Read CHAPTER III. of The Cuckoo Clock, free online book, by Mrs. Molesworth, on


“Little girl, thou must thy part fulfil,
If we’re to take kindly to ours:
Then pull up the weeds with a will,
And fairies will cherish the flowers.”

There was moonlight, though not so much, in the saloon and the ante-room, too; for though the windows, like those in Griselda’s bed-room, had the shutters closed, there was a round part at the top, high up, which the shutters did not reach to, and in crept, through these clear uncovered panes, quite as many moonbeams, you may be sure, as could find their way.

Griselda, eager though she was, could not help standing still a moment to admire the effect.

“It looks prettier with the light coming in at those holes at the top than even if the shutters were open,” she said to herself. “How goldy-silvery the cabinet looks; and, yes, I do declare, the mandarins are nodding! I wonder if it is out of politeness to me, or does Aunt Grizzel come in last thing at night and touch them to make them keep nodding till morning? I suppose they’re a sort of policemen to the palace; and I dare say there are all sorts of beautiful things inside. How I should like to see all through it!”

But at this moment the faint tick-tick of the cuckoo clock in the next room, reaching her ear, reminded her of the object of this midnight expedition of hers. She hurried into the ante-room.

It looked darker than the great saloon, for it had but one window. But through the uncovered space at the top of this window there penetrated some brilliant moonbeams, one of which lighted up brightly the face of the clock with its queer over-hanging eaves.

Griselda approached it and stood below, looking up.

“Cuckoo,” she said softly-very softly.

But there was no reply.

“Cuckoo,” she repeated rather more loudly. “Why won’t you speak to me? I know you are there, and you’re not asleep, for I heard your voice in my own room. Why won’t you come out, cuckoo?”

“Tick-tick” said the clock, but there was no other reply.

Griselda felt ready to cry.

“Cuckoo,” she said reproachfully, “I didn’t think you were so hard-hearted. I have been so unhappy about you, and I was so pleased to hear your voice again, for I thought I had killed you, or hurt you very badly; and I didn’t mean to hurt you, cuckoo. I was sorry the moment I had done it, dreadfully sorry. Dear cuckoo, won’t you forgive me?”

There was a little sound at last-a faint coming sound, and by the moonlight Griselda saw the doors open, and out flew the cuckoo. He stood still for a moment, looked round him as it were, then gently flapped his wings, and uttered his usual note-“Cuckoo.”

Griselda stood in breathless expectation, but in her delight she could not help very softly clapping her hands.

The cuckoo cleared his throat. You never heard such a funny little noise as he made; and then, in a very clear, distinct, but yet “cuckoo-y” voice, he spoke.

“Griselda,” he said, “are you truly sorry?”

“I told you I was,” she replied. “But I didn’t feel so very naughty, cuckoo. I didn’t, really. I was only vexed for one minute, and when I threw the book I seemed to be a very little in fun, too. And it made me so unhappy when you went away, and my poor aunts have been dreadfully unhappy too. If you hadn’t come back I should have told them to-morrow what I had done. I would have told them before, but I was afraid it would have made them more unhappy. I thought I had hurt you dreadfully.”

“So you did,” said the cuckoo.

“But you look quite well,” said Griselda.

“It was my feelings,” replied the cuckoo; “and I couldn’t help going away. I have to obey orders like other people.”

Griselda stared. “How do you mean?” she asked.

“Never mind. You can’t understand at present,” said the cuckoo. “You can understand about obeying your orders, and you see, when you don’t, things go wrong.”

Yes, said Griselda humbly, they certainly do. But, cuckoo, she continued, I never used to get into tempers at home-hardly never, at least; and I liked my lessons then, and I never was scolded about them.”

“What’s wrong here, then?” said the cuckoo. “It isn’t often that things go wrong in this house.”

“That’s what Dorcas says,” said Griselda. “It must be with my being a child-my aunts and the house and everything have got out of children’s ways.”

“About time they did,” remarked the cuckoo drily.

“And so,” continued Griselda, “it is really very dull. I have lots of lessons, but it isn’t so much that I mind. It is that I’ve no one to play with.”

“There’s something in that,” said the cuckoo. He flapped his wings and was silent for a minute or two. “I’ll consider about it,” he observed at last.

“Thank you,” said Griselda, not exactly knowing what else to say.

