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   Chapter 4 RICHARD DAWSON

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 9521

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I used to go to Araglin every day, wet or dry. It is about three miles from the Abbey as one goes to it through our own park, and by Daly's Wood, which is a little wood, barely more than a coppice; the entrance to it faces a gate in our park wall, and when you have traversed its short length you have cut off a mile of the distance to Araglin if you went by road.

I liked the work at the Creamery extremely. The place was so cool and sweet with the splashing of falling water and the smell of cream and warm milk, and the fresh-looking, wholesome girls in their print frocks, and all the shining, clean utensils.

The walk to and from the Creamery was most delightful, especially those May days when there were such drifts of flowers and the wood was full of bluebells, and little white and blue wild anemones and harebells and sweet woodruff.

Nothing could well be more fragrant than the wood in those days of early summer.

It was a place in which the trees were of the light and springing variety with slender, pale trunks, but high overhead a mass of feathery leaves made a roof against the sky.

I have often sheltered in the wood from a heavy shower and not received a drop; yet it was suffused through the sunshiny hours with a soft goldenness. Below the trees was only undergrowth and the grass sown thickly with flowers. The path went so straight through it that as you entered by the stile at one end you saw far before you the arch of light over the stile that took you on to the road at the other end.

Occasionally my godmother was at the Creamery, working away with the rest, but she had so much to do of many kinds that she could not be looked for regularly.

In a little while I was very much at home among the girls, who at first were shy of me. If I could have gone to the Creamery at Araglin without their knowing that I was Bawn Devereux, the young lady at the big house, I would have enjoyed it, but that was not possible.

However, they soon forgot to be afraid of me, and laughed and chattered among themselves, very little deterred by my presence, except for giving me a shy glance now and again. They were most polite and gentle with me, and would help me if they saw me lifting a heavy crock of milk, with a "By your leave, Miss Bawn," which was very pleasant.

I used to listen to their simple talk after they had forgotten their awe of me, and smile and sigh to myself. It was often of lovers, and they rallied each other about this or that swain; and sometimes it was of their fortunes, which were being built up by tiny sums out of much poverty, so that their milk and roses, their bright eyes and satin heads might be gilt for their cold lovers. But I never heard anything Lady St. Leger would not wish me to hear; indeed, the talk those summer days was in keeping with the freshness and sweetness of the world about us.

One day that we were butter-making a party of visitors came in to see the Creamery, as sometimes happened. I was washing the butter which lay before me in a pan of water, with the sleeves of my gown pinned above my elbow.

When the visitors paused to see what we were doing I did not look at them but went on with my work. There was a good deal of whispering and laughing among them, and I felt without looking at them that they were not gentle-folk, at least such gentle-folk as I knew.

But presently I had the most painful sense of being stared out of countenance, and lifting my eyes I found the eyes of one of the visitors fixed upon me with so rude and insolent a gaze that the colour rushed into my cheeks as though some one had struck me.

The person was a youngish man, dressed in what I took to be the height of fashion. We know little enough about fashion, and my grandfather's knee-breeches and frilled shirt were very smart in the Forties. The young man had red hair and very bold blue eyes; his complexion was ruddy, and his strong white teeth showed under his red moustache.

At the moment of looking at him I was aware of the greatest aversion and fear within myself. I lowered my eyes and devoted myself to what I was doing, painfully conscious all the time of the colour in my cheeks which must make me conspicuous to those who were looking at me. I heard a little giggle; then the voice of one of the ladies very slightly subdued-

"Oh, come away, Dick. Don't you see how you are making that poor girl blush?"

To my relief I heard them go, but it was some time before I could recover myself.

I had no idea at all but that they were chance visitors brought into the neighbourhood by the light railway, but I was soon to be disillusioned.

