Slippers That Waltz Till Dawn

Artist, sportsman, and country gentleman, JAMES REYNOLDS is a painter of murals, an expert on Palladian architecture, and a connoisseur of Irish ghosts. His beautifully illustrated volume Ghosts in Irish Houses. which condones his tivo loves, has met with an enthusiastic reception in this country, as has his second volume, Gallery of Ghosts, which goes further abroad, to find its themes in India, Restoration Ragland, and Maine. Mr. Reynolds’s second novel. Maeve the Huntress, was published this spring by Farrar, Straus & Young.


THIS is a tale of moonlight, roses, love in June, gallant hussars, languishing naval ensigns. lovely women, a romantic castle; then — tragedy . At the time of the Rattle of Waterloo the dramatic old pile of Garron Tower was a sumptuously appointed house. This had not alway s been so. When Sir Hildreth Starrat married the aged, eccentric Countess of Antrim for her fourth husband, the castle was scarcely fit for human habitation. The old pile of hugely hewn stone blocks was drafty and rat-ridden. Damp and mildew from incessant fogs drifting in from the Irish Sea corroded the walls of high-vaulted rooms. Draggled tapestries sagged on walls of peeling paint or cracked plaster the like of gigantic cobwebs. But Sir Hildreth changed all that in short order. In record time this energetic man, who loved the grace of living, changed the castle into a beautiful residence hung with crystals and damask, and carpeted with shimmering rugs from the East. Not only the interior of Garron sprayed color the like of a Roman candle; the long terraced gardens were planted so thickly with roses that Flora, gazing down from her cloud pavilion, was amazed and envious.

Obligingly the countess died soon after the wedding, leaving Sir Hildreth a vastly rich man. At first her sudden death met with some adverse speculation. For, almost immediately after his marriage, Sir Hildreth had installed his ward, a niece, Lady Constantin Gainsford, at Garron, and during the few months the old countess lived, she had refused to see the girl. The atmosphere at the castle may be said to have been charged with electricity. Whether the exit of the countess was engineered by her husband or God has remained a moot point down the years.

In every way Lady Constantin was admirable. Her popularity in the village of Glenarm and the surrounding countryside was proverbial. Her beauty was of the fragile sort: silvery fair hair, gentian-blue eyes, and a rose-leaf complexion. A glance from her eyes devastated most males. Unfortunately, without meaning to, Lady Constantia inflamed the heart and rakehelly brain of her guardian to a point which set jangling all the strange quirks of his mind. Extremely handsome, a born flatterer, a voluptuary of the first water, Sir Hildreth had made a career of infatuating women to his eternal gain.

He was crowding fifty-five years when he gave the first ball at Garron Tower, to celebrate the engagement of Lady Constantin to young Lord Avonport, a dashing blood in the Irish Fusiliers, the crack Irish regiment of the period. From the first hint of a love affair between Avonporl and Lady Constantin, her guardian had east a jaundiced eye on the proceedings. Outwardly he appeared extremely pleased with the match, admirably suited on every count as the couple were. Inwardly he seethed with jealousy. Tasting his own bile day after day, the man became secretly a monster of revenge.

All was set for the festivities. A moon close, to full silvered the standard rose trees and the latticing vines of climbing yellow roses which covered trellised arcades. The hope that the full of the moon would endure for the ball seemed certain. Mantuamakers from Belfast had for days worked feverishly on a series of gowns in which Lady Constant ia would delight her guests, for the ball was only one of many entertainments planned by Sir Hildreth to launch his beloved ward on her engagement.

Everyone so fortunate as to be invited to the ball at Garron Tower arrived all during the day, decked in whatever cosily finery each could manage. It was the period of peacocking for men and flaunting every jewel and plume in their wardrobes for fashionable women. Irish beaux and dandies still wore perukes dressed high, en pompadour, in the French and Italian style, tar later in the nineteenth century than was the mode in England or on the Continent, according to a Dublin fashion magazine for men, delightfully called The Dandy Gambler and The Sporting Hack.

Irish women had eagerly seized upon the fashion for immense Turkish turbans of gauze and light silk. These erections, sprouting a panache of plumes or aigrettes, had been introduced to the ballrooms of Dublin by Lady Blessington, a “glass of fashion” paramount, after her triumphs in the salons of Paris.

