Charlotte M. Yonge
Part 4 out of 7
There, however, Alice made a stand. 'Thank you, it is very kind, but
if you please, I should not like to take Ursula to Monte Carlo, or to
go there myself,' she said in an apologetic tone.
He laughed. 'What! you are afraid of making the little one a
'You know I am not, but--'
'You think the little prig will be contaminated, eh?'
'Well, I think it will be happier for her if she never sees anything--
of the kind.'
'You little foolish Edda, as if her eyes or ears need see anything
but flowers and music and good company.'
'I know that, but I had so much rather not. It was a sweet face and
caressing voice that implored, and he still was good humoured.
'Well, well, I don't want to drag you, old lady, against your will,
though I fancy you would be rather surprised at the real aspect of
the abode of iniquity your fancy depicts.'
'Oh, thank you, thank you so much!'
'What an absurd little woman it is! I wonder if you would thank me
as heartily supposing I cleared a round thousand and gave you--say a
'I am sure I should not!'
'No, I don't believe you would. That restless little conscience of
yours would be up on end. After all, I don't know that you are the
worse for it, when it looks so prettily out of your brown eyes. I
wonder what you expect to see? The ruined gamester shooting himself
on every path, eh?'
'No, no; I don't suppose I should see anything horrid or even
disagreeable. I know it is all very beautiful; but then every person
who goes for the innocent pleasures' sake only helps to keep up the
whole thing--evil and all.'
'And what would the old women of all sorts here and at Nice do
without such a choice temple of scandal to whet their teeth upon?
Well, I suppose you and your precious daughter can take care of
yourselves. There are the gardens, or you can tell Gregorio to order
you a carriage.'
'Then you are going?'
'Yes, I promised Grafton. Don't be afraid, Mistress Edda, I'm not
going to stake Bridgefield and reduce you to beggary. I'm an old
hand, and was a cool one in my worst days, and whatever I get I'll
hand over to appease you.'
That was all she could obtain, and she secretly hoped there would be
no winnings to perplex her. Thankful that she had not made him angry
by the resistance for which she had prepared herself with secret
prayer ever since the Mentone scheme had been proposed, she placed
herself at Nuttie's disposition for the rest of the day.
They had a charming donkey-ride, and, still unsatiated with beauty,
Ursula made her mother come out again to wonder at the trees in the
public gardens. Rather tired, they were sitting on a shaded bench,
when a voice close to them exclaimed, 'It is; yes, it must be; 'tis
the voice--yes, and the face prettier than ever. Little Alice--ah!
you don't know me. Time has been kinder to you than to me.'
'Oh! I know you now! I beg your pardon,' cried Alice, recognising
in the thin nutcracker parchment visage and shabbily-dressed figure
the remnant of the brilliant aquiline countenance and gay attire of
eighteen years ago. 'Mrs. Houghton! I am so glad to have met you,
you were so kind to me. And here she is.'
'What! is this the child? Bless me, what a proof how time goes!
Young lady, you'll excuse my not knowing you. You were a very
inconvenient personage not quite born when I last met your mother.
What a likeness! I could have known her for Alwyn Egremont's
'Yes, they all say she is a thorough Egremont.'
'Then it is all right. I saw Alwyn Egremont, Esquire, and family
among the arrivals at Nice, but I hardly durst expect that it was
you. It seemed too good to be true, though I took care the knot
should be tied faster than my gentleman suspected.'
'Oh, please!' cried Alice deprecatingly, at first not apprehending
the force of the words, having never known the gulf from which Mrs.
Houghton had saved her, and that lady, seeing that the girl was
listening with all her ears, thought of little pitchers and
restrained her reminiscences, asking with real warm interest, 'And
how was it? How did you meet him again?'
'He came and found me out,' said Alice, with satisfaction in her
'Indeed! Not at Dieppe; for he was en garcon when I nearly came
across him ten years ago at Florence.'
'Oh no! He inquired at Dieppe, but they had lost the address my aunt
'Indeed! I should not have thought it of old Madame Leroux, she
seemed so thoroughly interested in la pauvre petite. What did you
do? Your aunt wrote to me when your troubles were safely over, and
she thought him lost in the poor Ninon, that she meant to settle in a
place with an awfully long Yorkshire name.'
'Micklethwayte; yes, we lived there, and got on very well. We had
boarders, and I had some dear little pupils; but last year Mark
Egremont--you remember dear little Mark--was in the neighbourhood,
and hearing my name, he told his uncle, who had been seeking us ever
since. And he came, Mr. Egremont, and took us home, and oh, the
family have been so kind!'
'What? The parson, and that awful old she-lion of a grandmother,
whose very name scared you out of your wits?'
'She is dead, and so is dear good Lady Adelaide. Canon Egremont is
kindness itself. It was all the old lady's doing, and he knew
nothing about it. He was gone to Madeira with Lady Adelaide and got
none of our letters, and he never knew that his brother was married
'Trust Alwyn for that,' Mrs. Houghton muttered. 'Well, all's well
that ends well, and I hope he feels due gratitude to me for doing him
a good turn against his will. I tried to get at him at Florence to
find out what he had done with you, but unluckily I was ill, and had
to send through poor Houghton, and he mismanaged it of course, though
I actually wrote down that barbarous address, Mickle something, on a
card. I believe he only got as far as the man instead of the
'Ah! I wanted to ask for Captain Houghton,' said Alice, glad to lead
the conversation away from revelations of which she had an
'Gone, my dear! two years ago. Poor fellow! it was low fever, but
quite as much want of luck, I shall always believe,' she said.
'Oh, I am sorry! He was so kind to me!' said Alice, squeezing her
hand, and looking up with sweet tender commiseration.
'There, there, don't, you pretty creature!' said Mrs. Houghton,
putting her hand across her eyes. 'I declare, you've almost made me
cry--which I've not done--well, hardly, since I parted with you at
Dieppe, thinking you a sweet little flower plucked and thrown away to
die, though I had done my best to bind it to him. What care I took
not to let Houghton disabuse him about Jersey marriages!'
There is a difference between hearing and hearkening, and Alice
Egremont's loving and unsuspecting heart was so entirely closed
against evil thoughts of her husband, and so fully occupied with her
old friend's condition, that she never took in the signification of
all this, while Nuttie, being essentially of a far more shrewd and
less confiding nature, and already imbued with extreme distrust of
her father, was taking in all these revelations with an open-eyed,
silent horror of conviction that her old impressions of the likeness
to Marmion or Theseus had been perfectly correct. It was all under
her hat, however, and the elder ladies never thought of her, Alice
bringing back the conversation to Mrs. Houghton herself. 'Oh, my
dear, I drag on as I can. I've got a fragment of our old income, and
when that's run too low, I go up to Monte Carlo--I always had the
lucky hand, you know, and 'tis only restitution after all! I'm sick
of it all though, and sometimes think I'll take my good sister Anne's
offers and go home.'
'Oh do, do!' cried Alice.
'But,' went on the poor woman, 'humble pie goes against me, and think
what an amount would be before me--heigh ho!--after nearly five-and-
twenty years; yes, five-and-twenty years it is--since Houghton, poor
fellow, told me I was too bright and winsome for a little country
lawyer's house in a poky street. What would they think of me now?'
and she laughed with a sound that was painful to hear. 'Well,
Sycorax had done one good deed, and when I look at you, queening it
there, I feel that so have I.'
'You were very good to me, I know; but oh, if you would go home to
'My dear, you little know what you ask! Anne! Why, she is the prime
district lady, or whatever you call it, of Dockforth. Think what it
would be to her to have this battered old vaurien thrown on her
hands, to be the stock subject for all the righteous tongues.
Besides,' as she coughed, 'the English climate would make an end of
me outright. I'm in a bad way enough here, where I can sit among the
lemon trees half the days in the winter, but the English fireside in
a stuffy parlour--' and she shuddered.
That shiver reminded all that it was getting late, too late for Mrs.
Houghton to be out of doors, and near the time when Mr. Egremont was
to meet his ladies at the hotel. Alice begged for Mrs. Houghton's
address, and it was given with a short ironical laugh at her promise
to call again if possible. 'Ay, if possible,' the poor woman
repeated. 'I understand! No, no,' as Alice was about to kiss her.
'I won't have it done.'
'There's no one in sight.'
'As if that made a difference! Alice, child, you are as innocent as
the little dove that flew aboard the Ninon. How have you done it?
Get along with you! No kisses to such as me! I don't know whether
it breaks my heart, or binds it up to look at the face of you.
Anyway, I can't bear it.'
She hurried away, and made some steps from them. A terrible paroxysm
of coughing came on, and Mrs. Egremont hurried towards her, but she
waved back all help, shook her head, and insisted on going home.
Alice kept her in sight, till she dived into a small side street.
'Mother,' said Nuttie. Then there was a pause. 'Mother, did you
know all this?'
'Don't talk of it, Nuttie. It is not a thing to be talked about to
any one or by any one. I wish you had not been there.'
'But, mother, this once! Did you know?'
'I knew that I knew not what I did when I went on board that yacht,
but that God's kind providence was over me in a way that I little
deserved. That is all I care to know, and, Ursula, I will have not
another word about it. No, I will not hear it.'
'I was only going to ask whether you would tell my father.'
'Certainly; but not before you.'
The tone of decision was unwonted, and Nuttie knew she must abide by
it, but the last shreds of filial respect towards Mr. Egremont were
torn away by what Mrs. Houghton had implied, and the girl dashed up
and down her bedroom muttering to herself, 'Oh, why have I such a
father? And she, she will not see it, she is wilfully blind! Why
not break with him and go home to dear Aunt Ursel and Gerard and Mr.
Dutton at once, instead of this horrid, horrid grandeur? Oh, if I
could fling all these fine things in his face, and have done with him
for ever. Some day I will, when I am of age, and Gerard has won his
Meantime Alice, in some trepidation, but with resolution at the
bottom, had told her husband of the meeting with Mrs. Houghton, of
her widowhood, sickness, and poverty.
