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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 76

CHAPTER VI.

I HAVE lived now more than twenty years, and have seen much of the evil and much of the good (there is a good deal of the latter, after all) that there is in the world. I have often been led to ponder upon the comparative bearableness or unbearableness of the various burdens laid upon the shoulders of poor humanity. After much deliberation, after changing my opinion five or six times; after looking at the subject from every point of view; after considering all the pros and cons, counting one by one, as the Preacher says, I have come to the conclusion that the heaviest load under which man groans is poverty. By poverty I do not mean comfortable, decent poverty, which pays ready money, which keeps a parlour‐maid instead of butler and footman, which walks instead of drives, buys page: 77 cotton gowns instead of silk dresses for its wife, which sends its sons to Cheltenham and Cambridge, instead of Eton and Christ Church; but the bugbear I have before me is poverty such as ours was—the poverty of living in a wide house—not with a brawling woman—but worse, with a very narrow income; the poverty which dares not look on from month to month and from day to day, before whose inner eyes bum‐bailiffs are ever present; the poverty which steals away our cheerful spirits; which renders us envious, and spiteful, and sordid; which makes our days a long torture, and our nights a long vigil; which saps the springs of our life, and sometimes ends by making us cut our throats to escape it. The death of friends is a far sharper grief, of course, while it lasts: then the light goes out in the heavens, and we sit among the ashes and curse the day in which we were born; but the people whom we love intensely, whose existence or non‐existence is of any very vital importance to our daily happiness, are so extremely few, that such devouring sorrows come ordinarily but three or four times in a life of page: 78 sixty years. A sharp stab at rare intervals is better than a running sore festering perpetually.

On the morning after my unmaidenly behaviour, I was in the hall of our old house, and the morning sun was shining through the stained glass windows (through Abel's head and Cain's legs, queerly depicted thereon) on the faded Turkey carpet. As usual, I was sitting on the floor. I had a big darning‐needle between my fingers, and was slowly and unskilfully mending stockings. It was an occupation I particularly disliked; it was a real penance to me; but having no lady's maid, I had to undergo it weekly. And as I darned and pricked myself, and grumbled at fate, I heard a door which led to the offices creak on its hinges, and saw a head peer inquiringly round it—the head of our old cook and housekeeper. She had been with us twenty years; she was as good a soul as ever trussed a chicken or concocted entremets, and I loved her; but at the present moment she was to me a most unwelcome apparition. I had already ordered dinner, so I knew she could page: 79 have come with but one fell object, namely, to get money for some of the numerous tradesmen who were kind enough to throng our doors.

“If you please, 'm, I want to speak to you,” said the head, cautiously.

“Do you?” said I, with a sickening heart. “Come in then, there's nobody here.”

Thus reassured, the head, and the body that belonged to it, came forward into the room, and both together stood before me—sleek, middle‐aged, like a respectable tabby.

“Well?” said I, looking up from amid my hose, “what it is?”

“If you please, 'm, the butcher” (she pronounced the word as if the first syllable were the preposition but) “has come.”

“Oh, indeed! How kind of him!” said I.

Yes, 'm, he has; and he has not brought the right piece of beef. If you remember, you ordered the ribs, and he has brought the sir‐line; he never brings us the prime pieces now either; he says he has to keep 'em for his larger customers.”

“It cannot be helped,” said I, resignedly. page: 80 At nineteen, sirloin or ribs are indifferent to one.

“That's not all, 'm, I'm sorry to say,” pursued Mrs. Smith, rather aggravated by my stoicism; “he's brought his bill again.”

“I wish he and his bill were at Jericho,” responded I, tartly.

“He says that this is the ninth time he has brought it in, and he wants to have it paid.”

“Want must be his master, said I, briefly.

“But he says he must have it paid; that he's got a very 'eavy engagement to meet next week, and he cannot do without the money.”

“They always say that,” replied I, surveying ruefully a yawning chasm in the heel of my stocking.

“Indeed, 'm, I think they do; but, if you please, what am I to tell him? he's waiting.”

“Tell him that I shall be most happy to pay his bill if he'll only show me how; that I cannot coin money; and I haven't got a farthing in the world, except the crooked sixpence on my chain, which he page: 81 is most welcome to, if he likes to take it.”

“I'm afraid I could not tell him that, 'm; but if you could manage to give him just a little something towards it—just to put him off a bit.”

