Mrs. Molesworth.

Four Winds Farm



скачать книгу бесплатно

"I don't say so now. I said it was south – that soft feeling as if one could see the glow of the south in it. Like enough it's east by now; isn't this where all the winds meet? Well, I'm off too. Good-night, master."

"And you'll tell me about all the colours another time, won't you, Jonas?" said Gratian in a mollified tone.

"Or you'll tell me, maybe," said the old man. "Never fear – we'll have some good talks over it. Out on the moor some holiday, with nobody but the sheep and Watch to hear our fancies – that's the best time – isn't it?"

And the old shepherd whistled to the dog and disappeared round the corner of the house.

His mother met Gratian at the kitchen door.

"I was coming out to look for you," she said. "Put away your books now. You'd do no more good at them to-night."

"I wasn't sleepy, mother. I went to the door to wake myself up," he replied. But his tone was no longer fretful or cross.

"Feeling you needed waking up was something very like being sleepy," she answered smiling. "And all the lessons you have to learn are not to be found in your books, Gratian."

He did not at once understand, but he kept the words in his mind to think over.

"Good-night, mother," and he lifted his soft round face for her kiss.

"Good-night, my boy. Father has gone out to the stable to speak to one of the men. I'll say good-night to him for you. Pleasant dreams, and get up as early as you like if you want to work more."

"Mother," said Gratian hesitatingly.

"Well?"

"Is it a good thing to be born where the four winds meet?"

She laughed.

"I can't say," she replied. "It's not done you any harm so far. But don't begin getting your head full of fancies, my boy. Off with you to bed, and get to sleep as fast as you can. Pleasant dreams."

"But, mother," said the child as he went upstairs, "dreams are fancies."

"Yes, but they don't waste our time. There's no harm in dreaming when we're asleep – we can't be doing aught else then."

"Oh," said Gratian, "it's dreaming in the day that wastes time then."

He was turning the corner of the stair as he said so, speaking more to himself than to his mother. Just then a little waft of air came right in his face. It was not the sharp touch that had made him start at the door, nor was it the soft warm breath which old Jonas said was the south wind. Rather did it remind Gratian of the kindly breeze and the sea-green glimmerings on the moor. He stood still for an instant. Again it fluttered by him, and he heard the words, "Not always, Gratian; not always."

"What was I saying?" he asked himself. "Ah yes – that it is dreaming in the day that is a waste of time! And now she says 'Not always.' You are very puzzling people whoever you are," he went on; "you whose voices I hear in the chimney, and who seem to know all I am thinking whether I say it or not."

And as he lifted his little face towards the corner whence the sudden draught had come, there fell on his ears the sound of rippling laughter – the merriest and yet softest laughter he had ever heard, and in which several voices seemed to mingle.

So near it seemed at first that he could have fancied it came from the old granary on the other side of the wooden partition shutting off the staircase, but again, in an instant, it seemed to dance and flicker itself away, till nothing remained but a faint ringing echo, which might well be no more than the slight rattle of the glass in the old casement window.

Then all was silent, and the boy went on to his own room, and was soon covered up and fast asleep in his little white bed.

There were no voices in the chimney that night, or if there were Gratian did not hear them. But he had a curious dream.

CHAPTER IV
A RAINBOW DANCE

 
"Purple and azure, white and green and golden,
and they whirl
Over each other with a thousand motions."
 
Prometheus Unbound.– Shelley

He dreamt that he awoke, and found himself not in his comfortable bed in his own room, but in an equally comfortable but much more uncommon bed in a very different place. Out on the moor! He opened his eyes and stared about him in surprise; there were the stars, up overhead, all blinking and winking at him as if asking what business a little boy had out there among them all in the middle of the night. And when he did find out where he was, he felt still more surprised at being so warm and cozy. For he felt perfectly so, even though he had neither blankets nor sheets nor pillow, but instead of all these a complete nest of the softest moss all about him. He was lying on it, and it covered him over as perfectly as a bird is covered by its feathers.

"Dear me," he said to himself, "this is very funny. How have I got here, and who has covered me up like this?"

