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 Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 5)

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Nobiles Barbariæ

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Join date : 2011-12-25

PostXartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 5)

Cormac approached the Earl slowly, almost as if the old man might conjure a thunderbolt from the blue and bring it crashing down on his head. Ormonde reached into his pocket and produced a small purse. “I hear that you are about to go into business, sir. Allow me to offer you a token of my appreciation for services rendered a long time ago and which are long overdue payment.”

He handed the purse to the giant, who bowed and thanked him so profusely that even O’Neill smiled at the incongruity of the picture. Ormonde raised his hand. “Come, come, sir. It is not every day a man of my vintage has the opportunity to make recompense for a vital service performed over two score years hence. Be grateful if you will, but be more grateful that the Good Lord has seen fit to extend my span to the point where the money can still be put to good use and not just in the erection of a gaudy tomb over my bones! In fact, I am grateful for that myself!” He chuckled as he turned to resume his conversation with O’Neill, his back to the two men indicating that they were now dismissed. Cormac made to move away but Titus stopped him in his tracks with a glare. He handed the reins of his horse to the big man asking that Cormac wait a moment yet and then interposed himself between O’Neill and Ormonde, who seemed surprised to see a man so recently dismissed make so soon and sudden a reappearance.

When preparing a map there are three distinct operations that the mapmaker must conduct in sequence, each with their own peculiar demands on a man’s skills and intelligence. The first stage - assessing the task - involves little more than a keen eye and healthy legs, and the ability to make notes in one’s mind and in one’s ledgers while recording the relevant dimensions and points to be included. The final stage – producing the finished drawing – involves just those skills one would expect of a draughtsman, a fair hand, an aesthete’s eye and the ability to express the most information using the minimum of pictorial embellishment, while avoiding symbols and ciphers that might only confuse the reader, a frequent failing in many maps produced by lesser practitioners of the art. It is in the intermediate stage however where the key lies to producing a truly useful map, and especially one that might even transcend its basic usefulness and be deemed a masterwork in its own right. This is the stage where the mapmaker chooses which datum to be included in the finished article and which must be discarded, and then of those retained which will take priority over the others. To do this successfully the mapmaker must be sure to be conscious of how each piece relates to all the others at all times, a simple skill one might think, but yet in fact the one that defeats many practitioners of the trade. It is not enough, for example, to deem all bridges of equal worth and therefore that they merit inclusion. A bridge is but a link in a chain linking several other places, and if the chain itself is not important then the presence of its link on a chart can merely serve only to confuse its reader rather than aid him in his use of it. Yet before it is omitted the mapmaker must be sure that he has not fallen into yet another frequent trap that snares many of his trade - in which a route is deemed irrelevant to most travellers, but within only a few years of the map’s publication has become a teeming highway between two new towns. The mapmaker must be something of an informed prophet as well as a faithful recorder of what he sees, and a good knowledge of topography and local politics are useful tools to that end. If a man can gauge these requirements correctly and address their demands when putting pen to parchment, then a map thus produced is like a well executed painting – no matter on which point of its surface the eye of its beholder settles, it is drawn to another point, and another, and always with a logic that invites the viewer to unconsciously appreciate the whole as well as the part.
This is the art of the craft, and where even a good mapmaker may fail. Many find themselves unwilling to omit data so strenuously learnt and are guilty of excessive and confusing decoration to their document. Even more succumb to an ever present peril of the trade, where the commissioner of the map, for reasons related to his own prestige, wealth or politics, exerts pressure on the author to exercise a bias of representation satisfying his ambition in these regards which in turn disrupts or destroys the cogent logic of the document entirely and results in a map that is worse than confusing, and often simply false. Over the years Titus had developed a knack of detecting when just such a pressure was about to brought to bear on a commission and had devised many strategies to deal with it. In his experience the earlier one detected it, the easier it was to deflect the pressure or annul it altogether. If, through a lack of diligence on his part (or more likely an overbearing manner on the part of his patron) such unwelcome influence was unavoidably encountered, there was one tactic that often still worked to his, and the map’s, advantage. Take the time to prepare quickly on paper a version of the map such as might be deemed ready to be sent to its publisher, making sure to include all that you know cannot be omitted from what you envisage as the finished article. This is the draught that your commissioner must be shown should he call to your studio, regardless of how many others you might have in preparation. Then, if he insists that he will have an item omitted, remind him that the mapmaker’s time is as expensive as the acquisition of a publisher, and that both exercises will need to be repeated should he now demand a change to a project so apparently near completion. If you have prepared well, then only another mapmaker would know that the parchment he has been shown is not the final proof that the publisher requires, and that such proof might still indeed be several draughts away from completion. As he mulls over the implied expense that his wishes, if granted, would cause him, throw in for good measure that you yourself would rather abandon a project so near to fruition than have to begin anew, for whatever reason. Of course he is welcome to take such draughts as you have and bring them to another mapmaker to amend and develop in whatever manner he desired, but that itself incurs even more expense. All but the most stubborn fool of a patron will thus be made to see sense, for the prospect of no final product so far down the expensive road of a commission is far worse than that of losing a quibble over detail. In fact, in Titus’ experience, the patron will then most likely not only concede to one’s view regarding the disputed item, but will even claim credit for its inclusion should the finished article receive plaudits, and indeed for having provided one with such valuable input along the way to its completion.

