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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 7)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 12 "A Victory" (part 7)

“Aha!” Quinn slapped his shoulder. “I never thought I’d hear myself congratulate my own son for lying his head off! But well done! Get your breath back now and tell us everything when you’ve the wind to do so.” He eyed the field in the distance where Robert Cuffe and his men guarded the exits. “Now let’s hope Cuffe outranks Drogheda’s men. We’re all in Quare Street if Mr Brennan isn’t forced to open his coffers!”

This was something that hadn’t occurred to Titus, knowing Cuffe as a confidante of Arran himself. But of course that meant little in these circumstances and in this location. For all he knew, Moore had the pick of the local militia to choose from, and could easily employ men who well surpassed Cuffe by several ranks. However the nature of the charge Cuffe was about to make against Brennan should stay the hand of all but the most corrupt officer who might think to interfere. Then he thought of Briar. “Damn!” he said aloud.

“What’s up Titus?” Quinn asked.
“I was wondering why Briar was here. That must be it – he enjoys Moore’s patronage. He’s here to escort Brennan, I’d wager. It would be a lucrative commission for the man, enough to lure him out of hiding and risk showing his face.”
“Might he stop Cuffe?”
“Not himself no – it was Cuffe broke his arm the other night. I’d be surprised if he’d want to reacquaint himself so soon. But if he recognises Cuffe he will surely suspect why he’s here, and equally as surely he’ll use whatever other means as he can to stop him making his arrest, I’m certain.”
“Right then. Leave it to me! I’m still the disgruntled farmer who’s lost his farm, remember? I’m sure I can create a diversion.” And, without waiting for an argument from anyone, Quinn was off in massive strides across the sands and was swallowed into the throng in an instant.

Jack’s breath was regained fully. “What’s he going to do?”
“I don’t know Jack, but we’ve no choice but to leave him do it. If either of us are recognised over there we’re all done for.”
Sarah, who had been talking with Grace a bit away, came over and shook Jack’s hand. “So you did it Jack. Tell us how it went.”
Jack reddened a bit and mumbled that it hadn’t been too hard. “As I was making my way to the tent I kept thinking to myself that I was dealing with bastards in league with those that did you such wrong, Miss Reilly! It was all I could do to restrain myself until after Sam’s race had ended.”
“Surely Wilson’s face must have been priceless when Sam hit the floor.” Sarah was smiling at the thought of it.
Jack smiled too at the memory. “It was, Miss Reilly. He couldn’t have looked more distraught than if his own mother had just passed away before his eyes. That was pleasant to watch all right, but it didn’t deflect me from my rage I can tell you. Believe me, by the time I got to Wilson my anger was no sham! I marched up to him and demanded to reclaim my father’s deeds and thrust his cheque under his nose. He just stared at me like I was some creature that had slid out from under a rock and then he looked down his nose at me. I swear I could have flattened him there and then!”
“I saw the look in your eyes as you came in Jack, but I hope you didn’t kill him,” Titus said. “That wouldn’t have advanced matters favourably at all.”
“No, but I will some day. I swear it. Anyway, I kept it up even though he tried to sidle away from me – I just kept following him, hollering at him to at least give me a chance to win the blasted thing back. Sorry, Miss Reilly.”
Sarah smiled. “Will you stop calling me Miss Reilly Jack? You make me sound like your tutor! Go on, what happened next?”

