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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 5)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 5)

Wednesday started with a blue sky and if that was a good omen for the day ahead then it was the only one Titus could see. Everything else augured ill. Flitch had still not shown up, and Titus had slept fitfully through the night, uncomfortable in his cot and woken by every sound. In the dead of night the old castle contrived to produce a dialogue of its own, its ancient rafters and floorboards conversing in a strange language of creaks and groans that echoed around the whole structure like some ghoulish canine spectres exchanging long distance parleys on a moonlit night. When he did eventually drift into fitful sleep his mind was filled with horrific images that amalgamated themselves into one overpowering sense of terror, waking him up yet again. Eoin Reilly’s bloated face above the bloodstained noose around his neck, Flitch lying in a ditch with half his head removed by a bullet, Sarah Reilly’s crumpled form amongst the ashes of her father’s house, and one image that kept returning again and again, the one that forced him wide awake each time it loomed – looking down at the pale lifeless form in his arms, her dress and long black hair soaked and stained with the filthy effluent of the river, his tears falling on her young, lifeless face.

At one point in the pitch dark Titus thought he had heard someone speak near him. He started, hoping to see Flitch walk through the door, but realised that the voices, two of them, were coming from the courtyard below. He rose and stood by the window, peering out into the darkness. Two figures stood in the gloom, barely discernible and speaking in hushed and angry tones. Titus recognised one voice immediately - it was that of Lord Arran. The other he did not know. He strained to hear what was being said but all he gleaned was the final flurry of exchange when both voices raised a notch. Arran sounded like he was pleading angrily with the other man, beseeching him to have some sense. The other called Arran a fool and addressed him as Richard – obviously not one of the soldiery then – and shouted something about a ‘last chance’. Titus heard the unmistakeable sound of a sword being drawn, and then Arran dismissing the other contemptuously with an instruction to get out of the castle for once and for all. Both men stormed off in different directions, Arran to his quarters and the other towards the castle gate, where a horse’s neigh and the scuffle of iron on stone indicated a steed being mounted hurriedly. Moments later the ringing sound of horseshoes driven hard on cobbles rang up from Sheep Street below.

As dawn rose, with an unexpectedly bright sun, Titus’s mood rose slightly from dark despair to mere gloom. A night contemplating his situation had done nothing to dispel the uncertainty and fear that he felt. He was at a loss as to what to do next. What on earth had he been thinking of, agreeing to help politicians with their murderous intrigues? He was a bloody mapmaker after all, not a spy, as Sarah Reilly had pointed out. What did he know about the ways of powerful malefactors and assassins, other than what he had learnt in the bowels of St Giles avoiding the baser specimens of their kind? But then, he thought, what’s the difference in any case? The pauper who murders for the gain of a shilling might feel himself as wealthy as the plutocrat who subverts a whole country to line his ample coffers. The victim of the pauper and the victim of the hired political assassin are equally dead. Scale might differ but the motivation and end result are the same. Learned and powerful men might pride themselves on the subtlety of their intrigues but in effect they were no subtler than the Picaros and conjurors cheating pennies from the public at Bartholomew Fair. The discrepancy lay only in the amount thus stolen, not the intelligence of the act. Both relied on the gullibility of others and measured their success in how happily and easily the swindled let themselves be duped. As Titus dressed he mused over the implications of this gloomy question – was this in the end the true extent of man’s purpose, to readily cheat and be as readily cheated? Was it his? The thought was depressing, and the source of that depression was in its probable veracity. It was in dark humour therefore that he descended the stairs. Only to meet the one man he could have done without meeting just at that particular moment.

Captain Briar stood at the door of the Kitchen Tower, seemingly engrossed in inspecting the chamber of the musket he held. As Titus was about to pass he moved slightly across the threshold, forcing Titus to squeeze past should he wish to progress.
“Good morning, Mr Perry. You slept well I trust?”
“Captain Briar – as well as you I hope.”
“Sleep is a luxury for us soldiers, you must know that. We have an obligation to be alert at all times that does not lend itself well to beauty sleep.”
“Then I would suggest you maybe try a new profession. They say it is never too late to find the role to which one is truly destined. Now, if you will excuse me …”
“Have you ever heard the term ‘accousticks’ Mr Perry? Now there is a fascinating subject. 'The properties of sound' is what it means.”
“Fascinating, Captain Briar. I had not got you down as a man of scientific interests. Maybe we should discuss this topic over a beer some time.”
“Take this place as an example,” Briar indicated the small courtyard. “Tremendous accoustick qualities here. It’s the high walls you see, they amplify every noise.”
Titus thought he saw where this was leading and strove to end the dialogue promptly. “I shall remember that if I am ever asked to stage a recital here in the future captain.”
“Very droll, Mr Perry. With such wit I would imagine you might devise a most entertaining diversion too. But do you know one trick of accousticks that many fail to appreciate?” Briar closed the musket with a snap that echoed around the still quiet courtyard as if to prove his point. “Amplified sound distorts. One can never be really sure if what one hears is true.”
“Yes indeed, it reminds me of a saying my father is fond of quoting – ‘empty pitchers make the loudest noise’. I thank you for your scientific discourse captain, but I really must be going.”
“When do you leave Dublin, Mr Perry?” Briar had abandoned subtlety for his more usual direct line of enquiry.
“Once commerce has resumed after Easter, early next week, I imagine. But then, I have a flexible schedule; there is no compunction on me to do so at any specific time. Tell me, why do you ask?”
Briar was not used to being asked questions in return. The split second before he answered revealed as much. “As chief constable of the castle in which you are a guest it is my duty to look after you.”
“Well again I must thank you captain, but really I am well capable of looking after myself. Please don’t go to any more trouble on my account.”
“No trouble, I assure you. Your secretary is not an early riser then?”
“His schedule is equally flexible captain.”
“Really? Let us hope he values his rest then, he might find that his time in Ireland will lead to a surfeit of that commodity.” Briar tucked the musket beneath his armpit and walked off sharply, leaving his cryptic parting comment to echo in Titus’s mind.

