All her life long Erica remembered that Sunday. The peaceful little church with its high pews, where they sat to sing and stood to pray, the homely German pastor with his plain yet forcible sermon on "Das Gebet,": the restful feeling of unity which so infinitely outweighed all the trifling differences, and the comfort of the sweet old German chorales. The words of one of them lingered always in her memory.
"Fuhlt Seel und Leib ein Wohl ergehen So treib es mich zum Dank dafur; Last du mich deine Werke sehen, So sey mein Ruhmen stets von dir; Und find ich in der Welt nicht Ruh, So steig mein Schmen Hinmel zu."
After the service was ended, they wandered out into the public gardens where birds were singing round the statue of Walter von der Vogelveice, and a sparrow, to Erica's great delight, perched on his very shoulder. Then they left the town altogether and roamed out into the open country, crossing the river by a long and curiously constructed plank bridge, and sauntering along the valley beneath the snowy mountains, the river flowing smoothly onward, the birds singing, and a paradise of flowers on every side. It was quite the hottest day they had had, and they were not sorry to rest in the first shady place they came to.
"This is the right way to take pleasure," said Raeburn, enjoying as only an ardent lover of Nature can enjoy a mountain view. "Brief snatches in between hard work. More than that is hardly admissible in such times as ours." His words seemed to them prophetic later on for their pleasure was destined to be even briefer than they had anticipated. The hotel at which they were staying was being painted, Erica had a room on the second floor, but Raeburn had been put at the top of the house. They had just returned from a long drive and were quietly sitting in Erica's room writing letters, thinking every moment that the gong would sound for the six-o'clock TABLE D'HOTE, when a sound of many voices outside made Raeburn look up. He went to the window.
"Haloo! A fire engine!" he exclaimed.
Erica hastily joined him; a crowd was gathering beneath the window, shouting, waving, gesticulating.
"Why, they are pointing up here!" cried Erica. "The fire must be here!"
She rushed across the room and opened the door; the whole place was in an uproar, people rushing to and fro, cries of "FEUER! FEUER!" a waiter with scared face hurrying from room to room with the announcement in broken English, "The hotel is on fire!" or, sometimes in his haste and confusion, "The fire is on hotel!" For a moment Erica's heart stood still; the very vagueness of the terror, the uncertainty as to the extent of the danger or the possibility of escape, was paralyzing. Then with the natural instinct of a book lover she hastily picked up two or three volumes from the table and begged her father to come. He made her put on her hat and cloak, and shouldering her portmanteau, led the way through the corridors and down the staircase, steadily forcing a passage through the confused and terrified people, and never pausing for an instant, not even asking the whereabouts of the fire, till he had got Erica safely out into the little platz and had set down her portmanteau under one of the trees.
They looked up then and saw that the whole of the roof and the attics of the hotel were blazing. Raeburn's room was immediately below and was in great danger. A sudden thought seemed to occur to him, a look of dismay crossed his face, he felt hurriedly in his pocket.
"Where did I change my coat, Erica?" he asked.
"You went up to your room to change it just before the drive," she replied.
"Then, by all that's unlucky, I've left in it those papers for Hasenbalg! Wait here; I'll be back in a minute."
He hurried off, looking more anxious than Erica had ever seen him look before. The papers which he had been asked to deliver to Herr Hasenbalg in no way concerned him, but they had been intrusted to his care and were, therefore, of course more to be considered than the most valuable private property. Much hindered by the crowd and by the fire engine itself which had been moved into the entrance hall, he at length succeeded in fighting his way past an unceasing procession of furniture which was being rescued from the flames, and pushing his way up the stairs, had almost gained his room when a pitiful cry reached his ears. It was impossible to a man of Raeburn's nature not to turn aside; the political dispatches might be very important, but a deserted child in a burning house outweighed all other considerations. He threw open the door of the room whence the cry had come; the scaffolding outside had caught fire, and the flames were darting in at the window. Sitting up in a little wooden cot was a child of two or three years old, his baby face wild with fright.
"Poor bairn!" exclaimed Raeburn, taking him in his strong arms. "Have they forgotten you?"
The child was German and did not understand a word, but it knew in a moment that this man, so like a fairy-tale giant, was a rescuer.
"Guter Riese!" it sobbed, appealingly.
The "good giant" snatched a blanket from the cot, rolled it round the shivering little bit of humanity, and carried him down into the platz.
"Keep this bairnie till his belongings claim him," he said, putting his charge into Erica's arms. And then he hurried back again, once more ran the gantlet of the descending wardrobes and bedsteads, and at last reached his room. It was bare of all furniture; the lighter things his coat among them had been thrown out of the window, the more solid things had been carried down stairs. He stood there baffled and for once in his life bewildered.
Half-choked with the smoke, he crossed the room and looked out of the window, the hot breath of the flames from the scaffolding scorching his face. But looking through that frame of fire, he saw that a cordon had been drawn round the indiscriminate piles of rescued property, that the military had been called out, and that the most perfect order prevailed. There was still a chance that he might recover the lost papers! Then, as there was no knowing that the roof would not fall in and crush him, he made the best of his way down again among the still flowing stream of furniture.
An immense crowd had gathered in the square outside; the awe-struck murmurs and exclamations sounded like the roar of distant thunder, and the shouts of "WASSER! WASSER!" alternated with the winding of bugles as the soldiers moved now in one direction, now in another, their bright uniforms and the shining helmets of the fire brigade men flashing hither and thither among the dark mass of spectators. Overhead the flames raged while the wind blew down bits of burning tinder upon the crowd. Erica, wedged in among the friendly Tyrolese people, watched anxiously for her father, not quite able to believe his assurance that there was no danger. When at length she saw the tall commanding figure emerge from the burning hotel, the white head towering over the crowd, her heart gave a great bound of relief. But she saw in a moment that he had been unsuccessful.
"It must have been thrown out of the window," he said, elbowing his way up to her. "The room was quite bare, carpet and all gone, nothing to be found but these valuables," and with a smile, he held up the last number of the "Idol-Breaker," and a tooth brush.
"They are taking great care of the things," said Erica. "Perhaps we shall find it by and by."
"We must find it," said Raeburn, his lips forming into the curve of resoluteness which they were wont to assume when any difficulty arose to be grappled with. "What has become of the bairn?"
"A nurse came up and claimed it and was overwhelmingly grateful to you for your rescue. She had put the child to bed early and had gone for a walk in the gardens. Oh, look, how the fire is spreading!"
"The scaffolding is terribly against saving it, and the wind is high, too," said Raeburn, scanning the place all over with his keen eyes. Then, as an idea seemed to strike him, he suddenly hurried forward once more, and Erica saw him speaking to two fire brigade men. In another minute the soldiers motioned the crowd further back, Raeburn rejoined Erica, and, picking up her portmanteau, took her across the road to the steps of a neighboring hotel. "I've suggested that they should cut down the scaffolding," he said; "it is the only chance of saving the place."
The whole of the woodwork was now on fire; to cut it down was a somewhat dangerous task, but the men worked gallantly, and in a few minutes the huge blazing frame, with its poles and cross poles, ladders and platforms, swayed, quivered, then fell forward with a crash into the garden beyond.
Raeburn had, as usual, attracted to himself the persons most worth talking to in the crowd, a shrewd-looking inhabitant of Innsbruck, spectacled and somewhat sallow, but with a face which was full of intellect. He learned that, although no one could speak positively as to the origin of the fire, it was more than probable that it had been no mere accident. The very Sunday before, at exactly the same hour, a large factory had been entirely destroyed by fire, and it needed no very deep thinker to discover that a Sunday evening, when every one would be out-of-doors keeping holiday, and the fire brigade men scattered and hard to summon, was the very time for incendiarism. They learned much from the shrewd citizen about the general condition of the place, which seemed outwardly too peaceful and prosperous for such wild and senseless outbreaks.
"If, as seems probable, this is the act of some crazy socialist, he has unwittingly done harm to the cause of reform in general," said Raeburn to Erica when the informant had passed on. "Those papers for Hasenbalg were important ones, and, if laid hold of by unfriendly hands, might do untold harm. Socialism is the most foolish system on earth. Inevitably it turns to this sort of violence when the uneducated have seized on its main idea.
"After all, I believe they will save the house," said Erica. "Just look at those men on the top, how splendidly they are working!"
It was, in truth, a grand, though a very horrible sight to see the dark forms toiling away, hewing down the burning rafters with an absolute disregard to their personal safety. These were not firemen, but volunteers chimney-sweeps, as one of the crowd informed Raeburn and it was in the main owing to their exertions that the fire was at length extinguished.
