It was a summer of enchantment.
Threats of a French invasion or an Irish rising were things read about in the
papers and forgotten as soon as possible. The fashionable world followed its mannered
rituals refusing to credit the imminence of possible disaster. The strangers
who wove their way through
Gwendaline, more aware than most, that time was getting short, determined to make the most of it. If their beauty was their fortune, the sisters would exploit its potential to the full, feasting on admiration and adulation as they drove abroad or appeared prominently at social assemblages. A great deal of dressing for the occasions was required, but that problem was solved as easily as all others seemed to be. Caroline, who had arrived with a minute wardrobe, of which the green velvet dress was the most elegant and becoming garment, found herself forbidden to wear it.
“Not now ..... not green, Carrie,” warned Gwen, for the colour was, at the time considered provocative, signifying rebellion.
The apparently unexcitable bride-to-be
became excited about one aspect of her coming marriage. Theodosia, like
everybody else in Dublin, set herself on a last fling. Hitherto she had shown
little interest in dress; now she determined to outshine everybody in her
bridal attire and trousseau. If she must live in the country, then she would be
queen of the rural scene and she would begin by dressing the part. So there
were shopping expeditions, and choosing sessions, and fittings and alterations,
and fits of tantrum the like of which No ...
Every garment Theodosia had ever worn
must be discarded. Lady Brereton sorted gowns and mantles, hats and gloves,
slippers; they were all far too good and quite unsuitable to be given away to
the poor. They did, with slight alterations, fit Caroline. A trifle dull in
colour, they were furbished with bright sashes, ribbons and bows, “Gwen's
spangles” as Lady Brereton called them. It was wonderful what a brilliant plume
or a scarlet sash could do, was it not? Caroline allowed herself to be dressed
like a doll, as she had done in
“Carrie, my pet,” Gwen said gravely on
one of the rare occasions when they had a moment to talk, “has it occurred to
you that we are seen to be placed in a most invidious position ..... when Dosia marries, I mean. I was
brought here to be her companion and, tedious though it was at times, I have
fulfilled my purpose to everybody's satisfaction. Why it was I who finally
found a husband for the girl. Do not look surprised. The bonny bridegroom-to-be
laid his heart and fortune at my feet before he turned to Dosia
for consolation. It took a great deal of tact and careful handling to effect
the match. Her fortune helped of course. It was plain to see that there was
wealth here once he had gained entree. You knew that I have refused to
companion Dosia in the wilds of
“You don't want to go and live with Uncle Horace, do you? You could take my place here, of course. The Breretons are vastly impressed. He is intrigued by your youth, your innocence. She believes you would prove tractable. The way she watches you I can see she has a role for 'that sweet girl'. She sees herself as 'dear Lady Brereton ..... so kind to that motherless girl'. That is how she saw my role and hers till it was beyond believing. I made my own way, as you know.”
“Brilliantly, Gwen. I wish I had half your courage and poise.”
“You have. I can see you as the Lady Ballinmore, the most sparkling hostess in town ..... the queen of the castle in the west. It is entirely up to you, you know.”
Nick Marsmain might have disappeared off the face of the earth as far as she knew. She had not heard from him since the day he rode away on his black stallion. Of course, he was a very busy man. There were snatches of news about his prowess in organising yeomanry in various parts of the country. It was rumoured that he was due to take command of a regiment in the not too distant future. There was no way of knowing anything for sure and Lucy was far from enlightening in her scrappy letters. Lucy had other interests for the present. Far from the social whirl of the city and the sporadic turbulence of some parts of the country she spent her days in sweet quietness. In late spring she gave birth to a blue-eyed daughter and, for the time being, the child was the centre of all her attention, a doll to dress and dandle and show off to admiring friends.
When Nick Marsmain
The very sight of Gwendaline provoked him; she held her small, neatly coiffeured head at a haughty angle; there was mischief in her bright, clear eyes. What a beauty she was, he thought, in her soft, pale afternoon gown, with her delicately rounded body, pale skin and soft dark hair. How dainty were her small, shapely hands, how light her slippered feet, how gracefully she moved to meet him. Where had his eyes been that he had passed her over? Or had she passed him? He thrust the thought from him. It was too late for regrets now. He had chosen her young sister.
“Are you quite sure?” he asked impatiently when Gwendaline explained her sister's mission.
“I can hardly believe it of Caroline.
I have heard that she makes a conquest of every
“None that I know of, Nick. You do not begrudge her the admiration she gets?”
