Clarke rose with a smile, for the twilight was falling, and he spoke his farewells to one after another of the doctor’s family.
Magdalen’s eyes looked longest into his, as his dwelt with a dreamy softness upon her face.
“Are you really going to London? Will it be safe?”
“As safe as Oxford, sweet mistress. I apprehend no peril either there or here. But at least I am a stranger there, whilst here any man who asks may know the thing I believe. I am not afraid or ashamed to speak the truth I hold.”
Clarke and Dalaber went out together, and Magdalen turned anxiously upon her father.
“What did he mean?”
Dr. Langton smiled, but he also sighed a little.
“Do not be fearful, my children; we know of no peril in the present. But we may not hide our faces from the fact that in past days this peril has threatened those who dare to speak and think the thing they hold to be truth, when that opinion is not shared by those in high places. Yet let us be thankful in that, for the present time, no peril threatens either John Clarke and his friends or Anthony Dalaber, their pupil.”
Chapter II: “Christian Brothers”
“Freda, I am going to London with Master Clarke. We start at noon today. We travel by road and river, and hope to accomplish our journey in three days. You will wish me Godspeed ere I go?”
Freda, her hands full of golden king cups, the sunshine of the morning lighting her fair face and deep, dark eyes, turned at the sound of the voice beside her, and met the burning glance of Anthony Dalaber.
“You go to see the burning of the books!” she said, speaking under her breath. “O Anthony, how canst thou?—the Word of God!”
“Better they should burn the insentient books than the men who preach the living Word!” spoke Anthony, suddenly putting out his hands and clasping hers. “Freda, there have been men burnt alive before this for speaking such words as we in Oxford whisper amongst ourselves. If such a fate should befall some of us here—should befall me—wouldst thou grieve for me?”
Her eyes dilated as she gazed at him.
“What are you saying?” she asked slowly. “Is there peril in this journey? Is there peril menacing you here in Oxford?”
“There is ever peril where men dare to think for themselves and to read forbidden books.”
“Master Clarke says they are not forbidden of God or of His Holy Church.”
“That may be so; but they are forbidden by men who speak in the name and power of the church,” answered Anthony, “and with them lies the issue of life and death for so many. Freda, what would you do in my place? Would you forsake these paths which lead to peril, or would you pursue them fearlessly to the end—even, if need be, unto death?”
A sudden, intense light leaped into her eyes. She put forth her hand, which she had withdrawn gently from his ardent clasp, and laid it lightly upon his shoulder.