After the excitement was over, they went into the neighboring hotel, where there was some difficulty in obtaining rooms, as all the burned-out people had taken refuge there. However, the utmost hospitality and friendliness prevailed, and even hungry Englishmen, cheated of their dinner, were patient for once, while the overtaxed waiters hurried to and fro, preparing for the second and quite unexpected table d'hote. Everyone had something to tell either of his escape or his losses. One lady had seen her night gown thrown out of the window, and had managed adroitly to catch it; some one else on rushing up to find his purse had been deluged by the fire engine, and Raeburn's story of the little German boy excited great interest. The visitors were inclined to make a hero of him. Once, when he had left the room, Erica heard a discussion about him with no little amusement.
"Who is the very tall, white-haired man?"
"The man who saved the child? I believe he must be the Bishop of Steneborough; he is traveling in the Tyrol, I know, and I'm sure that man is a somebody. So much dignity, and such power over everybody! Didn't you see the way the captain of the fire brigade deferred to him?"
"Well, now I think of it," replied the other, "he has an earnest, devotional sort of face, perhaps you're right. I'll speak to him when he comes back. Ah!" in a lower voice, "there he is! And Confound it! He's got no gaiters! Goodbye to my visions of life-long friendship and a comfortable living for Dick!"
In spite of his anxiety about the lost packet, Raeburn laughed heartily over Erica's account of this conversation. He had obtained leave to search the deserted hotel, and a little before ten o'clock they made their way across the square, over planks and charred rafters, broken glass, and pools of water, which were hard to steer through in the darkness. The fire was now quite out, and they were beginning to move the furniture in again, but the place had been entirely dismantled, and looked eerie and forlorn. On the staircase was a decapitated statue, and broken and crushed plants were strewn about. Erica's room was quite bare of furniture, nor could she find any of the things she wanted. The pen with which she had been writing lay on the floor, and also a Japanese fan soaked with water, but neither of these were very serviceable articles to a person bereft of every toilet requisite.
"I shall have to lie down tonight like a dog, and get up in the morning, and shake myself," she said, laughing.
And probably a good many people in Innsbruck were that evening in like case.
Notwithstanding the discomforts, however, and the past excitement, that was the first night in which Erica had really slept since the day at Fiesole, the first night unbroken by dreams about Brian, unhaunted by that blanched, rigid face, which had stamped its image indelibly upon her brain in the amphitheatre. She awoke, too, without that almost intolerable dread of the coming day which had hitherto made early morning hateful to her. It was everything to have an actual and practicable duty ready to hand, everything to have a busy present which would crowd out past and future, if only for a few hours. Also, the disaster had its comic side. Through the thin partition she could hear distinctly the complaints of the people in the next room.
"How ARE we to get on with no soap? Do go and see if James has any."
Then came steps in the passage, and a loud knock at the opposite door.
No answer. A furiously loud second knock.
"What's the matter? Another fire?"
"Have you any soap?"
"Any what?" sleepily.
Apparently James was not the happy possessor of that necessary of life for the steps retreated, and the bell was violently rung.
"'What, no soap?'" exclaimed Erica, laughing; "'so he died, and she very imprudently married the barber, etc.'"
The chamber maid came to answer the bell.
"Send some one to the nearest shop, please, and get me some soap."
"And a sponge," said another.
"And a brush and comb," said the first.
"Oh! And some hair pins," echoed the other. "Why, destruction! She doesn't understand a word! What's the German for soap? Give me 'Travel Talk.'"
"Well, then, show her the soap dish! Brush your hair with your hands! This is something between Drum Crambo and Mulberry Bush!"
The whole day was not unlike a fatiguing game of hide-and-seek, and had it not been for Raeburn's great anxiety, it would have been exceedingly amusing. Everything was now inside the hotel again, but of course in the wildest confusion. The personal property of the visitors was placed, as it came to light, in the hall porter's little room; but things were to be met with in all directions. At ten o'clock, one of Raeburn's boots was found on the third story; in the evening, its fellow turned up in the entrance hall. Distracted tourists were to be seen in all directions, burrowing under heaps of clothes, or vainly opening cupboards and drawers, and the delight of finding even the most trifling possession was great. For hours Raeburn and Erica searched for the lost papers in vain. At length, in the evening, the coat was found; but, alas! The pocket was empty.
"The envelope must have been taken out," said Erica. "Was it directed?"
"Unfortunately, yes," said Raeburn. "But, after all, there is still a chance that it may have tumbled out as the coat fell. If so, we may find it elsewhere. I've great faith in the honesty of these Innsbruck people, notwithstanding the craze of some of them that property is theft. That worthy man yesterday was right, I expect. I hear that the proprietor had had a threatening letter not long ago to this effect:
"'Sein thun unser Dreissig, Schuren thun wir fleissig. Dem Armen that's nichts Dem Reichen schad's nichts.
That is tolerably unmistakable, I think. I'll have it in next week's 'Idol,' with an article on the folly of socialism."
Judicious offers of reward failed to bring the papers to light, and Raeburn was so much vexed about it, and so determined to search every nook and cranny of the hotel, that it was hard to get him away even for meals. Erica could not help feeling that it was hard that the brief days of relaxation he had allowed himself should be so entirely spoiled.
"Now, if I were a model daughter, I should dream where to find the thing," she said, laughingly, as she wished him good night.
She did not dream at all, but she was up as soon as it was light, searching once more with minute faithfulness in every part of the hotel. At length she came to a room piled from floor to ceiling with linen, blankets, and coverlets.
"Have all these been shaken?" she asked of the maid servant who had been helping her.
"Well, not shaken, I think," owned the servant. "We were in a hurry, you see; but they are all fresh folded."
"It might have slipped into one of them," said Erica. "Help me to shake every one of these, and I will give you two gulden."
It was hard work, and somewhat hopeless work; but Erica set about it with all the earnestness and thoroughness of her Raeburn nature, and at length came her reward. At the very bottom of the huge pile they came to a counterpane, and, as they opened it, out fell the large, thick envelope directed to Herr Hasenbalg. With a cry of joy, Erica snatched it up, pressed double the reward into the hands of the delighted servant, and flew in search of her father. She found him groping in a great heap of miscellaneous goods in the porter's room.
"I've found my razors," he said, looking up, "and every twopenny-halfpenny thing out of my traveling bag; but the papers, of course, are nowhere."
"What's your definition of 'nowhere'?" asked Erica, laughingly covering his eyes while she slipped the envelope into his hand.
His look of relief made her happier than she had been for days. He stood up quickly, and turned the envelope over to see that it had not been tampered with.
"This is my definition of a dear, good bairn," he said, putting his hand on her head. "You have taken a hundred-weight off my heart, Eric. Where did you find it?"
She described her search to him.
"Well, now, nothing will satisfy me but a mountain," said Raeburn. "Are you too tired? We could have a good climb before dinner."
"Oh, let us!" she exclaimed. "I have had such a longing to get nearer the snow."
Each felt that the holiday had now begun. They threw care to the winds, and gave themselves up altogether to the enjoyment of the loveliest walk they had ever taken. Crossing the Kreuzer bridge, they made their way past little wooden chalets, through groves of oak where the sunlight came flickering in between the leaves, through pine woods whose long vistas were solemn as cathedral aisles, until at last they gained the summit of the lower range of hills, from which was a glorious view on every hand. Down below lay the little town which would be forever memorable to them; while above them rose the grand chain of snowy mountains which still seemed as lofty and unapproachable as ever, though they themselves were on high ground. Soft and velvety and green lay that great upward sweep in the sunshine, shaded in some places by a dark patch of pines, or gleaming with a heap of fallen snow. Here and there some deep rugged cleft would be filled from top to bottom with the gleaming whiteness, while above, crowning the steep and barren height, the snow reigned supreme, unmelted as yet even by the hot May sun.
And Erica was, in spite of her sorrow, unfeignedly happy. She could not be sad when her father was so thoroughly enjoying himself, when for once he was altogether removed from the baleful influences of hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness. Here instead of sweeping denunciations, which invariably drove him, as they drove even the patient Job, to an assertion of his own righteousness there was the silent yet most real teaching of Nature; and he must be a small-souled man, indeed, who, in the presence of grand mountain scenery, can not forget his own personality, realizing the infinite beauty and the unspeakable greatness of nature. Erica's father was unquestionably a large-souled man, in every sense of the word, a great man; but the best man in the world is to a great extent dependent on circumstance, and the circumstances of Raeburn's life had been exceptionally hard. Only two things on earth acted as a check upon the one great fault which marred an otherwise fine character. Beauty of scenery made him for the time being as humble as a child, and the devotion of his own followers sometimes made him ask himself whether he were worthy of such love.
