A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


What a Day may bring forth.

  “How few, who from their youthful day
    Look on to what their life may be,
Painting the vision of the way
    In colours soft, and bright, and free;—
How few, who to such paths have brought
    The hopes and dreams of early thought!
For God, through ways they have not known,
    Will lead His own!”

    THE half-golden, half-rosy glow of the early winter morning was just beginning to brighten up the village of Lynford, and show against the clear frosty sky the wreathing plumes of smoke that ascended from the heterogeneous cluster of houses which lay straggled along the river-bank, and back to the quiet country fields. In one of the houses, of rather superior pretensions, standing a little way back from one of the quieter streets, with a garden space in front of it, the morning brightness was lighting up a plain, unluxurious sleeping apartment, in which a little girl of some thirteen or fourteen years was performing her toilet as fast [Page 1] as frost-nipped fingers would do it. That completed, and a hurried—alas! too hurried—prayer said, she ran quickly down to the only warm place to be found at that early hour in the house, the hall-stove, and, taking up a satchel of books, was soon deep in the study of “Magnall’s Questions” and “Pinnock’s Catechism.” Before the earnest revisal was completed—it was a monthly examination-day—the one domestic of the household, a hard-featured, but kindly-looking woman, appeared with turned-up sleeves, bringing a little tray, on which were coffee and bread and butter for the young student.
    “You’d better have your breakfast here, Miss Katie; for it’s dreadful cold yet in the sitting-room, and no one stirrin’ yet but yourself.”
    It was nearly the same speech which almost always accompanied Katie’s breakfast, for there was not much family life in her home; and the little girl, having to start early for school, was accustomed to have no company but her books at the morning meal. She could remember when it had been otherwise; but her mother was often ailing now, ever since Hughie had been laid in his little grave under the pine-trees; and “papa—well, papa was often very strange now;” and her dear brother Ned, Katie’s especial hero and idol, was far away at college, and would not be back till the grass was growing green again. So Katie hastily swallowed her solitary breakfast, and rushed up-stairs to put on her wraps for school. Some one was stirring then, however, and as she passed a half-closed door on her way down again, a sweet, though careworn, face looked out, and a gentle voice said, “Katie, darling, [Page 2] it’s a cold morning—are you sure you are well wrapped up?”
    The little girl warmly returned her mother’s kiss and embrace, and assured her “she had put on everything she could think of.” “And I must be quick, mamma, dear,—for it’s examination-day, and I’ve a lesson to look over yet when I get to school, and you know I want to get marks for the Easter prize!”
    “Well, don’t set your hear too much on it, Katie. Good-by, my own darling.” And the mother, with, perhaps, that strange prevision of coming ill which sometimes weighs down our hearts without apparent reason, clasped her bright, happy Katie,—her only comfort, as she unconsciously called her,—to her heart, and again kissing her, let her go. We will not linger over her morning’s work, her persevering, loving efforts to soothe the capricious fretfulness of a gloomy, dispirited man, sunk into morning misery in the reaction resulting from the excitement of evening dissipation, but who had been the loving husband of her youth, and whose sins her woman’s love still sought to cover. Such scenes are of too frequent occurrence, but they are too sad to chronicle; and it is Katie—not Katie’s mother—with whom our story has most to do.
    It was with light and bounding steps—for she was a joyous-hearted child—that Katie Johnstone hastened along the village street. Few could notice her that morning without looking again at the bright, gentle face, with much of her mother’s sweetness in it, the rosy colour heightened by the frosty air, the sparkling gray eyes, and the clustering chestnut hair that escaped from the gray [Page 3] squirrel cap, rather the worse for the wear. Not that Katie minded this much; her head was happily too full at that moment of the dates of the reigns of the English kings, which she was trying to reduce to their proper order, in a brain not so quick at figures as at most other things. Her train of thought was, however, interrupted by the scraping of little paws against her dress, which made her aware that her pet dog, Jet, had escaped from Martha’s watchful morning supervision, and was demonstrating his delight at having made good his purpose of accompanying his little mistress to school. Poor Jet was, like many human beings, not wise enough to know that the securing of the object on which they are most set is sometimes the worst thing that can befall them. However, it was too late now to take him back, so Katie was obliged, not very reluctantly it must be confessed, to let him follow her the rest of the way to school, where she coaxed him into his usual place on such occasions, the mat in the lobby, on which he lay, stretching out his paws to the grateful heat.
    Miss Fleming’s “Academy for Young Ladies” was one of the old-fashioned type, where verbal accuracy of repetition and neat sewing were the chief things insisted on, —very good things, too, so far as they go. Few girls left the school without being able to do “plain sewing” with skill; and the embroidery they wrought was celebrated for miles around, for the farmers’ daughters, who came as boarders, generally carried home with them some trophy of their achievements in this line. Miss Elizabeth Fleming taught the rudiments of music on an old-fashioned jingling piano to the girls whose parents desired for them that ladylike [Page 4] accomplishment. Of these, Katie, however, was not one, her mother being able to give her at home as much instruction in music as she was yet capable of; and the fees, small as they were, being of some importance in a family where money was not too plentiful.
