just outside Creegh
west coast of Ireland
Just past noon in mid-July of 1854 Mary McCarthy slowed to a sedate walk from a leisurely running pace which she could keep up all day. She passed discreetly through the tiny village of Creegh, heading south toward Kilrush on the great River Shannon, and crossed a bridge of the tiny river that gave the village its name. Her discretion wasn’t enough, however. From a shabby tavern trouble followed her.
Perhaps twenty minutes past the village she looked back to see if she could begin running again. The winding road through the low coastal hills of County Clare had indeed put her out of sight of the village. However, three horsemen were riding from the direction of the village. She faced forward and continued walking.
When the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the packed earth of the road was near she courteously moved onto the grassy verge of the road to let the riders pass.
They did not. One of them rode off the road then angled his horse toward her, forcing her back onto the road. Another came up to pace by her other side. The third took up station a few yards behind her.
“Good day, fair lady,” said the man who had forced her to change her path.
Mary glanced up at him. His dress and the tack of his horse told of money and his attitude spoke of arrogant assurance. From his speech she judged him some petty English nobility. He was a handsome man, taller than most as best as she could judge a man in a saddle, with dark brown ringlets, a round face, and laughing brown eyes. The horse was a sleek dark brown, obviously expensive.
He was silently laughing at her, and her temper flared, but she kept a rein on it. “Good day to you, sir.”
“Where are you going?”
“To my home over the hill.”
He made a show of standing in his stirrups and shading his eyes under the hat he wore as if to see over the hill. There was an emerald feather stuck in the hat’s sweat band.
“Oh, goodness. I suspect you of a fib, fair lady. I see no cottage ahead. And as I know this country well, I’m sure there is none.”
“I think she’s afraid of us,” the man on her other side said, a cruel smile on his face. He was much of piece as the first one, she saw. Perhaps a brother or a cousin.
“No!” replied the first. “Why, how could she think that of us! We only want to be her friends.”
“I have all the friends I need,” replied Mary shortly.
“Oh, but we’re going to be even closer than friends.” This was from the man behind Mary. She stopped and turned to look at him. He was younger and blond and his horse was not so good. A poor cousin of the other two, perhaps? Trying to match them in wit and other ways.
It was obvious that they intended to rape her. She had other plans, however. They did not include getting her clothes bloody, so she needed to get out of her clothes without alarming them. And she needed to get them off their horses. Their mounts multiplied their effectiveness.
Mary glanced at the man on her right, he with the green feather. He was the leader. She smiled at him and spoke.
“Well, now, I would be friendlier if I thought you might have some coin about you.”
“Oh, yes, fair lady. We do indeed ‘have some coin about us.'”
“Then let us get to it. Over there.”
The direction of her nod was off to the side of the road up ahead where three trees made a pleasant shade. She began walking again, stepping around the leader’s horse and off the road, angling toward the trees. Then, looking playfully back over her shoulder, she laughed and broke into a run toward the trees.
It took a few moments for them to react. The leader laughed and kneed his horse into a trot. The other two followed suit.
Under the shade of the nearest tree Mary let her pack slip off her back onto the ground. Then she began disrobing.
By that time the leader was under the tree too and was off his horse. He hitched it to a branch of the tree and stood enjoying the show. The other two caught up and ground-reined their horses. The leader scowled at them and they hastily hitched their horses the same way.
Ah, yes, Mary thought. When she started screaming they did not want their animals to run away. She folded her clothes and placed them on the opposite side of a tree, placing her pack atop them. That should shield them from any blood spatter.
The leader was the first to reach Mary as she stood completely naked, fists on hips. The wind swirled her bright red shoulder-length hair around her face and ruffled the russet pubic hair between her legs. To them she would seem a fourteen-year old girl, with the muscles of a farmer but still lithe and pretty.
The wind was from the leader to her, and she could smell the cruelty on him. There was no doubt. They planned to do horrible things to her, then kill her.
She put out a hand toward him and he took the bait. He caught her wrist in a grip that would have pained an ordinary woman. She looked him directly in his eyes. Hurt a child, would you? she thought.
She twisted her wrist, broke his grip, and it was now his wrist that was captured. He jerked his arm away, or tried to. She saw the exact moment when he understood that he’d made a terrible mistake.
But by then it was far too late.