The following day the papers, which had caused them so much trouble and anxiety, were safely delivered to Herr Hasenbalg at Salzburg; and then came one more perfect holiday. In the months that followed, Erica loved just to shut her eyes and forget a sad or stormy present, to call up once more the remembrance of that time. To the minutest details she always remembered it. The start in the early morning, which had seemed cloudy and unpromising, the long, beautiful drive to Berchtesgaden, and on beyond to the Konigsee. The perfect and unbroken calm of that loveliest of lakes, so jealously guarded by its chain of mountains that only in two places is it possible to effect a landing. The dark pines and silvery birches clothing the sides of the mountains; the gray limestone cliffs rising step and sheer from the water, in which their slim, green skiff glided swiftly on, the oars, which were more like long, brown spades, pulled by a man and woman, who took it in turns to sit and stand; the man with gay tie and waistband, Tyrolese hat and waving feather; the woman wearing a similar hat over a gayly embroidered head-dress, ample white sleeves, a square-cut bodice, and blue plaid skirt.
Here and there a group of light-green larches just caught the sunshine, or a little boat coming in the opposite direction would suddenly glide round one of the bends in the lake, its oars splashing a wide line of silvery brightness in the calm water, in vivid contrast to the dark-blue prow. Then, as they rounded one of the abrupt curves came a glorious view of snow mountains blue shadows below, and above, in the sunshine, the most dazzling whiteness, while close to the water from the sheer precipice of gray rock, sprung here and there a hardy pine.
They landed beside a quaint little church with cupolas, and had an exquisite walk through the woods just at the foot of the mountains where the wealth of gentians and other Alpine flowers made Raeburn's felicity complete.
Presently came the return to the little boat, and a quiet row back to the landing place where their carriage awaited them. And then followed the delightful drive home, past the river which tossed its green waters here and there into snow-like wreaths of foam, over quaint and shaky wooden bridges, between gray rocks and groves of plane trees whose trunks were half veiled in golden-brown moss. Then on beneath a hill catching faraway glimpses of a darkened and mysterious sky through the forest of stems. Then past larger and taller pine trees which, standing further apart, let in more sky, and left space for the brown earth to be flecked with sunshine. And here, in the most peaceful of all country regions, they met a handsome-looking peasant in gay Tyrolean attire much adorned with silver chains since it was Ascension day and a festival. He was leading by the hand his little daughter.
"That is a peaceful lot," said Raeburn glancing at them. "Would we like to change places with them, little son Eric?"
She laughed and shook her head and fell, nevertheless, into a reverie, wondering what such a character as her father's would have been under less hard circumstances, trying to picture a possible life in that sheltered green valley. All was so perfectly peaceful; the very river grew broader and calmer, cattle grazed by the road side, women walked slowly along with their knitting in their hands, the fruit trees were white with blossom. As they reached the pretty village of Berchtesgaden the sun was setting, the square comfortable-looking white houses with their broad, dark eaves and balconies were bathed in a rosy glow, the two spires of the little church stood out darkly against the evening sky; in the platz women were filling their pitchers at a stone fountain made in the shape of a rampant lion while others were kneeling before the calvary at the entrance to the village, praying with the reverence which is one of the characteristics of the Tyrolese. Towering above all in the background rose the two Wartzmann peaks, standing there white and majestic like guardian angels.
"What foolish being called seven the perfect number?" said Raeburn, turning back from a last look at the twin mountains which were now assuming their cloud caps. "Two is the perfect number, is it not, little one?"
She smiled and slipped her hand into his.
Then came a wild, desolate part of the road, which passed through a valley shut in on all sides by mountains, some of them snowy, all wild and precipitous, and looking strangely desolate in the falling light. Erica could not help contrasting it with the view from the amphitheatre at Fiesole, of that wider amphitheatre of green hills all glowing with light and love. But presently came more peaceful glimpses; pretty little Schellenburg with its serpentine river winding again and again through the village street, and the happy-looking peasants chatting at their doors with here and there a white-capped baby made much of by all.
At last in the cool of the evening they reached Salsburg once more. But the pleasures of the day were not yet over for as they drew up at the door of their hotel a well-known figure suddenly emerged from the porch and hurried toward the carriage.
"Unexpected as a meteor," said a hearty voice in slightly foreign accents. "Well, my good friend, well my guardian angel, how are you both? We meet under more auspicious circumstances this time!"
It was Eric Haeberlein.
CHAPTER XXXIV. The Most Unkindest Cut of All
Those who persecuted them supposed of course that they were defending Christianity, but Christianity can be defended in no such way. It forbids all persecution all persecution for the sake of religion. Force cannot possibly propagate the truth or produce the faith, or promote the love in which the gospel consists.... Persecution can never arise from zeal for the Gospel as truth from zeal for the Gospel properly understood. If ever due to zeal in any measure, and not to pride, selfishness, anger, ambition, and other hateful lusts ... It must be to a zeal which is in alliance with error. ... The men (atheists) therefore, who, by their courage and endurance were specially instrumental in convincing their countrymen that persecution for the avowal and advocacy even of atheism is a folly and a crime, have really rendered a service to the cause of Christian truth, and their names will not be recorded without honor when the history of our century is impartially written. Baird Lectures, 1877. R. Flint, D.D., Professor of Divinity, Edinburgh.
A few days later the brief holiday ended, and father and daughter were both hard at work again in London. They had crossed from Antwerp by night and had reached home about ten o'clock to find the usual busy life awaiting them.
Tom and Aunt Jean, who had been very dull in their absence, were delighted to have them back again; and though the air was thick with coming troubles, yet it was nevertheless a real home coming, while Erica, in spite of her hidden sorrow, had a very real enjoyment in describing her first foreign tour. They were making a late breakfast while she talked, Raeburn being more or less absorbed in the "Daily Review."
"You see, such an early newspaper is a luxury now," said Erica. "Not that he's been behaving well abroad. He promised me when we started that he'd eschew newspapers altogether and give his brain an entire rest; but there is a beguiling reading room at Florence, and there was no keeping him away from it."
"What's that? What are you saying?" said Raeburn, absently.
"That very soon, father, you will be as absent-minded as King Stars-and-Garters in the fairy tale, who one day, in a fit of abstraction, buttered his newspaper and tried to read his toast."
Raeburn laughed and threw down the "Daily Review."
"Saucier than ever, isn't she, Tom? Well, we've come back to a few disagreeables; but then we've come back, thank man! To roast beef and Turkey towels, and after kickshaws and table napkins, one knows how to appreciate such things."
"We could have done with your kickshaws here," said Tom. "If you hadn't come back soon, Erica, I should have gone to the bad altogether, for home life, with the cook to cater for one, is intolerable. That creature has only two ideas in her head. We rang the changes on rice and stewed rhubarb. The rhubarb in its oldest stage came up four days running. We called it the widow's curse! Then the servants would make a point of eating onions for supper so that the house was insufferable. And at last we were driven from pillar to post by a dreadful process called house cleaning in which, undoubtedly, life is not worth living. In the end, Mr. Osmond took pity on me and lent me Brian's study. Imagine heretical writings emanating from that room!"
This led the conversation round to Brian's visit to Florence, and Erica was not sorry to be interrupted by a note from Mr. Bircham, requesting her to write an article on the Kilbeggan murder. She found that the wheels of the household machinery would need a good deal of attention before they would move as smoothly as she generally contrived to make them. Things had somehow "got to wrongs" in her absence. And when at length she thought everything was in train and had got thoroughly into the spirit of a descriptive article on the Irish tragedy, the cook of two ideas interrupted her with what seemed, in contract, the most trivial matters.
"If you please, miss," she said, coming into the green room, just as the three villains in black masks were in the act of killing their victim, "I thought you'd wish to know that we are wanting a new set of kitchen cloths; and if you'll excuse me mentioning it, miss, there's Jane, miss, using glass cloths as tea cloths, and dusters as knife cloths."
Erica looked slightly distracted, but diverted her mind from the state of Ireland to the state of the household linen, and, when left alone once more, laughed to herself at the incongruity of the two subjects.
It was nearly a fortnight before Brian returned from Switzerland. Erica knew that he was in the well-known house on the opposite side of the square, and through the trees in the garden, they could see each the other's place of residence. It was a sort of nineteenth-century version of the Rhine legend, in which the knight of Rolandseek looked down upon Nomenwerth where his lady love was immured in a convent.
