A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


Good Friday.

  “The cross is heavy, child; but there was One
Who bore a heavier for thee,—My Son!—
My Well-Beloved! For Him bear thine, and stand
With Him at last, and from thy Father’s hand
    Receive thy crown.”

    HELEN GREY was the minister’s only unmarried daughter. She was her father’s counsellor and helper,—his “right hand,” he often called her, both in the household and in his congregation; and was also the Winstanleys’ daily governess. It may be supposed, therefore, that on her return home, the day before Good Friday, after a three months’ stay with her invalid sister, she found a considerable accumulation of work on her hands. Nevertheless, on Good Friday, after the early dinner at home, she set out to spend the afternoon, according to her usual custom, in visiting some of the poor and sick, who were her more immediate care, and whom of course she had not now seen for a long time. Among the latter, it is scarcely [Page 32] necessary to say, she meant to include her old Sunday-scholar, Katie Johnstone.
    It was one of those lovely days which often come in the end of March or the beginning of April, before the winter has quite quitted its hold, and which, with the delicious foretaste of the coming spring they bring, are often more genial than many a day in May. After having been pent up for some time amidst the muddy streets and crowded houses of a large town, in wet, cheerless March weather, Helen enjoyed keenly the exquisite freshness of the air, pervaded with a trace of the balminess of spring, the soft blue of the sky, the sparkling ripple of the little river set free from its icy fetters, and the soft, clear sunshine lying on the sloping fields, where a few remnants of the winter’s snow-drift still lay here and there in the shade. Even the animals seemed to rejoice in the termination of their winter’s imprisonment; and the boys were celebrating the season in their own way, with games of marbles on every dry bit of side-walk. Yet, with all its sweetness, there was a slight sense of sadness, such as often mingles in the enjoyment of such days; and Helen was not without some associations, painful as well as pleasant, which subdued the brightness of her look, and made her step a little less light, and her eye a little more thoughtful, than they were two or three years before. She was not strikingly pretty nor strikingly clever, but there was a gentle grace in her manner, and a soft light in her dark eyes, which made her winning, or, as Mrs Duncan would have said, “winsome,” even at first sight, and those who knew her best loved her dearly. [Page 33]
    One of these was her pupil Clara Winstanley; and as, on her way to the village from “the manse,” which lay at the other end of it from Mr Johnstone’s house, Helen passed the turn in the road which led to Pine Grove, as Mr Winstanley’s place was called, Clara came bounding up, out of breath to greet her “dear Miss Grey.”
    “I was so sorry I hadn’t gone to church this morning with the others, when they told me they had seen you. I didn’t know you were come.”
    “And I am sorry that you were not at church for other reasons, Clara dear,” said Helen, gravely, though kindly.
    “Oh, well, I ought to have been, I know. But I felt lazy and stupid. I’ve been studying hard, you know, for Miss Fleming’s examinations.”
    “And are they over now? And what about the prize which you said you were determined to carry off to do me honour?” asked Helen, smiling.
    Clara coloured, and looked a little uncomfortable. “That is one thing I wanted to speak to you about. May I walk with you as far as you are going, and tell you?”
    “I am going to a good many places, but I shall be glad to have your company as far as Mr Johnstone’s. I am going first to see poor Katie.”
    “Yes, poor Katie! wasn’t it dreadful?” said Clara, a little nervously. “Dr Elliott told mamma the other day that it was very doubtful whether she would ever get quite well and be—like other people.”
    “It is very sad,” replied Helen; “have you been to see her often, Clara?”
    “I’ve been to ask for her, but I was never invited to go [Page 34] to see her. I don’t know that she wants to see me. We weren’t great friends; and I—I know I vexed her the last day she was at school. I’ve been uneasy about it ever since, and that’s why I wanted to ask you about the prize. You know, I’m sure, that Katie would have got it if she had not been hurt.”
    “Yes; but it was in God’s providence that she was laid aside; and though it may be a trial to her, yet, if you won the prize fairly, I don’t see why you should not enjoy it if you deserved it. Has it been given yet?”
    “No; it didn’t come in time to be given before the Easter holidays; but Miss Fleming said I had got the most marks by a good deal.”
    “Then what is it that makes you uneasy about it? and how did you vex Katie?”
    “Oh, that’s the thing! Arthur says it isn’t fair, and that he wouldn’t have taken advantage of one of his classmates in that way. You see, the last time Katie was at school, she had almost enough marks to make her sure of the prize; and I know she would have had quite enough, if Miss Fleming hadn’t made a mistake in asking a question. She answered right enough, but Miss Fleming thought it was wrong, because it wasn’t what she meant, and I saw she had made a mistake, and gave the answer she wanted. And Katie was so vexed that it put her out for the rest of the lesson; and I felt very sorry almost immediately after, and have been sorry ever since. I told Arthur about it the other day, and he says he wouldn’t have a prize gained in such a way, and that I ought to have shown Miss Fleming the mistake, instead of taking advantage of it.” [Page 35]
    “So you ought, my dear Clara; and I am very glad you conscience would not let you rest about it. I think you helped to do Katie an injury, and you owe her some reparation.”
    “Well, I’d do anything I could. I’m sure I don’t care much about the prize now, at any rate. If it would be any pleasure to her, I’m sure she would be welcome to it.”
