Part 3 out of 3
like the woman of their thin worship! Not a few were pretty, he allowed,
and some were quaint--that is, had curious old-flavored phrases and
fantastic turns of thought; but throughout there was no revelation! They
sparkled too with the names of things in themselves beautiful, but
whether these things were in general wisely or fairly used in his
figures and tropes and comparisons, he was now more than doubtful. He
had put on his singing robes to whisper his secret love into the two
great red ears of the public!--desiring, not sympathy from love and
truth, but recognition from fame and report! That he had not received it
was better than he deserved! Then what a life was it thus to lie
wallowing among the mushrooms of the press! To spend gifts which,
whatever they were, were divine, in publishing the tidings that this man
had done ill, that other had done well, that he was amusing, and she was
dull! Was it worth calling work, only because it was hard and dreary?
His conscience, his taste, his impulses, all declined to back him in it
any longer. What was he doing for the world? they asked him. How many
books had he guided men to read, by whose help they might steer their
way through the shoals of life? He could count on the fingers of one
hand such as he had heartily recommended. If he had but pointed out what
was good in books otherwise poor, it would have been something! He had
not found it easy to be at once clever, honest, and serviceable to his
race: the press was but for the utterance of opinion, true or false, not
for the education of thought! And why should such as he write books, who
had nothing to tell men that could make them braver, stronger, purer,
more loving, less selfish!
What next was to be done? His calling had vanished! It was not work
worthy of a man! It was contemptible as that of the parson to whom the
church is a profession! He owed his landlady money: how was he to pay
her? He must eat, or how was he to work? There must be something honest
for him to do! Was a man to do the wrong in order to do the right?
The true Walter was waking--beginning to see things as they were, and
not as men regarded them. He was tormented with doubts and fears of all
kinds, high and low. But for the change in his father's circumstances,
he would have asked his help, cleared off everything, and gone home at
once; and had he been truer to his father, he would have known that such
a decision would even now have rejoiced his heart.
He had no longer confidence enough to write on any social question. Of
the books sent him, he chose such as seemed worthiest of notice, but
could not do much. He felt not merely a growing disinclination, but a
growing incapacity for the work. How much the feeling may have been
increased by the fact that his health was giving way, I can not tell;
but certainly the root of it was moral.
His funds began to fail his immediate necessities, and he had just come
from pawning the watch which he would have sold but that it had been his
mother's, and was the gift of his father, when he met Harold Sullivan,
who persuaded him to go with him to a certain theater in which the
stalls had not yet entirely usurped upon the enjoyable portion of the
pit. Between the first and second acts, he caught sight of Lady Lufa in
a box, with Sefton standing behind her. There was hardly a chance of
their seeing him, and he regarded them at his ease, glad to see Sefton,
and not sorry to see Lufa, for it was an opportunity of testing himself.
He soon perceived that they held almost no communication with each
other, but was not surprised, knowing in how peculiar a relation they
stood. Lufa was not looking unhappy--far from it; her countenance
expressed absolute self-contentment: in all parts of the house she was
attracting attention, especially from the young men. Sefton's look was
certainly not one of content; but neither, as certainly, was it one of
discontent; it suggested power waiting opportunity, strength quietly
attendant upon, hardly expectant of the moment of activity. Walter
imagined one watching a beloved cataleptic: till she came alive, what
was to be done but wait! God has had more waiting than any one else!
Lufa was an iceberg that would not melt even in the warm southward sea,
watched by a still volcano, whose fires were of no avail, for they could
not reach her. Sparklingly pretty, not radiantly beautiful, she sat,
glancing, coruscating, glittering, anything except glowing: glow she
could not even put on! She did not know what it was. Now and then a soft
sadness would for a moment settle on Sefton's face--like the gray of a
cloudy summer evening about to gather into a warm rain; but this was
never when he looked at her; it was only when, without seeing, he
thought about her. Hitherto Walter had not been capable of understanding
the devotion, the quiet strength, the persistent purpose of the man; now
he began to see into it and wonder. While a spark of hope lay alive in
those ashes of disappointment that had often seemed as if they would
make but a dust-heap of his bosom, there he must remain, by the clean,
cold hearth, swept and garnished, of the woman he loved--loved
strangely, mysteriously, inexplicably even to himself!
Walter sat gazing; and as he gazed, simultaneously the two became aware
of his presence. A friendly smile spread over Sefton's face, but, with
quick perception, he abstained from any movement that might seem to
claim recognition. To Walter's wonder, Lufa, so perfectly
self-contained, so unchangingly self-obedient, colored--faintly indeed,
but plainly enough to the eyes of one so well used to the white rose of
her countenance. She moved neither head nor person, only turned her eyes
away, and seemed, like the dove for its foot, to seek some resting-place
for her vision--and with the sight awoke in Walter the first unselfish
resolve of his life. Would he not do anything--could he not do something
to bring those two together? The thought seemed even to himself almost a
foolish one; but spiritual relations and potencies go far beyond
intellectual ones, and a man must become a fool to be wise. Many a
foolish thought, many a most improbable idea, has proved itself
seed-bearing fruit of the kingdom of heaven. A man may fail to effect,
or be unable to set hand to work he would fain do--and be judged, as
Browning says in his "Saul," by what he would have done if he could.
Only the _would_ must be as true as a deed; then it is a deed. The
kingdom of heaven is for the dreamers of true dreams only!
Was there then anything Walter could do to help the man to gain the
woman he had so faithfully helped Walter to lose? It was no plain task.
The thing was not to enable him to marry her--that Sefton could have
done long ago--might do any day without help from him! As she then was,
she was no gain for any true man! But if he could help to open the eyes
of the cold-hearted, conceited, foolish girl, either to her own
valuelessness as she was, or her worth as she might be, or again to the
value, the eternal treasure of the heart she was turning from, she would
then be a gift that in the giving grew worthy even of such a man!
Here, however, came a different thought, bearing nevertheless in the
same direction. It was very well to think of Lufa's behavior to Sefton,
but what had Walter's been to Lufa? It may seem strange that the
reflection had not come to him before; but in nothing are we slower than
in discovering our own blame--and the slower that we are so quick to
perceive or imagine we perceive the blame of others. For, the very fact
that we see and heartily condemn the faults of others, we use,
unconsciously perhaps, as an argument that we must be right ourselves.
We must take heed not to judge with the idea that so we shall escape
judgment--that by condemning evil we clear ourselves. Walter's eyes were
opened to see that he had done Lufa a great wrong; that he had helped
immensely to buttress and exalt her self-esteem. Had he not in his whole
behavior toward her, been far more anxious that he should please her
than that she should be worthy? Had he not known that she was far more
anxious to be accepted as a poet than to be admired as a woman?--more
anxious indeed to be accepted than, even in the matter of her art, to be
worthy of acceptance--to be the thing she wished to be thought? In that
review which, in spite of his own soul, he had persuaded himself to
publish, knowing it to be false, had he not actively, most
unconscientiously, and altogether selfishly, done her serious
intellectual wrong, and heavy moral injury? Was he not bound to make
what poor reparation might be possible? It mattered nothing that she did
not desire any such reparation; that she would look upon the attempt as
the first wrong in the affair--possibly as a pretense for the sake of
insult, and the revenge of giving her the deepest possible pain: having
told her the lies, he must confess they were lies! having given her the
poison of falsehood, he must at least follow it with the only antidote,
the truth! It was not his part to judge of consequences so long as a
duty remained to be done! and what could be more a duty than to
undeceive where he had deceived, especially where the deception was
aggravating that worst of diseases, self-conceit, self-satisfaction,
self-worship? It was doubtful whether she would read what he might
write; but the fact that she did not trust him, that, notwithstanding
his assurance, she would still be in fear of how he might depreciate her
work in the eyes of the public, would, he thought, secure for him a
reading. She might, when she got far enough to see his drift, destroy
the letter in disgust; that would be the loss of his labor; but he would
have done what he could! He had begun to turn a new leaf, and here was a
thing the new leaf required written upon it!
As to Sefton, what better thing could he do for him, than make her think
less of herself! or, if that were impossible, at least make her
understand that other people did not think so much of her as she had
been willingly led to believe! In wronging her he had wronged his friend
as well, throwing obstacles in the way of his reception! He had wronged
the truth itself!
