"Is he then so wicked?"
"My dear, consider what his teaching is, that is sufficient; I would not for the whole world allow our Greyshot friends to guess that we are connected with him in any way. It might ruin all your prospects in life."
"Mamma," said Rose, "I don't think Mr. Raeburn will injure my prospects—of course you mean prospects of marrying. If a man didn't care enough for me to take me whether I am the niece of the worst man in England or not, do you think I would accept him?"
There was an angry ring in her voice as she spoke, her little saucy mouth looked almost grand. After a moment's pause, she added, more quietly, but with all the force of the true woman's heart which lay hidden beneath her silliness and frivolity, "Besides, mamma, is it quite honest?"
"We are not bound to publish our family history to the world, Rose. If any one asked me, of course I should tell the truth; if there was any way of helping my brother or his child I would gladly serve them, even though the world would look coldly on me for doing so; but while they remain atheists how is it possible?"
"Then he has a child?"
"One only, I believe, a girl of about your own age."
"Oh, mamma, how I should like to know her!"
"My dear Rose, how can you speak of such a thing? You don't realize that she is an atheist, has not even been baptized, poor little thing!"
"But she is my cousin, and she is a girl just like me," said Rose. "I should like to know her very much. I wonder whether she has come out yet. I wonder how she enjoyed her first ball."
"My dear! They are not in society."
"How dull! What does she do all day, I wonder?"
"I cannot tell, I wish you would not talk about her, Rose; I should not wish you even to think about her, except, indeed, to mention her in your prayers."
"Oh, I'd much rather have her here to stay," said Rose, with a little mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"Why mamma, if she were a black unbeliever you would be delighted to have her; it is only because she is white that you won't have anything to do with her. You would have been as pleased as possible if I had made friends with any of the ladies in the Zenanas."
Mrs. Fane-Smith looked uncomfortable, and murmured that that was a very different question. Rose, seeing her advantage, made haste to follow it up.
"At any rate, mamma, you will write to Uncle Luke now that he is in trouble, and you'll let me send a note to his daughter? Only think, mamma, she has lost her mother so suddenly! Just think how wretched she must be! Oh, mamma, dear, I can't think how she can bear it!" and Rose threw her arms round her mother's neck. "I should die too if you were to die! I'm sure I should."
Rose was very persuasive, Mrs. Fane-Smith's motherly heart was touched; she sat down there and then, and for the first time since the summer day when Luke Raeburn had been turned out of his father's house, she wrote to her brother. Rose in the meantime had taken a piece of paper from her mother's writing desk, and with a fat volume of sermons by way of a desk was scribbling away as fast as she could. This was her letter:
"My dear cousin,—I don't know your name, and have only just heard anything about you, and the first thing I heard was that you were in dreadful trouble. I only write to send you my love, and to say how very sorry I am for you. We only came to England in the autumn. I like it very much. I am going to my first ball tonight, and expect to enjoy it immensely. My dress is to be white tarle—Oh, dear! How horrid of me to be writing like this to you. Please forgive me. I don't like to be so happy when you are unhappy; but, you see, I have only just heard of you, so it is a little difficult. With love, I remain, your affectionate cousin, Rose Fane-Smith."
That evening, while Erica, with eyes dim with grief and weariness, was poring over the books in her father's study, Rose was being initiated into all the delights of the ballroom. She was in her glory. Everything was new to her; she enjoyed dancing, she knew that she looked pretty, knew that her dress was charming, knew that she was much admired, and of course she liked it all. But the chaperons shook their heads; it was whispered that Miss Fane-Smith was a terrible flirt, she had danced no less than seven dances with Captain Golightly. If her mother erred by thinking too much of what people said, perhaps Rose erred in exactly the opposite way; at any rate, she managed to call down upon her silly but innocent little head an immense amount of blame from the mothers and elderly ladies.
"A glorious moonlight night," said Captain Golightly. "What do you say, Miss Fane-Smith? Shall we take a turn in the garden? Or are you afraid of the cold?"
"Afraid! Oh, dear no," said Rose; "it's the very thing I should enjoy. I suppose I must get my shawl, though; it is upstairs."
They were in the vestibule.
"Have my ulster," said Captain Golightly. "Here it is, just handy, and it will keep you much warmer."
Rose laughed and blushed, and allowed herself to be put into her partner's coat, rather to the detriment of her billowy tarletan. After a while they came back again from the dim garden to the brightly lighted vestibule, and as ill luck would have it, chanced to encounter a stream of people going into the supper room. Every one stared at the apparition of Miss Fane-Smith in Captain Golightly's coat. With some difficulty she struggled out of it, and with very hot cheeks sought shelter in the ballroom.
"How dreadfully they looked! Do you think it was wrong of me?" she half whispered to her partner.
"Oh, dear, no! Sensible and plucky, and everything delightful! You are much too charming to be bound down to silly conventionalities. Come, let us have this dance. I'm sure you are engaged to some one in the supper room who can't deserve such a delightful partner. Let us have this TROIS TEMPS, and hurl defiance at the Greyshot chaperons."
Rose laughed, and allowed herself to be borne off. She had been excited before, now she was doubly excited, and Captain Golightly had the most delicious step imaginable.
CHAPTER X. Hard at Work
Longing is God's fresh heavenward will With our poor earthward striving; We quench it that we may be still Content with merely living; But, would we learn that heart's full scope Which we are hourly wronging, Our lives must climb from hope to hope And realize our longing. J. R. Lowell
Perhaps it was only natural that there should be that winter a good deal of communication between the secularist's house in Guilford Terrace and the clergyman's house in Guilford Square.
From the first Raeburn had taken a great fancy to Charles Osmond, and now that Brian had become so closely connected with the memory of their sudden bereavement, and had made himself almost one of them by his silent, unobtrusive sympathy, and by his numberless acts of delicate considerateness, a tie was necessarily formed which promised to deepen into one of those close friendships that sometimes exist between two entire families.
It was a bleak, chilly afternoon in March, when Charles Osmond, returning from a long round of parish work, thought he would look in for a few minutes at the Raeburns'; he had a proposal to make to Erica, some fresh work which he thought might interest her. He rang the bell at the now familiar door and was admitted; it carried him back to the day when he had first called there and had been shown into the fire-lit room, with the book-lined walls, and the pretty little girl curled up on the rug, with her cat and her toasting fork. Time had brought many changes since then. This evening he was again shown into the study, but this time the gas was lighted, and there was no little girl upon the hearth rug. Erica was sitting at her desk hard at work. Her face lighted up at the sight of her visitor.
"Every one is out except me," she said, more brightly than he had heard her speak since her return. "Did you really come to see me. How good of you."
"But you are busy?" said Charles Osmond, glancing at the papers on the desk. "Press work?"
"Yes, my first article," said Erica, "it is just finished; but if you'll excuse me for one minute, I ought to correct it; the office boy will call for it directly."
"Don't hurry; I will wait and get warm in the meantime," said Charles Osmond, establishing himself by the fire.
There was a silence broken only by the sound of Erica's pen as she crossed out a word or a line. Charles Osmond watched her and mused. This beautiful girl, whose development he could trace now for more than two years back, what would she grow into? Already she was writing in the "Idol Breaker." He regretted it. Yet it was obviously the most natural employment for her. He looked at her ever-changing face. She was absorbed in her work, her expression varying with the sentences she read; now there was a look of triumphant happiness as she came to something which made her heart beat quickly; again, a shade of dissatisfaction at the consciousness of her inability to express what was in her mind. He could not help thinking that it was one of the noblest faces he had ever seen, and now that the eyes were downcast it was not so terribly sad; there was, moreover, for the first time since her mother's death, a faint tinge of color in her cheeks. Before five minutes could have passed, the bell rang again.
"That is my boy," she exclaimed, and hastily blotting her sheets, she rolled them up, gave them to the servant, closed her desk, and crossing the room, knelt down in front of the fire to warm her hands, which were stiff and chilly.
"How rude I have been to you," she said, smiling a little; "I always have been rude to you since the very first time we met."
"We were always frank with each other," said Charles Osmond; "I remember you gave me your opinion as to bigots and Christians in the most delightfully open way. So you have been writing your first article?"
"Yes," and she stretched herself as though she were rather tired and cramped. "I have had a delicious afternoon. Yesterday I was in despair about it, but today it just came—I wrote it straight off."
"And you are satisfied with it?"
