AN UNEXPECTED MEETING

It was a curious coincidence that on the very Sunday evening after I had
visited Winifred and arranged for her to spend Tuesday with me at the
hotel, I should have gone to supper with a friend of mine who was also a
great friend of Roderick O’Byrne. She was an exceptional woman, of rare
gifts, of warm heart and of long purse. She had the social talent in its
greatest perfection, and gathered at her house a most brilliant and
entertaining circle. She lived in a part of the city which is rapidly
becoming old-fashioned–in the once desirable Murray Hill region–and
her house was what is known to New Yorkers as an English basement-house:
that is to say, the dining-room is on a level with the street, while the
drawing-room, or suite of drawing-rooms, is reached by mounting the
first stairs. A very handsome suite of rooms had my friend, appointed
with the utmost elegance, and containing innumerable souvenirs of
travel, artistic trifles of all sorts, with exquisite pictures and
priceless statuary, arranged to give the best possible effect.

I had a standing invitation for the Sunday evening suppers, which were
an institution of the house, and where one was always sure of meeting
very agreeable people. The conversation was usually of everything
interesting under the sun. As the guests began to assemble that evening,
I saw amongst them, with very mingled feelings, the familiar figure of
Roderick O’Byrne. It was my first meeting with him since my return from
Ireland, and his presence made me conscious of a curious sensation. I
had heard so much of his past history, the most hidden pages of his
life, that it seemed strange to meet him there in an ordinary
drawing-room. When I thought of Niall, of the old castle with its
romance and mystery, it was hardly credible that this tall and slender
gentleman in the well-fitting evening clothes should be the central
figure in such a drama. And all the time I was withholding from him such
a secret as the presence in America of his only child.

While Roderick stood exchanging a few words with his hostess, I thought
all at once of that little scene which Winifred had recalled–when he
parted in anger from the lady in the yellow dress, who must have been,
of course, his wife. As soon as he saw me he came forward to shake
hands, and dropped into a chair at my side. I found a change in him: he
seemed more silent and preoccupied than I had ever seen him. However, he
was never given to talking commonplaces, and I waited till his mood
should change. He sat near me at supper, and on the other side of him
was a young and very gushing lady. Roderick seemed amused at her efforts
to interest him.

“I have just heard,” she exclaimed, “that you are Irish, Mr. O’Byrne;
and I am so glad! Our hostess has told me that you are not only from
Ireland, but intensely Irish. Now, I think that everything that is
intensely Irish is intensely nice.”

“Thanks so much!” replied Roderick, carelessly. “I am glad you approve
of my nationality; for I have to plead guilty to a very unfashionable
love for my country.”

“Oh, you needn’t plead guilty at all!” cried the charmer. “It is so
refreshing nowadays. And you Irish are so delightfully enthusiastic and
impressionable, and all that.”

Roderick raised his eyebrows ever so slightly.

“By the way,” he observed, turning abruptly to me, “I wonder if you
will agree with the sentiment expressed by my neighbor–you who are so
lately back from Ireland?”

“‘That everything that is intensely Irish is intensely nice’?” I asked.
“I am prepared to endorse that sentiment; for I am more Irish than the
Irish themselves. I know I have borrowed somebody else’s saying; but,
really, I have fallen in love with the dear old land. Its hills and
glens have got into my heart.”

There was a softened look on the man’s face and a moisture in his eyes;
for he was deeply affected. Presently he said in a low tone:

“Do you know I am very homesick of late? I am pining for a sight of the
beautiful hills of the Gilt Spurs and the glorious Dargle. Oh, what
would I not give for one good look at the Dargle, glen and river both!”

“Why don’t you take a trip to Ireland?” I asked.

“Oh, for many reasons!” he said hurriedly.

He did not go into detail and I could not ask.

“But you will go back some day?” I urged.

“Go back?” he repeated. “I used to think I should: indeed, at one time I
longed for the day and hour of my return; and now–”

I wanted to ask the question which rose to my lips, out I dared not; and
just then the conversation became general. Our hostess liked to strike
sparks from all her guests, and especially from the brilliant Roderick
O’Byrne. After we had all returned to the drawing-room he gradually
drifted back again to his chair beside me. We had always been friendly,
but I knew that my society had a special attraction for him just then,
as a link between him and Ireland. He very soon, in fact, reverted to
the subject of our previous talk, inquiring as to this or that place
near his old home; though I observed that he never once mentioned any
person or persons in the neighborhood. It was evident for some reason
that he did not wish to bring Niall into the discourse, and I was just
as anxious at the time to avoid that part of the subject.

Suddenly Roderick said:

“I was struck very much the other day by a face which I saw just for a
moment.”

My heart stood still. I knew what was coming, and I almost dreaded it.
But, happily, he did not associate the incident with me.

“It was that of a child,” he said, somewhat gravely. “It was a beautiful
face, I suppose; but it was not that which specially attracted my
attention. I only caught a glimpse–the merest glimpse–of it, but it
brought back the past to me as in a flash.”

“Strange!” I commented mechanically; for I scarce knew what to say.

“Yes, it was very strange,” went on Roderick. “I was standing at the
corner of Twenty-third Street, waiting to cross, and it must be owned
that I was thinking of anything else than Ireland and my past life
there. You know what a crowd there is at that particular place. Suddenly
a carriage stood still an instant, delayed by the traffic; and out of it
looked that exquisite child-face, full of wonder, of curiosity, and, I
thought, of sadness.”

I concealed my emotion by an effort; and had he not been so occupied
with his subject he might have perceived at once that the story had an
unusual interest for me.

“Would you believe,” he said, “that New York faded from before me, and
instead I saw the Dargle, the glen and the river, with all their lovely
surroundings–yes, I saw them as distinctly as I see you now? The
Dargle and–other places about there,” he concluded, after a brief
pause.

