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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 222

CHAPTER XVI.

HUGH and his mamma returned next day; the red and brown leaves were whirling and dancing about, and the tree‐arms were creaking and grinding. Standing listlessly by my boudoir window, about four o'clock, I see the family coach and the bays coming with slow majesty though the park.

Hugh in his brown great‐coat driving; our parent uprighhter than one of her own knitting needles, and her femme de chambre inside; the valet and the footman in the dickey. Here they all are! welcome, welcome home! I had spent the last night, lying all along upon the earth, as David did when he was interceding for the life of his little son. I was interceding for the sparing of no life; I was but page: 223 interceding for the taking away of my own. The rough west wind kept dashing the ivy sprays against the window pane, and I lay with my face buried in the deep piled carpet, while my darling went away from me through the night; went away forlornly, in his soaked pilot coat, with his dripping golden hair, and his true desolate heart.

As for Dolly, I had made up my mind about her. She had sown, and she was about to reap; she had laboured, and she was about to enter upon the reward of her labours.

“No! that she shall not! so help me God!” I cry out in my rage and pain, and the dying fire gives one sleepy flicker of surprise at my vehemence. I would go to Hugh, and would tell him all. I had been dishonest to him all along; I would be honest now; I had been sailing under false colours; now I would run up my own black pirate flag. I would go to him, and tell him all my little bitter story; I would hide no detail; gloss over none of my own vast page: 224 wickedness. I would tell him how I had thrown myself into that other man's arms, and begged him with tears and prayers earnester than ever mother sent up in behalf of her dying child, to take me away with him, to make me utterly vile and enormously happy. And I would also tell him—for to this, that other anecdote would be but the necessary preface, of my sister's ingenious and newly discovered accomplishment of imitating her neighbour's handwriting; an accomplishment which would have twisted her graceful neck a hundred years ago.

Hugh would turn me out of doors of course. I was fully prepared for that; I should not think it the least severe of him. I could see the old woman sweeping away her stiff lavender satin from contact with me, and looking at me with her stern Puritan eyes, as the Pharisees long ago, under the blue Palestine sky, looked at the woman, to whom our dear Lord Christ said, “Neither do I condemn thee!” I should be turned out of doors, and should have to go about begging my page: 225 my bread, in greenish rags and a whine.

There was almost a relief in the idea; it would be a fit expiation for my crime. Moreover, what hardships, what ignominy, what painfullest, lingeringest death, would not I have embraced laughing, to have baulked Dolly of the pay for which she had so diligently served her master, the Devil. Cowardly, chicken‐hearted woman as I was—and there were few more so between the three seas,—terrifiedly as I had always shrunk from physical pain; in that first frenzy of agonized hate, I would have hung all day beneath an Eastern sky, nailed hand and foot to a cross, while soul and body parted slowly—slowly—in unimagined anguish, would have been sawn asunder, stoned, burnt, readily, yea, most joyfully, if thereby I could have purchased for myself the power to be fitly revenged on her who had turned the jocund garden of my young life into a desolate wilderness.

“I will tell him to‐day—to‐morrow.” page: 226 I say to myself, as I stand drumming with my fingers on the sill, and watching my own fine carriage, the carriage for which I have paid the longest price ever carriage fetched, sweeping dignifiedly up to my own Hall door. Hugh helps his mother out dutifully—“my boy” is a good son—and then I hear him coming running upstairs three steps at a time.

“Well, old girl, how are you? Why did not you come down to meet us? I was looking out for you at the Hall door.”

“I—I—don't know, I'm sure,” I say, feeling horribly guilty, “I never thought of it.”

“Very glad to get home again,” says Hugh, pulling off his dogskin gloves, and precipitating himself into a minute cane arm‐chair; for, if you remark, men always select the smallest chair they can find to deposit their persons upon. “I wish my neighbours all the good in the world, but I don't seem to care how little I see of them now‐a‐days.”

“Don't you?” with a feeble smile.

