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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
page: 78


AM I wrong in thinking that memory is the cruelest gift ever vouchsafed to man? Perhaps I am wrong to say any gift can be cruel, seeing who it is gives all the gifts, both the sweet and the bitter ones. But I cannot help thinking so. How happy we might be, any of us in our very lowest, forlornest state, if we had no recollection of ever having held a higher joyfuller one. If we had no remembrance of the treasures of love and youth and friendship we once owned, how happy we might make ourselves in the dearth or total absence of those good things. We might bask and roll, oh so lightheartedly in the young spring sun, and sniff at the pretty spring flowers, and drink in the lark's long rhapsody, if the brightness and the sweetness page: 79 and the melody were not all dashed by the memory of how much grandlier the sun shone, how much fragranter the primroses smelt, how much sweetlier the birds sang long ago, when we had some one to feel and smell and listen with us. For my part, if any fairy were to offer me the choice of a gift, as she did to the hero of the sausage tale, I would not hesitate one minute; I would beg her to give me a great full brimming cup of the wine of forgetfulness, and how greedily I would drink it up! Maundering again! How prosy I am getting! I am afraid I am painting the little cabinet pictures of my life too minutely, too elaborately; like a Dutch painter, I am reproducing the cabbages and onions, the pots and pans of every‐day life, exactly, and without elevating them.

If I could, I would fain make a brilliant dashing Turneresque sketch; great breadths of colour, infinite nobility and harmony, in few strokes; but that is above me; if I were to attempt it, I should make but a patchy, blotchy daub. No; I must put in numberless fine lines, carefullest page: 80 shading and copying, before I can produce anything like Nature; not very like even then.

Here is another Dutch picture. Dolly's bed‐room; a little sanctuary of innocence and purity, and maidenly bread‐and‐buttery thoughts you would say, were you privileged to enter and survey it; a small white bed, spotless enough to shelter the slumbers of St. Agnes; with dimity curtains; field flowers in white vases, good little devout prints on the walls; Timothy and Samuel, and the eternal three choristers; Ary Schefferian photographs, and illuminated texts. Texts do impress one so much more, don't they, when they are picked out in blue and yellow, and are playing hide and seek amid numberless twirls and scrolls and flourishes? Dolly is sitting at the dressing‐table brushing her hair, which, black as night, thick as a mermaid's, waveless, rippleless, lies heavy on her shoulders.

I am sitting on the open window sill, and my small pale face looks out from amongst a bush of curly warm tinted fuzz. page: 81 We are enjoying a little sisterly chat at our coucher; it is about a week after our return home.

“I wish,” says Dolly, brushing away with vigour, “that people would sometimes manage to get the right end of a story.”

“How do you mean?” I ask, a little absently.

“Oh, nothing particular,” she answers lightly, “only Mrs. Smith has been giving me rather a garbled version of yours and Hugh's adventure, which she says is all over the country.”

I frown. “What do I care?”

“Of course not,” says my sister, smoothly combing out her long dusk locks, “only I don't think it is very pleasant to think of all the grooms in the neighbourhood making merry over Sir Hugh's huggings and kissings and weepings over you, that time you were insensible; are you sure you were quite insensible, dear?”

I toss my ruddy mane in a fury.

“If I wasn't may I be struck dead this page: 82 instant, and be insensible for ever with a vengeance.”

Dolly lays down her implements, and smiles good humouredly.

“Poor little wooden‐headed Damon!” she says, “you'll have to marry him after all, Nell, to stop people's mouths, and prevent their spreading all manner of naughty tales about you and him; what fun!”

“Have to marry a man because I happened to be pitched out of a dog‐cart with him?” I say, with a snort, and a withering laugh. “Ha! ha!”

“No, dear,” replies my elder, gravely twisting up her great black hair coils, with warm dimpled hands; “not because you were upset out of a dog‐cart with him—people will forget that—but because you spent twenty‐four hours alone in a little road‐side public‐house with him, and because everybody knows it, and will not forget it.”

A moth floats in from the cool night, and frizzles himself to death in the candle. I feel quite glad. I am in the sort of humour when one is pleased at anything page: 83 bad happening to anything. Dolly, good Dolly, drew her Bible to her, and looked out the evening lessons.

“By‐the‐bye,” she said, after a pause, “have not you heard from Major M'Gregor yet?”

“No. not yet,” I have to own, rather reluctantly.

“Rather odd, isn't it?” asks Dolly, carelessly.

“Not the least odd,” I say sharply; but all the same, I do think, and for every hour of the last four days have been thinking that it is odd, dreadfully odd; “of course he would be busy when first he got back to his regiment; of course he'd have a thousand things to do.”

“Well, my dear, if you're pleased, I'm sure I am.”

Dolly read her chapters piously all through, the dark long fringes shade the eyes that travel so devoutly along the sacred lines; how peaceful and holy the fair clear peach face looks. Why upon earth don't I go to bed, instead of sitting swinging my small slippered feet, ill‐tem‐ ill-temperedly page: 84 peredly, to and fro? How still the great night outside is; the owls are snoring a little in the high elm tops, but that is all. Dolly's Bible clasps close with a little click.

“How very ill papa's getting to look,” she says, looking up serene after her devotions, with a face “Bright as for sins forgiven.” “so much worse than before we went to Wentworth, even. Poor old gentleman! it makes me quite low to look at him.”

I bounce off the window sill, and walk hurriedly up and down, my long blue dressing‐gown floating behind me like a toga.

“Did you say that only to frighten me, or because you really think it?” I ask agitatedly.

“Because I really think it, of course,” replies she, gently; “is my sole métier in life to lacerate your feelings?”

“Seriously ill, do you mean, Dolly?” I ask very falteringly.

Dolly rises and stands by the window; page: 85 how like a tall garden lily she looks, in her long soft white draperies.

“So ill,” she says, emphatically, “that unless some one leaves him a legacy, or some piece of good luck happens to him, he'll be a dead man this time next year; those bills, and his anxiety as to what is to become of us—of you, I mean—after his death, are knocking a great many nails into his coffin.”

Life without the old man! That was the very first time that that awful, awful thought presented itself to my mind.

“Dolly,” said I, with tremulous eagerness, grasping her arm, “would it do him any good, do you think, would it comfort him at all, if I were to tell him about Dick?”

“Comfort him to know that you had found a man magnanimous enough, or selfish enough, to be willing to starve with you, and effectually prevent your doing anything towards raising the poor old family again, as it has been and is his dearest wish that it should be raised,” said my sister, with trenchant satire. page: 86 “Yes, of course, it would comfort him immensely, no doubt. I know nothing more calculated to inspire consolation; good night, Nell.”

Dolly sinks on her knees, and prepares to engage in evening prayer, and I slink off to bed, and cry myself to sleep.