CHAPTER 36               


In the days that followed, the lively, easy-going life at Moybranach, with its open doors, uncurtained windows, its interchange of light and darkness, settled about Caroline. This sheltered freedom was home; she had never been away except in a dream; the wild dreams and wilder realities were remote, yet not entirely forgotten. Yesterday and tom­orrow hovered on the fringes of her consciousness. In the interim, she helped Martin with the horses, sang songs by the evening hearth. Once she timidly broached the subject of marriage.

“Fiddlesticks!” Rose exclaimed, “what makes you think a lord-to-be would want to marry you? So he told you he would, did he ..... told you he loved you ..... like as not said he'd die if you refused him? I can imagine the palaver. Well, I wouldn't doubt that he wants you. You're a handsome lass. Will he want you when he gets you, that's the question? Many's a poor girl has been led astray by just such a gallant coaxing gentleman. Wouldn't you be better to stick with your own sort ..... marry a man reared like yourself, but better off; I wouldn't wish poverty on you, I'd like to see you happy and prosperous. Take your time, girl, and think about it. I've a thought in my mind .....” Caroline wondered, soon she was to find out.

It was late afternoon of a clear March day when Conn Drynan galloped up the avenue and dismounted among leaping dogs. He had been away on horse business for some while; visiting garrisons, scouring horse fairs throughout the country, partly to promote Martin's trade, partly to gain experience. He had grown taller and more manly since Caroline last saw him; in fact the coltish lad had grown into a very presentable young man. He was tanned from riding in the sun, his fair hair shone like burnished gold.

Caroline paused, her hands on the bridle of a half-broken colt. Conn Drynan paused too. They looked at each other over the paddock rail, saying nothing for a few moments, seeing each other as they had never seen before. Rose watched from the window, with satisfaction. She took her time coming out to greet Conn.

The way Conn looked at Caroline was the frank, appreciative way a man might look at a horse that pleased him ..... or a woman who took his fancy. There was neither condescension nor deference in the admiring gaze. They met on their own ground, equals in age and station, healthy and active and afraid of nothing.

In the days that followed they grew acquainted as they schooled horses or cantered side by side along green lanes, or galloped over open common. They challenged each other to race and to leap ditches; they showed off their skills, teased each other, sometimes bickered. Caroline had not known such equal companionship except in brief spells with Fergal. She had come to accept that men had other lives to live in which she could have no share. This easy companionship was beguiling; if only she could escape her dreams and submit to this kind of living how good life would be. But oh, how tame ..... after Dunalla ..... after the runaway journey to Fermoy ..... after the ball at Ballinmore ..... after Bantry.

Conn seemed so mild, so contented with his way of living, so absorbed in his work that she was surprised when he showed a glimpse of his inner thoughts. She mentioned Fergal and the very mention brought a light to his eye.

“Ay, he's your brother. Fighting for France, he is, I hear. That's well enough, I suppose, but it's here he ought to be.”

“Why do you say that, Conn?”

“I was up north this last trip. I delivered horses to some of General Lake's garrisons. I was as far as Belfast itself. I met a lot of people. I heard a lot of what's going on up there. We're sleeping in the west. We don't know the things that are going on in the north; militia ransacking houses, burning the thatch off, scaring the wits out of women and little children.”

“I have heard of quite other people raiding and burning and scaring women and children in the south of Ireland ..... no farther away than Tipperary.”

“Bah! They were not burning the houses of the poor. What do I care for fine houses and fine people!

“Your own home is quite a fine house, Conn ..... and you aim to make money and build a finer one, no doubt.”

“It was in a cabin my mother was raised. My roots are deep in the soil of Ireland. I'd do anything for my country and my own people.”

“You didn't go to Bantry Bay!”

“I was of no mind then any more than the others about here. If there ever is another chance, I'll be there.”

“Would you fight and kill for Ireland, Conn?”

“I would fight and kill till the last redcoat was dead.”

His eyes lit with frenzy; his fierce expression frightened Caroline. She hardly knew what to say. When she spoke, it was very gently:

“You might be killed, Conn. I wouldn't like that.”

“You'd be sorry, Caroline?” he asked, touched by her sad look.

“I'd be very sorry, Conn. I hope it never comes to that. It would break your father's heart. It would break Aunt Rose's too. She talks a lot about the redcoats, and about fighting them; she'd be proud of you fighting for Ireland's freedom, but .....”

“She's all talk ..... away back in the past she is ..... the chieftain's daughter! When was there a chieftain in Ireland since the Wild Geese fled? And they were no more chieftains, but lords like their enemies. They forgot about Ireland ..... or most of them did ..... great military men they were and they fighting for the French and the Spanish and the Austrians, or whoever hired them. The men who will fight for Ireland and not give in or fly are the men who are training and arming in secret now. They’re strong in the north ..... The United Irishmen. I'd like fine to be there.”

“Are you one of them, Conn?” she asked, giving him a searching look.

“I'm not saying,” he said, turning his head away. “That's something no man ..... or woman ..... will get out of me.”

“You’re sworn, then?”

“I'm not saying, I told you. It's something you'll never find out. Still,” he went on more gently, “if I'd tell anyone, it would be you Caroline. I'd tell you anything ..... nearly.”

Caroline lay awake a long time that night. She could just pick out the shape of Millicent Picton's black box where it stood against the whitewashed wall in her plain room. Always there were the black boxes ..... the hidden things ..... the secrets that were tempting and fearsome. So Conn, the happy, healthy, easy-going young man had his secrets too ..... sworn secrets, or just the dark spirals in his mind. Did he really mean all that? Was his fury ..... and his hate ..... genuine?