CHAPTER IX. DISMAL DAYS

If anybody had told Katy, that first afternoon, that at the end of a week she would still be in bed, and in pain, and with no time fixed for getting up, I think it would have almost killed her. She was so restless and eager, that to lie still seemed one of the hardest things in the world. But to lie still and have her back ache all the time, was worse yet. Day after day she asked Papa with quivering lip: “Mayn’t I get up and go down stairs this morning?” And when he shook his head, the lip would quiver more, and tears would come. But if she tried to get up, it hurt her so much, that in spite of herself she was glad to sink back again on the soft pillows and mattress, which felt so comfortable to her poor bones.

Then there came a time when Katy didn’t even ask to be allowed to get up. A time when sharp, dreadful pain, such as she never imagined before, took hold of her. When days and nights got all confused and tangled up together, and Aunt Izzie never seemed to go to bed. A time when Papa was constantly in her room. When other doctors came and stood over her, and punched and felt her back, and talked to each other in low whispers. It was all like a long, bad dream, from which she couldn’t wake up, though she tried ever so hard. Now and then she would rouse a little, and catch the sound of voices, or be aware that Clover or Elsie stood at the door, crying softly; or that Aunt Izzie, in creaking slippers, was going about the room on tiptoe. Then all these things would slip away again, and she would drop off into a dark place, where there was nothing but pain, and sleep, which made her forget pain, and so seemed the best thing in the world.

We will hurry over this time, for it is hard to think of our bright Katy in such a sad plight. By and by the pain grew less, and the sleep quieter. Then, as the pain became easier still, Katy woke up as it were—began to take notice of what was going on about her; to put questions.

“How long have I been sick?” she asked one morning.

“It is four weeks yesterday,” said Papa.

“Four weeks!” said Katy. “Why, I didn’t know it was so long as that. Was I very sick, Papa?”

“Very, dear. But you are a great deal better now.”

“How did I hurt me when I tumbled out of the swing?” asked Katy, who was in an unusually wakeful mood.

“I don’t believe I could make you understand, dear.”

“But try, Papa!”

“Well—did you know that you had a long bone down your back, called a spine?”

“I thought that was a disease,” said Katy. “Clover said that Cousin Helen had the spine!”

“No—the spine is a bone. It is made up of a row of smaller bones—or knobs—and in the middle of it is a sort of rope of nerves called the spinal cord. Nerves, you know, are the things we feel with. Well, this spinal cord is rolled up for safe keeping in a soft wrapping, called membrane. When you fell out of the swing, you struck against one of these knobs, and bruised the membrane inside, and the nerve inflamed, and gave you a fever in the back. Do you see?”

“A little,” said Katy, not quite understanding, but too tired to question farther. After she had rested a while, she said: “Is the fever well now, Papa? Can I get up again and go down stairs right away?”

“Not right away, I’m afraid,” said Dr. Carr, trying to speak cheerfully.

Katy didn’t ask any more questions then. Another week passed, and another. The pain was almost gone. It only came back now and then for a few minutes. She could sleep now, and eat, and be raised in bed without feeling giddy. But still the once active limbs hung heavy and lifeless, and she was not able to walk, or even stand alone.

“My legs feel so queer,” she said one morning, “they are just like the Prince’s legs which were turned to black marble in the Arabian Nights. What do you suppose is the reason, Papa? Won’t they feel natural soon?”

“Not soon,” answered Dr. Carr. Then he said to himself: “Poor child! she had better know the truth.” So he went on, aloud, “I am afraid, my darling, that you must make up your mind to stay in bed a long time.”

“How long?” said Katy, looking frightened: “a month more?”

“I can’t tell exactly how long,” answered her father. “The doctors think, as I do, that the injury to your spine is one which you will outgrow by and by, because you are so young and strong. But it may take a good while to do it. It may be that you will have to lie here for months, or it may be more. The only cure for such a hurt is time and patience. It is hard, darling”—for Katy began to sob wildly—“but you have Hope to help you along. Think of poor Cousin Helen, bearing all these years without hope!”

“Oh, Papa!” gasped Katy, between her sobs, “doesn’t it seem dreadful, that just getting into the swing for a few minutes should do so much harm? Such a little thing as that!”

“Yes, such a little thing!” repeated Dr. Carr, sadly. “And it was only a little thing, too, forgetting Aunt Izzie’s order about the swing. Just for the want of the small ‘horseshoe nail’ of Obedience, Katy.”

