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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 211

CHAPTER XV.

NEED I tell you who the man was? For a second, I did not know myself; for a second, I stood paralyzed by terror; then he came close up to me, and I knew him; and a great flood of wicked, wonderful joy streamed into my soul and nearly drowned it; as I looked up at the young giant with the haggard, beautiful, angry face that was stooping over me.

“I have been prowling about like a thief or a poacher,” he says, harshly; “I have watched that fellow, your husband, out; I was determined I would see you before I went.” The cloud rack blots out the moon again; it is very dark.

“Is it you, Dick, really?” I say, falter‐ faltering page: 212 ing, and then I push back the window, and the light from fire and candle flashes on him, as he stands there, wet to the skin, big, shaggy, miserable. My heart goes out, with a great yearning pity to him; “come in,” I say, hastily; “you're so wet; don't stand out there!” I step back into the warm, scented room, and he, after hanging back a minute, as if irresolute, follows me. We give each other no polite greeting; we stand by the crackling, cheery fire blaze, and say nothing for a while; only we look into each other's eyes, with passionate, desperate longing across the mighty chasm that yawns between us. At length Dick says groaningly, as if the words were wrenched from him—

“Oh, Nell! Nell! why did you do this? why did you jilt me when I loved you so?”

The blood rushed boiling, surging into my cheeks and forehead and throat. I was a mean‐spirited woman; till he said that, I had absolutely forgotten his ill‐treatment of me.

page: 213

“How dare you ask that?” I cried vehemently, “you, who have blighted all my life for me; you, who have been crueler to me than ever man was to woman before; you, who never sent me word or sign, all through those weary six months; you, who had not even the bare civility to answer the letters I wrote to you in my misery!”

I stopped, suffocated.

“What—do—you mean?” said Dick, very slowly; he was spreading his broad hands to the blaze, and his drenched pilot coat was steaming in the warmth; at my upbraidings, no remorse, only intensest surprise came into his face. “I never had but one letter from you, and that one you most solemnly adjured me not to answer. Here it is! I have carried it about with me, night and day, ever since I got it.”

He put his hand into his breast pocket, and pulled out a letter. I snatched it eagerly; it was like my handwriting, but it was not it; it was neater, carefuller, more ornate. I turned to the signature; page: 214 there was none; then I read it through:—

“My dearest,‐It seems so odd and so pleasant, sitting down to write to you; but oh! I'm grieved to have to tell you that this first letter must also be the last; at least for ever so long. Don't be angry with me, but I told papa all about you; you know how I love him, and I could not bear to keep anything from him. Well! he was very very angry at first; would not hear of it at all; said it was all nonsense, and that we had both behaved shamefully; but at last, after a great deal of trouble and begging, I got him to come round so far as to say, that if we both remained in the same mind for a year, he would then listen to us; only he stipulated that we must neither see nor write to each other during the year. I did my very best, as you may imagine, to make him chance his decision, but all to no purpose! It seems a little hard, doesn't it? and I cannot help crying a little sometimes, when I think of neither hearing from, nor seeing you for so long; but, after all, a year will soon be gone, and just think how happy we shall page: 215 be then. Good‐bye, my darling; God bless you!

“Ever your own.

“P.S.—I adjure and implore you not to answer this: I beg it of you as a proof of your love. Papa would be sure to see the letter, and then we should be in worse case than we are now even. Good‐bye again, my own darling.”

“I never wrote a word of it,” said I, compelling myself to speak very calmly, though I clutched hold of a chair back for support. “Never; it's all a forgery; this is Dolly's doing!”

“What?” said he, gasping, and his strong frame staggered as under a mighty blow; “.you never wrote this!”

“Never,” said I, very solemnly. “I wrote you plenty of other letters to tell you how much I loved you, and to ask you why you never wrote to me, as you promised to do?”

“And I never got one of them,” he said; and as he spoke, the blood retreated from his lips, and left them livid.

page: 216

We stared at one another blankly; we were as if stunned.

Presently he asked, hoarsely, “What made her do it?”

“Oh, I see it, I see it all!” I groaned, wringing my hands. “She was determined I should marry him,” (I could not mention his hated name), “and I've done it; I have fallen into the trap she laid for me! Oh! I cannot bear it! I cannot bear it!”

