A MYSTERY SOLVED

When Winifred had returned to the convent, I waited patiently for
Roderick’s coming, which I knew could not be long delayed. Indeed,
before the week was out his card was brought to me where I sat at my
sitting-room fire. I glanced up at him as he entered the room. His face
was grave, even stern in its expression, reminding me forcibly of Niall.
After the ordinary salutations had been exchanged, he stood before me
silent a moment; then he said, with an abruptness quite foreign to his
manner:

“I think you will agree with me that this is no time for commonplaces. I
have come to know the meaning of this mystery.”

“Mystery!” I repeated vaguely; for, with all my planning and thinking
what I should say when he came, I was still hopelessly at a loss, and
resolved to be guided by the event.

“Yes, mystery,” he declared emphatically. “I saw in your company the
very child of whom I told you I had had a glimpse and whom I was so
eager to see again.”

“But how could I know that the child with me was the one who had
attracted your attention?”

“Well, in the first place,” he answered, looking at me keenly, “I gave
you a tolerably accurate description of the girl in question. The type
is not a very common one, and might, I think be easily recognized.”

He paused; and I remaining silent, he went on again:

“I hope you will not consider it rude if I say that I think you did know
it was the child I was in search of.”

“And why?” I asked, still with a mere helpless idea of gaining time.

“Because of your manner and your course of action the other day in the
parlor of the Waldorf. I saw at once that, for some reason or another,
you were disturbed at my presence there. When the girl spoke and thus
attracted my attention, you were distressed; and while I was in the act
of addressing her you seized her by the hand and fled from the hotel.”
(An irrepressible smile came over his face at the recollection.) “You
left in such haste that you forgot the letter you had been writing.
However, I posted that for you. And you went along Thirty-third Street,
I should be afraid to say at what rate of speed. Did you suppose I was
going to pursue you and forcibly wrest away the child?”

I could not help laughing in sympathy at the drollery which shone out
through the anxiety of his face, like sunshine from a cloud.

“Well, not exactly,” I observed; “but, truth to tell, I had no desire to
hold any conversation with you just then. And, besides, I was in a
hurry.”

“Oh, you _were_ in a hurry–there was no possible doubt about that!” he
assented, still laughing.

“Will you not sit down?” I inquired. “You look so very unsociable
standing, and the night is cold enough to make this fire agreeable.”

He took the chair I indicated, but he did not turn from the subject.

“May I ask,” he resumed, “if the child whom I saw on that occasion is
here with you?”

“She is not,” I responded briefly, elated that I could do so
truthfully.

“Where is she?”

“That I can not tell.”

“Can not tell!” he repeated musingly. “Surely that is a very strange
answer. Perhaps, at least, you will tell me _who_ she is?”

“I am not at liberty to tell that either,” I replied firmly.

“Mystery on mystery!” he cried, with an impatient gesture. “What in the
name of common-sense–if you will forgive my bluntness–is the purpose
of this mystification?”

“The mystification arises,” I declared, “from the fact that I am
solemnly pledged to keep both her identity and her whereabouts a
secret.”

“From whom?”

The question was a shrewd one. I hesitated how to answer it; but at last
I said:

“From all inquirers.”

“Are there likely to be many?” he asked, quizzically.

“That I can not say.”

Roderick lay back in his chair and pondered, keeping his eyes fixed upon
my face.

“Under ordinary circumstances,” he said, after a pause, “I should, of
course, respect your desire for secrecy and say no more about the
matter. But there are reasons which make the identity of this child of
vital interest to me.”

I could not answer: there was now nothing I could say without revealing
the secret I was pledged to keep.

“You will pardon me for saying further that I strongly suspect _I_ am
the person toward whom you are pledged to maintain this secrecy.”

“You!” I repeated. “Why, surely you are in a singular mood to-night,
full of fancies and suspicions!”

“For which I have good and sufficient reasons. Are yours equally so for
maintaining this secrecy?”

“I believe that they are,” I replied gravely.

He rose and paced the floor a while. Then he sat down again, and drew
his chair nearer mine, as if impelled by some sudden resolve.

“Since you will not give me your confidence–” he began.

“Since I can not,” I corrected quietly.

“Well, since you can not or will not, I shall give you mine instead, and
open for your inspection a page of my life which I fancied was closed
forever.”

