By morning the sky had clouded over and the grey light that filtered through lace curtains revealed the flaws that all Lucy's efforts could not quite conceal There was a crack across the ceiling; the wall-paper was faded; the fire had died, leaving only grey ashes in the grate. Caroline, snuggling under a quilted satin coverlet, felt a chill of loneliness. The room was so small, so closed in. She had a feeling that more than walls confined her, the rules of a society that could bind her more effectively than the strictures of either aunt. Maybe she had not chosen so well, after all.
A gentle tap at the door, and Maureen appeared. It was good to see her rosy, smiling face.
“Good morning,” Miss Caroline,” she greeted, brightly, “I have brought you a dress to wear. 'Twas Miss Lucy's, but Annie let down the hem. Would you like the fire lit?”
“Oh no, Maureen. When was I ever used to fires in my bedroom? I'll get up.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I don't want to be on the stairs too much this mornin'. HIMSELF'S not in the best fettle. There's a good fire in the breakfast room, an' a good breakfast on the table ..... if you care to face him.”
“Is my sister there?”
“She is, an' Annie says that's a new thing, for she seldom rises before eleven.”
“What's the matter, Maureen?”
“Divil a know I know. Annie says he gets moods, but this one's blacker than usual. Even Miss Lucy's a bit quiet of herself. Annie thinks it's because Hugh Ro’s gone. Not hilt nor hair of him to be seen anywhere.”
“But Captain Seveny wouldn't worry about him, would he?”
“No, unless he was plannin' on givin' him the send-off himself. Maybe it was a gunk he got an' the bird flown. Why would you think he'd go so quick?”
“Maybe he was tired playing jester. Maybe he had other things to do.”
“You don't seem much surprised.”
“I'm not, Maureen. You see, I knew he had gone. We're going to miss him anyway ..... tell me how you enjoyed the musical evening.”
“I liked it well enough, but it wasn’t the same as the ceilidhes with everybody knowin' everybody an' all friendly. There wasn't the same heart in it, but everybody tryin' to do the right thing an' watchin' everybody else to see whether they minded their manners. Manners! Some of them haven't such fine manners when the light's off them.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I had my own time of it after you left. This fine gentleman of a lieutenant took me up to dance. Very condescending, he was, doin' me a great favour, an' me noways keen to be asked at all. It was from me he was expectin' the favours, after the party ended. He overtook Annie an' me an' us walkin' home by the short-cut. Japers Miss, a girl has to have her wits about her in the dark lanes of the town ..... especially when a gentleman has honoured her with his han' in the dance. Like, you'd think he bought me or somethin'. It's as well I had Annie with me; she knows them all, an' she knows what she's worth as a lady's maid, so she's able to make her point. She did that last night, an' no mistake, said I was her cousin an' I was no man's plaything. Gave it to him right an' left, she did, an' me shakin' like a leaf all the while.”
“What about the banshee wail; did you forget it?”
“Oh miss, I couldn't raise that in the town. I'd be locked up, true as goodness. Oh, you'll not tell Miss Lucy about this, will you? She might tell HIM.”
“I won't say a word, Maureen. Our secrets are our own. Precious little else is.”
It was a comfort to have Maureen brush her hair. As she brushed, the girl chattered away, talking of the previous night, mimicking the pretentious ladies of the company, making faces in the mirror, flicking an imaginary fan, till Caroline laughed and forgot all her loneliness. They drew closer together in their exile, each conscious of relying on the other and both a little scared in spite of their laughter. When Caroline appeared in the breakfast room, she looked happy and serene in a fresh, flounced cotton dress of pale green.
Lucinda was seated at the tea urn. Apart from being a trifle pale, she seemed cosy and serene in her pink velvet wrap, her light hair becomingly tousled. Seveny wore a rather strained expression. Nodding coolly to Caroline, he fell on his kidneys and bacon as though he had nothing else in his mind. Lucinda smiled and indicated a chair.
“I trust you slept well, Caroline,” she said, gently. “You must have been tired.”
