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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 277

CHAPTER XVIII.

“LIVE as long as you may,” says Southey, “the first twenty years are the longest half of your life.” It is a reflection so trite as to be made by every living soul capable of that mental process ycleped thought, that one of childhood's days is equal in duration to five or six of man or womanhood's; that one of childhood's years is a saeculum, a mighty aeon, whereof the beginning is more distant from the ending than are the Tudor days from ours. Was the case the same, I marvel, with those giants in age that flourished and withered before the Flood?

Those unfortunates, on whom was inflicted the penance of a thousand years of labour and sorrow, did their earlier days spread and stretch themselves in the same disproportionate fashion? Did they grow page: 278 to maturity, I wonder, as soon as we do? Were they full grown at twenty, middle‐aged at fifty, and were their remaining eight or nine hundred winters devoted to old age? Oh, monstrous notion! A land peopled with dotards! a world full of gray heads and gouty feet, and age‐palsied intellects. The alternative, though more probable, is assez drôle, in its necessary and legitimate consequences.

At a hundred years old, those ill‐starred ones were still spinning tops and dressing dolls, if antediluvian dolls there were; at two or three hundred, they were making love, and getting into those scrapes to which hotheaded youth is liable; at five hundred they were thinking of settling down to the serious business of their lives. Were the memories of those ancients strengthened in proportion to the length of time they had to be exercised upon?

Did they remember in their eighth or ninth century, what they said and did in their first and second, or were they in their later days oblivious of the actions and passions of their youth? Could a man in King George's reign have any very distinct re‐ recollection page: 279 collection of what he was thinking about in King Alfred's? “I know not; what avails to know.”

I have heard it affirmed by sane people and have read in divers books that breakfast forms the cheerfullest, sociallest réunion of English home life. Whosoever stated that fact, whosoever wrote it, I take upon myself to deny it. Tout au contraire, that interesting animal, man, so curious in many of his habits, is at that hour at his worst. A remnant of sleepiness, unknown to themselves clings to most people; they have not warmed to their day's work. If the new organizing of society were intrusted to me, I should make it as indecorous to breakfast in public, as it is now considered to perform one's ablutions in the presence of that vague personage the world.

Whether social or not, breakfast is over at Wentworth; much kippered salmon and cold tongue have been consumed, and a little slack conversation has been kept up. Dolly, knowing that there is a time for all things, has molested no man with her eyes, page: 280 has contented herself, at least, with two or three quite trifling glances at Dick, whom Fate has deposited at her side. Breakfast then is over, has been over an hour or more, and most of the tenants of that red brick Elysium, Wentworth Park, are standing and sitting about the hall, pulling on gloves, reading the Times, and settling disputed claims to pot hats.

Before the door, out in the spring sunshine, stand many horses, malely and femalely saddled; likewise a double dogcart with a pair of light‐hearted chestnuts. Most of the ladies are in riding habits; the widow among the number, and very like an overripe gooseberry she looks. I am unclad in riding gear; I have never bestridden (or the feminine equivalent for bestridden) anything nobler than a jackass; never shall possibly. It is evident we are all on the verge of some expedition. Most of us, it is true, would rather :stay at home; to many of us, indeed, a pic‐nic is verily and indeed the accursed thing.

Two or three of the men are yearning to throw a fly in the trout stream, that goes page: 281 purling, twisting, flashing through Sir Hugh's fat meadows— “Thro' the meads where melick groweth.” Two or three more would far fainer be a peppering of rooks, and a ratting with pink‐eyed terriers than squiring of dames along a dusty road. No matter! The trout, speckled, pink‐feshed, silvery, may, jumping, gulp down live flies in peace to‐day. No fictitious fly framed of delicatest feather and finest silk, will this day beguile them.

We are to be amused, all of us, nolentes, volentes, not in our own way but in Lady Lancaster's. I am among the very few volentes. I am not looking my best this morning, having been crying most of the night, and there is a red rim round each eye; but of red rims, red noses, and haggard cheeks, I am careless, for I am sitting on the topmost one of the flight of stone steps that lead up to the hall door.

