Mr. Colman and his adopted daughter were fast friends--so fast and so near that they could talk together about Walter, though but the adoptive brother of the one, and the real son of the other. Richard had inherited, apparently, his wife's love to Molly, and added to it his own; but their union had its root in the perfect truthfulness of the two. Real approximation, real union must ever be in proportion to mutual truthfulness. It was quite after the usual fashion, therefore, between them, when Molly began, to tell her father about the conversation she had had with Walter.
"What first made you think, Molly, of such a difference between thoughts and things?" asked Mr. Colman.
"I know quite well," answered Molly. "You remember our visit to your old school-friend, Mr. Dobson?"
"Of course; perfectly."
Mr. Dobson was a worthy clergyman, doing his weary best in a rural parish.
"And you remember Mrs. Evermore?"
"You thought her name a funny one; but you said it ought to have been 'Nevermore,' because she seemed never to get any further!"
"Come, come, Molly! that won't do! It was you, not I, that said such a spiteful thing!" "It was true any way!" answered Molly; "and you agreed with me; so if I said it first, you said it last! Well, I had to study this Mrs. Evermore. From morning to night she was evermore on the hunt after new fancies. She watched for them, stalked them, followed them like a boy with a butterfly-net She caught them too, of the sort she wanted, plentifully. But none ever came to anything, so far as I could see. She never did anything with one of them. Whatever she caught had a cage to itself, where it sat on 'the all-alone-stone.' Every other moment, while you and Mr. Dobson were talking, she would cry 'oh! oh! o--o--oh!' and pull out her note-book, which was the cork-box in which she pinned her butterflies. She must have had a whole museum of ideas! The most accidental resemblance between words would suffice to start one: after it she would go, catch it, pin it down, and call it a correspondence. Now and then a very pretty notion would fall to her net, and often a silly one; but all were equally game to her. I found her amusing and interesting for two days, but then began to see she only led nothing nowhere. She was touchy, and jealous, and said things that disgusted me; never did anything for anybody; and though she hunted religious ideas most, never seemed to imagine they could have anything to do with her life. It was only the fineness of a good thought even that she seemed to prize. She would startle you any moment by an exclamation of delight at some religious fancy or sentimentality, and down it most go in her book, but it went no further than her book: she was just as common as before, vulgar even, in her judgments of motives and actions. She seemed made for a refined and delicate woman, but not to take the trouble to be what she was made for. You told me, you know, that God makes us, but we have to be. She talked about afflictions as one might of manure: by these afflictions, of which she would complain bitterly, she was being fashioned for life eternal! It was all the most dreary, noisome rubbish I had ever come across. I used to lie awake thinking what could ever rouse such a woman to see that she had to do something; that man nor woman can become anything without having a hand in the matter. She seemed to expect the spirit of God to work in her like yeast in flour, although there was not a sign of the dough rising. That is how I came to see that one may have any number of fine thoughts and fancies and be nothing the better, any more than the poor woman in the gospel with her doctors! And when Walter, the next time he came home, talked as he did about thoughts, and quoted Keats to the same effect, as if the finest thing in the universe were a fine thought, I could not bear it, and that made me speak to him as I did."
"You have made it very clear, Molly; and I quite agree with you: thinks are of no use except they be turned into things."
"But perhaps, after all, I may have been unfair to her!" said Molly. "People are so queer! They seem sometimes to be altogether made up of odd bits of different people. There's Aunt Ann now! she would not do a tradesman out of a ha'penny, but she will cheat at backgammon!"
"I know she will, and that is why I never play with her. It is so seldom she will give herself any recreation, that it makes me sorry to refuse her."
"There is one thing that troubles me," said Molly, after a little pause.
"What is it, my child? I always like to hear something troubles you, for then I know you are going to have something. To miss is the preparation for receiving."
"I can't care--much--about poetry--and Walter says such fine things about it! Walter is no fool!"
"Far from one, I am glad to think!" said Richard, laughing. Molly's straightforward, humble confidence, he found as delightful as amusing.
"It seems to me so silly to scoff at things because you can't go in for them! I sometimes hear people make insulting remarks about music, and music I know to be a good and precious and lovely thing. Then I think with myself, they must be in the same condition with regard to music, that I am in with regard to poetry. So I take care not to be a fool in talking about what I don't know. That I am stupid is no reason for being a fool. Any one whom God has made stupid, has a right to be stupid, but no right to call others fool because they are not stupid."
"I thought you liked poetry, Molly!"
"So I do when you read it, or talk about it. It seems as if you made your way of it grow my way of it. I hear the poetry and feel your feeling of it. But when I try to read it myself, then I don't care for it. Sometimes I turn it into prose, and then I get a hold of it."
