RODERICK RETURNS, AND ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL

The great day of Roderick’s home-coming dawned; and a glorious one it
was, as if Nature were in harmony with our joy. The birds sang a perfect
chorus in the early morning; the blossoming trees never smelled so
sweet, the hills never blended light and shade more exquisitely, nor the
streams reflected a bluer sky, than when the car containing Roderick
O’Byrne drove up to the inn. He sprang out with a boyish lightness.

“Mr. Roderick O’Byrne,” I exclaimed, “Nature is singing a perfect hymn
for your home-coming!”

“My heart is singing too,” he replied. “All I love are here before me.”

When we had cordially shaken hands, I said to him:

“Now be very practical and prosaic. Come in and have something to eat.”

“Oh, I couldn’t!” he cried. “Let us go at once to them.”

I saw his eyes wandering round in search of Winifred.

“Control your impatience just a little while longer,” I observed, “and
take a sensible meal.”

“More mystifications, more delays, O woman of many mysteries!”

“Only one,” I explained. “I want you and Winifred to meet in the Dargle;
though she will probably think you have been evolved from the ground by
one of her favorite fairies.”

He laughed.

“If it is your whim, I must submit; for you have been the goddess
behind the machine from the first. Continue to manage us puppets as you
will.”

“Only for to-day,” I replied merrily; “after that I shall disclaim all
power over you.”

He followed me into the inn parlor, where the table was laid out; and,
having taken a slight repast, was eager to be up and away once more. I
had not told the landlord who my guest was, lest any hint of his advent
should prematurely get abroad; but I saw the worthy man shading his eyes
with his hand and peering at him, now coming to the door and now
retreating. At last, as we rose from table, he burst in upon us.

“Ah, then, Master Roderick, is it yourself that’s in it!” And he fell to
laughing almost hysterically as he seized and wrung the outstretched
hand, which Roderick, quick to respond to any touch of genuine feeling,
extended. He called the man by name, and began to recall many a pleasant
incident of boyhood’s days. The delight of mine host of the stony visage
all but drew tears from my eyes. We enjoined secrecy upon him; and then
Roderick and I set off for the Dargle, where I had bidden Winifred to
wait for me.

“It is a lovely spot for such a meeting,” I observed to Roderick as we
went.

“Lovely indeed,” he answered. “My eyes have hungered for a sight of it
these ten years.”

We walked on in silence toward it; Roderick taking off his hat that the
breeze might blow through his hair, and drinking in the beauty around us
with visible gratification.

“An exile’s heart never warms in the land of the stranger,” Roderick
declared presently. “There’s something in the native air that gladdens
the soul.”

“Now,” I said, as we entered the beautiful glen, with its atmosphere of
poetry, its softened, delicate loveliness, “here it was I first met
Winifred, and here she shall meet you, and you can tell your tale your
own way.”

I had arranged matters a little melodramatically; Winifred unconsciously
added to the effect by taking her seat upon her favorite tree, and, out
of the pure gladness of her heart, singing a wild song full of trills
and quavers like the notes of a bird. I slipped away among the trees,
and presently Roderick spoke. His voice was soft and tender:

“Winifred asthore machree!”

Winifred looked at him long and strangely for a few seconds, then she
abandoned her perilous perch and came running down to him swift as a
bird upon the wing. Nature was speaking very loud in her heart. Roderick
stood waiting for her, holding out both his hands. He took her slender
ones and held them, looking at her with a long, long look of tender
affection; then, releasing his right hand, he took from his watch chain
a locket and opened it. Within, I learned later, was a beautiful
miniature on ivory. Winifred gave a swift, startled cry of joy:

“The lady in yellow–oh, it is the beautiful lady!”

“And I am the dark gentleman, my little one,” Roderick whispered. “Do
you know who he was?”

“Yes,” said Winifred, looking up into his face: “he was my father.”

“Have you forgiven him for being cross and slamming the door?”

She nodded gravely.

“And are you going to love him–to love me very much?”

