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   Chapter 16 INFRA DIG.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 24052

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'Till every penny which she told,

Creative Fancy turned to gold.'-B. LLOYD.

The Blueposts Bridge had produced a good deal of effect. Ursula Egremont in special seemed to herself to have been awakened from a strange dream, and to have resumed her real nature and affections. She felt as if she would give all her partners at the ball for one shake of Monsieur's fringed paws; her heart yearned after Aunt Ursel and Miss Mary; she longed after the chants of the choir; and when she thought of the effort poor Gerard Godfrey had made to see her, she felt him a hero, and herself a recreant heroine, who had well-nigh been betrayed into frivolity and desertion of him, and she registered secret resolutions of constancy.

She burned to pour out to her mother all the Micklethwayte tidings, and all her longings to be there; but when the Rectory party set her down at the door, the footman, with a look of grave importance, announced that Mr. Egremont was very unwell. 'Mr. Gregory thinks he has taken a chill from the effect of exposure, sir, and Dr. Hamilton has been sent for.'

The Canon and his wife both got out on this intelligence, and Mrs. Egremont was summoned to see them. She came, looking more frightened than they thought the occasion demanded, for she was appalled by the severe pain in the head and eyes; but they comforted her by assuring her that her husband had suffered in the same manner in the spring, and she saw how well he had recovered; and then telling Nuttie to bring word what the doctor's report was, and then spend the evening at the Rectory, they departed, while poor Nuttie only had one kiss, one inquiry whether she were rested, before her mother fled back to the patient.

Nor did she see her again till after the doctor's visit, and then it was only to desire her to tell her uncle that the attack was pronounced to be a return of the illness of last spring, and that it would be expedient to go abroad for the winter.

Go abroad! It had always been a vision of delight to Nuttie, and she could not be greatly concerned at the occasion of it; but she did not find the Rectory in a condition to converse and sympathise. Blanche was lying down with a bad headache. The Edwardses and a whole party of semi-genteel parish visitors had come in to inquire about the accident, and had to be entertained with afternoon tea; and May, though helping her stepmother to do her devoir towards them, seemed more preoccupied than ever.

As indeed she was, for she knew that Mark was putting his fate to the touch with his father in the study.

The Canon heard the proposal with utter consternation and dismay at the perverseness of the two young people, who might have been engaged any time these two years with the full approbation of their families, and now chose the very moment when every one was rejoicing at their freedom.

'When a young man has got into a pickle,' he said, 'the first thing is to want to be married!'

'Exactly so, sir, to give him a motive for getting out of the pickle.'

'Umbrellas! I should like to hear what your grandfather would have said!'

'These are not my grandfather's days, sir.'

'No indeed! There was nothing to do but to give a hint to old Lord de Lyonnais, and he could get you put into any berth you chose. Interest was interest in those days! I don't see why Kirkaldy can't do the same.'

'Not unless I had foreign languages at my tongue's end.'

Whereat the Canon groaned, and Mark had to work again through all the difficulties in the way of the more liberal professions; and the upshot was that his father agreed to drive over to Lescombe the next day and see Lady Ronnisglen. He certainly had always implicitly trusted his son's veracity, but he evidently thought that there must have been much warping of the imagination to make the young man believe the old Scottish peeress to have consented to her daughter's marrying into an umbrella factory.

Nuttie was surprised and gratified that both Mark and May put her through an examination on the habits of Micklethwayte and the position of Mr. Godfrey, which she thought was entirely due to the favourable impression Gerard had produced, and she felt proportionably proud of him when Mark pronounced him a very nice gentlemanly young fellow. She could not think why her uncle, with more testiness than she had ever seen in that good-natured dignitary, ordered May not to stand chattering there, but to give them some music.

