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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 220

CHAPTER XV.

PROVIDENCE makes use of humble instruments sometimes to fulfil its behests, to prove which many good little books and leaflets (as Spurgeon and Co. have christened very young tracts) are written and printed. Providence makes use of Collins now in my favour, for as Sir Hugh and his war‐horse—she is an old charger—vanish through the upper gate, he mysteriously summons Dolly to receive his confidence on some momentous theme. It was to tell her (as I heard later) that we were out of beer—we mostly were out of most things somehow—so that she may not be led away into offering Major M'Gregor any. Manent my follower and I.

“It seems one down t'other come on, with you, Nell,” the former says, rather bitterly.

“Don't talk about what you don't un‐ understand page: 221 derstand,” I say, saucily, my spirits rising like an indiarubber ball; “when people come to call upon a person, the person must be civil to them, musn't she? You come into the garden without being asked, but other people aren't so forward.”

Dick laughs, but not very satisfiedly.

“Don't remind me of my delinquencies; if I live to be a hundred, I shall never forget your father's face that day. It said ‘trespassers shall be prosecuted’ as plain as it could speak, didn't it? Well, have you anything particular to do this evening?”

“Have I ever anything to do?”

“Come and meet me then by the brook, by those alders, below the mill, will you?”

We are standing close together, and he lays his hand on my shoulder in his eagerness, to the amusement of Mary, the housemaid, who, like Jezebel, is “tiring her head” at an upper window. I have not sufficient guile to try and enhance the value of my consent by hesitation, so I say, “Oh yes, how nice; what time?”

“Well, we dine at seven to‐day instead of eight; Coxe is going up to town by page: 222 the night mail, so I can get away a bit earlier: but I'm afraid it won't be much before half‐past eight, that's very late, isn't it? But you know it is daylight till ten now, and then there's the moon.”

If there were neither sun, nor moon, nor planet, and only one tallow candle to illuminate our interview, it would not make much difference to me.

“Half‐past eight then?”

Dick has only time to execute a nod, pregnant with meaning as Lord Burleigh's, when Dolly reappears.

“I won't ask you to luncheon, Major M'Gregor, as I know it's no use,” says Dolly.

How did she know it? There must have been a little confusion of ideas in her mind, I think. She knew it was useless to offer him any beer, because there was none, and I suppose that was what she meant. Dick feels himself dismissed. He has not the tabouret, or right of sitting on a stool in Queen Dorothea's presence.

“Why, I rather agree with Lancaster, that it spoils one's dinner; and at Coxe's, dinner's no joke, I can tell you; it re‐ requires page: 223 quires the powers of an alderman, and would tax even them. Poor Coxe! He means well, and I suppose it is old‐fashioned hospitality, but it is rather trying. Good morning.”

He fires off a look of intelligence at me, which seems to say, “Remember,” as plainly as King Charles the First of blessed memory did to Bishop Juxon. I return it by a minute but knowing nod. I feel rather important, and a little dissipated, with the consciousness of a secret assignation on my mind.

“What was it you and Sandy were laying your heads together about, just now? You appear to ‘love greetings in the Market Place.’ Collins must have been edified,” says Dolly, would‐be playfully, but I detect the “clawses at the end of her pawses.”

“He was telling me about his passion for Amaryllis, to be sure,” reply I, with charming archness; “asking my advice as to Gretna Green and a post‐chaise.”

“Nonsense! What was it?”

“Brekkekekkex! Koax! Koax!” I answer, quoting Aristophanes, though with‐ without page: 224 out knowing it; and Dolly, finding that a servile war has broken out, and that I am in a state of open insurrection, desists.

I was sadly in want of some one to confide in that day. What is the good of possessing the consciousness of being about to do something as exciting, and daring, and hors de règle as walking down the Burlington by oneself of an afternoon, unless you have some one to share that proud consciousness with you. What is Tilburina, stark mad in white satin, without her confidant, also stark mad in white linen? I should certainly have unbosomed myself to Mrs. Smith, the recipient of all my confidences, from my aversion for Dolly and Mr. Bowles, to my grief for the death of the little black duck that the rats ate, had it not been that the bread not having “rose” (arbitrary past participle of the verb to rise), she was not in the best of humours, and paid small heed to me, when I threw out two or three remarks of an introductory nature as feelers. So I had to content myself with warbling page: 225 “Come into the garden, Maud,” all over the house, and wondering whether the household did not guess at the personal application of the song. Once and again a qualm of conscience broke off my singing, as I thought of my father. If he were displeased with me for sitting with a young man in our own garden at seven o'clock in the evening (for I really don't believe it was later), would not he, à fortiori, be far more displeased with me for sitting with the same young man, at a spot, a quarter of a mile beyond our grounds, at nine o'clock.