"Satisfied? Oh, no! Is anybody ever satisfied? By the time it is in print I shall want to alter every sixth line. Still, I dare say it will say a little of what I want said?"
"Oh, you do want something said?"
"Of course!" she replied, a little indignantly. "If not, how could I write."
"I quite agree with you," said Charles Osmond, "and you mean to take this up as your vocation?"
"If I am thought worthy," said Erica, coloring a little.
"I see you have high ideas of the art," said Charles Osmond; "and what is your reason for taking it up?"
"First of all, though it sounds rather illogical," said Erica, "I write because I MUST; there is something in me which will have its way. Then, too, it is part of our creed that every one should do all in his power to help on the cause, and of course, if only for my father's sake, it would be my greatest pleasure. Then, last of all, I write because I must earn my living."
"Good reasons all," said Charles Osmond. "But I don't feel sure that you won't regret having written when you look back several years hence."
"Oh! I dare say it will all seem crude and ridiculous then, but one must make a beginning," said Erica.
"And are you sure you have thought out these great questions so thoroughly and fairly that you are capable of teaching others about them?"
"Ah! Now I see what you mean!" exclaimed Erica; "you think I write in defense of atheism, or as an attacker of Christianity. I do nothing of the kind; father would not allow me to, he would not think me old enough. Oh! No, I am only to write the lighter articles which are needed every now and then. Today I had a delightful subject—'Heroes—what are they?'"
"Well, and what is your definition of a hero, I wonder; what are the qualities you think absolutely necessary to make one?"
"I think I have only two absolutely necessary ones," said Erica; "but my heroes must have these two, they must have brains and goodness."
"A tolerably sweeping definition," said Charles Osmond, laughing, "almost equal to a friend of mine who wanted a wife, and said there were only two things he would stipulate for—1,500 a year, and an angel. But it brings us to another definition, you see. We shall agree as to the brains, but how about goodness! What is your definition of that very wide, not to say vague, term?"
"I don't think I can define it," she said; "but one knows it when one sees it."
"Do you mean by it unselfishness, courage, truthfulness, or any other virtue?"
"Oh, it isn't any one virtue, or even a parcel of virtues, it will not go into words."
"It is then the nearest approach to some perfect ideal which is in your mind?"
"I suppose it is," she said, slowly.
"How did that ideal come into your mind?"
"I don't know; I suppose I got it by inheritance."
"From the original moneron?"
"You are laughing at me. I don't know how of course, but I have it, which, as far as I can see, is all that matters."
"I am not sure of that," said Charles Osmond. "The explanation of that ideal of goodness which more or less clearly exists in all our minds, seems to me to rest only in the conviction that all are children of one perfect Father. And I can give you our definition of goodness without hesitation, it is summed up for us in one word—'Christlikeness.'"
"I cannot see it; it seems to me all exaggerated," said Erica. "I believe it is only because people are educated to believe and predisposed to think it all good and perfect that there are so many Christians. You may say it is we who are prejudiced. If we are, I'm sure you Christians have done enough to make us so! How could I, for instance, be anything but an atheist? Shall I tell you the very first thing I can remember?"
Her eyes were flashing with indignant light.
"I was a little tiny child—only four years old—but there are some scenes one never forgets. I can see it all as plainly as possible, the room in a hotel, the very doll I was playing with. There was a great noise in the street, trampling, hissing, hooting. I ran to the window, an immense crowd was coming nearer and nearer, the street was black with the throng, they were all shouting and yelling—'Down with the infidel!' 'Kill the atheist!' Then I saw my father, he was there strong and fearless, one man against a thousand! I tell you I saw him, I can see him now, fighting his way on single-handed, not one creature brave enough to stand up for him. I saw him pushed, struck, spit upon, stoned. At last a great brick struck him on the head. I think I must have been too sick or too angry to see any more after that. The next thing I remember is lying on the floor sobbing, and hearing father come into the room and say: 'Why, little son Eric, did you think they'd killed me?' And he picked me up and let me sit on his knee, but there was blood on his face, and as he kissed me it dropped upon my forehead. I tell you, you Christians baptized me into atheism in my own father's blood. They were Christians who stoned him, champions of religion, and they were egged on by the clergy. Did I not hear it all then in my babyhood? And it is true; it is all fact; ask anybody you like; I have not exaggerated."
"My dear child, I know you have not," said Charles Osmond, putting his strong hand upon hers. He could feel that she was all trembling with indignation. Was it to be wondered at? "I remember those riots perfectly well," he continued. "I think I felt and feel as indignant about them as yourself. A fearful mistake was made—Mr. Raeburn was shamefully treated. But, Erica"—it was the first time he had called her by her name—"you who pride yourself upon fairness, you who make justice your watchword must be careful not to let the wrong doing of a few Christians prejudice you against Christianity. You say that we are all predisposed to accept Christ; but candidly you must allow, I think, that you are trebly prejudiced against the very name of Christian. A Christian almost inevitably means to you only one of your father's mistaken persecutors."
"Yes, you are so much of an exception that I always forget you are one," said Erica, smiling a little. "Yet you are not like one of us—quite—you somehow stand alone, you are unlike any one I ever met; you and Thekla Sonnenthal and your son make to me a sort of new variety."
Charles Osmond laughed, and changed the subject. "You are busy with your examination work, I suppose?" And the question led to a long talk about books and lectures.
In truth, Erica had plunged into work of all kinds, not merely from love of it, but because she felt the absolute need of fresh interests, the great danger of dwelling unduly on her sorrow. Then, too, she had just grasped a new idea, an idea at once noble and inspiriting. Hitherto she had thought of a happy future for herself, of a home free from troubles and harassing cares. That was all over now, her golden dream had come to an end, "Hope dead lives nevermore." The life she had pictured to herself could never be, but her nature was too strong to be crushed by the sorrow; physically the shock had weakened her far more than any one knew, but, mentally, it had been a wonderful stimulant. She rose above herself, above her trouble, and life began to mean something broader and deeper than before.
Hitherto her great desire had been to be free from care, and to be happy; now the one important thing seemed not so much to be happy, as to know. To learn herself, and to help others to learn, became her chief object, and, with all the devotion of an earnest, high-souled nature, she set herself to act out these convictions. She read hard, attended lectures, and twice a week taught in the night school attached to the Institute.
Charles Osmond could not help smiling as she described her days to him. She still retained something of the childishness of an Undine, and as they talked she had taken up her old position on the hearth rug, and Friskarina had crept on to her knee. Here, undoubtedly, was one whom ignorant people would stigmatize as "blue" or as a "femme savante;" they would of course be quite wrong and inexpressively foolish to use such terms, and yet there was, perhaps, something a little incongruous in the two sides, as it were, of Erica's nature, the keen intellect and the child-like devotion, the great love of learning and the intense love of fun and humor. Charles Osmond had only once in all his long years of experience met with a character which interested him so much.
"After all," he said, when they had talked for some time, "I have never told you that I came on a begging errand, and I half fear that you will be too busy to undertake any more work."
Erica's face brightened at the word; was not work what she lived for?
"Oh! I am not too busy for anything!" she exclaimed. "I shall quote Marcus Aurelius to you if you say I haven't time! What sort of work?"
"Only, when you can, to come to us in the afternoon and read a little to my mother. Do you think you could? Her eyes are failing, and Brian and I are hard at work all day; I am afraid she is very dull."
"I should like to come very much," said Erica, really pleased at the suggestion. "What sort of books would Mrs. Osmond like?"
"Oh, anything! History, travels, science, or even novels, if you are not above reading them!"
"I? Of course not," said Erica, laughing. "Don't you think we enjoy them as much as other people? When there is time to read them, at least, which isn't often."
Charles Osmond laughed.
"Very well then, you have a wide field. From Carlyle to Miss Bird, and from Ernst Haeckel to Charles Reade. I should make them into a big sandwich if I were you."
He said goodbye, and left Erica still on the hearth rug, her face brighter than it had been for months.
"I like that man," she said to herself. "He's honest and thorough, and good all through. Yet how in the world does he make himself believe in his creed? Goodness, Christlikeness. He looked so grand, too, as he said that. It is wonderful what a personal sort of devotion those three have for their ideal."
She wandered away to recollections of Thekla Sonnenthal, and that carried her back to the time of their last parting, and the recollection of her sorrow. All at once the loneliness of the present was borne in upon her overwhelmingly; she looked around the little room, the Ilkley couch was pushed away into a corner, there was a pile of newspapers upon it. A great sob escaped her. For a minute she pressed her hands tightly together over her eyes, then she hurriedly opened a book on "Electricity," and began to read as if for her life.
