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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 177

CHAPTER XIII.

“I remember, I remember The house where I was born; The little window where the sun Came peeping in at morn. It never came a wink too soon, Nor brought too long a day, But now I often wish the night Had borne my breath away.”

WHEN next the sun comes peeping through my little dim‐paned window, he will find no Nelly Lestrange to greet him. He will miss the girl whom he has watched grow up from a little toddling pinafored child, to a fair, tall, comely woman—will miss the happy, foolish innocent face that has smiled back to him across the hay‐field, on so many dewy June mornings. Nelly Lestrange, with her light heart, her tumbledown Spanish castles, and her silly little tender jokes, has gone away, not from that room only, but from the world.

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They buried her yesterday in that dull chamber, where Death is holding his carnival among the Lestranges, and have left only a very heavy‐hearted Nell Lancaster in her stead.

I am sitting in my father's bedroom, on the floor; by the bed whereon he died, and am kissing it. God has vouchsafed to me to‐day the gift of tears. After he was dead, when the warmth was gone out of the heart that would have bled less, had it been colder, when his sickness was so sore, that there was no breath left in him. I had cut off a bit of his hair, and now the sight of the thin gray lock, so sparse, so almost white, recalled to me with such bitter force the head from which it was severed, that he being dead, yet spake. Oh God! is there any verse that ever was penned by mortal fingers that grasps so at the universal sympathies of this whole tearful world, as this one. “Oh Christ! that it were possible For one short hour to see The souls we loved, that they might tell us What and where they be.”
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Before, when my old man had gone away from me, though he was beyond the reach of my fond arms, beyond the province of the eye and the ear, I could yet picture him to myself amongst familiar human surroundings; could imagine him sitting and walking, making his kindly jests, and talking his clever pointed talk; now the vagueness and the doubt rebuffed me.

So far as I had gone with him, he had had a good journey, thank God! for he had parted from me smiling; but alas! that was but a very little way on. I could but take him to the great gates, and send him out into the night, and stand peering with eager aching eyes after him, as he went forth into the blackness alone.

It is afternoon, and, but for the servants, I am alone in the house. Hugh is gone over to Wentworth, whence he is to return later to fetch me, and Dolly is gone. Dolly has been very busy all the morning, going about the house, and picking up a little bit of china here, and a little bit of plate there. She has no particular right to page: 180 them, although she says very feelingly, that ‘poor dear papa’ gave them to her, and so of course she cannot bear the idea of their being put up to sale for any dreadful common creatures; but when a house is in the confusion attendant upon an owner lately dead, a little petty larceny is excusable, almost laudable.

Half an hour ago, she set off on a long visit to some of her numerous friends; she made a very pretty exit, crying a little, but not enough to disfigure herself at the railway station, and shaking hands with all the servants. I have cried myself into a state of semi‐insensibility; my head is resting on the counterpane, and my lock of hair is lying in silver paper on my lap, when the door opens, and Mrs. Smith says, very gently, “If you please, my lady, Sir Hugh's come back.”

If I had thought about it, I should have recollected that there was nobody but myself in the room; but somehow it never occurred to me to take the unfamiliar appellation to myself. Mrs. Smith comes a little further into the room, and repeats a tone or two louder.

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“If you please, my lady, Sir Hugh's come and would like to speak to you,” I stare up at her, dully scared for a minute; then jump up, throw my arms about the old woman's neck, and lay my head on her kindly bosom.

“Don't call me that!” I say whispering; “don't! I hate it; call me Miss Nell always; do you mind?” Mrs. Smith kisses my swollen face, and strokes my disordered hair; it was homely, but very lovingly done, as Sir Thomas More said of the maid Dorothy Collis, who embraced him as he went to execution.

“I'll call you what you like, my dear, in course; but indeed—indeed you should not take on so; it's not right, it is not indeed; it was the Almighty's will as he was took,” she says very shakily, “and, oh dear! he has been worritted a deal, poor gentleman; I don't think you had oughter wish him back!”

“I don't! I don't!” I cry, sobbing hysterically; “I'm not so cruel! do you think I'm a fiend; but I only wish they'd page: 182 —let me—let me—go to him; it's not wicked to say that is it?”

“Not a bit wicked!” says Mrs. Smith, soothingly, “and so you will in the Lord's good time; so we all shall, I 'ope; and for my part so as we was prepared, I don't much care how soon.” Hugh, manlike, is getting impatient. I hear him calling

“Nell! Nell!”

It is not the same voice that was wont to come ringing up these stairs; it is a younger, stronger, commoner one; the contrast comes coldly home to my heart.

