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"We hear it most nights up at our place," said Gratian, "but I'm never frightened of it."
"You would have been that night – leastways I was. I durstn't go back from my word, dream or no dream – so now you know, Gratian, how I came to tell. And I hope you'll enjoy yourself at the Big House."
"I shall thank you for it if I do, all the same, Tony," Gratian replied.
"It's more in your way than mine. I'd feel myself such a great silly going among gentry folk like that," said Tony, as he scampered off to his dinner.
About three o'clock that afternoon Gratian found himself at the gates of the Big House. He had often passed by that way and stood looking in, but he had never been within the gates, for they were always kept locked; and there had been a strange, almost sad look of loneliness and desertedness about the place, even though the gardens had not been allowed to be untidy or overrun. Now it looked already different; the padlock and chain were removed, and there were the marks of wheels upon the gravel. It seemed to Gratian that even if he had not known there were visitors in the old house he would have guessed it.
He walked slowly up the avenue which led from the gates to the house. He was not the least afraid or shy, but he was full of interest and expectation. He wanted to see everything – to miss nothing, and even the walk up the avenue seemed to him full of wonder and charm. It had a charm of its own no doubt, for at each side stood pine-trees like rows of sentinels keeping guard on all comers, tall, stately, and solemn, only now and then moving their heads with silent dignity, as if in reply to observations passing among them up there, too high to be heard. The pines round Gratian's home were not so tall or straight – naturally, for they had a great deal of buffeting to do in order to live at all, and this of course did not help them to grow tall or erect. Gratian looked up in wonder at the great height.
"How I wish I knew what they say to each other up there," he said.
But just then a drop of something cold falling on his face made him start. It was beginning to rain.
"I wouldn't like to be wet when I first see the lady and the young gentleman," he thought. "I must be quick."
So off he set at a run, which perhaps did not much hasten matters, for when he got to the hall door he was so out of breath that he had to stand still for several minutes before venturing to ring.
The bell, when he did ring it, sounded sharp and hollow, almost like a bell ringing in an empty house. And when the door was opened, he saw that the large hall did look bare and empty, and he felt a little disappointed. But this feeling did not last long. Before he had time to say anything to the servant, a sweet, bright voice came sounding clearly.
"Oh, here he is, Fergus," were the words she said, and in another instant the owner of the voice appeared. It was the lady of the organ. She came forward smiling, and holding out her hand, but Gratian gazed at her for a moment without speaking, nor seeming to understand that she was speaking to him.
He had never seen any one like her before. She was tall and fair, and her face was truly lovely. But what made it so, more than the delicate features or the pretty soft colours, was its sunny brightness, which yet from time to time was veiled by a look of pitying sadness, almost sweeter. And at these times the intense blueness of her eyes grew paler and fainter, so that they looked almost gray, like the sea when a cloud comes over the sunny sky above; only as Gratian had never seen the sea, he could not think this to himself.
What he did say to himself told it quite as well.
"She is like Golden-wings and Green-wings mixed together," was his thought.
And then having decided this, his mind seemed to grow clearer, the sort of confused bewilderment he had felt for a moment wafted itself away, and he distinguished the words she had repeated to him more than once.
"You are the little boy Mr. Cornelius has kindly sent to see my poor little boy. It is kind too of you to come. I hope you and Fergus will be great friends."
She thought he was shy when at first he did not answer. But looking at him again she saw that it was not shyness which was speaking out of his big brown eyes.
"You are not afraid of me, are you?" she said smiling again.
"Oh no," he replied. "I didn't mean to be rude. I couldn't be frightened of you. I was only thinking – I never saw anybody so beautiful as you before," he went on simply, "and it made me think."
The lady flushed a little – a very little.
"I am pleased that you like my face," she said. "I like yours too, and I am sure Fergus will. Will you come and see him now? He is waiting eagerly for you."
She held out her hand again, and Gratian this time put his little brown one into it confidingly. And thus she led him out of the large, cold hall, down a short passage, rendered light and cheerful by a large window – here a door stood open, and a glow of warmth seemed to meet them as they drew near it.
"Old portraits round in order set,
Carved heavy tables, chairs, buffet
Of dark mahogany."
For there was a bright fire burning in the room, which sent red rays flickering and dancing in all directions, lighting up the faded tints of the ancient curtains and covers, and bringing rich crimson shades out of the shining, old dark mahogany furniture. There were flowers too; a bouquet of autumn leaves – bronze and copper and olive – with two or three fragile "last roses" in the middle, on which Gratian's eyes rested with pleasure for a moment, on their way to the small figure – the most interesting object of all.