She was roused in about an hour's time by a laughing exclamation. She started, and looking up, saw her cousin Tom.
"Talk about absorption, and brown studies!" he cried, "why, you eat everything I ever saw. I've been looking at you for at least three minutes."
Tom was now about nineteen; he had inherited the auburn coloring of the Raeburns, but otherwise he was said to be much more like the Craigies. He was nice looking, but somewhat freckled, and though he was tall and strongly built, he somehow betrayed that he had led a sedentary life and looked, in fact, as if he wanted a training in gymnastics. For the rest he was shrewd, business-like, good-natured, and at present very conceited. He had been Erica's friend and playfellow as long as she could remember; they were brother and sister in all but the name, for they had lived within a stone's throw of each other all their lives, and now shared the same house.
"I never heard you come in," she said, smiling a little. "You must have been very quiet."
"I don't believe you'd hear a salute fired in the next room if you were reading, you little book worm! But look here; I've got a parody on the chieftain that'll make you cry with laughing. You remember the smashed windows at the meeting at Rilchester last week?"
Erica remembered well enough, she had felt sore and angry about it, and the comments in the newspapers had not been consolatory. She had learned to dread even the comic papers; but there was nothing spiteful in the one which Tom produced that evening. It was headed:
Scotch song (Tune—"Twas within a mile of Edinboro'town")
"Twas within a hall of Rilchester town, In the bleak spring-time of the year, Luke Raeburn gave a lecture on the soul of man, And found that it cost him dear. Windows all were smashed that day, They said: 'The atheist can pay.' But Scottish Raeburn, frowning cried: 'Na, na, it winna do, I canna, canna, winna, winna, munna pay for you.'"
The parody ran on through the three verses of the song, the conclusion was really witty, and there was no sting in it. Erica laughed over it as she had not laughed for weeks. Tom, who had been trying unsuccessfully to cheer her ever since her return, was quite relieved.
"I believe the sixpence a day style suits you," he said. "But, I say, isn't anything coming up? I'm as hungry as a hunter."
Their elders being away for a few days, Tom and Erica were amusing themselves by trying to live on the rather strange diet of the man who published his plan for living at the smallest possible cost. They were already beginning to be rather weary of porridge, pea soup and lentils. This evening pea soup was in the ascendant, and Erica, tired with a long afternoon's work, felt as if she could almost as soon have eaten Thames mud.
"Dear me," she said, "it never struck me, this is our Lenten penance! Now, wouldn't any one looking in fancy we were poor Romanists without an indulgence?"
"Certainly without any self-indulgence," said Tom, who never lost an opportunity of making a bad pun.
"It would be a great indulgence to stop eating," said Erica, sighing over the soup yet to be swallowed.
"Do you think it is more inspiriting to fast in order to save one's soul than it is to pay the chieftain's debts? I wish I could honestly say, like the little French girl in her confession: 'J'ai trop mang.'"
Tom dearly loved that story, he was exceeding fond of getting choice little anecdotes from various religious newspapers, especially those which dealt in much abuse of the Church of Rome, and he retailed them CON AMORE. Erica listened to several, and laughed a good deal over them.
"I wonder, though, they don't see how they play into our hands by putting in these things," she said after Tom had given her a description of some ludicrous attack made by a ritualist on an evangelical. "I should have thought they would have tried to agree whenever they could, instead of which they seem almost as spiteful to each other as they are to us."
"They'd know better if they'd more than a grain of sense between them," said Tom, sweepingly, "but they haven't; and as they're always playing battledoor and shuttlecock with that, it isn't much good to either. Of course they play into our hands. I believe the spiteful ultra-high paper, and the spiteful ultra-low paper do more to promote atheism than the 'Idol-Breaker' itself."
"How dreadful it must be for men like Mr. Osmond, who see all round, and yet can't stop what they must think the mischief. Mr. Osmond has been here this afternoon."
"Ah, now, he's a stunning fellow, if you like," said Tom. "He's not one of the pig-headed narrow-minded set. How he comes to be a parson I can't make out."
"Well, you see, from their point of view it is the best thing to be; I mean he gets plenty of scope for work. I fancy he feels as much obliged to speak and teach as father does."
"Pity he's not on our side," said Tom; "they say he's a first-rate speaker. But I'm afraid he is perfectly crazy on that point; he'll never come over."
"I don't think we've a right to put the whole of his religiousness down to a mania," said Erica. "Besides, he is not the sort of man to be even a little mad, there's nothing the least fanatical about him."
"Call it delusion if you like it better. What's in a name? The thing remains the same. A man can't believe what is utterly against reason without becoming, as far as that particular belief is concerned, unreasonable, beyond the pale of reason, therefore deluded, therefore mad."
Erica looked perplexed; she did not think Tom's logic altogether good, but she could not correct it. There was, however, a want of generosity about the assertion which instantly appealed to her fine sense of honor.
"I can't argue it out," she said at last, "but it doesn't seem to me fair to put down what we can't understand in other people to madness; it never seemed to me quite fair for Festus to accuse Paul of madness when he really had made a splendid defense, and it doesn't seem fair that you should accuse Mr. Osmond of being mad."
"Only on that one point," said Tom. "Just a little touched, you know. How else can you account for a man like that believing what he professes to believe?"
"I don't know," said Erica, relapsing into perplexed silence.
"Besides," continued Tom, "you cry out because I say they must be just a little touched, but they accuse us of something far worse than madness, they accuse us of absolute wickedness."
"Not all of them," said Erica.
"The greater part," said Tom. "How often do you think the chieftain meets with really fair treatment from the antagonists?"
Erica had nothing to say to this. The harshness and intolerance which her father had constantly to encounter was the great grief of her life, the perpetual source of indignation, her strongest argument against Christianity.
"Have you much to do tonight?" she asked, not anxious to stir up afresh the revolt against the world's injustice which the merest touch would set working within her. "I was thinking that, if there was time to spare, we might go to see the professor; he has promised to show me some experiments."
"Electricity?" Tom pricked up his ears. "Not half a bad idea. If you'll help me we can polish off the letters in an hour or so, and be free by eight o'clock."
They set to work, and between them disposed of the correspondence.
It was a great relief to Erica after her long day's work to be out in the cool evening air. The night was fine but very windy, indeed the sudden gusts at the street corners made her glad to take Tom's arm. Once, as they rather slackened their speed, half baffled by the storm, a sentence from a passer-by fell on their ears. The speaker looked like a countryman.
"Give me a good gas-burner with pipes and a meter that a honest man can understand! Now this 'ere elective light I say it's not canny; I've no belief in things o' that kind, it won't never—"
The rest of the speech died away in the distance. Tom and Erica laughed, but the incident set Erica thinking. Here was a man who would not believe what he could not understand, who wanted "pipes and a meter," and for want of comprehensible outward signs pooh-poohed the great new discovery.
"Tom," she said slowly, and with the manner of one who makes a very unpleasant suggestion, reluctantly putting forward an unwelcome thought, "suppose if, after all, we are like that man, and reject a grand discovery because we don't know and are too ignorant to understand! Tom, just suppose if, after all, Christianity should be true and we in the wrong!"
"Just suppose if, after all, the earth should be a flat plain with the sun moving round it!" replied Tom scornfully.
They were walking down the Strand; he did not speak for some minutes, in fact he was looking at the people who passed by them. For the first time in his life a great contrast struck him. Disreputable vulgarity, wickedness, and vice stared him in the face, then involuntarily he turned to Erica and looked down at her scrutinizingly as he had never looked before. She was evidently wrapped in thought but it was not the intellect in her face which he thought of just then, though it was ever noticeable, nor was it the actual beauty of feature which struck him, it was rather an undefined consciousness that here was a purity which was adorable. From that moment he became no longer a boy, but a man with a high standard of womanhood. Instantly he thought with regret of his scornful little speech—it was contemptible.
"I beg your pardon," he said, abruptly, as if she had been following his whole train of thought. "Of course one is bound to study the question fairly, but we have done that, and all that remains for us is to live as usefully as we can and as creditably to the cause as may be."
