One day of the world, when it was young summer in Ireland, old Grannie Malone sat by her fireplace knitting. She was all alone, and in her lap lay a letter.
Sometimes she took the letter in her hands, and turned it over and over, and looked at it. Then she would put it down again with a little sigh.
"If I but had the learning," said Grannie Malone to herself, "I could be reading Michael's letters without calling in the Priest, and 't is long since he passed this door. 'T is hard work waiting until some one can tell me what at all is in it."
She stooped over and put a bit of peat on the fire, and because she had no one else to talk to, she talked to the tea-kettle. "There now," she said to it, " 't is a lazy bit of steam that 's coming out of the nose of you! I 'll be wanting my tea soon, and no water boiling."
She lifted the lid and peeped into the kettle. "'T is empty entirely!" she cried, "and a thirsty kettle it is surely, and no one but myself to fetch and carry for it!"
She got up slowly, laid her knitting and the letter on the chair, took the kettle off the hook, and went to the door.
There was but one door and one window in the one little room of her cabin, so if the sun had not been shining brightly it would have been quite dark within.
But the upper half of the door stood open, and the afternoon sun slanted across the earthen floor and brightened the dishes that stood on the old dresser. It even showed Grannie Malone's bed in the far end of the room, and some of her clothes hanging from the rafters overhead.
There was little else in the room to see, except her chair, a wooden table, and a little bench by the fire, a pile of peat on the hearth, and a bag of potatoes in the corner.
Grannie Malone opened the lower half of the door and stepped out into the sunshine. Some speckled hens that had been sunning themselves on the doorstep fluttered out of the way, and then ran after her to the well.
"Shoo—get along with you!" cried Grannie Malone. She flapped her apron at them. "'T is you that are always thinking of something to eat! Sure, there are bugs enough in Ireland, without your always being at my heels to be fed! Come now,—scratch for your living like honest hens, and I 'll give you a sup of water if it 's dry you are."
The well had a stone curb around it, and a bucket with a rope tied to it stood on the curb. Grannie let the bucket down into the well until she heard it strike the fresh spring water with a splash. Then she pulled and pulled on the rope. The bucket came up slowly and water spilled over the sides as Grannie lifted it to the curb.
She poured some of the water into the dish for the hens, filled her kettle, and then straightened her bent back, and stood looking at the little cabin and the brown bog beyond.
"Sure, it 's old we all are together," she said to herself, nodding her head. "The old cabin with the rain leaking through the thatch of a wet day, and the old well with moss on the stones of it. And the hens themselves, too old to cook, and too old to be laying,—except on the doorstep in the sunshine, the creatures!—But 't is home, thanks be to God."
She lifted her kettle and went slowly back into the house. The hens followed her to the door, but she shut the lower half of it behind her and left them outside.
She went to the fireplace and hung the kettle on the hook, blew the coals to a blaze with a pair of leaky bellows, and sat down before the fire once more to wait for the water to boil.
She knit round and round her stocking, and there was no sound in the room but the click-click of her needles, and the tick-tick of the clock, and the little purring noise of the fire on the hearth.
Just as the kettle began to sing, there was a squawking among the hens on the doorstep, and two dark heads appeared above the closed half of the door.
A little girl's voice called out, "How are you at all, Grannie Malone?"
And a little boy's voice said, "We 've come to bring you a sup of milk that Mother sent you."
Grannie Malone jumped out of her chair and ran to the door. "Och, if it 's not the McQueen Twins—the two of them!" she cried. "Bless your sweet faces! Come in, Larry and Eileen! You are as welcome as the flowers of spring. And how is your Mother, the day? May God spare her to her comforts for long years to come!"
She swung the door open as she talked, took the jug from Eileen's hand, and poured the milk into a jug of her own that stood on the dresser.
"Sure, Mother is well. And how is yourself, Grannie Malone?" Eileen answered, politely.
"Barring the rheumatism and the asthma, and the old age in my bones, I 'm doing well, thanks be to God," said Grannie Malone. "Sit down by the fire, now, till I wet a cup of tea and make a cakeen for you! And indeed it 's yourselves can read me a letter from my son Michael, that 's in America! It has been in the house these three days waiting for some one with the learning to come along by."
She ran to the chair and picked up the letter. The Twins sat down on a little bench by the fireplace, and Grannie Malone put the letter in their hands.
"We 've not got all the learning yet," Larry said. "We might not be able to read it."
"You can try," said Grannie Malone. Then she opened the letter, and a bit of folded green paper with printing on it fell out. "God bless the boy," she cried, "there 's one of those in every letter he sends me! 'T is money that is! Can you make out the figures on it, now?"
Larry and Eileen looked it over carefully. "There it is, hiding in the corner," said Larry. He pointed to a "5" on the green paper.
"Five pounds it is!" said Grannie Malone. "Sure it 's a fortune! Oh, it 's himself is the good son to me! What does the letter say?"
The Twins spread the sheet open and studied it, while Grannie hovered over them, trembling with excitement.
"Sure, that's Dear, is n't it?" said Eileen, pointing to the first word.
"Sure," said Larry; "letters always begin like that."
"Dear G-r-a-n-n-i-e," spelled Eileen. "What could that be but Grannie?"
" 'T is from my grandson, young Patrick, then," cried Grannie. "Indeed, he 's but the age of yourselves! How old are you at all?"
"We 're seven," said the Twins.
"Patrick might be eight," said his Grandmother, "but surely the clever children like yourselves and the two of you together should be able to make it out. There 's but one of Patrick, and there should be more learning between the two of you than in one alone, even though he is a bit older! Try now."
Larry and Eileen tried. This was the letter. It was written in a large staggery hand.
"Will you listen to that now!" cried Grannie Malone. "Is it taking me back to America, he 'd be! 'T is a terrible journey altogether, and a strange country at the end of it, for me to be laying my old bones in! But I 'd be a proud woman to see my own son, in any country of the world, and he an alderman!"
There was a letter from Michael himself in the envelope also, but the Twins could not read that, however much they tried.
So Grannie was obliged to put the two letters and the green paper under the clock over the fireplace, to wait until the Priest should pass that way.