Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The secret that can't be kept

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THE SECRET THAT CAN'T BE KEPT.

 

TimeChristmas, 1660.

Sceneterrace walk of an old english manor house.

Lady Alice and Lord Halford.

Lord H. Its dreariness had grown into a proverb.
Who knew old Lovel Manor House last year,
Might now suppose a spell had been removed
That bound the spirits of the place in sleep.
All things are altered to their opposites.
And then the change has come so suddenly,
Like bursts of music and the wild hurrah
Of revellers, startling the solemn air
Of some lone sanctuary.

Lady A.What cheerful lives
They must have passed! what moping in the dark!

Lord H. 'Tis the true phrase.
Your visit has brought light
To the dark house.

Lady A.Be careful what you say;
There was a dangerous light in't ere I came.

Lord H. But silent as the stars.

Lady A.And yet the stars
Are worshipp'd in their silence! Had they tongues
To fill the heavens with noise, think you would man
Be more enamour'd of their beauty? Silence!
Why 'tis a language in itself—some say
Most eloquent of all—that hits its meaning
Quicker than thought; no sooner thought than spoken;
And spoken sometimes ere the thought is ripe,
Or, ripe, before it should seek utterance.
'Tis not in tongues this language finds expression.

Lord H. No organ else hath like intelligence
Of speech. What is't, pray?

Lady A.Guess.

Lord H.I cannot guess.

Lady A. What say you to the eyes? Nay, 'twas just now
You quoted me the stars—the eyes of Heaven;
And there be men, right noble, too! who swear
Edith's eyes are finer far!

Lord H.I do protest—

Lady A. That's right; but not to me. If you protest
To me, I'll tell my cousin.

Lord H.No—no—I—

Lady A. Why do you turn away? Why don't you look
At me? Are you afraid I'll tell my cousin?

Lord H. Why should I fear?

Lady A.Now, for the life of me,
I can't divine. But sure I am, that were
You not afraid, you'd find a voice to speak
To her yourself.

Lord H.What should I say to her?

Lady A. Oh! thou perfection of a reasoning ostrich!
You shut your eyes upon yourself, and think
You've drawn a doom of blindness on the world.
Why, love is writ as plainly in your face,
As an inscription on a tomb: "Hic jacet!"
With a pierced heart below. I never saw
A man so woe-begone in love before;
And I have seen them of all casts and ages,
Although I never was in love myself,
And hope I never may! Look at your sword—
Is that the way to wear a sword, with th' hilt
Thrust out before? Your collar twitched aside;
Ruffles that ne'er were meant for matches; boots
That show their frills at different altitudes:
From head to foot such pensive negligence,
That he who runs may read thou art in love.

Lord H. In love?

Lady A.Ten thousand fathoms deep. You love
My cousin.

Lord H.Pray, let's change the theme. Your uncle
Throws wide his hospitable doors to-night
To the whole country side. The motley crowd
Will yield you ample mirth: squires, knights o' the shire,
Lean clerks, fat justices—

Lady A.The clerk may hang,
And the fat justice gutter in his chair.
You shan't evade me thus—you shan't escape.
Confess you love my cousin. Well, deny
It then. You won't commit yourself? You play
At love as gamblers make their books, and hedge
Upon the chance to win, but nothing risk.

Lord H. You do me wrong. I never utter'd word
Of love to her; but, with reserve o'erstrain'd,
Have kept most modest bearing in her sight.
'Tis certain no man ever took such pains
To show that he was not in love.

Lady A.You love
Her not, then?

Lord H.Must he love not, that shows not love?

Lady A. I've met your sort in town; but that the country
Should quicken such deceit, 'tis really shocking!
One reads of pastoral life, and thinks of men
With hearts hanging out of their button-holes.
Hearts! Well, what fools we women are, to be
So duped. Because you wear an artful look
Of mazed abstraction, drop your eyes, and heave
(Good day to your lusty lungs!) a sigh would fill
A trumpet; then break off, as from a dream,
With cunning talk of incoherent things;
We, trusting fools! must needs believe 'tis love.
My uncle did me wrong to trust me with you.

Lord H. What change has come upon me, I should seem
The thing I scorn? 'Tis but your humour paints
Me thus.

Lady A.And yours to sit the portrait out,
Until the likeness to a hair be perfect.

Lord H. What would you have me do?

Lady A.Be honest.
Your tongue tell the same story as your face,
Or teach your face the truth. If ever man
Was utterly devoured by love—that man are you:
So says your face. If ever man
Was arrant hypocrite—that man are you:
So says your tongue.

Lord H.Then is my tongue most false,
And my face true; for never yet man loved
As I do love—

Lady A.My cousin. I was sure
Of't from the first. And here you two have loomed
About like ships at sea i' the dark, afraid
To touch each other, lest you'd both go down!
And all this time you have been standing here,
Loving my cousin fast as your blood beat,
And faster, heating it by throbs, yet not
One word could I, in jest or earnest, wring
From you. Stay here; and stir not, for your life,
'Till I come back. [Exit.]

