A MOONLIGHT EXPEDITION

It was a lovely night when I set out with the merrymakers to the bog in
search of peat. Barney was full of drollery, a typical Irish lad such as
I had not seen in Wicklow before; and Moira, though at first fulfilling
Winifred’s predictions by sitting silently with her heels kicking
together where they hung out of the cart, and her head hanging down,
after a while awoke to the spirit of fun and frolic that was abroad.

“Ah, then, Danny avick, will you move on!” cried Barney to the horse.
“Is it standin’ still you’d be, you Tory, and Miss Winifred in the cart
and the strange lady from America?”

The horse seemed moved by this adjuration, as well as by a touch of the
whip, and trotted along the shining, silent road.

“I should enjoy a run with Moira on this road!” said Winifred.

“Get down, then, and have your run,” I answered. “Barney and I will
easily keep you in sight.”

“You will not mind if I leave you for a little while?” asked Winifred.

“No, indeed, dear. Barney and I will entertain each other.”

Barney pulled up the horse.

“Be still, you spalpeen,” he cried, “and let Miss Winifred down!”

The horse, nothing loath, stood still.

Winifred leaped lightly to the ground, followed more clumsily by Moira.

“Ah, then, Moira,” exclaimed her brother, “will you be all night gettin’
out of the cart?”

Moira made no answer. Her red cheeks were aglow with delight at the
prospect of escaping for a time from my embarrassing company and having
a run along the grass-bordered road.

Winifred stopped a moment or two to pet the horse.

“Poor Danny!” she said. “Barney is always calling you names. But you
don’t mind; do you, Danny?”

The horse seemed to answer that he did not in the least, rubbing his
nose against the child’s arm in a gratified way. Then Winifred gave the
word, and together the two girls were off, their happy voices coming
back to us as we drove leisurely along in the soft, balmy air. They
stopped now and again to pick flowers from the hedge or to seek out
daisies and wild violets in the fresh grass; while Barney kept up a
series of droll remarks,–sometimes addressed to the horse, sometimes to
me.

“I hear you’re thinking of taking a trip to America, Barney,” I
remarked.

“True for you, ma’am–between now and Doomsday. I’m afeard it will be
that long before I get the passage money together.”

“Why should you be so anxious to leave this beautiful country?” I said.

“Why?” exclaimed Barney, casting a shrewd glance at me. “Oh, then, sure
it’s meself that’s had enough of beauty without profit. I want to go
where I’ll get paid for my work, and be able to hold up my head with a
dacent hat upon it.”

As he spoke he took off and surveyed his own head-covering, which was
of the kind described but too accurately as a caubeen. I could not help
laughing at the gleam of humor which shot out of his eyes–good eyes
they were, too.

“Oh, you villain of the world, is it straight into the hedge you want to
drive the lady from America? What’ll she be thinkin’ of you at all for
an unmannerly beast?”

The animal, being unable to answer these reproaches, shook out his mane
again, and resumed his jog-trot till he came up with the two girls, who,
out of breath from their exertions, were glad to jump into the cart. And
so we drove on till we came at last to the bog. It was a strange, wild
scene, with the moon shining over it in broad patches of silver, showing
the green turf here and the black ground there, with mounds of earth
arising ghost-like, and clamps of turf left drying for use, and the
clusters of trees, fragments of old-time forests.

We all got down from the cart, whence Barney produced a slane, or
turf-spade. He wanted to cut and leave to dry a bernum of sods, and so
set to work without delay. He cut around till the sods were of
sufficient depth; then he dug them up, and, turning them over, he left
them to dry. He explained to me that they had afterward to be “footed
“–that is, made into parcels,–and then put into rickles, which are
turf-sods piled upon each other to a certain height; and lastly into
clamps, which are tall stacks.

Moira took a turn at the spade, her face growing redder with the
exertion. Winifred ran over to her.

“Let me have a turn,” she said; “you know I like to dig.”

And dig Winifred did, in spite of the protestations of Barney and Moira.
The former said to me:

“Och, then, you might as well try to stop the wind from whistlin’
through the trees beyant as to stop Miss Winifred when she’s set on
anything!”

He watched her with a comical look as the girl dug the slane into the
earth, cutting with great precision and actually raising two or three
sods.

“D’ye see that now?” cried the rustic, with a mingling of admiration and
amusement.

