KATIE JOHNSTONE’S CROSS

A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


CHAPTER VII.

Hidden Troubles.


  “We see the end, the house of God,
But not the path to that abode;
For God, in ways they have not known
    Will lead His own.”


    DR ELLIOTT’S fears proved well-grounded. Little Nelly Egan sank under the wasting influence of the fever, while Jim, with his more robust and vigorous constitution, “pulled through,” as boys often do, and that under the most unfavourable conditions of bad air and bad nursing, when far more carefully-tended nurslings sink into the grave. So true is it that the Lord alone is the “Giver of Life,” and that human skill and care, however right and necessary it is to exercise them, have their distinct limitations, beyond which they can accomplish nothing. Mrs Egan was, as might have been expected, vehemently clamorous in her lamentation over her “blessed child,” even to the extent of endangering Jim’s recovery by the excitement; but in a very few days after the funeral she returned to all her [Page 67] rough, careless, scolding ways. That she did not betake herself to her usual consolation, “the drink,” was only, it is to be feared, because she had not the means of indulging in it. Her husband had returned, having earned a little money in lumbering work, just in time to witness the death of his child, which sobered and subdued him much more than it did his wife: women, when they are degraded, being generally more hardened than men. The money he brought home this time was for once not spent in the public-house, as it would have been in other circumstances, but laid out on necessaries for his family, which he took care to purchase himself; and he thankfully availed himself of an offer of employment which Dr Elliott had procured for him, showing himself, for the present at least, disposed to be steady and industrious.
    Now that Jim’s appetite had begun to assert itself again, he enjoyed with visible relish the portion which Katie willingly sent him of the delicacies which still came to her from Pine Grove, and he seemed softened and grateful when Helen informed him, as she took care to do, from whom they came. She seized the opportunity to speak to him of Katie’s earnest wish and her own, that, on his recovery, he should turn over a new leaf, and go to school regularly, instead of spending his time in idleness and mischief, until he should learn enough to fit him for some useful occupation. The kindness shown to him, so different from anything he had ever known in his life before, had made him wonderfully tractable, and he gave a sort of gruff promise that he would do as they wished him.
    The preparation of the clothing had in the meantime [Page 68] been steadily progressing, Mrs Duncan and Helen having spent two or three afternoons in Katie’s room, cutting out and contriving how to make the most of their materials, and afterwards sewing them up, with the assistance of Mrs Johnstone and Katie. Clara Winstanley’s interest had also been awakened by Helen, and she undertook to make a frock for one of the little girls, and succeeded pretty well, too, considering her aversion to “plain sewing.” As soon as Jim was sufficiently recovered, and all danger of infection seemed at an end, the four who were old enough were to go to school in a body, under Jim’s leadership.
    Katie had, in the meantime, been gradually regaining strength, though the varying weather of the slowly advancing spring, interrupted by many a cold and bleak, and many a raw and gusty day, was very trying to her health and spirits. Still, she had many quiet pleasures, which she was always ready to make the best of: Helen’s visits and cheerful presence; Clara Winstanley’s lively chat, as she came, bringing her most interesting books, and above all, now that the first shyness between them had passed away, her bright, animated face and merry laugh, which always had an enlivening effect on Katie’s impressionable nature; Mrs Duncan’s wise, kindly conversations, and little Willie’s occasional frolicsome inroads;—all these served to prevent her from feeling the tedium of her confinement, as she might otherwise have done. Mrs Winstanley, who had been away on a visit, brought home with her from the city she had been staying in a pretty little bedroom tea-service for