It was easier than Arabella had expected. Exhausted by her efforts, Lady Ballinmore could offer little resistance. She might have been asleep, so still she lay in her lonely room, but her eyes were wide open; by the clear starlight Arabella could see their stare.

“Poor William,” she murmured over and over, “forgive me ..... forgive me.”

It went on like a litany. Arabella had to bend close to catch the words. They meant nothing to her, probably a lament for a long ago lover, she thought. The sick woman never noticed her, her mind was travelling its own tortured way. When Arabella lifted the pillow from her face the prayer had ended, but the eyes still stared, glassily. Arabella settled the pillow under the dead woman's head and stole silently from the room.

Ballinmore Castle slept, unaware. In the dark tower one dusty window shone faintly like a watchful eye; but it saw nothing. When she came to his waiting arms, Lord Ballinmore had no reason to think that Arabella had not come, warm and yearning, straight from her own bed.

“My dark Rose,” he whispered, holding her close, “what a woman you are! What a woman!”

And what a woman she was on that night, so tender and so passionate, so well worth waiting for. So well worth keeping for his own, forever. None should take her from him now; no obstacle should stand in his way.

There was no obstacle. As they breakfasted tête-à-tête, a frightened maid brought them the news. Arabella was all sweet sympathy. The physician, summoned immediately, had no reason for suspicion; her ladyship had looked very ill at the reception; he had advised her to take life easy and she had disobeyed. The more eminent physician in Dublin had offered very little hope and who was he, a rural medico, to dispute that verdict. Lady Ballinmore had died from natural causes; what a blessing that she had not lived to suffer.

Arabella had scored two triumphs in one night; she had obliterated the lady who stood in her way; she had obliterated the thought of Caroline from her lord's lusty eye, for what was a cold, coy girl compared with a woman of experience? If she knew how to play the lover, she also knew how to play the comforter. She was tender, solicitous, understanding, always by Lord Ballinmore’s side. It was un­thinkable that she should return to Fermoy and leave him grieving. Instead she took charge of immediate, distressing details with splendid efficiency, leaving him undisturbed by the nasty little facts of death. Of course Nick was summoned from Kildare and was on his way. But every minute counted for Arabella as she wove her womanly charm about the bereaved husband.

Louise Marsmain, the Lady Ballinmore, was laid to rest in the family vault. The funeral service, held in the little family chapel within the grounds, was private. Across his mother's coffin as it lay in state, Nick caught Arabella's glance. Behind her hastily assumed mourning veil she was watching his. Maybe it was the chill, musty air of the chapel which made him shudder, maybe it was foreboding. Damn that woman! Why was she here? Damn his foolish father who had allowed her to assume such intimacy with the family! He strove to fix his attention on the funeral service, failing that, on his father's grief-stricken face. He felt no sympathy. If the tears were of remorse, then they were well shed. There was no remorse on Arabella's face. Why should there be?

Among the bequests of the deceased lady, and the only one of any significance, since she had few personal possessions, was that of her carefully garnered hoard of gold pieces. Over the years, they had amounted to a tidy fortune. Her last request was that the money should be used to purchase for her son, Arthur Nicholas, an army command commensurate with his station in life.

It was what Nick Marsmain had waited so long for. Nothing but the best would satisfy him and now it was within his grasp. With war looming the colonelcy of a dashing regiment appealed mightily to him. He need not wander forever in the mists of Ireland waiting for a grand invasion. The foreign fleets had traversed the seas around Ireland for centuries. Once only had they landed to any effect. They would not land again. The little corporal was too shrewd to slough down his armies in the bogs of Ireland. Already it was rumoured that he looked the other way with grander conquests in mind. As far as he, Arthur Nicholas Marsmain, was concerned, hunting petty rebels, thieves and cattle-houghers was a job for red-faced country boys, not soldiers of his majesty, King George III.

The coast was clear and all plain sailing but for two women; Caroline who was innocent and headstrong, Arabella who was scheming and ruthless. He must have Caroline as his wife; he must have an heir for Ballinmore; the thought, with a French war looming, was obsessive. He must detach Arabella from his father; she was young enough to bear children, heirs for Ballinmore; he must make her his mistress again ..... here in his father's house. He smiled at her across his mother's bier. It was the old captivating smile that charmed her more than any man's. Their eyes locked in a look of passionate intensity. The solemn room with its empty books reverberated with the mating call of jungle beasts.

Tonight Arabella would share his bed. One day soon he would see Seveny ..... the ambitious, conscientious soldier with no strings he could pull; he had him in a cleft stick. As for Ferriter, dare he ask repayment of old debts? Not now. Ferriter could go to hell. The means mattered not so long as the ends were served ..... the twin gods of land and lineage.

