The gardener touched his glibbe and shouldered his spade. He was short and dark, with a long upper lip, a wide mouth, flat nose and heavy jaw. On cheeks and chin were sparse black hairs. The Professor’s stare slowly changed, and his eyes grew mild and contemplative.
‘A survival,’ he thought, ‘one of the under-races. This man’s ancestors were in Ireland before the Gael.’
He had written a monograph on the Cave-man of Europe, and had theorised on the sounds of his language. He had maintained that in his descendants, to be found all over the Continent – these sounds survived. The man before him clearly belonged to this primitive race; and he questioned him with an attentive hear.
‘Cahil MacBuan,’ he repeated, gratified to find that he slurred his vowels and telescoped some of his words. ‘You follow a good profession. And in my opinion you are a descendant of the Atticotti, of whom probably you have never heard.’
‘Noble stranger, I have been at school,’ replied the gardener. ‘And they put a king on the throne of Erin. But it is not of those old times I trouble my head. I am busy daily with the flowers and fruits of the earth, and study the ways of worms and birds.’
‘And among your flowers I see rare and beautiful roses. I shall look at these glorious blooms.’
The Professor paused by a row of standards bearing crimson and yellow and white blossoms, but the gardener, walking on, turned into the yew path. Schliemann presently followed. As the afternoon was fine, he decided that he would sit on the sunny side of the castle and enter some notes in his book.
He dismissed the man at the end of the walk – taking, after a moment’s hesitation, the spade and line – and made his way to the ruin. The river gleamed on his right, deep at this part, and flowing silently between its banks. Higher up, to the left of the castle, there was a ford, and the water sang in the shallows. He went with a slow step over the flower-starred grass to the shadow of the crumbling keep, and ascended the mound. The interior of the castle was flooded with a sunshine that brightened to gold and emerald the mosses on the stones.
Crossing to the side where the wall had fallen, he stood by the edge, and, with his hands clasped behind his back, surveyed the scene. A sturdy figure he looked. His soft felt hat shaded his eyes from the sun’s rays; his thick white hair streaked with flaxen, gave him in the luminous air the appearance of some seer of older days. His dogged air, his resolute chin, were tempered by the genial gleam from his eyes.
His gaze crossed the river, and wandered through the park till it rested on the road leading to the great ocean-city. Now and again a cart, or carriage, passed, going up or coming down the hill. If ascending, they emerged into view from a wood on the plain; if coming from the west, they broke into sight on the crest of the hill. As he looked, a motor car appeared on the summit, and came rushing down the slope. Its colour was pale yellow or cream – he was not sure which – with a dark line. With raised eyebrows, he followed its course till it vanished in the wood.
‘The Ollamh Keating! He ejaculated. ‘I ought to warn my host.’
But he did not move for some minutes; then, as he spurned the spade at his foot, and was about to turn away, his glance was arrested by a figure on the other side of the river. It approached the bank, and entering the water, waded through the shallows. It was Geoffrey Keating.
‘So, so, I was right,’ Schliemann thought. ‘It was the Keatings’ car.’
He planted his feet firmly on the ground; his air became more stubborn and aggressive. He watched the young man run up the mound and leap over the masonry, with disapproving eyes.
Keating greeted him; he leant his shoulders against the mossy wall, and glanced at his wet boots.
‘This sunshine is delightful,’ he remarked.
‘I thought we had left you in Dungeanain,’ the Professor said shortly.
‘You did; but I am here. Sai Schliemann, Sorcha thinks you are willing to help us. Is she right?’
‘You have the merit of directness, Captain Keating. I will be as brief. No. I have no power to help you.’
‘Pardon me, you have. The books are to be placed in your hands.’
‘I have told you that I will not put them in your hands without a guarantee that they are to be returned to the Hereditary Historian of Connacht.’
‘I am prepared to give it. Here is a copy of the document in which I promise to return the books. Another copy I shall give Sorcha, and the original, when you have seen it, shall be placed in a cover, and sealed, and left in charge of the Keeper of the Archives of the Ollamhs, in Baile Átha Cliath.’
The Professor took the offered paper, and slowly read it through. Then he folded it up and put it in his pocket.
