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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 11

CHAPTER II.

THOUGH I ran nearly all the way, it was striking ten on the stable clock before I stood under the faint thick clusters of monthly roses that glimmered out of the dark ivy above the heavy, nail‐studded, old oak door of my own. We had a big house, but we were not big people—at least not now; we used to be, but we had gone down in the world. People at whom fifty years ago we turned up our noses, now turned up their noses at us. We had come sailing over the sea in beaked ships with Norman William; we had poured out our blood like water, under lion‐hearted Richard, for the Holy Sepulchre; we had had fat abbey lands given us by King Henry of the many wives, we had married heiresses, and had gone mounting up to the top of fortune's wheel, and it had been well with page: 12 us. But, alack! in these latter days we had been but too well known at Epsom and Newmarket; we had been very much at home at Crockford's when Crockford's was; we had wasted our young affections and substance on operatic Phrynes; we had run away with our neighbours' wives, and had generally misbehaved ourselves; and, in consequence, our many thousands had dwindled to very few hundreds, and our fair acres passed into the hands of Manchester gents with fat, smug faces, who waged a war of extermination against the letter H, and used big words where little ones would have done better. So the poor old house was very much out of repair, and there was no money wherewith to patch up its stout old walls.

But all this time I am keeping myself waiting at my own hall‐door while detailing my family's genealogy. I stayed a moment to bury my face in a bunch of pale roses, whose scent the night air brought out pure and strong, and then passed into the dim old hall. At this time of night it was as gloomy and ghostly an old place as one would wish page: 13 to see—very big, very dark, with heavy beams across the low ceiling, oak panels sadly in want of varnish, coats of arms, that showed what brilliant marriages we had made in the old times, mangy stags' heads with bulging glass eyes, and rather damaged family portraits. It would have taken a vast expenditure of gas to have lit it up properly, and in lieu of such expenditure one solitary composite candle blinked sleepily from the middle of the large ricketty hall‐table, illuminating the Family Bible out of which I read prayers to the servants in an impressive and quasi‐clerical manner every morning and evening, and leaving the rest of the apartment “to darkness and to me.” As I entered, I was met by a ricketty old man, who, somehow, seemed of a piece with the rest of the establishment, in whose superannuated old body centred the functions of butler, under‐butler, groom of the chambers, valet, footman, and page, and whom my father kept on from a motive of compassion, and because he hated changes.

“Tea is ready, Miss,” remarked this page: 14 desirable body servant, emerging from the gloom into the little circle of pale light round the candle.

“Is it?” said I, nothing more original occurring to me to say, as I stroked down my untidy ruddy locks with my fingers.

Without further addition to my toilette, for I feared to keep my father waiting, I ran down two or three shallow, well‐worn stone steps into the dining‐room. It was likewise very big and very dark, with more panels that obtrusively proclaimed their destitution of varnish to each casual observer, and with more family pictures glooming down out of black frames, in their faded beauty, for beauty the Le Stranges, man and woman, always had apparently in those old times, however degenerate they might be now. The table in the middle of the room, laid for two people, scantly furnished with light, and scantlier still with eatables, showed like an oasis in a desert of obscurity. My father was already in his old velvet arm‐chair, and was sitting leaning forward with his head between his page: 15 hands, in a pose sufficiently expressive. You did not need to see his face to tell you that here was a man careworn and weary, on whom the sun of his life's afternoon was beating scorching hot, a man with whom life was going awry—awry I should think it was; the old house was going down hill, and he did not like it; the brambles had sprung up rankly, and were choking the Lebanonian cedar; he and his were last where they used to be first, and he felt that it would be the death of him. Brave as the Spartan boy, he kept the vitals‐gnawing fox hidden under his cloak, away from the eyes of the coldly prying world—a world often ill‐naturedly curious in seeking out and putting its fingers through the tatters in its neighbour's coat—a world “That would peep and botanize Upon its mother's grave.”

I gambolled up to him in a kid‐like manner. “Well,” said I cheerfully, “I suppose the tea is quite cold, and you're quite cross, and I'm to have a real good page: 16 scolding, aren't I?” Then I stooped and kissed the whitened hairs.

“Eh, what?” said he, thus suddenly called back from his joyless reverie to the contemplation of a young round face that was dear to him, and vainly endeavouring to extricate himself from the meshes of a redundant crop of curly hair, which was being flourished, in its redness, before his face. “Indeed, Nell, I'd forgotten your very existence that minute.”

“What could have chased so pleasing an image from your mind's eye?” said I, laughing.

“What always chases every pleasing image,” he answered, gloomily.

“Bills, I suppose,” returned I, discontentedly, “bills, bills, bills! that's the song in this house from morning to night. Is there any word of one syllable in the English language that includes so many revolting ideas!”

“None except hell,” said my father, bitterly; “and I sometimes think they're synonymous.”

“Dad,” said I, “take my advice, and try a new plan, don't worry about them page: 17 any more, take no notice at all of them, we've got the air and the sunshine, and one another left, we ought to be happy, and if the worst comes the worst, we can but go to gaol, where we shall be nicely dressed, well fed, and have our hair cut, all for nothing.”

My ideas of a debtor's prison were evidently not derived from “Pickwick” or “Little Dorrit,” inextricably mingled were they with my recollections of the felon's gaol at Nantford our county town.