For reasons that Titus could not quite ascertain, he now felt himself in that familiar and unwelcome plight. Maybe it was because of the arrogant way in which Ormonde had attempted to dictate the tenor and content of their conversation, or indeed the nagging suspicion that he himself had been less than diligent over the past few weeks in assessing the true worth of the data that he had accumulated himself by allowing others to set agendas that forced him to devote too much of his thoughts and energy into reacting to them, rather than analysing their true nature for himself. Maybe it was simply the mapmaker in him, fearful that he was losing an opportunity to collect a vital piece of datum which might not again be available. Most likely, he felt, it was a bit of all those things – and he would be damned if he would quit this man’s company without learning one thing he knew that this man could answer. With his back to O’Neill, he stood squarely before the great Duke and looked him in the eye. “I would like to ask you of my secretary.”
“Yes?” The tone was sharp.
“You and he were imprisoned together.”
“For a while, yes.” Ormonde’s look was wary, as if waiting to be caught out in some earlier admission. Though Titus reckoned it could equally convey that the Earl was reassessing the mapmaker himself, and for the worse.
“I would like to know your view on the man, sir.”
“I try never to contain my views on any man in a trite statement, and I am afraid I have neither the time nor the inclination to speak more of your associate.” The last word was stressed, and accompanied by an ironical pucker of the brow and a humourless smile.
“Believe me, your answer may be short, but to me in any case, it would never be regarded as trite.” O’Neill coughed behind him, rather pointedly Titus felt, but whatever signal he had conveyed to the Earl, if any, was already concluded when Titus turned to face him. He returned to Ormonde, whose impatience was evident, as was his unease. He made no further protest however to Titus’ questioning, so Titus opted to persevere. “He arrived in Stanley’s custody after yourself, I take it. How was he in mind and body when you saw him first?”
“In body, grievously wounded. He had been shot. In mind not much better, he was a man who had hovered near death already for some time.”
“Did he speak of his mission here?”
“In a way that might best be described as ‘around’ rather than ‘of’. But I was astute enough to deduce his purpose and his character for all that.”
“And of me? What did he say of me?”
Ormonde smiled subtly. “You would like to know why I said that he had reconsidered your assassination?”
“I would know that yes. And I would also like to know your assessment of his honesty.”
Ormonde laughed aloud. “You would know the honesty of an assassin? Let me tell you something Mr Perry, the nature of an assassin is something that I have some knowledge of. Honesty is not a part of their make up, nor can it be. They are all essentially vain and foolish men – vain because they think that their conceived strategies are somehow so fantastically unique to themselves that they fail to see how alike they and their strategies are, and therefore are both as easy to read as open books. And foolish, because they mistake their vanity for integrity. Your secretary Flitch was an intelligent man, and a perceptive one in his own way, but I am afraid such was the extent of his virtue.”
“Thank you Sir James, I believe that your assessment is made in good faith.”
“It is.” James Butler did not seem to take offence that his good faith should be questioned.
“But I disagree with you. At least in one respect.”
“He interested me, though in close confines interest is distorted. But he did, so I will ask you in what respect that is sir?”
“You omitted that he is a man of principle.”
This seemed to delight Ormonde all the more. “You think I should be killed on principle?”
“No sir, but I think that was why you have been spared.”
Ormonde regarded him long and hard, as if remembering something. “Then I must withdraw what I have said about the man’s perceptiveness,” he said. “The man had one friend in life and never knew it, for only a friend can be so blind to man’s most basic fault.”
“And why did he spare me, do you think? From what you say his reason then was not one of mere friendship?”
“No sir. It was not. Your secretary, I feel, had what some might call a ‘Paulian conversion’. Ireland was his Damascus.”
“He found God?”
Ormonde laughed. “I very much doubt it, or indeed that the Good Lord would ever be so inclined to find him either! No, he had reason to reassess his tasks enough without any help from his creator. It was a question of facilitation.”
“Precisely, and a question that most functionaries must ask themselves eventually – ‘qui bono?’ - who benefits from my labours? Especially those whose masters change their nature.”
“You know who his masters were?” Titus remembered not so long ago that he had naively assumed himself to be one.
“No, that much he kept well hidden. But it was obvious he suspected that his masters had changed their policies drastically, or had cunningly disguised their true intentions successfully up to now. In these times both could be the case. You may not claim to be politically minded Mr Perry, but even you must see how much that was solid about our world has turned to water lately, and we have yet to see what will sink and what will float before a shore is safely reached. I am afraid your secretary found himself treading that water rather unexpectedly.”
“So you think it was not then that his masters changed their policies, but rather abandoned them, and him along with them?”
Ormonde’s look was a hard one, and his voice was steely. “I would not know, Mr Perry. And now we will never know. Only your secretary could tell you that and this intelligence, which I cannot fathom why you still deem important, has died with him.”

