It was late in the afternoon when Professor Schliemann, of Berlin, reached a hotel in Dungannon, a small town in the north of Ireland, having arrived in the country the day before to visit the scenes of the Nine Years’ War in the sixteenth century. As the first authority on Old and Middle Irish and the Celtic languages, he was surprised to find that his name was unknown to Mr. Murphy, his landlord. His work on the Milan Glosses and the elucidation of obscure terms in the various manuscripts he had examined, had placed him in the fore-rank of Celtic scholars. For some time he had been engaged on a history of Ireland from the death of the last High-King, Roderick O’Conor in the eleventh century, to the flight of the Earls in the seventeenth. His object was to prove that Irish Gaelic history ended at that period; a view he held in opposition to that of his friend the French Celtologist, de Narbonne, who denied that Ireland had become politically, linguistically and socially an English province from that date.
When he had dined, he went to see the ruins of Hugh O’Neill’s castle. They stood on an eminence, surrounded by trees, and a wind like a dirge moaned through the branches, while some drops of rain fell. Desolation, ruin, death, the tragic passing of a race, the wind caoined to his ears. Here, indeed, he felt the truth of his contention; and taking his notebook from his pocket, he began to write, moving slowly forward. Unnoted, a heap of stones and rubble lay in his path. Stumbling, he fell, and as he descended into darkness, his head struck some hard substance and he knew no more.
A tall thin man with a refined and bearded face was bending over him when he opened his eyes. “I am afraid you are hurt,” he remarked.
The Professor sat up and looked around. Electric lights revealed a large room, with a vaulted, groined roof, and walls lined with iron doors. One stood open. On a shelf he saw parchments, papers, and large leather bound volumes.
The stranger spoke again. “If you will tell me where you live,” he said, “I will drive you there.”
Schliemann rose slowly to his feet. He felt confused and giddy. A few broken words in German fell from his lips.
“Come with me, sir,” said the gentleman, and took his arm. “The fresh air will revive you.”
He led him from the room, and up a flight of steps. The stairs brought them to a large hall, whence they passed into a courtyard. A full moon shone upon the walls of a great building that formed three sides of the square. Lights gleamed from its windows.
Crossing the courtyard, they reached a gate, guarded by a sentry. A wide street led past handsome buildings. Between rows of trees ran a central walk; and the white electric lights shone upon a statue of a man on a great marble pedestal with bas reliefs of martial figures. The man wore a crown; his hand was on a drawn sword.
A large car stood under one of the lights. Guided towards it by the stranger, Schliemann got in, and lay back on the cushion. He began quickly to revive, and his thoughts grew clearer. As the car passed rapidly through the streets, he saw he was in some unknown city. “Where am I?” he asked.
“In the royal city of Dungeanainn,” his companion answered. “I am taking you to my house. I shall be happy for you to rest there and we can summon a doctor.”
“It is very kind of you, sir. I left Berlin three days ago to make an exhaustive study of the scenes of Hugh O’Neill’s wars in the reign of the English queen, Elizabeth. And that I may not trouble you unnecessarily, I now recall where I was staying. It was at Murphy’s hotel in the Main Street.”
The gentleman listened courteously; he made no answer. When the car stopped before a large house, he helped the Professor to alight. They crossed a handsome hall, and went into a room whose walls were hidden by shelves laden with books.
Excusing himself for a moment, the gentleman left the room. Schliemann sank on a chair, and glanced around. His mind grew clearer. Not long ago, he remembered, he had been in O’Neill’s ruined castle; and the last room he had seen was the shabby and not overclean one in Murphy’s hotel. He was now in a house that evidently belonged to a man of wealth and culture. There had been a sequence of events. He would follow them. First, he was in the ruin entering a statement in his notebook. Then he had stumbled; fallen over stones, and descending into a vault or dungeon, had lost consciousness. So far was clear. Discovered there, he had been brought to the chamber (probably by the gentleman in whose house he now found himself) of some municipal archive, some underground library, and still half stunned, had been further helped by this person.
