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Cometh Up as a Flower: an Autobiography, Vol. 2. Broughton, Rhoda, 1840–1920.
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page: 27

CHAPTER III.

WE are to dance in the dining room; the hall has a stone floor, and Lady Lancaster objects to the dismantling of any of the other rooms; consequently we are to dine in the hall. Lady Lancaster makes many apologies to us; hopes we don't mind, but we must be prepared to rough it a little, which means that we are to eat a first rate Russian dinner, and drink unexceptionable wines half an hour earlier than usual, and in a different but equally comfortable room to that in which we usually feast.

Blessed! for ever blessed! be the manner and custom which compels the host to take the woman of highest rank into dinner. In no company more exalted than that to be found in an almshouse, or page: 28 a charity school, am I likely to be the woman of highest rank, so, for once, I escape Hugh. Though he manœuvres to have me on his other side, I counter‐manœuvre and more successfully to avoid him. Fate assigns me the young gentleman with the death's head studs, Mr. De Laney an artless child who helps to make the British Grenadier, “The terror of the Umbrian, The terror of the Gaul,” and who prattles away to me about Windsor and Canada, and muffins, and skating on the Rink, and shooting Cariboo. Dick is on the same side of the table, further down. By leaning back in my chair, and peeping behind my guardsman, the widow, the sceptic, and Miss Gifford, I catch a glimpse of a broadcloth back, and a yellow love lock or two; he has been dipping his head in cold water, apparently, for it is curling more furiously than ever. But neither a man's back‐hair nor his back afford much insight into the state of his temper and feelings. I certainly neither page: 29 lived to eat, nor ate to live that day; great excitement is utterly exclusive of hunger.

“No, thanks! no, thanks! no, thanks!” say I again and again, as gorgeous gentlemen in plush and calves, poke fish and flesh, and fowl, in every appetizing disguise under my nose.

“Are you a Catholic, Miss Lestrange?” asks my little boy at last. He is not a bad little boy; cheery and equally ready for a Fenian invasion, and a valse with a pretty girl.

“No; why?” ask I, opening my big eyes.

“Because it seems to be a Fast Day with you, and it is Wednesday, so I thought you must be a Holy Roman.”

I laugh a little.

“No; only I'm not hungry.”

“I'm afraid you are seedy.”

“No, I am not.”

“Dancing is very hard work; one requires a great deal of support to stand it at all!” with a grin on his jolly wide mouth, and he acts as if he believed what he said. Not even our brave defenders page: 30 can eat for ever, however; about ten o'clock we are most of us gathered in the drawing‐room. The men are struggling into their gloves; one, who pretends that he takes ladies' size, has burst one pair, and is on the eve of bursting a second; two or three of the youngest and conceitedest have retired to endue fresh ties.

Carriages are beginning to be heard; the Coxes are the first to arrive. Horses next door to thorough‐bred, that must not be kept standing one second; a coat of arms as big as a dinner plate on each panel; cockaded servants, (for Mr. Coxe is a volunteer, and inexpressibly laughable the podgy little millionaire looks going through the goose‐step, and shouldering arms, in his invisible green uniform;) this is the way in which the British tradesman visits his friends in these happy days.

Mr. and Mrs. Coxe make their entry arm‐in‐arm, and as they are both fat kine, they have some difficulty in getting through the door. Mr. Coxe has on that crimson velvet waistcoat, from which not all the prayers, tears, and entreaties of his wife page: 31 and daughters can avail to divorce him.

Behind the parent birds come the pullets and cockerel; Mortimer Spencer De Lacy Coxe, Gentleman Commoner at Oxford, with his name down for Boodle's, the “Junior Conservative,” and half a dozen other crack Clubs, but of the shop, shoppy, with his sister Amaryllis and the rear brought up by Lily, who has the highest colour, and Violet, who has the loudest voice in A—shire. Lady Lancaster in her pearl‐gray satin—Mrs. Coxe's pink moire‐antique cost just as much a yard, but it has not the same imposing effect,—rises and says very majestically, “How do you do, Mrs. Coxe?” It is the first time that the Coxes' have been within the doors of Wentworth, and I think for a minute or two they wish themselves well out of them again.

