The Darkling Bride
Dublin Weekly Nation
Marriage: On Thursday the 20th ult., at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, Mr. Evan Chase of London to Lady Jenny Gallagher of County Wicklow, only child of Michael Gallagher, 13th Viscount Gallagher, and the late Lady Aiofe Gallagher. Mr. Chase will append his wife’s surname, as she is the sole inheritor of the Gallagher estates.
Dublin Weekly Nation
Born: On Wednesday the 11th ult., James Michael Gallagher at Deeprath Castle, County Wicklow. He is the first child of Lady Jenny Gallagher and Mr. Evan Chase-Gallagher.
Dublin Weekly Nation
Died: On Sunday the 8th ult., Lady Jenny Gallagher, suddenly, at the age of twenty-two, leaving her widower and a young son. Due to the unexpected nature of her death, an inquest will be held in Rathdrum.
The Illustrated London News
4 March 1882
We have it on good authority that Mr. Evan Chase-Gallagher, noted folklorist and author, has returned to England’s shores following a sojourn of two and a half years in Ireland. Little could the author have expected such heights of joy and depths of despair as he has endured since he last crossed the Irish Sea. Love, marriage, fatherhood . . . to be followed so shortly by the extremity of grief known only to those whose loved ones have perished in suspicious circumstances.
Lady Jenny Gallagher possessed, by the accounts of those few who knew her, a brilliant wit to match her dark Irish beauty, as well as the noted charm of her race. But such brilliance too often exacts a cost, and it is well known that the lady suffered an unquiet mind after the birth of her son. The strain on her husband, cut off from his London circle in mountainous isolation, we can only guess at. That he has published nothing since his marriage is, perhaps, telling.
We understand the inquest to have been generous in their verdict of accidental death, and hope that his wife’s Christian burial will work its peace upon Mr. Chase. We look forward to once more reading his learned and captivating prose and sharing in the talent that has seen him compared to both Mr. Dickens and Mr. Trollope.
His son remains in Ireland, to be raised by his grandfather at Deeprath Castle.
Twenty miles south of Dublin, Deeprath Castle brooded in its shallow valley scooped out of the Wicklow Mountains. Thirteen hundred years ago, St. Kevin had come to these mountain heights for solitude. Eight hundred years ago, Tomas Ó Gallchobair had become Thomas Gallagher by marrying the daughter of a Norman lord—changing his name, if not his heart—and built a stone keep two miles from what was then the monastic city of Glendalough. And every hundred years or so since, a new descendant had made his mark on either land or castle until Deeprath was as idiosyncratic a mix of English and Irish as the family who lived there. “Rath” might mean “farmstead” in Old Norse, but those who lived in the Wicklow Mountains whispered that it should have been spelled “wrath.”
Whether the Gallaghers were meant to be the instigators of that wrath, or its victims, varied according to the story and the mood of the storyteller.
Laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, love, hatred, birth, and death—every beat of every Gallagher heart resounded in the stone and wood and plaster of the castle, so that those sensitive to such things could feel the thrum of centuries through their bodies. Any animals brought into the house as pets must learn to live with the echoes or be driven out. The castle knew her own, and jealously kept their secrets.
Secrets in the Norman keep, its spiral stone steps worn by thousands of feet over the centuries. Secrets in the Tudor hall that housed spinet and lute and harp. Secrets in the Regency study, soaked in its aura of patriarchal privilege.
And, above all, secrets in the library, with its soaring walls and stained-glass windows, the Gothic fan vaulting poised loftily above the thousands of books in their bays. Books in glass cases, books on open shelves, books and manuscripts and journals and maps stored in great Renaissance coffers.
The library had secrets aplenty to reveal . . . to those who knew how to look.
Carragh Ryan perched straight-backed on the reproduction nineteenth-century chair offered her by the interviewer and was devoutly glad she’d chosen her most sober gray-green tweed shift today. The woman seated before her was eighty at least, and dressed as though she were heading to a Downton Abbey funeral. Do people still wear bombazine? Carragh’s mind rattled inwardly, as it did when she was nervous. What even is bombazine? And do I really want this job if it’s working for her?
Perhaps the woman—who had declined to give her name when Carragh entered the anonymously expensive hotel suite—could read minds. Because she now asked, “Why do you want a job of which you know virtually nothing?”