But still he did not feel so excessively surprised as if he had been awake; for in dreams, as everybody knows, any surprise one feels quickly disappears, and one is generally very ready to take things as they come. So he lay still, just quietly gazing about him. And gradually a murmur of approaching sound caught his ears. It was like soft voices and fluttering garments and breezes among trees, all mixed together, till as it came nearer the voices detached themselves from the other sounds, and he heard what they were saying.

"Yes, he deserves a treat, poor child," said one in very gentle caressing tones; "you have teased him enough, sisters."

"Teased him!" exclaimed another voice, and this time it seemed a familiar one to him; "I tease him! Why, as you well know, it is my mission in life to comfort and console. I don't believe in petting and praising to the same extent as you do, perhaps – still you cannot say I ever tease. Laugh at him a little now and then, I may. But that does no harm."

"I never pet and praise except when it is deserved," murmured the first voice – and as he heard its soft tones a sort of delicious languor seemed to creep over Gratian – "never. But I beg your pardon, sister, if I misjudged you. You can be rigorous sometimes, you know, and – "

"So much the better – so much the better," broke in with clear cutting distinctness another voice; "how would the world go round – that is to say, how would the ships sail and the windmills turn – if we were all four as sweet and silky as you, my golden-winged sister? But it was I who teased the child as you call it – I slapped him on the face; yes, and I am ready to do it again – to sting him sharply, when I think he needs it."

"Right, right – quite right," said another voice, not exactly sharp and clear like the last, yet with a resemblance to it, though deeper and sterner and with a strange cold strength in its accents. "You are his true friend in doing so. I for my part shall always be ready to invigorate and support him – to brace him for the battles he must fight. But you, sister, have a rare gift of correction and of discerning the weak points which may lead to defeat and failure. Yours is an ungrateful task truly, but you are a valuable monitor."

"I must find my satisfaction in such considerations; it is plain I shall never get any elsewhere," replied the former speaker, rather bitterly. "What horrid things are said of me, to be sure! Every ache and pain is laid at my door – I am 'neither good for man nor beast,' I am told! and yet – I am not all grim and gray, am I, sisters? There is a rosy glow in the trail of my garments if people were not so short-sighted and colour-blind."

"True, indeed, as who knows better than I," said the sweet mellow tones of the first speaker. "When you come my way and we dance together, sister, who could be less grim than you?"

"Ah, indeed," said the cold, stern voice, but it sounded less stern now, "then her sharp and biting words came from neighbourhood with me. Ah well – I can bear the reproach."

"I should think so," said the voice which Gratian had recognised, "for you know in your heart, you great icy creature, that you love fun as well as any one. How you do whirl and leap and rush and tear about, once your spirits really get the better of you! And you have such pretty playthings – your snow-flakes and filigree and icicles – none of us can boast such treasures, not to speak of your icebergs and crystal palaces, where you hide heaven knows what. My poor waves and foam, though I allow they are pretty in their way, are nothing to your possessions."

"Never mind all that. I don't grumble, though I might. What can one do with millions of tons of sand for a toy, I should like to know? And little else comes in my way that I can play catch-and-toss with! I can waft my scents about, to be sure – there is some pleasure in that. But now for our dance – our rainbow dance, sisters – no need to wake him roughly. We need only kiss his eyelids."

And Gratian, who had not all this time, strange to say, known that his eyes were closed again, felt across his lids a breeze so fresh and sudden that he naturally unclosed them to see whence it came. And once open he did not feel inclined to shut them again, I can assure you.

The sight before him was so pretty – and not the sight only. For the voices had melted into music – far off at first, then by slow degrees coming nearer; rising, falling, swelling, sinking, bright with rejoicing like the song of the lark, then soft and low as the tones of a mother hushing her baby to sleep, again wildly triumphant like a battle strain of victory, and even while you listened changing into the mournful, solemn cadence of a dirge, till at last all mingled into a slow, even measure of stately harmony, and the colours which had been weaving themselves in the distance, like a plaited rainbow before the boy's eyes, took definite form as they drew near him.

