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   Chapter 25 THE LOVER

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8426

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

"And Theobald," I asked, after that pause-"what about Theobald?"

"Theobald is young. He has a thousand chances of happiness," answered my grandfather, somewhat eagerly. "If he could know he would be the first to sacrifice himself to prevent the disgrace. I tell you, Bawn, that if Garret Dawson publishes the secret he holds it will kill your grandmother and me as surely as though he had shot us through the heart. Child, child, we would have given you the world if we could! Can you do this much for us?"

I looked at his poor old, twitching, grey face, at his hands that worked pitifully. I saw my grandmother lift her streaming eyes to Heaven as though to ask for help. They had been very tender to me, and they were old. God knows no woman ever shrank more from a lover than I from Richard Dawson. But, perhaps, if I sacrificed myself, following the example of our Lord himself, He would take me away from the intolerable marriage. He would let me save them, and then He would take me to himself.

"I will marry Richard Dawson," I said quietly.

I saw an immense relief in the poor old faces, although their cloud barely lifted. They did not thank me. Perhaps they knew I could not have borne it. I saw them creep closer together as though for comfort, as I got up and went away to my own room.

I was as glad as I could be of anything that Nora had gone a day or two earlier to nurse one of her uncle's children who was sick. How could I have borne her presence about me? To think I had saved her and had myself fallen into the net! And at least she had loved the man, incredible as it seemed, while I recoiled from him with loathing, because I loved another man with my whole heart and soul.

Something within me cried out that it would be a wicked marriage. I fell on my knees by my bed, but I could not pray. I felt numb and sick. I stretched my arms out across the little white bed where I had slept so happily, despite the ghosts. I laid my face upon them and stayed there in a trance of misery.

I heard my grandmother pause at the door and listen as she went down the corridor to her bedroom, and I dreaded that she should come in; but, perhaps, thinking from the silence that I was asleep she went on after the pause.

I must have fallen asleep in that comfortless position for when I awoke I was chilled and stiff. There was white moonlight in the room, and I heard, with a sinking of my heart, the crying of the woman in the shrubbery. She always came when there was trouble. Well, God knows, there was trouble enough now, such a coil of trouble for me that death had been an easy way out of it.

I crept into bed and thought miserably of what Anthony Cardew would think of me when he should hear of my disgrace. Of course he would not know why I had married Richard Dawson. He had yielded me up to poor Theobald as he thought, and instead of Theobald, whom I might have loved if I had never seen Anthony Cardew-handsome, generous, of honourable lineage, he would know that I had married Richard Dawson, with his bad traditions behind him, and himself a wild, careless liver, with many sins to his account. He would never know how I loathed it. Perhaps he would even think that I married for money. Even if I were dead, and I felt I must die of marrying Richard Dawson, he could never think of me except with contempt and loathing.

The next morning Maureen came with my tea.

"Why are you looking like alabaster on your pillow?" she asked, with some indignation. "There's good news coming, I tell you. There's good news coming. See how fine the morning is! I never slept a sweeter sleep, and it was in my sleep I had word."

I shrank even from Maureen's half-mad eyes. What would she say when she knew that I was to marry Richard Dawson? She had always loved Theobald and had looked forward to our marriage. I was afraid of Maureen's eyes.

"I'll toss the cup for you," she said when I had drunk my tea. "There's a beautiful fortune in it for you, Miss Bawn. I see a wedding-coach and four horses--"

"Are there plumes on the coach, Maureen?" I asked.

"I'm surprised at you, Miss Bawn." Maureen looked startled and angry. "Why should there be plumes on the wedding

-coach that'll bring yourself and the fine husband home? I won't be asking who he'll be. And by-and-by there'll be babies in the nurseries again, and old Maureen'll be as young as ever she was."

The afternoon of that day I was called down to Richard Dawson, and when I went to the drawing-room I found him alone.

He took me in his arms and kissed me, and when I shivered under his kiss it only seemed to make him more ardent. It was a terrible thing to accept his kisses feeling that cold repulsion; and my whole heart and soul another man's. If he had been less ardent it might have been more tolerable. As it was I let him have his will of kissing me till he suddenly put me away from him.

"You do not return my kisses," he said. "Are you afraid of me, Bawn?"

"I am not used to lovers," I said, turning away my head.

"Ah, I frightened you that day in the wood, my bird," he said, "and I suffer for it now. What a brute I was! But you can make me different if you will, Bawn. If you will but love me, my beauty, you can do what you will with me-make a decent fellow of me. I am not such a bad fellow at heart. Come, give me a kiss of your own free will. You would not when I asked you before, but you will now because I am your affianced husband. Come, kiss me, Bawn."

I kissed him, shrinking all the time, and with a dreary wonder as to whether it was always going to be like this, and if so, how I was to endure it.

"Your kiss is as cold as a frog," he said. "But never mind, I wouldn't give a fig for a woman who was too easily won. The time will come when you will beg me for kisses. Till then, why, I shall do the love-making myself."

But presently, seeing I could not endure it, he let me go. It never seemed to occur to him that my aversion could be for him. He took my shrinking as maiden modesty, and vowed that he delighted in it, that I should have been far less desirable if I had not been so coy, and that he would be happier breaking down my barriers than if there had been none to break.

Finally he took a little case from his pocket, and out of it he produced a ring, the beauty of which would have delighted any happy girl. It was set with an emerald of great size and beauty, of a heart-shape, surrounded by diamonds, and at the top a true-lovers' knot in diamonds. He put it on my finger, saying that he had carried it about with him for a month or more, and that he had paid a pretty price for it. It was an antique ring and the workmanship very beautiful, not like those made nowadays.

It occurred to me that he had been very sure of me. But I said nothing while he put on the ring.

"And how soon will you marry me, Bawn?" he asked. "There is nothing I will not give you when we are married. I am going to take you away and show you the beautiful world. There will be nothing you can desire that will not be yours. Oh, you shall see what a lover I will make! Bawn, Bawn, you will adore me."

"It is too soon to talk of wedding-days," I said.

"Not too soon for me," he answered. "I can hardly bear to wait. I would marry you this instant if I could. Will it be in a month's time, Bawn?"

"I could never be ready," I said.

"Not in a month's time! And how do you suppose I am going to endure even that! I shall talk to Lady St. Leger about it. She will be merciful to me."

"I could not be ready," I said. "Not under two months. People are not married in such a hurry. There are so many things to see to."

It was only now that he began to talk of the wedding that I realized how, somewhere at the back of all the misery and shame, I had had a wild hope that Heaven might intervene and save me from the marriage. I had not thought he would be in such a hurry, that he would give me no loophole of escape. I could have cried out for a long day like any poor wretch condemned to the gallows.

"Don't you see that I am not ready? I am not used to lovers," I cried, bursting into a paroxysm of tears, when he went on urging a speedy marriage.

At the sight of my tears he seemed dismayed and tried to comfort me, saying that I should have my own time and that I was the more desirable to him because I was not ready to fall into his arms.

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