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- Nuttie's Father - 60/69 -
understand his mode of saying his own name, or even that of the street, if he knew it perfectly; but the year he had been absent from London had prevented him from acquiring the curious ready local instinct of the true town child, and he had been so much guarded and watched that he was likely to be utterly at a loss when left alone; and Nuttie was wretched at the thought of his terror and loneliness, even while Mr. Dutton told her of speedy recoveries of lost children through kind people or the police.
They found all the officials of the Park already aware and on the alert, and quite certain of the impossibility of nurse's prime dread that the boy had fallen into the water unseen by any one and been drowned. She was even ready to look into every bush, in case he had been frightened and hidden himself; and nothing would satisfy her but to stay making these researches, when her master had decided on endeavouring to find 'Parker' at the club, and to ascertain from him particulars of time and place.
He was found there. The dinner-hour had brought him back, he being a man in authority there, very well dressed and deferential, declaring himself immensely distressed at the occurrence, and at having accosted Gregorio and attracted his attention. It was about four o'clock, he thought, and he described the exact spot where the little boy had been sailing his vessel fastened to a string. They might have been talking twenty minutes or half an hour when Gregorio missed his charge, and since that time both had been doing all in their power to find him, until half-past seven, when he had to return to his club, and Gregorio went to see whether the child had been taken home.
By this time Mr. Egremont looked so utterly exhausted, that Mr. Dutton availed himself of the hope that the boy might be found safe at home to take him back; but alas! nothing had been heard there.
The poor man was in a restless, unmanageable state of excitement, almost as terrifying to his daughter as the distress that occasioned it. He swallowed a tumblerful of claret, but would not eat nor go to bed; and indeed, Gregorio alone having had the personal charge of him, latterly sleeping in his dressing-room, none of the other servants knew what to do for him. Mr. Dutton agreed with her that it would be better to send for his doctor, as probably he ought to have a sedative, and neither would take the responsibility of giving it; while he himself declared he neither would nor could rest till he had his boy again.
The doctor was dining out, and they had two terrible hours; while Mr. Egremont paced to the windows; threw himself on the sofa; denounced Gregorio; or, for a change, all the system of police which had made no discovery; and Ursula for letting the boy be so helpless. Mr. Dutton sometimes diverted his attention for a few minutes, and hoped he would doze, but the least sound brought him to his feet again, and the only congenial occupation was the composition of a description of poor little Alwyn's person and dress, which set Nuttie crying so uncontrollably, that she had to run out of the room.
Dr. Brownlow came at last, and was very kind and helpful, taking the command, and insisting that Mr. Egremont should go to bed, and take the dose which he mixed. Broadbent, the butler, was to take Gregorio's place, but he was a ponderous man, without much tact, and unused to the valet's office. 'I might just as well have a rhinoceros about me,' said Mr. Egremont, in a fit of irritation; and it ended, Nuttie hardly knew how, in Mr. Dutton's going upstairs to smooth matters. He came down after a time and said: 'I am not satisfied to leave him alone or to Broadbent; I have his consent to my sleeping in the dressing-room. I am just going home to fetch my things. Let me find you gone when I come back. You will hear no more to-night. Even if he is found, they will keep him till morning.'
'It is of no use; I can't sleep.'
'Even if you don't, the mere restful position will make you fitter for the morrow. Will you promise me to undress and really go to bed?'
'Oh yes! if you say I must,' said Nuttie drearily; following an instinct of obedience.
'And remember,' he said, 'though I do not say it will be so, this may be deliverance from bondage.'
'But what a terrible deliverance!'
'Bonds are not burst without something terrible. No; don't be frightened. Remember there is safekeeping for that sweet little fellow, wherever he may be.'
'Oh, Mr. Dutton, if I could pray for him; but the turmoil seems to have driven away all such things! My boy, my boy, where is he now? Who has heard him say his little prayers?'
'His Heavenly Father has; of that we may be secure. You will feel it in the quiet of your own room. Good-night.'
'And I shall know you are praying, better than I can,' murmured Nuttie, as she returned his good-night, and crept up to her chamber.
