Charlotte Mary Yonge.

Nuttie's father online

. (page 8 of 28)
Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeNuttie's father → online text (page 8 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


answered her somewhat mechanically, wondering, as her
eye fell on the square squat gray church tower, what
had become of the earnest devotion to church work
and intellectual pursuits that used to characterise the
girl. True, always both mother and daughter had
hitherto kept up their church-going, and even their
Sunday-school habits, nor had any hindrance come in
their way, Mr. Egremont apparently acquiescing in what
he never shared, l^ut these things seemed, in Ursula's
mind, to have sunk out of the proportion they held at
Bridgefield, no longer to be the spirit of a life, but
mere Sunday duties and occupations.



XI.] LAWN-TENNIS. Ill

Was tliis wicked world getting a hold of the pcjor
child ? Which was duty ? which was the world ?
This was the thought that perplexed Alice, too simple
as yet to perceive that Ursula's former absorption had
been in the interests that surrounded her and her
companions, exactly as they were at present, and that
the real being had yet to work itself out.

Por herself, Alice did not think at all. She was
rejoicing in her restored husband, and his evident
affection. Her duty towards him was in her eyes
plain. She saw, of course, that he had no religion,
but she accepted the fact like that of bad weather ; she
loved him, and she loved her daughter ; she said her
prayers with all her heart for them, she hoped, and
she did her best, without trying to go below the surface.

There was the Eectory gate wide open. There was
Basil rushing up to greet his dear Aunt Alice, there
were all the windows and doors of the Eectory open,
and the nearer slopes covered with chairs and
seats of all dimensions, some under trees, some um-
belliferous, and glowing Afghan rugs, or spotted
skins spread for those who preferred the ground.
There was Blanche flitting about wild with excitement,
and pouncing on Nuttie to admire her outfit, and
reiterate instructions ; there were the two younger
girls altering the position of chairs according to their
mother's directions ; there were actually two guests —
not very alarming ones, only the curate and his wife,
both rather gaunt, bony people. He was button-holing
the Canon, and she was trying to do the same by the
Canoness about some parish casualty. The Canon
hoped to escape in the welcome to his sister-in-law
and niece, but he was immediately secured again,
while his wife found it reciuisite to hurry off else-



112 NUTIME'S FATIIEi:. [chap.

where, leaving Mrs. Edwards to tt'll ]ier story to Mrs.
Egremont. In point of fact, Alice really liked the
good lady, was quite at ease with her, and felt parish
concerns a natural element, so that she gave full heed
and attention to the cruelty of ]\Irs. Parkins' depriving
Betsy Butter (with an old father and mother to
support) of her family washing, on the ground of a
missing pocket handkerchief, the which Mrs. Edwards
believed to have been abstracted by the favourite
pickle of ]\Iiss Blanche's class, if only a confession
could be elicited from him when undefended by his
furious mother. Mrs. Egremont was listening with
actual interest and sympathy to the history of Betsy
Butter's struggles, and was inquiring the way to her
cottage, when she was called off to be introduced to
the arrivals wlio were beginning to flood the lawn.
She presently saw May, who had just come down,
walking up and down with Mrs. Edwards, evidently
hearing the story of the handkerchief. She thought it
had been Nuttie for a moment. There AVas a iieneral
resemblance between the cousins that made them be
mistaken for one another several times in the course
of the day, since their dresses, though not alike, were
of the same make and style.

Thus it was that as Xuttie was sitting on the grass
in earnest contemplation of Blanche's play, a hand
was familiarly laid on her shoulder, and a voice said,
* I haven't seen that horrid girl yet ! '

After so many introductions, Nuttie had little idea
whom she knew, or whom she did not know. She
looked up and saw a small person in light blue, with the
delicate features, transparent skin, and blue eyes that
accom])any yellow hair, with an indescribable glitter
of mirth and joyousness about tlic whole creature, as



XT.] LAWN-TENNIB. 11P>

if she were part and parcel of the suiiljcam in which
she stood.

' Wliat horrid girl ?' said Nuttie.

'The interloper, the newly-discovered savage, come
to upset — Ah!' — with a little shriek — ' It is'nt May!
I beg your pardon.'

' I'm May's cousin,' said Nuttie, ' Ursula Egremont.'

' Oh, oh !' and therewith the fact burst on both
girls at once. They stood still a moment in dismay,
then the stranger went into a fit of laughter. ' Oh,
I beg your pardon ! I can't help it ! It is so funny !'

Nuttie was almost infected, though somewhat hurt.
' Who said I was horrid V she asked.