Dick is stretching his long length, like a big Newfoundland, one step below me; he is looking at the chestnuts, and smiling and saying:—“Won't we put them along page: 282 at a tidy pace, Nell? We'll take the shine out of them?”

By one brilliant coup, I have retrieved last night's disasters; at least I think so.

Five minutes back, Dick was leaning against the door post, looking glummer than glum. Nobody was nigh save me. Dolly was up stairs, Sir Hugh was rating one of his grooms. What an opportunity for prompt action! I go up and put my hand on his arm. “Dick,” said I (I had never called him Dick before) “Well?” (very glum) “What have I done? why are you angry with me?”

“I am not angry,” (with averted head, but slightly thawed intonation).

“If you're not angry, do drive me in the dogcart to‐day, instead of riding; you know I cannot ride; do, dear Dick!”

As I make this indecently forward proposal, my voice shakes, and my heart thumps like a steam ram. Dick's head veers round like a weathercock in a high wind.

“Won't I just? if I have the chance; what a little darling you are! but you see page: 283 the cart is Lancaster's—not mine, and perhaps—”

Sir Hugh coming up, interrupts him.

“You're for riding, I suppose, aint you, M'Gregor? Carriage exercise isn't much in your line; at least it used not to be, and there's the roan all ready for you.”

“Oh, thanks, old fellow,” responds M'Gregor, “but if you don't mind, I've rather a fancy for tooling these chestnuts along. I don't seem to care much about peacocking along the king's highroad.”

Sir Hugh's countenance falls.

“All right,” says he (his face says “all wrong”), “just as you like, only you'd better keep an eye on that off mare; she is the very devil to pull when there's anything behind her; don't blame me, Miss Lestrange, if you find her flourishing her heels in your face.”

Dolly standing near, overheard. She was holding her habit up delicately with one hand, and slashing a small Balmoral boot with her whip.

“Had not you better get your cloak, Nell?” she suggested, “we may be late coming home.”

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“Perhaps I had,” said I, and up stairs I ran, two steps at a time. Dolly followed me, made a remark or two upon my dress, and upon no other subject, and then went down again. I was a long time finding my cloak; having discovered it at last in the depths of a trunk, I redescended to the hall. Dolly is gone; the riders all are gone, but the dogcart is still there; Sir Hugh is still there, and Richard is not there! I stare blankly.

“Why I thought Major M'Gregor was to drive me?”

Sir Hugh's mirth runs over in laughing eyes and a broad grin.

“Yes, so he was, but your sister made it all right; awfully jolly of her, wasn't it?”

“How—how do you mean?” I gasped.

“Why she told him you were rather nervous about horses, and that you funked rather at what I said about the mare; that was all my eye, you know. She's as quiet as an old cow.”

“Well, go on,” said I, digging my teeth into my under lip.

“Well, he stuck to it like a man for a page: 285 long time, till at last she had to tell him—jolly girl she is—that you had hinted to her—she said you did not like to speak out—that you'd rather have me for a Jehu; he gave in, then, in a minute, like a sensible fellow. Come, hadn't we better be starting! Mind the wheel?”

My heart, like Nabal's, turns to stone within me. I get in mechanically.

“Give her her head,” shouts Sir Hugh to the groom, and off we go. The chestnuts are a showy, high‐actioned pair, and step well together; full of oats, are they? swiftly do they bear us along.

“We by parks and lodges going, See the lordly castles stand; Summer woods about us blowing Made a murmur in the land.”

Only we did not see any “lordly castles,” because there were not any such on the Lancaster estate. Instead, we passed by many a substantial farm and homestead, with barns and stacks, and trim out‐buildings, that told of a good and well‐to‐do landlord. Hugh points out his possessions with complacency as we bowl past them.

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“D'ye see that copse over there, with the lot of scrubby brushwood there, down in the hollow?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that's the very best cover in the county; always find there; never missed once last season.”

“Oh.”

I am determinedly sulky, and register an inward vow that no sentence longer than a monosyllable shall be extracted from me. The hedges are white with hawthorn; on the orchards the rosy snow of the apple blooms lies thick, the blackbirds are singing, and Sir Hugh's heart is merry within him.