Titus had noticed Ormonde’s reference to Flitch always in the past tense and had deduced that this is what the man thought. “Oh he lives yet, Sir James, if only barely, but I believe he is being well tended now and I hope to see him recover. I will ask him the same questions then myself, but I desired first to hear your own opinion on the matter.”
This seemed to surprise Ormonde, but only briefly. He considered saying something but stopped short of comment. In the end he merely nodded briefly and clapped Titus’ shoulder. “If it pleases God,” was all he said.

O’Neill had remained silent throughout this exchange but spoke up now. “As a man who has suffered pellet shot myself, let me add my best wishes for your friend’s speedy recovery, Mr Perry.” His voice betrayed a hint of nervousness that Titus immediately recognised, if Ormonde did not. He had guessed as much; O’Neill did not want the Duke to know of his role in the spy’s recuperation. “Now sirs, if that be all on the matter may I be excused to speak with His Grace, the Duke, alone?” He looked to Titus, and then to Cormac, who nodded in reply and grasped his friend’s shoulder, gesturing towards where their horse was tied and waiting for them. With the interview thus finally concluded Titus bid polite farewell to Ormonde and O’Neill. Then he and Cormac waded with their horse in tow through the dank undergrowth and the long wet grass back to the road. Bran scurried excitedly behind them, stopping now and again to vigorously shake the rainwater from his sodden fur.
“Are you thinking what I am thinking Titus?” Cormac asked, long after they had regained the road and plodded in silence for some time.
“I would not know.”
“I was thinking that your secretary is more grievously wounded now than when he was delivered into Stanley’s prison.”
“And it was not at O’Neill’s hands that he was.”
“I am afraid that is what I was also thinking, my friend. Though given your estimation of our noble Duke it might be best not to admit what I surmise from that.”
“I hold Ormonde in great esteem, it is true Titus, but not at such heights that I cannot see the depths to which the same man can stoop when it suits him. I would recommend you get your secretary moved from O’Neill’s care quickly if you wish him to live, despite his assurances. One thing I do know of Ormonde is that he likes to see his work through to completion.”
“Even though it benefits him not one iota to expunge his would-be assassin any longer? Is Flitch worth the energy and the risk to Ormonde?”
Cormac halted his stride. “Maybe that is not what motivates the man. It would not be the first time that the confessional of a shared cell has led to something less than godly absolution when the door has been sprung.”
“You think Ormonde has shared an intelligence with Flitch that he would rather not now be broadcast?”
“Aye. Prisoners who believe themselves doomed have a habit of sharing intimacies that can rebound quite catastrophically when the doom proves false.”
Only an occasional excited bark from Bran, or derisive snort from their wet and disgruntled horse, broke the silence in which both men completed their trudge back to Armagh.

