Four Winds Farm
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"Oh yes; her children were all good to her, so far as they could be. But they were all married and about in the world, and busy with their own families. She was a good deal alone, poor old grandmother."
"Mother," said Gratian quickly. "If you ever got to be like that, I would never marry or go about in the world. I'd stay at home to be a comfort to you. I'd run all your messages and do everything I could for you. Mother, I wish you'd let me be more use to you now already, even though you're not so ill."
Mrs. Conyfer smiled, but there was more pleasure than amusement in her smile.
"I do think being at the Big House has done you good, Gratian. You never used to notice or think of things so much before you went there," she said. "And you're getting very handy, there's no doubt. I hope I shall never be so laid aside, but I'm sure you'd do your best, my dear. Now I think I shall go to bed, and you must be off too. Father's out still – he and Jonas have so much to see to these cold nights, seeing that all the creatures are warm and sheltered. There's snow not far off, they were saying. The wind's in the north."
Gratian's dreams were very grotesque that night. He dreamt that his mother was turned into a sea-gull, all except her face, which remained the same. And she could neither walk nor fly, she was so lame and stiff, or else it was that her wings were cut – he was not sure which. Then he heard Green-wings's voice saying, "She only wants a sight of the sea to make her well. Gratian, you should take her to the sea; call the cocks and hens to help you;" and with that he thought he opened his eyes and found himself on the terrace where he had been walking with Fergus, and there was a beautiful little carriage drawn by about a dozen cocks and hens; but when he would have got in, Fergus seemed to push him back, saying, "Not yet, not yet, your mother first," and Fergus kept looking for Mrs. Conyfer as if he did not know that she was the poor sea-gull, standing there looking very funny with the little red knitted shawl on that Gratian's mother wore when it was a chilly morning. And just then there came flying down from above, Gratian's four friends. Nobody seemed to see them but himself, and the cocks and hens began making such a noise that he felt quite confused.
"Oh, do take poor mother," he called out – for there was no use trying to make any one else understand – "Green-wings and all of you, do take poor mother."
"Not without you, Gratian," replied Gray-wings's sharp voice. "It's your place to look after your mother," and as she spoke she stooped towards him and he felt her cold breath, and with the start it gave him he awoke.
The door of his room had blown open, and the window was rattling, and the clothes had slipped off on one side. No wonder he had dreamt he was cold. He covered himself up again and went to sleep.
Mrs. Conyfer was up as usual the next morning. She said she was better, but she limped a little as she walked, and Gratian did not like to see it, though she assured him it did not hurt her.
"I shall take a rest on Sunday," she said, "and then you may tend me a bit, Gratian.He's as handy as a girl," she added, turning to the farmer with a smile. And Mr. Conyfer patted his son's head.
"That's right," he said; "always be good to your mother."
"Winter is really coming," thought Gratian, as he ran to school, and he glanced up at the sky wondering if snow were at last on the way.
It held off however for some little time yet.
It was on the third day after this that Gratian on his way home was rather surprised to meet Mr. Cornelius returning as if from the Farm. The school-children knew that the master had been somewhere, for he had left the school in charge of one or two of the head boys and his sister, who lived with him and taught the girls sewing.
He smiled and nodded at Gratian, but did not speak, and the boy could not help wondering if he had been at Four Winds, and why. And as soon as he got home he ran eagerly in to ask.
"Has the master been here, mother? What did he come for?" he called out.
His father and mother were both together in the kitchen, talking rather earnestly.
His father looked at him as he answered —
"Yes, Gratian," he said, "Mr. Cornelius has been here. He had something important to talk to us about. After you have had your tea and done your lessons we will tell you."
"I haven't any lessons, father," he replied. "We had time to do them this afternoon when the master was out."
So as soon as tea was over he was told what it was.
"Your friends at the Big House," began the farmer, "are leaving soon. They daren't stay once it gets really cold. You'll be sorry to lose them, my boy?"
Gratian felt a lump rise in his throat, but he tried to answer cheerfully.
"Yes, father. They've been so good to me. I knew they'd have to go some time, but I tried not to think of it. The lady has taught me so many things I never knew before. I'll try not to forget them."
"She has been very good to you, and she wants to be still more. That's what Cornelius came about. I don't want to make you vain, Gratian, but she thinks, and Cornelius thinks – and they should know – that there's the making of something out of the common in you – that, if you are taught and trained the right way, you may come to be something a good bit higher than a plain moorland farmer."
Gratian listened with wide-opened eyes.
