Mrs. Molesworth.

Four Winds Farm



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"Yes, they are all there," said Gratian to himself in an ecstasy of completest pleasure. "I hear them all. That is perhaps why they have not come to me lately Ц it was to be a surprise! But I have found you out, you see. Ah, if I could play on the organ you could never hide yourselves from me for long, my friends. Perhaps the organ is one of their real homes. I wonder if it can be."

And his face looked so bright and yet absorbed that his mother could not help smiling at him, as they sat waiting for a moment after the last notes had died away.

"Are you so pleased to have music in the afternoon too?" she said. "It is thanks to the stranger lady Ц the squire's cousin, who has come to the Big House. There Ц you can see her. She is just closing the organ."

Gratian stood up on his tiptoes and bent forward as far as he could. He caught but one glimpse of the fair face, but it was enough. It was the same Ц the lady with the forget-me-not eyes; and his own eyes beamed with fresh delight.

"They must be friends of hers too," was the first thought that darted through his brain; "she must know them, else she couldn't make their voices come like that. Oh dear, if I could but go to the Big House, perhaps she would tell me about how she knows them."

But even to think of the possibility was very nice. Gratian mused on it, turning it over and over in his mind, as was his wont, all the way home. And that evening, while he sat in his corner reading over the verses which the master always liked his scholars to say on the Monday morning Ц his father and mother with their big Sunday books open on the table before them as usual Ц a strange feeling came over him that he was again in the church, again listening to the organ; and so absorbing grew the feeling that, fearful of its vanishing, he closed his eyes and leaned his curly head on the wooden rail of the old chair and listened. Yes, clearer and fuller grew the tones Ц he was curled up in a corner of the chancel by this time, in his dream Ц and gradually in front, as it were, of the background of sound, grew out the voices he had learnt to know so well. They all seemed to be singing together at first, but by degrees the singing turned into soft speaking, the sound of the organ had faded into silence, and opening his eyes, by a faint ray of moonlight creeping in through the window, he saw he was in his own bed in his own room.

How had he come there? Had his mother carried him up and undressed him without awaking him as she had sometimes done when he was a very tiny boy?

"No Ц she couldn't. I'm too big and heavy," he thought sleepily. "But hush! the voices again."

"Yes, I carried him up. He was so sleepy Ц he never knew Ц nobody knew. The mother looked round and thought he had gone off himself. And Golden-wings undressed him. He will notice the scent on his little shirt when he puts it on in the morning."

"Humph!" replied a second voice, in a rather surly tone, "you are spoiling the child, you and our sister of the south.

Snow-wings and I must take him in hand a while Ц a whi Ц ile."

For the East-wind was evidently in a hurry. Her voice grew fainter as if she were flying away.

"Stop a moment," said the softest voice of all. "It's not fair of you to say we are spoiling the child Ц Sea-breezes and I Ц we're doing nothing of the kind. We never pet or comfort him save when he deserves it Ц we keep strictly to our compact. You and our icy sister have been free to interfere when you thought right. Do you hear, Gray-wings! do you he Ц ar?"

And far off, from the very top of the chimney, came Gray-wings's reply.

"All right Ц all right, but I haven't time to wait. Good-night Ц go Ц od-ni Ц ght," and for once East-wind's voice sounded soft and musical.

Then the two gentle sisters went on murmuring together, and what they said was very pleasant to Gratian to hear.

"I say," said Golden-wings Ц "I say he has been a very good boy. He is doing credit to his training, little though he suspects how long he has been under our charge."

"He is awaking to that and to other things now," replied she whom the others called the Spirit of the Sea. "It is sad to think that some day our guardianship must come to an end."

"Well, don't think of it, then. I never think of disagreeable things," replied the bright voice.

"But how can one help it? Think how tiny he was Ц the queer little red-faced solemn-eyed baby, when we first sang our lullabies to him, and how we looked forward to the time when he should hear more in our voices than any one but a godchild of ours can hear. And now Ц "

"Now that time has come, and we must take care what we say Ц he may be awake at this very moment. But listen, sister Ц I think we must do something Ц you and I. Our sterner sisters are all very well in their places, but all work and no play is not my idea of education. Now listen to my plan;" but here the murmuring grew so soft and vague that Gratian could no longer distinguish the syllables. He tried to strain his ears, but it was useless, and he grew sleepy through the trying to keep awake. The last sound he was conscious of was a flapping of wings and a murmured "Good-night, Gratian. Good-night, little godson Ц good-ni Ц ight," and then he fell asleep and slept till morning.

