Caroline woke to find herself wrapt in a rosy glow; the little room was flushed with the last rays of the setting sun; a fire glowed in the grate. Lucy, in a pink wrapper, bent over her.
“I'm sorry to disturb your dreams,” she said, softly, “but it is time you got dressed. We ..... the ladies of the garrison ..... have arranged a musical evening in the town hall. We sent invitations to the local squires and their ladies and to the chief professional and business people of the town. How they must suffer from ennui, poor creatures, for almost all accepted, even at so short notice. Come, wrap this around you and we shall have a light meal in my sitting room. Gerard has already dined.”
After supper, Lucy summoned the indispensable Annie and Maureen came too, eager to learn. Lucy supervised the bathing, dressing and grooming that was to make her sister presentable to the inquiring eyes of a tight community. Annie worked a miracle with her hair, curling and binding the short auburn tresses with a green filet to give the impression of more bulk. To Caroline the whole process was new and delightful, transformed in lacy petticoats, pale silk stockings, the green velvet dress with matching slippers, she was a new person. Nothing, it seemed, of her past remained except the slim gold band about her thigh, and this she had hidden carefully, even from Lucy.
“Ah! Beautiful ..... quite, quite beautiful, my darling sister,” Lucy commented, surveying her from all angles. “Your noble savage will scarcely recognise you. He has consented to sing for his supper, by the way.”
Lucy had moved in higher circles than those of a small town. She had nerve to do what others would not dare. The wives of small squires might see Hugh Ro as a hired entertainer ..... a jester for their amusement; as such, wandering minstrels were frequently hired to fill the entertainment bill at local parties and assemblages. But there were bounds of familiarity.
Gerard Seveny had been perturbed to find the 'noble savage' in conference with Lucy in her own little parlour. It was well enough to go over the songs to be sung, but he was disturbed by Lucy's easy camaraderie; her spontaneous laughter grated. He felt himself disliking Hugh Ro intensely, and inventing reason for his dislike. Wandering minstrels were always suspect; they carried news which might be as useful or dangerous as secretly borne arms. He must be on his guard; there was no use in warning Lucy.
Lucy insisted that they drive to the townhall in the coach. Why shouldn't she drive in style for once; the coach was her father's. Seveny, enchanted by her beauty, let himself be persuaded to indulge in this ostentation; but his own man must be allowed to drive; Hugh Ro could sit by him on the box. Lucy had given Annie and Maureen permission to be present; she never did distinguish properly between the classes and he could not be certain that her liberality was not a mark of better breeding than his own. However it might be, he refused to have Annie and Maureen ride with them. It was but a short walk and they were favoured by being allowed to come at all. Lucy was ruffled and unusually silent, Caroline uneasy; Seveny scowled at the lamp-lit windows as they passed.
Once arrived at the town hall, they were met by such a warm welcome that all unease fled. Even Seveny relaxed a little, though it still behoved him to play the aloof officer-and-gentleman that suited his own shyness and the peoples' expectations. Caroline relaxed, seeing the admiration bestowed on her. Seeing too, as at Ardcullen, that fine feathers did not necessarily make fine birds, for, in spite of their sartorial efforts, the good citizens of Fermoy and district, were not peacocks. Lucinda led her into a twitter of feminine voices and a barrage of admiring male glances, and she sailed through with the confidence of youth and good looks. Seats were reserved for them at the front of the hall. Their forward progress was impressive, for Gerard looked remarkably manly in his uniform, and his ladies most beautiful in their elegant silks and velvets. Mrs Seveny's sister caused quite a stir; the debate would continue for days as to which was the more beautiful, the more agreeable, the more exquisitely dressed.
The first part of the programme was a hotchpotch of amateur talent. It began with a glee-singing by members of the small garrison, a rousing, rollicking succession of popular songs that set feet tapping. The town clerk obliged with a long, rather pompous recitation that drew many smiles behind fans when tears were intended. The doctor annoyed his uppity wife with a rendering on the uileann pipes, his latest plaything ..... “and so vulgar for a man in his position, my dear”. The audience as much appreciated her facial expression as they did his music; he was loudly applauded and encored. A brief comedy sketch from the ladies drew more laughter from its blunders than from its witticisms.