“Next time anyone invites me to his page: 227 house, I think I shall say ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come,’ eh, Nell” (I have turned a wife out of doors, and therefore I cannot come, will be a more valid excuse, I think bitterly). “I say, Nell, what do you say to running downstairs, and saying something civil to the old lady; I suppose it would be a proper attention, wouldn't it? and old people are such sticklers for their dignity.”

“Oh, yes—oh, to be sure—I was forgetting!” I cry, and I turn to go and greet my “mother,” while Hugh follows me.

We find the old dowager sitting in the library; she has not yet laid aside her toga, and is reading her letters.

“I hope you have had a pleasant visit,” I say, rather timidly.

“Charming, my dear, charming!” (rustling her letter, and giving me a fond but prickly kiss. It is a dreadful thing living in the house with two moustaches nearly related to you, I find). My version of the little touching hymn to our mammas, that page: 228 we all commit to memory in early life would be “Who ran to help me when I fell, And kissed the place and stabbed it well, My mother.” “They always arrange their parties so nicely, no mixtures; one never runs any risk there of having any of these nouveaux riches forced willy nilly upon one; the dear Bishop, and Lord and Lady Brandreth—oh, by‐the‐by, Lady Brandreth asked a great deal about you, was so sorry to miss the opportunity of making your acquaintance; we must positively return her call next week, my dear.”

“Yes, certainly, if you wish.” (By next week, I shall have assumed the greenish rags and the whine.)

I did not tell Hugh on that day, nor on the day after, nor on the day after that. Do not we all know, how without having faltered in our resolution to do a disagreeable thing, we keep putting it off, from one day to another. And meanwhile, the said excellent Hugh pursued the even page: 229 tenor of his way, doing his duty to God and to man, according to his own ideas of what those duties were. Went to church and read “Bell's Life” on Sundays; hunted, and drained, and liquid‐manured, and steam‐ploughed on week days.

As for the little tiffs in his seraglio—for little tiffs there were even in those early days, little tiffs there must always be, when an old woman and a young one hold divided sway—as long as they were not obtruded on his notice, he treated them with the sublime indifference with which Zeus, the cloud compeller, resting on the topmost peak of Olympus, or going to have a snug dinner with the Ethiopians, might have treated a squabble between those two arrant shrews, cow‐eyed Here, and gray‐eyed Athene.

If my eyes were red, why it was the east wind, or a touch of influenza. If I did not talk, why he concluded philosophically that I had nothing to say, or at least nothing to say on the subject that he was wont to delight in. For be it known that Sir page: 230 Hugh was in the habit of keeping a hobby horse, saddled and bridled in his mind's stable; and on this docile animal he frequently cantered up and down, and took healthful exercise. As often as not, this hobby horse was some pet grievance, which went to sleep and underwent decent burial, as long as the hunting and training and liquid manuring were in full force, but was resurrectionized whenever they were found insufficient to employ all the powers of his intellect.

At present the grievance was a projected railway, that was to intersect a part of his property. It was to run only for about a mile and a half through one or two outlying farms, and it was of no earthly disadvantage to him or his, and he knew it; and yet to hear him talk, you would have imagined that it involved the ruin of the whole Lancastria Gens.

“It is too bad!” he is saying now, in a quasi‐injured voice, as he sits cracking walnuts at his comfortable dinner table; “one cannot call a foot of one's property one's own now‐a‐days; one can never be page: 231 safe from having one's land cut up by these rascally projectors, for their beastly lines that nobody wants.”

“Disgraceful!” echoes the acquiescent Dowager, who like lovely Thais, sits beside him, with her head unlike lovely Thais, I imagine, crowned with one of those weird erections of black velvet and steel that old women delight in. “I suppose it is all these dreadful Radicals; I'm sure I don't know what the country is coming to; I suppose they will bring their horrid railways through one's drawing‐room next.”

“It's such a confounded swindle!” pursues Hugh, applying the nutcrackers viciously to a walnut as if it had been a director's head; “the merest bubble! only people are such fools; they will be taken in, try as one may to open their eyes; and if they do get it—and they won't get it so easy as they think, I can tell them—it will never pay them sixpence in the pound.”