My father's notions of propriety were rigidity's self. A woman's virtue, in his code of les convenances, should be a stiff vestment of buckram and whalebone; he would have liked his daughters' modesty to be inferior only to that of the young lady in “Mr. Midshipman Easy,” who affirmed, that to shake hands with a man made a cold shudder run down her back. Shall I not go, then? Stay at home, and mend stockings, and listen to Dolly, “damning” her friends “with faint praise,” and regaling me with Rochefoucauld and page: 226 water. What? and leave poor Dick to kick his heels in the damp grass in dress‐boots? No, no; if it is a sin to disobey a parent, it is also a sin to break one's word, and when one must commit one of two sins, one may as well choose the pleasantest.

All the same, you will understand, please, that I liked my father a hundred times better than Dick, and always should. I was not, I think, one of those fiery females, whose passions beat their affections out of the field. And really I don't think that English women are given to flaming, and burning, and melting, and being generally combustible on ordinary occasions, as we are led by one or two novelists to suppose. Foggy England is not peopled with Sapphos.

My thoughts having once travelled to my dad, stayed with him for ever so long. Had he lost any of his pocket handkerchiefs yet? six of them were not marked. Had he remembered his gout, and abstained from port wine? exchanging the cuisine of Lestrange for that of any other house, was, to a human creature, page: 227 what being turned into a field of deep clover, after having been regaling on half‐a‐dozen bents is to a cow. Is he having a little rest from his burdens, a little time to gather up strength, and fortitude, and endurance. He had told us not to forward his letters to him, and indeed, when I looked at their big blue envelopes and the character of their superscriptions, I did not wonder at his not being in any hurry for a better acquaintance with them. I determine to write to him; I don't write a letter once a quarter, so it is a work of some labour.

“Darling Dad,”

“It seems such a long time since you went, I can hardly believe that it was only yesterday; I hope you'll come back soon, at least I mean I hope you won't if you find it pleasant where you are. I hope they make a great fuss with you; not so much as I do, I'm sure! Dolly is come back. She looks very well, and has got a whole heap of new clothes; she is about as pleasant as usual. Sir Hugh page: 228 Lancaster was here this morning; he came over to talk to you about the dwarf espaliers. (I had to look in the dictionary to see how espaliers spelt itself.) He seemed quite disappointed to find you out, and pronounced the French names almost as badly as you do. Major M'Gregor, the man you did not like, was here too. The cob is very well, and so are all the fowls, except the hen with the top‐knot, which has broken her leg tumbling down the ash hole. I don't think I have anything more to tell you, except that I send you twenty kisses and a great deal of love, and that

“I am always,

“Your most loving NELL.”

Tea in the kitchen at Lestrange seems a jovial meal; at least to judge from the peals of laughter that even through the double doors reached our ears now and then. I believe that Collins is humour itself, in unofficial hours, and Hann of great worth in repartee. Tea in the dining‐room is a silent feast; Dolly is buried in thought, and makes only one remark.

“I think you said that Sir Hugh was at page: 229 luncheon here the day before yesterday, didn't you?”

“Yes.”

The house seems to fall asleep after tea; as fast as the palace of the sleeping beauty. “Not a sound, Not even of a gnat that sung;” nor could the slumbers of the sleeping beauty herself be sounder than Dolly's as I peep at her through the library door, as, “She lieth on her couch alone.”

As the time for my dereliction of duty draws near, I “wash and anoint myself, and change my raiment,” or rather, as the fashion of oiling oneself like a machine is not prevalent in these Western regions, I confine myself to the other two. Then I steal through the garden door, and fly through the pleasure grounds, with as much velocity as if I had been projected from a cannon's mouth; ventre à terre I go, till I reach the fir wood. Not a breath of air! Every wind from Boreas to Zephyr is asleep in its cave, like bears page: 230 in winter; and yet—how they manage it I don't know—there is the same little gentle sighing in the fir tops that there always is; they must do it themselves without the wind, it must be their “song of love and longing,” like Shawondasee's to the dandelion in “Hiawatha.”