I wondered if he were thinking of the castle.

“By the way,” he asked of a sudden, “were you in that part of Ireland at
all–I mean Wicklow?”

“Oh, yes!” I said, trying to speak indifferently. “I saw most of the
show places there.”

“Did you meet any people thereabouts?” he inquired, speaking very slowly
and playing with a paper-knife which he had taken up from a neighboring
davenport.

It was my turn to hesitate a moment before I replied:

“I met the parish priest, Father Owen, as he is popularly called.”

“Father Owen Farley!” exclaimed Roderick, apparently carried away by a
sudden burst of enthusiasm; “the dearest, the best, the kindest of men!”

“You know him, then?” I asked.

The glow faded from his face almost at once.

“I was brought up in that part of the country,” he said in a reserved
way, as if anxious to drop the subject; “so that of course I knew him
when I was a boy.”

“Well, he certainly is all you say of him,” I declared cordially; “he
charmed me from the very first.”

“Yes, he has an unusually attractive way with him,” Roderick said–“or
used to have long ago.”

And then he dismissed the subject and began to talk of some matter of
current interest. However, he very soon reverted to that one topic which
seemed to be occupying his thoughts. Waking out of a reverie, he
suddenly exclaimed:

“I wish I were a miniature painter, and I should try to put on ivory,
just from memory, that exquisite child-face.”

“Perhaps you will see her again,” I ventured.

“I never expect to,” he said decisively. “New York is not Ireland.
People are swallowed up here as in a quicksand.”

“Life has many surprises,” I observed tentatively.

He looked at me keenly for an instant; then he resumed his indifferent
air and continued to play with the paper-knife.




“You will think me altogether a dreamer,” remarked Roderick, “to be so
impressed by a passing face.”

I do not know what impelled me to say then:

“Perhaps there was some special reason. Possibly she may have reminded
you of some one whom you once knew.”

He started; the paper-knife fell from his hands, and he was long in
picking it up. But the flash of his dark eyes in that brief moment
recalled Niall. The incident was not without its value. I saw my way
clear before me. I should gradually try to revive his interest in the
past: to forge a chain which should lead him inevitably back to the
castle of his ancestors, to Winifred and to his eccentric but devoted
kinsman. And at the same time I might chance to discover his motive for
so long neglecting his only child.

When Roderick raised his head again, and replaced the paper-knife, with
a hand which trembled somewhat, upon the davenport, he said, in a tone
of studied carelessness:

“Don’t let us talk of this any more. It does seem very absurd. I am half
ashamed of having told you anything about it. And there is the professor
going to the piano.”

During the music Roderick lay back in his chair, and as he listened to
the dreamy, soothing sound of the “Songs without Words,” I knew that his
mind was running on the sweet child-face which had so impressed him, and
on the train of associations which that chance meeting had conjured up.
I had no further conversation with him on that occasion, and very soon
after I took my leave and went home to ponder over the situation, which
I found most interesting. It seemed as if I were holding the thread of a
tangled skein, which must sooner or later straighten itself out. I lay
awake half the night, picturing to myself Roderick’s delight when he
should discover that the sweet child-face was that of his own Winifred;
and his sorrow, and perhaps remorse, for the past, when he had neglected
her. I wondered where and when the disclosure should take place and how
it would be brought about. I also resolved to interest Winifred in her
father. I could see that she clung much more to the memory of her
mother, and seemed to remember Roderick only as the dark gentleman who
had got angry with the beautiful lady and slammed the door.

I rose early next morning, for I wanted to go down town. I was going as
far as Barclay Street to buy a small statue of the Sacred Heart, which I
wished to give Winifred as a present. I was impatient for her coming;
for, besides the fact that I was really attached to the child and took a
sincere pleasure in her society, I felt a new interest in her since my
late conversation with her father.

I looked out the window. There was a drizzling fog. The shops opposite
looked dreary and uninviting, and the people who were hastening down
Broadway had all the same miserable appearance, looking spectral in the
fog. My heart sank. If it were the same kind of weather on the morrow
there would be no chance of having Winifred with me. In the first place,
she would not be allowed to come; and in the second, there would be very
little pleasure in bringing her down from the convent just to spend a
few hours shut up in my apartments at the hotel.

I dressed and went out. The streets were glazed over with a thin coat
of frost, which made the walking treacherous and unsafe. The snowfall of
two or three days before had entirely disappeared. I picked my way
along, making one more in the procession of spectres, till I reached the
nearest elevated station, which was in the square at Thirty-third
Street, near the _Herald_ building. I was soon flying through the air,
and in the twinkling of an eye was almost in the heart of the business
portion of the great “down-town.” Warehouses arose on all sides: from
some came a fragrant odor telling of coffee and spices; from others
flashed visions of delicate china, rich bronzes, and beautiful
glassware. And finally I was set down within a block or so of my
destination.

I picked my way carefully along the narrow lane-like street, and emerged
just opposite old St. Peter’s, the mother-church of New York. Its somber
walls looked gray and dismal in that dreary fog; but within it was warm
and cheerful, and imposing in a massive, old-fashioned way. I prayed
earnestly for the success of all our scheming–that is, Niall’s and
mine; and, above all, for the happy reunion of father and daughter.

After that I went out again to purchase my statue. I was now in the
region of the Catholic publishers, which is full of many memories of
other days and the various phases of Catholic life in New York. There
much has been done for the Catholic cause; much has been discussed, much
has been attempted, and many attempts have failed. It is historic
ground. I bought my statue and hurried home, glad to be housed on that
chilly and disagreeable day. I had a few other preparations to make, on
the chance that the weather would clear up; but I resolved to leave them
till the morning, when they might be easily accomplished by the aid of
the telephone.

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