Chapter 162818594

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Chapter NumberXIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162818594
Full Date1885-12-05
Page Number1186
Corrections0
Word Count3543
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleA Little Minx. A Sketch
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A Little Minx. A SKETCH.

- By A. C. -

Chapter XIV.

Nancy was a widow. And all the trials of the past that has made her so wretched were overforher, as completely as they were o*rer for her dead husband — swallowed up in one vast sea of misery that drowned her fathoms deep. No wife ad ever been a better wife, in spite of scandals to the con rary ; and no widow ever mourned her lost mate , with more absolute regret and grief. Her old enemies were her devoted friends; but, if they had been her enemies still, they must have been satisfied with the manner in which rTh* now fulfilled her social and domestic obligations. She was ' proper,' poor little thing, to the last degree. In her widowhood she was the sacrcd charge, the adopted

word, child and sister, of the parish, each family of which vied with every other in its efforts to befriend her and to stand first in her regard. The lawyeis took charge of her husband's papers and posthumous business affaiis; the other men were her fathers and brothers in the same sort of way, jealously guarding her most trivial worldly interests, and shielding her from all contact with the practical incon veniences of her position. The women could not do enough ; for her ; every house was her home, if she had chosen to ? make it so. Even Mrs. Brown, forgetting dignity and her ancient wrongs, went to see and console her in her bereave ment — to beg her to come away from her now solitary little nest and- take shelter under her own maternal wing. But in those early days the little minx, though gentle and biddable as a'child, with no spirit left in her, and touchingly grate ful for all the kindness shown her, was not to be lured from her nest, lonely though it was. She could not tear herself from the place where she and Jack had lived and been so happy together, and the reminiscences of his presence with wliich it was filled. The archdeacon's wife, persistently benevolent, and bent upon doing her duty as she always was, repeatedly endeavoured to lure her to the parsonage, but always without success. ' You should try to combat this morbid feeling,' she urged from day to-aav. ' It is not right for such a young woman as you to be alone. And, besides, it will be expen sive keeping the house 6n, and as your husband has left you so little you must think of- that.' Of course you will be going home to your father as soon as you are able to travel, but in the meantime I should economise, if I were you. I speak for your good, my dear.' ' The house won't cost much,' said Nancy. ' I have enough to keep myself for a little while ; Mr. Hardcastle says so. And I shall not go home yet.' *' Not go home ! Dear me, why not ?' ' I must wait till I hear from my father and see what he says.' ' But he will be sure to tell you to come home. He will expect you to do that at once, as a matter of course.' 'I think not, Mrs. Brown. My brother Frank was coming out in a few months, and they depended on my beinghere to look after him.' ' But they will not send him now.' ' They may. I will wait and see. I feel at home in Wooi'oona-now ; I would as soon stay awhile as not. And I may he of use to Frank, though I am of no use now to anyone else!' — this with a gush of tears which ended the 'conversation. So she stayed. And her friends went to sleep with her, and to sit with her, and to take her out for walks and drives ; and by degrees she was induced to go to their houses, and to take a quiet part again in- the social life of the place. Of course she looked lovely in her black gown and widow's bonnet, but she war forgiven that, for the .sake of the pale and changed little face that accompanied them — a face at which the men gazed with hearts that bled for her, with a reverential admiration that was now too deep for words. In, a few months her brother Frank came out. He was a