A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.



  “This, by the ministries of prayer,
    The loneliest life with blessings crowds,
Can consecrate each petty care,
    Make angels’ ladders out of clouds.”

    HELEN GREY tried, of course, to be as much as possible with Katie, to cheer and comfort her in this season of desolation; but, as the latter would not leave her father, even for a day, she had unavoidably to be a great deal either alone, or a prey to the depressing influences which his presence created. The long-continued pressure upon her never very high spirits, told so much upon her health, that Helen was glad when Mr Johnstone, who at length roused himself to attend a little to business, found it necessary to be absent for a fortnight, and thus afforded her an opportunity of carrying Katie off, to have the benefit of a change of scene, by staying first a few days with herself, and then with her friends at Pine Grove.
    She was almost unwilling, at first, to leave, even for a [Page 142] short absence, the house, associated as it was with memories of her mother,—memories, especially, of the preceding winter and spring, when, though suffering physically, she had been, as she now thought, so happy, with that tender loving care always around her.
    “Oh, Helen,” she said, the first evening she spent with her friend, “it seems as if I had been so foolish and ungrateful to have been unhappy and discontented about anything when she was alive. Oh, if I could only have it to live over again!”
    “My dear Katie, I know that feeling well; I have had it many and many a time since my dear mother was removed from me. We are all often strangely blind to the blessings we have, till they are taken from us, and we see, only too late, the worth that was in them. But I think the true lesson of this experience is, not to spend time and strength in uselessly repining over the loss of blessings we cannot bring back, but rather try to see better, and value more, those we still have left, and use them so that we may not have the same regret when they are taken from us.”
    “I wonder,” said Katie, thoughtfully, “whether our friends can know, when they are gone, how much we miss them and value them?”
    “It is not easy to see how they could know of our grief for them without its in some degree lessening their happiness,” said Helen; “but one thing papa says he thinks we may be sure of, that Christ communicates to them all that it can add to their happiness to know.” Then, after a little pause, she added, “But I think perhaps one reason why we are told so little about this may be, that we should otherwise [Page 143] be thinking more of pleasing them than of the chief motive for doing right, that of following Christ, who should be our only Master.”
    Katie enjoyed her stay with Helen much more than, in the circumstances, she would have thought possible. The quiet, yet happy, seriousness that pervaded the manse harmonised with her feelings, and they had such pleasant readings and talks together that she shrank from fulfilling her promise to go to Pine Grove, when Clara claimed it. Helen, however, thought the additional change would be beneficial to her, and also that the greater liveliness of the family circle would draw her more out of herself; and as they both felt that the promise to Clara must not be broken, Katie at length set off, reluctantly indeed, and not without extorting a promise from Helen to be as much as she could beside her, during her stay at Pine Grove.
    She did not find the visit so formidable as she had expected. Her deep mourning dress, and pale, sad face, somewhat subdued the high spirit of Clara and the juniors the first evening she was there; and she gradually grew accustomed to the lively, mirthful talk around her, which grated so strangely upon her at first. In a day or two the tone of her spirits grew so much stronger and more healthful, that she was able even to enter a little into the pleasures of the children, who were fond of her, and made all sorts of demands upon her sympathy. Every kind of pleasure and amusement was proposed by them for her acceptance; and, in especial, she was offered any number of rides on a tabogan which had been given to Frank and Bessie as a Christmas present, and on which they greatly enjoyed [Page 144] sliding down a smooth slope of glittering snow near the house. A severe snow-storm, however, lasting two or three days, put out-door amusements out of the question; and in the consequent enforced confinement to the house, Katie’s story-telling powers were called into requisition, and she had to bring into play every tale or narrative of adventure which she could call up from the corners of her memory. The effort did her a great deal of good; as indeed every willing attempt to give others pleasure always does, by a strong reflex influence on ourselves; so that, in this sense, as well as in others, “it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
