It was a brisk but beautiful morning as I drove the cart down the road to Dunquin. It had the look of a day with rain in the afternoon, but it was not going to dampen my enjoyment of traveling across this beautiful countryside. As I moved slowly down the road, I reflected back on how I had come to be driving this cart full of crops to Dunquin.
Maura had left me the signal that her brother Tim was willing to help, and then she met me at the old church the next morning.
As we started on the way to Tim's farm, Maura stopped and grabbed me by the arm. "Sean, I meant to tell you yesterday. The worker I was talking to at your old home seems to be a real talkative man." With a teasing smile, she continued. "He also seemed to more than a little interested in me, I'm thinking. Anyway, according to him, he has a sister that works at the Earl's home. He wouldn't say anything specific, but I got the impression that he knew a lot about what goes on up there. So, I suppose I'll be needing to go to confession in the morning, but I winked at him and suggested that he should come by the pub on Saturday. I'm thinking that he's a man that loves to talk to attractive women. With enough drinks to loosen his tongue, with myself almost certain to be hanging on every word, perhaps he will share something that might be of value to us. What do you think?"
I laughed and answered. "I don't think a little tease and flirting is cause enough for you to rush to confession, but, do as you will. I think your idea is a good one. I'm thinking that after a couple of drinks, you probably won't be able to shut him up. Your biggest problem will be getting away from him."
"Ha!," she laughed. "And with me, being raised with five quick tempered brothers? Trust me Sean. It will be a fine day for a wake if he tries to stop me from leaving."
Recalling what a fearless tomboy she had been as a child, I did not doubt her a bit. After we arrived at her brother's farm, Maura spent a few minutes talking with the family, then returned home.
Tim looked at me and shook his head. "Unless your voice gives you away to someone you know well, I doubt seriously that anybody will recognize you. You've filled out lad, and that young face that we all remember, now has a weather beaten look about it. Not to mention that fine beard you have grown Sean. It's not likely anyone is going to know who you are."
He motioned for me to follow him, and then led me to the stable. After taking a good look around to be sure we had privacy, he asked. "So now, what is it that you need me to do Sean?"
"Tim," I answered. "I need a way to scout the Earl's place without drawing attention to myself, or causing his men to be more vigilant than normal. Here's what I'm thinking. I would be your cousin Michael from Dublin. After I have arrived to visit, you come down with a sore back. It's only natural that I would be willing to help my cousin by driving your crops to Dunquin for a few days while you get back on your feet. Just a few days, then I'll be gone, and no one will be the wiser."
"Aye, I like the sound of it," he responded. "It's for certain that I want to help. My back is hurting already. So, when do you think you might start driving for me?"
"Today would be fine with me, if that's all right."
"Then today it is," he answered and shook my hand. "I wish you well Sean."
That's how I came to be driving the cart down the road to Dunquin this fine morning. The bay horse had not been in the mood to be traveling this early, so we had a go-round for a few minutes. That however, was a problem I was well used to dealing with, so it wasn't long before I had him in the harness, and got the cart loaded. Tim spent a few minutes giving me instructions about the customers I was to deliver to, then down the road I went.
As I drove down the road, it was heart warming to have the time to look around and take stock of the beautiful land around me. I felt somewhat sad that a country with such a beautiful landscape, was also a country where far too many of it's people were poor. Sadder still, most of them were condemned to stay that way. There was so much opportunity in the new land for people that were not afraid of hard work. Yet, people are comfortable with what they know. To pick up and start anew in a strange land is not an easy thing to do. That was compounded by the fact that the money needed to make the voyage and start a new life, was beyond the means of so many. Had I not been forced to leave, it's possible that I might never have followed my dream of going to America. As we make or avoid decisions, we never know what fate has in store for us down the road.
The Earl's home was an impressive sight. As one would expect from a rich Nobleman, it was a large beautiful place. Sitting atop a hill, it provided him and his men, an excellent view of the country around him. If there were a rebellion of any kind, and a group of men were to come to attack the Earl, they would be easily spotted long before they could ever get up the hill.
As I neared the hill, I deliberately took the road that forked off to the right. I knew well that it eventually ended up at the Earl's home. No more than an eighth of a mile had passed before three of the Earl's armed guards stopped me. Two of the men stayed where they were, while the large fellow with bushy eyebrows and a nose that had been broken more than once, pushed his horse forward and stopped next to me. "This is a private road. What business do you have with the Earl," he demanded.
Making an obvious show of being intimidated and confused, I meekly responded. "I, I, I'm sorry. I didn't know. I'm from Dublin, and not familiar with this part of the country. I came to visit my cousin, and it's down with a bad back he is, after doing too much lifting. I volunteered to take his goods to market in Dunquin for a few days until he is back on his feet. It would seem that I must have gotten off on the wrong road."
Showing his contempt for my ignorance, he quickly snapped, "Turn around and go back to the road you were on. When you get there, turn to the right and it will take you to Dunquin." He started to turn his mount around, then stopped and glared at me. "You'll be marking that road well, if you know what's good for you. For if you come down this road again without permission, you will regret it for as long as you live."
