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Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 21303

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

'Man's work ends with set of sun,

Woman's work is never done.'-Proverb.

It was far on in May when Ursula found herself again in the sitting-room over the warehouse. Somehow it had not the dainty well-cared-for air of erst. The pretty table ornaments were out of sight; the glass over the clock was dim, the hands had stopped; some of Annaple's foes, the blacks, had effected a lodgment on the Parian figures; the chintzes showed wear and wash, almost grime; the carpet's pattern was worn; a basket full of socks was on the sofa; and on the table a dress, once belonging to Annaple's trousseau, was laid out, converted into its component parts. The wails of a baby could be heard in the distance, and the first person to appear was Master William, sturdy and happy in spite of wofully darned knees to his stockings.

'Mother's coming, if baby will stop crying,' he said, 'and lie in her cradle.'

'Your little sister! What's her name?'

'Jane Christian,' said the boy, with a much more distinct enunciation than Alwyn, though a year older, had yet acquired. 'She does cry so! She won't let mother make my new knickies out of her blue gown!'

Thoughts of the suits that Alwyn was discarding came across Nuttie. Could they be offered without offence? She asked, however, 'Do you remember Alwyn-my Wynnie?'

'Wynnie gave me my horse,' cried the boy, unstabling a steed which had seen hard service since the presentation. 'Where's Wynnie?'

'He is at home. You must come and see him,' said Nuttie, who had not been allowed to bring him till secure of a clean bill of health. 'But see, just outside the door, there's something for Billy.'

She had made her servant bring up the parcels to the passage outside, and Billy was soon hugging a magnificent box of soldiers, wherewith he pranced off to show them to his mother, leaving the doors open, so that Ursula could more decidedly hear the baby's voice, not a healthy child's lusty cry, but a poor little feeble wail, interspersed with attempts at consolation. 'Come, won't she go to Emily? Oh, Billy-boy, how splendid! I hope you thanked Cousin Ursula. Baby Jenny, now can't you let any one speak but yourself? Oh! shall I never teach you that "Balow, my babe," is not "bellow, my babe." That's better! Now can't you let Emily have you, while I go to Cousin Nuttie?'

'Let me come! Mayn't I?' exclaimed Ursula, invading the room that served as kitchen, where Annaple was trying to hush off the child and make her over to a little twelve years old maid, who stood in waiting, helping Willie meantime to unpack his soldiers, with smothered exclamations of delight.

'Oh, Nuttie, how good of you! Please to excuse the accompaniment. There never was such a young lady for self-assertion to make up for there being so little of her.'

And Annaple, very thin and tired looking, held up the child, fearfully small and pinched for four months old, to be kissed by Nuttie.

'Does she always go on like this?'

''Cept when she is asleep,' said Willie.

'Poor wee lassie,' said Annaple; 'there's great excuse for her, for the food has not yet been invented that suits her ladyship.'

'You must come and consult nurse.'

'And how are you all? I'm glad you are at hand, Nuttie! Is Mr. Egremont better?'

'As well as ever he is-lame and altogether an invalid,-but he has not had such bad attacks of pain lately.'

'And his eyes?'

'About the same. He can write, and tell one card from another, but he can't read-or rather it hurts him to do so, and he can't bear a strong light. But, Annaple, how are you? That child is wearing you to a shadow.'

'Oh! I'm quite well-perfectly. There, I think she is gone off at last. You had better walk her about a little, Emily; she will break out again if we try to put her in the cradle.'

And having handed over the child with only a very low murmur, Annaple left her combined kitchen and nursery. She flew at the flowers Nuttie had brought like a thirsty person, crying, as she buried her face in them, 'Now for beauty! Now Mark will be refreshed! Ah! here's a pretty pickle for a reception room.'

'Oh, don't put it away! I could help you; I do so like that kind of work. It is so like old times.'

'It must be put away, thank you, for Mark will be coming in. And the saying about the public washing of garments is specially true of one's own husband. Ways and means are worrying to the masculine mind.'

'I thought it was too early for Mark?'

'He has an appointment to keep at Charing Cross or thereabouts, so I made him promise to come in in time to "put a bit in his head," as our Irish charwoman says.'

'Then I can take him. I have the carriage, and I must be at home by half-past twelve. I wish you would come too, Annaple. There's plenty of room. You could show the baby to nurse, and the boys could have a good game. I would send you back in the evening. Mark could come on after his business is done.'

'Thank you, Nuttie, I can't to-day-for a whole heap of domestic reasons; but, if you can get Mark to come, do, it would be so good for him.'

'How is Mark?'