The Canon drove to Lescombe the next day under pretext of inquiring after Lady Delmar, and then almost forgot to do so, after he had ascertained that she was a prisoner to her dressing-room, and that Sir John was out shooting. The result of his interview filled him with astonishment. Lady Ronnisglen having had a large proportion of sons to put out in life on very small means had learnt not to be fastidious, and held that the gentleman might ennoble the vocation instead of the vocation debasing the gentleman. Moreover, in her secret soul she felt that her daughter Janet's manoeuvres were far more truly degrading than any form of honest labour; and it was very sore to her to have no power of preventing them, ridicule, protest, or discouragement being all alike treated as the dear mother's old-world unpractical romance. It galled her likewise that she could perceive the determination that Annaple Ruthven should be disposed of before Muriel Delmar came on the scene; and the retiring to ever so small a home of their own had been discussed between mother and daughter, and only put aside because of the pain it would give their honest-hearted host and their hostess, who really loved them.

Thus she did her best to persuade her old friend that there were few openings for a man of his son's age, and that if the Micklethwayte business were all that Mark imagined, it was not beneath the attention even of a well-born gentleman in these modern days, and would involve less delay than any other plan, except emigration, which was equally dreaded by each parent. Delay there must be, not only in order to ascertain the facts respecting the firm, but to prove whether Mark had any aptitude for the business before involving any capital in it. However, every other alternative would involve much longer and more doubtful waiting. And altogether the Canon felt that if a person of Lady Ronnisglen's rank did not object, he had scarcely a right to do so. However, both alike reserved consent until full inquiry should have been made.

The Canon wrote to Lord Kirkaldy, and in the meantime wanted to gather what information he could from his sister-in-law; but he found her absolutely engrossed as her husband's nurse, and scarcely permitted to snatch a meal outside the darkened room. He groaned and grumbled at his brother's selfishness, and declared that her health would be damaged, while his shrewder lady declared that nothing would be so good for her as to let Alwyn find her indispensable to his comfort, even beyond Gregorio.

This absorption of her mother fell hard on Ursula, especially when the first two days' alarm was over, and her mother was still kept an entire prisoner, as companion rather than nurse. As before, the rheumatic attack fastened upon the head and eyes, causing lengthened suffering, and teaching Mr. Egremont that he had never had so gentle, so skilful, so loving, or altogether so pleasant a slave as his wife, the only person except Gregorio whom, in his irritable state, he would tolerate about him.

His brother could not be entirely kept out, but was never made welcome, more especially when he took upon himself to remonstrate on Alice's being deprived of air, exercise, and rest. He got no thanks; Mr. Egremont snarled, and Alice protested that she was never tired, and needed nothing. The Rectory party were, excepting the schoolroom girls, engaged to make visits from home before going into residence at Redcastle, and were to begin with Monks Horton. They offered to escort Ursula to see her great aunt at Micklethwayte-Oh joy of joys!-but when the Canon made the proposition in his brother's room, Mr. Egremont cut it short with 'I'm not going to have her running after those umbrella-mongers.'

The Canon's heart sank within him at the tone, and he was really very sorry for his niece, who was likely to have a fortnight or three weeks of comparative solitude before her father was ready to set out on the journey.

'Can't she help you, in reading to her father-or anything?' he asked Alice, who had come out with him into the anteroom to express her warm thanks for the kind proposal.

She shook her head. 'He would not like it, nor I, for her.'

'I should think not!' exclaimed the Canon, as his eye fell on the title of a yellow French book on the table. 'I have heard of this! Does he make you read such as this to him, Alice?'

'Nothing else seems to amuse him,' she said. 'Do you, think I ought not? I don't understand much of that kind of modern French, but Nuttie knows it better.'

'Not that kind, I hope,' said the Canon hastily. No, no, my dear,' as he saw her colour mantling, 'small blame to you. You have only to do the best you can with him, poor fellow! Then we'll take anything for you. We've said nothing to Nuttie, Jane said I had better ask you first.'

'Oh, that was kind! I am glad she is spared the disappointment.'

Not that she was. For when she learnt her cousins' destination, she entreated to go with them, and had to be told that the proposal had been made and refused.

There is no denying that she behaved very ill. It was the first real sharp collision of wills. She had differed from, and disapproved of, her father all along, but what had been required of her had generally been pleasant to one side at least of her nature; but here she was condemned to the dulness of the lonely outsider to a sick room, when her whole soul was leaping back to the delights of her dear old home at Micklethwayte.

