We Two; a Novel

Contents:
Author: Edna Lyall

Chapter XXXIX. Ashborough

There’s a brave fellow! There’s a man of pluck! A man who is not afraid to say his say, Though a whole town’s against him. Longfellow

A man’s love is the measure of his fitness for good or bad company here or elsewhere. Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The week at Oakdene proved in every way a success; Raeburn liked his host heartily, and the whole atmosphere of the house was a revelation to him. The last morning there had been a little clouded for news had reached them of a terrible colliery accident in the north of England. The calamity had a special gloom about it for it might very easily have been prevented, the owners having long known that the mine was unsafe.

"I must say it is a little hard to see how such a horrible sin as carelessness of the lives of human beings can ever bring about the greater good which we believe evil to do," said Erica, as she took her last walk in the wood with Donovan.

"’Tis hard to see at the time," he replied. "But I am convinced that it is so. The sin is never good, never right; but when men will sin, then the result of the sin, however frightful, brings about more good that the perseverance in sin with no catastrophe would have done. A longer-deferred good, of course, than the good which would have resulted by adhering from the first to the right, and so far inferior."

"Of course," said Erica, "I can see that a certain amount of immediate good may result from this disaster. It will make the owners of other mines more careful."

"And what of the hundred unseen workings that will result from it?" said Donovan, smiling. "In the first shock of horror one can not even glimpse the larger view, but later on—"

He paused for a minute; they were down in the valley close to the little church; he opened the gate and led the way to a bench under the great yew tree. Sitting here, they could see the recumbent white cross with its ever-fresh crown of white flowers. Erica knew something of the story it told.

"Shall I tell you what turned me from an anti-theist to an atheist?" said Donovan. "It was the horror of knowing that a little child’s life had been ruined by carelessness. I had been taught to believe in a terrific phantom who was severely just; but when it seemed that the one quality of justice was gone, then I took refuge in the conviction that there could be no God at all. That WAS a refuge for the time, for it is better to believe in no God than to believe in an immoral God and it was long years before a better refuge found me. Yet, looking back now over these sevenand-twenty years, I see how that one little child’s suffering has influenced countless lives! How it was just the most beautiful thing that could have happened to her!"

Erica did not speak for a moment, she read half dreamily the words engraved on the tombstone. Nearly sixteen years since that short, uneventful life had passed into the unseen, and yet little Dot was at this moment influencing the world’s history.

She was quite cheerful again as they walked home, and, indeed, her relief about her father’s recovery was so great that she could not be unhappy for long about anything. They found Raeburn on the terrace with Ralph and Dolly at his heels, and the two-year-old baby, who went by the name of Pickle, on his shoulder.

"I shall quite miss these bairnies," he said as Donovan joined them."

"Gee up, horsey! Gee up!" shouted Pickle from his lofty perch.

"And oh, daddy, may we go into Gleyshot wiv you?" said Dolly, coaxingly. "Elica’s father’s going to give me a playcat."

"And me a whip," interposed Ralph. "We may come with you, father, mayn’t we?"

"Oh! Yes," said Donovan, smiling; "if Mr. Raeburn doesn’t mind a crowded carriage."

Erica had gone into the house.

"I don’t know how to let you go," said Gladys, "We have so much enjoyed having you. I think you had much better stay here will Monday and leave those two to take care of themselves at Ashborough."

"Oh, no," said Erica, smiling, "that would never do! You don’t realize what an event this is to me. It is the first time father has spoken since his illness. Besides, I have not yet quite learned to think him well enough to look after himself though, of course, he is getting quite strong again."

"Well, since you will go, come and choose a book for your journey," said Gladys.

"Oh, I should like that," said Erica; "a nice homish sort of book, please, where the people lived in Arcadia and never heard of law courts!"

Early in the afternoon they drove to Greyshot, stopping first of all at the toy shop. Raeburn, who was in excellent spirits, fully entered into the difficulties of Dolly’s choice. At length a huge toy cat was produced.

"Oh, I should like that one!" said Dolly, clapping her hands. "What a ’normous, gleat big cat it is!"

"I shouldn’t have known what it was meant for," said Raeburn, scrutinizing the rather shapeless furry quadruped. "How is it that you can’t make them more like cats than this?"

"I don’t know, sir, how it is," said the shopwoman; "we get very good dogs and rabbits, and donkeys, but they don’t seem to have attained to the making of cats."

This view of the matter so tickled Raeburn that he left Ralph and Dolly to see the "’normous gleat big cat" wrapped up, and went out of the shop laughing.

But just outside, a haggard, wild-looking man came up to him and began to address him in excited tones.

"You are the vile atheist, Luke Raeburn!" he cried, "Oh, I know you well enough. I tell you, you have lost my son’s soul; do you hear, wretched infidel, you destroyed my son’s soul! His guilt is upon you! And I will have vengeance! Vengeance!"

"My friend," said Raeburn quietly, "supposing your son had what you call a soul, do you think that I, a man, should be able to destroy it?"

