But her loving disregard of all danger and difficulty was no longer inspired by love of him, but by love of what Raeburn considered a myth and a delusion.
In that lay the real sting. He courage, her suffering, all seemed to him wasted, altogether on the wrong side. Once more black gloom fell upon him. The room grew dusk then dark, but still he remained motionless.
Again he was interrupted by a knock at his door.
"Signor Civita wished to speak to him."
He braced himself up for an interview with some stranger, and in walked a foreigner wrapped in a long cloak, and looking exceedingly like a stage brigand.
He bowed, the brigand bowed too, and said something rapid and unintelligible in Italian. Then glanced at the door to see that it was safely closed, he made a bound to the open window and shut it noiselessly. Raeburn quietly reached down a loaded revolver which hung about the mantel piece, and cocked it, whereupon the brigand fell into a paroxysm of laughter, and exclaimed in German:
"Why, my good friend! Do you not know me?"
"Haeberlein!" exclaimed Raeburn, in utter amazement, submitting to a German embrace.
"Eric himself and no other!" returned the brigand. "Draw your curtains and lock your door and you shall see me in the flesh. I am half stifled in this lordly wig."
"Wait," said Raeburn. "Be cautious."
He left him for a minute, and Haeberlein heard him giving orders that no one else was to be admitted that evening. Then he came back, quietly bolted the door, closed the shutters, and lighted the gas. In the meantime his friend threw off his cloak, removed the wig of long, dark hair, and the drooping mustache and shaggy eyebrows, revealing his natural face and form. Raeburn grasped his hand once more.
"Now I feel that I've got you, Eric!" he exclaimed. "What lucky chance has brought you so unexpectedly?"
"No lucky one!" said Haeberlein, with an expressive motion of the shoulders. "But of that anon; let me look at you, old fellow why you're as white as a miller! Call yourself six-and-forty! You might pass for my grandfather!"
Raeburn, who had a large reserve fund of humor, caught up his friend's black wig from the table and put it on above his own thick, white hair, showing plainly enough that in face and spirits he was as young as ever. It was seven years since they had met, and they fell to talk of reminiscences, and in the happiness of their meeting put off the more serious matters which must be discussed before long. It was a good half hour before Haeberlein alluded to the occasion of his present visit.
"Bring actually in London, I couldn't resist looking in upon you," he said, a cloud of care coming over his face. "I only hope it won't get you into a scrape. I came over to try to avert this deplorable business about poor Kellner too late, I fear. And the worst of it is, I must have blundered somehow for my coming leaked out, and they are on the watch for me. If I get safe across to France tonight, I shall be lucky."
"Incautious as ever," sighed Raeburn. "And that Kellner richly deserves his fate. Why should you meddle?"
"I was bound to," said Haeberlein. "He did me many a good turn during my exile, and though he has made a grave mistake, yet—"
"Yet you must run your chivalrous head into a halter for his sake!" exclaimed Raeburn. "You were ever Quixote. I shall live to see you hanged yet."
"No, I don't think you will," he said, cheerfully. "I've had some bad falls, but I've always fallen on my feet. With a good cause, a man has little to fear."
"If this WERE a good cause," said Raeburn, with significant emphasis.
"It was the least I could do," said Haeberlein, with the chivalrous disregard of self which was his chief characteristic. "I only fear that my coming here may involve you in it which Heaven forfend! I should never forgive myself if I injured your reputation."
Raeburn smiled rather bitterly.
"You need not fear that. My reputation has long been at the mercy of all the lying braggarts in the country. Men label me socialist one day, individualist the next. I become communist or egotist, as is most convenient to the speaker and most damaging to myself. But there," he exclaimed, regaining the tranquil serenity which characterized him, "why should I rail at the world when I might be talking to you? How is my old friend Hans?"
The sound of a key in the latch startled them.
"It is only Erica," said Raeburn. "I had forgotten she was out."
"My pretty little namesake! I should like to see her. Is she still a zealous little atheist?"
"No, she has become a Christian," said Raeburn, speaking with some effort.
"So!" exclaimed Haeberlein, without further comment. He himself was of no particular creed; he was just indifferent, and the zeal of his friend often surprised him.
Raeburn went out into the passage, drew Erica into the front sitting room, and closed the door.
"There is an old friend of yours in my study," he said. "He wishes to see you, but you must promise secrecy, for he is in danger."
"Is it Herr Haeberlein?" asked Erica.
"Yes, on one of his rash, kindly errands, but one of which I don't approve. However, his work is over, and we must try to get him safely off to France. Come in with me if you will, but I wanted to tell you about it first, so that you should not be mixed up with this against your will, which would be unfair!"
"Would it?" said Erica, smiling, as she slipped her hand into his.
Haeberlein had taken a newspaper out of his pocket, and was searching for something. The gas light fell on his clean-shaven face, revealing a sweet-tempered mouth, keen blue eyes, a broad German forehead, and closely cropped iron-gray hair. Erica thought him scarcely altered since their last meeting. He threw down his newspaper as she approached.
"Well, my Herzblattchen!" he exclaimed, saluting her with a double kiss, "so you are not ashamed of your old friend? So," holding her at arms' length and regarding her critically, "Potztausend! The English girls do beat ours all to nothing. Well, my Liebchen, dost thou remember the day when thou carried the Casati dispatches in thy geography book under the very nose of a spy? It was a brave deed that, and it saved a brave man's life."
Erica smiled and colored. "I was not so brave as I seemed," she said. "My heart was beating so loud, I thought people must hear it."
"Has thou never heard the saying of the first Napoleon, 'The bravest man is he who can conceal his fear?' I do not come under that category, for I never had fear never felt it. Thou wouldst not dream, Herzblattchen, that spies are at this moment dogging my steps while I jest here with thee?"
"Is that indeed true?" exclaimed Erica.
They explained to her a little more of Haeberlein's errand and the risk he ran; he alluded to his hopes that Raeburn might not be involved in any unpleasant consequences. Erica grew pale at the bare suggestion.
"See," exclaimed Haeberlein, "the little one cares more for your reputation than you do yourself, my friend. See what it is to have a daughter who can be afraid for you, though she can not be afraid for herself! But, Liebchen, Thou must not blame me for coming to see him. Think! My best friend, and unseen for seven years!"
"It is worth a good deal of risk," said Erica, brightly. But as the terror or having her father's name mentioned in connection with Herr Kellner's once more returned to her, she added, pleadingly, "And you WILL be careful when you leave the house?"
"Yes, indeed," said Haeberlein. "See what a disguise I have."
He hastily donned the black wig, mustache and eyebrows, and the long Italian cloak.
Erica looked at him critically.
"Art thou not satisfied?" he asked.
"Not a bit," she said, promptly. "In London every one would turn to look twice at such a dress as that, which is what you want to avoid. Besides, those eyebrows are so outrageous, so evidently false."
She thought for a minute.
"My brown Inverness," suggested Raeburn.
"Too thick for a summer night," said Erica, "and" glancing from her father to Haeberlein "too long to look natural. I think Tom's ulster and traveling hat would be better."
"Commend me to a woman when you want sound advice!" cried Haeberlein.
Erica went to search Tom's room for the ulster, and in the meantime Haeberlein showed his friend a paragraph in one of the evening papers which proved to Raeburn that the risk was indeed very great. They were discussing things much more gravely when Erica returned.
"The stations will be watched," Haeberlein was saying.
"What station do you go to?" asked Erica.
"I thought of trying Cannon Street," replied the German.
"Because," continued Erica, "I think you had better let me see you off. You will look like a young Englishman, and I shall do all the talking, so that you need not betray your accent. They would never dream of Herr Haeberlein laughing and talking with a young girl."
"They would never dream that a young girl would be brave enough to run such a risk!" said Haeberlein. "No, my sweet Herzblattchen, I could not bring thee into danger."
"There will be none for me," said Erica, "and it may save you from evil and my father from suspicion. Father, if you will let me, it would be more of a disguise than anything."
"You might meet some one you know," said Raeburn.
"Very unlikely," she replied. "And even if I did, what would it matter? I need not tell them anything, and Herr Haeberlein would get off all the same."
He saw that she was too pure and too unconventional to understand his objection, but his whole heart rebelled against the idea of letting her undertake the task, and it was only after much persuasion that she drew from him a reluctant consent. After all, it would be a great safeguard to Haeberlein, and Haeberlein was his dearest friend. For no one else could he have risked what was so precious to him. There was very little time for discussion. The instant his permission was given, Erica ran upstairs to Tom's private den, lighted his gas stove, and made a cup of chocolate, at the same time blackening a cork very carefully. In a few minutes she returned to the study, carrying the chocolate and a plate of rusks, which she remembered were a particular weakness of Herr Haeberlein's. She found that in her absence the two had been discussing matters again, for Haeberlein met her with another remonstrance.
"Liebe Erica," he began, "I yielded just now to thy generous proposal; but I think it will not do. For myself I can be rash, but not for thee. Thou art too frail and lovely, my little one, to get mixed up with the grim realities of such a life as mine."
She only laughed. "Why, I have been mixed up with them ever since I was a baby!"
"True; but now it is different. The world might judge thee harshly, people might say things which would wound thee."
"They say! 'LET them say!'" quoted Erica, smiling, "mens conscia recti will carry one through worse things than a little slander. No, no, you must really let me have my own way. It is right, and there's an end of it!"
Raeburn let things run their course; he agreed with Erica all the time, though his heart impelled him to keep her at home. And as to Eric Haeberlein, it would have needed a far stronger mind than that of the sweet-tempered, quixotic German to resist the generous help offered by such a lovely girl.
