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   Chapter 31 THE WEDDING-DRESS

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 7959

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


"My dear," the letter began, "I have your letter. Most happily my rascal, Terence, forwarded it; most happily, and by the grace of God, as I think, I thought to leave him the name of a halting-place where I might pick up letters, yet I expected none. What a dullard I was, Bawn, not to have known! I compared my years and sorrows and my white hairs with your youth and beauty, and I thought you must love that golden lad, your cousin. Heart's delight, it will take all the years that are left to me to tell you my gratitude. There will be no sacrifice, child, and I do certainly believe there is no secret that Lord and Lady St. Leger need fear. I should come to you on the wings of the wind if there was not a reason that I must stay a little while, and if it were not that some one is hurrying to Aghadoe whom I can trust to tear the web of lies to pieces. He will come in time, and I shall not long delay to follow. And you are mine and I am yours for ever and ever.

"Your devoted

"Anthony Cardew."

The letter at once delighted and bewildered me. For a while I gave myself up to the delight, kissing it and crying over it like a mad creature. Then I came back to the cold light of facts. Just four days now to elapse before my wedding-day. What could happen in those four days to save me? Anthony's messenger, nay, Anthony himself, could do nothing. There was always my grandfather's face of suspense, by which I knew he counted the hours, always my grandmother's piteous air of asking for forgiveness. Not even Anthony Cardew could absolve me from what they bound me to.

I tried to be sorry for having written him that letter. Nothing, indeed, had been farther from my thoughts than that it should be forwarded to him. He wrote from Assumption, an island in the South Seas. If he was by my side he could hardly save me, unless he could prove that Uncle Luke was innocent of the things Garret Dawson attributed to him and could prove it to the world. And how could he do that?

I had never asked what the secret was, feeling that it must be something very terrible indeed when my grandfather would not tell it to Miss Champion. I never meant to ask. Let the proof of it be given up and forgotten. There was even a certain dreary pleasure in feeling that I was going to save the Lord and Lady St. Leger from that disgrace. It was not right the old should suffer and be afraid.

At last I put the letter inside my bodice and returned to the house. I got upstairs unobserved and put it away in the tall, spindle-legged Sheraton desk which has held all my girlish treasures. I was going to destroy the two letters from Anthony Cardew presently. Then the old life would be done with indeed.

"Bless me, child," said my grandmother, coming in on me as I closed the desk, "what a colour you have! I have not seen you look so well this many a day. What have you been doing to yourself?"

"Not rouging, Gran, I assure you," I said lightly. "I have been out in the frosty air and it has made my cheeks tingle."

"Your wedding-dress has come home," she said, "and Richard is here. He wants to see you in it, Bawn."

I remembered the superstition and wondered that she should have suggested such a thing. If I had been going to marry Anthony Cardew I should have refused, but since I was going to marry Richard Dawson I was not fearful of omens.

"Very well," I said; "I shall put it on and come downstairs."

I had a young maid from Dublin, newly come to me, and she had not our superstitions, or she was too respectful to oppose her will to mine. Anyhow, she dressed me in my wedding-dress, the fine thing of white silk, veiled with my grandmother's old Limerick lace and hung with pearls. She had dressed my hair high, quickly and deftly, and when I had on my wedding-dress she threw my wedding-veil over my head and fastened it with the diamond stars which were among my lover's gifts to me. When she had dressed me she wheeled the long mirror in front of m

e that I might look at myself.

I was not the same girl to look on that I had been. There was a bright colour in my cheeks and my eyes were bright; but I had a swimming in my head and I felt hot and cold by turns. I saw that I was splendid, for Margaret had put on me as many as she could of the jewels with which my lover loaded me, which used to lie about so carelessly that my grandmother had rebuked me saying I should be robbed of them one of these days. I hated them as though they had been my purchase-money; and I had scandalized Margaret only the night before by letting my necklace of emeralds and diamonds fall to the floor and lie there.

As I went down the stairs I met one or two of the servants, who drew to one side to let me pass and lifted their hands in admiration. Margaret walked behind me, being fearful, I think, that in my present mood I might let the long train sweep the stairs and corridors instead of carrying it demurely over my arm.

I paused for a moment outside the drawing-room door which stood ajar, and I could hear my lover's deep voice within. Margaret let down my train for me and I went in, up the long drawing-room to where my grandmother sat in her easy-chair by the fire and Richard Dawson stood on the hearthrug with his back to it.

As I came up the room I felt again the swimming of my head and things swayed about me for an instant. Then I recovered myself.

Between the painted panels of the drawing-room at Aghadoe there are long mirrors, in the taste of the time which could imagine nothing so decorative as a mirror. In every one of them I saw myself repeated, a slight, white figure scintillating with gems.

I had thrown back my veil and I saw the proud delight in my lover's face. He advanced a step or two to meet me and I heard my grandmother say-

"What a colour you have, child, and how bright your eyes are!"

He took up my hands and lifted them to his lips. Then he cried out, and I heard his voice as though it was at a great distance.

"She is not well, Lady St. Leger," he said, and there was a sharp note of anxiety in his tone. "Her hands were icy cold and now they are hot."

At the same moment some one came into the room and to my side. It was Maureen, and I saw that she was very angry.

"I didn't believe it when that fool of a Katty told me," she said. "Whoever heard of luck comin' to a bride who wore her wedding-dress before the day? It only needs now for Miss Bawn to go runnin' back for something after she leaves the house a bride. Sure, isn't there misfortune enough without bringin' it on us? Come along with me, my darlin' lamb, and let me get it off you. 'Tis in a fever you are this minute."

Then suddenly I lost consciousness of everything, and would have fallen on the floor in a faint if my lover had not caught me in his arms.

The next thing I knew was that the window-panes were showing themselves as lighted squares in a grey, misty world, and I could hear that somebody was speaking and what was said, even before I was awake.

"I've seen it comin' this long time," said a bitter, querulous voice that was Maureen's. "She'll go through with it, but it'll be the death of her, my darling jewel. If she's married before Master Luke comes, then he'll come too late, after all."

"Haven't I suffered enough, Maureen?" my grandmother asked pitifully-"having lost my one boy, and now to see this child slipping away from me! And there's a change in Lord St. Leger; there is, indeed, Maureen. Am I to lose them all, all?"

"Whisht, honey, whisht!" Maureen said, with sudden relenting in her voice. "God's good. Sure, He wouldn't be so hard on you as to take his Lordship, not at least till Master Luke comes home."

"And that will never be," my grandmother went on. "I've given up hope, Maureen. Luke is dead and gone, and my husband is slipping out of life, and this child is breaking her heart."

And then I opened my eyes, and they saw I was awake.

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