“Of course, that is why,” Gwendaline cried, excitedly as she viewed Caroline in the first flush of clear morning light.

“What is why, Gwen?”

“Why Nick Marsmain is gone mad. You're so beautiful. I'd forgotten how beautiful. Why you'll be the most beautiful woman in Dublin ..... the most beautiful in Ireland!”

“And you, Gwen, you are beautiful too ..... and Lucy. Nick called us the Three Graces.”

“Well said, Carrie. That we are. Our beauty is all we have. We must make use of it while we may. Oh, it's wonderful ..... wonderful!”

The two had been brought their bathwater and had taken turns at scrubbing each other's backs. Now, rosy from the towel, their naked bodies glowed fresh as the morning itself as they stretched and preened before long mirrors, one tall and straight-limbed, with hair like burnished bronze, the other more petite, rounded, with curling dark brown hair and amber eyes.

“Ma Brereton says I am like Aunt Millicent, though not so stately,” Gwendaline said, doubtfully.

“Perhaps. She was a remarkably handsome woman in her youth ..... not so sweet as our mother. Lucy's like her, all pink and fragile and blue-eyed.”

And you, Carrie, are like our father; he had auburn hair and sea-green eyes and he was so handsome. It's no wonder mother ran away with him and Aunt Millicent grew bitter with disappointment.”

“What a wonderful romance it was!”

“For our parents, yes. In the end they left us nothing but beauty. That's our fortune. We must use it well. Lucy bartered hers too soon ..... for too little. You must make a shrewder bargain. But, of course, you have done.”

“You mean Nick?”

“Yes, my lady ..... for all our sakes. In the end you will marry him. Was it not fate that brought you together. Given such a chance I would not hesitate. But meantime, you will have one glorious summer. After that there will be no doubts. You will want to wear silk for the rest of your life.”

“I told Aunt Millicent I would wear silk. Maybe it is to be.”

“Of course it is to be. But now, it's time we dressed to meet this day ..... your first day of another kind of life.”

The whole ambience of this gracious house was serene. The perfectly proportioned rooms, the graceful stairway, the gentle colours, the finely fashioned furniture spoke of generations of cultivated taste that valued the appropriate rather than the ostentatious. In the handsome library Caroline found real books that had been as well read as Mr Hemson's small selection. She touched their calf-bound covers reverently. On one wall hung a portrait before which the girls paused; it was of a gentle girl in her late teens. She was not a striking beauty but her expression was of great sweetness.

“Though her colouring is different, she reminds me of Lucy,” Caroline remarked.

“Her name was Julia. She was the great love of Morry's life. She died less than a year after that portrait was painted.”

Gwendaline wore a wistful look. Was there a hint of tears in her eyes?

“Come,” she said briskly, “let us see the gardens.”

There was the same sense of order and harmony without as within. The smooth lawns, the carefully tended trees and shrubs, the tidy flower-beds and swept paths gave evidence of constant attention by loving hands. Even as they walked about they could see the gardeners at work. This was particularly true in the large walled garden which was in preparation for the new season's crops. It was clear that no ground was wasted and that great care was taken to produce the best of everything and in great variety. Caroline had never seen anything like this except as glimpsed at the Quaker's home in the county Limerick.

“Yes, it's all like this,” Gwendaline assured her, “every acre of the estate. It is quite small as demesnes go. Once, I believe, the Moretons had huge estates, but they sold off all surplus lands the better to manage what was left. Morry is more than an improving landlord; he's an angel in truth; he encourages his tenants to buy out a few acres and set up their own farming enterprises; things like bee-keeping, poultry rearing, pig-fattening, spinning and weaving. Needless to say most of his peers think Morry's quite mad ..... but they respect him. His tenants adore him, naturally. He takes pains to teach his farm hands all he knows, and that is a great deal; you know he went to work on a farm in England just to learn for himself. I wish we had time to see everything now, but another day we'll come and see the workshop and the smithy and the bake-house ..... and the woods; they're alive with birds and all kinds of wild creatures ..... absolutely undisturbed; Morry doesn't hunt. Oh, I am running on. Let's go.”

They found Lord Moreton waiting on the doorstep. Tall, fair, distinguished and thoughtful rather than handsome, he was a man whose breeding was plain to see but whose age was indeterminate. Caroline, who had not seen him on her arrival, advanced now to be embraced by a welcoming smile that made her feel no stranger.

“As soon as we are all assembled, it will be time to start. It is a delightful day for our journey. I trust you will enjoy the scenery, Caroline, and find our capital city agreeable.”

