“See to the girl,” Hugh Ro ordered gruffly. “Marsmain is neither dead nor dying.”
As soon as Maureen appeared, there was no further need to restrain Hughy; the lovers were in one another's arms, revenge forgotten. He shifted his attention to Marsmain who was beginning to stir, pinning him down with his strength and weight as he had done Hughy. La Pace folded a blanket about Caroline. The doctor did as he was bid. At his first tentative touch, Caroline opened her eyes; their gaze withered him.
“Go away!” she cried, “go away. Do not lay your vile hands on me. You have brought enough evil to the women of this house. See to your master. You may need him again.”
“Very well, my lady,” he replied pompously, “but first, I think I must send for a magistrate. Your red-haired friend may have a crime to answer for ..... and the bog trotter who did his bidding.”
Hugh Ro raised his head.
“Do your duty, quack,” he said sarcastically, “send for the magistrate. You will have some explaining to do, I'll warrant.”
“I have nothing to explain. It is obvious what you and your accomplices have done.”
La Pace had drawn Caroline to her feet. She leant against him, clutching the blanket. For a moment she seemed dazed. Then she steadied herself.
“There are witnesses, Dr. Swartz. This gentleman may not understand fully, but I know the whole story of your perfidy from the beginning.”
“You are mad, my dear lady. I was a fool not to recognise madness long ago. Who but a madwoman would roam naked in the night?”
“She is not mad,” La Pace said quietly. “I have seen mad people. No magistrate would doubt her sanity. She has been submitted to great humiliation, that is plain. This tower seems to be a torture chamber.”
“That it is,” Caroline assented, “see what incarceration has done to this poor wretch ..... the elder son ..... the rightful heir to Ballinmore. They said he was mad. You concurred.”
“I may have been mistaken .....”
“Ah, you have admitted that he is William Marsmain. Were you mistaken when you took the dead body of a servant's bastard for that of the young heir? Were you mistaken when you misapplied the splints after his fall downstairs? Did you mistake a knife-scratch for a duelling scar? Were you sure Lady Ballinmore died a natural death? Was it a mistake to order thin gruel for his lordship when he needed meat? Are you prepared to answer for all these mistakes, Dr. Swartz? If so, call a magistrate.”
“You would dare to bring these foul ..... false ..... accusations against me?”
“I intend to do so.”
“And who will believe a crazed young woman ..... or a bastard lunatic ..... an old hag who can make no sound but that of a beast?”
“Nobody, Dr. Swartz ..... nobody!” came Marsmain's cry. “Their word will count as nothing against ours.”
“Your word, Marsmain!” Hugh Ro rejoined, “you have forgotten there are other witnesses.”
“Bah, a fig for their witness ..... a serving boy and a serving maid. They do not count. It will be the gallows for you and them, my bold spailpeen. And for your spying friend. I detect a touch of the French on his tongue.”
“I am French,” La Pace said quietly, “and of as noble a house as yours. That means but little nowadays. I am as nothing in my own country. In yours my stock stands higher. I have learned associates.”
“Spies and intriguers!”
“Men of academic distinction, Marsmain ..... men whose word would be respected.”
While this exchange had been going on Caroline had untied William's bonds. Then, signalling Maureen to her, she whispered:
“Tell Hughy to harness Leviathan and another horse, and bring out the Dunalla coach. William must be got out of here at once. It may be the last chance.”
“He really is the brother ..... the heir?”
“He is. Make haste and do what I say.”
While Hugh Ro held Marsmain in a powerful grip and La Pace barred the exit to Dr. Swartz, Maureen and Hughy went about their business. They lifted the frail body and, wrapping the coverlet about him, bore William Marsmain slowly and gently down the crooked stair and out into the starlit July night. For the first time in many years William O'Brien Marsmain breathed fresh air. He cried aloud for pure joy. In the softly upholstered interior of the coach, they settled him as comfortably as they could. Maureen brought blankets and pillows to ease his pain. Then she returned to her mistress for further orders. Hughy followed, anxious for her safety. Caroline stood, like a legendary queen, magnificent in her draped blanket, the pistol in her hand.
“Take this, Hughy,” she said, “and keep guard. Hugh Ro, you will drive the coach. You know where the friar lives. William will be safe with him. When he is restored to health, he can return and claim his inheritance. No, do not think of me. I shall be safe. Go quickly. Francois will go with you. Maureen and Hughy will stay with me.” Hughy mounted guard at the door. It took all his strength and vigilance to deter Marsmain, but the gun was a good argument. All Nick could do was threaten:
“You will hang for this, spailpeen! And you, bog trotter!”
