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   Chapter 27 THE BOY OF EGREMONT.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 19034

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'And the boy that walked beside me,

He could not understand

Why, closer in mine, ah, closer,

I press'd his warm soft hand.'-LONGFELLOW.

The agony of a firm like Greenleaf, Goodenough, and Co. could not be a rapid thing, and Mr. Dutton lived between London and Micklethwayte for several weeks, having much to endure on all sides. The senior partners thought it an almost malicious and decidedly ungrateful thing in him not to throw in his means, or at any rate, offer his guarantee to tide them over their difficulties. Goodenough's tergiversations and concealments needed a practised hand and acute head to unravel them, and often deceived Mr. Greenleaf himself; and when, for a time, he was convinced that the whole state was so rotten that a crash was inevitable, his wife's lamentations and complaints of Mr. Dutton would undo the whole, and it was as if he were doing them an injury that the pair accepted the comfortable prospect he was able to offer them in Australia.

He would have made the like proposal to the Egremonts, but found that Mark held himself bound by his promise to his father not to emigrate, and thought of some kind of office-work. Before trying to procure this for him, however, Mr. Dutton intended to see his uncle, and try whether the agency, once rejected, could still be obtained for him. Learning from Miss Nugent that the Egremonts were in town, he went up thither with the purpose of asking for an interview.

There was a new church in the immediate neighbourhood of his house in a state of growth and development congenial to the St. Ambrose trained mind, and here Mr. Dutton, after old Micklethwayte custom, was attending the early matins, when, in the alternate verses of the psalm, he heard a fresh young voice that seemed to renew those days gone by, and looking across the central aisle his eyes met a pair of dark ones which gave a sudden glitter of gladness at the encounter. That was all he saw or cared to see. He did not take in the finished completeness of the very plain dark dress and hat, nor the womanly air of the little figure, until they clasped hands in the porch, and in the old tones Nuttie exclaimed: 'I've been hoping you would come to London. How is Monsieur?'

'In high health, thank you, the darling of the steamer both going and coming. I hope your charges are well?'

'My father is tolerable, just as usual, and my little Alwyn is getting more delicious every day. He will be so delighted to see Monsieur. I have told him so many stories about him!'

'Do you think I may call on Mr. Egremont?'

'Oh do! He is ready to be called on between two and three, and we always have Wynnie downstairs then, so that you will see him too. And you have been at Micklethwayte. I am afraid you found a great change in Aunt Ursel.'

'Yes; but she is very peaceful and happy.'

'And I have to leave her altogether to dear excellent Miss Nugent. It seems very, very wrong, but I cannot help it! And how about Mark and Annaple?'

'I think she is the bravest woman I ever met.'

'Then things are really going badly with the dear old firm?'

'I am hoping to talk to Mr. Egremont about it.'

'Ah!'

Nuttie paused. Towards Mr. Dutton she always had a stronger impulse of confidence than towards any one else she had ever met; but she felt that he might think it unbecoming to say that she had perceived a certain dislike on her father's part towards Mark ever since the rejection of the agency and the marriage, which perhaps was regarded as a rejection of herself. He had a habit of dependence on Mark, which resulted in personal liking, when in actual contact, but in absence the distaste and offence always revived, fostered, no doubt, by Gregorio; and Canon Egremont's death had broken the link which had brought them together. However, for his brother's sake, and for the sake of the name, the head of the family might be willing to do something. It was one of Nuttie's difficulties that she never could calculate on the way her father would take any matter. Whether for better or for worse, he always seemed to decide in diametrical opposition to her expectation. And, as she was certainly less impetuous and more dutiful, she parted with Mr. Dutton at her own door without any such hint.

These three years had been discipline such as the tenderest, wisest hand could not have given her, though it had been insensible. She had been obliged to attend to her father and watch over her little brother, and though neither task had seemed congenial to her disposition, the honest endeavour to do them rightly had produced the affection born of solicitude towards her father, and the strong warm tenderness of the true mother-sister towards little Alwyn.