"I know," he said breathlessly, "I've felt it sometimes. I don't rightly know what. I'd like to learn – I'd like to – oh, father, I can't say what I mean. It's as if there were so many thoughts in me that I can't say," and the child leaned his head on his mother's shoulder and burst into tears.
The farmer and his wife looked at each other. They were simple unlettered folk, but for all that there was something in them that "understood."
"My boy, my little Gratian," said the mother, in tones that she but seldom used; "don't cry, my dear. Listen to father."
And in a moment or two the child raised his still tearful eyes, and the farmer went on.
"It's just that," he said. "It's just because you can't rightly say, that we want you to learn. No one can tell as yet what your talent may be, or if perhaps it is not, so to speak, but an everyday one after all. If so, no harm will be done; for you will be in wise hands, and you will come home again to Four Winds and follow in your father's and grandfather's steps. But your friends think you should have a better chance of learning and seeing for yourself than I can give you here. And the lady has written to her husband, and he's quite willing, and so it's, so to speak, all settled. You are to go with them when they leave here, Gratian, and for a year or so you are to have lessons at home with the little boy, who isn't yet strong enough to go to school. And by the end of that time it'll be easier to see what you are best fitted for. You'll have teaching of all kinds – music and drawing, and all sorts of book-learning. It's a handsome offer, there's no denying."
And the tears quite disappeared from Gratian's bright eyes, and his whole face glowed with hope and satisfaction.
"I'll do my best, father. I can promise you that. You shall have no call to be ashamed of me. It's very good of you and mother to let me go. But I shall come home again before very long – I shan't be long without seeing you?"
"Oh yes – you shall come home after a while of course. Anyway for a visit, and to see how it will be best to do. We're not going to give you away altogether, you may be sure," said the farmer with a little attempt at a joke.
But the mother did not speak. She kissed the boy as she rarely kissed him, and whispered "God bless you, my dear," when she bade him good-night.
"I wonder if it's all come of our giving him such an outlandish name!" said Mrs. Conyfer with a rather melancholy smile.
And Gratian fell asleep with his mind in a whirl.
"I should like to talk about it to my godmothers," was almost his last thought. "I wonder if I shall still see them sometimes when I am far from Four Winds."
And the next morning when he woke, he lay looking round his little room and thinking how much he liked it, and how happy he had been in it. He was beginning to realise that no good is all good, no light without shadow.
But there seemed no shadow or drawback of any kind the next day when he went to the Big House to talk it all over with the lady and Fergus. Fergus was too delighted for words.
"It is like a story in a book, isn't it, Gratian?" he said. "And if you turn out a great man, then the world will thank mother and me for having found you."
Gratian blushed a little.
"I don't know about being a great man," he said, "but I want to find out really what it is I can do best, and then it will be my own fault if I don't do something good."
"Yes, my boy – that is exactly what I want you to feel," said Fergus's mother.
But Gratian was anxious to know what his four friends had to say about it.
"I don't think it's very kind of none of you to come to speak to me," he said aloud on his way home. "I know you're not far off – all of you. I'm sure I heard Gray-wings scolding outside last night."
A sound of faint laughter up above him seemed to answer.
"Oh there you are, Gray-wings, I thought as much," he said, buttoning up his jacket, for it was very cold. But he had hardly spoken before he heard, nearer than the laughter had been, a soft sigh.
"I never forget you – remember, Gratian, whenever you want me – whenever in sor – row."
"That's Green-wings," he said to himself. "But why should she talk of sorrow when I'm so happy – happier than ever in my life, I think. She is of rather too melancholy a nature."
He ran on – the door was latched – he hurried into the kitchen. There was no one there.
"Where can mother be?" he thought. He heard steps moving upstairs and turned to go there. Halfway up he met Madge, the servant, coming down. Her face looked anxious and distressed through all its rosiness.
"Oh the poor missis," she said. "She's had to go to bed. The pains in her ankles and knees got so bad – I'm afeared she's going to be really very ill."
Gratian ran past her into his mother's room.
"Don't be frightened," Mrs. Conyfer said at once. "It's only that my rheumatism is very bad to-day. I'll be better in the morning, dear. I must be well with you going away so soon."
And when the farmer came in she met him with the same cheerful tone, though it was evident she was suffering severely.
But Gratian sat by her bedside all the evening, doing all he could. He was grave and silent, for the thought was deep in his heart —
"I can't go away – I can't and I mustn't if mother is going to be really ill. Poor mother! I'm sure my godmothers wouldn't think I should."