bright young fellow of five and twenty, already possessed of his diploma .and qualified to begin practice as soonas he should Lave found a post tosuit him; and he was received with enthusiasm into Wooroona society. Like every other , man, he was devoted to his pretty sister, and he made no secret of his cheerful acquiessence in the decrees of Provi dence which had left Nancy at liberty to keep house for him. It was intended when lie came out that she should accompany *»'' whit hersoever he went to settle ; but he had no sooner arrived at 'Wooroona thin Dr. Debenlmm accepted a Sydney appointment, and Dr. Lloyd persuaded him to step into that gentleman's cast off- shoes. So that, instead of her going away, with Frank, Frank remained with her; and the little cottage was kept on, and became a social head centre once more — recovering all its early, and more than its early, attractiveness. For now did Nancy begin to brighten and expand afresh, like a young tree when a new spring comes. She was a girl still, in spite of the widows weeds, and it took a better man than poor Jack Primrose to destroy, at her age and for ever, her appetite for life. Now did she again alienate from herself the sympathy, affection and respect of her best friends, bv a return to those unseemly aud womanly habits which had before grieved them so much. The reader may imagine Mrs. Brown's sensations when, paying a call on Mrs. Lloyd one day, die saw the young widow in the garden, playing tennis with all her might, in a white frock, trimmed with lace — without a rag of decency on her save a black sash, which, of course, went for nothing, since it might be worn out of mourning as well as in— rand with three gentlemen playing with her in her set. It was only the first summer after her husband's death — though, to he sure, it was the extreme end of it. ' She said she couldn't stand the hot black any longer in such weather,' said Mrs. Lloyd, with a smile and «igh. ' I believe she hasn't worn it at home for a long time. She is very ?peculiar in some things.' « Peculiar !' said Mrs. Brown, with a snort. ' She is a heartless little minx.' ' Oh, I don't think she's exactly heartless,- dear Mrs. Brown. She certainly was veiy much' cut up at first. But'— glancing out of tlie window—' she seems veiy cheerful now.' ' She does, indeed ! How long is it, Mrs.Lloyd r' ' About nine months— not more. I didn't think it was so much, till I counted it up. It seems like yes terday.'' ' Just what I expected,' said Mrs. Brown, when she returned home to her .archdeacon, 'Just what I expected from the first! This is why die stayed in Wooroona; this is why she put nothing but a wisp of tulle into her bonnet, and why she wouldn't go home to her mother — as any other daughter would have done, left as die was. Imagine our Grace or Lottie in such a position, not coming home to me ! Why, they would have flown on the wings of the wind — express trains couldn't have brought them fast enough.' 'Mr dear,' interposed the archdeacon, 'In the letter that her father wrote to me lie praised her for waiting for her brother; he said she acted wisely, and — unselfishly. Those were his very words — I can show them to you.' 'Oh, her father— her father! We know what fathers are,' Mrs. Brown retprted, with contempt. _ ' Anvone could see,' he went on, 'that die was too to think of making plans for herself. She was just heartbroken, poor little soul.' - ' a fig- for her broken heart 1 You should have seen her about that lawn this afternoon, with her dress all covered with frills and lace— white lace— and this. only fhp nintll month ! ' ' It was one she had by her, I suppose. She didn't have it made on purpose.' 'To think,' said Mrs. Brown, regardless of tne ^hawtaMn suggestion, 'to think of that poor, dear, good fellow, not cold in his coffin — not even laid in his grave —before . she was scheming to supplant him with another ! ' 'Maria! My good soul, what— what— what the deuce are you about?' cried the shocked listener, too in dignant weigh his words with his wonted carefulness. ' Don't forget yourself, Jcsiah,' said she, reproving the xash expletive. 'Don't foigefc that you are a clergyman,

