The sun shone from a clear sky.
Theodosia had had everything her way; even the weather obliged. Never having
made much impression on the social scene till now, she had determined her wedding
would be an occasion to be remembered; and so it was, in its way.
The wedding breakfast was a cascade of champagne and glittering small-talk. In the whirl of colour and grandeur, the central figures moved through the ceremonial rituals like two pasteboard figures. Nobody really cared. It was a fashionable occasion; that was what mattered. Good wishes rang out like hymns of praise to the deity love, or convenience, who had so blessed the chosen people.
The ceremony and the assembly over,
the bride and groom toasted on their way, fashionable
Relieved of their duties at last, the sisters were in the mood for frivolity. Lovely in their new silk dresses, they were soon the centre of attention. When Nick Marsmain arrived, they were surrounded by admirers. From the drawing-room doorway he stood watching the competition for Caroline's attention. He had never seen her look so lovely, so animated. Was it the flattery, or the champagne, or just the enchantment of the wedding? What a beautiful bride .....
So it was that in the bewitchment of that night, her head full of wedding bells, her heart full of romance, that Caroline pledged her troth to the knight errant with the scar. Fate, it seemed, had decreed it so and why should she resist a fate that offered her so splendid a lover, so splendid a future as “my lady”. In truth, she would wear silks and laces forever and reign mistress of a mansion. She, Caroline, who was now virtually homeless.
The assembly concurred with her choice. When the betrothal was announced the couple were smothered in congratulations and good wishes. A few young swains sighed inwardly, but, for most, the prospect of another fashionable wedding was worth a well-wish. Trust Marsmain to spring a surprise!
On the morrow the sisters drove out in St. Stephen's Green. It was a rare occasion to show off. Caroline shone in beauty. Gwendaline insisted that she wear the new habit that had just been delivered, a parting perquisite coaxed from Mr Brereton along with the silk dresses.
“Gad, how unfortunate!” Nick Marsmain exclaimed when the order came to report to his
command in the south of
“Don't be alarmed, my pet,” Gwendaline reassured her sister, “
“I am thinking about the war with
“Oh, Nick will come through with flying colours. The risk in open battle will be less than it is here where every clump of furze bristles with horrid pikes.”
For the time being the problem of
where to live was solved. On no account would Gwendaline
consent to either of them returning to Uncle Horace at Philipstown.
Caroline's betrothal placed them in new light. It was an honour to have them
remain as guests at No ... Merrion Square for as long
as they liked. Mr Brereton liked to have Gwendaline
in the house for she brought the only laughter into his life with her droll
anecdotes of the
By chance one day, she found herself alone in the drawing-room of Moreton's house. The piano stood invitingly open ..... a splendid instrument of fine tone always kept in tune for the musical evenings when he entertained visiting professionals. She ran her fingers over the keys, fascinated by the sound. Then she began picking out snatches of the old airs she knew so well.
She was playing Carraig Donn, a popular air at the time, when Moreton entered the room unobserved. He stood in the doorway listening to her as she fingered out the air and sang softly to herself. Then he joined in. Quite an accomplished musician himself, he was struck by the sensitivity of her ear and touch.
“Do not start, Caroline, my dear,” he said. “You sing charmingly. I think you could learn to play the piano. I shall arrange for you to have lessons.”
Presently a music master was engaged and Caroline, to her delight, found some afternoons filled with music rather than trivial chatter or dreary rounds of ineffectual charity. She devoted herself with great zeal and made rapid progress. Soon her performance was good enough for her to accompany herself in some of her favourite songs and her song at the piano became a welcome addition to many a hostess’s programme of entertainment. Her skill at the harp was discovered. Moreton hired a teacher of that instrument ..... and a singing master.
The popular music of the time included songs from the repertoire of the much admired Madam Mara and these Caroline added to her miscellany of Irish and French pieces. Gwendaline, always alert to future opportunities, coaxed Richard Daly to attend one or two of Caroline's music sessions. He was impressed. If things had fallen out differently ..... Gwendaline watched his reaction. Well, if this improbable marriage fell through, she thought, perhaps there might be a career for her sister to fall back on; it was a thought for times of war and uncertainty.
