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   Chapter 38 CONFESSION

The Story of Bawn By Katharine Tynan Characters: 10115

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Christmas passed and the dark days turned round to New Year, and New Year came and there were great clumps of snowdrops pushing up their delicate, drooping heads in all the shrubberies, neighbouring the patches of snow, for we had had a white Christmas and a white New Year.

We had settled down to the new ways of life as though the old had not been. There was perfect peace and happiness at Aghadoe. In the spring the workmen were to set to work at the task of renovating the Abbey. Uncle Luke and my godmother were to be married before Lent, quietly. As for me, I waited, till my whole life had become one expectation.

After the funeral at Damerstown was over I had gone to see Mrs. Dawson, having ascertained first that her son was absent for a few days. The poor woman had wept over me and forgiven me.

"Rick told me all," she said. "Sure, I wish you could have cared for him for himself. Only his mother knows how much good there is in him. And, dear, you must try to forgive him that's gone."

"We have forgiven him," I said, "as we hope for forgiveness."

Then she wept again softly, and poured out to me her hopes and fears for her boy.

"It's gone deep with him, dear," she said: "it's gone very deep with him. But, sure, we must trust to God to bring good out of the trouble. He'd never have done you that wrong to marry you and you fond of some one else. You don't mind my knowing, dear? My boy tells me everything. Sure, I'd have known it, for if there was no one else you must have cared for Rick."

"Some one else will care for him," I said.

"Indeed, I wouldn't mind who he married if she was good and fond of him and would keep him at home. He won't leave me now, not for a bit-till I'm happier; but he says it's best he should go, that he has a reason for going. Ah, well; he'll settle down some time, when he's got over this."

It might have been three weeks later when we heard that Richard Dawson had taken the small-pox and was lying ill at the Cottage. The illness was complicated, it was feared, by his having driven in the night to the small-pox hospital and asked to be taken in there, but there had been a recrudescence of the plague, and the place was crowded to the doors. Dr. Molyneux was working there like ten men, and it was his idea to have Richard Dawson taken to the Cottage, which was much nearer than Damerstown. We heard that the night journey, which was like to cost him his life, had been undertaken when he found the illness coming on, to prevent as much as might be the danger of infection to the large household at Damerstown. He was very ill indeed, and the doctors hardly thought he could live.

I was so sorry for him that I felt that if he died even the happiness of my meeting with my lover would be clouded over. I longed for news of him, but it was not very easy to obtain it, since the infection kept every one away.

But one day I was walking when I met Lady Ardaragh driving in her little phaeton. I had not seen her for some time and I was amazed at the change in her appearance. She looked terribly ill. All her butterfly prettiness was gone, and there was something to make the heart ache to see such evident suffering in one who had had the round softness of a child.

She pulled up her ponies as soon as she saw me.

"Bawn, Bawn," she said, "there is nothing but trouble in the world-at least in my world. Stay where you are, child; don't come too near me. Do you know that he is dying over there?"

She pointed with her whip in the direction of the Cottage.

"I think I am mad to-day, Bawn," she went on: "and if I do not speak to some one I shall surely go mad. I wish I were a Roman Catholic and could confess to a priest. How much wiser they are than those who deny the necessity of confession! I have always been fond of you, Bawn. I believe you are as true as steel. Let me confess to you and save my reason."

"No, no," I said; "you are not yourself to-day. You will be sorry afterwards. There is Sir Arthur."

"If you will not listen to me I shall go to him, and there will be an end to everything. Perhaps I am mad. It's enough to drive any woman mad. Richard Dawson is dying; and my little Robin is sickening. They will not let me be with him till they know if it is the small-pox. Isn't it enough to drive a woman mad?"

"Tell me, you poor soul," I said-"tell me everything. Afterwards it will be buried at the bottom of the sea."

She turned to me with a sick look of gratitude.

"You don't know how it will ease me," she said. "I had a thought of going to Quinn by the light railway and going into the Catholic Chapel there and finding a priest who would listen to me and absolve me. But I was afraid I should be seen and recognized. When they told me Robin was sickening I knew it was a judgment of God."

"God doesn't judge in that way," I said. "Perhaps it is in that way He calls you back. I have no belief in an angry God!"

