A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


Sunshine and Shade.

  “Why should we fear youth’s cup of joy,
    If pure, would sparkle less?
Why should the cup the sooner cloy,
    Which God hath deign’d to bless?”

    THEY were all early risers at Birch Farm. The old farmer, who, with his wife and son, lived always there, rose with the sun—often before it; and as the doctor had to start early for Lynford, breakfast was over before the coolness of the morning had yielded to the growing sultriness of the day. As soon as breakfast was finished, and the short family worship over, without which the doctor never liked to part from his family, Willie conducted Katie to the farm-yard, to introduce her to his various friends there. He kept dragging her eagerly first to one corner and then to another,—explaining “him’s a cow,” “him’s a calf,” “them’s Willie’s chickens,”—to which latter he gave chase in vain. Then he ran off for some crumbs to feed them with, and soon had all the feathered mothers around [Page 120] them, with their families of various ages and sizes, much to his and Katie’s delight. She was very fond of animals of all kinds, and duly admired the sleek, sleepy cows, standing ruminating in the shade, and the funny, lively calves, as well as the two staid old farm-horses, that on these warm days had almost nothing to do, and who seemed quietly to enjoy the pleasure of going idle. Then they went to the fields to see the sheep and the colts, which latter were at once Willie’s delight and terror. Katie liked the sheep best; the quiet matronly ewes, with their patient, wistful faces, and the frolicsome lambs, running races, and tumbling over each other in their play. By this time it was growing warm, and Katie was glad to go in and rest in the cool shady sitting-room, and hear Mary say her lessons for Mrs Elliott, who was busy. Ned soon appeared, glad to seek the same refuge from the heat of the day, and betook himself to a corner with his books, which Katie had taken care to see packed up for conveyance to Birch Farm. She herself had brought with her a good stock of reading—some history, which she had taken up as she got stronger; a volume or two of poetry; and “Kenilworth,” which Arthur had lent her on her finishing “Ivanhoe,” as well as the “Lady of the Lake,” which she hoped to enjoy thoroughly beside the lake at Birch Farm. She was determined, however, to keep a good resolution which she had made, to adhere strictly to the more solid reading in the morning, reserving her light reading for the afternoon and evening; for she had begun to feel that so much of the latter was not good for her, and she was anxious to go on with some of her interrupted studies. So, after Mary’s [Page 121] lesson was over, and she had sat down to play with her doll, Katie was soon deep in Robertson’s “History of Scotland,” which she found as interesting as any story.
    It was too warm to go out again until after tea, which was always early, and then Ned, who had by this time thoroughly explored the ground, took Katie down by the easiest path to the lake-shore. The banks—shaded by fine forest trees, standing singly or in groups—sloped down pretty steeply; but by a slightly circuitous route they could get down without much fatigue, and after about a quarter of an hour spent in alternately scrambling and resting, they succeeded, and Katie’s delight was overpowering. The crystal waves curled gently in upon the beach of warm sand or smooth pebbles, at her feet; and the brushwood, and willows, and maples, with which the shore was fringed, hung over the lake till they dipped the ends of their branches in its placid water, which reflected their forms like a mirror. She sat down on a dry mossy log by the bank, to enjoy the scene, and watch the foliage on the opposite shore, brightening in the evening sun; while Ned picked up pebbles, and taught little Willie how to make them “skip” over the water.
    A little canoe lay on the beach, which Ned got into, and made a short trial cruise, before taking in Katie and Willie. It turned out to be in good enough order, Ned declared, for such inland navigation; and as he assured Katie that he could paddle and manage the canoe quite well, they embarked, and she enjoyed, for the first time, the sensation of gliding over the smooth water. They kept near the shore, to satisfy Katie, who was a little nervous—chiefly [Page 122] on Willie’s account—and watched the waves made by the canoe grow pink and gold and purple in the sunset lights. Just as they landed again, Mrs Elliott herself came down, to carry off Willie and advise Katie to come up before the dew should make the long grass on the banks too wet to go through with comfort. So she returned to her post on the verandah, to enjoy another calm moonlight evening.