He did not like the intelligence of their meeting, and hoped no one
had seen it; then, when reassured on this score, he hummed a little
and exclaimed, 'Poor old Flossy Houghton! I don't wonder! They went
the pace! Well, what do you want? Twenty pounds for her! Why,
'twill all be at Monte Carlo in three days' time.'
'It is very good of you, but I want more than that. She is so ill
and wretched, you know. '
'I can't have you visiting her, if that's what you mean. Why, after
all the pains I've been at to get you on your proper level at home,
here's my Lady Louisa and all her crew, in their confounded
insolence, fighting shy of you, and you can't give them a better
colour for it than by running after a woman like that--divorced to
begin with, and known at every gambling table in Europe.'
'I know that, Alwyn, dear Alwyn' (it was very seldom that she called
him so, and she put her clasped hands on his shoulder); 'but I am
sure she is dying, and she was so good to me, I can't bear doing
nothing for her.'
'Well, there's twenty--fifty, if you like.'
'Thank you, thank you, but you know I never meant to visit her--like--
like society; only to go sometimes privately and--'
'And how about your daughter?'
'I would not take her on any account. What I want to do is this.
Mrs. Houghton spoke of her sister, a kind good woman in England, who
would take her home, and love her, if only she could bring herself to
go. Now, I think I could persuade her to write, or let me write to
the sister--and if only the two were together again! It is very
dreadful to think of her dying alone, in the way she is going on!'
'What, little saint, you want to try your hand on her? I should say
she was too tough an old sinner for you.'
'Oh, Alwyn! her heart was very near, though she tried to keep it
back. I do not want to--to do what you mean--only to get her to let
her sister come. I'm sure that would do the rest.'
'If any sister does more than you, you little witch,' he said.
Alice pressed him no more then, but a day or two later, when she knew
he had an engagement, she arranged to dispose of Nuttie with the
clergyman's wife, and then begged permission to go by train to
Mentone, and come back in the evening. He did not like it--no more
did she--for she was perfectly unaccustomed to travelling alone, but
there was a deep sense of sacred duty upon her, only strengthened by
her unwillingness to realise how much she owed to Mrs. Houghton.
She telegraphed that she was coming, and found her friend more
touched than she chose to allow at the fact of her visit, declaring
that she must have wonderful power over Alwyn Egremont, if she knew
how to use it; indeed, the whole tone was of what Alice felt
flattery, intended to turn away anything more serious. Poor woman,
she was as careful of doing no injury to her young friend's
reputation as Mr. Egremont could have desired. Alice had come
resolved that she should have one good meal, but she would not hear
of eating anywhere in public where either could be recognised, and
the food was brought to a private room in the hotel. To her lodgings
she still would not take Alice, nor would she give her sister's
address. Except for a genuine shower of tears when Alice insisted on
kissing her there seemed no ground gained.
But Alice went again on her husband's next visit to Mentone. He was,
to a certain degree, interested in her endeavours, and really wished
the poor woman to be under the charge of her relations, instead of
dying a miserable lonely death among strangers.
This time Alice had to seek her friend in the dreary quatrieme of the
tall house with the dirty stone stairs. It was a doleful empty room,
where, with a mannish-looking dressing-gown and a torn lace scarf
tied hood-fashion over her scanty hair, Mrs. Houghton sat over a pan
of charcoal oppressive to Alice's English lungs.
'Come again!' she cried. 'Well, I really shall begin to think that
angels and ministers of grace exist off the stage! You pretty thing!
Let me look at you. Where did you get that delicious little bonnet?'
'Why, it is perfectly plain!'
'So it is! 'Tis only the face that is in it. Now if some folks put
this on--sister Anne, for example, what dowdies they would be. Poor
old Anne, you must know she had a turn for finery, only she never
knew how to gratify it. To see the contortions of her crinolines was
the delight of all the grammar school. It was a regular comedy for
them to see her get into our pew edgeways, and once unconsciously she
carried off a gentleman's hat on her train.'
So she went on talking, coughing at intervals, and generally using a
half-mocking tone, as if defying the tenderness that awoke in spite
of her, but always of her original home, and especially of her
sister. Alice ventured to ask whether they often heard from one
'Good soul, she always writes at Christmas and on my birthday. I
know as well as possible that I shall find a letter poste restante
wherever she heard of me last, and that she hasn't done--I'm ashamed
to say for how long--really, I think not since I let her know that I
couldn't stand Ivy Lodge, Dockforth, at any price, when she wrote to
Monaco on seeing poor Houghton's death in the paper.'
There was a good deal of rambling talk of this kind, to which Alice
listened tenderly and compassionately, making no attempt at
persuasion, only doing what was possible for the poor lady's comfort.
She had procured on her way some fruit and jelly, and some good
English tea, at which Mrs. Houghton laughed, saying, 'Time was, I
called it cat-lap! Somehow it will seem the elixir of life now,
redolent, even milkless, of the days when we were young.'
Then she revealed something of her long, suffering, almost ghastly
nights, and Alice gently told how her old friend, Mrs. Nugent,
suffered from sleeplessness, and kept a store of soothing psalms and
hymns in her memory. There was a little laugh. 'That's for you good
folk. I haven't such a thing about me! Come, Par exemple!' and
Alice repeated the first thing she could remember, the verse
beginning 'God, who madest earth and heaven.'
'That's one of your charms, is it? Well, it would not be too much
for me if my poor old memory would hold it. Say it again.'
Alice generally had about her a tiny prayer-book with 'Hymns, Ancient
and Modern,' attached. It had been a gift from Mary Nugent, and she
was fond of it, but the opportunity was not to be lost, and she took
it out, saying she would bring a larger one and reclaim it. And, as
she was finally taking leave, she said with a throbbing heart, 'Do
you know that you have betrayed your sister's address? I shall write
to her now.'
'If you do--!' cried Mrs. Houghton, in a tone like threatening
deprecation, but with a little of her strange banter in it besides.
Alice's mind had been made up to do the thing, and she had not felt
it honest not to give due warning of her intentions. Even now she
was not certain of the lady's surname, but she trusted to her
husband's knowledge of Mrs. Houghton's previous history; and not in
vain. Mr. Egremont amused himself with a little ridicule at his
wife's quixotry, and demanded whether Flossy Houghton was a promising
convert; but confessed himself very glad that the poor thing should
be off their hands, declaring that it was quite time her own people
looked after her, and happily he recollected her maiden name. So the
letter was written, after numerous attempts at expressing it
suitably, explaining Mrs. Houghton's illness and the yearnings she
was too proud and ashamed to express to her sister, and was answered
at once by a few short words of earnest gratitude, and an assurance
that Miss Reade was preparing to start at once. Could Mrs. Egremont
meet her and prepare her sister?
To Alice's disappointment this could not be. Mr. Egremont had
invited some friends to the villa, and would not spare her. She
could only send a note, assuring Miss Reade that she believed that
preparation would do more harm than good, and she waited and watched
anxiously. A card came by the post in Mrs. Houghton's scrawled
writing. 'Naughty little wretch!' was all it said, but thence she
The spring was advancing, and Mr. Egremont was in haste to be gone,
but Alice obtained one more run to Mentone, and once more climbed up
the dark and dirty stairs to the room, where the well-known voice
answered her tap, 'Come in! Ah, there she is, the wicked little
A substantial little roly-poly business-like little woman hurried
forward with tearful eyes and outstretched hands. 'Oh, Mrs.
Egremont! can I ever thank you enough?'
'You can't, Anne, so don't try. It will be a relief to all parties,'
interposed Mrs. Houghton. 'Sentiment is not permitted here.'
Nevertheless she hugged Alice almost convulsively. She was sitting
in a comfortable arm-chair, one about which Mrs. Egremont knew
something, and the whole aspect of the room had changed indescribably
for the better, as much indeed as Mrs. Houghton's own personal array,
which had no longer the desolate neglected look of old.
A little stool was close to her chair, as if the two sisters could
not bear to be far apart, and the look of love and content in their
eyes as they turned to one another was perfect joy to Alice. She had
no longer any doubt that Anne Reade, who had found the wanderer yet a
great way off, would yet bring her back to the home, spiritually if
Mrs. Houghton spoke, of better rooms when the winter visitors had
fled, Anne spoke of her being able to return to Dockforth. Whether
that would ever be seemed entirely doubtful to Alice's eyes,
especially as the patient's inclination was evidently otherwise.
There was nothing to be done but to leave the sisters together,
obtaining Miss Reade's ready promise to write, and putting into her
hands a sum of money which could be sincerely called 'only a debt of
gratitude from my husband and me,' and which would smooth the way
either to remaining or returning to England.
Nor was there any return. Ere many weeks had passed Mrs. Egremont
heard from Miss Reade how a fresh cold had made it impossible to
move, and summer heat had brought on low fever, which had destroyed
the feeble strength, but not till 'childhood's star' had again
arisen, and a deeply and truly repentant woman had passed away,
saved, as it seemed, through that one effort on behalf of the young
girl whose innocence she had protected.
'With one black shadow at her feet.'--TENNYSON.
The rebuffs that society had bestowed on his wife and daughter at
Nice had rendered Mr. Egremont the more determined on producing them
in London and establishing their position. He secured a furnished
house in Westburnia before leaving Nice, and, travelling leisurely
home without visiting Bridgefield, he took possession the second week
There had not been much correspondence with the Rectory, and on the
first forenoon, as Mrs. Egremont and Nuttie were trying to enliven
the drawing-room with the flowers sent up to meet them, they were
surprised by the entrance of Blanche, full of kisses and welcomes.
'Oh! didn't you know? I'm with the Kirkaldys just round the corner.
Aunt Margaret has undertaken to do the part of a noble aunt by me.'
'Then you are here for the season? And May?'
'May wouldn't come, except just for a week to see the pictures, and
lay in a stock of talk. She's grown more parochial than ever, and we
believe it is all Hugh Condamine. Oh! I forgot you were gone before
we came home last autumn. He is mamma's nephew, you know, and was
ordained last year to the curacy of the next parish to his father's
place. If the Edwardses only would take themselves off, we would
have him at home, and then we should have flowers on the altar, and
all sorts of jolly things. Papa would stand ever so much more from
him than from the old Edwardses.'
'But is he engaged to May, then?'
