Part 2 out of 3
and the passages cited were preceded and followed by rich and praiseful
epithets; but neither quotations nor remarks moved in him any echo of
response. He gave the manuscript what correction it required, which was
not much, for Walter was an accurate as well as ready writer, laid it
aside, and took up the poem.
What could be the matter? There was nothing but embers where had been
glow and flame! Something must be amiss with him! He recalled an
occasion on which, feeling similarly with regard to certain poems till
then favorites, he was sorely troubled, but a serious attack of illness
very soon relieved his perplexity: something like it most surely be at
hand to account for the contradiction between Walter last night and
Walter this morning! Closer and closer he scanned what he read, peering
if he might to its very roots, in agonized endeavor to see what he had
seen as he wrote. But his critical consciousness neither acknowledged
what he had felt, nor would grant him in a condition of poetic collapse.
He read on and on; read the poem through; turned back, and read passage
after passage again; but without one individual approach to the revival
of former impression. "Commonplace! commonplace!" echoed in his inner
ear, as if whispered by some mocking spirit. He argued that he had often
found himself too fastidious. His demand for finish ruined many of his
verses, rubbing and melting and wearing them away, like frost and wind
and rain, till they were worthless! The predominance and overkeenness of
the critical had turned in him to disease! His eye was sharpened to see
the point of a needle, but a tree only as a blotted mass! A man's mind
was meant to receive as a mirror, not to concentrate rays like a convex
lens! Was it not then likely that the first reading gave the true
impression of the ethereal, the vital, the flowing, the iridescent? Did
not the solitary and silent night brood like a hen on the nest of the
poet's imaginings? Was it not the night that waked the soul? Did not the
commonplace vanish along with the "garish" day? How then could its light
afford the mood fit for judging a poem--the cold sick morning, when life
is but half worth living! Walter did not think how much champagne he had
taken, nor how much that might have to do with one judgment at night and
another in the morning. "Set one mood against another," he said,
conscious all the time it was a piece of special pleading, "and the one
weighs as much as the other!" For it was horrible to him to think that
the morning was the clear-eyed, and that the praise he had lavished on
the book was but a vapor of the night. How was he to carry himself to
the lady of his love, who at most did not care half as much for him as
for her book?
How poetry could be such a passion with her when her own was but
mediocre, was a question Walter dared not shape--not, however, that he
saw the same question might be put with regard to himself: his own
poetry was neither strong nor fresh nor revealing. He had not noted that
an unpoetic person will occasionally go into a mild ecstasy over phrase
or passage or verse in which a poet may see little or nothing.
He came back to this:--his one hour had as good a claim to insight as
his other; if he saw the thing so once, why not say what he had seen?
Why should not the thing stand? His consciousness of the night before
had certainly been nearer that of a complete, capable being, than that
of to-day! He was in higher human condition then than now!
But there came another doubt: what was he to conclude concerning his
other numerous judgments passed irrevocably? Was he called and appointed
to influence the world's opinion of the labor of hundreds according to
the mood he happened to be in, or the hour at which he read their
volumes? But if he must write another judgment of that poem in vellum
and gold, he must first pack his portmanteau! To write in her home as he
felt now, would be treachery!
Not confessing it, he was persuading himself to send on the review. Of
course, had he the writing of it now, he would not write a paper like
that! But the thing being written, it could claim as good a chance of
being right as another! Had it not been written as honestly as another
of to-day would be? Might it not be just as true? The laws of art are so
Thus on and on went the windmill of heart and brain, until at last the
devil, or the devil's shadow--that is, the bad part of the man
himself--got the better, and Walter, not being true, did a
lie--published the thing he would no longer have said. He thought he
worshiped the truth, but he did not. He knew that the truth was
everything, but a lie came that seemed better than the truth. In his
soul he knew he was not acting truly; that had he honestly loved the
truth, he would not have played hocus-pocus with metaphysics and logic,
but would have made haste to a manly conclusion. He took the package,
and on his way to the dining-room, dropped it into the post-box in the
During lunch he was rather silent and abstracted; the package was not
gone, and his conscience might yet command him to recall it! When the
hour was passed, and the paper beyond recovery, he felt easier, saying
to himself, what was done could not be undone; he would be more careful
another time. One comfort was, that at least he had done no injustice to
Lufa! He did not reflect that he had done her the greatest injustice in
helping her to believe that worthy which was not worthy, herself
worshipful who was not worshipful. He told her that he finished her
drama before going to bed, and was perfectly charmed with it. That it as
much exceeded his expectations then as it had fallen below them since,
he did not say.
In the evening he was not so bright as before. Lufa saw it and was
troubled. She feared he doubted the success of her poem. She led the
way, and found he avoided talking about it. She feared he was not so
well pleased with it as he had said. Walter asked if he might not read
from it in the drawing-room. She would not consent.
"None there are of our sort!" she said. "They think literature
foolishness. Even my mother, the best of mothers, doesn't care about
poetry, can not tell one measure from another. Come and read a page or
two of it in the summer-house in the wilderness instead. I want to know
how it will sound in people's ears."
Walter was ready enough. He was fond of reading aloud, and believed he
could so read the poem that he need not say anything. And certainly, if
justice meant making the words express more than was in them, he did it
justice. But in truth the situation was sometimes touching; and the more
so to Walter that the hero was the lady's inferior in birth, means, and
position--much more her inferior than Walter was Lufa's. The lady alone
was on the side of the lowly born; father, mother, brothers, sisters,
uncles, aunts, and cousins to the remotest degree, against him even to
hatred. The general pathos of the idea disabled the criticism of the
audience, composed of the authoress and the reader, blinding perhaps
both to not a little that was neither brilliant nor poetic. The lady
wept at the sound of her own verses from the lips of one who was to her
in the position of the hero toward the heroine; and the lover, critic as
he was, could not but be touched when he saw her weep at passages
suggesting his relation to her; so that, when they found the hand of the
one resting in that of the other, it did not seem strange to either.
When suddenly the lady snatched hers away, it was only because a
mischievous little bird spying them, and hurrying away to tell, made a
great fluttering in the foliage. Then was Walter's conscience not a
little consoled, for he was aware of a hearty love for the poem. Under
such conditions he could have gone on reading it all the night!
THE RIDE TOGETHER.
Days passed, and things went on much the same, Walter not daring to tell
the girl all he felt, but seizing every opportunity of a _tete-a-tete_,
and missing none of the proximity she allowed him, and she never seeming
other than pleased to be his companion. Her ways with him were always
pretty, and sometimes playful. She was almost studious to please him;
and if she never took a liberty with him, she never resented any he took
with her, which certainly were neither numerous nor daring, for Walter
was not presumptuous, least of all with women.
But Lufa was careful not to neglect their other guests. She was always
ready to accompany any of the ladies riding out of a morning; and a Mr.
Sefton, who was there when Walter arrived, generally rode with them. He
was older than Walter, and had taken little notice of him, which Walter
resented more than he would have cared to acknowledge. He was tall and
lanky, with a look of not having been in the oven quite long enough, but
handsome nevertheless. Without an atom of contempt, he cared nothing for
what people might think; and when accused of anything, laughed, and
never defended himself. Having no doubt he was in the right, he had no
anxiety as to the impression he might make. In the hunting-field he was
now reckless, now so cautious that the men would chaff him. But they
knew well enough that whatever he did came either of pure whim or
down-right good sense; no one ever questioned his pluck. I believe an
intermittent laziness had something to do with his inconsistency.
It had been taken for granted by Lufa that Walter could not ride;
whereas, not only had he had some experience, but he was one of the few
possessed of an individual influence over the lower brotherhood of
animals, and his was especially equine.
One morning, from an ailment in one of the horses, Lufa found that her
mount required consideration. Sefton said the horse he had been riding
would carry her perfectly.
"What will you do for a horse?"
"What shall we do for a gentleman?"
"I saw a groom this morning," suggested Walter, "on a lovely little
"Ah, Red Racket!" answered Lady Lufa, "He is no horse; he is a little
fiend. Goes as gently as a lamb with my father, though, or any one that
he knows can ride him. Try Red Racket, George."
They were cousins, though not in the next degree.
"I would if I could sit him. But I'm not a rough rider, and much
disinclined to have my bones broken. It's not as if there was anything
to be got by it, even a brush!"
"Two hours of your sister, your cousin, and their friend!" said Lufa.
"Much of you I should have with Red Racket under me--or over me as
likely! at best jumping about, and taking all the attention I had! No,
"Come, George," said his sister, "you will make them think you are no
"Neither I am; I have not a good seat, and you know it! I am not going
to make a fool of myself on compulsion! I know what I can do, and what I
"I wish I had the chance!" murmured Walter, as if to himself, but so
that Lufa heard.
"You can ride?" said Lufa, with pleased surprise.
"Why not?" returned Walter. "Every Englishman should ride."
"Yes; every Englishman should swim; but Englishmen are drowned every
"That is as often because they can swim, but have not Mr. Sefton's
"You mustn't think my cousin afraid of Red Racket!" she returned.
"I don't. He doesn't look like it!"
"Do you really wish to ride the roan?"
"Indeed I do!"
"I will order him round," she said, rising.
Walter did not quite enjoy her consenting so easily; had she no fear for
him of the risk Mr. Sefton would not run?
"She wants me to cut a good figure!" he said to himself, and went to get
I have no deed of prowess on Walter's part to record. The instant he was
in the saddle, Red Racket recognized a master.
"You can't have ridden him before?" questioned Lufa.
"I never saw him till this morning."
"He likes you, I suppose!" she said.
As they returned, the other ladies being in front, and the groom some
distance behind, Walter brought his roan side by side with Lufa's horse,
"You know Browning's 'Last Ride Together'?"
