Kean continued on downward through the meadows and the trees. He looked about him in a calculating way as he went. His shrewd and entrepreneurial mind worked out the details of just what might go where, and how it would all look when transformed to his world of concrete, glass, plastic, and electronics.
At high points in the ground he paused and glanced back up the hill to reset his bearings. He noted the spot on the ridge where the cars sat and the tip of the ruined tower-house just north of that. Then he continued on, always moving downward, toward the sea.
It was a soft, drowsy, golden afternoon. And little by little his pace began to slow as he walked along, as if the gentle atmosphere was having some tranquilizing effect on him.
He began to look around him with more curiosity. He actually noted what was there, rather than what he would put there. Bright-feathered birds soared above, filling the air with trilling song. Startled rabbits hopped away, bobbing white tails flashing in the sun. The hum of insects created a soothing background.
Patches of colorful wildflowers caught his eye. He took in deep breaths of air made sweet by their fragrance. The long grasses of the fields swished about his legs and the soft breezes rustled in the tree leaves over his head. Gradually his hard, mercenary look gave way entirely to a softer, meditative one.
Was it possible that, as he progressed, the atmosphere about him became gradually more hazy?
Taking note of this change himself, he glanced skyward. A scrim of clouds did appear to have risen from somewhere, from nowhere, covering the sky, diffusing the sunlight into an even, subdued white glow.
He only shrugged and went on. Clearly the odd change didnít matter to him. He seemed by this point to have become content to just drift on along, carried by the breezes, gliding farther and farther into the timeless, endless landscape that enfolded, engulfed, entrapped him in its most gentle clutches.
So obviously pastoral had his mood become that he even stooped to pluck a bright yellow wildflower and sniff appreciatively at it.
As he straightened, the flower still in his hand, he glanced idly around. Then he looked again, more sharply. His bemused expression was swept away abruptly by a bewildered one.
The landscape about him was now radically changed. There was no glint of ocean visible below him. There was actually no "below him" anymore. He was in an open meadow edged all about with woods. The higher crest with its parked cars and its ruined tower was nowhere visible.
"Where in the hell am I?" he said aloud, casting his searching gaze over the strange surroundings.
As if in answer to his question, the sound of a voice rose suddenly in the quiet. It was a womanís voice, soft, distant, but quite clear and most melodious.
Kean cocked his head to listen, turning slowly. Then he stopped as he located the direction. It was coming from the woods nearby.
Without hesitation, he moved toward it, plunging into the trees.
He threaded his way along between thick trunks of ancient oaks and yews. Their branches interlaced to form a dense canopy above that blocked the light and plunged him into a grey gloom. He felt his way along, pushing through underbrush, clambering over fallen trunks and limbs, but always moving closer to the voice.
It was growing steadily louder as he went. The words had become audible now. The voice sang a lilting ballad tinged deeply, delightfully with the rich shades of the Irish soul. He began to listen to the words:
"The purple heath-bells, blooming fair,
Their fragrance round did fling,
As the hunter lay,
At the close of day,
Down by the haunted spring."
He made his way at last to a final screen of brush. There seemed to be more open ground lying just beyond. As he forced a way toward it, the singing continued:
"A lady fair, in robe of white,
To greet the hunter came;
She kissíd a cup with jewels bright,
And pledgíd him by his name."
He found himself out of the woods again, under the odd, hazy silver sky. He stopped there, gazing at the new scene ahead.
He was looking into a small valley, closed in by the woods. Below him, down a grassy slope, a lively little stream burbled and flashed along through a rocky bed.
On one of the large rocks at its side a woman sat, combing her hair and singing as she combed:
"íOh, lady fair,í the hunter cried,
íBe thou my love, my blooming bride-
A bride that might well grace a king!
Fair lady of the haunted spring.í"
Kean stared down at her, most obviously intrigued. She did indeed make a quite striking picture there, in this wild, secluded place.
Her slender body was clad in a simple sleeveless shift of a softly glowing green cloth. She sat with legs curled under her, looking down at her rippling reflection as she drew the comb smoothly through her hair.
It was long, flowing waves of hair she had, colored like autumn-touched leaves with the sun through them, or red-gold after itís been rubbed. As she combed, she sang in rhythm with her smooth, even strokes:
"In the fountain clear she stoopíd
And forth she drew a ring;
And that bold knight
His faith did plight
Down by the haunted spring."
He started to move forward again, this time as if drawn by some irresistible force. He made his way down the slope toward the stream and the woman as she sang on:
"But since the day his chase did stray,
The hunter neíer was seen;
And legends tell he now doth dwell
Within the hills so green."
Kean reached the stream edge just across from her. As he did, her song ended. She looked up from the water to him, smiling in bright welcome.
"Hello to you," she greeted, her voice lightly touched with graceful Irish accents. "So, youíve found this place at last."
"You expected me?" Kean said in surprise.
"I saw you up above, with the rest. I saw you going off alone. I arranged that I should meet you here."
The normally quite rational, quite calculating mind of the man was telling him to be wary. But it was overwhelmed by the enrapturing aura of this place and this woman. He crouched down at the streamís side, staring at her in fascination.