"You have made him what you are yourself," cried the man, "an accursed infidel, an incarnate devil! But I tell you I will have vengeance, vengeance!"

"Have the goodness not to come so near my daughter," said Raeburn for the man was pushing up roughly against Erica, who had just come out of the shop. The words were spoken in such an authoritative manner that the man shrunk back awed, and in another minute the children had rejoined them, and they drove off to the station.

"What was that man saying?" asked Erica.

"Apparently his son has become a secularist, and he means to revenge himself on me," said Raeburn. "If it wouldn’t have lost me this train, I would have given him in charge for using threatening language. But no doubt the poor fellow was half-witted."

Donovan had walked on to the station and so had missed this incident, and though for the time it saddened Erica, yet she speedily forgot it in talking to the children. The arrival at Ashborough, too, was exciting, and she was so delighted to see her father once more in the enjoyment of full health and strength that she could not long be disquieted about anything else. It was a great happiness to her to hear him speak upon any subject on which they were agreed, and his reception that evening at the Ashborough Town Hall was certainly a most magnificent one. The ringing cheers made the tears start to her eyes. The people had been roused by his late illness and, though many of them disliked his theological views, they felt that in political matters he was a man whom they could very ill spare. His speech was a remarkably powerful one, and calculated to do great good. Erica’s spirits rose to their very highest pitch and, as they went back together to their hotel, she kept both Raeburn and Donovan in fits of laughter. It was long months since her father had seen her so brilliant and witty.

"You are ’fey,’ little one," he said. "I prophesy a headache for you tomorrow."

And the prophecy came true for Erica awoke the next morning with a sense of miserable oppression. The day, too, was gray and dreary-looking, it seemed like a different world altogether. Raeburn was none the worse for his exertions; he took a quiet day, however, went for a walk with Donovan in the afternoon, and set off in good time for his evening lecture. It was Sunday evening, Erica was going to church with Donovan, and had her walking things on when her father looked into the room to say goodbye.

"What, going out?" he said. "You don’t look fit for it, Eric."

"Oh!" she said, "it is no use to give way to this sort of headache; it’s only one’s wretched nerves."

"Well, take carte of yourself," he said, kissing her. "I believe you are worn out with all these weeks of attendance on a cantankerous old father."

She laughed and brightened up, going out with him to the head of the stairs, and returning to watch him from the window. Just as he left the door of the hotel, a small child fell face downward on the pavement on the opposite side of the road and began to cry bitterly. Raeburn crossed over and picked up the small elf; they could hear him saying: "There, there, more frightened than hurt, I think," as he brushed the dust from the little thing’s clothes.

"How exactly like father!" said Erica, smiling; he never would let us think ourselves hurt. I believe it is thanks to him that Tom has grown up such a Stoic, and that I’m not a very lachrymose sort of being."

A little later they started for church, but toward the end of the Psalms Donovan felt a touch on his arm. He turned to Erica; she was a white as death, and with a strange, glassy look in her eyes.

"Come," she said in a hoarse whisper, "come out with me."

He thought she felt faint, but she walked steadily down the aisle. When they were outside she grasped his arm and seemed to make a great effort to speak naturally.

"Forgive me for disturbing you," she said, "but I have such a dreadful feeling that something is going to happen. I feel that I must go to my father."

Donovan thought that she was probably laboring under a delusion. He knew that she was always very anxious about her father and that Ashborough, owing to various memories, was exactly the place where this anxiety would be likely to weigh upon her. He thought, too, that Raeburn was very likely right and that she was rather overdone by the strain of those long weeks of solitary attendance. But he was much too wise to attempt to reason away her fears; he knew that nothing but her father’s presence would set her at rest, and they walked as fast as they could to the Town Hall. He was just turning down a street which led into the High Street when Erica drew him instead in the direction of a narrow byway.

"Down here," she said, walking straight on as though she held some guiding clew in her hand.

He was astonished as she could not possibly have been in this part of the town before. Moreover, her whole bearing was very strange; she was still pale and trembling, and her ungloved hands felt as cold as ice while, although he had given her his arm, he felt all the time that she was leading him.

At length a sound of many voices was heard in the distance. Donovan felt a sort of thrill pass through the hand that rested on his arm, and Erica began to walk more quickly than ever. A minute more, and the little byway led them out into the market place. It was lighted with the electric light, and tonight the light was concentrated at one end, the end at which stood the Town Hall. Instinctively Donovan’s eyes were turned at once toward that brightest point and also toward the sound, the subdued roar of the multitude which they had heard on their way. There was another sound, too a man’s ringing voice, a stentorian voice which reached them clearly even at that distance. Raeburn stood alone, facing an angry, tumultuous throng, with his back to the closed door of the building and his tawny eyes scanning the mass of hostile faces below.

"Every Englishman has a right to freedom of speech. You shall not rob me or any other man of a right. I have fought for this all my life, and I will fight as long as I’ve breath."