"That is about the best and hardest test you could put it to, Molly! But perhaps you have been trying to like what ought not, because it does not deserve to be liked. There is much in the shape of poetry that set in gold and diamonds would be worth nothing."
"I think the difficulty is in myself. Sometimes I am in the fit mood, and other times not. A single line will now and then set something churning, churning in me, so that I can not understand myself. It will make me think of music, and sunrise, and the wind, and the song of the lark, and all lovely things. But sometimes prose will serve me the same. And the next minute, perhaps, either of them will be boring me more than I can bear! I know it is my own fault, but--"
"Stop there, Molly! It may sometimes be your own fault, but certainly not always! You are fastidious, little one; and in exquisite things how can one be too fastidious! When Walter is gone, suppose we read a little more poetry together?"
Richard Colman had made some money in one of the good farming times, but of late had not been increasing his store. But he was a man too genuinely practical to set his mind upon making money.
There are parents who, notwithstanding they have found possession powerless for their own peace, not the less heap up for the sons coming after, in the weak but unquestioned fancy that possession will do for them what it could not do for their fathers and mothers. Richard was above such stupidity. He had early come to see that the best thing money could do for his son, was to help in preparing him for some work fit to employ what faculty had been given him, in accordance with the tastes also given him. He saw, the last thing a foolish father will see, that the best a father can do, is to enable his son to earn his livelihood in the exercise of a genial and righteous labor. He saw that possession generates artificial and enfeebling wants, overlaying and smothering the God-given necessities of our nature, whence alone issue golden hopes and manly endeavors.
He had therefore been in no haste to draw from his son a declaration of choice as to profession. When every man shall feel in himself a call to this or that, and scarce needs make a choice, the generations will be well served; but that is not yet, and what Walter was fit for was not yet quite manifest. It was only clear to the father that his son must labor for others with a labor, if possible, whose reflex action should be life to himself. Agriculture seemed inadequate to the full employment of the gifts which, whether from paternal partiality or genuine insight, he believed his son to possess; neither had Walter shown inclination or aptitude for any department of it. All Richard could do, therefore, was to give him such preparation as would be fundamentally available for any superstructure: he might, he hoped, turn to medicine or the law. Partly for financial reasons, he sent him to Edinburgh.
There Walter neither distinguished nor disgraced himself, and developed no inclination to one more than another of the careers open to a young man of education. He read a good deal, however, and showed taste in literature--was indeed regarded by his companions as an authority in its more imaginative ranges, and specially in matters belonging to verse, having an exceptionally fine ear for its vocal delicacies. This is one of the rarest of gifts; but rarity does not determine value, and Walter greatly overestimated its relative importance. The consciousness of its presence had far more than a reasonable share in turning his thoughts to literature as a profession.
When his bent became apparent, it troubled his father a little. He knew that to gain the level of excellence at which labor in that calling insured the merest livelihood, required in most cases a severe struggle; and for such effort he doubted his son's capacity, perceiving in him none of the stoic strength that comes of a high ideal, and can encounter disappointment, even privation, without injury. Other and deeper dangers the good parent did not see. He comforted himself that, even if things went no better than now, he could at least give his son a fair chance of discovering whether the career would suit him, until he should attain the material end of it. Long before Miss Hancock's attack upon his supposed indifference to his son's idleness, he had made up his mind to let him try how far he could go in the way to which he was drawn; and the next day told his son, to his unspeakable delight, that he was ready to do what lay in his power to further his desire; that his own earthly life was precious to him only for the sake of the children he must by and by leave; and that when he saw him busy, contented, and useful, he would gladly yield his hold upon it.
Walter's imagination took fire at the prospect of realizing all he had longed for but feared to subject to paternal scrutiny, and he was at once eager to go out into the great unhomely world, in the hope of being soon regarded by his peers as the possessor of certain gifts and faculties which had not yet handed in their vouchers to himself. For, as the conscience of many a man seems never to trouble him until the look of his neighbors bring their consciences to bear upon his, so the mind of many a man seems never to satisfy him that he has a gift until other men grant his possession of it. Around Walter, nevertheless, the world broke at once into rare bloom. He became like a windy day in the house, vexing his aunt with his loud, foolish gladness, and causing the wise heart of Molly many a sudden, chilly foreboding. She knew him better than his father knew him. His father had not played whole days with him, and day after day! She knew that happiness made him feel strong for anything, but that his happiness was easily dashed, and he was then a rain-wet, wind-beaten butterfly. He had no soul for bad weather. He could not therefore be kept in wadding, however! He must have his trial; must, in one way or another, encounter life, and disclose what amount of the real might be in him--what little, but enlargeable claim he might have to manhood!