KATIE JOHNSTONE’S CROSS

A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


CHAPTER XII.

Sorrow.


  Stay with us, gracious Saviour, stay,
    While friends and hopes depart;
Fainting, on Thee we wish to lay
    The burden of our heart.


    ONE afternoon, about a fortnight after Ned’s departure, when the trees about Lynford were all decked in their autumn glories of gold and crimson, Jim Egan made his appearance with a face full of important news, and accompanied by Snap, whom he did not usually bring with him in his visits to Katie.
    “Well, Jim, what is it?” asked Katie, who saw that something unusual had brought him.
    “I’m going away, Miss Katie, so I came to bid you good-bye,” said Jim, twisting his cap about in his brown hands.
    “Going away! where?”
    “There’s a carpenter, father knows, up to Beach’s Mills, six mile up the river, and he wants a boy; so he said he would take me, and I’ve to go there to-morrow mornin’.” [Page 129]
    “And are you glad to go? You wanted to learn to be a carpenter, didn’t you?” asked Katie.
    “Oh, yes, Miss, I’m glad enough for that, but I’m sorry to quit learning to read, all the same,” said Jim, very awkwardly, for he hated trying to express what he really felt.
    “Oh, but you mustn’t give it up,” quickly replied Katie, “you must go on till you can read well; I’m sure your master will help you, if you ask him. Or perhaps he would let you go to the nearest school for an hour every day, till you can read well, and write a little. You would be more useful then; so, be sure and ask him.”
    “I will, Miss Katie.”
    “And, Jim, you must remember, that the chief thing you need learn to read for is, that you may be able to study the Bible, which tells us all about Jesus Christ, who came to die for us, that we might be good, you know. And when He lived in this world, He was, in his youth, a carpenter Himself; so that should encourage you to learn to do your work well, as, Mr Grey says, we may be sure He did, for He did everything well.”
    Jim listened with open eyes as well as ears. He understood pretty well what she said, for she had always read a little of the Bible to her pupils when they came for their lesson, and had tried to explain it; and he did not forget, in after days, having been told by her that the Son of God had not scorned to work at the humble trade of a carpenter, and had “done His work well.”
    Jim had, however, something else in his mind to say to her and, after shuffling about for a little while uneasily, he [Page 130] managed to stammer out, “Please, will you take Snap, Miss Katie?”
    Katie was taken aback, and looked surprised, and hesitated; she did not altogether fancy Snap’s looks, and had not forgotten his hostility to Jet. But Jim grew more courageous, and continued—
    “I’d be so glad if you’d take him, Miss Katie, for your little dog that was killed. I’d better not take him with me, and the poor thing’ud be lost if I leave him at home.”
    “Well, Jim, if mamma doesn’t object, I’ll take him, since you have made up your mind to part with him. But what shall I do if he hurts Daisy?”
    “Oh, he won’t, Miss, if you show him he’s not to. He’ll mind what you tell him, if you’re good to him. And I haven’t let him hunt any cats this long time. Poor Snap, poor fellow,” said Jim, bending over the animal to hide his sorrow at parting with his old companion.
    “You had better take him back with you now, Jim,” said Katie; “you may leave him here in the morning, or get your father to do so, after you are gone. I won’t bid you good-bye just now either, for I shall see you again before you go.”
    “Thank you, Miss Katie,” said Jim, making his usual awkward bow as he departed.
    That afternoon, Katie went into the village and bought for Jim a neat large-printed Testament, in which she wrote—“To James Egan, from his friend, Katie Johnstone,” and also a copy-book, in which she penned, in her best round-hand, a few simple elementary copy-lines, which he might practise from by himself. These she [Page 131] took to him that afternoon, and presented them with a few additional parting words of advice.
    Snap was brought to his new home the next morning, and Katie had a great deal of trouble in coaxing him to stay. He was not, at first sight, an attractive pet, but he had partaken somewhat of the softening influence which had toned down his master’s nature; and from having been no longer excited to tease and worry whatever came in his way, he had become much more peaceably disposed and tractable. After Katie and he had really become friends, no creature could have been more faithful, and he would have defended her to the death against any possible assailant.
