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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHome Again - Chapter 26. A Period
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Home Again - Chapter 26. A Period Post by :Myrddin Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3562

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Home Again - Chapter 26. A Period

CHAPTER XXVI. A PERIOD

If London was dreary when Lufa left it, it was worse than dreary to Walter now that she was gone from his world; gone from the universe past and future both--for the Lufa he had dreamed of was not, and had never been! He had no longer any one to dream about, waking or asleep. The space she had occupied was a blank spot, black and cold, charred with the fire of passion, cracked with the frost of disappointment and scorn. It had its intellectual trouble too--the impossibility of bringing together the long-cherished idea of Lufa, and the reality of Lufa revealed by herself; the two stared at each other in mortal irreconcilement. Now also he had no book to occupy him with pleasant labor. It had passed from him into the dark; the thought of it was painful, almost loathesome to him. No one, however, he was glad to find, referred to it. His friends pitied him, and his foes were silent. Three copies of it were sold. The sneaking review had had influence enough with the courted public to annihilate it.

But the expenses of printing it remained; he had yet to pay his share of them; and, alas, he did not know how! The publisher would give him time, no doubt, but, work his hardest, it would be a slow clearance! There was the shame too of having undertaken what he was unable at once to fulfill! He set himself to grind and starve.

At times the clouds would close in upon him, and there would seem nothing in life worth living for; though in truth his life was so much the more valuable that Lufa was out of it. Occasionally his heart would grow very gentle toward her, and he would burrow for a possible way to her excuse. But his conclusion was ever the same: how could he forget that laugh of utter merriment and delight when she found it was indeed himself under the castigation of such a mighty beadle of literature! In his most melting mood, therefore, he could only pity her. But what would have become of him had she not thus unmasked herself! He would now be believing her the truest, best of women, with no fault but a coldness of which he had no right to complain, a coldness comforted by the extent of its freezing!

But there was far more to make London miserable to him: he was now at last disgusted with his trade: this continuous feeding on the labor of others was no work for a gentleman! he began to descry in it certain analogies which grew more and more unpleasant as he regarded them. For his poetizing he was sick of that also. True, the quality or value of what he had written was nowise in itself affected by its failure to meet acceptance. It had certainly not had fair play; it had been represented as it was not; its character had been lied away! But now that the blinding influence of their chief subject was removed, he saw the verses themselves to be little worth. The soul of them was not the grand all-informing love, but his own private self-seeking little passion for a poor show of the lovable. No one could care for such verses, except indeed it were some dumb soul in love with a woman like, or imaginably like the woman of their thin worship! Not a few were pretty, he allowed, and some were quaint--that is, had curious old-flavored phrases and fantastic turns of thought; but throughout there was no revelation! They sparkled too with the names of things in themselves beautiful, but whether these things were in general wisely or fairly used in his figures and tropes and comparisons, he was now more than doubtful. He had put on his singing robes to whisper his secret love into the two great red ears of the public!--desiring, not sympathy from love and truth, but recognition from fame and report! That he had not received it was better than he deserved! Then what a life was it thus to lie wallowing among the mushrooms of the press! To spend gifts which, whatever they were, were divine, in publishing the tidings that this man had done ill, that other had done well, that he was amusing, and she was dull! Was it worth calling work, only because it was hard and dreary? His conscience, his taste, his impulses, all declined to back him in it any longer. What was he doing for the world? they asked him. How many books had he guided men to read, by whose help they might steer their way through the shoals of life? He could count on the fingers of one hand such as he had heartily recommended. If he had but pointed out what was good in books otherwise poor, it would have been something! He had not found it easy to be at once clever, honest, and serviceable to his race: the press was but for the utterance of opinion, true or false, not for the education of thought! And why should such as he write books, who had nothing to tell men that could make them braver, stronger, purer, more loving, less selfish!

What next was to be done? His calling had vanished! It was not work worthy of a man! It was contemptible as that of the parson to whom the church is a profession! He owed his landlady money: how was he to pay her? He must eat, or how was he to work? There must be something honest for him to do! Was a man to do the wrong in order to do the right?

The true Walter was waking--beginning to see things as they were, and not as men regarded them. He was tormented with doubts and fears of all kinds, high and low. But for the change in his father's circumstances, he would have asked his help, cleared off everything, and gone home at once; and had he been truer to his father, he would have known that such a decision would even now have rejoiced his heart.

