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   Chapter 15 A CASTLE OF UMBRELLAS.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 13485

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


No, Annaple Ruthven could not have slept, even if she had had time. Her first care had been to receive her sister, who had been met at the entrance of Redcastle by her husband. There had been profuse offers of hospitality to Mr. and Mrs. Egremont, the latter of whom looked tired out, and offers of sending messengers to Bridgefield; but Mr. Egremont would not hear of them, and every one suspected that he would not incur the chance of rising without Gregorio and all his appliances.

By the time they were disposed of, and Lady Delmar safe in bed, it was time to repair to her mother's room, so as to prevent her from being alarmed. Lady Ronnisglen was English born. She was not by any means the typical dowager. Her invalid condition was chiefly owing to an accident, which had rendered her almost incapable of walking, and she was also extremely susceptible of cold, and therefore hardly ever went out; but there was so much youth and life about her at sixty-three that she and Annaple often seemed like companion sisters, and her shrewd, keen, managing eldest-born like their mother.

Annaple lay down beside her on her bed in the morning twilight, and gave her the history of the accident in playful terms indeed. Annaple could never help that, but there was something in her voice that made Lady Ronnisglen say, when satisfied about Janet's hurt, 'You've more to say, Nannie dear.'

'Yes, minnie mine, I walked home with Mark Egremont.'

'And-?'

'Yes, minnie. He is going to work and make a home-a real, true, homely home for you and me.'

'My child, my child, you have not hung the old woman about the poor boy's neck!'

'As if I would have had him if he did not love her, and make a mother of her!'

'But what is he going to do, Nan? This is a very different thing from-'

'Very different from Janet's notions!' and they both laughed, the mother adding to the mirth by saying-

'Poor Janet, congratulating herself that no harm had been done, and that you had never taken to one another!'

'Did she really now?'

'Oh yes, only yesterday, and I bade her not crow too soon, for I thought I saw symptoms-'

'You dear darling minnie! Think of that! Before we either of us knew it, and when he is worth ever so much than he was before! Not but that I am enraged when people say he has acted nobly, just as if there had been anything else for him to do!'

'I own that I am glad he has proved himself. I was afraid he would be dragged in the way of his uncle. Don't be furious, Nannie. Not at all into evil, but into loitering; and I should like to know what are his prospects now.'

'Well, mother, I don't think he has any. But he means to have. And not a word is to be said to anybody except you and his father and May till he has looked over the top of the wall, and seen his way. We need not bring Janet down on us till then.'

'I must see him, my dear. Let me see him before he goes away. He always has been a very dear lad, a thoroughly excellent right-minded fellow. Only I must know what he means to do, and whether there is any reasonable chance of employment or fixed purpose.'

Lady Ronnisglen's maid here arrived with her matutinal cup of tea; and Annaple, beginning to perceive that she was very stiff, went off in hopes that her morning toilette would deceive her hardworked little frame into believing it had had a proper night's rest.

She was quite ready to appear at the breakfast table, though her eldest niece, a long-haired, long-limbed girl, considerably the bigger of the two, was only too happy to preside over the cups. All the four young people were in the greatest state of excitement, welcoming, as the heroes of the night, Mark and Mr. Godfrey, and clamouring to be allowed to walk down after breakfast with their father and the gentlemen to see the scene of the catastrophe and the remains of the carriage and the bridge.

Sir John made a courteous reference to the governess, but there was a general sense that the cat was away, and presently there was a rush upstairs to prepare for the walk. Annaple had time in the course of all the bustle, while the colour came back to her cheeks for a moment, to tell Mark that her mother had been all that was good, and wanted to see him.

He must manage to stay till after eleven o'clock; she could not be ready before. Then he might come to her sitting-room, which, as well as her bedroom, was on the ground floor.

Mark had to work off his anxiety by an inspection of the scene of the disaster and a circumstantial explanation of the details to the young Delmars, who crowded round him and Mr. Godfrey, half awed, half delighted, and indeed the youngest-a considerable tomboy-had nearly given the latter the opportunity of becoming a double hero by tumbling through the broken rail, but he caught her in time, and she only incurred from Sir John such a scolding as a great fright will produce from the easiest of fathers.

Afterwards Mark put Gerard on the way to his brother-in-law's living, asking him on the road so many questions about the umbrella business that the youth was not quite sure how to take it, and doubted whether the young swell supposed that he could talk of nothing else; but his petulance was mitigated when he was asked, 'Supposing a person wished to enter the business, to whom should he apply?'

'Do you know any one who wishes for anything of the kind?' he asked. 'Are you making inquiries for any one?' and on a hesitating affirmation, 'Because I know there is an opening for a man with capital just at present. Dutton won't advertise-'tis so risky; and he wants some knowledge of a person's antecedents, and whether he is likely to go into it in a liberal, gentlemanly spirit, with good principles, you see, such as would not upset all we are doing for the hands.'

'What amount of capital do you mean?'

'Oh, from five hundred to a thousand! Or more would not come amiss. If I only had it! What it would be to conduct an affair like that on true principles! But luck is against me every way.'

Mark was at the sitting-room door as the four quarters began to strike in preparation for eleven, but Lady Ronnisglen had been in her chair for nearly half-an-hour, having been rapid and nervous enough to hurry even the imperturbable maid, whom Annaple thought incapable of being hastened. She was a little slight woman, with delicate features and pale complexion, such as time deals with gently, and her once yellow hair now softened with silver was turned back in bands beneath the simple net cap that suited her so well. There was a soft yet sparkling look about her as she held out her hands and exclaimed, 'Ah, Master Mark, what mischief have you been doing?'

