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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
page: 65


WHY do I tell my poor little story so circumstantially, I wonder? Will any one care to read it? Is a dissected heart worth looking at, even though it be rather a foolish one? They say that love is the recognizing something of oneself in another person. Will any one, I wonder, recognise in me some of their own foolish fancies and thoughts and notions, and love me for being as silly as themselves, and for owning to them that I am? The old yellow‐bodied barouche, and the two victims to spavin and spring‐halt, are slowly creeping up “the long back” of a hill; the old coachman is flicking spavin's fat flanks gently with his whip, which that worthy beast does not mind a bit. The sunlight lies page: 66 patchily on the dusty road; here and there a big tree intercepts it, and holds it in his great branches; a little white‐haired child stands at a cottage door eating bread and treacle, and clapping his little brown hands at the horses; bees are buzzing drowsily about straw hives; “wine‐dark” auriculas are blowing in the little borders; a woman is feeding a pig. We are going home; Wentworth lies three miles behind us, and I am thinking of the past, and smiling.

How plainly I see that group gathered on the stone steps to bid us God‐speed. Lady Lancaster, in a brown silk so stiff and thick that it could well stand by itself, without the support of her ladyship's body inside it, leaning forward to give me a motherly salute (her beard meanwhile pricking me rather), while she says, in her prim old woman's voice—

“I hope we shall see you very often my dear, now!”

Dolly, with one foot on the carriage step, giving a small, smooth lavender hand to Sir Hugh, and saying good‐bye page: 67 to him so softly, as if she was so sorry to part from him; Dick, leaning one great shoulder against the door‐post, and smiling a tender, flickering smile under his heavy moustache, and all around a great glory of sunshine, and young green leaves, and blue summer sky. Dick is going to Cork to‐day, to join his regiment (happy, happy Cork!) but he is going to write to me, and I am to write to him; is not this brick and mortar enough to build quite a big Spanish castle with? I am so building now as we jog along in the sleepy sunshine.

“My darling! my darling!” I am saying to myself over and over again, like the refrain to a song; “how I love you!” My hands are clasped together in my green cotton cap, and my eyes are looking up to the grand blue dome above, in a great rapture and gratitude and joy. Was it his beauty I loved him for? Should I have loved him so much if he had been little and black and ugly? If his comely looks were to go away from him now, would my love go away too? No, no, no! page: 68 If he were to lose arms and legs, and eyes and nose and ears, he would still be my Dick, my beautiful, strong King Olaf.

In my mind I was drawing a little picture—a little picture with two figures and a dingy back‐ground. A bare barrack‐room (barrack‐rooms were always bare, I imagined, and of course we should not be able to afford lodgings) with no curtain, perhaps, and a bit of drugget in the middle of the floor, and a green baize table‐cloth. A good fire though there was in the picture, and an elbow chair beside it; Dick in the elbow chair in full regimentals (I had an adoration equal to any boarding‐school‐miss's for “The pomp and circumstance of glorious war”), and I, on a low stool at his feet, with my arms resting on his knees, looking up alternately at his face and his medals—my hero had three of those insignia—and making little tender speeches to him—speeches that I never hitherto had summoned resolution to utter.

When by myself I was eloquent enough, page: 69 eloquent as Ulysses or Burke, but when with him the passion of his eyes struck me dumb. It would be different when we were married. I should then be able to speak to him without that shy thrill; should be able to tell him what he was to me; to find words to syllable my great pure love.

Then the scene shifted. Dick was ousted from among the dramatis personæ; I reigned in the elbow chair instead; I, dressed simply yet elegantly, holding a levée of officers of every grade and standing in Her Majesty's army; colonels, majors, and captains clustering in reverent admiration around me.

With what modest dignity should I comport myself in my difficult position; with what simple yet spirited answers should I parry their complimentary remarks.

Married at nineteen! How interesting, and like a story‐book! Mrs. M'Gregor! Nelly M'Gregor! Major and Mrs. M'Gregor! I would write it down in my blotting book as soon as I got home, to see how it looked.

page: 70

I suppose my lips moved visibly as I articulated my own and husband's names softly under my breath, for Dolly, who had not uttered a word before since we left Wentworth, now turned to me—Dolly in a neutral‐tinted gauzy bonnet, with one blood‐red carnation resting on and contrasting her shiny sombre hair; thus she spoke in her harmoniously round, full tones—

“Are you engaged in prayer?”

“No;” said I, rather cross at being roused from my reverie; “why on earth should I be?”

“Your lips were moving, so I thought you might be breathing a short prayer, as people do in the ‘Sunday at Home,’ you know—for me, perhaps.”

“No, I wasn't,” said I; “I was talking to myself, which is much pleasanter than praying; at least I find it so.” (Merciful God! I don't think so now!)

I turned my head away, and watched the cloud‐shadows travelling swiftly over the green wheat fields, turning their laughing golden green into dull blue green as they page: 71 passed; at the blackbirds gobbling cherries in the farm orchards we were driving by.

“Is it thinking of its lover?” pursued the angel in the gauzy bonnet.

“Yes,” said I, briefly, “I am.”

I would not stand any impudence from Dolly any longer, I was resolved. I should soon be a married woman, and able to patronize spinsters all and sundry.

