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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 105

CHAPTER VIII.

ABOUT five o'clock on that Sunday, I was passing through the hail, dragging my feet after me in a languid and dispirited manner, like the devil “Trailing his nerveless tail On the shore by the Red Sea sand,” when my father called to me from the library—

“Nell! Nell! is that you?”

“Yes,” said I, and ran in.

He was sitting in his old arm‐chair among his books, and looked up as I made my appearance at the door.

“Oh! it is you, is it?” said he. “I want you to do something for me.”

“Yes,” said I, expectantly.

“I promised to send old Widow Boyle some broth to‐day, and I want to know whether you'll take it?”

“With the greatest pleasure,” rejoined page: 106 I, briskly, glad of some occupation, and of an excuse for deserting “A Narrative of a Mission to the Jews,” which entertaining work had been my Sunday reading for the last seven years. Whereupon I vanished from my parent's eyes.

Having obtained from Mrs. Smith a small tin can, filled with a greasy‐looking and untempting liquid, supposed to he mutton broth, and having received with meekness her exhortations not to spill it over my Sunday gown, I set off. Up a steep field of beans, and down a steeper one of clover, across a little common tenanted by a very thin donkey belonging to a tinker; then down a narrow lane, with high red sandstone banks and deep cartruts, and then I found myself at Widow Boyle's gate, with a mixed flavour of pigs and of that objectionable herb called southernwood, or old man, in my small nose. Having poured my broth into a bowl brought me for that purpose by Mr. Boyle's relict, and having received that gentlewoman's thanks, my tin can and I set off home again.

We went very slowly, I scrambling now page: 107 and again up the steep red banks after big primroses, shining in clusters in their starry paleness. I gathered a great bunch of them, ruthlessly tearing them from the homes where God had put them. Then I sat down on the grass by the roadside, and set to making an orderly nosegay of them. Two children came by presently with more primroses; then two sweethearts—the man sheepish, the girl giggling; and then, oh then!—what in the world brought him there I never could make out—then a great big noble‐looking young soldier, whose name was Richard M'Gregor. Apparently, he had not got over his huffiness, nor forgiven me; for he made as though he would have passed me, merely raising his hat; but I could not suffer that. Nature and impulse would have their way; this time I jumped up (and the primroses and the tin can jostled and hustled one another into a deep cartrut), ran across to him, and put out a most eager hand.

“Oh, please,” said I, panting, “I hope you're not angry with me: I'm sorry I was so rude yesterday.”

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That man must have been colder than a statue who could resist two full soft lips begging with such pretty humility; and coldness of temperament was certainly not one of my sweetheart's vices or virtues.

The expression of huffy dignity melted out of his face—melted into the honestest, joyfullest smile.

“Who told you you were rude?” he asked. “I did not, I'm sure.”

“No, but you thought so, or you would not have gone away so suddenly.”

“What could I do but go, when you sent me?”

I hung down my head.

“One does not always quite mean what one says,” I said, slowly.

“Does not one? I'm glad to hear you say so; you did make me rather unhappy. I'll tell you that now; though, perhaps, you'll only use your knowledge to torment me a little more.”

“I don't wish to torment anybody,” I said, gently. “I've told you already I did not mean what I said; I was only joking; I meant to have told you so after page: 109 church this morning, only old Iken kept papa talking so long.”

“I shall take the liberty of breaking old Mr. Iken's head for him next time I have the pleasure of meeting that old gentleman.”

“He is rather tiresome,” I said, “he's so deaf and stupid: but you believe what I said to you, don't you?” and I looked up earnestly at him.

“I don't know,” he said, laughing; “I'll see about it. I'm of rather a sceptical nature; I never believe anything without proof.”

“What proof can I give you?” I asked, eagerly.

He became grave.

“You can let me walk home with you?”

“Oh, certainly,” replied I, with alacrity, “it's not five minutes walk from here to our gate.”

His countenance fell a little.

“Not five minutes walk!” he repeated. “Well, anyhow, let us walk very slow, and make it ten minutes. Are those your flowers that are all tumbled about there? Let me pick them up for you.”

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I sat on the grass and watched him as he did so, and gave him the biggest, sweetest primrose star I could find, as a reward, at his request. Then his eyes looked into mine, and spake softly to them, and his lips said:

“Don't go yet, please. As you are strong, be merciful.”

