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Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 13919

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

'He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons.'

St. Ambrose's road was perfectly delightful as long as there was any expectation of a speedy recall. Every day was precious; every meeting with an old face was joyful; each interchange of words with Mr. Spyers or Gerard Godfrey was hailed as a boon; nothing was regretted but the absence of Monsieur and his master, and that the favourite choir boy's voice was cracked.

But when there was reason to think that success had been complete, when Miss Headworth had been persuaded by Mary that it was wiser on all accounts not to mortify Alice by refusing the two guineas a week offered for Miss Egremont's expenses; when a couple of boxes of clothes and books had arrived, and Ursula found herself settled at Micklethwayte till after Christmas, she began first to admit to herself that somehow the place was not all that it had once been to her.

Her mother was absent, that was one thing. Mrs. Nugent was gone, that was another. There was no Monsieur or Mr. Dutton to keep her in awe of his precision, even while she laughed at it. There were no boarders to patronise and play with, and her education at the High School was over. If she saw a half-clothed child, it was not half so interesting to buy an ulster in the next shop, as it was to turn over the family rag-bag, knit, sew, and contrive! Somehow things had a weariness in them, and the little excitements did not seem to be the exquisite delights they used to be. After having seen Patience at the Princess's it was not easy to avoid criticising a provincial Lady Jane, and it was the like with other things of more importance. Even the ritual of St. Ambrose's Church no longer struck her as the ne plus ultra of beauty, and only incited her to describe London churches.

She resumed her Sunday-school classes, and though she talked at first of their raciness and freedom, she soon longed after the cleanliness, respectfulness, and docility of the despised little Bridgefordites, and uttered bitter things of Micklethwayte turbulence, declaring-perhaps not without truth-that the children had grown much worse in her absence.

And as Mr. Godfrey had been superintendent during the latter half of the time, this was a cruel stroke. He wanted to make her reverse her opinions. And they never met without 'Now, Ursula, don't you remember Jem Burton putting on Miss Pope's spectacles, and grinning at all the class.'

'Yes; and how Mr. Dutton brought him up to beg her pardon. Now, was any notice taken when that horrid boy-I don't know his name-turned the hymn they were saying to her into "Tommy, make room for your uncle"?'

'Oh, Albert Cox! It is no use doing anything to him, he would go off at once to the Primitives.'

'Let him!'

'I cannot make him a schismatic.'

'I wonder what he is now!'

'Besides, Miss Pope perfectly provokes impertinence.'

'Then I wouldn't give her work she can't do.'

Such an argument as this might be very well at the moment of provocation, but it became tedious when recurred to at every meeting. Nuttie began to wonder when Monks Horton would be inhabited again, and how much notice Lady Kirkaldy would take of her, and she was a good deal disappointed when Mark told her that Lord Kirkaldy had been begged to undertake a diplomatic mission which would keep them abroad all the winter.

There was a certain weariness and want of interest. It was not exactly that there was nothing intellectual going on. There were the lectures, but they were on chemistry, for which Nuttie cared little. There were good solid books, and lively ones too, but they seemed passe to one who had heard them discussed in town. Mary and Miss Headworth read and talked them over, and perhaps their opinions were quite as wise, and Miss Nugent's conversation was equal to that of any of Nuttie's London friends, but it was only woman's talk after all-the brilliancy and piquancy, the touch and go, she had enjoyed in Lady Kirkaldy's drawing-room was lacking.

Mr. Spyers was too much immersed in parish matters to read anything secular, and neither he nor Gerard Godfrey seemed ever to talk of anything but parish matters. There was not the slightest interest in anything beyond. Foreign politics, European celebrities,-things in which Nuttie had learnt to take warm interest when with the Kirkaldys, were nothing to them. Even Mary wondered at her endeavours to see the day's paper, and she never obtained either information or sympathy unless she came across Mark. It seemed to her that Gerard cared less for the peace or war of an empire than for a tipsy cobbler taking the pledge. The monotony and narrowness of the world where she had once been so happy fretted and wearied her, though she was ashamed of herself all the time, and far too proud to allow that she was tired of it all. Aunt Ursel at her best had always been a little dry and grave, an authority over the two nieces; and though softened, she was not expansive, did not invite confidences, and home was not home without the playfellow-mother.

