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   Chapter 11 THE FRIEND

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 7891

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


He was tall and slim, and had an elegance of air which really does not seem to belong to our age. His face was bronzed and his eyes were of so dark a grey-I know since that they are grey-that I thought them black that evening in the shadow of the woods.

He had a little black moustache, and, in odd contrast to it and his look of youth, his hair was quite white. It was perhaps that which gave him his air of elegance. He was really like a powdered gallant of the last century rather than a gentleman of this. But his speech was of this, and very Irish as well.

"I am so glad I was able to assist you," he said. "There, good dog, good dog!" to Dido, who was fawning upon him. "Let me see! She goes a little lame, but there is no harm done. She will be quite well in a day or two. And this shall do no further damage."

I suppose it was no great thing, seeing that the trap was old and rusty, but it seemed to me a great feat of strength when his long fingers tore it apart and flung the two halves into the bushes.

"They are murderous things," he said. "Every man who laid one should himself be caught in it."

"I am grateful to you for ever," I said. "What would I have done if you had not been at hand? I could not leave Dido. If I had she would have broken her leg in the effort to escape. And try as I would, I could not force the trap apart."

"To be sure not," he said, glancing at my hands; "and I'm very glad I came by. By the way, I was trespassing, I'm afraid. If Lord St. Leger or any of his family had come upon me I should have been ordered out of the woods."

"Oh no," I said, with some indignation. "That you would not have been. I am Bawn Devereux, Lord St. Leger's granddaughter. We are not so churlish."

He lifted his hat again.

"Lord St. Leger's popularity is well known," he said. "It has always been a friendly and generous race. Yet I think I should have been turned out of the woods."

"Do not say so," I implored him, in a passion of vexation. "My grandfather would love you because of what you have done for the dog. He is devoted to dumb animals. In any case, he would not have objected to a gentleman walking in his woods. That the postern gate is left open is a proof that people come and go as they will."

"That may be," he said. "The St. Legers have always been at peace with their fellow-men, yet I would not be caught a trespasser."

There was a sudden darkness by which I conjectured that the sun had sunk below the horizon.

"I must be going," I said in a great hurry. "They will be anxious about me at home. For the rest, I give you the freedom of the woods. Come and go when you will. You are welcome to Aghadoe."

His face lit up.

"Faith, it's pleasant to a homeless man like myself to be assured of a welcome," he said. "And now, Miss Bawn, let me see you to the confines of the wood, within sight of the Abbey. Out on the hills and plains it is yet day, but in the woods night comes early, to give a chance perhaps to the birds who have been awake since cock-crow."

I crept out of the glade as I had entered it and he followed me. When we both stood upright in the wood-path we laughed together.

"I believe I knew the place of old," he said, "when I was a little urchin. Sure there's no place like home, after all."

I had been wondering who he might be, and had fancied he was a visitor at one of the houses of the neighbourhood, perhaps at the Ardaraghs', but his speech showed me that he must belong to the county.

"My grandfather would like to thank you," I said, as we walked along the wood-path, where I was glad of his company. Now that the shades closed in, and with the postern gate open, how could I tell that Richard Dawson might not lie in wait for me? He had thought me a peasant girl, the wretch, and offered me money for my kisses. The wave of resentment and disgust in my mind swelled to the full. This gentleman who walked beside me had known

me for a lady despite my print frock. I was furious for the moment with Lady Ardaragh and the others who would admit such people as the Dawsons to their drawing-rooms, and I was proud to think that Aghadoe Abbey shut its doors against mere money. There were few things we thought less of than money at Aghadoe.

"Lord St. Leger would like to thank you," I said. "Will you not come in and see him?"

"Why, no," he answered, "although I am loth to say no to so gracious an invitation. Believe me, I am not insensible of the graciousness that prompts it. Ah, here we are in sight of the Abbey. I shall stand and watch till I see you safe within its doors."

While we were yet in the obscurity of the wood he lifted my hand to his lips.

"I am eternally grateful to the good fortune that gave me the chance of serving you," he said.

"I wish you would come and be thanked," I answered in a low voice. I had the oddest reluctance to leave him, with no prospect of ever seeing him again.

"Who knows but we may meet again?" he answered, yet did not offer to tell his name, and I felt shy of asking it.

I turned back on the doorstep when I had come to it, and saw across the lawn and shrubbery his shadowy shape standing at the edge of the wood. I waved my hand to him and he lifted his hat. The sun looked out for the last time from under a purple cloud and I saw him plainly. While I gazed towards him the darkness came again and I lost him; and there was Neil Doherty, our butler, opening the door to me and upbraiding me as he had done when I was a small child.

"Musha, where have you been stravaigin' to, Miss Bawn? and her Ladyship in and out like a dog at a fair, axin', 'Is Miss Bawn in yet, Neil?' His Lordship doesn't know, glory be, or maybe 'tis havin' a bad attack of the gout he'd be. If I was you, Miss Bawn, I'd give up the Creamery, so I would, or lave it to the commonalty! Sure 'twould be fitter for the like o' you to be sittin' at home in the drawing-room, playin' the piano-forty. Yes, your Ladyship, here she is at last. I was just tellin' her that your Ladyship was like a hen on a hot griddle waitin' for her."

"Dear child, you are late," my grandmother said, breaking in on Neil's eloquence, which indeed generally had to be interrupted, for once Neil started there was no knowing when he would leave off.

"It was Dido," I said, telling half the truth. Not for worlds could I have told my grandmother of how Richard Dawson had insulted me. "It was Dido, who caught her foot in a trap. It was an old rusty trap. I do not know how long it can have been there. But it held Dido fast, and she would not let me leave her. I should have been there still if it had not been for the timely help of a gentleman who was passing through the wood and heard her yelping. She made enough noise to wake the dead."

"Ah, poor Dido!"

My grandmother's attention was diverted to the dog, who was especially dear to her for Uncle Luke's sake. She sat down now in the great hooded chair which was supposed to belong to Neil Doherty, only that he did so many things in the house that he never had much time for sitting in state in the hall. She took Dido's paws in her lap and began anxiously to examine them for any injury, while the dog moaned with self-pity.

"I don't think she has any hurt," I assured her. "The trap did not altogether meet on her paw, although it held her a prisoner."

Neil Doherty looked on with an interested face.

"Twould be a kindness to the poor baste," he said, "to drown her, not to be keepin' her alive. Sure, what has she to live for?"

My grandmother looked up at him with a sudden illumination of her face.

"Who knows, Neil," she said, "but Dido may have something to live for yet? And that the thing others of us are living for?"

"Ah, sure you're right, your Ladyship," Neil returned. "Sure God send it! Wouldn't we be all young again if that was to happen?"

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