A Canadian Tale

By A. M. M.


A Visit.

  “As the lark in the air and sunshine,
    When the early mists are curl’d,
His spirit bathed and revell’d
    In the beauty of the world,”

    FROM that evening onwards, Arthur was a frequent as well as a welcome visitor at Mr Johnstone’s, and he never came without bringing an addition to Katie’s supply of books. “Feats on the Fiord” and “The Swiss Family Robinson” were sent to her by Clara the day after his first visit; but Katie, who dipped into them, and would gladly have devoured them at once, showed sufficient self-control to reserve them faithfully for Ned to read to her in the evenings, which his mother was most anxious he should spend at home. The books proved sufficiently fascinating to interest even him, and Katie, in her idle moments, was ever dreaming, now of the scenery of the wonderful tropical island with its sago palms and flamingos, and anon of the bold outlines and clear atmosphere of the [Page 94] “Fiord,” with its romantic islets and inlets, and the enchanted midsummer evenings, when the sun scarcely sank beneath the horizon, but shone brightly all night over a sleeping country, and only elves and demons were abroad, holding, as was supposed, high carnival.
    They excited and enchanted her so much, that she asked Helen one day whether it was right to have her mind engrossed with such fancies.
    “I know some people would say it was not,” replied Helen, “and I suppose there is danger in it, which we should pray and guard against; but I don’t think a vivid description of the wonderful and beautiful things which God has created, and of the life of our fellow-creatures in other lands, or other days, can ever do us harm, if only we are looking to Him as the Guide and Ruler of it all, and trying to feel His presence in it, as in all things. I think we are too apt to get into a sort of idea as if He were only present in some places, and with some kind of people; yet it is good for us to try to realise His presence everywhere, and see in how many different ways He comes into contact with human beings. And here,” she added, “we have so little grand or sublime scenery, that we really need to have, at least, some vivid description of it. How much of the Bible language, for instance, we can hardly understand, unless we are able to form some idea of what a mountain is,—or the sea, when the ‘waters thereof roar and are troubled.’”
    “Well, I’m very glad you don’t think it any harm, and I fancy I do comprehend some things better already. Before, I scarcely ever thought what a mountain really [Page 95] was; but since I have read about Salitelma, I can better understand why Christ went up into a mountain to pray,” said Katie, reverently.
    “Yes,” replied Helen, “we may be sure He was insensible to none of the influences proceeding from ‘the wonderful works of God.’ I think we lose something in not realising more fully that He lived a real human life in this very world, and was surrounded by the same interests, and subject to the same pleasures and pains, as we are. If we only carry Him with us into everything, all things will be safe to us. And the thing, whatever that may be, in the enjoyment of which we feel we are forgetting Him, must be injurious to us. The difficulty is, that some things are so insidious in their influence that they sometimes lead us away from Him without our perceiving it.”
    “But how is one to know, then?” asked Katie, in a perplexed tone.
    “There is no rule but the one Christ gives us,—‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation,’” replied Helen.
    Jim’s lessons, in the meantime, were steadily going on. He was somewhat shy and awkward at first, but he soon began to feel at ease, and even to make real progress in the hands of his anxious preceptress. The little ones, however, got on faster than he did, being very much attracted to their lessons by the picture primer which Helen had procured for the use of Katie. The little boy in particular, a strange refined-looking child, considering his circumstances, with expansive forehead and spiritual-looking [Page 96] blue eyes,—a great contrast to Jim, with his rugged features and wide-awake shrewdness,—had been unusually quick at mastering the difficulties of the alphabet, and was now spelling words of three letters. It was wonderful how much interest and pleasure Katie took in her self-appointed task, and what importance she attached to the progress of her rough-looking class. Indeed, but for the evident good it did her, the attempt would have been cut short by her father, who was absent when the lessons began. On coming home one day, and seeing Jim taking his departure, he asked angrily what that young rascal was doing about there, and when he learned the cause would have peremptorily prohibited his return but for Katie’s distress and earnest pleading in his behalf. “Well, child,” he said, “it is on your account I can’t bear the sight of the fellow; but if you have a fancy for pottering away at teaching such a set, I suppose you must just have your way.”
