“If you will join me at lunch in my house,” he then said to the Professor, “I shall be delighted to have some conversation with you, and show you my collection of enamels.”
“You can accept the invitation,” whispered MacAodha in Schliemann’s ear, “for the Historian of Connacht will be in his place in the Cathedral, and later will have to attend the King in the Palace.”
Schliemann’s hesitation was momentary. The spirit of the investigator was aroused in him. The more persons he met, the more sights he saw, the greater the probability of his being able to solve the mystery of his surroundings. He walked with Keating from the house of the Aire-desa to a street near one of the city parks and in the neighbourhood of the Palace.
The Ollamh’s house showed evidence of wealth, and taste in its owner. The paintings in the wide vestibule and in the drawingroom struck the Professor as works of great beauty; and he noted rare vases and splendid treasures of art on the handsome cabinets and tables. Keating introduced him to his wife, a fragile-looking woman reclining on a couch. She had delicate features and a gentle, languid air, and excused herself in German from joining them at lunch.
During the meal the two men conversed upon the politics of Europe, and the Professor was interested to find that the monarchs and presidents that had been governing their countries before he entered Hugh O’Neill’s castle were the heads of the powers whom the Ollamh knew. Some confusion of the various political situations arose when Keating referred to an Irish ambassador and to a treaty between the King of Ireland and the French Republic. From politics they passed to a discussion of the source whence Dante drew his “Divina Commedia”; and both agreed that he had been influenced by the “Navigato Brendani” and the life of Saint Fursa. It was not till the servants had left the room that Keating touched on the subject of his son.
“As we are now alone, Sai Schliemann,” he said, “I would ask you a question about my son, Geoffrey. From what you said when we were in the house of the Aire-desa, it appears that you know more of his life than he has allowed his father to know. Was it – or did I misunderstand you, as I imagine I must have done – was it at the house of the Hereditary Historian of Connacht that you met him? It seems incredible, and no doubt I am mistaken.”
“I fear,” replied the Professor, “that I shall arouse your anger and bring your displeasure on the young man’s head, when I reply that it was. Is he your only son?”
“My only son,” an iron gleam came into the Ollamh’s eyes. “And it was there you met him?”
“He is in love with Sorcha MacFirbis and she with him.”
The Ollamh rose from his chair. He looked at Schliemann with the gaze of a man face to face with some frightful fact; a gaze, dark, stern, astonished, expressive of a mind struggling with a passion incoherent and dumb for the minute; then he turned and paced the room.
Presently he paused. “This news that you tell me is the worst in the world that I could hear,” he said; “worse than the death of my wife or the loss of my fortune. What grounds have you for saying that my son loves the child of a man whom I regard as my enemy?”
“I heard Captain Keating tell MacFirbis that he loved his daughter last night,” replied the Professor, “and that the young lady loved him.”
“And—” Keating’s voice suddenly took a note of menace that made the Professor move in his chair, “and what did the Hereditary Historian of Connacht say?”
“He appeared extremely angry. He refused to listen to him, and ordered him to leave the house.”
“In ainm De!” – the words had a steely ring, and for a few moments the Ollamh seemed about to give vent to his fury. Then he swung round and paced the room again.
“It might have been wiser,” Schliemann thought as he watched him, “had I remained with MacFirbis than entered the den of this infuriated parent. Here we have, it appears, in the twentieth century the feud of the Capulet and the Montague re-enacted.”
The silence lasted a couple of minutes, then the Ollamh came back to the table. There was a white hue about his mouth, and his eyes were like flint. But he had succeeded in controlling the violence of his rage, and his voice was calm.
“I must ask you to pardon me,” he said, “and I am deeply grateful that you have told me of this thing. It is a severe and unexpected blow. I gave the name of Geoffrey to this boy, my only son, calling him after the great Ollamh Geoffrey Keating, the first of my family admitted to the Hereditary Order of Historians. I gave him that name, praying he might have the wisdom and spirit of that learned man. I consecrated him to the purpose to which my father had before consecrated me. When a military ardour seized him and he preferred joining the army, I was filled with regret, and remonstrated, for I had hoped he would have followed the profession hereditary in our family from the reign of Niall I, but when my words could not move him, I yielded, and sent him to the Military College, where he passed, I will say, his examinations with credit” – the Ollamh paused – “and now, my woe! my bitter grief! the boy has done far worse than forget the traditions of his family, and is a disgrace to me, to his mother, and to the name of Keating!”
“I sympathise with you,” said Schliemann,” especially in your son having taken the profession of arms instead of adhering to what I consider a most interesting survival, the Hereditary Profession of Historian. But, as the two young people love each other, is there no way by which peace could be made between you and MacFirbis?”
“There is one way,” said Keating, sternly, “the restoration of the stolen vellums, the Dromsneachta and the Psalter of Tara.”
“I hear that you claim them,” exclaimed the Professor, “and that they were in the possession of your family for nearly two centuries.”