“Nice little box that, isn't it?” says he presently, indicating with his whip a snug cottage, buried in cherry trees and laburnums. “My governor built it for an old bailiff of his. I've got a lot of greyhounds there now for coursing.”

No comment whatever.

“Do you like coursing?”

“No.”

Our destination is a certain show place, fourteen or fifteen miles from Wentworth, page: 287 a place that appertains to a certain earl, who has so many houses, show and not show, that he is quite puzzled to know which to live in. The equestrians reach the bourne to which all we travellers are hastening sooner than my Hugh and I do; they are able to take advantage of bridle paths and wood paths and narrow lanes, in which, if we attempted to traverse them, we and our four‐wheeled vehicle should stick. So our delicious tête‐à‐tête has lasted an hour and three‐quarters ere we reach the great wrought iron gates that give ingress to Wilton Towers, and roll through the park among the oak‐clumps and the fallow deer and the thick deep bracken. The place of rendezvous is by the side of a mere, much affected by coots and wild ducks and Canada geese—a piece of water more remarkable for extent than beauty.

Here we find our associates mooning and loafing about, like unburied spirits on the hither side of Styx; heavy and displeased are most of them. Of such a fête as the present one, the eating part, the fleshpots and flagons form the mar‐ marrow page: 288 row, the pith, the kernel; hitherto these ladies and gentleman have been put off with husks and rind; and very cross it makes them. We pull up under a spreading horse‐chestnut which is tossing its white spikes in the sunny breeze.

“Stop a bit,” says Sir Hugh, throwing the reins to the groom, “don't be in a hurry; I'll lift you down.”

My sole response is to hurl myself to earth. The velocity of my spring precipitates me to the ground, and of me, it may truly be said, in the words of the poet— “Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.” Half a dozen men rush to pick me up; but I am beforehand with them, and rise to my feet with two great green patches on my dress, where my knees have saluted mother earth. When things come to their worst they always mend, which is not to be wondered at much, considering that there cannot be a worser than worst.

The only thing is, it is so difficult to know in this world when our fortunes have reached their nadir; there are so page: 289 few depths that have not a yet deeper depeer deep beneath them—heat and horse‐flies, and midges, and the headachy snappishness which is the result of heat, formed the lowest abyss to which poor humanity in our persons was called upon to descend to‐day. Half an hour after my culbute, life, I think, wore a cheerfuller aspect in the eyes of most of that roasted assemblage; Wilton Towers seemed a desirabler demesne, and even the twelve miles ride home a more bearable prospect.

At the expiration of that wonder‐working thirty minutes (the two grooms being the Dei ex machina), a white tablecloth lies like an exaggerated snow‐flake, beneath an oak‐tree, big enough to have sheltered a dozen blackguard King Charleses in his great leafy heart. Spoons and forks flash in the sunshine that filters through his thick green cloak, tall sloping‐shouldered bottles cool themselves in the mere; there is a scent of mint sauce on the breeze, and the young acorns, looking down out of their cups, see beneath them baked meats, frequent as those which page: 290 adorned the obsequies of Hamlet, King of Denmark, and yet were enough (they must have been a little stale, musn't they?) to “coldly furnish forth” his widow's marriage banquet. Pasties were there, “Costly made, Where quail and pigeon, lark and leveret lay Like fossils of the rock, with golden yolks, Imbedded and injellied.” Juicy chickens, and juicier lamb, lobsters lurking redly in crisp lettuces, and pastry enough to furnish a cook shop.

Ουδε τι Θυμος εδευετο δαιτος εισες

Round these cates we sit accroupis, on the short fine grass, and feast to the sound of “the long ripple washing in the reeds.”

“Capital Sauterne, this!” cries the disbelieving old bachelor, holding up his glass to the light, to see the foam bead sparkle diamond‐like. “I wonder where Lancaster gets it; I've tried half a dozen places, and never could get hold of anything decent.”

“It is nice,” owns the widow, sipping.

“By‐the‐bye, apropos of Sauterne, did page: 291 I ever tell you of a bon mot of Lord —, the late man, you know, not the present?”

He travels a little nearer to the bereaved one, along the turf, and his wicked old eye twinkles (he has not had the heart to unpack any of his little anecdotic wares, for her benefit, hitherto.)