Mark came and knelt on

one knee beside her and said: 'Will you let me work for you both, Lady Ronnisglen? I will do my best to find some.'

'Ah! that is the point, my dear boy. I should have asked and wished for definite work, if you had come to me before that discovery of yours; and now it is a mere matter of necessity.'

'Yes,' said Mark; then, with some hesitation, he added: 'Lady Ronnisglen, do you care whether I take to what people call a gentleman's profession? I could, of course, go on till I am called to the bar, and then wait for something to turn up; but that would be waiting indeed! Then in other directions I've taken things easy, you see, till I'm too old for examinations. I failed in the only one that was still open to me. Lord Kirkaldy tried me for foreign office work, and was appalled at my blunders. I'm not fit for a parson.'

'I should have thought you were.'

'Not I,' said Mark. 'I'm not up to the mark there. I couldn't say honestly that I was called to it. I wish I could, for it would be the easiest way out of it; but I looked at the service, and I can't. There-that's a nice confession to come to you with! I can't think how I can have been so impudent.'

'Mark, you are a dear good lad. I respect and honour you ever so much more than before all this showed what stuff was in you! But the question is, What's to be done? My child is verily the "penniless lass with a high pedigree," for she has not a poor thousand to call her own.'

'And I have no right to anything in my father's lifetime, though I have no doubt he would give me up my share of my mother's portion-about £3000. Now this is what has occurred to me: In the place where I found my uncle's wife-Micklethwayte, close to Monks Horton-there's a great umbrella factory, with agencies everywhere. There are superior people belonging to it. I've seen some of them, and I've been talking to the young fellow who helped us last night, who is in the office. I find that to go into the thing with such capital as I might hope for, would bring in a much larger and speedier return than I could hope for any other way, if only my belongings would set aside their feelings. And you see there are the Kirkaldys close by to secure her good society.'

Lady Ronnisglen put out her transparent-looking, black-mittened hand, and gave a little dainty pat to his arm. 'I like to see a man in earnest,' said she. Her little Skye terrier was seized with jealousy at her gesture, and came nuzzling in between with his black nose. 'Mull objects!' she said, smiling; but then, with a graver look, 'And so will your father.'

'At first,' said Mark; 'but I think he will give way when he has had time to look at the matter, and sees how good you are. That will make all the difference.'

So Annaple, who had been banished for a little while, was allowed to return, and mother, daughter, and lover built themselves a little castle of umbrellas, and bestowed a little arch commiseration on poor Lady Delmar; who, it was agreed, need know nothing until something definite was arranged, since Annaple was clearly accountable to no one except her mother. She would certainly think the latter part of her dream only too well realised, and consider that an unfair advantage had been taken of her seclusion in her own room. In spite of all loyal efforts to the contrary, Mark, if he had been in a frame of mind to draw conclusions, would have perceived that the prospect of escaping from the beneficent rule of Lescombe was by no means unpleasant to Lady Ronnisglen. The books that lay within her reach would hardly have found a welcome anywhere else in the house. Sir John was not brilliant, and his wife had turned her native wits to the practical rather than the intellectual line, and had quite enough to think of in keeping up the dignities of Lescombe with a large family amid agricultural difficulties.

Annaple remembered at last that she ought to go and look after her guests, assisted therein by the pleasure of giving May a hearty kiss and light squeeze, with a murmur that 'all was right.'

She brought them downstairs just as the gong was sounding, and the rush of girls descending from the schoolroom, and Lady Ronnisglen being wheeled across the hall in her chair. Nuttie, who had expected to see a gray, passive, silent old lady like Mrs. Nugent, was quite amazed at the bright, lively face and voice that greeted the son-in-law and grandchildren, May and herself, congratulating these two on having been so well employed all the morning, and observing that she was afraid her Nannie could not give so good an account of herself.

'Well,' said Sir John, 'I am sure she looks as if she found plodding along the lanes as wholesome as sleeping in her bed! Nan Apple-cheeks, eh?'

Whereupon Annaple's cheeks glowed all the more into resemblance of the baby-name which she had long ceased to deserve; but May could see the darkness under her eyes, betraying that it was only excitement that drove away fatigue.

Sir John had not gone far in his circumstantial description of the injuries to his unfortunate carriage when the Canon arrived, with his wife and Blanche. Mark would have given worlds in his impatience to have matters settled between the two parents then and there; but Lady Ronnisglen had already warned him that this would not be possible, and assured him that it would be much wiser to prepare his father beforehand.

Then he fixed his hopes on a solitary drive with his father back in the pony carriage, but he found himself told off to take that home, and had to content himself with May as a companion. Nor was his sister's mode of receiving the umbrella plan reassuring. She had smiled too often with her stepmother over Nuttie's having been brought up among umbrellas to be ready to accept the same lot for her brother and her friend, and she was quite sure that her father would never consent. 'An Egremont an umbrella-maker! how horrible! Just fancy seeing Dutton, Egremont and Co. on the handle of one's umbrella!'

'Well, you need not patronise us,' said Mark.

'But is it possible that Lady Ronnisglen did not object?' said May.

'She seemed to think it preferable to driving pigs in the Texas, like her son Malcolm.'

'Yes, but then that was the Texas.'

'Oh May, May, I did not think you were such a goose!'

'I should have thought the folly was in not being patient. Stick to your profession, and something must come in time.'

'Ay, and how many men do you think are sticking to it in that hope? No, May, 'tis not real patience to wear out the best years of my life and hers in idleness, waiting for something not beneath an Egremont to do!'

'But is there nothing to do better than that?'

'Find it for me, May.'

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