    “That’s right, and generous too. And I’m sure you’ll be far happier for it. I think you should go to Miss Fleming and tell her how you feel about it, and ask her to award the prize to Katie instead of you. And then you could get her to let you carry it to Katie yourself. I am sure it would please her very much; and you could tell her how sorry you had been for what had happened.”
    “Yes, I’d like to do that, even if she didn’t care to see me. There’s just one thing I’m sorry for,—I did want to do you some credit, dear Miss Grey.”
    “Well, dear, I’d far rather see you doing right, and resisting temptation in a case like this, than taking any number of prizes. But how will you like our quiet lessons again, after the excitement of school?”
    “Better than ever, I assure you. I mean to study so hard now. But I don’t know how Bessie and the little one will like it; they have been having such lots of play. Now, good-by, and you’ll come to see us soon, won’t you?”
    “Just as soon as I find time;” and Helen kissed Clara affectionately, as she bade her good-by. It was no small pleasure to her that her pupil showed so much sense of justice and honour in the affair of the prize, though it did not occur to her—what was the fact—that it was in a great [Page 36] measure due to the high moral tone which pervaded her own teaching, and to the strong loving influence she exercised on her young scholars.
    She was soon at Mr Johnstone’s house, where Martha greeted her with a “Welcome home, Miss Grey;” and led her directly up-stairs to the room where Katie, now allowed to be moved from her bed, was lying on a sofa near the window, which, in the full glow of the afternoon sunshine, was a little open, to admit the fresh spring air.
    “Oh, Miss Grey! I am so glad!” exclaimed Katie, eagerly, as she entered, a quick flush suffusing her pale cheek, and the tears rising to her gray eyes. Helen kissed her warmly, and then sat down beside her, still holding the thin hand that clung to hers, and answered Mrs Johnstone’s inquiries about her journey, her sister’s illness, and her father, till the latter left the room to attend to some necessary duties, glad of the opportunity of doing so while Katie had so welcome a visitor.
    “It seems such a long, long time since you went away, Miss Grey,” said Katie, wistfully, when her mother was gone.
    “My poor child!” Helen said, tenderly, “it must have seemed a long time to you, lying here. I thought of you often, Katie dear; and, though I could do nothing else, I prayed that you might have strength given you to bear what God had sent you.”
    The tears that came again to Katie’s eyes were the only reply for a little while; then she said, with some effort,
    “It seems harder to bear all the time. It didn’t seem so bad even while I had more pain; but now that I just feel [Page 37] weak, and am so tired of lying, and want so to be out such fine days as this, I can’t feel very patient, though I know it’s wrong.”
    “Well, dear, God knows how weak we are, and He is very patient with us, even when we are inclined to murmur against His will. Try only to feel it is in love, Katie, that all this is sent.”
    “I know I should feel better and happier if I could love Him,” said Katie, in a low voice; “but I can’t make myself.”
    “No one can make themselves love God, or love Christ, which is the same thing,” said Helen. “It is He who must give us the power. But one way of making it easier is to think a good deal of His love for us, and how He showed it—more especially of our Saviour’s sufferings and death. And if you were to read the various histories given in the Gospels, and to try to realise it as a thing that actually happened, I think that by and by you would feel a little grateful love coming into your heart. Just as, when you think most about your mamma’s care and kindness, you feel most love for her; so, when you think most of all that Jesus did and suffered for you, you will feel most love for Him.”
    “I’m very sorry,” said Katie, penitently. “I wasn’t thinking at all about that, but only of how fine the weather was, and how much I enjoyed the Easter holidays last year, and I was longing to be out.”
    “And that brought on a fit of repining? Well, it isn’t much wonder. Older people than you find it hard sometimes to keep from that.” [Page 38]
    “And poor Jet, too; I was thinking of him, and how he can’t enjoy the fine weather any more. It used to make him so happy!”
    “Yes, I heard you had lost you little dog. That must have seemed very hard too. But be sure there is some good reason for it.”
    “I don’t mind it so much now, except sometimes. Daisy, here,” said Katie, stroking the glossy fur of the kitten, which had jumped up beside her, “is almost as great a pet, though she doesn’t know nearly so much. Mrs Duncan says, ‘He stayeth his rough wind in the day of the east wind,’ and I think that has been true, for some things.”
    “My dear Katie, that is something to have learned, at any rate. Now, as you can’t read long for yourself yet, would you like me to read some of the chapters that are most closely connected with the sufferings of Christ?”
    “Oh, yes, please,” Katie eagerly replied; and Helen read, in the sweet, solemn, impressive voice which made sick people always glad to have Miss Grey “read a chapter” to them, those passages of Scripture which relate so simply, yet so touchingly, the history of that Divine death, undergone to fulfil the work of a world’s redemption. It seemed to Katie as if she really had never taken in their full sense before, and she listened with riveted attention to the end. The story, so old, yet so new, seemed to fall on her wearied, pining heart like the soft draught of spring air that she had been so eagerly drinking in through the open window. When Helen had closed her little Testament, she took from her satchel another little book resembling it in size, and opening, said— [Page 39]
    “Now, I am going to give you something else, which I always like to read.”
    And she read over, very slowly and carefully, Keble’s beautiful hymn for Good Friday, which has touched and comforted so many suffering hearts. The last two verses she read over twice.