“No, I think not; tell me now, do.”

“I'm almost afraid, but it really is too good to be lost.”

His voice sinks to a susurrus, a chuchottement, either of which words is more onomatopoeiatic than whisper. The widow lends him her ears, and I see them reddening under the combined influence of the Sauterne and the bon mot, which was, I think, a very mauvais mot.

“Nice little cob of yours, Lancaster—that black one,” says the lean lord; “easy as an arm‐chair. Do you ever hunt him?”

“No,” says Hugh; “he's hardly up to my weight, particularly over a stiff country like this; he'd be just the thing for you, and he's A1 at timber.”

(All the Lancastrian geese are swans.)

“Is there any bustard?” asks the youth page: 292 with the influenza. “Biss Seybour wadts sobe bustard; Atcha! Atcha!”

“Bless you,” murmurs Miss Seymour, under her breath. The benediction being called forth by the sneeze, not the demand for mustard. I, of course, am next to my host; I always am; people begin to leave that coveted post vacant for me; I made a feeble effort to shirk it at the beginning of the entertainment, but was foiled. Hugh is drinking bottled beer, and making brilliant remarks, and sharing his petits soins pretty equally between the silent dove beside him, and the not more silent doves in a pie before him. Dick M'Gregor and Dolly Lestrange seemed to have hardly more appetite for their luncheon than I had; they could not well have had less.

Flirting is, in one respect, like wit; it has never been satisfactorily defined; it is less fortunate than wit; in that it has not yet found a Bishop Barrow to expend pages of gorgeous eloquence in describing it; no object, they say, looks exactly the same in two pair of eyes, nor are any two people's notions on the subject of flirting precisely alike.

page: 293

Dick and Dolly, however, fulfilled all the conditions required by all the different ideas of all the different people then present, on this vexed theme. Firstly, they seemed to have a very great deal to say to each other; secondly, they did not seem to have anything whatever to say to any one else; and thirdly, what they had to say to one another, they appeared compelled to say in a stealthy and secretive manner. Dick's face was troubled “as if with anger or pain,” as he lay reclined, like a young river god, among the yellow irises by the rushy margin of the lake. His hat was off, and the sun was busy weaving an aureole like a saint's round his curly head. Poor fellow! there was not much of saintly repose, and there was a great deal of earth's unquiet passion in that honest angry face.

I never knew any woman who could compare with Dolly Lestrange in the art of drawing out and waking into rampant life any spice of the devil which might be lurking latent in a man's soul. She was waking Dick's devil now; I saw her—saw the evil spirit gradually shaking off its sleep, page: 294 and coming with a lurid light into those eyes that had looked before only vexed, and pained, and thwarted.

Dolly was not a fine woman, as they say, at all; not beef to the heels, by any means; in a grazier's eye, she would have had no charm whatsoever. She looked very girlish and simple now as she sat on the grass, leaning on one slight arm, her slender figure looking slenderer than its wont even, in her dark tight‐fitting habit, out of which her throat rose, like a lily stem from its sheath, “Les yeux noirs Vont au purgatoire,” you know, she is saying, in her low tender voice; “poor black eyes! that's treating them very badly, isn't it?”

“Your eyes are not black, brown surely?” says he, with interest.

“No, black, I think—aren't they?”

She raises them full of innocent wondering inquiry, and fixes them on his; rests them there unabashed; neither speak for a minute; then Dolly, in a half whisper—

“The moon will be up as we go home to‐night, won't it? we shall see it in that page: 295 pretty brook we came down by, shan't we? but, perhaps—oh, I forgot—”

She stops, as though in confusion.

“Forgot what?” he asks eagerly.

“I forgot that I mightn't—mightn't be riding with—you, might—be riding with somebody else; and then I thought—”

“Thought what?”

He bends closer to catch a glimpse of the down‐drooped head.

“Oh, nothing—nothing; it was only that—that I thought I should not care much about the brook, or the moonlight, or anything else—then.”

The great velvet orbs passionate, passion rousing seek his again; seem unable to tear themselves away. What man can stand it? Dick cannot. I see the broad low brow flushing. I see his eyes answering hers; speaking that mysterious thrilling fire‐language that surely the devil invented.