“Oh, but you’re the wonder of the world, Miss Winifred asthore!” cried
Moira. “When it was all I could do to raise the sod meself!”

All three then busied themselves in removing some of the dry turf from
the clamp which Barney had previously erected, and in stowing it away in
the cart. This done, Winifred said to me:

“Come; and you too, Moira and Barney! There’s a fairy ring here and
we’ll dance about it in the moonlight.”

“The blessin’ of God between us and harm!” cried the alarmed boy and
girl in a breath. “Is it dancin’ in a fairy ring you’d be doin’?”

“Yes, there and nowhere else!” she said imperiously. “Come!–the lady
and I are waiting for you.”

Seeing their reluctance, I had gone forward at once, to show them that a
fairy ring was no more to me than a patch of earth where the grass was
softer and greener, and which was now whitened by the moon. And dance we
did. Though Barney and Moira were afraid of the fairies, they were still
more afraid of displeasing Winifred. I stopped at last, holding my sides
with merriment and begging of Winifred to let me rest. She threw
herself, in a very spirit of mischief, on top of a mound. This
proceeding evoked exclamations of horror from Moira and Barney.

“To lie upon a rath!” groaned Moira. “It’s bewitched you’ll be and
turnin’ into somethin’ before our eyes.”

“Or spirited away underground!” added Barney; “or laid under a spell
that you’d ever and always be a child.”

“I’d like that,” remarked Winifred, settling herself more comfortably
upon the mound. “I don’t want to grow up or be old ever.”

She gazed up at the moon, seeming to see in its far-shining kingdom some
country of perpetual youth.

“She’d like it! The Lord save us!” cried Barney. “It’s wishin’ for a
fairy spell she is. Come away, Miss Winifred dear,–come away, if you’re
a Christian at all, and not a fairy as some says.”

Moira uttered an exclamation, and, darting over to Barney, dealt him a
sounding slap on the ear.

“How dare you talk that way to Miss Winifred!” she cried.

“And how dare you slap Barney for repeating what foolish people say!”
broke in Winifred. “I’m ashamed of you, Moira!”

She stood up as she spoke, confronting both the culprits. Barney’s face
was still red from the slap, as well as from a sense of the enormity he
had committed in repeating to Miss Winifred what he supposed had been
kept carefully from her. Moira’s lip quivered at her young mistress’s
reproof, and she seemed on the point of crying; but Winifred spoke with
exceeding gentleness.

“I’m sorry I was so hasty,” she said; “but, you see, Barney spoke only
for my good, and you should have had patience with him.”

“And I ask your pardon for the words I said,” Barney began, in
confusion.

“You needn’t, Barney,” said Winifred. “You only told me what you hear
every day.” Then, turning to me, she added: “So you won’t be surprised
when I do anything strange. For, you see, I’m only a fairy, after all;
and a mischievous one at times.” Her face was all sparkling with smiles,
and the very spirit of mischief looked out of her eyes. “I’ll be laying
spells on you to keep you here.”

“I may be weaving a counter one to take you away,” I ventured.

She looked a little startled, but went on in the same playful tone, as
she turned back again to the bewildered boy and girl:

“I’ll be enchanting the pair of you, so that you will be standing
stock-still just where you are for a hundred years, staring before you.”

At this they both took to their heels with a scream, Winifred in
pursuit.




“And I’ll turn Danny into a dragon and send him flying home with the
turf.”

There were muffled exclamations of terror from the flying pair.

“I think I’ll make you into a goose, Barney, with a long neck, thrusting
yourself into everybody’s business; and Moira into a pool where you can
swim.”

“Och, och! but the child is temptin’ Providence!” cried Moira, coming to
a stand at some distance off. “Here in this place of all others; and
close by the rath where the gentlefolks is listenin’ to every word, and
she makin’ game of them to their faces!”

“Mebbe she _is_ a fairy, after all!” muttered Barney, under his breath;
for he feared a repetition of Moira’s prompt chastisement. But this time
indeed he was beyond the reach of her arm, and Moira herself was in a
less warlike mood. A sudden shadow, too, fell over the moon, so that we
were in darkness. It was a cloud of intense blackness, which fell like a
pall on the shining disc.

“See what comes of meddlin’ with them you know!” cried Barney, while
even Winifred was sobered; and the three crept toward the cart, Barney
and Moira shivering with fright. Barney whipped up the unconscious
horse, who had much relished his stay upon the bog, and was only urged
into activity by the prospect of going home.

