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 his bedside.
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 questions!"
"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 about me!"
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 converted?"
"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."