It was the misty dusk of a late
September evening when
Even in the fading light, he was a
Wearing the uniform, the pursued
joined the pursuers. The chase, though prolonged into darkness and joined by
many recruits, was fruitless.
When the news was broken to Lucinda, she took it with a calm dignity that might, in another, have been deemed indifference. Perhaps she was more stunned than grieved. Only when Nick and Caroline arrived did she break down. She clung to them, sobbing. Her utter reliance on him flattered Nick. He was only too ready to take charge of all arrangements. A message was dispatched, post haste, to Seveny's family at Naas. He arranged the transport of the coffin to his home there; from there the soldier would be buried with full military honours. What a splendid friend he seemed to the frail parents whom shock had rendered helpless!
Their elder son, absent on military duties, could not arrive in time for the burial. He was amply replaced. Nick stood by the graveside, his arm supporting the grieving mother, his face a study in manly grief. Lucy clung to her sisters, both of whom were present to support and comfort her. For the first time since Lucinda's wedding the three were together.
After the funeral Lucinda remained with her husband's parents. They were both most emphatic about it. They could not bear to part with her and their darling grandchild now.
“Of course,” Gwendaline said briskly, “you must accept their invitation. Where else can you go?”
“For the time being,” Caroline
thought. She was not sure yet what was best. How wonderful if they would be all
three together at
The Sevenys, united in their grief, took Lucinda to their hearts like their own daughter. Never had she been made so comfortable, nor provided with such pleasant facilities. A suite of rooms was set aside for her, including an exquisitely appointed nursery for baby Eleanor. Two nurses were engaged to care for the child. Lucinda was allocated a dainty carriage to drive out in the fresh air daily. She must get back the roses in her cheeks, Lady Seveny said, forgetting that Lucinda never had a country complexion. In the end Lucinda was driven to use rouge to reassure her mother-in-law, who was wont to insist on too much care and nourishment. It was a matter of conscience with her that this girl, whom she had previously slighted, should have the best of everything. Perhaps she felt that she had not been fair to Gerard, whom she had never really wanted; this was her way of making amends.
For some weeks the daily drive, the round of polite calls, the reception of solicitous callers, the hours of rest punctuated by walks around the gardens or periods of play with her baby, sufficed to gratify Lucinda's easygoing nature. Tedium began to set in and this was aggravated by an occasional brief visit from Gwendaline. She wept when her sister left and it was not for her lost husband, though Lady Seveny thought so.
“You must not brood so, my dear,” she said. “Perhaps you need a change of scene. I'm sure it would do you good to pay a visit to the city.”
When Lucinda arrived in the capital, her path was made as smooth as all her paths seemed destined to be. Lord Moreton arranged for her to stay with a friend, a mature lady who knew exactly how much diversion might be indulged in without arousing malicious gossip. For a recently bereaved widow, Lucinda enjoyed a more than usually good social life. Her visits to the city became a regular occurrence.
Almost immediately after the burial of
Gerard Seveny, Nick was recalled to his command in
“Oh Nick,” she said, “how I shall miss you. Whatever am I going to do when you go?
Why cannot I go to
“Because I want you to stay and guard my heritage, Caroline. My father has not yet recovered; I cannot trust him to act responsibly. All this estate is to be mine some day, how soon I dare not guess. It is dearer to me than anything in the world. I must hold it against all odds ..... for my successors. You will watch over my interests while I am away, Caroline. As my wife, it is your duty.”
“Your father is making splendid recovery. Already he is able to come down stairs. He seems to be quite alert and interested in the affairs of the estate, and he knows a great deal more than I do about them.”
“My father may seem alert and in his right mind. But I believe him to be in his dotage. He might even marry again. That must not be. There must never be a rival to my claim ….. never anyone with a shadow of a claim, I say.”
“You frighten me. Must I see conspirators lurking everywhere? Whom do you fear ..... or suspect.”
“Arabella de Rossas. That she-devil had my father bewitched. I had thought that spell was broken. Perhaps it is, but she is a very resolute woman. Watch out for her, my darling. Remember, you are mistress of Ballinmore; she must never be.”
“But how .....?”
“I expect you to use your womanly wiles. Remember, you are the future Lady Ballinmore. It is your duty to behave as such.”
It was their last ride together, he on his black stallion, Demon King, she on the chestnut whom she had named Leviathan. On this fine morning when they were soon to part, she did not want to be reminded of “duty”. A sudden flash of rebellion stung her. A sharp cut of her crop on Leviathan's flank roused the mettlesome animal to a gallop. Nick spurred the Demon to join the race. A race it turned out to be. Caroline headed for open country, urging the horse to greater and greater feats, leaping fences and streams, crashing through undergrowth, skirting marshy ground, taking hill and dale with a wild abandon. He was both intrigued and irritated. When he caught up with her, she turned to him, face flushed, eyes sparkling. Her smile was a dare.
“You can lead the way home,” she said crisply. “Leviathan and I have shown you our paces.”