Mrs. Molesworth.

Fairies Afield

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The farmer looked much impressed, for since his travels Dirk had come to be looked upon as an authority.

"You don't think," said old Mac hesitatingly, "that there's anything uncanny about it. I wouldn't like the maid to get called a witch, though the days of ill-treating such are past and gone, thank Heaven."

Dirk did not reply directly.

"There's things we can't explain," he repeated. "There's good mysteries and bad mysteries. But Merran's all right. I'd trust her to use her extra sense for kindness, so she'll earn no ill-will by it."

By this time the farmer, who was unusually meek, had been put to bed and made to drink hot possets and all the rest of it, in hopes of warding off another bad rheumatic attack. To some extent the treatment was successful, but not entirely. The poor man had to keep his room for over a fortnight, which was very trying, as harvest was by no means over. Still, two weeks' illness is less than two months, and on the whole he bore his troubles patiently, and one thing which made this attack of his less wearisome both to himself and to his family than those that had laid him up before was the great fancy he had taken to Merran – his "weather maiden," as he had dubbed her. She proved to be an excellent little nurse, and the farmer was never as content and patient as when she was sitting by him, chatting cheerfully, as she was now able to do, since she was no longer frightened of being scolded, or reading aloud some of her favourite stories. For she was naturally far from stupid. Every morning and evening the invalid was sure to ask her about the weather, and, as we know, she was always ready with a forecast, which never once proved mistaken. Every day, many times a day indeed, did she say to herself how different her life now was from what it had been before her wonderful visit to the old "rain-house."

The farmer recovered; the harvest proved a good one, time passed and winter came again, and with every season Merran's fame spread. All over that corner of the country she came to be talked of as the "weather maiden," her uncle's name for her, and many a farmer, many a peasant, many a goodwife came to consult her and to hear her predictions. Her fame spread farther indeed than among her own people. The squire's lady never fixed the day for her summer parties or for the school children's feast without looking in to ask little Merran's opinion. For by long practice and delicate care in handling her magic gifts the girl came to foretell for days beforehand which of them – umbrella or parasol, "Rain-man" or "Sunshine fairy" – was to be in the ascendant.

Time passed, weeks became months, months years, as is the appointed way in this round old world of ours. From a plain, unnoticeable little girl Merran grew into a tall sweet-faced maiden. She was not exactly pretty, she was quiet and rather serious, but her dark eyes, though somewhat dreamy in expression, were very charming, and the tones of her voice were very musical.

So she was not without admirers, you may be sure. Many a man would have liked to marry her – some among them, no doubt, influenced by the knowledge of her wonderful gift, for of course the possession of it could not be kept a secret if she had wished, and she was far from desiring this. On the contrary, her kind heart rejoiced when she was able to use it for the advantage of her neighbours as well as for the relations whom she now loved as if they were her very own, and who on their side loved her.

But she kept her secret, faithful to the promise she had given to the lovely Sunshine fairy, though there were times when she longed to share it with one in whom she could safely confide. And now and then at intervals she had a strange feeling that Dirk suspected something, for she sometimes caught his eyes fixed on her with a kind of veiled enquiry, and once he said in a low voice, with a curious smile, "Little Merran, you are not like the rest of us."

"Are you, yourself, Dirk?" she replied. "There are things you know and feel that the others don't – the voices in the wind, the burden of the birds' songs, the secrets of the restless waves – oh, Dirk, if one lived a thousand years, there would still be mysteries upon mysteries of beautiful things to learn!"

Then she grew shy again, for she was always quiet and timid and wondered how she had found courage to say so much. But Dirk seemed pleased.

"Yes," he said, nodding his head gently. "Maybe we are a bit different from most of those about us. You, anyway, Merran. I've seen strange lands and beautiful places, but you – you give me the feeling that once upon a time you must have had a glimpse of real fairyland."

Merran grew red at this, but she made no reply.

Only to herself she said, "I wish – I do wish I might tell him," and then she grew still redder when the words of the Sunshine fairy returned to her memory that only to one person might she ever reveal her secret.

"And that one will never be my fate," thought the girl sadly. "Dirk will never care for me in that way, and never could I care for any one but him."

Whereas on his side, Dirk said to himself that he must never hope to win the sweet weather maiden for himself. "Why, half the young fellows in the country-side, and old ones too, are ready to woo her if she'd let them! They think she'd bring good luck to her husband, and so she would. But it's not for that I'd care for her – it's that I love her for her own self, luck or no luck."