Brilliant uniforms, resplendent with strappings, gold lace, and the insignia of smart regiments, were worn by most of the young dancers in a ballroom at this time. A military or, to lesser extent, a naval career was the goal of the young aristocrats.

True to predictions of the weather-wise, a moon full to bursting hung in a blackberry-colored sky on the evening of Sir Hildreth’s ball for his ward. Fairy lights festooned the long stone balustraded terraces along the sea walk at the castle, which was elched against the sky with every window ablaze. The sound of music rose on the night breeze. Laughter and now and again a snatch of song issued from the wide, open terrace windows. Towards morning, when a faint finger of primrose dawn slit the eastern sky, the last gavotte was played. A few coaches belonging to guests who lived close by rumbled out the gates of Garron Demesne, the coachmen as sleepy as the occupants inside the cushioned box.

Sir Hildreth had been meticulously the grand host. But had one looked closely at his hooded eyes and noticed his withdrawn, watchful air, the realization that the man had some atrocious plan afoot would have come shockingly alive. The day after the ball the ladies slept long to repair the fatigues of continuous dancing. At lunch Sir Hildreth proposed some rough shooting in the savannas of bramble and larch a mile or so inland from the castle. A number of the young men, including Avonport, cheerfully agreed, for at Garron Demesne sport with guns was well known. A small body of water called Carnlough, near Glenarm, was a famous nesting place for wild geese.

Some ten guns set out with four beaters, and for an hour or so shots rang out at intervals, A good bag was laid out in rows of variegated plumage on a strip of turf near the lough edge. Harry Avonport was standing on a knoll close to a spinny of larch when a shot exploded so close behind him that he turned quickly, only to stop a second cartridge full in the heart. When his friends ran to the spot where he lay dead, bewilderment as to how this tragedy could have happened ran rife. One explanation, given by Sir Hildreth, was that a malcontent in the neighborhood had twice taken a shot at Lady Constantia’s guardian. Because Avonport was wearing a dark green shooting jacket and broad-brimmed hat similar to his, Sir Hildreth ventured the shot had again been meant for him. This version, while within reason, was not fully accepted by others of the party, although no one openly, at the time, entertained more than suspicion.

When Lady Constant ia was told the news by her guardian, she was at first inconsolable. But so deep was the man’s sympathy, so tender his solicitude through her days of mourning her fiancé, that the distraught girl finally agreed to go to Dublin for a season, staying with her aunt, Lady Carmichael. In a few months the resiliency of youth asserted itself. She became once again the creature of smiles and love of dancing she had always been.


DURING Lady Constantia’s visit in Dublin a demented streak in Sir Hildreth’s nature swept all reason before it. Singularly vicious revels were held at the castle. An ill-assorted group of bucks would coach up to Garron Tower from Dublin, Belfast, and as far south as Cork. A chancy lot they were, some accompanied by women of voluptuous charms but low breeding. Often at the height of these drunken orgies Sir Hildreth would curse the lot and drive them helter-skelter from his house. Then for weeks he would remain recluse. At night the terrified servants would hear the master ranging the corridors, shouting blasphemies at God and all the saints in the calendar.

One day he coached to Dublin, to appear smiling and urbane at Lady Carmichael’s house in Merrion Square. He informed his ward he had come to take her home. At first Lady Constantia demurred. Garron Tower held upsetting memories for her. She appealed to her chaperone, who replied, “It is disagreeable, I know, for you to return to Garron Tower. But Sir Hildreth is not to be put off. He is your guardian and you are beholden to him. Put on as good a face as you can muster, and I dare say, what with his pleasure at having you home again, he will be prodigious kind to you. Indeed he already talks of another ball to celebrate your return.” To a visitor who arrived to take a dish of tea with Lady Carmichael soon after this advice, she added, “For so young a girl, a perfect bundle of delicate sensibilities like Constantia, to be shut away at Garron with one of the prize lechers of Ireland gives me the vapors to even think on. I will never know what possessed my brother Rathdavin to appoint Sir Hildreth as guardian to his daughter. A monument to loose, thinking on Rathdavin’s part. Disaster will come of this state of affairs, mark my word.” Lady Carmichael uncorked a small crystal vial of ammonia salts to point her remarks. A few sniff’s and she continued, “Constantia has another suitor. Many flutter around so lovely a girl, of course. But a young naval ensign from Cork Harbor named Tanered leads the field. A nice boy and very devoted. The sooner she is married and away out of that melee the belter for us all.”

