Lord Ballinmore was laid to rest by his lonely lady, his peace made, his affairs settled in so far as they could be, restitution made to William. William would have liked Caroline to remain at the castle, but she felt drawn to a more challenging life. He assured her that she would be welcome to return at any time, to visit, or to remain for as long as she liked. She must always think of it as her home, he said. But the only home she knew for certain was the old keep of Dunalla with the sea lapping below its foundation rock. She had taken farewell of William with regret. He was in good hands. Her beloved Maureen and the faithful Hughy would care for him, as indeed would all the staff who were only too ready to accept a gentler regime.
They clung to each other with tears in their eyes. They said “Goodbye”. But it was not an abrupt parting. William had connived with Hugh Ro that she should be delayed on her journey. He had lived too long in a deserted keep not to know its horrors of damp and cold and utter dreariness. Caroline and Hugh Ro were no sooner well started on their journey than he organised a surprise for her at the end. A vehicle was packed with every comfort he could think of or find room for. Maureen and Hughy were then sent off at speed. They must reach Dunalla well before Caroline. They could remain there as long as they were needed. Maureen knew the way. This was their honeymoon.
Caroline and Hugh Ro made one stay on the journey, spending a few days with the Emsons where they were received with great kindness. There was so much to talk about, so much tranquillity to gather from the gentle atmosphere of that gracious home. Hugh Ro felt she needed the rest, the time perhaps, to change her mind.
So it was Maureen who rushed out with a welcome to meet the coach, Hughy who helped Owen unyoke the horses, Bridget who had the kettle on the boil in her warm snuggery. What a feast was laid for her, what a fire blazed on the hearth in the upper chamber, what a multitude of candles glimmered in their sconces, how the carved masks winked, how the wall painting glowed. Even the old wolf at the foot of the stair seemed to grin.
The pale dawn of an October morning skimmed over the face of the waters. In the creek below Dunalla full tide lipped the grey rocks. Seaweed ebbed and streamed with the movement of the water. The air was crisp and still. Only the cry of a seabird stirred the infinite silence. Hardly a line defined heaven from ocean on the western edge of the world. Naked as the morning, the girl poised on a jutting rock, her arms raised to the sky, her blue-green eyes on the almost invisible horizon. There was nothing between her and the boundless depth and width of sky and sea. One plunge into the crystal cold, the sting of pain, the drowning and the resurrection, one gasp for new breath, and life would begin. There was nothing of the past left except the golden bond that clasped her white thigh. For a few moments she hesitated, remembering a dream; then, describing a delicate arc, she dived, and rose, and drew breath, and was refreshed and renewed. In her element, she swam, at first energetically, then lazily as her body tuned to the sea's temperature.
Like a mermaid, she rested on the rock, her bronze-gold hair streaming over pale breast and shoulders, free and alone with a world that had nothing to offer but hope, which was all she wanted. Caroline had never been more truly happy, nor yet so sad, as now. Her sadness was not of regret, for life was a sea over which she had no control beyond the most trivial choosing. Her sorrow was as inexplicable as the sting of sea water, as cold and empty as dawn on a western shore.
Hugh Ro, a-stir early after the journey to Dunalla, met the morning from the crumbling wall above. For an instant, he saw again that glimpse of beauty that flowering rock of his song, and bowed his head humbly and made the sign of the cross; for surely it could not be a man's fate to look on such beauty for the third time and live. Not that he was not ready to die, as he had been from the first seeing. She had brought the sealskin rug with her. Now she wrapped it around her. It was as warm and gentle as the welcome that had greeted her at Dunalla.
It was Hugh Ro who saw the shark, for he could see far out into the ocean. Was it a shark he saw? No, it did not behave as a shark would. He stood watching, eyes shaded against the glare of October light on the water. The object, breaking the surface of the sea, moved slowly towards land. Eventually he discerned the shape of what appeared to be a piece of wreckage. He was about to move away when he saw that there was someone clinging to it. He did not hesitate. Rushing outside and to the edge of the cliff, he abandoned his boots and outer clothing; then he dived. It was a long descent and no knowing how it might end for, unfamiliar with this coast, he had no exact knowledge of where a hidden rock might lie concealed and there was no time for more than a swift reconnaissance.
Caroline, out of range, saw nothing of this drama. She had just returned to her rocky perch after a second swim, when she saw the swimmer toiling slowly into the mouth of the creek. He appeared to be hampered by something he was lugging. It took a little time to recognise Hugh Ro and to realise that the object he towed was a human body. Immediately, she dived to his assistance.
Between them, they dragged the almost lifeless body to the safety of the rock. While she struggled to a secure perch, Hugh Ro supported the helpless man. A last heave, and he lay half in and half out of the water. He lay across her lap, still as a dead man. But he was not dead. Presently the wound on his head began to bleed again. His blood trickled down over her belly and thighs, mingling with her own blood from a new wound, reddening the dry rock, clouding the lipping water. With all her strength she hauled, till he was clear of the tide and, blended in flesh and blood, their young bodies lay clasped together on the grey rock at the edge of the world. Before Hugh Ro wrapped the sealskin rug about them he saw what Caroline had already seen; the young man from the sea wore a thin gold band about his thigh.
“Fergal,” Caroline crooned, nestling him in her arms, “Fergal.”
1914 - 1986