Mrs. Molesworth.

Four Winds Farm



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CHAPTER V
GOOD FOR EVIL

 
"For 'tis sweet to stammer one letter
Of the Eternal's language; – on earth it is called forgiveness!"
 
The Children of the Lord's Supper.– Longfellow

Tony's face was almost the first thing he caught sight of. It was not late, but several children were already there, and Tony, contrary to his custom, instead of playing outside till the very last moment, was in the schoolroom eagerly searching for something among the slates and books belonging to his class. Gratian understood the reason, and smiled to himself inwardly – but had he smiled visibly I don't think his face would have been improved by it. Nor was there real pleasure or rejoicing in the feeling of triumph which for a moment made him forget his smarting face and hands.

"How red you look, Gratian," said Dolly, Tony's sister, "have you been crying?"

"Crying – no, nonsense, Dolly," he replied in a tone such as gentle Gratian seldom used. "Whose face wouldn't be red with such a horrible wind cutting one to pieces."

"Wind!" repeated Dolly, "I didn't feel any wind. It must have got up all of a sudden. Did you get home quickly last night?"

Gratian looked at her. For half an instant he wondered if there was any meaning in her question – had Dolly anything to do with the trick that had been played him? But his glance at her kindly, honest face reassured him. He was going to answer when Tony interrupted him.

"Got home quick," he said, looking up with a grin; "of course he did. He was in such a hurry to get to work. Didn't you see what a lot of books he took home with him? My! your shoulders must have ached before you got to the Farm, Gratian. Mine did, I know, though 'twas only a short bit I carried your satchel."

"It was pretty heavy," said Gratian, unfastening it as he spoke, and coolly taking out the books one after another, watching Tony the while, "but nothing to hurt. And I got all my lessons done nicely. It was kind of you, Tony, to help me to carry my satchel."

Tony stared – with eyes and mouth wide open.

"What's the matter?" said his sister. "You look as if you'd seen a ghost, Tony."

The boy turned away, muttering to himself.

"Tony's put out this morning," said Dolly in a low voice to Gratian, "and I can't help being sorry too. He's lost his exercise-book that he was to copy out clear – and the master said it'd have to do with getting the prize. Tony's in a great taking."

"How did he lose it?" asked Gratian with a rather queer feeling, as he wondered what Dolly would say if she knew that at that very moment the lost book was safely hidden away at the bottom of his satchel, which he took care not to leave within Tony's reach.

"He doesn't know," said Dolly dolefully. "He's sure he had it when we left school last night. We were looking for it all evening, and then he thought maybe it'd be here after all.

But it isn't."

Then the bell rang for lessons to begin, and Gratian saw no more of Tony, who was at the other side of the schoolroom in a higher class, and though Dolly was in the same as himself, she was some places off, so that there was no chance of any talking or whispering.

Gratian's lessons were well learnt and understood. It was not long before he found himself higher in his class than he had almost ever done before, and he caught the master's eye looking at him with approval, and a smile of encouragement on his face. Why was it he could not meet it with a brightly answering smile as he would have done the day before? Why did he turn away, his cheeks tingling again as if the wind had been slapping them, here inside the sheltered schoolroom?

The master felt a little disappointed.

"He will never do really well if he is so foolishly shy and bashful," he said to himself, when Gratian turned away as if ashamed to be grateful for the few kind words the teacher said to him at the end of the morning's lessons; and the boy, in a corner of the playground by himself when the other children had run home for their dinner, felt nearly, if not quite, as unhappy as the day before.

"I don't see why I should mind about Tony," he was thinking as he sat there. "He's a naughty, unkind boy, and he deserves to be punished. If it hadn't been for her helping me, I wouldn't have known my lessons a bit this morning, and the master would have thought I was never going to try. I just hope Tony will lose his place and the prize and everything. Oh, how cold it is!" for round the wall, through it indeed, it almost seemed, came sneaking a sharp little gust of air, so cold, so cutting, that Gratian actually shivered and shook, and the smarting in his face began again. "I feel cold even in my bones," he said to himself.

Just then voices reached his ear. The door of the schoolhouse opened and the master appeared, showing out a lady, who had evidently come to speak to him about something. She was a very pleasant-looking lady, and Gratian's eyes rested with satisfaction on her pretty dress and graceful figure.

"Then you will not forget about it? You will let me know in a few days what you think?" Gratian heard her say.

"Certainly, madam," replied the schoolmaster. "I have already one or two in my mind who, I think, may be suitable. But I should like to think it over and to ask the parents' consent."

