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   Chapter 31 SPES NON FRACTA.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 11666

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Summer had quite set in before Mr. Egremont was able to go out for a drive, and then he was ordered to Buxton.

Nuttie only once saw her cousins before leaving town, for their little boy fulfilled the nursery superstition by whooping till May; and all intercourse was prohibited, till he had ceased for a whole week to utter a suspicious sound. Mr. Dutton had insisted on the family spending a fortnight at Springfield House for change of air, and it was there that Nuttie was permitted to see them, though the children were still forbidden to meet.

Annaple looked very thin, but rattled as merrily as ever. 'No one could guess,' she said, 'what a delight it was not to know what one was to have for dinner?'

'To do more than know, I am afraid,' said Ursula.

'Well, next to the delight of knowing nothing at all about it-and even that is only good for a holiday-is the delight of seeing a pudding come out smooth and comfortable and unbroken from its basin. "Something attempted, something done," you know. It is quite as good a work of art as a water-coloured drawing.'

'Only not quite so permanent.'

'No; it is only one's first pudding that one wants to embalm in a glass case for being so good as not to leave its better part behind in the basin, or to collapse as soon as it is in the dish.'

'Which my puddings always did in the happy days of old, but then I was always hunted ignominiously out of the kitchen and told I wasted good food,' said Nuttie.

'Yes, and waste is fearful when Mark and Billy have to eat it all the same, like the poor cows with spoilt hay. I wonder whether your old experiences recall the joy of finding trustworthy eggs within your price.'

'Ah, I was not housekeeper. I only remember being in disgrace for grumbling when there was no pudding, because the hens would not lay.'

'Though I heard a woman declaring the other day that there ought to be a machine for them. Oh, the scenes that I encounter when I am marketing! If I only could describe them for Punch! I walked home once with our porter's wife, carrying two most brilliant sticks of rhubarb, all carmine stalk and gamboge leaf, and expressing a very natural opinion that the rhubarb tree must be very showy to look at, and curious to know in what kind of fruit the medicine grew.'

'Oh, Annaple! do you go yourself in that way?'

'Mark used to go with me, but, poor old fellow, he has ruinous ideas about prices and quantities, and besides, now he is so hard worked-up and down all day-he wants a little more of his bed in the morning.'

'And what do you want?'

'I never was a sleepy creature, and I get back in time to dress the boy. I generally find him at high-jinks on his father's bed. It uses up a little superfluous energy before the dressing.'

'But surely you have a servant now?'

'I've come to the conclusion that a workman's wife charing is a better institution. No. 1, a pet of Miss Nugent's, was a nice creature, but the London air did for her at once. No. 2, also from Micklethwayte, instantly set up a young man, highly respectable, and ready to marry on the spot, as they did, though their united ages don't amount to thirty-nine. No. 3 was a Cockney, and couldn't stay because the look-out was so dull; and No. 4 gossiped with her kind when I thought her safe in the Temple Gardens with Billy, whereby he caught the whooping-cough, and as she also took the liberty of wearing my fur cloak, and was not particular as to accuracy, we parted on short notice; and I got this woman to come in every day to scrub, help make the bed, etc. It is much less trouble, and the only fault I have to find with her is an absolute incapability of discerning blacks. I believe she thinks I have a monomania against them.'

Still Annaple insisted that she did not work half so hard as her nieces, Muriel and Janet, in their London season, and that her economy was not nearly so trying and difficult as that which Lady Delmar had been practising for years in order to afford them a summer there; nor was her anxiety to make both ends meet by any means equal to her sister's in keeping up appearances, and avoiding detrimentals. The two sisters met occasionally, but Lady Delmar was so compassionate and patronising that Annaple's spirit recoiled in off-hand levity and rattle, and neither regretted the occupation that prevented them from seeing much of one another.

A year passed by, chiefly spent by Mr. Egremont in the pursuit of comparative health, at Buxton, Bagneres, and Biarritz, during which his daughter could do little but attend to him and to little Alwyn. The boy had been enough left to her and nurse during his father's acute illness to have become more amenable. He was an affectionate child, inheriting, with his mother's face, her sweetness and docility of nature, and he was old enough to be a good deal impressed with the fact that he had made poor papa so ill by teasing him to stand in the cold. Mr. Egremont was not at rest without a sight of the child every day, if only for a moment, and the helplessness and suffering had awed the little fellow a good deal. It was touching to see him pause when galloping about the house when he went past the sick-room, and hush his merry voice of his own accord.

And in the journeys, when his father's invalided state would have made a fractious or wilful child a serious inconvenience, his good temper and contentment were invaluable. He would sit for hours on his sister's lap, listening to whispered oft-told tales, or playing at impromptu quiet games; he could go to sleep anywhere, and the wonderful discoveries he made at each new place were the amusement of all his auditors. Sister was always his playfellow and companion whenever she could be spared from her father, and she had an ever-increasing influence over him which s

he did her best to raise into principle.