"That shall not be long!" shouted another speaker. "Forward, brothers! Down with the infidel! Vengeance, vengeance."

The haggard, wild-looking man who had addressed Raeburn the day before at Greyshot now sprang forward ; there was a surging movement in the crowd like wind in a corn field. Donovan and Erica, hurrying forward, saw Raeburn surrounded on every side, forced away from the door, and at length half stunned by a heavy blow from the fanatical leader; then, taken thus at a disadvantage, he was pushed backward. They saw him fall heavily down the stone steps.

With a low cry Erica rushed toward him, breaking away from Donovan and forcing a way through that rough crowd as if by magic. Donovan, though so much taller and stronger, was longer in reaching the foot of the steps, and when at length he had pushed his way through the thickest part of the throng he was hindered for the haggard-looking man who had been the ringleader in the assault ran into his very arms. He was evidently struck with horror at the result of his mad enterprise and now meditated flight. But Donovan stopped him.

"You must come with me, my friend," he exclaimed, seizing the fanatic by the collar.

Nor did he pause till he had handed him over to a policeman. Then once more he forced a passage through the hushed crowd and at last reached the foot of the steps. He found Erica on the ground with her father’s head raised on her knees. He was perfectly unconscious, but it seemed as if his spirit and energy had been transmitted to his child. Erica was giving orders so clearly and authoritatively that Donovan could only marvel at her strength and composure.

"Stand back!" she was saying as he approached. "How can he come to while you are shutting out the air? Some one go quickly and fetch a door or a litter. You go, and you."

She indicated two or three more respectable-looking men, and they at once obeyed her. She looked relieved to see Donovan.

"Won’t you go inside and speak to the people?" she said. "I have sent for a doctor. If some one doesn’t go soon, they will come out, and then there might be a riot. Tell them if they have any feeling for my father to separate quietly. Don’t let them all out upon these people; there is sure to be fighting if they meet."

Donovan could not bear to leave her in such a position, but just then a doctor came up, and the police began to drive back the crowd; and since the people were rather awed by what had happened, they dispersed meekly enough. Donovan went into the Town Hall then, and gradually learned what had taken place. It seemed that soon after the beginning of Raeburn’s lecture, a large crowd had gathered outside, headed by a man named Drosser, a street preacher, well-known in Ashborough and the neighborhood. This crowd had stormed the doors of the hall and had created such an uproar that it was impossible to proceed with the lecture. The doors had been quite unequal to the immense pressure from without, and Raeburn, foreseeing that they would give way and knowing that, if the insurgents met his audience, there would be serious risk to the lives of many, had insisted on trying to dismiss the crowd without, or, at any rate, to secure some sort of order. Several had offered to go with him, but he had begged the audience to keep still and had gone out alone the crowd being so astonished by this unexpected move that they fell back for a moment before him. Apparently his plan would have succeeded very well had it not been for Drosser’s deliberate assault. He had gained a hearing from the people and would probably have dispersed them had he not been borne down by brute force.

It was no easy task to tell the audience what had happened; but Donovan was popular and greatly respected and, thanks to his tact, their wrath, though very great, was restrained. In fact, Raeburn was so well known to disapprove of any sort of violence that Donovan’s appeal to them to preserve order for his sake met with a deep, suppressed murmur of assent. When all was safe he hurried back to the hotel where they were glad enough of his services. Raeburn had recovered his senses for a minute but only to sink almost immediately into another swoon. For many hours this went on; he would partly revive, even speak a few words, and then sink back once more. Every time Erica thought it would end in death, nor could she gather comfort from the looks of either of the doctors or of Donovan.

"This is not the first time I’ve been knocked down and trampled on," said Raeburn, faintly, in one of his intervals of consciousness, "but it will be the last time."

And though the words were spoken with a touch of his native humor and might have borne more than one interpretation, yet they answered painfully to the conviction which lay deep in Erica’s heart.

"Then let me send a telegram from the ’Ashborough Times’ office," said Donovan to her in one of the momentary pauses. "I have sent for your cousin and Mrs. Craigie and for Brian."

For the first time Erica’s outward composure gave way. Her mouth began to quiver and her eyes to fill.

"Oh! Thank you," she said; and there was something in her voice that went to Donovan’s heart.

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Chicago: Edna Lyall, "Chapter XXXIX. Ashborough," We Two; a Novel, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Evans, Sebastian in We Two; a Novel Original Sources, accessed January 27, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DF6CQKS2HQ5D2G.

MLA: Lyall, Edna. "Chapter XXXIX. Ashborough." We Two; a Novel, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Evans, Sebastian, in We Two; a Novel, Original Sources. 27 Jan. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DF6CQKS2HQ5D2G.

Harvard: Lyall, E, 'Chapter XXXIX. Ashborough' in We Two; a Novel, ed. and trans. . cited in , We Two; a Novel. Original Sources, retrieved 27 January 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=8DF6CQKS2HQ5D2G.