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   Chapter 21 URSULA'S RECEPTION.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 23743

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.'-SHAKESPEARE.

It was at half-past seven o'clock that Ursula Egremont's cab stopped at St. Ambrose's Road. She had missed the express train, and had to come on by a stopping one. But here at last she was, with eyes even by gaslight full of loving recognition, a hand full of her cab-fare, a heart full of throbbing hope and fear, a voice full of anxiety, as she inquired of the astonished servant, 'Louisa, Louisa, how is Aunt Ursel!' and, without awaiting the reply, she opened the adjoining door. There sat, with their evening meal on the table, not only Mary Nugent, but Miss Headworth herself.

Nuttie rushed at her, and there was an incoherency of exclamations, the first thing that made itself clear to the senses of the traveller being, 'Ill, my dear? No such thing! Only I had a bad cold, and Mary here is only too careful of me.'

'But Mark said you had bronchitis.'

'What could have put that into his head? He did not write it, surely?'

'He wrote it to Annaple Ruthven, and she told Blanche.'

'Oh!' and Mary Nugent's tone was rather nettling.

'And then it was such a terrible time since we had heard anything,' added Nuttie, on the defensive.

'Did not your mother get my letter?' said Miss Headworth. 'I wrote to her at-what's the name of that place? I hope I addressed it right.'

'Oh, but I was not there. I didn't go with them.'

'Ah, yes, I remember. Then did not she send you?'

'No, I came off this morning. I heard this yesterday evening, and I determined that nothing should stop me if there was no news by the post.'

'Dear child! But will your father not be displeased?' said Miss Headworth.

'He hasn't any right to object,' cried Nuttie, with flashing eyes and a look that made Miss Nugent anxious; but at the moment there could be little thought save of welcome to the warm-hearted girl. Louisa was already brewing fresh tea, and extemporising additions to the meal, and Nuttie was explaining how she hoped to have arrived a couple of hours sooner.

'By the bye, I meant to have written to mother for her to have it to-morrow before leaving Waldicotes. Is there time?'

No, the pillar at hand was cleared at seven, and the regular post-office could not be reached in time; so they satisfied themselves with the knowledge that Mrs. Egremont must have had Aunt Ursel's cheerful letter, and Mary recommended telegraphing to the Canon the first thing in the morning. Then they gave themselves up to enjoyment.

'At any rate, I'm here,' said Nuttie, 'and I'll make the most of it.'

And her handsome furs were laid aside, and her boots taken off, and she resigned herself to absolute ease and luxury, while Mary poured out the tea, and her aunt heaped her plate with eggs and rashers 'such as one doesn't get anywhere else,' said Nuttie, declaring herself quite voracious, while her aunt fondly admired her growth and improvement, and she inquired into the cold, not quite gone yet; and there were speculations over what Mark could have got into his head. Mary remembered having met him coming to call, and having told him that she had persuaded Miss Headworth to keep her bed because her colds were apt to be severe, and it was agreed to lay the exaggeration at the door of the lovers and Blanche. Miss Headworth laughed, and said she ought to be flattered that an old woman's sore throat should be thought worthy of mention by a fine young gentleman like Mr. Mark. 'A very good young man he is,' she added. 'You would never have thought how kind he is in coming in here to tell me everything he hears about your dear mother, Nuttie.'

'He makes himself very useful while Mr. Dutton is away,' added Mary, 'taking his young men's class and all.'

'Oh! is Mr. Dutton away?'

'Yes; he has had to be in London a great deal of late. I am afraid he may have to live there altogether.'

'What a grievous pity!'

'He won't be anywhere without doing good,' said Miss Headworth, 'but I sometimes wish we had his cool good sense here.'

'And how is Mr. Spyers,' asked Nuttie. She felt shy of asking for Gerard Godfrey, or perhaps she thought she ought to be shy of his name, and kept hoping that it would come in naturally.

'Mr. Spyers is very well. Very busy of course, and very much delighted with your mother's gifts to the church. All her own work, isn't it, Nuttie?'

'Yes; every bit. She does lots of embroidery and work of all kinds when she is waiting for him or sitting with him, and luckily it has never occurred to him to ask what it is for.'