    Pine Grove was a pleasant house in winter as well as in summer, and its large light rooms were bright with open fires, and scented at this season with beautiful hyacinths in bloom, and even winter mignonette, which were tended by Mrs Winstanley and Caroline, who were both fond of flowers, and had plenty of money to spend in gratifying their taste for them. Katie thought she had never seen such exquisite flowers as the white and pink and blue clusters, breathing forth such richness of fragrance, and she was never tired of studying and admiring them. Then it was a great pleasure to her to watch Caroline at her flower-painting and embroidery, in which she spent a good deal of time during winter; indeed, Katie sometimes wondered whether she ever did anything else besides, except practising and reading novels, of which last there was always an abundance there, though most of them were of a kind which Katie’s taste, purified by drinking the living water, turned away from instinctively. However, she did [Page 145] not trouble herself to judge others; and it was simply gratifying to her to watch the graceful sprays and rich flowers growing, either on the paper or the canvas, under Caroline’s fair hands, sparkling with rings, which Katie admired, as she did everything about her,—with feelings, moreover, without a shade of envy or discontent. In the evenings, too, it was an intense enjoyment to listen to her light, graceful playing, and the silvery cadences of her voice, as she willingly sang any song which Katie asked for; for she was naturally obliging, and had from the first been remarkably kind to Katie, for whom she cherished a feeling that was half-admiring, half-pitying. Katie, on the other hand, had an almost lover-like admiration for Caroline’s attractions, very different, however, from the steady affection and full reliance which attached her to Helen.
    Clara continued faithful to the friendship which she had established with her former rival a year before, and would have done anything in her power to add to Katie’s happiness, and show her own in having her beside her. Her intercourse with Katie had indeed had no small influence already on her frank, lively character, in which there was much good to develop, though it had now, through Helen’s teaching and Katie’s society, a higher aim than it had once possessed, or than Caroline even dreamt of. And Arthur was kind and obliging, as he had always been, ready at any time to give up his own pursuits in order to read to Katie anything which he thought likely to please or interest her. His store of information was so large, at least in comparison with Katie’s, that they scarcely [Page 146] ever entered on one of their numerous discussions but he brought to light some new idea or interesting fact of history, which her quick intelligence eagerly appropriated; and he was even surprised to see how far she could enter into and appreciate some of the higher subjects which he was studying. Nay, he could not help noticing in her an earnestness and a singleness of purpose which he knew did not exist in himself, and which he felt to be a result of the faith which was her principle of action. Though he was far from adopting it as his own principle of life, he could appreciate its development in her character; and the conviction that life had responsibilities, not to be met by the mere indulgence of scholarly tastes and the love of learning, had a gradual influence in rousing him from his dreaminess, and giving a deeper tone to his moral nature.
    One afternoon, when the drifting snow-storm outside had just subsided, and the bright March sunset was gleaming golden through the great rifted grey clouds, Arthur stept into the cheerful, cosy room where the girls sat working by the fire, flushed and excited with his long toilsome walk through the snow from the village, to which he had gone, to save his tutor, who was in delicate health, the labour of walking to him.
    “Are you cold, Arthur?” said Clara, as he came up to enjoy the warm glow of the fire; “you look warm enough.”
    “It isn’t exactly the warmest thing in the world, breasting the sharp wind to-day; though I haven’t been taking it easy

