They returned to the library. A full-bodied man stood on the hearth-rug. He had a strong jaw, and eyes that seemed to swoop on the faces they saw and hold them by some invisible hook. MacFirbis introduced him as the Physician O’Liaig, and left the room.
“I am sorry to hear you have met with an accident,” the doctor said. “The Historian’s phone led me to think it was serious.”
The Professor looked at him cheerfully. “I am delighted to see you,” he answered. “I suppose you are the visiting doctor here. Yes, I met with an accident. I was in the ruins of O’Neill’s castle, and while making an entry in my notebook, I tripped over a heap of rubble and fell into a dungeon. There is a soreness on the right side of my head, but otherwise I feel quite well.”
The doctor left the hearth-rug; he stepped up to the Professor, and looked at his head. “There is a swelling and an abrasion,” he remarked. Opening a bag he took out a bandage, lint, and a bottle, bound up the wound and advised the Professor to go to bed. “The swelling will soon be reduced,” he added, “and a night’s rest will make you all right.”
The Professor pushed out his lips. “No, no,” he exclaimed. “I am an elderly man, and do not mind appearing before the charming Sorcha with a bandaged head. You are a doctor? May I speak to you in confidence?”
“Then kindly inform me am I in a lunatic asylum? And further, I should like to know the name of this city in which I now find myself.”
The doctor busied himself for a moment with his bag. “I can assure you,” he said pleasantly, “that you are not in a lunatic asylum. You are in the house of a high official, the Hereditary Historian of Connacht. As to the name of this town, it is the royal city of Dungeanain.”
“But this is extraordinary. Before my fall I was in Ireland, in a small country English-speaking town called Dungannon, and my last recollection before my fall was that I stood in a ruined castle that had been the home of Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, in the latter part of the sixteenth century.”
“The impression can be explained,” the doctor answered, “what you want now is rest. Your brain has had a shock. Take the medicine I shall send you, and in a few days you will be yourself again.”
They shook hands, and the Professor watched him leave the room. Then he sat down, laid a hand on each knee, and stared before him. A question faced him, that required, he felt, an instant answer. If he were not in the society of lunatics, where was he then? Some link had snapped in his memory. Tales of men who had lost their memories and were found wandering in districts where no one knew them rose unpleasantly before him. Weeks, months, might have elapsed since he stood in the ruined castle. That he was in Ireland appeared probable; it was even certain. But where in that country did the higher classes speak Irish? And what men had written the mass of literature in that language that stared at him from the shelves?
His eyes travelled to the case. Wherever chance had thrown him, he had made a most important discovery. He must test the age of the vellums, and put the script to a searching criticism. The Psalter of Tara was a third century work, and the Codex Dromsneachta might even be older. The writing, the language appeared more archaic, more obscure than the oldest of the Glosses. Should the vellums prove genuine, or, as more likely, ancient copies, he must secure them.
But his thoughts troubled him again. The lost memory, the leap in the dark from the ruined deserted castle to the vaulted chamber with its iron doors. There was a mystery; he must find the clue.
As he sat thus absorbed, staring with knitted brows into space, he was aroused by voices in the dining-room. He looked round; the door was ajar. The tones rose; the words reached his ears.
“I regret that you do not see the impropriety of your request,” he heard MacFirbis say. “It is impossible for me to give my consent. I have permitted you to come to this house, not extending to the son my quarrel with the father.”
“But I beg you to reflect, Historian, that I love your daughter, and that she has this evening promised to be my wife.” The second speaker was Geoffrey Keating. The Professor rose and went to the end of the library. Standing before a large enamelled clock, he examined the work. But the voices reached him there.
“This but shows that I should never have permitted the intimacy,” MacFirbis replied. “Your visits here must end, and before long my daughter’s good sense and her affection for her father, will show her than an alliance between a Keating and a MacFirbis is impossible.”
“My father’s quarrel is not mine.”
“It must be. The Ollamh Keating makes an absurd and unwarrantable claim to the Psalter of Tara and the Codex Dromsneachta. He even dares to charge me with keeping stolen property.”
“I have heard, Historian, at least he and my grandfather held that they had good grounds for claiming the books. But this is nothing to me.”
