Christie Redfern's Troubles
By Margaret Robertson This author's books tend to be a bit religious, and this is no exception. On the mother's death the Redfern family moved to Canada, where there was a strong Scottish tradition, with preacher and kirk much as they had been in Scotland, and with many of the services in Gaelic, the language which many of these Scottish emigrants had spoken since their birth. The family settle on a small farm, bringing up the children, including Christie, in a good Christian manner.
As with other of Mrs Robertson's books much of the action takes place in the young girls' minds, and we do not have a lot to do with the four boys of the family. There are neighbouring families, including the Nesbitt's, in a similar status.
The actual copy of the book used was in very good condition, and we scanned it in at a high resolution, but we discovered that some of the type-setting and the original proof-reading had not been too good for some of the punctuation marks were missing. I am referring to full stops at the ends of paragraphs, and that sort of thing. We have done our utmost to set this matter right, as well as dealing with places where the type had become damaged.
The book makes a nice peaceful slow-moving audiobook. NH
CHRISTIE REDFERN'S TROUBLES
BY MARGARET ROBERTSON
The requirement of the gospel is that, having first given ourselves to Christ, we should then devote all we have, be it little or much, to His service. The largest gifts fall infinitely below what He deserves from us; the smallest will not be rejected by Him. For it is the motive, not the gift, which our Lord regards. The poor widow's mite was more acceptable to Him than the ostentatious and lavish donations of the wealthy. Yet the smallness, the seeming worthlessness, of our means is often pleaded as an excuse for withholding them altogether. Because men can do so little, they do nothing. It was the servant who had received only one talent that wrapped his lord's money in a napkin, and buried it in useless, unprofitable obscurity. When the multitudes hungered in the wilderness, the disciples hesitated to bring the five barley loaves and two small fishes, asking, "What are they among so many?" They were taught, however, to produce their little all, utterly inadequate as it was to the exigencies of the case, and lay it in the hands of Omnipotent Love, that He might by His blessing increase it to the feeding of the five thousand. "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world and things which are despised hath God chosen, yea, and things that are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence."
This great truth is admirably illustrated in the following pages. In the life of Christie Redfern we may see how the simple desire to serve God, felt and acted upon by a poor, suffering child, may give an almost heroic strength of character, and may produce results, the magnitude and grandeur of which are altogether out of proportion to the feebleness of the means employed.
"I've heard folks say it—I've seen it in a book myself—and I heard my father read something like it, out of the Bible, last Sunday—'Ask, and ye shall receive,' and in another place, 'In everything by prayer and supplication let your requests be made known unto God.' I might try it, anyway."
But the voice that spoke was by no means a hopeful one, and there was anything but a hopeful look on the face of the little girl who slowly raised herself up from a mossy seat, where she had been quite hidden by the branches of a tall birch-tree, that hung so low as to dip themselves into the waters of the brook at the times when it ran fullest. It was a very pretty place, and a very strange place for any child to look anxious or discontented in. But the little girl looked as if she were both; and there was, besides, a great deal of weariness in her manner, as she leaned for a moment against a branch, and then stooped to let the water flow over a spray of crimson maple that she held in her hand.
"I might try it, anyway," she repeated, as she left the place.
In some spring or autumn long ago, the swollen waters of the brook had quite washed away the soil from between the roots of the birch-tree; and the roots themselves, and the hollow place which the waters had made, were covered with grass and soft moss now. In this pretty natural seat, after an eager, half-frightened glance around, the little girl placed herself, kneeling. She closed her eyes, and folded her hands with a reverent gesture; but a doubtful, uneasy look passed over her face as she let her head droop, and murmured:
"Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come"— and so on to the end.
Then her head was raised; but the doubtful look had not passed away.
"That's no' just what I'm needing," she continued. "I have my daily bread. I'm no' sure about the other things; and I canna mind another prayer. I would make one, if I knew the way. I need so many things!"
There was a pause, and then she said, softly:
"O Lord, dinna let Aunt Elsie be vexed with me for biding here so long. I'm sure I need that. And, O Lord, mind Effie to bring home the book she promised me. Oh, there are so many things that I need! and I'm no' sure that I'm asking right. But the Bible says, 'Whatsoever ye ask in My name, believing, ye shall receive.'"
She slipped from her kneeling posture, and leaned, with her eyes still closed, against the shining bark of the birch-tree. She lay quiet for some time, as if she were thinking of many things; then, kneeling again, with her head bowed down on her clasped hands, she said:
"O Lord, make me a good child, and take me to heaven when I die, for Jesus' sake!"
Then she opened her eyes, and rose up with a sigh.
"Oh, how long the shadows have grown! I should have been at home a long while ago. But now I'll see if Aunt Elsie's no' vexed. If she doesna scold me, I'll ken that there is some use in praying. And if Effie brings me a book, such a book as I like, I shall be sure, sure. Then I shall know that God hears people when they pray; and that will be something."
And, really, the tired, pale little creature looked as though she needed something to make her look more cheerfully on a world which generally seems so happy a place to the young—something to banish the look of discontent which seemed to have settled on her face.
This was little Christie Redfern—just such a plain, common-looking child as one might see anywhere without turning to look again. Her eyes were neither black nor blue, but grey, and dark only when the long lashes shaded them. Her mouth was too wide to be pretty, and her lips were pale and thin. She might naturally have had a fair, soft skin; but it was tanned and freckled by exposure to the air and sun, and looked neither fair nor soft now. Her brow was high and broad, and would have been pretty but that she gathered it together in wrinkles when she looked at anything closely with her short-sighted eyes. She wore a dark cotton frock and checked pinafore, and her feet, without stockings, were slipped into shoes that seemed a world too big for them. She would not have been pretty in any circumstances; but shuffling along in her big shoes and odd dress, she was a very queer-looking little creature indeed.
But there was something about the child more to be deplored than the wide mouth, or the dim eyes, or the drooping figure. There was a look of unhappiness upon her face which, as any one might see, was in consequence of no momentary trouble. It seemed to be habitual. As she plodded along with her eyes cast down on the rough pathway, it never changed. Once, when the sun, which she thought had set, flashed out for a moment through the clouds of purple and crimson, causing her to look up suddenly, the sad expression passed away; but when her eyes fell it was there again, and she sighed wearily, as though her thoughts were always sad. It was a long time before she looked up again.
Indeed, there was not very much in the scene around her to attract the attention of the child, even if her short-sighted eyes could have taken in the view. There were the clouds; but their crimson and purple glories had faded. There was the little grove of birch and maple by the side of the brook—the prettiest place on her father's farm, Christie thought; and that was all. A bird's-eye view of the country for many miles around showed no variety of scenery, except the alternation of long, broad fields of grass and wheat, or, rather, fields where grass and wheat had been, with wide, irregular stretches of low-lying forest. There was scarcely a hill deserving of the name to break the monotonous level. It was a very fine country indeed in the estimation of the busy groups who were here and there gathering in the last sheaves of a plentiful harvest. The farmers of Laidlaw were wont to boast, and with reason, too, of their wheat-crops, and their fine roads and fences, declaring that there was not in all Canada a district that would surpass or even equal theirs in respect of these things. But beauty of this sort a child cannot be supposed to appreciate. Christie's home for the first ten years of her life had been in a lovely Scottish village, within three miles of the sea on one side and less than three miles from the hills on the other; and the dull, unvaried level, the featureless aspect of her present home, might well seem dreary to the child.
But the contrast between the old life and the new was greater still; and here lay the secret of the shadow that seldom left the face of the little girl now. For in the old times, that seemed so long ago, Christie had been the one delicate child in a large and healthy family, and therefore her loving mother's constant and peculiar care. And her mother was dead now. I need not say more to prove how sad and changed her life had become.
I think that, meeting her on her homeward way that afternoon, one might have almost seen the motherless look in her pale face and drooping figure and in the lingering tread of her weary little feet. It was a look more painful to see than the look of sadness or neglect which motherless children sometimes wear. It was of a wayward temper grown more wayward still for want of a mother's firm and gentle rule. One could not doubt that peevish words and angry retorts fell very naturally from those pale lips. She looked like one who needed to be treated with patience and loving forbearance, and who failed to meet either. And, indeed, the rule to which Christie was forced to submit was neither firm nor gentle. Sometimes it was firm, when Christie, as she not unfrequently did, ventured to resist it; but gentle—never.
When Christie's mother died, all their friends said the little Redferns were very fortunate in having an Aunt Elsie to supply her place in the household; and in some respects they were. If a constant and conscientious determination to do her duty to her brother's motherless children would have made up to them for their loss, they would have been quite happy under Aunt Elsie's care. She made a great sacrifice of her own ease and comfort when she left her quiet home to devote herself to their interests; and if they had all been wise and good and thoughtful, they would not have needed to be reminded so frequently of her self-denial as Aunt Elsie seemed to think necessary. But few children are so wise, or good, or thoughtful as they ought to be; and there were oftentimes secret murmurings, and once or twice during the first year of her stay there had been open rebellion among them.
