London was very hot, very dusty, and as dreary as Walter had anticipated. When Lufa went, the moon went out of the heavens, the stars chose banishment with their mistress, and only the bright, labor-urging sun was left.
He might now take a holiday when he pleased, and he had money enough in hand. His father wanted him to pay them a visit; but what if an invitation to Comberidge should arrive! Home was a great way in the other direction! And then it would be so dull! He would of course be glad to see his father! He ought to go! He was owing there! What was he to do? He would not willingly even run the risk of losing his delight, for the sake of his first, best, truest earthly friend!
But he must take his holiday now, in the slack of the London year, and the heat was great! He need not be all day with his father, and the thought of Lufa would be entrancing in the wide solitudes of the moor! Molly he scarce thought of, and his aunt was to be forgotten. He would go for a few days, he said, thus keeping the door open for a speedy departure.
Just before he left, the invitation did arrive. He would have a week to dream about it under the old roof!
His heart warmed a little as he approached his home. Certain memories came to meet him. The thought of his mother was in the air. How long it was since she had spoken to him! He remembered her and his father watching by his bed while he tossed in a misery of which he could even now recall the prevailing delirious fancies. He remembered his mother's last rebuke; for insolence to a servant; remembered her last embrace, her last words; and his heart turned tenderly to his father. Yet when he entered the house and faced the old surroundings, an unexpected gloom overclouded him. Had he been heart-free and humble, they would have been full of delight for him; but pride had been busy in his soul. Its home was in higher planes! How many essential refinements, as he foolishly and vulgarly counted them, were lacking here! What would Lady Lufa think of his entourage? Did it well become one of the second aristocracy? He had been gradually filling with a sense of importance--which had no being except in his own brain; and the notion took the meanest of mean forms--that of looking down on his own history. He was too much of a gentleman still not to repress the show of the feeling, but its mere presence caused a sense of alienation between him and his. When the first greetings were over, nothing came readily to follow. The wave had broken on the shore, and there was not another behind it. Things did not, however, go badly; for the father when disappointed always tried to account for everything to the advantage of the other; and on his part, Walter did his best to respond to his father's love-courtesy. He was not of such as keep no rule over themselves; not willingly would he allow discomfort to wake temper; he did not brood over defect in those he loved; but it did comfort him that he was so soon to leave his uncongenial surroundings, and go where all would be as a gentleman desired to see it. No one needs find it hard to believe such snobbishness in a youth gifted like Walter Colman; for a sweet temper, fine sympathies, warmth of affection, can not be called a man's own, so long as he has felt and acted without co-operation of the will; and Walter had never yet fought a battle within himself. He had never set his will against his inclination. He had, indeed, bravely fronted the necessity of the world, but we can not regard it as assurance of a noble nature that one is ready to labor for the things that are needful. A man is indeed contemptible who is not ready to work; but not to be contemptible is hardly to be honorable. Walter had never actively chosen the right way, or put out any energy to walk in it. There are usurers and sinners nearer the kingdom of heaven than many a respectable, socially successful youth of education and ambition. Walter was not simple. He judged things not in themselves, but after an artificial and altogether foolish standard, for his aim was a false one--social distinction.
The ways of his father's house were nowise sordid, though so simple that his losses had made scarcely a difference in them; they were hardly even humble--only old-fashioned; but Walter was ashamed of them. He even thought it unlady-like of Molly to rise from the table to wait on her uncle or himself; and once, when she brought the tea-kettle in her own little brown hand, he actually reproved her.
The notion that success lies in reaching the modes of life in the next higher social stratum; the fancy that those ways are the standard of what is worthy, becoming, or proper; the idea that our standing is determined by our knowledge of what is or is not the thing, is one of the degrading influences of modern times. It is only the lack of dignity at once and courtesy that makes such points of any interest or consequence.
Fortunately for Walter's temper, his aunt was discreetly silent, too busy taking the youth's measure afresh to talk much; intent on material wherewith to make up her mind concerning him. She had had to alter her idea of him as incapable of providing his own bread and cheese; but as to what reflection of him was henceforth to inhabit the glass of her judgment, she had not yet determined, further than that it should be an unfavorable one.
It was a relief when bed-time came, and he was alone in what was always called his room, where he soon fell asleep, to dream of Lufa and the luxuries around her--facilities accumulated even to incumbrance, and grown antagonistic to comfort, as Helots to liberty. How different from his dreams were the things that stood around them! how different his thoughts from those of the father who knelt in the moonlight at the side of his bed, and said something to Him who never sleeps! When he woke, his first feeling was a pang: the things about him were as walls between him and Lufa!
From indifference, or preoccupation--from some cause--he avoided any tête-à-tête with Molly. He had no true idea of the girl, neither indeed was capable of one. She was a whole nature; he was of many parts, not yet begun to cohere. This unlikeness, probably, was at the root of his avoidance of her. Perhaps he had an undefined sense of rebuke, and feared her without being aware of it. Never going further than half-way into a thing, he had never relished Molly's questions; they went deeper than he saw difficulty; he was not even conscious of the darkness upon which Molly desired light cast. And now when, either from instinct, or sense of presence, he became aware that Molly was looking at him, he did not like it; he felt as if she saw some lack of harmony, between his consciousness and his history. He was annoyed, even irritated, with the olive-cheeked, black-eyed girl, who had been for so many years like his sister: she was making remarks upon him in that questioning laboratory of her brain!
Molly was indeed trying to understand what had gone different between them. She had never felt Walter come very near her, for he was not one who had learned, or would easily learn, to give himself; and no man who does not give at least something of himself, gives anything; but now she knew that he had gone further away, and she saw his father look disappointed. To Molly it was a sad relief when his departure came. They had not once disputed; she had not once offered him a penny for his thoughts, or asked him a single question, yet he did not even want her to go to the station with him.