                ‘The way was long, the night was cold,
                The minstrel was infirm and old,’”

he added, in a tone which made them laugh. [Page 147]
    “O Arthur!” exclaimed Clara, “do sit down now and read us that; it is so long since I heard it, and we have all been working ourselves stupid for want of you to read to us. Have you ever read the ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel,’ Katie?”
    Katie had only read some extracts from it, so she eagerly seconded Clara’s request; and Arthur willingly sat down to read to them what was one of his favourite poems, and much of which, indeed, he knew by heart; so that, as the daylight gradually stole away, he went on quite easily by the aid of the red firelight, and needed not to disturb the enchanted atmosphere of the poem by ordering lights. It was just that sort of wild mingling of the romantic and the ancient and the supernatural which, as it marks this composition, was most congenial to Katie’s natural taste; and she listened, with eyes fixed on the flickering firelight, and almost seemed to see the various scenes and actors, and the knightly array of weird forms, so vividly called up by the magic touch of the minstrel. After tea, Arthur supplemented his reading by bringing out some fine Scotch views and photographs, among which were “fair Melrose,” and other illustrations of the scenery of the poem. Katie admired them extremely, and studied them so long that Arthur protested she must have learned them by heart.     “I wonder if all those places are really as beautiful as they are represented here,” she said.
    “They ought to be more so,” replied Arthur, “for, of course, you don’t see the colouring there. But I suppose the artists have idealised them a little, as they call it—that is to say, altered them slightly so as to make prettier pictures [Page 148] of them. I hope some day to see them all for myself, however. Shouldn’t you like too? I should never be satisfied if I didn’t.”
    “Yes, I should like it, certainly,” said Katie; “but I can be quite satisfied without it. It is good that it is so,” she added, smiling, “as I am not likely to have the chance.”
    “Well, but there is some pleasure in thinking about it, and looking forward to it, even if the time never did come,” persisted Arthur.
    “I think I would rather look forward to something better, which we may all have,” said Kattie, softly. “But I suppose I think more about that now since mamma died.”
    “What is it you mean exactly?” asked Arthur.
    Caroline’s music prevented their conversation from being heard, or Katie would not then have ventured on that ground.
    “I mean the promise which is such a comfort when every thing looks dark: ‘Thine eyes shall see the King in His beauty; they shall behold the land that is very far off.’ I was reading it this morning, and that made me think of it now.”
    This remark was distasteful to Arthur, and he did not pursue the conversation. It annoyed him a little that Katie’s mind always would take such an unearthly turn when he wanted to discuss other matters with her; yet he did not forget what she said, and even thought of it afterwards.
    It was impossible that, with so many things to make it pleasant, Katie should not have enjoyed her visit at Pine Grove; and perhaps the only day she did not thoroughly [Page 149] relish it was the Sunday. She went, of course, with her friends to the Church of England, which they attended, and she was very much impressed with the solemn beauty of the service; but it pained her to see the carelessness with which the rest of the day was regarded. Caroline either fell asleep on the sofa, under pretence of reading, or kept up some idle conversation with her mother and sister about the merest trivialities, among which was sure to be included any peculiarities of dress or demeanour which they had observed during the morning service. Katie could not help wondering, indeed, how they could have noticed so much, compatibly with any degree of attention to the ostensible object of their presence in the house of God. Arthur used to shrug his shoulders impatiently at the “clattering,” as he called it, and would steal away from them to read in peace by himself—as Katie, too, sometimes did, whenever she could escape with decency; but it was generally some light secular magazine or novel that she saw in his hands. Indeed, there was such a scarcity of interesting Sunday reading in the house, that this was hardly surprising in one who, as yet, would have considered it a weariness to read the Bible steadily for any length of time.
    “What are you looking so discontented about, Katie,” he asked, on the second Sunday evening of her stay, as they sat near the dinning-room fire, the others having one by one dropped off to sleep.
    “Was I looking discontented?” asked Katie.
    “Yes; I should take the expression of your countenance to mean that you thought us all a set of heathens, and were grieving over the way we behave on Sunday.” [Page 150]
    Katie coloured at this rather free translation, certainly, of what had been passing in her mind; but she could not deny that something of the kind had occupied her, and she felt it would not be candid to evade it; so she said, after a slight hesitation—
    “I do think it’s a great pity that you don’t get more good out of your Sundays.”
    “Well, I think I get considerable good out of them. Those girls gossip and sleep half the time, and do waste it dreadfully; but I have been reading hard all afternoon, and have got a great deal of information out of an interesting scientific article on electricity.”
    Katie looked perplexed. She did not feel equal to pronouncing judgment on scientific articles, or to drawing lines of distinction, but she had a strong conviction on the matter; so she replied—
    “I don’t know much about electricity, but I do think that is not the sort of reading Sunday was given for. It’s a day of rest, you know, from all sorts of work.”
    “Well, then I should have been better employed in sleeping, or reading a brown-paper novel?”
    “No, that would not be the right kind of rest either,” said Katie, smiling, “and you don’t think so.”
    “How do you know that? But what is the right kind of rest, then?”
    “I can feel it, but I don’t know whether I can explain it,” said Katie. Then she went on more slowly, “It is the rest that Christ speaks about giving to the weary and heavy-laden, and that makes us forget about our ordinary cares and worries, and gives a sort of new strength for the rest of [Page 151] the week, just as one feels when one has passed a good night’s sleep after being very tired.”