For answer, Winifred threw her arms round his neck, weeping for very
joy.

At that moment I left them, and they followed slowly up to the castle,
Winifred clinging to her father’s arm and telling him how she had loved
him almost from the first. And now a happy and complete confidence was
already established between them.

As they entered the kitchen, I was there with Granny, having prepared
her somewhat for what was to come. She arose, tottering upon her feet
and trembling.

“Son of my heart, Roderick avick!” she cried; and Roderick took the old
woman in his strong arms and clasped her close, whilst the tears fell
unheeded down his cheeks. Even the old woman’s love for Winifred had not
been so great as this other love which she had so long cherished in her
heart of hearts.

“I can not see you, my boy,” she whispered; “but beautiful as the
Mayflowers in the sun of morning is your coming, and gladdening to my
old heart as the first air of spring. Glory be to God and praise and
thanksgiving that I have been spared to see this day!”

Whilst she still spoke we heard a step coming along the stone passage,
and the tall figure of Niall entered the room. He advanced straight to
Roderick, and, to our amazement, he bent the knee.

“The O’Byrne has come home again!” he announced solemnly. “The scion of
the younger branch does him homage.”

“What’s that you’re sayin’ about the younger branch?” exclaimed Granny,
beginning to tremble again. “And who are you that talks so?”

“I am Niall O’Byrne, the uncle of Roderick and of Winifred.”

Winifred gave a cry of surprise, but poor Granny went on with the same
trembling uncertainty:

“And you’ve been alive all this time?”

“Certainly.”

“You didn’t take any shape?”

“Only that of the mad schoolmaster,” Niall explained, with a grim smile.

“So that’s who he was, praise and glory to God!” cried the simple old
woman. “And I to be afeard of him when he’d come hauntin’ the house at
all hours and goin’ on with his quare ways! But sure I might have
known–indeed I might!”

Granny had known Niall in his younger days, before his departure for the
East; but after his mysterious return she, being blind, had never been
able to recognize him, and he had purposely kept her in ignorance. She
had therefore shared all the misgivings of the countryside in regard to
the treasure-seeker, who from the nature of his pursuits had sought to
conceal his identity.

The tears rolled down the old man’s cheeks and he made more than one
vain attempt to speak; while Winifred patted his arm, saying:

“Don’t cry, dear Niall–don’t cry! We have my father back again.”

At last, mastering his emotion by an effort, and looking into the
handsome, kindly face before him, Niall spoke:

“I knelt to you just now as to the head of our house, the representative
of the elder branch; but I should have knelt as a penitent.”

“A penitent!” repeated Roderick, in surprise.




“I deceived you, I caused you years of suffering!” cried Niall, in a
voice of overmastering agony. “But, oh, it was my love for you, for her,
for the old place, that urged me to it!”

“Such faults are easily pardoned,” said Roderick, believing that the
old man was laboring under some delusion.

“Wait till you hear!” said Niall, almost sternly. “A judge must hear the
offence before he can pardon. ‘Twas I who wrote to you that Winifred was
dead.”

“_You?_” exclaimed Roderick, the most unbounded amazement depicted on
his face, and for a moment something of Niall’s own sternness clouding
its good-humor. “Why should you have done that to me?”

“Listen!” said Niall, extending one hand as if in supplication. “I heard
you had remarried in America, and that was a sad blow to my hopes and
dreams. You would never come back. Even if my plans succeeded, you would
never dwell in the old place. And then came the agonizing thought that
you would take Winifred away, and that with me our very name would pass
from Wicklow. I deliberately deceived you. I withheld from Granny Meehan
the letter you had written her.”

Granny made an exclamation of “God forgive you!” For she, too, had
suffered from that wrong.

“I caused your letters to the priest to miscarry; I did everything, in
short, to cut you off from communication with this place. And by hints
which I threw out, and vague messages which I sent through Winifred to
Mrs. Meehan, I filled her mind with a fear and distrust of America and
people coming from there. Oh, I remember what anguish I endured when
this lady first came into this region! I could have killed her where she
stood. I believed her to be the second wife herself or some emissary
from you come to spy upon us and discover our secret.”

