Chapter 162818704

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Chapter NumberX
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162818704
Full Date1885-11-21
Page Number1114
Corrections0
Word Count4203
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleA Little Minx. A Sketch
article text

FICTWS.

A Little Minx. A SKETCH.

By A. C.

ChaftbkX.

As soonasinight be after 'the installation of the Archdea conatWooroons, every little township sad hamlet in the parish- way little centre of population that could boast a feaOding -wherein divine service was held (though it were but tmcea quarter) — had a tea-meeting in bis honour. There ?were thus some 15 tea-meetings celebrated in the course of the first three months, at all of which the venerable Josiah

r ate cold turkey and trifle, and made speeches thereafter that \ were most attentively listened to and reported with editorial ! approbation in the local papers. There was a great eatne ? ness in the speeches, as in the viands, but that was inevi ' table and created no disappointment. Sameness, indeed — ; fhe close ''iffr*'** t© immpmnrin1 tradition — was an indis ; pensable condition of success. The Archdeacon knew what '?? wasexpectedofhim,anddelrrereihim6elfaccoiduigly. Mrs. . ' Brown and her daughters also knew what was expected of ' them; and they, too, 'did their duty,' as the* former ! would have expressed it— pouring profuse smiles and com JTv. pnments upon their hosts and hostesses, and profercinir an . «'t?'n»* interest in their several families and affairs. So I that each, tea-meeting 'passed off' more harmoniously j tlwro fhA last. 'WV i 'When Mr. and Mrs. Primrose were added to the parish, ; two-thuds of the series had been celebrated ; there were but three or four to work off (before a second series was started, of which symptoms i were already beginning to appear, one of these— a very email affair — was over ; Nancy aid not go to it, as the I**' day was wet and she bad a bad cold. The next took place i just after she had finished the furnishing of her house, ? during lovely weather, and when she was feeling that keen ; desire for an ' outing '.which was wont to attack her when f she had been confined in doors a little longer than usual. ? The scene of the festival this time was a little township : twelve miles off , and the festival itself was rendered im | portant and attractive by the fact that some members of a i , ** county family' (whose homestead was to the little town 1 drip what an KngiiBh manor-house might be to the village - at its gates) were expected to preside over it, or, at any rate, : to shed ilie lustre of their presence upon the proceedings. ' Kris circumstance did not weigh with Nancy, who knew ? nothing about it, but it induced the leading families of 'Wooroona to betake themselves thither in great force, the ? ladies in tibeir Sunday best, the gentlemen escorting them . and driving their smartest buggies. It was a sort of picnic r junrmgitf. themselves, rather than the ordinary (very ordi c-^ sary) parochial function which it appeared to be. Parties t »? were arranged for the long drive, upon the principle of F -? natural selection, regardless of consanguinity, and by 3 : '? - fn the afternoon the streets of the township were as gay with file departing vehicles as on a race-day morning. Every body stopped ateverybody else's door, and all drove off in fiMiijMMiy ? a inwg procession, headed by Mr. Hardcasile, ^-ifli 2£rs* Krimn at his y*'^- It was a great surprise to Mrs. Primrose to find that she vrae not asked to take a box-seat— or, indeed, any seat— in : ftw family /?.?rvgynwy- She had naturally expected to : f-y frnirJi^imH yjth 1py?tatinnfl ; her only anxiety was as to who would ask her first; because, while she liked all the Woaroona men, she liked some better than others. She had, ; - unfortunately, taken aparticular fancy to Mr. Arnold, who ' was a remarkably intelligent and charming fellow, and had | tna&e'np her mind, if possible, to go with him. She even ? svoidfidflifi rest of them for a day or two, lest her design : should he frustrated by other proposals. But Mr. Arnold iidnotaric Pressure Jiad been brought to bear upon him, '. as it had been brought to bear upon, all the Church of Eng land husbands who had buggies of their own and had ? fhown a desire to do her honour. She did not have one in ; vitation. This punned her a good deal, but it