A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


The Sea-Side.

  “He sat at the feet of Nature
    In love and wonder meek;
Had he then learned to listen,
    Or had she learned to speak!”

    IT was a lovely morning in the beginning of August when the travellers set out. They were to drive to Ashby in the Winstanleys’ carriage, to take the train there, and in order to be in time they had to start very early. When the carriage called at the Manse to take up Katie, the mill-bells were just ringing for six o’clock, and the drive was thus accomplished while the air was fresh and cool, and the heavy dew still subdued the dust. They had time, while waiting at the station, to supplement their necessarily hasty breakfast, and then the train came in sight, gave its shrill whistle, stopped, just allowed them time to get comfortably settled in their places, and was bearing them away out of sight of the Ashby steeples, before Katie could [Page 171] realise that they were really off into what, to her, was an unknown world.

    She had scarcely ever, since she was old enough to remember, been out of Lynford, at least to any considerable distance, and every mile of the journey therefore disclosed some object of interest quite new to her. They had fine weather during the whole of the journey, a long one from our Western Canada to the seaboard. It would scarcely be possible fully to describe Katie’s intense enjoyment of the beautiful sail down the broad St Lawrence, with its ever-shifting panorama of lovely islands and white foaming rapids. Montreal, with its imposing mountain background, its masses of buildings, lofty towers, and forest of shipping, powerfully impressed her inexperienced imagination, which had never before been able to picture what a great city was like; and as they rattled along over the hard streets and between the tall houses, to the hotel where they were to spend the night, she sat in perfect silence, gazing with excited interest on the crowds of passers-by, and the other characteristics of the scene, all so new to her untravelled senses.
    They spent the next forenoon in visiting the cathedral and other sights of interest, and started in the middle of the day for Island Pond, thinking the whole journey to Portland too fatiguing, especially to Katie, to be performed throughout in a single day. The excitement seemed for the time to have given her new energy, but for that very reason it was the more necessary to be careful, lest the demand it was making on her strength should tell upon her seriously afterwards. Pleasant as was their route during the afternoon, among the blue windings of the St Francis and the[Page 172] Richelieu, she was almost glad when they came to their evening stopping-place, where, however, she soon lost the sense of fatigue in refreshing slumber. She was called almost before daylight next morning, to be ready for the early train. Looking from the high window of her room, she beheld in its quiet unearthly beauty, what seemed to her more like a dream than a reality,—the lake lying still and glassy below, studded with its fairy isles, and the early haze, as it rolled away at the moment, lending an ideal grandeur past conception to the hills that rose behind against the rosy and golden tints of the early morning sky. However, she had not long leisure to admire the exquisite picture, for Clara and she were hurried down by the warning signal almost before they were ready. Then there was another delightful forenoon’s journey among the pine-covered Green Mountains of Vermont, and after that among the grand rugged summits of the White Mountains, which, much as they delighted Katie, disappointed her just a little in the particular of height, though this, perhaps, is a general experience with those who are new to mountain scenery. At last, the train, leaving the mountains behind, brought them once more into populous regions, and, suddenly, at length there flashed out upon their gaze the broad harbour of Portland, its blue breezy waters dotted with snowy sails of all shapes and sizes, and, seen for a moment, looming away in the blue distance, the sea! Portland itself is not on the open seaboard, but the party, none of the junior members of which had ever been before in the “forest city,” found plenty to admire in the fine avenues of stately [Page 173] trees which embower the streets, and the imposing residences, with their tasteful grounds, which they passed in the course of their short drive through it.
    They had still a further stage, though a short one, to traverse by rail, before they arrived within driving distance of their destination, and it was only when they were approaching their intended quarters, that Katie had, from the carriage windows, at last a full view of “the great and wide sea,” stretching away, in its blue expanse, into the infinite distance.
    “Well, Katie, does it satisfy your expectations?” asked Arthur, who himself could fully sympathise with the feeling that crimsoned her cheek and made her eyes sparkle so brightly as she leaned forward and gazed out intently.
    “I will tell you by and bye. I can’t take it all in yet,” she said, with a smile; and, indeed, she never cared to speak when any grand or beautiful object was exciting her admiration, at least on the first occasion.
    They arrived just as the gong of the hotel was sounding the summons to tea, and groups of people were approaching from various quarters, and hastening in. After hurriedly changing their dusty dresses, they gladly went in to the refreshing meal, which looked very inviting in its sea-side abundance of fish, fruit, rolls, and biscuits of every variety, that covered the long tables in the large light dining-saloon, whose windows commanded a full view of the ocean. Katie thought she had never enjoyed a tea so much, and was quite unconscious of the scrutiny the new-comers underwent from their neighbours at table, and of the half-pitying glances which were directed to herself. [Page 174]
