When MacFirbis returned an hour later he found the Professor in the garden taking notes on the rose-trees. After some conversation on the plants, they went into the house and entered the library. The dog looked at Schliemann with hostile eyes, and only ceased growling at the second command from his master.
The butler brought in tea and coffee, and while the Professor drank a cup of the latter, MacFirbis said he had an important letter to write, and asked to be excused for a few minutes. As he sat down before a table and began to write, Schliemann’s eyes rested on the case containing the vellums; and no sound broke the silence in the room for a time but the scratching of the pen.
The door presently opened and a young man came in. He appeared about twenty-eight, and had flaxen hair, and a moustache so fair as to be almost white. His light-blue eyes had a cold gleam.
“Am I late?” he asked, crossing to the Historian’s side. “I was out when you telephoned.”
“No, just in time,” MacFirbis answered. “I have not finished my letter. Let me present you to the illustrious Sai Schliemann, discoverer of the Palace of Knossos. This is my kinsman and Tanist, Sai Schliemann, Maelmuire MacFirbis.”
Both men bowed; the young man then poured himself out a cup of tea, and turning towards an easy chair, sat down. The Professor put his empty cup aside, and sitting well forward in his chair, brought the tips of the fingers of both hands together.
“The survival of your title and position is extremely interesting,” he said.
“I think we are the only nation in Europe that has hereditary historians,” the Tanist replied, the drops of tea on his pale moustache.
“To-day I learnt something of your orders of nobility,” continued the Professor. “And as the Gael is instinctively an aristocrat, I would like to know what is the condition politically and socially of the mass of the people, and what rights they have. To begin with, have you Anarchists?”
The Tanist played with his tea-spoon, and smiled as he glanced at his cup. “The word is unknown in Ireland,” he answered. “Our people were guarded in the seventeenth century from the tyranny and aggression of the nobles. To-day the laws protect them from the greed of individual who would combine, as in America, to make great fortunes at the expense of the public. We have no poor-houses.”
“And among your four million, what is the average of crime?”
“Crime among our thirty millions is less than in any northern country. If you attend the reception at the Palace to-night you will meet probably one of our most eminent Brehons, who will give you full information on the subject.”
MacFirbis rose from his chair; he held a sealed letter in his hand. It was in an official looking envelope, with a coat of arms emblazoned on it.
“Excuse my interrupting your enquiries,” he said courteously to Schliemann, “but this is on important business.”
The Professor stood up. “No,” said MacFirbis. “Pray remain. It may be well to have a witness, and I shall be honoured if you resume your seat.”
Schliemann obeyed, and as he sat down, caught the cold gleam of the Tanist’s eyes.
“I have received a letter from Ollamh Keating,” said MacFirbis with some solemnity of tone and manner. “This is my reply, and I telephoned for you, Maelmuire, that you as my Tanist should give it into the Ollamh’s hand.”
“Now?” said the young man.
“Now. But wait.” Maelmuire had risen somewhat slowly. “I have to speak on a second and even more personal matter.”
“A private one?” The Professor thought the Tanist gave him a glance from his lowered eyes as he spoke.
“Yes. Sai Schliemann, pray remain. I am honoured that you should be present at this conference with my Tanist. You met Ceannfeadhna Keating here last night. Did you observe anything in his manner towards my daughter?”
The Professor turned his gaze on the Tanist. The young man was looking down, but there was an air of attention in his attitude as if he listened intently for the answer.
“I observed that your daughter and Captain Keating are in love with each other.”
Maelmuire suddenly raised his eyes.
“A passing fancy on the part of both,” said MacFirbis. “My daughter is very young, and in a few months she will have forgotten him. Last night, Maelmuire, Geoffrey Keating asked me for Sorcha’s hand. I have forbidden him my house. But the Ollamh has heard of the proposal, and he has written me a letter which removes finally any hope I had entertained that our families would yet be reconciled. The matter has now become serious.”
“I should say, Historian,” said the Tanist smiling, “that the affair has come to a happy ending.”
“It is serious,” repeated MacFirbis. “It appears that the Keatings for three generations have bound themselves by an oath of a fearful and solemn nature to steal – for I have no other name to call the act they contemplate – the Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta. The Ollamh informs me of this himself.”
“You will warn the police, of course,”—the Tanist’s voice was quiet and slightly contemptuous.