When the play was over, and the crowd was dispersing, he found himself
close to them on the pavement as they waited for their carriage. So near
to Lufa was he that he could not help touching her dress. But what a
change had passed on him! Not once did he wish her to look round and
brighten when she saw him! Sefton, moved perhaps by that unknown power
of presence, operating in bodily proximity but savoring of the
spiritual, looked suddenly round and saw him. He smiled and did not
speak, but, stretching out a quiet hand, sought his. Walter grasped it
as if it was come to lift him from some evil doom. Neither spoke, and
Lufa did not know that hands had clasped in the swaying human flood. No
physical influence passed between Walter and her.
Having made up his mind on the way, he set to work as soon as he reached
home. He wrote and destroyed and rewrote, erased and substituted, until,
as near as he could, he had said what he intended, so at least as it
should not be mistaken for what he did not intend, which is the main
problem in writing. Then he copied all out fair and plain, so that she
could read it easily--and here is his letter, word for word:
"MY DEAR LADY LUFA,--In part by means of the severe lesson I received
through you, a great change has passed upon me. I am no longer able to
think of myself as the important person I used to take myself for. It is
startling to have one's eyes opened to see one's self as one is, but it
very soon begins to make one glad, and the gladness, I find, goes on
growing. One's nature is so elevated by being delivered from the
honoring and valuing of that which is neither honorable nor valuable,
that the seeming loss is annihilated by the essential gain; the being
better makes up--infinitely makes up for showing to myself worse. I
would millions of times rather know myself a fool than imagine myself a
great poet. For to know one's self a fool is to begin to be wise; and I
would be loyal among the sane, not royal among lunatics. Who would be
the highest, in virtue of the largest mistake, of the profoundest
"But it was not to tell you this I began to write; it was to confess a
great wrong which once I did you; for I can not rest, I can not make it
up with my conscience until I have told you the truth. It may be you
will dislike me more for confessing the wrong than for committing it--I
can not tell; but it is my part to let you know it--and none the less my
part that I must therein confess myself more weak and foolish than
already I appear.
"You will remember that you gave me a copy of your drama while I was at
your house: the review of it which appeared in the 'Battery' I wrote
that same night. I am ashamed to have to confess the fact, but I had
taken more champagne than, I hope, I ever shall again; and, irreverent
as it must seem to mention the fact in such a connection, I was
possessed almost to insanity with your beauty, and the graciousness of
your behavior to me. Everything around me was pervaded with rose-color
and rose-odor, when, my head and heart, my imagination and senses, my
memory and hope full of yourself, I sat down to read your poem. I was
like one in an opium-dream. I saw everything in the glory of an
everlasting sunset, for every word I read, I heard in the tones of your
voice; through the radiant consciousness of your present beauty,
received every thought that awoke. If ever one being was possessed by
another, I was that night possessed by you. In this mood, like that, I
say again, of an opium-dream, I wrote the criticism of your book.
"But on the morning after the writing of it, I found, when I began to
read it, I could so little enter into the feeling of it, that I could
hardly believe I had actually written what lay before me in my own hand.
I took the poem again, and scanned it most carefully, reading it with
deep, anxious desire to justify the things I had set down. But I failed
altogether. Even my love could not blind me enough to persuade me that
what I had said was true, or that I should be other than false to print
it. I had to put myself through a succession of special pleadings before
I could quiet my conscience enough to let the thing go, and tell its
lies in the ears of the disciples of the 'Battery.' I will show you how
falsely I dealt. I said to myself that, in the first place, one mood
had, in itself, as good a claim, with regard to the worth of what it
produced, as another; but that the opinion of the night, when the
imagination was awake, was more likely to be just with regard to a poem
than that of the cold, hard, unpoetic day. I was wrong in taking it for
granted that my moods had equal claims; and the worse wrong, that all
the time I knew I was not behaving honestly, for I persisted in leaving
out, as factor in one of the moods, the champagne I had drunk, not to
mention _the time_ of the night, and the glamour of your influence. The
latter was still present, but could no longer blind me to believe what I
would, most of all things, have gladly believed. With the mood the
judgment was altered, and a true judgment is the same in all moods,
inhabiting a region above mood.
"In confession, a man must use plain words: I was a coward, a false
friend, a false man. Having tried my hardest to keep myself from seeing
the fact as plainly as I might have seen it, had I looked it in the face
with the intent of meeting what the truth might render necessary, yet
knowing that I was acting falsely, I sent off, regardless of duty, and
in the sole desire of pleasing you, and had printed, as my opinion
concerning your book, what was not my opinion, had never been my
opinion, except during that one night of hallucination--a hallucination
recognized as such, for the oftener I read, the more I was convinced
that I had given such an opinion as must stamp me the most incompetent,
or the falsest of critics. Lady Lufa, there is nothing remarkable in
your poem. It is nicely, correctly written, and in parts skillfully
contrived; but had it been sent me among other books, and without
indication of the author, I should certainly have thrown it aside as the
attempt of a school-girl, who, having more pocket money than was good
for her, had been able to print it without asking her parents or
guardians. You may say this judgment is the outcome of my jealous
disappointment; I say the former was the outcome of my loving
fascination; and I can not but think something in yourself will speak
for me, and tell you that I am speaking honestly. Mr. Sefton considers
me worthy of belief; and I know myself worthier of belief than ever
before--how much worthier than when I wrote that review! Then I loved
you--selfishly; now I love the truth, and would serve you, though I do
not love you the same way as before. Through the disappointment you
caused me, my eyes have been opened to see the way in which I was going,
and to turn from it, for I was on the way of falsehood. Oh, Lady Lufa,
let me speak; forget my presumption; you bore with my folly--bear now
with what is true though it come from a foolish heart! What would it be
to us, if we gained the praises of the whole world, and found afterward
they were for what was counted of no value in the great universe into
which we had passed! Let us be true, whatever come of it, and look the
facts of things in the face! If I am a poor creature, let me be content
to know it! for have I not the joy that God can make me great! And is
not the first step toward greatness to refuse to call that great which
is not great, or to think myself great when I am small? Is it not an
essential and impassable bar to greatness for a man to imagine himself
great when there is not in him one single element of greatness? Let us
confess ourselves that which we can not consent to remain! The
confession of not being, is the sole foundation for becoming. Self is a
quicksand; God is the only rock. I have been learning a little.
"Having thus far dared, why should I not go further, and say one thing
more which is burning within me! There was a time when I might have said
it better in verse, but that time has gone by--to come again, I trust,
when I have that to say which is worth saying; when I shall be true
enough to help my fellows to be true. The calling of a poet, if it be a
calling, must come from heaven. To be bred to a thing is to have the
ears closed to any call.
"There is a man I know who forever sits watching, as one might watch at
evening for the first star to come creeping out of the infinite heaven;
but it is for a higher and lovelier star this man watches; he is waiting
for a woman, for the first dawn of her soul. He knows well the spot
where the star of his hope must appear, the spot where, out of the vast
unknown, she must open her shining eyes that he may love her. But alas,
she will not arise and shine. He believes or at least hopes his star is
on the way, and what can he do but wait, for he is laden with the burden
of a wealth given him to give--the love of a true heart--the rarest, as
the most precious thing on the face of his half-baked brick of a world.
It was easy for me to love you, Lady Lufa, while I took that for granted
in you which did not yet exist in myself! But he knows the truth of you,
and yet loves. Lady Lufa, you are not true! If you do not know it, it is
because you will not know it, lest the sight of what you are should
unendurably urge you toward that you will not choose to be. God is my
witness I speak in no poor anger, no mean jealousy! Not a word I say is
for myself. I am but begging you to be that which God, making you,
intended you to be. I would have the star shine through the cloud--shine
on the heart of the watcher! the real Lufa lies hidden under a dusky
garment of untruth; none but the eye of God can see through to the
lovely thing He made, out of which the false Lufa is smothering the
life. When the beautiful child, the real Lufa, the thing you now know
you are not, but ought to be, walks out like an angel from a sepulcher,
then will the heart of God, and the heart of George Sefton, rejoice with
a great joy. Think what the love of such a man is. It is your very self
he loves; he loves like God, even before the real self has begun to
exist. It is not the beauty you show, but the beauty showing you, that
he loves--the hidden self of your perfect idea. Outward beauty alone is
not for the divine lover; it is a mere show. Until the woman makes it
real, it is but a show; and until she makes it true, she is herself a
lie. With you, Lady Lufa, it rests to make your beauty a truth, that is,
a divine fact.