Lord H.'Twere proper punishment
To sing me in a ballad through the streets!
She'll tell her cousin what a hero 'tis
Who cannot do his wooing for himself!
I wish my eyes that saw her cousin had
Been blind, and my tongue dumb ere it betray'd me.
What little hope I had of Edith's heart
Is gone. That I should talk to others of
My love, and not to her; I, too, who fear'd
To talk with her alone—or look at her.
I hardly know the colour of her eyes!
She'll turn from me in scorn—or laugh at me—
I'll leave the house. They're coming this way. Not
For a king's ransom would I see her now![Exit.]

Re-enter Lady Alice, drawing in Edith.

Lady A. Now raise your eyes, and look at him. See where
He stands dissolved in grief. Why, you're as bad
As he. Oh! this is piteous work between ye!
'Twill be but proper in you, cousin, now
He has spoken, to give the man an answer:
Thus—if you care not for him, say as much.
If people choose to fall in love with you
Against your will, why 'tis no fault of yours.
Of course, he'll fling himself upon his knees,
And rant like mad; that's nothing—you don't like him—
I see that by the way you tremble—tell
Him so, and there's an end. (Aside.) Good speed to both![Runs off.]

Edith. Nay, Alice, listen to me! I'm alone
With him. What shall I do? Was that his foot?
How strange it is. He does not speak—nor stir.

Re-enter Lord Halford.

Lord H. (Aside.) Now dare I speak to her!

Edith.He's moving.

Lord H.Edith!

Edith. Ah! that's his voice.

Lord H.How shall I sue for pardon?
 [Takes her hand.]

Edith. (Aside.) What's to be done? My lord!—

Lord H.Your cousin—she
Has told you all. Forgive me—

Edith.What should I
Forgive?

Lord H.That I should dare to—

Edith.No—don't speak—
Or think—think—what it is you risk in speaking—
I pray you let me have my hand again.

Lord H. 'Tis free. But I have thought so long—so long
Have feared to speak—

Edith.'Tis better still to keep
Thy thought till thou art more assured.

Lord H.I see
The end. You answer and reject ere I
Have spoken.

Edith.No—not that.

Lord H.Then what the risk
Of uttering my thought?

Edith.The thought that's shut
In darkness in the heart is yet our own;
The spring that prisons it is at our own
Control; but once unlocked our power is gone—
Our being changed—our life's another's; once
Released, it wings into the future, past
Recall, to shape and sway our fortunes to the close.

Lord H. 'Tis love's true mission and abiding power
You paint so well. You make me bold to speak.
To say I love—oh! poor and feeble words!
Say that I breathe, or walk—who should divine
From thence the organic miracle of life?
To say, I love you! were as vain a phrase
To express the vital passion that consumes
My soul. Nay, turn not from me. Let me have
At least your pardon. Thou art too noble not
To yield a frank response.

Edith.It shall be frank.
This feeling has grown up in solitude,
And fill'd an idle waste of years, through which
No rival object rose to test its strength.
Be wise. Go forth into the world. Compare,
Reflect, and then be true, not to thy fancy,
But thyself. Take counsel, stern though it be,
Of time, and a more searching knowledge of
Thy heart.

Lord H.'Twere but to find thy image there,
Where none but thine can ever entrance make.
Love that has quicken'd in a genial soil,
With each revolving season strikes its roots
The deeper. Time! 'Twill only make me love
Thee more.

Edith.Again—be sure! while yet there's space
To act.

Lord H.It is too late. Never again
Can we be to each other what we were.
I have confess'd, and all is changed between us.
We cannot meet, or speak, as we have done.
I cannot look at thee, and, silent, trace
Sweet mystery in thine eyes, too conscious now
Of love in mine. Oh! banish me, or give
Me hope. You hesitate—

Edith.I know not why
I should. You cannot doubt which way I must
Decide.

Lord H.Oh! music—speak again!

Edith.I felt
This long ago—but hardly look'd for it
So soon. Yet every day it seem'd so near,
And then receded, then return'd again,
Taking distincter form; and now 'tis come,
And will recede no more, and questions me,
And will not be denied. I knew 'twould find
A voice at last! and wondered when, and how,
And often made brave answers in my thoughts.
But now I want them, all my words are gone.
Yet few are needed—none, perchance, you think!
There—for the love thou gav'st, I give thee mine!

Lord H. And I, who need them most, am poorer still.
My words are in my life to come. Years hence,
Should quick resentments chance between us—such
As show most hasty in the most generous,
Casting dark shadows on the blood and temper—
Recall this hour, and erring nature, by
Sweet love rebuked, shall make thee rich amends.
And thou art mine?—my very own!—my Edith!
Mine, come what may? for these are days of change
And license—a dark volume none can read.

The Secret That Cant Be Kept.png

Edith. What pledge wilt thou exact of my true faith?

Lord H. This ring!—wear this in token of our compact.

Edith. Place it upon my finger. I accept
The bond heaven witnesses, and none may sever!

Lord H. Within an hour I'll see your father—

Edith.No—
Let this night pass away—our revel chafes him.
To-morrow—or the next day. When the shock
Of company is over, he will be
In better mood to hear thee.

Lord H.'Tis a task
To try love's patience. Think! to-morrow. But
I'll follow thy sweet counsel, as the first
Of a long reign of wishes and commands;
And thou shalt guide me thus to many bright
To-morrows—aye,and next days, too!—made glad
By thy dear smiles. To-morrow then, thy father!

Robert Bell.