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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 51

CHAPTER V.

“THE Federals have had another licking, Nell,” said my father, in an exultant tone next morning, as I entered the dining‐room in my usual elegant morning négligé (and very négligé it was), and with my hands full of dear old‐fashioned flowers, dark claret‐coloured double gillyflowers, great heavy heads of lilac, and bottles of colour.

“Have they?” said I. “Brutes! I'm so glad.” We were great politicians, my father and I, and I could have stood a very stiff examination in the battles of the American war. If I had been left to myself I do not think I should have cared very much whether the Confederates conjugated the active or passive voice of the verb to “whip.” I should have listened with equal indifference to the “tall doin's” of page: 52 Abolitionists or Secessionists; but I was truly thankful for any subject of public interest which could rouse my father from his melancholy, and moreover I loved him so entirely that what interested him, interested me too, of necessity. There is no relationship so delightful as that between father and daughter when at its best. Some thought of this kind ran through my head as I sat eating my porridge, and occasionally glancing at my father, whose dear old head was half buried between two sheets of the Times. It prompted me to say,

“Papa, I sometimes feel inclined to wish that Dolly would never come back, that she would live always with those Graftons, who seem to appreciate her so much more than you and I do.”

“You should not say that, Nell,” said my father from the banks of the Potomac; but his rebuke was of the very mildest description.

“Why should not I say so, if I feel it?—you and I are so happy together, aren't we, daddy?”

“Yes, very happy,” answered my page: 53 father; but even as he spoke he sighed.

Sighs are the gales that blow us to heaven, I sometimes think; they breathe unconscious weariness of the “here,” and longing for the “there.”

“I should like,“ pursued I, ”things always to be just as they are now; you and I living here together, for ever and ever and ever, with our pigs and our chickens and our cabbages, only we'd have no money matters, and nobody to bully us.”

“Your wants are nearly as few as Diogenes, Nell; indeed you haven't included a tub in your list of indispensables.”

“You're my only indispensable, dad!”

“Poor little lass! you'll think differently some day when you've got a husband and children, and I'm dead and gone.”

“When you're dead and gone,” said I decisively, “I shall be dead and gone too, for I could not bear to live without you;” and I really believed it.

“Nonsense, child,” said my father, smiling. “Did you ever see a stone thrown into the pond? there's a great page: 54 splash, and a few circles on the water, and that's about all, isn't it? Well, when I die there'll be a great splash of tears and hullaballooing, and a few circles of tender recollections, and then the surface will smooth itself over, and it'll be all right again.”

I was so overcome by this affecting metaphor, that a piece of porridge stuck in my weasand and all but choked me.

“Like the remembrance of a guest that tarrieth but a day,” said my father over to himself, reflectively, leaning his head on his hand, “that's about our tether, Nell; wet pocket‐handkerchiefs, and long faces for a day, and then somebody new springs up, and fills up our vacant hole in this odd ant‐hill, and we're jostled away into the limbo where so many better and wiser have been bundled before us.”

I am soft‐hearted—easily moved to tears. I was blubbering gently behind the tea‐kettle now.

“Crying, Nell!” says my father, roused from his reverie by my sniffs. “Come, child, I'm not dead yet; wait till my page: 55 coffin is ordered before you set to making lamentations over me.”

“You're ve‐ve‐ry d‐d‐is‐agreeable,” said I, with moist indignation. “I've a great mind never to say anything to you again. You're always bothering about dying. I wish to heaven there was not such a word in the dictionary.”

“If there was not it would be a very terrible world, Nell,” replied my father, gravely; “every man with Cain's curse upon his brow.”

“Do let us talk of something else,” cried I, peevishly. “I hate such moping sort of subjects.”

“By all means; something gay and festive. The party last night, for instance,” said the author of my being, ironically.

“It was not so bad as I expected,” returned I, brightening up, and eradicating the moisture from my eyes with my knuckles.

“How did you get on with all those fine ladies?” inquired my father, kindly.

“Middling,” said I, “I did not care much about them; I liked the men better. page: 56 If I went into society, I should like to go to parties where there were no women, only men.”

“That is a sentiment that I think I should keep for home use, my dear, if I were you.”

