THE CAVE IN THE MOUNTAINS

The time fixed for our departure was drawing all too near; for the
summer had been a delightful one, with much of fine weather and almost
constant sunshine–rare in that land where Nature’s tear is always very
near her smile. I had visited the Devil’s Glen, with its wondrous falls,
its turbulent streams, its mountain heights, reached by a path of
tangled bloom. I had seen the “sweet Vale of Avoca” and Avonmore, and
Glendalough, with its seven ruined churches; and St. Kevin’s Bed, and
all the other delights of Wicklow, the garden of Ireland.

On most of these expeditions I had been accompanied by Winifred, with
Barney and Moira. If we were driving, Barney acted as driver and guide
at once; if we were on foot, he carried the luncheon basket. Very often
we set out when the dew was still on the grass and the morning-star had
scarcely faded from the sky.

But there was one more spot to be visited, and this time Barney and
Moira were not to be of the party. Winifred had persuaded Niall to take
us to the Phoul-a-Phooka, and show us there a mysterious cavern in which
he kept hidden his treasures. I looked forward to this visit with a
curious blending of fear and curiosity. Niall was so variable in his
moods, and Father Owen agreed with me in thinking that at times his mind
was unsettled and his temper dangerous. Still, I determined to take the
risk.

One warm day in July Winifred and I set out in company with Niall–not,
indeed, that he gave us much of his society. When we were in the car he
drove in gloomy silence; when we were afoot he walked on ahead, wrapped
in his cloak, with an air of gloomy preoccupation, his sugar-loaf hat
serving as a sign-post which we were to follow.

When we came up at last to this celebrated spot, my breath was fairly
taken away by its wild and mournful grandeur. Waterfall after waterfall
came down from a height of two hundred feet, over great, rocky
precipices, being spanned by a single arched bridge of Gothic design. On
one side of the falls are tasteful grounds, with shaded walks and seats
for the convenience of visitors; on the other, all is wild and
barren–rock rising above rock, crag above crag, in a morose solitude.

It was toward this solitude that Niall led us, the noise of the
waterfalls completely drowning our voices. We strode on by devious
paths, turning more and more away from the water and upward by a steep
ascent, till we found ourselves in surroundings shunned by the common
folk, and wild, gloomy and forbidding enough to justify all that popular
superstition said of this region. Once we paused to take breath, and I
looked down from an eminence on the waters rushing madly to the tranquil
glen below; and then I turned my gaze from the Gothic bridge, the work
of man, to the mountain crag, the work of the Creator.

Suddenly Niall turned an abrupt angle, Winifred and I creeping after
him. I was full of fear; but Winifred was fearless and smiling, holding
my hand and encouraging me as though I had been a child. We stopped
before a tangled mass of vines and brushwood. Niall pushed them aside,
disclosing a small, dark entrance in the rocks, through which he
passed, signing for us to follow him. This we did, Winifred whispering:

“It’s the cavern. I was here once before–that time I told you I was
going to the Phoul-a-Phooka.”

We bent our heads as we saw Niall do, for the entrance was very low; and
we advanced some paces along a kind of passageway cut in the rock either
by the hand of Nature or by some long-forgotten outlaw of the hills. A
surprise awaited us, such as is common enough in underground places; for
we emerged all at once from the dark into a large and tolerably
well-lighted apartment. The rugged walls of rock, moss-covered in
places, were dry; the floor was neatly boarded over, and a fire was
ready for lighting in a corner. Above it, a cranny in the wall permitted
the smoke to escape. In a little alcove apart from the principal cave
were a bed, a few chairs, and a table.

“Niall lives here for weeks at a time,” explained Winifred.

Niall had set a match to the fire; for, warm as the weather was outside,
there was a chilliness within as of a vault. Presently the sods blazed
up, the flames leaping and glowing about the stooping figure of the old
man, who seemed like some strange magician. We seated ourselves on the
rough, deal chairs, near a table of similar material that occupied the
middle of the cave; and Niall opened a curiously contrived cupboard and
brought forth some plates and cups and saucers. Winifred, opening our
luncheon basket, took out and spread upon the table its simple
contents–cold meat, home-made bread, a pat of fresh butter, and a jar
of apple jelly, which the landlord had specially recommended.

