In his opening address to parliament on January l5th. 1798, Lord Camden commended the firm policy pursued by Lake in the north, and recommended that the same firmness be employed throughout the country against terrorism and the threat of insurrection. His line was largely supported, particularly in the Lords. Among those who spoke of “strong measures” Lord Ballinmore stressed the primary importance of protecting property; the weakening of respect for the landed classes and of their morale would lead to chaos, for did not the peasantry depend on them for their very living. Lord Moreton had interposed to say that these very “strong measures” had led to the sack and burning of humble homes in the north merely on suspicion of subversion; the peasant's home was as much his security and his family's as was the mansion of the great landowner. Those with the privilege of education should be aware of their responsibilities. They must set an example of fair dealing. “We have left the Middle Ages behind; we live in an age of enlightenment, when the reasonable word should replace the coercive sword. The sword might be necessary for defence against external enemies; used too freely to suppress domestic discontent, it sowed dragons' teeth which may yet destroy what civilisation we have created. If the nation-family cannot reason together, then we are a house divided and, as such, we shall all fall.”
Little notice was taken of Moreton's speech, though there were others in the same
strain made in the Lords. Like those other enlightened lords, Moreton was a splendid fellow, but out of touch with a
desperate situation. He brought grace and charm to his position; his social
example was admired and superficially followed, for he had received a
distinguished education and had travelled abroad. In the exotic environs of
But for Gwen's letters Caroline would
have heard nothing of the serious side to
It was from Gwendaline
that she learnt of the arrest of the sixteen leading revolutionaries on the
first floor of the house of Oliver Bond, a
After Lord Ballinmore's departure, Arabella returned to her bed where her maid brought her a light breakfast. She did not sleep, but lay planning how she would rearrange the room. She would have all her own things brought from Bandon. Meanwhile she must assert herself here. Caroline, quiet as she was, held a formidable sway. Lord Ballinmore was quite bewitched with the notion of a grandchild. Drat the girl and her child! Gowned in floating silks, her cheeks rouged, her hair regally piled, Arabella descended the stairs slowly, sweeping the scene with an appraising eye. Caroline, in a simple cream muslin gown, was seated on a stool close to the fire in the great hall. She rose to meet Arabella's haughty gaze.
“Really,” Arabella began, “the servants appear to have forgotten that anyone remains in this mansion. An inadequate breakfast and now no sign of dinner. I declare it has gone halfpast three. Aren't we to dine at that hour any more?”
“Of course,” Caroline replied coldly, “meals will continue to be served at the usual times. Shall you join me in the dining room, Arabella, or shall I have a tray made ready?”
Arabella chose the dining room. Caroline rang the bell and ordered dinner for two. It came promptly. Somewhat daunted, Arabella hesitated to take the mistress's chair at the long table. They faced each other across one end. Arabella studied Caroline a moment.
“How sweet and innocent you look in your simple muslin,” Arabella said, her voice mellow as a bell, “yet coping so adequately with great responsibilities. I really must bear my share of the cares. Today I feel too desolated. I feel things so deeply. Ah for the shallow emotion of extreme youth which can dry its tears and forget.”
“I do not think you can call eighteen years extreme youth?” Caroline responded, “nor imagine that I forget what matters. I must say you have made a brave effort to dry your tears.”
“But not the inward weeping. Ah the pain of parting!”
The “pain of parting” had done nothing to impair Arabella's appetite. The venison, though she declared it over-cooked, was delicious and the voracity with which she attacked her plateful belied her criticism. There was little opportunity for conversation and, when Arabella showed signs of satiation, there was Lucy's letter which had come that day and lay unopened on the table.
“Pardon me, Arabella,” Caroline said as she opened the seal, “I am so curious to see what news dear Lucy's letter contains.”
Arabella had started on the third peach by the time she raised her head.
“How I enjoyed that!” she remarked, “Lucy's letters are always so cheerful ..... so full of the doings in Kildare and Dublin. I declare it makes me quite long to be with her. But what fun it would be to have her here. And Gwen. I will invite them to visit. Nick would be so pleased to know I had company.”
