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.9
Lady A.
What cheerful lives10
They must have passed ! what moping in the dark !11
Lord H.
’Tis the true phrase. Your visit has
brought light
To the dark house.13
Lady A.
Be careful what you say ;14
There was a dangerous light in’t ere I came.15
Lord H.
But silent as the stars.16
Lady A.
And yet the stars17
Are worshipp’d in their silence !  Had they tongues18
To fill the heavens with noise, think you would man19
Be more enamour’d of their beauty ?  Silence !20
Why ’tis a language in itself—some say21
Most eloquent of all—that hits its meaning22
Quicker than thought ; no sooner thought than spoken ;23
And spoken sometimes ere the thought is ripe,24
Or, ripe, before it should seek utterance.25
’Tis not in tongues this language finds expression.26
Lord H.
No organ else hath like intelligence27
Of speech. What is’t, pray ?28
Lady A.
Lord H.
I cannot guess.30
Lady A.
What say you to the eyes ?  Nay, ’twas
just now
You quoted me the stars—the eyes of Heaven ;32
And there be men, right noble, too ! who swear33
Earth’s eyes are finer far !34
Lord H.
I do protest—35
Lady A.
That’s right; but not to me. If you pro-
To me, I’ll tell my cousin.37
Lord H.
Lady A.
Why do you turn away ?  Why don’t you
At me ?  Are you afraid I’ll tell my cousin ?40
Lord H.
Why should I fear ?41
Lady A.
Now, for the life of me,42
I can’t divine. But sure I am, that were43
Younot afraid, you’d find a voice to speak44
To her yourself.45
Lord H.
What should I say to her ?46
Lady A.
Oh ! thou perfection of a reasoning ostrich !47
You shut your eyes upon yourself, and think48
You’ve drawn a doom of blindness on the world.49
Why, love is writ as plainly in your face,50
As an inscription on a tomb : “ Hic jacet !”51
With a pierced heart below. I never saw52
A man so woe-begone in love before ;53
And I have seen them of all casts and ages,54
Although I never was in love myself,55
And hope I never may !  Look at your sword—56
Is that the way to wear a sword, with th’ hilt57
Thrust out before ?  Your collar twitched aside ;58
Ruffles that ne’er were meant for matches ; boots59
That show their frills at different altitudes :60
From head to foot such pensive negligence,61
That he who runs may read thou art in love.62
Lord H.
In love ?63
Lady A.
Ten thousand fathoms deep. You love64
My cousin.65
Lord H.
Pray, let’s change the theme. Your uncle66
Throws wide his hospitable doors to night67
To the whole country side. The motley crowd68
Will yield you ample mirth : squires, knights o the
Lean clerks, fat justices—70
Lady A.
The clerk may hang,71
And the fat justice gutter in his chair.72
You shan’t evade me thus—you shan’t escape.73
Confess you love my cousin. Well, deny74
It then. You won’t commit yourself ?  You play75
At love as gamblers make their books, and hedge76
Upon the chance to win, but nothing risk.77
Lord H.
You do me wrong. I never utter’d word78
Of love to her ; but, with reserve o’erstrain’d,79
Have kept most modest bearing in her sight.80
’Tis certain no man ever took such pains81
To show that he was not in love.82
Lady. A.
You love83
Her not, then ?84
Lord H.
Must he love not, that shows not love ?85
Lady A.
I’ve met your sort in town ; but that the
Should quicken such deceit, ’tis really shocking !87
One reads of pastoral life, and thinks of men88
With hearts hanging out of their button-holes.89
Hearts !  Well, what fools we women are, to be90
So duped. Because you wear an artful look91
Of mazed abstraction, drop your eyes, and heave92
(Good day to your lusty lungs !) a sigh would fill93
A trumpet ; then break off, as from a dream,94
With cunning talk of incoherent things ;95
We, trusting fools ! must needs believe ’tis love.96
My uncle did me wrong to trust me with you.97
Lord H.
What change has come upon me, I should
The thing I scorn ?  ’Tis but you humour paints99
Me thus.100
Lady A.
And yours to sit the portrait out,101
Until the likeness to a hair be perfect.102
Lord H.
What would you have me do ?103
Lady A.
Be honest. Let104
Your tongue tell the same story as your face,105
Or teach your face the truth.  If ever man106
Was utterly devoured by love—that man are you :107
So says your face. If ever man108
Was arrant hypocrite—that man are you :109
So says your tongue.110
Lord H.
Then is my tongue most false,111
And my face true ; for never yet man loved112
As I do love—113
Lady A.
My cousin. I was sure114
Of’t from the first. And here you two have loomed115
About like ships at sea i’ the dark, afraid116
To touch each other, lest you’d both go down !117
And all this time you have been standing here,118
Loving my cousin fast as your blood beat,119
And faster, beating it by throbs, yet not120
One word could I, in jest or earnest, wring121
From you. Stay here ; and stir not, for your life,122
’Till I come back.123
[Exit .]
Lord H.