Ursula Egremont was one of those natures to which responsibility is the best training. If she had had any one to guard or restrain her, she might have gone to the utmost limits before she yielded to the curb. As it was, she had to take care of herself, to bear and forbear with her father, to walk warily with her household, and to be very guarded with the society into which she was thrown from time to time. It was no sudden change, but one brought about by experience. An outbreak of impatience or temper towards her father was sure to be followed by his galling sneer, or by some mortification to her desires; any act of mismanagement towards the servants brought its own punishment; and if she was tempted by girlish spirits to relax the quiet, stiff courtesy which she observed towards her father's guests, there followed jests, or semi-patronage, or a tone of conversation that offended her, and made her repent it. Happily, Mr. Egremont did not wish her to be otherwise. One day, when she had been betrayed into rattling and giggling, he spoke to her afterwards with a cutting irony which bitterly angered her at the moment, and which she never forgot. Each irksome duty, each privation, each disappointment, each recurrence of the sweeping sense of desolation and loneliness had had one effect-it had sent her to her knees. She had no one else to go to. She turned to her Father in heaven. Sometimes, indeed, it was in murmuring and complaint at her lot, but still it was to Him and Him alone, and repentance sooner or later came to aid her, while refreshments sprang up around her-little successes, small achievements, pleasant hours, tokens that her father was pleased or satisfied, and above all, the growing charms of little Alwyn.

The special grievance, Gregorio's influence, had scarcely dwelt on her at first as it had done on her mother. The man had been very cautious for some time, knowing that his continuance in his situation was in the utmost jeopardy, and Mr. Egremont had, in the freshness of his grief for his wife, abstained from relapsing into the habits from which she had weaned him. When, however, the Canon was dead, and his son at a distance, Gregorio began to feel more secure, and in the restless sorrow of his master over the blow that had taken away an only brother, he administered soothing drugs under another name, so that Ursula, in her inexperience, did not detect what was going on, and still fancied that the habit had been renounced. All she did know was that it was entirely useless for her to attempt to exert any authority over the valet, and that the only way to escape insolently polite disobedience was to let him alone. Moreover, plans to which her father had agreed, when broached by her, had often been overthrown after his valet had been with him. It was a life full of care and disappointment, yet there was a certain spring of trust that kept Ursula's youth from being dimmed, and enabled her to get a fair share of happiness out of it, though she was very sorry not to be more at Bridgefield, where she could have worked with all her heart with May Condamine. Moreover, Lady Kirkaldy's absence from London was a great loss to her, for there was no one who was so kind or so available in taking her into society; and Nuttie, though mistress of her father's house, was not yet twenty-two, and strongly felt that she must keep within careful bounds, and not attempt to be her own chaperon.

But the very sight of her old friend, and the knowledge that he was in the neighbourhood, filled her heart with gladness, and seemed like a compensation for everything. Mr. Egremont was in a gracious mood, and readily consented to see Mr. Dutton-the friend who had been so pleasant and helpful at Paris-and Nuttie gave her private instructions to the footman to insure his admittance.

His card was brought in just as the father and daughter were finishing luncheon, and he was received in Mr. Egremont's sitting-room, where the first civilities had hardly passed before the door was opened, and in trotted the golden-haired boy, so beautiful a child that it would have been impossible not to look at him with delight, even for those to whom his dark eyes and sweet smile did not recall those that had once been so dear.

Mr. Egremont's voice took a fresh tone: 'Ah! here he comes, the old fellow'-and he held out his hands; but the boy was intent on his own purpose.

'Where's black doggie?' he asked in a silver-bell of a little voice, but lisping a good deal; 'Wyn got penny for him.'

'Wynnie must be a good boy. Kiss papa first, and Mr. Dutton,' remonstrated the sister; and Alwyn obeyed so far as to submit to his father's embrace, and then raising those velvety eyes to the visitor's face, he repeated: 'Where blac

k doggie? Wyn want to see him buy bun.'

'There! your fame has preceded you,' said Mr. Egremont, 'or rather your dog's.'

