Mrs. Molesworth.

Four Winds Farm



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CHAPTER IX
MUSIC AND COUNSEL


"What is this strange new life, this finer sense,
Which lifts me out of self, and bids me
Е rise to glorious thought
High hopes, and inarticulate fantasies?"

"Voices." ЧSongs of Two Worlds

After tea Fergus's mother turned to the two boys.

"Shall I play to you now?" she said, "or shall we first show Gratian the pictures?"

"Play the last thing, please," said Fergus. "I like to keep it in my mind when I go to bed Ц it makes me sleep better. We can go into the gallery now and show Gratian the pictures; it would be too dark if we waited."

"It is rather dark already," said the lady, "still Gratian can see some, and the next time he comes he can look at them again."

She rang the bell, and when Andrew came, she told him to wheel Fergus's couch into the picture-gallery, which opened into the library where they were.

Andrew opened a double door at the other end of the room from that by which they had come in, and then he gently wheeled forward the couch on which Fergus was lying, and pushed it through the doorway. The gallery was scarcely large enough to deserve the name, but to Gratian's eyes it looked a very wonderful place. It was long and rather narrow, and the light came from the top, and along the sides and ends were hung a good many pictures. All down one side were portraits Ц gentlemen with wigs, and ladies with powder, and some in queer, fancy dresses, mostly looking stiff and unnatural, though among them were some beautiful faces, and two or three portraits of children, which caught Gratian's eye.

"What do you think of them?" asked Fergus.

Gratian hesitated.

"I don't think people long ago could have been as pretty as they are now," he said at last, "except that lady in the long black dress Ц oh, she is very pretty, and so is the red little boy with the dog, and the two girls blowing soap-bubbles. The big one has got eyes like Ц like the lady's," he added half-timidly.

The lady looked pleased.

"You have a quick eye, Gratian," she said. "The pictures you admire are the best here, and that little girl is my great-grandmother. Now, look at the other side. These are pictures of all kinds Ц not family ones."

Gratian followed her in silence. The pictures were mostly landscapes Ц some so very old and dark that one could scarcely distinguish what they were. And some of which the colours were brighter, the boy did not care for any better Ц they were not like any skies or trees he had ever seen or even imagined, and he felt disappointed.

Suddenly he gave a little cry.

"Oh, I like that Ц I do like that," he said, and he glanced up at the lady for approval.

She smiled again.

"Yes," she said, "it is a wonderful picture. Quite as much a picture of the wind as of the sea."

Gratian gazed at it with delight.

The scene was on the coast, on what one might call a playfully stormy day. The waves came dancing in, their crests flashing in the sunshine, pursued and tossed by the wind; and up above, the little clouds were scudding along quite as busy and eager about their business, whatever it was, as the white-sailed fishing-boats below.

"Do you like it so very much?" she asked.

"Yes," the boy replied, "that's like what I fancied pictures were. I've never seen the sea, but I can feel it must be like that."

And after this he did not seem to care to see any others.

Fergus too was getting a little tired of lying alone while his mother and Gratian made the tour of the gallery. So Andrew was called to wheel him back again to the other door of the library, from whence he could best hear the organ. It stood at one side of the large hall, in a recess which had probably been made on purpose. It was dark in the recess even at mid-day, and now the dusk was fast increasing, so the lady lit the candles fixed at each side of the music-desk, and when she sat down to play the light sparkled and glowed on her fair hair, making it look like gold.

Gratian touched Fergus.

"Doesn't it look pretty?" he said, pointing to the little island of light in the gloomy hall.

Fergus nodded.

"I always think mother turns into an angel when she plays," he said. "Now, let's listen, Gratian, and afterwards you can tell me what pictures the music makes to you, and I'll tell you what it makes to me."

The organ was old and rather out of repair, and Andrew was not very well used to blowing. That made it, I think, all the more wonderful that the lady could bring such music out of it. It was not so fine and perfect, doubtless, as what Gratian had heard from her in church on the Sunday afternoon, but still it was beautiful enough for him to think of nothing but his delight in listening. She played several pieces Ц some sad and plaintive, some joyful and triumphant, and then Gratian begged her to play the last he had heard at church.

"That is a good choice for our good-night one," she said. "It is a favourite of Fergus's too. He calls it his good-night hymn."

Fergus did not speak Ц he was lying with his eyes shut, in quiet happiness, and as the last notes died away, "Don't speak yet, Gratian," he said, "you don't know what I am seeing Ц flocks of birds are slowly flying out of sight, the sun has set, and one hears a bell in the distance ringing very faintly; one by one the lights are going out in the cottages that I see at the foot of the hill, and the night is creeping up. That is what I see when mother plays the good-night. What do you see, Gratian?"