Years afterwards, Katy told somebody that the longest six weeks of her life were those which followed this conversation with Papa. Now that she knew there was no chance of getting well at once, the days dragged dreadfully. Each seemed duller and dismaller than the day before. She lost heart about herself, and took no interest in anything. Aunt Izzie brought her books, but she didn’t want to read, or to sew. Nothing amused her. Clover and Cecy would come and sit with her, but hearing them tell about their plays, and the things they had been doing, made her cry so miserably, that Aunt Izzie wouldn’t let them come often. They were very sorry for Katy, but the room was so gloomy, and Katy so cross, that they didn’t mind much not being allowed to see her. In those days Katy made Aunt Izzie keep the blinds shut tight, and she lay in the dark, thinking how miserable she was, and how wretched all the rest of her life was going to be. Everybody was very kind and patient with her, but she was too selfishly miserable to notice it. Aunt Izzie ran up and down stairs, and was on her feet all day, trying to get something which would please her, but Katy hardly said “Thank you,” and never saw how tired Aunt Izzie looked. So long as she was forced to stay in bed, Katy could not be grateful for anything that was done for her.

But doleful as the days were, they were not so bad as the nights, when, after Aunt Izzie was asleep, Katy would lie wide awake, and have long, hopeless fits of crying. At these times she would think of all the plans she had made for doing beautiful things when she was grown up. “And now I shall never do any of them,” she would say to herself, “only just lie here. Papa says I may get well by and by, but I sha’n’t, I know I sha’n’t. And even if I do, I shall have wasted all these years, and the others will grow up and get ahead of me, and I sha’n’t be a comfort to them or to anybody else. Oh dear! oh dear! how dreadful it is!”

The first thing which broke in upon this sad state of affairs, was a letter from Cousin Helen, which Papa brought one morning and handed to Aunt Izzie.

“Helen tells me she’s going home this week,” said Aunt Izzie, from the window, where she had gone to read the letter. “Well, I’m sorry, but I think she’s quite right not to stop. It’s just as she says: one invalid at a time is enough in a house. I’m sure I have my hands full with Katy.”

“Oh, Aunt Izzie!” cried Katy, “is Cousin Helen coming this way when she goes home? Oh! do make her stop. If it’s just for one day, do ask her! I want to see her so much! I can’t tell you how much! Won’t you? Please! Please, dear Papa!”

She was almost crying with eagerness.

“Why, yes, darling, if you wish it so much,” said Dr. Carr. “It will cost Aunt Izzie some trouble, but she’s so kind that I’m sure she’ll manage it if it is to give you so much pleasure. Can’t you, Izzie?” And he looked eagerly at his sister.

“Of course I will!” said Miss Izzie, heartily. Katy was so glad, that, for the first time in her life, she threw her arms of her own accord round Aunt Izzie’s neck, and kissed her.

“Thank you, dear Aunty!” she said.

Aunt Izzie looked as pleased as could be. She had a warm heart hidden under her fidgety ways—only Katy had never been sick before, to find it out.

For the next week Katy was feverish with expectation. At last Cousin Helen came. This time Katy was not on the steps to welcome her, but after a little while Papa brought Cousin Helen in his arms, and sat her in a big chair beside the bed.

“How dark it is!” she said, after they had kissed each other and talked for a minute or two; “I can’t see your face at all. Would it hurt your eyes to have a little more light?”

“Oh no!” answered Katy. “It don’t hurt my eyes, only I hate to have the sun come in. It makes me feel worse, somehow.”

“Push the blind open a little bit then, Clover;” and Clover did so.

“Now I can see,” said Cousin Helen.

It was a forlorn-looking child enough which she saw lying before her. Katy’s face had grown thin, and her eyes had red circles about them from continual crying. Her hair had been brushed twice that morning by Aunt Izzie, but Katy had run her fingers impatiently through it, till it stood out above her head like a frowsy bush. She wore a calico dressing-gown, which, though clean, was particularly ugly in pattern; and the room, for all its tidiness, had a dismal look, with the chairs set up against the wall, and a row of medicine-bottles on the chimney-piece.

“Isn’t it horrid?” sighed Katy, as Cousin Helen looked around. “Everything’s horrid. But I don’t mind so much now that you’ve come. Oh, Cousin Helen, I’ve had such a dreadful, dreadful time!”

“I know,” said her cousin, pityingly. “I’ve heard all about it, Katy, and I’m so very sorry for you! It is a hard trial, my poor darling.”