'Well, no, not exactly. I believe he does not think it right till he
has done preparing for priest's orders. He's ever so strict, you
know, and he hasn't got much either; but he means it. Lucy, his
sister, you know, told me all about it, and that altogether the
elders had settled it was better for both that he should attend to
his preparation, and May should not bind herself, though they really
understand one another, and so she won't come to London.'
'Oh, that's very good of her!' cried Nuttie; 'but why won't they let
them settle their minds and be engaged?'
'People are always tiresome,' said Blanche; 'and I do believe the
living is at the bottom of it, at least Lucy thought so. I mean
everybody wants to wait--all the old ones, I mean--not Hugh or May,
of course--to know whether Mark will stick to the umbrellas, or turn
back and be a clergyman, because, then, of course, he would have the
living; and if he doesn't, they want to be certain whether Uncle
Alwyn, or you, Nuttie, would promise it to Hugh if he married May!'
'Me!' exclaimed Nuttie.
'My dear, I don't like to hear you talk of such things,' said Mrs.
'Oh yes, I know--it's all very dreadful. I was only telling you what
is in the old people's heads, and what would settle it, and make it
all right with them.'
'And how is Mark? Is Miss Ruthven in London?' asked Mrs. Egremont,
glad to turn away the conversation from the contingencies of which
Blanche spoke with the hardness of youth, as yet not realising
'I daresay you know nearly as much of Mark as we do, now the
Kirkaldys are up here. All his letters go to Lescombe. Oh no,
Annaple is not in London. The Delmars can't afford it, you know,
though I believe my lady would have made a stretch if Annaple hadn't
been bespoke--but now she reserves herself for Muriel.'
Alice looked with some discomfort at the soft fair-haired creature
who was uttering all this worldly jargon in a tone that would have
been flippant if it had not been so childish. She asked if Lord.
Ronnisglen had written.
'Oh yes, long ago. Lady Delmar had tried to make him nasty about it,
but he wouldn't be, so that's all right; and Mark seems to get on
very well, though it must be horridly dull for him now the Kirkaldys
are away, and he can't spend all his Sundays at Monks Horton.'
'He will get more into the spirit of the place,' said Nuttie, whereat
Blanche shrugged her shoulders a little, and exclaimed:
'You've got out of it at any rate, Nuttie!'
'I hope not!'
'Well, then, the look of it! I never saw any one so improved! Isn't
she, Aunt Alice? She's grown, I declare! Yes'--measuring herself
against her cousin--'I was a leetle bit taller when you came, and now
you've got above me! and what a duck of a way of doing your hair!
You must show me! I must tell May there's no fear of your being
taken for one another now; Aunt Margaret will be quite surprised.'
It was true that Ursula had developed a good deal during the last
year, and, under the experienced hands of Martin, had lost her
schoolgirl air, and turned into a young lady capable of becoming the
Paris outfit which her father had enjoined. Without positive beauty,
she was a pleasing, intelligent, animated girl, with the reputation
of being an heiress, with a romance in the background, and there was
nothing to prevent her from being a success. The family connections,
with Lady Kirkaldy to set the example, had determined on giving full
support to Mrs. Egremont, and, as of course every one liked to look
at so lovely a face, the way of both was smoothed in a manner that
delighted her husband when they encountered any of those who had
looked coldly on her at Nice.
He would have had her presented, but her own reluctance and the
united counsels of Lady Kirkaldy and the Canoness prevailed on him to
drop the idea; and then there was a fight with Ursula, who declared
that she would not go to court if her mother did not; but she was
overruled at last by that mother's tears at her defiance; and let
herself be presented, together with Blanche, by Lady Kirkaldy.
To Ursula it was altogether a strange time, full of the same kind of
reckless swing and sense of intoxication that had possessed her at
Bridgefield. Not that there was an excessive amount of actual
gaiety. Hot rooms and late hours were soon found not to agree with
Mrs. Egremont. She looked faded and languid after evening parties;
and, as her husband really cared more to have her ready to wait upon
him and amuse him than for anything else, he did not insist on her
going out more than might be needful to establish her position, or
when it suited him to show her off. The other purposes were quite as
well served by letting Ursula go out with Lady Kirkaldy, who was
warmly interested in mother and daughter, glad of a companion for
Blanche, and still more glad of a companion for herself. For she was
not slow to discover that exhibitions, which were merely fashionable
gapeseed to her niece, were to Nuttie real delights, viewed
intelligently, and eliciting comments and questions that Lady
Kirkaldy and even her husband enjoyed in their fresh interest, but
which were unendurable weariness to Blanche, unless she had some one
to chatter with. Lectures and lessons, which the aunt hoped to
render palatable by their being shared by the two cousins, only
served to show the difference between a trained and eager, and an
untrained and idle, nature. With the foreign society to be met at
Lord Kirkaldy's, Blanche was less at a loss than her brother, and
could get on by the help of nods and becks and wreathed smiles; but
Nuttie, fresh from her winter abroad, could really talk, and was
often in request as a useful person to help in entertaining. She
thus saw some of the choicest society in London, and, in addition,
had as much of the youthful gaiety as Lady Kirkaldy thought wholesome
for the two girls. Also there were those ecclesiastical delights and
privileges which had been heard of at Micklethwayte, and were within
reach, greatly enjoyed by Mrs. Egremont whenever she could share
them, though her daughter chafed at her treating all except the chief
service on Sunday as more indulgence than duty.
Nuttie was strong, with that spring of energy which unbroken health
and a quiet life lays up, and, in her own phrase, she went in for
everything, from early services to late balls, thinking all right
because it was seldom that her day did not begin with matins or
Celebration, and because she was not taken to more than two balls a
week, and conversed at times with superior people, or looked at those
with world-famed names. Possibly the whirl was greater than if it
had been mere gaiety, for then the brain would not have participated
in it. Church functions, with the scurry to go at all, or to obtain
a seat, fine music, grand sermons, religious meetings, entertainments
for the poor, lectures, lessons, exhibitions, rides, drives, kettle-
drums, garden-parties, concerts, theatres, operas, balls, chattering,
laughing, discussing, reading up current subjects, enjoying
attention, excitement as to what should be done and how,--one thing
drove out another in perpetual succession, and the one thing she
never did or could do was to sit still and think! Rest was simply
dreamless sleep, generally under the spell of a strong will to wake
at the appointed hour for church. The short intervals of being alone
with her mother were spent in pouring out histories of her doings,
which were received with a sympathy that doubled their pleasure,
excepting when Nuttie thought proper to grumble and scold at her
mother's not coming to some Church festival at an hour when she
thought Mr. Egremont might want her.
Of him Nuttie saw very little. He did not want her, and cared little
what she did, as long as she was under the wing of Lady Kirkaldy,
whose patronage was a triumphant refutation of all doubts. He went
his own way, and had his own club, his own associates, and, with his
wife always at his beck and call, troubled himself very little about
Alice spent a good deal of time alone, chiefly in waiting his
pleasure; but she had her own quiet occupations, her books, her
needlework, her housekeeping, and letter-writing, and was peacefully
happy as long as she did not displease Nuttie. There were no
collisions between father and daughter, and the household
arrangements satisfied that fastidious taste. She was proud of
Ursula's successes, but very thankful not to be dragged out to share
them, though she was much less shy, and more able on occasion to take
One pain she had. Good old Mrs. Nugent was rapidly decaying, and she
shared with all her loving heart in the grief this was to Mary and to
Miss Headworth, and longed to help them in their nursing. She would
not grieve Nuttie by dwelling constantly on the bad accounts, and the
girl hardly attended to them in the tumult of occupations; and so at
last, when the final tidings came in the second week in July, they
were an absolute shock to Nuttie, and affected her as the first grief
sometimes does. Mrs. Nugent was really the first person of her own
intimate knowledge who had died, and in the excited state in which
she was, the idea of the contrast between her own occupations and
Mary's was so dreadful to her that she wept most bitterly, with the
sobs of childhood, such as she really did not know how to restrain.
It was an unfortunate day, for it was one of the few on which Mr.
Egremont wanted to take out his ladies. There was to be a great
garden-party at Richmond, given by one of his former set, who had
lately whitewashed himself by marrying a very fast and fashionable
lady. Nuttie had heard strong opinions on the subject at Lord
Kirkaldy's; but her father was quite elated at being in a position to
countenance his old friends. Alice, in the midst of her sorrow,
recollected this with consternation.
'My dear, my dear, hush! You must stop yourself! Remember we have
to go out.'
'Go--out,' cried Nuttie, her sobs arrested by very horror. 'You
'I am afraid your father would be very much vexed--'
'Let him! It is a horrid wicked place to go to at all; and now--when
dear, dear old Mrs. Nugent is lying there--and--'
The crying grew violent again, and in the midst in walked Mr.
Egremont with an astonished 'What is all this?'
'We have lost one of our dear kind old friends at Micklethwayte,'
said Alice, going towards him; 'dear old Mrs. Nugent,' and she lifted
up her tear-stained face, which he caressed a little and said, 'Poor
old body;' but then, at a sob, 'Can't you stop Ursula from making
such a row and disfiguring herself? You must pick up your looks,
Edda, for I mean you to make a sensation at Jerningham's.'
'Oh, Alwyn, if you could let us stay at home! Mrs. Nugent was so
good to us, and it does seem unkind--' The tears were in her eyes
'Nonsense!' he said impatiently. 'I promised Jerningham, and it is
absurd to have you shutting yourself up for every old woman at
Thereupon Ursula wiped away her tears, and stood up wrathful before
him. 'I am not going,' she said.
'Oh, indeed!' he returned in a tone that made her still more angry.
'Hein'! a French ejaculation which he had the habit of uttering in a
most exasperating manner.
'No,' she said. 'It is scarcely a place to which we even ought to be
asked to go, and certainly not when--'
'Do you hear that, Mrs. Egremont?' he asked.
'Oh, Nuttie, Nuttie, dear!' she implored; 'don't.'
'No, mother,' said Nuttie, with flashing eyes; 'if you care so little
for your best friends as to let yourself be dragged out among all
sorts of gay, wicked people when your dear friend is lying dead, I'm
sure I shan't go with you.'
