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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 194

CHAPTER XIV.

THEY tell us, don't they, that one of the mercifullest dispensations of Providence is our facility for forgetting—the ease and quickness with which we get over things? To me it seems that what points the sting of every grief, is the thought that a time will come when we shall grieve no more. It is terrible enough, God wot, for a person to drop out of our lives; but to drop out of our hearts too. Ah, poor dead ones! is not that hard?

As long as their memory is with us fresh and green—as long as it lives with us, as they themselves lived with us, coming in and going out, in the house and in the street, in talk and in silence, on Sundays and on week‐days—so long do we seem to page: 195 keep a little portion of them with us; they do not seem quite gone away from us.

But the same thing happened to us all. Strive and resolve as we may to keep our sorrow fresh and new and glossy, it is all to no purpose; it grows insensibly old and stale and shabby, like the crape round our hats. Have not you, oh friends, before now, seeing some acquaintance who had just issued out of great tribulation, laughing and talking, apparently unchanged—have not you said within yourself—how unfeeling he is! how different I should be!

And lo! the apple of your eye is taken away from you, and in a week or two you also are laughing and talking—the river of your life flows on smooth, unruffled, as if that new‐made grave were razed out of creation.

“Out of sight, out of mind,” is true to a certain extent of all of us. We cannot be always thinking of what we never see: that is the very thing that makes it so difficult for us to rest our minds on heaven, and heaven's high King; we cannot see page: 196 them, and so we but feebly, transiently realize them.

The people we see, who talk to us, and we to them, whom we can hear and touch and feel, gradually fill more and more of that vacant space: the overpowering force of time saps our woes, as a little wave, plashing through long aeons, wears and hollows at last the great granite rock.

But oh! we don't forget, really! I don't mean you to think that. The wound heals over slightly; we could not all walk about with great gaping gashes, could we? The world's work could not get done if we did; but beneath the surface that looks all fair and even, there is a great dull ache going on always—an ache that takes the taste out of our life's savoury meats, and makes us call our short day all too long.

A month has gone by—a wintry, sleety, dreary month. People have got tired of talking of Sir Hugh Lancaster's wedding, and Sir Adrian Lestrange's death. Other men and women have been wed and died since; and new subjects have supplanted those two, which were of intensest interest page: 197 to but one or at most two people. And there has been a sale at Lestrange; the old oak chairs and tables have been knocked down to the highest bidder; scattered among the neighbouring sons of Manchester and Liverpool: and the old rooms look strange and piteous and unfurnished without them.

And greasy Jews—the offscouring of the earth—(my one point of sympathy with the moyen âge barbarians is their loathing and maltreatment of the accursed Israelitish dog)—have been prowling about, trading, as is their wont, on the miseries and weaknesses of poor humanity. And Hugh, good old fellow, has bought the old leathern arm‐chair for me: I am sitting in it now; I hope I shall die in it.

I have been transplanted from Lestrange to Wentworth, and the transplantation has not killed me. I am a hardier plant than I thought I was. I don't cry all day, by any means, and I laugh now and then when anything in my husband or his belongings strikes me page: 198 in a ridiculous light, which is not seldom. I am hungry and eat, I sleep sound, I still have likes and dislikes, I make jokes occasionally; I squabble about every two days with my mamma‐in‐law, when she tries to give me lectures on deportment, and le bon Dieu, still gives me energy to snub Hugh as seemeth good unto me. Do you suppose from this that I accepted my fate meekly, that I was beginning to get reconciled to it? Not I!

My father's death I should have got over in time perhaps: it is natural that parents should go before their children, and I might have got to think of him without torture, with a gentle eternal regret and “sehnung,” as the Germans say. I doubt even that; doubt my ever forgetting my old dad even if I had had Dick to kiss away my tears, and supply the place of all other loves by his great passionate one. Now that the first éclat and excitement of my sacrifice were over—now that I knew for certain that I had slain myself in vain, knew that he page: 199 for whom I had been offered up was sleeping with his fathers beneath the chancel of Lestrange, never to be wakened by my loudest, piercingest cries, then my misery rose up before me, huge, unnatural, gigantic; terribler “than ever woman wore.” I was like Jonah when his gourd died down. I said, “I do well to be angry, even unto death.” “Why,” I cried, “was I to be picked out from among all women, to be pre‐eminently wretched?”

