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   Chapter 5 THE NURSE

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 9704

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a few days later that, coming in one afternoon, I found Miss Champion with my grandmother and noticed that there was something odd in the manner of both of them. Nor was I kept long in suspense about it, for Miss Champion, who was the most candid person alive, could not long keep a secret.

"Would you like to go to Dublin, Bawn?" she asked.

To Dublin! I could hardly have been more bewildered if she had asked me would I like to go to the North Pole. Indeed, I had never contemplated going so far. It would have been a great adventure to have gone even so far as Quinn, our fair and market town, which lies on the other side of the Purple Hill, seven miles away.

I stammered out that I should like to go to Dublin, looking from Mary Champion's face to my grandmother's, for I could hardly believe that the latter would consent to so tremendous an adventure.

"It is time for her to see and be seen," my godmother went on. "You are twenty years old, are you not, Bawn? Why, at twenty I had seen a deal of the world, had travelled far away from Castle Clody and the valley of the Moy. Next season she ought to be presented, Lady St. Leger. I shall take her up and do it myself, if you will not. She ought not to be hidden away."

At this my grandmother looked alarmed, and said something under her breath of which I caught but a name or two, my Uncle Luke's and Theobald's.

From whatever my grandmother had said Miss Champion seemed to dissent even violently.

"It is all forgotten," she said, "and if any remembered it they would take my view of it and not yours. He should have stayed and faced it out. No jury would have brought in a worse verdict than manslaughter, and if it had been tried outside Dublin, in Irish Ireland, no jury would have convicted at all. I know the people adore Luke's memory because he struck that blow in defence of a woman. Why will you behave as though you held him guilty, Lady St. Leger?"

She gained heat as she proceeded, and although she spoke hastily, and hardly above her breath I heard every word.

It was not the first indication I had had that my Uncle Luke's disappearance was connected somehow with a deed of violence, although the details had never been told to me. Now I spoke up.

"I am sure that Uncle Luke did nothing we need be ashamed of, Gran," I said. "I remember him well, and he was very kind. I can see him now putting my canary's little leg in splints when it had broken it, and the dogs adored him. Old Dido yet listens for his return."

My grandmother began to weep softly.

"I did not want Bawn to know anything about those dreadful happenings, Mary," she said. "And whatever I believe or feel about Luke would not stand in the eyes of the law, since I am only his mother and why should I not believe in my son?"

"It is my quarrel with you and Lord St. Leger that you will act as though you believed him guilty," my godmother said. "As for Bawn, Lady St. Leger, you must let me tell her the story. It is time that she should know it. Not now, but another time when it will not grieve you. And you will let her come with me to Dublin?"

"If her grandfather consents, Mary. I have no doubt that he will consent if you ask him. But Bawn will need some clothes if she is to see your friends. What are we going to do about her clothes?"

"You must leave that to me, Lady St. Leger, as being Bawn's godmother. If I have not done my duty by her hitherto, it does not mean that I never shall."

After all, I did not hear Uncle Luke's story from my godmother but from Maureen Kelly.

Maureen was now getting old, and she had a room allotted to herself at the extreme end of the left wing which looked out on the gable of the Abbey and the graves which are all that remain of the old Abbey from which the house takes its name.

To be sure the grass grows up to the empty window-sockets of the gable; and as for the graves they are clean blotted out in the prairie grass that is like the grey waves of the sea above them.

It is a narrow slip of a room, and she sits there and sews, mending the linen which is old and thin and darning finely the holes in the damask cloth or the rents which time has made in my grandmother's lace; and when the light fails her knitting those stockings of fine blue-grey wool which my grandfather always wears.

Maureen, as often happens with old privileged servants, quarrels with the other servants and is not much sought after by them. She lives in a great independence of her own, and has her own cups and saucers; they are fine old china, with brown sea-shells and seaweed upon them, and they belonged to the nursery when I was the one child there.

And she has her own tea and bread and butter and sugar; and anything else she requires she fetches from the kitchen, walking about haughtily among the other servan

ts, and not staying longer than is necessary to get what things she requires.