"For myself, I have been but a false poet--a mask among poets, a builder
with hay and stubble, babbling before I had words, singing before I had
a song, without a ray of revelation from the world unseen, carving at
clay instead of shaping it in the hope of marble. I am humbler now, and
trust the divine humility has begun to work out mine. Of all things I
would be true, and pretend nothing.
"Lady Lufa, if a woman's shadow came out of her mirror, and went about
the world pretending to be herself and deceiving the eyes of men, that
figure thus walking the world and stealing hearts, would be you. Would
to God I were such an exorcist as could lay that ghost of you! as could
say, 'Go back, forsake your seeming, false image of the true, the lovely
Lufa that God made! You are but her unmaking! Get back into the mirror;
live but in the land of shows; leave the true Lufa to wake from the
swoon into which you have cast her; she must live and grow, and become,
till she is perfect in loveliness.'
"I shall know nothing of the fate of my words. I shall see you no more
in this world--except it be as I saw you to-night, standing close to you
in a crowd. The touch of your garment sent no thrill through me; you
were to me as a walking shadow. But the man who loves you sees the
sleeping beauty within you! His lips are silent, but by the very silence
of his lips his love speaks. I shall soon--but what matters it! If we
are true, we shall meet, and have much to say. If we are not true, all
we know is that falsehood must perish. For me, I will arise and go to my
father, and lie no more. I will be a man, and live in the truth--try at
least so to live, in the hope of one day being true.
Walter sent the letter--posted it the next morning as he went to the
office. It is many years since, and he has not heard of it yet. But
there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.
The writing of this letter was a great strain to him, but he felt much
relieved when it was gone. How differently did he feel after that other
lying, flattering utterance, with his half-sleeping conscience muttering
and grumbling as it lay. He walked then full of pride and hope, in the
mid-most of his dream of lore and ambition; now he was poor and sad, and
bowed down, but the earth was a place that might be lived in
notwithstanding! If only he could find some thoroughly honest work! He
would rather have his weakness and dejection with his humility, than ten
times the false pride with which he paced the street before. It was
better to be thus than so!
But as he came home that night, he found himself far from well, and
altogether incapable of work. He was indeed ill, for he could neither
eat nor sleep, nor take interest in anything. His friend Sullivan was
shocked to see him look so pale and wild, and insisted he must go home.
Walter said it might be but a passing attack, and it would be a pity to
alarm them; he would wait a day or two. At length he felt so ill that
one morning he did not get up. There was no one in the house who cared
to nurse him; his landlady did little or nothing for him beyond getting
him the cup of tea he occasionally wanted; Sullivan was himself ill, and
for some days neither saw nor heard of him; and Walter had such an
experience of loneliness and desertion as he had never had before. But
it was a purgatorial suffering. He began to learn how insufficient he
was for himself; how little self-sustaining power there was in him. Not
there was the fountain of life! Words that had been mere platitudes of
theological commonplace began to show a golden root through their
ancient mold. The time came back to him when father and mother bent
anxiously over their child. He remembered how their love took from him
all fear; how even the pain seemed to melt in their presence; all was
right when they knew all about it! they would see that the suffering
went at the proper time! All gentle ministrations to his comfort, the
moving of his pillows, the things cooked by his mother's own hands, her
watch to play with--all came back, as if the tide of life had set in the
other direction, and he was fast drifting back into childhood. What
sleep he had was filled with alternate dreams of suffering and
home-deliverance. He recalled how different his aunt had been when he
was ill: in this isolation her face looking in at his door would have
been as that of an angel! And he knew that all the time his debts were
increasing, and when would he begin to pay them off! His mind wandered;
and when Sullivan came at length, he was talking wildly, imagining
himself the prodigal son in the parable.
Sullivan wrote at once to Mr. Colman.
A FRUITLESS JOURNEY.
It was the afternoon when Sullivan's letter, on the lower left hand
corner of which he had written _Har., Sul.,_ arrived. Mr. Colman had
gone to a town at some distance, whence he would not return till the
last train. Not many letters came to him, and this, with the London
postmark, naturally drew the attention of Aunt Ann and Molly. The moment
the eyes of the former fell on the contracted name in the corner, they
"The shameless fellow!" she cried; "writing to beg another ten-pound
note from my poor foolish brother!"
"I don't think that is it, aunt," returned Molly.
"And why not, pray? How should you know?"
"Mr. Sullivan has had plenty of work, and can not need to borrow money.
Why are you so suspicious, auntie?"
"I am not. I never was suspicious. You are a rude girl to say so! If it
is not money, you may depend upon it, it is something worse!"
"What worse can you mean?"
"That Walter has got into some scrape."
"Why should he not write himself if it were so?"
"He is too much ashamed, and gets his friend to do it for him. I know
the ways of young men!"
"Perhaps he is ill!" said Molly.
"Perhaps. It is long since I saw a letter from him! I am never allowed
to read or hear one!"
"Can you wonder at that, when you are always abusing him? If he were my
son, I should take care you never saw a scrap of his writing! It makes
me wild to hear those I love talked of as you talk of him--always with a
"Love, indeed! Do you suppose no one loves him but you?"
"His father loves him dearly!"
"How dare you hint that I do not love him!"
"If yours is love, auntie, I wish I may never meet it where I've no
chance of defending myself!"
Molly had a hot temper where her friends were concerned, though she
would bear a good deal without retorting.
"There!" said Aunt Ann, giving her the letter; "put that on the
mantel-piece till he comes."
Molly took it, and gazed wistfully at it, as if fain to read it through
the envelope. She had had that morning a strange and painful dream about
Walter--that he lay in his coffin, with a white cat across his face.
"What if he _should_ be ill, auntie?" she said.
"Walter, of course!"
"What then? We must wait to know!"
"Father wouldn't mind if we just opened it to make sure it was not about
"Open my brother's letter! Goodness gracious, what next! Well, you _are_
a girl! I should just like to see him after you had opened one of his
Miss Hancock had herself once done so--out of pure curiosity, though on
another pretense--a letter, as it happened, which he would rather not
have read himself than have had her read, for it contained thanks for a
favor secretly done; and he was more angry than any one had ever seen
him. Molly remembered the occurrence, though she had been too young to
have it explained to her; but Molly's idea of a father, and of Richard
Colman as that father, was much grander than that of most children
concerning fathers. There is indeed a much closer relation between some
good men and any good child than there is between far the greater number
of parents and their children.
She put the letter on the chimney-piece, and went to the dairy; but it
was to think about the letter. Her mind kept hovering about it where it
stood on the chimney-piece, leaning against the vase with the bunch of
silvery honesty in it. What if Walter was ill! Her father would not be
home till the last train, and there would be none to town before the
slow train in the morning! He might be very ill!--and longing for some
one to come to him--his father of course--longing all day long! Her
father was reasonable as he was loving: she was sure he would never be
angry without reason! He was a man with whom one who loved him, and was
not presuming, might take any honest liberty! He could hardly be a good
man with whom one must never take a liberty! A good man was not the man
to stand on his dignity! To treat him as if he were, was to treat him as
those who can not trust in God behave to Him! They call Him the Supreme
Euler! the Almighty! the Disposer of events! the Judge of the whole
earth!--and would not "presume" to say "Father, help thy little child!"
She would not wrong her father by not trusting him! she would open the
letter! she would not read one word more than was needful to know
whether it came to say that Walter was ill! Why should Mr. Sullivan have
put his name outside, except to make sure of its being attended to
She went hack to the room where lay the letter. Her aunt was there
still. Molly was glad of it: the easiest way of letting her know, for
she would not have done it without, was to let her see her do what she
did! She went straight to the chimney, reached up, and took the letter.
