WINIFRED’S TREASURES

The room into which Winifred led me was a model of neatness. The curtain
upon the window, the cover upon the small bureau were of snowy-white;
and the counterpane upon the bed was blue-and-white patchwork–a piece
of art in its way.

“Granny did it all herself before she got blind,” Winifred explained.
“It was for my mother; but my mother never came here, and so I got it.”

She handed me a chair as she spoke,–a high-backed, stiff wooden one,
evidently of rustic manufacture; and, mounting upon another chair, she
reached to the top of a rude wardrobe, or press, which stood in the
corner. Thence she brought down a deal box, which she placed carefully
on the floor, seating herself on a low stool beside it.

“I’ll give you three guesses what is in there,” she said, looking up at
me with her bright smile.

“Your three guesses remind me of Portia’s three caskets,” I answered.

Winifred shook her head slowly. Evidently her knowledge did not extend
to Shakespeare.

“Portia’s caskets sound pretty,” she remarked; “but I don’t know what
they are.”

“I must tell you that pretty story some time. Her suitors were so many
that she declared that only he who chose the right casket should win
her. Each suitor had to guess. The first of those caskets was gold–”

“Oh, you knew before!” interrupted the girl.

“Knew what?”

“I don’t understand how you could have guessed so quickly.”

“But I have guessed nothing,” I said. “I only mentioned that the first
casket was of gold.”

“Oh, I thought you meant to tell me in that way that you knew what was
in my box!” Winifred explained.

I stared and she suddenly withdrew the cover. My eyes were almost
dazzled.

“There is gold in my box,–real pure gold,” said the young girl.

And gold there was, amazing both in quality and quantity.

Winifred saw my astonishment, with innocent triumph.

“Look at that!” she said, detaching from the mass of shining metal a
crown, which she held up for my inspection. While I looked she drew
forth several other articles, all of peculiar make but of dainty and
delicate design, some more richly wrought than others. There were
collars, brooches, rings, bracelets,–thin bracelets, such as were worn
in the olden days by kings and warriors.

“My dear,” I said, “this is wonderful–like some Irish edition of the
‘Arabian Nights.’ I feel as if I had got into the cave of the Forty
Thieves or some such place. Where on earth did those things come from?”

“I can’t answer questions,” Winifred said; “but I wanted you to see
them, they are so beautiful and so very old. Occasionally I take them
out to play with them.”

“Costly playthings!” I murmured. “And since they are so old, how did
they come to be so bright?”

Winifred grew red as she explained:

“Somebody polishes them with stuff to make them bright, but you mustn’t
ask who.”

“But, my dear child, I ought to tell you that I know who has given you
these things,” I said gravely.

The flush faded from the girl’s face, leaving it very pale.

“Ah, I must have betrayed his secret, then!” she cried. “He trusted me
and I was false!”

“You have not done so intentionally. I was in the wood one day when you
were given a bracelet–”

“Oh, that was the day you fell down! I thought you hadn’t seen the
bracelet, because you never spoke of it,” Winifred said, in such real
distress that I was only anxious to comfort her.

“You need not be afraid. Since you trust me so far as to show me these
beautiful things, you may also believe that I shall keep the rest of the
secret.”

“That is different,” observed Winifred. “He told me never to tell where
I got these things; and now Granny Meehan found out, and you found out
too.”

“My dear,” said I, “there is one thought which occurs to me, and which I
must put in words. Bring your stool over and sit near me.”

She did so, her dark curls almost resting on my lap.

“My thought is this. How does the person who gives you all these
treasures procure them?”

She shook her head.

“You promised not to ask questions!” she exclaimed.

“Nor am I asking any which I expect you to answer,” I said quietly. “But
are you sure that these ornaments are honestly come by?”

Winifred sprang to her feet, her face crimson as upon that day when I
had made the blunder about Granny’s sight.

“For shame!” she cried–“for shame! How could you think of such a thing?
Niall, who is so good and who is giving his whole life for one purpose!”

I did feel unaccountably ashamed of myself.

“You must remember that I do not know Niall,” I argued.

“Do you think evil of people without even knowing them?” Winifred cried
impetuously. “If that’s the way they do in America, I don’t want to go
there, and I won’t go there.”

“It is the way of the world, as you will find when you are older,” I
replied somewhat sharply; for I was vexed at being put in the wrong by
this child. Having been treated with deference by all about her since
her infancy, she knew little of the respect due to those who were older;
and only such religious training as she had received from Father Owen,
with an innate sense of propriety and a natural courtesy, prevented her
from being that most objectionable of beings–a spoiled, selfish child.

I saw that Winifred was already ashamed of her vehemence, and I pointed
to the stool at my feet.