“And in the meantime,” continued the cuckoo, “you’d better obey present orders and go back to bed.”

“Shall I say good-night to you, then?” asked Griselda somewhat timidly.

“You’re quite welcome to do so,” replied the cuckoo. “Why shouldn’t you?”

“You see I wasn’t sure if you would like it,” returned Griselda, “for of course you’re not like a person, and-and-I’ve been told all sorts of queer things about what fairies like and don’t like.”

“Who said I was a fairy?” inquired the cuckoo.

“Dorcas did, and, of course, my own common sense did too,” replied Griselda. “You must be a fairy-you couldn’t be anything else.”

“I might be a fairyfied cuckoo,” suggested the bird.

Griselda looked puzzled.

“I don’t understand,” she said, “and I don’t think it could make much difference. But whatever you are, I wish you would tell me one thing.”

“What?” said the cuckoo.

“I want to know, now that you’ve forgiven me for throwing the book at you, have you come back for good?”

“Certainly not for evil,” replied the cuckoo.

Griselda gave a little wriggle. “Cuckoo, you’re laughing at me,” she said. “I mean, have you come back to stay and cuckoo as usual and make my aunts happy again?”

“You’ll see in the morning,” said the cuckoo. “Now go off to bed.”

“Good night,” said Griselda, “and thank you, and please don’t forget to let me know when you’ve considered.”

“Cuckoo, cuckoo,” was her little friend’s reply. Griselda thought it was meant for good night, but the fact of the matter was that at that exact second of time it was two o’clock in the morning.

She made her way back to bed. She had been standing some time talking to the cuckoo, but, though it was now well on in November, she did not feel the least cold, nor sleepy! She felt as happy and light-hearted as possible, and she wished it was morning, that she might get up. Yet the moment she laid her little brown curly head on the pillow, she fell asleep; and it seemed to her that just as she dropped off a soft feathery wing brushed her cheek gently and a tiny “Cuckoo” sounded in her ear.

When she woke it was bright morning, really bright morning, for the wintry sun was already sending some clear yellow rays out into the pale grey-blue sky.

“It must be late,” thought Griselda, when she had opened the shutters and seen how light it was. “I must have slept a long time. I feel so beautifully unsleepy now. I must dress quickly-how nice it will be to see my aunts look happy again! I don’t even care if they scold me for being late.”

But, after all, it was not so much later than usual; it was only a much brighter morning than they had had for some time. Griselda did dress herself very quickly, however. As she went downstairs two or three of the clocks in the house, for there were several, were striking eight. These clocks must have been a little before the right time, for it was not till they had again relapsed into silence that there rang out from the ante-room the clear sweet tones, eight times repeated, of “Cuckoo.”

Miss Grizzel and Miss Tabitha were already at the breakfast-table, but they received their little niece most graciously. Nothing was said about the clock, however, till about half-way through the meal, when Griselda, full of eagerness to know if her aunts were aware of the cuckoo’s return, could restrain herself no longer.

“Aunt Grizzel,” she said, “isn’t the cuckoo all right again?”

“Yes, my dear. I am delighted to say it is,” replied Miss Grizzel.

“Did you get it put right, Aunt Grizzel?” inquired Griselda, slyly.

“Little girls should not ask so many questions,” replied Miss Grizzel, mysteriously. “It is all right again, and that is enough. During fifty years that cuckoo has never, till yesterday, missed an hour. If you, in your sphere, my dear, do as well during fifty years, you won’t have done badly.”

“No, indeed, you won’t have done badly,” repeated Miss Tabitha.

But though the two old ladies thus tried to improve the occasion by a little lecturing, Griselda could see that at the bottom of their hearts they were both so happy that, even if she had been very naughty indeed, they could hardly have made up their minds to scold her.

She was not at all inclined to be naughty this day. She had something to think about and look forward to, which made her quite a different little girl, and made her take heart in doing her lessons as well as she possibly could.

“I wonder when the cuckoo will have considered enough about my having no one to play with?” she said to herself, as she was walking up and down the terrace at the back of the house.

“Caw, caw!” screamed a rook just over her head, as if in answer to her thought.

Griselda looked up at him.