“Won't it, dear?” say I, starting into sudden interest, for I imagined that my page: 232 husband addressed his last remark more particularly to me; but I am mistaken, it is only that having finished his walnuts, his eyes are gazing straight before him, and consequently, unavoidably take me in in their range of vision.

“Don't you remember, mother,” he goes on, after a few minutes devoted to sipping claret, bringing his eyes to bear on his mamma, and thereby putting his wife off guard; “don't you remember, they were talking about this line once before, five years or so ago. There was some sense in it then, because the Tadcaster and Milton branch was not open then; but when that was opened it did away with all need for this—for that—I mean, don't you see?”

He ends, for he perceives that the relative pronouns are getting too many for him.

“These horrid companies get everything their own way now‐a‐days! I declare it is quite shocking! it seems to me that no one can do anything for themselves in these days, but must have a company to page: 233 help them. We shall be having praying companies, and going to bed companies soon.”

Our prophetic parent ceases and adjusts her diadem, the point of which is veering gently round towards her left ear.

“Lord — made such a capital speech in the House yesterday, upon these infernal railways; shows 'em up so completely, brings 'em down to chapter and verse, don't you know. I don't care what any one says,” pursues Sir Hugh, looking round on his harem with a determined air, “but I stick to it, that he is the best speaker they've got now; out and out, out and out, I say.”

“Ah!” says the senior occupant of the seraglio, deferentially, “won't you read it to us, dear Hugh? at least any part of it that you think we could understand; we should like it so much, should not we, Nelly?”

I again start and blush; I always am starting and blushing of late, and say very nervously, “Oh, yes, to be sure dear—so much—oh do!”

page: 234

So we migrate to the drawing‐room, and Ariel, alias Tomkins, having fetched to‐day's “Times,” dear Hugh begins to read through two and a half columns of statements and statistics, and representations, all gilded by the lambent glow of Lord —'s wit. Meanwhile “mamma” having assisted her spectacles to mount her long nose, draws her parish bag towards her, and begins to clothe the naked “hear, hear's” and “cheers,” and asks the reader is he sure he is not tired, begs him not to make himself hoarse, and offers to get black currant lozenges for him.

I work too, and do my best to keep my attention somewhere within a mile of those big sheets; to laugh and express surprise and horror at the right places; not to laugh where I ought to express horror, not to express horror where I ought to laugh; and by dint of care and always taking my cue from the dowager, I succeed admirably. I could not sleep that night for the wind; it kept roaring so, and groaning in the great Scotch fir close to my bed‐room windows. It shook the page: 235 window frames, and came banging with impotent fury against the stout stone walls.

That was a blowy time; many and many a coast was strewn with wrecks and stranded vessels.

“What an awful night!” my mother‐in‐law had said, as we came up the deep carpeted stairs to bed, “how thankful we ought to be, my dear, that we have no one dear to us at sea.”

(Oh yes, so thankful, of course.) What did it matter to us that the “Euryalus” sailed from Cork for India four days ago, with the —th Dragoons on board. God help that poor ship to‐night, labouring through a wintry sea, with the great greenish‐gray waves, with their angry white crests towering high above her mast‐heads! God help the one passenger that for me that ship contains! The man in the drenched pilot coat, with the set white face, that day and night I see so plain, that I shall see when the damps and dews of death are coming dankly down upon my own.

page: 236

The wind lulls every now and then for a minute or two, to gather fresh strength for the onset; then comes tearing, howling, shrieking like a hundred lost spirits over the wintry wolds. Oh God! he'll be drowned! he'll be drowned! perhaps he is drowned already! perhaps the crabs and scrawls, and noisome, shapeless sea beasts are already gnawing at the heart what beat with such passionate agony against mine a week ago.

Towards morning the hurricane moderates, and I fall asleep heavily, and dream confusedly of churchyards, and of my father as alive again, while yet I know somehow all the while that he is dead—of tombs and drowned men. I sleep on late, and my eyelids are purple, and my eyes look as if they had been put in with a dirty finger, when I go down late—a great crime at Wentworth—to breakfast.

“I hope you have not waited; I'm so sorry!” I say apologetically, as I make my tardy entrance.