    After this, Katie usually managed to get down to the lake-shore early in the morning, and stay there in the shade with her books till tea-time, to avoid the fatigue of going up the bank in the heat of the day. Ned brought down their simple dinner in a basket; and they had thus a pic-nic, as they called it, every day on the shore. When the afternoons grew a little cooler, they generally went out for a row, exploring the shore, as they glided past, and coming upon many a fairy inlet and tiny cove, full of luxuriant vegetation, and sheltered by rocks covered with brightest mosses and graceful forms, which were to Katie an inexhaustible source of admiring enjoyment. Ned spent a good deal of time in fishing, and kept the table pretty well supplied with the fish in which the lake abounded; but Katie did not enjoy that amusement at all, and stayed on shore when he was so employed. Her books, but especially the “Lady of the Lake,” were a source of great delight; and she liked to imagine their lake a tamer Loch Katrine, and to find out for herself a miniature representation of the Trosachs among the boulders on the shore. Then there were wild flowers to be found in the nooks in the woods,—the tiny delicate harebell, and the yellow “impatiens,” and occasionally a gorgeous cluster of the tall [Page 123] scarlet Iobelia, while asters without number were beginning to open out their petals to the sun.
    Sometimes they varied their afternoons by going with Willie and Mary to look for late raspberries, or for the black finger-berries, which were beginning to ripen. So the days passed quickly by, and glided into weeks; and Katie felt, pervading all the enjoyments with which they were filled, the happy sense that the things which gave her so much innocent pleasure were provided for her by her heavenly Father, and were part of the loving-kindness which her Saviour had purchased for her at so costly a price. The sense of His presence in and through all the beauty He had created, made the world, she thought, seem more beautiful than it had ever appeared before; so far is it from being true that religion—which, if it means anything, means a sense of God’s presence, and of our duty to Him, in all things—can give rise to any feeling of gloom, or in any way curtail pure and innocent enjoyment. On the contrary, it is the only thing which can make pleasure pure and innocent, and thus give it its right to be called real enjoyment.
    About the middle of August, when the time of their stay at Birch Farm was beginning to draw to a close, Katie’s great wish—that her mother should come out and share their pleasure—was fulfilled, as Mr Johnstone had left home for a few days, and she therefore felt at liberty to come. She enjoyed the fresh country air, and out-door life, and the pretty lake, almost as much as Katie could desire, though she could not be persuaded to trust herself to Ned’s navigating skill in the boat, and was very nervous [Page 124] about Katie when she did so. Katie also found, to her surprise, that she was not so easily tired with the scramble up and down the bank as her mamma was; but the truth was, she had got accustomed to it, and had also grown stronger during her stay on the farm.
    The last two or three days of their stay were rainy, and as the weather seemed a good deal broken, it was not so hard to leave the pretty farm and the beautiful lake as it otherwise might have been. So, with the hope that they would all be there again another summer, they bade Mrs Elliott, and William and Mary, and the old farmer and his wife, good-bye, and drove home to Lynford.
    The bright, clear September days passed very rapidly by. Ned’s return to College was drawing near, and there was a good deal to be done in renewing his wardrobe and making it sufficient to last for six months without feminine supervision. In this Katie was now strong enough to help Mrs Johnstone very materially, the neat sewing she had learned from Miss Fleming standing in good stead now; and it was a great happiness to her, as she sat contentedly at work all the forenoon,—at least as long as her mother would allow her to sit steadily at it,—to think that she was doing something that was of real use. Ned had at last betaken himself to his studies in earnest, in prospect of approaching examinations; so that the mornings were very quiet when he was studying in one corner of the dining-room, and Katie and her mother were working in another. Katie usually kept one of her books of poetry near her work-basket, and learned many verses from the “Christian Year” and Mrs Hemans, which were often [Page 125] afterwards an unfailing source of pleasant thought, coming back to her memory “as words in season” of comfort and of counsel.