"Leave that alone!" cried Miss Hancock. "I know what you are after! You
want to give it to my brother, and be the first to know what is in it!
Put it back this moment!"
Molly stood with the letter in her hand.
"You are mistaken, auntie," she said. "I am going to open it."
"You shall do nothing of the sort--not if I live!" returned Aunt Ann,
and flew to take the letter from her. But Molly was prepared for the
attack, and was on the other side of the door before she could pounce.
She sped to her room, locked the door, and read the letter, then went
instantly to her bonnet and cloak. There was time to catch the last
train! She inclosed the letter, addressed it to her father, and wrote
inside the envelope that she had opened it against the wish of her aunt,
and was gone to nurse Walter. Then taking money from her drawer, she
returned to Aunt Ann.
"It is about Walter. He is very ill," she said. "I have inclosed the
letter, and told him it was I that opened it"
"Why such a fuss?" cried Aunt Ann. "You can tell him your impertinence
just as well as write it! Oh, you've got your bonnet on!--going to run
away in a fright at what you've done! Well, perhaps you'd better!"
"I am going to Walter."
"To London to Walter."
"Yes; who else?"
"You shall _not_. I will go myself!"
Molly knew too well how Walter felt toward his aunt to consent to this.
She would doubtless behave kindly if she found him really ill, but she
would hardly be a comfort to him!
"I shall be ready in one moment!" continued Miss Hancock. "There is
plenty of time, and you can drive me to the station if you like. Richard
shall not say I left the care of his son to a chit of a girl!"
Molly said nothing, but rushed to the stable. Nobody was there! She
harnessed the horse, and put him to the dog-cart with her own hands, in
terror lest her aunt should be ready before her.
She was driving from the yard when her aunt appeared, in her Sunday
"That's right!" she said, expecting her to pull up and take her in.
But Molly touched up her horse, and he, having done nothing for some
time, was fresh, and started at speed. Aunt Ann was left standing, but
it was some time before she understood that the horse had not run away.
Ere Molly reached the station, she left the dog-cart at a neighboring
inn, then told one of the porters, to whom her father was well known, to
look out for him by the last train, and let him know where the trap was.
As the train was approaching London, it stopped at a station where
already stood another train, bound in the opposite direction, which
began to move while hers stood. Molly was looking out of her window, as
it went past her with the slow beginnings of speed, watching the faces
that drifted by, in a kind of phantasmagoric show, never more to be
repeated, when, in the further corner of a third-class carriage near the
end of the train, she caught sight of a huddled figure that reminded her
of Walter; a pale face was staring as if it saw nothing, but dreamed of
something it could not see. She jumped up and put her head out of the
window, but her own train also was now moving, and if it were Walter,
there was no possibility of overtaking him. She was by no means sure,
however, that it was he. The only way was to go on to her journey's end!
DOING AND DREAMING.
Walter had passed a very troubled night, and was worse, though he
thought himself better. His friend looked in to see him before going to
the office, and told him that he would come again in the evening. He did
not tell him that he had written to his father.
Walter slept and woke and slept again. All the afternoon he was
restless, as one who dreams without sleeping. The things presented to
his mind, and seeming with him, were not those about him. Late in the
afternoon, the fever abated a little, and he felt as one who wakes out
of a dream. For a few minutes he lay staring into the room, then rose
and with difficulty dressed himself, one moment shivering, the next
burning. He knew perfectly what he was doing; his mind was possessed
with an unappeasable longing and absolute determination to go home. The
longing had been there all the night and all the day, except when it was
quieted by the shadowy assuagement of his visions; and now with the
first return of his consciousness to present conditions, came resolve.
Better die at home, he said to himself, than recover in such a horrible
place! On he went with his preparations, mechanical but methodical, till
at last he put on his great-coat, took his rug, searched his purse,
found enough to pay a cab to the railway station, went softly down the
stair, and was in the street, a man lonely and feeble, but with a great
joy of escape. Happily a cab was just passing, and he was borne in
safety, half asleep again after his exertions, to the station. There he
sought the station-master, and telling him his condition, prevailed upon
him to take his watch as a pledge that he would send him the price of
It was a wet night, but not very cold, and he did not suffer at
first--was in fact more comfortable than he had been in bed. He seemed
to himself perfectly sane when he started, but of the latter half of his
journey he remembered nothing connectedly. What fragments of it returned
to his recollection appeared as the remnants of a feverish dream.
The train arrived late in the dark night, at an hour when a conveyance
was rarely to be had. He remembered nothing, however, of setting out to
walk home, and nothing clearly as to how he fared on the way. His
dreaming memory gave him but a sense of climbing, climbing, with a cold
wind buffeting him back, and bits of paper, which must have been
snow-flakes, beating in his face: he thought they were the shreds of the
unsold copies of his book, torn to pieces by the angry publisher, and
sent swirling about his face in clouds to annoy him. After that came a
The same train had taken up Mr. Colman at a junction. The moment he got
out of it, the porter to whom Molly had spoken in the morning, addressed
him, with the message Molly had left for him. Surprised and uneasy, he
was putting some anxious questions to the man, when his son passed him.
The night was still dark, and cloudy with snow, the wind was coming in
gusts, now and then fiercely, and the lamps were wildly struggling
against being blown out: neither saw the other. Walter staggered away,
and Richard set out for the inn, to drive home as fast as possible:
there only could he get light on Molly's sudden departure for London! In
her haste she had not left message enough. But he knew his son must be
ill; nothing else could have caused it! He met with some delay at the
inn, but at length was driving home as fast as he dared through the
thick darkness of the rough ascent.
He had not driven far, before one of those little accidents occurred to
his harness which, small in themselves, have so often serious results:
the strap of the hames gave way, and the traces dropped by the horse's
sides. Mr. Colman never went unprovided for accidents, but in a dark
night, in the middle of the road, with a horse fresh and eager to get
home, it takes time to rectify anything.
At length he arrived in safety, and having roused the man, hastened into
the house. There he speedily learned the truth of his conjecture, and it
was a great comfort to him that Molly had acted so promptly. But he
bethought himself that, by driving to another station some miles further
off, at which a luggage train stopped in the night, he could reach town
a few hours earlier. He went again to the stable, and gave orders to
have the horse well fed and ready in an hour. Then he tried to eat the
supper his sister-in-law had prepared for him, but with small success.
Every few minutes he rose, opened the door, and looked out. It was a
very dark morning, full of wind and snow.
By and by he could bear it no longer, and though he knew there was much
time to spare, got up to go to the stable. The wind met him with an
angry blast as he opened the door, and sharp pellets of keen snow stung
him in the face. He had taken a lantern in his hand, but, going with his
head bent against the wind, he all but stumbled over a stone seat, where
they would sit by the door of a summer evening. As he recovered himself,
the light of his lantern fell upon a figure huddled crouching upon the
seat, but in the very act of tumbling forward from off it. He caught it
with one arm, set down the light, raised its head, and in the wild,
worn, death-pale features and wandering eyes, knew the face of his son.
He uttered one wailing groan, which seemed to spend his life, gathered
him to his bosom, and taking him up like a child, almost ran to the
house with him. As he went he heard at his ear the murmured word,
"Father, I have sinned--not worthy--"
His heart gave a great heave, but he uttered no second cry.
Aunt Ann, however, had heard the first. She ran, and, opening the door,
met him with the youth in his arms.
"I'm afraid he's dead!" gasped Richard. "He is cold as a stone!"
Aunt Ann darted to the kitchen, made a blazing fire, set the kettle on
it and bricks around it, then ran to see if she could help.
Richard had got his boy into his own bed, had put off his own clothes,
and was lying with him in his arms to warm him. Aunt Ann went about like
a steam-engine, but noiseless. She got the hot bricks, then hot bottles,
and more blankets. The father thought he would die before the heat got
to him. As soon as he was a little warm, he mounted his horse, and rode
to fetch the doctor. It was terrible to him to think that he must have
passed his boy on the way, and left him to struggle home without help.
Ere he returned, Walter had begun to show a little more life. He moaned,
and murmured, and seemed going through a succession of painful events.
