An early chapter of the novel is entitled “Coming in to the King” , a phrase referring to a British policy initiated under the Tudors which also was known as Surrender and Regrant. In this case the irony of the term is that the Protestant protagonist is coming in to the Roman Catholic Church by entering the chapel to confess his sins. Will is in a sense submitting to the will of the Roman Catholic Church as the chieftains did to the Tudors, and he too retains sovereignty, remarking to the priest that he needs no intermediary to act of his behalf between himself and God.
Later that same week, I once again board the ferry to Duncraven. I climb to the passenger cabin area and look out upon the windblown lough which we will soon cross. The tide is turning. One trillion gallons of saltwater rushes out from the north and into the Irish Sea, creating a swirling, sweeping whirlpool midstream. Should the keel of some boat be sucked into the vacuous vortex, it would mean certain death. But such is not the fate of our substantial ferry today, and soon I am seated beside the Savage brothers in The Scotsman. The dark, chill pub is empty save the three of us and its owner, John Lyon. While Lyon sweeps the floor, Nick resumes the hurling of insults he initiated when first we met on the far side of the lough.
I retaliate by inquiring of Nick his choice of church for Sunday worship.
Religion is for wankers, he answers. No one, says he, is his lord or master.
I rebut that Satan once said the same to his fellow fallen angels.
Nick’s far more amicable brother attempts to veer the focus of the chat toward sports and questions about American women. Amidst Nick’s continuing barbed jibes, Daniel also educates me about Duncraven’s primary surviving industry—salt water fishing. Since 1620, a large fishing fleet manned by locals has set out from south of town each morning, weather permitting. While the fishermen scourge the Irish Sea for prawn and herring, fat seals stalk the murky Duncraven inlet where at night the boats weigh anchor, anticipating the arrival of morsels of the day’s catch. None of the harbour haul will find its way across the lough to the Dunshane Cross market. Instead, the day’s catch will be peddled up and down the peninsula, from Duncraven to Donaghadee and westward to Bangor and Holywood. Daniel wanders off topic to recount how the first Scot settlers gathered up the local stray sheep and used them to their advantage, fleecing and making mutton of them as well. “And we’re still fleecin’ ‘em to this very day,” says Daniel with a wink and a nudge.
In the midst of Daniel’s revelations, his tipsy brother says, “For foxache, Dan, leave the feckin’ Yank alone alfeckinready.”
“Feck off, Nick. I’m trying to educate yer man a bit about our local history. The very least ye can do is—”
“Waste of time if ye ask me.”
“Well I didn’t ask ye, did I?”
Thumbing at random through the dog-eared pages of Saga of the Six Counties I say, “Ye know, Dan, I read somethin’ here in Saga of the Six Counties about that fishin’ business. Can’t put my finger on it at the moment. Have ye ever seen this book? Brilliant stuff. Tons of facts in here. God, how I love facts. When I first arrived, I knew nothin’ of the local history or politics… nothin’ to be seen on the evening news… even less than nothin’ to be found in The Telegraph, but this book…”—I poke the open page with my index finger— “… this book is a wealth of information.”
“It is at that,” says Lyon as he opens the door to sweep away the dust.
A chilled blast of winter air rushes in. I draw the book to my chest to stop the pages from blowing by. Lyon shuts the door while I flip through the pages.
“Have ye no clue how prominent a role yer family played in the local history?” I say. “This book tells all. Quite extraordinary. Ye Savages…yer legend’ry.”
Nick sets down his pint. His furry brows rise. His black eyes grow large and white as he studies my page turning.
“Oh, now there’s a grand piece of history as ever ye’ll lay yer eyes on, lad,” says Nick. “None better was ever penned. Brilliant stuff. Brilliant, I say.”
“Do ye know anything of the author?”
“Met him once. Brilliant scholar. Quite the expert on Irish history.”
“He does seem quite knowledgeable.”
“Tell me, Will. Have ye a wife?” says Nick out of the blue, as though we were now the best of mates.
“Me as well,” says he. “It’s been six months now.”
“Must seem like an eternity, given the circumstances,” says Daniel.
Nick bangs his fist on the bar saying, “I need meself an heir. A handsome prince to one day wield the Savage sword.”
Lyon laughs while jingling the coins in his trouser pockets. “Handsome? Handsome, is it? It’ll take real talent for ye to stand even a remote chance of producing a handsome heir. Real talent.”
“And it’s talent I have. Her name is Grace. First-rate talent and ye know it, John.”
Reaching into his wallet, Nick produces a wedding photo of himself standing beside a ginger-haired lady. He waves it before my eyes. Scrutinizing the photo, Beauty and the Beast comes to mind, but with a different screw to the fable for, unlike the beast in the tale, Nick is far beyond even the most distant hope of transfiguration. “Not to appear envious, but she is one gorgeous lady,” I say.
“Pure talent,” drones Daniel into his pint jar.
Nick mumbles on. “My fetchin’ bride and me hole up in Savage Castle… up from the lough… just north of town. Have ye seen the place?”
“Hard to miss, sitting as it does on the shoreline.”
“Aye. Just a wee bit south of the Newman estate. My family’s been dug in there since time eternal. Not a proper castle—just yer run-of-the-mill Norman keep, mind ye—one turret and a small enclosure wall, but a fine situation nonetheless. The rent is nil and we’re comfortable enough– at least, I’m comfortable.”
I study the photograph dangling before me. “And the lady?”
“Spends hours at her turret window, lookin’ northwest across the lough,” says Daniel.
“Handy enough situation,” continues Nick, “what with me on the dole at the moment and all. But on the down side, there’s yer man Dan here in the bargain, he bein’ an invalid.”
