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   Chapter 38 THE UMBRELLA MAN.

Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 12488

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


Little Alwyn was laid to rest beside his mother in a beautiful summer noontide. His father was not in a state to attend the funeral, and was left under the care of Annaple, his own choice among those who offered to stay and minister to him. It was his own wish that his daughter should be to the last with her little brother. He had even said to her that she had been a good sister, and his boy had been very fond of her, and he would not keep her away on any account.

And, with a man's preference for a young and kindly woman, he chose Annaple to be with him rather than Mr. Dutton, remembering likewise that but for him the boy would have died in some workhouse, unknown and unclaimed, or among the wretches who had caused his death. So Nuttie had the comfort of Mr. Dutton's going down with her, as well as Mark, and poor broken-down nurse, but not a word referring to the confession of that happy evening had passed between them during the mournful fortnight which had since elapsed.

May Condamine and her husband had made all as fair and consoling as they could. There were white-robed children to bear the boy from the churchyard gate, choristers sang hymns, the grave was lined with moss and daisies, and white roses decked the little coffin and the mound. There was as much of welcome and even of triumph as befitted the innocent child, whose death had in it the element of testimony to the truth. And Nuttie felt it, or would feel it by and by, when her spirit felt less as if some precious thing had been torn up by the roots-to be safe and waiting for her elsewhere, indeed, but that did not solace the yearning longing for the merry loving child; nor the aching pity for the crushed blighted creature whom she had watched suffering and dying. It was far beyond her power as yet to acquiesce in her aunt's consolation that it was happier for the child himself, than if he was to grow up to temptation from without, and with an unsound constitution, with dangerous hereditary proclivities. She could believe it in faith, nay, she had already experienced the difficulties her father had thrown in her way of dealing with him, she tried to be resigned, but the good sense of the Canoness was too much for her.

It was a day of more haste than suited the ideal of such a time, for Mr. Egremont could not be left for a night; so there was only time for a luncheon, with little jerks of talk, and then for an hour spent in short private interviews. Mrs. Egremont obtained from poor Nurse Poole all the details, and, moreover, her opinion of Mr. Mark's baby, in whom, it having been born under her auspices, she took a special interest.

Nuttie meantime was pacing the shady walk with her dear old friend Miss Nugent, feeling it strange that her heart did not leap up at the bare presence of one she loved so much, yet conscious of the soothing of her sympathy. And Mary, watching her all through, had been struck with the increased sweetness and nobleness her countenance had acquired during these years of discipline. More of her mother's expression had come than could have been thought possible in features of such a different mould, formed for so much more strength and energy. They had not met since Nuttie had been summoned home to her mother's deathbed, and their time was chiefly spent on reminiscences alike of the old sorrow and the new; but, when the time for parting was nearly come, Mary said affectionately, 'And you, my dear?'

'Oh, I am all right,' said Nuttie, and her eyes shone with a light Mary did not at the moment understand; 'you need not be anxious for me now.'

'I suppose that unhappy valet's death makes your task easier,' said Mary.

'I think it will,' said Nuttie. 'Poor man! He was-I can't help saying it-the evil genius of the house. Dear mother knew it, struggled against him, and broke down in the struggle. It seems so strange that what she could not do has been done in such a manner, and at such a price! I wonder whether she knew it when she welcomed her boy!'

'Her influence will aid you still,' said Mary, 'and you have Mr. Dutton to help you too. I was so glad to find he was so near you.'

'Oh, Mr. Dutton!' exclaimed Ursula, in a strange tone that sent a thrill through Mary, though she knew not why; but at that moment they were interrupted, very inopportunely, by Mr. Bulfinch, who could not go away without asking Miss Egremont whether she thought her father could see him on business if he came up to town the next day. She thought that such an interview would rouse her father and do him good, advising him to call on the chance.

Mark's tete-a-tete had been with his sister May, to whom he had much to tell of his wife and her gallant patience and energy, and how curious it was that now the incubus that had weighed on his uncle's household was removed, the prejudice had melted away, and he had grown so fond of her that, next to Ursula, she was his best comforter.

'I hope that will lead to more,' said May.

'I don't see how,' said Mark. The more we rely only on a blessing on our own exertions the better.'

'Even when Annaple works within an inch of her life?'

'Now that she is on a right tack about the baby, that will be easier. Yes, May, I do feel sometimes that I have brought her down to drudgery and narrowness and want of variety such as was never meant for her, but she will never let me think so. She says that it is living in realities, and that it makes her happier than toiling after society, or rather after the world, and I do believe it is true! I'm sure it is with me.'

'But such work as yours, Mark.'

'Nonsense, May; I enjoy it. I did not when I was in the Greenleaf firm, with an undeveloped sense that Goodenough was not to be trusted, and we were drifting to the bad, yet too green to understand or hinder it; but this I thoroughly like. What does one want but honest effective work, with some power of dealing with and helping those good fellows, the hands, to see the right and help themselves?'

May sighed. 'And yet, now that poor child is gone, I feel all the more how hard it is that you should be put out of the rights of your name.'

