The Eloquence of the Dead

BOOK: The Eloquence of the Dead
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About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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Acknowledgements

After learning of Detective Sergeant Joe Swallow's investigations in
A June of Ordinary Murders
, innumerable friends and readers came forward with ideas about how a policeman's conflicted role in 1880s Dublin might be further developed. Indeed, there were suggestions as to how he might secure his coveted promotion. There was even advice about his love life.

Some of this has made its way into
The Eloquence of the Dead
. I am very thankful. And I am thankful to everyone who has found Swallow's adventures and vicissitudes sufficiently engaging to have come back to read more.

I am grateful again to Eoin Purcell and the team at New Island Books for their encouragement and enthusiasm. Justin Corfield has been a challenging and meticulous editor. Who else would have known that from 1884, the London Underground Station at Tower Hill wasn't actually called Tower Hill? Gráinne Killeen did tremendous work on publicity for
A June of Ordinary Murders
and I know she has similar plans for Joe Swallow's second flight.

I would also like to acknowledge the many wonderful organisers and enthusiasts behind the arts and literary events that now so enrich life around Ireland. I was flattered and delighted to have been invited to so many of these over the past 18 months to read or to talk about Joe Swallow and the murky nineteenth-century world of Dublin Castle's G-Division.

Finally, I would like as ever to acknowledge the love and forbearance of my family while I have been time-travelling back to Victorian Dublin. Their patience and support have been untiring, and I am both fortunate and thankful.

Conor Brady

Dublin

September 2013

 

Prologue

In the morning, she knew, the officials and the clerks would come. They would arrive at the house, perched on their rattling traps and half-bred horses. In her mind's eye she could see them, advancing past the now abandoned gate lodge and along the avenue.

They would gather in typical disorder around the sweep of the granite steps outside. The bolder ones would stare insolently through the windows. Some of them would already show the signs of drink.

There would be rain. She had known since girlhood how to interpret every combination of cloud and wind and light that came across the mountains from the west to Mount Gessel.

She could sense it with the softening of the air, a faint tang of salt and oil and dampness. It would be the penetrating, grey rain that could roll in off the Atlantic in any season and settle on the Galway countryside like a blanket.

They would mill about the forecourt, stoat-like, strutting their little authority. They would affect politeness, deference. They would nod obsequiously, as they had to generations of Gessels. They would call her ‘Yer Ladyship,' or ‘Lady Margaret,' as in the past, but now in a tone that conveyed their new confidence and their contempt.

Some of the tenants, impatient to be masters of their acres, would probably come too, muttering in their Gaelic, cursing her and her kind. And it would be made legal. She would be gone. The deeds of transfer were drawn up. The last boundary maps were signed off. The cheque was in the solicitor's office in the town.

It was her late husband's cousin, Richard Gessel, who had finally persuaded her to get out. Sir Richard was a rising star, she had been told, in Prime Minister Salisbury's staff, and he had the inside track on things.

‘Lord Salisbury's government are agreed that the way to pacify Ireland is to give it back to the Irish, field by field, farm by farm,' he had told her when he visited Mount Gessel in the springtime.

‘If you sign up early you'll very likely get the best price. And if we're put out of government, a new administration might not be as generous to the Irish landlords,' he warned.

She would step out the front door at 10 o'clock, and she would surrender the key to the solicitor's clerk. At precisely the same hour, in the town, another clerk would cross the street from the lawyer's office and deposit the government cheque with the local agent of the Bank of Ireland. In two days, the money would be safely in her account in London.

Christ, she would be glad to be out of it.

If the early generations of Gessels lived well out of the place, she had seen little of it. After her husband's death, all she could remember was misery, bills, pressure from creditors and battles with rot and damp to keep the house from falling down.

Nobody could say that she had not done her bit. Or that the Gessels had been bad landlords. Forty years ago, when the Great Famine, as they were now calling it in the newspapers, devastated the countryside, did they not do their best for the people? A great cauldron of soup was made ready every day in the yard. She had helped prepare it herself, and taken charge of its distribution to the starving, silent wretches who staggered in from the fields and the roadways to have its nourishment.

They had dropped some rents in the bad years when others had refused to do so. In Mayo and Roscommon, she knew, some landlords had actually raised them. In the end, of course, when there were no rents coming in, there had to be evictions. Most of the families had gone to America, as far as she knew. No doubt, they were better off there.

It would be a relief to have money; to be able to pay her way; to meet old friends without worrying about the cost of lunch; to be able to travel, perhaps to Switzerland, for sun or to take the mountain air; to end her time, perhaps in a good hotel on the Sussex Coast or even in the south of France.

She walked through the rooms for what would be the last time. Some of the best furniture had been sold to stave off creditors, but there were still a few good paintings in the gallery. Most of the silver, marked with the Gessel family arms, was still in the dining-room. There were the display cases of ancient coins brought back from Italy and Greece by her late husband's grand uncle. Now these would go too, to be auctioned or sold by the government agent before the house was boarded up or torn down.

Margaret Gessel was beyond caring.

Six months ago, the Land Leaguers or some of their friends had burned the stables. The screaming of the horses as they perished in their stalls had pierced the granite walls of the house. The following night, the constables on protection duty outside had shot and wounded two locals – would-be incendiaries, they said – at the back of the house.

The District Inspector implored her to go to Galway to stay at a hotel for a while in order to let things settle. He had instructions from his superiors, who had in turn been contacted by Sir Richard at the Prime Minister's office in London, to afford her maximum protection. But, he explained, there was only so much he could do with the limited manpower at his disposal.

When a fellow landowner told her in the hotel dining-room that he was going to take up the scheme put forward by Lord Salisbury's government, she decided it was time to follow Richard's advice. The next day, she ordered her solicitor to negotiate a deal for the sale of Mount Gessel under the new tenant-purchase programme.

She went into the empty ballroom. One of the few happy memories she had of the house was of parties here. Now there were only ghosts. The chandeliers were long gone; the mirrors carried off to be auctioned. The fire mantle of polished Carrara marble was blocked with timber against the winter draughts.

She crossed to one of the bay windows and drew down the steel bar from the heavy wooden shutters. The first of the rain was falling, light drops against the glass, but there was sufficient moonlight to see the sweep of the estate across the fields.

Out there on the open sward, Gessel ancestors had drilled their militiamen before leading them off to fight Bonaparte, in Spain and at Waterloo. In happier times, the East Galway hunt would meet on the forecourt between the house and the meadow. For a moment, she believed she could still hear the jingle of harness, laughter, the yelping of the hounds as they moved out along the avenue.

She could make out the dim sheen of the lake, where generations of Gessel children had skated on the winter ice or swum in the heat of summer. She followed the curve of the avenue along which her husband had brought her as a young bride to become the new – and the last – mistress of the house. He had died young, a long time ago. Nobody around the district seemed to remember him any more. Sometimes now she even had difficulty in trying to recall his face.

BOOK: The Eloquence of the Dead
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