Within a year Walter began to be known--to the profession, at least--as a promising writer; and was already, to more than a few, personally known as a very agreeable, gentlemanly fellow, so that in the following season he had a good many invitations. It was by nothing beyond the ephemeral that he was known; but may not the man who has invented a good umbrella one day build a good palace? His acquaintance was considerably varied, but of the social terraces above the professional, he knew for a time nothing.
One evening, however, he happened to meet, and was presented to Lady Tremaine: she had asked to have the refined-looking young man, of whom she had just heard as one of the principal writers in the "Field Battery," introduced to her. She was a matronly, handsome woman, with cordial manners and a cold eye; frank, easy, confident, unassuming. Under the shield of her position, she would walk straight up to any subject, and speak her mind of it plainly. It was more than easy to become acquainted with her when she chose.
The company was not a large one, and they soon found themselves alone in a quiet corner.
"You are a celebrated literary man, Mr. Colman, they tell me!" said Lady Tremaine.
"Not in the least," answered Walter. "I am but a poor hack."
"It is well to be modest; but I am not bound to take your description of yourself. Your class at least is in a fair way to take the lead!"
"In what, pray?"
"In politics, in society, in everything."
"You ladyship can not think it desirable."
"I do not pretend to desire it. I am not false to my own people. But the fact remains that you are coming to the front, and we are falling behind. And the sooner you get to the front, the better it will be for the world, and for us too."
"I can not say I understand you."
"I will tell you why. There are now no fewer than three aristocracies. There is one of rank, and one of brains. I belong to the one, you to the other. But there is a third."
"If you recognize the rich as an aristocracy, you must allow me to differ from you--very much!"
"Naturally. I quite agree with you. But what can your opinion and mine avail against the rising popular tide! All the old families are melting away, swallowed by the nouveaux riches. I should not mind, or at least I should feel it in me to submit with a good grace, if we were pushed from our stools by a new aristocracy of literature and science, but I do rebel against the social régime which is every day more strongly asserting itself. All the gradations are fast disappearing; the palisades of good manners, dignity, and respect, are vanishing with the hedges; the country is positively inundated with slang and vulgarity--all from the ill-breeding, presumption, and self-satisfaction of new people."
Walter felt tempted to ask whether it was not the fault of the existent aristocracy in receiving and flattering them; whether it could not protect society if it would; whether in truth the aristocracy did not love, even honor money as much as they; but he was silent.
As if she read his thought, Lady Tremaine resumed:
"The plague of it is that younger sons must live! Money they must have!--and there's the gate off the hinges! The best, and indeed the only thing to help is, that the two other aristocracies make common cause to keep the rich in their proper place."
It was not a very subtle flattery, but Walter was pleased. The lady saw she had so far gained her end, for she had an end in view, and changed the subject.
"You go out of an evening, I see!" she said at length. "I am glad. Some authors will not."
"I do when I can. The evening, however, to one who--who--"
"--Has an eye on posterity! Of course! It is gold and diamonds! How silly all our pursuits must appear in your eyes! But I hope you will make an exception in my favor!"
"I shall be most happy," responded Walter, cordially.
"I will not ask you to come and be absorbed in a crowd--not the first time at least! Gould you not manage to come and see me in the morning?"
"I am at your ladyship's service," replied Walter.
"Then come--let me see!--the day after to-morrow--about five o'clock. 17, Goodrich Square."
Walter could not but be flattered that Lady Tremaine was so evidently pleased with him. She called his profession an aristocracy too! therefore she was not patronizing him, but receiving him on the same social level! We can not blame him for the inexperience which allowed him to hold his head a little higher as he walked home.
There was little danger of his forgetting the appointment. Lady Tremaine received him in what she called her growlery, with cordiality. By and by she led the way toward literature, and after they had talked of several new books--
"We are not in this house altogether strange," she said, "to your profession. My daughter Lufa is an authoress in her way. You, of course, never heard of her, but it is twelve months since her volume of verse came out."