Despite my distaste for old women, I cannot help admiring the old lady. She is like an old queen receiving a deputation from some of her faithful burgesses. She is a tiresome old woman, and teases one's life out about the Zulu Indians and the page: 32 Millenium and “my son,” but she is a lady to the backbone. Coxes may buy up the old houses and the poor old lands, and almost the old pedigrees, but they cannot buy the ‘grand air.’ Hugh has not got the grand air, but he has a very good‐natured air, which has more the knack of making people feel comfortable than his mother's grand one.

“Dye do, Miss Coxe? very glad to see you! Dye do Miss Lily? I hope you feel equal to a great deal of exercise to‐night, for we don't intend to let you go home till this time to‐morrow.” Then the Scots Greys arrive in their drag; half‐a‐dozen of them come herding into the room, knowing no one, and hanging together like a swarm of bees.

Hugh takes them up, and presents them to his parent, who shakes hands with the Colonel, and executes a magnificent reverence to the others, which reverence frightens one cornet of a timid disposition and tender years nearly into fits.

Then the arrivals come thick and fast; people who do not go to town at all; and page: 33 people whose purses are only equal to a month or six weeks at the height of the season, and who, consequently, have not taken flight yet. Papa and mamma, boys and girls, here they all are.

About half‐past ten, Sir Hugh gives Lady Capel his arm, and leads her to the dancing room; each man chooses the woman he loves, or the woman to whom he has just been introduced, or the woman whose father has asked him to dinner, and we all troop after them.

I don't wish to see a more cheery scene than the Wentworth dining‐room—transmogrified with pink calico and union jacks, and wreaths of evergreens and flowers, till it hardly knows itself—presented that evening, just before the dancing commenced, when the waxlights—becomingest of lights—were all lit and blazing softly, mellowly, from their sconces along the walls where dresses were rustling gently, and there was a buzz of talking; when the hook‐nosed chaperones, (why, I wonder, do the noses of most British matrons at a certain period become page: 34 hooks?) in their many coloured silks and satins were settling down on their benches, like a flock of brilliant but venerable tropical birds, contented with the prospect of an evening of vicarious enjoyment, and looking forward with trusting faith to the supper hour; when all the girls, with one or two hopeless exceptions, were looking pretty, and when the fiddlers were tuning up and causing their instruments to emit queer little squeaks, discordant prelude to a harmonious after‐piece. My faithful Grenadier boy has bidden me for the first dance, which turns out to be a quadrille, rather to his disgust.

“I did not mean to ask you for one of those stupid square things!” he says, “it's the worse compliment you can pay a woman to ask her for a quadrille!”

“For the last quadrille,” I say laughing. “You have not done that at all events!”

Sir Hugh has been rushing about wildly, saying a civil thing to each of the old page: 35 women, and making good‐humoured jokes to a percentage of the girls; now he comes up to me, where I sit on a scarlet bench alone.

“You are engaged for this next valse, of course?”

“Yes.”

“Is not it anybody that you can cut?”

“Oh, no! no!”

“Give me the next then, won't you? we have made it up, haven't we?”

“I did not know that we had ever quarreled!”

“All right then; mind you keep it for me.”

He writes his name on my card, as men always do write on these occasions, so that no human being could decipher it, and then rushes back to his duties. I told Sir Hugh a fib; I am not engaged for the next dance. Several people have asked me for it, but I have told the same fib to them all; I am keeping it for one who does not seem inclined to come and claim it. There is a little pause between page: 36 the two dances; a little lull between two pleasant storms; people seem to be shaking up together very comfortably. The strange warriors have made acquaintance with some of the native women, and are exchanging beads and looking‐glasses.

The Miss Coxes are in great request; Miss Violet—such a jolly girl! it does not in the least matter what you say to her—is holding a little court near the door, well away from Lady Lancaster; her bon mots do not reach me, but the applause that follows them does. Close to me, the young man with the catarrh is coughing noisily; his cold has taken a new turn; he can pronounce his M's and N's, but he has purchased that power at the expense of as roaring a cough, as the poor lady's in the epitaph.