    Whereupon Katie kissed and thanked him for the concession, grateful that Ned had not witnessed the scene between them, as she was anxious to prevent his hearing of anything to prejudice him against poor Jim. Dr Elliott, in the meantime, procured for the boy employment in one of the mills, sufficient to keep him out of mischief during most of the day.
    As the lovely June weather drew on and Katie’s strength gradually increased, so that she could bear the motion of a carriage, Mrs Winstanley called for her frequently to give her a gentle drive. She had had very little experience of pleasure-drives, and these gave her inexpressible delight, presenting at every turn some fresh source of enjoyment [Page 97] in the rich vivid green of the new foliage; the luxuriant pastures dotted with grazing cows and sheep; the winding river; and even the little gardens of the village houses, so gay at that season with beds of tulips, peonies, and “snowballs.” She never returned from a drive without being penetrated with a sense of quiet pleasure, sufficient to last for days after; and the “leafy month of June” was ever after associated in her mind with these delightful excursions in Mrs Winstanley’s carriage. She generally had the society of Clara and Arthur, as well as Mrs Winstanley herself, and sometimes her happiness was enhanced by the presence of her mamma or Helen Grey.
    So rapid was her improvement under all the healthful and happy influences around her, that it seemed practicable for her to accept an invitation, given by Mrs Winstanley, and warmly urged by Clara, to spend a day or two at Pine Grove. She was now able to walk a very little, and would not therefore be so dependent on those around her; so her mother, in consideration of the pleasure it would give her, overcame her own private scruples about accepting “the obligation,” and began to arrange a suitable dress for her to wear during her visit. She had worn nothing at home but the most simple print frocks, and she had outgrown the only nice summer dress in her scanty wardrobe, so that it required a good deal of altering before Mrs Johnstone could consider it presentable at Pine Grove. Even when she had done her best, however, Katie, who was not usually hard to please in such matters, observed that it did not seem to fit nicely; but when she saw the [Page 98] remark vexed her mother, and made her sigh sorrowfully, she hastened to say that she was sure it would do very well.
    Ned had been invited to take tea at Pine Grove on the first evening of her visit, and early in the afternoon Clara came in the carriage to take her there. The drive was not a long one: they had to pass through the village an across the river, dashing and chafing among its mill-dams, and then along a quiet piece of road, till they came to the gate leading into the grove of fine old pines which almost surrounded the house, and gave it its name. After winding for a short distance among the pines, which had strewed the ground with brown needles, slippery to walk on, and perfumed the summer air with their fragrance, the carriage emerged with its party into a pretty shrubbery immediately in front of the house, rich with luxuriant foliage, bright clusters of pink and red peonies, Gueldres roses and lilacs, and here and there an early rose-bush just bursting into bloom. Lighted up with the rich afternoon sunshine, it seemed to Katie almost a fairy-land for loveliness. She often tried afterwards to see it exactly as it appeared to her at first sight, that lovely June afternoon, but never could quite succeed, for knowledge of the details of a scene very often prevents us from realising the full beauty of the general impression. On the wide shady verandah, which surrounded the front and sides of the house, Caroline Winstanley, Clara’s elder sister, a pretty, graceful girl, about eighteen, reclined in a low chair, absorbed in a novel. The arrival of the carriage aroused her, however, and she advanced with a bright, pleasant smile to welcome Katie, and conducted her to the low seat she had left, where she [Page 99] insisted on establishing her, to rest after the drive. Katie was at once won by her bright kindliness of manner, and she thought that if she were Clara she would almost worship such a sister. When she was sufficiently rested, Clara led her through the French windows into a cool drawing-room, tastefully furnished, and fragrant with bouquets of lily of the valley and other lovely flowers of the season, and thence to a small room on the ground floor, which had been prepared for her, where she assisted her to smooth her hair and arrange her dress, and from which she conducted her on a tour of inspection round so much of the house as she could see without the fatigue of going upstairs.