In the interval which followed, the entire company repaired to another room where refreshments were laid out on trestle tables. There was great hand-shaking and greeting and exchange of pleasantries and compliments. Dishes and cups and glasses were passed; the hungrier, or greedier, crowded close to the abundantly piled tables, the more garrulous drew little knots of listeners, the solitary drifted to the perimeters.
Seveny chose the peripheral stance. Lucy plunged straight into the crowd, eager to meet and greet acquaintances, introduce her lovely sister to the officers of the garrison and the worthies of the town. It gave her pleasure to see how Caroline was appreciated. Perhaps, some time in the future, she would have the opportunity to present her to a more distinguished company than this; for tonight, this sufficed. In the midst of it all, Caroline stood aloof, smiling a faraway smile, unaware of the group of admirers who crowded around her, competing for her notice. Though she scarcely heard, or understood all that was said to her, she seemed to smile at each and every speaker and her smile could be read as full appreciation. Within herself she felt a sense of duplication, of being here and of being elsewhere; the wary, inner self watching the performance of a fashionable young lady in a green velvet dress, the outer performing as though on a stage. There was nothing real in all this though it had its charms. Among the uniformed young men, she sought briefly for one man, but they were all too young and none bore the scar she remembered vividly. Not that she really expected to see Nick Marsmain.
In the middle of the hullabaloo, her eye rested for a moment on the tall, powerful figure of Hugh Ro, the entertainer standing apart watching with his cynical, jester's eye. Across the room, his glance met hers, at first showing no recognition; then like lightning, he flashed her a wink so knowing that she must answer in the same language.
None saw her wink it seemed, but she did not reckon on the sharp eye of Gerard Seveny. He flushed, enraged, at this familiarity. In that moment he determined that Hugh Ro must go. Only Hugh Ro read his changing expression and knew what it meant. But he had promised Lucy to entertain the company. She was a sweet, kind lady, and he would not let her down.
When all had supped and seats were resumed, it was Lucy's turn to present her own guest artistes. She introduced Hugh Ro, saying how pleased and fortunate she was to have found so distinguished a folk-singer. She hoped her own accompaniment on the pianoforte would in no way detract from his performance. She had practised a few appropriate chords during their afternoon session together and now she found herself able to fill in quite adequately. As she struck the opening bars, Hugh Ro ascended the platform. His appearance drew gasps of amazement, so strong and colourful was he in his open-necked shirt, arms bare, hair red and abundant.
He knew full well that the audience was in two minds whether to listen or laugh; there was a rustle of silks, the snap of fans opening for cover, a hint of a smirk on some faces. He had sung in great houses and been treated as an artist, but this audience was unsure how to take a wild man from the outlands of Kerry. They expected a crude ballad delivered harshly and without grace. He knew them; they must be won. So he had chosen a quiet, haunting song, one Caroline had talked of; Slievenamon. The first lines came so softly that the silks stopped rustling; he wooed them with the sweet, sad air till the fans lay folded in ladies' laps. Smirks faded from men's faces. This was music. This was magic. They did not understand the Irish words, but they were touched. When the song was ended, the whole audience applauded and called for more. Hugh Ro could sing all night, but he had chosen carefully, a few of his best, some merry and some sad, some in the English and some in the Irish. Always they called for more.
Nobody listened with more attention
than Caroline. She was totally enraptured. Her eyes shone. She held her head
proudly, rejoicing in this victory, and proud of Lucy, so demure in her dove grey dress with lace at the wrists and throat. How
beautiful she looked; how like her mother! Caroline remembered the small, fine
hands, the dainty ankles; Eleanor had the same trick of showing them off. There
was pride and dignity in Hugh Ro’s face. This was what he meant by serving
The recital came to an end with a song that Caroline was to remember: Shule Aroon ..... Go Beloved. She knew the song was for her, a gentle farewell. Her bright eyes filled with tears. She did not lower her head, but, scarcely aware, let them stream down her cheeks. Nobody saw except Gerard Seveny. There were tears in other eyes, but they were only token of a passing sentiment. He could not be sure about Caroline. She was making an exhibition of herself and so, for that matter, was Lucy. Though he would not have admitted it, he was filled with jealousy of this crude labourer who could wring women's hearts.