CHAPTER XXXIV. FETTERS RENT.
'The gods are just, and of our pleasant sins Make whips to scourge us.'--King Lear.
There was no real sleep for Ursula that short summer night. She saw the early dawn, listened to the distant roll of market-carts, and wondered when it would be reasonable to be afoot, and ready to hear, if aught there was to hear. At any hour after seven, surely the finders would have mercy and bring the welcome news. And just before seven she fell asleep, deeply, soundly, and never woke till past eight, but that was just enough to revive the power of hope, and give the sense of a new day. But there was nothing to hear--no news. She found Mr. Dutton in the dining-room. He had had to administer another draught to her father, and had left him in a sleep which would probably last for some time. If she would go and sit in the outer room, after her breakfast, he would go out to obtain intelligence.
'You must have some breakfast,' she said, ringing the bell, and wistfully looking over the blinds; then exclaiming: 'Oh, there's Mark! Has he heard anything?' and out she darted, opening the door before he rang. 'Mark! have you found him?'
'Yes,' he said gravely, looking utterly amazed as she clasped her hands, and seemed ready to fling herself on his neck with joy. 'I came because it will be a great shock to my uncle.'
'Then it is so! Nurse was right,' said Nuttie, turning deadly pale, and standing as if before a iring platoon. 'Tell me, Mark, where did they find him?'
'At the Faringdon Station. I was sent for to identify him.'
'Stay,' said Mr. Dutton, as there was a wild horrified look in Nuttie's eyes. 'Do you mean little Alwyn?'
'Little Alwyn! No, certainly not. What of him?'
'Gregorio managed to lose him in the park yesterday,' put in Mr. Dutton.
'That accounts for it, then,' said Mark. 'No, it was Gregorio himself, poor man. He was knocked down by the engine, and killed on the spot, just by the station, at eleven o'clock last night. Our name was found on him, and I was sent for early this morning. There was no doubt about it, so I came on here at once to let my uncle know, little thinking--'
'Oh, it is dreadful!' cried Nuttie, sinking into a chair. 'Do you remember, my father told him never to see his face again unless he found Alwyn?'
Broadbent came in at the moment with the coffee-pot, and stood suspended, as he was told what had happened, Mark adding the detail: 'He was crossing the line in front of the engine.'
'Yes, sir,' said the butler. 'It is an awful dispensation. No doubt he knew it was all up with him. You may not be aware, sir, of the subject of his conversation in the park. Mr. Parker had just seen a telegram of the result of the Derby, and he had heavy bets on Lady Edina. I am afraid, sir, there can be no doubt that he found a voluntary grave.'
'We will not talk of that. We cannot judge,' said Mark, shuddering. 'I said I would send some one from here to arrange what was to be done after the inquest.'
Broadbent immediately undertook to go, if his master did not require him, and this was thought advisable, as his services were certainly not acceptable to Mr. Egremont. Mark had thought himself likely to be detained and had provided for his absence, and the awe-stricken trio were consulting together over the breakfast-table, eating mechanically, from the very exhaustion of agitation, when the door opened, and Mr. Egremont in his dressing-gown was among them, exclaiming: 'You are keeping it from me.' He had been wakened by the whispers and rushes of the excited maids, had rung his bell in vain, dressed himself as best he could after so many years of dependence, and stumbled downstairs, where, as with his daughter, it was something like a relief to know that hope was not extinguished in Alwyn's case. But Mr. Egremont was in a very trembling, broken condition, and much overcome by his valet's end after so many years of intimate association. Certainly, if either of the others had so parted with the man, it would have been a horror in the recollection, but he did not seem to dwell on it; and, indeed, attention was distracted by every sound at the door, since each might bring news of the missing child.
One of these tantalising rings proved to be a policeman with poor Gregorio's keys, and a demand for an investigation into any papers he might have left which would show his state of mind. Mr. Egremont was very much annoyed, declaring that he would have no stranger meddle with them, and that he saw no use in such prying. What difference could it make to any living creature? However, when he
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