She had rather dreaded the first meeting, but, when it came, she felt nothing of what she had feared. She was in the habit of going on Sunday morning to the eight o'clock service at the church in the square. It was nearer than Charles Osmond's church, and the hour interfered less with household arrangements. Just at the corner of the square on the morning of Trinity Sunday, she met Brian. Her heart beat quickly as she shook hands with him, but there was something in his bearing which set her entirely at her ease after just the first minute. He looked much older, and a certain restlessness in look and manner had quite left him, giving place to a peculiar calm not unlike his father's expression. It was the expression which a man wears when he has lost the desire of his heart, yet manfully struggles on, allowing no bitterness to steal in, facing unflinchingly the grayness of a crippled life. Somehow, joining in that thanksgiving service seemed to give them the true key-note for their divided lives. As they came out into the porch, he asked her a question.
"You are an authority on quotations, I know; my father wants to verify one for his sermon this morning. Can you help him? It is this:
'Revealed in love and sacrifice, The Holiest passed before thine eyes, One and the same, in threefold guise.'"
"It is Whittier, I know," said Erica, promptly; "and I think it is in a poem called 'Trinitas.' Come home with me, and we will hunt for it."
So they walked back together silently, and found the poem, and at Raeburn's request Brian stayed to breakfast, and fell back naturally into his old place with them all.
The following day Raeburn had to attend a meeting in the north of England; he returned on the Tuesday afternoon, looking, Erica fancied, tired and overdone.
"Railway journeys are not quite the rest they once were to me," he confessed, throwing himself down in a chair by the open window while she brought him some tea. "This is very beguiling, little one; but see, I've all these letters to answer before five."
"Your train must have been very late."
"Yes, there was a block on the line, and we stopped for half an hour in the middle of a bean field bliss that a Londoner can't often enjoy."
"Did you get out?"
"Oh, yes, and sat upon the fence and meditated to the great delectation of my olfactory nerves."
Erica's laugh was checked by a knock at the door. The servant announced that a gentleman wanted to see Miss Raeburn.
"Some message from Mr. Bircham, I expect," said Erica to her father. "Ask him upstairs, please. I only hope he doesn't want me to write another article at the eleventh hour. If it's the little Irish sub-editor, you must be very polite to him, father, for he has been kind to me."
But it was no message from the "Daily Review" office; a perfect stranger was shown into the room.
He bowed slightly as he entered.
"Are you Miss Erica Raeburn?" he asked, coming toward her.
"I am," she replied. "What is your business with me?"
"I have to place this document in your hands."
He gave her a paper which she rapidly unfolded. To her dying day she could always see that hateful bit of foolscap with its alternate printing and writing. The words were to this effect:
Writ Subpoena Ad Test, at Sittings of High Court. IN THE HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE, QUEEN'S BENCH DIVISION. Between Luke Raeburn, Plaintiff, and William Henry Pogson, Defendant VICTORIA, by the Grace of God, of the United kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, To Erica Raeburn, greeting. We command you to attend at the sittings of the Queen's Bench division of our High Court of Justice to be holden at Westminster on Tuesday, the Twentieth day of June, 18_, at the hour of half past Ten in the forenoon, and so from day to day during the said sittings, until the above cause is tried, to give evidence on behalf of the Defendant. Witness, etc., etc.
Erica read the paper twice before she looked up; she had grown white to the very lips. Raeburn, recognizing the form of a subpoena, came hastily forward, and in the merest glance saw how matters were. By no possibility could the most malicious of opponents have selected a surer means of torturing him.
"Is this legal?" asked Erica, lifting to him eyes that flashed with righteous indignation.
"Oh, it is legal," he replied bitterly "the pound of flesh was legal. A wife need not appear against her husband, but a daughter may be dragged into court and forced to give evidence against her father."
As he spoke, such anger flashed from his eyes that the clerk shivered all down his backbone. He thought he would take his departure as quickly as might be, and drawing a little nearer, put down a coin upon the table beside Erica.
"This fee is to cover your expenses, madame," he said.
"What!" exclaimed Erica, her anger leaping up into a sudden flame, "do you think I shall take money from that man?"
She had an insane desire to snatch up the sovereign and fling it at the clerk's head, but restraining herself merely flicked it back across the table to him, just touching it with the back of her hand as though it had been polluted.
"You can take that back again," she said, a look of scorn sweeping over her face. "Tell Mr. Pogson that, when he martyrs people he need not say: 'The martyrdom will make you hungry here is luncheon money,' or 'The torture will tire you here is your cab fare!'"
"But, madame, excuse me," said the clerk, looking much embarrassed. "I must leave the money, I am bound to leave it."
"If you leave it, I shall just throw it into the fireplace before your eyes," said Erica. "But if indeed it can't be sent back, then give it to the first gutter child you meet do anything you like with it! Hang it on your watch chain as a memento of the most cruel case your firm every had to do with!"
Her color had come back again, her cheeks were glowing, in her wrath she looked most beautiful; the clerk would have been less than human if he had not felt sorry for her. There was a moment's silence; he glanced from the daughter to the father, whose face was still pale and rigid. A great pity surged up in the clerk's heart. He was a father himself; involuntarily his thoughts turned to the little home at Kilburn where Mary and Kitty would be waiting for him that evening. What if they should ever be forced into a witness box to confirm a libel on his personal character? A sort of moisture came to his eyes at the bare idea. The counsel for the defense, too, was that Cringer, Q. C., the greatest bully that ever wore silk. Then he glanced once more at the silent, majestic figure with the rigid face, who, though an atheist, was yet a man and a father.
"Sir," he said, with the ring of real and deep feeling in his voice, "sir, believe me, if I had known what bringing this subpoena meant, I would sooner have lost my situation!"
Raeburn's face relaxed; he spoke a few courteous, dignified words, accepting with a sort of unspoken gratitude the man's regret, and in a few moments dismissing him. But even in these few moments the clerk, though by no means an impressionable man, had felt the spell, the strange power of fascination which Raeburn invariably exercised upon those he talked with that inexplicable influence which made cautious, hard-headed mechanics ready to die for him, ready to risk anything in his cause.
The instant the man was gone, Raeburn sat down at Erica's writing table and began to answer his letters. His correspondents got very curt answers that day. Erica could tell by the sound of his pan how sharp were the down strokes, how short the rapidly written sentences.
"Can I help you?" she asked, drawing nearer to him.
He hastily selected two or three letters not bearing on his anti-religious work, gave her directions, then plunged his pen in the ink once more, and went on writing at lightning speed. When at length the most necessary ones were done, he pushed back his chair, and getting up began to pace rapidly to and fro. Presently he paused and leaned against the mantel piece, his face half shaded by his hand.
Erica stole up to him silently.
"Sometimes, Eric," he said abruptly, "I feel the need of the word 'DEVIL!' My vocabulary has nothing strong enough for that man."
She was too heartsick to speak; she drew closer to him with a mute caress.
"Eric!" he said, holding her hands between his, and looking down at her with an indescribably eager expression in his eyes, "Eric, surely NOW you see that this persecuting religion, this religion which has been persecuting innumerable people for hundreds of years, is false, worthless, rotten to the core. Child! Child! Surely you can't believe in a God whose followers try to promote His glory by sheer brutality like this?"
It was the first time he had spoken to her on this subject since their interview at Codrington. They had resolved never to touch upon it again; but a sort of consciousness that some good must come to him through this new bitterness, a hope that it must and would reconvince his child, impelled Raeburn to break his resolution.
"I could sooner doubt that you are standing here, father, with your arm round me," said Erica, "than I could doubt the presence of your Father and mine the All-Father."
"Even though his followers are such lying scoundrels as that Pogson? What do you make of that? What do you think of that?"
"I think," she replied quietly, "that my father is too just a man to judge Christianity by the very worst specimen of a Christian to be met with. Any one who does not judge secularism by its very best representatives, dead or living, is unfair and what is unfair in one case is unfair in another."
"Well, if I judged it by you, perhaps I might take a different view of it," said Raeburn. "But then you had the advantage of some years of secularism."
"Not by me!" cried Erica. "How can it seem anything but very faulty when you judge it only by faulty people? Why not judge it by the life and character of Christ?"
Raeburn turned away with a gesture of impatience.
"A myth! A poetic creation long ago distorted out of its true proportions! There, child, I see we must stop. I only pain you and torture myself by arguing the question."
"One more thing," said Erica, "before we go back to the old silence. Father, if you would only write a life of Christ I mean, a really complete life; the one you wrote years ago was scarcely more than a pamphlet."
He smiled, knowing that she thought the deep study necessary for such an undertaking would lead to a change in his views.