did not dis ? tress her one what, for she attachedao sort of meaning to it, - (nd was qnitecontent with her dear Jack for company. He, for his part— never Imagining the possibility of blame or : Unpopularity in connection with tits beautiful young wife of ' whom he was so proud — was charmed wiih the accident that ?tabled him to escort her to the tea-meeting in his own : bewry purchased trap. For a young curate he was rather bashful, and he had not relished the prospect of a twelve '. taOe tete-a-tete with a strange woman, which would have 1 been bis portion inthe ordinary couree of things. i Soon after luncheon, therefore, they put their quiet horse into their single buggy, Nancy herself PftB'Bti'g (for they did withoiiiagroom),andjog^doff together at the tail of the fcroceesion aforementioned. The hindmost vehicle was just Visible between the trees as they left the township and attend the bush. They bad amost delightful drive— -iat- Bng over fl*mr gnuJI domestic affairs, faTmlrng the aromatic *centsof the forest, pftmmng the strange wild flowers. and the flocks of parrots that flashed and whirred in all ? infections from thetrpatb— but it was a very long one. The ? ' horse, which Nancy had herself ffay*' with, a view to the safety of her husband's precious neck in the dark nights, v Embied along leisurely, with a total disregard of all remon strance, whether of voice or whip; and as Jack was no Jehu, a good deal of time was taken up in negotiating stumps and other difficulties. Moreover, having lost sight at their party, they missed their way occasionally, endea vouring to follow the right wheel-tracks amid a net work of wrong ones through (he confusing wilderness of SCrub and gum trees. Kn thnt. ivhim tfipy raarJiM? ?fliAir rinp tjnation, not only had all the other gueste arrived, un packed themselves, and put away their respective vehicles, tfnt flxe teapots of *^*a occasion were being filled and ; refilled, and the company were already seated at the long tables, drawing off their gloves. | As Mr. Primrose urged his reluctant horse -upon the ; foene, half-a-dozen lounging men, lawyers, doctors, bank i crs, and whatnot, came forward alertly to offer their ser j vices. ' Those who could assisted Mrs. Primrose to aught ; ; those who could not took the reins and watched her. 'We l thought you were never corning; we were afraid something «ad relief. ? „ ? ' What should happen f' replied Nancy, airily. ' 'What - call' had we to hurry ourselves f We have had a lovely drive. It seems quite a sin to go in doors on such a day/' She was looking beautiful in a fresh white frock and shady list ; she had not been crushed and crumpled as some of the Bttfies were ; said she smiled upon her admirers, not seeing with what unwonted wistfuiness &ey snnled at her. 'Poor little firing !** ihey were saying to themselves; but she did sot fed poor by any means. Ere she Bad put her lHfle foot upon flie ground, out from the low-roofed banqueting-hall (which was church, school- ? mom, courthouse, and everythingelse, as occasion required) strode a tall form at which the curate looked in great sur prise. 'Wb*t!ycm here, MackmzieP'fcecried, in cordial welcome. 'I didn't think you ever patronised tea meetings.' : «IdonV' s»d Colin, lifting his hat to Nancy, who beamed upon him with unaffected pleasure. 'I happened to be over at the Denrrfson's for I had some business nere— and Mrs. Denxdson made me stay to carve tHe turkeys and things. How are you, Mrs. Primrose P Come inmtiime ?-? and let me introduce vou to Mrs. Dennison. She is my ooushij you know; I've been telling her about you and lack. Come along, Jack; sever mind the horse. I'll send a man to take him ont.' And thenXiancv began to enjoy herself, after her own imwMWrtbntrennabflnsible manner. Mr. and Mis. Deani «on received her cordially and made much of her, the latter became of cousin Colin's reprnsraitBtions, the former because T-weU, because he was a man and did what all other men did. He was a great personage from the social point of ?lew— tite greatest mtb£ neighbourhood, save Colin bim ?cif— and ids attentions were vahied aooordinglv. He had bestowed them upon Mrs. Brown, Mrs. Arnold*, and other matmnfi of condition who were entitled to them— assisted by Sir. Mackenzie, who had devoted himpiJf to Grace Brown and the younger ladies, fliereby ynti*iTng the proceedings JftaoaityfeMmgaiid' stMessful jnanner. Bat »H ibu