And one day – one happy day – had the Sunshine fairy whispered to him to take courage, I wonder? – he determined to risk it, and told the maiden his hopes and fears, and found how little reason for the latter there had been, and the two young things, who had drawn to each other from their first meeting, before long were married, carrying with them to a home of their own the magic gifts, now, to Merran's delight, her husband's as much as her own.

Good fortune was theirs. Whatever Dirk undertook, whatever Merran planned, prospered. And that it should be so, they deserved. For they remained kindly and unselfish, ever ready to help others less happy than themselves, grateful for their blessings, patient under trials, of which, as life cannot be always sunshine, they had their share. They lived, I was told, to a good old age. What became of the fairy treasures, I cannot say. Whether they were handed down to their children, or whether they were whisked back to fairyland, I know not, not any more than I know what has become of all the toy "rain-houses" which in our grand-parents' times were so often to be seen. The world is growing too clever for the fairies, I fear, unless perhaps, unseen and unsuspected, they are still behind the scenes in some of the marvels and inventions all around us. Who can say?

And by the bye, I have heard it whispered that in a certain out-of-the-way corner of this dear old country there lives a family whose sons and daughters have a curious gift of "weather wisdom." Maybe they are the descendants of our Dirk and his Merran?

The Enchanted Trunks

Once upon a time, on a very hot summer's day, a girl stood waiting at the door of a small old-fashioned inn, beside a little heap of luggage. She was quite young, about sixteen, or seventeen at the most. Her face was sweet in expression, and would have been pretty if she had not looked so tired and anxious. She was quite alone and seemed shy and timid, for now and then, when some of the folk belonging to the place, passing in and out, wished her good-day, or made any friendly remark, she started and grew crimson even though she replied politely. And when after a time the landlady herself came to the door and asked the girl if she would not step inside and wait in the parlour, she answered hesitatingly that she thought she had better stay in the porch.

"I'm so afraid of missing the coach, or losing my seat in it," she said.

"No fear of that, Miss," said the comfortable-looking dame. "Your place is engaged, no doubt."

"Oh yes, I suppose so," the stranger replied. "My name is O'Beirne – Clodagh O'Beirne."

"That's all right," said the landlady; "I remember the name. The master – that's my husband – called out to the coachman last night that he must secure a place for you to-day. You'd written for it, no doubt?"

"Yes, the friends I stayed the night with – I only came over from Ireland yesterday – did so. It was their gig that brought me here just now, to catch the coach as it passed."

The landlady's good-humour seemed to cheer the girl a little; she began to look less frightened.

"You've come a long way," the older woman remarked. "Right across the sea, I take it?" The girl nodded, and looked as if she were going to cry. The landlady's curiosity was aroused. "And it's the first time you've left home, I daresay, and all by yourself too. It must feel strange-like."

"I wasn't alone till to-day. A friend came over with me," Clodagh replied. "And I shan't be alone long. I'm to meet a – a lady, a cousin, and we are to travel together."

"Ah indeed, that'll be much pleasanter for you," said her companion.

The young girl murmured something. But to herself she was saying that she was by no means sure of it. And after a little silence she went on, "I don't think I'd mind travelling alone – I don't mind anything very much now that I haven't any home – except," and she glanced at the heap of rather heterogeneous baggage, "except for all these things. I'm so afraid of losing half of them, and yet Biddy and I packed as neatly as ever we could. Biddy was grandmother's maid, and she stayed with me after dear granny died, till it was settled for me to go to live with my cousin and travel about with her."

"It'll be fine and amusing for you," said the landlady.

"I – I don't know," said Clodagh. "I'm not used to travelling, and I've not seen my cousin for a good while, and she may think me stupid."

"But she's a young lady, I suppose?" said her questioner.

"Not very. She's – oh, she's seven or eight years older than I, and she wants to travel all about till she finds a place to suit her. She's like me, except that she's rich. She's got no parents and can do as she likes."

Then suddenly it seemed to strike the young stranger that she was perhaps too communicative, and she grew rather pink. "I shouldn't perhaps – " she began, but the kind-hearted woman understood and interrupted. "It's me, Miss, that's in fault," she said. "I shouldn't make free to ask so many questions. But it went to my heart to see you standing there alone, so young and half-frightened like. I had a little daughter once – she'd have been not so much older than you if she'd lived – " She stopped for a moment, then she went on again: "Wouldn't you like a cup of tea now, Miss?" she said. "It's a time o' day I often has one, for we've no lie-abeds in our house, and it's a good while since we'd breakfast, and if you've come some distance you'll have been up betimes, I'd daresay."