I went very often to Maureen's room.

For one thing, it was like looking into my childhood to go there. It is so still. The nursery pictures are on the wall, and in a cupboard there are my discarded books and toys, with others of an earlier date than mine. There is the dolls' house which was given to my great-grandmother when she was a child by Lord Kilwarden, that just judge who was a great friend of our family. It is not so elaborate as the dolls' houses of to-day, but it is big enough for a small child to creep within it, and it seemed wonderful to me as it had done to my mother before me, and to my Aunt Eleanor, who was Theobald's mother. I know my grandmother loves the dolls' house, and would not consent to its being put away in the lumber-room.

In winter Maureen's room is the warmest spot of the house, which is old and draughty, and I have always gone there when I have wanted to get the chill out of my bones. Maureen will sit by the window sewing, while I get down on to the little stool which used to be mine in my childhood and look into the heart of the flame and imagine things there.

There is a photograph of my Uncle Luke on the chimney-piece, an artless thing of a country photographer. He is wearing his militia uniform, and even the country photographer had no power to destroy the bonny charm which sat on his eyes and his lips.

Now Maureen had, whether from increasing years or from the lonely life she led, come to have delusions at times, to mix up me with my mother or my Aunt Eleanor, to talk of Uncle Luke as though he were yet with us or might be expected at any moment home from college, or from a hunting day or a fair or market, or his training with his regiment on the Curragh of Kildare.

But on this day she was clear enough in her mind.

Uncle Luke's old setter, Dido, that was a young thing when he went away, had followed me upstairs and lay along the rug with her head on my lap. Now and again she pricked her ears as though she heard something or thought she did. It was Dido who led us on to talk of Uncle Luke. Maureen is no more tolerant of dogs about her than others of her class, but she tolerates Dido because she belonged to Uncle Luke.

"If his Lordship had a real kindness for that old dog," she began, "he'd poison her and put her out of her trouble."

Dido looked back over her ears at her as a dog will, knowing itself discussed.

"I don't think Dido would call it a kindness, Maureen," said I. "Let me see-how old is she?"

"She must be nigh on fifteen years old. I remember well the day Master Luke brought her home. I wonder his Lordship can bear to have her about, seeing who it was that gave her to him."

"And who was it, Maureen?" I asked.

Her old eyes narrowed themselves cunningly.

"No one could ever say, Miss Bawn, that I talked about the family."

"Very well, Maureen," I said. "But I am to hear it, all the same. Miss Champion is going to tell me. She said so to my grandmother yesterday, and would have done it then only that she feared to disturb Gran. I am going to her this afternoon to talk about our trip to Dublin, and then she will tell me."

"That is the way," said Maureen, with great bitterness. "People will tell you not to tell things: and when you've held yourself in till you're fit to burst after all those years they'll tell themselves. Why shouldn't you know, Miss Bawn, my lamb? There's some for Master Luke and there's some against him, but I'm for him whatever story was the true one."

"So should I be, Maureen," said I. "I remember how he carried me round the stables and to the kennels on his shoulder, and how he brought me in to see Bridget Kinsella, the huntsman's wife, and she gave me bread and brown sugar with cream over it. And when we were coming back it was cold, and Uncle Luke carried me inside his coat."

"Aye," said Maureen, "he was ever softhearted. A bit wild, but not more so than became his station. And if Miss Champion had been kinder with him the trouble need never have happened."

I had often noticed a curious hostility in Maureen towards Miss Champion, and had wondered at it, since she was so devoted to us all.

"She tell the story, indeed!" she went on with bitterness. "If she tells it she'd better keep back nothing. Why did she send him to get consolation from other ladies? He was always true-hearted from a child. And if Miss Cardew had a fancy for him, who should blame her?"

Now, I had heard dimly of Miss Cardew who was an heiress, and of how Sir Jasper Tuite had tried to abduct her, but somehow I had never heard the whole of the story. People had dropped talking about it as soon as they had discovered my presence. And I had had no idea at all that it had to do with Uncle Luke.

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