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Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 9274

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

Ten days had passed, and Mark and Annaple were thinking that they ought to return to ordinary life, and leave the bereaved ones to endeavour to construct their life afresh under the dreadful wearing uncertainty of their darling's fate. Still they were detained by urgent entreaties from father and daughter, who both dreaded their departure as additional desolation, and as closing the door of hope. And certainly, even this rest was good for Annaple; and her baby, for whom nurse had discovered a better system, had really not cried more for a whole day than 'befitted a rational child,' said the mother, as she walked back to Springfield with her husband in the summer night, after dinner, on the day that Broadbent's negotiations had failed.

'Nurse will break her heart at parting with her,' said Mark. 'I wish we could afford to have her.'

'Afford, indeed! Her wages are about a quarter of your salary, sir! And after all, 'tis not the nurse that guards the child, as we have seen only too plainly.'

'Do you think he is alive, Nan?'

'I begin to think not. He is not so young but that he could make himself known, and those advertisements are so widely spread. I am sure poor Nuttie would be more at rest if she could give up hope.'

'I did not tell you before, Nan, but Dutton was going to-day to look at a poor little unclaimed child's body that had been found in the Thames. He knew him better than I, so he went.'

'He would have come if-' said Annaple.

'Assuredly. He meant to fetch nurse if he had any doubt, but afterwards he was going to his court about his rents. He always does that on Saturday evenings.'

Mr. Dutton himself opened his door to the pair.

'Well,' said Mark.

'Certainly not. The poor child was evidently much younger, and had red hair. But look here,' and he held out a battered something, black with a white stripe. Mark understood nothing, but Annaple exclaimed, 'Is it his ship?'

'Yes, I could swear to it, for see,' and he pointed to some grimed, almost effaced, but still legible capitals, which, however, scarcely any one but himself could have read as "Ursula." 'I guided his hand to make those the evening before he was lost,' said Mr. Dutton.

'Dear little man! And where did you find it?'

'Where I never thought of doing so! On the bed of a little crippled boy in the next court to mine. He is rather a friend of mine, and I turned in to take him some strawberries. I found him hugging this.'

'How did he get it?'

'Our "Liz" brought it to him. Our "Liz" is a very wild specimen, who has spent her life in eluding the school board officer till she is too old for his clutches; but she has a soft spot in her heart for her little brother, and I believe another for Gerard Godfrey. We must be very cautious, and not excite any alarm, or we shall be baffled altogether. I am not sure that I did quite prudently in giving little Alf a fresh boat in exchange for this; but I could not help bringing it home.'

'You did not see the girl?'

'No. Those girls wander long and late on these hot nights, and I do not think I could have got anything out of her. I have been to Gerard Godfrey, and the next step must be left to him.'

'The next question is whether you will tell those poor things at No. 5,' said Mark.

Mr. Dutton hesitated. 'I should have no doubt of giving Miss Egremont the comfort of knowing that there was a possible clue, but if her father insisted on setting on the police, there would be very little more hope of success. I am afraid it will be more prudent to wait till we know what Godfrey says. He hopes to see the girl to-morrow evening at his mission class, but of course she is a very uncertain attendant there. No, I cannot trust myself.'

Annaple was forced to brook withholding the hope from the fainting hearts all the ensuing Sunday, which was a specially trying day, as Nuttie pined for her dear little companion with the pictures, stories, and hymns that he had always enjoyed, and made pretty childish remarks about, such as she began to treasure as memorable.

As soon as he could, early on Monday morning, Mr. Dutton repaired to Gerard Godfrey's lodgings, and found that the young clergyman had succeeded in seeing the girl, and had examined her so as not to put the wild creature on her guard, and make her use the weapons of falsehood towards one who had never been looked on as an ally of the police. It appeared that she had brought home the ship, or rather its hull, from one of the lowest of lodging houses, where she had employment as something between charwoman and errand girl. She had found it on what passed

for a bed in its present condition, one morning, when going to make the extremely slight arrangements that the terrible lair, which served as a common bedroom, underwent, and had secreted it as a prize for her little brother.

At first she had been stolid, and affected utter ignorance as to how it got there, but Mr. Godfrey had entreated her as a friend to try to discover; and had with all his heart made a pathetic description of the girl (he durst not say lady) who had always been a mother to her little brother, and now had lost him, and was in terrible uncertainty as to his fate. That came home to Lizzie's feelings, and she let out what she had seen or picked up in the way of gossip,-that the ship had been left behind by its owner, whether boy or girl Liz was uncertain, for it had long fair hair, wore a petticoat, and had been dosed with gin and something else when carried away. They said it had made noise enough when brought there by Funny Frank and Julia. They were performing folk, who had come in after the Derby day to have a spree, and to pick up another kid to do fairies and such like, because the last they had had hurt his back and had to be left in the workhouse. Yes, she had heard tell that they had got the child from Mother Bet, of whom Gerard had a vague idea as one of the horrible hags, who not only beg themselves, but provide outfits for beggars, including infants, to excite compassion. Either she or one of her crew had picked up the child and disposed of his clothes; and then finding him too old and intelligent to be safely used for begging purposes, she had sold or hired him out to these acrobatic performers, who had gone off into that vague and unknown region, the country. Liz had no notion what was their real name, nor where they would go, only that they attended races and fairs; and as soon as the actual pleasure of communicating information was over, she was seized with a panic, implored Mr. Godfrey to make no use of her information, and explained that the people of the house were quite capable of killing her, if they suspected her of betraying any of their transactions. It was impossible to bring any authorities to bear on the quest; and Mr. Dutton held it wisest only to write a note telling Mr. Egremont that he had obtained evidence that the child was living, and that he was going in pursuit, but thought it safer to say no more at present. He gave the note to Mark at his office. 'I cannot trust myself to see your cousin,' he said. 'I might be tempted to say more than was consistent with Godfrey's honour towards his informant.'

'I think you are right,' said Mark. 'You had better leave me with only indefinite knowledge, for I shall be hard pressed. Do you not go home first?'

'Yes, I go to pack up a few things and fetch Monsieur. A run in the country will do him good, and he may be a valuable auxiliary. I shall find no one at Springfield at this hour.'

'What is your plan?'

'I shall venture so far as to apply to the police for the names of the usual attendants at races and fairs, and for some idea of their ordinary rounds. I have no doubt that these are known at the chief offices. For the rest, I must use my eyes. But tell your cousin that, with God's blessing, I hope to bring him back to her.'

'He will,' said Ursula, when Mark gave her the message, and from that moment she was calmer. She did not fret Mark with questions even as much as Annaple did, she tried to prevent her father from raging at the scant information, and she even endeavoured to employ herself with some of her ordinary occupations, though all the time she kept up the ceaseless watch. 'Mr. Dutton would not have said that without good hope,' she averred, 'and I trust to him.'

Yet when four, five, six, eight, days had passed with no tidings, the heart sickness grew almost more than she could bear, though she still answered with spirit when her father again took to abusing the umbrella-fellow for choosing to keep all in his own hands.

Even Annaple could not help saying to her husband that a precise, prim, old bachelor was the very last person for a hunt in slums and the like. The very sight of him would put the people on their guard. 'And think of his fine words,' she added. 'I wish I could go! If I started with a shawl over my head, yoked to a barrel-organ, I should have a far better chance than he will. I declare, Mark, if he does not succeed we'll do it. We'll hire an organ, whereon you shall play. Ah! you shake your head. A musical education is not required, and I know I shall do something desperate soon, if that dear little boy is not found.'

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