“So it has got its big wax doll after all, has it?” asks she, with a sneer, “curly wig and long legs, and all!”

I am roused to retort. I turn and rend her.

“Sour grapes!” cry I, with red cheeks, and in an elevated key; “don't you wish we could say— “Miss Jenny and Polly Had each a new Dolly?”

Dolly smiled sweetly, but her long sleepy eyes gave one little flash.

“Yes, dear, I do,” she said with candour, “only I don't think I should care about playing dolls in a workhouse, which I fear will be your portion.”

page: 72

“I believe you would sell your soul for gold,” said I, with my nose in the air, in lofty disdain.

“I certainly would,” answered my sister, sedately; “one's soul does not do one much good that I could ever find out; if I could have my body left me, my nice, pretty, pleasant body, with plenty of money to keep it well fed and well dressed, I'd give my soul its congé with the greatest sang froid imaginable.”

I felt feebly shocked at Dolly's sentiments, but too lazily and sovereignly indifferent to what she or her soul said or did to contest the point with her, so we relapsed into silence, and preserved a sort of armed truce, till we reached the rook‐haunted old house blinking sleepily from its ivy mantle amid its sunny crofts, with the gray‐blue smoke curling straight up into the air from the queer old chimney‐stacks.

The library windows at Lestrange look out on the gravelled sweep before the door; small‐paned, casemented windows they are; and as we passed them I leaned page: 73 forwards eagerly, to blow kisses at my father, whose face I saw leaning out among the roses and the bowery clematis to greet us. What a sad old face it was! What a yellowing tinge—like a sere November leaf's tinge, that spake of waning life and waxing sickness—was stealing over it. Poor noble old face! how often I see you now in my dreams, looking out from among the fresh pink rose‐bunches! I ran to my sire with ‘effusion,’ and hurled my substantial young person into his arms; he bore the charge with equanimity.

“Well, little lass!” he said, with his sorrowful smile, sorrowfuller than any tears, “have you seen a great many fine people, and got a fine new lover, and are you very sorry to come back to the dull old house and the dull old man?”

“Of course I am,” said I, with a fresh series of ursine hugs; “I should not have come back at all if it had not been that I knew the Cochin cock was to be killed to‐morrow, and I thought I must come back and bid him good‐bye, poor dear fowl, before he died. Come, dad,” I continued, page: 74 coaxingly, thrusting my arm through his in its threadbare gray coat‐sleeve, and dragging him to the door, “let us come and see the pigs and the chickens, and I'll tell you all about it.”

So we went, my daddy and I—went, and found the doomed chanticleer scratching and scraping peaceably on the dunghill, advertising the treasures he found there, now and again, to his harem, by one lordly cluck. The pigs and we exchanged civilities, and then I began, and narrated all things in order to my parent; how we had gone a pic‐nicing, and how I had been upset out of a dogcart, and how I had fainted, and how funny it felt, and how disagreeable it was spending all the night in that little pot‐house, reading the “Great Tribulation,” and “waiting for the waggon” (my father looked unaccountably grave, I thought, at this stage of my narrative); what a lot there was for dinner every day; what smart gowns old Lady Lancaster had on, with many more interesting particulars concerning the Wentworth ménage; nor had I the modesty to hide or in any way page: 75 qualify the fact that Sir Hugh, the middle aged, the desirable, the much‐hunted, was the captive of my bow and spear. Then breath failed me, and I stopped, and threw damaged rice among the chickens.

“So you're going to be a great lady, are you, Miss Nelly?” said my father, playfully. “You won't speak to your poor old father, I suppose, when you are Lady Lancaster!”

That little bit of news had cheered him wonderfully; he looked less old, less bowed, all of a sudden, somehow. I leaned my elbows on the pigsty wall, reflectively.

“But, dad,” objected I, “I've only said that Sir Hugh liked me; I have not said I liked him; that is a very different pair of shoes!”

My father did not heed my interruption.

“Lancasters and Lestranges!” said he to himself, as if the union of the two names was pleasant to him; “more like the old times! more like the good old times!”

A cold chill crept over me, as I thought page: 76 of the baggage‐waggon, and the barrack‐room, and twopence a year.

“You seem very anxious to get rid of me, dad,” said I, picking bits of lichen from between the slatey gray stones. “Why do you want me to marry Sir Hugh?”

“My poor little lass,” said my father very pitifully, “because I'm wearing my life out, thinking every day, and all day long, what is to become of you when I'm dead and gone—gone to be with the little mother, Nell; I pray God,” he said, very reverently, taking off his hat; “and also,” he added, a minute afterwards, straightening himself, and looking every inch the proud old gentleman he was, “because I believe that to see you raised to your right level again, and doing something towards bringing the old family back into its right position in the county, would add ten years to my life; upon my soul, I think it would!”

I could not dash his hopes—could not tell him that I was engaged to a man money‐less, position‐less, expectation‐less; page: 77 perhaps I ought to have done so, but I could not find it in my heart. So we turned homewards, I a saddened woman, sore perplexed. The chickens still scratched and pecked happily on the dunghill; the pigs grunted in the ineffable content of warmth and repletion; but to me the sunlight had gone out of grass and trees and shining pebbles.