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   Chapter 13 DETRIMENTALS.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 9898

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'That tongue of yours at times wags more than charity allows;

And if you're strong, be merciful, great woman of three cows.'-J. O. MANGAN.

Nine miles was a severe distance through country lanes in November to go to a ball; but the Redcastle Hunt Ball was the ball of the year, uniting all the county magnates; and young ladies were hardly reckoned as 'come out' till they had appeared there. Mrs. Egremont's position would hardly be established till she had been presented to the notabilities who lived beyond calling intercourse; and her husband prepared himself to be victimised with an amount of grumbling that was intended to impress her with the magnitude of the sacrifice, but which only made her offer to forego the gaiety, and be told that she would never have any common sense.

So their carriage led the way, and was followed by the Rectory waggonette containing the ladies and Mark, who had been decisively summoned home, since his stepmother disliked public balls without a gentleman in attendance, and his father was not to be detached from his fireside.

And in a group near the door, got up as elaborately as his powers could accomplish, stood Gerard Godfrey. He knew nobody there except a family in his sister's parish, who had good-naturedly given him a seat in their fly, and having fulfilled his duty by asking the daughter to dance, he had nothing to disturb him in watching for the cynosure whose attraction had led him into these unknown regions, and, as he remembered with a qualm, on the eve of St. Britius. However, with such a purpose, one might surely grant oneself a dispensation from the vigil of a black letter saint.

There at length he beheld the entrance. There was the ogre himself, high bred, almost handsome, as long as he was not too closely scrutinised, and on his arm the well-known figure, metamorphosed by delicately-tinted satin sheen and pearls, and still more by the gentle blushing gladness on the fair cheeks and the soft eyes that used to droop. Then followed a stately form in mulberry moire and point lace, leaning on Gerard's more especial abhorrence,-'that puppy,' who had been the author of all the mischief; and behind them three girls, one in black, the other two in white, and, what was provoking, he really could not decide which was Ursula. The carefully-dressed hair and stylish evening dress and equipments had altogether transformed the little homely schoolgirl, so that, though he was sure that she was not the fair-haired damsel with pale blue flowers, he did not know how to decide between the white and daisies and the black and grasses. Indeed, he thought the two whites most likely to be sisters, and all the more when the black lace halted to exchange greetings with some one, and her face put on an expression so familiar to him, that he started forward and tried to catch her eye; but in vain, and he suffered agonies of doubt whether she had been perverted by greatness.

It was some comfort that, when presently a rush of waiters floated by, she was not with her cousin; but to provoke him still more, as the daisies neared him, he beheld for a moment in the whirl the queer smile, half-frightened, half-exultant, which he had seen on Nuttie's face when swinging sky-high!

When the pause came and people walked about, the black lady stood talking so near him that he ventured at last on a step forward and an eager 'Miss Egremont,' but, as she turned, he found himself obliged to say, 'I beg your pardon.'

'Did you mean my cousin. We often get mistaken for each other,' said May civilly.

He brightened. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, 'I knew her at Micklethwayte. I am here-quite by accident. Mrs. Elmore was so good as to bring me.'

May was rather entertained. 'There's my cousin,' she said, 'Lord Philip Molyneux is asking her to dance,' and she left him most unnecessarily infuriated with Lord Philip Molyneux.

A steward introduced him to a dull-looking girl, but fortune favoured him, for this time he did catch the real Nuttie's eye, and all herself, as soon as the dance was over, she came up with outstretched hands, 'Oh Gerard! to think of your being here! Come to mother!'

And, beautiful and radiant, Mrs. Egremont was greeting him, and there were ten minutes of delicious exchange of news. But 'pleasures are as poppies fled,' Nuttie had no dance to spare, her card was full, and she had not learnt fashionable effrontery enough to play tricks with engagements, and just then Mr. Egremont descended on them-'I wish to introduce you to the Duchess,' he said to his wife; and on the way he demanded-'Who is that young cub?'

'Gerard Godfrey-an old neighbour.'

'I thought I had seen him racketing about there with Ursula. I'll not have those umbrella fellows coming about!'

'Does he really make umbrellas, Nuttie?' asked Blanche, catching her hand.

'No such thing!' said Nuttie hotly, 'he is in the office. His father was a surge

on; his sisters married clergymen!'

