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Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 21640

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

'Three hundred pounds and possibilities.'-Merry Wives of Windsor.

Again Nuttie's plans were doomed to be frustrated. It did not prove to be half so easy to befriend Mr. and Mrs. Mark Egremont as she expected, at the distance of half London apart, and with no special turn for being patronised on their side.

Her father took a fancy for almost daily drives with her in the park, because then he could have Alwyn with him; and the little fellow's chatter had become his chief amusement. Or if she had the carriage to herself, there was sure to be something needful to be done which made it impossible to go into the city to take up and set down Mrs. Mark Egremont; and to leave her to make her way home would be no kindness. So Nuttie only accomplished a visit once before going out of town, and that was by her own exertions-by underground railway and cab. Then she found all going prosperously; the blacks not half so obnoxious as had been expected (of course not, thought Nuttie, in the middle of the summer); the look-out over the yard very amusing to Billy-boy; and the large old-fashioned pannelled rooms, so cool and airy that Annaple was quite delighted with them, and contemned the idea of needing a holiday. She had made them very pretty and pleasant with her Micklethwayte furniture, whose only fault was being on too small a scale for these larger spaces, but that had been remedied by piecing, and making what had been used for two serve for one.

The kitchen was on the same floor, close at hand, which was well, for Annaple did a good deal there, having only one young maid for the rougher work. She had taken lessons in the School of Cookery, and practised a good deal even at Micklethwayte, and she was proud of her skill and economy. Mark came in for his mid-day refreshment, and looked greatly brightened, as if the worst had come and was by no means so bad as he expected. All the time he had been at Mr. Dutton's he had been depressed and anxious, but now, with his boy on his knee, he was merrier than Nuttie had ever known him. As to exercise, there were delightful evening walks, sometimes early marketings in the long summer mornings before business began-and altogether it seemed, as Nuttie told her father afterwards, as if she had had a glimpse into a little City Arcadia.

'Hein!' said he, 'how long will it last?'

And Nuttie was carried away to Cowes, where he had been persuaded to recur to his old favourite sport of yachting. She would have rather liked this if Clarence Fane had not been there too, and continually haunting them. She had been distrustful of him ever since Annaple's warning, and it became a continual worry to the motherless girl to decide whether his civil attentions really meant anything, or whether she were only foolish and ridiculous in not accepting them as freely and simply as before.

Of one thing she became sure, namely, that Gregorio was doing whatever in him lay to bring them together.

In this seaside temporary abode, great part of the London establishment was left behind, and Gregorio condescended to act the part of butler, with only a single man-servant under him, and thus he had much more opportunity of regulating the admission of visitors than at home; and he certainly often turned Mr. Fane in upon her, when she had intended that gentleman to be excluded, and contrived to turn a deaf or uncomprehending ear when she desired that there should be no admission of visitors unless her father was absolutely ready for them; and also there were times when he must have suggested an invitation to dinner, or a joining in a sail. No doubt Gregorio would have been delighted to see her married, and to be thus free from any counter influence over his master; but as she said to herself, 'Catch me! Even if I cared a rush for the man, I could not do it. I don't do my poor father much good, but as to leaving poor little Alwyn in his clutches-I must be perfectly demented with love even to think of it.'

There was a desire on the valet's part to coax and court little Alwyn of which she felt somewhat jealous. The boy was naturally the pet of every one in the household, but he was much less out of Gregorio's reach in the present confined quarters, and she could not bear to see him lifted up in the valet's arms, allowed to play with his watch, held to look at distant sails on board the yacht, or even fed with sweet biscuits or chocolate creams.

The Rectory nursery had gone on a strict regimen and nurse was as angry as Nuttie herself; but there was no preventing it, for his father was not above cupboard love, and never resisted the entreaties that were always excited by the sight of dainties, only laughing when Nuttie remonstrated, or even saying, 'Never mind sister, Wynnie, she's got Mrs. Teachem's cap on,' and making the child laugh by pretending to smuggle in papers of sweets by stealth, apart from the severe eyes of sister or nurse.

That cut Nuttie to the heart. To speak of the evils for which self-indulgence was a preparation would only make her father sneer at her for a second Hannah More. It was a language he did not understand; and as to the physical unwholesomeness, he simply did not choose to believe it. She almost wished Alwyn would for once be sick enough to frighten him, but that never happened, nor would he accept nurse's statement of the boy being out of order.

Poor little Alwyn, he was less and less of an unmixed joy to her as he was growing out of the bounds of babyhood, and her notions of discipline were thwarted by her father's unbounded indulgence. To her the child was a living soul, to be trained for a responsible position here and for the eternal world beyond; to her father he was a delightful plaything, never to be vexed, whose very tempers were amusing, especially when they teased the serious elder sister.