"Of course – of course. Good-bye then for the present, and thank you," said the lady, and then she went out at the little garden-gate and the schoolmaster returned into his house.

"I wonder what they were talking about," thought Gratian. But he soon forgot about it again – his mind was too full of its own affairs.

Tony looked vexed and unhappy that afternoon, and Dolly's rosy face bore traces of tears. She overtook Gratian on his way home in the evening, and began again talking about the lost book.

"It's so vexing for Tony, isn't it?" she said, "and do you know, Gratian, it's even more vexing than we thought. Did you see a lady at the school to-day? Do you know who she was?"

Gratian shook his head.

"She's the lady from the Big House down the road, that's been shut up so long. It isn't her house, but she's the sister or the cousin of the gentleman it belongs to, and he's lent it to her because the doctors said the air hereabouts would be good for her little boy. He's ill someway, he can scarcely walk. And she came to the school to-day to ask master if one of the boys – his best boy, she said – might go sometimes to play with her little boy and read to him a little. And Tony was sure of being the top of the class if only he had finished copying out those exercises – he'd put right all the faults the master had marked, and it only wanted copying. But now he's no chance; the other boys have theirs nearly done."

"How do you know about what the lady said?" Gratian asked.

"The master told mother. He met her in the village just before afternoon lessons, and asked her if she'd let Tony go, if so be as he was head of his class."

"And would he like to go, d'ye think, Dolly?" asked Gratian.

"He'd like to be head of his class, anyway," the sister replied. "I don't know as father can let him go, for we're very busy at the mill, and Tony's big enough to help when he's not at school. But he'd not like to see Ben or that conceited Robert put before him. If it were you now, Gratian, I don't think he'd mind so much."

Gratian's heart beat fast at her words. Visions of the pleasure of going to see the pretty lady and her boy, of hearing her soft voice speaking to him, and of seeing the inside of the Big House, which had always been a subject of curiosity to the children of the village, rose temptingly before him. But they soon faded.

"Me!" he exclaimed, "I'd have no chance – even failing Tony."

"I don't know," said Dolly. "You're never a naughty boy, and you can read very nice when you like. Master always seems to think you read next best to Tony. I shouldn't wonder if he sent you, if he's vexed with Tony. And he will be that, for he told him to do out that writing so very neatly. I think it was to be shown to the gentlemen that come to see the school sometimes. But I musn't go any farther with you, Gratian. It'll be dark before I get home. I'm afraid Tony must have dropped the book out here, and that it blew away. Good-night, Gratian."

"Good-night, Dolly," he replied. And then after a little hesitation he added, "I wish – I wish Tony hadn't lost his book."

"Thank you, Gratian," said the little girl as she ran off.

Gratian stood and looked after her with a queer mixture of feelings. It was true, as he had said to Dolly, he did wish Tony had not lost his book, but almost more he wished he had not found it. But just now, standing there in the softly fading light, with the evening breeze – no longer the sharp blast of the morning – gently fanning his cheeks, looking after little Dolly as she ran home, and thinking of Tony's sunburnt troubled face, the angry feelings seemed to grow fainter, till the wish to see his schoolfellow punished for his mischievous trick died away altogether. And once he had got to this, it was a quick step to still better things.

"I will, I will," he shouted out aloud, though there was no one —was there no one? – to hear. And as he sprang forward to rush after Dolly and overtake her, it seemed to him that he was half-lifted from his feet, and at the same moment another waft of the breeze he had been feeling, though still softer and with a scent as of spring flowers about it, blew into his face.

"Are you kissing me, kind wind?" he said laughing, and in answer, as it were, he felt himself blown along almost as swiftly as the night before. At this rate it did not take him long to gain ground on the miller's daughter.

"Dolly, Dolly," he called out when he saw himself within a few paces of her. "Stop, do stop. I have something for you – something to say to you."

Dolly turned round in astonishment.

"Gratian!" she exclaimed, "have you been running after me all this time? I would have waited for you if I'd known."

"Never mind. I ran very fast," said Gratian. "Look here, Dolly," and he held out to her the poor copy-book which he had already taken out of his satchel. "This is what I ran after you for; give it to Tony, and – "

"Tony's lost exercise-book!" cried Dolly. "Oh Gratian, how glad he will be. Where did you find it? How good of you! Did you find it just now, since you said good-night to me?"

Gratian's face grew red, but it was too dark for Dolly to see.

