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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 87

CHAPTER VII.

I HAD gone to sleep weeping, as the night does, I awoke smiling as the morning. The troubles that had seemed so gigantic at 11 P.M., had contracted themselves to very moderate dimensions at 7 A.M. From mountains they had become, not indeed quite molehills, but very gentle elevations. Dolly had a way of touching people on the raw; of course it was to her interest to make me believe Dick unfaithful; and as to my father, why he did look rather ill and droopy of late. I had been thinking so, myself, darling old thing! but then the hot weather never suited him; it always made him flag, as it did the flowers; when fresh winds came and cool cloudy skies, both page: 88 he and they would hold up their heads again, and brighten.

My code of morals, my system of rewards and punishments was very simple, the story book code; later on in life we find that the human race's kicks and half‐pence are not administered in strict accordance with the rules of that code. The good boy gets cakes and ale; the naughty boy gets a whipping. There seemed to me an antecedent improbability in the idea of such an enormous grief being laid on the poor slight shoulders of a harmless girl, whose life, as far as overt acts of wickedness were concerned, was a sheet of white paper. It seemed like putting a camel's load on a fly's back. An enormous grief always does seem improbable when it is the first of its family. Its brothers and sisters excite less astonishment, though perhaps no less anguish.

“I saw two magpies yesterday.” I say to myself, “that is a good omen; my letter will come to‐day.” I am standing before my looking‐glass, sticking up page: 89 my dead‐leaf cables, with long hair pins. I don't look in the least the sort of woman that anything remarkable is likely to happen to; a fair, soft, foolish woman made to say loving inanities to a husband, to make socks for his children, and be utterly hum‐drum and common‐place and happy. The loud whir‐ir‐ring of the gong comes sounding upstairs, deadened by the thick oak doors; I run down in a hurry. My father is always up and out very early, long before any of us; while the house is yet in the housemaid's possession. He is out now, and I have to read prayers. I sit down with dignity in the old oak arm‐chair, nearly black with age and varnish, and of the most uncompromising straightness of back—what strong spines our ancestors must have been blessed with, for apparently they never indulged in the luxury of leaning—open the ancient calf‐backed Bible, in which twenty‐one and nineteen years ago respectively, my father recorded the doubtful blessing of his daughters' births.

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Opposite me, on a long bench, sit the servants, in clean caps and aprons, and behind them open windows, and the sun, and the green trees, and the June airs at play. It is a very long chapter; all about the Israelitish wars, how Joshua and his host took Ai and the king thereof, and the people thereof, and killed them all; and then went off to Libuah, and did the same there, and then on again ditto. How tired they must have got of cutting and hacking those poor Aborigines! About the middle of the bloody annals I look up, and take a glance off through the window over the servants' heads, and see the old postman with the swinging gait and the withered‐apple cheeks, shambling down the drive. He is earlier than his wont. I lose my place and grope hopelessly for it with eyes and fingers, for about five minutes. Having found it, I set off at a hard gallop and race through Thursday morning, third week in Thornton's “Family Prayers,” skipping the “Queen, the Clergy, and the Children of this family” altogether. I come to Amen, at page: 91 last; and before the servants are off their knees, I am at the Hall door.

The old postman has gone again; he is half way up to the gate by now; he knows our manners and customs and has left the bag hanging on the bell. I tear it open; the Times and a Pamphlet; half‐a‐dozen blue envelopes in the usual sprawly tradesmen's hands for Sir Adrian Lestrange—poor darling Sir Adrian, I wish I might pitch them all at the back of the fire—a pink note, and two letters for Miss Lestrange, and one letter for Miss Eleanor Lestrange.

One letter, but alas! alas! not the right one! It is, as I find out later, when I have patience to read it, from a sister of my mother's, an excellent ‘mère de famille,’ and its purport is chiefly to tell me that dear Cecilia has had the nettle‐rash, and that dear Archie has passed for the Line, and has come out 41st, and, indeed, no wonder, considering the way in which he has been reading for the last three months. Now I throw it down and stamp upon it.

