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
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
"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
"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.
While the elders thus conversed in the dusky drawing-room where the
smell of the old roses almost overpowered that of the new another
couple sat in a little homely bower in the garden. It was Walter and his
rather distant cousin Molly Wentworth who for fifteen years had been
as brother and sister. Their fathers had been great friends and when
Molly's died in India and her mother speedily followed him Richard
Colman took the little orphan who was at the time with a nurse in
England home to his house much to the joy of his wife who had often
longed for a daughter to perfect the family idea. The more motherly a
woman is the nearer will the child of another satisfy the necessities
of her motherhood. Mrs. Colman could not have said which child she loved
Over the still summer garden rested a weight of peace. It was a night to
the very mind of the fastidious twilight-loving bat flitting about
coming and going like a thought we can not help. Most of Walter's
thoughts came and went thus. He had not yet learned to think; he was
hardly more than a medium in which thought came and went. Yet when a
thought seemed worth anything he always gave himself the credit of
it!--as if a man were author of his own thoughts any more than of his
own existence! A man can but live so with the life given him that this
or that kind of thoughts shall call on him and to this or that kind he
shall not be at home. Walter was only at that early stage of development
where a man is in love with what he calls his own thoughts.
Even in the dark of the summer-house one might have seen that he was
pale and might have suspected him handsome. In the daylight his gray
eyes might almost seem the source of his paleness. His features were
well marked though delicate and had a notable look of distinction. He
was above the middle height and slenderly built; had a wide forehead
and a small pale mustache on an otherwise smooth face. His mouth was
the least interesting feature; it had great mobility but when at rest
little shape and no attraction. For this however his smile made
The girl was dark almost swarthy with the clear pure complexion and
fine-grained skin which more commonly accompany the hue. If at first
she gave the impression of delicacy it soon changed into one of
compressed life of latent power. Through the night where she now sat
her eyes were too dark to appear; they sank into it and were as the
unseen soul of the dark; while her mouth rather large and exquisitely
shaped with the curve of a strong bow seemed as often as she smiled to
make a pale window in the blackness. Her hair came rather low down the
steep of her forehead and with the strength of her chin made her face
look rounder than seemed fitting.
They sat for a time as silent as the night that infolded them. They were
not lovers though they loved each other perhaps more than either
knew. They were watching to see the moon rise at the head of the valley
on one of whose high sloping sides they sat.
The moon kept her tryst and revealed a loveliness beyond what the day
had to show. She looked upon a wide valley that gleamed with the
windings of a river. She brightened the river and dimmed in the houses
and cottages the lights with which the opposite hill sparkled like a
celestial map. Lovelily she did her work in the heavens her poor
mirror-work--all she was fit for now affording fit room atmosphere
and medium to young imaginations unable yet to spread their wings in
the sunlight and believe what lies hid in the light of the workaday
world. Nor was what she showed the less true for what lay unshown in
shrouded antagonism. The vulgar cry for the real would bury in deepest
grave every eternal fact. It is the cry "Not this man but Barabbas!"
The day would reveal a river stained with loathsome refuse and rich
gardens on hill-sides mantled in sooty smoke and evil-smelling vapors
sent up from a valley where men like gnomes toiled and caused to toil
too eagerly. What would one think of a housekeeper so intent upon saving
that she could waste no time on beauty or cleanliness? How many who
would storm if they came home to an untidy house feel no shadow of
uneasiness that they have all day been defiling the house of the Father
nor at night lifted hand to cleanse it! Such men regard him as a fool
whose joy a foul river can poison; yet as soon as they have by
pollution gathered and saved their god they make haste to depart from
the spot they have ruined! Oh for an invasion of indignant ghosts to
drive from the old places the generation that dishonors the ancient
Earth! The sun shows all their disfiguring but the friendly night comes
at length to hide her disgrace; and that well hidden slowly descends
the brooding moon to unveil her beauty.
For there was a _thriving_ town full of awful chimneys in the valley
and the clouds that rose from it ascended above the Colmans' farm to the
great moor which stretched miles and miles beyond it. In the autumn sun
its low forest of heather burned purple; in the pale winter it lay white
under snow and frost; but through all the year winds would blow across
it the dull smell of the smoke from below. Had such a fume risen to the
earthly paradise Dante would have imagined his purgatory sinking into
hell. On all this inferno the night had sunk like a foretaste of
cleansing death. The fires lay smoldering like poor hopeless devils
fain to sleep. The world was merged in a tidal wave from the ocean of
hope and seemed to heave a restful sigh under its cooling renovation.
A PENNYWORTH OF THINKING.
"A penny for your thought Walter!" said the girl after a long silence
in which the night seemed at length to clasp her too close.
"Your penny then! I was thinking how wild and sweet the dark wind would
be blowing up there among the ringing bells of the heather."
"You shall have the penny. I will pay you with your own coin. I keep all
the pennies I win of you. What do you do with those you win of me?"
"Oh I don't know! I take them because you insist on paying your bets
"Debts you mean Walter! You know I never bet even in fun! I hate
taking things for nothing! I wouldn't do it!"
"Then what are you making me do now?"
"Take a penny for the thought I bought of you for a penny. That's fair
trade not gambling. And your thought to-night is well worth a penny. I
felt the very wind on the moor for a moment!"
"I'm afraid I sha'n't get a penny a thought in London!"
"Then you are going to London Walter?"
"Yes indeed! What else! What is a man to do here?"
"What is a man to do there?"
"Make his way in the world."
"But Walter please let me understand! indeed I don't want to be
disagreeable! What do you wish to make your way to?"