“Should you? Well, perhaps so; but women are so prying and censorious. All the time you are talking to them you feel sure that they are criticising the sit of your tucker, and calculating how much a yard your dress cost. Now, if you're only pretty and pleasant, indeed, even if you're not either (I mentally classed myself under this latter head), men are good‐natured, and take you as they find you, and make the best of you.”

My father did not dispute my position.

“Talking of men,” said he, “that Sir Hugh Lancaster seems to be a very nice young fellow; he and I had a great deal of talk together.”

“Do you mean that little black man you introduced to me?” inquired I, contemptuously. “Young fellow, indeed! Well, if he's a young fellow, Methuselah was rather juvenile than otherwise.”

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My father sipped his coffee reflectively.

“Poor Methuselah,” said he; “nine hundred and sixty‐six years he had of it, hadn't he? How sick he must have been of the eternal millround—seed‐time and harvest, summer and winter coming back near a thousand times, to find him hanging on still!”

I had nothing to suggest on the subject of the patriarch, so I held my peace.

“Did he do nothing worth recording all those ten centuries?” went on my father musingly, “that we're told of him only that he was born, and begat sons and daughters, and died.”

“You've wandered some way from Sir What's‐his‐name, pa,” said I, recalling my parent's spirit from the realm of barren speculations whither it had travelled.

“I'll come back to him, my dear, if you wish; only I don't think I know much more about him than I do about his prototype, Methuselah!”

“And to my thinking he's hardly more interesting,” added I; with which scant courtesy I dismissed the worthy baronet page: 58 from my conversation and my thoughts.

I had often heard other motherless girls deploring their destitute condition; envying such of their friends as were in the enjoyment of a mother's care and supervision; but such sentiments, such regrets, met no echo in my heart—inspired me rather with strongest surprise and amazement. It was to me a matter of unfeigned and heartfelt gratulation that my mother had died in my infancy, As often as I came in contact with well‐drilled daughters, nestling under the wing of a portly mamma, I hugged myself on my freedom; my father was more to me than ten mothers. If my mother had lived, thought I, I should have been only second in his affections, some one else would have been nearer his heart than I—an idea almost too bitter to be contemplated. If I had had a mother, I should have had to mend my gloves, and keep my hair tidy, and practise on the piano, and be initiated into the mysteries of stitching. My mother had been among the fortunate of the earth, having died while yet young and fair, and passionately loved, before the world had grown page: 59 tired of her, or she of it. In the early morning of her life, ere the glow of prime had faded, “The Almighty's breath spake out in death, And God did draw Honora up The golden stairs to heaven.”

Her name, I may mention incidentally, was not Honora, but it would spoil a very lovely line to introduce her real cognomen of Dorothy into it, so I have ceded to the necessity which makes Anthony White appear for ever as Anthony Blue on his tombstone.

Devoted as I was to my father, I could not always be with him; sometimes he preferred his own society and that of his books to mine, found more solace for his vexations in epigrammatic French essayists and German metaphysicians, whose rhapsodies about the beautiful and the sublime I could make neither head nor tail of, to my girlish cackle. Sometimes, but more rarely, he took long solitary rides about his heavily mortgaged farms on a sedate old cob, with a docked tail and hogged mane, who, like his master, had seen page: 60 better days. The soft May wind, and the invitations of the garrulous blackbirds and thrushes, had tempted him to set forth on such a ride one evening after tea, two days after my introduction to society. Consequently I Was thrown on my own resources, and rather short of a job I was.