    As soon as tea was over, disclaiming all idea of fatigue, which she was still too excited to feel, she went down to the beach with Arthur and Clara, who were as anxious as herself to be closer to the waves, and feel their feet really on “the sands,” which, left by the receding tide, were at the time solid and firm as a marble pavement. Out of consideration to Katie, the others resisted the disposition to have a run, or even a waik, on the tempting surface, and so, sitting down in an old boat that lay stranded high and dry above the tide-mark, they resigned themselves to listed to the mysterious muffled roar of the ocean, and watch the bright tints of the clear August sunset gradually fading out in the sky that overarched the waste of waters.
    “Just to think, Katie,” said Arthur after they had sat for a good while in silence, “that there is nothing but water—one wave just like another—between us now and your beloved Scotland. Don’t you feel inclined to get a little boat and set out? If I go to the old country this fall, as they talk of my doing, it will be some of that very water I shall cross. There is something strangely fascinating in the idea of being beside an ocean that washes the shores of Britain and France, and Spain and Africa—places that seem more like a dream than a reality to us over here. Well, I hope to see them all some day!”
    “I’m sure I shouldn’t care to see Africa,” said Clara, “a dry, hot, sandy place where nothing grows!”
    “Oh, Clara, Clara!” said Arthur, laughing, “that comes of your continual story-books, instead of useful reading. If you had read Dr Livingstone now, you wouldn’t have made such a speech as that! Have you read it, Katie?” [Page 175]
    “No; I heard Mr Grey and Helen talking about it.”
    “Well, you ought to put it down for reading next winter. I’ll bequeath it to you when I go away. Africa, in its natural features, must be as interesting as either of the adjoining continents; but then, of course, there isn’t the charm of history, and association with human life, which gives to travelling its greatest interest, and draws our hearts to any locality. So, I confess, there are a good many places I should like to see first.”
    “Palestine, for instance,” said Katie; “there is no place I should think half so interesting as that.”
    They were all very quiet again for a while; then Arthur exclaimed—“Look, there is the young moon! We shall have a full moon while we are here; isn’t that glorious? What are you doing, Clara?” he added, observing her gravely nodding her head three times. “Oh, I know;—wishing! weren’t you, you foolish child?”
    “Yes,” confessed Clara.
    “And what did you wish for, pray?”
    “Oh, I shan’t tell you that! That would break the charm. Did you wish, Katie?”
    “No,” said Katie, “I wouldn’t know what to wish for, even if I thought it would be of any use.”
    “Why have you no wishes at all, Katie?” said Arthur, surprised.
    “I should wish Helen were here, if it were possible,” she replied, smiling. “And I suppose there are a good many things I might wish for, if I were to try. But I can’t tell whether they would be good for me. And it seems to me wrong, as well as foolish, to do such things, as [Page 176] if we could get what we want in any other way than from God, and as if we could not always pray to Him for what we want.”
    “Oh, but then, it is little trifling sort of things one wishes for,” argued Clara, “not things one would like to pray for.”
    “But isn’t it God who gives us everything, Clara dear? And I read, not long ago, that nothing that troubles us is too small to pray for; and about a good minister who prayed for his horse’s recovery when it was sick.”
    “Oh!” said Clara, “I wonder he wasn’t ashamed.”
    “Why should he,” replied Katie, “when Christ tells us that ‘even a sparrow does not fall to the ground without our Father’s permission?’” And as she spoke she vividly remembered the time when that text first shed light and comfort into her own mind.
    “Well, Katie, you are the oddest girl,” said Clara,—a speech that was her usual retort when Katie’s arguments had left her nothing more to say; and Arthur, who had not joined in the discussion, presently remarked that it was time Katie was thinking of taking some rest.
    Next day her fatigue, at last, asserted itself, though not to such an extent as it would have done in a less bracing atmosphere. As it was, however, she felt quite unable to get up till the middle of the day, and then she was content to sit quietly for the rest of it in the most retired corner of the piazza, watching the restless ocean and the groups of visitors lounging about, or passing up and down the beach. She soon made acquaintance with the children who were romping around, especially some little ones dressed, like [Page 177] herself, in deep mourning, who, with their mother, a very delicate, sad-looking young woman,—apparently a widow,—interested her very much. The latter sat gazing listlessly at the sea, a book lying idly in her hands, seemingly as much indisposed to move as Katie herself; but gradually, by means of the fancy which the children took to Katie, she and the lady came to form a slight acquaintance.