Niall then abruptly left the cavern, and returned in a few minutes with
a pitcher of goat’s milk; but how or where he had obtained it he did not
explain.

“I think he keeps some goats out there on the rocks,” said Winifred in
a low voice to me, “so that he can drink the milk when he is living
here.”

Our walk had given us an appetite; the coolness of the place, despite
the fire, was refreshing. Winifred was in high spirits, making a jest of
everything and thoroughly enjoying the simple repast. I, forgetting my
late fears, was also disposed to be merry. Niall alone maintained a
moody silence, eating but little, and drinking only sparingly of the
goat’s milk. When the meal was over, Winifred fetched some water from a
mountain spring, and we washed the dishes in a rude earthen vessel and
restored them to their places in the cupboard built against the rock.
When this was done, Niall said abruptly:

“I will show you now what you have come here to see–the treasure which
the earth has yielded up to me. Some of these things are from the tombs
of kings or warriors; some buried at the time, perhaps, of the Danish
invasion. They are all, I believe, of value, greater or less.”

When he had thus spoken he began to creep around the cavern with a
furtive, stealthy movement, examining every chink and cranny, as though
unseen eyes were watching him. At last he approached a certain corner,
withdrawing again, and looking all around him with eager, troubled eyes.
Then he touched what seemed to be a secret spring, and before us was
another dark passage.

This dark passage had been made by some former occupant of the cave, who
stood, perhaps, in danger of his life. We entered, and at the end of it
was a second and much smaller cavern, the darkness of which was relieved
by the gleam of shining metal. I stood still and drew my breath hard.
Was I dreaming, or had I gone back to the world of the Arabian Nights?
This could not be Ireland, and Niall a prosaic, end-of-the-century
Irishman! He must surely be a magician of old–one of the genii sprung
from Aladdin’s lamp; and the child beside him, in her delicate, aerial
loveliness, some fairy showing the treasures of the earth to mortal
eyes.

Niall, putting aside his gloom, suddenly brightened into enthusiasm,
which lighted up his face as with the fire of genius. He told us of the
old warriors, chiefs and kings, or of the beautiful ladies in shining
satin robes, who had worn these costly ornaments–the fibulæ or
brooches, the breastplates of thin burnished gold, the crowns, the
bracelets, the collars, some studded with precious gems. And there were
shining heaps of gold besides, fresh from the mint. These Niall had
obtained in exchange for the ore which he had dug up from the bed of
streams and also for gold still in the lump.

The time seemed to pass as in a dream. We were never tired listening,
Niall of dwelling upon the glories of his treasure-house. The old man
had spent hours and days polishing those articles with chemicals, with
whose use he was well acquainted, and some of which gave out a strange,
pungent odor; for it had been no small labor to clean away the rust
perhaps of ages.

“Every year I part with some of them,” Niall said mournfully, rather as
one who spoke to himself than to us. “And it is hard, hard; but I add a
little each time to the pile of coin. When the day comes I shall sell
them all–all!”

He motioned us to go out again into the first cavern; and, touching the
spring, he closed away the treasures and sank once more into a listless
mood, seated at the table, his head buried in his hands. Winifred, who
had listened with open-mouthed delight to Niall’s tales of the past,
and had been as much interested in seeing the treasures as though she
saw them for the first time, now sat thoughtfully beside me, gazing into
the fire. Presently she grew tired of inaction, and, springing to her
feet, began to dance about the cavern–a graceful, charming figure in
that rocky setting. And as she danced she chanted a weird song in the
Irish tongue, which Niall had taught her.

Gradually Niall raised his head. The air or the words of the song seemed
to have a strange effect upon him–to rouse him, as it were, from his
lethargy. He fixed his eyes upon Winifred, watching her every movement
with a fierce eagerness. Then his eyes turned upon me, and there was the
fire almost of insanity lighting them. As he gazed he rose from his
chair, coming toward me with a slow, gliding step, while I sat paralyzed
with terror.

“Why should I not kill you,” he said, in a deep, low tone, like the
growling of some mountain torrent, “and bury you here in the hills? You
have brought the curse upon me. Like the carrion bird, your coming has
heralded evil. My heart is burning within me because of the sorrow that
consumes it. You have charmed the child from me to take her away to the
unknown land.”

