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   Chapter 36 NUTTIE'S KNIGHT.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 13201

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'The night came on and the bairnies grat,

Their minnie aneath the mools heard that.'

'LYNDHURST, 4th July.-Philip Dutton to Miss Egremont. Found. Waterloo, 6.15.'

'I knew he would,' said Nuttie, with a strange quietness, but as she tried to read it to her father her voice choked, and she had to hand it to Annaple. But for the first time in her life she went up and voluntarily kissed her father's forehead. And perhaps it was for the first time in his life that the exclamation broke from him, 'Thank God!'

Perhaps it was well that the telegram had not come earlier in the day, for Mr. Egremont was very restless, showing himself much shaken in nerves and spirits before the time for driving to the station, which he greatly antedated. Nuttie could hardly keep him in the carriage, and indeed had to persuade him to return thither, when he had once sprung out on the arrival of a wrong train.

And after all, when the train did come, his blue spectacles were directed to the row of doors at the other end, and Nuttie was anxiously trying to save him from being jostled, when a voice said 'Here!' and close beside them stood Mr. Dutton, with a little boy by his side who looked up in her face and said 'Sister!' It was said in a dreamy, almost puzzled way, not with the ecstatic joy Nuttie had figured to herself; and there was something passive in the mode of his hearing his father's 'My boy, my boy!' Instinctively all turned to the harbour of the carriage; Mr. Dutton lifted Alwyn in, and as Nuttie received him, a pang shot across her, as she felt how light, how bony the little frame had become in these three weeks.

'Come in! Come back with us! Tell us all!' said Mr. Egremont, as Mr. Dutton was about to help him in.

'My dog,' said Mr. Dutton, while Alwyn looked up from nestling in Nuttie's lap to say, 'Mithter Button come! And Mothu!'

'We have room for him,' said Mr. Egremont graciously. 'Here, poor fellow.'

'He has the right,' said Mr. Dutton, 'for he was the real finder.'

And Monsieur, curly and shiny, occupied with great dignity the back seat beside his master, while Alwyn, in a silent but dreamy content, as if he only half understood where he was, rested against his sister's bosom with his hands in his father's.

'Come, old chap,' said his father cheerily, 'tell us all about it.'

But Alwyn only shuddered a little, raised his eyelids slightly, and gave a tiny faint smile.

'I think he is very much tired,' said Mr. Dutton. 'There was a good deal to be done to make him presentable this morning. You must forgive me for sacrificing his curls, there was nothing else to be done with them.'

'Ah!' and Nuttie looked again. The boy was in a new, rather coarse, ready-made, sailor suit that hung loosely upon his little limbs, his hair was short, and he was very pale, the delicate rosy flush quite gone, and with it the round outline of the soft cheek; and there were purple marks under the languid eyes. She bent down and kissed him, saying, 'Was Mr. Button nurse to you, Wynnie?'

He smiled again and murmured, 'Mr. Button made me boy again.'

After a question and answer or two as to main facts of place and time of the discovery, Mr. Dutton told his story. 'I did not effect much with my inquiries after the circuses. All I heard of were of too superior an order for kidnapping practices. However, I thought the only way would be to haunt fairs and races, and look at their camp-followers. At a place in Hertfordshire I saw a performance advertised with several children as fairies, so I went to see it. I was soon satisfied that Alwyn was not there; but it struck me that I had known the face of the prime hero, a fine handsome supple fellow, who was called in the programme Herr Adalbert Steinfuggen, or some such name. Well, it seemed that he knew me, for as I struggled out after a considerable interval, I heard myself accosted, "Mr. Dutton! Sir, surely I have the honour of speaking to Mr. Dutton of Micklethwayte?" I assure you he was the very pink of politeness. Do you remember, Miss Egremont, Abel Stone?'

'Oh, Abel Stone! He was a choir boy at Micklethwayte, I remember! He was very handsome, and had a splendid voice; but he was a real monkey for mischief, and nobody could manage him but mother. She was always pleading that he should not be turned out, and at last he ran away.'

'Yes; he went off with a circus, and there he found his vocation, rose and throve, married the prima-donna, and is part owner. He seems very respectable, and was so friendly and affectionate that I ventured to consult him; when, on hearing whom I was seeking, he became warmly interested, and gave me just the information I wanted. He said he had little doubt that Funny Frank was a clown called Brag, with whom he had had words some years back for misusing the children. He said he did not hold with harshness to the little ones in teaching them to do the feats, which certainly were wonderful. If they were frightened, they were nervous and met with accidents; but make much of them, and they thought it all fun, and took a pride and pleasure in their performances. However this Brag, though a clever fellow, could not be hindered from bullying, and at last he went off with a girl of the troupe and set up on their own account. Stone, or whatever he pleases to call himself, had met them several times, but he spoke of them with great contempt as "low," and they did not frequent the same places as he does. However, he referred to one of his men, and found that they had been at Epsom on the Derby day, and moreover, that there was a report of them having lately narrowly escaped being in a scrape about a child who had been injured. There was no scruple as to advising me where to look for them, or as to the best means of detection. Stone was very indignant, and made me understand that all his young people were either to the manner born, or willingly hired out by their parents. I saw them in private life, and they looked happy and well-fed, but that was no guarantee for Funny Frank. Well, I followed him up without success, trying each place Stone had set down for me, till I came last night to Lyndhurst, a very pretty place in the New Forest, where there is to be a fair to-morrow, beginning this afternoon. Stone advised me to look about before the affair opened, while unpacking and arranging was going on. Well, after all, it was very simple. I strolled out with my dog round the field where the vans and booths were getting into order. There was what I thought a little girl in a faded red petticoat sitting on the s

teps at the bottom of a yellow van with her head on her hands.'