Perhaps she never had a happier moment than when she heard how he had put his hands behind him and steadily refused when Gregorio had offered to regale him at a stall of bonbons forming only a thin crust to liqueurs, which unfortunately he had already been taught to like.

'But I told him sister said I mustn't have them,' said Alwyn. 'And then he made a face and said something in French about you. I know 'twas you, for he said "soeur." What was it?'

'Never mind, Wynnie dear. We had much better never know. You were sister's own dear steadfast boy, and you shall kiss mother's picture.'

Nuttie had a beautiful coloured photograph of her mother, finished like a miniature, which had been taken at Nice, in the time of Alice Egremont's most complete and matured beauty. She had taught Alwyn to kiss and greet it every evening before his prayers, and such a kiss was his reward when he had shown any special act of goodness, for which, as she told him, 'mother would have been pleased with her little son.'

Such another boon was his one Sunday evening at Biarritz, when she found that while she was shut up at dinner with her father he had voluntarily gone to church with nurse instead of playing on the beach with some other English children. 'It was all very long and tiresome,' he said, when asked if he liked it.

'Then why did you go, old man? There was no need to drag you there,' said his father.

'She didn't drag me,' said the boy; 'I walked.'

'You need not have walked then, Master Dignity.'

'Poor nursie couldn't go without me,' said Alwyn, 'and sister says there's a blessing on those that go.'

'A blessing? eh! and what idea does that little head entertain of a blessing?' said Mr. Egremont.

Alwyn lifted his soft brown eyes reverently and said, 'It is something good,' speaking, as he always did, in a baby lisp inimitable here.

'Well?'

'And it comes from God.'

'Well, what is it? Can you see it?'

'No'-he looked in perplexity towards Nuttie, who was in agony all the time, lest there should be a scoff that might remain in the child's mind.

'Never mind sister. Can you feel it?'

'Yes;' and the little face lighted with such a reality that the incipient mockery turned into wonder on the next question.

'And how does it feel?'

'Oh, so nice! It makes Wynnie glad here,' and he spread his hands over his breast; and gave a little caper like a kid for very gladness.

'There!' said Mr. Egremont, leaning back fairly conquered. 'Any one might envy Wynnie! Goodnight, my boy, blessing and all. I wonder if one felt like that when one was a little shaver,' he pursued, as Alwyn went off to his bed.

'I think I did sometimes,' said Nuttie, 'but I never was half as good as Wynnie!'

'What?' exclaimed her father. 'You! bred up among the saints.'

'Ah! but I hadn't the same nature. I never was like-her.'

'Well-'tis very pretty now, and I don't know how we could stand a young Turk, but you mustn't make a girl of him.'

'There's no fear of that,' said Nuttie. 'He is full of spirit. That old bathing woman calls him "un vrai petit diable d'Anglais," he is so venturous.'

Which delighted Mr. Egremont as much as the concession that the boy's faith was 'pretty' delighted Ursula. Indeed, he went a little further, for when she came back from her few minutes at Alwyn's bedside he proceeded to tell her of the absolute neglect in which his mother, a belle of the Almacks days, had left her nursery. It was the first time he had ever hinted at a shadow of perception that anything in his own life had been amiss, and Ursula could not but feel a dreamy, hopeful wonder whether her sweet little Alwyn could be the destined means of doing that in which her mother had failed. It was at least enough to quicken those prayers which had been more dutiful than trustful.

And then her hope sank again when she realised that her father's days were spent between the lull of opiate, followed by a certain serenity, then in a period of irritability, each being more or less prolonged, according to health, weather, or entertainment, and closed again by the sedatives in various forms. It relieved her indeed, but she felt it a wickedness to be glad of the calm, and she was aware that the habit was making inroads on her father's powers. Between that and his defect of eyesight, he was often much confused, especially about money matters, and was more and more dependent.

Would that it had been only upon her, but she was constantly certain that Gregorio was taking advantage of his master's helplessness, and keeping it up by all means in his power. Yet what could be done? For the valet was absolutely necessary to his comfort, and yet she sometimes thought her father half in dread of him, and afraid to expostulate about personal neglects, which became more frequent. Things, that would have enraged him from others, were only grumbled and fretted over, when Gregorio caused him real inconvenience by absence or forgetfulness, and made very insufficient apology. It seemed like a bondage; Nuttie thought of her mother's efforts, and blamed herself in vain.

It was during this journey that she heard of good Miss Headworth's death. The old lady's mind had long failed, and the actual present loss to Nuttie was not great; but it seemed to close a long account of gratitude such as she had not thoroughly felt or understood before; and the link with Micklethwayte was severed.

For Mark and Annaple prevailed on Mrs. Egremont to install Miss Nugent as governess to Rosalind and Adela. In that capacity Nuttie hoped to see a good deal of her; but of course was again disappointed, for her father would not hear of returning to Bridgefield. It was draughty, and dull, and desolate, and nothing suited him but London.

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