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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 301

CHAPTER XIX.

“TIME is but a parenthesis in eternity,” as somebody (I always forget the sayers of grand things) grandly says; if so, what must each of our lives be? A parenthesis in a parenthesis, and a very short parenthesis too. Our life is but as a very little boat tossed on the sea of infinity; it is a small breathing space between the tussle with life at the beginning and the tussle with death at the ending. Poor little lives! What immeasurable self pity fills one, when one thinks of our poor little farthing rush‐lights, that often before they are half burnt, great Death blows out. And yet all our reflections and lamentations and moralizations on the brevity of our abiding here, does not do anything towards making one dull minute seem shorter, or greasing the wheels of one tedious hour.

Did the assured knowledge that my existence was but an imperceptible speck in the fields of space make that long long page: 302 road between Wilton Towers and Wentworth Park seem a quarter of a mile shorter that night? Not it. Endless appeared to me the lengths of moony turnpike, the wood‐shaded windings and twistings among Lord Stencliffe's great quiet oaks and beeches.

Whether it was all love and no champagne, or all champagne and no love, or half love and half champagne, or three quarters love and one quarter champagne, or one quarter love and three quarters champagne, I cannot say; but certain it is that Hugh became inconveniently tender—tender in the moonlight, tenderer far in the shade. I, in my own mind, ascribed an undue preponderance to the champagne element, and suffered agonies of apprehension lest the grooms behind should overhear his amorous platitudes.

“Jolly and big the moon looks, doesn't it? like a Cheshire cheese!” The moon, the sacred moon, the be‐songed, be‐sonneted moon, the moon that Romeo sware by, and that Milton saw “Stooping thro' a fleecy cloud.” like a Cheshire cheese!
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“How poetical,” I said, sardonically.

“No, it isn't poetical, I know. I'm not up to the dodge of poetry. I don't go in for those kind of things. I would though, if it would make you like me any better.”

Cupid and the vintage of Epernai have infused a certain sentimentality into the dark middle‐aged eyes that contemplate me.

“How soon shall we be home?” I ask, abruptly, looking at him discomfortably, and thinking how plain the crow's feet come out in the moonlight.

“Home! Why we've hardly set out yet. We haven't got to the fourth milestone by Thorny Hill, you know!”

Haven't we?”

“What are you in such a hurry to get home for! I feel as if I should not mind going spinning along here for ever behind such tidy cattle and with you beside me!”

As he speaks we reach a toll‐gate, and the sleepy toll‐keeper descends in a slight and sketchy attire, suitable for the wooing of Morpheus, opens the gate for us, and shuts it again behind us. We are coming to a part of the road which runs parallel page: 304 to the railway for a quarter of a mile. Rather a dangerous bit of road, for this reason, there is but a narrow strip of field intervening between it and the line; and people with fidgetty horses have found before now the disadvantage of such close proximity to a possible locomotive, at full speed.

We are going along at a spanking trot through the dumb May night; there is not a sound but what we make ourselves. Suddenly the sharp shriek of an engine, as it issues from the tunnel through the Marston Hill at our backs, cuts the stillness.

“Hang it!” says Hugh, “there's a train coming. I hope to God they won't bolt!”

I turn my head, and see the great dim bulk, with the red lamps at the buffers like glaring eyes, devouring space a hundred yards behind us. Then it comes roaring, puffing, thundering by. For a second the chestnuts stop and stand motionless, shivering with terror; then quick as thought, as lightning, they wheel right round. Snap goes the pole, and off we go, tearing down the road we have just come along. The page: 305 broken pole swings to and fro, kicking and banging against their legs, goading them to madness; thud, thud, come the off mare's heels against the splash‐board.

Damn,” says Hugh, under his breath. “Sit still, Nell!”

No need to give me that injunction. I could not budge an inch if I was to be shot for it. Stock still I sit there, clutching the side of the dog‐cart with one hand. The elm tree boles flash by, white in the moonlight; past race the dim harebell carpets beneath them; past rush the hawthorn‐crowned hedges. We are nearing the toll‐gate.

