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   Chapter 29 A FRESH START.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15403

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'Did you say that Mark and his wife were come to Springfield House?'

'They come the day after to-morrow,' answered Ursula. 'Mark could not finish up the business sooner.'

'Well, I suppose we must have them to dinner for once. He has made a fool of himself, but I won't have the Canoness complaining that I take no notice of him; and it is easier done while he is there than when he has got into some hole in the City-that is if he ever gets anything to do.'

'Mr. Dutton has several situations in view for him.'

'In view. That's a large order. Or does it mean living on Dutton and doing something nominal? I should think Dutton too old and sharp a hand for that, though he is quartering them on himself.'

'I believe there is nothing Mr. Dutton would like better, if he thought it right for them, but I am quite sure Mark and Annaple would not consent.'

'Ha, ha!' and Mr. Egremont laughed. 'Their nose is not brought to the grindstone yet! Say Saturday, then, Ursula.'

'Am I to ask Mr. Dutton?'

'Of course; I'm not going to have a tete-a-tete with Master Mark.'

So Ursula had the satisfaction of writing a more agreeable note to Mr. Dutton than her last, and her invitation was accepted, but to her vexation Mr. Egremont further guarded himself from anything confidential by verbally asking Mr. Clarence Fane on that very day, and as that gentleman was a baronet's son, she knew she should fall to his lot at dinner, and though she was glad when this was the case at their ordinary parties, it was a misfortune on the present occasion. She had not seen Annaple since her marriage, except at the family gathering on the Canon's death, when she was very much absorbed by the requirements of the stricken household; and Nuttie expected to see her in the same subdued condition. All Mr. Dutton had said or Mary Nugent had written about her courage and cheerfulness had given the impression of 'patience smiling at grief,' and in a very compassionate mood she started for a forenoon call at Springfield House; but, early as it was, nobody was at home, unless it might be the little boy, whose voice she thought she heard while waiting at the gate.

She was out driving with her father afterwards in the long summer evening, and only found Mark's card on returning just in time to dress. It was a bright glaring day, and she was sitting by the window, rather inattentively listening to Mr. Fane's criticism of a new performance at one of the theatres, when she heard the bell, and there entered the slight, bright creature who might still have been taken for a mere girl. The refined though pronounced features, the transparent complexion, crispy yellow hair and merry eyes, were as sunbeam-like as at the Rectory garden-party almost five years ago, and the black dress only marked the contrast, and made the slenderness of the figure more evident.

Mark looked older, and wrung his cousin's hand with a pressure of gratitude and feeling, but Annaple's was a light little gay kiss, and there was an entire unconsciousness about her of the role of poor relation. She made an easy little acknowledgment of the introduction of Mr. Fane, and, as Mr. Egremont appeared the next moment, exchanged greetings with him in a lively ordinary fashion.

This was just what he liked. He only wanted to forget what was unpleasant, and, giggling Scotch girl as she was, he was relieved to find that she could not only show well-bred interest in the surface matters of the time, but put in bright flashes of eagerness and originality, well seconded by Mr. Dutton. Mr. Fane was always a professor of small talk, and Nuttie had learnt to use the current change of society, so that though Mark was somewhat silent, the dinner was exceedingly pleasant and lively; and, as Mr. Fane remarked afterwards, he had been asked to enliven a doleful feast to ruined kindred, he could only say he wished prosperity always made people so agreeable.

'This is all high spirit and self-respect,' thought Nuttie. 'Annaple is talking as I am, from the teeth outwards. I shall have it out with her when we go upstairs! At any rate my father is pleased with her!'

Nuttie made the signal to move as soon as she could, and as they went upstairs, put her arm round the slim waist and gave a sympathetic pressure, but the voice that addressed her had still the cheery ring that she fancied had been only assumed.

'I'm sorry I missed you, but we set out early and made a day of it; and oh! we've been into such funny places as I never dreamt of! You didn't see my boy?'

'No. I thought I heard him. I must see him to-morrow.'

'And I must see yours. May it not be a pleasure to-night? I've no doubt you go and gloat over him at night.'

'Well, I do generally run up after dinner; but after your day, I can't think of dragging you up all these stairs.'

'Oh, that's nothing! Only you see it is jollier to have my Billy-boy in the next room.'