    It was a great trial, however, when the work was all finished; and the last days of Ned’s stay at home having arrived, nothing remained but to pack his possessions one more in his trunk, and wait his departure. It was lovely September weather, the trees, as yet, almost unaltered in their green tints,—here and there only a yellowing branch or a stray leaf foretelling the coming “fall,”—when Ned and Katie set out to take their last walk by the river before their long winter’s separation. How much may happen before the next meeting is a thought that will always occur when a long parting is close at hand,—not, indeed, so much to the young as to those who have had a longer experience of the sad changefulness and uncertainties of this earthly life; but it was present in Katie’s mind with almost the strength of a presentiment, and something of the same feeling sobered Ned’s usual flow of spirits and made him unwontedly quiet. To Katie this separation seemed a great deal harder than the former one, not only because she and Ned had been much more constantly together than when he was daily at the Grammar School and she at Miss Fleming’s, but also, and still more, from the great development and deepening which her whole nature had undergone during the last year, leading her to feel the painful, as well as the pleasant, more acutely than before—and both in this world of ours are inseparably connected; only in the coming life, for which this one, rightly used, is preparing us, will our developed [Page 126] susceptibilities for happiness be fully satisfied, and no longer weighed down by suffering, for God himself has told us “there will be nothing to hurt or to destroy in my holy mountain.”
    “And you will write often, Ned, won’t you?” said Katie, as they were returning homewards, rather thoughtfully.
    “Oh, yes,” said Ned, rousing himself; “let me see—about once a month; that’ll be often enough, wont it?”
    “O Ned! don’t tease now! I’m in earnest. You must write a great deal oftener than you did last winter, and tell me more about things—your friends and the classes, and all you are doing. And Ned,” she added timidly, “do try and take a first prize this season; mamma would be so pleased!”
    “And you would’nt care, of course! Well, I’ll see about it. I can’t undertake impossibilities though, and there are some fellows there that will give me a rather stiff pull to carry off the prize from them. However, I mean to work pretty hard at my mathematics, at all events. The other won’t be of much use to me, any way.”
    “You can’t tell what may be of use to you, Ned; but, at any rate, I should think doing one’s duty would always be of use, and it must be your duty to learn what is given you at college. And Ned,” said Katie timidly, and hesitating a good deal, as they were by this time almost at the gate, “if you would only read the Bible every day, and ask strength to act aright, I am sure you would find it easier to do everything you should do.”
    She did not dare to say more, and half expected some raillery from Ned about “preaching;” but he made no [Page 127] reply, and was unusually grave and quiet, and especially kind and attentive to his mother and Katie all the evening.
    That last evening, however, came to an end, as all things do, no matter how much we may desire to put drags upon the wheels of time. When, early next morning, Katie went with Ned to the gate to see him off, after his hasty breakfast, she seemed to feel the first chill breath of coming winter in the sharp air, which had already just touched some of the more fragile blossoms left in the flower-beds, bending under a heavy load of dew.
    After she had strained her eyes for long to catch the last glimpse of the departing vehicle, and seen it disappear, she retreated hastily to her own room to give way to the fit of crying she had been struggling to repress. It seemed as if there was nothing more of any consequence to do, now that all the work for Ned was over, and she felt as if even force could not compel her to go back to her neglected reading and her other solitary occupations. However, it happily occurred to her that she needed herself to follow the advice she had given to Ned, and accordingly she knelt down, and after earnestly praying for her brother’s welfare, as well as for strength to do her own duty, she rose again both comforted and strengthened,—as all who pray in earnest are sure to do,—and went down, comparatively cheerful, to meet her little reading class, whose lessons had been not a little interrupted of late. [Page 128]


[Chapter XII]