‘I believe you to be a young man of honour,’ he said, briefly.
‘You then consent?’, said Keating.
‘On conditions. The Historian gives me the books to-morrow, and it will take me a considerable time – a month at the least – to read the scripts.’
‘By the saints of Erin! Too long,’ exclaimed Keating. ‘Sorcha is to be my wife before then.’
‘Indeed, indeed!’, said the Professor, testily. ‘What, then, is your plan, sir lover?’
‘That you give the books to Sorcha to-morrow. And let her know that I shall wait for her here.’
‘Perhaps you are not aware, Captain Keating, that I am expected to dig in this ruin; to look for Norman gold, and bring down the walls.’
‘That, of course, is your work, and it is digging that has made you famous. But will you be kind enough to defer it till the day after to-morrow?’
‘And should I do so, and you meet Sorcha here, she bringing the books—’
‘We shall cross the river, step into a motor, and drive to a friend’s house fifty miles from Tir-da-Glas. I shall leave her there, motor to Dungeanain, show my father the books, and redeem my oath.’
‘Proceed,’ said Schliemann, in a caustic tone. ‘I perceive that my intended study of the books has passed out of your sight.’
‘Not at all, noble one. Having shown my father the books, I inform him that it is through your help I have been able to restore them to his care. But, that having seen them, I must return them to you for a few days, a condition of that help. My father, a man of the highest honour, will respect my promise. At the end of a month, you will put the books into his hands.’
The Professor’s pugnacious air lessened. ‘Go on,’ he said.
‘I return to the neighbourhood with them, and give them to you in this castle. As you will be engaged in your excavations, there will be no difficulty in our meeting. Then I rejoin Sorcha and make her my wife.’
Schliemann stood silent. His kindly and somewhat sentimental heart made him favour the plan. Of course, his important, his supreme work was to secure the vellums; but he could do that and yet agree to the part Keating had assigned him. Then, the moment the books were in his hands again, he would go to Dublin, see the German ambassador, and return to Berlin, stopping in Paris on the way thither to show his prize to de Narbonne. When every page had been photographed, he would send the vellums to Keating, writing at the same time to MacFirbis to assure them of their safety and ultimate restoration to the Hereditary Keepers.
‘I accede to your request,’ he said, presently. ‘But the books must be in my hands again in four days.’
‘In three, and a hundred thousand thanks. I am under an eternal obligation to you; and tell Sorcha I shall be here at eight to-morrow evening.’
‘I have a conscience, young man,’ said the Professor, ‘and it asks me am I right in helping you to elope with my host’s daughter? It will be a severe blow to him.’
‘Only for a time,’ replied Keating. ‘He adores Sorcha, and not long ago showed me every token of friendship and kindness. It will be a brief storm.’
‘I trust so. Certainly I think Sorcha will be happier with you than she would be as the wife of Maelmuire MacFirbis, for whom, I imagine, her father designs her.’
‘Ah,’ Keating drew a deep breath.
‘Your eyes blaze. The Tanist would, I expect, like to put the pretty pink rose in his garden. Well – I will give your message.’
‘May you be seven times better than now! I shall wait by the keep.’
‘An exposed position. Look! I see your motor car going up the hill.’
Keating straightened himself alertly, and glanced in the direction. ‘That fool of a chauffeur has mistaken my order!’, he exclaimed. ‘I left him three miles beyond the station.’
‘But you came from the direction of the seaport city,’ replied the Professor. ‘Perhaps, young man, I had better tell you that I expect the Historian to join me here.’
‘Then I will be off. My message to Sorcha, noble one! and the blessing of God with you.’
‘May God prosper your way,’ the Professor returned, giving the usual farewell; but he said the words gruffly.
He watched the young man wade through the ford, and cross the park to the boundary wall of the road. Then, lighting his pipe, he sat down on a stone, with his back to the river. Before long, he heard the splash of oars on the water, and glanced over his shoulder. A boat with two men in it had drawn close to the bank. One got out, and he recognised Mr. Amos Moss. He came with an elastic step towards the castle, and ascending the mound, clambered over the broken wall. As he saw the Professor he raised his hat.
