As the hired chaise wound its way west, Caroline submitted to a sweet tranquillity. Truly bewitched for the time being, by the handsome lover at her side, she shut out all the disturbing thoughts. Anxious to avoid argument, she had refrained from an enquiry about the gold band which he had not offered to return. None who knew her would have recognised the spirited girl she was in this docile image snuggling in her fur wrap. She detected no trace of smugness in her escort's smile.
A fiddler, playing for small coin, swept the passing chaise with an obsequious bow.
“Bah!” Nick exclaimed contemptuously, throwing him a small coin, “how these mendicants plague the country! There should be a law .....”
“They must earn their living the best they can,” Caroline interjected, nettled by his arrogance, “and they do provide the only entertainment that poor people can enjoy.”
“Must you always take the part of the poor, Caroline?”
“Perhaps I am one of them.”
“Not you. Not now. Now you are my wife and I should be obliged if you put the past behind you.”
“There is so much to remember ..... hard times ..... old friends.”
“Your erstwhile friend, Hugh Ro O'Moran, for instance?” Nick said bitterly, angry with himself that he had roused her from her sweet dreaming. “Have you known him long?”
“Only for a short time. He worked for my Uncle Martin Drynan for a summer.”
“Why did he choose to work so far from his native Kerry?”
“The wages were better. It was a good place to work.”
“A welcoming place?”
“Let us hope we shall be welcome. Your Aunt Rose did not welcome me.”
“Never mind Aunt Rose. She has her moods. She never hides her feelings.”
“Nor does that impetuous young man, Conn Drynan. A presumptuous upstart, if ever there was one. How dared he think to woo you?”
“He had no reason to think himself
inferior. He is the heir to Moybranach. He mixes with
“And with other gentry who shall be unmentioned, no doubt. Else how did we learn his manifest hate of the king's army?”
“I do not think it was hate he felt for you. It was jealousy. Surely you can appreciate that sentiment. Or am I so lacking in the qualities that provoke it?”
There was a hint of roguery in the question. He hastened to assure her that she was desirable beyond description. Anyone might be excused. So the conversation drifted into calmer waters.
They laughed together, differences forgotten. The world outside their carriage window drifted in an autumn haze. Unrecognised and unannounced they swept up the winding drive to the solid house that was Moybranach. Even the watchful Rose Drynan was taken by surprise.
“I said you'd be back,” she said crisply, eyeing the ultramarine habit and the exquisitely shaded feathers of Caroline’s city hat.
“Of course, Mrs Drynan,” Nick replied, “Caroline is your niece, isn't she? And my wife; that is why I had the temerity to return.”
“So,” said Rose Drynan,
sweeping the uniform with a sharp eye, “she has made her choice. A good match,
no mistaking ..... even
better than Lucy's. Well it seems I’m to be surrounded with military in my old
age. It's well defended I'll be, not that I needed defending. Well defended old
Nick caught no note of effrontery in her voice. What an amusing character she was, after all. His laugh was loud and hearty; even Rose appreciated the tribute. From that moment they behaved like the best of friends. The bridal couple were invited to enter the big kitchen which, as usual, was warm with a huge turf fire and savoury with the smell of roasting meat.
“You can have your own room,” Rose said, taking it for granted that they would stay the night, “it's just as you left it ..... black box and all. I wish to goodness you'd take that thing away. It puts me in mind of Millicent Picton and that's no cheery thought.”
It was no cheery thing to be greeted by the same black box. It stood in the corner of the room, locked and inscrutable. What in the world could it possibly contain?
“Oh no ..... not now,” she protested, when Nick suggested she opened it, “there’s nothing in it but a few old things of Aunt Millicent's. I don't want to be reminded ..... not now, Nick.”
He shrugged his shoulders, already intent on scanning the bare, clean room with its exposed rafters that barely skimmed his head.
“It's like a ship,” he said, “but it is not ships I came here to find. I want a word with your Uncle Martin. Oh no, you have no need for alarm. There is some business I want to discuss.”
Back in the big kitchen, steaming punch bowls in hand, he and Martin Drynan were as much at one as any two men. Martin was too kind by nature to hark back to old affronts, too shrewd a businessman to cherish offence against a good customer; the army had been that, in truth, for he had bred and supplied fine horses for the troops over many years. When Marsmain began to talk about horses, he was talking a language Martin Drynan understood. So he wanted to see the chestnut ..... the one that had been on loan to Captain Seveny. He had seen him ridden to the hunt. If ever there was a fine jumper ..... Caroline felt a blush spread over her face that was not entirely due to the hot punch. It was only yesterday, or was it a lifetime ago, she had ridden on that wild chase? In a way she was glad that Nick had seen her. The way the conversation was going she was soon to be gladder.
Out in the stables the bargain was clinched. The chestnut was to be hers. After striking a hard bargain just for the love of it, Martin Drynan gave a laugh.
“Tell you what,” he said, “let it be my wedding gift to the lassie. There's nothing else I have that would be good enough. It's the fine horsewoman, she is. I taught her myself. Not a word now. It's my pleasure.”
There was no way Nick Marsmain could thank him enough except by being uncommonly civil to himself and charming to Rose. Rose took it all like a magnum of champagne. She was the great lady in the fine house dispensing the height of hospitality: roast beef and rich gravy and potatoes laughing to burst their sides, two serving maids to wait at table and it laid with the fine damask tablecloth she had stowed away for a wedding, or something. Rose colourful in the hand-knitted brilliantly patterned shawl that had come all the way from Spain, a Spanish comb in her thick, high-piled hair. Arabella might act the part; she would never out-act Rose. Martin Drynan fell in love all over again.
“Ah Rosie, you’re a sight for sore
eyes,” he said. “You're the belle of the
Of course he was a little tipsy and no wonder for the best wine had been brought out. And presently Rose sent for the old harp and it was set before Caroline. In her blue silk dress, her hair flowing over her shoulders, she sat by the blazing turf fire and charmed the hearts out of them with her singing. The serving maids and the stable lads and some of the neighbours came in to listen and she charmed them all. But none was more charmed than Nick Marsmain. It was grey dawn before the music and the dancing and the singing and the drinking of good liquor came to an end. Under the bare rafters that were like the rigging of a ship Caroline lay quietly beside the man she had married in haste and was glad for the quietude of his deep breathing.