'Nobody! Nobody but me — Annaple Paithven —
and they'U all tell you, May and all, that I'm always
putting my foot in it. And I never meant that you
were horrid — you yourself — you know — only '

' Only nobody wanted us here,' said Nuttie ; ' but
we could not help it.'

'Of course not. It w^as shocking, just my way.
Please forgive me 1' and she looked most pleading.
Nuttie held out her hand with something about ' No
one could mind ;' and therewith Annaple cried, ' Oh,
if you don't mind, we can have our laugh out !' and
the rippling laughter did set Nuttie off at once. The
peal was not over when May herself was upon them
demanding what was the joke.

' Oh, there she is 1 The real ]\Iay ! Why,' said
Annaple, kissing her, ' only think here I've been and
gone and thought this was you, and inquired about
— What was it ? — the awful monster — the chimera
dire — that Mark had routed up '

' No; you didn't say that,' said jSTuttie, half provoked.

'Never mind what I said. ])on't repeat it. I
I



114 NUTTIE'S father. [«iiai'.

only wisli myself and every one else to forget it. Now
it is swept to the winds by a good wholesome gig-
gling. But what business have you two to be so in-
conveniently alike ? You are as bad as the twin
Leslies ! '

' There's an old foremother on the staircase in white
satin who left her looks to us both,' said May.

* You'll have to wear badges,' said Annaple. ' You
know the Leslies were so troublesome that one had to
be shipped off to the East Indies and the other to the
West.'

' They married, that's all,' said May, seeing Xuttie
looking mystified ; and at that moment, Blanche's side
coming out victorious, Nuttie descended into the arena
to congratulate and be asked to form part of the next set.

' Well, that ivas a scrape !' said Annaple ; ' but she
wasn't bad about it ! I must do something to make
up for it somehow — get Janet to invite her, but
really Janet is in such a state of mind that I am
mildness itself compared with her. She would not
have come, only John was curious, and declared he
should G^o whether we did or not.'

' Ah !' said May, 'I saw him, like the rest of man-
kind, at madame's feet.'

'Oh! is she of that sort?'

' No,' said May, ' not at all. IMother and father
too both think she is good to the backbone ; but she
is very pretty, with just the inane soft sweetness that
men rave about — innocent really. All accounts of her
are excellent, and slie has nice parish ways, and will
be as helpful as Uncle Alwyn will let her.'

* But she couldn't always have been nice ? '
'Well, I verily believe it was all L^ncle Alwyn's

and grandmamma's fault. T know Mark thinks so.'



XI.] LAWN -T EN N I S. 110

' When tlie women of a family acquit a woman it
goes for something,' said Annaple. * That's not original,
my dear, I heard old Lady Grosmede say so to Janet
when she was deliberating over the invitation, " For a
good deal more than Mr. Mark's, at any rate.'"

'Mark is very fond of her — the mother, I mean.
He says when he was a little fellow her loss was
worse to him than even our mother's.'

' Do you remember the catastrophe ? '

' Not a bit. Only when she is petting Basil it
strikes me that I have heard the tones before. I only
remember the time of misery under the crosspatches
grandmamma got for us.'

' Well, it was a splendid cutting of his own throat
in Mark,' said Annaple, ' so it ought to turn out well.'

'I don't know how it is to turn out for Mark,'
answered May. ' Oh, here he comes !'

' Will you come into this set, Annaple ? ' he asked.
'They want another couple,' and, as she accepted,
' How do you get on with May's double ?'

* I pity May for having such a double.'

* Don't encourage her by misplaced pity.'

* It's abominable altogether ! I want to fly at some-
body!'

' Exhaust your feelings on your racket, and reflect
that you see a man released from bondage.'

'Is that philosophy or high-faluting ?' she said in
a teasing tone as the game began.

The Euthvens had very blue blood in their veins,
but as there were nine of the present generation, they,
possessed little beyond their long pedigree ; even the
head of the family, Lord Konnisglen, being forced to
live as a soldier, leaving his castle to grouse shooters.
His seven brothers had fared mostly in distant lands as



116 NUTTIE'S FATIIEIt. [ciiAi-.

they could, and his motlier liad found a home, together
with her youngest child, at Lescombe, where her eldest
was the wife of Sir John Delmar. Lady Ronnisglen
was an invalid, confined to the house, and Lady Delmar
had daughters fast treading on the heels of Annabella,
so christened, but always called Annaple after the old
Scottish queens, her ancestors. She had been May
Egremont's chief friend ever since her importation at
twelve years old, and the intimacy had been promoted
by her mother and sister. Indeed, the neighbourhood
had looked on with some amusement at the com-
petition ascribed to Lady Delmar and to the wealthy
parvenu, Mrs. West, for the heir-presumptive of Bridge-
field Egremont.