“If you would but try jujubes,” I hear Miss Seymour saying, with feeling.

“No good at all!” replies the sufferer, huskily. “I've eaten a box and a half already.”

He seems very sorry indeed for himself page: 37 as men always do, if they have a fingerache.

“Go to bye‐bye, my dear fellow, I advise!” says little De Laney heartlessly; “put your feet in gruel and drink hot water, and you'll be all serene to‐morrow morning.”

The invalid looks cross, and mutters something about it's being all very fine.

“Not fine at all! if you intend going on barking that way all the evening, for you'll drown the band,” and then he goes off laughing.

“I'm afraid you'll think me a very fidgetty old woman,” says Lady Lancaster to a young matron, who has inadvertently placed herself near an open window, “but aren't you a little imprudent to be sitting in such a thorough draught? nothing so likely to give cold; we old people have learnt by bitter experience you know, particularly when décolleté too—”

I hear no more, for the band clashes out; big fiddle and little fiddle, harp and bones, off they go. There is a movement among the company; non‐dancers clearing page: 38 out of the way, men looking for their partners.

My heart begins to beat so fast, that I feel choking. “Perhaps he cannot see me where I am sitting.” I stand up, and push gently forwards into the front of the circle forming round the dancers, while my legs tremble under me.

The ice is broken; one adventurous couple has set off on their course of insane gyrations, quickly followed by another and another, till the whole room is filled with whirling clouds of tulle and tarletan, enveloped in which, manly legs vanish to re‐appear meteor‐like for an instant and then be swallowed up more completely than before. I dig my fingers into my poor bruised arm, and don't feel the pain I am inflicting on myself one bit. “Won't he come? won't he come? Oh, how cruel he is!” Suddenly an opening is made in the spectators, to admit a fresh couple, such a handsome couple.

“Hallo! how's this?” cries Hugh, coming up behind, “has your partner forgotten you?”

page: 39

“I—I believe so,” with my lips trembling.

“Never mind, there's as good fish in the sea, as ever came out of it; you'll have to put up with me, after all.”

“Oh, no! no!” I cry, turning my shoulder to him; “I don't want, please not.”

Sir Hugh is rather obtuse.

You a wallflower of all people! couldn't think of such a thing.”

I have not spirit to resist further, nor can I trust my voice, so we join the whirl, and whirl too. Hugh dances well; does it with all his heart, and mind, and soul, and strength, as he does everything he puts his hand to—the great secret of his happy cheery life is that he never does anything by halves. I get giddy at last, so we stop and watch our neighbours spinning away like so many peg tops, to the sound of “Il Bacio.”

Some dance in time; some dance out; some dance hoppily, like parched peas; some dance smoothly; some go jog trotting along, like old cart horses to market; page: 40 some go racing pace. Amaryllis Coxe and a long gawky, all arms and legs, come floundering into us.

“Oh, I beg your pardon; I hope I did no harm.” Then lumber off again; hobble‐de‐gee, hobble‐de‐gee. Another couple passes us; racers these; and I bite my lip till it bleeds, as I look after them. Dolly in maize tulle, and pomegranates in her hair; smooth cheeks like living rose leaves; her scarlet lips half apart, is floating down the long room, lying restfully in Dick's arms, with her head on his shoulder. Dolly has a most reprehensible style of dancing; I think though Dick does not seem to think so, as they swim fleetly round, with the most complete agreement in their supple movements. Dolly is the sort of woman, upon whom Mr. Algernon Swinburne would write pages of magnificent uncleanness.

“Where were we this time last night, eh?” roars Hugh sentimentally, for we are close to the recess where the band is placed,

“I'm rested!” I say, abruptly; I cannot page: 41 stand any tender reminiscences. So that dance ends, and another and another follow quickly.

The patient chaperones sit biding their time, like a row of old hens, roosting in a hen house, with here and there a super‐annuated chanticleer crowing feebly to enliven them. A knot of men hang about the door, talking horsily and doggily, and fling out a careless word of commendation in the equine tongue, as some filly, more promising than ordinary flies by, wafting twenty yards of tulle against their faces.

