Walter slept until nearly noon, then rose, very weary, but with a gladness at his heart. On his table were spread such pages as must please Lufa! His thoughts went back to the poem, but, to his uneasy surprise, he found he did not recall it with any special pleasure. He had had great delight in reading it, and in giving shape to his delight, but he could not now think what kind of thing it was that had given him such satisfaction. He had worked too long, he said to himself, and this was the reaction; he was too tired to enjoy the memory of what he had so heartily admired. Aesthetic judgment was so dependent on mood! He would glance over what he had done, correct it a little, and inclose it for the afternoon post, that it might appear in the next issue!
He drank the cup of cold tea by his bedside, sat down, and took up his hurriedly written sheets. He found in them much that seemed good work--of his own; and the passages quoted gave ostensible grounds for the remarks made upon them; but somehow the whole affair seemed quite different. The review would incline any lover of verse to read the book; 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 undefined!
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 hall.
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!