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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 157

CHAPTER XI.

THERE is a great sacrifice to the fore; a hecatomb offered at the altar of filial affection; a pretty white lamb is being led out, be‐figged, be‐ribboned, be‐filleted to the slaughter. Pipe and tabor go too‐tooing before her, and the butcher, with his sharp knife gleaming, walks behind her. But the lamb knows that she is going to the sacrifice, and she bleats very piteously.

Now for the key to this graceful metaphor. I am the lamb, Hugh is the butcher, Dolly is the pipe and tabor, and the slaughter is our nuptials. I had looked upon our marriage as a distant possible evil, huge and horrible indeed, but rendered indistinct and vague by extreme distance; much as we look upon the Day of page: 158 Judgment, or the day of our death, and lo! here it was at the very doors.

One day, very meekly and diffidently, for he began to perceive that his turtle dove had not much coo in her, Sir Hugh suggested that there was no possible reason why our marriage should be delayed; that there was, on the contrary, every reason why it should be hastened. But mild and deferential as was the poor fellow's mode of address, I blazed out upon him; thrust the idea miles away from me, and snubbed him for his want of feeling, in talking of marrying and giving in marriage, when my father was in the state he then was. That was in the morning; in the afternoon, my father repeated Sir Hugh's very words almost.

The daily walk had been given up by this time: all day long my old man sat in his leathern arm‐chair, waiting—waiting. The pitcher was breaking very fast now; it would go but few more journeys to the fountain.

All day nearly, I sat beside him on a low stool, holding his hand, kissing it page: 159 every now and then, and watering it with tears, as the Magdalen did that tender God‐hand, that is stretched out ever to heal all wounds.

“‘I'm wearing awa', Jean, Like snow when it's thaw, Jean, I'm wearing awa', Jean, To the Land o' the Leal,’” says my father softly, brokenly; for speech is getting difficult, breathless to him. “It's rather hard work, Nell, ‘wearing awa’; I wish I could be quicker about it.” My hot tears and kisses fall on the worn hand I must so soon loose for ever, but I cannot answer him in words. “Hugh is a good fellow, isn't he?” says my father, presently. “I like to think of his being so fond of my little girl; I wish you and he were married, Nell!”

“Do you, Dad?” I say, choking.

“Yes, little lass, and then he could take you home and comfort you, when I'm gone!”

“Cold comfort, I think, Dad,” I say, laying my russet head on the arm of his chair, “but if—if it'll give you any page: 160 pleasure, I'll marry him to‐morrow.” And this was how it came about.

“The Queen laid her white throat on the block, Quietly waiting the fatal shock.”

The parson has been advertised, the licence and the ring have been bought, and we are to be made one, as fast as bell, book and candle can make us. How sound I slept on the night before my bridal; people going to be hanged, or guillotined, or beheaded, always do, they say. I slept, and I had a very fair dream; a vague sweet dream of flowers—great, beautiful flowers, crimson and white and azure, and of a garden. And among the flowers, and in the garden, I saw Dick; saw him in all his beauty, saw “The knotted column of his throat, The massive square of his heroic breast, And arms on which the standing muscle sloped;” saw him coming quickly over the springy green turf to meet me, with a great glory of sunshine about his stately head; and I stretched out eager arms towards him, and cried, “I'm coming, love, I'm coming!” page: 161 and so crying, I woke to find myself embracing the empty air; woke as Nelly Lestrange for the last time in my life.

“This is my wedding day.” With what trembling rapture, with what shy shrinking from her own great passionate joy, has many a girl said this. I felt no tremor, no shyness; only a huge loathing, an infinite despair! One forgets to be coy and maidenly, when one's every pulse and nerve is thrilling with a mighty horror; when, loving one man frenziedly, one is about to be delivered over, bound to the tender mercies of another.

No friends came together to see me wed; there was no sound of mirth or music about the dim old rooms: this was no time for merry‐making, when the head of the Lestranges was nearing his last dark home. This ceremony was, we all felt, but the precursor of a solemner, sadder one. Only one uncle, a selfish bachelor colonel, had been drawn down reluctant, from his clubs and his comfortable chambers in the Albany, into the murk, wintry country, to give me away.

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Eleven o'clock was the hour, at which the poor lamb's throat was to be cut; the female martyr ascend the pyre. As the time drew near, Dolly and Mrs. Smith and Mary the housemaid, all came bustling and fussing about me, in my little shabby, chill chamber; giving a tweak here, and a pull there, and a jerk somewhere else, to one or another of my wedding garments, as seemed good in their eyes. I, meanwhile, stood gazing stonily at myself in the glass. I was dressed in a white muslin gown, as simple as a nun's, a white cloak and a little white bonnet, and I looked as like a snow‐drop as possible; as fair, as cold, as passionless. My face was not distorted and blurred with tear marks now; my tears seemed all shed: I had been a spend‐thrift of them lately.

To‐day, I could not have wept to save my life. A very miserable looking face the looking‐glass gave back to me, but a very lovely one, as I could not help seeing: lovelier in its colourless, hopeless wistfulness, with its great blue eyes, and its ruddy billowing hair, than even page: 163 Dolly's in its subtle Eastern sweetness.

“I'm worth my price,” I say to myself, bitterly.