'Oh father! do you ever think what it will come to?' Nuttie could not help saying one day when Mr. Egremont had prevented her from carrying him off in disgrace to the nursery for tying the rolls up in dinner napkins to enact Punch and Judy, in spite of his own endeavours to prevent the consequent desolation of the preparations.

Mr. Egremont shrugged his shoulders, and only observed, 'An excuse for a little home tyranny, eh? No, no, Wyn; we don't want tame little muffs here.'

Nuttie was obliged to run out of the room and-it must be confessed-dance and stamp out her agony of indignation and misery that her father should be bent on ruining his child, for she could not understand that all this was simply the instinctive self-indulgence of a drugged brain and dulled conscience.

She did, however, get a little support and help during a brief stay in the shooting season at Bridgefield. The Canoness was visiting the Condamines at the Rectory, and very soon understood all the state of things, more perhaps from her former nurse than from Ursula. She was witness to one of those trying scenes, when Nuttie had been forbidding the misuse of a beautiful elaborate book of nursery rhymes, where Alwyn thought proper to 'kill' with repeated stabs the old woman of the shoe, when preparing to beat her progeny.

Just as she was getting the dagger paper-knife out of his little hand, and was diverting the pout on his swelling lip, his father became aware of the contest, and immediately the half conquered boy appealed to him. 'Sister naughty. Won't let Wynnie kill cross ugly old woman, beating poor little children.'

'A fellow feeling! eh, sister? Kill her away, boy, tear her out! Yes, give her to sister, and tell her that's the way to serve sour females! I declare, Ursula, she has got something of your expression.'

'Oh Wynnie, Wynnie!' said Nuttie, as he trotted up to her, 'is sister cross and ugly?' and she opened her arms to him.

'Sister, Wyn's own sister,' said the child affectionately, letting himself be kissed as he saw her grieved. 'She shan't be ugly old woman-ugly old woman go in fire.'

So perilously near the flame did he run to burn the old woman that Mr. Egremont shouted to her that in spite of all that humbug, she was perfectly careless of the child, although if she had withheld him she would probably have been blamed for thwarting him.

'Are you quite fair towards Ursula?' the aunt ventured to say when the girl had gone to dress for walking down with her to the Rectory. 'It is hard on her, and not good for the boy to upset her authority.'

'Eh? Why, the girl is just a governess manquee, imbued with the spirit of all those old women who bred her up. A nice life the poor child would have of it, but for me.'

'I am sure she is devotedly attached to him.'

'Hein! So she thinks; but trust human nature for loving to wreak discipline on the child who has cut her out.'

'That is scarcely just, Alwyn. She was greatly relieved to be cut out.'

Mr. Egremont laughed at this, and his sister-in-law indignantly added with all the authority of a successful parent, 'Anyway, nothing is so bad for a child as collision between the authorities in a family. Ursula is doing her best to act as a mother to that child, and it will be very injurious to him to interfere with her influences.'

'She's a good girl enough-gives very little trouble,' he allowed, 'but I'm not going to have the boy sat upon.'

As he spoke the words, Nuttie returned, and as soon as she was out of the house and out of hearing she exclaimed, 'Oh, Aunt Jane, you see how it is! How am I to prevent my boy from being utterly ruined?'

'I have been speaking to your father,' said Mrs. Egremont, 'but he does not seem to understand. Men don't. A child's faults and fancies seem such trifles to them that they can't see the harm of indulging them, and, besides, they expect to be amused.'

'And is that poor dear little fellow to grow up spoilt?' said Nuttie, her eyes hot with unshed tears.

'I hope not, Ursula. I have great confidence in your influence, for I see you are a sensible girl.' This was astonishing praise from the Canoness. 'But you will throw away your chances if you keep up a continual opposition to what your father allows. It will be much less hurtful if Alwyn does get too much indulgence, and does a little unnecessary mischief, than for him to learn to think you the enemy of his pleasures, always wanting to check and punish him. Oh yes,' as Nuttie was going to answer, 'I know it is for his real good, but how is that baby to understand that? Indeed, my dear, I know how it is; I have gone through the same sort of thing with Basil.'

'Oh, it could never have been so bad!'

'No, of course not; but I have had to allow what I did not like for the child rather than let him see the shadow of difference of opinion between us, and I don't think it has done him any harm. The great point is that

you should keep that poor little fellow's affection and respect, and make him unwilling to vex you.'

