The Professor slept ill that night; but by morning he recovered his philosophic calm, and even felt amused at his countryman’s mistake. To the ambassador and his secretary he was not the famous Celticist, but a secret agent of the German Government, especially equipped for his delicate and dangerous mission by his knowledge of the ancient literature of Ireland which enabled him to pose as a scholar and literary man. His keen sense of humour was stirred at this further confusion of his identity; and wondering whether his second interview with the ambassador would throw some light on his surroundings, and determined to make clear his own position, he went at the appointed hour towards the Count’s suite of rooms.
On the way he was met by a gentleman of the Court, who told him that the Princess wished to see him in her private study. There was nothing to do but obey; which he did reluctantly. He found her dictating to her secretary, surrounded by manuscripts and proofs. She paused in a sentence, and smiling graciously, held out a white and beautifully shaped hand.
‘Sorcha Nic Firbis and Geoffrey Keating were to be married at eleven this morning,’ she said. ‘But Sorcha has changed her mind, for a reason I have not yet had time to learn. Captain Keating has asked for an interview with you. They are in that room with Lady Clanrickard.’ She pointed to a richly-carved double door, one leaf of which stood ajar.
The Professor bowed and passed on, followed by the sound of the Princess’s clear, decided voice as she resumed her dictation. ‘The English popular error that the Lia Fáil is the stone under the coronation chair of the English kings,’ he heard her say, and as he heard, a sudden desire to see Tara sprang up within him. ‘Tara; I must visit Tara,’ he said to himself, ‘before I return to Berlin.’
The room he entered was decorated in white and gold; the white brocade on the walls being broken by oval ivory panels, each painted with a reproduction of an illuminated page from the ancient books, a scroll beneath, inlaid with gold, giving the name of the work. The wide bay window commanded a view of woodland gardens; and there, like a white fleecy cloud on the sunset-tinted rug, sat the veiled, bride-clad figure of Sorcha. Keating sat some distance off, his arms folded on his knees, his gaze fixed gloomily on the floor. A tall, sweet-faced woman standing in the window appeared to have been pleading with the girl, and Orchil, the cat, was playing with a newspaper, one of whose headings caught the Professor’s eye.
Keating looked up at his step, and rose swiftly to his feet. There was a flash of steel in his glance. ‘Health to you, Sai Schliemann,’ he said icily. ‘What books were those you gave me?’
The Professor met his gaze with a contemplative eye, then glanced at Sorcha; her face was flushed; she seemed absorbed in watching the cat’s movements. Keating repeated the question.
‘The books?’, said the Professor. ‘By a combination of errors they were not the vellums. The precious manuscripts were already stolen when those reached you,’ and he told concisely the story of the theft.
‘It was like the Tanist!’, exclaimed Keating, ‘to be suspicious of a great archaeologist. This scoundrel Moss has the books, and I suppose they will be recovered.’
He approached the girl. ‘It is all clear now, Sorcha,’ he added.
She rose dramatically, and unpinned her veil. ‘Oh, no, Geoffrey,’ she said, as she removed the jewelled pins, her eyes fixed across the room. ‘Sai Schliemann has kept his word. But your vow has not been kept. The books were NOT the books. And—and—I know that a black cloud would rest upon our lives unless the oath is kept.’
‘Then,’ said Keating gloomily, ‘you still refuse to marry me to-day?’
‘Yes. I cannot. The Ollamh has been deceived.’
‘But, a ghradh,’ said the Countess of Clanrickard, laying a hand on her shoulder. ‘Geoffrey has acted in all faith, and that constitutes the keeping of the vow. He believed the books were the ones he had vowed to recover. Moreover, a chroidhe, the Princess has graciously interested herself in your future, and the Prince has given permission for your marriage to take place to-day in the palace chapel, and her Royal Highness will make peace between your father and Geoffrey’s. It will be an unwise act to lose her friendship, and your conduct will, also, appear ungrateful.’
‘I am sorry if I offend the Princess,’ Sorcha replied, her eyes lowered. ‘But I will not—I cannot marry Geoffrey to-day.’ She looked up suddenly and stretched out her hands. ‘Oh, Geoffrey! you understand.’
He took them and held them to his heart. ‘I do not understand,’ he said. ‘What I understand is that you are my promised wife. I have kept the vow. No cloud can fall on our lives.’
