On the morning drives in St Stephens Green, Gwendaline amused her sister with comments on the people who lived in the elegant houses they passed and on the people they met.
airs the same feathers every morning for five months of the year. It is said
that Sir Evelyn is finding it hard to collect rents in
Caroline, though she felt it to be rather foolish, rose to the occasion, smiling at all and sundry with a blend of queenly indifference and youthful amiability. The noble poise of her head redeemed what might have been a too-ready smile; her blue-green eyes slew admirers as surely as darts from Cupid's bow. The ladies, sailing along in their variously apparisoned carriages, envied the little carriage and its beautiful occupants. They nodded and smiled to Gwen who, though she provoked scandalous gossip, was a recognised member of their elite. Her sister, they had to admit, was a rare beauty, but how shabby her plain, plum-dark habit, and how incongruous the wilting red plume in her hat; they would discuss these defects later in their boudoirs.
The young men on horseback formed a cohort around the carriage. All they saw was the girl with lively blue-green eyes. A most enticing filly had entered the dusty ring. They set themselves to be agreeable. Caroline seemed to appreciate their wit for she smiled agreeably at the most foolish sallies. They reminded her of the player-company; the young officers in their immaculate, colourful uniforms were more fitted for a stage war or a ceremonial parade than for the field of battle; she could hardly picture any of them actually drawing his elaborately handled sword or silver-mounted pistol. The lay dandies were even more theatrical in their well-cut habits moulded to the figure, their embroidered waistcoats and plumed hats; their tongues were finely-wrought silver, fashioned to deal out brave words without meaning. She could not take this parade seriously, but its very theatricality excited her ..... and she was the centre of the stage, a not ungratifying experience for any young girl. The conversation was as jerky as their progress; a staccato commentary on the superficial times: of assemblies, sporting events, dress, entertainment, of the flurry of social events that kept the persistently optimistic from thinking of graver matters. There was a touch of fever in the enthusiasm for fleeting things, as though the time were getting short and must be redeemed at speed.
The summer of 1797 streamed out before them, an endless tapestry of gaiety and colour, the best summer season ever known. Indubitably girls like Caroline were more than welcome to join in all the fun of the fair; they would see her at the Rotunda, at Crow Street theatre, at the races, at viceregal assemblies perhaps; she would never lack partners in the inexhaustible dance. The novelty of such a prospect excited her.
Gwendaline was pleased with her younger sister's performance. Usually the centre of attention when she drove out with the plain Theodosia, she was content to retreat into the background and to engage in earnest conversation with Morrey who rode close by her side. She had chosen to wear a habit of muted stone-colour, and a modest little bicorne with gold tassels, her dark hair demurely braided.
When at last they were alone together in the room they shared, Gwendaline threw her arms around her sister.
“Why, you have taken
“It was kind of her to let me take her place this morning ..... quite a sacrifice.”
“Oh no! I think it is a trial for her to parade in public; she will be happier in the country, where she can play Lady Bountiful to her heart's content. She enjoys being admired as much as any one; but she knows that admiration will never be for her beauty. This morning she went with Lady Brereton on a charitable mission; Lady Brereton is exceedingly devoted to good works; she enjoys patronising the poor.”
“You do not take any part, Gwen?”
“No, my dear. I do not approve of poverty. I would prefer to eliminate the poor.”
Caroline looked startled, and a little puzzled.
“I said eliminate,” Gwen explained, “I
did not suggest extermination. Soup is no answer to poverty. I think it
perpetuates it. I hate fawning beggary. Lady Brereton thrives on it; it makes her
feel saintly. Yet, though she is a thriftier manager than most ladies of her
class, more food is wasted in her kitchens than would feed half the poor of
Caroline pondered her sister's remarks. They explained a good deal of Gwen's ready, even shameless, acceptance of the luxury bestowed on her. But Gwendaline interposed, sharply:
“I believe I earn all I get. You have
no idea how difficult it is for me to keep smiling when Dosia
is glum, to be polite and patient with Lady Brereton, who will talk of the fine
days of youth, and of Aunt Millicent, whom she holds up as a model of
rectitude. Mr Brereton is not particularly charming, as you may have noticed;
but he DOES appreciate me; sometimes I think I may be the one ray of sunshine
in this pompous house. I am sure he has intervened on my behalf many times; you
can imagine my behaviour does not always please her ladyship. She was
particularly aggrieved when Morrey singled me out;
she had hopes for Dosia; Morrey
was the older man who should have appreciated a modest, dutiful girl.
