The hours passed unnoticed. He had discovered a world of Celtic literature unknown to the scholars of Europe; and a civilisation was suddenly revealed, the existence of which he had only guessed.
But he was aroused at last by a knocking at the door and the voice of the Historian. ‘Sai Schliemann, are you within?’, he called.
The Professor rose and went to the door. ‘I am locked in,’ he answered; ‘a prisoner, and my calls have failed to attract the attention of the household.’
‘There is no key on this side. Who locked you in?’
‘The thief who has taken it away.’
He heard fresh steps approach the door, and the voice of the Tanist. ‘Force the lock!’, he said.
‘Here is Cormac with keys,’ answered MacFirbis, as other steps drew near. ‘One of them may fit.’
Several keys were tried, and the lock yielding at last, those without came in.
‘What has happened?’, asked MacFirbis. ‘How long have you been a prisoner, my friend?’
‘Since half-past twelve to-day to be accurate,’ replied Schliemann. ‘I have important and disastrous news to give you, Historian. Your books – your invaluable books – are stolen.’
‘Stolen! What books?’
‘The Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta.’
A white look crept over the Historian’s face, and he stood as if stunned. A smile crossed the Tanist’s lips, which he instantly repressed. Signing to Cormac to follow, he went to the door; said something to him there in a low tone, and returned to the others.
‘This is, indeed, a tremendous loss,’ he remarked calmly to the Professor. ‘I conclude you were beguiled here and locked in, Sai Schliemann?’
‘It is the Ollamh Keating!’, cried MacFirbis, his voice a war-note. ‘It is he alone who could have done such a thing; penetrated to my library, beguiled the Sai, and secured the books! But he shall not keep them long. No! By Saint Ciaran!’
‘He has been outwitted, you will find, Historian, or at least his agent, for I do not think he came here himself.’
‘God grant it, Maelmuire. But have you information? Do you know the agent?’
‘He does indeed,’ said the Professor, ‘not the agent, but the thief. Historian, the man who has stolen your precious books is Amos Moss, the American. He came here to-day under the guise of a detective, seized the books, and made off.’
‘Great God! That vandal!’, exclaimed MacFirbis. ‘That low commercial mind to have the vellums. Bad as a theft by the Keatings would be, this is worse. But, Sai Schliemann, I left the books in your charge. How did this man overcome you?’
The question was unheard by the Tanist; he had gone to the door, where Cormac had reappeared. They spoke together for a minute. The Professor shook his head.
‘By an extraordinary occurrence,’ he answered, ‘which I will describe later. For we waste time standing here. The thief has had nearly six hours’ start, and is probably at Queenstown or Liverpool by now. Those ports should be watched, and telegrams sent to the police.’
‘Queenstown! Where is Queenstown? I do not know of such a place,’ said the Historian. ‘And as to Liverpool? Why should he go thither when not thirty miles from here is Cathair-na-Mart, whence MacEogain’s and Ua Caonain’s and Ua Dubda’s lines of steamers sail every day. Maelmuire,’ he turned to the Tanist, who had joined them, ‘I command you help me to recover these books, as my Tanist and successor, as I would command,’ he added, impressively, ‘my son, if God had blessed me with one.’
The young man bent and kissed his hand. ‘I will be not only your Tanist, but a son to you to-day,’ he said. Then he went to a table and wrote on a telegraph form.
‘You will be too late if you do not pursue the thief at once,’ asserted the Professor, in his most positive tone. ‘You were taken in, Tanist. The man you thought a detective was Moss. He came here yesterday, and has been trying to get access to the books ever since.’
‘You saw him, then,’ the young man’s tone was smooth and polite. ‘There is, I believe, a view of the avenue from the castle where you were engaged in your interesting excavations.’
‘It was in this room, this library, I saw him,’ Schliemann returned, sharply. ‘I tell you you have been deceived.’
‘Maelmuire,’ the Historian exclaimed, ‘we must track this fellow, this Moss. Gracious God! that he should have the books! I see you are sending a telegram. We must wire to every port. This is a case in which I permit your calling in the aid of the police, for it is now no longer a contest between two Ollamhs of rank, where etiquette and honour are regarded, but a common theft by a man whose views of life are bounded by the dollar. Sai Schliemann, forgive my forgetfulness of your wants. As soon as these telegrams are sent, we shall prepare for dinner.’
‘I will write them all,’ said the Tanist, quietly, ‘if you, honoured kinsman, will leave me for a minute. I am on the track of Moss.’
‘Then, Sai, we shall retire. And when you have dined, you will give me the details of this disastrous affair. Maelmuire, I shall ask you then to relate what you have learnt.’
On going to his room, the Professor looked about for the two manuscripts that the Tanist had put there. They were not to be seen. ‘Herr Je! He feared my scholarship after all,’ he said to himself, and gave a smile, half pleased, half caustic.