The little worthless earthenware pitcher, picked a quarrel with the potter who framed it. I did not love Hugh one bit; it is not easy to love two men at once; to tell you the truth, I did not try much, sometimes I loathed him. And yet he was very good to me, as good as could be. I verily believe that he loved me as much as he could love any created thing; it was not his fault, poor fellow, that he was not made of the finest porcelain, but was only good, useful, ugly Delf. He was not to blame that Providence had made him a little, dark, middle‐aged page: 200 baronet, instead of a great beautiful fair dragoon.

I am sure that he appreciated my varied excellences, and even ruggednesses, as much as man could; and was fully alive to the advantage he had gained in having a pretty young white face opposite to him every day at dinner, instead of an old yellow ugly one. He was a most loving husband; horribly, needlessly, irksomely loving, I said to myself. One has not much power of simulation or dissimulation at nineteen; but I did my best to hide my disrelish for my lord, and to receive his blandishments with as good a grace as I could.

I was his chattel as much as his pet lean‐headed bay mare, and I felt that he had justice on his side. If he might not insinuate his arm round my waist, round whose waist might he? Sometimes I will confess to you that I wished he would transfer his amities to some other person, even if it were the cook. I'm sure I should not have been jealous. All Sir Hugh's other servants, if they page: 201 disliked their situations, or got tired of them, might give warning and leave; but I, however wearied I might get of mine, could never give warning, could never leave. I was a fixture for life. So I said to myself sometimes, and ground my teeth, and snarled like a caged tiger.

I had indulged a mild vague hope that the very words of the marriage ceremony read over me, would have a cabalistic charm to prevent my ever thinking of any man but Sir Hugh, after we were man and wife. I had heard that only very bad wicked women ever cared for anybody but their husbands after they were married, and I hoped I was not a very bad wicked woman.

However, I discovered pretty soon with some chagrin that I must reckon myself among that naughty band; that I was not one of those “who love their lords;” not “a matron of Cornelia's mien.” I found that I thought of Dick infinitely more; more regretfully, passionately, longingly, now that I was Lady Lancaster, page: 202 and it was criminal of me so to think, than then I had done as Nelly Lestrange, when it was only unwise and unworldly. Nor was this mere womanly perversity, hankering after the unattainable; nor did it spring from any idea that it was rather fine to be immoral. I thought of him because I had nothing else pleasant to think of. The one person who had ever halved my heart with him was gone from me.

I hated to think of my father, not having that living faith accorded to some, which enables them to say from their hearts, that their dead ones are “not dead but gone before.” My father was dead to me, dead as the old dog who died the other day licking my hand. I knew I never should see him again.

How did I know whither he was gone; how did I know whether he had gone to any good place; and if he had, what right had I to think that I should ever rejoin him there? I did not believe in any heaven with sufficient strength to make me strive very strenuously to attain it.

page: 203

Life seemed to me a great vast chaos, through which men stumbled and tottered to a big black pit at the end. So I thought on the forbidden theme all the day, and sometimes all the night; and truly there was not much at Wentworth to distract my thoughts. A lap‐dog would have thought my existence paradise; for I had plenty of the best to eat, and big fires to bask in; but for myself, I thought it a very dull gehenna.

All through the wintry morning I sat on a gilt chair, clad from head to foot in thickest silk and blackest crape, in the yellow drawing‐room, every stick of whose ugly furniture spoke to me of him; while my mother‐in‐law knitted socks for her beloved son—she was a thrifty old soul, and would fain have had me do likewise—and narrated to me apochryphal tales of Hugh's extreme beauty in infancy; thrilling anecdotes of his childhood, and of how he caught the measles; of his habits and customs at various periods of his history; of how often he had broken his collar‐bone, &c., &c.

page: 204

In the afternoon I either went behind the fat coach‐horses, to pay solemn calls to neighbouring matrons, accompanied as before, by our mamma, or else, when it was not a hunting day, I pottered about the premises with Hugh, heard his horses' pedigrees, and thought, with a frosty chill at my heart, of those other saunters at Lestrange, about shabbier stables, with the dear old man who was not.

Sometimes, but very rarely, I managed to shirk out by myself, to put on the dowdiest cloak and hat I could find, to take off my ring, and dawdle and wander and scramble about the park, and be Nelly Lestrange—in my own eyes at least—once again.

In the evenings, we two women stitched and interchanged amicable nothings or mild sparrings, while Hugh, having bestowed on me such post‐coenal caresses as he felt inclined, went to sleep, and mostly snored.