‘Busy with the Old and Middle, Professor?’, he remarked in English. ‘I did not expect to see you here. It was only yesterday we were pricing up King Aodh. Well, I’m pleased to meet a man of your knowledge again.’ He held out his hand.
The Professor took it stiffly. ‘So you have come west?’, he said.
‘I have, sir. Are you digging here?’
Schliemann shook his head.
‘I saw your spade. I have been told you are the great archaeologist. If you have any antiques you wish to sell, you’ll not get, I guess, a higher price than I can give.’
‘My work is not here,’ said the Professor, shortly.
Moss looked round the ruin and then in the direction of the house.
‘Are you touring, Professor, or visiting?’, he enquired.
‘I am the guest of the Historian of Connacht,’ the Professor replied in Irish.
‘If you are returning to the house I will accompany you,’ Moss replied in the same language. ‘I hear the library is a fine one, and as it is Celtic, I may get some ideas for mine in Chicago.’
‘But I understand that the Historian and you, Mr. Moss, are not acquainted, and moreover that you have pestered him with letters about his two famous books.’
‘I guess you are right. He has had several letters from me which he has not answered, and the opportunity now offering, I shall call in person.’
‘Then you must understand, Mr. Moss, it is not I who shall bring you to the house.’
The American smiled slowly. ‘I will not force myself on your company,’ he answered. ‘I will call later.’ He raised his serge cap, and turned away.
Schliemann strolled back to the house. At the end of the yew walk he met the gardener. The man was clipping a branch, and he stopped and spoke to him. Presently a procession came on the terrace; two men carrying a litter on which lay the dog, Midir, with a bandaged paw, and behind them the Historian and the butler, Cormac. The party crossed the terrace, and turned off in the direction of one of the gardens.
‘If the brute is dead,’ said the gardener, who had paused to watch the sight, ‘I trust they will put the carcase under a rose tree.’ He began to clip again.
‘A utilitarian spirit in this Atticotti,’ thought Schliemann, and seeing Sorcha appear on the terrace, he went to meet her.
The girl seemed to know he bore a message for here. Turning pink and white in turns, she listened to him. When she learnt that he would give her the books on the morrow, and that she was to meet Geoffrey Keating in the castle, she assumed so winning and charming an air that the stings of his conscience were forgotten for the moment. Then she kissed his hands and ran into the house.
An hour later as he looked from a window in the drawing-room, he saw MacFirbis coming along one of the paths that led from the high-walled garden, in company with a man whom the Professor’s prolonged gaze discovered was Moss. As they drew nearer, he saw that they appeared to be engaged in friendly conversation. They passed on to the terrace, and presently went out of sight.
He did not meet MacFirbis till dinner. In the course of the meal, MacFirbis mentioned an interview he had had with a gentleman who had come to view the ruins.
‘I met him,’ he said, ‘as Cormac and I were taking poor Midir to the house of the animal doctor, whom I keep on the estate. He addressed me courteously, struck with the size and beauty of Midir, and asked to be allowed to examine him, as he had wide experience in the treatment of animals. He appeared most skilful, and accompanied me to the house. Later, I tried to persuade him to join us at dinner, but he had to return to the town.’
‘I think I saw you walking with him,’ said Schliemann. ‘Did he tell you his name?’
‘Yes. MacMossa, a curious name. But how did you get on at the castle? I hope MacBuan was of some help.’
The Professor slowly peeled a peach. ‘I have not yet completed my plan,’ he said. ‘In four days’ time I may be ready.’
A bright colour rushed to Sorcha’s face. She had been sitting silent, absorbed, the Professor guessed, in the thought of her flight till he spoke. She looked at him, then at her father, but did not speak.
When they entered the drawing room a little later, MacFirbis asked her to play one of the nocturnes of Ua Siodha. ‘You know them, of course,’ he said to Schliemann. ‘Play, Sorcha, Tir-na-nOg.’
She obeyed, but when she had finished the famous nocturne, she rose, and saying that the music had fled from her fingers, took the white cat, and went out on the terrace.
Not long after, Cormac brought a telegram to the Historian. When he had read it, he said with a smile: ‘We shall have a visitor to-morrow. Maelmuire will be here by noon.’