He would have forgotten it all perhaps, or remembered it only with the indistinctness of a dream that is past, had it not been for something unusual in the look of the little heap of clothes which lay on the chair beside his bed. They were so very neatly folded Ц though Gratian prided himself rather on his own neat folding Ц and the shirt was so snow-white and smooth that the boy thought at first his mother had laid out a fresh one while he was asleep. But no Ц yesterday was Sunday. Mrs. Conyfer would have thought another clean one on Monday very extravagant Ц besides, not even from her linen drawers, scented with lavender, could have come that delicious fragrance! Gratian snuffed and sniffed with ever-increasing satisfaction, as the words he had overheard in the night returned to his memory. And his stockings Ц they too were scented! What it was like I could not tell you, unless it be true, as old travellers say, that miles and miles away from the far-famed Spice Islands their fragrance may be perceived, wafted out to sea by the breeze. That, I think, may give you a faint idea of the perfume left by the South-wind on her godson's garments.

"So it's true Ц I wasn't dreaming," thought the boy. "I wonder what the plot was that I couldn't hear about. I shall know before long, I daresay."

At breakfast he noticed his mother looking at him curiously.

"What is it, mother?" he said; "is my hair not neat?"

"No, child. On the contrary, I was thinking how very tidy you look this morning. Your collar is so smooth and clean. Can it be the one you wore yesterday?"

"Yes, mother," he replied, "just look how nice it is. And hasn't it a nice scent?"

He got up as he spoke and stood beside her. She smoothed his collar with satisfaction.

"It is certainly very well starched and ironed," she said. "Madge is improving; I must tell her so. That new soap too has quite a pleasant smell about it Ц like new-mown hay. It's partly the lavender in the drawers, I daresay."

But Gratian smiled to himself Ц thinking he knew better!

"Gratian," said his mother, two mornings later, as he was starting for school, "I had a message from the master yesterday. He wants to see me about you, but he is very busy, and he says if father or I should be in the village to-day or to-morrow, he would take it kindly if we would look in. I must call at the mill for father to-day Ц he's too busy to go himself Ц so I think I'll go on to school, and then we can walk back together. So don't start home this afternoon till I come."

"No, mother, I won't," said Gratian. But he still hung about as if he had more to say.

"What is it?" asked his mother. "You're not afraid the master's going to give a bad account of you?"

"No, mother Ц not since I've cured myself of dreaming," he answered. "I was only wondering if I knew what it was he was going to ask you."

"Better wait and know for sure," said his mother. So Gratian set off.

But he found it impossible not to keep thinking and wondering about it to himself. Could it be anything about the Big House? Had Tony kept his promise, and told the master of the trick he had played, so that Gratian, and not he, should be chosen?

"He didn't seem to care about it much," thought Gratian, "not near so much as I should Ц oh, dear no! Still it wouldn't be very nice for him to have to tell against himself, whether he cared about it or not."

But as his mother had said, it was best to wait a while and know, instead of wasting time in fruitless guessing.

Tony seemed quite cheerful and merry, and little Dolly was as friendly as possible. After the morning lessons were over and the other children dispersed, the schoolmaster called Gratian in again.

"It is too cold now for you to eat your dinner in the playground, my boy," he said. "After you have run about a little, come in and find a warmer dining-room inside. But I have something else to say to you. I had a talk with Anthony Ferris yesterday."

Gratian felt himself growing red, but he did not speak.

"He told me of the trick he'd played you. A very unkind and silly trick it was, and so I said to him; but as he told it himself I won't punish him. He told me more, Gratian Ц of your finding his book and giving it back to him, when you might have done him an ill turn by keeping it."

"I did keep it all one day, sir," said Gratian humbly.

"Ah well, you did give it him in the end," said the master smiling. "I am pleased to see that you did the right thing in face of temptation. And Tony feels it himself. He's an honest-hearted lad and a clever one. He has done that piece of work I gave him well, and no doubt he stands as the head boy" Ц here the master stopped and seemed to be thinking over something. Then he went on again rather abruptly.

"That was all I wanted to say to you just now, I think. Tony is really grateful to you, and if he can show it, he will. Did your father or mother say anything about coming to see me?"

"Please, sir, mother's coming this afternoon. I'm to wait and go home with her."

"Ah well, that's all right."

But Gratian had plenty to think of while he ate his dinner. He was very much impressed by Tony's having really told.

"I wonder," he kept saying to himself, "I do wonder if perhaps Ц "

CHAPTER VII
THE BIG HOUSE AND THE LADY


"The light of love, the purity of grace;
The mind, the music breathing from her face;
The heart, whose softness harmonised the whole."

Mrs. Conyfer was waiting for Gratian at the gate of the schoolhouse when he came out.

"We must make haste," she said; "I think it's going to rain."

