A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


An Arrival and a New Friend.

  “Since service is the highest lot,
    And angels know no higher bliss,
Then with what good her cup is fraught,
    Who was created but for this!”

    AS Lynford was some miles distant from the nearest railway station, Mr Johnstone next morning hired a “buggy,” and drove over to Ashby to meet his son.
    “But as I have business in Ashby,” he said, when starting, after an early breakfast, “Ned and I shan’t be home much before tea-time.”
    Mrs Johnstone’s face clouded slightly at this announcement; she had learned to dread the transaction of “business,” and the tavern-dinner, so perilous, as she knew, to her husband. However, knowing well his impatience of anything like feminine dictation, she said nothing, and contented herself with a silent prayer that he might be kept from temptation, and especially from yielding to it when his son was along with him. [Page 79]
    The day seemed to Katie a very long one. All the time she was allowed to spend on the verandah, her eyes would turn wistfully to the Ashby road, which crossed the river at some distance beyond the fields, although she knew it was impossible that the travellers could be within sight. As soon as the warmth of the early afternoon was over, she was moved back to the dining-room, where, as the evenings were still chilly, a fire was lighted. The tea-table was furnished as temptingly as Martha’s freshly-baked buns and biscuits could make it, and the room, with its old worn furniture, dull and dingy as at other times it looked, was lit up for the present with a really cheering and comforting brightness.
    At last, after Katie, in her despair of being able to fix her attention, had taken up and laid aside one book after another, and her mother, no less restless, though she tried to conceal it, had gone a dozen times to the window, the sound of wheels was heard approaching; and as the buggy stopped at the gate, a tall boy of sixteen or seventeen sprang out and met his mother’s eager embrace at the already opened door. Then he rushed on to greet Katie, almost throwing down Martha in his way, and responding to her cordial salutation, with a hearty “All right, Martha!”
    “Why, Katie, you do look pulled down,” he said, after affectionately kissing her. “Do you mean to say you’ve got to lie there all the time, poor girl? Jet—Oh! I forgot the poor beast was dead: it seemed as if he ought to be here to meet me. But what’s this? a pussy! so you’ve gone in for cats, Katie, since you’ve lost your dog. Aren’t you afraid of being an old maid? But this is a pretty respectable [Page 80] specimen: where did you pick it up?” And he picked up the cat, with a view to a closer inspection, but so roughly as to call forth a slight cry from Daisy, unaccustomed to rude handling, and a gentle remonstrance from Katie, who was smiling, notwithstanding, at her vivacious brother’s torrent of questions, and the unwonted commotion he was making in the usually quiet house.
    “Come, Martha,” he continued, “make haste, do, and bring in tea: if you had been out all day in the open air, and got very little dinner, too, you’d know what it was to feel hungry. Well, mother,” he continued, “do you think I’ve grown any since you saw me last? You have to look up to me now. Look, Katie! her head doesn’t come higher than my shoulder! Here, will you accept my arm to supper? You see I’ve been learning manners in the city!”
    “I hope they have all been good ones, then, Ned,” said his mother. “But I don’t think it is very good manners to want to begin tea without waiting for papa.”
    “Oh! he said not to wait—it would be some time before he could get in, and he wasn’t hungry, and didn’t want anything but a cup of tea. He had a headache,” said Ned, with a slightly conscious air, which at once awakened his mother’s fears that he knew what it is sad any son should have to know of his father. But if it were as she feared, it was better he should not come in till tea was over, and Katie, at least, gone to her room.