They had turned down one of the dingy little streets leading to the river, and now stood outside Professor Gosse's door. Erica did not reply. It was true she had heard arguments for and against Christianity all her life, but had she ever studied it with strict impartiality? Had she not always been strongly biased in favor of secularism? Had not Mr. Osmond gone unpleasantly near the mark when he warned her against being prejudiced by the wrong-doing of a few modern Christians against Christianity itself! She was coming now for special instruction in science from one who was best calculated to teach; she would not have dreamed of asking instruction from one who was a disbeliever in science. Would the same apply in matters of religious belief? Was she bound actually to ask instruction from Charles Osmond, for instance, even though she believed that he taught error—harmful error? Yet who was to be the judge of what was error, except by perfectly fair consideration of both sides of the case. Had she been fair? What was perfect fairness?
But people must go on living, and must speak and act even though their minds are in a chaos of doubts and questionings. They had reached Professor Gosse's study, or as he himself called it, his workshop, and Erica turned with relief to the verifiable results of scientific inquiry.
CHAPTER XI. The Wheels Run Down
Great grace, as saith Sir Thomas More, To him must needs be given, Who heareth heresy, and leaves The heretic to Heaven. Whittier.
The clock in a neighboring church tower was just striking five on a warm afternoon in June. The pillar box stood at the corner of Guilford Square nearest the church, and on this particular afternoon there chanced to be several people running at the last moment to post their letters. Among others were Brian and Erica. Brian, with a great bundle of parish notices, had just reached the box when running down the other side of the square at full speed he saw his Undine carrying a bagful of letters. He had not met her for some weeks, for it happened to have been a busy time with him, and though she had been very good in coming to read to old Mrs. Osmond, he had always just missed her.
"This is a funny meeting place," she exclaimed, rather breathlessly. "It never struck me before what a truly national institution the post office is—a place where people of all creeds and opinions can meet together, and are actually treated alike!"
"You have been very busy," he said, glancing at the innumerable envelopes, which she was dropping as fast as might be into the narrow receptacle. He could see that they were directed in her small, clear, delicate handwriting.
"And you, too," she said, looking at his diminished bundle. "Mine are secularist circulars, and yours, I suppose, are the other kind of thing, but you see the same pillar eats them up quite contentedly. The post office is beautifully national, it sets a good example."
She spoke lightly, but there was a peculiar tone in her voice which betrayed great weariness. It made Brian look at her more attentively than he had yet done—less from a lover's point of view, more from a doctor's. She was very pale. Though the running had brought a faint color to her cheeks, her lips were white, her forehead almost deathly. He knew that she had never really been well since her mother's death, but the change wrought within the last three weeks dismayed him; she was the mere shadow of her former self.
"This hot weather is trying you," he said.
"Something is," she replied. "Work, or weather, or worry, or the three combined."
"Come in and see my father," said Brian, "and be idle for a little time; you will be writing more circulars if you go home."
"No, they are all done, and my examination is over, and there is nothing special going on just now; I think that is why I feel so like breaking down."
After a little more persuasion, she consented to go in and see Mr. Osmond. The house always had a peculiarly restful feeling, and the mere thought of rest was a relief to her; she would have liked the wheels of life to stop for a little while, and there was rest in the mere change of atmosphere. On the doorstep Brian encountered a patient, much to his vexation; so he could only take Erica into the study, and go in search of his father. He lingered however, just to tell him of his fears.
"She looks perfectly worn out; you must find out what is wrong, father, and make her promise to see some one."
His tone betrayed such anxiety that his father would not smile although he was secretly amused at the task deputed to him. However, clergyman as he was, he had a good deal of the doctor about him, and he had seen so much of sickness and disease during his long years of hard work among the poor that he was after all about as ready an observer and as good a judge as Brian could have selected.
Erica, leaning back in the great easy chair, which had been moved into summer quarters beside the window, heard the slow soft step she had learned to know so well, and before she had time to get up, found her hand in Charles Osmond's strong clasp.
"How comfortable your chair is," she said, smiling; "I believe I was nearly asleep."
He looked at her attentively, but without appearing to study her face in any way. She was very pale and there was an indefinable look of pain in her eyes.
"Any news of the examination?" he asked, sitting down opposite her.
"No, it is too soon yet," she replied. "I thought I should have felt so anxious about it, but do you know, now that it is over, I can't make myself care a bit. If I have failed altogether, I don't believe I shall mind very much."
"Too tired to care for anything?"
"Yes, I seem to have come to the end. I wish I were a watch, and could run down and rest for a few days and be wound up again."
He smiled. "What have you been doing with yourself to get so tired?"
"Oh, nothing particular; it has been rather a long day. Let me see! In the morning there were two delegates from Rilchester who had to be kept in a good temper till my father was ready for them; then there was father's bag to be packed, and a rush to get him off in time for the morning express to Longstaff. Then I went to a lecture at South Kensington, and then by train to Aldersgate Street to see Hazeldine's wife, who is unconscionable enough to live at the top of one of the model lodging houses. Then she told me of another of our people whose child is ill, and they lived in another row of Compton buildings up a hundred more steps, which left my back nearly broken. And the poor little child was fearfully ill, and it is so dreadful to see pain you can do nothing for; it has made me feel wretched ever since. Then—let me think—oh, I got home and found Aunt Jean with a heap of circulars to get off, and there was a great rush to get them ready by post time."
She paused; Charles Osmond withdrew his eyes from the careful scrutiny of her face, and noticed the position she had taken up in his chair. She was leaning back with her arms resting on the arms of the chair; not merely stretched out upon them, but rather as if she used them for support. His eyes wandered back again to her face. After a short silence, he spoke.
"You have been feeling very tired lately; you have had unaccountable pains flying about all over you, but specially your back has felt, as you just said, somewhat 'broken.' You have generally noticed this when you have been walking, or bending over your desk writing for the 'Idol-Breaker.'"
"Now please don't turn into a clairvoyant; I shall begin to think you uncanny; and, besides, it would be an argument for Tom when we quarrel about you."
"Then my surmises are true?"
"Substitute first person singular for second plural, and it might have come from my own lips," said Erica, smiling. "But please stop; I'm afraid you will try to turn prophet next, and I'm sure you will prophesy something horrid."
"It would need no very clear-sighted prophet to prophesy that you will have to let your wheels run down for a little while."
"Do you mean that you think I shall die?" asked Erica, languidly. "It wouldn't be at all convenient just now; father couldn't spare me. Do you know," and her face brightened, "he is really beginning to use me a good deal?"
"I didn't mean that I thought your wheels would run down in that way," said Charles Osmond, touched by the pathos of her words. "I may even be wrong, but I think you will want a long rest, and I am quite sure you mustn't lose a day before seeing a doctor. I should like my brother to see you; Brian is only junior partner, you know."
"What, another Mr. Osmond! How muddled we shall get between you all!" said Erica, laughing.
"I should think that Brian might be Brian by this time," said Charles Osmond; "that will dispose of one; and perhaps you would like to follow the example of one of my servants, who, I hear, invariably speaks of me as the 'dear rev.'"
"No, I shall call you my 'prophet,' though it is true you have begun by being a prophet of evil! By the bye, you can not say again that I am not impartial. What do you think Tom and I did last week?"
"Read the New Testament backward?"
"No, we went to a Holy Scripture Society meeting at Exeter Hall."
"Hope you were edified," said Charles Osmond, with a little twinkle in his eye; but he sighed, nevertheless.
"Well," said Erica, "it was rather curious to hear everything reversed, and there was a good deal of fun altogether. They talked a great deal about the numbers of bibles, testaments, and portions which had been sent out. There was one man who spoke very broadly, and kept on speaking of the 'PORTIONS,' and there was another whom we called the 'Great Door,' because eight times in his speech he said that a great door had been opened for them in Italy and other places. Altogether, I thought them rather smug and self-satisfied, especially one man whose face shone on the slightest provocation, and who remarked, in broad Lincolnshire, that they had been 'aboondantly blessed.' After his speech a little short, sleek oily man got up, and talked about Providence. Apparently it had been very kind to him, and he thought the other sort of thing did best for those who got it. But there were one or two really good speakers, and I dare say they were all in earnest. Still, you know, Tom and I felt rather like fish out of water, and especially when they began to sing, 'Oh, Bible, blessed Bible!' and a lady would make me share her hymn book. Then, too, there was a collection, and the man made quite a pause in front of us, and of course we couldn't give anything. Altogether, I felt rather horrid and hypocritical for being there at all."
"Is that your only experience of one of our meetings?"