'I never had any rights. It was the bane of my life to be supposed to have them

. Nothing but this could have made a man of me.'

'And don't you have regrets for your boy?'

'I don't think I have-provided we can give him an education-such as I failed to make proper use of, or Annaple might be luxuriating at Pera at this moment.'

'Well!' said May, pausing as she looked up the vista of trees at the great house; 'I can't bear it to go out of the old name.'

'Names may be taken!'

'You don't mean that there's any chance of-Oh! not that horrid Mr. Fane?'

'Certainly not.'

'Oh!' as a trim black figure appeared walking down the open space. 'That man!'

'I am not authorised to tell any one so, May.'

'Yes, I understand. The wretch, he is taking stock of the place already!'

'For shame. May, no one has deserved so well of them.'

'I don't care, he got you into that horrid concern.'

'And got me out of it, and found my work for me. I tell you, May, it is the best thing that could possibly happen to your parish, or the estate, or my poor uncle either! And you will soon come to a better mind.'

'Never, while he is to get into your place! Turn back before he comes within hailing distance.'

Before Mark could do anything towards bringing his sister to a better mind he was seized on by his stepmother to propound a scheme she had hatched, namely that, as a mutual benefit, Nurse Poole should be allowed the consolation of bringing her chief comforter, his little daughter, down with her on the visit Mrs. Egremont had invited her to pay at Redcastle. He was very grateful, though doubtful whether Annaple would accept the offer, for she was missing her children's company, though they were only at Springfield House, and she had been with them part of every day. And, sad as this month had been, it had been such a rest from sheer physical toil that she had gained almost as much by it as the little one.

There was a general assembly and coffee-drinking in the verandah,-Mr. Condamine, Blanche, and her two young sisters were all there,-and May had to be duly civil to Mr. Dutton, though he came back with some water-lilies that he had fished out of the lake for Nuttie, and she thought it taking possession. Then the Londoners set forth for the station, and there Mark, having perhaps had a hint from his wife, saw Nuttie and Mr. Dutton safely bestowed by Broadbent in an empty carriage, and then discovered a desire to smoke, and left them to themselves.

They had not been alone together for more than a second since the evening of Alwyn's return, and there was a great shyness between them, which lasted till the first station was past without any irruption of newcomers. Nothing had been said but a few comments on the arrangements and the attendants, but probably both were trying to begin to speak, and at last it was Ursula who crossed over so that her face could not be seen, and said in an odd tone-

'Mr. Dutton-'

'Yes,' and he turned, instantly on the alert.

'Did you mean it-what I thought you meant that evening?'

'Can you doubt it?' he said earnestly. 'But even then I was surprised into the avowal, and I would have held it back if possible, if I had guessed what was going to happen.'

'Ah! but then I should not have had that drop of comfort through it all,' and she laid hold of his hand, which returned the pressure strongly, but he sedulously guarded both words and tone as he said:

'Listen, Ursula, before you speak again. How dear you must always be to me, I cannot tell you, but when I then spoke, it was with the sense that on every account, I should meet with strong opposition from your father and family. And now your position is altered, so that the unsuitability is doubled. I am not a young man, remember, and my thoughts must be for you above all, I want you to consider whether, in the present state of affairs, you would not do better to look on what then passed as unsaid, or only as the ebullition of gratitude towards your old friend. Let me go abroad, and give you full opportunity for-for some fresh beginning likely to be fitter for you-'

'Mr. Dutton, how can you say such horrid things? As if a dukedom would make any difference.'

'Yes,' he said, turning towards her. 'If it is only the old-friend feeling, then it is better dropped, but if your heart is in it, child, then we go on, come what may. It is due to you.'

She raised her face towards him now, and he gave a grave kiss to her forehead. She drew a long breath, and said after a little pause, 'And now I have something to say. One does think of such things even in these sad times, and you can help me. I am so glad it is you, because I know you will, and be rejoiced to do so. You know when Mark found us out first, dear mother and I always felt that it was a great pity he should not have the estate he had been brought up to expect. I believe dear mother thought it would have been the right thing for me to marry him, but I always did mean to give it back to him, even when I didn't like him. Well, then, you know it all seemed settled otherwise, but now, it is so lucky you spoke to me while that dear little fellow was with us, because now you will help me to persuade my father that it is the only satisfactory thing to do to let it go in the male line to Mark and his Willy.'

'I see! I see!' said Mr. Dutton eagerly. 'It would be an infinite relief if it could be carried out.'

'I believe my father would like it,' said Nuttie. 'He cares for the name; and now no one prevents it; he is fond of Mark, and still more of Annaple! And you! Oh, Mr. Dutton, if he will only take it in the right way, I think you will make me able to do what it grieved dear mother never to have brought about for my poor father.'

'My whole self is yours to aid you,' he said. 'You know of course that I could not ask you to detach yourself from one to whom you are so necessary. If he will permit us, we will watch over him together as doing her work.'

'Thank you,' was all Nuttie's lips could utter, though her hand said much more.

And before they reached London they had arranged something of a plan of action for propitiating Mr. Egremont, and bringing the future prospects to be available so as to save Annaple from being worked to death in the meantime.

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