Celtic Remnants

Celtic Remnants by Deborah O'Toole is a powerful novel of enduring love and betrayal set in the political turbulence of Ireland, glamour of London and wilds of Scotland.

From Chapter Five

May 1980

Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland



ALTHOUGH ELIZABETH LANCASTER had not been born into position and wealth, her years as a Countess and the wife of a very prominent nobleman taught her to believe in the English class system. She had forgotten what it was like to be Miss Elizabeth Hughes. With her natural grace and style, she had been grafted into Edward's way of life. She rarely, if ever, mentioned her humble beginnings, preferring to let people believe she had always been a part of the upper class.

When David and Ava walked into the drawing room at Ambercurry Lodge with Bart, Edward was stupefied by Ava's beauty. Elizabeth sensed his delight and took offense to it, but true to her rigid self-control did not show her displeasure. Besides, David seemed so happy and proud to be with Ava that she did not have the heart to be anything but gracious and cordial.

"Mother, Father, this is Miss Ava Egan," David said, beaming. "Ava, these are my parents, the Earl and Countess Lancaster."

The Earl smiled, shaking Ava's hand. "Please call me Edward," he preened.  "It is very nice to meet you."

"Thank you, sir," Ava said softly. "I mean, Edward."

"And do call me Elizabeth," the Countess said, following her husband's lead as she always did.

"What would you like to drink, Ava?" the Earl asked affably.

"White wine, please," she replied. "If you don't mind."

"Coming right up," the Earl said. He walked over to a small sideboard near the large picture window, where he began preparing drinks.

David led Ava to a settee and motioned her to sit. They sat closely together, a move not unnoticed by the Countess. She sat across from them on a brocaded divan, her posture upright and prim. She took a glass of brandy from her husband with a smile and a brief nod.

"I'm sorry to hear about your family, Ava," the Countess said, sipping her drink. "What a horrible time it must have been for you."

"It was," she said politely. The Earl handed Ava her wine and she thanked him. David took bourbon, neat, and sipped it appreciatively.

"Am I to understand your aunt owns the Blackwater Inn?" Elizabeth continued.

Ava nodded. "Yes. Her name is Siobhan Egan."

"I love the Blackwater Inn," the Earl declared, sitting next to his wife on the divan. "Best damned food for miles."

"I quite agree," Ava responded with a grin. "But then I'm prejudiced."

The Earl laughed, completely charmed by the girl. He could see why David was so smitten with her. She was not only beautiful but articulate with a sense of humor. Better yet, she possessed proper manners.

Elizabeth, a smile still on her face, turned to Ava once again. "Where do you attend school, my dear?"

Ava sipped her wine nervously, but managed to keep her hand steady. "I attended the local school in Eglinton. I haven't decided if I want to go on to college."  "Listen to the likes of me," Ava thought to herself, watching David's mother for reaction. "College! I have no intention of going to college, but I certainly can't tell these people that."

"Of course I think Oxford is the most prestigious," the Earl told Ava. "But since you're close to Dublin, I believe Trinity College is also ranked as one of the best in the British Isles."

"British Isles?" Ava thought with a stab of anger. "Since when is Dublin part of that horrific entity known as Great Britain?"

"You have an interesting name," the Countess mused. "It's not at all Irish-sounding."

"My Mum named all of us after movie stars. My brother Cary was after Cary Grant. I was named for Ava Gardener, and Sophie was   . . ."

"Let me guess the other one," the Earl interjected jovially. "Sophie must be for Sophia Loren, right?"

Ava smiled. "Yes, who else?"

"Of course." the Earl said, delighted. "Your mother must have had quite a good sense of humor."

"She did," Ava agreed.

The conversation continued for several minutes before a uniformed maid came to announce dinner was ready. At the same moment, a young man entered the room. He was dressed in gray slacks and a silver pull-over sweater. He was clean-shaven with short, dark hair. He wore a bright smile on his face, carrying an air of pleasantness about him which was instantly apparent.

Ava assumed he was Peter Lancaster, David's younger half-brother, whom she guessed to be around twenty years old. Peter resembled David to some degree, apart from his darker hair and shorter height. There were also discernible pock marks scarring his cheeks, although they did little to detract from his looks.

