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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 247

CHAPTER XVII.

“VENGEANCE is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord!” Of all the texts of scripture, that is the one that kept saying itself over and over again to my heart, as I sat that morning listening in respectful silence, while Lady Lancaster went on purring about Lady Brandreth's crochet needles, and the fleecy wool she had to send to Glasgow for—could not get it in England, my dear, tried every shop in Regent Street.

Do you know that after all my blustering and threats and big resolutions, I am beginning to think that I must leave that said vengeance in the hands of Him to whom it appertains; that I must not meddle with the attributes of the Omnipotent. I have cooled down from my page: 248 first fever of indignant hate. I am not the stuff of which Jaels are made. My fingers would have trembled so that I could never have hammered the nail into my prostrate enemy's tired brows. I should have fallen to pitying him; lying there so weary, so helpless, so trustful. I am beginning to doubt whether I will bring the last of the old name—name for ever hallowed by my father's having worn it, to disgrace and shame, whether despite all her misdoings, I will turn her out adrift and homeless on the world.

I am beginning to see my own sins very clearly, and not only other people's. Will not Dolly's tormenting presence in my house, the sound of her silky voice, the sight of her subtle beauty triumphing over the ruins of my life, be a fit penance for my own wickedness? Can any expiation be too hard, too bitter, for the woman who fell so low, as to ask another man to run away with her from her husband? who was only saved from utter shipwreck by the untainted nobility of soul, the self‐ selfless page: 249 less devotion and honour of her lover himself.

“Your sister Dorothea had a charming crochet tricoter, pattern, when last she was here, my dear, she seemed a beautiful worker, quite different from you, Nell; by‐the‐by, I am afraid that the hunting season will be over before poor dear Hugh's waistcoat is finished; she will be a great assistance to me, I fancy, when she comes to us next week. Did she say what day we were to expect her, my dear?”

“No.”

“Have you written to her, my love? because if not, had not you better go and do so immediately?”

“There's plenty of time,” I say indolently, “it is not near post hour.”

“There is never any use in procrastination, my dear, as my dear mother used often to say to me, when I was your age, and besides, I shall want you to come and pay a few calls with me this afternoon. You really must try and exert yourself a little more than you do, Nell; there is some‐ something page: 250 thing almost lethargic about you at times.”

So I retire and write a little icy note to my sister; telling her that my husband bids me say she is welcome to come any day she chooses, and that I am hers her's sincerely, Eleanor Lancaster.

The day of Dolly's advent comes, and the carriage is sent to the station for her. Hugh had suggested to me, to go to meet her in it; an honour which I steadfastly persist in declining. Lady Lancaster is writing letters in her own room, almost effacing with her long old nose the characters that she forms with her fingers. I am buried in an arm‐chair in my boudoir, reading a novel. It interests me rather, for it is all about a married woman, who ran away from her husband and suffered the extremity of human ills in consequence. I have made several steps in morality of late I flatter myself, but even now, I can hardly imagine that I should have been very miserable if Dick had taken me away with him.

The naughty matron is just dying of a broken heart and starvation in a Peni‐ Penitentiary page: 251 tentiary, when I hear carriage wheels. Postponing the last dying speech and confession of the faded flower, I jump up, run to the window, and peep behind the blinds. I am in time to see Dolly descend gracefully—my sister can get in and out of a carriage with any woman in England, not so easy an accomplishment as one might think—and hold out two little black hands effusively to Hugh.

Dolly gives one an impression of extreme blackness altogether. “Poor dear Papa” is written all over her, in best paramatta and deepest crape. Even the slender shapely legs that I caught a glimpse of a minute ago on the carriage step, look as if they belonged unmistakeably to a mourner.

“Nell! Nell!” shouts my domestic Stentor, but I respond not. Then I hear my husband's and sister's voices approaching me.

“She's not here, I'm sure,” Hugh is saying, “or she would have answered when I called; she always does; she's out, I'm afraid.” He opens the boudoir door. “She is here after all; why, old woman, what has page: 252 become of your manners? come and say how do you do to Dolly?”

Dolly is advancing rapidly to precipitate herself on my neck, but something in my face keeps her back, and alters her intention.

“How do you do?” I say very coldly, not even holding out my hand to her.

Hugh looks from one to the other puzzled and uncomfortable.

“Well, I suppose you two have got a hundred and one things to say to one another, and would only be wishing me at the other end of nowhere if I were to stop, so I'll make myself scarce,” he says cheerfully, and then he goes out, and shuts the door behind him.

We stand opposite each other like two fighting cocks for a minute or so; then Dolly sinks into a chair.

“As you don't appear to intend to invite me to take a seat, I suppose I must invite myself,” she says, smiling; “you certainly have the manière prévenante, Nell, which is becoming so rapidly extinct.”

“I have; have I?”

page: 253

“You know how to welcome the coming, and I should imagine also how to speed the parting guest.”

“I do, do I?”

The delicate carnation is deepening in my sister's cheeks; those cheeks that look smoother and clearer than ever in their crape setting.

“I hardly know how to break the news to you, but I'm afraid I shall not be able to trespass on your hospitality long.”

“Hm! are you going to betake yourself to a better world?” I ask ironically; “you certainly are too good for this.”

