A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


“He stayeth His rough wind in the bay
of the east wind.”

  “If loving hearts were never lonely,
    If all they wish might always be,
Accepting what they looked for only,
    They might be glad, but not in Thee.”

    AS the bleak, cold, often stormy, days of February glided silently into the bright afternoons and lengthening daylight of March, Katie continued still a close prisoner to her little bed. It had been removed, however, into her mother’s room, both on account of its greater size and comfort as a sick-room, and of the cheerfulness of its open fire, which, though not absolutely needed for warmth in ordinary weather, was a source of great enlivenment to Katie in the long evenings, as she lay and watched the flickering blaze, or the wavering shadows which it cast in the winter dusk, before the lamp was lighted.
    Her mother did all in her power to lighten the tedium of her imprisonment, sitting almost constantly beside her, reading to her as long as her own strength would [Page 20] permit, and telling her every bit of news she could pick up in which she thought Katie would be interested. Her father, too, was much kinder than Katie had ever known him. He was not nearly so often out at nights “on business” now, and would frequently spend the whole evening in the room, reading aloud anything interesting from the weekly paper, which came by mail from the nearest large city, or chatting with his wife in a quiet, kind way, as Katie scarcely remembered his ever doing before. And she noticed, too, that her mamma’s smile came oftener, her brow looked much less anxious and careworn than it generally did, and, notwithstanding her confinement to the sick-room, her health seemed better than it had been for a long time. As for Martha, no domestic could have been kinder or more assiduous. She would have interrupted her work at any moment to be with Katie when her mother was called away, and it was the chief pleasure of her life to invent some new delicacy which might tempt the little girl’s feeble appetite.