It could hardly have been otherwise. No middle-aged woman unaccustomed to the care of a family, whose heart had never been softened by the helpless loveliness of little children of her own, could have filled the place of a mother, wise, firm, and tender, all at once; and so for a time their household was not a happy one. Their father left his children to the care of their aunt, as he had always left them to the care of their mother; and if an appeal from any decision of hers were made to him, it very seldom availed anything.
It was not so bad for the elder ones. They were healthy, good-tempered girls, who had companions and interests out of the home-circle; and they soon learned to yield to or evade what was distasteful in their aunt's rule. With the little children she was always lenient. It was the sickly, peevish little Christie who suffered most. More than any of the rest, more than all the rest put together, she missed her mother: she missed her patient care and sympathy when she was ill, and her firm yet gentle management amid the wayward fretfulness that illness brought upon her. Night after night did her weary little head slumber on a pillow which her tears had wet. Morning after morning did she wake up to the remembrance of her loss, with a burst of bitter weeping, angry at or indifferent to all her aunt's attempts to console her or win her love. No wonder that her aunt lost patience at last, calling the child peevish and wilful, and altogether unlovable, and declaring that she had more trouble and unhappiness with her than with all her sisters put together.
And, indeed, so she had. She rather enjoyed the excitement of keeping a firm hand over the elder ones, and she soon learned to have patience with the noise and heedlessness of the little ones. But the peevishness and wayward fancies of a nervous, excitable child, whom weakness made irritable, and an over-active imagination made dreams, she could neither understand nor endure; and so the first year after the mother's death was a year of great unhappiness to Christie.
After that, there was a great change in the family life. Losses in business, and other circumstances, induced Mr Redfern to give up his home and to remove with his family to Canada. Though this decision was made contrary to the advice of his sister, she would not forsake him and his children: so she had come with them to the backwoods.
A new and changed life opened to them here, and all the changes that came to them were not for the better. Mr Redfern knew nothing about practical farming; and so, though he had means to purchase a sufficient quantity of good land, it was not surprising to his neighbours that his first attempt should be unsuccessful. His children were of the wrong sort, too, his neighbours said; for only one of the eight was a lad, and he was only six when he came to his new home. No pair of hands could gather, from ever so good a farm, food enough to fill so many mouths; and more than one of the kind people who took the affairs of the new-comers into their especial consideration, shook their heads gravely over their prospects. And for a time they were badly off.
Soon after their arrival in their new home, Aunt Elsie was seized with an illness which lingered long, and left her a cripple when it went away; and her temper was not of the kind which suffering and helplessness are said sometimes to improve. It was a trying time to all.
But winter passed over. Spring came, and with it came a measure of health to Aunt Elsie. She could move about on a crutch and give directions in the house, and do many things besides, which a less energetic person would never have attempted. The elder girls, Effie, Sarah, and Annie, proved themselves of the right sort, so far as energy, and strength, and a right good-will were concerned, and worked in the fields with their father as though they had been accustomed to it all their lives. So, when two or three years had passed away, the glances which the neighbours sent into the future of the Redferns revealed by no means so dreary a prospect as formerly.
A change for the better had come over Christie, too. She would never be as hopeful or as healthy as her sisters, her aunt said; but in health and hopefulness, and in temper too, there was a great change for the better in Christie at the end of the first three years of her Canadian life. But Christie was far from being what she ought to be in respect to the latter item even then, as her aunt often told her; and she had good cause to be of her aunt's opinion many times before the summer was over.
It was, for several reasons, a time of trial to the child. Her eldest sister Effie, whom she loved best of all, was away from home as school-mistress in a neighbouring township, only returning home for the Sunday, and not always able to do that. Her absence made the constant assistance of Sarah and Annie indispensable to their father. So the work of the household, and the care of the dairy during the greater part of the summer, fell to Christie, under the superintendence of Aunt Elsie; and a great deal more strength and patience was needed than Christie had at her disposal. She would gladly have changed with her sisters for their harder places in the fields; but the cold of the spring and autumn mornings chilled her, and the heat of summer exhausted her, and there was no alternative but the work of the house. This would have been wearisome enough under any circumstances to a child not very strong; and it was sometimes rendered more than wearisome by the needless chidings of her aunt.
Not that her aunt meant to be unkind, or that her chidings were always undeserved or her complaints causeless. Her mother could not have been more careful than her aunt was, that Christie should not put her hand to work beyond her strength. But probably her mother would have felt that a child might become weary, even to disgust, of a never-ending, never-changing routine of trifling duties, that brought no pleasant excitement in their train, that could scarcely be named or numbered when the day was done, yet whose performance required time and strength and patience beyond her power to give. But if her aunt ever thought about this, she never told her thoughts to Christie; and to the child the summer days often passed wearily enough. It is to be doubted whether the elder sisters, after a long harvest-day, went to bed more tired and depressed than did Christie, who, in their opinion, had been having an easy time. Not but that Annie and Sarah understood in some measure the troubles that might fall to Christie's lot under the immediate superintendence of Aunt Elsie; and they were sometimes ready enough to congratulate themselves on their own more free life out of doors. But, strong and healthy as they were, they could not understand how the work which would have seemed like play to them could be such a burden to their little sister; and they sometimes sadly added to her discontent by making light of her troubles, and ascribing to indolence and peevishness the complaints which, too often, fell from her lips.
There had not, during all the summer, been a more uncomfortable day than the one whose close found Christie sitting so disconsolately under the birch-tree by the brook. It had begun badly, as too many of those days did. In looking for something in the garret, Christie had found a book that had been missing for a long time. It was one of her favourites. She had read it often before, but not recently; and in those days new books were rare, and old books proportionably precious.
Sitting down on the floor, amid the scattered contents of the chest she had been rummaging, she forgot, in the charm of "The Family Tryst," that the dough of her batch of bread was fast approaching that stage of lightness that needed her attention, and that her oven was by no means in a proper state to receive it when that point should be reached. Page after page she turned with a vague feeling that each should be the last, till even this half-consciousness of wrong-doing was lost in the intense enjoyment of the tale; and then—the charm was broken.
Aunt Elsie's sharp, quick tones, coming suddenly upon her, must have startled the nervous child with a shock of pain quite apart from any thought of the consequences of her fault; and it was with hands that trembled violently that the book was hidden and the scattered contents of the chest were gathered together again. Then she thought of her bread; and her heart failed within her.
"Oh, I'm so sorry!" she said to herself; but no such word was spoken to her aunt. Indeed, to her she said nothing; and it was not sorrow for her fault, but sullenness or indifference, or something that might easily be mistaken for these, that her aunt saw on her face as she came down-stairs. It was very provoking. The bread was ready for the oven, but the oven was by no means ready for the bread. And now for the next three days, at least, the children and the hungry harvest-people must content themselves with sour bread, in consequence of Christie's carelessness. It was Christie's wilful disobedience, her aunt declared; and, really, the sullen, unrepentant look on the girl's face was almost enough to excuse her aunt's bitter words and the sudden blow that fell on her averted cheek. A blow was a very rare thing with Aunt Elsie. It was not repeated now. Indeed, she would hardly have ventured to strike again the white, indignant face that was turned towards her. Surprise and anger kept the girl for one moment silent; then, in a voice she could hardly make audible for the beating of her heart, she gasped:
"I hate you, Aunt Elsie! I wish I were dead!"
"Be quiet, with your wicked words!" cried Aunt Elsie. "You are far from being in a fit state to die, you disobedient, bad child."
But Aunt Elsie was vexed with herself for the blow she had given, and all the more vexed with Christie on that account. Christie was really sorry for her fault; but, quite forgetting that she had given no sign of sorrow, she called her aunt unjust and cruel, and bitterly resented both word and blow. Anger and pride gave her strength to obey the command to carry the bread to a cool place, and to keep back a rush of tears till her task was done. But it failed her then; and, throwing herself on the ground, out of sight, she wept and sobbed, and uttered words as wicked and passionate as those which her aunt had reproved.
This was the beginning; and after that nothing could be expected to go well. Though her head ached and her hands trembled, the work of the house must be done; and more than her usual share fell to Christie to-day. For Aunt Elsie's rheumatism was bad again, and much that she usually did was left to Christie. But her aunt did not say she was ill. The added tasks were assigned with a voice and in a manner that seemed to declare them a part of the punishment for the fault of the morning; and we cannot wonder much that they were sullenly performed.
"I don't care," repeated Christie to herself, over and over again, that day. "There is no use in trying to please Aunt Elsie. It makes no difference. She's cross always. I never do anything right, she says; and I don't care!"
But she did care, for all that. She was very wretched. She avoided her sisters when they came home to dinner, saying she had a headache, and didn't want any—which, indeed, was true; and her sisters, thinking that she and Aunt Elsie had had a falling-out which would be made up before night, left her to herself. So Christie sat on the garret-floor, too miserable to read, her heart full of angry thoughts against her aunt, her sisters, and all the world.