“Your voice isn’t half so pretty as the cuckoo’s, Mr. Rook,” she said. “All the same, I dare say I should make friends with you, if I understood what you meant. How funny it would be to know all the languages of the birds and the beasts, like the prince in the fairy tale! I wonder if I should wish for that, if a fairy gave me a wish? No, I don’t think I would. I’d far rather have the fairy carpet that would take you anywhere you liked in a minute. I’d go to China to see if all the people there look like Aunt Grizzel’s mandarins; and I’d first of all, of course, go to fairyland.”

“You must come in now, little missie,” said Dorcas’s voice. “Miss Grizzel says you have had play enough, and there’s a nice fire in the ante-room for you to do your lessons by.”

“Play!” repeated Griselda indignantly, as she turned to follow the old servant. “Do you call walking up and down the terrace ‘play,’ Dorcas? I mustn’t loiter even to pick a flower, if there were any, for fear of catching cold, and I mustn’t run for fear of overheating myself. I declare, Dorcas, if I don’t have some play soon, or something to amuse me, I think I’ll run away.”

“Nay, nay, missie, don’t talk like that. You’d never do anything so naughty, and you so like Miss Sybilla, who was so good.”

“Dorcas, I’m tired of being told I’m like Miss Sybilla,” said Griselda, impatiently. “She was my grandmother; no one would like to be told they were like their grandmother. It makes me feel as if my face must be all screwy up and wrinkly, and as if I should have spectacles on and a wig.”

That is not like what Miss Sybilla was when I first saw her,” said Dorcas. “She was younger than you, missie, and as pretty as a fairy.”

Was she?” exclaimed Griselda, stopping short.

“Yes, indeed she was. She might have been a fairy, so sweet she was and gentle-and yet so merry. Every creature loved her; even the animals about seemed to know her, as if she was one of themselves. She brought good luck to the house, and it was a sad day when she left it.”

“I thought you said it was the cuckoo that brought good luck?” said Griselda.

“Well, so it was. The cuckoo and Miss Sybilla came here the same day. It was left to her by her mother’s father, with whom she had lived since she was a baby, and when he died she came here to her sisters. She wasn’t own sister to my ladies, you see, missie. Her mother had come from Germany, and it was in some strange place there, where her grandfather lived, that the cuckoo clock was made. They make wonderful clocks there, I’ve been told, but none more wonderful than our cuckoo, I’m sure.”

“No, I’m sure not,” said Griselda, softly. “Why didn’t Miss Sybilla take it with her when she was married and went away?”

“She knew her sisters were so fond of it. It was like a memory of her left behind for them. It was like a part of her. And do you know, missie, the night she died-she died soon after your father was born, a year after she was married-for a whole hour, from twelve to one, that cuckoo went on cuckooing in a soft, sad way, like some living creature in trouble. Of course, we did not know anything was wrong with her, and folks said something had caught some of the springs of the works; but I didn’t think so, and never shall. And -

But here Dorcas’s reminiscences were abruptly brought to a close by Miss Grizzel’s appearance at the other end of the terrace.

“Griselda, what are you loitering so for? Dorcas, you should have hastened, not delayed Miss Griselda.”

So Griselda was hurried off to her lessons, and Dorcas to her kitchen. But Griselda did not much mind. She had plenty to think of and wonder about, and she liked to do her lessons in the ante-room, with the tick-tick of the clock in her ears, and the feeling that perhaps the cuckoo was watching her through some invisible peep-hole in his closed doors.

“And if he sees,” thought Griselda, “if he sees how hard I am trying to do my lessons well, it will perhaps make him be quick about ‘considering.’”

So she did try very hard. And she didn’t speak to the cuckoo when he came out to say it was four o’clock. She was busy, and he was busy. She felt it was better to wait till he gave her some sign of being ready to talk to her again.

For fairies, you know, children, however charming, are sometimes rather queer to have to do with. They don’t like to be interfered with, or treated except with very great respect, and they have their own ideas about what is proper and what isn’t, I can assure you.

I suppose it was with working so hard at her lessons-most people would say it was with having been up the night before, running about the house in the moonlight; but as she had never felt so “fresh” in her life as when she got up that morning, it could hardly have been that-that Griselda felt so tired and sleepy that evening, she could hardly keep her eyes open. She begged to go to bed quite half an hour earlier than usual, which made Miss Tabitha afraid again that she was going to be ill. But as there is nothing better for children than to go to bed early, even if they are going to be ill, Miss Grizzel told her to say good-night, and to ask Dorcas to give her a wine-glassful of elderberry wine, nice and hot, after she was in bed.