"Oh, no, father took me with him two or three times to Westminster Abbey a good many years ago. We heard the dean; father admired him very much. I like Westminster Abbey. It seems to belong a little to us, too, because it is so national. And then it is so beautiful, and I liked hearing the music. I wonder, though, that you are not little afraid of having it so much in your worship. I remember hearing a beautiful anthem there once, which just thrilled one all through. I wonder that you don't fear that people should mistake that for what you call spiritual fervor."
"I think, perhaps, there is a danger in any undue introduction of externals, but any one whose spirit has ever been awakened will never mistake the mere thrill of sensuous rapture for the quickening of the spirit by the Unseen."
"You are talking riddles to me now!" said Erica; "but I feel sure that some of the people who go to church regularly only like it because of that appeal to the senses. I shall never forget going one afternoon into Notre Dame with Mme. Lemercier. A flood of crimson and purple light was shining in through the south transept windows. You could see the white-robed priests and choristers—there was one boy with the most perfect voice you can conceive. I don't know what they were singing, something very sweet and mournful, and, as that one voice rang up into the vaulted roof, I saw Mme. Lemercier fall down on her knees and pray in a sort of rapture. Even I myself felt the tears come to my eyes, just because of the loveliness, and because the blood in one's veins seemed to bound. And then, still singing, the procession passed into the nave, and the lovely voice grew more and more distant. It was a wonderful effect; no doubt, the congregation thought they felt devout, but, if so, then I too felt devout—quite as religious as they. Your spiritual fervor seems to me to resolve itself into artistic effect produced by an appeal to the senses and emotions."
"And I must repeat my riddle," said Charles Osmond, quietly. "No awakened spirit could ever mistake the one for the other. It is impossible! How impossible you will one day realize."
"One evil prophesy is enough for today!" said Erica laughing. "If I stay any longer, you will be prophesying my acceptance of Christianity. No, no, my father will be grieved enough if your first prediction comes true, but, if I were to turn Christian, I think it would break his heart!"
She rose to go, and Charles Osmond went with her to the door, extracting a promise that she would discuss things with her aunt, and if she approved send for Mr. Osmond at once. He watched her across the square, then turning back into his study paced to and fro in deep thought. Erica's words rang in his ears. "If I were to turn Christian, I think it would break his heart." How strangely this child was situated! How almost impossible it seemed that she could ever in this world come to the light! And yet the difficulty might perhaps be no hindrance to one so beautifully sincere, so ready to endure anything and everything for the sake of what she now considered truth. She had all her father's zeal and self-devotion; surely the offering up of self, even in a mistaken cause, must sooner or later lead to the Originator of all self-sacrifice. Surely some of those who seem only to thwart God, honestly deeming Christianity a mischievous delusion, are really acting more in His spirit, unconsciously better doing His will than many who openly declare themselves on His side! Yet, as Charles Osmond mused over the past lives of Luke Raeburn and his daughter, and pictured their probable future, a great grief filled his heart. They wee both so lovable, so noble! That they should miss in a great measure the best of life seemed such a grievous pity! The chances that either of them would renounce atheism were, he could not but feel, infinitesimally small. Much smaller for the father than for the child.
It was true, indeed, that she had never fairly grasped any real idea of the character of Christ. He had once grasped it to a certain extent, and had lost the perception of its beauty and truth. It was true also that Erica's transparent sincerity, her quick perception of the beautiful might help very greatly to overcome her deeply ingrained prejudices. But even then what an agony—what a fearful struggle would lie before her; "I think it would break his heart!" Charles Osmond felt his breath come fast and hard at the mere thought of such a difference between the father and daughter! Could human strength possibly be equal to such a terrible trial? For these two were everything to each other. Erica worshipped her father, and Raeburn's fatherhood was the truest, deepest, tenderest part of his character. No, human strength could not do it, but—
"I am; nyle ye drede!"
His eye fell on a little illuminated scroll above his mantelpiece, Wycliff's rendering of Christ's reassuring words to the fearful disciples. Yes, with the revelation of Himself, He would give the strength, make it possible to dread nothing, not even the infliction of grief to one's nearest and dearest. Much pain, much sacrifice there would be in his service, but dread—never. The strength of the "I am," bade it forever cease. In that strength the weakest could conquer.
But he had wondered on into a dim future, had pictured a struggle which in all probability would not take place. Even were that the case, however, he needed these words of assurance all the more himself. They wove themselves into his reverie as he paced to an fro; they led him further and further away from perplexed surmises as to the future of Raeburn and Erica, but closer to their souls, because they took him straight to the "God and father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all."
The next morning as he was preparing a sermon for the following Sunday, there came a knock at his study door. His brother came in. He was a fine looking man of two or three-and-fifty.
"I can't stay," he said, "I've a long round, but I just looked in to tell you about your little heretic."
Charles Osmond looked up anxiously.
"It is as you thought," continued his brother. "Slight curvature of the spine. She's a brave little thing; I don't wonder you are interested in her."
"It means a long rest, I suppose?"
"Yes, I told her a year in a recumbent posture; for I fancy she is one of those restless beings who will do nothing at all unless you are pretty plain with them. It is possible that six or eight months may be sufficient."
"How did she take it?"
"Oh, in the pluckiest way you can conceive! Tried to laugh at the prospect, wanted me to measure her to see how much she grew in the time, and said she should expect at least three inches to reward her."
"A Raeburn could hardly be deficient in courage. Luke Raeburn is without exception the bravest man I ever met."
"And I'd back his daughter against any woman I know," said the doctor.
He left the room, but the news he had brought caused a long pause in his brother's sermon.
CHAPTER XII. Raeburn's Homecoming
He is a man both loving and severe, A tender heart, a will inflexible. Longfellow
Luke Raeburn had been lecturing in one of the large manufacturing towns. It was the hottest part of a sultry day in June. He was returning home, and sat in a broiling third-class carriage reading a paper. Apparently what he read was the reverse of gratifying for there was a look of annoyance on his usually serene face; he was displeased with the report of his lecture given in the local papers, it was calculated to mislead very greatly.
Other matters, too, were harassing him just then and he was, moreover, paying the penalty of his two years' campaign, in which his almost superhuman exertions and the privations he had voluntarily endured had told severely upon his health. Possessed of a singularly well-regulated mind, and having in an unusual degree the inestimable gift of common sense, he nevertheless often failed to use it in his personal affairs. He had no idea of sparing himself, no idea of husbanding his strength; this was indeed great, but he treated himself as if it were inexhaustible. The months of trouble had turned his hair quite white; he was now a more noticeable-looking man than ever.
Not unfrequently he made friends with the men with whom he traveled; he was always studying life from the workingman's point of view, and there was such a charm in his genial manner and ready sympathy that he invariably succeeded in drawing people out. But on this day he was not in the humor for it; instead, he thought over the abusive article and the mangled report in the "Longstaff Mercury," and debated within himself whether it were worth an action for libel. His love of fighting said yes, his common sense said no; and in the end common sense won the day, but left him doubly depressed. He moved to the shady side of the carriage and looked out of the window. He was a great lover of Nature, and Nature was looking her loveliest just then. The trees, in all the freshness of early June, lifted their foliage to the bluest of skies, the meadows were golden with buttercups, the cattle grazed peacefully, the hay fields waved unmown in the soft summer air, which, though sparing no breath for the hot and dusty traveler, was yet strong enough to sweep over the tall grasses in long, undulating waves that made them shimmer in the sunlight.
Raeburn's face grew serene once more; he had a very quick perception of the beautiful. Presently he retired again behind a newspaper, this time the "Daily Review," and again his brow grew stern, for there was bad news from the seat of war; he read the account of a great battle, read the numbers of his slain countrymen, and of those who had fallen on the enemy's side. It was an unrighteous war, and his heart burned within him at the thought of the inhuman havoc thus caused by a false ambition. Again, as if he were fated that day to be confronted with the dark side of life, the papers gave a long account of a discovery made in some charity school, where young children had been hideously ill-treated. Raeburn, who was the most fatherly of men, could hardly restrain the expression of his righteous indignation. All this mismanagement, this reckless waste of life, this shameful cruelty, was going on in what was called "Free England." And here was he, a middle-aged man, and time was passing on with frightful rapidity, and though he had never lost an opportunity of lifting up his voice against oppression, how little had he actually accomplished!
"So many worlds, so much to do, So little done, such things to be!"
