Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Nuttie's father online

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' If any terms are offered to lier, she liad l)otter ])ut
tlie matter into a lawyer's hands. Dobson W(>uld be a
safe man to deal with.'

Miss Headwortli was amazed tliat lie — wlio IkuI
helped her in many a little (question bordering on law —

v.] SUSPENSE. 47

should not proffer his aid now in this greatest stress.
He was a resolute, self-controlled man, and she never
guessed at the feeling that made liim judge himself to
be no fitting champion for Alice Egremont against her
husband. Ever since, ten years ago, he had learnt
that his beautiful neighbour did not regard herself so
certainly a widow as to venture to open her heart to
any other love, he had lived patiently on, content to
serve her as a trustworthy friend, and never betraying
the secret hope so long cherished and now entirely

He was relieved to escape from the interview, and
the poor old lady remained a little more certain as to
her duty perhaps, but with a certainty that only made
her more unhappy, and she was so restless and nervous
that, in the middle of the evening's reading of Arch-
bishop Trench's Lectures on History, Alice suddenly
broke off in the very middle of a sentence and ex-
claimed, ' Aunt XJrsel ! you are keeping something
from me.'

]\Iiss Headworth made a faint attempt by saying
something about presently, and glancing with her eyes
to indicate that it was to be reserved till after Nuttie's
bedtime, but the young lady comprehended the signs
and exclaimed, ' Never mind me. Aunt Ursel, — I know
all about mother ; she told me last night.'

'It is ! ' broke in ]\Irs. Egremont, who had been
watching her aunt's face. 'You have heard of liim!

' Oh, my father ! You really have ! ' cried Xuttie.
' Then he really was on the desert island all this time ;
I was quite sure of it. How delightful 1 ' She jumped
up and looked at the door, as if she expected to see
him appear that instant, clad in skins like Eobinson
Crusoe, but her aunt's nervous agitation found vent in

48 nuttie's father. [chap.

a sharj^ reproof: ' Xuttio, hold your toiiguo, and don't
be such a foohsli chihl, ur 1 shall .send you out of the
room this instant ! '

'But aunt?' gasped Alice, unahle to hear the

* Yes, my poor dear child, Captain Egremont with
the General got off with some of the crew in a boat
when the Ninon was burnt. He spent a good many
years abroad with the old man, biit he has now in-
herited the family place, and is living there.' ^liss
HeadworUi felt as if she had fired a cannon and looked
to see the effect.

' Ah, if we could have stayed at Dieppe ! ' said
Mrs. Egremont. ' But we did write back to say where
we could be heard of.'

' That was of no use. Mark found no traces of us
when he went thither.'
'Did he send Mark?'

*Xo. My dear Alice, I must not conceal from
you that this is all Mr. ]\Iark Egremont's doing. He
seems to have been helping his uncle with his papers
when he came on the evidence of your marriage, and,
remembering you as he does, he forced the confession
of it from the captain, and of his own accord set
forth to discover what had become of you and to see
justice d(me to you.'

' Dear little ^Mark ! ' said she ; ' he always was such
an affectionate little boy.'

'And in»\v, niv deal', you must consider lu)W you
will receive any advances on his part.'

*0h, Aunt Ursel, don't ! 1 can't talk now. Please
Icl me go to bed. Xultit', dear, }ou m-i'd not come

Tlie desire for solitude, iu whiili to realise what

v.] SUSPENSE. 49

she liad heard, was overpowering, and she lied away in
the summer twihght, leaving Nuttie witli wide open
eyes, looking after her vanished hero and desert

' My poor Alice ! ' sighed the old lady.

' Aunt Ursel ! ' exclaimed Nuttie, ' was — I mean —
is my father a good or a bad man ? '

' My dear, should a daughter ask such a question ? '

* Aunt Ursel, I can't help it. I think I ought to
know all about it,' said Nuttie gravely, putting away
her childishness and sitting down by her aunt. ' I
did not thmk so much of it when mother told me they
eloped, because, though I know it was very wrong,
people do do odd things sometimes when they are very
much in love (she said it in a superior patronising tone
that would have amused Miss Headworth very much
at any other time) ; and it has not spoilt mother for
being the dearest, sweetest, best thing in the world,
and, besides, they had neither of them any fathers or
mothers to disobey. But, then, when I found he was
so old, and that he kept it a secret, and must have
told stories only for the sake of money (uttered witli
extreme contempt), I didn't like it. And if lie left
her as Theseus left Ariadne, or Sir Lancelot left Elaine,
I — I don't think it is nice. Do you think he only
pretended to be lost in the Ninon to get rid of her,
or that he could not find her ? '

'The Ninon was really reported lost -svith all on
board,' said Miss Headworth. * That was ascertained.
He was saved by a Chilian sliip, and seems to have
been a good while making his \yay back to Europe. I
had taken care that our address sliould be known at
Dieppe, but it is quite possible that he may not liave
applied to the right people, or that they may not have


50 NUTTIE's TATIIEK. [chap.

preserved my letter, so that we caiiiKjt feel sure that
he was to Llaiiie.'