Then they get me downstairs somehow, and into the Noah's ark of the family coach. As we drive along to the church, I sit staring blankly before me, while my uncle, the Colonel, a little withered spick‐and‐span cock‐sparrow, chirrups small old‐world politesses to Dolly,—whom he thinks “a monstrous fine woman, egad,”—his style of commendation savouring of the Regency—and who takes them suavely, honiedly, as she would take the vilest, most opprobrious epithets ever applied to woman to‐day, being, forsooth, in highest good humour.

The air is full of snow; flakes are sailing crookedly down to join the other flakes lying already on tree, and hedge‐row, and field. There seems no horizon to‐day, no definite boundary to the prospect—sky and earth are mixed and jumbled up together; it is freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing every five minutes.

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At the lych gate we get out. My uncle gives me his arm, and leads me up the narrow gravel walk, where half a dozen perished school‐children, three blue‐nosed, pinched old women, and a purple hobbledehoy are assembled as witnesses of this gay show. There is a thin white shroud stretched over the sloping green mounds, thin and scant as a beggar's cloak; the snow has dropped her chill, pure pall over the quiet dead as they lie slumbering together in families and households.

Sir Hugh—my Sir Hugh, my own—and his best man, the large‐headed young cotton lord, meet us at the church door; Sir Hugh in a blue frock‐coat, a blue tie, and a red‐brown countenance, which all set each other off very nicely. “There was colour in his cheek, There was lustre in his eye,” and there was a bouquet as big as a haystack in his hand, a bouquet of delicatest hot‐house ferns and whitest hot‐house flowers, flowers waxiest of petal and page: 165 heaviest of scent. This posy he immediately presented to me, and Lord Stockport, of the many mills, did likewise with a lesser haystack to Dolly. I said, “thank you,” coldly, took it and held it in my hand, without its ever occurring to me to smell it or notice it any further.

Then we arranged ourselves before the altar. Of course, Hugh disposed himself on the wrong side of me, and had to be pushed, and nudged, and scolded into his right place. Then Mr. Bowles, whose long nose was redder than a plume reft from the flamingo's using, and whose teeth I heard like castanets played by a skilful hand, opened the prayer‐book, and began to tie the first loop of the Gordian knot. I paid but small heed to his exhortation; my eyes kept wandering from Sir Adrian Lestrange, who “obdormivit in pace, ætat 26,” in gray marble at my right, to Sir Brian, who “departed this life in the 24th year of his age,” in white marble at my left. He was deeply regretted; Sir Adrian was not apparently. We were not a long‐lived family, any of us.

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“I require and charge you both, as ye shall answer at the dreadful Day of Judgment, when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed,” said the Rev. Bowles.

He read at a hand‐gallop, and very much through his nose, but, try as he would, he could not take quite all the dignity and awe out of that solemnnest adjuration. It called back my straying thoughts; it stirred my apathy. The cold, vault‐like air crept through my thin clothing, and chilled the marrow of my bones; and a colder, bitterer chill grasped at my heart, as I listened to the grave, grand words.

Then Sir Hugh was asked whether he would “take this woman to be his wedded wife,” and he said, “I will,” in his strong bass voice, heartily, loud, out, as if he meant it, and as if he was glad to be asked. And the same question was put to me with regard to “this man,” and I said “I will” also; but said it with as much life and animation as a doll shows when she opens her eyes, the string at her side being pulled.

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So he, Hugh de Vere, takes me, Eleanor, “till death us do part,” and I, Eleanor, take him, Hugh de Vere, and do it with a bad grace, as if I would not have taken him if I could have helped it, and then Hugh put the ring—pledge of a worse than Egyptian bondage—over my cold, reluctant fingers, and the bells clashed out, and we were man and wife, and I knew that now I could reach my darling's arms only through the billows of sin or the floods of death.

The deed being done, and Mr. Bowles having made his congratulations as intelligibly as his chattering teeth would allow him, we signed our names—Hugh de Vere Lancaster, very bold and firm; Eleanor Lestrange, very wobbly and illegible; and then Hugh hurried me off into his brougham, which was waiting at the gate.

“God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,” says the proverb, and I thanked God devoutly that that drive was but a short one. During it I spoke not a word; if I had attempted to utter, I felt that I page: 168 should have shrieked aloud in my great agony.

I find my father in the hall, come out to welcome back his little daughter. He has put his old Sunday coat on to do me honour—the coat that I remember so many years, and which is so much too big for him now, hangs about him in such pitiful folds and wrinkles.

I throw myself passionately into his arms.

“Kiss me, dad—kiss me!” I cry, a little wildly. “I don't feel like myself to‐day, somehow. I'm your Nell still—aren't I?—though I am married.”

My father holds out his hand to Sir Hugh, and smiles his pleasant, tender smile.

“She has been made such a pet of all her life, you see,” he says, with gentle apology.

(Death is smoothing all the little asperities out of him, dear noble old father.)

“She has been her old father's spoilt child—haven't you, Little Nell? You'll be good to her—won't you? She has been a page: 169 very loving little daughter to me, and they say good daughters always make good wives—don't they?”

Then he stops, out of breath.

“I will be good to her, indeed, Sir Adrian,” says Hugh, solemnly, “so help me, God.”

And he has been good to me, honest fellow—he has kept his word.

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