"My dear," he said, "perhaps I would; but just see how I am overdone. I couldn't write an elaborate thing now. Besides, there is the book on the Pentateuch not half finished though it was promised months ago. Perhaps a year or two hence when Pogson gives me time to draw a long breath, I'll attempt it; but I have an idea that one or other of us will have to be 'kilt intirely' before that happy time arrives. Perhaps we shall mutually do for each other, and reenact the historical song." And, with laughter in his eyes, he repeated:
"There once were two cats of Kilkenny, Each thought there was one cat too many, So they quarreled and spit, and they scratched and they bit, Till, excepting their nails and the tips of their tails, Instead of two cats, there weren't any."
Erica smiled faintly, but sighed the next minute.
"Well, there! It's too grave a matter to jest about," said Raeburn. "Oh, bairn! If I could but save you from that brute's malice, I should care very little for the rest."
"Since you only care about it for my sake, and I only for yours, I think we may as well give up caring at all," said Erica, looking up at him with a brave smile. "And, after all, Mr. Cringer, Q. C. can only keep me in purgatory for a few hours at the outside. Don't you think, too, that such a cruel thing will damage Mr. Pogson in the eyes of the jury?"
"Unfortunately, dear, juries are seldom inclined to show any delicate considerateness to an atheist," said Raeburn.
And Erica knew that he spoke truly enough.
No more was said just then. Raeburn began rapidly to run through his remaining correspondence a truly miscellaneous collection. Legal letters, political letters, business letters requests for his autograph, for his help, for his advice a challenge from a Presbyterian minister in the north of Scotland to meet him in debate; the like from a Unitarian in Norfolk; a coffin and some insulting verses in a match box, and lastly an abrasive letter from a clergyman, holding him responsible for some articles by Mr. Masterman, which he had nothing whatever to do with, and of which he in fact disapproved.
"What would they think, Eric, if I insisted on holding the Bishop of London responsible for every utterance of every Christian in the diocese?" said Raeburn.
"They would think you were a fool," said Erica, cutting the coffin into little bits as she spoke.
Raeburn smiled and penciled a word or two on the letter the pith of a stinging reply.
CHAPTER XXXV. Raeburn v. Pogson
Oh, God of mountains, stars, and boundless spaces! Oh, God of freedom and of joyous hearts! When Thy face looketh forth from all men's faces There will be room enough in crowded marts. Brood Thou around me, and the noise is o'er; Thy universe my closet with shut door.
Heart, heart, awake! The love that loveth all Maketh a deeper calm than Horeb's cave. God in thee, can His children's folly gall? Love may be hurt, but shall not love be brave? Thy holy silence sinks in dews of balm; Thou art my solitude, my mountain calm. George MacDonald
When a particularly unpleasant event has long been hanging over one's head, sure to come at some time, though the precise date is unknown, people of a certain disposition find it quite possible to live on pretty comfortably through the waiting time. But when at length the date is fixed, when you know that that which you dread will happen upon such and such a day, then the waiting begins all at once to seem intolerable. The vague date had been awaited calmly, but the certain date is awaited with a wearing anxiety which tells fearfully on physical strength. When Erica knew that the action for libel would begin in a fortnight's time, the comparative calmness of the nine months which had passed since the outset of the matter gave place to an agony of apprehension. Night after night she had fearful dreams of being cross-examined by Mr. Cringer, Q.C., who always forced her to say exactly what she did not mean. Night after night coldly curious eyes stared down at her from all parts of a crowded court; while her misery was completed by being perfectly conscious of what she ought to have said directly it was too late.
By day she was too wise to allow herself to dwell on the future; she worked doubly hard, laid in a stock of particularly interesting books, and threw herself as much as possible into the lives of others. Happily, the Farrants were in town, and she was able to see a great deal of them; while on the very day before the trial came a substantial little bit of happiness.
She was sitting in the study doing some copying for her father when a brougham stopped at the door. Erica, who never failed to recognize a horse if she had once seen it before, who even had favorites among the dozens of omnibus horses which she met daily in Oxford Street, at once knew that either Donovan or Gladys had come to see her.
She ran out into the hall to meet them, but had no sooner opened the study door than the tiniest of dogs trotted into the room and began sniffing cautiously at her father's clothes.
"Tottie has made a very unceremonious entrance," said a clear, mellow voice in the passage. "May we come in, or are you too busy today?"
"Oh, please come in. Father is home, and I do so want you to meet," said Erica. "You have brought Dolly, too! That is delightful. We are dreadfully in want of something young and happy to cheer us up."
The two men shook hands with the momentary keen glance into each other's eyes which those give who have heard much of one another but have never been personally acquainted.
"As to Dolly," said Donovan, "she requires no introduction to Mr. Raeburn."
"No," said Erica, laughing, "she cried all over his coat two years ago."
Dolly did not often wait for introductions unless she disliked people. And no child could have found it in its heart to dislike anything so big and kind and fatherly as Luke Raeburn.
"We blought a little dog for Elica," she said, in her silvery treble.
And the next moment she was established on Raeburn's knee, encouraged to thrust a little, dimpled hand into his pocket for certain Edinburgh dainties.
"Dolly does not beat about the bush," said Donovan, smiling. "Would you at all care to have this small animal? I knew you were fond of dogs, and Gladys and I saw this little toy Esquimanx the other day and fell in love with him. I find though that another dog rather hurts Waif's feelings, so you will be doing a kindness to him as well if you will accept 'Tottie.'"
"Oh, how delightful of you! It was kind of you to think of it," said Erica. "I have always so longed to have a dog of my own. And this is such a little beauty! Is it not a very rare breed?"
"I believe it is, and I think he's a loving little beggar, too," replied Donovan. "He is making himself quite at home here, is he not?"
And in truth the small dog seemed deeply interested in his new residence. He was the tiniest of his kind, and was covered with long black hair which stood straight up on end; his pointed nose, bright brown eyes, and cunning little ears, set in the frame work of bushy hair, gave him a most sagacious appearance. And just now he was brimful of curiosity, pattering all over the room, poking his nose into a great pile of "Idol-Breakers," sniffing at theological and anti-theological books with perfect impartiality, rubbing himself against Raeburn's foot in the most ingratiating way, and finally springing up on Erica's lap with the oddest mixture of defiance and devotion in his eyes which said as plainly as if he had spoken: "People may say what they like about you, but I'm your faithful dog from this day forward!"
Raeburn was obliged to go out almost directly as he had an appointment in the city, but Erica knew that he had seen enough of Donovan to realize what he was and was satisfied.
"I am so glad you have just met," she said when he had left the room. "And, as to Dolly, she's been a real god-send. I haven't seen my father smile before for a week."
"Strange, is it not, how almost always children instinctively take to those whom the world treats as outcasts. I have a great belief that God lets the pure and innocent make up in part by their love for the uncharitableness of the rest of us."
"That's a nice thought," said Erica. "I have never had much to do with children, except with this one." And as she spoke she lifted Dolly on her lap beside Tottie.
"I have good reason to believe in both this kind and that," said Donovan, touching the dusky head of the dog and the sunny hair of the child. As he spoke there was a look in his eyes which made Erica feel inclined almost to cry. She knew that he was thinking of the past though there was no regret in his expression, only a shade of additional gravity about his lips and an unusual light about his brow and eyes. It was the face of a man who had known both the evil and the good, and had now reached far into the Unseen.
By and by they talked of Switzerland and of Brian, Donovan telling her just what she wanted to know about him though he never let her feel that he knew all about the day at Fiesole. And from that they passed to the coming trial of which he spoke in exactly the most helpful way, not trying to assure her, as some well-meaning people had done, that there was really nothing to be grieved or anxious about; but fully sympathizing with the pain while he somehow led her on to the thought of the unseen good which would in the long run result from it.
"I do believe that now, with all my heart." she said.
"I knew you did," he replied, smiling a little. "You have learned it since you were at Greyshot last year. And once learned it is learned forever."
"Yes," she said musingly. "But, oh! How slowly one learns in such little bits. It's a great mistake to think that we grasp the whole when the light first comes to us, and yet it feels then like the whole."
"Because it was the whole you were then capable of," said Donovan. "But, you see, you grow."
"Want to grow, at any rate," said Erica. "Grow conscious that there is an Infinite to grow to."
Then, as in a few minutes he rose to go:
"Well, you have done me good, you and Dolly, and this blessed little dog. Thank you very much for coming."
She went out with them to the door and stood on the steps with Tottie in her arms, smiling a goodbye to little Dolly.
"That's the bravest woman I know," thought Donovan to himself, "and the sweetest save one. Poor Brian! Though, after all, it's a grand thing to love such as Erica even without hope."
And all the afternoon there rang in his ears the line
"A woman's soul, most soft, yet strong."