'He is well, quite well,' said Annaple; 'and so good and patient. But you see, it does take it out of a man when that doleful little noise won't stop all night! We are both acquiring a form of somnambulism, but when there's real out-of-door business to be done, it is not like proper sleep.'

'Or when there's woman's indoor business, I am afraid,' said Nuttie, much concerned at the extreme thinness of Annaple's face and hands, and the weary look of her large eyes.

'Oh, one makes that up at odd times!' she answered brightly. 'One thing is, this work suits Mark, he feels that he can do it, and he gets on well with the men. They asked him to join in their club, and he was so much pleased. He gets up subjects for them, and I am so glad he has such a pleasure and interest to keep him from missing the society he was used to.'

'It must be very good for them too. Mr. Dutton said he really thought Mark had kept them from going in for a strike.'

'Besides the glory of the thing,' said Annaple drawing herself up, 'Mr. Dobbs thought so too, and raised us ten pounds; which made us able to import that little Bridgefield lassie to hold baby-when-when Miss Jenny will let her. He has some law copying to do besides, but I don't like that; it burns the candle at both ends, and he does get bad headaches sometimes, and goes on all the same.'

'You must both come and see my Wyn.'

'Ah! I had never asked after him. I suppose he is as pretty as ever,' said Annaple, who secretly thought his beauty too girlish compared with her sturdy Billy.

'Prettier, I think, as he gets more expression. We can't persuade ourselves to cut his hair, and it looks so lovely on his sailor suit. And he is so good. I could not have believed a child could be so quiet and considerate on a journey. You should have seen him standing by my father's knee in the railway carriage, and amusing him with all that was to be seen, and stopping at the least hint that he was chattering too much.'

'Billy is wonderfully helpful. Ah-' and Annaple's eyes lighted up as the step that had music in't came up the stair; and as Mark came in, Nuttie thought him grown older, his hair thinner, his shoulders rounded, and his office coat shabby, but she saw something in his countenance there had never been before. Ever since she had known him he had worn a certain air of depression, or perhaps more truly of failure and perplexity, which kept before her conscious mind the Desdichado on Ivanhoe's shield, even when he was a gentleman at ease at the luxurious Rectory; but there was now not only the settled air of a man who had found his vocation, but something of the self-respect and eagerness of one who was doing it well, and feeling himself valued.

'Is baby-' he began. 'Oh, Nuttie! Are you there? Mr. Dutton told me you were coming. How is my uncle?' And the voice was much brisker than in the days of lawn-tennis.

'Father, father, look!' cried the boy.

'Why, Billy-boy, you are set up! Zouaves and chasseurs! I see where they came from.'

During the mixture of greetings and inquiries, admiration of the flowers, and the exhibition of Billy's treasures, Annaple glided away, and presently placed before him a tray, daintily benapkinned and set forth with a little cup of soup.

'Baby is really asleep, and Emily as proud as a Hielandman,' she said. 'Now eat this, without more ado, for that good Nuttie is going to set you down at Charing Cross.'

'This is the way we spoil our husbands, Nuttie,' said Mark. 'Refections served up at every turn.'

'Only bones! The immortal pot au feu,' said Annaple. 'And you are to go on after you have interviewed your man of steel, and have tea with Nuttie, and pay your respects to your uncle, like a dutiful nephew.'

'No, that I can't, Nannie; I promised Dobbs to go and see a man for him, and I must come back as soon as I can after that.'

He looked-as to figure and air-much more like his old self when he had changed his coat. They fed him, almost against his will, with a few of the forced strawberries Nuttie had brought. Billy pressed on him wonders from a Paris bonbon box, and Annaple fastened a rose and a pink in his button-hole, and came down to the street door with her boy to see him off.

'What do you think of her?' was Mark's first inquiry.

'Think! As Mr. Dutton said long ago, never was braver lady!'

'Never was there a truer word! I meant as to her health? As to courage, spirits, and temper, there is no question; I never saw them fail; but are they not almost too much for the frame?' he asked anxiously.

It echoed Nuttie's fear, but she tried to frame a cheerful answer. 'She is very thin, but she seems well.'

'She never complains, but I am sure her strength is not what it was. She cannot walk out as she did at first. Indeed, she gets no real rest day nor night, and there's no relieving her!'

'She says you don't get much rest either.'

'More than my share,' said Mark. 'The poor little thing never sleeps except in someone's arms, and if awake, is not content for a moment except in her mother's.'

'And that has been going on four months?'

'Three. Ever since we brought her back from Redcastle. I have nearly determined to move into some suburb when I get a rise at Michaelmas, unless she improves.'

'Nurse might suggest something.'

