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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 141

CHAPTER X.

AT eight that evening, the blue summer sky hid itself behind low hanging gray clouds; at a quarter past eight, a small fine rain was pouring steadily down, settling itself to a good night's work; at half‐past eight, I twisted a great coil of my red hair round my head, and slipped two wooden bead bracelets, given me by Dolly in a paroxysm of generosity, one birthday, over my wrists; these were all the preparations for meeting my love which my resources allowed of. At five minutes past nine I ran down into the hall, took an old shawl from the cloak‐stand, and was searching for an umbrella, when I heard my father's slow step crossing the library floor. Instantly I disappeared. I put the shawl over my head, and ran down the gravel walk, over the shining pebbles, to the trysting‐place.

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There was an ornamental wooden gate in the lilac hedge; a gate separating our Eden from the profane outer world of the hay meadow. I peeped over this gate, and all about the lilac bushes; not a soul was there; my heart sank. “He cometh not,” said I, quoting Marianna. I gazed disconsolately through the rain for exactly three minutes, at the end of which time I spied an object looming dimly through the misty air; it might have been a horse or a cow, a house or a haystack. It was none of these; it resolved itself into a large laughing young man, in damp velveteen.

“Before your time,” said he, gaily, as he came up. “See what it is to have sold your watch; it's five minutes to nine still.” I gave him no greeting; I only looked up at him with dumb anxiety. “What, not a word for me! I don't think I shall tell you at all, if you look so eager; it would not be good for you! Well, is the lion to come in to the lamb, or the lamb to come out to the lion?”

“Oh, the lamb—oh; I—I mean—I'll come out to you.” I unlatched the gate, page: 143 and passed out into the long wet meadow grass, which felt much like stepping into a tepid foot‐bath. “Well,” said I, breathlessly, clasping my hands as if he was my God, and I was praying to him.

“Well, Miss Lestrange, what?”

“Oh. you know what I mean; have you any news for me?”

“News! oh yes, lots; the funds have fallen to 84; and the Bishop of — is dead; and the eldest Miss Coxe is going to be married—to me—at least, so I heard this morning.”

“If you asked me out here, only to make game of me, I may as well go home,” I said; my not angelic temper succumbing under this process of aggravation.

I ask you to come out this damp evening, and run the risk of catching a bad cold? I make game of you; God forbid?”

I turned away in mute indignation.

“What, you really are going? Well, I'm sorry for that. It's so jolly standing chatting here in this puddle; but it is rather a wet evening, isn't it? seasonable though, for the time of year.”

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I fumbled at the fastening of the gate, blind with rage. “Your wit, sir,” said I, my voice trembling with passion, and drawing myself up with as much dignity as my limp old gown would admit of, “may be appreciated by Mr., Mrs., and Miss Coxe, but it won't go down at Lestrange. I wish you good evening.”

“Good evening, Miss Lestrange,” said he, opening the gate for me to pass through, and baring his handsome head to the rain. “By‐the‐bye, would you be so kind as to take charge of a small parcel which I believe belongs to you?”

He pulled a small roll of bank‐notes from his pocket as he spoke, and gave them to me. I hesitated. Should I throw them back with scorn into his teasing face, or should I gratify my intense curiosity to know how many there were of them? Curiosity prevailed, as I fancy it always has done, where women have been concerned, since the day when Eve was roused to inquisitiveness concerning that fruit which must have been a great deal more inviting to eye, and smell, and touch, than any apple that ever ripened, or she page: 145 would not have run such tremendous risks for the sake of it. It was no Ribstone pippin, I feel assured, that served humanity that dirty turn, rather some juicy perfumed eastern pulp.

I unrolled the notes, with fingers rendered awkward by greedy haste, separated and smoothed out each one; pleasant were their crisp watered faces unto me. Will there be £10, £20; either sum would be a nice little sop for Cerberus. So I thought, and then I counted one, two, three, four, five. Five times ten are fifty. FIFTY POUNDS for that most despicable of old turnips, whose interior was, so to speak, a dead letter; one of whose hands was a mutilated stump, whose movements were so erratic that no man could calculate from hour to hour what its next freak would be; and which was unwieldy, unbeautiful, and everything that was undesirable. Now and then, in these latter days, a strong qualm of doubt shoots through me, that never did that old warming‐pan see the inside of Wardour Street; that that £50 came out of the not too well‐lined pockets of poor open‐hearted Dick M'Gregor. No page: 146 such doubts had I at that time, to trouble my blissful young serenity; in those days I believed everything I heard, everything I was told, and almost everything I read. For a minute I stood, with drooped head, remorse driving small penknives through and through my heart; then I put out both hands, and said “O—h!” under my breath.

“Well, Miss Lestrange, what have I done wrong now? Anything fresh? I'm not witty now, surely, am I?”

“Oh, don't, don't,” I cry, whimperingly, and I cover my face with my left hand, and grope for my pocket‐handkerchief with my right, while the shawl takes the opportunity of slipping off my head, down into an improvised pool among the buttercups; and there I stand, thin‐clad, bare‐headed, in the steadily pouring rain.

He picks up the shawl and shakes it.

“Are you too hot, Miss Lestrange? as you appear to be casting away your garments wholesale; if I might give an opinion, I should say that this was neither the time nor the place for taking a vapour bath.”

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I take away my shielding hand from my face, which I lift shy and burning towards his.

“Oh, please, don't mock at me any more. I cannot bear it; I thought you were only turning me into ridicule, and I—I—haven't a very good temper, I'm afraid, and I—I‐oh! if you only knew how I felt, I'm sure you'd leave me alone.”

