HOME AGAIN

The next few weeks were full of the bustle of preparation. When I told
Winifred she was to leave the convent before the end of the term, and,
after a few weeks of travel, to return to Ireland, she seemed fairly
dazed at the unexpected news.

“Her education, of course, will have to be continued,” I thought; “but
hardly in an American convent.”

One May morning Winifred took leave of her teachers and school friends,
and we set out direct for Niagara. When we reached the Falls, she was
for a time wholly lost in wonder. The stupendous mass of falling water
seemed to produce upon the little girl a curious impression of
bewilderment.

“Oh, it is grand, grand!” she said. “This America is a wonderful place.”

Winifred and I had, as it were, a surfeit of beauty; and so by the
afternoon our exclamations of wonder and delight became exhausted, and
we could only look out upon the lovely and varied panorama in silence.
But we were roused to excitement as the afternoon sun began to take a
downward slope and we neared the far-famed Rapids. The passengers braced
themselves as if for certain danger (though in reality there is
comparatively little) as the steamer rushed into the great masses of
foaming water with a lurch and a bound that sent a tingle to every
nerve. Onward she dashed, the speed seeming to become more terrific as
we descended the river in the direction of Montreal. It is a thrilling,
though delightful, experience. As for Winifred, she seemed to enjoy the
situation thoroughly. Not a shade of alarm crossed her face, while many
of the older passengers were visibly agitated. From the steamer’s deck
we took a last glimpse of the city, lying golden in the sunset, with the
figure of Our Lady of Good Help on the tower of Bonsecours church,
stretching wide its arms in benediction over the great river which
Cartier discovered.

At dawn we were nearing Quebec, and rushed out of our cabins for a first
sight of the Gibraltar of America. We flew past Levis, Sillery, and,
rounding Cape Diamond, suddenly beheld the ancient walls, the colossal
rock crowned by the citadel, with Lower Town, squalid if picturesque, at
its feet. Landing, Winifred and I took a _calèche_ to the Chateau
Frontenac, where we breakfasted.

Recrossing the American borders, we made a short trip through the White
Mountain region, exulting in those glorious scenes. At New York we
rested a day or two in our old quarters, and did a good deal of
shopping; for had we not Granny and Niall and Father Owen to think of,
not to speak of Barney and Moira, the landlord of the inn, and other
Wicklow notables? No one was to be forgotten.

After this we went into Pennsylvania, one of the most wonderful of all
the States, and crossed the far-famed Horseshoe bend in the Alleghanies.
Winifred looked fearlessly down into the vast chasm and saw with
composure the end of our train on the other side of the ravine. It was a
sight upon which few could look unmoved. We saw something of the
wonders of the mining and coal districts, and the beauty of the Delaware
and Lehigh.

We continued our breathless journey to Washington, where we remained a
few days to rest. It is a beautiful city, refreshing to mind and body,
though somewhat warm at that season of the year; but its noble
dwellings, its public monuments, surpassed and overtopped by the
Capitol, have a wonderful charm.

One evening we were strolling along in the very shadow of that classic
pile when Winifred said:

“Barney and Moira will think I’ve been in fairyland if I tell them half
of all I have seen; but I love dear Ireland best, after all.”

“We shall sail from New York by the next White Star liner,” I observed
presently; and I thought within myself: “Roderick will be sailing by the
Cunarder. It will be a race which shall reach Liverpool first.”

By an odd coincidence, as I thought thus, Winifred was turning round
upon her finger the ring which Roderick had sent her.

“I should like to have seen him,” she said, pointing to the ring, “and
thanked him for this. I suppose I shall never see him again. I have a
strange fancy that I saw him long ago, and that he is–” she
hesitated–“that he is the dark gentleman who was angry with the lady in
yellow,” she concluded, slowly.

“Dreaming again, Winifred!” I said.

“This is not dreaming,” she corrected; “for sometimes I am almost sure
it is true, and that he is the same one–only I have never seen him
angry.”

“Perhaps the dark gentleman was not so very angry even then,” I
suggested, to divert her thoughts from Roderick.

“Perhaps not,” she said reflectively; “but I think he was.”

“Your father–for the gentleman you speak of was, I suppose, your
father–was devotedly attached to your mother.”

“Was he?” inquired Winifred, simply.

“Yes, indeed: he thought her the most beautiful creature in the world.”

“I’m glad of that,” Winifred said; and, in that fashion of hers which so
constantly reminded me of her father, she turned away from the subject.

On Saturday morning early we were on board the great steamer, in all the
bustle of departure; and after a pleasant voyage we arrived at Liverpool
on schedule time, as the guidebooks say, and installed ourselves for the
night at a comfortable hotel. Next day we set forth to see whatever this
smoky city of industry has to show. We were passing along one of the
smokiest and narrowest of streets when Winifred suddenly pulled my arm.