The next day troubles began in good earnest. They were all very silent at breakfast. Raeburn looked anxious and preoccupied, and Erica, not feeling sure that conversation would not worry him, did not try to talk. Once Aunt Jean looked up for a moment from her paper with a question.
"By the bye, what are you going to wear, Erica?"
"Sackcloth, I think," said Erica; "it would be appropriate."
Raeburn smiled a little at this.
"Something cool, I should advise," he said. "The place will be like a furnace today."
He pushed back his chair as he spoke and went away to his study. Tom had to hurry away, too, being due at his office by nine o'clock; and Erica began to rack her brains to devise the nicest of dinners for them that evening. She dressed in good time, and was waiting for her father in the green room when just before ten o'clock the front door opened, quick steps came up the stairs, and, to her amazement, Tom entered.
"Back again!" she exclaimed. "Have you got a holiday?"
"I've got my conge'," he said in a hoarse voice, throwing himself down in a chair by the window.
"Tom! What do you mean?" she cried, dismayed by the trouble in his face.
"Got the sack," he said shortly.
"What! Lost your situation? But how? Why?"
"I was called this morning into Mr. Ashgrove's private room; he informed me that he had just learned with great annoyance that I was the nephew of that (you can supply his string of abusive adjectives) Luke Raeburn. Was it true? I told him I had that honor. Was I, then, an atheist? Certainly. A Raeburnite? Naturally. After which came a long oration, at the end of which I found myself the wrong side of the office door with orders never to darken it again, and next month's salary in my hand. That's the matter in brief, CUGINA."
His face settled into a sort of blank despair so unlike its usual expression that Erica's wrath flamed up at the sight.
"It's a shame!" she cried "a wicked shame! Oh, Tom dear, I am so sorry for you. I wish this had come upon me instead."
"I wouldn't care so much," said poor Tom huskily, "if he hadn't chosen just this time for it; but it will worry the chieftain now."
Erica was on the verge of tears.
"Oh, what shall we do what can we do?" she cried almost in despair. "I had not thought of that. Father will feel it dreadfully."
But to conceal the matter was now hopeless for, as she spoke, Raeburn came into the room.
"What shall I feel dreadfully?" he said, smiling a little. "If any man ought to be case-hardened, I ought to be."
But as he drew nearer and saw the faces of the two, his own face grew stern and anxious.
"You at home, Tom! What's the matter?"
Tom briefly told his tale, trying to make as light of it as possible, even trying to force a little humor into his account, but with poor success. There was absolute silence in the green room when he paused. Raeburn said not a word, but he grew very pale, evidently in this matter being by no means case-hardened. A similar instance, further removed from his immediate circle, might have called forth a strong, angry denunciation; but he felt too deeply anything affecting his own family or friends to be able in the first keenness of his grief and anger to speak.
"My boy," he said at last, in a low, musical voice whose perfect modulations taxed Tom's powers of endurance to the utmost, "I am very sorry for this. I can't say more now; we will talk it over tonight. Will you come to Westminster with us?"
And presently as they drove along the crowded streets, he said with a bitter smile:
"There's one Biblical woe which by no possibility can ever befall us."
"What's that?" said Tom.
"'Woe unto you when all men speak well of you,'" said Raeburn.
A few minutes later, and the memorable trial of Raeburn v. Pogson had at length begun. Raeburn's friends had done their best to dissuade him from conducting his own case, but he always replied to them with one of his Scotch proverbs "A man's a lion in his ain cause." His opening speech was such an exceedingly powerful one that all felt on the first day that he had been right though inevitably it added not a little to the disagreeableness of the case.
As soon as the court had risen, Erica went home with her aunt and Tom, thankful to feel that at least one day was well over; but her father was closeted for some hours with his solicitor and did not rejoin them till late that evening. He came in then, looking fearfully tired, and scarcely spoke all through dinner; but afterward, just as Tom was leaving the room, he called him back.
"I've been thinking things over," he said. "What was your salary with Mr. Ashgrove?"
"One hundred pounds a year," replied Tom, wondering at what possible hour the chieftain had found a spare moment to bestow upon his affairs.
"Well, then, will you be my secretary for the same?"
For many years Tom had given all his spare time to helping Raeburn with his correspondence, and for some time he had been the practical, though unrecognized, sub-editor of the "Idol-Breaker," but all his work had been done out of pure devotion to the "cause." Nothing could have pleased him more than to give his whole time to the work while his great love and admiration for Raeburn eminently qualified him for the service of a somewhat autocratic master.
Raeburn, with all his readiness to help those in any difficulty, with all his geniality and thoroughness of character, was by no means the easiest person to work with. For, in common with other strong and self-reliant characters, he liked in all things to have his own way, and being in truth a first-rate organizer, he had scant patience with other people's schemes. Erica was very glad that he had made the proposal to Tom for, though regretting that he should give his life to the furtherance of work, much of which she strongly disapproved, she could not but be relieved at anything which would save her father in some degree from the immense strain of work and anxiety, which were now altogether beyond the endurance of a single man, and bid fair to overtax even Raeburn's giant strength.
Both Charles Osmond and Brian appeared as voluntary witnesses on behalf of the plaintiff, and naturally the first few days of the trial were endurable enough. But on the Friday the defense began, and it became evident that the most bitter spirit would pervade the rest of the proceedings. Mr. Pogson had spared neither trouble nor expense; he had brought witnesses from all the ends of the earth to swear that, in some cases twenty years ago, they had heard the plaintiff speak such and such words, or seen him do such and such deeds. The array of witnesses appeared endless; there seemed no reason why the trial ever should come to an end. It bid fair to be a CAUSE CELEBRE, while inevitably Raeburn's notoriety made the public take a great interest in the proceedings. It became the topic of the day. Erica rarely went in any public conveyance without hearing it discussed.
One day she heard the following cheering sentiment:
"Oh, of course you know the jury will never give a verdict for such a fellow as Raeburn."
"I suppose they can't help being rather prejudiced against him because of his views; but, upon my word, it seems a confounded shame." "Oh, I don't see that," replied the first speaker. "If he holds such views, he must expect to suffer for them."
Day after day passed and still the case dragged on. Erica became so accustomed to spending the day in court that at last it seemed to her that she had never done anything else all her life. Every day she hoped that she might be called, longing to get the hateful piece of work over. But days and weeks passed, and still Mr. Cringer and his learned friends examined other witnesses, but kept her in reserve. Mr. Bircham had been exceedingly kind to her, and in the "Daily Review" office, where Erica was treated as a sort of queen, great indignation had been caused by Mr. Pogson;'s malice. "Our little lady" (her sobriquet there) received the hearty support and sympathy of every man in the place from the editor himself to the printer's devil. Every morning the office boy brought her in court the allotted work for the day, which she wrote as well as she could during the proceedings or at luncheon time, with the happy consciousness that all her short comings would be set right by the little Irish sub-editor who worshipped the ground she trod on and was always ready with courteous and unofficious help.
There were many little pieces of kindness which served to heighten that dreary summer for Mr. Pogson's ill-advised zeal had stimulated all lovers of justice into a protest against a most glaring instance of bigotry and unfair treatment. Many clergymen spoke out bravely and denounced the defendant's intolerance; many non-conformist ministers risked giving dire offense to their congregations by saying a good word for the plaintiff. Each protest did its modicum of good, but still the weary case dragged on, and every day the bitterness on either side seemed to increase.
Mr. Pogson had, by fair means or foul, induced an enormous number of witnesses to come forward and prove the truth of his statement, and day after day there were the most wearisome references to old diaries, to reports of meetings held in obscure places, perhaps more than a dozen years ago, or to some hashed and mangled report of a debate which, incredible though such meanness seems, had been specially constructed by some unscrupulous opponent in such a way as to alter the entire meaning of Raeburn's words—a process which may very easily be effected by a judicious omission of contexts. Raeburn was cheered and encouraged, however, in spite of all the thousand cares and annoyances of that time by the rapidly increasing number of his followers, and by many tokens of most touching devotion from the people for whom, however mistakenly, he had labored with unwearying patience and zeal. Erica saw only too plainly that Mr. Pogson was, in truth, fighting against Christianity, and every day brought fresh proofs of the injury done to Christ's cause by this modern instance of injustice and religious intolerance.
It was a terribly trying position, and any one a degree less brave and sincere would probably have lost all faith; but the one visible good effected by that miserable struggle was the strange influence it exerted in developing her character. She was one of those who seem to grow exactly in proportion to the trouble they have had to bear. And so it came to pass that, while evil was wrought in many quarters, in this one good resulted good not in the least understood by Raeburn, or Aunt Jean, or Tom, who merely knew that Erica was less hot and hasty than in former times, and found it more of a relief than ever to come home to her loving sympathy.