* If he had been wortli anything at all, he would
have moved heaven and earth to find lier ! ' cried Xut-
tie ; * and you said yourself it was all tltat Mark's
doing ! '

* He seems to be a very upright and generous young
man, tliat Mr. Mark Egremont,' said Miss Headwortli,
a whole romance as to Nuttie's future destiny sweep-
ing across her mind in an instant, with a mental dis-
pensation to first cousins in such a case. ' I tliink
you will find him a staunch champion even against his
own interests.'

Perceptions came across Nuttie. * Oh, then I am
a sort of lost heiress, like people in a story ! I see !
But, Aunt XJrsel, w^hat do you think will happen ? '

' ]\Iy dear child, I cannot guess in the least. Per-
haps the Egremont property will not concern you, and
only go to male heirs. That would be the best thing,
since in any case you must be sufficiently provided
for. Your father must do that.'

' But about mother ? '

' A proper provision must be insisted on for her,'
said Miss Headworth. * It is no use, however, to
speculate on the future. We cannot guess how ^Ir.
Mark Ega-emont's communication will be received, or
whether any wish will be expressed for your mother's
rejoining your father. In such a case the terms must
be distinctly understood, and I have full trust both in
Mr. ^lark and in Lady Kirkaldy as her champions to
see tliat justice is done to you botli.*

* I'm sure lie doesn't deserve that mother should go
to liim.'

* Nor do I expect that he will wish it, or that it

v.] SUSPENSE. 51

would be proper; but he is bound to give her a hand-
some maintenance, and I think most probably you
will be asked to stay with your uncle and cousins,'
said Miss Headworth, figuring to herself a kind of
Newstead Abbey or some such scene of constant orgies
at Bridgefield Egremont.

' I shall accept nothing from the family that does-
not include mother/ said Nuttie.

' Dear child, I foresee many trials, but you must be
her protector.'

' That I will,' said Nuttie ; and in the gallant pur-
pose she went to bed, to find her mother either asleep
or feigning slumber with tears on her cheek.



' Presumptuous maid, -with looks intent,
Again she stretched, again she bent,
Nor knew the gulf between. ' — Gray.

It all seemed like a dream to Ursula, perhaps likewise
to her mother, when they rose to the routine of daily
life with the ordinary interests of the day before them.
There was a latent unwillingness in Mrs. Egremont's
mind to discuss the subject with either aunt or
daughter ; and when the post brought no letter, Ursula,
after a moment's sense of flatness, was relieved, and
returned to her eager desire to hurry after the water-
soldier. It was feasible that very afternoon. Mary
Nugent came in with the intelligence.

* And can Gerard come ? or we shall (tidy look at it.'

* Yes, Gerard can come, and so will Mr. Dutton,'
said Mary, who, standing about half-way between ^Irs.
Egremont and her daughter, did not think herself quite
a suHicieiit clia])t!r()n.

' lie will hntk on like a hen at her diuldings,' said
Nuttie. * It is cruel to take liiiii, jtoor man ! '

' Meantime, Xuttie, do you like an huur of Marie
St wart / '


'Oh, thank you!' But she whispered, 'Aunt
Ursel, may I tell her ? '

' Ask your mother, my dear.'

Leave was given, half reluctantly, and with a pro-
hibition against mentioning the subject to any one else,
but both mother and aunt had confidence in Mary
Nugent's wisdom and discretion, so the two friends sat
on the wall together, and Ursula poured out her heart.
Poor little girl! she was greatly discomfited at the
vanishing of her noble vision of the heroic self-devoted
father, and ready on the other hand to believe him a
villain, like Bertram Eisingham, or ' the Pirate,' being
possessed by this idea on account of his West Indian
voyages. At any rate, she was determined not to be
accepted or acknowledged without her mother, and was
already rehearsing magnanimous letters of refusal.
Miss Mary listened and wondered, feeling sometimes
as if this were as much a romance as the little yacht
going down with the burning ship ; and then came back
the recollection that there was a real fact that Nuttie
had a father, and that it was entirely uncertain what
part he might take, or what the girl might be called
on to do. Considering anxiously these bearings of the
question, she scarcely heard what she was required to
assent to, in one of Nuttie's eager, ' Don't you think so V

' My dear Nuttie,' she said, rousing herself, ' what
I do think is that it will all probably turn out exactly
contrariwise to our imaginations, so I believe it would
be wisest to build up as few fancies as possible, but
only to pray that you may have a right judgment in
all things, and have strength to do what is right, what-
ever you may see that to be.'