"Yes," she answered, with a faint blush; "but this is not our last ride!
It is our first! Why didn't you tell me? We might have had many rides
"Promise me a last one," he said.
"How can I? How should I know it was the last?"
"Promise," he persisted, "that if ever you see just one last ride
possible, you will let me know."
She hesitated a moment, then answered--
"Thank you!" said Walter with fervor.
As by consent, they rode after the others.
Walter had not yet the courage to say anything definite. But he had said
many things that must have compelled her to imagine what he had not
said; therefore the promise she had given him seemed encouraging. They
rode in silence the rest of the way.
When Sefton saw Red Racket as quiet as a lamb, he went up to him,
stroked his neck, and said to Walter:
"With me he would have capered like an idiot till he had thrown me. It
is always my luck with horses of his color! You must have a light hand!"
He stroked his neck once more, turned aside, and was too late to help
the ladies dismount.
It was the last ride for the present, because of a change in the
weather. In a few days came "The Field Battery" with Walter's review,
bringing a revival of the self-reproach he had begun to forget. The
paper felt in his hand like bad news or something nasty. He could not
bear the thought of having to take his part in the talk it would
occasion. It could not now be helped, however, and that was a great
comfort! It was impossible, none the less, to keep it up! As he had
foreseen, all this time came no revival of his first impression of the
poem. He went to find his hostess, and told her he must go to London
that same afternoon. As he took his leave, he put the paper In Lufa's
"You will find there what I have said about the poem."
I need hardly say he found his first lonely evening dull. He was not yet
capable of looking beneath the look of anything. He felt cabined,
cribbed, confined. His world-clothing came too near him. From the
flowing robes of a park, a great house, large rooms, wide
staircases--with plenty of air and space, color, softness, fitness,
completeness, he found himself in the worn, tight, shabby garment of a
cheap London lodging! But Walter, far from being a wise man, was not
therefore a fool; he was not one whom this world can not teach, and who
has therefore to be sent to some idiot asylum in the next, before sense
can be got into him, or, rather, out of him. No man is a fool, who,
having work to do, sets himself to do it, and Walter did. He had begun a
poem to lead the van of a volume, of which the rest was nearly ready:
into it he now set himself to weave a sequel to her drama, from the
point where she had left the story. Every hour he could spare from
drudgery he devoted to it--urged by the delightful prospect of letting
Lufa see what he could do. Gaining facility with his stanza as he went
on, the pleasure of it grew, and more than comforted his loneliness.
Sullivan could hardly get him from his room.
Finding a young publisher prepared to undertake half the risk, on the
ground, unexpressed, of the author's proximity to the judgment-seat,
Walter, too experienced to look for any gain, yet hoped to clear his
expenses, and became liable for much more than he possessed.
He had one little note from Lufa, concerning a point in rhythm which
perplexed her. She had a good ear, and was conscientious in her
mechanics. There was not a cockney-rhyme from beginning to end of her
poem, which is more than the uninitiated will give its weight to. But
she understood nothing of the broken music which a master of verse will
turn to such high service. There are lines in Milton which Walter, who
knew far more than she, could not read until long after, when Dante
taught him how.
In the month of December came another note from Lady Lufa, inviting him
to spend a week with them after Christmas.
"Perhaps then we may have yet a ride together," added a postscript.
"What does she mean?" thought Walter, a pale fear at his heart. "She
can not mean our last ride!"
One conclusion he came to--that he must tell her plainly he loved her.
The thing was only right, though of course ridiculous in the eyes of
worldly people, said the far from unworldly poet. True, she was the
daughter of an earl, and he the son of a farmer; and those who called
the land their own looked down upon those who tilled it! But a banker,
or a brewer, or the son of a contractor who had wielded the spade, might
marry an earl's daughter: why should not the son of a farmer--not to say
one who, according to the lady's mother, himself belonged to an
aristocracy? The farmer's son indeed was poor, and who would look at a
poor banker, or a poor brewer, more than a poor farmer! it was all
money! But was he going to give in to that? Was he to grant that
possession made a man honorable, and the want of it despicable! To act
as if she could think after such a silly fashion, would be to insult
her! He would lay bare his heart to her! There were things in it which
she knew what value to set upon--things as far before birth as birth was
before money! He would accept the invitation, and if possible get his
volume out before the day mentioned, so as, he hoped, to be a little in
the mouth of the public when he went.
Walter, like many another youth, imagined the way to make a woman love
him, was to humble himself before her, tell her how beautiful she was,
and how much he loved her. I do not see why any woman should therefore
love a man. If she loves him already, anything will do to make her love
him more; if she does not, no entreaty will wake what is not there to be
waked. Even wrong and cruelty and carelessness may increase love already
rooted; but neither love, nor kindness, nor worship, will prevail to
In his formal acceptance of the invitation, he inclosed some verses
destined for his volume, in which he poured out his boyish passion over
his lady's hair, and eyes, and hands--a poem not without some of the
merits made much of by the rising school of the day, and possessing
qualities higher, perhaps, than those upon which that school chiefly
prided itself. She made, and he expected, no acknowledgment, but she did
not return the verses.
Lyric after lyric, with Lufa for its inspiration, he wrought, like
damask flowers, into his poem. Every evening, and all the evening,
sometimes late into the morning, he fashioned and filed, until at length
it was finished.
When the toiling girl who waited on him appeared with the proof-sheets
in her hand, she came like a winged ministrant laying a wondrous gift
before him. And in truth, poor as he came to think it, was it not a gift
greater than any angel could have brought him? Was not the seed of it
sown in his being by Him that loved him before he was? These were the
poor first flowers, come to make way for better--themselves a gift none
but God could give.
The book was rapidly approaching its birth, as the day of Lufa's summons
drew near. He had inscribed the volume to her, not by name, but in a
dedication she could not but understand and no other would; founded on
her promise of a last ride: it was so delightful to have a secret with
her! He hoped to the last to take a copy with him, but was disappointed
by some _contretemps_ connected with the binding--about which he was as
particular as if it had been itself a poem: he had to pack his
portmanteau without it.
Continuously almost, on his way to the station, he kept repeating to
himself: "Is it to be the last ride, or only another?"
A WINTER AFTERNOON.
When Walter arrived, he found the paradise under snow. But the summer
had only run in-doors, and there was blooming. Lufa was kinder than
ever, but, he fancied, a little embarrassed, which he interpreted to his
advantage. He was shown to the room he had before occupied.
It did not take him long to learn the winter ways of the house. Mr. and
Miss Sefton were there; and all seemed glad of his help against
consciousness; for there could be no riding so long as the frost lasted
and the snow kept falling, and the ladies did not care to go out; and
in, some country-houses Time has as many lives as a cat, and wants a
great deal of killing--a butchery to be one day bitterly repented,
perhaps; but as a savage can not be a citizen, so can not people of
fashion belong to the kingdom of heaven.
The third morning came a thaw, with a storm of wind and rain; and after
lunch they gathered in the glooming library, and began to tell ghost
stories. Walter happened to know a few of the rarer sort, and found
himself in his element. His art came to help him, and the eyes of the
ladies, and he rose to his best. As he was working one of his tales to
its climax, Mr. Sefton entered the room, where Walter had been the only
gentleman, and took a chair beside Lufa. She rose, saying,
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Colman, but would you mind stopping a minute
while I get a little more red silk for my imperial dragon? Mr. Sefton
has already taken the sting out of the snake!"
"What snake?" asked Sefton.
"The snake of terror," she answered. "Did you not see him as you came
in--erect on his coiled tail, drawing his head back for his darting
"I am very sorry," said Sefton. "I have injured everybody, and I hope
everybody will pardon me!"
When Lufa had found her silk, she took a seat nearer to Walter, who
resumed and finished his narrative.
"I wonder she lived to tell it!" said one of the ladies.
"For my part," rejoined their hostess, "I do not see why every one
should be so terrified at the thought of meeting a ghost! It seems to me
"I don't think it cowardly," said Sefton, "to be frightened at a ghost,
or at anything else."
"Now don't say you would run away!" remonstrated his sister.
"I couldn't very well, don't you know, if I was in bed! But I might--I
don't know--hide my head under the blankets!"
"I don't believe it a bit!"
"To be sure," continued Sefton, reflectively, "there does seem a
difference! To hide is one thing, and to run is another--quite another
thing! If you are frightened, you are frightened and you can't help it;
but if you run away, then you are a coward. Yes; quite true! And yet
there are things some men, whom other men would be afraid to call
cowards, would run from fast enough! Your story, Mr. Colman," he went
on, "reminds me of an adventure I had--if that be an adventure where was
no danger--except, indeed, of losing my wits, which Lufa would say was
no great loss. I don't often tell the story, for I have an odd weakness
for being believed; and nobody ever does believe that story, though it
is as true as I live; and when a thing is true, the blame lies with
those that don't believe it. Ain't you of my mind, Mr. Colman?"
"You had better not appeal to him!" said Lufa. "Mr. Colman does not
believe a word of the stories he has been telling. He regards them
entirely from the artistic point of view, and cares only for their
effect. He is writing a novel, and wants to study people under a ghost
"I don't indorse your judgment of me, Lady Lufa," said Walter, who did
not quite like what she said. "I am ready to believe anything in which I
can see reason. I should like much to hear Mr. Sefton's story. I never
saw the man that saw a ghost, except Mr. Sefton be that man."
"You shall say what you will when you have heard. I shall offer no
explanation, only tell you what I saw, or, if you prefer it,
experienced; you must then fall back on your own metaphysics. I don't
care what anybody thinks about it."
"You are not very polite!" said Lufa.
"Only truthful," replied Sefton.
"Please go on?"