"After all," they used to say, "the miserable delusion hasn't been able to spoil her."
One day, just after the court had reassembled in the afternoon, Erica was putting the finishing touches to a very sprightly criticism on a certain political speech, when suddenly she heard the name, for which she had waited so long, called in the clerk's most sonorous tones "Erica Raeburn!"
She was conscious of a sudden white flash as every face in the crowded court turned towards her, but more conscious of a strong Presence which seemed to wrap her in a calm so perfect that the disagreeable surroundings became a matter of very slight import. Here were hostile eyes, indeed; but she was strong enough to face all the powers of evil at once. A sort of murmur ran through the court as she entered the witness box, but she did not heed it any more than she would have heeded the murmur of the summer wind without. She just stood there, strong in her truth and purity, able, if need be, to set a whole world at defiance.
"Pogson's made a mistake in calling her," said a briefless barrister to one of his companions in adversity; they both spent their lives in hanging about the courts, thankful when they could get a bit of "deviling."
"Right you are!" replied the other, putting up his eyeglass to look at Erica, and letting it drop after a brief survey. "I'd bet twenty to one that girl loses him his case. And I'm hanged if he doesn't deserve to."
"Well, it is rather a brutal thing to make a man's own child give evidence against him. Halloo! Just look at Raeburn! That man's either a consummate actor, or else a living impersonation of righteous anger."
"No acting there," replied the other, putting up his eyeglass again. "It's lucky dueling is a thing of the past or I expect Pogson would have a bullet in his heart before the day was over. I don't wonder he's furious, poor fellow! Now, then here's old Cringer working himself up into his very worst temper!"
The whispered dialogue was interrupted for a few minutes but was continued at intervals.
"By Jove, what a voice she's got! The jury will be flints if they are not influenced by it. Ah, you great brute! I wouldn't have asked her that question for a thousand pounds! How lovely she looks when she blushes! He'll confuse her, though, as sure as fate. No, not a bit of it! That was dignified, wasn't it? How the words rang, 'Of course not!' I say, Jack, this will be as good as a lesson in elocution for us!"
"Raeburn looks up at that for the first time. Well, poor devil! However much baited, he can, at any rate, feel proud of his daughter."
Then came a long pause. For the fire of questions was so sharp that the two would not break the thread by speaking. Once or twice some particularly irritating question was ruled by the judge to be inadmissible, upon which Mr. Cringer looked, in a hesitatingly courteous manner, toward him, and obeyed orders with a smiling deference; then, facing round upon Erica, with a little additional venom, he visited his annoyance upon her by exerting all his unrivaled skill in endeavoring to make her contradict herself.
"You'll make nothing of this one, Cringer," one of his friends had said to him at the beginning of Erica's evidence. And he had smiled confidently by way of reply. All the more was he now determined not to be worsted by a young girl whom he ought to be able to put out of countenance in ten minutes.
The result of this was that, in the words of the newspaper reports, "the witness's evidence was not concluded when the court rose." This was perhaps the greatest part of the trial to Erica. She had hoped, not only for her own, but for her father's sake, that her evidence might all be taken in one day, and Mr. Cringer, while really harming his own cause by prolonging her evidence, inflicted no slight punishment on the most troublesome witness he had ever had to deal with.
The next morning it all came over again with increased disagreeableness.
"Erica always was the plucky one," said Tom to his mother as they watched her enter the witness box. "She always did the confessing when we got into scrapes. I only hope that brute of a Cringer won't put her out of countenance."
He need not have feared, though in truth Erica was tried to the utmost. To begin with, it was one of the very hottest of the dog-days, and the court was crowded to suffocation. This was what the public considered the most interesting day of the trial for it was the most personal one, and the English have as great a taste for personalities as the Americans though it is not so constantly gratified. Apparently Mr. Cringer, being a shrewd man, had managed in the night watches to calculate Erica's one vulnerable point. She was fatally clear-headed; most aggravatingly and palpably truthful; most unfortunately fascinating; and, though naturally quick-tempered, most annoyingly self-controlled. But she was evidently delicate. If he could sufficiently harass and tire her, he might make her say pretty much what he pleased.
This, at least, was the conclusion at which he had arrived. And if it was indeed his duty to the defendant to exhaust both fair means and foul in the endeavor to win him his case, then he certainly fulfilled his duty. For six long hours, with only a brief interval for luncheon, Erica was baited, badgered, tormented with questions which in themselves were insults, assured that she had said what she had not said, tempted to say what she did not mean, involved in fruitless discussions about places and dates and, in fact, so thoroughly tortured, that most girls would long before have succumbed. She did not succumb, but she grew whiter and whiter save when some vile insinuation brought a momentary wave of crimson across her face.
Tom listened breathlessly to the examination which went on in a constant crescendo of bitterness.
"The plaintiff was in the habit of doing this?"
"Your suspicion was naturally excited, then?"
"Not excited?" incredulously.
"Not in the least."
"You are an inmate of the plaintiff's house, I believe?"
"But this has not always been the case?"
"All my life with the exception of two years."
"Your reason for the two years' absence had a connection with the plaintiff's mode of life, had it not?"
"Not in the sense you wish to imply. It had a connection with our extreme poverty."
"Though an inmate of you father's house, you are often away from home?"
"No, very rarely."
"Oblige me by giving a straightforward answer. What do you mean by rarely?"
"This is mere equivocation; will you give me a straightforward reply?"
"I can't make it more so," said Erica, keeping her temper perfectly and replying to the nagging interrogatories. "Do you mean once a year, twice a year?" etc., etc., with a steady patience which foiled Mr. Cringer effectually. He opened a fresh subject.
"Do you remember the 1st of September last year?"
"Do you remember what happened then?"
"Partridge shooting began."
There was much laughter at this reply; she made it partly because even now the comic side of everything struck her, partly because she wanted to gain time. What in the world was Mr. Cringer driving at?
"Did not something occur that night in Guilford Terrace which you were anxious to conceal?"
For a moment Erica was dumfounded. It flashed upon her that he knew of the Haeberlein adventure and meant to serve his purpose by distorting it into something very different. Luckily she was almost as rapid a thinker as her father; she saw that there was before her a choice of two evils. She must either allow Mr. Cringer to put an atrocious construction on her unqualified "yes" or she must boldly avow Haeberlein's visit.
"With regard to my father there was nothing to conceal," she replied.
"Will you swear that there was NOTHING to conceal?"
"With regard to my father there was nothing to conceal," she replied.
"Don't bandy words with me. Will you repeat my formula 'Nothing to conceal?'"
"No, I will not repeat that."
"You admit that there WAS something to conceal?"
"If you call Eric Haeberlein 'something' yes."
There was a great sensation in the court at these words. But Mr. Cringer was nonplused. The mysterious "something," out of which he had intended to make such capital, was turned into a boldly avowed reality a reality which would avail him nothing. Moreover, most people would now see through his very unworthy maneuvers. Furiously he hurled question upon question at Erica. He surpassed himself in sheer bullying. By this time, too, she was very weary. The long hours of standing, the insufferable atmosphere, the incessant stabs at her father's character made the examination almost intolerable. And the difficulty of answering the fire of questions was great. She struggled on, however, until the time came when Raeburn stood up to ask whether a certain question was allowable. She looked at him then for the first time, saw how terribly he was feeling her interminable examination, and for a moment lost heart. The rows of people grew hazy and indistinct. Mr. Cringer's face got all mixed up with his wig, she had to hold tightly to the railing. How much longer could she endure?
"Yet you doubtless thought this probable?" continued her tormentor.
"Oh, no! On the contrary, quite the reverse," said Erica with a momentary touch of humor.
"Are you acquainted with the popular saying: 'None are so blind as those who will not see?'"
The tone was so insulting that indignation restored Erica to her full strength; she was stung into giving a sharp retort.
"Yes," she said very quietly. "It has often occurred to me during this action as strangely applicable to the defendant."
Mr. Cringer looked as if he could have eaten her. There was a burst of applause which was speedily suppressed.
"Yet you do not, of course, mean to deny the whole allegation?"
"Are you aware that people will think you either a deluded innocent or an infamous deceiver?"
"I am not here to consider what people may think of me, but to speak the truth."
And as she spoke she involuntarily glanced toward those twelve fellow-countrymen of hers upon whose verdict so much depended. Probably even the oldest, even the coldest of the jurymen felt his heart beat a little faster as those beautiful, sad honest eyes scanned the jury box. As for the counsel for the defense, he prudently accepted his defeat and, as Raeburn would not ask a single question of his daughter in cross-examination, another witness was called.
