that the time is ripe for us to recall our parliament and govern ourselves, and to hell with that chair in Whitehall altogether, whoever sits on it! It seems he has paid too much heed to Mr Molyneux’s lectures and has yet to appreciate that we no longer use the term ‘selves’ here without invoking a whole mish-mash of peoples all straining at the leash in opposite directions!”
“I just said that it is folly for Ireland to trust that the English succession will run smoothly. Best now to place our faith in those that understand this country and its people.” Jack defended his standpoint with some compassion.

The others all laughed, but it was Sarah who spoke. By the way the others hushed to hear her Titus reckoned she’d been quiet up to now. Bran sat on her lap and she stroked him as she spoke, though if the purpose was to aid her in keeping her temper the ploy was manifestly unsuccessful.
“What’s to understand? When we can’t wait for the English to murder us we do the job for them? We’re a pathetic people, look around you. We dance to the English tune because our own has grown so discordant it can no longer be played! We have nothing here that’s of us, or that’s for us any more. Nothing! England takes the cream and leaves us the curdled dregs to fight over, and fight we do – the obedient fools that we are! And what are we squabbling about now? Who will succeed a king whose benevolence towards his Catholic subjects includes protecting their murderers and confiscating their hard earned property? At least Cromwell made no bones about his intentions. This king’s kindness is killing us! And while we sit squabbling who gains? I’ll tell you – every murderous lickspittle who hides behind the king’s coat tails, that’s who. Fortunes are being made by men who in any other country would be drawn and quartered for the crimes they commit in the king’s name here. They’re the ones who truly understand this country and its people, and it will be the making of them – and the death of us!” As if to emphasise this last remark Bran let out a sharp yelp, though this may in fact have been due to the vigour with which his mistress was now caressing his back.

The group around the table sat in silence and gazed at Sarah. She had been so absorbed in her case that she had not noticed their rapt attention, now she realised suddenly and shrank back into her seat. The long silence was finally broken by the sound of a solitary handclap. It was Swift. “Well said, my dear. Well bloody said! I’ve always maintained that if more heed were paid to the women, the world would be that much closer to that Elusive Elysium our faith demands we hanker after. That’s the first bit of sense spoken tonight! Bravo, Sarah!” Titus noticed that the Daly sisters were shifting uncomfortably and whispering. Swift noticed it too. “What’s up ladies? Surely in the interest of demonstrating that feminine wisdom is not a virtue untypical pray, you can share yours.”
The older of the two, Lucinda, was red in the face and Titus could see that it was anger and not embarrassment that had flushed her cheeks. “I do not see why we should sit here and be lectured to by this … this …” she glanced in Sarah’s direction “… Papist!” The word was spat out with such venom that even her sister drew back involuntarily. All three young men, to their credit, instantly began to reproach her for her outburst but Sarah raised her hand to silence them.

“No it’s alright. I’ve been called worse. Miss Daly is right, I do not belong here amongst you people and I most definitely should not deign to lecture you … academicians … about political theory. But if she assumes I’m Catholic born and bred then I must correct that impression slightly. My father was indeed Catholic but married my mother, a Huguenot, and though she converted in name to wed, so too did he in spirit for the same reason. So what you see before you is something you might never have imagined in your weirdest nightmares Miss Daly – a Catholic by birth, a Protestant by education and sensibility. A mongrel, madam, but a peculiarly Christian one at that. Mull over that for a while in that malnourished intellect of yours! And while you’re in the mood to be scandalised let me tell you this also – I grew up on Weaver Street,” both Daly sisters visibly recoiled at the news, “amongst Huguenot neighbours who were treated like the scum of the earth for daring to be here in Dublin at all. The Liberties are a tough locality- Life is cheap in its streets when one has the strength even to live it, and though no Catholic might emerge with anything to his name without Huguenot help these days, no Huguenot would have survived at all if not for his Catholic neighbours. They were made scum before anyone, and maybe now you will say it takes one to know one. Well, let me tell you about what our little family of scum did. We toiled together, looked after each other, and shared in whatever good fortune we could scrape from the dregs this city fed us as our lot. What we had, we earned by right and by the sweat of our brow. My mother died in childbirth, as did the child she carried – no physician would lower himself to attend her, what with being the cross-breed she was and the one she was daring to produce. My father, god knows how, found the strength to continue and managed to make enough to go into a business partnership only a few short weeks ago after years of unremitting struggle. For this he now lies in the Newgate morgue, murdered for the effrontery of daring to make a life for himself, and helping those who depended on him. Some of those were indeed Papists, Miss Daly, so maybe in your mind he met the fate he deserved. What I see now is that we live in an extraordinary society – where those who don’t belong far outnumber those that do. Enjoy your privilege, while it lasts.”

Titus was impressed. He was beginning to believe that Sarah Reilly was a remarkable young woman, if a little imprudent. If Lucinda had been red faced before, she had turned a dark crimson now. Again it was young Swift who broke the silence.
“I stand by my comment. Well said again. Accept my condolences on behalf of me and my colleagues for your sad loss, and for our own ineptitude in failing to detect your grief through the admirable mantle of courageous spirit with which you cloak it. If ever there was a case made for a Huguetholic faith to be established we have heard it at its most eloquent! Now, Lucinda, if you’re half the lady I suspect you might be, you’ll offer Sarah an apology, or at least buy us all a drink from your father to show your remorse.” To Titus’s surprise Lucinda did both.
“Once we don’t have to drink a toast to popery,” she said as she rose.

