A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


Thorns in the Way.

  “All turn to sweet, but most of all
    That, bitterest in the cup of pride,
When hopes presumptuous fade and fall,
    Or friendship scorns us, duly tried.”

    ON the second Sunday of their stay at the seaside, morning service was conducted in the chapel by a young clergyman of the Church of England, who had arrived in the end of the preceding week. His sermon was simple, but very earnest and impressive, and somehow reminded Katie more of Mr Grey and Helen than anything she had heard since she parted from them. She noticed that the preacher looked far from strong, as if he were only recovering from some severe illness, and it seemed to be as much as he could do to get through the service.
    In the afternoon, after the early dinner, Katie stole quietly away—avoiding the piazza, with its noisy groups—to the beach, and sat down to read, ensconced in the shelter of her usual place of retreat. She [Page 182] had her Testament and her “Christian Year” with her, or rather Helen’s, which she had brought on account of its conveniently small size. She had not been very long there, and was sitting gazing dreamily at a large vessel bearing away on the horizon, and wondering what Ned and Helen were doing just then, when she heard voices approaching, and recognised Caroline’s laugh. She was just going to emerge from her hiding-place, when she heard the voice also of Lieutenant Ainslie, a young officer who had become particularly attentive to Caroline, and was now accompanying her; so she remained still, hoping that they would not notice her as they passed on, for she instinctively shrank from Mr Ainslie’s rather supercilious stare. As they approached, she, of course, could not avoid hearing their conversation. Mr Ainslie was saying—
    “I was coming up to you this morning to offer you a drive, but you were discoursing so amiably with that charming little friend of yours in black, that I thought it a pity to interrupt the tête a tête. Odd-looking little girl that, cousin—is she? but I should think she must be something of a bore at times.”
    Poor Caroline had not independence of character enough to treat this speech as it deserved; she was always desirous of pleasing the person she happened to be with, and perhaps more so in this instance than usual. So she replied, with, of course, no idea that Katie was within hearing.
    “Oh, no, she is no relation; mamma brought her here out of kindness. One must feel sorry for her, you know, being deformed and having lost her parents, though she is, as you say, a little tiresome sometimes.” [Page 183]
    The lieutenant replied with an empty compliment on her amiability, and then they forgot all about Katie for the rest of their walk. But poor Katie had heard what could not fail to wound her acutely. She had so loved and admired Caroline that it gave her a strange throb of pain to hear her talk so carelessly and superciliously about herself, for it is perhaps as keen a pang as a girl of her age can suffer, to know that a friend older than herself, to whom she is enthusiastically attached, has spoken unkindly of her to others. Caroline had said nothing that was positively untrue; but the whole tone of her speech chilled poor Katie to the heart; and then that cruel word “deformed” oppressed her with a vague dull sense of misery. She had known and resigned herself to the knowledge that she was not, and never could be, exactly like others; but the word “deformed” was so harsh, and implied something positively repulsive, that Katie could not bear the thought of it without very acute pain. She sat for some time perfectly still, but with an oppressive sense of wretchedness weighing on her heart; and then a burst of tears gave her relief, and her view of things gradually brightened a little in the cheerful calmness of Nature around her. She read a little in her Testament and her “Christian Year,” finding comfort in both, and then, as the afternoon was now cooler, she walked slowly along the beach to some rocks which formed a secluded resting-place out of the way of the gayer promenaders, and which were the usual boundary of her walks. Here she sat for long, scarcely noting how the time was passing, watching the sun gradually descending in the clear bright sky, or the [Page 184] white coil of the waves as they rolled up to her feet, and then broke and disappeared. She had fallen on a train of thought not usual with her, and neither happy nor profitable. It seemed to her that things turned out so strangely in the world, and the inequalities of life sadly perplexed her. Her own gentle mother, who was so sweet and good,—why had she always so much care and sorrow; while Mrs Winstanley, who could not be so good, seemed never to have anything to cloud her prosperity? Then Helen, why had she to work so hard and deny herself many pleasures, when Caroline, who was certainly her inferior in real excellence, never knew an ungratified wish? Ned and Arthur too, how differently they were situated! and as for herself,—the thought was still too full of pain to dwell upon, especially as she feared she was in danger of envious feelings springing up in her heart. So she tried to turn away her mind from what—she was conscious—was doing her no good; and presently there floated through it the stanza:—

                    “Then, like a half-forgotten strain,
                        Comes sweeping o’er thy heart forlorn,
                    What sunshine hours had taught in vain,
                        Of Jesus suffering shame and scorn.”