“But remember,” I managed to say, “that it is with your consent, and
that I have promised to bring her back again when you will.”

“Promised!” he repeated fiercely. “As if you could control
events–govern the wilful mind of a child and force her to remember!”

There was a deadly calmness in his voice, more fearful than the wildest
outburst of anger; and I trembled so violently that I could almost hear
my teeth chattering.

“Ha!” he cried, “you are afraid of me. I can see you tremble. And you
may well; for Niall, in his wrath, is terrible as the mountain torrent
in its course.”

I fixed my eyes upon him as upon a wild beast whose fury I was striving
to tame. Every moment I feared that he might spring upon me, when the
voice of Winifred suddenly broke the spell. It was evident she had not
at first perceived what was going on.

“Niall!” she said imperiously. “What are you saying to the lady? Why are
you trying to frighten her?”

She interposed her slender figure between us as she spoke.

Niall’s eyes sought the ground in a crestfallen manner, and he muttered:

“Forgive me, my little lady!”

“I won’t forgive you if you act like that any more, Niall!” she
declared. “You know how the old chieftains and kings you are always
talking about treated their guests. And isn’t the lady your guest here
in your own cavern, Niall?”

Niall murmured:

“I forgot, I forgot! ‘Tis all my poor head. At times I can think only of
one thing–that she is taking you away.”

“And ’tis you who want me to go for my own good,” Winifred said gravely.

Niall turned away with a groan.




“I am willing to go,” Winifred went on, “because Father Owen said I
should. He knows what is best. He told me it was God sent the lady
here.”

Niall broke into an uncontrollable fury, which caused even Winifred to
step back.

“What care I for Father Owen or the lady?” he exclaimed.

Her face was pale; I think it was the first time she had ever been
afraid of Niall. But she faced the old man bravely; though his face,
working with passion, his streaming hair and huge frame made him look
like a veritable Cyclops.

“Be still, Niall,” she cried, “or the lady and I will go away out of
your cave this minute, and be very sorry that we came here.”

She put her small hand on his arm, and the touch seemed to calm him.

“Forgive me!” he murmured once more, in the helpless, bewildered tone of
a little child; and, sinking again into one of the chairs near the
table, he buried his face in his hands and so remained for some moments.
We did not disturb him by so much as a word; but I, relieved somewhat
from my late suspense, though dreading a new access of fury, and eager
to be gone, let my eyes rove round that singular place. The rugged face
of the rock above our heads and all around was lit by the crackling
flames of the turf which burned so brightly. I was startled from my
thoughts by the voice of Niall; but this time it was soft and low as
that of Winifred herself. Suddenly rising from his chair, he made me a
low bow and offered a humble apology for his late rudeness. After that
he was the same amiable and courteous gentleman he so often appeared,
and as pleasant as possible, talking a great deal and telling us many
interesting things.

“In this cave,” he said, “during the penal times more than one priest
took refuge. Mass was said here, and the people flocked from far and
near to attend it. Here in the troubles of ’98 it is said that the
patriot O’Byrne took refuge. This may be the precise cavern in which he
dwelt, or it may not; but it gives the place an interest–a sad
interest.”

He paused and looked around him for an instant.

“I shall love this cave better than ever now,” said Winifred; “and I
shall often think of it when I am far away in the New World–”

Her voice broke a little.

“Think of it, my child!” cried Niall. “Oh, _do_ think of it when you are
far beyond the ocean! Think of whatever will make you love Ireland and
make you remember.”

The tears coursed down his cheeks and there was anguish in his voice.

“Don’t cry, Niall!” said Winifred. “I shall always remember you and your
cave and dear old Granny and Wicklow and Ireland.”

She said the words as solemnly as if they were a vow; and they had a
weird sound there in that hole in the rocks which had sheltered many a
noble and saintly soul.

“There spoke my own lady!” cried Niall, triumphantly.

“Nothing shall ever make me forget,” added Winifred.

“I, for my part,” I broke in, “shall do my best to help you to remember;
and so I solemnly promise here on this holy ground, where Mass has been
said and where martyrs have trod.”