So it turned out that Sir Hildreth and his ward journeyed north along the vile rutted roads of rural Ireland, with trunkloads of finery strapped on the roof. “My dear Constantia, we will be gay as starlings at the Tower this summer. I have planned all manner of diversions for you.”

“Ah, Sir Hildreth,”ihc pensive girl answered, “you are indeed prodigious kind. I hope the roses are all in bloom. I remember the ropes of roses twining the stair and balcony rails at my . . She stopped talking suddenly.

Quick to detect any hint of brooding, Sir Hildreth said, “We will have a Ball of Roses. Indeed a bal masqué in which the ladies dress to counterfeit roses. That should set the dowagers to cackling. Should you like a Rose Ball?”

Soon after Lady Constantia’s return to Garron Tower her guardian took to making mysterious trips, to what destination she never knew. One morning before he started out, he came to the morning room where she was having first chocolate. “Constantia, what is the name of that young man who I hear paid such assiduous court to you in Dublin? I should like to ask him to the Ball of Roses next month.”

Looking up from a letter which she had just started to read she smiled. “How odd you should ask that question at this minute. I have this letter from him. His name is Nevin Tanered. He is stationed at Cork Harbor. His ship is His Majesty’s Cormorant. I will invite him when I answer this letter.”

Had the girl noticed particularly, she would have seen a wave of dark anger flood the aging face of her guardian. He turned on his heel to leave but stopped short in the doorway. “Are you engaged to him? Or about to be?”

A trilling laugh came from Constantia’s lips. “No, no. He has not asked me. I find hint agreeable. Perhaps sometime I might find him even more. He is witty, gay, and startlingly handsome.” She returned eagerly to reading her letter.

A fortnight later Sir Hildreth came back from his visit to, as he said, Galway. “I bought two splendid stallions to add to my stud” was all he vouchsafed before shutting himself morosely away in a distant wing of the castle. For days Lady Constantia did not see him. A gossip living in the environs of Glenarm, monstrously taken with the rich widower of Garron Tower, was constantly turning up for a dish of tea, always primed to relate the latest news, preferably of scandalous nature. Not finding Sir Hildreth anywhere in evidence, Mrs. Bawn-Braekley cornered a footman to announce her to Lady Constantia. Over a dish of tea on the terrace she said, “Was it not sad about that handsome young ensign being drowned in such a mysterious way in Bantry Bay?”

Absently, for she was not listening very attentively to the woman’s chatter, Lady Constantia asked, “Who was it? I had not heard.”

“Well, you of all people should know. It was the Tanered boy who paid you such ardent court in Dublin last season.”

Stunned, the girl listened to Mrs. Bawn-Brackley recount what she had heard. It seemed young Tanered had received a message on board his ship. It read that his father, who lived near Bantry Bay, had been taken seriously ill. He must come home at once. It was signed by his mother. Alarmed, he had not looked closely at the writing. He left Cork Harbor Naval Depot on a fast horse. From then on, all that anyone knew was that the horse had been found dead on the rocks below Curryglass Headland. So broken was the carcass it would seem the animal had fallen from great height. The next day the body of Nevin Tanered was found floating near Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay.

Even when alone and miserable in her room, Lady Constantia did not in any way connect her guardian with Tancred’s accident. Being of guileless nature, the girl had accepted Sir Hildreth’s account of buying horses in Galway as the truth. After a while the master of Garron Tower emerged from retirement and set out on a series of entertainments of a nature to please his ward. The notable charm which had ensnared the foolish hearts of so many women through his temperamental journey of life was now brought into full play. He swept many women off their feet by his attentions, including infatuated, garrulous Myrtle Bawn-Brackley, who was almost hysterical with excitement at the bare thought of becoming mistress of Garron Tower. But, as always, Sir Hildreth had a method in his campaign. He wished so to enthrall the countryside they would all be on his side in case of an emergency. For by now his jealousy for his ward had become paramount in his life. So in love was the man with this fragilely lovely girl that his life was a torment. Let a young man so much as take Lady Constantia for a stroll, in broad daylight or in evening shadows, and Sir Hildreth became a thunderhead on the landscape. Of course the girl sensed this obsession to some degree, but fended off any attentions on the part of her guardian as expertly as any Parisian cocolte.