    Mrs Egan was a little improved in her domestic habits, and the house was a shade less wretched than it had been when Helen Grey first entered it. Her husband had kept his resolution of sobriety pretty steadily, and he took care not to let her have in her possession any of the money he earned, to spend it on the poison she indulged in; which yet she would try to procure, whenever she could, by begging from those who gave without inquiring to what use their charity was likely to be appropriated. Now that Jim was gone, Helen thought that the younger ones would be quite as well at school, and to school they were accordingly sent; but as Katie did not like giving them up altogether, it was settled that they, and some other neglected children who lived near them, should come to her every Sunday for religious instruction, which she tried, not unsuccessfully, to make as interesting, and as far from task-work, as she possibly could. This class [Page 132] was her greatest pleasure on Sundays, and the children too were so fond of it that not one of them would ever willingly stay away.
    One evening, in the beginning of winter, as dusk was gradually thickening into darkness, Katie, in reaching up to get a book from a high shelf in a bookcase, unhappily missed her footing, and, over-balancing, fell nearly to the ground. In the effort to save herself from falling, she gave herself a strain which brought on such an acute return of the old pain in her back, that she fainted, and for days afterwards could not stir without the intensest suffering. The immediate effects, however, of the strain passed away, after a few days of great care and tender nursing; but the shock had caused a serious relapse, and the slightest over-exertion would bring on such suffering, that whole nights were often spent by her in sleeplessness; which, dreary as they were, would have been drearier still had not the verses of poetry and passages of Scripture which she had learned, come trooping back to cheer her spirit in the lonely darkness.
    But still more serious result was the increasing curvature of the spine, which the doctor thought she might have outgrown, but which was now becoming more perceptible; and her sweet, pale countenance was beginning to show something of the peculiar expression which is often noticeable in the subjects of such an affliction. Mrs Johnstone still hoped against hope; but Helen could not help seeing that her fears of a lifelong trial to poor Katie were only too likely to be realised. There was another sorrow, too, which her friend feared was impending over her. Mrs Johnstone’s [Page 133] health had always been delicate; but this fall, her failing strength,—owing greatly perhaps to long-continued anxiety on Katie’s account, and partly to a harassing cough which clung to her,—seemed to assume a more serious aspect. She never complained, and manifestly disliked having anything said which could awaken Katie’s anxiety. Katie had been so much accustomed, all her life, to see her mother more or less ailing, that her anxiety was not easily aroused; and Helen saw it would be cruel, considering her physical weakness, to interfere, and forestal the development of God’s providence. So, although she did not seek to conceal her own anxiety, she left it to Katie’s heavenly Father to prepare her, in His own way, for whatever He might, in this case, have in store for her.
    Clara Winstanley’s friendship for Katie had not at all diminished, and Katie was occasionally sent for to spend the afternoon at Pine Grove, an invitation which her mother always insisted upon her accepting. The change from her usually quiet and monotonous life, in her own home, which seemed unusually silent, and even sad, since Ned’s departure, to the lively, merry family circle of the Winstanleys, still unbroken,—for Arthur had not yet been allowed to go to college,—was of unspeakable benefit to her, both in health and spirits, which were always perceptibly improved after an evening spent there. One fine afternoon in November, when the air was almost as soft and mild as an Indian summer—of which, perhaps, it was a lingering fragment—Clara came over in the carriage, and after taking both Mrs Johnstone and Katie for a drive, carried off the latter to spend the evening with her. [Page 134]
    “We’ve got a lady staying at our house, Katie,” said Clara, as they entered the avenue; “her name is Miss Foster, a friend of mamma’s, from Ashby.”
    “Oh, I wish you had told me before,” exclaimed Katie, who, from constitutional shyness, always shrank from meeting strangers.
    “Oh, you needn’t be afraid of her,” replied Clara, laughing. “Arthur says she is great fun—such a gossip; and he goes on drawing her out, with the gravest face imaginable, till Carrie and I can scarcely contain ourselves.”
    “I hope he won’t do it while I am there,” said Katie, uneasily; for though she had no intention of making a reflection on her friend Arthur, she did not think this covert ridicule of a visitor quite fair or kindly.
