The atmosphere was chilly in the visitors' parlour. The two men faced each other, as in a duel, swords in their eyes. Seveny's face was flushed, Marsmain's so pale that the scar along his jaw burned redly in contrast. His cloak was spattered with hard riding.
“I trust your sister-in-law arrived safely. She caught the Mail this morning.”
Seveny nodded briefly. He had returned home just a matter of minutes earlier and had had time for a few words with Lucy; of these “Nick Marsmain” was what stuck in his mind ..... and his gullet. Talk of the devil ..... and here he stood before him, smiling his pale, arrogant smile.
“I trust her absence caused no alarm,” Nick went on. “How is darling Lucinda?”
“Lucy is very well, thanks to you; you might have spared her much anxiety if you had let us know where Caroline was.”
“Where did you suppose she was?”
“At her old home in
“Nor in mine, I take it, Seveny. There you are totally wrong. My intentions towards Caroline are completely honourable. I have asked her to be my wife. That is why I came to see you.”
“See me? It is none of my business whom Caroline marries.”
“Then I should like to speak with Lucinda. You will not deny me, I entreat.”
Seveny softened a little. This man seemed to be sincere. Besides, it might be as well to placate him, for one day soon Marsmain would most certainly command a smart regiment; there might be a place for him in it ..... with prospects.
“You would be well advised to further my case as far as you can, Seveny,” Marsmain said, as though he read his thoughts. “It would be in your own interests to support Lucy; she will be all in favour of the marriage, of that I am certain.”
Of course she would; nothing would delight her more than the prospect of so ready entry into the social whirl, so easy access to the most elegant company. How “My sister, Lady Ballinmore,” would tinkle on her tongue He led the way to Lucy's pretty parlour.
There all was warm and bright, curtains drawn, a log fire blazing, candlelight making a platinum aura of Lucy's hair. All, frothy with ribbons and laces, she came to meet them. Marsmain swept her in his arms.
“Fie on you, Nick!” she exclaimed, laughing. “How naughty you were to steal my little sister! Yet I cannot be angry with you ..... not in the circumstances.”
So Caroline had told her of his proposal; it augured well. In fact Caroline had used it as a kind of shield to protect her from close questioning. Back in the dainty bedroom she had abandoned aeons ago, confronted with Lucy's eager, questioning eyes, she had told her secret and it had had the desired effect.
“But, how splendid, Caroline! How simply splendid! I am so happy for you!”
A hug and a kiss, and then Lucy had rushed off to order the table laid in her own little parlour. Over a simple meal, she had had so much to tell Caroline of her own visit and Caroline had encouraged her to continue, saying she would tell her own story later. Meanwhile, Nick might join them for supper. There were arrangements to be made. Now all was ready; the two men were arrived. She heard Caroline's light tread in the passage. Maureen had brushed her hair till it shone like burnished bronze and she wore the green velvet dress. Nick took her in his arms and, with one gentle kiss, confirmed his love; his admiration was unmistakeable for his eyes dwelt on her throughout supper. Even Seveny grew mellow with pleasure watching his lovely wife preside over the dainty table. The threats of invasion, or of war, local or international, were abandoned. The personal question that must be answered, was shelved for the moment.
After the meal, Lucy took her place by the fire and invited the others to join her. She turned a bright, enquiring gaze on Marsmain.
“I believe,” she said archly, “there is something you ought to tell us, Nick.”
“I have asked Caroline to marry me,” he said gravely. “Have you any objections?”
“None whatever. Oh dear Nick, I am so happy I hardly know how to contain myself. Object indeed!”
“And you, Gerard?” he asked as though they had not discussed it, “have I your consent?”
“My consent? Of course. Would it matter?”
“It would matter a great deal. I take it that you and dear Lucy stand in lieu of guardians.”
“In law, neither of us has such a right.”
“Oh Gerry darling,” Lucy interposed, “aren't you being just a little tiresome? I am Caroline's sister, and the only matron in the family. Surely I have a right?”
“The person who should be consulted, is your male relative, your elusive brother.”
There was an awkward silence. Seveny's remark may have been a reminder that Marsmain was taking on the same complexities that had sometimes confounded his own married bliss. Nick resumed with careless bravado:
“I think you are making an unnecessary
fuss, Seveny. The elusive gentleman you mention seems
to have abandoned all ties and responsibilities in
“My marriage was different. Millicent Picton fostered Gwendaline and Lucy from infancy. She was given legal guardianship. It was not so with Caroline. If anyone took responsibility for Caroline ..... and that is doubtful ..... it was Rose O'Shaughnessy Drynan of Moybranach, near Athenry.”
“So?” Nick responded with a shrug. “But it is a confoundedly long journey to Athenry, on the mere chance.”
Caroline, immobile and cold as a statue was inwardly seething at the way the men haggled over her as though she were a heifer. Unable to bear any more, she stood up and faced them. In imagination she was back in the keep of Dunalla; the chieftain's daughter stood on the cursing stone, the mural glowing on the chimney breast, the fierce masks winking from incised wood, the rushlights guttering.
“If I may have my father's coach and Uncle Martin Drynan's horses,” she said calmly, “I will go to Athenry myself. Maureen can accompany me, lest I take wrong turning on the way. You need not look alarmed Gerry; I shall be quite safe on the roads of my own country. None will harm me.”
Nick's eyes blazed with pride in her. She was a dasher, this girl. God, what a woman to carry on the line of Ballinmore!
“Bravo, Caroline!” he exclaimed, “I grow more certain every hour that you were born to be my lady.”
“We shall see,” Seveny said, uncertainly.
Later, when he saw Marsmain out, he was reminded of his position
“Remember, Seveny,” Nick said, “you have promised to back me ..... for Lucy's sake, remember ..... and for your own. You tread on very thin ice, and I am not a man to be thwarted.”