“They were the property of my grandfather, and had come into his hands through five generations. They had been given in the seventeenth century, in the reign of Niall I to the Ollamh Geoffrey Keating by Duald MacFirbis, Hereditary Historian of Connacht, in gratitude for kindness shown to him when he sought refuge in his friend’s house during the wars in the West. The books, though claimed by every successive Hereditary Historian of Connacht, remained in our family till 1820. They were then stolen by the grandfather of the present historian.”
“That is a serious charge,” said the Professor, “and one I should think the Law – you have laws, I conclude – would put right.”
“It has failed to do so,” said Keating, grimly. “For greater safety, as he thought, my grandfather placed the books in the library of the National Museum in Baile Atha Cliath before he went abroad. It was a fatal mistake. They were seen by MacFirbis as he was showing Sir Walter Scott (at that time on a visit to this kingdom) over the galleries. The next day MacFirbis visited the library, bringing certain documents with him, and claimed the books. The Chief Librarian consulted the Keeper of the Museum, who again consulted the Four Hereditary Historians, Laighin, Mumha, Midhe, and Uladh, and in the end the books were handed over to MacFirbis. Unfortunately, my grandfather, though cited to return, failed to do so by the given date, the mandate reaching him too late. He brought the outrage before the Courts of Law, and when they failed to do justice, he petitioned the King. But even this supreme appeal was useless, and the robber kept his stolen goods.”
“You have, indeed, a grievance,” remarked the Professor.
“A grievance which I live to right!” was the determined answer, “which I am bound to remedy. It may not surprise you to hear, Sai Schliemann, that so seriously did my grandfather take the matter that he made a solemn vow that he would devote his life to the recovery of the books. He further made a will in which he commanded that each eldest son of our family should take a similar vow when twenty-one, and that if he refused, he was to be disinherited. My father took the vow, and so did I. My son is twenty-three. Two years ago on his coming of age he vowed with all the solemn and impressive form with which the vow is enshrined, to restore the books to his family, and should he fail, to administer the same oath to his eldest son. And now, he not only entered the robber’s house, but forgetful of his sacred pledge, of his duty to his father, has sought to ally himself with this Delilah, the robber’s daughter.”
“Love is a madness which we old forget,” said Schliemann. “I feel, indeed, that it is a matter on which I can offer you no advice. But I think you will never recover the books by violence. They are guarded. Four locks and chains, an iron shutter, and a savage dog secure them from the attack of any thief.”
“You have seen them!” exclaimed the Ollamh.
“Through a glass case. I am about to ask their owner to let me examine them. The words are so obscure, the penmanship so archaic, that I feel here is work worthy of my best powers.”
The door was thrown open as he spoke, and Geoffrey Keating swung into the room. Unbuckling his sword, he greeted the Professor, and then sat down at the table. His father rose and went to a window, where he stood with his back to his son.
“We have been standing for hours,” Geoffrey remarked, helping himself to a dish. “The General was under the impression – how he got it heaven knows! – that the King would leave Tara at midnight.”
“Tara!” said Schliemann, his interest quickened. “I am making a monograph on the causes that led to the desertion of Tara. Pray tell me, young man, does the King – the person I saw to-day – does he still observe the ancient geis which forbade the High King to be in bed in Tara after sunrise?”
“Not to the letter. When Tara was rebuilt and occupied by Aodh II, the question of the geis was discussed, and the King being an energetic man, history says, observed it. Niall I did the same, and so did King Seaghan. But Niall II liked his bed of a cold morning, and using his kingly authority, appointed a King’s Deputy, who, when the Court was at Tara, had to be out of bed and salute the sun when it rose. It is now done by the officer of the night guard, who, with a trumpeter, stands at the East Gate, and as the sun rises above the horizon, the latter sounds the Sun Call.”
“This is very interesting,” said Schliemann, taking out his notebook. “A survival out of the dark of time. Are all the other royal geasa observed? Can the High King go on board a ship on the Monday after May Day, or go round North Leinster left-handwise, or traverse Moy-Callain after sunset?”
“They are all modified. But you must ask my father. He can tell you about these things better than I can.”
The Professor rose and approached the stiff and silent figure by the window. “I must record what has survived of these taboos or geasa,” he said, “and all information on the subject will be of value to me in my monograph on European taboos.”
The Ollamh turned. “You will understand,” he answered, in a low, frozen tome, “that I place my books at your command, only too honoured that you should study them. But, illustrious Schliemann, I cannot converse any longer with you in the presence of my son. I ask you to follow me to my library.”
He strode from the room with so ominous a face that his son’s hand paused as he was about to raise a glass of wine to his lips.
“Is my father not well?” he asked, turning his eyes on the Professor.
“He has had a shock,” said the Professor.
The officer rose. “A shock?”
“My young friend, sit still. Do not meet an evil half way. At present your father and I have business together. Later on you will have your interview with him.”
“But the nature of the shock?” said Geoffrey Keating.
“You will learn before night, or, perhaps, not till to-morrow.” The Professor went towards the door through which the Ollamh had passed.
