Read The Blood Dimmed Tide Online
Authors: Anthony Quinn
THE BLOOD-DIMMED TIDE
London at the dawn of 1918 and Ireland’s most famous literary figure, WB Yeats, is immersed in supernatural investigations at his Bloomsbury rooms.
Haunted by the restless spirit of an Irish girl whose body is mysteriously washed ashore in a coffin, Yeats undertakes a perilous journey back to Ireland with his apprentice ghost-catcher Charles Adams to piece together the killer’s identity.
Surrounded by spies, occultists and Republican rebels, the two are led on a gripping journey along Ireland’s wild Atlantic coast, through the ruins of its abandoned estates, and into its darkest, most haunted corners. Falling under the spell of dark forces, Yeats and his novice ghost-catcher come dangerously close to crossing the invisible line that divides the living from the dead.
Anthony Quinn is an Irish writer and journalist. His debut novel Disappeared was shortlisted for a Strand Literary Award by the book critics of the Guardian, LA Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, and other US newspapers. It was also listed by Kirkus Reviews as one of the top ten thrillers of 2012. His short stories have twice been shortlisted for a Hennessy/New Irish Writing award. The Blood-Dimmed Tide is the first in a series of three historical novels set in Ireland during WWI and the War of Independence. He lives in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland.
Praise for Anthony Quinn’s
‘A major piece of work. Eerily tender, a wonderfully wrought classic that is a landmark in the fiction of Northern Ireland… Line up the glittering prizes of mystery. This one is going to take ’em all’ – Ken Bruen
Other Books by Anthony Quinn
An Inspector Celcius Daly Mystery
The Blood-Dimmed Tide
NO EXIT PRESS
For John Paul and Kerri-Louise Quinn –
Little brother, shining bright,
Now I look up to you
‘The hills shall be torn down, and the sea shall have red waves, and blood shall be spilled, and every mountain valley and every moor shall be on high, before you shall perish, my little black rose’
Anonymous Gaelic Poet
Upon Attending a Séance
IF it is your wish to mingle with the denizens of the spirit world, you must begin by discarding any preconceived notions you might have about our ghostly companions. Firstly, it is incorrect to believe that they float in a state of radiant enchantment, or that they experience no suffering in their ethereal realms. Their world is riddled with just as many labyrinths of love and hate as ours, and is governed by the same unfulfilled longings and restless fears that afflict the world of the living.
More importantly than this, to make contact with a ghost you must be prepared to relinquish the very idea of your own existence. For most seekers, everything exists because they exist. They believe that whatever they see and whatever they hear must be real, and thus, conversely, that what they cannot see or hear must not be real.
Instead, you should adopt a view of the world based upon your non-existence. Then you might hear or see things as surprising as a field of rainbows bursting from a darkened sky.
In fact, with the correct training in the rituals of the occult, it is possible to guide your mind through the gates of forgetting that separate this realm from the next. Only then will you see that we are all wandering spirits, overcrowding a dark continent of emptiness, and that our fears and longings are so numerous they intermingle with those of the dead.
Ireland, November 1917
Ace of Pentacles
A ROUGH hand grabbed the captain’s shoulder and shook him from a sleep so disturbed it was worse than no sleep at all. The sentry shone a lamp in his eyes and urged him to get dressed at once. He jerked awake with a gasp and cursed, but right away sensed there was danger. The night terror he had tried to shake off had left his reflexes jagged and tense, but his mind felt sharp. Beyond the round flare of the lamp, he detected the sentry’s presence, a pool of interrogating watchfulness in the dark.
He shielded his raw eyes. ‘Damn it, man. I can’t see a thing.’
The lamp swung away from his face, and its holder became a single reeling shadow moving about the room. He swung his legs out of the narrow bunk with a grunt. The sentry’s stench of sweat and stale alcohol climbed up his nose and distracted him as he fumbled putting on the uniform. He cursed again. In his haste, he had poked his big toe right through a hole in one of the socks, tearing the darned patch he had sewn on the previous night. Breathing heavily, he fumbled in a drawer for a fresh pair.
‘You haven’t got time’, warned the sentry.
‘Of course I have time’, he replied, but he hurried as quickly as he could.
When fully dressed, he searched out his revolver and thrust it under his shirt. The cold press of its muzzle against his flesh made his heart gulp. It had been months since he had experienced the chilling sensation that someone might soon try to kill him.
The sentry held the lamp before him as they made their way down the steps of the lighthouse, the boards creaking beneath their boots. In the courtyard, horses and men were hurtling back and forth in the darkness. At first, the captain thought the encampment itself was under attack but then he heard a soldier shouting about gun smugglers on the beach at Blind Sound. A look-out posted to the beach had spotted the hulk of a dark object that might have been a German submarine breaking through the waves.