There was no time to lose; the latest train for the Continent left at 9:25, and before Haeberlein had adjusted his new disguise the clock struck nine. Erica very carefully blackened his eyebrows and ruthlessly sheared the long black wig to an ordinary and unnoticeable length, and, when Tom's ulster and hat were added, the disguise was so perfect, and made Haeberlein look so absurdly young, that Raeburn himself could not possibly have recognized him.
In past years Raeburn had often risked a great deal for his friend. At one time his house had been watched day and night in consequence of his well-known friendship with the Republican Don Quixote. Unfortunately, therefore, it was only too probable that Haeberlein in risking his visit this evening might have run into a trap. If he were being searched for, his friend's house would almost inevitably be watched.
They exchanged farewells, not without some show of emotion on each side, and just at the last Raeburn hastily bent down and kissed Erica's forehead, at his heart a sickening sense of anxiety. She too was anxious, but she was very happy to have found on the evening of her baptism so unusual a service to render to her father, and, besides, the consciousness of danger always raised her spirits.
When, as they had half expected, they found the would-be natural-looking detective prowling up and down the cul-de-sac, it was no effort to her to begin at once a laughing account of a school examination which Charles Osmond had told her about, and so naturally and brightly did she talk that, though actually brushing past the spy under the full light of the street lamp., she entirely disarmed suspicion.
It was a horrible moment, however. Her heart beat wildly as they passed on, and every moment she thought she should hear quick steps behind them. But nothing came of it, and in a few minutes they were walking down Southampton Row. When this was safely passed, she began to feel comparatively at ease. Haeberlein thought they might take a cab.
"Not a hansom," she said, quickly, as he was on the point of hailing one. "You would be so much more exposed, you know!"
Haeberlein extolled her common sense, and they secured a four-wheeler and drove to Cannon Street.
Talking now became more possible. Haeberlein leaned far back in the corner, and spoke in low tones.
"Thou has been my salvation, Erica," he said, pressing her hand. "That fellow would never have let me pass in the Italian costume. Thou wert right as usual, it was theatrical how do you call stagey, is it not?
"I am a little troubled about your mouth," said Erica, smiling, "the mustache doesn't disguise it, and it looks so good-tempered and like itself. Can't you feel severe just for half an hour?"
Haeberlein smiled his irresistibly sweet smile, and tried to comply with her wishes, but not very successfully.
"I think," said Erica, presently, "it will be the best way, if you don't mind, for you just to stroll through the booking office while I take your ticket. I can meet you by the book stall and I will still talk for us both in case you betray your accent."
"HERZBLATTCHEN!" exclaimed Haeberlein, "how shall I ever repay thee! Thou art a real canny little Scot! I only wish I had half thy caution and forethought!"
"Don't look like that!" said Erica, laughing, as the benignant expression once more came over his lips. "You really must try to turn down the corners! Your character is a silent, morose misanthrope. I am the chatter box, pure and simple."
They were both laughing when they drew near to the station, but a sense of the risk sobered Haeberlein, and Erica carried out her programme to perfection. It was rather a shock to her, indeed, to find a detective keenly inspecting all who went to the ticket office. He stood so close to the pigeon hole that Erica doubted whether Herr Haeberlein's eyebrows, improved though they were, could possibly have escaped detection. It required all her self command to prevent her color from rising and her fingers from trembling as she received the ticket and change under that steady scrutiny. Then she passed out on to the platform and found that Herr Haeberlein had been wise enough to buy the paper which least sympathized with his views, and in a few minutes he was safely disposed in the middle of a well-filled carriage.
Erica took out her watch. There were still three minutes before the train started, three long, interminable minutes! She looked down the platform, and her heart died within her; for, steadily advancing toward them, she saw two men making careful search in every carriage.
Herr Haeberlein was sitting with his back to the engine. Between him and the door sat a lady with a copy of the "Graphic" on her knee. If she could only have been persuaded to read it, it might have made an effectual screen. She tried to will her to take it up, but without success. And still the detectives moved steadily forward with their keen scrutiny.
Erica was in despair. Herr Haeberlein imagined himself safe now, and she could not warn him without attracting the notice and rousing the suspicion of the passengers. To complete her misery, she saw that he had pushed his wig a little on one side, and through the black hair she caught a glimpse of silver gray.
Her heart beat so fast that it almost choked her, but still she forced herself to talk and laugh, though every moment the danger drew nearer. At the very last moment an inspiration came to her. The detectives were examining the next carriage.
"They are taking things in the most leisurely way tonight!" she exclaimed. "I'm tired of waiting. I shall say goodbye to you, and go home, I think."
As she spoke, she opened the carriage door stepped in, and demonstratively kissed her silent companion, much to the amusement of the passengers, who had been a good deal diverted by her racy conversation and the grumpy replies of the traveler. There was a smile on every face when one of the detectives looked in. He glanced to the other side of the carriage and saw a dark-haired young man in an ulster, and a pretty girl taking leave of her lover. Erica's face entirely hid Herr Haeberlien's from view and the man passed on with a shrug and a smile. She had contrived to readjust his wig, and with many last words, managed to spin out the remaining time, till at last the welcome signal of departure was given.
Haeberlein's mouth relaxed into a benignant smile, as he nodded a farewell; then he discreetly composed himself into a sleeping posture, while Erica stood on the platform and waved her handkerchief.
As she moved away the two detectives passed by her.
"Not there! At any rate," she heard one of them say. "Maybe they got him by the nine o'clock at Waterloo."
"More likely trapped him in Guilford Terrace," replied the other.
Erica, shaking with suppressed laughter, saw the men leave the station; and then, springing into a cab, drove to a street in the neighborhood of Guildford Square.
Now that her work was over, she began to feel what a terrible strain it had been. At first she lay back in the corner of the cab in a state of dreamy peace, watching the gas-lighted streets, the hurrying passengers, with a comfortable sense of security and rest. But when she was set down near Guilford Square, her courage, which in real danger had never failed her, suddenly ebbed away, and left her merely a young girl, with aching back and weary limbs, with a shrinking dislike of walking alone so late in the evening. Worse of all, her old childish panic had taken hold of her once more; her knees trembled beneath her, as she remembered that she must pass the spy, who would assuredly still be keeping watch in Guilford Terrace. The dread of being secretly watched had always been a torment to her. Spies, sometimes real, sometimes imaginary, had been the terror of her childhood had taken the place of the ghost and bogy panics which assail children brought up in other creeds.
The fact was, she had been living at very high pressure, and she was too much exhausted to conquer her unreasonable fright, which increased every moment, until she was on the point of going to the Osmonds, willing to frame any excuse for so late a visit if only she could get one of them to walk home with her. Honesty and shame hindered her, however, With a great effort of will she forced herself to pass the door, horrified to find how nearly selfish cowardice had induced her to draw her friends into suspicion. Echoes of the hymns sung at her baptism, and at the subsequent confirmation rang in her ears. She walked on more bravely.
By the time she reached Guilford Terrace, she had herself quite in hand. And it was well; for, as she walked down the dreary little alley, a dark form emerged from the shadow, and suddenly confronted her.
Any one might reasonably be a little startled by having a sudden pause made before them by an unknown person on a dark night. Erica thought she could exactly sympathize with a shying horse; she felt very much inclined to swerve aside. Fortunately she betrayed no fear, only a little surprise, as she lifted her head and looked the man full in the face, then moved on with quiet dignity. She felt him follow her to the very door, and purposely she took out her latch key with great deliberation, and allowed him, if he pleased, to take a quiet survey of the passage while she rubbed her boots on the mat; then, with a delicious sense of safety, she closed the door on the unfriendly gaze..
In the meantime, Raeburn had spent a miserably anxious evening, regretting his rash permission for Erica to go, regretting his own enforced inaction, regretting his well-known and undisguisable face and form, almost regretting that his friend had visited him. Like Erica, he was only personally brave; he could not be brave for other people. Actual risk he would have enjoyed, but this anxious waiting was to him the keenest torture.
When at length the age-long hour had passed, and he heard the front door close, he started up with an exclamation of relief, and hurried out into the passage. Erica greeted him with her brightest smile.
"All safe," she said, following him into the study. "He is well on his way to Folkestone, and we have eluded three spies."
Then, with a good deal of humor, she related the whole of the adventure, at the same time taking off her hat and gloves.
"And you met no one you knew?" asked Raeburn.
"Only the bishop who baptized and confirmed me this evening, and he of course did not recognize me."
As she spoke, she unbuttoned her ulster, disclosing beneath it her white serge dress.
Raeburn sighed. Words and sight both reawakened a grief which he would fain have put from him.
But Erica came and sat down on the hearth rug, and nestled up to him just as usual. "I am so tired, padre mio!" she exclaimed. "But it has been well worth it."
Raeburn did not answer. She looked up in his face.
"What are you thinking?"
"I was thinking that few people had such an ending to their confirmation day," said Raeburn.
"I thank God for it," said Erica. "Oh, father! There is so much, so very much we still have in common! And I am so glad this happened tonight of all nights!"
He stroked her hair caressingly, but did not speak.
CHAPTER XXIV. The New Relations
For all men live and judge amiss Whose talents jump not just with his. Hudibras
Comfortable moles, whom what they do Teaches the limit of the just and true. (And for such doing they require not eyes). Matthew Arnold
One bright afternoon about a week after this, Erica found herself actually in the train, and on her way to Greyshot. At first she had disliked the idea, but her father had evidently wished her to accept the invitation, and a hope of uniting again the two families would have stimulated her to a much more formidable undertaking than a visit of a few weeks to perfect strangers. She knew nothing of the proposal made to her father; her own letter had been most kind, and after all, though she did not like the actual leaving home, she could not but look forward to a rest and change after the long summer months in town. Moreover, Aunt Jean had just returned, after a brief holiday, and the home atmosphere for the last two or three days had been very trying; she felt as if a change would make her better able to bear the small daily frets and annoyances, and not unnaturally looked forward to the delicious rest of unity. A Christian home ought to be delightful; she had never stayed in one, and had a high ideal.