“I don't want to see him,” I say; pitifully to Mrs. Smith, and speaking as if I had a very bad cold in my head; “go and ask him to give me half an hour more.”

Mrs. Smith looks mild disapprobation.

“Nay, my dear, I don't think you had oughter keep him waiting; he's your 'usband, you know, and he raly is as good a gentleman as ever trod shoe‐leather; we cannot expect everybody to be like them as is gone.”

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I have been rather meek and biddable from my youth up, so I go. Hugh is standing at the foot of the stairs, whistling very softly to himself; it is almost as inveterate a habit with him, as with Mr. Chick.

“What a figure you have made of yourself, you poor little girl!” he says, surveying rather ruefully, the purple‐eyed, red‐nosed, hollow‐cheeked prize that he has acquired.

“I cannot help it!” I say, doggedly. “Do you want me? Mrs. Smith said you did.”

“I'd walk on my head from here to Wentworth, if it would do you any good,” he says, disregarding my question, and looking sympathetic, as a really good‐natured man would in the presence of a grief which it was equally beyond his power to measure or assuage; “but you really ought not to fret like this, you'll be laid up, and you know it's—it's Godalmighty'swill.”

Hugh is very shy of pronouncing his Creator's name, and now does it with a page: 184 jerk, running the three words into one very rapidly. I don't feel much consoled by the information, and go and sit down listlessly, on the end of the servant's prayer bench. I have eaten nothing all day, and am as weak as a cat.

“What time will you be ready to start?” asks Hugh, seeing that his theological gun has missed fire.

“Oh, must we go yet?” I cry, clasping my hands in despair, “I wanted to bid good‐bye to all the old place!”

Hugh looks down and pulls his grizzling moustache.

“The days are so short, you see,” he says “and it takes two hours to get there; I don't want to bring the horses in hot; and mother will be getting anxious if we are not back by dinner time!”

“How soon then?” I ask, giving up the point as I would give up any point to‐day.

“Well, as soon as you can pop on your bonnet then. I'll go to the stables and tell him to put the horses to; they're uncommon likely to take cold if they stay there long, for it's as damp as a—” page: 185 Vault, he was going to say, but it occurred to him, that, under the circumstances, it might sound unfeeling.

I rise and move towards the stairs again, dragging my legs after me.

“Oh, by‐the‐by, Nell, which would you like to go in? the brougham or the double dog‐cart—they are both here?”

“Oh not the dog‐cart!” I say with an involuntary gesture of disgust.

“Why? it is not cold!”

“It reminds me of that dreadful day,” I say without thinking. (I somehow attribute all my ills to that day.) I was enough to try the patience of the ten best husbands in Britain, wasn't I? but then I was so miserable.

Sir Hugh's kind, good‐natured face clouds a little.

“Those were not the same pair,” he says, “and the cart cannot run away of itself.”

He does not relish the idea of a fourteen mile drive in a stuffy close carriage, with a crying woman; even though she is his bride.

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“As you wish,” I say indifferently, “it's all one to me.”

So the dog‐cart it is, and into it I get; a limp, nerveless figure, on which a great deal of crape is hung, and over whose face a crape veil falls black and thick as a December night. There has been one of those rapid changes in the weather, which are common in our climate, so rich in unpleasant surprises. The snow is all melted out of the sky, and the bitter wind has whistled and moaned itself away to some other quarter of the earth. The air is as warm as April, and the atmosphere that of a vapour bath.

A dank blue mist hangs over the church‐yard. It is not raining, and yet the tombstones are all streaming with wet, and great drops hang from the old ash's naked boughs. I strain my neck back as long as the dim gray tower, and the great dripping yews are in sight.

“Good‐bye old dad!” I say to myself over and over again, “good‐bye,” and then I cry under my veil, bitterlier than ever.

For the first five miles Hugh leaves me page: 187 pretty much to my own devices; does not bring God‐Almighty's‐will to bear on me again; he makes several remarks of a friendly nature to his horses, urging them to steadiness of conduct, and throws out an inquiry or two as to the mode of their entertainment at Lestrange to the groom.

But he holds his tongue as far as the veiled statue beside him is concerned.

The veiled statue unveils herself presently, and stows away her pocket‐handkerchief in her pocket, having exhausted all the tears in her lachrymatory. The lamps are lit, and we go spinning through the darkness—it is quite dark by now. Splash! splash! go the horses' hoofs through the mud; a light twinkles here and there cheerily, from a cottage window. “So shines a good deed in a naughty world.” Immediately on perceiving this change in the weather, Hugh passes the reins into his right hand, and puts his left arm round me. I am Sir Hugh's lawful wife now; so this proceeding does not amuse the groom so much as it would have done on page: 188 that former drive; it tickles him a little however.

