At length the evening ended, and the guests gradually dispersed. Mr. Cuthbert walked across the road to his vicarage, still chuckling to himself as he thought of the general discomfiture caused by his question. The musical old gentleman returned to his home revolving a startling new idea; after all, might not the Raeburns and such people be very much like the rest of the world? Were they not probably as susceptible to pain and pleasure, to comfort and discomfort, to rudeness and civility? He regretted very much that he had not broken the miserably uncomfortable silence at dinner.
Donovan Farrant and his wife were already far from Greyshot, driving along the quiet country road to Oakdene Manor.
"A lovely girl," Mrs. Farrant was saying. "I should like to know her better. Tonight I had the feeling somehow that she was purposely keeping on the surface of things, one came every now and then to a sort of wall, a kind of hard reserve."
"Who can wonder!" exclaimed Donovan. "I am afraid, Gladys, the old proverb will have a very fair chance of being fulfilled. That child has come out seeking wool, and as likely as not she'll go home shorn."
"Society can be very cruel!" signed Gladys. "I did so long to get to her after dinner; but Lady Caroline kept me, I do believe, purposely."
"Lady Caroline and Mr. Cuthbert will little dream of the harm they have done," said Donovan. "I think I understand as I never understood before the burning indignation of that rebuke to the Pharisees 'Full well ye reject the commandment of god that ye may keep your own traditions.'"
In the meantime there was dead silence in the Fane-Smiths' carriage, an ominous silence. There was an unmistakable cloud on Mr. Fane-Smith's face; he had been exceedingly annoyed at what had taken place, and with native perversity, attributed it all to Erica. His wife was miserable. She felt that her intended kindness had proved a complete failure; she was afraid of her husband's clouded brow, still more afraid of her niece's firmly closed mouth, most afraid of all at the thought of Lady Caroline's displeasure. Nervous and overwrought, anxious to conciliate all parties, and afraid of making matters worse, she timidly went into Erica's room, and after beating about the bush for a minute or two, plunged rashly into the sore subject.
"I am so sorry, dear, about tonight," she said. "I wish it could have been prevented."
Erica, standing up straight and tall in her velveteen dress, with a white shawl half thrown back from her shoulders, looked to her aunt terribly dignified and uncompromising.
"I can't say that I thought them courteous," she replied.
"It was altogether unfortunate," said Mrs. Fane-Smith, hurriedly. "I hoped your name would not transpire; I ought to have suggested the change to you before, but—"
"What change?" asked Erica, her forehead contracting a little.
"We thought we hoped that perhaps, if you adopted our name, it might prevent unpleasantness. Such things are done, you know, and then, too, we might make some arrangement about your grandfather's money, a part of which I feel is now yours by right. Even now the change would show people the truth, would save many disagreeables."
During this speech Erica's face had been a study; an angry glow of color rushed to her cheeks, her eyes flashed dangerously. She was a young girl, but there was a good deal of the lion about her at that minute, and her aunt trembled listening perforce to the indignant outburst.
"What truth would it show?" she cried. "I don't believe there is such a thing as truth among all these wretched shams! I will never change my name to escape from prejudice and bigotry, or to win a share in my grandfather's property! What! Give up my father's name to gain the money which might have kept him from pain and ruin and semi-starvation? Take the money that might have brought comfort to my mother that might have kept me with her to the end. I couldn't take it. I would rather die than touch one penny of it. It is too late now. If you thought I would consent if that is the reason you asked me here, I can go at once. I would not willingly have brought shame upon you, but neither will I dishonor myself nor insult my father by changing my name. Why, to do so would be to proclaim that I judged him as those Pharisees did tonight. The hypocrites! Which of them can show one grain of love for the race, to set against my father's life of absolute devotion? They sit over their champagne and slander atheists, and then have the face to call themselves Christians."
"My dear!" said Mrs. Fane-Smith, nervously. "Our only wish is to do what is best for you; but you are too tired and excited to discuss this now. I will wish you good night."
"I never wish to discuss it again, thank you," said Erica, submitting to a particularly warm embrace.
Mrs. Fane-Smith was right in one way. Erica was intensely excited. When people have been riding rough-shod over one's heart, one is apt to be excited, and Luke Raeburn's daughter had inherited that burning sense of indignation which was so strongly marked a characteristic in Raeburn himself. Violins can be more sweet and delicate in tone than any other instrument, but they can also wail with greater pathos, and produce a more fearful storm of passion.
Declining any assistance from Gemma, Erica locked her door, caught up some sheets of foolscap, snatched up her pen, and began to write rapidly. She knew well enough that she ought not to have written. But when the heart is hot with indignation, when the brain produces scathing sentences, when the subject seems to have taken possession of the whole being, to deny its utterance is quite the hardest thing in the world.
Erica struggled to resist, but at length yielded, and out rushed sarcasms, denunciations, return blows innumerable! The relief was great. However, her enjoyment was but short for by the time her article was rolled up for the post, stamped and directed, her physical powers gave way; such blank exhaustion ensuing that all she could do was to drag herself across the room, throw herself, half dressed, on the bed, draw the rezai over her, and yield to the heavy, overpowering slumber of great weariness.
It seemed to her that she slept about five minutes, and was then roused by a knocking at her door. She started up, and found that it was morning. Then she recollected bolting her door, and sprung out of bed to undo it, but was reminded at once that she had a spine. She had quite recovered from the effects of her illness, but over-fatigue always brought back the old pain, and warned her that she must be more careful in the future. The house maid seemed a little surprised not to find her up and dressed as usual, for Erica generally got through an hour's writing before the nine o'clock breakfast.
"Are you ill, miss?" she asked, glancing at the face which seemed almost as colorless as the pillow.
"Only very tired, thank you," said Erica, glad enough today of the cup of tea and the thin bread and butter which before had seemed to her such an absurd luxury.
"Letters for the early post, miss, I suppose?" said the house maid, taking up the fiery effusion.
"Please," replied Erica, not turning her head, and far too weary to give a thought to her last night's work. All she could think of just then was the usual waking reflection of a sufferer "How in the world shall I get through the day?"
The recollection, however, of her parting conversation with her aunt made her determined to be down to breakfast. Her absence might be misconstrued. And though feeling ill-prepared for remonstrance or argument, she was in her place when the gong sounded for prayers, looking white and weary indeed, but with a curve of resoluteness about her mouth. Nobody found out how tired she was. Mr. Fane-Smith was as blind as a bat, and Mrs. Fane-Smith was too low-spirited and too much absorbed with her own cares to notice. The events of last night looked more and more disagreeable, and she was burdened with thoughts of what people would say; moreover, Rose's cold was much worse, and as her mother was miserable if even her little finger ached, she was greatly disturbed, and persuaded herself that her child was really in a most dangerous state.
Breakfast proved a very silent meal that morning, quite oppressively silent; Erica felt like a child in disgrace. Every now and then the grimness of it appealed to her sense of the ludicrous, and she felt inclined to scream or do something desperate just to see what would happen. At length the dreary repast came to an end, and she had just taken up a newspaper, with a sort of gasp of relief at the thought of escaping for a moment into a larger world, when she was recalled to the narrow circle of Greyshot by a word from Mr. Fane-Smith.
"I wish to have a talk with you, my dear; will you come to the library at ten o'clock?"
An interview by appointment! That sounded formidable! When the time came, Erica went rather apprehensively to the library, fearing that she was in for an argument, and wishing that Mr. Fane-Smith had chosen a day on which she felt a little more up to things.
He received her very kindly, and drew an easy chair up to the fire for her, no doubt doing as he would be done by, for he was a chilly Indian mortal. Erica had never been into the library before. It was a delightful room, furnished with old carved oak and carpeted with soft Indian rugs. Though dignified by the name of library, it was not nearly so crowded with books as the little study at home; all the volumes were beautifully bound in much-begilt calf or morocco, but they had not the used, loved look of her father's books. On the mantel piece there were some models of Indian idols exquisitely carved in soft, greenish-gray soapstone, and behind these, as if in protest, lurked the only unornamental thing in the room, a very ordinary missionary box, covered with orange-colored paper and impressively black negroes.
"I am sure, my dear," said Mr. Fane-Smith, "that after what occurred last night you will see the desirability of thinking seriously about your plans for the future. I have been intending to speak to you, but waited until we had learned to know each other a little. However, I regret now that I delayed. It is naturally far from desirable that you should remain an inmate of your father's house, and my wife and I should be very glad if you would make your home with us. Of course when it was fully understood in Greyshot that you had utterly renounced your father and your former friends, such unpleasantness as you encountered last night would not again occur; indeed, I fancy you would become exceedingly popular. It would perhaps have been wiser if you would have taken our name, but your aunt tells me you object to that."
"Yes," said Erica, who was writhing with anger, and relieved herself by the slight sarcasm, "I do object to be Miss Feign-Fane-Smith."
"Well, that must be as you please," he resumed; "but I really think if you will accept our offer it will be for your ultimate good."