"We are dying to hear!"
"A real ghost story!"
"Is it your best, George?"
"It is my only one," Sefton answered, and was silent a few moments, as
if arranging his thoughts.
"Well, here goes!" he began. "I was staying at a country house--"
"Not here, I hope!" said Lufa.
"I have reasons for not saying where it was, or where it wasn't. It may
have been in Ireland, it may have been in Scotland, it may have been in
England; it was in one of the three--an old house, parts very old. One
morning I happened to be late, and found the breakfast-table deserted. I
was not the last, however; for presently another man appeared, whom I
had met at dinner the day before for the first time. We both happened to
be in the army, and had drawn a little together. The moment I saw him, I
knew he had passed an uncomfortable night. His face was like dough, with
livid spots under the eyes. He sat down and poured himself out a cup of
tea. 'Game-pie?' I said, but he did not heed me. There was nobody in the
room but ourselves, and I thought it best to leave him alone. 'Are you
an old friend of the family?' he said at length. 'About the age of most
friends,' I answered. He was silent again, for a bit, then said, 'I'm
going to cut!' 'Ha, ha!' thought I, and something more. 'No, it's not
that!' he said, reading my thought, which had been about a lady in the
house with us. 'Pray don't imagine I want to know,' I replied. 'Neither
do I want to tell,' he rejoined. 'I don't care to have fellows laugh at
me!' 'That's just what I don't care to do. Nothing hurts me less than
being laughed at, so I take no pleasure in it,' I said. 'What I do
want,' said he, 'is to have you tell Mrs. ---' There! I was on the very
edge of saying her name! and you would have known who she was, all of
you! I _am_ glad I caught myself in time!--'tell Mrs. Blank,' said he,
'why I went.' 'Very well! I will. Why are you going?' 'Can't you help a
fellow to an excuse? I'm not going to give _her_ the reason.' 'Tell me
what you want me to say, and I will tell her you told me to say so.' 'I
will tell _you_ the truth.' 'Fire away, then.' 'I was in a beastly funk
last night. I dare say you think as I did, that a man ought never to be
a hair off the cool?' 'That depends,' I replied; 'there are some things,
and there may be more, at which any but an idiot might well be scared;
but some fools are such fools they can't shiver! What's the matter? I
give you my word I'll not make game of it.' The fellow looked so seedy,
don't you know, I couldn't but be brotherly, or, at least, cousinly to
him!--that don't go for much, does it, Lufa? 'Well,' he said, 'I will
tell you. Last night, I had been in bed about five minutes, and hadn't
even had time to grow sleepy, when I heard a curious shuffling in the
passage outside my door, and an indescribable terror came over me. To be
perfectly open with you, however, I _had_ heard that was the sign she
was coming!' '_Who_ coming?' said I. 'The ghost, of course!' he
answered. 'The ghost!' 'You don't mean to say you never heard of the
ghost?' 'Never heard a word of it.' 'Well, they don't like to speak of
it, but everybody knows it!' 'Go on,' said I; and he did, but plainly
with a tearing effort. 'The shuffling was like feet in slippers much too
big. As if I had been five instead of five-and-thirty, I dived under the
blankets, and lay so for minutes after the shuffling had ceased. But at
length I persuaded myself it was but a foolish fancy, and I had never
really heard anything. What with fear and heat I was much in want of
breath too, I can tell you! So I came to the surface, and looked out.'
Here he paused a moment, and turned almost livid. 'There stood a
horrible old woman, staring at me, as if she had been seeing me all the
time, and the blankets made no difference!' 'Was she really ugly?' I
asked. 'Well, I don't know what you call ugly,' he answered, 'but if you
had seen her stare, you would have thought her ugly enough! Had she been
as beautiful as a houri, though, I don't imagine I should have been less
frightened!' 'Well,' said I, for he had come to a pause, 'and what came
next?' 'I can not tell. I came to myself all trembling, and as cold and
as wet as if I had been dipped in a well' 'You are sure you were not
dreaming?' I said. '_I was not._ But I do not expect you believe me!'
'You must not be offended,' I said, 'if I find the thing stiff to stow!
I believe _you_ all the same.' 'What?' he said, not quite understanding
me. 'An honest man and a gentleman,' I answered. 'And a coward to boot!'
'God forbid!' I returned: 'what man can answer for himself at every
moment! If I remember, Hector turned at last and ran from Achilles!' He
said nothing, and I went on. 'I once heard a preaching fellow say, "When
a wise man is always wise, then is the kingdom of heaven!" and I thought
he knew something!' I talked, don't you know, to quiet him. 'I once
saw,' I said, 'the best-tempered man I ever knew, in the worst rage I
ever saw man in--though I must allow he had good reason!' He drank his
cup of tea, got up, and said, 'I'm off. Good-bye--and thank you! A
million of money wouldn't make me stay in the house another hour! There
is that in it I fear ten times worse than the ghost?' 'Gracious! what is
that?' I said. 'This horrible cowardice oozing from her like a mist. The
house is full of it!' 'But what shall I say to Mrs. Blank?' 'Anything
you like.' 'I will say then, that you are very sorry, but were compelled
to go.' 'Say what you please, only let me go! Tell them to send my traps
after me. Good-bye! I'm in a sepulcher! I shall have to throw up my
commission!' So he went."
"And what became of him?"
"I've neither seen nor heard of him to this day!"
He ceased with the cadence of an ended story.
"Is that all?"
"You spoke of an adventure of your own!"
"I was flattering myself," said Lufa, "that in our house Mr. Colman was
at last to hear a ghost story from the man's own lips!"
"The sun is coming out!" said Sefton. "I will have a cigar at the
The company protested, but he turned a deaf ear to expostulation, and
In the drawing-room after dinner, some of the ladies gathered about him,
and begged the story of his own adventure. He smiled queerly.
"Very well, you shall have it!" he answered.
They seated themselves, and the company came from all parts of the
room--among the rest, Lufa and Walter.
"It was three days, if I remember," began Sefton, "after my military
friend left, when one night I found myself alone in the drawing-room,
just waked from a brown study. No one had said good-night to me. I
looked at my watch; it was half past eleven. I rose and went. My bedroom
was on the first-floor.
"The stairs were peculiar--a construction later than much of the house,
but by no means modern. When you reached the landing of the first-floor
and looked up, you could see above you the second-floor, descended by a
balustrade between arches. There were no carpets on stairs or landings,
which were all of oak.
"I can not certainly say what made me look up; but I think, indeed I am
almost sure, I had heard a noise like that the ghost was said to make,
as of one walking in shoes too large: I saw a lady looking down over the
balusters on the second-floor. I thought some one was playing me a
trick, and imitating the ghost, for the ladies had been chaffing me a
good deal that night; they often do. She wore an old-fashioned, browny,
silky looking dress. I rushed up to see who was taking the rise out of
me. I looked up at her as I ran, and she kept looking down, but
apparently not at me. Her face was that of a middle-aged woman,
beginning, indeed, to be old, and had an intent, rather troubled look, I
should say; but I did not consider it closely.
"I was at the top in a moment, on the level where she stood leaning over
the handrail. Turning, I approached her. Apparently, she neither saw nor
heard me. 'Well acted!' I said to myself--but even then I was beginning
to be afraid, without knowing why. Every man's impulse, I fancy, is to
go right up to anything that frightens him--at least, I have always
found it so. I walked close up to the woman. She moved her head and
turned in my direction, but only as if about to go away. Whether she
looked at me I can not tell, but I saw her eyes plain enough. By this
time, I suppose, the idea of a ghost must have been uppermost, for,
being now quite close to her, I put out my hand as if to touch her. _My
hand went through her--through her head and body!_ I am not joking in
the least; I mean you to believe, if you can, exactly what I say. What
then she did, or whether she took any notice of my movement, I can not
tell; I only know what I did, or rather what I did not do. For, had I
been capable, I should have uttered a shriek that would have filled the
house with ghastliest terror; but there was a load of iron on my chest,
and the hand of a giant at my throat. I could not help opening my mouth,
for something drew all the muscles of my jaws and throat, but I could
not utter a sound. The horror I was in, was entirely new to me, and no
more under my control than a fever. I only wonder it did not paralyze
me, that I was able to turn and run down the stair! I ran as if all the
cardinal sins were at my heels. I flew, never seeming to touch the
stairs as I went. I darted along the passage, burst into my room, shut
and locked the door, lighted my candles, fell into a chair, shuddered,
and began to breathe again."
He ceased, not without present signs of the agitation he described.
"But that's not all!"
"And what else?"
"Did anything happen?"
"Do tell us more."
"I have nothing more to tell," answered Sefton. "But I haven't done
wondering what could have put me in such an awful funk! You can't have a
notion what it was like!"
"I know I should have been in a worse!"
"Perhaps--but why? Why should any one have been terrified? The poor
thing had lost her body, it is true, but there she was
notwithstanding--all the same! It might be nicer or not so nice to her,
but why should it so affect me? that's what I want to know! Am I not, as
Hamlet says, 'a thing immortal as itself?' I don't see the sense of it!
Sure I am that one meets constantly--sits down with, eats and drinks
with, hears sing, and play, and remark on the weather, and the fate of
He paused, his eyes fixed on Walter.
"What _are_ you driving at?" said Lufa.
"I was thinking of a much more fearful kind of creature," he answered.
"What kind of a creature?" she asked.
"A creature," he said, slowly, "that has a body, but no soul to it. All
body, with brain enough for its affairs, it has _no_ soul. Such will
never wander about after they are dead! there will be nothing to wander!