“By G—,” says Hugh, hoarsely, “the gate's shut!”

I see him setting his teeth; he plants his feet against the splash‐board, and pulls with all the force of his strong wrists. I see the veins rise in knotted cords on his hands, in the intensity of his exertions. To no purpose; there is no perceptible diminution of their mad speed! With heads down and mouths like iron, on they rush; in two minutes we shall be crashing into the gate, knocked to smithereens probably. page: 306 Suddenly Hugh gives one vigorous tug to the right rein; I see what is coming, and stretch out my hand involuntarily to clutch him—to clutch anything—then—smash we go into the hedge bank.

When I discover myself again, for my body has outrun my spirit, I find myself standing on my head in a clump of violets. I reverse myself as soon as possible, that is to say, I return to the position nature intended for me, and erect myself upon my legs again. I look about me, but at first am too giddy to make out anything; everything goes whirling round, and there is a buzzing, surging sound in my ears.

Then I see Hugh likewise picking himself up from among the thorny hedge, where he has been making his downy bed. Down the road the horses go, galloping wildly, dragging the dog‐cart on its side along with them. In the ditch sprawls one groom, rather stunned, and from the field on the other side comes the voice of the other, shouting a doleful inquiry as to whether we are killed. Hugh comes staggering, rather dizzily, over to me.

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“Are you hurt, Nell?” (very anxiously), no trace of champagne.

“No—o—o, I think not. I—I—believe I'm going—to—to—die!”

I have a recollection of the aghastness of Hugh's countenance at this announcement; then a vision of his arms stretched out, and my tumbling into them, and then my spirit went away for a space, as spirits will sometimes, though whither they go has never, by ancients or moderns, been satisfactorily explained.

As soon as my soul comes back from that trip—how long it is absent I know not—I begin to sneeze violently, and my eyes water profusely, which is the less to be wondered at, as I find a very large bottle of strongest salts held right under my nose, and sending its pungent vapours up my nostrils. I push it away, and look about me. I am in a room I never was in before, an inn parlour evidently; a small room where stalest tobacco and stalest beer contend for kingship over the dominion of smell; a very big‐patterned brown and yellow paper on the walls; Lord Stencliffe in a cocked hat and red page: 308 coat, and with a battle furiouser than Armageddon, of which he is apparently unaware, raging behind him, over the chimneypiece; Adam and Eve au naturel, over the sideboard; the woman of Samaria, very embonpoint, in a corner; a broken lustre and two crockery lambs on the mantleshelf, and three or four horse‐hair chairs.

I myself am lying on a very hard horse‐hair sofa; a tidyish elderly woman is standing over me, brandishing a brandy bottle, and oh horror! oh shame! oh infamy! Hugh's arm is under my head, and his face with the middle‐aged eyes and the crow's feet—his face—its mahogany streaked with blood, is within two inches of my nose; he is hanging over me like a mother over her baby.

“Feel better?” he asks, concernedly.

Instantly I struggle into a sitting posture.

“Yes, thanks, I'm all right again now, I think; hadn't we better be going home? is the carriage mended?”

Hugh laughs.

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“Mended! not exactly! I have not heard tale or tidings of it yet; if the traces have not broken, it's some way beyond Wilton by now, I should think. I have sent Jackson after those brutes, but I'm hanged if I know when he'll be back again.

I gaze blankly at him.

“How are we to get home then?”

“Ay, that's the rub,” he says; “they have not got any sort of a trap that can take us here. I've sent Smith (he was the other groom) walking to Wentworth, and I told him to go as quick as he could, and get them to send the brougham for us.”

“How soon can it come?”

He takes out his watch and calculates.

“He's been gone about a quarter of an hour, and it's five minutes past ten now, and it's eight miles good to Wentworth—an hour and a half, two hours and a half—three hours; it may be here in three hours, that is, if he ever gets there; but he was rather muzzy when we left Wilton, and that spill has obfuscated his intellects still further, I'm afraid.”