Her father laughed a little. 'A pretty figure you are, to make a
favour of accompanying us!'
'Oh, go away, go away, Nuttie,' entreated her mother. 'You don't
know what you are saying. '
'I do know,' said Nuttie, exasperated perhaps by the contrast in the
mirror opposite between her own swelled, disfigured face, and the
soft tender one of her mother with the liquid eyes. 'I know how much
you care for the dear friends who took care of us when we
And with this shaft she marched out of the room, while her father
again laughed, and said, 'Have they been training her for the tragic
stage? Never mind, Edda, the little vixen will come to her senses
upstairs, and be begging to go.'
I don't think she will,' said Alice sadly; 'she is not that sort of
stuff, and she was very fond of Mrs. Nugent. Oh, Alwyn! if you could
let us off.'
'Not after that explosion, certainly,' he said. 'Besides, I promised
Jerningham, and such an excuse would never hold water. She is not
even a relation.'
'No, but she was very good to me.'
'The more reason why you should not stay at home and be hipped.
Never mind that silly girl. She will be all right by and by.'
On the contrary, she did not come down to luncheon, and when, about
an hour later, Alice, after writing a few tender loving words to the
mourners, went up to her daughter's room, it was to find a limp and
deplorable figure lying across the bed, and to be greeted with a
fresh outburst of sobs and inarticulate exclamations.
'Oh, Nuttie, dear, this will not do! It is not right. Dear good
Mrs. Nugent herself would tell you that this is not the way any one
so good and so suffering should be grieved for. Think--'
'Oh, I know all that!' cried Nuttie, impatiently; 'but she--she was
the dearest--and nobody cares for her but me. Not even you--'
Again Alice tried to debate the point, and urge on her the duties of
moderation, self-control, and obedience, but the poor gentle mother
was at a great disadvantage.
In the first place, she respected and almost envied her daughter's
resistance, and really did not know whether it was timidity or
principle that made it her instinct to act otherwise; in the next,
Ursula could always talk her down; and, in the third, she was, and
greatly she reproached herself for that same, in great dread of
setting herself off into tears that might become hysterical if she
once gave way to them. And what would be her husband's feelings if
she too collapsed and became unpresentable.
So, having once convinced herself that even if Nuttie had been a
consenting party, no amount of cold water and eau-de-cologne would
bring those bloodshot eyes, swollen lids, and mottled cheeks to be
fit to be seen, she fled as fast as possible from the gasps of barbed
reproaches which put her own composure in peril, and dressed with the
heaviest of hearts, coupled with the utmost solicitude to look her
best. If she had not thought it absolutely wrong, she would even
have followed Martin's suggestion, and put on a soupcon of rouge; but
by the time she was summoned to the carriage the feverishness of her
effort at self-control had done the work, and her husband had paid
her the compliment of observing that she looked pretty enough for
Nuttie heard them drive off, with a burst of fresh misery of
indignation against her mother--now as a slave and a victim--now as
forgetting her old home. It was chiefly in mutterings; she had
pretty well used up her tears, for, unconsciously perhaps, she had
worked them up as a defensive weapon against being carried to the
party; and now that the danger was over, her head throbbed, her eyes
burnt, and her throat ached too much for her to wish to cry any more.
She had not felt physically like this, since the day, seven years
ago, when she and Mildred Sharpe had been found suspiciously toying
with the key of the arithmetic, and had been debarred from trying for
the prize. Then she felt debased and guilty; now she felt, or ought
to feel, like a heroine maintaining the right.
She got up and set herself to rights as well as she could. Martin,
who had been allowed to know that she had lost an old friend, petted
and pitied her, and brought her a substantial meal with her tea,
after which she set out to evensong at the church at the end of the
square, well veiled under a shady hat, and with a conviction that
something ought to happen.
Nothing did, however, happen; she met no one whom she knew, the
psalms were not particularly appropriate, and her attention wandered
away to the scene at home. She did not come back, as she was sure
she ought to have done, soothed, exhilarated, and refreshed, but
rather in a rasped state of mind, and a conscience making a vehement
struggle to believe itself in the right--a matter in which she
She wrote a long letter to Mary Nugent, and shed some softer tears
over it, then she built a few castles on her future escape from the
power of her father; and then she picked up Reata, and became
absorbed in it, regretting only the weakness of her eyes, and the
darkening of the summer evening.
She was still reading when the others came home. Her mother kissed
her, but looked so languid and tired-out that Nuttie was shocked, and
Martin declared that she ought not to go down to dinner.
A tete-a-tete dinner between father and daughter was too dreadful to
Alice's imagination to be permitted, so she dressed and went down,
looking like a ghost. Mr. Egremont scowled at Nuttie, Nuttie scowled
at him, each considering it the fault of the other, and when at last
it was over, Alice gave up the struggle, and went off to bed, leaving
a contrite message that her headache would be better to-morrow.
'All your accursed folly and obstinacy,' observed Mr. Egremont, when
Nuttie, with a tone of monition gave him the message.
'I should call it the consequence of being dragged out with a sore
heart,' returned Nuttie--a little speech she had prepared ever since
she had seen how knocked up her mother was.
'Then I should recommend keeping your ideas to yourself,' he
answered, looking at her in his annihilating manner.
She was put down. She thought afterwards of a hundred things that she
could have said to him, but she was crushed for the present, and when
he went out she could only betake herself to Reata, and forget all
about it as much as she could.
When she went upstairs, at the end of the third volume, Martin was on
the watch, and would not let her go into the room.
'I have been at hand, ma'am, without her guessing it, and I am happy
to say her tears has had a free course when she was in bed. Yes,
ma'am, suppressed grief is always dangerous.'
Mrs. Egremont was still prostrate with fatigue and headache the next
day, and Nuttie had all the quiet luxuriating in reminiscences she
desired. Her father was vexed and angry, and kept out of the way,
but it must be confessed that Nuttie's spirits had so much risen by
the afternoon that it was a sore concession to consistency when she
found herself not expected at Blanche's last little afternoon dance
at Lady Kirkaldy's!
'If I cannot once or twice in a quarter bear out a knave against
an honest man, I have but very little credit with your Worship.'
II. King Henry IV.
Another cause besides Ursula's recalcitrance and her mother's ailment
contributed to disturb Mr. Egremont, and bring him home. His agent,
by name Bulfinch, a solicitor at Redcastle, came to him with
irrefragable proofs of gross peculation on the part of the bailiff
who managed the home farm which supplied the house and stables, and
showed him that it was necessary to make a thorough investigation and
change of system.
In point of fact, Mr. Egremont greatly preferred being moderately
cheated to exerting himself to investigate, but this was going beyond
moderation, and the explosion had been too public to be passed over.
So he came home and sat by, while his wife and Mr. Bulfinch did the
work for him, and made it evident to him that the frauds had been of
long standing, and carried on with the connivance of the coachman, of
Gregorio,--who had before Mrs. Egremont's arrival acted as house
steward,--and of the former cook. Indeed, it was the housekeeper
whom Mrs. Egremont had left in charge, whose refusal to connive had
brought about the discovery.
Gregorio's share in all was sufficiently evident, and Alice's heart
leapt with hope. Her husband would be wholly her own if his evil
genius were once departed, but Mr. Egremont would not see it. He had
no objection to sacrifice the coachman and all his underlings, with
the bailiff and his entire family, and felt none of the pity that
Alice had for the pretty, silly, half-educated daughters; but as to
the valet--Pooh! pooh! the poor fellow had been out of the way all
this time--whatever he had done had been in the dark, ages long ago,
before Bridgefield knew its mistress; he was a foreigner, and that
was enough to prevent him from forgathering with the English. It was
all their English prejudice.
'I can show you facts and figures, sir,' said Mr. Bulfinch.
'I daresay, a year or more old. Why, I was an unprotected carcase
then--a mere prey--the fellow only did after his kind.'
Alice held her tongue then, but made an effort in private. 'Indeed,
I don't think you know; I am afraid Gregorio is not altered. I found
him out in his charges about the wine, and the servants' wages at
Nice, only you wouldn't listen.'
'His little perquisites, my dear child! Come, nonsense, these
foreign fellows don't pretend to have the morals you ascribe to the
native flunkey--generally without foundation either--they are much of
a muchness as to that; but your Frenchman or Italian does it more
neatly, and is a dozen times better servant than the other is.'
'Oh, ay! I know you don't like him. But he knows his manners to
you, I hope?' said Mr. Egremont, with a suddenness that made her wish
she could truthfully say he did not.
'Yes, he always is--is respectful, but somehow I see it is under
Mr. Egremont laughed. 'Rivals--yes, I see; why, you don't consider
the sore trial of having a full-grown mistress turned in upon him!
Look here, you keep the keys already, but the new fellow at the farm
and all the rest of them shall account to you for everything--
Gregorio and all. Won't that satisfy you?'
''Tis not only the money, but I think Gregorio is a bad--not a good--
'Ho, ho! she wants to advertise for a pious footman and coachman! eh?
No, I thank you, my dear Edda, I agree with--who was it who said,
"Volez moi, mais sans m'ennuyer."'
The Rectory likewise had hoped for Gregorio's dismissal, and there
were grave looks when Alice had to confess that nothing would move
her husband against him. The Canon even lashed himself up to say,
'I tell you how it is, Alwyn, you'll never do any good with your
household, while you keep that fellow.'
'I am not aware what description of good you expect me to do with it,
Will,' coolly answered the elder brother in a disconcerting tone.
Poor Alice, on her side, thought of the Little Master, and then
wondered if it was uncharitable to do so. For she knew it had become
war to the knife with Gregorio! Whether his master told him, or
whether it were his own evil conscience, or the wonderful intuition
of servants, he certainly knew of the pressure for his dismissal, and
he visited it on her as much as he durst.
Outwardly deferential, he could thwart and annoy her in a hundred
ways, from making love to the housemaids to making evil suggestions
to his master, yet never giving her any overt cause of complaint. He
could worry and sting her under the politest exterior, and he knew
very well that the most effectual form of annoyance was the
persuading his master that any discomfort or lassitude was to be
removed by some form of narcotic. This would have the further
advantage of stupefying Mr. Egremont, and making him more ready to
lapse under the old influence; while the duration and strength of the
new one was already a surprise to Gregorio.
