WINIFRED ASKS QUESTIONS

The morning after my visit to the castle I set out early to enjoy the
beauties of the Glen, having first partaken of breakfast and enjoyed a
little chat with my landlord, who was growing accustomed to my American
inquisitiveness.

“Sure she’s a fine woman is Granny Meehan!” he said, in answer to some
opinion I had given concerning her; “an’ a religious woman, too, and
very knowledgeable for her station. But her head is full of queer
consates. I think it’s most turned by livin’ up beyant alone so long.”

“How did she come to have the care of Miss Winifred and to live in the
old castle?” I inquired.

“Well, none of us knows–that is, to be sure about it. Master Roderick,
he was a gay, sportin’ lad. I mind him well, tearin’ about the country
on his white horse, stoppin’ a night now at the ould place above; and
away agin, no one knew whither. His father, who owned the place before
him and lived in it every year for a few weeks, was dead and so were all
belongin’ to him.” The landlord drew breath and lowered his voice
somewhat. “Well, in some of his wanderin’s about the country what does
he do but get married, an’ we never seen the bride down here at all, at
all; but it was the talk of the country-side that she was of a fine
ould stock an’ a rale lady. But he never brought her next or nigh the
ould place. Perhaps it was ashamed of its bein’ ruinous-like or afeard
of the gossip of the country-side.”

I listened with the deepest attention.

“It was on All-Hallow-Eve that Winifred there came to the castle. Mrs.
Meehan, who had been nurse to Master Roderick himself, was brought up
from the village in haste. Fires were lighted, beds got ready, and
toward nightfall a gentleman in black rode up to the castle door. Now,
some that saw him say it was the young gentleman himself riding his
white horse, but more says it was a stranger; and coming the way he did
and on that night of all nights! It’s a quare story, and no wonder that
the child’s different from other childer.”

“How old was she when she came?”

The landlord reflected.

“Well, I think it would be about seven, though none of us ever rightly
knew.”

“Did the father visit her?”

“From that time to this,” said the landlord, impressively, “he was never
seen in the country-side. There seemed to be some secret or other in the
business; and Granny Meehan never opened her mouth about it, only bowin’
and scrapin’ with Miss Winifred here and Miss Winifred there. Some do
say that she’s afeard of the colleen, and knows well enough that she’s
not of mortal stock. But that’s the ould people!” he concluded, with a
toss of the head. “Meself thinks she’s Master Roderick’s daughter;
though why he should give her up and never come near her is more than
any mortal can tell.”

“It is a curious story,” I said; “quite a romance, and fits in well with
your lovely country here and the remains of that grand old castle. But
who is this curious companion Winifred goes about with and does not care
to name?”

“There’s more than her that won’t name him,” said the landlord; “though
I think it’s Granny Meehan that does be cautionin’ the colleen. She’s
not afeard of man nor beast nor spirit, and if she doesn’t name him it’s
on account of the ould woman.”

“But who is he?”

“Now, ma’am dear,” said the landlord, “I have been discoursin’ to you
already of things that mebbe shouldn’t pass my lips, and I’d be entirely
obliged if you wouldn’t ask me to have part nor parcel with them that’s
unlucky, nor so much as to name them.”

With this I had to be content, and I strolled out to that world-famous
Glen of the Dargle, and sat down beside the stream on grass that was
green and soft as velvet. Above me on all sides rose the hills, the
trees, in their shaded green, still sparkling with dew; the waterfall
dashing over the stones into the dark stream below, and the tree-bridge
overhanging that terrible ravine. I might not at first have perceived
that this bridge was tenanted had not a clear voice suddenly broken the
stillness, thrilling out some quaint melody, which was Irish in its
wild, mournful character, and yet had a tinge of drollery. I did not
recognize it, however, nor could I have called it by name. I looked up
hastily, well knowing that the graceful figure and charming, childish
face of Winifred would meet my view. Once again, as on a former
occasion, I hesitated to speak for fear of startling her; but she
addressed me presently, bringing her song to a sudden stop.

“Good morning!” she said. “‘Tis lovely weather.”