my dear' — let alone that you are speaking to me. What can I you expect of your people — how can you imagine that your sermons will benefit them — if you don't practice what you preach and set them a good example ?' ' Oh, bother it ! ' muttered the archdeacon. Whereat she walked out of the room and left him, and did not spoak to him again for days. . When eventually 'marital communication was restored, the first thing she did was to justify her assertion that | Nancy had remained in Wooroona, winch was full of her j lovers, in order that she might marry again without unite- - cessary loss of time. 'Look at Dr. Debenham,' she said, flinging out her j hand, palm upwards, in a mariner that was terribly con vincing; 'why, I ask you, is he always coming up from i Sydney, pretending that he has business here, when every- ] body knows that he has no interest in the place whatever ? Look at Mr. Prendergast ; why has he given up the school and taken to loafing aoout on Sunday afternoons with Frank Lawrence ? Look at Mr. Simpson' — this was the new j curate — ' does he attend to his duties as he should? Is he not always dangling about her house, on some siUy pretext j or other P Look at all those young bank cleiks and fellows, who never used to come to church ; do you seriously sup- 1 pose that they have taken sittings, and attend so regularly merely to listen to you ?' Aud the Archdeacon could only vaguely deprecate pre mature conclusions ; he had not much to say. Indeed, he soon found that his case was a very poor one. It was too true that Nancy was besieged with* lovers — all those men whom Mrs. Brown had mentioned and more besides — and that thev were now no longer distant worshippers of her appropriated charms, but suito;-? themselves for her hand and heart. And though she kept them at aim's length, that was as much as she did ; they buzzed round her con tinually like a swarm of beef, and she let them do it — made herself 'charming, in short, in the old irresistible manner, though she must have foreseen the consequences. By-and-by Colin . Mackenzie, who had left Darriwell soon after Jack's death (he himself best knew why), came back ; and three days later Mrs. Brown threw herself on her bed at the parsonage in an attack of hysterics. ' The little wretch — the little toad — the' little cat!' she hissed through her clenched teeth (if she hadn't been a very religious woman she would have used bad language, like the Archdeacon). 'So this is her game, is it? She has been waiting for him ! Oh, thank God, my children are not . made of that sort of stuff ! ' and here she wept. '1 have at least that consolation,- Josiah !' And when the Archdeacon, having sponged her face and administered brandy and water and the smelling-bottle, asked her what bad happened, it transpired that Mr. Mac kenzie had been seen out driving in his single buggy, with Mrs. Primrose by his side. And the instinct of the woman and the mother was not at fault; her worst fears were realised. From the time that Colin decided that he might trust himself in Wooroona — from the day that he came back to Darriwell— he 'lived only for 'that woman.' Grace and Lottie might have been non existent for all the notice he took of them, and so might the rest of the parish. And the year of Nancy's widowhood was hardly over when Mrs. Dennison came to Wooroona, carried her off to Sydney, and ? The reader can guess the rest. Chapteii XV. 'Mrs. Primrose became Mrs. Mackenzie — no longer a curate's wife and widow, but a great lady, set high above the heads of both friends and enemies ; and though eveiy form of mercenary motive was ascribed to her for what she did, it was a fact (which will prejudice her, I fear, in my reader's estimation) that she loved her eecond husband to distraction, and was more happy with him than tongue can tell. To see her nestling up to his side as he drove her about the country (scarcely ever trusting her to another coachman) — to watch her hovering round him (as she did whenever he was not hovering round her), unable to rest unless she could either see or feel him near her — to hear her say ' Colin,' with an ineffably tender thrill in her voice that was never communicated to any other name— was enough to make one gnash one's teeth with envy, and did in deed afflict a good many with that painful disorder. As for him, he worshipped the ground she walked on. He tended and cherished ner as the apple of his eye. He ; dressed her in velvets and priceless laces, he hung her all over with diamonds, he lapped her in every luxury that money could procure. The sun was not allowed to scorch her, nor the rain to damp her, nor the wind to blow on her . too roughly ; he compassed her with sweet observances ; he sheltered her in his watchful care, in his arms and heart — with a passionate solicitude that he took no trouble to dis guise. If he had to go away, he earned her with him ; when she stayed at home, he stayed there with her. If she wanted anything, he waited upon her himself ; if she was not well, he allowed no one elseto nurse her. A queen was never served on bended knees with more entire devotion: And Darriwell became a delightful place. Indispensable to each other and inseparable as they w^rej Mr. and Mrs. Mackenzie took pleasure in receiving their neighbours; and now that Nancy was really a high personage, with un limited wealth and power at her command, she became such a hostess as had never before been seem. - Her tennis after noons, her dinners and dances, were the talk of the country side; nobody else's could come near them. 