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   Chapter 9 NEW PLUMES.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 10151

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'And ye sall walk in silk attire,

And siller hae to spare.'-Old Ballad.

The very best open fly and pair of horses, being the equipage most like a private carriage possessed by the Royal Hotel, came to the door with Mr. Egremont seated in it, at a few minutes after two o'clock, and found Alice in her only black silk, with a rose in her bonnet, and a tie to match on her neck, hastily procured as signs of her wifehood.

She had swallowed her tears, and Nuttie was not a crying person, but was perfectly scarlet on her usually brown cheeks. Her father muttered some civility about back seats, but it was plain that it was only in words, and she never thought of anything but looking back, with her last wave to her aunt and the two maids, one crying at the gate, the other at the door.

'There,' said Mr. Egremont, as they drove away, 'that is over!'

'My dear aunt,' said his wife. 'Who can express her goodness to me?'

'Cela va sans dire,' was the reply. 'But these are connections that happily Ursula is young enough to forget and leave behind.'

'I shall never forget!' began Nuttie, but she saw her father composing himself in his corner without paying the slightest heed to what she was saying, and she encountered a warning and alarmed glance from her mother, so she was forced to content herself with uttering silent vows of perpetual recollection as she passed each well-known object,-the unfinished church, with Mr. Spyers at the door talking to old Bellman; the Town Hall, whose concerts, lectures, and S. P. G. meetings had been her chief gaiety and excitement; the School of Art, where Lady Kirkaldy's appearance now seemed to her to have been like that of a bird of omen; past the shops in the High Street, with a little exultation at the thought of past desires which they had excited. Long could she have rattled away, her hopes contradicting her regrets, and her regrets qualifying her anticipations, but she saw that her mother was nervous about every word and gesture, and fairly looked dismayed when she exclaimed, 'Oh, mother, there's Etta Smith; how surprised she will be!' bowing and smiling with all her might.

There was a look of bare toleration on Mr. Egremont's face, as if he endured because it would soon be over, as Nuttie bowed several times, and his wife, though less quick to catch people's eyes, sometimes also made her recognition. When the streets were past and Nuttie had aimed her last nods at the nursery parties out walking on the road, she became aware that those cold, lack-lustre, and yet sharply critical eyes of her father were scanning her all over.

'She has been educated?' he presently said to his wife.

'Oh yes,' was the eager answer. 'She is in the highest form at the High School, and has to go up for the Senior Local Examination. Miss Belper makes sure that she will get a first class.'

Mr. Egremont gave a little wave of the hand, as dismissing something superfluous, and said, 'I hope she has some accomplishments.'

'She has done very fairly in French and German-'

'And Latin,' put in Ursula.

'And she has had several prizes at the School of Art.'

'And music? That's the only thing of any value in society,' he said impatiently, and Mrs. Egremont said more timidly, 'She has learnt music regularly.'

'But I don't care about it,' broke in Nuttie. 'I haven't mother's ear nor her voice. I learnt the science in case I should have to teach, and they make me practise. I don't mind classical music, but I can't stand rubbish, and I think it is waste of time.'

Mr. Egremont looked fairly amused, as at the outspoken folly of an enfant terrible, but he only said, either to his wife or to himself, 'A little polish, and then she may be fairly presentable.'

'We have taken great pains with her,' answered the gentle mother, evidently taking this as a great compliment, while the daughter was tingling with indignation. She, bred up by mother, and aunt, and Mary Nugent, to be barely presentable. Was not their society at Micklethwayte equal in good manners to any, and superior, far superior, in goodness and intelligence to these stupid fashionable people, who undervalued all her real useful acquirements, and cared for nothing but trumpery music.

The carriage entered the park, and Nuttie saw lake and woods from a fresh point of view. The owners were both at home, and Nuttie found herself walking behind her parents into a cheerful apartment, half library, half morning-room. Mrs. Egremont was by far the most shy and shrinking of the party, but it was an occasion that showed her husband's complete tact and savoir favre. He knew perfectly well that the Kirkaldys knew all about it, and he therefore took the initiative. 'You are surprised to see us,' he said, as he gave his hand, 'but we could not leave the country without coming to thank Lady Kirkaldy for her kindness in assisting in following up the clue to Mrs. Egremont's residence.'

'I am very happy,' said Lady Kirkaldy, while all were being seated.

'I think it was here that my nephew Mark first met on

e whom, child as he was, he could not but remember.'