"The moor, I think," said the boy, "our own moor, up, far up, behind our house. It must be looking just as I see it now, at this very minute; only the music is coming from some place Ц a church, I think, very far away. The wind is bringing it Ц the south wind, not the one from the sea. And you know that when the music is being played in the church there are lots of people all kneeling so that you can't see their faces, and I think some are crying softly."

"Yes," said Fergus, "that isn't so bad. I can see it too. You'll soon get into the way, Gratian," he went on, with his funny little patronising tone, "of making music-pictures if we practice it together. That's the best of music, you see. It makes itself and pictures too. Now pictures never make you music."

"But they give you feelings Ц like telling you stories Ц at least that one I like so much does. And I suppose there are many pictures like that Ц as beautiful as that?" he went on, as if asking the question from the lady, who had left the organ now and was standing by Fergus, listening to what they were saying.

"Yes," she said, "there are many pictures I should like you to see, and many places too. Places which make one wish one could paint them the moment one sees them. Perhaps it is pictures you are going to care most for, little Gratian? If so, they will be music and poetry and everything to you Ц they will be your voice."

"Poetry," repeated Fergus, "that's the other thing Ц the thing I couldn't remember the name of, Gratian."

Gratian looked rather puzzled.

"I don't know much about poetry," he said. "But I don't know about anything. I never saw pictures before. There are so many things to know about," he added with a little sigh.

"Don't be discouraged," said the lady smiling. "Everybody has to find out and to learn and to work hard."

"Has everybody a voice?" asked Gratian.

"No, a great many haven't, and some who have don't use it well, which is worse than having none. But don't look so grave; we shall have plenty of time for talking about all these things. I think you must be going home now, otherwise your mother will be wondering what has become of you. And thank her for letting us have you, and say I hope you may come again on Saturday. You don't mind the long walk home Ц for it is almost dark, you see?"

"Oh no, I don't mind the dark or anything like that," said Gratian with a little smile, which the lady, even though her forget-me-not eyes were so very clear, could not quite understand.

For he was thinking to himself, "How could I be afraid, with my four godmothers to take care of me, wherever I were?"

Then he turned to say good-bye to Fergus, and the little fellow stretched up his two thin arms and clasped them round the moorland child's neck.

"I love you," he said; "kiss me and come again soon, and let us make stories to tell each other."

The lady kissed him too.

"Thank you for being so good to Fergus," she said.

And Gratian, looking up in her face, wished he could tell her how much he had liked all he had seen and heard, but somehow the words would not come. All he could say was, "Thank you, and good-night."

Out-of-doors again, especially when he got as far as the well-known road he passed along every day, it seemed all like a dream. All the way down the avenue of pines he kept glancing back to see the lights in the windows of the Big House Ц he liked to think of Fergus and his mother in there by the fire, talking of the afternoon and making, perhaps, plans for another.

"I hope his back won't hurt him to-night when they carry him up to bed," he said to himself. "It was very good of Golden-wings to come. But I'm afraid she can't be here much more, now that the winter is so near. Green-wings might perhaps come sometimes, but Ц "

A sudden puff of wind in his face, and a voice in his ear, interrupted him. The wind felt sharp and cold, and he did not need the tingling of his cheeks to tell him who was at hand.

"But what?" said the cutting tones of Gray-wings. "Ah, I know what you were going to say, Master Gratian. White-wings and I are too sharp and outspoken for your new friends! Much you know about it. On the contrary, nothing would do the lame boy more good than a nice blast from the north, once he is able to be up and about again. It was for the moorland air the doctors, with some sense for once, sent him up here. And I am sure you must know it isn't Golden-wings and Green-wings only who are to be met with on the moors."

"I'm very sorry if I've offended you," said Gratian, "but you needn't be quite so cross about it. I don't mind you being sharp when I deserve it, but I've been quite good to-day, quite good. I'm sure the lady wouldn't like me if I wasn't good."

"Humph!" said Gray-wings. At least she meant it to be "humph," and Gratian understood it so, but to any one else it would have sounded more like "whri Ц i Ц zz," and you would have put up your hand to your head at once to be sure that your cap or hat wasn't going to fly off. "Humph! I don't set up to be perfect, though I might boast a little more experience, a few billions of years more, of this queer world of yours than you. And I've been pretty well snubbed in my time and kept in my proper place Ц to such an extent, indeed, that I don't now even quarrel with having a very much worse name than I deserve. It's good for one's pride, so I make a wry face and swallow it, though of course, all the same, it must be a very pleasant feeling to know that one has been quite, quite good. I wish you'd tell me what it's like."