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The calmly, cheerful way in which Sir Hugh makes this promising statement roiles me—to use a word sanctioned by Clarendon, though fallen from its first estate now—considerably.

“If you thought there was a doubt about his getting there, why on earth didn't you go yourself?” snapped I.

“And leave you?” says Hugh, reproachfully, still kneeling beside me.

Neither words, tone, nor attitude are lost upon the goodwife, as I see. She coughs a little, and looks or makes as though she is looking towards the plump Samaritan dame in the corner. I vault from the sofa, as if the spirit of a flea had passed into me, and walk across the room; my legs feel stiff and sore, and I experience an inward longing that Hugh would have the sense to leave the room, and enable me to examine into the number and extent of my casualties.

“Won't the lady take anything?” asks the female Boniface, demurely.

The lady declines, but the gentleman says—

“Take anything! of course she will! page: 311 Why, it'll be hours before we get home again; bring in some tea directly, and something to eat; chops, or ham and eggs, or anything, it does not matter what, and—have you got any decent beer?”

When did an Englishman forget to pay his orisons to his great and beneficent god, malt liquor? Of course they have decent beer, more than decent, admirable beer, at least so our elderly friend asseverates, and Hugh signifies his intention of migrating to the bar to partake thereof. The landlady and he pass into the little flagged passage, and close the door behind them. I, left to myself, sit down by the window, curse my fate, and those unmannerly blood mares, and count the bruises, great and frequent, on my shins. Presently the hostess returns with a clean tablecloth and tea‐things.

“The gentleman'll soon be back, 'm,” she says, consolatorily, to me.

“I daresay.”

“He's just gone 'alf a dozen yards down the road to see if he can see hanythink of the man and them brutes of 'osses.”

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“Oh, has he?” with ostentatious indifference to the communication.

“Do you feel quite yourself again, mum?”

“Quite, thanks.”

She arranges a black‐glazed tea‐pot and two cups and saucers, and then recommences her attack.

“I was so thankful when you come to yourself when you did, mum!”

“Were you?”

“Yes, 'm, because of the gentleman, I mean; I never see a gentleman so put about, about hanythink; no, never. I thought he'd agone off his 'ed a'most.”

I see her glancing stealthily at my left hand.

(“I should not have cared much if he had,” said I, internally). “Perhaps he'd never seen anyone faint before?” I suggested, aloud; “perhaps he thought I was dead!”

“Well, indeed, mum, when you fust come in it gev me quite a turn, that it did; 'e was a carryin' of you in his harms, and your 'ead was a 'angin' down over page: 313 'is shoulder, and your mouth was hopen, and your face was as wite—as wite as that table‐cloth; I did raly think you was a corpse at fust.”

I relapse into silence, and vultures gnaw my heart, I, in Hugh's arms, with my head hanging over his shoulder, and my mouth open! Disgusting tableau! Not only disgusting, but public; witnessed by the two grooms and the landlady, certainly; by a barmaid and a host of boozing boors, probably.

Hugh returned in about a quarter of an hour from his unsuccessful quest after his refractory cattle, and we sat down to tea. It was horribly honeymoonish, as I felt! I poured out Hugh's tea, and he helped me to mutton chops. I did not feel the least inclined for eating, but it was something to do, better than staring at my vis‐à‐vis. When the landlady came in to clear away the tea‐things, she found us both sitting on the little window seat, quite loverly, looking out on the gooseberry and currant bushes, and the sweet basil and mint and marigolds. My Othello, page: 314 “Somewhat declined into the vale of years,” was pouring tales of “Moving accidents by flood and field” into the ears of a most unwilling Desdemona.

“What a funk I was in when you said you were going to die! I thought I had killed you. What should I have done if I had?” he ends, sentimentally, reverting from his Sebastopolian and Lucknowian experiences to our late perils by dog‐cart.