It was about six o'clock by the time she reached her journey's end, and, waiting for her on the platform, she had no difficulty in recognizing her aunt, a taller and fairer edition of Mrs. Craigie, who received her with a kind, nervous diffident greeting, and seemed very anxious indeed about her luggage, which was speedily brought to light by the footman, and safely conveyed to the carriage. Erica, used to complete independence, felt as if she were being transformed into a sort of grown-up baby, as she was relieved of her bag and umbrella and guided down the steps, and assisted into the open landau, and carefully tucked in with a carriage rug.
"I hope you are not overtired with the journey?" inquired her aunt with an air of the kindest and most anxious solicitude.
Accustomed to a really hard life in London, Erica almost laughed at the idea of being overtired by such a short journey.
"Oh, I have enjoyed it, thank you," she replied. "What a lovely line it is!"
"Is it?" said her aunt, a little surprised. "I didn't know it was considered specially pretty, and I myself am never able to look much at the scenery in traveling; it always gives me a headache."
"What a pity!" said Erica. "It is such a treat, I think. In fact, it is the only way in which I have seen what people call scenery. I never stayed in the country in my life."
"My dear, is it possible," exclaimed Mrs. Fane-Smith, in a horrified voice. "Yet you do not look pale. Do you mean that you have spent your whole life in town?"
"I was at Paris for two years," said Erica; "and twice I have spent a little time at the sea-side; and, years and years ago, father was once taken ill at Southampton, and we went to him there that was almost like the country I mean, one could get country walks. It was delightful; there was a splendid avenue, you know, and oh, such a common! It was in the spring time. I shall never forget the yellow gorse and the hawthorns, and such beautiful velvety grass."
Her enthusiasm pleased her aunt; moreover, it was a great relief to find the unknown niece well-bred and companionable, and not overburdened with shyness. Already Mrs. Fane-Smith loved her, and felt that the invitation, which she had given really from a strong sense of duty, was likely to give her pleasure instead of discomfort. All the way home, while Erica admired the Greyshot streets, and asked questions about the various buildings, Mrs. Fane-Smith was rejoicing that so fair a "brand," as she mentally expressed it, had been "plucked from the burning," and resolving that she would adopt her as a second daughter, and, if possible, induce her to take their name and drop the notorious "Raeburn." The relief was great, for on the way to the station, Mrs. Fane-Smith had been revolving the unpleasant thought in her mind that "really there was no knowing, Erica might be 'anything' since her mother was a 'nobody.'"
At last they drew up before a large house in the most fashionable of the Greyshot squares, the windows and balconies of which were gay with flowers.
"We shall find Rose at home, I expect," said Mrs. Fane-Smith, leading Erica across a marble-paved hall, and even as she spoke a merry voice came from the staircase, and down ran a fair-haired girl, with a charmingly eager and naive manner.
Erica had guessed what she must be from the quaint and kindly meant letter which she had sent her years before, and though five years in society had somewhat artificialized Rose, she still retained much of her childishness and impetuous honesty. She slipped her arm into her cousin's, and took her off to her room at once.
"I am so glad you have come!" she exclaimed. "I have been longing to see you for years and years. Mamma has been talking so much about your cleverness and my stupidity that just at the last I felt quite in a fright lest you should be too dreadfully 'blue.' I looked out of the drawing room window for you, and if you had been very forbidding I should have received you in state in the drawing room, but you were so charmingly pretty that I was obliged to rush down headlong to meet you."
Erica laughed and blushed, not being used to such broad compliments. In the meantime, they had traversed several flights of stairs, and Rose, opening a door, showed her into a spacious bedroom, most luxuriously fitted up.
"This great big room for me!" exclaimed Erica.
"It isn't at all ghostly," said Rose, reassuringly. "Will you be afraid if you have a night light?"
Erica laughed at the idea of being afraid; she was merely amused to think of herself established in such a palatial bedroom, such a contrast to the little book-lined room at home. There was a dainty little book case here, however, with some beautifully bound books, and in another minute she was delightedly scanning their titles, and, with a joyous exclamation, had caught up Browning's "Christmas-eve and Easter-day," when a sound of dismay from her cousin made her laughingly put it down again.
"Oh, dear me!" said Rose, in a despairing voice, "I am afraid, after all, you are dreadfully blue. Fancy snatching up a Browning like that!"
Erica began to unlock her trunk.
"Do you want your things out?" said Rose. "I'll ring for Gemma; she'll unpack for you."
"Oh, thank you," said Erica, "I would much rather do it myself."
"But it is nearly dinner time, we are dining early this evening, and you will want Gemma to help you to dress."
"Oh, no," said Erica, laughing, "I never had a maid in my life."
"How funny," said Rose, "I shouldn't know what to do without one. Gemma does everything for me, at least everything that Elspeth will let her."
"Is she Italian?" asked Erica.
"Oh, no, her name is really Jemima; but that was quite too dreadfully ugly, you know, and she is such a pretty girl."
She chattered on while Erica unpacked and put on her white serge, then they went down to the drawing room where Erica was introduced to her host, a small elderly man, who looked as if the Indian sun had partially frizzled him. He received her kindly, but with a sort of ceremonious stiffness which made her feel less perfectly at her east than before, and after the usual remarks about the length of the journey, and the beauty of the weather, he relapsed into silence, surveying every one from his arm chair as though he were passing mental judgments on every foolish or trifling remark uttered. In reality, he was taking in every particular about Erica. He looked at her broad forehead, overshadowed by the thick smooth waves of short auburn hair, observed her golden-brown eyes which were just now as clear as amber; noted the creamy whiteness and delicate coloring of her complexion, which indeed defied criticism even the criticism of such a critical man as Mr. Fane-Smith. The nose was perhaps a trifle too long, the chin too prominent, for ideal beauty, but greater regularity of feature could but have rendered less quaint, less powerful, and less attractive the strangely winsome face. It was only the mouth which he did not feel satisfied with it added character to the face, but he somehow felt that it betokened a nature not easily led, not so gentle and pliable as he could have wished. It shut so very firmly and the under lip was a little thinner and straighter than the other and receded a little from it, giving the impression that Erica had borne much suffering, and had exercised great self-restraint.
Mrs. Fane-Smith saw in her a sort of miniature and feminine edition of the Luke Raeburn whom she remembered eight-and-twenty years before in their Scottish home. When Rose had gone into the back drawing room to fetch her crewels, she drew Erica toward her, and kissing her again, said in a low, almost frightened voice:
"You are very like what your father was."
But just at that moment Mr. Fane-Smith asked some sudden question, and his wife, starting and coloring, as though she had been detected in wrong-doing, hurriedly and nervously devoted herself to what seemed to Erica a distractingly round-about answer. By the time it was fairly ended, dinner was announced, and the strangeness of the atmosphere of this new home struck more and more upon Erica and chilled her a little. The massive grandeur of the old oak furniture, the huge oil paintings, which she wanted really to study, the great silver candelabra, even the two footmen and the solemn old butler seemed to oppress her. The luxury was almost burdensome. It was a treat indeed to see and use beautiful glass and china, and pleasant to have beautiful fruit and flowers to look at, but Erica was a bohemian and hated stiff ceremony Her heart failed her when she thought of sitting down night after night to such an interminable meal. Worse still, she had taken a dislike to her host. Her likes and dislikes were always characterized by Highland intensity, and something in her aunt's husband seemed to rub her the wrong way. Mr. Fane-Smith was a retired Indian judge, a man much respected in the religious world, and in his way a really good man; but undoubtedly his sympathies were narrow and his creed hard. Closely intwined with much true and active Christianity, he had allowed to spring up a choking overgrowth of hard criticism, of intolerance, of domineering dogmatism. He was one of those men who go about the world, trying, not to find points of union with all men, but ferreting out the most trifling points of divergence. He did this with the best intentions, no doubt, but as Erica's whole view of life, and of Christian life in particular, was the direct opposite of his, their natures inevitably jarred.
She knew that it was foolish to expect every Christian household to be equal to the Osmonds', but nevertheless a bitter sense of disappointment stole over her that evening. Where was the sense of restful unity which she had looked forward to? The new atmosphere felt strange, the new order of life this luxurious easy life was hard to comprehend.
To add to her dislike Mr. Fane-Smith was something of an epicure and had a most fastidious palate. Now, Erica's father thought scarcely anything about what he ate it was indeed upon record that he had once in a fit of absence dined upon a plate of scraps intended for Friskarina, while engaged in some scientific discussion with the professor. Mr. Fane-Smith, on the other hand, though convinced that the motto of all atheists was "Let us eat and drink for tomorrow we die," criticized his food almost as severely as he criticized human beings. The mulligatawny was not to his taste. The curry was too not. He was sure the jelly was made with that detestable stuff gelatine; he wished his wife would forbid the cook to use it if she had seen old horses being led into a gelatine manufactory as he had seen, she would be more particular.