He had no longer confidence enough to write on any social question. Of the books sent him, he chose such as seemed worthiest of notice, but could not do much. He felt not merely a growing disinclination, but a growing incapacity for the work. How much the feeling may have been increased by the fact that his health was giving way, I can not tell; but certainly the root of it was moral.

His funds began to fail his immediate necessities, and he had just come from pawning the watch which he would have sold but that it had been his mother's, and was the gift of his father, when he met Harold Sullivan, who persuaded him to go with him to a certain theater in which the stalls had not yet entirely usurped upon the enjoyable portion of the pit. Between the first and second acts, he caught sight of Lady Lufa in a box, with Sefton standing behind her. There was hardly a chance of their seeing him, and he regarded them at his ease, glad to see Sefton, and not sorry to see Lufa, for it was an opportunity of testing himself. He soon perceived that they held almost no communication with each other, but was not surprised, knowing in how peculiar a relation they stood. Lufa was not looking unhappy--far from it; her countenance expressed absolute self-contentment: in all parts of the house she was attracting attention, especially from the young men. Sefton's look was certainly not one of content; but neither, as certainly, was it one of discontent; it suggested power waiting opportunity, strength quietly attendant upon, hardly expectant of the moment of activity. Walter imagined one watching a beloved cataleptic: till she came alive, what was to be done but wait! God has had more waiting than any one else! Lufa was an iceberg that would not melt even in the warm southward sea, watched by a still volcano, whose fires were of no avail, for they could not reach her. Sparklingly pretty, not radiantly beautiful, she sat, glancing, coruscating, glittering, anything except glowing: glow she could not even put on! She did not know what it was. Now and then a soft sadness would for a moment settle on Sefton's face--like the gray of a cloudy summer evening about to gather into a warm rain; but this was never when he looked at her; it was only when, without seeing, he thought about her. Hitherto Walter had not been capable of understanding the devotion, the quiet strength, the persistent purpose of the man; now he began to see into it and wonder. While a spark of hope lay alive in those ashes of disappointment that had often seemed as if they would make but a dust-heap of his bosom, there he must remain, by the clean, cold hearth, swept and garnished, of the woman he loved--loved strangely, mysteriously, inexplicably even to himself!

Walter sat gazing; and as he gazed, simultaneously the two became aware of his presence. A friendly smile spread over Sefton's face, but, with quick perception, he abstained from any movement that might seem to claim recognition. To Walter's wonder, Lufa, so perfectly self-contained, so unchangingly self-obedient, colored--faintly indeed, but plainly enough to the eyes of one so well used to the white rose of her countenance. She moved neither head nor person, only turned her eyes away, and seemed, like the dove for its foot, to seek some resting-place for her vision--and with the sight awoke in Walter the first unselfish resolve of his life. Would he not do anything--could he not do something to bring those two together? The thought seemed even to himself almost a foolish one; but spiritual relations and potencies go far beyond intellectual ones, and a man must become a fool to be wise. Many a foolish thought, many a most improbable idea, has proved itself seed-bearing fruit of the kingdom of heaven. A man may fail to effect, or be unable to set hand to work he would fain do--and be judged, as Browning says in his "Saul," by what he would have done if he could. Only the _would must be as true as a deed; then it is a deed. The kingdom of heaven is for the dreamers of true dreams only!

Was there then anything Walter could do to help the man to gain the woman he had so faithfully helped Walter to lose? It was no plain task. The thing was not to enable him to marry her--that Sefton could have done long ago--might do any day without help from him! As she then was, she was no gain for any true man! But if he could help to open the eyes of the cold-hearted, conceited, foolish girl, either to her own valuelessness as she was, or her worth as she might be, or again to the value, the eternal treasure of the heart she was turning from, she would then be a gift that in the giving grew worthy even of such a man!