“She’s quite a looker,” I say. “If ye don’t mind my askin’, howse the sax?”
John Lyon draws near, rubbing the bar counter with a moist, dirty rag, a fag dangling from his lower lip.
“Sax?” laughs Daniel, who leans his head toward my right ear to half whisper. “Sax ye say? That’s rich.”
“They have yet to conjugate the wedding vowels,” says Daniel.
“So, it’s true what they say?” says John. “Ye haven’t been around the horn yet, Nick?”
“What a feckin’ waste of talent,” says Daniel. “Tell ‘em why, Nick. Go on. Tell ‘em.”
Nick sits silent for an eternity, twisting his pint jar. Fingering the frothy foam, he stares deep into its carbonated contents, admiring the effervescent, amber-tinted beverage.
“Go ahead, Nick. Out with it.”
“Aye,” affirms Daniel with a sly grin. “The drink. She wants the devil off his back.”
“Did she not know from the start ye were on the drink?” I say.
“Hadn’t a clue. Slow as molasses, she was. I duped her handily enough throughout the courtship. She knew nothin’ of the dole business, nothin’ of the allotment, nothin’ of my drinkin’ ways. I told her I had a fine situation—that I was livin’ off the family fortune and title and that was that.”
“What about the constant scent of alcohol?”
“A mere side effect of the medication, said I to her.”
“Medication for what?”
Brother Daniel, caught in the midst of a gulp of his drink, spews forth a streaming spray of Tennent’s saying, “Hah! His Adult Deficit Disorder! No respect to the beast with two backs from that lady until he’s off the drink.”
“Ye’re slaggin’ me.”
“For how long?” I ask. “A month?”
“Not a month,” says Nick.
“No, not a week,” he taps his empty pint jar on the countertop. “Just a day.”
“One day and that’s us?”
“Aye. One bloody day without the drink would do it,” Nick turns and studies me through vacant, bloodshot eyes. “B’Jaysus, William. Ye look a bit like Dez’ nephew, Colum.” He turns toward John Lyon. “Thank ye, John, I will have another.”
“Won’t be happenin’ tonight,” says Lyon as he draws another Strongbow. “Mind yerself with the drink, Nick. Just a wee bit more and that’s that. Ye’ll be buried in the cellar of Downpatrick Church soon enough.”
7 March 1996
I hope this letter finds you well.
A short while after first stepping off the ferry in Dunshane Cross, I met a fellow named Nick Savage. We struck up a conversation and, over the course of a few pints, Nick briefed me on the local history. As near as I could gather from his slurred speech, the relevant annals run something like this:
In the thirteenth century, a fellow named Don de Corset arrived here from the east with the pope’s blessings. He was a straight enough arrow, a member of the Gerry family, who answered to a knave named Strongblow. In addition to the mandatory fistful of knights, de Corset also had himself a stunning wife, a princess from the Aisle of Men, who ordered the building of Ballybrady Abbey. Meanwhile, de Corset relocated the crusted bones of Saints Patrick and Columbine to some quiet spot far to the west of here, that their eternal souls might not be disturbed by the impending turmoil of his mission, which was to tighten the strings on Ulster until the desired shape was achieved. To that end de Corset set up camp somewhere north of Duncraven where he and his knights set about the tedious business of seducing the native race. In due time, the locals were vanquished. Don de Corset repaid his knights by granting them thiefdoms. The main thief around here was a knight by the name of Savage.
Old Nick also mumbled on about Pope Hadrian the Fart from the Temple of the Flatulation, who donated to Ireland a papist bull with a ring in its neb and how John Sorcery passed the ring minus the bull along to Henry the Sickened and he to Strongblow and he in turn to de Corset and in due course it fell into Savage hands there to remain until, come one chill January day, the precious jewel slipped from Lord Savage’s grasp as he rowed in the river. Lost forever or so it seems. Nick says it was forged from the finest gold and embedded with premium emeralds of diverse hues. But oh-the-pity for now that gem is lost.
Somewhere between our third second and second third pints, a few hundred years had passed. The Red Earl was now long in the grave, but the Savages remained. Your man Neil burnt the peninsula to cinders, much to the benefit of his Clammy Boy cousins, but then the Clammy Boys were soon history themselves and now all that remains of them is some old stone chair that sits in The Ulster Museum. The peninsula was useless after that, reduced as it was to little more than ashes and charcoal, so the crown imported a lorry load of lowlanders to grow plantains. And here they remain to this very day, comfortable and living off the fat of the land as they are. Somewhere along the way some Savage decided to change the family name to Newman, but to this very day most of the locals prefer an old savage to a new man. It has been downhill for the Savage clan ever since those new gents ascended to the title and built that two-faced mansion. So says Nick.
I was hoping Nick would elaborate further on the two-faced business, but he had to be off as the traditional music session was on the boil. Nick calls that stuff diddly dee. Your man has zero appreciation for those old songs.
I am trying my best to further educate myself about the local history. To that end, I was not unfortunate to lay my hands on a secondhand copy of Saga of the Six Counties. I study it nightly, along with my Holy Bible of course. Most of what Nick told me hails from the former. He knows precious little about the latter.
In closing, you will be pleased to know that the local aristocracy—Lord and Lady Newman—have taken a shining to me. Lady Eleanor Newman, who is also the church organist, has opened their home to me. I find my lady to be no great hand at the organ, although she does derive the utmost pleasure in playing the instrument.
I have now settled in at Eton Gate Lodge, situated on the Newman demesne grounds. Please send all future correspondence to this address:
Eton Gate Lodge
Newtonards BT9 2XG
All the Best,