The Secret That Can’t Be Kept.

TimeChristmas, 1660 .
SceneTerrace Walk of an Old English Manor
Lady Alice and Lord Halford.
Lord H.
Its dreariness had grown into a proverb.1
Who knew old Lovel Manor House last year,2
Might now suppose a spell had been removed3
That bound the spirits of the place in sleep.4
All things are altered to their opposites.5
And then the change has come so suddenly,6
Like bursts of music and the wild hurrah7
Of revellers, startling the solemn air8
Of some lone sanctuary.
Lady A.
What cheerful lives9
They must have passed ! what moping in the dark !10
Lord H.
’Tis the true phrase. Your visit has
brought light
To the dark house.
Lady A.
Be careful what you say ;12
There was a dangerous light in’t ere I came.13
Lord H.
But silent as the stars.
Lady A.
And yet the stars14
Are worshipp’d in their silence !  Had they tongues15
To fill the heavens with noise, think you would man16
Be more enamour’d of their beauty ?  Silence !17
Why ’tis a language in itself—some say18
Most eloquent of all—that hits its meaning19
Quicker than thought ; no sooner thought than spoken ;20
And spoken sometimes ere the thought is ripe,21
Or, ripe, before it should seek utterance.22
’Tis not in tongues this language finds expression.23
Lord H.
No organ else hath like intelligence24
Of speech. What is’t, pray ?
Lady A.
Lord H.
I cannot guess.25
Lady A.
What say you to the eyes ?  Nay, ’twas
just now
You quoted me the stars—the eyes of Heaven ;27
And there be men, right noble, too ! who swear28
Earth’s eyes are finer far !
Lord H.
I do protest—29
Lady A.
That’s right; but not to me. If you pro-
To me, I’ll tell my cousin.
Lord H.
Lady A.
Why do you turn away ?  Why don’t you
At me ?  Are you afraid I’ll tell my cousin ?33
Lord H.
Why should I fear ?
Lady A.
Now, for the life of me,34
I can’t divine. But sure I am, that were35
You not afraid, you’d find a voice to speak36
To her yourself.
Lord H.
What should I say to her ?37
Lady A.
Oh ! thou perfection of a reasoning ostrich !38
You shut your eyes upon yourself, and think39
You’ve drawn a doom of blindness on the world.40
Why, love is writ as plainly in your face,41
As an inscription on a tomb : “ Hic jacet !”42
With a pierced heart below. I never saw43
A man so woe-begone in love before ;44
And I have seen them of all casts and ages,45
Although I never was in love myself,46
And hope I never may !  Look at your sword—47
Is that the way to wear a sword, with th’ hilt48
Thrust out before ?  Your collar twitched aside ;49
Ruffles that ne’er were meant for matches ; boots50
That show their frills at different altitudes :51
From head to foot such pensive negligence,52
That he who runs may read thou art in love.53
Lord H.
In love ?
Lady A.
Ten thousand fathoms deep. You love54
My cousin.55
Lord H.
Pray, let’s change the theme. Your uncle56
Throws wide his hospitable doors to night57
To the whole country side. The motley crowd58
Will yield you ample mirth : squires, knights o the
Lean clerks, fat justices—
Lady A.
The clerk may hang,60
And the fat justice gutter in his chair.61
You shan’t evade me thus—you shan’t escape.62
Confess you love my cousin. Well, deny63
It then. You won’t commit yourself ?  You play64
At love as gamblers make their books, and hedge65
Upon the chance to win, but nothing risk.66
Lord H.
You do me wrong. I never utter’d word67
Of love to her ; but, with reserve o’erstrain’d,68
Have kept most modest bearing in her sight.69
’Tis certain no man ever took such pains70
To show that he was not in love.
Lady. A.
You love71
Her not, then ?
Lord H.
Must he love not, that shows not love ?72
Lady A.
I’ve met your sort in town ; but that the
Should quicken such deceit, ’tis really shocking !74
One reads of pastoral life, and thinks of men75
With hearts hanging out of their button-holes.76
Hearts !  Well, what fools we women are, to be77
So duped. Because you wear an artful look78
Of mazed abstraction, drop your eyes, and heave79
(Good day to your lusty lungs !) a sigh would fill80
A trumpet ; then break off, as from a dream,81
With cunning talk of incoherent things ;82
We, trusting fools ! must needs believe ’tis love.83
My uncle did me wrong to trust me with you.84
Lord H.
What change has come upon me, I should
The thing I scorn ?  ’Tis but you humour paints86
Me thus.
Lady A.
And yours to sit the portrait out,87
Until the likeness to a hair be perfect.88
Lord H.
What would you have me do ?
Lady A.
Be honest. Let89
Your tongue tell the same story as your face,90
Or teach your face the truth.  If ever man91
Was utterly devoured by love—that man are you :92
So says your face. If ever man93
Was arrant hypocrite—that man are you :94
So says your tongue.
Lord H.
Then is my tongue most false,95
And my face true ; for never yet man loved96
As I do love—
Lady A.
My cousin. I was sure97
Of’t from the first. And here you two have loomed98
About like ships at sea i’ the dark, afraid99
To touch each other, lest you’d both go down !100
And all this time you have been standing here,101
Loving my cousin fast as your blood beat,102
And faster, beating it by throbs, yet not103
One word could I, in jest or earnest, wring104
From you. Stay here ; and stir not, for your life,105
’Till I come back.
[Exit .]
Lord H.
