At three o’clock that afternoon the Professor left Dungeanain for the west with MacFirbis and Sorcha. He had taken his ticket with coins such as he had not seen before. A gold screpall he found was equivalent to an English guinea, and there were four values to the copper crosoc, according to size. The largest value to the silver coinage corresponded to seven shillings, and the lowest, equal to the third copper crosoc, was about twopence half-penny English. He determined to keep one of each coin, and present them to the Berlin Museum. The Tanist waved them good-bye from the platform as the train moved off.
Beyond the city the train ran through richly-cultivated land, wooded and dotted with trim cottages standing in gardens. As he was carried on, Schliemann saw evidences of an industrious and prosperous people, living in comfort on the soil. Many fields were covered with glass-houses, or treated to intensive culture. These were the market gardens of the north, where vast quantities of vegetables, fruits and flowers were grown for exportation and home use. The manufacturing centres, of which there were numbers throughout the land, MacFirbis told him, were worked by electricity, the great waterways and lakes of the kingdom being utilised. The Professor asked if the people who had brought the land to such rich cultivation were not the descendants of the Scotch settlers planted in the north by James I of England, and was surprised to hear that there were no Scotch settlers in Ulster, the population being of unmixed Gaelic descent.
‘But the Orangemen,’ said Schliemann, ‘what have you done with them?’
‘We import them,’ MacFirbis replied, whom the noise of the train had prevented from hearing the exact question. ‘The climate of Erin is unfit for their growth. The Prince of Thomond has an Orangerie of some size.’
The Professor fell silent; he presently glanced at one of the newspapers the Historian had given him. He searched its columns for news of his country. The Kaiser had made a speech on the German navy. He spoke with disfavour of the alliance between three Catholic countries, Italy, Spain and Eire. In another paragraph he saw it stated that the German ambassador in Baile Átha Cliath would probably explain away the speech on the morrow.
‘A German ambassador in Dublin,’ thought Schliemann. ‘I must see him.’
Then his eye fell on the heading, ‘Visit of the Queen of Spain to Erin.’ ‘A friendship,’ ran the paragraph, ‘has long existed between her Majesty and Princess Findebair, and the Queen will spend a fortnight at the Courts of Tara and Dungeanain.’ Then his glance passed to:
‘The Ard-Fheis opens at Tara on the 18th of October. The Earl of Ormond will bring forward the question of Free Trade with England and Scotland. Great opposition is expected. The Aire, Flann Ua Loingsig, will bring the state of the inland fisheries before the Second House of the Forradh; and considerable opposition is expected to the motion of Brugaid Art MacDubhghail that Crown rents should be paid for such bog lands as are held by the individual in distinction to those bog lands held by the nation. The increasing value of the peat industry has brought the question to a head. The labourers will be represented by their delegate, Aithech (or Plebeian), Cathal Ua Cuinn, a workman himself, whose book, ‘Labour in Europe,’ has attracted attention, not only in this kingdom, but also on the Continent and in England.’
After a swift run, the train crossed the border and entered Connacht. The Professor noticed, as they went along, that the land here was also highly cultivated, and that the sides of the hills and mountains were clothed with forests. He was surprised at this.
‘I am astonished at the size and extent of your woods,’ he remarked, ‘especially here in Connacht, which province I had heard was bare and treeless, except for those trees that grew in the demesnes of your landlords.’
‘Your informant could never have been in Ireland,’ MacFirbis replied. ‘Our forests are a great source of wealth to the country, and especially those in Connacht.’
‘Do they belong to the Crown?’
‘They belong to the nation. Every householder paying taxes, outside the cities, has a right in them. The laws define these rights, which are regulated by the rank and amount of taxes paid by the householder, and there are severe penalties for any infringement of them. Everyone pays a tithe, according to the right he possesses to the Government, so that these forest tithes form an important item in the Civil List. There is also a duty on the export, which is regulated by co-operation.’
‘And the game? What are your game laws?’
‘As the nation preserves the forests, so it strictly preserves the game. Every wood has its foresters and keepers; and every householder outside the cities has the right to shoot and trap for a certain number of days spread over the game season, regulated according to his right in the forest. There are two royal woods given by the nation to the High King, all rights in which are his alone. Each of the Five Princes has also his own wood, for which he pays a tax to the Government.’