    So they sat down, not the complete family circle she had hoped for, though, for Ned’s sake, she tried to through off the depression her fears created, and to make the home-coming [Page 81] of her boy as pleasant as possible. And, indeed, it would not have been easy to resist his flow of spirits, and listen uninterested to the amusing stories he told them about his journey, and his fellow-students, and his landlady in his town-lodgings. His mother often wondered how it was that Ned could never go anywhere without meeting with some ridiculous adventures; but the truth was, that he had a strong propensity for seeing the ludicrous side of things. He waited upon Katie very considerately; and when, from her brightened colour and excited look, it was thought that she had been up rather too long, he carried her to her room, under his mother’s superintendence, as carefully and gently as Martha could have done. After she was gone, and as his mother lingered down-stairs talking over the many things they had to speak about after so long a separation, Ned suddenly exclaimed—“How very ill poor Katie is looking! I thought she would have been stronger. It must have been a terrible accident.”
    “She is a good deal stronger than she was some time ago, and I hope will continue to improve steadily. The doctor says her great delicacy of constitution predisposes her to the disease of the spine which he fears this has brought upon her.”
    “Disease of the spine!” said Ned, alarmed. “You don’t mean that anything is seriously wrong with it?”
    “The doctor fears slight curvature,” said his mother, sadly; “but hopes it may wear off as she grows. Don’t say a word to suggest it to her. There is no use in alarming her at present.”
    “No, of course not; but, mother, those Winstanleys [Page 82] deserve to be prosecuted. I’m sure there must have been some gross carelessness. They think they can do anything they like,—with their big turn-out and fiery horses! I’d just like to give them a lesson!”
    “Hush, hush! Ned, dear. I had a feeling against them too, at first; but I know it was unreasonable. It was a thing that might have happened with any one. Horses are always difficult to manage when the air is keen and frosty; and Mrs Winstanley was exceedingly distressed about it,—no one could have been more so, or been kinder than she and all the family have shown themselves. And Katie likes Clara very much; it would vex her extremely to hear you speak unkindly of them.”
    “Well, I won’t speak, then,” muttered Ned; “but I can’t help thinking.”
    “Nay, my boy,” said his mother, gravely; “it is both foolish and unchristian to cherish a grudge, and an unreasonable one too. Arthur and you were good friends always at school, and you must greet him frankly when you meet him. Now, good-night, Ned, and remember you can only be a comfort to Katie by treating her friends in a kind and gentlemanly way.”
    Ned went off to bed, only half-convinced; but he was a boy who never did cherish malice long; so when he met Arthur next day in the street, he shook hands with him cordially, and reciprocated Arthur’s warm welcome.
    Mr Johnstone did not come in till pretty late, having had, as he said, to “see some people on business.” He swallowed the cup of tea his wife had kept for him, and went to bed at once, scarcely speaking, except to say how [Page 83] tired he was, and that she should not have waited for him. He was in a dead sleep almost immediately, but his wife lay awake for hours thinking and praying.
    The next two or three days were wet, so that Ned had to content himself with remaining in the house,—a thing rather trying to a boy of his disposition, especially when left without definite employment. His mother suggested that he should begin a course of regular study, to prepare him the better for next winter’s session, but he protested he must have some holidays first, and that it was too bad to expect a fellow to begin grinding away again as soon as he got home. So he made some faint attempts at reading to his mother and Katie, but he tired of one book after another, and threw the last one down, declaring there was nothing worth reading in one of them—“Nothing amusing at any rate,” he added; “it’s all slow, and tiresome for reading aloud.”
    Katie wisely forbore to argue the question, though she felt sorry that their tastes did not agree better; but she was too full of the pleasure of having her brother home to find much fault with his capabilities for teasing, which were displayed in pretended attempts to mutilate her work, overturning her work-basket, and in a course of experiments upon Daisy, to find out how far that much-tried young puss would permit him to carry his mischievous tricks before calling her claws into requisition. Daisy was a good-natured, gentle little thing, or Ned would have got a good many scratches; and at last her very gentleness disarmed him, and he confessed it was a shame “to bother her so.” [Page 84]
    At length, all other resources having been exhausted, in sheer despair, he betook himself to revising Euclid, ashamed of being so idle when his mother was so busy overhauling his wardrobe, and repairing the winter’s tear and wear.