“Sit down again, little one,” I said, “and let me finish what I have to
say; for I think it is my duty to speak out.”

She obeyed in silence, and after a brief pause I went on:

“This is how it all appears to me, or would appear to any one of
experience. The man Niall seems poor, leads a strange, solitary life,
and yet he gives you articles of great value. There is, to say the least
of it, a mystery as to how he procures them.”

Winifred said not a word, but sat still with downcast eyes.

“And, since I am upon the subject,” I added, “I may as well tell you
that he is not, in my opinion, a suitable companion for you.”

“Not a suitable companion!” the girl repeated, raising her eyes to my
face in astonishment. “Niall, who has taught me nearly everything I
know! Why, if it had not been for him I should have been as ignorant as
Moira. I love him as if he were my father.”

“He has taught you a great deal that is wild and visionary,” I argued.
“You know nothing of the realities of life. You are content to lead this
wandering, aimless existence, when life has real duties, and, as you
must find, real cares and sorrows.”

This reproach seemed to touch her; for, with one of those strange
flashes of intuition, she seemed at once to catch my meaning.

“But how can Niall help that?” she cried. “He has been very kind to me.
He told Granny to teach me my prayers, and took me to Father Owen
himself, so that I could go to confession and make my first communion;
and he spends his whole life working for me. What should I do without
him? I have no one else except dear old Granny, and she is blind.”

There was something so pathetic in the way all this was said that,
almost involuntarily, the tears came into my eyes. I began to realize
that the man had done and was doing his best for the child, but his best
was not sufficient; and, sitting there beside that heap of now
disregarded treasures, I formed the resolve, in spite of all
difficulties, to take the child with me to America. She might return
later to be the guardian spirit of this old house and to repay Niall and
good Granny Meehan for the devotedness with which they had watched over
her childhood. But she must first acquire that knowledge of the world,
the real world of her own day, in which she was now so deficient.




There was little reason to doubt from her appearance that she was
indeed, as Granny Meehan had said, of a fine old stock. Therefore she
must be educated as a lady. I should try, if possible, to solve the
mystery concerning her parents; and then I should take her with me to
the great country beyond the seas, where the wildest dreams are
occasionally realized; and where, at least, there is opportunity for all
things. I knew, however, that this would mean diplomacy. If I were to
broach the subject to her just then, she would probably refuse to come.
I must first win her; and I must gain the confidence of Niall, if that
were at all possible. He would understand far better than this child of
nature the advantages of a journey to the New World and of a good
education there.

“I wish you knew Niall!” Winifred said, with a suddenness which startled
me,–it was so like the echo of my own thoughts.

“I wish so too!” I replied fervently.

“But it is very hard. He does not like strangers; and he seems to
dislike people from America most of all.”

“That is very unfortunate!” I said, laughing.

“Yes,” assented Winifred. “Still, he might like some of them very
well–if he knew them.”

She said this with the utmost simplicity. I did not tell her that I was
going to seek Niall’s acquaintance; for I feared she might warn him and
he might disappear, as was his wont from time to time, or take other
means of preventing me from carrying out my purpose. I told her,
instead, that I must be going; that I had had a most delightful day and
was charmed with her castle and her legends.

“How grand it must have been when it was a real castle,” she said; “and
when there was an abbey near by, with a church, and the monks singing!
It was one of the race who founded that abbey, in thanksgiving for
having been saved from great danger.”

“Ah, those were the days of faith!” I exclaimed. “And whatever evil the
people did they repaired it nobly by penance and by the great monuments
they built up.”

As we turned to leave the room I asked Winifred:

“Are you going to leave all these valuable things here?”

“Why, of course!” she answered in surprise.

“Can’t you ever lock them up?”

Winifred burst out laughing.

“Lock them up!” she said. “Why should I do that?”

“To save them from being stolen.”

“As if anything was ever stolen here! I can assure you there isn’t a
robber in the whole countryside.”

“Why, that is as wonderful as your treasures!” I exclaimed, as we went
in to where Granny Meehan sat, as usual, placidly by the fire, a great
cat purring and rubbing its furry sides against her gown. The animal
fixed on me that glance of grave scrutiny with which these feline
creatures appear to read one’s whole history, past, present and to come;
after which she arched her back and lay down near the hearth.

Winifred walked down with me a piece of the way, after I had said
farewell to Granny Meehan, who had heard my glowing praises of the
castle with flushed cheeks, down which stole a tear or two of pride.
When we were parting, Winifred remarked wistfully:

“I think, perhaps, Niall and I are different from any other people. But
it’s no use trying to change us: we shall always be the same.”