' And of course that will be to stick liy motlicr.'

' There can be little doubt of that, but the how ?

54 NUTTIE's father. [chap.

No, dear, do not let iis devise all sorts of hows when
we have nothing to go upon. That would be of no
use, and only perplex you when the time conies. It
would be niucli better to " do tlie nexte thinge," and
read our Marie Stuart!

Nuttie pouted a little, but submitted, though she
now and then broke into ' a translation with ' You
know mother will never stand up for herself,' or * They
think I shall l)e asked to stay with the Egremonts, Init
I must work up for the exam.'

However, the school habit of concentrating her atten-
tion prevailed, and the study quieted Nuttie's excitement.
The expedition took place as arranged. There was a
train which stopped so that the party could go down by
it, and the distance was not too great for walking back.

Mr. Button met them on the platform, well armed
with his neat silk umbrella, and his black poodle.
Monsieur, trotting solemnly after him. Gerard Godfrey
bore materials for an exact transcript of the Abbot's
monumental cross, his head being full of church archi-
tecture, while Nuttie carried a long green tin case, or
vasculum as she chose to call it, with her three vowels,
U A E, and the stars of the Little Bear conspicuously
])ainted on it in white.

* You did not venture on that the other day,' said
Mr. ])utton. * How much of the i)ark do you mean
to carry away in it ? *

' Let me take it,' said Gerard politely.
*No, tliaiik ynu. You'd leave it behind, while you
were ])()ttering over the mouldings.'

* Y(JU are nnich more likely to leave it behind

* Wliat — witli my soldier, my Sfnttiotcs, in it ? 1
think 1 see myself.'


'Give it to me/ said Gerard. 'Of course I can't
see you carrying a great thing like that/

' Can't you, indeed ? '

* Gently, gently, my dear,' said Miss Mary, as the
young people seemed very near a skirmish, and the
train was sweeping up. Then there was another small
scuffle, for Nuttie had set her heart on the third class ;
but Mr. Dutton had taken second-class tickets, and
was about to hand them into a carriage whence there
had just emerged a very supercilious black-moustached
valet, who was pulling out a leather-covered dressing-
case, while Gerard was consoling Nuttie by telling her
that Monsieur never deigned to go third class.

'It is a smoking carriage,' said Miss Nugent, on
the step. ' Pah 1 how it smells/ as she jumped back.

' Beautiful backy — a perfect nosegay,' said Gerard.
' Trust that fellow for having the best.'

' His master's, no doubt,' suggested Mr. Dutton.

'You'd better go in it, to enjoy his reversion,' said

' And w^here's my escort, then ? '

' Oh, I'm sure we don't want you.'

' Nuttie, my dear,' expostulated Miss Nugent, drag-
ging her into the next carriage.

' You may enjoy the fragrance still,' said Nuttie
when seated. ' Do you see — there's the man's master ;
he has stood him up against that post, with his cigar,
to wait while he gets out the luggage. I daresay you
can get a whiff if you lean out far enough.'

' I say I that figure is a study ! ' said Gerard. ' Wluit
is it that he is so like ? '

' Oh ! I know,' said Nuttie. ' It is Lord Frederick
Verisopht, and the bad gentlefolks in the pictures to
the old numbers of Dickens that you have got. Miss

56 NUTTIE's father. [chap.

Mary. Now, isn't he ? Look ! only Lord Frederick
wasn't fat.'

Nuttie was in a state of excitement that made her
peculiarly unmanageable, and Miss Nugent was very
grateful to iVIr. Button for his sharp though general
admonition against staring, while, under pretext of
disposing of the umbrella and the vasculum, he stood
up, so as to block the window till they were starting.

There was no one else to observe them but a
demure old lady, and in ten minutes' time they were
in open space, where high spirits might work them-
selves off, though the battle over the botanical case
was ended by Miss Nugent, who strongly held tliat
ladies should carry their own extra encumbrances, and
slung it with a scarf over Nuttie's shoulders in a
knowing knapsack fashion.

