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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 125

CHAPTER IX.

IS it possible that one is through the whole course of one's life the same individual being? Is one possessed of but one individual soul? Does it not rather seem that each man or woman is in himself or herself a succession of individual beings, possessing, one after another, several successive souls? Our body is the same body at fifty as it was at five, and as it will be at seventy—the same, subject only to the changes and modifications made by time, weather, sickness, or mode of life. Wonderful as it seems, the fat, pink, dimpling baby body is the same as the withered old yellow carcass tottering into the long expecting tomb; but our soul—is it the same? I trow not. Our estimate of things and people, our habits, tastes, dispositions, at certain periods of our life are so radically different from, and totally antagonistic to, page: 126 what they are at other such periods, that I think it is hardly possible that their variations should be accounted for by any of the alterations that it is within the province of time, sorrow, or any change of inner or outer life to effect.

Perhaps, at certain epochs in our history, separated by varying periods of time, a new soul (in our sleep, may be) passes into our body, each successive soul sadder than the last. A more nonsensical, puerile idea never entered a human head, I'm aware; but here it is, and I cannot cast it out. Can I, can I be the same individual soul, the same ego as that girl who stood one May morning on a ladder, nailing monthly roses up against the hall windows at dear old Lestrange. There I stood, in a faded green muslin, with a hammer in one hand and a nail in the other, humming softly to myself as I hammered. A party of young starlings stared at me from their residence under the caves, and opened their great yellow mouths wide, expecting me to pop worms into them, as their mamma was in the habit of doing.

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“The summer hath its heavy cloud; The rose leaf must fall,” I sang under my breath to myself. “Rose leaf must fall,” indeed. I wish it did not, for they make a sad litter on the border; I must make some pot pourri of them. I suppose the roses in Eden never fell or withered. What an odd idea? I wonder how that was managed. Were there always fresh roses coming out, and the old ones flowering on eternally? How the bushes must have overblown themselves.

“But in our land joy wears no shroud, Never doth it pall. Ne—ever do—oth it pa—all.”

A strong wind had been blowing all night, that had loosened half the rose boughs; but now all was still—still and calm as the sleep of the just. Far off I heard the dull, drowsy burr of a threshing machine at work, and the bow‐wow‐ow of a little dog that felt himself insulted, coming from a distant farm; nearer, our gardening man, mowing the dewy lawn, and beheading a thousand daisies; nearer still, two wood‐pigeons in our wood, telling their sweet page: 128 prosy love tale to one another interminably—cooroo, cooroo, cooroo, cooroo; nearest of all, the important busy humming of a big bumble bee, going in and out of the campanula bells, stealing her honey drops from each.

I look back on that May morning, and on myself at my pretty play‐work, as Eve must have looked back upon the pastimes of Paradise. I am not separated from that time by any great crime, as she was from the period of her happiness; but I think the yearning regret that filled the universal mother's bosom for the lotos‐scented airs that breathed about the banks of those mystic eastern rivers, was akin to the eager longing (never to be gratified now) with which I inhale in fancy the rough western breezes blowing round old Lestrange.

I suppose it rained there in those days; I suppose it snowed, and was foggy, and cold, and dreary there in those days as much as other places—perhaps more; but I cannot realize that now. To me it seems as if those gnarled old trees were always crowned with a glory of green page: 129 leaves; as if those walls were always sunlit; as if the pinks and the sweet peas and the larkspurs flowered there all the year round. I did not think myself particularly happy in those days. That is the worst of this life—one never tastes its sweets while they are in one's mouth; it is only when they are gone, and we are chewing the bitters, and making wry faces over them, that we recognise them for what they were.

I took it as a matter of course that I was young and healthy and cheerful; to be so was the normal state of humanity, I thought. Sickness and sadness were abnormal, exceptional; why should I trouble my head about them? I had my annoyances, too; wore threadbare clothes and was gawky; and sometimes went to sleep with tears on my eyelashes—tears caused by my old daddy's stooping head and thin gray hair.

It was market day, and along the broad highway that skirted our grounds rolled gigs and tax‐carts by dozens. I was continually turning my head to admire the smart bonnets of the farmers' wives, which distracted my attention sadly from my work.

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Occasionally a horseman varied the programme—a farmer's boy taking a rough cart colt to water, the parson jogging along on his old roan pony, which in superannuated fatness yielded the palm to none save papa's; then a county neighbour, lazy and plethoric, ambling by to justice meeting. Presently came a sharper, brisker sound—a long swinging trot. Round veered my head again, and simultaneously the sound ceased, and I perceived that the horseman had stopped at our gate, and was struggling to open it with his whip‐handle, a measure which his steed did his best to prevent.

