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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 182

CHAPTER XIII.

“FOR lo! the winter is past; the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing birds is come; and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

It is not the fashion to quote canticles I am aware, but I cannot help that; it seems to me the exquisitest, joyfullest love song ever penned. It translates the spirit and essence of the spring into words. Spring out of doors, and spring in my heart, the turtle's voice was heard there too. “This world is very lovely; oh, my God, I thank thee that I live,” say I, spouting, descending suddenly from the “Song of Solomon” to that of Mr. Alexander Smith. I could spout tomes of verse to‐day; I cannot amble peaceably along the high road of prose; page: 183 it is too level, too dusty, I must go cantering up the green slopes of poetry. I am craning my long young neck out of the morning‐room window, which is barred, and there is only just room for my head to get egress between the bars; but the May air imperatively demands to be sniffed—so with my nose aloft, I am sniffing ‘bouquet de printemps,’ an odour which if it could but be corked up in bottles and sold, would make the fortune of any rival of Piesse and Lubin instantaneously. “I thank thee that I live,” repeat I, piously, in recitative, while my round white chin rests on the knuckles of my two hands.

“Thank Him that you live!” says Dolly, from the table where she is turning over the pages of Le Follet, “do you? well then I must say that you are thankful for small favours. Life in an old barrack, with no present income, and no future prospects, hardly seems to me a theme for Hallelujahs; for weeping and gnashing of teeth rather.”

“I would not gnash my teeth if I were you, Dolly!” say I, with sarcasm, which page: 184 is a weapon I but seldom use, as it mostly cuts my own fingers when I lay hold of it, “or you may break them, and that would seriously diminish your value in the market.”

“Market, indeed!” echoes Dolly, interrupting herself in the perusal of a toilette de promenade. “This little pig does not go to market, and very sorry she is for it too; she might have all her teeth drawn and knocked out, or gnashed out, and nobody would be the wiser. Alas! alas! there are no pig dealers in this Sahara.”

“Why on earth do you come back to this Sahara, that you are always sneering at? who asks you? who wants you?” inquire I in a rage, withdrawing my head from between the bars, and grazing my ears.

“One must come home now and then,” replies Dolly, quietly she never gets into a rage; she thinks it rôturier, “or else people would say that one had been turned out of doors for misconduct, or that one's papa was in gaol, or that one emanated from the Foundling, or something equally distressing.”

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“Thro' plea—sures and pal—a—ces tho—o—o I roam, Be it ev—er so hum—ble, there's no—o place like home,” warble I, lifting up my voice, being utterly unable to abstain from metre to‐day.

“As for palaces,” says Dolly, closing Le Follet, “they have not been much in my line; except the Bishop's, indeed, when we go to propagate the gospel, or the negroes, or something there; and as for pleasures, one has to forage for one's own little bit of amusement certainly; but I quite agree with you as to there being no place like home, not the least like; for utter destitution of paint, and decent cookery, and hot water pipes, and all the appliances of modern civilization, this baronial residence is undoubtedly unique.” Blasphemy, flat blasphemy, wasn't it?

You,” say I, drawing myself up to my five foot six inches, and sputtering in my desire to get out my words fast enough, “you put paint, and good eating, (very scornfully), and hot water pipes above honour and glory, and Cressy and Agincourt and —, (my historical knowledge exhausts itself here), and all that sort of thing; I don't!”

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Dolly says, “Agincourt a fiddle!” a sentence, the construing of which will tax the acumen of the New Zealand commentator a couple of thousand years hence; to which remote period this immortal work will undoubtedly descend. “Agincourt a fiddle! Does the knowledge that one set of mouldy old men thrust at another mouldy old lot in the ribs with pikes four hundred years ago make me feel the draughts less, or you look less like a scare‐crow.”

“By the tombs of my ancestors!” always seemed to me the weakest oath ever invented “by the tail of my dog,” or “by the whiskers of my cat,” would be to me every bit as impressive and binding. “You are not everybody,” reply I, shortly, which though not much to the point, was undeniably true.

“I wonder now,” pursues Dolly, speculatively, stretching out her arms lazily, and yawning—“dear! how sleepy this weather makes one—I wonder now whether that mighty man of valour, what's‐his‐name, that was here yesterday, I wonder whether he has any forbears.”

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“Oh yes, plenty,” say I, hastily, whisking my face round for my sister's scrutiny; and then I reflect that I have spoken without authority, and that M'Gregor may be as innocent of a grandpapa as his friend Coxe, for all I know to the contrary.

“How do you know that?” asks Dolly, sceptically; “does he carry them about stuffed with him?”

I laugh explosively. “Not that I know of; no more do we, and yet we have them all the same; but—but M'Gregor is a good name you know, quite—quite historical.”

“If you come to that so is Coxe; there were Cocks that strutted out of the Ark, and pecked and crowed on the top of Mount Ararat.”

