As the Professor drove with MacFirbis and Sorcha to the Palace, he leant back for a time in the corner of the carriage to avoid the eyes of the public, but finding presently that he attracted no attention, his curiosity made him alter his position, and gaze with interest through the windows. When they reached the Palace gates, MacFirbis pointed to the crowned figure on the pedestal. ‘That is the statue of the founder of the present dynasty,’ he said; ‘Aodh I of the restored line.’
On alighting, they entered the Palace, and passing handsomely-robed officials and tall soldiers in the vestibule, they crossed the Black Marble Hall to the Green Marble Hall, and to the Hall of Porphry, whence they ascended a white marble stair to the Cedar Gallery. Down this gallery they followed a brilliantly-dressed crowd of men and women to the Bog Oak Gallery, where the fine carvings on the black walls, done by famous artists, were pointed out by MacFirbis to Schliemann. In the centre of each panelling the carving was interlaced with silver, which relieved the sombreness of the walls, and glittered in the light of the electroliers. From this gallery they reached the ante-chamber of the Throne Room, a vast and magnificent apartment, famous and unique among palaces, the Historian said, for the enamels on its walls.
The Professor’s eyes moved with interest among the courtiers. The tall fair men and women in their splendid and bright-hued robes recalled to his mind the words of Giraldus Cambrensis, that ‘in Ireland man maintains all his majesty. The Irish have countenances of exquisite colour, and bodies of great beauty, symmetry, and strength,’ and he muttered the sentence to himself in the original Latin.
The entrance of the King was announced by musicians playing the National air. He was accompanied by the Righ-damna, Princess Findebair, the Princess of Midhe, and the Five Princes of Erin. The hereditary officials of the Court followed, and took their places about the royal group. Seneschals called the names of the guests, and each in turn advanced and bowed to the King, his son and daughter and sister, and to the Five Princes.
Schliemann approached the King in the wake of MacFirbis, and was graciously welcomed when presented by the Historian. Making his series of bows awkwardly, he then passed on. As soon as the presentations were over, the King left the dais, and with the members of the royal family and the five princes, moved about amongst the guests.
Schliemann found himself presently in a group of men who belonged to the learned bodies of the country. They were well versed in the politics of Europe as he understood those politics. Amongst them, he discovered, were men who had made some discovery in science, or had written books that had appeared to move the thought of Europe. Yet the discoveries and the books he had not heard of. Those made in science were of great value, he recognised, though the processes, were not explained. He began to question the scientists, and found that they were under the impression that he was speaking of facts, which as a learned and highly-educated man, were, of course, well known to him. They used terms and spoke of forces the meaning of which were obscure to Schliemann. Changing the language in which the conversation had been carried on from Irish to Latin, he found himself able to grasp the subjects; and soon brilliant flashes of thought, set alight by the men’s words, crossed his own mind. He was introduced to others, whose names he was supposed to know as a matter of course, painters, sculptors, musicians, and authors, whose conversation delighted him by its brilliancy and wit.
From this fascinating company he was withdrawn to be presented to the Princess of Midhe, who was deeply interested, he was told, in Archaic Greece. She had written a book pointing out the connection between the early gods of Greece and those of Ireland; and greeting him warmly in German, carried on the conversation in that language. Her subject, to his annoyance, was his supposed discoveries on Greek sites in Asia Minor, and his answers were brief and guarded. He had had a moment’s hope that as she had ‘dabbled’ in literature – for in this contemptuous light he regarded her work – she would confine her conversation to books, when he might attract her attention to his Old and Middle Irish studies, and thus establish his own identity.
But the Princess persisted in keeping to the subject of his work with the spade. She was a handsome woman with a regal air, charming manners, and a slightly commanding tone. He felt powerless before her, unless he bluntly refused to answer.
As he could not be silent, he described some ancient ornaments taken from a tomb which he had seen in a museum in Athens; leaving her, though not intentionally, under the impression that he had opened the tomb. He then passed to the subject of myths, firmly keeping the conversation upon the gods and cults of Greece and Ireland, and delighting the Princess by his vast knowledge. When the interview came to an end, she promised him a copy of her work, and invited him to her palace, Tlachtga, in Midhe.
As she moved on, Schliemann turned round, and found Maelmuire MacFirbis standing at his elbow.
‘You have made a friend of our clever Princess, Sai Schliemann,’ he remarked. ‘She generally likes to be listened to, but on this occasion your fame made her your listener.’
‘She appears to be a remarkable student for a woman and a Princess,’ the Professor replied bluntly.
‘You are no courtier, then, nor have a high opinion of the intellectual powers of women. By the way, I was much interested in your description of those ornaments which I saw myself when I was in Athens last spring, and which were discovered fifty years ago.’
There was nothing in the perfect politeness of the Tanist’s tone to remind Schliemann that he had allowed the Princess to think he had found them on the site of an ancient city. Yet he had an impression that Maelmuire knew it, and that he appeared an impostor.
‘I am far more interested in ancient literature than in the work of the archaeologist,’ he replied, ‘and I have made a special study of Old and Middle Irish. The Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta; for instance, have more interest for me than the finest ornament the spade may throw up.’
The Tanist slightly bent his head and stroked his white moustache. ‘Many share your opinion,’ he said. ‘But there are other valuable manuscripts in the kingdom. You should visit the Royal Library at Tara. Do you spend some time in Ireland?’
‘About a week.’ Schliemann stopped abruptly, as if a hand had been laid on his lips. His position rushed before him, made vital by the question: What door would open and let him out? His own will?