Late in August, Sir Hildreth came upon his ward one day at the end of the terrace. She was engaged in threading ribbons through the eyelets of satin dancing shoes. “Well come upon you, my child. I have set the date for the Ball of Roses. The last night of August, when the roses are at their height. Always the second blooming of Garron roses is the most luxurious. Then the perfume is most heady. Which rose shall you impersonate?”

The girl was silent for a space of minutes. “I had not thought. The pale tea rose is my favorite. Must we have this ball? Are invitations already sent?”

“What is this?” Sir Hildreth pul his hand under her chin. Lifting it he looked longingly into the clear blue eyes. “We must be gay and make this ball the most talked of. For at the ball I have a surprise for you and —” He turned towards the balustrade, gazing at a splendid view of the sea. “And a surprise for the countryside. Yes, even for Dublin and silly, dance-mad Cork. Oh, yes, I promise you it will be a vast surprise.”

As Lady Constantin sat awhile on the terrace after Sir Hildreth had gone, she never for a moment even conceived that he would announce His intention to marrv her, on the night of the ball. However ardent the man had at times appeared, she had put it down to his rather flamboyant, overgallant nature. Yet, insidiously removing all obstacles, Sir Hildreth had been planning this matrimonial coup for years.


THE night of the Rose Ball, Garron Towner rang with suppressed excitement. Among the guests who gathered in chattering groups on the terrace and in high-ceilingcd rooms, the talk was of the latest dance, which was to be inaugurated that night. The Vienna Waltz. The craze for this whirling dance had swept all Europe like a conflagration of gaiety. Irish gentry were notoriously backward to accept now modes. The tone was first set by decorous Viceroys at “the Castle” in Dublin. Once the viceregal court had given a nod of approval, important hostesses eagerly followed.

Musicians from Dublin started tuning violins and harps. Late arrivals strolled through the castle admiring the fragrant decoral ions, for everywhere ingenuity in arranging legion species of roses was evident. Great swags of dark red and white Gloire de Valois roses hung from cornices. Standard rose trees in all shades of pink formed a dado in the ballroom. Terrace and garden walks led through tunnels of climbing roses. Added to this, the women had aped in satins and crackling taffetas the crisp petals of red, yellow, pink, and white roses. Many brilliant uniforms appeared among the throng, for a ship of the line, His Majesty’s Forward, had anchored a few days before in the adjacent harbor of Carriekfcrgus. Shoals of freshfaced young ensigns would sweep the ladies off their feet in the waltz. A cavalry regiment stationed at Glenarm added dash to the scene as tall officers, sabers clanking against sabretaches, strode about greeting friends. One officer in particular stood out in the ballroom for his height and mane of red hair: Captain Alistair Strand, who had paid marked attention during the last few weeks to Lady Constantia.

Sir Hildreth started the first dance, a gavotte, with the ranking peeress present, the Duchess of Clandyboy, while fortunate Captain Strand led out Lady Constantin, For the second dance a waltz was played. More than a few of the guests did not, know this dance, so the ones who did had an appreciable audience gathered around the walls. Little by little as the violinists’ bows leaped in the fast tempo, eager dancers joined the whirling throng. Brooding on the sidelines stood Sir Hildreth, for the sight of Captain Strand, partnering Lady Constantia for the second time in succession, caused the red flare of jealousy to gleam holly in his eves.

Walking out onto the terrace Sir Hildreth realized he must east his engagement surprise into the teeth of his guests just before the supper dance at midnight. In the meantime lie would absent himself from the ballroom, else his rage at attentions showered on Ins ward would unsettle him to a point where he would make a bad showing as a prospective husband.

Never had Lady Constantia enjoyed herself so much. To Captain Strand she said, “I could waltz until dawn lights the sky. Indeed, if I do not dance three pair of satin slippers to shreds tonight, I shall not consider the ball a success.”

Swinging his partner expertly in and out of the dancing couples Strand replied laughingly, “I once knew a girl in Edinburgh who danced four pair of slippers to ribbons. But she was never as light to swing as are you.” When the dance was over he whispered, “Let us take a turn on the terrace, I know a bower at the end of the rose walk. I have a question to ask you, very secret. Here, through this window.”