    When they returned to the verandah, Ned had arrived and Arthur had joined the party. The latter now brought out some of his books, to compare the work her was doing under his tutor with what Ned had been going through at college, and Caroline returned to her novel, though she looked up occasionally to address a remark to Katie, who was very well contented to do nothing but sit still and enjoy the lovely scene and the exquisite evening. Before Arthur had finished comparing notes, which was often interrupted by Ned’s college stories, however, and at which even Caroline had to stop reading and laugh, Mrs Winstanley came to call them in to the early tea, for everybody in Lynford, even the Winstanleys, kept country meal-hours Mr Winstanley, a shrewd, complacent-looking man, rather advanced in life, was already in the pleasant dining-room, which looked out on the pine-trees, and presently the younger children came in, flushed and eager, from a search [Page 100] for wild strawberries in the fields. Katie was shown to a seat next Mr Winstanley, who was always hospitably kind in his own house—though he was called a hard man in money matters—and he took care to see her helped to the largest share of the tempting strawberries on the tea-table, and to the richest cream. Ned was quite at his ease, as indeed he was in most places, and kept up an animated conversation with Arthur and Clara, who was in her highest spirits.
    After tea, they went back to the verandah, to enjoy the cool pleasant evening, and watch the fire-flies gleaming out among the dark foliage as the dusk drew on. Then lights were brought into the drawing-room, and Caroline went in and sang some of her songs, while the others remained in the soft dusk, listening to the sweet sounds as they came floating out through the open windows. To Katie the whole evening was full of new and pleasant sensations; and when she lay down, she was for some time too excited to sleep.
    She was awakened very early next morning by the golden rays of the sun, slanting, in almost level lines, through the pines, and the warbling of the birds stealing sweetly in through the open window, to which, accordingly, she went to enjoy the cool, pleasant freshness of the early hour. Then she knelt to pray, and offer—not a short formal prayer, such as used to satisfy her conscience—but a full, thankful outpouring of gratitude to God for all the blessings she was enjoying. When she was dressed, she went quietly to the verandah, and thence out among the pine-trees, where she walked slowly up and down for a [Page 101] little till she was tired, and sat down to rest. She was left long undisturbed, for the family were, most of them, not early risers. Arthur was the first to make his appearance, coming by a path through the pines, with a book in his hand which looked very like one of Ned’s college books.
    “Have you been up long, Miss Katie?” said he. “You seem to have the start of everybody else.”
    “It was such a lovely morning, and everything is so beautiful here, that I couldn’t bear to lose any of it.”
    “Yes, it does seem a shame to lose the best of the day,—which the morning is at this season of the year. Things are never so fresh and sweet at any other time. I always get an hour or two’s study before breakfast, in a quiet nook I have, down there, in the hollow of an old pine.”
    Katie glanced at the book he was holding. “‘Horace,’ isn’t it?” she asked.
    “Yes; I suppose you haven’t made the acquaintance of that poet yet, have you?”
    “Oh, I have read very little poetry at all,” replied Katie, blushing; “only Mrs Hemans, and ‘Edingburgh after Flodden,’ and a little of the ‘Christian Year’—what I can understand of it.”
    “Well, I’ll introduce you to ‘Horace,’ if you like,—an elegant and original translation,” he added.
    “Thank you; I should like it, if it is not too much trouble.”
    Accordingly, he translated for her one of the light, sparkling odes, which she thought pretty, read with his musical voice and rhythmical intonation; but it was far from awaking the play of feeling, or touching the deeper chords, [Page 102] and this was her chief enjoyment in the reading of poetry. So, though she thanked him, he could easily see that Horace was not likely to be a favourite of hers.
    “I’ll read you something better than that by and by,” he said, as the breakfast-bell rang. After breakfast, accordingly, he handed her a large volume, saying, as he did so, that he fancied that would keep her in reading for the day, at all events. She glanced at the title: it was “Ivanhoe,” so full of interest and magical unfolding of romantic delight to all young readers. Katie, with her enthusiasm for old-fashioned things and times, derived partly from Mrs Duncan’s old Scotch stories, was likely to appreciate it fully. The temptation to bury herself in its fascinating pages all day, in forgetfulness of everything else, was hard to resist; yet she bravely overcame it, reading it only when her attention was not claimed by any other object.