Everyone laughed at this, and Titus noticed that eventually even Sarah smiled diplomatically, and he found himself marvelling at the resilience, and seeming fickleness of youth. Words designed to wound, and passions roused that would lead older men to murder, could dissipate with a joke and a smile as if they had never occurred. But surely youth alone could not explain the fortitude, as Jack had put it, or courageous spirit, as young Swift had just described it, with which Sarah Reilly was coping with her grief. She was either lacking in the human emotions, which he doubted, or capable of great strength of mind in rising above them, a quality that many men who called themselves resolute and strong would envy. Titus was of a mind that true strength in an individual lay in his intellect, not in his brawn, and Sarah seemed the epitome of this notion.

The conversation meanwhile had reverted to the succession. Samuel Wilkins had a theory that the Duke of York, James Stuart, would never be allowed succeed his brother by the London parliament even if their last attempt to prevent it had resulted in their dissolution, and the conversation now revolved around who else there was to whom the throne might be offered, or even upon whom it might be thrust. Swift, provocatively, suggested return to rule by parliament alone without any king at the helm. Having made a pig’s ear of the attempt the last time they had ditched the monarch, he reckoned even a species as obtuse as politicians might have learnt sufficiently from the experience to make a better job of it now. A similar solution, he suggested, might end the Irish dilemma for once and for all as well. A Dublin parliament swearing allegiance to no one except their own electors would therefore never be able to convene, given the multitude of definitions that existed as to what an Irish elector might really be. The result would be that the whole sorry mess would be handed over by all concerned to the English to solve in next to no time, and with an apology for the condition of the place on its return thrown into the bargain!

This met with laughter from the others, and even a good natured frown from Sarah, who saw the twinkle in Jonathan’s eye as he had made his point. Jack Quinn laughed as hard as anyone but quickly grew serious and said that half of Swift’s assertion at least might be true. Citing his father as the source of his theory, he added that it was the army that held the key. Charles’s forces would transfer allegiance to James and the parliament would be obliged to follow suit, or risk a war that would be their ruin. The Irish parliament should then take the opportunity to assert its separateness from its London counterpart and choose a path of its own devising, unencumbered by deference to an English king. England, in turn, would be too engrossed in its own concerns to do much else but bid its expensively maintained acquisition goodbye.

Wilkins’ own theory was one that Titus had not heard before. He maintained that the army was not the cohesive force that people imagined it to be. Parliament, both in England and Ireland, would balk at the prospect of a Catholic king. Neither would they be too enamoured at the prospect of accommodating any bastard son of Charles who might merely lead them down the same route all over again, not to mention the constitutional cartwheels they would have to perform in order to secure such an accession. Instead they had merely to look abroad for a successor, and not very far either. There was a young prince in the Lowlands, James’s Protestant son-in-law William, who might be the logical choice. His wife Mary, James’ daughter, stood to inherit the throne in any case on her father’s death. Maybe, he suggested, parliament might well consider the prudent thing would be to skip a generation in the interest of perverse but pragmatic continuity and offer the throne to the Prince of Orange in his own right. The Duke of York might be bought off or faced down. Either way, the Whigs especially would consider either approach worth the candle as it would appear to kill two birds with the one stone. Not only would the throne be prised from the clutches of the religiously fickle Stuarts for ever, but also England would immediately acquire a Protestant at the helm, and one friendly to the Whigs to boot. All around the table met this with disbelief.

“A Dutchman the king of England? Never!” Jack Quinn derided the notion but Samuel Wilkins was adamant.
“Think about it Jack. He’s their only alternative. The English Whigs have been sitting twiddling their thumbs in enforced idleness since Charles disbanded their talking-shop in London a few years ago, but you can be sure such idleness doesn’t extend to their plotting. However, sitting parliament or no, there’s too much invested in keeping the place Protestant – no offence Lucinda – to risk James undoing the lot of it.”
Swift was having none of it. “I don’t agree Sam, too much horse riding has bounced the wits out of your poor brain, I fear, and this is not a race to the throne like one of your beloved sprints on the Merrion Strand against similarly addled practitioners of your sport! Parliament will rule the roost no matter who sits in Whitehall, and you can be sure it will be James Stuart. No king wants to lose his head again, and nor does the country. They’ll stick the Duke of York into the chair, truss him up so tight with Acts and Bills that he won’t even be able to pick his royal nose without their say-so, and then declare themselves broad minded for tolerating a Catholic king and he the same for doing their bidding. James, like his brother, may be partial to the Gallic notion of an absolute monarchy, but unless he is an absolute imbecile also he’ll abide by the arrangement, mark my words. French friends or not, if he wants whoever succeeds him to have any kind of a country to rule at all it is his only option. Since the whole thing will be a passing phase and end with Mary’s accession in any case, parliament then would be even bigger imbeciles to reject the whole play just because they disapprove of the intermission entertainment! And, may I add, he who is set to provide us with that intermission entertainment would be an even bigger fool if he thinks he can then write the rest of the play. Don’t fret Lucinda, you won’t be sent on a pilgrimage to Rome just yet.”