Interspersed between these compliments was conversation which irritated Erica even more. It was chiefly about the sayings and doings of people whom she did not know, and the doings of some clergyman in a neighboring town seemed to receive severe censure, for Mr. Fane-Smith stigmatized him as "A most dangerous man, a Pelagian in disguise." However, he seemed to be fond of labeling people with the names of old heresies, for, presently, when Rose said something about Mr. Farrant, her father replied contemptuously:
Every one knows, my dear, that Mr. Farrant holds unorthodox views. Why, a few years ago he was an atheist, and now he's a mere Photinian.
As no one but Mr. Fane-Smith had the faintest idea what a "Photinian" meant, the accusation could neither be understood nor refuted. Mrs. Fane-Smith looked very uncomfortable, fearing that her niece might feel hurt at the tone in which "He was an atheist," had been spoken; and indeed Erica's color did rise.
"Is that Mr. Farrant the member?" she asked.
"Yes," replied her aunt, apprehensively. "Do you know him?"
"Not personally, but I shall always honor him for the splendid speech he made last year on religious toleration," said Erica.
Mr. Fane-Smith raised his eyebrows for the same speech had made him most indignant. However, he began to realize that, before Erica could become a patient recipient of his opinions, like his wife and daughter, he must root out the false ideas which evidently still clung to her.
"Mr. Farrant is no doubt a reformed character now," he admitted. "But he is far from orthodox; far from orthodox! At one time I am told that he was one of the wildest young fellows in the neighborhood, no decent person would speak to him, and though no doubt he means well, yet I could never have confidence in such a man."
"I have heard a good deal about him from my friends the Osmonds," said Erica, stimulated as usual to side with the abused. "Mr. Osmond thinks him the finest character he ever knew."
"Is that the clergyman you told me of?" interposed Mrs. Fane-Smith, anxious to turn the conversation.
But her husband threw in a question, too.
"What, Charles Osmond, do you mean the author of 'Essays on Modern Christianity?"
"Yes," replied Erica.
"I don't know that he is much more orthodox than Mr. Farrant," said Mr. Fane-Smith; "I consider that he has Noetian tendencies."
Erica's color rose and her eyes flashed.
"I do not know whether he is what is called orthodox or not," she said; "but I do know that he is the most Christ-like man I ever met."
Mr. Fane-Smith looked uncomfortable. He would name any number of heresies and heretics, but, except at grace, it was against his sense of etiquette to speak the name of Christ at table.. Even Rose looked surprised, and Mrs. Fane-Smith colored, and at once made the move to go.
On the plea of fetching some work, Erica escaped to her own room, and there tried to cool her cheeks and her temper; but the idea of such a man as Mr. Fane-Smith sitting in judgment on such men as Mr. Farrant and Charles Osmond had thoroughly roused her, and she went down still in a dangerous state a touch would make her anger blaze up.
"Are you fond of knitting?" asked her aunt, making room for her on the sofa, and much relieved to find that her niece was not of the unfeminine "blue" order.
"I don't really like any work," said Erica, "but, of course, a certain amount must be done, and I like to knit my father's socks."
Mr. Fane-Smith, who had just joined them, took note of this answer, and it seemed to surprise and displease him, though he made no remark.
"Did he think that atheists didn't wear socks? Or that their daughters couldn't knit?" thought Erica to herself, with a little resentful inward laugh.
The fact was that Mr. Fane-Smith saw more and more plainly that the niece whom his wife was so anxious to adopt was by no means his ideal of a convert. Of course he was really and honestly thankful that she had adopted Christianity, but it chafed him sorely that she had not exactly adopted his own views. He was a man absolutely convinced that there is but one form of truth, and an exceedingly narrow form he made it, for all mankind. He Mr. Fane-Smith had exactly grasped the whole truth, and whoever swerved to the right or to the left, if only by a hair's breadth, was, he considered, in a dangerous and lamentable condition. Ah! He thought to himself, if only he had had from the beginning the opportunity of influencing Erica, instead of that dangerously broad Charles Osmond. It did not strike him that he HAD had the opportunity ever since his return to England, but had entirely declined to admit an atheist to his house. Other men had labored, and he had entered into the fruit of their labors, and not finding it quite to his taste, fancied that he could have managed much better.
There are few sadder things in the world than to see really good and well-intentioned men fighting for what they consider the religious cause with the devil's weapons. Mr. Fane-Smith would have been dismayed if any one could have shown him that all his life he had been struggling to suppress unbelief by what was infinitely worse than sincere unbelief denunciation often untrue, always unjust, invariably uncharitable. He would have been almost broken-hearted could he ever have known that his hard intolerance, his narrowness, his domineering injustice had not deterred one soul from adopting the views he abhorred, but had, on the contrary, done a great deal to drive into atheism those who were wavering. And this evening, even while lamenting that he had not been able to train up his niece exactly in the opinions he himself held, he was all the time trying her faith more severely than a whole regiment of atheists could have tried it.
The time passed heavily enough. When two people in the room are unhappy and uncomfortable, a sense of unrest generally falls upon the other occupants. Rose yawned, talked fitfully about the gayeties of the coming week, worked half a leaf on an antimacassar, and sang three or four silly little coquettish songs which somehow jarred on every one.
Mrs. Fane-Smith, feeling anxious and harassed, afraid alike of vexing her husband and offending her niece, talked kindly and laboriously. Erica turned the heel of her sock and responded as well as she could, her sensitiveness recoiling almost as much from the labored and therefore oppressive kindness, as from the irritating and narrow censure which Mr. Fane-Smith dealt out to the world.
Family prayers followed. It was the first time she had ever been present at such a household gathering, and the idea seemed to her a very beautiful one. But the function proved so formal and lifeless that it chilled her more than anything. Yet her relations were so very kind to her personally that she blamed herself for feeling disappointed, and struggled hard to pierce through the outer shell, which she knew only concealed their real goodness. She knew, too, that she had herself to blame in part; her oversensitiveness, her quick temper, her want of deep insight had all had their share in making that evening such a blank failure.
Mrs. Fane-Smith went with her into her bedroom to see that she had all she wanted. Though the September evening was mild, a fire blazed in the grate, much to Erica's astonishment. Not on the most freezing of winter nights had she ever enjoyed such a luxury. Her aunt explained that the room looked north, and, besides, she thought a fire was cheerful and home-like.
"You are very kind," said Erica, warmly; "but you know I mustn't let you spoil me, or I shall not be fit to go back to the home life, and I want to go home much more fit for it."
Something in the spontaneous warmth and confidence of this speech cheered Mrs. Fane-Smith. She wished above all things to win her niece's love and confidence, and she wisely reserved her proposal as to the matter of a home for another time. It was necessary, however, that she should give Erica a hint as to the topics likely to irritate Mr. Fane-Smith.
"I think, dear," she began, "it would be as well if, when my husband and Rose are present, you are careful not to speak of your father. You won't mind my saying this; but I know it displeases my husband, and I think you will understand that there are objections, society, you know, and public opinion; we must consult it a little."
Mrs. Fane-Smith grew nervous and incoherent, threw her arms round her niece's neck, kissed her most affectionately, and wished her good night.
When she left the room, Erica's repressed indignation blazed up. We fear it must be recorded that she fairly stamped with anger.
Wounded in her tenderest part, indignant at the insult to her father, ashamed of her own want of control, miserably perplexed by her new surroundings, it was long before she could compose herself. She paced up and down the richly furnished room, struggling hard to conquer her anger. At length, by a happy impulse, she caught up her prayer book, checked her longing to walk rapidly to and fro, sat down on the Indian rug before the fire, and read the evening psalm. It happened to be the thirty-seventh. Nothing could have calmed her so effectually as its tender exhortation, its wonderful sympathy with human nature. "Fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil. Put thou thy trust in the Lord, and be doing good. Put thy trust in Him, and He will bring it to pass."
She closed the book, and sat musing, her anger quite passed away.
All at once she recollected old Elspeth, the nurse. Her father had charged her with many messages to the faithful old servant, and so had her aunt. She felt ashamed to think that she had been several hours in the house without delivering them. Rose's room was close to hers. She went out, and knocked softly at the door.
"I just came to see whether Elspeth was here," she said, rather dismayed to find the candles out, and the room only lighted up by the red glow from the fire.
Rose who had had no temper to conquer, was already in bed. "Still in your dress!" she exclaimed. "I believe you've been at that Browning again. But did no one come to help you? I sent Gemma."
"I didn't want help, thank you," said Erica. "I only wanted to see Elspeth because I have a message for her."
"How conscientious you are!" said Rose, laughing. "I always make a point of forgetting messages when I go from home. Well, you will find Elspeth in the little room on the next half landing, the work room. She was here not two minutes ago. Good night! Breakfast is at nine, you know; and they'll bring you a cup of tea when they call you."
A little shyly, Erica made her way to the work room where Elspeth was tacking frilling into one of Rose's dresses. The old woman started up with a quick exclamation when she appeared in the doorway.
"May I come in?" said Erica, with all the charm of manner which she had inherited from her father. "'Tis very late, but I didn't like to go to bed without seeing you."
"I hope missie has everything she wants?" asked Elspeth, anxiously.
"Yes, indeed!" said Erica. "All I want is to see you, and to give you my father's love, to ask how you are. He and Aunt Jean have often told me about you. You have not forgotten them?"
"Forgotten! No, indeed!" cried old Elspeth. "When I saw you at 'Takin' the book,' and saw you so like your poor father, I could have cried. You are Mr. Luke's bairn, and no mistake, my bonny lassie! Ah, I mind the day well when he came to my room the auld nursery in the parsonage, where I had reared him and told me that master had ordered him out of the house. I pray God I may never again see a face look as his looked then!"
Tears started to her eyes at the recollection. Erica threw her arms round her neck, and kissed her.