Here, however, came a different thought, bearing nevertheless in the same direction. It was very well to think of Lufa's behavior to Sefton, but what had Walter's been to Lufa? It may seem strange that the reflection had not come to him before; but in nothing are we slower than in discovering our own blame--and the slower that we are so quick to perceive or imagine we perceive the blame of others. For, the very fact that we see and heartily condemn the faults of others, we use, unconsciously perhaps, as an argument that we must be right ourselves. We must take heed not to judge with the idea that so we shall escape judgment--that by condemning evil we clear ourselves. Walter's eyes were opened to see that he had done Lufa a great wrong; that he had helped immensely to buttress and exalt her self-esteem. Had he not in his whole behavior toward her, been far more anxious that he should please her than that she should be worthy? Had he not known that she was far more anxious to be accepted as a poet than to be admired as a woman?--more anxious indeed to be accepted than, even in the matter of her art, to be worthy of acceptance--to be the thing she wished to be thought? In that review which, in spite of his own soul, he had persuaded himself to publish, knowing it to be false, had he not actively, most unconscientiously, and altogether selfishly, done her serious intellectual wrong, and heavy moral injury? Was he not bound to make what poor reparation might be possible? It mattered nothing that she did not desire any such reparation; that she would look upon the attempt as the first wrong in the affair--possibly as a pretense for the sake of insult, and the revenge of giving her the deepest possible pain: having told her the lies, he must confess they were lies! having given her the poison of falsehood, he must at least follow it with the only antidote, the truth! It was not his part to judge of consequences so long as a duty remained to be done! and what could be more a duty than to undeceive where he had deceived, especially where the deception was aggravating that worst of diseases, self-conceit, self-satisfaction, self-worship? It was doubtful whether she would read what he might write; but the fact that she did not trust him, that, notwithstanding his assurance, she would still be in fear of how he might depreciate her work in the eyes of the public, would, he thought, secure for him a reading. She might, when she got far enough to see his drift, destroy the letter in disgust; that would be the loss of his labor; but he would have done what he could! He had begun to turn a new leaf, and here was a thing the new leaf required written upon it!

As to Sefton, what better thing could he do for him, than make her think less of herself! or, if that were impossible, at least make her understand that other people did not think so much of her as she had been willingly led to believe! In wronging her he had wronged his friend as well, throwing obstacles in the way of his reception! He had wronged the truth itself!

When the play was over, and the crowd was dispersing, he found himself close to them on the pavement as they waited for their carriage. So near to Lufa was he that he could not help touching her dress. But what a change had passed on him! Not once did he wish her to look round and brighten when she saw him! Sefton, moved perhaps by that unknown power of presence, operating in bodily proximity but savoring of the spiritual, looked suddenly round and saw him. He smiled and did not speak, but, stretching out a quiet hand, sought his. Walter grasped it as if it was come to lift him from some evil doom. Neither spoke, and Lufa did not know that hands had clasped in the swaying human flood. No physical influence passed between Walter and her.

Having made up his mind on the way, he set to work as soon as he reached home. He wrote and destroyed and rewrote, erased and substituted, until, as near as he could, he had said what he intended, so at least as it should not be mistaken for what he did not intend, which is the main problem in writing. Then he copied all out fair and plain, so that she could read it easily--and here is his letter, word for word:

"MY DEAR LADY LUFA,--In part by means of the severe lesson I received through you, a great change has passed upon me. I am no longer able to think of myself as the important person I used to take myself for. It is startling to have one's eyes opened to see one's self as one is, but it very soon begins to make one glad, and the gladness, I find, goes on growing. One's nature is so elevated by being delivered from the honoring and valuing of that which is neither honorable nor valuable, that the seeming loss is annihilated by the essential gain; the being better makes up--infinitely makes up for showing to myself worse. I would millions of times rather know myself a fool than imagine myself a great poet. For to know one's self a fool is to begin to be wise; and I would be loyal among the sane, not royal among lunatics. Who would be the highest, in virtue of the largest mistake, of the profoundest self-idolatry!

"But it was not to tell you this I began to write; it was to confess a great wrong which once I did you; for I can not rest, I can not make it up with my conscience until I have told you the truth. It may be you will dislike me more for confessing the wrong than for committing it--I can not tell; but it is my part to let you know it--and none the less my part that I must therein confess myself more weak and foolish than already I appear.

"You will remember that you gave me a copy of your drama while I was at your house: the review of it which appeared in the 'Battery' I wrote that same night. I am ashamed to have to confess the fact, but I had taken more champagne than, I hope, I ever shall again; and, irreverent as it must seem to mention the fact in such a connection, I was possessed almost to insanity with your beauty, and the graciousness of your behavior to me. Everything around me was pervaded with rose-color and rose-odor, when, my head and heart, my imagination and senses, my memory and hope full of yourself, I sat down to read your poem. I was like one in an opium-dream. I saw everything in the glory of an everlasting sunset, for every word I read, I heard in the tones of your voice; through the radiant consciousness of your present beauty, received every thought that awoke. If ever one being was possessed by another, I was that night possessed by you. In this mood, like that, I say again, of an opium-dream, I wrote the criticism of your book.

