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   Chapter 34 FETTERS RENT.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 17488

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'The gods are just, and of our pleasant sins

Make whips to scourge us.'-King Lear.

There was no real sleep for Ursula that short summer night. She saw the early dawn, listened to the distant roll of market-carts, and wondered when it would be reasonable to be afoot, and ready to hear, if aught there was to hear. At any hour after seven, surely the finders would have mercy and bring the welcome news. And just before seven she fell asleep, deeply, soundly, and never woke till past eight, but that was just enough to revive the power of hope, and give the sense of a new day. But there was nothing to hear-no news. She found Mr. Dutton in the dining-room. He had had to administer another draught to her father, and had left him in a sleep which would probably last for some time. If she would go and sit in the outer room, after her breakfast, he would go out to obtain intelligence.

'You must have some breakfast,' she said, ringing the bell, and wistfully looking over the blinds; then exclaiming: 'Oh, there's Mark! Has he heard anything?' and out she darted, opening the door before he rang. 'Mark! have you found him?'

'Yes,' he said gravely, looking utterly amazed as she clasped her hands, and seemed ready to fling herself on his neck with joy. 'I came because it will be a great shock to my uncle.'

'Then it is so! Nurse was right,' said Nuttie, turning deadly pale, and standing as if before a firing platoon. 'Tell me, Mark, where did they find him?'

'At the Faringdon Station. I was sent for to identify him.'

'Stay,' said Mr. Dutton, as there was a wild horrified look in Nuttie's eyes. 'Do you mean little Alwyn?'

'Little Alwyn! No, certainly not. What of him?'

'Gregorio managed to lose him in the park yesterday,' put in Mr. Dutton.

'That accounts for it, then,' said Mark. 'No, it was Gregorio himself, poor man. He was knocked down by the engine, and killed on the spot, just by the station, at eleven o'clock last night. Our name was found on him, and I was sent for early this morning. There was no doubt about it, so I came on here at once to let my uncle know, little thinking-'

'Oh, it is dreadful!' cried Nuttie, sinking into a chair. 'Do you remember, my father told him never to see his face again unless he found Alwyn?'

Broadbent came in at the moment with the coffee-pot, and stood suspended, as he was told what had happened, Mark adding the detail: 'He was crossing the line in front of the engine.'

'Yes, sir,' said the butler. 'It is an awful dispensation. No doubt he knew it was all up with him. You may not be aware, sir, of the subject of his conversation in the park. Mr. Parker had just seen a telegram of the result of the Derby, and he had heavy bets on Lady Edina. I am afraid, sir, there can be no doubt that he found a voluntary grave.'

'We will not talk of that. We cannot judge,' said Mark, shuddering. 'I said I would send some one from here to arrange what was to be done after the inquest.'

Broadbent immediately undertook to go, if his master did not require him, and this was thought advisable, as his services were certainly not acceptable to Mr. Egremont. Mark had thought himself likely to be detained and had provided for his absence, and the awe-stricken trio were consulting together over the breakfast-table, eating mechanically, from the very exhaustion of agitation, when the door opened, and Mr. Egremont in his dressing-gown was among them, exclaiming: 'You are keeping it from me.' He had been wakened by the whispers and rushes of the excited maids, had rung his bell in vain, dressed himself as best he could after so many years of dependence, and stumbled downstairs, where, as with his daughter, it was something like a relief to know that hope was not extinguished in Alwyn's case. But Mr. Egremont was in a very trembling, broken condition, and much overcome by his valet's end after so many years of intimate association. Certainly, if either of the others had so parted with the man, it would have been a horror in the recollection, but he did not seem to dwell on it; and, indeed, attention was distracted by every sound at the door, since each might bring news of the missing child.

One of these tantalising rings proved to be a policeman with poor Gregorio's keys, and a demand for an investigation into any papers he might have left which would show his state of mind. Mr. Egremont was very much annoyed, declaring that he would have no stranger meddle with them, and that he saw no use in such prying. What difference could it make to any living creature? However, when he found there was no help for it, he said he must do it himself. Nuttie offered to help, but was sharply, strongly refused. Mark alone might and should help.

Then Mr. Dutton volunteered to go and explain matters to Mr. Dobbs, so as to get freedom for Mark for at least the remainder of the day. He would call at the police offices and see what was doing in the search, put forward the advertisements, and obtain that the Serpentine should be dragged, for he saw that only that measure would remove one great terror from these anxious hearts.

'And,' he said to Mark, 'with your permission, I will bring back Mrs. Egremont and the children if they will do me the honour to become my guests. She will be a comfort to Miss Egremont, and then you will be at hand in the evening.'

Mark could only be thankful, and presently addressed himself to the investigation, which his uncle insisted should be made in his own presence, though the opiate kept him for the most part dozing in an arm-chair, only rousing up now and then by some noise at the front door, or putting queries, the replies to which startled him more and more, as he grew more wakeful and Mark proceeded.