"You love him still. I see you love him!" she exclaimed, all her feeling of isolation melting in the assurance of the old servant's sympathy.
So, after all, Erica had a maid in attendance, for Elspeth insisted on seeing her to bed, and, since they talked all the time about the old Scotch days, she was well content to renounce her independence for a little while.
But, whether because of the flickering fire light, or because of the strangeness of the great brass bedstead, with its silken hangings and many-colored Indian rezai, Erica slept very little that night. Perhaps the long talk about her father's early days had taken too great a hold of her. At any rate, she tossed about very restlessly in her luxurious quarters, and when, for brief intervals, she slept, it was only to dream of her father taking leave of his Scottish home, and always he bore that flint-like face, that look of strong endurance and repressed passion which Elspeth had described, and which, in times of trouble and injustice, Erica had learned to know so well.
CHAPTER XXV. Lady Caroline's Dinner
The blank of amaze of your haughty gaze, The cold surprise of patrician eyes. Lewis Morris
But the paucity of Christians is astonishing, considering the number of them. Leigh Hunt.
The irritation, or, at any rate, the novelty of the luxury in the Fane-Smith's household wore off after Erica had spent a few days at Greyshot. She became accustomed to the great rooms, and being artistic by nature and the reverse by education, she began very much to enjoy the pictures, the charming variety of foreign treasures, and particularly all the lovely things of Indian workmanship with which the drawing room was crowded. The long, formal meals she learned to endure. The absurdly large retinue of servants ceased to oppress her; she used to amuse herself by speculating as to the political views of the men-servants! while the luxury of a daily drive with her aunt she very much appreciated.
But, though the mere externals were soon familiar enough, she found that every day increased the difficulty she felt in becoming accustomed to the atmosphere of this family. She had lived all her life with people who were overwhelmed with work, and in a home where recreation was only the rare concession to actual health. Here recreation seemed to be the business of life, while work for the public was merely tacked on as a sort of ornamental fringe.
Mr. Fane-Smith had, indeed, a few committee meetings to attend; Mrs. Fane-Smith visited her district once a fortnight, and distributed tracts, and kind words, and soup tickets, and blanket tickets, besides the most lavish gifts from her own purse. Rose, to please her mother, taught a class of little girls on Sunday afternoon that is to say, she did NOT teach them, but she sat in a chair and heard them say collects, and enforced orderly behavior upon them, and read them a good little story book. But these were merely rather tiresome duties which came in very often as provoking interruptions to the great business of life, namely eating, drinking, dining out, giving dinners, or attending the endless succession of at-homes, dances, musical evenings, amateur theatricals, by which Greyshot people tried to kill time.
As to taking any intelligent interest in the political world, no one seemed to dream of such a thing, except Mr. Fane-Smith, who read the paper at breakfast, and hurled anathemas at all the statesmen whom Erica had learned to love and revere. It taxed her patience to the utmost to sit through the daily diatribe against Sir Michael Cunningham, her hero of heroes. But even the violent opposition seemed preferable to the want of interest shown by the others. Mrs. Fane-Smith had time to fritter away at least half an hour after breakfast in the most desultory conversation, the most fruitless discussions with Rose as to some detail of dress; but she always made the excuse that she "had no time" to read the papers, and amused Erica not a little by asking her husband if "anything particular had been happening lately," when they were just starting for a dinner party. Out of his little rechauffe of the week's news she probably extracted enough information to enable her to display that well-bred interest, that vague and superficial acquaintance with the subject which will pass muster in society, and which probably explains alike the very vapid talk and the wildly false accusations which form the staple of ordinary conversation.
Rose was even more perplexing. She was not only ignorant, but she boasted of her ignorance. Again and again Erica heard her deprecate the introduction of any public question.
"Oh, don't begin to talk of that!" she would exclaim. "I know nothing about it, and never mean to know anything."
Or there would be an imploring appeal.
"Why do you waste your time in talking politics when you have never told me a word about so-and-so's wedding?"
She occasionally read the "Court Circular," and was rather fond of one or two of the "society" papers from which she used to glean choice little paragraphs of personal gossip.
Once one of these papers gave Erica an uncomfortable experience. The elders of the party being out for the evening, Rose and Erica had the drawing room to themselves, and Erica was really enjoying the rare novelty of talking with a girl of her own age. Rose, although the most arrant little flirt, was fond, too, of her girl friends, and she really liked Erica, and enjoyed the fun of initiating her into all the mysteries and delights of society.
"How did you get your name?" she asked, suddenly. "It is so pretty and so uncommon."
"Oh," said Erica, without thinking, "I was called after my father's friend, Eric Haeberlein."
"Eric Haeberlein?" exclaimed Rose. "Why, I was reading something about him this afternoon. Here it is look!" And after searching the columns of her favorite "society" paper, she pointed to the following paragraph:
"It is now known as a positive fact that the notorious Eric Haeberlein was actually in London last week in connection with the disgraceful Kellner business. ON DIT that he escaped detection through the instrumentality of one of the fair sex, whose audacity outweighed her modesty."
Erica could hardly have restrained her indignation had not two real dangers drawn off her attention from her own wounded feelings. Her father was there any hateful hint that he was mixed up with Herr Kellner? She glanced anxiously down the page. No, at least that falsehood had not been promulgated. She breathed more freely, but there was danger still, for Rose was watching her, and feminine curiosity is hard to baffle.
"Did you know about it?" she asked.
Erica did not reply for a moment, but read on, to gain time; then she threw down the paper with an exclamation of disgust.
"How can you read such stuff?"
"Yes, but is that the Eric Haeberlein you were named after? Did he really come to London and escape?"
"There is only one Eric Haeberlein in the world that I know of," said Erica. "But I think, Rose, I was wrong and foolish to mention him. I can't tell you anything about him, and, even if I could, there is my promise to Aunt Isabel. If I am not to talk to you about my father, I certainly ought not to talk about his friends."
Rose acquiesced, and never suspected any mystery. She chatted on happily for the rest of the evening, brought down a great collection of old ball-cards, and with a sort of loving recollection described each very minutely, just as some old nurses have a way of doing with the funeral cards of their deceased friends. This paved the way for a spontaneous confession that she really preferred Mr. Torn, the curate of St. Matthew's, to Captain Golightly, though people were so stupid, and would say she was in love with him just because they flirted a little sometimes. Rose had already imagined herself in love with at least a dozen people, and was quite ready to discuss every one of her flirtations, but she was disappointed to find that her cousin was either very reserved on the subject, or else had nothing to say.
Erica sat listening with a sort of wonder, not unmixed with disgust. Perhaps she might have shown her disapprobation had she not been thankful to have the conversation diverted from the dangerous topic; besides, the cruel words were still rankling in her heart, and woven in with Rose's chatter she heard continually, "whose audacity outweighed her modesty." For the first time she fully understood why her father had so reluctantly consented to her scheme; she began to feel the sting which lay beneath the words, the veiled "hints," the implied evil, more wounding, more damaging than an outspoke lie. Now that she understood the ways of society better, she saw, too, that what had seemed to her an unquestionable duty would be regarded as a grave breach of custom and etiquette. She began to question herself. Had she been right? It mattered very little what the writer of a "society" paper said of her, if she had done the really right thing. What had she done? To save her father's friend from danger, to save her father from unmerited suspicion, she had gone out late in the evening with a man considerably over fifty, whom she had known from her babyhood. He had, it is true, been in the disguise of a young man. She had talked to him on the platform much as she would have talked to Tom, and to save his almost certain detection, had sprung into the carriage, thrown her arms round his neck, and kissed him. HAD audacity outweighed her modesty? Why, all the time she had been thanking God for having allowed her to undertake the difficult task for her father on that particular evening. She had done it in the sight of God, and should she now make herself miserable because the world was wanting in that charity which "thinketh no evil?" No, she had been right of that she was certain. Nevertheless, she understood well enough that society would condemn her action, and would with a smile condone Rose's most outrageous flirtation.
The first week in a new place always seems long, and Erica felt as if she had been away from home for months by the time it was over. Every one had been very kind to her so far, but except when she was playing lawn-tennis she was somehow far from happy., Her happiest moments were really those which she spent in her own room before breakfast, writing; and the "Daily Review" owed some very lively articles to the Greyshot visit. Beyond a sort of clan feeling for her aunt, and a real liking for Rose who, in spite of her follies, was good-humored and very lovable she had not yet found one point of union with her new relations. Even possible topics of conversation were hard to find. They cared nothing for politics, they cared nothing for science, they were none of them book lovers, and it was against their sense of etiquette to speak of anything but the externals of religion. Worst of all, any allusion to home matters, any mention of her father had to be avoided. Little was left but the mere gossip of the neighborhood, which, except as a social study, could not interest Erica.
Greyshot was an idle place; the church seemed asleep, a drowsy indifference hung about the richer inhabitants, while the honest workers not unnaturally banded themself together against the sleepily respectable church-goers, and secularism and one or two other "isms" made rapid advances. Then sleepy orthodoxy lifted its drowsy head for a minute, noted the evil, and abused Mr. Raeburn and his fellow workers, lamenting in many-syllable words the depravity of the working classes and the rapid spread of infidelity. But nothing came of the lament; it never seemed to strike them that they must act as well as talk, that they must renounce their useless, wasteful, un-Christian lives before they had even a right to lift up their voices against secularism, which certainly did in some measure meet the needs of the people. It never seemed to strike them that THEY were the real promoters of infidelity that they not only dishonored the name of Christ, but by their inconsistent lives disgusted people with Christianity, and then refused to have anything more to do with them. Luke Raeburn, if he pulled down with the one hand, at any rate, tried hard to build up with the other; but the people of Greyshot caused in a great degree the ruin and down fall, and then exclaimed, "How shocking!" and turned their backs, thinking to shift their blame on to the secularist leaders.
