Caroline could not sleep. A Nightmare
of images passed before her: visions of strife and bloodshed, of burnings and
unspeakable tortures. She saw her most dearly beloved locked in mortal
conflict: Fergal against Nick, Hugh Ro against Gerard Seveny.
There was no neutral ground. The choice was clear and horrifying, and she was
incapable of making it. She tossed and turned, tormented by apprehension and
doubt. Then she fell into a dreamless sleep and, hours later, woke to find the
gold band constraining her thigh like the touch of Jacob's visionary angel. She
remembered her vow ..... not
empty words but a blood-bond. She must keep her tryst with Fergal
Feeling a great need for space and air, she rose, dressed and went out to the stable yard. The chestnut whinnied at her approach, ready as she for a sharp canter. The wind of morning would clear the shades of night.
Captain Seveny was surprised when she appeared at the breakfast table with rosy cheeks and wind-blown hair. Lucinda would not rise for hours yet, so they breakfasted tête-à-tête. Seveny talked of the proposed visit to his home in Kildare ..... wondering if it was wise to travel so late in the year, with the times uneasy and his darling Lucy with child. So absorbed was he in his own problem that he scarcely noticed how mechanically Caroline responded and how agreeable she was to his every suggestion. It did not matter; Lucy would decide, as she always did in family matters.
Caroline was wrestling with her own problem, undecided how she should approach Lucy. She sent for Maureen and gave her some sewing to do. While Maureen sewed a not very fine seam, she told her the whole story. Maureen listened gravely, then sat, deep in thought, for a few minutes before she spoke.
“It seems to me, Miss Caroline, that the truth would be best in the end. But maybe 'twould be best to keep some things from Miss Lucy ..... her bein' the way she is, an' easy upset. You could tell her that Fergal's likely to be comin' on a secret visit ..... very secret, an' HIMSELF not to be told about it. You'd like to meet Fergal ..... at Dunalla, maybe. She'd think nothin' of that. 'Twas little worry she had over you when you were left alone there with only us to take care of you. Why would she fret if you went back there for a few days? As for himself, it's none of his business. You're not likely to be startin' a war ..... or stoppin' one, come to that. Do you think she'll keep quiet?”
“I do, Maureen. She knows how to handle the Captain, and she's all for peace and comfort. But what if Nick ..... Captain Marsmain ..... comes back while I'm gone?”
“Then let him cool his heels for a bit. If he's in earnest, 'twill make him all the keener. If you're for each other, then nothin' in the world will keep you apart. You can't run away from your fate ..... that's what my granny would say.”
By the time she met Lucy, Caroline had her plans outlined and everything seemed to play into her hands. Of course they would visit Avonroe; in fact she would be ready to start on the journey in two days time. Gerard was due some leave; they could stay over Christmas ..... right into the New Year, perhaps. She was determined to win her in-laws over, and this was the ideal time.
“We could take the coach, couldn't we?” she asked. “It would impress them. I'd like to show them I had something besides a pretty face.”
“But, of course, Lucy dear,” Caroline responded, “you can't be expected to travel by the Mail in your condition and at this time of year. A hired chaise wouldn't look well. I say, you must take Uncle Drynan's horses; they need exercise and they look so splendid. You'll make quite an impression, I declare. Oh Lucy, I'm so glad for you!”
“And you, Caroline?”
“I'd rather not come with you. Two O'Shaughnessys might be too many.”
“But Nick ..... Captain Marsmain ..... is in Kildare. You would see him again.”
“His home is here, in
“Fie, Caroline, you grow quite a haughty lady. And quite right, too. But you'd like to see Gwen, wouldn't you?”
“I would, but not now. I'll go all the
She told Lucinda as much as seemed
wise and Lucinda accepted what she said. Seveny was
relieved when he learnt she was not accompanying them. It would be trying
enough to face his parents without an unpredictable sister-in-law in tow. Any
escapade in Kildare would be noted and commented on; rumour would run ahead to
The coach had hardly left the outskirts of Fermoy when Caroline began putting her bundle and her plans together.
“I may be back long before they are,” she told Maureen, “but if I am not returned, tell them what you think best. There's always Dunalla.”
“Aye, Dunalla; it fair makes me lonesome to think of it.”