‘Is yours a constitutional one or an autocracy?’
‘We have a Government framed as far as modern life will allow on the ancient clan or communal system, and every public service, like our railways, transit by water, lighting, distribution of fuel, and even our Civil Service, has to be based upon his fundamental law. We have no monopolies, yet there is sufficient freedom in the working of the system to enable an individual to enrich himself, but the law falls on him heavily if in doing so he ruins his neighbours. Our coal mines and all mines, except gold and silver, belong to the nation. The gold and silver belong to the king, and through him to the Government. There is a fresh election to the Ard-Fheis every five years. Each Tricha Ced or Tuath sends three delegates to the Second House of the Forradh. As you are probably aware – knowing so much of our language – a Tricha-Ced is a division of the land of about 188 square miles. There are 184 in the kingdom. The nobles sit in the First House of the Forradh, and are also elected. The only persons who have a right to sit in this House are the King, the Righ-damna, the Five Princes, the Five Historians of the First Order, and the Four Archbishops. The Bishops have to be elected.’
‘The King is then a monarch with limited powers,’ said the Professor, making an entry in his notebook.
‘With defined rights and limitations,’ MacFirbis replied. ‘He is the father of the nation, the High Chief of his people. He is subject to the laws. Yet his ancient, noble and lofty state is well maintained. We Gaels are instinctively aristocrats. We keep with something deeper than mere pride our unbroken genealogies. No other country in Europe can show such length of recorded pedigrees. But ours is no slavish cringing to wealth and rank. We except our nobles to be men of high principle, useful in the service of the kingdom, courteous and generous. We except the same qualities in the people. We dwell much upon race. We teach the nation pride of race.’
About an hour later the party alighted at a station near a range of hills; and a short drive brought them to the gates of Tir-da-Glas, the country seat of the Historians of Connacht. They were high, of a fine design in hammered iron, and had been made, MacFirbis said, in the early part of the eighteenth century. The avenue ran through a double row of beech and oak, making a gradual ascent; and the park, the Professor saw, was of considerable size, containing huge and ancient trees. The gleam of a river caught his eye, and a ruined castle on a mound by the right bank. Rows of yew trees, old and towering, bordered a path that led from the house to the river. They now stood out black as ink against the flame of the western sky.
Presently the house and its wide terraces came fully into view. Built of limestone, the former somewhat resembled in style an Italian country palace of the seventeenth century. Birds, flowers, interlacings and scrolls were carved in stone above the windows, and these designs appeared again in the cornices, pediments and pilasters; all being the work, the Professor later learnt, of a sculptor who had lived in the neighbourhood.
The interior of the house – as much of it as he saw that evening – which included the great hall and the dining and drawing rooms – appeared at first sight to have an absence of luxury. But a closer examination showed him that the colours, the decorations, and the furniture had been chosen with regard to the best in art, and that the seeming simplicity was the perfection of taste. The library – which he did not see till the next day – was in a higher storey, and ran the whole length of one wing of the house, lighted by a cupola and six windows looking west.
The sun had set when he went on the terrace after dinner with MacFirbis and Sorcha. The afterglow made the sky a glory of rose and violet, green and primrose, giving the silvery clouds in the east a pink gleam as they hung in the transfused light. The two men lit their pipes; and their conversation having no interest for Sorcha, she left them, and flitted down among the flower-beds, her white cat in her arms.
The Professor learnt much in his talk with MacFirbis of the condition of the land, of drainage, of husbandry, of the output of the Connacht coal mines, of the important tobacco industry, of the occupation of the people around, and of the position, influence and power of the clergy. For two generations the latter had confined themselves to the spiritual welfare of the people, and while firmly upholding the doctrines of the Faith, instructing their flocks in their duty to God and to their neighbours, left them free to act for themselves in all lay matters, believing that the high teaching of the Church must build up the characters of those under their charge and make them good Christians and honourable citizens. A hundred years before, there had been a tendency among them to claim control over their flocks in matters not pertaining to the Faith. But from this assumption of power they were saved by a great Archbishop and a wise and far-seeing band of men within the priestly order. And, now, while in France and Italy and Spain, Atheism had increased, and the priests had lost so much of their influence with the peoples of those countries, they had acquired in Ireland a firm and lasting hold upon the affections of their flocks and were regarded with the greatest veneration and honour.