“Go now, then, Danny avick!” Barney whispered. “It’s not bein’ turned
into a quare beast of some kind you’d wish to be. Get us away from here
before the good people comes up out of the rath; for there’s no tellin’
what they’d do to us.”

“Hear how he talks to the horse!” said Winifred, who was now seated
again beside me, her curls dancing with the jolting of the cart. “As if
Danny knew anything about the good people!”

“Oh, doesn’t he, then, Miss Winifred!” cried Barney. “It’s meself has
seen him all of atremble from me whisperin’ in his ear concernin’ them.”

“You just imagine it, Barney,” said Winifred.

“And is it _I_ imagine it?” exclaimed Barney, aggrieved; while Moira sat
in terrified silence, peering from side to side into the darkness as if
she expected to see the avenging good people waiting for us along the
road. We were nearly at the castle gate before Barney resumed anything
of his former spirits and ventured on a joke or two. But Winifred was
the merriest of the merry, and kept me laughing immoderately all along
the moonlit way, as we jolted and jogged. She insisted that the cart
wheels sang a song, and made up rhymes to the musical sounds which she
pretended she could hear so plainly.

I often look back to that evening with peculiar pleasure. Winifred was
at her best: most childlike, most natural, thoroughly enjoying every
moment of the beautiful summer night; so that the doubt came over me
whether it was better, after all, to remove her from this idyllic life
amongst the Irish hills. The sober common-sense, however, of next
morning confirmed me in my previous opinion, and I took the first step
toward the realization of that design by seeking an interview with the
schoolmaster.

Continue Reading

WINIFRED’S TREASURES

The room into which Winifred led me was a model of neatness. The curtain
upon the window, the cover upon the small bureau were of snowy-white;
and the counterpane upon the bed was blue-and-white patchwork–a piece
of art in its way.

“Granny did it all herself before she got blind,” Winifred explained.
“It was for my mother; but my mother never came here, and so I got it.”

She handed me a chair as she spoke,–a high-backed, stiff wooden one,
evidently of rustic manufacture; and, mounting upon another chair, she
reached to the top of a rude wardrobe, or press, which stood in the
corner. Thence she brought down a deal box, which she placed carefully
on the floor, seating herself on a low stool beside it.

“I’ll give you three guesses what is in there,” she said, looking up at
me with her bright smile.

“Your three guesses remind me of Portia’s three caskets,” I answered.

Winifred shook her head slowly. Evidently her knowledge did not extend
to Shakespeare.

“Portia’s caskets sound pretty,” she remarked; “but I don’t know what
they are.”

“I must tell you that pretty story some time. Her suitors were so many
that she declared that only he who chose the right casket should win
her. Each suitor had to guess. The first of those caskets was gold–”

“Oh, you knew before!” interrupted the girl.

“Knew what?”

“I don’t understand how you could have guessed so quickly.”

“But I have guessed nothing,” I said. “I only mentioned that the first
casket was of gold.”

“Oh, I thought you meant to tell me in that way that you knew what was
in my box!” Winifred explained.

I stared and she suddenly withdrew the cover. My eyes were almost
dazzled.

“There is gold in my box,–real pure gold,” said the young girl.

And gold there was, amazing both in quality and quantity.

Winifred saw my astonishment, with innocent triumph.

“Look at that!” she said, detaching from the mass of shining metal a
crown, which she held up for my inspection. While I looked she drew
forth several other articles, all of peculiar make but of dainty and
delicate design, some more richly wrought than others. There were
collars, brooches, rings, bracelets,–thin bracelets, such as were worn
in the olden days by kings and warriors.

“My dear,” I said, “this is wonderful–like some Irish edition of the
‘Arabian Nights.’ I feel as if I had got into the cave of the Forty
Thieves or some such place. Where on earth did those things come from?”

“I can’t answer questions,” Winifred said; “but I wanted you to see
them, they are so beautiful and so very old. Occasionally I take them
out to play with them.”

“Costly playthings!” I murmured. “And since they are so old, how did
they come to be so bright?”

Winifred grew red as she explained:

“Somebody polishes them with stuff to make them bright, but you mustn’t
ask who.”

“But, my dear child, I ought to tell you that I know who has given you
these things,” I said gravely.