“I tell you it's out of the question,” said I, eagerly. “I'm telling you the literal truth; I have not a halfpenny in the world. I gave you my last shilling last week, for that man that came with coals; and papa told me he could not give me any more till the end of next month.”

“Eh, dear! it's a bad job—a bad job!” moaned our chef de cuisine, shaking her elderly head; “and I don't 'alf like going back empty‐handed to the man—he's none too civil, I can tell you.”

“None too civil, isn't he?” exclaimed I, indignantly, regardless of grammar. “The wretch! why don't you kick him out of the house?”

But Mrs. Smith's sense of justice revolted against this ladylike proposition.

“Nay, my dear,” said she, mildly remonstrative, “we could not quite do that, I'm thinking. After all, the man's only come to look after his own, and if we was page: 82 to turn him out o' doors, a pretty character he'd give of us, all over the place! Why, we should have the whole lot on 'em about our ears afore you could say Jack Robis'n!”

We remained silent a minute or two, Mrs. Smith rubbing her chin reflectively, as if to gain inspiration from that feature, or features—for she had two of them, while wild ideas of writing a book, for which emulous publishers should outbid each other, of marrying a certain snuffy old bachelor uncle of the Coxes, and making him settle three‐fourths of his income on papa, coursed through my brain. At last Mrs. Smith spoke:

“My dear, would you mind speaking to your papa about it?”

I interrupted her.

“I should mind very much; I don't know anything I should mind much more.”

“Well, 'm, you know something must be done, and perhaps he has got some money you don't know of—just a trifle would do, to stop the man's mouth for the present, and there's no harm in asking. Do now, there's a dear young lady! there he goes page: 83 down the garden. Eh, dear! he stoops sadly of late.”

“I won't,” said I, vehemently, “and that's flat. He's in very bad spirits this morning as it is, and I won't do anything to add to his annoyances if I can help it. I'll see you and the butcher too, at the bottom of the Red Sea first.”

Baffled in her little plan, Mrs. Smith stood the image of black despair in a lilac cotton gown, and bumbailiffs crowded thick and fast before my mind's eye. At last I said, gulping down my pride:

“Mrs. Smith, don't you think that if you were to go to him, and tell him that we are very sorry, but that we really don't happen to have any money by us at present, and if you were to speak very civilly to him, don't you think you might persuade him to wait till next week? By next week,” said I, resolutely, “I'll get the money as sure as I sit here, by hook or by crook, by fair means or foul, if I have to steal it.”

“I can but try,” she answered, being the essence of good nature; “but I'm sadly afraid it won't be no good.”

page: 84

She disappeared despondent behind the swing‐door, and I went back to my darning. Duns were such every‐day visitors, that as long as I could keep them away from papa I bore their attentions with tolerable equanimity. After a considerable interval my messenger returned, with her visage somewhat shortened.

“Well?” said I, interrogatively.

“He's gone, 'm, drabbit 'im!” said she, with her one little pet imprecation—an imprecation which always rather puzzled me as to its precise signification, etymology, and derivation. What awful malediction was contained in the imperative mood of the verb “to drabbit?” “I've got him out of the house at last, though, indeed, I had hard work to manage it. He cuss'd and swore above a bit, that he did. I was ashamed out of my life that them girls should hear him; and he said, said he, ‘Mrs. Smith,’ said he, ‘there's not another man in all —shire as u'd been as patient and forbearin' as I've been,’ said he; and here's his bill, 'm; he desired me per‐tickler to give it into your own 'ands.”

I took it; £34 5 s. shilling 4½ d. pence

page: 85

“The halfpenny be demmed,” said I, with dreary jocularity, quoting Mr. Mantalini. “Well, will he wait till next week?”

“Not he, 'm; he would not hear tell of it nohow; he's coming again on Tuesday; he'd a come on Monday, only it's Nantford fair, and he says if he don't get his bill settled satisfactorily then, he'll go straight off to the master and 'ave it out with him.”

“Pleasant!” said I, ironically. “I wish he and the baker and the candlestickmaker may all come to some horrible end soon, that I do! Spontaneous combustion, or something of the sort. They are the bane of my existence!”

However, I had got a reprieve, though a very short one; it's better to be going to be hanged to‐morrow than to be hanged to‐day. I was young and possessed of boundless spirits, which, when the immediate pressure of any anxiety was removed, rose elastic as an indiarubber ball, trusting implicitly in something turning up. I am bound to admit that nothing ever did turn up, but that did not lessen my faith in the potentialities, as Carlyle would call them, of the future.

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