    “And how do you get that sort of rest?”
    “Oh! by going to church, and reading the Bible, and other books that explain the Bible or put us in mind of what it teaches, or by thinking about these things, and by prayer.”
    She hesitated before adding the last, and said it only because she disliked avoiding, from false shame, a full answer to the question that had been asked.
    “Well,” said Arthur, “I don’t think I ever got so practical an idea before of Sabbath-keeping. It always seemed to me more an arbitrary sort of thing than anything else. But if the principle you and Miss Grey go upon is the right one, there ought to be a good deal in what you say. Perhaps I’ll try some time how it works.”
    “I wish you would,” said Katie. There was not much in the words, but the tone was very earnest, and Arthur understood it.
    Her visit had been prolonged from a week to a fortnight, as Mr Johnstone continued longer away than he had expected; but when sure of his return, Katie made ready to leave, and resisted resolutely all the kind solicitations to remain a little longer with which she was pressed. It was no small trial to her, in her inmost heart, to leave the bright and pleasant surroundings at Pine Grove, and go to take up again the burden that was awaiting her in her lonely home, where, for the first time in her life, there was no longer a mother’s voice and smile to welcome her back. Martha, who had long taken the principal management of [Page 152] household matters, could have made her father comfortable enough, as far as these went, but Katie felt that her post of duty was beside him, and that to leave him alone in the solitary house, even for a day, would be unfaithfulness to her mother’s dying charge,—to “do all she could for papa.”
    So she was there when he returned to welcome him, to a room as cheerful as a bright fire and care and thoughtfulness could make it, and she was rewarded by a very kind greeting and a marked disposition on his part to make the evening pleasant by talking more genially to her than he had for long done. He was evidently much the better for the change of scene and ideas which his journey had given him, and for the necessity he had been under of compelling himself to attend to the business he had to transact. He did not, as Katie feared, resume the habit of seeking relief from painful thoughts in stimulants, which created only a temporary oblivion, at the expense, too, of progressive degradation. He remained after this much more at home, especially in the evenings, seeming sensible that his duty to Katie required him not to leave her solitary, and gratefully recognising her thoughtful care for his comfort. She rejoiced over the change with trembling, hardly daring to hope that it would continue, and feeling that it was another instance of the rough wind being stayed in the day of the east wind.
    A new and deeply interesting subject of thought occupied her mind as the spring drew on. She wished to become a partaker of the Holy Communion at its approaching commemoration in Mr Grey’s church. Mr Grey did not usually encourage any of his flock to come [Page 153] forward to the ordinance while so young as Katie was, lest they should do so without a due sense of the solemnity of the vows they were taking upon them; but in Katie’s case he had no such fear, the peculiarity of her circumstances and her natural thoughtfulness having given her mind a development at least two years in advance of her age. He had conversed with her on the subject, and had drawn her out as fully as her natural shyness and modesty would admit; and he told Helen how much pleased he had been with the humility, and knowledge of truth, and simplicity of faith which he found in her. “She is one of Christ’s little ones, Helen,” he said, “and He has been teaching her Himself.”
    “Yes, indeed,” said Helen, tears coming to her eyes; “I often wonder at the things she says,—far in advance of me, who used to be her teacher!”
    But much as Katie wished to enjoy the privileges connected with the observance, in obedience to His own dying command, of the rite that commemorates our Saviour’s death, she did not approach it in any spirit of over-confidence, but almost shrank, as the time approached, from the responsibility which she felt was attached to the solemn profession she was about to make. Helen encouraged her by reminding her that she had already in her heart taken Christ for her Saviour, and that in coming to His table, she was only outwardly ratifying her heart’s choice and her promise to be His. “And you can surely trust Him for the strength to go on, can you not? The Lord will perfect all that concerneth you. He doesn’t leave that for us to do.” [Page 154]
    “No,” said Katie, “it would be hard for us if He did. It is only myself I am afraid of; when I forget His strength, and try to go on in my own.”
    “Well, he never lets us do that long without showing us the folly of it. Trust Him, Katie, that He can take care of His own; and His own are just those who come to Him,” added Helen, anticipating the thought which she saw was on Katie’s lips.
    The Communion was to be on the following Sunday, and the Friday previous was spent by Katie at the Manse, in going to church with Helen, and in quiet reading and talk. It was a lovely, warm spring day,—the crocuses already opening their yellow cups in Helen’s garden,—and though the memory of her mother still kept up an ever-present sense of loss in Katie’s heart, the day was to her full of a calm, tranquil happiness, that many in far more prosperous outward circumstances might have envied. And on the Communion Sunday, a day which might have served as the original of George Herbert’s

                        “Sweet day, so cool, so calm, so bright,”

she thankfully partook of the Feast, feeling strongly the blessedness of the Communion, not only with the Master himself, but with the beloved ones who had gone to enjoy His presence for ever in the courts above. It was truly a source of refreshment and reviving to her, as it will be to all who approach it in a humble and childlike spirit, and she went on in the strength of it for many days to come. It was well that she could find this nourishment in it, for a new trial was impending which would task her utmost resources. [Page 155]

[Chapter XIV]