Now he would utter a cry of disgust, now call for his father; then he
would be fighting the storm with a wild despair of ever reaching his
The doctor came, examined him, said they were doing quite right, but
looked solemn over him.
Had it not been for that glimpse she had at the station where last the
train stopped, Molly would have been in misery indeed when, on arriving
at Walter's lodging, and being told that he was ill in bed, she went up
to his room, and could find him nowhere. It was like a bad dream. She
almost doubted whether she might not be asleep. The landlady had never
heard him go out, and until she had searched the whole house, would not
believe he was not somewhere in it. Rather unwillingly, she allowed
Molly to occupy his room for the night; and Molly, that she might start
by the first train, stretched herself in her clothes on the miserable
little horse-hair sofa. She could not sleep, and was not a little
anxious about Walter's traveling in such a condition; but for all that,
she could not help laughing more than once or twice to think how Aunt
Ann would be crowing over her: basely deserted, left standing in the
yard in her Sunday clothes, it was to her care after all that Walter was
given, not Molly's! But Molly could well enough afford to join in her
aunt's laugh: she had done her duty, and did not need to be told that we
have nothing to do with consequences, only with what is right. So she
waited patiently for the morning.
But how was she to do when she got home? Aunt Ann would have installed
herself as nurse! It would not matter much while Walter was really ill;
so long Aunt Ann would be good to him! but when he began to be himself
again--for that time Molly must look out and be ready!
When she reached home, she was received at the door by her father who
had been watching for her, and learned all he had to tell her. Aunt Ann
spoke to her as if she had but the minute before left the room,
vouchsafing not a single remark concerning Walter, and yielding her a
position of service as narrow as she could contrive to make it. Molly
did everything she desired without complaint, fetching and carrying for
her as usual. She received no recognition from the half-unconscious
If it had not been that Aunt Ann must, like other nurses, have rest,
Molly's ministering soul would have been sorely pinched and hampered;
but when her aunt retired, she could do her part for the patient's
peace. In a few days he had come to himself enough to know who were
about him, and seemed to manifest a preference for Molly's nursing. To
Aunt Ann this seemed very hard--and hard it would have been, but that,
through all her kindness, Walter could not help foreseeing how she would
treat him in the health to which she was doing her best to bring him
back. He sorely dreaded the time when, strong enough to be tormented,
but not able to lock his door against her, he would be at her mercy. But
he cherished a hope that his father would interfere. If necessary he
would appeal to him, and beg him to depose Aunt Ann, and put sweet Molly
in her stead!
One morning--Molly had been sitting up the night with the invalid--she
found Aunt Ann alone at the breakfast-table.
"His father is with him now," said Molly. "I think he is a little
better; he slept more quietly."
"He'll do well enough!" grunted Aunt Ann. "There's no fear of _him_!
he's not of the sort to die early! This is what comes of letting young
people have their own way! My brother will be wiser now! and so, I hope,
will Walter! It shall not be my fault if he's not made to understand!
Old or young wouldn't listen to me! Now perhaps, while they are smarting
from the rod, it may be of use to speak!"
"Aunt," said Molly, with her heart in her throat, but determined,
"please do not say anything to him for a long time yet; you might make
him ill again! You do not know how he hates being talked at!"
"Don't you be afraid! I won't talk _at_ him! He shall be well talked
_to_, and straight!"
"He won't stand it any more, auntie! He's a man now, you know! And when
a mere boy, he used to complain that you were always finding fault with
"Highty, tighty! What next! The gentleman has the choice, has he, when
to be found fault with, and when not!"
"I give you fair warning," said Molly, hurriedly, "that I will do what I
can to prevent you!"
Aunt Ann was indignant.
"You dare to tell me, in my own"--she was going to say _house_, but
corrected herself--"in my own home, where you live on the charity of--"
Molly interrupted her.
"I shall ask my father," she said, "whether he wishes me to have such
words from you. If he does, you shall say what you please to me. But as
to Walter, I will ask nobody. Till he is able to take care of himself, I
shall not let you plague him. I will fight you first! There now!"
The flashing eyes and determined mouth of Molly, who had risen, and
stood regarding her aunt in a flame of honest anger, cowed her. She shut
her jaws close, and looked the picture of postponement.
That instant came the voice of Mr. Colman:
"Yes, Richard!" answered Miss Hancock, rising.
But Molly was out of the door, almost before her aunt was out of her
Walter had asked where she was, and wanted to see her. It was the first
wish of any sort he had expressed!
So far better as to be able to talk, Walter one day told Molly the
strange dream which, as he looked back, seemed to fill the whole time
almost from his leaving his lodging to his recognition of his father by
It was a sweet day in the first of the spring. He lay with his head
toward the window, and the sun shining into the room, with the tearful
radiance of sorrows overlived and winter gone, when Molly entered. She
was at once whelmed in the sunlight, so that she could see nothing,
while Walter could almost have counted her eyelashes.
"Stand there, Molly," he cried, "one moment! I want to look at you!"
"It is not fair!" returned Molly. "The sun is in my eyes! I am as blind
as a bat!"
"I won't ask you, if you mind, Molly!" returned Walter.
In these days he had grown very gentle. He seemed to dread the least
appearance of exaction.
"I will stand where you like, and as long as you like, Walter! Have you
not consented to live a little longer with us! Oh, Walter, you don't
know what it was like when the doctor looked so grave!"
Molly stood in the sun, and Walter looked at her till his eyes were
wearied with the brightness she reflected, and his heart made strong by
the better brightness she radiated. For Molly was the very type of a
creature born of the sun and ripened by his light and heat--a glowing
fruit of the tree of life amid its healing foliage, all splendor, and
color, and overflowing strength. Self-will is weakness; the will to do
right is strength; Molly willed the right thing and held to it. Hence it
was that she was so gentle. She walked lightly over the carpet, because
she could run up a hill like a hare. When she caught selfishness in her,
she was down upon it with the knee and grasp of a giant. Strong is man
and woman whose eternal life subjects the individual liking to the
perfect will. Such man, such woman, is free man, free woman.
Molly was in a daring dress of orange and red. Scarce a girl in London
would have ventured to wear it; few girls would not have looked vulgar
in it; yet Molly was right. Like a dark-colored sunflower, she caught
and kept the sun.
Having gazed at her in silence for awhile, Walter said, "Come and sit by
me, Molly. I want to tell the dream I have been having."
She came at once, glad to get out of the sun. But she sat where he could
still see her, and waited.
"I think I remember reaching the railway, Molly, but I remember nothing
after that until I thought I was in a coal-pit, with a great roaring
everywhere about me. I was shut up forever by an explosion, and the
tumbling subterranean waters were coming nearer and nearer! They never
came, but they were always coming! Suddenly some one took me by the arm,
and pulled me out of the pit. Then I was on the hill above the pit, and
had to get to the top of it. But it was in the teeth of a snow-storm! My
breath was very short, and I could hardly drag one foot up after the
other. All at once there was an angel with wings by my side, and I knew
it was Molly. I never wondered that she had wings. I only said to
myself, 'How clever she must be to stow them away when she doesn't want
them!' Up and up we toiled, and the way was very long. But when I got
too tired, you stood before me, and I leaned against you, and you folded
your wings about my head, and so I got breath to go on again. And I
tried to say, 'How can you be so kind to me! I never was good to you!'"
"You dreamed quite wrong there, Walter!" interposed Molly. "You were
always good to me--except, perhaps, when I asked you too many
"Your questions were too wise for me, Molly! If I had been able to
answer them, this trouble would never have come upon me. But I do wish I
could tell you how delightful the dream was, for all the wind and the
snow! I remember exactly how I felt, standing shadowed by your wings,
and leaning against you!"
Molly's face flushed, and a hazy look came into her eyes, but she did
not turn them away.
He stopped, and lay brooding on his dream.
