Methought I heard one
And I replied:
A favorite pastime with country children
is to watch the gradual growth of the acorn into the
oak tree. They will suspend the acorn in a glass
of water and watch the slow progress during long months.
First one tiny white thread is put forth, then another,
until at length the glass is almost filled with a
tangle of white fibers, a sturdy little stem raises
itself up, and the baby tree, if it is to live, must
be at once transplanted into good soil. The process
may be botanically interesting, but there is something
a little sickly about it, too there is a feeling that,
after all, the acorn would have done better in its
natural ground hidden away in darkness.
And, if we have this feeling with
regard to vegetable growth, how much more with regard
to spiritual growth! To attempt to set up the
gradually awakening spirit in an apparatus where it
might be the observed of all observers would be at
once repulsive and presumptuous. Happily, it is
impossible. We may trace influences and suggestions,
just as we may note the rain or drought, the heat
or cold that affect vegetable growth, but the actual
birth is ever hidden.
To attempt even to shadow forth Erica’s
growth during the next year would be worse than presumptuous.
As to her outward life it was not greatly changed,
only intensified. October always began their busiest
six months. There was the night school at which
she was able to work again indefatigably. There
were lectures to be attended. Above all there
was an ever-increasing amount of work to be done for
her father. In all the positive and constructive
side of secularism, in all the efforts made by it
to better humanity, she took an enthusiastic share.
Naturally she did not see so much of Charles Osmond
now that she was strong again. In the press of
business, in the hard, every-day life there was little
time for discussion. They met frequently, but
never for one of their long tete-a-têtes.
Perhaps Erica purposely avoided them. She was
strangely different now from the little impetuous girl
who had come to his study years ago, trembling with
anger at the lady superintendent’s insult.
Insults had since then, alas, become so familiar to
her, that she had acquired a sort of patient dignity
of endurance, infinitely sad to watch in such a young
One morning in early June, just a
year after the memorable Hyde Park meeting, Charles
Osmond happened to be returning from the death bed
of one of his parishioners when, at the corner of
Guilford Square, he met Erica. It might have
been in part the contrast with the sad and painful
scene he had just quitted, but he thought she had never
before looked so beautiful. Her face seemed to
have taken to itself the freshness and the glow of
the summer morning.
“You are early abroad,”
he said, feeling older and grayer and more tired than
ever as he paused to speak to her.
“I am off to the museum to read,”
she said, “I like to get there by nine, then
you don’t have to wait such an age for your books;
I can’t bear waiting.”
“What are you at work upon now?”
“Oh, today for the last time
I am going to hunt up particulars about Livingstone.
Hazeldine was very anxious that a series of papers
on his life should be written for our people.
What a grand fellow he was!”
“I heard a characteristic anecdote
of him the other day,” said Charles Osmond.
“He was walking beside one of the African lakes
which he had discovered, when suddenly there dawned
on him a new meaning to long familiar words:
‘The blood of Christ,’ he exclaimed.
’That must be Charity! The blood of Christ
that must be Charity!’ A beautiful thought,
too seldom practically taught.”
Erica looked grave.
of his broad-heartedness, but I don’t think
that anecdote will do for the readers of the ‘Idol-Breaker.’”
Then, looking up at Charles Osmond, she added in a
rather lower tone: “Do you know, I had
no idea when I began what a difficult task I had got.
I thought in such an active life as that there would
be little difficulty in keeping the religious part
away from the secular, but it is wonderful how Livingstone
contrives to mix them up.”
“You see, if Christianity be
true, it must, as you say, ‘mix up’ with
everything. There should be no rigid distinction
between secular and religious,” said Charles
“If it is true,” said
Erica, suddenly, and with seeming irrelevance, “then
sooner or later we must learn it to be so. Truth
must win in the end. But it is worse to
wait for perfect certainty than for books at the museum,”
she added, laughing. “It is five minutes
to nine I shall be late.”
Charles Osmond walked home thoughtfully;
the meeting had somehow cheered him.
“Absolute conviction that truth
must out that truth must make itself perceptible.
I’ve not often come across a more beautiful faith
than that. Yes, little Undine, right you are.
’Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall
make you free.’ Here or there, here or there
‘All things come
round to him who will but wait.’
There’s one for yourself, Charles
Osmond. None of your hurrying and meddling now,
old man; you’ve just got to leave it to your
Soliloquizing after this fashion he
reached home, and was not sorry to find his breakfast
awaiting him, for he had been up the greater part of
The great domed library of the British
Museum had become very home-like to Erica, it was
her ideal of comfort; she went there whenever she
wanted quiet, for in the small and crowded lodgings
she could never be secure from interruptions, and
interruptions resulted in bad work. There was
something, too, in the atmosphere of the museum which
seemed to help her. She liked the perfect stillness,
she liked the presence of all the books. Above
all, too, she liked the consciousness of possession.