'And he came here to meet you,' said Annaple Ruthven. 'Poor fellow, what a shame it is! Can't you give him one turn!

'Oh dear! I'm engaged all through! To Mark this time.'

'Give him one of the extras! Throw Mark over to me! No,' as she looked at the faces of the two girls, 'I suppose that wouldn't do, but I'm free this time-I'm not the fashion. Introduce me; I'll do my best as consolation.'

Nuttie had just performed the feat, with great shyness, when Mark appeared, having been sent in quest of his cousin, when her father perceived that she had hung back.

Poor Gerard led off Miss Ruthven the more gloomily, and could not help sighing out, 'I suppose that is an engagement!'

'Oh! you believe that impertinent gossip in the paper,' returned Annaple. 'I wonder they don't contradict it; but perhaps they treat it with magnificent scorn.'

'No doubt they know that it is only premature.'

'If they means the elders, I daresay they wish it, but we aren't in France or Italy.'

'Then you don't think, Miss Ruthven, that it will come off?'

'I don't see the slightest present prospect,' said Annaple, unable to resist the kindly impulse of giving immediate pleasure, though she knew the prospect might be even slighter for her partner.

However, he 'footed it' all the more lightly and joyously for the assurance, and the good-natured maiden afterwards made him conduct her to the tea-room, whither Mark and Nuttie were also tending, and there all four contrived to get mixed up together; and Nuttie had time to hear of Monsieur's new accomplishment of going home for Mr. Dutton's luncheon and bringing it in a basket to the office, before fate again descended; Mr. Egremont, who had been at the far end of the room among some congeners, who preferred stronger refreshment, suddenly heard her laugh, stepped up, and, with a look of thunder towards her, observed in a low voice, 'Mark, you will oblige me by taking your cousin back to her mother.'

'The gray tyrant father,' murmured Annaple in sympathy. 'That being the case, I may as well go back in that direction also.'

This resulted in finding Lady Delmar and the two Mrs. Egremonts together, comparing notes about the two different roads to Redcastle from their several homes.

Lady Delmar was declaring that her coachman was the most obstinate man in existence, and that her husband believed in him to any extent.

'Which way did you come?' she asked.

'By Bankside Lane,' said the Canoness.

'Over Bluepost Bridge! There, Janet,' said Annaple.

'So much the worse. I know we shall come to grief over Bluepost Bridge, and now there will be treble weight to break it down. I dreamt it, I tell you, and there's second sight in the family.'

'Yes, but you should tell what you did dream, Janet,' said her sister. 'She thought Robinson, the coachman, was waltzing with her over it, and they went into a hole and stuck fast, while the red-flag traction engineman prodded her with an umbrella till she was all over blood. Now, if it had been anything rational, I should have thought something of her second sight! I tell her 'twas suggested by-

"London Bridge is broken down,

Dance o'er my lady Lee!"'

'Well, I am quite certain those traction-engines will break it some time or other,' said Lady Delmar. 'I am always trying to get John to bring it before the magistrates, but he only laughs at me, and nothing will induce Robinson to go the other way, because they have just been mending the road on Lescombe Hill! Annaple, my dear, I can't allow you another waltz; Mark must excuse you-I am going. It is half-past two, and the carriage was ordered at two! Robinson will be in a worse temper than ever if we keep him waiting.'

She bore her sister off to the cloak-room, and there, nearly an hour later, the Egremonts found them still waiting the pleasure of the implacable Robinson; but what was that in consideration of having kept her sister from such a detrimental as poor Mark had become? So muttered Mr. Egremont, in the satisfaction of having himself, with gentlemanly severity, intimated the insuperable gulf between Miss Egremont of Bridgefield and the Man of Umbrellas.

Moreover, his sister-in-law took care that he should hear that the Duchess of Redcastle had pronounced his wife sweetly pretty and lady-like, and talked of inviting them for a visit of a few nights.

'A bore,' observed he ungratefully, ''tis as dull as ditchwater.' But, in truth, though the Canon's family, when in residence, were intimate with the ducal family, Alwyn Egremont had never been at the castle since the days of his earliest youth, and he was not quite prepared to owe his toleration there to his wife's charms, or the Canoness's patronage of her.

And innocent Alice only knew that everybody had been very kind to her, and it was only a pity that her husband did not like her to notice poor Gerard Godfrey.

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