Good-night, ladies! Were I to tell you the history of a woman whose
acquaintance I made some years ago at Baden, you would understand the
There was silence for a moment or two. Had his sister not been present,
something other than complimentary to Sefton might have crept about the
drawing-room--to judge from the expression of two or three faces. Walter
felt the man worth knowing, but felt also something about him that
In his room, Walter threw himself in a chair, and sat without thinking,
for the mental presence of Lufa was hardly thought Gradually Sefton's
story revived, and for a time displaced the image of Lufa. It was the
first immediately authenticated ghost-narration he had ever heard. His
fancy alone had hitherto been attracted by such tales; but this brought
him close to things of import as profound as marvelous. He began to
wonder how he was likely to carry himself in such an interview. Courage
such as Mr. Sefton's he dared not claim--any more than hope for the
distinction of ever putting his hand through a ghost! To be sure, the
question philosophically considered, Sefton could have done no such
thing; but where no relations existed, he reasoned, or rather assumed,
the one could not be materially present to the other; _a fortiori_ there
could be no passing of the one through the other! Where the ghost was,
the hand was; both existed in the same space at the same time; therefore
the one did not penetrate the other! The ghost, he held, never saw
Sefton, knew or thought of his presence, or was aware of any intrusive
outrage from his hand! He shrunk none the less, however, from such
phantasmic presence as Sefton had described; a man's philosophy made but
a fool of him when it came to the pinch! He would indeed like to see a
ghost, but not to be alone with one!
Here came back to him a certain look in Lufa's face, which he had not
understood: was it possible she knew something about the thing? Could
this be the house where it took place, where the ghost appeared? The
room in which he sat was very old! the pictures in it none but for their
age would hang up on any wall! And the bed was huger and gloomier than
he had ever elsewhere seen! It was on the second-floor too! What if this
was the very room the officer slept in!
He must run into port, find shelter from the terrors of the shoreless
sea of the unknown! But all the harbor he could seek, was bed and closed
eyes! The dark is a strange refuge from the darkness--yet that which
most men seek. It is so dark! let us go further from the light! Thus
deeper they go, and come upon greater terrors! He undressed hurriedly,
blew out his candles, and by the light of the fire, glowing rather than
blazing, plunged into the expanse which glimmered before him like a lake
of sleep in the moonshine of dreams.
The moment he laid down his head, he became aware of what seemed
unnatural stillness. Throughout the evening a strong wind had been
blowing about the house; it had ceased, and without having noted the
tumult, he was now aware of the calm. But what made him so cold? The
surface of the linen was like a film of ice! He rolled himself round,
and like a hedge-hog sought shelter within the circumference of his own
person. But he could not get warm, lie close as he might to his own
door; there was no admittance! Had the room turned suddenly cold? Could
it be that the ghost was near, making the air like that of the sepulcher
from which she had issued? for such ghosts as walk the world at night,
what refuge so fit as their tombs in the day-time! The thought was a
worse horror than he had known himself capable of feeling. He shivered
with the cold. It seemed to pierce to his very bones. A strange and
hideous constriction seized the muscles of his neck and throat; had not
Sefton described the sensation? Was it not a sure sign of ghostly
How much longer he could have endured, or what would have been the
result of the prolongation of his suffering, I can not tell. Molly would
have found immediate refuge with Him to whom belong all the ghosts
wherever they roam or rest--with Him who can deliver from the terrors of
the night as well as from the perplexities of the day; but Walter felt
his lonely being exposed on all sides.
The handle of the door moved. I am not sure whether ghosts always enter
and leave a room in silence, but the sound horribly shook Walter's
nerves, and nearly made an end of him for a time. But a voice said, "May
I come in?" What he answered or whether he answered, Walter could not
have told, but his terror subsided. The door opened wider, some one
entered, closed it softly, and approached the bed through the dull
fire-light. "I did not think you would be in bed!" said the voice, which
Walter now knew for Sefton's; "but at the risk of waking you, even of
giving you a sleepless night, I must have a little talk with you!"
"I shall be glad," answered Walter.
Sefton little thought how welcome was his visit!
But he was come to do him a service for which he could hardly at once be
grateful. The best things done for any are generally those for which
they are at the moment least grateful; it needs the result of the
service to make them able to prize it.
Walter thought he had more of the story to tell--something he had not
chosen to talk of to the ladies.
Sefton stood, and for a few moments there was silence. He seemed to be
meditating, yet looked like one who wanted to light his cigar.
"Won't you take a seat?" said Walter.
"Thank you!" returned Sefton, and sat on the bed.
"I am twenty-seven," he said at length. "How old are you?"
"Twenty-three," answered Walter.
"When I was twenty-three, I knew ever so much more than I do now! I'm
not half so sure about things as I was. I wonder if you will find it
"I hope I shall--otherwise I sha'n't have got on."
"Well, now, couldn't you just--why not?--forestall your experience by
making use of mine? I'm talking like a fool, I know, but never mind; it
is the more genuine. Look here, Mr. Colman! I like you, and believe you
will one day be something more than a gentleman. There, that won't do!
What's my opinion, good or bad, to you? Listen to me anyhow: you're on
the wrong tack here, old boy!"
"I'm sorry I don't understand you," said Walter.
"Naturally not; how could you? I will explain."
"Please. Don't mind me. I shall do my best not to be offended."
"That is more than I should have presumed to ask." Again a brief silence
"You heard my story about the ghost?" said Sefton.
"I was on the point of asking you if I might tell it in print!"
"You may do what you like with it, except the other fellow's part."
"Thank you. But I wish you would tell me what you meant by that other
more fearful--apparition--or what did you call it? Were you alluding to
"No. There are live women worse than vampires. Scared as I confess I
was, I would rather meet ten such ghosts as I told you of, than another
woman such as I mean. I know one, and she's enough. By the time you had
seen ten ghosts you would have got used to them, and found there was no
danger from them; but a woman without a soul will devour any number of
men. You see she's all room inside! Look here! I must be open with you:
tell me you are not in love with my cousin Lufa, and I will bid you
"I am so much in love with her, that I dare not think what may come of
it," replied Walter.
"Then for God's sake tell her, and have done with it! Anything will be
better than going on like this. I will not say what Lufa is; indeed I
don't know what name would at all fit her! You think me a queer, dry,
odd sort of a customer: I was different when I fell in love with Lufa.
She is older than you think her, though not so old as I am. I kept
saying to myself she was hardly a woman yet; I must give her time. I was
better brought up than she; I thought things of consequence that she
thought of none. I hadn't a stupid ordinary mother like hers. She's my
second cousin. She took my love-making, never drew me on, never pushed
me back; never refused my love, never returned it. Whatever I did or
said, she seemed content. She was always writing poetry. 'But where's
her own poetry?' I would say to myself. I was always trying to get
nearer to what I admired; she never seemed to suspect the least relation
between the ideal and life, between thought and action. To have an ideal
implied no aspiration after it! She has not a thought of the smallest
obligation to carry out one of the fine things she writes of, any more
than people that go to church think they have anything to do with what
they hear there. Most people's nature seems all in pieces. They wear and
change their moods as they wear and change their dresses. Their moods
make them, and not they their moods. They are different with every
different mood. But Lufa seems never to change, and yet never to be in
one and the same mood. She is always in two moods, and the one mood has
nothing to do with the other. The one mood never influences, never
modifies the other. They run side by side and do not mingle. The one
mood is enthusiasm for what is not, the other indifference to what is.
She has not the faintest desire to make what is not into what is.
For love, I believe all she knows about it is, that it is a fine thing
to be loved. She loves nobody but her mother, and her only after a
fashion. I had my leg broken in the hunting-field once; my horse got up
and galloped off; I lay still. She saw what had happened, and went after
the hounds. She said she could do no good; Doctor Black was in the
field, and she went to find him. She didn't find him, and he didn't
come. I believe she forgot. But it's worth telling you, though it has
nothing to do with her, that I wasn't forgot. Old Truefoot went straight
home, and kept wheeling and tearing up and down before the windows, but,
till his own groom came, would let no one touch him. Then when he would
have led him to the stable, he set his forefeet out in front of him, and
wouldn't budge. The groom got on his back, but was scarce in the saddle
when Truefoot was oft in a bee-line over everything to where I was
lying. There's a horse for you! And there's a woman! I'm telling you all
this, mind, not to blame her, but to warn you. Whether she is to blame
or not, I don't know; I don't understand her.
"I was free to come and go, and say what I pleased, for both families
favored the match. She never objected; never said she would not have me;
said she liked me as well as any other. In a word she would have married
me, if I would have taken her. There are men, I believe, who would make
the best of such a consent, saying they were so in love with the woman
they would rejoice to take her on any terms: I don't understand that
sort of love! I would as soon think of marrying a woman I hated as a
woman that did not love me. I know no reason why any woman should love
me, and if no woman can find any, I most go alone. Lufa has found none
yet, and life and love too seem to have gone out of me waiting. If you
ask me why I do not give it all up, I have no answer. You will say for
Lufa, it is only that the right man is not come! It may be so; but I
believe there is more than that in it. I fear she is all outside. It is
true her poetry is even passionate sometimes; but I suspect all her
inspiration comes of the poetry she reads, not of the nature or human
nature around her; it comes of ambition, not of love. I don't know much
about verse, but to me there is an air of artificiality about all hers.
I can not understand how you could praise her long poem so much--if you
were in love with her. She has grown to me like the ghost I told you of.
