One December night, in the dark of the
moon, Caroline was startled from sleep by the sharp thwack of a pebble on her
window. For a few moments she was back in the old keep of Dunalla;
but no, this was the small, scented room in
“I have come as I promised, Miss Caroline,” Hugh Ro said, softly. “I have news of Fergal.”
“What news, Hugh Ro?” she asked eagerly.
“Come below and I will tell you. I dare not speak it here.”
Caroline found the dark sealskin that lay folded in a cupboard, unneeded of late in the rosy world of silks and laces. It hugged her as kindly as old Bridget's arms. Slipping from the room, she crept quietly downstairs and out by the big kitchen where the remains of a fire still glowed on the hearthstone. Hugh Ro waited by the door.
“Come in,” she whispered, “we are safe for a while. They are all fast asleep. Sit by the hearth and rest yourself.”
“I cannot stay but a few minutes, Miss Caroline. I must not be discovered in these parts ..... not now of all times. There are too many militia hereabouts and you know Captain Seveny is prompt in his duty.”
“Eat this,” she said, thrusting the remains of a pie and a half bottle of wine upon him, all she could immediately scavenge from the cook's pantry.
She placed the food and wine beside him, urging him to eat; but first, he took her hands in his and held them to his lips and she let her hands lie in his trustfully, as though a bond were sealed between them. Then, as he ate, he told his tale. His voice was gentle, but urgent:
“I have news, never mind how it
reached me. The French fleet is due to sail from Brest any day now ..... Hoche in command ..... over forty ships
..... fifteen thousand troops, it is said, equipped
with arms and supplies. They are heading for
“Yes. No attempt at an invasion is
expected till the spring.
“I guessed it was something like that. He was away almost all the times travelling long distances on horseback. But, Hugh Ro, will he come again?”
“He will come. He is on the sea, Caroline. I feel it in my bones.”
“Will the Irish rise? The peasantry seem so apathetic.”
“They seem so; but who knows. There have been secret preparations: woods stripped for pikestaffs, forges working late in the night, arms raids on country houses.”
“I have heard of these things. But there have been many military raids also ..... arms seized, arrests and punishments. Is it true?”
“True indeed, particularly in the north where the United Irishmen are strong and well organised. There are always informers. Many a humble home has been stripped of its thatch in the search for hidden arms; many a home has been burnt to the ground. Yet, I think the men of the north will not be deterred ..... nor the men of the south-east. Here there is apathy. But, once the French have landed .....”
“There will be war, Hugh Ro. There will be great violence. Is there no other way?”
“There are other ways; but they are
deemed too slow. Some have been tried. In the
“That is not the liberty they speak of.”
“No, for the poor peasants it is a heavier yoke. Maybe that is why they show so little interest in a new rebellion ..... more war, more suffering, and no gain for them, no betterment of their condition. But, maybe this time ..... maybe.”
“Why do the French intervene?”
“In their own interests.
“And the Irish must suffer.”
“This time, perhaps, to some avail ..... else, all is folly.”
“My father pursued this folly ..... and his forefathers ..... and now Fergal.”
“Maybe it was no more folly than to fight under the English flag in foreign wars, as my father did and many an Irishman forbye. The shilling was tempting, and war looks heroic from far away. And their women have always worshipped heroes.”
Caroline would remember that, to ponder over many a time to come. Now her concern was all for one hero; she touched Hugh Ro's arm, recalling him to the present.
“Shall I see Fergal? ..... tell me truly, Hugh Ro.”
“You may. It is for you to choose.
There was no more time to spare. With one strong clasp of her hands, he bade farewell and slipped out into the darkness, and the night obliterated all sight and sound of him except for a ghostly echo of the Shan Van Vocht shivering on the chilly air.