He paused, and an expression so sad and troubled crossed his face that,
in my deep pity, I almost regretted my promise to Niall.

“I was brought up,” he went on, “in the neighborhood of the Dargle. That
beautiful glen and stream were alike familiar to me. I inhabited an old
family mansion, which, to say the least, stood sadly in need of repair.
I was under the guardianship of a kinsman who, though eccentric, was of
sterling worth.”

There was a touch of emotion in his voice, as he thus referred to Niall,
which pleased me.

“When I was about twenty-three we had a serious difference of opinion,
which arose in part from my marriage. For at that time I married a very
beautiful girl, who lived only a few years, and left one child–a girl.”

He hurried over this part of the story, which seemed deeply painful to
him.

“It is always unpleasant to go into family affairs, but my relations
with my wife’s family were such that I removed the child from their
influence and took her back to the old dwelling. There I placed her in
charge of an old woman who had been my nurse. I refused to accept any
of my wife’s money, even for the maintenance of the child; and, my own
circumstances being not of the best, I came to America. I had but one
object in view–to make money, that I might return, claim my child and
restore the old dwelling of my fathers to something of its former
state.”

Again there was a long, troubled pause; and I did not interrupt him by
so much as a word, nor did I give any sign that some of his story was
already familiar to me. When he resumed it was in a different tone. His
face was drawn and haggard, his voice tremulous:

“For some time I sent the half-yearly remittance faithfully to my little
Winifred, and I was happy in so doing. Then I received a letter–from
whom precisely I know not, though I believe it purported to be from a
priest. It was written in the third person and it simply informed me
that my child was dead.”

“Dead!” I exclaimed–“dead! How cruel!–how–”

I was about to say untrue, but I checked myself in time. Roderick
glanced quickly toward me but said nothing.

“It was indeed a cruel blow,” he resumed at last; “and after that I gave
up all desire to see Ireland again. I drifted on here, doing whatever
good I could and working still, but with little personal hope or
interest to cheer me in my labors.”

His weary, despondent tone went to my heart, which was beating just then
with exultation; for I was truly rejoiced to know that Winifred’s father
was worthy of her, that poor Niall’s dreams might one day come true–at
least in so far as seeing the reunion of father and child, with
Roderick’s return to the home of his youth. I resolved to write to Niall
without delay, tell him of what I had discovered and obtain his
permission to reveal all to Roderick. In the meantime, however, I must,
of course, be true to my promise and give Roderick no hint of the
knowledge I possessed.

“And you never found out from whom that letter came?” I inquired.

“Never: there was no means of finding out. Father Owen was at that time
absent in Rome. I presumed it was from the priest who had replaced him.
I wrote to him; the letter followed him to a distant parish in a remote
part of Ireland, whither he had already returned. He had never written
to me, he replied, and had no knowledge of the matter at all. I wrote to
Granny Meehan, the woman who had charge of Winifred. She never answered.
I suppose on the death of the child she had wandered away. I then sent a
letter to Niall, the eccentric kinsman to whom I before referred. He, I
suppose, was either dead or away on some of his wanderings.”

“Your story is indeed a sad one,” I put in, grieved that I could do
nothing to dispel his sorrow. I could not let him know that Granny
Meehan was still faithful to her post, that Niall was still dreaming and
planning for his welfare and for the restoration of the old place; and
that, best of all, Winifred was still living and such a child as might
delight a father’s heart–in fact, that she was the child who had so
deeply interested him already. Whether he suspected that such was the
case or merely saw in her some chance resemblance I could not yet tell.




“You may well say it is a sad story,” Roderick answered. “To me it seems
all the more so that since the receipt of that letter which dashed all
my hopes Fortune has smiled upon me. Everything I touch seems to turn to
money. The novel, rejected before, has since been accepted, and has run
through several editions; articles from my pen are in demand by leading
magazines; all my speculations have turned out well, and my insurance
business has prospered. It is the old, old story of Fortune coming too
late.”

I sat still, joyful, yet amazed; thinking within myself:

“How wonderful are the ways of Providence! Niall’s dream of restoring
the old place shall certainly be realized now. Father and child,
reunited, shall dwell amongst those lovely scenes; while the faithful
hearts of Niall and Granny Meehan shall be filled with joy. How seldom
does life work out events so happily!”

“Would you like to see the old place again?” I asked.