As I cross the threshold of Nature's solemn little pine temple, I drop into a respectful walk, as men take off their hats when they enter a church. On emerging from the wood, coming out of church, I see cavalry in the distance.Courage! I'm not first at the trysting place to‐day. I perceive the cavalry before it perceives me, as it is manœuvring among the alders. Is not it humorous of me calling my lover it; as humorous as Mr. Peter Magnus signing himself “Afternoon.”

I come tripping bashfully over the buttercups and the meadow sweet, which are washing their faces before going to bed, and are so obliging as to wash my ankles too.

“I was afraid Sir Hugh had come to see some more pear trees,” says Dick, with page: 231 a smile, and drawing a breath of relief as we meet.

I feel a boundless capacity for impertinence unfolding itself within me.

“Yes, indeed, there would not have been much chance for you then; he's a ‘baronite,’ and you are ‘a shade or two wus,’ as you must allow; but fortunately for you, I don't think his dear mamma would let him come out so late at night for fear of getting his feet wet.”

“As you are yours,” says Dick, looking down at my boots, which are all shiny with the dew. “Is he coming to‐morrow then?”

“Perhaps so; who knows what luck is in store for one?”

“He seems to bestow a good deal of his company on you; how long is it since he was at Lestrange last?”

“The day before yesterday,” reply I, readily.

“Humph! cannot understand a fellow making himself so much at home in another man's house, a man might as well keep an inn.”

“Who was it?” inquire I, with the air page: 232 of a person desirous of information, “who was it that came to call at Lestrange with Mrs. Coxe yesterday, and by himself today, have you ever happened to hear of such a person?”

We are walking along slowly side by side, past, the alder bushes, further down the brook, where we need not stand in awe of the miller and the milleress's espionage. Dick has got a light overcoat over his dress clothes, which are very plain; no embroidered shirt‐front or jewelled studs. Dick is twenty‐seven and has passed the jewelled age, which is as regular a period in the history of man as the wood, the bronze, and the iron, are in geology.

I'm different,” says Dick, gravely.

“Are you?” ask I, looking up naïvely. Next minute I am sorry I said it, for I see that he is vexed.

“If you don't see it, of course it is not so,” he answers, coldly, and sticks his nose up in the air, and looks as tall as a steeple.

“I do see it, of course; in the first place you are twice the size of him; he is such a page: 233 dear little duodecimo edition of a man, I could rest my chin on the top of his head with the greatest ease imaginable.”

Dick's nose descends from the clouds, and he passes his arm around me. “I'll go down on my marrow‐bones before you, and then you can do the same to me; it is a nuisance, being such a lumbering great brute, nobody ever gives you a mount.”

We have reached a spot where, two month ago, a great girthed oak spread its arms to the air and its roots to the stream. Where it stood, there it lies now; all along by its friend, the brook, that sings a little pretty dirge for it. We have had to cut down every stick of timber on the property; every stick, except trees as valueless as the hollow elms in the avenue, that are too old even to make paupers' coffins.

“Let us sit down, Nell,” says Dick. “I think we may defy the eyes of the mill now, and I don't suppose they've got opera glasses.”

“It's to be hoped not,” I say, laughing; “I shall have to run the country if they have;” which being interpreted means page: 234 that both Major M'Gregor's arms have disposed themselves around me now.

“I never thought I was given to jealousy before—I always thought Othello the biggest fool out,” he says, while the honest gray eyes look rather wistfully into mine, and I see myself reflected in the dark pupils; “but I don't know, I don't feel easy about that fellow, somehow; why do you plague me about him?”

“How should I know it would plague you?” I ask very gaily. “You seemed such very dear friends to‐day, ‘my dear fellow’ing and ‘old boy’ing each other, that I thought you would be pleased to hear that he was a dear friend of ours too.”

“I knew him in India; all through the Mutiny with him; he is the deadest shot I ever clapped eyes on. They used to get him to pick off those black devils; he bagged a good deal of black game!”