But there was no doubt that Mrs. Egremont had profited by her year of
training. She looked tired, and less youthful and pretty, but she
had gained in grace and importance as well as in style, and was much
more really the mistress of Bridgefield. Her shyness had passed
away, and she knew now to take her place in society, though still she
was somewhat silent. And her husband depended upon her entirely for
all his correspondence, for much of his occupation and amusement, and
even for the regulation of his affairs. In the household, Gregorio
was little more than his personal attendant, and she had the general
management, even of the other men-servants. The Canoness might well
say it had turned out better than she expected.
And Nuttie had become more womanly, and had acquired the indefinable
polish given by a London season. She had learnt the art of
conversation, and could make herself agreeable to her uncle, or to
any one else who came in her way. Even May allowed that she had
something in her, and cultivated her more than before; but, on the
other hand, even the Rectory could perceive that there was now an
absolute alienation between her and her father, and what might before
have been fear had become dislike. If she had to refer to him,
especially if her plans for herself or her mother were crossed, there
was always a tone of bitterness or of sarcasm about her; and her
greater boldness and freedom of speech would occasionally manifest
itself towards him. This was not indeed often, since not only did
his cool contempt make her come off the worst in the encounters, but
the extreme distress they gave to her mother made her refrain
whenever her temper, or what she thought her conscience, would let
her; but still there was always a danger which kept poor Alice on
thorns whenever there was a possible difference of schemes or
Mrs. William Egremont was seriously considering of representing to
Ursula that her conduct was bad taste, bad policy, and, moreover, was
doing her mother's spirits and health serious harm; but it was a
delicate matter in which to meddle, and the good lady could not make
up her mind how far to surrender her brother-in-law's character and
allow a partial justification to Ursula. She was a cautious woman,
and waited and watched her opportunities.
In the beginning of October Mr. and Mrs. Egremont were invited to a
great shooting party at Sir James Jerningham's. The invitation did
not include Ursula. Perhaps she had never dawned on their hostess's
imagination; perhaps it was that Lady Jerningham was well known to
dislike girls, or any one who might absorb young men's attention.
At any rate the omission was a cause of thankfulness to the party
concerned, and she did not neglect to worry her mother by a protest
against keeping such company as would be met at Waldicotes.
Alice smiled a little faintly and said, 'I don't think it hurts me,
my dear; I don't understand half of what they talk about, and they
are always kind to me.'
'I don't think you ought to go among them or countenance them.'
'My dear child,'--and the colour rose--'I don't feel as if I had a
right to set myself above any one.'
'People might have said just the same of me.'
'And whose fault was that?' muttered Nuttie under her breath, but
Mrs. Egremont would not hear. She only pleaded, as perhaps mother
ought not to have done with child.
'You know, Nuttie, it is not for my own pleasure, but your father's
eyesight makes him dislike to go anywhere without me now; and I
really should be uneasy about him.'
'Yes; he is all you care for,' said Nuttie. 'You sacrifice
everything you used to think essential, just to his will and
'Oh, Nuttie, I hope not; I don't think I do!'
'If I thought it was doing him any good I should not so much mind,'
went on the girl; 'but he is just the same, and I am always thinking
of "As the husband is, the wife is--"'
'Hush! hush! You have no right to think in that way of your father.
I will not hear it. I have let you say too much already, Nuttie.'
Then after a pause she added, gently and wistfully, 'You have been
better taught, and are clearer headed than ever I was, my Nuttie, and
it is quite right that you should hate what seems evil to you. I can
only go on trying to do what seems my duty from day to day. I know,'
she added with rising tears, 'that the sin and folly of my younger
days worked a difficult position for us both; but we can only act
according to our lights, and pray God to direct us; and please--
please bear with me, my dear one, if the same course does not always
seem right to us both.'
Nuttie had never heard her say anything so fully showing that she
realised these difficulties, and, greatly touched, she asked pardon,
kissed and caressed her mother. There was a calm over them for the
next few days, and Nuttie actually refrained from bitter comments
when her mother was not allowed to go to evensong on Sunday, on the
plea of her being tired, but, as the girl believed, in order that she
might read the newspapers aloud.
She knew that her silence was appreciated by the way her mother
kissed her and called her a dear, good, considerate girl.
On Monday Mr. and Mrs. Egremont went away at what was a strangely
early hour for the former, Nuttie spending her days at the Rectory.
On the Tuesday Blanche went with her little sister and the governess
on a shopping expedition to Redcastle, and in relating her adventures
on her return, she said, 'Oh, by the bye, I met Annaple in Park's
'Full of Micklethwayte news, I suppose,' said May.
'Yes, of course. Did you know, Nuttie, that your aunt was ill?'
'No, indeed, I did not. What was the matter?'
'Bronchitis, I believe--brown titus, as Betty Butter calls it.'
'Bronchitis! Oh dear! oh dear! Are you quite sure, Blanche?'
'Oh yes! I am quite certain Annaple said Mark told her that Miss
Headworth was laid up with bronchitis.'
'And nobody has written to us all this week!' sighed Nuttie.
'I should think that a sign there could not be much in it,' observed
May; 'it may be only a bad cold.'
'But Aunt Ursel had bronchitis four years ago, and was very ill
indeed,' persisted Nuttie. 'I'm sure it is bronchitis, and that she
won't let Miss Mary write to us.'
She was in much distress about it, though May privately told her that
she ought to know Blanche's way better than to trust implicitly to
any of her reports; and her aunt said much the same thing in more
general terms, even proposing that if she did not hear the next
morning she should go over to Lescombe to ascertain what Mark had
This pacified her a little, but on her way home the alarm grew upon
her, and, moreover, she recollected the opposition that she believed
that her father was certain to make to either her mother or herself
going to nurse her aunt. It flashed upon her that if she were to
hasten to Micklethwayte on this alarm before there could be a
prohibition, it would be no disobedience, and perfectly justifiable,
not to say noble. Her parents were to return on Thursday evening,
and she made up her mind that, unless she were fully reassured as to
Miss Headworth's state, she would go off at once to Micklethwayte
before any one could gainsay her. She had plenty of money, and she
consulted the time-table in the hall before going upstairs. It only
concerned the nearest line, but she calculated that if she caught the
express, she should reach her destination in time to write to her
mother at Waldicotes, and prevent needless shocks. Her eagerness for
the plan grew upon her, so that it seemed like liberation; she could
hardly sleep for thinking of it, and certainly was not as much
disappointed as she believed herself when the post came in--a blank.
Martin was away with her mistress, so Nuttie explained matters to the
upper housemaid, who was very sympathetic, carried down her orders
for the carriage, procured for her both breakfast and provision for
the journey, and packed her clothes. Ursula would fain have been off
before the Rectory was aware, but the two little girls came up with a
message about the plans for the day, just as she was beginning an
explanatory note, and she entrusted to them the information that she
was so uneasy about Miss Headworth that she had decided on going to
see for herself.
So in dashed Adela and Rosalind to their mother's room full of
excitement with the news that Cousin Nuttie was gone off by the
train, because her aunt was very ill indeed.
'Gone, Adela? are you sure? Really gone?'
'Oh yes, mamma! The dogcart was coming round, and she said she
wanted to catch the 10.05 train, and was very sorry she had not time
to write a note to you.'
'Was there a letter? What had she heard?'
'Oh, only that her aunt was so very ill! She did not tell us--did
'There was something about being in time to write to Aunt Alice,'
'I am very sorry about this. I am afraid it will be a great shock to
Alice,' observed the mother, as she imparted the news at her
husband's dressing-room door.
'Young girls are so precipitate!' said the Canon.
'Your brother won't like it at all,' the lady continued.
'Not he. But after all, it is just as well that he was not asked.
They do owe that poor old lady a good deal, and Alwyn's not the man
to see it. I'm not sorry the girl took the matter into her own
hands, though I couldn't have advised it.'
'Except that it will all fall on Alice.'
'He is very fond of Alice. She has done more with him than I ever
thought possible. Kept him respectable this whole year, and really
it grows on him. He makes ever so much more of her now than when he
first brought her home--and no wonder. No, no; he won't fall foul of
'Perhaps not; but it is just as bad, or worse, for her if he falls
foul of her daughter. Besides, she is very much attached to her
aunt. I wish I knew what the account was, or whether she knows
anything about it.'
'Thy wish was father, Harry, to that thought.'--SHAKESPEARE.
It was at half-past seven o'clock that Ursula Egremont's cab stopped
at St. Ambrose's Road. She had missed the express train, and had to
come on by a stopping one. But here at last she was, with eyes even
by gaslight full of loving recognition, a hand full of her cab-fare,
a heart full of throbbing hope and fear, a voice full of anxiety, as
she inquired of the astonished servant, 'Louisa, Louisa, how is Aunt
Ursel!' and, without awaiting the reply, she opened the adjoining
door. There sat, with their evening meal on the table, not only Mary
Nugent, but Miss Headworth herself.
Nuttie rushed at her, and there was an incoherency of exclamations,
the first thing that made itself clear to the senses of the traveller
being, 'Ill, my dear? No such thing! Only I had a bad cold, and
Mary here is only too careful of me.'
'But Mark said you had bronchitis.'
'What could have put that into his head? He did not write it,
'He wrote it to Annaple Ruthven, and she told Blanche.'
'Oh!' and Mary Nugent's tone was rather nettling.
'And then it was such a terrible time since we had heard anything,'
added Nuttie, on the defensive.
'Did not your mother get my letter?' said Miss Headworth. 'I wrote
to her at--what's the name of that place? I hope I addressed it
'Oh, but I was not there. I didn't go with them.'
'Ah, yes, I remember. Then did not she send you?'
'No, I came off this morning. I heard this yesterday evening, and I
determined that nothing should stop me if there was no news by the
'Dear child! But will your father not be displeased?' said Miss
'He hasn't any right to object,' cried Nuttie, with flashing eyes and
a look that made Miss Nugent anxious; but at the moment there could
be little thought save of welcome to the warm-hearted girl. Louisa
was already brewing fresh tea, and extemporising additions to the
meal, and Nuttie was explaining how she hoped to have arrived a
couple of hours sooner.