She turned her head aside, and drew her hands slowly from his clasp. Her face had grown pale, but her lips met in firm line. The cat was rubbing itself against her skirt. She suddenly bent, and taking it in her arms, retreated to the window.
‘Is your decision made—really made? Think, Sorcha.’ It was Lady Clanrickard that spoke.
‘It is made,’ she replied. ‘I will marry Geoffrey when he finds the books.’
Keating looked at her in silence for some moments. He knew something of her will, and his eyes lost hope. Suddenly he swung round, and strode towards a door that opened on a loggia facing a garden. The Professor followed him.
‘Where do you go?’, he asked.
‘To find and kill Moss,’ was the angry reply, and the young man went out.
Remembering his interview with the ambassador, the Professor hastily bowed to the ladies, who were both too absorbed to notice him, and went out on the loggia. Thence, passing to the garden, several rose trees caught his attention, and it was some time before he found his way again into the palace. When he reached the ambassador’s room, he learnt that he had left Tlachtga at nine that morning.
He met the Princess again at noon, who told him she approved of Sorcha’s decision. Later he heard from Lady Clanrickard, what he had already guessed, that the Princess had interested herself in the lovers in order to heal the centuries-old feud between the Keatings and the MacFirbis clan.
‘Otherwise,’ said the Countess, ‘her Royal Highness would never have encouraged the disobedience of a child to its parent. But the issues are so important, and the circumstances are so romantic, that the Princess feels justified in acting as she has done.’
The Professor expressed a wish to see Tara, and the Princess learning this, declared that he should not only see the palace, but that on the following day she would take him herself to the world-famous University of Clonard. Later on in the day he was told that a motor car, ready to convey him to Tara, stood before the door leading into the Visitors’ Hall. He found his own chauffeur there conversing with the driver of the Princess’s car. Saluting Schliemann, he asked whether he should accompany him to Tara; and the Professor, willing to have the society of so cheerful and intelligent a young man, bade him mount by his side.
Soon after leaving the park, the car entered a wide highway planted with double rows of trees on each side. It appeared, indeed, to be two roads, with well-kept footpaths between the trees. The motor followed one road, and the Professor noticed that all the carriages they passed were on the other. A low wall, crowned with hazels, separated the way. It was Slige Midluachra, one of the five ancient royal roads that led through Ireland to Tara. By the High King’s order these roads had been widened and divided, and no motor might travel along them at a pace that exceeded twenty miles an hour.
The car ran through a populous country, with root and grain crops growing in the fields up to the first gates of Tara. The plough had been everywhere, it seemed to the Professor, as he passed cottage after cottage, and saw men working in the fields. A contented and prosperous race they looked, strong-bodied and well-clothed.
Five gates led into the royal park, one for each road, and all after traversing the demesne, ended, the chauffeur told him, at the foot of the great terrace that encircled the palace.
The gates stood open from sunrise to sunset, so that all who wished might enter. Gatekeepers in white and crimson, the royal arms worked in gold upon their breasts, entered the names of those who passed through, two standing to each gate.
‘The Ard-Righ is in Dungeanain,’ one of these men said to the Professor when he had given his name. ‘A hundred welcomes to you from the High King of Ireland. Take the noble foreigner by the Avenue of the Kings,’ he said to the Princess’s chauffeur, ‘for many strangers like that way.’
The car moved on, keeping to the Avenue Slige Midluachra for some distance, passing through wood and pasture-land, and fern-clad hollows, where herds of deer could be seen, and fine breeds of sheep and cattle under the charge of the keepers of the herds. Then turning to the right it followed a road that ran through a more open part of the park, reaching at last the Baile of Tara, the little town that was dependent on the Court, filled with artisans and labourers, whose houses stood each in its own garden. Beyond the Baile rose the Dun of the Royal Fianna, the King’s Guards, the Lucht-Tighe or House Company. It was a handsome limestone building, able to quarter two thousand men; and the Professor saw five hundred of these soldiers exercising on a large level sward, the faithche of the Dun, dressed in uniforms the colour of heather, which was that worn on active service.