All, except a few unimportant bills and a betting-book, was locked into a dressing-case that had once belonged to Mr. Egremont, and had tricks of secret drawers that only he could explain. It was full of papers, and they were a strange revelation that Mr. Egremont might well wish to withhold from his daughter. They went very far back, and of course did not come out in order of chronology, nor would Mark have understood them but for exclamations and comments here and there from his uncle.

Everything seemed to be there,-the old passport and certificate to Gregorio Savelli, when he left his Savoyard home to be a waiter at a hotel; a few letters in Italian, probably from his parents, which Mark could not read, but which soon ceased; the counter-signed character with which he had entered General Egremont's service; and then came a note or two signed A. P. E., which Mr. Egremont regarded with great annoyance, though they only consisted of such phrases as 'Back on Wednesday. Find an excuse,' or in French, 'Envoyez moi la petite boite!' 'Que la porte soit ouverte apres minuit.'

'That was the way,' groaned Mr. Egremont. 'The scoundrel! he kept all those to be able to show me up to the General if he chose! I was a young man then, Mark, not the straitlaced lad you've always been. And the General! A bad old dog he was, went far beyond what I ever did, but for all that he had no notion of any one going any way but his own, and wanted to rein me in as tight as if he had been an epitome of all the virtues. And Gregorio seemed a good-natured young fellow then, and made things easy for me, though no doubt he meant to have me in his hands, in case I tried to shake him off.'

Another discovery affected him far more. It was of a letter in Alice's handwriting, addressed to Captain Egremont, in the yacht Ninon-poste restante, Madeira. He had never seen it, never known of its existence; Gregorio had gone to inquire for the letters, and had suppressed it. Mr. Egremont had wondered how he had become aware of the marriage. His knowledge had from that time been used as a means of enforcing the need of a good understanding with the heir. Mr. Egremont was much moved by the sight of the letter, and its date, from Dieppe, about six months after he had left his young wife there. He made Mark give it to him unread, handled it tenderly, struggled to read the delicate pointed writing to himself, but soon deferred the attempt, observing, 'There, there, I can't stand it now! But you see, Mark,' he added after an interval, 'I was not altogether the heartless brute you thought me.'

Mark, as he told his wife afterwards, could not help thinking of the old preamble to indictments, 'By the temptation of the devil.'

And by and by, out of a pocket-book bearing the date of the General's death, came a copy of the certificate of the baptism of Ursula Alice, daughter of Alwyn Piercefield and Alice Egremont, together with that address which Miss Headwor

th had left at Dieppe to gratify Alice's forlorn idea of a possible rescue, and which Gregorio had asseverated to be non-existent.

Doubtless he infinitely preferred his master's wandering bachelor life to the resumption of marriage ties, and thus he had contrived to keep Mr. Egremont from meeting the Houghtons at Florence. At the same time the uncertainty as to Alice's fate had prevented any other marriage. Gregorio had taken care that, if Mr. Egremont had been villain enough to make such an attempt, he should know that his secret could be brought to light.

Compared with all this wickedness, the proofs of fraud and dishonesty were entirely unimportant. Gambling had evidently been a passion with the valet, and peculation had followed, and Mark could have traced out the full tide before the reinstatement of Mrs. Egremont in her home, the gradual ebb during her reign, the diminished restraint under her daughter. The other servants had formerly been implicated, but, except a young groom and footman, Mark thought the present set quite free from the taint, and was glad to acquit Broadbent. But the last telegrams and the betting-book in the unhappy man's pocket confirmed Parker's evidence that of late he had staked almost madly, and had risked sums far beyond any means he could raise upon the horse which had failed. The bailiff at Bridgefield had, it had long been guessed, played into his hands, but to what an extent Mark only now discovered.

The result was that what he had learnt in the Park had so astounded him that his inattention to the child had not been wonderful. He had-as Parker testified-sought the little fellow vehemently, and had he been successful, he might yet have made some effort, trusting to his master's toleration; but the loss and reproach had made him an absolutely desperate man. Was it blind flight or self-destruction? That he had money about him, having cashed a cheque of his master's, favoured the first idea, and no one would too curiously inquire whether Mr. Egremont was aware of the amount.

It was only too true that, as he had said, Gregorio Savelli had been the curse of his life, having become one of the whips left by pleasant vices, and the breaking of the yoke had been not only at a terrible price, but, to a man in his half-blind and invalid condition, the actual loss of the person on whom he had depended was a privation. Dr. Brownlow, however, knew of a good man-servant just set at liberty by the death of an invalid master, and promised to send him on trial.

It was a day of agitations and disappointments, a sample of many that were to follow. There was not a sound of a bell that did not make anxious hearts throb. And oh! how many were spent on vain reports, on mere calls of sympathy by acquaintance whom the father and sister could not see, and on notes of inquiry or condolence that Nuttie had to answer.