“But how do you do it?” cried Katy. “How do you manage to be so sweet and beautiful and patient, when you’re feeling badly all the time, and can’t do anything, or walk, or stand?”—her voice was lost in sobs.

Cousin Helen didn’t say anything for a little while. She just sat and stroked Katy’s hand.

“Katy,” she said at last, “has Papa told you that he thinks you are going to get well by and by?”

“Yes,” replied Katy, “he did say so. But perhaps it won’t be for a long, long time. And I wanted to do so many things. And now I can’t do anything at all!”

“What sort of things?”

“Study, and help people, and become famous. And I wanted to teach the children. Mamma said I must take care of them, and I meant to. And now I can’t go to school or learn anything myself. And if I ever do get well, the children will be almost grown up, and they won’t need me.”

“But why must you wait till you get well?” asked Cousin Helen, smiling.

“Why, Cousin Helen, what can I do lying here in bed?”

“A good deal. Shall I tell you, Katy, what it seems to me that I should say to myself if I were in your place?”

“Yes, please!” replied Katy wonderingly.

“I should say this: ‘Now, Katy Carr, you wanted to go to school and learn to be wise and useful, and here’s a chance for you. God is going to let you go to His school—where He teaches all sorts of beautiful things to people. Perhaps He will only keep you for one term, or perhaps it may be for three or four; but whichever it is, you must make the very most of the chance, because He gives it to you Himself.’ ”

“But what is the school?” asked Katy. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“It is called The School of Pain,” replied Cousin Helen, with her sweetest smile. “And the place where the lessons are to be learned is this room of yours. The rules of the school are pretty hard, but the good scholars, who keep them best, find out after a while how right and kind they are. And the lessons aren’t easy, either, but the more you study the more interesting they become.”

“What are the lessons?” asked Katy, getting interested, and beginning to feel as if Cousin Helen were telling her a story.

“Well, there’s the lesson of Patience. That’s one of the hardest studies. You can’t learn much of it at a time, but every bit you get by heart, makes the next bit easier. And there’s the lesson of Cheerfulness. And the lesson of Making the Best of Things.”

“Sometimes there isn’t anything to make the best of,” remarked Katy, dolefully.

“Yes there is, always! Everything in the world has two handles. Didn’t you know that? One is a smooth handle. If you take hold of it, the thing comes up lightly and easily, but if you seize the rough handle, it hurts your hand and the thing is hard to lift. Some people always manage to get hold of the wrong handle.”

“Is Aunt Izzie a ‘thing?’ ” asked Katy. Cousin Helen was glad to hear her laugh.

“Yes—Aunt Izzie is a thing—and she has a nice pleasant handle too, if you just try to find it. And the children are ‘things,’ also, in one sense. All their handles are different. You know human beings aren’t made just alike, like red flower-pots. We have to feel and guess before we can make out just how other people go, and how we ought to take hold of them. It is very interesting, I advise you to try it. And while you are trying, you will learn all sorts of things which will help you to help others.”

“If I only could!” sighed Katy. “Are there any other studies in the School, Cousin Helen?”

“Yes, there’s the lesson of Hopefulness. That class has ever so many teachers. The Sun is one. He sits outside the window all day waiting a chance to slip in and get at his pupil. He’s a first-rate teacher, too. I wouldn’t shut him out, if I were you.

“Every morning, the first thing when I woke up, I would say to myself: ‘I am going to get well, so Papa thinks. Perhaps it may be to-morrow. So, in case this should be the last day of my sickness, let me spend it beauti-fully, and make my sick-room so pleasant that everybody will like to remember it.’

“Then, there is one more lesson, Katy—the lesson of Neatness. School-rooms must be kept in order, you know. A sick person ought to be as fresh and dainty as a rose.”

“But it is such a fuss,” pleaded Katy. “I don’t believe you’ve any idea what a bother it is to always be nice and in order. You never were careless like me, Cousin Helen; you were born neat.”

“Oh, was I?” said her Cousin. “Well, Katy, we won’t dispute that point, but I’ll tell you a story, if you like, about a girl I once knew, who wasn’t born neat.”

“Oh, do!” cried Katy, enchanted. Cousin Helen had done her good, already. She looked brighter and less listless than for days.

“This girl was quite young,” continued Cousin Helen; “she was strong and active, and liked to run, and climb, and ride, and do all sorts of jolly things. One day something happened—an accident—and they told her that all the rest of her life she had got to lie on her back and suffer pain, and never walk any more, or do any of the things she enjoyed most.”

“Just like you and me!” whispered Katy, squeezing Cousin Helen’s hand.