    But notwithstanding all that home love and tenderness could do, it was a sad, dreary time for poor Katie, even now, when the first acute suffering was over, and the sense of discomfort was her chief physical ailment. The long monotonous days, that seemed so like one another as they passed slowly by, weighed heavily on a spirit naturally so active and full of life, and which had not as yet much resource within itself. As she lay through the tedious, slow-moving hours of daylight, studying over and over again the pattern of the paper on the walls, tracing out the lights and shadows of the two or three familiar prints in [Page 21] their black frames, or counting the cracks in the somewhat dingy ceiling, she found herself going over and over again the daily scenes of her ordinary life,—the recitations in Miss Fleming’s schoolroom, the tiresome conjugations, even the dates which had been such a burden to her mind. Then she would wonder how the contest for the prize was going on, and whether Clara Winstanley still maintained her position in advance of the rest. As for the prize itself, it seemed something so far removed from her now, that she wondered almost how it could ever have excited her so keenly. Then she would go back in imagination to that day when she was last out,—see the snowy village street, the passing sleighs, the shouting boys,—and then with a sharp pang would come up the image of poor Jet. Poor, merry, frolicsome, little dog! What a pleasure and amusement he would have been to her now in her enforced seclusion! And the tears would come yet, as she thought of his active little figure, lying cold and rigid under the snow that lay piled so high on “the common.” For Dr Elliott had ended her suspense, perhaps even her lurking hope, by telling her Jim’s disclosure.
    One sunshiny morning, when the familiar ring announced the doctor’s arrival, Katie, as she lay listening for his step, was surprised to hear the pattering of little feet, and the silvery tones of a childish voice accompanying it. In walked the doctor, leading a rosy, blue-eyed boy of three years old, with flaxen curls and a face full of dimples, carrying in one hand a little basket, the lid of which he was trying to keep down with all the force of the other, in opposition to some small resistance from within. [Page 22]
    “There! You didn’t think I had such a pretty boy, did you?” said the doctor, triumphantly, as he lifted up the little fellow and set him on the bed. Katie thought she had never seen anything so bright and sunny, and her eyes rested longingly on the little round face,—the blue eyes almost closed by reason of a roguish smile which overspread it.
    “Show Katie what you’ve brought her,” said his father. The little fat hand was withdrawn from the lid of the basket, and out jumped a pretty little Maltese kitten, nearly as round as a ball, with a silky gray coat and snowy breast.
    “Him’s Willie’s—him’s for ’oo!” said the gleeful little voice, as his eyes kept watching Katie’s face to see the effect of the important communication.
    “And Willie has been waiting a whole fortnight, till the little thing was old enough to leave its mother, that he might bring it to the little girl who lost her dog,” added his papa, smiling. The kitten was duly admired and petted but the bright little face had a greater attraction for Katie and at her earnest request Willie was left, much to his own satisfaction, to spend the morning with her and his kitten, improving the time in showing off, as well as his imperfect language would allow him, the perfections of his gift, and in enjoying the good things which Mrs Johnstone pressed upon him. When at last, rather reluctantly on his part, he was taken away, it was with the promise that he should come back again. Katie and he soon became close friends, and few things gave either of them greater pleasure than to spend the day together; while “Daisy”—for so the [Page 23] kitten was called—became an almost equally great pet, beguiling many an otherwise tedious hour with her merry frolics, and calling forth occasionally Katie’s hearty laugh, which had now become an unwonted sound. Indeed, Daisy, with her gentle, playful tricks, and her necktie of pink ribbon, was fast filling up the blank which poor Jet’s loss had left.
    Not a few kind hearts in the village had been touched by Katie’s misfortune. A good many who had been merely casual acquaintances of Mrs Johnstone’s,—for from her shyness and desire to conceal the great trouble of her life, she had scarcely any intimates,— had come to inquire for Katie, and make many kind offers of assistance, which, however, Mrs Johnstone had gratefully declined. Mrs Winstanley had called the morning after the accident, distressed at having been in any way the cause of it, and anxious to do anything and everything in her power for the invalid. But Mrs Johnstone could not get over the feeling of bitterness which rose in her heart against the family, unreasonable though she knew it to be, and she received the kindly-intended offers very coldly,—the more so, perhaps, from the patronising air with which they were accompanied, an air which had become so habitual with the lady who considered herself the leader of society in Lynford, that she could not perhaps have shaken it off. However, she was really kind-hearted, and not discouraged by the coldness with which her advances had been received; she sent every day to inquire for Katie, generally accompanying the inquiries with some tempting delicacy, which, after the first few days, Katie really enjoyed; and her [Page 24] mother’s heart began to be softened towards Mrs Winsanley, as any heart almost is sure to be by kindness steadfastly persisted in.
    Clara had called occasionally to ask personally for her former rival; but rather shy of the sight even of pain and sickness, like most very young girls, she had not sought to see her, and Mrs Johnstone did not suggest it. Indeed, Katie herself was not very anxious for visitors just then, and would certainly not have enjoyed seeing Clara nearly as much as she did little Willie’s visits.
    Besides Willie, there were only two other visitors who were taken to see Katie, or whom she cared to see, but these two were always welcome. One was Mrs Duncan, an old Scotch lady, who lived with her lame daughter in a neat little cottage just across the road, which here, on the outskirts of Lynford, could scarcely be called a street. Mrs Duncan, with her kind motherly heart, had won her way into Mrs Johnstone’s confidence as no one else in Lynford had done, and her gentle, cheerful face, encircled by a spotless widow’s cap, had been a familiar object to Katie ever since she could remember. She would often come over now in the dusk, or the “gloaming,” as she called it, stocking in hand, and sit for an hour chatting pleasantly, as she was well able to do, while Katie lay and watched the fire-light gleaming on her white cap and collar, and making the bright knitting-needles glitter as they moved so quickly in her nimble fingers; for Mrs Duncan, without being of the bustling type, was never known to be idle, and many a pair of little feet in Lynford would have been bare and cold in the sharp winter weather but for the stockings [Page 25] which she knitted or “footed” so diligently when her own work was completed.
