Mrs. Molesworth.

Four Winds Farm



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"Are you not cold there, my boy?" he asked kindly.

"No, thank you, sir," Gratian answered, and looking more closely at him the master saw he had been crying.

"What is the matter, Gratian?" he asked. "You've not been quarrelling or fighting I'm sure, you never do, and as for lessons they went a bit better to-day, I think, didn't they?"

But at these words Gratian only turned his face to the wall and wept – wiping his eyes from time to time on the cuff of the linen blouse which he wore at school over his coat.

The schoolmaster's heart was touched, though he was pretty well used to tears. But Gratian's seemed different somehow.

"What is it, my boy?" he said again.

"It's – it's just that, sir – lessons, I mean. I did try, sir. I meant to work with a will, I did indeed."

"But you did do better. I knew you were trying," said the teacher quietly.

Gratian lifted his tear stained face and looked at the master in surprise.

"Did you, sir?" he said. "It seemed to me to go worser and worser."

"No, I didn't think so. And sometimes, Gratian, when we think we are doing worse, it shows we are really doing better. We're getting up a little higher, you see, and beginning to look on and to see how far we have to go, and that we might have got on faster. When we're not climbing at all, but just staying lazily at the foot of the hill, we don't know anything about how steep and high it is."

Gratian had quite left off crying by now and was listening attentively. The master's words needed no explanation to him; he had caught the sense and meaning at once.

"Everybody has to work if they're to do any good, haven't they, sir?" he asked.

"Everybody," agreed the master.

"But wouldn't it be better if everybody liked their work – couldn't they do it better if they did?" he asked. "That's what I'm vexed about, partly. I don't like lessons, sir," he said in a tone of deep conviction. "I'm afraid I'm too stupid ever to like them."

The schoolmaster could scarcely keep from smiling.

"You're not so very old yet, Gratian," he said. "It's just possible you may change. Besides, in some ways the beginning's the worst. You can't read very easily yet – not well enough to enjoy reading to yourself?"

"No, sir," said the boy, hanging his head again.

"Well, then, wait a while and see if you don't change about books and lessons."

"And if I don't ever change," said Gratian earnestly. "Can people ever do things well that they don't like doing?"

The schoolmaster looked at him. It was a curious question for a boy of nine years old.

"Yes," he said, "I hope so, indeed," and his mind went back to a time when he had looked forward to being something very different from a village schoolmaster, when he could have fancied no employment could be less to his liking than teaching. "I hope so, indeed," he repeated. "And if you work with a will you – get to like the work whatever it is."

"Thank you, sir," said the boy, and the master turned away.

Then a thought struck him.

"What do you best like doing, Gratian?"

The boy hesitated. Then he grew a little red.

"It isn't doing anything really," he said; "it's what mother calls dreaming – out on the moors, sir, that's the best of all – with the wind all about, and nothing but it and the moor and the sky. And the feel of it keeps in me. Even when I'm at home in the kitchen by the fire, if I shut my eyes I can fancy it."

The master nodded his head.

"Dreaming is no harm in its right place. But if one did nothing but dream, the dreams would lose their colour, I expect."

"That's something like what they said, again," thought the boy to himself.

The schoolmaster walked away. "A child with something uncommon about him, I fancy," he said in his mind. "One sees that sometimes in a child living as much alone with nature as he does. But I scarcely think he's clever, and then the rough daily life will most likely nip in the bud any sort of poetry or imagination that there may be germs of."

He didn't quite understand Gratian, and then, too, he didn't take into account what it is to be born under the protection of the four winds of heaven.

But Gratian felt much happier after his talk with the master, and afternoon lessons went better. They were generally easier than the morning ones, and often more interesting. This afternoon it was a geography lesson. The master drew out the great frame with the big maps hanging on it, and explained to the children as he went along. It was about the north to-day, far away up in the north, where the ice-fields spread for hundreds of miles and everything is in a sleep of whiteness and silence. And Gratian listened with parted lips and earnest eyes. He seemed to see it all. "I wish I knew as much as he does," he thought. "I wish I could read it in books to myself."

And for the first time there came home to him a faint, shadowy feeling of what books are – of the treasures buried in the rows and rows of little black letters that he so often wished had never been invented.

"Yes," he said to himself, "I'll try to learn so that I can read it all to myself."

It was growing already a little dusk when he set off on his walk home. The evenings were beginning "to draw in" as the country folk say.