“Something like me; but not so much like you, because, you know, we hope you are going to get well one of these days. The girl didn’t mind it so much when they first told her, for she was so ill that she felt sure she should die. But when she got better, and began to think of the long life which lay before her, that was worse than ever the pain had been. She was so wretched, that she didn’t care what became of anything, or how anything looked. She had no Aunt Izzie to look after things, so her room soon got into a dreadful state. It was full of dust and confusion, and dirty spoons and phials of physic. She kept the blinds shut, and let her hair tangle every which way, and altogether was a dismal spectacle.

“This girl had a dear old father,” went on Cousin Helen, “who used to come every day and sit beside her bed. One morning he said to her:

“ ‘My daughter, I’m afraid you’ve got to live in this room for a long time. Now there’s one thing I want you to do for my sake.’

“ ‘What’s that?’ she asked, surprised to hear there was anything left which she could do for anybody.

“ ‘I want you to turn out all these physic bottles, and make your room pleasant and pretty for me to come and sit in. You see, I shall spend a good deal of my time here! Now I don’t like dust and darkness. I like to see flowers on the table, and sunshine in at the window. Will you do this to please me?’

“ ‘Yes,’ said the girl, but she gave a sigh, and I am afraid she felt as if it was going to be a dreadful trouble.

“ ‘Then, another thing,’ continued her father, ‘I want you to look pretty. Can’t nightgowns and wrappers be trimmed and made becoming just as much as dresses? A sick woman who isn’t neat is a disagreeable object. Do, to please me, send for something pretty, and let me see you looking nice again. I can’t bear to have my Helen turn into a slattern.’ ”

“Helen!” exclaimed Katy, with wide-open eyes, “was it you?”

“Yes,” said her cousin, smiling. “It was I though I didn’t mean to let the name slip out so soon. So, after my father was gone away, I sent for a looking-glass. Such a sight, Katy! My hair was a perfect mouse’s nest, and I had frowned so much that my forehead was all criss-crossed with lines of pain, till it looked like an old woman’s.”

Katy stared at Cousin Helen’s smooth brow and glossy hair. “I can’t believe it,” she said; “your hair never could be rough.”

“Yes it was—worse, a great deal, than yours looks now. But that peep in the glass did me good. I began to think how selfishly I was behaving, and to desire to do better. And after that, when the pain came on, I used to lie and keep my forehead smooth with my fingers, and try not to let my face show what I was enduring. So by and by the wrinkles wore away, and though I am a good deal older now, they have never come back.

“It was a great deal of trouble at first to have to think and plan to keep my room and myself looking nice. But after a while it grew to be a habit, and then it became easy. And the pleasure it gave my dear father repaid for all. He had been proud of his active, healthy girl, but I think she was never such a comfort to him as his sick one, lying there in her bed. My room was his favorite sitting-place, and he spent so much time there, that now the room, and everything in it, makes me think of him.”

There were tears in Cousin Helen’s eyes as she ceased speaking. But Katy looked bright and eager. It seemed somehow to be a help, as well as a great surprise, that ever there should have been a time when Cousin Helen was less perfect than she was now.

“Do you really think I could do so too?” she asked.

“Do what? Comb your hair?” Cousin Helen was smiling now.

“Oh no! Be nice and sweet and patient, and a comfort to people. You know what I mean.”

“I am sure you can, if you try.”

“But what would you do first?” asked Katy; who, now that her mind had grasped a new idea, was eager to begin.

“Well—first I would open the blinds, and make the room look a little less dismal. Are you taking all those medicines in the bottles now?”

“No—only that big one with the blue label.”

“Then you might ask Aunt Izzy to take away the others. And I’d get Clover to pick a bunch of fresh flowers every day for your table. By the way, I don’t see the little white vase.”

“No—it got broken the very day after you went away; the day I fell out of the swing,” said Katy, sorrowfully.

“Never mind, pet, don’t look so doleful. I know the tree those vases grow upon, and you shall have another. Then, after the room is made pleasant, I would have all my lesson-books fetched up, if I were you, and I would study a couple of hours every morning.”

“Oh!” cried Katy, making a wry face at the idea.

Cousin Helen smiled. “I know,” said she, “it sounds like dull work, learning geography and doing sums up here all by yourself. But I think if you make the effort you’ll be glad by and by. You won’t lose so much ground, you see—won’t slip back quite so far in your education. And then, studying will be like working at a garden, where things don’t grow easily. Every flower you raise will be a sort of triumph, and you will value it twice as much as a common flower which has cost no trouble.”