But into the very midst of her vexed and angry murmurs against them there came the feeling that all the fault was not theirs—that she was herself to be blamed. And by and by the anger passed away; but the misery remained, and oftener, and with more power, came the consciousness that she was a very cross, unamiable child, that she was not like her older sisters or the little ones, that she was a comfort to no one, but a vexation to all. If she only could die! she thought. No! she would be afraid to die! But, oh, if she had never been born! Oh, if her mother had not died!
And yet she might have been a trial to her mother, too, as she was to all the rest. But no! she thought; her mother would have loved her and had patience with her; and Aunt Elsie never had. Amid a rush of angry tears, there fell a few very bitter drops to the memory of her mother.
With a weary pain at her head and heart, she went about the household work of the afternoon. The dinner-dishes were put away, and the room was swept and dusted, in silence. The pans were prepared for the evening milk, and the table was laid for supper; and then she sat down, with a face so woe-begone and miserable, and an air so weary that, even in spite of her anger, her aunt could not but pity her. She pitied herself more, however. She said to herself that she was at her wits' end with the wilful child. She began to fear that she would never be other than a cross and a trial to her; and it did seem to Aunt Elsie that, with her bad health and her hard work among her brother's children, she had enough to vex her without Christie's untowardness. It did seem so perverse in her, when she needed her help so much, to be so heedless and sullen.
"And yet what a poor, pale, unhappy little creature she seems to be!" thought she. "Maybe I haven't all the patience with her that I ought to have. God knows, I need not a little to bear all my own aches and pains."
But her relenting thoughts did not take the form of words; and Christie never fancied, when she was bidden go for the cows at once, and not wait for the coming of the children from school, that her aunt sent her because she thought the walk to the pasture would do her good. She believed it was a part of her punishment, still, that she should be required to do what had all the summer been the acknowledged work of Will and her little sisters. So, though she was too weary and miserable to resist, or even to murmur, she went with a lagging step and a momentary rising of her old angry and resentful thoughts.
It was not very far to the pasture through the wheat-field; and she was soon there. But when the cows had passed through the gate she let them go or not, just as they pleased, and turned aside, to think over again, by the side of the brook, the miserable thoughts of the afternoon; and the end of these was the murmured prayer with which my story began.
Her thoughts were not very cheerful as she plodded along. She had no wish to hurry. If she did, she would very likely have to milk Brownie and Blackie and the rest, besides Fleckie, her own peculiar care. She said to herself, there was no reason why she should do her sisters' work, though it was harvest-time and they would come home tired. She was tired too—though nobody seemed to think she ever did anything to tire her. She could milk all the cows well enough. She had done it many a time. But it was one thing to do it of her own free will, and quite another to do so because her aunt was cross and wanted to punish her for her morning fault. So she loitered on the road, though the sun had set and she knew there was danger of the cows passing the gate and getting in among the wheat, where the fence was insufficient, in the field below.
"I don't care," she said to herself. "It winna be my fault. The bairns should have been at home. It's their work, not mine, to mind the cows. Oh, I wist Effie was at home! There's nothing quite so bad where she is here. But I'll see to-night if my prayer is heard; that will be something; and then I'll begin again, and try to be good, in spite of Aunt Elsie."
The cows had not passed the gate. Somebody had opened it for them, and they were now standing or lying in the yard, in the very perfection of animal enjoyment. The girls were not at home to milk them, however. Christie had heard her father's voice calling to them in the lower field, and she knew it would be full half an hour, and quite dark, before they could be at home. So, with a sigh, she took the stool and the milk-pails from a bench near the door, and went to the yard to her task.
If her short-sighted eyes had seen the long, low wagon that stood at the end of the house, curiosity would have tempted her to go back to see who might be there. If she had known that in that wagon her sister Effie had ridden home a day sooner than she was expected, she would not have seated herself so quietly to her milking.
[Note: In America, any light four-wheeled vehicle is called a wagon.]
Christie was not lazy, though her aunt sometimes accused her of being so. When her heart was in her work, she could do it quickly and well; and her strength failed her always before her patience was exhausted.
She knew she must finish the milking alone now, and she set to it with a will. In a surprisingly short time she was standing between two foaming milk-pails at the gate. To carry them both at once was almost, though not quite, beyond her strength; and as she stood for a moment hesitating whether she would try it, or go with one and return for the other, the matter was decided for her.
"Christie!" said a voice—not Aunt Elsie's—from the door.
Turning, Christie saw her sister Effie. Surprise kept her riveted to the spot till her sister came down the path.
"Dinna lift them, Christie: you are no more able to do it than a chicken. I'll carry them."
But she stooped first to place her hands on her little sister's shoulders and to kiss her softly. Christie did not speak; but the touch of her sister's lips unsealed the fountain of her tears, and clinging to her and hiding her face, she cried and sobbed in a way that, at last, really frightened her sister.
"Why, Christie! Why, you foolish lassie! What ails you, child? Has anything happened?—or is it only that you are so glad to see me home again? Don't cry in that wild way, child. What is it, Christie?"
"It's nothing—I dinna ken—I canna help it!" cried Christie, after an ineffectual effort to control herself.
Her sister held the trembling little form for a moment without speaking, and then she said, cheerfully:
"See, Christie! It's growing dark! We must be quick with the milking."
"Why didna you come last week, Effie?" said Christie, rousing herself at last.
"Oh, partly because of the rain, and partly because I thought I would put my two holidays together. This is Thursday night, and I can stay till Monday morning—three whole days."
Christie gave a sigh, and smiled.
"Come," said Effie; "I'll help you. I was waiting till you came from the pasture. I didna see you come."
"No; I didna go in."
It seemed to Christie that a very heavy burden had been lifted from her heart. She smiled without the sigh, as soon as she met her sister's grave look.
"Did you walk home, Effie?" she asked.
"No; I got a chance to ride with the book-man. He was at the corner, and offered to bring me home, as he was coming this way. How beautiful your pans look, Christie! Will you need them all?"
They were in the milk-house now. It was a large, low place, partly made by digging into the side of the hill. It was a cool, pleasant place in summer, and well suited to the purpose for which it had been built. It was dark, however, when the girls entered, and would have been very gloomy but for Christie's shining milk-pans and the rows of cream-covered dishes beyond.
They were all needed, and some new ones had just been brought from the tinman's. "I like them," said Christie: "they're lighter than the earthen ones, and no' so easily broken. We've got much more milk since the cows went into the upper field. You'll see what a pailful Fleckie gives."
"Fleckie is your favourite yet," said Effie, smiling, as they left the dairy together.
"Oh, yes! she's the best of them all—and so gentle! and I'm sure she knows me. I don't think she likes any one to milk her half so well as me."
"She'll let me milk her to-night, though," said Effie, removing her cuffs and turning up her sleeves.
"You'll spoil your pretty frock," said Christie, doubtfully.
"There's no fear. I'll take care. Give me the stool."
"But there's Blackie and Brownie to do yet—unless you would rather milk Fleckie."
"I would rather milk them all," said Effie. "I'm sure, child, you look as though you had had enough of it for one day."
"Oh, no; I expected to milk them all. I'm not very tired."
Christie ran for another stool, and seated herself beside her favourite. She was quite near her sister, too; and they went on talking.
"I suppose this was churning-day?" said Effie.
"No; we churned yesterday, and we'll churn again to-morrow. It's harder, and takes longer, now that the nights have got cooler. But the butter is beautiful. We have the two tubs full, and we put the last we made in a jar. I'll show it to you when we go in."
"I suppose Annie and Sarah have but little time to help you now? No wonder you are tired," said Effie.
"No; they cannot help us except on a rainy day. But I never churn alone. Aunt Elsie helps me. It took us three hours last time."
"I shouldna wonder if that is the reason that Aunt Elsie's shoulder is worse," said Effie, with a sigh.
"Is it worse?" asked Christie. "She has said nothing about it."
"No; she says there is no use in complaining. But I do hope she is not going to be ill, as she was before. It would be terrible for us all."
"I hope not, indeed," said Christie; and in a moment she added, "You would need to bide at home then, Effie."
Effie shook her head.
"No; I should need all the more to be away if that were to happen. What should we all do for shoes, if it werena for my school-money?"
Christie's countenance fell; but in a little time she said—
"But the harvest is a great deal better this year, Effie."
"Yes; but there winna be much to sell. If we don't have to buy, it will be a great thing for us. And the shoes we must have, and new harness, and other things. I mustna think of staying this winter, I'm sure, Christie."
Christie gave a long sigh, as she rose with her full pail.
"I wish I was old enough and able to keep a school, or do something!"
"Do something!" echoed Effie. "I'm sure you do a great deal. Think of the butter! And you've made bread all the summer, and swept, and ironed, and washed the dishes."