He turned away. Moving through the courtiers, he saw Sorcha standing alone by one of the doors, and the retiring figure of Geoffrey Keating crossing the threshold. The Professor went nearer. Suddenly she glanced in his direction, and smiling rather shyly, came towards him.
‘Let me point out some of the pictures to you, Sai Schliemann,’ she said sweetly, a bright colour on her cheeks.
‘Very good,’ he answered, and offered his arm. Her offer was kind, he thought, considering he was middle-aged and no doubt an uninteresting person to a girl. He gave her a fatherly glance. She looked radiant and beautiful, her patrician head poised high, and her eyes blue wells of light.
‘That picture,’ she said, pointing to a great canvas on the wall, ‘is the Combat of Cuchullin and Ferdiad at the Ford. It was painted two hundred years ago, and is an Ua Donnchadha. He had a secret for fixing his colours. Sir Joshua Reynolds tried to discover the secret a hundred years later, but failed.’ Her clear voice suddenly sank.
‘Sai, you are interested in the Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta?’
The Professor stopped. ‘Extremely so,’ he replied.
‘Do not stand still, and pray speak lower. Is not that my cousin Maelmuire over there?’
She raised her voice again. ‘This picture is a portrait of Aodh II, a Vandyke. But come into the tapestry room, for you must see the famous piece made one hundred and fifty years ago in the hand-looms of Corcaigh. It is the story of Deirdre, and on the other side of the room is the Siege of Troy and the story of Helen, worked in the same looms. Both are priceless.’
She lowered her tone. ‘My father is going to do you a favour which he only does to persons of fame and in whom he has confidence. He will allow you to take the books from their case and examine them. It is possible that he will let you take them to your room, where you would be free from interruption. Perhaps you will ask him.’
‘A close and uninterrupted study of the vellums would be what I desire,’ replied Schliemann. ‘And if you think he will allow me to take them to my room, I shall ask his permission to-morrow.’
‘I am sure he has every confidence in you,’ the girl answered, her eyes suddenly deep and thoughtful, and she led the way to the tapestry room. There, introducing him to a gentleman, a famous painter, she smiled and left him.
It was two hours past midnight when Schliemann and the Historian left the Palace. The Tanist accompanied them, sitting by Sorcha’s side in the carriage. The girl was in high spirits. Along the way the numerous electric lights made the streets very bright. Complaints of the brilliancy, MacFirbis said, had been made by many of the citizens, who declared that it deprived them of that repose which darkness confers. Their complaint had been laid before the Airedesa and the members of the City Council, but it was doubtful whether the lights would be lessened.
‘The city is remarkably free from burglaries,’ he added. ‘We have no slums, and should your visit be prolonged, as I hope it will, I shall show you the homes of our lower classes, and explain to you the working of what I may call our Poor Law system.’
As they entered the square where the Historian lived, a motor car with drawn blinds rushed by, turning into the street they had left.
‘That is the Ollamh Keating’s car,’ the Professor remarked. ‘At least it resembles the one in which I drove to-day.’
The Tanist looked through the glass at the back of the carriage. ‘What colour was she?’, he asked.
‘The car that went past was white,’ said Sorcha quickly, ‘and the Ollamh Keating drives a yellow Mac Gearr.’
‘A pale primrose,’ said Schliemann.
‘This car, I think, was white,’ said MacFirbis, ‘and it had a dark line.’
‘So had the car I rode in to-day,’ returned Schliemann.
The carriage stopped as he spoke. The butler stood on the steps, his shadow making a black splash to the right, and the white light of a globe showed his agitated face. He ran down and opened the door before the footman could alight. But he did not speak till his master was in the hall and Sorcha ascending the stair.
‘There was a noise in the library, Historian,’ he said. ‘But as the door was locked I could not go in.’
‘In the library, Cormac!’ MacFirbis sought under his robe for the key.
The Tanist stood arrested by the hall door. He had been about to leave, and now flung a glance at the man’s face. The Professor stood still and attentive.
‘Midir gave tongue,’ went on the butler. ‘It was my grief, Historian, I could not get in. There was a noise as if a heavy weight fell. I ran to the door and called through the keyhole that I had a revolver in my hand, and I pretended I was coming in. Then I heard footsteps going to the window, and I ran round to the garden. But when I had unlocked the doors there was no one there. I was looking for a policeman as the carriage drove up.’
MacFirbis went with swift strides to the library door. He unlocked it and turned on the electric light. Two globes were already alight. Schliemann and the Tanist followed; a glance showed them the case overthrown and the body of the dog beneath. The window looking into the garden was open. An outcry of wrath and dismay broke from MacFirbis, and he rushed to the help of the dog. The two men behind hastened to his side, and the heavy case was raised. With trembling hands he drew the dog’s body forth.
‘Ah! Midir! best of friends,’ he lamented, ‘is it death you have found at the post of duty.’
‘See if the books are taken,’ the Tanist exclaimed, his tone swift and stern.
‘Yes, yes, find out if they are safe,’ urged the Professor.
Leaving the dog MacFirbis unlocked the chains and raised the iron shutter. There were tears in his eyes.
‘They are there,’ he said.
The Tanist and Schliemann bent forward and looked in. Their eyes met as they raised their heads.
‘A thousand thanks with God!’ exclaimed MacFirbis; then his tone changed. ‘This is Ollamh Keating’s deed!’, he said in a voice that thrilled with passion. ‘It is his attempt!’