Long after, it was a favorite story among the young barristers of how Mr. Cringer was checkmated by Raeburn's daughter.
The case dragged on its weary length till August. At last, when two months of the public time had been consumed, when something like 20,000 pounds had been spent, when most bitter resentment had been stirred up among the secularists, Mr. Pogson's defense came to an end. Raeburn's reply was short, but effective; and the jury returned a verdict in his favor, fixing the damages, however, at the very lowest sum, not because they doubted that Raeburn had been most grossly libeled, but because the plaintiff had the misfortune to be an atheist.
CHAPTER XXXVI. Rose's Adventure
If Christians would teach Infidels to be just to Christianity, they should themselves be just to infidelity. John Stuart Mill
The green room was one of those rooms which show to most advantage on a winter evening; attractive and comfortable at all times, it nevertheless reached its highest degree of comfort when the dusky green curtains were drawn, when the old wainscoted walls were lighted up by the red glow from the fire, and the well-worn books on the shelves were mellowed by the soft light into a uniform and respectable brown. One November evening, when without was the thickest of London fogs, Erica was sitting at her writing table with Friskarina on her lap, and Tottie curled up at her feet, preparing for one of her science classes, when she was interrupted by the sound of a cab drawing up, speedily followed by a loud ring at the bell.
"Surely Monsieur Noirol can't have come already!" she said to herself, looking at her watch. It was just six o'clock, a whole hour before dinner time. Steps were approaching the door, however, and she was just inhospitably wishing her guest elsewhere, when to her intense amazement the servant announced "Miss Fane-Smith."
She started forward with an exclamation of incredulity for it seemed absurd to think of Rose actually coming to see her in her father's house. But incredulity was no longer possible when Rose herself entered, in ulster and traveling hat, with her saucy laughing face, and her invariable content with herself and the world in general.
"Why, Erica!" she cried, kissing her on both cheeks, "I don't believe you're half properly glad to see me! Did you think it was my wraith? I assure you it's my own self in the flesh, and very cold flesh, too. What a delightful room! I'd no idea atheists' homes were so much like other people's. You cold-hearted little cousin, why don't you welcome me?"
"I am very glad to see you," said Erica, kissing her again. "But, Rose, what did bring you here?"
"A fusty old cab, a four-wheeler, a growler, don't you call them? But, if you knew why I have come to you in this unexpected way, you would treat me like the heroine I am, and not stand there like an incarnation of prudent hesitation. I've bee treated like the man in the parable, I've fallen among thieves, and am left with my raiment, certainly, but not a farthing besides in the world. And now, of course, you'll enact the good Samaritan.."
"Come and get warm," said Erica, drawing a chair toward the fire, but still feeling uncomfortable at the idea of Mr. Fane-Smith's horror and dismay could he have seen his daughter's situation.
"How do you come to be in town, Rose, and where were you robbed?"
"Why, I was going to stay with the Alburys at Sandgale, and left home about three, but at Paddington, when I went to get my ticket, lo and behold my purse had disappeared, and I was left lamenting, like Lord Ullin in the song."
"Have you any idea who took it?"
"Yes, I rather think it must have been a man on the Paddington platform who walked with a limp. I remember his pushing up against me very roughly, and I suppose that was when he took it. The porters were all horrid about it, though, I could get no one to help me, and I hadn't even the money to get my ticket. At last an old lady, who had heard of my penniless condition, advised me to go to any friends I might happen to have in London, and I bethought me of my cousin Erica. You will befriend me, won't you? For it is impossible to get to Sandgale tonight; there is no other train stopping there."
"I wish I knew what was right," said Erica, looking much perplexed. "You see, Rose, I'm afraid Mr. Fane-Smith would not like you to come here."
"Oh, nonsense," said Rose, laughing. "He couldn't mind in such a case as this. Why, I can't stay in the street all night. Besides, he doesn't know anything about your home, how should he?"
This was true enough, but still Erica hesitated.
"Who was that white-haired patriarchal-looking man whom I met in the hall?" asked Rose. "A sort of devotional quaker-kind of man."
Erica laughed aloud at this description.
"That's my father!" she said; and, before she had quite recovered her gravity, Raeburn came into the room with some papers which he wanted copied.
"Father," said Erica, "this is Rose, and she has come to ask our help because her purse has been stolen at Paddington, and she is stranded in London with no money."
"It sounds dreadfully like begging," said Rose, looking up into the brown eyes which seemed half kindly, half critical.
They smiled at this, and became at once only kind and hospitable.
"Not in the least," he said; "I am very glad you came to us."
And then he began to ask her many practical questions about her adventure, ending by promising to put the matter at once into the hands of the police. They were just discussing the impossibility of getting to Sandgale that evening when Tom came into the room.
"Where is mother?" he asked. "She has kept her cab at the door at least ten minutes; I had to give the fellow an extra sixpence."
"That wasn't auntie's cab," said Erica, "she came home half an hour ago; it was Rose's cab. I hope you didn't send away her boxes?"
"I beg your pardon," said Tom, looking much surprised and a little amused. "The boxes are safe in the hall, but I'm afraid the cab is gone beyond recall."
"You see it is evidently meant that I should quarter myself upon you!" said Rose, laughing.
Upon which Raeburn, with a grave and slightly repressive courtesy, said they should be very happy if she would stay with them.
"That will make my adventure perfect!" said Rose, her eyes dancing.
At which Raeburn smiled again, amused to think of the uneventful life in which such a trifling incident could seem an "adventure."
"It seems very inhospitable," said Erica, "but don't you think, Rose, you had better go back to Greyshot?"
"No, you tiresome piece of prudence, I don't," said Rose perversely. "And what's more, I won't, as Uncle Luke has asked me to stay."
Erica felt very uncomfortable; she could have spoken decidedly had she been alone with any of the three, but she could not, before them all, say: "Mr. Fane-Smith thinks father an incarnation of wickedness and would be horrified if he knew that you were here."
Tom had in the meantime walked to the window and drawn aside the curtain.
"The weather means to settle the question for you," he said. "You really can't go off in such a fog as this; it would take you hours to get to Paddington, if you ever did get there, which is doubtful."
They looked out and saw that he had not exaggerated matters; the fog had grown much worse since Rose's arrival, and it had been bad enough then to make traveling by no means safe. Erica saw that there was no help for it. Mr. Fane-Smith's anger must be incurred, and Rose must stay with them. She went away to see that her room was prepared, and coming back a little later found that in that brief time Rose had managed to enthrall poor Tom who, not being used to the genus, was very easily caught, his philosophy being by no means proof against a fair-haired, bright-looking girl who in a very few moments made him feel that she thought most highly of him and cared as no one had ever cared before for his opinion. She had not the smallest intention of doing harm, but admiration was what she lived for, and to flirt with every man she met had become almost as natural and necessary to her as to breathe.
Erica, out of loyalty to Mr. Fane-Smith and regard for Tom's future happiness, felt bound to be hard-hearted and to separate them at dinner. Tom used to sit at the bottom of the table as Raeburn did not care for the trouble of carving; Erica was at the head with her father in his usual place at her right hand. She put Rose in between him and the professor who generally dined with them on Saturday; upon the opposite side were Aunt Jean and M. Noirol. Now Rose, who had been quite in her element as long as she had been talking with Tom in the green room, felt decidedly out of her element when she was safely ensconced between her white-haired uncle and the shaggy-looking professor. If Erica had felt bewildered when first introduced to the gossip and small "society" talk of Greyshot, Rose felt doubly bewildered when for the first time in her life she came into a thoroughly scientific atmosphere. She realized that there were a few things which she had yet to learn. She was not fond of learning so the discovery was the reverse of pleasant; she felt ignorant and humbled, liking to be AU FAIT at everything and to know things and do things just a little better than other people. Having none of the humility of a true learner, she only felt annoyed at her own ignorance, not raised and bettered and stimulated by a glimpse of the infinite greatness of science.
Raeburn, seeing that she was not in the least interested in the discussion of the future of electricity, left the professor to continue it with Tom, and began to talk to her about the loss of her purse, and to tell her of various losses which he had had. But Rose had the mortifying consciousness that all the time he talked he was listening to the conversation between Erica and M. Noirol. As far as Rose could make out it was on French politics; but they spoke so fast that her indifferent school French was of very little service to her. By and by Raeburn was drawn into the discussion and Rose was left to amuse herself as well as she could by listening to a rapid flow of unintelligible French on one side, and to equally unintelligible scientific talk on the other. By and by this was merged into a discussion some recent book. They seemed to get deeply interested in a dispute as to whether Spinoza was or was not at any time in his life a Cartesian.