Authors: Kevin Smith
is from County Down in Northern Ireland. A former journalist, he has worked in newspapers, radio, and newswires, and was for a number of years a foreign correspondent in Eastern Europe. His first novel,
, was longlisted for the 2013 Desmond Elliott Prize for new fiction. He lives in Dublin with his wife and two children.
By the same author
First published in Great Britain
Sandstone Press Ltd
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced,stored or transmitted in any form without the express written permission of the publisher.
Copyright Â© Kevin Smith 2016
The moral right of Kevin Smith to be recognised as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Design and Patent Act, 1988.
The publisher acknowledges support from Creative Scotland towards publication of this volume.
Cover design by Mark Ecob
eBook by Iolaire Typesetting, Newtonmore.
In memory of my grandfather
Walter Edwin Crozier
(1893 â 1982)
A man that is born falls into a dream like a man who falls into the sea
â Joseph Conrad,
Dublin, February 1916
The gunpowder had been packed into a yellow tin with red lettering on it that said
FRY'S PURE BREAKFAST COCOA
. A copious amount of adhesive tape sealed the lid and a hole had been punched in the base of the container, into which a length of fuse wire had been inserted. This dangled now as the young man, working with stealth, attached the bomb with more tape to the door, halfway down between the hinges. Playing out the wire, he shuffled backwards along the corridor the ten or so paces to where his comrades were crouched in readiness, scarves pulled up to hide their faces. A match was struck and the fuse lit. It sparked and sputtered and went out, was ignited afresh, and again died. The third time it caught fully and the tenacious orange flare set off along its line.
Sunk deep in an armchair in his shared chambers at Trinity College, Walter Crozier, his face full of angles and shadows, looked up from the sports pages of the
. For twenty minutes or more he had been distracted by scurrying footsteps and hissed conversation in the passageway. Now there was shouting. He hauled himself to his feet and in a few swift strides crossed to the doorâ¦
Blinded, and a split second later deafened by the blast, he staggered backwards at speed across a furlong of threadbare Axminster and over a green leather steamer-trunk, where, stunned and winded, with his boots in the air and blood dribbling from his nose, he regarded the high ceiling (the tide marks, he noted, were getting worse). As the muffled pounding in his ears subsided, he fancied he could hear, receding along the corridor, the sound of hysterical laughter.
âIt's absolute bloody anarchy.'
Hugh Fitzmaurice, resplendent in a peacock-blue smoking jacket, was perched on the arm of the sofa filling his new Meerschaum pipe with pinches of aromatic flake. Behind him, a man in overalls was running a measure over the splintered doorjamb.
âThat's the third one this month. The bastards are going to kill someone sooner or later.'
Fitzmaurice had hair of a type â soft chestnut frills â almost exclusive to the minor aristocrat, sleepy grey eyes, and large, liverish lips that he seemed unable to prevent from forming into a pout; all this atop a long sturdy frame hardened by many hours of brutality on the playing fields of successive private schools.
âI mean, I know I'm no angel, but we can't have freshmen going around blowing people's doors off, can we? I mean, we need doors. They keep draughts out, for one thing.'
He looked up, struck by a sudden thought.
âThe Fabians! I bet it's the bloody Fabians. Everybody knows they're a bunch of bloody anarchists.'
He tamped the tobacco down with a pencil stub, his latest affectation so far lacking the relevant paraphernalia, and fumbled in his pocket for a match.
âDo you think we should inform the constabulary?'
âProbably.' Frank Rafferty, a first-year medic, was standing at the window peering down into the square at three young women attempting to attach a purple banner to a pole. âBut I'd say College will deal with it themselves. I doubt they'll want to risk the Press getting wind of it.'
A match sizzled into life, followed by the effortful
of pipe ignition, and a foul odour filled the room. Fitzmaurice stared into space for a moment and then succumbed to a coughing fit that lasted nearly a minute.
âThis tobacco can't be right,' he croaked, wiping away a tear. âI knew I should have gone to Petersons.'
Rafferty, who had been eyeing his room-mate with mild scientific curiosity during the closing paroxysms, turned back to the window, and clutching the frame for leverage, stood on tiptoe to get a better view. The banner bore the legend,
âTo be honest, I don't really understand it.'
âThis craze for blowing things up. I mean, what's the point? Where's the fun?'
âWell, to be fair, it probably
rather good fun.' Fitzmaurice slid onto the sofa proper. âWhat I'd like to know is where they're getting the bloody gunpowder... Ah, here he is. Any ideas comrade?'