“You have company, Caroline. Lord Ballinmore brought me here for that purpose. I must admit, it is a dull place. As a matter of fact, I had thought of inviting some stimulating guests myself.”
Ignoring Caroline's raised eyebrows, Arabella launched into a perusal of possibilities. The short period of excursions with Lord Ballinmore should not be wasted. There were garrisons within riding or driving distance, all with dear, delightful officers panting for invitation to Castle Ballinmore. They would provide entertainment. Had Caroline ever seen garrison theatricals? There would be tolerable musicians amongst them or amongst the townsfolk. The towns all had musical societies and held “evenings”. Of course Caroline remembered that first evening in Fermoy. Poor Gerry might as well have enjoyed it. She saw him lying dead and undignified at the gates of Ballinmore, heard the sibilant murmur of wind in tall trees, felt the shadowy presence of doom. Beyond the ring of candlelight this great house was full of shadows. Only the presence of Nick Marsmain could dispel them. When he was near he was vital and forceful, even overwhelming. Once out of sight he was no more real than the knight in the painting on the wall at Dunalla. She shuddered, struggling to recall that ecstasy with which his presence could invest her. She felt a hunger for light and music and the freedom of the dance by moonlight on soft grass, for the perfume of dewy roses, the innocence of youth.
Arabella had ceased talking of garrisons and handsome officers. She sat very still, watching from her strange hooded eyes. She knew Caroline had not been listening. She had seen her shudder. She watched like a snake, waiting for such signs of weakness. Caroline rose from the table. They repaired to the warmth of the small parlour. The piano stood open, its ivories stretched in a senseless grin. Caroline tickled them to a merry laughter, fingering out the rhythm of a reel. Soon she heard a rustle of silk. Arabella was dancing. For so large a woman she was very light on her shapely feet. They made no sound on the carpet. She cavorted, lifting her skirts, letting her carefully piled hair fly adrift. Her pale face flushed, her eyes shone; she was a little girl again, dancing for the “gentlemen callers” at the house in Ringsend. She saw, as she danced, the faces of swarthy foreign sailors with rings in their ears, the neatly attired commercial travellers, the greedy eyes of old roués, the nervous glances of young men about town, the experienced approval of uniformed men.
For a few moments, she was herself and all things to all men. Then, weary of the pace, she subsided in an easy chair and the graceful formality of the room settled about her like a frame. She drew herself erect and began smoothing her tumbled hair. Caroline did not turn round, but continued to finger out a melody on the piano. Arabella saw her preoccupation as a comment. Did this girl, seated at the instrument, dare hope to decide the tune? Well she would not dance again, nor smile, nor weep at her bidding. Hair braided, she stared about the room, taking possession. Nobody stood between her and that possession but the girl who seemed to taunt as she soothed her with the fingered notes of the Coolin. She glanced at her back with a look of sheer hate.
She was asleep in the easy chair by the fire when Caroline lit her taper and left the room. It could have been minutes ..... or hours later when the sound of a closing door roused her. The presence that had stood by her bed had not entirely gone; it had left a whiff of musky perfume; she could feel the sting of evil intent, sense the watching eyes. What had saved her, she would never know. She must have cried out. Then Maureen was by her side.
“It was that one. Can't you smell her, Miss.”
“What do you mean, Maureen? Of whom do you speak?”
“Of the black-eyed one. ‘Tis no good she has in her min’ towards you. ‘Tis the mistress of Ballinmore she'd be herself, an' none to gainsay her.”
“She wouldn't .....”
“Maybe she wouldn't. An' maybe she would. How would I be knowin'? But I'd lock the door if I was you ..... lock it every night, an' her beyond in the east wing holdin' converse with the devil.”
“I'll whist all right. 'Tis the last you'll hear of this from me. But you'll keep the door locked, Miss, promise me.”
“I promise, Maureen. Now, go to bed. I'm all right.”