The two ladies knew well what was meant by him, but they would not pursue the subject, and proceeded to put Nuttie au courant with St. Ambrose affairs-how last year's mission had produced apparently an immense effect in the town, and how the improvement had been ebbing ever since, but had left various individual gains, and stirred up more than one good person who had hitherto thought it enough to save one's own soul and let other people alone; how Mr. Spyers was endeavouring to bind people together in a guild; how a violent gust of temperance orators had come down upon the place, and altogether fascinated and carried away Gerard Godfrey.

There was his name at last, and Nuttie was rather gratified to feel herself blushing as she asked, 'Ah! poor Gerard-how is he?'

'As good and sincere as ever,' said Miss Nugent, 'but not much wiser. He is so excitable and vehement.'

'Yes,' said Miss Headworth. 'I don't understand the kind of thing. In my time a steady young clerk used to be contented after hours with playing at cricket in the summer, or learning the flute in the winter-and a great nuisance it was sometimes, but now Gerard must get himself made a sort of half clergyman.'

'A reader,' suggested Mary.

'Minor orders. Oh, how delightful!' cried Nuttie.

'People, don't half understand it,' added Miss Headworth. 'Mrs. Jeffreys will have it that he is no better than a Jesuit, and really I did not know what to say, for he talked, to me by the hour about his being an external brother to something.'

'Not to the Jesuits, certainly,' said Nuttie.

'Yes, I told her that; but she thinks all monks are Jesuits, you know, and that all brothers are monks; and he does wear his cassock-his choir cassock, I mean-when he has his service in the iron room at the sandpits. And now he has taken up temperance, and flies about giving the pledge, and wanting one to wear bits of blue ribbon. I told him I never did take, and never had taken, more than a little hot wine and water when I had a cold, and I couldn't see what good it would do to George Jenkins and the poor fellows at the Spread Eagle if I took ever so many vows.'

'There's a regular blue-ribbon fever set in,' said Miss Nugent. 'Gerard told me I was supporting the cause of intemperance yesterday because I was so wicked as to carry the rest of your bottle of port, Miss Headworth, to poor Anne Crake.'

'Well! he is a dear boy, and youth wouldn't be youth if it were not sometimes rather foolish,' said Miss Headworth, 'and it is better it should be for good than evil.'

'Eager in a cause and not for selfishness,' said Mary. 'Poor Gerard, I wonder where he will be safely landed!'

So did Nuttie, who had a secret flattering faith in being the cause of all the poor young fellow's aberrations, and was conscious of having begun the second volume of her life's novel. She went to bed in the elated frame of mind proper to a heroine. There was a shade over all in the absence of dear old Mrs. Nugent, and in Mary's deep mourning, but there is more tenderness than poignancy in sorrow for shocks of corn gathered in full season, and all was cheerful about her.

She had quite a triumph the next day, as old friends dropped in for the chance of seeing her. The least agreeable encounter was that with Mark, who came in on his way to the office, having just received by the second post a letter from his father inquiring into Miss Headworth's state. He met Nuttie in the vestibule, with her hat on, and in a great hurry, as she wanted to walk with Mary to the School of Art, Gerard Godfrey accompanying them as far as the office; and she did not at all like the being called to account, and asked what could have possessed her to take alarm.

'Why, you wrote yourself!'

'I!'

'To Annaple Ruthven.'

'What am I supposed to have written?'

'That Aunt Ursel was very ill with bronchitis.'

'I'll be bound that Miss Ruthven said no such thing. You don't pretend that you heard it from herself?'

'No; but Blanche did.'

'Blanche! Oh, that accounts for it! Though I should have thought you knew Blanche by this time.'

'But what did you say?'

'I believe I said I couldn't get a knitting pattern Miss Headworth was to send Lady Ronnisglen because she was in bed with a cold. What you and Blanche could contrive to make of a simple thing like that-'

'And Annaple!'

'Well,' but checking himself with a smile, 'we will not fight about that. I only hope it has not brought you into an awkward scrape, Nuttie.'