It was near evening when we left that wonderful spot, and, deafened once
more by the noise of the Phoul-a-Phooka, retraced our steps in silence.

Continue Reading

HOW FATHER OWEN WON THE DAY

She threw upon the table an immense mass of bloom she had gathered on
the banks of the Dargle; then rushed over to her beloved Father Owen,
crying:

“O Father Owen, Father Owen! she wants to take me away with her to
America, and it will break my heart–I know it will!”

The tears streamed down her cheeks, and she never noticed me in this
wild outburst of grief.

“My child, my child,” said Father Owen, “do you hear that robin singing
outside there? And you, to whom God has given reason, are crying! The
little robin sings in the sunshine and is calm in the storm.”

“I can’t help it, Father–I can’t help it! The robin has no heart, but
just feathers over his little bones.”

Father Owen laughed, and even the girl smiled through her tears.

“Let me see sunshine again on your face,” the priest said, “and hear the
song on your lips. If you are going to America there’s no misfortune in
that–is there?”

“No misfortune to leave everything I love and go away with a stranger?”

“Not so great a stranger, Winifred,” I ventured, reproachfully. “I
thought we were to be friends.”

The girl started at sound of my voice and blushed rosy red.

“I didn’t know you were here!” she muttered confusedly.

“Well, it doesn’t matter, my dear,” I replied. “You have shown nothing
more than natural feeling at the prospect of parting with the scenes and
friends of your childhood. But I want to tell you now in presence of
Father Farley that you are free to stay or go. I shall not force you to
accompany me; for perhaps, after all, you will be happier here than
there.”

“Ah, happiness is not the only object of a life!” Father Owen said
quickly. “Why, even that little bird yonder has to give up his songs in
the sunshine sometimes and go to work. He has to build his nest as a
shelter for his family, and he has to find them food.”

He paused, looking out of the window at the little workman gaily hopping
about as if making repairs in his dwelling, and thus pointing the moral
and adorning the tale. When the priest turned round again to look at
Winifred, her face was pale but composed, and her tears were dried on
the delicate kerchief she drew from the folds of her cloak.

“To my mind it seems clear,” said the priest, “that this lady’s presence
here just now is providential; and that her offer to take you to America
is most kind, as it is most advantageous.”

Winifred threw at me a glance which was neither so grateful nor so
friendly as it might have been; but she looked so charming, her eyes
still misty with tears and her curls falling mutinously about her face,
that I forgave her on the spot.

“And yet I came here to tell you, Father Owen, that I wouldn’t go!” she
cried impetuously.

“Oh, did you?” said Father Owen. “Then you came here also to be told
that you must go.”

“_Must!_” I echoed. “Oh, no, Father–not that!”

“That and nothing else,” insisted the priest. “I shall be sorry indeed
to part from my Winifred”–his brown eyes rested on her with infinite
kindliness. “I taught her her catechism; I prepared her for her first
confession and holy communion, and to be confirmed by the bishop. I have
seen her grow up like the flowers on yonder rocks. But she is not a
flower: she has a human soul, and she has a destiny to fulfil here in
this world. Therefore, when an offer is made to her which will give her
every advantage that she now lacks, what are my feelings or Niall’s or
Granny’s or hers?”

Winifred’s eyes sought the floor in some confusion, and with a hint of
new tears darkening them; for her old friend’s words had touched her.

“She thinks, I suppose,” he went on, “that because I am a priest I have
no heart like the robin out yonder. Why, there is none of the little
ones that I teach that do not creep into my heart and never get out,
even when they come to be big stalwart men or women grown. But I put my
feelings aside and say, ‘What is best must be done.’ And,” continued the
priest, “look at Granny! She will be left desolate in her blindness, and
yet she bids you go. Poor daft Niall, too, will be a wanderer lonelier
than ever without his little companion; but does he complain?”

“O Father Owen,” cried Winifred, “I’ll do whatever you say! You know I
never disobeyed you in my life.”

“That’s a good child, now!” said the priest. “And I hope I wasn’t too
cross. Go to my Breviary there and you will find a pretty, bright
picture. And here I have–bless me!–some sugar-plums. The ladies from
Powerscourt brought them from Dublin and gave them to me for my little
friend.”