I put out my hand to her, and it goes through her. It makes me feel dead
myself to be with her. I wonder sometimes how it would be if suddenly
she said she loved me. Should I love her, or should we have changed
parts? She is very dainty--very lady-like--but womanly! At one time--and
for this I am now punished--the ambition to wake love in her had no
small part in my feeling toward her--ambition to be the first and only
man so to move her: despair has long cured me of that; but not before I
had come to love her in a way I can not now understand. Why I should
love her I can not tell; and were it not that I scorn to marry her
without love, I should despise my very love. You are thinking, 'Well
then, the way is clear for me!' It is; I only want to prepare you for
what I am confident will follow: you will have the heart taken out of
you! That you are poor will be little obstacle if she loves you. She is
the heiress, and can do much as she pleases. If she were in love, she
would be obstinate. It must be in her somewhere, you will say, else how
could she write as she does? But, I say again, look at the multitudes
that go to church, and communicate, with whose being religion has no
more to do than with that of Satan! I've said my say. Good-night!"
He rose, and stood.
He had not uttered the depth of what he feared concerning Lufa--that she
was simply, unobtrusively, unconsciously, absolutely selfish.
Walter had listened with a beating heart, now full of hope that he was
to be Hildebrand to this Undine, now sick with the conviction that he
was destined to fare no better than Sefton.
"Let me have my say before you go," he protested. "It will sound as
presumptuous in your ears as it does in mine--but what is to be done
except put the thing to the question?"
"There is nothing else. That is all I want. You must not go on like
this. It is sucking the life out of you. I can't bear to see it. Pray do
not misunderstand me."
"That is impossible," returned Walter.
Not a wink did he sleep that night. But ever and again across his
anxiety, throughout the dark hours, came the flattering thought that she
had never loved man yet, and he was teaching her to love. He did not
doubt Sefton, but Sefton might be right only for himself.
THE LAST RIDE.
In the morning, as Walter was dressing, he received a copy of his poems
which he had taken in sheets to a book-binder to put in morocco for Lady
Lufa. Pleased like a child, he handled it as if he might hurt it. Such a
feeling he had never had before, would never have again. He was an
author! One might think, after the way in which he had treated not a few
books and not a few authors, he could scarcely consider it such a very
fine thing to be an author; but there is always a difference between
thine and mine, treated by the man of this world as essential. The book
was Walter's book and not another's!--no common prose or poetry this,
but the first-born of his deepest feeling! At length it had taken body
and shape! From the unseen it had emerged in red morocco, the color of
his heart, its edges golden with the light of his hopes!
As to the communication of the night, its pain had early vanished. Was
not Sefton a disappointed lover? His honesty, however evident, could not
alter that fact! Least of all could a man himself tell whether disguised
jealousy and lingering hope might not be potently present, while he
believed himself solely influenced by friendly anxiety!
"I will take his advice, however," said Walter to himself, "and put an
end to my anxiety this very day!"
"Do you feel inclined for a gallop, Mr. Colman?" asked Lufa as they sat
at the breakfast-table. "It feels just like a spring morning. The wind
changed in the night. You won't mind a little mud--will you?"
In common phrase, but with a foolish look of adoring gratitude, Walter
accepted the invitation. "How handsome he is!" thought Lufa; for
Walter's countenance was not only handsome but expressive. Most women,
however, found him attractive chiefly from his frank address and open
look; for, though yet far from a true man, he was of a true nature.
Every man's nature indeed is true, though the man be not true; but some
have come into the world so much nearer the point where they may begin
to be true, that, comparing them with the rest, we say their nature is
Lufa rose and went to get ready. Walter followed, and overtook her on
"I have something for you," he said; "may I bring it you?"
He could not postpone the effect his book might have. Authors young and
old think so much of their books that they seldom conceive how little
others care about them.
She was hardly in her room, when he followed her with the volume.
She took it, and opened it.
"Yours!" she cried. "And poetry! Why, Walter!"
She had once or twice called him by his name before.
He took it from her hand, and turning the title-page, gave it her again
to read the dedication. A slight rose-tinge suffused her face. She said
nothing, but shut the book, and gave it a tender little hug.
"She never did that to anything Sefton gave her!" thought Walter.
"Make haste," she said, and turning, went in, and closed her door.
He walked up and down the hall for half an hour before she appeared.
When she came tripping down the wide, softly descending stair, in her
tight-fitting habit and hat and feather, holding up her skirt, so that
he saw her feet racing each other like a cataract across the steps,
saying as she came near him, "I have kept you waiting, but I could not
help it; my habit was torn!" he thought he had never seen her so lovely.
Indeed she looked lovely, and had she loved, would have been lovely. As
it was, her outer loveliness was but a promise whose fulfillment had
been too long postponed. His heart swelled into his throat and eyes as
he followed her and helped her to mount.
"Nobody puts me up so well as you!" she said.
He could hardly repress the triumph that filled him from head to foot.
Anyhow, and whoever might object, she liked him! If she loved him and
would confess it, he could live on the pride of it all the rest of his
They were unattended, but neither spoke until they were well beyond the
lodge-gate. Winter though it was, a sweet air was all abroad, and the
day was full of spring-prophecies: all winters have such days, even
those of the heart! how could we get through without them? Their horses
were in excellent spirits--it was their first gallop for more than a
week; Walter's roan was like a flame under him. They gave them so much
to do, that no such talk as Walter longed for, was possible. It consoled
him, however, to think that he had never had such a chance of letting
Lufa see he could ride.
At length, after a great gallop, they were quieter, seeming to remember
they were horses and not colts, and must not overpass the limits of
"Is it our last ride, Lufa?" said Walter.
"Why should it be?" she answered, opening her eyes wide on him.
"There is no reason I know," he returned, "except--except you are tired
"Nobody is tired of you--except perhaps George, and you need not mind
him; he is odd. I have known him from childhood, and don't understand
"He is clever!" said Walter.
"I dare say he is--if he would take the trouble to show it."
"You hardly do him justice, I think!"
"How can I? he bores me! and when I am bored, I am horribly bored. I
have been very patient with him."
"Why do you ask him so often then?"
"_I_ don't ask him. Mamma is fond of him, and so--"
"You are the victim!"
"I can bear it; I have consolations!"
She laughed merrily.
"How do you like my binding?" he asked, when they had ridden awhile in
She looked up with a question.
"The binding of my book, I mean," he explained.
"It is a good color."
He felt his hope rather damped.
"Will you let me read a little from it?"
"With pleasure. You shall have an audience in the drawing-room, after
"Oh, Lufa! how could you think I would read my own poems to a lot of
"I beg your pardon! Will the summer-house do?"
"Yes, indeed; nowhere better."
"Very well! The summer-house, after lunch!"
This was not encouraging! Did she suspect what was coming? and was she
careful not to lead the way to it? She had never been like this before!
Perhaps she did not like having the book dedicated to her! But there was
no mention of her name, or anything to let "the heartless world" know to
whom it was offered!
As they approached the house, Walter said,
"Would you mind coming at once to the summer-house?"
"Lunch will be ready."
"Then sit down in your habit, and come immediately after. Let me have my
way for once, Lufa."
The moment the meal was over, he left the room, and in five minutes they
met at the place appointed--a building like a miniature Roman temple.
"Oh," said Lufa, as she entered, "I forgot the book. How stupid of me!"
"Never mind," returned Walter. "It was you, not the book I wanted."
A broad bench went round the circular wall; Lufa seated herself on it,
and Walter placed himself beside her, as near as he dared. For some
moments he did not speak. She looked up at him inquiringly. He sunk at
her feet, bowed his head toward her, and but for lack of courage would
have laid it on her knees.
"Oh, Lufa!" he said, "you can not think how I love you!"
"Poor, dear boy!" she returned, in the tone of a careless mother to whom
a son has unburdened his sorrows, and laid her hand lightly on his
The words were not repellent, but neither was the tone encouraging.
"You do not mind my saying it?" he resumed, feeling his way timidly.
"What could you do but tell me?" she answered.
"What could I do for you if you did not let me know! I'm _so_ sorry,
"Why should you be sorry? You can do with me as you please!"
"I don't know about such things. I don't quite know what you mean, or
what you want. I will be as kind to you as I can--while you stay with
"But, Lufa--I may call you Lufa?"
"Yes, surely! if that is any comfort to you."
"Nothing but your love, Lufa, can be a comfort to me. That would make me
one of the blessed!"
"I like you very much. If you were a girl, I should say I loved you."
"Why not say it as it is?"
"Would you be content with the love I should give a girl? Some of you
want so much!"
"I will be glad of any love you can give me. But to say I should be
_content_ with _any_ love you could give me, would be false. My love for
you is such, I don't know how to bear it! It aches so! My heart is full
of you, and longs for you till I can hardly endure the pain. You are so
beautiful that your beauty burns me. Night nor day can I forget you!"
"You try to forget me then?"
"Never. Your eyes have so dazzled my soul that I can see nothing but
your eyes. Do look at me--just for one moment, Lufa."
She turned her face and looked him straight in the eyes--looked into
them as if they were windows through which she could peer into the
convolutions of his brain. She held her eyes steady until his dropped,
unable to sustain the nearness of her presence.
"You see," she said, "I am ready to do anything I can to please you!"
He felt strangely defeated, rose, and sat down beside her again, with
the sickness of a hot summer noon in his soul.
But he must leave no room for mistake! He had been dreaming long enough!
What had not Sefton told him!
"Is it possible you do not understand, Lufa, what a man means when he
says, 'I love you'?"
"I think I do! I don't mind it!"
"That means you will love me again?"
"Yes; I will be good to you."
"You will love me as a woman loves a man?"
"I will let you love me as much as you please."
"To love you as much as I please, would be to call you my own; to marry
you; to say _wife_ to you; to have you altogether, with nobody to come
between, or try to stop my worshiping of you--not father, not
"Now you are foolish, Walter! You know I never meant that! You must have
known that never _could_ be! I never imagined you could make such a
fantastic blunder! But then how should _you_ know how _we_ think about
things! I must remember that, and not be hard upon you!"