"You're very horrid and unkind, Gray-wings," said Gratian, feeling almost ready to cry. "Just when I was so happy, to try and spoil it all. Tell me what you think I've not been good about and I'll listen, but you needn't go mocking at me for nothing."

There was no answer, and Gratian thought perhaps Gray-wings was feeling ashamed of herself. But he was much mistaken. She was only reserving her breath for a burst of laughter. Gratian of course knew it was laughter, though I don't suppose either you or I would have known it for that.

"What is it that amuses you so?" asked the boy.

"It's Green-wings Ц you can't see her unfortunately Ц she's posting down in such a hurry. She thinks I tease you, and she knows I'm in rather a mischievous mood to-night. But they've caught her Ц she can't get past the corner over there, where the Wildridge hills are Ц and she is in such a fuss. The hills never like her to run past without paying them a visit if they can help it, and she's too soft-hearted to go on her way will-ye, nill-ye, as I do. So you'll have to trust to me to take you home after all, my dear godchild."

"Dear Green-wings," said Gratian, "I don't like her to be anxious about me."

"Bless you, she's always in a pathetic humour about some one or something," said Gray-wings.

"I don't mind you taking me home if you won't mock at me," said Gratian. "Are you really displeased with me? Have I done anything naughty without knowing it?"

Gray-wings's tone suddenly changed. Never had her voice sounded so gentle and yet earnest.

"No, my child. I only meant to warn you. It is my part both to correct and to warn Ц of the two I would rather, by far, warn. Don't get your little head turned Ц don't think there is nothing worth, nothing beautiful, except in the new things you may see and hear and learn. And never think yourself quite anything. That is always a mistake. What will seem new to you is only another way of putting the old Ц and the path to any real good is always the same Ц never think to get on faster from leaving it. You can't understand all this yet, but you will in time. Now put your arms out, darling Ц I am here beside you. Clasp them round my neck; never mind if it feels cold Ц there. I have you safe, and here goes Ц "

A whirl, a rapid upbearing, a rush of cold, fresh air, and a pleasant, dreamy feeling, as when one is rocked in a little boat at sea. Gratian closed his eyes Ц he was tired, poor little chap, for nothing is more tiring than new sights and feelings Ц and knew no more till he found himself lying on the heather, a few yards from the Farm gates.

He looked about him Ц it was quite night by now Ц he felt drowsy still, but no longer tired, and not cold Ц just pleasantly warm and comfortable.

"Gray-wings must have wrapped me up somehow," he said to himself. "She's very kind, really. But I must run in Ц what would mother think if she saw me lying here?"

And he jumped up and ran home.

The gate was open, the door of the house was open too, and just within the porch stood his mother.

"Is that you, Gratian?" she said, as she heard his step.

"Yes, mother," he replied; and as he came into the light he looked up at her. She was much, much older-looking than Fergus's mother, for she had not married young, and Gratian was the youngest of several, the others of whom had died. But as he glanced at her sunburnt face, and saw the love shining out of her eyes, tired and rather worn by daily work as she was, she somehow reminded him of the graceful lady with the sweet blue eyes.

"I understand some of what Gray-wings said," he thought. "It's the same in mother's face and in hers when she looks at Fergus."

And he held up his mouth for a kiss.

"Have you been happy at the Big House?" Mrs. Conyfer asked. "Were they kind to you? She seems a kind lady, if one can trust to pretty looks."

"Oh! she's very kind," answered Gratian eagerly; "and so's Fergus. He's her boy, mother Ц he can't walk, nor scarcely stand. But he's getting better Ц the air here will make him better."

"It's to be hoped so, I'm sure," said the farmer's wife, with great sympathy in her tone. "It must be a terrible grief Ц the poor child Ц I couldn't find it in my heart to refuse to let you go when Mr. Cornelius told me of his affliction. But you were happy, and they were good to you?"

"Oh, mother! yes Ц happier than ever I was in my life."

Mrs. Conyfer smiled and yet sighed a little. She knew her child was not altogether like his compeers of the moor country Ц she was proud of it, and yet sometimes afraid with a vague misgiving.

"Come in and warm yourself Ц it's a cold evening. There's some hot girdle cakes and a cup of Fernflower's milk for your supper Ц though maybe you had so many fine things to eat at the Big House that you won't be hungry."

