KATIE JOHNSTONE’S CROSS

A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


CHAPTER X.

Ned’s Friends.


  Only keep thee on the wing,
    Music dieth in the dust,
Nothing that but creeps can sing,
    All hearts that soar heavenward must.”


    KATIE’S agreeable sojourn at Pine Grove ended next day, and she went home, strengthened in body, and carrying with her many pleasant recollections, as well as a cordial invitation that her visit should be repeated. She was not a little sorry to leave a place where there had been so much to enjoy, and where she had received so much kindness; but still she felt amply compensated in experiencing the delightful sensation of coming home after the first absence, and that, after all, there was at Pine Grove no equivalent for her mother’s loving greeting. It did not occur to her either, to contrast the luxuriously-furnished rooms of the Winstanleys with the homely furniture of her own dwelling, which had seen so much service, and had so little chance of renewal:—it was all entwined with [Page 107] the endearing associations of home, which made it look, in her eyes, different from any other furniture in the whole world. Ned was very glad to have her back again, and her papa was at home, and very kind and sociable, on the evening of her return; so that there was no alloy in her pleasure.
    Jim’s lessons went on again as usual, after the slight interruption. The poor fellow was really trying hard to overcome the difficulties in his way, and was getting on surprisingly well, considering the drudgery it was to a boy of his age and restlessness. As Katie was now able to walk so much better, she ventured to put in execution an idea which had been often in her mind,—to get Jim to show her the spot where he had buried poor Jet. He looked ashamed and awkward when she spoke to him about it, but, encouraged by her kind tone and manner, he at length willingly agreed to conduct her to the place. It was a pretty, shady retreat, now that the elm-trees which overhung it were richly clothed with abundant foliage, through which the flickering sunbeams played on the grass; and Katie sat down on the spot which the boy had pointed out to her, and wondered if there would never again be anything more of her merry, playful little favourite. Jim stood at a little distance, watching, somewhat ruefully, her face, which was looking so much sadder than its wont,—but it was quite impossible for him to express anything of the penitence which he really felt. Perhaps, however, Katie could see something of it in his countenance, for she presently said—“Thank you, Jim; that will do just now. I’m much obliged to you for being [Page 108] so careful about him, and I know you didn’t mean to do Jet any harm.”
    “No, Miss, I didn’t. Thank you, Miss,” muttered Jim, relieved at finding himself comprehended without the trouble of explaining his feelings.
    Mrs Johnstone was beginning to feel somewhat anxious about Ned, who was evidently not at all inclined to settle in earnest to the studies which were necessary to fit him for turning his next session to the best account. He might, urged by her solicitations, begin in the morning, but before an hour had passed, he was pretty sure to find some excuse for going into the village, where he would manage to pass most of the forenoon. Then he was often away in the evenings till pretty late, and she could not draw from him a very satisfactory account of the way in which they were spent. One evening, when he was absent, Arthur Winstanley came in to bring Katie some fresh reading, and, after a little talk, asked, somewhat uneasily, “Do you know where Ned is to-night?”
    “No,” said Katie, looking inquiringly up, for she noticed something unusual in his manner.
    “Well, I thought you might not; of course, I have no right to keep watch over Ned’s actions, but I felt sorry to see him, a little while ago, hanging round Smith’s, with Sam Flint and young Williams.”
    “Smith’s” was the village inn,—like most village inns the resort of the loafers of the neighbourhood; and Williams and Flint were two young men of rather doubtful reputation, given to betting, tippling, and, it was even [Page 109] rumoured, to gambling: the report of this, therefore, made Katie look distressed and even frightened.
    “You must not alarm yourself unnecessarily,” said Arthur, quickly, “I only thought it would be a good thing if you knew, for I have seen him in company with them several times. I don’t think Ned’s the sort of fellow to go into anything wrong with his eyes open, but the fellows of that fraternity are not likely to do him any good, and you, or Mrs Johnstone, might manage to persuade him to give them up before any harm is done.”
    “Mamma will be dreadfully vexed, I know,” said Katie, “but I will tell her. I know she’s afraid of his being about the village so much.”