He was lying on a little sofa, placed so as to be within reach of the fire's warmth, and yet near enough to the window for him to see out into the garden, to watch the life of the birds and the plants, the clouds and the breezes. The autumn afternoon looked later and darker now to Gratian as he glanced at it from within than when he was himself a part of it out-of-doors, and his eyes returned with pleasure to the nearer warmth and colour, though after the first momentary glimpse of the boy on the sofa a sort of shyness had made him look away.
For the child was extremely pale and thin – he looked much more ill than Gratian had been prepared for, and this gave him a feeling of timidity that nothing else could have caused. But the lady soon put him at his ease.
"Fergus, dear," she said, "here is the little friend you have been hoping for. Come over here near us, my dear boy" – for she had sat down on a low chair beside the couch, evidently her usual place – "and I will help you to get over the first few steps of making friends. To begin with," she said smiling, "do you know we don't know your name? That seems absurd, doesn't it? And you don't know ours."
"Yes – I know his," said Gratian, smiling too, and with a little gesture towards the invalid, so gentle and half-timid that no one could have called it rude; "you have just said it – Fergus. I never heard that name before."
"It is a Scotch name," said the lady. "One can almost fancy oneself in Scotland here. And tell us your name."
"Gratian," he replied, "Gratian Conyfer."
"What a nice name," said Fergus, speaking for the first time, "and what a queer one! I can say the same to you as you said to me, Gratian – I never heard that name before."
"How did you come by it?" asked Fergus's mother.
"I think it was because mother is called Grace, and there were several baby brothers that died, that were called for father," he replied.
"And how old are you?" asked Fergus, raising himself a little on his elbow. "I'm eight and a half. I'm not so very small for my age when I stand up – am I, mother?"
"No, dear," she answered with a little shadow over her bright face. "And you, Gratian?"
"I am nine," he said; "but they say at school I don't look so much. Tony is twelve, but he is much, much bigger."
"Tony – who is Tony?" asked Fergus; "is he your brother?"
"Oh no, I have no brothers. He's the head boy at the school."
"Yes," said Fergus's mother, "I remember about him. He was the boy Mr. Cornelius first thought of sending."
"And why didn't he come?" asked Fergus.
Gratian looked up at the lady.
"Did the master tell you?" he asked. The lady smiled, and nodded her head.
"Yes," she said, "I know the story. You may tell it to Fergus, Gratian; he would like to hear it. Now I am going away, for I have letters to write. In half an hour or so you shall have your tea. Would you like it here or in the library, Fergus?"
"Oh, in the library," he said eagerly. "I haven't been there for two days, mother. And then Gratian can see the pictures – you told me he liked pictures? – and best of all, you can play the organ to us, little mother."
"Then you feel better to-day, my boy?" she said, stooping to kiss the white forehead as she was leaving the room. "Some days I can't get him to like to move about at all," she added to Gratian.
"Yes, I do feel better," he said. "I don't mind it hurting me when I don't feel that horrible way as if I didn't care for anything. Have you ever been ill, Gratian? Do you know how it feels?"
"I once had a sore throat," he said, "but I didn't mind very much. It was winter, and I had a fire in my room, and I liked to see the flames going dancing up the chimney."
"Yes," said Fergus, "I know how you mean. I'm sure we must have the same thinkings about things, Gratian. Do you like music too, as much as pictures? Mother says people who like pictures very much, often like music too, and – and – there's something else that those kind of people like too, but I forget what."
"Flowers," suggested Gratian; "flowers and trees, perhaps."
"No," said Fergus, looking a little puzzled, "these would count in with pictures, don't you think? I'll ask mother – she said it so nicely. Don't you like when anybody says a thing so that it seems to fit in with other things?"
"Yes," said Gratian, "I think I do. But I think things to myself, mostly – I've not got anybody much to talk to, except sometimes Jonas. He's got very nice thoughts, only he'd never say them except to Watch and me."
"Who's Watch?" asked Fergus eagerly. "Is he a dog?"
"He's our sheep-dog, and Jonas is the shepherd," replied Gratian. "They're sometimes alone with the sheep for days and days – out on the moors. It's so strange – I've been with them sometimes – it's like another world – to see the moors all round, ever so far, like the sea, I suppose – only I've never seen the sea – and not a creature anywhere, except some wild birds sometimes."