He proceeded to enumerate all the benefits which would accrue to her; then paused.
Erica was silent for a minute. When she spoke it was in the low voice of one who is struggling to restrain passion.
"I am sure you mean this very kindly," she said. "I have tried to listen to your offer patiently, though, of course, the moment you began, I knew that I must entirely emphatically, decline it. I will NEVER leave my father!"
The last words were spoken with a sort of half-restrained outburst, as if the pent-up passion must find some outlet.
Mr. Fane-Smith was startled. He so seldom thought of Luke Raeburn as a fellow-being at all that perhaps it had never occurred to him that the love of parent to child, and child to parent, is quite independent of creed.
"But, my dear," he said, "you have been baptized."
"You promised to renounce the devil and all his works."
"Then how can you hesitate to renounce everything connected with your former life?"
"Do you mean to imply that my father is the devil or one of his works?"
Mr. Fane-Smith was silent. Erica continued:
"God's Fatherhood does not depend on our knowledge of it, or acceptance of it, it is a fact a truth! How then can any one dare to say that such a man as my farther is a work of the devil? I thought the sin of sins was to attribute to the devil what belongs to God!"
"You are in a very peculiar position," said Mr. Fane-Smith, uneasily. "And I have no doubt it is difficult for you to see things as they really are. But I, who can look at the matter dispassionately, can see that your remaining in your old home would be most dangerous, and not only that, but most painful! To live in a house where you hear all that you most reverence evil spoken of; why, the pain would be unspeakable!"
"I know that," said Erica, in a low voice, "I have found that I admit that it is and always will be harder to bear than any one can conceive who has not tried. But to shirk pain is not to follow Christ. As to danger, if you will forgive my saying so, I should find a luxurious life in a place like Greyshot infinitely more trying."
"Then could you not take up nursing? Or go into some sisterhood? Nothing extreme, you know, but just a working sisterhood."
Erica smiled, and shook her head.
"Why should I try to make another vocation when God has already given me one?"
"But, my dear, consider the benefit to your own soul."
"A very secondary consideration!" exclaimed Erica, impetuously.
"I should have thought," continued Mr. Fane-Smith, "that under such strange circumstances you would have seen how necessary it was to forsake all. Think of St. Matthew, for instance; he rose up at once, forsook all, and followed Him."
"Yes," said Erica. "And what was the very first thing he was impelled to do by way of 'following?' Why, to make a great feast and have in all his old friends, all the despised publicans."
"My dear Erica," said Mr. Fane-Smith, feeling his theological arguments worsted, "we must discuss this matter on practical grounds. In plain words, your father is a very bad man, and you ought to have nothing more to do with him."
Erica's lips turned white with anger; but she answered, calmly:
"That is a very great accusation. How do you know it is true?"
"I know it well enough," said Mr. Fane-Smith. "Why, every one in England knows it."
"If you accept mere hearsay evidence, you may believe anything of any one. Have you ever read any of my father's books?"
"Or heard him lecture?"
"No, indeed; I would not hear him on any account."
"Have you ever spoken with any of his intimate friends?"
"Mr. Raeburn's acquaintances are not likely to mix with any one I should know."
"Then," cried Erica, "how can you know anything whatever about him? And how how DARE you say to me, his child, that he is a wicked man?"
"It is a matter of common notoriety."
"No," said Erica, "there you are wrong. It is notorious that my father teaches conscientiously teaches much that we regard as error, but people who openly accuse him of evil living find to their cost in the law courts that they have foully libeled him."
She flushed even now at the thought of some of the hateful and wicked accusations of the past. Then, after a moment's pause, she continued more warmly:
"It is you people in society who get hold of some misquoted story, some ridiculous libel long ago crushed at the cost of the libeler it is you who do untold mischief! Only last summer I remember seeing in a paper the truest sentence that was ever written of my father, and it was this, 'Probably no one man has ever had to endure such gross personal insults, such widespread hostility, such perpetual calumny.' Why are you to judge him? Even if you had a special call to it, how could you justly judge him when you will not hear him, or know him, or fairly study his writings, or question his friends? How can you know anything whatever about him? Why, if he judged you and your party as you judge him, you would be furious!"
"My dear, you speak with so much warmth; if you would only discuss things calmly!" said Mr. Fane-Smith. "Remember what George Herbert says: 'Calmness is a great advantage.' You bring too much feeling to the discussion."
"How can I help feeling when you are slandering my father?" exclaimed Erica. "I have tried to be calm, but there are limits to endurance! Would you like Rose to sit silently while my father told her without any ground that you were a wicked man?"
When matters were reversed in this crude way, Mr. Fane-Smith winced a little.
"The cases are different," he suggested.
"Do you think atheists don't love their children as much as Christians?" cried Erica, half choked with indignant anger. A vision of the past, of her dead mother, of her father's never-failing tenderness brought a cloud of tears to her eyes. She brushed them away. "The cases are different, as you say; but does a man care less for his home, when outside it he is badgered and insulted, or does he care infinitely more? Does a man care less for his child because, to get her food, he has had to go short himself, or does he care more? I think the man who has had to toil with all his might for his family loves it better than the rich man can. You say I speak with too much warmth, too much feeling. My complaint is the other way I can't find words strong enough to give you any idea of what my father has always been to me. To leave him would be to wrong my conscience, and to forsake my duty; and to distrust God. I will NEVER leave him!"
With that she got up and left the room, and Mr. Fane-Smith leaned back in his chair with a sigh, his eyes fixed absently upon a portrait of Napoleon above his mantel piece, his mind more completely shaken out of its ordinary grooves than it had been for years. He was a narrow-minded man, but he was honest. He saw that he had judged Raeburn very unfairly. But perhaps what occupied his thoughts the most was the question "Would Rose have been able to say of him all that Erica had said of her father?" He sighed many times, but after awhile slid back into the old habits of thought.
"Erica is a brave, noble, little thing," he said to himself, "but far from orthodox far from orthodox! Socinian tendencies."
CHAPTER XXVII. At Oak Dene Manor
Ah! To how many faith has been No evidence of things unseen, But a dim shadow that recasts the creed of the Phantasiasts.
* * * *
For others a diviner creed Is living in the life they lead. The passing of their beautiful feet Blesses the pavement of the street, And all their looks and words repeat Old Fuller's saying wise and sweet, Not as a vulture, but a dove, The Holy Ghost came from above.
Tales of a Wayside Inn. Longfellow
During the interview Erica had braced herself up to endure, but when it was over her strength all at once evaporated. She dragged herself upstairs somehow, and had just reached her room, when Mrs. Fane-Smith met her. She was preoccupied with her own anxieties, or Erica's exhaustion could not have escaped her notice.
"I am really quite unhappy about Rose!" she exclaimed. "We must send for Doctor L——. Her cough seems so much worse, I fear it will turn to bronchitis. Are you learned in such things?"
"I helped to nurse Tom through a bad attack once," said Erica.
"Oh! Then come and see her," said Mrs. Fane-Smith.
Erica went without a word. She would not have liked Mrs. Fane-Smith's fussing, but yet the sight of her care for Rose made her feel more achingly conscious of the blank in her own life that blank which nothing could ever fill. She wanted her own mother so terribly, and just now Mrs. Fane-Smith had touched the old wound roughly.
Rose seemed remarkably cheerful, and not nearly so much invalided as her mother thought.
"Mamma always thinks I am going to die if I'm at all out of sorts," she remarked, when Mrs. Fane-Smith had left the room to write to the doctor. "I believe you want doctoring much more than I do. What is the matter? You are as white as a sheet!"
"I am tired and rather worried, and my back is troublesome," said Erica.
"Then you'll just lie down on my sofa," said Rose, peremptorily. "If you don't, I shall get out of bed and make you."
Erica did not require much compulsion for every inch of her seemed to have a separate ache, and she was still all quivering and tingling with the indignant anger stirred up by her interview with Mr. Fane-Smith. She let Rose chatter away and tried hard to school herself into calmness. By and by her efforts were rewarded; she not only grew calm, but fell asleep, and slept like any baby till the gong sounded for luncheon.
Luncheon proved a very silent meal; it was, if possible, more trying that breakfast had been. Mrs. Fane-Smith had heard all about the interview from her husband, and they were both perplexed and disturbed. Erica felt uncertain of her footing with them, and could only wait for them to make the first move. But the grim silence tickled her fancy.
"Really," she thought to herself, "we might be so many horses munching away at mangers, for all we have said to each other."
But in spite of it she did not feel inclined to make conversation.