His glance fell on a book that lay on a table near his chair. He took it up and opened it. It was an epic poem, written, he was interested to find, in Irish. The preface informed him that it was the work of a writer in the seventeenth century, and, considered one of the masterpieces of the world, had been translated into every European language. He looked at a second book, a series of lectures on radium in Irish. A glance at a third revealed a novel in the same language, also said to be a masterpiece.
Interested in these discoveries, and feeling better, he rose and examined the nearest book shelf. The majority of the works were in Irish, dealing with every branch of knowledge. There were books in German, but none of his own; and copies of all the extant classics of the ancient world, together with works in Arabic, Hindostani, and the modern European languages.
A large volume presently caught his eye; he drew it from its place. “Ireland from the Reign of Aodh I to the Accession of Niall II,” it was entitled. Some humorous production, he thought, as he opened a page. But the work was closely printed, and had notes and a long list of authorities.
He went back to his chair, and read its table of contents. That of Chapter I ran thus: –
“Condition of Ireland politically and socially in the sixteenth century. – Aodh O’Neill. – Aodh Ruadh O’Donnail – Coalesion of North and South. – The Arrival of the Spaniards. – Elizabeth of England, her policy as carried out by her Viceroys and agents. – The Battle of Kinsale: total defeat of the English. – Aodh O’Neill’s march on Dublin. – Capture of Dublin. – Aodh O’Donnail defeats the enemy in Connacht.”
The tables of the next Chapters showed the restoration of the Irish monarchy, the gradual settlement of the nation, the rebuilding of Tara, the Laws revised, the development of trade; the revival of Art and Literature, and the increasing prosperity of the kingdom. The Professor laid down the book and looked around again. A glass case, set in an oak frame, attracted his attention. It stood on ornately carved legs; from each hung a fine steel chain. A cluster of electric lights hung above it.
He got up and looked into the case. The glass was set in lead; beneath, on white silk, lay two open vellums. The size of the page and the penmanship differed in each. Both manuscripts had the appearance of immense age. He regarded them with increasing interest. It was in the examination of such ancient books that his most important work lay. He took out a magnifying glass, and bent over the case.
The door opened, and his host appeared. He paused on the threshold, and fixed a keen glance upon the Professor. What he saw was a little man with a large head covered with thick white hair still showing here and there traces of its original flaxen colour. The thin firm lips were pursed below the broad and somewhat turned up nose. The face was clean-shaven.
From behind a purple curtain came the voices of a man and woman. The Professor raised his head. He closed his glass as he saw his host.
“You are better, I am glad to see,” the latter said.
“Yes; but these books, these vellums – they interest me exceedingly. If they are not forgeries, you have here two pre-Patrician vellums long lost to the Celtic world.” The Professor swung his glass.
“They are not forgeries, and it is as you say,” was the reply.
The Professor bent again over the case. No one could tell better than he if they were forgeries. But the examination of the script would be the work of months.
“I am the possessor of the one extant copy of the Codex Dromsneachta,” the gentleman continued. “And, also, of the second known copy of the Psalter of Tara. The other copy is in the royal library at Tara. Many scholars visit me to see them.”
The Professor sought for his card-case. “I must have left it in Murphy’s hotel,” he muttered. Then in a louder tone: “My name is Schliemann, I am Professor Schliemann of Berlin.”
His host bowed. He did not appear to be impressed by the name, or to be aware that he was in the presence of the greatest European scholar of Old and Middle Irish. “My name is Duald MacFirbis,” he replied.
“A descendant of the great genealogist?”
“There have been several of my ancestors of that name. We have been hereditary historians of Connacht for sixteen hundred years.”
“I am glad to meet you,” the Professor said warmly. “You can help me, I am assured, in the research I am about to undertake.”
“It will give me much pleasure to serve you,” was the courteous answer. “And from finding you in the archives of the palace, you have, I conclude, permission to pursue your researches there.”