There was no narrow exclusiveness about this place,
no one could look askance at her here. The place
belonged to the people, and therefore belonged to
her; she heretic and atheist as she was had as much
share in the ownership as the highest in the land.
She had her own peculiar nook over by the encyclopedias,
and, being always an early comer, seldom failed to
secure her own particular chair and desk.
On this morning she took her place,
as she had done hundreds of times before, and was
soon hard at work. She was finishing her last
paper on Livingstone when a book she had ordered was
deposited on her desk by one of the noiseless attendants.
She wanted it to verify one or two dates, and she
half thought she would try to hunt up Charles Osmond’s
anecdote. In order to write her series of papers,
she had been obliged to study the character of the
great explorer pretty thoroughly. She had always
been able to see the nobility even of those differing
most widely from herself in point of creed, and the
great beauty of Livingstone’s character had
impressed her very much. Today she happened to
open on an entry in his journal which seemed particularly
characteristic of the man. He was in great danger
from the hostile tribes at the union of the Zambesi
and Loangwa, and there was something about his spontaneous
utterance which appealed very strongly to Erica.
“Felt much turmoil of spirit
in view of having all my plans for the welfare of
this great region and teeming population knocked on
the head by savages tomorrow. But I read that
Jesus came and said: ’All power is given
unto me in Heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore
and teach all nations, and lo! I am with you
always, even unto the end of the world.’
It is the word of a gentleman of the most sacred and
strictest honor, and there’s an end on’t.
I will not cross furtively by night as I intended...
Nay, verily, I shall take observations for latitude
and longitude tonight, though they may be the last.”
The courage, the daring, the perseverance,
the intense faith of the man shone out in these sentences.
Was it indeed a delusion, such practical faith as
Blackness of darkness seemed to hem
her in. She struggled through it once more by
the one gleam of certainty which had come to her in
the past year. Truth must be self-revealing.
Sooner or later, if she were honest, if she did not
shut her mind deliberately up with the assurance “You
have thought out these matters fully and fairly; enough!
Let us now rest content” and if she were indeed
a true “Freethinker,” she must know.
And even as that conviction returned to her the words
half quaint, half pathetic, came to her mind:
“It is the word of a gentleman of the most sacred
and strictest honor, and there’s an end on’t.”
Yes, there would “be an end
on’t,” if she could feel sure that he,
too, was not deluded.
She turned over the pages of the book,
and toward the end found a copy of the inscription
on Livingstone’s tomb. Her eye fell on the
words: “And other sheep I have which are
not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they
shall hear My voice.”
Somehow the mention of the lost sheep
brought to her mind the little lost child on the beach
at Codrington Dolly, who had “putted on”
her own hat, who had wanted to be independent and
to dig by herself. She had run away from home,
and could not find the way back. What a steep
climb they had had up the beach how the little thing’s
tiny feet had slipped and stumbled over the stones,
and just when they were most perplexed, the father
had found them.
Exactly how it all came to her Erica
never knew, nor could she ever put into words the
story of the next few moments. When “God’s
great sunrise” finds us out we have need of
something higher than human speech there are
no words for it. At the utmost she could only
say that it was like coming out of the twilight, that
it seemed as if she were immersed in a great wave
of all pervading light.
All in a moment the Christ who had
been to her merely a noble character of ancient history
seemed to become to her the most real and living of
all living realities. Even her own existence seemed
to fade into a vague and misty shadow in comparison
with the intensity of this new consciousness this
conviction of His being which surrounded her which
she knew, indeed, to be “way, and truth, and
life. They shall hear My voice.” In
the silence of waiting, in the faithfulness of honest
searching, Erica for the first time in her life heard
it. Yes, she had been right truth was self-revealing.
A few minutes ago those words had been to her an unfulfilled,
a vain promise the speaker, broad-hearted and loving
as he was, had doubtless been deluded. But now
the voice spoke to her, called her by name, told her
what she wanted.
“Dolly,” became to her
a parable of life. She had been like that little
child; for years and years she had been toiling up
over rough stones and slippery pebbles, but at last
she had heard the voice. Was this the coming
to the Father?
That which often appears sudden and
unaccountable is, if we did but know it, a slow, beautiful
evolution. It was now very nearly seven years
since the autumn afternoon when the man “too
nice to be a clergyman,” and “not a bit
like a Christian,” had come to Erica’s
home, had shown her that at least one of them practiced
the universal brotherliness which almost all preached.