I lean my cheek, which is growing as red as the wattles of any cock that ever was hatched against the cold iron window‐bars to cool it, and say with diffidence, “But—but—Sir Walter Scott?”

“Oh, ho,” says Dolly, drawing a deep inspiration, and shaping her pretty red page: 188 mouth into the form for a whistle, from which unfeminine phonetic exercise she however refrained. “Oh, ho! he's a Rob Roy, is he? a mighty freebooter? We must be looking after the cows and pigs, or he'll be making a raid upon them to prove his descent!”

“I don't know of course,” say I, modestly, “any more than you; I only thought”—grasping the friendly bar spasmodically, “such an uncommon name, so pretty—” mumbling off into unintelligibility.

“He cannot be anybody much,” pursues Dolly, disparagingly, taking up a pencil and beginning to scribble faces on a bit of paper, “or he would not be staying with the Coxes; the Coxes are working up, undeniably; as undeniably as we are working down, but they have not got up many rungs yet. I suppose they think that they will begin with decayed gentlemen, and hoist themselves up on their shoulders into the society of prosperous ones; rather sharp of them.”

“Lord Frampton dines with the Coxes, and so does Sir Hugh Lancaster,” cry I, eagerly; earnestly desiring that I had page: 189 Richard's letters patent of nobility in my pocket, to pull out and fling in triumph on the table, under Dolly's unbelieving nose.

“Pooh!” says Dolly, demolishing my poor little plea with one inflexion of her voice. “Sir Hugh is hail fellow well met with every pettifogging little attorney in Nantford, and Lord Frampton remembers that Parliaments are septennial, and would dine with old Nick, if he would give his second son a plumper; and besides dining is a different thing; that god‐like animal, man, is always governed by his stomach, don't you know that? And worthy Calico's Burgundy and made dishes are worth undergoing a little infra dig‐ness for; but this man is evidently on quite an ami de la maison footing.”

There is a minute or two of silence, during which Dolly goes on making spirited little fancy sketches, with a black nibbed pencil; she is so handy with her fingers—and I sit biting my nails like giant Pope, and cudgelling my small brains for some remark of Dick's tending to prove that he was not on terms of intimacy with the page: 190 Coxes; that it was either business, or good nature, or convenience that had brought, and now kept him there; with all my cudgelling this was all I could cudgel out.

“He thinks them vulgar himself, Dolly, I'm sure: he said one day that Mrs. Coxe was too fond of the peerage.”

“Did he?” replies Dolly; “how ill‐bred of him! A man must be rather low before he will go and stay weeks in a tradesman's family, and be tame cat about his house; but he must be lower still to abuse his hosts behind their backs to a perfect stranger; that does not sound like sang pur.”

“The King can do no wrong,” the old Divine Right Tories used to say. “Major M'Gregor can do no right,” appears to be my sister's version.

“It was not abusing her,” cry I, hotly, “to say that she was fond of the peerage, any more than it would be abusing you to say you were fond of dress, or society, or your own way, as you are; it was only stating a fact.”

“I thought,” says Miss Lestrange, very page: 191 calmly, “that you adduced that speech to prove that he was no great friend of the Coxes; if it was not intended for abuse it proves nothing.”

The honeysuckles are thrusting themselves in so forwardly at the casement, sending their delicatest, divinest odour up my nostrils, which are inflated like Vivien's when Merlin called her ugly names, with “sharp breaths of anger.” They are sad radicals those honeysuckles; they would do just as much for an old fish‐wife, they are saying all they can in their refined smell language to soothe me, and reconcile me to the humble locus standi of my lover. They are humble themselves; they twist their pale coronets to crown every hedge; they are flecked with the common summer dust, and plucked by little ragged children to stick in earthenware mugs in the dim cottage windows.

“Rob Roy is a new acquisition. He did not grace these wilds when last I was at home; he was still sporting among his native thistles, I suppose. Have you known him long?”

“Ye‐es; at least—I suppose—not very long.”

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“How long?

(How long, indeed! according to the almanack of the soul, a lifetime, longer than old Parr's, an Æon; according to the prosaic humdrum almanack of the pocket‐books, about a week or ten days.)

“I think—about a fortnight,” I answer, slowly. My head is turned away, but I feel with some sixth sense that Dolly has suspended her art labours, and is looking at me, but I flatter myself, that with all her knowledge of physiognomy, she will be puzzled to extract much emotion from a washed‐out brown holland back, and a huge loose knot of bronze hair.

“And where,” continues Dolly, with a malicious little laugh, “may I ask, was the favoured spot where so much valour and so much beauty first met? “‘We first met at a ball, where our hands did entwine, And I did squeeze his hand and he did mine.’ Was that it?” Dignified silence on my part. “I wish, my good child, that you would be so kind as to turn your countenance round this way, and not act as if page: 193 you had a face each side of your head, like Janus.”
I have been so much accustomed from my youth up, to put in practice the injunctions of that ingenious quatrain, “Go where you're told, Do what you're bid, Shut the door after you, Never be chid;” (only that the last line is not true in my case, as I frequently am chid), that I comply.

