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   Chapter 21 THE NEW MAID

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8344

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I went away to that glade in the wood of happy memories to think things out, and dropped down there amid the flowers of which it was full, with my eyes fixed on the wood-anemones and violets without seeing them.

Troubles were coming, indeed, so thick and fast that my mind was in a confusion. I did not know whether to tell my godmother or not what I had overheard. She had a straight way of going to the root of things. Supposing that she did as she had threatened, and went to Dawson himself for the truth, might she not exasperate him into making public the thing which had so much power to frighten Lord and Lady St. Leger? I had gathered that there was disgrace hanging over us, disgrace, and homelessness for Theobald and me. Aghadoe Abbey was dear to us as flesh and blood. Was it possible that it could pass away from us into the possession of the Dawsons? Why, I would a thousand times rather that fire had it and that it should be consumed to ashes.

It should have been a small thing by comparison that my grandfather had said I was to go to the Dawsons' dinner-party, but I had so violent an aversion to going that the matter really bulked large in the list of troubles. I should not mind so much if Richard Dawson were not present, and of course it might be that already he had found us too dull and had gone away on his wanderings.

But this little hope of mine was destined very soon to be extinguished.

I have not said that old Dido was with me, but, since she was my constant companion this was to be expected. She had followed me to the glade, and was lying with her head on the end of my skirt, at peace, since she was with me. Away from me or my grandmother or Miss Champion she would whimper and shiver like a lonely old ghost in a world of living things.

Suddenly as I sat there, thinking, she crept close to me with a low growl. I had not heard a sound except the songs of the birds and the stir of the south wind in the leaves that was like the placid flowing of waters. I put my hand on her head and she bristled under my hand, but she was quiet. She would always be quiet with my hand upon her head.

I wondered if it were a wild cat or a weazel or a stoat that had so excited her. But I was not long in suspense. There came a murmur of voices and a man's laugh. Then there were footsteps. I had a vague alarm. Who could it be that walked in our woods and set Dido bristling? She was a gentle creature and knew her friends; and the people about were all kind and friendly to "Master Luke's" old dog.

I threw a fold of my skirt over her head to keep her from hearing, and, with my hand on her collar, I moved as close as I could to the leafy screen that separated the glade from the wood-path.

There was a couple coming up the path; presently they were in my view, and I saw to my grief and amazement that the man was Richard Dawson-I had known it, indeed, from the first-and the girl who walked with him was Nora Brady, the pretty little girl who had interested me at Araglin Creamery. Richard Dawson walked with his arm about her. She was looking up at him as though she adored him. Just as they passed he bent his head and kissed her and again I heard him laugh. The laugh made me hate him, if possible, more than ever.

I guessed that they had come in by the postern gate and would return that way, and I did not dare to stir till they had come back again. They did not, however, take so long. They came back again very soon, whispering as they had gone; and as soon as I judged it safe I left the glade and hurried home as fast as ever I could resolving to have the postern gate bolted so that Richard Dawson should not dare to come into our woods, and resolving also to see and speak with Nora Brady as soon as ever I had a chance. Perhaps, indeed, she would not listen to me, but I could only do my best.

As it happened, my opportunity came sooner than I had expected; for it was only next day that I met her coming with a basket of eggs to the Abbey.

She dropped me a curtsey and would have passed on, but I stopped her. We were all alone in the wide avenue, as much alone to all intents and purposes as we cou

ld have been anywhere. I went straight to the point, feeling the painfulness of having to speak and doing it as directly as possible.

"Nora," I said, "I am only a girl like yourself, so don't be frightened of me. I always thought you a good girl, Nora, but I saw you walking yesterday in the wood with Mr. Dawson of Damerstown, and you were like lovers, and that ought not to be so unless you are going to marry him."

"Oh, Miss Bawn!"

Poor Nora's face was covered with confusion, and I am sure I blushed as hotly as she did, yet I was conscious of a cold, shrinking feeling from this courtship between her and Richard Dawson which I was sure could lead to no good.

"It isn't right, Nora," I said.

"God help me! I know that, Miss Bawn," she said, looking at me with frightened eyes. "I've tried to give it up; I've tried to resist him, but I can't. There's something stronger than myself that drives me to him. I love him, Miss Bawn, so I do; and I can't help it that he's a rich gentleman and I'm only a poor girl. If you ever loved any one yourself, Miss Bawn, you'd know."

"I do know, Nora," I said. I knew that if Anthony Cardew lifted his finger to me I would follow him over the world. "I do know. But it can only end in misery, unless Mr. Dawson were willing to marry you."

"He has never said a word about marriage. But you mustn't think he's bad, Miss Bawn. 'Tis my own fault, for I love him so much, and he can't help seeing it. But he's never said a word he mightn't say to a lady. There's the kissing--"

"Yes, there's the kissing. It oughtn't to be, Nora." As I said it I felt what a poor hypocrite I was, for I could never have resisted Anthony Cardew if he had wished to kiss me, never, never, no matter what trouble or misery it involved. "You ought to go away, Nora, out of the reach of temptation. There is no one dependent on you; no one for whose sake you need dread to go. The only thing would be to go away."

"I've thought of it, Miss Bawn, but sure, if he wanted me I'd only have to come back."

There was something in her voice that frightened me; it sounded so hopeless, so without any capacity for resistance.

"My aunt is own maid to Lady Garmoy," she went on. "She could get me a place in her ladyship's household, under herself. I might go, but, Miss Bawn, I'd never know the day nor the hour he mightn't draw me back to him. All the same, you mustn't think me a bad girl, Miss Bawn. It isn't right for him or for me; sure, I know it isn't. I can't say my prayers as I used to. But if I went among strangers I couldn't tell the day or the hour it 'ud be too much for me, and I'd be stealing out of the house and taking the train back. It isn't as if there was some one I could tell, some one that would hold me, that I could run to when the fit was on me."

"Nora," I said, with a sudden thought, "how would it be if you were to come to me? My grandmother will let me have a maid of my own when I want one. Come to me, and Bridget Connor will teach you your duties, and you will have the little room off mine to sit and sew in. You need never go outside the Abbey gates if you do not care to. The place is big enough to walk about in. And if you are hard pressed you can run to me, Nora. You will feel that I am just a girl like yourself, and will not be afraid. And I shall hold your hands till the danger is past."

"May the Lord reward you, Miss Bawn!"

"Then I may speak to Lady St. Leger?"

"I shall love to be with you, Miss Bawn. Sure, there isn't anything I wouldn't do for you. He'll never know where I am, no more than if I'd slipped off to my aunt at Lady Garmoy's. I need never be leaving the Abbey unless to go to Mass on a Sunday, and he'll never know anything about that. 'Tis for his sake as much as my own. 'Tisn't right that he should be making love to a poor girl."

I stooped down and kissed Nora on the cheek. It seemed incredible that Richard Dawson should have filled Nora's innocent heart with much the same feeling that I had for Anthony Cardew, but I said nothing. Who is to answer for such things?

"I will come back with you now and speak to Lady St. Leger," I said.

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