“I'm going to make a home for myself!” says my sister, with calm triumph; “I am going to marry Lord Stockport.”

I stand for a moment dumb‐foundered, aghast. Where, where is my story‐book code of morality? Where is the whipping for the naughty boy? Here is a young woman who has told lies, has forged, has wrecked the happiness of her sister's whole life, and she is punished; how?—why by marrying a lord with £80,000 page: 254 a year. Truly poetic justice is confined to poetry indeed; and comes down never to the prose dealings of every day life.

“Lord Stockport!” I ejaculate, “happy man!”

An angry scintillation flashes from Dolly's superb black eyes.

“He is to be pitied, isn't he, poor man? his wife cannot bring him the ample stock of affection and fidelity that Sir Hugh Lancaster's did him! Of course not! that goes without saying.”

“She can bring him a large stock of accomplishments though!” I say quickly, breathing short and hard.

Miss Lestrange looks as if she did not exactly see the drift of this observation; she says “Après?” interrogatively.

“Lady Stockport's list of talents will be longer than Desdemona's even;” I say very bitterly. “So delicate with her needle! an admirable musician!—oh, she would sing the savageness out of a bear—of so high and plenteous a wit and invention—and can imitate her neighbour's handwriting so excellently.”

page: 255

Dolly gives a start, a perceptible start, but recovers herself immediately.

“What do you mean?” she asks quietly; “you ought to be published with a key or a commentary!” But I see her fingers tightening their hold upon the back of her chair.

I go over to my writing table, and take out a letter. “This is what I mean!” I say, very slowly, holding it up before her; “I am sure Lord Stockport will prize the gift of your hand all the more, when he sees how clever it is! I intend to keep this to show him!”

The carmine retires rather rapidly from my sister's cheeks, and from her full lips also as she scans the document.

“Are you quite so sure that you will be Lady Stockport now?” I ask very softly.

We are silent a minute; then Dolly says very sharply—none of the old sweetness in her tone, “How did you get this? you must have been seeing that man again?”

It is not a bad idea carrying the war into the enemies' quarters, is it?

“It is not much matter to you how I got page: 256 it; it is enough for you to know that I have got it.”

“Of course! of course! only it is a pity that any detail should be wanting to complete such a pretty story.”

“It will be quite complete enough for Lord Stockport, I daresay!” I say very drily.

“And for Hugh?” asks Dolly, with a little vicious smile.

“We will be impartial!” I say coldly, “they shall both hear it.”

Dolly laughs softly, and the colour comes back with a deeper, fuller rush to her face. “Resurrection of Daddy Long‐legs! a tragedy in two acts,” she says derisively. If I have expected to overwhelm my sister with the damning proofs of her guilt, I am disappointed. As the petrel is popularly supposed to rejoice in the storm, so Dolly appears almost to riot in the war of the moral elements; “to be put on the boards of the Wentworth theatre, what day, Nell? let us be exact!”

“To‐day!” I cry, raising my voice, my hard kept composure giving way, and page: 257 merging into honest passionate anger, “there is never any use in delaying the exposure of crime.”

“Impossible, my dear!” says my sister, with a shrug, “one of the principal actors will be absent. Stockport does not come till Saturday!”

“Poor man!” I say compassionately, “it will be a pleasant surprise for him discovering that his wife is a forger.” Dolly subsides into gravity.

“I never objected to people calling a spade a spade; I suppose I am a forger; but to my thinking, the end justifies the means, and has done so in this case; there is one commandment I am sorry for having broken, and only one!”

“Which?”

“The eleventh, peculiarly appropriated to woman's use. ‘Thou shall not be found out!’” replies Dolly with composure.

“Unfortunately you have broken it!” I say, struggling to emulate her calmness, “and now you must pay the penalty!”

“Don't let us have any threatening, it page: 258 is not lady‐like; let us be lady‐like whatever we are!” says Dolly, standing up, and sweeping gracefully over towards the door. “Have me up for forgery if you like—‘Scandal in high life;’ it would make the fortune of the Nantford Advertiser; drag the old name through the dirt; it will annoy you far more than it will me, to tell you the truth. I have never been very much in love with either Stockport or respectability, so that the loss of neither will quite break my heart.”

A knock at the door.

“May I come in?” in an old croaky voice, and without waiting for permission, a long reddish nose, a pair of gold‐rimmed spectacles and a beard make their appearance.

We both look rather foolish, like little naughty boys whose pockets have been found bulging with the illicit marble, or the succulent bull's‐eye in church. Simultaneously, we vault off our high horses.

“I am afraid, I'm interrupting a pleasant tête‐à‐tête!” says the old lady, pokerishly, “but I heard your voice, my page: 259 dear Dorothea, and I thought I must come in and just say how d'ye do to you. Are not you very tired after your journey, my dear child? those cross lines are so fatiguing; so many changes, and having to look after your own luggage too. I suppose it is an old fashioned notion on my part, but I never can reconcile myself to the idea of young people travelling alone. So many unpleasant contretemps have occurred of late, too; no communication between the carriages, and since that dreadful affair of Mr. Briggs too!”

“You did not interrupt us at all, dear Lady Lancaster,” says Dolly, whom the old woman's babble has given time to recover her aplomb; “we had nearly finished our chat, hadn't we, Nell?”

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