For Faith and Freedom
He stayed there for half an hour and more; and we heard from within earnest talk – my father's voice sometimes uplifted, loud and angry, but Humphrey's always low, as if he did not wish us to overhear them. So, not to seem unto each other as if we were listening, mother and I talked of other things, such as the lightness of the pudding, and the quantity of suet which should be put into it, and the time it should boil in the pot, and other things, as women can whose hearts are full, yet they must needs be talking.
'Father hath much to say to Humphrey,' I said, after a time; 'he doth not use to like such interruption.'
'Humphrey's conversation is no interruption, my dear. They think the same thoughts and talk the same language. Your father may teach and admonish us, but he can only converse with a scholar such as himself. It is not the least evil of our oppression that he hath been cut off from the society of learned men, in which he used to take so much delight. If Humphrey remains here a little while you shall see your father lose the eager and anxious look which hath of late possessed him. He will talk to Humphrey, and will clear his mind. Then he will be contented again for a while, or, at least, resigned.'
Presently Humphrey came forth. His face was grave and serious. My father came out of the room after him.
'Let us talk more,' he said; 'let us resume our talk. Join me on the hillside, where none can hear us. It is, indeed, the Vision of the Basket of Summer Fruit that we read this morning.' His face was working with some inward excitement, and his eyes were full of a strange light as of a glad conqueror, or of one – forbid the thought! – who was taking a dire revenge. He strode down the garden and out into the lanes.
'Thus,' said my mother, 'will he walk out, and sometimes remain in the woods, walking, preaching to the winds, and swinging his arms the whole day long. Art thou a physician, and canst thou heal him, Humphrey?'
'If the cause be removed, the disease will be cured. Perhaps before long the cause will be removed.'
'The cause – oh! the cause – what is the cause but the tyranny of the Law? He who was ordered by Heaven itself to preach hath been, perforce, silent for five-and-twenty years. His very life hath been taken from him. And you talk of removing the cause!'
'Madam, if the Law suffer him once more to preach freely, would that satisfy him – and you?'
My mother shook her head. 'The Law,' she said, 'now we have a Papist on the throne is far more likely to lead my husband to the stake than to set him free.'
'That shall we shortly see,' said Humphrey.
My mother bent her head over her wheel as one who wishes to talk no more upon the subject. She loved not to speak concerning her husband to any except to me.
I went out into the garden with Humphrey. I was foolish. I laughed at nothing. I talked nonsense. Oh! I was so happy that if a pipe and tabor had been heard in the village I should have danced to the music, like poor Barnaby the night before he ran away. I regarded not the grave and serious face of my companion.
'You are merry, Alice,' said Humphrey.
'It is because you are come back again – you and Robin. Oh! the time has been long and dull – and now you have come back we shall all be happy again. Yes; my father will cease to fret and rage; he will talk Latin and Greek with you; Sir Christopher will be happy only in looking upon you; Madam will have her son home again; and Mr. Boscorel will bring out all the old music for you. Humphrey, it is a happy day that brings you home again.'
'It may be a happy day also for me,' he said; 'but there is much to be done. When the business we have in hand is accomplished' —
'What business, Humphrey?' For he spoke so gravely that it startled me.
''Tis business of which thy father knows, child. Nay; let us not talk of it. I think and hope that it is as good as accomplished now before it is well taken in hand. It is not of that business that I would speak. Alice, thou art so beautiful and so tall' —
'Nay, Humphrey. I must not be flattered.'
'And I so crooked.'
'Humphrey, I will not hear this talk. You, so great a scholar, thus to speak of yourself!'
'Let me speak of myself, my dear. Hear me for a moment.' I declare that I had not the least thought of what he was going to say, my mind being wholly occupied with the idea of Robin.
'I am a physician, as you doubtless know. I am Medicinæ Doctor of Oxford, of Padua, Montpellier, and Leyden. I know all – I may fairly say, and without boasting – that may be learned by one of my age from schools of medicine and from books on the science and practice of healing. I believe, in short, that I am as good a physician as can be found within these seas. I am minded, as soon as tranquillity is restored, to set up as a physician in London, where I have already many friends, and am assured of some support. I think, humbly speaking, that reasonable success awaits me. Alice – you know that I have loved you all my life – will you marry me, crooked as I am? Oh! you cannot but know that I have loved you all my life. Oh! child,' he stretched forth his hands, and in his eyes there was a world of longing and of sadness which moved my heart. 'My dear, the crooked in body have no friends among men; they cannot join in their rough sports, nor drink with them, nor fight with them. They have no chance of happiness but in love, my dear. My dear, give me that chance. I love thee! Oh! my dear, give me that chance?'
Never had I seen Humphrey so moved before. I felt guilty and ashamed in the presence of this passion of which I was the most unworthy cause.
'Oh! Humphrey, stop – for Heaven's sake stop! – because I am but this very morning promised to Robin, who loves me, too – and I love Robin, Humphrey.' He sank back, pale and disordered, and I thought that he would swoon, but he recovered. 'Humphrey, never doubt that I love you, too. But oh! I love Robin, and Robin loves me.'
'Yes, dear – yes, child – yes, Alice,' he said in broken accents. 'I understand. Everything is for Robin – everything for Robin. Why, I might have guessed it! For Robin, the straight and comely figure; for Robin, the strength; for Robin, the inheritance; for Robin, happy love. For me, a crooked body; for me, a feeble frame; for me, the loss of fortune; for me, contempt and poverty; for me, the loss of love – all for Robin – all for Robin!'
'Humphrey, surely thou wouldst not envy or be jealous of Robin!' Never had I seen him thus moved, or heard him thus speak.