Caroline nodded. For a few minutes they exchanged little pleasantries as Lucy poured tea and passed a warm plate, urging her to eat the food which, indeed, was tempting on this rather chilly morning. Presently Seveny laid down his knife and fork and launched anew into the diatribe she had interrupted:
“These pernicious emissaries, under various guises, move about the country, putting ideas into poor folks' heads. They tell the labouring classes that they are treated unfairly ..... that they should own the land ..... should be free of their masters ..... that they should take action. You know well enough how the poison has spread ..... how peaceful peasants have taken it on themselves to defy law and order and disobey their employers, and commit the most unthinkable depredations in the cause of so-called freedom. Read any newspaper and what do you find? A catalogue of robberies, hold-ups, arson, cattle-houghing, ambuscades. It has been said that there is 'an open season for shooting magistrates'. Your Aunt Millicent must have told you how her father lived with his gun primed and ready for the raiders.”
“Of course she did, most tediously, darling Gerard; but I still cannot see what all that has to do with Hugh Ro. Can you, honestly?”
“I can prove nothing. I intended to question him closely and have a watch set on his movements. I have no doubt that he is sufficiently involved to merit being sent to serve in his majesty's fleet ..... the proper training school for those who know no discipline but their own wild thoughts. As he has escaped, I can only hope it will be for the moment. He ought, at least, to be conscripted for the militia. We need men like him on our side, rather than on the side of lawlessness.”
“Oh Gerry dear,” Lucinda said with a sigh, “you are being very tiresome this morning. I cannot possibly follow your flights of imagination at this hour. It is quite too exhausting. Last night's entertainment seems to have upset you. You hate mixing with tradespeople, don't you? You find their flattery tiresome.”
“Tiresome, but necessary. We are threatened on all sides, and
our ranks are seriously thinned to provide men for the war with
“Of course,” Lucinda agreed wearily, “I should have thought our little entertainment pleased them mightily. I cannot think how it would do otherwise. Ah me, how the twists and turns of politics confuse my little head. I really cannot think .....”
“Then you must be guided by me. What you did last night may have been amusing for you, and diverting for others ..... at the time. They talk later. In future, I hope you will consult me before you choose casual entertainers, and see that they are present purely to entertain. Any familiarity sets tongues wagging.”
“Really! Why then, is it all right for Lord Ballinmore to engage wandering minstrels to amuse his assemblies, to treat them like friends, feed them on the best and ply them with poteen?”
“Lord Ballinmore entertains as a private person.”
“Last night's assembly was private ..... strictly by invitation.”
“The invitations were rather lavishly distributed, and the venue was a public place. We of the garrison are public persons; we must behave in the best interest of the public, at least of the loyal citizenry.”
“You sound exactly like Aunt Millicent,” Caroline said innocently.
That was too much. Seveny rose so suddenly that he overturned his chair. He did not reply but, kissing Lucy as he passed, took an abrupt leave of the breakfast table. His thunderous look alarmed Caroline. Lucy said nothing till the hall door slammed; then she turned on her a languid smile.
“Poor dear Gerard,” she said sweetly, “he must have had too much of Mrs Broker's rhubarb wine last night. It looked a pretty malignant potion. I saw him gulp down to get rid of it. Of course she re-filled his glass immediately ..... you should have seen his face.”
“I saw his face this morning. Have I offended him?”
“No more than I did. Never mind his moods, my dear. I have learnt not to. I can always win him round again. I have the advantage this time. From now on he will be the sweetest husband on earth, a perfect lamb; Lucy mustn't be upset; it might be bad for the baby.”
“Oh Lucy, you're really going to have a baby?”
“Yes Caroline, I am. Just wait and see what the news will do to Gerry. I'll be the most pampered wife imaginable. Why so grave, Caroline?”
“I can't help wondering if Gerard resents my coming.”
“Nonsense, my dear! Whatever you do, don't brood;
remember you have got to keep me cheerful and amused. You can begin now by
helping me pick out some baby garments. A most wonderful catalogue has just