'You shall see him,' said Mr. Dutton, taking the pretty boy almost reverently on his knee, 'but he is at home now. I could not leave him out on the street, and I did not know if I might bring him in.'

'Oh, Mr. Dutton! as if Monsieur would not be welcome,' cried the Nuttie of old times. 'I only wish I had stipulated for him, dear old fellow.'

'Wyn want to see him,' reiterated the child.

'May I take him to see the performance?' said Mr. Dutton. 'I live only at the corner of Berkshire Road, and there's a dairy just opposite where Monsieur has been allowed to keep up his accomplishment.'

Alwyn's legs, arms, and voice, were all excitement and entreaty; and Mr. Egremont himself proposed that they should all come and witness the feat; so Nuttie, in great glee, climbed the stairs with her little brother to get ready; and when she came down again, found the gentlemen deep, not in Mark Egremont's umbrellas, but in the gas and smoke grievances which had arisen since the lease of the house had been taken, and in which sympathy might be expected from a fellow-inhabitant of the district. Little Alwyn was, however, plainly the lord of the ascendant, and unused to see anything else attended to in his presence. He took possession of Mr. Dutton's hand, and his tongue went fast, nor did his father or sister seem to desire any better music. They reached an old-walled garden, with lilac and laburnum and horse-chestnut blossoming above, and showing a mass of greenery through the iron railing that surmounted, the low wall on the street side, where Mr. Dutton halted and took out his key.

'Is this yours?' exclaimed Nuttie, 'I have so often wondered whose it could be.'

'Yes, it was a country-house when I was of the age of this little man, though you might not think it.'

'The increase of London had not been on that side,' said Mr. Egremont. 'This must be a very valuable property!'

And Nuttie perceived that such an inheritance made Mr. Dutton much more in his eyes than an ex-umbrella-monger; but no sooner was the tall iron gate opened than Monsieur, beautifully shaved, with all his curly tufts in perfection, came bounding to meet his master, and Alwyn had his arms round the neck in a moment. Monsieur had in his time been introduced to too many children not to understand the situation, and respond politely; and he also recognised Ursula, and gave unmistakable proofs of being glad to see her.

Then the halfpenny was presented to him. He wagged his queer tail, smiled with his intelligent brown eyes, took it between his teeth, and trotted across the street in the most business-like way, the others following, but detaining the boy from keeping too close. They found the creature sitting upright, tapping the floor with his tail, the centre of rapturous admiration to all the customers already in the dairy shop. He received his bun, and demurely dropping on his front legs, walked back with it to his master, and crossed the road with it uneaten, rather to Alwyn's disappointment, but Mr. Dutton said he would probably dispose of it in some hiding-place in the garden until his evening appetite came on. It was well he was a dog of moderation, for there was great temptation to repeat the entertainment more than was wholesome for him.

'There, Wynnie,' said Nuttie in a voice of monition, 'Monsieur doesn't eat all his goodies at once, he keeps them for bedtime.'

It might be perceived that the over-supply of sweets was a matter of anxiety to the elder sister. To the nurse, who waited in readiness, Alwyn was consigned for his walk, while his father and sister accepted Mr. Dutton's invitation to look round his domain. It would have been small in the country, but it was extensive for the locality, and there was a perfect order and trimness about the shaven lawn, the little fountain in the midst, the flower-beds gay with pansies, forget-me-nots, and other early beauties, and the freshly-rolled gravel paths, that made Nuttie exclaim: 'Ah! I should have known this for yours anywhere.'

'I have not had much to do to it,' he said. 'My old aunts had it well kept up, even when they could only see it from their windows. Their old gardener still lives in the cottage behind the tool-house, though he is too infirm for anything but being wheeled about in the sun in their Bath-chair.'

'You keep a large amount lying idle by retaining it as it is,' said Mr. Egremont.

'True, but it is well to preserve an oasis here and there.'

