TWO VISITS

My next duty was to obtain Granny Meehan’s consent to Winifred’s
departure for America. I found her sitting beside the hearth in her
accustomed place, with the cat at her feet. Winifred was absent, and in
the outer court was the pleasant sunshine falling over solitude. Only
the fowls, so variously named by Winifred, disported themselves before
the window.

Mrs. Meehan greeted me cheerfully and cordially, and I saw that no
shadow of future events had fallen upon her yet. Our conversation at
first was on the usual topics–the fine weather, the prospect of good
crops. Then, as it were of a sudden, I remarked:

“Well, Mrs. Meehan, I have seen the schoolmaster.”

Granny started, and stared at me in silence for a few moments.

“Where, then, ma’am dear?” she asked uneasily.

“In his own house.”

“In the cabin up beyant there?” she cried in amazement. “Tell me was it
up there?”

“Yes, in the cabin amongst the hills, on the day of the storm,” I
answered very calmly.

“The Lord be good to us, ma’am! And what took you to that fearsome
place–in such weather, too? Couldn’t you have got shelter anywhere
else?”

She was quite pale at the thought.

“I went purposely, Mrs. Meehan; for I had made up my mind to ask him for
Winifred.”

“To ask him for Winifred!” she echoed in astonishment. Then her manner
showed something of offence. “It was in my charge the colleen was left,”
she declared; “and ’tis I, and not Niall of the hill, that has the say
about her.”

“But I was sure of your consent already,” said I, quietly.

“And what made you sure of it, axin’ your pardon for the question?”

“Your intelligence, your love for the girl, and your fear of Niall’s
influence over her.”

She seemed mollified, and I went on:

“Your intelligence will show you it is for the best, your love for
Winifred will make you wish the best for her, while your fear of
Niall–”

“Speak lower, ma’am: he may be in hearin’!” she said anxiously. “He’s
that strange he does be appearin’ when least you expect.”

“Well, in any case, I knew you would not oppose her going with me to
America.”

“To America, is it?” cried the woman, bristling up as fiercely almost as
Niall himself. “Oh, then, how am I to know that you’re playin’ me no
tricks–that you haven’t been sent to take her away from us?”

“Mrs. Meehan,” I said gravely, “I gave you my word as a lady that I knew
nothing of her till I came here.”

“I ax your pardon!” she said humbly. “But, O ma’am dear, think of
America, over the big ocean, and me sittin’ here alone among the hills,
powerless to go to her if she needs me!”

“She will be taken good care of,” I said. “I shall put her in a
convent, where she will be thoroughly educated and prepared for the part
she has to play in life.”

“And will she be goin’ away from the old land forever?” she asked,
clasping her feeble hand over her heart.

“By no means. It is my hope and wish that she come back here.”

“But him you call the schoolmaster will never allow it!” she cried, with
something of the same triumph which had appeared in Winifred’s face.

“The schoolmaster has already given his consent,” I said quietly.

“Given his consent!” repeated the old woman, flushing and paling; and
then a great wonder seemed to overcome every other feeling. “You saw him
in the cabin ‘mongst the hills and you got his consent! But weren’t you
afeared, ma’am, to go there by yourself?”

“I was somewhat afraid at first,” I admitted; “but I felt that for the
child’s sake it had to be done.”

“And you’ll take her away from me?” the old woman cried piteously. “How
can you, ma’am?”

“Don’t you see yourself how much the best thing it is for her?” I urged.
“You are afraid of Niall’s influence over her; she can not grow up as
she is, roaming the hills, with no companions of her own age or rank.”

She was silent a long time, and I thought she was praying.

“You are right, ma’am dear,” she said tranquilly; “it is for the best,
and it seems to be God’s holy will. But when must it be?”

“We shall sail from here in August, I think,” I answered. “And then I
can place her in a convent near New York for the opening term of the
school year. If she stays there even two or three years, it will make a
great difference. And then she will come back to take her place at the
castle, if it can be made habitable; or, at all events, in the
neighborhood.”

“But Miss Winifred’s father is in the United States of America?” said
the old woman, tremulously.

“Yes: he is in New York. I know him and have spoken to him.”

The old woman’s face flushed with a joyful, eager flush.

“You know my boy, the pulse of my heart–Roderick?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I know him, I may say, well.”

A look of trouble suddenly replaced the brightness of Granny Meehan’s
face.

“Then know too that if Roderick sets his eyes on Miss Winifred, we’ll
never see her more here in the old land.”

There was something indescribably mournful in her tone.

“Himself will take her,” she went on; “and who can say that his new wife
will give her a mother’s love or a mother’s care?”

“He has no new wife!” I said–“no wife at all; and perhaps, among us, we
can win him back to the old world–to Ireland, to Wicklow.”

“Say that again, asthore machree!” cried the old woman,–“that he has no
wife at all. Oh, then, sure there’s hope for him comin’ back!”

“Niall has made it a condition of his consent to Winifred’s going,” I
observed, “that Roderick shall not see his child nor know of her
presence in New York till the old man gives the signal.”

“The old rap!” cried Granny, with sudden ire. “‘Tis like him, the
marplot, the–but the Lord forgive me what I’m sayin’! And hasn’t he
been a father to the little one, with all his queer ways and his
strayin’ about the hills when others were in their beds?”

“He is altogether devoted to her,” I said; “and has a right to make
what request he pleases.”

