The Irish Tempest
Ancestral Woes * Tempestuous Love * Political Turmoil
Ireland, 1911: After seven centuries of unyielding oppression, there is a tempest rising, a national yearning for Irish independence. It threatens to sweep away all that is precious to the very privileged O'Rourke and de la Roche families. Seismic changes are but a whisper away.
What begins as a squabbling friendship between the wastrel Courtland O'Rourke and the defiant, mischief-maker Lacey de la Roche matures into a deeply passionate, tempestuous love, fraught with secrets of lethal consequences and sins of omission.
The Irish Tempest beckons the reader into a world where landowner and tenant farmer, the well-off and the working-class are chafing under the choke-hold of British domination.
Pulled apart by political and social conflicts, Court and Lacey experience the world from perspectives both transformative and destructive. Court, compelled to accept a commission in the British army, initiates a disastrous affair with rippling aftershocks. Lacey, fueled by the arrogance of adolescence, is beguiled by a charismatic but sociopathic horse trainer.
The Irish Tempest thrusts the reader into the anguish of the 1916 Easter Rising and beyond.
Chapter 1 - Spring
There is an inevitable forgetfulness that comes with inheriting a privileged albeit circumscribed life. When there is wealth and abundant resources to pass on to the next generation, one may forget that those ancestral woes—the devastation of blight and famine, the theft of birthright and property, the debasement of language and culture—still may claim a person, in the here and now of one's very indulgent existence.
This particular life belongs to Courtland O'Rourke, a pretty young man of twenty-one, Irish Catholic in the truest sense with not a hint of Protestantism in his bloodline. The Norman and Scottish bits have been subsumed by the last one hundred years of vigorous Irish procreation. In the full bloom of youthful pomposity, he is returning to the provincialism of southern Ireland after a riotous month in London.
"Would you be good enough to leave them against the wall, out of harm's way?" Court directed the sweating porter with a flourish of his walking stick, a fashionable affectation acquired in London. "My man seems to be delayed." He offered this with a resigned shrug, for after all, this was Ireland.
"To be sure, sir," gasped the porter as the last trunk thudded against the peeling wall.
A few strides around the stationmaster's bungalow confirmed to Court that Lafferty was nowhere in sight and that he was quite alone among the bursting daffodils and dusty sparrows of Cloonsheelin. This first warm day of April had cast an enervating spell over the normally peripatetic townsfolk. What a sorry homecoming after the exuberant din and vulgar delights of city life. Spirits lagging well behind him, he set off for Sully's tavern, pausing to observe a panting mongrel have a go at McCarthy's prized Irish terrier bitch.
"They'll be a nice bit of fussing over this," he called out to the writhing dogs.
Such hasty coupling kindled a wistful recollection of the women he had frolicked with in London. These sirens of wit and charm were so unlike the feckless girls he readily sported with in Cloonsheelin. The country rake, with gray eyes and unfashionably long black curls, immediately became the object of bold intentions after a discreet introduction by a conspiring acquaintance. Lured into escorting them to the races, tea parties, and shopping forays, he learned that daytime was the ideal time for romantic adventuring.
Distracted by this memory of scented bosoms and velvet thighs, Court wandered into a pack of jeering children, two of whom wrestled furiously in the dirt. His dismay turned to alarm when he saw thirteen-year-old Padraic Knox leaping with idiotic glee around the combatants. One wave of his walking stick scattered most of them into the shelter of the woods. Court seized the apparent victor by the scruff while sneering down upon the loser.
"What a sight you are to behold, Sholto Gallagher! Flat on your back—kicking like a squalling babe in a wet nappy! Be off before I give you a few more lumps to blubber about."
The squirming victor attempted a final kick to Sholto's fleeing backside but was deterred by Court's grip. "What's this set-to about? And mind, none of your lies or you'll be feeling the back of my hand." Court demanded of the now subdued Padraic.
"Don't be blaming Padraic! They started it!"
"Go on then." He released his captive. "And I want the truth first time round. None of your shillyshallying."
"We were off to Mrs. Conway's for tea when they began ragging on us, for no reason at all."
"You mean ragging on Paddy here! That godforsaken bunch doesn't have the brass to mix it up with you. They'd not be wanting the bloody US cavalry on their backs!"
"But Court," came the all-too-familiar whine, "they're always ragging on him."
"Don't you think it's a mighty queer thing to have this wisp of a girl do your fighting for you?" he asked Padraic with pitiless sarcasm.
"Oh, I don't mind at all, Master Court. Lacey's not afeared of anyone."
