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   Chapter 19 THE VORTEX.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 20398

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'With one black shadow at her feet.'-TENNYSON.

The rebuffs that society had bestowed on his wife and daughter at Nice had rendered Mr. Egremont the more determined on producing them in London and establishing their position. He secured a furnished house in Westburnia before leaving Nice, and, travelling leisurely home without visiting Bridgefield, he took possession the second week in May.

There had not been much correspondence with the Rectory, and on the first forenoon, as Mrs. Egremont and Nuttie were trying to enliven the drawing-room with the flowers sent up to meet them, they were surprised by the entrance of Blanche, full of kisses and welcomes.

'Oh! didn't you know? I'm with the Kirkaldys just round the corner. Aunt Margaret has undertaken to do the part of a noble aunt by me.'

'Then you are here for the season? And May?'

'May wouldn't come, except just for a week to see the pictures, and lay in a stock of talk. She's grown more parochial than ever, and we believe it is all Hugh Condamine. Oh! I forgot you were gone before we came home last autumn. He is mamma's nephew, you know, and was ordained last year to the curacy of the next parish to his father's place. If the Edwardses only would take themselves off, we would have him at home, and then we should have flowers on the altar, and all sorts of jolly things. Papa would stand ever so much more from him than from the old Edwardses.'

'But is he engaged to May, then?'

'Well, no, not exactly. I believe he does not think it right till he has done preparing for priest's orders. He's ever so strict, you know, and he hasn't got much either; but he means it. Lucy, his sister, you know, told me all about it, and that altogether the elders had settled it was better for both that he should attend to his preparation, and May should not bind herself, though they really understand one another, and so she won't come to London.'

'Oh, that's very good of her!' cried Nuttie; 'but why won't they let them settle their minds and be engaged?'

'People are always tiresome,' said Blanche; 'and I do believe the living is at the bottom of it, at least Lucy thought so. I mean everybody wants to wait-all the old ones, I mean-not Hugh or May, of course-to know whether Mark will stick to the umbrellas, or turn back and be a clergyman, because, then, of course, he would have the living; and if he doesn't, they want to be certain whether Uncle Alwyn, or you, Nuttie, would promise it to Hugh if he married May!'

'Me!' exclaimed Nuttie.

'My dear, I don't like to hear you talk of such things,' said Mrs. Egremont gently.

'Oh yes, I know-it's all very dreadful. I was only telling you what is in the old people's heads, and what would settle it, and make it all right with them.'

'And how is Mark? Is Miss Ruthven in London?' asked Mrs. Egremont, glad to turn away the conversation from the contingencies of which Blanche spoke with the hardness of youth, as yet not realising sorrow.

'I daresay you know nearly as much of Mark as we do, now the Kirkaldys are up here. All his letters go to Lescombe. Oh no, Annaple is not in London. The Delmars can't afford it, you know, though I believe my lady would have made a stretch if Annaple hadn't been bespoke-but now she reserves herself for Muriel.'

Alice looked with some discomfort at the soft fair-haired creature who was uttering all this worldly jargon in a tone that would have been flippant if it had not been so childish. She asked if Lord. Ronnisglen had written.

'Oh yes, long ago. Lady Delmar had tried to make him nasty about it, but he wouldn't be, so that's all right; and Mark seems to get on very well, though it must be horridly dull for him now the Kirkaldys are away, and he can't spend all his Sundays at Monks Horton.'

'He will get more into the spirit of the place,' said Nuttie, whereat Blanche shrugged her shoulders a little, and exclaimed:

'You've got out of it at any rate, Nuttie!'

'I hope not!'

'Well, then, the look of it! I never saw any one so improved! Isn't she, Aunt Alice? She's grown, I declare! Yes'-measuring herself against her cousin-'I was a leetle bit taller when you came, and now you've got above me! and what a duck of a way of doing your hair! You must show me! I must tell May there's no fear of your being taken for one another now; Aunt Margaret will be quite surprised.'

It was true that Ursula had developed a good deal during the last year, and, under the experienced hands of Martin, had lost her schoolgirl air, and turned into a young lady capable of becoming the Paris outfit which her father had enjoined. Without positive beauty, she was a pleasing, intelligent, animated girl, with the reputation of being an heiress, with a romance in the background, and there was nothing to prevent her from being a success. The family connections, with Lady Kirkaldy to set the example, had determined on giving full support to Mrs. Egremont, and, as of course every one liked to look at so lovely a face, the way of both was smoothed in a manner that delighted her husband when they encountered any of those who had looked coldly on her at Nice.

