As she neared the arched gateway, she was startled by a soft greeting:
“Good morning, Miss Caroline! You're early abroad.”
Maureen dimpled with merriment. She was fully dressed, with her green cloak about her. It was quite plain that she had not been to bed.
“Like yourself,” Caroline said, laughing, “I seem to be abroad late rather than early.”
“Sure, it's never late nor early on a fine, moonlit night. It's a grand time to be abroad, especially on a night like this with music in the air. I was west in the village listenin' to the pipers an' they playin' to charm the heart out of you on the uileann pipes. I never did hear the likes of such music. Fit to make the oul' rocks themselves get up an' do a step. Miss, if you were younger an' not gettin' ready to be a gran' lady, I'd have brought you to hear them; you used to like to go to the ceilidhe houses an' you a little child. But maybe you wouldn't be so much for the Irish music now, with HERSELF above puttin' new notions in your head.”
“There's plenty of room in my head for all sorts of notions, Maureen. I'd go anywhere to hear good music.”
“Maybe the music was better where you were, Miss.”
“Maybe it was too good, Maureen. Maybe I stayed too long.”
Maureen gave her a knowing look and glanced up to the figure on the wall-walk.
“If it's herself you're worryin' about, never a bit she sees you. She has her min' on her own days of music an' dancin'. Or on other things ..... queer things to do with the . Mad she is in the full of the moon. My grandmother could tell you things. She's not mad one bit. Come away in with me. She'll have the kettle on the boil.”
“Maybe she's in bed. I .....”
“Divil a bed. What for would she be in bed an' everybody else out an' about? Out an' about by the light of the moon she'd be herself if it wasn't for the pains. She sleeps but little anyway, an' none at all when I'm out. Waitin' for the news she is. Thinkin' her thoughts. An' she has plenty of them to pass the night away.”
The two girls, both nearing seventeen, one tall, one short and both beautiful in their ways, raced like children across the bawn. Easing open the heavy studded door, they tip-toed across the moon-dusted hall. The rear part of the ground floor had been partitioned off and it was there, where goods had been stored in ancient times, that Bridget and Maureen had made the cosiest nest in the whole building. The main apartment was a large kitchen with a wide hearth. Bridget sat, half asleep in a rocking chair by the hot embers. It warmed Caroline's heart to see her comfortable in her old age, this humble woman who had kissed away many a tear. She was glad that she had asked her father to let Bridget have her mother's rocking chair. Millicent often wondered where it had disappeared, but she would not demean herself to invade the servants’ quarters where she suspected it might be. The kettle was on the boil; Bridget roused herself as they entered.
“I hope she doesn't ask questions,” Caroline whispered to Maureen.
“She'll ask questions all right,” Maureen replied softly, “but maybe none of you ..... not direct questions, anyway. Just watch.”
Bridget, feigning surprise, rose and made to wet the tea.
“Arrah Maureen, so you're come home at long last! But what call had you to bring Miss Caroline out of her bed at this time of night? Or morning, is it?”
“She didn't, Bridget,” Caroline reassured her. “I was up anyway. It's such a lovely night .....”
Bridget took a long look at her.
“It's well you thought to put the sealskin about you,” she said. “A warm cover it is. Wouldn't the seals know an' them always in an' out of the water. A fine, wild look it gives you. It reminds me of your aunt Rose, an' like her you look this minute with your hair flyin' an' a shine in your eyes. Always a great one she was for bein' out in the clouds of the night. Many's a time she woke me an' her clatterin' off on the big, black horse. Ride for miles she would, an' come back mad hungry for her breakfast. Always I'd have it ready. There was plenty in them days. Better days they were than now. It's sore my heart is to see the chieftain's daughter an' her feet wet from walkin' the dews of night. Your aunt an' Uncle Drynan might have let the horse stay here ..... that one she loaned Fergal. But there were reasons for taking him away.”
“Reasons? Maybe she didn't want Aunt Millicent to have the use of him. She was a fine horsewoman in her day, wasn't she?”
“She was that. An elegant style she had of ridin' an' well she looked on a mettlesome horse. But I'm thinkin' she'd like a softer way of travellin' now. In a coach, maybe.”
“Ah, the coach, of course. My father was so proud of it.”
“An’ so might you. Owen keeps it in the best of trig, polished till you could see yourself in the enamel. A darlin' of a coach it is, an' proud your mother was to ride in it. Not that she did, only but the once, poor lady. An' nobody since that day. Not a horse left about the place to draw it where there used to be a pair of fine beasts. HERSELF up there would like to be ridin' in style in a coach like that; never the like of it had her father, him squire an' magistrate an' colonel of yeomanry an' all. But never mind, it's yourself maybe ..... but what am I ravin' about an' you standin' there in your wet slippers. Come, sit by the fire, Miss Caroline, an' warm your darlin' self. Maureen, there's a pair of your pampooties in the corner there keepin' warm, if Miss Caroline wouldn't mind slippin' her feet in them till the slippers dry.”
Caroline slipped her feet into the warm, hide boots; they fitted perfectly. She laid her sealskin aside and sat on a stool before the bright blaze. Maureen handed her a mug of scalding tea.
“How does it feel,” she asked, “to be wearin' the slavey's pampooties?”
“It feels fine. It will get me into the way. Aunt Millicent thinks I have notions above my station ..... wearing the silk dress and slippers I got for Lucy's wedding. She said I should take lessons on the loom. Would you show me how to weave the bainin, Bridget?”