    “But don’t let Ned know that I have been putting you up to it,” said Arthur, smiling, “or I fear he’ll not forgive me for telling tales on him. Only I know he wouldn’t stand my talking to him about it, and I can’t bear to see him doing what I am certain your mamma would so much disapprove of.”
    “I’m sure it’s very good of you to tell us, and we’ll take care not to let Ned know you said anything about it,” replied Katie; and Arthur, seeing that she was disinclined to talk any more, went away shortly after.
    Katie could scarcely bear to tell her mother what she knew would distress her and make her anxious; but she felt that it was necessary she should do so, in order that the evil might, if possible, be at once prevented. Katie’s report was only a confirmation to her of the vague fears she had already experienced, and she resolved to take the first favourable opportunity of bringing up the [Page 110] subject, and drawing from Ned his own account of his companions. She had not very long to wait for an occasion. When Ned came home, which was not till pretty late, he looked flushed and excited, and his mother, passing close to him, was shocked to perceive that he had been indulging in the poison which had so marred her husband’s life, and clouded her own with sadness. Ned was growing so like what her husband had been in his early days, that she was often haunted by the fear lest the same deadly influence which had so changed and deteriorated the father, should lay hold of the son; and now it seemed as if what she dreaded were already too surely in train towards fulfilment.
    Ned was startled at her distressed look, and conscience at once told him what it was that troubled her; his eyes could not meet hers when she asked him anxiously where he had been.
    “Just down into the village,” he replied, trying to speak carelessly.
    “O Ned! my dear boy, you have been where you should not, and with people you shouldn’t have been with, I am sure!”
    “I was just talking for a while with two fellows down at Smith’s,” said Ned.
    “Who were they, Ned? I must know, and what you had to do with them.”
    “Oh! it was Williams and Flint; they’re not bad fellows, though people give them a bad name. They wanted me to decide a bet they had a dispute about, and then Williams, who won the bet, insisted on treating us to a little supper—that was all.” [Page 111]
    “O Ned!” said his mother, “you will grieve me exceedingly—it will almost kill me—if you go with these wild young men, and learn their ways, especially that terrible habit of taking spirits! Now, Ned, for my sake, if for no other reason, do keep away altogether from it, and from people who may lead you into it!”
    Mrs Johnstone spoke very earnestly, and Ned saw how intensely she felt what she said. He could guess, moreover, why her dread was so great, for he knew too much of his father’s weakness, and he would not willingly vex her. So he said—
    “Well, mother, I’ll try to keep away from them, and, at least, I won’t drink with them any more; but I can’t quite cut them, you know. They’re really good-hearted fellows, and they know so much about horses, and so on. I wish you could see Williams managing Smith’s wildest horse! You see, it’s hard, when I like them so much, to give them up.”
    Mrs Johnstone sighed, and did not know what to say. She knew Ned could receive only injury from such intercourse, and yet she could scarcely go so far as to forbid it altogether. So she resolved that Katie and she should do all in their power to keep Ned with themselves, and provide him with better objects of interest. She spoke to Katie quietly about it next morning, and suggested that she should set herself to incite him to pursue his studies with greater zeal. She tried, accordingly, various ways of stirring up his ambition, but, to her sorrow, not one of them was attended with any satisfactory result.
    “You see, Katie,” he said, “I can study when I’m [Page 112] pushed; but it’s so hard to make one’s self work when you think you can do it at any time, and that it is not of much consequence whether you set to to-day or not, because you have plenty of time before you.”
    Just then Helen Grey came in at the gate—they were sitting on the verandah steps—and Katie referred Ned’s objection to her.
    “Yes,” said Helen, smiling, “it isn’t at all difficult to make ourselves think what we want to think, when something disagreeable is to be avoided. But every day that you lose in that way diminishes just so much the ‘plenty of time’ that you have before you.”
    “Well, when I do begin I can soon make it up,” said Ned.
    “It will always be harder to begin though; and I don’t know that you can ever make up for hours that have really been lost. Every day has its own allotted work, and whatever isn’t done in its own time will sooner or later take away from the time that is given for something else. I believe we shall all have to account for every moment that we waste wilfully.”
    “Some people will have to account for an awful lot of them, then,” said Ned, half-laughing, as he stripped the bark off a small branch that he held in his hand.