He would have had her presented, but her own reluctance and the united counsels of Lady Kirkaldy and the Canoness prevailed on him to drop the idea; and then there was a fight with Ursula, who declared that she would not go to court if her mother did not; but she was overruled at last by that mother's tears at her defiance; and let herself be presented, together with Blanche, by Lady Kirkaldy.

To Ursula it was altogether a strange time, full of the same kind of reckless swing and sense of intoxication that had possessed her at Bridgefield. Not that there was an excessive amount of actual gaiety. Hot rooms and late hours were soon found not to agree with Mrs. Egremont. She looked faded and languid after evening parties; and, as her husband really cared more to have her ready to wait upon him and amuse him than for anything else, he did not insist on her going out more than might be needful to establish her position, or when it suited him to show her off. The other purposes were quite as well served by letting Ursula go out with Lady Kirkaldy, who was warmly interested in mother and daughter, glad of a companion for Blanche, and still more glad of a companion for herself. For she was not slow to discover that exhibitions, which were merely fashionable gapeseed to her niece, were to Nuttie real delights, viewed intelligently, and eliciting comments and questions that Lady Kirkaldy and even her husband enjoyed in their fresh interest, but which were unendurable weariness to Blanche, unless she had some one to chatter with. Lectures and lessons, which the aunt hoped to render palatable by their being shared by the two cousins, only served to show the difference between a trained and eager, and an untrained and idle, nature. With the foreign society to be met at Lord Kirkaldy's, Blanche was less at a loss than her brother, and could get on by the help of nods and becks and wreathed smiles; but Nuttie, fresh from her winter abroad, could really talk, and was often in request as a useful person to help in entertaining. She thus saw some of the choicest society in London, and, in addition, had as much of the youthful gaiety as Lady Kirkaldy thought wholesome for the two girls. Also there were those ecclesiastical delights and privileges which had been heard of at Micklethwayte, and were within reach, greatly enjoyed by Mrs. Egremont whenever she could share them, though her daughter chafed at her treating all except the chief service on Sunday as more indulgence than duty.

Nuttie was strong, with that spring of energy which unbroken health and a quiet life lays up, and, in her own phrase, she went in for everything, from early services to late balls, thinking all right because it was seldom that her day did not begin with matins or Celebration, and because she was not taken to more than two balls a week, and conversed at times with superior people, or looked at those with world-famed names. Possibly the whirl was greater than if it had been mere gaiety, for then the brain would not have participated in it. Church functions, with the scurry to go at all, or to obtain a seat, fine music, grand sermons, religious meetings, entertainments for the poor, lectures, lessons, exhibitions, rides, drives, kettle-drums, garden-parties, concerts, theatres, operas, balls, chattering, laughing, discussing, reading up current subjects, enjoying attention, excitement as to what should be done and how,-one thing drove out another in perpetual succession, and the one thing she never did or could do was to sit still and think! Rest was simply dreamless sleep, generally under the spell of a strong will to wake at the appointed hour for church. The short intervals of being alone with her mother were spent in pouring out histories of her doings, which were received with a sympathy that doubled their pleasure, excepting when Nuttie thought proper to grumble and scold at her mother's not coming to some Church festival at an hour when she thought Mr. Egremont might want her.

Of him Nuttie saw very little. He did not want her, and cared little what she did, as long as she was under the wing of Lady Kirkaldy, whose patronage was a triumphant refutation of all doubts. He went his own way, and had his own club, his own associates, and, with his wife always at his beck and call, troubled himself very little about anything else.

Alice spent a good deal of time alone, chiefly in waiting his pleasure; but she had her own quiet occupations, her books, her needlework, her housekeeping, and letter-writing, and was peacefully happy as long as she did not displease Nuttie. There were no collisions between father and daughter, and the household arrangements satisfied that fastidious taste. She was proud of Ursula's successes, but very thankful not to be dragged out to share them, though she was much less shy, and more able on occasion to take her place.

