Four Winds Farm
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"No fear, no fear," he seemed to hear; "we must let our spirits out sometimes. But you'd better not go to school for a day or two, small Gratian, all the same."
And several "days or two" that winter it was impossible for him to go to school, or for any one to come to the Farm, so heavy and dark even at mid-day were the storm-clouds, so deep lay the treacherous snow-drifts. Not even the doctor could reach them. But fortunately Mrs. Conyfer was by this time much better. All she now required was care and rest.
"Oh, mother dear, how glad I am that I did not leave you!" Gratian would often say. "How dull and dreary and long the days would have seemed! You couldn't even have got letters from me."
And the lessons he learnt in that winter of patient waiting, of quiet watching and self-forgetfulness, bore their fruit.
And his four friends did not forget him. There came now and then a soft breath from the two gentle sisters whose voices were hushed to all others for a time, and more than once in some mysterious way Gratian felt himself summoned out to the lonely moorland by the two whose carnival time it was.
And standing out there with the great sweep of open country all around him, with his hair tossed by White-wings's giant touch, or his cheeks tingling with a sharp blast from mischievous Gray-wings, Gratian laughed with pleasure and daring enjoyment.
"I am your child too – Spirits of the North and East. You can't frighten me. I defy you."
And the two laughed and shouted with wild glee at their foster-child's great spirit.
"He does us credit," they cried, though old Jonas passing by heard nothing but a shriek of fresh fury up above, and shouted to Gratian to hasten within shelter.
But winter never lasts for ever. Spring came again – slow and reluctant – and it was long before Gray-wings consented to take her yearly nap and let her sister of the west soothe and comfort the storm-tossed country. And then, as day by day Gratian made his way to school, he watched with awakened and ever-awaking eyes the exquisite eternal beauty of the summer's gradual approach, till at last Golden-wings clasped him in her arms one morning and told him her joy at being able to return.
"For I love this country, though no one will believe it," she said. "The scent of the gorse and the heather is delicious and refreshing after the strong spice perfumes of my own home;" and many a story she told the child, and many a song she sang to him through the long summer days – which he loved to spend in his old way, out among the heather with Jonas and Watch and the browsing sheep.
For the holidays had begun. His mother was well, quite well, by now, and Gratian was free to do as he chose.
He was out on the moors one day – a lovely cloudless day, that would have been sultry anywhere else – when old Jonas startled him by saying suddenly:
"Did you know, Master Gratian, that the gentry's come back to the Big House?"
Gratian sat straight up in his astonishment.
"No, Jonas.How did you hear it?"
"Down in the village, quite sudden-like. It was all got ready for them last week, but there's been none of us down there much lately."
Gratian felt too excited to lie still and dream any more.
"I'll ask mother if I may go and see," he said jumping up. And off he ran. But an unexpected sight met him at a stone's throw from the Farm. It was Fergus, little lame Fergus, mounted on a tiny rough-coated pony, coming towards him! And the joy of the meeting who could describe?
"We tried to keep it a secret till it was quite sure," said the boy. "There was some difficulty about it, but it is all settled now. Father has taken the Big House from our cousin, and we are to live at it half the year. We are all there – my sisters – and my big brother comes sometimes – and mother of course. All except Jack. Jack has gone to sea. He was very nice, but he hated lessons – he only wanted to go to sea. So we want you now, Gratian – my own Gratian. I have a tutor, and you are to learn with me all the summer and to go away with us in the winter now your mother is well, so that you will find out what you want to be. It is for me we have come here. I must always be lame, Gratian. The doctors can't cure me," and the bright voice faltered. "But I shall get strong all the same if I live here in this beautiful air. And I shall be very happy, for I can learn to play on the organ – and that makes up for all."
And all came about as Fergus said.
The summer and the autumn that followed, Gratian studied with his friend's tutor. And the winter after, greatly to his mother's joy, he went away as had been planned before. But not for ever of course. No great length of time passed without his returning to his birthplace.
"I should die," he said sometimes, "if I could not from time to time stand at the old porch and feel the breath of the four winds about me."
This is only the story of the very opening of the life of a boy who lived to make his mark among men. How he did so, how he found his voice, it is not for me to tell. But he had early learnt to choose the right, and so we know he prospered.
Besides – was he not the godchild of the Four Winds of Heaven?
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