Winifred flew to the Breviary and with a joyful cry brought out a
lovely picture of the Sacred Heart. The sugar-plums, however, seemed to
choke her, and she put them in her pocket silently.

“When will you start for America?” asked the priest.

“The first week of August, perhaps,” I answered; “so that Winifred may
be in time for the opening of school.”

“Well, then,” said Father Owen, “it will be time enough to begin to cry
on the 31st of July, Winifred my child; and you have a whole month
before then.”

Winifred brightened visibly at this; for a month is very long to a
child.

“Meantime you will take your kind friend here, this good lady, to see
the sights. She must know Wicklow well, at any rate; so that you can
talk about it away over there in America. I wish I were going myself to
see all the fine churches and schools and institutions that they tell me
are there.”

“You have never been in America, Father?” I inquired.

“Nor ever will, I’m afraid. My old bones are too stiff for traveling.”

“They’re not too stiff, though, to climb the mountain in all weathers,”
I put in. For the landlord had told me how Father Owen, in the stormiest
nights of winter and at any hour, would set out, staff in hand. He would
climb almost inaccessible heights, where a few straggling families had
their cabins, to administer the sick or give consolation in the houses
of death.

“And why wouldn’t I climb?” he inquired. “Like my friend the robin, I
have my work to do; and the worse for me if some of my flock are perched
high up. ‘Tis the worse for them, too.”

I could not but laugh at the drollery of his expression.

“My purse is none of the longest either,” he said, “and wouldn’t reach
near as far as America; and, besides, I’m better at home where my duty
is.”

This quaint, simple man of God attracted me powerfully, and I could not
wonder at the hold he had upon his parishioners.

“Some of my poor people,” he went on, “have no other friend than the
soggarth; and if _he_ went away what would they do at all? Winifred my
pet, there’s one of the geese just got into the garden. Go and chase it
away; and I needn’t tell you not to throw stones nor hurt it, as the
boys do.”

Winifred went off delightedly, and we saw her, with merry peals of
laughter, pursuing the obstinate creature round and round the garden. No
sooner did she put it out at the gate than it came in at a chink in the
wall.




“Weary on it for a goosie!” said the priest; “though, like the rest of
the world, it goes where it will do best for itself. But I want to tell
you, my dear lady, while the child’s away, how glad I am that she is
going with you and to a convent. It was God sent you here. The finger of
God is tracing out her way, and I’m sure His blessing will rest upon you
for your share in the work.”

At this moment Winifred, breathless from her chase, entered the room.

“Arrange your posy now, and take it over yourself to the church,” said
Father Owen; “and maybe I’ll come over there by and by to play you
something on the organ.”

For it was one of Winifred’s greatest pleasures to sit in the dim little
chapel and listen to the strains of the small organ, which Father Owen
touched with a master-hand. So the child, arranging the
flowers–primroses chiefly, with their pale gold contrasting with the
green of the leaves–prepared to set out. I, taking leave of the priest,
accompanied her, and sat down in a pew while Winifred went into the
sacristy for a vase. She came out again and put the flowers at the foot
of the Blessed Virgin’s altar; then she knelt down just under the
sanctuary lamp, and I saw her childish face working with the intensity
of her prayer.

Presently we heard Father Owen coming in with Barney, who was to blow
the organ for him. The brightness of the day was giving place to the
shadows of the afternoon, and the colors were fading gradually from the
stained windows. Only the light of the sanctuary lamp gleamed out in the
dusk. The priest touched the keys lightly at first; then he began to
play, with exquisite finish, some of the simple hymns to the Blessed
Virgin which we had known since our childhood. “Hail Virgin, dearest
Mary, our lovely Queen of May!” “On this day, O beautiful Mother!” “Oh,
blest fore’er the Mother and Virgin full of grace,” followed each other
in quick succession. He passed from these to “Gentle Star of Ocean!” and
finally to “Lead, Kindly Light.”

The notes fell true and pure with a wonderful force and sweetness, which
produced a singular effect. It seemed as if every word were being spoken
direct to the soul. I felt as if I could have stayed there forever
listening; and I was struck with the expression of Winifred’s face as
she came away from the altar, advancing toward me through the gloom. Her
face, upturned to the altar, was aglow with the brightness of the
sanctuary lamp.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she whispered.