That was the burden of the unuttered cry which filled his whole being. That was the point where his atheism often brought him to a noble despair. But far from prompting him to repeat the maxim "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die!" it spurred him rather to a sort of fiery energy, never satisfied with what it had accomplished. Neither the dissatisfaction, however, nor even the despair ever made him feel the need of any power above man. On the contrary, the unaccountable mystery of pain and evil was his strongest argument against the existence of a God. Upon that rock he had foundered as a mere boy, and no argument had ever been able to reconvince him. Impatience of present ill had in this, as in many other cases, proved the bane of his life.
He would write and speak about these cases of injustice, he would hold them up to the obloquy they so richly deserved.
Scathing sentences already took shape in his brain, but deeper investigation would be necessary before he could write anything. In the meantime to cool himself, to bring himself into a judicial frame of mind, he took a Hebrew book from his bag, and spent the rest of the journey in hard study.
Harassed, and tired, and out of spirits as he was, he nevertheless felt a certain pleasurable sensation as he left St. Pancras, driving homeward through the hot crowded streets. Erica would be waiting for him at home, and he had a comparatively leisure afternoon. There was the meeting on the Opium Trade at eight, but he might take her for a turn in one of the parks beforehand. She had always been a companion to him since her very babyhood, but now he was able to enjoy her companionship even more than in the olden times. Her keen intellect, her ready sympathy, her eagerness to learn, made her the perfection of a disciple, while not unnaturally he delighted in tracing the many similarities of character between himself and his child. Then, too, in his hard, argumentative, fighting life it was an unspeakable relief to be able to retire every now and then into a home which no outer storms could shake or disturb. Fond as he was of his sister, Mrs. Craigie, and Tom, they constituted rather the innermost circle of his friends and followers; it was Erica who made the HOME, though the others shared the house. It was to Erica's pure child-like devotion that he invariably turned for comfort.
Dismissing the cab at the corner of Guilford Square, he walked down the dreary little passage, looking up at the window to see if she were watching for him as usual. But today there was no expectant face; he recollected, however, that it was Thursday, always a busy day with them.
He opened the door with his latch key, and went in; still there was no sound in the house; he half paused for an instant, thinking that he should certainly hear her quick footsteps, the opening of a door, some sign of welcome, but all was as silent as death. Half angry with himself for having grown so expectant of that loving watch as to be seriously apprehensive at its absence, he hastily put down his bag and walked into the sitting room, his calm exterior belying a nameless fear at his heart.
What the French call expressively a "serrement de coeur" seized him when he saw that Erica was indeed at home, but that she was lying on the couch. She did not even spring up to greet him.
"Is anything the matter, dear? Are you ill?" he asked, hurriedly crossing the little room.
"Oh, have you not seen Aunt Jean? She was going to meet you at St. Pancras," said Erica, her heart failing her a little at the prospect of telling her own bad news. But the exceeding anxiety of her father's face helped her to rise to the occasion. She laughed, and the laugh was natural enough to reassure him.
"It is nothing so very dreadful, and all this time you have never even given me a kiss, father." She drew down the grand-looking white head, and pressed her fair face to his. He sat down beside her.
"Tell me, dear, what is wrong with you?" he repeated.
"Well, I felt rather out of order, and they said I ought to see some one, and it seems that my tiresome spine is getting crooked, and the long and the short of it is that Mr. Doctor Osmond says I shall get quite well again if I'm careful; but" she added, lightly, yet with the gentleness of one who thinks merely of the hearer's point of view "I shall have to be a passive verb for a year, and you will have to be my very strong man Kwasind.'"
"A year?" he exclaimed in dismay.
"Brian half gave me hope that it might not be so long," said Erica, "if I'm very good and careful, and of course I shall be both. I am only sorry because it will make me very useless. I did hope I should never have been a burden on you again, father."
"Don't talk of such a thing, my little son Eric," he said, very tenderly. "Who should take care of you if not your own father? Besides, if you never wrote another line for me, you would help me by just being yourself. A burden!"
"Well, I've made you look as grave as half a dozen lawsuits," said Erica, pretending to stroke the lines of care from his forehead. "I've had the morning to ruminate over the prospect, and really now that you know, it is not so very dreadful. A year will soon pass."
"I look to you, Eric," said her father, "to show the world that we secularists know how to bear pain. You won't waste the year if you can do it."
Her face lighted up.
"It was like you to think of that!" she said; "that would indeed be worth doing."
Still, do what she would, Erica could not talk him back to cheerfulness. He was terribly distressed at her news, and more so when he found that she was suffering a good deal. He thought with a pang of the difference of the reality to his expectations. No walk for them in the park that evening, nor probably for many years to come. Yet he was ignorant of these matters, perhaps he exaggerated the danger or the duration; he would go across and see Brian Osmond at once.
Left once more to herself, the color died out of Erica's cheeks; she lay there pale and still, but her face was almost rigid with resoluteness.
"I am not going to give way!" she thought to herself. "I won't shed a single tear. Tears are wasteful luxuries, bad for body and mind. And yet yet oh, it is hard just when I wanted to help father most! Just when I wanted to keep him from being worried. And a whole year! How shall I bear it, when even six hours has seemed half a life time! This is what Thekla would call a cross, but I only call it my horrid, stupid, idiotic old spine. Well, I must try to show them that Luke Raeburn's daughter knows how to bear pain; I must be patient, however much I boil over in private. Yet is it honest, I wonder, to keep a patient outside, while inside you are all one big grumble? Rather Pharisaical outside of the cup and platter; but it is all I shall be able to do, I'm sure. That is where Mr. Osmond's Christianity would come in; I do believe that goes right through his life, privatest thoughts and all. Odd, that a delusion should have such power, and over such a man! There is Sir Michael Cunningham, too, one of the greatest and best men in England, yet a Christian! Great intellects and much study, and still they remain Christians 'tis extraordinary. But a Christian would have the advantage over me in a case like this. First of all, I suppose, they would feel that they could serve their God as well on their backs as upright, while all the help I shall be able to give the cause is dreadfully indirect and problematical. Then certainly they would feel that they might be getting ready for the next world where all wrong is, they believe, to be set right, while I am only terribly hindered in getting ready for this world a whole year without the chance of a lecture. And then they have all kinds of nice theories about pain, discipline, and that sort of thing, which no doubt make it more bearable, while to me it is just the one unmitigated evil. But, oh! They don't know what pain means! For there is no death to them no endless separation. What a delusion it is! They ought to be happy enough. Oh, mother! mother!"
After all, what she really dreaded in her enforced pause was the leisure for thought. She had plunged into work of all kinds, had half killed herself with work, had tried to hold her despair at arms' length. But now there was no help for it. She must rest, and the thoughts must come.
CHAPTER XIII. Losing One Friend to Gain Another
For toleration had its griefs, And charity its trial. Whittier
"Well, Osmond, you got into hot water a few years ago for defending Raeburn in public, and by this time you will find it not merely hot, but up to boiling point. The fellow is more notorious than ever."
The speaker was one of Charles Osmond's college friends, a certain Mr. Roberts, who had been abroad for a good many years, but, having returned on account of his health, had for a few months been acting as curate to his friend.
"A man who works as indefatigably as Mr. Raeburn has done can hardly avoid being noticed," replied Charles Osmond.
"You speak as if you admired the fellow!"
"There is a good deal to admire in Mr. Raeburn. However greatly mistaken he is, there is no doubt that he is a brave man, and an honest man."
"You can speak in such a way of a man who makes his living by speaking and writing against God."
"I hope I can speak the truth of every man, whether his creed agrees with mine or not."
"A man who grows rich on blasphemy! Who sows poison among the people and reaps the harvest!" exclaimed Mr. Roberts.
"That he teaches fearful error, I quite allow," said Charles Osmond, "but it is the grossest injustice to say that he does it for gain. His atheism brought him to the very brink of starvation some years ago. Even now he is so crippled by the endless litigation he has had that he lives in absolute penury."
"But that letter you sent to the 'Church Chronicle' was so uncalled for, you put the comparison so broadly."