'I can't help that,' she answered with her head rather high.

'You have written and explained?' he said anxiously.

'To my mother, of course.'

'If I were you,' he said, lowering his voice, 'I should write or send a special message to your father.'

'I can't see why. It was a mistake.'

'Yours was a strong measure, and he won't like it. Be advised, Nuttie. Recollect your mother. The best way would be to go home at once. I could get a day to take you-if you would start this afternoon.'

'Thank you; I'm not going back till I hear,' she said proudly.

Time being up, Mark took his leave hastily, and as he shut the door, Nuttie uttered half aloud the words she had scarcely repressed, 'No, I thank you, Mr. Mark, I am not going back like a dog in a string.'

'What, was that what he expected of you?' said Gerard Godfrey, whom she had not intended to hear her, but who had come out of the sitting-room on the sounds of departure.

'He said he would take me home if I could go at once.'

'Wouldn't he have liked it!' exclaimed Gerard.

'It might be the best way,' said Miss Nugent, who had followed young Godfrey.

'Now, Miss Mary,' cried Nuttie, 'as if I could shorten my holiday now that I have it.'

'And I don't see what business he had to call you to account,' said Gerard. 'A stuck-up fellow.'

'Of course all the Egremonts are set against my being here,' said Nuttie.

'I thought the Canon offered to bring you last year,' said Mary gently.

'Oh, that was only to Monks Horton! It would have been simply tantalising.'

'Lady Kirkaldy is an excellent person,' said Miss Nugent.

'Is she at home now?' asked Ursula.

'Coming next week, they tell me,' said Gerard.

'He-your cousin-will always be loafing up there now, giving up all that he had undertaken, I suppose.'

'Not very likely,' said Mary quietly.

It is a mere Scottish anti-church influence,' said Gerard, turning round at the swing-door of his office. 'Why else will Egremont not take the pledge?'

Wherewith he disappeared, blue ribbon and all, while Mary smiled, though she was vexed; and Nuttie observed, 'Poor Gerard; but I can't see why he should be jealous of Mark now.'

Mary did not choose to understand what Nuttie implied in her simplicity, and made answer, 'He is rather blue ribbon mad. Besides, I am afraid the fact of being a "swell" does not conduce to your cousin's popularity among the clerks.'

'Surely he does not give himself airs,' said Ursula, her family feelings awaking.

'No; but I fancy he is rather reserved.'

'What's this about giving up what he has undertaken? What is it?'

'When Mr. Dutton went to London, he asked Mark to take his Sunday afternoons with the big lads. He thought they wanted some one with more resources

and variety than there is in poor Gerard, who didn't at all like being passed over.'

'I never should have thought it of Mark. He never dreamt of teaching anybody at home.'

'Very likely not, but there is an atmosphere at St. Ambrose's.'

'And oh, how glad I am to be in it! I wonder how long they will let me stay! The dear little mother will try to get me a Sunday here, if she dares. Indeed, I can't hear before Saturday, and then there would hardly be time to get home! Oh, that's jolly! I'll go to the nursery gardens, and get such flowers for the vases!'

Saturday brought Nuttie a letter, but not from her mother-

'My Dear Ursula-I write because we are anxious to keep your mother as quiet as possible. It was a serious shock to her to find that you had left home, and she naturally supposed that Miss Headworth was in great danger. Your father was greatly displeased, and she has been much overcome, and very unwell, but we hope by keeping her perfectly quiet that worse consequences may be prevented. Your father desires you to remain where you are for the present, as he will not have her disturbed again. Your mother sends her love both to you and to your aunt, and desires me to say that she will write in a day or two, and that she thinks you had better not come back till she is better and your father's vexation has diminished.

'I wish you had informed us of your intentions, as then we could have ascertained the grounds of the report that terrified you so strangely.-I remain your affectionate aunt,

JANE M. EGREMONT.'