Annaple's lightness and dexterity rendered her the
best of the lady tennis-players, and the less practised
Ursula found herself defeated in the match, in spite of
a partner whose play was superior to Mark's, and with
whom she shyly walked oft' to eat ices.

' I see,' said Annaple, ' it is a country-town edition
of ]\Iay. I shan't blunder between them again.'

* She will polish,' said Mark, ' but she is not equal
to her mother.'

'Whom I have not seen yet. Ah, there's ^Ir.
Egremont! Why, he looks quite renovated !'

'Well he may be!'

'But Mark, not to hurt your feelings, he must
have behaved atrociously.'

' I'm not going to deny it,' said iMark.

' [ always did think he looked like it,' said Annaple.

' Wlien have ycju seen him before V

' Only once, but it was my admirable sagacity, you
understand ? I always see all the villains in books
just on his model. Oh, but who's that ? How very



XI.] LAWN-TENNIS. Il7

pretty 1 You don't mean it is she ! Well, she might
be the heroine of anything ! '

'Isn't she lovely?'

'And has she been keeping school like Patience
on a monument all these years ? It doesn't seem to
have much damaged her damask cheek !'

' It was only daily governessing. She looks much
better than when I first saw her ; and as to the damask
— why, that's deepened by the introduction to old Lady
Grosmede that is impending.'

' She is being walked up to the old Spanish duck
with the red rag round her leg to receive her fiat.
What a thing it is to be a bearded Dowager, and
rule one's neighbourhood !'

'I think she approves. She has made room for
her by her side. Is she going to catechise her V

Annaple made an absurd sound of mingled pity
and disgust.

' Not that she — my aunt, I mean — need be afraid.
The shame is all on the other side.'

' And I think Lady Grosmede has too much sense
to think the worse of her for having worked for her-
self,' added Annaple. ' If it was not for mother I
should long to begin !'

' You ? It's a longing well known to me ! — but
you !'

'Exactly! As the Irishman felt blue moulded for
want of a bating, so do I feel fagged out for want of
an honest day's work.'

' If one only knew what to turn to,' said ^lark
so wearily that Annaple exclaimed,

'We seem to be in the frozen-out state of mind, and
might walk up and down singing " I've got no work
to do,'" — to which she gave the well known intonation.



118 NUTTIE's father. [cHAi-.

* Too true,' said he, joiiiiiiLC in the hum.

* But 1 thought you were by way of reading law.'
'One must see more than only "by way of" in

these days to do any good.'

At that moment Basil ran up with a message that
Lady Delniar was ready to go home.

They walked slowly up the terrace and Mark
paused as they came near Mrs. Egremont to say,
* Aunt Alice, here is Miss Ruthven, May's great friend.'

Annaple met a pleasant smile, and they shook
hands, exchanging an observation or two, while a little
way off Lady Grosmede was nodding her strong old
face at Lady Delmar, and saying, ' Tell your mother
I'll soon come and see her, my dear. That's a nice
little innocent body, lady-like, and thoroughly pre-
sentable. Alwyn Egremont might have done worse.'

'The only wonder is he did not!' returned Lady
Delmar. ' They make the best of it here.'

' Very good taste of them. But, now I've seen her,
I don't believe there's anything behind. Very hard
upon the poor young man, though it was all his doing,
his mother says. I congratulate you that it had not
gone any farther in that quarter.'

* Oh, dear no ! Never dreamt of it. Slie is May's
friend, that's all.'

Nevertheless Lady Delmar made a second descent
in person to hurry Annaple away.

'Isn't it disgusting?' said ^lay, catching her step-
mother's smile.

' You will see a good deal more of the same kind,'
said the Canoness ; 'I am afraid more mortification is
in store for Mark tli;in he guesses. I wisli that girl
were more like her mother.'

' ^lanima ! a girl brouglit up among umbrella-



XI.] LAWN-TENNIS. 1 1

makers! Just fancy! AVhy, she has just uolhin.i,'
in her ! '

'Don't set Mark against her, May; he might do

worse.'

' Her head is a mere tennis hall,' said May, draw-
ing her own higher than ever, ' and no one wouhl
know her from a shop girl.'

' She is young enough,' said the Canoness. ' Don't
class me with Lady Delmar, May — I only say— if—
and that I don't think you realise the change Mark
will feel.'

' Better so tlian sell himself,' muttered INlay.