Sir Hildreth had not been able to stay away from the ballroom. His jealousy, inflamed now by heavy drinking, acted as a magnet to draw him back to the long, candlelit room. Just as Captain Strand and his partner slipped into the shadows of the terrace he caught sight of them. JI is rage mounted as he followed. Softly — do not let them know, he cautioned himself. Softly. Then he saw the captain take Lady Constantia in his arms. A scarcely audible question followed. A less audible but eager answer, and the two kissed long and passionately.

Swiftly through the dark channels of this eavesdropper’s mind raced methods of revenge upon yet another suitor for Lady Constantia’s hand. Obviously this time the affair was not youthful dalliance, as in the case of young Tancred. Well versed in all nuances of wooing, Sir Hildreth sensed deeply that his ward had answered her lover’s proposal of marriage with a binding “Yes.” Into his inflamed brain flashed an idea. Swift as lightning, and as deadly, it pointed the way. He knew clearly what he must do.

First he called to a lackey who was passing the niche where he stood concealed. “Watch her ladyship and when she is dancing with another than Captain Strand, the officer who is approaching with her now, let me know. I will be at the end of the corridor leading to the summerhouse.” Turning, Sir Hildreth made off down the passage.

Blinded with rage at the sorry turn of events which had thwarted his so carefully laid plans, the man paced in demented state up and down a small reception room at the end of the corridor he had mentioned. This room, in a little-used wing of the castle, was private. At the moment all activity was in the rooms in the main block facing the sea. From a long box on a console Sir Hildreth took a, slender rapier of Italian workmanship. Expertly he tested the point and blade. “This will be quick and silent,” he nodded to his reflection in a mirror.

In the doorway appeared the lackey. “Your honor, sir, her ladyship is mountin’ the stairs on her lone. May ye be wantin’ me to take her a message, sir?”

“No,” replied Sir Hildreth sharply. “Find Captain Strand, the officer I pointed out to you. Tell him Lady Constantia wishes him to attend her immediately in the little summerhouse at the end of this corridor. Show him the way, then return to your duties. He quick about it.”

But search as he would in every room, oven out on the terrace, the lackey could not find Captain Strand. Meanwhile Lady Constantia, having procured another fan to replace one she had broken, descended the stairs. She almost danced along the corridor leading to the summerhouse, where she had asked Alistair Strand to meet her. Vaguely, she wondered why the hallway was so dark. Someone must have snuffed the candles which earlier in the evening had burned in every wall sconce. Hastening her steps, she was about to burst into a snatch of song Alistair had taught her. She was just abreast of an open doorway when a man suddenly appeared in the corridor before her. His eyes gleamed with madness as, with a swift lunge of a rapier, he ran the blade through her heart, blinding jealousy, the dark passage, the sound of footsteps he expected to be Alistair Strand’s, had so confused Sir Hildreth that he mistook his victim.

For a moment, as he bent over the dying girl, his senses reeled back to sanity. Then with a cry more animal than human, torn from his heart, Sir Hildreth fled the castle. In the morning the body of the master.of Carron Tower was found hanging from a limb of an oak in the farthest reaches of the park. Today this tree is called Starrat’s Reward.

Soon after the fatal stabbing of Lady Constantia Gainsford, persons living at Garron dower told of varying ghostly manifestations within the gray walls. At night a lilting laugh is heard echoing through a corridor in the oldest wing, the one abutting on the rose garden in the park; and sometimes snatches of a barracks song, sung haltingly, as if the singer were not familiar with the melody. Whenever this song is heard a pair of tea-rose dancing slippers are seen to spin round and round in the ballroom. A woman who was a guest at the castle a few years ago told me she had seen this phenomenon occur at intervals all night. A pair of slippers dancing tirelessly until dawn. I asked her if the crossover ribbons of the slippers were laced and tied or swung freely. “Well, now you ask me, I cannot recall. I believe the ribbons were tied, as around an ankle, else I should have noticed especially,” she replied. With this apparition a pervading scent of roses drifts through the rooms. No matter what the season, the heady scent of summer roses is strong.

Another dramatic version J have heard is that sometimes the disembodied slippers pause in their dancing, hesitate, then dance away down the long corridor towards the summerhouse. A shriek rings out, the slippers disappear. Then there spreads a pool of blood at the spot where Lady Constantia was stabbed. It has been found difficult to erase this gory spot from the tiles.