    The first fine day, however, brought him more congenial employment, and he proceeded to dig and trim the small garden,—work which had always devolved on him, and which he liked. He dug away diligently all morning, but in the afternoon, as it was very warm and sunny, and it was determined that Katie should have her first excursion in Miss Duncan’s chair, which had been specially constructed for an invalid’s comfort, he was summoned in to assist on the occasion. Helen Grey came in as Katie was getting ready, and willingly agreed to join the party.
    Katie chose a quiet country road, both from preference and from an instinctive feeling that her brother would dislike the observation they would attract if they went through the village. The road led across the common to the river, and ended in a pretty wooded walk beside the broad, swift stream, which had left the mills and dams and foaming shallows far behind, and now flowed on in tranquillity. Everything was full of enjoyment to Katie: the budding trees, some of them so rich in balmy odours; the song of the birds, already so busy in nest-building; the sparkling flow of the water, and the delicate wild-flowers that were springing up in the warm grass of the woodlands. Helen found a few late hepaticas, so delicate in their odour, and made a pretty bouquet of trilliums and wild-violets to carry [Page 85] home. Katie’s pleasure was too great for words, and she sat very quiet, drinking in all the beauty around her, while Helen talked with Ned, and tried to draw him out on the subject of his winter’s studies. It was a matter on which he was not very communicative, and Helen rather feared, from his evident distaste for it, that his application had not been very intense, as was indeed the fact.
    As they were returning homewards, Ned, whose observation was always quick, suddenly exclaimed—
    “There’s a boy over there been standing staring at us for the last five minutes. Is he any friend of yours, Katie?”
    They looked in the direction he indicated. They were passing not far from the rear of the cottages where the Egans lived, and Jim, leaning against a fence, was intently watching their progress, shading his eyes from the dazzle of the afternoon sun, in order to see better.
    “It’s our friend Jim,” said Helen, smiling.
    “Oh! let us go near enough to speak to him,” said Katie.
    “The ground is too rough for that,” said Helen; “but I’ll go and bring him over.”
    “I’ll go, Miss Grey,” volunteered Ned, “if you will have the goodness to inform me who the important youth may be.”
    “He would probably run away from you,” replied Helen, laughing, as she set off in the direction of Jim.
    “Who is that boy?” demanded Ned; “and why do you make such a fuss about him?”
    “He is a boy Helen and I take an interest in, and want [Page 86] to get to school; at least, she has taken a great deal of trouble about him. His name is Jim Egan,” said Katie, timidly, anxious lest her brother should know the origin of her interest in him, and so come to look upon him with eyes the reverse of friendly.
    “Oh, that young rascal! Well, I wish you joy of your philanthropic efforts. He used to be a regular nuisance in the village—he and his dog. Do you intend the dog to go to school too?”
    “I think he and it are both quieter now,” said Katie, though Snap was a sore subject to her still. “The poor boy has been very ill with a fever, and hasn’t been able to go about long.”
    In a little, Jim approached the party, with Helen for escort, and looked very sheepish, for him, at meeting Katie, who saluted him kindly: “Well, Jim, were you at school to-day?”
    “Yes, miss,” said Jim, his eyes riveted on the wheels of the chair, to him so novel as a means of locomotion.
    “And how do you like it?”
    Jim moved a little uneasily, shifted his gaze from one wheel to another, and then said, awkwardly, “It’s awful dull, miss, sitting there doin’ nothink.”
    They could scarcely help smiling at Jim’s cause of complaint; but in truth Jim, when left to himself, had always some object of his own which he was intent on following, though the said object might seem of doubtful utility to other people. He was rarely absolutely “doing nothing.”
    “But don’t you have lessons to say and to learn?” asked Katie. [Page 87]
    “I say ’em sometimes; I can’t learn ’em myself,” replied Jim.
    “Well, but you must have patience,” said Katie. “You would like to learn to read, wouldn’t you?”
