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   Chapter 8 THE STILE IN THE WOOD

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 9221

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


After that she changed the conversation to other things; and when I had drunk my tea and eaten with an appetite I went upstairs with her to see things she had promised to show me.

I had had no idea that they were for me. I knew that she had a great many old and beautiful things, and from my childhood I had delighted in them. I could remember her calling for me in her pony phaeton before Uncle Luke had left us, and she would carry me all over Castle Clody for she was a tall, strong young woman; and while she changed her dress I used to sit in the middle of her bed with the curtains of blue and silver damask falling to either side of me, and she would give me boxes of pretty things to play with. To this day I like better than any of her valuable jewels her pretty trinkets of garnet and amethyst and topaz, of which she has a great many. They lay in trays in glass-lidded boxes and I delighted to look at them. Many of them have come to me as Christmas and birthday gifts since then, and Miss Standish had many of them, for although she was an invalid she delighted in pretty things and was greedy for them. My dear godmother is one to give with both hands; indeed, to value things chiefly for the pleasure of giving them.

Lying on her bed now were a number of garments so pretty that I cried out in delight. They were all white, yellowed a little with age, and in some instances with a pattern in colours.

There was a scarf of China crêpe, powdered as thickly as possible with roses and golden bees. There was an opera cloak made of a beautiful old Indian shawl. There were several frocks of silk and lace and muslin and fine woollen. There were finely laced and frilled petticoats and silk stockings and shoes with paste buckles and a feather fan. Also there were fichus and lace-edged handkerchiefs and such things, to strike a young girl dumb with delight.

"They are all for you, Bawn," she said, smiling at me. "They were my wedding clothes, and they have lain packed away in silver paper all these years. I have brought them into the light of day for you. They ought to have been kept for your wedding perhaps, but as there is nothing definite--"

"Theobald and I shall be quite old before we need think of marriage, if we ever do," I said. "I don't want to be married. It is nicer when people will be satisfied with being just dear brothers. And are they really for me, god-mamma? Why should you not wear them yourself? They are so beautiful!"

"Let me have the pleasure of seeing you wear them, Bawn. We shall depend less on the Dublin shops during our visit. Louise will fit the things on you. They will have to be taken in for you. They will not look old-fashioned. The fashion has come back to them."

I stood an hour or more while Louise pinned the things on me, kneeling by my side and turning me this way and that way to look at myself in the long glass of the wardrobe.

She kept up a running conversation on the things while she fitted me; ecstatic little cries of admiration; deep sighs of satisfaction; with all the animation of the Frenchwoman.

"I believe you get at least as much pleasure out of them as I do, Louise," I said.

"Ah, heaven, more!" she answered. "Mademoiselle is but a child; she does not know the delight of the feel, the soft lovely feel, of this that drapes so perfectly. Fortunately Mademoiselle lends herself to the lovely things. They become her. They cling to her figure as though they loved it. The result will be charming. M. le Capitaine Theobald he should be here to see the result. How his eyes would sparkle!"

"M. le Capitaine Theobald, as you call him, Louise," I said, "would not know one stuff from another. It is quite possible that he would like me better in the pink print yonder. The beautiful things will be quite wasted on him. He thinks a white muslin frock with a blue sash the finest thing a girl can wear."

"It is not bad, for an ingénue," said Louise, thoughtfully. "But I do not agree with you, Mademoiselle, that he would not admire these lovely things. He might not know, but he would admire all the same."

"Possibly," I said, with patience. I was not greatly interested in Theobald's point of view. I might have altered in my cousin's eyes; but he had hardly altered to me from the boy with whom I went climbing and skating in the old days. I could not imagine myself having any sentimentality about Theobald.

"Mademoiselle is too sensible for her years," said Louise; and I was conscious of a subtle disparagement in the speech.

"I am not sensible at all, Louise," I answered, with some indigna

tion. "I am not sensible where grandpapa is concerned, nor grandmamma, I tremble if grandpapa is a little later on a hunting day than we expect him, or on Wednesday when the petty sessions are on at Quinn. I am terrified about grandmamma if her finger aches; and I lie awake at night imagining all the terrible things that could befall them."

"Ah, that is affectionateness. I never said you were not affectionate, Mademoiselle."

But there was some meaning in Louise's accusation, although she would say no more, pretending that she was always one to let her tongue run away with her. Louise had been with Miss Champion these twenty years, and was a privileged person as old servants are amongst us.

When she had finished I went to look for my godmother, and found her with Miss Standish, bathing her forehead with eau-de-Cologne.

"Poor little Bawn," she said, "you look tired. Louise has kept you standing too long. Once set Louise to fitting clothes and she forgets everything. Could you not sit down here and rest a while before starting for home?"

"Yes, why not sit with me for a while?" Miss Standish put in eagerly. "I always find your voice restful, Bawn."

But I would not stay. I had promised my grandmother to be home by half-past six at latest, and I was not going to have her fretting about my absence. It was six o'clock now and the shadows were growing longer; the coolness of evening was coming. The birds were singing their even-song. As I went down the marble steps in the grassy terraces from the house I saw the peacock and his lady already at roost in a low tree, although the darkness would not come for some hours yet, and indeed would be then only a green twilight.

There was never anything to be afraid of on our roads. Our valley was in such a quiet isolation, so far away from the main roads, that even a tramp or an importunate beggar were not to be feared. The labourers going home from the fields touched their caps with a friendly "God save you kindly, Miss Bawn." The children by the cottage doors smiled at me shyly. Even the dogs knew me. It was the road I had taken to the Creamery and back every day; and I had been familiar with it from my childhood.

The sun was yet so hot on the exposed road that Dido and I were glad to get within the shelter of Daly's Wood. Though the sun poured upon the wood it was cool within it and steeped in a golden haze. The pale stems of the springing trees looked like so many great candles in a golden house; there was a sweet sound of falling waters, for a little mountain stream ran through the wood, and in its neighbourhood the air was damp and deliciously sweet. Where the water tumbled over broken boulders and formed a little pool Dido stood to drink, and I stood, too, a minute listening to the bird-songs of which the wood was full.

When we had turned round and gone on our way I observed that there was some one sitting on the stile which led out on the road nearly opposite the postern gate in our park wall and supposed it to be some one resting there who would rise up to let me pass.

I could not imagine myself being afraid of these quiet places, where, no matter what happened elsewhere, the people were always friendly and respectful. But as I came close up to the man who sat on the stile and who had not turned his head at the sound of my foot on the path, all of a sudden I became filled with a nameless terror.

The wide shoulders, the rather massive head with the closely curling red hair; I seemed to recognize them all at once for Richard Dawson's, and I was as frightened as ever was a hare of the dogs; nay, more frightened, for the hare has at least her speed. My feet seemed clogged by leaden weights as they might be in the terror of a dream. Then the man turned about with a smile which showed all his white teeth and I was sick with fear.

"It is the third day I have been waiting for you, you pretty creature," he said. "I am going to lift you over the stile, and then you shall give me a kiss for it."

He flung his arms about me and I closed my eyes while I tried to push him away. I felt his breath on my face, and my loathing of him was so great that it made me physically incapable of resistance. I uttered one cry, but I felt that there was no body of sound in it to carry it even if anybody had been near. But suddenly I heard a furious growl, and I felt myself released.

"Damn the brute! She has bitten me," he said furiously.

And there he was with the blood running down his hand, while my brave old dog stood by ready to defend me against all the world.

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