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   Chapter 13 ENLIGHTENMENT

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 9078

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The man I had seen was Richard Dawson, and I had not even known that Lady Ardaragh knew him, although I had suspected that she would know him in time. And here he was on terms of such easy intimacy as the scene I had come upon implied. I had been fond of Sybil Ardaragh, but for the moment I felt cold and angry towards her. It was a degradation that she should be friends, should flirt, with a man like Richard Dawson. What was she thinking of, the mother of Robin, the wife of Sir Arthur Ardaragh, who was a person of great wisdom and dignity, with a fame beyond our quiet circles? It was not worthy of her.

We went on and called at Rosebower, the little house of the two Miss Chenevixes, elderly ladies who had been great beauties in their youth. I used to think they were beauties still, with their fine, delicate features and skin no more withered than a rose of yesterday.

Miss Bride was classical, like a Muse, with her dark silky hair just streaked with grey, looped away behind her ears; while Miss Henrietta, the younger, had ringlets and large eyes and a languishing air.

It was enough for them to hear that I was going to Dublin for there to be quite a commotion. The one little maid brought in the tea, which Miss Bride poured out of a china pot into little teacups which were all of different colours, although of the same design. The tea was fragrant and strong, with thick cream in it; and when I begged for a little water to be added the two sisters broke out in protestations. That would be a real slur on their hospitality, and, seeing how they took it to heart, I was obliged to set my own liking aside and drink the tea as it was.

There were slices of thin bread and butter and sandwiches and toast under a silver cover, all of which I could have eaten myself, for I had an excellent appetite. But I denied myself again, and was rewarded by hearing Miss Henrietta declare, on her second scrap of bread and butter, that she had a most indelicate appetite, and she hoped her dear young friend, meaning me, would not be shocked at her.

I could always spend an hour or two happily in the little low-browed cottage drawing-room, with even the strong May light coming in greenly, having been filtered through the new leaves. It was a room that always pleased my imagination, for it was so full of bits of china and pictures, of old silver and ivory curios and nicknacks, that you could spend a day looking at them. On the low walls were several portraits of pretty ladies, to whom the Misses Chenevix bore the strongest resemblance. Because there had been rain earlier in the day there was a fire in the grate and the firelight sparkled prettily on the glass of the pictures, on the china and silver, and in the brooches and rings of the ladies.

A half-glass door led from the drawing-room into an old-fashioned garden which was now nearing the last of its bloom, and presently would show a most wonderful profusion of fruit; giant strawberries, currants like strings of carbuncles and rubies, raspberries larger and juicier than mulberries, with a great quantity of apples and pears and plums and apricots to follow.

The sun had come out after the rain, and I could see from where I sat the garden sparkling; and the box borders smelt very sweet.

Both the ladies were eager to know what clothes I was to have and to learn what friends I was going to see and what festivities I should attend; and Miss Bride took care to impress upon me that my visit was to be paid at a hopelessly unfashionable time of year.

"There'll be nothing doing at the Castle," she said. "I wouldn't be bothered going to Dublin unless I was to dine at the Castle."

"I dare say Bawn will find plenty of other entertainment, sister, even though she does not visit at the Castle," Miss Henrietta put in; she was always the conciliatory one. "There will be plenty of people in Dublin," she went on, "who will be very glad to see Bawn-old friends of Lady St. Leger and of Mary Champion."

"Did I say it was quite empty?" Miss Bride asked, with some asperity. "To be sure, there are always people. But she'll miss the best of it. She ought to be there for the Patrick's Ball and the command nights at the theatre. The last time I was at the Theatre Royal I was in the Viceregal box. She was a sweet, pretty creature, and His Excellency had a beautifully turned leg. We drove to Punchestown with them the following day. I remember the hundreds and hundreds of jaunting-cars tearing like mad along the road. To be sure we had

outriders, but it was nearly as much as your life was worth, and coming out at the Gap afterwards we had a horse's hind legs in our carriage, and every one screaming like mad, and the dust fit to choke you. Even motors couldn't rival that."

She spoke with an air of grave exhilaration. They knew everybody and everything that was fine and gay in the social life of their day. Perhaps they would know about my fine gentleman. I only hesitated to ask because in her latter years Miss Bride had adopted a manner of hostility towards the male sex generally, and was apt to snap at any one who showed an interest in it even of the slightest. However, I screwed up my courage.

"Miss Chenevix," I began, "I met a gentleman the other day in our wood and I wondered who he might be. I can't imagine where he was staying. And I thought I would ask you if you knew who he was."

"We could do very well without men," Miss Bride said sharply. "In fact, the world could have got on very well without them. There is nothing a man can do that a woman can not do better. What was your gentleman like, Bawn?"

Despite her hostility to the male sex Miss Bride was very curious.

"He was very slim and elegant," I began-"not very young."

"Now what do you mean by not very young, Bawn? Be precise in your statements," Miss Bride said, with some asperity.

"I should say he was quite forty," I said, blushing, and wishing I had not mentioned the matter of age.

"Fiddlesticks, child! Forty is young. And so you met this young gentleman in the wood. And what happened?"

"He took Dido's paw out of a trap. He was very kind about it," I returned, conscious of Miss Bride's severe eye.

"There was no philandering, child, now was there? You're not long out of short frocks. I can't imagine how the young gentleman came to be in your woods. You'd better forget all about him, but first tell me what he was like and all that happened."

"Bride! The poor child!" said Miss Henrietta, compassionately.

"There was no philandering," I said composedly. I am used to Miss Chenevix's ways. "How could there be? He rendered me such a service as any gentleman might have done, and went on his way. It was only seeing that we have so few strangers-"

"He might be staying at Damerstown. They have a houseful."

"I am sure he was not."

"Hoity-toity! how can you know if you know nothing about him? Tell me again what he was like. I know every one who goes in and out of every house in the county except Damerstown, and there are too many of them for me, besides which old Dawson ruined my uncle Hercules. Was he tall? You say he was tall."

"Tall and slight."

"Regular features?"

"A straight nose; his face clean shaven except for a small dark moustache; a good deal of colour in his face and great vivacity."

"And his eyes? There, you needn't tell me. I ought to know. The eyes are grey with dark lashes. You might take them for black. It is Anthony Cardew to the life."

"Snow-white hair," I added.

"Snow-white hair," Miss Bride repeated. "No, no. It can't be Anthony Cardew, unless there are white blackbirds. Hair black as jet."

"Perhaps Captain Cardew may have become white, sister," Miss Henrietta put in humbly.

"White! What would make him white?" Miss Bride asked angrily. "He can't be forty. I remember him the very day his sister was run away with-"

She pulled herself up suddenly, and turned to me with an air of great kindness.

"'Tis my tongue is running away with me," she said. "Excuse me, Bawn, my dear. Your stranger sounds like Anthony Cardew, but I don't see that it can be he. He was raven-black. Better think no more of him. I wouldn't waste a thought on any man. I wonder why the Lord made them."

I had stood up to go. I think I had known all the time that my fine gentleman and Anthony Cardew were one and the same, had understood all the time why he was so certain that his presence in our woods would be unwelcome to my grandparents.

"You never know where he might be, Anthony Cardew," Miss Bride went on, holding my hand. "One day at one end of Europe, the next at the other. Don't think of him, child. He is better worth thinking of than most men, but none of them are worth it. Good-bye, Bawn; be sure and write us word of all your fine doings."

Miss Henrietta came with me to the phaeton to whisper in my ear that I was not to mind her sister's odd views about gentlemen, because poor Bride lived in perpetual fear that she, Miss Henrietta, might marry and leave her.

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