The Professor was looking at an illuminated page of a manuscript in the library the next morning, when he was joined by MacFirbis. The Historian carried a sealed parcel in his hands.
‘I have redeemed my promise,’ he said, smiling; ‘and here are the two vellums. This key will open the box in which they are contained. And now,’ he added, ‘I can leave you without any fear that I shall be neglecting my duties as a host, for I have to visit a friend in the next tuath, and shall not be able to return before seven o’clock. But my Tanist will be here, and will be ready to give you what help you may desire in deciphering the pages.’
He put the parcel on a table, bade the Professor farewell and left the library.
With slow and careful hands, Schliemann broke the seals, and drew from its wrappings a box made of yew with bands of silver. The faint scruples, which conscience had ventured to raise, vanished as he unlocked the box and raised the lid. It was lined with yellow silk, and the two vellums lay within. Putting a hand in a pocket of his coat, he felt round it, searching for his magnifying glass; it was not there. Then, remembering that he had seen one on a table near a recess between the book-cases, he carried the box down the library, smelling, as he went, the same delicate perfume of flowers that he had noticed when he had held the Psalter of Tara three days before. As he reached the recess he stood still, and the box dropped from his hands. He did not move, but, hidden from the rest of the room, remained rigid and silent like a man in a catalepsy. Yet his mind was clear and alert, and knew the body was held by unseen bands of iron, and the tongue frozen.
‘Good God!’, he thought, ‘what has happened to me!’
After a while he heard the door at the end of the library open and some one come in. He tried to move, to call out, but there was neither sound nor motion. ‘It is thus they bury the alive as dead,’ his mind spoke to itself, and sent the thought to the tongue, but it lay speechless between locked jaws.
He heard the door open again, and Cormac’s voice.
‘The gentleman whom you expect, Tanist, has arrived,’ he said.
‘Bring him up here,’ answered that of Maelmuire. ‘When did the Historian say he would return?’
‘At seven, Tanist.’
‘Where is Sai Schliemann?’
‘He is at the castle, noble one, which he is about to excavate.’
The sound of a door closing followed the words; there was silence in the place. A few minutes passed, then the door opened, and a man’s step came into the room.
‘Good morning,’ said Maelmuire’s voice. ‘You are the detective MacSuibhne whom the head of the Department promised to send.’
The reply was given in a low tone, and the Professor did not catch it. Two chairs were then moved as if the Tanist and his visitor sat down.
‘You have been given an outline of the case,’ went on the Tanist. ‘An attempt was made three nights ago to steal two famous manuscripts from the house of the Historian of Connacht in Dungeanain. The historian entertains certain chivalrous old-fashioned ideas, and will not call in the aid of the police. I am his Tanist, and it is my duty to see the manuscripts are safe-guarded. I am, therefore, employing a detective to discover the thief. You are, I hear, one of the smartest men in the force.’
‘I am considered so,’ a second voice replied; and the Professor, with an apprehension that his frozen body would not let him express, recognised the voice as that of Moss.
‘Have you a suspicion of the thief?’, it continued.
‘I want your opinion,’ the Tanist answered; and Schliemann listened, wondering if thus the dead felt as their spirits moved about among the living, desirous to communicate, yet unable to do so, as Maelmuire told of Ollamh Keating’s threatening letter and of the vow taken by father and son. ‘On the surface it looks,’ concluded the Tanist, ‘as if they – either the Ollamh or Captain Keating – broke into the room. But I have other suspicions.’
‘And these, Tanist?’
‘The Historian has lately made the acquaintance of an elderly gentleman, a foreigner, who says he is the well-known archaeologist, Schliemann. He met him under peculiar circumstances. On Monday the Historian had occasion to visit the palace archives, to which, as you are aware, only the Ollamhs of Ireland have free access. On the floor, stunned and bruised, lay this gentleman, who appeared to have fallen from the gallery, to which there is access from the Chamber of the Archives by short stairs. He has not yet explained how he came there, and I have found he had no ticket of admission from any Ollamh in Ireland.’
‘This certainly looks suspicious,’ said the voice of Moss.
‘He has shown a marked interest in the two manuscripts, which at times he seems anxious to hide. The Historian is so convinced that he is the well-known archaeologist that he is about to allow him to look at them.’
‘This is interesting, Tanist.’
‘He is a foreigner, for he speaks Irish with an accent, and often uses quaint and obsolete words. It is possible that he may be an agent for some gang of art and manuscript thieves. A millionaire, named Moss, an American, offered to buy the vellums. The Historian, considering the offer an impertinent one, took no notice of Moss. I have heard that this Mr. Moss is very anxious to get them. The thieves, of course, know that; and my idea is that they mean to take the books to New York, should they succeed in stealing them, and sell them to Mr. Moss, who probably will have no scruples about buying them.’
‘Mr. Moss left Baile Átha Cliath yesterday for New York.’
‘Where the thieves will follow him if my theory is right. I found a footprint under the window through which the person who had broken into the house had escaped, and I got Cormac to measure Sai Schliemann’s boot. He was at the palace, it is true, but I considered it wise to neglect nothing that might yet be evidence. The feet were not the same size, but I found this magnifying glass, which belongs to him, for there is his name on the case.’
‘In my opinion, you may dismiss Moss from having anything to do with this affair,’ said the voice of Moss. ‘He is a man of honour, and has left Ireland. But—,’ the voice grew emphatic, ‘I strongly suspect this man Schliemann of having designs on the books. He is an agent, I believe, of the Keatings. He met Captain Keating in Dungeanain Cathedral; and yesterday they had an interview again in the old castle out there by the river. He must have let Keating into the house, and hid him in the library, or given him keys which opened the doors. By the way, Tanist, perhaps you notice that I speak Irish with an accent, for though a man of Erin, I was brought up abroad.’