I was merciful; I began to feel a person of some importance, and accorded him this favour also, very graciously. Nothing short of a miracle could bring papa here, I thought.

“Don't you find Sunday afternoon awfully long?” he asked, yawning. “I never have the least idea what to do with myself down here. Coxe is a rare good fellow, but he is not an over‐lively companion; and Mrs. Coxe (sandy‐haired Mrs. Coxe, d'you recollect?) is a little too fond of the peerage to suit my taste.”

I was a little nettled.

“If you find us so dull in this part of the world, I wonder you do not leave us. I cannot imagine what keeps you?”

“Cannot you?” said he, a little coldly. page: 111 Then he went on in the same tone as before—

“Come, confess that you go to bed an hour earlier on Sundays than other days (everybody does), and that you are a little tired of reading sermons all day.”

“I don't read sermons all day,” I responded, gravely, “I read one to the servants, and sometimes, not very often, one to myself; but most of the afternoon I'm feeding the chickens, and seeing the cows milked, and that sort of thing.”

“That does not sound very lively.”

“One does not need to be very lively on Sundays,” I answered, rather dogmatically.

“Does not one? I do not much know what one ought, and what one ought not to do; I wish you'd teach me.”

“Teach you what?”

“Oh, I don't know; it does not matter what—anything. I should like to be taught by you.”

I looked down, and plucked nervously at my flowers. Is this the way young men always talked to girls, I wondered?

“You would not be a very hard school‐ page: 112 mistress, would you?” pursued he, leaning his head on his hand, with his hat tilted over his eyes.

I laughed a little.

“It's a good idea my teaching anybody anything. I'm the greatest dunce in Europe.”

“You are a very pretty dunce,” said he, slowly and emphatically. The colour rushed into my cheeks. It could not be right to allow him to say such things to me—such pleasant, untrue things, especially. I flashed an indignant look at him, and gathered up my flowers, preparatory to going.

“You ought not to say such things to me,” said I, vehemently, “it's not right. I'm not pretty, and you know I'm not; and you're either laughing at me, or you think I'm a poor countrified simpleton, who will believe anything you like to tell her.”

He flushed a little too, and half rose from his reclining posture.

“I wish to Heaven there were more such countrified simpletons,” said he, speaking with as much vehemence as I page: 113 had done. “You always will misunderstand me,—always will think that I mean to insult you. It may be impertinent of me—I know it is, but I cannot help it. I forget my manners when I am with you. You are pretty—awfully pretty, and I cannot for the life of me help telling you so. There! be as angry with me now as you please.”

He was excited, and reddened through all his sunburntness as he uttered this last clause resignedly, awaiting a fresh burst of wrath from me. But no such burst came. I stood dumbfoundered. Here, then, was one of those eccentric individuals mentioned ironically by Dolly. Here was some one in whose eyes red hair and a wide mouth were recommendations. There was an awkward pause.

“Well,” said he softly, at last, rather embarrassed, “are you very angry? Have I sinned quite past forgiveness?”

“Oh, I don't know, I'm sure,” I said, in confusion, turning away my burning face, “I—I—don't suppose you have sinned, as you call it, at all—only you startled me a little. I'm not used to page: 114 having those—those sort of things said to me, and—and I think I'll go home now.”

I rose as I spoke, and armed myself with my can.

“No, please don't,” said he, very eagerly. “I'll promise not to be rude again. I'll bite my tongue out first. Only do stop five minutes longer. I've got so many things to say to you.”

“You must say them some other time,” said I, hurriedly.

“Ay, that's the rub!” he answered, standing before me, with an anxious look in his gray eyes. “What other time? Am I always to have to trust to chance? May I never come to see you in your own home?”

I looked down and kicked a little pebble about.

“Why do you ask me?” I said. “How can I tell?”

“Who can I ask then?—your father? You know how pleased he was to see me the other night. He was longing to kick me out of the garden; I saw it in his face. Can you deny it?”

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I hesitated, and swung my tin can backwards and forwards.

“I don't deny it,” I said at last, slowly, “that is to say—I don't mean about the kicking; but I think he thought that you—that I—ought not to have stayed there in the garden without him. I don't know why he was displeased, I'm sure. I don't think we did much harm.”