'Or at any rate tell us what to think. We showed her to a doctor, and all he could propose was some kind of food, which was no more successful than the rest. Did you look at her, Nuttie? She is a pretty li

ttle thing when she is quiet, but she dwindles away-at least so it seems to me, though Annaple will not see it, and-and if we are not permitted to keep the little one, I dread what the effect may be on her.'

Nuttie said something about bravery and goodness, thinking in her heart that, if the blow fell, it would be better for all than the perpetual suffering of the poor little sickly being.

'Ah! you don't know what her affections are,' said Mark. 'You did not see her when she lost her mother, and there had been no strain on her powers then. However, I've no business to croak. Many a child gets over troubles of this kind, and, as Annaple says, little Jenny will be all the more to us for what we go through with her.'

The carriage stopped, and Nuttie asked him if it would delay him too long if she executed a commission about her father's glasses. He had plenty of time, but she was delayed longer than she expected, and on her return was surprised to find that he had dropped asleep.

'Ah! that's what comes of a moment's quiet;' he said, smiling.

'Fine quiet in the roar of Ludgate Hill!'

'To a Cockney 'tis as the mill to the miller! I like the full stir and tide,' he added, looking out upon it. 'I never knew what life was before!'

'I should have thought you never knew what hardness and hard work were.'

'That's just it,' he answered, smiling. 'The swing of it is exhilaration-very different from being a cumberer of the ground.'

'Oh, Mark, all the privations and anxiety!'

'The privation! that's nothing. Indeed I am afraid-yes, I am ashamed to say-it falls more on my dear wife than myself, but if we can only wear through a year or two we shall get a further rise, and my poor Annaple may get out of this drudgery. Please God, she and the little one can stand it for a time, and I think she has a spring within her that will;' then, as he saw tears in his cousin's eyes, he added, 'Don't be unhappy about it, Nuttie; I have had it in my mind ever so long to tell you that the finding you at Micklethwayte was the best thing that ever happened to me!'

Yes, so far as character went, Ursula could believe that it had been so. He was twice the man he would have been without the incentive to work, and the constant exercise of patience and cheerfulness; but her heart was heavy with apprehension that the weight of the trial might be too heavy. To her eyes the baby's life seemed extremely doubtful, and Annaple looked so fragile that the increase of her burthens, any saddening of the heart, might destroy her elasticity, and crush her outright; while even Mark seemed to her to be toiling so close within the limits of his powers that a straw might break the camel's back!

She longed to talk to Mr. Dutton about them, but she found herself doomed to a day that perhaps Annaple would have thought more trying than her harrowed life. She was a little later than she had intended, and her father had been waiting impatiently to have a note read to him, so he growled at her impatience to run after 'that Scotch girl.' And the note happened to be of an irritating nature; moreover, the cutlets at luncheon were said to be akin to indiarubber, and there was the wrong flavour in the sauce. Ursula let that cook do what she pleased without remonstrance.

Even Alwyn did not afford as much satisfaction as usual, for the boy was in high spirits and wanted to blow a little trumpet, which was more than his father could stand. He was very good when this was silenced, but he then began to rush round the room daring his sister to catch the wild colt as he went by. This had likewise to be stopped, with the murmur that Ursula spoilt the child.

She tried to compose matters by turning out the old toys in the ottoman, but Alwyn had outgrown most of them, and did not care for any except a certain wooden donkey, minus one ear and a leg, which went by the name of Sambo, and had absorbed a good deal of his affection. He had with difficulty been consoled for Sambo being left behind, and now turned over everything with considerable clatter in search of him. Alas! Sambo could nowhere be found in the room, and Alwyn dashed off to inquire of all the household after him. His father meanwhile growled at the child's noise, and went on trying the glasses Nuttie had brought, and pronouncing each pair in turn useless, vowing that it was no use to send her anywhere.

Upon this, back came Alwyn, terribly distressed and indignant, for he had extracted from the housemaid left in charge, who was as cross as she was trustworthy, 'What! that old broken thing, Master Egremont? I threw it on the fire! I'd never have thought a young gentleman of your age would have cared for such rubbish as that.'

'You are a wicked cruel woman,' returned Alwyn, with flashing eyes; 'I shall tell papa and sister of you.'

And in he flew, sobbing with grief and wrath for the dear Sambo, feeling as if it had been a live donkey burnt to death, and hiding his face on his sister's breast for consolation.

'Come, come, Wyn,' said his father, who did not brook interruption; 'here's half a sovereign to go and buy a new donkey.'

'It won't be Sambo,' said Alwyn ruefully.

'But you should thank papa,' said Nuttie.