Without hesitation, he took the lead, checking the men had their weapons and bayonets drawn. He waved his revolver confidently in the air and marched them along his preferred route to the beach, avoiding roads or laneways. He tried to show them how fearless he was, and he hoped they believed him. In reality, he walked with great wariness, worried that an ambush might spring out of the darkness at any moment.
They felt the Atlantic before they saw it. After the storm, the air was surprisingly quiet, and so still that a thick mist formed around them, soaking their faces and uniforms. Through this aerial sea, they crouched forward. Dogs barked at them from nearby farms, but soon the deafening roar of the Atlantic drowned out all other sounds. By the time their boots sank into the soft sand at Blind Sound, the fog had soaked their tunics, their trousers, even their socks.
Crawling to the top of a dune, the captain stared into the darkness but was unable to see anything. Hesitation now could get him and his men killed, he thought. However, he stayed there, proposing and rejecting various scenarios that might be occurring along the enshrouded coast, waiting for the fog and darkness to peel away and reveal God only knew what. The slow fury of the crashing waves sent shivers down his spine.
In many ways, Captain Thomas Oates felt as though he had run aground on this remote shoreline, marooned for more than a month in a spooky lighthouse with restricted sunshine, food and company and a ramshackle band of men under his command − an unpleasant interlude in his soldierly career. Withdrawn on health grounds from the front line in France, his new posting consisted of inspecting coastal defences and studying sea-charts and timetables to ascertain when and where an invasion or a gun-smuggling operation might occur. There was an added urgency to his work since the interception of Sir Roger Casement the year before on a U-boat stocked with weapons intended for the Easter Rising. Casement, a British consular officer turned Irish Republican, had been subsequently stripped of his knighthood and hanged for attempting to organise aid for the Irish rebellion.
The Admiralty had billeted him to the lighthouse and assigned him a reserve force drawn from the local fishing families. They had not known he was afraid of the sea. Not once had his commanders asked him about his relationship with open water. Ever since his childhood, the sea had been a place of wild creatures, whirlpools and treacherous currents, the coast a final frontier bordering a continual shifting of directionless masses of water. Land was solid, safe, negotiable, while the sea was everything else.
At first, he spent his days in the upper room of the lighthouse poring over sea charts and coastal maps, rather than face the reality of nature. Sometimes he played bridge or wrote letters home. Through the window, he watched the distant sea, the gun-grey waves rising and falling, the surf forming on the strand like the heavy, curling moustaches of the warmongering generals he’d left behind in France, but who still invaded his dreams.
The autumnal storms came, and the sea turned black as tar, flecked with steepening eddies of white. On the clear mornings after the storms had spent themselves, it shone with an exuberant bottle green colour, the breaking waves mutating into sparkling crystals of light.
Eventually loneliness drove him to explore the coast, but despite his best efforts, his solitary trips were always inconclusive. The mist or the rain, the steep cliff precipices and tumbling rock, or the irregular tidal currents would eventually drive him back to the comforts of the lighthouse.
He doubted that if the Germans did arrive in a U-boat he would be able to catch them in time. There was too much sea, and it was always on the move. Keeping even a small patch of the coast under observation was like trying to hold in the mind’s eye the twirling movements of a large flock of agitated birds. Nor did he trust the local men in his battalion, the sullen-eyed fishermen and sailors who looked prepared to abandon the lighthouse camp at any moment for a hazardous boating adventure. It was true that they obeyed his orders; they also acknowledged his professional expertise in handling guns and organising patrols, but that was as far as they seemed to trust him. Whenever he joined them for tea or cigarettes, their eyes would fill with suspicion and coldness. Deep down he had the unshakeable conviction that if he went out to sea with them, they would tie him up and tip his struggling body overboard.
His band of men melted in and out of the mist; in the stillness, their disembodied eyes waited, watching his every move. He listened carefully to the Atlantic, fearful of missing a telltale sound amid the booming of the waves. Although last night’s squall had long since expended itself, the swell at Blind Sound might continue stubbornly for days. He had learned from his observations that the sea was at its most fickle along this particular part of the coast. Even the fishermen refused to row their boats there, believing that witches and malign spirits haunted the waves.
He had studied the sea’s movements in the bay for weeks, and been baffled by the behaviour of the waves. He had walked the beach from end to end, marking the tide levels at different phases of the moon, and following the passage of seaweed on the currents. The closer he observed the sea’s behaviour the more confused he became. Sailors and fishermen knew that time and tide were synonymous, and that the year’s calendar could be plotted by the familiar rhythm of tidal stages and currents. However, the tides at Blind Sound were labyrinthine in their complexity. At certain times of the day, they seemed to fall under a spell and flow against the direction in which they normally travelled. Sometimes in barely perceptible currents, at other times in very rapid ones. He also noted that when the wind blew from the north, the water in the bay emptied, like bath water suddenly going down a drain. Equally, the time of high-water was vague and changeable, suggesting that the fundamental routines of nature had somehow come unstuck.