But he had the tact not to prolong his visit, for though the Ollamh was most courteous, taking from his shelves, and laying before him, the books that dealt with the ancient geasa of Ireland, he saw in the hard and absent expression of his face that his thoughts were concentrated on the news that he had heard.
He returned in Keating’s motor car to the Historian’s house. MacFirbis was still at the Palace, and the Professor judged his absence a good opportunity to examine the vellums and copy the exposed pages. But as he put his hand on the handle of the door of the library, a fierce baying answered the touch. At the same moment he heard a footstep behind him; turning, he saw the butler.
“Your pardon, and it is my sorrow that you should be delayed, noble one,” the main said. “But the door is locked, and the Staruidhe (Historian) keeps the key.”
Schliemann turned away. Through an open door, on one side of the hall, he caught a view of the garden. The broad flight of steps leading down to the sward was flooded with sunshine, and there was the perfume of roses. He put on his hat and went out.
As he paced the paths between the trellis-work covered with red and white and pink and yellow roses, the sounds of the city came to his ears – a passing band, bugle and trumpet notes, the roar of traffic. Once he paused and looked at the house. It was a big, handsome building, with flowers and interlaced work carved in stone above the windows. At one of the lower windows he saw two uplifted paws and the great head and white powerful chest of a hound. A deep, vindictive bark came through the glass.
Presently the butler came out, and the baying ceased. The man gave Schliemann a letter, and standing a few paces off, appeared to wait for an answer.
The Professor read the letter slowly, studying penmanship and spelling. “Tell Captain Keating I await him here,” he said, when he had finished the inspection.
Then he bent over a rose. He delighted in flowers, and had a garden of his own in Berlin, with roses which he boasted were the most beautiful in Germany. The flower he smelt was coral-pink, very large and fragrant.
When he raised his head, he saw Geoffrey Keating coming towards him down the path. The officer’s eyes had the steely gleam that his father’s had worn. He stopped short before the Professor.
“My letter,” he said, “has told you that I wish to know why you have thrust yourself into my private affairs.”
The Professor raised his hand deprecatingly. “I am aware of your trouble, and understand your present anger,” he replied. “It was by a sentence – accidental and unpremeditated, I assure you – which I uttered, that let your father know of your attachment to Sorcha Nic Firbis. And seeing my mistake, I hoped to soften the Ollamh’s heart by acquainting him with such details as had come under my observation.”
Keating’s eyes flamed. “You meddlesome fool! Do you wish to dig in hearts as you do in ruins!” he exclaimed. “You have done irreparable harm! My soul and conscience! if you were not an old man I would challenge you!”
Schliemann looked suddenly interested. “A challenge! Then, unlike the sister island, you have not abolished the duel? It is the Fircomlainn, the Truth of Combat, no doubt. And do you still observe the five days’ interval between the date of challenge and the fight?”
“I would not give you five minutes’ grace—” the young man suddenly paused. “Pardon me,” he said, changing his tone, “you had some trouble with your head, and God forbid I should touch a madman.”
He turned away, and swung down the path. At the same moment, Sorcha appeared on the steps. She gave a little cry, and ran to meet him, and he hastened towards her.
The Professor bent again over the rose, but the lovers’ voices reached his ears.
“If my father should come!” the girl gasped.
“I had to come, Star of Knowledge, Pulse of my Heart,” Keating answered. “That old madman, Sai Schliemann, told my father that I had asked the Historian to consent to our marriage.”
“Oh! But it cannot be worse than that my father should know.”
“My grief! it is. Sorcha, pearl of pearls, I made a vow.”
“Vows can be broken!”
“Not with honour. If I keep this vow, it severs us for ever! It is about the manuscripts! And I made the vow before I knew you. No! do not draw away. You shall stay in my arms.”
“You must keep the vow.”
“Yes! But you, too, heart’s treasure, I shall keep. Listen! I swore this oath lightly two years ago. I swore to be the enemy of every MacFirbis till I recovered the two cursed books, the Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta. I swore that was the object of my life. – Lean your head against my heart. – Listen to my new vow. I swear here that I keep you in life, that our graves shall be together, our place in heaven side by side!”
A minute later there was the sound of retreating steps, and the baying of the dog broke out again, deep-throated, vicious. The Professor looked over the rose-tree; Sorcha stood alone, her face buried in her hands. The scene had touched his kindly heart; he approached her gently.
“Do not weep, my child,” he said. “I see a way to make peace. You are your father’s only child, and, united to Captain Keating, the books will again be in the charge of a member of that house.”
Sorcha raised her head. “You are mistaken,” she replied. “I cannot be Hereditary Historian of Connacht. It is my cousin, Maelmuire MacFirbis, who will succeed my father.” She turned away.
“But why?” asked Schliemann, following her, interested in her answer. “Have you changed the ways of your forefathers? I read of females in high authority in your Tales, of the female physician Airmeda, of Brigh Brugaid, the female brehon, of Maive, Queen of Connacht.”
 In the name of God!