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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 116

CHAPTER VIII.

I KEPT a journal in those days; if I wished I could tell you, oh my friends, all I did, and a little of what I thought every day for the next six months. But I think even the patientest among you would go to sleep, or at least would yawn very widely, were I to test your powers of endurance with such an infliction. On the contrary, oh kind unknowns! I will take a great leap in my narration, a leap as big as Pedro Alvarado's; a leap from June to December; the next picture in my little homely Hollandish series is a winter one.

Oh, cruel six months! They have stolen so much from me, and they have given me nothing in return. They found me very rich in hope and love, and pleasant page: 117 thoughts; they left me nearly bankrupt in them all.

I am standing by my bed‐room window, looking out listlessly. The white dimity curtains look chilly and cheerless, and there comes in a draught that would turn a mill under the ill‐fitting door; the mignonette in the green box is dead, and the birds are silent. Outside also it looks very dreary. Winter has not come in prettily this year, with his ermine cloak and his ice‐diamonds; he is an ugly fellow enough; he has come in meekly, wetly, muggily; the meadows are all sponge, and the roads all pomatum. A green Christmas, they say, makes a fat church‐yard, and this Christmas is very green.

Now and again great strong west winds sweep and riot over the land, not cold, but noisy, blowy, blustery, crashing down great tree‐limbs, and making chimney‐pots and tiles clatter down from house tops and church roofs. I turn away disconsolately from the spectacle of nature's life in death, and look vacantly in the glass.

Can that be the same round, dimpled, page: 118 laughing face that met me in that same mirror six short months ago; the curse of the daughters of Zion seems to have fallen upon me; “burning instead of beauty.” Hollow cheeks; the corners of the mouth drawn down, and the lines about it puckered up, as if with continual weeping; dark deep shadows under the eyes, the great wistful blue eyes that seem to see everything now mistily, dimly through unshed tears; the hair twisted up with such negligent untidiness, as if nobody cared or thought about it any longer; and the figure, the pretty, tall figure drooping and nerveless.

What is it has dimmed and marred my fair looks so? What evil thing have the rolling hours brought me? What is the cause—what are the causes of the breaking heart that looks out so wanly from that small young face? Shall I tell you? First, then, and oh, far, far foremost, my father is very ill—dying. God is going to take away my dear old dad from me; the old man with whom I walked long ago in the pleasant fields gathering but‐ buttercups page: 119 tercups, in a white frock and a blue sash—the old man with whom I have had so many little jokes, and such loving little tiffs, he who seems to be woven into the fabric of my very life. Warp and woof must be parted now; the threads of his life be dissevered from mine, for He who made has uttered His fiat of recall; He who gave is about to take away.

When first this terrible thought came home icily to my heart (it was one night, weeks ago, as I knelt at my evening prayers—those prayers out of which one name must so soon drop) I rebelled fiercely against it, pushed it violently from me, it could not, would not be—it was too bad to happen—and my soul went up agonizedly to the great God above me, in intercession for that dear old life, as so many souls have gone up before me, but that prayer found no acceptance.

In nightly vigils on my dark bed, I wrestled and strove with that grisly phantom; I would stand in the breach between him and my old man; he should not come at him, should not smite him with that page: 120 mighty blade that lays the generations low; but to what purpose? He has put me aside, he is drawing ever nigher, not stealthily, insidiously, but openly in the eye of day, so that all may count his strides, and mark his coming.

So my dear old father is going away from me on a long, long journey, and I don't rightly know what I am to do without him. Is not this enough to make me sad? But besides this greatest cause for woe, I have yet another sore grief, which, but for the advent of the yet more unbearable one, would have seemed to me unendurable; my lover has forsaken me. He on whose love I should have rested, he on whose strong young heart I should have leaned in this bitter hour, has forgotten me; not once in all these weary months has he written to me.

How many days there are in six months, how many post times! Just so many times have I had to undergo the pangs of a most grievous disappointment, a sharp smart stab at first, then a long, dull, weary ache. And I had written to him, oh, so often! page: 121 very joyfully and very lovingly first; very anxiously and very lovingly next; then grievedly, bitterly, but lovingly always, and at last I had ceased writing and had sunk into the dumbness of despair.

