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   Chapter 29 THE SICKNESS

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8677

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was while I was still at Castle Clody that a message came to me one morning saying that some one desired to speak with me; and when I went out into the hall I found it was Nora Brady. She had a little crimson shawl over her head, and as she lifted her eyes to me her beauty came to me like a new thing. There was dry snow in the wind, and a few flakes of it showed on her dark curls, which lay ring on ring under the shawl. Her face was round and soft as a child's, and the innocence of her blue, black-lashed eyes as she lifted them to me was as unsullied as though she were three years old. She had lost her pretty colour, but the gentleness which made her beauty appealing was, if possible, greater than of old.

"You wanted to speak to me, Nora," I said.

I know I turned red and pale when her eyes met mine; for the moment all social differences and distinctions ceased to be. I was going to marry the man Nora loved, the man I loathed. I had a feeling that it was an intolerable wrong.

"If you please, Miss Bawn," she said.

The servants were passing up and down the staircase. I did not want any witnesses to our interview, nor any eavesdroppers.

"Come in here, Nora," I said, opening the door of the morning-room which I usually had to myself for an hour or so after breakfast. "And how is the child? Better, I hope."

"Little Katty is quite well again, Miss Bawn, and I've come to tell you, please Miss Bawn, that I'd rather not come back. 'Tisn't that I'm ungrateful, Miss. No young lady could be kinder and better than you. But my uncle is going to marry again, and if you please, Miss Bawn, I think I should like to go to America."

"Don't go to America, Nora," I said; "it's a terrible place. I'll look after you. I'll speak to Miss Champion, and we'll see what we can do. Miss Champion has so many friends. She'll easily get you another place, away from this, in Dublin."

Suddenly the large tears filled Nora's eyes and trickled down her cheeks. She wept in rivers as a child does, and as painlessly.

"Don't ask me to stay, Miss Bawn," she said brokenly. "I want to put the ocean between me and him. I've done my best to pull him up out of my heart, and I've prayed my best, but I go on caring for him still. I'd better be away, Miss Bawn."

"Very well, Nora," I said, in a miserable perplexity. If she cared for Richard Dawson so much it was she who ought to marry him, peasant girl as she was. It was a shame that I should step into her place, loathing it. "Very well," I said. "I will do what I can to help you. When do you go, Nora?"

"Not till after Christmas, Miss. There won't be any emigration till the worst of the winter storms are over. Thank you kindly, Miss Bawn, but I don't think there's anything you can do for me. The nuns'll find me an employment while I stay. You're not vexed with me for leaving, Miss Bawn?"

"No, Nora, I quite understand," I said. And then on an impulse I kissed her.

I knew she was fond of me, almost as fond as my old dog; and she did not hate me, although I was going to marry the man she loved. She flushed when I kissed her, and the tears came again to her eyes.

"You are very good to me, Miss Bawn," she said. "Not many ladies would be so good to a poor girl. I hope you'll be happy, Miss Bawn. And I hope you'll make him happy. Don't believe anything the people say about him. He has a good heart, like his mother. He's been good to me. Sure, if he wasn't strong for the two of us, I'd have had no stren'th at all, though I promised you, Miss Bawn. Many a day when I sat by little Katty, and the other children were at school and the place quiet I thought I'd have to run out of it to him. Maybe I'd have done it too, only I knew it was no use, because you had his heart."

She went a little way towards the door. Then she came back again.

"I wouldn't be goin' too much to Araglin, Miss Bawn, if I was you," she said. "There's a deal of sickness there. You wouldn't know what it might be going to be."

Somehow this thought of hers for me touched me more than anything else.

"I'll keep away, Nora," I said, "unless it might be that I ought to go. We weren't afraid of the famine fever in the old times. If there were to be such a thing again we might have to do what we did then."

"Ye died with the people then," she said, pausi

ng with her hand on the door-handle. "But sure, why would there be the fever? Isn't there as fine a crop as ever was seen of potatoes? And Master Richard wouldn't let you put a hair of your head in danger. I'm not sayin' there's anything in the sickness. It's a sick time o' year. But if there was anything you should keep away, Miss Bawn. There's lots to do it without you. You're not looking too well now. Master Richard should be uneasy for you."

I spoke to my godmother about Nora later in the day, keeping back her secret, but only telling her that there were reasons which made her feel she must go. She knew the girl, was interested in her, and as it happened, one of her many friends had written to her that she wanted a young maid to be with two little girls. The situation was in England. Perhaps Nora would be satisfied if the Irish Sea lay between her and Richard Dawson.

I was returning home in the afternoon of the next day. My lover was restive over the loss of so much of my society. But the morning was bright and cheerful, and I thought I would walk over to Araglin and lay the matter before Nora.

It was a most delightful autumn day. There had been a hoar-frost in the night and the dead leaves and twigs had a tracery of silver and crackled under one's foot as one walked. It was a day for exhilaration if one were happy, and, despite the load of care which hung heavy upon me, I found myself walking less languidly than I had done of late. The boughs were now all bare; and where one had only seen leaves one saw a network of trees and branches against a blue sky, and beyond the trees the Purple Hill, which is hidden from one on our tree-hung road so long as the trees are in leaf. The little robins sang cheerfully in many trees, and the air was so still that a beech-nut falling from the tree made quite a great noise.

As I came down the hilly road to where the village smoked in its hollow, I had an idea that a stillness lay upon it like the blue mists of autumn that were over all the countryside. Araglin is usually the noisiest of villages-cocks crowing, hens cackling, dogs barking, children shouting at their play. But this morning it was silent.

Nora's uncle's house lay almost outside the village, quite at its beginning. I thought I should find her there alone, but, as it happened, when I was close to it, she came out carrying a pail, evidently on her way to fetch water from a stream which flowed by the roadside and here and there widened into a little well.

She was close to me before she saw me. When she did at last catch sight of me I was amazed at the swift change in the expression of her face. It had been moody enough when I had had time to observe it in repose. Now something of fear, of horror, leaped into it.

"Go back at once, Miss Bawn, for God's sake!" she cried. "Go back, and don't be coming near me. There's small-pox in the village and I've been in and out with them. Half the village is sickening for it; the doctor's distracted. He's sent word up to Dublin to send nurses and doctors. Thank God, I was able to turn you back. Go home, Miss Bawn, and come here no more."

"And what are you going to do, Nora?" I asked.

"Is it me, Miss Bawn? Sure, I'll stay where I am. I've been in and out with them; and if I'm to get it, I'll get it. Ask some one to take the children away. Then I'll be able to help with the nursing. Maybe 'tis what God meant for me."

We stood and looked at each other across the space. Why, it was what I had desired, that my face should be marred, so that Richard Dawson would turn away from me in disgust. For a moment I had an impulse to cross the line she had set for me, to go as she had gone into infected places. Perhaps she read the thought in my face, for she cried out to me to go away, to remember those who depended on me for happiness and go. She wrung her hands when I did not go.

"Go away, for God's sake," she cried again, "and don't have the face he cares about destroyed with the small-pox! See now, Miss Bawn, darling, what would his Lordship and her Ladyship do without you?"

But while she coaxed me with their names I could see that she dreaded the small-pox for me lest my face should be spoilt for Richard Dawson, and I thought it one of the greatest things I had known in the heart of a woman.

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