After repeatedly offering my thanks, I turned the cart around and put the horse to a trot, as proof that the guard's warning had sufficiently frightened me. When I reached the road to Dunquin, I dismounted and made a show of looking in both directions as I scratched my head, making a show of not being sure which direction I should take. All the while I was doing this, I was carefully making a mental note of the layout of the Earl's home and the grounds around it.
On the way back from Dunquin, I was almost to the point where the Earl's private road lay, when I stopped the cart. Making it a point to not stare at the Earl's place, I walked up to the horse and lifted his feet one at a time, as if checking to see if he had picked up a stone. Of course, while I was doing that, I was carefully adding to my knowledge of the layout of the Earl's home.
The next day, in order to not draw suspicion, I did not stop or even slow down as I passed by the land belonging to the Earl. However, when I passed by a thick grove of trees that blocked the view from the top of the hill. I stopped and quickly climbed up into a tree and took a quick but detailed look, then scampered back down and proceeded on my way.
When I returned to Tim's on Saturday afternoon, he motioned for me to follow him into the barn. Once inside, he said. "Maura is going to bring her kids over here tomorrow after church. We think you should come also. We will introduce you to her kids and mine, as our cousin. We have cousins all over Ireland that none of our children have ever met, so it will not be unusual for them. That way, if later they are questioned, they will simply say that their uncle did help me out while I was down on my back. He smiled. "Besides, I'm betting you could use a really good meal."
Nodding my head affirmatively, I replied. "That I cannot deny. It does sound like a good idea. I will be here."
When Sunday came, I woke sooner than I had planned. More than likely, it was the anticipation of hearing what information Maura might have, not to mention looking forward to spending an afternoon with family, while enjoying my first good meal since returning to Ireland.
I sat near the entrance of the cave as I let the brisk morning air hit my face, and watched a couple of ships heading out into the Atlantic. My morning hunger pains were satisfied with a bit of cold flour, and a bottle of ale that Tim had given me before I left his place on Saturday.
With time to kill, I found myself staring out across the ocean, as if somehow I could peer through the distance and see what was going on back in America. Even as I tried to avoid it, I couldn't help but worry about how my family was doing. There were so many bad things that could happen, but deep inside I knew worrying accomplished nothing. Dover, Mariska and Senta were used to living in the west, and I could only trust that they would be all right. Truth was, it was my own future that was probably more at risk than theirs.
When I arrived at Tim's home, it really brought back fond memories of the times that the families would gather together on Sundays. The house was filled with noise as the kids played, and the grownups talked, while the meal was being prepared. I was introduced to the children as Maura and Tim's cousin from Dublin. As Tim had believed would happen, the kids simply accepted it at face value. When they started to ask too many questions, Tim and Maura shooed them outside to play.
The meal that Maura and Tim's wife Maureen, put together was well worth waiting for. When I finally forced myself away from the table, I felt like a stuffed pig, but indeed, I was a happy stuffed pig. After we talked for a bit, Tim spoke up. "Sean, Maura, would you two come with me? I've something to show you in the barn."
Once inside the barn, he said, "I've some work that needs to be done in the back of the loft. I'll climb up there, and you two can discuss your plans. It's better that I know as little as necessary in case things go bad."
After he climbed up into the loft and we could hear him working, Maura turned to me. "Sean, as I suspected, the worker had a lot to say once I got him in a talking mood." She grinned. "Heck, I couldn't shut him up. It seems that every Tuesday night, the Earl leaves his home and goes to meet with a young woman. Apparently, she is the daughter of a very powerful and important man, and he dares not bring her to his home for fear her father would find out. So, they meet in a cottage not far from Dunquin."
My mind was racing as I tried to figure out the best way this information could be used. "Does he go to this cottage alone, or does his guards come with him? Did he say anything to indicate that there was a time pattern of when he left and returned?"
"No Sean, he's an evil man, but the Earl is no fool. He knows that if he ventured out into the countryside alone at night, it would not be long before someone killed him."
I felt my face grimace. "I was afraid that would be the case. That would have made it far too easy."
Maura continued. "Perhaps this will be of some help. He leaves an hour after dark, and then usually returns between three and four in the morning. Sean, the thing of it is, according to this man's sister, the guards and staff are under so much pressure when the Earl is around, that they look forward to his visits. According to her, when he leaves, most of the people make use of that time to enjoy his absence and relax. That may be your best opportunity to get in the compound without being spotted."
I turned and paced the length of the barn three times as I thought it over, then walked back over to Maura. "That's it then. I'll give them a couple of hours to let their guard down after he leaves, then I'll sneak into the house, find the Earl's room, and wait for his return. Then, with luck, I'll take care of him, and sneak back out and be on my way back to the cave without being caught."
She looked a bit dubious. "Will it really be that simple then?"
"Probably not," I answered as I flashed her a smile. "Still, we can hope."