“A big fat one appeared and stuck his oar in. And then I couldn’t believe who I saw coming behind him in close pursuit – Jonathan bloody Swift, and wasn’t he winking at me! I was sure the whole tent could see him. Anyway, the lardalump says that his companion, and he points at Jonny, had come up with an admirable way of settling things. Put the cheque and the deed up as stakes with the bookie Brennan, and make a simple wager on the last race of the day. Each pick a horse; with the winner the man whose horse finishes first of the two or falls last, regardless of the rest of the field. It was brilliant – I’d been wondering how I was going to say it and make it convincing, and here was this learned man making the case for me. Wilson went for it like a shot!”
“Well he was down in his funds too, don’t forget that – thanks to Sam,” Titus said. “It’s amazing how amenable to a bet, no matter how slim the odds, a gambler can be when his stake money is petering out!”
Sarah laughed scornfully. “I agree he was a desperate man at that point, but ‘slim odds’? The deed wasn’t his to bet, or the cheque for that matter. And he and the bookie have the same master! Odds didn’t come into it!” She frowned. “Don’t forget they probably thought that they couldn’t lose, once Brennan was in on the deal. As a way of avoiding being pummelled by young Master Quinn here, it must have seemed the safest bet in creation. And if and when he won it, he’d have the deed, his money back and his nose spared to boot!”
“If Cuffe doesn’t get to do his bit they might have won yet.” Titus could not help but feel some foreboding. “Anyway, go on Jack.”
“Well we did just that, the deed and the draft as stake and prize, the winner takes all. Brennan drew up the bet on a piece of paper and we all signed it, including the fat one as a witness.”
“You signed it Jack? Jesus man, what were you thinking of?” Titus had not foreseen this – Jack’s signature on the bet was bad news indeed. It implicated him in no uncertain terms. How could the lad have been so stupid?
“Well, with an ‘X’ Mr Perry. And there wasn’t one of them thought it strange. I suppose they reckoned it was par for the course for a farmer’s son to be a bit lacking in his letters. So much for a Trinity education, eh?”
Titus laughed. “You’re a cute one Jack – and here was I thinking your lack of note-taking in college would be your downfall!”
“Well that was it then. The bookies closed up shop and I high tailed it out of there before Jonathan’s bloody winks gave the whole game away. Look, here he is now. Hey Swift! What the hell were you thinking of back there?”
Jonathan climbed the bank, his face beaming. “Jack, my friend, pray, do not thank me for my efforts on your behalf. I was merely doing my duty.”
“Thank you? I was about to thump you! You nearly stymied the whole thing with all that winking. If Wilson had seen you he’d have known there was something up!”
“It was Wilson I was winking at you fool.” Jonathan laughed. “And of course he saw me. That was the point!”

This had everyone speechless for a moment. Jonathan noticed their bewilderment and decided he’d obviously better explain. “Before you came into the tent I had a few minutes with that giant slug MacCarthy.” Jonathan made a face as if he had just got a nasty whiff of something. “Does that man ever bathe? In any case, when you made your dramatic assault on the slug’s companion, I intimated to MacCarthy that I knew you, and that if it was about your father’s deed you’d come then you’d settle for nothing less than bloodshed before you left, murderous hot-headed nincompoop that I knew you to be. I must say your acting was superb too! I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so enraged, not even when the college buttery ran out of ale that time on your birthday, do you remember?”
He paused, obviously expecting Jack to answer, but when nothing was forthcoming except a pointed cough from Jack’s mother indicating that she wished to hear more of this buttery episode later, he decided to plough on. “Well, this had MacCarthy a bit worried, I can tell you. Bloodshed might lead to soldiers, and soldiers might lead to searches, and I had a suspicion that MacCarthy mightn’t want to be implicated in such sordid things as having his pockets rifled. Lawyers have a phobia about being searched, or should have!”

This reference to the deed raised an eyebrow or two around the company. If the magistrate and his lawyer friend suspected that their activities were being monitored in any way they might have developed cold feet very quickly, and that would have been the end of the whole escapade. Jonathan noticed Titus’ sceptical look and understood his concern immediately.
“He didn’t even ask me how I knew about the deed – he just assumed as a mate of yours, Jack, that I’d been apprised of your woes, I suppose. Anyway, I gently planted the idea in his head that both warring parties might agree to settle matters with a wager and of course he jumped at the notion – literally – nearly strangled the poor rat he had on his leash, poor thing!”
“Christ, Jonathan!” Titus was astonished. “You were meant to be keeping them apart, not getting them together!”
“Ah yes, but you see I had detected a flaw in your strategy Mr Lowe, not that the rest of it fails to smack of pure genius, mind, but a potentially fatal flaw too!”
“You see, Wilson may be a gambler, but he’s not stupid. Having just been badly burnt by his experience in the previous race he might not want to replicate the experience in the next, and I reckoned that we were over reliant on his eagerness to do so. So much so that in fact we were taking a bigger gamble than ever we wished him to! It was vital that he be encouraged to become more amenable to our deception, and MacCarthy was the perfect tool to that end. If they enjoy a joint history of crookery and deception themselves, as appears to be the case, then one’s enthusiasm might infect the other, or so I deduced, and correctly I might add.”
“So why all the bloody winking at Wilson?” Jack was confused as to how exactly his friend’s mind worked.
“Why not? Once that blasted fool MacCarthy mentioned that it was my bloody notion and not his, I thought I’d better be quick about establishing to all concerned whose side I was supposedly on. The likes of Wilson are simple people. They see others as either fools to be used or clever ones to be wary of. They have no natural allies, as they see no one as their equal.”
Titus was struggling to keep up with Jonathan’s flow of logic. “So you thought you’d show yourself as clever as he, and thus intimate to him your belief that he could not fail to win?”
Swift laughed. “Indeed not! Quite the opposite, I had MacCarthy doing that for me already. Appear a fool instead however, I thought, and then he will believe me all the more. To him, you see, the logic is simple - if a buffoon like me can see the benefit in a scheme, then a crafty one like himself should stand to gain all the more!”
By now Titus was lost. “You make the man feel clever by playing the fool? The next time I feel a rush of erudition in your company I shall examine your behaviour closely!”