"Isn't she now? You know what I think, Padraic Knox? You've been smacked in the head a wee bit too often! As for you, miss…"
Both of her braids hung loose, and dirt and blood smeared her face, while the right sleeve of her shirt flapped in the breeze. It was Court's shirt, a hand-me-down, as most of her wardrobe seemed to be these days. She was even wearing a pair of his old riding breeches with a strip of burlap to keep them from falling to her knees!
"You shameless savages are coming with me!" Court snatched their hands and Lacey struggled to keep up with his long legs. "You'll be a lovely sight to greet your father with that black eye, my lamb!"
Perched on the table in Mrs. Conway's kitchen, Lacey twitched under her ministrations while Padraic slurped tea and nibbled on a potato pancake.
"To think, during my entire stay in London, I did not witness a single display of brawling! Only to return and find you hammering away at a brute of a boy, like you were born to the underclass! How many times must you be told? Young ladies of breeding do not engage in fisticuffs with common thugs!"
"Pish! I'm not a lady. I'm only eleven."
"Don't be impertinent!" Court hovered by Mrs. Conway's elbow. "Shouldn't she be getting a stitch or two for that?" His finger brushed away a lock of auburn hair from the jagged cut above her left eye.
"Ah, don't be fretting so, Master Court. This here looks worse than it 'tis. Not deep, just messy. Bridget, fetch me the iodine and a bit of plaster."
Eighteen-year-old Bridget Knox slunk away but not before cuffing her brother and inspiring Lacey to make some mischief. She was familiar with the rumors about Court and his sporting ways with Bridget and her ilk.
"What did you bring me?" Lacey asked as her prying hands fished through his pockets.
He bent close with a teasing smile. "Not that you're deserving of my consideration. But if you were, and I happened to remember, it would be a might too big for my pocket, lamb."
"Then who is this for?" She waved a gold necklace for all to see.
"You're a thieving brat in need of a good seat warming."
Court saw the rapt look of curiosity on both women's faces. "No mystery, ladies. Just a trinket for Aggie. She's been stuck with grandfather all this time, and you know what a bear he can be."
By six o'clock, Lafferty had collected Court's trunks and tracked him down at Mrs. Conway's.
"Will we be stopping at Durbin House, sir?"
"No. Go straight on to Torrey Castle. Miss Lacey is to be our guest."
When she began to protest, he hissed, "You're under lock and key till your father returns from Dublin."
"How do you know where he is?"
"I happened to have had supper with the captain night before last. He made a point of asking me to check on you—with good cause, I might add."
Lacey sank back, her despair and pain welling into a single sob.
"I want to go home! I'll not get into any more trouble."
"If I thought you'd be properly looked after, I would! Old McTeague is too worn out to muster the strength to leash you.
Indeed, you should be packed off to boarding school and taught to behave."
This was not what she wanted to hear, least of all from someone who had spent the better part of his adolescence in disgrace, thanks to a hefty number of transgressions. She moved to the opposite side of the carriage and curled into a tight ball of woe.
Court's left cheek began to pulse as he squinted at her in exasperation. Was it always to be this way between them? From the first day they had met—she, a stalwart five-year-old eager to ride and he, the fifteen-year-old reluctant teacher—they had squabbled and sparred with precious few interludes of peace.
"Look here, if you behave yourself for the next few days, you may come with me to Queenstown and meet my latest investment."
"You bought a horse?"
"Aye, she's a lovely little thing. Blacker than the devil's brow with a sweet and steady gait. Grandfather will have a fit, but she was worth every shilling."
"When can I ride her?"
"We'll see," he said, lifting his arm as she eased into the curve of his side. There was something seductive about these rare moments of harmony that made him susceptible to her manipulations.
"Will you unpack my present first, please?" She yawned in his face.
Clasping her mouth closed, he murmured, "Greedy little lamb."
In the rising mist, Torrey Castle appeared to float, a watchful wraith. Oil lamps glowed in a dozen windows strung across the three-bay façade, illuminating the finely etched Venetian glass and elegant corbelled arches. A maze of parks housed a collection of delicate sika deer and black-faced sheep along with cantankerous flocks of grouse and plover. None fared as well as the precious herd of thoroughbreds—allowed to graze at will, foraging in the herb garden and stomping around the rose bushes.
As the carriage passed through the castle's iron gates, the imposing front doors opened, and Court's grandfather, Devlin O'Rourke, limped down the steps. Aggie Knox, housekeeper and mother figure to Court and Lacey, chased after Devlin, threatening him with a wool shawl.
"Will you leave me be, woman! I'm no invalid." With a leonine head of white hair and a wiry body, he looked quite spry for seventy-one.
"Three whole days in bed with a nasty head cold and meself, waiting on your every pitiful need. I'll not go through that again, old man!"
"Hullo folks! I'm not alone, and this may give you a bit of a turn," said Court.