Griselda had no objection to the elderberry wine, though she felt she was having it on false pretences. She certainly did not need it to send her to sleep, for almost before her head touched the pillow she was as sound as a top. She had slept a good long while, when again she wakened suddenly-just as she had done the night before, and again with the feeling that something had wakened her. And the queer thing was that the moment she was awake she felt so very awake-she had no inclination to stretch and yawn and hope it wasn’t quite time to get up, and think how nice and warm bed was, and how cold it was outside! She sat straight up, and peered out into the darkness, feeling quite ready for an adventure.

“Is it you, cuckoo?” she said softly.

There was no answer, but listening intently, the child fancied she heard a faint rustling or fluttering in the corner of the room by the door. She got up and, feeling her way, opened it, and the instant she had done so she heard, a few steps only in front of her it seemed, the familiar notes, very, very soft and whispered, “Cuckoo, cuckoo.”

It went on and on, down the passage, Griselda trotting after. There was no moon to-night, heavy clouds had quite hidden it, and outside the rain was falling heavily. Griselda could hear it on the window-panes, through the closed shutters and all. But dark as it was, she made her way along without any difficulty, down the passage, across the great saloon, in through the ante-room door, guided only by the little voice now and then to be heard in front of her. She came to a standstill right before the clock, and stood there for a minute or two patiently waiting.

She had not very long to wait. There came the usual murmuring sound, then the doors above the clock face opened-she heard them open, it was far too dark to see-and in his ordinary voice, clear and distinct (it was just two o’clock, so the cuckoo was killing two birds with one stone, telling the hour and greeting Griselda at once), the bird sang out, “Cuckoo, cuckoo.”

“Good evening, cuckoo,” said Griselda, when he had finished.

“Good morning, you mean,” said the cuckoo.

“Good morning, then, cuckoo,” said Griselda. “Have you considered about me, cuckoo?”

The cuckoo cleared his throat.

“Have you learnt to obey orders yet, Griselda?” he inquired.

“I’m trying,” replied Griselda. “But you see, cuckoo, I’ve not had very long to learn in-it was only last night you told me, you know.”

The cuckoo sighed.

“You’ve a great deal to learn, Griselda.”

“I dare say I have,” she said. “But I can tell you one thing, cuckoo-whatever lessons I have, I couldn’t ever have any worse than those addition sums of Mr. Kneebreeches’. I have made up my mind about that, for to-day, do you know, cuckoo -

“Yesterday,” corrected the cuckoo. “Always be exact in your statements, Griselda.”

“Well, yesterday, then,” said Griselda, rather tartly; “though when you know quite well what I mean, I don’t see that you need be so very particular. Well, as I was saying, I tried and tried, but still they were fearful. They were, indeed.”

“You’ve a great deal to learn, Griselda,” repeated the cuckoo.

“I wish you wouldn’t say that so often,” said Griselda. “I thought you were going to play with me.”

“There’s something in that,” said the cuckoo, “there’s something in that. I should like to talk about it. But we could talk more comfortably if you would come up here and sit beside me.”

Griselda thought her friend must be going out of his mind.

“Sit beside you up there!” she exclaimed. “Cuckoo, how could I? I’m far, far too big.”

“Big!” returned the cuckoo. “What do you mean by big? It’s all a matter of fancy. Don’t you know that if the world and everything in it, counting yourself of course, was all made little enough to go into a walnut, you’d never find out the difference.”

Wouldn’t I?” said Griselda, feeling rather muddled; “but, not counting myself, cuckoo, I would then, wouldn’t I?”

“Nonsense,” said the cuckoo hastily; “you’ve a great deal to learn, and one thing is, not to argue. Nobody should argue; it’s a shocking bad habit, and ruins the digestion. Come up here and sit beside me comfortably. Catch hold of the chain; you’ll find you can manage if you try.”

“But it’ll stop the clock,” said Griselda. “Aunt Grizzel said I was never to touch the weights or the chains.”

“Stuff,” said the cuckoo; “it won’t stop the clock. Catch hold of the chains and swing yourself up. There now-I told you you could manage it.”