It happened at
For a few moments she stood, smiling and regal in a shimmering blue gown, her bandeaued hair a crown of shining bronze. A burst of applause from the young bucks in the circle triggered off a tumultuous welcome. She had only to do well, and this she determined to do. She began with one of Mara's popular songs. The hackneyed air took on a new appeal; though her singing lacked professional finesse, her voice was young and pure and clear. The audience, led by the admiring bucks, tapped its feet and joined in the chorus with gusto. The applause that followed was sufficient to cure Madam of her indisposition. But Daly wanted the cure to be complete. An Irish harp was brought on stage, and a low stool for the player.
Caroline seated herself, now
completely in her element.
As she began fingering the strings, the applause died. With this hushed,
critical audience at her fingertips, she launched into the haunting cadences of
the Coolin. She sang the words in the Gaelic. So
Next day, and for a few days, she was
the talk of the city. That same talk stung Nick Marsmain's
ears as he disembarked from the cross-channel ferry at
“Oh my darling Caroline!” he said, holding her close, “how I have longed for you. I declare, I can wait no longer to wed you. There is no time to arrange an elaborate wedding, but if you love me as I love you, a simple ceremony will suffice. Say that it will, my darling ..... say that you love me enough.”
There it was, the old magic, and what
was she to say? Given the circumstance, what girl of seventeen would hesitate? Caroline
had never been one to hesitate. There was nothing half-hearted about her
response. Nick Marsmain left No ...
In two days he was back again. He had been to Philipstown. Horace Picton had been completely bowled over by his charm. Indeed it was a great honour that so fine a gentleman, so gallant an officer, so handsome a man should beg his niece's hand in marriage. Wonder of wonders that the wild child should have captivated one of the greatest nobles in the country; well, well, it was amazing what beauty could do, wasn't it. His prissy wife agreed. What a splendid connection! How triumphantly she would talk of her niece, Lady Ballinmore! After all the fears, the trials and the anxieties, what a bonus of sheer bliss! Of course the marriage must take place in the little church where Lucy's had been solemnised, of course the darling girl could come and stay, and be wed from their home. That dreadful Rose O'Shaughnessy Drynan would have no part in it.
There was no time for elaborate preparations. Caroline would be married in a simple blue silk dress. Gwendaline would act as bridesmaid. There was not even time to bring Lucinda from Fermoy. The coup d'etat of September 4th had established a new, politically relentless Directory in France. A vast new invasionary force was assembling at the Channel ports, its commander-in-chief Napoleon Bonaparte. Officers of His Majesty's armies were required to be prepared. Colonel Arthur Nicholas Marsmain had a limited time in which to settle his personal affairs.
Although she had always dreamed
vaguely of an elegant wedding, Caroline now felt herself carried away on a tide
of heroic excitement. As she travelled through the golden September land to Philipstown she was happy to be free of the fussing and
fitting that had preceded Theodosia's wedding. Drifting along the smooth waters
“I declare, I believe you are really, truly in love, Caroline,” Gwendaline said more than once, “and how beautiful you look!”
Instead of the plum coloured habit, she wore ultramarine, and a hat in melusine trimmed with plumes that shaded from silvery green to deep jade, every shade echoing the changing colours of her eyes. She was no longer the shabby beauty from the country. Like a queen in her own right she rose to the occasion. To match her sister's new flamboyance, Gwendaline had brought out her own fine fig of champagne velvet and a matching hat trimmed with rich red plumes. As they drove through the park, the little carriage drew every eye.
“It seems everyone is in town,” Gwendaline remarked. “Our fine feathers are not lost. Ah, here comes the escort!”
Flanked on one side by the handsome Colonel of Dragoons in full uniform and riding a black stallion, on the other by the Lord Moreton in elegant pale grey morning dress riding a glossy bay, the O'Shaughnessy sisters extended their lap honour for several circles of the park ..... admired and envied, well- and ill-wished, but a picture to be remembered in whatever frame.
“Hold your head higher, Caroline,” Gwendaline said softly, “remember mother danced in the Hall
of Mirrors at
“And father was a chieftain,” Caroline remembered, but said nothing, for that was of another place, another time.
At the entrance to the Green, Arabella de Rosas halted her small carriage to stare, then turned and drove away unnoticed for all her colourful array.
In the pretty house in