Katie, which our invalid was particularly fond of displaying when Helen, and occasionally [Page 69] Clara, came to take tea with her; and a beautifully-illustrated volume of poetical selections, which Arthur, Clara’s brother, sent her, was a source of especial pleasure. But most precious of all, in their soothing and elevating influence, were the graver seasons of intercourse with Helen, when the latter read with her some suggestive passage of Scripture, and the conversation turned upon those subjects which were now most deeply interesting to her, as they had long been to her instructress, though Katie, anxious as she was to be indeed a follower of Christ, was often oppressed by a feeling of the uncertainty of her interest in Him, and a foreboding that some vague and mysterious change must yet take place in her before she could be what is called a Christian. It is perhaps because the way is so simple that “a wayfaring man shall not err therein,” that so many wander so long in perplexity, “seeking for some great thing to do” before they may find Christ, instead of going straight to Him, and asking Him to make them His.
    One afternoon towards the end of April, after a day of alternating showers and sunshine, when the sun was setting gloriously behind great banks of amber and purple clouds, Helen came into Katie’s room, and found her gazing at the sunset, and listening the while with a rather languid interest to Mrs Duncan’s conversation with her mother. Helen herself walked with a weary step, very unlike her usual light elastic one, and as she sank down apparently tired out with the exertion, Katie noticed that she was pale and fagged, and that her usually bright expression was exchanged for a depressed and sorrowful look. [Page 70]
    “Are you ill, Miss Grey?” said Katie; “you look so dejected.”
    “Do I?” said Helen. “No; I am quite well, but tired, and out of sorts, I suppose. Somehow this spring weather seems to wear one out, and so little tires one.”
    Katie was not satisfied; and Mrs Duncan, whose quick eye had noticed Helen’s depressed air, asked, a little anxiously—“Is your father quite well, my dear?”
    “Quite,” said Helen. “He has been regretting that the wet weather has kept him from beginning his gardening.”
    “And have you heard from your sister lately?”
    “Yes; we heard yesterday. She was almost well, and going out every day.” But though she tried to speak cheerfully, it was manifestly an effort, and the sentence ended with a slight sigh.
    Mrs Duncan asked no more, and Helen seemed glad to rest for a while without speaking. After a little time, she exclaimed —“O Mrs Duncan! is it not disheartening? That man Egan has been drinking again; and if he goes on, he will lose the job Dr Elliott got for him; and the neighbours say Mrs Egan was lying quite helplessly intoxicated the night before last.”
    “Probably that is what set him off,” said Mrs Duncan.
    “But isn’t it discouraging, after all we have been trying to do for them?” continued Helen.
    Mrs Duncan smiled. “My dear lassie,” she said, “when you are as old as I am, you will know that old ways are not to be cast off as easily as old clothes, and that we have many a disappointment to bear before we can see much good from our work among people like the [Page 71] Egans. But you know we are not to be ‘weary in well-doing.’”
    “No; but discouragements are often harder to bear at one time than at another; and I had such good hopes, of the man especially.”
    “Well, keep up good hopes yet. Hope’s a grand thing; and patience—‘in patience possess ye your souls.’”
    Helen was silent for a little, her eye fixed pensively on the sun setting so grandly in glowing hues, after a day of storm and rain. Presently she said, in a low, thoughtful tone—“But isn’t it hard to be quite patient when things seem to us full of unmitigated sadness and evil, and when we cannot see any of the good there is in them?”
    “Ay,” said Mrs Duncan, “hard indeed, if we are trying to walk by sight, but no’ that hard if we are holding fast, by our faith, to Him who knows and orders all things, and sees what we do not. There’s a verse I saw in a book the other day that has a great deal of comfort in it, if we could but believe it—and why should we not? I think I can repeat it to you now, for it’s easy to remember:—