“I think, my dear, that it would be as well if you could try and be down for page: 237 family prayers,” says Lady Lancaster, stiffly; “it is a bad example for the servants when the mistress is absent, and it is no great hardship to be dressed by nine o'clock; at least it used not to be considered so in my young days.”

“Come, come, mother, we must not be too hard upon her,” says Hugh, taking my hand fondly, “she is not so tough as we old stagers are; and the wind kept her awake, poor little woman! she is half asleep still, isn't she?”

To prevent any wrangling over my unprayerful spirit, I betake myself to my letters, which are lying in a little heap beside my plate. My correspondence is not of much interest generally. The first that I take up has a very broad black edge, ostentatiously broad, like the Pharisees' phylacteries. I look at the hand‐writing, frown, tear it open, and read. It does not take long reading.

“My dear Nelly,—As you and dear Hugh, to whom I can never be sufficiently grateful, have been so kind as page: 238 to offer me a home, I write to ask if you will allow me to take shelter there, early next week. I trust that my coming will be no annoyance to dear Lady Lancaster, but indeed I shall try hard to be in nobody's way.

“Your affectionate sister,

“DOROTHEA LESTRANGE.”

The evil day has come then; the match must be put to the train of gunpowder, which is to blow the reputation of the Lestranges, and the domestic peace and honour of the Lancasters into the air. Shortly after breakfast I go and knock, with trembling knuckles, at the door of Hugh's snuggery, where he and his bailiff hold their Witenagemotes, and transact the affairs of the Wentworth nation.

“May I come in, Hugh?”

“Come in! of course you may!”

I enter.

“What do you mean by knocking, Nell? have you forgotten that uncommon cold day, not so long ago, when I endowed you with all my worldly goods? I did not page: 239 make any exception in favour of this sanctum, did I?”

“I wanted to speak to you,” I say, coming over to the table, with my eyes glued to the carpet.

“All right! fire away! only come a bit closer to the fire, and don't stand there looking like a little undertaker's assistant.”

“I have heard from Dolly!”

“Oh! we shall have to have your tongue slit like a magpie's, Nell, to make you talk a bit faster; she's coming, I suppose.”

“She wants to come next week.”

“Poor Dolly! I'm sure I shall be very glad to see her; and I suppose you have come to talk about what rooms she is to have, and that sort of thing; but you had better settle all that with the old lady; she'll be fit to be tied, if she is not taken into council.”

I make a great plunge; it is like taking a header into a cold tub on a frosty morning.

“Hugh!” (twisting a rosary of jet beads that I have about my neck, round my page: 240 fingers.) “Would you mind my telling her not to come?”

Hugh opens his brown eyes very wide, wider than ever Providence intended those windows to his worthy soul to be thrown open.

“Tell her not to come! after having offered her a home, to slink out of it; leave her, poor girl, without a roof to shelter her pretty head in! why, Nell, you must be joking!”

“Joking!” I cry, passionately; “if you knew all, you would not think it a joking matter. I cannot breathe in the same house with her!”

Hugh comes over, and pulls me down on the sofa beside him. “You must have a slate off this morning, Nell! wind blew it off last night! Ha! Ha! cannot breathe in the same house with your only sister! such a big house too; you must require a deal of fresh air! you have been squabbling by post, I suppose!”

“It's no case of squabbling!” I say, very earnestly, while I feel my white cheeks getting crimson; “oh, Hugh, I page: 241 have something to tell you—something I must tell you—oh, I wish it was not so hard!”

“If it is anything about Dolly; anything she has done wrong, or any scrape she has got into, I don't seem to care about hearing about it!” says Hugh. “I daresay she'd sooner I didn't, you know, and there is no use crying over spilt milk.”

“It's about myself, too!” I say, in great agitation.

Hugh puts his kind arm round me, and looks with incredulous amused eyes at my half averted face. “Some dreadful crime you have been committing, eh? not said ‘Amen’ loud enough in church, or pitched into Bentham, for giving your back hair a tug?”

His utter unsuspiciousness stabs me.

“Oh, don't, don't laugh!” I cry, piteously; “you wouldn't if you knew.”

