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Nuttie's Father By Charlotte M. Yonge Characters: 16239

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04

'Well, how did you get on, Annaple?'

'Oh! very well, poor old man, on the whole, though it made one pity him doubly that he chose to make as if he forgot everything, and you were all gone on a picnic, taking me out for a long drive in the afternoon-where we were least likely to meet any one-that I will say for him.'

'Forgetting is not the best for him.'

'As if he could forget! But he was very nice and friendly, and put on his best, most courteous self. I think he looks on me rather as a protector from the solemn Mr. Edsall.'

'Surely Edsall treats him well. He was excellently recommended. You know I saw his master's daughter.'

'Oh! only too well. He takes the management of him as if he were three years old, or a lunatic. He simply will not be offended any more than if he had to do with a baby.'

'What should offend him?'

'That Mr. Egremont greatly resents being allowed nothing but by what Edsall calls medical sanction. He is too blind, you know, to venture to pour out anything for himself, and besides, Edsall has all the drugs under lock and key, and is coolness itself about any amount of objurgations, such as I fancy go on sometimes.'

'Do you think he will stand it?'

'Who? Your uncle? Yes, I think he will. This man really makes him more comfortable than poor Gregorio did.'

'Yes; Nuttie said she was sure that there was neglect, if not bullying latterly. But he must miss Gregorio terribly. They had been together for at least five-and-twenty or thirty years, and had plenty of gossip together.'

'Whereas the present paternal despotism and appalling dignity and gravity will keep him more dependent on his right congeners.'

'If they are of the right sort, that's all.'

'He has been making me read him a whole heap of letters; indeed, as you know, I have been doing that all along, when he could not get Nuttie. There were some from Mr. Bulfinch. Do you know that bailiff of his must be next door to a swindler?'

'Bulfinch is coming up to see him to-morrow.'

'And, Mark, do you know, he has been putting out feelers as if to discover whether we would do-what he asked us to do five years ago.'

'Would you?'

'If it were not for the children, and-and sometimes the extreme pinch, I should say it was more like life to work yourself up as a City man,' said Annaple. 'If you were the Squire, with all his opportunities, it would be a different thing, but there's no outlet there, and I have often admired the wisdom of the Apocryphal saying, "Make not thyself an underling to a foolish man."'

'Well, it is lucky you think so, Nannie, for though Dutton is certainly not a foolish man, he will not want an underling. And what do you say to my mother's proposal of having poor Poole to stay at Redcastle, and borrowing baby to comfort her till she goes out again.

'I hate it,' said Annaple energetically. 'It is very horrid, but it is awfully good of the Canoness; and I suppose we shall have to let it come to pass, and miss all that most charming time of babyhood which is coming. But most likely it will quite set the little woman up, and be a real kindness to poor Poole.'

'If we could only keep her for good.'

'Yes, and then our children would not be half so much our own. I do want to be away with them in our own quarters. I wonder when Nuttie can spare us, but I should like to see her through the great crisis with her father.'

That crisis was to involve more than Annaple in the least expected. Nuttie found that the momentous confession could not possibly take place before the interview with Mr. Bulfinch, at which her presence was needed to help her father with his papers. The principal concern was to show the full enormity of the bailiff, and decide upon the steps to be taken, the solicitor being anxious for a prosecution, while a certain tenderness for poor Gregorio's memory, or perhaps for the exposure of his own carelessness, made Mr. Egremont reluctant. There was also a proposal, brought forward with much diffidence from Mr. Condamine's mother, to rent Bridgefield House, but on this, as well as respecting a successor to the bailiff, Mr. Egremont was to give his answer the next day, when Mr. Bulfinch would call again.

Nuttie was thankful for the business that had filled up the hour after luncheon, when Alwyn used to play in the drawing-room and delight his father; but she was feeling desperate to have the crisis over, and resolved to speak when she went out driving with him. It was he, however, who began. 'I sounded Mark's wife yesterday, Ursula. She is a nice little thing enough, and a good wife in her way.'

'A very good wife.'

'Except when she persuaded him to turn up his nose at the agency. D'ye think he would take it now, since he has tasted the sweets of his umbrella business?' then, as Nuttie paused, taken by surprise; 'Five hundred a year and the Home Farm would be better than, what is it, a hundred and fifty and a floor over a warehouse! I don't like to see old Will's son wearing himself out there, and the lad is a good honest lad, with business habits, who would do justice to you after I am gone.'

'Father,' said Nuttie, trembling with the effort, 'I want you to do something better than that. I want you to let Mark take the agency with a view to himself-not me. Let him be as he would have been if he had never hunted us up at Micklethwayte, and put me in his place.'