    “I’d a deal rather learn to be a carpenter,” he replied, curtly. Whereupon Helen tried to impress upon him that learning to read was a necessary preliminary to success in everything else, and that even carpenters would get on very badly if they could not at the same time read and write and count.
    After they left him, Ned began to rail at them and their hopeful pupil, and Helen said, seriously—
    “Do you know, I am really afraid he never will learn to read at that school. His is in a class with little children of five or six, which he can’t like, and I daresay the big boys make a fool of him. Then he generally just reads one lesson in the morning, and all the rest of the time he has to sit still with nothing to do but look round him, while he is supposed to be studying the alphabet, which must be about as interesting to him as Chinese characters would be to us. I only wonder he doesn’t play truant every fine day.”
    “Small blame to him if he did!” said Ned. “I’m sure I should!”
    Katie, who was silent for a time, as if quietly considering something, presently said, “I wonder if I couldn’t teach him to read? I have so little to do, you know. And then he wouldn’t need to sit three hours in school for one lesson.”
    “I think,” said Helen, “if you do not dislike the idea, it is the very best thing that could be done; I would do [Page 88] it myself, if I had leisure. And you might teach the others at the same time, till they could read a little. It would only take about half-an-hour, or three-quarters, every morning,—if you were strong enough for it.”
    “Oh! yes, I am sure I should be; it would do me good to feel I was doing something useful. Mamma would let me have them in the dining-room, I am sure, and on fine days I could teach them in the verandah. Now, Ned, you’re laughing at it, but don’t, please, say anything to put mamma against it.”
    Ned at first teased her a little about her prospects as a “schoolma’am,” but promised at last to use his influence in favour of a scheme which he saw she had so much at heart; and anything pleaded for both by Ned and Katie was pretty certain to be granted by Mrs Johnstone. In this case she hesitated, however, and consulted Dr Elliott; but, as he thought it could do Katie no harm, and that, on the contrary, the interest she would feel in the work might be good for her, it was settled that Jim should be released from the confinement of school, and should come with his brother and sisters to be taught by Katie for a short time every morning. In the meantime, Helen and Dr Elliott also resolved to look out for some congenial mechanical work, to keep Jim out of mischief during the day.
    Next afternoon, as Ned was busily engaged in laying out the hitherto rather neglected-looking flower-beds in front of the house, while Katie, from her sofa on the verandah, was superintending and suggesting, Arthur Winstanley walked up to the gate and entered. [Page 89]
    Ned and he met frankly, and after talking a little, he came up to speak to Katie, whom he had not seen since her accident, and whom he had scarcely known before, except by sight, as the two families had been in the habit of interchanging visits only at distant intervals. Arthur had a special reason for being interested in Katie’s recovery now, which was not known to any one out of his own family; the fact being that, at the time when the horses made that furious dash round the corner which was so disastrous for her, he was holding the reins for the coachman, and not having strength sufficient to pull in the powerful animals, he had thus been to some extent instrumental in causing the accident. His share in the calamity was a source of bitter regret to him; and it was partly through his influence, and for his sake, that the attention of the family had been so assiduous and unremitting.
    Katie felt somewhat shy of him at first. He was a tall, slight, delicate-looking lad, so much quieter in manner and gentler in speech than her own brother, that he seemed considerably older, though in reality rather his junior; and as Katie herself remarked to Helen afterwards, he had quite the air of a grown-up gentleman. His delicate constitution and love of study had isolated him a good deal from boys of his own age, especially since he had been, in consequence, too far advanced for the Lynford Grammar School, on the one hand, and considered not strong enough for college work, on the other. Boys who did not like him called him “a prig,”—a name often unjustly applied, and to which [Page 90] his natural thoughtfulness, and rather precocious development of mind and taste, as well as his want of equal companionship, had exposed him. The weakness to which he was most prone was that of indulging in poetic dreaminess, to such an extent as to unfit him for the more energetic business of life; and perhaps the fact that Ned and he were completely opposite in disposition and taste had drawn them together in an intimacy which, if rightly used, might yet be beneficial to both of them.
