But I could not think of that to-day, with a secret joy in my heart; I thought rather of the splendid mystery of life, that seems to screen from us something more gracious still—the steep velvet sky full of star-dust, the flush of spring in sunlit orchards, the soft, thunderous echoes of great ocean billows, the orange glow of sunset behind dark woods: all that background of life; and then the converse of friend with friend, the intercepted glance of wondering eyes, the whispered message of the heart. All this, and a crowd of other sweet images and fancies came upon me in a rush to-day, like scents from a twilight garden, as I watched the old silvery tower stand up bluff and square, with the dark moorland behind it, and the little houses clustering about its feet.
I wonder if any human being has ever expended as much sincere and unrequited love upon the little pastoral villages about Cambridge as I have. No one ever seems to me to take the smallest interest in them or to know them apart or to remember where they are. It is true that it takes a very faithful lover to distinguish instantly and impeccably between Histon, Hinxton, Hauxton, Harston, and Harlton; but to me they have all of them a perfectly distinct quality, and make a series of charming little pastoral pictures in the mind. Who shall justly and perfectly assess the beautiful claims of Great and Little Eversden? I doubt if any inhabitant of Cambridge but myself and one friend of mine, a good man and true, could do it. Yet it is as pleasant to have a connoisseurship in villages as to have a connoisseurship in wines or cigars, though it is not so regarded.
What is the charm of them? That I cannot say. It is a mystery, like the charm of all sweet things; and further, what is the meaning of love for an inanimate thing, with no individuality, no personality, no power of returning love? The charm of love is that one discerns some spirit making signals back. “I like you to be here, I trust you, I am glad to be with you, I wish to give you something, to increase your joy, as mine is increased.” That, or something like that, is what one reads in the eyes and faces and gestures of those whom one dares to love. One would otherwise be sadly and mournfully alone if one could not come across the traces of something, some one whose heart leaps up and whose pulse quickens at the proximity of comrade and friend and lover. But even so there is always the thought of the parting ahead, when, after the sharing of joy, each has to go on his way alone.
Then, one may love animals; but that is a very strange love, for the man and the animal cannot understand each other. The dog may be a true and faithful comrade, and there really is nothing in the world more wonderful than the trustful love of a dog for a man. One may love a horse, I suppose, though the horse is a foolish creature at best; one may have a sober friendship with a cat, though a cat does little more than tolerate one; and a bird can be a merry little playfellow: but the terror of wild animals for men has something rather dreadful about it, because it stands for many centuries of cruel wrong-doing.