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   Chapter 23 A FAILURE.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 19676

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'Would I had loved her more!'-Mrs. Hemans.

'On the 14th of January, at Bridgefield Egremont, the wife of Alwyn Piercefield Egremont, Esquire, a son and heir.'

Ursula had been prepared for this event for about a fortnight by a long tender letter from her mother, mourning over the not meeting at Christmas, and the long separation, but saying that she had wished to spare the long anxiety, and that it had been a trying time which she felt herself able to cope with better alone, than even with her dear Nuttie, knowing her to be happy and safe with Aunt Ursel. Now, if all went well, they would have a happy meeting, and begin on a new score. 'If the will of God should be otherwise,' added Alice, 'I am sure I need not entreat my Nuttie to do and be all that she can to her father. My child, you do not know how sorely he needs such love and tendance and prayer as you can give him. I know you have thought I have set you aside-if not better things, for his sake. Indeed I could not help it.' Then there was something tear-stained and blotted out, and it ended with, 'He is beginning to miss your step and voice about the house. I believe he will really be glad to see you, when the bright spring days come, and I can kiss my own Nuttie again.'

Nuttie was very much delighted, but a little hurt that her aunt and Mary should have been in the secret, and pledged to say nothing to her till her mother should write. She found, moreover, that Miss Headworth was extremely anxious and not altogether reassured by Mrs. William Egremont's letter of announcement, which filled Nuttie with delight. How happy the little mother must be to have a baby in her arms again, and though she herself did not profess to have a strong turn for infant humanity, it was the greatest possible relief to be no longer an heiress, excepting that the renunciation in favour of Mark was no longer practicable.

The residence at Redcastle was not over, but the Canoness had come to nurse her sister-in-law, and kept up the correspondence. The son and heir was reported to be a perfect specimen, and his father was greatly elated and delighted, but the letters showed anxiety about the mother, who did not get on as she ought, and seemed to have no power of rally about her. At length came a letter that seemed to burn itself into Nuttie's brain-

'My Dear Ursula-Your mother is longing to see you. You had better come home directly. Your aunt saved her before. Tell her if she will come, she shall have my deepest gratitude. I shall send to meet the 5.11 train.-Your affectionate father,

A. P. EGREMONT.'

Mrs. William Egremont wrote at more length. Symptoms had set in which filled the doctors and nurses with double anxiety. Advice had been sent for from London, and Mr. Egremont was in an uncontrollable state of distress. She had undertaken to summon Ursula home, and to beg Miss Headworth to undertake the journey. She evidently did not know that her brother-in-law had written himself, and before they could start a telegram terrified them, but proved to contain no fresh tidings, only a renewed summons.

Miss Headworth forgot all her resolutions about Mr. Egremont's hospitality-her Alice was her only thought, and all the remedies that had been found efficacious at Dieppe. The good lady had a certain confidence in her own nursing and experience of Alice, which buoyed her up with hope, while Ursula seemed absolutely stunned. She had never thought of such a frightful loss or grief, and her mental senses were almost paralysed, so that she went through the journey in a kind of surface trance, observing all around her much as usual, looking out for the luggage and for the servant who had come to meet them with the report 'No change.' She did the honours of the carriage, and covered Miss Headworth with the fur rug. They wanted it, for they were shivering with anxiety.

Canon Egremont came out to the front hall to meet them, and put his arms round Nuttie tenderly, saying, 'My poor dear child!' then as he saw he had frightened them, 'No, no! She is alive-conscious they say, only so very weak.' Then with something of his usual urbane grace, he held out his hand, 'Miss Headworth, it is very good in you to come. You have a great deal to forgive.'

He took them into the tent-room, where tea was standing, interrupting himself in the account he was giving to bid Nuttie let her aunt have some. It was plain from his manner that he had given up hope, and in another minute in hurried his brother, looking terribly haggard and with bloodshot eyes, giving his hand to each, with, 'That's right, Miss Headworth, thank you. Come, let me know what you think of her!'

'Does she know they are come?' said the Canon. 'No? Then, Alwyn, let them have some tea, and take off their things. I can tell you, the nurses will never let them in just off a journey.'