Caroline had no doubt she would; a wave of excitement flooded through her. By her side, Gwen was chattering merrily, all seriousness banished in anticipation of some fresh amusement. Drifting across the sunny lawn came the birds of paradise in all their splendour.

“You'll find them most agreeable, Carrie dear,” Gwen was saying. “They put on airs and graces, but they have kind hearts. Alas the great days of Dublin theatre seem to be coming to an end. There is so much disquiet that people do not patronise the theatre as they used. Some who might set a fashionable example involve themselves with graver affairs. It is said that Lord Edward Fitzgerald is involved with the United Irishmen. We had hoped that he and Lady Pamela would lend some lustre to the social scene. She is French, you know. We expected a fillip to fashion and frivolity; instead they drive through the streets of Dublin in the plainest style; he in a brown suit, his hair cropped short like a labourer, she in a simple muslin gown. What an embarrassment to his brother, the Duke of Leinster. Yet he is so handsome, so dashing in himself that he turns half the heads in Dublin when he appears.”

By now the players were about them. Gwendaline was surrounded.

“Please do not overwhelm me,” she pleaded laughingly, “I must introduce my young sister. This, my darlings, is Caroline ..... some of you have met her by moonlight.”

Caroline tried to pick out her captors of the night before, but in the general excitement she could not be certain. The entire company greeted her with great warmth and camaraderie. Presently, when Moreton had organised the transport, they were all aboard an assortment of vehicles and on their way. They would travel to the city in his lordship's private launch which was moored on the canal some little distance away. A merry, laughing, chattering crowd they were. Among them Lord Moreton stood out, taller than any, more grave yet perhaps more amused than they, in dress more elegant yet less ostentatious. How young he looked, Caroline thought, his youth was of the heart, a natural patina that shone from within himself.

Presently they reached the Grand Canal where the launch, on which they were to breakfast, awaited them. What a rustling, giggling, oohing and aahing there was as they boarded the graceful craft. When all were safely stowed, Caroline found Moreton by her side.

“We shall breakfast now,” he said, “but first I should like you to meet my friend, Mr Richard Daly.”

“THE Richard Daly?”

“Yes, the celebrated manager of Crow Street theatre.”

So Caroline found herself breakfasting with the famous theatrical manager of whom even she had heard. It satisfied her curiosity not a little to meet the hot-tempered, artistic man who had actually, if report were true, beaten Nick Marsmain in a duel. She found it hard to credit; he seemed a gentle, thoughtful person, perhaps a little sad, knowing that his days in Crow Street were numbered even then. It was pleasant to hear something at first hand, of life in the theatre.

As they talked, Caroline felt Daly's eyes on her, sizing her up. It was plain that he was impressed by her beauty and natural grace. What an actress she might have made! He sighed for the declining theatre and the futility of such speculation. Then, happily, Caroline asked him a question about some landmark they were passing. For the remainder of the breakfast interval, he pointed out the various landmarks, estates, houses and other points of interest as they passed. How pleasant it was to glide gently through green country past stately homes, and rustic scenes by the side of a man who knew the answers to her leisured queries and to know that she was actually touching elbows with the famous. How pleasant, for the time to see Gwen as vivacious among the chattering, laughing crowd. How reassuring to watch the pleasure on Morry's face. How thoughtful he was to provide her with a protective barrier of Daly's company from which she could observe everything without being over-whelmed.

The picnic breakfast was sumptuous, a feast of home-produced delights; the blush of home-cured hams, snow-white pyramids of hard-boiled eggs, great golden cheeses, pasties and pies rich with spiced meat and amber gravy, chickens in aspic, pickles, chutneys and savoury relishes, great glowing pyramids of imported fruits, flagons of mead and cider and home-brewed ale, freshly brewed tea for those who pre­ferred it. The players unused to such bounty, fell upon the food like eager children. Or like bright, hungry birds. Lord Moreton moved amongst his guests, smiling, exchanging flippancies, pressing the good fare on them. Gwendaline, more beautiful than any of the women and, in this role unsurpassed, played hostess with a grace that distinguished her. In the morning sun the crowded launch, like Cleopatra's barge “burned on the water”. So with feasting and colour and music and laughter they glided towards their journey's end in the heart of the capital city.