If I had followed my inclination, I should have betaken myself to the churchyard, to see whether my stranger might not be there again, as he had hinted (not dimly) that he might be, but two considerations checked me. If, on the one hand, he were to be there, I could not look him in the face for shame, and if, on the other hand, he were not—if I were to go to meet him, and he were not to be met—if I were to seek him, and he were not to be found, what words could express my degradation? Even if there had been no new charm about the fair old graveyard sloping westwards, the old one would have been quite strong enough to draw my heart and myself thither. I liked to go there in the soundless gloaming, and think of all sorts of grave dark things. When page: 61 one is very young and very happy, one courts melancholy thoughts for the sake of the contrast they afford to one's own inner life; in later days such thoughts are less coy, need no courting, but run to meet us, embrace, and cling about us, even when we could well dispense with the pleasure of their society. But in youth, when the blood is rioting through the veins, life seems so strong within us as to be almost able to challenge the old scythesman to single combat, and worst him. At nineteen, death seems so immeasurably distant, we may have so many miles of pleasant pasture‐land and shady woodland to traverse before we dip our feet in the inky stream, into which whosoever steppeth straightway “He forgets the days before.” I was fond of sitting among those mossy headstones, speculating on the for‐ever‐ended histories of those dead people—those uneducated churls, who had been so below me in intelligence while alive, now so immeasurably above me in the knowledge that there is but one way of page: 62 attaining to; fond, too, was I of marvelling after what various fashions they had battled through their lives; with what different degrees of apathy, despair, and heaven‐born faith they had confronted him whom some call foe, some friend. But the churchyard and its attendant reveries being out of the question, I had to cast about for other occupation—occupation of a more practical kind. Our garden, as I have said, was a very wilderness. Chickweed and groundsel, and other abominations, intruded their plebeian heads among my crown imperials and sweet nancies, even tried to choke the nemophilas that were just opening their azure eyes, mirroring the sky. I stooped to dislodge a thistle which had impertinently insinuated itself into a bunch of sweetwilliams.

“I may as well garden a bit,” I said to myself; “it will pass the time, and oh! how slow it is going now, even though I did put on all the clocks half an hour.” So I fetched a pair of gardening gloves and a little mat, knelt down on the latter, and set to digging, and raking, and page: 63 weeding with a will. It is pleasant to feel one's self useful, and doing some good in one's generation, and I, being ordinarily anything but a busy bee, found that to be laudably industrious was a new and delightful sensation. And as I grubbed, and watered, and scuffled, I ran over in my mind all the little incidents of my late dissipation, composed smart answers and brilliant repartees, which I might have made and had not at various points of my conversation with the gray‐eyed stranger, and wondered, for the twentieth time, what he could have meant by staring at me as he had done under the gaslight in the hall. “Could he have thought me pretty?” I asked myself at last, being unable to find any other explanation for that long eager gaze, the remembrance of which still stirred my silly little soul in the newest, queerest, joyfullest fashion.

At this preposterous suggestion I raised myself from my stooping attitude, dropped my trowel, and pushed back the flapping wide‐leafed hat from my hot forehead. “Impossible!” said I. “Pretty, indeed! page: 64 after what Dolly said, and Dolly's a good judge, ill‐natured as she is! Nothing more unlikely. Certainly, living such a secluded life makes one magnify trifles, make mountains of molehills. I'm afraid, my good girl, that you are a sad fool!” These last words I spoke aloud, little thinking that I had any other auditors than the columbines and the damask roses which I had been tying up. Judge then of my surprise when my self‐complimenting remark found itself answered. Somebody close at my elbow said, “Are you? I should not have thought it.” I started as if a bullet had hit me, sprang to my feet, and confronted the object of my conjectures. There he stood, tall and straight, and strong as a young oak, on the gravel walk, between the prim box edgings, smiling broadly at my discomfiture.

“I'm sorry you have such a poor opinion of yourself,” he continued, maliciously enjoying my confusion.

I made no answer to this remark, but struggled violently to compose myself, and to recollect how much I had said aloud; whether only the last clause of my sen‐ sentence page: 65 tence, which was comparatively harmless, or enough to have disgraced me for ever.

“Won't you ask me how I am? Won't you shake hands with me this evening, Miss Lestrange?” inquired my tormentor, resuming his gravity.

“I'm afraid I cannot,” responded I, laughing constrainedly, holding up my hands in their earthy coverings to show him.

“I have no objection whatever to a little dirt; it's rather wholesome than otherwise, and I have tender reminiscences of the dirt pies of my youth.”

I drew off my gauntlet with precipitation, and laid my hand (a long slim member) in his.

“It was rather cool of me, coming in here without anybody inviting me?” he asked, detaining my not unwilling, though rather embarrassed fingers, holding them as if he had forgotten all about them, and looking down (for though I was rather a tall girl, beside him I was small and short enough) at me.

“Oh no!” said I, “it did not matter at all, only you startled me rather.”