The flush faded from the girl’s face, leaving it very pale.

“Ah, I must have betrayed his secret, then!” she cried. “He trusted me
and I was false!”

“You have not done so intentionally. I was in the wood one day when you
were given a bracelet–”

“Oh, that was the day you fell down! I thought you hadn’t seen the
bracelet, because you never spoke of it,” Winifred said, in such real
distress that I was only anxious to comfort her.

“You need not be afraid. Since you trust me so far as to show me these
beautiful things, you may also believe that I shall keep the rest of the
secret.”

“That is different,” observed Winifred. “He told me never to tell where
I got these things; and now Granny Meehan found out, and you found out
too.”

“My dear,” said I, “there is one thought which occurs to me, and which I
must put in words. Bring your stool over and sit near me.”

She did so, her dark curls almost resting on my lap.

“My thought is this. How does the person who gives you all these
treasures procure them?”

She shook her head.

“You promised not to ask questions!” she exclaimed.

“Nor am I asking any which I expect you to answer,” I said quietly. “But
are you sure that these ornaments are honestly come by?”

Winifred sprang to her feet, her face crimson as upon that day when I
had made the blunder about Granny’s sight.

“For shame!” she cried–“for shame! How could you think of such a thing?
Niall, who is so good and who is giving his whole life for one purpose!”

I did feel unaccountably ashamed of myself.

“You must remember that I do not know Niall,” I argued.

“Do you think evil of people without even knowing them?” Winifred cried
impetuously. “If that’s the way they do in America, I don’t want to go
there, and I won’t go there.”

“It is the way of the world, as you will find when you are older,” I
replied somewhat sharply; for I was vexed at being put in the wrong by
this child. Having been treated with deference by all about her since
her infancy, she knew little of the respect due to those who were older;
and only such religious training as she had received from Father Owen,
with an innate sense of propriety and a natural courtesy, prevented her
from being that most objectionable of beings–a spoiled, selfish child.

I saw that Winifred was already ashamed of her vehemence, and I pointed
to the stool at my feet.

“Sit down again, little one,” I said, “and let me finish what I have to
say; for I think it is my duty to speak out.”

She obeyed in silence, and after a brief pause I went on:

“This is how it all appears to me, or would appear to any one of
experience. The man Niall seems poor, leads a strange, solitary life,
and yet he gives you articles of great value. There is, to say the least
of it, a mystery as to how he procures them.”

Winifred said not a word, but sat still with downcast eyes.

“And, since I am upon the subject,” I added, “I may as well tell you
that he is not, in my opinion, a suitable companion for you.”

“Not a suitable companion!” the girl repeated, raising her eyes to my
face in astonishment. “Niall, who has taught me nearly everything I
know! Why, if it had not been for him I should have been as ignorant as
Moira. I love him as if he were my father.”

“He has taught you a great deal that is wild and visionary,” I argued.
“You know nothing of the realities of life. You are content to lead this
wandering, aimless existence, when life has real duties, and, as you
must find, real cares and sorrows.”

This reproach seemed to touch her; for, with one of those strange
flashes of intuition, she seemed at once to catch my meaning.

“But how can Niall help that?” she cried. “He has been very kind to me.
He told Granny to teach me my prayers, and took me to Father Owen
himself, so that I could go to confession and make my first communion;
and he spends his whole life working for me. What should I do without
him? I have no one else except dear old Granny, and she is blind.”

There was something so pathetic in the way all this was said that,
almost involuntarily, the tears came into my eyes. I began to realize
that the man had done and was doing his best for the child, but his best
was not sufficient; and, sitting there beside that heap of now
disregarded treasures, I formed the resolve, in spite of all
difficulties, to take the child with me to America. She might return
later to be the guardian spirit of this old house and to repay Niall and
good Granny Meehan for the devotedness with which they had watched over
her childhood. But she must first acquire that knowledge of the world,
the real world of her own day, in which she was now so deficient.




There was little reason to doubt from her appearance that she was
indeed, as Granny Meehan had said, of a fine old stock. Therefore she
must be educated as a lady. I should try, if possible, to solve the
mystery concerning her parents; and then I should take her with me to
the great country beyond the seas, where the wildest dreams are
occasionally realized; and where, at least, there is opportunity for all
things. I knew, however, that this would mean diplomacy. If I were to
broach the subject to her just then, she would probably refuse to come.
I must first win her; and I must gain the confidence of Niall, if that
were at all possible. He would understand far better than this child of
nature the advantages of a journey to the New World and of a good
education there.