'I don't think you met him here,' said Lady Kirkaldy to Mrs. Egremont; 'but he heard the name and was struck by it.'

'Dear Mark!' was the response. 'He was so kind.'

'He is a dear good boy,' chimed in my lady.

'Yes,' said her lord, 'an excellent good fellow with plenty of brains.'

'As he well knows,' said Mr. Egremont. 'Oh yes; I quite agree with all you say of him! One ought to be thankful for the possession of a rare specimen.'

It was in the tone in which Falstaff discussed that sober boy, Lord John of Lancaster. Lord Kirkaldy asked if the visitors were going to remain long in the neighbourhood.

'We are due in London to-night,' replied Mr. Egremont. 'We shall spend a day or two there, and then go home. Alice,' he added, though his wife had never heard him call her so before, 'Lady Kirkaldy knows your inexperience. Perhaps she would be good enough to give you some addresses that might be useful.'

'I shall be delighted,' said the lady, cordially looking at the blushing Mrs. Egremont.

'Dressmaker, and all the rest of it,' said Mr. Egremont. 'You know better than she does what she will require, and a little advice will be invaluable. Above all, if you could tell her how to pick up a maid.'

Lady Kirkaldy proposed to take the mother and daughter up to her dressing-room, where she kept her book of addresses to London tradesmen; and Mr. Egremont only begged that they would remember the 4.40 train. Then Lord Kirkaldy was left to entertain him, while the ladies went up the broad staircase to the pleasant room, which had a mingled look of refinement and usefulness which struck Nuttie at once. Lady Kirkaldy, as soon as the door was shut, took her visitor by the hand, kissed her forehead, and said, 'You must let me tell you how glad I am.'

The crystal veil at once spread over Alice's eyes.

'Oh, thank you. Lady Kirkaldy! I am so happy, and yet I am so afraid. Please tell me what we shall do so that we may not vex him, so high bred and fastidious as he is?'

'Be yourself! That's all, my dear,' said Lady Kirkaldy tenderly. 'Don't be afraid. You are quite incapable of doing anything that could distress the most fastidious taste.'

It was perfectly true of the mother, perhaps less so of the daughter; but Lady Kirkaldy only thought of her as a mere girl, who could easily be modelled by her surroundings. The kind hostess applied herself to giving the addresses of the people she thought likely to be most useful in the complete outfit which she saw would be necessary, explaining to which establishments she applied with confidence if she needed to complete her wardrobe in haste, feeling certain that nothing would be sent her that she disliked, and giving leave to use her name. She soon saw that the mother was a little dazed, while Ursula's eyes grew rounder at the unlimited vista of fine clothes, and she assented, and asked questions as to the details. As to a maid, Lady Kirkaldy would write to a person who would call on Mrs. Egremont at the hotel in London, and who might be what was wanted; and in conclusion, Lady Kirkaldy, with some diffidence, begged to be written to-'if-if,' she said, 'there happened to be any difficulty about which you might not like to consult Mrs. William Egremont.' Nuttie hardly knew whether to be grateful or not, for she did not believe in any standard above that of Micklethwayte, and she was almost angry at her mother's grateful answer-'Oh, thank you! I should be so grateful! I am so afraid of annoying him by what he may think small, ignorant, country-town ways! You will understand-'

Lady Kirkaldy did understand, and she dreaded what might be before the sweet little yielding woman, not from want of breeding so much as from the long-indulged selfishness of her husband; but she encouraged her as much as possible, and promised all possible counsel, bringing her downstairs again just in time.

'Pretty little soul!' said Lord Kirkaldy, as the fly clattered away. 'I wonder whether Mark has done her a kindness!'

'It is just what she is, a pretty, nay, a beautiful soul, full of tenderness and forgiveness and affection and humility, only I doubt whether there is any force or resolution to hold her own. You smile! Well, perhaps the less of that she has the better she may get on with him. Did he say anything about her?'

'No; I think he wants to ignore that they have not spent the last twenty years together.'

'That may be the best way for all parties. Do you think he will behave well to her?'

'No man could well do otherwise to such a sweet little thing,' said Lord Kirkaldy; 'especially as she will be his most obedient slave, and will make herself necessary to him. It is much better luck than he deserves; but I pity her when she comes to make her way with yon ladies!'

'I wish I was there! I know she will let herself be trodden on! However, there's Mark to stand up for her, and William Egremont will do whatever he thinks right and just. I wish I knew how his wife will take it!'

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