Because those I do know about are all of them so deadly boring I want to claw my eyes out just applying for them . . . Carragh smiled, though it seemed unlikely this woman would be susceptible to flattery. “If a job has to do with books, I don’t need to know much more.”
“You understand the position is of limited duration. Three weeks at the most.”
“It is also an . . . isolated situation. You would be resident with us, without reliable mobile phone service or Internet access.”
Carragh couldn’t help herself; literary allusions were second nature. “Sounds very Victoria Holt or Daphne du Maurier.”
When the woman merely looked at her blankly, she babbled on. “Gothic writers. Mysterious manors, naïve governesses, brooding lords of the manor . . . never mind.”
“Am I to take it you see me in the role of Mrs. Danvers?”
Carragh’s eyebrows shot up at mention of the unpleasant housekeeper from du Maurier’s Rebecca. It was the interviewer’s turn to smile. “I am three times your age, my dear. It is just possible I have read as many books as you have.”
The old woman had been reviewing Carragh’s résumé, and now removed her glasses and let them hang from a chain. Without the lenses, her eyes were even sharper. “Your name indicates Irish heritage. But clearly you are not.”
Carragh almost found this straightforward statement refreshing. “I am adopted.”
They hovered there for a moment before the older woman moved on to the point of their meeting. “So, you are American-born, were raised in Boston, have a degree in English literature from Boston College and postgraduate work in Irish Studies at Trinity.”
“And you have remained in Dublin since Trinity, doing freelance editorial work when you can get it. Secretarial work when you cannot.”
“Yes.” Were they ever, Carragh wondered, going to get to an actual question? Or the slightest hint about what this mysterious job would entail?
Once again the nameless woman proved remarkably adept at sensing Carragh’s thoughts, for she began to question her closely and intently about everything from her familiarity with Irish ballads to her experience working in research libraries. When Carragh was ushered out twenty minutes later—a little dazed—she not only had no idea how well she’d answered, she still hadn’t figured out what, precisely, the woman wanted her to do.
But she had a name, at least. Nessa Gallagher, the woman told her as she was dismissed. The surname struck a bell of familiarity, but she virtuously refused to jump to conclusions. No sense getting her hopes up unnecessarily. Within five minutes of going online, her virtue was rewarded: Lady Nessa Gallagher had been born and raised at Deeprath Castle in County Wicklow.
Carragh knew a moderate amount about Deeprath: originally a Norman castle, home of the Gallaghers for more than eight hundred years, and possessed of one of the finest Irish libraries still in private hands.
The castle where Evan Chase, Victorian novelist, had arrived in 1879 for research . . . and left three years later a broken widower who never published again.
Chase was the reason Carragh knew anything about Deeprath. In university she had studied Victorian novelists and had shelves full of Dickens and Trollope, Gaskell, the Brontës, Thackeray, Eliot, and Hardy. But she’d had a particular affinity for Evan Chase, whose books her grandmother had introduced her to before she was ten. It seemed—ironic? coincidental? miraculous?—that this opportunity would arise so soon after Eileen Ryan’s death. At almost the very moment that Carragh had determined to drag herself out of the depression she’d fallen into after losing her grandmother. She didn’t believe in signs. Or maybe she did. One thing Carragh had learned in the last three months was that she did not know herself as well as she’d thought. Not all of the learning process had been comfortable.
Still: Evan Chase.
Half Welsh, half English, the writer had been among the early fantasists, his gothic tales dripping with claustrophobia and tension and echoes of the supernatural twenty years before Bram Stoker. He had written five popular novels by the time he was thirty and seemed poised to take his place among the pantheon of English favorites.
Then he had come to Ireland to research a legend—a ghostly, vengeful woman known as the Darkling Bride—and had instead found love. In swift succession Chase married a Gallagher daughter, had a son, and lost his wife in a probable suicide. He left Ireland after that—along with his son, who eventually inherited the Gallagher lands and title—and died six years later without publishing another word. Of the book Evan Chase had come to Ireland to write, all that existed was a one-page draft outline sent to his publisher. If he’d left any further writing behind him at Deeprath, the Gallagher family had never revealed it.
Surely, if Nessa Gallagher was hiring someone to do something with books, it must involve the Deeprath Castle library. Experts estimated it contained between five and six thousand volumes, painstakingly assembled over generations. From simply wanting the job before, Carragh now felt she would walk through the Wicklow Mountains barefoot in winter to get to that library. But no matter how she recalled and fretted over every question and answer of that odd interview, she was no nearer knowing if she’d impressed Nessa Gallagher or not.