"But all that comes to very little," said Christie, disconsolately.
"Indeed it does—to more than my school-keeping, I dare say. And I'm sure it's far pleasanter work."
"Pleasanter!" repeated Christie; and there was such a protesting echo in her voice that Effie could not help laughing; but she said, again—
"Yes, pleasanter. Don't you think it must be far nicer to be at home with all the rest, than to stay among folk that don't care about you, and have to bear your trouble alone?"
Christie opened her eyes wide.
"But, Effie, folk do care about you. And what troubles can you have to bear?"
Effie laughed softly; but she looked grave immediately.
"Well, I havena so many as I might have, I suppose."
"I'm sure if I were you I should be perfectly happy," said Christie.
"That's only one of the mistakes you have fallen into," said Effie, gravely. "Do you remember the story of the burdens, and how every one was willing to take up his own at last?"
Nothing in the world would have convinced Christie that her sister's lot was not much pleasanter than her own; and she said to herself, how gladly she would change burdens with her! but aloud she only asked—
"Has anything new happened? What's troubling you, Effie?"
"Oh, nothing has happened," said Effie, cheerfully. "I'm getting on well. The worst of my troubles are those I find at home—Aunt Elsie's rheumatism, and your pale, tired face, and the wearing out of the children's clothes. And you have all these too: so I dare say my burden is the lightest, after all. Now let me see your butter."
It was well worth seeing. There was one tub made when the weather had been warm, and, for that reason, was pronounced by Christie not quite so good. Then there was a large one, with over a hundred and twenty pounds in it—so hard, and yellow, and fragrant! Christie was not a little proud of it; and Effie praised it to her heart's content. There was no better butter in all Glengarry, she was sure.
"And a hundred and twenty pounds of it! It's worth twenty-five cents a pound, at least. Think of that, Christie!—thirty dollars in all! That is something of your doing, I should think."
"Partly," said Christie. "I only helped." But she was very much pleased. "If we could only sell it, it would get us shoes, and lots of things."
"But I'm afraid we mustna sell it," said Effie. "We shall have so little meat all the winter—and it is so dear, too; and we shall need the butter. And how many cheeses are there? Five?"
"Five uncut. One is nearly done since the harvest. See, these two are better than the others. But it is getting so dark you canna see them. I think the cheese will be a great help. We had none last winter, you know."
"Yes, indeed!" said Effie, heartily. "We shall have a better winter than the last was."
"Except that you winna be at home," said Christie, desponding a little again.
"Well, I would like to be at home, if it were best; but we canna have all we would like, you know. If you have milk to skim, you will need a candle, Christie."
"No: I skimmed it before I went away. See, father and the girls have come home at last. How glad they will be to see you, Effie!"
Yes, everybody was glad to see Effie—though no one said much about it that night. Indeed, it was rather a silent party that partook of the frugal supper. Except that the book-man (as the colporteur was called) exchanged now and then a remark with Mr Redfern, little was said till supper was over and the Bible laid on the table for worship. The Redfern family had the custom of reading verse-about, as it is called, partly because lights were sometimes scarce, and partly because, after the work of a long summer day, both great and small were too tired to enjoy protracted reading; and it must be confessed that, at times, morning and evening devotions were both brief and formal. They were not so to-night, however; for they were led by Mr Craig, the book-man, a cheerful and earnest Christian, to whom, it was easily seen, God's worship was no mere form, but a most blessed reality. Indeed, so lengthened was the exercise to-night that the little ones were asleep before it was done; and so earnest was he, so elevated were his ascriptions of praise, so appropriate his confessions and petitions, that the elder members of the family, notwithstanding their weariness, could not but listen and join with wonder and delight.
"He believes that it is worth one's while to pray, at any rate," said Christie to herself; and all at once it flashed upon her that a part of her prayer had been answered. Aunt Elsie had not spoken one word of reproof for her long delay by the side of the brook. Not a little startled, Christie paused to consider the matter further.
"She could hardly have scolded me while a stranger was here. And, besides, Effie's here, too, and I wouldna have much cared if she had. And it's no' too late yet. She'll be sending me to my bed the moment the dishes are put by."
But she did not. Long after the little ones, and even Annie and Sarah, were asleep, Christie was allowed to sit without rebuke, listening to the pleasant talk of her father and Mr Craig, and now and then saying a word to Effie, on whose lap her head was laid. The only words that Aunt Elsie spoke to her that night were kind enough; and some of them were spoken while Effie was not there.
"So that it couldna be to please her," thought Christie. "What if God should hear my prayer, after all?"
The thought was quite as startling as it was pleasant. Then she wondered if Effie had brought the book. She did not like to ask her. She did so want to believe that she might fall back on God's help in all her troubles; but if Effie had not brought the book she could not be sure that her prayer had been heard. "Could it be possible?" she said to herself. It seemed altogether too good, too wonderful, to be true. And yet there were verses in the Bible very plain, very easy to be understood—"Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find;" and many more besides that.
She repeated the words slowly and earnestly. That must be true, she thought. Every one believed the Bible. And yet how few live and pray and trust as though they really do believe it! She had heard discussions, many and long, between her father and some of their neighbours, on difficult passages of Scripture and difficult points of doctrine. She had heard the Scriptures quoted to support doctrines very different in their nature. She had heard passages commented upon and explained away to suit the views of the speaker, until she had come to think, sometimes, that the most obvious meaning of a text could not possibly be the true one; and she said to herself, what if she had been taking comfort from these promises too soon? What if they meant something else, or meant what they seemed to mean only to those to whom they were spoken? What if, for some unknown, mysterious reason, she were among those who had no part nor lot in the matter?—among those who hearing hear not, or who fail to understand? And before she was aware, the hopefulness of the last half-hour was vanishing away before the troubled and doubtful thoughts that rushed upon her.
"I wish there was any one that I could ask about it! I wonder if Effie would know? I'll see if she has brought me the book; and that will be something. Maybe the book-man could tell me all about it. Only I don't like to ask him."
She turned her eyes towards him, as the thought passed through her mind. His face was plain and wrinkled and brown; but, for all that, it was a very pleasant face to look at. It was a grave face, even when he smiled; but it was never other than a pleasant one. There was something in it that brought to Christie's mind her favourite verse about "the peace that passeth all understanding."
"He has it, I do believe," she said, while she quietly watched him as he listened or talked.
"It must be a weary life you live," Aunt Elsie was saying, "going about from morning till night, in all weathers, with those books of yours; a weary life and a thankless."
"Do you think so?" said Mr Craig, with a smile. "I don't think it is a harder life than most of the people that I see are living. No harder than the farmers have during this busy harvest-time. No harder than the pedlars of tin-ware and dry goods have, that go about the country in all weathers."
"But it's different with the farmer, who tills his own land. He is working to some end. Every tree he cuts, every sheaf he reaps and gathers in, is so much gain to him; and even these pedlars must have a measure of enjoyment when their sales are good. They are gaining their living by their travels."
"Well, so am I, for that matter," said Mr Craig, still smiling. "I am on equal terms with them there; though I cannot say that the greatest part of the pleasure I have in my work arises from the gain it is to me. But why do you say it is a thankless work?"
Instead of answering directly, Aunt Elsie asked, a moment after:
"Are you always well received,—you and your books?"
"Oh, yes; in this part of the country, always,—quite as well as other pedlars are, and sometimes far better, for my work's sake. I have been in places where the reception I met with was something worse than cold. But I now and then met, even in those places, some that welcomed me so warmly for the work's sake I was doing as to make me little heed the scoffs of the others."
"You are sent out by a society, I think?" said Aunt Elsie. "It is mostly Bibles that you sell?"
"Yes; it's mostly Bibles that I carry with me."
There was a pause. The colporteur sat looking into the red embers, with the smile on his face which Christie had found so attractive. In a little while Aunt Elsie, not without some hesitation, said:
"And is all the time and trouble and money spent by this society worth their while?"
Aunt Elsie would have been shocked had any one expressed a doubt of her sincere respect for the Bible. Her respect was hereditary. Not one day in her childhood or womanhood had passed in which she had not heard or read some portion of the Holy Book. Nothing could have induced her to part with one of the several Bibles that had been in her possession for years. One had been hers when a girl at school, one had lain in her seat at the kirk for many a year, and a third had lain on her parlour-table and been used by her at family worship when she kept house for herself. It would have seemed to her like sacrilege to let them pass into other hands. That the superiority of the Scottish people over all other nations (in which superiority she firmly believed) was in some way owing to the influence of God's Word, read and understood, she did not doubt. But her ideas of the matter were by no means satisfactory even to herself. That the Bible, read and understood, should ever change the mixed multitudes of her new and adopted country into a people grave and earnest and steadfast for the right, was altogether beyond her thought. The humble labours of this man, going about from house to house, to place perhaps in careless or unwilling hands the Bible (God's Word though she acknowledged it to be), seemed a very small matter—a means very inadequate to the end desired. So it was a doubtful and hesitating assent that she yielded to the reply of Mr Craig in the form of a question.