The meeting with Justice Praise-God Pringle could not have gone better. The magistrate arrived two days after Titus’ meeting with Ormonde and O’Neill, and, thanks to being forewarned of his arrival by Adams the innkeeper, Titus intercepted him before the man had a chance to meet with any others or even have his bag fetched from the castle coach that had transported him. He was surprisingly young, or at least to Titus he appeared so. The mapmaker had anticipated and mentally rehearsed this encounter many times beforehand, and in all these imagined encounters the magistrate was a middle aged man with a formidable and offhand manner, who would austerely take one look at the letter produced by Titus and contemptuously have him arrested on the spot. Instead Pringle had visibly crumpled on reading it in his room at the courthouse and had slumped onto the trestle bed that had been installed in his quarters. Titus could only imagine what thoughts had run through the magistrate’s mind when he read Stanley’s words. For a person so young to have the position he held suggested a man whose career, fledgling as it was, was also one dependent on political or familial favour. Such a man was little likely to squander such favour on a point so trivial as principle or duty. Even if Titus had surmised correctly, and the favour had been extended by persons of like mind to Stanley, then to have one of that camp break ranks so completely as Stanley’s letter indicated its author had done, must seem to Pringle as if the very pillars of his world, and his projected career through life, suddenly seemed precarious indeed. It would be a strange young man indeed who would not at least countenance such thoughts in his deliberations when faced with the stark options left to him by the sentiments written in his friend’s own hand before him. If O’Neill had indeed dictated the letter, then he had chosen the words shrewdly so that they would appear to be Stanley’s own and carry the utmost impact. It occurred to Titus that O’Neill had also chosen the letter’s intended reader with equal shrewdness. Pringle’s abject demeanour, which he struggled with only partial success to disguise, was testimony to O’Neill’s guile.
“Who are you? How came you by this?” he asked.
“Perry, sir, a mere courier,” Titus lied, feigning ignorance of the letter’s contents. “Your friend had to depart in a hurry and asked me to deliver it to you in person. I am also here on the crown’s business, though merely surveying the locality, and for some reason he was loath to send it through military channels. Does it have a bearing on the case against the prisoner Sarah Reilly?”
“Why do you ask, Mr Perry?” Pringle’s wary look, though prompted by suspicion was tinged with a dread that he failed to fully hide. That he already knew of the mapmaker’s name Titus had no doubt. It would be folly to assume that Cummins and his friends would not have approached the man themselves already once they learnt who was to validate their strategy.
“Only as she is my assistant and I know that the charge against her is based on a misunderstanding of her relationship with the other defendant. She acted purely on my instructions and dealt with the tailor only in so far as he was contracted to me. I am sure when you review the evidence you will see that this was the case.” He tried to inject a tone of pleading into his words but realised that it was unnecessary. Pringle may be callow, but he was shrewd enough to have already set his course.
“Mr Perry, I have often found that in such matters the military mind is often too direct and therefore ill equipped to properly appreciate the legal requirements in securing a prosecution. If your associates have been arrested on the strength of evidence that I deem inadmissible or inappropriate then they will be freed before I have even closed the dossier, I assure you.”
Titus noticed that Pringle had spoken of Holly’s acquittal too, though he had not even pleaded the tailor’s case to the magistrate. “Yes sir. I am heartened by your words, as I know Miss Reilly to be innocent,” he added and bade the young magistrate good day. Pringle’s assurance was indeed heartening, even if Titus knew that his lack of validation did not in itself automatically mean Sarah’s release. A charge of treason could always be referred, even without local validation, to the court in London, as other Irishmen had found to their cost in the past. It all hinged on how determinedly Cummins, and his as yet invisible allies, wished to pursue matters. And this depended on what truly motivated them of course. Titus could only guess at their agenda, and had no idea how much will they possessed, if any, to pursue their strategy when the castle representative effectively invited them to do so alone.

Titus had seen Cormac and Jenny Holly off on the afternoon after their return from Navan Fort. The dismal weather had left the streets deserted of all but the hardiest souls and soldiery but Cormac shrugged indifference when Titus warned him of how conspicuous their cart would thus be. Titus’ fears were well founded. Cormac had agreed to make a detour on their way to Omagh and collect Flitch from O’Neill’s ‘safe house’. A concealed bed for the purpose had been placed in the cart laden with the contents of Holly’s tailoring shop. As far as Cormac could see, the rain worked to their advantage, making it less likely for passing patrols to take a casual interest in their journey. If they should be stopped he had the deed to the Omagh property in his possession as proof of their business on the road, and would attempt to pass Jenny, and Flitch if need be, off as his workers. The enterprise was fraught with so many imponderable snags that Titus could only pray for their success. A giant tailor, a ‘mute’ waif and a cockney close to death was an unlikely set of business partners in any part of the kingdom, and in this part in particular a suspicious one indeed should the religion of two of them be ascertained by a patrol, or the giant and his ‘mute’ companion be heard conversing in a forbidden tongue to boot. He resolved to send word to Jack Quinn to head for Omagh at the earliest opportunity and vouchsafe his friends’ safe arrival. As for Flitch – treacherous though the man might be there was yet much that Titus wished to know from him. Indeed there was still a substantial part of him that found it hard not to regard the man still as a friend, though the evidence suggested he had ever been anything but. In his secretary’s case nevertheless, Titus’ prayers for his safe arrival were twofold in intent.
While waiting for Pringle to arrive he had not been idle. Robert Cuffe was asked to remain close by and keep an ear to the ground and an eye on the Bridewell gate. If Sarah and Holly were to be suddenly released he should take them immediately out of the vicinity of Cummins’ authority – Holly to Omagh and Sarah back to Dublin. In the meantime Titus threw himself back into the work that he had neglected since the arrests. Jack’s teams in Down had done a fast and thorough job in their preliminary survey of the area. Titus now reassumed control of the workforce while Jack sped to Omagh, and commenced a more detailed study. He appointed men to call on the landowners in the area and authorised them to borrow maps and deeds where available. Soldiers under Cuffe’s command escorted them to impress on these owners that this was less of a request and more of a command. The survey carried the imprimatur of the crown and their cooperation was strongly advised. Others he despatched to survey the common or forested lands – ground often sparse in detail or omitted altogether from landowners’ personal charts of their holdings. While this was being done he summonsed Griffin and Lynam, Cuffe’s young lieutenants, and together they took the remaining three men of the survey team to the north Down lowlands near the border with county Antrim. Titus was aware that he was most likely being spied on and it was essential that between now and Pringle’s arrival that he at least appear to be going about his lawful business. What he actually wanted in the area was to meet a man – one name on Robinson’s list that he hoped might prove helpful in his enquiries regarding Sarah’s father.

