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   Chapter 6 THE WATER-SOLDIER.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 11796

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'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 only look at it.'

'Yes, Gerard can come, and so will Mr. Dutton,' said Mary, who, standing about half-way between Mrs. Egremont and her daughter, did not think herself quite a sufficient chaperon.

'He will look on like a hen at her ducklings,' said Nuttie. 'It is cruel to take him, poor man!'

'Meantime, Nuttie, do you like an hour of "Marie Stuart?"'

'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 prohibition 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 Risingham, 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?'

'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, whatever you may see that to be.'

'And of course that will be to stick by mother.'

'There can be little doubt of that, but the how? No, dear, do not let us 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 comes. It would be much better to "do the 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 be asked to stay with the Egremonts, but I must work up for the exam.'

However, the school habit of concentrating her attention 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. Dutton 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 architecture, 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 painted on it in white.

'You did not venture on that the other day,' said Mr. Dutton. 'How much of the park do you mean to carry away in it?'

'Let me take it,' said Gerard politely.

'No, thank you. You'd leave it behind, while you were pottering over the mouldings.'

'You are much more likely to leave it behind yourself.'

'What-with my soldier, my Stratiotes, in it? I think I 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! 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 Nuttie.

'And where's my escort, then?'

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

'Nuttie, my dear,' expostulated Miss Nugent, dragging 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! that figure is a study!' said Gerard. 'What is it that he is so like?'

'Oh! I know,' said Nuttie. 'It is Lord Frederick Verisopht, and the bad ge

ntlefolks in the pictures to the old numbers of Dickens that you have got, Miss 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 Mr. Dutton 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 themselves off, though the battle over the botanical case was ended by Miss Nugent, who strongly held that 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 Miss 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. Dutton, 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 he drew and measured at the very scanty ruins, which were little more than a few fragments of wall, overgrown luxuriantly with ivy and clematis, but enclosing some fine old coffin-lids with floriated crosses, interesting to those who cared for architecture and church history, as Mr. Dutton 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. Dutton by and by showed them, long before the foundation. The pond had been left to the last with a view to the wellbeing of the water-soldier on the return. Here the difficulties of the capture were great, 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. Dutton.

'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. Dutton called out anxiously, 'Take care, Gerard, the 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 him, and would in another instant have tumbled backwards into the slush and weeds. He scrambled back, his hat falling off into the reeds, and splashing Mr. Dutton all over, while Monsieur began to bark 'with astonishment at seeing his master in such a plight,' declared the ladies, who 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 Nuttie. 'To have come five 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 weed.

'Bravo, Miss Nugent!' cried Gerard.

'Female wit has circumvented the water-soldier,' said Mr. Dutton.

'Don't cry out too soon,' returned Mary; 'the soldier may float 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 waterlilies secured by Gerard for the morrow's altar vases, the party set out on their homeward walk, through plantations of whispering firs, the low sun tingeing the trunks with ruddy light; across heathery commons, where crimson heath abounded, and the delicate blush-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. Dutton aware of each other's initiation, and they had discussed the matter in all its bearings, agreed 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 companions, and Mr. Dutton said, 'Poor children, what is before them?'

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

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