There is nothing on earth that Hugh hates so much as a scene, and he fears that one is imminent. “I've got something to tell you too,” he says, cheerily, rising and walking towards his escritoire; page: 242 “and as mine seems to be the pleasantest piece of news, I'll have it out first; yours will keep, I'm sure!”

I remain sitting on the sofa where he left me, twisting my hands about, and wishing, oh how heartily! that this confession, of the gravity of which my husband is so utterly unsuspecting, were well over, and I turned out of doors once for all. Presently he comes back with a small red leather case in his hand, and sits down again beside me.

“Do you remember, Nell,” he says, composing his jolly face to a decent gravity, befitting, as he thinks the subject; “do you remember telling me once that you had nothing but a photograph of—of—your poor father?”

“Yes,” I say, wincing; “don't talk about him!” (nobody ever mentions his name to me now, I cannot bear it.)

“I won't, I won't!” says Hugh apologetically; “not more than I can help at least, but I have had this done for you, and I want you to take one look at it, if you don't mind.”

page: 243

He unfastens the case, takes out a large gold locket, with the monogram A.L. in diamonds upon it, and after fumbling a little about the spring, opens it with his big, kind, clumsy fingers.

I look half reluctant, and in an instant the tears come rushing to my eves. I see again the kind blue eyes; the humorous tender smile that the coffin lid hid away from me six dreary weeks ago; it is my old man come to life again, only that hat the artist has painted out half the weary care lines; my old man, as he was before his troubles, came upon him; as he will be—oh, no! he will look yet nobler and beautifuller, and peacefuller then—when he comes to meet me at the golden gates.

I throw my arms round Hugh's neck; it is the first time that I ever kissed him voluntarily in my life. Poor Hugh! my emotion is hardly of the pleasurable kind that he had hoped and intended. He looks uneasily concerned, and I see his mouth forming itself into his favourite whistling shape.

page: 244

“I did not mean to upset you like this, Nell!” he says, by‐and‐by.

“Oh, you are so good to me!” I cry, incoherently; “and I'm not at all good to you! Oh, I do so wish that I liked you better! I do so wish that I had always liked you!”

Hugh pats my hair very fondly.

“My dear old woman!” he says, “let bygones be bygones! don't let, us rake up any old grievances; it don't make much odds if you hated me like poison once, so as you don't hate me now!”

We sit silent for a few minutes. Hugh whistles ‘Polly Perkins’ very softly to himself, while doubt and vacillation enter my mind.

My husband's words keep ringing in my ears. “Let bygones be bygones!” Is he right? Would not it be better to “let the dead past bury its dead?” Have I not done him enough injury already, coming to him so meanly, taking all his love and his kind words and caresses, and giving him nothing in return but sour looks and peevish tears, and dimmed page: 245 beauty; without lacerating that honest heart unnecessarily, by telling him that his wife is unfaithful to him; if not in deed, at least in heart and thought.

The temptation is gone, never to return; why not let that secret remain between God and my own heart? But if I abandon my confession, I must also abandon my revenge; the one involves the other.

“I often think,” says Hugh, with more gravity than is his wont, “that one great cause of there being so much unhappiness in married life is people's expecting too much of one another, I don't want us to split on that rock, Nell. I should like you to look a bit happier certainly by‐and‐by; and to seem a bit gladder to see me, when I come to speak to you, if you can; but if not, why we must rub on as we are, and I'm very thankful to Providence for having given you to me at all!”

“Providence made you but a shabby present!” I say, with contrition.

“Not much to brag of, I daresay;” page: 246 says Hugh playfully, pulling my ear, “but you see I am easily pleased. Well, I must be going out; I cannot stop molly‐coddling away half a morning at a foolish little woman's apron strings; and I say, Nell, you go and talk to the old lady about Dolly, and drop the poor girl a line to tell her we shall be very glad to see her any day she likes to come; and don't let me hear any more nonsense about envy, hatred and malice and all uncharitableness!”

“But I do hate her! I have every reason to hate her! Hugh! Hugh!” I call after him eagerly, but he has beaten a hasty retreat, to avoid further discussion of the subject.

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