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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 199

CHAPTER XIV.

I DON'T think I like the word Nature, it sounds hard and dry and unfriendly; a chilly abstraction instead of the homely familiar assemblage of green fields and hedges and muddy lanes, and cows and donkeys, and rivers that it is intended to represent. However, I suppose until our language grows richer by a more satisfactory term, I must be content to make use of it. Dear mother Nature, after all is said and done, is far pleasanter than most specimens of Human Nature. She has been bespattered with a great deal of ill‐fitting praise and undeserved abuse, for not sympathizing sufficiently with the howlings and throes and yearnings of aspiring and dyspeptic bards, for not howling and yearning with them, but after all she is quite sympathetic enough. She does not indeed disfigure her pretty face page: 200 with crying for us when we die, why should she? She will die herself some day, she knows; but when our own kind cast us out, she takes us to her motherly breast, and wraps her fresh, sweet‐smelling earth‐cloak about us. And then, while we are yet alive, what a friendly companion she is; not too demonstrative, and such a good listener; lets us say what we please, never contradicts us, nor gives us bits of advice, or pieces of her mind.

I pick up my hat (it cost seven pence half‐penny originally, and has been in wear three summers) from off the settle and pass through the swing door and the offices to the kitchen, with the raftered ceiling and huge broad fireplace. A very thin curl of blue smoke is going up its wide throat now; we need but little fire to do our minute portion of cooking. Times are changed since oxen were roasted whole, and old October brewed at Lestrange. When the last Lestrange came of age, I don't think even a chicken was roasted whole in honour of the event; well! we shall be extinct next generation, and time for us!

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“The old order changeth; giving place to new, And God fulfils himself in many ways.”

Mrs. Smith is sitting in one sunny window, a little orange tree in a pot that she has raised from a pip stands on the sill; it has shot up very tall and drawn from the heat of the kitchen. Mrs. Smith is shredding beans into a willow pattern dish. Coming events cast their shadows before, and we are evidently going to have beans and bacon for luncheon. Beans cost nothing and bacon not much, so they are a very favourite and frequently recurring mets in our bills of fare. I stand by her for a minute or two in silence; so, finding that, like a ghost, I require to be spoken to first, she lifts up her kind homely face, and says,

“I'm afraid you're a bit lonesome to‐day, my dear, your pa gone and all; I 'ope 'e's got all right to his journey's hend; I don't put much faith in them ould trains, and Miss Dolly is not much company for you, is she?”

“No,” say I, taking up one of the empty pods, and looking at the short white down upon it; “but I don't want page: 202 company,” and then I leave her with the warm sun streaming in on her little sickly orange tree, with its dusty dark leaves, on her black net cap and faded purple ribbons, and on her pale smooth beans. I pass through the house‐yard, where a scullion “fat and foolish” as the one that was scouring a fish‐kettle at Shandy Hall when the news of Master Bobby's death arrived, is pumping into a bucket, with her great red arms, and where the old tom‐cat is couching on the top of the wall, with his tail curled round his toes, one eye shut, and the other keeping wily watch upon the movements of a very young, naked, and clumsy bird on the beech bough above him.

There was a little book came out some years ago, which I believe had a great run among the spinsters of Britain, entitled “Work: plenty to do, and how to do it,” and with an emblematic beehive blazing on its small blue back. I had no work to do, and should not have done it if I had. How would the ingenious author have dealt with me? The gate into the ten acres stands open, and I enter. page: 203 Our hay is not cut yet, it will be a month yet before the grass and the flowers' sweet death make all the land one nosegay; a month before, from my bed‐room window in the early morning, I see the long row of haymakers bending to their scythes; before I see their ladies wearying their strong horn‐hands with tossing the hay in the warm dry air, and raking it together with their big blunt‐toothed rakes through the long summer days.

I made hay houses up to a very very few years ago, went on making them until my commanding height and Dolly's ridicule compelled me to relinquish my unseemly sport; even now, though I have been to a dinner party, and set up a lover, my soul hankers after the forbidden fruit.

Regardless of the injury I am doing to the crop, I throw myself down full length, shaded by a sycamore, which ought not to be in the hedgerow and is. The grasses are so very tall they stand up inches above my prostrate form; I can see the little summer flies walking up the stalks page: 204 of the ladies' smocks, and into the faint sweet flowers.

I clasp my hands at the back of my head and lie very still, so still that a little blue butterfly settles on my breast, and opens and closes its white‐lined wings slowly in the sun; and green dragon flies go whirring confidently past, almost brushing my nose as they sail gauzily by. There is a path through this field, a right of way; in litigation about which, my worthy grandpapa, whose money always burnt a hole in his pocket, spent hundreds fifty years ago, but very few people ever pass along it. Nobody is passing along it now, this midday is as utterly mute as any midnight.