"But on the morning after the writing of it, I found, when I began to read it, I could so little enter into the feeling of it, that I could hardly believe I had actually written what lay before me in my own hand. I took the poem again, and scanned it most carefully, reading it with deep, anxious desire to justify the things I had set down. But I failed altogether. Even my love could not blind me enough to persuade me that what I had said was true, or that I should be other than false to print it. I had to put myself through a succession of special pleadings before I could quiet my conscience enough to let the thing go, and tell its lies in the ears of the disciples of the 'Battery.' I will show you how falsely I dealt. I said to myself that, in the first place, one mood had, in itself, as good a claim, with regard to the worth of what it produced, as another; but that the opinion of the night, when the imagination was awake, was more likely to be just with regard to a poem than that of the cold, hard, unpoetic day. I was wrong in taking it for granted that my moods had equal claims; and the worse wrong, that all the time I knew I was not behaving honestly, for I persisted in leaving out, as factor in one of the moods, the champagne I had drunk, not to mention _the time of the night, and the glamour of your influence. The latter was still present, but could no longer blind me to believe what I would, most of all things, have gladly believed. With the mood the judgment was altered, and a true judgment is the same in all moods, inhabiting a region above mood.

"In confession, a man must use plain words: I was a coward, a false friend, a false man. Having tried my hardest to keep myself from seeing the fact as plainly as I might have seen it, had I looked it in the face with the intent of meeting what the truth might render necessary, yet knowing that I was acting falsely, I sent off, regardless of duty, and in the sole desire of pleasing you, and had printed, as my opinion concerning your book, what was not my opinion, had never been my opinion, except during that one night of hallucination--a hallucination recognized as such, for the oftener I read, the more I was convinced that I had given such an opinion as must stamp me the most incompetent, or the falsest of critics. Lady Lufa, there is nothing remarkable in your poem. It is nicely, correctly written, and in parts skillfully contrived; but had it been sent me among other books, and without indication of the author, I should certainly have thrown it aside as the attempt of a school-girl, who, having more pocket money than was good for her, had been able to print it without asking her parents or guardians. You may say this judgment is the outcome of my jealous disappointment; I say the former was the outcome of my loving fascination; and I can not but think something in yourself will speak for me, and tell you that I am speaking honestly. Mr. Sefton considers me worthy of belief; and I know myself worthier of belief than ever before--how much worthier than when I wrote that review! Then I loved you--selfishly; now I love the truth, and would serve you, though I do not love you the same way as before. Through the disappointment you caused me, my eyes have been opened to see the way in which I was going, and to turn from it, for I was on the way of falsehood. Oh, Lady Lufa, let me speak; forget my presumption; you bore with my folly--bear now with what is true though it come from a foolish heart! What would it be to us, if we gained the praises of the whole world, and found afterward they were for what was counted of no value in the great universe into which we had passed! Let us be true, whatever come of it, and look the facts of things in the face! If I am a poor creature, let me be content to know it! for have I not the joy that God can make me great! And is not the first step toward greatness to refuse to call that great which is not great, or to think myself great when I am small? Is it not an essential and impassable bar to greatness for a man to imagine himself great when there is not in him one single element of greatness? Let us confess ourselves that which we can not consent to remain! The confession of not being, is the sole foundation for becoming. Self is a quicksand; God is the only rock. I have been learning a little.

"Having thus far dared, why should I not go further, and say one thing more which is burning within me! There was a time when I might have said it better in verse, but that time has gone by--to come again, I trust, when I have that to say which is worth saying; when I shall be true enough to help my fellows to be true. The calling of a poet, if it be a calling, must come from heaven. To be bred to a thing is to have the ears closed to any call.

"There is a man I know who forever sits watching, as one might watch at evening for the first star to come creeping out of the infinite heaven; but it is for a higher and lovelier star this man watches; he is waiting for a woman, for the first dawn of her soul. He knows well the spot where the star of his hope must appear, the spot where, out of the vast unknown, she must open her shining eyes that he may love her. But alas, she will not arise and shine. He believes or at least hopes his star is on the way, and what can he do but wait, for he is laden with the burden of a wealth given him to give--the love of a true heart--the rarest, as the most precious thing on the face of his half-baked brick of a world. It was easy for me to love you, Lady Lufa, while I took that for granted in you which did not yet exist in myself! But he knows the truth of you, and yet loves. Lady Lufa, you are not true! If you do not know it, it is because you will not know it, lest the sight of what you are should unendurably urge you toward that you will not choose to be. God is my witness I speak in no poor anger, no mean jealousy! Not a word I say is for myself. I am but begging you to be that which God, making you, intended you to be. I would have the star shine through the cloud--shine on the heart of the watcher! the real Lufa lies hidden under a dusky garment of untruth; none but the eye of God can see through to the lovely thing He made, out of which the false Lufa is smothering the life. When the beautiful child, the real Lufa, the thing you now know you are not, but ought to be, walks out like an angel from a sepulcher, then will the heart of God, and the heart of George Sefton, rejoice with a great joy. Think what the love of such a man is. It is your very self he loves; he loves like God, even before the real self has begun to exist. It is not the beauty you show, but the beauty showing you, that he loves--the hidden self of your perfect idea. Outward beauty alone is not for the divine lover; it is a mere show. Until the woman makes it real, it is but a show; and until she makes it true, she is herself a lie. With you, Lady Lufa, it rests to make your beauty a truth, that is, a divine fact.