I assented, and I saw that peace was made between us; for there was the
old friendliness in look and tone. But I said, to make assurance doubly
sure:

“This is a good place to forgive me, dear, and to think over my plan in
its true light.”

“You shall forgive _me_! I ought to have been glad and grateful,”
Winifred answered quite humbly.

There was a great sadness in her voice, however; for the sorrows of
childhood are very real and very deep, though they do not last.

“Father Owen plays every trouble away into peace,” I observed.

“Yes,” Winifred replied dreamily.

Then we heard Father Owen coming down from the loft, and we stepped
outside, thinking to meet him there and thank him for his music. But
instead he went directly into the church, and I returned thither to wait
for his coming. I could just discern his figure kneeling on the
altar-step, the altar-lamp forming a halo about his venerable head; and
I heard his voice repeating over and over again, in accents of intense
fervor: “My Jesus, mercy! My Jesus, mercy!” No other prayer only that.

I stole away, more impressed than I had ever been, out into the lovely
summer twilight. Winifred’s hand was locked in mine as we went.

“I hope,” I said before we parted, “that you will soon be very happy
over my project–or, at least, very brave.”

“I shall try to be very brave,” she answered; “and then perhaps I’ll be
happy. Father Owen says so, anyway.”

“He is a wise man and a saint,” I answered.

“Oh, yes!” she assented, with pretty enthusiasm. “He is just like St.
Patrick himself.”

After that she accepted the situation cheerfully, and I never again
heard her protest against going to America. Father Owen had won the day.

Continue Reading

TWO VISITS

My next duty was to obtain Granny Meehan’s consent to Winifred’s
departure for America. I found her sitting beside the hearth in her
accustomed place, with the cat at her feet. Winifred was absent, and in
the outer court was the pleasant sunshine falling over solitude. Only
the fowls, so variously named by Winifred, disported themselves before
the window.

Mrs. Meehan greeted me cheerfully and cordially, and I saw that no
shadow of future events had fallen upon her yet. Our conversation at
first was on the usual topics–the fine weather, the prospect of good
crops. Then, as it were of a sudden, I remarked:

“Well, Mrs. Meehan, I have seen the schoolmaster.”

Granny started, and stared at me in silence for a few moments.

“Where, then, ma’am dear?” she asked uneasily.

“In his own house.”

“In the cabin up beyant there?” she cried in amazement. “Tell me was it
up there?”

“Yes, in the cabin amongst the hills, on the day of the storm,” I
answered very calmly.

“The Lord be good to us, ma’am! And what took you to that fearsome
place–in such weather, too? Couldn’t you have got shelter anywhere
else?”

She was quite pale at the thought.

“I went purposely, Mrs. Meehan; for I had made up my mind to ask him for
Winifred.”

“To ask him for Winifred!” she echoed in astonishment. Then her manner
showed something of offence. “It was in my charge the colleen was left,”
she declared; “and ’tis I, and not Niall of the hill, that has the say
about her.”

“But I was sure of your consent already,” said I, quietly.

“And what made you sure of it, axin’ your pardon for the question?”

“Your intelligence, your love for the girl, and your fear of Niall’s
influence over her.”

She seemed mollified, and I went on:

“Your intelligence will show you it is for the best, your love for
Winifred will make you wish the best for her, while your fear of
Niall–”

“Speak lower, ma’am: he may be in hearin’!” she said anxiously. “He’s
that strange he does be appearin’ when least you expect.”

“Well, in any case, I knew you would not oppose her going with me to
America.”

“To America, is it?” cried the woman, bristling up as fiercely almost as
Niall himself. “Oh, then, how am I to know that you’re playin’ me no
tricks–that you haven’t been sent to take her away from us?”

“Mrs. Meehan,” I said gravely, “I gave you my word as a lady that I knew
nothing of her till I came here.”

“I ax your pardon!” she said humbly. “But, O ma’am dear, think of
America, over the big ocean, and me sittin’ here alone among the hills,
powerless to go to her if she needs me!”