One evening his observations were interrupted by the sight of a servant girl from Lissadell House wading out half-naked into the cold sea. He noted how her dark hair unfurled in the water behind her, and that she strode into the waves with an air of confidence rather than discomfort. After half an hour in the water, she returned to the beach, dressed, took out a pocket watch, and wrote for a while in some sort of book, before making her way back along the coast to the winking lights of the estate.
On successive nights, he kept finding her in the same bay, waist deep in the sea, as though trapped in the maze of shifting currents. It sparked his curiosity to see that she, too, seemed fixated by the movement of the tides, exploring their changing ebb and flow, searching for their withheld secret. He watched her make notes and record the time after each of her swims.
He felt a strange sense of ownership over Blind Sound’s shifting tides. They were his puzzle, not the servant girl’s. What was the reason behind her curiosity? What made her wade out so fearlessly night after night?
It seemed the bay held a mystery neither of them could escape.
A silvery plume rose over the sea, not more mist but the breaking of day. For a few moments, the fog dissolved and the captain had a clear view of the beach, the broad sweep of silver sand, empty of life, and a chain of breaking waves. He took out his field glasses and spied a dark, rectangular object, strangely still in the long swells. It might have been a basking shark, exhausted by its long journey north, or a capsized boat, but an undertow of fear made him worry that he was mistaken and that it was indeed an enemy submarine. He waited for something to happen, but the panorama of ever-breaking surf remained unchanged.
‘Have we any reports about a boat sinking?’ he asked the sentry.
‘No. None at all.’
‘The weather has been hellish, and the currents in the bay erratic. It could be an old wreck dredged from the sea-bottom.’
‘What shall we do?’
Abruptly, the fog sneaked up behind them again, enclosing them in its frog-spawn greyness. The beach became a hazy blur, and then vanished.
An invisible sense of churning chaos floated before them.
‘Let’s wait for the fog to clear.’
However, uncertainty gnawed at the captain. He stared at the men but they seemed patient, content to wait. After all, they were fishermen and used to long lonely nights. Through the suspended moisture, their faces looked pale and bloated, like near drownings.
‘Are you a reader of poetry, sir?’ the sentry asked him.
He hesitated. The literary question had wrong-footed him.
‘Yes,’ he replied, eventually.
‘Then you will have heard of William Butler Yeats. His mother’s people were the Pollexfens of Sligo. He used to frequent this beach to compose his poems.’
Lake Isle of Innisfree
One of the younger men spoke up. ‘They say Mr Yeats is a magician as well as a poet. And that he can be carried five miles in the winking of an eye.’
Another replied, ‘It’s also said the Pollexfens’ blood is infected with madness.’
‘I’d call into question his magical powers,’ said the sentry. ‘The last time Yeats visited Sligo he took a rowing boat to search for his beloved isle of Innisfree. He rowed the entire day and half the night, but couldn’t find any trace of it.’
The men laughed mirthlessly.
The captain turned away and stared at the mist. At first, it seemed to swallow up the daylight, but then the rising sun won through. He lifted his field glasses and surveyed the beach. He watched the sea flicker with breaking surf. It was a view of intensely flickering moments, but at the same time oddly peaceful. The dark outline he could not make out in the fog was now revealed in daylight. It was a black hexagonal shape that could only be a coffin, strangely riding the breaking waves. He paused and saw the men glance anxiously at each other.
‘It’s going out again,’ shouted the sentry. ‘The storm must have lifted it from an old wreck.’
The coffin slid back into the waves, a black diamond disappearing from view.
Following the captain’s command, the men spilled down the dune and clambered into the sea. They waited for the gathering surge of the next wave to wash over the coffin, and then they circled it. In the slack water it floated towards them, battered and leaking, the dark wood decaying in places. On a heavily rusted brass plate the captain made out some words and a date: Body Unknown, Died at Sea, 1889.
The men began hauling the coffin, but the sea seemed to grow angry at their efforts. It sent a huge wave sweeping over them, dragging the coffin back into its hungry mouth. The men struggled to keep their footing against the pull of the retreating water.
After a few minutes, the coffin broke the surface again as if coming up for air. Unexpectedly, the life went out of the sea. The waves collapsed into a sizzling froth, leaving the coffin floating in a pocket of calm jade. The men waded in, grabbing the coffin and rising as one, heaving it up the beach.
They were barely halfway across the sand when a shout of pain rose from one of the men in front. His boot had caught against a rock. He went down like a sack of spilled rice, tipping his corner of the coffin onto a jagged reef. The worn wood creaked and groaned but held together. The men raised the coffin again, and this time the captain walked behind, checking their progress.