And she opened her “Christian Year” to read over again that hymn for Good Friday which had given her so much consolation and hope before. She laid down the book again, and was steadily looking at the sea, thinking of what she had read, when a slight sound near her roused her attention, and looking up, she was startled to see quite close to her the gentleman who had conducted the service that [Page 185] morning. He had come unexpectedly upon her, and had stood for a few minutes trying to read the expression of the pale, sweet face, which had interested him in the dining-saloon and the chapel.
    “I hope I haven’t startled you,” he said, smiling; “it seemed to me that I almost knew you from having seen you at the hotel; and if you will allow me the liberty of reminding you, I would suggest that it is time you were thinking of going home to tea, otherwise you may lose it.”
    His tone was so gentle and polite, and his manner so pleasing, that Katie could not feel there was any intrusion in his thus addressing her; so she thanked him, and got up to follow his suggestion.
    “Let me carry your books,” he said, with the true politeness which he always showed to every one, no matter how lowly; taking up, as he spoke, the books which had been lying on a rock beside her. “You have been well employed, I see,” he added, glancing first at the books and then at her. “So you read the ‘Christian Year,’ do you? It is a great favourite of mine.”
    “I like it very much,” said Katie, in a low tone, “though I don’t understand it all yet.”
    “No,” he replied; “one has to live a good while to do that.”
    Katie wondered a little what he meant. As they walked he kept turning over the pages in an absent mood. Suddenly he started, and said in a surprised tone—
    “Helen Grey! is that your name?”
    “No,” said Katie, wondering that he showed so much interest in it. “That is not my book; it belongs to a friend of mine.” [Page 186]
    “Indeed! she is not here, is she? Where does she—where do you live?”
    “At Lynford,” Katie answered. “She is there now.”
    “Ah, then it is the same! I had the pleasure of making Miss Grey’s acquaintance once when she was visiting her sister; and I was surprised at seeing her name here.”
    “Oh, do you know Helen? I am so glad!” exclaimed Katie, to whom the stranger was scarcely a stranger, now they had Helen for their common friend. He went on:—
    “My name is Russell; perhaps you may have heard her speak of me, since you seem to know her so well?”
    Katie was obliged to confess that she never had; at which he looked, she thought, a little disappointed. He went on to explain:—
    “I have been for a long time threatened with consumption. At that time I was obliged to give up my studies for the ministry, which were almost completed; and I was under the care of her brother-in-law, whom I found a good friend as well as a good doctor; and as I was often at his house, I saw a good deal of Miss Grey then.”
    “I wonder she never spoke of you; but I didn’t know her so well then. It was after that that she did me so much good.”
    “Ah! she did me good too. I was distrustful and hopeless, and despairing almost at that time, for my health seemed ruined and my prospects dark; and she helped me to find out the only comfort in such circumstances, which of course I knew, but could not so well realise before.”
    Katie looked up inquiringly, but made no reply, so he went on— [Page 187]
    “‘Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God; believe also in me.’ Is not that the best thing to do in trouble?”
    The words smote Katie like a reproof for the faithless murmuring in which she had been indulging. She assented, and then said, after a short silence—
    “I think Helen felt the need of that herself that spring, for she seemed a good deal troubled for a time, and then she said it was because she had been faithless, but that she had learned now to trust God with all that concerned her.”
    After this Mr Russell was silent for a good while. As they were getting near home he suddenly asked, “I suppose your friend, Miss Grey, isn’t likely to come here?”
    “No,” said Katie, with a sigh, “I wish she were. But she is going to visit her sister after I go home. I live with her and Mr Grey now.”
    “Oh, indeed; then I shall probably meet her there, as I have a church in that neighbourhood. My health is almost restored, but I have had rather hard work lately, and am come here for a little bracing.”
    They arrived just in time to go in to tea with the rest of the people; Katie would rather have done without hers than gone in after every one was seated. After tea she explained to Arthur and Clara, who had seen her come up with her new friend, how the acquaintance had arisen, passing over, as briefly as possible, all he had said about Helen; for although she was romantic enough to have made a conjecture of her own on the subject, she could not bear that it should be referred to in the jesting manner which Clara had caught from her new acquaintances, [Page 188] and which seemed to Katie only a profanation of things in themselves pure and holy. Indeed, when she was obliged to listen to the tirades of utter nonsense,—not even amusing,—that went on, especially on Sunday evenings, among Caroline’s and Clara’s new associates, she could not help feeling that if her involuntary isolation had served no other purpose than to keep her out of the range of such frivolities, it had done her some good at any rate. It had done her more good than that, and if she had known the contrast Mr Russell was drawing in his own mind, as he paced up and down, between the serious and sweet spiritual beauty of the little invalid’s pale face, and the comparatively vapid, inexpressive countenances of most of the girls around her, she need not have feared ever being repulsive to any one. She, however, had ceased to think much of her afternoon’s pain now; her mind was too full of her subsequent encounter, and of unavailing wishes—stronger than ever—that Helen had only come.
    Caroline was not in her usual spirits after her walk. She had not found it so pleasant as she expected, and had had a sort of misunderstanding with her cavalier. Katie had been trying in her afternoon’s meditations to solve problems beyond our mortal capacities to prove, but it might have helped a little to diminish her perplexities had she known how much more really happy Helen Grey, and even she herself, were, as they lay down to sleep that night than the envied Caroline Winstanley.
    Mr Russell and Katie had many pleasant talks during his stay. Helen was always a fruitful topic, and Mr Russell gradually drew from Katie the history of their [Page 189] intercourse, which interested him very much. With Arthur, too, he of course soon got acquainted, and the acquaintance speedily ripened into an intimacy, for they were drawn together by great similarity of tastes, and the earnest manly type of Mr Russell’s Christianity, combined with his refinement, culture, and liberality of spirit, had a strong influence over Arthur’s still wavering mind. They often discussed questions with which Arthur, from his speculative turn, had been perplexing his mind, and though Mr Russell could not show him the way out of all his perplexities, he could at least lead him to the standing-ground which satisfied himself. Katie, though she could not always fully follow out the meaning of their discussions, enjoyed them immensely, and infinitely preferred sitting in silence listening to such conversations, to taking any part in them herself. For she always distrusted her own ability of saying the right thing, and she felt Arthur was so safe with such a guide as Mr Russell.
    One evening, they had protracted their conversation till the daylight had all faded away, and the full moon was shedding a flood of almost golden glory across the sea—for the “glorious moonlight” on which Arthur had calculated had been for some time making the night more beautiful than the day.
    “It must have been on some such night as this,” said Mr Russell, “that Tennyson composed those lines in the ‘Morte d’Arthur’—do you remember them, Winstanley?—beginning—

