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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 245

CHAPTER XVI.

A HOUSEHOLD where woman reigns alone, freed from the dominion of her natural enemy; an entirely female establishment, leavened by no admixture of the masculine element, is a very dreary thing. So I found to my cost during that long, long week.

The man of a family may be, and often is, a very inferior animal to his woman‐kind; made of infinitely poorer, commoner clay; he may be a coarse, surly brute, all body and no soul worth speaking of, or a soul wrapped up and enfolded in swine and turnips, or in gray shirting, or brown sugars, or pill‐boxes and blisters. Even so, the sound of his heavy boots on the stairs, of his gruff, untuneful voice, mixes harmoniously and healthily with the women's noiseless, cat‐like footfalls and shrill treble pipes. Good is his unbeautiful face page: 246 at dinner; good are his dull anecdotes, that yet bring a whiff of the outer world with them; yea, good are his very hat and dreadnought in the hall.

Women's minds are apt to get narrowed, soured (the best women's have an undeveloped tendency that way), if they have not some male intellect to rub against, and be wholesomely jostled and buffered and sweetened by.

How dumb the old house seemed that week! I don't think Sir Adrian, Sir Guy, and Sir Fulke can be much dumber as they “lie in glory” under the chancel of Lestrange Church. Outside, the thrushes and blackbirds sang, the cocks crowed, the dogs barked, the ploughboys whistled, and I caught myself wishing earnestly that they would all come indoors, and make their pleasant noises in the hall, in the ghostly galleries, in any room or rooms they pleased, just to break the weary silence, the silence as of a house where a shrouded body lies coffined, a tenantless rigid clay image. Dolly sat through the long hours, motionless as a statue, tinted with life colours, like Vishnoo contem‐ contemplating page: 247 plating his own attributes and god gifts in the shining heart of the Swerga.

My fingers itched sometimes with a profane longing to box her ears, to upset her out of her chair, to do anything unseemly, just to shake her out of her frozen content with herself and that endless gray stocking, which was of dimensions suited to a manly leg, and yet not destined, as I knew, for our papa's wear. “Satan finds some mischief still, for idle hands to do,” is about the most veracious couplet ever indited by Mr. Watts of busy beeical memory. Even if he leaves our hands unprovided with work of his; leaves them to hang down harmless by our sides, or folded in our laps, he makes up for his forbearance by giving our minds double tasks.

How rigidly must those early Eremites, those holy men who loved their souls so much, and soap and water so little—how rigidly, I say, must they have adhered to their Lenten fare; upon how few bitter herbs, upon what undiluted water must they have dieted themselves, if they did page: 248 really succeed in keeping all earthly imaginings away from those lichen‐curtained rock crevices where they were wont to stow their lean tormented bodies out of harm's way. To lock the door against those ideas, “earthly, sensual, devilish,” that throng the portals of an empty soul, must have been even a harder job than the exclusion of the lizards, newts, and other “miscreated forms of life” that frequented those dank, agueish abodes.

My mind misgives me concerning those bearded, ragged, vermined saints, that their bald‐shaven pates enclosed thoughts as naughtily mundane, and as mundanely naughty as any of their helmeted and wigged coevals; that that hair cloth (stranger to the washing tub) covered hearts that beat to as worldly a tune as any devil's jig. Man's spirit is so essentially irreligious, so honestly God‐hating, that, leave it to itself for one minute, it turns its back upon its Maker; runs away from Him swifter than a jagged lightning flash, “anywhere, anywhere.”

Montaigne counsels an infrequent use of prayer, because, saith that chatty old page: 249 heathen, man's soul is so rarely in a suitable attitude for addressing its Creator. The premises are right, though the conclusion is wrong. What do we see in the depths of our tall hats when we gaze so devoutly into them in church? When we lean back with folded arms in our corner of the family pew, while the parson is “Bummin away like a buzzard clock ower our heads,” are we thinking of Heaven's high King, and our position relatively to him; or is not rather our fancy running riot among our pleasant sins? We call them to us, one by one; we look into their dear faces, and give them a parting hug, whilst God's messenger is giving his parting warning or promise to us. These remarks are somewhat out of place here; but they would do nicely for the backbone of a sermon when I have leisure to compose one. It may be objected by some one that the pleasant sins of an innocent minded girl of nineteen must be few and far between; that I (such as I have described myself) could barely have had page: 250 enough iniquities to meditate upon, to fill up many of those vacant hours.

Iniquities, perhaps not! sins, perhaps not, according to the lax worldly interpretations of the term; but of silly, witless, profitless conceptions and whims I had a great store. There seemed to be nothing but feeding times to look forward to that week; from breakfast to dinner, from dinner to tea, we travelled sluggishly, with no emotion livelier than what the sight of minced collops or hasty pudding was calculated to call forth.

If one of the chimneys would but catch fire; if that unsafe garret, where the man hanged himself in Queen Anne's days, would but fall in; if even one of the dogs would but have a fit, or puppies, or anything; if anything would but happen! thought I. Something must happen before long; even if I myself had to pull the strings that set the machinery in motion. I began to have a morbid longing to do something startling, something that would break the gelid monotony of my existence. In my pretty vacant head—I can talk of its prettiness now without airs page: 251 of mock modesty; now, I say, when it is as much a thing of the past as Helen's or Aspasia's—I began to cast about what action at once extremely eccentric and extremely naughty I could perform.

Should I slay Dolly in some new and ingenious manners? should I practise some picturesque form of suicide? should I drown myself in the garden pool, and be found with my long red hair inextricably entangled among the duckweed? or should I choose some sequestered spot in which to “snip my carotid,” and be discovered beautiful but gory, with an explanatory billet in my lily hand?