Jonathan laughed heartily. “It only works well in the company of vain men, sir! I would think that you are exempt. However, there was still always a chance that a vain man like Wilson wouldn’t agree to the suggestion, even with MacCarthy’s endorsement of it, so I thought it better to cement the strategy by throwing in my own wink’s worth! The man was thinking on his feet, or maybe even thinking with his feet, for all I knew. And, whatever advantage he figured stood to be gained might be lost altogether if he allowed me to advertise it so blatantly for much longer. I merely accelerated his decision, so to speak!”
“Or came close to ruining everything, Jonathan,” Titus expressed reservation, but he had to admit he had also been harbouring private reservations regarding Jack’s ability to persuade Wilson to go along with the bet, which was, after all, the coup de grace of their entire strategy. If Jonathan’s input had been justified, then it was as welcome as it was succinct.
“Oh, no fear of that, Mr Lowe.” Jonathan’s earnest expression indicated that he would be terribly hurt should his co-conspirators fail to see the subtle genius he had employed in their aid. “You see, Euripides once said, ‘Man’s most valuable trait is a judicious sense of what not to believe’. Given that this man has not a valuable trait in his entire composition I knew that the inverse would thus equally apply. No man can escape his own character, and a greedy one is all the more gullible, by the same logic. It is gratifying to see one’s faith in philosophy so accurately rewarded by events!”
Titus smiled and patted Swift on the back. “Jonathan, if you don’t graduate from that college of yours with some class of a degree at least you can join Sarah and Sam’s horse on the stage.” If the lad responded his reply was lost. A sudden cheer from the huge crowd on the beach drowned out all further attempts at conversation. The horses were coming back into view.

The field it seemed had stretched somewhat. Instead of the teeming black mass that had left the line, there was now a long black ribbon – or rather a succession of dark ribbons - heading towards them. A leading group of three riders led the rest by a distance. As they passed the farmhouse, Titus could see that the front-runners would never be caught. They sailed with a fluid motion across ditch and fence, without seeming even to break stride or lengthen gait. They sped past the field in which Cuffe and his men were stationed, and then down to the final turn onto the sands.

As they did so however something else caught his eye. In the thick mass of people assembled in the field, one portion of it was very much alive it seemed. While everyone else stood rigidly watching the riders pass, one segment of the crowd had become a seething mass of limbs, heads and fists. A fight had broken out. Even as the main body of riders thundered past them, the melee continued unabated, and indeed was growing in size. Within moments it appeared as if the frenzy had engulfed the whole field. Then a shot rang out, and another in quick succession, though this only seemed to goad the antagonists into further frenzy, and coarse shouting and screeches could be heard from the participants, even from this distance. Some soldiers in the red livery of the exchequer’s service meanwhile had materialised on the beach and were aligning themselves in a row along the perimeter of the field, rifles drawn and at the ready. The fight was dangerously close to where the bookies had retreated. Their commander had obviously reckoned enough was enough; a threat to the bookies was also a threat to the crown gleaning its cut from the day’s proceeds. At a command they raised their sights and fired a massive volley over the crowd within, so loud that its echo could be heard for several seconds reverberating in the countryside beyond. As if it had indeed been shot, the swarming mass of pugilism suddenly ceased activity, and from this distant viewpoint it appeared to reassemble in an instant into a benign crowd once again. A riot had been averted.