“Why should not we ride home together?” he says, softly.

She plays with the wide‐open iris flowers, with the stiff, wet iris stems that lie in her lap.

“You might have got tired of me, page: 296 mightn't you? is that quite an impossible hypothesis? Do men never tire of women? I think I've read somewhere that they have done such a thing before now.”

“Never of some women; wasn't it of a woman that it was said— “‘Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety?’” She shakes her head with pretty incredulity. “Cleopatra was Cleopatra; if her case had not been a unique one, her story would not have come down to us; we cannot all, or indeed any of us, expect to have her luck.” She sighs, and I see under the dark blue cloth of her bodice, her heart fluttering.
“You live on air, Miss Lestrange,” sounds Sir Hugh's deep voice, as he regards me remonstratingly, “With his heart full of love And his mouth full of pie.”

“No, I don't,” I respond snappishly, like a little yelping cur, with his tail between his legs, snapping at a big dog's nose, “pickled salmon is not air that I'm aware of.” The fact is, I have got some page: 297 pickled salmon on my plate, and am sorely bested to know how to dispose of it, for swallow it, most surely can I not; I could as soon swallow Hugh. I should like to hurl it, and the platter that contains it, and any other crockery within reach, at Dolly's sleek shapely head; but that may not be. Unguessing of the storm in a tea‐cup beside him, in a state of blissful unconsciousness, Hugh takes up the thread of his discourse, begins a new thread rather, for—dear fellow—he is a little discursive.

“We shall have to do the house just now, I suppose; walk through a mile and a half of execrable pictures; I will say that for Lord Stencliffe, he has got more vile daubs and bad copies together than any other man in England.”

(Oh for that cut glass decanter to aim at the bridge of Dolly's nose! oh to make those black eyes black eyes indeed!)

“H'm! has he?”

“I wonder why one ever comes to see these sort of places. I never heard any one say they liked it—did you? it's an awful bore, isn't it?”

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“Yes, it is; most things are awful bores in this world, I think—and people too!”

Sir Hugh laughs lazily; champagne and sunshine, and a heavy luncheon will induce a certain blandness of manner and indisposition to take offence; he laughs as one laughs at a parrot swearing, or at the rage of anything equally impotent.

“Ha, ha! most people means me, I suppose; why are you always so down upon me, I wonder?” I gaze straight before me into space, and feign deafness.

“Never mind!” he says, good humouredly. “I've a pretty tough hide, and I'd rather be pitched into by you than kissed by anybody else!”

Hugh never thought it necessary to lower his voice when he said anything tender. The expression “love whisper” never could be applied to his amatory commonplaces; love‐shout or love‐bellow would be more applicable; any one that chose to listen might hear; he was not saying anything he was ashamed of. Dick does hear, and draws his smooth brows together into a frown. Dolly does hear, page: 299 and says, with a pretty, playful, dimpling smile—

“Lovers' quarrels! Poor little girl! I hope he is not trifling with her!”

The poor little girl, listening, winds her pocket‐handkerchief tight round her fingers, till it is converted into a ropy, stringy rag, and then bites a piece out of it. Fête champêtre has a pleasant sound, but I think the sound is pleasanter than the reality. I think, in sober earnest and in literal truth, it is sweeter far to have one's legs beneath the friendly mahogany, where lively grasshoppers cannot get up them; in a cool dining‐room, where one enjoys immunity from phlebotomizing gnats and midges.

The Wilton flies and gnats drew much human blood that day, but we bore our being “let blood” meekly; it was part of our appointed torture. Meekly also we bore the house, and the Dutch Madonnas, and the Lelyan and Knellerian portraits, and the lying anecdotic biographies tacked on to each by that obesest of housekeepers; meekly also the chapel, with the place where the family sat, the place where the page: 300 ladies' maids sat, the place where the footmen sat; meekly also the gaudy new window to Lady Grace's memory, where a very big blue St. Peter, and a rather big red St. John, and a green impotent man, stood huddled together in close proximity, with a gate anything but “beautiful,” picked out in yellow in the background. Everywhere Hugh followed me like St. Nicholas's pig.

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