Read CHAPTER VIII. of The Cuckoo Clock, free online book, by Mrs. Molesworth, on ReadCentral.com.

MASTER PHIL.

“Who comes from the world of flowers?
Daisy and crocus, and sea-blue bell,
And violet shrinking in dewy cell-
Sly cells that know the secrets of night,
When earth is bathed in fairy light-
Scarlet, and blue, and golden flowers.”

And so Mr. Kneebreeches had no reason to complain of his pupil that day.

And Miss Grizzel congratulated herself more heartily than ever on her wise management of children.

And Miss Tabitha repeated that Sister Grizzel might indeed congratulate herself.

And Griselda became gradually more and more convinced that the only way as yet discovered of getting through hard tasks is to set to work and do them; also, that grumbling, as things are at present arranged in this world, does not always, nor I may say often, do good; furthermore, that an ill-tempered child is not, on the whole, likely to be as much loved as a good-tempered one; lastly, that if you wait long enough, winter will go and spring will come.

For this was the case this year, after all! Spring had only been sleepy and lazy, and in such a case what could poor old winter do but fill the vacant post till she came? Why he should be so scolded and reviled for faithfully doing his best, as he often is, I really don’t know. Not that all the ill words he gets have much effect on him-he comes again just as usual, whatever we say of or to him. I suppose his feelings have long ago been frozen up, or surely before this he would have taken offence-well for us that he has not done so!

But when the spring did come at last this year, it would be impossible for me to tell you how Griselda enjoyed it. It was like new life to her as well as to the plants, and flowers, and birds, and insects. Hitherto, you see, she had been able to see very little of the outside of her aunt’s house; and charming as the inside was, the outside, I must say, was still “charminger.” There seemed no end to the little up-and-down paths and alleys, leading to rustic seats and quaint arbours; no limits to the little pine-wood, down into which led the dearest little zig-zaggy path you ever saw, all bordered with snow-drops and primroses and violets, and later on with periwinkles, and wood anémones, and those bright, starry, white flowers, whose name no two people agree about.

This wood-path was the place, I think, which Griselda loved the best. The bowling-green was certainly very delightful, and so was the terrace where the famous roses grew; but lovely as the roses were (I am speaking just now, of course, of later on in the summer, when they were all in bloom), Griselda could not enjoy them as much as the wild-flowers, for she was forbidden to gather or touch them, except with her funny round nose!

“You may scent them, my dear,” said Miss Grizzel, who was of opinion that smell was not a pretty word; “but I cannot allow anything more.”

And Griselda did “scent” them, I assure you. She burrowed her whole rosy face in the big ones; but gently, for she did not want to spoil them, both for her aunt’s sake, and because, too, she had a greater regard for flowers now that she knew the secret of how they were painted, and what a great deal of trouble the butterflies take about them.

But after a while one grows tired of “scenting” roses; and even the trying to walk straight across the bowling-green with her eyes shut, from the arbour at one side to the arbour exactly like it at the other, grew stupid, though no doubt it would have been capital fun with a companion to applaud or criticize.

So the wood-path became Griselda’s favourite haunt. As the summer grew on, she began to long more than ever for a companion-not so much for play, as for some one to play with. She had lessons, of course, just as many as in the winter; but with the long days, there seemed to come a quite unaccountable increase of play-time, and Griselda sometimes found it hang heavy on her hands. She had not seen or heard anything of the cuckoo either, save, of course, in his “official capacity” of time-teller, for a very long time.

“I suppose,” she thought, “he thinks I don’t need amusing, now that the fine days are come and I can play in the garden; and certainly, if I had any one to play with, the garden would be perfectly lovely.”

But, failing companions, she did the best she could for herself, and this was why she loved the path down into the wood so much. There was a sort of mystery about it; it might have been the path leading to the cottage of Red-Ridinghood’s grandmother, or a path leading to fairyland itself. There were all kinds of queer, nice, funny noises to be heard there-in one part of it especially, where Griselda made herself a seat of some moss-grown stones, and where she came so often that she got to know all the little flowers growing close round about, and even the particular birds whose nests were hard by.