’Twere proper punishment124
To sing me in a ballad through the streets !125
She’ll tell her cousin what a hero ’tis126
Who cannot do his wooing for himself !127
I wish my eyes that saw her cousin had128
Been blind, and my tongue dumb ere it betray’d me.129
What little hope I had of Edith’s heart.130
Is gone. That I should talk to others of131
My love, and not to her ; I, too, who fear’d132
To talk with her alone—or look at her.133
I hardly know the colour of her eyes !134
She’ll turn from me in scorn—or laugh at me—135
I’ll leave the house. They’re coming this way. Not136
For a king’s ransom would I see her now !137
[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 bad139
As he. Oh ! this is piteous work between ye !140
’Twill be but proper in you, cousin, now141
He has spoken, to give the man an answer :142
Thus—if you care not for him, say as much.143
If people choose to fall in love with you144
Against your will, why ’tis no fault of yours.145
Of course, he’ll fling himself upon his knees,146
And rant like mad ; that’s nothing—you don’t like
I see that by the way you tremble—tell148
Him so, and there’s an end. (Aside.) Good speed to
both !
[Runs off .]
Nay, Alice, listen to me !  I’m alone150
With him. What shall I do ?  Was that his foot ?151
How strange it is. He does not speak—nor stir.152
Re-enter Lord Halford.
Lord H.
(Aside.) Now dare I speak to her !153
He’s moving.154
Lord H.
Edith !155
Ah ! that’s his voice.156
Lord H.
How shall I sue for pardon ?157
[Takes her hand .]
(Aside.) What’s to be done ?  My lord !—158
Lord H.
Your cousin—she159
Has told you all. Forgive me—160
What should I161
Forgive ?162
Lord H.
That I should dare to—163
No—don’t speak—164
Or think—think—what it is you risk in speaking—165
I pray you let me have my hand again.166
Lord H.
’Tis free. But I have thought so long—so
Have feared to speak—168
’Tis better still to keep169
Thy thought till thou art more assured.170
Lord H.
I see171
The end. You answer and reject ere I172
Have spoken.173
No—not that.174
Lord H.
Then what the risk175
Of uttering my thought ?176
The thought that’s shut177
In darkness in the heart is yet our own ;178
The spring that prisons it is at our own179
Control ; but once unlocked our power is gone—180
Our being changed—our life’s another’s ; once181
Released, it wings into the future, past182
Recall, to shape and sway our fortunes to the close.183
Lord H.
’Tis love’s true mission and abiding power184
You paint so well. You make me bold to speak,185
To say I love—oh ! poor and feeble words !186
Say that I breathe, or walk—who should divine187
From thence the organic miracle of life ?188
To say, I love you ! were as vain a phrase189
To express the vital passion that consumes190
My soul. Nay, turn not from me. Let me have191
At least your pardon. Thou art too noble not192
To yield a frank response.193
It shall be frank.194
This feeling has grown up in solitude,195
And fill’d an idle waste of years, through which196
No rival object rose to test its strength.197
Be wise. Go forth into the world. Compare,198
Reflect, and then be true, not to thy fancy,199
But thyself. Take counsel, stern though it be,200
Of time, and a more searching knowledge of201
Thy heart.202
Lord H.
’Twere but to find thy image there,203
Where none but thine can ever entrance make.204
Love that has quicken’d in a genial soil,205
With each revolving season strikes its roots206
The deeper. Time !  ’Twill only make me love207
Thee more.208
Again—be sure ! while yet there’s space209
To act.210
Lord H.
It is too late. Never again211
Can we be to each other what we were.212
I have confess’d, and all is changed between us.213
We cannot meet, or speak, as we have done.214
I cannot look at thee, and, silent, trace215
Sweet mystery in thine eyes, too conscious now216
Of love in mine. Oh ! banish me, or give217
Me hope. You hesitate—218
I know not why219
I should. You cannot doubt which way I must220
Lord H.
Oh ! music—speak again !222
I felt223
This long ago—but hardly look’d for it224
So soon.  Yet every day it seem’d so near,225
And then receded, then return’d again,226
Taking distincter form ; and now ’tis come,227
And will recede no more, and questions me,228
And will not be denied. I knew ’twould find229
A voice at last ! and wondered when, and how,230
And often made brave answers in my thoughts.231
But now I want them, all my words are gone.232
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.
Yet few are needed—none, perchance, you think !233
There—for the love thou gav’st, I give thee mine !234
Lord H.
And I, who need them most, am poorer
My words are in my life to come. Years hence,236
Should quick resentments chance between us—such237
As show most hasty in the most generous,238
Casting dark shadows on the blood and temper—239
Recall this hour, and erring nature, by240
Sweet love rebuked, shall make thee rich amends.241
And thou art mine ?— my very own !— my Edith !242
Mine, come what may ? for these are days of change243
And license—a dark volume none can read.244
What pledge wilt thou exact of my true faith ?245
Lord H.
This ring !— wear this in token of our
Place it upon my finger. I accept247
The bond heaven witnesses, and none may sever !248
Lord H.
Within an hour I’ll see your father—249
Let this night pass away—our revel chafes him.251
To-morrow—or the next day. When the shock252
Of company is over, he will be253
In better mood to hear thee.254
Lord H.
’Tis a task255
To try love’s patience. Think ! to-morrow. But256
I’ll follow thy sweet counsel, as the first257
Of a long reign of wishes and commands ;258
And thou shalt guide me thus to many bright259
To-morrows—aye, and next days, too !— made glad260
By thy dear smiles. To-morrow then, thy father !261