She made her mother's brief meal with her such a misery of protests and insistences on pleadings with her father that poor Alice was fain to rejoice when the servants' presence silenced her, and fairly fled from her when the last dish was carried out.

When they met again Nuttie demanded, 'Have you spoken to my father?'

'I told you, my dear, it would be of no use?'

'You promised.'

'No, Nuttie, I did not.'

'I'm sure I understood you to say you would if you could.'

'It was your hopes, my dear child. He is quite determined.'

'And you leave him so. Mother, I can't understand your submitting to show such cruel ingratitude!'

Nuttie was very angry, though she was shocked at the burning colour and hot tears that she beheld as, half choked, her mother said: 'Oh, my dear, my dear, do not speak so! You know-you know it is not in my heart, but my first duty, and yours too, is to your father.'

'Whatever he tells us?' demanded Nuttie, still hot and angry.

'I did not say that,' returned her mother gently, 'but you know, Nuttie, Aunt Ursel herself would say that it is our duty to abide by his decision here.'

'But you could speak to him,' still argued Nuttie, 'what's the use of his being so fond of you if he won't do anything you want?'

'Hush! hush, Nuttie! you know that is not a right way of speaking. I cannot worry him now he is ill. You don't know what that dreadful pain is!'

Happily Nuttie did refrain from saying, 'No doubt it makes him very cross;' but she muttered, 'And so we are to be cut off for ever from Aunt Ursel, and Miss Mary, and-and-every thing good-and nice-and catholic?'

'I hope not, indeed, I hope not. Only he wants us to get the good society manners and tone-like your cousins, you know. You are young enough for it, and a real Egremont, you know Nuttie, and when you have learnt it, he will trust you there,' said the mother, making a very mild version of his speech about the umbrella-mongers.

'Yes, he wants to make me worldly, so that I should not care, but that he n

ever shall do, whatever you may let him do to you.'

His bell rang sharply, and away hurried Alice, leaving her daughter with a miserably sore and impatient heart, and the consciousness of having harshly wounded the mother whom she had meant to protect. And there was no hugging and kissing to make up for it possible. They would not meet till dinner-time, and Nuttie's mood of stormy repentance had cooled before that time into longing to be more tender than usual towards her mother, but how was that possible during the awful household ceremony of many courses, with three solemn men-servants ministering to them?

And poor Alice jumped up at the end, and ran away as if afraid of fresh objurgations, so that all Nuttie could do was to rush headlong after her, catch her on the landing, kiss her face all over, and exclaim, 'Oh, mother, mother, I was dreadfully cross!'

'There, there! I knew you would be sorry, dear, dear child, I know it is very hard, but let me go. He wants me!'

And a very forlorn and deplorable person was left behind, feeling as if her father, after carrying her away from everything else that she loved, had ended by robbing her of her mother.

She stood on the handsome staircase, and contrasted it with the little cosy entrance at her aunt's. She felt how she hated all these fine surroundings, and how very good and unworldly she was for so doing. Only, was it good to have been so violent towards her mother?

The Rectory folks were dining out, so she could only have recourse to Mudie's box to try to drive dull care away.

A few days more and they were gone. Though Mr. Egremont was gradually mending, he still required his wife to be in constant attendance. In point of fact Alice could not, and in her loyalty would not, tell her dignified brother-in-law, far less her daughter, of the hint that the doctor had given her, namely, that her husband was lapsing into the constant use of opiates, founded at first on the needs of his malady, but growing into a perilous habit, which accounted for his shutting himself up all the forenoon.

While under medical treatment it was possible to allowance him, and keep him under orders, but Dr. Hamilton warned her not to allow the quantity to be exceeded or the drugs to be resorted to after his recovery, speaking seriously of the consequences of indulgence. He spoke as a duty, but as he looked at the gentle, timid woman, he saw little hope of her doing any good!

