Mrs. Molesworth.

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."

CHAPTER XII
LEARNING TO WAIT

 
"If all the beauty in the earth
And skies and hearts of men
Were gently gathered at its birth,
And loved and born again."
 
Matthew Browne

But the godmothers seemed to have forgotten him. He went sadly to bed – and the tears came to his eyes when he remembered how that very evening he had thought of himself as "happier than he had ever been in his life." He fell asleep however as one does at nine years old, whatever troubles one has, and slept soundly for some hours. Then he was awakened by his door opening and some one coming in. It was his father.

"Gratian, wake up. Your mother is very ill I'm afraid. Some one must go for the doctor – old Jonas is the nearest. I can't leave her – she seems nearly unconscious. Dress yourself as quick as you can, and tell Jonas to bring Dr. Spense as soon as possible."

Gratian was up and dressed almost at once. He felt giddy and miserable, and yet with a strange feeling over him that he had known it all before. He dared not try to think clearly – he dared not face the terrible fear at the bottom of his heart. It was his first experience of real trouble.

As he hurried off he met Madge at the door; she too had been wakened up. A sudden thought struck him.

"Madge," he said, "if I'm not back quickly, tell father not to be frightened. I think I'll go all the way for the doctor myself. It'll save time not to go waking old Jonas, and I know he couldn't go as fast as I can."

Madge looked admiringly and yet half-anxiously at the boy. He seemed such a little fellow to go all that way alone in the dark winter night.

"I daresay you're right," she said, "and yet I'm half-afraid. Hadn't you better ask master first?"

Gratian shook his head.

"No, no. It will be all right. Don't trouble him about me unless he asks," and off he ran.

He went as quickly as he could find his way – it was not a very dark night – till he was fairly out on the moorland path. Then he stood still.

"White-wings, Green-wings – whichever of you hears me, come and help me. Dear Green-wings, you said you always would comfort me."

"So she would, surely," said a voice, firmer and colder than hers, but kindly too, "but at this moment it's more strength than comfort that you want. Hold out your arms, my boy, there – clasp me tight, don't start at my cold breath. That's right. Why, I can fly with you as if you were a snow-flake!"

And again Gratian felt the strange, whirling, rushing sensation, again he closed his eyes as if he were falling asleep, and knew no more till he found himself standing in the village street, a few doors from the doctor's house, and felt, rather than heard, a clear cold whisper of "Farewell, Gratian, for the present."

And the next morning the neighbours spoke of the sudden northern blast that had come rushing down from the moors in the night, and wondered it had not brought the snow with it, little thinking it had brought a little boy instead!

Dr. Spense was soon awakened, and long as the time always seems to an anxious watcher by a sick-bed, Farmer Conyfer could scarcely believe his ears when he heard the rattle of the dogcart wheels up the steep road, or his eyes when the doctor, followed by Gratian, came up the staircase.

"My boy, but you have done bravely!" said the father in amazement. "Doctor, I can't understand how he can have been so quick!"

The doctor turned kindly to Gratian.

"Go down, my good child, and warm yourself. I saw the sparkle of a nice fire in the kitchen – it is a bitter night. I will keep my promise to you; as I go away I'll look in."

For Gratian, though not able to tell much of his mother's illness, had begged the doctor to promise to tell him the truth as to what he thought of her.

"I'd rather know, sir, I would indeed, even if it's very bad," he had said tremblingly.

And as he sat by the kitchen fire waiting, it seemed to him that never till now had he in the least understood how he loved his mother.

It was a queer, boisterous night surely. For down the chimney, well-built and well-seasoned as it was, there came a sudden swirl of wind. But strangely enough it did not make the fire smoke. And Gratian, anxious though he was, smiled as a pretty green light seemed suddenly to dance among the flames. And he was neither surprised nor startled when a soft voice whispered in his ear:

"I am here, my darling. I would come for one moment, though White-wings has been trying to blow me away. Keep up your heart – and don't lose hope."

And just then the doctor came in.

"My boy," he said, as he stood warming his hands at the blaze, "I will tell you the truth. I am afraid your poor mother is going to be ill for a good while. She has not taken care of herself. But I have good hopes that she will recover. And you may do a good deal. I see you are sensible, and handy, I am sure. You must be instead of a daughter to her for a while – it will be hard on your father, and you may be of great help."

Gratian thanked him, with the tears, which would not now be kept back, in his eyes. And promising to come again that same day, for it was now past midnight, the doctor went away.