’Twere proper punishment106
To sing me in a ballad through the streets !107
She’ll tell her cousin what a hero ’tis108
Who cannot do his wooing for himself !109
I wish my eyes that saw her cousin had110
Been blind, and my tongue dumb ere it betray’d me.111
What little hope I had of Edith’s heart.112
Is gone. That I should talk to others of113
My love, and not to her ; I, too, who fear’d114
To talk with her alone—or look at her.115
I hardly know the colour of her eyes !116
She’ll turn from me in scorn—or laugh at me—117
I’ll leave the house. They’re coming this way. Not118
For a king’s ransom would I see her now !119
[Exit .]
Re-enter Lady Alice, drawing in Edith.
Lady A.
Now raise your eyes, and look at him. See
He stands dissolved in grief. Why, you’re as bad121
As he. Oh ! this is piteous work between ye !122
’Twill be but proper in you, cousin, now123
He has spoken, to give the man an answer :124
Thus—if you care not for him, say as much.125
If people choose to fall in love with you126
Against your will, why ’tis no fault of yours.127
Of course, he’ll fling himself upon his knees,128
And rant like mad ; that’s nothing—you don’t like
I see that by the way you tremble—tell130
Him so, and there’s an end. (Aside.) Good speed to
both !
[Runs off .]
Nay, Alice, listen to me !  I’m alone132
With him. What shall I do ?  Was that his foot ?133
How strange it is. He does not speak—nor stir.134
Re-enter Lord Halford.
Lord H.
(Aside.) Now dare I speak to her !
He’s moving.
Lord H.
Edith !135
Ah ! that’s his voice.
Lord H.
How shall I sue for pardon ?136
[Takes her hand .]
(Aside.) What’s to be done ?  My lord !—
Lord H.
Your cousin—she137
Has told you all. Forgive me—
What should I138
Forgive ?
Lord H.
That I should dare to—
No—don’t speak—139
Or think—think—what it is you risk in speaking—140
I pray you let me have my hand again.141
Lord H.
’Tis free. But I have thought so long—so
Have feared to speak—
’Tis better still to keep143
Thy thought till thou art more assured.
Lord H.
I see144
The end. You answer and reject ere I145
Have spoken.
No—not that.
Lord H.
Then what the risk146
Of uttering my thought ?
The thought that’s shut147
In darkness in the heart is yet our own ;148
The spring that prisons it is at our own149
Control ; but once unlocked our power is gone—150
Our being changed—our life’s another’s ; once151
Released, it wings into the future, past152
Recall, to shape and sway our fortunes to the close.153
Lord H.
’Tis love’s true mission and abiding power154
You paint so well. You make me bold to speak,155
To say I love—oh ! poor and feeble words !156
Say that I breathe, or walk—who should divine157
From thence the organic miracle of life ?158
To say, I love you ! were as vain a phrase159
To express the vital passion that consumes160
My soul. Nay, turn not from me. Let me have161
At least your pardon. Thou art too noble not162
To yield a frank response.
It shall be frank.163
This feeling has grown up in solitude,164
And fill’d an idle waste of years, through which165
No rival object rose to test its strength.166
Be wise. Go forth into the world. Compare,167
Reflect, and then be true, not to thy fancy,168
But thyself. Take counsel, stern though it be,169
Of time, and a more searching knowledge of170
Thy heart.
Lord H.
’Twere but to find thy image there,171
Where none but thine can ever entrance make.172
Love that has quicken’d in a genial soil,173
With each revolving season strikes its roots174
The deeper. Time !  ’Twill only make me love175
Thee more.
Again—be sure ! while yet there’s space176
To act.
Lord H.
It is too late. Never again177
Can we be to each other what we were.178
I have confess’d, and all is changed between us.179
We cannot meet, or speak, as we have done.180
I cannot look at thee, and, silent, trace181
Sweet mystery in thine eyes, too conscious now182
Of love in mine. Oh ! banish me, or give183
Me hope. You hesitate—
I know not why184
I should. You cannot doubt which way I must185
Lord H.
Oh ! music—speak again !
I felt186
This long ago—but hardly look’d for it187
So soon.  Yet every day it seem’d so near,188
And then receded, then return’d again,189
Taking distincter form ; and now ’tis come,190
And will recede no more, and questions me,191
And will not be denied. I knew ’twould find192
A voice at last ! and wondered when, and how,193
And often made brave answers in my thoughts.194
But now I want them, all my words are gone.195
A man and a woman standing outside and holding hands. The woman is looking down while the man is looking at her. 1/2 page illustration contained within a single-ruled border.
Yet few are needed—none, perchance, you think !196
There—for the love thou gav’st, I give thee mine !197
Lord H.
And I, who need them most, am poorer
My words are in my life to come. Years hence,199
Should quick resentments chance between us—such200
As show most hasty in the most generous,201
Casting dark shadows on the blood and temper—202
Recall this hour, and erring nature, by203
Sweet love rebuked, shall make thee rich amends.204
And thou art mine ?— my very own !— my Edith !205
Mine, come what may ? for these are days of change206
And license—a dark volume none can read.207
What pledge wilt thou exact of my true faith ?208
Lord H.
This ring !— wear this in token of our
Place it upon my finger. I accept210
The bond heaven witnesses, and none may sever !211
Lord H.
Within an hour I’ll see your father—
Let this night pass away—our revel chafes him.213
To-morrow—or the next day. When the shock214
Of company is over, he will be215
In better mood to hear thee.
Lord H.
’Tis a task216
To try love’s patience. Think ! to-morrow. But217
I’ll follow thy sweet counsel, as the first218
Of a long reign of wishes and commands ;219
And thou shalt guide me thus to many bright220
To-morrows—aye, and next days, too !— made glad221
By thy dear smiles. To-morrow then, thy father !222