Presently Sorcha came back to the two elderly men. In her white dress, a scarlet butterfly bow aflame in her hair, she looked in the evening light an aerial creature. Tales of the forests and mountains of his fatherland, of the Lady Venus, of beautiful women not of mortal birth, fitted through the Professor’s thoughts as he looked at her, mingling incongruously with the sober subjects upon which he and MacFirbis had been speaking. Legends, nursery stories, which lay with other half-forgotten things in unvisited corners of his mind, came with an uprush of memory, and interested him by their unbidden appearance – keen philosopher as he was. It was temperament he knew, his German temperament, where sentiment and romance could keep company with an analytical and searching spirit. The white cat looked even a creature of enchantment, with its pale blue, secret eyes, a faded reflection of the brilliant blue of those of its mistress, star-like, mysterious, deep, in her alluring face. It stretched forth its claws, as if resenting the touch of a mortal, when he put out his hand to stroke it.
The girl had come to invite them to visit the ruin by the river. ‘It will interest you, Sai,’ she said, as she lightly struck the aggressive paw. ‘It is six hundred years old, and was built by a Sean-Ghall, a Norman who, partly by his sword and partly by the will of the King of Connacht, obtained land here. The people say there is buried treasure in it. Would you like to dig there as you did in Greece and Asia?’
The Professor smiled. ‘What would your father say,’ he replied, ‘if I undermined and brought down the walls?’
MacFirbis laughed. ‘I have no fear of that with the spade of a famous explorer,’ he remarked. ‘And Sorcha’s suggestion is a good one. You might find objects worthy of your examination, for the dungeons have been long covered in and are said to contain treasure.’
The girl moved on, beckoning to her father and Schliemann to follow. They crossed the terrace, and entered the path between the black walls of the yews. The light pierced the interstices between the dark red trunks; and the trees were motionless in the windless air, save where the finches darted in and out of the branches, seeking their shelter for the night. The path ran in a straight line to the river, covered with the yellow sand taken from the shores of the great lough at the base of the Ne-fin range. Shadows of the dense trees crossed it, looking like dark pools on the sand. The girl seemed to float before the Professor’s eyes, over the golden sand, across the shadow-water, a white, gauze-clad figure with the splash of scarlet in her hair. A sense of unreality crept over him again, filling him with vague, uneasy questionings, sending a thrill through strings of his being that had lain long rusty and unsounded.
‘I will get the vellums,’ he thought. ‘I will see that German ambassador, then I will let myself out of this strange kingdom.’
The impression passed as they emerged from the yews, and he became again eager to investigate, to listen. The path ended before a marble pavement, a semi-circle surrounded by a low balustrade, with four steps leading to the river, and three wide, shallow ones to the grass on the right. Walking to the mound, they entered the ruin, where he looked at the Norman masonry. The wall on the southern side had fallen in, and thus opened a wide view of the river reaches and the offsets of the mountains. MacFirbis pointed out the road by which they had driven from the station winding through the plain, and told Schliemann it led to two great lakes, and thence onward till it reached the city by the ocean, whose docks were filled with the ships of the world.
The idea of his guest excavating the mound took hold of him as they moved about the ruin. He tapped the grass-covered heaps of fallen masonry with his stick, offering conjectures as to the position of the dungeons.
‘I will send some men to dig here under your guidance, to-morrow,’ he said. ‘There may be Norman armour and other objects of interest hidden here, though, in spite of popular rumour of treasure, nothing, I fear, to compare with that of your Asiatic explorations.’
Then, as the lilac light deepened into purple, and a mist from the river floated in white wreaths to the foot of the mound, he looked at his daughter’s gauze-clad shoulders, and led the way back to the house.
The next morning as the Professor looked from his bedroom window, he saw a group of labourers carrying pickaxe and spade standing on the terrace. The sight annoyed him; he frowned.