“Why aren't you taking a more active part in these gay doings?” asks the naughty old gentleman, who is known amongst men by the name of Sir Phillip Leroy to the widowed Mrs. Marryat, who has effected an ingenious compromise between the memory of the enskied one, and the desire not to let grief be too disfiguring in the eyes of his successor in posse, by a judicious combination of the funeral black and the bridal white in her attire.

I! Oh, no! no!” with a glance at her black dress, and a sigh.

page: 42

“Perhaps,” (letting himself gently down on the bench beside her,) “perhaps you object to the pleasant knocking down of old‐fashioned barriers in the present style of dancing; it certainly is what would have been called in our younger days,—(How to write a whisper), don't you think so?”

“Take care! take care! somebody will hear you.”

I have been guiding heavy youths who would give their left hand, when they ought to give their right, and their right hand when they ought to give their left through the labyrinth of the Lancers, and the mazes of the gay quadrille. Men seem to like fern wreaths, and red heads, and ignorance. It is quite a new light to myself that I am a beauty, but I am so fortunate as to overhear that the bay filly is considered quite one of the best things out. I have been scampering round the room with almost every man in it, with one melancholy exception.

Dick has been scampering largely too; with the three Miss Coxes of course; a quadrille with Mrs. Coxe—who makes her page: 43 steps and chassé's, as the world chasséd in the days when she was Miss Martha Harris—with Miss Gifford, Miss Seymour and half a dozen other Misses; then again with Dolly.

“I so seldom meet anyone whose step suits mine; it is such a treat!” I hear Dolly saying very softly, while she looks at him as I fancy Dalilah looked at Samson, when she tried to wile the secret of his strength from him. Dolly reminds me of “——The maid of Cassivelaun, Whom Gwydion made by glamour out of flowers.” “Sandy! The canny Scott! Daddy Longlegs!” say I to myself indignantly, recalling all the ignominious epithets that she had heaped on the man, at whom she is now looking with the eyes of a hundred ‘Laises’ rolled into one. Oh, if I could but tell him! How I wish that she had had the small‐pox in her youth; she might have been a good, worthy, useful woman then; making flannel waistcoats for poor people; wheeling the old dad's chair to the fire for him, and being my confidant.

The room is getting so hot; too much page: 44 of a good thing is as undesirable as a little of a bad one; the smell of the gilly‐flowers and roses is getting past a joke; it makes one's head ache and one almost wishes to exchange it for a little bonedust or guano. Some one—a young person—opens a window, and some one—an old person, Lady Lancaster, I think it is—shuts it again. Lady Lancaster has that rooted aversion to fresh air, which characterized the last generation.

The girls fan themselves vigorously, and the men mop their foreheads, and a whisper goes through the room that the door of the supper‐room is open. Unhappy Patres Conscripti who have been dragged hither at their wives ‘chariot wheels,’ begin to console themselves with the reflection that their sufferings are at all events half over.

“Come, Capel, you lazy beggar!” says Sir Hugh coming up, and tapping that ornament to the Peerage on the back; “why don't you make yourself of some use? take one of those old girls down to supper with you; oh, yes, there is Mrs. page: 45 Coxe; take her; won't she ‘my lord’ you!”

“What, that female Daniel Lambert! No, no, my good fellow; it makes one hot to look at her; and I'm 92 in the shade, as it is!”

However, he obeys, and others go and do likewise. Dowager after dowager sweeps by to receive the reward of her faith. The musicians retire to refresh themselves, and I need hardly say that the man who plays the bones gets drunk.

“Been to supper?” asks Hugh, who is conveying one of the first detachment back again.

I have freed myself from all my admirers, and am sitting in a humped‐up, disconsolate attitude like a fowl on a wet day.

“No, I don't want any!” looking down uneasily, and plucking at the wooden bracelet that adorns my left wrist.