    To-day was, as Katie had said, the monthly revisal and examination day; and since on the results of these examinations depended the appropriation of the prize for general proficiency to be given at Easter, there was more excitement as the girls took their places than usually attended the routine of the daily lessons. Katie took her place with a bright consciousness that she was thoroughly at home in most of the prescribed subjects, the dates being the only thing that troubled her. She was quicker and fonder of study than most of her classmates, and she would have had but little fear for the prize, which she was ambitious to carry off, had it not been for the presence of a girl about her own age, who was not one of Miss Fleming’s regular scholars. The Winstanleys, who lived in the handsomest house about Lynford, had usually a daily governess, and they were not allowed to mix much with the Lynford girls; but as the young lady who discharged the duties of governess had been for some time unavoidably absent, Miss Clara Winstanley was for the present a pupil of Miss Fleming’s. She was a lively, clever girl, with a retentive, ready memory, which seldom failed, above all in the matter of dates, especially when they had been recently learned; so that Katie had begun to consider her a dangerous rival. Katie had been stimulated to unusual exertions on this occasion, and the competition was rather in her favour, till [Page 5] Miss Fleming asked a question which she answered at once, according to its apparent meaning, but which was not the one the teacher had intended to put. The question was, to Katie’s indignant surprise, passed on to Clara, who was next, and whose quick perception enabled her to discover the meaning intended, and answer it correctly. Poor Katie felt unjustly treated, and the incident so disturbed her presence of mind that more than one mistake followed, and she found herself, at the close of the examination, several marks below Clara Winstanley. It was extremely vexatious,—the more so, as she perceived that Clara was quite aware of the unfair advantage she had had; and Katie thought that, had she been in her place, she would have been generous enough to confess it, even though it were to her own disadvantage. Perhaps in this Katie was wrong; it is not always easy to place ourselves in the position of those who we think have injured us. She could not help, therefore, confiding to one or two of the girls who gathered round her to talk after lessons, that she thought it was “a shame” (in which they willingly acquiesced; for Miss Clara Winstanley’s higher position and pretensions excited some jealousy at school), and she could not give a very cordial parting salutation to her rival, who was waiting to be called for, and meantime amusing a circle of listeners with an animated account of some gaieties she had had at home.
    But at fourteen, few vexations are long proof against the exhilarating influence of the bracing air and dazzling sunshine of a bright Canadian winter day, and in her amusement at Jet’s antics, as, in his highest spirits, he capered [Page 6] about over the pure sparkling snow, Katie soon forgot hers. It was a market-day, and the village was full of country “teams,” starting for home after the wares had been sold and the various purchases made, and here and there a more showy equipage dashed by with its merry jingle of bells. Katie long afterwards remembered the “look” of everything that day,—the gay ringing bells and the shouts of the drivers, the clear blue of the sky and the pure white of the light clouds that floated over it, the dazzling glitter of the diamond-crusted snow, and, above all, the joyous little black figure that danced along before her,—all came back vividly to her imagination on many an after day, for that was the last hour of unclouded childish glee which Katie was ever to know.
    At a sudden turning in one of the busiest streets of Lynford, Katie caught sight of an apparition which always excited her dread—at least when her little dog was with her—Jim Egan, and his grim-faced bull-terrier. It was a question whether Jim or his terrier was most disliked and dreaded in Lynford. As they were almost always together, comparison could not be very easily made, and the matter decided. Jim was the more versatile and ingenious in his ways of doing mischief; Snap the more deadly and determined than his—as cats and small dogs often found to their cost. Jim was proud of the acknowledged prowess of his dog, and of the terror he inspired; and his mischievous, perverted boy-nature found a malicious pleasure in threatening the lives of the pets of little girls especially. Several times had Jet been in deadly peril from the ferocious terrier—at least so Katie thought; though [Page 7] it is probable that even Jim’s love of mischief would not have allowed him to stand by and see Snap proceed to extremities. Jet’s dread of his enemy was naturally extreme; and now, when he came suddenly upon him, he retreated precipitately towards the middle of the street, whining and turning appealingly to his mistress for protection. Jim, enjoying the evident terror both of the dog and the little girl, encouraged Snap to give chase, when Katie, crying out, “Oh, my dog! my dog!” sprang forward to seize the frightened little animal before Snap’s onset should be made. Just as she was stooping to pick him up—wholly absorbed in her eagerness to save him—the Winstanleys’ large family-sleigh, with its gay fur trappings and spirited black horses, came dashing round the corner, close behind her. It was too late to rein them in, and before Katie could even become aware of the danger she was in, one of the shafts of the sleigh struck her with violence, and threw her aside to some distance, where she lay stunned and senseless on the snow.
    “O mamma! it’s Katie Johnstone!” exclaimed Clara Winstanley, with white, horror-stricken face and trembling voice, as she recognised the tartan frock which she had seen so recently. Mrs Winstanley, distressed and terrified, was beside the little prostrate figure almost before the sleigh could be drawn up. A little crowd had already collected around the child, who, though unconscious, moaned as they tried to lift her, and some one run off to find the nearest doctor, who was quickly on the spot. After a cursory examination, he expressed his fear that the injuries were serious, and offered to accompany the little sufferer [Page 8] home; and Mrs Winstanley, only too glad to devolve upon some one else so painful a task, gratefully accepted his offer. Under his superintendence, Katie was gently and carefully raised from the ground, and laid upon the soft pile of furs arranged for her in the bottom of the capacious sleigh, which then was slowly driven off towards the home where Katie’s mother was already watching for her return—little knowing what a home-coming it was to be.
    But poor little Jet was left lying motionless on the snow. The horse’s hoof had struck him as he fell from Katie’s grasp, and the blow had ended his joyous little life for ever. [Page 9]

[Chapter II]