was changed when Mrs. Primrose appeared. Thenceforth neither of those two men seemed to have any -eves or ears save for her. They found a place for her at Mo. Benni son's own table— at the top of that table too— and there they sat on either side of her, heaping her plate with tit bite and banking in the radiance of her bright face. Mr. Dennison had never seen her before, and was obviously impressed. He could not npnilr^icp mmijt for not having called on her (but how was he to know, he asked bimsfif, that, she was such a charming creature?), nor Tff***^** suffi cient amends for his neglect. And Colm Mackenzie glowed with pride as he witnessed her sscoess with bis relations. 'Was it not maddening? It was. But she never thought of that. She breathed her native air and was haopy. How she chattered, to be sure, while hei enemies ate in silence and glowered at her. How she laughed, and how her com panions laughed, nobody else knowing what it was all about. How she teased and twitted diem and made fun of them — as if she had known them all her life — with no sense of tbs disparities of age and station. The Wooroona ladies watched her and made their comments to one another, de claring openly their unanimous opinion that she was indeed a little minx. When the long tea— which resembled a ball supper in its solids if not in its liquids— was over, there was an interval for relaxation and digestion. During this interval Nancy was introduced to the farmers and storekeepers, and in a twinkling won their hearts also by her pretty face and ways. She prattled to them as to Mr. Dennison with that frank consciousness of her power to please which made her so certain to do it; and Mrs. Brown, in the capacity of parson's wife, soon found herself nowhere. Then came the speeches. Mrs. Primrose, still under her host's wing, sat in a comer looking as demure as a child, while the Arch deacon delivered the usual discourse. Her male com panions gaaed patiently at the floor, and occasionally stifled a yawn on the back of their hands, but she was wide awake and listening, fiVrpg it all in. Every now and then she shot a swift glance at her husband, who was some distance from her ; and Mrs. Brown, intercepting them all, con cluded that each was a gibe at her Josiah, and was con sumed with appropriate resentment. Nancy did not make fun of the Archdeacon — she liked him too well ; but it was what Mrs. Brown expected of her, and therefore took for granted. She did, however, make undisguised fun of the magic lantern, which came after ihe speeches. It was a very curious magic lantern, with the most wonderful elides that ever were designed by an untaught artist. They represented a series of scenes from Scripture history, which were described and explained by a serious young man whose piety was more conspicuous than his learning; and both pictures and comments were so exquisitely funny that .'Nancy, who had a fine sense of humour, found them more than she could stand. She knew they were intended for edification and not for amusement, and so struggled hard to regard them seriously ; but the effort was beyond her powers. If you must laugh you must, just as you must cry if you can't help it. And the congenial spirits beside her, responsive to every gleam of her bright eyes and every tone of her merry voice, in no way aided her to withstand the irresistible impulse. She tittered under her breath, then giggled aloud, then went off into hysterical peals of laughter tTiat no handkerchief could stifle.; while ¥r Dennison and Colin hee-hee'd and haw-haw'd in sym pathy, shaking the form on which they sat with the force of their suppressed chucklings, and giving vent to terrific explosions from time to time when they found it impossible to contain themselves ; in consequence of which the whole room presently simmered with unseemly mirth, die good people were scandalised, the magic lantern was a failure (as a moral agent), and Mrs. Primrose was marked anew for disgrace and obloquy as a clergyman's wife' who scoffed at sacred things. Everyone saw that she was the ringleader, and no doubt she was entirely to blame. But for her the regular and decent order of a parochial tea-meeting would have been observed, as on all previous occasions. If she had not laughed at the magic lantern, no one else would have thought of doing so. Things . of that kind were not criticised upon their merits ; they were simply accepted as matters of course. It was altogether her doing that a spirit of lawlessness and levity was invoked (against which the Church, as locallv represented, contended in vain), and that religion, to use Mrs. Brown's words, was brought into contempt. And her crime was written up against her in capUalletters, which all who ran might read. This, however, was a venial offenoe compared with one that she committed later on. Chapteb. XI. By 9 o'clocck the Wooroona husbands were all looking at their watches and at one another, intimating by signs and nod6 their mutual desire to be setting off on the return journey ; and within the next hour the various buggies were furnished with their respective horses and collected upon the roadway, the drivers importuning their ladies to take their seats, while they lingered to gossip on the foot path in their pertinacious manner. It was a lovely moonlight night, pure and cool, and almost as clear as day. Coining out of the hotand crowded room and the fumes of stale food and kerosene lamps, everybody felt and said how sweet this fresh air was, and how delicious the drive home would be. For a quarter of a mile up and down the road every stump and stone could be seen, throwing its shadow upon the sandy track (to the con fusion of.amateur coachmen). Every buggy was distin guishable from everj' other as soon as it appeared. They came from humble innyards and selectors' paddocks, one by one— the horses lively after a good feed, the drivers cheered by surreptitious nips of whisky; and, in the interval of waiting for csrgo, brisk negotiations went on between road way and footpath for a redistribution, of passengers, a. re combination of parties to suit the private interests of a few certain young people. In the midstof the bustle and chatter, quick eyes took note of a vehicle Bpinrdng through ibe Dennison lodge gates into the village at a great speed ; and coDversatjon lulled as the thud of the rapid hoofs became distinct. It was not one of the vehicles of the Woo roona cavalcade.