Robinson had indicated Ezekiel Barrington of Ballygowan as a definite ally, and though the man’s assessment of Cummins had proven more than in error, Titus suspected from what Robinson had told him in Dublin of Barrington that he was a different proposition entirely. For one thing he was new to the area – Titus was now convinced that there could not exist in Ulster a man born there and who held a balanced view. Barrington had long lived in Dublin but had a falling out with William Petty some years back (this alone would have marked him out as a sound man in Robinson’s view) and had relocated his business to the fledgling port of Belfast, there to found a philosophical society of his own. Through marriage he had acquired a small estate some distance south of the new city and had invested heavily in a shipyard in Belfast, as well as extensive flax plantations on his estate, both ventures having proved exceedingly profitable. His activities did not stop there however. He was a leading proponent in the campaign to establish a university and agricultural college in the new town, and was also a great benefactor of the poor, having established and endowed many institutions designed for their relief. Originally from Scotland, Barrington’s drive came from his religious convictions; at once the reason why he had to quit his native land and why Titus hoped his views might prove more trustworthy than many others he could solicit in the area. Barrington was a Quaker. In England, this alone might have seen him imprisoned or deported. In Ireland it merely served apparently as a token of peculiarity, and though Quakers were commonly mistrusted by their neighbours here as in England, those like Barrington - whose contributions to society far outweighed all other considerations - were accepted, if not valued, for their impartiality in a society so riven by ecclesiastic divides. While in Dublin he had made quite a name for himself, amongst other ventures, in championing the cause of the linen weavers, who he had unsuccessfully tried to organise as a guild along the lines of the more older trades. His efforts had been defeated as much by the intransigence of the weavers themselves – divided into separate guilds on sectarian lines – as by that of the merchants, who benefited enormously financially from the weavers’ lack of unity. Though his efforts there had been in vain, there is no doubt that they would have familiarised him with the name of Eoin Reilly, if not the man himself.