“No, but too much flattery may prove fatal. I will not wed a wanton.”
The delicate eyebrows shot up; a little smile flitted across her face.
“Why wed at all? If you must, why wed Caroline? She is so young ..... too young for you, Nick, and too innocent.”
“Her innocence intrigues me ….. and her wilfulness. I want a wife with spirit. That she has. I have set my mind on Caroline. I will not be balked.”
She laid a pale hand on his arm, her eyes large and appealing.
“It is no more than I would expect from you ..... an admirable determination. But do you love her? Will you love her always? She is not a filly to be judged and purchased.”
“A filly in need of schooling,” he said with a shrug, “and you, my dear Gwen, are not the best of trainers.”
“I am neither her keeper nor her trainer. You did not answer my question: do you love her? Are you sure that you are not just determined to have what has taken your fancy? Why you scarcely know her. She hardly knows herself. She is little more than a child.”
“Fiddlesticks! I know her as well as any man need know the woman he weds. I know you and Lucinda.”
“Lucinda and I are not alike. Caroline is unlike either of us. What do you know of any of us? Are we just pretty faces?”
“Very pretty faces, I declare.”
“Why choose one in particular? Is Caroline so more beautiful than Lucy and me?”
“Egad, Gwen, no. You are the three graces
..... the most beautiful trio of girls in
“Why did you choose Caroline?”
Her bright bold eyes were asking a question which he did not want to answer. This graceful, accomplished young woman was as fair as any ..... and a more fitting mate for him. He knew it and he knew that she knew it. He was nonplussed and could not hide it. Gwendaline did not spare him.
“You have a stupendous childish pride,” she said, “always crying for the plaything you cannot have and rejecting what seems easily won. You never noticed Lucy when she smiled on you. You noticed me, but I was too crazily in love with you……”
“Was? And now?”
“I no longer wear my heart on my sleeve. Perhaps I have no heart. I doubt that you have either. We suit each other.”
She was beautiful and perverse. She knew him too well for comfort. He had a terrible feeling that he might mention Arabella. For the moment she reminded him of her. With a hasty farewell, he turned away. Gwendaline's light mocking laugh followed down the stair. It stung like a whiplash. He would not be scorned ..... No.
On that same evening they attended an assembly at the Rotunda. Never had the sisters looked more beautiful. Gwendaline wore a gown of rose red satin. A touch of rouge brought colour to her pale cheeks. Her eyes sparkled though who could know whether with triumph or bitter disappointment; their sparkle was a dance of devils. Caroline was more animated than usual. The flush on her cheeks was real, the light in her eyes of expectation; her sister had told her of Nick Marsmain’s visit. At any moment he might appear at this assembly.
Meantime Lord Moreton was by their side ..... and a flutter of the usual young admirers vied for a smile or a nod. Across the room a nervous little man with a Vandyke beard was eyeing the group with bright, appreciative eyes.
“Ah!” Moreton said, “I see you have caught Paletti’s eye. Wait a moment. I’ll bring him over.”
Paletti was bowing over Gwendaline's hand, entranced beyond speech ..... then over Caroline's.
“This is Giuseppe Paletti, the celebrated portrait painter,” Moreton explained. “He would like you to sit for him Gwen. I should like it too. Such beauty should not go unrecorded.”
“It shall not,” Gwendaline responded with a tinkling laugh. “Nor should Caroline's ..... nor Lucy’s.”
“AH, the three graces. Perhaps our talented friend will consider such a portrait later. You must have one done first ..... I insist.”
So he wanted a portrait to hang opposite the portrait of the sweet, gentle girl he had loved and lost.
“Very well,” she said brightly, “you shall have your picture.”
Across the crowded room another pair of eyes had found their target. A hawk amongst sparrows, Nick Marsmain stood erect and confident waiting the sign. As soon as his earnest gaze drew Caroline's attention, he knew he had reason to be confident. How her cheek flushed! How her eyes grew brighter! For him, he thought; so none had supplanted him. Tall, handsome and commanding in his dress uniform, he strode through the crowd. The crowd of admirers parted like sparrows before the hawk. Caroline came forward to meet him. Careless of the gaping crowd, he placed an arm about her, kissed her cheek.
“Come!” he said briefly. With but a nod for Gwendaline and a brief salute for Moreton, he swept Caroline away. An open carriage waited outside. When they were seated, he wrapped a rug about her and gave a curt order to the jarvey.
“Drive! Drive till I tell you to stop.”
“Where to, sir?”
“To hell if you like ..... anywhere man ..... drive!”