The two young people had known one another all
their lives, for Gerard was the son of a medical man
who had lived next door to ]\Iiss Headworth when the
children were young. The father was dead, and the
family had left the place, but this son had remained
at school, and afterwards had been put into the office
at the umbrella factory under charge of Mr. Button,
whose godson he was, and who treated him as a nephew.
He was a good-hearted, steady young fellow, with his
whole interest in ecclesiastical details, wearing a tie in
accordance with * the colours,' and absorbed in church
music and decorations, while his recreations were almost
all in accordance therewith.

There was plenty of merriment, as ho drew and
measured at the very scanty ruins, wliicli were little
more than a few fragments of wall, ovi'rgrown luxuri-
antly with ivy and clematis, but enclosing some line old
coflhi-lids witli lloriated crosses, interesting to those


who cared for architecture and church liistory, as Mr.
Button tried to make the children do, so that their
ecclesiastical feelings might be less narrow, and stand
on a surer foundation than present interest, a slightly
aggressive feeling of contempt for all the other town
churches, and a pleasing sense of being persecuted.

They fought over the floriations and mouldings
with great zest, and each maintained a date with
youthful vigour — both being, as Mr. Button b}^ and
by showed them, long before the foundation. The
pond had been left to the last with a view to the well-
being of the water-soldier on the return. Here the
difficulties of the capture were gi'eat, for the nearest
plant flourished too far from the bank to be reached
with comfort, and besides, the sharp-pointed leaves to
which it owes its name were not to be approached
with casual grasps.

' Oh Monsieur, I wish you were a Beau,' sighed
Nuttie. ' Why, are you too stupid to go and get it ? '

' It is a proof of his superior intelligence,' said Mr.

' But really it is too ridiculous — too provoking —
to have come all this way and not get it,' cried the
tantalised Nuttie. ' Oh, Gerard, are you taking off
your boots and stockings ? You duck ! '

'Just what I wish I was,' said the youth, rolling
up his trousers.

But even the paddling in did not answer. ^Mr.
Button called out anxiously, * Take care, C4erard, tlie
bottom may be soft,' and came down to the very verge
just in time to hold out his hand, and prevent an
utterly disastrous fall, for Gerard, in spite of his bare
feet, sank at once into mud, and on the first attempt
to take a step forward, found his foot slipping away


from under liiiii, and would in another instant liave
tumbled backwards into tlie shisli and weeds. He
scrambled back, his liat falling off into the reeds, and
splashing i\Ir. Dutton all over, while Monsieur began
to bark ' with astonishment at seeing his master in
such ai)light,' declared the ladies, wlio stood convulsed
with cruel laughter.

' Isn't it dreadful ? ' exclaimed Ursula.

' Well ! It might have been worse,' gravely said
Mr. Dutton, wiping off the more obnoxious of his
splashes with his pocket handkerchief.

' Oh I didn't mean you, but the water-soldier,' said
Xuttie. ' To have come live miles for it in vain !'

' I don't know what to suggest,' added Gerard.
' Even if the ladies were to retire '

' No, no,' interposed Mr. Dutton, ' 'tis no swimming
ground, and I forbid the expedient. You would only
be entangled in the weeds.'

'Behold!' exclaimed Mary, who had been prowling
about the banks, and now held up in triumph one of
the poles with a bill-hook at the end used for cutting

* Bravo, Miss Nugent ! ' cried Gerard.

* Female wit has circumvented the water -soldier,'
said ]\lr. Dutton.

' Don't cry out too soon,' returned Mary ; ' the
soldier may lloat off and escape you yet.'

However, the capture was safely accomplished,
without even a dip under water to destroy the beauty
of the white flowers. "With these, and a few water-
lilies secured l)y (Jerard for the morrow's altar vases,
the party set out on their homeward walk, through
])lantations of wliis])ering firs, the low sun tinging the
trunks with ruddy light; across heathery commons,



where crimson lieatli abounded, and the delicate hhish-
coloured wax-belled species was a prize ; by cornfields
in ear hanging out their dainty stamens ; along hedges
full of exquisite plumes of feathering or nodding grass,
of which Nuttie made bouquets and botanical studies,
and Gerard stored for harvest decorations. They ran
and danced on together with Monsieur at their heels,
while the elders watched them with some sadness and
anxiety. Free- masonry had soon made both Mary
and Mr. Button aware of each other's initiation, and
they had discussed the matter in all its bearings,
a^rreed that the man was a scoundrel, and the woman
an angel, even if she had once been weak, and that
she ought to be very resolute with him if he came to
terms. And then they looked after their young com-
panions, and Mr. Dutton said, ' Poor children, what is
before them ? '

' It is well they are both so young,' answered


' It is the last time— 'tis tlic last !'— Scott.