Titus hoped to find the man at home and was not disappointed. Nor was he disappointed by his interview with him. Barrington, a man in late middle age but sprightly and quick witted, seemed genuinely delighted to hear that Titus was an associate of William Robinson. His questions regarding Titus’ surveying commission revealed a lively curiosity and a profound understanding of the trade, so much so that Titus soon found himself enjoying too much an argument with Barrington concerning the weighting of calculations used in wide triangulations when accounting for the earth’s curvature, and almost forgetting the reason why he had sought this interview in the first place. He could think of no subtle way in which to bring the conversation round to Eoin Reilly so at a rare pause in the dialogue switched tack abruptly.
“Mr Barrington, you once attempted to represent the Dublin weavers.”
“I hoped that they might better represent themselves. This country’s future can only benefit from a healthy and better organised textile industry. At the minute we overproduce the resources for little profit. Were we to concentrate also on an efficient method of converting the resources into fabrics and goods, then much benefit could derive from it. Alas in Dublin the industry as it stands is completely disunited. It is a pity. Could they only see how they would profit from uniting and reinvesting in their trade, then they would not only earn themselves riches, but set a sound example to other trades too.”
“A view shared I believe by Eoin Reilly. You knew him?”
“Ah, Eoin. I do of course. Eoin’s fault is that he is so engrossed in the welfare of his Liberties’ weavers that he often picks arguments with the very men he should be recruiting to his cause. Moneyed men will often drastically adjust their principles when it is shown to them how their money can be made to grow.”
“You know he is dead?”
This news seemed to shock Barrington. “No, I did not. He was not an old man.”
“He was murdered.”
Barrington had been standing by his desk as he spoke. Now he sat down abruptly and gazed at its surface as if the bad news he had just heard was written in the wood. He gently traced his finger along its grain for a moment before he spoke again. “Poor Eoin. I liked him. Though it is true he could be hot headed in an argument and never shirked from speaking his mind, honest as it was. I am sure he made many men hostile to his cause who would have been better flattered into supporting it, but murder? Is it known why?”
“No sir. Save that he was a Catholic who in recent years embarked on commercial pursuits.”
“Yes. He traded in specialist equipment. That is how I learnt of him first.”
“Poor Eoin indeed. It was his ambition to enter commerce for a long time. He spoke often of only being able to achieve his aims should he be able to deal with his adversaries as an equal, at least in that respect. In many other ways of course he was far their superior.”
Titus could see that Barrington had a fondness for Eoin Reilly, even if he had disapproved of his lack of subtlety. He decided to press his enquiries further and hoped that he wasn’t overstepping a boundary in doing so. “There is a probability that William Petty is in league with those who commissioned the act. I believe from Mr Robinson that you and Petty parted on less than friendly terms some time ago. May I be so bold as to ask you for an assessment of the man?”
Barrington, whose tone had been hushed since hearing of Reilly’s demise, suddenly perked up and shot Titus a quizzical look. “Petty, a murderer? I think not, sir!”
“I am sorry. I did not mean to imply that. Only that Dublin is dividing into two camps and that Petty seems very much a stalwart of one, like Reilly was of the other. And he has been seen supping with persons very much suspected of involvement in Eoin Reilly’s murder.” Titus knew that what he said, to an intelligent man like Barrington, must reveal that his own involvement in the affair went well beyond concern for the untimely death of a business acquaintance. But he had to hear Barrington’s answer, and if that meant arousing suspicions in the man, then that was a price that must be paid. “I have met with Mr Petty and found him a gruff, rude and vain man. I must confess that I did not take to him at all. I understood you were of like opinion, but I hoped better informed than I. I would appreciate your opinion of him.”
Barrington coughed lightly and pointed to a tall bookcase by the window. “Do you see the top three shelves there sir? Every damned book on them is by that gruff, rude and vain man, Mr Perry, and every one on its own would merit the man’s name be remembered for posterity. I am proud to have known him, but would be equally proud just to have lived at the same time as him, and learnt of him only through his works.”

Titus was beginning to feel that he had made as monumental a gaffe in supposing Barrington’s character as he had Cummins’ and began to feel distinctly queasy. Damn Robinson and his ‘allies’! To err once had almost proven catastrophic to Titus and his friends. To err twice, especially in this part of the world, must be tantamount to suicide. But it was too late now. Barrington’s tone was growing more strident as he continued.
“Proud, sir! That is indeed the term I use, as it is exactly what I feel. Unfortunately for Mr Petty, it is also the term that applies to his own assessment of his contributions to society, and alas, we know what the good book says about excessive pride in one’s own achievements. Petty is a genius and knows it. Good Lord, does he know it!” He pointed to the bookcase again. “Now, sir, do you see the shelf beneath that again?”
Titus glanced across to where Barrington indicated and nodded.
“There are volumes you won’t find sold in the booksellers of Castle Street, nor studied by Trinity collegians. Privately published and bound, each one. And each one denied a life for fear that it might attempt to share in the lustre of those above it.” Barrington strode across to the shelf and pulled a book from it, handing it to Titus. It was entitled “Projections and Hypotheses Concerning the Populations of the Kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland, and Ireland.” Another book was handed to him immediately – “The Arguments in Favour of Independent Taxation and Cess”. Both shared the same author – Ezekiel Barrington.
Titus examined the frontispieces and saw that both were dated some years ago. “He stopped you publishing them? How?”
Barrington laughed. “Them and more. Oh, he did not have to issue an edict. Nor did he threaten anyone, at least in so far as I know! It was enough for him only to pass the word amongst his friends. You see, Mr Perry, old Petty may be a genius, but he is an insecure one.”
“Surely his security is not in question!” Titus could not understand what Barrington might mean. “He holds an exalted place intellectually and politically …”
“Indeed he does. But the nearsighted old man you see now was once a nearsighted young man of little or no education who ran away to sea while still a mere youth. Did you know that?”
Titus admitted that he did not, nor that Petty’s eyes were so afflicted.
“Oh yes – as blind as a newborn pup, hardly a recommendation for one who wishes to pursue a maritime career. Fifteen years old and as knowledgeable of the ways of this world as a young pup too. And what befell this poor deluded youth on his great adventure?”
Titus shook his head.
“He was thrown off the bally ship by his shipmates with their voyage hardly underway!” Barrington paused for effect. “One can only imagine when one hears him pontificating now, how much less endearing was that quality from one so callow and wet about the ears! Anyway, his fellow crewmen either grew tired of his jawing or frustrated with his myopia. Either way they pulled in to a harbour in France and then neglected to inform our young genius when they were pulling out again!” Barrington laughed. “So, what did our hero do? Most youths would have tried to wangle a trip home – with contrition in their hearts for their folly and with a vow never to venture so far from their mother’s bosom again. But not William Petty! His eyes might have been frail, but not his ears. In no time he had mastered the language sufficient to scrounge a living and the next thing he’s got himself enrolled in college – a Jesuit one at that!”

