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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 1. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
page: 24


THE next day, the 18th of May, 18—, was a day of note in my life. I had been looking forward to it during the past week with a small portion of pleasant anticipation and a large portion of shy tremor. It was the day of my first dinner party. Yes, though I was nineteen years of age, I had never been as one of those solemn symposium which form the Englishman's idea of festivity. But twice or thrice during all my nineteen years had I exhibited my bare neck and arms to an admiring public, and once I had been to a ball. That ball seemed to me the one thing of importance that had ever happened to me. I dated from it as the Greeks did from the first Olympiad, or the Romans, ab urbe condita.

Dolly—let it be understood that Dolly is my sister, and my senior by four years page: 25 —had rather got into the habit of repressing me—keeping me and what charms I had in the background, hiding my light, if I had any light, under a bushel. As for herself, she loved the world, technically so called, with all her heart, and soul, and strength, with the one‐idead devotion of a Frenchwoman.

In the main, I was tolerably content to remain under the bushel where I had been deposited by sisterly care; having hardly tasted the fire‐water of dissipation, I did not miss its stimulus. I stayed at home with my old daddy, and portered about our pleasant, weedy old garden, cawed around by clamorous rooks, and where Jacob's ladder, and columbines, and white pinks, and lilies of all sorts and sizes flourished with a luxuriance I have never seen approached in trimmer parterres. O dear, old dad, when shall I walk hand in hand with you again? Will you call me your little Nell in Heaven? I do not want you to be a glorified saint, with an aureole round your head, and triumphant joy in your altered eyes; no longer full of that careworn, tender look. I thirst page: 26 to see you just as you were, in the old hall‐garden, just as you were with your dear gray head, and your shabby old coat, and your poor sorrowful smile. I should not recognize you, exultant in your palmy crown, I who only knew you toiling along under your heavy cross.

Let me try and forget you, oh, my father; do without you, as one after another we have to do without our darlings here below. Let me go back to the old Castle Rackrent, where I lived when I was not all alone. Lazy and dowdy I pottered about there, with my inconveniently abundant hair fastened up, in an unbecoming lump, at the back of my head, and my slim young body encased in such of Dolly's old clothes as I could induce to meet across me. Sometimes, indeed, it struck me that it would be pleasant to flaunt about in airy fashionable raiment, such as my sister rejoiced in, instead of in my sorry gowns, which made my figure look as if it went out wherever it ought to go in, and went in wherever it ought to go out. Once for a few days, I cherished the wild scheme page: 27 of launching forth my small boat on the ocean of the world outside the old black and white house, with the casemented windows, and the queer gargoyle faces grinning down on us poor players strutting out our little day beneath them. I even let my fancy stray amongst troops of unknown, ardent youths, all of whom bore a resemblance more or less prononcé to a certain penniless Captain Gordon, with whom, at the before mentioned ball, I had danced eight several times, thereby drawing down the vials of Dolly's wrath on my devoted head.

Once, and once only, I rebelled against my enforced hermitship, and we had a grand quarrel upon the subject. But Dolly being strong‐minded, and I being weak‐minded, I being the earthenware vessel, and she the iron one, the dispute ended, as our disputes always did, by my fondant en larmes, begging Dolly's pardon, and submitting.

“After all,” said I to myself, leaning out of the window among the honeysuckle sprays, to cool my tear‐swollen cheeks, “it is as it should be.” Dolly was page: 28 beautiful, and the Le Stranges had always been beautiful, and it was right she should go forth and be a credit to the old house, and I was ugly, and the Le Stranges had never been ugly, and it was meet that I should keep in the obscurity, for which alone I was calculated. But was I ugly? It was not very often that I asked myself whether the face that met me night and morning in my looking‐glass was one calculated to make men's hearts ache, and their hot blood surge, or to lull them in a stagnant calm; but now and again the question would suggest itself, and clamour to be answered. Was I ugly? Hesitatingly, slowly, sadly, regretfully, I always answered in the affirmative. Sometimes I feared I was distressingly ugly. There was nothing neat, or smooth, or regular about my face, and oh those carrotty locks! How many sighs and inward groans they cost me.

One day I resolved to ask Dolly's opinion about my outward woman. Dolly was not a very nice person I thought, not very easy to live with, and though she was my only page: 29 sister, I did not care much about her; but for her judgment I had the profoundest reverence. We were sitting in the hall that winter morning, Dolly on a dark oak settle with a carved and writhen back, by the wide fireplace, in which a great log of wood was crackling and sputtering cheerily, and against the faded Utrecht velvet, Dolly's bright blue draperies, and pure young profile, stood out clear and bright. I, who have a propensity for sitting on things that were not intended to be sat on, and for not sitting on things that were so intended, was squatting in an ungraceful but agreeable attitude, on the middle of a long table, that ran along under the windows over against her, hugging my own knees.

Dolly was a very fair woman to look upon; a small oval face, liquid brown eyes that had a way of looking up meekly and beseechingly, that no man less self‐contained than St. Senanus could resist, a little sharp‐cut nose absolutely perfect, a sweet grave mouth, and an expression nun‐like, dovelike, Madonna‐like; she looked as if her life must be one long prayer. I do page: 30 not think it was though, or if it was it was a prayer said backwards. I gazed at her with a youthful enthusiasm, dashed with envy.

“Dolly,” said I, “I wish I were as pretty as you.”

“Do you?” said Dolly, not looking up from her work, for what was the good of looking meekly, beseechingly at me?

“Yes, I do,” said I, “I'd pray for such a face every night among my other prayers, only I know it would be no good.”

“Not the slightest, I should say.”

“I wonder why God gives some people so many more gifts than others; will he make it up to the poor ugly ones in Heaven?”

“You'd better consult Mr. Bowles.”

Now Mr. Bowles was our curate, and an individual for whom I entertained one of those unreasoning, unjustifiable abhorrences, often bred in the immature minds of the extremely young of the female sex, for some one of their acquaintance.

“Dolly,” said I, reproachfully, “that's always the way you answer my questions. I'm sure I wonder that I ever ask you any.”

page: 31

“Don't, then.”

“By‐the‐bye, Dolly,” getting rather hot, and clutching my knees more firmly than ever, “do you think I am—ahem—ahem—so very ugly?”

“I never think about it,” responded Dolly, coolly.

“But do think about it, this once, Dolly, please,” I urged anxiously.

Dolly raised her sweet eyes, and surveyed my perturbed countenance calmly.

“I don't admire you,” she said, dropping them again, “but that's no reason why somebody should not. Some people may like red hair and a wide mouth.”

I yielded to destiny. I was ugly. I must try and be good, or clever, or eccentric, for it was very evident that pretty I could never be. I was ashamed of myself for having mooted the question. At the time I am writing of, Dolly was away from home on a visit to some admiring friends in a distant county, and to this fact was owing my introduction to the world. Her absence was a matter of great, though secret rejoicing, both to my father and myself. We did not tell one page: 32 another we were glad, but I think we were each tolerably well aware of the other's sentiments. Truth to tell, our Madonna kept us rather in order, and was somewhat of a thorn in the flesh to us. I sometimes caught myself wondering whether, in the event of Dolly's death, I should be enabled to cry a little and wear a decent semblance of grief. I hoped I should be, but misdoubted myself somewhat. I need not have been disquieted. As I write, myself tottering on the verge of that last bed I so tiredly long for, Dolly is in the heyday of health and prosperity. Dolly will have that tear difficulty to contend with in my case; not I in hers. She will vanquish it, and will weep plentifully over this poor thin carcass, which indeed is ugly now.