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.