"Ah, but I am, though," he said brightly; and the big kitchen looked so cheery, and the little supper so tempting, that Gratian smiled with satisfaction.

"How good of you to make it so nice for me, mother!" he said. "I could never like anywhere better than my own home, however beautiful it was."

CHAPTER X
THE STORY OF THE SEA-GULL


"Now my brothers call from the bay,
Now the great winds shoreward blow,
Now the salt tides seaward flow,
Now the wild white horses play,
Champ and chafe and toss in the spray,
Children dear, let us away!
This way, this way!"

The Forsaken Merman

The winter Ц the real winter, such as it is known up in that country Ц came on slowly that year. There was no snow and but little frost before Christmas. Fergus gained ground steadily, and his mother, who at first had dreaded the experiment of the bleak but bracing air, was so encouraged that she stayed on from week to week. And through these weeks there was never a half-holiday which the two boys did not spend together.

Gratian was learning much Ц more than even those who knew him best had full understanding of; much, much more than he himself knew.

"He is like a different child," said the schoolmaster one day to the lady, when she had looked in as she was passing through the village; "if you had seen him a year ago; he seemed always dreaming or in the clouds. I really thought I should never succeed in teaching him anything. You have opened his mind."

"His mind had begun to open before he ever saw me, Mr. Cornelius," said Fergus's mother with a smile. "It is like a flower Ц it asks nothing but to be allowed to grow. He is a very uncommon child Ц one could imagine that some specially happy influences surrounded him. He seems to take in and to feel interest in so many different things. I wonder what he will grow up."

"Ah yes, ma'am," said the schoolmaster with a sigh. "It is a pity to think of his being no more than his father before him. But yet, what can one do?"

"One would like at least to find out what he might be," she said thoughtfully. "He will be a good man, whether he ever leaves the moors or not Ц of that I feel sure. And if it is his duty to stay in this quiet corner of the world, I suppose we must not regret it."

"I suppose not. I try to think so," said the schoolmaster. But from something in his tone the lady suspected that he was looking back rather sadly on dreams, long ago past, of his own future Ц dreams which had never come to pass, and left him but the village schoolmaster.

And her sympathy with this half-understood disappointment made her think still more of Gratian.

"Cornelius would live again in this child if he should turn out one of the great few," she thought to herself.

It was one of the afternoons Gratian now always spent with Fergus. She could leave her lame boy with perfect comfort in his friend's care, sure that he would be both safe and happy. As she made her way up the pine avenue and drew near to the house, she heard bright voices welcoming her.

"Mother dear," Fergus called out, "I have walked twelve times along the south terrace Ц six times up and six times down Ц with Gratian's arm. It is so sheltered there Ц just a nice little soft breeze. Do you know, Gratian, I so often notice that breeze when you are here? It is as if it came with you."

"But it is getting colder now, my boy," she answered. "You must come in. I have been to see Mr. Cornelius, Gratian. I am so glad to hear that he is pleased with your lessons. I would not like him to think that being with us distracted your attention."

"I'm sure it doesn't, ma'am," said Gratian simply. "So often the things you tell me about or read to us, or that I hear about somehow when I am here, seem to come in just at the right minute, and to make my lessons easier. I have never found lessons so nice as this winter."

"I don't like lessons," said Fergus. "I never shall like them."

"You will have to look upon them as necessary evils then," said his mother.

"I usedn't to like them," said Gratian. "Now I often think I'd like to go on till I'm quite big."

"Well, so you can, can't you?" said Fergus.

"No," Gratian replied; "boys like me have to stop when they're big enough to help their fathers at home, and I've no big brother like Tony. I'll have to stop going to school before very long. I used to think I'd be very glad. Now I'd be sorry even if I was to be a shepherd."

"How do you mean?" asked the lady.

Gratian looked up at her with his soft brown eyes.

"I used to think being a shepherd and lying out on the heather all day Ц alone with the sheep and Watch, like old Jonas Ц would be the best life of any. But now I want to know things. I think one can fancy better when one knows more. And I'd like to do more than fancy."

"What would you like to do?" asked Fergus's mother. "Would you like to learn to make music as well as to play it? That is what Fergus wants to do."

Gratian shook his head.

"I don't know," he replied. "I don't know yet. And isn't it best not to plan about it, because I know father will need me on the farm?"

"Perhaps it is best," she said. But she answered as if thinking of something else at the same time.

And then Andrew came out to help Fergus up the steps into the house, where tea was waiting for them in the library.

Fergus's mother was rather tired. She had walked some distance to see a poor woman who was ill that afternoon.



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