The unfortunate Crozier had returned from sickbay and was making room on the rack for his overcoat, a heavy tweed ulster purchased for him by his father before his departure from Belfast's Great Victoria Street station the previous year. (âThat'll stand to you, so it will, keep the damp Dublin air at bay, eh?' The awkward half-embrace, the fumbled handshake, his father's face pale above the clerical collar, the eyes a fragile blue.) He resumed his previous seat in front of the fire and gazed into the flames.
âSorry, what?' He pulled a wad of cottonwool from his ear.
âI was just saying, Crozier old man, where are these anarchists getting the gunpowder?'
âOh, that's easy enough.' Crozier rolled up the wadding and lobbed it into the hearth. âThe Gunpowder Office on Sackville Street would probably be your first port of call.'
âYes, I dare say. By the way, how are you? Will you live?'
Crozier sniffed. âJust about. My ears will be ringing for a while.'
âMild tinnitus due to acoustic trauma â nothing to worry about.' Rafferty turned from the window. âWhich nurse was it?'
âDidn't catch her name.'
âNurse Buckley probably. She looked after me when I fell off the campanile during Freshers' Week. Very pretty. Sweet smell off herâ¦ like cloves.'
He stood, fingering his sand-coloured moustache, his eyes unfocused behind the thick lenses of his spectacles, then moved towards the door.
âMeeting Miss Maguire for tea. Arrivederci.'
After Rafferty had left, the other two sat in companionable silence, Fitzmaurice sunk in a tobacco trance, Crozier working half-heartedly through Salmon's
Infallibility of the Church
. Having never seriously considered any other line of study (it was fully expected that he would follow his father into the clergy) he was now wondering whether Divinity was really for him. Without faith, to adapt a Salmonism, he might win all the pieces on the chessboard, but what use if he were already in checkmate?
The afternoon light had begun to fade when three chimes from the Trinity clock rolled across the ancient cobbles.
âI'd better cut along too,' Fitzmaurice said. âThe Senior Dean wants to see me.'
âThat's nice. Any particular reason?'
Fitzmaurice pondered the possibilities, his lips twitching.
âI suppose it might be something to do with my academic progress. Or rather, the lack of it.'
âI thought you'd squared all that last term?'
âNot really. Seeing as I didn't show up for the supplementals.'
Fitzmaurice had risen and was at the grate, tapping the dottle out of his pipe.
âYou knew that. I went climbing in the Highlands instead, remember? With Cousin Ninian and the Westmeath crowd.'
Crozier gave an incredulous snort. Fitzmaurice turned and stood pouting into the middle distance.
âWell, the dates really were very inconvenient. And the trip had been planned for a long time. I'd been looking forward to it.'
âFitz, you'd better watch your step. They're going to have your head on a plaque in the Common Room if you're not careful.'
âOh, I'll be fine. They're too in awe of Uncle Ernie to sack me.'
Fitzmaurice was related, on his mother's side, to Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton, veteran of the
expeditions, planter of the Union Flag within spitting distance of the South Pole, and at that moment â although the public was not yet aware of it â marooned on an ice floe in the Weddell Sea, his ship, the mighty
, crushed like a meringue beneath the leaden Antarctic water.
âYou know,' he slipped out of his smoking jacket âthat's really part of the problem.'
âMmm?' Crozier was picking flakes of plaster out of the turn-ups in his trouser-legs. He had heard this speech, or a version of it, before.
âBloody Shackers. People are always expecting me to be more like him. Steel-chinned, full of grit, an example to my peers. It's a lot to live up to. In fact, I bet you the first thing the Dean says is,' (he adopted an effete nasal falsetto) â“Really, Fitzmaurice, it's just not good enough, why can't you be more like your Uncle Ernest?”â¦'
He pulled on a camphor-scented blazer with piped lapels, that was a little too tight across the back.
âAlthough, it's funny,' he continued, ânow that I think of it, Mother said when they were children he was a complete crybaby: blubbed if he so much as grazed his knee. Made it her business to bully him at every opportunity.' He checked his hair in the oval glass above the mantle. âOh well, wish me luck.'
After a couple more hours of reading, and a short nap, Crozier gave in to hunger and strolled over to the College dining hall for a bowl of soup. Then, deciding a turn around Stephen's Green would clear his head, he exited the side gate of Trinity and, having narrowly avoided being hit by a tram, crossed to Dawson Street.