Dolly did not exult over me much; she reminded me, indeed, that she had warned me against him, and opined that perhaps next time I should be more inclined to take her advice, but on the whole she was goodnatured, and tried to comfort me on the same grounds as would have afforded herself consolation in a like case, viz., his poverty and consequent undesirability; the vanity and nothingness of the passion of love, and lastly, her invariable corps de réserve—Sir Hugh.

And now, oh my friends, do not be very hard upon me; do not call me ugly names, as fickle and heartless; do not sit in judgment upon me when I tell you that I myself have of late been thinking much of this same Sir Hugh; not with more love or less loathing than of yore, but as my possible, probable fate. I wanted to do right, God knows! I thought it must be page: 122 right to do this, because it was so hard, so difficult, so revolting. I see now that I was wrong, but then my head was full of Iphigenia and Jephtha's daughter‐like ideas.

The doctor said that perfect exemption from all care and anxiety might, probably would prolong my father's life for weeks, nay months; and to win so dear, so inestimably precious a boon as his presence among us, for even a few days longer than I otherwise should have it, I was willing to sacrifice all my future years, willing to give my shrinking body to Sir Hugh's arms, and my abhorring soul into his custody, though both body and soul clave still with desperate ineradicable passion to that other.

Since I drew my last life‐picture our affairs had become quite desperate; the children of Israel had come down upon us like locusts; a dreadful man with a hook nose, thick lips, and a greasy Hebrew face had come to take an inventory of the furniture and movables. To spare our feelings and obviate the unpleasant necessity of having a strange man quartered upon us, page: 123 our own man‐servant had been turned into a bailiff for the nonce.

My father could not move outside his own pleasure‐grounds. “I suppose they will let him pass by to his grave,” I thought bitterly. Bills and duns showered like hail about our ears, and there we stood, helpless, defenceless, without hope or refuge. An old dying man, and two poor young daughters in such a case. What could be pitifuller? Mrs. Smith has just been telling me that “she's mor'lly certain there'll be a hexecootion in the 'ouse afore the week's hout; that there will, drabbit 'em all!”

An execution! Won't that put the finishing stroke to the work of decay and sickness? Will that enfeebled frame ever be able to bear the rough world's jeers at the yawning rifts and rents in the poor old family's sides; those rifts that through so many tired years he has been painfully trying to draw a tattered covering over. Will not the poor gray head be driven to take refuge before its time in the restful grave? I clench my hands. I must do it; I must. page: 124 My face looks back hard and rigid from the glass at me; “I must, I must;” it seems to say too. As I stand thus in an attitude worthy of Lady Macbeth, the door opens, and Dolly enters hurriedly, without knocking.

“Sir Hugh's here,” she says rather hesitatingly; she does not quite know how I shall take her bit of news; once or twice, lately, I have turned savage under her exhortations and beseechments. I do not turn savage now; I say nothing, only the rigid face in the glass grows rigider. My resolution is to be put to the test soon indeed!

Dolly's beauty is nowise dimmed by grief; sorrow has dug no ugly hollows in her cheeks, nor dulled the sleepy splendour of her eyes. She looks a little pale and anxious, but she manages somehow to do even that becomingly. Nor is her appearance less soignée than it was; her dress is simpler indeed than it used to be; as simple as it can be; but that only serves to make her look younger, more innocently girlish. She wore now a thick black serge page: 125 gown almost as plain as a riding‐habit.

“It will do so nicely for mourning with a little crape on it,” had been the thought in Dolly's mind when she bought that dress—the unexpressed thought, but by some instinct, I had divined that she had so thought, and I hated her for it.

“For God's sake, be civil to him!” she says now, coming up and laying an eager hand on my shoulder, “he is our only hope!”

“I know it,” I say coldly.

“For pity's sake don't snub him! be good to him! do think of somebody beside yourself for once.” (Dolly, of all people, to give that advice.)

“I don't mean to snub him; I mean to be civil to him; I have made up my mind,” I say resolutely, with that dull pain tightening round my heart.

“Made up your mind to marry him! You don't mean it?” cries my sister joyfully, while the prettiest carmine wave ripples into her soft cheeks. “Bon Dieu! how thankful I am!”

“Don't!” I say harshly, pushing her page: 126 away; her mirth grated horribly somehow on my tense nerves.

“Do make yourself a little bit tidy before you go to him,” she says, untying the blue ribbon that binds her own inky hair waves, and preparing to insinuate it among my curly wig. But I resist.