Miss Headworth seconded this, and Mr. Egremont submitted, allowing that she had not asked for Nuttie since the morning, and then had smiled and squeezed his hand when he said she was coming with her aunt; but he walked up and down in direful restlessness, his whole mind apparently bent on extracting from Miss Headworth that she had been as ill or worse at Dieppe.

Alas! when Mrs. William Egremont came down to fetch Nuttie; there was no question that matters were much worse. The sweet face was perfectly white and wasted, and the heavy lids of the dark eyes scarcely lifted themselves, but the lips moved into a smile, and the hand closed on that of the girl, who stood by her as one frozen into numbness. There was the same recognition when her aunt was brought to her side, the poor old lady commanding herself with difficulty, as the loving glance quivered over the face.

Time passed on, and she still held Nuttie's hand. Once, when a little revived by some stimulant at her lips, she made an effort and said, 'Stay with him! Take care of him! Love him! And your little brother, my Nuttie! Promise!'

'I promise,' the girl answered, scarce knowing what she said.

And the eyes closed with an air of peace and rest.

Again when Miss Headworth was doing something to ease her position she said, 'Thank you,' and then more vigorously, 'Thank you, dear aunt, for all you have been to us.'

There was little more. She asked Nuttie for 'her hymn,' the evening hymn with which mother and daughter used nightly to go to sleep, and which, in her strange dreamy way, the girl managed to say.

Then a little murmur and sign passed between the elder ladies, and Mrs. William Egremont fetched her husband. As he opened his book to find the commendatory prayer, thinking her past all outward consciousness, and grieved by the look of suffering, her eyes again unclosed and her lips said, 'Failed.'

'Don't think of that! God can make failures success.'

There was a half smile, a look of peace. 'He makes up,' she said; and those were the last audible words before it was over, and the tender spirit was released from its strife, some time later, they only knew when by the failure of the clasp on her husband's hand.

Old Miss Headworth did not understand the meaning of that sad word till the next forenoon. Then,-as she sat in the darkened tent-room, crying over her letters,-while the stunned and bewildered Nuttie was, under her Aunt Jane's direction, attending to the needful arrangements, Canon Egremont wandered in upon her in the overflow of confidence of a man with a full heart, wanting to talk it all out, communicating the more, because she was a discreet woman, and asked no questions. He had tried to see his brother, but Gregorio had not admitted him. He was aware now of the whole state of things. Dr. Hammond had told him, when first beginning to be alarmed for his patient, that the principal cause for anxiety was the exhaustion caused by the long strain on her spirits and strength consequent on her efforts to wean her husband from his fatal propensity. There had been other 'complications,' as the doctor called them, and more immediate causes of danger, but both he and his colleague, summoned from London, believed that she would have surmounted them if she had had more strength to rally. But her nurses dated the decided turn for the worse from the day when she had gazed up into Mr. Egremont's face, and detected the look in his eyes that she had learnt too well to understand.

She would fain have lived, and, according to her obedient nature, had submitted to all the silence and stillness enforced on her; but she had told Dr. Hammond that she must see her brother-in-law before she was too far gone. And the doctor, knowing all, took care it should be brought about.

And then she had spoken of her failure in the effort of these years. 'If I had begun better,' she said, 'it might not have been so with him.'

'My dear, indeed you have nothing to blame yourself for. You were grievously sinned against by us all. Alwyn was no saint when he drew you into it-and you, you have been his good angel, doing all and more too,' said the Canon, almost breaking down.

'I tried-but if I had been a better woman-And to leave him to that man!'

'Child, child, victories sometimes come this way!' he cried, scarce knowing how it was put into his mouth, but glad to see the light in her eye.

'Thanks,' she replied. 'No, I ought not to have said that. I leave him to God, and my poor Nuttie. I want you to tell her, if I can't, what she must try to do. If I had but brought them together more! But I tried for the best.'

Then she begged for her last communion, saying, 'I do pray for that poor Gregorio. Isn't that forgiving him?' And the attempt to exchange forgiveness with the Canon for their mutual behaviour at the time of her marriage overcame them both so much that they had to leave it not half uttered. Indeed,

in speaking of the scene, William Egremont was utterly overwhelmed.

