WINIFRED TELLS HER NAME

Unhappily, the time went by without bringing any news of Niall, and the
suspense became almost intolerable. I met Roderick O’Byrne once or
twice; but he merely gave me a distant bow: I had no conversation with
him whatever. Every morning I eagerly questioned the hotel clerk. The
answer was always the same: “No, there are no letters.”

Then Christmas came. Winifred spent the holidays with me, though I was
in constant fear that she should meet with Roderick. One evening at a
concert I chanced to look toward a side of the hall where a few men were
walking to and fro in the pauses of the music. One who stood near the
wall attracted my attention. It was Roderick O’Byrne, and he had
evidently caught sight of us, and stood now with his eyes intently fixed
upon Winifred’s face. The remaining numbers on the programme fell on
deaf ears, so far as I was concerned. I did not know what any one played
or sang; I could not tell a rondo from a caprice, or if the violinist
was accompanied by a flute or a violoncello. I had but one desire–to
get out of the hall and away. I kept my eyes upon the programme,
avoiding another look.

Presently Winifred touched my arm and whispered:

“Oh, see! he is right over there–the gentleman we met at the hotel.”

She watched him as if fascinated; and I saw that their eyes met,
exchanging a long, long look. Before the concert was over I arose
hurriedly, and, complaining of the heat, told Winifred we must go at
once. To my relief, Roderick made no movement to follow us. His fine
courtesy prevented him from a course of action so obviously distressing
to me. Next day, however, I got a note from him, in which he said:

“The chance meeting of yesterday evening has confirmed me more than ever
in the belief that the child whom you choose to surround with so much
mystery is in some way connected with my life. The sight of her renewed
once more those memories of the past, and filled me with a hope–so
strong, if delusive–that I was misinformed regarding the supposed death
of my daughter. If this child be not my own Winifred, she must be in
some way related to my late wife. I implore you, by our years of
friendship, to end my suspense by telling me whatever you may know of
the girl. You will be doing the greatest possible service to

“Your devoted friend,
“RODERICK O’BYRNE.”

I answered him at once as follows:

“I beg of you in turn, by our friendship, to wait. Give me a month or
two, and I promise to relieve your suspense, or at least to give you
such excellent reasons for my silence that you will no longer doubt the
sincerity of my desire to serve you.”

The note posted, I persecuted the clerk more than ever by my inquiries
for letters, and I grumbled and growled at Niall and at Father Owen.

“Why on earth couldn’t they answer, if it were only a line? What could
they be thinking of? Didn’t they know I must be intolerably anxious?”

This was the sum of my growling, and I continued it during all the
Christmas holidays, when Winifred was with me; though, of course, I
could say nothing to her. One afternoon, when I had been particularly
anxious, I went out with the child, spent a half hour at the cathedral,
which was a daily haunt of mine, and then tried to control my feverish
agitation by getting into a restless crowd of shoppers who thronged the
department stores.

Winifred was delighted. It was a new experience. She never could get
over her wonder, though, at the number of people in New York city.

“Where do they all come from?” she cried; “and where do they live? Are
there houses enough for them all?”

I assured her that most of them were housed, though there was a sad
proportion of them homeless. I brought tears to her eyes with the
account I gave her, as we passed on to the quieter Fifth Avenue, of the
sufferings of the poor in all big cities.

She talked on this subject most of the way home; and when I would have
bought her some choice candies she begged me to give the money instead
to the poor. This we did. I handed her the amount, with a little added
thereto, and advised her to divide it amongst more than one. We met a
blind man, and she gave him an alms; next was a miserable child, and
after that a very old woman.

“There we have the Holy Family complete,” I remarked; and her face
lighted up at the suggestion.

“There are so many poor people here!” she said. “There were plenty of
poor people in Ireland too; but I don’t think they were quite as poor as
these, and the neighbors always helped them.”

“The poverty of a great city is worse, I think,” I assented, “than it
ever is in country places.”

“Except in the famine times,” said Winifred. “Oh, if you heard Niall
tell about the famine in Ireland, and how some bad men and women went
round trying to get the people who were starving to give up their
religion, and they wouldn’t!”

The child’s eyes shone and her whole face was aglow as she cried:

“Rather than give up their religion they died by the road eating grass.
That was just splendid of them.”