Titus was on his way to DeLacey’s office. What had resolved him to seek the man out so soon after their “parley” in Collier’s loft was the realisation the previous evening as he had spoken to Sarah Reilly that the more he was learning of the true nature of the task before him the less he could actually claim he knew. Not only that but its perilous nature, something he had readily if vaguely understood from the outset, or at least assumed that he had, was fast crystallising into something much less vague and all the more deadly the clearer it became and the more nebulous became the intelligence that gave rise to it. It had struck him as he spoke to Sarah that while he could rationalise and even accept to some extent that this threat should hang over him, it was more than his conscience could accommodate to think that his own actions (already too few), his own errors of judgement (already too numerous) and most crucially his own ignorance should so greatly increase the very real threat which already hung over her. He dared not even let his conscience contemplate that which might already have come to pass with his secretary for the same reason.
He had therefore decided that this man, this official who had so delighted in talking obscurely and in riddles when first they’d met, should now be forced to talk honestly and directly of what he knew, including the real odds against Titus’s success. That DeLacey knew far more which was salient to Titus’s fate, and now that of Flitch and Sarah Reilly too, was self-evident. How Titus might force him to divulge this information however was not something he had quite worked out as yet. But to delay this meeting on any grounds, including such indecision, was just not an option open to him anymore. Three lives were at stake, and for all Titus knew one had already been forfeited. If nothing else, Titus would at least demand identities of others who could abet him in his task. DeLacey controlled spies, that much he had admitted, and now that Titus understood the size of the army opposing him it was time to at least demand that he acquire divisions of his own, or at least access to another man’s.

Ormonde’s secretary had an office in the old Remembrancer’s quarters, and the presence of a constable outside his door indicated that he was already at work. Titus marched into the building, mentioned something to DeLacey’s clerk about accommodation, and breezed straight past him into the office chambers. The clerk, who saw himself also as the guardian of Sir John’s inner sanctum, shrieked and tackled him as he did so, the two men thus falling together through DeLacey’s door in an ungainly heap. John DeLacey was seated at a writing bureau under the window and looked up with a glare from the document he was reading.
“He says he’s not happy with his accommodation, Sir John!” stammered the clerk, hastily brushing his suit with his hands and attempting to reassert a semblance of decorum on his appearance.
“It’s alright, Cecil. I will speak with him. Close the door on the way out, thank you.”

Cecil did as he was bid. When the door closed DeLacey frowned at Titus, the slightest hint of a smile playing on his lips. “Well, Mr Perry, is your cot too short?”
“We need to talk.”
“That may be so, but here is not the place, as I am sure I must have impressed on you already. You had better make this parley short or my clerk will wonder what manner of employer he has who will devote as much time to a guest’s room requirements as to a redraft of the Act of Explanation .” He paused, and then smiled. “Though mind you, in its twenty years the bloody thing has raised more inexplicabilities than ever it explained! Perhaps both it and I could do with a rest.” He let the document that he was holding fall to his desk, and cast a look of undisguised contempt in its wake as it settled amongst the mountain of papers that already littered the surface. “At the risk of speaking treason, I must admit that our royal highness is of the mistaken opinion that a bad piece of legislation can be made beautiful by an optimistic name. It is left to us drones to apply the perfume to the excrement in the hope that it will resemble the rose his majesty sees in it.” Then he sighed, sat back in his seat and smiled. “Come on man, out with it. What’s on your mind?”
Titus had not thought out how he should set about stating his demands. Instead therefore he found himself stating simply that which was uppermost in his mind. “My secretary is missing. He went to Meath to make enquiry about Jeremiah Wilson – the man whom you might remember from the lawyer MacCarthy’s letter.”
DeLacey thought for a moment. “Wilson, yes I do, and I would have preferred that such enquiry be left to me, or had you misunderstood our arrangement?”
“No sir, I did not. If I remember, I was free to make my own investigation in my own way.”
“Not quite. But Mr Perry, that raises a point, and it is one that now must be addressed. How much do you trust your secretary?”
Titus answered angrily. “If you mean do I suspect his character, then I most certainly do not! You might be accustomed to such suspicions regarding your associates but I can assure you that Mr Flitch is a man with whom I would trust my life!”
“Yes, Mr Perry, and you have good reason to think so too, I know. I apologise, but since the man is now party to our plan it is vital that we all are assured of each other’s will and purpose, and he is no exception. I accept that your fears on his behalf though are well founded. What was he to do in Meath exactly?”
As Titus spoke he realised how naïve his words must sound. “I wished to learn more of Wilson’s friends and associates. Even before I accepted your commission, Sir John, it seemed that certain people here had discerned my presence as a threat and had noted my arrival, though I know not why. Their interest in me may even predate and overlap with your own, I cannot be sure, but if they work in league then I must know that league’s members.”

This seemed to give DeLacey occasion to think. He absentmindedly stroked his chin with the feathered end of his quill, all the while studying the mapmaker, before he eventually replied. “You are right to investigate this of course. And if you think there is a connection between these people and the ones we seek ourselves, I think that you could well be right in your assumption. But tell me, how was Mr Flitch to discover this?”
“Through subtle inquiry. Believe me Sir John, it is a talent the man possesses. But he was under strict instructions to return here yesterday afternoon, regardless of the success or otherwise of his endeavours. I know the man, he would not fail to meet this appointment without sending word.”
“Indeed.” DeLacey began to pick up the documents from his desk and carefully fold each, before then slotting them methodically into a rack of small wooden compartments above his bureau. Titus could see that the operation required little thought for the man, long used to the chore of filing. His silence therefore indicated that there was something else on his mind, as if he was carefully preparing how best to phrase his next statement. In the end however it was a question, rather than a statement, that ensued. “Did you wonder why I insisted that your secretary attend our meeting the other evening?”
“Yes, sir. That I did.”
“And what did you surmise was my reason?”
“To judge the man for yourself, I assumed.”
DeLacey ceased his filing. “Partly true. In fact it was primarily to see him.”
“I do not understand.”
“He is an invisible man, Mr Perry.”
Titus regarded Ormonde’s secretary warily as he began to methodically tidy the remaining letters and books upon the desk before him into three neat stacks. “I still do not understand, Sir John.”
“Nor I, to be truthful. Tell me, what do you know of his life before you made his acquaintance? Be as full in your account as you can. I had hoped to keep this exchange of ours short, but this is important.” He held up his hand to forestall an answer to his question and let out a shout. “Cecil!”
Bambrick eased the door open and stuck his head around it.
“Cecil, bring me a bottle of claret, if you please. Mr Perry and I have encountered a snag in the matter of his accommodation that will require some negotiation to resolve.”
Bambrick failed to suppress his astonishment at the request, but scurried off and returned quickly with a tray bearing a full bottle of wine and two elaborately sculpted glasses.
“Very good, Cecil. Thank you. That is all. Close the door behind you now, and be sure that we are not disturbed.”