He saw them then – the four invisible sisters; he saw them, and yet it is hard to tell what he saw! They were distinct and yet vague, separate and yet together. But by degrees he distinguished them better. There was his old friend with the floating sea-green-and-blue mantle, and the streaming fair hair and loving sad eyes, and next her the sister with the golden wings and glowing locks and laughing rosy face, and then a gray shrouded nimble figure, which seemed everywhere at once, whose features Gratian could scarcely see, though a pair of bright sparkling eyes flashed out now and then, while sometimes a gleam of radiant red lighted up the grim robe. And in and out in the meshes of the dance glided the white form of the genius of the north – cold and stately, sparkling as she moved, though shaded now and then by the steel-blue veil which covered the dusky head. But as the dance went on, the music gradually grew faster and the soft regular movements changed into a quicker measure. In and out the four figures wove and unwove themselves together, and the more quickly they moved the more varied and brilliant grew the colours which seemed a part of them, so that each seemed to have all those of the others as well as her own, and Gratian understood why they had spoken of the rainbow dance. Golden-wings glowed with every other shade reflected on her own rich background, the sister from the sea grew warmer with the red and yellow that shone out among the lapping folds of her mantle, with its feather-like trimming of foam, the gray of the East-wind's garments grew ruddier, like the sky before sunrise, and the cold white of the icy North glimmered and gleamed like an opal. And faster and faster they danced and glided and whirled about, till Gratian felt as if his breath were going, and that in another moment he would be carried away himself by the rush.

"Stop, stop," he cried at last. "It is beautiful, it is lovely, but my breath is going. Stop."

Instantly the four heads turned towards him, the four pairs of wings sheathed themselves, the eyes, laughing and gentle, piercing and grave, seemed all to be gazing at him at once, and eight outstretched arms seemed as if about to lift him upwards.

"No – no – " he said, "I don't want – I don't – ."

But with the struggle to speak he awoke. He was in his own bed of course, and by the light he saw that it must be nearly time to get up.

He stretched himself sleepily, smiling as he did so.

"What nice dreams I have had," he said to himself. "I wonder if they come of working well at my lessons? They said it was to be a treat for me. I wish I could go to sleep and dream it all over again."

But just then he heard his mother's voice calling up the stair to him.

"Are you up, Gratian? You will be late if you are not quick."

Gratian gave himself a little shake of impatience under the bedclothes; he glanced at the window – the sky was gray and overcast, with every sign of a rainy day about it. He tucked himself up again, even though he knew it was very foolish thus to delay the evil moment.

"It's too bad," he thought. "I can never do what I want. Last night I had to go to bed when I wanted to sit up, and now I have to get up when I do so want to stay in bed."

But just at that moment a strange thing happened. The little casement window burst open with a bang, and a blast of cold sharp wind dashed into the room, upsetting a chair, scattering Gratian's clothes, neatly laid together in a little heap, and flinging itself on the bed with a whirl, so that the coverlet took to playing antics in its turn, and the blankets no doubt would have followed its example had Gratian not clutched at them. But all his comfort was destroyed – no possibility of feeling warm and snug with the window open and all this uproar going on. Gratian sprang up in a rage, and ran to the window. He shut it again easily enough.

"I can't think what made it fly open," he said to himself; "there was no wind in the night, and it never burst open before."

He stood shivering and undecided. Now that the window was shut, bed looked very comfortable again.

"I'll just get in for five minutes," he said to himself; "I'm so shivering cold with that wind, I shan't get warm all day."

He turned to the bed, but just as one little foot was raised to get in, lo and behold, a rattle and bang, and again the window burst open! Gratian flew back, it shut obediently as before. But he was now thoroughly awakened and alert. There was no good going back to bed if he was to be blown out of it in this fashion, and Gratian set to to dress himself, though in a rather surly mood, and keeping an eye on the rebellious window the while. But the window behaved quite well – it showed no signs of bursting open, it did not even rattle! and Gratian was ready in good time after all.

"You look cold, my boy," said his mother, when he was seated at table and eating his breakfast.

"The wind blew my window open twice, and it made my room very cold," he replied rather dolefully.

"Blew your window open? That's strange," said his father. "The wind's not in the east this morning, and it's only an east wind that could burst in your window. You can't have shut it properly."

"Yes, father, I did – the first time I shut it just as well as the second, and it didn't blow open after the second time. But I know I shut it well both times. I think it must be in the east, for it felt so sharp when it blew in."

"It must have changed quickly then," said the farmer, eyeing the sky through the large old-fashioned kitchen window in front of him. "That's the queer thing hereabouts; many a day if I was put to it to answer, I couldn't say which way the wind was blowing."