"Is not God's Word His appointed instrument for the salvation of men? And will He not bless it to that end? I do not doubt it," continued Mr Craig. "How can I doubt it, in the face of the promise that His word shall not return unto Him void—that it shall prosper in that whereunto He sendeth it? I never let a Bible pass from my hands without asking from God that it may be made the means of a lasting blessing to at least one soul. And I have faith to believe that my prayer will be heard and granted."
Aunt Elsie's motions expressed some surprise.
"And is not that presumption on your part?" she asked.
"Which? The prayer, or the expectation?" said Mr Craig. "Not the prayer, surely, when He says, 'Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.' 'Whatsoever ye shall ask in My name, believing, ye shall receive.' 'Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.' Is it presumption to ask blessings for those whom God so loved that He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die that they might live? 'Will He not with Him also freely give them all things?' Truly, I think the presumption would lie in not asking, or in asking and not expecting to receive."
In the pause that followed, Christie, with a strange feeling at her heart, pondered the words.
"Well," said Aunt Elsie, in a moment, "I dare say it is as well that you have these thoughts to encourage you. The Bible can do nobody harm, at any rate; and it may do good to the bairns at the school."
Mr Craig opened his lips, as though he were going to answer her; but he did not. By and by he said—quite as much as though he were speaking to himself as to her:
"Yes; it is indeed a good thing to have God's promise to fall back upon. My work would be vain and weary work without that. And so would any work to which I could put my hand. There are folk in the world who live with no hope or trust in God's promised blessing. How they do it I cannot tell."
"God is good to many a one who thinks little of Him or of His care; or what would become of the world and the thousands in it?" said Aunt Elsie, with a sigh.
Mr Craig gave her a quick look.
"Yes: He is kind to the evil and the unthankful. But I was thinking of the blessedness of those who have the daily and hourly sense of God's presence with them and His fatherly care over them. In time of trouble, and at all times, indeed, it is sweet to know that we have His word and promise for all that we possibly need."
"Yes," said Aunt Elsie, uneasily, and rather coldly. "There is much truth in what you say."
Mr Craig continued: "There is no fear of being forgotten. He who sees the sparrow when it falls, and does not forget to number the hairs of our heads, may well be trusted. And may we not trust in Him who is not ashamed to call His people brethren? Our Elder Brother! He who suffered being tempted—who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities! It is worth while to have His promise to fall back upon— for me in my journeys, for you amid your household cares, and for this little maiden here amid whatever life may bring to her."
In the interest with which she listened, Christie had forgotten her shyness, and had drawn quite near; and now she sat with her eyes fastened on the good man's face, her own quite expressive of intense eagerness.
"Christie," said her aunt, as her eye fell upon her, "it is high time you were in bed. There will be no getting you up in the morning. Your sisters are all asleep. Haste away."
Christie would have given much for courage to ask one question; and perhaps a glance into the kind face that was looking down upon her might have given it to her, had her aunt not been there. Perhaps he guessed her thought; for he said, as he put out his hand and laid it softly on hers:
"Yes, my lassie; it is not beyond belief that the kind care and the loving eye of this Elder Brother should be over you, if you are one of His little ones. Are you?"
The last words were spoken after a momentary pause, and the little brown hand was gently pressed as they were uttered. If Christie could have found words with which to answer him, she could not have uttered them through the tears and sobs that had not been far from her all the evening. Slowly obeying the admonishing touch of her aunt, she withdrew her hand from the gentle pressure that detained it, and crept away in the dark to the room where all her sisters, except Effie, were already asleep.
And what a tumult of glad, wondering and doubtful thoughts was stirring her heart as she seated herself on the floor and leaned her weary head upon her hand! Could it all be true? Did God see and hear and care for people? And for her too? The Elder Brother! What a sweet name to give to Jesus! It seemed easier to believe that He would care for her, calling Him by that name.
And if it were really true that God heard her prayers and would answer them, certainly things would not go so badly with her any more. But was she one of His little ones? Surely there was no one more helpless and hopeless and troubled—nobody that needed help more!
"Oh, if I could only be sure!" she whispered. "But I'll see to-night. Aunt Elsie wasna vexed to-night. And if Effie has brought me the book, I'll take it for a sign. Oh, I wish she would come!"
And yet, when Effie came in with a light in her hand, Christie was in no haste to speak. Effie moved about very quietly, for fear of waking her sisters; and then she sat down, shading the light from their faces.
"Haste you, Christie dear," she whispered. "I thought you were in bed. It is more than time."
Christie slowly undressed, and after kneeling a little while, laid herself down on the low bed beside her little sister. But she did not sleep. She did not even close her eyes, but lay watching sometimes the motionless figure of Effie and sometimes her shadow on the wall, wondering all the while what could keep her occupied so silently and so long. Yet when at last the book was closed and Effie began to move about the room, she could not find courage to speak to her at once.
"Effie," she said, by and by, "did you bring me the book you promised?"
"Christie, I thought you were asleep! Do you know how late it is?"
"Did you bring me the book you promised?" repeated the child, eagerly.
Effie could not resist the beseeching face; and she came and seated herself on the side of the bed.
"I wanted it so much," continued Christie. "I thought you would bring it! Did you forget it? Or were you not up there this week?"
"I was there, and I didna forget it; but—"
"Did you bring it?" cried Christie, rising, in her eagerness. "Where is it?"
Effie shook her head.
"I didna bring it, Christie."
Poor little Christie! She laid herself back on her pillow without a word. The disappointment was a very bitter one; and she turned her face away, that her sister might not see the tears that were gushing from her eyes. She had all the week been looking forward to the pleasure of having a book—"The Scottish Chiefs"—a stolen glance or two of which had excited her interest to the highest degree; and the disappointment was great. But that it should have failed to come on this particular night was harder still to bear.
"If God only hears half our prayers, and that the half we care least about, what is the use of praying at all? Oh, dear! I thought I had found something at last!"
"Christie," said her sister, laying her hand on her shoulder, "why are you crying in that way? Surely you have had tears enough for once? What ails you, child? Speak to me, Christie."
"Oh, you might have brought it!" she exclaimed, through her sobs. "You almost promised."
"No, Christie, I didna promise. I didna forget it. But I am afraid— indeed, I am sure—that the reading of the book would do you no good, but harm; and so I didna bring it to you. You are wrong to be so vexed about it."
"Is it a bad book?" asked Christie.
"I am not sure that it is a bad book. But I think it might do you harm to read it. I am afraid your imagination is too full of such things already."
This had been said to her in far sharper words many a time before; and Christie made no answer.
"You know yourself, Christie, when you get a book that interests you, you are apt to neglect other things for the pleasure of reading it. Almost always Aunt Elsie has to find fault with you for it."
"Aunt Elsie always finds fault with me!" sighed Christie.
"But you give her reason to find fault with you when you neglect your duties for such reading, as you must confess you do; even to-day, you know."
"I believe it grieves Aunt Elsie's heart to see me taking pleasure in anything," said Christie, turning round passionately. "She never heeds when Annie or Sarah takes a book; but if I look the way of one, she's at me. I believe she would be glad if there was no such thing as a book in the house."
"Hush, Christie! You are wrong to speak in that way. It is not true what you are saying. Aunt Elsie is fond of reading; and if she doesna object to Annie and Sarah taking a book, it is because they don't very often do so. They never neglect their work for reading, as you too often do."
All this was true, as Christie's conscience told her; but she was by no means willing to confess as much; so she turned away her face, and said, pettishly:
"Oh, well, I hear all that often enough. There's no use in saying anything more about it."
Effie rose, and went to the other side of the room. When she returned, she carried something wrapped in paper in her hand.
"Look, Christie; I brought you a book—a better book than 'The Scottish Chiefs.' Turn round and look at it."
Slowly Christie raised herself up and turned round. She was ashamed of her petulance by this time. Something shone in the light of the candle which Effie held.
"What is it?" she asked; and her sister placed it in her hand.
It was a Bible, a very beautiful one, bound in purple morocco, with clasps and gilt edges. It was small, but not too small even for Christie's eyes.
"Oh, how beautiful!" exclaimed Christie, forgetting everything in her delight. "It is the very thing I have been wishing for!"
Effie said nothing, but watched her, well pleased.
"But, Effie," said Christie, suddenly, "this must have been very dear. A plainer one would have done just as well. Did it cost much?"
"Not very much," said Effie, sitting down beside her again. "A Bible is for one's whole lifetime, and so I got a good one, and a pretty one, too; you are so fond of pretty things. If I had known that the book-man was coming here I might have waited and let you choose it for yourself. We might have changed it now, but see, I have written your name in it."
She turned to the fly-leaf, and read "Christina Redfern," with the date, in Effie's pretty handwriting. She gave a sigh of pleasure as she turned it over.
