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   Chapter 22 THE DINNER-PARTY

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 6996

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The day following that Nora became an inmate of Aghadoe. She had no relative nearer than an uncle, who had a houseful of children of his own, so that Nora's absence must be a relief in a manner of speaking; and my grandmother never refused me anything in reason. Nora was modest and dainty in her ways, and having been brought up by the nuns she was an excellent needlewoman, so that she had so much equipment for the post of my maid.

The day came round on which we were to dine at Damerstown. I had not meant to tell Nora that we were going there, but she discovered it from something my grandmother said when she came to my room, and I noticed that she sat with tightly compressed lips over her sewing that afternoon.

She had put out my dress for me by my orders. I had chosen the least becoming garment in my wardrobe, a black grenadine, very simply made, which belonged to my schoolgirl days. It was high to the neck and had elbow sleeves, and the cut was old-fashioned. I wished to look my worst at Damerstown, although I was forced to go there by my grandfather's will.

It was nearly time for me to dress when my grandmother came into the little room, where I was sitting watching Nora as she sewed a little tucker of old lace into the neck of the garment.

"What are you going to wear, Bawn?" she asked.

"This." I indicated the grenadine.

"It will never do, Bawn," my grandmother said, shaking her head. "We are to do honour to our hosts. I am wearing my moiré and my diamonds. If you were to appear in this your grandfather would send you back to change."

"I should have thought it good enough for the Dawsons," I said, with a little heat; and then I remembered Nora's presence, and also that my grandparents were frightened of the Dawsons and anxious to propitiate them, and I was sorry.

"What would you like me to wear, Gran?" I asked.

"Your white silk with the Limerick lace."

"Why, I shall be like a bride," I said aghast, for the white silk was one of my godmother's gifts to me, and the finest gown I possessed. When she had given it to me she had said that I should dance in it at a Castle ball.

"Never mind," my grandmother said. "Your grandfather wishes it, child. And you are to wear the pearls. I am going to send Bridget Connor to dress your hair. Nora can do the rest." She turned to smile kindly at Nora. "See you look your best, child. It is your grandfather's will."

Bridget Connor piled my hair in soft, cloudy masses on the top of my head. In and out through the coils she wound a string of my grandmother's pearls. Then she went away, and Nora took her place and helped to dress me.

The white silk had lain by for many a year and was somewhat yellowed, but the richer for that. Louise in adapting it had altered its character but little. It was short in the waist and somewhat narrowly cut, straight and demure all round till it ended in a little train at the back. It was almost swathed in the most beautiful old Limerick lace, through which the rich ivory tints of the silk showed. My grandmother's pearls went three times round my neck before they fell loosely on my bodice.

When I looked at my reflection in the long mirror I confess my splendour rather dazzled me. If only it had been for Anthony Cardew's eyes! But I hated that I should appear so fine to do honour to the Dawsons, and I dreaded more than ever meeting Richard Dawson's insolent gaze.

I wondered how he would take it when he saw me and recognized me for th

e peasant girl he had insulted. Would he be abashed, confused? I thought he must be; and the one pleasant thing in what was going to befall me was that I should see his discomfiture.

"Miss Bawn, you look as if you'd just come out of heaven," Nora said fervently, as she watched me drawing on my lace mittens.

"I don't feel like it, Nora," I replied, "nor as if I were going there either."

At the last moment something of my grandmother's could not be found, so that we were delayed and arrived at Damerstown on the stroke of eight.

My neighbour at the dinner-table told me afterwards that Mr. Dawson had fidgeted over our late arrival. I thought I could see it in the look of relief with which he came to meet us, and the evident flurry of poor Mrs. Dawson, who was looking fatter than ever in a very tight-fitting, plum-coloured satin, and hotter than ever, despite the incessant waving of her fan.

The long, splendid drawing-room was full of very gaily-dressed ladies, much bejewelled, and many men whose looks did not prepossess me. When I had sat down, under cover of my grandmother, in a chair a little retired behind hers, I looked about me with some dread, and I was glad to recognize the friendly face of Sir Arthur Ardaragh, who came up to us with a cordial greeting. He did not look at all at home among the Dawsons' friends, and I wondered how Lady Ardaragh had persuaded him to come.

For a moment I did not see Lady Ardaragh anywhere, but presently her uplifted voice told me where she was, and looking down I caught a glimpse of her pretty shoulders showing rosily out of a pale green frock. She was talking to some one; I could not see who it was for the moment.

I had not yet seen Richard Dawson; and as my eye went from one to the other of the gentlemen without seeing him, I began to be almost hopeful that he was not there.

Sir Arthur Ardaragh was talking to my grandmother and to Mrs. Dawson, who plainly was too much absorbed by the anxieties of the occasion to hear much of what he was saying. She kept looking with an air of trepidation at her husband who was being effusively polite to my grandfather.

There were only ourselves and the Ardaraghs present of the county-people. The other guests were staying at Damerstown or had come from a distance; they were very fashionable, but I did not like the very low dresses and the loud talk of the ladies, nor the tired, cynical-looking men. Every one of the men, old and young, wore the same expression. I have seen its like since at a foreign Casino, where I watched the baccarat.

The groups broke up as dinner was announced. Mr. Dawson gave his arm to my grandmother. I waited, wondering who might fall to my lot. Then from the group which had been about Lady Ardaragh's chair came-Richard Dawson. He had an air as though he came but half willingly.

Mrs. Dawson, who was going in with my grandfather, turned to me in a great flurry.

"My son will have the honour to take you in, Miss Devereux," she said. The words sounded as though they had been learnt off by heart.

Then Richard Dawson looked at me; and I saw the stupefaction in his eyes. I looked back at him, a direct glance of hatred, as I put my finger-tips gingerly on his sleeve.

"So!" he said in a whisper-"so! What a trick for Fate to play me! And I have been wondering where on earth you had disappeared to. Can you ever forgive me?"

"Never!" I answered, as I went down the marble staircase side by side with him.

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