One pain she had. Good old Mrs. Nugent was rapidly decaying, and she shared with all her loving heart in the grie

f this was to Mary and to Miss Headworth, and longed to help them in their nursing. She would not grieve Nuttie by dwelling constantly on the bad accounts, and the girl hardly attended to them in the tumult of occupations; and so at last, when the final tidings came in the second week in July, they were an absolute shock to Nuttie, and affected her as the first grief sometimes does. Mrs. Nugent was really the first person of her own intimate knowledge who had died, and in the excited state in which she was, the idea of the contrast between her own occupations and Mary's was so dreadful to her that she wept most bitterly, with the sobs of childhood, such as she really did not know how to restrain.

It was an unfortunate day, for it was one of the few on which Mr. Egremont wanted to take out his ladies. There was to be a great garden-party at Richmond, given by one of his former set, who had lately whitewashed himself by marrying a very fast and fashionable lady. Nuttie had heard strong opinions on the subject at Lord Kirkaldy's; but her father was quite elated at being in a position to countenance his old friends. Alice, in the midst of her sorrow, recollected this with consternation.

'My dear, my dear, hush! You must stop yourself! Remember we have to go out.'

'Go-out,' cried Nuttie, her sobs arrested by very horror. 'You wouldn't go-!'

'I am afraid your father would be very much vexed-'

'Let him! It is a horrid wicked place to go to at all; and now-when dear, dear old Mrs. Nugent is lying there-and-'

The crying grew violent again, and in the midst in walked Mr. Egremont with an astonished 'What is all this?'

'We have lost one of our dear kind old friends at Micklethwayte,' said Alice, going towards him; 'dear old Mrs. Nugent,' and she lifted up her tear-stained face, which he caressed a little and said, 'Poor old body;' but then, at a sob, 'Can't you stop Ursula from making such a row and disfiguring herself? You must pick up your looks, Edda, for I mean you to make a sensation at Jerningham's.'

'Oh, Alwyn, if you could let us stay at home! Mrs. Nugent was so good to us, and it does seem unkind-' The tears were in her eyes again.

'Nonsense!' he said impatiently. 'I promised Jerningham, and it is absurd to have you shutting yourself up for every old woman at Micklethwayte.'

Thereupon Ursula wiped away her tears, and stood up wrathful before him. 'I am not going,' she said.

'Oh, indeed!' he returned in a tone that made her still more angry. 'Hein'! a French ejaculation which he had the habit of uttering in a most exasperating manner.

'No,' she said. 'It is scarcely a place to which we even ought to be asked to go, and certainly not when-'

'Do you hear that, Mrs. Egremont?' he asked.

'Oh, Nuttie, Nuttie, dear!' she implored; 'don't.'

'No, mother,' said Nuttie, with flashing eyes; 'if you care so little for your best friends as to let yourself be dragged out among all sorts of gay, wicked people when your dear friend is lying dead, I'm sure I shan't go with you.'

Her father laughed a little. 'A pretty figure you are, to make a favour of accompanying us!'

'Oh, go away, go away, Nuttie,' entreated her mother. 'You don't know what you are saying.'

'I do know,' said Nuttie, exasperated perhaps by the contrast in the mirror opposite between her own swelled, disfigured face, and the soft tender one of her mother with the liquid eyes. 'I know how much you care for the dear friends who took care of us when we were forsaken!'

And with this shaft she marched out of the room, while her father again laughed, and said, 'Have they been training her for the tragic stage? Never mind, Edda, the little vixen will come to her senses upstairs, and be begging to go.'

'I don't think she will,' said Alice sadly; 'she is not that sort of stuff, and she was very fond of Mrs. Nugent. Oh, Alwyn! if you could let us off.'

'Not after that explosion, certainly,' he said. 'Besides, I promised Jerningham, and such an excuse would never hold water. She is not even a relation.'

'No, but she was very good to me.'

'The more reason why you should not stay at home and be hipped. Never mind that silly girl. She will be all right by and by.'

On the contrary, she did not come down to luncheon, and when, about an hour later, Alice, after writing a few tender loving words to the mourners, went up to her daughter's room, it was to find a limp and deplorable figure lying across the bed, and to be greeted with a fresh outburst of sobs and inarticulate exclamations.

'Oh, Nuttie, dear, this will not do! It is not right. Dear good Mrs. Nugent herself would tell you that this is not the way any one so good and so suffering should be grieved for. Think-'

'Oh, I know all that!' cried Nuttie, impatiently; 'but she-she was the dearest-and nobody cares for her but me. Not even you-'

Again Alice tried to debate the point, and urge on her the duties of moderation, self-control, and obedience, but the poor gentle mother was at a great disadvantage.