"Hello all," the young man said cheerfully, extending his hand to Ava. "I'm Peter Lancaster. And you must be Ava."

She took his hand. "Yes, I am. Pleased to meet you, Peter."

"The pleasure is all mine," Peter said warmly.

The group went through a side door in the drawing room which led to the dining area. Ava was breathing a bit easier now. Her initial exposure to the Lancaster's was almost over, and she felt as if she had done well.

Now all she had to do was get through the rest of the evening, and then she could be alone with David.

THE DINING ROOM at Ambercurry Lodge was large, with a tall ceiling and long, slender windows. Two Waterford crystal chandeliers adorned the ceiling, surrounded by dark red wallpaper which gave the room a rather mirthless air. The Countess had seen to it that several burning candelabra were strategically placed at various points on the dining table, casting a subdued glow on its occupants. The table itself was quite long and almost reached the length of the room, but for the occasion of dinner with few guests, settings had been placed at one end, with Edward sitting at the head.

Peter found himself seated across from Ava. As the meal progressed, his awareness of her youthful beauty and complete social unsuitability for David imposed itself in his mind.

Peter watched Ava throughout dinner. Subtly of course, as it wouldn't do to gawk at her openly. Serving maids scurried about setting plates in front of the diners. First with whiting consommé, and then a salad of greens followed by the main course, lamb cutlets with mint sauce and steamed potatoes. Peter observed Ava with a growing fascination. She was certainly not David's usual type - the upper echelon of the nobility with glamour looks - but there was something about Ava's demeanor, her very presence which spoke volumes about her character. Her Irish character, with the dark hair and pale skin and the damned brogue. Peter surmised Ava was but a simple Irish girl out to snare the son of an English earl.

As he slurped his soup, Peter admitted to himself Ava was reasonably attractive, and might be worth a quick tumble if she wasn't David's tart. For that was all she could ever be: a passing fancy, a summer diversion. An Irish-Catholic was not in the cards for David, not if he wanted to maintain the Lancaster social standard. Ava was young, and obviously from poor stock to boot. From the way she looked at David when he spoke, Peter could sense she was entirely smitten with him.

Peter pecked at his salad, glancing up at Ava as she ate her own greens with dainty aplomb. At least she had decent table manners, he thought grudgingly, which surprised him. He assumed all Irish to be savages. He noted her small hands and the blue veins running along the tops and up her wrists, and the dark blueness of her eyes. Her mouth was full and well-formed, not slatternly or covered distastefully with gooey masses of lipstick.

As Peter cut into his lamb cutlet, he was uncomfortably aware Ava simply did not fall into a general category. Try as he might to deflect her impressive qualities, he knew she was unlike others of her kind. She was obviously intelligent and well-read, and had the good sense to listen when others spoke, displaying her grasp of social politeness. Peter chewed his meat rapidly, taking sips of wine from his glass at hand, and continued to watch Ava.

As maids served apples and cheese, it dawned on Peter that Ava was probably the emotionally perfect woman for his brother David. She was lovely, well-informed and her manners were without flaw. The crux of the situation was her Irish origins and her religion. It was the element which would dash David's hopes of a future with her, but life would go merrily on. Even in the depths of his romantic transgression, David nonetheless managed to find the cream of the crop. Peter felt a flash of resentment toward his brother, a sentiment which had become increasingly frequent as they grew older. David had it all, and yet he persisted in his detours from duty and birth-right obligation.

Peter glanced at Ava once more and found her returning his stare. Her expression was detached. Peter felt a hot blush creeping up to his face from his neck. She looked away without much ado, while Peter returned his attention to his apples and cheese.

"It doesn't matter what you do, Ava Egan," Peter thought with satisfaction. "David will never marry you. Our father the Earl will see to that."

THE EVENING APPEARED to be an unqualified success, but when the Earl and Countess Lancaster retreated to their bedroom suite at Ambercurry Lodge for the night, their main topic of discussion was David's obvious fascination with Ava Egan.

The Earl sat up against several pillows in their large bed, while the Countess removed her make-up and applied cream to her face as she sat at her dressing table.

"I think Ava is a remarkable girl," the Earl stated, watching his wife go through her nightly beauty routine. "Not only is she lovely and well-mannered, she appears very intelligent and has a wonderful sense of humor." He shook his head. "If only she weren't the daughter of Eamon Egan."


