When he returned to the house, Cormac gave him a letter from the Historian. He was obliged to go away for a few days, he wrote, but he hoped his much-valued friend would make Tir-da-glas his home as long as he stayed in Ireland. He had ordered the head steward to provide him with as many labourers as he required when he began his excavations, and he trusted that the work would lead to many interesting discoveries. When Schliemann met the Tanist at lunch he found he was also charged with kind messages for him from MacFirbis.
A number of telegraph boys whirled up to the house during the day; and the Tanist appeared to spend his time in receiving and sending telegrams. At dinner he told the Professor that Moss had not yet been found.
‘We are watching the ships at every port,’ he added, ‘but MacSuibne is right, he has not gone to the States. We think he is on the Continent. Thence probably he will go eastward to Japan, perhaps, and cross to San Francisco. We are keeping the theft very quiet, and so far it has not got into the papers. But I fear it will be in to-morrow.’
The following morning the Professor found a pile of letters before his plate. He was conscious of a thrill as his eyes fell on the envelopes. Could his sister have forwarded them? He took up one, then another and another, seeking the familiar German stamp. But each envelope bore one with a border of minute interlaced work of varied colours surrounding a white centre, on which was painted in life colours the king’s head, the head of Niall III of Ireland.
‘Tanist,’ he said later, when he had gone through this correspondence and had made sure that there was no letter from Geoffrey Keating to Sorcha, ‘Tanist, will you be kind enough to help me through this tangle of missives, and explain who these persons are who have honoured me with invitations.’
‘With pleasure,’ Maelmuire replied. He gathered up his own letters, and leaving his chair, laid the bundle on a table by the bay window. Then he came back, and stood by the Professor’s side. The latter silently handed him letter after letter.
‘Ireland has discovered what a distinguished visitor she has,’ the Tanist said as he looked at the letters. ‘Most of your correspondents are probably known to you by name – some certainly must be well known. These letters are from a number of celebrated men, and from the secretaries of our most important literary and social dails. The latter inform you that you have been made an honorary member of their various societies. And here,’ he added, after he had glanced at the last letter the Professor gave him, ‘here is one from the secretary of our literary princess, the Princess of Midhe. It is a royal command. The Princess invites you to Tlachtga for three days.’
‘Tlachtga,’ said the Professor. ‘The name is of most ancient origin. It was that of a pagan palace where the Druids celebrated Samhain and kindled the sacred fire. The site is, I am told, known, but the name has vulgarly anglicised to the Hill of Ward.’
The Tanist turned a brief glance on the Professor; then he laid the letter on the table. ‘Tlachtga,’ he remarked, ‘was built early in the seventeenth century close to the ancient site, by Melachlin, Prince of Midhe. And you have been misinformed as to its present name, which is the same as its ancient one. I see the Princess wishes you to be at Tlachtga to-morrow. One of the motors will take you thither, should you prefer that to the train.’
‘Undoubtedly the car would be a pleasant way of seeing this strange and interesting country,’ replied Schliemann; then he paused and began to search in one of his pockets.
‘I shall give orders to the chauffeur to be ready at any hour you please. But I advise you to go early that you may not be rushed at the end. You will, of course, return here to complete your excavations, for which, by the Historian’s order, a body of men are held in readiness. We are all interested in what you may discover.
But Schliemann did not answer; he was searching for something in another pocket. The Tanist crossed the room, and, taking up his letters, opened the door, and went out.
Presently the Professor drew his hand from his pocket, and stared at the floor with knitted brows. Then he rose, turned sharply, and went up to his bedroom. He shook out the garments the Historian had lent him, turned over papers and books, opened drawers and cupboards, till, suddenly struck by a thought, he hurried from the room, and leaving the house, went in the direction of the castle. There he moved slowly about, with his eyes fixed on the ground searching the ruins for some object. When near the keep he stopped, and, uttering a sharp exclamation, looked up at its walls. The next second he strode towards the stair, and gazed sorrowfully at the crevice.
‘Mein Gott!’, he groaned, ‘I must have dropped it in there. And all my notes – my invaluable observations – my too brief redaction of the Psalter of Tara – all gone, gone.’ Then suddenly straightening himself, a look of decision settled round his mouth. ‘I will, indeed, now excavate,’ he said aloud, ‘even if I bring down this tower.’
He knelt and peered into the hole, but, rising almost immediately, he sank on a heap of rubble, where he remained motionless for a few minutes as if buried in thought. Then, with a quick movement of head and body, he rose briskly, and crossed the grass to the fallen side of the castle. Lighting his pipe, he sat on the wall, where the sunlight and the pleasant murmur of the river warmed his body and sang in his ears. In a short time he had recovered his cheerful attitude of mind.
He heard his name called; throwing a glance across his shoulder, he saw Geoffrey Keating below the wall. He took his pipe from his lips, and rose.
‘So you are here, Captain Keating,’ he said with some emphasis.
‘Yes, as I promised,’ replied Keating. ‘I have brought back the books. And – have you got Orchil?’
Schliemann did not reply for a moment. He looked down at the officer’s face, and then at the parcel upheld in his hand. ‘What books are those?’, he presently asked.
‘The Psalter and the Dromsneachta. Take them, please, and give me Orchil, for I must be off.’
‘Did your father see them?’
‘No. I brought him the parcel, told him the conditions, but he refused to look at the books. I am clear, however, of my oath. If Orchil is there, just chuck him down.’
‘Captain Keating, I must ask you why the Ollamh refused to look at the books.’
‘Because – but I prefer not to explain. If the cat’s not there, I must go to the house and get it.’
The Professor looked down with a grim air at the face beneath him. ‘I have been your accomplice in this matter,’ he said, ‘and I ask, I even demand, an explanation.’
