A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


A First Sorrow.

                      “A little silent grassy mound—
                        And is this all is left of thee,
                    Whose feet would o’er the meadow bound,
                        So full of eager life and glee?”

    AS soon as the crowd of bystanders, which every little excitement so quickly collects, had completely dispersed, most of them in the direction in which the sleigh was slowly moving, Jim Egan cautiously emerged from the archway into which, fearing summary vengeance from any one who might have noticed his share in the accident, he had retreated, as soon as he had in some degree realised the extent of the disaster which he had been instrumental in causing. His quick eye instantly fell on the little black figure on the snow, and with a pang of real regret and compunction—for he had often secretly admired Jet—he stood for a moment dismayed and undecided; then, darting forward while no one was looking that way, he seized the lifeless form of the little creature in his arms, [Page 10] and, closely followed by Snap, stuck down the first back street towards the place he called home—one of a cluster of miserable huts that stood, surrounded by little patches of ground, on the outskirts of the village, close to the river. He did not, however, stop at the door, where a gaunt, wretched-looking woman was standing, having set down her pail in order to have a colloquy with some passing neighbour. Her shrill exclamation, “Arrah, then! what mischief has that boy been at now?” warned Jim to keep his burden out of sight if possible, which he ingeniously managed to do, as, disregarding his mother’s peremptory summons, he hurried on to an empty outhouse not far off. There he set down the little dead animal, and stood for some time ruefully contemplating it, with more of remorse and softened feeling than Jim Egan had ever before experienced. It had been such a playful, knowing little creature; he had often watched its ways with mingled admiration and envy; and the thought of the sorrow which its death would occasion came into his mind. It touched him a great deal more than the accident to Katie herself, who, he knew, had not been killed or “run over,” and therefore would, he supposed be all right again soon. But the dog’s death was something irretrievable—irremediable; and Jim felt so uncomfortable, that, having no other outlet for his remorse, he vented it in a kick at the astonished Snap, as he came snuffing around, and thus experienced the truth that accomplices in evil are not always the most welcome companions after the evil has been done. Jim’s cogitations, although they did not express themselves in soliloquy, ended in a determination to make a rough box with such [Page 11] rude tools of his father’s as he had been occasionally using, and to give the poor thing a decent burial. “Maybe she’ll never be told what happened to it,” he thought; “and if she should, it’ll please her to know it wasn’t left on the streets.”
    So, to make the only amends in his power, there commenced an afternoon of unwonted industry for Jim. The box, clumsily fashioned as it was, gave his awkward hands some little practice, and for once in his life Jim spent several consecutive hours without getting into a single piece of mischief; so true is the hymn which most of us learned among our earliest acquisitions, that—

  “Satan finds some mischief still
    For idle hands to do;”