The road ascended gradually on passing the Dun winding for some distance through woodland again; then, suddenly, at a turn, a white marble archway sprang into view. It held three iron gates wrought with floral designs and winged heads, interlaced work running among the flowers and faces. The central arch was crowned by the gigantic figure of a warrior bearing sword and spear, his right foot on a fallen foe.
‘It is the Gate of Heremon,’ said the chauffeur, ‘and those heroes to right and left on the second and third arch are Heber and Ir.’
The car drove in slowly as a gate-keeper opened the central gate, and entered Slige-na-Riogh, the Avenue of the Kings. On each side of the way stood marble statues of the High-Kings of Ireland, with smooth lawns spreading away behind them, and terraces ablaze with flowers; while cascades of water, brought from the spring Nemnach, emerging from a grotto on a terrace before and around which stood or rested graceful figures of water-goddesses, fell down from fern-fringed stone channels bordering the sides of a double stone stair, filling basins guarded by sister nymphs.
Along the way rose statue after statue, all the kings of Erin from the coming of the Sons of Milidh. There stood Tiernmas, the gold ore in his hand, first to smelt gold in the kingdom; and Enna Airgeach of the Silver Shields; and the Law-Giver, Ollamh Fodla; and early in the double line Macha of the Golden Hair, the one Ard-Rioghan Ireland has ever seen. Ugony Mor, first to lead the Scots of Ierne plundering over western Europe stood prominent there; and Lowry of the Ships, the mariner king, his fleet carved on the pedestal, rude, naked slaves at the oars, rowing long-haired warriors over Muir n-Icht. Conn of the Hundred Battles, surrounded by heaped and broken shields, seemed about to give the warrior-shout; and Conaire Mor, who had ruled Ireland justly fifty years, looked towards Tara, the great wheel-brooch that reached from chin to waist fastening his cloak as on that fatal night at the Court of Da Derga. Art the Lonely gazed upon the rushing waters as if searching the face of each divinity, seeking her whose song had allured his brother from the Court of Tara, while the boat of the woman of the Sidhe bearing Connla to the Land of the Ever Young, seemed to sailed forward on the marble face of the pedestal. Others the Professor recognised. Conn, son of the Lonely, sitting throned in all his splendour as in the Banquet Hall. And Niall Naoi Ghiallach, holding himself as conqueror and king, the Nine chained at his feet; and Dathi, one foot on the slope of Slieve Ealpa, advancing to meet the lightning-stroke; and Laeghaire, with his eyes towards Slane; and Diarmid, last High-King to reign at Tara, grasping the King’s Spear, as he listens to the dream of Mungan, his wife, with proud, sorrowful, but resolute face. And Finnachta, the gay, wise High-King, remitting the tribute of the men of Laighen; and Muirchertagh of the Leather Cloaks; and Mailsechlan, contemporary of Brian; and the great Brian himself, kneeling in prayer as on the day of Clontarf; scenes of the battle in bas-relief on the four white sides of the pedestal.
Then the lines broke, and in the centre of the way rose a column, bearing the grim figure of a woman. She held a human head to her lips with both hands, gnawing the dripping skull, while at her feet other heads lay heaped, and on her shoulders perched a scarecrow.
‘Macha! ‘Mast-feeding’ on the slain,’ said the Professor, looking up at the vast and terrific figure. ‘Macha or Badh, Celtic goddess of war.’
‘Now we ride between ‘the kings with opposition,’ said the chauffeur, ‘eight in all till the Norman came.’
The car passed by the right of the column, and moving slowly between the eight who had wrested the throne of Ireland from the legitimate kings, soon reached a line of marble columns with a highly sculptured entablature filled with scenes of battle and heroic figures. The whole was crowned by the statue of a woman, who, standing with one foot chained, rested her right hand on a sword, while her left shaded her eyes as she gazed with proud set head towards the north.
‘Here, noble one,’ said the chauffeur, ‘is epitomised the four centuries in which England claimed tribute from us. She never got it in the north, and Aodh I broke the chain from Eire’s foot.’
Beyond the columns the line of the Hy Niall kings was resumed, terminating in a statue of Niall III. The long succession of statues were the works of great artists, the chauffeur told the Professor, and sculptors form many countries came to see them.