‘Well, my father has very strong ideas of what he considers chivalrous or honourable conduct. That is all.’
‘But he was about to steal the books himself.’
‘Steal! There was no theft in the matter, Sai Schliemann. He meant to recover his own, and he sent a letter to warn the Historian. You have been kind enough to help Sorcha and me. We are grateful, deeply grateful, but – the Ollamh refused to look at the books, as he said they had been taken treacherously.
The Professor was silent; something – anger, he knew, shook him for a moment. His honour had been assailed. He looked doggedly above the handsome head by the wall; but the feeling soon passed. ‘The Ollamh is right,’ he thought, ‘and I should have scorned this act – anywhere else.’
A sound at his feet brought his eyes again on the young man; he was climbing the wall. ‘I must get Sorcha’s cat,’ he said emphatically.
‘Well, you cannot go to the house,’ said Schliemann, ‘unless you wish to meet the Tanist, and if you do, I promise you I will not be your second. Wait here, and I will fetch this beast.’
He took the books from Keating’s hand, and left the ruin. There was no one in the yew-walk or on the terrace; he paused, untied the string, and laying the parcel on a seat, took up and examined each manuscript in turn, with compressed lips and half contemptuous, half interested eyes. It was an insult to his scholarship to suppose that he should mistake them for the two pre-patrician works. As he refolded them in their paper wrapper, the cat came through an open window, and, choosing a sunny spot a few feet from the seat, sat down and began to wash itself. The Professor at once put the parcel on the bench, took a few cautious steps forward, pounced upon the cat, and carried it to the ruin.
‘Did you look at the books?’, he asked as he gave Keating the animal.
‘No. Sorcha took the books from your room, where you had kindly placed them for her,’ Keating answered. ‘And I did not remove the cover. Now, I must be off,’ he added, ‘and a thousand thanks.’
He jumped over the wall, the white cat writhing and struggling under his arm. On the ground he paused for a moment, looked up, raised his cap with a smile, then hastened towards the river.
‘If he meets the Tanist,’ thought the Professor, ‘there will be a duel. And meanwhile that young man thinks the books were genuine and that he has redeemed his oath.’
But the Tanist did not appear till lunch. The Professor mentioned with some decision that he had formed his plan for the excavations, and that he would prepare to carry it out on his return from Tlachtga. The Tanist listened with polite attention, and expressed a hope that he would find some interesting object.
When he went to the terrace again the Professor remembered the parcel. It had been removed, and the afternoon papers lay on the seat. ‘The Tanist has taken it in,’ he said to himself, ‘and won’t say anything to me of his discovery, as he is ashamed of his part in the business where I have been concerned.’
He picked up one of the papers, but had scarcely glanced at it when he was joined by the Tanist. Seating himself on the bench, he remarked that he was glad to find that the theft of the books had not yet got into the papers.
‘We want it kept quiet,’ he added.
‘I quite understand,’ replied the Professor. ‘But you have society papers, I suppose, and the kites who edit them will, no doubt, give details of Sorcha’s elopement.’
Maelmuire did not reply for a moment. He smiled coldly.
‘Our society papers do not resemble those of England or America,’ he said. ‘An editor who gave the personal details that the editors in those countries do would be not alone liable to action by law, but the circulation of his paper would soon cease. It is considered the height of ill-breeding to comment on the private life of individuals, or to publish their misfortunes.
‘Then your society papers must lack spice for the general public. But I am pleased to hear of a country where some decent reticence is still observed. How about your divorce cases? Do your papers give many columns to them?’
‘Not an inch. They are given a line in the law notices. I do not say that there are not editors who might like to give more, but the opinion of the kingdom is against making them public, and also it is forbidden by law. There are, however, but few to report.’
The Professor’s hand wandered to his pocket; then he frowned. ‘I must get a new notebook,’ he thought. But no other book, he sadly reflected, though crammed with notes, could be the same as the one that had been his link with the life he had left on entering King Niall’s kingdom.
The next day he set out for Tlachtga in one of MacFirbis’s motor-cars. The chauffeur, a merry-faced young man with a deferential manner, now and again slackened speed on the way to point out some place of interest. They passed Norman castles, now turned into handsome modern dwellings; large country houses, and comfortable-looking cottages. In nearly every townland, the chauffeur said, there was a house of amusement, where the peasants acted plays, and had their literary and music festivals.
On reaching the city of Athluain, the Professor stopped to buy some clothes, and was interested to find that a modified form of the sumptuary law was observed in Ireland.
‘Our people wear good, serviceable clothes of bright colours,’ the salesman told him. ‘We make cheap and pretty garments for the young women of the lower classes, as well as more durable ones, but public opinion is against dressing above your rank. As you are aware, noble one, we make our own fashions, and rarely take a lead from Paris, keeping in a great measure to our national dress. Many of the higher class wear it when abroad. So that the Irish are easily known on the Continent.’
As the car crossed the magnificent bridge that spanned the Shannon, the Professor saw that the marble figure of a bull stood at each end. Both were of great size. One was carved in white marble; that to the east in brown. By the side of the white bull stood the figure of a woman with flowing hair and haughty head; by the brown, a young warrior armed with shield and spear.
‘The dun Bull of Cuailgne and the White-horn,’ said the Professor. ‘But if this great city is Athlone, its chief modern interest is its siege. St. Ruth must have had his camp over there. Can you tell me, chauffeur, the site of Ginkell’s army?’
‘Of whom, noble one?’, asked the man.
‘Ginkell, the Dutchman, King William’s general. He took Athlone, you know.’
‘I never heard of such a siege, noble one. This Ginkell did not come here.’