MacFirbis’s voice thundered through the room. “What! You believe the charge, young man!” There was a silence. Then MacFirbis again. His tone was frigid, “I must ask you to leave the house,” he said. “I decline to speak with you further, I forbid you to address my daughter from this hour. No! it is not necessary for you to attempt an explanation. You need not apologise. Your father’s quarrel is yours!”
There was the sound of a door being opened; someone went out; it was closed again. Shortly afterwards he heard MacFirbis’s voice behind him.
“I trust your head will soon be healed,” he said calmly, as if he had not just come from a stormy interview with his daughter’s lover. “Perhaps you would like to go to your room?”
The suggestion was waived aside. The Professor pointed to the case. “Are they genuine?” he asked, “those two vellums.”
“I can assure you they are,” MacFirbis answered. “They are very ancient, and have been in the possession of my family for a great period of time. Yet for one hundred and sixty years they passed out of our hands.”
“Then are you sure that these are the original manuscripts?”
“Quite sure, for they passed into the hands of men who belonged to the Hereditary Order of Historians. Besides which, no copy or forgery could have deceived us.”
The Professor walked up to the case. “This is very interesting,” he observed. “I regard their discovery as of great importance, and they will throw much light on the study of Old Irish. It may, indeed, be possible that they are pre-Patrician copies of the works, of which we know there were later redactions made by monkish scribes, but which have been lost.”
“Some late copies, or rather fragments, remain. But the value of the two vellums I possess is immense. They are actually the work of Pagan scribes; and the Hereditary Order of Historians has pronounced the Codex Dromsneachta as the original work, while my copy of the Psalter of Tara dates from the lifetime of King Cormac MacArt, and is a century older than the one preserved in the royal library of Tara.”
“Tara!” the Professor exclaimed, “Tara is a collection of mounds.”
“True, it was for centuries, but it has been a royal palace for three hundred years. But I am sure you are still feeling the shock incident on your fall. Your room is prepared, and as I have forgotten the name of your hotel, I have told my body-servant to provide your wants from my wardrobe.”
“I thank you, I shall be glad to accept your hospitality for the night. The hotel is in the Main street, Murphy is the name of the proprietor.”
“A foreign one, English, I imagine. I will look in the Directory. There will be a procession through the city to-morrow. The King leaves Tara by an early train to make a state entry into the city. He will proceed to the Cathedral to offer thanks to God for the recovery of the Righ-damna.”
“The Heir Apparent, Prince Conn O’Neill.”
“I will go. – I will go to bed.”
“It is the safest course after your injury. Pray follow me.”
The two men left the room. They went upstairs to a large and handsomely furnished apartment. A bottle with medicine stood on a table; MacFirbis advised a dose. O’Liaig was one of the cleverest doctors in the city, he said, especially in cases of mental shock, such, for instance, as would result from a fall. He lingered a minute longer to wish his guest a restful night, and to hope his head would be better on the morrow.
When alone, Schliemann’s mind wrestled again with the mystery of his surroundings. Was he in a lunatic asylum? It seemed the rational explanation of the circumstances in which he found himself. Yet it did not satisfy him. That hiatus in his memory – hours, weeks, perhaps months to be accounted for.
Another and weird answer suggested itself. His name was to be found on the list of Associates of the Psychical Research Society. Had he been thrown into a hypnotic condition by the fall? And was it his other self, his astral body, that now moved through these strange scenes? As one who had glanced at Psychology, the question interested him. Supposing the hypothesis to be true, it was possible that he might be able to see books that were no longer in existence.
Then he drew back sharply from this train of thought. He struck his legs and arms and chest, and smiled. No, he was solid, flesh and blood and bones; not a shadowy form of unknown and unweighable quantities. Instantly, the desire to look at the vellums seized him again; he started from his chair. There was a light in the passage when he looked out. It was empty, and the doors along it were closed. Softly he went forth; softly past the doors, along the corridor, down the wide stair, across the hall. He turned the handle of the library door.
Something rose from the moonbeam on the floor; a great dog. It fixed green-fire eyes on the Professor. He drew back, closed the door and returned to his room. There were iron shutters on the case, secured by the chains.