I looked up innocently at him, to gather his opinion on the subject of our common iniquity, and I really believe that I was not aware that my big blue eyes looked rather well with that air of childish inquiry in them. Richard was aware of that fact; looking back now, with the advantage of increased experience of that queer biped, man, I think he was.

“Harm!” said he, warmly. “I should think not indeed. He would be a pretty brute that could do you any harm. There? if I'm not offending again—breaking my promise, and making pretty speeches. By Jove, I cannot help it.”

I dissected a primrose carefully.

“Papa is so very, very seldom angry with me—hardly ever, but he really was page: 116 displeased that night. He said it must never occur again.”

Richard stroked his tawny moustache meditatively.

“I'm not sure that he was not right. I have no doubt he thought I was taking a great liberty—which I was—and trying to get up an underhand—ahem!—ahem!—acquaintance with you, which I was not. I never like doing things underhand. I should like to come and call on him tomorrow, only I don't well see how I could. Tell me, did he call me any very hard names behind my back that unlucky evening?”

The ragged brown hat was unable to conceal the scarlet hue that my youthful and ingenuous countenance assumed at this awkward query. My blushes during this interview succeeded each other so rapidly that they almost made one continuous blush.

Face and figure, the cut of his clothes, and the tone of his voice, all were so very un‐Brummagem, that I could not induce my lips to frame the obnoxious epithet that my sire had applied to him.

page: 117

“Never mind,” said he, laughing carelessly. “I see he did. Well, perhaps he'll think a little better of me some day. We must live in hopes.”

“I think,” said I, shyly, “I'm sure he'd like you if he were to know you better.”

“I'm glad you think I improve upon acquaintance; perhaps you did not think much of me then, when we meditated together, yet severally, among the tombs in that pretty churchyard of yours?”

I responded not, but took out my watch to see how the time went. I was always ashamed of having no watch but that ancient warming‐pan I have before described, and now endeavoured to shade it as much as possible from Richard's critical eyes with my long, slight fingers. My companion caught sight of a broad, yellow face between my shielding digits.

“What a handsome old watch!” said he, quite respectfully, to it. “An antique isn't it?”

“I know it's antique,” quoth I pouting, and scenting ridicule where ridicule was not. “A great deal too antique to please me; so antique, that all its inside is worn page: 118 out, and I have to set it every two hours, but I cannot help it. I have not got any better, so I must wear it, and I wish you would not laugh at it.”

So I, rapid and injured, disregarding punctuation: to me, Richard:

“If I was laughing, it was a convulsive grin—a contortion of the facial muscles. May I look at it? Thanks. Yes, it is an antique, and rather valuable one, I fancy. This sort of chasing is very rare now‐a‐days. A connoisseur would give you a lot of money for it.”

“Would he? you don't mean really?” said I, greedily.

“I do indeed; the way I know anything about it is that the mum—my mother, I mean—is as mad as two hatters, poor old lady, on the subject of articles of virtu, as she calls them; and I hear so much jargon about them at home, from her and the girls, that I have picked up one or two scraps of information, whether I would or no; my mother would go wild over this turnip, though it is an uncommon ugly one.”

Hope with her anchor, and a fat man page: 119 with a cleaver, danced a jig before my mind's eye.

“Do you think—have you any idea—would your mother buy it, do you think?” I stopped, quivering at my own audacity.

“You don't mean to say you want to sell an old heirloom like that? why I'm sure it must have belonged to your people for centuries.”

“I don't know about that,” said I, with great sang froid, “and I don't care much either. It belonged to a grandmother of mine, whom I never saw, and whom I daresay I should not have liked if I had seen her; I hate old women generally.”

“I'm fast getting new lights on your character,” said Dick. “What a mercenary person you must be! Are you sure that you have not got some Hebrew blood in your veins?”

“Oh no, indeed I'm not mercenary,” I cried, sorely distressed. “Please don't say that, and I do assure you we never had anything to say to the Jews, but I do want some money very, very badly just now.”