But little cared the merry throng who poured out of the schoolroom gate as five o'clock rang from the church clock, chattering, racing, tumbling over each other, pushing, pulling, shouting, but all in play. For they are a good-natured set, though rough and ready – these hardy moor children. And they grow into honest and sturdy men and women, hospitable and kindly, active and thrifty, though they care for little beyond their own corner of the world, and would scarcely find it out if all the books and "learning" in existence were suddenly made an end of.

There are mischievous imps among them, nevertheless, and none was more so than Tony, the miller's son. He meant no harm, but he loved teasing, and Gratian, gentle and silent, was often a tempting victim. This evening, as sometimes happened, a dozen or so of the children whose homes lay at the end of the village, past which was the road to the Farm, went on together.

"We'll run a bit of the road home with thee, Gratian," said Tony.

And though the boy did not much care for their company, he thought it would be unfriendly to say so, nor did he like to refuse when Tony insisted on carrying his satchel for him. "There's no books in mine," he said; "I took them home at dinner-time, and I'm sure your shoulders will be aching before you get to the Farm with the weight of yours. My goodness, how many books have you got in it? I say," as he pretended to examine them, "here's Gratian Conyfer going to be head o' the school, and put us all to shame with his learning."

But as Gratian said nothing he seemed satisfied, and after stopping a minute or two to arrange the satchel again, ran after the others.

"It's getting dark, Tony," said his sister Dolly, "we mustn't go farther. Good-night, Gratian, we've brought you a bit of your way – Tony, and Ralph, and I," for the other children had gradually fallen off.

"Yes – a good mile of it, thank you, Dolly. And thank you, Tony, for helping me with my satchel – that's right, thank you," as Tony was officiously fastening it on.

"Good-night," said Tony; "you're no coward any way, Gratian. I shouldn't like to have all that way to go in the dark, for it will be dark soon. There are queer things to be seen on the moor after sunset, folks say."

"Ay, so they say," said Ralph.

"I'll be home in no time," Gratian called back. For he did not know what fear was.

But after he had ran awhile, he felt more tired than usual. Was it perhaps the fit of crying he had had at dinner-time that made him so weary? He plodded on, however, shifting his satchel from time to time, it felt so strangely heavy, and queer tales he had heard of the little mountain man that would jump on your shoulders, and cling on till he had strangled you, unless you remembered the right spell to force him off with; or of the brownies who catch children with invisible ropes, and make them run round and round without their knowing they have left the straight road, till they drop with fatigue, came into his mind.

"There must be something wrong with my satchel," he said at last, and he pulled it round so that he could open it. He drew his hand out with a cry of vexation and distress. Tony, yes it must have been Tony – though at first he was half-inclined to think the mountain men or the brownies had been playing their tricks on him – Tony had filled the satchel with heavy stones, and had no doubt taken out the books at the time he was pretending to examine them. It was too bad. And what had he done with the books?

"He may have taken them home with him, he may have hidden them and get them as he passes by, or he may have left them on the moor, and if it rains they'll be spoilt, and the copy-books are sure to blow away."

For in his new ardour, Gratian had brought home books of all kinds, meaning to work so well that his master should be quite astonished the next day, and the poor little fellow sat down on the heather, his arms and shoulders aching and sore, and let the tears roll down his face.

Suddenly a slight sound, something between a murmur and a rustle, some little way from him, made him look round. It was an unusually still evening; Gratian had scarcely ever known the moorland road so still – it could not be the wind then! He looked round him curiously, and for a moment or two forgot his troubles in his wonder as to what it could be. There it was, again, and the boy started to his feet.

CHAPTER III
FLYING VISITS

 
"I see thee not, I clasp thee not;
Yet feel I thou art nigh."
 
To the Summer Wind.– Sir Noel Paton

Yes – he heard it again, and this time it sounded almost like voices speaking. He turned to the side whence it came, and to his surprise, in the all but darkness, there glimmered for an instant or two a sudden light. It was scarcely indeed to be called light; it was more like the reflection of faint colour on the dark background.

"It is like a black rainbow," said Gratian to himself. "I wonder if there are some sorts of rainbows that come in the night. I wonder – " but suddenly a waft of soft though fresh air on his cheek made him start. All around him, but an instant before, had been so still that he could not understand it, and his surprise was not lessened when a voice sounded close to his ear.

"What about your books, Gratian? How are you going to find them?"