    The two lads sat down on the verandah steps and began a brisk discussion about college matters, in which Arthur was intensely interested; eagerly looking forward to the time when he should be allowed to enter upon his university course. He was, with comparatively little trouble too, already far ahead of Ned in attainments; but his mother, knowing his ambition, was unwilling to trust him away from her watchful eye, into the additional stimulus and excitement of college life.
    After Ned had answered nearly every question which it occurred to Arthur to ask, and Mrs Johnstone, who came out to bring Katie in, had invited “Mr Winstanley” to remain to tea, they adjourned to the dining-room, and Arthur, with his usual instinct for books, began to look over Katie’s little stock of literature.
    “I daresay some of those are quite in your line,” said Ned, “but I found them awfully slow when I tried to read them to Katie. If I could get something amusing, like the “Water-Witch,” with pirates in it, or anything of that sort, I wouldn’t mind reading aloud.”
    “Perhaps Miss Katie wouldn’t care about the pirates [Page 91] though,” said Arthur, smiling; “and it would be good for you, old fellow, if you did like something higher. I wonder Clara hasn’t lent you ‘Feats on the Fiord,’ Miss Katie; there are some pirates in that, and I don’t think Ned would find it slow. And the ‘Swiss Family Robinson,’ that has a shipwreck, and lots of adventures in it. I’ll bring them over some day. Oh, this is your prize, is it, Ned? ‘Second prize in mathematics.’ Well done! You didn’t tell me of that before. Aytoun’s ‘Lays.’ Have you read any of them, Miss Katie?”
    “No,” said Katie. “I was just beginning ‘Edinburgh after Flodden’ this morning. It seems very pretty.”
    “Yes, indeed, I think it’s splendid; and you’re Scotch,—you ought to appreciate it more than I do.”
    “Would you mind reading it to us now?” asked Katie, timidly.
    Mrs Johnstone joined in the request, and Arthur, always willing to oblige, began the spirited

            “News of battle, who hath brought it?
                News of battle! who should bring
            Tidings of our noble army,
                Greetings from our gallant king?”

    He read with great animation, entering as he went along thoroughly into the spirit of his subject; and Katie listened with intense enjoyment, for she had inherited her father’s love of his native country, and was proud to call herself a Scotchwoman. When the reader’s voice, thrilling with excitement, paused slightly at the words—

            “No Scottish foot went backward
                When the royal lion fell,” [Page 92]

she could not suppress the feeling that crimsoned her cheek and filled her eyes with tears.
    “Bravo!” exclaimed Mr Johnstone, who had come quietly in after the reading had begun; “bravo! I scarcely think a Scotchman could have read it better!”
    “I think it would be paying a poor compliment to the Scotch,” rejoined Arthur, with a smile, “to suppose that none but Scotchmen could appreciate their splendid qualities as a nation.”
    “It isn’t everybody that has the sense to see that though,” replied Mr Johnstone, not a little flattered and considerably surprised by the remark. “Still, a man that has lived a great part of his life in Auld Reekie, and been brought up among all the associations of those old names, can feel a thing like that in a way other people couldn’t do. But, at any rate, you deserve a hearty vote of thanks for giving us all so much pleasure. Doesn’t he, Katie?”
    She warmly assented, though she could not possibly have expressed half the delight the poem had given her; and the party sat down to tea. It was a long time since Mrs Johnstone had seen her husband take part in conversation with such animation and geniality as on the present occasion. His better nature had been awakened; old chords in his heart were touched; and elevating associations stirred up, by the reading of the poem. So wonderful is the power of song to move the moral nature for good as well as evil, and so great the responsibility of using it aright! [Page 93]


[Chapter IX]