After an early spurt, Caroline let the tired horses take their time. However slow their progress, they would be a long way from Dunalla by daybreak, far enough to throw off likely pursuers. In the bleak, deserted landscape they met no travellers and passed only occasional clusters of mud-walled cabins, doors closed in the dark of the sleeping hours. The clatter of hooves was soporific, its monotony only rarely punctured by the staccato barking of a startled dog. Cows crunched the rough cud of their pasture. From weedy lakes, moorhens rose, fluttering, and dropped to rest again. From time to time the spectral shape of a deserted keep or some gaunt ruin loomed darkly, and melted into the shadow as they moved. Inside the coach, Maureen slept soundly. Hugh Ro whistled and kept his eyes skinned and his thoughts to himself.
The crack of dawn found them near a small village. No life was yet stirring.
“Better turn off here to the right,” Hugh Ro said. “The light is getting strong. Nobody would take the coach for a spectre now. See that hill over to the west where the old watch tower stands. Head for it. We'll be safe from spying eyes there.”
Though grass-grown, the track was sound and the coach moved silently and safely. By the time they reached the hill foot, the sun had risen and smoke began to belch from the chimneys of the village to their rear.
The hill was a towering sandstone outcrop, pitted with natural caves ..... hiding places in plenty for people, but not for a coach and horses. But Hugh Ro had been here before.
“I'll lead the horses,” he said. “Maybe you'd be as well to get inside.”
“I'll walk up. Come on Maureen,” she said, tapping the window.
Maureen stumbled out, half asleep. As Hugh Ro led the horses up the winding, half-obscured pathway, the two girls explored some of the caverns that pock-marked the hill, surmising their history in human terms, wondering how many, and whom had been found hiding there.
The old stone tower which crowned the escarpment, stood within a series of three mud-an-rubble ramparts. In the central bawn remained the ruins of several small stone huts. Within the largest and best preserved of these they found that a souterrain had been gouged into the rock. How far it led into the hill they could not distinguish, but it seemed likely that it connected with one or more of the natural caves and was, at some ancient time, perhaps, used as an escape route. Since the hut had long since lost its roof, the mouth of the souterrain offered shelter from wind and rain. In this isolated place, they could sleep all day. Hugh Ro knew his way about the west country; that was plain.
The coach, within the ramparts, was completely hidden from view on all sides. Hugh Ro loosed the horses and let them graze among the ruined walls.
“Now,” he said, “if none come to hunt a stray sheep or chase a hare, we are safe.”
“And hungry,” Caroline remarked suddenly remembering how long it was since they had eaten that last supper of trout.
“I was just thinkin' that myself,” Hugh Ro replied. “It's often enough I have to think about the next bite and I travellin' the country. It's well to have plenty of friends and they well dispersed; that way a man can travel wherever he chooses.”
“You have friends about here, then? You can find food?”
“I have, Miss Caroline ..... and I can. Just you give me an hour or so an' I'll fetch your breakfast. Keep an eye that the horses don't stray while I'm gone.”
He swung about and was gone, taking the steep incline sure-footedly as a goat. Maureen saw the puzzled look on Caroline's face.
“He'll bring somethin',” she reassured. “He's a famous man in his own way ..... with friends everywhere. The man with the music has friends wherever he goes. The name of Hugh Ro O'Moran is well known well beyond the borders of Kerry.”
“Why did he come to
“I'd be sayin'
the pay was better. He earns his bread labourin'. The
music he gives free. He said that was the best thing he could do for
“He knows all the good tunes. He whistled all the way here. He speaks English well too.”
“He does, an' other languages forbye ..... the French an' the Latin an' maybe the Greek as well. He is a man of great learnin'.”
“Yet he's a common labourer!”
“A schoolmaster too. When schoolin' was outlawed, he had a hedge school in Kerry an' scholars came from miles away. They brought turves to keep his fire goin' ..... an' a drop of milk an' a few potatoes, an' maybe a hare or a trout now an' again. They had little else to give. He had to take to the labourin' between times. He said that night at the ceilidhe that it made no odds what a man did to earn his bread so long as it was honest and spared him enough time to do what he had the gift for.”
“Maybe the time will come when he can earn his living by doing what he has the talent for ..... teaching maybe. The Relief Act has made some difference. He could study for a degree at the University in Dublin ..... without changing his religion.”
“It's too late, I'm thinkin'. Wanderin' is his habit now. The soft settled life wouldn't suit him. Anyway, he couldn’t afford an education.”
“Like the rest of us ..... roving in the blood. Not you, Maureen, but you'll have a roving life if you come with me. Do you still want to come?”
“I do, Miss Caroline. How many days
will it take to get to
“We're not going to Dublin ..... not yet, Maureen.”
“But I thought .....”