"Stop," said Fergus, closing his eyes; "yes, I can see it now. Go on, Gratian – is the sky gray, or blue with little white clouds?"
"Gray just now," said the boy, "and there's no wind that you can feel blowing. But it's coming – you know it's coming – now and then Watch pricks up his ears, for he can tell it much farther off than we can, and old Jonas pats him a little. Jonas has an old blue round cap – a shepherd's cap – and his face is browny-red, but his hair is nearly white, and his eyes are very blue. Can you see him, Fergus? And the sheep keep on browsing – they make a little scrumping noise when you are quite, quite close to them. And just before the wind really comes a great bird gives a cry – up, very high up – and it swoops down for a moment and then goes up again, till it looks just a little black speck against the sky. And all the time you know the wind is coming. Can you see it all, Fergus?"
"All," said the boy; "it's beautiful. You must tell me pictures often, Gratian, till I can go out again. I never had any one who could make them come so, except mother's music – they come with that. Haven't you noticed that they come with music?"
"I don't know," said Gratian. "I've never seen any real pictures – painted ones in big gold frames."
"There are some here," said Fergus; "not very many, but some. I like a few of them – perhaps you will too. But I like the pictures that come and go in one's fancy best. That's the kind that mother's music brings me."
"Yes," said Gratian, his eyes sparkling, "I understand."
"I was sure you would," said Fergus, with a tiny touch of patronising in his tone, which Gratian was too entirely single-minded to see, or rather perhaps to object to if he did see it. "I knew the minute I saw you, you'd suit me. I'm very glad that other fellow didn't come instead of you. But, by the bye, you haven't told me about that – mother said you'd tell me."
Gratian related the story of his satchel of stones. Fergus was boy enough to laugh a little, though he called it a mean trick; but when Gratian told of having found his books again, he looked puzzled.
"How could you find them?" he asked. "It was nearly dark, didn't you say?"
"I don't quite know," replied Gratian, and he spoke the truth. It was always difficult for him to distinguish between real and fancy, dreaming and waking, in all concerning his four friends, and in some curious way this difficulty increased so much if he ever thought of talking about them, that he felt he was not meant to do so. "I have fancies sometimes – like dreams, perhaps – that I can't explain. And they help me often – when I am in any trouble they help me."
"I don't see how fancies can help you to find things that are lost," said Fergus, who, except in his own particular way, was more practical than Gratian, "unless you mean that you dream things, and your dreams come true."
"It's a little like that," Gratian replied. "I think I had a sort of dream about coming here. I did so want to come – most of all since I heard the lady play in church."
"Yes," said Fergus, "isn't mother's playing beautiful? I've not heard her play in church for ever so long, but I'm so glad there's an organ here. She plays to me every day. I like music best of everything in the world – don't you?"
To which Gratian gave his old answer – "I don't know yet."
Then they began talking of more commonplace things. Each told the other of his daily life and all his childish interests. Fergus was greatly struck by the account of Gratian's home – the old house with the queer name.
"How I should like to see it," he said, "and to feel the wind blow."
"The winds," corrected Gratian, "the four winds."
"The four winds," repeated Fergus. "North, south, east, and west. They don't blow all together, do they?"
"I think they do sometimes. Yes, I know they do – at night I'm sure I've heard them all four together, like tones in music."
Fergus looked delighted.
"Ah, you have to come back to music, you see," he said. "There's nothing tells everything and explains everything as well as music."
"You must have thought about it a great deal," said Gratian admiringly. "I've only just begun to think about things, and I think it's very puzzling, though I'm older than you. I don't know if music would explain things to me."
"Perhaps not as much as to me," said Fergus. "You see it's been my best thing – ever since I was five years old I've been lying like this. At home the others are very kind, but they can't quite understand," he added, shaking his head a little sadly; "they can all run about and jump and play. And when children can do all that, they don't need to think much. Still it is very dull without them – that is why I begged mother to try to get me somebody to play with. But I think you're better than that, Gratian. I think you understand more – how is it? You've never been ill or had to lie still."
"No," said the boy, "but I've had no brothers and sisters to play with me. And perhaps it's with being born at Four Winds – mother says so herself."
"I daresay it is," said Fergus gravely.