At dinner, he heard him ask for Sorcha, and the question recalled the elopement and his promise to the lovers to his mind. In the events of the day, he had forgotten it and them. Then as he heard the Historian answer that Cormac had told him that she had gone out for the evening, and that she was probably spending it with his neighbour, Ua Conagher, whose daughter was Sorcha’s friend, the Professor suddenly felt ashamed, and regretted the par the had taken. He had harmed this honourable old man, and must presently witness his grief. He raised his eyes and stared at the big bay window that looked on the terrace. A few last rays of sunlight lingered on a bed of scarlet flowers, turning them to the colour of fire. The long, black shadows of the yew trees stretched across the sunlit corner, and as he gazed with perturbed eyes, he saw those of two men suddenly thrown between two of the trees. Then the light died off the grass, and where the shadows had lain was the pale green sward alone.
Though no reference was made to the books till the fruit and wine were placed on the table, it was evident that MacFirbis dwelt upon their loss by his grave, absorbed air, which every now and then he tried to shake off, as if he were anxious that the Professor should not think him lacking in courteous attention, or that he blamed him for their disappearance. But the latter, rendered uncomfortable by an uneasy conscience, did not notice this consideration and delicacy of feeling; and it was Maelmuire who was the first to return to the subject.
‘I think you said you saw Moss enter the library, Sai Schliemann,’ he remarked, as if the thought had just occurred to him. ‘At what hour was that?’
‘Between twelve and one,’ answered the Professor. ‘Soon after twelve, I should think.’
‘You had been there some time when I brought you the books,’ said the Historian.
The Tanist’s hand was on a crystal jug of wine; he did not move the vessel; a faint colour came to his face as he looked from one speaker to the other. ‘What books were those?’, he asked, in a slow, distinct voice.
‘The Psalter of Tara and the Dromsneachta,’ MacFirbis replied. The Professor gave the Tanist a caustic glance. He felt pleased at the young man’s discomfiture.
‘I placed them with every confidence in Sai Schliemann’s hands,’ MacFirbis continued. ‘And I do not blame him now, but rather commiserate with him upon the treatment he received from this audacious thief. Will you kindly tell us, Sai Schliemann, all that occurred?’
The Tanist rose from the table. What agitation he had felt was no longer apparent; his manner was cold and composed. ‘If the Sai will defer the story for a minute,’ he said politely. ‘I shall be glad to hear it when I return. Historian, pray excuse me for a few moments.’
He went out through the open window, and Schliemann saw him go in the direction of the yew-walk. In a short time he re-appeared with two men dressed in russet-cloth, collarless tunics, dark knee breeches, soft yellow leather gaiters, and russet-red caps on their heads with a crown, a number, and the letter N embroidered in white in front.
‘The police!’, exclaimed MacFirbis, as his eyes fell on these figures, through the window. ‘They have brought news of the thief. Excuse me, Sai Schliemann, I must hear their report.’
Hastily he pushed back his chair, and went on the terrace. The Tanist was speaking as he drew near.
‘The detective and I were alone in the library,’ the young man said, ‘from 12 till 12.20. He must have gone out immediately on receiving the books and given them to his accomplice. I think then he went to his room, found the bogus books, and passed them on, too, to the man; for Cormac found that they were gone when I sent him to the room. After that he must have returned to the library, and locked himself in.’
‘Health to you, men,’ said the Historian as he reached the group.
‘Health to you, Historian of Connacht,’ both policemen replied, saluting.
‘Have you secured the thief? And, above all, have the books been recovered?’
‘We think we know the thief, Historian. The Tanist has got important evidence.’
‘But it is Amos Moss, the American, and he is now, I fear, on the ocean. Have you sent a cablegram to the New York police, and wireless to the outgoing ships?’
As MacFirbis spoke, the Professor came on the terrace. He walked towards the group with his hands clasped behind his back, his head erect, and the afterglow of the sky on his face and thick white hair. MacFirbis went to meet him.
‘The police are here,’ he said, ‘and we are anxious to hear all you can tell us of the thief.’
The Professor faced the men. The Tanist, he knew, had conveyed his suspicions to them; he assumed his combative air, which was tempered, however, by a gleam of humour in his eyes.
‘Briefly, men, my information is this,’ he said in a clear, assertive voice. ‘The Historian brought me the books, and I was conveying them to a table I was seized with a sudden extraordinary rigidity which prevented my speaking or moving. The books fell from my hands, and I stood in a recess hidden from the view of anyone who entered the library, retaining the powers of hearing and sight, but as deprived of that of motion as if I were a statue of stone. I heard the Tanist come in, then Cormac, and after that Amos Moss, who deceived the Tanist, got the books, and made off. When I recovered, I called from the window, but no one answered.’