Titus had used the time to come up with an answer to DeLacey’s query. His initial reaction was to formulate a history of his clerk, omitting anything that might serve to encourage a dim view of the man’s character, but to his own surprise he realised that there was little indeed beyond the character of the man that he could honestly relate in detail. Their relationship had always been built on a foundation of mutual need and trust, or so he had rationalised it. Neither man had ever openly expressed a curiosity about the past of the other – a legacy from their shared time of deprivation in the hell-hole of St Giles, where the route any man had taken to get there was as irrelevant as the price two men aboard a floundering ship might have paid for their respective tickets. They might share a common purpose of escape from their plight, but that was the extent of their interest in the other. In the end he answered as honestly, and as fully, as he could. “Very little. I have deduced that he has a background in commerce, and he is quite knowledgeable about things nautical, so I had assumed that he has served on board a ship at some point.” He remembered Flitch’s illness on the ship to Ireland and suddenly wondered if even this old assumption was counterfeit. “Recently I learnt that he acted as an agent to the bar in London. But that is it. To be honest, Sir John, it has never occurred to me to pry. He has been useful to me, and a good companion. If he has a past that he wishes not to discuss, it is his past and his right not to do so.”
“Would that we all could walk away as easily from our past so readily,” DeLacey smiled, “but your friend has done so with remarkable thoroughness. We are not unskilled in investigating our allies as well as our foes, Mr Perry, as you may have gathered, but Mr Flitch defeated us completely.”
“He is a secretive man, but a clever one, and a loyal one too.”
“Since your assessment of him is the more informed between us I must accept it.” Titus still felt, despite DeLacey’s statement, that he held a lingering suspicion in his mind. “So you are confident that he has not merely been recalcitrant in his absence then.”
“Most assuredly so.”
“Or that he might not have other fishes to fry? Let us say a ‘versatile’ man such as he might well be indisposed to fulfil all his appointments when they prove incompatible with his own developing interests, without him ever intending to be disloyal or disobedient.”
Titus knew that there could well be some truth in DeLacey’s words, but he owed it to his companion, he felt, to stress the man’s loyalty over his vicariousness. “I allow that my secretary is apt to engage in business quite independent of our shared commercial interests. And I am sure that your ‘research’ has told you as much too, Sir John. But I swear that I have never known the man to ever renege on his responsibilities to me, especially in matters as important as those on which we have embarked on your behalf!” He had slightly exaggerated Flitch’s fidelity, but he felt it important that DeLacey should believe that his fears for his friend’s safety were not unfounded.

DeLacey rose from his desk, seemingly forgetting the wine that he had ordered and which still sat on the silver tray that Bambrick had left before him. He crossed to the window and rested his hands on its ledge, his head slightly bowed and his forehead almost touching the panes. He seemed deep in thought. Suddenly he swung around, clapped his hands, and sat down on the sill on which he had just been leaning. He had arrived at a decision. “Matters have accelerated then. I feared as much. Very well! We must act. The time for pure deliberation has been summarily ended by our opponents.”
“I beg your pardon?” The turn in the conversation’s logic had defeated Titus.
“Consider yourself promoted, Mr Perry. You were taken on board as a junior partner in our efforts, but it seems that we were remiss in that. You have gone from needing to know as little as possible for your own good, to requiring more than even I can tell you. That is why you came here, is it not? To demand I tell you more than you already have gleaned? To give you more power and more control through whatever means I have at my disposal?”

Titus had not had a chance to make any such demand since he arrived. He was dumbstruck at DeLacey’s intuition. Or was it simply more of that presumption Titus had accused him of already in their last meeting? Either way, it was all he could manage to nod his agreement.
“Very well. You shall have it, and more besides. But not just from me, and not here and now. You will meet me again later today. You ride well? Good. Take a horse from the stable and be at the crossroads tavern in Balgriffin by one o’clock this afternoon. It is a small village some six miles north on the road to Malahide. You have been out that way already, I believe but this time it is vital that you travel alone. Not by coach. I insist on that.” He glanced at the wine on his desk. “Maybe we shall share a drink some other time. Now we should cut this parley short before Cecil starts fearing you have throttled me for not giving you a cushier billet!”
To DeLacey’s obvious chagrin Titus did not immediately rise to go. A ride to Balgriffin could not be so easily arranged as DeLacey had suggested, and he would have to explain why not. “It’s not that simple. I am afraid I have two charges that my absence this afternoon will place in some danger, and one I fear fatally so. If you insist that I ride at such short notice then I must insist that they come too. I have not time to make certain of their security and I dare not risk leaving them behind.”
Sir John looked at him sharply. “I take it one of these is the damsel whose distress you have sworn to alleviate, the daughter of Eoin Reilly?”
“Yes, and the other is the son of a colleague of mine who is helping me in establishing a surveying team. I am afraid that I have rather pressed the lad into service as a chaperone to Miss Reilly, and the threat that she lives under has therefore been extended also now to him by this association, or so I fear. Moreover, I believe Captain Briar has taken an inordinate interest in ascertaining her whereabouts.”
Either Titus’s news was not as new to Sir John as he had thought, or else DeLacey was a quick thinker indeed, and even quicker to act on his decisions. “Very well, they must come too then, but the castle constabulary, or anyone else for that matter, must not be aware of who they are. If you are questioned by a patrol you must pretend a role for them in your enterprise. They also must ride to Balgriffin. No coach. I am keeping faith in your reputation for intelligence, Mr Perry, but frankly this development would suggest otherwise. How you get three horses out of the stables without raising suspicion is up to you.”
“Thank you, Sir John.” Titus knew in his heart that he could only agree with DeLacey’s assessment; and his next question, he suspected, might well confirm the man’s suspicions entirely, but it had to be asked. He coughed, almost in apology, before he phrased it. “And there is one more thing, something I need to know and which cannot wait.”
DeLacey’s sigh was theatrically audible. “I dare not guess – go on!”