and, therefore, the best thing for any boy or girl incorrigibly given to mischief, is to be engaged in some work in which he or she can take a real interest. When, a day or two after, a rapid thaw had carried away much of the deep snow, Jet was taken, in his rough coffin, to a little knoll under two over-arching elms, on a piece of “common” that lay between Jim’s home and the house of Katie Johnstone’s father, and there carefully buried—Snap, poor fellow, having no real malice in his fierce canine heart, standing by with wondering eyes, the sole spectator. The place of burial had been selected by Jim partly from its convenience for performing the operation unseen, and partly from an instinctive, half-developed feeling, that should Katie come to ascertain the fact of the death of her favourite, she would be glad it was buried within sight [Page 12] of her home: for there are instincts in uncultivated natures like Jim’s which certainly were never planted there by any human agency.
    We have purposely refrained from describing the grief in the home which Katie had so blithely left, when she was carried back to it, unconscious, possibly dying. All who have ever known a family sorrow will be able to imagine the hush of grief and anxiety that fell upon the house, the suspense while the doctor was making his examination, and the mingled relief and sadness with which Mrs Johnstone received his final opinion, that while no vital injury could be discovered, it was evident the spine had suffered seriously; but, with the utmost care, and with youth and health in the little patient’s favour, he thought there was every prospect of a final restoration, at least to comparative strength. His words, kind and partially reassuring as they were, fell somewhat chillingly on the mother’s heart, weighing it down with a fear of which she dared not risk the confirmation by expressing it. So she strove to hush it down for the present, feeling that “sufficient for the day is the evil thereof,” and going back to the sick-room, strove to bury the dread of the future in doing everything for the little sufferer that care and tenderness could accomplish.
    It was two or three days before Katie so far recovered from the shock to her system as to be conscious of anything but a confused sense of acute suffering, to relieve which opiates had to be frequently administered. At last, in a comparative lull of pain, and when vitality seemed to be once more reasserting itself, the particulars of the accident [Page 13] seemed to come up before her in a sudden flash. Then came a thrill of fear concerning Jet.
    “O mamma! was Jet hurt?” she asked, in a trembling, breathless tone, that went to her mother’s heart, as she recollected with sudden uneasiness that since the morning of Katie’s accident she had seen nothing of the dog, of which, indeed, in her overpowering anxiety for Katie, she had scarcely thought. Now, however, knowing what a grief it would be for Katie, and how hard to bear in her present circumstances, if anything had happened to poor Jet, it was with real anxiety and misgiving that she went to question Martha about him. Martha had not forgotten him, though every one else had, and being really fond of him, both for his own sake and Katie’s, had instituted a private search of her own, but had not succeeded in discovering any trace of him.
    “An’ it’s my belief, ma’am, that the poor creature won’t be seen no more, or he’d never have stayed away from Miss Katie,” said poor Martha, very mournfully, for Jet had been “great company” to her, and she missed him more than she would have liked to acknowledge.
    Poor Katie! The thought of Jet’s being lost or killed was very hard to bear! The physical injuries to herself which had been caused by the accident she had as yet scarcely realised, further than in the immediate pain she had to suffer; but the loss of her little friend and companion and playmate—the only playmate of the somewhat isolated child—was a calamity keenly and immediately felt. For the time her own pain was quite forgotten in her anxious surmises as to his fate; and the fast-flowing tears, [Page 14] which pain could not bring often, drenched her pillow when no one was near, as sorrowful visions rose before her of the possible ways in which Jet, deprived of his mistress’s protection, had met his end. He occupied her mind for days, almost to the exclusion of everything else. She would often fancy she heard his little light feet pattering along the hall or up the stairs, or that she could feel the gentle scraping upon her bed, preparatory to his bound up beside her. And then she would wake up again to the reality of Jet lost, and a burst of crying would follow. She always, however, kept down the manifestation of her grief in her mother’s presence, knowing how it would distress her; and Mrs Johnstone sometimes wondered how well Katie bore the loss of her favourite.
    One day, however, while her mother was out on some necessary errand, the doctor, entering suddenly, found Katie crying quietly under her quilt.
    “Why, what’s the matter?” said he, in some surprise—for he had admired the fortitude with which she had borne her physical suffering—“your back isn’t paining you worse, is it?”
    Poor Katie could not at once reply, and Martha answered for her—
    “Indeed, sir, it’s not that she’s crying for, I’ll be bound; but she takes on terrible after her little dog, that was lost the day she was hurt.”
    “Ah! that’s it, is it?” said the doctor, who, being somewhat of a dog-fancier himself, could appreciate such a misfortune; so he did not laugh at Katie’s sorrow, and scold her for crying, as some might have done, but talked kindly [Page 15] and sympathisingly to the child, till he drew her out to tell him her chief trouble, how she feared lest the dog had been only hurt, and being disabled from getting home, had lingered on in pain, and died from cold and neglect.
    “If I only knew he had been killed directly, and not hurt very much, I wouldn’t mind nearly so much, doctor,” said Katie, who already felt the comforting influence of the kindly sympathy, and the relief of talking about the grief which had been weighing upon her mind.