She used to sit there and fancy-fancy that she heard the wood-elves chattering under their breath, or the little underground gnomes and kobolds hammering at their fairy forges. And the tinkling of the brook in the distance sounded like the enchanted bells round the necks of the fairy kine, who are sent out to pasture sometimes on the upper world hill-sides. For Griselda’s head was crammed full, perfectly full, of fairy lore; and the mandarins’ country, and butterfly-land, were quite as real to her as the every-day world about her.

But all this time she was not forgotten by the cuckoo, as you will see.

One day she was sitting in her favourite nest, feeling, notwithstanding the sunshine, and the flowers, and the soft sweet air, and the pleasant sounds all about, rather dull and lonely. For though it was only May, it was really quite a hot day, and Griselda had been all the morning at her lessons, and had tried very hard, and done them very well, and now she felt as if she deserved some reward. Suddenly in the distance, she heard a well-known sound, “Cuckoo, cuckoo.”

“Can that be the cuckoo?” she said to herself; and in a moment she felt sure that it must be. For, for some reason that I do not know enough about the habits of real “flesh and blood” cuckoos to explain, that bird was not known in the neighbourhood where Griselda’s aunts lived. Some twenty miles or so further south it was heard regularly, but all this spring Griselda had never caught the sound of its familiar note, and she now remembered hearing it never came to these parts.

So, “it must be my cuckoo,” she said to herself. “He must be coming out to speak to me. How funny! I have never seen him by daylight.”

She listened. Yes, again there it was, “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” as plain as possible, and nearer than before.

“Cuckoo,” cried Griselda, “do come and talk to me. It’s such a long time since I have seen you, and I have nobody to play with.”

But there was no answer. Griselda held her breath to listen, but there was nothing to be heard.

“Unkind cuckoo!” she exclaimed. “He is tricking me, I do believe; and to-day too, just when I was so dull and lonely.”

The tears came into her eyes, and she was beginning to think herself very badly used, when suddenly a rustling in the bushes beside her made her turn round, more than half expecting to see the cuckoo himself. But it was not he. The rustling went on for a minute or two without anything making its appearance, for the bushes were pretty thick just there, and any one scrambling up from the pinewood below would have had rather hard work to get through, and indeed for a very big person such a feat would have been altogether impossible.

It was not a very big person, however, who was causing all the rustling, and crunching of branches, and general commotion, which now absorbed Griselda’s attention. She sat watching for another minute in perfect stillness, afraid of startling by the slightest movement the squirrel or rabbit or creature of some kind which she expected to see. At last-was that a squirrel or rabbit-that rosy, round face, with shaggy, fair hair falling over the eager blue eyes, and a general look of breathlessness and over-heatedness and determination?

A squirrel or a rabbit! No, indeed, but a very sturdy, very merry, very ragged little boy.

“Where are that cuckoo? Does you know?” were the first words he uttered, as soon as he had fairly shaken himself, though not by any means all his clothes, free of the bushes (for ever so many pieces of jacket and knickerbockers, not to speak of one boot and half his hat, had been left behind on the way), and found breath to say something.

Griselda stared at him for a moment without speaking. She was so astonished. It was months since she had spoken to a child, almost since she had seen one, and about children younger than herself she knew very little at any time, being the baby of the family at home, you see, and having only big brothers older than herself for play-fellows.

“Who are you?” she said at last. “What’s your name, and what do you want?”

“My name’s Master Phil, and I want that cuckoo,” answered the little boy. “He camed up this way. I’m sure he did, for he called me all the way.”

“He’s not here,” said Griselda, shaking her head; “and this is my aunts’ garden. No one is allowed to come here but friends of theirs. You had better go home; and you have torn your clothes so.”

“This aren’t a garden,” replied the little fellow undauntedly, looking round him; “this are a wood. There are blue-bells and primroses here, and that shows it aren’t a garden-not anybody’s garden, I mean, with walls round, for nobody to come in.”