             “With patience, then, the course of duty run:
            God never does, nor suffers to be done,
            But that which thou wouldst wish, if thou couldst see
            The end of all events as well as He!”

Mind that, Helen, whatever the trouble may be; and mind it, Katie, my dear, no matter what may happen to you in this changing life.”
    “Yes,” said Helen, half smiling, “I knows it’s true, and ought to be very comforting, if one could always realise it. But still, one can’t help wishing, as we see now; and then we can’t help grieving if our wishes are denied.” [Page 72]
    “No,” said Mrs Duncan; “I don’t think it is possible to help it: scarcely possible for the young at any rate. I’m old enough to be able to tell you that a hantle o’ time that’s spent in fretting is just worse than lost, since it neither helps the thing, nor helps us to bear it. Grief we must bear, and God means it to bring forth fruit; but the feeling that His ways are hard is another thing altogether, and can do us nothing but harm, so long as we indulge it. But it has taken a lifetime’s experience of His love, and many a sore weaning from earthly things, to bring me to this conviction; and it is one of those things that our own experience must teach us, not another’s: though it may always help people to hear the testimony of those who have tasted and seen that God is good, and that His will, whatever it is, must be good also.”
    “Yes, indeed,” said Helen, warmly; “it ought to do so at any rate; and I know it is very faithless ever to doubt that. It shows more than anything else how much evil we have to fight with in ourselves.”
    “Yes; but when even Elijah, the prophet of the Lord, had his time of faithlessness, it is less wonder that we weaker beings should have our misgivings. But ‘thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory,’” added Mrs Duncan, resuming again her suspended knitting.
    Katie had been listening to the conversation with earnest eyes, trying to follow its meaning. It often recurred to her mind afterwards, when she had been led by circumstances to understand it better than she could do then. When Helen, after a little more conversation, took her leave, Mrs Johnstone remarked how pale and thin she was [Page 73] looking. “Ay,” said Mrs Duncan, “she’s a good lassie and a bonnie; but young things like her have many a fight to go through before they can trust themsel’s and all that concerns them in the Lord’s hand. We canna put old heads on young shoulders,—and, indeed, what for should we seek, since it is God’s way to teach His own by the discipline He sends them in life, and His way must be best.’
    Katie did not quite understand the connexion between Mrs Duncan’s observation and her mother’s, and she inwardly wondered what trouble Helen could have, whose life seemed such a quietly happy and useful one. She had not learned yet that even Christian usefulness does not always shut out trouble, and that some troubles are all the harder to bear that they are hidden ones, and “will not bear speaking about.” It was a truth her mother had felt, however, for many weary years.
    On her way home, Helen encountered James Egan, sen., and tried on him the effect of a very earnest, though gentle remonstrance. He admitted the folly of risking his employment by relapsing into his old habits, and acknowledged that it was “too bad altogether,” after all that had been done for his family. “But it’s hard to bear,” said he, “to come home to a cold, dirty house, and squallin’ children, an’ the wife lyin’ like a baste on the flure. What’s a man to do but go an’ get a drop o’ the crathur, to help him to forget it?”
    Helen agreed that it was very hard, but suggested that it was only making things worse to go and indulge in the same excesses himself. “Wouldn’t it be better,” she said, [Page 74] “to get one of your neighbours to come in, when you find things like that, to make the house comfortable, and prepare a warm meal for you and the children, who must suffer very much at such times?”
    “An’ have her ragin’ and roarin’ at me as soon as she was sinsible, for bringin’ in another woman!”
    “But you needn’t let her know anything about it, and the woman could go away before she came to herself,” suggested Helen, somewhat puzzled between the exigencies of the case and the feeling that she was advising deception and underhand dealing.
    “Yes,” said the man, “barrin’ the childer didn’t let it out. Anyhow, I’m obliged to ye, and next time I’ll try something, if it was only for your sake, that’s been so good to us, an’ the childers, poor craturs.”
    With which promise he departed, and Helen went on her way, gravely pondering the all but hopeless case of a family with such a mother, and earnestly wishing that there were some kind of inebriate asylum to which such unfortunate creatures—and there are numbers of them in all our towns—could be sent, so as to give them a chance of reformation, and their families an opportunity of getting on, which they would be more likely to do, were they removed from them.
    Some ten days after that, before proceeding to her morning duties at Pine Grove, Helen had the pleasure of conducting Jim and his little brother and sisters, arrayed in their new clothes, to school. It was an exquisite spring morning, the sunshine playing bright and warm around them as they passed through the village street, and Jim [Page 75] cast many a wistful glance at the fields, and the mills, and the river dashing away over its brown rocks. It was such a day as he would have delighted in for going to the woods to cut “shinnies,” or for wandering about the river and paddling in the water; and, young Arab as he was, he felt as if he were surrendering his freedom, even though Helen had considerately stipulated that he should be required to come to school in the forenoons only. The afternoons, she told him, he was to spend in gathering chips for the fire at home, and in any other useful work he could get to do. It was only an experiment, and she was far from sanguine of its success.
    After giving her morning lessons at Pine Grove, Helen called in to tell Katie that the children had actually gone to school, and also to give her a little bunch of delicious sweet violets from a sunny spot in the Winstanleys’ garden. She found that Katie had taken a great step, having, much to her delight, been carried down-stairs, and laid on a sofa on the verandah, on which she reclined, enjoying intensely the warm balmy sunshine, and the feeling, now almost strange to her, of “being in the open air.” As the house was at the extremity of the village, her eye ranged over green fields stretching away to the distant woods, dotted with graceful elms rising here and there with their delicate tracery of branches against the bright sky, and not far off, the river winding along, till it was lost to her vision between high wooded banks. Everything seemed fresh and delightful to Katie’s eager senses, so that the mere feeling of existence was in itself an enjoyment.
    “This is worth all the stormy, dull days that are past; [Page 76] is it not, Helen?” She had dropped, at Helen’s desire, the more formal “Miss Grey.”
    Helen smiled assent, then, unable to repress the thought that struck her as Katie spoke, she said, “I suppose that, or something like it, will be what we shall say when we reach the better country, where the brightness shall always last, and storms and ‘dark days’ shall never threaten us any more. There is a verse I often think of when things are looking so beautiful here—