Later on she went for a drive with her aunt; the air revived her, and she began to feel more like herself again. They went out into the country, but on the way home Mrs. Fane-Smith stopped at one of the shops in High Street, leaving Erica in the carriage. She was leaning back restfully, watching a beautiful chestnut horse which was being held by a ragged boy at the door of the bank just opposite, when her attention was suddenly aroused by an ominous howling and barking. The chestnut horse began to kick, and the boy had as much as he could to hold him. Starting forward, Erica saw that a fox terrier had been set upon by another and larger dog, and that the two were having a desperate fight. The fox terrier was evidently fighting against fearful odds, for he was an old dog, and not nearly so strong as his antagonist; the howls and barks grew worse and worse; some of the passengers ran off in a fright, others watched from a safe distance, but not one interfered.
Now Erica was a great lover of animals, and a passionate lover of justice. Furious to see men and boys looking on without attempting to stop the mischief, she sprang out of the carriage, and, rushing up to the combatants, belabored the big dog with her parasol. It had a strong stick, but she hit so vehemently that it splintered all to bits, and still the dog would not leave its victim. Then, in her desperation, she hit on the right remedy; with great difficulty she managed to grasp him by the throat, and, using all her force, so nearly suffocated him that he was obliged to loosen his hold. At that moment, too, a strong man rushed forward and dealt him such a blow that he bounded off with a yell of pain, and ran howling down the street. Erica bent over the fox terrier then; the big dog had mangled it frightfully, it was covered with blood, and moaned piteously.
"Waif! My poor waif!" exclaimed a voice which she seemed to know. "Has that brute killed you?"
She looked up and saw Donovan Farrant; he recognized her, but they were both too much absorbed in the poor dog's condition to think of any ordinary greeting.
"Where will you take him?" asked Erica.
Donovan stooped down to examine poor Waif's injuries.
"I fear there is little to be done," he said. "But we might take him across to the chemist's opposite. Will you hold my whip for me?"
She took it, and with infinite skill and tenderness Donovan lifted the fox terrier, while Erica hurried on in front to tell the chemist. They took Waif into a little back room, and did all they could for him; but the chemist shrugged his shoulders.
"Better kill the poor brute at once, Mr. Farrant," he said, blandly.
Donovan looked up with a strange gleam in his eyes.
"Not for the world!" he exclaimed, with a touch of indignation in his tone.
And after that he only spoke to Erica, who, seeing that the chemist had annoyed him undertook all the fetching and carrying, never once shrinking though the sight was a horrible one. At length the footman brought word that Mrs. Fane-Smith was waiting, and she was obliged to go, reluctantly enough.
"You'll let me know how he gets on?" she said.
"Yes, indeed," he replied, not thanking her directly for her help, but somehow sending her away with the consciousness that they had passed the bounds of mere acquaintanceship, and were friends for life.
She found that her aunt had been waylaid by Mr. Cuthbert.
"If I were the owner of the dog, I should have up our honorable member for assault. I believe Miss Raeburn broke her umbrella over the poor thing."
Erica was just in time to hear this.
"Were you watching it?" she exclaimed. "And you did nothing to help the fox terrier?"
"I do not feel bound to champion every fighting cur who is getting the worst of it," said Mr. Cuthbert. "What has become of Mr. Farrant's favorite? I suppose he is fussing over it instead of studying the affairs of the nation."
"I am afraid the dog is dying," said Erica.
A curious change passed over Mr. Cuthbert's face; he looked a little shocked, and turned away somewhat hastily.
"Come," thought Erica to herself, "I am glad to have discovered a grain of good in you."
The next day was Sunday; it passed by very quietly. But on the Monday, when Erica opened the "Daily Review," there was her "Society" article staring her in the face. It was clever and eminently readable, but it was bitterly sarcastic; she could not endure it. It seemed to her that she had written what was positively bad, calculated to mislead and to awaken bitterness, not in the least likely to mend matters. The fact was she had written it in a moment of passion and against her conscience, and she regretted it now with far more compunction than she felt for anything she had written in former times in the "Idol-Breaker." Then, though indirectly and sometimes directly attacking Christianity, she had written conscientiously, now for the first time she felt that she had dishonored her pen. She went down into the very deepest depths.
The midday post brought her a letter from her stiff old editor, who understood her better, and thought more of her than she dreamed. It informed her that another member of the staff had returned from his holiday, and if she pleased she could be exempted from writing for a fortnight. As usual Mr. Bircham "begged to remain hers faithfully."
She hardly knew whether to regard this as a relief or as a punishment. With a sigh she opened a second letter; it was from Charles Osmond, in reply to a despairing note which she had sent off just before her Saturday interview with Mr. Fane-Smith.
It was one of his short, characteristic letters.
"Dear Erica, 'It all comes in the day's work,' as the man said when the lion ate him! You should have a letter, but I'm up to the eyes in parish maters. All I can say is pray for that charity which covers the multitude of sins, and then I think you'll find the Greyshot folk become more bearable. So you have met Donovan at last. I am right glad! Your father and I had a long walk together yesterday; he seems very well. Yours ever, C. O."
This made her smile, and she opened a third letter which ran as follows:
"My dear Miss Raeburn, I should have called on you last Saturday, but was not well enough to come in to Greyshot. My husband told me all about your help and your kindness to our Waif. I know you will be glad to hear that he is going on well; he is much more to us all than an ordinary favorite, some day you shall hear his story. I am writing now to ask, sans ceremonie, if you will come and spend a few days with us. It will be a great pleasure to us if you will say yes. My husband will be in Greyshot on Monday afternoon, and will call for your answer; please come if you can. Yours very sincerely, Gladys Farrant."
Erica showed this letter to her aunt, and of course there was nothing to prevent her going; indeed, Mrs. Fane-Smith was really rather relieved, for she thought a few days' absence might make things more comfortable for Erica, and, besides, Rose's illness made the days dull for her.
It was about four o'clock when Donovan Farrant arrived. Erica felt as though she were meeting an old friend when she went into the drawing room, and found him standing on the hearth rug.
"You have had my wife's note?" he asked, taking her hand.
"Yes," she replied.
"And you will come?"
"If you will have me."
"That's right; we had set our hearts on it. You are looking very tired. I hope Saturday did not upset you?"
"No," said Erica. "But there have been a good many worries, and I have not yet learned the art of taking life quietly."
"You are overdone, you want a rest," said Donovan, whose keen and practiced observation had at once noticed her delicate physique and peculiar temperament. "You are a poet, you see, and as a wise man once remarked: 'The poetic temperament is one of singular irritability of nerve.'"
"I am no poet!"
"Not a writer of verses, but a poet in the sense of a maker, an artist. As a reader of the 'Daily Review,' you must allow me to judge. Brian once showed me one of your articles, and I always recognize them now by the style."
"I don't deserve the name of artist one bit," said Erica, coloring. "I would give all I have to destroy my article of today. You have not seen that, or you would not have given me such a name.
"Yes, I have seen it; I read it this morning at breakfast, and made up my mind that you wrote it on Friday evening, after Lady Caroline's dinner. I can understand that you hate the thing now. One gets a sharp lesson every now and then, and it lasts one a life time."
Erica signed.. He resumed.
"Well! Are you coming to Oakdene with me?"
"Did you mean now at once today?"
"If you will."
"Oh, I should so like to!" she cried. "But will Mrs. Farrant be expecting me?"
"She will be hoping for you, and that is better."
Erica was noted for the speed with which she could pack a portmanteau, and it could not have been more than ten minutes before she was ready. Mrs. Fane-Smith wished her goodbye with a sort of affectionate relief; then Donovan helped her into the pony carriage, and drove briskly off through the Greyshot streets.
"That is the place where I first heard your father," he said, indicating with his whip the town Hall. "It must be sixteen years ago; I was quite a young fellow."
"Sixteen years! Did you hear him so long ago as that?" said Erica, thoughtfully. "Why, that must have been about the time of the great Stockborough trial."
"It was; I remember reference being made to it, and how it stirred me up to think of Mr. Raeburn's gallant defense of freedom, and all that it was costing him. How well I remember, too, riding home that night along this very road, with the thoughts of the good of the race, the love of humanity, touched into life for the first time. When a selfish cynic first catches a glimpse of an honest man toiling for what he believes the good of humanity, it is a wonderful moment for him! Mr. Raeburn was about the only man living that I believed in. You can understand that I owe him an immense debt of gratitude."
"That is what you referred to in the House last year!" said Erica. "How curiously lives are linked together! Words spoken by my father years ago set thoughts working in you you make a speech and refer to them. I read a report of your speech in a time of chaotic wretchedness, and it comes like an answer to a prayer!"
"Another bond between us," said Donovan.
After that they were silent; they had left the high road and were driving along winding country lanes, catching glimpses every now and then of golden corn fields still unreaped, or of fields just beginning to be dotted with sheaves, where the men were at work. It was a late harvest that year, but a good one. Presently they passed the tiny little village church which nestled under the brow of the hill, and then came a steep ascent, which made Donovan spring out of the pony chaise. Erica's words had awakened a long train of thought, had carried him back to the far past, and had brought him fresh proof of that wonderful unity of Nature which, though often little dreamed of, binds man to man. He gave the ponies a rest half way up the hill, and, stretching up into the high hedge, gathered a beautiful spray of red-berried briony for Erica.