He made no answer for a while. Then he said, slowly and painfully: —
'Alice, I am ashamed. Why should not Robin have all? Who am I that I should have anything? Forgive me, child. I have lived in a paradise which fools create for themselves. I have suffered myself to dream that what I ardently desired was possible and even probable. Forgive me. Let me be as before – your brother. Will you forgive me, dear?'
'Oh, Humphrey! there is nothing for me to forgive.'
'Nay, there is much for me to repent of. Forget it then, if there is nothing to forgive.'
'I have forgotten it already, Humphrey.'
'So' – he turned upon me his grave, sweet face (to think of it makes me yearn with tenderness and pity) – 'so, farewell, fond dream! Do not think, my dear, that I envy Robin. 'Twas a sweet dream! Yet, I pray that Heaven in wrath may forget me if ever I suffer this passion of envy to hurt my cousin Robin or thyself!'
So saying, he burst from me with distraction in his face. Poor Humphrey! Alas! when I look back and consider this day, there is a doubt which haunts me. Always had I loved Robin: that is most true. But I had always loved Humphrey: that is most true. What if it had been Humphrey instead of Robin who had arisen in the early morning to find his sweetheart in the garden when the dew was yet upon the grass?
In times of great sorrow the godly person ought to look forward to the never-ending joy and happiness that will follow this short life. Yet we still look backwards to the happy time that is past and can never come again. And then, how happy does it seem to have been in comparison with present affliction!
It pleased Heaven after many trials to restore my earthly happiness – at least, in its principal part, which is earthly love. Some losses – grievous and lamentable – there were which could not be restored. Yet for a long time I had no other comfort (apart from that hope which I trust was never suffered to leave me) than the recollection of one single day in its course, too short, from dewy morn till dusky eve. I began that day with the sweetest joy that a girl can ever experience – namely, the return of her lover and the happiness of learning that he loves her more than ever, with the knowledge that her heart hath gone forth from her and is wholly his. To such a girl the woods and fields become the very garden of Eden; the breath of the wind is as the voice of the Lord blessing another Eve; the very showers are the tears of gladness and gratitude; the birds sing hymns of praise; the leaves of the trees whisper words of love; the brook prattles of kisses; the flowers offer incense; the royal course of the sun in splendour, the glories of the sunrise and sunset, the twinkling stars of night, the shadows of the flying clouds, the pageant of the summer day – these are all prepared for that one happy girl and for her happy lover! Oh, Divine Gift of Love! which thus gives the whole world with its fruits in season to each pair in turn! Nay, doth it not create them anew? What was Adam without Eve? And Eve was created for no other purpose than to be a companion to the man.
I say, then, that the day when Robin took me in his arms and kissed me – not as he had done when we parted and I was still a child, but with the fervent kiss of a lover – was the happiest day in all my life. I say that I have never forgotten that day, but, by recalling any point of it, I remember all: how he held my hand and how he made me confess that I loved him; how we kissed and parted, to meet again. As for poor Humphrey, I hardly gave him so much as a thought of pity. Then, how we wandered along the brook hand in hand!
'Never to part again, my dear,' said the fond lover. 'Here will we live, and here we will die. Let Benjamin become, if he please, Lord Chancellor, and Humphrey a great physician: they will have to live among men in towns, where every other man is a rogue. We shall live in this sweet country place, where the people may be rude but they are not knaves. Why, in that great city of London, where the merchants congregate upon the Exchange and look so full of dignity and wisdom, each man is thinking all the time that, if he fail to overreach his neighbour, that neighbour will overreach him. Who would live such a life when he can pass it in the fields with such a companion as my Alice?'
The pleasures of London had only increased his thirst for the country life. Surely, never was seen a swain more truly rustic in all his thoughts! The fine ladies at the playhouse, with their painted faces, made him, he told me, think of one who wore a russet frock in Somersetshire, and did not paint her sweet face – this was the way he talked. The plays they acted could never even be read, much less witnessed, by that dear girl – so full of wickedness they were. At the assemblies the ladies were jealous of each other, and put on scornful looks when one seemed preferred; at the taverns the men drank and bellowed songs and quarrelled; in the streets they fought and took the wall and swaggered; there was nothing but fighting among the baser sort, with horrid imprecations; at the coffee-houses the politicians argued and quarrelled. Nay, in the very churches the sermons were political arguments, and while the clergyman read his discourse the gallants ogled the ladies. All this and more he told me.
To hear my boy, one would think there was nothing in London but what was wicked and odious. No doubt it is a wicked place; where many men live together, those who are wicked easily find each other out, and are encouraged in their wickedness. Yet there must be many honest and God-fearing persons, otherwise the Judgment of Heaven would again fall upon that city as it did in the time of the Plague and in the Great Fire.
'My pretty Puritan,' said Robin, 'I am now come away from that place, and I hope never to see it again. Oh! native hills, I salute you! Oh! woods and meadows, I have returned, to wander again in your delightful shade.' Then, which was unusual in my boy, and would have better become Mr. Boscorel or Humphrey, he began to repeat verses. I knew not that he had ever learned any: —
As I range these spacious fields,
Feast on all that Nature yields;
Everything inspires delight,
Charms my smell, my taste, my sight;
Every rural sound I hear
Soothes my soul and tunes my ear.
I do not know where Robin found these verses, but as he repeated them, waving his arm around, I thought that Humphrey himself never made sweeter lines.
He then told me how Humphrey would certainly become the most learned physician of the time, and that he was already master of a polite and dignified manner which would procure him the patronage of the great and the confidence of all. It was pleasant to hear him praise his cousin without jealousy or envy. To be sure, he knew not then – though afterwards I told him – that Humphrey was his rival. Even had he known this, such was the candour of my Robin and the integrity of his soul that he would have praised him even more loudly.
One must not repeat more of the kind and lovely things that the dear boy said while we strolled together by the brook-side.