“I wish you knew Niall!” Winifred said, with a suddenness which startled
me,–it was so like the echo of my own thoughts.

“I wish so too!” I replied fervently.

“But it is very hard. He does not like strangers; and he seems to
dislike people from America most of all.”

“That is very unfortunate!” I said, laughing.

“Yes,” assented Winifred. “Still, he might like some of them very
well–if he knew them.”

She said this with the utmost simplicity. I did not tell her that I was
going to seek Niall’s acquaintance; for I feared she might warn him and
he might disappear, as was his wont from time to time, or take other
means of preventing me from carrying out my purpose. I told her,
instead, that I must be going; that I had had a most delightful day and
was charmed with her castle and her legends.

“How grand it must have been when it was a real castle,” she said; “and
when there was an abbey near by, with a church, and the monks singing!
It was one of the race who founded that abbey, in thanksgiving for
having been saved from great danger.”

“Ah, those were the days of faith!” I exclaimed. “And whatever evil the
people did they repaired it nobly by penance and by the great monuments
they built up.”

As we turned to leave the room I asked Winifred:

“Are you going to leave all these valuable things here?”

“Why, of course!” she answered in surprise.

“Can’t you ever lock them up?”

Winifred burst out laughing.

“Lock them up!” she said. “Why should I do that?”

“To save them from being stolen.”

“As if anything was ever stolen here! I can assure you there isn’t a
robber in the whole countryside.”

“Why, that is as wonderful as your treasures!” I exclaimed, as we went
in to where Granny Meehan sat, as usual, placidly by the fire, a great
cat purring and rubbing its furry sides against her gown. The animal
fixed on me that glance of grave scrutiny with which these feline
creatures appear to read one’s whole history, past, present and to come;
after which she arched her back and lay down near the hearth.

Winifred walked down with me a piece of the way, after I had said
farewell to Granny Meehan, who had heard my glowing praises of the
castle with flushed cheeks, down which stole a tear or two of pride.
When we were parting, Winifred remarked wistfully:

“I think, perhaps, Niall and I are different from any other people. But
it’s no use trying to change us: we shall always be the same.”

Continue Reading

THE OLD CASTLE

In another instant the figure of the schoolmaster had vanished from the
window; and Winifred entered, full of life and youthful spirits,
recounting the details of her proposed ramble that evening with Moira
and Barney, away to the bog for turf sods.

“Can’t you leave it to themselves, Miss Winifred asthore?” said Granny.
“Gatherin’ peat is no work for you.”

“What are these arms for?” cried Winifred, holding out a pair of strong
young arms, which suggested health and strength in their every movement.
“Am I not good for something as well as Barney and Moira?” Suddenly she
changed her tone, running over and laying her soft young cheek against
the wrinkled one of her nurse. “Think, Granny,” she said, “what the bog
will be like with the moon shining down upon it, making all sorts of
ghostly shadows; so that after a while we shall just run for our lives;
and Barney will whip up his roan horse and bring us home, shivering for
fear of ghosts and fairies.”

“Winifred,” I observed, “you are far too fanciful for this nineteenth
century. You will have to come away to America and get rid of all these
unreal ideas.”

Her face clouded at the mention of America, and she rose from her pretty
attitude beside Mrs. Meehan, straight and tall as a willow.

“I told you I was going to America,” she said coldly; “but I suppose
people have fancies out there just as well as we have, only of a
different kind.”

There was a touch of shrewdness in this remark which amused me.

“Well, I suppose you’re right,” I said. “But such things should be
fought against everywhere–or, at least, kept in their proper place.”

“Fought against!” cried Winifred, with sudden warmth. “And what would
the world be without fancies? Just as dull as the bog without the moon.”

I felt that in a measure she was right, but I said nothing; and she
presently added, in her ordinary tone:

“I think we had better go now to look at the castle. Another day I might
not be able to show it to you.”

I rose at once to accompany her; and then she added, with a
half-petulant, half-playful air:

“I suppose you will only care to see the bare walls. And that won’t be
much; for it’s the fancies that give them beauty.”