Titus laughed along with Barrington. Picturing the cleric-hating old man, not to mention the infamous Cromwellian scourge of Irish Catholics in his heyday to boot, as a befrocked and scrub-faced scholar in a French Jesuit school almost defied the imagination.
“God knows what he learnt there! Or maybe we should say ‘God knows what he failed to learn there!’ Within a few years he was back in England and passing himself off as a physician no less! Though by all accounts – especially his own – a good one. Good enough in any case to enlist with Cromwell and serve his army in that capacity.”
“By what you say I would surmise that the man’s confidence and abilities, even when young, were boundless, and still are. Hardly those of an insecure man?”
“Or exactly those of an insecure man, Mr Perry! We cannot know what he must have felt on that French quayside watching his ship pull away without him. Or what taunts and jeers he had to endure from its occupants prior to their abandoning him! Intelligent he may have been, but he was still only a boy, and that very intelligence would have merely served to amplify the childish hurt and despair that he must have endured. He would have been forgiven for feeling bitter.”
“Indeed he would.” Titus almost felt sympathy for the young Petty. “But his reaction to his predicament shows a remarkably confident nature.”
“Born of pride, sir. He had failed in his adventure and vowed never to fail again. He walked away from that French quay looking with hatred over his shoulder at those who had done him ill, and vowed never to find himself in that position again. Nor has he, and nor has he failed to stop looking over his shoulder either. In Petty’s mind, always just behind him are creatures conspiring to pull him down. He is driven to keep one step ahead of them and indeed this has raised him to exalted heights. But the man is ever a mere stumble from failure in his own mind, and in his zeal to avoid it, often mistakes those beneath him for those demons he sees on his tail.”
“Like you?”
Barrington sighed. “And many others more deserving of opportunity alas. I tried to explain to him that it would only enhance his reputation further were he to foster those talents in others that he so zealously buried.”
“I take it that he did not concur.”
“No, he did not, though he couched his reply in less absolutist terms, I can assure you. It would be wrong for me to infer that he conducts an embargo on all intellectual output that might rival his own, as even he knows that to believe this would be pure folly. The world is a bigger place than that and there are other cities, and other colleges, where Petty is known only through his books. The tragedy for him, though he fails to see it, is that it is in these places where the esteem of his reputation is held highest, untarnished as it is by familiarity with his person. But where he exercises most influence, the accusation alas holds truth.”
“And this was why you were not sorry to quit Dublin yourself?”
“I had other reasons too, but there you have it. You asked for an assessment of the man and there is mine!”
“Thanks you, Mr Barrington. You have given me some insight into his mind and I must say it explains much that I have heard and experienced myself.”
“But I will not hear that the man is party to murder!”
“No sir, I was crass in my use of words and I again apologise …”
But Barrington waved aside Titus’ stammers with a smile. “We still write you know, Petty and I. He is compiling a thesis on the economic revolution that is occurring here in our corner of the kingdom – especially in the flax growing - and pumps me for information occasionally, knowing my involvement and expertise. You see, the man might be proud, but not so proud as to let personal differences interfere with what he lives for – erudite and intelligent analysis. And for that I respect the man, and know that his character flaws mean nothing when judged in proportion to his purpose.”
“I understood his current project was an atlas of Ireland.”
“Oh I am sure it is, and about a dozen other things too. That was always his way – to work on several projects at the same time. There is the boat too of course.”
“A boat?” Titus remembered William Robinson making passing reference to the same thing. Robinson had mentioned that it would be launched later in the year, and was looking forward to its failure, though he had not said why he expected it to fail. At the time Titus had assumed that Robinson merely wished Petty ill with all of his projects. But Petty was not fool enough to risk the embarrassment of publicly launching a badly built vessel, nor Robinson fool enough to be certain of its failure without good reason. This was obviously not merely just another boat, and Barrington confirmed his assumption.
“Ha! Not your usual vessel, sir. A ship with two hulls no less, which he hopes will impress Mr Pepys, the keeper of the navy’s purse strings. Much more stable than a conventional craft and capable of bearing more powerful ordnance firing with greater accuracy. He built one before, years ago, which sailed moderately well but then the navy was destitute and pitted in a war against the Dutch. They had little enthusiasm for experimentation. This one however will be bigger and better, and this time the navy are prepared to commission it should it pass its trials.”

