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   Chapter 28 A BRAVE HEART.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 13325

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'One furnace many times the good and bad may hold,

Yet what consumes the chaff will only cleanse the gold.'

Archbishop TRENCH.

Never was there a truer verse than that which tells us that in seeking duty we find pleasure by the way, and in seeking pleasure we meet pain. It might be varied to apply to our anticipations of enjoyment or the reverse. Ursula had embraced her lot as a necessity, and found it enlivened by a good many sunshiny hours; and when she looked upon Mr. Dutton's neighbourhood as a continual source of delight and satisfaction, she found that it gave rise to a continual course of small disappointments.

In the first place, he did not walk home from church with her every morning. She looked for him in vain, even when she knew he was in town. He only appeared there on Sundays, and at intervals when he had some especial reason for speaking to her. At first she thought he must have grown lazy or out of health to have thus dropped his old Micklethwayte habits, but after a time she discovered by accident that he frequented another church, open at a still earlier hour and a little farther off, and she was forced to come to the conclusion that he acted out of his characteristic precise scrupulosity, which would not consider it as correct for her to walk home every day with him. She chafed, and derided 'the dear old man' a little in her own mind, then ended with a sigh. Was there any one who cared so much about what was proper for her? And, after all, was he really older than Mr. Clarence Fane, whom everybody in her father's set called Clarence, or even Clare, and treated as the boy of the party, so that she had taken it as quite natural that he should be paired off with her. It was quite a discovery!

There was another and more serious disappointment. Mr. Egremont had not seemed disinclined to consider the giving the agency to Mark, and Nuttie had begun to think with great satisfaction of May Condamine's delight in welcoming him, and of the good influence that would be brought to bear on the dependents, when suddenly there came a coolness. She could trace the moment, and was sure that it was, when Gregorio became aware of what was intended. He had reason to dread Mark as an enemy, and was likely to wish to keep him at a distance; and it had been Ursula's great hope that an absolute promise might have been given before he heard of the plan; but Mr. Egremont was always slow to make up his mind, except when driven by a sudden impulse, and had never actually said that the post should be offered to his nephew. Nuttie only detected the turn of the tide by the want of cordiality, the hums and haws, and by and by the resumption of the unkind ironical tone when Mark and Annaple were mentioned; and at last, when she had been reading to him a letter from Mrs. William Egremont full of anxiety for the young people, and yet of trust in his kindness to them, he exclaimed, 'You've not been writing to her about this absurd proposal?'

'I have not mentioned any proposal at all. What do you mean?'

'Why, this ridiculous idea about the agency. As if I was going to put my affairs into the hands of a man who has made such a mull of his own.'

'But that was not Mark's fault, papa. He was junior, you know, and had no power over that Goodenough.'

'He ought, then! Never sail with an unlucky captain. No, no, Mark's honourable lady would not let him take the agency when he might have had it, and I am not going to let them live upon me now that they have nothing of their own.'

'Oh, papa, but you almost promised!'

'Almost!' he repeated with his ironical tone; 'that's a word capable of a good deal of stretching. This is what you and that umbrella fellow have made out of my not giving him a direct refusal on the spot. He may meddle with Mark's affairs if he chooses, but not with mine.'

Nuttie had learnt a certain amount of wisdom, and knew that to argue a point only made her father more determined, so she merely answered, 'Very well;' adding in a meek voice, 'Their furniture, poor things!'

'Oh ay. Their umbrella friend is making a collection for them. Yes, I believe I said I would contribute.'

Hot blood surged up within Nuttie at the contemptuous tone, and she bit her lip to keep down the answer, for she knew Mr. Dutton intended to call the next afternoon for her father's ultimatum before going down to Micklethwayte, where the crisis was fast approaching, and she had so much faith in his powers that she dreaded to forestall him by an imprudent word. Alas, Gregorio must have been on his guard, for, though Nuttie was sure she heard her friend's ring at the usual time, no entrance followed. She went up to put on her habit to ride with her father, and when she came down Mr. Egremont held out a card with the name 'Philip Dutton,' and the pencilled request below to be allowed to see Mr. Egremont later in the day.

'He has been denied!' exclaimed she in consternation.

'Hein! Before we go out, sit down and write a note for me.' And he dictated-

'Dear Sir-I will not trouble you to call again this

afternoon, as I have decided on reflection that there

is no employment on my estate suited to my nephew,

Mark Egremont.

'As I understand that you are raising a family

subscription for rescuing his furniture from the

creditors, I enclose a cheque for £50 for the purpose.

-I remain-'

'Yours-what-papa?-' asked Ursula, with a trembling voice, full of tears.

'Yours, etc., of course. Quite intimate enough for an ex-umbrella-monger. Here, give it to me, and I'll sign it while you fill up the cheque for me.'

That such should be the first letter that Nuttie ever addressed to Mr. Dutton, since the round-hand one in 'which Miss Ursula wished Mr. Duton to have the onner of a tee with me on my birthday, and I am your affected little Nuttie'!

She hoped to explain and lament the next morning, after church. He would surely come to talk it over with her; but he only returned a civil note with his receipt, and she did not see him again before his departure. She was greatly vexed; she had wanted so much to tell him how it was, and then came an inward consciousness that she would probably have told him a great deal too much.

Was it that tiresome prudence of his again that would think for her and prevent impulsive and indignant disclosures? It made her bring down her foot sharply on the pavement with vexation as she suspected that he thought her so foolish, and then again her heart warmed with the perception of self-denying care for her. She trusted to that same prudence for no delusive hopes having been given to Mark

and his wife.