"No, I don't believe there is a nicer one there. It's far prettier than yours, Effie. Wouldna you have liked it? Your old one would have done for me."
"Oh, no, indeed! I would far rather have my own old Bible than the prettiest new one," said Effie, hastily.
"Yes, I suppose so," said Christie. "Mother gave it to you."
"Yes; and, besides, I have got used to it. I know just where to find the places I want, almost without thinking of the chapter."
"It is a perfect beauty of a Bible; and such clear print! But I am afraid it cost a great deal—as much as a pair of shoes, perhaps?" she continued, looking at her sister.
"But what comparison is there between a Bible and a pair of shoes? You must read it every day, dear; and then you'll be sure to think of me."
"I do that many times every day," said Christie, sighing.
"I'm glad you like it, dear. Mr Craig ask me if it was for myself; and I told him no, it was for my little sister at home."
Christie started. This, then, was one of the Bibles that the book-man had said he asked God to bless for the good of at least one soul. And he seemed so sure that his prayer would be heard. And, then, had not her prayer been heard?—not just as she had hoped, but in a better way. The thought filled her with a strange glad wonder. Could it be possible? Her eye fell on the open page, and her hand trembled as she read:
"Ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full."
"Effie," she said, softly, "I thank you very much. Lay it in my little box; and good-night."
The tears that wet her pillow were very different from the drops that had fallen on it a little while before.
"Nothing will be so bad again," she murmured. "Nothing—nothing. Whatever happens, I can always pray!"
ABOUT THE SERMON.
The next two days passed pleasantly enough; as the days always did, Christie thought, when Effie was at home. There was plenty to do, more than usual; but the elder sister was strong and willing, and, above all, cheerful, and work seemed play in her hands. Even Aunt Elsie forgot to scold when any little misfortune happened through neglect or carelessness, and Effie's cheerful "Never mind. It canna be helped now. Let us do the best we can," came between her and the culprit.
Effie was not so merry as she used sometimes to be, Christie thought; and very grave indeed she looked while discussing ways and means with Aunt Elsie. There was a good deal to be discussed, for the winter was approaching, and the little ones were in need of clothes and other things, and Aunt Elsie did Effie the honour to declare that her judgment on these matters was better worth having than that of all the rest of them put together. Certainly, never were old garments examined and considered with greater attention than was bestowed on the motley pile brought from "the blue chest" for her inspection. No wonder that she looked grave over the rents and holes and threadbare places, sure as she was that, however shabby they had become, they must in some way or other be made to serve for a long time yet. It looked like a hopeless task, the attempt to transform by darning and turning, by patching and eking, the poor remnants of last winter's frocks and petticoats into garments suitable for home and school wear.
"Surely no children ever grew so fast as ours!" said Effie, after turning her little sister Ellen round and round, in the vain hope of persuading her aunt and herself that the little linsey-woolsey frock was not much too short and scant for the child. "Katie will need to have it, after all. But what can we do for Nellie?" And Effie looked sorely perplexed.
"It's no' often that folk look on the growing of bairns as a misfortune," said Aunt Elsie, echoing her sigh. "If it werena that we want that green tartan for a kilt for wee Willie, we might manage to get Nellie a frock out of that."
Effie considered deeply.
"Oh, Effie," whispered Christie, when her aunt's back was turned, "never mind that heap of trash just now. You promised to come down to the burn-side with me; and it will soon be time for the milking."
"But I must mind," said Effie, gravely. "The bairns will need these things before I can get two whole days at home again, and my aunt and the girls have enough to do without this. Duty before pleasure, Christie. See; you can help me by picking away this skirt. We must make the best of things."
Christie applied herself to the task, but not without many a sigh and many a longing look at the bright sunshine. If Effie once got fairly engaged in planning and patching, there would be no use in thinking of a walk before milking-time.
"Oh, dear!" she said, with a sigh. "I wish there was no such a thing as old clothes in the world!"
"Well, if there were plenty of new ones in it, I wouldna object to your wish being gratified," said Effie, laughing. "But as there are few likely to come our way for a while, we must do the best we can with the old. We might be worse off, Christie."
"Do you like to do it?" asked Christie.
"I like to see it when it's done, at any rate. There is a great deal of pleasure in a patch of that kind," she said, holding up the sleeve she had been mending. "You would hardly know there was a patch there."
Christie bent her short-sighted eyes to the work.
"Yes; it's very nice. I wonder you have the patience. Aunt Elsie might do it, I'm sure."
Effie looked grave again.
"I am afraid Aunt Elsie won't do much this winter. Her hands are getting bad again. I must be busy while I am here. Never mind the walk. We'll get a long walk together if we go to the kirk."
"Yes, if it doesna rain, or if something doesna happen to hinder us."
But she looked as though she thought there was nothing so pleasant in store for her as a long walk with Effie; and she worked away at the faded little garment with many a sigh.
Sunday came, and, in spite of Christie's forebodings, the day rose bright and beautiful. The kirk which the Redferns attended lay three long miles from the farm. The distance and the increasing shabbiness of little garments often kept the children at home, and Christie, too, had to stay and share their tasks. They had no conveyance of their own, and though the others might be none the worse for a little exposure to rain or wind, her aunt would never permit Christie to run the risk of getting wet or over-tired. So it was with a face almost as bright as Effie's own that she hailed the bright sunshine and the cloudless sky. For Sunday was not always a pleasant day for her at home. Indeed, it was generally a very wearisome day. It was Aunt Elsie's desire and intention that it should be well kept. But, beyond giving out a certain number of questions in the catechism, or a psalm or chapter to be learned by the little ones, she did not help them to keep it. It was given as a task, and it was learned and repeated as a task. None of them ever aspired to anything more than to get through the allotted portion "without missing." There was not much pleasure in it, nor in the readings that generally followed; for though good and valuable books in themselves, they were too often quite beyond the comprehension of the little listeners. A quiet walk in the garden, or in the nearest field, was the utmost that was permitted in the way of amusement; and though sometimes the walk might become a run or a romp, and the childish voices rise higher than the Sunday pitch when there was no one to reprove, it must be confessed that Sunday was the longest day in all the week for the little Redferns.
To none of them all was it longer than to Christie. She did not care to share the stolen pleasures of the rest. Beading was her only resource. Idle books were, on Sundays, and on weekdays too, Aunt Elsie's peculiar aversion; and, unfortunately, all the books that Christie cared about came under this class, in her estimation. All the enjoyment she could get in reading must be stolen; and between the fear of detection and the consciousness of wrong-doing, the pleasure, such as it was, was generally hardly worth seeking.
So it was with many self-congratulations that she set out with Effie to the kirk. They were alone. Their father had gone earlier to attend the Gaelic service, which he alone of all the family understood, and Annie and Sarah, after the labours of a harvest-week, declared themselves too weary to undertake the walk. It was a very lovely morning. Here and there a yellow birch, or a crimson maple bough, gave token that the dreary autumn was not far-away; but the air was mild and balmy as June, and the bright sunlight made even the rough road and the low-lying stubble-fields look lovely, in Christie's eyes.
"How quiet and peaceful all things are!" she thought.
The insects were chirping merrily enough, and now and then the voice of a bird was heard, and from the woodland pastures far-away the tinkle of sheep-bells fell pleasantly on the ear. But these sounds in no way jarred on the Sabbath stillness; and as Christie followed her sister along the narrow path that led them by a near way across the fields to the half-mile corner where the road took a sudden turn to the right, a strange feeling of peace stole over her. The burden of vexing and discontented thoughts, that too frequently weighed on her heart, seemed to fall away under the pleasant influence of the sunshine and the quiet, and she drew a long sigh of relief as she said, softly:
"Oh, Effie! such a bonny day!"
"Yes," said Effie, turning round for a moment, and smiling at her sister's brightening face. "It seems just such a day as one would choose the Sabbath to be—so bright, yet so peaceful. I am very glad."
But they could not say much yet; for the path was narrow, and there were stones and rough places, and now and then a little water to be avoided; so they went on quietly till they reached the low stone wall that separated the field from the high-road. The boughs of the old tree that hung over it were looking bare and autumn-like already, but under the flickering shadow they sat down for a while to rest.
"Hark!" said Christie, as the sound of wheels reached them. "That must be the Nesbitts. They never go to the Gaelic service. I dare say they will ask us to ride." There was an echo of disappointment in her tone; and in a moment she added:
"It is such a bonny day, and the walk would be so pleasant by and by in the cool shade!"
"Yes," said Effie. "But if they ask us we'll ride; for six miles is a long walk for you. And it will be nice to ride, too."
And so it was. The long wagon was drawn by two stout horses. No one was in it but John Nesbitt and his mother; and they were both delighted to offer a seat to the young girls. Christie sat on the front seat with John, who was quite silent, thinking his own thoughts or listening to the quiet talk going on between Effie and his mother; and Christie enjoyed her drive in silence too.
