To Rose Drynan it seemed that her plan was working out. If ever a pair were matched it was Caroline and Conn. Conn was quieter than usual since his return but, sure, wasn't he in love. As for Caroline, surely she would soon forget that noble redcoat and his flattering tongue. She seemed content enough as it was. Any day now ..... but it was early days ..... there would be good news. Maybe it would be a summer wedding.

As far as Conn Drynan was concerned it might have been. As he rode by Caroline's side, he studied the strength and grace of her; in the evenings when she played on the old harp that Rose had brought down from the attic he watched her face in the firelight, and he swore to himself that if any woman took her place by his fireside it must be this one. Marriage had never entered his head till now, no matter what Rose had hinted. There was time enough and plenty of fresh-faced maidens; his looks and the background of Moybranach made him acceptable in the best circles of Galway “society”, the hunting crowd with their round of meets and routes and hunt balls. Young ladies were obliging and their mothers eager, for there was a scarcity of eligible young bachelors. But he had not met the girl who could outshine this country crowd ..... not till now. He could wait till she came round to him. For the time being she was a good companion and he liked to be seen riding the roads with her. Of the “noble redcoat” he had not an inkling, nor did Rose think fit to enlighten him.

One afternoon in late March, Caroline and Conn returned from an exhilarating gallop across country. He had let her lead all the way, excited to watch her skill and daring. Her face glowing, her auburn hair streaming behind her, her eyes alight, she spurred him to great daring. This evening, he swore, she would be in his arms. As he helped her from the saddle, his eyes took possession of her, by her expression he could see that his intent was not altogether distasteful to her. He might have kissed her there and then, but they were not unobserved.

By the hall door a sleek black stallion was pawing the gravel impatiently. Caroline recognised that fearsome beast; had not she ridden him in the clouds of a January night on the Bandon road? She recognised the man in the saddle too. Nick Marsmain had waited long enough. He had come, in person, to beard the dragoness.

Rose Drynan stood, stiff as a ramrod, on the top step, her face about level with his. Arrogance confronted arrogance. Rose had not invited him in; he did not dismount. Her greeting had been anything but cordial; her response was curt:

“Good day, Captain ..... Marsmain, I believe. How kind of you to call.”

“A pleasure, madam, I assure you.”

“Pleasure? What pleasure do you seek here ..... in the wilds of Galway?”

“The woman I love, Mrs Drynan. I have come to beg your consent to our marriage.”

“Marriage, is it, Captain Marsmain?”

“Yes madam. Hasn't Caroline spoken to you?”

“Now I come to think of it, she did mention it. I paid little attention. Young girls talk a lot of nonsense ..... listen to a lot of nonsense too. Why would a man of your age and position want to trifle with a simple country girl?”

“I assure you I do not trifle. My intentions are entirely honourable. I wish to make her my wife. Mrs Drynan, I love Caroline. I entreat your consent to our marriage ..... most earnestly.”

Rose Drynan was not unsusceptible to a handsome man on a fine horse and he begging her help. She could see very well how Caroline got carried away. His eyes were pleading. She held her ground with difficulty. Summoning the will to wither him, she flashed him a contemptuous smile.

“It is not for me to give or withhold consent,” she said at last. “Caroline has an elder brother.”

“Alas, I know that, but how can I reach him?”

“If I knew, I would not tell you,” she replied with a bitter laugh. “If you ever meet it will hardly be to discuss love and marriage.”

“If ..... who knows. May I speak to Caroline?”

“You may not. Leave her as she is. She is well enough here.”

“You forbid that I .....”

It was at this juncture that Caroline and Conn appeared. Rose Drynan gave an angry shrug. If only they had stayed away till this episode was finished. But Caroline was approaching. Before she knew what was happening, Nick leaped from his horse and gathered her in his arms. He held her close and, as she surrendered to his embrace, he threw Rose a triumphant smile.

“Caroline!” Rose called shrilly.

She was not listening. Her lover whispered in her ear:

“I came to beg your aunt's consent. She declined. She has no authority, she says. Then she has none to hold you here. Come with me. Come now Caroline; I may not ask again.”

He lifted her to the saddle and mounted behind her. With a haughty salute to Rose, he wheeled around and galloped away. Rose Drynan shook her fist. Conn leaped to his horse, murder in his eyes. Martin was just in time to catch his bridle.

“Hold, Conn,” he said, “steady yourself. I'll saddle and come with you.”

“There's no need, Father. I know what to do.”

“You know what you want to do, and it must not be. Wait. I tell you, wait!”

Martin Drynan seldom shouted. He seldom looked as he looked now at his son. His eyes were hard as steel. For none other would Conn Drynan have given way.

They set out at a sharp trot, which Conn soon made a gallop. But Marsmain was well mounted and presently so was Caroline, for he had left another fast horse in charge of a groom at the bend of the road ..... a precaution. Caroline mounted the spanking chestnut and pursued at speed. Both the black and the chestnut were fresh and in fine fettle; Conn Drynan urged his tired horse like a madman. Marsmain rode as madly as he. He had spent the previous night with the Athenry garrison and there he would find refuge that no fresh-faced yokel could breach with impunity.

Caroline's flight had been on impulse. She had no idea where it would end but she was enjoying the mad chase. She wished she wore her boy's clothing, but must ride side-saddle in her formal habit which, strangely, Aunt Rose insisted she should always wear ..... and not a word about the buckskin breeches she herself wore under her voluminous apron. Impeded now, she was falling behind. Conn's horse was gaining. He drew level, caught her bridle.