'By the bye, I meant to have written to mother for her to have it to-
morrow before leaving Waldicotes. Is there time?'
No, the pillar at hand was cleared at seven, and the regular post-
office could not be reached in time; so they satisfied themselves
with the knowledge that Mrs. Egremont must have had Aunt Ursel's
cheerful letter, and Mary recommended telegraphing to the Canon the
first thing in the morning. Then they gave themselves up to
'At any rate, I'm here,' said Nuttie, 'and I'll make the most of it.'
And her handsome furs were laid aside, and her boots taken off, and
she resigned herself to absolute ease and luxury, while Mary poured
out the tea, and her aunt heaped her plate with eggs and rashers
'such as one doesn't get anywhere else,' said Nuttie, declaring
herself quite voracious, while her aunt fondly admired her growth and
improvement, and she inquired into the cold, not quite gone yet; and
there were speculations over what Mark could have got into his head.
Mary remembered having met him coming to call, and having told him
that she had persuaded Miss Headworth to keep her bed because her
colds were apt to be severe, and it was agreed to lay the
exaggeration at the door of the lovers and Blanche. Miss Headworth
laughed, and said she ought to be flattered that an old woman's sore
throat should be thought worthy of mention by a fine young gentleman
like Mr. Mark. 'A very good young man he is,' she added. 'You would
never have thought how kind he is in coming in here to tell me
everything he hears about your dear mother, Nuttie.'
'He makes himself very useful while Mr. Dutton is away,' added Mary,
'taking his young men's class and all.'
'Oh! is Mr. Dutton away?'
'Yes; he has had to be in London a great deal of late. I am afraid
he may have to live there altogether.'
'What a grievous pity!'
'He won't be anywhere without doing good,' said Miss Headworth, 'but
I sometimes wish we had his cool good sense here.'
'And how is Mr. Spyers,' asked Nuttie. She felt shy of asking for
Gerard Godfrey, or perhaps she thought she ought to be shy of his
name, and kept hoping that it would come in naturally.
'Mr. Spyers is very well. Very busy of course, and very much
delighted with your mother's gifts to the church. All her own work,
isn't it, Nuttie?'
'Yes; every bit. She does lots of embroidery and work of all kinds
when she is waiting for _him_ or sitting with him, and luckily it has
never occurred to him to ask what it is for.'
The two ladies knew well what was meant by him, but they would not
pursue the subject, and proceeded to put Nuttie au courant with St.
Ambrose affairs--how last year's mission had produced apparently an
immense effect in the town, and how the improvement had been ebbing
ever since, but had left various individual gains, and stirred up
more than one good person who had hitherto thought it enough to save
one's own soul and let other people alone; how Mr. Spyers was
endeavouring to bind people together in a guild; how a violent gust
of temperance orators had come down upon the place, and altogether
fascinated and carried away Gerard Godfrey.
There was his name at last, and Nuttie was rather gratified to feel
herself blushing as she asked, 'Ah! poor Gerard--how is he?'
'As good and sincere as ever,' said Miss Nugent, 'but not much wiser.
He is so excitable and vehement.'
'Yes,' said Miss Headworth. 'I don't understand the kind of thing.
In my time a steady young clerk used to be contented after hours with
playing at cricket in the summer, or learning the flute in the
winter--and a great nuisance it was sometimes, but now Gerard must
get himself made a sort of half clergyman.'
'A reader,' suggested Mary.
'Minor orders. Oh, how delightful!' cried Nuttie.
'People, don't half understand it,' added Miss Headworth. 'Mrs.
Jeffreys will have it that he is no better than a Jesuit, and really
I did not know what to say, for he talked, to me by the hour about
his being an external brother to something.'
'Not to the Jesuits, certainly,' said Nuttie.
'Yes, I told her that; but she thinks all monks are Jesuits, you
know, and that all brothers are monks; and he does wear his cassock--
his choir cassock, I mean--when he has his service in the iron room
at the sandpits. And now he has taken up temperance, and flies about
giving the pledge, and wanting one to wear bits of blue ribbon. I
told him I never did take, and never had taken, more than a little
hot wine and water when I had a cold, and I couldn't see what good it
would do to George Jenkins and the poor fellows at the Spread Eagle
if I took ever so many vows.'
'There's a regular blue-ribbon fever set in,' said Miss Nugent.
'Gerard told me I was supporting the cause of intemperance yesterday
because I was so wicked as to carry the rest of your bottle of port,
Miss Headworth, to poor Anne Crake.'
'Well! he is a dear boy, and youth wouldn't be youth if it were not
sometimes rather foolish,' said Miss Headworth, 'and it is better it
should be for good than evil.'
'Eager in a cause and not for selfishness,' said Mary. 'Poor Gerard,
I wonder where he will be safely landed!'
So did Nuttie, who had a secret flattering faith in being the cause
of all the poor young fellow's aberrations, and was conscious of
having begun the second volume of her life's novel. She went to bed
in the elated frame of mind proper to a heroine. There was a shade
over all in the absence of dear old Mrs. Nugent, and in Mary's deep
mourning, but there is more tenderness than poignancy in sorrow for
shocks of corn gathered in full season, and all was cheerful about
She had quite a triumph the next day, as old friends dropped in for
the chance of seeing her. The least agreeable encounter was that
with Mark, who came in on his way to the office, having just received
by the second post a letter from his father inquiring into Miss
Headworth's state. He met Nuttie in the vestibule, with her hat on,
and in a great hurry, as she wanted to walk with Mary to the School
of Art, Gerard Godfrey accompanying them as far as the office; and
she did not at all like the being called to account, and asked what
could have possessed her to take alarm.
'Why, you wrote yourself!'
'To Annaple Ruthven.'
'What am I supposed to have written?'
'That Aunt Ursel was very ill with bronchitis.'
'I'll be bound that Miss Ruthven said no such thing. You don't
pretend that you heard it from herself?'
'No; but Blanche did.'
'Blanche! Oh, that accounts for it! Though I should have thought
you knew Blanche by this time.'
'But what did you say?'
'I believe I said I couldn't get a knitting pattern Miss Headworth
was to send Lady Ronnisglen because she was in bed with a cold. What
you and Blanche could contrive to make of a simple thing like that--'
'Well,' but checking himself with a smile, 'we will not fight about
that. I only hope it has not brought you into an awkward scrape,
'I can't help that,' she answered with her head rather high.
'You have written and explained?' he said anxiously.
'To my mother, of course.'
'If I were you,' he said, lowering his voice, 'I should write or send
a special message to your father.'
'I can't see why. It was a mistake.'
'Yours was a strong measure, and he won't like it. Be advised,
Nuttie. Recollect your mother. The best way would be to go home at
once. I could get a day to take you--if you would start this
'Thank you; I'm not going back till I hear,' she said proudly.
Time being up, Mark took his leave hastily, and as he shut the door,
Nuttie uttered half aloud the words she had scarcely repressed, 'No,
I thank you, Mr. Mark, I am not going back like a dog in a string.'
'What, was that what he expected of you?' said Gerard Godfrey, whom
she had not intended to hear her, but who had come out of the
sitting-room on the sounds of departure.
'He said he would take me home if I could go at once.'
'Wouldn't he have liked it!' exclaimed Gerard.
'It might be the best way,' said Miss Nugent, who had followed young
'Now, Miss Mary,' cried Nuttie, 'as if I could shorten my holiday now
that I have it.'
'And I don't see what business he had to call you to account,' said
Gerard. 'A stuck-up fellow.'
'Of course all the Egremonts are set against my being here,' said
'I thought the Canon offered to bring you last year,' said Mary
'Oh, that was only to Monks Horton! It would have been simply
'Lady Kirkaldy is an excellent person,' said Miss Nugent.
'Is she at home now?' asked Ursula.
'Coming next week, they tell me,' said Gerard.
'He--your cousin--will always be loafing up there now, giving up all
that he had undertaken, I suppose.'
'Not very likely,' said Mary quietly.
It is a mere Scottish anti-church influence,' said Gerard, turning
round at the swing-door of his office. 'Why else will Egremont not
take the pledge?'
Wherewith he disappeared, blue ribbon and all, while Mary smiled,
though she was vexed; and Nuttie observed, 'Poor Gerard; but I can't
see why he should be jealous of Mark _now_.'
Mary did not choose to understand what Nuttie implied in her
simplicity, and made answer, 'He is rather blue ribbon mad. Besides,
I am afraid the fact of being a "swell" does not conduce to your
cousin's popularity among the clerks.'
'Surely he does not give himself airs,' said Ursula, her family
'No; but I fancy he is rather reserved.'
'What's this about giving up what he has undertaken? What is it?'
'When Mr. Dutton went to London, he asked Mark to take his Sunday
afternoons with the big lads. He thought they wanted some one with
more resources and variety than there is in poor Gerard, who didn't
at all like being passed over.'
'I never should have thought it of Mark. He never dreamt of teaching
anybody at home.'
'Very likely not, but there is an atmosphere at St. Ambrose's.'
'And oh, how glad I am to be in it! I wonder how long they will let
me stay! The dear little mother will try to get me a Sunday here, if
she dares. Indeed, I can't hear before Saturday, and then there
would hardly be time to get home! Oh, that's jolly! I'll go to the
nursery gardens, and get _such_ flowers for the vases!'
Saturday brought Nuttie a letter, but not from her mother--
'My Dear Ursula--I write because we are anxious to keep your mother
as quiet as possible. It was a serious shock to her to find that you
had left home, and she naturally supposed that Miss Headworth was in
great danger. Your father was greatly displeased, and she has been
much overcome, and very unwell, but we hope by keeping her perfectly
quiet that worse consequences may be prevented. Your father desires
you to remain where you are for the present, as he will not have her
disturbed again. Your mother sends her love both to you and to your
aunt, and desires me to say that she will write in a day or two, and
that she thinks you had better not come back till she is better and
your father's vexation has diminished.