“What would you have done?” I replied, sarcastically, “why I suppose you'd have had the body (me I mean) conveyed in here, and then you'd have had some beer, and then you'd have posted off to Wentworth to break the news to Dolly!”

That I shouldn't.”

I don't know whether he intended me to ask what he would have done; if he did I did not gratify him, but stared out at the gooseberry bushes, and tried to count the nascent gooseberries on the nearest one. Having no further pretence for staying, the goodwife left the room, to my regret. I miss her chaperonage, the page: 315 whisking of her sage green stuff dress, and the cheerful clink of the teaspoons, which sufficed instead of conversation. When she was gone the stillness irked me; it is not a cooling or a soothing process sitting at dead of night alone on a narrow seat with a man who will keep edging an inch every five minutes nearer you, and who never moves his eyes from your face.

“I wonder that woman did not know who you were,” I said, for the sake of saying something. “She talked of you as the gentleman.”

“Not to know me, you think, argues herself unknown; well, she's a stranger in these parts, that's it—poor old girl! She was sorely puzzled to make out our relationship to one another, wasn't she?”

“I should have had the greatest possible pleasure in explaining to her that there was not any relationship whatsoever,” I answer drily.

Hobnailed boots stump along the flagged passage into the little bar; men are talking and drinking there; the barmaid's tee‐hee, inharmonious, as the laugh of the uneducated always is, rewards their sallies, page: 316 and mingles with their haw‐haws; they are smoking evidently, for tobacco smoke—bearable now, because fresh—creeps under the door, and assails our noses.

“How does the time go?” I ask restlessly.

“Five and twenty past eleven.”

“Is that all?” (with great disconsolateness of tone.)

“Does the time seem to you to go so slow, Nell?”

His arm is, I find, establishing itself on the sill behind me.

“Yes, dreadfully slow,” I say, impatiently; “and don't call me Nell, please—I don't like it.”

The house grows silent, the guests return to their homes, and to the rods their expectant wives have got in pickle for them; the aborigines retire to bed. Hugh and I are virtually alone together—alone with the stars and their mother, the night. Oh, grave, sweet night! how solemn you are! type and figure of death! I know not which is solemnest, a calm or a stormy night; it is but the difference between an angry God and a God at rest. How page: 317 often have I watched the stars overspread “The cool delicious meadows of the night,” and longed with hot impatience to be floating, upborne on spirit wings, through those soft dusk fields, finding out how far they spread, and what treasures of delight they hold in their airy depths. Night brings back, vivid and clear to us, the faces of our dead ones; gaudy day scares and chases their pale eidola, but in the night we mind us of the look they wore, of the words they spake, ere they “Folded their pale hands so meekly,” and laid their heads on the Reaper's breast. In the night we think steadfastly of our departure; we realize that it will be; that some day we shall surely get that letter signed with the sign manual of the Great King, that letter that bids us set our houses in order, bids us kiss tearful wife and little ones, bids us rise up and come away, for He needs us. At night we probe the soul‐wounds that the turbulent brawling day has inflicted; we lay to them the salve of humblest prayer and deepest penitence, we make up our accounts with God. But page: 318 if we would conjure up our dead, solitude must be the Witch of Endor, whose incantations arouse them for us; if we would ponder in sober seriousness upon our sins there must be no distracting thought, no distasteful company, no impertinent irritations to mar the influences of night and silence.