'Women (aim, equally, men— more particularly mm) would ride and drive any distance in response to one of herinvitations, sure pf hav ing a good time and the most charming entertainment. All the old Wooroona set were her frequent visitors, and she treated them to her best; and they sought her assiduously, and never neglected her any more. Behindhor back they bad plenty of spiteful things to say, hut what did that matter? Nothing that they might ^say could hurt her now. Mrs. Mackenzie was Mrs. Mackenzie — above thfreachof scandal mongers. Blood-curdling tales might be told-of her, and people might listen to and repeat them ; but no practical consequences ensued. Mrs. Brown might sow and water her constant crop of calumnies, and not one would blossom and ripen into fruit. In spite of them and her, all the ' best people' rushed to Dam well the first chance they got, 6tayed there as long as possible, returned at the earliest opportunity ; and die popularity and prosperity of the little minx who* had supplanted Grace were undimmed as the noonday sun. Even the Bishop, when he came to Woo roona for confirmations, stayed, with Ihe Mackenzies and not at the parsonage. And do you . suppose he remembered that his hostess had been accused of loose morals and habits of intemperance ? Not lie ; or if be did, he pooh-poohed the incongruous reminiscence with ggntempt. He handed her out of her carriage, when he drove with her to church, with the greatest care and courtesy ; would not go into the par sonage after service for so much as a glass of wine and a biscuit, lest he should keep her and her lunch waiting ; and went away at the close of bis visitation to tell bis wife at Bishopscourt that he had never met with a morecharming creature. - . So Nancy's triumph was complete, and I have no doubt {for die bad a deal of human nature in her) that she found it intensely gratifying. But sad truth compels me to state that it did not last long. In thezenitliof her power and glory came a sudden downfall and defeat from which neither love nor money could save her, and. from which there was no more recovery in this world. She had borne no child {happily for it and her) io poor, consumptive Jack Primrose, but very soon after her second marriage she set at rest any f ears that Colin might have concerning Ihe succession to bis estates and name. And when hear time came — for all she was so young and healthy, and well cared for— she did not manage to Uvk through it. Something went wrong— some little accident happened; and though everything was done for her that love, and skill, and money poured out like water could do — though her husband hung over her wild with despairing grief, weeping tears of blood though his haggard eyes were dry, praying bis heart out for lior safety — she sighed away her precious life on his breast three days after giving him his first-born son, and thus ended her career at Wooroona and the list of her crimes and conquests . Now die lies in tbe cemetery there — not in Jack Primrose's narrow bed, but under stately marble, in a wide enclosure, jealously railed round from* him and everybody, with an empty place beside her. Colin is far away; butj wherever he roams, Ids body, when dead, is to be brought back, even from the ends of the earth, to be laid with hers. He had her last (and would have kept her through all eternity, if he could) ; she was mother as well as wife, for bis sake only ; he will allow no rights in her living person or her precious dost but his own. ' Sacred to the memory of

Nancy Mackenzie ' is the present inscription on her tomb- ' stone ; and some day there will be added beneath it, '.Also of Colin, her husband,' with no mention of any other husband and no record of any circumstance of her life that was not shared alone with him. (N.B. — The women don't consider that this is proper at all, but the men all say — or, if they dou't say, they think — that -they would have done precisely the same, in Mac kenzie's place.) And if you go to Wooroona, my dear reader, you will hear her spoken of on all sides as tne sweetest, the dearest, the loveliest, and best of human beings. There is no j memory now of little faults and failings, or they are amply excused and forgiven. Mrs Lloyd invariably weeps at the mention of her name; so does Mrs. Grimshaw; and Hetty Hardcastle makes a fresh wreath for her grave once every week, at least, only Mrs. Brown is not entirely pacified. Has not Colin Mackenzie let Darriwell on a long lease and gone away, with the avowed' intention (which even she expects him to fulfil) of never taking another wife in his darling's place? And therefore does not Nancy, in death as in life, still stand in her way and frustrate her dearest, hopes? Far be it from her, she says, to speak ill of the dead, and sit in judgment on a sinner who now stands at a higher tribunal ; but still ? And then she will go into innumerable details to prove to you what a Little Minx she really was, in spite of pos thumous opinion.