Not that anyone else much cared. The attention of everyone was on the three horses and riders who had now reached the sand and were accelerating towards the finish line. From where Titus stood it appeared that all three crossed the line together but the roar that ensued from the crowd indicated that one had indeed pipped the others to the finish. A garland of laurel leaves was thrown by the judges around the neck of one of the riders, a popular choice of winner judging by the crowd’s reaction. Again the sky filled with tossed hats and bonnets, and the people on the beach surged to envelop the horse and its rider as they slowly made their way towards the gentry’s enclosure to collect the purse. The boundary between beach and field disappeared altogether as the crowd surged towards the enclosure. Another huge detachment converged on the field where the bookies stood paying out to the lucky winners, with one nervous eye no doubt over their shoulders at their escape route behind them.
“Well, there’s no point staying here,” Titus said to his companions. “Let’s wait for the crowd to thin out, find Sam and Quinn, and get out of here.”

Sam was easy to find, as it was he who found them – no mean feat now that the exits from the beach were beginning to get congested with revellers on their way home. “Mr Lowe! Mr Lowe!”
It took Titus a second or two to remember that it was himself that was being addressed. He saw Sam’s head occasionally bobbing into view above the crowd and waved him over to where they stood. Eventually Sam burst through the plethora of bodies and joined them. “Did you see it? Did you see the fight?”
Titus noticed then that some blood was trickling down Sam’s forehead, and that the arm of his jacket was hanging by a thread from its shoulder. “Good God, Sam,” he exclaimed. “What happened?”
“It was that guy with the sling! Well it was his friend! Well it was Mr Quinn really! Well not really, it was…”
“Slow down Sam. Who was what?”
“The sling man. He was talking to some soldiers, Drogheda’s men – I’d been watching him like you said. I could see him pointing up to the gate where Captain Cuffe was and I reckoned he was sending the soldiers up to arrest him or something. He was livid Mr Perry! Sorry, Mr Lowe! Anyway, next thing Mr Quinn comes charging up, grabs someone nearby and clocks him! Then he goes to swing again, misses the man completely and hits the guy with the sling – right on his bad arm! Then the first fellow gets back on his feet and swings at Mr Quinn. Got him a beauty too – sorry Mrs Quinn!”
Grace was worried. “We heard shots Sam. Was anyone hurt?”
“There could have been, I couldn’t see.”
“What did you see, Sam?” Titus asked anxiously.
“Well, in no time they were all at it. Some young fellow just ran up to me, butted me in the face and ran off again. I even saw women punching the daylights out of each other! Then I saw Mr Quinn again. He was clambering over someone to get at someone else on the deck. When I looked, I could see it was the sling man on the floor and Mr Quinn was stepping on his bad arm! That’s when he pulled out a gun.”
“Briar? I mean the sling man?” Titus reckoned that once Quinn had identified the man who had locked up his son he hadn’t let the opportunity slip to gain some retribution.
“Yes, but it was taken from him by his mate – the other guy you mentioned. I saw him shoot, twice, but I didn’t see anyone hit. Then the big volley went off and it all stopped. I’m afraid I found myself on the wrong side of the soldiers’ cordon when they closed in on the crowd so I couldn’t see any more.”
“You didn’t see Quinn again?” Titus was extremely worried for his friend.
“Sorry Mr Perry, I mean Mr Lowe. But no.”
“I’m going to find my husband,” was all Grace said and she set off apace towards the field.
“Grace!” Sarah yelled. “Wait up! I’ll go with you!”
“Sam, Jack, you’d better go back and help them. I’ll stay here. I still can’t risk being recognised.” It struck him that such a consideration hadn’t obviously crossed Sarah’s mind. She was a brave soul, there was no denying it, but she was foolhardy too. He sent Jonathan to collect their horses and sat quietly on the grass bank, fearing the worst.

It seemed like an eternity, but it was probably only about fifteen minutes later that a small group approached across the rapidly emptying sands. Sam and Jack were supporting Quinn, one of his arms across each of their shoulders. Grace, held by Sarah, was just behind them, her face as white as a sheet. Quinn’s tunic was open and the white shirt beneath it seemed to have been replaced with a scarlet one. His face was pale, his eyes bruised and half closed, and as they reached the grass all three men collapsed in a heap at Titus’ feet. Titus rolled Quinn onto his back and ripped open the sodden shirt. Quinn was trying to speak but couldn’t. A wound, just over his right breast, oozed with dark black blood. As Titus lifted his shoulder tentatively he saw another wound to the rear. Grace, with grim determination, was already tearing strips of material from her dress. As she handed them to Titus he saw that her eyes were dry. This was not a woman who would idly watch as her husband died before her.