Whereupon I fell to weeping sore, for no particular cause. Oh, my Dick, my bonny, bonny sweetheart! how goodly you were then! are you goodlier now, I wonder, in that distant Somewhere where you are; or when we meet next, shall we be two bodiless spirits, sexless, passionless essences, passing each other without recognition in the fields of ether? God forbid that it should be so; oh, my King Olaf, as I called you first, in my girlish romance, and I cleave to the old name still. Oh, strong fair Norseman! did you rise from your warrior grave under the icy Northern waves, and come back among men only to shame the punyness of your descendants; and have you gone back thither again to your sleep beneath the green billows? page: 148 There comes no voice out of the void to answer me.

Tears played the good speed with Richard. In justice to myself, I must distinctly state that I was not aware of this fact, but was, on the contrary, grievously displeased with myself for having been beguiled into weeping. Had his grandmother, his maiden aunt, his laundress, or any old beggarwoman in the street cried at him, he would have been seriously disturbed at it. How much more then when a really good‐looking young woman was making her nose and eyes of a flame colour in her anguish at his cruelty. The smile died out of his jocund young face as if it had been an exorcised demon; nothing could be more surprisedly, pitifully penitent, than the expression of his blue‐gray eyes; he looked like a big dog that is very much ashamed of himself for having been betrayed into bullying a little one. For a minute he was quite at a loss what to do; then he bethought himself of my shawl, which he wrapped round my shoulders, saying hurriedly, meanwhile:

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“There! there! don't cry, don't cry! poor little girl! it was a shame to make her pretty blue eyes red, wasn't it? but I didn't mean to vex her, indeed I didn't. I'd cut off my right hand before I'd hurt a hair of her sweet head.”

He had bandaged me up so tight in his cageyness that I could hardly stir. I laughed through my tears.

“You've tied me up so tight that I cannot move my arms; I'm like a mummy.”

He laughed too. “So I have, poor dear Nell! what an ill‐used little girl she is!”

He bent over me to rearrange my shawl, but when he had disposed its shabby old folds to his mind, he kept his arms about me. The rain dripped from his hat, and from his curly yellow hair, and Heaven's tears washed his bronzed cheeks; I looked up at him with shy rapture; at that brow “that looked like marble, and smelt like myrrh,” at the honest, kindly, beautiful face; looked into his passionate eyes, and forgot the rain, and the long tangled grass, and my own mortifying silly behaviour, forgot everything in my new‐found wonderful bliss.

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“Am I teasing you now? shall I leave you alone, as you asked me just now? Must I? I will if you wish me; I should dislike extremely having to do it, but I will in a minute, if you tell me.”

So he whispers, while his gold locks and my russet ones blend agreeably together. I had not the slightest desire that he should leave me alone, but I said neither yea nor nay.

“Poor little pussy‐cat, is she very anxious to get away? does not she like being kept a prisoner? won't she stay with me one little minute? she'd have to go far before she could find any one that would love her better!”

For all answer, I lay my head on his breast, which the inclement weather has rendered rather a moist resting‐place, and my cheeks put on their rouge, which the May showers vainly endeavour to wash off. He kisses me softly, and I forget to be scandalized.

“Do you know, Nell, I do really like you rather, joking apart.”

“Indeed!”

“Yes, I do; it's rather nice, don't you page: 151 know? having a foolish sort of little girl to kiss and make love to, and bully now and then; I haven't near done bullying you yet, miss, if you think that.”

I raise my head, and make a feint of going. “If that's the way you're going to treat me, I'd better leave you this minute.”

“Do by all means if you can; by Jove! how blue your eyes are, quite China blue, like tea cups!”

“What a pretty comparison!”

“I didn't say they were pretty; they're very big and babyish, and they pretend to be very innocent looking; but pretty! not exactly.”

“I won't stay another minute.”

“You're not going for two hours yet, good; and nor then without paying toll; twenty kisses, and as many more as I'm good enough to accept.”

I make no relevant answer to this shocking announcement. I only burrow my countenance into his drenched velveteen shoulder, and murmur to it “O—h.”

“Are you pretty comfortable, Miss Lestrange?”

page: 152

“Yes.”

“Nice growing weather, as I said just now, when you were in such an awful rage with me.”

“Oh don't, don't remind me of it!”

“Yes, indeed, Miss Nell, you may well hide your face; that temper, unless checked in time, may (mind I don't say that it will, because our laws are so lenient now‐a‐days), may bring you to the gallows.”

“What! for murdering you?”

“Yes, for tearing my fine eyes out, or murdering me, or some such atrocity; oh, you darling; how have I managed to get on all these eight and twenty years without you?”

The warm rain pattered and plashed on our faces; the big white lilac bush bent above us its dripping leaves, and fair large flower‐clusters brushed our cheeks, and gave out its strong pure scent freely to us.

“Heaven is crying pretty freely over our courtship, Nell,” Dick says presently. “I hope it's not ominous.”

“Hush! speak lower! I hear the gravel crunching!”

“Nonsense!”

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“But I do, indeed. Sh! sh! sh!”

We listen; there is undeniably a faint noise, as of gravel ground beneath a yet distant heel.

“It's papa; he very often comes out after tea; but I thought the wet would keep him in to‐night. If I run very fast I shall be out of sight before he gets round here; he has not got to the garden‐house yet!”

“Da— I mean hang him; why could not he stay in doors till we came to fetch him?”

I laughed. “Good night; let me go, quick!”

“Not unless you say ‘good night, darling.’ I'll keep you else, till the governor comes round here, and then begin to talk very loud; by Jove, would not the old gentleman be pleased? well, is it coming? ‘good night, darling,’ or such a scolding from Sir Adrian.”

I made the required concession with less bashfulness than might have been expected of me, and then took to my heels, and reached my room, panting, dishevelled, crimson, but in safety.

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