The craft was moored by a landing stage near the city centre. Carriages waited to bear the company away. A bevy of ragged children waited like a flock of starving sparrows and it was to these that Caroline's attention was drawn. What she saw fascinated and pleased her. It was clear that the children, some accompanied by careworn mothers, knew what to expect when Lord Moreton's craft came to shore. The lavish picnic, of which the players had partaken to repletion, was not a mere vulgar extravagance. Even after the serving maids and men had had ample share, there was plenty left to divide with the children on the quay. Moreton himself stayed to supervise the distribution, making sure that the handicapped and timid received their share. None went away empty, not a crumb remained.

Seated in Moreton's carriage, Caroline and Gwendaline watched the impromptu picnic on the quay.

Morry lives only a few doors away from the Breretons,” Gwen explained, “in Merrion Square. The square is completed now, and looks very handsome as you will see. It is THE fashionable place to live now, of course.”

Moreton took the reins himself; it pleased him to drive his own handsome pair. They moved off at a smart trot through a narrow street and then swung into a handsome thoroughfare, newly constructed on the Wide Streets plan that had transformed Dublin, bringing elegance and space to the rich and overcrowding to the poor; outside the charmed circle of municipal elegance, the poor swarmed in the Liberties or about the docks ..... swept out of sight in the interests of symmetry.

Except for the ragged children by the quay and occasional beggars glimpsed in the streets there was little sign of the deprivation of those who were “hurdled together in extreme filth and misery”. The dome of Gandon's splendid Custom House, surmounted by a colossal figure of Hope towered majestically above the Liffey; fine terraces, sweeping vistas, carefully laid parks offered prospects of paradise; delicate tracery fanlighted stately doorways; imposing flights of steps glistened in new-cut granite.

On the wide streets the elegant and elite drove abroad to keep their social appointments, to take the open air, or simply to see and be seen. Lord Moreton was constantly saluted and his lovely passengers overtly admired as they passed. Caroline was impressed by the attention, believing it to be solely directed at her sister.

“How well known you are, Gwen! How admired!” she said, artlessly.

“Things are not always what they seem in this fair city,” Gwen replied, “I have admirers, that is true; I also have enemies. Beauty must walk with caution.”

The carriage halted before a handsome doorway, one of many surrounding an open square. Through the trees in the central park, Caroline glimpsed the facades of finely proportioned brick houses rising to four storeys, their basements partially concealed by wrought-iron railings. The precisely scaled fenestration gave an appearance of order and serenity. There were brief glimpses of exquisitely decorated ceilings, sounds of music, savoury odours rising from basement kitchens ..... and always the rhythmic clip-clop of passing hooves as carriages moved gracefully past.

The door was opened by a liveried servant. Presently they were ushered into a handsome reception room. Seated by the open fire on a low chair was a tall, angular woman with large features and plainly dressed greying hair; on the hearthrug before the fire stood a man of nondescript features and shrewd brown eyes; lurking ..... it was the only way to describe her indeterminate attitude ..... was a tall, angular girl with large features, mouse-brown hair and dull brown eyes; the bride-to-be, Theodosia Brereton.

Lady Brereton, a lady in her own right, welcomed them without effusion, dropping her large limp hand in Caroline's like a toad. The celebrated advocate's brief smile was bright and disinterested; she could see that he was sharp and clever and could sum people up with great rapidity. She would have been surprised to know that both he and his wife were immediately prompted to sigh relief that Theodosia was firmly betrothed. In a city thronging with beauties like this, there was little hope for lurking, ungainly girls however well connected.

They were joined at dinner by a bucolic gentleman of mature years, Theodosia's betrothed. Ruddy from the country air, hair greying, paunchy and somewhat old-fashioned in dress, this long time Lothario of the rustic scene had settled for marriage with a girl who would make a good, dutiful wife and bring him a handsome dowry; but he had not yet lost his roving eye. Gwendaline knew very well how to fend off his amatory glances; for Caroline it was a severe embarrassment that made her blush; fortunately for her, the blush was appreciated by her hosts as a mark of innocent modesty.

Later, when they were alone in the room she was to share with her sister, Caroline asked:

“Oh Gwen dear, Dublin is far beyond my wildest expectations. But however can you tolerate this life?”

“Carrie darling, I enjoy it,” was the reply, “and so will you in time.”

When Gwen was asleep she sat by the window and watched the movements in the square ..... the homecoming carriages, the departing guests, the trees swaying in a light spring breeze, the window-lights going out. High over the city the stars were a strip of embroidery on a dark blue cloth. She was glad to be in Dublin, but apprehensive. Only Nick Marsmain could steer her through the maze of society life, protect her from the pitfalls.