From Comberidge a dog-cart had been sent to meet him at the railway. He drove up the avenue as the sun was setting behind the house, and its long, low, terraced front received him into a cold shadow. The servant who opened the door said her ladyship was on the lawn; and following him across the hall, Walter came out into the glory of a red sunset. Like a lovely carpet, or rather, like a green, silent river, the lawn appeared to flow from the house as from its fountain, issuing by the open doors and windows, and descending like a gentle rapid, to lose itself far away among trees and shrubs. Over it were scattered groups and couples and individuals, looking like the creatures of a half-angelic paradise. A little way off, under the boughs of a huge beech-tree, sat Lufa, reading, with a pencil in her hand as if she made notes. As he stepped from the house, she looked up and saw him. She laid her book on the grass, rose, and came toward him. He went to meet her, but the light of the low sun was directly in his eyes, and he could not see her shadowed face. But her voice of welcome came athwart the luminous darkness, and their hands found each other. He thought hers trembled, but it was his own. She led him to her mother.
"I am glad to see you," said Lady Tremaine. "You are just in time!"
"For what, may I ask?" returned Walter.
"It is out at last!"
"No, mamma," interrupted Lufa; "the book is not out! It is almost ready, but I have only had one or two early copies. I am so glad Mr. Colman will be the first to see it! He will prepare me for the operation!"
"What do you mean?" asked Walter, bewildered. It was the first word he had heard of her new book.
"Of course I shall be cut up! The weekly papers especially would lose half their readers did they not go in for vivisection! But mamma shouldn't have asked you now!"
"Well--you mightn't--I shouldn't like you to feel an atom less comfortable in speaking your mind."
"There is no fear of that sort in my thoughts," answered Walter, laughing.
But it troubled him a little that she had not let him know what she was doing.
"Besides," he went on, "you need never know what I think. There are other reviewers on the 'Battery!'"
"I should recognize your hand anywhere! And more than that, I should only have to pick out the most rigid and unbending criticism to know which must be yours. It is your way, and you know it! Are you not always showing me up to myself! That's why I was in such mortal terror of your finding out what I was doing. If you had said anything to make me hate my work," she went on, looking up at him with earnest eyes, "I should never have touched it again; and I did want to finish it! You have been my master now for--let me see--how many months? I do not know how I shall ever thank you!" Here she changed tone. "If I come off with a pound of flesh left, it will be owing entirely to the pains you have taken with me! I wonder whether you will like any of my triolets! But it is time to dress for dinner, so I will leave you in peace--but not all night, for when you go to bed you shall take your copy with you to help you asleep."
While dressing he was full of the dread of not liking the book well enough to praise it as he wished. A first book was nothing, he said to himself; it might be what it would; but the second--that was another matter! He recalled what first books he knew. "Poems by Two Brothers" gave not a foretaste of what was to come so soon after them! Shelley's prose attempts in his boyhood were below criticism! Byron's "Hours of Idleness" were as idle as he called them! He knew what followed these and others, but what had followed Lady Lufa's? That he was now to discover! What if it should be no better than what preceded! For his own part he did not, he would not much care. It was not for her poetry, it was for herself he loved her! What she wrote was not she, and could make no difference! It was not as if she had no genuine understanding of poetry, no admiration or feeling for it! A poet could do well enough with a wife who never wrote a verse, but hardly with one who had no natural relation to it, no perception what it was! A poet in love with one who laughed at his poetry!--that would want scanning! What or wherein could be their relation to each other?
He is a poor poet--and Walter was such a poet--who does not know there are better things than poetry. Keats began to discover it just ere he died.
Walter feared therefore the coming gift, as he might that of a doubted enchantress. It was not the less a delight, however, to remember that she said "_your_ copy." But he must leave thinking and put on his neck-tie! There are other things than time and tide that wait for no man!
Lady Tremaine gave him Lufa, and she took his arm with old familiarity. The talk at table was but such as it could hardly help being--only for Walter it was talk with Lufa! The pleasure of talk often owes not much to the sense of it. There is more than the intellect concerned in talk; there is more at its root than fact or logic or lying.
When the scene changed to the drawing-room, Lufa played tolerably and sung well, delighting Walter. She asked and received his permission to sing "my song," as she called it, and pleased him with it more than ever. He managed to get her into the conservatory, which was large, and there he talked much, and she seemed to listen much. It was but the vague, twilight, allusive talk which, coming readily to all men in love, came the more readily to one always a poet, and not merely a poet by being in love. Every one in love sees a little further into things, but few see clearly, and hence love-talk has in general so little meaning. Ordinary men in love gain glimpses of truth more and other than they usually see, but from having so little dealing with the truth, they do not even try to get a hold of it, they do not know it for truth even when dallying with it. It is the true man's dreams that come true.
He raised her hand to his lips as at length she turned toward the drawing-room, and he thought she more than yielded it, but could not be sure. Anyhow she was not offended, for she smiled with her usual sweetness as she bade him good-night.
"One instant, Mr. Colman!" she added: "I promised you a sedative! I will run and get it. No, I won't keep you; I will send it to your room."
He had scarce shut his door when it opened again, and there was Lufa.
"I beg your pardon!" she said; "I thought you would not be come up, and I wanted to make my little offering with my own hand: it owes so much to you!"
She slipped past him, laid her book on his table, and went.
He lighted his candles with eager anxiety, and took it up. It was a dramatic poem of some length, daintily bound in white vellum, with gilt edges. On the title-page was written "The Master's Copy," with the date and Lufa's initials. He threw himself into a great soft chair that with open arms invited him, and began to read.
He had taken champagne pretty freely at dinner; his mind was yet in the commotion left by the summer-wind of their many words that might seem so much; he felt his kiss on her dainty hand, and her pressure of it to his lips; as he read, she seemed still and always in the door-way, entering with the book; its inscription was continually turning up with a shine: such was the mood in which he read the poem. Through he read it, every word, some of it many times; then rose and went to his writing-table, to set down his judgment of his lady's poem. He wrote and wrote, almost without pause. The dawn began to glimmer, the red blood of the morning came back to chase the swoon of the night, ere at last, throwing down his pen, he gave a sigh of weary joy, tore off his clothes, plunged into his bed, and there lay afloat on the soft waves of sleep. And as he slept, the sun came slowly up to shake the falsehood out of the earth.