Mrs. Molesworth.

Fairies Afield



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She waited till Paulina, fully attired for the journey, had gone downstairs for a few last minutes with her hosts, then she rapidly deposited the precious despatch-box in a corner of her own trunk, in which there was still room; closed and locked both; recited as directed the words of the spell, shut her eyes, and waited, as before.

Yes – all was right. There lay the miniature luggage, and in another moment both toy boxes were safe in her reticule, and with light feet and a light heart she ran down to join the others, just as the chariot which was to take them to the nearest posting-house drew up at the door.

"Everything is ready," she said to Paulina. "I have seen to the luggage," and Paulina nodded carelessly.

"The ladies' things have gone on in a cart, I suppose?" asked one of the Marristons. The dignified butler replied that he understood it had been seen to, the truth being that he had not thought about it; and on his side the old hall-porter took for granted that the housemaids had had it conveyed down the back-stairs, that is to say if he thought about it at all!

Anyway, as the mysterious lady had promised, so it fell out. Clodagh was troubled with no enquiries, no interference.

And arrived at St. Aidan's Wells, where they were to spend some weeks, all continued satisfactory. Once, it must be confessed, on their way, Clodagh had a fright. For they had to make two breaks in the long journey, spending one night at each, and on the second occasion, after Clodagh had closed and locked and repeated the spell, lo and behold, it refused to act! She started in terror, then her eyes fell on her own little slippers, which she had forgotten to pack. In a moment she had repaired the mistake, and then – yes, all went as before.

"But," said the girl to herself, "I must be more than careful. For possibly a second lapse on my part might not be forgiven."

They remained at the watering-place for a month or two, then started off again; this time for a lively seaside town where Paulina had arranged to meet friends; then, as the autumn drew on, to country-houses in the hunting districts, for the elder girl was a good horsewoman, as indeed was Clodagh also. What true Irish girl is not?

It was all very pleasant and exciting and the cousins enjoyed it, yet sometimes Paulina declared herself tired and wishful for a rest, even though her journeys were accomplished with the smallest possible trouble. The variety of their visits called of course for constant renewal of dresses and additions to them, but never did the two spell-bound trunks seem too full, and every time she packed and unpacked, Clodagh thought with inexpressible gratitude of the "fairy lady," as to herself she called her, and her bestowal of the strange secret.

"But for her, I could not have managed," she often reflected. "I should have had to give it up – it would not have been fair to Paulina, and then where could I have gone, for home in my own country I have none? And oh, how, through all the novelty and amusement and excitement of travelling, in spite of the kindness I meet with, oh how I sometimes long to be in dear grandmother's old turret room, listening to the faint whirr of her spinning-wheel, and the louder sound of the waves breaking on the cliffs below! I can feel the breeze that always blew in if the casement in the deep window-seat was open; I can taste the salt flavour of the spray that sometimes on stormy days flew up to where I sat! Oh dear old home! I wonder if Paulina ever feels about it in the least as I do?" and then she would fall to wishing that she could somehow earn money enough to buy back the old "eyrie," and be its little ch?telaine.

"How I would enjoy receiving Paulina, and making her enjoy it!"

But for these day-dreams she had not much leisure, and she knew that she should not indulge in them. Still the longing was always there, and as time went on it grew more persistent and intense.

"It is just home-sickness," thought Clodagh, and she felt that she must not give way to it.

"I wish I could meet 'Cousin Felicity' again," she often said to herself. "She was so wise. I am sure she would advise me how to keep cheerful and content. And yet she must have understood, for I remember her asking me if I loved my home very dearly."

The weeks and months and almost the years – for one had fully gone, and the second since Clodagh's arrival on this side of the water was well on its way – passed, and then one day came little looked-for tidings.

The cousins were just then again at St. Aidan's, which Paulina, who had great faith in its waters, made a point of visiting once or twice a year. One morning, when Clodagh came in from doing some little commissions on the Parade, she found her friend, pale as death, half fainting in her chair, an open letter in stiff, formal writing on her knee.

"Clodagh, oh Clodagh," she exclaimed, "read, read. Who could have dreamt of it?"

And truly her distress was not to be wondered at, for the news was appalling, being nothing less but that of the poor young woman's almost total ruin by the failure of a bank. Clodagh for a moment felt stunned, but she soon collected herself and did her best to comfort her cousin.

"Take courage, dear Paulina," she said. "There is no need for despair. You have still enough for comfort of a simple kind, and I will work for you. It will be my turn to repay your generosity."

"Dear child," murmured her poor cousin, all her high spirit broken, "you have already far more than repaid anything I have done for you. But don't leave me, promise me. If we must starve, let it be together."

"We shall not starve," said Clodagh cheerfully. "If – oh, Paulina, I wonder if you could make up your mind to live at Grey Rocks. My old nurse would take us in. She has a little farm and a nice clean house. Granny gave it to her and furnished it. We could live there on almost nothing, and every one would know who we were and be good to us." Her eyes actually sparkled at the prospect.

And after a little Paulina caught some of the younger girl's spirit.

"Yes," she said, "it is the best thing we can do. I have none but happy remembrances of the old place."

So Clodagh wrote to the friend of her grandmother who had been her guardian, asking him to see her nurse and arrange it. Writing direct would have been useless, as the simple woman had never learnt to read. And as quickly as the slow mails of those days could bring it, came Mr. Fitzgerald's reply. More than a reply indeed, for he began the letter by saying that he had pen in hand to write to her when her request reached him, for he had an extraordinary communication to make.

"Grey Rocks, my dear Clodagh," he wrote, "is yours, your own property. It has again been for sale, as the late purchaser inherited unexpectedly a large property and did not care to retain the smaller one, and on the very day before I heard from you, a certain firm of lawyers, well known to me and entirely trustworthy, sent over a confidential clerk to arrange for the purchase for yourself – Miss Clodagh O'Beirne – of the entire little property, as a gift, an absolute gift from an unknown friend, on one condition only, that you will never seek to discover the giver. I rejoiced inexpressibly, but my rejoicing is doubled and trebled since the receipt of your distressing news this morning. Surely never was a kind deed more appropriate. All is already in train, and whenever it suits you to return, you, accompanied I hope by Miss Paulina O'Beirne, will be welcomed with heartfelt joy by us all."

Clodagh's delight may be imagined, and to Paulina also the news was an immense relief.

"Who can be the unknown friend?" she exclaimed, adding, however, "But as you must never try to find out, perhaps it is better not to speak of it."

"Much better," said Clodagh, and they never did.

And a happy home old Grey Rocks proved. It was but seldom they cared to leave it. But when they did "want to wander," and with good management their joint means were enough to enable them to do so now and then, you may be sure that their only luggage was the two well-tested trunks, whose marvellous properties never failed. Clodagh, of course, in her heart had her own secret belief as to the identity of her benefactor or benefactress, but the mysterious "fairy lady" she never saw again. And whether her visits to the Marristons at the Priory continued or not, I cannot say.

Nor can I tell you the after history of the cousins, though something whispers to me that their lives were happy. But it all happened a long time ago. I cannot go over to Grey Rocks, for I do not know, to tell the truth, in what part of old Ireland it stands. Possibly still, in some forgotten corner of a deserted attic are hidden away the enchanted trunks, no one guessing their fairy powers! Who can say, though I am sure most of us wish that they, or others of their kind, belonged to us. How delightful it would be!

THE END

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