'That was me,' said Alwyn, lighting up. 'And Mothu came and kissed Fan!'

'Yes,' said Mr. Dutton; 'I verily believe we might have missed one another, but Monsieur ran up to him and, as I was actually whistling him off, I heard a little voice say, "Mothu! Mothu!" and saw they were-well, embracing one another, and then came "Mithter Button, Mithter Button, oh, take me home!'"

Eager caressing hands were held out to Monsieur, who jumped off the seat to receive the pats and laudations lavished on his curly round pate, and had to be reduced to order before Mr. Dutton could answer the question whether he had any further difficulty or danger.

'I took him up in my arms, and a handsome truculent-looking woman burst out on me, demanding what I was about with her child. To which I answered that she knew very well he was no such thing. Her man came swaggering up, declaring impudently that I had better be off-but I believe he saw that the people who came round would not take his part, for he gave in much more easily than I expected. I explained as loud as I could that this was a gentleman's son who had been stolen from his nurse in the Park. The man began to protest that they had found him deserted, and taken him with them out of charity, requesting to be paid for his keep. So I thought it better to give them a sovereign at once, so as to have no further trouble, and get him away as fast as I could. The woman came after me, making further demands, but the sight of a policeman in the distance turned her back. I went up to him and explained. I found he knew all about the loss and the reward, and looked regretfully at my prize. We went back to the hotel, where I set Alwyn to rights as well as I could, sent out for some clothes, such as the place would produce, and which at least, as he says, made a boy of him again. I'm afraid the process was rather trying from such unaccustomed hands, though he was very good, and he has been asleep almost all the way home, and, his senses all as in a dream bound up.'

The heaviness-whether weariness or content, still continued. Alwyn seemed to find it too much trouble to talk, and only gave little smiles, more like his mother than himself. He clung quite desperately to his sister when Mark offered to lift him from the carriage, but nurse was close behind, and it was good to see the little arms stretched out, and the head laid on her shoulder, the hand put up to stroke her cheek, and the lips whispering 'Wyn's own nursie.' The jubilant greeting and triumphant procession with which he was borne upstairs seemed almost to oppress him. He appeared almost as if he was afraid of wakening from a happy dream, and his lively merriment seemed all gone; there were only beams of recognition and gladness at 'Wyn's own nursery, Wyn's own pretty cup,' touching it as if to make sure that it was real, and pleased to see the twisted crusts, his special treat.

But he could not eat much of them, and soon laid his head down, as one weary, with the exhaustion of content; and nurse, who had allowed that Mr. Dutton had, considering all things, done much for the outward restoration of the daintiness of her recovered child, was impatient to give him the hot bath and night's rest that was to bring back the bright joyous Alwyn. So Nuttie only lingered for those evening prayers she had yearned after so sorely. When she held his mother's picture to him to be kissed, he raised his eyes to her and said: 'Will she come to me at night now?'

'Who, my darling?'

'She, mother dear.'

'Here's her picture, dear boy.'

'Not only the picture-she came out of it, when I cried, up on the nasty-smelling bundle in the van all in the dark.'

'She came?'

'Yes, she came, and made it so nice, and hushed me. I wasn't afraid to go to by-by when she came. And she sang. Sister, can't you sing like that?'

'Not here, I'm afraid, dear, dear boy,' she whispered, holding him so tight that he gave a little cry of 'It hurts.' Then came the prayers, not a word forgotten, and the little voice joined in her murmured thanksgiving for bringing him home.

She was much moved and awe-stricken at these words of her little brother; but she had to dress in haste for dinner, listening the while to her maid's rejoinings and vituperations of the wretches who had maltreated the child.

When she came down she found no one in the drawing-room but Mr. Dutton, whom her father had asked to the happiest meal that had perhaps ever been eaten in that house.

She went towards him with winged steps in her white dress: 'Oh! Mr. Dutton, we have not said half enough to you, but we never, never can.'

He gave a curious, trembling half smile, as she held out her hands to him, and said: 'The joy is great in itself,' speaking in a very low voice.

'Oh! I am so glad that you did it,' cried Ursula. 'It would not have been half so sweet to owe it to any one else.'

'Miss Egremont, do you know what you are saying?' he exclaimed.

'Don't call me Miss Egremont! You never used to. Why should you?'

'I have not dared-' he began.

'Dared! Don't you know you always were our own Mr. Dutton-best, wisest friend of all, and now more than ever.'

'Stay,' he said, 'I cannot allow you in your fervour to say such things to me, unaware of the strength of feeling you are stirring within me.'

'You! you! Mr. Dutton!' cried Nuttie, with a moment's recoil. 'You don't mean that you care for me.'

'I know it is preposterous-' he began.

'Preposterous! Yes, that you should care one bit for silly, foolish, naughty, self-willed me. Oh, Mr. Dutton, you can't mean it!'

'Indeed, I would have kept silence, and not disturbed you with my presumption, if-'

'Hush!' she cried. 'Why, it makes me so glad and so proud, I don't know what to do. I didn't think anybody was good enough for you-unless it was dear, dear mother-and that it should be me.'

'It is true,' he said gravely, 'my younger days were spent in a vain dream of that angel, then when all that was ended, I thought such things were not for me; but the old feeling has wakened, it seems to me in greater force than ever, though I meant to have kept it in control-'

'Oh, I am glad you didn't! It seems as if the world swam round with wonder and happiness,' and she held his hand as if to steady herself, starting however as Annaple opened the door saying, 'We've been sending telegrams with the good news.'

Then an arch light came into her bright eyes, but the others were behind her, and she said no more.

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