In that ever‐to‐be‐abhorred night I speak of, I was not alone—not alone, though I would have given one or both my ears to have been so. I was harried by the company of a man, my indifference for whom was fast merging into loathing. Poor Hugh! there was nothing loathable about him, as I see now, on calm retrospection—nothing, except his efforts to act basilisk or charming serpent, a part for which his eyes and the whole cast of his countenance singularly unfitted him. I begged him to take off his watch and lay it on the table, that I might not have to be perpetually appealing to him to know how the time went. Restlessly I rambled up and down the room, every moment seeking information from the impassive China face of my familiar. Stock‐still stood, or seemed to page: 319 stand, the hands; the progress of the minute was as imperceptible as that of the hour‐hand. I could not sit quiet; it seemed as if I were on wires, or had a fit of the crebles. I turned my uneasy eyes helplessly round; what could I do to curtail my sufferings? A few books lay on the little sideboard—a few books and a tumbler full of daffodils. I perused the titles eagerly. A Bible and a prayer‐hook, a tattered primer, Alleine's “Alarm to the Unconverted,” and Cumming's “Great Tribulation,” the two latter presented to Martha Harris by her kind friend, the Rev. Mr. Smith.

Anybody's “Tribulation” was an attractive title to me now; it woke my sympathy. Was not I in great tribulation myself? Perhaps it might frighten me, or amuse me, or shock me, or do something towards making me forget that dreadful watch and dreadfuller man. I got through half a page, and then recur to my old wonder, “how's the time going?” I rise and look. Half‐past one!

“It ought to be here by now, oughtn't it?” I say, looking dolorously across the flare of the tallow candles at Lothario.

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“It will soon, I dare say,” he replies, cheerily. “Probably they were all in bed when he got there, and it would take some time knocking them up, and putting the horses in.”

I bring the “Great Tribulation” over to the table, and bend my eyes resolutely on its gloom‐breathing pages. The print is very small, and the prophecies are of a nature to make the stoutest heart quail, the limpest hair stand on end; they seem to me only consumedly dull. I look up one page and down another; look to see where the chapter ends, and whether it looks pleasanter further on; then I yawn; then I take a peep at Hugh. He is leaning his elbow on the table, and his brown hand is shading his brown eves, which are taking an inventory of my charms apparently. Some impulse prompts me to say sharply,

“I wish you would look at something besides me!”

“Why should not I look at you, if I like?”

I turn over the pages with quick irritation.

“Because—because it is tiresome and page: 321 stupid, and you might find something better to do!”

“There's not much to do here, good or bad, and I don't want anything better.”

I turn my back upon him, and peruse a paragraph of an uncomplimentary nature about the Beast.

“Nell!”

“I asked you not to call me Nell.”

“What am I to call you then? may I call you Eleanor? Miss Lestrange sounds so stiff.”

“You need not call me anything.”

Tick, tick, tick, goes the kitchen clock; somebody is snoring overhead.

“Why will you turn your back upon me?”

“Because I hate being stared at,” I reply, pouting.

“By me, I suppose that means; it would be a different tale if it were that long‐legged M'Gregor.”

This is the first trace of jealousy and spleen I have yet discerned in easy‐going Hugh Lancaster. I wheel round with great velocity.

“You've no right to say that,” I flash page: 322 out vehemently; “no business to say it; it's mean of you.”

“Mean!” he cries angrily; “that's the very first time any one ever applied that word to me!”

Then he subsides; I think he perceives the absurdity of our sitting there, storming at one another, at dead of night, in that dreary little pothouse.

“Never mind!” he says; “you're a privileged person; you may say what you like.”

The candles burn low in the brass candlesticks; the morning wind—wind that carries away so many ebbing lives on its chill pinions, arises; the stars die, and— “O'er night's brim day boils at last.”

“That idiot has lost his way, as I thought he would,” says Hugh, whose weather‐beaten face looks haggard and grim in the dun misty light.

“Yes,” said I, reproachfully; “and if you'd gone yourself, as I wanted you, we should have been back hours ago.”

“It was your fault,” he replies, rather page: 323 downcast by my persistent snubbing. “Cannot you forgive me for liking too much to be with you?”

He says it so bluntly and so humbly that I feel compunctious. I stand by the window, and watch the dawn's birth. I can almost see the wind “Waking each little leaf to sing.”

Even a hot day often comes in coldly, and sitting up all night is not warming to the blood. I shiver.

“Are you cold?” Hugh asks.