'And that's the woman that I treated as a mere outcast!' he cried, walking about the little room. 'Oh God, forgive me! I shall never forgive myself.'

Poor Miss Headworth! In past days she had longed for any amount of retribution on Alice's hard-hearted employers, but it was a very different thing to witness such grief and self reproach. He had in truth much more developed ideas of duty, both as man and priest, than when he had passively left a disagreeable subject to his mother-in-law, as lying within a woman's province; and his good heart was suffering acutely for the injustice and injury in which he had shared towards one now invested with an almost saintly halo.

In the gush of feeling he had certainly revealed more to Miss Headworth, than his wife, or even he himself, in his cooler moments, would have thought prudent, and he ended by binding her to secrecy; and saying that he should only tell his niece what was necessary for her to know.

Nuttie was going about, dry-eyed and numbed, glad of any passing occupation that would prevent the aching sense of desolation at her heart from gaining force to overwhelm her; courting employment, and shunning pity and condolence, but she could not escape when her uncle took her hand, made her sit down by him, with 'I want to speak to you, my dear;' and told her briefly and tenderly what her mother's effort had been, and of the message and task she had bequeathed. The poor girl's heart fainted within her.

'Oh! but, Uncle William, how can I? How can I ever? Mother could do things I never could! He did care for her! He does not care for me!'

'You must teach him to do so, Nuttie.'

'Oh!' she said, with a hopeless sound.

The Canon did think it very hopeless in his heart, but he persevered, as in duty bound. 'I told your dear mother that perhaps you would succeed where she thought she had failed, though indeed she had done much. It made her happy. So, my dear child, you are bound to do your best.'

'Yes;' then, after a pause-'But mother could coax him and manage him. Mother was with him day and night; she could always get at him. What can I do?'

'I think you will find that he depends upon you more,' said the Canon, 'and it may be made easier to you, if you only set your will to it.'

'If I ought, I'll try,' said poor Nuttie, more humbly perhaps than she had ever spoken before, but in utter dejection, and her uncle answered her like a child.

'There, that's a good girl. Nobody can do more.'

For the Canon had one hope. He had not thought it becoming to speak to her of the counter influence, but he could not help thinking it possible that if he and his son, backed by doctor and lawyer, made a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogether, they might induce his brother to part with Gregorio, and this would render Ursula's task far less impossible.

He was confirmed in this hope by finding that Mark's arrival was not unwelcome to Mr. Egremont, who seemed to have forgotten the unpleasantness with which he had regarded the engagement, and only remembered that his nephew had been Alice's champion, resuming old customs of dependence, making him act as amanuensis, and arraigning the destiny that had restored so lovely and charming a creature only to snatch her away, leaving nothing but a headstrong girl and a helpless baby.

That poor little fellow was all that could be desired at his age, but Nuttie felt her beautiful mother almost insulted when the elder ladies talked of the wonderful resemblance that the Canoness declared to have been quite startling in the earlier hours of his life. For the convenience of one of the sponsors, he was to be christened in the afternoon following the funeral, the others being-by his mother's special entreaty-his sister and Mark. Egremont customs were against the ladies going to the funeral, so that Nuttie was kept at home, much against her will; but after the luncheon she escaped, leaving word with her aunts that she was going to walk down to church alone, and they were sorry enough for her to let her have her own way, especially as her father, having been to the funeral, had shut himself up and left all the rest to them.

The Egremont family had a sort of enclosure or pen with iron rails round it close to the church wall, where they rested under flat slabs. The gate in this was open now, and the new-made grave was one mass of white flowers,-wreaths and crosses, snowdrops, hyacinths, camellias, and the like,-and at the feet was a flowerpot with growing plants of the white hyacinth called in France 'lys de la Vierge.' These, before they became frequent in England, had been grown in Mr. Dutton's greenhouse, and having been favourites with Mrs. Egremont, it had come to be his custom every spring to bring her the earliest plants that bloomed. Nuttie knew them well, the careful tying up, the neat arrangement of moss over the earth, the peculiar trimness of the whole; and as she looked, the remembrance of the happy times of old, the sick longing for all that was gone, did what nothing had hitherto effected-brought an overwhelming gush of tears.