"Do you remember that grand thought which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of Henry V."
"'There is some soul of goodness in things evil.' 'Tis wonderful to look back in life and trace it out."
He spoke rather abruptly, but Erica's thoughts had been following much the same bent, and she understood him.
"Trust is easy on such a day as this and in such a place," she said, looking down to the beautiful valley and up to the green, encircling hills.
Donovan smiled, and touched up the ponies.
It seemed to Erica that they had turned their backs on bigotry, and annoyance, and care of every description, and were driving right into a land of rest. Presently they turned in at some iron gates, and drove down a long approach, bordered with fir trees. At the end of this stood the manor, a solid, comfortable, well-built country house, its rather plain exterior veiled with ivy and creepers. Donovan led her into the hall, where stately old high-backed chairs and a suit or two of old armor were intermixed with modern appliances, fishing tackle, a lawn-tennis box, and a sprinkling of toys, which indicated that there were children in the house.
This fact was speedily indicated in another way, for there came a rush and a scamper overhead, and a boy of five or six years old ran down the broad oak staircase.
"Oh, father! May I ride round to the stables on Speedwell?" he cried, in a desperate hurry to attract his father's attention away from the servant and the portmanteau; then, catching sight of Erica, he checked himself, and held out his hand with a sort of shy courtesy. He was exactly what Donovan must have been as a child, as far as looks went.
"To the stables, Ralph?" replied his father, looking round. "Yes, if you like. Put on your hat though. Where's your mother?"
"In the garden with Mr. Cunningham; he came a few minutes ago; and he's got such a horse, father! A real beauty just like cocoa."
"A roan," said Donovan, laughing; then, as Ralph disappeared through the open door, he turned to the servant.
"Is it Mr. Cunningham of Blachingbury?"
"No, sir; Mr. Leslie Cunningham."
Erica listened, not without interest, for she knew that Leslie Cunningham was the recently elected member for East Mountshire, the eldest son of Sir Michael Cunningham.
"We must come and find them," said Donovan; and together they went out into the garden.
Here, on one of the broad, grassy terraces, under the shade of a copper-beech, was afternoon tea on a wicker table. Gladys was talking to Mr. Cunningham, but catching sight of her husband and Erica at the other end of the terrace, she hurried forward to greet them.
"This is delightful!" she exclaimed. "I hoped that Donovan might unceremoniously carry you off today, but hardly dared to expect it. You are just in time for tea."
"Your arrival has caused quite a sensation in the nursery," said Donovan to Leslie Cunningham. "My small boy is in raptures over your horse 'just like cocoa!'"
Leslie gave rather an absent laugh. He was watching Erica, who was still at a little distance talking to Gladys.
"May I be introduced to your guest?" he said.
"Certainly," said Donovan. "She is the daughter of Mr. Raeburn."
"Indeed! I have heard about her from old Bircham, the editor. He can't say enough of her."
Apparently Leslie Cunningham could not look enough at her.
Donovan, thinking of Brian, was perhaps a little vexed at the meeting. However, putting himself into his guest's position, he felt that the admiration was but natural, and as to Brian if he chose to lose his heart to such a lovely girl, he must expect to have many rivals.
Erica's first thought, as she glanced at Leslie Cunningham, was one of disappointment. He was not the least like his father. However, by degrees she began to like him—for his own sake. He could not have been more than five-and-twenty, and looked even younger; for he was fair-complexioned and clean-shaven. His thick, flaxen hair, and rather pallid face were decidedly wanting in color, but were relieved by very dark gray eyes. His features were well cut and regular, and the face was altogether a clever as well as an attractive one.
Erica felt as if she had got into a very delicious new word. The novelty of a meal AL FRESCO, the lovely view, the beautifully laid out grounds were charming externals; and then there were the deeper enjoyments the lovability of her host and hostess; the delightful atmosphere of broad-hearted sympathy in which they seemed to live and move, and, above all, the restfulness, the freedom of not living in momentary expectation of being rubbed the wrong way by a vexing conversation on religious, or political, or personal topics. It was like a beautiful dream quite unlike any part of real, waking existence that she had ever before known. The conversation was bright and lively. They talked because they had something to say, and wished to say it, and the artificial element so prevalent in society talk was entirely absent.
Presently Ralph came out of the house, leading a fairy-like little girl of four years old.
"Here come the children," said Gladys. "The hour before dinner is their special time. You have not seen Dolly, have you?"
"Dolly!" The name awoke some recollection of the past in Erica, and, as she kissed the little girl, she looked at her closely. Yes, it was the same fascinating little baby face, with its soft, pink cheeks and little pointed chin, its innocent, blue-gray eyes, its tiny, sweet-tempered mouth. The sunny brown hair was longer and Dolly was an inch or two taller, but she was undoubtedly the same.
"Now I know why I always felt that I knew your face!" exclaimed Erica, turning to Donovan. "Was not Dolly lost at Codrington last year?"
"On the beach," replied Donovan. "Yes! Why, could it have been you who brought her back? Of course it was! Now it all comes back to me. I had exactly the same feeling about knowing your face the other evening at Lady Caroline's, but put it down to your likeness to Mr. Raeburn. There is another bond between us."
They both laughed. Donovan took Dolly upon his knee.
"Do you remember, Dolly, when you were lost on the beach once?"
"Yes," said Dolly, promptly, "I clied."
"Who found you?"
"Farver," said Dolly.
"Who brought you to father?"
Dolly searched her memory.
"An old gentleman gave Dolly sweets!"
"My father," said Erica, smiling.
"And who helped you up the beach?" asked Gladys.
"A plitty lady did," said Dolly.
"Was it this lady, do you think?" said Donovan, indicating Erica.
Dolly trotted round with her dear little laughing face to make the scrutiny.
"I fink vis one is plittier," she announced. Whereupon every one began to laugh.
"The most charming compliment I ever heard!" said Leslie Cunningham. "Dolly ought to be patted on the back."
Erica smiled and colored; but as she looked again at Donovan and little Dolly, her thoughts wandered away to that June day in the museum when they had been the parable which shadowed forth to her such a wonderful reality. Truly, there were links innumerable between her and Donovan.
Leslie Cunningham seemed as if he intended to stay forever; however, every one was quite content to sit out on the lawn talking and watching the children at their play. It was one of those still, soft September evenings when one is glad of any excuse to keep out of doors.
At last the dressing bell rang, and Leslie took out his watch with an air of surprise.
"The afternoon has flown!" he exclaimed. "I had no idea it was so late. I wanted to ask you, by the bye, whether I could see the coffee tavern at Greyshot. We are going to start one down at our place, and I want to see one or two well-managed ones first. Whereabouts is it? I think I'll ride on now, and have a look at it."
"Dine with us first," said Donovan, "and I'll ride over with you between eight and nine, that is the best time for seeing it in full swing."
So Leslie Cunningham stayed to dinner, and talked a great deal about temperance work, but did not succeed in blinding his host, who knew well enough that Erica had been the real cause of his desire to go over to Greyshot.
Temperance, however, proved a fortunate subject, for it was, of course, one in which she was deeply interested, all the more so now that it formed one of the strongest bonds remaining between herself and her father's followers. A large number of the Raeburnites were either teetotalers or very strong temperance advocates, and Erica, who was constantly out and about in the poorer parts of London, had realized forcibly the terrible national evil, and was an enthusiastic temperance worker.
Donovan, perhaps out of malice prepense, administered a good many dry details about the management of coffee taverns, personal supervision, Etzenberger's machines, the necessity of a good site and attractive building, etc., etc. Erica only wished that Tom could have been there, he would have been so thoroughly in his element. By and by the conversation drifted away to other matters. And as Leslie Cunningham was a good and very amusing talker, and Gladys the perfection of a hostess, the dinner proved very lively, an extraordinary contrast to the dreary, vapid table talk to which Erica had lately been accustomed. After the ladies had left the room, Donovan, rather to his amusement, found the talk veering round to Luke Raeburn. Presently, Leslie Cunningham hazarded a direct question about Erica in a would-be indifferent tone. In reply, Donovan told him briefly and without comment what he knew of her history, keeping on the surface of things and speaking always with a sort of careful restraint. He was never very fond of discussing people, and perhaps in this case the realization of the thousand objections to any serious outcome of Leslie's sudden admiration strengthened his reserve. However, fate was apparently kinder though perhaps really more cruel than the host, for Donovan was summoned into the library to interview an aggrieved constituent, and Leslie finding his way to the drawing room, was only too delighted to meet Gladys going upstairs to see her children.
The lamps were lighted in the drawing room, but the curtains were not drawn, and beside the open window he saw a slim, white-robed figure. Erica was looking out into the gathering darkness. He crossed the room, and stood beside her, his heart beating quickly, all the more because she did not move or take any notice of his presence. It was unconventional, but perhaps because he was so weary of the ordinary young ladies who invariably smiled and fluttered the moment he approached them, and were so perfectly ready to make much of him, this unconventionality attracted him. He watched her for a minute in silence. She was very happy, and was looking her loveliest. Presently she turned.