The boy turned to look who was speaking. His first thought was that one of his companions, knowing of the trick Tony had played him, had run after him with the books. But the figure beside him was not that of one of his companions – was it that of any one at all? Gratian rubbed his eyes; the faint light that remained, – the last rays of reflected sunset – were more bewildering than decided night; was it fancy that he had heard a voice speaking? was it fancy that he had seen a waving, fluttering form beside him?

No, there it was again; softly moving garments, with something of a green radiance on them, a sweet, fair face, like a face in a dream, seen but for an instant and then hidden again by a wave of mist that seemed to come between it and him, a gentle yet cheery voice repeating again —

"What of the books, Gratian? How are you going to find them?"

"I don't know," said the boy. "Who are you? How do you know about them, and can you help me to find them?"

But the sound of his own voice, rough and sharp, and yet thick it somehow seemed, in comparison with the soft clearness of the tones he had just heard, fell on his ears strangely. It seemed to awake him.

"Am I dreaming?" he said to himself. "There is no one there. How silly of me to speak to nobody! I might as well be speaking to the wind!"

"Exactly," said the voice, followed this time by a little burst of the sweetest laughter Gratian had ever heard. "Come, Gratian, don't be so dull; what's wrong with your eyes? Come, dear, if you do want to find your books, that's to say. You see me now, don't you?"

And again the fresh waft passed across his cheeks, and again the flutter of radiant green and the fair face caught his eyes.

"Yes," he said, "I see you now – or – or I did see you half a second ago," for even while he said it the vision had seemed to fade.

"That's right – then come."

He was opening his lips to ask how and where, but he had not time, nor did he need to do so. The breeze, slight as it was, seemed to draw him onwards, and the faint, quivering green light gleamed out from moment to moment before him. It was evident which way he was to go. Only for an instant a misgiving came over him and he hesitated.

"I say," he called out, "you mustn't be offended, but you're not a will-o'-the-wisp, are you? I don't want to follow one of them. They're no good."

Again the soft laughter, but it sounded kind and pleasant, not the least mocking.

"That's right. Never have anything to say to will-o'-the-wisps, Gratian. But I'm not one – see – I keep on my way. I don't dance and jerk from side to side."

It was true; it was wonderful how fast she – if it were she, the voice sounded like a woman's – got over the ground and Gratian after her, without faltering or stumbling or even getting out of breath.

"Here we are," she said, "stoop down Gratian – there are your books hidden beside the furze bush at your feet. And it is going to rain; they would have been quite spoilt by morning even if I had done my best. It was an ugly trick of Master Tony's. There now, have you got them?"

"Yes, thank you," said Gratian, fumbling for his satchel, still hanging round his shoulders, though to his surprise empty, for he did not remember having thrown the stones out, "I have got them all now. Thank you very much whoever you are. I would like to kiss you if only I could see you long enough at a time."

But a breath like a butterfly's kiss fluttered on to his cheek, and the gleam of two soft bluey-green eyes seemed for the hundredth part of a second to dance into his own.

"I have kissed you," said the voice, now sounding farther away, "and not for the first nor the thousandth time if you had known it! But you are waking up a little now; our baby boy is learning to see and to hear and to feel. Good-bye – good-night, Gratian. Work your best with your books to-night – get home as fast as you can. By the bye it is late; shall I speed you on your way? You will know how far that is to-morrow morning – look for the furze bush on the right of the path when it turns for the last time, and you will see if I don't know how to help you home in no time."

And almost before the last words had faded, Gratian felt himself gently lifted off his feet – a rush, a soft whiz, and he was standing by the Farm gate, while before him shone out the warm ruddy glow from the unshuttered windows of the big kitchen, and his mother's voice, as she heard the latch click, called out to him —

"Is that you, Gratian? You are very late; if it had not been such a very still, beautiful evening I should really have begun to think you had been blown away coming over the moor."

And Gratian rubbed his eyes as he came blinking into the kitchen. His mother's words puzzled him, though he knew she was only joking. It was a very still night – that was the funny part of it.

"Why, you look for all the world as if you'd been having a nap, my boy," she went on, and Gratian stood rubbing his hands before the fire, wondering if perhaps he had. He was half-inclined to tell his mother of Tony's trick and what had come of it. But she might say he had dreamt it, and then it would seem ill-natured to Tony.

"And I don't want mother and father to think I'm always dreaming and fancying," he thought to himself, for just at that moment the farmer's footsteps were heard as he came in to supper. "Anyway I want them to see I mean to get on better at school than I have done."