If Caroline wondered why, in the days following Lady Ballinmore's burial, Nick did not pay a call, she persuaded herself that family affairs constrained him. She tried to curb her impatience, but it was not easy; February had been a long, dull month. The cosy, prettily furn­ished house, Lucy’s passivity and Gerard's grave preoccupation with duty began to weigh like manacles. She longed to ride away, taking the road as it came till the old tower of Dunalla rose against the wide waste of sea. The glitter of gold on the water ..... the glitter of gold under the bloody stone by the hearth of Dunalla; one day soon she would need it. She would not be entirely dowerless ..... and no man would marry her for her dowry; it was a proud thought. She had no inkling of the goings-on at Ballinmore Castle. It was another world from which death had locked her out.

Rose O'Shaughnessy Drynan had weathered the winter well, but cramped in spirit. With the first whip of March wind, she felt a stir of fierce activity in her bones. That mad child, Caroline, had been given her head too long. She could ..... and probably would ..... go her own way. But she must return Turlough’s coach; the very thought of a redcoat riding like a prince in that elegant vehicle maddened her. Martin had been more than decent about the horses, they were growing more valuable every day, but no bargain had been struck and it was time they came back to Moybranach. Seveny and his ilk could not have all the best, whatever they might think.

She had the gig brought out and, wrapped in her greatcoat, she drove like a fury over to Dunalla. Owen saw her arrive and knew she meant business. There would be something for him to do. Well, it would be a change from foddering the pony and fetching water and turf and potatoes for old Bridget.

Rose summoned him with a crack of her whip.

“I want you to go on an errand, Owen. You never travelled much. Now's your chance. It's a long journey.”

“Where to, ma'am?”

“To Fermoy in the county Cork. They say it's a grand county with plenty of grass and fine cattle and people living on the fat of the land. You're a great one for studying grand houses. Well, you'll get your eyeful and you on your way to Fermoy ..... grand houses with trees about them and winding drives, big windows and handsome hall doors ..... servants galore and all of them better at the cap-touching than you are yourself ..... the poor people well out of sight and not affronting the beauties of nature ..... in their proper place, as Millicent Picton would say. Paradise on earth! It's maybe no wonder that mad one, Caroline, fell under its spell. Well, you can tell her she may stay if she wants ..... though it's not what I want, for I have another thing in my mind; but it's time the coach was back in the coach-house here and the horses in Martin Drynan's stables. It's more than time that Maureen was back here looking after her grandmother. The Lord only knows what she's up to down in Cork and the place hiving with Militia. Tell her to come home. Do you hear me, Owen?”

“I do that, ma'am, it's right plain you make it an' no mistake. But when .....?”

“In the morning, first thing. And you're to lose no time on the road. I'll wait here with Bridget till you come back.”

Owen hesitated, scratching his head

“I'll be a brave while away, ma'am ..... that's if I'm to walk it.”

Arrah man, it's a poor sample of an O’Shaughnessy you are. When did one of them hesitate at the prospect of a journey over land or sea; covered the continent of Europe, they did, and the wild seas between. And you, what did you do but sink in the first mud your feet struck; is it waiting for death to push you deeper you are? Up man, and away with you. Foot it if you're too backward to ask a lift along the road. Lifts galore you'll get, if you ask ..... and bite and sup and a place to sleep at nights. Never let it be said that an O’Shaughnessy was left stranded on the roads of the west ..... or had any call to be. If you're getting it tight, whistle a stave of the Shan Van Vocht ..... or any old tune ..... and you'll get all you're needing And that's more than the French would have got out of them.”

“You don't mind stayin' with Bridget? She's so stiff she can hardly fend for herself ..... fetch the turf ..... carry water ..... fodder the pony.”

“I’ll stay all right. Do you think I'd leave the old home without a caretaker? That Picton woman would be back, sure as goodness; they say she's on the fidget. She'd be running the place ..... sitting in the chieftain's chair ..... casting her spells till the place wouldn't be safe for an O'Shaughnessy to live in.”

“She wouldn't come back, would she?”

“Wouldn't she? Wouldn't she always from the minute she set eyes on my brother Turlough. Wasn't she fair out of her mind with the notion of being the chieftain's bride? The outlaw's bride! An oul' cod of a romantic she always was in spite of her prim and proper ways. I'll stay, Owen, you get ready to go.”

“I'll start in the mornin', ma'am,” Owen said, his heart quailed at the prospect of the journey.

The journey turned out easier than the prospect. He soon found the way to whistle and sing his way into the cabins and into the hearts of the people who dwelt in them or travelled the road. It was only a few days till he strolled into the town of Fermoy, his caubeen at a jaunty angle and a tune on his lips. A few discreet questions led him to the house in Steeple Street. In the gathering dusk, he slipped, unnoticed, into the stable yard. Maureen met him at the kitchen door. That was a welcome. She never said a word to Caroline till the following morning. That night Owen entertained the small staff with songs and stories by the kitchen fire.