"I think it is the stillness which is so wonderful!" she exclaimed.
It was spoken with the frankness of a child, with the spontaneous confidence of the pure child-nature, which instinctively recognizes all the lovable and trustable. The clear, golden eyes looked right into his for a moment. A strange reverence awoke within him. He had seen more beautiful eyes before, but none so entirely wanting in that unreality of expression arising from a wish to produce an effect, none so beautifully sincere.
"The country stillness, you mean?" he replied.
"Yes; it is rest in itself. I have never stayed in the country before."
"Is it possible!" he exclaimed.
He had often languidly discussed the comparative advantages of Murren and Zermatt with girls who took a yearly tour abroad as naturally as their dinner, but to talk to one who had spent her whole life in towns, who could enjoy a country evening so absolutely and unaffectedly, was a strange and delightful novelty.
"You are one of those who can really enjoy," he said. "You are not blasee you are one of the happy mortals who keep the faculty of enjoyment as strongly all through life as in childhood."
"Yes, I think I can enjoy," said Erica. "But I suppose we pay for our extra faculty of enjoyment.
"You mean by being more sensitive to pain?"
"Yes, though that sounds rather like Dickens's Mrs. Gummidge, when she thought she felt smoky chimneys more than other people."
"How I wish you could turn over your work to me, and go to Switzerland tomorrow in my place! Only I should wish to be there, too, for the sake of seeing you enjoy it."
"Do you go tomorrow?"
"Yes, with my father."
"Ah! How delightful! I confess I do envy you a little. I do long to see snow mountains. Always living in London makes me—"
He interrupted her with a sort of exclamation of horror.
"Oh! Don't abuse London!" she said, laughing. "If one must live all the year round in one place, I would rather be there than anywhere. When I hear people abusing it, I always think they don't know how to use their eyes. What can be more lovely, for instance, than the view from Greenwich Park by the observatory? Don't you know that beautiful clump of Scotch firs in the foreground, and then the glimpse of the river through the trees? And then there is that lovely part by Queen Elizabeth's oak. The view in Hyde Park, too, over the Serpentine, how exquisite that is on a summer afternoon, with the Westminster towers standing up in a golden haze. Or Kensington Gardens in the autumn, when the leaves are turning, and there is blue mist in the background against the dark tree trunks. I think I love every inch of London!"
Leslie Cunningham would have listened to the praises of the Black Country, if only for the sake of hearing her voice.
"Well, as far as England goes, you are in the right place for scenery now; I know a few lovelier parts than this."
"What are those lights on the lower terrace?" asked Erica, suddenly.
"Glow worms. Have you never seen them? Come and look at them nearer."
"Oh, I should like to!" she said, with the charming enthusiasm and eagerness which delighted him so much.
To guide her down the steps in the dusky garden, to feel her hand on his arm, to hear her fresh, naive remarks, and then to recall what Donovan Farrant had just told him about her strange, sad story, all seemed to draw him on irresistibly. He had had three or four tolerably serious flirtations, but now he knew that he had never before really loved.
Erica was delighted with the glow worms, and delighted with the dewy fragrance of the garden, and delighted with the soft, balmy stillness of the night. She was one of those who revel in Nature, and all that she said was evidently the overflow of a rapturous happiness, curiously contrasting with the ordinary set remarks of admiration, or falsely sentimental outbursts too much in vogue. But Leslie Cunningham found that the child-likeness was not only in manner, but that Erica had no idea of flirting; she was bright, and merry, and talkative, but she had no thought, no desire of attracting his attention. She had actually and literally come out into the garden to see the glow worms, not to monopolize the much-run-after young M.P, and as soon as she had seen them she said she felt cold, and suggested going back again.
He was disappointed, but the words were so perfectly sincere, so free from suspicion of mere conventionality, that there was nothing for it but to return. Half amused, half piqued, but wholly in love, he speedily forgot himself in real anxiety.
"I hope you haven't taken cold," he said, with great solicitude.
"Oh, no," said Erica; "but I want to be careful for the night-school work will be beginning soon, and I must go home fresh for that."
Something in her words broke the spell of perfect happiness which had hitherto held him. Was it the mention of her every-day life, with its surroundings unknown to him? Or was it some faint perception that in the world of duty to which she referred their paths could not rightly converge? A cold chill crept over him.
"You were quite right," he said with an involuntary shiver. "It is decidedly cold out here; the mist rises from the river, I expect, or else your reference to the working-day world has recalled me from fairy-land. You should not speak of work in such a place as this it is incongruous."
"Ernst ist das leben," she replied quietly. "One can't forget that even at such a time as this, and in such a place."
"How is it that some never forget that for a moment, while others never remember it at all?" he said musingly.
"Some of us have no excuse for ever forgetting," she answered "hardly a chance either."
And though the words were vague, they shadowed out to him much of her life a life never free from sorrow, burdened with constant care and anxiety, and ever confronted by some of the most perplexing world problems. A longing to shield, and protect, and comfort her rose in his heart, yet all the time he instinctively knew that hers was the stronger nature.
It seemed that the seriousness of life was to be borne in upon them specially that evening, for, returning to the drawing room, they found Donovan released from his interview, and relating with some indignation the pitiable story he had just heard. It only reached Leslie Cunningham in fragments, however over crowding, children sleeping six in a bed, two of them with scarlet fever, no fever hospital, no accommodation for them, an inspector, medical officer, the board how drearily dry all the details seemed to him. He could do nothing but watch Erica's eager face with its ever-varying play of expression. He hardly knew whether to be angry with Donovan Farrant for alluding to matters which brought a look of sadness to her eyes, or to thank him for the story which made her face light up with indignation and look, if possible, more beautiful than before.
"Don't offer to put up a fever shanty on the lawn," said Gladys when her husband paused.
"I wish we had an empty cottage where we could put them" said Donovan; "but I am afraid all I can do is to bring pressure to bear upon the authorities. We'll ride over together, Cunningham, and Jack Trevethan, our manager, shall show you the tavern while I rout out this medical officer."
They had had tea; there was no longer any excuse for delaying. Leslie, with an outward smile and an inward sigh, turned to take leave of Erica. She was bending over a basket in which was curled up the invalid fox terrier. For a moment she left off stroking the white and tan head, and held out her hand.
"Goodbye," she said frankly.
That was all. And yet it made Leslie's heart bound. Was he indeed to go to Switzerland tomorrow? He MUST manage to get out of it somehow.
And all the way to Greyshot he listened to schemes for the work to be done next session from the ardent sanitary reformer, though just then the devastation of all England would scarcely have roused him so long as he was assured of the safety of Luke Raeburn's daughter.
CHAPTER XXVIII. The Happiest of Weeks
He went in the strength of dependence To tread where his Master trod, To gather and knit together The Family of God.
With a conscience freed from burdens, And a heart set free from care, To minister to every one Always and everywhere. Author of Chronicles of the Schonberg Cotta Family
After this came a happy, uneventful week at the manor. Erica often thought of the definition of happiness which Charles Osmond had once given her "Perfect harmony with your surroundings." She had never been so happy in her life. Waif, who was slowly recovering, grew pathetically fond of his rescuer. The children were devoted to her, and she to them. She learned to love Gladys very much, and from her she learned a good deal which helped her to understand Donovan's past life. Then, too, it was the first time in her life that she had ever been in a house where there were little children, and probably Ralph and Dolly did more for her than countless sermons or whole libraries of theology could have done.
Above all, there was Donovan, and the friendship of such a man was a thing which made life a sort of wordless thanksgiving. At times even in those she loved best, even in her father or Charles Osmond, she was conscious of something which jarred a little, but so perfect was her sympathy with Donovan, so closely and strangely were their lives and characters linked together, that never once was the restfulness of perfect harmony broken Nature and circumstances had, as it were turned them to each other. He could understand, as no one else could understand, the reversal of thought and feeling which she had passed through during the last few months.
He could understand the perplexities of her present position, suddenly confronted with the world of wealth and fashion and conventional religion, and fresh from a circle where, whatever the errors held and promulgated, the life was so desperately earnest, often so nobly self-denying. He knew that Mr. Fane-Smith, good man as he was, must have been about the severest of trials to a new-born faith. He understood how Mr. Cuthbert's malice would tend to reawaken the harsh class judgment against which, as a Christian, Erica was bound to struggle. He could fully realize the irritated, ruffled state she was in she was overdone, and wanted perfect rest and quiet, perfect love and sympathy. He and his wife gave her all these, took her not only to their house, but right into their home, and how to do this no one knew so well as Donovan, perhaps because he had once been in much the same position himself. It was his most leisure month, the time he always devoted to home and wife and children, so that Erica saw a great deal of him. He seemed to her the ideal head of an ideal yet real home. It was one of those homes and thank God there are such! where belief in the Unseen reacts upon the life in the seen, making it so beautiful, so lovable, that, when you go out once more into the ordinary world you go with a widened heart, and the realization that the kingdom of Heaven of which Christ spoke does indeed begin upon earth.
