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   Chapter 37 FOUND AND TAKEN.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 15840

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


'The angels of the gateway

Bent softly to the child,

And stretched glad hands to take him

To the kingdom undefiled.'-B. M.

'Come up and see him,' said Nuttie, as the dining-room door was shut. 'I must feast my eyes on him.'

Annaple replied by throwing an arm round her and looking into her eyes, kissing her on each cheek, and then, as they reached the landing in the summer twilight, waltzing round and round that narrow space with her.

'You ridiculous person!' said Nuttie. 'Do you mean that you saw!'

'Of course I did; I've seen ever so long-'

'Nonsense! That's impossible-'

'Impossible to owls and bats perhaps, but to nothing else not to see that there was one sole and single hero in the world to you, and that to him there was one single being in the world; and that being the case--'

'But, Annaple, you can't guess what he has always been to me.'

'Oh! don't I know?-a sort of Archbishop of Canterbury and George Heriot rolled into one. So much the more reason, my dear, I don't know when I've been so glad in my life than that your good times should be coming.'

'They are come in knowing this! It is only too wonderful,' said Nuttie, as they stood together among the plants in the little conservatory on the way upstairs. 'I always thought it insulting to him when they teased me about him.'

'They did, did they?'

'My father, incited by poor Gregorio. Oh, Annaple! don't let any one guess till we know how my father will take it. What is it, Ellen?' as the nursery-maid appeared on the stairs.

'If you please, ma'am, Mrs. Poole would be glad if you are coming up to the nursery.'

They both hastened up and nurse came out to meet them in the day nursery, making a sign to Ellen to take her place by the cot, and withholding the two ladies. She made them come as far off as possible, and then said that she was not at all satisfied about Master Alwyn. There had been the same drowsiness and disinclination to speak, and when she had undressed and washed him, he had seemed tender all over, and cried out and moaned as if her touch hurt him, especially on one side where, she felt convinced, there was some injury; but when she asked about it his eyes grew frightened and bewildered, and he only cried in a feeble sort of way, as if sobs gave him pain.

She had soothed him, and he had gone into his own bed with the same gentle languid gladness, but had presently begun moaning, and imploring in his sleep, wakening with screams and entreaties, 'Oh, I'll do it! I'll try!' and she thought him very feverish. Would it not be better that a doctor should see him?

Nurse was always an alarmist, and Nuttie could not help thinking that to wake the child to see a stranger to-night would only add to his terror and distress, while Annaple declared her entire belief that though no doubt the poor little fellow had been cruelly knocked about and bruised, a night's rest would probably restore his bright self, and make all that was past only like a bad dream. There was no judging to-night, and sleep was wonderful reparation to those little beings.

Then however the moans and murmurs began again, and now the awakening cry. They started forward, and as Nuttie came to the cot-side the child threw himself into her bosom with, 'Sister! Sister! It is sister!' but his eyes grew round with terror at sight of Annaple, and clinging tightly to Nuttie he gasped, 'Send her away! don't let her touch me! Fan's not here!'

To tell him she was Cousin Annaple, Billy's mamma, had no effect; he did not seem able to understand, and she could only retire-nurse being thus convinced that to let him see another stranger to-night would only do further harm. Nuttie and nurse succeeded in reassuring him that he was safe at home and with them, and in hushing him off into what they hoped would be a quiet wholesome sleep in spite of the hot sultry night, on which Annaple laid a good deal of the blame of his restlessness and feverishness.

Nuttie only came down for a short time before the visitors went away; and then she wrote a note to Dr. Brownlow, which Mark promised to leave as he went to the city in the morning, Mr. Egremont, in his present relief, pooh-poohing all fears, and backing up Annaple's belief in the powers of 'tired nature's soft restorer'; but Mr. Dutton looked grave and said that he had remarked the extreme tenderness, but had hoped that much was due to his own inexperience in handling little children. The parting clasp of the hand had a world of meaning in it, and Nuttie openly said that she hoped to tell him after matins at St. Michael's how the boy was. But she could not be there. When she went upstairs at night the half-delirious terrors had returned, and there was another difficult soothing and comforting before the child slept again. Nurse fancied the unwonted presence might disturb him, and insisted on her going to her own room.

When she returned in the morning it was to find that since daylight he had been more quietly asleep; but there was a worn sunken look about his face, and she could not be satisfied to leave him alone while the nurses stirred about and breakfasted.