There was no checking them now that they had come. She fled into church on the first sounds of arrival and hid herself in the friendly shelter of the great family pew; but she had to come out and take her place, though she could hardly utter a word, and it was all that she could do to keep from sobbing aloud; she could not hand the babe, and the Canon had to take on trust the name 'Alwyn Headworth,' for he could not hear the words that were on her trembling lips.

It was soon over; and while the baby and his attendants, with Miss Headworth, were being packed into the carriage, and her uncle and aunt bowing off the grand god-father, she clutched her cousin's arm, and said, 'Mark; where's Mr. Dutton?'

'I-I didn't know he was coming, but now you ask, I believe I saw him this morning.'

'I know he is here.'

'Do you want to see him?' said Mark kindly.

'Oh, if I might!'

Then, with a sudden impulse, she looked back into the church, and recognised a black figure and slightly bald head bowed down in one of the seats. She pointed him out. 'No doubt he is waiting for us all to be gone,' said Mark in a low voice. 'You go into the Rectory, Nuttie; there's a fire in the study, and I'll bring him to you there. I'll get him to stay the night if I can.'

'Oh, thank you!' and it was a really fervent answer.

Mark waited, and when Mr. Dutton rose, was quite shocked at his paleness and the worn look on his face, as of one who had struggled hard for resignation and calm. He started, almost as if a blow had been struck him, as Mark uttered his name in the porch, no doubt having never meant to be perceived nor to have to speak to any one; but in one moment his features had recovered their usual expression of courteous readiness. He bowed his head when Mark told him that Ursula wanted to shake hands with him, and came towards the Rectory, but he entirely declined the invitation to sleep there, declaring that he must return to London that night.

Mark opened the study door, and then went away to secure that the man whom he had learnt to esteem very highly should at least have some refreshment before he left the house.

Those few steps had given Mr. Dutton time to turn from a mourner to a consoler, and when Nuttie came towards him with her hand outstretched, and 'Oh, Mr. Dutton, Mr. Dutton!' he took it in both his, and with a calm broken voice said, 'God has been very good to us in letting us know one like her.'

'But oh! what can we do without her?'

'Ah, Nuttie! that always comes before us. But I saw your work and your comfort just now.'

'Poor little boy! I shall get to care about him, I know, but as yet I can only feel how much rather I would have her.'

'No doubt, but it is her work that is left you.'

'Her work? Yes! But oh, Mr. Dutton, you don't know how dreadful it is!'

He did not know what she meant. Whether it was simply the burthen on any suddenly motherless girl, or any special evil on her father's part, but he was soon enlightened, for there was something in this old friend that drew out her confidence beyond all others, even when he repressed her, and she could not help telling him in a few murmured furtive words such as she knew she ought not to utter, and he felt it almost treason to hear. 'Opiates! she was always trying to keep my father from them! It was too much for her! My uncle says I must try to do it, and I can't.'

'Poor child!' said Mr. Dutton kindly, though cut to the heart at the revelation of sweet Alice's trial; 'at least you can strive, and there is always a blessing on resolution.'

'Oh, if you knew! and he doesn't like me. I don't think I've ever been nice to him, and that vexed her! I haven't got her ways.'

'No,' said Mr. Dutton, 'but you will learn others. Look here, Nuttie. You used to be always craving for grand and noble tasks, the more difficult the better. I think you have got one now, more severe than ever could have been thought of-and very noble. What are those lines about the task "bequeathed from bleeding sire to son"? Isn't it like that? You are bound to go on with her work, and the more helpless you feel, and the more you throw yourself on God, the more God will help you. He takes the will for the deed, if only you have will enough; and, Nuttie, you can pray that you may be able to love and honour him.'

Teacups were brought in, followed by Mark, and interrupted them; and, after a short interval, they parted at the park gate, and Ursula walked home with Mark, waked from her dull numb trance, with a crushed feeling as if she had been bruised all over, and yet with a purpose within her.

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