“Poor Theodosia! Is she really happy about her marriage? Does she love her fiancé?”
“You sweet romantic goose! Of course Dosia is as happy as she ever will be, or expects to be. Very few people in these circles marry for love. She will be comfortable, respected and looked up to ..... the lady of the manor; that will give her opportunity to play the grand dame; the peasants will touch their forelocks when she passes; visiting dignitaries will sit at her table; she will sit in the family pew, bear an heir to the estate, lie with the ancestors in the family vault at the end. Otherwise, she runs a distinct chance of being a thwarted spinster, full of forgettable good works.”
Caroline had to be satisfied with her sister's reply. There were other, more urgent matters to attend to. Gwendaline was rooting through her wardrobe, her brow puckered.
“Carrie darling, what a pity you are taller than I. You're going to need some clothes. Little as I have, I would have shared, but hardly anything would fit. Morrey would help, but I'd rather not beg.”
“On no account must you do that. I'll get by with my blue silk and my green velvet and the riding habit Lucy gave me along with some other garments she could not wear while they are still in fashion.”
“I'd like you to have more changes ..... there will be so many outings ..... and there is Dosia's wedding to consider.”
It was Theodosia who solved most of Caroline's dress problems. Her marriage was arranged for early June and she was daily engrossed with fittings and forays to the milliners; she was to have the most elegant and complete trousseau any bride could wish. Everything in her already extensive wardrobe was delegated to charity.
Mornings and evenings were busy. With great speed Caroline was being carried away in a whirl of inconsequential gaiety. Every day there was a morning drive in the fashion parade. There would be an assembly at the Rotunda or some other fashionable venue; there were lights and music, partners in the dance, flirtatious glances, a new play at the theatre, a fresh opera or other musical entertainment. Every morning there were fresh invitations, scented billets doux, flowers. There were hours of dressing, of being drilled by Gwendaline in the finer points of behaviour, gesture, etiquette, for in every company, sharp eyes behind fans watched for any social slip. Who would not relish so much attention; at times Caroline felt herself grow needle sharp with watching herself; she could feel the false smile freezing on her face.
Theodosia sometimes elected to go driving in the little carriage and then Caroline was happy to change roles and accompany Lady Brereton to her soup kitchen or other charitable venue. Lady Brereton was gratified at her willingness to help and her unfeigned interest and non-patronising manner with the destitute and unsavoury. The girl, Lady Brereton had to concede, had a generous heart. If only she did not ask so many searching questions.
For a young woman who seldom found time to read the papers, Gwendaline was remarkably au fait with the graver current affairs. She had a sharp intelligence and Lord Moreton as a mentor. She knew more of what went on in the country at the time than did any society belle. She related the events of that troubled time with her own life and the life of her family: the three sisters. She could have been called callous in her unashamed readiness to speculate how every event related to the circumstances of the three; no one could dispute her fierce, mother-wolf devotion to the only people she really loved. She could not change the world, or the times; she could help to direct the destinies of the O’Shaughnessy sisters, and that was her ambition.
making a name for himself,” she remarked one day. “He is one of
“Morrey! Surely he is not a United Irishman?”
“Morrey's just Morrey. HE has an enquiring mind. HE reads everything ..... thinks a great deal.”
“He reminds me of .....,” but this was no time to remember Hugh Ro O'Moran who belonged to another world. “Thinking does nothing to improve things,” she said lamely.
case, it does. There are improving landlords, of course; but Morrey sets the best example. His estate is a model for all
Kildare ..... all
“He is ambitious. He will succeed in his own way. Actually, I dislike him; I believe he could be very cruel.”
“Maybe it is the only way to be ..... quite ruthless. Anyway, that seems to be what his commanding officer requires. John Ferriter’s bound for a splendid military future. Perhaps I should have encouraged him.”
“You mean ……?”
“Yes, I mean, I just might have attracted his notice. But he was humbler then, a green subaltern. Theodosia was quite smitten; he wooed her for a time. She seemed like a good match then. It was as well, perhaps, that Lady Brereton quashed the romance in time.”
“I think you admire John Ferriter, Gwen.”
“I do; in his own way, he is admirable; having embarked on a career, he is prepared to do well in it. Poor Gerard is a dedicated soldier too, but so full of doubts and scruples. I do wish fate would take a hand.”