was a man of his time. It was a time of change which saw the emergence of a
prosperous and intelligent middle class. Except in
Before he met and married Rose
O'Shaughnessy, Martin had loved and cherished the fresh-faced girl from
As the high gig with two horses on leading reins behind clattered up the drive to Moybranach, it was met by a scurry of barking dogs. The hall door was open. Martin Drynan came out to meet them, his face shining with pleasure.
“Welcome Rosie, mavourneen!” he called out. “Welcome. So you caught the horses.”
“I did that, Martin, and I brought back my brother's coach ..... and his wandering daughter. Maybe she was the hardest to catch.”
“Arrah Caroline, my love, it's glad I am to see you,” Martin said, warmly, as he took her hands, “you'll be staying with us, I hope ..... till you marry, anyway.”
“She'll be staying, if we can hold her, till she marries ..... and beyond that again, maybe.”
There was the makings of a hearty breakfast on the table in the big kitchen. A serving girl was turning ham on a spit. The kettle was on the boil. In a brace of shakes Martin had mixed bowls of hot punch. He sat by Caroline on the wooden settle, glancing sideways to watch the roses bloom in her cheeks as she sipped the hot brew. From time to time she too glanced sideways, thinking how good it was to be by this kind, weather-beaten man with the crisp voice and the ready laugh, and the love for Aunt Rose that nobody ever had or could understand. To herself, though a stranger in blood, he had been more like a father than the romantic figure who had come and gone with the tide. Martin had taught her how to handle horses. She had spent a great deal of time outdoors with him.
“You're dead beat, child,” he said kindly. “Sit over to the table, now, and have a bite to eat. Then it's bed for you. And you, Rose.”
“Not for me, Martin. I have things to tell you.”
While Caroline slept in the snug room under the dark rafters that looked like ship's rigging, Rose told Martin of the fire at Dunalla and how Millicent Picton died.
“Her brother will have to be told,” he said at once.
“He has been told, Martin. Poor Owen, tired as he was, took a letter for the mail coach. I couldn't let the grass grow under my feet. What was I to do with the body? That's Horace Picton's responsibility.”
Horace Picton pranced up the drive on a mud-spattered bay; he had ridden hard. A tired, angry man in strange country, he was not quite himself. As a magistrate, he had gained some notoriety in his own district for the savagery of his sentences. In ordinary circumstances he no longer dared ride out after dusk for that very reason. The truth was that he was a scared, frustrated man trying to follow in his respected father's footsteps in different times and under different stresses; his sister's escapade was the last straw.
Faced with Rose Drynan, he summoned arrogance to his aid; but she could be arrogant with the best. The questions he fired at her were questions that only Millicent Picton could have answered. What was Millicent doing at Dunalla? How did she die? Why was she up on the roof? Who lit the fire? How did it get out of hand? A fire wouldn't scare Millicent; what did scare her?
Rose Drynan had dressed herself carefully and bound up her luxuriant hair. She looked handsome and impressive; this irritable, travel-stained man did not. She tossed her head, implying both judgements.
“There's no use asking me these questions, Horace Picton,” she said evenly. “Only Millicent Picton could answer them ..... or God himself. You could try asking the devil, of course, but I'm thinking he'd give you no more satisfaction than I can.”
“I'm asking you, Mrs Drynan. You were there. You know what happened ..... and how ..... and probably why.”
“I was in my father's house, as I had a right to be. Nobody sent for your sister. She was not expected. I was below with old Bridget when herself drove up in a hired chaise. She walked in and up the stairs as if she had the right. She rang for the servants. There were none but old Bridget and she's past climbing stairs at anybody's call. I am not a servant. If she chose to come there without asking, she could make herself comfortable. Nobody was hindering her.”
“You offered no help!”
“Help? Help her to rip the place to pieces ..... rip the bed I was born in?”
“What do you mean?”
“Making a fire of whatever came handy to her. But the jackdaw's nest must have blocked the chimney. Smoked out she was ..... took to the roof. She was up there flapping her wings like a bat when I brought Bridget out to the bawn. You'd think the whole place was ablaze with the roar in the chimney and the sparks flying. I think she scared herself, if you ask me. We saw her fall. When Caroline went up she was dead.”
“Did you fetch a physician?”
“To mend a broken neck? She was dead, I tell you. She's where she fell yet. You may go and see for yourself. Bridget and Maureen and Owen are over there in Dunalla. They'll confirm all I told you. Ask as many questions as you like.”
Refusing an offer of refreshment, he wheeled his horse around and rode away west to Dunalla. Man and horse were exhausted when they reached the scene. Everything was exactly as Rose Drynan said. There was only one thing could be done for Millicent Picton; give her a decent burial in the family plot at Philipstown.
The funeral was dignified, but small; the mourners came largely out of respect for the Picton family. When Caroline insisted that she must be present, Aunt Rose sent for Owen and the coach and the three drove all the way. Their arrival caused the kind of stir Rose Drynan liked to create; it was curious the effect the coach had on everybody, particularly those who rode in it. She was on her great lady's dignity, and a very handsome, haughty woman at that. Caroline was pale and quiet, her tear-stained cheeks perhaps the only sincere evidence of mourning about the graveside.
Horace Picton acknowledged their presence with a grave nod. After the burial formalities, he came forward to speak to them. Would they like to come back to the house? He must speak with Caroline. Millicent had left a few personal effects; she had specifically stated on numerous occasions that they must go to the O'Shaughnessy sisters.
The coach followed Horace Picton's equipage. At the comfortable ostentatious house, they were received by Mrs Picton. Though her welcome was rather cool, she offered tea. This Aunt Rose declined with grace, saying they must be on their way.
Millicent's effects were all in a black box. Two man-servants brought it down and placed it in the boot of the coach. It was like another coffin, Caroline thought. As they drove down the avenue, a cold drizzle began to fall. A sense of desolation fell upon Caroline. Millicent Picton was in her grave, she would have preferred to forget her. But that sinister black box was her responsibility from now on; she felt sure it contained dark secrets. She had no wish to know them yet. It was to be many a day before she unlocked the box; the key Uncle Horace had given her, lay cold in her pocket.
“We'll stop at the next inn and have a bite to eat and a sup to warm us,” Aunt Rose suggested, cheerfully.