'Poor mother! he has been sneering at us all in his dreadful cynical way, and knocked her up into one of her awful headaches,' said Nuttie, who felt extremely angered by the grave tone of rebuke in the letter, and tossed it over to her aunt without absolutely reading it all. Miss Headworth was a good deal distressed, and anxious to know what Mrs. William Egremont meant; but Nuttie positively declared, 'Oh, it is her headaches! You know she always had them more or less, and they have grown a great deal worse since she has taken to sitting in that horrid, stuffy, perfumy, cigar-ry room, and doesn't take half exercise enough.'

And when Miss Headworth showed herself much concerned about the state of things, Nuttie coaxed her, and declared that she should fancy herself unwelcome, and have to go and beg a lodging somewhere instead of enjoying her reprieve. And Aunt Ursel was far less impervious to coaxing than she used to be when she was the responsible head of a boarding house. She did most thoroughly enjoy the affection of her great niece, and could not persuade herself to be angry with her, especially when the girl looked up smiling and said, 'If the worst came to the worst and he did disinherit me, the thing would only right itself. I always meant to give it back to Mark.'

No great aunt in the world could fail to admire the generous spirit of the girl who came back from the great world of luxury, so loving and happy in her humble surroundings. The only sighs were for poor Alice, in the hands of a man of whom Miss Headworth knew so much evil. If she were not wretched and a victim-and Nuttie did not think her such-she must surely be getting spoilt and worldly. Her daughter implied fears of this kind, yet who could read her letters and think so?

Nuttie was fortunately too much in awe of the Canoness to write all the pertnesses that tingled at her fingers' ends, and she sent a proper and fairly meek letter, intimating, however, that she was only too happy to remain at Micklethwayte.

It was two or three days more before she heard again.

'My Own Dear Child-They have let me write at last, and I can say how much I like to think of your nestling up to dear Aunt Ursel, and how glad I am to find that she was well enough to enjoy you. It is almost like being there to hear of you, and the only thing that grieves me is that your father was very much vexed at your setting off in that sudden way, and at my being so foolish about it. His eyes have been very bad, and he missed me sadly while I was laid up. We are neither of us very strong, and we think-if Aunt Ursel and Mary can keep you for a little longer-it will be better for you to stay on with them, as it might be as dreary for you as it was last winter, especially as the Rectory folk will soon be going into residence. I will write to them about it and persuade them to take something for your board, so as to make it easy for them. And then you can have a fire in your room; you must not leave it off now you are used to it. My dear, I wish you would write a little apology to your father. I ought not to conceal that he is really very angry, and I think it would be well if you expressed some regret, or if you cannot truthfully do that, asked his pardon for your impetuosity; for you know he cannot be expected to realise all that dear Aunt Ursel is to us. You cannot think how kind your Aunt Jane has been to me; I did not think she could have been so tender. This is the first letter I ever had to write to you, my own dear child. I miss you every moment, but after all it is better you should be away till your father has overlooked this hurried expedition of yours. I am sure he would if you wrote him a real nice letter, telling how you were really frightened, and that it was not a mere excuse. Pray do, and then you can come back to your loving little mother.

'A. E.'

'As if I would or could,' quoth Nuttie to herself. 'Apologise to him indeed, for loving the aunt who toiled for us when he deserted us. Poor little mother, she can't really expect it of me. Indeed, I don't think she quite knows what she wants, or whether she likes me to be here or at Bridgefield! My belief is that he bullies her less when I am out of the way, because she just gives way to him, and does not assert any principle. I've tried to back her up, and it is of no use, and I am sure I don't want such a winter as the last. So I am much better here; and as to begging pardon, when I have done nothing wrong, I am sure I won't, to please anybody. I shall tell her that she ought to know me better than to expect it!'

But Nuttie did not show the letter either to Aunt Ursel or Mary Nugent; nor did she see that in which Alice had satisfied them that it might be better that her daughter should pay them a long visit, while Mr. Egremont's health required constant attendance, and the Canon's family were at Redcastle. And as her husband was always open-handed, she could make Ursula's stay with them advantageous to their slender means, without hurting their feelings.