It is strange, in tracing the growth of spontaneous love, to notice how independent it is of time. Love annihilates time with love, as with God, time is not. Like the miracles, it brings into use the aeonial measurement in which "one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day." A week, even a few hours, may give us love and knowledge and mutual sympathy with one which the intercourse of many years fails to give with another.
The week at Oakdene was one which all her life long Erica looked back to with the loving remembrance which can gild and beautify the most sorrowful of lives. It is surely a mistake to think that the memory of past delights makes present pain sharper. If not, why do we all so universally strive to make the lives of children happy? Is it not because we know that happiness in the present will give a sort of reflected happiness even in the saddest future? Is it not because we know how in life's bitterest moments, its most barren and desolate paths, we feel a warmth about our heart, a smile upon our lips, when we remember the old home days with their eager childish interests and hopes, their vividly recollected pleasures, their sheltered luxuriance of fatherly and motherly love? For how many thousands did the poet speak when he wrote
"The thought of our past years in me doth breed Perpetual benediction."
A benediction which outlives the cares and troubles of later life which we may carry with us to our dying day, and find perfected indeed in that Unseen, where
"All we have willed, or hoped, or dreamed of good shall exist, Not its semblance, but itself."
There was only one bit of annoyance during the whole time; it was on the Sunday, the day before Erica was to go back to Greyshot. Gladys was not very well and stayed at home, but Donovan and Erica went to church with the children, starting rather early that they might enjoy the lovely autumn morning, and also that they might put the weekly wreaths on two graves in the little church yard. Donovan himself put the flowers upon the first, Ralph and Dolly talking softly together about "little Auntie Dot," then running off hand in hand to make the "captain's glave plitty," as Dolly expressed it. Erica, following them, glanced at the plain white headstone and read the name: "John Frewin, sometimes captain of the 'Metora.'"
Then they went together into the little country church, and all at once a shadow fell on her heart; for, as they entered at the west end, the clergy and the choristers entered the chancel, and she saw that Mr. Cuthbert was to take the service. The rector was taking his holiday, and had enlisted help from Greyshot.
Happily no man has it in his power to mar the Church of England service, but by and by came the sermon. Now Mr. Cuthbert cordially detested Donovan; he made no secret of it. He opposed and thwarted him on every possible occasion, and it is to be feared that personal malice had something to do with his choice of a subject for that morning's sermon.
He had brought over to Oakdene a discourse on the eternity of punishment. Perhaps he honestly believed that people could be frightened to heaven, at any rate he preached a most ghastly sermon, and, what was worse, preached it with vindictive energy. The poor, mangled, much-distorted text about the tree lying as it falls was brought to the fore once again, and, instead of bearing reference to universal charity and almsgiving as it was intended to do, was ruthlessly torn from its context and turned into a parable about the state of the soul at death. The words "damned" and "damnation," with all their falsely theologized significance, rang through the little church and made people shudder, though all the time the speaker knew well enough that there were no such words in the New Testament. Had he been there himself to see he could not have described his material hell more graphically. Presently, leaning right over the pulpit, his eyes fixed on the manor pew just beneath him, he asked in thundering tones "My brethren, have you ever realized what the word LOST means?" Then came a long catalogue of those who in Mr. Cuthbert's opinion would undoubtedly be "lost," in which of course all Erica's friends and relatives were unhesitatingly placed.
Now to hear what we sincerely believe to be error crammed down the throats of a congregation is at all times a great trial; but, when our nearest and dearest are remorselessly thrust down to the nethermost hell, impatience is apt to turn to wrath. Erica thought of her gentle, loving, unselfish mother, and though nothing could alter her conviction that long ere now she had learned the truths hidden from her in life, yet she could not listen to Mr. Cuthbert's horrible words without indignant emotion. A movement from Donovan recalled her. Little Dorothy was on his knees fast asleep; he quietly reached out his hand, took up Erica's prayer book which was nearest to him, and wrote a few words on the fly leaf, handling the book to her. She read them. "Definition of LOST: not found yet." Then the anger and grief and pain died away, and, though the preacher still thundered overhead, God's truth stole into Erica's heart once more by means of one of his earliest consecrated preachers a little child. Once more Dolly and her father were to her a parable; and presently, glancing away through the sunny south window, her eye fell upon a small marble tablet just below it that she had not before noticed, and this furnished her with thoughts which outlasted the sermon.
At the top was a medallion, the profile of the same fine, soldierly looking man whose portrait hung in Donovan's study, and which was so wonderfully like both himself and little Ralph. Beneath was the following inscription:
"In loving Memory of RALPH FARRANT, Who died at Porthkerran, Cornwall, May 3, 18—, Aged 45
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning."
The date was sixteen years back, but the tablet was comparatively new, and could not have been up more than six years at the outside. Erica was able partly to understand why Donovan had chosen for it that particular text, and nothing could more effectually have counteracted Mr. Cuthbert's sermon than the thoughts which it awoke in her.
Nevertheless, she did not quite get over the ruffled feeling, which was now in a great measure physical, and it was with a sense of relief that she found herself again in the open air, in the warmth, and sunshine, and gladness of the September day. Donovan did not say a word. They passed through the little church yard, and walked slowly up the winding lane; the children, who had stopped to gather a fine cluster of blackberries, were close behind them. In the silence, every word of their talk could be distinctly heard.
"I don't like God!" exclaimed Ralph, abruptly.
"Oh, you naughty!" exclaimed Dolly, much shocked.
"No, it isn't naughty. I don't think He's good. Why, do you think father would let us be shut up in a horrid place for always and always? Course he wouldn't. I 'spects if we'd got to go, he'd come, too."
Donovan and Erica looked at each other. Donovan turned round, and held out his hand, at which both children rushed.
"Ralph," he said, "if any one told you that I might some day leave off loving you, leave off being your father what would you do?"
"I'd knock them down!" said Ralph, clinching his small fist.
Donovan laughed a little, but did not then attempt to prove the questionable wisdom of such a proceeding.
"Why would you feel inclined to knock them down?" he asked.
"Because it would be a wicked lie!" cried Ralph. "Because I know you never could, father."
"You are quite right. Of course I never could. You would never believe any one who told you that I could, because you would know it was impossible. But just now you believed what some one said about God, though you wouldn't have believed it of me. Never believe anything which contradicts 'Our Father.' It will be our father punishing us now and hereafter, and you may be sure that He will do the best possible for all His children. You are quite sure that I should only punish you to do you good, and how much more sure may you be that God, who loves you so much more, will do the same, and will never give you up."
Ralph looked hard at his bunch of blackberries, and was silent. Many thoughts were working in his childish brain. Presently he said, meditatively:
"He did shout it out so loud and horrid! I s'pose he had forgotten about 'Our Father.' But, you see, Dolly, it was all a mistake. Come along, let's race down the drive."
Off they ran. Erica fancied that Donovan watched them rather sadly.
"I thought Ralph was listening in church," she said. "Fancy a child of his age thinking it all out like that!"
"Children think much more than people imagine," said Donovan. "And a child invariably carries out a doctrine to its logical conclusion. 'Tis wonderful the fine sense of justice which you always find in them!"
"Ralph inherits that from you, I should think. How exactly like you he is, especially when he is puzzling out some question in his own mind."
A strange shadow passed over Donovan's face. He was silent for a moment.
"'Tis hard to be brave for one's own child," he said at last. "I confess that the thought that Ralph may have to live through what I have lived through is almost unendurable to me."
"How vexed you must have been that he heard today's sermon," said Erica.
"Not now," he replied. "He has heard and taken in the other side, and has instinctively recognized the truth. If I had had some one to say as much to me when I was his age, it might have saved me twenty years of atheism."
"It is not only children who are repulsed by this," said Erica. "Or learned men like James Mill. I know well enough that hundreds of my father's followers were driven away from Christianity merely by having this view constantly put before them. How were they to know that half the words about it were mistranslations? How were they to study when they were hard at work from week's end to week's end? It seems to me downright wicked of scholars and learned men to keep their light hidden away under a bushel, and then pretend that they fear the 'people' are not ready for it."
"As though God's truth needed bolstering up with error!" exclaimed Donovan. "As though to believe a hideous lie could ever be right or helpful! There's a vast amount of Jesuitry among well-meaning Protestants."
"And always will be, I should think," said Erica. "As long as people will think of possible consequences, instead of the absolutely true. But I could forgive them all if their idea of the danger of telling the people were founded on real study of the people. But is it? How many of the conservers of half truths, who talk so loudly about the effect on the masses, have personally known the men who go to make up the masses?"
