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   Chapter 24 THE BLOW FALLS

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8105

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"Now, what is it?" he asked. "Half of my fortune if you will, fair lady, so that you forgive that blunder of mine and look kindly on me."

"It is about a girl in whom I am interested-Nora Brady." I felt him start at my side. "I saw you together in our woods the other day. She is a good girl. Mr. Dawson, will you let her be and not make her unhappy?"

"Why," he said, "I have never meant to make her unhappy. I'm sorry for what I did. It was only idle love-making. But she's fond of me, poor child. And she'd be just as fond of me if I wore a ragged coat and earned a shilling a day. I've always pleased myself, and I don't like giving up Nora. By the way, she has rather given up me. She is keeping out of my way. Her keeping out of my way has been more likely to inflame me than the other thing. But, if you'll forgive me and be a little kind to me, I promise you that I won't seek her out."

"What do you want me to do?" I asked.

"More than I dare tell you at present. But for the present-shake hands and say you forgive my rudeness in the wood."

I put my hand in his, and felt his lips upon it, but I bore it.

"Then it is a bargain," he said. "We are enemies no longer, and I promise to let Nora alone. If only the women would always let me alone! What, are you going back to that hot room? And the May moon in the sky, the lovers' moon! Stay with me a little while, because I've been a good boy and promised you what you asked. You could wind me round your little finger. There's nothing I wouldn't do to please you."

The end of his protestations fell on empty air, for I had lifted the curtain and re-entered the drawing-room.

When I came in, with Richard Dawson following me, I was annoyed to find that my grandfather and Mr. Dawson had come into the drawing-room, and were standing near the fireplace. Both looked round, and I thought my grandfather's face wore a startled look, while Mr. Dawson's for an instant beamed excessive gratification.

I hoped that Lord and Lady St. Leger could not think that I tolerated with any patience the attentions of Richard Dawson. Seeing that they believed me bound by some childish promise to my cousin Theobald that was not very likely. And I could not explain to them why I had gone out on the balcony alone with Richard Dawson.

My memory of the time after that seems to consist of nothing but a string of Dawsons coming and going. I did not know what to make of it. Surely the propitiation of the Dawsons did not mean that we should see so very much of them. They were alone now, their fine friends having gone back to London, and their being alone involved an intimacy which need not have been if there were a crowd.

My godmother at this time was much occupied, her cousin, Miss Joan, having developed a disease which in time was to prove mortal, so she knew less of how much the Dawsons came and went, though she must have known it, for I've no doubt the county talked of it. We had been so sure that we would never admit the Dawsons no matter what any one else did, nor any persons who were merely rich. We had always been very proud and exclusive at Aghadoe.

A little while after that dinner at Damerstown Nora confessed to me with tears that she had stolen out in my absence and had lain in wait for Richard Dawson.

"And after all, Miss Bawn," she said, "I was punished, for he only lifted his hat to me and rode away; and I felt as if I must fall in the track of his horse's feet and implore him to kiss me as he used to. And he never looked back, Miss Bawn."

"I am glad to hear it," I said, feeling that the words were hard and cold.

"I don't know what's come over him," poor Nora said miserably, "unless that, maybe, a good love has come to him at last. I'd just as soon be dead, Miss Bawn."

Soon after that she began talking of going to America, and I used to notice that she looked strangely at me. But I never saw what every one else must have seen; partly, no doubt, because of that old troth between Theobald and me which I thought my grandparen

ts held to be binding. I ought to have mentioned in its proper place that there had been no cause for Theobald's weeks of silence, or but a trifling one, and that his letters came as of old and were very full of gay doings. I noticed that he did not talk now so much of coming back as he had done at first; but at first he had been very lonely for Aghadoe and all of us.

Day by day during that summer the shadow seemed to darken on Lord St. Leger's face, and my grandmother looked no less harassed. It was, indeed, cruel to see the faces which had been placid enough, despite the lines of sorrow, becoming so haggard and careworn. I used to hate to see them so anxiously polite to Garret Dawson, so willing to sit at his table and have him at theirs. I noticed, too, that they looked strangely at me at times; and I found my grandmother in tears more than once. It hurt me that she should weep at her age.

Another thing I noticed was that they ceased to talk of Theobald; and when his letters came they would read them without comment, or they would take my news of him without an eager stretching forth of their hands for the letter as of old. In those days mysteries seemed to gather thick and fast about me. And I had my own trouble to bear as well. I used to think that Captain Cardew would have made short work of it all. He would have swept away the shadowy terrors. He would have lifted us all into the daylight. But, alas, he was I knew not where; and his name was never mentioned in the hearing of Lord and Lady St. Leger.

Then the blow fell. One afternoon Garret Dawson had been to see my grandfather and talked with him alone; and at dinner my grandmother's face bore traces of tears, and I noticed that my grandfather's hand shook so that he spilt his wine. There was not a word spoken, and after a time the silence got on my nerves, so that I began to dread I knew not what, and could almost have burst into tears from the tension.

We had dined where we often dined when we were alone, in a little room, panelled with black oak, which opens off the hall. It is bright enough when a fire leaps and sparkles in the grate, but it was then too warm for fires, and the room seemed cheerless even while the white cloth was on the table and the lit candles made the silver and glass sparkle.

And presently, when Neil Doherty had taken away the cloth and we sat around the polished black table with nothing on it but a couple of candles and a decanter of port wine and glasses, the room looked very sad.

My grandfather tapped with his hand on the table, a thing I have known him to do when in trouble, and again the tears overflowed my grandmother's eyes and ran down her cheeks. And I felt that something was coming.

Then my grandfather cleared his throat, and leaning his face in his hand so that I should not see it, he said-

"There is something that concerns you, Bawn, which I wish to lay before you. You have been a good child always, kind and obedient to us. And now it is in your power to do more for us than ever you have done before."

He paused, and in the silence I heard the rain falling on the gravel path. It had been threatening all the afternoon. The wind soughed; it was going to be a wild night.

"Mr. Dawson has been with me this afternoon," he went on. "We talked of you, Bawn. Bawn, child, Richard Dawson wishes to marry you. Can you marry him, Bawn? If you can do it Garret Dawson gives up to me on your wedding-day certain documents which hold in them the disgrace of our family. We are old, Bawn, and we have loved you and been good to you. There are some things we could not bear. Child, can you say 'Yes?'"

I felt now as though I had known it all the time. I had a queer memory of a room in which a man lay imprisoned, the walls of which came closer and closer every day till they should press him to death. It was a tale I had read somewhere. So this had been closing in on me all those months. I was to marry Richard Dawson, I who loved Anthony Cardew with all my heart and soul.

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