"No," he said, "I found it before. But – but – Tony had done me a bad turn, Dolly, and it wasn't easy – not all at once – to do him a good one instead. But I've done it now, and you may tell him what I say. I'm quite in earnest, and I'm glad I've done it. Tell him I hope he'll be the head of his class now, anyway, and – "

"Gratian," said Dolly, catching hold of his arm as she spoke, "I don't know what the trick was that Tony played you, or tried to play you. But I know he's terrible fond of tricks, though I don't think he's got a bad heart. And it was too bad of him to play it on you, it was – you that never does ill turns to none of us."

"I've been near it this time, though," said Gratian, feeling, now that the temptation was over, the comfort of confessing the worst. "I was very mad with Tony, and I didn't like bringing myself to give back his book. I don't want you to think me better than I am, Dolly."

"But I do think you very good all the same, I do," said the little girl earnestly, "and I'll tell Tony so. And you shan't have any more tricks played you by him – he's not so bad as that. Thank you very much, Gratian. If he gets the prize, it'll be all through you."

"And about going to the Big House," added Gratian, rather sadly. "He'll be the one for that now. I think that's far before getting a prize. It was thinking of that made me feel I must give him his book. I'd give a good deal, I know, to be the one to go the Big House."

"Would you?" said Dolly, a little surprised, for it was not very often Gratian spoke so eagerly about anything. "I don't know that I'd care so much about it. And to be sure you might have been the one if you hadn't helped Tony now! But I don't know that it would be much fun after all – just amusing a little boy that's ill."

"You didn't see the lady, Dolly, but I did," said Gratian. "She's not like any one I ever saw before – she's so beautiful. Her hair's a little the colour of yours, I think, but her skin's like – like cream, and her eyes are as kind as forget-me-nots."

"Was she finely dressed?" asked Dolly, becoming interested.

"Yes – at least I think so. Her dress was very soft, and a nice sort of shiny way when she moved, and she spoke so prettily. And oh, Dolly, it'd be terribly nice to see the Big House. Fancy, I've heard tell there are beautiful pictures there."

"Pictures – big ones in gold frames, do you mean?" Dolly inquired.

"I don't know about gold frames. I've never seen any. But pictures of all sorts of things – of places far away, I daresay, where the sky is so blue and the big sea – like what the master tells us sometimes in our geography. Oh, I'd like more than anything to see pictures, Dolly."

"I never thought about such things. What a funny boy you are, Gratian," said Dolly, as she ran off joyfully, with Tony's tattered book in her hand.

It did not take Gratian long to make his way home – the feeling of having done right "adds feather to the heel." But as he sped along the moorland path he could not help wondering to himself if his soft-voiced friend of the night before were anywhere near.

"I think she must be pleased with me," he thought. "It feels like her kissing me," as just then the evening breeze again met him as he ran. "Is it you Golden-wings, or you, Spirit of the Waves?" he said, for he had learnt in his dream to think of them thus. And a little soft laughter in the air about him told him he was not far wrong. "Perhaps it is both together," he thought. "I think they are pleased. It is nicer than when that sharp East-wind comes snapping at one – though after all, East-wind, I think perhaps I should thank you for having stung me as you did this morning – I rather think I deserved it."

Whiz, rush, dash – came a sharp blast as he spoke. Gratian started, and for half a moment felt almost angry.

"I didn't deserve it just now, though," he said. But a ripple of laughter above him made his vexation fade away.

"You silly boy," came a whisper close to his ear. "Can't you take a joke?"

"Yes, that I can, as well as any one;" and no sooner were the words out of his mouth than again, with the whir and the swoop now becoming familiar to him, he was once more raised from the ground, and really, before he knew where he was, he found himself at the gate of the farm-house.

His mother was just coming out to the door.

"Dear me, child," she said, "how suddenly you have come! I have been out several times to the gate to look for you, but though it is not yet dark I didn't see you."

"I did come very quickly, mother dear," said Gratian, and for a moment he thought of telling her about his strange new friends. But somehow, when he was on the point of doing so, the words would not come, and his feelings grew misty and confused as when one tries to recollect a dream that one knows was in one's memory but a moment before. And he felt that the voices of the winds were as little to be told as are the songs of the birds to those who have not heard them for themselves. So he just looked up in his mother's face with a smile, and she stooped and kissed him – which she did not very often do. For the moorland people are not soft and caressing in their ways, but rather sharp and rugged, though their hearts are true.

"I wonder where you come from, sometimes, Gratian," said his mother half-laughing. "You don't seem like the other children about."

"But mother, I'm getting over dreaming at my lessons. I am indeed," said the child brightly. "I think when you ask the master about me the next time, he'll tell you he's pleased with me."