“What's the matter,” asks Dolly, com‐ coming page: 92 ing tripping downstairs; and the young June morning is not fresher or fairer than she. Dolly does not often favour us with her company at our morning orisons.

“Everything's the matter,” I say exhaustively, picking up my aunt's effusion, and flinging it to the other end of the room.

“Not got your letter yet?”

“No.”

“Dear me! how odd! are you sure it has not slipped inside that Magazine?”

“How could it?” I say gruffly.

“Perhaps you forgot to give him your direction?” (How likely!)

“No, I didn't.”

“Perhaps you did not write it clear enough?”

“I wrote it as plain as a pikestaff!”

“Hm! perhaps he is ill?”

“Don't say that!” I cry eagerly, turning pale, “I'd rather he'd have forgotten me than that; no, I don't think that I would either; oh Dolly, Dolly, what can be the matter?” I sink down on the bench and cover my eyes with my hand.

“Perhaps it'll come to‐morrow?” says page: 93 Dolly; turning away, and in a kinder voice than usual.

“It'll never come!” I say tempestuously, flinging down my head on my arms, on the cold wooden table.

“Sh! Sh! don't make a scene! here's papa!” By a great effort I throw off my own trouble, for the time; defer it to a more convenient season; I can always do that for him, and then I go to the old man and put my arms about him, and thank him for the flowers he has brought—he always brings me a little pretty bunch, summer and winter—and kiss the old pale weary face so lovingly. The dew and the moist night airs have lifted up the heads of the plants and shrubs that drooped so yesterday, but I misdoubt me this old scathed tree will never hold his head up again bravely, till the dear Lord transplants him to a kindlier, warmer clime.

“This is the day of the Coxes' croquet party, isn't it?” says Dolly, as we sat at breakfast, his ‘Fate Shompater,’ as Mr. Coxe resolutely calls it; “we need not go page: 94 till about four I should think, need we?”

“I shall not go at all!” I say doggedly.

“Nonsense,” says Dolly, severely, “you must go; you cannot treat people in that way, accepting their invitations, and then never going near them, it's too bearish!”

“I don't want to go!” I say plaintively, turning towards my father, and stretching out my hand to stroke his.

“You want to stay with the old man, do you, Nell? So you shall! So you shall! there's plenty of people to go to the Coxes' fine party without you.”

“Just as you please, of course,” says Dolly, very coldly; “children of nature are not accountable beings, I suppose; poor Sir Hugh! I'd sooner meet a bear robbed of her whelps, than him in the state he'll be in to‐day!”

I frown at her to stop, but the mischief is done.

“Is Sir Hugh Lancaster to be there?” asks my father, lifting up his head.

“Yes, to be sure he is, he is coming all the way down from town, on purpose to see—Amaryllis Coxe.”

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We all held our tongues for a minute.

“I think, Nell,” says my father, rising slowly to leave the room; “I think perhaps, you had better go, they are civil people, and there's no use giving offence.”

“I suppose,” says Dolly, as we entered the Coxian Park gates that afternoon; “I suppose, we shall finish up with a dance, for I heard Coxe père, telling Lady Capel that his daughters were ‘so uncommonly fond of cutting capers, that if they could not have a 'op anywhere else, they got up a kick‐up at home.’”

As we drive up to the door, I see a faint pitying smile flitting over the countenances of the butler and footmen as they glance at our equipage, but they are too well drilled not to stifle it instantly. Mrs. Coxe receives us in the white and gold drawing‐room; the gorgeous glare of which makes one's eves water this bright day. Mr. Coxe tells us that “he is 'appy to see us in 'is 'ouse,” and that “he believes his young ladies are out in the front, and would not we like to join them?” Ploughboys, par‐ parsons page: 96 sons, doctors, and lawyers may have sons and daughters, but the “Lord and Ladies and the Miss O'Gradys,” alias, the Upper Ten Thousand, and the Coxes have ‘young gentlemen and young ladies.’ In Mr. Coxe's vocabulary, a room is an apartment, a house is a mansion or a residence, and a wife is a lady or a partner. He does not mean to be pompous in the least; he can no more help talking Manchester than a dog can help barking. So we step out through the great plate glass windows, which are thrown high up, out on a broad urned and statued terrace, and thence on to the croquet ground, which is mown as short as a convict's hair, and where we find Mr. Coxe's ‘young ladies and gentlemen,’ as well as many other people's disporting themselves.

