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 of snow!
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!