In the morning, as Walter was dressing, he received a copy of his poems which he had taken in sheets to a book-binder to put in morocco for Lady Lufa. Pleased like a child, he handled it as if he might hurt it. Such a feeling he had never had before, would never have again. He was an author! One might think, after the way in which he had treated not a few books and not a few authors, he could scarcely consider it such a very fine thing to be an author; but there is always a difference between thine and mine, treated by the man of this world as essential. The book was Walter's book and not another's!--no common prose or poetry this, but the first-born of his deepest feeling! At length it had taken body and shape! From the unseen it had emerged in red morocco, the color of his heart, its edges golden with the light of his hopes!
As to the communication of the night, its pain had early vanished. Was not Sefton a disappointed lover? His honesty, however evident, could not alter that fact! Least of all could a man himself tell whether disguised jealousy and lingering hope might not be potently present, while he believed himself solely influenced by friendly anxiety!
"I will take his advice, however," said Walter to himself, "and put an end to my anxiety this very day!"
"Do you feel inclined for a gallop, Mr. Colman?" asked Lufa as they sat at the breakfast-table. "It feels just like a spring morning. The wind changed in the night. You won't mind a little mud--will you?"
In common phrase, but with a foolish look of adoring gratitude, Walter accepted the invitation. "How handsome he is!" thought Lufa; for Walter's countenance was not only handsome but expressive. Most women, however, found him attractive chiefly from his frank address and open look; for, though yet far from a true man, he was of a true nature. Every man's nature indeed is true, though the man be not true; but some have come into the world so much nearer the point where they may begin to be true, that, comparing them with the rest, we say their nature is true.
Lufa rose and went to get ready. Walter followed, and overtook her on the stair.
"I have something for you," he said; "may I bring it you?"
He could not postpone the effect his book might have. Authors young and old think so much of their books that they seldom conceive how little others care about them.
She was hardly in her room, when he followed her with the volume.
She took it, and opened it.
"Yours!" she cried. "And poetry! Why, Walter!"
She had once or twice called him by his name before.
He took it from her hand, and turning the title-page, gave it her again to read the dedication. A slight rose-tinge suffused her face. She said nothing, but shut the book, and gave it a tender little hug.
"She never did that to anything Sefton gave her!" thought Walter.
"Make haste," she said, and turning, went in, and closed her door.
He walked up and down the hall for half an hour before she appeared. When she came tripping down the wide, softly descending stair, in her tight-fitting habit and hat and feather, holding up her skirt, so that he saw her feet racing each other like a cataract across the steps, saying as she came near him, "I have kept you waiting, but I could not help it; my habit was torn!" he thought he had never seen her so lovely. Indeed she looked lovely, and had she loved, would have been lovely. As it was, her outer loveliness was but a promise whose fulfillment had been too long postponed. His heart swelled into his throat and eyes as he followed her and helped her to mount.
"Nobody puts me up so well as you!" she said.
He could hardly repress the triumph that filled him from head to foot. Anyhow, and whoever might object, she liked him! If she loved him and would confess it, he could live on the pride of it all the rest of his days!
They were unattended, but neither spoke until they were well beyond the lodge-gate. Winter though it was, a sweet air was all abroad, and the day was full of spring-prophecies: all winters have such days, even those of the heart! how could we get through without them? Their horses were in excellent spirits--it was their first gallop for more than a week; Walter's roan was like a flame under him. They gave them so much to do, that no such talk as Walter longed for, was possible. It consoled him, however, to think that he had never had such a chance of letting Lufa see he could ride.
At length, after a great gallop, they were quieter, seeming to remember they were horses and not colts, and must not overpass the limits of equine propriety.
"Is it our last ride, Lufa?" said Walter.
"Why should it be?" she answered, opening her eyes wide on him.
"There is no reason I know," he returned, "except--except you are tired of me."
"Nobody is tired of you--except perhaps George, and you need not mind him; he is odd. I have known him from childhood, and don't understand him yet."
"He is clever!" said Walter.
"I dare say he is--if he would take the trouble to show it."
"You hardly do him justice, I think!"
"How can I? he bores me! and when I am bored, I am horribly bored. I have been very patient with him."
"Why do you ask him so often then?"
"_I_ don't ask him. Mamma is fond of him, and so--"
"You are the victim!"
"I can bear it; I have consolations!"
She laughed merrily.
"How do you like my binding?" he asked, when they had ridden awhile in silence.
She looked up with a question.
"The binding of my book, I mean," he explained.
"It is a good color."
He felt his hope rather damped.
"Will you let me read a little from it?"
"With pleasure. You shall have an audience in the drawing-room, after luncheon."
"Oh, Lufa! how could you think I would read my own poems to a lot of people!"
"I beg your pardon! Will the summer-house do?"
"Yes, indeed; nowhere better."
"Very well! The summer-house, after lunch!"
This was not encouraging! Did she suspect what was coming? and was she careful not to lead the way to it? She had never been like this before! Perhaps she did not like having the book dedicated to her! But there was no mention of her name, or anything to let "the heartless world" know to whom it was offered!
As they approached the house, Walter said,
"Would you mind coming at once to the summer-house?"
"Lunch will be ready."
"Then sit down in your habit, and come immediately after. Let me have my way for once, Lufa."