She complained about it later, while on the phone with the youngest of her three older brothers that night. “How can anyone give away so little? It was like a police operation—I don’t know who I’m up against for the job, or how many, or even precisely what the job is! You’d think I was dealing with the government rather than one old woman who seemed mostly interested in staring me down.”
Francis was always bracingly optimistic. “Who can resist you, Carragh?”
“Nessa Gallagher,” she pronounced glumly, “could resist the Second Coming if the details weren’t to her particular liking.”
“Deeprath Castle,” her brother mused. She could practically see his Irish-green eyes creased in thought. “Why do I know that name?”
“From Gran. She read us Evan Chase’s books, do you remember?”
“Vaguely. Ghosts and witches and vampires—”
“Vampires was Bram Stoker. No, Chase wrote novels based on folklore and legends. Lorelei who was banished to a nunnery and threw herself off a rock in protest, Melusina the mermaid, the knights of the Broceliande Forest—Chase turned all of them into Victorian high romances.”
“I’m afraid you’re the only one who inherited Gran’s love of old novels.” A well-worn quip, one Carragh had always told herself she liked because it meant she was as loved as any child of blood. Family teasing meant family belonging.
“Anyway,” she plowed on, “Evan Chase spent four years at Deeprath Castle. He even married the daughter of the family. That’s why you’ve heard of the place. Gran talked about him a lot.”
“Gran talked a lot about a lot of things.”
Carragh laughed. “True. Anyway, say a prayer to St. Ceara for me. If I don’t get this job, it’s back to the temp agency. I’ve got contractor bills a foot high.”
“Ah. How is the house?” he asked.
“Just like Gran left it.”
“Dark, cold, and furniture from the sixties?”
“Less furniture now. But the floors are all in desperate need of refinishing, the wallpaper is giving me headaches, and I think the cupboards haven’t been cleaned since the 1860s.
“Still,” Carragh looked around the high-ceilinged reception room with its fine woodwork and graceful lines, “Gran left me a fully paid-off Merrion Square townhouse. What’s to complain about?”
“Damn right. You’ll sort it all in time, Carr.”
But no one in her family knew quite how dire the situation was. Although Eileen Ryan had died a wealthy woman, as evidenced by the money left to Carragh’s father and three brothers, she had not spent a penny on updates to her home or even repairs in at least thirty years. The Georgian moldings had woodworm, turning on the lights was a fire hazard, and she took her life in her hands every time she filled the bathtub.
The townhouse—one of the few in central Dublin not divided into flats—was worth a small fortune even in its present condition. Carragh knew the responsible thing would be to sell it and get what cash she could.
But she didn’t want to be responsible.
“Maybe,” she told her brother, “I only want the Deeprath Castle job to remind me that Norman keeps and Tudor halls must be even more impossible to heat in winter than Gran’s house.”
“That’s not why you want the job. Face it, Carr, even a Georgian townhouse is modern when compared to an actual Norman castle. The older the better, as far as you’re concerned. And if it comes with a mystery to solve? Even better.”
Then Francis’s tone of voice altered, becoming a shade too casual. “By the way”—a phrase always followed by something unpleasant—“Mom wants to talk to you.”
“I know she does.”
“Well, I happen to be at Mom and Dad’s right now so I’ll just pass the phone over—”
“I have to go, Francis. Someone else is ringing.”
Carragh hung up on that lie with only a twinge of regret. She loved her mother. She respected and admired her. She even liked her, which was not always something that could be said between daughters and mothers. But she did not want to talk to her. Not just now. Not since her mother had given Carragh a letter her daughter did not want. A letter she felt had been stalking her ever since, laying whispery ink fingers on the back of her neck, pleading, “Read me, read me . . .”
To hell with that. Pacing idly in circles after she talked to Francis, Carragh went to the IKEA bookshelves where her grandmother’s collection of novels rested and pulled out Evan Chase’s first novel—The Wandering Knight. She didn’t open it, but like a ten-year-old, she crossed her fingers and wished for the luck she wanted. Who wouldn’t want to know what happened at Deeprath Castle with Evan and his beautiful, insane wife? What book lover wouldn’t jump at the chance to look for a lost novel?