Surely Walter had, somewhere about that time, when helping his friend Sullivan, seen a small ornate volume of verses, with a strange name like that on the title-page! Whether he had written a notice of it he could not remember.
"It was exceedingly well received--for a first, of course! Lufa hardly thought so herself, but I told her what could she expect, altogether unknown as she was. Tell me honestly, Mr. Colman, is there not quite as much jealousy in your profession as in any other?"
Walter allowed it was not immaculate in respect of envy and evil speaking.
"You have so much opportunity for revenge, you see!" said Lady Tremaine; "and such a coat of darkness for protection! With a few strokes of the pen a man may ruin his rival!"
"Scarcely that!" returned Walter. "If a book be a good book, the worst of us can not do it much harm; nor do I believe there are more than a few in the profession who would condescend to give a false opinion upon the work of a rival; though doubtless personal feeling may pervert the judgment."
"That, of course," returned the lady, "is but human! You can not deny, however, that authors occasionally make furious assaults on each other!"
"Authors ought not to be reviewers," replied Walter. "I fancy most reviewers avoid the work of an acquaintance even, not to say a friend or enemy."
The door opened, and what seemed to Walter as lovely a face as could ever have dawned on the world, peeped in, and would have withdrawn.
"Lufa," said Lady Tremaine, "you need not go away. Mr. Colman and I have no secrets. Come and be introduced to him."
She entered--a small, pale creature, below the middle height, with the daintiest figure, and child-like eyes of dark blue, very clear, and--must I say it?--for the occasion "worn" wide. Her hair was brown, on the side of black, divided in the middle, and gathered behind in a great mass. Her dress was something white, with a shimmer of red about it, and a blush-rose in the front. She greeted Walter in the simplest, friendliest way, holding out her tiny hand very frankly. Her features were no smaller than for her size they ought to be, in themselves perfect, \Walter thought, and in harmony with her whole being and carriage. Her manner was a gentle, unassuming assurance--almost as if they knew each other, but had not met for some time. Walter felt some ancient primeval bond between them--dim, but indubitable.
The mother withdrew to her writing-table, and began to write, now and then throwing in a word as they talked. Lady Lufa seemed pleased with her new acquaintance; Walter was bewitched. Bewitchment I take to be the approach of the real to our ideal. Perhaps upon that, however, depends even the comforting or the restful. In the heart of every one lies the necessity for homeliest intercourse with the perfectly lovely; we are made for it. Yet so far are we in ourselves from the ideal, which no man can come near until absolutely devoted to its quest, that we continually take that for sufficing which is a little beyond.
"I think, Mr. Colman, I have seen something of yours! You do put your name to what you write?" said Lady Lufa.
"Not always," replied Walter.
"I think the song must have been yours!"
Walter had, just then, for the first time published a thing of his own. That it should have arrested the eye of this lovely creature! He acknowledged that he had printed a trifle in "The Observatory."
"I was charmed with it!" said the girl, the word charmingly drawled.
"The merest trifle!" remarked Walter. "It cost me nothing."
He meant what he said, unwilling to be judged by such a slight thing.
"That is the beauty of it!" she answered. "Your song left your soul as the thrush's leaves his throat. Should we prize the thrush's more if we came upon him practicing it?"
"But we are not meant to sing like the birds!"
"That you could write such a song without effort, shows you to possess the bird-gift of spontaneity."
Walter was surprised at her talk, and willing to believe it profound.
"The will and the deed in one may be the highest art!" he said. "I hardly know."
"May I write music to it?" asked Lady Lufa, with upward glance, sweet smile, and gently apologetic look.
"I am delighted you should think of doing so. It is more than it deserves!" answered Walter. "My only condition is, that you will let me hear it."
"That you have a right to. Besides, I dared not publish it without knowing you liked it."
"Thank you so much! To hear you sing it will let me know at once whether the song itself be genuine."
"No, no! I may fail in my part, and yours be all I take it to be. But I shall not fail. It holds me too fast for that!"
"Then I may hope for a summons?" said Walter, rising.
"Before long. One can not order the mood, you know!"