"Who did this to her?" Devlin roared, clasping his grandson's arm to steady himself, as a battered Lacey stood before them. "I'll whip the cur from now to Michaelmas."
"Settle down, Grandfather, and let me explain! And mind, no petting from you, Aggie. She's on punishment."
"Is that so? You ought to be ashamed of yourself, treating her like a brick-face criminal."
"By Judas, she took it upon herself to defend the cowardly carcass of your feeble-minded nephew!"
Court briskly herded them into the front hall, but Lacey, eager to ride this tide of sympathy, finally spoke. "Aggie, my head is thumping. May I have a tray in bed?"
"Of course, my angel. Cook made a lovely lamb roast with glazed yams and a nice tureen of creamed turnips—all for Court's homecoming. There's even a rhubarb cobbler!"
"Ah, there'll be none of that for her, thank you very much. She is being punished," Court reminded them with a wagging finger. "Bread and milk 'tis good enough."
Lacey lingered on the stairs. "But what am I to wear to bed?"
"Seeing you're so partial to my clothes, Aggie will give you one of my dress shirts. Off you go!"
"But what about my present? You promised."
"Don't be shining them doe eyes on me, all teary and supplicating! You'll get it when I decide and not a moment before."
Court turned away, only to run into Devlin's dark frown. "If I didn't know better, I'd be of the mind you were the blackguard who beat her."
By the time the brandy was poured and the cigars lit, Devlin's mood had improved and Aggie was back to fussing over Court.
Placing an ashtray by his glass, she kissed his cheek. "'Tis lovely to have you home, darlin' boy. I can't wait to wear the necklace to Mass. Them old hens will be speechless with jealousy."
Time had not diminished Aggie's inviolate sense of superiority over others. Even at sixty, she attracted suitors who appeared with shuffling expectancy to woo the "green-eyed goddess"—so named, not only for her preternatural comeliness, but for the winsome cruelty with which she spurned all of them.
"Then I chose well," he laughed, feeling the sweet heat of the liquor relaxing his body into a sentimental stupor.
"Not another can compare with it!" She snatched the cigar from Devlin's mouth. "Enough! You know smoking bedevils your lungs."
"The only thing bedeviling me is an old biddy of a housekeeper who doesn't know her place!"
"As if there's another willing to put up with your vile habits and blistering tongue?"
"It's good to be home," Court sighed, floating away on a cloud of contentment before remembering his affliction. "Aggie, darling, when you have a moment to spare, give a look in on Lacey."
"I was intending to do that very thing, when himself, started up with me. And for your own good, young man, I had Katie unpack the music box. It would be a most pleasant way to start off the morning."
"You're right, as always," Court agreed.
As soon as she left, Devlin lit another cigar in defiance, puffing away and rubbing the gold signet ring on the middle finger of his right hand. His once shapely hands were plagued with arthritis, and the ring was welded in place.
"How did you find London, my boy?"
His grandfather may have delivered the first broadside, but Court was poised for the return volley. "I thank you for inquiring—quite delicious."
"So you wasted your time between a woman's legs?"
"Grandfather, you can hardly send me to such a place and not expect me to break one or two… well, a few of the commandments."
"Might I remind you, why the devil you were there? To learn something about managing money, you ungrateful wastrel! Your father went to university and matriculated with honors! In just a few years, you'll be coming into your inheritance not having an imbecile's notion what to do with it!"
"Thanks to the devious Mr. Boyle, I'll be getting a miserable quarter of it."
"Don't be blaming the solicitor for minding my instructions! 'Tis a Midas fortune compared to what I had when I married your grandmother. How dare you turn up your nose at what you have the insolence to think is just a pittance!"
Devlin gripped the table, wheezing from the effort of shouting. "You'll get another quarter when you marry and the rest when you have a child. Those are my terms!"
"I'm no better off than one of your prize studs! Only as good as my seed."
"Mind where you spill it! The only whelp that matters is the one baptized an O'Rourke."
"Then pick the mare, old man, and tell me when to show up!"
Devlin rose from the table, his blue eyes violet in the candlelight. "So we've come to this dismal reckoning, have we? Though you may think otherwise, I have but one wish for you! To be so blessed by a woman's love, she bears you a child: someone to cherish you in your old age."
Court helped himself to another brandy, rankled by Devlin's unwelcome sanctimony. So what if he never was anything more than a wastrel? Prospects for marriage were sparse: most of the good families had arranged their daughters' betrothals before their first communion.
Turning his thoughts to where he felt some measure of control, he decided to send for Dr. Seacord in the morning, just to make sure there was nothing truly amiss with Lacey. When her father, Captain de la Roche, returned, he intended to put forth his argument, yet again, for boarding school—or better yet, a convent! Any place that would contain her and prevent her from involving him in her little messes.