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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
page: 51


I WENT dinnerless that day at Wentworth—a thing that even in deepest grief one is seldom willing to do—dinnerless, unless the cud of sour and bitter thoughts which I chewed might pass for the festive meal that forms the nucleus of day's dearest interests in most people's lives. Nor did I appear at all till the evening was well on towards ten o'clock. If I had listened to the voice of nature, I should not have appeared at all, but should have retired straightway to bed, and paid the consideration that was due to it, to my most painful occiput. But then we were to leave Wentworth next day, and I could not afford to lose my last chance of reconciliation with Dick.

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At all risks, at the risk of my head splitting in two, I must go down to keep a watch upon the wily Dorothea's movements. So I rose, and bathed my cheeks with fresh water, whereby they became and remained as red as the new pulpit cushions in Lestrange Church; I twisted up my hair, and crowned it with a bush of ivy, put on a white frock, girded myself with a rosy sash, and went down.

I stole into the bilious drawing‐room, in a mouse‐like manner, in the wake of a brace of giant footmen, bearing tea, nor did any one perceive my modest entry. Three‐fourths of the party were, I found, tightly packed round a table, employed in one of the senselessest modes of wasting time, that man (ingenious in frittering away his little day) has ever invented—a round game.

Every one was speaking at the utmost pitch of their voices, and laughing with all the force of their lungs. Some were squabbling over counters, some were making oeiliades behind clubs and spades and diamonds, some were facetiously trying to page: 53 cheat, and others were getting cross with them for so trying.

Every man spoke, and no man listened. Surely, surely, ombre and quadrille and brag must have been delectabler games than their posterity, commerce and chow‐chow, or they never could have seduced the Lady Betty Modishes, Lady Bridgets, and Lady Annes, into keeping such rakish hours, and indulging such naughty passions for their sakes, as we are led by the “Spectator” to suppose they did.

“Sympathy, or antipathy?” says Sir Hugh, in his stentor's voice, interrogatively, to the sharp young lady beside him.

“Oh, antipathy!” she answers venomously, “I always say antipathy; it pays much the best, I find.”

“I like sympathy best; don't you?” sighs Miss Seymour, to a very Anglican young divine, who is beaming over his barnacles, pastorally at her, and her lean collar bones.

“Six upon sympathy!”

“Six upon antipathy!”

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“Six upon sympathy!”

“You owe me thirty‐six.”

“How do you make that out?”

“Have ‘rouge et noir,’ Sir Hugh!”

“Do! it's such fun.”

“No, no, have blind hookey!”

“No, pips!”

“Take my advice, Lancaster, don't have pips! dealer always loses.”

Such, and many similar ejaculations, uttered simultaneously, in keys, varying from forte to fortissimo, assail my mazed ears. Dick is not among them, Dolly is; Miss Lestrange is off guard; she is a little out of her reckoning, and is enjoying a false security, under the impression that I am tossing in anguish on a bed of pain up‐stairs, out of the way of handsome paupers.

She is no longer the shrewd, worldly‐wise woman of two hours ago, whose sentiments might have been those of a French Marquise of fifty, temp. Louis Quinze, could hardly have belonged to any one younger or less world‐polluted. She is transformed into the innocentest, child‐ childishest page: 55 ishest Marguerite; one could well fancy her picking the daisy petals to pieces, to find out whether her lover loved her un peu, passionément, or point de tout.

The guiltless author of this metamorphosis was a very young cotton lord, with a fleshy nose, and a retreating chin, who was willing enough to be Faust; willing, though not eager, because no young gentleman that is a real young gentleman, ever is eager about anything now‐a‐days.

Dolly's whole infantine soul was immersed in her miniature speculations; her soft cheeks were flushing shyly, and the full pink lips, and the velvet eyes, were saying, with a triumph of simplicity, “I should like always to be your partner, you bring me such good luck.” The old game! the old game! it wearies me! But where is Richard? Is he dead, or gone to bed? My eyes roam over the yellow sea, but fail to descry him; then I bethink me of the folding‐doors, and the adjoining saloon.

Is that—can it be the top of a human head appearing above the back of an arm‐ page: 56 chair, in the dim distance? It is worth investigating. I investigate. The head is Dick's. Dick lying back, holding a book topsy turvy in his hand, and looking as bored and as sulky as any one of Her Majesty's servants need look.

“I came to look for you—Dick!” I say in a small meek voice, diffidently.

“Indeed! Very good of you, I'm sure!” rising ceremoniously, and trying very hard, but vainly, to be ironical. One must either be, or appear to be, in a good temper, to be successfully ironical.

“I thought I'd come and try to make friends,” say I conciliatorily.

“Have you asked Sir Hugh's leave?” says he, acrimoniously.

“What do you mean?”

“What I say.”

We stand and glare irefully at one another. I cool first. “Oh dear, oh dear! how soon Dolly has turned you against me, poor me!” I cry plaintively.

“You never were more mistaken in your life; on the contrary, Dol—, your sister, I mean—tried her best to make excuses for page: 57 you; said you were young and changeable, and foolish!”

Who likes being called foolish? none of us mind being called wicked; we take it rather civilly than otherwise; but who does not resent the imputation of folly? “Young and foolish, am I?” I cry, at white heat; “and what is she, pray? Would you like to know? Shall I tell you: she's a mean liar, that's what she is, there?”

Dick gnaws his moustache savagely; my nervous English displeases him. “Calling names is very easy,” he says, angrily, “blackening another person to whitewash yourself; it's not quite so easy proving your assertions.”