CHArTEPt XIL

OUT OF WOKK.
' I'm seeking the fmit that's iiae growing.' — Ballad.

Society recognised the newcomers. Lady Grosmede's
card appeared the next day, and was followed by
showers of others, and everybody asked everybody
' Have you seen Mrs. Egremont V

It was well for Alice's happiness even at home that
she was a success. When Alwyn Egremont had been
lashed by his nephew's indignant integrity into tardy
recognition of the wife of his youth, it had been as if
he had been forced to pick iip a flower which he had
thrown away. He had considerable doubts whether it
would answer. Eirst, he reconnoitred, intending, if
he found a homely or faded being, to pension her off;
but this had been prevented by her undeniable beauty
and grace, bringing up a rush of such tender associa-
tions as he was capable of. Yet even then, her posi-
tion depended on the impression she might make on
those about him, on her own power of self-assertion,
and on her contributing to his comfort or i)leasure.

Of self-assertion Alice had none, only a gentle
dignity in her simplicity, and she was so absolutely



(HA I'. XI 1. J OUT OF WiJKK. 121

devoted to liini that lie found his liouse iur more
pleasant and agreeable for her presence and unfailiug
attention, though still his estimation of her was in-
fluenced more than he owned to himself by that of
the world in general, and the Eectory in particular.

And the Eectory did its part well. The Canon
was not only charmed with the gentle lady, but felt an
atonement due to her; and his wife, without ever breath-
ing into any ears, save his, the mysterious adjective
' governessy,' praised her right and left, confiding to
all inquirers the romance of the burnt yacht, the lost
bride, and the happy meeting under Lady Kirkaldy's
auspices, with the perfect respectability of the inter-
mediate career, while such was the universal esteem
for, and trust in herself and the Canon, that she was
fully believed ; and people only whispered that prob-
ably Alwyn Egremont had been excused for the
desertion more than he deserved.

The subject of all this gossip troubled herself about it
infinitely less than did the good Canoness. In effect
she did not know enough of the world to think about
it at all. Her cares were of a different order, chiefly
caused by tenderness of conscience, and solicitude to keep
the peace between the two beings whom she best loved.

Two things were in her favour in this latter respect,
one that they saw very little of each other, since Mr.
Egremont seldom emerged from his own rooms till
after luncheon ; and the other that Ursula's brains ran
to little but lawn -tennis for the ensuing weeks. To
hold a champion's place at the tournaments, neck and
neck with her cousin Blanche, and defeat Miss Eutli-
ven, and that veteran player. Miss Basset, was her
foremost ambition, and the two cousins would have
practised morning, noon, and night if their mothers



122 NUTTIF/S TATIIKK. [ciiAi'.

would have let them. There need have been no fear
of Ursula's rebellion about the Cambridge honours,
she never seemed even to think of them, and would
have had no time in the more important competition
of rackets. Indeed, it was almost treated as a hard-
ship that the pair were forbidden to rush together
before twelve o'clock, and that Ursula's mother insisted
on rational home occupation until that time, setting
the example herself by letter-writing, needlework, and
sharing in the music which was a penance to the gii*l,
only enforced by that strong sense of protecting affec-
tion which forbade rebellion. But Alice could hope
tliat their performances were pleasant to her husband
in the evening, if only to sleep by, and so she persisted
in preparing for them.

Nuttie's rage for tennis, and apparent forgetfulness
of her old life and aspirations, might be disappointing,
but it conduced to make her mother's task easier than
if she had been her original, critical, and protesting
self. In the new and brilliant surroundings she
troubled herself much less than could have been
expected at the failure of her father, his house, nay,
and of the parish itself, in coming up to the St.
Ambrose standard. How much was owing to mere
novelty and intoxication, how much to a yet unanalysed
disappointment, how much to May's having thrown her
upon the more frivolous Blanche,- could not l)e guessed.
The effect was unsatisfactory to her mother, but a
certain relief, for Nuttie's aid would have been only
mischievous in the household dilViculties that weighed
on the anxious conscience. Good servants would not
stay at Bridgefidd Hall for unt'X])l;iiued causes, wlii^'li
their mistress believed to be connected with Gregorio,
or with the treasure of a cook-housekeeper over whom



XII.] OUT OK WOKK. 123

she was forbidden to exercise any authority, and wlio
therefore entirely neglected all meals which tlie master
did not share mth the ladies. Fortunately, IVIr. Egre-
mont came in one day at their luncheon and found
nothing there but semi-raw beef, upon which there was
an explosion ; and being by this time convinced that
his wife both would and could minister to his comfort,
her dominion was established in the female department,
though, as long as Gregorio continued paramount with
his master, and the stables remained in their former
state, it was impossible to bring matters up to the
decorous standard of the Eectory, and if ever his mis-
tress gave an order he did not approve, Gregorio over-
ruled it as her ignorance. In fact, he treated both the
ladies with a contemptuous sort of civility. Meantime
Mr. Egremont was generally caressing and admiring in
his ways towards his wife, with only occasional bursts
of temper when anything annoyed him. He was proud
of her, gave her a liberal allowance, and only refused to
be troubled ; and she was really happy in his affection,
for which she felt a gratitude only too humble in the
eyes of her daughter.

