When the mail coach drew up before the
leading hotel in Fermoy on an April morning, among
its subdued passengers was the pale, shaken figure of the little artist, Mr Paletti. The route through Kildare had been punctured with alarms.
Troops and militia swarmed; the people looked truculent. There were smouldering
ruins; there were rumours of war. He had seen one grisly sight at close
quarters: a man hanged between the shafts of a farm wagon in the grey dawn
light. Dublin had buzzed with rumour, but this was the little man's first close
proximity with the real thing. Till then, the extraordinary gaiety that
permeated the city where, under sunny skies, the fashionable squandered their
lightsome afternoons and evenings in gallivanting, gaming, dancing and
feasting, had led the poor man to believe that what he saw daily was real and
that his mission in life was to record the faces and forms of fashion as though
fashion was all that mattered. It was only with reluctance he had torn himself
away to visit
Arabella, piqued by Moreton’s sudden departure when she was planning entertainment was startled out of her sulk by the arrival of the stranger. She sailed down the wide stair, pausing at the right elevation to give the effect she desired. The artist looked up from fussing with his easel and palette.
“Ah my dear Arabella!” he exclaimed, as she extended a hand to be kissed, “how splendid you look! What a subject for a portrait! If you will do me the honour to sit.”
Arabella consented with a fine show of
reluctance. At the back of her mind a thought of immortality lurked. The Three
“You must complete Caroline's picture first,” she reminded him. “It is that Lord Moreton commissioned you to do. Perhaps Lord Ballinmore will arrange for the portrait you have in mind.”
“Of course, of course,” Paletti hastened to reply, “I must complete the Three graces of
Arabella swept Gwendaline with a dark, venomous look.
“Of course,” she said sweetly. “Duty must precede pure pleasure.”
Caroline took no part in the exchange. She had drawn away to stand in the sunlit window, her mind engrossed in her own thoughts: of Fergal who was not her brother, and of the man who was her husband and whose letter she held, unopened, in her hand. It had come by the same mail that carried Paletti.
was coming home. It was his duty to be at Ballinmore
in the present state of disturbance. He must, before all things, guard his home
and inheritance ..... and his
lovely wife who was to bear his heir. He must be by her side. When the child
was born, they would return to
Paletti set to work in earnest that
afternoon. He had already posed the group and practically completed Lucinda's
portrait; there was some adjustment to make in Gwendaline’s;
Caroline was as yet only an outline sketch. Arabella,
impatient for her own sitting to begin, and eager to miss nothing, watched the
scene on the terrace from the library window. Caroline looked beautiful in her
blue muslin gown. To Arabella it seemed incredible
that Nick Marsmain’s love could beautify any woman in
this spiritual way. But this enchanted creature must not deprive her of her
manifest right. She would be the lady of Ballinmore.
The war with
On the second night of Paletti’s visit, she stole from her room, following the old pattern as all criminals tend to do. This time she moved so softly that even Maureen heard nothing. A pale moon gave her just sufficient light. Everything was too easy. Even when she began to press on the smothering down pillow, Caroline did not stir. She might have been already dead. Suddenly a hand appeared from under the bedclothes. It gripped Arabella's, drawing it in.
Strong teeth sank into the soft flesh of her wrist, fierce as the teeth of a wolf. With her other hand, Caroline pushed the pillow aside and clawed at the cheek she glimpsed under its cloud of hair. Blood dripped on the white sheets. Then Caroline sprang; Arabella fell with a thud on the carpet; Caroline was on top of her, her hands at the white throat. In silence the cousins faced each other, their eyes glittering.
“Wh ..... why?” Arabella gasped. “I heard you cry. You were having a nightmare.”
“No nightmare, my evil cousin. You came to kill me. Is this how Lady Ballinmore died?”
“No! No! I had nothing to do with her death.”
“You would swear that in a court of law. What if I told of this night ..... of that other night some weeks ago. That tell-tale scent gave you away.”
Arabella stared from panic-stricken eyes. Then, recovering herself, she smiled, a curious mocking smile.
“Who would believe you? You are mad, my dear Caroline. Nick Marsmain will never marry you. That ceremony was a sham. Admit it.”
“We are married. That you shall soon learn from his own lips. You will never be the Lady Ballinmore ..... never.”
“Lord Ballinmore .....”
“He left you, didn't he? Do you think Nick would ever accept you? Oh no, dear Arabella ..... especially after this night's performance. I shall have your scratches to show him.”
“But ..... you will not tell. Oh Caroline, promise me.”
“I promise on one condition. You must leave Castle Ballinmore at once.”
“But where must I go? I have nowhere .....”
“You have your own mother’s home. A fine home it is and you will be welcome. Aunt Rose has mourned you every day since she let you go. She asks about you. Go home to her. There will be a warm bed for you at Moybranach.”
“I shall be buried alive in the country.”
“Better buried alive than buried dead
with the mark of the rope on your fine white throat, Arabella.
You will begin a new life among friends. Maybe you will find a husband after
your own heart. He is young, and handsome, Arabella ..... and heir to a fine estate. I believe you and
“Young and handsome,” Arabella murmured, “..... and heir to a fine property. Damn Lord Ballinmore! Damn all his ilk and kin! They have brought me nothing but shame and confusion. I will go to Moybranach ..... I promise.”
Caroline let her rise. For a few moments she stood swaying dizzily. Then she left the room muttering. Caroline caught some of the words: why did she cry ‘Forgive me, William’. What dark secret haunts this house?
Paletti was devastated to find that the magnificent Arabella did not appear on the following morning; they told him she was preparing to leave; she had decided against having her portrait painted ..... for the time being anyway. Well he could devote his whole attention to Caroline now ..... and get away from this huge house with its haunting night-sounds. But Caroline looked so different this morning, so proud and cool and queenly. If only she had not acquired those strange scratches on her cheek; they looked like claw-marks, reminding him of vampires.
“I went riding early,” she explained. “Leviathan was restless. It was a blackthorn by the bridle path.”
Paletti had no idea what a blackthorn was, or what mark its thorns might make. Gwendaline
dared not ask questions of this Caroline, so icily aloof and in command of
herself. She was overcome with a longing for the comforts of
“If you want to go, then do, my dear Gwen,” Caroline said kindly. “I would not debar you from your pleasure. Remember, Morrey said this may be the last brilliant season.”
“You should share it.”
“Perhaps I shall. I must wait here for Nick. He is expected any day now.”
“Then I will return with Paletti. He will need me to hold his hand on the journey. Carrie, dare I ask why Arabella is leaving?”
“She is leaving because I told her to leave.”
Gwendaline had to be content with that explanation. She left Caroline to pose for the artist and repaired to her room. Arabella left in a closed carriage without so much as a “good-bye” to anyone.
“They say,” Maureen said, “that she had a black eye. She was all muffled up. Maybe it's a han' to han' struggle she had with the divil himself.”
“Maybe it was, Maureen ..... or with a she-wolf. Remember the wolf at the foot of the stairs that used to scare Aunt Millicent? Maybe it was the wolf of the O'Shaughnessys.”
“Oh Miss Caroline, how you do go on! I declare you are the only one left in this place that could make me laugh.”
“What about Hughy?”
“Oh, he makes me laugh all right, when he has a mind; but he's not minded for laughin' these days. I think he has somethin' on his min', but he tells me nothin'.”
“It's the times, Maureen.”