"That's my good boy," said she well pleased.

So the day ended well for the child of the Four Winds.

CHAPTER VI
ORGAN TONES

 
"Music, when soft voices die,
Vibrates in the memory."
 
Shelley

As Gratian was running into school the next morning he felt some one tugging at his coat, and looking round, there was Tony, his round face redder than usual, his eyes bright and yet shy.

"She give it me, Gratian – Doll did – and – and – I've to thank you. I was awful glad – I was that."

"Have you got it done? Will it be all right for the prize and all that?" asked Gratian.

Tony nodded.

"I think so. I sat up late last night writing, and I think I'll get it done to-night. It was awful good of you, Gratian," Tony went on, growing more at his ease, "for I won't go for to say that it wasn't a mean trick about the stones. But I meant to go back and get the books and keep them safe for you till the next morning. You did look so funny tramping along with the bag of stones," and Tony's face screwed itself up as if he wanted to laugh but dared not.

"It didn't feel funny," said Gratian. "It felt very horrid. Indeed it makes me get cross to think of it even now – don't say any more about it, Tony."

For it did seem to him as if, after all, the miller's boy was getting off rather easily! And it felt a little hard that all the good things should be falling to Tony's share, when he had been so unkind to another.

"I want to forget it," he went on; "if the master knew about it, he'd not let you off without a good scolding. But I'm not going to stand here shivering – I tell you I don't want to say any more about it, Tony."

"Shivering," repeated Tony, "why it's a wonderful mild morning for November. Father was just saying so" – and to tell the truth Gratian himself had thought it so as he ran across the moor. "But, Gratian, you needn't be so mad with me now – I know it was a mean trick, and just to show you that I know it, I promise you the master shall know all about it," and Tony held his head higher as he said the words. "There's only one thing, Gratian. I do wish you'd tell me where you found my book, and how you knew where I'd hidden yours? I've been thinking and thinking about it, and I can't make it out. Folks do say as there's still queer customers to be met on the moor after nightfall. I wonder if you got the fairies to help you, Gratian?" added Tony laughing.

Gratian laughed too.

"No, Tony, it wasn't the fairies," he said, his good-humour returning. And it was quite restored by a sweet soft whisper at that moment breathed into his ear – "no, not the fairies – but who it was is our secret – eh, Gratian?" And Gratian laughed again softly in return.

"Who was it then?" persisted Tony. But just then the school-bell rang, and there was no time for more talking.

Tony was kept very busy for the next day or two with his writing-out, which took him longer than he expected. Gratian too was working hard to make up for lost time, but he felt happy. He saw that the master was pleased, and that his companions were beginning to look up to him as they had never done before. But he missed his new friends. The weather was very still – for some days he had heard scarcely a rustle among the trees and bushes, and though he had lain awake at night, no murmuring voices in the chimney had reached his ears.

"Have they gone away already? Was it all a dream?" the child asked himself sadly.

Sunday came round again, and Gratian set off to church with his father and mother. Going to church was one of his pleasures – of late especially, for the owner of the Big House, though seldom there himself, was generous and rich, and he had spent money in restoring the church and giving a beautiful organ. And on Sunday mornings an organist came from a distance to play on it, but in the afternoon its great voice was silent, for no one in the village – not even the schoolmaster, who was supposed to know most things – knew how to play on it. For this reason Gratian never cared to go to church the second time – he would much rather have stayed out on the moor with Jonas and Watch, and sometimes, in the fine summer weather, when the walk was hot and tiring even for big people, his mother had allowed him to do so. But now, with winter at hand, it was not fit for sauntering about or lying on the heather, especially with Sunday clothes on, so the child knew it was no use asking to stay at home.

This Sunday afternoon brought a very welcome surprise. Scarcely was the boy settled in his corner beside his mother, before the rich deep tones fell on his ear. He started and looked about him, not sure if his fancy were not playing him false. But no – clearer and stronger grew the music – there was no mistake, and Gratian gave himself up to the pleasure of listening. And never had it been to him more beautiful. New fancies mingled with his enjoyment of it, for it seemed to him that he could distinguish in it the voices of his friends – the loving, plaintive breath of the west, telling of the lapping of the waves on some lonely shore; the sterner, deeper tones of the strong spirit of the north; even the sharply thrilling blast of the ever-restless east wind seemed to flash here and there like lightning darts, cutting through and yet melting again into the harmony. And then from time to time the sweet, rich glowing song of praise from the lips of Golden-wings, the joyful.



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