“Forgive me, Winifred!” I said. “And show me the old walls with your own
light upon them–clothed with the tapestry of your own fancy.”

Her face brightened and she regarded me with a winsome smile, saying:

“Come, then, and I’ll tell you everything; and you may think what you
like and say what you like. I won’t get cross any more. And if you talk
about what you do in America, I will just say in my own mind: ‘Oh, I
suppose they have the bog without the moonlight out there; and if they
are satisfied, it doesn’t matter!'”

“She is indeed too old for her years,” I thought; “but so charming
withal, who could help loving her? Her very wilfulness and what might
seem like rudeness in another are redeemed by her voice and manner.”

“What if I were to go in Barney’s cart and see the bog by moonlight?” I
ventured to suggest.

Winifred reflected.

“Barney would not object, I think,” she decided. “But it may be best to
ask him. He might feel abashed with you; and I know Moira would not
speak a word, but just hold down her head and kick her heels together.”

“In short, I should be a wet blanket,” I went on.

“_I_ should like to have you with us,” Winifred said. “And, after all,
the others might not mind much; so perhaps you had better come.”

I laughed at the form of her invitation, but said that I would go.

“Very well,” said Winifred; “that is settled. And here we are in the
castle.”

By this time we had passed through a long stone passage similar to that
by which I had entered the room where we had left Granny Meehan; and
from that time my interest grew and grew. Some parts of the castle were
quite ruinous, so that we dared not enter, and only gazed in silence
into gloomy, vault-like rooms, from which the floors were crumbling
away. Here owls and bats held nightly revel; and Winifred told me, with
bated breath, that there walked ladies of the olden time at midnight or
knights with clanking armor. Again we came to halls into which streamed
the light of heaven from ruinous roofs.

“We have games of hide-and-seek in some of these rooms,” said Winifred,
laughing. “Oh, you ought to see Moira and me tearing about here!”

We mounted at last to the donjon and looked down upon the moat, which
was grass-grown; and upon the sally-ports in the walls and the
battlements, time-stained and covered in places with ivy, the growth of
centuries.

“They used to give battle in those days,” said Winifred. “Wasn’t it fine
to mount the flag on this tower and say to invaders that you would die
before you gave up the castle?” Her cheek glowed, and she tossed back
the curls which were tumbling about her forehead. “And then the trumpets
would be sounding down below, and the horses of the knights neighing,
their lances shining, their banners waving. Oh, I wish I had lived at
that time!”

Her words had called up a vivid picture from the past, and for a moment
I stood and let my eyes wander out far over the hills. But Winifred
called to me, and, taking my hand, led me down the winding stairs again.
After that we went in and out of a succession of apartments, bewildering
in their number and size; all bare, lofty, stone-walled and stone-paved.
Here and there a faded tapestry still lingered, or a banner fluttered in
the breeze which stole in through many a crack and cranny. At each pause
which we made my guide was able to tell me some entrancing story, some
bit of legendary lore which had all the charm of reality.

“If you know about the Red Branch Knights,” said Winifred, “you must
have heard of Cuchullin.”

“He is the Lancelot of Irish romance,” I assented.

“Well, I don’t know anything about Lancelot,” replied Winifred.

“It doesn’t matter for the moment,” I said. “Lancelot was a knight of
great valor, always doing noble deeds.”

“So was Cuchullin!” cried Winifred, eagerly. “Oh, I could tell you
wonderful things he did, even as a boy!”

“Tell me one, at any rate,” I pleaded.

“Well, I will tell you how he got his name,” she began. “He went to the
house of the smith who was giving a feast for the great King Conor
(Conor was the boy’s uncle). The smith had let out a great hound, for
the King forgot to tell him that Cuchullin was coming. The boy came and
gave battle to the hound and slew him. When the smith found out that his
hound was dead he grieved very much, because the dog had tended his
flocks and herds. The boy then offered to watch the cattle and guard
them till a hound of equal strength could be found. And because of that
he was called Cu-Culann, or the dog of the smith. He had to fight both
dogs and men in defence of the cattle. But, then, he was a very brave
boy; and, oh, it is a fine thing to have courage!”

“And to use it well as that boy did,” I put in. “I suppose he grew up to
be as good and brave a man.”

“Yes, he was a very famous knight. He gained many victories and
protected the poor and weak.”

I smiled as I watched her fine, mobile face alight with the admiration
she felt for that knight of the far-off past.