Poor Alice was appalled. All she could do was to betake herself to 'the little weapon called All-Prayer,' and therewith to use all vigilance and all her arts of coaxing and cheering away weariness and languor, beguiling sleeplessness, soothing pain by any other means. She had just enough success to prevent her from utterly despairing, and to keep her always on the strain, and at her own cost, for Mr. Egremont was far more irritable when he was without the narcotic, and the serenity it produced was an absolute relief. She soon found too that Gregorio was a contrary power. Once, when he had suggested the dose, and she had replied by citing the physician's commands, Mr. Egremont had muttered an imprecation on doctors, and she had caught a horrible grin of hatred on the man's face, which seemed to her almost diabolical. She had prevailed then, but the next time her absence was at all prolonged, she found that the opiate had been taken, and her dread of quitting her post increased, though she did not by any means always succeed. Sometimes she was good-humouredly set aside, sometimes roughly told to mind her own business; but she could not relinquish the struggle, and whenever she did succeed in preventing the indulgence she felt a hopefulness that-in spite of himself and Gregorio, she might yet save him.

Another hint she had from both the Canon and his wife. When they asked what place was chosen, Mr. Egremont said he had made Alice write to inquire of the houses to be had at various resorts-Mentone, Nice, Cannes, and the like. She was struck by the ardour with which they both began to praise Nice, Genoa, Sorrento, any place in preference to Mentone, which her husband seemed to know and like the best.

And when she went downstairs with them the Canon held her hand a moment, and said, 'Anywhere but Mentone, my dear.'

She looked bewildered for a moment, and the Canoness added, 'Look in the guide-books.'

Then she remembered Monte Carlo, and for a moment it was to her as shocking a warning as if she had been bidden to keep her husband out of the temptation of thieving.

She resolved, however, to do her best, feeling immediately that again it was a pull of her influence against Gregorio's. Fortune favoured her so far that the villa favoured by Mr. Egremont was not to be had, only the side of the bay he disliked, and that a pleasant villa offered at Nice.

Should she close with it? Well-was there great haste? Gregorio knew a good many people at Mentone, and could ascertain in his own way if they could get the right side of the bay by going to the hotel and waiting. Alice, however, pressed the matter-represented the danger of falling between two stools, pleaded personal preference, and whereas Mr. Egremont was too lazy for resistance to any persuasion, she obtained permission to engage the Nice villa. The next day Gregorio announced that he had heard that the proprietor of Villa Francaleone at Mentone was giving up hopes of his usual tenants, and an offer might secure it.

'Villa Eugenie at Nice is taken,' said Alice, and she received one of those deadly black looks, which were always like a stab.

Of all this Nuttie knew nothing. She was a good deal thrown with the schoolroom party and with the curate's wife for companionship. Now Mrs. Edwards did not approve of even the canonical Egremonts, having an ideal far beyond the ritual of Bridgefield; and she was delighted to find how entirely Miss Egremont sympathised with her.

Nuttie described St. Ambrose's as a paradise of church observances and parish management, everything becoming embellished and all shortcomings forgotten in the loving mists of distance. The harmonium was never out of tune; the choir-boys were only just naughty enough to show how wisely Mr. Spyers dealt with them; the surplices, one would think, never needed washing; Mr. Dutton and Gerard Godfrey were paragons of lay helpers, and district visitors never were troublesome. Mrs. Edwards listened with open ears, and together they bewailed the impracticability of moving the Canon to raising Bridgefield to anything approaching to such a standard; while Nuttie absolutely cultivated her home sickness.

According to promise Blanche wrote to her from Monks Horton, and told her thus much-'We have been all over your umbrella place. It was very curious. Then we called upon Miss Headworth, who was quite well, and was pleased to hear of you.'

Blanche was famous for never putting into a letter what her correspondent wanted to hear, but her stepmother wrote a much longer and more interesting letter to Mrs. Egremont.