"You have not, Bawn? I was brought up on it. It turned me away from religion. You think God will not take the

child away from me because of my sin?"

The anguished soul in her eyes implored me. God forgive me if it was presumptuous, but I said-

"I am so sure of His mercy that I am sure He will not."

"If He will spare me Robin, I will be a good woman for the future. Arthur has been very tender to me over the child. It was he who banished me from Robin's room, although he is there himself. He says that I am so precious to him that the world would fall in ruins without me. Why didn't he say it to me before, and not live always in a world which I could not enter? Bawn, I have never really loved any one but my husband."

"I am sure of it," I said, "as he never loved any one but you."

"Oh, the folly of it all!" she moaned, sitting huddled up in her little phaeton, with her eyes looking miserably before her.

Then she turned her gaze on me, and I felt as though her unhappy eyes scorched and burned me.

"Yet I very nearly ran away with Richard Dawson," she said. "In fact, I did run away with him that night after you had broken with him. He concealed nothing from me. He did not even pretend to love me. And I went with him on those terms. As the mercy of God would have it, we found that poor wretch in the road not twenty yards from my own gates. It seemed to sober us. We were both mad. He would not let me touch him. He told me to go back; that it was all over. I crept back. By the mercy of God I had left a door ajar. I crept back to my room, and none knows that I ever left it except he and I and you. Bawn, am I not mad to tell you such a story? You, an innocent girl! I must be mad to tell my shame to any one when it might die with him and be buried with me."

"The mercy of God met you at every step and saved you," I said, feeling how little equal I was to the task of comforting her.

"Of course you despise me," she said: and the hard misery was gone out of her eyes and voice; "but I have confessed. You will never look at me again, but you have taken the weight off my life that was crushing it."

I could only answer her in one way. I crossed the distance she had set between us, and took her in my arms and kissed her.

"I shall be your loving friend for ever," I said, while she pushed me away and cried out that I must not touch her, lest she should have the infection about her.

"Although I never touched him, Bawn, I never touched him," she kept on assuring me. "He would not permit it. Bawn, if he is to die, don't you think God will forgive him his sins because of that great act of charity? The poor creature was horrible, horrible. I ran away from him when the lamps were turned on his face. But Richard Dawson was not afraid."

"It was splendid of him," I said. "I am sure God has forgiven him."

"And I need not tell my husband? I have felt ever since that I must confess to him. If I did he might forgive me, but it would never be the same again. Now I have slaked my thirst for confession by telling you. Bawn, do you think I must tell him?"

I felt as though I answered her with a voice and an authority not my own.

"You must never tell him," I said. "You owe it to him not to destroy his happiness. If you have ever the need for confession again, come to me."

"I will, Bawn dear, and God bless you," she said, her face lighting. "You have helped me so much. Perhaps, after all, Robin may not be sickening for the small-pox. What a thing that would be!"

"If he is he will still be in the hands of God," I said.

For many days after that I waited for news of Richard Dawson so eagerly that it seemed to break in upon my expectation.

One thing I knew at least, and that was that love was nursing him. The information came to me through Maureen, in a characteristic manner. Even the happiness of these days did not make Maureen gentle.

"You've heard about Nora Brady, Miss Bawn?" she said.

"No?"

My heart sank, apprehending some new calamity; while Maureen went on in bitter tones-

"I never thought well of her and now I'm proved right. The minute she heard that Master Richard was took with the small-pox she ran off to him like a mad thing. And there she is ever since. Not a womankind in the house but herself. Her mother was a decent woman; I'm glad she didn't live to see it."

"And if she did, Maureen," I said sternly, "she might be proud of her girl. It isn't possible that you are making scandal out of Nora's mercy to the sick? I think it most noble, most Christian of her. I honour her for it."

"Whisht, child!" said Maureen, scornfully. I shall never inspire respect in Maureen's breast. "I know what I know. To be sure, you'd be the last to know of it, of the walks and the talks with Master Richard. Every one knew except yourself."

"Be silent, Maureen," I said, asserting myself for once. "I know everything, everything. And I know that Nora is a good, innocent girl. Don't dare to speak to others as you have spoken to me."

And then I was contrite, seeing my old nurse quail before me, for I had never shown her that I could be angry.

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