    They were by this time at the house, and Katie was at length duly introduced to the lady in question, who scanned her from time to time with a critical eye; and being one of a class of talkers who, in the enjoyment of their favourite propensity, and in their satisfaction with their own penetration, often forget what is due to the feelings of others, she began by and by a series of remarks upon Katie, in another part of the room, to which she had gone to talk with Arthur and Clara. The tone was intended to be a low one, but was unfortunately quite loud enough for Katie to hear all that was spoken.
    “Nice-featured child—but dreadfully delicate-looking—and, poor thing!— ahem—decided case of curvature of the spine—isn’t it?”
    “Oh, no, I hope not,” said Mrs Winstanley—not very truthfully, it must be owned; but, much distressed that [Page 135] such a remark should be made in Katie’s presence, and striving to persuade herself that she did not hear it, she hastily turned the conversation to something else.
    But Katie had heard, and sat flushing and paling alternately, as the meaning of what had been said forced itself upon her mind. Arthur, observing this, quickly drew her away to another room, on the pretext of looking for a book he wished to show her; and seeing that she was unable to conceal the effect of the careless words, he said eagerly—
    “Don’t mind anything that Miss Foster says. She is so fond of talking that she will say anything just for the sake of hearing herself speak; and what she says is often the greatest nonsense in the world.”
    “But is not that true?” asked Katie, wistfully; for a conviction that it was had forced itself irresistibly upon her.
    Arthur was very truthful, and he did not know what to say, for he had heard the same opinion often expressed. At last he said hurriedly—
    “I’m sure I don’t know. I suppose it would take wiser people than we are to decide. But, Katie,” he added, hesitatingly, and yet impelled by a strong desire to say something to comfort her, and in despair of finding anything else, “I know what Miss Grey would say—that if such a thing were to be, it would not be permitted unless it were best for you.”
    Arthur spoke reverently, though more probably from the feeling that such would be Helen’s opinion than from its being his spontaneous conviction. It was a new tone for him, however; and Katie was so glad to hear him use it, that she for the moment almost forgot her own trouble. [Page 136] The truth of what he said, too, had its effect, and it helped her to conquer herself, and repress at least all outward signs of disquietude, so far as to seem nearly her usual self for the rest of the evening, except that she was a little more silent and less interested than she ordinarily was in what was going on around her. After she was gone, Miss Foster pronounced her a very lady-like, nicely-behaved girl; but Arthur had great difficulty in restraining himself from giving her his opinion of, and rating her roundly for, her own thoughtless animadversions.
    As for poor Katie, she spent a nearly sleepless night, and had a bitter fit of crying when she was alone, and there was no further need of self-control, as in the presence of strangers. She conjured up, as we are all, in like case, too apt to do, the many painful possibilities which the idea that had been suggested to her mind might involve; and she was at an age when, even in the absence of personal vanity—of which she had very little—the disadvantages of any conspicuous personal defect, such as might call forth either compassion or ridicule, are very keenly felt. It was a sharp trial for a nature so sensitive as hers; but she took her burden to Him who alone could lighten it, and at last, calmed and soothed, she fell quietly asleep.
    She did not dare to speak to her mother about what she instinctively felt would give her as great, if not greater, pain than it did herself; but she confided her trouble to Helen, who, convinced always that truth was best, at once candidly told her that such a thing was not at all impossible, and, indeed, rather more than probable.
    “But, dear Katie,” she added, “if it should please God [Page 137] to send you such a cross to bear, can you not feel sure that it is ordained for your good, and that He will give you strength to bear whatever He appoints for you?”
    “Oh, yes,” said Katie, with a patient but sad acquiescence, which touched her friend; and then she told her what Arthur had said, adding, “Wasn’t it nice of him?”
    “Yes, indeed,” said Helen; “but I hope he is learning to make that belief his own, as well as to respect it in others. He would be such a useful man, if with all his talent and knowledge he were a Christian in earnest. We must pray that he may become one, Katie,” she continued, anxious to turn her thoughts as much as possible towards others, and draw them from herself.
    “Yes,” replied Katie, softly, “and for Ned too.” To which Helen heartily assented.
