Arabella drove out daily in the highest style, conferring nods and smiles on those she deemed worthy, urging her driver to gallop through muddy villages and spatter the children of the cottiers with puddle water. She early rejected Hughy’s services, preferring a handsomer servant who obeyed orders in return for small considerations. Where she went or whom she visited Caroline neither knew nor cared; Arabella’s callers were almost inevitably eager young officers. Arabella entertained them lavishly; if tea and cakes were slow in coming, she knew where the best wine could be found; she had acquired a key to the cellars. Bribery helped. The polite afternoon calls developed into late night revels. She held a party ..... more than one party. There was entertainment. Caroline could hear the strains of music and the guffaws of laughter as garrison comedies were staged in the great hall. She heard Arabella’s voice raised in tragic recitation or amorous solo. The mansion echoed with hilarity. At times she was sorely tempted to join the fun, but her appearance at early tea-parties had warned her; eager eyes were too ready to appreciate her beauty; it seemed safer not to provoke Arabella's jealousy.
Arabella’s soirees were as popular as any
“Oh, very well,” Arabella remarked haughtily, “if you prefer to moon about by yourself, I shall not press you to join the company. What a dull wife you will make for Nick Marsmain. No doubt he will find his own distractions.”
Caroline recalled her dream of making Castle Ballinmore a warm centre of hospitality. Instead, it was Arabella who brought the dream to life. Yet there was something lacking ..... dignity. The laughter was loud and empty. Like the gilded books.
One day she came upon Arabella with a book culled from the library shelves. Unlike most of the volumes, it was not empty. When she later examined it, she found that it was a well-perused volume of a quack medical nature. It fell open at a chapter on sleeping draughts. She shivered, remembering the musky perfume that had invaded her bedroom. She must keep her wits about her.
Though they lived under the same roof, she saw little of Arabella. When that lady spent a quiet evening at home, she always ordered a tray to be brought to her bedroom. Caroline, having seen her sanctum at Bandon, had a fair idea what had resulted from all the calls on servants, the conveyance of effects from Bandon, the to-do in the east corridor. She could picture the exotic chamber.
Once, returning from her rounds as twilight fell, she was met by Hughy, lantern in hand, a worried expression on his face.
“If you don't mind me sayin’ it, milady,” he said, “I think 'twould be better that you didn't travel abroad so late.”
“Why Hughy, do you think I might meet a headless horseman?”
“No, my lady. You wouldn't be afeared of a ghost.”
“Then what have I to fear?”
“Nothin'. Nothin' that would harm yourself ..... but you might see or hear somethin' that would upset you.”
“What sort of thing?”
“A shootin' maybe ..... or the yells of some poor divil an' him a-torturin'. Or maybe 'tis voices you'd hear ..... men plottin' somethin' dark an' secret. 'Tis quare times we’re livin’ in.”
She knew about the “quare times”. Maureen told her things fresh from the servants'quarters.
“You min' oul' Squire Batters,” she said one day, “the red-faced one that made such a noise guzzlin' his goose. He had a few visitors the other night an' it wasn't their dinner they were after. Well prepared he was for anythin', with the house stocked like an armoury. He was fast asleep an’ snorin’. They trussed him up like a goose for the oven an’ tied a rag over his big mouth. There he was flat on his back in his own parlour an' them strippin' the place of every one of his well-oiled guns. Yeomanry captain an’ all an' he couldn't lift a han'. Maybe 'twas as well or they'd have left him dead an' ready for pluckin'.”
There were other tales of ransacked
houses and of suspect ransackers seized and committed
to swift trial and swifter judgement. Involuntary recruitment for the fleet was
brisk. There were hangings in the market place.
As Caroline drove about the lush,
green countryside, she had time to reflect on the dramatic scene. The drama
caught her imagination. The
“That one prowls, Miss Caroline. I hear her.”
“You mean she sleep-walks?”
“Divil a sleep-walk. She has no good in her min', I tell you.”
“Why would she want to harm me? Does she really hate me so much?”
“She doesn't hate you. She doesn't hate anybody ..... nor love anybody. Don't you see you're standin' in her light? She thinks she has his lordship in the heel of her han'. Maybe she's right; he makes a fair oul' cod of himself; you'd think he was a green, growin' lad in love for the first time. They say in the kitchen that she was his fancy woman when Lady Ballinmore was alive. They hint at other things .....”
“What things?” Caroline asked sharply.
“That she was well pleased when the oul’ lady died ..... too well pleased.”