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   Chapter 30 THE DARK DAYS

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8515

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


I remember the weeks after that like a bad dream. The small-pox had spread from Araglin to other villages and to the isolated cabins. No one knew where it had come from, or where it would go next, for it spread like wildfire. And the doctors and nurses had come down from Dublin in a cheerful little band and were fighting it heroically. For some weeks there were only new outbreaks to tell of. For some weeks there were panic and terror everywhere.

My lover wanted to marry me and carry me away out of the danger; but that I would not hear of. It was enough that to please him I must shut myself away in a selfish isolation. If I had been a free woman I would have insisted on going, as my godmother had gone, while yet the help was wanted. During those weeks I was cut off from the comfort of her presence, for even when she was no longer needed she was in quarantine lest she should have taken the infection.

I will say that the Dawsons gave generously of their money for the aid of the people.

When we knew first of the outbreak and heard that Mary Champion was in the thick of it, my lover was moody and silent for a while even when he was with me.

I remember once that he kicked at a coal which had fallen from the fire and lay on the hearth, and he frowned heavily.

"I ought to have been there, Bawn," he said, "and it isn't that I was afraid. Good Lord! I should think not. You would like me just as well with my beauty spoilt in such a cause. But it is that you make a coward of me, little girl. When I think that anything might happen now to prevent our marriage it makes me sweat with fear. Else I would have risked my life over and over again, and not have cared two straws about it."

"I know you are brave," I said, at which he looked pleased and said that it was the first kind word I had given him.

In these days he did not force his caresses upon me as much as he did at first, but used to call me his little nun, and say in his usual boastful way that he would make me in time eager for that from which I turned away now. Every day as our marriage came nearer I dreaded it more, and felt as if I must run away to the ends of the earth rather than endure it; but when I looked at my grandfather's face I knew there was no help for me.

The marriage was fixed for the 20th of December, and I could see that he was nearly as impatient for it as my bridegroom. I could see that on this side of my wedding-day there lay for him the chance that the disgrace might come at any moment. On the other side was peace and safety.

The fear of the secret the Dawsons held possessed him so much that he had no thought for me, as he had had none for Theobald while he still believed that there was some sort of engagement between Theobald and me.

I confessed I had dreaded what Theobald would think of my marriage, not knowing the reason of it. But my anxieties on that score were set at rest, for, as soon as possible after he had heard of the engagement, he wrote a most affectionate letter to me. I could read in its effusiveness that he was so relieved to know of my marriage that he was not disposed to be critical over my bridegroom. He sent me a present of a rug of leopard skins and some fine pieces of wrought silver work, and in a postscript he mentioned that there was some one he wanted us to welcome presently, a Miss Travers, a beauty-young, good, gifted, an heiress.

"She would be the same to me," he added in his round, schoolboy handwriting, "if she hadn't a penny; but I am glad for the sake of Aghadoe that she has money. Dear Bawn, I adore her."

I had guessed it all the time, and remembered that he had mentioned Miss Travers before, and that the manner of it was significant. Dear Theobald, it was easy enough to see through his simple guile!

My grandparents, having ascertained that Miss Travers was a quite unexceptional person, had an access of cheerfulness. I could see that once I was married and the paper in their hands, whatever it was, they would begin to look forward to Theobald's return and his marriage. There would be great days at Aghadoe yet; but I should not be there to see them.

When I came to be measured for my wedding-dress my grandmother discovered how thin I had become.

"You will be all right," she said, "when Richard carries you away from this sad and troubled country to the south and to the sun."

Long before this my lover had taken the alarm and fretted over me with anxious tenderness, saying that they had not known how to take care of me, and that once I was his I should be taken care of as no other woman ever was before.

Fortunately for him he was much at the Cottage in those days, superintending the last arrangements, else I think, ardent as he was, he could hardly have borne with me, for I was alternately listless and bitter, so that I have seen my dear old grandmother look at me in sad wonder; and that always reduced me to repentance.

As the time of my marriage came nearer I felt the ignominy the more. I used to think that the very portraits on the walls looked at me askance because I was going to marry the usurer's son. I was sure the old servants were not the same, any more than the old friends; but, oddly enough, Maureen had forgiven me, had held me to her breast and cried over me. I felt that she knew the marriage would kill me, she only of them all. Every night now the ghosts cried as they had cried when I was a child, when Uncle Luke went away.

It might have been a week from my wedding-day when there lay one morning beside my plate a letter, the handwriting on which made my heart leap up.

Fortunately I was first at the table and I was able to hide the letter. I could not have read it under the eyes of my grandparents, and they must have noticed if I had taken it away unopened, because I had so few correspondents, apart from the wedding-presents and congratulations.

I had barely hidden it when my grandparents took their places, and Neil Doherty set the big Crown Derby teapot before my grandmother and then went round and removed the cover of the silver dish that was in front of my grandfather. I believe the three of us between us did not eat the food of one healthy appetite in those days; but the things appeared all the same, and hot dishes were flanked by cold meats on the sideboard as though we had the appetites of hunters.

I heard Neil say as he stood by my grandfather that, glory be to God, the sickness was disappearing, that there hadn't been a new case in Araglin village for more than a fortnight, and the doctors thought that the worst was over. Our servants were on the usual terms of Irish servants with their employers-that is to say, they treated us with a respectful familiarity; and now that owing to the sickness there was little visiting we had to depend upon Neil mostly for our news.

"It will not be the same at Miss Bawn's wedding, Neil," I heard my grandfather say, "as though there had not been the sickness. When I married her Ladyship the whole county came to see it."

"True for you," said Neil. "There's many a one under the sod that looked to dance at Miss Bawn's wedding, and there's many another that their own mothers won't know when they see them."

"The great thing is," said my grandmother, "that the sickness is coming to an end. Please God, we can lift up our hearts towards the New Year."

"And thank God for that," said my grandfather; and I felt that it was not only for cessation of the sickness he gave thanks.

There were, indeed, many new graves, and many, too, whose living or dying yet hung in the balance; and if I had been a happy woman I would have felt it ominous to be married at such a time. But as it was, nothing mattered.

"You are sure Nora Brady has not taken the sickness, Neil?" I asked.

"No, Miss Bawn; she's safe so far. To be sure, she might be inkybatin' it"-Neil, like all our people, loves a long word-"and she'll have to put up a month's quarentine when the last o' the sickness is over. I hear she's been everywhere it was."

After breakfast I escaped to the summer-house in the shrubbery with my letter. The first snow lay on the ground and was white on the dark, shining leaves of the laurels and laurestinus, but my hands trembled and burned as I opened the letter. Why did he write to me now when I had become used to my misery? As the sheet rustled in my hands I felt such a longing and a desire for him that if he called me across the world I must go.

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