“But it is,” said Griselda, getting rather vexed.

“If it isn’t a garden it’s grounds, private grounds, and nobody should come without leave. This path leads down to the wood, and there’s a door in the wall at the bottom to get into the lane. You may go down that way, little boy. No one comes scrambling up the way you did.”

“But I want to find the cuckoo,” said the little boy. “I do so want to find the cuckoo.”

His voice sounded almost as if he were going to cry, and his pretty, hot, flushed face puckered up. Griselda’s heart smote her; she looked at him more carefully. He was such a very little boy, after all; she did not like to be cross to him.

“How old are you?” she asked.

“Five and a bit. I had a birthday after the summer, and if I’m good, nurse says perhaps I’ll have one after next summer too. Do you ever have birthdays?” he went on, peering up at Griselda. “Nurse says she used to when she was young, but she never has any now.”

Have you a nurse?” asked Griselda, rather surprised; for, to tell the truth, from “Master Phil’s” appearance, she had not felt at all sure what sort of little boy he was, or rather what sort of people he belonged to.

“Of course I have a nurse, and a mother too,” said the little boy, opening wide his eyes in surprise at the question. “Haven’t you? Perhaps you’re too big, though. People leave off having nurses and mothers when they’re big, don’t they? Just like birthdays. But I won’t. I won’t never leave off having a mother, any way. I don’t care so much about nurse and birthdays, not kite so much. Did you care when you had to leave off, when you got too big?”

“I hadn’t to leave off because I got big,” said Griselda sadly. “I left off when I was much littler than you,” she went on, unconsciously speaking as Phil would best understand her. “My mother died.”

“I’m werry sorry,” said Phil; and the way in which he said it quite overcame Griselda’s unfriendliness. “But perhaps you’ve a nice nurse. My nurse is rather nice; but she will ’cold me to-day, won’t she?” he added, laughing, pointing to the terrible rents in his garments. “These are my very oldestest things; that’s a good thing, isn’t it? Nurse says I don’t look like Master Phil in these, but when I have on my blue welpet, then I look like Master Phil. I shall have my blue welpet when mother comes.”

“Is your mother away?” said Griselda.

“Oh yes, she’s been away a long time; so nurse came here to take care of me at the farmhouse, you know. Mother was ill, but she’s better now, and some day she’ll come too.”

“Do you like being at the farmhouse? Have you anybody to play with?” said Griselda.

Phil shook his curly head. “I never have anybody to play with,” he said. “I’d like to play with you if you’re not too big. And do you think you could help me to find the cuckoo?” he added insinuatingly.

“What do you know about the cuckoo?” said Griselda.

“He called me,” said Phil, “he called me lots of times; and to-day nurse was busy, so I thought I’d come. And do you know,” he added mysteriously, “I do believe the cuckoo’s a fairy, and when I find him I’m going to ask him to show me the way to fairyland.”

“He says we must all find the way ourselves,” said Griselda, quite forgetting to whom she was speaking.

Does he?” cried Phil, in great excitement. “Do you know him, then? and have you asked him? Oh, do tell me.”

Griselda recollected herself. “You couldn’t understand,” she said. “Some day perhaps I’ll tell you-I mean if ever I see you again.”

“But I may see you again,” said Phil, settling himself down comfortably beside Griselda on her mossy stone. “You’ll let me come, won’t you? I like to talk about fairies, and nurse doesn’t understand. And if the cuckoo knows you, perhaps that’s why he called me to come to play with you.”

“How did he call you?” asked Griselda.

“First,” said Phil gravely, “it was in the night. I was asleep, and I had been wishing I had somebody to play with, and then I d’eamed of the cuckoo-such a nice d’eam. And when I woke up I heard him calling me, and I wasn’t d’eaming then. And then when I was in the field he called me, but I couldn’t find him, and nurse said ‘Nonsense.’ And to-day he called me again, so I camed up through the bushes. And mayn’t I come again? Perhaps if we both tried together we could find the way to fairyland. Do you think we could?”