She was young, looking in her early twenties at most. Her form was supple, her bearing one of unstudied, natural grace. Her face and arms were of a whiteness and smoothness like a nightís snowfall in the purity of next dawning. She was a fresh, bold-featured beauty, and a glow like that of a bright moon seemed to shine out of her face. There was a high, proud arch to her eyebrows and a dimple of delight in each of her cheeks. Her full lips were red as the berries of the rowan tree. Her eyes were a blue more deep, more brilliant than the clearest sky, and a light like warmth, affection, trust, and fullest honesty gleamed in them.
"You arranged to meet me?" he said to her. "Why?"
"Because I watched you, and I was... well, I was quite taken by you." She looked down, a flush coming into her pale cheeks at this. "Iím sorry. Iím being too bold now."
"No, no!" he said quickly. "I really like a woman who says just what she thinks Saves a helluva lot of time. So, whatís your name?"
She looked up to him again. "Caitlin. Caitlin Bawn. And may I ask your own?"
"Michael. Itís a good, strong name." She stared intently into his eyes. "Are you a good, strong man, Michael Kean?"
He met that penetrating gaze, and he spoke out the truth it seemed to demand from him:
"If you mean at doing business, no question." He then swiftly shifted the subject. "But, look, are you from someplace around here?"
"I live nearby," she said vaguely. Then she shifted subjects herself. "What is it that you and all those others are about?"
Once more Kean was surprised. "You donít know? But you must have heard."
"I donít get about in the world much. Itís not allowed."
"Not íallowed?í Hey, you look like youíre over twenty-one."
She looked puzzled "Twenty-one what?"
"Years old. I mean, you look all grown up."
"Oh, I am that. Yes. Most certainly. Itís just that my people like keeping to themselves."
"Well, if they live anywhere near here, theyíll still hear about what Iím doing soon enough. Iím going to build a world-class hotel and Irish theme park."
"Theme park?" she repeated blankly.
"You know, like Disney World."
She shook her head, at a loss.
"Boy, you really are out of touch!" he said. "Itís an amusement park. You know? Rides, games, concessions."
"Do you mean, itís like a fair?" she ventured.
"Yeah, I suppose. But a whole lot bigger than any fair youíve ever seen."
"Iíve never seen one, to say the truth," she said. "Iíve only heard of them. Still," she added in an awed way, "a thing so grand as that must be a wondrous sight to see! And you say itís you whoís going to build it! Wonít that take many men, and great riches?"
Kean dropped into his usual casually bragging tone. "Oh, thereíll be a few thousand in the crews. Your country loves that, considering the economy now. And the whole tabís going to be four point eight bil. Thatís at minimum."
Caitlin looked awed. "Iím not certain what these íbillsí are you speak of. But, so many men! You must be a very high chieftain indeed!"
Kean laughed. "Some would say too high. Especially a lot of the little Indians."
"Your speech is strange sometimes," she said, eyeing him curiously, "and your accent is as well. Youíre not of Ireland, are you?"
"American. Iím from New York."
She gave him that quizzical I-donít-know-what-youíre talking-about look again.
"New York," he repeated. "The city."
"City. Oh, like Dublin?"
"I guess. A lot bigger, though."
"Actually, Iíve never seen Dublin either," she admitted. "I canít begin to imagine what your city must be like, except that it must be wondrous."
For a moment Kean didnít reply. He just considered again this so young, so unspoiled-seeming woman who now stared off into some fantasized distance of her own. Her face was all but beaming as she yearningly contemplated things so strange to her.
Finally he spoke.
"Iíd love to show it to you." he declared in a voice of, for him, intense earnestness.
She looked back to him most eagerly. "You would?"
"Well, sure! Of course! I mean, you ought to see a city. You canít spend your whole life stuck away out here."
At this she became a bit defensive. "Iím very happy here. Itís all my life."
"How do you know?" he argued. "Thereís so much out there to see, to do, to get your hands on."
"Do you really think so?" she asked, her eagerness returning.
"Itís my motto. What a waste not to go for it all, not to take some risks and have some thrills. Look, since I was ten years old, Iíve been... "
The blaring sound of a car horn came from the distance, interrupting him.
The young woman leapt up like a startled fawn, looking around toward the harsh noise in alarm.
Kean rose too.
"Itís okay," he assured her. "Just the boys calling me back."
The horn sounded insistently several more times. He looked about him, finally locating the direction.
"Itís from over there," he pronounced. "At least I can find my way out of here." He looked back toward her. "Look, Caitlin, why donít you come up with me, and we... "
He stopped abruptly, staring. The rock where she had stood was now empty. In that instant she had somehow vanished.
He looked around him again at the vale and woods, his expression deeply puzzled. Just where could she have gotten to so fast?
The car horn sounded again, more urgently. No more delay, it was saying, or theyíd be down beating the bush for him.
He shrugged and began to turn, preparing to start away. But he paused, noticing the wildflower he still clutched in one hand.
He stared at it as if it were something heíd never seen before, then tossed it down into the stream. He turned and strode off, climbing the slope toward the now steadily, rhythmically beeping horn, vanishing once more into the masking band of woods.
Behind him, the flower he had thrown away floated down the little stream, only to be drawn into an eddy. It spun slowly there a moment before a slender hand reached down and plucked it to safety.
Caitlin straightened with the flower. She gazed at it, lifted it to sniff its fragrance. Then her eyes rose after the departed Kean.
"So much to see... " she said musingly, "... to do, to... to feel!"