On any ordinary day Caroline would
have been far from enchanted at the thought of spending hours discussing
layettes. On this wretched, rainy morning, she was glad to have some
occupation, especially for her brain. So it was that they entered on a period
of unwonted calm for Caroline, and of maternal
gentleness for Lucinda. Two more properly behaved young ladies could not have
been found in any garrison town in
Caroline took dancing lessons once a
week, when the dancing master drove out from
This peaceful interlude seemed too good to last. Caroline could hardly believe in it. Even the aunts had created no trouble over her flight. When Lucinda wrote in her large, sprawling hand, putting forward the most excellent reasons why Caroline's arrival had been such a blessing for her and how much she needed her, especially now with the baby on the way, there was really very little they could say. Aunt Millicent, now returned to Philipstown, was clearly pleased that Caroline was under her sister's care and tutelage ..... particularly since that sister was a respectably married and settled lady ..... so much better than being in Dublin with Gwen where so many pitfalls and temptations awaited an unsophisticated country girl. Her letter went on for pages, mostly of pious advice, which made Lucy laugh a great deal; she knew Millicent's ways so well. Rose Drynan answered tersely. Caroline had made her bed; she could lie on it for the time being. If the horses were needed for the garrison and fetched the right price, maybe a deal could be done; anyway they could stay at Fermoy for the meantime; Caroline might need them. The coach must be brought back. It was Fergal's. As for Hugh Ro, well they never expected him to stay at Athenry. There was not much work for him in winter.
Outside the ring of firelight and girlish laughter, dark clouds were forming on the horizon. The grey-green October countryside was settling to its natural winter rest; the fields were stripped of crops, and labourers had little work to do. But, underneath the general somnolence there was an unease. A rumourous wind crept low along the stubble. The press was vociferous with news of outrage, of drilling and plotting of arms raids and of forges working late at night on the nefarious job of pike-making, of happenings in the east and in the north. Caroline never whistled the Shan Van Vocht any more, but sometimes it was heard on the lips of a labourer who might, or might not, have any idea of its import, might not have cared if the French were on the sea, or seen that it had any relevance to his life.
There were things she could not discuss
with Lucy or with her brother-in-law. Maureen was her only source of
information and that, at best, was garbled. The servants' kitchen hummed at
night with rumour and hints and conjectures, but nothing was known for sure.
What Maureen reported tended to confirm the speculations of the press. A spirit
of lawlessness was abroad in some parts of
In that autumn of 1796 the military
organisation of the United Irishmen was completed; the spirit that inspired the
French revolution ran rife. It was known that Wolfe Tone had reached
Of all these things Caroline heard something. She understood the cloud that darkened Gerard Seveny's brow at times and knew that it behoved her to be amenable and pleasant. She could understand how embarrassing it might be for him to be connected with a family who had espoused the French cause over generations. Not that that mattered now. What mattered was the possible connection with the new Republic. The mysterious brother had meant very little to him, till Caroline's arrival with that red-headed spalpeen who just might be a spy. All these thoughts Caroline kept to herself, sharing only some of her concern with Maureen, who laughed it lightly away and obviously did not believe half the rumours she heard.
By mid-October the chief topic of
conversation in the little parlour was the forthcoming ball at
“I declare,” she said petulantly, “my gown will not fit, if the ball is postponed much longer.”
The awaited invitations arrived. From that moment she put aside the baby garments and gave herself completely to preparation for the splendid affair. Caroline's hair had grown perceptibly; Annie could make a really beautiful job of it. It really was most wonderful to have the chance of launching her sister in elegant society. There were so many details to consider. She debated the suitability of the green velvet dress, but Caroline settled that point; she would have no other; anyhow, the company would be quite different than that present at the town hall.
Every day Annie spent an hour at least trying out hair fashions. Caroline felt like a lamb at the shearing, but suffered the comb and the curling tongs with admirable patience; it was a reward to see her sister as happy as a child with a new doll.
When Lucy was not dressing her, Caroline was called to admire and advise on her sister's toilette. There was so much to learn about dress, so many details, Caroline found it quite exhausting. Would the ball be really worth all the pains; that remained to be seen. She hardly knew what to expect.
“You are sure to be admired,” Lucy said. “Perhaps you will meet a young gentleman who can make you forget that other ..... your mystery man. If only Arthur were at home. But alas, he is so often absent on tours of duty, one never can be sure.”
“Who is Arthur?”
“Lord Ballinmore's son and heir ..... captain of dragoons. He has what might be called a roving commission ..... liaison with headquarters ..... always on the move in these unsettled times.”
“He sounds just the man for me. I've got roving in my blood, I think.”
“Perhaps. We'll see. I must admit I'm just a little jealous, darling Caroline. I shall have to take a back seat from now on.”