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.