'You will be glad to hear that we found your aunt quite well. I suppose it is not in the nature of things that you should not be missed; but I should think your place as well supplied as could be hoped by that very handsome and superior Miss Nugent, with whom she lives. I had a good deal of conversation with both; for you will be surprised to hear that the Canon has consented to Mark's making the experiment of working for a year in Greenleaf and Dutton's office, with a view to entering the firm in future. I was very anxious to understand from such true ladies what the position would be socially. I longed to talk it over with you beforehand; but Alwyn could never spare you, and it was not a subject to be broached without ample time for discussion. We felt that though the Kirkaldys could tell us much, it was only from the outside, whereas Miss Headworth could speak from within. The decision is of course a blow to his father, and will be still more so to the De Lyonnais family, but they have never done anything to entitle them to have a voice in the matter, and the Kirkaldys agree with us that, though not a path of distinction, it is one of honourable prosperity; and with this, if Mark is content, we have no right to object, since his mind is set on present happiness rather than ambition.'

It was a letter gratifying to Alice in its confidential tone, as well as in the evident approval of those surroundings which she loved so well. She read it to her husband, as she was desired to give him a message that the Canon had not written out of consideration for his eyes. He laughed the laugh that always jarred on her. 'So Master Mark has got his nose to the grindstone, has he?' was his first exclamation, and, after some cogitation, 'The fellow wants to be married, depend on it!'

'Do you think so?' returned Alice wistfully.

'Think! Why, you may see it in Jane's letter! I wonder who it is! The little yellow Ruthven girl, most likely! The boy is fool enough for anything! I thought he would have mended his fortunes with Ursula, but he's too proud to stomach that, I suppose!'

'I did wish that!' said Alice. 'It would have set everything straight, and it would have been so nice for her.'

'You should have cut out your daughter after your own pattern,' he answered; 'not let her be such a raw insignificant little spitfire. 'Tis a pity. I don't want the estate to go out of the name, though I won't leave it to an interfering prig like Mark unless he chooses to take my daughter with it!'

The latter part of this amiable speech was muttered and scarcely heard or attended to by Alice in her struggle to conceal the grief she felt at the uncompromising opinion of her child. Nuttie might outgrow being raw, but there seemed less rather than more prospect of a better understanding with her father. About a week later Mark made his appearance, timing it happily when his uncle was making his toilette, so that his aunt was taking a turn on the sunny terrace with Nuttie when the young man came hurrying up the garden.

'Mark! What? Are you come home?'

'Not the others. They are at Mr. Condamine's, I came last night-by way of Lescombe. Edda, dear, it is all right! Oh, I forgot you did not know! There was no seeing you before we went away. Ah! by the by, how is my uncle?'

'Much better, except that using his eyes brings on the pain. 'What is it, Mark? Ah! I can guess,' she said, aided no doubt by that conjecture of her husband's.

'Yes, yes, yes!' he answered, with a rapidity quite unlike himself. 'Why, Nuttie, how mystified you look!'

'I'm sure I don't wonder at any one being glad to live at dear old Micklethwayte,' said Nuttie slowly. 'But, somehow, I didn't think it of you, Mark.'

'My dear, that's not all!' said her mother.

'Oh!' cried Nuttie, with a prolonged intonation. 'Is it?-Oh, Mark! did you do it that night when you led the horse home?'

'Even so, Nuttie! And, Aunt Alice, Lady Ronnisglen is the best and bravest of old ladies, and the wisest. Nobody objects but Lady Delmar, and she declares she shall not consider it an engagement till Ronnisglen has been written to in Nepaul, as if he had anything to do with it; but that matters the less, since they all insist on our waiting till I've had a year's trial at the office! I suppose they could not be expected to do otherwise, but it is a pity, for I'm afraid Lady Delmar will lead Annaple and her mother a life of it.'

'Dear Mark, I am delighted that it is all going so well.'

'I knew you would be! I told them I must tell you, though it is not to go any farther.'

So that hope of Mark's restoration to the inheritance faded from Alice, and yet she could not be concerned for him. She had never seen him in such good spirits, for the sense of failure and disappointment had always been upon him; and the definite prospect of occupation, gilded by his hopes of Annaple, seemed to make a new man of him.

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