Roderick stood all this time, his arms crossed upon his breast, a proud
look upon his face.

“And did you think all this of me?” he asked at last–“that I would
forget home and kindred, forget the wife who lies sleeping in Irish
soil, and, taking away my child, abandon you all forever? Ah, Niall, you
little knew me, after all!”

“But I had suffered, Roderick; sometimes my mind wandered, perhaps, a
little,” pleaded the old man, pathetically. “There was a confusion
there; and I only knew that if Winifred went away, you were both lost to
me forever.”

Roderick’s face softened. His great generous heart touched by that
appeal, he cried out:

“Uncle, dear uncle, let us not talk of forgiveness, but only of your
long years of devotion to us all! We will speak no more of what is
painful. Now all is peace and joy.”

Father Owen entered just at that moment, full of genial sympathy and
heartfelt, simple delight; and with his coming the reconciliation was
perfect. It took Winifred some time indeed to understand her new
relation to Niall; but she said that in any case she could not love him
any better, though she was glad he belonged to the old castle and the
old race.

The ornaments from Niall’s cavern were disposed of to advantage, and it
was a great day when we all went with Roderick to the cavern of the
Phoul-a-Phooka to examine them. The gold was removed to a bank; and, as
Roderick had brought some considerable savings from America, the work of
restoration on the castle was begun. It was not, of course, necessary or
desirable that the whole edifice should be restored to its pristine
splendor; and some of the ruin remained in all its picturesqueness as a
show place for travelers. But the main building was made both habitable
and imposing. By some strange convulsion of nature, the cavern in which
Niall had concealed his treasures, and where he had spent many a lonely
night, was destroyed. The rocks fell in, and then the mountain stream
gushed through it, sweeping away all trace of that singular abode.

Roderick’s return, Winifred’s identity as heiress of the O’Byrnes, and
Niall’s kinship with the family, were publicly announced to the village,
all mysteries being at last cleared up. But the landlord voiced public
sentiment in confiding to me that the “good people” were surely mixed up
in the affair, and that it was the removal of the fairy spell bewitching
Niall, and perhaps Winifred, which had made all come right.

Roderick was from the first the idol of the peasantry, to whom he
endeared himself in every possible manner. His warm Irish nature had
never grown cold by change or vicissitude, and he labored in a hundred
ways to improve the position of his people. He was still in their eyes
the handsome and high-spirited lad who had galloped over the country on
his white horse.

I became a fixture at the inn; though most of my time was spent at the
castle, where our little circle was often cheered by the presence of
Father Owen. Niall at times unbent into positive geniality; and as we
sat occasionally in homely fashion around the kitchen hearth, that
Granny might not be excluded from our conferences, and that Barney and
Moira might draw near unchecked, he told us many a strange tale of his
adventures as a gold-seeker. Sometimes he brought us to the Far East,
relating his inquiries into the occult arts or the researches of
alchemists; and again he led us, by many a devious path, through the
hills of his native Wicklow and along the banks of its streams. Many of
his accounts sounded like some fabulous tale, a page from an old
enchanter’s book. Roderick, who knew that gold, even to the amount of
ten thousand pounds, had been in former years found in Wicklow, and that
mines under government control had been established there, was far less
surprised than the rest of us had been that Niall had succeeded in
wresting a certain amount of treasure from the earth.

And Winifred was never again sent away to school. She had a governess,
and she had Niall to direct her studies, Roderick himself taking an
interest in them. Her pranks are still told as of yore; for–pious,
good, exemplary as she is in the main, and ruled absolutely by her
father, whose will to her is law–she has her outbursts of petulance,
and her old delight in playing a trick now and again on the unwary; or
she will mystify her nearest and dearest by indulging in the unexpected;
so that many there are who still know and love her as Wayward Winifred.