Titus knew that what he would ask next might as easily see him in chains as soon as receive a response, but he sensed that he had caught Sir John in an accommodating humour, even if the offer to share a claret had seemingly been forgotten; and after Briar’s cryptic comments earlier, it was imperative that he take a calculated risk and solicit the man’s views. He let the words race out before he could retract them. “Can Lord Arran be totally trusted?”
DeLacey’s glare might have been answer enough. When he saw it, Titus immediately realised the stupidity of his assumptions. He felt as though he may as well slap the manacles on his wrists himself and proceed immediately to the dungeons of which Arran was so proud. DeLacey stood and watched him intently, his angry glare undiminished, as if enjoying the spectacle of a man crumple before him. Then, just as Titus was on the point of pleading for clemency for his rash and fatuous question, or at least an answer to his prayer that the earth open up and swallow him, Sir John’s dour expression abruptly shifted from anger to mirth and he laughed out loud. “Titus Perry, you are exemplary! We told you to trust no one and you have exceeded your brief brilliantly!”
“I have a reason for my enquiry.”
“No doubt you have, and no doubt a worthy one.” His laughter had diminished to a wry smile. “But we were taught as children in my day that there was nothing so worthy as can justify impertinence. The worth of an action is in its deference to the power of the Almighty, and He ascribes no worth to impertinence, save to be worthy of His scorn! Do you remember that from your bible lessons, Mr Perry?”

Titus was stung. A charge of stupidity he had been ready for; that of impudence offended him. “Then God is fortunate indeed to be the omniscient being that He is. But we mere mortals must strive to gain what pertinent knowledge we can with questions – and often, alas, the most pertinent inquiry can only be phrased in a way deemed impertinent to its target, even if it is honestly asked and designed only to learn the truth of something. And here is something even God must know, omniscient as He is; the truth is rarely a welcome guest in the house, and those who invite him in often even less so!” Titus was quoting his father word for word – it was a maxim that Perry senior had often used to defend himself when taken to task for his own sometimes downright insulting views on everything ranging from the state of the world to the state of his latest client’s halitosis. The young Titus had had enough opportunity to hear it while growing up to know it by heart.
Sir John closed his eyes, nodded, and then surprisingly smiled. “Spoken like a true non-conformist, and correct of course”. He seemed to enjoy such philosophical banter, even when time was pressing, as it was now. “And a notion that Hobbes, as I am sure you aware, would have heartily approved of. If the worth of anything, but most especially a person, is indeed the Creator’s gift he has said, then it is a mean gift indeed. God expects us to profit on this earth, yet the worth of a man’s soul often lessens as his value on this earth increases, or is forfeit altogether when his value exceeds his fellows. To acquire such a worth, says Hobbes, is to mimic that worth which is the preserve of the Good Lord. It is a false worth, assigned by mere mortals, and one which blinds man to his true value. For when it comes to value we are mere commodities on this earth, and it seems even more so in that firmament where it is He who controls the exchequer.” His voice had lowered as he spoke, and then he looked up at Titus almost quizzically, adding in a near whisper, “You so remind me of …”

Whoever it was that Titus’s impertinence had placed in DeLacey’s mind remained unsaid. The man’s expression froze momentarily, a faint smile still about his lips, but slowly this too faded and his features collapsed into a desolate scowl. The change in his demeanour was as profound as it was unexpected, and Titus found that he could do little but stand rooted to the spot by his chair and watch the transformation. For a few moments indeed it was as if Sir John had been spirited to another world, leaving only his husk behind. Then, gradually, he seemed to return to inhabit his senses, where he found the mapmaker studying him with an expression of amazed curiosity. For the first time in some minutes he acknowledged his guest, though only by pointedly turning away from the scrutiny and resuming his stance by the window, where he could successfully hide his obvious distress by focusing his attention on the limited view available beyond it. Though he apparently looked long and hard at whatever his eye had rested on, his expression was vacant and it grew obvious that whatever it was that he considered with such intent resided not in the courtyard beyond, but in his own mind’s eye. Titus began to feel uneasy, almost as if he had intruded uninvited into another man’s grief. Decorum demanded that he wait to be dismissed by his senior, but soon it became apparent to Titus that his presence in the room hardly registered with the older man, if at all. He was about to execute a quiet retreat when suddenly DeLacey turned to him again and proffered him to be seated with a wave of his hand.
“Mr Perry, maybe we should share that drink after all?”