From my low bed I look straight into the sycamore; I see the coy little shadows playing hide and seek; see wonderful quivering lights; see the leaves in all the bravery of their new attire—some have put it on but this morning, and here and there Heaven's blue eyes looking through the green windows. The yellow light and the staring up make my eyes ache at last, so I turn them away and look through the page: 205 grass forest round me, through “the oat grass and the sword grass” off far away to the horizon. I always fancy that the bridge at the World's End, at which the youngest of the three prince brothers in the fairy tale invariably arrives, must be somewhere over there.

A very busy bee mistakes my right eye for a flower, and attempts to go into it; complimentary but not pleasant; to prevent the recurrence of such mistakes I close both eyes. When any one in a moderately comfortable position of body, and with any sin less than murder on his soul, takes to closing his or her eyes on a drowsy windless May day like this, there can be but one result; the result accomplishes itself in my case, and I fall asleep. Heaven knows what I dream about, some ridiculous pot pourri of impossibilities; but all of a sudden I jump half out of my skin, and start up. A man stands beside me; not Dick nor Sir Hugh, for what should they be doing trespassing in our ten acres? but— “A little glassy‐headed, hairless man,” page: 206 Collins, in fact, in that striped linen jacket and generally dégagé costume in which he usually blooms through the forenoon.

How you startled me!”

“If you please, ma'am” (for Collins, though of indisputable antiquity and not in the best repair, has sufficient remnant of good feeling and resemblance to a decent servant not to say “if you please, Miss”), “if you please, ma'am, there's a genelman in the library, and Miss Lestrange sent me to look for you to come to him.”

“A gentleman!” I cry, with as much animation as if I were a second Miranda, whose acquaintance with gentlemen was confined to her papa and Caliban, “and Miss Lestrange sent for me?”

“Yes, 'm; told me to 'unt heverywhere for you.”

(Dick, of course, I say to myself. Well done, Dolly, your bark is worse than your bite.)

“And what is the name of the gentleman?” to make assurance doubly sure.

“Well, 'm, I were hout when he come, so Hann went to the door, and she says page: 207 she could not take her hoath, but if she was to die next minute she should say it was Sir Hugh Lankyster.”

“Sir Hugh Lancaster!” with infinite disgust; “then why on earth did you not say so before?”

I throw myself down again in a pet.

“You may go; I shan't come.”

“But if you please, 'm, Miss Lestrange—”

“What do I care for Miss Lestrange! Say that you could not find me.”

Gollins retires, discomfited, and as the last glimpse of his bald head and round shoulders disappear round the corner, I change my mind; chiefly, I think, because I see that there is no one to try and do it for me. “Half a loaf is better than no bread,” and a man, even though he be not the man, is better than nothing. Cleopatra was but true to the instincts of her sex when she said,— “I have no men to govern in this wood, That makes my only woe.”

I effect a compromise with my dignity, by walking as slowly as I possibly can to page: 208 the house, and entering the library with an air of ostentatious indifference.

“Here you are! That's all right,” says Sir Hugh, jumping up, and in that jolly tone which is peculiar to him.

‘Jolly’ is Sir Hugh's own epithet, as ‘venerable’ is Bede's, and ‘pious’ Eneas's. Other people may be, and no doubt are jolly, venerable, and pious, though perhaps not all three at once; but these three men are the representatives par excellence of these qualities. Hugh reminds one somehow of the tone of Dickens's books; there is a broad, healthy geniality about him; he is like a wood fire on a frosty day.

“Did Collins find you?” asks Dolly.

I say, surlily, “Evidently, or I should not be here.”

Dolly never wrangles in public: she remembers to laver her linge sale at home, and not give her acquaintance the benefit of it.

“Where were you?”

“In the Ten Acres. I was asleep, and he woke me, and gave me such a start.” (pouting).

“Taking a siesta, were you?” says page: 209 Hugh; “best thing to be done to‐day; melting, isn't it? My bailiff, who is very weather‐wise, says we are to have thunder before many days are over.”

“I'm sure I hope so,” Dolly says, languidly, “for it would cool the air, and prevent our all being reduced to little spots of grease.”

“I'm sure I hope not,” growl I, contradictiously.

“Why?” asks Hugh, who, I suppose, thinks that I must resemble the rooks, who say nothing without cause (caws).