' That yon, Barnes?' called the peremptory voice of MrJ Mackenzie, as a spidery 'buggy, drawn by a powerful pair of horses, whose satin easts shone in the moonlight as brightly as the silver mountings of their -»&«'««, was brought to a standstill in the midst of fhe waiting crowd. ' Yes, sir,*' responded the driver, touching his hat. ' Mr-Primrose's buggy ready V 'Yes, sir.' ' Got a horse, Barnes F ' Yes, sir.' ' AUright Jump down. You can be starting as soon as you like/1 And Colin strode into flie load, took the reins and vaulted into the light carriage, while his groom sprang down and held the restless 'horses' heads. ' Hullo J' exclaimed one and another; ** are you gtrinsr wiflmsP' ^6-e ' Must,' said Mr. Mackenzie. 'Have to get home to night.' ' You' vegot your man with you F' 'Yes. He'B going to ride back. Hell be useful to open gates.'' Then there was a little pause and hush of expectation. It is not too much to say that nine ladies out of ten coveted tiie vacant seat in those springy cushions, under that soft fur-lined apron, with a vehemence that for the moment bordered upon passion. ? To be singled out for honour, at such a time (a dozen women of one's acquaintance looking on to see it), to have such a pleasant and distinguished companion all to one's self tar twelve' 1«ng- miles, to be wafted through the moonlit night by those beautiful horses, driven by one of the crack whips of the eoknry— it was a too charmmg prospect! Grace Brown, oonspieuous in her white flounces, wttbawide-leaved hat4nMepmg one shoulder and curling high up min the air over the other, stood well in front of* the bevy of fair ones, her heartbeat ing with anticipated triumph; while her mother beside her suffered a very fever and anguish of desire and suspense. Could she, dared she, let her child go off unchaperoned with, thin young nun— y«A«iwi'ii of Darriwell, though he was? This was the question that tantalised and tortured fhe archdeacon's wife, who was prond to be a shining light mid grampin io all the ft^wy of her acquaintance, to show them all the jQnng fiiat was genteel and proper. She wrestled with it wildly for a few seconds, and was just mnir-ing mi her Tn^wQ fh»i it might bedonc, seeing that, though' the DarriweS ta«£y would certainly outstrip the oOuaUke the retj wind Smt, they were ostensiblvall of ' ? '.''.- - . -1-- ~ i -?»?'?-. .Vc-.- ?»%— ; ,~-.- _. '. ^i ' ?