“True for you, ma’am–true for you,” said Granny. “And my old heart’s so
full with all you’ve told me that it seems as if the world was turned
the wrong way round. Oh, what a desolate spot this will be when Miss
Winifred’s gone out of it!”

“Only for a time; and then, if all goes as we hope, think what happiness
is in store for every one!”

“I’ll try to think of it, ma’am,–indeed and I will,” said Granny. “And,
sittin’ here in the dark alone, I’ll be prayin’, mornin’, noon and
night, that all may turn for the best.”

“Your prayers will help more than anything else can,” I declared; “be
sure of that, and keep up your heart. But now I think I’ll call upon the
priest–Father Owen, I believe?”

“Yes: Father Owen Farley.”

“Very well. I shall see him and tell him all about the matter. He may be
a help to us, too.”

I bade the old woman good-morning and went on my way, feeling that I had
quite overcome the opposition of those interested in the girl. I had
only to fear now some wilfulness on the part of Winifred herself, and I
counted on Father Owen to help me in that direction. I had already
discovered that she had a strong, lively faith, the robust piety so
common among the children of Ireland, and the respect for priests which
seems to come by instinct. I had heard her speak of Father Owen with a
reverence beautiful to see in one so young.

As I went on my way to the chapel, the sun, which had been under a
cloud, suddenly burst out from a sky of tender, dappled gray. There was
a smell of the woods in the air, which a morning shower had brought
forth; and a robin was singing as I approached Father Owen’s residence.
The songster sat on the bough of a tree, his red breast swelling with
the melody he sent forth. His bright eye catching sight of me caused him
to trill out more bravely than ever, as if to say: “See how this little
Irish robin can sing! Did you ever hear a finer song than that?”

I think it was at the same thought Father Owen was laughing as I drew
near. He stood in his little garden, a fine, venerable figure, with
snow-white hair, worn rather long on his neck. He was about the medium
height, thin to emaciation, with wonderfully bright eyes and the smile
of a child. He turned at my approach. I introduced myself.

“You will know me best, Father,” I observed, “as the lady from America.”

“The lady from America?” he said. “I’m glad to meet you. Of course I’ve
seen you in church and at the holy table. This is a real pleasure,
though. Come into my little house now, and let me hear something of your
wonderful country beyond the sea.”

I followed, charmed with his courtesy.

“I was listening to that rogue of a robin,” he said, as he led me in;
“and I think he knew very well he had an auditor. Birds, I suppose, have
their vanity, like the rest of us.”

“The same thought occurred to me, Father,” I answered. “He did swell out
his little throat so, and sent his eye wandering about in search of
applause.”

“There’s a deal of human nature in birds,” said the priest, laughing at
the quaint conceit; “and in the lower animals as well–every cat and dog
among them.”




We chatted on from one subject to another, till at last I introduced
that which had brought me.

“Father,” I began, “I want to talk to you specially about Winifred, the
orphan of the castle.”

“Winifred!” he said, his face lighting up. “A lovable, charming child,
but a bit wayward; pure and bright in spirit as yonder mountain stream,
but just as little to be restrained.”

“I thought I would like to hear your opinion of a plan I have formed
with regard to her.”

He bowed his head, with an inimitable courtesy in the gesture, as if to
signify his willingness to hear, and fixed his dark eyes upon me.

“My idea is to take her to America and place her for a few years in a
convent.”

“America,” he said thoughtfully, “is very far off; and if she has to
live in Ireland, might it not be better to select a convent nearer
home?”

Then I went more into details: told him of Roderick and of the
possibility of bringing father and child together. His opposition–if
opposition it could be called–vanished at once, and he cordially
entered into the idea.

“Granny Meehan will certainly consent if we all think it best for the
child,” he said; “but what of that extraordinary being in the mountains
up yonder? What of Niall?”

“He has consented.”

“You amaze me!” cried the priest, holding up both hands in astonishment.
“Surely it takes you Americans to accomplish anything.” Then he added
after a pause: “Did he mention his relationship to Winifred, which is a
secret from all about here?”

“He did.”

“He is a most singular character–a noble one, warped by circumstances,”
continued the priest, thoughtfully. “A visionary, a dreamer. Poor
Niall! he was a fine lad when I knew him first.”

“You knew him when he was young, then?” I inquired.

“Yes, I knew him well. An ardent enthusiastic boy, brave and hopeful and
devout. Now–but we need not discuss that. It is as well, perhaps, that
the child should be withdrawn from his influence before she is older;
though, mind you, his influence over her has hitherto been for the
best.”

“So I have every reason to think,” I assented; “but, as you say, Father,
growing older, the girl will require different surroundings.”

After that we talked over our plans for the best part of an hour; and
the old priest showed me his simple treasures–a crucifix of rarest
ivory, so exquisitely carved that I could not refrain from expressing my
admiration again and again. This, with a picture or two of rare merit,
had come from Rome; and reminded Father Owen, as he said, of seminary
days, of walks on the Campagna in the wonderful glow of an Italian
sunset, of visits to churches and art galleries. He showed me, too, his
books.

“They have supplied to me,” he observed, “the place of companionship and
of travel. I can travel in their pages around the civilized world; and I
love them as so many old friends. In the long nights of winter I have
sat here, listening to the mountain storm while I read, or the streams
rushing upon their way when the frost set them free.”

As he talked thus there was the sound of hasty, rushing feet in the
hall, and Winifred burst into the room.