“Well,” said Katy, rather forlornly, “I’ll try. But it won’t be a bit nice studying without anybody to study with me. Is there anything else, Cousin Helen?”

Just then the door creaked, and Elsie timidly put her head into the room.

“Oh, Elsie, run away!” cried Katy. “Cousin Helen and I are talking. Don’t come just now.”

Katy didn’t speak unkindly, but Elsie’s face fell, and she looked disappointed. She said nothing, however, but shut the door and stole away.

Cousin Helen watched this little scene without speaking. For a few minutes after Elsie was gone she seemed to be thinking.

“Katy,” she said at last, “you were saying just now, that one of the things you were sorry about was that while you were ill you could be of no use to the children. Do you know, I don’t think you have that reason for being sorry.”

“Why not?” said Katy, astonished.

“Because you can be of use. It seems to me that you have more of a chance with the children now, than you ever could have had when you were well, and flying about as you used. You might do almost anything you liked with them.”

“I can’t think what you mean,” said Katy, sadly. “Why, Cousin Helen, half the time I don’t even know where they are, or what they are doing. And I can’t get up and go after them, you know.”

“But you can make your room such a delightful place, that they will want to come to you! Don’t you see, a sick person has one splendid chance—she is always on hand. Everybody who wants her knows just where to go. If people love her, she gets naturally to be the heart of the house.

“Once make the little ones feel that your room is the place of all others to come to when they are tired, or happy, or grieved, or sorry about anything, and that the Katy who lives there is sure to give them a loving reception—and the battle is won. For you know we never do people good by lecturing; only by living their lives with them, and helping a little here, and a little there, to make them better. And when one’s own life is laid aside for a while, as yours is now, that is the very time to take up other people’s lives, as we can’t do when we are scurrying and bustling over our own affairs. But I didn’t mean to preach a sermon. I’m afraid you’re tired.”

“No, I’m not a bit,” said Katy, holding Cousin Helen’s hand tight in hers; “you can’t think how much better I feel. Oh, Cousin Helen, I will try!”

“It won’t be easy,” replied her cousin. “There will be days when your head aches, and you feel cross and fretted, and don’t want to think of any one but yourself. And there’ll be other days when Clover and the rest will come in, as Elsie did just now, and you will be doing something else, and will feel as if their coming was a bother. But you must recollect that every time you forget, and are impatient or selfish, you chill them and drive them farther away. They are loving little things, and are so sorry for you now, that nothing you do makes them angry. But by and by they will get used to having you sick, and if you haven’t won them as friends, they will grow away from you as they get older.”

Just then Dr. Carr came in.

“Oh, Papa! you haven’t come to take Cousin Helen, have you?” cried Katy.

“Indeed I have,” said her father. “I think the big invalid and the little invalid have talked quite long enough. Cousin Helen looks tired.”

For a minute, Katy felt just like crying. But she choked back the tears. “My first lesson in Patience,” she said to herself, and managed to give a faint, watery smile as Papa looked at her.

“That’s right, dear,” whispered Cousin Helen, as she bent forward to kiss her. “And one last word, Katy. In this school, to which you and I belong, there is one great comfort, and that is that the Teacher is always at hand. He never goes away. If things puzzle us, there He is, close by, ready to explain and make all easy. Try to think of this, darling, and don’t be afraid to ask Him for help if the lesson seems too hard.”

Katy had a strange dream that night. She thought she was trying to study a lesson out of a book which wouldn’t come quite open. She could just see a little bit of what was inside, but it was in a language which she did not understand. She tried in vain; not a word could she read; and yet, for all that, it looked so interesting that she longed to go on.

“Oh, if somebody would only help me!” she cried impatiently.

Suddenly a hand came over her shoulder and took hold of the book. It opened at once, and showed the whole page. And then the forefinger of the hand began to point to line after line, and as it moved the words became plain, and Katy could read them easily. She looked up. There, stooping over her, was a great beautiful Face. The eyes met hers. The lips smiled.

“Why didn’t you ask me before, Little Scholar?” said a voice.

“Why, it is You, just as Cousin Helen told me!” cried Katy.

She must have spoken in her sleep, for Aunt Izzie half woke up, and said:

“What is it? Do you want anything?”

The dream broke, and Katy roused, to find herself in bed, with the first sunbeams struggling in at the window, and Aunt Izzie raised on her elbow, looking at her with a sort of sleepy wonder.

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