“Stop!” he commanded. “Hold still. I'll talk to you later. Now, I have another matter to settle. Do not interfere, I warn you.”

Marsmain was some little distance ahead. When he realised what had happened, he wheeled his horse round and walked him back. The two men rode quietly to meet each other. Neither was armed. Who was this murderous looking youth who dared molest Caroline, Nick wondered. Not a mere groom, surely. If I had a pistol, thought Conn, there would be one redcoat fewer on his majesty's payroll.

The road was clear. Nick's question broke the stillness like a pistol shot:

“Who are you? By what right .....”

“By my own right. I want Caroline for my wife.”

“Indeed,” Nick sneered. “Don't you know she is to be my wife?”

“If that is true, then you have neglected her shamefully. You are not worthy .....”

“It is not for you to judge, you insolent puppy!”

That was enough. Conn dismounted and approached Marsmain, his face white with rage, his voice hoarse with hate:

“You will not call me by the name of a dog, sir!”

“Is that a challenge?”

“It is. Dismount and meet me on level terms. I have no weapon.”

“Nor I ..... except this ..... a whip for a cur. I would not soil my hands in a fist fight. I am not one of your Irish churls brawling in the market place.”

Conn sprang forward and seized the black stallion's bridle. The horse tossed its head, and reared. Marsmain held on precariously till the animal settled. Then, raising his whip, he screamed:

“Down dog ..... down to your knees ..... down ..... down.”

The whip-lash caught Conn right across the face. He reeled under the impact, then steadied himself and faced Marsmain's fury with a look of pure hate.

“You shall pay for that, Captain,” he said slowly and deliberately. “I swear you shall pay!”

Martin Drynan had come up close on his son's heels. He was a shrewd man, in business with the military; he involved himself in no brawls. When Caroline made a move to intervene, he laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Leave them be,” he said quietly. “There is only one person can settle this unseemly row. You are that person. The only way you can settle it is by making a clear choice once and for all.”

The two young men had heard. They waited for Caroline's answer.

“I will not be forced,” she protested, wearily. “I must have time.”

“Come, Caroline,” Marsmain said quietly, “now that you have started on the journey let us leave this savage place.”

On his splendid horse, he looked like the knight in the mural. She needed protection, that was true. But she would not be coerced like this. Instead of mounting the chestnut, she led him forward and placed the bridle rein in Marsmain’s hand.

“I must have time, Nick,” she said gently. “I will choose in my own time.”

“You chose when you rode away with me. You did not take time to think.”

“I did not think what I was doing to Uncle Martin, and Aunt Rose ..... and to Conn. I never knew he loved me so.”

“So you are ready to run with any man who declares himself. Fie on you, Caroline! I had not thought you so fickle.”

“Oh Nick .....” she cried out in despair.

Martin Drynan had stood aside long enough. He saw the red weal on his son's face, the rising fury. He intervened, quietly, but with a firmness that could not be denied.

“Can't you see ..... both of you ..... that the girl is overwrought. If she must choose between you, Captain Marsmain, and my son, then give her peace to choose. Caroline, I think it's time you came back to your Aunt Rose.”

“To your house, Drynan ..... to his house? Is that what you want, after all?”

“No, Nick. What I want is to go to Dublin ..... to my sister, Gwen.”

Marsmain smiled. Dublin would cure this child of her wild country ways. He had no doubt that Gwendaline would show her another way of life. There would be some risk, that he knew; a beautiful girl might have her head turned. In the circumstances it was a risk he had to take.

“Very well, Caroline, to Dublin ..... and immediately ..... and do not lose yourself on the way. I shall see you there. But spare me one kiss before we part.”

He leaned from the saddle and, standing on tip-toe, she gave herself to his embrace. He kissed her long and ardently. Then, with a mock salute to Martin Drynan, he spurred his horse. At the turn of the road, he turned and waved. Conn Drynan's face was scarred with pain and rage; his eyes were dark with murderous thoughts. Only Martin's look restrained him. He mounted and rode alone back to Moybranach.

“Come Caroline,” Martin said, as he helped her on to his horse, “we will take it easy going home.”

As he walked by her side, it was like the journeys with Hugh Ro. Aware that she was troubled, he diverted her mind with country tales. There were no ghosts nor banshees in his stories; life itself had enough characters. That ruined house had once been the meeting place of a secret society; those standing stones were once used as tethering posts for horses at an old fair, now scarcely remembered; in that tottering cabin he had spent many a night drinking and throwing dice; that ditch was a fought-over march between the Red Derterys and the Slack Shafterys till the son of one faction wed the daughter of the other; that wood over there was a haunt of badgers and foxes used their earths so the badgers got the blame for foxy depredations. There was a story to everything they passed. Maybe he had told her all before, but it was soothing to hear it again. Her life was dogged by contention in which she had no part except of being herself. She remembered the child in the velvet dress swinging her silk-clad legs from the big table while a Gothic arch of contentious aunts argued over her.

Rose met them at the door. She had read Conn's angry face, maybe heard a garbled version of his story. Martin read her mood.

“She's a flighty filly, this niece of yours, Rosie,” he said with his big laugh, “but I caught her. Would there be any fodder in the house?”

“There is that, Martin. Can't you smell the beefsteaks sizzling? Ah Caroline, so you've lost your appetite for journeying.”

The words and the look stung Caroline.

“Not yet, Aunt Rose,” she said gravely. “I must go to Dublin. I promised Gwen.”