As they drove through a second archway, the palace of Tara came in full view, portions of it having been seen along the Avenue of the Kings. It stood on its ancient site, a vast magnificent building with towers, pinnacles, and sculptured walls, encircled by three great terraces, the five Royal roads of Ireland radiating from the lowest.
‘Never was a palace so built as the palace of Tara, for it was all Ireland raised those walls,’ exclaimed the chauffeur. ‘Yonder stands the Forradh where the Ard Fheis is held.’
Carriage ways wound at intervals along the terrace to the principle entrances to the palace; but the Professor alighted and made his way on foot, accompanied by the chauffeur, to the gateway of the Forradh, where two of the Royal Fianna stood on guard. As they entered the courtyard one of the keepers of the Forradh came forward, and offered his services as guide. He led them through a great vestibule thronged with statues representing men whose names he mentioned as if they were familiar to the Professor, to the Hall of the Delegates, and thence to the Hall of the Nobles, whence they entered the Throne Room, a vast, oblong chamber, whose walls, inlaid with mosaics broken by panels of yew richly carved with scenes from the Tales of the Tuatha De Danann, met a frieze of priceless tapestry worked with representations of the Feis of Tara under the High Kings to the reign of Diarmid.
At the upper end of this noble chamber stood the Coronation Chair, on a white marble dais reached by a double flight of shallow marble steps, divided by a great stone twelve feet in height. The contrast of the rude column to the polished marble of the dais and stairs, standing there in naked gauntness amidst brilliant-hued carpets from the world-famous handlooms of Uladh, held the eye of all who looked towards the throne. Framed between the marble, its top level with and fitted to the floor of the dais, encircled with a band of gold a foot wide, it stood a few paces from the throne, a chair whose sides and supports were covered with plates of beaten gold, cushioned in purple velvet, and standing under a canopy of purple that held shades from the palest lilac to the deepest hue, changing like shimmering silk as the sunlight reached it through the windows of the chamber. A gold spear resting in a socket stood on each side of the throne, the ancient emblems of the Ard Righ’s authority, and above it hung a shield of the same metal richly engraved with stars surrounding a crown. At the base of the dais to right and left of the stair was a couchant elk with giant antlers carved in white marble.
‘You look now on the Lia Fáil,’ said the guide. ‘That great stone has a longer historic and legendary interest than that attached to any throne of any monarch in the world. On it, legend records, the gods stood, and it was they, the Tuatha de Danann, who placed it at Tara. Upon it, too, the High Kings of Ireland were inaugurated for a thousand years and more, and a shout came, it is said, from the stone in salutation when the prince who had best right to be Ard Righ placed two feet upon it. But when our Lord was born the spirit of the stone was silenced before the power of the King of all Kings. Nevertheless the descendants of Heremon must stand on the Lia Fáil, each on his inauguration day. That gold plating on the throne, the shields, the spears, the circle about the Lia Fáil were made from the gold that the princes and chiefs, together with the nobles of the Gall, gave Aodh I to decorate the King’s Chair at Tara.’
He led the Professor from the Forradh into the House of Cormac, a great circular chamber which at the first view looked like a room within a room from the row of slender columns of green marble that encircled it at a distance of thirty feet from the surrounding wall, supporting a frieze decorated with frescoes in rich colours of scenes from the Stories of the Fianna, from the cornice of which rose at intervals fluted and frescoed shafts connecting the circle with the roof. Between the lofty windows, the walls beyond the columns were hung with apple-green brocade worked with garlands of pink flowers, brocade of the same hue embroidered with roses covering the chairs and couches. Inlaid cabinets stood by the walls, bearing rare and priceless china and treasures of jade and gold crystal and precious stones; and an ivory-chess table, its spaces of inlaid gold, its chess-men of the same metal, stood in the central room.
‘This double chamber,’ said the guide, ‘was built thus to resemble Teach Cormac which was circular, and the space between the columns and the wall represents the circumvallation that ran round the ancient palace. And now I will lead you through the State apartments, of which this room forms one.’
They passed into a long gallery magnificently decorated and furnished, and hung with pictures which were among the masterpieces of the world; and from it through one stateroom to another, obtaining wide views of the park through great bay windows, till at last the guide reached a vast hall eight hundred feet in length and ninety in width, with seven doors on each side.