"I put it in plain 'English'," said Charles Osmond, "I merely said, as I think, that he puts many of us to shame by his great devotion. The letter was a reply to a very unfair article about the Rilchester riot; it was absolutely necessary that some one should speak. I tell you, Roberts, if you knew the man, you could not speak so bitterly of him. It is not true that he leads a selfish, easy-going life; he has spent thousands and thousands of pounds in the defense of his cause. I don't believe there is a man in England who has led a more self-denying life. It may be very uncomfortable news for us, but we've no right to shut our ears to it. I wish that man could stir up an honest sense of shame in every sleepy Christian in the country. I believe that, indeed, to be his rightful mission. Raeburn is a grand text for a sermon which the nation sorely needs. Here is a man who spends his whole strength in propagating his so-called gospel of atheism. Do you spend your whole strength in spreading the gospel of Christ? Here is a man, willing to leave his home, willing to live without one single luxury, denying himself all that is not necessary to actual health. Have you ever denied yourself anything? Here is a man who spends his whole living all that he has on what he believes to be the truth. What meager tithe do you bestow upon the religion of which you speak so much? Here is a man who dares to stand up alone in defense of what he holds true, a man who never flinches. How far are you brave in the defense of your faith? Do you never keep a prudent silence? Do you never 'howl with the wolves?'"
"Thank Heaven you are not in the pulpit!" ejaculated Mr. Roberts.
"I wish those words could be sent through the length and breadth of the land," said Charles Osmond.
"No doubt Mr. Raeburn would thank you," said his friend, with a sharp-edged smile. "It would be a nice little advertisement for him. Why, from a Church of England parson it would make his fortune! My dear Osmond, you are the best fellow in the world, but don't you see that you are playing into the enemy's hands."
"I am trying to speak the words that God has given me to speak," said Charles Osmond. "The result I can well trust to Him. An uncomfortable truth will never be popular. The words of our Lord Himself were not popular; but they sunk into men's hearts and bore fruit, though He was put to death as a blasphemer and a revolutionary."
"Well, at least then, if you must take up the cudgels in his defense, do not dishonor the clerical profession by personal acquaintance with the man. I hear that he has been seen actually in your house, that you are even intimate with his family."
"Roberts, I didn't think our beliefs were so very different. In fact, I used to think we were nearer to each other on these points than most men. Surely we both own the universal Fatherhood of God?"
"Of course, of course," said Mr. Roberts, quickly.
"And owning that, we cannot help owning the universal brotherhood of men. Why should you then cut yourself off from your brother, Luke Raeburn?"
"He's no brother of mine!" said Mr. Roberts, in a tone of disgust.
Charles Osmond smiled.
"We do not choose our brothers, we have no voice in the growth of the family. There they are."
"But the man says there is no God."
"Excuse me, he has never said that. What he says is, that the word God conveys no meaning to him. If you think that the best way to show your belief in the All-Father and your love to all His children lies in refusing so much as to touch those who don't know Him, you are of course justified in shunning every atheist or agnostic in the world. But I do not think that the best way. It was not Christ's way. Therefore, I hail every possible opportunity of meeting Mr. Raeburn or his colleagues, try to find all the points we have in common, try as far as possible to meet them on their own ground."
"And the result will be that people will call you an atheist yourself!" broke in Mr. Roberts.
"That would not greatly matter," said Charles Osmond. "It would be a mere sting for the moment. It is not what men call us that we have to consider, but how we are fulfilling the work God has given us to do."
"'Pon my life, it makes me feel sick to hear you talk like this about that miserable Raeburn!" exclaimed Mr. Roberts, hotly. "I tell you, Osmond, that you are ruining your reputation, losing all chance of preferment, just because of this mistaken zeal. It makes me furious to think that such a man as you should suffer for such a creature as Raeburn."
"Have you forgotten that such creatures as you and I and Luke Raeburn had such a Saviour as Jesus Christ? Come, Roberts, in your heart you know you agree with me. If one is indeed our Father, then indeed we are all brethren."
"I do not hold with you!" retorted Mr. Roberts, the more angrily because he had really hoped to convince his friend. "I wouldn't sit in the same room with the fellow if you offered me the richest living in England. I wouldn't shake hands with him to be made an archbishop. I wouldn't touch him with a pair of tongs."
"Even less charitable than St. Dunstan to the devil," said Charles Osmond, smiling a little, but sadly. "Except in that old legend, however, I don't think Christianity ever mentions tongs. If you can't love your enemies, and pray for them, and hold out a brotherly hand to them, perhaps it were indeed better to hold aloof and keep as quiet as you can."
"It is clearly impossible for us to work together any longer, Osmond," said Mr. Roberts, rising. "I am sorry that such a cause should separate us, but if you will persist in visiting an outcast of society, a professed atheist, the most bitter enemy of our church, I cannot allow my name to be associated with yours it is impossible that I should hold office under you."
So the two friends parted.
Charles Osmond was human, and almost inevitably a sort of reaction began in his mind the instant he was alone. He had lost one of his best friends, he knew as well as possible that they could never be on the same footing as before. He had, moreover, lost in him a valuable co-worker. Then, too, it was true enough that his defense of Raeburn was bringing him into great disfavor with the religious world, and he was a sensitive and naturally a proud man, who found blame, and reproach, and contemptuous disapproval very hard to bear. Years of hard fighting, years of patient imitation of Christ had wonderfully ennobled him, but he had not yet attained to the sublime humility which, being free from all thought of self, cares nothing, scarcely even pauses to think of the world's judgment, too absorbed in the work of the Highest to have leisure for thought of the lowest, too full of love for the race to have love to spare for self. To this ideal he was struggling, but he had not yet reached it, and the thought of his own reputation, his own feelings would creep in. He was not a selfishly ambitious man, but every one who is conscious of ability, every one who feels within him energies lying fallow for want of opportunity, must be ambitious for a larger sphere of work. Just as he was beginning to dare to allow himself the hope of some change in his work, some wider field, just as he was growing sure enough of himself to dare to accept any greater work which might have been offered to him, he must, by bringing himself into evil repute, lose every chance of preferment. And for what? For attempting to obtain a just judgment for the enemy of his faith; for holding out a brotherly hand to a man who might very probably not care to take it; for consorting with those who would at best regard him as an amiable fanatic. Was this worth all it would cost? Could the exceedingly problematical gain make up for the absolutely certain loss?
He took up the day's newspaper. His eye was at once attracted to a paragraph headed: "Mr. Raeburn at Longstaff." The report, sent from the same source as the report in the "Longstaff Mercury," which had so greatly displeased Raeburn that morning, struck Charles Osmond in a most unfavorable light. This bitter opponent of Christianity, this unsparing denouncer of all that he held most sacred, THIS was the man for whom he was sacrificing friendship, reputation, advancement. A feeling of absolute disgust rose within him. For a moment the thought came: "I can't have any more to do with the man."
But he was too honest not to detect almost at once his own Pharisaical, un-Christlike spirit.
"Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus."
He had been selfishly consulting his own happiness, his own ease. Worse still, he, of all men in the world, had dared to set himself up as too virtuous forsooth to have anything to do with an atheist. Was that the mind which was in Christ? Was He a strait-laced, self-righteous Pharisee, too good, too religious to have anything to say to those who disagreed with Him? Did He not live and die for those who are yet enemies to God? Was not the work of reconciliation the work he came for? Did He calculate the loss to Himself, the risk of failure? Ah, no, those who would imitate God must first give as a free gift, without thought of self, perfect love to all, perfect justice through that love, or else they are not like the Father who "maketh His sun to shine on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust."
Charles Osmond paced to and fro, the look of trouble gradually passing from his face. Presently he paused beside the open window; it looked upon the little back garden, a tiny strip of ground, indeed, but just now bright with sunshine and fresh with the beauty of early summer. The sunshine seemed to steal into his heart as he prayed.
"All-Father, drive out my selfish cowardice, my self-righteous conceit. Give me Thy spirit of perfect love to all, give me Thy pure hatred of sin. Melt my coldness with Thy burning charity, and if it be possible make me fit to be Luke Raeburn's friend."
While he still stood by the window a visitor was announced. He had been too much absorbed to catch the name, but it seemed the most natural thing that on turning round he should find himself face to face with the prophet of atheism.
There he stood, a splendid specimen of humanity; every line in his rugged Scottish face bespoke a character of extraordinary force, but the eyes which in public Charles Osmond had seen flashing with the fire of the man's enthusiasm, or gleaming with a cold metallic light which indicated exactly his steely endurance of ill treatment, were now softened and deepened by sadness. His heart went out to him. Already he loved the man, only hitherto the world's opinions had crept into his heart between each meeting, and had paralyzed the free God-like love. But it was to do so no longer. That afternoon he had dealt it a final blow, there was no more any room for it to rear its fair-speaking form, no longer should its veiled selfishness, its so-called virtuous indignation turn him into a Pharisaical judge.