“That's right, old woman!” says my husband kindly; “cheer up! what's done cannot be undone; but things are never so bad in this world that they might not be worse.”

The near horse shies; the arm is withdrawn, “Steady old boy! steady!”

It is very unwifely of me, but I feel inclined to say Ta to that timid quadruped.

“I suppose, Nell,” says Hugh—he thinks that now that the ice is broken, a little cheerful conversation will be highly salutary for me—“I suppose, Nell, that poor Dolly has got to her journey's end by now.”

“I suppose so.”

“How long is she going to stay there? do you know?”

“No.”

“What is she going to do with herself afterwards?”

“I don't know.” (My tone said ‘I don't care either.’)

“Poor girl! it's very sad for her not page: 189 having a hole or corner to put her head in!”

“She has lots of friends.”

“Oh, ay! friends very likely; and people are very glad to have a girl with them for a month, or two even; but one cannot live on one's friends; that was what she was saying to me this morning. We had a long talk before she went; I don't think I ever was so sorry for any one in my life.”

(The objects of compassion which Hugh meets whene'er he takes his walks abroad are few apparently.)

“Did she tell you what her plans were?”

“Well, no! I don't think she had made up her mind; she came to ask my advice, poor thing! and she seemed so cut up too, about this—this—affair,” says Hugh, rather at a loss for an expression, and jerking his head vaguely in the direction of my father's death.

“Awfully!” I say, ironically; “I don't suppose she'll ever get over it.” Hugh does not heed my sneer. When once he is off on a train of thought, he runs along page: 190 it like a mad dog; turning neither to the right nor to the left.

“Do you know what my advice was, Nell? I suppose I ought to have asked you first, but I felt sure of not meeting with much opposition from you—the old lady is the only difficulty; she is so ratchetty now and then, and always hates new faces, too!”

“What was your advice?” I ask, startled.

“Why to come and keep house with us, till she marries—that'll be sure not to be long first!”

“Oh!” say I, blankly, and my tone is not exultant. Hugh was right just now; there is no state of things so bad but that it may not be worse.

“Seems such a natural arrangement! own sister!—parents dead!—no home!” says Hugh, becoming ejaculatory, and not quite so certain of my approbation as he was five minutes ago.

“It was very kind of you,” I say, gently.

I feel that I am receiving what he in‐ intended page: 191 tended as a pleasant surprise for me, rather ungraciously.

“Oh, no! not at all! she is a great ally of mine; she has always been a good friend to me, even in the days when you used to snub me, Nell!”

“Yes.”

“Of course, I don't mean to say that my principle motive in asking her, was not that I thought you would be pleased to have such a nice companion, and one that you have been used to all your life too; mother is all very well in her way, of course—I don't mean to say a word against her—but I should not think that you and she would be likely to have many ideas in common, and of course I cannot be with you all day; there's the farm, you know, and hunting five days a week, and—and—” says poor Hugh, rather discomfited at the ill‐success of his little benevolent scheme, and trying to make out the best case he can for himself.

“It was very good of you!” I say again very gratefully; “and what answer did she make?”

page: 192

Hugh looks rather foolish.

“Oh, poor girl! why I really think she hardly knew what she was doing; she cried and wanted to go down on her knees to thank me, only of course I could not stand that;” (wretched as I am, I laugh grimly to myself, as I picture the little tableau—Dolly going gracefully down on her knees, and poor Hugh in dire confusion hauling her up again; I think if she had reflected that it would in all probability go back to me, she would have refrained from that little bit of melodrama) “and that of course it was a great boon to a poor homeless girl like her, and that she dare say'd she should not trouble us long. I don't know what she meant by that, I'm sure, unless she has got somebody in her eye—and—and that she'd come, I suppose!”

I say “Oh!” again, and the subject drops.

I feel that it would seem unnatural in me to object, and I could as soon fly in the air as express any elation at the intelligence. My legs feel very stiff, and I am page: 193 weary, as Hugh lifts me down at Wentworth Hall door.

Last time I saw that door, Dick was leaning against it—I don't even think of Dick to‐day somehow. I follow Hugh into the library, where lights are blazing and the curtains are drawn, and a tall old lady in black—she has put on complimentary mourning—receives me in her arms, and kissing me, says with prim stateliness, but very kindly withal, “Welcome home, my dear daughter!”

Alas! she is the only person whose daughter I am now.

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