The invitation was so unexpected that Titus took a moment to reply. DeLacey obviously misunderstood his hesitancy and added an earnest ‘please’ to his request. He lifted the bottle of wine from the tray as he sat down slowly into the great wooden chair at his desk, beckoning Titus again to be seated. When a surprised Titus finally nodded his assent and lowered himself back into his own chair, Sir John had a full glass of claret waiting to hand him. Only when the mapmaker took it did he then pour his own, though for a few moments he merely cradled it between his long fingers, studying it meditatively, before eventually taking a small sip. Then he spoke.
“I had three sons, Mr Perry. I have outlived them all.”
Titus did not know what to say to this, except of course to express his condolences, though he fancied that such condolences were not the point of DeLacey’s comment. Nevertheless, as was the custom in London at such a turn in conversation when drink was poured, he raised his glass slightly in salute. “To the souls departed that they find rest, and those left behind that they find solace,” he added.
Sir John seemed genuinely touched by Titus’s response, though he must have been as familiar with the social nicety as his companion. “We find solace where we can,” he replied, raising his own glass. “Though lately it has been that much harder.” Again he grew momentarily silent, giving Titus time to ponder on the man’s melancholy, which had so suddenly overtaken him. He did not believe DeLacey to be an overly sentimental man. That Sir John was careful in his thought and speech was evident; it lent the man an air of detachment, something that already had struck Titus as an admirable quality in the man, even if his admiration was tinged with fear and respect. Men such as that were rarely given to sentimentality, Titus knew; they would consider such as a cloud that obscured reason, an unwelcome and unwarranted imposition. It was most likely therefore that the man’s desolate mood had been triggered by something other than a weakness to brood on misfortune. It was something that had arisen unexpectedly, catching the normally careful man with his guard down, but try as he might Titus could deduce nothing from the conversation that had transpired to that end. If there was to be an explanation, it would have to be provided by Sir John himself.
DeLacey, rubbed his eyes vigorously with the thumb and forefinger of one hand, as a man might do who has spent hours scrutinising reams of small print by candlelight. When he withdrew his hand, his eyes were redder than before, but whether that was due to the mere friction of his fingers or his obvious sadness could not be deduced. “Forgive me, Mr Perry. I am sure that you have things to do and people to see. I am detaining you, I know. But indulge me for a moment longer, please.” He picked up a document from the desk, held it aloft for a few seconds, and then rested it back in its spot without looking at it. “I have spent this last night and all this morning reviewing a royal edict that has been revised so many times since its issue that the bastard now bears no similarity to its parent whatsoever. It is a wearisome business, and I have been quite starved of human company all day. You are familiar with the Acts of Settlement and Explanation?”
“Yes, sir, but only by repute.”
“I would be interested in your assessment of them, before I pronounce mine. What is this ‘reputation’ of theirs that you have learnt? I can see by your face that it is less than pristine. Be honest with me, now.”
Titus cringed inwardly. It is never comfortable to disparage the stock and trade of another man’s work, even when openly invited to do just that. “Well, I know that they were drafted as a device whereby Catholics dispossessed of their estates under Cromwell could reclaim them from their new owners. However the jest in the taverns of London is that the ‘settlement’ in question merely infers that Catholics are free to settle for their lot. The crown, despite its grandiose intention, is not in a position either to evict or to compensate the new owners, let alone promise any Catholic the right to have their lands returned.”
DeLacey smiled. “Not quite the truth, but a fair summary none the less. And you can imagine how more pithy it is indeed when applied to this country.”
Titus saw an opportunity to compensate for his rather brutal appraisal of the legislation in question. Whatever about its practicalities, or lack of them, it was still very much a part of DeLacey’s role in life; the man deserved pity, as well as credit, for such a Sisyphean task as trying to make it work. “Much more land changed hands here than in England, I know, and a lot of it in very contentious circumstances. The work that these Acts have generated must be enormous.”
“That is an understatement, though I can state proudly that despite the magnitude of the task we have managed far better here than in England to put the king’s Act into practise. However it has taken a long number of years, and none too few local amendments to the statute, I might add, to do so. And even then we have managed to ‘settle’, only about a twentieth of the cases that came to court. Every bloody case seems to cause a rewriting of the legislation in preparation for the next. Every now and then Ormonde has reissued the statute to accommodate what we have encountered. A tricky business – if we stray too far from the edict as it works in England then it cannot be ratified by the crown. Yet if we stick too rigidly to his majesty’s behest, we stand to foment revolt in this country.”
“The dispossessed landowners would use their common cause to rally and defy the crown?”
“They would of course, and that might be the least of it. Even were they faced down, the scale of reparation would bankrupt the crown were it implemented to the letter of the Act, save for Charles Stuart levying taxes such as would make Draco himself seem to have been the model of benevolence! The Catholics returning to their estates would find them so encumbered by debt as to be unworkable. Of course such debt would have to be passed on, and as each estate and farmholding went to the wall, so too would the towns follow in no time.”
“So the Catholics would revolt.”
DeLacey smiled and shook his head. “Catholic, Protestant, Presbyterian, Quakerman, Shakerman - the whole bloody country would be united in revolt! No, even his majesty sees the folly in referring to ‘settlements’ any more, when the most we can ever do here is endeavour to limit successful claims to an affordable level, and hope to explain to the rest that their claims must fail for the sake of the country itself. We now decree ‘acts of explanation’, which themselves have to be amended regularly to warrant the description. In February one such amendment, Ormonde’s last, was to inaugurate the ‘Courts of Grace’, though I would doubt if that is a term you have encountered yet. It is purely an Irish solution to the inadequacies of the Acts.”

Titus remembered a comment that MacCarthy, the lawyer, had said in passing and which had made little sense at the time. “I have heard it actually, though from a very undependable source – namely the lawyer MacCarthy. I take it that these courts have been set up to expedite those claims that are outstanding?”
“In a nutshell, yes. As long as there are cases ongoing, so others might garner hope. It is imperative that this matter be closed for once and for all, and as soon as possible. Unfortunately the courts have become besieged by claimants who in truth will never have their lands returned, and who have rightly deduced that this is their final chance. The court has become too accessible, hence the need for yet another amendment. Grace is a virtue, but I am afraid it has, by necessity, its limits.”
“And its flaws.” Titus pointed to DeLacey’s paperwork.
“Government is the management of imperfection while constructing the illusion of success. But have no fear; this latest adjustment will most definitely be the last, at least from this office, and this king’s viceroy.” If DeLacey had opened this conversation to lift his own spirits from the slough in which they’d previously descended, then it had apparently worked. His voice had regained its even, measured tone, gaining in stridency as he discussed a topic that, if not dear to his heart, was of a world in which he felt secure. Titus however did not share his companion’s zest for such debate. He had already exhausted his own limited understanding of the legislation that DeLacey referred to, and in truth his interest also. He decided that, no matter how nice the claret might be, it was time to engineer the conversation back round to a point where he could effect an exit without seeming insensitive or rude. “I can understand then why your humours may have been tried today. I must apologise for barging in with my own demands. They must seem very petty in the light of your other duties.”
“Oh no, Mr Perry, not petty at all. I would be a foolish man indeed to dismiss your demands as such. In any case, your intrusion was most welcome, and I will tell you why.” Sir John had obviously not actually reached the meat of his subject quite yet. All the talk of Acts, laws, and amendments to both had been merely a preamble – a backdrop to what he wished to broach next. He momentarily contemplated his glass as he formulated his next few words. “My eldest son, Algernon, died five years ago tomorrow. He would have been the same age as yourself had he lived.” He spoke slowly and studied Titus closely as he said this, as if conjuring his late son’s features from those of the mapmaker. Titus could not help but feel quite discomfited at the scrutiny, and DeLacey must have noticed this. He averted his eyes abruptly and coughed, as if to break whatever spell had overtaken him. “But that is beside my point.” He gulped from his glass. “There is something you should know about this land Mr Perry, and I find unfortunately that I am as good a model to demonstrate it as any other I can think of. I mentioned Algernon. The last occasion we met, to my eternal sadness, he and I had the most dreadful argument. It was one that had been simmering for quite a while – years in fact – so you might imagine the fury with which it erupted when it did. It was over the DeLacey estate, or rather the lack of estate, and that is what I wish to tell you of. Had you heard of our family before you arrived here?”