“She will be taken good care of,” I said. “I shall put her in a
convent, where she will be thoroughly educated and prepared for the part
she has to play in life.”

“And will she be goin’ away from the old land forever?” she asked,
clasping her feeble hand over her heart.

“By no means. It is my hope and wish that she come back here.”

“But him you call the schoolmaster will never allow it!” she cried, with
something of the same triumph which had appeared in Winifred’s face.

“The schoolmaster has already given his consent,” I said quietly.

“Given his consent!” repeated the old woman, flushing and paling; and
then a great wonder seemed to overcome every other feeling. “You saw him
in the cabin ‘mongst the hills and you got his consent! But weren’t you
afeared, ma’am, to go there by yourself?”

“I was somewhat afraid at first,” I admitted; “but I felt that for the
child’s sake it had to be done.”

“And you’ll take her away from me?” the old woman cried piteously. “How
can you, ma’am?”

“Don’t you see yourself how much the best thing it is for her?” I urged.
“You are afraid of Niall’s influence over her; she can not grow up as
she is, roaming the hills, with no companions of her own age or rank.”

She was silent a long time, and I thought she was praying.

“You are right, ma’am dear,” she said tranquilly; “it is for the best,
and it seems to be God’s holy will. But when must it be?”

“We shall sail from here in August, I think,” I answered. “And then I
can place her in a convent near New York for the opening term of the
school year. If she stays there even two or three years, it will make a
great difference. And then she will come back to take her place at the
castle, if it can be made habitable; or, at all events, in the
neighborhood.”

“But Miss Winifred’s father is in the United States of America?” said
the old woman, tremulously.

“Yes: he is in New York. I know him and have spoken to him.”

The old woman’s face flushed with a joyful, eager flush.

“You know my boy, the pulse of my heart–Roderick?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I know him, I may say, well.”

A look of trouble suddenly replaced the brightness of Granny Meehan’s
face.

“Then know too that if Roderick sets his eyes on Miss Winifred, we’ll
never see her more here in the old land.”

There was something indescribably mournful in her tone.

“Himself will take her,” she went on; “and who can say that his new wife
will give her a mother’s love or a mother’s care?”

“He has no new wife!” I said–“no wife at all; and perhaps, among us, we
can win him back to the old world–to Ireland, to Wicklow.”

“Say that again, asthore machree!” cried the old woman,–“that he has no
wife at all. Oh, then, sure there’s hope for him comin’ back!”

“Niall has made it a condition of his consent to Winifred’s going,” I
observed, “that Roderick shall not see his child nor know of her
presence in New York till the old man gives the signal.”

“The old rap!” cried Granny, with sudden ire. “‘Tis like him, the
marplot, the–but the Lord forgive me what I’m sayin’! And hasn’t he
been a father to the little one, with all his queer ways and his
strayin’ about the hills when others were in their beds?”

“He is altogether devoted to her,” I said; “and has a right to make
what request he pleases.”

“True for you, ma’am–true for you,” said Granny. “And my old heart’s so
full with all you’ve told me that it seems as if the world was turned
the wrong way round. Oh, what a desolate spot this will be when Miss
Winifred’s gone out of it!”

“Only for a time; and then, if all goes as we hope, think what happiness
is in store for every one!”

“I’ll try to think of it, ma’am,–indeed and I will,” said Granny. “And,
sittin’ here in the dark alone, I’ll be prayin’, mornin’, noon and
night, that all may turn for the best.”

“Your prayers will help more than anything else can,” I declared; “be
sure of that, and keep up your heart. But now I think I’ll call upon the
priest–Father Owen, I believe?”

“Yes: Father Owen Farley.”

“Very well. I shall see him and tell him all about the matter. He may be
a help to us, too.”

I bade the old woman good-morning and went on my way, feeling that I had
quite overcome the opposition of those interested in the girl. I had
only to fear now some wilfulness on the part of Winifred herself, and I
counted on Father Owen to help me in that direction. I had already
discovered that she had a strong, lively faith, the robust piety so
common among the children of Ireland, and the respect for priests which
seems to come by instinct. I had heard her speak of Father Owen with a
reverence beautiful to see in one so young.