‘My host intends that I shall be ridiculous, foolish,’ he muttered. ‘And in all probability we shall be buried under the walls of the castle.’
Recovering his temper, he went downstairs and dismissed the men. At breakfast he told MacFirbis that he must make a closer examination of the ruins before any excavations could begin.
After breakfast he visited the library – a long gallery, with many thousands of books, and saw numbers of valuable manuscripts which he viewed with the delighted eye of a scholar face to face with works in a language the study of which had been his speciality for years. But he did not see the Dromsneachta or the Psalter of Tara. With his customary directness of speech, he asked MacFirbis to let him examine the books that morning; and received the answer, given with great courtesy and in a tone of regret, that, for that day, they were not within the reach of any student.
‘But, to-morrow,’ said MacFirbis, ‘with the help of God, you shall have the books. And I speak the truth when I say that it is with sincere pleasure and complete confidence that I shall place them in your hands. If you have any letters for the early post,’ he added, ‘put them in the box at the end of the gallery. The mail goes out at twelve.’
This remark gave the Professor an idea. He would write to his sister, a widow, who kept his house for him in Berlin, and to his friend the Celtologist, de Narbonne. If they replied, if the postal system in the kingdom of Ireland, as he now found that system, could forward letters to persons who lived in a world which had no conception of such an Ireland, the situation would be still more remarkable and inexplicable.
To his sister he wrote that he was in good health, but could not yet fix the date of his return. She was to see that this roses were daily watered, the dead flowers cut off, and a basketful of his red and white Queen Luise sent to their sick neighbour.
His letter to de Narbonne was longer, but also guarded. He told him that he had found two pre-Patrician vellums, which he had every reason to believe were genuine works of the third century. He hoped to secure them; but as there was some difficulty in the matter, he did not expect to return to Germany for at least a month. On each envelope he put an English two-pence halfpenny stamp, and then dropped the letters into the box.
He went out after lunch with MacFirbis, who showed him his farm. The barns and granaries were half a mile from the house, under the charge of a steward. Away in the fields the ripe wheat and oats were being reaped by motor-machines. There were two mills on the estate, one worked by electricity and one by the water of the river.
‘Ireland imports little corn,’ said MacFirbis, ‘the country under our advanced system of agriculture – even with our increasing population – being able to supply nearly all our grain. What you see being reaped will be ground in my mills. Each miller is a character in his way. The one whose mill is worked by electricity looks upon the other as a backward fellow, not at all with the times; while the river man declares that the river was made by God, and greater and more sacred than the electric power which man makes from the water, and which owes its speed and strength to the river. It is no use to tell him that electricity is the great force lying everywhere in nature. Many of the farmers,’ continued MacFirbis, ‘have their own mills. The people feed on oatmeal and whole flour, home-cured bacon, fresh pork, potatoes, garden vegetables, of which great quantities are grown, honey and milk, and on special days mutton and beef. Every peasant has his orchard, in which he grows apples, gooseberries, currants, raspberries and strawberries; also walnuts and hazelnuts. Tea is used sparingly. The Health Lecturer of each Tricha-Ced has shown the danger to health when over-drawn or drunk too freely.’
‘Are these lectures paid by the Government?’, asked the Professor.
‘The Government pays the members of the National Health Committee, who are all men specially trained for their position. They are chiefly doctors or men who have devoted years to investigating the causes of disease. Their body is re-elected every five years. Each Tricha-Ced supports its own Health Lecturer, who must have passed a rigid examination, and have received a certificate of qualification from the National Health Committee. With our fine lakes and rivers, we have made the water supply a simple matter. Every baile of forty houses must, by law, have its public baths. We follow somewhat the Roman system, and carry much of the water through aqueducts. The people are taught the value to health of cleanliness, and even to the poorest cottage is attached a bath-house.’
On returning to the house, MacFirbis called a gardener, and bade him take a measuring line and a spade to the ruins.
‘You are anxious, I am sure, to survey the ground,’ he said to the Professor. ‘I must ask you excuse me for the present, as I have some business to attend to. But I hope to join you later.’
He crossed the terrace and entered the house, leaving the Professor looking at the gardener with an air of a man who finds himself in a ridiculous position, and resents it.