Titus found the question almost touching, as if DeLacey, grand and all as he might be, was still not above courting acclamation. The man’s look however quickly put paid to such a notion. Titus realised immediately that the question was obviously meant instead merely to save the narrator from repeating details known already to his audience, and as such deserved an honest and prompt reply. “I understand the DeLacey family to be a venerable and ancient Irish one, but I am afraid that I know little else of your kin.”
“Then a little background is required. Old we are; we came with the first Norman knights to involve themselves in the affairs of this land – so old indeed that we were never classed as English until my grandfather’s time. We were Irish before that, Welsh before that, and French before anything. But that is not my point either. The fortunes of my family were ever solid, until my own time alas. I will explain to you as I explained to Algernon.” Mention of his son’s name drew an involuntary sigh from the man, but he visibly steeled himself to continue. “You see, I have been Ormonde’s servant for more years than I care to remember, and served in his ranks when Lord Butler made peace with the confederation and led its armies against the usurpers. You know of that, I take it? Even a young buck like yourself must have heard of England’s Civil War, though there was nothing civil about it, I can assure you.”
Titus nodded with a smile, until he realised that DeLacey had not mentioned it in jest.
“The Great Rebellion, they still stupidly call it here. Believe me, there was nothing great about it either, save for the size of its failure! Foolishly, we chose to fight alongside our royalist allies on English soil – and that was a grave mistake on our part. One decisive defeat there cost us dearly – our lands and people were left stranded defenceless in Ireland, this country’s champions were scattered to the four winds, and unable to do much when Cromwell’s eye turned to this benighted island. There could be little done then but put up a token opposition to his will, largely by men too incompetent, too indisposed or simply too feeble through age to have been included in the great English adventure, and a defeat that had already been thorough was made absolute. And let me tell you this; Cromwell may have been heartless in how he dealt with this country’s Catholic peoples, but believe you me, his hatred for those of us who shared his faith, but not his politics, was if anything more severe still! Our lands were seized, our people driven west of the Shannon, and a bounty put on all our heads should we dare even trod within five leagues of that which we once owned.”
Titus stirred uneasily in his seat. As the older man spoke, he had begun to feel that DeLacey had in fact forgotten his presence and was talking to a point just beyond where he sat. The eerie thought crossed his mind that the shade of Algernon DeLacey was the intended audience of his father’s speech, and that if Titus were to turn around he would see the ghostly spectre of the dead son occupying the dark shadows of DeLacey’s small office. An involuntary shudder ran down his spine, and he drank a reassuringly deep draught from his claret, but DeLacey was now oblivious to his discomfort and continued with his tale.
“Ormonde and I bided our time with the court in France. But we were not idle. When chance and reason dictated, we did what little we could to frustrate the mechanics of Cromwell’s administration. Our own lives and limbs we risked, and in truth those of many others, making secret visits to England for our cause and that of our exiled monarch. But never once did I get a chance to return to this country and do that which I most dearly wanted – to work towards reclaiming that which had been ours, and which had been most cruelly stolen.”

Titus had not thought DeLacey capable of such emotion and bitterness as he now detected in the man’s voice. Maybe it was simply the claret that stirred the man’s mood and tongue, though he very much doubted that. There was a rehearsed quality to the man’s speech – indeed even to his bitterness – that hinted at deep grievances long held. He had outlined where such grievances had originated, but even though Titus knew of these times from the stories of older men, he had never fully appreciated the depths of hatred that the war had engendered, nor the enmity it had fostered between allies of old, so much so that for a decade or more the whole country had been fragmented into fractious armed camps, and the currency of life had been debased to the point of bankruptcy. And for those who survived these times, the legacy of injustice was often their only inheritance, the hurt occasioned by such a massive rupture in the fabric of society too great to be healed within a generation, or probably ever at all in some cases. DeLacey, though probably only twice Titus’s age, had lived a life which had seen times and events that the mapmaker could hardly fathom. He tried to imagine how he himself might have coped with such drastic misfortune, but found his imagination wanting.

