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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 154

CHAPTER XI.

ANATHEMA MARANATHA be upon him, whether he be black or white, young or old, gentle or simple, philosopher or dunce, bond or free, who says we are not intended to be happy in this world! Can our God be of so refined a cruelty as to have created so many millions of human beings, just to worry their lives out? Can He he have framed them into such an ingenious compound of matter and spirit?—can He he have given them such vast capabilities of being glad and being sorry, merely that He he may the better torment them? Can He he have made us out of spite, as Caliban opines of his god Setebos, in Browning's fine poem? If He he had done so, why did He he make the period of our sufferings so short? why did He he not make us eternal? then indeed (were He he such a monster of barbarity, as is presupposed by this hypothesis), might He he have worthily page: 155 wreaked his hatred upon us. Our religion, as Pascal remarks, is the only one that inculcates on its rotaries not only awe and reverence, but love towards the Deity.

Could it reasonably ask us to give our hearts to a capricious, malignant demon, who had put us together, only that he might mangle us? Moreover, would not such a demon in all probability have got tired of his cruel game, having had so many hundred generations on which to practise it? Would not he probably be turning his devilish power of inflicting anguish into some new channel; testing it upon some other family of defenceless sufferers? To no demon's malice do we owe our creation; our God meant us to be boundlessly, flawlessly happy; that we never can be now, thanks to ourselves, but moderately, temperately, soberly happy we may still be, if we go the right way to work. Happy, partly in present fruition, far more in expectancy; happiest in the very fact which at the first blush has a sorry aspect—that all our happinesses here are but transitory, mere types and shadows page: 156 of worthier substances, never to be grasped till this mortal has put on immortality!

Perfectly contented we never can be here. Kick as we may against the fiat which forbids it; struggle and strain as we may to attain that unattainable good; it is an impossibility, from the very constitution of our souls, which are ever unconsciously, involuntarily, looking onwards, onwards, from year to year, from hour to hour, from minute to minute. “I shall be satisfied, but, oh, not here!” Fully satisfied on this earth can our spirits never be; they being of so high a nature; cast in so noble a mould that nothing less than God can fill them. Somebody, I forget who, remarks, on the rarity of hearing any one exclaim, “How happy I am!” “How happy I was!” and “How happy I shall be!” are frequent ejaculations; but to hear man, born of woman, felicitate himself on his present condition, is uncommon indeed. So it must ever be till the restless, hungry soul be laid asleep in light.

My happiness that night was not tem‐ temperate page: 157 perate, moderate, sober: it was limitless, frenzied, drunken. The pace was too good to last, as I might have known, had I not been nineteen, and somewhat of a greenhorn, even for that immature age. I wonder I did not catch my death of cold, I'm sure. It never occurred to me, either to go to bed or take off my wet clothes. Hour after hour, I sat with drenched garments clinging close round me, with my dank thick hair streaming loose about my throat. I might have been Ophelia, without the flowers and the insanity.

There I sat by the open casement window, with a box of mignonette under my nose; with my candle first flickering in its socket, and then departing this life with a grievous stink, and with the summer dawn broadening across the pearl‐gray sky. I had fallen neck and crop into love; it had not taken a minute doing, but for all that, it was as thoroughly done as if I had been walking in deliberately and gingerly for the last dozen years. Quite unexpectedly, when I was neither looking for nor thinking of any such thing, I had found a most precious stone, a pearl of great price, and page: 158 I must needs look at it on all sides, weigh it, and consider gravely to what best profit I could put it. One thing was certain, to no one's lot could it ever have fallen to have discovered so big a pearl; others might have hit upon smaller ones of the same genus, but in size and colour mine must be, have been, and ever will be unique.

The rain had ceased, and one star stole from behind the soft dense cloud‐curtain, and trembled and shook in the distant ether. I fixed my excited sleepless eyes upon it. Had that far world any inhabitants? any beings like ourselves? men and women? were there any red‐haired girls and handsome fair men there? If so, could there be any one living there now experiencing felicity equal to mine? most unlikely. Had any one in this world ever been possessed of such perfect bliss? Was papa as happy when he brought mamma back first to the dear old house, in the days when they planted that Westeria that covered half the south wall now? Mamma in a sad coloured gown, with a waist under her arms, leg of mutton sleeves, and bob page: 159 curls, which was the aspect under which my deceased parent always presented herself to my mind's eye, being the form under which she was represented in a miniature that had hung, ever since I could recollect anything, over against papa's chair in the library? I decided not.