'Eh!' said Mr. Egremont. 'It is not entailed-worse luck; if it had been, I should not have been bound to dance attendance at the heels of such an old sinner as the General.'

'No, but it ought to go to the heir male, and keep in the old name. Think-there have been Egremonts at Bridgefield for four hundred years!'

'Very pretty talk, but how will it be with you, Miss. We shall have Fane, and I don't know how many more, coming after the scent of Bridgefield now,' he said with a heavy sigh, ending with a bitter 'Hang them all!'

'And welcome,' said Nuttie, answering the thought rather than the words. 'Father, I wanted to tell you-'

'You don't mean that any one has been after you at such a time as this!' he cried.

'It was before-I mean it was the evening when we were all so glad, before we began to be afraid.'

'The umbrella man! By Jove!'

'And now,' went on Nuttie, in spite of the explosion, 'he would hardly have ventured to go on with it but for this-I mean,' as her father gave a little laugh of his unpleasant sort, 'he said it would be the greatest possible relief, and make it all right for the property to go to the heir male.'

'Hein! You think so, do you? See how it will be when I come to talk to him! A shrewd fellow like that who got out of the Micklethwayte concern just in time. Catch him giving up a place like that, though he may humbug you.'

'Then you will see him, father?'

'If you turn him in on me, I can't help it. Bless me! umbrellas everywhere! And here you mean to turn me over to the mercies of that solemn idiot, Edsall. I should have been better off with poor Gregorio.'

'No, father; Mr. Dutton would not take me from you. We would both try all we could to make you comfortable.'

'Convert the old reprobate? Is that his dodge?'

'Don't, father,' for the sneering tone returned.

'Come now,' he added in a much more fatherly manner, for her voice had struck him. 'You don't mean that a well-looking girl like you, who could have her pick of all the swells in town, can really be smitten with a priggish old retired umbrella-monger like that. Why, he might be your father.'

'He has been getting younger ever since I knew him,' said Nuttie.

'Well. He plays as good a game of whist as any man in England,' muttered Mr. Egremont, leaving his daughter in actual doubt whether he meant this as a recommendation, or as expressing a distrust of him, as one likely to play his cards to the best advantage. She had to remain in doubt, for they overtook Clarence Fane, who came and spoke to them in a very friendly and solicitous manner, and showed himself willing to accept a lift in the carriage. Mr. Egremont, willing to escape from p

erplexities as well as to endeavour to drive away if possible the oppression of his grief, invited him in, and he had some gossip to impart, which at first seemed to amuse the hearer after this time of seclusion, but the sick and sore heart soon wearied of it, and long before the drive was over, Mr. Egremont was as much bored as his daughter had been from the first.

When Mr. Fane got out, he paused a moment to hold Ursula's hand in a tender manner, while he told her that he had not ventured to intrude (he had left a card of inquiry every day), but that if ever he could be of the least use in amusing Mr. Egremont, he was at her service, and would give up any engagement.

'Hein! my fine fellow! No doubt you would!' said Mr. Egremont, when his daughter had uttered her cold thanks, and they had driven on. 'I see your little game, but it is soon to begin it. We may as well let them know that she is booked before the running begins.'

It was a remarkable intimation of his acceptance of her engagement, but Ursula was contented to take it as such, and be thankful.

Mr. Dutton had his interview as soon as Mr. Egremont had rested after his drive, and the result was satisfactory.

No doubt much was due to the Egremont indolence and want of energy, which always preferred to let things take their course. And now that Gregorio was no longer present to amuse, and take all trouble off his hands, Mr. Egremont could hardly have borne to part with his daughter; and, despite of umbrellas and religion, was not sorry to have a perfectly trustworthy son-in-law in the house, able to play at cards with him, manage his household, and obviate all trouble about suitors for the heiress. Moreover, his better feelings were stirred by gratitude on his poor little son's account, and he knew very well that a more brilliant match for his daughter would not have secured for his old age the care and attention he could rely upon here. He was obliged likewise to believe in the disinterestedness, which disclaimed all desire for the estate, as involving cares and duties for which there had been no training; and he was actually glad to keep the property in the direct line. The old liking for Mark, and sense of the hardship of his exclusion, revived, strengthened now by regard for Annaple; together with the present relief from care obtained by making him manager of the estate.

When once brought to a point, Mr. Egremont was always sudden and impetuous, chiefly for the sake of having it over and being unmolested and at rest again. So that very evening, while Nuttie only ventured on sharing with Annaple the glad tidings that Mr. Dutton was accepted, and in his marvellous goodness, undertook to make his home with her father. Mark was almost stunned by the news, confirmed to him by Mr. Dutton as well as his uncle, that he was to be acknowledged as heir of Bridgefield Egremont, and in the meantime manage the estate with an income suitable to an oldest son.