"Yes, you are right," said Donovan. "As a rule I fancy the educated classes know less about the working classes than they do about the heathen, and I am afraid, care less about them. You have an immense advantage there both as a writer and a worker, for I suppose you really have been brought into contact with them."
"Yes," said Erica, "all my life. How I should like to confront Mr. Cuthbert with a man like Hazeldine, or with dozens of others whom I could name!"
"Why?" asked Donovan.
"Because no one could really know such men without learning where the present systems want mending. If Hazeldine could be shut into Mr. Cuthbert's study for a few hours, and induced to tell the story of his life, I believe he would have the effect of the ancient mariner on the wedding guest. Only, the worst of it is, I'm afraid the very look of Mr. Cuthbert would quite shut him up."
"Tell me about him," said Donovan.
"It is nothing at second hand," said Erica. "He is a shoe maker, as grand-looking a fellow as you ever saw, fond of reading, and very thoughtful, and with more quiet common sense than almost any I ever met. He had been brought up to believe in verbal inspiration that had been thoroughly crammed down his throat; but no one had attempted to touch upon the contradictions, the thousand and one difficulties which of course he found directly he began to study the Bible. So he puzzled and puzzled, and got more and more dissatisfied, and never in church heard anything which explained his difficulties. At last one day in his workshop a man lent him a number of the 'Idol Breaker,' and in it was a paper by my father on the Atonement. It came to him like a great light in his darkness; he says he shall never forget the sudden conviction that the man who wrote that article understood every one of his difficulties, and would be able to clear them right away. The next Sunday he went to hear my father lecture. I believe it would make the veriest flint cry to hear his account of it, to see the look of reverent love that comes over his face when he says, 'And there I found Mr. Raeburn ready to answer all my difficulties, not holding one at arm's length and talking big and patronizing for all he was so clever, but just like a mate.' That man would die for my father any day hundreds of them would."
"I can well believe it," said Donovan. Then, after a pause, he added, "To induce Christians to take a fair, unprejudiced look at true secularism and to induce secularists to take a fair, unprejudiced view of true Christ-following, seems to me to be the great need of today."
"If one could!" said Erica, with a long-drawn sigh.
"If any one can, you can," he replied.
She looked up at him quickly, awed by the earnestness of his tone. Was she a young girl, conscious of so many faults and failings, conscious of being at the very threshold herself to dare even to attempt such a task? Yet was it a question of daring to attempt? Was it not rather the bit of work mapped out for her, to undertake, perhaps to fail in, but still bravely to attempt? He heart throbbed with eager yearning, as the vision rose before her. What was mere personal pain? What was injustice? What was misunderstanding? Why, in such a cause she could endure anything.
"I would die to help on that!" she said in a low voice.
"Will you live for it?" asked Donovan, with his rare, beautiful smile. "Live, and do something more than endure the Lady Carolines and Mr. Cuthberts?"
Few things are more inspiriting that the realization that we are called to some special work which will need our highest faculties, our untiring exertions which will demand all that is good in us, and will make growth in good imperative. With the peacefulness of that country Sunday was interwoven a delicious perception that hard, beautiful work lay beyond. Erica wandered about the shady Mountshire woods with Gladys and the children, and in the cool restfulness, in the stillness and beauty, got a firm hold on her lofty ideal, and rose about the petty vexations and small frictions which had been spoiling her life at Greyshot.
The manor grounds were always thrown open to the public on Sunday, and a band in connection with one of the temperance societies played on the lawn. Donovan had been much persecuted by the Sabbatarians for sanctioning this; but, though sorry to offend any one, he could not allow what he considered mistaken scruples to interfere with such a boon to the public. Crowds of workingmen and women came each week away from their densely packed homes into the pure country; the place was for the time given up to them, and they soon learned to love it, to look upon it as a property to which they had a real and recognized share.
Squire Ward, who owned the neighboring estate, grumbled a good deal at the intrusion of what he called the "rabble" into quiet Oakdene.
"That's the worst of such men as Farrant," he used to say. "They begin by rushing to one extreme, and end by rushing to the other. Such a want of steady conservative balance! He's a good man; but, poor fellow, he'll never be like other people, never!"
Mrs. Ward was almost inclined to think that he had been less obnoxious in the old times. As a professed atheist, he could be shunned and ignored, but his uncomfortably practical Christianity had a way of shaking up the sleepy neighborhood, and the neighborhood did not at all like being shaken!
CHAPTER XXIX. Greyshot Again
To what purpose do you profess to believe in the unity of the human race, which is the necessary consequence of the unity of God, if you do not strive to verify it by destroying the arbitrary divisions and enmities that still separate the different tribes of humanity? Why do we talk of fraternity while we allow any of our brethren to be trampled on, degraded or despised? The earth is our workshop. We may not curse it, we are bound to sanctify it. ... We must strive to make of humanity one single family. Mazzini
Erica's appearance at Lady Caroline's dinner party had caused a sort of storm in a tea cup; the small world of Greyshot was in a state of ferment, and poor Mrs. Fane-Smith suffered a good deal from the consciousness that she and her family were the subject of all the gossip of the place. Her little expedients had failed, and she began to reflect ruefully that perfect sincerity, plain honesty, would have been the best policy, after all. By the time that a week had passed, however, censure and harsh comments began to give place to curiosity, and the result of this was that on Monday, which was Mrs. Fane-Smith's "at home" day, Greyshot found it convenient to call in large numbers.
Erica, returning from Oakdene in the afternoon, found her work awaiting her. Her heart beat rather quickly when, on entering the drawing room she found it full of visitors; she half smiled to herself to find such an opportunity of beginning Donovan's work. And very bravely she set about it. Those who had come from curiosity not unmixed with malice were won in spite of themselves; even Mr. Cuthbert, who bore down upon her with the full intention of making her uncomfortable, found himself checkmated as effectually as at Lady Caroline's dinner table, though in a very different way.
"I think I saw you in church yesterday morning!" he remarked, by way of introducing a discordant subject.
"Yes," replied Erica, "I have been staying at Oakdene Manor, and had a most delicious time."
"Sharing Mr. Farrant's philanthropic labors?" asked Mr. Cuthbert, with his unpleasant smile.
"No; I have been thoroughly lazy, and September is their holiday month, too. You would have been amused to see us the other evening all hard at work making paper frogs like so many children."
"Paper frogs!" said Mr. Cuthbert, with an intonation that suggested sarcasm.
"Yes; have you ever seen them?" asked Erica. "I don't think many people know how to make them. Feltrino taught me when I was a little girl I'll show you, if you like."
"Did you ever meet Feltrino?" asked Lady Caroline.
She knew very little of the Italian patriot. In his life time he had been despised and rejected, but he was now dead; his biography a well-written one was in all the circulating libraries, and even those who were far from agreeing with his political views, had learned something of the nobility of his character. So there was both surprise and envy in Lady Caroline's tone; she had a weakness for celebrities.
"I saw him once when I was seven years old," said Erica. "He knew my father, and one day we were overtaken by a tremendous shower, and happened to meet Feltrino, who made us come into his rooms and wait till it was over. And while they talked Italian politics I sat and watched him. He had the most wonderful eyes I ever saw, and presently, looking up and seeing me, he laughed and took me on his knee, saying that politics must not spoil my holiday, and that he would show me how to make Japanese frogs. Once, when he was imprisoned, and was hardly allowed to have any books, the making of those frogs kept him from going mad, he said."
While she spoke she had been deftly folding a sheet of paper, and several people were watching curiously. "Before very long, the frog was completed, and the imitation proved so clever that there was an unanimous chorus of approval and admiration. Every one wanted to learn how to make them; the Feltrino frogs became the topic of the afternoon, and Erica fairly conquered the malicious tongues. She was superintending Lady Caroline's first attempt at a frog, when a familiar name made her look up.
"Mr. Cunningham Mr. Leslie Cunningham."
"I thought you were in Switzerland!" she exclaimed, as he crossed the room and shook hands with her.
"I never got further than Paris," he said, smiling. "My brother has gone instead, and I am going to follow your example and study the beauties of English scenery."
Perhaps Greyshot opinion was more conciliated by the long talk with Mr. Leslie Cunningham, M.P., than even by the Feltrino frogs. To have Luke Raeburn's daughter suddenly thrust into the midst of their select society at Lady Caroline's dinner was one thing they had one and all shunned her. But when she proved to be, after all, clever and fascinating, and original, when they knew that she had sat on Feltrino's knee as a little child, above all, when they saw that Leslie Cunningham was talking to her with mingled friendliness and deference, they veered round. Politically, they hated Sir Michael Cunningham, but in society they were pleased enough to meet him, and in Greyshot, naturally enough, his son was a "lion." Greyshot made much of him during his stay at Blachingbury, and he found it very convenient just then to be made much of.