We were so sitting one evening after dinner—Lady Lancaster, senior, click‐ page: 205 clacking away at that eternal knitting; Sir Hugh not quite asleep yet, but reading the Times as a narcotic; and Lady Lancaster, junior, toiling unlovingly at a smoking‐cap for her master, and glancing now and then from him to his mother, from the lean grizzling head and bristles to the yellow front and wrinkles, and crying out to herself—

“Oh, how sick I am of you both. Oh, if I could but get away—oh, if I only could!”

Then Hugh spoke.

“Mother, do you recollect M'Gregor?”

“M'Gregor, my dear boy; what M'Gregor?—there are so many M'Gregors. There is your poor father's friend, Sir Malcolm, and there's General M'Gregor?”

“No, no,” interrupts her son, “none of those old fogies. I mean a big, good‐looking fellow that was here last year. Don't you remember?”

“To be sure,” says mamma, calmly; “he spilt a cup of coffee over my lavender satin—I had to have the breadth taken out; and I remember remarking that he page: 206 seemed very attentive to Dorothea Lestrange. Yes, I remember the young man perfectly.”

“Do you happen to recollect the number of his regiment?” says Hugh, who is widely, brilliantly awake by now.

“—th Dragoons,” interpose I, breathlessly; “what about him?”

“Nothing, darling,” says Benedick, looking at me with lazy rapture, “only I see it's ordered to India.”

“Ordered to India!”

I rose and rushed hastily out of the room, very nearly falling foul of the butler, who was bringing in tea, and disconcerting that grave functionary considerably.

Next day, Sir Hugh and his mother went to dine and sleep at a house in the neighbourhood. My deep mourning of course excused me from accompanying them, and a proud woman was I when their backs were fairly turned. I had begged and entreated of my mother‐in‐law not to stay, or let Hugh stay at home on my account; and she had commended my page: 207 unselfishness, and had driven off in high good humour with “her boy.”

“Thank God!” said I, standing at the hall‐door, and watching the carriage lamps go twinkling down the dusky avenue. Then I returned slowly to the saloon, and let my countenance fall into any woe‐begone dejected curves it chose, there being nobody by to remark upon them.

“Ordered to India—ordered to India!” Those three words had been dwelling in my ears for the last twenty‐four hours, ceaselessly; the gilt clock on the mantelpiece seemed to be ticking them now. “Going to India to have his young life scorched away, and I should never see him again.” It was not that I should not see him again for a year, or for two, or for twenty years, but—never. I should never know how, why, or for what other fairer, lovabler woman he had deserted me.

An overpowering, mad longing seized me to go to him to ask him why he had been so cruel to me, to ask him to take me with him to that far sultry land. What page: 208 did I care how wicked I was? My old man would never know it, “For he was chill to praise or blame.” It seemed to me, then, that the best thing we can do in this grievous world is to snatch whatever present bliss we may, seeing that the past is all torture and the future all nothingness. “Let us eat and drink, for to‐morrow we die,” seemed to me the profoundest philosophy then. “If there is eternal justice somewhere,” said I to myself, “why is my punishment so much heavier than my sins? I ask for so little; I don't expect, don't ask to be happy—I only beg for exemption from bitterest, sharpest pain; I only ask for an easy death and quick annihilation. Oh, to lay down my head in the kindly dust—not in a coffin, a heavy, stifling, dreadful coffin—but in the fresh‐scented, dark‐brown earth, and with ‘life's fitful fever’ for ever cooled, sleep on and on, till my body ‘returns to the earth as it was,’ and my spirit—ah, can it sleep?”

The fire burnt cheerily; the wax candles page: 209 shed a soft lustre round them; the old china on mantel‐shelf and table and cabinet looked comfortable and snug and homelike; but I felt stifled, choking. I went to the window, opened it, and stepped out into the verandah. A great gust of rain‐laden wind comes driving roughly against me, the French window behind me bangs to, and I stand out on the wet flags, and watch the black clouds go scudding, hurrying across the sky, for the moon is up and gives me light. It was not cold, and I felt to breathe freer, leaning my face among the wet ivy, that climbed and twisted round the further pillar of the verandah.

“It was here he kissed me; it was here he took me in his arms,” said I to myself, nestling my head among the dripping green. “I thought I was going to spend my life with him, and now I am alone, alone for evermore! Great God—how unbearable!”

Suddenly there comes a lull between two rainbursts; the moon comes sweeping out from behind a great cloud shoulder; page: 210 the Portugal laurel beside me shakes and rustles; and from behind it a man steps out suddenly—steps out into the moonlit gravel walk, where the pebbles are glittering like so many diamonds.

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