The Cean, or sergeant, fixed a steady eye on the Professor during the speech. ‘The Tanist says he was in the library, sir, at the hour you mention,’ he remarked, ‘but you were not there. He further states that he moved about the room. Can you explain this?’
‘Certainly, policeman. I was there, hidden from his view in the recess between two bookcases. If you come to the library I will show you how I stood. And moreover’ – the Professor turned sharply to Maelmuire, ‘I overheard every word you said, and your suspicions. You warned Amos Moss, whom you took for a detective, of an elderly gentleman, a foreigner, who is on a visit to this country.’
The Cean glanced at the Tanist, whose masked eyes had met the Professor’s. They suddenly changed. ‘You had the sense, however, not to give him the books,’ continued the Professor, ‘though he pressed you hard, and I believe, young man, you would have given them but for some rule of your tanistry. Come! I will show you all where I stood.’
He swung round, and walked with an energetic step towards the house. The others followed. Mounting the stair, he led the way to the library, and placing himself in the recess, bade the Tanist and the policeman stand in that part of the room where the former had interviewed Moss. When they had done so and acknowledged that he was hidden from their sight, he stepped out from the spot, and addressing MacFirbis, reminded him that he had been witness of the faintness that had overtaken him (Schliemann) in Dungeanain when he was about to examine the books. These attacks filled him, he said, with some alarm, and were due, he feared, to his fall. While the policemen exchanged glances, the Historian in a courteous and sympathetic tone agreed with this opinion, and advised him to consult some doctors whose names he mentioned as if they were well-known to the Professor.
The policemen, having made a brief examination of the library, spoke apart with the Tanist. They then returned to the terrace. The other men soon joined them there, and found they had been questioning Cormac.
‘The Tanist, Cean,’ said Cormac, ‘had sent me to the castle to ask the Sai if he wished to have lunch brought to him there. He was not in the castle, and it may have been then he called. The rest of the servants were at the east end of the house, and would not be able to hear him. It was their dinner hour. The Tanist went out after he had given me the order, and did not return till over an hour ago. He came back with the Historian. The young lady was in her own sitting room all day till evening, and could not hear him either.’
‘It was like the house of the dead,’ put in the Professor. ‘But who is this boy? He seems to bring news.’
All eyes turned in the direction to which he pointed. A boy wearing an apple-green tunic and cap whirled up the terrace on a green bicycle. Springing to the ground, he bared his head and gave a green envelope to the Tanist.
‘A telegram,’ said the Historian. ‘There may be news of Moss.’
Maelmuire’s face darkened as he read it. ‘This news is serious, Historian,’ he said looking up. ‘We have made a mistake, Cean,’ he added, addressing the sergeant. ‘MacSuibne wires that he was not here to-day, and that I had wired to him to wait in Baile-Átha-Cliath. I fear, Sai, what you said is true, and that I was deceived by the American. I offer my sincere apologies.
‘Remember in future, sir, not to judge too hastily, or reach conclusions based on false premises,’ the Professor answered with dignity. ‘Yet I am to blame.’ He turned to MacFirbis. ‘This man, Moss, came to me yesterday when I was engaged in – looking at the ruins, and asked me to procure him an entrance to the house. I refused. But I ought to have warned you, for, later, I think, you met him, when he doctored your dog. He called himself MacMossa.’
‘In ainm De! Was that he?’ The Historian’s eye grew bright with anger. ‘And he gave Midir medicine! – Cahil MacBuan!’, he called as the gardener suddenly appeared from the yew-walk. ‘Go at once to the house of the leech and bring me a report of Midir.’
The Tanist looked at the sergeant. ‘What is to be done?’, he said, as the gardener crossed the terrace. ‘It is Moss.’
‘It may be Moss, noble one,’ the man answered. ‘We shall wire to all the ports and to America. And I am cycling now to Cathair-na-Mart to despatch wireless messages to every steamer that left there to-day.’
He saluted, and turned briskly away, followed by his comrade. The Tanist went into the house to write a telegram. A movement at his feet made Schliemann look down, and he saw the cat. With alert head, and lengthened body, it went by as he bent to stroke it. The Tanist presently returned, gave his telegram to the messenger, and sat down on one of the chairs Cormac had brought out on the terrace. Filling himself a glass of wine from a long-necked crystal-and-silver jug, he leant back, joining now and then in the fitful conversation of the two elderly men. The latter drank their coffee, and lighted their pipes, but it was evident that MacFirbis found solace in his, for every now and then he took it from his lips and looked anxiously in the direction whence he expected the gardener to appear. Presently the cat approached the group, pausing once or twice to leap with supple grace at a white moth, then meowing afresh it came up to the Tanist’s chair, and rubbed against his leg.
‘Orchil misses Sorcha,’ he remarked; and lowered a hand to stroke its head.
 The Irish name of Westport, in Co. Mayo.