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   Chapter 17 AN OLD FRIEND.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 14375

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

'My heart untravelled still returns to thee.'-GOLDSMITH.

To go abroad! Such had been the fairy castle of Nuttie's life. She had dreamed of Swiss mountains, Italian pictures, Rheinland castles, a perpetual panorama of delight, and here she was in one of the great hotels of Paris, as little likely to see the lions of that city as she had been to see those of London.

The party were halting for two days there because the dentist, on whom Mr. Egremont's fine show of teeth depended, practised there; but Nuttie spent great part of the day alone in the sitting-room, and her hand-bag and her mother's, with all their books and little comforts, had been lost in the agony of landing. Her mother's attendance was required all the morning, or what was worse, she expected that it would be, and though Nuttie's persistence dragged out the staid, silent English maid, who had never been abroad before, to walk in the Tuilleries gardens, which they could see from their windows, both felt half-scared the whole time. Nuttie was quite unused to finding her own way unprotected, and Martin was frightened, cross, and miserable about the bags, which, she averred, had been left by Gregorio's fault. She so hated Gregorio that only a sort of adoration which she entertained for Mrs. Egremont would have induced her to come tete-a-tete with him, and perhaps he was visiting his disappointment about Mentone on her. In the afternoon nothing was achieved but a drive in the Bois de Boulogne, when it was at once made evident that Mr. Egremont would tolerate no questions nor exclamations.

His mouth was in no condition for eating in public, and he therefore decreed that his wife and daughter should dine at the table d'hote, while he was served alone by Gregorio. This was a great boon to Nuttie, and to her mother it recalled bridal days long past at Dieppe; but what was their astonishment when on entering the room they beheld the familiar face of Mr. Dutton! It was possible for him to place himself between them, and there is no describing the sense of rest and protection his presence imparted to them, more especially to Nuttie.

He had come over, as he did from time to time, on business connected with the materials he used, and he was beguiled into telling them of his views of Mark, whom he had put in the way of learning the preliminaries needful to an accountant. He had a deep distrust of the business capacities and perseverance of young gentlemen of family, especially with a countess-aunt in the neighbourhood, and quoted Lord Eldon's saying that to make a good lawyer of one, it was needful for him to have spent both his own and his wife's fortune to begin with, but he allowed that young Mr. Egremont was a very favourable specimen, and was resolutely applying himself to his work, and that he himself felt it due to him to give all the assistance possible.

Miss Headworth, he could not deny, had aged, but far less than Mrs. Nugent in the past year, and it really was a great comfort to Miss Mary to have the old ladies together. He told too how the mission, now lately over, had stirred the Micklethwayte folk into strong excitement, and how good works had been undertaken, evil habits renounced, reconciliations effected, religious services frequented. Would it last? Nobody, he said, had taken it up so zealously as Gerard Godfrey, who seemed as if he would fain throw everything up, and spend his whole life in some direct service as a home missionary or something of the kind. 'He is a good fellow,' said Mr. Dutton, 'and it is quite genuine, but I made him wait at least a year, that he may be sure that this is not only a passing impulse.'

Nuttie thought that she knew what was the impulse that had actuated him, and felt a pleasant elation and self-consciousness even while she repressed a sigh of pity for herself and for him. Altogether the dip into the Micklethwayte world was delightful, but when Mr. Dutton began to ask Nuttie what she had seen, she burst out with, 'Nothing-nothing but just a walk and a drive in the Bois de Boulogne;' and her mother explained that 'in Mr. Egremont's state of health,' etc.

'I wonder,' asked Mr. Dutton, 'if I might be allowed-'

Nuttie's eyes sparkled with ecstasy.

It ended in her mother, who had been wondering how Mr. Egremont could be amused all the long evening, arranging that Mr. Dutton should come in an hour's time to call on him, on the chance of being admitted, and that then the offer might be made when she had prepared him for it, advising Nuttie to wait in her own room. She was beginning to learn how to steer between her husband and her daughter, and she did not guess that her old friend was sacrificing one of the best French plays for the chance.