In the middle of a great room which we entered Winifred stopped
abruptly; and when she spoke it was with awe in her voice.

“In this room,” she observed, “was quartered for almost a whole winter
the great Finn. Do you know who Finn was?”

“Perhaps he is the same as the Fingal of the Scotch,” I replied.

“Perhaps so,” said Winifred, indifferently; “but I don’t know anything
about Fingal. This Finn founded an order called the Fianna Eirrinn. He
married Grania, ‘the golden-haired, the fleet and young’ daughter of
King Connae, who lived on the Hill of Tara.”

It was quaint to hear Winifred telling these legends or bits of ancient
history in exactly the same language in which some older person had told
them to her. I asked her to explain what kind of an order it was that
this legendary hero had founded; and she told me it was a military order
of knights who had sworn to defend the kingdom against foreign foes. She
added that Finn possessed the gifts of poetry, of healing, and of
second-sight–the latter from a fairy into whose palace he had succeeded
in thrusting one hand.

“It is really wonderful how you can remember all these old stories!”




“Niall has been telling them to me ever since I was a little child,”
replied Winifred; “and I remember a great many more. In that hall
downstairs which you see from this gallery, the harper sang to a great
company about the mines in these hills and the golden treasures buried
in the earth–”

She stopped abruptly, as if frightened, looking at me intently. But at
the time her words conveyed very little to my mind except the poetic
idea.

“In that same great hall down there,” said Winifred, “used to be set up
‘the caldron of hospitality.’ Every one that came was fed. Princes,
nobles, minstrels, servants, pilgrims, beggars–each had a place at the
big tables which used to be there.” She paused and looked down, as if
she could see the brilliant scene before her. “In the middle of the room
there,” she cried, “the chief Conal was warned by the spirit who watches
over the castle that he was to die that day. He was very strong and
brave and beautiful, and he didn’t fear death a bit. He went to meet it;
and in a battle, beside King Brian, he was killed by a Dane.”

We passed on, pausing at a great chamber, with windows ivy-hung, giving
out upon that exquisite scenery which has made famous the name of
Wicklow. I looked out over the hills, whence a purple mist was lifting,
leaving them illumined with a golden haze.

“I like the legend of St. Bridget,” Winifred remarked.

“Tell it to me,” I said.

“I suppose in America you believe in saints?” said Winifred, with such a
look of drollery that I burst out laughing.

“All good Catholics do that,” I said, “even if they are Americans.”

“Of course this is a legend,” Winifred went on; “and Father Owen–my
dear Father Owen–told me that not all the legends told of the saints
are true; but I think this one is.”

“I should like to hear it,” I repeated.

“Once St. Bridget was on a journey with some companions, and stopped to
ask hospitality of the chief. He was away with his harper, for in old
times every great person had a harper. But the chief’s sons were at
home, and they brought in their guests to the hall and spread out a
banquet for them. While they were at table, St. Bridget looked up at the
harps and asked the sons to give her some music. They replied: ‘Alas!
honored lady, our father is away with our harper, and neither my brother
nor myself has skill in music. But if you will bless our fingers we will
try to please you.’ Bridget then touched their fingers with the tips of
her own, and when the brothers sat down to the harps they played such
music as was never heard. All at once the old chief came in and he stood
spellbound at the exquisite music which his sons were bringing from the
harp strings. He wondered very much, for they had never played before.
But when he saw St. Bridget he understood it all.”

“This old castle is full of beautiful legends,” I observed.

“Yes,” said Winifred. “Niall says he isn’t sure that all these things
happened in this castle. He says, perhaps the minstrels or some one
collected them from a good many castles and pretended that they all
happened here. There are such a lot more I could tell you if there was
time, but it is getting dark.”

It was true; the dusk was creeping over the hills and down into the
valleys, like some spirit of peace, causing all toil to cease and
bidding all nature rest.

“If you will promise–oh, promise faithfully!–not to say a word to any
one nor to ask too many questions, I will show you something,” said
Winifred suddenly.

“I suppose I must promise,” I said.

And then she led me into a wing of the house which was in astonishingly
good repair.

“The rooms here are all furnished,” she remarked casually, “because
people lived here once.”

She did not say who and I did not ask. Finally she opened the door of a
small room adjoining the kitchen in which Granny Meehan still sat
solitary.

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