    A few days after this conversation, Mrs Johnstone grew so rapidly and seriously worse as to excite real alarm in Katie, and effectually wean her, for the time, from all thought of her more private affliction. Dr Elliott did his best to alleviate her suffering, and subdue the alarming symptoms, but with little success; and Katie, though she could not give up hope—it is hard, especially for the young, to do so—yet could not help seeing, almost in spite of herself, from the doctor’s serious looks, and still more from her mother’s more than ordinary wistful, earnest yearning over her, that they both feared the worst. Her mother at last nerved herself to tell her, as gently as she could, that she had no hope of recovery, or even that the end could be long deferred.
    “But, mamma,” pleaded Katie, still clinging to hope, [Page 138] “you may be mistaken, you know. People have often got better when they did not expect it.”
    “Not when they are as ill as I am now, darling. But, Katie, you must not grieve too much. You can trust the Saviour who is my only stay now; and He will supply all your need. He is the only one to trust to, either for life or death. Remember that, my dear one. Perhaps I haven’t remembered it as much as I should have done throughout my life; but do you remember it, dearest.”
    To this Katie was unable to reply, and no wonder; she could only force back the tears till she found opportunity to give way to her grief without distressing her mother, and she strove still to cling to that hope which, as long as there is life, ever “springs eternal in the human breast.”
    It is needless to dwell on the sad, yet, in the memory of them, sweet days of watching by the worn-out invalid,—the weary sinking of hope, as the shortening daylight of December seemed to close drearily around the dying year; and the grief when, at last, death came gently like a sleep, and the delicate frame lay in a repose so peaceful that Katie could not believe that the spirit was indeed gone for ever. It is well that the full realisation of that strange, irreversible change comes only upon us by degrees, and that the mind, almost imperceptibly, grows accustomed to what otherwise might crush it altogether.
    Ned had been sent for a few days before his mother’s death, and was present at the last to share the watching and the grief of his father and sister; for under all his fun, he had strong feelings, and was deeply attached to his gentle [Page 139] mother. Nor was the remembrance of her anxiety about him lost; for as he stood by the coffin, taking his last look of the cold, still face he was never to see again, he mentally resolved, under the solemnising influences of the scene, with God’s help, to avoid in his future life all that would grieve her, could she know it. He was obliged, however, as soon as the funeral was over, to return to college, where change of scene, and variety of occupations, could not fail soon to divert his mind from the sorrowful recollection of the bereavement that had darkened his home.
    It was very different with Katie,—left where everything around her brought back afresh the sense of her loss, and kept alive the aching feeling of desolation in her heart, rendered still keener by her concern for her father, who, partly from the violence of his grief, and partly from the means to which he resorted in order to drown it, was reduced to a state of complete unfitness for any of his usual occupations, and whose physical and mental condition was, to Katie, a source of intense distress.
    His grief for his wife’s death was doubtless made more poignant by the consciousness, which he could not repress, that his own weakness in yielding to the temptation of his life, had both blighted her happiness and so preyed upon her mind as to wear out the delicate frame before its time. He remembered how bright, and active, and happy, she was when, as his young wife, he first brought her to his Canadian home, and how the light had faded gradually from her eye, and the spirit from her life, as that fatal habit of his, to which he would, at one time, have scorned [Page 140] the idea of becoming a prey, gained the mastery over him.
    And now, instead of manfully struggling—even for her sake—with the temptation that beset him, all his power of resistance seemed paralysed within him, and he betook himself to the same poisonous fountain of relief and oblivion, as, to his wife’s great sorrow, he had done years before, when his pet and favourite Hughie was brought in drowned. Katie would scarcely acknowledge, even to herself, his evil conduct, or the true cause of his great prostration, but it was no small addition to her burden of grief that, instead of hearing in the affliction the call of his Heavenly Father to turn away from sin, he only plunged the more recklessly into that very vice which had marred his usefulness and been the bane of his life. [Page 141]
    

    


[Chapter XIII]