With as much pressure as he felt that Quinn could bear, he bound the makeshift bandages tightly around the wounded man’s shoulder and chest. Then, with some effort, they managed to get Quinn into his saddle and his feet into the stirrups. He was barely conscious, but just about managed to hold his balance and upright bearing, more it seemed by instinct than design, as the animal’s nostrils, filled as they were with the scent of blood, flared and snorted in fear and the beast shifted uncomfortably under the weight of its wounded occupant. It was a sad party then that made its way hurriedly back to the Balbriggan farm, Grace and Sarah leading the vanguard, with Quinn behind them, flanked and supported by Jack and Titus. A much subdued Sam and Jonathan brought up the rear. Ignoring the stares of the people on the road as they passed, they made as steady a progress as they could, reaching the farmhouse as dusk began to descend. Grace immediately ran to the kitchen to fetch boiled water from the range, and Titus prepared to dress the man’s wounds again, having laid Quinn out on his own bed, with a clean sheet beneath him to soak the blood. Another clean sheet he cut up as bandage material. He gently stitched the wound with boiled cotton thread, as an army physician had once taught him, and as he did so, Quinn came vaguely to his senses. His voice was hoarse but the words were lucid.

“The pellet is out?”
“Yes Quinn – it passed clean through, but it was shot at very close range. I reckon it’s nipped your lung and shattered your shoulder blade.”
Quinn’s eyes focused on Grace, who was standing next to Titus as he worked. “Mrs Quinn, you don’t get rid of me that easily, don’t you worry.” He smiled weakly.
Grace smiled back at her husband. “Save your breath man. Leave your lungs rest.” She stroked him gently on his forehead as she said it.
“I should have stayed in the army – I was safer there.” Quinn’s voice was fading, and the effort of speech made him erupt into a rasping cough that obviously caused him much agony. A few droplets of blood flew from his mouth and landed on Titus’ arm.
“Whisht now,” his wife stroked him again. “For once you’ll have to leave someone else with the last word my love.”
Titus reckoned he had done all he could. A wound such as this might not kill in itself, but a punctured lung could fill with blood if it did not heal quickly, and there was always the risk of infection. The next few hours would be the crucial period, after that both time and nature could play their part with more confidence of success. He placed his ear to Quinn’s chest and listened to his breathing. The lung seemed clear of fluid. So far so good, now it was down to providence. As he rose to leave, Quinn lifted his left hand feebly and beckoned Titus back.
“That dark fellow - the one who shot me.” His voice was even shallower than before.
Titus nodded, remembering the low swarthy man who had been with Briar, and who he had seen with Petty in Dublin before.
“I know him. His name is Beresford – Edward Beresford.” Quinn’s eyes closed and he drifted back towards unconsciousness.
Titus rose and left Grace by Quinn’s side. As she stroked his forehead and cheek she hummed softly to her husband. Titus thought he saw the shadow of a smile play on Quinn’s bloodied lips.

He left the Quinns together and joined the rest of the company in the kitchen. The small group was very subdued indeed, and all looked up expectantly as he entered the room. Titus told them that he had cleaned and patched the wound as best he knew how, and that he had no doubt Mr Quinn was a fighter and would get through this injury in time. They seemed grateful to hear such optimistic words, but yet the mood in the room hardly lifted an iota.
“I feel no more like seeing this thing through tonight you know,” Sarah seemed despondent. She sat with hands clasped on her knees and eyes to the floor.
“We must Sarah – otherwise we leave Quinn in a far worse way than he is now.” Titus knelt before Sarah and covered her hands in his. He waited until her downcast eyes rose to meet his. “Don’t forget why we are doing this. There’s been enough tragedy wrought by these bastards – let us put an end to it tonight.”
“It all seemed so much like a game earlier, now it all seems so … pathetic.”
“It was never a game Sarah. But this should just make us all the more determined to succeed. They’ve had it all their own way up to now. It’s time we gave them a reversal of fortune to think about for a change! Let’s get ready – our carriage awaits Mrs Lowe.”
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