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“Did I? I'm so sorry; but you see I was just toddling about that field over there, in the most pitiable state, when I caught sight of some one (I felt sure it was you) burrowing in the ground, and I could not resist the temptation of coming to speak to you; a friendly human shape is a sight not to be despised in this desolate country. I could not throw away such a chance.”

“Could not you?”

Could not you?” said he, repeating my words rather reproachfully. “So that's all you've got to say to me? Why are you so hard, and cold, and stiff?”

“I don't mean to be,” said I, naïvely, and I did not.

At this juncture my hat fell off the back of my head, and he had to release my hand to pick it up. Having restored my headpiece, he resumed—

“Why were you so cross the other night?”

“I was not cross.”

“Yes, you were; very cross. I never saw any one much crosser. I could not conceive how I had vexed you; I asked page: 67 myself a dozen times after you were gone, What can I have said to make that young lady so angry with me? only I'm afraid I did not say that young lady.”

“What did you say?” asked I, with female inquisitiveness.

“Never mind what I said. I did not call you by your name, for I did not know what it was, nor don't now; would you mind telling me what it is?”

“Nell.”

“Nell! Nell! I like it; but were you christened Nell?”

“No‐o‐o,” said I, dubiously. “I suppose not; I suppose I was christened Ellinor, but nobody but the servants ever call me so. What's your name?”

“Richard.”

“Richard what?”

“Richard Harold.”

“Richard Harold what?”

“Oh! you mean what's my surname? M'Gregor. I thought you knew that.”

“No, I did not,” said I.

Pretty names, I remarked to myself; but I like Olaf better; it's much more descriptive. I knelt down on my mat, page: 68 and prepared to resume my gardening. But Richard Harold M'Gregor remonstrated.

“Please don't do any more of that horrid rooting and scraping,” said he, seizing my trowel, and holding it high out of my reach; “you have made yourself quite hot already. Do come and sit down on that stone bench, and talk a bit; have pity on a poor fellow who is dying for someone to exchange ideas with.”

“I have nothing to say,” responded I; but I complied with his request, without any demur, and sat down on the old bench with the little green mosses and lichens in the crevices of the cracked stone, while he stretched his lazy length at my feet.

“And so you spend your life in this queer old garden, do you?” inquired he, looking round, and taking a comprehensive survey of our roses, and cabbages and gooseberry bushes; all growing in friendly proximity.

“Yes,” said I, “here, and in the house, and among the chickens.”

“Rather dreary work, isn't it?” asked page: 69 he, thinking, I fancy, what a contrast his own existence was to mine.

“I don't find it so,” said I.

“In fact, you like it better than any other kind of life, I suppose.”

“I never tried any other, so I cannot tell,” responded I, sagely. “I should not like any life away from papa.”

“You're very fond of him, then?” he asked; and I fancied I heard him mutter something like “lucky old beggar,” under his breath.

“I should think so,” replied I, emphatically.

“You cannot fancy ever being fonder of any one else, I suppose?” he inquired, pulling a blade of grass, and biting it.

“No‐o‐o, I think not,” I answered, cautiously.

“I wish I had anybody to love me like that,” said he, looking wistfully up in my face.

Of course he meant some sister, or mother, or friend, and of course I took it so; but innocent as my heart was, my detestable cheeks thought it necessary to hang out their ever ready flame signals page: 70 again, giving me completely the air of having misunderstood his meaning, and being in the expectation of hearing him in his next sentence request the gift of my valuable affections. He was charitable; looked away, and ate more grass. Having given my cheeks time to cool, he looked round again.

“I think you and I should get on together,” said he; “don't you?”

I nodded my head. “I think so,” I said, nibbling a daisy stalk.

“Shall we make a solemn league and covenant? shall we settle to be friends henceforth and for ever?” he asked.

I was rather taken aback by such suddenness of action.

“I don't know about that,” I said, hesitatingly; “it would be rather awkward if, after having taken me for your friend, you found I was not so nice as you thought me.”

I took it for granted, in my innocence, that he did think me nice. He laughed.

“Not so nice as I thought—eh?” said he.

“Well, I don't think I mind running the page: 71 risk if you'll do as much for me. Life is too short to waste in preliminaries.”

“It is short,” said I, sententiously.