“Where was it?”

“In the churchyard,” in a very low reluctant voice; it seems profaning the sanctity of that first blest interview to let in the garish day of Dolly's sneers upon it.

“What a cheerful rendezvous. Has old Iken's mantle, or rather spade, fallen upon Mr. M'Gregor; was the canny Scot turning an honest penny digging graves?”

“I wish he had been digging yours, and you were in it now,” say I, but to myself. Moses was the meekest man upon earth, but it is my firm belief that he would have turned and rent either page: 194 Aaron or Miriam, if they had attempted to badger him in the way my sister was badgering me.

“Was it on a Sunday?”

“No.”

“What took you to the churchyard, then?”

“My legs.”

“Ah! how humorous! and if it is not an impertinent question, who introduced Sandy—is his name Sandy—to his Nell?”

“Nobody.”

“Ah, to be sure! No doubt a friend of the Coxes would dispense with such preliminaries. I suppose in calico circles such checks upon the graceful freedom of social intercourse are voted superfluous.”

My angry passions are rising like well‐leavened bread; like a river after autumn rains; like quicksilver in fine weather.

“I suppose,” says Dolly, leaning back her little snooded head among the sofa cushions, and surveying me from under the blue‐veined marvel of her white lids—“I suppose that like Artemus Ward and his Free Lover, you mutually ejaculated, page: 195 ‘You air my affinity,’ and rushed into each other's arms.”

The cup is full and brims over; the kettle has overboiled; the river has risen level with its banks, and is pouring madly over them.

“No!” say I, jumping off the window‐seat and stamping, “we did not; and if we had, we should not have asked your leave. You may rush into the arms of any man or devil in England, and the sooner the better! God knows I would not stop you. I'd push you on, though I should pity Satan himself if he got you, so stop your sneers at people whose shoe‐strings you are not worthy to tie!”

I had vague Scriptural ideas running in my head, you know, or I should have remembered that Dick was not in the habit of wearing shoes, and “whose shooting‐boots you are not worthy to unlace,” would not have sounded half so withering. Dolly unbuttons her languid eyes, that look out of place anywhere but in a Seraglio, about the hundredth part of an inch. Being “threeped at,” as the servants call it, is for her a new sensation.

page: 196

“That'll do,” she says, coldly, “it's too hot for scenes. Stamp a little harder on these worm‐eaten old boards, and you'll find yourself in the cellar, reclining in one of the empty wine‐bins.”

The tornado of my wrath is moderating to a stiffish breeze, as, after having wrecked half‐a‐dozen vessels, and dismasted half‐a‐hundred, an equinoxial gale is content to fret and bluster itself into comparative peace; but in both cases the sea still seethes and works like must.

“I really thought,” continues Dolly, gravely, having laid aside her mocking tone, “I really thought, Nell, that you could take a joke better; for you could hardly suppose that I meant really that a Lestrange would submit to any familiarity from a Coxian protégé. No, no; we do not hold our heads so high in the world as we did, but it will take two generations more to bring us down to that depth; that would be fulfilling the prophecy, ‘they that were clad in scarlet embrace dunghills with a vengeance.’”

I hardly relish this bold trope, being moreover guiltily conscious of having page: 197 fulfilled the prophecy, and embraced the dunghill.

“No! no!” fanning herself gently with the advertisement sheet of the Times; “everything after its kind; like and like; Cocks and Hens, and Lestranges, and gentlemen; probably from the docile way in which that man trots about at Mrs. Coxe's apron strings, and fetches and carries for her, he must be engaged to Amaryllis; they are going to try and mix a little poor blue blood, if it is blue, which is open to question, with their own full bodied red.”

“He would not touch Amaryllis with a pair of tongs,” cry I, digging my nails deep into my pink palms and making them pinker still.

“H‐m,” with a cynical motion of the shoulders, “hungry dogs eat dirty pudding, and Amaryllis' dot would go far towards re‐stocking the kail yard that I suppose he has somewhere in Auld Reekie.”

“You see further into a milestone than most people, that's evident,” I say, derisively.

“No, I don't; I only see what's under page: 198 my nose, and heaven forbid my setting up as a matchmaker; the vulgarest amusement a vacant mind can have; but, somehow, the world's pulse does not seem to beat in this remote corner; one has so little to think about that one is reduced to silly gossipy speculations about one's neighbour's concerns.”

“I'd speculate something a little more probable while I was about it,” is my indignant comment, and being unable to trust myself either to say, or retrain from saying more, I move towards the tall sombre door, and pass through it into the dim wide hall.

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