“Were you great friends, then, really?”

“Oh average! we always hit it off very well; he is a very good straightforward fellow, though he won't set the Thames on fire; he can ride a bit too; and he has page: 235 got a modest competence of something under £30,000 a year; that covers a multitude of sins.”

“I suppose it does; I wonder what it feels like?” I say with curiosity.

“Do you know, Nell”—says Dick, and I see his wide white forehead oddly white, when contrasted with the brownness of the rest of his face, contracting a little as with some pain—“do you know, Nell, I have not sixpence to bless myself with; that I am as poor as Job?”

I nod. “Yes; I know!”

“Who told you? Lazarus' reputation precedes him apparently!” (Very sharply.)

“Nobody.”

“How on earth did you find out then? do I look poor? is pauper written on my face?”

I rub my cheek gently against his shoulder.

“I felt sure you were poor; nice people always are! rich men are always short, and old and ugly.” (I am thinking of the one Dives of my acquaintance.) The sun is dead, but has left half his beauty behind page: 236 him; at the mere memory of him, the whole western sky is a‐flame, there are no watery lilac tints streaking the rich crimson that faints away into pale clear gold and dusky blue. “And at evening ye say it will be fair weather to‐day, for the sky is red.” The rosy flush is catching at the tops of the churchyard yews, and striking up along the old gray tower like a thought of heaven in a weary life. At our feet, the little burn goes wimpling down to the distant river; a small swift current in the middle, and under the bank little amber pools, where the tiny baby fish can shelter their semi‐transparent bodies from the sun. The big ones are swaying their slender bodies 'gainst the stream, which has force to make the “lush green grasses” on its banks bend downwards with it, long and drenched like the hair of a drowned maiden.

“I suppose,” says my impecunious Plunger, rather dolefully, looking down and tugging at the ends of his moustache, which are not waxed, “I suppose, if I had done what was right and honourable, I should have sheered off as soon as I page: 237 found I was getting hit; but it's an awful grind doing one's duty. If it would but lie in a pleasant direction for a change, it would have more chance of having some attention paid to it; and I really did like you so much, Nell, that, duty or no duty, I had to tell you so. By‐the‐bye, what does your sister think about it?”

“Think about what?”

“About you and me.”

“I don't know what she thinks about me, I'm sure; nothing particularly flattering, I fancy. But she thinks that you must be engaged to Amaryllis Coxe; at least, she said so this morning.”

“To Amaryllis! God forbid!” says Dick, fervently. “I'd rather a millstone were hanged about my neck, and that I were drowned in the depths of the sea. By‐the‐bye, Amaryllis, or Ammy, as her sisters tersely call her, is not unlike a millstone either in weight or shape. Your sister put the saddle on the wrong horse that time, didn't she?”

“She was so positive about it, too, that I thought I must have made some mistake. I was beginning to make up my page: 238 mind that I must look out for a fresh situation.”

“I see. That partly accounts for the pear trees; a Roland for my Oliver; a Lancaster for my Amaryllis. But seriously, Nell, doesn't she see how the land lies? I should have thought that it did not require spectacles.”

“There's none so blind as them as won't see,” I reply, oracularly.

“And you did not tell her?”

“Not I; I never tell her anything.”

Dick looks puzzled.

“That was it, I suppose, then. I thought, of course, that you knew all each other's secrets—my sisters always do.” (Dick has not realized the fact that there are sisters and sisters.) “So I began to say something about you to her this morning, and she shut me up rather; did not seem to know what I was driving at, you know; began to speak of something else.”

The flush is dying out of the sky's cheek; the remembrance of the dead sun is growing faint as the memory of the human dead weakens beneath the weight page: 239 of the crowding years; the buttercups have gone to sleep, each with his little cup full of dew; and the cows are making up for the time they wasted at noon, when they stood knee‐deep in the brook, and combated the flies, by feeding now as if for a wager; we hear their short quick bites in the evening stillness; and the stream goes whispering on, carrying little sticks, and green leaves, and fallen cherry blossoms from the mill orchard higher up, as a present to the gray distant sea.