How very pleasant it seemed! They went slowly, for they had plenty of time; and Christie's eyes wandered over the scene—the sky, the changing trees, the brown fields and the green pastures—with an interest and enjoyment that surprised herself. There was not much to see; but any change was pleasant to the eyes that had rested for weeks on the same familiar objects. Then the unaccustomed and agreeable motion exhilarated without wearying her. And when at last they came in sight of the kirk, Christie could not help wishing that they had farther to go.
The kirk, of itself, was rather an unsightly object than otherwise. Except for the two rows of small windows on each side, it differed little in appearance from the large wooden barns so common in that part of the country. The woods were close behind it; and in the summer-time they were a pleasant sight. On one side lay the graveyard. On days when the sun did not shine, or in the autumn before the snow had come to cover up the long, rank grass, the graveyard was a very dreary place to Christie, and instead of lingering in it she usually went into the kirk, even though the Gaelic service was not over. But to-day she sat down near the door, at Effie's side, and waited till the people should come out. Mrs Nesbitt had gone into a neighbour's house, and the two girls were quite alone.
"Effie," said Christie, "I think the minister must preach better in Gaelic than he does in English. Just look in. Nobody will see you. The folk are no' thinking about things outside."
Effie raised herself a little, and bent forward to see. It was a very odd-looking place. The pulpit was placed, not at the end of the house, as is usual in places of worship, but at one side. There was no aisle. The door opened directly into the body of the house, and from the place where they stood could be seen not only the minister, but the many earnest faces that were turned towards him. The lower part of the place was crowded to the threshold, and tier above tier of earnest faces looked down from the gallery. No sound save the voice of the preacher was heard, and on him every eye was fastened. A few of the little ones had gone to sleep, leaning on the shoulders of their elders; but all the rest were listening as though life and death depended on the words he uttered. The minister was speaking rapidly, and, as Effie knew, solemnly, though she could only here and there catch the meaning of his words. Indeed, it must have been easy to speak earnestly when addressing such a multitude of eager listeners, who were hungry for the bread of life.
"I dare say the difference is in the hearers rather than in the preaching," said Effie, turning away softly.
"But, Effie, many of them are the very same people. I wish I knew what he was saying!"
"I dare say it is easier to speak in Gaelic, for one thing. The folk, at least most of them, like it better, even when they understand English. And it must make a great difference to a minister when he sees people listening like that. I dare say he says the very same things to us in English."
Christie still stood looking in at the open door.
"It ay minds me of the Day of Judgment," she said, "when I see the people sitting like that, and when they come thronging out into the kirk-yard and stand about among the graves."
She shuddered slightly, and came and sat down beside Effie, and did not speak again till the service was over. What a crowd there was then! How the people came pouring out—with faces grave and composed, indeed, but not half so solemn, Christie thought, as they ought to have been! The voices rose to quite a loud hum as they passed from the door. Greetings were interchanged, and arrangements were made for going home. Invitations were given and accepted, and the larger part of the crowd moved slowly away.
The English congregation was comparatively small. The English sermon immediately followed; but, whatever might be the reason, Christie said many times to herself that there was a great difference in the minister's manner of preaching now. He looked tired. And no wonder. Two long services immediately succeeding each other were enough to tire him. Christie strove to listen and to understand. She did not succeed very well. She enjoyed the singing always, and especially to-day singing out of the Psalms at the end of her own new Bible. But though she tried very hard to make herself think that she enjoyed the sermon too, she failed; and she was not sorry when it was over and she found herself among the crowd in the kirk-yard again. She had still the going home before her.
To her great delight, Effie refused a ride in the Nesbitts' wagon, in order that some who had walked in the morning might enjoy it. She hoped to have her sister all to herself for a little while. She did not, however. They were joined by several who were going their way; and more than one lengthened their walk and went home the longest way, for the sake of their company. It was not until they found themselves again at the half-mile corner that they were quite alone. Christie sighed as she leaned for a moment on the wall.
"You are tired, dear," said Effie. "It is well we didna have to walk both ways. Sit and rest a while."
"I am not very tired," said Christie; but she sighed again as she sat down.
"Effie, I wish I liked better to go to the kirk."
"Why, Christie?" said her sister, in surprise. "I thought you liked it very much. You said so in the morning."
"Yes, I know; I like the walk, and the getting away from home; and I like the singing, and to see the people. But the preaching—others seem to like it so much; but I don't. I don't understand half that is said. Do you?"
"I don't understand always," said Effie, a little doubtfully.
"And sometimes I canna help thinking about other things—the foolishest things!—stories, and bits of songs; and sometimes I get so sleepy."
"It's wrong to think about other things in the kirk," said Effie, scarcely knowing what to say.
"But I canna help it! Now, to-day I meant to try; and I did. Some things I seemed to understand at the time; but most that he said I didna understand, and I have forgotten it all now. I don't believe I could tell even the text."
"Oh, yes, you could," said Effie. "'Therefore, being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.' Don't you mind?"
"Yes; I mind now," said Christie, turning to the verse in her new Bible, and reading it, with several that followed. "Do you mind what he said, Effie?"
"Some things. He said a great many very important things." She paused, and tried to recollect. "He told us what justification meant. Don't you mind?"
"Yes; but I knew that before, from the catechism." And she repeated the words.
She paused a moment, considering, as if the words had a meaning she had not thought of before.
"Yes," said Effie; "and he went on to explain all about it. I canna repeat much of it; but I understood the most of it, I think."
"I was always waiting to hear something about the peace," said Christie; "but he didna get to that."
"No. He told us he had kept us too long on the first part of the subject. He'll give us the rest next Sabbath."
Christie sighed. The chances were very much against her hearing what was to be said next Sabbath. In a moment she repeated, musingly:
"'Pardoneth all our sins; accepteth us as righteous.' I never thought about that before. 'The righteousness of Christ imputed to us.' What is 'imputed,' Effie?"
"It means put to our credit, as if it were our own," said Effie. "I have read that somewhere."
"Do you understand all the catechism, Effie?" asked Christie, looking wonderingly into her face. Effie laughed a little, and shook her head.
"I don't understand it all, as the minister does, but I think I know something about every question. There is so much in the catechism."
"Yes, I suppose so," assented Christie. "But it's a pity that all good books are so dull and so hard to understand."
"Why, I don't suppose they are all dull. I am sure they are not," said Effie, gravely.
"Well, I find them so," said Christie. "Do you mind the book that Andrew Graham brought to my father—the one, you know, that he said his mother was never weary of reading? And my father liked it too—and my aunt; though I don't really think she liked it so much. Well, I tried, on two different Sabbaths, to read it. I thought I would try and find out what was wonderful about it. But I couldna. It seemed to me just like all the rest of the books. Did you like it, Effie?"
"I didna read it. It was sent home too soon. But, Christie, you are but a little girl. It's no' to be supposed that you could understand all father can, or that you should like all that he likes. And besides," she added, after a pause, "I suppose God's people are different from other people. They have something that others have not— a power to understand and enjoy what is hidden from the rest of the world."
Christie looked at her sister with undisguised astonishment.
"What do you mean, Effie?" she asked.
"I don't know that I can make it quite clear to you. But don't you mind how we smiled at wee Willie for wanting to give his bonny picture-book to Mrs Grey's blind Allie? It was a treasure to him; but to the poor wee blind lassie it was no better than an old copybook would have been. And don't you mind that David prays: 'Open Thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of Thy law'? That must mean something. I am afraid most of those who read God's Word fail to see 'wondrous things' in it."
Effie's eyes grew moist and wistful as they followed the quivering shadows of the leaves overhead; and Christie watched her silently for a while.
"But, Effie," she said, at last, "there are parts of the Bible that everybody likes to read. And, besides, all the people that go to the kirk and listen as though they took pleasure in it are not God's people—nor all those who read dull books, either."
Effie shook her head.
"I suppose they take delight in listening to what the preacher says, just as they would take pleasure in hearing a good address on any subject. But the Word is not food and medicine and comfort to the like of them, as old Mrs Grey says it is to her. And we don't see them taking God's Word as their guide and their law in all things, as God's people do. It is not because they love it that they read and listen to it. There is a great difference."
"Yes," said Christie; "I suppose there is."
But her thoughts had flown far-away before Effie had done speaking. A vague impression, that had come to her mind many times before, was fast taking form: she was asking herself whether Effie was not among those whose eyes had been opened. She was different from what she used to be. Not that she was kinder, or more mindful of the comfort of others, than she remembered her always to have been. But she was different, for all that. Could it be that Effie had become a child of God? Were her sins pardoned? Was she accepted? Had old things passed away, and all things become new to her? Christie could not ask her. She could hardly look at her, in the midst of the new, shy wonder that was rising within her. Yes, there were wonder and pleasure, but there was pain too—more of the latter than of the former. Had a barrier suddenly sprung up between her and the sister she loved best? A sense of being forsaken, left alone, came over her—something like the feeling that had nearly broken her heart when, long ago, they told her that her mother had gone to heaven. A great wave of bitterness passed over her sinking heart. She turned away, that her sister might not see her face.