I burst into loud sobbing, and throwing myself on the ottoman, buried my head in the cushions.

“She‐devil,” said Dick, grinding his white teeth, like a wild beast in his rage and agony, “I wish to God I had her here now, I'd tear her limb from limb, though she is a woman; by G— I would!”

“If my heartiest, bitterest curse,” said I, vindictively, “can do her any harm, she has the comfort of knowing that she has got it;” and then I flung myself on the floor, and wept afresh—wept till I was exhausted, and till my eyes had nearly disappeared from their situations.

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He, meanwhile, stood with his elbow on the mantel‐piece, watching me, with his angry, hopeless, passionate eyes; he did not attempt to give me any comfort; he could not give what he had not got, poor fellow! and besides was not I another man's wife? It was Sir Hugh's business to dry my tears, not his.

“And so it's all a mistake! all a mistake!” he said at last, very brokenly, as if to himself; and the gilt clock changed its tune, and went ticking on, “all a mistake, all a mistake!”

Then I rose from off the floor, and went and sat down on the ottoman again, and forgot Sir Hugh's existence altogether. The rainy wind still blustered and wailed and stormed outside; but yet the storm within our breasts was mightier.

“I cannot stand it any longer,” Dick said, vehemently, clenching his hand, and bringing it down like a sledge hammer on the marble slab. “I must go, or I shall make a beast of myself. Nell! I'm sailing for India to‐morrow; say one kind word to me before I go. Oh, Nell! Nell! you page: 218 belonged to me before you belonged to him, damn him!”

Looking into his haggard, beautiful, terrible face, I forgot all I should have remembered; forgot virtue, and honour, and self‐respect; my heart spoke out to his. “Oh, don't, go!” I cried, running to him, “don't you know how I love you? for my sake stay; I cannot live without you!”

I clasped both hands on his rough coat sleeve, and my bowed head sank down upon them.

“Do you suppose I can live in England and see you belonging to another man?” he asked, harshly; “the world is all hell now, as it is; but that would be the blackest, nethermost hell! No, let me go,” he said, fiercely, pushing me away from him roughly, while his face was writhen and distorted.

“If you go,” I said in my insanity, throwing myself into his arms, “I'll go too. Oh! for God's sake take me with you.”

He strained me to his desolate heart, page: 219 and we kissed each other wildly, vehemently: none came between us then. Then he tried to put me away from him.

“My darling,” he said, “you don't know what you're saying; do you think I'm such a brute as to be the ruin of the only woman I ever loved?” and his deep voice was sorely shaken as he spoke.

But I would not be put away: I clung about his neck, in my bitter pain.

“I'd rather go to hell with you, than to heaven with him!” I cried, blasphemously. “Oh, don't leave me behind you! You're all I have in the world now. Oh, take me, take me with you!”

My hair fell in its splendid ruddy billows over his great shoulder, and my arms were flung about the stately pillar of his throat.

He set his teeth hard, and drew in his breath; it was a tough ordeal.

“I won't,” he said, hoarsely; “for God's sake stop tempting me. I'd sooner cut your throat than take you. Do you think it would be loving you to bring you down to a level with the scum of the earth? Oh, Nell! Nell! you ought to be my good page: 220 angel. Don't tempt me to kill my own soul and yours!”

The reproachful anguish of his tones smote me like a two‐edged sword. I said no more; I lay passive as a log in the arms that must so soon loose me for ever, while the madness died slowly, frostily out of me.

“I'm very wicked, I know,” I whispered piteously; “you don't hate me, Dick, do you, for wanting to go with you?”

“Hate you! my poor pretty darling; if you could but look into my heart, and see what it is without you!”

Great tears are standing in his honest, tender, agonized eves—tears that don't disgrace his manhood much, I think.

“Go now,” I whisper, huskily, “I can bear it. God bless you, darling!”

“My little Nell! My own little snow‐drop!” he cries, and then he kisses me heart‐brokenly; and as he so kisses and clasps me, a great blackness comes over my eyes, and I swoon away in his arms.

When I come back to life—come back with trouble, and sighings, and pain, I page: 221 find myself lying in my long heavy black draperies on the sofa; find the candles burning low, and the fire nearly out; find that he is gone, and that I am alone—alone for evermore!

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