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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 285

CHAPTER XIX.

JUNE 7th, 186—. I am coming to the last in my series of pictures from a life that has been, alas! “Failure, crowning failure, failure from end to end.”

My foolish little tale has been dull enough in the telling, I'm afraid; it was not dull in the acting, Heaven knows! It is two years and a half ago now, since that wintry night, when, in my wicked madness, I wanted to sacrifice soul and body to my one, my only love; since he said to me, but in tenderer, more impassioned words, “I could not love thee, dear, so much, Loved I not honour more.”

Since then, I have been sorry for my page: 286 sin; at least I have tried to be. I have been a good wife to Hugh too; I think he would tell you so, if you asked him. It has been up‐hill, tiring work, and I have often got out of breath, but it is nearly over now. Yes, my friends, I ask you to bid me God speed, for I am going very far journey, “je vais chercher un grand peutêtre.”

I am dying, and the great smith who strikes off all fetters, is knocking off mine. In the Litany, you know, we pray for deliverance from sudden death, and my prayer has certainly been answered. Never did anyone leave the world with more lagging, lingering feet, than I am going. I am able to watch the steps of my own dissolution. My beauty and my strength are gone from me: they were sorry to go, I think; they went so slowly and I shall not be long after them now.

Until last winter, I always thought I should live to be an old woman,—like my mother‐in‐law, perhaps; bony, grenadier‐like, hirsute of lip, and baggy of cheek, page: 287 “With a little hoard of maxims, Preaching down a daughter's heart.” But about last Christmas, the idea struck me, came home to me, that never should gray hairs and I make acquaintance; that my head would be laid down in its ruddy glory, before very long, in the chilly sombre vault of the Lancasters. (Oh, if they would but lay me among mine own people!) I looked very well, certainly—Hugh's men friends complimented him (so he told me) on his wife's beauty; such rosy cheeks I had too; I, who used to be pale to a proverb; and my rosy cheeks did not come out of the rouge pot, as the Dowager's wigged compeers curiously hinted to that irate old matron.

But surely, surely I was getting oddly, unnaccountably thin: my rings took to slipping off my fingers, and rolling into remote corners, and all “me frocks,” like Glorvina's, of lovelorn memory, “had to be took in.” Also I somehow stopped very often, and leant against the carved banisters; as I went up the shallow, page: 288 broad oak steps of the grand staircase. One day I spoke out my thought.

“Mother,” I said, (Hugh liked me to call her mother), “don't you think I'm getting to look very like Jane Stevens, that died of consumption at the West Lodge, last year?”

“Nonsense, my dear,” answered the old lady, very hastily, “you should not get fanciful; young people of your age often look delicate in such cold weather; don't imagine anything so silly!”

But she was very much flurried as she spoke, her old nose got red, and two big tears dropped on to her eternal knitting. I asked no more questions; I said no more on the subject, but from that day, I knew that my fate was sealed. So I was going to die; going to be erased from the number of the warm kindly living; going to be numbered with the cold, cold dead, whose battle is over, whose race is run. In their successive generations, “God's finger touched them and they slept.” Soon, that dread finger would be laid upon page: 289 me, and there could be no shrinking from under it. I could see quite plain a new tablet over our pew, in Wentworth's dark old church: I could read the black letters traced distinctly on the white marble, “Hic jacet Eleanora.”

The next Lady Lancaster would be spelling out the Latin words, instead of minding her prayers, would be picturing to herself this dead Eleanora to whom but two and twenty summers had been vouchsafed.

But where should I myself be at this time? Oh, thought full of unspeakable awe! How that prayer comes home to the souls of all us miserable sinners; a thousand fold more, then, to those of us, who are on the verge of that dark, dark flood!

  • “Rex tremendæ majestatis
  • Qui salvandos salvas gratis
  • Salva me, fons pietatis.”
  • “King of majesty tremendous,
  • Who dost free salvation, send us
  • Fount of Pity! then befriend us.”
Oh, noble verse! simple utterance of a soul trembling and abased to the dust before that King of kings, that Lord of lords. Those must have been holy men, those monks, who put together those grand words. No doubt they agonized to enter at that straight gate; no doubt they sinned, and suffered, and wept as we do now; and oh! in mercy let us hope that they are— Where God for aye Shall wipe away All tears from every eye.” I wondered much within myself whether I were going to a good place; I rather fancied not; I certainly had no ground for hoping that I was. Heaven had shared but few of my thoughts hitherto.

All the love and aspirations I had to bestow had been squandered on that intense earthly passion which seemed to be eating up body and soul. It was too late to mend now, but I was sorry it had been so.

Yet still, on that one subject which page: 291 had dominated my whole life, I felt easier and more comfortable than I had been for a long time. I no longer wept in secret, nor felt a gnawing, wearing, mighty longing to see that one face again. He was gone from me but a very little way; just— “From this room into the next.” I had known I could not live without him, and I was not going to do so. God was very good and pitying; he was going to release me from the long pain of existence, and through the grave and gate of death I should pass to my beloved; should see his hero face immortal then in its beauty, so that “decay's effacing fingers” could never sweep its hues.

“You'll be all right again, when the spring comes round, darling little girl!” Hugh would say to me, cheerily, now and then, and would smooth my hair with his kind brown hand, and I always said,

“Yes, dear old fellow, I dare say I shall!” though my all right was different from his.

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Would not it be all right, would not it be passing well with me, when I had gone away with great gladness to be with my beloved for evermore?

“June 20th.—I am going so fast! oh, so fast! These are the last words I shall ever write; it is hard, laboursome to me to hold the pencil, but I do not want to leave the story of my poor life incomplete; incompleter at least than the story of all lives must be. Some other hand must put ‘Finis’ I know.

“It is night, and I am sitting in my old dad's chair, watching the stars silently taking their allotted places in the firmament. I have been gazing up into those depths of air unfathomable by mortal eyes, wondering how far up in those measureless tracts of ether, or whether in that direction at all, lie the spreading fields of light, rise the walls and towers, shine the golden streets of the holy city. ‘A land where the inhabitant shall no more say I am sick.’

“What a pleasant thought. That text page: 293 never struck me particularly when I was well. I suppose now that I am so full of aches and pains it comes home to me more. Oh God! am I going there? If I could but know for certain!

“‘In my father's house are many mansions.’ Perhaps that text has something to say to me; into one of the lowest of those mansions, perhaps into the very lowest of all, the Great Householder, who is ever holding his Marriage Feast, and calling thither whoso hungers, and is weary, may let me creep in, even me, for am I not weary, most weary? I have been trying (oh, vain endeavour) to picture to myself that land of unpictured, unpictureable passionless bliss—trying, with narrow human brain, to compass and take in the idea of the ineffable joys of the blessed souls of the just, in those unfading abodes which they have climbed up the steep ladder of faith to, at last; trying to conjure up before my mental vision—

“‘The shores where tideless sleep the seas of time, Soft by the City of the Saints of God!’
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“O Lord Jesus Christ! let me be in that city by this time to‐morrow night! Grant me entrance there! Open to me when in fear and trembling I knock.”

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