He awoke smiling and happy; he looked about and said gladly, 'Wyn at home! Wyn's own nursery,' but he did not want to get up; 'Wyn so tired,' he said, speaking of himself in the baby form that he had for several months discarded, but he said his pretty 'thank you,' and took delight in breakfasting in his cot, though still in a subdued way, and showing great reluctance to move or be touched.

Nuttie was sent for to report of him to his father, who would not hear for a moment of anxiety, declaring that the boy would be quite well if they let him alone, he only wanted rest, and insisting on following out his intention of seeing a police superintendent to demand whether the kidnapping rascals could not be prosecuted.

Neither by Nuttie nor nurse could much be extracted from the poor little fellow himself about his adventures. He could not bear to think of them, and there was a mist of confusion over his mind, partly from weakness, partly, they also thought, from the drugged spirits with which he had been more than once dosed. He dimly remembered missing Gregorio in the park, and that he had tried to find his way home alone, but some one, a big boy, he thought, had said he would show him the way, took hold of his hand, dragged him, he knew not where, into dreadful dirt and stench, and apparently had silenced him with a blow before stripping him. But it was all very indistinct, he could not tell how Mother Bet got hold of him, and the being dressed in the rags of a girl had somehow loosed his hold of his own identity. He did not seem at all certain that the poor little dirty petticoated thing who had wakened in a horrible cellar, or in a dark jolting van who had been dubbed Fan, who had been forced by the stick to dance and twist and compelled to drink burning, choking stuff, was the same with Alwyn in his sailor suit or in his white cot.

It was Dr. Brownlow who at once detected that there had been much of this dosing, and drew forth the fact. It had probably been done whenever it was expedient that he should be hidden, or unable to make any appeal to outsiders. Alwyn was quite himself by day, and showed no unreasonable fear or shyness, but he begged not to be touched, and though he tried to be good and manly, could not keep from cries and screams when the doctor examined him.

Then it came out. 'It's where he kicked me.'

'Who?'

'That man-master, she said I must call him. He kicked poor little Fan with his great heavy big boots-'cause Fan would say Wyn's prayers.'

'Who was Fan?' asked the puzzled doctor.

'Himself,' whispered Nuttie. 'Alas! himself!'

'Wyn was Fan,' said Alwyn. 'Fan's gone now!'

'And did the man kick poor little Fan,' repeated the doctor-'here?'

'Oh don't-don't

! It hurts so. Master said he would have none of that, and he kicked with his big boot. Oh! Fan couldn't dance one bit after that.'

He could not tell how long ago this had been. He seemed to have lost all reckoning of days, and probably felt as if ages had past in Funny Frank's van, but Dr. Brownlow thought the injury could not be above two or three days old, and probably it accounted for there having been no more obstructions put in the way of removing the child, since he had ceased to be of use, and the discovery of the injury might have brought the perpetrator into trouble. Indeed, as it was, Mr. Egremont caused the police to be written to, demanding the arrest of the man and woman Brag, but they had already decamped, and were never traced, which was decidedly a relief to those who dreaded all that a prosecution would have involved.

And Dr. Brownlow became very grave over the injury. He said it was a surgical case, and he should like to have another opinion, enjoining that the child should be kept in bed, and as quiet as possible, till he could bring his friend in the afternoon, which was no difficult matter, for Alwyn seemed to have no desire for anything but rest and the sight of his friends and his treasures, which were laid beside him to be gently handled and stroked but not played with. Mothu and Mithter Button were among the friends he craved for, but he showed no desire to see Billy-boy, and it was thought best to keep that young gentleman's rampant strength at a distance.

The chief difficulty was with his father, who declared they were all croaking, and that the boy would be as well as ever to-morrow. He went and sat by the cot, and talked merrily of the pony that Alwyn was to ride, and the yachting they would have in the summer; and the little fellow smiled and was pleased, but went to sleep in the midst. Then Mr. Egremont went out, taking Annaple with him, because Nuttie would not go till the doctors' visit was over, though he declared that they were certain not to come till long after her return from the drive. He actually went to the dealer's, and had pony after pony paraded before the carriage, choosing a charming toy Shetland at last, subject to its behaviour with the coachman's little boy, while Annaple hopefully agreed with him that Alwyn would be on its back in another week.

He still maintained his opinion, outwardly at least, when he was met on his return by Nuttie with a pale, almost thunderstruck face. Dr. Brownlow had called her from trying to soothe away the fright and suffering of the examination, to break to her that both he and his colleague thought very seriously of the injury and its consequences, and deemed it very doubtful whether the poor little fellow could be pulled through.

