To Rose Drynan
it seemed that her plan was working out. If ever a pair were matched it was
As far as
One afternoon in late March, Caroline
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
“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
“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.
“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!”
seldom shouted. He seldom looked as he looked now at his son. His eyes were
hard as steel. For none other would
They set out at a sharp trot, which
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
“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
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.”
“Down dog ..... down to your knees ..... down ..... down.”
The whip-lash caught
“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.”
“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.
“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
“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