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   Chapter 33 THE LOST HEIR.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 11895

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'Seemed to the boy some comrade gay

Led him forth to the woods to play.'-SCOTT.

Though it was the Derby day, Mr. Egremont's racing days were over, and he only took his daughter with him in quest of the spectacles he wanted. When they came back, Nuttie mounted to the nursery, but no little brother met her on the stairs, and she found nurse in deep displeasure with her subordinate.

'I sent him out with Ellen to play in the garden at Springfield, and swim his ship, where he couldn't come to no harm,' said nurse; 'being that my foot is that bad I can't walk the length of the street; and what does the girl do but lets that there Gregorio take the dear child and go-goodness knows where-without her.'

'I'm sure, ma'am,' said the girl crying, 'I would never have done it, but Mr. Gregory said as how 'twas his papa's wish.'

'What was?' said Nuttie.

'That he shouldn't never go and play at Mr. Dutton's again,' said Ellen.

'I told her she was to take her orders off me, and no one else,' returned nurse, 'except, of course, you, Miss Egremont, as has the right.'

'Quite so; you should have told Mr. Gregorio so, Ellen.'

'I did, ma'am, but he said those was Mr. Egremont's orders; and he said,' cried the girl, unable to withstand the pleasure of repeating something disagreeable, 'that Mr. Egremont wouldn't have no messengers between you and a low tradesman fellow, as made umbrellas, and wanted to insinuate himself in here.'

'That's quite enough, Ellen; I don't want to hear any impertinences. Perhaps you did not understand his foreign accent. Did he say where he was going?'

'I think he said he'd take him to the Serpentine to sail his ship,' said Ellen, disposed to carry on asseverations of the correctness of her report, but nurse ordered her off the scene, and proceeded, as a confidential servant, 'The girl had no call to repeat it; but there's not a doubt of it he did say something of the sort. There's not one of us but knows he is dead against Mr. Dutton, because he tried to get master to get to sleep without that nasty opium smoke of his.'

There was bitter feud between nurse and valet, and Nuttie could have exchanged with her many a lament, but she contented herself with saying, 'I wish he would let Master Alwyn alone. It is high time they should come in.'

'The child will be tired to death, and all dirt! His nice new sailor suit too! Going grubbing about at the Serpentine with no one knows who, as isn't fit for a young gentleman,' moaned nurse.

This, however, was the worst fear she entertained, and it was with a certain malicious satisfaction that she heard her master's bell for Gregorio.

Nuttie descended to explain, and whereas the need was not very urgent, and she looked distressed and angered at the valet, her father received her complaint with, 'Well, the boy is getting too big to be tied for ever to a nursery-maid. It will do him good to go about with a man.'

But as dressing-time came on, and still neither Gregorio nor Alwyn appeared, Mr. Egremont became impatient, and declared that the valet had no business to keep the child out so long; indeed, he would sooner have taken alarm but for Nuttie's manifest agony of anxiety, starting and rushing to listen at every ring at the bell or sound of wheels near at hand. At last, at eight o'clock, there was a peal of the servants' bell, and the footman who answered it turned round to the anxious crowd: 'Mr. Gregory! He just asked if the child was come home, and went off like lightning.'

'The villain! He's lost him!' shrieked nurse, with a wild scream. 'Run after him, James! Catch him up!' suggested the butler at the same moment. 'Make him tell where he saw him last!'

James was not a genius, but the hall boy, an alert young fellow, had already dashed down the steps in pursuit, and came up with the valet so as to delay him till the other servants stood round, and Gregorio turned back with them, pale, breathless, evidently terribly dismayed and unwilling to face his master, who stood at the top of the steps, white with alarm and wrath.

'Sir,' cried Gregorio, with a stammering of mixed languages, 'I have been searching everywhere! I was going to give notice to the police. Je ferai tout! Je le trouverai.'

'Where did you lose him?' demanded Mr. Egremont in a hoarse voice, such as Nuttie had never heard.

'In the Park, near the bridge over the Serpentine. I was speaking for a few moments to a friend. Bah! Il etait parti. Mais je le trouverai. Parker, he seeks too. Fear not, sir, I shall find him.'

'Find him, you scoundrel, or never dare to see me again! I've borne with your insolences long, and now you've brought them to a height. Go, I say, find my boy!' exclaimed Mr. Egremont, with a fierce oath and passionate gesture, and Gregorio vanished again.

'Bring the carriage-no, call a cab;' commanded Mr. Egremont, snatching up his hat. 'Who is this Parker?'

The servants hesitated, but the butler said he believed the man to be a friend of Gregorio's employed at one of the clubs. Nuttie meanwhile begging her father not to go without her, flew upstairs to put on her hat, and coming down at full speed found that Mr. Dutton, passing by and seeing the open door and the terrified servants on the steps, had turned in to ask what was the matter, and was hearing in no measured terms from Mr. Egremont how the child had been taken away from his nurse and lost in the Park while that scamp Gregorio was chattering to some good-for-nothing friend.