‘This is the Banquet Hall of Tara,’ he said, ‘and stands on the site, and occupies the same space, of the ancient Teach Midhchuarta.’
A line of shields ornamented with concentric circles and bosses of gold, bearing coloured devices, ran along the walls at the height of ten feet from the floor. Below and above them were richly carved panellings of black oak; on the upper panelling were paintings set round by garlands entwining spears, shields, swords and other fancies of the great artist who gave his whole life, the guide said, to their carving. Down the length of the hall on each side stood the dining tables, one line of seats to each, placed by the wall. The southern end was occupied by a dais reached by three steps that ran its whole breadth, stair and dais covered by the carpets of Uladh. A great bay window behind the dais, lighted it and the steps, and gave a view of the Avenue of the Kings. Here the King’s table stood, and in their order, the tables of the Five Princes of Ireland. A carpet that the handlooms of Uladh had taken fifty years to make covered the centre of the hall, reaching from the lowest step of the dais to the other end of the vast apartment.
‘Those shields,’ said the guide, pointing to the line on the right, ‘each belong to a prince or noble. When this hall was built, following the ancient precedent of Tara, the head of each great territorial family sent a shield to be hung in the hall, and his place at the State Banquets is beneath it. The shields on the left have been hung there by officers of distinction belonging to the army and the navy, and by others who have won honours in the service of Ireland. That is the shield of Padraic Sarsfield that you see by the fourth door, a brilliant general who lived at the end of the seventeenth century. His descendant sits to-day beneath it. The shield of a great captain who repelled the invasion of Cromwell, the English dictator, that of Eogan Ruadh Ua Neill, hangs on the right, for he was of royal blood. To hang a shield in the Banquet Hall of Tara is one of the highest and most coveted honours of the kingdom.’
From the Hall they went up a magnificent double stairway to a gallery, and passing through a suite of rooms visited the private apartments of the Ard-Righ. The Queen’s gallery joined them, leading to those occupied by the queens of Ireland. The sitting-room and bedroom of her late Majesty Queen Maire remained just as she had occupied them; an exquisite white marble statue of the Queen standing in the first.
Descending a private stair from the King’s study, they entered the King’s cabinet, a long room, panelled in white wood with gold mouldings, with portraits of the queen and his children, and one great painting representing Christ’s descent into Hades, covering the whole space of the wall above the white and beautifully sculptured mantel-piece.
‘That is the famous ‘Christ in Hades,’ said the guide, ‘the work of Ua Neachtain. You know his story, how, as a peasant boy minding his father’s cows, he would spend his time drawing on the stones, and how one day he ran away and climbed Cruach Padraic, where he had a vision of this very picture which years afterwards he painted. The Ard-Righ, when at Tara, spends two hours in this room every day, where he sees any of his subjects who wish to speak to him, the sentry at the door of the vestibule which opens directly on the east court having orders to admit all. The people wait in the vestibule, where two aides-de-camp learn their names and petitions, enter them in shorthand on slips of paper, which are taken to the King, who sees each person then in turn. Strange visitors have come; men and women from all parts of Ireland, even children and beggars. And the Ard-Righ listens to them, standing beneath that picture of our Lord preaching to the souls in prison.’
They left the cabinet and visited the Rath of Laeghaire, two great rooms frescoed with scenes from the Life of Saint Patrick and of his visit to Tara, and then entered Saint Patrick’s Chapel and the Chapel of Erc, till at last the Professor’s eyes were wearied gazing at the magnificence and beauty of Tara of the Kings. Eventually leaving the palace, they crossed the upper terrace and looked towards a wing of the building, marked by its many windows and carved decorations, that looked to the south.
‘That is Rath Grania,’ observed the guide, ‘called after a daughter of the Ard-Righ Cormac Mac Art. Many a famous tale is told of her and of her love for Diarmid Ua Duibhne.’
Just as he spoke a young girl with golden hair came through a window and stood on the balcony. The guide uncovered his head. ‘That is the Princess,’ he said, ‘Findebair of Ireland. Yesterday she came to Tara.’
The Professor looked upwards. A lovely joyous face was gazing across the terrace. The slender form of the Princess was robed in white. He bared his head. For a minute he stood still, his eyes on the High King’s daughter.
‘It is Grania herself,’ he said, ‘I have seen,’ and went down the terrace.