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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 132

CHAPTER IX.

SIR HUGH must have abandoned the pursuit of the wily fox at an early hour on that memorable afternoon, seeing that it was but half‐past two, when, the deed being done, he rode off on his long raking bay mare—rode off to go and tell his mamma of his prowess, and of what a lovely, willing bride he had achieved. Only half‐past two; there was therefore ample time for my father and me to take our daily stroll; that stroll which we still took, though it had become such a woeful piteous shadow of what it used to be. No earthly persuasion could induce my father to give in to being an invalid, to stay in bed and have a doctor. Every day he would get up and dress; would come down page: 133 stairs, and sit in the library; would sit in his usual chair, and read his usual books; but every day the dressing and the coming down stairs took longer; every day the wheels of the chariot drove more heavily; every day the silver cord loosened—loosened; every day the frail vessel of that dear life drifted ever faster—faster out, into the great desolate homeless sea of Death. As well as any one could tell him, he knew that he was dying—knew that the few last sands of his hour glass were dribbling slowly out; no need to break the news to him. To “break” implies that the news is bad; but to him this was not ill news; to him it seemed an evangel—“good tidings of great joy.” But though he so well knew that solenmest fact—perhaps the more so because he did so know it—he seemed now to taste a deeper, tenderer joy than ever, even of yore, in Nature's sweet presence; even in her leafless trees, her riotous western breezes, and her chill December suns.

And thus it came to pass that we two who were so close to each other now; page: 134 we, who, a month hence, should be severed far as time is parted from eternity, walked out together every day, gravely and lovingly.

At first our walk comprised pleasure ground, farm‐yard, and home wood; but then, after a little, we had to drop the wood, had to say a long good‐bye to it—to the pleasant wood with its oaks, and its tangled briars, and its crimson dogwood—for it lay on a rising ground, and taxed too hardly the poor struggling, difficult breath.

A week more, and the farm‐yard is abandoned for a like cause. Every day the walk grows shorter, the steps slower, the end nearer! God! What torture can be comparable to that of standing, with one dearer to us than life, on the edge of that awfulest, blackest gulf, seeing him slipping, slipping down into it, unable to stretch out a finger to prevent him; to help him back again up the kindly hither bank.

On the afternoon of my betrothal, we were as usual creeping with tedious page: 135 lagging steps along the gravel walk, round the flowerless flower‐beds, stopping every ten paces to take breath. My father was wrapped up in his old great‐coat, (ah me, how he used to eschew great coats in bygone days!) and I, with my arm passed through his, am trying to help on his tottering steps, without his finding out that he is so helped.

“I think you seem to be walking a little better to‐day, dearest old man!” I say.

“Am I, Nell? I'm not a very grand traveller, I don't think.”

We stop, and look over the wire fence at the drenched‐looking grass, at the rich, wet, loamy earth.

“If this mild weather lasts, we shall be seeing the crocuses out in flower here, in another month,” I say.

“I shall never see the crocuses again!” says my father, simply.

A rush of tears blinds me, and through them I look up at the yellowing sunken face—the face that is so immeasurably page: 136 more to me than all the world besides,—more, ten thousand times, than even my beautiful false lover—and I know that he speaks truth; that I shall be looking at the crocuses' golden blaze alone. In a few minutes I swallow back my tears; I have all the rest of my life‐time to weep in, but they must not come now; not now! not now! I say, gently pressing the dear arm that leans so feebly on mine.

“You must not say melancholy things to‐day, darling old daddy, for I have got such a nice piece of news for you!”

“News! have you, Nell?” says he cheerfully. “Why, little lass, you're getting like the Athenians, that spent their time in nothing else but either to hear or to tell some new thing.”

Some spirits can jest and joke even on the verge of that gulf that swallows time and space, nor with any irreverence towards the Great Presence, in whose antechamber they stand waiting “Like infants, sporting by the roar Of the Everlasting Deep,”
page: 137

Such was my father.

“This is a real bit of news,” I say, smiling; “good news too,” I add, though the words go nigh to choke me. We are walking on again slowly, beneath the great ash trees that spread black skeleton arms to the low dun sky.

“Good news has forgotten the road here, I think, Nell, for this long and many a day,” says my father, with a weary sigh. I look down and fumble with the lowest button of my jacket.

“Sir Hugh Lancaster has been here again to‐day,” I say, in a coy, low voice. My father stops suddenly, and leans both hands on the top of his stick.

“Has he?” he says, eagerly; “is your news about him, Nell!”

I blush.

“Yes, he asked me to marry him; or I'm not sure that it was not I that asked him to marry me,” I say, with rather dreary merriment; “anyhow, we settled it between us: it is to be!”

“Thank God!” says my father, very reverently, under his breath; “then page: 138 there'll be somebody to take care of my little lass when I'm gone!”

“Is it good news, dad? did I say true!” I ask, throwing a pair of loving young arms about his neck, and laughing hysterically.

“That it is!” he says, heartily, and the strength seems to have come back into his voice. “I can say, ‘Nunc dimittis,’ with all my heart now, Nell; I could not have departed quite in peace before, when I thought of leaving my little Nell to be a poor little ill‐used governess; but now,” he said, with a dash of his old pride, “she'll be able to hold up her head among the best in the county, as she ought, God bless her!”

“What good will it do me to hold up my head as high as Haman's, if you're not by to see it and be glad of it?” I ask, desolately. Long dreary years, forty, fifty, sixty perhaps, flash before my mind's eye, years of a bondage whose full horrors my innocent young soul but vaguely takes in; years with Hugh, and without papa.

page: 139

Oh, why could not I die of consumption, like that girl I took the jelly to yesterday? Why could not I cough myself out of the world, as she was doing so fast? “On the —th instant, at Lestrange Hall, Eleanor, younger daughter of Sir Adrian Lestrange, of rapid decline, aged nineteen.” And Dick would see it in the Times, and be compunctious, and his grand deep eyes would fill with remorseful tears, and he would rush away to the wars—those vague wars of which I always had so convenient a stock in my mental repertoire—and die, covered with wounds, and kissing my photograph.

This was the gloomy form my castle‐building took now; a picturesque death was the only thing I seemed to have strength to long for.

“Nell,” says my father, breaking in upon a paragraph descriptive of Dick's glorious demise, in “Wild Mahratta battle,” that I was composing, “Do you remember my reading ‘King Lear’ to you once?”
page: 140

“Yes,” I reply, wondering a little, “long ago; and you used to call me your little Cordelia; I remember,”

“Well, darling,” he says, with a pensive little smile, “do you remember what Kent says when the poor old King is dead— ‘He hates him that would on the rack of this tough world Stretch him out longer.’”

“Oh, dad! dad!” I cry in the bitterness of my soul, clinging about him. “Why cannot you take me with you? Oh, we have been such friends, haven't we? Oh, you're not going to leave me behind!”

“Hush, hush!” says he, soothingly, patting my hot wet cheek. “What will the fine new lover say if we let you wash all the colour out of your eyes with crying; God knows best, Nell! God knows best! we must try and think that!”

“I cannot think it,” I say, desperately, “and I won't; I don't believe it.”

After that we walk along in silence to the hall‐door; I saying over and over to myself, in utter heart sickness, “He doesn't know best! He doesn't! He page: 141 doesn't!” and dashing myself like a little foolish useless wave against the great adamant rock of the Omnipotent Will.

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