“Because it frightens me out of my wits. It is not a pleasant idea that you may be alive and well one minute, and as black as a coal and as dead as a door‐nail the next.”

Sir Hugh shows all his front teeth—and they really are his own, I do believe, his own by right of birth and not of purchase—in a laugh; he is as easily moved to mirth as a child at a pantomime.

“It doesn't sound very cheerful, certainly, when you put it so forcibly; but it is such an infinitesimal chance—a million to one. You don't mean to say that you page: 210 do really funk—that you are really frightened at thunder. I should have thought that you were afraid of nothing.”

“I am, though. I always tie something over my eyes, and go down into the cellar. Don't I, Dolly?”

“I can't say that you are remarkable for physical courage,” replies Dolly, with a slight emphasis on the word; “but it's an unnecessary quality in a woman; only makes Jaels, and Judiths, and Madame Rolands of them, doesn't it, Sir Hugh?”

Sir Hugh says “he supposes so,” and the electric topic seems exhausted.

Dolly and I are sitting on the sofa, side by side.

“My dear child,” says the former—in that maternal, elder sister, guardian angel strain which makes casual old ladycallers remark that “Miss Lestrange is like a mother to her younger sister”—“what have you been doing with yourself? You are covered with bits of grass, and sticks and stones enough to make a rook's nest. She is a regular Madge Wildfire, isn't she?”

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Sir Hugh thinks it would be rude to me to agree with Dolly, and rude to her to disagree with her; so he holds his tongue and looks wise, as if he could say a great deal, but would not. The window is exactly opposite, and Dolly is looking out of it. Suddenly she rises and walks quickly, but without ungraceful hurry, over to it.

“Don't you think it would be pleasenter to have this blind down a bit? The sun does beat so very powerfully on this side of the house in the forenoon;” and, without waiting to collect our suffrages on the subject, she pulls it down. “Do you know, Nelly, poor Sir Hugh has had such a disappointment this morning. He came over to have a talk with papa about those dwarf espaliers. You won't mind trying to be a bad substitute, will you, and taking him to see them?”

“Why can't you go yourself?” ask I, not too civilly.

I,” (with a laugh and a shrug). “What do I know about dwarf espaliers? I'm a regular cockney in all gardening matters.”

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“Never mind, it will do just as well any other day. I don't want to bore Miss Eleanor,” says Sir Hugh, good‐naturedly, but looking rather vexed, for he is a great and zealous gardener, and no one likes to feel themselves shirked.

I recollect myself, and call to mind how sharply my father took me up for snubbing Sir Hugh the other day.

“Oh, no; I don't mind much,” I say, ungraciously enough. “Come along.”

“Go through the garden door, it is open,” says Dolly, following us out to see that we take her advice.

“You had better come too, Dolly,” I say.

Hugh does not back my invitation.

“No, no,” (with a sweet benedictory smile, which seems to say, like the ‘heavy father’ in the fifth act of a melodrama, ‘Bless you, my children.’) “Two are company and three are none; and, besides, the sun makes my head ache.”

“How much better your rhododendrons do than ours,” says Sir Hugh, stopping as we pass a great sloping bank of lilac blossoms; “can't make it out.”

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“We got plenty of bog earth for them from Brindley Heath,” I say, looking down at my boots, and wondering whether my companion has yet discovered the yawning rift in the side of the left one.

“I see your father has let the land up to the very windows.”

“Yes, he had to,” I say, with a sigh; somehow, I don't much mind Hugh knowing our poverty.

We walk on silently for a minute or two. I think that Hugh is wishing it was not an insult for a rich gentleman to offer a poor gentleman money.

“What a jolly old place it is. I wish I could pick it up, and pop it down half a score miles nearer Wentworth.”

“Do you?” in rather a dissentient tone.

“Yes, I do. Why, you see my mother is getting into years. It's a long way for her to come pounding over here. She is not so active as she was once, and I want you and her to know each other better.”

Me and Lady Lancaster! why, on earth?” I should not have been more astonished had he expressed a wish to see me and the Duchess of Cambridge on page: 214 terms of intimacy (bien obligé, but I think that that cast iron old lady would hardly be a meet playfellow for me.) Hugh looks straight before him, I think he thinks me inconveniently innocent.

“I wish you'd let us put you and your sister up at Wentworth, while Sir Adrian is away; you think my mother rather alarming, don't you; and she does cut up rough now and then, certainly, but what old woman doesn't.”

“I suppose they mostly are rather cross,” I say, sedately, “and old men too!” I add, from a feeling of equity to my own sex.

“If you do come, you must come soon,” continues Hugh, as we tramp together over the daisies that flourish unspudded upon our sward, “for in a fortnight or three weeks the old lady is off to town!”

