Patricia Hampl | Excerpt adapted from The Art of the Wasted Day | Viking | April 2018 | 18 minutes (4,735 words)

On the night of Monday, March 30, 1778, an Anglo-Irish lady named Sarah Ponsonby, age twenty-three, the unmarried dependent of well-placed relatives (her parents long dead), slipped out of her guardians’ Georgian mansion in Woodstock, Kilkenny, the rest of the house asleep. She was dressed in men’s clothing, had a pistol on her, and carried her little dog, Frisk.

She made her way to the estate’s barn where Lady Eleanor Butler, a spinster sixteen years her senior, a member of one of the beleaguered old Catholic dynasties of Ireland (the Dukes — later the Earls — of Ormonde), was awaiting her, having decamped from stony Butler Castle twelve miles distant on a borrowed horse. She too was wearing men’s breeches and a topcoat.

Their plan, long schemed, was…

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