“I don’t know,” said Griselda, dreamily.

“There’s a great deal to learn first, the cuckoo says.”

“Have you learnt a great deal?” (he called it “a gate deal”) asked Phil, looking up at Griselda with increased respect. “I don’t know scarcely nothing. Mother was ill such a long time before she went away, but I know she wanted me to learn to read books. But nurse is too old to teach me.”

“Shall I teach you?” said Griselda. “I can bring some of my old books and teach you here after I have done my own lessons.”

“And then mother would be surprised when she comes back,” said Master Phil, clapping his hands. “Oh, do. And when I’ve learnt to read a great deal, do you think the cuckoo would show us the way to fairyland?”

“I don’t think it was that sort of learning he meant,” said Griselda. “But I dare say that would help. I think,” she went on, lowering her voice a little, and looking down gravely into Phil’s earnest eyes, “I think he means mostly learning to be very good-very, very good, you know.”

“Gooder than you?” said Phil.

“Oh dear, yes; lots and lots gooder than me,” replied Griselda.

I think you’re very good,” observed Phil, in a parenthesis. Then he went on with his cross-questioning.

“Gooder than mother?”

“I don’t know your mother, so how can I tell how good she is?” said Griselda.

I can tell you,” said Phil, importantly. “She is just as good as-as good as-as good as good. That’s what she is.”

“You mean she couldn’t be better,” said Griselda, smiling.

“Yes, that’ll do, if you like. Would that be good enough for us to be, do you think?”

“We must ask the cuckoo,” said Griselda. “But I’m sure it would be a good thing for you to learn to read. You must ask your nurse to let you come here every afternoon that it’s fine, and I’ll ask my aunt.”

“I needn’t ask nurse,” said Phil composedly; “she’ll never know where I am, and I needn’t tell her. She doesn’t care what I do, except tearing my clothes; and when she scolds me, I don’t care.”

That isn’t good, Phil,” said Griselda gravely. “You’ll never be as good as good if you speak like that.”

“What should I say, then? Tell me,” said the little boy submissively.

“You should ask nurse to let you come to play with me, and tell her I’m much bigger than you, and I won’t let you tear your clothes. And you should tell her you’re very sorry you’ve torn them to-day.”

“Very well,” said Phil, “I’ll say that. But, oh see!” he exclaimed, darting off, “there’s a field mouse! If only I could catch him!”

Of course he couldn’t catch him, nor could Griselda either; very ready, though, she was to do her best. But it was great fun all the same, and the children laughed heartily and enjoyed themselves tremendously. And when they were tired they sat down again and gathered flowers for nosegays, and Griselda was surprised to find how clever Phil was about it. He was much quicker than she at spying out the prettiest blossoms, however hidden behind tree, or stone, or shrub. And he told her of all the best places for flowers near by, and where grew the largest primroses and the sweetest violets, in a way that astonished her.

“You’re such a little boy,” she said; “how do you know so much about flowers?”

“I’ve had no one else to play with,” he said innocently. “And then, you know, the fairies are so fond of them.”

When Griselda thought it was time to go home, she led little Phil down the wood-path, and through the door in the wall opening on to the lane.

“Now you can find your way home without scrambling through any more bushes, can’t you, Master Phil?” she said.

“Yes, thank you, and I’ll come again to that place to-morrow afternoon, shall I?” asked Phil. “I’ll know when-after I’ve had my dinner and raced three times round the big field, then it’ll be time. That’s how it was to-day.”

“I should think it would do if you walked three times-or twice if you like-round the field. It isn’t a good thing to race just when you’ve had your dinner,” observed Griselda sagely. “And you mustn’t try to come if it isn’t fine, for my aunts won’t let me go out if it rains even the tiniest bit And of course you must ask your nurse’s leave.”

“Very well,” said little Phil as he trotted off. “I’ll try to remember all those things. I’m so glad you’ll play with me again; and if you see the cuckoo, please thank him.”