                                                            ‘The great brand
                    Made lightnings in the splendour of the moon.’” [Page 190]

    “Yes,” said Arthur, “what a magnificent poem it is! Could you go on with it? I wish I could!”
    “No, I don’t remember that part accurately; but there is a passage further on, by the way, that bears a little on what we have been discussing, and the ending, about the island valley of Avilion, is very fine. Have you read it, Miss Katie?” he asked, turning to her—“No? Well then, I will try if I can give it to you.” So he repeated, with a voice that was low, but full of musical cadences—

                    “Then slowly answered Arthur from the barge:
                    ‘The old order changeth, yielding place to new,
                    And God fulfils Himself in many ways,
                    Lest one good custom should convert the world.
                    Comfort thyself: what comfort is in me?
                    I have lived my life, and that which I have done
                    May He within Himself make pure! but thou,
                    If thou should’st never see my face again,
                    Pray for my soul. More things are wrought by prayer
                    Than this world dreams of. Wherefore let thy voice
                    Rise like a fountain for me night and day.
                    For what are men better than sheep or goats
                    That nourish a blind life within the brain,
                    If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer
                    Both for themselves and those who call them friend?
                    For so the whole round world is every way
                    Bound by gold chains about the feet of God.
                    But now, farewell, I am going a long way
                    With these thou seest, if indeed I go
                    (For all my mind is clouded with a doubt)
                    To the island valley of Avilion;
                    Where falls not hail, or rain, or any snow,
                    Nor ever wind blows loudly; but it lies
                    Deep-meadowed, happy, fair with orchard-lawns
                    And bowery hollows crowned with summer sea,
                    Where I will heal me of my grievous wound.’”