They were mounting all the time, and were received in the day nursery by the old Rectory nurse, much increased in dignity, but inclined to be pathetic as she inquired after 'Mr. Mark,' while Annaple, like a little insensible being, answered with provoking complacency as to his perfect health, and begged Mrs. Poole to bring Master Alwyn to play in the garden at Springfield with her Willie. In fact there was a general invitation already to Alwyn to play there, but his attendants so much preferred the society of their congeners in the parks that they did not avail themselves of it nearly as often as Ursula wished.

Little Alwyn asleep was, of course, a beautiful sight, with a precious old headless rabbit pressed tight to his cheek; Annaple's face grew tender as she looked at the motherless creature; and she admired him to any extent except saying that he excelled her own. Being more than a year the elder, there could be no rivalry as to accomplishments; but as soon as they were out of the nursery hush, Annaple laughed her way down again with tales of Billy-boy's wonder at his first experiences of travelling. They sat down among the plants in the balcony, as far from the lamps as possible, and talked themselves into intimacy over Micklethwayte. There are two Eden homes in people's lives, one that of later childhood, the other the first of wedded happiness, and St. Ambrose Road had the same halo to both of these; for both had been uprooted from it against their will; the chief difference being that Ursula could cast longing, lingering looks behind, while Annaple held herself resolutely steeled against sentiment, and would only turn it off by something absurd. Nothing was absolutely settled yet; Mark had been presenting himself at offices, and she had been seeing rooms and lodgings.

'The insurance office sounds the best, and would be the least shock to our belongings,' said Annaple; 'but it seems to lead to nothing. He would not get on unless we had capital to invest, and even if we had any, you wouldn't catch us doing that again!'

'Does Mr. Dutton advise that?'

'No, he only thought we should like it better; but we are quite past caring for people's feelings in the matter. They couldn't pity us worse than they do. I incline to Stubbs and Co. One of them was once in the Greenleaf office, and has a regard for anything from thence; besides Mark would have something to do besides desk work. He would have to judge of samples, and see to the taking in and storing of goods. He does know something about that, and I'm sure it would agree with him better than an unmitigated high stool, with his nose to a desk.'

'I should like it better.'

'That's right! Now I have got some one to say so. Besides, rising is poss

ible, if one gets very useful. I mean to be Mrs. Alderman, if not my Lady Mayoress, before we have done. Then they have a great big almost deserted set of rooms over the warehouse, where we might live and look after the place.'

'Oh! but should you like that?'

'Mr. Dutton wants us to live out in some of the suburban places, where it seems there is a perfect population of clerks' families in semi-detached houses. He says we should save Mark's railway fare, rent, and all in doctors' bills. But people, children and all, do live and thrive in the City; and I think Mark's health will be better looked after if I am there to give him his midday bite and sup, and brush him up, than if he is left to cater for himself; and as to exercise for the Billy-boy, 'tis not so far to the Thames Embankment. The only things that stagger me are the blacks! I don't know whether life is long enough to be after the blacks all day long, but perhaps I shall get used to them!'

'Well, I think that would be worse.'

'Perhaps it would; and at any rate, if the blacks do beat me, we could move. Think, no rent, nor rates, nor taxes-that is an inducement to swallow-no-to contend with, any number of blackamoors, isn't it? even if they settle on the tip of Billy-boy's nose.'

'I could come to see you better there than out in a suburb,' said Nuttie. 'But what do these rooms look out upon?'

'On one side into their own court, on the other into Wulstan Street-a quiet place on the whole-all walls and warehouses; and there's an excellent parish church, Mr. Underwood's; so I think we might do worse.'

Nuttie was very sorry that the gentlemen came up, and Mr. Fane wandered out and began asking whether they were going to the rose show. Somehow on that evening she became conscious that Annaple looked at her and Mr. Fane rather curiously; and when they met again the next day, and having grown intimate over the introduction of the two little boys, were driving out together, there were questions about whether she saw much of him.

'Oh, I don't know! He is the nicest, on the whole, of papa's friends; he can talk of something besides'-Nuttie paused over her 'besides,'-'horseyness, and all that sort of thing-he is not so like an old satyr as some of them are; and so he is a resource.'

'I see. And you meet him elsewhere, don't you, in general society?'

'I don't go out much now that Lady Kirkaldy is not in town; but he always seems to turn up everywhere that one goes.'

'Ursula, I'm very glad of that tone of yours. I was afraid-'

'Afraid of what?' cried Nuttie in a defiant tone.