"Christie," said Effie, in a minute or two, "I think we ought to go home. There will be some things to do; and if Annie and Sarah went to the Sabbath-class, we should be needed to help."
It was in Christie's heart to say that she did not care to go home—she did not care to help—she did not care for anything. But she had no voice to utter such wrong and foolish words. So, still keeping her face turned away, she took her Bible and began to roll it in her handkerchief—when a thought struck her.
"Effie," she asked, quickly, "do you believe that God hears us when we pray?"
In the face now turned towards her, Effie saw tokens that there was something wrong with her little sister. But, accustomed to her changing moods and frequent petulance, she answered, quietly:
"Surely, Christie, I believe it. The Bible says so."
"Yes; I ken that," said Christie, with some impatience in her tone. "The Bible says so, and people believe it in a general way. But is it true? Do you believe it?"
"Surely I believe it," said Effie, slowly.
She was considering whether it would be best to say anything more to her sister, vexed and unhappy as her voice and manner plainly showed her to be; and while she hesitated, Christie said again, more quietly:
"If God hears prayer, why are most people so miserable?"
"I don't think most people are miserable," said Effie, gravely. "I don't think anybody that trusts in God can be very miserable."
Christie leaned back again on the stone, from which she had half risen.
"Those who have been pardoned and accepted," she thought; but aloud she said, "Well, I don't know: there are some good people that have trouble enough. There's old Mrs Grey. Wave after wave of trouble has passed over her. I heard the minister say those very words to father about her."
"But, Christie," said her sister, gravely, "you should ask Mrs Grey, some time, if she would be willing to lose her trust in God for the sake of having all her trouble taken away. I am quite sure she would not hesitate for a moment. She would smile at the thought of even pausing to choose."
"But, Effie, that's not what we are speaking about. I'm sure that Mrs Grey prayed many and many a time that her son John might be spared to his family. Just think of them, so helpless—and their mother dead, and little Allie blind! And the minister prayed for him too, in the kirk, and all the folk, that so useful a life might be spared. But, for all that, he died, Effie."
"Yes; but, Christie, Mrs Grey never prayed for her son's life except in submission to God's will. If his death would be for the glory of God, she prayed to be made submissive to His will, and committed herself and her son's helpless little ones to God's keeping."
Christie looked at her sister with eyes filled with astonishment.
"You don't mean to say that if Mrs Grey had had her choice she wouldna have had her son spared to her?"
"I mean that if she could have had her choice she would have preferred to leave the matter in God's hands. She would never have chosen for herself."
"Christie," she added, after a pause, "do you mind the time when our Willie wanted father's knife, and how, rather than vex him, Annie gave it to him? Do you mind all the mischief he did to himself and others? I suppose some of our prayers are as blind and foolish as Willie's wish was, and that God shows His loving kindness to us rather by denying than by granting our requests."
"Then what was the use of praying for Mrs Grey's son, since it was God's will that he should die? What is the use of anybody's praying about anything?"
Effie hesitated. There was something in Christie's manner indicating that it was not alone the mere petulance of the moment that dictated the question.
"I am not wise about these things, Christie," she said. "I only know this: God has graciously permitted us to bring our troubles to Him. He has said, 'Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.' He has said, 'He that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth.' And in the Psalms, 'Call upon Me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.' We need not vex ourselves, surely, about how it is all to happen. God's word is enough."
"But then, Effie, there are prayers that God doesna hear."
"There are many things that God does not give us when we ask Him; but, Christie, God does hear the prayers of His people. Yes, and He answers them too—though not always in the way that they wish or expect, yet always in the best way for them. Of this they may be sure. If He does not give them just what they ask for, He will give them something better, and make them willing to be without the desired good. There is nothing in the whole Bible more clearly told than that God hears the prayers of His people. We need never, never doubt that."
But Christie did not look satisfied.
"'His people,'" she murmured, "but no others."
Effie looked perplexed.
"I am not wise in these matters, as I have just told you," she said, gravely. "Until lately I havena thought much about them. But I think that people sometimes vex themselves in vain. It is to the thirsty who are seeking water that God promises to open fountains. It is to the weary and heavy-laden that Christ has promised rest. I am sure that those who feel their need of God's help need not fear that they will be refused anything—I mean, anything that is good for them."
"There is a difference, I suppose," she added, after a pause. "We may ask for many a temporal blessing that might be our ruin if God were to grant it to us; and in love He withholds such, often. But when we ask for spiritual blessing, for the grace of strength to do or of patience to bear His will, if we ask for guidance, for wisdom to direct us, we need not fear that we shall be denied. And, having these, other things don't matter so much, to God's people."
"'To God's people,'" repeated Christie to herself again. "Well, I am not one of them. It's nothing that can do me any good."
She did not answer her sister, but rose up slowly, saying it was time to go. So she climbed over the low stone wall, and walked on in silence. Effie followed quietly. Not a word was spoken till they reached the bend of the brook over which hung the birch-tree. Past this, her favourite resting-place, Christie rarely went without lingering. She would not have paused to-night, however, had not Effie, who had fallen a little behind by this time, called her.
"Oh, Christie! look at the clouds! Did you ever see anything so beautiful? How beautiful!" she repeated, as she came and stood beside her. "It was a long time before I could become used to the sun's sinking down in that low, far-away place. I missed the hills that used to hide him from us at home. How well I remember the sunsets then, and the long, quiet gloamings!"
"Home" was over the sea, and "then" was the time when a mother's voice and smile mingled with all other pleasant things; and no wonder that Effie sighed, as she stood watching the changing hues near the low horizon. The "home" and "then" were the last drops added to Christie's cup of sad memories; and the overflow could no longer be stayed. She kept her face turned away from her sister, but could not hide the struggle within, and at Effie's very first word her sobs broke forth.
"What is the matter, Christie? There must be something you have not told me about. You are weary: that is it. Sit down here again, and rest. We need not hurry home, after all."
Christie sank down, struggling with her tears.
"It's nothing, Effie," she said, at last. "I'm sure I didna mean to vex you with my crying; but I canna help it. There is nothing the matter with me more than usual. Never mind me, Effie."
"Well, sit still a little," said Effie, soothingly. "You are tired, I do believe."
"Yes," said Christie, recovering herself with a great effort. "It's partly that, I dare say; and—" She stopped, not being further sure of her voice.
Effie said nothing, but gently stroked her hair with her hand. The gentle touch was more than Christie could bear, at the moment.
"Effie, don't!" she cried, vainly struggling to repress another gush of tears. In a little while she grew quiet, and said, "I know I'm very foolish, Effie; but I canna help it."
"Never mind," said Effie, cheerfully; for she knew by the sound of her voice that her tears were over for this time. "A little shower sometimes clears the sky; and now the sun will shine again."
She stooped down, and dipping her own handkerchief in the brook, gave it to her sister to bathe her hot cheeks; and soon she asked, gravely:
"What is it, Christie?"
"It's nothing," said Christie, eagerly. "Nothing more than usual. I'm tired, that's all,—and you are going away,—and it will be just the same thing every day till you come back,—going to bed tired, and getting up tired, and doing the same thing over and over again to very little purpose. I'm sure I canna see the good of it all."
Effie could not but smile at her words and manner.
"Well, I suppose that will be the way with every one, mostly. I'm sure it will be the way with me. Except the getting up tired," she added, laughing. "I'm glad to say I don't very often do that. I'm afraid my life is not to much purpose either, though I do wish it to be useful," she continued, more gravely.
"Oh, well, it's very different with you!" said Christie, in a tone that her sister never liked to hear.
She did not reply for a moment. Then she said:
"It will be easier for you now that the harvest is over. Annie and Sarah will be in the house, and you will have less to do. And, besides, they will make it more cheerful."
Christie made a movement of impatience.
"You are like Aunt Elsie. You think that I like to be idle and don't wish to do my share. At any rate, the girls being in the house will make little difference to me. I shall have to be doing something all the time—little things that don't come to anything. Well, I suppose there is no help for it. It will be all the same in the end."
Poor Christie! She had a feeling all the time that she was very cross and unreasonable, and she was as vexed as possible with herself for spoiling this last precious half-hour with Effie by her murmurs and complaints. She had not meant it. She was sorry they had waited by the brook. She knew it was for her sake that Effie had proposed to sit down in her favourite resting-place; but before she had well uttered the last words she was wishing with all her heart that they had hurried on.
Effie looked troubled. Christie felt rather than saw it; for her face was turned quite away, and she was gathering up and casting from her broken bits of branches and withered leaves, and watching them as they were borne away by the waters of the brook. Christie would have given much to know whether she was thinking of her foolish words, or of something else.
"I suppose she thinks it's of no use to heed what I say. And now I have spoiled all the pleasure of thinking about to-day."