MacFirbis looked at him with an air of grave rebuke. “I fear you have something of the modern unchivalric spirit, Maelmuire,” he replied. “I belong to an older school, and the feud between the Clan Keating and the Hereditary Historian of Connacht is not one to be rudely discussed by every small lawyer in Erinn. The Ollamh Keating has honourably told me of his intention. And with the help of God and Saint Ciaran, I shall be able to protect my books.”
Maelmuire stood silent for a minute. “I see,” he said presently, addressing MacFirbis, “that the American’s offer of one hundred thousand gold screpall for the Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta has got into An Rioghahas.”
“I saw the paragraph,” said MacFirbis, “and was astonished that the editor had inserted it.”
“You did not answer the man, I think you said.”
“No. The offer was an impertinence on the part of the American, and not one that I could notice. These millionaire Americans” – MacFirbis looked at the Professor – “hold nothing sacred. They believe that gold can buy honour and the soul of man.”
“Indeed,” said Schliemann, “I agree with you. One of them – an oil king I think he was – offered me a large sum to forge a manuscript for him.”
The Tanist turned away, pausing for a moment to pat the dog’s head. Then he glanced at Schliemann. “I shall have the pleasure, I hope, of meeting you again,” he remarked. “Perhaps you will be at the Palace tonight?”
“Sai Schliemann,” MacFirbis answered before the Professor could reply, “will be my guest, I trust, as long as he stays in Ireland, and will accompany me, I hope, to the Palace this evening. I mentioned your name, Sai Schliemann, to the Ard Righ, and he commanded me to bring you to the reception.”
The Professor bowed in acquiescence. A moment later the door closed upon the figure of the Tanist.
“I am sorry to say I have failed to find your luggage or the hotel you mentioned,” said MacFirbis. “From its name it is evidently kept by a foreigner. I shall communicate with the police, as I fear you fell into the hands of some dishonest persons. In the meantime you will perhaps do me the honour to wear the Court suit I have provided.”
Schliemann thanked him. “As we seem to have an hour to spare,” he said, rising from his chair, “I shall be glad to have a closer look at the guarded vellums. I must make friends with your dog.”
He approached the case, but paused before the angry attitude of the animal.
“Be silent, Midir!” MacFirbis called out, and rose and joined the Professor. “You shall look at the books, and welcome,” he said. “I submit them with confidence to your inspection.”
He touched a spring, and raising the case, took out with reverent hands the Psalter of Tara, and gave it to Schliemann. As the latter touched the vellum, he was seized – as if some fiend had taken possession of his mind – with the fierce cupidity of the bibliomanic. The book and its companion, a voice within him said, must be secured. It was not a theft but a duty to take them!
“There is a page in Ogham at the end,” said MacFirbis, “in Irish that required to be glossed in the fifth century. It is a summary of one of the Tales, and is highly valuable as a light upon the attributes of the gods. My friend Mac Aodha has annotated Ua Cuinn’s ‘The Gods of the Celts,’ which has hitherto been the standard work on Irish Mythology, throwing much light on the gods from the study of this Ogham.”
Schliemann was suddenly conscious of a faint smell that emanated from the vellum. It was that of some wild flower whose name had escaped his memory. The smell, though sweet, gave him a curious sensation; it seemed to visualise before his eyes, and as a mist obscure the letters.
He was sitting in a chair when the sensation passed, and the book was no longer in his hands. MacFirbis was holding a glass of water to his lips.
“My grief! my friend,” he said anxiously, “I am afraid you have not yet recovered from that blow on your head.”
“It is impossible that I fainted!” exclaimed the Professor, staring about him.
“You became suddenly giddy and staggered. The vellum fell from your hand – it is safe and restored to its case. I led you to this chair. And, now, shall I send for the doctor?”
“No! Most certainly not!” said Schliemann, decisively. He stood up. “I am perfectly well.”
He walked with a firm step towards the case. The dog’s hair bristled; it growled. Silenced by its master’s voice, it lay down, keeping its eyes on the Professor as he looked at the open pages through the glass, while MacFirbis, reading the ancient lines aloud, explained the meaning of the obsolete words.
When the Professor went to dress for the reception at the Palace, he found the Historian’s valet waiting in his room. He was about to dismiss the man, when his glance fell on the costume he was to wear. It was a dark red brocaded satin tunic threaded with gold, with lace on collar and cuffs, a cloak of white satin with a border embroidered in gold and red; white satin breeches, silk stockings, and shoes with gold buckles. He stared at the garments for a minute, his hands clasped behind his back, his feet well apart.
“It is well de Narbonne does not see me,” he thought, as he finally decided to put them on, “or my friends in Berlin.”