To Nuttie's great relief, Mr. Dutton offered to go with the father to assist in the search, and the coachman, far too anxious and excited to let his master go without him in a cab, contrived to bring up the carriage. Some of the servants were ordered off to the various police offices. Poor nurse, who was nearly distracted, started in a hansom on her own account, persuaded that she should see and recognise traces of her da

rling at the scene of his loss, and she almost raced the carriage, which was bound for the same spot.

Sluggish natures like Mr. Egremont's can sometimes be roused to great violence, and then pour forth the long pent-up accumulations kept back by indolence and indifference. His only occupation during the rapid drive was to vituperate his valet, the curse of his life, he said. To hear him talk, it would have seemed as if Gregorio had been the tyrant who had kept him in bondage all these years, fully aware of his falsehood, peculation, and other rascality, but as unable to break the yoke as if he had been in truth the slave of anything but his own evil habit and helpless acquiescence.

Would it last if Gregorio made his appearance at that instant with Alwyn in his hand? Or even, as Mr. Dutton confidently predicted, a policeman might bring the boy home, before many hours were passed. The chief doubt here was that Alwyn's defective pronunciation, which had been rather foolishly encouraged, might make it difficult to understand his mode of saying his own name, or even that of the street, if he knew it perfectly; but the year he had been absent from London had prevented him from acquiring the curious ready local instinct of the true town child, and he had been so much guarded and watched that he was likely to be utterly at a loss when left alone; and Nuttie was wretched at the thought of his terror and loneliness, even while Mr. Dutton told her of speedy recoveries of lost children through kind people or the police.

They found all the officials of the Park already aware and on the alert, and quite certain of the impossibility of nurse's prime dread that the boy had fallen into the water unseen by any one and been drowned. She was even ready to look into every bush, in case he had been frightened and hidden himself; and nothing would satisfy her but to stay making these researches, when her master had decided on endeavouring to find 'Parker' at the club, and to ascertain from him particulars of time and place.

He was found there. The dinner-hour had brought him back, he being a man in authority there, very well dressed and deferential, declaring himself immensely distressed at the occurrence, and at having accosted Gregorio and attracted his attention. It was about four o'clock, he thought, and he described the exact spot where the little boy had been sailing his vessel fastened to a string. They might have been talking twenty minutes or half an hour when Gregorio missed his charge, and since that time both had been doing all in their power to find him, until half-past seven, when he had to return to his club, and Gregorio went to see whether the child had been taken home.

By this time Mr. Egremont looked so utterly exhausted, that Mr. Dutton availed himself of the hope that the boy might be found safe at home to take him back; but alas! nothing had been heard there.

The poor man was in a restless, unmanageable state of excitement, almost as terrifying to his daughter as the distress that occasioned it. He swallowed a tumblerful of claret, but would not eat nor go to bed; and indeed, Gregorio alone having had the personal charge of him, latterly sleeping in his dressing-room, none of the other servants knew what to do for him. Mr. Dutton agreed with her that it would be better to send for his doctor, as probably he ought to have a sedative, and neither would take the responsibility of giving it; while he himself declared he neither would nor could rest till he had his boy again.

The doctor was dining out, and they had two terrible hours; while Mr. Egremont paced to the windows; threw himself on the sofa; denounced Gregorio; or, for a change, all the system of police which had made no discovery; and Ursula for letting the boy be so helpless. Mr. Dutton sometimes diverted his attention for a few minutes, and hoped he would doze, but the least sound brought him to his feet again, and the only congenial occupation was the composition of a description of poor little Alwyn's person and dress, which set Nuttie crying so uncontrollably, that she had to run out of the room.

Dr. Brownlow came at last, and was very kind and helpful, taking the command, and insisting that Mr. Egremont should go to bed, and take the dose which he mixed. Broadbent, the butler, was to take Gregorio's place, but he was a ponderous man, without much tact, and unused to the valet's office. 'I might just as well have a rhinoceros about me,' said Mr. Egremont, in a fit of irritation; and it ended, Nuttie hardly knew how, in Mr. Dutton's going upstairs to smooth matters. He came down after a time and said: 'I am not satisfied to leave him alone or to Broadbent; I have his consent to my sleeping in the dressing-room. I am just going home to fetch my things. Let me find you gone when I come back. You will hear no more to-night. Even if he is found, they will keep him till morning.'

'It is of no use; I can't sleep.'

'Even if you don't, the mere restful position will make you fitter for the morrow. Will you promise me to undress and really go to bed?'

'Oh yes! if you say I must,' said Nuttie drearily; following an instinct of obedience.

'And remember,' he said, 'though I do not say it will be so, this may be deliverance from bondage.'

'But what a terrible deliverance!'

'Bonds are not burst without something terrible. No; don't be frightened. Remember there is safekeeping for that sweet little fellow, wherever he may be.'

'Oh, Mr. Dutton, if I could pray for him; but the turmoil seems to have driven away all such things! My boy, my boy, where is he now? Who has heard him say his little prayers?'

'His Heavenly Father has; of that we may be secure. You will feel it in the quiet of your own room. Good-night.'

'And I shall know you are praying, better than I can,' murmured Nuttie, as she returned his good-night, and crept up to her chamber.

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