Sir John’s gaze remained distant as he relived those turbulent years. “But mostly there was little we could do but wait, and believe me, that was the hardest thing of all. Inaction breeds despair, and forced inaction breeds the worst kind. Then, just when all hope had been lost, the bastard Cromwell served his people better than in any way he might have imagined that he had before. The villain died, and the incompetent son who was left holding the reins of power had the parliament in no time pleading to be rescued from their folly. Charles’ star was on the rise again, and with it rose our hopes. When Charles Stuart rode triumphantly through London to reclaim his throne, Ormonde and I rode foremost through its streets in his vanguard. Now, we thought, all the injustices, all the wrongs, all the theft would be reversed. The hour of vengeance had arrived.” His voice had risen as he had spoken the last words, so much so that it seemed to startle even himself, and he paused to regain his calm. “Ireland, at first, was a priority with Charles. The legacy of Cromwell, if left unmanaged, could prove calamitous to his reign. He needed to reinstall his most able lieutenant, and quickly. So, when James Butler received his lands and offices, I followed in his train back to this land in the position of his secretary, and in the naïve belief that it would only be a matter of time before my own birthright be returned to me.”
Titus risked an interruption. He was determined to remind Sir John of his presence; the role of proxy audience was an unnerving one and it was high time to banish the spectre that he felt hovering behind his shoulder, the one to whom he had no doubt DeLacey’s words were directed. He spoke loudly, a little too much so. “But it was not? You know, Sir John, it may merely be history to a youngster like myself, but it is a history I learnt well from good teachers. You need only have told me that you lost your lands to first, the Commonwealthers, and then to the king’s prevarication over reparations afterwards. I would have understood.”
DeLacey’s gaze switched to Titus almost with surprise, as if he wondered who it was that had spoken. Then he shook his head resignedly. “No, Mr Perry, my birthright was never returned. But you are right. I shall not encumber you with the detail. It was the matter of my son that I wished to tell you of, and which launched me on this train, so there is no need for me to wallow overly in detail that you already appreciate.”
Titus felt suddenly sorry for having so rudely halted the older man’s narrative. After all, in a sense he was being greatly complimented to be invited to hear it at all, even as a proxy listener. Moreover, he understood that DeLacey was not a man to speak pointlessly, even when, like now, he allowed himself the rare excursion into shared reminiscence. To risk foregoing its conclusion might be folly indeed. He attempted to repair the damage he might have caused. “I apologise, Sir John. I have lost my manners.”
“But not your common sense. You are right, as I said. Unnecessary detail is the enemy of clarity. It is enough to explain that there was a complication in returning my lands and title that involved my own family. I am afraid that some of my kin straddled the fence somewhat during Cromwell’s tyranny. Those few of us who opted for one side or the other all lost out in the end to those who had kept their balance throughout. Is that clear enough?”
Titus agreed that it was, though he really was not sure what DeLacey meant.
“Worse, the particular divide in our ranks echoed one from before. I could not reclaim anything, at least not without most certainly re-igniting a feud that had been fought with much bloodshed and bitterness on both sides, and that had been settled but a short time when the disaster that was Cromwell fell on us. For the sake of my whole family, if not just of my branch, I was condemned to silence. But then, I am a political man. I could see the logic of forfeiting my claim to my own land, even if it was none the less bitter a pill to swallow for all that. In any case, my wife Martha has estate in her own name in Oxfordshire. We are not poor. And nor would my son have been.”
“I take it then that Algernon did not agree with this assessment?”
“You have it, sir. And I am sure you can see the irony in the boy’s situation - his father being that very man whose job it was to draw up the legislation whereby the property would be returned to its owners, yet that same man could do aught but resign himself to his own loss, despite all his power. To a young man, irony is rarely a source of amusement, merely the prick in the spur that goads his actions – and all too hasty actions at that. I am afraid that Algernon’s spur drove him to his doom.”
“He was not content with his mother’s legacy?”
DeLacey snorted. “He grew fixed on one goal – to recover our house and lands in Carlow, and saw his income from England purely as an addition to the means whereby he might achieve it. He issued writ after writ against the new owners, knowing that as Ormonde’s executor, I would have to address each one and either refer it to the courts or deny its passage. He tried to shame me into acceding to his demands.”
“And you denied passage to each.”
“I had no choice, but he would not listen to such reasoning. It would have set a dangerous precedent had any of his writs succeeded to the point of appeal.”
“Why dangerous?”
“Did I not explain already?” He asked sharply, and then as suddenly seemed contrite for his sharpness. In mellower tones he explained the dilemma. “The man in possession of the estate now is a cousin of Algernon. His father, my brother in law from my first marriage, was an ally of ours in the days of the Confederation. A false one as it turned out. Once the disasters in England had transpired, he saw fit to become a stout parliamentarian. He was well rewarded for his switch. But his convolutions had not yet ended. When he guessed that the regicides’ time was drawing to a close he did much financially to grease Charles Stuart’s wheels as he glided from exile to monarchy. He died on the same day that Charles was crowned. It would have been a beautiful irony except that his wrongs did not die with him. The estate passed to his heir, and the inheritance was approved by the new court, eager to keep in with their new and erstwhile allies – even those who had turned their coats before. To make matters worse the family in question are Desmonds, whose feud against the Butlers and their friends was a long, bloody and bitter one. My association with Ormonde, as Francis Desmond well knew, made it almost impossible to challenge him – legally or otherwise. Not only would it have opened old wounds to proceed, but it would have brought into focus that which the crown has been at all costs to avoid – the legality of tenure of those landowners who profited under Cromwell, but who switched allegiance at a critical moment and helped ease the transition back to monarchy. The king is much in debt to these men, and in truth fearful that their allegiance switch again with the same alacrity.”
“But Algernon was not so enamoured or inhibited by the niceties of the dilemma.”
“If anything they fuelled his rage all the more. Suffice to say that Algernon’s methods grew more desperate as time went on and reason withered. Then, a few years ago I was summonsed from my bed to this very office by Ormonde himself. He wished to tell me in person that my son had been apprehended, along with a few others, by soldiers in a tavern in Islington. They were to be charged with plotting against the king and his agents. Evidence had been found that they planned to waylay Charles Stuart that very afternoon as he left Whitehall for a visit to the Spanish ambassador’s residence at Charing Cross.”
“Surely your son could not have hoped to achieve his ends through regicide, and with so stupid a plot as that? A handful of men against the king’s guard would have been certain suicide, even if they dispatched the man they sought.”
“I am his father and I know that he was a hot-head, but he was no fool, and no man for heroics either. My first thought was of course that there had been some terrible mistake. I offered to travel immediately to London, but the Duke informed me that I was already too late. My son, he told me, had been tragically killed on his way to the Tower for questioning, when the prisoners’ wagon was besieged by a drunken mob near the Bishops’ Gate. A melee apparently ensued and the soldiers opened fire. My son, and one other of the arrested men, was shot while trying to escape in the confusion.”