“Are you going with her?”

“Oh yes, of course; though there's nothing in life I hate so much. Swelling about St. James's Street, in one's go‐to‐meeting clothes, and being squashed as flat as a pancake on some old dowager's page: 215 stairs, aren't much in my line; I'd a deal sooner be sowing marigolds or planting potatoes; beastly hole, London!”

Sir Hugh is bucolic, you see; he has not Pope's admiration of “the town.”

“Dear me, how odd!” exclaim I, with genuine surprise; my views of the Metropolis are formed on the Whittingtonian and streets‐paved‐with‐gold plan. “I should like to go to London of all things; I want to see the Tower, and the British Museum, and the Wax Works.”

Sir Hugh bursts out laughing.

“God bless my soul! what an extraordinary notion; you'd hardly find it pay, I think, travelling a hundred and twenty miles to see Rush and Palmer and Townley, staring at you like stuck pigs.”

I never have any great opinion of my own sapience, but I perceive that in my last observation I have considerably exceeded my usual standard of silliness, and so I am relieved in finding that we have reached our goal, the potager. Having called our old gardener, who is involuntarily practising the virtue of tem‐ temperance page: 216 perance over a hunk of cheese and an onion, to my assistance, I stand by for about ten minutes, and listen not without amusement to Sir Hugh and him mangling the French words with their clumsy British tongues, while I entertain myself consuming infantine peas. I have embarked on my seventeenth pod, and the others are deep in Bons Chrétiens and Beurrés d'Alemberg, when the sound of footsteps and voices in a duet, approaching, make me turn my head. Hugh does ditto.

“Halloa! here's your sister come out, after all! And who on earth has she got hold of? a good many yards of him anyhow! Why it's M'Gregor, as I'm alive! I did not know that you knew him.” Dolly is holding up a little gray parasol, and has tied a small fichu over her head; she has a white gown on, and her modest eyes are cast down; altogether one would say that she was about to be confirmed. M'Gregor comes mowing along beside her; rarely, rarely can a plunger walk.

“Why, M'Gregor, my dear fellow, how are you? I thought you had mizzled from page: 217 these parts a week ago; why have not you been to look us up?”

Major M'Gregor takes his hat off to me; I am in disgrace apparently; not good enough to be shaken hands with.

“I did say something to Coxe about it, but he did not seem to care about lending me a nag, and I'm not particularly partial to pedestrian exercise in the dog days.”

“You are amongst the poultry still?”

“Yes.”

“Anything up there? calicoes lively?” asks Hugh with delicate persiflage.

“Bless your heart, my good fellow, the army's nowhere, they won't wont look at a soldier! Bulls are the only admirers of scarlet cloth now‐a‐days!”

Hugh turns to take a last fond look at the pear trees.

“What a sun trap this garden is!” says Dolly; her fichu is not a very efficient turban and she has a righteous horror of freckles; “let us go home again now that we have found you, you were so long over your gardening that we thought we must come to see what you were about, though page: 218 we were not quite sure of our reception, were we?”

“This sort of thing,” says Dick, laconically pointing to a gooseberry bush beside him.

“Exactly, very graphically put.” I am too indignant to deny.

“What's very graphically put?” asks Hugh, rejoining me at this moment, but nobody answers him, and we all walk back to the house; ego et rex meus, or Hugh and I ahead, and the others following at a little distance.

Sir Hugh's mare, bright bay with white stockings, is being walked up and down the gravelled sweep by Collins, for stablemen have we never a one.

“Poor old girl!” says Hugh, going up and patting her sleek flank, “you're not so young as you were, but no more is your master if it comes to that, but you are as handsome as paint, isn't she?”

He has a very thin tail,” say I, and from this remark the amount of my knowledge of horseflesh may be inferred.

The others come up by and bye, and Dolly exclaims, “Oh, Sir Hugh, you'll page: 219 stay luncheon, won't you? It's very shabby of you running away from us in such a hurry.”

I stand aghast, with my mouth open, fly‐catching.

“No, thanks, no,” replies Hugh, rather hastily. He remembers the shin of mutton, and does not agree with the proverb that “the nearer the bone the sweeter the flesh.” “I never touch luncheon, at least not once in a month; spoils one's dinner. Good‐bye, Miss Lestrange; good‐bye, Miss Eleanor; see you again soon,” (how cheering!) “good bye, M'Gregor, give us a call, old boy, some day, when you are short of a job.”

Off he rides, and we three stand looking after him, admiring the set of his coat behind and his mare's rat‐tail.

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