"For myself, I have been but a false poet--a mask among poets, a builder with hay and stubble, babbling before I had words, singing before I had a song, without a ray of revelation from the world unseen, carving at clay instead of shaping it in the hope of marble. I am humbler now, and trust the divine humility has begun to work out mine. Of all things I would be true, and pretend nothing.

"Lady Lufa, if a woman's shadow came out of her mirror, and went about the world pretending to be herself and deceiving the eyes of men, that figure thus walking the world and stealing hearts, would be you. Would to God I were such an exorcist as could lay that ghost of you! as could say, 'Go back, forsake your seeming, false image of the true, the lovely Lufa that God made! You are but her unmaking! Get back into the mirror; live but in the land of shows; leave the true Lufa to wake from the swoon into which you have cast her; she must live and grow, and become, till she is perfect in loveliness.'

"I shall know nothing of the fate of my words. I shall see you no more in this world--except it be as I saw you to-night, standing close to you in a crowd. The touch of your garment sent no thrill through me; you were to me as a walking shadow. But the man who loves you sees the sleeping beauty within you! His lips are silent, but by the very silence of his lips his love speaks. I shall soon--but what matters it! If we are true, we shall meet, and have much to say. If we are not true, all we know is that falsehood must perish. For me, I will arise and go to my father, and lie no more. I will be a man, and live in the truth--try at least so to live, in the hope of one day being true.

"WALTER COLMAN."


Walter sent the letter--posted it the next morning as he went to the office. It is many years since, and he has not heard of it yet. But there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed.

The writing of this letter was a great strain to him, but he felt much relieved when it was gone. How differently did he feel after that other lying, flattering utterance, with his half-sleeping conscience muttering and grumbling as it lay. He walked then full of pride and hope, in the mid-most of his dream of lore and ambition; now he was poor and sad, and bowed down, but the earth was a place that might be lived in notwithstanding! If only he could find some thoroughly honest work! He would rather have his weakness and dejection with his humility, than ten times the false pride with which he paced the street before. It was better to be thus than so!

But as he came home that night, he found himself far from well, and altogether incapable of work. He was indeed ill, for he could neither eat nor sleep, nor take interest in anything. His friend Sullivan was shocked to see him look so pale and wild, and insisted he must go home. Walter said it might be but a passing attack, and it would be a pity to alarm them; he would wait a day or two. At length he felt so ill that one morning he did not get up. There was no one in the house who cared to nurse him; his landlady did little or nothing for him beyond getting him the cup of tea he occasionally wanted; Sullivan was himself ill, and for some days neither saw nor heard of him; and Walter had such an experience of loneliness and desertion as he had never had before. But it was a purgatorial suffering. He began to learn how insufficient he was for himself; how little self-sustaining power there was in him. Not there was the fountain of life! Words that had been mere platitudes of theological commonplace began to show a golden root through their ancient mold. The time came back to him when father and mother bent anxiously over their child. He remembered how their love took from him all fear; how even the pain seemed to melt in their presence; all was right when they knew all about it! they would see that the suffering went at the proper time! All gentle ministrations to his comfort, the moving of his pillows, the things cooked by his mother's own hands, her watch to play with--all came back, as if the tide of life had set in the other direction, and he was fast drifting back into childhood. What sleep he had was filled with alternate dreams of suffering and home-deliverance. He recalled how different his aunt had been when he was ill: in this isolation her face looking in at his door would have been as that of an angel! And he knew that all the time his debts were increasing, and when would he begin to pay them off! His mind wandered; and when Sullivan came at length, he was talking wildly, imagining himself the prodigal son in the parable.

Sullivan wrote at once to Mr. Colman.

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