Barrington spoke of the project with the eager excitement that a young swain might employ in anticipation of a horse race, and Titus had to admit that the notion excited something of the engineer within himself too. He found himself asking the Quaker for more details of the ship’s design but the man was infuriatingly vague – not because of any desire to deliberately obscure his knowledge of the venture, but because such details were covered in a veil of secrecy that even Petty’s colleagues in the Philosophical Society in Dublin and in London’s Royal Society could not get him to divulge, nor even hint of what to expect. The result of course was that the forthcoming trials, to be held in Dublin Bay, were already exciting wide interest, and many spectators – some, it was rumoured, from as far away as Russia – were expected in Dublin for the occasion. The ship’s construction, for the purpose of secrecy, had been allotted to two contractors – a shipwright to construct the hulls and then an engineer to supervise the joining of them. The engineering firm, owned by a man with the apt name of Bolt in Greenwich, would only be engaged in the project when the twin hulls had been readied for coupling, and at this point the original shipwright and his crew would be denied access to their own shipyard, though compensated suitably of course for the inconvenience. This overt circumspection on Petty’s part had already excited comment and debate. Some saw it as evidence that they were about to witness a revolution in ship design so radical that its patent had to be protected thoroughly. Others dismissed it as a stunt on Petty’s part, designed to arouse interest in his project and therefore help advertise it to those who mattered, the potential buyers in the Navy Office in London.
The truth was probably a bit of both – Petty had good reason to guard his technique from too much inspection prior to completion, and indeed to use whatever tricks he could to sell his idea to his customers. After all, three times already had the Navy entertained his ambitious ventures only to see their ships, as well as their investment money, sink without trace. And it was in the coupling of the hulls where Petty’s three earlier prototypes had essentially failed. The Invention I, Invention II and The Experiment were each, in effect, two small ships tied closely together. In a straight line they could surpass any other ship of their weight for speed and stability, but turning them, even in favourable weather conditions, proved a horrendously difficult task. With Petty’s early ships, one hull acted as a brake to the other and this meant that in battle they could too easily be outmanoeuvred and assaulted. Worse, each hull had its own rudder, and unless they turned with absolute synchronicity the pressures on the ship’s structure could prove its undoing, as indeed had happened with The Experiment, which had snapped its rudder catastrophically when caught in a storm in the Bay of Biscay.

Although Petty’s new project was shrouded in secrecy, Barrington could report that some vague details of the ship’s design had indeed become known – and allegedly from Petty’s own lips too. The man was canny enough to know that the success of his venture could well hinge on how well he could keep it a secret from competitiors – both his country’s and his own – but at the same time it would have been most unlike the man to hide all his light under a bushel. Whether it was merely vanity on his part or indeed the shrewdness to realise that some advance publicity prior to the trials could only help his cause, Petty had ‘confided’ some aspects of his project to others. The new ship’s rudders, for example, would be controlled by a single shaft – a radical departure from the earlier designs, and one that any shipwright knew presented a multitide of problems, despite its seeming simplicity. Such a mechanism required not only complex gear structures more fitting to clock design than maritime engineering, but also necessitated a flexible and watertight joint where the apparatus entered and exited each hull. It was this last feature that would always be a twin-hulled ship’s achilles heel. No matter where such apertures were located they would always be prone to admitting water – what seamen on warships often referred to disparagingly as ‘bilge-cunnies’ – but unlike gun portals or anchor doors, which at least could be closed when not in use, these breaches of the hull’s integrity would be forever open and therefore make constant pumping necessary, an expensive and wasteful use of a ship’s manpower. Petty was well aware that his design proposal raised these very doubts in men’s minds, but laughingly dismissed them with the assurance that this very problem would be remedied with a solution even more radical than that of his steering mechanism, the utilisation of materials never hitherto used in maritime engineering.

But that was as much as Petty had yet admitted, enough to tantalise the imagination but not enough of course to preguess his plan. All would be revealed at her trials later in the year. Barrington reckoned that October would be a logical time for such a trial. It was known that the Duke of York, patron of the Royal Navy, intended to be in Ireland that month in any event, and most likely would be escorted by a fair number of the Navy’s board. Even if the board members themselves might be sceptical, should James attend the trial and be impressed, then their scepticism would come to nought and the success of Petty’s design would be assured. The weather normal for that time of year would be ideal in sailing terms also, with typically strong offshore winds and low rainfall. If the ship was to be shown off to its full advantage to a gallery assembled on the shore, and one that included such an important juror to boot, then such conditions could only help.
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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 5) :: Comments

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Xartis Psyxis - Chapter 14 "Awakening" (part 5)

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