“Horribly short!” replied he, with a sigh; “and if I like you and you like me, as I hope you do. Do you, by‐the‐bye?”

He raised himself on his elbow till his face was on a level with my knee, and awaited my answer.

“Yes, I do,” I said, slowly, “what I know of you, at least—that is not much.”

“Give me your hand, then, to seal our contract.”

I felt rather flustered by the rapid strides our acquaintance had made within the last ten minutes; but I gave him my hand, and as I did so, my father, my adored papa, appeared round the corner. As he caught sight of the pretty tableau vivant we had kindly got up in his garden to surprise him, he looked extremely astonished and considerably displeased. Nor was the poor man much to blame, I think, finding his favourite daughter sitting in the dusk of the evening with a man, whom, to his certain knowledge, she had seen but twice before in her life, lying at her page: 72 feet and clasping her hand, apparently unforbidden. It is rather a truism to say that things that occur seldom impress us a great deal more than things that occur frequently. If there were a thunderstorm or an earthquake every day we should think nothing of those catastrophes. It was so very tardy that my father was angry with me that I was in a state of proportionable awe and wholesome fear when such a contretemps did arise. I snatched away my hand and jumped up.

“Papa's coming,” I gasped.

Mr., or as I afterwards heard he was, Major M'Gregor, did not appear much discomfited. He raised himself from his reclining posture, and went to meet my father. The latter on his part raised his hat very stiffly, and said, with a polite elaboration and distinctness which I thought very unnecessary, “How do you do, Sir? This is a most unexpected pleasure. May I take the liberty of asking your name?”

“My name is M'Gregor,” said Richard, taking off his hat also, but not stiffly, and reddening a little, “and I must page: 73 apologize for coming at such an untimely hour, but the fact was, Mrs. Coxe entrusted me with a message to your daughter, and after I had delivered it I took the liberty of asking to be allowed to see your garden, of which I had heard so much, and which Miss Lestrange was kind enough to show me.”

A tissue of fibs! listened to by me, with open‐mouthed, wide‐eyed amazement. Could my hero tell lies? My father did not seem mollified. He said “Humph!” very gruffly, planted himself in the middle of the path between me and the stranger, and looked ostentatiously at his watch, as much as to say, “When is the fellow thinking of taking himself off?”

The fellow took the broad hint. “I'm detaining you,” he said, politely; and after turning to me, and saying, with a fund of amusement in his face, “I hope you won't forget Mrs. Coxe's message,” he again lifted his hat and walked away.

Papa and I followed slowly in his wake, I quaking, yet angry. My father was the first to speak.

“I don't like this sort of thing at all,” page: 74 said he, with irritation, “and what's more, it must not occur again. You're very young and inexperienced, Nell, and I dare say you meant no harm; but I wonder that even you did not think it was not very nice or maidenly to be out at nine o'clock at night with that big fellow sprawling at your feet, to say nothing of holding your hand!”

I felt disposed to weep, till he came to the word sprawling; that obnoxious dissyllable made me choke back my indignant tears.

“What was he doing with your hand?” pursued my father, still more severely.

“I'm sure I don't know,“ stammered I. “I suppose he was going to bid me good‐bye.”

I really had not strength of mind to reveal the truth and expose the folly I had been guilty of, with regard to that most absurd proposition of friendship.

“Puppy!” exclaimed my father, fuming and working himself up into a passion. “He wants a good kicking, that's what he does. Uncommon free and easy, indeed! Walking into another man's gar‐ garden page: 75 den, without saying ‘by your leave,’ or ‘with your leave!’ Those may be Manchester or Brummagem manners, but they won't go down here, I can tell him.”

“He is not Manchester or Brummagem,” said I, gasping, and without the slightest feeling of the ridiculous.

“Well, Brummagem or no,” retorted my father, “he won't come here again in a hurry, I can tell him!” and he stopped and struck his stick upon the ground to emphasize his remark.

“I should not think he'd wish to do so, after the way you treated him,” I could not help saying.

“Perhaps not, perhaps not! So much the better!” replied my father, still at boiling point.

We had by this time reached the house. I stalked upstairs, with my head up, and on reaching my room threw myself on my bed, in a passion of mortified, angry tears.

I “unmaidenly,” and he “Brummagem!” Which epithet was worst?

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