He received him with a hand shake which conveyed to Raeburn much of the warmth, the reality, the friendliness of the man. He had always liked Charles Osmond, but he had generally met him either in public, or when he was harassed and preoccupied. Now, when he was at leisure, when, too, he was in great trouble, he instinctively perceived that Osmond had in a rare degree the broad-hearted sympathy which he was just now in need of. From that minute a life-long friendship sprung up between the two men.
"I came really to see your son," said Raeburn, "but they tell me he is out. I wish to know the whole truth about Erica." It was not his way to speak very much where he felt deeply, and Charles Osmond could detect all the deep anxiety, the half-indulged hope which lay hidden behind the strong reserved exterior. He had heard enough of the case to be able to satisfy him, to assure him that there was no danger, that all must be left to time and patience and careful observance of the doctor's regulations. Raeburn sighed with relief at the repeated assurance that there was no danger, that recovery was only a question of time. Death had so recently visited his home that a grisly fear had taken possession of his heart. Once free of that, he could speak almost cheerfully of the lesser evil.
"It will be a great trial to her, such absolute imprisonment; she is never happy unless she is hard at work. But she is brave and strong-willed. Will you look in and see her when you can?"
"Certainly," said Charles Osmond. "We must do our best to keep up her spirits."
"Yes, luckily she is a great reader, otherwise such a long rest would be intolerable, I should fancy."
"You do not object to my coming to see her?" said Charles Osmond, looking full into his companion's eyes. "You know that we discuss religious questions pretty freely."
"Religious questions always are freely discussed in my house," said Raeburn. "It will be the greatest advantage to her to have to turn things well over in her mind. Besides, we always make a point of studying our adversaries' case even more closely than our own, and, if she has a chance of doing it personally as well as through books, all the better."
"But supposing that such an unlikely thing were to happen as that she should see reason to change her present views? Supposing, if you can suppose anything so unlikely, she should ever in future years come to believe in Christianity?"
Raeburn smiled, not quite pleasantly.
"It is as you say such a very remote contingency!" He paused, grew grave, then continued with all his native nobility: "Yet I like you the better for having brought forward such an idea, improbable as I hope it may be considered. I feel very sure of Erica. She has thought a great deal, she has had every possible advantage. We never teach on authority; she has been left perfectly free and has learned to weigh evidences and probabilities, not to be led astray by any emotional fancies, but to be guided by reason. She has always heard both sides of the case; she has lived as it were in an atmosphere of debate, and has been, and of course always will be, quite free to form her own opinion on every subject. It is not for nothing that we call ourselves Freethinkers. Absolute freedom of thought and speech is part of our creed. So far from objecting to your holding free discussions with my daughter, I shall be positively grateful to you, and particularly just now. I fancy Erica has inherited enough of my nature to enjoy nothing better than a little opposition."
"I know you are a born fighter," said Charles Osmond. "We sympathize with each other in that. And next to the bliss of a hard-won victory, I place the satisfaction of being well conquered."
"I am glad we think alike there. People are very fond of describing me as a big bull dog, but if they would think a little, they would see that the love of overcoming obstacles is deeply rooted in the heart of every true man. What is the meaning of our English love of field sports? What the explanation of the mania for Alpine climbing? It is no despicable craving for distinction, it is the innate love of fighting, struggling, and conquering."
"Well, there are many obstacles which we can struggle to remove, side by side," said Charles Osmond. "We should be like one man, I fancy on the question of the opium trade, for instance."
In a few vigorous words Raeburn denounced this monstrous national sin.
"Are you going to the meeting tonight?" he added, after a pause.
"Yes, I had thought of it. Let us go together. Shall you speak?"
"Not tonight," said Raeburn, a smile flickering about his usually stern lips. "The Right Reverend Father, etc., etc., who is to occupy the chair, might object to announcing that 'Mr. Raeburn would now address the meeting.' No, this is not the time or place for me. So prejudiced are people that the mere connection of my name with the question would probably do more harm than good. I should like, I confess, to get up without introduction, to speak not from the platform but from among the audience incognito. But that is impossible for a man who has the misfortune to be five inches above the average height, and whose white hair has become a proverb, since some one made the unfortunate remark, repeated in a hundred newspapers, that the 'hoary head was only a crown of glory when found in the way of righteousness.'"
Charles Osmond could not help laughing.
"The worst of these newspaper days is that one never can make an end of anything. That remark has been made to me since at several meetings. At the last, I told the speaker that I was so tired of comments on my personal appearance that I should soon have to resort either to the dyer or the wigmaker. But here am I wasting your time and my own, and forgetting the poor little maid at home. Goodbye. I'll call in passing, then, at a quarter to eight. Tom Craigie will probably be with me, he is very rabid on the subject."
"Craigie and I are quite old friends," said Charles Osmond.
And then, as on the preceding night he had stood at the door while Erica crossed the square, so now involuntarily his eyes followed Raeburn. In his very walk the character of the man was indicated firm, steady, imperturbable, straightforward.
CHAPTER XIV. Charles Osmond Speaks His Mind
Fiat justitia ruat coelum. Proverb
Justice, the miracle worker among men. John Bright (July 14, 1868.)
"I thought you were never coming to see me," said Erica, putting down a newspaper and looking up with eager welcome at Charles Osmond, who had just been announced.
"It has not been for want of will," he replied, sitting down near her couch, "but I have been overwhelmed with work the last few days. How are you getting on? I'm glad you don't altogether refuse to see your prophet of evil."
"It would have been worse if you hadn't spoken," she said, in the tone of one trying hard to make the best of things. "I was rather rash though to say that I should like my wheels to run down; I didn't know how terrible it is to be still. One does so grudge all the lost time."
"But you will not let this be lost time you will read."
"Oh, yes, happily I can do that. And Mrs. McNaughton is going to give me physiology lessons, and dear old Professor Gosse has promised to come and teach me whenever he can. He is so devoted to father, you know, I think he would do anything for me just because I am his child. It is a comfort that father has so many real good friends. What I do so hate though is the thought of having to be a passive verb for so long. You've no idea how aggravating it is to lie here and listen to all that is going on, to hear of great meetings and not to be able to go, to hear of work to be done and not to be able to do it. And I suppose one notices little things more when one is ill, for just to lie still and watch our clumsy little servant lay the table for dinner, clattering down the knives and forks and tossing down the plates, makes me actually cross. And then they let the room get so untidy; just look at that stack of books for reviewing, and that chaos of papers in the corner. If I could but get up for just five minutes I shouldn't mind."
"Poor child," said Charles Osmond, "this comes very hard on you."
"I know I'm grumbling dreadfully, but if you knew how horrid it is to be cut off from everything! And, of course, it happens that another controversy is beginning about that Longstaff report. I have been reading half a dozen of today's newspapers, and each one is worse than the last. Look here! Just read that, and try to imagine that it's your father they are slandering! Oh, if I could but get up for one minute and stamp!"
"And is this untrue?" asked Charles Osmond, when he had finished the account in question.
"There is just enough truth in it to make it worse than a direct lie," said Erica, hotly. "They have quoted his own words, but in a sense in which he never meant them, or they have quite disregarded the context. If you will give me those books on the table, I'll just show you how they have misrepresented him by hacking out single sentences, and twisting and distorting all he says in public."
Charles Osmond looked at the passages referred to, and saw that Erica had not complained without reason.
"Yes, that is very unfair shamefully unfair," he said. Then, after a pause, he added, abruptly: "Erica, are you good at languages?"
"I am very fond of them," she said, surprised at the sudden turn he had given to the conversation.
"Supposing that Mr. Raeburn's speeches and doings were a good deal spoken of in Europe, as no doubt they are, and that a long time after his death one of his successors made some converts to secularism in Italy, and wrote in Italian all that he could remember of the life and words of his late teacher. Then suppose that the Italian life of Raeburn was translated into Chinese, and that hundreds of years after, a heathen Chinee sat down to read it. His Oriental mind found it hard to understand Mr. Raeburn's thoroughly Western mind; he didn't see anything noble in Mr. Raeburn's character, couldn't understand his mode of thought, read through the life, perhaps studied it after a fashion, or believed he did; then shut it up, and said there might possibly have been such a man, but the proofs were very weak, and, even if he had lived, he didn't think he was any great shakes, though the people did make such a fuss about him. Would you call that heathen Chinee fair?"