“Ah, that is the mystery! I cannot explain my presence in that chamber from which you rescued me. Only this afternoon – unless I have lost count of time – I was in a small town called Dungannon. I was examining the ruins of O’Neill’s castle, when I met with an accident. I tripped over some stones, and fell into a vault, and knew no more till you kindly came to my aid.”
There was a pause; MacFirbis’s eyes studied his face. “I should advise you to rest,” he said. His tone sounded to Schliemann unnecessarily solicitous.
“Later, later,” he answered, impatiently. “There is much to interest me in this room. Those priceless manuscripts, your clever extravaganza,” he pointed to the history, “a reversal of the actual facts.”
“It is my work. It is not exhaustive, but as far as it goes it is exact.”
“An exercise of the brain, of the imaginative faculty, I presume, to show how the history of Ireland might have been written.”
“It is the history of Ireland, and I have been careful in my authorities.”
The Professor stared in his turn. “Crazed,” he thought, “or carrying on a stupid joke.” He planted a hand on each hip as he gazed into the other’s face.
He was about to speak when the purple curtain was drawn aside. Through an open door he caught sight of a table set out for dinner. Across the threshold came a girl in a gauzy evening dress, carrying a white cat in her arms. “I hope Midir is not here,” she said, addressing MacFirbis as she stroked the cat.
“He is in his kennel, Sorcha. Has Geoffrey gone?”
The girl’s colour deepened a little. “He has not gone,” she replied.
A chair was pushed back in the next room, and a man’s step crossed the floor. “No, Historian, I am here,” a voice said.
A young man appeared in the doorway. Straight-limbed, tall and handsome, he wore a dress, or uniform, that fixed the Professor’s attention upon him. The tunic was white, collarless, and embroidered in gold in interlaced Celtic ornamentation across the breast. A wheel-brooch of gold clasped a short white cloak with a deep fold of scarlet, that hung from the right shoulder over the back. His kilt was of white; the leggings, strapped by dark bands, were tipped with gold. He wore an emblazoned sabre-tash. The sword was in a chased scabbard.
His eyes passed over the Professor, blank of interest. They turned to MacFirbis. “I have an hour before I go on duty,” he said. He glanced towards a clock and corrected himself, “two hours,” he added.
“You will, then, dine with us,” said MacFirbis. He looked at the Professor. “This is Ceannfeadna Geoffrey Keating,” he said, “a young officer in the King’s Foot Guards.”
“You bear a distinguished name, young sir,” the Professor answered. “But may I ask what the prefix Ceannfeadna means?”
“You are then not acquainted with our military titles,” said MacFirbis, “in spite of your excellent Irish, which interests me, as it is a mixture of the medieval with idioms and sounds more confined to our peasants. Ceannfeadna means captain.”
“You are in a Scotch regiment, I conclude, I have seen your Highlanders.”
“I am in an Irish regiment, sir,” said the young man, “in the King’s Foot Guards. This is our palace dress. We have more serviceable clothes for active service.”
“In King Edward’s?”
“In King Niall’s.”
The Professor was silent. A suspicion grew within him; he was in a private asylum for lunatics. He half turned to the door leading into the hall, then paused. He could not leave the manuscripts unexamined. Brief as his gaze at them had been, they appeared to be of great antiquity.
MacFirbis asked if he felt well enough to join them at dinner. The invitation was courteously pressed again, as he replied that his dizziness had passed. It was repeated by the girl with a grace and charm of manner, as she looked at him with blue sane eyes, that reassured him that she, at least, was in possession of her senses.
He found the wines excellent, the dishes choice. Two men-servants were in attendance; these he eyed several times, wondering if they were the keepers.
The white cat sat on the girl’s chair, looking with its secret green-blue eyes across her shoulder. Every now and then she talked to it. Captain Keating said little; he seemed preoccupied. MacFirbis and the Professor carried on a conversation, learned and heavy. Presently a servant announced the arrival of the doctor for whom MacFirbis had sent. He rose at once, and invited Schliemann to follow him.