I come quite close to him, in my eagerness, and lay a hot white hand on his coat sleeve.

“Is not a liar a person that tells lies?” I ask.

“Of course.”

“Well, did not she tell a lie, a villainous black lie, when she told you the day before yesterday that I wanted Hugh to drive me? page: 58 Don't I hate Hugh? don't I think him the dullest, tiresomest, botheringest, gray‐headedest old fogey that ever existed? She knows I do, and you know I do, only you're b—b—bent on br—breaking my heart.”

So I finish with symptoms of imminent whimpering. Exeunt sulks and scowls from my lover's face.

“Is that true, Nell?”

“True! to be sure it is! Am I a liar, like Dolly?”

“On your honour?”

“On my honour.”

“On your soul?”

“On my soul.”

“You did not want to drive with him? You are sure.”

“Not I, indeed! I was in such a rage that I would hardly speak to him all the way to Wilton, only he is such a dunderhead that I don't think he perceived it; how you ever could have believed such a transparent falsehood, passes my comprehension.”

The gray eyes look rather ashamed of themselves, but very much pleased all the same.

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“Was not it natural I should think you'd prefer a rich beggar like him to a poor devil, who has not got two halfpennies to rub together, like me?”

“Does one value one's friends in proportion to the depth of their money bags? If one did, I should have but a poor opinion of myself and my dear old father,” I say gravely.

There comes a fresh burst of maniac mirth from the votaries of chow‐chow.

“He's cheating; he's cheating!” “Will you sell your deal?” “I'll give you half‐a‐crown for it.” “Three shillings.” “Twelve and ten is twenty‐two, I'm up!” “No thanks; I'll stand!” &c., &c.

“Come into the verandah, Nell,” says Dick, taking my most willing fingers in his; “we cannot hear each other's voices for this Babel, can we?”

We pass into the verandah upon which the salon “gives,” to use an Anglicised Gallicism. Roses, red and white; roses, full‐blown and over‐blown and budding; ruga, with her old‐fashioned scented clusters, and her redder sisters, climb and page: 60 clamber up the wooden trellis work; clematis weaves her tendrils in amongst them, and jessamine stars stud the deep green of ivy leaves. And through creepers and trellis work the moon looks down, benignant and gracious, and large and full, turning the night into a mellow softened feminine day.

She fell full on a beautiful passionate face (not mine, I don't mean), and on a form such as one may fancy those were that wrestled in blue and green on the bloody sand of the arena, before the pitiless Roman world, when (the cruel thumbs being turned down) many a gladiatorial Hercules bit the dust. Good God! how happy I was, lying in his arms, and with the top of my tall wreath scratching his handsome nose.

“I'm a jealous idiot, aren't I, pretty one?” he asks, raining kisses on my lips, thick as leaves in autumn, or the whirling Simois.

“Yes, Dick, I think so.”

“You'll never think the same of me again, of course?”

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“Oh, no, never!” (shaking my head with solemnity).

“But still, bad as I am, you like me a little bit better than Lancaster?”

“I should like you very little indeed, else.”

“You little foolish girl! think of preferring me with twopence a year to him with a fine house, and a handle to his name.”

“That's just what Dolly says; as you both say the same thing, there must be some truth in it; but it's never too late to mend, is it? The big house and the handle are still within reach, you know; will you come and see me when I'm Lady Lancaster?”

“No, I'm d—d if I will!”

I see the gray eyes flash in the moonlight at the bare idea of that visit.

“Nelly Lancaster! Eleanor Lancaster! how pretty it sounds!” I cry, pensively, plucking a moon washed rose, and sniffing at it.

“Nelly Lestrange is prettier, and Nelly M'Gregor is prettiest of all, isn't it, dar‐ darling page: 62 ling?” asks Dick, gathering me closer than ever to himself.

“What love is in the moon's eternal eyes Leaning unto the earth from out the blissful skies.”

Did she look with love at us two poor fools, who, spendthrift‐like, were devouring our whole portion of bliss in one half hour; that portion, which, spread in a thin layer, over long years, ought to have afforded us a decent competence during our lives. Silent we stood there, passion‐drunk; did we remember then, in our perfect wonderful satisfaction, who it was that has said “this is not your rest?” The night wind sighs past; it is bearing, perhaps, some weary soul to the land that is very far off, it rocks the heavy‐folded roses, and whispers to us some vague sweet tale that we heed not.

“Oh, Dick!” I murmur, “I wish to God I could die now. I shall never, never be so happy again!”

Dick shudders through his strong young frame.

page: 63

“Don't talk of dying, my darling! Your life is only just begun, you poor little child!”

“M'Gregor! M'Gregor! where are you?” sounds the stentor's voice of our worthy host, breaking prosaically on our touching dialogue at this point. “Where the devil is the fellow gone?”

“The fellow” makes no sign; he lies as quiet as a partridge between two turnip ridges. Then a dark head and a body issue from the saloon, and step through the French windows, on to the verandah.

“Oh, you're here, are you?” in a voice of anything but gratification at the discovery.

“Yes, my good fellow, you made such a row over your game, all of you, that we had to come out here for a little peace and quietness—hadn't we?” turning to me, with softened voice, and eyes fondly possessive. I say “yes,” and mumble something, in an indistinct manner, about its being late, and going to bed, and—headache, and shuffle off, very red in page: 64 the face, leaving my two lovers to decide their rival claims to the possession of my person, by single combat, by lots, or by heads and tails, whichever they chose.