Hardly a day of that week passed in which he did not in some way meet Erica. He met her in the park with her aunt; he sat next to her at an evening concert; he went to the theater and watched her all through "Hamlet," and came to the Fane-Smith's box between the acts. Yet, desperately as he was in love, he could not delude himself with the belief that she cared for him. She was always bright, talkative, frank, even friendly, but that was all. Yet her unlikeness to the monotonously same girls, whom he was in the habit of meeting, fascinated him more and more each day. She was to go back to town on the Monday; on Friday it so happened that she met Leslie Cunningham at a great flower show, and with perfect unconsciousness piqued him almost beyond endurance. Now at last he hoped to make her understand his admiration. They discussed "Hamlet," and he had just brought the conversation adroitly round to the love scene in the third act, when Erica suddenly dashed his hopes to the ground.
"Oh, how lovely!" she exclaimed, pausing before a beautiful exotic. "Surely that must be an orchid?"
And the reluctant Leslie found the conversation drifting round to botany, about which he knew little and cared less. Once more his hopes were raised only to be frustrated. He was sitting besides Mrs. Fane-Smith and Erica, and had managed to stem the tide of the botany. The band was playing. Erica, half listening to the music and half attending to his talk, looked dreamily peaceful; surely now was the time! But all at once the clear eyes looked up with their perfectly wide-awake interest, and she exclaimed:
"I do wish the Farrants would come! They certainly meant to be here. I can't make it out."
Leslie patiently talked about the member for Greyshot; but, just when he hoped he was quit of the subject, Erica gave an exclamation of such unfeigned delight that a consuming envy took possession of him.
"Oh, there he is! And Ralph and Dolly, too!"
And in a moment the Oakdene party had joined them, and Leslie saw that his chances for that day were over. Before long he had made his escape, leaving the grounds not moodily, but with the light of a new and eager determination in his eye.
Erica, returning from the flower show late in the afternoon, found a note awaiting her, and opened it unconcernedly enough on her way up to her room. But the first glance at it brought a glow of color to her face and a nameless fear to her heart. She ran on quickly, locked her door, and by the ruddy firelight read in a sort of dumb dismay her first offer of marriage. This then was the meaning of it all. This was the cause of his hurried return to England; this had brought her the long talks which had been so pleasant, yes, strangely, unaccountably pleasant. Yet, for all that, she knew well enough that she had nothing to give in return for the love revealed in every word of the letter. She liked him, liked to talk to him, thought him clever and interesting, but that was all. His wife! Oh, no! Impossible! That could never be! And then, as usual, even in the midst of her strange sense of discomfort and perplexity, there came a flash of humor which made her laugh noiselessly in the dim light. "Tom would call me Mrs. Sly Bacon!"
But a second reading of the letter made her look grave. She was very much puzzled to know how to answer it; how, in refusing, to give him least pain. There was nothing else to hesitate about, of her own mind she was quite sure. There was only an hour till post time. She must write at once, and she must write in a way which could not be mistaken. There was not a grain of coquetry about Erica. After some thought she wrote the following lines:
"Dear Mr. Cunningham, Your letter surprised me very much and pained me, too, because in replying I fear I must give you pain. I thank you for the honor you have done me, but I can never be your wife. Even if I could return your love, which I can not, it could never be right. People are so prejudiced that the connection of our names might greatly injure your public work, and, besides, you could not live in the circle in which I live, and nothing could ever make it right for me to leave my own people. I can not write as I should like to I can not say what I would, or thank you as I would but please understand me, and believe me yours very sincerely, Erica Raeburn."
Strange enough the writing of that letter, the realization of the impossibility of accepting Leslie Cunningham's offer, opened out to Erica a new region, started her upon a new stage of her life progress. In spite of her trouble at the thought of the pain she must give, there was an indefinable sense that life and love meant much more than she had hitherto dreamed of; and, though for the next few days she was a little grave and silent, there rang in her ears the refrain:
"Oh, life, oh, beyond, Thou art strange, thou art sweet."
She was not sorry that her visit was drawing to a close, although the last week had gone much more smoothly. Her vigorous nature began to long to return to the working day world, and though she could very honestly thank Mr. Fane-Smith for his kindness, she turned her back on his house with unmixed satisfaction.
"And you cannot change your ind as to my suggestion?" he asked sending off one parting arrow.
"I can not," said Erica, firmly, "he is my father."
"You must of course make your own choice," he said with a sigh. "But you are sadly wrong, sadly wrong! In my opinion your father is—"
"Forgive me for interrupting you," said Erica, "but by your own showing you have no right to have any opinion whatever about my father. Until you have either learned to know him personally, heard him speak, or fairly and carefully studied his writings, you have no grounds to form an opinion upon."
"But the current opinion is—"
"The current opinion is no more an opinion than yours! It is the view of most bitter opponents. And, candidly, WOULD you accept the current opinion held of any prominent statesman by his adversaries? Why, the best men living are represented as fiends in human shape by their enemies! And if this is so in political matters, how much more in such a case as my father's!"
Mr. Fane-Smith, who was a well-meaning though narrow man, sighed again; it was always very painful to him to listen to views which did not coincide with his own.
"Well," he said at length, "there is, after all, the hope that you may convert him."
"I hope you do not want me to turn into one of those hateful little prigs, who go about lamenting over their unregenerate parents," said Erica, naughtily. Then, softening down, she added, "I think I know what you mean perhaps I was wrong to speak like that, only somehow, knowing what my father is, it does grate so to put it in that way. But don't think I would not give my life for him to come to the light here and now for I would! I would!"
She clasped her hands tightly together, and turned quickly away.
Mr. Fane-Smith was touched.
"Well, my dear," he said. "You may be right, after all, and I may be wrong. All my anxiety is only for your ultimate good."
The train was on the point of starting, he gave her a warm hand shake, and in spite of all that jarred in their respective natures, Erica ended by liking him the best of her new relations.
CHAPTER XXX. Slander Leaves a Slur
For slander lives upon succession, Forever housed, where it once gets possession. Comedy of Errors.
Not out of malice, but mere zeal, Because he was an infidel. Hudibras
"Blessed old London, how delightful it is to come back to it!" exclaimed Erica, as she and Tom drove home from Paddington on the afternoon of her return from Greyshot. "Tell the man not to go through the back streets, there's a good boy! Ah, he's doing it of his own accord! Why, the park trees are much browner than the Mountshire ones!"
"We have been prophesying all manner of evil about your coming back," said Tom looking her over critically from head to foot. "I believe mother thought you would never come that the good Christians down at Greyshot having caught you would keep you, and even the chieftain was the least bit in the world uneasy."
"Nonsense," said Erica, laughing, "he knows better."
"But they did want to keep you?"
"How did you get out of it?"
"Said, 'Much obliged to you, but I'd rather not.' Enacted Mrs. Micawber, you know, 'I never will, no I never will leave Mr. Micawber.'"
"Mr. Fane-Smith must have been a brute ever to have proposed such a thing!"
"Oh, no! Not at all! Within certain limits he is a kind-hearted man, only he is one of those who believe in that hateful saying, 'Men without the knowledge of God are cattle.' And, believing that, would treat atheists as I should be sorry to treat Friskarina."
"And what is the world of Greyshot like?"
"It is very lukewarm about public questions, and very boiling hot about its own private affairs," said Erica. "But I have learned now how people in society can go on contentedly living their easy lives in the midst of such ignorance and misery. They never investigate, and when any painful instance is alluded to, they say, 'Oh! But it CAN'T be true!' The other day they were speaking of Kingsley's pamphlet, 'Cheap clothes and nasty,' and one lady said that was quite an evil of the past, that the difficulty nowadays was to get things at reasonable prices. When I told her that women only get twopence for doing all the machine work of an ulster, and have to provide their machine, cotton, food, light, and fuel, she exclaimed, 'Oh, that is incredible! It must be exaggerated! Such things couldn't be now!' When Aunt Isabel heard that I had known cases of men being refused admission to a hospital supported by public subscriptions, on the ground of their atheism, she said it was impossible. And as to physical ill treatment, or, in fact, any injustice having ever been shown by Christian to atheist, she would not hear of it. It was always 'My dear, the atmosphere in which you have lived has distorted your vision,' or, 'You have been told, my dear, that these things were so!' To tell her that they were facts which could be verified was not the smallest good, for she wouldn't so much as touch any publication connected with secularism."
"None are so blind as those who will not see," said Tom. "They will go on in this way till some great national crisis, some crash which they can't ignore, wakes them up from their comfortable state. 'It can't be true,' is no doubt a capital narcotic."
"Father is at home, I suppose? How do you think he is?"
"Oh, very well, but fearfully busy. The 'Miracles' trial will probably come on in November."
Erica sighed. There was a silence. She looked out rather sadly at the familiar Oxford Street shops.
"You have not come back approving of the Blasphemy Laws, I hope?" said Tom, misinterpreting her sigh.
Her eyes flashed.
"Of course not!" she said, emphatically.
"Mr. Osmond has, as usual, been getting into hot water for speaking a word on the chieftain's behalf."