    “Well, see that you are not among the number,” rejoined Helen.
    Ned gave a deep-drawn sigh, with a comical look of resignation, and said—
    “At least Winstanley won’t have to account for many, I should think; he reads and studies all the time he isn’t asleep.” [Page 113]
    “Yes, I think he is very diligent,” replied Helen; “but it does not follow that when a person reads or studies constantly, he may not have to account for time misspent. If we neglect the work given us to do at any particular moment, for the sake of something else that we may like better, even should it happen to be study, we would be misspending our time all the same as if we were idle.”
    Ned opened his eyes. “Well, now, I thought that if a fellow was studying, he must be all right.”
    “And if Dr Elliott, then, were to study all day, and neglect his patients, would he be all right?”
    “Oh, no, of course not. Well, I only wish I had some work appointed for me that isn’t study. I think I’d do it.”
    “Don’t be too sure of that. It’s a great deal easier to think we would do work we haven’t got to do, than it might be to do it if we had it. However, I have lectured you quite enough,” she added, laughing, “and now I must go; so good-bye.”
    “Wait, Helen,” said Katie, “we’ll go part of the way with you; it’s so pleasant now for a walk.”
    And they set out together, Katie delighting to show the very noticeable improvement in her pedestrian capabilities.
    As they returned home, they passed young Flint and Williams lounging beside a fence. They nodded familiarly to Ned; but Katie quickened her pace slightly, and they were speedily passed.
    “They’re very good fellows, Katie, I assure you,” said Ned, eagerly, as he noticed her shrinking from them. “There’s Williams, I believe he would give away the last shilling he had to any friend who needed it.” [Page 114]
    “Then it’s a great pity, Ned, that he isn’t steady as well. He’ll never be able to do much good to his friends unless he is; and if he were really good-hearted, he would not grieve them by behaving as he does. Mrs Duncan told us that his poor mother was nearly heart-broken about him, and that she didn’t think he would ever settle to anything steadily. I’m sure it would kill mamma if you were to go on like that, Ned; and would you deserve to be called ‘good-hearted’ then?”
    Ned said nothing, but began to whistle to himself, thoughtfully. Presently he exclaimed—
    “Well, it’s rather hard in a place like this, where there are so few people, to have to break with the only fellows one cares much about.”
    “Oh, Ned,” said Katie, reproachfully, “isn’t Arthur Winstanley far better company for you than those two young men you have so taken to?”
    “Oh, Arthur’s very well for some things,” rejoined Ned; “but he’s rather slow, you see. He’s very nice company for you girls, that like to have poetry read to you, and all that sort of thing; but I get tired of his always mooning over things I don’t care much about. Of course, it may be my bad taste; but I’d sooner be able to judge of a good horse when I see one, than know all the poetry and classics that he’s got in his head. I wonder what good they’ll ever do to any one?”
    “I suppose people wouldn’t have to learn them at college unless they were to do them good,” said Katie, timidly, feeling that she was treading on unknown ground.
    “Well, it’s my belief that half the fellows I know at [Page 115] college won’t be a bit the better of all they learn there.”
    “Then it must be their own faults,” said Katie; “for Helen says, that whatever it is our duty to do, we shall be the better for doing it faithfully; and it must be one’s duty to study faithfully when one is at college.”
    To this Ned did not care to reply; he had a great respect for Helen’s opinion, and he felt there was some force in Katie’s logic. So he was glad of an unexpected apparition to turn the conversation.
    “I declare!—the old proverb, you know—if that isn’t Arthur riding as I never saw him ride before! I didn’t believe he could go like that,” he said, half to himself. “Holloa, Arthur, what’s up?” he shouted, as he came nearer.
    “Oh, a little child near our gate’s got scalded, and I’m looking for Dr Elliott; he’s two miles out in the country,” shouted Arthur, breathlessly, and, without slacking speed, he dashed past them.
    Ned looked silently after him till the horse and rider were lost to sight, and then exclaimed—
    “Well, I didn’t think the fellow had so much pluck! It’s one of those wild horses too; I suppose it was the first one he could get. I remember now I saw his sister riding on his own this afternoon.”
    Katie wisely said nothing, though she felt somewhat triumphant at this practical vindication of her friend’s prowess. And Ned, after that, paid much more deference to Arthur’s opinions, and did not again complain of him for being “slow,” at all events. [Page 116]