It was Caroline's turn to bring the entertainment to a close. The doctor, always eager to come to the help of the ladies, had had his own harp fetched, a rare favour for it was one of the finest instruments in his collection. Caroline took her seat on the stool provided and swept the strings with a delicate caress, tuning as the last echo of applause died down. Like a queen she sat, eyes bright with tears, her shining, ringletted hair falling from its satin band, her velvet skirts fanned out in graceful folds, one slippered toe peeping from the drapery. She saw the rapt, inquisitive faces turned towards her in admiration. She was the centre of the stage, a dramatic situation which always inspired her. She smiled on her audience, winning them. They applauded encouragement.
To everyone's surprise, she began with a stately minuet, the only one she knew. It did away with any idea that there was to be a surfeit of Irishry. And when all were solemn and serene she set their feet tapping with a merry little French dance tune that Fergal had taught her. Then she sobered them with the lovely, pensive air of the Coolin; it was for all of them, but especially for Hugh Ro ..... an answer to his Shule Aroon. Lastly she played a lively reel, and the feet were tapping again. When she rose to leave the platform, the applause was hearty and loud. Even her brother-in-law applauded, heartily as the rest; who could fail to appreciate such a sister-in-law? The young officers around him were effusive in their praise, so why not he? Lucy's evening had been a huge success, in spite of his misgivings.
People left their seats and gathered around Caroline and Lucy, chattering, laughing, congratulating, exclaiming that they had never been so agreeably entertained in their lives. It was too delightful an evening to end. Someone suggested dancing and the suggestion was taken up with enthusiasm. Seats were pushed aside, volunteer musicians called to the platform. They would have a set of lancers or quadrille, or anything that the musicians could contrive. Lucy reseated herself at the piano. Hugh Ro fingered the strings of a violin which someone placed in his hands. The doctor played a trial run on the pipes. A drum was brought in haste. The improvised orchestra decided they could manage the music for a set of lancers. Partners began forming lines, ready to begin.
Seveny held out his hand to Caroline.
“Since Lucy appears to have forgotten her duty, may I ask you to lead off with me?” he invited, solemnly.
Caroline let him take her hand. She was not at all sure of her ability to lead the formation; of this Seveny was aware and he was prompt with sotto voce instruction when she faltered. The very coolness that existed between them gave an impression of aloof dignity. There was no doubt they made a very impressive pair, most distinguished amongst this small-town assembly.
Lucy was pleased to see Caroline acquit herself so well, but the very sight of the dancers made her long to join in. When the set came to an end, she persuaded Emmaline Baget to take her place at the piano, and the lady was only too ready to oblige; she was proud of her only accomplishment. Seveny saw his wife leave the platform, but made no move to meet her. In fact he was reluctant to leave Caroline to her own pranks ..... just in case. Lucy saw his anxious expression; it always provoked her to tease him. She tapped Hugh Ro on the arm.
“I think you owe me a dance, Hugh Ro,” she said sweetly. “Mr Barlow, the butcher can saw the fiddle as well as most. I can see his fingers itch.”
Sets were formed for a quadrille. Seveny took Caroline's hand. The music started up. If Caroline faltered in the dance, he had no eyes for her; she must make her own way as best she could. His eyes followed Lucy with increasing unease. If he was angry that she took the floor with “that spalpeen” he was utterly mortified by the way she smiled at the great brute; it was one thing to endure her flirtatiousness in polite company where it was the customary mode of behaviour; that she could openly flirt with this creature was beyond endurance.
In fact, he was making mountains out of molehills. Lucy was just being her own charming self. As for the others present, they were so much enjoying their surprise party that they thought nothing of a smile among smiles. In fact Seveny's was the only truly grave face in the assembly. And Caroline seemed to be the only person who took its gravity seriously. Whatever had she done, she wondered.
Nothing, she soon discovered. As soon as the dance ended, Seveny strode across the room. Ignoring Hugh Ro, he took Lucy's hand and with an icy smile, murmured:
“I think it is time we were going ..... before you overdo it.”