    The rest of the party were away in various directions nearly all day: in the morning, bathing; and in the afternoon, exploring the beach and the neighbouring woods. Arthur and Clara came back full of the results of their tour of observation, and Caroline, always sociable and winning, had already made the acquaintance of some young ladies, with whom she seemed to be already on intimate terms, for she started after tea for a long walk with them and some gentlemen friends of theirs, whose names and position, however, Mrs Winstanley took care to ascertain before consenting that Caroline should join them. As they were pronounced “highly respectable,” on the unquestionable authority of a fashionable lady-friend whom Mrs Winstanley had arranged to meet there, she was quite satisfied.
    It was some time before it was thought advisable for Katie to bathe, and then she was not permitted to do so oftener than once in two or three days, since, much as she enjoyed it, it was considered the shock, so frequently repeated, might be too severe for her. However she usually went down when the others did, and amused herself by watching the bathers; or by wandering along the beach, looking at the curious jelly-fish left stranded by the tide, [Page 178] and wondering whether there ever could have been any animation in such inert masses of matter; or she watched the pretty little sea-birds as they ran out after the retiring waves, picking up their prey, and retreating just as the returning billow came rolling in upon them. When she was tired, she generally took refuge, with a book, under the shady side of an old boat, which screened her from the rays of the sun, and even from the observation of most passersby, while she had the full advantage of the fresh cool air from the sea; and its steady murmur, to which she liked so much to listed, was always sounding in her ear. She usually remained there while the others took their brisk walk after bathing, and then returned with them to the house to rest before dinner, when she had another quiet hour’s reading. She got through a good deal in this way, and Arthur kept her well supplied with books, having, as Clara said, brought down a “small library” with him. They were chiefly books, too, that contained interesting information, and real food for thought; so that her reading was not like most of the kind that was done there, merely “killing time.”
    Sometimes the afternoon was so hot that the sands seemed to be enveloped in a quivering veil of heat as they glittered intensely white and bright against the vivid blue of the sea; and then they were all glad to rest, either in the shady piazza, or in some of the cool darkened sitting-rooms of the hotel. One of these sultry afternoons ended in a thunder-storm, which came on during the tea-hour, so grand that the dining-saloon was instantly vacated, and all the inmates of the house crowded to the front piazza, [Page 179] intent now on the sullen glare that rested on the sea beneath the lowering sky, now on the grand march and meeting of the majestic thunder-clouds, anon on the crash of thunder and the vivid lightning when they came in contact; and then, when the rain had descended with its tremendous down-pour, on the bright, beautiful rainbow that arched the sky, as the sun once more began to gleam through the parting clouds.
    Occasionally their afternoons were varied, when it was cooler, by little expeditions into the woods, fragrant with the sweet fern and other aromatic plants, and full of a luxuriant crop of whortle-berries. They were generally joined in these excursions by two or three girls who had become pretty good friends with Clara, and even with Katie, though her shyness and delicacy, as well as the slight peculiarity in her appearance, rather tended to isolate her from intimate acquaintanceship with those of her own age. Clara and Arthur, however, remained faithful to their friend, no matter who might be of the party, and with their society she was always right well content. It was not so with Caroline, who was more easily influenced by the opinion of those around her. She had always been kind to Katie at home, in a sort of patronising way, partly from compassionate interest and partly from real liking. But here she soon noticed the curious and sometimes contemptuous glances that were directed towards Katie, especially among the “set” into which she herself had got. The girls in it were chiefly city belles, spoiled a good deal by the artificial atmosphere in which they moved, and Caroline saw a certain “dash” and “style” about them [Page 180] which she, brought up chiefly in the country, did not possess, and greatly envied. Her own natural grace and greater simplicity rendered her true taste really more attractive; but, unaware of this, she tried instead to imitate her companions, and was extremely sensitive to anything that excited their ridicule, however unjust. So she rather avoided any open intimacy with Katie, though she could certainly have given no good reason for doing so, except the fear lest she might be rallied about it by the girls who talked chiefly nonsense, for want of anything else to say. Katie, however, who was always content to admire Caroline from a distance, without seeking to engross her, scarcely noticed the desertion, or attributed it merely to the claims which her new acquaintances, among whom she was a general favourite, made upon her attention. And as little did Katie, who scarcely ever now thought of her appearance at all, notice any of the meaning glances occasionally directed towards her. Arthur, indeed, who was always on the watch, took care that no one should dare, with impunity, to venture on any such manifestation towards Katie, in his presence, definite enough to be taken notice of by her at least. [Page 181]

[Chapter XVI]