As far as society goes, they succeeded in thus shifting the blame; the world laid it all on Luke Raeburn, he was a most convenient scapegoat, and so widely does conventional Christianity differ from the religion founded by Christ it soon became among a certain set almost equivalent to a religious act to promulgate bits of personal scandal about him, flavored, of course, with wordy lamentations as to the views he entertained. Thus, under the name of defenders of religion, conventional Christians managed to appear very proper and orthodox, and at the same time to dispose comfortably of all their sense of responsibility. There was a meanness about their way of doing it which might have made the very angels weep! Happily the judgments of society are not the judgments of God.
One of the leaders of society was a certain Lady Caroline Kiteley; she was a good-natured, hospitable creature, very anxious that every one should enjoy life, and a great favorite with all the young people, because she made much of them and gave delightful dances. The elders, too, liked her, and were not oblivious to the fact that she was the daughter of an earl, and the widow of a distinguished general. Erica had seen her more than once during her visit, and had been introduced to her by Mrs. Fane-Smith, as "my niece."
Now it happened that Mr. And Mrs. Fane-Smith and Rose were to dine with Lady Caroline the week after Erica's arrival. On the very day of the dinner party, however, Rose was laid up with a bad cold, and her mother was obliged to write and make her excuses. Late in the afternoon there came in reply one of Lady Caroline's impulsive notes.
"Dear Mrs. Fane-Smith, Scold that silly daughter of yours for catching cold; give her my love, and tell her that I was counting on her very much. Please bring your pretty niece instead. Yours sincerely, Caroline Kiteley."
Mrs. Fane-Smith was glad and sorry at the same time, and very much perplexed. Such a peremptory but open-hearted invitation could not be declined, yet there were dangers in the acceptance. If Erica's name should transpire, it might be very awkward, but she had not broached the suggested change of name to her, and every day her courage dwindled every day that resolute mouth frightened her more. She was quite aware that Erica's steady, courageous honesty would unsparingly condemn all her small weaknesses and little expedients.
Erica, when told of the invitation, was not particularly anxious to go, for she and Rose had been planning a cozy evening at home over a new novel upon which their tastes really agreed. However, Rose assured her that Lady Caroline's parties were always delightful, and hunted her off to dress at least an hour before there was any necessity. Rose was a great authority on dress and, when her cousin returned, began to study her attire critically.
She wore a very simply made dress of moss-green velveteen, high to the throat, and relieved by a deep falling collar of old point. Elspeth had brought her a spray of white banksia roses, but otherwise she wore no ornament. Her style was very different from her cousin's; but Rose could not help approving of it, its severity suited Erica.
"You look lovely!" she exclaimed. "Lady Caroline will quite lose her heart to you! I think you should have that dress cut low in front, though. It is a shame not to show such a pretty neck as you must have."
"Oh, no!" said Erica, quickly; "father can't endure low dresses."
"One can't always dress to please one's father," said Rose. "For the matter of that, I believe papa doesn't like them; but I always wear them. You see it is more economical, one must dress much more expensively if one goes in for high dresses. A little display of neck and arms, and any old rag will look dressy and fashionable, and though I don't care about economy, mamma does."
"You don't have an allowance, then?"
"No; papa declared I ought to dress on eighty pounds a year, but I never could make both ends meet, and I got a tiresome long bill at Langdon's, and that vexed him, so now I get what I like and mamma pays."
Erica made no comment, but was not a little amazed. Presently Mrs. Fane-Smith came in, and seemed well pleased with her niece's appearance.
"You have the old point!" she exclaimed.
"Aunt Jean gave it to me," said Erica. "She never would part with it because it was grandmamma's at least, she did sell it once, when father was ill years ago, and we were at our wit's end for money, but she got it back again before the end of the year."
Mrs. Fane-Smith colored deeply, partly at the idea of her mother's lace being taken to a pawnbroker's, partly to hear that her brother and sister had ever been reduced to such straits. She made an excuse to take Erica away to her room, and there questioned her more than she had yet done about her home.
"I thought your father was so strong," she said. "Yet you speak as if he had had several illnesses."
"He has," replied Erica. "Twice I can remember the time when they thought him dying, besides after the riot last year. Yes, he is strong, but, you see, he has such a hard life. It is bad enough now, and I doubt if any one knows how fearfully he overworked himself during the year in America. The other day I had to look something up in his diary for him, and not till then did I find out how terribly he must have taxed his strength. On an average he got one night's rest in the week, on the others he slept as well as he could in the long cars, which are wretchedly uncomfortable; the sleeping cars being expensive, he wouldn't go in them."
Mrs. Fane-Smith sighed. Her brother was becoming more of a living reality to her; she thought of him less as a type of wickedness. The recollection, too, that she had been all her life enjoying the money which he and her sister Jean had forfeited by their opinions, made her grieve the more over the little details of poverty and privation. Old Mr. Raeburn had left all his money to her, bequeathing to his other daughter and his reprobate son the sum of one shilling, with the hope that Heaven would bring them to a better mind. It was some comfort to learn from Erica that at last the terrible load of debt had been cleared off, and that they were comparatively free from trouble just at present.
With these thoughts in her mind, Mrs. Fane-Smith found herself on her way to Lady Caroline's; but her developing breadth of view was destined to receive a severe shock. They were the last guests to arrive, and at the very moment of their entrance Lady Caroline was talking in her most vivacious way to Mr. Cuthbert, a young clergyman, the vicar of one of the Greyshot churches.
"I am going to give you a treat, Mr. Cuthbert," she said laughingly. "I know you are artistic, and so I intend you to take down that charming niece of Mrs. Fane-Smith's. I assure you she is like a Burne-Jones angel!"
Mr. Cuthbert smiled a quietly superior smile, and coolly surveyed Erica as she came in. Dinner was announced almost immediately, and it was not until Mrs. Fane-Smith had been taken down that Lady Caroline brought Mr. Cuthbert to Erica's side to introduce him. "Why, your aunt has never told me your name," she said, smiling.
"My name is Erica Raeburn," said Erica, quite unconscious that this was a revelation to every one, and that her aunt had purposely spoken of her everywhere as "my niece."
Lady Caroline gave a scarcely perceptible start of surprise, and there was a curious touch of doubt and constraint in her voice as she pronounced the "Mr. Cuthbert, Miss Raeburn." Undoubtedly that name sounded rather strangely in her drawing room, and awoke uncomfortable suggestions.
"Raeburn! Erica Raeburn!" thought Mr. Cuthbert to himself. "Uncommon name in England. Connection, I wonder! Aunt hadn't given her name! That looks odd. I'll see if she has a Scotch accent."
"Are you staying in Greyshot?" he asked as they went down the broad staircase, with its double border of flowering plants.
"Yes," said Erica; "I came last week. What lovely country it is about here!"
"Country," with its thrilled "r," betrayed her nationality, though her accent was of the slightest. Mr. Cuthbert chuckled to himself, for he thought he had caught Mrs. Fane-Smith tripping, and he was a man who derived an immense amount of pleasure from making other people uncomfortable. As a child, he had been a tease; as a big boy, he had been a bully; as a man, he had become a malicious gossip monger. Tonight he thought he saw a chance of good sport, and directly he had said grace, in the momentary pause which usually follows, he turned to Erica with an abrupt, though outwardly courteous question, carried off with a little laugh.
"I hope you are no relation to that despicable infidel who bears your name, Miss Raeburn?"
Erica's color deepened; she almost annihilated him with a flash from her bright indignant eyes.
"I am Luke Raeburn's daughter," she said, in her clearest voice, and with a dignity which, for the time, spoiled Mr. Cuthbert's enjoyment.
Many people had heard the vicar's question during the pause, and not a few listened curiously for the answer which, though quietly spoken, reached many ears, for nothing gives so much penetrating power to words as concentrated will and keen indignation. Before long every one in the room knew that Mrs. Fane-Smith's pretty niece was actually the daughter of "that evil and notorious Raeburn."
Mr. Cuthbert had certainly got his malicious wish; he had succeeded in making Mrs. Fane-Smith miserable, in making his hostess furious, in putting his little neighbor into the most uncomfortable of positions. Of course he was not going to demean himself by talking to "that atheist's daughter." He enjoyed the general discomfiture to his heart's content, and then devoted himself to the lady on his other side.
As for Erica her blood was up. Forced to sit still, forced even to eat at a table where she was an unwelcome guest, her anger got the mastery of her for the time. She was indignant at the insult to her father, indignant, too, that her aunt had ever allowed her to get into such a false position. The very constraint she was forced to put upon herself made her wrath all the deeper. She was no angel yet, though Mr. Burne-Jones might have taken her for a model. She was a quick-tempered little piece of humanity; her passions burned with Highland intensity, her sense of indignation was strong and keen, and the atmosphere of her home, the hard struggle against intolerable bigotry and malicious persecution had from her very babyhood tended to increase this. She had inherited all her father's passion for justice and much of his excessive pride, while her delicate physical frame made her far more sensitive. Moreover, though since that June morning in the museum she had gained a peace and happiness of which in the old days she had never dreamed, yet the entire change had in many ways increased the difficulties of her life. Such a wrench, such an upheaval as it had involved, could not but tell upon her immensely. And, besides, she had in every way for the last three months been living at high pressure.
The grief, the disapproval, the contemptuous pity of her secularist friends had taxed her strength to the utmost, but she had stood firm, and had indeed been living on the heights.