"Or which way it wasn't blowing, would be more like it," said Mrs. Conyfer with a smile. "It's to be hoped it'll blow you the right way to school anyway, Gratian. You don't look sure of it this morning!"

"I'm cold, mother, and I've always got to do what I don't want. Last night I didn't want to go to bed, and this morning I didn't want to get up, and now I don't want to go to school, and I must."

He got up slowly and unwillingly and began putting his books together. His mother looked at him with a slight smile on her face.

"'Must''s a grand word, Gratian," she said. "I don't know what we'd be without it. You'll feel all right once you're scampering across the moor."

"Maybe," he replied. But his tone was rather plaintive still. He was feeling "sorry for himself" this morning.

Things in general, however, did seem brighter, as his mother had prophesied they would, when he found himself outside. It was really not cold after all; it was one of those breezy yet not chilly mornings when, though there is nothing depressing in the air, there is a curious feeling of mystery – as if nature were holding secret discussions, which the winds and the waves, the hills and the clouds, the trees and the birds even, know all about, but which we – clumsy creatures that we are – are as yet shut out from.

"What is it all about, I wonder?" said Gratian to himself, as he became conscious of this feeling – an autumn feeling it always is, I think. "Everything seems so grave. Are they planning about the winter coming, and how the flowers and all the tender little plants are to be taken care of till it is over? Or is there going to be a great storm up in the sky? perhaps they are trying to settle it without a battle, but it does look very gloomy up there."

For the grayness had the threatening steel-blue shade over it which betokens disturbance of some kind. Still the child's spirits rose as he ran; there was something reviving in the little gusts of moorland breeze that met him every now and then, and he forgot everything else in the pleasure of the quick movement and the glow that soon replaced the chilly feelings with which he had set out.

He had run a good way, when something white, or light-coloured, fluttering on the ground some little way before him, caught his eye. And as he drew nearer he saw that it was a book, or papers of some kind, hooked on to a low-growing furze bush. Suddenly the words of the mysterious figure of the night before returned to his mind – "Look for the furze bush on the right of the path where it turns for the last time," she had said.

Gratian stopped short. Yes – there in front of him was the landmark – the path turned here for the last time, as she had said. He looked about him in astonishment.

"This was where my books were last night, then," he said to himself. "I had no idea I had come so far! Why, I was home in half a second – it is very strange – I could fancy it was a dream, or else that last night and the rainbow dance wasn't a dream."

He ran on to where the white thing was still fluttering appealingly, as if begging him to detach it. Poor white thing! It was or had been an exercise-book. At first Gratian fancied it must be one of his copy-books, left behind by mistake after his fairy friend had given him back the rest of his books. But as soon as he took it in his hands and saw the neat, clear characters, he knew it was not his, and he did not need to look at the signature, "Anthony Ferris," to guess that it belonged to the miller's son – for Tony was a clever boy, almost at the head of the school, and famed for his very good writing.

"Ah ha," thought Gratian triumphantly, "I have you now, Master Tony."

He had recognised the book as containing Tony's dictation lessons, for here and there were the wrongly spelt words – not many of them, for Tony was a good speller too – marked by the schoolmaster.

"Tony must have meant to take the book home to copy it out clear, and correct the wrong spelling," thought Gratian. And he remembered hearing the teacher telling Tony's class that on the neatness with which this was done would depend several important good marks. "He'll not be head of his class, now he's lost this book. Serve him right for the trick he played me," said Gratian to himself, as he rolled up the tattered book and slipped it into his satchel. "It's not so badly torn but what he could have copied it out all right, but it would have been torn to pieces by this evening, now that the wind's getting up. So it isn't my fault but his own – nasty spiteful fellow. Where would all my poor books have been by now, thanks to him?"

The wind was getting up indeed – and a cold biting wind too. For just as Gratian was thus thinking, there came down such a gust as he had but seldom felt the force of. For an instant he staggered and all but fell, so unprepared had he been for the sudden buffet. It took all his strength and agility to keep his feet during the short remainder of the moorland path, so sharp and violent were the blasts. And it was with face and hands tingling and smarting painfully that he entered the schoolroom.



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10