Several times that day I caught the eyes of a very pretty and innocent-looking girl, named Nora Brady, fixed

on me, and there was something odd about her look; so much so that later in the day, as I was putting on my hat to go home, while Nora was preparing to start without any such formality, I suddenly asked her-

"Why have you been looking at me now and again to-day as though you were going to say something to me?"

To my amazement she blushed hotly and stammered something about not having known that she was looking at me.

"Never mind, Nora," I said, pitying her confusion; "a cat may look at a king, you know. Not that I'm a king nor a queen either."

"Oh, indeed, Miss Bawn," she said, blushing again. "You're pretty enough to be the Queen. Sure that's why poor Master Richard stared at you, not meaning to be impudent at all, let alone that he thought you a poor girl."

"Master Richard?"

"Master Richard Dawson. 'Twas him came in to-day with some of the quality ladies they have stopping at Damerstown. He didn't mean any harm, Miss Bawn."

So it was Richard Dawson, the only son of the rich money-lender, on whom we of the older, more exclusive gentry turn our backs. He had been wild in his boyhood, and had quarrelled with his father and flung himself off to America. We had not heard of his return.

I noticed half consciously the pleading look of Nora's blue eyes under their black lashes. Why was the child so much concerned at what had offended me? But I hardly thought of her.

I was thinking with an unreasonable wave of repulsion that I should doubtless meet Richard Dawson, if not in the drawing-rooms of our friends at least about our quiet lanes and roads, where hitherto there had been nothing to fear. I wished he had stayed in America; and on one subject I made up my mind. That was that if I must meet Richard Dawson I should certainly be as cold to him as was compatible with civility to those in whose houses I might meet him.

For we were not all a century behind our times. Some of us had a Dublin season every year and had been presented at Court, and some of us even went to London for the season.

Lady Ardaragh was one of those. She used to quiz us openly for our old-fashioned ways, but so sweetly that even my grandmother laughed with her. And she used to say that if one were too particular about one's visiting-list so as to exclude the newly rich people, one would have to mark off half Park Lane and that wonderful district which she would have us believe lay all about it. One met the oddest people in her drawing-room, where she fluttered about among them like a gay little butterfly while Sir Arthur, her serious husband, locked himself away among his books.

"If I hadn't such oddities I should bore myself to extinction, dear Lady St. Leger," she said to my grandmother once. "Arthur will keep me here nine months of the year. What is one to do?"

"Why, I am sure there is plenty to do," my grandmother replied simply. "Bawn is busy from morning to night, what with her garden and her birds and her dogs and her reading and music, and now with the Creamery. So should I be if Lord St. Leger did not claim so much of my attention. I neglect things sadly nowadays because my husband leans on me as a staff, although I am nearly as old as he. And there is your dear boy."

Lady Ardaragh frowned.

"Sir Arthur never knows how I look, what I put on," she said. "He was an ardent lover enough, but now I do not think I could provoke him if I tried. He simply does not think of me. An illuminated manuscript is more to him than I am; and he would rather have a black-letter book than my youth. As for my Robin, I adore him; but his fine nurse comes between him and me. And to be sure, even if she didn't I have no time for babies."

That was the way with Lady Ardaragh. Her moods changed from one minute to another with incredible swiftness.

I had always had a great admiration for her, the pretty creature, and when she had spoken of the illuminated manuscript I had a sudden vision of her with her head of curls, and her pink, babyish face against a background of pale gold.

To be sure her diversions, as even I knew, were something of the talk of the countryside; and I have heard ladies say when they visited my grandmother that it was a wonder Sir Arthur permitted it, but they would be silent when they saw me. Yet my grandmother loved Lady Ardaragh, and before my presence was noticed I have heard her say in a rebuking way that her ladyship's ways were only the ways of a girl married to an elderly, grave scholar.

I was tolerably sure that some time or other we should meet the Dawsons in Lady Ardaragh's drawing-room, and I looked forward with horror to seeing Richard Dawson again.

But as it chanced, I was to meet him otherwise, and in no very pleasant fashion.

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