Some days passed – the fever was high at first, and poor Mrs. Conyfer suffered much. But almost sooner than the doctor had ventured to hope, she began to get a little better. Within a week she was out of danger. And then came Fergus's mother again. She had already come to ask for news of her little friend's mother, and in the first great anxiety she said nothing of the plans that had been made. But now she asked to see the farmer, and talked with him some time downstairs while Gratian watched by his mother.

"I am so thankful to be better – so very thankful to be better before you go, Gratian," said the poor woman.

"Oh yes, dear mother, we cannot be thankful enough," the boy replied. "I will never forget that night – the night you were so very ill," he said with a shiver at the thought of it.

"I shall not be able to write much to you, my child," she said. "The doctor says my hands and joints will be stiff for a good while, but that I must try not to fret, and to keep an easy mind. I will try – but it won't be easy for me that's always been so stirring. And I shall miss you at first, of course. But if you're well and happy – and it would have been sad and dull for you here with me so different."

Just then the farmer's voice came sounding up the stairs.

"Gratian," it said, "come down here."

The boy obeyed. But first he stooped and kissed the pale face on the pillow.

"Dear mother," he said.

His father was standing by the kitchen fire when he went in, and the lady was seated in one of the big old arm-chairs. She looked at him with fresh love and interest in her sweet blue eyes.

"Dear Gratian," she said, "Fergus is fretting for you sadly. Your father has been telling me what a clever sick-nurse you are. And indeed I was sure of it from your way with Fergus. I am so very, very glad your dear mother is better."

"She will miss him a good deal at first, I'm afraid," said the farmer, "but I must do my best. It's about your going, my boy – the lady has already put it off some days for your sake. It's very good of you, ma'am —very good. I'll get him ready as well as I can. You'll excuse it if his things are not just in such shipshape order as his mother would have had them."

"Of course, of course," she replied. "Then the day after to-morrow. I daren't wait longer – the doctor says Fergus must not risk more cold as yet."

Gratian had listened in silence. But now he turned, first to his father and then to the lady, and spoke.

"Father, dear lady," he began, "don't be vexed with me – oh don't. But I can't go now. I've thought about it all these days – I'm – I'm dreadfully sorry," and here his voice faltered. "I wanted to learn and to understand. But it wouldn't be right. I know it wouldn't. Mother would not get well so quick without me, perhaps she'd never get well at all. And no learning or seeing things would do me really good if I knew I wasn't doing right. Father – tell me that you think I'm right."

The lady and the farmer looked at each other; there were tears in the lady's eyes.

"Is he right?" asked Gratian's father.

She bent her head.

"I'm afraid he is," she said, "but it is only fair to let him quite understand. It isn't merely putting it off for a while, Gratian," she went on; "I am afraid it may be for altogether. We are not likely to come back to this part of the country again, and my husband, though kind, is a little peculiar. He has a nephew whom he will send for as a companion to Fergus if you don't come. We should like you better, but it is our duty to do something for Jack, and Fergus needs a companion, so it seems only natural to take him instead of sending him away to school."

"Of course," said the farmer, looking at his son.

"Yes, I understand," said Gratian. "But it doesn't make any difference. If I never learnt anything more – of learning, I mean – if I never left Four Winds or saw any of the beautiful places and things in the world, it shouldn't make any difference. I couldn't ever be happy or – or – do anything really good or great," he went on, blushing a little, "if I began by doing wrong – could I?"

"He is right," said his father and Fergus's mother together.

And so it was settled.

The person the most difficult to satisfy that he was right was – no, not Fergus – sorry as he was he loved his own mother too much not to agree – poor Mrs. Conyfer herself, for whom the sacrifice was to be made. Gratian had to talk to her for ever so long, to assure her that it was for his own sake as well – that he would have been too miserable about her to have got any good from his new opportunities. And in the end she gave in, and allowed herself to enjoy the comfort of her little boy's care and companionship during her long weary time of slow recovery.

Fergus and his mother did not leave a day too soon. With early January the winter spirits, chained hitherto, broke forth in fury. Never had such falls of snow been known even in that wild region, and many a night Gratian, lying awake, unable to sleep through the rattle and racket, felt a strange excitement at the thought that all this was the work of his mysterious protectors.

"White-wings and Gray-wings seem really going mad," he thought once or twice. But the sound of laughter, mingling with the whistling and roaring and shrieking in the chimney, reassured him.



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