"But all at once," he resumed, "it went away in a chaos of coal-pits,
and snow-storms, and eyes not like yours, Molly! I was tossed about for
ages in heat and cold, in thirst and loathing, with now one now another
horrid draught held to my lips, thirst telling me to drink, and disgust
making me dash it on the ground--only to be back at my lips the next
moment. Once I was a king sitting upon a great tarnished throne, dusty
and worm-eaten, in a lofty room of state, the doors standing wide, and
the spiders weaving webs across them, for nobody ever came in, and no
sound shook the moat-filled air: on that throne I had to sit to all
eternity, because I had said I was a poet and was not! I was a fellow
that had stolen the poet-book of the universe, torn leaves from it, and
pieced the words together so that only one could make sense of them--and
she would not do it! This vanished--and I was lying under a heap of dead
on a battle-field. All above me had died doing their duty, and I lay at
the bottom of the heap and could not die, because I had fought, not for
the right, but for the glory of a soldier. I was full of shame, for I
was not worthy to die! I was not permitted to give my life for the great
cause for which the rest were dead. But one of the dead woke, and
turned, and clasped me; and then I woke, and it was your arms about me,
Molly! and my head was leaning where it leaned! when your wings were
By this time Molly was quietly weeping.
"I wish I had wings, Walter, to flap from morning to night for you!" she
said, laughing through her tears.
"You are always flapping them, Molly! only nobody can see them except in
a dream. There are many true things that can not be seen with the naked
eye! The eye must be clothed and in its right mind first!"
"Your poetry is beginning to come, Walter! I don't think it ever did
before!" said Molly.
Walter gazed at her wonderingly: was little Molly going to turn out a
sibyl? How grown she was! What a peace and strength shone from her
countenance! She was woman, girl, and child, all in one! What a fire of
life there was in this lady with the brown hands--so different from the
white, wax-doll ends to Lufa's arms! She was of the cold and ice, of the
white death and lies! Here was the warm, live, woman-truth! He would
never more love woman as he had! Could that be a good thing which a
creature like Lufa roused in him? Could that be true which had made him
lie? If his love had been of the truth, would it not have known that she
was not a live thing? True love would have known when it took in its
arms a dead thing, a body without a soul, a material ghost!
Another time--it was a cold evening; the wind howled about the house;
but the fire was burning bright, and Molly, having been reading to him,
had stopped for a moment--Walter said,
"I could not have imagined I should ever feel at home as I do now! I
wonder why it is!"
"I think I could tell you!" said Molly.
"Tell me then."
"It is because you are beginning to know your father!"
"Beginning to know my father, Moll!"
"You never came right in sight of him till now. He has been the same
always, but you did not--could not see him!"
"Why couldn't I see him, wise woman?" said Walter.
"Because you were never your father's son till now," answered Molly.
"Oh, Walter, if you had heard Jane tell what a cry he gave when he found
his boy on the cold bench, in the gusty dark of the winter morning! Half
your father's heart is with your mother, and the other half with you! I
did not know how a man could love till I saw his face as he stood over
you once when he thought no one was near!"
"Did he find me on the stone bench?" "Yes, indeed! Oh, Walter, I have
known God better, and loved him more, since I have _seen_ how your
father loves you!"
Walter fell a thinking. Ha had indeed, since he came to himself, loved
his father as he had never loved him before; but he had not thought how
he had been forgetting him. And herewith a gentle repentance began,
which had a curing and healing effect on his spirit. Nor did the
repentance leave him at his earthly father's door, but led him on to his
father in heaven.
The next day he said,
"I know another thing that makes me feel more at home: Aunt Ann never
scolds at me now. True, she seldom comes near me, and I can not say I
want her to come! But just tell me, do you think she has been
"Not that I know of. The angels will have a bad time of it before they
bring her to her knees--her real knees, I mean, not her church-knees!
For Aunt Ann to say she was wrong, would imply a change I am incapable
of imagining. Yet it must come, you know, else how is she to enter the
kingdom of heaven?"
"What then makes her so considerate?"
"It's only that I've managed to make her afraid of me."
The days passed; week after week went down the hill--or, is it not
rather, up the hill?--and out of sight; the moon kept on changelessly
changing; and at length Walter was well, though rather thin and white.
Molly saw that he was beginning to brood. She saw also, as clearly as if
he had opened his mind to her, what troubled him: it needed no witch to
divine that! he must work: what was his work to be?
Whatever he do, if he be not called to it, a man but takes it up "at his
own hand, as the devil did sinning."
Molly was one of the wise women of the world--and thus: thoughts grew
for her first out of things, and not things out of thoughts. God's
things come out of His thoughts; our realities are God's thoughts made
manifest in things; and out of them our thoughts must come; then the
things that come out of our thoughts will be real. Neither our own
fancies, nor the judgments of the world, must be the ground of our
theories or behavior. This, at least, was Molly's working theory of
life. She saw plainly that her business, every day, hour, moment, was to
order her way as He who had sent her into being would have her order her
way; doing God's things, God's thoughts would come to her; God's things
were better than man's thoughts; man's best thoughts the discovery of
the thoughts hidden in God's things? Obeying him, perhaps a day would
come in which God would think directly into the mind of His child,
without the intervention of things! [Footnote: It may interest some of
my readers to be told that I had got thus far in preparation for this
volume, when I took a book from the floor, shaken with hundreds beside
from my shelves by an earthquake the same morning, and opening it--it
was a life of Lavater which I had not known I possessed--found these
words written by him on a card, for a friend to read after his death:
"Act according to thy faith in Christ, and thy faith will soon become
For Molly had made the one rational, one practical discovery, that life
is to be lived, not by helpless assent or aimless drifting, but by
active co-operation with the Life that has said "Live." To her
everything was part of a whole, which, with its parts, she was learning
to know, was finding out, by obedience to what she already knew. There
is nothing for developing even the common intellect like obedience, that
is, duty done. Those who obey are soon wiser than all their lessons;
while from those who do not, will be taken away even what knowledge they
Molly was not prepared to attempt convincing Walter, who was so much
more learned and clever than she, that the things that rose in men's
minds even in their best moods were not necessarily a valuable
commodity, but that their character depended on the soil whence they
sprung. She believed, however, that she had it in her power to make him
doubt his judgment in regard to the work of other people, and that might
lead him to doubt his judgment of himself, and the thoughts he made so
One lovely evening in July, they were sitting together in the twilight,
after a burial of the sun that had left great heaps of golden rubbish on
the sides of his grave, in which little cherubs were busy dyeing their
"Walter," said Molly, "do you remember the little story--quite a little
story, and not very clever--that I read when you were ill, called
"I should think I do! I thought it one of the prettiest stories I had
ever read, or heard read. Its fearless directness, without the least
affectation of boldness, enchanted me. How one--clearly a woman--whose
grammar was nowise to be depended upon, should yet get so swiftly and
unerringly at what she wanted to say, has remained ever since a
worshipful wonder to me. But I have seen something like it before,
probably by the same writer!"
"You may have seen the same review of it I saw; it was in your own
"You don't mean you take in 'The Field Battery'?"
"We did. Your father went for it himself, every week regularly. But we
could not _always_ be sure which things you had written!"
Walter gave a sigh of distaste, but said nothing. The idea of that paper
representing his mind to his father and Molly was painful to him.
"I have it here: may I read it to you?"
"Well--I don't know!--if you like. I can't say I care about reviews."
"Of course not! Nobody should. They are only thoughts about thoughts
about things. But I want you to hear this!" pleaded Molly, drawing the
paper from her pocket.
The review was of the shortest--long enough, however, to express much
humorous comment for the kind of thing of which it said this was a
specimen. It showed no suspicion of the presence in it of the things
Walter had just said he saw there. But as Molly read, he stopped her.
"There is nothing like that in the story! The statement is false!" he
"Not a doubt of it!" responded Molly, and went on. But arrested by a
certain phrase, Walter presently stopped her again.
"Molly," he said, seizing her hand, "is it any wonder I can not bear
the thought of touching that kind of work again? Have pity upon me,
Molly! It was I, I myself, who wrote that review! I had forgotten all
about it! I did not mean to lie, but I was not careful enough not to
lie! I have been very unjust to some one!"
"You could learn her name, and how to find her, from the publisher of
the little book!" suggested Molly.
"I will find her, and make a humble apology. The evil, alas! is done;
but I could--and will write another notice quite different."
Molly burst into the merriest laugh.