    Katie forgot everything around her as she listened, and [Page 191] was conscious only of the exquisite music of the words she heard, and the beauty of their meaning, which seemed to collect and embody aspirations and thoughts that had floated vaguely through her own mind, and which she could now grasp in an intelligible form. Nor was it surprising that the words, “where I will heal me of my grievous wound,” especially lingered in her memory. And she still “sat rapt,” like the original imaginary listeners, while Mr Russell went on to speak of the exquisite touch by which the author, in the conclusion of the poem, connects the legend that Arthur would “come again”—an expression, among many, of the deep-seated belief of the world in an approaching Deliverer who is to inaugurate a brighter age—with the peal of Christmas bells, when the poet hears

            “The clear church bells ring in the Christmas morn.”

    When Katie went to sleep that night in the still moonlight, she seemed, like the poet himself, “to sail with Arthur towards that calm and happy ‘island of Avilion.’”
    Mr Russell preached again the following Sunday morning, and at the request of some of the visitors it was arranged that an open-air service should be held in the afternoon, in the woods, at a short distance from the hotel, at which he agreed to officiate, all the more that he felt his voice had shared in the general strength he had gained in the rest and bracing sea-air he had been enjoying.
    Arthur, Katie, and Clara set out together for the place of meeting. “Won’t you come, Carry?” said the latter, as they passed Caroline lounging in the piazza. She hesitated, and perhaps would have joined them, but Mr Ainslie [Page 192] interposed with some remark to the effect that she had done her duty in going once to church, and that she surely wouldn’t deprive them of the music she had promised them,—“Sacred music, you know,” he added; “you will keep us all out of mischief too, if you stay;” and Caroline was easily persuaded to remain. As the others went on, Clara was the only one who made any remark, saying, in a vexed tone—
    “I don’t know what has come over Carry since we have been here. She isn’t half as nice as she is at home. I shan’t be sorry when we go, for that—and I don’t like that Mr Ainslie at all!”
    The place where the service was to be held was a pleasant spot, comparatively clear, in the woods, yet shaded by neighbouring foliage from the direct heat of the sun. There was not a large congregation, so that the circle around the preacher was not wider than his voice could easily reach. Mr Russell read the evening service of his church, and then preached from the words, “Heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.” He spoke simply, but with great earnestness and directness, of the glorious inheritance which Christ had won for all who would receive it; not immunity from certain penalties alone, but salvation from the present power of sin, and immediate entrance on the true eternal life, which begins here and now, as soon as the heart chooses Christ for its master. He said that Christians, even when they had made their choice, did not sufficiently appreciate their inheritance, or expect nearly so much as Christ would give them if they asked Him; that He was ready to bestow [Page 193] upon them a light and a strength, which, if they trusted in it, would bear them up over “the waves of this troublesome world,” as certainly as His hand upheld the sinking Peter on the sea of Galilee, and that every cross, as well as every joy, would be a means of furthering that true progress which is the real end of our sojourn in this world.
    Katie eagerly drank in every word; and many a time afterwards the truths, and even the expressions, she heard that afternoon came back freshly to her mind, mingled with the scent of the sweet fern and bay which breathed their fragrance in the air around her.
    As they walked slowly home, Mr Russell overtook them, and Arthur thanked him warmly for his sermon, saying he should long remember it with pleasure, and, he trusted, with profit also. Mr Russell spoke warmly of the pleasure he had had in their society during his stay at the sea-side, and expressed his regret that he must bid them farewell that evening, as he had to start early next morning on his return homeward. They all said good-bye with many hopes of meeting again to renew so pleasant an intercourse, and to Katie Mr Russell said, as he exchanged words with her for a moment apart, that he hoped to meet her friend Miss Grey in September. With Arthur he had one last earnest conversation before parting, and Katie hoped and prayed that it might result in permanent good to one whom she earnestly desired to see altogether a Christian.
    Mrs Winstanley’s party remained only a week after that, and as the weather was now getting cold, they turned their faces homeward with the less regret, though with many pleasant recollections of their sea-side sojourn. [Page 194]


[Chapter XVII]