He did not speak much at table, but he tried to help his mother by passing to her whatever she wanted, and jumping up to fetch anything missing. And it was a great pleasure when his father once or twice nodded and smiled at him approvingly.

"He's getting to be quite a handy lad – eh, mother?" he said.

As soon as supper was over and cleared away, Gratian set to work at his lessons with a light heart. It was wonderful how much easier and more interesting they seemed now that he really gave his whole attention, and especially since he had tried to understand what the teacher had said about them.

"If only I had tried like this before, how much further on I should be now," he could not help saying to himself with a sigh. "And the queer thing is, that the more I try the more I want to try. My head begins to feel so much tidier."

But with all the goodwill in the world, at nine years old a head cannot do very much at a time. Gratian had finished all the lessons he had to do for the next day and was going back in his books with the wish to learn over again, and more thoroughly, much that he had not before really taken in or understood, when to his distress his poor little head bumped down on to the volume before him, and he found by the start that he was going to sleep! Still it wasn't very late – mother had said nothing yet about bed-time.

"It is that I have got into such a stupid, lazy way of learning, I suppose," he said to himself, getting up from his seat. "Perhaps the air will wake me up a bit," and he went through the little entrance hall and stood in the porch, looking out.

It was a very different night from the last. All was so still and calm that for once the name of the Farm did not seem to suit it.

Gratian leant against the door-post, looking up to the sky, and just then, like the evening before, old Jonas, followed by Watch, came round the corner.

"Good evening, Jonas," said the boy. "How quiet it is to-night! There wasn't much of a storm after all."

"No, Master Gratian," replied the shepherd; "I told you they were only a-knocking about a bit to keep their hands in;" and he too stood still and looked up at the sky.

"I don't like it so still as this," said the boy. "It doesn't seem right. I came out here for a breath of air to wake me up. I've been working hard at my lessons, Jonas; I'm going always to work hard now. But I wish I wasn't sleepy."

"Sign that you've worked enough for to-night, maybe," said Jonas. But as he spoke, Gratian started.

"Jonas," he said, "did you see a sort of light down there – across the grass there in front, a sort of golden-looking flash? ah, there it is again," and just at the same moment a soft, almost warm waft of air seemed to float across his face, and Gratian fancied he heard the words, "good boy, good boy."

"'Tis a breath of south wind getting up," said old Jonas quietly. "I've often thought to myself that there's colours in the winds, Master Gratian, though folk would laugh at me for an old silly if I said so."

"Colours," repeated Gratian, "do you mean many colours? I wasn't saying anything about the wind though, Jonas – did you feel it too? It was over there – look, Jonas – it seemed to come from behind the big bush."

"Due south, due south," said Jonas. "And golden yellow is my fancy for the south."

"And what for the north, and for the – " began Gratian eagerly, but his mother's voice interrupted him.

"Bedtime, Gratian," she called, "come and put away your books. You've done enough lessons for to-night."

Gratian gave himself a little shake of impatience.

"How tiresome," he said. "I am quite awake now. I want you to go on telling me about the winds, Jonas, and I want to do a lot more lessons. I can't go to bed yet," but even while the words were on his lips, he started and shivered. "Jonas, it can't be south wind. It's as cold as anything."

For a sharp keen gust had suddenly come round the corner, rasping the child's unprotected face almost "like a knife" as people sometimes say, and Watch, who had been rubbing his nose against Gratian, gave a snort of disgust.

"You see Watch feels it too," said the boy. But Jonas only turned a little and looked about him calmly.

"I can't say as I felt it, Master Gratian," he said. "But there's no answering for the winds and their freaks here at the Four Winds Farm, and it's but natural you should know more about 'em than most. All the same, I take it as you're feeling cold and chilly-like means as bed is the best place. You're getting sleepy – to say nothing of the Missus calling to ye to go."

And again the mother's voice was heard.

"Gratian, Gratian, my boy. Don't you hear me?"

He moved, but slowly. A little imp of opposition had taken up its abode in the boy. Perhaps he had been feeling too pleased with his own good resolutions and beginnings!

"Too bad," he muttered to himself, "just when I was getting to understand my lessons better. Old Jonas is very stupid."

Again the short, sharp cutting slap of cold air on his face, and in spite of himself the boy moved more quickly.

"Good-night, Jonas," he said rather grumpily, though he would not let himself shiver for fear he should again be told it showed he was sleepy, "I'm going. I'm not at all tired, but I'm going all the same. Only how you can say it's south wind – !"



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