"The apology is made, Walter, and the writer forgives you heartily! Oh,
what fun! The story is mine! You needn't stare so--as if you thought I
couldn't do it! Think of the bad grammar! It was not a strong point at
Miss Talebury's! Yes, Walter," she continued, talking like a child to
her doll, "it was little Molly's first! and her big brother cut it all
up into weeny weeny pieces for her! Poor Molly! But then it was a great
honor, you know--greater than ever she could have hoped for!"
Walter stared bewildered, hardly trusting his ears. Molly an
authoress!--in a small way, it might be, but did God ever with anything
begin it big? Here was he, home again defeated!--to find the little bird
he had left in the nest beautifully successful!
The lords of creation have a curious way of patronizing the beings they
profess to worship. Man was made a little lower than the angels; he
calls woman an angel, and then looks down upon her! Certainly, however,
he has done his best to make her worthy of his condescension! But Walter
had begun to learn humility, and no longer sought the chief place at the
"Molly!" he said, in a low, wondering voice.
"Yes?" answered Molly.
"Forgive me, Molly. I am unworthy."
"I forgive you with all my heart, and love you for thinking it worth
while to ask me."
"I am full of admiration of your story!"
"Why? It was not difficult."
Walter took her little hand and kissed it as if she had been a princess.
Molly blushed, but did not take her hand from him. Walter might do what
he liked with her ugly little hand! It was only to herself she called it
ugly, however, not to Walter! Anyhow she was wrong; her hand was a very
pretty one. It was indeed a little spoiled with work, but it was gloved
with honor! It were good for many a heart that its hands were so
spoiled! Human feet get a little broadened with walking; human hands get
a little roughened with labor; but what matter! There are others, after
like pattern but better finished, making, and to be ready by the time
these are worn out, for all who have not shirked work.
Walter rose and went up the stairs to his own room, a chamber in the
roof, crowded with memories. There he sat down to think, and thinking
led to something else. Molly sat still and cried; for though it made her
very glad to see him take it so humbly, it made her sad to give him
pain. But not once did she wish she had not told him.
THIS PICTURE AND THIS.
After awhile, as he did not appear, Molly went up to find him: she was
anxious he should know how heartily she valued his _real_ opinion.
"I have got a little poem here--if you can call it a poem--a few lines I
wrote last Christmas: would you mind looking at it, and telling me if it
"So, my bird of paradise, you sing too?" said Walter.
"Very little. A friend to whom I sent it, took it, without asking me, to
one of the magazines for children, but they wouldn't have it. Tell me if
it is worth printing. Not that I want it printed--not a bit!"
"I begin to think, Molly, that anything you write must be worth
printing! But I wonder you should ask one who has proved himself so
incompetent to give a true opinion, that even what he has given he is
unable to defend!"
"I shall always trust your opinion, Walter--only it must be an opinion:
you gave a judgment then without having formed an opinion. Shall I
"Yes, please, Molly. I never used to like having poetry read to me, but
you _can_ read poetry!"
"This is easy to read!" said Molly.
"See the countless angels hover!
See the mother bending over!
See the shepherds, kings and cow!
What is baby thinking now?
Oh, to think what baby thinks
Would be worth all holy inks!
But he smiles such lovingness,
That I will not fear to guess!--
'Father called; you would not come!
Here I am to take you home!
'For the father feels the dearth
Of his children round his hearth--
'Wants them round and on his knee--
That's his throne for you and me!'
Something lovely like to this
Surely lights that look of bliss!
Or if something else be there,
Then 'tis something yet more fair;
For within the father's breast
Lies the whole world in its nest,"
Walter said nothing. His heart was full. What verses were these beside
"You don't care for them!" said Molly, sadly, but with the sweetest
smile. "It's not that I care so much about the poetry; but I do love
what I thought the baby might be thinking: it seems so true! so fit to
"The poetry is lovely, anyhow!" said Walter. "And one thing I am sure
of--the father will not take me on his knee, if I go on as I have been
doing! You must let me see everything you write, or have written, Molly!
Should you mind?"
"Surely not, Walter! We used to read everything we thought might be
"Oh, don't!" cried Walter. "I can't bear to think of the beastly
business!--I beg your pardon, Molly; but I am ashamed of the thing.
There was not one stroke of good in the whole affair!"
"I admit," said Molly, "the kind of thing is not real work, though it
may well be hard enough! But all writing about books and authors is not
of that kind. A good book, like a true man, is well worth writing about
by any one who understands it. That is very different from making it
one's business to sit in judgment on the work of others. The mental
condition itself of habitual judgment is a false one. Such an attitude
toward any book requiring thought, and worthy of thought, renders it
impossible for the would-be judge to know what is in the book. If, on
the other hand, the book is worth little or nothing, it is not worth
writing about, and yet has a perfect claim to fair play. If we feel
differently at different times about a book we know, how am I to know
the right mood for doing justice to a new book?"
"I am afraid the object is to write, not to judge righteous judgment!"
"One whose object is to write, and with whom judgment is the mere
pretext for writing, is a parasite, and very pitiful, because, being a
man, he lives as a flea lives. You see, Walter, by becoming a critic,
you have made us critical--your father and me! We have talked about
these things ever since you took to the profession!"
"Trade, Molly!" said Walter, gruffly.
"A profession, at least, that is greater than its performance! But it
has been to me an education. We got as many as we were able of the books
you took pains with, and sometimes could not help doubting whether you
had seen the object of the writer. In one you dwelt scornfully on the
unscientific allusions, where the design of the book was perfectly
served by those allusions, which were merely to illustrate what the
author meant. Your social papers, too, were but criticism in another
direction. We could not help fearing that your criticism would prove a
quicksand, swallowing your faculty for original, individual work. Then
there was one horrid book you reviewed!"
"Well, I did no harm there! I made it out horrid enough, surely!"
"I think you did harm. I, for one, should never have heard of the book,
and nobody down here would, I believe, if you had not written about it!
You advertised it! Let bad books lie as much unheard of as may be. There
is no injustice in leaving them alone."
Walter was silent.
"I have no doubt," he said at length, "that you are out and out right,
Molly! Where my work has not been useless, it has been bad!"
"I do not believe it has been always useless," returned Molly. "Do you
know, for instance, what a difference there was between your notices of
the first and second books of one author--a lady with an odd name--I
forget it? I have not seen the books, but I have the reviews. You must
have helped her to improve!"
Walter gave a groan.
"My sins are indeed finding me out!" he said. Then, after a
pause--"Molly," he resumed, "you can't help yourself--you've got to be
my confessor! I am going to tell you an ugly fact--an absolute
From beginning to end he told her the story of his relations with Lufa
and her books; how he had got the better of his conscience, persuading
himself that he thought that which he did not think, and that a book was
largely worthy, where at best it was worthy but in a low degree; how he
had suffered and been punished; how he had loved her, and how his love
came to a miserable and contemptible end. That it had indeed come to an
end, Molly drew from the quiet way in which he spoke of it; and his
account of the letter he had written to Lufa, confirmed her conclusion.
How delighted she was to be so thoroughly trusted by him!
"I'm so glad, Walter!" she said.
"What are you glad of, Molly?"
"That you know one sort of girl, and are not so likely to take the next
"We must take some things on trust, Molly, else we should never have
"That is true, Walter; but we needn't without a question empty our
pockets to the first beggar that comes! When you were at home last, I
wondered whether the girl could be worthy of your love."
"What girl?" asked Walter, surprised.
"Why, that girl, of course!"
"But I never said anything!"
"Twenty times a day!"
"What then made you doubt her worth?"
"That you cared less for your father."
"I am a brute, Molly! Did he feel it very much?"
"He always spoke to God about it, not to me. He never finds it easy to
talk to his fellow-man; but I always know when he is talking to God! May
I tell your father what you have just told me Walter? But of course not!
You will tell him yourself!"
"No, Molly! I would rather you should tell him. I want him to know, and
would tell him myself, if you were not handy. Then, if he chooses, we
can have a talk about it! But now, Molly, what am I to do?"
"You still feel as if you had a call to literature, Walter?"
"I have no pleasure in any other kind of work."
"Might not that be because you have not tried anything else?"
"I don't know. I am drawn to nothing else."