Having made a careful study of a map
which Captain Seveny used for reconnaissance
exercises, Caroline had her journey by heart; there must be no unnecessary
delay or mishap, and no unseemly haste. She changed some of the precious gold
pieces Fergal had given her. When everything was in order she hired a post
chaise. On the morning of
The chaise travelled sedately,
following the line of the Blackwater, a gentle drive
with wooded landscape to the right and, to the left, the purling waters of the
river; in the distance the
Having partaken of some refreshment,
she engaged another chaise. Her journey followed westward by pleasant woods and
green pastures. To the south the
the jarvey said, pointing his whip to the highest
peak. “'Tis over two thousand feet high, they say.
Beyond it is the
Caroline smiled to herself, thinking of Hugh Ro. Somewhere beyond the mountains, to the south-west, he was waiting for her, staunch and rugged as his native hills, and with the music and the story like the jarvey said. But night was coming and she must find lodging. The jarvey drove up to the door of a small, bright cottage, a simple lodging where a young lady would be safe and comfortable. The woman of the house met them at the door. Yes, there was a bed for the night and the young lady would be welcome to it.
The supper was wholesome and the bed comfortable, but the landlady was inclined to ask questions. Caroline divulged little of her business except that she wanted to start early in the morning. The man of the house had an errand to Macroom, he would be glad to give her a lift as far as the town. She could hire a chaise there if she wanted to travel further.
Caroline's head had hardly touched the fat feather pillow than she was fast asleep, no thought or dream disturbing her rest.
On that very night,
Unaware, Caroline slept. Rising early, she found the man of the house ready with his pony and trap. After a simple breakfast, they were on their way south to Macroom. To her relief the driver was as quiet as his wife had been talkative. But he was a knowledgeable man, she discovered and ready to answer any questions on the geography of the area, on the names of plants and birds, and on the lore of the countryside.
In the Sullane
valley, the little
Nine miles travelling at a gentle
jog-trot brought Lough Allua in sight, its waters
shimmering in the pale winter light. A huddle of small houses was the
Caroline had planned to spend the night at Ballingeary, but, so long as light lasted, she felt she must press on. A few miles to the south-west lay that exquisite lake which is the source of the River Lee ..... Gougane Barra.
“My friend lives by Gougane Barra,” she told the jarvey, “I'll tell you where to set me down.”
The jarvey gave her a bewildered look, and no wonder for their first glimpses of that splendid desolate region of mists and shadows did nothing to add credibility to her story. The mile-long lake meandered through a precipitous valley bounded by towering mountains down whose slopes innumerable, foaming cataracts roared and tumbled, spraying great plumy wraiths of mist. On a December evening the grandeur and loneliness was overpowering. The region seemed more fitted to be the habitat of mythical giants than of human friends. The jarvey cast many a dubious look at the strange young lady in the veil.
In truth, Caroline did not know where to dismiss her conveyance. Then she saw the island with its cluster of dwellings. A plume of smoke rose and hovered in the darkening air. Someone lived on the island. A small, flat-bottomed boat was tied to a rough, natural jetty.
“This is the place,” she said, “I can make my own way from here.”
“But Miss, are you sure? 'Tis a terrible lonesome place this, an' the night comin' on.”
“I have but a short way to go. You need have no anxiety for me, I can assure you.”
She thrust a few coins into his hand. Then, picking up her bag, she walked down to the jetty. He watched her as she untied the boat and saw her turn and wave a dismissal as she pushed off and started rowing. She could handle a boat all right, that was plain. She must know where she was going. Well, well, there was no understanding the ways of fine ladies. With a shake of his head, he turned about and headed back towards Ballingeary.
The island on which Caroline landed was about half an acre in extent and appeared uninhabited except for one hut among a group of partial ruins which had been built around a tiny chapel. Obviously this was the remains of an old monastic settlement ..... a retreat from the world to solitude and awe-inspiring natural scenery. The thunder of waterfalls, the wraith-like mists clinging about shadowy precipices, the eerie cries of water-birds, and the faraway mournful bleat of sheep filled her with an immense, devastating loneliness. What eerie creature lived in this enchanted place, she wondered. She had an impulse to turn back, but the prospect of travelling on through the mountain pass was even more alarming than her present circumstance. She moored the boat beside a much larger one of similar kind, and walked slowly towards the ruined hutment.
When she entered the courtyard, she paused. One hut, somewhat larger than the others, stood apart. It would have been the abbot's dwelling, perhaps, in the old days. It was built solidly of stone, unrelieved by windows. Smoke escaped through a hole in the roof. It would be warm inside, probably suffocating. But she must speak to its occupant, if only to ask directions.