The steed had the best of it, too, at first, and would have had to this hour, if he had not good‐naturedly given in. “Who can it be?” said I to myself. “Benbow's clerk, I suppose.” Now, Benbow was my father's attorney, and his clerk was the chiefest among my bugbears, coming not infrequently on mysterious errands that cast a gloom over the establishment. I stood poised in air on the topmost rung of the ladder, and watched with interest. Under the elms came man and horse, the leaf shadows waving a shifting, dancing page: 131 pattern over them till they reached the lower gate, not a hundred yards from where I was. Recognition here was certain, that is to say, if the man happened to be known to me. He was so known; but if he had been the “Mickle De'il” himself I could not have fled with more precipitancy at his aspect. I sprang from the ladder, ran into the house, through the cool drowsy hall, where the double‐chinned, powdered Miss Lestranges, and the fat‐faced, wigged Master Lestranges were smirking at nothing but the walls as usual, headlong into the sanctum where Mrs. Smith sat, muddling her old head over rows of illegible figures, doing those eternal accounts that never would come right.

“Mrs. Smith—Mrs. Smith!” cried I, panting and aghast, “Sir Hugh Lancaster is coming down the drive, now, this minute, and I know he's coming to luncheon.”

Despair on a thin young face is pathetic; on a fat, elderly one, ludicrous. I laughed, but my mirth soon sank into a wail.

“Pa's so hospitable, he's certain to ask him. I never can get him to remember page: 132 that there never is anything for luncheon.”

My companion resented this insult to our commissariat.

Now, Miss Lestrange! Nothing? Why, there's always the mutton, and it was only yesterday—no, the day before —that I sent you in a lovely dish of fry.”

“Is there any fry to‐day?” My heart leaped at the thought of intestines.

“My dear, how could there be, when you ate it all o' Saturday? and that plaguy ould butcher has not been near the place since; and for my part, the less he comes the better I'm pleased.”

“I shall give the butcher,” said I, superbly waving my arm, “a lesson he'll not forget in a hurry.”

“I'm sure I wish you could, 'm,” said my companion, a little incredulously; “but had not we better be schaming something for luncheon?”

“Scheming the tops of our heads off will not put any meat in the larder; are there any fowls?”

“Ye—es; there's four or five of them ould Cochy hens: but they're walking page: 133 about upon the yard, and it's after twelve now.”

“Heavens!”

“There's the mutton,” quoth she, recurring to that accursed joint.

“The mutton, Mrs. Smith!” said I, reproachfully. “I wonder at you; that mutton has come in every day for the last fortnight to my certain knowledge, and it's literally and actually nothing but bone.”

“There's eggs and bacon.”

“Eggs and bacon! Merciful powers, is it come to this? My good woman, do reflect a minute, and you'll see the absurdity of your proposition. Think of inviting Sir Hugh Lancaster to eggs and bacon! I'd as soon ask him to take a slice of dirt pie with me.”

“Well, my dear, as good as 'im 'as made their dinners off 'em afore now, and been thankful. Who is them Lancasters, after all, I wonder? Cock 'em up! Not 'alf as good gentry as your pa, as eats whatever's set before him, and makes no fuss about it neither.”

I stared glassily at her, and then at the ceiling, and then at the flies on the window, page: 134 but nowhere did I see roast joints or succulent entrées. What was the use of letting one's fancy run riot among impossible dainties? Out of nothing, nothing can come. I rose in despair from the cane‐bottomed chair on which I had precipitated myself, and emphasizing each clause of my sentence with my hammer, I said solemnly,

“Eggs and bacon it must be then; but I wash my hands of them and of you. I won't witness our disgrace; I'll go to bed sooner than appear at luncheon. If I'm asked for, tell Collins to say that I'm ill; I shall be ill; it's enough to make any one ill.”

Hereupon I went and stole on patte de velours past the library, where I heard Sir Hugh's jolly voice holding forth and my father's (hardly less jolly for the time) responding. I betook myself to my little upper chamber, looking westwards, whence I had so often watched the great sun go down, sat down on the edge of my bed, forgot my troubles, and built air‐castles. Of these edifices Richard was châtelain and an I châtelaine; in them papa had the page: 135 best suite of rooms, and from them Dolly was utterly cast out.

The hall clock struck one very gravely, as it always did. I slid from my bed to the floor, embraced my knees with my arms, and re‐commenced building. The clock struck half‐past. Five minutes more, and then the door opened, and Mrs. Smith entered with a plate of thick bread and butter.

“I thought you'd be famished up here all by yourself, my dear,” said she; “but indeed I don't see why you should not go down: I don't, indeed.”

“Quite out of the question, madam,” replied I, rather indistinctly, with my mouth full of bread and butter; “by‐the‐bye is luncheon in?”