"You mean that your father and mother would not like it?"
"There it is! You do not understand! I thought so! I do not mean my
father and mother in particular; I mean our people--people of our
position--I would say _rank_, but that might hurt you! We are brought up
so differently from you, that you can not understand how we think of
such things. It grieves me to appear unkind, but really, Walter! There
is not a man I love more than you--but marriage! _Lady Lufa_ would be in
everybody's mouth, the same as if I had run off with my groom! Our
people are so blind that, believe me, they would hardly see the
difference. The thing is simply impossible!"
"It would not be impossible if you loved me!"
"Then I don't, never did, never could love you. Don't imagine you can
persuade me to anything unbecoming, anything treacherous to my people!
You will find yourself awfully mistaken!"
"But I may make myself a name! If I were as famous as Lord Tennyson,
would it be just as impossible?"
"To say it would not, would be to confess myself worldly, and that I
never was! No, Walter; I admire you; if you could be trusted not to
misunderstand, I might even say I loved you! I shall always be glad to
see you, always enjoy hearing you read; but there is a line as
impassable as the Persian river of death. Talk about something else, or
I must go!"
Here Walter, who had been shivering with cold, began to grow warm again
as he answered:
"How could you write that poem, Lady Lufa--full of such grand things
about love, declaring love everything and rank nothing; and then, when
it came to yourself, treat me like this! I could not have believed it
possible! You can not know what love is, however much you write about
"I hope I never shall, if it means any confusion between friendship and
folly! It shall not make a fool of _me_! I will _not_ be talked about!
It is all very well and very right in poetry! The idea of letting all go
for love is so splendid, it is the greatest pity it should be
impossible. There may be some planet, whose social habits are different,
where it might work well enough; but here it is not to be thought
of--except in poetry, of course, or novels. Of all human relations, the
idea of such love is certainly the fittest for verse, therefore we have
no choice; we must use it. But because I think with pleasure of such
lovers, why must I consent to be looked at with pleasure myself? What
obligation does my heroine lay on me to do likewise? I don't see the
thing. I don't want to pose as a lover. Why should I fall in love with
you in real life, because I like you to read my poem about lovers? Can't
you see the absurdity of the argument? Life and books are two different
spheres. The one is the sphere of thoughts, the other of things, and
they don't touch."
But for pride, Walter could have wept with shame: why should he care
that one with such principles should grant or refuse him anything! Yet
he did care!
"There is no reason at all," she resumed, "why we should not be friends.
Mr. Colman, I am not a flirt. It is in my heart to be a sister to you! I
would have you the first to congratulate me when the man appears whom I
may choose to love as you mean! He need not be a poet to make you
jealous! If he were, I should yet always regard you as my poet."
"And you would let me kiss your shoe, or perhaps your glove, if I was
very good!" said Walter.
She took no notice of the outburst: it was but a bit of childish temper!
"You must learn," she went on, "to keep your life and your imaginations
apart. You are always letting them mix, and that confuses everything. A
poet of all men ought not to make the mistake. It is quite monstrous! as
monstrous as if a painter joined the halves of two different animals!
Poetry is so unlike life, that to carry the one into the other is to
make the poet a ridiculous parody of a man! The moment that, instead of
standing aloof and regarding, he plunges in, he becomes a traitor to his
art, and is no longer able to represent things as they ought to be, but
can not be. My mother and I will open to you the best doors in London
because we like you; but pray do not dream of more. Do, please, Walter,
leave it possible for me to say I like you--oh, so much!"
She had been staring out of the window as she spoke; now she turned her
eyes upon him where he sat, crushed and broken, beside her. A breath of
compassion seemed to ruffle the cold lake of her spirit, and she looked
at him in silence for a moment. He did not raise his eyes, but her tone
made her present to his whole being as she said,
"I _don't_ want to break your heart, my poet! It was a lovely
thought--why did you spoil it?--that we two understood and loved each
other in a way nobody could have a right to interfere with!"
Walter lifted his head. The word _loved_ wrought on him like a spell: he
was sadly a creature of words! He looked at her with flushed face and
flashing eyes. Often had Lufa thought him handsome, but she had never
felt it as she did now.
"Let it be so!" he said. "Be my sister-friend, Lufa. Leave it only to me
to remember how foolish I once made myself in your beautiful eyes--how
miserable always in my own blind heart."
So little of a man was our poet, that out of pure disappointment and
self-pity he burst into a passion of weeping. The world seemed lost to
him, as it seemed at such a time to many a better man. But to the true
the truth of things will sooner or later assert itself, and neither this
world nor the next prove lost to him. A man's well-being does not depend
on any woman. The woman did not create, and could not have contented
him. No woman can ruin a man by refusing him, or even by accepting him,
though she may go far toward it. There is one who has upon him a perfect
claim, at the entrancing recognition of which he will one day cry out,
"This, then, is what it all meant!" The lamp of poetry may for a time go
out in the heart of the poet, and nature seem a blank; but where the
truth is, the poetry must be; and truth is, however the untrue may fail
to see it. Surely that man is a fool who, on the ground that there can
not be such a God as other fools assert, or such a God as alone he is
able to imagine, says there is no God!
Lufa's bosom heaved, and she gave a little sob; her sentiment, the skin
of her heart, was touched, for the thing was pathetic! A mist came over
her eyes, and might, had she ever wept, have turned to tears.
Walter sat with his head in his hands and wept. She had never before
seen a man weep, yet never a tear left its heavenly spring to flow from
her eyes! She rose, took his face between her hands, raised it, and
kissed him on the forehead.
He rose also, suddenly calmed.
"Then it _was_ our last ride, Lufa!" he said, and left the summer-house.
Walter did not know where he was going when he turned from Lufa. It was
solitude he sought, without being aware that he sought anything. Must it
not be a deep spiritual instinct that drives trouble into solitude?
There are times when only the highest can comfort even the lowest, and
solitude is the ante-chamber to his presence. With him is the only
possibility of essential comfort, the comfort that turns an evil into a
good. But it was certainly not _knowledge_ of this that drove Walter
into the wide, lonely park. "Away from men!" moans the wounded life.
Away from the herd flies the wounded deer; away from the flock staggers
the sickly sheep--to the solitary covert to die. The man too thinks it
is to die; but it is in truth so to return to life--if indeed he be a
man, and not an abortion that can console himself with vile
consolations. "You can not soothe me, my friends! leave me to my
misery," cries the man; and lo his misery is the wind of the waving
garments of him that walks in the garden in the cool of the day! All
misery is _God unknown_.
Hurt and bleeding Walter wandered away. His life was palled with a
sudden hail-cloud which hung low, and blotted out color and light and
loveliness. It was the afternoon; the sun was fast going down; the
dreary north wind had begun again to blow, and the trees to moan in
response; they seemed to say, "How sad thou art, wind of winter! see how
sad thou makest us! we moan and shiver! each alone, we are sad!" The
sorrow of nature was all about him; but the sighing of the wind-sifting
trees around his head, and the hardening of the earth about the ancient
roots under his feet, was better than the glow of the bright
drawing-room, with its lamps and blazing fires, its warm colors and
caressing softnesses. Who would take joy in paradise with hell in his
heart! Let him stay out in the night with the suffering, groaning trees,
with the clouds that have swallowed the moon and the stars, with the
frost and the silent gathering of the companies, troops, and battalions
Every man understands something of what Walter felt. His soul was seared
with cold. The ways of life were a dull sickness. There was no reason
why things should be, why the world should ever have been made! The
night was come: why should he keep awake! How cold the river looked in
its low, wet channel! How listlessly the long grasses hung over its
bank! And the boy on the other side was whistling!
It grew darker. He had made a long round, and unaware was approaching
the house. He had not thought what he must do. Nothing so practical as
going away had yet occurred to him. She had not been unkind! She had
even pressed on him a sister's love! The moth had not yet burned away
enough of its wings to prevent it from burning its whole body! it kept
fluttering about the flame. Nor was absent the childish weakness, the
unmanly but common impulse, to make the woman feel how miserable she had
made him. For this poor satisfaction, not a few men have blown their
brains out; not a few women drowned themselves or taken poison--and
generally without success! Walter would stand before her the ruin she
had made him, then vanish from her sight. To-morrow he would leave the
house, but she must see him yet once, alone, before he went! Once more
he must hang his shriveled pinions in the presence of the seraph whose
radiance had scorched him! And still the most hideous thought of all
would keep lifting its vague ugly head out of chaos--the thought that,
lovely as she was, she was not worshipful.
The windows were dimly shining through their thick curtains. The house
looked a great jewel of bliss, in which the spirits of paradise might
come and go, while such as he could not enter! What should he do? Where
should he go? To his room, and dress for dinner? It was impossible! How
could he sit feeling her eyes, and facing Sefton! How endure the
company, the talk, the horrible eating! All so lately full of
refinement, of enchantment--the music, the pictures, the easy
intercourse--all was stupid, wearisome, meaningless! He would go to his
room and say he had a headache! But first he would peep into the
drawing-room: she might be there--and looking sad!
He opened a door into one of the smaller compartments of the
drawing-room, looked, crept in, and closed the door behind him.
Lufa was there--alone! He durst not approach her, but if he seated
himself in a certain corner, he could see her and she him! He did not,
however, apprehend that the corner he had chosen was entirely in shadow,
or reflect that the globe of a lamp was almost straight between them. He
thought she saw him, but she did not.