It is hardly saying too much to put croquet as an invention on a level with gunpowder and printing; it certainly is more unmixedly beneficial to the human race than either of the others. Who can be sufficiently loud in praise of a common page: 97 standing ground, where man and woman can meet without man being effeminate, or woman masculine. It requires a strong effort of memory to realize the barren time when women struggled through their long weary days, unassisted by those gracious twins, croquet and afternoon tea. At the Coxe's croquet party, I need hardly say that there were a great many more women than men. I never yet was at a croquet party where such was not the case, for admirable pastime as it is, no man that is a man, and not a curate, will ever be induced to put his hand to a mallet, unless he has absolutely nothing else to do.

“There was Lady Grease Wrister, And Madam Van Twister, Her Ladyship's sister, Lord Cram and Lord Vultur, Sir Brandish O'Cultur With Marshal Carowzer, And old Lady Mowzer, And the great Hanoverian Baron Pansmouzer.”

All the fashionable men are up in town of course, so are Lord and Lady Capel; they have gone to the Palace Hotel for a month; a poor equivalent for the house page: 98 in Park Lane, but better than nothing. So is Lady Lancaster; entertaining kindred frumps and foozles in Eaton Square.

The Scots Greys are still to the fore, for “England expects every man to do his duty,” and their duty is at present to guard the Cathedral Close and Minor Canons of Nantford from invasion. Little De Laney is here too, much to his own disgust. Instead of leaning his jolly little smooth face out of the modest bow‐window of his corps' club, he is dancing attendance on a moribund uncle for whose gouty shoes he is lying in wait, the mercenary infant!

“Ammy! Ammy! Amaryllis, my dear!” cries Mrs. Coxe, as we appear on the scene—Amaryllis is mistress of the ceremonies, and is flitting about in an elaborate Parisian toilette, eminently suited for a Chiswick breakfast or a Horticultural Fête, and looks as she mostly does, all nose and bust—“here are the Miss Lestranges, my dear; I hope you can make up a set for them!”

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Amaryllis looks doubtful; there are five or six sets in full force already, and how to provide the gentle stimulus of a man or two for each game, is the problem which has been making her curse the day on which she was born for the last half hour. What to do with our pauper population is a joke to it. All the parish priests, and all the red coats, with whatever carefullest economy expended, have been used up.

“There are Mortimer Spencer, and the two Miss Lestranges and myself, that's four,” she says slowly; “but that would be so dull for them; there's Sir Hugh Lancaster and Mr. De Laney, but they won't play; my sisters asked them to join their game some time ago, but they would not; they said they did not know how.”

“Perhaps,” Dolly suggests, with a suave little smile, “perhaps if you ask them again, and make a great favour of it, they would not be so obdurate; people must not be allowed to be lazy on an occasion like this.” Amaryllis shakes her head and goes reluctant; two minutes page: 100 more, and she returns in triumph, leading the two culprits. Hugh, as I am well aware, would be most happy to play dolls, marbles, jack straws, anything were I to be his assistant.

“Little birds that can sing and won't sing, must be made to sing,” says my sister playfully, putting out a ready sisterly hand to Hugh, so “your lordships have condescended to yield to our importunities; we were meditating going on our knees, if that were necessary.”

“The little birds are quite game for singing till they crack their little throats if anybody'll show 'em how,” says De Laney, putting in his little oar. Hugh is never strong at badinage, he has as heavy a hand at it, as a bad cook has with onions. On the present occasion, I appear to have taken away his elderly breath, for he is staring at me as a school boy at a mince pie, as a pig at acorns. Really it is too bad of him, when he has been having the handsomest women in England, in the becomingest dresses passing in review before him every day for the last page: 101 week, that he should be gaping like a bird in the pip at a simple country girl in a little straw hat.