And most especially was she daily tired of Gerard Godfrey! Had he always talked of nothing but 'the colours,' chants, E. C. U., classes, and teetotalism? Whatever she began it always came back to one or other of these subjects, and when she impatiently declared that she was perfectly sick of hearing of the Use of Sarum, he looked at her as guilty of a profanity.

Perhaps it was true that he was narrower than he had been. He was a good, honest, religiously-minded lad, but with no great depth or grasp of intellect; Ursula Egremont had been his companion first and then his romance, and the atmosphere of the community in which he lived had been studious and intelligent. His expedition to Redcastle had convinced him that the young lady lived in a different world, entirely beyond his reach, and in the reaction of his hopelessness, he had thrown himself into the excitement of the mission, and it had worked on him a zealous purpose to dedicate himself totally to a religious life, giving up all worldly aims, and employing the small capital he could call his own in preparing for the ministry. Mr. Dutton had insisted that he should test his own steadfastness and resolution by another year's work in his present situation before he took any steps.

He had submitted, but still viewed himself as dedicated, and so far as business hours permitted, gave his services like a clerical pupil to St. Ambrose's with the greatest energy, and perhaps somewhat less judgment than if Mr. Dutton had been at hand. Being without natural taste for intellectual pursuits, unless drawn into them by his surroundings, he had dropped them entirely, and read nothing but the ephemeral controversial literature of his party, and not much of that, for he was teaching, preaching, exhorting, throughout his spare time; while the vicar was in too great need of help to insist on deepening the source from which hi

s zealous assistant drew. As Miss Nugent observed, teetotalism was to him what dissipation was to other young men.

On this vehemence of purpose descended suddenly Ursula Egremont once more; and the human heart could not but be quickened with the idea, not entirely unfounded, that it was to him that she had flown back, and that her exile proved that she cared for him more than for all the delights she had enjoyed as heiress of Bridgefield. The good youth was conscientious to the back-bone, and extremely perplexed between his self-dedication and the rights that their implied understanding might give to her. Was she to be the crowning blessing of his life, to be saved partly through his affection from worldly trials and temptations, and bestowing on him a brilliant lot in which boundless good could be effected? Or was she a syren luring him to abandon his higher and better purposes?

The first few days of her stay, the former belief made him feel like treading on air, or like the hero of many a magazine story; but as time went on this flattering supposition began to fail him, when Nuttie showed her weariness of the subjects which, in his exclusiveness, he deemed the only ones worthy of a Christian, or rather of a Catholic. Both of them had outgrown the lively, aimless chatter and little jests that had succeeded the games of childhood, and the growth had been in different directions, so that Ursula felt herself untrue to her old romance when she became weary of his favourite topics, disappointed by his want of sympathy and comprehension, fretted by his petty disapprovals, and annoyed by his evident distaste for Mark, to whom she turned as to one of her proper world.

At last, after many tossings, Gerard fixed upon a test. If she endured it she would be the veritable maiden of his imagination, and they would stand by one another, come what would; if not, he would believe that the past had been fancy, not love, or love that had not withstood the attractions of fashionable life. A great temperance meeting was coming on, and Gerard, eager at once to fill the room, and to present a goodly roll of recruits, watched anxiously for his moment, and came on Nuttie with his hands full of bills in huge letters, and his pockets of badges.

'Excellent speakers,' he cried. 'We shall have the hall crowded. You'll come, Ursula?'

'I don't know what Miss Mary will do. I don't think she means it.'

'Oh, if you insist, if we both insist, she will. Look at the paper-we are to have some splendid experiences.'

