In the dusk of the old-fashioned best room of a farm-house, in the faint glow of the buried sun through the sods of his July grave, sat two elderly persons, dimly visible, breathing the odor which roses unseen sent through the twilight and open window. One of the two was scarcely conscious of the odor, for she did not believe in roses; she believed mainly in mahogany, linen, and hams; to the other it brought too much sadness to be welcomed, for it seemed, like the sunlight, to issue from the grave of his vanished youth. He was not by nature a sad man; he was only one that had found the past more delightful than the present, and had not left his first loves.
The twilight of his years had crept upon him and was deepening; and he felt his youth slowly withering under their fallen leaves. With more education, and perhaps more receptivity than most farmers, he had married a woman he fervently loved, whose rarely truthful nature, to which she had striven to keep true, had developed the delicate flower of moral and social refinement; and her influence upon him had been of the eternal sort. While many of their neighbors were vying with each other in the effort to dress, and dwell, and live up to their notion of gentility, Richard Colman and his wife had never troubled themselves about fashion, but had sought to please each the taste of the other, and cultivate their own. Perhaps now as he sat thus silent in the dimmits, he was holding closer converse than he knew, or any of us can know, with one who seemed to have vanished from all this side of things, except the heart of her husband. That clung to what people would call her memory; I prefer to call it her.
The rose-scented hush was torn by the strident, cicala-like shrilling of a self-confident, self-satisfied female voice--
"Richard, that son of yours will come to no good! You may take my word for it!"
Mr. Colman made no answer; the dusky, sweet-smelling waves of the silence closed over its laceration.
"I am well aware my opinion is of no value in your eyes, Richard; but that does not absolve me from the duty of stating it: if you allow him to go on as he is doing now, Walter will never eat bread of his own earning!"
"There are many who do, and yet don't come to much!" half thought, but nowise said the father.
"What do you mean to make of him?" persisted Miss Hancock, the half-sister of his wife, the a in whose name Walter said ought to have been an e.
"Whatever he is able to make himself. He must have the main hand in it, whatever it be," answered Mr. Colman.
"It is time twice over he had set about something! You let him go on dawdling and dawdling without even making up his mind whether or not he ought to do anything! Take my word for it, Richard, you'll have him on your hands till the day of your death!"
The father did not reply that he could wish nothing better, that the threat was more than he could hope for. He did not want to provoke his sister-in-law, and he knew there was a shadow of reason in what she said, though even perfect reason could not have sweetened the mode in which she said it. Nothing could make up for the total absence of sympathy in her utterance of any modicum of truth she was capable of uttering. She was a very dusty woman, and never more dusty than when she fought against dust as in a warfare worthy of all a woman's energies--one who, because she had not a spark of Mary in her, imagined herself a Martha. She was true as steel to the interests of those in whose life hers was involved, but only their dusty interests, not those which make man worth God's trouble. She was a vessel of clay in an outhouse of the temple, and took on her the airs--not of gold, for gold has no airs--but the airs of clay imagining itself gold, and all the golden vessels nothing but clay.
"I put it to you, Richard Colman," she went on, "whether good ever came of reading poetry, and falling asleep under hay-stacks! He actually writes poetry!--and we all know what that leads to!"
"Do we?" ventured her brother-in-law. "King David wrote poetry!"
"Richard, don't garble! I will not have you garble! You know what I mean as well as I do myself! And you know as well as I do what comes of writing poetry! That friend of Walter's who borrowed ten pounds of you--did he ever pay you?"
"He did, Ann."
"You didn't tell me!"
"I did not want to disappoint you!" replied Richard, with a sarcasm she did not feel.
"It was worth telling!" she returned.
"I did not think so. Everybody does not stick to a bank-note like a snail to the wall! I returned him the money."
"Returned him the money!"
"Made him a present of ten pounds!"
"I had more reasons than one."
"And no call to explain them! It was just like you to throw away your hard earnings upon a fellow that would never earn anything for himself! As if one such wasn't enough to take all you'd got!"
"How could he send back the money if that had been the case! He proved himself what I believed him, ready and willing to work! The money went for a fellow's bread and cheese, and what better money's worth would you have?"
"You may some day want the bread and cheese for yourself!"
"One stomach is as good as another!"
"It never was and never will be any use talking to some people!" concluded sister Ann, in the same tone she began with, for she seldom lost her temper--though no one would have much minded her losing it, it was so little worth keeping. Rarely angry, she was always disagreeable. The good that was in her had no flower, but bore its fruits, in the shape of good food, clean linen, mended socks, and such like, without any blossom of sweet intercourse to make life pleasant.
Aunt Ann would have been quite justified in looking on poetry with contempt had it been what she imagined it. Like many others, she had decided opinions concerning things of which her idea nowise corresponded with the things themselves.