“What use now?” he cried. “Some day I may take the journey to see if
Niall be still amongst the living; but I shrink from that as yet.”

We sat silent after that for some moments, I afraid to break the spell
lest I should in any way betray the knowledge which so filled my heart.
But presently Roderick roused himself with the remark:

“That child whom I first saw in the carriage on Broadway, and whom I
next saw in your company, has awakened a strange train of thought in my
mind. I have even dared to hope that I have been the victim of a trick
and that my child still lives. Her voice, when she spoke in the Waldorf
parlor the other day, seemed as an echo of my vanished youth. It was the
voice of my wife; and when the child rose from the chair and confronted
me, for an instant I believed that the grave had given up its dead. It
was my wife herself as I saw her first, many years before our marriage.”

“Resemblances are very delusive,” I said lamely.

“But was _this_ resemblance delusive?” he asked, leaning forward and
looking me in the face.

“How can I answer? I never saw your wife,” I replied.

It was an evasion, and perhaps he saw it; but he only sighed deeply.

“I had expected better things of you,” he went on; “for we are old
enough friends that I might have looked to you for help in clearing up a
mystery. As it is, you will not or can not; and I must drag on in the
same weary, hapless fashion or follow out the clue for myself. Indeed, I
trust you will think it no discourtesy when I tell you that I _must_ and
_will_ find out who this child is.”

His resemblance to Niall was once more almost startling; though,
needless to observe, there was no wildness nor violence of any sort in
his manner.

“I wish I were able to give you the information you desire,” I said
formally. “But at present it is impossible.”

He rose to take his leave.

“In that case I must not intrude upon you any longer,” he answered
coldly. “I am afraid I have been thoughtless in occupying so much of
your time with my personal affairs.”

I felt at that moment that a valued friendship of many years was
endangered, but I could not be false to my trust. Niall must hear all,
and then it would be for him to act. I held out my hand. Roderick took
it but there was no warmth in the handshake; and as he disappeared down
the corridor, I stood looking after him sadly, fully realizing that for
the time being I had lost much in his estimation. Yet I hoped to be able
to repair all and explain all in good time.

I did not lose a moment in getting out my writing-desk and writing to
Niall a full account of all that I had heard. My pen moved rapidly and
joyfully over the page. I had so much to tell! Roderick still true to
his child, his kinsman, and his old home; Roderick having acquired
wealth which he would be only too happy to spend in fulfilling the old
man’s dream. I also wrote to Father Farley and begged him to let Granny
Meehan know the good news as speedily as possible. How I wished that I
could fly over the ocean and be myself the bearer of those good tidings!
I fancied the patient old face of Granny brightening, and the loving,
tender voice giving forth thanks to her Creator.

The scene rose so vividly before me that I sat back in my chair, with
pen uplifted, to ponder it over. There was the hearth in the great
kitchen, near which Granny Meehan sat. A fire was burning there–a clear
peat fire; beside it the tranquil figure of the blind woman, with the
cat, Brown Peter, purring against her dress; and Barney and Moira in the
background, hanging about to hear the great news which good Father Owen
had to tell. And I conjured up the fine face of the priest beaming with
the glad tidings; and I seemed to hear once more his genial voice
reading aloud the welcome letter from America.

I returned to my task and wrote on, while the clock on my mantel tolled
out eleven, and the din of the street below began to give place to the
silence of night. I had a curious impression that Winifred stood beside
me as I wrote, her image seemed so very vivid. I resolved to go to see
her on the morrow, which was Thursday–visiting-day at the convent. But
I knew it would be another trial to refrain from telling her of her
father and of the mystery concerning him which had just been cleared up.
My original intention of striving to kindle her affection and admiration
for the father she scarcely remembered was strengthened by the knowledge
I had gained. Knowing her father to be entirely worthy of her love and
to be devotedly attached to her, I could with a clear conscience
describe him as he really was, and clothe the phantom she remembered
with the lovable attributes of the real man.

My letters finished, I rang for a bell-boy, and had them posted at once;
for it seemed to me that they would never get over to Ireland, and that
I would never have an answer back again. Then I stood for a moment at
the window and looked out at the still brightly lighted streets, where
the passers-by were fewer; though many still hurried to and fro from the
theatres, concerts, or lectures–all intent on business or pleasure.
Carriages swept by, cars with belated passengers in them still ran, and
the hum of the great city was audible from afar even at that late hour.