Mr. Egremont was again angry, declared that she had misunderstood, and made the worst of it; that Dr. Brownlow was a conceited young ass; that his friend played into his hands; with other amenities of the same kind, to which she listened with mingled irritation and pity for his unreasonableness, and even at the sympathy which he found in Annaple's hopeful nature.

The young mother never dreaded nor expected what she could not bear to think possible, such as the death-warrant of that beautiful child, while Nuttie's nature always expected the worst, and indeed had read the doom in the doctor's eyes and voice rather than in his words. So Annaple backed Mr. Egremont up when he made his daughter write to desire Dr. Brownlow to call in the first advice in London; and among them they made so sure that this would be effective that they actually raised Nuttie's hopes so as to buoy her through the feverish early hours of the night when the pain was aggravated, the terrors returned, the boy was tormented by his duality with Fan, and the past miseries were acted over again. Even nurse and sister did not suffice, and Mithter Button had to be fetched by Mark before he could feel quite secure that he was Alwyn and not Fan. Indeed, in these light-headed moments, a better notion was gained of what he must have endured than in the day-time, when all seemed put aside or forgotten. After a time he became capable of being soothed by hymns, though still asking why his sister could not sing like that vision of his mother which had comforted him in his previous miseries, and craving for her return. Then at last he fell quietly asleep, and Nuttie was left with a few sustaining words and a pressure from Mr. Dutton's hand.

Alas! the new consultation could only ratify the first opinion. The injury need not have been necessarily fatal, though dangerous to any young child, and here it had been aggravated by previous ill-treatment, and by the doses of spirits that had been forced down, besides which, Alwyn was naturally delicate, and-though the doctors would not say so to father or sister-there were hereditary predispositions that gave him the less chance of battling through.

Yet Mr. Egremont concluded his purchase of the pony, and insisted that Alwyn should be carried to the window to see it; and Alwyn's smile was almost enough to break Nuttie's heart, but his head drooped on nurse's shoulder, he hardly lifted his heavy eyelids, and begged for 'by-by' again. Even Annaple burst into tears at the sight, ran out of the room with her sobs, and never augured recovery again, though still she strove to cheer and while away the poor father's piteous hours by making the most of every sign that the child was happy and not suffering much.

That he would be viewed as a 'pale placid martyr' was his sister's chief comfort. His replies as to the manner of the hurt, as well as his light-headed wanderings, had made it more and more evident that the man Brag's brutality had been excited by his persisting in kneeling down to say his prayers aloud-the only way he knew how to say them. Indeed there was a recurring anxiety night and morning to kneel, which had to be reasoned away, even when he was too weak to make the attempt, and was only appeased by 'Sister' kneeling by his side, holding his hands, and repeating the little prayers with him. It was of his own accord that he added: 'And forgive those people, and make them good.' Annaple burst into tears again and almost scolded when she heard of it. 'Oh dear! oh dear! now I know he won't get well! I'm glad Billy isn't so horribly good! Nuttie, Nuttie, don't! You know I don't mean it. Only I just can't bear it. He is the sweetest little fellow in the world! And oh! the cruelty of it.'

'Yes,' said Nuttie in her dreary calmness; 'he is too sweet and lovely and beautiful and good to be anywhere but safe with mother.'

For it was more apparent that they could not keep him. It did not last long; there were a couple of piteous days of restless pain and distress, and then came the more fatal lull and absence of suffering, a drowsiness in which the little fellow sank gradually away, lying with a strange calm beauty on his face, and smiling feebly when he now and then lifted his eyes to rest them on sister or nurse. His father could not bear the sight. It filled him more with angry compassion than with the tender reverence and hushed awe with which Ursula watched her darling slipping as it were from her hold. So Mr. Egremont wandered wretchedly about the lower rooms, while Mark and Annaple tried their best for him through the long summer evening, darkening into night. By and by Alwyn lifted his hand, turned his head, opened his lips, and whispered, 'Hark, sister, she is singing.' The look of exceeding joy beamed more and more over the pinched little face. 'She's come again,' he said; and once more, 'Come to take Wyn to the dear Lord.' After that there were very few more long breaths before little Alwyn Egremont's spirit was gone to that unseen world, and only the fair little frame left with that wondrous look of delighted recognition on the face.

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