Nuttie knew well that it was not for himself alone, and as they entered the little conservatory, and her eye fell on the row of white hyacinths, the very scent carried her back to the old times, and her eyes grew moist while Mr. Dutton was cutting a bouquet for her in accordance with well-known tastes.

'I shall put them in my room. It will feel like home,' she said, and then she saw that she had said what her father did not like; for he was always sensitive as to any reference to her early life.

Mr. Dutton, however, took this opportunity of saying that he had been backwards and forwards to Micklethwayte several times this spring.

'I hope you are well out of the concern there,' said Mr. Egremont.

'Thank you, sir; I have no share in it at present.'

'So much the better!'

'But I am very anxious about my friends.'

'Ah!' But Mr. Egremont's attention was drawn off at the entrance of the house by a new-fashioned stove of which Mr. Dutton did the honours, conducting father and daughter into the drawing-room, where obvious traces of the old ladies remained, and thence into his own sitting-room, smelling pleasantly of Russia leather, and recalling that into which Nuttie had been wont, before her schooldays, to climb by the window, and become entranced by the illustrations of a wonderful old edition of Telemaque, picked up at Paris.

Mr. Dutton made them sit and rest, for this had been a good deal of exercise for Mr. Egremont; coffee was brought in, having been ordered on their arrival, and therewith Mr. Dutton entered on an exposition of the affairs of Greenleaf and Goodenough, which was listened to with a good deal of interest, though Nuttie could not quite detect whether it were altogether friendly interests in Mark's misfortunes, or if there were not a certain triumph in the young man having run into trouble by rejecting his offer.

Mr. Dutton explained that his present object was to induce the friends of the family to prevent annoyance by preserving the furniture and personals at a valuation; and Mr. Egremont readily agreed to contribute to doing this, though he said the sisters and stepmother were well able also to do their share.

'And then to give the young people a fresh start,' added Mr. Dutton.

'There are some men who are always wanting fresh starts,' said Mr. Egremont, 'just as there are some vessels that are always unlucky. And if you observe, it is just those men who are in the greatest haste to hang an expensive wife and family round their necks.'

'I don't think poor Annaple can be accused of being expensive, papa,' said Nuttie. 'Only think, when Wynnie has two nurses always after him, her Willie has only the fraction of a little maid, who does all sorts of work besides.'

'Yes, I never saw more resolute and cheerful exertion than Mrs. Mark Egremont's,' said Mr. Dutton.

'She owes him something,' said Mr. Egremont, 'for she has been the ruin of him.'

'Of his worldly prospects in one sense,' said Mr. Dutton quietly; while Nuttie felt how much better and wiser an answer it was than the indignant denial that trembled on her tongue. 'There can be no doubt that they made a grievous mistake in their choice, and I unfortunately was concerned in leading them into it; but no one can see how they meet their troubles without great respect and admiration, and I am especially bound to seek for some new opening for them. I have little doubt that some office work might be found for him in London, but they are essentially country people, and it would be much better for them if he could have some agency. I suppose the situation you offered him before, sir, is filled up?'

'Not really,' cried Nuttie. 'We have only a very common sort of uneducated bailiff, who would be much better with some one over him. You said so, papa.'

'Did he request you to apply to me?' said Mr. Egremont sharply, looking at Mr. Dutton.

'Neither he nor she has the least idea of my intention; I only thought, sir, you might be willing to consider how best to assist a nephew, who has certainly not been wanting either in industry or economy, and who bears your name.'

'Well, I will think it over,' said Mr. Egremont, rising to take leave.

The carriage had been bidden to await them at the door for their daily drive, and as Mr. Egremont leant back with the furs disposed over him he observed: 'That's a man who knows how to take care of himself. I wonder where he gets his coffee, I've not drunk any like it since I was at Nice.' And Nuttie, though well knowing that Mr. Dutton's love of perfection was not self-indulgence, was content to accept this as high approbation, and a good augury for Mark and Annaple. Indeed, with Mr. Dutton settled near, and with the prospect of a daily walk from church with him, she felt such a complete content and trust as she had not known since she had been uprooted from Micklethwayte.

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