When he turned back to the room, Caroline had disappeared. She must have escaped. Below in the yard he heard the clatter of hooves and the rumble of the coach. With a last wild leap, he sprang Hughy, seized the pistol and, flinging him aside, rushed, raging, down the stairs. There was no time to settle accounts with peasants. The truth had gone abroad driving splendid horses. He must stop the coach.
“Caroline!” he called, “Caroline! Caroline!”
His voice echoed through the empty tower.
It took but minutes to saddle the
black stallion. Demon riding Demon struck sparks from the cobbles as he rode in
pursuit. It should be easy. The coach could not have travelled far. His life
depended on this ride. From the cover of tile shrubbery,
Caroline heard the shot just as she finished dressing and Maureen was about to brush out her hair. The two girls rushed downstairs and out. Caroline reached the prostrate body first. Kneeling beside him, she took Nick in her arms, heedless of the blood that spattered her clean dress. He opened his eyes for a moment.
“Caroline, oh Caroline!” he murmured once, and sighed and lay still.
The empty upper chamber in the tower echoed with the cackle of mad laughter. Bony hands tore the straw from the cold bed, rippled the harp strings, scattered the books. Then, with a wild shriek, Ninny seized the lantern and flung it to the floor. It fell among the scattered straw. From the gaping doorway she watched the straw catch alight. When it was blazing beyond control, she turned and scrambled down the winding stair. In the pale pre-dawn light, the flames rose angrily, singeing the leaning trees, blackening the ivy. Like the wraith of the Lady Adeline, the smoke drifted into the morning sky. In the purifying fire rat and beetle and evil memory perished. The ancient could rest in peace.
There was nothing Dr. Swartz could do
for Nick Marsmain. There was little he wanted to say
when it came his turn to testify except to clear Hughy
who, when the shot was fired, was holding his horse while he mounted the trap.
Hugh Ro was discovered in impeccable company and well out of range. There was
racing and chasing in all directions. Many were held for the crime, many
accused; but proof positive was impossible to establish. Among these who
scoured the countryside with great zeal was
So Nicholas Arthur Barnsby Marsmain was laid to rest in the Ballinmore vault beside the small coffin whose name-plate was later to be altered. Marsmain or Carney, they were brothers still, for, once upon a time the deaf mute had been a pretty girl and, as always, his lordship had an appreciative eye and a lusty appetite.
Supported by servants, he attended the brief burial service. The friends and neighbours who saw him for the first time in months, knew that it would not be long till he too took his place among the departed in that musty vault. Pale under her heavy mourning veil, Caroline stood by the coffin. It was true that she sorrowed for the untimely death of her dream. Even at the worst times she had hoped for a less drastic resolution, but that there should be a resolution she was determined. Though she pitied Lord Ballinmore, she had no mind to let him die in peace till he had made that peace. If only he survived long to tell the truth. She would remain at Castle Ballinmore till she saw William O’Brien Marsmain recognised and legally established as the rightful heir.
The law's delays were tedious, but Lord Ballinmore, weakening daily, was anxious for an heir, however blemished. She determined he would make all clear and, to this end, insisted that he should be nourished and stimulated in mind. At last, the whole story was made clear, corroborated by Dr. Swartz, who beat a hasty retreat from the country immediately after; it was not the first time he had taken flight under a cloud of suspicion.
As William recovered a measure of health and strength in the gentle care of the old friar of Gougane Barra, he was uplifted by the news that his heritage was assured. Not that he desired property and power except as a means of doing something worthwhile in the remaining years of his life. In the peace of the lake island he planned a gentler regime for the Ballinmore demesne and its people.
Caroline, in the role of a grieving
young widow, found much to do that was commensurate with her position She
resumed her visits among the poor, received the condolences of the better off,
protected herself with mourning from the advances of admirers. In spite of the
many invitations from Gwendaline and Lucinda, she
resisted all attempts to wheedle her back to
One great pleasure broke the monotony
of the slow drift from summer to autumn. Maureen and her Hughy
were wed. They would remain at Castle Ballinmore to
serve the new master for many a long and happy day. Immense quietude reigned.
The rumours of death and destruction that blew in on the wind or were culled
Between August 22 and August 30 the
On the afternoon of
It was mid October when Hugh Ro arrived,
travel-stained and weary. The French were on the sea. Hardy's
fleet had sailed from
“Fergal!” Caroline cried despairingly.
Hugh Ro nodded, as certain as she that Fergal accompanied Wolfe Tone.