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 is anything?"
"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 read?"
"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 Lufa's fire-works!
"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 be true!"
"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 yours!"
"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 dishonesty!"
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 upon trust."
"We must take some things on trust, Molly, else we should never have anything!"
"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 uttered them!"
"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 to say!"
"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 have me!"
"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 own work-shop!"
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!