"To such a position as--"
Here he stopped unsure.
"You mean to fame and honor and riches don't you Walter?" ventured
"No--not riches. Did you ever hear of a poet and riches in the same
"Oh yes I have!--though somehow they don't seem to go together
comfortably. If a poet is rich he ought to show he couldn't help it."
"Suppose he was made a lord where would he then be without money?"
"If to be a lord one must be rich he ought never to wish to be a lord.
But you do not want to be either lord or millionaire Walter do you?"
"I hope I know better!"
"Where does the way you speak of lead then Walter? To fame?"
"If it did what would you have to say against it? Even Milton calls it
'That last infirmity of noble mind!'"
"But he calls it an infirmity and such a bad infirmity apparently
that it is the hardest of all to get rid of!"
The fact was that Walter wanted to be--thought he was a poet but was
far from certain--feared indeed it might not be so therefore desired
greatly the verdict of men in his favor if but for his own
satisfaction. Fame was precious to him as determining he thought his
position in the world of letters--his kingdom of heaven. Well read he
had not used his reading practically enough to perceive that the praise
of one generation may be the contempt of another perhaps of the very
next so that the repute of his time could assure him of nothing. He did
not know the worthlessness of the opinion that either grants or
He looked through the dark at his cousin thinking "What sets her
talking of such things? How can a girl understand a man with his career
She read him through the night and his silence.
"I know what you are thinking Walter!" she said. "You are thinking
women can't think. But I should be ashamed not to have common sense and
I can not see the sense of doing anything for a praise that can help
nothing and settle nothing."
"Why then should all men have the desire for it?"
"That they may get rid of it Why have all men vanity? Where would the
world be on the way to now if Jesus Christ had sought the praise of
"But He has it!"
"Not much of it yet I suspect. He does not care for the praise that
comes before obedience!--that's what I have heard your father say."
"I never heard him!"
"I have heard him say it often. What could Jesus care for the praise of
one whose object in life was the praise of men!"
Walter had not lived so as to destroy the reverence of his childhood. He
believed himself to have high ideals. He felt that a man must be
upright or lose his life. So strongly did he feel it that he imagined
himself therefore upright incapable of a dishonest or mean thing. He
had never done never could he thought do anything unfair. But to what
Molly said he had no answer. What he half thought in his silence was
something like this: that Jesus Christ was not the type of manhood but
a man by himself who came to do a certain work; that it was both absurd
and irreverent to talk as if other men had to do as He did to think and
feel like Him; that He was so high above the world He could not care for
its fame while to mere man its praises must be dear. Nor did Walter
make any right distinction between the approbation of understanding men
who know the thing they praise and the empty voice of the unwise many.
In a word Walter thought without knowing he did that Jesus Christ was
not a man.
"I think Molly" he said "we had better avoid the danger of
For the sake of his poor reverence he would frustrate the mission of the
Son of God; by its wretched mockery justify himself in refusing the
judgment of Jesus!
"I know you think kindly of me Molly" he went on "and I should be
sorry to have you misunderstand me; but surely a man should not require
religion to make him honest! I scorn the notion. A man must be just and
true because he is a man! Surely a man may keep clear of the thing he
loathes! For my own honor" he added with a curl of his lip "I shall
at least do nothing disgraceful however I may fall short of the
"I doubt" murmured Molly "whether a man is a man until he knows God."
But Walter if he heard the words neither heeded nor answered them. He
was far from understanding the absurdity of doing right from love of
He was no hypocrite. He did turn from what seemed to him degrading. But
there were things degrading which he did not see to be such things on
which some men to whom he did not yet look up would have looked down.
Also there was that in his effort to sustain his self-respect which was
far from pure: he despised such as had failed; and to despise the human
because it has fallen is to fall from the human. He had done many
little things he ought to be and one day must be but as yet felt no
occasion to be--ashamed of. So long as they did not trouble him they
seemed nowhere. Many a youth starts in life like him possessed with the
idea not exactly formulated that he is a most precious specimen of
pure and honorable humanity. It comes of self-ignorance and a low ideal
taken for a high one. Such are mainly among the well-behaved and never
doubt themselves a prize for any woman. They color their notion of
themselves with their ideal and then mistake the one for the other. The
mass of weaknesses and conceits that compose their being they compress
into their ideal mold of man and then regard the shape as their own.
What composes it they do not heed.
No man however could look in the refined face of Walter Colman and
imagine him cherishing sordid views of life. Asked what of all things he
most admired he might truly answer "The imaginative intellect." He was
a fledgling poet. He worshiped what he called thoughts would rave about
a thought in the abstract apostrophize an uncaught idea. When a
concrete thinkable one fell to him he was jubilant over the isolate
thing and with his joy value had nothing to do. He would stand wrapped
in the delight of what he counted its beauty and yet more in the
delight that his was the mind that had generated such a meteor! To be
able to think pretty things was to him a gigantic distinction! A thought
that could never be soul to any action would be more valuable to him
than the perception of some vitality of relation demanding the activity
of the whole being. He would call thoughts the stars that glorify the
firmament of humanity but the stars of his firmament were merely
atmospheric--pretty fancies external likenesses. That the grandest
thing in the world is to be an accepted poet is the despotic craze of a
vast number of the weak-minded and half-made of both sexes. It feeds
poetic fountains of plentiful yield but insipid and enfeebling flow
the mere sweat of weakness under the stimulus of self-admiration.
A LIVING FORCE.
Walter was the very antipode of the Molly he counted commonplace one
outside the region of poetry; she had a passion for turning a _think_