"Well, it seems to me that a man who would like to make a saddle, must
first have some pig-skin to make it of! Have you any pig-skin, Walter?"
"I see well enough what you mean!"
"A man must want long leisure for thought before he can have any
material for his literary faculty to work with.
"You could write a history, but could you write one _now_? Even for a
biography, you would have to read and study for months--perhaps years.
As to the social questions you have been treating, men generally change
their opinions about such things when they know a little more; and who
would utter his opinions, knowing he most by and by wish he had not
"No one; but unhappily every one is cock-sure of his opinion till he
changes it--and then he is as sure as before till he changes it again!"
"Opinion is not sight, your father says," answered Molly; and again a
little pause followed.
"Well, but, Molly," resumed Walter, "how is that precious thing, leisure
for thought, to be come by? Write reviews I will not! Write a history, I
can not. Write a poem I might, but they wouldn't buy copies enough of it
to pay for the paper and printing. Write a novel I might, if I had time;
but how to live, not to say how to think, while I was writing it?
Perhaps I ought to be a tutor, or a school-master!"
"Do you feel drawn to that, Walter?"
"I do not."
"And you do feel drawn to write?"
"I dare not say I have thoughts which demand expression; and yet somehow
I want to write."
"And you say that some begin by writing what is of no value, but come to
write things that are precious?"
"It is true."
"Then perhaps you have served your apprenticeship in worthless things,
and the inclination to write comes now of precious things on their way,
which you do not yet see or suspect, not to say know!"
"But many men and women have the impulse to write, who never write
anything of much worth!"
Molly thought awhile.
"What if they yielded to the impulse before they ought? What if their
eagerness to write when they ought to have been doing something else,
destroyed the call in them? That is perhaps the reason why there are so
many dull preachers--that they begin to speak before they have anything
"Teaching would be favorable to learning!"
"It would tire your brain, and give you too much to do with books! You
would learn chiefly from thoughts, and I stand up for things first. And
where would be your leisure?"
"You have something in your mind, Molly! I will do whatever you would
"No, Walter," exclaimed Molly, with a flash, "I will take no such
promise! You will, I know, do what I or any one else may propose, if it
appears to you right! But don't you think that, for the best work, a man
ought to be independent of the work?"
"You would have your poet a rich man!"
"Just the contrary, Walter! A rich man is the most dependent of all--at
least most rich men are. Take his riches, and what could himself do for
himself? He depends on his money. No; I would have the poet earn his
bread by the sweat of his brow--with his hands feed his body, and with
his heart and brain the hearts of his brothers and sisters. We have
talked much about this, your father and I. That a man is not a gentleman
who works with his hands, is the meanest, silliest article in the social
creed of our country. He who would be a better gentleman than the
Carpenter of Nazareth, is not worthy of Him. He gave up His working only
to do better work for His brothers and sisters, and then He let the men
and women, but mostly, I suspect, the women, that loved Him, support
him! Thousands upon thousands of young men think it more gentlemanly to
be clerks than to be carpenters, but, if I were a man, I would rather
_make_ anything, than add up figures and copy stupid letters all day
long! If I had brothers, I would ten times rather see them masons, or
carpenters, or book-binders, or shoe-makers, than have them doing what
ought to be left for the weaker and more delicate!"
"Which do you want me to be, Molly--a carpenter or a shoe-maker?"
"Neither, Walter--but a farmer: you don't want to be a finer gentleman
than your father! Stay at home and help him, and grow strong. Plow and
cart, and do the work of a laboring man. Nature will be your mate in her
Molly was right. If Burns had but kept to his plow and his fields, to
the birds and the beasts, to the storms and the sunshine! He was a free
man while he lived by his labor among his own people! Ambition makes of
gentlemen time-servers and paltry politicians; of the plowman-poet it
made an exciseman!
"What will then become of the leisure you want me to have, Molly?"
"Your father will see that you have it! In winter, which you say is the
season for poetry, there will be plenty of time, and in summer there
will be some. Not a stroke of your pen will have to go for a dinner or a
pair of shoes! Thoughts born of the heaven and the earth and the
fountains of water, will spring up in your soul, and have time to ripen.
If you find you are not wanted for an author, you will thank God you are
not an author. What songs you would write then, Walter!"
He sat motionless most of the time. Now and then he would lift his head
as if to speak, but he did not speak; and when Molly was silent, he rose
and again went to his room. What passed there, I need not say. Walter
was a true man in that he was ready to become truer: what better thing
could be said of any unfinished man!
THE LAST, BUT NOT THE END.
It was the second spring, and Molly and Walter sat again in the
twilighted garden. Walter had just come home from his day's work; he had
been plowing. He was a broad-shouldered, lean, powerful, handsome
fellow, with a rather slow step, but soldierly carriage. His hands were
brown and mighty, and took a little more washing than before.
"My father does not seem quite himself!" he said to Molly.
"He has been a little depressed for a day or two," she answered.
"There's nothing wrong, is there, Molly?"
"No, nothing. It is only his spirits. They have never been good once
your mother died. He declares himself the happiest man in the county,
now you are at home with us."
Walter was up early the next morning, and again at his work. A new-born
wind blew on his face, and sent the blood singing through his veins. If
we could hear all finest sounds, we might, perhaps, gather not only the
mood, but the character of a man, by listening to the music or the
discord the river of his blood was making, as through countless channels
it irrigated lungs and brain: Walter's that morning must have been
weaving lovely harmonies! It was a fresh spring wind, the breath of the
world reviving from its winter-swoon. His father had managed to pay his
debts; his hopes were high, his imagination active; his horses were
pulling strong; the plow was going free, turning over the furrow smooth
and clean; he was one of the powers of nature at work for the harvest of
the year; he was in obedient consent with the will that makes the world
and all its summers and winters! He was a thinking, choosing, willing
part of the living whole, its vital fountain issuing from the heart of
the Father of men! Work lay all about him, and he was doing the work!
And Molly was at home, singing about hers! At night, when the sun was
set, and his day's work done, he would go home to her and his father, to
his room and his books and his writing!
But as he labored, his thought this day was most of his father: he was
trying to _make_ something to cheer him. The eyes of the old man never
lost their love, but when he forgot to smile, Molly looked grave, and
Walter felt that a cloud was over the sun. They were a true family: when
one member suffered, all the members suffered with it.
So throughout the morning, as his horses pulled, and the earth opened,
and the plow folded the furrow back, Walter thought, and made, and
remembered: he had a gift for remembering completions, and forgetting
the chips and rejected rubbish of the process. In the evening he carried
borne with him these verses:
How shall he sing who hath no song?
He laugh who hath no mirth?
Will strongest can not wake a song!
It is no use to strive or long
To sing with them that have a song,
And mirthless laugh with mirth!
Though sad, he must confront the wrong,
And for the right face any throng,
Waiting, with patience sweet and strong,
Until God's glory fills the earth;
Then shall he sing who had no song,
He laugh who had no mirth!
Yea, if like barren rock thou sit
Upon a land of dearth,
Round which but phantom waters flit,
Of visionary birth--
Yet be thou still, and wait, wait long;
There comes a sea to drown the wrong,
His glory shall o'erwhelm the earth,
And thou, no more a scathed rock,
Shall start alive with gladsome shock,
Shalt a hand-clapping billow be,
And shout with the eternal sea!
To righteousness and love belong
The dance, the jubilance, the song!
For, lo, the right hath quelled the wrong,
And truth hath stilled the lying tongue!
For, lo, the glad God fills the earth.
And Love sits down by every hearth!
Now must thou sing because of song,
Now laugh because of mirth!
Molly read the verses, and rose to run with them to her father. But
Walter caught and held her.
"Remember, Molly," he said, "I wrote it for my father; it is not my own
feeling at the moment. For me, God _has_ sent a wave of his glory over
the earth; it has come swelling out of the deep sea of his thought, has
caught me up, and is making me joyful as the morning. That wave is my
love for you, Molly--is you, my Molly!"
She turned and kissed him, then ran to his father. He read, turned, and
In his heart he sung this song:
"Blessed art thou among women! for thou hast given me a son of
And to Molly he said,
"Let us go to Walter!"