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   Chapter 34 THE KNOCKING AT THE DOOR

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 8848

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


We had dinner in the little black-panelled room off the hall, Neil waiting on us with a great assiduity. Now that the worst had happened and my grandfather's pride and courage had risen to meet it, it seemed to me that he looked better than he had looked for many months. To be sure he was very pale, but he had a look of resolution which became him, instead of the cowed and burdened look he had worn of late.

I remember that there were pheasants on the table and my grandfather asked where they had come from. There had been a constant shower of delicacies rained on us from Damerstown, and we should have grown sybarites if we had cared about such things. Neil, as though he understood, answered him that they had been shot in our own woods, and added that the fine peaches and grapes which were in a dish on the table were from our own houses. I was not sure it was true. We didn't grow peaches even in a hothouse in December; but I let it pass, and my elders were too engrossed in their thoughts to notice.

Once or twice I saw that the old couple held each other's hands below the table-cloth, and I felt that as long as they were together they could bear anything.

My grandfather ate a little of a pheasant's breast, and my grandmother followed his example; but though we made a show of eating it did not amount to very much. As for me, a curious sense of expectancy seemed to have taken possession of my mind, to the exclusion of other things. I could hardly say at what moment it had begun; but it grew till I was, in a manner of speaking, heady with it. We sat there very quiet, but all the time I was listening, not only with the ears of my body but with the ears of my heart.

After dinner Neil cleared away the dinner-things and removed the cloth. My grandmother bade him replenish the fire, and he went away and returned with a great armful of logs.

I guessed that my grandmother felt that in here we were out of sight of the preparations for the wedding which were going on everywhere else in the house.

Neil left the wine and the fruit on the table, stirred up the fire, and went away.

My grandparents sat in their chairs either side of the fireplace, I in the middle at first; but presently I changed places with my grandmother, and she sat holding Lord St. Leger's hand in hers while the firelight leaped up showing their old, careworn, troubled faces, which yet had a look of love and new peace in them.

Presently my grandfather fell asleep, and we talked in whispers, my grandmother and I. She still held his hand, and her eyes kept watching with a tender anxiety his pale face, almost as pale as a dead face, against the green velvet of the chair.

"He sleeps quietly, Bawn," she said. "He has not slept well of late."

"None of us has slept well," I said.

"It has almost broken our hearts, child, to be so cruel to you. I don't believe we have had a happy hour since it was settled. We have lain awake till cock-crow, night after night."

I had it in my mind to ask her if she had heard the ghosts, but she had never liked the talk about the ghosts, and, remembering that, I was silent.

"We ought to have faced it out," she went on. "As I said to Lord St. Leger, if the disgrace was there, there was no doing away with it, even though only Garret Dawson knew it. Mary always said she would not believe dishonour and deliberate misdoing on Luke's part. I ought to have had her faith."

"It is not too late," I said. "Let Garret Dawson publish his news! We shall see what he has to tell."

"But there is no disproving it, for Luke is dead and gone."

"On your own reasoning, dearest Gran," I said. "If we will not believe in Uncle Luke's disgrace then there is no disgrace for us. We shall only take it that Garret Dawson bears false witness. Who would believe Garret Dawson against Luke L'Estrange?"

"Ah, but you have lost your lover, my poor Bawn," she said tenderly. "You have lost Theobald, and this old house will pass away from you and him. It is all mortgaged and there is Luke's debt."

"Let it go," I said, wincing. "But as for Theobald, never fret about that, Gran. We were only brother and sister, too close to become closer."

"I think the wedding has turned Maureen's head," my grandmother went on fretfully. "I found her setting Luke's room in order. She would have it that he was coming home from school by the hooker from Galway. She has mad

e his bed and put his room in order and she asked me at what hour she should light his fire."

"She is always madder at the full moon," I said.

"To-morrow morning we will send for Mary. She will help us to bear it. When I think of her faith I wonder that I should have had so little."

"I believe you are happier," I said wonderingly.

"I feel as though I had passed out of the hands of men into the hands of God," she replied, caressing my hair with her disengaged hand, for I had left my chair to sit down on the hearthrug by her.

Again I had that strange, acute sense of listening; but there was a storm outside, and the wind cried in the chimney and rattled the windows, and a branch of a tree tapped against the shutters-that was all.

"While your grandfather lives you will not be homeless," she said: "and who knows but that Theobald may be able to clear off the mortgages?"

My grandfather slept peacefully, as though he needed sleep; and now we talked and now we were silent, and the night wore on.

We could not move for fear of disturbing him. Dido came and lay on the rug beside me, and slept with her chin resting on my foot. I think my grandmother dozed a little and the fire went low for I was afraid to stir to replenish it. The old dog moaned and whimpered in her sleep, and my grandmother came out of her doze to say that she had been dreaming of Luke; and nodded off again.

I heard Neil Doherty bolt and bar the hall door on his way to bed and I knew then that it must be eleven. There were many things to think of. To-morrow the preparations for the wedding must all be put a stop to. The presents must be returned. There was so much to be done, so many things to be cancelled. I wondered when and how Garret Dawson's blow would fall. He was one to seek an opportunity of doing it publicly. That it would fall I had no doubt. There was no relenting behind that face of granite.

Well, for to-night the old souls might sleep. To-morrow there would be Mary Champion to stand by them. I did not yet dare to think of the joy that was coming to me from over the world. It would be another blow to them that I loved Anthony Cardew.

Also through my thoughts there came the face of Richard Dawson, and I wondered if he was somewhere out in the night. I did not feel that the house to which he was to have brought me a bride could contain him that night. What was he doing? Where had he gone for consolation? My pity for him and my remorse were great.

A coal fell out of the fire with a sudden noise, and the displaced coals fell in, sending up a big shower of sparks. The storm was at its height. It seemed to shake the solid house. And suddenly my grandmother awoke.

"Bawn, Bawn," she said, "I dreamt that your grandfather was dead and it was terrible."

At the moment my grandfather opened his eyes.

"I am very tired," he said-"very, very tired and old. If Luke is coming he ought to be here soon. Why is he not here to protect us?"

There came a sound above the crying of the wind. My grandmother had been leaning tenderly over her husband who seemed to have sunk back into his sleep; now she looked at me with a piteous terror. The wind soughed and died away, and in the pause we heard them plainly, wheels on the gravel outside that stopped at the door.

"It is the death-coach," my grandmother said. I rather saw than heard her say it, for her pale lips seemed incapable of speech.

"No, no," I cried. "It is nothing of the sort. It is the messenger I am expecting. I have been listening for him all the evening. Be quiet! He is coming for good: to help us."

But she did not seem to hear me. She had thrown both her arms about my grandfather, as though to ward off what was coming. The action awoke him, and he stood up tall and commanding as I remembered him of old, as I had not seen him for many a day.

"What is the matter, Maeve?" he asked. "You are with me. There is nothing to fear."

I noticed that the wound had opened, and his white hair was stained with blood.

"It is the death-coach," cried my grandmother.

"What matter, if it comes for both of us?" he said.

"It is not the death-coach," I cried. "It is a friend, some one come to our help. Look at Dido! She would be frightened if it were the death-coach. See how she listens!"

Above the crying of the storm there came a tremendous rat-tat on the knocker of the hall door.

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