Was Dolly anything like as happy when she was engaged to that pink‐eyed young man of immense property, who died of consumption a week before his intended wedding day. I taxed my memory to recollect any ejaculations expressive of ecstacy given utterance to by my sister, when in the rapturous position of betrothed to that poor, three‐quarter‐witted young Crœsus. The nearest approach to anything tender that I could recall as having proceeded from her, was “that he was not quite such a fool as he looked.”

When he died, I remembered that she cried a little, and went into mourning, and said that she wished she had been his widow, poor dear fellow, for that widows' caps were so becoming, and she should have liked to have paid that tribute of respect to his dear memory.

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“What should I do if Dick were to die?” said I aloud, leaning my elbow on the sill, and addressing my question indifferently to the star and the mignonette box. Fall down dead on the spot probably, fall on his dead body, and die kissing him. “As Hero gave her trembling sighs to find Delicious death on wet Leander's lip.” To me it seemed, then, that to stand by and see Dick die, I living meanwhile, and surviving him, would be a physical impossibility. But if, by some miracle, I were to be unable thus to rid myself of life; if it were still to keep its undesired hated hold upon me, why—I'd take poison. Nothing could be simpler; arsenic, for instance, such as we set for the rats, and which made them swell to such a size, run so greedily to the spring to drink, and die there. “Should I swell so, and be so thirsty before I died?” I wondered. I hoped not. It was not a romantic thought, but it thrust itself in among its more sentimental brethren.

The pearl‐gray sky turned red, then lilac, then rose, then azure. The sun came forth in his might, and the birds page: 161 began talking volubly all at once, singing hymns and pæans, and blythe good‐morrows one after another. I rose from my seat, and began pacing up and down the room, with my hands locked together.

Why was I so happy? What had I done to deserve it? Why was God so good to me? Did He like me better than other people? Could it be that He chose favourites capriciously among his creatures? Had He so chosen me? or had He only given me this great boon to punish me more heavily by taking it away again? I fell on my knees, and begged and entreated God to visit me in any other way He should see fit; to send any loathsome agonizing sickness upon me; any form of suddenest, awfullest, cruellest death, but not to rob me of my yellow‐haired lover. In what way this hallowed, chastened, pious prayer was granted, you oh my unknown friends! shall see hereafter.

As I rose from my impromptu devotions, I inadvertently put my hand into my pocket and drew out the bank‐notes, which I had till that minute forgotten. I kissed each one separately, since Richard page: 162 might have touched it, locked them all up in a drawer with my Sunday bonnet and my best Bible, and then at length, when other decent folks were getting up, I took off my clothes, laid down and slept profoundly, till roused by the entrance of Mary, the apple‐cheeked, with my hot water.

That day was marked by two incidents, both black in hue; that day papa went away for a week's visit to an old chum, and that day Dolly returned. I think the two occurrences stood somewhat in relation of cause and effect to each other. I think that my father, with a cowardice unworthy of his age and station, fled at the approach of his lovely Dorothea. Dear old gentleman, I forgave him his desertion, because I sympathized so with the occasion of it. I poured out his tea for him, packed up his clothes, and put sprigs of lavender among them to remind him sweetly of his old home and his little daughter, gave him my blessing, and sent him off.

“Good‐bye, dad,” said I, hanging about his neck. “Don't catch cold, and don't page: 163 leave any of your pocket‐handkerchiefs behind you, and don't leave me very long to Dolly's tender mercies, and come back soon.”

Dolly arrived shortly afterwards. From the upper regions I heard her advent—heard the wheels of her chariot, “low on the sand and loud on the stone,” rolling to the door. I went down with laggard steps to receive her. The noon sun was beating on the hall door, making the iron knobs red hot; beating, too, on the aged and dilapidated Collins, who stood on the flagstone, with his ugly old head wagging like a mandarin's, partly from ague, partly in greeting to the returned Dorothea. The cab stood piled with luggage in the blinding glare, and the poor cab horse, with its lean head drooping, feebly tried to swish away the flies from its thin flanks with its tail. I stood in speechless, loveless admiration, as Dolly daintily descended, fresh and trim, as if she had been travelling in cotton wool and silver paper, in a bandbox, instead of in dusty railway and mouldy chaise.

“Well, Nell,” said she, presenting her page: 164 cool peach cheek to me, “how are you? Much the same as usual, I see—hair arranged with a pitchfork and dress with a view to ventilation.”

I said nothing smart in reply to this fond greeting, because, as Johnson candidly avowed to the obsequious Bozzy, “I had nothing ready, sir.” I followed Dolly meekly into the house, taking great care not to tread on her train. She had addressed to me but half a dozen words. I had not been above five seconds in her company, and yet she had compelled me to descend to the old standing ground miles below her. In her absence, I felt myself to be a lovable, admirable, rational woman; once again in her presence, I returned to my old station of gauche, charmless, witless school‐girl.

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