“Oh, nonsense! we must have half a dozen more spins by‐and‐bye. I have got through all my duty dances, and you'll never be up to them without lots of cham‐ champagne page: 46 pagne; we mustn't let her starve herself, must we, mother?”

Mother waggles her old head, while the family diamonds (even they don't render me unfaithful to Dick) make a restless light on her withered neck, and says “No, indeed!” she is always an advocate for a good deal of nourishment for young people.

For the second time, I am vanquished, and am walked off to the supper room, where I find my fellow creatures like cattle before rain— “Forty feeding like one;” and where I am compelled to swallow chicken and tongue that sticks in my throat, and champagne that is of all drinks the one most abhorrent to me. The evening wears on, with no improvement in my circumstances.

I get so weary at last of the everlasting ‘tum te tum! tum te tum!’ The room is getting strewn with long strips and fragments of gauze and tulle; and the garlands flag and droop. The girls' hair is page: 47 getting loosened, and their complexions red and flushed; all the freshness is gone from their faces and their toilettes; there is something of the Bacchante, I always think, in the look of a woman at the end of a hard fought ball; the men wear better, but they look rather limp too, and inclined like La Motte Fouqué's “Ondine” to melt away into running brooks.

“That's in honour of me!” says little De Laney, as the “Guards' Waltz” peals out, and we prepare to embark on it, “a very pretty compliment of Lancaster's isn't it?”

“You are like the man that got up and bowed, when the people cheered the king as he came into the theatre,” I say laughing, for there is something contagious about light‐heartedness.

“Who's the girl in the blue top knot; one would have to have a piece added on to one's arm, before one could hope to get round her waist.”

“Miss Coxe.”

“Any relation to the Army Agent, because if so, I would ask her to put in a good word for me with her papa.”

page: 48

“I don't know, I'm sure.”

“One struggle more and she'll be free, whoever she is.”

Amaryllis is candour and generosity's self in the display of her anatomy. One faint gleam of hope comes to me that evening; but it is like the little yellow glimmer of light that comes out on a hillside in wintry weather, no sooner seen than swallowed up again in the dull murkiness. I am dancing a quadrille, With that everlasting, excellent, intolerable Hugh, and Dick, very much against his will, is my vis‐à‐vis. We meet in the dance; “What on earth have I done?” I say, with tears in my voice, and throwing all my eager soul into my misty blue eyes, as I look up in his dear sulky patrician face. He glances down at me doubtfully, half inclined to be modified.

“Now, Miss Nelly! now, Miss Nelly!” (how enraging to be called ‘Miss Nelly’) “what are you thinking about? we ought to have been half through this figure by now!” cries Sir Hugh catch‐ catching page: 49 ing hold of my hand, and the opportunity that looked so promising is lost. It is a mistake to suppose that it is the wicked that make this world such a sad and weary place, it is the good, blundering dunderheads! “How our wishes do mock us!” I think to myself, as I follow Lady Lancaster and her sleepy covey up the broad shallow staircase to bed. “I should have thought that to meet Dick at a ball was the acme of human happiness, and now—”

I wake next morning, stiff as a doll that refuses to bend anywhere but in the middle, and with great difficulty there; with my head feeling like a ton of lead, and my eyes swelled to the size of well grown walnuts.

“What an object!” cries Dolly, lifting up her slim hands, as she comes into my room, in an innocent‐looking white peignoir, looking as fresh as a daisy. “Rachel weeping for her children! Charlotte at the tomb of Werther! Agrippina over the urn of somebody! I thought how it would be, so I came to see.”

“You'll—you'll be the death of me, page: 50 Dolly,” I say whimpering, “and—and then you'll be sorry!”

“The jury will bring it in felo de se, I think!” says Dolly, tripping daintily across to the window, and pulling up the blinds, the better to examine into the condition of my countenance. “Good heavens, child! you are worse than I thought; not all the Eau de Cologne, and rouge and pearl powder in England could make you presentable; you would defy Madame Rachel; you must not attempt to go downstairs.”

“I don't mean to!” I say sobbing, “you shall have it all your own way; go and tell him some more lies about me, and I'll st—st—stay up here, and—and die!”

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