'I wish you had informed us of your intentions, as then we could have
ascertained the grounds of the report that terrified you so
strangely.--I remain your affectionate aunt,
JANE M. EGREMONT.'
'Poor mother! he has been sneering at us all in his dreadful cynical
way, and knocked her up into one of her awful headaches,' said
Nuttie, who felt extremely angered by the grave tone of rebuke in the
letter, and tossed it over to her aunt without absolutely reading it
all. Miss Headworth was a good deal distressed, and anxious to know
what Mrs. William Egremont meant; but Nuttie positively declared,
'Oh, it is her headaches! You know she always had them more or less,
and they have grown a great deal worse since she has taken to sitting
in that horrid, stuffy, perfumy, cigar-ry room, and doesn't take half
And when Miss Headworth showed herself much concerned about the state
of things, Nuttie coaxed her, and declared that she should fancy
herself unwelcome, and have to go and beg a lodging somewhere instead
of enjoying her reprieve. And Aunt Ursel was far less impervious to
coaxing than she used to be when she was the responsible head of a
boarding house. She did most thoroughly enjoy the affection of her
great niece, and could not persuade herself to be angry with her,
especially when the girl looked up smiling and said, 'If the worst
came to the worst and he did disinherit me, the thing would only
right itself. I always meant to give it back to Mark.'
No great aunt in the world could fail to admire the generous spirit
of the girl who came back from the great world of luxury, so loving
and happy in her humble surroundings. The only sighs were for poor
Alice, in the hands of a man of whom Miss Headworth knew so much
evil. If she were not wretched and a victim--and Nuttie did not
think her such--she must surely be getting spoilt and worldly. Her
daughter implied fears of this kind, yet who could read her letters
and think so?
Nuttie was fortunately too much in awe of the Canoness to write all
the pertnesses that tingled at her fingers' ends, and she sent a
proper and fairly meek letter, intimating, however, that she was only
too happy to remain at Micklethwayte.
It was two or three days more before she heard again.
'My Own Dear Child--They have let me write at last, and I can say how
much I like to think of your nestling up to dear Aunt Ursel, and how
glad I am to find that she was well enough to enjoy you. It is almost
like being there to hear of you, and the only thing that grieves me
is that your father was very much vexed at your setting off in that
sudden way, and at my being so foolish about it. His eyes have been
very bad, and he missed me sadly while I was laid up. We are neither
of us very strong, and we think--if Aunt Ursel and Mary can keep you
for a little longer--it will be better for you to stay on with them,
as it might be as dreary for you as it was last winter, especially as
the Rectory folk will soon be going into residence. I will write to
them about it and persuade them to take something for your board, so
as to make it easy for them. And then you can have a fire in your
room; you must not leave it off now you are used to it. My dear, I
wish you would write a little apology to your father. I ought not to
conceal that he is really very angry, and I think it would be well if
you expressed some regret, or if you cannot truthfully do that, asked
his pardon for your impetuosity; for you know he cannot be expected
to realise all that dear Aunt Ursel is to us. You cannot think how
kind your Aunt Jane has been to me; I did not think she could have
been so tender. This is the first letter I ever had to write to you,
my own dear child. I miss you every moment, but after all it is
better you should be away till your father has overlooked this
hurried expedition of yours. I am sure he would if you wrote him a
real nice letter, telling how you were really frightened, and that it
was not a mere excuse. Pray do, and then you can come back to your
loving little mother.
'As if I would or could,' quoth Nuttie to herself. 'Apologise to him
indeed, for loving the aunt who toiled for us when he deserted us.
Poor little mother, she can't really expect it of me. Indeed, I
don't think she quite knows what she wants, or whether she likes me
to be here or at Bridgefield! My belief is that he bullies her less
when I am out of the way, because she just gives way to him, and does
not assert any principle. I've tried to back her up, and it is of no
use, and I am sure I don't want such a winter as the last. So I am
much better here; and as to begging pardon, when I have done nothing
wrong, I am sure I won't, to please anybody. I shall tell her that
she ought to know me better than to expect it!'
But Nuttie did not show the letter either to Aunt Ursel or Mary
Nugent; nor did she see that in which Alice had satisfied them that
it might be better that her daughter should pay them a long visit,
while Mr. Egremont's health required constant attendance, and the
Canon's family were at Redcastle. And as her husband was always
open-handed, she could make Ursula's stay with them advantageous to
their slender means, without hurting their feelings.
She told them as much as she could, but there was more that no living
creature might know, namely, the advantage that Gregorio had gained
over that battlefield, his master, during her days of illness. The
first cold weather had brought on pain, and anger and anxiety,
nervous excitement and sleeplessness, which the valet had taken upon
him to calm with a narcotic under a new name that at first deceived
her till she traced its effects, and inquired of Dr. Hammond about
it. Unwillingly, on her account, he enlightened her, and showed her
that, though the last year's care had done much to loosen the bonds
of the subtle and alluring habit, yet that any resumption of it
tended to plunge its victim into the fatal condition of the confirmed
opium-eater, giving her every hope at the same time that this
propensity might be entirely shaken off, and that the improvement in
Mr. Egremont's health and habits which had set in might be confirmed,
and raise him above the inclination.
Could she have been rid of Gregorio, she would have felt almost sure
of victory; but as it was, she believed the man absolutely meant to
baffle her, partly out of a spiteful rivalry, partly because his
master's torpid indolence could be used to his own advantage. She
was absolutely certain that his sneering tone of remark made her
husband doubly disinclined to let any religious book be near, or to
permit her to draw him to any Sunday observance.
The battle must be fought out alone. The gentle woman could have no
earthly helper in the struggle. The Canon and Mark, the only persons
who could have given her the slightest aid, were both at a distance,
even if her loyal heart could have brooked confession to them, and
she only hoped that Nuttie would never know of it. Only aid from
above could be with her in the daily, hourly effort of cheerfulness,
patience, and all the resources of feminine affection, to avert the
temptation; and she well knew that the presence of the ardent,
unsubdued, opinionative girl would, alas! only double the
difficulties. So she acquiesced, at least for the present, in
Nuttie's grand achievement of having broken away from all the wealth
and luxury of Bridgefield to return to her simple home and good old
aunt. Mark was a good deal vexed, but Nuttie did not care about
that, attributing this displeasure to Egremont clanship; Mary Nugent
was doubtful and anxious, and thought it her duty to reconcile
herself to her father; but Miss Headworth, who, be it remembered, had
reason to have the worst impressions of Mr. Egremont, rejoiced in her
young niece having escaped from him for the time, and only sighed
over the impossibility of Alice's doing the same. And when Nuttie
described, as she constantly did, the various pleasures she had
enjoyed during the past year, the good old lady secretly viewed her
as a noble Christian heroine for resigning all this in favour of the
quiet little home at Micklethwayte, though reticent before her, and
discussed her excellence whenever she was alone with Mary.
Nor would Miss Nugent vex her with contradictions or hints that what
Nuttie was giving up at present might be a dull house, with her
mother engrossed by an irritable semi-invalid, and the few gaieties
to be enjoyed by the help of the Canon's family at Redcastle. She
did ask the girl whether Mrs. Egremont, being avowedly not quite
well, might not need her assistance; but Nuttie vehemently disavowed
being of any possible use to her father; he never let her read to
him! oh no! he called her music schoolgirly, a mere infliction; he
never spoke to her if he could help it, and then it was always with a
sort of sneer; she believed he could not bear the sight of her, and
was ashamed of it, as well he might be! For Mrs. Houghton's
disclosures had rankled ever since within her, and had been confirmed
by her aunt.
'But that is very sad,' said Mary. 'I am so sorry for you. Ought
you not to try hard to conquer his distaste?'
'I--why, he cares for nothing good!'
'Nay,' smiling. 'Not for your mother?'
'Oh! She's pretty, you know; besides, she makes herself a regular
slave to him, and truckles to him in everything, as I could never
'Perhaps she is overcoming evil with good.'
'I am afraid it is more like being overcome of evil. No, no, dear
Miss Mary, don't be shocked. The dear little mother never would be
anything but good in her own sweet self, but it is her nature not to
stand up for anything, you know. She seems to me just like a
Christian woman that has been obliged to marry some Paynim knight.
And it perfectly provokes me to see her quite gratified at his
notice, and ready to sacrifice anything to him, now I know how he
treated her. If I had been in her place, I wouldn't have gone back
to him; no, not if he had been ready to crown me after I was dead,
like Ines de Castro.'
'I don't know that you would have had much choice in that case.'
'My very ghost would have rebelled,' said Nuttie, laughing a little.
And Mary could believe that Mrs. Egremont, with all her love for her
daughter, might find it a relief not to have to keep the peace
between the father and child. 'Yet,' she said to herself, 'if Mr.
Dutton were here, he would have taken her back the first day.'
'He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons.'
St. Ambrose's road was perfectly delightful as long as there was any
expectation of a speedy recall. Every day was precious; every
meeting with an old face was joyful; each interchange of words with
Mr. Spyers or Gerard Godfrey was hailed as a boon; nothing was
regretted but the absence of Monsieur and his master, and that the
favourite choir boy's voice was cracked.
But when there was reason to think that success had been complete,
when Miss Headworth had been persuaded by Mary that it was wiser on
all accounts not to mortify Alice by refusing the two guineas a week
offered for Miss Egremont's expenses; when a couple of boxes of
clothes and books had arrived, and Ursula found herself settled at
Micklethwayte till after Christmas, she began first to admit to
herself that somehow the place was not all that it had once been to
Her mother was absent, that was one thing. Mrs. Nugent was gone,
that was another. There was no Monsieur or Mr. Dutton to keep her in
awe of his precision, even while she laughed at it. There were no
boarders to patronise and play with, and her education at the High
School was over. If she saw a half-clothed child, it was not half so
interesting to buy an ulster in the next shop, as it was to turn over
the family rag-bag, knit, sew, and contrive! Somehow things had a
weariness in them, and the little excitements did not seem to be the
exquisite delights they used to be. After having seen Patience at
the Princess's it was not easy to avoid criticising a provincial Lady
Jane, and it was the like with other things of more importance. Even
the ritual of St. Ambrose's Church no longer struck her as the ne
plus ultra of beauty, and only incited her to describe London
She resumed her Sunday-school classes, and though she talked at first
of their raciness and freedom, she soon longed after the cleanliness,
respectfulness, and docility of the despised little Bridgefordites,
and uttered bitter things of Micklethwayte turbulence, declaring--
perhaps not without truth--that the children had grown much worse in
And as Mr. Godfrey had been superintendent during the latter half of
the time, this was a cruel stroke. He wanted to make her reverse her
opinions. And they never met without 'Now, Ursula, don't you
remember Jem Burton putting on Miss Pope's spectacles, and grinning
at all the class.'