‘I had noticed it,’ the voice of the Tanist answered. ‘Then you have been in this neighbourhood since yesterday?’
‘That is true, noble one. I came at once to investigate and to watch Schliemann, whom I suspected at once on hearing the story. As I understood that the Historian had refused to call in the police, I did not reveal my identity when I met him with a sick dog yesterday.’
‘Quite right. Now, what do you propose to do?’
There was a pause; the Professor heard the scraping of a chair on the floor. Then someone, Moss, he thought, coughed; presently the man spoke.
‘The important point, Tanist,’ he said, ‘is the safety of the two books. And as this fellow, Schliemann, is in the house, and the books will be placed in his hands by the Historian, I advise you to secure them now in the absence of both; and, I further suggest, that you give them to me, and I will return at once to Baile Átha Cliath, and place them in the hands of the Chief Keeper of the National Archives.’
‘But that would take you away from this neighbourhood for some hours,’ replied the Tanist, ‘and would be loss of time. We must employ some other agent, for I, myself, cannot transfer the books without the leave of their Hereditary keeper.’
‘I thought of that, Tanist. But I had a wire this morning from the Central Depot in cipher. There is some important information connected with the case, which makes it necessary that I should return to Baile Átha Cliath for a few hours. I am confident, from what you have told me, and from the wire itself, that it has to do with Schliemann and the Keatings. I would ask you while I am away to closely watch Schliemann, and, if possible, convey your suspicion to the Historian.’
‘I mean to do so,’ said the Tanist. ‘But it will not do to rouse Schliemann’s suspicions. I believe him to be ignorant of the ancient forms of our language and incapable of reading the books. If your idea is right, and he is an agent for the Keatings, we might take advantage of his ignorance. There are numbers of manuscripts in this room of no great value or date, which would deceive an untrained eye. Two of them, placed in a case, can be left in his room; and we may be confident that he will take them for the books.’
A chair was pushed back; Schliemann heard him cross the room. The sound of a case being raised followed; then Moss spoke.
‘In my opinion, Tanist,’ he said, ‘he knows what he is about. The Keatings would not employ an ignorant man, and the old fellow has a learned look. I warn you that the books are not safe, and strongly advise, as a precaution, that I take them to Baile Átha Cliath.’
‘I would follow your advice, MacSuibhne,’ the Tanist replied. ‘But I, as Tanist of the Hereditary Historian of Connacht, cannot take the books without his leave. Not even to save them can I give them to anyone. Now—’, the lid of the case was closed, ‘here are two manuscripts of much the size and shape of the Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta, which I think will deceive Schliemann. I will take them to his room. Can you stay to lunch, or do you wish to catch the 12.45. It is now 12.20.’
‘I cannot stay, thank you, Tanist,’ the voice of Moss answered. ‘I have a wire to send. I will write it here. Pray do not wait, for Schliemann may return before you put the books in his room. I will write to you from Baile Átha Cliath.’
‘Very well. And you will be here by eleven to-morrow.’
A few seconds later the door opened and closed, and the Professor knew that he was alone with Moss. The American, if he chose, could kill him, take the books, rifle the library, and he, Schliemann, powerless and frozen, could not prevent him. He heard Moss begin to move about. His figure suddenly came into view of his fixed and staring eyes; he was examining the book-shelves. Turning from them soon, he peered into the glass-cases that ran down the centre of the room. The yew-box had fallen near one, a yard from the recess; the lid lay open; the books had fallen out.
‘He will see me now and then,’ thought the Professor, ‘and the wretch may charge me with the theft.’
But the American’s glance was arrested by the books; with a quick indrawn breath, he stooped and raised them from the floor. He rustled the pages, seized the box, laid the vellums swiftly in it, and putting it under his coat, hurried up the room, passing soon out of the Professor’s sight. The latter heard him stride to the door, go out, and lock it behind him.
Then, as Schliemann stood staring across the library, listening in his prison of inert flesh, sensation returned, and he felt as if the iron bands that bound him were being loosened. He could move his eyes, and open and shut his fingers. The stiffness of death passed, and the blood seemed to grow warm again in his veins. Each second motion came flowing back in throbs and leaps of nerves and pulses, till finally he was able to stagger forth and stare about him.
In a few minutes he was himself again. He went swiftly to the door, beat upon it, and called aloud. No one answered. Then he hastened to a window and threw it open. The whole row on that side looked towards the west, commanding a view of the park, ornamental lawns, a walled garden, and the forest-clad mountains; he saw no sign of life beyond a herd of deer crossing a distant part of the park. He shouted, but the silence was unbroken. Both house and grounds appeared deserted.
At last, finding that he could not attract attention, he sat down on the nearest chair, and reviewed the situation. Moss had the vellums, and would start at once for America. Irish law might not be able to reach him there. But even if they were brought back, should he, Schliemann, ever see them again? He must return soon to Berlin, and once out of Ireland – this Ireland of King Niall and the Five Princes and the Ollamhs – who could tell whether he would be able to enter it again.
But about him now were other manuscripts and printed editions of the ancient literature of the kingdom. His practical mind bade him make the most of the opportunity. Starting from his chair, he searched the book-shelves, selected a volume, and taking a seat at a table, began to study the archaic work.