“Lovely indeed,” I answered, looking up at her and reflecting what a
strange little creature she was, talking down to me as calmly from that
high and perilous perch as though she sat on a rocking-chair at a
fireside.

“My dear child,” I said, involuntarily, “you make me dizzy.”

“Dizzy?” repeated the girl.

“Being up so high and over that deep ravine,” I called back; for the
noise of the waterfall forced me to raise my voice in order to be heard.

“The dear old Dargle!” she exclaimed, looking lovingly down at the
stream. “I sit here, as I told you, almost every day. But I’ll come down
immediately if it makes you dizzy.”

She carried out her promise so swiftly and so recklessly that it fairly
took away my breath. She stood a moment or two on the green height, and
then ran down to me, her face shining with the glow of the morning, full
of life and health and the very joy of being alive. She was soon at my
side and threw herself near me on the grass.

“Do you like Ireland just as well as America?” she asked me after a
pause.

“Ireland is very beautiful,” I replied.

Her face flushed and her eye lighted as she nodded two or three times,
but did not speak. It was as though some one very dear to her had been
praised.

“I was told once,” she said, “that streets in America are paved with
gold. But–perhaps it isn’t true.” She said the last words wistfully, as
though reluctant to part with an illusion. “And I suppose,” she went on,
“there are no trees there with golden leaves nor birds with silver
wings?”

“No,” I said; “there are no streets paved with gold, and no golden trees
nor birds with silver wings. But there are many beautiful
things–glorious mountains, vast forests, broad rivers, splendid
cities.”

“I should like to hear of them some time,” she said, “if you will be
kind enough to tell me.”

“Oh, I shall tell you anything you want to hear,” I replied; “for, as we
agreed to be friends, one friend must try to give pleasure to another.”

“Yes, that is true,” she assented; “and because of that I will show you
my castle, though I don’t like showing it to strangers.”




I looked at her with an interest which was enhanced by the story I had
heard that morning–pathetic, romantic, and altogether unusual.

“You have always lived there?” I asked.

“No,” she said, briefly. “I remember to have lived at another place, but
that is very long ago and does not matter.”

It was evident that she did not wish to continue the subject.

“I shall have to leave you,” she said, all at once; “for, listen! I hear
the tinkle of a bell, and I am afraid that our cow has got out.”

“Do you take care of the cow?” I asked involuntarily; for the
circumstance somehow seemed surprising and out of keeping with the
child’s appearance.

“Oh, Moira does generally!” she replied carelessly. “She, you know, is
our little maid-of-all-work. Sometimes I do myself, though; for I love
poor Cusha, and I like to pat her silky back and play with her long
ears. She hasn’t any horns. But she wouldn’t hurt me if she had; for,
you see, she knows me, and puts down her head for me to pet, and lows
when she sees me coming. She is a very wise cow. I wish she could talk.”

“I wonder what her conversation would be like?” I said, laughing.

“Oh, I know!” answered the child, confidently; though she laughed, too.

“You do? Well, let me hear it!” I said, entering into her humor.

“She’d talk about the sweet green clover and the grass and the fields,
where she has lived; and about the hills, for she’s been up here a great
many years. She was born before I was, and she looks at everything with
her big brown eyes as if she were thinking about them. She might be able
to tell if there were any fairies or things of that kind; for she’s out
sometimes in the moonlight, or at dusk and in the early morning, too,
when people say they pass by.”

“You mustn’t believe all the people tell you,” I answered, though I was
half sorry for the suggestion when I saw how her face clouded over.
“Their tales might be like the golden streets and the silver birds.”

She arose slowly, and seemed as if about to turn away; then she added,
half to herself:

“I wonder if she knows anything about what he is trying to find out,
what he _has_ found out?”

“Who?” I asked hastily.

“Some one,” she said, evasively. “Oh, the bell is tinkling again. Cusha
might get lost. Good-by! And come soon to the castle. I will show you
every bit of it and tell you _true_ things about it.”

She said the last words loftily, as though to let me know that all her
talk was not of the unreal, the fictitious, the poetic. I sat a few
minutes longer musing over her and her story; and then began to read,
perhaps as an offset, a transatlantic fashion paper which had reached me
by mail that morning.

Share