The gaslamps were lit and there was more than the usual activity, with a large group of people, mostly men, gathered outside the headquarters of the Irish Volunteers. The pavement was blocked by the throng, forcing him to the other side of the road. The crowd was being addressed from an upper-storey window by a darkly-bearded man with brilliantined hair. A banner draped across the brickwork below him read,
NO CONSCRIPTION, STAY UNITED
, and in smaller letters beneath,
NA HEIREANN â GOD BLESS IRELAND
âTo extend the Military Service Act across the Irish Sea would be no less than a declaration of war,' the man was telling them. âWe cannot be forced to aid the British Empire in an unjust campaign and, if they try to compel us,' he scanned the crowd, then held up a warning forefinger âif they try to compel us, we will resist and we
will not slacken
A round of enthusiastic cheering and clapping broke out.
âWhy,' the man continued, â
should we fight for a power that denies us the right to govern our own country?'
âSure, your lot couldn't govern a graveyard,' someone shouted.
A ripple of laughter ran through the group closest to the heckler but didn't catch. He tried again.
âYis couldn't organise a two-ticket raffle!'
The orator continued undaunted.
the Empire,' he roared, leaning forward onto the window sill, veins popping on his forehead. âThe Empire is
The audience was very excited now, adding foot-stamping and hat-waving to the general hubbub. Some youths detached themselves from the periphery and took off at speed. Crozier, who was uncomfortable in crowds, was unnerved by the growing sense of menace and resumed his walk in the direction of the park.
At the top of Dawson Street he paused to look in the window of the recruitment office: âA Call To Arms', âAn Appeal To Gallant Irishmen', âRemember The Women Of Belgium.' His eye was drawn to the latest image, soldiers marching between velvety hills and fields of gilded wheat, encouraging the farmers of Ireland to âJoin Up And Defend Your Possessions'. He pictured the tender greenery of his home county, its plush Ulster pastures and meadows rolling out from the edges of the city, and suddenly the face of Jenny Gilmour loomed up from behind a drumlin, poster-style, and his mind flashed back to the letter he had so recently held in shaking hands:
ââ¦ Please don't
think badly of me, Walter, I never set out to
make you fall in love.'
Crozier waited for a carriage, with its sharp stink of horse, to pass, and made his way towards the park. As he stepped onto the opposite pavement there was a loud crash and he turned to see the window of the recruitment office smashed, shards of glass hanging round a gaping hole. The youths â from earlier, he was almost certain â were sprinting towards Grafton Street. Passers-by were shouting and jumping out of their way. A whistle sounded and two policemen hurtled into view from the west side of the Green, drawing their truncheons as they ran. The Dublin Metropolitans were tall, Crozier noted. He was nearly six feet himself but he hadn't the bulk to be a policeman in this city, whose motto,
Obedientia Civium Urbis Felicitas
â-- âHappy the city where citizens obey' â was surely becoming a bit of a joke.
The quarry and their pursuers disappeared down King Street, a handful of inquisitive citizens trotting in their wake. Crozier completed his circuit of the Green without further incident and headed to McDaid's public house nearby, where he met a couple of fellow Divinity students earnestly discussing points of doctrine. He found he wasn't in the mood for debate, and excused himself after one drink.
Outside, a yellowish fog had descended, and as he peered into the murk a
materialised in front of him, hand out in supplication. The child's face was streaked with grime and its feet were bare. The boy (he was guessing it was male, though the hair was long) was saying something urgent in a low, wheedling mumble. From a prosperous quarter of a city awash with the proceeds of linen and shipbuilding, Crozier had been shocked at the scale of Dublin's slums and the degradation of the inhabitants who strayed across the river to beg. He had long since stopped trying to give money to every needy case, but such was the anguish in this creature's gaze he couldn't help but root in his pocket for a coin. The urchin dissolved.
Crozier stepped onto the downward slope of Grafton Street, where he fell in behind a throng of students â-- he recognised a couple of them from his short-lived membership of the rowing club â belting out a boisterous drinking song that boomed about the thoroughfare: â
I went down to Monto Town
to see young Kill McArdle,'
, âbut he wouldn
't give me a half a crown to go to
the Waxies' Dargle
' (And then, with extra gusto)
will you have? Will you have a pint? I'
ll have a pint with you, sir!'
The lads, thanks to a fresh victory on the River Liffey, were in high feather and oblivious to the disapproving stares of the citizenry. â
And if one of you don't order soon,
we'll be thrown out of the boozer!