'Thank you, papa,' he said, with quivering lip, 'but I don't want a new one. Oh Sambo, Sambo! burnt!' and he climbed on Nuttie's lap, hid his face against her and cried, but her comfortings were broken off by, 'How can you encourage the child in being so foolish? Have done, Wyn; don't be such a baby! Go out with nurse and buy what you like, but I can't have crying here.'

He tried to stop in sheer amazement, but the ground swell of sob could not be controlled. Nuttie was going to lead him away, and console him with more imaginative sympathy than could be expected from the maids, but her father sharply called her back. He wanted her himself, and indeed there was no question which was the worse spoilt child. He might idolise Alwyn, but not so as to clash with his own comforts. The glasses being unsuccessful, Nuttie proposed to drive back to Ludgate Hill for him to choose for himself, but he would not hear of going into the heat of the City, and growled at her for thinking of such a thing.

They took an aimless drive instead in the park, and Nuttie was nearly baked while the carriage was stopped for her father to have a long talk over the prospects of the Derby day with one of his most unpleasant associates, who stood leaning over the door on the shady side of the carriage, no one recking how little protection she derived from her small fringed parasol.

She came home tired out, and thankful that her father went to rest in his own room. She climbed to the nursery, thinking to share Alwyn's tea and comfort him, but she found only nurse there. Nurse had a bad foot, and dreaded hot pavement, so she had sent Master Alwyn out with her subordinate, a country girl, to play in Mr. Dutton's garden till it should be cool enough to go and make his purchase, and a message had since arrived that he was going to drink tea there, and Mr. Dutton would take him out.

His sister envied him the green shades, and had just done her best to cool the back drawing-room and rest herself with a book, when Mr. Fane was announced. He talked pleasantly enough, and lingered and lingered, no doubt intending to be asked to dinner, but she was equally determined to do no such thing. She had heard enough of races for one day, she thought, and at last he took his leave, only just before she dressed for dinner.

'I thought Fane was here,' said Mr. Egremont as he came in; no doubt told by Gregorio.

'He has been, but he is gone.'

'You didn't ask him to stay and dine?'

'I did not know you wished it.'

'You might have known that I should have liked to see him. I suppose you think your sweet self society enough for any man?'

'I am sorry-'

'I'm sick of hearing you are sorry! I believe there's nothing you like so well as doing an ungracious thing to a friend of mine.'

Nuttie had learnt to hold her tongue on such occasions.

Dinner was nearly over, and her father had been grumbling again at having no one to take a hand at cards with him, when the door opened a little way, and Alwyn's pretty glowing face looked in. He was come to say good-night rather later than usual, and he ran up to his sister with a little bouquet of yellow banksia and forget-me-nots. 'Mithter Button'-so Alwyn called him-'sent you this. He said you would like it, 'cause it came from one that grew at Mittletwait. And oh, look, look!'

He was hugging a little ship, which he proudly exhibited, while his father's brow had darkened at the message. 'Did you buy that?' asked his sister.

'Yes, Mr. Button went with me, and we sailed it. We sailed it by the fountain in Mr. Button's garden, And we made a storm!'

He danced about with glee, and Mr. Egremont observed, 'A dear purchase for ten shillings. Did it cost all that, Wyn?'

'They gived me a big silver half-crown, and I gived that to a little boy what came to speak to Mr. Button, and had his toes through his boots, and he was so glad.'

'Your money is not for beggars, Wyn.'

'The little boy was not a beggar, papa. He came with a newspaper to Mr. Button, and he is so good to his poor sick mother,' said Alwyn. 'See, see, sister!' turning the prow of his small vessel towards her, and showing a word on it in pencil which he required her to spell out. It was Ursula.

'Oh Wynnie!' she said, duly flattered, 'did Mr. Dutton do that?'

'He held my hand, and I did!' cried Alwyn, triumphantly, 'and he will paint it on Saturday. Then it will dry all Sunday, and not come off, so it will be the Ursula for ever and always.'

Here nurse claimed her charge; and when the goodnights were over, and a murmur recommenced, Nuttie suggested that if Mr. Dutton was at home perhaps he would come in and make up the game, but she encountered the old humour. 'I'll tell you what, Ursula, I'll not have that umbrella fellow encouraged about the house, and if that child is to be made the medium of communication, I'll put a stop to it.'

The words were spoken just as Gregorio had entered the room with a handkerchief of his master's. Nuttie, colouring deeply at the insult, met his triumphant eyes, bit her lips, and deigned no word of reply.

An undefined but very slight odour, that told her of opium smoke, pervaded the stairs that night. It was the only refuge from fretfulness; but her heart ached for her father, herself, and most of all for her little brother. And was she to be cut off from her only counsellor?

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