Nuttie made a face. 'I've heard all about those,' she said. 'That man,' pointing to one of the names, 'regularly rants about it; he is like a madman.'

'He does go rather far, but it is quite necessary, as you will hear. Oh, Nuttie, if you would only be one of us! I've brought a card! If you would!'

'Why, what's the use, Gerard! I don't like wine, I never do drink it, except a little claret-cup sometimes when I can't get water.'

'Then it would cost you nothing.'

'Yes, it would. It would make me ridiculous.'

'You used not to heed the sneers of the world.'

'Not for anything worth doing-but this is not.'

'It is the greatest cause of the day!' he cried, in an eager exalted manner, which somewhat inclined her to laugh. 'Do away with alcohol and you would do away with crime!'

'Thank you for the compliment, Gerard; I never found that the infinitesimal drop of alcohol that I suppose there is in a tumbler of claret-cup disposed me to commit crimes.'

'Why won't you understand me, Ursula! Can't you give up that for the sake of saving others!'

'I wonder whom it would save.'

'Example saves! If you put on this'-taking out the badge-'how many should you not lead at your home?'

'Just nobody! Mother and I should have a bad time of it, that's all.'

'And if you endured, what would not your testimony effect in the household and village?'

'Nothing! I have nothing to do with the men-servants, and as to the village, it is very sober. There's only one public house, and that is kept by Uncle William's old butler, and is as orderly as can be.'

'Ah! that's the way you all deceive yourselves. Moderate drinkers are ten times more mischievous than regular drunkards.'

'Thank you, Gerard! And outrageous abstainers are more mischievous than either of them, because they make the whole thing so utterly foolish and absurd.' She was really angry now, and so was Gerard.

'Is that your ultimatum?' he asked, in a voice that he strove to render calm.

'Certainly; I'm not going to take the pledge.'

Having quarrelled in childhood, made quarrelling now easier, and Gerard answered bitterly:

'Very well, I hope you will have no cause to repent it.'

''Tis not the way to make me repent it, to see how it seems to affect some people's common sense. It is just as if all your brains had run to water!' said Nuttie, laughing a little; but Gerard was desperately serious, and coloured vehemently.

'Very well, Miss Egremont, I understand. I have had my answer,' he said, gathering up his papers and marching out of the room.

She stood still, offended, and not in the least inclined to run after him and take back her words. He, poor fellow, stumbled down the steps, and held by the garden rail to collect his senses and compose himself.

'What's the matter, Gerard, are you ill or giddy?' asked Miss Nugent, coming up in the winter twilight.

'No, oh no! Only the dream of my life is over,' he answered, scarce knowing what he said.

'You haven't-' cried Mary aghast.

'Oh no,' he said, understanding the blank, 'only she won't take the pledge!'

'I don't see how she could or ought,' responded Mary. 'Is that all?'

'I had made it the test,' muttered poor Gerard. 'It is right! It is all over now. I shall know how to go on my way. It is best so-I know it is-only I did not know whether anything was due to her.' It was almost a sob.

'Dear old Gerard,' said Mary, 'I see you meant to do right. It is well your mind should be settled. I think you'll find comfort in your good work.'

He wrung her hand, and she went in, half amused, for she was fully aware of the one-sidedness of the mania for temperance under which he acted, yet honouring his high, pure motives, and rejoicing that he had found this indirect mode of gauging Nuttie's feelings towards him-that is, if he was right about them, and there was no revulsion.

Far from it. Nuttie was still angry. 'Gerard had been so ridiculous,' she said, 'teasing her to take the pledge, and quite incapable of understanding her reasons. I can't think why Gerard has grown so stupid.'

'Enthusiasms carry people away,' returned Mary.

'If Mr. Dutton had only stayed, he would have kept Gerard like himself,' said Nuttie.

But there was no relenting. The two young people avoided each other; and perhaps Nuttie was secretly relieved that the romance she had outgrown no longer entangled her.

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