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   Chapter 23 THE BARGAIN

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8713

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


The memory of that long, dragging, magnificent meal is like a nightmare to me. I loathed it all, the vulgar display of gold plate-I heard afterwards who it was that Garret Dawson had cheated out of it-the number of men-servants, the exotic flowers that made the room sickly, the fruits out of their season.

We are simple people and not accustomed to such banquets; but I was surprised to see how greedy some of the ladies were over the turtle soup, the ortolans and truffles, all the fine things which must have been brought from far off for the dinner. There was an incessant popping of champagne corks, and I wondered at the frequent refilling of the glasses. I did not drink wine-my grandmother did not consider it becoming in a girl-and it seemed the hardest thing in the world to procure a glass of water, judging by the delay in bringing it when I asked for it.

Lady Ardaragh sat nearly opposite to us. I noticed that she was very flushed and her eyes bright, and that she chattered and laughed a great deal.

I had made up my mind that I would not speak to Richard Dawson, although I was forced to sit by him, and that was a contact which I found most detestable. But he would talk to me and sit close to me, and once when I had turned away from him and addressed Sir Arthur Ardaragh, who was on the other side of me, I caught my grandmother's eye on me with a look of appeal.

I wished my godmother had been there. She had been invited to the dinner, but she would not go nor consent to be civil to the Dawsons. Nor would she believe that there was anything about Uncle Luke which might not come into the light of day.

"And if there could be," she said proudly, "I would rather it was told than go in terror of the Dawsons. I had as lief trust the world as them any day."

After that glance of my grandmother I did not turn away again from Richard Dawson, much as I detested his closeness and his breath upon my cheek. I thought the dinner would never be over. As it went on I could not but feel that he was making himself and me conspicuous. He drank a good deal of wine, and the more he drank the more he leant to me and tried to look into my eyes, so that I felt thoroughly sick and ashamed. I could have pushed him away with both hands, but that was not possible in the publicity of a dinner-table. He whispered in my ear, he leant to me, he behaved as an infatuated lover, and presently it seemed to me that my fellow-guests smiled here and there and looked significant. Lady Ardaragh talked more than ever to the blasé-looking young lord who was her neighbour and her colour was heightened. Her witticisms came to me across the table, or a portion of them, and I thought she was saying wild, unbecoming things. I was sure I saw Sir Arthur wince when I turned to him. But it was all too much of a nightmare to myself to be greatly concerned about the feelings of others, even those I liked very much.

At last the welcome signal was given for the ladies to leave the table.

When we had returned to the drawing-room the smart London ladies flocked together in a bevy and began chattering like a field of starlings. Their talk seemed to be altogether of their male acquaintances, whom they called by their names-Jack and Tom and Reggie and Algy, and so on.

Lady Ardaragh sat down by my grandmother and talked to her in a low voice. After the excitement of the dinner she seemed to have become pale and quiet. I could hear that she was talking about her boy, who was a great pet with Gran. I heard her say that he was growing too fast and had been languid of late.

Mrs. Dawson came and sat by me. She sighed with quiet satisfaction as she subsided into her chair.

"It all went off very well, dear," she said, "didn't it? Dawson was very anxious that it should; and I couldn't eat a bit for thinking of what would happen if it didn't go off well."

I answered her that it had gone off very well. It was impossible to dislike her, poor soul; and it was easy to see that she had a wretched life between her husband who was an intolerant tyrant to her and the fine folk he liked to see about him now that his money was made, who were rude and neglectful to her.

"I'm glad you think that, my dear," she said. "Indeed, I think Dawson looked quite cheerful. And I was very glad to see that you and Rick were making frie

nds. He's a very good boy, my dear, although he's a bit wild, having plenty of money and nothing to do but spend it. But he's a very kind boy to his mother. I assure you, dear, there have been times when I wouldn't have cared much to live if it hadn't been for my Rick."

It was a pitiful confession for the mistress of all this splendour; and now that the anxiety and excitement were to some extent over she looked pale and old and tired.

"I'm very glad you liked Rick," she said, "very glad. It isn't like those who would care for him for his money." She nodded her head in the direction of the chattering group. "I should be so glad to see my Rick married to a nice, innocent, good girl. I haven't been so happy this many a day as I've been since I've seen you and him making friends."

I could not bear to tell her that I did not like her son and that nothing on earth would induce me to make friends with him, so I sat silent and said nothing; and I think it did her good to talk, for she prattled on in a gentle, monotonous way about her son's childhood and school-days and of the kindnesses he had done her. Apparently she thought him the finest, handsomest, best person in the world, and apparently his father thought likewise, which was a much stranger thing. She seemed to have no reticence at all, or I had unlocked her heart.

"When Rick is at home," she said, "Dawson is good-tempered, and is often even kind to me. And Rick knows that, and has promised me not to go away any more. I should be so glad if he would marry and settle down, and so would Dawson. There's nothing Dawson wouldn't give him if he'd marry according to his wishes."

At this moment some of the gentlemen arrived, and the group of ladies broke up to admit the black coats. One man passed by and came on towards the end of the room where we were. It was Richard Dawson.

I saw Lady Ardaragh suddenly move her skirt so as to leave a vacant place on the sofa upon which she was sitting; but he disregarded the invitation, if such it were, and came on towards us.

I saw him stoop to kiss his mother and the lighting up of the plain, elderly face, and it came into my mind that however intolerable he was to me, there must be another side of him for her.

For the remainder of that evening he never left my side, and no one could dislodge him, to my great vexation. I thought he was doing it only to annoy me. But I kept close to his mother, so that there was less chance of his making me conspicuous, none at all of his whispering and languishing as he had done at the dinner-table.

I could not see how my grandmother was taking it, since she sat at the same side of the room as I did; but I was glad that Mr. Dawson kept my grandfather in conversation so that he could not see what was going on, for I felt sure that however much he might wish to be civil to the Dawsons, he could not have endured Richard Dawson's attentions to me, since he was very proud.

I have always been one to act on impulse, and of a sudden it occurred to me that it might be possible to make Richard Dawson let poor Nora alone. I suppose it must have been because his mother praised him so much that I should have thought such a thing possible, for up to this I would have believed nothing good of him.

And presently we were alone to all intents, for Mrs. Dawson dropped off to sleep, and the party at the end of the room was playing some noisy round game in which Lady Ardaragh had joined, and Sir Arthur had taken her place beside Gran and they were talking together.

"Mr. Dawson," I said suddenly, "there is something I should like to say to you."

"What is it?"

"Something I should like to ask you."

"Will you come out here on the balcony and ask me what it is? I promise you I shall do it if it be within my power."

The promise determined me. All the windows were wide open, so that to go on the balcony was not to be solitary. As I went out with him I noticed that my grandmother looked after me with an amazed air. Well, I might be mad to believe good of Richard Dawson on his mother's report, but it was worth a trial. I went out on the balcony with him; and noticed that he drew the curtains to after us. It was a thing a gentleman would not have done and I detested him for it. But there was my poor Nora to be thought of, so I endured it.

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