! one party, when Colin, whose horses were ready tojunip ! outof their skins with impatience to be off, called, ' Come, Mrs. Primrose, areyou ready ?' and the little minx, holding her husband's hnnAl stepped lightly into the road. Envy, hatred, and malice took possession of the disap pointed ones, and Mrs. Brown, at thehead of them, wasbeside herself with rage. . ' What,' she cried, in a tone which trembled with her irrepref able mortification, ' are you going home with Mr. Mackenzie? at this time of night r alone ?' She was shocked at the contemplated impropriety ; all the ladies were shocked. They had an immediate conviction that they would never have done such a thing. « Unfortunately, I have only room for one,' said Mr. WgAfn7|p ? and his voice was not less stern than Mrs. Brown's. 'You are not afraid I should upset her and break her neck, eh, Jack?' ' No, indeed,' replied the curate, cordially (poor, pur blind creature, how the ladies pitied and despised hnn); 'she's a deal safer with you than she would be with me. To tell the truth, I was a little nervous about taking her through the bush, with all these shadows about and such a lot of stamps. Get in, darling. Wrap yourself up well, if s chilly after the hot room. Don't let her catch cold, Mackenzie.' *' Here,' said Mrs. Dennison, coming forward, ' take my cloud for her. You can keep it, Colin, and give it to me some time when I am over.' Nancy said she was warm enough ; she had a little Indian shawl with her, which was quite sufficient for her needs. But her husband made her take the extra wrap, and stood on the step of the carriage to wind it round her throat, while Mr. Mackenzie arranged the other with a hand disengaged for the purpose. In the clear moonlight the whole process was watched with keen attention. ' Poor Mr. Primrose,' exclaimed Lottie, with sarcastic pity (she had a kind heart, but her tongue was shrewd, and just now she was in honour bound to take her injured sister's part). ' Poor Mr. Primrose. He may take his chance. It doesn't matter if he breaks his neck over ihe stumps, does it P' Nancy started and flushed. She turned to her husband, holding out her hand. ' You will take care of yourself, Jack?' she urged, anxiously. 'You will have some one with you who knows the track well? 1 thought you were going to let Mr. Prendergast drive you.' ' So I am,' he replied, ' unless you will trust yourself to my escort, Miss Lottie,' turning to the young lady who had just seemed to show so kind an interest in his wel fare. Charlotte laughed and said she was much obliged, but her neck was as precious to her family as Mr. Primrose's was to him. ' Or Miss Grace, perhaps ?' suggested the curate, gal lantly, continuing to blunder in his innocent man's way. 'Thank yon, Mr. Primrose,' interposed Mrs. Brown, her voice ringing clear and majestic over the heads of the crowd; ' not my daughters, if you please— at this time of night. A lady should be with her proper guardians at such a late hour, if she is out at all. Do you know '—with portentous solemnity — ' that it will be midnight before we can reach home?' Mr. Primrose was silent, puzzled to catch the drift of this proposition. The archdeacon was heard advising his Maria, in a gruff undertone, not to be a fool. Mr. Mac kenzie flicked his horses and made them suddenly stand on their bind legs. Nancy sat very still in her seat, while floods of unaccustomed blushes poured all over her little frame. ' I think I had better go home with Jack,' she whis pered, timidly touching her companion's arm. JBut it was too late now. The horses were sporting and plunging with excitement and wild impatience ; if they had not been let go they would have smashed the buggy. ' Gut of the road !' shouted Colin savagely ; and men and women scattered to right and left, brief good-nights were spoken, there was a clatter and a cloud of dust, and the pair were gone — Mr. Mackenzie, the handsome and fasci nating, and that wicked little flirt who never could behave herself in any man's company. The rest of the party knew they would see them no more that night, and were a prey to the darkest forebodings. Twelve miles through the lone bush! — and at that hour! — and not even so much as a groom with them ! Alas, alas ! and she a clergyman's wife, too, and her husband their own curate ! While her reputation was being torn to rags and tatters Nancy leaned back in her comfortable seat and wondered what she had done. She was a little chatterbox, as we know, and her tongue had been going the whole evening almost without cessation ; but now she was silent — she had nothing to say. . Colin drove fast, with a set frown on his face, guiding his fiery pair along the narrow, winding track mechanically, with the wonderful precision of an accomplished whip and bushman. The night was as sweet as night could be ; but the beauty of it, the pleasure they had anticipated from their drive, was spoiled for both of them. ' What could she mean ?' said Nancy at last, in a low, troubled voice, very different from that in which she usually 6poke. ' If I had been a girl like Grace and Lottie it might not have been proper ; of course I know that ; but I am married. It is quite proper for me. She must have forgotten that I was married.' ' She is a brute,' said Colin, viciouslv. ' Don't worry yourself about her— don't waste a thought on such vulgar nonsense. I wish I'd carried you off a little quicker, that's all. How do you feel P Are you comfortable ? Are you warm enough r' He drew her wraps about her more closely. 'Are you tired? You look tired.' ' Yes, I am a little tired,' she admitted, gently ; and she sighed as she leaned back in her corner. She was not happy. The rod had struck her, and she was bruised from the blow.