“Yes, rather, and my arm smarts a little; I wonder did I bruise it when I fell.”

I pull down my sleeve, and consider my maimed limb. What is there in nature or art so pretty, so appealing to the senses as at beautiful arm? Mine was beautiful, round and firm, and polished like marble, that some god had kissed into warm life; with dear little nicks and dimples about elbow and wrist. I find a big black bruise, and two or three long red scratches on the soft cream‐white flesh. “It hurts,” I say, looking up rather ruefully at my com‐ companion page: 324 panion, somewhat after the manner that a dog does that has got a thorn in his foot, when he comes limping up, with upheld paw, to any one he thinks in his doggish mind, looks friendly. Mahogany faces can look loving and pitiful just as well as alabaster ones, though they don't do it so becomingly. Hugh's did now. Oh the perversity of this human nature of ours. Why, in the name of common sense, could not I look loving too? Why could not I feel loving? Why could not I tumble straightway into his honest ready arms, as he stood there with “The lights of sunset and of sunrise mixed” upon his face: stood there, unkempt, unshorn, grizzly as a mechanic on a week day? To fall into his arms was to fall into the arms of £12,000 per annum, and a house in May Fair. It included the ideas of clover for life; fine clothes, high feeding, and other delights. “Poor little arm,” he says, “we must get some plaister for it; let me kiss the place to make it well!”

His moustache just brushes the surface, has not time to do more, before I snatch it page: d325 away as from a hyena about to mumble it; snatch it away from £12,000 a year, as if it had been twelve brass farthings paid quarterly. “Leave me alone, do!” I cry, fierce as a young tigress, looking volumes of outraged virtue at him; “will you never understand that I hate you?”

Hugh pales, as men do in any strong emotion; it is their equivalent for women's “torrent de pleurs!”

“I have been rather dull of comprehension,” he says, “but don't be alarmed; I understand now fully!”

We retire to two different corners, and glower at one another. The house awakes and shakes itself; girds up its loins for its day's work; the barmaid and the ostler are heard exchanging matutinal gallantries in the bar, and the landlady enters slip‐shod, curl‐papered, to “know what will be for breakfast?” Breakfast! Oh, ye gods! shall we then have to undergo another grievous tête‐à‐tête repast? Shall I again pour out Hugh's tea? Will he again help me to ham and eggs? As I thus ruminate (despair creeping coldly over me) even while Mrs. Harris urges lamb chops on page: 326 Hugh's notice—even while the savour of bacon, incipiently frizzling, insinuates itself through the walls, I hear the sound of wheels.

Eagerly I run out to the inn door, and stand with hand shading my eyes from the morning sun, while the Blue Boar swings above me. Surely, surely, I know those big bays, and that sociable—behind which and in which old Lady Lancaster and her yellow wig make their weekly pilgrimage to church. I rush back to Hugh, crying playfully, “The carriage is come! hurrah!” and fall to youthful caperings and actions, expressive of intensest relief. I know now with what accent a shipwrecked mariner shouts, “A sail! a sail!”

Hugh looks askance at me and my gymnastics; then comes out, and damns his servants; wishes to know why the devil they have not come sooner, and what the deuce they mean by their d—d impertinence? In fact he is in a towering rage, such a rage as they have not seen him in since he came into the property, twenty years ago. It surprises them a little, and amuses them a good deal.

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The explanation of their non‐appearance before, is easy. Smith, as his master had dined, had lost his way; never had been very clear about it, and had dropped into the Red Lion, three quarters of a mile further on to refresh his memory; consequently had not reached Wentworth till an hour and a half ago.

Mrs. Harris has to eat her fried bacon and drink her coffee herself; the bays, under Hugh's Jehuship, deposit us at the bottom of the flight of steps at Wentworth hall door, exactly as the clock strikes nine. Nobody is down yet, and I flee along the corridors and lobbies unobserved to my own room, where I lie down on my bed, and straightway fall asleep, and forget my troubles, and that nightmare pot‐house!

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