Sarah had been listening to the debate with earnest interest. “It strikes me then that this country is doomed no matter what happens. You’re all sitting here as if we were comfortably ensconced in a London inn discussing our own country’s politics. But we’re not. We’re here in Dublin and we’re discussing a crown that has no divine right to rule here, as Jack has rightly stated. Cromwell proved that in fact. Despite himself, he made the strongest argument against the English king’s divine claim over this island by disproving his divine claim to rule anywhere. You may not remember Mr Wilkins, but we do have our own parliament here should we choose to call it, and every member owes his position in some way to Ormonde. They may swear allegiance to an English king, but their debt is owed to an Irish man, and they sit in an Irish assembly. Our only hope is that whatever happens over there doesn’t lead to war here. Let the English parliament sit idle or not, and let them blow as much air as they wish in deciding their own fate! Ormonde must recall the parliament here and end this foolish allegiance to an uncaring master for once and for all.”

Swift was delighted. “By god, I think I am falling in love with this young lady. Where did you find her Jack?”
Titus shared Swift’s admiration for Sarah’s eloquence and willingness to speak her mind, however treasonable those thoughts might be, but he felt that Sarah might serve herself better by keeping a lower profile. This group seemed well mannered and harmless enough, but anyone could have easily eavesdropped upon their animated and eminently audible conversation, and Sarah was in enough trouble as it was. Nor was he too sure that the Daly girls could be trusted completely either. Lydia had remained quiet throughout most of the discussion but in the manner of a court clerk - her eyes having switched hungrily from speaker to speaker as if mentally recording every word spoken, visibly lighting up with almost malevolent delight at Sarah’s outbursts. Her sister Lucinda seemed to have accepted her rebuff for being rude with apparent good grace, but he had noted her own peevish interruption and reckoned her words fuelled by something less than an affront to her religious principles. Sarah Reilly, now that she was cleaned up and dressed in attire more fitting than that morning’s rags, was an attractive lady by any standards. Titus felt that the deference paid to her by the three young men was stirring something other than indignation in the Dalys. He was no expert in the ways of women but he fancied that he recognised jealousy when he saw it. Sarah outranked both Lucinda and Lydia in years and in looks, not to mention by quite a smattering of intelligence, and the younger girls seemed the type who revelled in the attentions of the opposite sex, resenting any perceived threat to their ability in capturing it. Sarah was not likely someone they would be ready to forgive and forget so readily, he surmised. And after all treason was treason, and best not discussed in such a public venue. It might be better all round, he felt, to draw the debate to a conclusion. He noticed that his former escorts had disengaged from their party and were approaching across the room. Ezzy carried her shawl so they were obviously ready to leave.

“Ah, my entourage reassembles!” He announced loudly, before Jack could respond to young Swift’s jocular enquiry regarding the origin of his acquaintanceship with Sarah, and rose to greet the two ladies, as did the other men. “May I present Miss Letitia Collier and her companion Esmeralda Twomey, two of the most charming guides in the metropolis of Dublin! Might I be so bold as to request you escort me and my friends home again?”
Swift seemed impressed. “I must get out more. The city grows at such a pace that there is so much of it I have yet to see. I have no doubt when word gets out that we have such beauteous guides we will be inundated with visitors wishing to tour our pleasant new boulevards! I may even make quite a successful business venture from it.”
“Now, now Jonny Boy!” Ezzy was obviously no stranger to the Courting Curtain or its patrons. “You stick to your philosophy and we’ll stick to what we do best – eh Letty?” Both girls giggled again.

As the small group made its way to the door Titus noticed three men seated at a table by the window. They were deep in conversation and two had their backs to him, but he could not fail to recognise the one facing him. The elderly man was listening with rapt attention to his colleagues but seemingly sensed that he was being observed and looked up. Before Titus could move from his line of vision he found himself for the second time that day staring into the cold grey eyes of William Petty. Petty held his gaze for a moment but then abruptly turned to one of his companions and spoke a few words. Whatever he had said, the man then turned in his chair to better scrutinise Titus and his friends. He was younger than Petty, a swarthy and squat man, almost foreign looking. His expression of curiosity quickly turned to a sneer and he turned his back to Titus once more. As Titus rejoined his companions on the street outside he could not help but feel yet more foreboding.

“Someone you know Mr Perry?” Jack asked.
“One I fear I know all too well already, your erstwhile lecturer Mr Petty, and seemingly another whose acquaintance I had best not make!” By Titus’s tone Jack knew not to pursue the topic any further. “Is there another route home other than the way we came?”
Letitia replied. “Yes, we can go back by St Stephens Street. It’s well lit now and just a bit longer. It’s the way daddy insists we walk home now when it’s dark” She smiled. “And as your guide I heartily recommend it also.”
“If we may, please.”
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