“What sides? what sides?” asks Amaryllis, “Morty, dear, put that hoop straight.”

I go up to Mr. De Laney, who is arranging a little delicate bouquet of heliotrope and geranium in his button hole. “Will you be sure and play with me?” I say eagerly.

The young fellow looks slightly surprised.

I, of course I will; proudest moment of my existence; only I think it fair to warn you that I never got through a hoop in my life.”

“Miss Coxe,” I say, lifting up a trembling voice and blushing, “Shall you and I and Mr. De Laney play the other three?”

“That would not be fair,” puts in Dolly, with slight asperity in her tone; “you are such a good player; you have given us much the weakest side; you had better let me take your place, that would make it nearly equal!”

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“I think,” says Amaryllis, coming to my rescue, “that Miss Eleanor Lestrange's arrangement is the best on the whole; Mortimer is much better than I am, and I suppose that Sir Hugh and Mr. De Laney are about equal.”

Dolly is too well mannered to oppose the fiat of the mistress of the ground, and she bites her lip, and says smiling, “Well, ‘never say die’ must be our motto, and Mr. Coxe won't scold us very much if we do get him into disgrace, will he?”

Mr. Coxe junior wears barnacles, and his complexion is spotted as the pard's; but his heart is tender. Dolly never puts all her money on one horse; she has many irons in the fire, and Mortimer Spencer De Lacy is her last and smallest one.

“Blue begins; Morty, give Miss Lestrange the blue.”

I make an inward resolution that where my boy goeth, I will go; that the hoop or the tunnel, or the bell that bids defiance to his inexperienced chocolate ball shall do the same to my practised green; so page: 103 that I may have an excuse for sticking close into his pocket; it is the first time that the dear little fellow has ever been used as a chaperon, I fancy.

“I did not think I should see you again,” I say, very friendlily, anxious to engage in conversation, and edging up to where he stands, dishonestly trying to kick his ball into position without being detected. “I thought you were going back to Windsor.”

“So did I, but l'homme proposes, and l'homme's great uncle by marriage disposes.”

“How tiresome for you; have you got to stay long?”

“Oh, I suppose till the old party up there,” jerking his head in the direction of his uncle's place, “takes himself off to Abraham's bosom, which he does not seem in any hurry to do at present.”

“You don't seem very sorry for the poor old gentleman,” I say, laughing rather nervously and squinting out of the corner of my left eye, to discover the whereabouts of my Sir John Suckling.

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“How can he expect one to be sorry for him, when he takes to dying at such an ungodly time? if he had put it off a month now, it would have suited me down to the ground; there's never much doing in July.”

“That's the way somebody will be talking of you by‐and‐bye,” I say with a smile.

“Not a doubt of it, unless I give them the slip by being cut off in my youth and beauty beforehand,” he says, with a grin at the thought of his own demise.

The Coxian croquet ground is to other croquet grounds what the garden of Eden is to other gardens; it is the realization of a croquet player's dream. Flat as a billiard table, big as a race course, with a fountain plashing coolly into a stone basin in the middle, and with lime trees round it. They are all in flower now, and their yellowish, greenish, whitish blossoms make the air almost too heavy. The women in their blue and green and white dresses look like big pretty flowers starring the sunny grass.

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Further off, a very smart marquee spreads its flag to the wind—of which, by‐the‐bye, there is uncommonly little—there, later on, we are to flourish the festive heels. Mr. Coxe comes strutting out presently with his little fat hands in his breeches pockets, and that face which would be of such eminent service to him in a Jacquerie, or French Revolution, stamping him so unmistakeably as of the people.

“Well, Miss Lestrange, and how are we getting on? progressing eh? ha! ha! progressing?”

“Not progressing at all, I'm afraid, Mr. Coxe!” says Dolly smiling; “on the contrary, retrograding, I think!”