The room seemed to fold him round with softness as he entered from the
dreary night; and he could not help being pervaded by the warmth, and
weakened by the bodily comfort. He sat and gazed at his goddess--a mere
idol, seeming, not being, until he hardly knew whether she was actually
before him, or only present to his thought. She was indeed a little
pale--but that she always was when quiet; no sorrow, not a shadow was on
her face. She seemed brooding, but over nothing painful. At length she
"She is pleased to think that I love her!" thought Walter. "She leans to
me a little! When the gray hair comes and the wrinkles, it will be a
gracious memory that she was so loved by one who had but his life to
give her! 'He was poor,' she will say, 'but I have not found the riches
he would have given me! I have been greatly loved!'"
I believe myself, she was ruminating a verse that had come to her in the
summer-house, while Walter was weeping by her side.
A door opened, and Sefton came in.
"Have you seen the 'Onlooker'?" he said--a journal at the time in much
favor with the more educated populace. "There is a review in it that
would amuse you."
"Of what?" she asked, listlessly.
"I didn't notice the name of the book, but it is a poem, and just your
sort, I should say. The article is in the 'Onlooker's' best style."
"Pray let me see it!" she answered, holding out her hand.
"I will read it to you, if I may."
She did not object. He sat down a little way from her, and read.
He had not gone far before Walter knew, although its name had not
occurred as Sefton read, that the book was his own. The discovery
enraged him: how had the reviewer got hold of it when he himself had
seen no copy except Lufa's? It was a puzzle he never got at the root of.
Probably some one he had offended had contrived to see as much of it, at
the printer's or binder's, as had enabled him to forestall its
appearance with the most stinging, mocking, playfully insolent paper
that had ever rejoiced the readers of the "Onlooker." But he had more to
complain of than rudeness, a thing of which I doubt if any reviewer is
ever aware. For he soon found that, by the blunder of reviewer or
printer, the best of the verses quoted were misquoted, and so rendered
worthy of the epithet attached to them. This unpleasant discovery was
presently followed by another--that the rudest and most contemptuous
personal remark was founded on an ignorant misapprehension of the
reviewer's own; while in ridicule of a mere misprint which happened to
carry a comic suggestion on the face of it, the reviewer surpassed
As Sefton read, Lufa laughed often and heartily: the thing was
gamesomely, cleverly, almost brilliantly written. Annoyed as he was,
Walter did not fail to note, however, that Sefton did not stop to let
Lufa laugh, but read quietly on. Suddenly she caught the paper from his
hand, for she was as quick as a kitten, saying:
"I must see who the author of the precious book is!"
Her cousin did not interfere, but sat watching her--almost solemnly.
"Ah, I thought so!" she cried, with a shriek of laughter. "I thought so!
I could hardly be mistaken! What _will_ the poor fellow say to it! It
will kill him!" She laughed immoderately. "I hope it will give him a
lesson, however!" she went on. "It is most amusing to see how much he
thinks of his own verses! He worships them! And then makes up for the
idolatry by handling without mercy those of other people! It was he who
so maltreated my poor first! I never saw anything so unfair in my life!"
Sefton said nothing, but looked grim.
"You _should_ see--I will show it you--the gorgeous copy of this same
comical stuff he gave me to-day! I am so glad he is going: he won't be
able to ask me how I like it, and I sha'n't have to tell a story! I'm
sorry for him, though--truly! He is a very nice sort of boy, though
_rather_ presuming. I must find out who the writer of that review is,
and get mamma to invite him! He is a host in himself! I don't think I
ever read anything so clever--or more just!"
"Oh, then, you have read the book?" spoke her cousin at length.
"No; but ain't those extracts enough? Don't they speak for
themselves--for their silliness and sentimentality?"
"How would you like of a book of yours judged by scraps chopped off
anywhere, Lufa!--or chosen for the look they would have in the humorous
frame of the critic's remarks! It is less than fair! I do not feel that
I know in the least what sort of book this is. I only know that again
and again, having happened to come afterward upon the book itself, I
have set down the reviewer as a knave, who for ends of his own did not
scruple to make fools of his readers. I am ashamed, Lufa, that you
should so accept everything as gospel against a man who believes you his
Walter's heart had been as water, now it had turned to ice, and with the
coldness came strength: he could bear anything except this desert of a
woman. The moment Sefton had thus spoken, he rose and came forward--not
so much, I imagine, to Sefton's surprise as Lufa's and said,
"Thank you, Mr. Sefton, for undeceiving me. I owe you, Lady Lufa, the
debt of a deep distrust hereafter of poetic ladies."
"They will hardly be annihilated by it, Mr. Colman!" returned Lufa.
"But, indeed, I did not know you were in the room; and perhaps you did
not know that in our circle it is counted bad manners to listen!"
"I was foolishly paralyzed for a moment," said Walter, "as well as
unprepared for the part you would take."
"I am very glad, Mr. Colman," said Sefton, "that you have had the
opportunity of discovering the truth! My cousin well deserves the
pillory in which I know you will not place her!"
"Lady Lufa needs fear nothing from me. I have some regard left for the
idea of her--the thing she is not! If you will be kind, come and help me
out of the house."
"There is no train to-night."
"I will wait at the station for the slow train."
"I can not press you to stay an hour where you have been so treated,
"It is high time I went!" said Walter--not without the dignity that
endurance gives. "May I ask you to do one thing for me, Mr. Sefton?"
"Twenty things, if I can."
"Then please send my portmanteau after me."
With that he left the room, and went to his own, far on the way of cure,
though not quite so far as he imagined. The blood, however, was surging
healthily through his veins: he had been made a fool of, but he would be
a wiser man for it!
He had hardly closed his door when Sefton appeared.
"Can I help you?" he said.
"To pack my portmanteau? Did you ever pack your own?"
"Oftener than you, I suspect! I never had but one orderly I could bear
about me, and he's dead, poor fellow! I shall see him again, though, I
do trust, let believers in dirt say what they will! Never till I myself
think no more, will I cease hoping to see my old Archie again! Fellows
must learn something through the Lufas, or they would make raving
maniacs of us! God be thanked, he has her in his great idiot-cage, and
will do something with her yet! May you and I be there to see when she
comes out in her right mind!"
"Amen!" said Walter.
"And now, my dear fellow," said Sefton, "if you will listen to me, you
will not go till to-morrow morning. No, I don't want you to stay to
breakfast! You shall go by the early train as any other visitor might.
The least scrap of a note to Lady Tremaine, and all will go without
He waited in silence. Walter went on putting up his things.
"I dare say you are right!" he said at length. "I will stay till the
morning. But you will not ask me to go down again?"
"It would be a victory if you could."
"Very well, I will. I am a fool, but this much less of a fool, that I
know I am one."
Somehow Walter had a sense of relief. He began to dress, and spent some
pains on the process. He felt sure Sefton would take care the "Onlooker"
should not be seen--before his departure anyhow. During dinner he talked
almost brilliantly, making Lufa open her eyes without knowing she did.
He retired at length to his room with very mingled feelings. There was
the closing paragraph of the most interesting chapter of his life yet
constructed! What was to follow?
Into the gulf of an empty heart
Something must always come.
"What will it be?" I think with a start,
And a fear that makes me dumb.
I can not sit at my outer gate
And call what shall soothe my grief;
I can not unlock to a king in state,
Can not bar a wind-swept leaf!
Hopeless were I if a loving Care
Sat not at the spring of my thought--
At the birth of my history, blank and bare.
Of the thing I have not wrought.
If God were not, this hollow need.
All that I now call _me_,
Might wallow with demons of hate and greed
In a lawless and shoreless sea!
Watch the door of this sepulcher,
Sit, my Lord, on the stone,
Till the life within it rise and stir.
And walk forth to claim its own.
This was how Walter felt and wrote some twelve months after, when he had
come to understand a little of the process that had been conducted in
him; when he knew that the life he had been living was a mere life in
death, a being not worth being.
But the knowledge of this process had not yet begun. A thousand subtle
influences, wrapped in the tattered cloak of dull old Time, had to come
into secret, potent play, ere he would be able to write thus.
And even this paragraph was not yet quite at an end.
A MIDNIGHT INTERVIEW.
Walter drew his table near the fire, and sat down to concoct a brief
note of thanks and farewell to his hostess, informing her that he was
compelled to leave in haste. He found it rather difficult, though what
Lufa might tell her mother he neither thought nor cared, if only he had
his back to the house, and his soul out of it. It was now the one place
on the earth which he would sink in the abyss of forgetfulness.
He could not get the note to his mind, falling constantly into thought
that led nowhither, and at last threw himself back in his chair, wearied
with the emotions of the day. Under the soothing influence of the heat
and the lambent motions of the flames, he fell into a condition which
was not sleep, and as little was waking. His childhood crept back to
him, with all the delights of the sacred time when home was the
universe, and father and mother the divinities that filled it. A
something now vanished from his life, looked at him across a gulf of
lapse, and said, "Am I likewise false? The present you desire to forget;
you say, it were better it had never been: do you wish I too had never
been? Why else have you left my soul in the grave of oblivion?" Thus
talking with his past, he fell asleep.
It could have been but for a few minutes, though when he awoke it seemed
a century had passed, he had dreamed of so much. But something had
happened! What was it? The fire was blazing as before, but he was
chilled to the marrow! A wind seemed blowing upon him, cold as if it
issued from the jaws of the sepulcher! His imagination and memory
together linked the time to the night of Sefton's warning: was the ghost
now really come? Had Sefton's presence only saved him from her for the
time? He sat bolt upright in his chair listening, the same horror upon
him as then. It seemed minutes he thus sat motionless, but moments of
fearful expectation are long drawn out; their nature is of centuries,
not years. One thing was certain, and one only--that there was a wind,
and a very cold one, blowing upon him. He stared at the door. It moved.
It opened a little. A light tap followed. He could not speak. Then came
a louder, and the spell was broken. He started to his feet, and with the
courage of terror extreme, opened the door--not opened it a little, as
if he feared an unwelcome human presence, but pulled it, with a sudden
wide yawn, open as the grave!