Presently he came upstairs by himself, and beckoned to Nuttie, rather to the alarm of his wife.

'Ursula,' he said, and took both her hands, 'I cannot have you do this for me.'

'Can't you, Mark? You can't prevent it, you see. And don't you know it is the beginning of all my happiness?'

'But indeed, I cannot feel it right. It is a strained sense of justice. Come and tell her so, Nannie.'

'What?' said Annaple coming forward.

They both paused a moment, then Nuttie said, 'Only that the estate ought to go in the male line.'

'Oh, is that all?' said Annaple, 'I was afraid Mr. Egremont had a fit!'

'Ah! Don't you see what it means,' said Mark. 'They want it to be as if there were an entail-to begin treating me as an eldest son at once. It is Ursula's doing, putting herself out of the succession.'

'I always hated being an heiress,' said Nuttie.

'It would be more dreadful than ever now. Annaple, do be sensible! Don't you see it is the only right thing to do?'

'Billy!' was the one word Annaple said.

'Yes, Billy and Jenny and all,' said Nuttie, 'before you've all died of your horrid place-Oh! you haven't heard that part of it. Of course Mark will have to go down to Bridgefield and look after the place, and live like a gentleman.'

'Eight hundred a year,' murmured Mark, 'and the house at the Home Farm.'

'Oh! dear,' gasped Annaple, 'I wanted you to be Lord Mayor, and now you'll only be a stupid old country squire. No, no, Nuttie, it's-it's-it's the sort of thing that one only laughs at because otherwise one would have to do the other thing!'

And she gripped Nuttie tight round the waist, and laid her head on her shoulder, shaking with a few little sobs, which might be one thing or the other.

'It will save her youth, perhaps her life,' whispered Mark, lifting Nuttie's hand to his lips for a moment, and then vanishing, while Annaple recovered enough to say, 'I'm tougher than that, sir. But little Jenny! Oh, Nuttie, I believe it has come in time. I've known all along that one straw more might break the camel's back. We've been very happy, but I am glad it is over before Mark got worn down before his time. Grinding is very wholesome, but one may have too much; and I haven't Mark's scruples, Nuttie dear, for I do think the place is more in his line than yours or Mr. Dutton's.'

'Yes,' said Ursula, 'you see he was always happy there, and I never was.'

The next thing was for Mr. Dutton and Ursula to keep Mr. Egremont up to the point of making his long deferred will; nor did they find this so difficult as they expected, for having once made up his mind, he wished to have the matter concluded, and he gave his instructions to Bulfinch the next day. Of course Mark had to give full notice to his employers; but the allowance was to begin at once, so that Annaple only went back to the warehouse to pack up, since she was to occupy No. 5, while Mr. Egremont and his daughter were going under Mr. Dutton's escort to the baths in Dauphine, an entirely new resort, free from the associations he dreaded, for he could not yet bear the sight of little Willy-the rival 'boy of Egremont.' But the will was safely signed before he went, to the great relief of Nuttie, who, according to the experience of fiction, could hardly believe his life safe till what she called justice had been done.

After all Mr. Egremont became so dependent on Mr. Dutton, during this journey, that he did not like the separation at its close, and pressed on the marriage even sooner than either of the lovers felt quite reverent towards the recent sorrow. He insisted on Bulfinch having the settlements ready for them on their return, and only let them wait long enough to keep their residence, before there was a very quiet wedding in their parish church, with the cousins for bridesmaids. Then Mark and Annaple took care of Mr. Egremont for the fortnight while Mr. Dutton showed his wife his old haunts in France, returning to Springfield House, where there was plenty of room for Mr. Egremont to make his home with them.

Said Annaple to Miss Nugent, 'I never saw Nuttie so youthful and bright. She is more like a girl than I ever saw her since the first.'

'Yes,' said Mary, 'she has some one to rest on now.'

Mr. Egremont lived between three and four years, more contented and peaceful than he had ever been, though frequently suffering, and sometimes giving way to temper and impatience. But Mr. Dutton understood how to manage on these occasions, and without giving up his own extensive usefulness, could give him such care, attention, and amusement as beguiled his discomforts, and made his daughter's task an easier one.

How far the sluggish enfeebled nature was capable of a touch of better things, or whether his low spirits were repentance, no one could judge. At any rate sneers had ended, and when he was laid beside his wife and boy at Bridgefield, Ursula stood by the grave with a far more tender and hopeful feeling than she could have thought possible when he had rent her away from her old home. She looked up at her husband and said, 'Is not her work done?'


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