'That he is, dear little man. He is sorry when he sees sister grieved. He is always distressed if anything is hurt or pained. He is really tender-hearted.'

'Yes, but boys are boys. That feeling will fail you if you work it too hard, and especially if you show vexation at his pleasures. Keep that for real evils, like falsehood or cruelty.'

'Not for disobedience?'

'The evil of disobedience depends much more upon the authority of an order than on the child itself. If he disobeys you under his father's licence, you cannot make much of it. You have him a good deal to yourself?'


'Then make use of that time to strengthen his principles and sense of right and wrong, as well as to secure his affections. My dear, I never saw a girl in a more difficult position than yours, but I see you are doing your utmost; only I am afraid the love of sedatives is the same.'

'Oh aunt, I did think he had given it up!'

'You are inexperienced, my dear. I see it in his eyes. Well, I'm afraid there is no stopping that.'

'Mother-' and Nuttie's voice was choked.

'She did her best, but you have not the same opportunities. It can't be helped with a man of that age. Mark might have done something, but he is out of the question now, poor fellow!'

'Indeed, Aunt Jane, I think Mark and Annaple are some of the happiest people I ever saw. I only wish my poor Alwyn were as forward as their Billy, but I'm not even allowed to teach him his letters, because once he cried over them.'

'I wish they had anything to fall back upon,' said Mrs. Egremont anxiously. 'They are so unwilling to let any one know of their difficulties that I feel as if I never knew in what straits they may be. You will be sure to let me know, Ursula, if there is anything that I can do for them.'

That conversation was a great comfort and help to Nuttie, who was pleased to find herself treated as a real friend by her aunt, and perceived the wisdom of her advice. But the watching over the Mark Egremonts was a very difficult matter to accomplish, for when she went back to London she was warned that Billy had the whooping cough, rendering them unapproachable all the winter, so that she could only hear of them through Mr. Dutton, whom she continued to see occasionally whenever there was anything to communicate. Mr. Egremont rather liked him, and on meeting him in the street, would ask him casually in to dinner, or to make up a rubber, or play piquet, for he excelled in these arts, and still more in chess, and an evening with Mr. Dutton was quite a red-letter time with Nuttie. It gave her an indefinable sense of safety and protection; but it was not always to be had, for her friend had many engagements, being one of the active lay church workers, and devoting two regular evenings in each week to Gerard Godfrey's eastern district, where he kept all the accounts, had a model court and evening class, besides hospitably resting tired clergymen and their wives in his pleasant quiet house.

In the spring Mr. Egremont was laid up with the worst rheumatic attack he had yet had, in consequence of yielding to the imperious will of his son, who had insisted on standing in a bleak corner to see the Life Guards pass by. On this occasion Nuttie did not prove herself the heaven-born nurse that the true heroine ought to be, but was extremely frightened, and altogether dependent on Gregorio, who knew all about the symptoms, and when to send for the doctor and a garde-malade. Gregorio always talked French to Nuttie when he felt himself in the ascendant, as he certainly was at present; but he became much less gracious when he heard that Mrs. William Egremont might be expected, declaring that madame would only excite his master, and that her presence was quite unnecessary. Her coming had been volunteered, but it was a great boon to Ursula, who was thus helped out in many perplexities, although Mrs. Egremont was a great deal at her step-son's, and neither lady was of much avail in the sick-room, during the stress of the illness. It was never actually dangerous, but there was great suffering and much excitement, and for four or five days the distress and anxiety were considerable. After this passed off Ursula was surprised to find her company preferred to that of her aunt. She was a better souffre-douleur, was less of a restraint, and was besides his regular reader and amanuensis, so that as the force of the attack abated, he kept her a good deal in his room during the latter part of the day, imparting scraps of intelligence, skimming the papers for him, and reading his letters.

There was a lease to be signed, and, as soon as might be, Mr. Bulfinch, the Redcastle solicitor, brought it up, and had to be entertained at luncheon. While he was waiting in the drawing-room for Mr. Egremont to be made ready for him, he looked with deep interest on the little heir, whom Ursula presently led off to the other end of the room to the hoard of downstair toys; and an elaborate camp was under construction, when by the fireside, the Canoness inquired in a low confidential tone, 'May I ask whether you came about a will?'

'No, Mrs. Egremont. I wish I were. It is only about the lease of Spinneycotes farm.'

'Then there is none?'

'None that I am aware of. None has ever been drawn up by us. Indeed, I was wishing that some influence could be brought to bear which might show the expedience of making some arrangement. Any melancholy event is, I trust, far distant, but contingencies should be provided for.'