Papa shook his head. “All very well to say ‘don't worry,’ Nell; as well say to a criminal on the scaffold ‘don't be hanged,’ or to a dead body, ‘don't be buried;’ to be worried or not worried does not depend upon an effort of the will, child.”

I had by this time established myself among the cups and saucers. As he spoke, I held the teapot suspended in mid air, and paused. “Dad,” said I, “doesn't it say in the Bible, ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.’”

“Yes, Nell; and it says too, ‘man is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward;’ I do not doubt the wisdom or truth of page: 18 the first, but the last comes home to my inmost soul, ‘as the sparks fly upward!’” He looked up as he spoke, as though tracing the flight of the sparks.

“If you sigh like that,” said I, pettishly, “you'll blow the candles out, and then there'll be no sparks to go up.”

My father made no rejoinder, and we both ate in silence for some minutes. But at that period of my life I had no talent whatever pour le silence; I would rather have harangued a cod's head than hold my peace. I began again.

“Dad.”

“Well.”

“Please to listen. I'm going to tell you something; come down from the clouds, or up from the pit, wherever you are.”

“I'm all attention.”

“Well,” said I, narratively, “you must know that I found you so dull and unsociable this evening, that I betook myself to the churchyard!”

“Did you find anybody, I should rather say any of the bodies, particularly sociable there?”

“I rather like dead people's company, page: 19 pa; they don't contradict one, and one has not to make talk for them. But I saw something besides tombstones to‐night. Guess what?”

“A pig?”

“No.”

“A widow?”

“No.”

“A ghost or two?”

“Fiddlestick!”

“My divining powers are exhausted, then,” said my father, looking as if he should be rather thankful if I would leave him in peace.

“Guess again.”

“Oh, plague take it, how do I know what you saw? one of our servants, perhaps, or some other sight equally strange and invigorating.”

“It was not anything of ours, we have not got anything half so good‐looking about the place, dad, it was a man!”

“What sort of a man, old Iken?”

“Well, if it was old Iken, old Iken is six foot high at least, and has got wavy yellow hair, and I have been labouring under a delusion as to his personal page: 20 appearance for the last nineteen years.”

“Young John Barlow, perhaps, come to see whether his mother's tombstone is put up right.”

“No such thing, dad. It was no more John Barlow than it was John the Baptist, and that, you'll own, is not probable.”

“Some counterjumper from Nantford, probably; they get themselves up much finer than gentlemen now‐a‐days,” said my father, ruefully.

“Papa, don't you suppose I know gold from brass? don't I know a gentleman when I have the luck to see one? My friend had no ditchwater in his veins; he had a decidedly warlike air too, and you know, dad, you and I have a penchant for soldiers, haven't we?”

“I have a penchant for peace, my dear, if you would be kind enough to drink your tea, and let me indulge it. Probably this prodigy was one of the Burgoynes, if you are quite sure he was neither Iken Barlow nor a pig.”

“No, no, it was not one of the Burgoynes. I know them both. John is crooked, and Charles squints; they are a page: 21 pair of ugly little boys, and this was a man.” My parent smiled benignly at my enthusiasm concerning the unknown's beauty.

“What's your definition of a man, Nell? John Burgoyne would be surprised to find he did not come under that head. I think in his own estimation he's something very little lower than the angels.”

“He may be very little lower than the angels,” said I, pouring myself out a second cup, “for I haven't the least idea how high the angels are; but he's a great deal lower than my man—two inches, I should think.”

“It's a pity we cannot solve the enigma of his name, Nell. ‘My man’ is rather a vague designation, isn't it?”

I laughed, not quite so musically as usual, perhaps, because my voice was partially smothered in buttered toast.

“Yes, dad, and the worst of it is, it isn't true, either; he is not mine, and, what's more, he is not ever likely to be either. Oh, dad! I wish we could find out about him. You don't know how pleasant he looked: almost as nice as you when you've got your Sunday coat on.”

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“That gives an idea of majestic beauty, I own,” said my father, with a little gentle sneer at his own stooped shoulders and bowed head.

To my mind it did; in my eyes my father had the amaranthine bloom of ivy‐crowned Dionysius. Love looks beyond the withered husk to the fresh kernel, and I knew that to me his heart was always young.

“He was an elderly gentleman, was he?” continued my father. “I begin to think better of him. I fancied at first that he was some foolish young puppy, not come to years of discretion.”

“Papa, I like puppies; there's much more life and fun about them than about mumbling old dogs. I don't mean by that that you are a mumbling old dog.”

“I did not mean any insult to him, my dear, by calling him a puppy. I'd be a puppy again myself this minute if I could; I'd compound for puppy brains if I could get back puppy spirits with them.”

“Are people always happier when they are young than when they are old, pa?”

“Mostly, I think.”

page: 23

“Then I hope I shall die young.”

Whereupon I fell a‐thinking what an interesting young corpse I should make lying in the big four‐poster in the red room, with my emaciated hands folded on my bosom, and a deluge of white flowers about me.

“You'll die, darling, when God pleases,” said my father, with his dear old voice shaking a little. “Whether He takes you away from the evil to come, as He did your little mother, or leaves you to fight out the weary fight to the end, as it pleased Him that I should.”

Then he rose, and I, running to him, stole my hand into his, and we left the room together in sober fashion.

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