Dick's and my hat are making each other's acquaintance at our feet, and the rising moon is turning our respective red and yellow chevelures silver, as the old bugbear with the scythe will do for us by and bye, if we wait patiently. I don't believe that Dick will ever be an old man. I cannot fancy him with his handsome mouth fallen in, and his handsome eyes melted out; cannot picture him hobbling about in a list shoe, mumbling his dinner with the wrecks of those strong white teeth, and having to be roared at before he can hear what is said to him.

page: 240
“The sound as of a hidden brook In the leafy month of June, That to the sleeping woods all night Singeth a quiet tune,” says Dick, in his deep voice. Dick can take a capital bass.

“Do you ever read poetry, Nell?”

“Oh, yes; very often. I have read ‘Lara,’ and ‘We are Seven,’ and the ‘Lord of Burleigh,’ and the ‘Needy Knife Grinder,’ and ‘Samson Ago—Ago—something,’” reply I, glibly.

Dick smiles. “Homer, Plutarch, and Nicodemus, All standing naked in the open air.”

“What has that to say to it?” inquire I, wondering what put that indelicate and irrelevant couplet into his head.

He pinches my cheek.

“Nothing; only I thought that your pieces of poetry seemed to have about as much relationship to one another as those three elderly gentlemen.”

“You asked me what I had read, and so I told you,” I say, rather injured. “It is not my fault that they are not related to one another, any more than it is page: 241 that you are not related to the great Mogul.”

“It was very rude of me,” apologizing, though the offending smile still lurks. “Tell me something else about your studies, and I'll swear to be as grave as a judge.”

“There's nothing to be told about nothing,” say I, with chagrin. “Papa knows everything; Dolly knows most things, and I know nothing. That's the state of the case. You thought it fair to tell me that you had no money, and I think it fair to tell you that I have no learning and no brains to get any.”

I turned away my head, and the tears, always within hail in my case, come stealing into my eyes.

“I don't believe the last, and I don't care a straw about the first,” says Dick, putting his hand under my chin, and bringing my rueful countenance round within reach of his eyes.

“Perhaps—perhaps—” say I, still rather lachrymosely, and making the remark to his shirt‐front, on which I have been good enough to deposit my rough, chestnut head, page: 242 “perhaps you'll try and teach me something. I asked Dolly once, but she would not.”

Dick laughs and strokes my hair.

I! I can teach you the platoon exercise, and how to make cartridges, and shall be very glad to do either if you think they would help you; but I don't think that my capabilities go much further.”

The church clock strikes ten; tells the dead people that they are an hour nearer their release—so clearly and sweetly each beat comes sounding over the quiet land. I resume the possession of my own head, and jump up.

“I must go home, else I shall be locked out.”

“There would be the devil to pay, then,” says Dick, standing up, too, and stretching like a big Newfoundland.

“I shall be late for prayers as it is, and I always read them.”

“Oh, you can read, can you, ma'am?”

“Yes, I can manage anything under five syllables.”

“Why does not Miss Lestrange act page: 243 parson? You seem to have no idea of the rights of primogeniture.”

“Dolly does not like prayers. She says that they are a great farce, and that she cannot see why, if a person wants to say his prayers, he cannot say them to himself, without dragging in all the household to help him.”

“They'll have a holiday from family worship at Lestrange to‐night, then, I take it.”

“Yes, sure to. Well” (with a long sigh), “it has been very pleasant. Good night.”

“I'm willing to bid you good night any number of times, but if you think you are going to get rid of me here, you are mistaken. It's Lancaster's turn now. How do I know that he may not be dodging round the corner somewhere?”

So we stroll away together from the silvered sedges, and the poor barked tree, and the spot where we have been doing our best to lay in a stock of rheumatism, and swelled joints, and shooting pains for our riper years, the pennilessest, improvidentest, happiest pair of sweethearts in page: 244 Great Britain. Walk as slow as we may, and no tortoise can beat us, ten minutes bring us to the parting gate. There we pose ourselves in the attitude of the famous “Huguenot” picture.

“I don't think you can come to much grief, Nell, between this and the Hall door. Good night, my darling. You are my darling, and not Lancaster's, aren't you? God in Heaven bless you!

Yours, if you'll have me; if not, nobody's,” I say, very earnestly; and then we kiss each other twenty times, where we first kissed, beneath the big white lilac bush.

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