                          ‘If God hath made this world so fair,
                              Where sin and death abound,
                          How beautiful beyond compare
                              Must Paradise be found!’

And yet there are many people who imagine it must make one ‘gloomy’ to think or speak of anything beyond this life.”
    “They must be people who are not sure they are Christians,” said Katie, somewhat sadly. “It won’t make them happy to think heaven is so beautiful when they have no hope of ever getting there themselves.”
    Helen felt the truth of Katie’s remark, but said, “Yes, Katie; but when our Saviour himself has opened the way to heaven, no one who cares about it need remain in doubt of going there. However, that is not so much the question for us now, as whether we are seeking to follow Him here.”
    Katie was silent. As regarded herself, she felt that was a question no one else could answer for her. Presently she ventured to ask Helen if she was better than she had been, [Page 77] “For you could not,” she added, “be quite well when you were here the other day with Mrs Duncan.”
    “Perhaps I was not,” replied Helen; “but it was more my own faithlessness that was troubling me than anything else. Mrs Duncan did me good, and I think I am learning a little more to trust God with all that concerns me. And you must learn that too, Katie,” she added.
    “Oh, Helen! to think I have forgotten all this time to tell you!” exclaimed Katie; “we expect Ned home to-morrow. The session has closed, and he was to start to-day.”
    “How glad you will be to see him back! I wonder if he is much grown?”
    “He says he is, and that he is going to be my horse, and draw me all round,” said Katie, laughing. “Mrs Duncan is going to lend me Miss Duncan’s chair that goes on wheels, you know! So if Ned is as strong as he says, he can take me a good way in it. Won’t it be nice? I shall be able to come and see you then! What a long time it seems since I was in your house!”
    “I shall be very glad to see you there again, and Ned too. I wonder if he has forgotten how I used to scold him for taking birds’ nests!”
    “And Dr Elliott thinks,” added Katie, “that if I get plenty of fresh air, I shall be strong enough to walk about a little before long; and then I shall know better than I have ever done the blessing of being able to do so.”
    “Yes, indeed,” said Helen, “better than any of us do; that will be one compensation for being laid aside on a sick-bed.” And thereupon she bade Katie good-bye, and turned homewards. [Page 78]



    


[Chapter VIII]