“No,” I say doggedly, “leave me alone; I won't be made up for sale; if he chooses to bid for this piece of goods, he shall see all the flaws in it. I don't want to cheat him in his bargain.” So I went, limp and crumpled to meet my fate. Before I had given my resolution time to cool, I found myself in the library facing my futur.

He was standing with his back to the fire, whistling softly to himself. Evidently he had called in on his way back from hunting; he had on a very shabby stained old red coat, and very splashed spattered breeches and tops, but somehow he did not look at all a bad fellow, nor an ill‐looking one either. When he saw me, he stopped whistling, and dropped his coat tails.

“Well, how is he to‐day? not worse, page: 127 I hope?” he says it very heartily; there is a true ring in his deep voice, as if he really meant it.

“No, not worse. I think much the same, thanks!”

I sit down in my limpness on the sofa, and feel as if I were going to have a leg or an arm cut off, and as if Hugh was the operator, and I wish he would make haste and begin. Oh, if I could but take a whiff of chloroform, and awake to find the limb amputated, the process over, the wooing accomplished. The fire glows ruddy in the wide old chimney; the flames go curling, spiring, quivering upwards. I gaze at the steel dogs in the hearth, and await the operation.

“You've grown very thin since last I was here.” That is how it begins. The surgeon is taking off his coat, and rolling up his shirt sleeves.

“Very likely,” I say, bitterly. “Lying awake at night, and having worries, and being miserable, does not conduce to putting flesh on one's bones!”

“I wish to Heaven I could take half page: 128 your worries for you; God knows I would if I could; will you let me try?” The kind honest tones, and the kind simple words upset me quite; I am easily upset now‐a‐days. I pull out my pocket‐handkerchief; my face undergoes the odd, droll ugly contortions and workings of a person about to cry, and I burst into bitter tears. My nose reddens, and my eyelids get pink, and I sit rocking to and fro, and feeling a very desolate little girl indeed.

“Won't you let me go halves in all your troubles, dear?” he asks, very gently.

He has come and stood close before me in his eagerness, and intercepts my view of the steel dogs. I look up through my tears straight at him. I am relieved that we are getting to business so soon.

“Do you mean that you want me to marry you?” I ask, bluntly.

“Yes, I do,” he says, simply; “you know I do; you know how long I have been wishing and longing for it.”

There is a little pause—a little minute, when my thoughts go back miserably to page: 129 that curled Greek head, to those dark, passionate, gray eyes that looked so true and were so false; then I say very slowly and with infinite difficulty—

“I will—do as you wish, if—if—you will—lend me—give me—some money—a great deal; oh dear—oh dear!”

My sobs burst out fresh, I feel so degraded in my own eyes. He did not ask me what I wanted money for—no doubt he divined; only the jollity died out of his honest face, and a pained look took its place.

“Of course you know,” he said, very heartily, “I hope I need not tell you that—that you are welcome, most welcome to every farthing I possess, to make ducks and drakes of, if you like; but—but I don't want you to marry me for that.”

“If I take money from you I must marry you,” I said, calmly. “I could not do it else.”

It seemed to me the most matter‐of‐fact piece of barter in the world; so much young flesh and blood for so much current coin of the realm.

page: 130

“Why, won't you try and like me?” he says, passionately. It seems hard to him that his house, and his lands, and his dirty money should count for more with me than his loving heart, and his tender, faithful eyes; and as he speaks he throws himself on the sofa beside me.

“I will try and like you,” I say, conquering myself, setting my teeth, and vanquishing my intense desire to say something very rude, and rush away from him; but even as I speak I shudder at his proximity.

“We might be so happy;” he says, rather plaintively. “I am not a very hard fellow to live with, I don't think; I've never had a word with mother all these twenty years, and you'd be easier to get on with, I fancy, than she is, poor old lady!”

“We will try and be happy,” I say, firmly, and I give him my hand.

The operation is nearly over now, and I am alive after it. Then I am gathered to the middle‐aged heart, to the stained page: 131 red coat, and the gray knitted waistcoat, and kissed, and thanked, and blessed, and adjectived. I tear myself away at last, and escape to my room, where I fling myself on my bed, and scrub my desecrated countenance, and wail, “Oh, Dick, Dick—oh, my love, my love!” to the unresponsive pillow.

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