It was nearly seven years since words of absolute
conviction, words of love and power, had first sounded
forth from Christian lips in her father’s lecture
hall, and had awakened in her mind that miserably
uncomfortable question “supposing Christianity
should be true?”
All the most beautiful influences
are quiet; only the destructive agencies, the stormy
wind, the heavy rain and hail, are noisy. Love
of the deepest sort is wordless, the sunshine steals
down silently, the dew falls noiselessly, and the
communion of spirit with spirit is calmer and quieter
than anything else in the world quiet as the spontaneous
turning of the sunflower to the sun when the heavy
clouds have passed away, and the light and warmth
reveal themselves. The subdued rustle of leaves,
the hushed footsteps sounded as usual in the great
library, but Erica was beyond the perception of either
place or time.
Presently she was recalled by the
arrival of another student, who took the chair next
to hers a little deformed man, with a face which looked
prematurely old, and sad, restless eyes. A few
hours before she would have regarded him with a sort
of shuddering compassion; now with the compassion
there came to her the thought of compensation which
even here and now might make the poor fellow happy.
Was he not immortal? Might he not here and now
learn what she had just learned, gain that unspeakable
joy? And might not the knowledge go on growing
and increasing forever? She took up her pen once
more, verified the dates, rolled up her manuscript,
and with one look at Livingstones’s journal,
returned it to the clerk and left the library.
It was like coming into a new world;
even dingy Bloomsbury seemed beautiful. Her face
was so bright, so like the face of a happy child,
that more than one passer-by was startled by it, lifted
for a moment from sordid cares into a purer atmosphere.
She felt a longing to speak to some one who would
understand her new happiness. She had reached
Guilford Square, and looked doubtfully across to the
Osmonds’ house. They would understand.
But no she must tell her father first. And then,
with a fearful pang, she realized what her new conviction
meant. It meant bringing the sword into her father’s
house; it meant grieving him with a life-long grief;
it meant leaving the persecuted minority and going
over to the triumphant majority; it meant unmitigated
pain to all those she loved best.
Erica had had her full share of pain,
but never had she known anything so agonizing as that
moment’s sharp revulsion. Mechanically she
walked on until she reached home; nobody was in.
She looked into the little sitting room but, only
Friskarina sat purring on the rug. The table
was strewn with the Saturday papers; the midday post
had just come. She turned over the letters and
found one for herself in her father’s handwriting.
It was the one thing needed to complete the realization
of her pain. She snatched it up with a stifled
sob, ran upstairs to her room, and threw herself down
on the bed in silent agony.
A new joy had come to her which her
father could not share; a joy which he would call
a delusion, which he spent a great part of his life
in combating. To tell him that she was convinced
of the truth of Christianity why, it would almost
break his heart.
And yet she must inflict this terrible
pain. Her nature was far too noble to have dreamed
for a single instant of temporizing, of keeping her
thoughts to herself. A Raeburn was not likely
to fail either in courage or in honesty; but with
her courage and honesty, Erica had the violin-like
sensitiveness of nature which Eric Haeberlein had noticed
even in her childhood. She saw in the future all
the pain she must bring to her father, intensified
by her own sensitiveness. She knew so well what
her feelings would have been but a short time ago,
if any one she greatly loved had “fallen back”
into Christianity. How could she tell him?
How could she!
Yet it was a thing which must be done.
Should she write to him? No, the letter might
reach him when he was tired and worried yet, to speak
would be more painful.
She got up and went to the window,
and let the summer wind blow on her heated forehead.
The world had seemed to her just before one glorious
presence-chamber full of sunshine and rejoicing.
But already the shadow of a life-long pain had fallen
on her heart. A revealed Christ meant also a
revealed cross, and a right heavy one.
It was only by degrees that she grew
strong again, and Livingstone’s text came back
to her once more, “I am with you always.”
By and by she opened her father’s
letter. It ran as follows:
“I have just remembered that
Monday will be your birthday. Let us spend it
together, little son Erica. A few days at Codrington
would do us both good, and I have a tolerably leisure
week. If you can come down on Saturday afternoon,
so much the better. I will meet you there, if
you will telegraph reply as soon as you get this.
I have three lectures at Helmstone on Sunday, but
you will probably prefer a quiet day by the sea.
Bring me Westcott’s new book, and you might put
in the chisel and hammer. We will do a little
geologizing for the professor, if we have time.
Meeting here last night a great success. Your
loving father, Luke Raeburn.”
“He is only thinking how he
can give me pleasure,” sighed Erica. “And
I have nothing to give him but pain.”
She went at once, however, for the
“Bradshaw,” and looked out the afternoon
trains to Codrington.