Now the months of Charles Osmond's careful preparation were over, her baptism was over, and a little weary and overdone with all that she had lived through that summer, she had come down to Greyshot expecting rest, and behold, fresh vexations had awaited her!
A nice Christian world! A nice type of a clergyman! she thought to herself, as bitterly as in the old days, and with a touch of sorrow added. The old lines from "Hiawatha," which had been so often on her lips, now rang in her head:
"For his heart was hot within him, Like a living coal his heart was."
She longed to get up and go, but that would have put her aunt in a yet more painful position, and might have annoyed Lady Caroline even more than her presence. She would have given anything to have fainted after the convenient fashion of the heroines of romance, but never had she felt so completely strung up, so conscious of intense vitality. There was nothing for it but endurance. And for two mortal hours she had to sit and endure! Mr. Cuthbert never spoke to her; her neighbor on the other side glanced at her furtively from time to time, but preserved a stony silence; there was an uncomfortable cloud on her hostess's brow; while her aunt, whom she could see at some distance on the other side of the table, looked very white and wretched.
It is wonderful how rude people can be, even in good society, and the looks of "blank amaze," "cold surprise," and "cool curiosity" which Erica received would hardly be credited. A greater purgatory to a sensitive girl, whose pride was by no means conquered, can hardly be conceived.
She choked down a little food, unable to reject everything, but her throat almost refused to swallow it. The glare of the lights, the oppressive atmosphere, the babel of tongues seemed to beat upon her brain, and a sick longing for home almost overmastered her. Oh, to get away from these so-called Christians, with their cruel judgments, their luxuries, their gayeties these hard, rich bigots, who yet belonged to the body she had just joined, with who, in the eyes of her old friends, she should be identified! Oh, for the dear old book-lined study at home! For one moment with her father! One word from a being who loved and trusted her! Tears started to her eyes, but the recollection that even home was no longer a place of refuge checked them. There would be Aunt Jean's wearing remonstrances and sarcastic remarks; there would be Mr. Masterman's patronizing contempt, and Tom's studious avoidance of the matters she had most at heart. Was it worse to be treated as a well-meaning idiot, or as an outcast and semi-heretic? Never till now had she so thoroughly realized her isolation, and she felt so bruised and buffeted and weary that the realization at that particular time was doubly trying.
Isolation is perhaps the greatest of all trials to a sensitive and warm-hearted nature, and nothing but the truest and deepest love for the whole race can possibly keep an isolated person from growing bitter. Erica knew this, had known it ever since Brian had brought her the message from her mother; "It is only love that can keep from bitterness." All through these years she had been struggling hard, and though there had been constant temptations, though the harshness of the bigoted, the insults offered to her father in the name of religion, the countless slights and slanders had tried her to the utmost, she had still struggled upward, and in spite of all had grown in love. But now, for the first time, she found herself completely isolated. The injustice, the hardness of it proved too much for her. She forgot that those who would be peace-makers reconcilers, must be content to receive the treatment which the Prince of Peace received; she forgot that these rich, contemptuous people were her brothers and sisters, and that their hard judgment did not and could not alter their relationship; she forgot all in a burning indignation, in an angry revolt against the injustice of the world.
She would study these people, she would note all their little weaknesses and foibles. Mr. Bircham had given her carte blanche for these three weeks; she would write him a deliciously sarcastic article on modern society. The idea fixed her imagination, she laughed to herself at the thought; for, however sad the fact, it is nevertheless true that to ordinary mortals "revenge is sweet." Had she given herself time to think out matters calmly, she would have seen that boh Christianity and the rules of art were opposed to her idea. It is true that Michael Angelo and other painters used to revenge themselves on the cardinals or enemies they most hated by painting them in the guise of devils, but both they and their art suffered by such a concession to an animal passion. And Erica fell grievously that evening. This is one of the evils of social ostracism. It is unjust, unnatural, and selfish. To preserve what it considers the dignity of society, it drives human beings into an unnatural position; it fosters the very evils which it denounces. And society is grossly unfair. A word, a breath, a false libel in a newspaper is quite sufficient. It will never trouble itself to inquire minutely into the truth, but will pronounce its hasty judgment, and then ostracize.
Erica began to listen attentively to the conversation, and it must be owned that it was not very edifying. Then she studied the faces and manners of her companions, and, being almost in the middle of the table, she had a pretty good view. Every creature she studied maliciously, keenly, sarcastically, until she came to the end of the table, and there a most beautiful face brought her back to herself for a minute with a sort of shock. Where had she seen it before? A strong, manly face of the Roman type, clean-shaven, save for a very slight mustache, which did not conceal the firm yet sensitive mouth; dark eyes, which even as she wondered met hers fully for an instant, and gave her a strange feeling of protection. She knew that at least one person in the room did not shudder at the idea of sitting at table with Luke Raeburn's daughter.
Better thoughts returned to her, she grew a little ashamed of her malice, and began to wonder who that ideal man could be. Apparently he was one of the distinguished guests, for he had taken down Lady Caroline herself. Erica was just too far off to hear what he said, and in another moment she was suddenly recalled to Mr. Cuthbert. He was talking to the old gentleman on her left hand, who had been silently surveying her at intervals as though he fancied she could not be quite human.
"Have you been following this Kellner trial?" asked Mr. Cuthbert. "Disgraceful affair, isn't it?"
Then followed references to Eric Haeberlein, and veiled hints about his London friends and associates more dangerous to the country than say foreigners, "traitors, heady, high-minded," etc., etc. Such evil-doers always managed to keep within the letter of the law; but, for his part, he thought they deserved to be shut up, more than most of those who get penal servitude for life.
Erica's wrath blazed up again. Of course the veiled hints were intended to refer to her father, and the cruelty and insolence of the speaker who knew that she understood his allusions scattered all her better thoughts. It required a strong effort of will to keep her anger and distress from becoming plainly visible. Her unwillingness to give Mr. Cuthbert such a gratification could not have strengthened her sufficiently, but love and loyalty to her father and Eric Haeberlein had carried her through worse ordeals than this.
She showed no trace of embarrassment, but moved a very little further back in her chair, implying by a sort of quiet dignity of manner, that she thought Mr. Cuthbert exceedingly ill-mannered to talk across her.
Feeling that his malicious endeavor had entirely failed, and stung by her dignified disapproval, Mr. Cuthbert struck out vindictively. Breaking the silence he had maintained toward her, he suddenly flashed round upon her with a question.
"I suppose you are intimately acquainted with Eric Haeberlein?"
He tried to make his tone casual and seemingly courteous, but failed.
"What makes you suppose that?" asked Erica, in a cool, quiet voice.
Her perfect self-control, and her exceedingly embarrassing counter-question, quite took him aback. At that very minute, too, there was the pause, and the slight movement, and the glance from Lady Caroline which reminded him that he was the only clergyman present, and had to return thanks. He bent forward, and went through the usual form of "For what we have received," though all the time he was thinking of the "counter-check quarrelsome" he had received from his next-door neighbor. When he raised his head again he found her awaiting his answer, her clear, steady eyes quietly fixed on his face with a look which was at once sad, indignant, and questioning.
His question had been an insulting one. He had meant it to prick and sting, but it is one thing to be indirectly rude, and another to give the "lie direct." Her quiet return question, her dignity, made it impossible for him to insult her openly. He was at her mercy. He colored a little, stammered something incoherent about "thinking it possible."
"You are perfectly right," replied Erica, still speaking in her quietly dignified voice. "I have known Herr Haeberlein since I was a baby, so you will understand that it is quite impossible for me to speak with you about him after hearing the opinions you expressed just now."
For once in his life Mr. Cuthbert felt ashamed of himself. He did not feel comfortable all through dessert, and gave a sigh of relief when the ladies left the room.
As for Erica's other neighbor, he could not help reflecting that Luke Raeburn's daughter had had the best of it in the encounter. And he wondered a little that a man, whom he had known to do many a kindly action, should so completely have forgotten the rules of ordinary courtesy.
CHAPTER XXVI. A Friend
Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of us; but what he, the one man who has understanding of just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say. And therefore you begin in error when you suggest that we should regard the opinion of the many about just and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable.—Plato.
In the drawing room Erica found the ostracism even more complete and more embarrassing. Lady Caroline who was evidently much annoyed, took not the slightest notice of her, but was careful to monopolize the one friendly looking person in the room, a young married lady in pale-blue silk. The other ladies separated into groups of two and threes, and ignored her existence. Lady Caroline's little girl, a child of twelve, was well bred enough to come toward her with some shy remark, but her mother called her to the other side of the room quite sharply, and made some excuse to keep her there, as if contact with Luke Raeburn's daughter would have polluted her.
A weary half hour passed. Then the door opened, and the gentlemen filed in. Erica, half angry, half tired, and wholly miserable, was revolving in her brain some stinging sentences for her article when the beautiful face again checked her. Her "Roman," as she called him, had come in, and was looking round the room, apparently searching for some one. At last their eyes met, and, with a look which said as plainly as words: "Oh, there you are! It was you I wanted," he came straight towards her.
"You must forgive me, Miss Raeburn, for dispensing with an introduction," he said; "but I hardly think we shall need any except the name of our mutual fried, Charles Osmond."
Erica's heart gave a bound. The familiar name, the consciousness that her wretched loneliness was at an end, and above all, the instantaneous perception of the speaker's nobility and breadth of mind, scattered for the time all her resentful thoughts made her again her best self.
"Then you must be Donovan!" she exclaimed, with the quaint and winsome frankness which was one of her greatest charms. "I knew I was sure you were not like other people."