“Always keep that fine enthusiasm and that tender heart, dear child,”
said a voice.

We both turned quickly. I had little need to do so, for I knew the
voice. It was Roderick O’Byrne’s. Winifred looked into his face for a
moment, then she held out her hand.

“I don’t often speak to strangers,” she declared, with her princess-like
air, “but I like you.”

Roderick O’Byrne’s handsome face flushed, his lips parted eagerly as if
to speak; but he restrained himself by a visible effort, and said after
a pause:

“I hope some day you will like me better.” Then he turned to me, still
holding Winifred’s hand in his own strong brown one. “Do not be afraid:
I am not going to steal the little one away, and I am going to be
patient and wait. But I was walking behind you and I heard the sweet
voice–the voice so like one I loved very dearly in other days–and it
was too hard to resist: I had to speak.”

His voice took on that tone, half boyish, half pleading; and I felt
compelled to say:

“If you are not patient, I will have to spirit my little one away from
New York.”

“Oh, don’t do that!” he cried. “Let me see her sometimes–let me hear
her voice, and I won’t ask a question. See, I haven’t even asked her
name.”

He had come round to my side, dropping his voice to an earnest whisper.
But the child caught the last words.

“My name is Winifred,” she said in answer to them.

“Good heavens!” exclaimed Roderick, turning deadly pale; while I,
seizing the child firmly by the hand, turned a corner abruptly and
hastened into Broadway, where, as before on a similar occasion, I took a
cable car.

“And yet I have tried to be true to my trust,” I repeated over and over
to myself. “At the risk of losing Roderick’s friendship, I have refused
to answer any questions.”

“Oh, why did you go and leave the gentleman like that?” asked Winifred,
imperiously, as soon as we entered our rooms at the hotel. “It’s a
shame–I tell you it’s a shame!” And she stamped her little foot on the
carpet.




“Winifred!” I said severely. “You must be careful!”

“I don’t care!” she cried. “I won’t be good any more. It was very
impolite to run away from that gentleman; and I wanted to talk to him,
because I think I knew him once, or perhaps only dreamed about him.”

I saw now that the _dénouement_ was coming nearer and nearer. The matter
was indeed being taken out of my hands. I determined, however, that I
would be true to Niall; and that if some news did not soon come from
Ireland, I should remove the child from New York and go with her,
perhaps, to Canada. I rejoiced that the holidays were over and that
to-morrow Winifred must return to school.

“It may not be for long,” I warned her; “and then you may regret the
advantages you have had here. You see, Niall may get too lonesome and
send for you any time.”

“I would love to see him and Granny and Father Owen and the others!” she
exclaimed. “But if we went away to Ireland, I would like the dark
gentleman to come too. Perhaps he would if you asked him.”

“Everything will come right, I hope,” I answered, evasively. “And I am
very glad you like the dark gentleman, because you may see him very
often when you are older.”

“Do you think so?” she asked eagerly. “Oh, I shall like that! But are
you perfectly sure of it?”

“I am almost sure of it,” I replied; and then, telling her that the bell
was about to ring for the departure of visitors, I hurried away, for
fear she might begin to question me too closely.

After that I had many lonely days of anxious waiting as the winter sped
drearily away. February and then March drew their slow lengths along,
and my letters were still unanswered. April was ushered in, more
changeable than ever; mornings of sunshine being followed by afternoons
of rain, and days of almost midsummer heat giving place to the chilliest
of evenings.

One day I was sitting in my room at the hotel, embroidering a little,
and disconsolately watching the throng on Broadway, when there came a
knock at my door. A bell-boy entered with two letters upon a salver. My
heart gave a great throb as I seized them, recognizing on both the Irish
postmark. Broadway, with its throng of people, faded from before me; and
I held the two letters in my hand–reading the address, now on one, now
on the other, and putting off the moment of opening them; for I felt a
curious dread. Suppose Niall should hold me to my promise or sternly
command me to bring Winifred forthwith back to Ireland without even
revealing her identity to Roderick? At last I broke the seal of one of
the letters with a hand that trembled. I had to control a nervous
agitation, which almost prevented me from seeing the characters before
me, as with a pale face, I began to read.