Edward hesitated. He often told Elizabeth about his exploits and various missions for in the British Army. He knew he had mentioned Egan to her before. However, like most women she tended to pay little attention to battle fatigue talk. She was accustomed to his military activities, used to his long absences in the past but rarely asked him what he did while he was away. It was probably for the better.

"Eamon Egan was watched by British intelligence for years," Edward finally said, looking down at his hands on the bed. "He was a supposed member of the IMC, but authorities were never quite been able to catch him out in the act. He always had an alibi after bombings took place in Belfast - or anywhere else, for that matter - and he was a thorn in my side for a long time. Remember the bombing at Orange Hall a few years ago, when I took a bullet in the stomach?"

Elizabeth nodded, a look of trepidation on her face.

"Egan was responsible for the planning, and he was also the man who took the shot at me," Edward told her, his voice growing bitter at the memory. "But I could never prove it. Egan had an alibi for the day it happened, an ironclad alibi, and the matter was dropped. The worst part of it all is Egan used to be a member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, retiring shortly after the Bloody Sunday incident. Earlier this year, an opposing terrorist group in Belfast apparently bombed the Egan cottage, wiping out Ava's family. However, it was the end of Egan and his activities, although I'm sure there are plenty of others willing to take his place."

Elizabeth was aghast. "Is David aware of all this?"

"No, not all of it," Edward said quickly. "And I'd rather he didn't know at present. Please keep it under wraps."

Elizabeth glanced at her husband in the dressing table mirror, her brow furrowed. "Yes, dear, of course I won't say anything to David. To top it all off, Ava is Catholic, and from what I could glean her family was below working class. She tried to sidetrack us in regards to that little fact, I assure you. She never came out and said her family was poor, but what else could they be coming from a cottage in Eglinton? Even if her father was a supposed member of the IMC?" Elizabeth shuddered. "It's utterly barbaric and sordid."

"I understand your hesitation in accepting her," he said. "I want someone of proper breeding for our oldest son as well, but you have to admit Ava is perfect for him. If only she had the right background. David could be happy, and we would be satisfied."

Elizabeth sighed. "I like Ava well enough, too, dear, but I'm really hoping this is just a summer romance for David, and that come autumn he returns to Oxford and mixes with his own kind - especially knowing her father's background."

The Earl frowned. "I agree, but let David have his fun, will you? Let him be with this girl, let him have some sort of happiness. When he is old and gray and the official Earl Lancaster, he can look back on the summer of 1980 and dream about his Irish lass."

"If you insist," Elizabeth said tiredly, adeptly hiding her irritation with the analogy. It was too close for comfort, almost like a comparison with Edward's first wife Mary O'Brien, David's mother. Elizabeth rose from her dressing chair and joined Edward in their bed. "I only hope David doesn't carry his little fling too far, such as taking matters into his own hands. If he were to run off and marry this girl, it would be disastrous for his future, and the future of the Earldom." She pulled the bed covers up to her chin and looked at him. "I do have someone else in mind."


"The Earl Colchester's daughter, Lady Victoria Eddington," Elizabeth said with a tone of satisfaction. "She's starting Oxford in the autumn. I think she would be perfect for David. I know her mother, the Countess Anne. While I was in London a few weeks ago, we had tea at Belgrave Square. Anne is also quite keen on the idea of getting her daughter and David together."

The Earl grunted. "Haven't they already met?"

"They've met sporadically for years, mostly at casual social gatherings," Elizabeth replied drowsily. "David has never taken much notice of Victoria, but I'm sure he will change his tune once he's back at university."

Edward glanced at his wife as she fell asleep. He had a gnawing feeling in the pit of his stomach that the matter was not so easily settled. David had a mind of his own, and seeing him with Ava Egan only confirmed the fact. David was in love with the Irish girl. The Earl realized it was more than a summer fling for his son. It spelled trouble, and there was no way around it.

Settling himself in bed, Edward suddenly knew with strange clarity that Ava Egan would break his son's heart in the end, that he would probably spend his life trying to get over her. He was sure David would never recover from the likes of Ava - ever.



CELTIC REMNANTS ©Deborah O'Toole. All rights reserved.

"Celtic Remnants" may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. "Celtic Remnants" is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.