    He even actually tried to force himself to study more, though it was, as he said, up-hill work; and he generally kept himself, before his books at least, for a couple of hours every morning. With his mathematical studies he did succeed in getting interested; and he even offered to teach Katie algebra—an offer which she willingly accepted, though she did not altogether fancy it for its own sake. Still, the conviction that it was good for Arthur to do it, and the pleasure of mastering a subject which had the attraction of novelty after so long a cessation of study, gave a charm to the algebra lessons they had otherwise wanted; and Ned found that his pupil was at any rate determined to set him the example of steady application.
    The hot weather of July, however, interfered with Katie’s capabilities in this direction. Indeed, her strength decreased so rapidly under its effects, and she grew so pale and languid, that her mother’s anxiety was renewed, and it was a great relief to her when Dr Elliott proposed that she should go to spend some time at a farm of his in the country, where his wife and children usually stayed during the heat of the summer. It was close to a small inland lake, and both the greater coolness of the climate and the change of air would, he thought, be beneficial to Katie. Ned was included in the invitation, and Mrs Johnstone rejoiced at the opportunity thus offered of removing him from the vicinity of the youths whose intimacy she dreaded so much, and which, in Lynford, it was so difficult for him to shake off.
    Katie was delighted at the prospect of real country quarters and staying on a farm, her only drawback being [Page 117] the separation it necessitated from her mother, who would not accompany them, and leave her husband alone behind her. However, she promised that should he be called away from home during the time that Katie and Ned were at Birch Farm, she would join them there; and as Mr Johnstone said he expected to be away for at least a week before long, Katie set out, happy in the hope that her mother would follow.
    They had a very pleasant two hours’ drive through a rich and well-cultivated country of fine farms, studded with comfortable farm-houses and attached buildings. A thunder-shower during the day had cooled the air, freshened the green of the landscape, and washed the dust from the foliage, so that Nature seemed, as it were, to rejoice after her bath. About seven o’clock they came in sight of a little white farm-house, standing back from the road, and approached by a short avenue of dark evergreens, and beyond it they caught a glimpse of the blue lake, to which the ground behind the house sloped down somewhat abruptly. Mrs Elliott was standing at the gate looking for them with Mary and Willie, the latter of whom, in a state of great excitement, had kept flitting, all the afternoon, between the house and the gate on expeditions of inquiry. Katie got a delighted welcome from him, and he wanted to carry her off the moment she alighted, to see all his favourites, four-footed and feathered. He was, however, reduced to order and sobriety by the announcement that tea was ready; and at length, when tea was over, he was summarily despatched to bed, with the promise that Katie should be at his service the next morning. [Page 118]
    After they left the tea-table, Ned and the doctor went off to take a stroll about the farm; but Katie, tired out by the long drive, was glad to lie and rest on a sofa that was prepared for her special accommodation. This had been moved to a little verandah at the back of the house, which looked down upon the lake,—tinted at the time by the rich hues of the sunset, and sleeping in calm loveliness between the broken ground at their feet and the undulating shores on the opposite side. Here and there its calm expanse was concealed by the rich foliage of a noble maple or basswood tree, from which the fire-flies began to gleam out as the daylight faded. Presently, before the evening tints had quite disappeared, the moon’s gentle radiance streamed down on the scene, glistening on the foliage, and making the lake glitter like a sheet of burnished silver. Katie had never seen much variety of scenery since she was old enough to remember it—nothing, certainly, that impressed her as so beautiful as this; and she lay drinking in the beauty around her, and hardly caring to speak, till Mrs Elliott interposed, and insisted that she should go to bed. Then when she lay down in the little attic chamber, so fresh and clean, with the white moonlight streaming in at the open window, she fell asleep with her mind full of happy thoughts, dreaming of quiet waters and green pastures, and with Helen’s verse running through her sleeping, as it had done through her waking, thoughts:—

                    “If God hath made this world so fair—
                        Where sin and death abound—
                    How beautiful beyond compare
                        Will Paradise be found!’ [Page 119]



    


[Chapter XI]