Clodagh's face brightened.

"It's very kind of you," she said. "I would like it uncommonly. I couldn't eat any breakfast, I was so afraid of being too late. But – please tell me how much it will cost. I mustn't spend anything I can help, you see. Once I'm with Cousin Paulina, she will pay things like that for herself and me."

"Don't trouble your pretty head about it," said the goodwife. "We're well-to-do, my man and me, and neither chick nor kin to come after us, more's the pity – and – you do make me think of what my little maid would have been by now, Missy, if you'll pardon the liberty. Now just step inside – to my own parlour – the kettle's on the hob – you'll feel quite a different young lady once you've had a bit of breakfast, better late than never."

"And you promise me I won't miss the coach," said the girl, as she followed the kind woman into the little sitting-room behind the bar.

"No fear, no fear," replied her hostess, and as Clodagh sat down in the comfortable chintz-covered old armchair – the landlady's own, which she drew forward for the unexpected guest – the girl gave a sigh of content. "It is nice and cool in here," she said, "and I am so tired already and so thirsty. I wish I were going to stay here for a bit."

"Indeed and I wish it too, Miss, and it's our best we'd do to make you comfortable," said the dame, as she bustled about to make the tea, which she fetched from the kitchen hard by, and to cut some tempting slices of bread and butter. "But travelling's very pleasant, some folks say. There's an old lady not far from here – that's to say, her own home is – but she's for ever on the go. They do say as she's been all over the world, and old as she is, she seldom rests."

"Is she so very old?" asked Clodagh.

"No one knows," was the mysterious reply. "My husband's mother, and she's no chicken as you can fancy, remembers her as quite aged when she was young. But she never seems to get no older. Some say she was spirited away by the good folk when she was a baby and that she's got a fairy's life – indeed there's some that will have it she's not really one of us at all."

Clodagh, by this time refreshed by the tea, sat up eagerly. "Oh," she exclaimed, "I'm so glad you talk of the good folk. I thought it was only at home – in Ireland, I mean, that people still believed in them."

"Dear me, no," said her hostess, with a smile. "Maybe in the big towns you never hear of them nowadays, and no wonder. They can't abide noise and bustle and dirt. But in these parts, oh dear yes. I've heard tell of them all my life, I know, and of their tricksy ways. They can be the best of friends, but, my word! if they take offence they can worry one's life out."

Clodagh was listening with all her ears. Her eyes had grown brighter, and some colour had come into her cheeks, with the mere mention of fairy folk, so familiar to her since her infancy.

"Oh," she said with a little sigh, "what you say does make me wish still more that I could stay here a few days and get rested, and you would tell me stories, as my dear old nurse used to do."

"That I would," said the landlady, "and indeed I wish you could stay to hear them. Not that I've ever really come across the fairies – brownies and pixies, they call them in some parts – myself, nor even set eyes on one of them – unless indeed – " and here she stopped abruptly, lowering her voice.

"Unless what?" asked Clodagh. "Do tell me."

"Just what I was saying a minute ago," the dame went on. "Unless that strange old lady is one herself, as I'm more than half inclined to think by what I've heard tell of her."

"Then you've seen her?" questioned the girl eagerly.

The landlady nodded.

"Just seen her," she said. "Twice – no, I think three times, she's passed in the coach, and I've just said a word to her at the door. Once she asked for a glass of milk. 'Twas a very hot morning, like as it might be to-day."

"How I wish she might be in the coach this morning!" exclaimed the traveller, her eyes sparkling. "It would be so interesting, and if she knew I was Irish she might take a fancy to me, for the good people do love the Irish!" and at the idea the girl laughed merrily for the first time.

"Yes," agreed the dame, "indeed she might, my pretty young lady. But it's a long time since she's passed this way. One never knows where she is, or how she'll travel. Now and then she'll set off in her own coach and four, like any princess, and I've heard it whispered that she'll sometimes disappear from her home, no one knows how."

"Oh, a broomstick, maybe, or has she a pet gander?" laughed Clodagh.

But the landlady looked a little frightened.

"Hush, Missy, my dear," she whispered, "it doesn't do to – " Then she suddenly started. "I'm afraid that's the coach," she exclaimed, "and sorry I am to part with you, but if you're bound to go, we'd best be at the door ready."

Clodagh jumped up at once.