Gratian looked up at the sky, and sniffed the cold evening air.

"Yes," he said, "I think it is."

"It's not so cold quite as it was when I came down," Mrs. Conyfer went on Ц the dwellers at Four Winds often spoke of "coming down," when they meant going to the village Ц "that's perhaps because the rain is coming. I don't want to get my bonnet spoilt Ц I might have known it was going to rain when father said the wind was in the west."

"Why does the west wind bring rain?" asked Gratian; "is it because it comes from the sea?"

"Nay," said his mother, "I don't know. You should know better about such things than I Ц you that's always listening to the winds and hearing what they've got to say."

Gratian looked up, a little surprised.

"What makes you say that, mother?" he asked.

Mrs. Conyfer laughed a little.

"I scarcely know," she said. "We always said of you when you were a baby that you seemed to hear words in the wind Ц you were always content to lie still, no matter how long you were left, if only the wind were blowing. And it seems to me even now that you're always happiest and best when there's wind about, though it's maybe only a fancy of mine."

But Gratian looked pleased.

"No, mother," he said, "I don't think it's a fancy. I think myself it's quite true."

And he pulled off his cap as he spoke and let the wind blow his hair about, and lifted up his face as if inviting its caresses.

"It's getting up," he said. "But I think we'll get home before the rain comes."

His mother had not heard the whisper that had reached his ear through the gust of wind.

"I will help you home, Gratian, both you and your mother, though she won't know it."

He laughed to himself when he felt the gentle, steady way in which they were blown along Ц never had the long walk to the Farm seemed so short to Mrs. Conyfer.

"Dear me," she said, when they were within a few yards of the gate, "I couldn't have believed we were home! It makes a difference when the wind is with us, I suppose."

Gratian pulled her back a moment, as she was going in.

"Mother," he said, "what was it the master wanted to say to you? Won't you tell me?"

"I must speak first to father," she replied; "it's something which we must have his leave for first."

Gratian could not ask any more, and nothing more was said to him till the next morning when he was starting for school. Then his mother came to the door with him.

"I've a message for the master," she said. "Listen, Gratian. You must tell him from me that father and I have no objection to his doing as he likes about what he spoke to me of yesterday. He said he'd like to tell you about it himself Ц so I won't tell you any more. Maybe you'll not care about it when you hear it."

"Ah Ц I don't think that," said the boy, as he ran off.

He needed no blowing to school that morning. The way seemed short, even though it was still drizzling Ц a cold, disagreeable, small rain, which had succeeded the downpour of the night before. But Gratian cared little for rain Ц what true child of the moors could?†Ц he rather liked it than otherwise, especially when it came drifting over in great sheets, almost blinding for the moment, and then again dispersed as suddenly, so that standing on the high ground one could see on the slopes beneath when it was raining and when it stopped. It gave one a feeling of being "above the clouds" that Gratian liked. But this morning there was nothing of a weather panorama of that kind Ц just sheer, steady, sapping rain, with no wind to interfere.

"They are tired, I daresay," thought Gratian; "for they must have been hard at work last night, getting the clouds together for all this rain. I expect Golden-wings goes off altogether when it's so cold and dreary. I wonder where she is. I would like to see her home Ц it must be full of such beautiful colours and scents."

"And mine Ц wouldn't you like to see mine?" whistled a sudden cold breath in his ear. "Yes, I have made you jump. But I'm not going to bring the snow just yet Ц I've just come down for a moment, to see how much rain Green-wings has got together. She mustn't waste it, you see. I can't have her interfering with my reservoirs for the winter. I hold with a good old-fashioned winter Ц a snowy Christmas and plenty of picture exhibitions for my pet artist, Jack Frost. A good winter's the healthiest in the end for all concerned."

"Yes, I think so too," said Gratian. He wished to be civil to White-wings. It was interesting to have some one to talk to as he went along, and the North-wind in a mild mood seemed an agreeable companion, less snappish and jerky than her sister of the east.

"That's a sensible boy," said the snow-bringer condescendingly; "you've something of the old northern spirit about you here on the moorlands still, I fancy. Ah! if you could see the north Ц the real north Ц I don't fancy you would care much about the sleepy golden lands you were dreaming of just now."

"I'd like to see them," replied the child; "I don't say I'd like to live in them always. But the scents and the colours Ц they must be very beautiful. I seem to know all about them when Golden-wings kisses me."