    Helen Grey came to give her morning lesson, which was not, however, begun till she had first promised to come to tea that evening, and, if possible, bring her father along with her. After Clara and the children had gone to their lessons, and Arthur to his studies, Caroline—who was seen flitting about for half-an-hour among the flowers, in her pretty summer morning dress and straw hat, looking, as Katie thought, with her bright fair hair and light graceful figure, “like a picture in a book”—appeared, with a quantity of cut flowers of all kinds, and claimed Katie’s assistance in the pleasant task of arranging them in bouquets for the vases. Katie very willingly aided in the operation, for it was work she enjoyed thoroughly; and as they proceeded they kept up a lively conversation, the chief interest being [Page 103] Katie’s flowers at home, her little lost dog, and her rollicking brother. But much as Katie admired Caroline, and pleasantly as she talked, Katie felt instinctively that she could never hold converse with her as she did with Helen; and that the whole range of subjects which she and Helen liked best to discuss, touching the really important part of our life—our immortal interests—was strange ground, which she shrank from entering upon with Caroline. It is sad that it should ever be so—that the minds of the young should not always be accustomed to dwell upon things unseen and eternal, which, far from diminishing their happiness, would give it a higher and more enduring quality, and impart, as well, a purer and richer tone to the first vibrations of their inner being. But it was not so in the Winstanley family; the “better part” was very much overlooked, or considered as at best, in the culture it received, only a decorous appendage to the abundance of earthly life and possessions. Even Arthur, with his purer tastes and poetical longing for something higher than this life affords, had, at most, only a vague religious sentimentality, and never sought earnestly to realise the meaning of “following Christ” as his Lord and Master.
    In the afternoon, when his studies were over, Arthur brought out with him several volumes of poetry, and announced himself free to read to Katie and his sisters. One of his selections—a great favourite of his—was the “May Queen.” It was quite new to Katie, who listened with an expression of rapture; till, at length, the sweet, touching pathos of the poem, and the happy Christian hopefulness of the concluding strains, made her glad to turn away her [Page 104] head to hide the tears she could suppress no longer. Even Arthur’s voice trembled as he read; and Caroline and Clara, though they had heard it before, did not listen without emotion. No one ventured to make a remark when it was concluded; and Arthur, as a relief from its tone of sadness, turned to read one of the spirited “Lays of the Cavaliers.” Katie, however, when she saw that Aytoun’s shafts were, some of them, launched against her heroes, the Covenanters, was roused to indignation, vehemently protesting that it was “not nearly so nice as ‘Edinburgh after Flodden.’” Thereupon an animated discussion followed between her and Arthur, as to the merits of the Covenanters and their cause, in which Arthur took the opposite side, chiefly for the sake of argument—a thing he was fond of doing. When Mr Grey arrived, with Helen, the point was referred to him; and Katie, who had got quite excited about it, felt sure that he would take her side.
    “Well, at any rate,” exclaimed Katie, after Mr Grey had hazarded an opinion, “I am sure the Covenanters were, at least, a great deal better than the other people, and they did not kill women and children.”
    “I hope they were better,” said Mr Grey; “it would have been strange if they had not been so, since they professed to be serving Christ, while the cruel soldiers, who committed the deeds you speak of, were serving only an earthly king, and perhaps had never been taught anything about the love of Christ at all. And I feel persuaded that many of the Covenanters had forsaken all for Christ, nor ‘counted their own lives dear unto them’ when His cause was at stake. But, whenever we begin to exalt erring men to [Page 105] an undue authority, and give them any of the veneration and homage which belongs to the one perfect Man, we need to be reminded that ‘all flesh is grass,’ that it is only ‘the word of the Lord that endureth forever.’” From the moment it assumed this form, Arthur ceased to bear a part in the discussion; the battle was not fought on his ground at all, for Mr Grey’s remarks took a higher range than his thoughts had, as yet, been accustomed to follow. There were thoughts that were new to him in what Mr Grey had said; and as he saw with surprise that Katie, who was certainly much his inferior in attainments and general culture, was able to enter into them much better than he could, he connected this with what he had previously noticed in her, and concluded that the principles on which she felt and acted were different from those which usually actuated himself and those around him.”
    Helen and Katie had a little quiet talk by themselves, as the dusk came on, and then, after some music from Caroline, Mr Grey closed the evening, as was his wont wherever he visited socially—whether among his own people or among others,—with reading the Scriptures and prayer. Family worship was not customary with the Winstanleys, but they were always willing that any clergyman who might be their guest should conduct it. Arthur was particularly struck with one petition in Mr Grey’s simple prayer, which he long remembered—“Help us, O Lord, to seek to know Thy will concerning us, and to follow Christ in doing it, assured of Thine own promise, that if any man will do Thy will, he shall know of the doctrine.” [Page 106]


[Chapter X]