“Naturally. I said so. But we had to put them all
off the scent, so I took the one road they wouldn't think of. We're heading for
Fermoy in the
“I do not.”
“You're a brave girl. Be prepared for adventures. Oh, I'm hungry.”
Hugh Ro returned with the makings of a meal: potatoes and milk and a few slivers of bacon.
“It's not much,” he said, “but my friends hereabouts are poor people. They gave me the best they had. I'll make a fire and Maureen will roast the potatoes. Then we can rest till evening. This night, I promise, we shall sup in a house of a friend.”
As they gathered dry kindling and built a fire, Caroline put her plans to Hugh Ro.
“I was thinkin',” he said, “that you had some such in mind. Fermoy it will be then, with God's help and a steady hand on the reins. I know the roads well ..... the safe by-ways as well as the main highways. I'll guide you as best I can.”
“You can drive. Oh Hugh Ro, what would I do without you?”
“You'll have to be doing without me when you get to Fermoy, Miss Caroline. It might be as well if I made myself scarce. I could be had for theft, or abduction. What would my word be against .....”
“Hugh Ro, I never thought what trouble I might get you into when I started on this journey. Maybe we shouldn't .....”
“But you should. Where would you go but to your own sister. There's only one thing I'd ask of you. When you're settled at Fermoy, write and explain all to Mrs. Drynan; that way she'll have nothing on me.”
“She'll be mad.”
“She will, but she'll laugh too. She'd have done the same herself once on a time.”
They sat by the embers eating baked potatoes and toasted bacon. The meal was simple, but they enjoyed it. Caroline smiled to herself remembering another meal eaten from the fingers, al fresco. She thought of Nick Marsmain, and the thought recalled Fergal. She turned trusting eyes on Hugh Ro, her voice gentle:
“You were Fergal's friend. Maybe you know more about him than anyone. Do you think he will ever come back?”
She was surprised by the light that kindled in Hugh Ro's grey eyes, the confidence with which he replied:
“He'll be back ..... and sooner than you think, Miss Caroline.”
“Do you think I shall see him?”
“I promise you, you will, if it is possible at all. Trust me.”
“I will, Hugh Ro, I will.”
Caroline and Maureen fetched wraps and
rugs from the coach. With these they made themselves comfortable in the shelter
of the souterrain. Soon they were fast asleep. Hugh Ro cat-napped within the outer rampart where he could mind the
horses and watch the approach; the wary years had taught him to rest, yet
remain alert to danger. So near had he lived to nature that no change
passed unnoticed; he could trust his ears and eyes to give instant warning. The
terrain he surveyed was somnolent and serene. Occasionally a pedestrian or a
cart moved slowly along the distant road; once a company of militia rode by;
two carriages passed; otherwise there was no life stirring except the grazing
cattle and flocks of birds winging across the sky. It seemed impossible that
this quiet land should spawn volunteer armies prepared to join the French and
Hugh Ro knew the people of the west; he doubted their appetite for warlike deeds. But time would tell. Meantime he had his own care; this journey must be made in safety.
The sun was well towards the west when Maureen appeared, looking rosy and rested, bright and lively as a mountain sprite in her red petticoat and little dark shawl. Hugh Ro picked out the lively measure of Miss McLeod's reel on his tin whistle. Maureen skipped in time to the music. Caroline emerged, wrapped in her sealskin.
“I'm going to wash,” she said. “Are you coming, Maureen?”
On the west slope of the hill a dew pond twinkled in the evening sun. They ran down the decline between clumps of furze. Hugh Ro let them go; then he followed, for the thought struck him that there might be danger. There was no knowing how deep the dew pond was and how far they would venture in; he could not know that Caroline was a strong swimmer.
From a covert of furze he could see
Maureen, her red petticoat hitched above her dimpled knees, splashing in the
shallows, throwing water over her face, calling to Caroline. Like Actaeon he watched and was taken unaware by a vision beyond
expectation. Caroline had shed her sealskin. Naked she ran from the scrub, the
evening sun flushing her skin. For a moment she stood on a spur of rock, arms raised, then plunged into the peat-browned water, and swam,
swift and sleek as a seal to a minute islet in the middle of the pond. As she
drew herself from the water, the sun glanced off her face and hair and off her
pearl-pale body. For a few moments she stood perfectly still, her arms raised
above her head, poising to dive for the return swim. Hugh Ro dared not move
lest he betray his presence. He had seen naked women before; but never had the
light of evening discovered for him a beauty such as this. This he knew in that
moment: he loved
When the girls came panting up the hill, he was cleaning the mud and dust from the coach; he polished it till the enamel shone like a sunny sea. Then he too went down and plunged, naked into the dew pond. The water lapped his body like a benison, silky with the amber juice of peat. Warm, it seemed, from the touch of the girl's body.