I was saved from the difficulties attendant upon the selection of either of these enticing endings by the occurrence of two small incidents which diverted my plannings and imaginings into other channels. The first incident regarded the butcher; the second, Sir Hugh Lancaster and “that other.” The butcher may be dismissed paucis verbis. He came, he saw, whether he conquered or was conquered I am not very clear.

One morning I stood by the garden page: 252 pool, looking down rather ruefully at the duckweed, and hoping that it would not get up my eyes and nose and ears when I should commit myself to its shining breast in despairing yet becoming self‐slaughter, Dick having proved faithless, or having been killed in the wars. What wars, whether French, Kaffre, or Sikh, I had not decided; there being, at the time I write of, an equally remote probability of our picking a quarrel with either of those nations. Among onion beds and cabbages, and through the well‐sticked peas came Mrs. Smith in panting haste, and with woe in her eye.

“Oh, my dear, Miss Nelly, the butcher!” As the war‐horse is popularly supposed to snort at the trumpet blare, so snorted I that fear‐breeding name. “I've spent all the breath in my body trying to make him let it stand over till next week; them pigs oughter bring your pa in some money then; but he won't hear till it, he's in the room now (ellipse for housekeeper's room) stormin' shameful, that he is!” I picked up a stone and flopped it into the pond, making a hole page: 253 in the duckweed. “I've been to Miss Dolly, and tried to get her to go down to him; she's such a rare good 'un to palaver folks, she is! I thought she might make somethin' of 'im, but she did not seem to care nothin' about it. She said if he threaped the roof of the 'ouse off, it wasn't none of her business.” I fished for a floating piece of becka bunga with a stick, coveting its small blue star flowers. “Put not your trust in princes,” said I, gravely, that is, in Miss Dolly, who, if she isn't a princess, ought to be one.

“If I'd a known,” said Mrs. Smith, expanding her fat hands to catch the pond breezes, “all I should ha' 'ad to put up with, along o' that man, I'd 'a seen him eating snails at Jericho, with a two pronged fork, afore I'd 'a let 'im inside our doors; they're the independentest lot about 'ere as ever I see, that they are; there ain't no doin' no good with them, nohow.”

I let pass, without criticism, the redundancy of negatives in my house‐keeper's last clause. I was still immersed in hooking up wet lengths of water‐weed.

page: 254

“And what the jouse,” (sic) perorated Mrs. Smith, rising into sublimity, as she stretched a drab stuff arm to Heaven. “I am to say to that ould blaygaird, I know no more than the babe unborn.”

My piscatory efforts were by this time crowned with success. I had tugged up great sprays of greenery, and now grasped them lovingly in my bare white hands, while they dripped abundantly over my dress.

“Pretty things,” said I, invoking them inwardly; “are my eyes as blue as you, I wonder? I must ask Dick.” Then aloud. “I know what to say to him, Mrs. Smith, though you and the unborn babe don't; and what's more, I will say it before I'm ten minutes older.” Whereupon I left the pond, and the becka bunga, and the potherbs, and ascended lightly to the upper chamber, where I kept unrevealed to Dolly, to Mrs. Smith, or other living soul, poor Dick's bank‐notes. Armed with them, and with his bill, I repaired to the encounter with the “fat greasy kill‐cow,” as Southey christens one of that fraternity. I entered the page: 255 “room,” as Mrs. Smith called it—the room, par excellence—with my head up and my nose in the air. Oh for those fine old days when the fowls of the air built their nests in Justice's disused scales, when the Sieur Lestrange might take twenty lances and transfer as many fat kine as seemed good in his mind's eye from his lowborn neighbours' premises to his own.

Happy, happy days, when gentlefolks lived at ease and duns were not. So, in I stalked, with my chin superciliously elevated, and my money in my sack's mouth. There he sat, the vile roturier, red‐faced, vituperative, with a glass of beer beside him, which Mrs. Smith had given him as a peace‐offering. There he sat swilling our beer (that smallest, sourest of all malt liquors), and reviling us.

“I believe you want your bill paid,” I said, haughtily, while Mrs. Smith gave my gown a great jerk of dismay at my lofty deportment, from behind.

“I rayther believe I do, miss,” responded my creditor. “I've been a wantin', and a wantin', and a wantin' it page: 256 any time this last twelve munse, but it don't seem much good a wantin' hanything in this 'ouse.”

I tossed down his bill, and four of my bank notes with it.

“Give me change, please,” said I, superbly, “and be quick about it.”

As I spoke, I think a feather might have floored the great man‐mountain before me. Two round eyes, stolid, unspeculative as his own oxen's, stared ever rounder and rounder at me; he did not move hand or foot.

“Be quick, please,” I said again, very imperiously, and gave a little stamp. He escaped apoplexy by a near shave that time; after all, there was the money, and that was all that was his business, “though sewerly it was odd how them Lestranges managed to get hould on it.” So he thrust a hand as big as a fillet of veal into his pocket, and counted out the change, and then, calling for a pen, scratched his receipt.

“Now,” said I, with my eyes flashing in my triumph, and the Lestrange blood burning in my fair cheeks, “leave the page: 257 house this instant,” and I waved my hand towards the door, “and never set foot within these doors again, do you hear? Go, this minute.”

He was cramming his bill and his notes into his breeches pocket; then he prepared to obey me.

“I'm a‐goin', miss,” said he, grinning; “don't you be a‐puttin' of yourself about; and I do hope as you'll find some one as 'ull serve you satisfactory, and bring you all the best jints, and not expect to get a farden for them neither, that I do. Good‐day to you, miss.”

He was a low fellow, wasn't he? but I'm not sure that he had not the best of the argument.

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