“I'm afraid you don't find my son a very efficient coadjutor,” continues Mr. Coxe pompously, putting his hands under his coat tails, and standing with his legs rather wide apart. Mr. Coxe will probably be among Lord —'s next batch of lords.

Quite wrong!” says Dolly, glancing up under her little wild rose‐wreathed shepherdess hat at the blushing Mortimer. Bagging Mortimer, is like rook shooting, page: 106 Dolly thinks; the poorest of all sport, but still it is sport. Then half‐a‐dozen extra‐sized footmen come stalking along, bringing ices and Badminton on superb trays, and we stop pounding one another for a few minutes, and by the aid of these refreshments endeavour to bring ourselves down from boiling point. I see Sir Hugh pouring out a tumbler of Badminton for himself; a nice cooling drink; I hope he'll take a great deal of it. Soon we return to our game with renewed vigour.

“Send her away over there! tight croquet; I should; she plays next.” This is a most unnecessary piece of brutality, for I, with my Grenadier, am struggling for the second hoop, far in the back ground, as I resolved at the outset I would be.

“We stick together like leeches!” the boy said to me, just now, very innocently; “Damon and what was the other f'la's name—something beginning with a P. you know.” My poor green goes spinning off under the limes, disturbing the bees, and I, of course, have to go after it.

“My mother sent her love to you,” says page: 107 a too, too well known voice at my elbow. Hugh is not like himself to‐day, somehow; he has not made a single joke, and he looks sheepish, and tail‐between‐the‐legs‐ish. Being in love is sadly unbecoming to a man; particularly to one who is not in the bloom of youth. Little Dresden shepherds in pink coats and blue breeches look pretty when they are casting sheep's eyes at little fat shepherdesses in powder, and red cheeks; but a real live man, sunburnt, hirsute, broadclothed, looks ridiculous. Flight, without the most flagrant incivility, is out of the question.

“I'm sure I'm very much obliged to her.”

“I only came down from town last night.”

“Oh!”

“I came down on purpose for this—what d'ye call it—this croquet thing.”

“Oh!”

“Do you suppose I came down to see the Coxes?” Hugh never pays much attention to the requirements of Mrs. page: 108 Grundy; he is talking now with much more earnestness than the subjects that mostly come up at a croquet party, are calculated to engender.

I look down very demurely, and make a little excavation in the smooth turf with my mallet. “I don't know, I'm sure.”

“Cannot you guess who I came to see? you are sharp enough generally.” (He must be in love to call me sharp; he might as well compliment Dolly on her piety.)

“I don't know, I'm sure!” I say very pettishly; for I perceive that we are the objects of a good deal of amused notice, and I even detect my little naughty soldier chuckling all to himself behind his pocket‐handkerchief.

“I cannot bear being asked questions; will you move, please?”

I give my ball a great vicious hit, which sends it flying back to the haunts of men; and I fly after it, at the top of my speed. Hugh follows me, more surprised than sorrowful; he cannot and will not understand. His notions of courtship are like Samson's, who went down to Timnath, page: 109 and saw a woman that pleased him, and told his parents so, and after that it was all plain sailing. Our game comes to an end at last. Despite heroic efforts on the part of Amaryllis, our side is beaten. It would have been very odd if it had not been; seeing that I had been riding a donkey race, holding in my own jackass, and goading on my adversary's.

“Now for the muffin worry,” says De Laney, as we stroll towards the house, having thrown down our implements of warfare.

“Yes,” I say laughing; “we are all being walked off to have clean bibs and tuckers on!”