'Yes; and how Mr. Dutton brought him up to beg her pardon. Now, was
any notice taken when that horrid boy--I don't know his name--turned
the hymn they were saying to her into "Tommy, make room for your
'Oh, Albert Cox! It is no use doing anything to him, he would go off
at once to the Primitives.'
'I cannot make him a schismatic.'
'I wonder what he is now!'
'Besides, Miss Pope perfectly provokes impertinence.'
'Then I wouldn't give her work she can't do.'
Such an argument as this might be very well at the moment of
provocation, but it became tedious when recurred to at every meeting.
Nuttie began to wonder when Monks Horton would be inhabited again,
and how much notice Lady Kirkaldy would take of her, and she was a
good deal disappointed when Mark told her that Lord Kirkaldy had been
begged to undertake a diplomatic mission which would keep them abroad
all the winter.
There was a certain weariness and want of interest. It was not
exactly that there was nothing intellectual going on. There were the
lectures, but they were on chemistry, for which Nuttie cared little.
There were good solid books, and lively ones too, but they seemed
passe to one who had heard them discussed in town. Mary and Miss
Headworth read and talked them over, and perhaps their opinions were
quite as wise, and Miss Nugent's conversation was equal to that of
any of Nuttie's London friends, but it was only woman's talk after
all--the brilliancy and piquancy, the touch and go, she had enjoyed
in Lady Kirkaldy's drawing-room was lacking.
Mr. Spyers was too much immersed in parish matters to read anything
secular, and neither he nor Gerard Godfrey seemed ever to talk of
anything but parish matters. There was not the slightest interest in
anything beyond. Foreign politics, European celebrities,--things in
which Nuttie had learnt to take warm interest when with the
Kirkaldys, were nothing to them. Even Mary wondered at her
endeavours to see the day's paper, and she never obtained either
information or sympathy unless she came across Mark. It seemed to
her that Gerard cared less for the peace or war of an empire than for
a tipsy cobbler taking the pledge. The monotony and narrowness of
the world where she had once been so happy fretted and wearied her,
though she was ashamed of herself all the time, and far too proud to
allow that she was tired of it all. Aunt Ursel at her best had
always been a little dry and grave, an authority over the two nieces;
and though softened, she was not expansive, did not invite
confidences, and home was not home without the playfellow-mother.
And most especially was she daily tired of Gerard Godfrey! Had he
always talked of nothing but 'the colours,' chants, E. C. U.,
classes, and teetotalism? Whatever she began it always came back to
one or other of these subjects, and when she impatiently declared
that she was perfectly sick of hearing of the Use of Sarum, he looked
at her as guilty of a profanity.
Perhaps it was true that he was narrower than he had been. He was a
good, honest, religiously-minded lad, but with no great depth or
grasp of intellect; Ursula Egremont had been his companion first and
then his romance, and the atmosphere of the community in which he
lived had been studious and intelligent. His expedition to Redcastle
had convinced him that the young lady lived in a different world,
entirely beyond his reach, and in the reaction of his hopelessness,
he had thrown himself into the excitement of the mission, and it had
worked on him a zealous purpose to dedicate himself totally to a
religious life, giving up all worldly aims, and employing the small
capital he could call his own in preparing for the ministry. Mr.
Dutton had insisted that he should test his own steadfastness and
resolution by another year's work in his present situation before he
took any steps.
He had submitted, but still viewed himself as dedicated, and so far
as business hours permitted, gave his services like a clerical pupil
to St. Ambrose's with the greatest energy, and perhaps somewhat less
judgment than if Mr. Dutton had been at hand. Being without natural
taste for intellectual pursuits, unless drawn into them by his
surroundings, he had dropped them entirely, and read nothing but the
ephemeral controversial literature of his party, and not much of
that, for he was teaching, preaching, exhorting, throughout his spare
time; while the vicar was in too great need of help to insist on
deepening the source from which his zealous assistant drew. As Miss
Nugent observed, teetotalism was to him what dissipation was to other
On this vehemence of purpose descended suddenly Ursula Egremont once
more; and the human heart could not but be quickened with the idea,
not entirely unfounded, that it was to him that she had flown back,
and that her exile proved that she cared for him more than for all
the delights she had enjoyed as heiress of Bridgefield. The good
youth was conscientious to the back-bone, and extremely perplexed
between his self-dedication and the rights that their implied
understanding might give to her. Was she to be the crowning blessing
of his life, to be saved partly through his affection from worldly
trials and temptations, and bestowing on him a brilliant lot in which
boundless good could be effected? Or was she a syren luring him to
abandon his higher and better purposes?
The first few days of her stay, the former belief made him feel like
treading on air, or like the hero of many a magazine story; but as
time went on this flattering supposition began to fail him, when
Nuttie showed her weariness of the subjects which, in his
exclusiveness, he deemed the only ones worthy of a Christian, or
rather of a Catholic. Both of them had outgrown the lively, aimless
chatter and little jests that had succeeded the games of childhood,
and the growth had been in different directions, so that Ursula felt
herself untrue to her old romance when she became weary of his
favourite topics, disappointed by his want of sympathy and
comprehension, fretted by his petty disapprovals, and annoyed by his
evident distaste for Mark, to whom she turned as to one of her proper
At last, after many tossings, Gerard fixed upon a test. If she
endured it she would be the veritable maiden of his imagination, and
they would stand by one another, come what would; if not, he would
believe that the past had been fancy, not love, or love that had not
withstood the attractions of fashionable life. A great temperance
meeting was coming on, and Gerard, eager at once to fill the room,
and to present a goodly roll of recruits, watched anxiously for his
moment, and came on Nuttie with his hands full of bills in huge
letters, and his pockets of badges.
'Excellent speakers,' he cried. 'We shall have the hall crowded.
You'll come, Ursula?'
'I don't know what Miss Mary will do. I don't think she means it.'
'Oh, if you insist, if we both insist, she will. Look at the paper--
we are to have some splendid experiences.'
Nuttie made a face. 'I've heard all about those,' she said. 'That
man,' pointing to one of the names, 'regularly rants about it; he is
like a madman.'
'He does go rather far, but it is quite necessary, as you will hear.
Oh, Nuttie, if you would only be one of us! I've brought a card! If
'Why, what's the use, Gerard! I don't like wine, I never do drink
it, except a little claret-cup sometimes when I can't get water.'
'Then it would cost you nothing.'
'Yes, it would. It would make me ridiculous.'
'You used not to heed the sneers of the world.'
'Not for anything worth doing--but this is not.'
'It is the greatest cause of the day!' he cried, in an eager exalted
manner, which somewhat inclined her to laugh. 'Do away with alcohol
and you would do away with crime!'
'Thank you for the compliment, Gerard; I never found that the
infinitesimal drop of alcohol that I suppose there is in a tumbler of
claret-cup disposed me to commit crimes.'
'Why won't you understand me, Ursula! Can't you give up that for the
sake of saving others!'
'I wonder whom it would save.'
'Example saves! If you put on this'--taking out the badge--'how many
should you not lead at your home?'
'Just nobody! Mother and I should have a bad time of it, that's
'And if you endured, what would not your testimony effect in the
household and village?'
'Nothing! I have nothing to do with the men-servants, and as to the
village, it is very sober. There's only one public house, and that
is kept by Uncle William's old butler, and is as orderly as can be.'
'Ah! that's the way you all deceive yourselves. Moderate drinkers
are ten times more mischievous than regular drunkards.'
'Thank you, Gerard! And outrageous abstainers are more mischievous
than either of them, because they make the whole thing so utterly
foolish and absurd.' She was really angry now, and so was Gerard.
'Is that your ultimatum?' he asked, in a voice that he strove to
'Certainly; I'm not going to take the pledge.'
Having quarrelled in childhood, made quarrelling now easier, and
Gerard answered bitterly:
'Very well, I hope you will have no cause to repent it.'
''Tis not the way to make me repent it, to see how it seems to affect
some people's common sense. It is just as if all your brains had run
to water!' said Nuttie, laughing a little; but Gerard was desperately
serious, and coloured vehemently.
'Very well, Miss Egremont, I understand. I have had my answer,' he
said, gathering up his papers and marching out of the room.
She stood still, offended, and not in the least inclined to run after
him and take back her words. He, poor fellow, stumbled down the
steps, and held by the garden rail to collect his senses and compose
'What's the matter, Gerard, are you ill or giddy?' asked Miss Nugent,
coming up in the winter twilight.
'No, oh no! Only the dream of my life is over,' he answered, scarce
knowing what he said.
'You haven't--' cried Mary aghast.
'Oh no,' he said, understanding the blank, 'only she won't take the
'I don't see how she could or ought,' responded Mary. 'Is that all?'
'I had made it the test,' muttered poor Gerard. 'It is right! It is
all over now. I shall know how to go on my way. It is best so--I
know it is--only I did not know whether anything was due to her.' It
was almost a sob.
'Dear old Gerard,' said Mary, 'I see you meant to do right. It is
well your mind should be settled. I think you'll find comfort in
your good work.'
He wrung her hand, and she went in, half amused, for she was fully
aware of the one-sidedness of the mania for temperance under which he
acted, yet honouring his high, pure motives, and rejoicing that he
had found this indirect mode of gauging Nuttie's feelings towards
him--that is, if he was right about them, and there was no revulsion.
Far from it. Nuttie was still angry. 'Gerard had been so
ridiculous,' she said, 'teasing her to take the pledge, and quite
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