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- Nuttie's Father - 3/69 -
'Well, remember, mischief either wanton or scientific is forbidden. You are to set an example to the choir-boys.'
'Scientific mischief is a fatal thing to rare plants,' said Mary.
'If I'm not to touch anything, I may as well stay at home,' pouted Nuttie.
'You may gather as many buttercups and daisies as the sweet child pleases,' said Mr. Dutton; whereupon she threatened to throw her books at his head.
Miss Nugent asked how they were to go, and Mr. Dutton explained that there was only a quarter of a mile's walk from the station; that return tickets would be furnished at a tariff of fourpence a head; and that there would be trains at 1.15 and 7.30.
'How hungry the children will be.'
'They will eat all the way. That's the worst of this sort of outing. They eat to live and live to eat.'
'At least they don't eat at church,' said Nuttie.
'Not since the peppermint day, when Mr. Spyers suspended Dickie Drake,' put in Mary.
And the Spa Terrace Church people said it was incense.'
'Indeed they did. Louisa Barnet attacked us about it at school, and I said I wished it had been. Only they mustn't eat peppermint in the train, for it makes mother quite ill.'
'Do you mean that Mrs. Egremont will come?' exclaimed Mr. Dutton.
'Oh yes, she shall. It is not too far, and it will be very good for her. I shall make her.'
'There's young England's filial duty!' said Mary.
'Why, I know what is good for her, and she always does as "I wish."'
'Beneficent despotism!' said Mr. Dutton. 'May I ask if Miss Headworth is an equally obedient subject.'
'Oh! Aunt Ursel is very seldom tiresome.'
'Nuttie! Nuttie! my dear,' and a head with the snows of more than half a century appeared on the other side of the wall, under a cap and parasol. 'I am sorry to interrupt you, but it is cool enough for your mother to go into the town, and I wish you to go with her.'
CHAPTER III. HEIR HUNTING.
'And she put on her gown of green, And left her mother at sixteen, To marry Peter Bell!'--WORDSWORTH.
In the shrubberies of Monks Horton were walking a lady somewhat past middle age, but full of activity and vigour, with one of those bright faces that never grow old, and with her a young man, a few years over twenty, with a grave and almost careworn countenance.
More and more confidential waxed the conversation, for the lady was making fresh acquaintance with a nephew seldom seen since he had been her pet and darling as almost a baby, and he was experiencing the inexpressible charm of tone and manner that recalled the young mother he had lost in early boyhood.
'Then your mind is made up,' she said; 'you are quite right to decide on having a profession; but how does your father take it?'
'He is quite convinced that to repeat my uncle's life, dangling on as heir, would be the most fatal mistake.'
'Assuredly, and all the legal knowledge you acquire is so much in favour of your usefulness as the squire.'
'If I ever am the squire, of which I have my doubts.'
'You expect Mr. Egremont to marry?'
'Not a future marriage, but one in the past.'
'A private marriage! Do you suspect it?'
'I don't suspect it--I know it. I have been hoping to talk the matter over with you. Do you remember our first governess, Miss Headworth?'
'My dear Mark, did I not lose at Pera the charms of your infancy?'
'Then neither my mother nor my grandmother ever wrote to you about her?'
'I do remember that it struck me that immunity from governesses was a compensation for the lack of daughters.'
'Can you tell me no details,' said Mark anxiously. 'Have you no letters? It was about the time when Blanche was born, when we were living at Raxley.'
'I am sorry to say that our roving life prevented my keeping old letters. I have often regretted it. Let me see, there was one who boxed May's ears.'
'That was long after. I think it was that woman's barbarity that made my father marry again, and a very good thing that was. It was wretched before. Miss Headworth was in my own mother's time.'
'I begin to remember something happening that your mother seemed unable to write about, and your grandmother said that she had been greatly upset by "that miserable affair," but I was never exactly told what it had been.'
'Miss Headworth came when I was four or five years old. Edda, as we used to call her in May's language, was the first person who gave me a sense of beauty. She had dark eyes and a lovely complexion. I remember in after times being silenced for saying, "not so pretty as my Edda." I was extremely fond of her, enough to have my small jealousy excited when my uncle joined us in our walks, and monopolised her, turning May and me over to play with his dog!'
'But, Mark, Mr. Egremont is some years older than your father. He could not have been a young man at that time.'
'So much the worse. Most likely he seemed to her quite paternal. The next thing I recollect was our being in the Isle of Wight, we two children, with Miss Headworth and the German nurse, and our being told of our new sister. Uncle Alwyn and his yacht were there, and we went on board once or twice. Then matters became confused with me, I recollect a confusion, papa and grandmamma suddenly arriving, everybody seeming to us to have become very cross, our dear Miss Headworth nowhere to be found, our attendants being changed, and our being forbidden to speak of her again. I certainly never thought of the matter till a month ago. You know my uncle's eyes have been much affected by his illness, and he has made a good deal of use of me. He has got a valet, a fellow of no particular country, more Savoyard than anything else, I fancy. He is a legacy, like other evils, from the old General, and seems a sort of necessity to my uncle's existence. Gregorio they call him. He was plainly used to absolute government, and viewed the coming down amongst us as an assertion of liberty much against his will. We could see that he was awfully jealous of my father and me, and would do anything to keep us out; but providentially he can't write English decently, though he can speak any language you please. Well, the man and I came into collision about a scamp of a groom who was doing intolerable mischief in the village, and whom they put it on me to get discharged. On that occasion Mr. Gregorio grew insolent, and intimated to me that I need not make so sure of the succession. He knew that which might make the Chanoine and me change our note. Well, my father is always for avoiding rows; he said it was an unmeaning threat, it was of no use to complain of Gregorio, and we must digest his insolence. But just after, Uncle Alwyn sent me to hunt up a paper that was missing, and in searching a writing-case I came upon an unmistakable marriage certificate between Alwyn Piercefield Egremont and Alice Headworth, and then the dim recollections I told you of began to return.'
'What did you do?'
'I thought I had better consult my father, expecting to hear that she was dead, and that no further notice need be taken of the matter. But he was greatly disturbed to hear of the certificate, and would hardly believe me. He said that some friend of my grandmother had written her word of goings on at Freshwater between his brother and the young governess, and that they went off at once to put a stop to it, but found us left with the German maid, who declared that Miss Headworth had gone off with Mr. Egremont in the yacht. No more was heard of my uncle for six weeks, and when he came back there was a great row with the old General, but he absolutely denied being married. I am afraid that was all the old sinner wished, and they went off together in the yacht to the West Indies, where it was burnt; but they, as you know, never came to England again, going straight off to the Mediterranean, having their headquarters at Sorrento, and cruising about till the General's death ten years ago.'
'Yes, I once met them at Florence, and thought them two weary pitiable men. One looked at the General as a curious relic of the old buck of the Regency days, and compassionated his nephew for having had his life spoilt by dangling after the old man. It was a warning indeed, and I am glad you have profited by it, Mark.'
'He came back, after the old man died, to club life in London, and seldom has been near the old place; indeed, it has been let till recently, and he wants to let it again, but it is altogether too dilapidated for that without repairs. So he came down to see about it, and was taken ill there. But to return to what my father told me. He was shocked to hear of the certificate, for he had implicitly believed his brother's denial of the marriage, and he said Miss
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