She told them as much as she could, but there was more that no living creature might know, namely, the advantage that Gregorio had gained over that battlefield, his master, during her days of illness. The first cold weather had brought on pain, and anger and anxiety, nervous excitement and sleeplessness, which the valet had taken upon him to calm with a narcotic under a new name that at first deceived her till she traced its effects, and inquired of Dr. Hammond about it. Unwillingly, on her account, he enlightened her, and showed her that, though the last year's care had done much to loosen the bonds of the subtle and alluring habit, yet that any resumption of it tended to plunge its victim into the fatal condition of the confirmed opium-eater, giving her every hope at the same time that this propensity might be entirely shaken off, and that the improvement in Mr. Egremont's health and habits which had set in might be confirmed, and raise him above the inclination.

Could she have been rid of Gregorio, she would have felt almost sure of victory; but as it was, she believed the man absolutely meant to baffle her, partly out of a spiteful rivalry, partly because his master's torpid indolence could be used to his own advantage. She was absolutely certain that his sneering tone of remark made her husband doubly disinclined to let any religious book be near, or to permit her to draw him to any Sunday observance.

The battle must be fought out alone. The gentle woman could have no earthly helper in the struggle. The Canon and Mark, the only persons who could have given her the slightest aid, were both at a distance, even if her loyal heart could have brooked confession to them, and she only hoped that Nuttie would never know of it. Only aid from above could be with her in the daily, hourly effort of cheerfulness, patience, and all the resources of feminine affection, to avert the temptation; and she well knew that the presence of the ardent, unsubdued, opinionative girl would, alas! only double the difficulties. So she acquiesced, at least for the present, in Nuttie's grand achievement of having broken away from all the wealth and luxury of Bridgefield to return to her simple home and good old aunt. Mark was a good deal vexed, but Nuttie did not care about that, attributing this displeasure to Egremont clanship; Mary Nugent was doubtful and anxious, and thought it her duty to reconcile herself to her father; but Miss Headworth, who, be it remembered, had reason to have the worst impressions of Mr. Egremont, rejoiced in her young niece having escaped from him for the time, and only sighed over the impossibility of Alice's doing the same. And when Nuttie described, as she constantly did, the various pleasures she had enjoyed during the past year, the good old lady secretly viewed her as a noble Christian heroine for resigning all this in favour of the quiet little home at Micklethwayte, though reticent before her, and discussed her excellence whenever she was alone with Mary.

Nor would Miss Nugent vex her with contradictions or hints that what Nuttie was giving up at present might be a dull house, with her mother engrossed by an irritable semi-invalid, and the few gaieties to be enjoyed by the help of the Canon's family at Redcastle. She did ask the girl whether Mrs. Egremont, being avowedly not quite well, might not need her assistance; but Nuttie vehemently disavowed being of any possible use to her father; he never let her read to him! oh no! he called her music schoolgirly, a mere infliction; he never spoke to her if he could help it, and then it was always with a sort of sneer; she believed he could not bear the sight of her, and was ashamed of it, as well he might be! For Mrs. Houghton's disclosures had rankled ever since within her, and had been confirmed by her aunt.

'But that is very sad,' said Mary. 'I am so sorry for you. Ought you not to try hard to conquer his distaste?'

'I-why, he cares for nothing good!'

'Nay,' smiling. 'Not for your mother?'

'Oh! She's pretty, you know; besides, she makes herself a regular slave to him, and truckles to him in everything, as I could never do.'

'Perhaps she is overcoming evil with good.'

'I am afraid it is more like being overcome of evil. No, no, dear Miss Mary, don't be shocked. The dear little mother never would be anything but good in her own sweet self, but it is her nature not to stand up for anything, you know. She seems to me just like a Christian woman that has been obliged to marry some Paynim knight. And it perfectly provokes me to see her quite gratified at his notice, and ready to sacrifice anything to him, now I know how he treated her. If I had been in her place, I wouldn't have gone back to him; no, not if he had been ready to crown me after I was dead, like Ines de Castro.'

'I don't know that you would have had much choice in that case.'

'My very ghost would have rebelled,' said Nuttie, laughing a little.

And Mary could believe that Mrs. Egremont, with all her love for her daughter, might find it a relief not to have to keep the peace between the father and child. 'Yet,' she said to herself, 'if Mr. Dutton were here, he would have taken her back the first day.'

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