They had parties. Blanche's ambition of tennis
courts all over the lawn was fulfilled, and sundry
dinners, which were crosses to Alice, who had neither
faculty nor training for a leader and hostess, suffered
much from the menu, more from the pairing of her
guests, more again in catching her chief lady's eye
after, and most of all from her husband's scowls and
subsequent growls and their consequence, for Ursula
broke out, ' It is not fair to blame my mother. How
should she have all the savoir-faire, or what you
may call it, of Aunt Jane, when she has had no
practice ? '



124 NUTTIE's FATUEK. [char

* Perhaps, Mrs. Egi'emont,' he retorted with extreme
suavity, 'you will also attend to your daughter's
manners.' Otherwise he took little notice of Ursula,
viewing her perhaps, as did the neighbourhood, as a
poor imitation of May, without her style, or it may be
with a sense that her tongue might become incon-
venient if not repressed. When lie began to collect
sporting guests of his ow^n calibre in the shooting
season, the Canoness quietly advised her sister-in-law
to regard them as gentlemen's parties, and send Ursula
down to spend the evening with her cousins; and to
this no objection was made. Mr. Egremont wanted
his beautiful wife at the head of his table, and his
guests never comported themselves unsuitably before
her ; but nobody wanted the unfoiTued girl, and she
and Blanche were always happy together.

The chief restraint was when Mark was at home,
and that was not always. He made sundry visits and
expeditions, and was altogether in an uncomfortable
condition of reaction and perplexity as to his future.
He was a good and conscientious fellow, and had never
been actually idle, but had taken education and life
with the easiness of the prospective heir to a large
property ; and though he had acquitted himself credit-
ably, it was with no view of making his powers market-
able. Though he had been entered at the Temple, it
was chiefly in order to occupy himself respectal)ly,
and to have a nominal profession, so as not to be
wholly dependent on his imcle ; and all that he had
acquired was the conviction that it woidd be half a
lifetime, if not a whole one, before the hiw would
afford him a maintenance.

His father wished liim to take Holy Orders with a
view to the reversion of the Kectory, but Mark's esti-



xir.] OUT OF WORK. 125

mate of clerical duty and vocatiun was just such as to
make him shrink from them. He was tliree-and-
twenty, an awkward age for all those examinations
that stand as lions in the face of youth intended for
almost any sort of service, and seldom or never to he
gagged by interest. For one indeed, he went up and
failed, and in such a manner as to convince him that
cramming had more to do than general culture witli
success.

He had a certain consciousness that most people
thought another way open to him, most decidedly his
gentle aunt, and perhaps even his parents. The matter
came prominently before him one day at luncheon,
when, some parochial affairs being on hand and Mr.
Egremont out for the day, Alice, whose free forenoons
enabled her to take a share in church and parish affairs,
was there, as well as the curate and his wife.

These good people were in great commotion about
a wedding about to take place between a young farmer
and his delicate first cousin, the only survivor of a
consumptive family.

' " Proputty, proputty," ' quoted the Canon. ' James
Johnson is what they call a warm man.'

' It is a sin and a shame,' said Mrs. Edwards.
' What can they expect ? George Johnson looks strong
enough now, but they tell me his brother undoubtedly
died of decline, though they called it inflammation ; but
there was tubercular disease.'

' I am afraid it is strong in the family,' said the
Canoness, ' they all have those clear complexions ; but I
do believe George is heartily in love with poor little
Emily.'

'Eirst cousins ought to be in the tal)le of degrees,'
said Mr. Edwards.



12G NUTTIFAs FATHKlt. [cHAr.

' It is always a question whether the multiplying
of prohihitions without absolute necessity is expedient,'
said the Canon.

He spoke quite dispassionately, but tlie excellent
couple were not remarkable for tact. ]\Irs. Edwards
gave her husband such a glance of warning and con-



Online LibraryCharlotte Mary YongeNuttie's father → online text (page 8 of 28)