"And thank you a thousand times," she said, "for all your kindness. Yes, I must go. My cousin will be looking out for me. I've not seen her for five years," she added nervously. "Wish me good luck, my kind friend."

"That I will," said the dame heartily.

"You've cheered me greatly," said the girl, and in her impulsive Irish way she held up her sweet young face for a kiss.

The coach it was, sure enough. There was some trouble about getting Clodagh's rather complicated belongings on to it, it was already so piled up. But with difficulty all was at last disposed, outside and in, and thanks to the landlady nothing was left behind.

There were tears in the kind woman's eyes when at last it rumbled off, her young guest of an hour waving good-bye out of the window.

But it is Clodagh's adventures we have to follow. For a minute or two the bustle of getting her bags and boxes settled prevented her realising that there was already a passenger in the coach, and before looking round she felt obliged to lean out once again in a last farewell to her kind new friend. She was soon, however, recalled to the present.

"Who is there?" said a voice – a rather petulant one – from the corner. "Whatever is the matter? I was fast asleep till there was all this fuss! Oh! – " with an exclamation, "can it be you, Clodagh O'Beirne? I had no idea we were at Crossway Corner already?"

"Yes, indeed," Clodagh replied, "it is I. I didn't know it was you, Cousin Paulina. I wasn't sure, you see, if I would find you here, or if you would only meet me at the next stage. Lady Roseley wasn't certain from your letter which it would be."

"Humph," murmured Mistress Paulina. "Well, after all I decided that to avoid any mistake I'd get up for once by cock-crow, so as to start from Stracey. I hate getting up early, and I was fast asleep as you saw. Did Lady Roseley send some one with you, then, to see you off? You seemed to be nodding good-byes."

"No," said Clodagh. "That's to say only the old coachman who drove me over and left me at the inn. I was all right. No, it was only the landlady I was waving to. She was so kind, helping to carry out my things," and she glanced round at the various encumbrances. The place was certainly inconveniently crowded, and so Paulina, now wide-awake, seemed to think, as she took it all in, and that with evident annoyance.

"I must say, Clodagh," she remarked, "that you have a queer collection of luggage. I hope you will get rid of some of these bags and baskets before we start again. I don't deny that I travel with a fair amount myself," and indeed the coach had seemed well packed inside and out, before the younger girl's belongings had been added, "but a child like you can't need such an amount. You'll have to learn to be a clever traveller, my dear, if we're to get on together."

"I'm very sorry," said Clodagh apologetically. "You see, cousin, I never have left home before, and I didn't know how to manage. I'll do my best, and I hope I'll soon learn, for of course I shall pack for you as well as for myself. That I quite understand."

"Well, yes," said Paulina. "I can't go about with you and a maid. And as things have unfortunately turned out so sadly for you, it seemed to me you'd be better off with me than going among strangers. And on my side, I'm sick of maids with their airs and graces and vulgarities. I prefer to have a companion of my own class."

"Yes, thank you," Clodagh replied. "It was a very kind thought of yours, and I shall soon learn to manage well, I hope. To begin with, I think we might arrange all these things better," and she stood up and pulled about and pushed and lifted, till the narrow space looked more orderly, Paulina from her corner now and then directing and advising. She was a handsome young woman, with a by no means disagreeable expression. Indeed there was often a kindly light in her bright eyes, and gentle curves about her mouth. But she was self-willed and quick-tempered, "spoilt" in short, though generous and well-meaning, entirely unused to contradiction and impatient of any obstacles in the way of her wishes or fancies.

"Thank goodness," she ejaculated, as she settled herself down again in her wraps, "thank goodness, we have no fellow-passengers. Now I mean to go to sleep again, and so may you, child, if you like. We shall stop at Oddingstowe for dinner and fresh horses, and by four o'clock we should be at Felway, where the Marristons' carriage – and, it is to be hoped, a cart for the luggage – is to meet us. They expect us to stay at the Priory for two or three days. They know you will be with me."

"Yes, thank you," replied Clodagh again, feeling mortally shy at the prospect before her, yet not venturing to say so.

Paulina composed herself to sleep once more, and before long, in spite of the thoughts that crowded her mind – anxieties, hopes, and fears, as she realised more clearly her new position as her kinswoman's companion – Clodagh too, though a few minutes ago she would not have believed it possible, Clodagh too dozed off.

And she slept, as did Paulina, for some time. The stopping of the vehicle, the cessation of the monotonous rumbling, aroused them both.

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