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   Chapter 15 THE EMPTY HOUSE

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8751

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


We had rooms on the sunny side of St. Stephen's Green, not far from the Shelbourne Hotel and the Clubs, and, what interested me more, the Grafton Street shops. I was nineteen years old, and I had never seen any shops but those of Quinn, our country town, and these very seldom; so it may be imagined what wonderful places the Dublin shops appeared to me, although my godmother assured me they were not a patch on those of London and Paris. In fact, the town seemed quite strange and wonderful altogether, with the people hurrying hither and thither and the traffic in the streets and the fine stir of life. I thought I never could be tired of it all; and I was quite sure I should never be tired of the shops.

My godmother was well pleased at my delight, while she laughed at me, assuring me that Dublin was a dead city as compared with others.

"It is a Sleeping Beauty which wakes once a year," she said, "and that is in Horse-Show Week. Time was when I came up every year for the show. Now I think I shall revive the custom for your sake, Bawn. We can bespeak these rooms if they are not already bespoken. I assure you, in Horse-Show Week, Bawn, people are glad to sleep anywhere. Even the bathrooms of houses and hotels are turned into bedrooms."

"I could not imagine a greater crowd than this," said I, for which she laughed at me, again calling me a country mouse.

Although the Castle season was over there was still a good deal going on, dinners and dances and many outdoor amusements, such as races and regattas and flower-shows, to many of which we went. And it was only when I saw how she enjoyed it all and how glad her old friends were to see her that I realized what a dull life she spent with us, always looking after that selfish invalid, her cousin, when she was not with old people like Lord and Lady St. Leger.

Also I realized, when I saw her in her fine gowns, what a stately, handsome woman she was still, and with an air of youth, although she had put away the things of youth from her.

Indeed, after the first, our lives seemed to me a whirl of gaiety, and although I went to no big balls, not having been presented, there were a good many young girls' dances and garden-parties and such things open to me, all of which I enjoyed greatly.

But one day, as it happened, my godmother was not very well, and our engagement for the afternoon had to be abandoned.

I remembered then that half our visit was over and I had not yet been to see Bridget Kelly, Maureen's sister, nor our old house which was in a sad and forsaken part of the city that hitherto we had not visited. I had had a great desire to see the old house all the time, but we had so many engagements. Now, when my godmother wanted sleep and darkness but was loth to leave me alone seemed to me an excellent moment.

"I shall go and see Bridget Kelly," I said, "while you rest. And when I come back you will be better."

"Not alone, Bawn?"

"You seem to forget I am twenty."

"But-a country mouse-and other things. I went about freely when I was your age, though the time was far more strict. But I could not let you walk about the city alone, child. Your grandmother would have a fit if she heard of such a thing."

At last I prevailed on her to let me go, on the understanding that I should take a cab which should wait to bring me back. I had a thousand times rather have had one of the outside cars, but I knew she would not hear of it unless she was with me, so I resigned myself to the stuffiness and rattling of a Dublin cab.

We crossed the city and climbed a steep hill and came presently to a region of darkness and desolation as it seemed to me, in which the houses were intolerably dreary-high, black houses that shut out the sky, fallen on evil days, since they were all sooty and grimy, with windows which had not been cleaned for years, many of them broken, and twisted and rusty railings guarding the areas.

I shuddered at the thought of the people who lived in such places.

I could see that they had once been places of consideration but now they were slums. Here and there a mean shop stood out, or the old house had been turned into a pawn office, or a builder's or baker's. Dirty children sat on the pavements or played in the gutters, while their dirty mothers gossiped in groups; and the men lounged to and from the public-houses, w

hich were, indeed, the only bright spots in those dreadful streets.

I was relieved, when at last the cab stopped, that I had come to the end of my journey.

The last street down which we had driven was drearier than the rest, in a sense, but more respectable. There were wire blinds to all the lower windows, and there was no sign of life in the short street from end to end.

Our house crossed the end of the street, which was in a way an approach to it. It stood within stone walls, and was a great square building with wings thrown out, the style of it the pseudo-classical which was so much in favour in Ireland in the eighteenth century.

There was a great gate in the middle of the long wall; at one side of it a postern, which I pushed and found to be open. Bidding the driver wait for me I passed within.

I went up a flight of steps, under Ionic pillars, to the double hall door. I found that that, too, stood open, and I went into the hall, which was very dark despite the June sunshine without. It was an imposing hall paved with black and white marble, and the stairs ascending from it were of the same material. I was struck by the beautiful stucco work of the walls and ceiling. But dust and grime lay on everything and the air of the place struck cold.

I went back to the hall door and rang the bell, which echoed somewhere down in the lower regions of the house; but there was not a sound except that.

I rang again, and still no result, and the influence of the shut-up and abandoned house with all its shadows and memories began to chill me. I set the hall door open wide, and then I found the door at the back of the hall that led to the servants' quarters and opened that.

A rush of cold, damp air came up in my face with a mouldering smell.

"Bridget Kelly!" I called. "Bridget Kelly!"

The sound echoed as though through many vaults of stone and there was no answer.

The place and the silence began to get on my nerves. I remembered its forty-six rooms, all shut up and the furniture swathed in holland where the rooms were not empty. I have always had a dread of an empty house, and now it seized upon me. I could have run away out into the sunshine to the cabman whom I had left feeding his horse. When I had looked back before entering he and his horse had been the only living things in the black street.

But I would not run away. It would be a pretty thing to go home to my grandmother and tell her that I was afraid of the house because I could not make Bridget Kelly hear me and had run away in the full sunshine of a June day.

Probably Bridget was upstairs in some one of the forty-six rooms.

From the hall itself four doors of very fine wine-red mahogany opened. I looked into one after the other. They were reception-rooms of great size, so far as I could judge; but the sun was the other side of the house, and only an eastern light came in through the chinks of the window shutters. The rooms were full of sheeted shapes in the dimness. I don't think I could have brought myself to go into them. I know I closed each door with a hasty bang, as though it had been a Blue Beard's Chamber.

As I went upstairs my heels made a great noise on the marble steps. At the head of the stairs I came upon a door which had once been of red baize, although now the baize was in tatters. Beyond it was a long corridor, shuttered like the rest of the house.

I left the baize door open behind me while I peeped fearfully into one room after another whose doors led off from the corridor. These were bedrooms, and it was worse than downstairs. I could see the great four-posters glimmering in the darkness. The smell of mildew was everywhere.

Suddenly my courage gave out. I had an idea. Supposing that Bridget Kelly was lying dead in one of these rooms or the great stone kitchens below!

I turned about hastily, dreading what lay behind me. I would come another time with my godmother. How could one tell who was skulking in the house? The door had been open when I came to it.

And then-I heard the hall door shut with a great bang. There was no wind to shut it. It was the last straw. I fled precipitately through the baize door and on to the staircase, which was lit by a skylight overhead. Even though I met the person who had shut the door I must make towards the sunlight and the world outside.

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