As I went on my way to the chapel, the sun, which had been under a
cloud, suddenly burst out from a sky of tender, dappled gray. There was
a smell of the woods in the air, which a morning shower had brought
forth; and a robin was singing as I approached Father Owen’s residence.
The songster sat on the bough of a tree, his red breast swelling with
the melody he sent forth. His bright eye catching sight of me caused him
to trill out more bravely than ever, as if to say: “See how this little
Irish robin can sing! Did you ever hear a finer song than that?”

I think it was at the same thought Father Owen was laughing as I drew
near. He stood in his little garden, a fine, venerable figure, with
snow-white hair, worn rather long on his neck. He was about the medium
height, thin to emaciation, with wonderfully bright eyes and the smile
of a child. He turned at my approach. I introduced myself.

“You will know me best, Father,” I observed, “as the lady from America.”

“The lady from America?” he said. “I’m glad to meet you. Of course I’ve
seen you in church and at the holy table. This is a real pleasure,
though. Come into my little house now, and let me hear something of your
wonderful country beyond the sea.”

I followed, charmed with his courtesy.

“I was listening to that rogue of a robin,” he said, as he led me in;
“and I think he knew very well he had an auditor. Birds, I suppose, have
their vanity, like the rest of us.”

“The same thought occurred to me, Father,” I answered. “He did swell out
his little throat so, and sent his eye wandering about in search of
applause.”

“There’s a deal of human nature in birds,” said the priest, laughing at
the quaint conceit; “and in the lower animals as well–every cat and dog
among them.”




We chatted on from one subject to another, till at last I introduced
that which had brought me.

“Father,” I began, “I want to talk to you specially about Winifred, the
orphan of the castle.”

“Winifred!” he said, his face lighting up. “A lovable, charming child,
but a bit wayward; pure and bright in spirit as yonder mountain stream,
but just as little to be restrained.”

“I thought I would like to hear your opinion of a plan I have formed
with regard to her.”

He bowed his head, with an inimitable courtesy in the gesture, as if to
signify his willingness to hear, and fixed his dark eyes upon me.

“My idea is to take her to America and place her for a few years in a
convent.”

“America,” he said thoughtfully, “is very far off; and if she has to
live in Ireland, might it not be better to select a convent nearer
home?”

Then I went more into details: told him of Roderick and of the
possibility of bringing father and child together. His opposition–if
opposition it could be called–vanished at once, and he cordially
entered into the idea.

“Granny Meehan will certainly consent if we all think it best for the
child,” he said; “but what of that extraordinary being in the mountains
up yonder? What of Niall?”

“He has consented.”

“You amaze me!” cried the priest, holding up both hands in astonishment.
“Surely it takes you Americans to accomplish anything.” Then he added
after a pause: “Did he mention his relationship to Winifred, which is a
secret from all about here?”

“He did.”

“He is a most singular character–a noble one, warped by circumstances,”
continued the priest, thoughtfully. “A visionary, a dreamer. Poor
Niall! he was a fine lad when I knew him first.”

“You knew him when he was young, then?” I inquired.

“Yes, I knew him well. An ardent enthusiastic boy, brave and hopeful and
devout. Now–but we need not discuss that. It is as well, perhaps, that
the child should be withdrawn from his influence before she is older;
though, mind you, his influence over her has hitherto been for the
best.”

“So I have every reason to think,” I assented; “but, as you say, Father,
growing older, the girl will require different surroundings.”

After that we talked over our plans for the best part of an hour; and
the old priest showed me his simple treasures–a crucifix of rarest
ivory, so exquisitely carved that I could not refrain from expressing my
admiration again and again. This, with a picture or two of rare merit,
had come from Rome; and reminded Father Owen, as he said, of seminary
days, of walks on the Campagna in the wonderful glow of an Italian
sunset, of visits to churches and art galleries. He showed me, too, his
books.

“They have supplied to me,” he observed, “the place of companionship and
of travel. I can travel in their pages around the civilized world; and I
love them as so many old friends. In the long nights of winter I have
sat here, listening to the mountain storm while I read, or the streams
rushing upon their way when the frost set them free.”

As he talked thus there was the sound of hasty, rushing feet in the
hall, and Winifred burst into the room.

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