         “Lord of my heart! by Thy last cry,
                Let not Thy blood on earth be spent;
            Lo! at thy feet I fainting lie,
                Mine eyes upon Thy wounds are bent,—
         Upon Thy streaming wounds my weary eyes
         Wait like the parched earth on April skies.
            Wash me, and dry these bitter tears;
                Oh, let my heart no further roam;
            ’Tis Thine, by vows, and hopes, and fears,
                Long since—Oh, call Thy wanderer home!—
            To that dear home, safe in Thy wounded side,
         Where only broken hearts their sin and shame may hide.”

    There was a pause of some minutes after Helen concluded. “I hope I have not tired you out with so much reading?” she said, as she rose to go. Katie looked up then; she had been crying quietly, but they were refreshing, not “bitter tears,” and there was a soft brightness in her smile, as she said—
    “Oh, no! you have rested me so much! That is so beautiful; I understand so much better now.”
    “What?” asked Helen, gently,—“How are we to be made to love Him? We love Him because He first loved us!”
    Katie silently assented; then said, “What book is that you read the poetry out of?” [Page 40]
    “Keble’s ‘Christian Year.’”
    “Oh, is it?” said Katie, surprised; “then mamma has it down-stairs, but I always thought it was one of those dry poetry books I never cared for. Is it all like that?”
    “Very much,” said Helen, smiling; “there are some things in it almost more beautiful.”
    “I’ll get mamma to bring it up, so that I may learn that one by heart, and when you come back, will you find me something else you like?”
    “Willingly,” said Helen. “I would not advise you to read much of it at a time. You cannot understand it without thinking well over it. Every time I read one of the hymns over I find something I had not seen before. It is almost like the Bible for that.”
    “Will you come some afternoon soon, and bring your work, and stay for tea?” asked Katie, before saying good-bye.
    “Yes, dear, I will—the first day next week that I can. Oh, Katie! Clara Winstanley would like to see you some day; and she is sorry for something she thinks she did wrong toward you the last day you were at school. But I am sure you forgive her, if she did?”
    “Oh, yes! it wasn’t much at any rate. I was as bad as she was, for I felt angry with her and cross. But I have scarcely thought about it since I was hurt, and it seems like a dream now that I ever cared so much about the prize. I suppose she has got it?”
    “You would have liked to have got it, if you had been at school, though; wouldn’t you?”
    “Oh, yes, I suppose I should. But perhaps it would [Page 41] have made me proud. And I couldn’t bear any one to get before me. I’m sure that was wrong.”
    “Yes, dear; since an apostle tells us ‘in honour to prefer one another.’ Now, good-bye; I’ll see you soon again.’”
    And Helen took her departure, feeling that the restitution of the prize would, after all, be a greater pleasure to Clara than to Katie. [Page 42]

[Chapter V]