A mist of tears came before my eyes as I thought of my old daddy, worried into page: 120 his grave before his time by sordid cares. If ever astonishment depicted itself on a human countenance, it did then on the pleasing exterior of that much amazed dragoon. Then an inkling of the truth dawned upon him; perhaps he called to mind some of the many rumours he must have heard of our poverty, which was indeed not unknown to fame. For a minute compassion, sincere, surprised compassion, clouded his glad young eyes.

“If you do really want to get rid of it,” said he, kindly affecting to ignore my tearful eagerness, “I can easily take it up to town with me next time I go. There are lots of shops where I could dispose of it for you with the greatest ease, if you'd only give me time; there's no great hurry about it, I suppose?”

“Oh, but indeed there is,” said I, clinging to this new hope like a drowning man to a straw; “if I don't get the money to‐morrow, it will do me no good. I—I—want it for a particular purpose—to—to buy something for myself.” This I said in my astuteness, to put him off the scent of the butcher.

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To‐morrow!” said he, opening his gray eyes very wide, “that is a short allowance of time; why, in the first place, I should have to go up to town about it.”

“Would you? Oh, but indeed I could not think of putting you to so much expense and trouble for me,” I said compunctiously.

“Trouble, a fiddlestick; I shall be glad of an excuse to air my brains a bit; I think some of the fluff and flue of Coxe's cotton mills is getting into them; but by to‐morrow!

“Tuesday morning would do; Tuesday morning early; but indeed I'm asha—”

“Will you be so kind as to be silent? Silence is woman's best ornament; do you know that? and I see that you are going to say something foolish. Well, I'll make no rash promises, but I'll do my best, and glad of the job!”

“You're—you're very good to me, and I'm sure I cannot imagine why,” said I, and up went my blue eyes in a reverent rapture to his face.

“I am good, a very good boy indeed. I wonder you never found that out before, page: 122 but if I do succeed, as I hope I shall, how am I to let you know I have?”

“Ah, to be sure!”

“Would you mind meeting me here, or somewhere else to‐morrow evening? I'm sorry to trouble you, but I don't see how else it's to be done.”

“I'd rather not,” said I, in a mumbling manner.

“Why?”

Many pebbles kicked about, the lid of the can removed and replaced three several times. “If I were to ask papa's leave, he'd say no, and if I did not, it would be sly underhand!”

“Probity personified! Must I then come to Lestrange, and run the risk of being turned out again by an enraged parent? I'm ‘exceedingly brave, particular;’ but I really don't think I'm brave enough for that.”

I smiled a little and shook my head.

“Must I go to the backdoor then, and bribe one of the ‘young men or maidens’ to take a message to you?”

“No, certainly not,” with emphasis.

“What must I do then? I'm amenable page: 123 to orders.” No suggestions for a while, then I, with diffidence—

“Could not you—would you mind sending the money, if you have any, in an envelope; by post, I mean?”

“I could, certainly, but as you said just now, I'd rather not.”

“I thought you said you were amenable to orders,” said with an attempt to be smart, which sat, I felt, rather ill on me.

“So I am to most orders, but not to this one; the exception, you know, proves the rule; come, let us split the difference. I won't ask you to leave your own grounds, just come and meet me at the bottom of your garden, where that hedge of lilac bushes is, you know. I won't detain you a minute, I promise, and, upon my soul, I don't bite; say yes, do; y—e—s, yes; you cannot conceive how easy it is to pronounce.”

“Yes.”

“Well, you are laconic, but it's very good of you, all the same, and I'll never tease you again, hanged if I will. On Wednesday I'm coming openly in the eye of day, to pay my respects under Mrs. Coxe's page: 124 wing. I daren't come without Mrs. Coxe, and as it is, I shall feel something like a naughty little boy come to beg pardon.”

As he spoke I had been detaching my watch from the chain, and now gave it into his hands.

“I will go now,” I said. “Don't keep me a minute longer, or perhaps pa may be after me.”

“Not a minute—but stay, don't forget to be in the garden somewhere about nine to‐morrow. No great hardship surely, these spring evenings. Star‐gazing is—”

“Good‐bye,” said I, cutting short the thread of his eloquence, and holding out my hand.

“Good‐bye,” said he, squeezing it till all my fingers seemed crushed into one painful mass. But I bore it like a man; not a groan revealed my agony.

“Then like a blast away I passed, And no man saw me more.”

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