The Muffin Worry is an Aldermanic feast; a dinner in all but the name. Everything that a hundred‐guinea cook, silver epergnes, gold plate, hot‐house flowers, grapes as big as plums, and pines as big as pumpkins could do was done, and yet it all seemed to fall rather flat and dead somehow. Perhaps this was owing to the large preponderance of the fair sex; half a score of women being obliged to come page: 110 huddling in together. I am led into the room, where first Dick looked away my foolish heart, by Major Somebody—I did not catch the name—he wears golosches and his brother officers always talk of him as ‘she.’ On my other side is Violet Coxe. Ill‐natured he friends have christened the three Miss Coxes ‘Free and Easy,’ ‘Freer and Easier,’ ‘Freest and Easiest,’ Violet is ‘Freest and Easiest.’ Violet smokes Regalias, and calls men by their surnames to their faces. Lily smokes cigarettes, and Amaryllis does not smoke at all, because it makes her sick. Image to yourself the ne‐plus‐ultra of vulgarity, fastness, and good nature, and you have the gentle Violet.

“I never asked you about your spill the other night,” she says, in her loud voice; “I had other fish to fry; ha! ha! you pitched on your head, didn't you, and kept flourishing your legs in the air, till Hugh Lancaster came and turned you right way up again.

“Oh, hush! hush!” I say in an agony of fear lest she should be overheard.

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“Why it was not your fault, though I did hear some cock and bull story the other day, about the horses not having run away at all, and it's being all my grandmother!”

I flush crimson, and my eyes fill with tears.

“How cruel people are!” I say; “what a dreadful world it is!”

“Lor' my dear! he didn't mean to be cruel; he only thought you did it for a lark; I'd have done it as soon as look.”

“Who was it said so?” I asked indignantly.

“Pon my honour I forget—oh yes, to be sure, it was that old rip Leroy—I remember now, because M'Gregor pitched into him so, when he said it, gave it him right and left.”

My heart begins to beat wildly; I see the muslin of my dress agitated by its quick hard pulsations; here is an opportunity for getting some news of him.

“Mr. M'Gregor has gone to Ireland, I believe,” I say faintly.

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“Yes, poor old boy! he was as sick as a cat, I daresay, crossing; he's an awful bad sailor; we all cried when he went, and Ammy took to her bed, goodness knows why, for he never looked the same side of the room as her; good looking fellow isn't he? I always say that those destroying angels ought not to be let walk about loose, without tickets on their backs marked ‘dangerous.’”

“He is handsome!” I say, turning away my head.

“Morty heard from him this morning, I saw his handwriting; and what did I do but open the letter and read every blessed word in it—wasn't Morty in a stew, oh no! not at all—and he sent his love to us all; wasn't it nice of him?” (He is not ill then; he can write to other people).

The room swims round me for a minute, then I seize a glass of water, and drink it.

“Was he—was he—pretty well?” I gasp.

“Oh, yes; he seemed very bobbish! he page: 113 said Cork was very jolly quarters, and there were heaps of pretty girls—goodness me what's the matter with you? why you are as white as the tablecloth—are you going to die?”

I do not die, though I almost wish to. Oh cruel, beautiful King Olaf! are you tired of me already? I knew that a poor stupid ignorant girl like me, was not a fit mate for you!

The long dull feast comes to an end, and the dancing begins in the marquee. There is the same band that they had at Wentworth; clack clack go the bones, and the fiddles squeak, and the everlasting weary tum te tum, tum te tum goes on again.

God knows I had not much inclination for dancing; but even tearing round and round, with dragging feet, and a heart as heavy as lead, is better than the inevitable alternative sitting out with Hugh. I have to dance with him of course.

“Come and take a turn outside,” he page: 114 says, drawing me towards the scene of our late contest, where the limes' long shadows have thrown themselves all along upon the dewy grass, like black‐stoled nuns in prayer; and where the fountain is splashing and falling drip, drip, in silver showers in the moonlight.

“No, no!” I say hastily, drawing back, “I don't want to; the grass is wet.”

“You did not seem to find it so just now, when you were sitting on those stone steps with De Laney ever so long,” he says, rather affronted.

“Please don't tease!” I say with irritation.

“But there's something I want to say to you,” he urges pertinaciously, catching my hand.

“For goodness sake, don't!” I say rudely; “I'm sure I should not like to hear it.”

As we drove home that night Dolly said,

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“Did Sir Hugh propose to you to‐day, Nell?”

“No,” said I shortly, “and if he has a grain of sense he never will.”

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