It turned out well; Mr. Egremont was conscious of a want of variety. He demanded whether it was the young fellow, and being satisfied on that part, observed in almost a good-humoured tone, 'So, we are in for umbrellas, we may as well go in for the whole firm!' caused the lights to be lowered under pretext of his eyes-to conceal the lack of teeth-did not absolutely refuse to let Nuttie take advantage of the escort, and when Mr. Dutton did come to the anteroom of the apartment, he was received with full courtesy, though Gregorio looked unutterable contempt. Mr. Dutton was a man who could talk, and had seen a good deal of the world at different times. Mr. Egremont could appreciate intelligent conversation, so that they got on wonderfully well together, over subjects that would have been a mere weariness to Nuttie but for the exceeding satisfaction of hearing a Micklethwayte voice. At last Mr. Dutton said something about offering his escort to the ladies, or to Miss Egremont, who used, he said in a paternal way, to be a little playfellow of his; Mr. Egremont really smiled, and said, 'Ay, ay, the child is young enough to run after sights. Well, thank you, if you are so good as to take the trouble, they will be very grateful to you, or if her mother cannot go with her, there's the maid.'

Nuttie thought she had never known him so amiable, and hardly durst believe her good fortune would not turn the wheel before morning. And it so far did that her mother found, or thought she found, that it would not do to be out of call, and sent the silent Martin in her stead. But Mr. Dutton had set telegraphs to work and recovered the bags, which Gregorio had professed to give up in despair.

A wonderful amount of lionising was contrived by Mr. Dutton, who had lived a few years at Paris in early youth, and had made himself acquainted alike with what was most worth seeing, and the best ways and means of seeing it, so that as little time as possible was wasted on the unimportant. It was one of the white days of Nuttie's life, wanting nothing but her mother's participation in the sight of the St. Michael of the Louvre, of the Sainte Chapelle, of the vistas in Notre Dame, and of poor Marie Antoinette's cell,-all that they had longed to see together.

She had meant to tell Mr. Dutton that it was all her father's selfishness, but somehow she could not say so, there was something about him that hindered all unbefitt

ing outbreaks of vexation.

And thus, when she mentioned her disappointment at not being allowed to go to Micklethwayte with her uncle, he answered, 'You could not of course be spared with your father so unwell.'

'Oh, he never let me come near him! I wasn't of the slightest use to him!'

'Mrs. Egremont would have missed you.'

'Really he never gave her time. He perfectly devours her, body and soul. Oh dear, no! 'Twas for no good I was kept there, but just pride and ingratitude, though mother tried to call it being afraid for my manners and my style.'

'In which, if you lapse into such talk, you fully justify the precaution. I was just thinking what a young lady you had grown into,' he answered in a tone of banter, under which, however, she felt a rebuke; and while directing her attention to the Pantheon, he took care to get within hearing again of Martin.

And in looking at these things, he carried her so far below the surface. St. Michael was not so much Raffaelle's triumph of art as the eternal victory over sin; the Sainte Chapelle, spite of all its modern unsanctified gaudiness, was redolent of St. Louis; and the cell of the slaughtered queen was as a martyr's shrine, trod with reverence. There were associations with every turn, and Nuttie might have spent years at Paris with another companion without imbibing so many impressions as on this December day, when she came home so full of happy chatter that the guests at the table d'hote glanced with amusement at the eager girl as much as with admiration at the beautiful mother. Mr. Dutton had been invited to come and take coffee and spend the evening with them again, but Mr. Egremont's affairs with the dentist had been completed, and he had picked up, or, more strictly speaking, Gregorio had hunted up for him, a couple of French acquaintances, who appeared before long and engrossed him entirely.

Mr. Dutton sat between the two ladies on a stiff dark-green sofa on the opposite side of the room, and under cover of the eager, half-shrieking, gesticulating talk of the Frenchmen they had a quiet low-toned conversation, like old times, Alice said. 'More than old times,' Nuttie added, and perhaps the others both agreed with her.