“Did you see him?” she cried excitedly.

“Who?” I inquired, though I partly guessed–being fully prepared to see
Roderick O’Byrne in Liverpool.

Winifred touched the ring on her finger to show whom she meant.

“It may have been only a chance resemblance,” I observed evasively.

“It was _he_,” she declared decisively, and her eyes sparkled with
excitement. “Oh, I am so glad!” she went on. “We must find him. I want
to thank him for the ring.”

“It will be impossible to find him in this crowd,” I answered.

She pointed to a shop.

“He is in there,” she cried, “and I must see him! If you do not come
with me, I will go myself.”

She was full of her old impetuosity, urging on my reluctant steps.

“One thing that I want to ask him,” she went on, “is whether he knew the
beautiful lady in yellow.”

When we reached the shop door, Roderick stood just inside; and I almost
fancied he had stepped in there to avoid us, knowing that I did not wish
for a premature _dénouement_ of the little plot. However, his face also
wore an eager expression, and it lighted as Winifred confronted him. He
opened the door and came out onto the pavement, looking at me for
directions. I put my finger to my lips, signifying that he must not as
yet disclose himself.

“I want to thank you for this ring, with its lovely green stone,” she
said.

“It’s only a trifle, little one,” Roderick replied lightly.

“I was so sorry when I thought I should never see you again,” Winifred
cried, impetuously.

“Were you?” asked Roderick, with an unsteadiness in his voice which
caused me to give him a warning look.

“Yes, because I was leaving America forever. And one thing I wanted to
ask you so much was, if you remembered the beautiful lady in yellow. I
have been so anxious to know.”

She looked up into his face with her great, starlike eyes; and he gazed
at her in return.

“Do I remember the beautiful lady in yellow?” he repeated. “As I hope
for heaven, yes, and never shall I forget her while I live!”

The answer, however, was given in an undertone, which she did not catch.

“Because if you knew her,” went on Winifred, “I was going to ask if you
were the dark gentleman who slammed the door?”

“I’m afraid I was,” he whispered in my ear. “How our misdeeds do follow
us, and what a memory the little one has! I had had a dispute with some
one very dear to me about going to the old place in Wicklow. She, poor
girl, had no wish to see the ‘ruin,’ as she called it. I lost my temper,
and so came about the little scene Winifred remembers and describes.”

Turning to Winifred, he asked:

“Now, why do you think I could do such a naughty thing as slam a door?”

Winifred was confused. Her natural politeness prevented her from
replying.

“Am I so very fierce-looking or so violent?” Roderick resumed; for he
was in high spirits and ready to carry the mystery further.

“It isn’t that,” answered Winifred; “only you look like him.”

“Look like a gentleman that got angry and slammed a door?” he said in
the same jesting tone. “Now, that is too bad of you altogether.”

His bright, laughing face and sunny manner mystified the child even more
than his words.

“Never mind,” he went on; “I forgive you this time, but you must really
try to get up a better opinion of me. I must go now, but we shall meet
again, and it won’t be over the seas either. I am going to hear more
about that uncivil dark gentleman who frightened a dear little girl.”

“He was cross, too, to the lady,” said Winifred, rather defiantly; for
she was vexed somewhat by his jesting.

“Well, I am sure he was sorry enough for that afterward,” said Roderick,
with a sudden clouding of his face–“as we are always sorry for our fits
of ill-temper. Remember that, my child.”

He waved his hand in farewell, and Winifred stood looking after him.

“I am glad we are going to see him again,” she observed; though, with
the implicit faith of childhood, she did not ask when or where.

When we had got back to the hotel she talked chiefly of Granny and
Niall, of Father Owen, and of her humble friends Barney and Moira; and
could scarcely wait for the night to be over and morning to come that we
might set out for the scenes of her childhood.

The most impatiently longed-for morrow comes at last. It was a gray,
lowering day when we left Liverpool. Before quitting the hotel, a box of
candy was handed to Winifred. When she opened it there was a card upon
which was written:

“From the man that looks like the naughty dark gentleman who slammed the
door.”

It seemed as if it must be a dream when we drove in a hired car from
Dublin once more to the Glen of the Dargle. I had written to the
landlord of the neighboring inn to have our rooms in readiness. And
there he was at his door, stony-visaged and reticent; but the stone was
furrowed by a broad smile as he helped us from the car.

“Welcome back, ma’am! And welcome to you too, Miss Winifred alanna!”

Winifred shook him cordially by the hand; and turned with a cry of joy
to where Moira stood, red in the redness of the dying sun which shone
out through a mist–for the weather had been uncertain all that day; and
red, too, with a new shyness, which caused her to stand plucking at her
apron. Barney kept urging her forward, but was not much more confident
himself.

Winifred’s greeting to them was good to hear. And she wound up by the
flattering assurance:

“You’ll think I’m a real fairy this time when you see my trunks open
to-morrow.”