'Exactly so. He is recovering now, but these attacks always leave effects on the heart, and at his age, with his habits, no one knows what may happen. Of course it would not make much difference to the boy.'

'No, the Court of Chancery would appoint the most suitable natural guardians.'

'But,' said Mrs. Egremont, 'I am afraid that the personal property when divided would not be much of a provision for her.'

'You are right. The investments are unfortunately and disproportionately small.'

'She ought either to have them all, or there should be a charge on the estate,' said the Canoness decisively. 'If possible, he must be made to move.'

'Oh, don't!' cried Nuttie, jumping up from the floor. 'He mustn't be upset on any account.'

'My dear, I had no notion that you heard us!' exclaimed her aunt. 'I thought Alwyn was making too much noise with his soldiers.'

'I beg your pardon,' said Nuttie, 'perhaps I should have spoken sooner, but indeed he must not be worried and disturbed,' she added, somewhat fiercely.

'Don't be afraid, my dear,' said her aunt. 'Mr. Bulfinch knows that your father is in no condition to have such matters brought before him.'

'Certainly,' said the old lawyer politely;' and we will trust that Miss Egremont's prospects may soon come forward on a more auspicious occasion.'

Nuttie could have beaten him, but she was obliged to content herself with such a sweeping charge of her Zulus among Alwyn's Englishmen, that their general shrieked out in indignation against such a variation of the accustomed programme of all their games.

Nuttie thought she had defended her patient sufficiently, but she found she had been mistaken, for when her aunt had left them, some days later, her father began, 'We are well quit of her. Those troublesome dictatorial women always get worse when they are left widows-taking upon them to say what their dear husbands would have said, forsooth.'

'Aunt Jane was very kind to me,' said Ursula, not in the least knowing what he was thinking of.

'To you. Ay, I should think so, taking upon her to lecture me about securing a provision for you.'

'Oh! I hoped-'

'What?' he broke in. 'You knew of it! You set her on, I suppose.'

'Oh! no, no, father. She and Mr. Bulfinch began about it, not meaning me to hear-about a will, I mean-and I told them I wasn't going to have you worried, and I thought I had stopped it altogether.'

'Stop a woman bent on her duty? Hein! But you are a good girl, and shall come to no loss when we have to make your marriage settlement.'

'You won't have to do that, father!'

'Hein! What do you keep that poor fellow Clarence Fane dangling in attendance on you for?'

'I don't! I'm sure I don't want him. I would do anything to keep him at a distance!'

'How now! I thought your Grace condescended to him more than to any one else.'

'I don't dislike him unless he has that in his head; but as to marrying him! Oh-h-h,' such a note of horror that elicited a little laugh.

'So hot against him, are we? Who is it then? Not the umbrella fellow?'

'Father! how can you?' she cried, with a burning flush of indignation. He-why-he! He has always been a sort of uncle, ever since I was a little girl.'

'Oh yes, adopted uncles are very devout when young ladies rush out to morning prayers at unearthly hours-'

'Father!' with her voice trembling, 'I assure you he doesn't-I mean he always goes to St. Michael's, unless he has anything particular to say to me.'

'Oh yes, I understand,' and Mr. Egremont indulged in a hearty laugh, which almost drove poor Nuttie beside herself.

'Indeed-indeed,' she stammered, in her confusion and suppressed wrath; 'it is nothing of that sort. He is a regular old bachelor-he always was.'

'At what age do men become old bachelors? For he seems to me about the age of poor Clarry, whom you seem to view as a bugbear.'

'I wish you would not think of such things, father; I have not the slightest intention of leaving you and dear little Wynnie! Nothing should tempt me!'

'Nothing? Hein! Then you may as well be on your guard, Miss Egremont, or we shall have pleadings that you have encouraged them-church and world-or both, maybe. You pious folk take your little diversions and flirtations just like your poor sisters whom you shake your heads at, never guessing how Gregorio and I have looked out at you and your adopted uncle parading the street.'

'I wish Gregorio would mind his own business, and not put such things in your head!' burst out Nuttie.

At which Mr. Egremont laughed longer and louder than ever.

Poor Nuttie! It was terrible discomfiture, not only for the moment, but a notion had been planted in her mind that seemed cruel, almost profane, and yet which would not be dismissed, and made her heart leap with strange bounds at the wild thought, 'Could it be true?' then sink again with shame at her own presumptuous folly in entertaining such a thought for a moment.

Yet whenever she actually encountered Mr. Dutton her habitual comfort and reliance on him revived, and dispelled all the embarrassment which at other times she expected to feel in his presence.

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