He took her hand in his, and no longer wondered at Brian's seven years' hopeless waiting. But Erica began to realize that her exclamation had been appallingly unconventional, and the beautiful color deepened in her cheeks.
"I beg your pardon," she said, remembering with horror that he was not only a stranger but an M.P., "I I don't know what made me say that, but they have always spoken of you by your Christian name, and you have so long been 'Donovan' in my mind that somehow it slipped out you didn't feel like a stranger."
"I am glad of that," he said, his dark and strangely powerful eyes looking right into hers. Something in that look made her feel positively akin to him. Like a stranger! Of course he had not felt like one. Never could be like anything but a friend. "You see," he continued, "we have known of each other for years, and we know that we have one great bond of union which others have not. Don't retract the 'Donovan' I like it. Let it be the outward sign of the real and unusual likeness in the fight we have fought."
She still half hesitated. He was a man of five-and-thirty, and she could not get over the feeling that her impulsive exclamation had been presumptuous. He saw her uncertainty, and perhaps liked her the better for it, though the delicious naturalness, the child-like recognition of a real though scarcely known friend, had delighted him.
"We are a little more brother and sister than the rest of the world," he said, with the chivalrous manner which seemed to belong naturally to his peculiarly noble face. "And if I were to confess that I had not always thought of you as 'Miss Raeburn'—"
He paused, and Erica laughed. It was absurd to stand on ceremony with this kindred spirit.
"Have you seen the conservatory?" he asked. "Shall we come in there? I want to hear all about the Osmonds."
The relief of speaking with one who knew and loved Charles Osmond, and did not, for want of real knowledge, brand him with the names of half a dozen heresies, was very great. It was not for some time that Erica even glanced at the lovely surroundings, though she had inherited Raeburn's great love of flowers. At last, however, an exquisite white flower attracted her notice, and she broke off in the middle of a sentence.
"Oh, how lovely! I never saw anything like that before. What is it?"
"It is the EUCHARIS AMAZONICA," replied her companion "About the most exquisite flower in the world, I should think the 'dove flower,' as my little ones call it. Ir you look at it from a distance the stamens really look like doves bending down to drink."
"It is perfect! How I wish my father could see it!"
"We have a fairly good one at Oakdene, though not equal to this. We must persuade you and Mr. Raeburn to come and stay with us some day."
The tears came into Erica's eyes, so great was the contrast between his friendliness and the chilling discourtesy she had met with from others that evening.
"You are very good," she said. "If you only knew how hard it is to be treated as if one were a sort of semi-criminal!"
"I do know," he said. "It was this very society which goaded me into a sort of wild rebellion years ago. I deserved its bad opinion in a measure, and you do not, but it was unfair enough to make one pretty desperate."
"If they were actual saints one might endure it," cried Erica. "But to have such a man as my father condemned just as hearsay by people who are living lazy, wasteful lives is really too much. I came to Greyshot expecting at least unity, at least, peace in a Christian atmosphere, and THIS is what I get."
Donovan listened in silence, a great sadness in his eyes. There was a pause; then Erica continued: "You think I speak hotly. I cannot help it. I think I do not much mind what they do to me, but it is the injustice of the thing that makes one wild, and worst of all, the knowing that this is what drives people into atheism this is what dishonors the name of Christ."
"You are right," he replied, with a sigh; "that IS the worst of it. I have come to the conclusion that to be tolerant to the intolerant is the most difficult thing in life."
"You must have plenty of practice in this dreadful place," said Erica.
He smiled a little.
"Why, to be seen talking to ME will make people say all sorts of evil of you," she added. "I wish I had thought of that before."
"You wouldn't have spoken to me?" asked Donovan, laughing. "Then I am very glad it didn't occur to you. But about that you may be quite easy; nothing could make them think much worse of me than they do already. I began life as the black sheep of the neighborhood, and it is easier for the Ethiopian to change his skin than for a man to live down the past in public opinion. I shall be, at any rate, the dusky gray sheep of the place to the end of my life."
There was no bitterness, no shade of complaint in his tone; he merely stated a fact. Erica was amazed; she knew that he was about the only man who attempted to grapple with the evil and degradation and poverty of Greyshot.
"You see," he continued, with a bright look which seemed to raise Erica into purer atmosphere, "it is not the public estimation which makes a man's character. There is one question, which I think we ought never to ask ourselves, and that is 'What will people think of me?' It should be instead: 'How can I serve?'"
"But if they take away your power, how can you serve?"
"They can't take it away; they may check and hinder for a time, that is all. I believe one may serve always and everywhere."
"You don't mean that I can serve that roomful of enemies in there?"
"That is exactly what I do mean," he answered, smiling a little.
In the meantime, Lady Caroline was apologizing to Mr. Cuthbert.
"I don't know when I have been so vexed!" she exclaimed. "It is really too bad of Mrs. Fane-Smith. I had no idea that the Burne-Jones angel I promised you was the daughter of that disgraceful man. What a horrible satire, is it not?"
"Pray, don't apologize," said Mr. Cuthbert. "It was really rather amusing than otherwise, and I fancy the young lady will be in no great hurry to force her way into society again."
He laughed a soft, malicious, chuckling laugh.
"I should hope not, indeed," said Lady Caroline, indignantly. "Where has she disappeared to?"
"Need you ask?" said Mr. Cuthbert, smiling. "Our revered member secured her at once, and has been talking to her in the conservatory for at least half an hour, hatching radical plots, I dare say, and vowing vengeance on all aristocrats."
"Really it is too shocking!" said Lady Caroline. "Mr. Farrant has no sense of what is fitting; it is a trait which I have always noticed in Radicals. He ought, at least to have some respect for his position."
"Birds of a feather flock together," suggested Mr. Cuthbert, with his malicious smile.
"Well, I don't often defend Mr. Farrant," said Lady Caroline. "But he comes of a good old family, and, though a Radical, he is at least respectable."
Lady Caroline knew absolutely nothing about Erica, but uttered the last sentence, with its vague, far-reaching, and most damaging hint, without even a pricking of conscience.
"You will try to rescue the M.P.?" asked Mr. Cuthbert.
"For the sake of his position, yes," said Lady Caroline, entering the conservatory.
"Oh! Mr. Farrant," she said, with her most gracious smile, "I came to see whether you couldn't induce your wife to sing to us. Now, is it true that she has given up her music? I assure you she and I have been battling the point ever since you came up. Can't you persuade her to give us just one song? I am really in despair for some music."
"I am afraid my wife is quite out of voice," said Donovan. "Are there no other musical people?"
"Not one. It is really most astonishing. I was counting on Miss Fane-Smith, but she has disappointed me, and there is not another creature who will play or sing a note. Greyshot is a terrible unmusical place."
"You do not belong to Greyshot, so perhaps you may be able to come to the rescue," said Donovan to Erica. "Scotch people can, at any rate, always play or sing their own national airs as no one else can."
Lady Caroline did not really in the least care whether there were music or not, but she had expressed herself very strongly, and that tiresome Mr. Farrant had taken her at her word, and was trying to beat up recruits recruits that she did not want. He had now, whether intentionally or not, put her in such a position that, unless she were positively rude, she must ask Erica to play or sing.
"Have you brought any music, Miss Raeburn?" she asked, turning to Erica with a chilling look, as though she had just become aware of her presence.
"I have none to bring," said Erica. "I do not profess to sing; I only sing our own Scotch airs."
"Exactly what I said!" exclaimed Donovan. "And Scotch singing of Scotch airs is like nothing else in the world."
Whether he mesmerized them both, or whether his stronger will and higher purpose prevailed, it would be hard to say. Certainly Erica was quite as unwilling to sing as Lady Caroline was to favor her with a request. Both had to yield, however, and Erica, whether she would or not, had to serve her roomful of enemies and a great deal of good it did her.
Out of the quiet conservatory they came into the heat and glare and babel of voices; Lady Caroline feeling as if she had been caught in her own trap, Erica wavering between resentful defiance and the desire to substitute Donovan's "How can I serve?" for "What do they think?"
She sat down to the piano, which was in a far-away corner, and soon she had forgotten her audience altogether. Although she had had little time or opportunity for a thorough musical education, she had great taste, and was musical by nature; she sang her national airs, as very few could have sung them, and so wild and pathetic was the air she had chosen, "The Flowers of the Forest," that the roar of conversation at once ceased. She knew nothing whatever about the listeners; the air had taken her back to her father's recovery at Codrington the year before. She was singing to him once more.
The old gentleman who had sat on her right hand at dinner came up now with his first remark.
"Thank you, that was a real treat, and a very rare treat. I wonder whether you would sing an old favorite of mine 'Oh, why did ye gang, lassie?'"
Erica at once complied, and there was such pathos in her low, clear voice, that tears stood in the eyes of more than one listener. She had never dared to sing that song at home since one evening some weeks before, when her father had just walked out of the room, unable to bear the mournful refrain "I never, never thought ye wad leave me!" The song was closely associated with the story of that summer, and she sang it to perfection.
Donovan Farrant came toward her again at the close.
"I want to introduce my wife to you," he said.
And Erica found that the young married lady in the pale-blue silk, whom she had singled out as the one approachable lady in the room, was Mrs. Farrant. She was very bright, and sunshiny, and talkative. Erica liked her, and would have liked her still better had not the last week shown her so much of the unreality and insincerity of society that she half doubted whether any one she met in Greyshot could be quite true. Mrs. Farrant's manner was charming, but charming manners had often turned out to be exceedingly artificial, and Erica, who was in rather a hard mood, would not let herself be won over, but held her judgment in suspension, responding brightly enough to her companion's talk, but keeping the best part of herself in reserve.