"Humph," said the Spirit of the North. Both she and Gray-wings had a peculiar way of saying "humph" when Gratian praised either of the gentler sisters Ц "as for scents I don't say Ц scent is a stupid sort of thing. I don't understand anything about it. But coloursЦ†you're mistaken, I assure you, if you think the south can beat me in that. You've got your head full of the idea of snow Ц interminable ice-fields and all the rest of it. Why, my good boy, did you never hear of Arctic sunsets Ц not to speak of the Northern Lights? I could show you sunsets and sunrises such as you have never dreamt of Ц like rainbows painted on gold. Ah, it is a pity you cannot come with me!"

"And why can't I?" asked Gratian. "I'm not afraid of the cold."

The North-wind gave a whistle of good-natured contempt.

"My dear, you'd have no time to be afraid or not afraid Ц you'd be dead before you'd even looked about you. Ah Ц it's a terrible inconvenience, those bodies of yours Ц if you were like us, now! But I mustn't waste my time talking, only as I was passing I thought I'd say a word or two. When my sisters are all together there's never any getting in a syllable edgeways. Good-bye, my child. We'll meet again oftener during the next few months."

"Good-bye, Godmother White-wings," said Gratian, and a gust of wind rushing past him with a whistle seemed to answer, "Good-bye."

"I'm very glad to have had a little talk with her," he said to himself; "she's much nicer than I thought she was, and she makes one feel so strong and brisk. Dear me Ц what wonderful places there must be up in the north where she lives!"

The master called him aside after morning lessons.

"Did your mother send any message to me, Gratian?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," and he repeated what Mrs. Conyfer had said.

The schoolmaster looked pleased.

"I'm glad she and your father have no objection," he said. "I think it may be a good thing for you in several ways. But I must explain it to you. You know the Big House as they call it, here? A lady and her son have come to stay there for a time Ц relations of the squire's Ц "

"Yes, sir, I know," interrupted Gratian; "she plays the organ on Sunday afternoons, and her little boy is ill."

"Not exactly ill, but he had a fall, and he mustn't walk about or stand much. It's dull for him, as at home he was used to companions. His mother asked me to send him one of my best boys Ц a boy who could read well for one thing Ц as a playmate. At first I thought of Tony Ferris, and I spoke of him. But Tony has begged me to choose you instead of him."

Gratian raised his brown eyes and fixed them on the master's face.

"Does Tony not want to go?" he asked. "I shouldn't like to take it from him if he wants to go."

"I think he would be happier for you to go," said the master, "and perhaps you may be more suitable. Besides Tony thinks that he owes you something. He has told me of the trick he played you, as you know Ц and certainly you deserve to be chosen more than he. I am not sure that he would care much about it; but still it will give him pleasure to think he has got it for you, and we may let him have this pleasure."

"Yes, sir," said Gratian thoughtfully. And then he added, "it was good of Tony to ask for it for me."

"Yes, it was," agreed the master.

"Then when am I to go?" asked Gratian.

"This afternoon. I will let you off an hour or so earlier, and you can stay at the Big House till it is dark. It is no farther home from there than from here, if you go by the road at the back of it. We shall see how you get on, and then the lady will tell you about going again."

Gratian still lingered.

"What is it?" said the master. "Do you not think you shall like it?"

"Oh no, sir, oh no," exclaimed the child. "I was only wondering. Are there pictures at the Big House, do you think, sir?"

"Yes, I think there are some. Are you fond of pictures?"

"I don't know, sir. I've never seen any real ones. But I've often thought about them, and fancied them in my mind. There are such lots of things I'd like to see pictures of that I can't see any other way."

"Well, perhaps you will see some at the Big House," said the master with a smile.

Out in the playground Gratian ran against Tony.

"Has he told you?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes," said Gratian. "I'm to go this afternoon. It was very good of you, Tony, to want me to go instead of you."

Tony got rather red.

"I don't know that I'd a-cared about it much, Gratian," he said. "It wasn't that as cost me much. But to tell you the truth, I did want to get out of telling the master about the trick I'd played you. And I don't know as I'd have told it, but a mighty queer thing happened Ц it's thanks to that I told."

"What was it?" asked Gratian.

"It was at night after I was in bed. I'd put off telling, and I thought maybe it'd all be forgotten. And that night all of a sudden there came such a storm of wind that it woke me up Ц the window had burst open, and I swear to you, Gratian Ц I've not told any one else Ц I saw a figure all in white, and with white wings, leaning over my bed, as if it had brought the storm with it. I was so frightened I began to think of all the bad things I had done, and I hollered out, 'I'll tell master first thing to-morrow morning, I will.' And with that the wind seemed to go down as sudden as it came, and I heard a sort of singing, something like when the organ plays very low in church, and there was a beautiful sweet scent of flowers through the room; and I suppose I fell asleep again, for when I woke it was morning, and I could have fancied it was all a dream, for nobody else had heard the wind in the night."



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