It was some time, however, before that pair of rustic tongues were
unloosed and they began to chatter away like magpies. After a little
while Winifred proposed a run; and off they all flew, the young
traveler, in spite of the fatigue of her journey, leading in the race.
Her curls, which had grown longer in her absence, formed a cloud about
her head.

“Father Owen bid me tell you he was off for a sick-call, down to
Enniskerry below there; but he’d be back in an hour’s time, and you’ll
see him as quick as he comes,” said the landlord.

“It’s good to get back again,” I said, seating myself on the familiar
bench at the door, and letting my eyes wander over the lovely
scenes–the blossoming trees, the gold of the laburnum, and the whole
sweetened by the pervading fragrance of the hawthorn.

“We’re proud to have you with us, ma’am,” the landlord declared. “We
thought the time long since you left.”

The “we” referred to his better half, who, however, rarely left the
kitchen, and with whom I had not exchanged half a dozen words.

“I don’t think I’ll ever go away, again,” I said; “so you may just as
well arrange my rooms accordingly. And now what of the schoolmaster?”

“They tell me,” he said, speaking in a confidential undertone, “that
Father Owen exorcised him–took off of him some spell that the ‘good
people’ had laid upon him, forcing him to wander night and day–and
scatterin’ his wits.”

“At any rate, Niall of the hills has changed his ways, I hear,” said I.

“Well, so they tell me; though there are them that met him wanderin’
still on the hills. But sure mebbe the poor daft crathure was only
takin’ the air by moonlight.”

“And Granny Meehan?” I inquired.

“Oh, she’s to the fore! And it’s her ould heart that’ll be rejoiced
entirely by your return, not to speak of her colleen.”

At that moment Winifred entered, with Barney and Moira thrown into the
background by Father Owen himself, who held his little favorite by the
hand.




“A hundred thousand welcomes!” cried the priest, extending his
unoccupied hand to me. “So you have brought us back the old Winifred,
with a new varnish upon her that shines from afar. God be praised that
we’re all here to greet you!”

The landlord, with an exclamation at their dilatoriness in serving
supper, entered the inn, while Father Owen and I moved apart for a few
moments. I wanted to tell him that Roderick would arrive in a day or
two.

“Thanks be to God!” he ejaculated. “Oh, what joy you have brought upon
the old house–_you_, under God! It is a privilege thus to make others
happy–the sweetest left us since the fall of Adam. But now I mustn’t
keep you from your supper. We’ll have many a long chat in the days to
come, and I just wanted to welcome you. I suppose you’ll go up this
evening to Granny and Niall?”

“Indeed I will. But is Niall at the castle?” I asked.

“He is. Granny will tell you all,” he answered.

And what a supper that was in the pleasant inn parlor, with the
blossoming trees peeping in at the windows and the Irish robins singing
our welcome! How savory tasted the trout from the stream, fresh-caught;
and the rasher of bacon, with snow-white oaten cake, the freshest of
fresh butter, and thick cream for our tea! What a walk we had up
through the hills that lovely evening! Winifred’s eyes were full of
tears as I recalled to her memory the first time she had brought me to
the castle.

“Isn’t it strange to think of all that has passed since then!” she
whispered, in a voice full of emotion.

But though changes there had been, there were none in the hills. They
preserved their immortal beauty, and the Glen of the Dargle was as
fairy-like as ever in its loveliness. At the castle, too, all was the
same. Granny sat calm and motionless by the great hearth, as though she
were under a spell; and Brown Peter mewed and purred about her as of
old. When we entered the room she rose uncertainly from her chair. Her
voice was plaintive and tremulous with the depth of emotion as she cried
out:

“Winifred alanna, is it yourself that’s in it?”

Presently the child was clasped in her arms; and I stood by, content to
be forgotten. At last I asked:

“Where is Niall?”

“Barney will bring you to him,” said the blind woman.

After a moment he led us to that very hall where the game of chess had
been played on the silver chessboard for the hand of a fair lady. Here
Niall had established himself, and I caught a glimpse of his tall figure
walking up and down. I remained without, and sent Winifred in alone. I
heard one inarticulate cry of joy, and then I walked away to a distant
end of the corridor, leaving the two together for a while. When I
returned and entered the hall, I found Niall seated in a high-backed
armchair, like some king of olden days. Winifred was upon her knees
beside him, leaning her head on his arm. He held out his hand to me, and
I was struck by his altered expression. Scarce a trace of its former
wildness remained; and his face shone with a deep content, a radiating
joy.

“Daughter of the stranger,” he said, “you are one of us forever! Whether
your home be here amongst our hills or the stormy sea divides us, it
matters nothing.”

“It is my intention to stay here,” I announced, “amongst your lovely
scenes, and with you all, who have come so intimately into my lonely
life.”