She did so justly. Mr. Dutton had thought the matter far too uncertain to be set before them. The Canoness's vague hopes had been the fruit of a hint imprudently dropped by Nuttie herself in a letter to Blanche. She had said more to Miss Nugent, but Mary was a nonconductor. Mr. Dutton's heart sank as he looked at the houses, and he had some thoughts of going to her first for intelligence, but Annaple had spied him, and ran out to the gate to welcome him.

'Oh, Mr. Dutton, I'm so glad! Mark will be delighted.'

'Is he at home?'

'Oh no, at the office, wading through seas of papers with Mr. Greenleaf, but he will come home to eat in a quarter of an hour. So come in;' then, as her boy's merry voice and a gruffer one were heard, 'That's the bailiff. He is Willie's devoted slave.'

'I hoped to have been in time to have saved you that.'

'Well, I'm convinced that among the much maligned races are bailiffs. I wonder what I could get by an article on prejudice against classes! I was thinking how much beer I should have to lay in for this one, and behold he is a teetotaller, and besides that amateur nurse-maid, parlour-maid, kitchen-maid, etc. etc.-'

'What bailiff could withstand Mrs. Egremont? Perhaps you have tamed him?'

'Not I. The cook did that. Indeed I believe there's a nice little idyll going on in the kitchen, and besides he wore the blue ribbon, and was already a devoted follower of young Mr. Godfrey!'

'However, if the valuation is ready, I hope you may be relieved from him, if you won't be too much concerned at the parting!'

'Mrs. Egremont told us that our people are very good to us,' said Annaple, 'and don't mean to send us out with nothing but a pack at our backs. It is very kind in them and in you, Mr. Dutton, to take the trouble of it! No, I'll not worry you with thanks. The great point is, hope for something for Mark to do. That will keep up his spirits best! Poor Mr. Greenleaf is so melancholy that it is all I can do to keep him up to the mark.'

'I have been making inquiries, and I have three possible openings, but I hardly like to lay them before you.'

'Oh, we are not particular about gentility! It is work we want, and if it was anything where I could help that would be all the better! I'm sure I only wonder there are so many as three. I think it is somebody's doing. Ah! there's Mark,' and she flew out to meet him. 'Mark!' she said, on the little path, 'here's the good genius, with three chances in his pocket. Keep him to luncheon. I've got plenty. Poor old man, how hot you look! Go and cool in the drawing-room, while I wash my son's face.'

And she disappeared into the back regions, while Mark, the smile she had called up vanishing from his face, came into the drawing-room, and held out a cordial, thankful hand to his friend, whose chief intelligence was soon communicated. 'Yes,' said Mark, when he heard the amount entrusted by the family to Mr. Dutton, 'that will save all my wife's poor little household gods. Not that I should call them so, for I am sure she does not worship them. I don't know what would become of me if she were like poor Mrs. Greenleaf, who went into hysterics when the bailiff arrived, and has kept her room ever since. I sometimes feel as if nothing could hurt us while Annaple remains what she is.'

Mr. Dutton did not wonder that he said so, when she came in leading her little son, with his sunny hair newly brushed and shining, and carrying a little bouquet for the guest of one La Marque rosebud and three lilies of the valley.

'Take it to Mr. Dutton, Billy-boy; I think he knows how the flowers came into the garden. You shall have daddy's button-hole to take to him next. There, Mark, it is a pansy of most smiling countenance, such as should beam on you through your accounts. I declare, there's that paragon of a Mr. Jones helping Bessy to bring in dinner! Isn't it very kind to provide a man-servant for us?'

It might be rattle, and it might be inconsequent, but it was much pleasanter than hysterics. Billy-boy was small enough to require a good deal of attention at dinner, especially as he was more disposed to open big blue eyes at the stranger, than to make use of his spoon, and Annaple seemed chiefly engrossed with him, though a quick keen word at the right moment showed that she was aware of all that was going on, as Mark and Mr. Dutton discussed the present situation and future measures.

It was quite true that a man concerned in a failure was in great danger of being left out of the race for employment, and Mr. Dutton did not think it needful to mention the force of the arguments he was using to back his recommendation of Mark Egremont. The possibilities he had heard of were a clerkship at a shipping agent's, another at a warehouse in their own line, and a desk at an insurance office. This sounded best, but had the smallest salary to begin with, and locality had to be taken into account. Mr. Dutton's plan was, that as soon as Mark was no longer necessary for what Annaple was pleased to call the fall of the sere and withered leaf, the pair should come to stay with him, so that Mark could see his possible employers, and Annaple consider of the situations. They accepted this gratefully, Mark only proposing that she should go either to his stepmother or her own relations to avoid the final crisis.

'As if I would!' she exclaimed. 'What sort of a little recreant goose do you take me for?'

'I take you for a gallant little woman, ready to stand in the breach,' said Mark.

'Ah, don't flatter yourself! There is a thing I have not got courage to face-without necessity, and that's Janet's triumphant pity. Mr. Dutton lives rather too near your uncle, but he is a man, and he can't be so bad.'

This of course did not pass till Mr. Dutton had gone in to greet the ladies next door, to promise to tell them of their child at length when the business hours of the day should be over.

Shall it be told? There was something in his tone-perfectly indefinable, with which he spoke of 'Miss Egremont,' that was like the old wistfully reverential voice in which he used to mention 'Mrs. Egremont.' It smote Mary Nugent's quiet heart with a pang. Was it that the alteration from the old kindly fatherliness of regard to 'little Nuttie' revealed that any dim undefined hope of Mary's own must be extinguished for ever; or was it that she grieved that he should again be wasting his heart upon the impracticable?

A little of both, perhaps, but Mary was as ready as ever to sympathise, and to rejoice in hearing that the impetuous child had grown into the forbearing dutiful woman.

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