Sundays were the ever-recurring centres of work and
interests to the little circle in St. Ambrose's lioad. To
them the church services and the various classes and
schools were the great objects and excitements of the
week. A certain measure of hopeful effort and vary-
ing success is what gives zest to life, and the purer
and hiirher the aim, and the more unmixed the motives,
the greater the happiness achieved by the * something
attempted, something done.'

Setting apart actual spiritual devotion, tlie altar
vases, purcliased by a contribution of careful savings,
and adorned with tlie Monks Horton lilies, backed by
ferns from the same quarter; the surplices made by
tlie ladies themselves, the chants they had practised,
the hymns they had taught, could not but be much
more interesting to them than if they had been mere
lookers on. Every cross on tlie markers, every llower
on tlio altar (;loth was tlu^ w(tik of one or other of
tlicm; everything in the cluuvh was an achievement,
and choir boys, school children, Dible classes, every


member of the regular congregation, had some spccicil
interest ; nay, every irregular member or visitor miglit
be a convert in time — if not a present sympathiser,
and at the very least might swell the offertory that
was destined to so many needs of the struggling district.

Thus it was with some curiosity mingled with self-
reproach that Nuttie, while singing her Bcncdictus
among the tuneful shop-girls, to whom she was bound
to set an example, became aware of yesterday's first-
class traveller lounging, as far as the rows of chairs
would permit, in the aisle, and, as she thought, staring
hard at her mother. It was well that Mrs. Egre-
mont's invariable custom was never to lift her eyes
from her book or her harmonium, or she surely must
have been disconcerted, her daughter thought, by the
eyes that must have found her out, under her little
black net bonnet and veil, as the most beautiful
woman in church, — as she certainly was, — even that
fine good-for-nothing gentleman thinking so. Nuttie
would add his glances to the glories of her lovely
mother !

And she did so, with triumph in her tone of re-
probation, as she trotted off, after the early dinner, to
her share of Sunday-school work as usual under Miss
ISTugent's wing. It began with a children's service,
and then ensued, in rooms at the factory, lent by ]\Ir.
Dutton, the teaching that was to supply the omissions
of the Board School ; the establishment of a voluntary
one being the next ambition of St. Ambrose's.

Coming 'home from their labours, in the fervent
discussion of tlieir scliolars, and exchanging remarks
and greetings with the other teacliers of various
calibres, the friends readied their own road, and there,
to their amazement, belield ]\Iiss Headworth.

G2 nuttie's father. [chap.

' Yes, it really is ! ' cried Nuttie. ' We can't be too
late ? No — there's no bell ! Aunt Ursel ! What
has brought you out ? What's the matter ? Where's
mother ? '

' In the house. My dear,' catching hold of her,
and speaking breathlessly, ' I came out to prepare you.
He is come — your father '

* Where ? ' cried Nuttie, rather wildly.

* He is in tlie drawing-room with your mother. I
said I would send you.' Poor Miss Head worth gasped
with agitation. ' Oh ! where's Mr. Button — not tliat
anything can be done '

' Is it that man ? ' asked Nuttie, and getting no
answer, ' I know it is ! Oh Aunt Ursel, how could
you leave her with him ? I must go and protect her.
Gerard — come. No, go and fetch Mr. Button.'

' Hush ! hush, Nuttie,' cried her aunt, grasping her.
'You know nothing about it. Wait here till I can
tell you.'

' Come in here, dear Miss Headworth,' said Mary,
gently drawing her arm into hers, for the poor old lady
could hardly stand for trembling, and bidding Gerard
open the door of her own house with the latch-key.

She took them into the dining-room, so as not to
disturb her mother, sent Gerard off after Mr. Button
in the very uttermost astonishment and bewilderment,
and set IMiss Headworth down in an easy-chair, where
she recovered herself, under Mary's soothing care,
enough to tell hur story in spite of Nuttie's exclama-
tions. * Wait ! wait, Nuttie ! You mustn't burst
in on them so ! No, you need not be afraid. Bon't
be a silly cliild ! He won't liurt lier ! Oh no ! They
are (juitii deliglited to meet.'

* J delighted to meet ? ' said Nuttie, as if transfixed.


' Yes/ said lior aunt. ' Oh yes, I always knew llie
poor child cared for him and tried to l)L;lieve in him
all along. He only had to say the word.'

* I wouldn't/ cried the girl, her eyes flashing.
' Why didn't you ask him how he could desert lier
and leave her ?'

' My dear ! how can one come between husband
and wife ? Oh, my poor Alice ! '

Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeNuttie's father → online text (page 4 of 28)