'That you liked him, and he is not really nice, Nuttie. Mark knows all about him; and so did I when I lived with the Delmars.'

Nuttie laughed rather bitterly. 'Thank you, Annaple. As if I could care for that man-or he for me, for that matter! I know but too well,' she added gravely, 'that nobody nice is ever intimate at home.'

'I beg your pardon. I would not have worried you about it, only I think you must take care, Nuttie, for Blanche mentioned it to us last winter.'

'Blanche is an arrant gossip! If she saw a grandfather and great grandmother gossiping she would say they were going to be married.'

'Yes, as Mark says, one always swallows Blanche with a qualification.'

'You may be quite sure, Annaple, that nothing like that will ever be true about me! Why, what would ever become of my poor little Wyn if I was so horrid as to want to go and marry?'

She said it with an ineffable tone of contempt, just like the original Nuttie, who seemed to be recalled by association with Annaple.

That sojourn of Mark and his wife at Springfield House was a bright spot in that summer. If it had been only that Annaple's presence gave the free entree to such an island of old Micklethwayte, it would have been a great pleasure to her; but there was besides the happiness of confidence and unrestraint in their society, a restful enjoyment only to be appreciated by living the guarded life of constraint that was hers. She was so seldom thrown among people whom she could admire and look up to. Annaple told her husband of Nuttie's vehement repudiation of any intention of marriage. 'I am sure she meant it,' she observed, 'it was only a little too strong. I wonder if that poor youth who came to her first ball, and helped to pick us out of the hole in Bluepost Bridge, had anything to do with it.'

Annaple had an opportunity of judging. Mr. Dutton would not have brought about a meeting which might be painful and unsettling to both; but one afternoon, when Nuttie was 'off duty' with her father, and had come in to share Annaple's five o'clock tea, Gerard Godfrey, looking the curate from head to foot, made his appearance, having come up from the far east, about some call on Mr. Dutton's purse.

The two shook hands with pleased surprise, and a little heightening of colour, but that was all. Nuttie had been out to luncheon, and was dressed 'like a mere fashionable young lady' in his eyes; and when, after the classes and clubs and schools of his district had been discussed, he asked, 'And I suppose you are taking part in everything here?'

'No, that I can't!'

'Indeed! I know Porlock, the second curate here very well, and he tells me that his vicar has a wonderful faculty of finding appropriate work for every one. Of course you know him?'

'No, I don't;' said Nuttie.

'Miss Egremont has her appropriate work,' said Mr. Dutton, and the deacon felt himself pushed into his old position at Micklethwayte. He knew the clergy of the district very well, and how persistently either Mr. Egremont, or perhaps Gregorio, prevented their gaining admittance at his house; and he guessed, but did not know, that Nuttie could not have got into personal intercourse with them without flat disobedience.

Annaple threw herself into the breach, and talked of St. Wulstan's; and the encounter ended, leaving the sense of having drifted entirely away from one another, and being perfectly heart whole, though on the one hand Ursula's feeling was of respect and honour; and Gerard's had a considerable element of pity and disapprobation.

'No!' said Annaple when they were gone, 'he will not cry like the kloarek in the Breton ballad who wetted three great missals through with his tears at his first mass. He is very good, I am sure, but he is a bit of a prig!'

'It is very hard to youth to be good without priggishness,' said Mr. Dutton. 'Self-assertion is necessary, and it may easily be carried too far.'

'Buttresses are useful, but they are not beauties,' rejoined Annaple.

The warehouse arrangement was finally adopted, and after the three weeks necessary for the cleaning and fitting of their floor, and the bringing in of their furniture, Mark and Annaple began what she termed 'Life among the Blacks.'

Nuttie had great designs of constantly seeing Annaple, sending her supplies from the gardens and preserves at Bridgefield, taking her out for drives, and cultivating a friendship between Alwyn and Willie, who had taken to each other very kindly on the whole. They could not exactly understand each other's language, and had great fights from time to time over toys, for though there was a year between them they were nearly equal in strength; but they cared for each other's company more than for anything else, were always asking to go to one another, and roared when the time of parting came; at least Alwyn did so unreservedly, for Nuttie had begun to perceive with compunction that Billy-boy was much the most under control, and could try to be good at his mother's word, without other bribe than her kiss and smile. Ah! but he had a mother!

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