There stood no bodiless soul, but soulless Lufa!
He stood aside, and invited her to enter. Little as he desired to see
her, it was a relief that it was she, and not an elderly lady in brown
silk, through whose person you might thrust your hand without injury or
As a reward of his promptitude in opening the door, he caught sight of
Lady Tremaine disappearing in the corridor.
Lady Lufa walked in without a word, and Walter followed her, leaving the
door wide. She seated herself in the chair he had just left, and turned
to him with a quiet, magisterial air, as if she sat on the seat of
"You had better shut the door," she said.
"I thought Lady Tremaine might wish to hear," answered Walter.
"Not at all. She only lighted me to the door."
"As you please," said Walter, and having done as she requested,
returned, and stood before her.
"Will you not take a seat?" she said, in the tone of--"You may sit
"Your ladyship will excuse me!" he answered.
She gave a condescending motion to her pretty neck, and said,
"I need hardly explain, Mr. Colman, why I have sought this interview.
You must by this time be aware how peculiar, how unreasonable indeed,
your behavior was!"
"Pardon me! I do not see the necessity for a word on the matter. I leave
by the first train in the morning!"
"I will not dwell on the rudeness of listening--"
"--To a review of my own book read by a friend!" interrupted Walter,
with indignation; "in a drawing-room where I sat right in front of you,
and knew no reason why you should not see me! I did make a great
mistake, but it was in trusting a lady who, an hour or two before, had
offered to be my sister! How could I suspect she might speak of me in a
way she would not like to hear!"
Lady Lufa was not quite prepared for the tone he took. She had expected
to find him easy to cow. Her object was to bring him into humble
acceptance of the treatment against which he had rebelled, lest he
should afterward avenge himself! She sat a moment in silence.
"Such ignorance of the ways of the world," she said, "is excusable in a
"Such a poet!" supplemented Walter, who found it difficult to keep his
temper in face of her arrogance.
"But the world is made up of those that laugh and those that are laughed
"They change places, however, sometimes!" said Walter--which alarmed
Lufa, though she did not show her anxiety.
"Certainly!" she replied. "Everybody laughs at everybody when he gets a
chance! What is society but a club for mutual criticism! The business of
its members is to pass judgment on each other! Why not take the
accident, which seems so to annoy you, with the philosophy of a
gentleman--like one of us! None of us think anything of what is said of
us; we do not heed what we say of each other! Every one knows that all
his friends pull him to pieces the moment he is out of sight--as
heartily as they had just been assisting him to pull others to pieces.
Every gathering is a temporary committee, composed of those who are
present, and sitting upon those whose who are not present. Nobody dreams
of courtesy extending beyond presence! when that is over, obligation is
over. Any such imaginary restriction would render society impossible. It
is only the most inexperienced person that could suppose things going on
in his absence the same as in his presence! It is I who ought to be
pitied, not you! I am the loser, not you!"
Walter bowed and was silent. He did not yet see her drift. If his regard
had been worth anything, she certainly had lost a good deal, but, as it
was, he did not understand how the loss could be of importance to her.
With sudden change of tone and expression, she broke out--
"Be generous, Walter! Forgive me. I will make any atonement you please,
and never again speak of you as if you were not my own brother!"
"It is not of the least consequence how you speak of me now, Lady Lufa:
I have had the good though painful fortune to learn your real feelings,
and prefer the truth to the most agreeable deception. Your worst opinion
of me I could have borne and loved you still; but there is nothing of
you, no appearance of anything even, left to love! I know now that a
woman may be sweet as Hybla honey, and false as an apple of Sodom!"
"Well, you _are_ ungenerous! I hope there are not many in the world to
whom one might confess a fault and not be forgiven. This is indeed
"I beg your pardon; I heard no confession!"
"I asked you to forgive me."
"For talking of you as I did.'
"Which you justified as the custom of society!"
"I confess, then, that in your case I ought not to have done so."
"Then I forgive you; and we part in peace."
"Is that what you call forgiveness?"
"Is it not all that is required? Knowing now your true feeling toward
me, I know that in this house I am a mistake. Nothing like a true
relation exists, nothing more than the merest acquaintance can exist
"It is terrible to have such an enemy!"
"I do not understand you!"
"The match is not fair! Here stands poor me undefended, chained to the
rock! There you lurk, behind the hedge, invisible, and taking every
advantage! Do you think it fair?"
"I begin to understand! The objection did not seem to strike you while I
was the person shot at! But still I fail to see your object. Please
"You _must_ know perfectly what I mean, Walter! and I can not but
believe you too just to allow a personal misunderstanding to influence
your public judgment! You gave your real unbiased opinion of my last
book, and you are bound by that!"
"Is it possible," cried Walter, "that at last I understand you! That you
should come to me on such an errand, Lady Lufa, reveals yet more your
opinion of me! _Could_ you believe me capable of such vileness as to
take my revenge by abusing your work?"
"Ah, no! Promise me you will not."
"If such a promise were necessary, how could it set you at your ease?
The man who could do such a thing would break any promise!"
"Then whatever rudeness is offered me in your journal, I shall take as
springing from your resentment."
"If you do you will wrong me far worse than you have yet done. I shall
not merely never review work of yours, I will never utter an opinion of
it to any man."
"Thank you. So we part friends!"
She rose. He turned to the door and opened it. She passed him, her head
thrown back, her eyes looking poisonous, and let a gaze of contemptuous
doubt rest on him for a moment. His eyes did not quail before hers.
She had left a taper burning on a slab outside the door. Walter had but
half closed it behind her when she reappeared with the taper in one hand
and the volume he had given her in the other. He took the book without a
word, and again she went; but he had hardly thrown it on the hot coals
when once more she appeared. I believe she had herself blown her taper
"Let me have a light, please," she said.
He took the taper from her hand, and turned to light it. She followed
him into the room, and laid her hand on his arm.
"Walter," she said, "it was all because of Sefton! He does not like you,
and can't bear me to like you! I am engaged to him. I ought to have told
"I will congratulate him next time I see him!" said Walter.
"No, no!" she cried, looking at once angry and scared.
"I will not, then," answered Walter; "but allow me to say I do not
believe Sefton dislikes me. Anyhow, keep your mind at ease, pray. I
shall certainly not in any way revenge myself."
She looked up in his eyes with a momentary glimmer of her old sweetness,
said "Thank you!" gently, and left the room. Her last glance left a
faint, sad sting in Walter's heart, and he began to think whether he had
not been too hard upon her. In any case, the sooner he was out of the
house the better! He must no more trifle with the girl than a
dipsomaniac with the brandy bottle!
All the time of this last scene, the gorgeous book was frizzling and
curling and cracking on the embers. Whether she saw it or not I can not
say, but she was followed all along the corridor by the smell of the
burning leather, which got on to some sleeping noses, and made their
owners dream the house was on fire.
In the morning, Sefton woke him, helped him to dress, got him away in
time, and went with him to the station. Not a word passed between them
about Lufa. All the way to London, Walter pondered whether there could
be any reality in what she had said about Sefton. Was it not possible
that she might have imagined him jealous? Sefton's dislike of her
treatment of him might to her have seemed displeasure at her familiarity
with him! "And indeed," thought Walter, "there are few friends who care
so much for any author, I suspect, as to be indignant with his
If London was dreary when Lufa left it, it was worse than dreary to
Walter now that she was gone from his world; gone from the universe past
and future both--for the Lufa he had dreamed of was not, and had never
been! He had no longer any one to dream about, waking or asleep. The
space she had occupied was a blank spot, black and cold, charred with
the fire of passion, cracked with the frost of disappointment and scorn.
It had its intellectual trouble too--the impossibility of bringing
together the long-cherished idea of Lufa, and the reality of Lufa
revealed by herself; the two stared at each other in mortal
irreconcilement. Now also he had no book to occupy him with pleasant
labor. It had passed from him into the dark; the thought of it was
painful, almost loathesome to him. No one, however, he was glad to find,
referred to it. His friends pitied him, and his foes were silent. Three
copies of it were sold. The sneaking review had had influence enough
with the courted public to annihilate it.
But the expenses of printing it remained; he had yet to pay his share of
them; and, alas, he did not know how! The publisher would give him time,
no doubt, but, work his hardest, it would be a slow clearance! There was
the shame too of having undertaken what he was unable at once to
fulfill! He set himself to grind and starve.
At times the clouds would close in upon him, and there would seem
nothing in life worth living for; though in truth his life was so much
the more valuable that Lufa was out of it. Occasionally his heart would
grow very gentle toward her, and he would burrow for a possible way to
her excuse. But his conclusion was ever the same: how could he forget
that laugh of utter merriment and delight when she found it was indeed
himself under the castigation of such a mighty beadle of literature! In
his most melting mood, therefore, he could only pity her. But what would
have become of him had she not thus unmasked herself! He would now be
believing her the truest, best of women, with no fault but a coldness of
which he had no right to complain, a coldness comforted by the extent of
But there was far more to make London miserable to him: he was now at
last disgusted with his trade: this continuous feeding on the labor of
others was no work for a gentleman! he began to descry in it certain
analogies which grew more and more unpleasant as he regarded them. For
his poetizing he was sick of that also. True, the quality or value of
what he had written was nowise in itself affected by its failure to meet
acceptance. It had certainly not had fair play; it had been represented
as it was not; its character had been lied away! But now that the
blinding influence of their chief subject was removed, he saw the verses
themselves to be little worth. The soul of them was not the grand
all-informing love, but his own private self-seeking little passion for
a poor show of the lovable. No one could care for such verses, except
indeed it were some dumb soul in love with a woman like, or imaginably
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