“I just sent it in before I came up, and a very nice luncheon too; a piece of cold roast mutton, and a beautiful dish of mashed potatoes, and plenty of eggs and bacon.”

“Plenty!” ejaculated I faintly, thinking of the small and elegant dishes I had seen at the Coxian feast, “about how many?”

“Well, 'm, I thought as there was not page: 136 to say much on the mutton, and as the hens is layin' pretty tidy just at present. I thought I'd better make it 'alf a dozen!”

At this juncture another knock came at the door, and Mary, the housemaid, introduced herself.

“Please, miss, master begs as you'll go down direcly.”

“What!” cried I, in a fury; “did not I tell Collins to say I was ill, if I was asked for?”

“Yes, miss, and so he did, but your pa said he did not believe as 'ow you was very bad, and he desired his love, and he begged you'd come down just to obleege him, if only for five minutes; I think I understood as the gentleman was asking for you.”

I laid down my bread and butter, and groaned. Mrs. Smith, with great presence of mind, seized a brush, and tried to plaster down my hair at each side of my face, and Mary gave two or three severe tugs to my dress, in the well‐meant endeavour to lengthen it, and then I went. The gentlemen were already in the dining‐room, and I felt overpowered page: 137 with shyness as I opened the door and entered. As I took my seat at the head of the table, I gave one comprehensive glance at the arrangements. Our table was a very big, wide one, and the leg of mutton, which had never been a large one, was now “beautifully less.” It showed like a dim speck on the vast ocean of table‐cloth. I could not make the same complaint of the eggs and bacon; they filled the eye and overpowered it; they seemed to me to be like the sand that is by the sea‐shore in number.

“I hope your head is better, Miss Lestrange,” said Sir Hugh, politely; he had wisely eschewed the mutton, and was eating a fat rasher with apparent relish.

“My head?” said I, raising a pair of bewildered blue eyes from my plate.

“Yes, to be sure, your head,” put in my father, a little impatiently. “Collins told us you had a headache, and Sir Hugh is kindly asking after it; can't you understand?”

“Oh yes, I remember—oh, thanks—oh yes, it is quite well; pretty well, I mean, much better, thanks!” So I, incoherent page: 138 and scarlet. Sir Hugh left me in peace after that, for which I called him blessed; left me at leisure to admire the simple hearty hospitality with which papa offered our meagre viands to our guest. He made no flimsy apologies for the poverty of the entertainment; he did not try to affect that the fare was worse than it usually was; he was vexed indeed, as I, who knew every line of his countenance, discovered at once, but I would have defied any stranger to detect it.

Sir Hugh was a short man, but otherwise not ill‐looking. He had a jolly countenance, not encumbered with any particular expression, a jolly laugh at anybody's service; enough brains to carry him decently through his very easy part in life, and not enough to make him feel uncomfortably wise in any company. Nobody had ever heard him say a clever thing, or a spiteful one. Mothers chased him, and he eluded their pursuit with so much good humour that they liked him all the better; daughters smiled at him, and he smiled back at them, but he smiled universally, which was discouraging; nobody ever accused page: 139 him of having ever had his affections blighted, and yet now his dark hair was grizzling fast, and his big red house was mistressless still.

He did not love anybody in the world much, not even himself, and he liked everybody. Misfortune left him alone, because I really believe she could not find a vulnerable spot in him. Presently he spoke to me again. I think he had been casting about in his mind for a remark to make for some minutes before the remark arrived, but was not quite sure on what subject I could talk. Was a little doubtful whether I could talk on any subject.

“So your sister's coming home, I hear?”

“Yes.”

“Jolly for you having her back?”

“Ye—es.”

“So dull being by one's self, isn't it?”

My courage was rising, the string of my tongue was loosed.

“No, I don't think so; I like being alone; one's thoughts are always pleasant company; pleasanter far than most of one's friends.”

“Ha, ha! you mean that for a hit at me, page: 140 I'm afraid; but really now I never can make out what women can have to think about, except their crochet work; what are your pleasant thoughts about, I wonder?”

I resented this catechism suited to the intellect of a five years' child.

“Nothing worth mentioning,” I said, tartly; “neither fat cattle nor guano!”

He looked puzzled for a minute.

“Well, I suppose not. What made you pitch upon two such unlikely subjects? Oh I see! You think they are about the only subjects I am fit to talk about; ah, very good, very good!”

My father rose, looking rather vexed.

“Don't get into tho habit of making rude speeches, Nell, I advise you; a sharp woman is the most odious animal in creation; come, Sir Hugh, shall we take a turn about the place?”

Sir Hugh looked as if he would have liked to have said something good‐natured to me, but could not make up his mind what, and contented himself with smiling encouragingly, and then followed my father, leaving me to feel as small as ever snubbed young woman need do.

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