    “Well, try to cheer up, like a good child, and I’ll undertake to find out, if I can, what became of Jet. I don’t think it requires a detective to do that in Lynford.” Then, as Katie smiled faintly, and thanked him, he stopped to add (for he was one of those physicians—would there were more!—who love to own as the Head of their profession the Great Physician himself), “And, my child, whether we find out or not, don’t forget that our Saviour says that even a sparrow does not fall to the ground without the permission of our Father in heaven.”
    It was a word in season, an entirely new source of comfort to Katie, who lay thinking about it nearly all day. Here had she been grieving over her dog’s fate as if there were no care and protection for it but hers: as if the Creating Love which had given and preserved its little innocent life could not be trusted to dispose of that life in the best way, though she might not be able to see it to be so. If God cared for the sparrows, would He not have cared for Jet! Katie had read that verse often, and repeated it at Sunday-school, but she had never really thought of its meaning till now. Ah! to how many of us do the Divine [Page 16] sayings need to come pointed with the arrow of some special affliction, before we can fully realise their beauty and power! Katie had not had much home-teaching in these matters. Her mother, a sincere, humble Christian, meekly bearing the many troubles which had fallen to her lot in that higher strength which alone could have sustained her, had herself been brought to the loving Saviour only through severe trial; but, from being timid and shy in speaking of the things that lay nearest her heart, as well as from an exaggerated feeling of her own deficiency in spiritual knowledge, she had not been in the habit of speaking much to her young daughter of the blessed faith which she so earnestly prayed might become the principle of her life. She might have felt a greater necessity for doing so had she not trusted too much to the teaching of the Sunday-school, which, however useful it may be as an accompaniment to the teaching of the fireside, is of necessity to general, too little adapted to the individuality of the recipient, to be a perfect substitute. Besides, Katie’s delicacy of constitution had made her attendance very irregular, and, even when present, she had been apt, like many children, to consider her teacher’s exhortations, simple and earnest though they were, too much as matters of course, which the next thing that interested her would efface from her mind. So, though her Bible knowledge was by no means deficient, and she knew by heart the leading formulas of the Christian faith, she had never yet come to understand them as relating practically to herself—had never felt that need of a Saviour which must come to every soul, old or young, when its own helplessness for good and bias [Page 17] toward evil are once fully realised. It seemed as if God were now taking her apart for a time, to teach her in His own way the things that were for her peace.
    The kind doctor did not forget the promise he had made to his little patient. He had been told of Jim Egan’s connexion with the accident, and, from his knowledge of the boy’s wild, mischievous character, he had no doubt that he was in some way connected with Jet’s disappearance. Accordingly, the first time he encountered him in his rounds, he surprised him by the peremptory demand, “What he had done to Miss Johnstone’s little dog?” The doctor’s question, however, instead of producing the intimidating effect intended, only roused Jim’s defiance, and made him sulky and evasive: impertinent he probably would have been but for his secret dread of Dr Elliott’s powerful arm.
    Seeing that his first method was not likely to succeed, the doctor tried another plan, and, in a milder tone, told him of the little girl’s grief for the loss of her dog, and of her anxiety to know what his fate really had been. Jim’s face visibly softened as he went on, and at last he muttered, in a much humbler tone—
    “I didn’t do nothin’ to the dog, sir.”
    “What did, then?” quickly asked the doctor.
    “I found it lyin’ on the street, dead, just after the sleigh went away. I guess one of the horses kicked it.”
    “Well; and when you found it, did you leave it there?”
    “No, sir.”
    “What did you do with it?”
    “I tuk it home, and buried it out on the common.” [Page 18]
    “Buried it!” said the doctor, in much surprise; “and what made you do that?”
    “I thought she wouldn’t like to have it lyin’ about the street.”
    The doctor was a good deal taken by surprise. This was a development in Jim’s character for which he had not been prepared. Presently he asked him if he ever did any honest work.
    “Don’t never get any to do,” responded Jim, grimly.
    “Well, hold my horse here for half-an-hour, and I’ll give you sixpence for it.”
    “Yes, sir.” Jim accordingly took his position at the horse’s head, and stood there patiently for the full half-hour, resisting the suggestions of various boys of his acquaintance who chanced to loiter along, that they should get in and have a drive, “for a lark,” while the doctor was out of sight. Had Jim not been in a position of responsibility, he would have been one of the foremost to suggest and carry out such an idea; but the wonderfully new sensation of being trusted to do something useful, acted powerfully upon him, and even widened his vision to perceive that there were better things in life than “larks.”
    When Dr Elliott came out, and, gratified with the result of his experiment, handed the boy a sixpence, with an advice to look out for honest work and do it, Jim walked off with a feeling more nearly approaching to self-respect than he remembered to have ever before experienced.
    Possibly, too, the doctor, as he drove away, thought of Jim with more respect, and with better hope that he might yet turn out a respectable member of society. [Page 19]

[Chapter III]