"Won't you get better soon?" asked Gratian, looking at Fergus with profound sympathy. For, gentle as he was, the idea of having to lie still, not being able to run about on the moors and feel his dear winds on his face, having even to call to others to help him before he could get to the window and look out on the sunshine – it seemed perhaps more dreadful to Gratian than it would have done to an ordinary, healthy child like Tony Ferris. "Won't you too be able to walk and run about – even if it's only a little?"
"I hope so," Fergus replied. "Mother says I mustn't expect ever to be quite strong. But they say I'm getting better. That's why mother brought me here. Do you know I can eat ever so much more than when I came? If I can get well enough to play – even on a piano – I wouldn't mind so much. I could make up all sorts of things for myself then – I could make pictures even of the moorland and Four Winds Farm, I think, Gratian."
"I'll try to tell you them – I'll try to make some of my fancies into stories and pictures," said Gratian; "then afterwards, when you get well and can play, you can make them into music."
Just then the door opened, and Fergus's mother came in.
"Tea is ready," she said, "and Andrew is going to carry you into the library, Fergus."
She looked at the boy a little anxiously as she spoke, and Gratian saw that a slight shadow of pain or fear crept over Fergus's face.
"Mother," he said, "would it perhaps be better to stay here after all? You could show Gratian the pictures."
The lady looked very disappointed.
"The tea is so nicely set out," she said, "and you know you can't hear the organ well from here. And Andrew doesn't hurt you – he is very careful."
Gratian looked on, anxious too. He understood that it must be good for Fergus to go into another room, otherwise his mother would not wish it. Fergus caught sight of the eagerness on Gratian's face, and it carried the day.
"I will go," he said; "here, Andrew."
A man-servant, with a good-humoured face and a strong pair of arms, came forward and lifted the child carefully.
"You walk beside me, Gratian, and hold my hand. If it hurts much I will pinch you a little, but don't let mother know," he said in a whisper; and thus the little procession moved out of the room right across the hall and down another corridor.
"There must be a window open," said Fergus; "don't you feel the air blowing in? Oh don't shut it, mother," as the lady started forward, "it's such nice soft air – scented as if they were making hay. Oh, it's delicious."
His mother seemed a little surprised.
"There is no window open, dear," she said. "It must be that you feel the change from the warm room to the hall. Perhaps I should have covered you up."
"Oh no, no," repeated Fergus. "I'm not the least cold. It's not a cold wind at all. Gratian, don't you feel it?"
"Yes," said Gratian, holding Fergus's hand firmly. But his eyes had a curious look in them, as if he were smiling inwardly to himself.
"Golden-wings, you darling," he murmured, "I know you're there – thank you so much for blowing away his pain."
In another moment Fergus was settled on a couch in the library – a lofty room with rows and rows of books on every side, nearly up to the ceiling. It would have looked gloomy and dull but for the cheerful fire in one corner and the neat tea-table drawn up before it; as it was, the sort of solemn mystery about it was very pleasing to Gratian.
"Isn't it nice here?" said Fergus. "I'm so glad I came. And do you know it didn't hurt me a bit. The fresh air that came in seemed to blow the pain away."
"I think you really must be getting stronger," said his mother, with a smile of hopefulness on her face, as she busied herself with the tea-table; "you have brought us good luck, Gratian."
"I believe he has," said Fergus. "Mother, do you know what he has been telling me? He was born where the four winds meet – he must be a lucky child, mustn't he, mother?"
"I should say so, certainly," said the lady with a smile. "I wonder if it is as good as being born on a Sunday."
"Oh far better, mother," said Fergus; "there are lots of children born on Sundays, but I never heard of one before that was born at the winds' meeting-place."
"Gratian will be able to tell you stories, I daresay," said his mother – "stories which the winds tell him, perhaps – eh, Gratian?"
"He has been telling me some pictures already," said Fergus; "oh, mother I'm so happy."
"My darling," said his mother. "Now let me see what a good appetite you have. You must be hungry too, Gratian, my boy. You have a long walk home before you."
Gratian was hungry, but he hardly felt as if he could eat – there was so much to look at and to think about. Everything was so dainty and pretty; though he was well accustomed at the Farm to the most perfect cleanliness and neatness, it was new to him to see the sparkling silver, the tea-kettle boiling on the spirit-lamp with a cheerful sound, the pretty china and glass, and the variety of bread and cakes to tempt poor Fergus's appetite. And the lady herself – with her forget-me-not eyes and sweet voice. Gratian felt as if he were in fairyland.
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