Titus realised that he actually recalled the incident. In fact, it had occurred only a few streets away from his lodgings, in the early morning. Local people, whose business had them about at that hour, had recounted how soldiers had barred their passage to work but would not give an explanation for their obstruction. A half an hour or more later, the sounds of gunfire had been heard coming from an area near Bishops’ Gate. Then, almost immediately, the obstruction was lifted, and the workers, much to their surprise, had found their way unhindered along the streets. When they reached the small market area on Bishopsgate Street, tucked below the crumbling ramparts erected during the Civil War, there was evidence of some small disturbance – a few broken windows and overturned wares – but nothing along the lines of what subsequent rumour alleged. If there had been a riot – and why drunken mobs would be congregating at such an hour defeated everyone in any case – it had been an extremely localised one. The whole thing smacked of a ploy by the militia to effect a little summary justice of their own, but in a way contrived to avoid the finger of suspicion being pointed in their direction. But then, such occurrences were not uncommon in a city where a burgeoning population had long outstripped the mechanics of the judicial system. Soldiers were often employed to ‘speed things along’, especially if the alternative was a long and costly trial that the state could ill afford to fight, let alone lose. Titus remembered this occasion only because it had happened in his own neighbourhood, and even then would probably never have thought of it again if DeLacey had not now brought it up. He told DeLacey that he recalled it, and that it was a common assumption at the time in the locality that the two men had been executed, and the so-called riot merely a lie to disguise the fact.
“Indeed, and I need not tell you or your neighbours that to say as much these days would most certainly be construed as treasonable talk. You may suspect privately any man, but once you state your suspicions openly, and those suspicions are directed against the crown or its forces, then you walk on very thin ice indeed!”
“Sometimes then the truth itself can be treason. But, as my father would say, an unpalatable truth calls into question only the character of he who deems it so, rather than he who might express it.”
“Your father is right, but he gains nothing with his wisdom in the world we live in. That a man may be executed for treason, using the flimsiest of precepts by which to judge him, is a fact of life that we share. But in Ireland not only the man, but the truth itself is frequently executed and buried lest it speak against the only cause deemed rightful, the possession of power. That is all that is left here which means anything any more.”
Titus shrugged. “One could say the same for England.”
“Perhaps, and many other lands. But you are a mapmaker, so maybe you can see what I mean when I say that in England the struggle for power has its borders, and that they are easy to plot. Those who seek power may in truth seek it for its own sake, but they dress their assault in the colours of their separate ideas, like separate armed camps arrayed before a battle. In the planning for this battle then reason prevails, if not common sense.”
“You are talking about the Whig and Tory factions.”
“Yes, and all the others too, whether they subscribe to a political or religious sect. But that is England. Here, we use the same words just as we apparently use the same laws, but they have both long been perverted and now, in effect, we speak a different language altogether. The only discernible truth now is that this country has been rendered weak after years of short-sighted restrictions placed on its leaders by a nervous monarch and his parliament. It is vulnerable to be taken over, and there is no shortage of pretenders to the position.”
“Your master being the favourite?”
“But too old, and with no successor strong enough to stand up to London, whatever badge it wears in the future.”
“Would I be right in suspecting from what you say that you once had hopes for your son in that respect?”
DeLacey winced, as if he had been struck. “You are a perceptive man, as I knew you were from the moment that you were first brought to my attention. So when I add that I was being informed of these tragic events here in this office, in Dublin, a mere two hours after they were alleged to have occurred in London, maybe you can perceive why we are having this conversation, and why I told you that there is something about this land that you need to at least understand, if not appreciate.”
“I understand that I am out of my depth. But then I realised that from the moment you accosted me on Essex Bridge, Sir John.” The full truth of DeLacey’s remarks had just hit him. Ormonde had obviously been privy to the scheme by which Algernon DeLacey had met his end. Not only that, but he had all but admitted it openly to the man’s father, his own loyal friend and colleague of a lifetime’s standing. He voiced his amazement. “You serve the man yet, though. Can you tell me why?”
“As I said, we share the same words but not the same language, you and I. ‘Decent’ is a term that you might think you understand, but I would doubt that you would understand my use of it when I say that Ormonde was nothing but a messenger that morning, and a decent man at that. Of course, I resent that he did not do more to avoid the situation arising, as he could easily have, but I can only thank him for letting me hear it from his own lips.”
“You are right. I see nothing decent in that at all. And if I can be frank, if the old man’s time has run its course, and there is no ready successor to his mantle, then does it really matter whether he is found or not? It seems that to reinstate him would merely delay the inevitable, but not avoid it.”
“There is nothing inevitable.”
It was a curt answer, and Titus could think of little else to say in reply that might elicit further explanation to what was fast becoming an unintelligible puzzle. If DeLacey was the archetypal Irish politician, then political life in this enigmatic land, like the man, was so alien to the norm as to defy the powers of reason itself. But whatever else, the man was right about one thing – the very meaning of words here had been perverted out of all recognition; so much so that the perversion itself now seemed the very point of the whole exercise. In fact, he might spend a year in conversation with this man and still come no nearer to truly understanding his sentences, let alone his character or his motives. He decided to abandon trying, and instead reintroduce an earlier topic and a question that had remained unanswered. “And I take it then that you dismiss Lord Arran’s chances of succeeding his father. Might I enquire why you think that is so definite, especially if nothing, as you say, is inevitable?”
“Ah, we come back to your suspicions again. As I said, this we will discuss later.” DeLacey smiled, lifted his glass in salute and drained the last of his claret. “But please do not be offended if I do not answer you now. It is for your skills in excavation that we hired you, Mr Perry! And you are proving a most excellent digger, if a little enthusiastic perhaps about the number of holes. Still, they are interesting holes! A trait from your father perhaps?”
For a moment he thought he had been slighted, but DeLacey’s grin and wink showed that the old man had cracked a rare jest, even if it was one which intentionally advertised that Sir John had researched his ‘excavator’ quite thoroughly indeed. Titus drained his own glass and smiled in recognition of the jape. “At the moment, Sir John, I am merely trying to avoid falling into holes, rather than dig too many myself. And I am grateful for the advice you have given me, believe me, as soon as I work out what the hell it is!”
He smiled and DeLacey laughed aloud. “I would suggest that advice from me is probably the last thing you need to speed your deliberations, especially if your own deductions have already led you to suspect our good Lord Deputy!” He grew serious again. “And I must know why you express suspicion in that quarter. We will talk in Balgriffin. Right man, you had better go collect your ‘family’! And tell them to wear their Sunday clothes – they will be in exalted company!”

Titus rose, nodded briefly and left. Even as he did so Sir John had returned to his paper work, almost as if the entire interview had not occurred. Outside, Cecil Bambrick the clerk looked up from behind his desk, quill in hand. “That was quite a while,” he remarked, a little too casually.
“The subject of my accommodation may not be so trite as you assumed!” Titus answered with a smile.
Bambrick was not amused. “You really shouldn’t bother Sir John with trifles like that! In future you must go to the chamberlain’s office for that kind of query.” Then, leaning across his desk with the faintest of smiles on his lips, he added almost nonchalantly. “I heard his voice raised. Did he threaten you with the gallows?” Then, without waiting for an answer, he made a big display of inking his quill and setting about an entry in the account book before him, writing in the slow and ornate script beloved of legal clerks the world over.
Titus placed his hand on Cecil’s page to arrest the quill’s progress, and succeeded in getting the clerk’s full attention. He spoke quietly, almost conspiratorially. “On the contrary Cecil, he told me to instruct you to find me a longer cot. Be a good man and have it done by this evening, will you?” Titus winked, bowed and quit the room quickly, leaving the clerk agape with his quill still aloft, its dripping nib obliterating with blots of ink the tight and careful script beneath it.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 9 "The Mustering" (part 5)

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