Annaple came and was a great help and support to her. Poor nurse, oblivious of her bad foot, or perhaps, willing to wreak vengeance on it as the cause of all the mischief, had insisted on continuing her search in the morning under all the thorns and rhododendrons where she thought the dear lamb might have hidden and cried himself to sleep, and at last had been brought home in a cab quite worn out and despairing. But the screaming baby proved to be a much better comforter to her than any amount of reasonable argument. To soothe it, to understand what ailed it, to find suitable food for it, was an occupation which made the suspense less intolerable. The very handling of an infant would have been congenial; and a sickly crying one was only too interesting. Willie was too near her darling's age to be a welcome sight, but he was already a prime pet with the servants at Springfield; and Annaple, secure that her children were in safe and experienced hands, and overflowing with motherly sympathy for the grievous loss, was ready to devote herself to Nuttie, whether by talk, by letter writing, or by seeing inquiring friends. She did not expect to be of any use to Mr. Egremont, who had always held aloof from and disliked 'the giggling Scotch girl,' but who came drearily wandering at an unexpected time into the room where she was sitting with his daughter, and presently was involved in their conversation. Whether it was the absence of the poor familiar, or that Annaple was no longer a giggling girl, but a brave, cheerful wife and mother, it was certain that he found the same comfort and support in her presence as did Nuttie. When fits of restless misery and despair pressed hardest upon him, it was soon perceived that Annaple's cheerful tact enabled her to deal with him as no one else could do. There was the restraint of courtesy towards her, such as had worn out towards his daughter, and besides her sanguine optimist spirit never became so depressed as did poor Nuttie's. Mark went by day to his work, but came back to dine at his uncle's, hear the reports, and do what he could for him; and meantime Annaple spent the chief part of the day in aiding Nuttie and Mr. Egremont, while her baby really showed signs of improvement in nurse's keeping. And so the days went on, while every endeavour was made to trace the child, but with no result but bitter disappointment. Twice, strayed children, younger than Alwyn-one even a girl-were brought as the lost boy, and the advertisements bore fruit in more than one harassing and heartless correspondence with wretches who professed to be ready to restore the child, on promises of absolute secrecy, and sums of money sent beforehand, with all sorts of precautions against interference from the police.

The first of these created great excitement, and the pursuit was committed to Mr. Dutton. When it proved abortive, Mr. Egremont's disappointment and anger were great, and he could not be persuaded that all was not the fault of Mr. Dutton's suspicion and precaution in holding back the money, nor could any one persuade him that it was mere imposture. When another ill-written enigmatical letter arrived, he insisted that it was from the same quarter, and made Broadbent conduct the negotiations, with the result that after considerable sums had been paid in circuitous fashions, the butler was directed to a railway arch where the child would be deposited, and where he found a drab-coloured brat of whom he disposed at the nearest police station, after which he came home savagely disgusted.

Nuttie was not much less so at what she felt as a slight to Mr. Dutton as well as at the failure. 'When you are doing so much for us. We deserve that you should do nothing more,' she said with tears shining in her eyes.

'Do not talk in that way,' he answered. 'You know my feeling for the dear little fellow himself, and-'

'Oh yes,' interrupted Nuttie, 'I do trust to that! Nobody-not the most indifferent person, but must long to save him. Yes, I know it was doing you a wicked injustice to fancy that you could take offence in that way at a father in such trouble. Please forgive me, Mr. Dutton.'

'As if I had anything to forgive. As if there were anything on earth that could come before the endeavour to recover him,' said Mr. Dutton, too much moved for his usual precision of speech.

'Yes; he is her child,' said Nuttie, with a trembling tearful smile.

'Her child! Yes, and even if he were not, he is your brother,' said Mr. Dutton; then hastily gathering himself up, as if he had said too much, he rose to take leave, adding as their hands clasped, 'Remember, as long as I live, you may count upon me.'

'Oh, I know, I know! There's nobody like you, but I don't know what I say in this awful suspense. If I had only seen him lying white and cold and peaceful, it would have been far better than to think of him pining and miserable among wicked people, who would try to bring him up like themselves. Mother's own little boy!'

'It will not be allowed, it will not be allowed,' cried Mr. Dutton. 'God's Providence is still over him.'

'And there are prayers, I know-at our church and Mr. Godfrey's-and all ours, but oh! it takes a great deal of faith to lean on them. I wonder if you would, Annaple, if it were Willy?'

'We will not ask Mrs. Egremont,' said Mr. Dutton, as Annaple made a gesture of something like doubt.

'It is almost as bad,' said she, coming up and putting her arm round Nuttie. 'But indeed, Mr. Dutton, she does trust, only it is very, very sore, for her,-as it is for us all.'

'You are her great comfort,' said Mr. Dutton, as he shook hands with her.

'He could hardly help thanking me,' said Annaple to her husband afterwards. 'Mr. Egremont may well call him an adopted uncle. I should say he was a good deal more, poor man.'

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