“No, I would not. You were never cut
out for the plain way of life, an' haven't you two sisters to keep you dressed
the way that suits you? Miss Lucy wed to an officer in the king's army. Miss Gwendaline breakin'
hearts all over the big city of
“I'd like to go, Bridget ..... if I could.”
“What's to hinder you, then?”
“Nothing, I suppose. It's a long way from Dunalla.”
“Ay it is that, an' you have all the
time there is to travel it. Not that it takes long in the newfangled mail
coaches. You could catch the mail on the
The thought brought a sparkle to Caroline's eyes. Dublin ..... Gwen to show her the city ..... the fine houses ..... beautiful clothes ..... balls and parties ..... admirers ..... one man with a scar. Her eager look was almost equalled by Maureen's. She leant forward.
“I'd like to go to
“You will, Maureen,” Caroline said with a smile. “How could I go without you?”
“Oh, Miss Caroline. You mean it?”
“I do, Maureen, I do.”
“You're in a great hurry to leave your oul' granny,” Bridget said grumpily. But her pique passed quickly and she went on: “I'll miss you, chil', but sure I wouldn't stand in your way. You're cut out for somethin' better than you'll ever get here. If I thought you'd settle down with one of the lads hereabouts in a miserable cabin with the rain runnin' down the walls, an' nothin' to do but fill it with hungry children, an' grow old before your time tryin' to make day and way meet, I'd take a stick to you an' set you on the high road to Dublin, or anywhere, come daylight. It near killed me when your mother left us here an' married Larry O'Dea, an' him with nothin' in hand an' nothin' in prospect but hunger an' cold an' a short life for the pair of them. A better lookin' pair never danced at their own weddin'; but that was about the last dancin' they done till the plague got them. I'll never forget the sight of them jumpin' an' jerkin' in agony before they lay still. An' the little ones along with them. It was well that I made your mother promise to let me have the first chil' to keep me company, an' here you were safe an' soun' an' the plague never touchin' you. I was glad to be able to save one, an' you have repaid me well with your company an' chat an many's a good laugh, an' the song on your lips when I was feelin' low. I'll miss you sore, but I wouldn't keep you from a better life. Ach anee, it's sad that all must leave Dunalla!”
“Do you think Fergal should have stayed?” Caroline asked.
Bridget sighed a long sigh. She was slow to answer.
“It is not for me to be sayin'. I don't understand these things. Maybe it was to be
that they all went, one after the other. Your great-grandfather, Conor, went with the rest of the chieftains after the fall
“When the time came for more learnin' your father was sent over to
There were tears in Caroline's eyes, and in Maureen's. Bridget wiped her own tears with the corner of her apron.
am I ravin' about, makin'
you sad, chil’ an' never answerin'
your question? Well I couldn't be sure whether it was right or not for Fergal
to go. I don't think it's the
“He talked about the
“Ay, there's a lot of high-falutin' talk these days, since the Americans fought
themselves free, an' the French had their Revolution. What would a Revolution
do for the poor people of
Maureen was listening intently, her face flushed. She could hold her tongue no longer:
“There was a stranger from the
“The Irish are all good at the talk,” Bridget said brusquely.
“Ah, but this was different. It wasn't braggin' an' blowin' an' all about big wars an' big victories. It was explainin' things the way nobody ever explains, about listenin' an' learnin' an' keepin' your head. I wish you could hear him. He could make you see that liberty an' equality is more than winnin' wars, or even havin' food an' clothes an' a shelter. Oh, I could follow what he said when he talked, an' yet it was learned talk.”
“Turnin' your foolish young head, he was. You'll tell me next that he was the best lookin' man you ever set eyes on.”
“I'll not; he wasn't. He wasn't even very young an' you could see he had a hard life for there were lines on his face an' a grey hair here an' there in his shaggy red thatch.”
“Now, isn't it great hearin' for your oul' granny that you've gone an' lost your heart to a shock-headed, middle-aged, rough-featured spailpeen from the county Kerry, all on account of the sweet tongue he has.”
“I'm not fallin' in love with this man, though I liked him more than any I know except Owen. You needn't be afeard I'm for marryin' him. I wouldn't say he's the marryin' kind. An' I'm not ready for marryin' yet, him nor anyone. From the few words I had with him, Hugh Ro O'Moran was more interested in the young lady in the blue dress that he saw standin' on the quay at Carraigeel yesterday evenin'. I told him she was Fergal's sister, an' that pleased him. He seems to have a great regard for Fergal.”
“He'd be the one came to bring the stallion back to Moybranach,” Bridget said, looking at Caroline. “Don't tell me he bewitched you as well.”
“I hardly saw him,” Caroline said. “I never looked up to the road. Fergal said a spailpeen was taking the horse home to Uncle Drynan, but it wasn't about him I was thinking. I wonder .....”
“What do you wonder?” Bridget asked.
“Was he the friend Fergal mentioned ..... the man who helped him ..... who would help me, if I needed help. A learned man, he said ..... and loyal.”
“An’ a politician no doubt?” Bridget put in. “If he can sing as well as Maureen says, why doesn't he sing for his supper an' let the politics go. Ah, deary me, what wouldn't I give to have a sweet-voiced young man singing me to sleep this minute. For it's sleepy I am”.
She began to hum softly to herself, nodding as she hummed, dropping off to sleep in the rocking chair.
“She always does that,” Maureen said, “drops off like a baby, just when you'd think she was for talkin' the night out.”
“It's as well. There's not much of the night left and we need sleep too.” Maureen lit a taper for her and by its light she made her way up the wide stair.