When the two Englishwomen started at some of the loud French tones, almost imagining they were full of rage and fury, their friend smiled and said that such had been his first notion on coming abroad.

'You have been a great deal abroad?' Mrs. Egremont asked; 'you seem quite at home in Paris.'

'Oh, mamma, he showed me where the school was that he went to, and the house where he lived! Up such an immense way!'

Mr. Dutton was drawn on to tell more of his former life than ever had been known to them. His father, a wine merchant, had died a bankrupt when he was ten years old, and a relation, engaged in the same business at Paris, had offered to give him a few years of foreign schooling, and then make him useful in the business.

His excellent mother had come with him, and they had lived together on very small means, high up in a many-storied lodging-house, while he daily attended the Lycie. His reminiscences were very happy of those days of cheerful contrivance, of her eager desire to make the tiny appartement a home to her boy, of their pleasant Sundays and holidays, and the life that in this manner was peculiarly guarded by her influence, and the sense of being all she had upon earth. He had scarcely ever spoken of her before, and he dwelt on her now with a tenderness that showed how she had been the guiding spirit of his life.

At fifteen he was taken into the office at Marseilles, and she went thither with him, but the climate did not agree with her; she drooped, and, moreover, he discovered that the business was not conducted in the honourable manner he had supposed. After a few months of weighing his obligations to his kinsman against these instincts, the question was solved by his cousin's retiring. He resolved to take his mother back to England at any loss, and falling in with one of the partners of the umbrella firm in quest of French silk, he was engaged as foreign correspondent, and brought his mother to Micklethwayte, but not in time to restore her health, and he had been left alone in the world just as he came of age, when a small legacy came to him from his cousin, too late for her to profit by it. It had been invested in the business, and he had thus gradually risen to his present position. Mrs. Egremont was amazed to hear that his mother had only been dead so short a time before she had herself come to Micklethwayte; and fairly apologised for the surprise she could not help betraying at finding how youthful he had then been, and Nuttie exclaimed, in her original unguarded fashion:

'Why, Mr. Dutton, I always thought you were an old bachelor!'

'Nuttie, my dear!' said her mother in a note of warning, but Mr. Dutton laughed and said:

'Not so far wrong! They tell me I never was a young man.'

'You had always to be everything to your mother,' said Mrs. Egremont softly.

'Yes,' he said, 'and a very blessed thing it was for me.'

'Ah! you don't regret now all that you must have always been giving up for her,' returned Alice.

'No, indeed. Only that I did not give up more.'

'That is always the way.'

'It is indeed. One little knows the whips that a little self-will prepares.'

Nuttie thought he said it for her admonition, and observed, 'But she was good,' only, however, in a mumble, that the other two thought it inexpedient to notice, though it made both hearts ache for her, even Alice's-with an additional pang of self-reproach that she herself was not good enough to help her daughter better.

Neither of them guessed at the effect that a glimpse of the lovely young seeming widow had had on the already grave self-restrained young man in the home lately made lonely, how she had been his secret object for years, and how, when her history was revealed to him, he had still hoped on for a certainty which had come at last as so fatal a shock and overthrow to all his dreams.

A life of self-restraint and self-conquest had rendered it safe for him to thoroughly enjoy the brief intercourse, which had come about by the accident of his having come to dine at the Hotel de Louvre, to meet a friend who had failed him.

These were two completely happy hours to all the three, and when they said 'good-night' there was a sense of soothing and invigoration on Alice's mind; and on Nuttie's that patience and dutifulness were the best modes of doing justice to her Micklethwayte training, although he had scarcely said a word of direct rebuke or counsel.

While Mr. Dutton sped home to tell Miss Headworth that Mrs. Egremont looked lovelier than ever, and was-yes she was-more of an angel, that her husband had been very pleasant, much better than he expected, and, indeed, might come to anything good under such influence; and as to little Nuttie-she was developing fast, and had a brave constant heart, altogether at Micklethwayte. But that servant who was acting as courier was an insolent scoundrel, who was evidently cheating them to the last degree.

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