    But the knitting never interfered with the talk, any more than the talk impeded the knitting, and Mrs Duncan had many an interesting story to tell of people she had met or known in her somewhat eventful life: stories chiefly of trouble and sorrow—since they, alas! make up so much of the woof of life everywhere—but of trouble bravely met, and sorrow hallowed and turned into gain through the faith which shall so surely overcome, even in this life, all things evil. Sometimes, too, her recollections would take another turn, and she would relate some of the wild legends which still keep alive the love of the marvellous and veneration of the supernatural in Scotland,—legends which, told by lips that devoutly believed them, had thrilled her own youth,—of brownie, and fairy, and ghostly visitant; till Katie, half awed and wholly fascinated, would fancy them real, and could almost hear the roar of the surge, and see the white foam of the hissing waves, as the water-kelpie leaped up from them to pounce upon his prey. Then again the theme would change to traditions scarcely less thrilling, but far more dearly cherished, and tuned to a nobler strain,—of the stern old Covenanting days, when the struggle waged so fiercely between the powers of this world and the power of truth, and the truth then, as it always is, was great, and prevailed; when not all the terror of royal mandates and flashing swords and deadly carbines, not the bitterness of death itself, could force simple Scottish hearts to utter a word which they believed false to their conscience and their God. Many [Page 26] such tales still lingered among the old people in the southern Scottish counties where Mrs Duncan had spent her early married life; and Katie never wearied of hearing them over and over again, and would lie awake at night, thinking, with admiring veneration, of girls scarcely older than herself who had sealed their faith with their blood. It must have been a wonderfully strong feeling, Katie felt, that faithful love of their Saviour which made them choose death rather than to grieve Him,—something very different, she was sure, from the vague awe and faint gratitude which was all she had ever felt for the Saviour, who, she had been taught, had given His life for her. It was a source of ever-increasing dissatisfaction to her that it was so, and she wondered in vain how she could make it different. She had to learn that no human touch, but the finger of Divine love alone, can open the sealed fountains of love in the closed heart, and make them flow forth in the channels they were intended to fill.
    Katie’s other visitor was Mr Grey, the pastor of the Scotch Presbyterian Church in Lynford. Mr Johnstone was a Scotchman by birth, and had always adhered, at least in form, to the Church of his fathers; and though his English wife had a natural predilection for that in which she had been brought up, she had always been glad that her husband should join in the mode of worship most congenial to him. It was but rarely now, alas! that he was seen in his place in the “kirk,” but his wife and daughter went as regularly as the weather and the delicate health of both would permit; and Katie dearly loved the kind old man, who was associated with her pleasantest and most [Page 27] sacred memories, and whose silver hair and gentle voice and manner were in her eyes the ideal of what a “minister” should be. She was one of the most cherished lambs of his flock, and he did not forget her now. His visits, in which, besides his kindly and sympathising talk, he would read in solemn and impressive tones some suitable passage of Scripture, following it with a short prayer, seemed to throw a solemnising influence over all the rest of the day. She did not always quite comprehend the figurative Scripture expressions he used, though they had been familiar to her all her life; but she thought them over and over now, as she had never done before, and by degrees their meaning seemed, though vaguely, to unfold itself to her mind.
    “Mamma,” she suddenly asked one day, when she had been absorbed in silent thought after one of Mr Grey’s visits, “what do you think it means, ‘He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind?’”
    Mrs Johnstone was silent for a minute, and then replied, “I think I know, dear; but you had better ask Mrs Duncan; she will be here very soon, and she will explain it to you better than I can.”
    So when Mrs Duncan was come, and settled down to her knitting as usual, Katie proposed her question.
    “Well, my dear, I’m no scholar to expound the Scripture like Mr Grey; but I’ve proved the meaning o’ that text in my ain experience, if ever anybody did; and that, I think, is aye the best way o’ learning. You see, you don’t know much, here in this inland place, about the east wind; but if you had been where I was brought up, on the east coast o’ Scotland, you’d shiver when you felt its keen, [Page 28] piercing blast coming, cutting you through like a knife. And if there was to come any more wind or storm on the top o’ that, it would seem past bearing. Well, it seems to me, when God sends us some special great affliction that pierces and desolates our hearts, He often gives us a rest from other troubles that may have been fretting us, lest, in our weakness, we should sink down altogether, and think maybe He wasna caring for us. And that’s the worst thing any one can think about Him who cares so much,” she added reverently.
    “Tell Katie, please, how you learned that yourself,” said Mrs Johnstone.
    “There’s no very much to tell,” she replied. “It was in days when I didna think so much about God’s care and dealings wi’ us as I have sin’. When first we left bonnie Teviotdale, and came out here—I’m afraid mair through worldliness than anything else, for you see we were very comfortable there, but Jamie had heard so much o’ the New World an’ its gran’ farms, that naething else would do—we had for a long time just one trouble after another. I used to tell him it was a rebuke to us for grasping at so much, though he meant no harm by it. One year the crops failed, and we had a hard fight to win through; another, some o’ our best stock died; and another time there was a fire in the woods, that came up and burned our barns and fences, just sparing the house; and then Mary’s lameness was a sore trial to us for long. But from the time that my husband was laid down with the disease that took him away two years after, it seemed as if every other trouble was lifted off, as if there was peace and rest all [Page 29] round us, and we were left in quiet to meet the great trouble that was coming, though we didna know it then. But even when we did feel at last what it was the Lord was sending us, it seemed as if He put a peace and strength into our hearts that was wonderfu’—as I’ve often wondered at it since; and when all was over, it was just the same. So I’ve had good cause to learn that ‘He stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind,’ and none that trust in Him shall be desolate.”
    There was a little silence after Mrs Duncan had finished, and Mrs Johnstone said, gently, “You told me that story when my Hughie was drowned; I found it true then, and I wanted Katie to hear it now.”
    “Ay, many a one has found it true, and more would if they were to look for it. Mr Grey has told me he did when his wife died—good, sweet creature that she was.”
    “I thought him looking thin and careworn to-day,” said Mrs Johnstone.
    “I’ve thought so often of late. But it’s scarcely to be wondered at. He’s no so young as he was, and he has a good deal to mind—more just now, when Helen’s been away so long. And he’s had a good deal of anxiety about Mrs Leslie.”
    “He told us to-day he expected Helen home next week, if her sister should then be well enough to spare her.”
    “Indeed, I’m very glad to hear it, for his sake and for the sake of seeing the lassie back. She’s got such a look o’ her mother now, and she’s such a comfort and help to him.”
    “I’m very glad too,” said Katie. “It seems such a long time since she went,”—and Katie sighed a weary sigh. [Page 30]
    “Ah, poor lassie!” said Mrs Duncan, compassionately, “it must seem a long time to you lying there; but keep up your heart, my dear, and trust to Him who ‘stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind.’”
    Katie thought about it long before she fell asleep that night, and came to the conclusion that it was true. She recalled the numerous kindnesses which, since her accident, she had received—her father’s unusual attention—even little Daisy’s arrival; and thankfully felt that for her too the rough wind had been stayed in the day of the east wind. [Page 31]

[Chapter IV]