In the first place, she respected and almost envied her daughter's resistance, and really did not know whether it was timidity or principle that made it her instinct to act otherwise; in the next, Ursula could always talk her down; and, in the third, she was, and greatly she reproached herself for that same, in great dread of setting herself off into tears that might become hysterical if she once gave way to them. And what would be her husband's feelings if she too collapsed and became unpresentable.

So, having once convinced herself that even if Nuttie had been a consenting party, no amount of cold water and eau-de-cologne would bring those bloodshot eyes, swollen lids, and mottled cheeks to be fit to be seen, she fled as fast as possible from the gasps of barbed reproaches which put her own composure in peril, and dressed with the heaviest of hearts, coupled with the utmost solicitude to look her best. If she had not thought it absolutely wrong, she would even have followed Martin's suggestion, and put on a soupcon of rouge; but by the time she was summoned to the carriage the feverishness of her effort at self-control had done the work, and her husband had paid her the compliment of observing that she looked pretty enough for two.

Nuttie heard them drive off, with a burst of fresh misery of indignation against her mother-now as a slave and a victim-now as forgetting her old home. It was chiefly in mutterings; she had pretty well used up her tears, for, unconsciously perhaps, she had worked them up as a defensive weapon against being carried to the party; and now that the danger was over, her head throbbed, her eyes burnt, and her throat ached too much for her to wish to cry any more. She had not felt physically like this, since the day, seven years ago, when she and Mildred Sharpe had been found suspiciously toying with the key of the arithmetic, and had been debarred from trying for the prize. Then she felt debased and guilty; now she felt, or ought to feel, like a heroine maintaining the right.

She got up and set herself to rights as well as she could. Martin, who had been allowed to know that she had lost an old friend, petted and pitied her, and brought her a substantial meal with her tea, after which she set out to evensong at the church at the end of the square, well veiled under a shady hat, and with a conviction that something ought to happen.

Nothing did, however, happen; she met no one whom she knew, the psalms were not particularly appropriate, and her attention wandered away to the scene at home. She did not come back, as she was sure she ought to have done, soothed, exhilarated, and refreshed, but rather in a rasped state of mind, and a conscience making a vehement struggle to believe itself in the right-a matter in which she thoroughly succeeded.

She wrote a long letter to Mary Nugent, and shed some softer tears over it, then she built a few castles on her future escape from the power of her father; and then she picked up Reata, and became absorbed in it, regretting only the weakness of her eyes, and the darkening of the summer evening.

She was still reading when the others came home. Her mother kissed her, but looked so languid and tired-out that Nuttie was shocked, and Martin declared that she ought not to go down to dinner.

A tete-a-tete dinner between father and daughter was too dreadful to Alice's imagination to be permitted, so she dressed and went down, looking like a ghost. Mr. Egremont scowled at Nuttie, Nuttie scowled at him, each considering it the fault of the other, and when at last it was over, Alice gave up the struggle, and went off to bed, leaving a contrite message that her headache would be better to-morrow.

'All your accursed folly and obstinacy,' observed Mr. Egremont, when Nuttie, with a tone of monition gave him the message.

'I should call it the consequence of being dragged out with a sore heart,' returned Nuttie-a little speech she had prepared ever since she had seen how knocked up her mother was.

'Then I should recommend keeping your ideas to yourself,' he answered, looking at her in his annihilating manner.

She was put down. She thought afterwards of a hundred things that she could have said to him, but she was crushed for the present, and when he went out she could only betake herself to Reata, and forget all about it as much as she could.

When she went upstairs, at the end of the third volume, Martin was on the watch, and would not let her go into the room.

'I have been at hand, ma'am, without her guessing it, and I am happy to say her tears has had a free course when she was in bed. Yes, ma'am, suppressed grief is always dangerous.'

Mrs. Egremont was still prostrate with fatigue and headache the next day, and Nuttie had all the quiet luxuriating in reminiscences she desired. Her father was vexed and angry, and kept out of the way, but it must be confessed that Nuttie's spirits had so much risen by the afternoon that it was a sore concession to consistency when she found herself not expected at Blanche's last little afternoon dance at Lady Kirkaldy's!

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