Chapter 162818922

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Chapter NumberXII
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162818922
Full Date1885-11-28
Page Number1162
Corrections0
Word Count3944
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

giCTlffl.

A Little Minx. A SKETCH.

BtA.C.

Chapteb. XII.

Sot Nancy was too young, and her spirits too light and elastio, to be long depressed under each circnm stances as then Bumnmded her. The breezy night, the lovely moon shine, the novelty of her position — sitting at ease in that luxurious bnggy and watching the graceful action and marvellous evolutions of those noble horses— looking up at the rustling branches overhead, and the opossums Bcuny ing away as they crashed past — elated her buoyant little soul in spite of herself ; or, rather, in spite of Mrs. Brown. Soon she felt refreshed and revived by the influences about

her, and began to chatter and enjoy herself as before. And then the frown departed from Mr. Mackenzie's face, and he too felt happy. They talked, of England and their old Continental experiences, and Nancy charmed her companion with sundry naive and graphic descriptions of the pleasures »f her past life. 44 Oh,' she said, while telling him of a ball in Vienna — a ball rendered ever memorable by the attentions of an Austrian count (though she did not Bay that) ; ' how I should love to have a dance again ! I suppose it is very wrong to say so, now that I am married to Jack ? ' *? Stuff !' interrupted Colin, with energy. 'But I can't help It. I do love waltzing — It is in my flood, I think. Tea meetings are all very well ; I'm sure J never thought there was 60 much fun in them as we found to-night ; but, oh, I should like to go to a nice ball jace more?' It was not the first time she had given utterance to this mundane aspiration. He had heard her say as much before and hod remembered it. 'Well,' he said, 'it so happens that I am thinlriTig . of giving a ball at Darriwell, pretty soon, before it gets too hot, you know. The fact is, I-went over to see Mrs. Dennison on purpose to ask her advice and help about it. I thought it would be only civil to these people, who are always asking me to their houses, and I thought — I thought, perhaps, you would like it.' ' Oh, I should, I should 1' said Narcy, fervently. ' But, you see, I must have a lady to preside, and the Dennisons are going to New Zealand next week for the whole summer. I hoped to have got Kate Dennison ; she is my own cousin, and she is a splendid hostess. But now the can't come.' 44 What a pity. But still ? ' *' I won't have any of these Wooroona women, especially after the way they ? ahem ! In short, there's nobody I'd have in Kate's place — except you. And if you presidk over all their heads, that old virago of a Mrs. Brown, and those others that are almost as bad as she is, will befit to tear you limb from limb.' Nancy laughed merrily. 'I don't care,' she said, ** if you don't. I'm not afraid of them. I 6hould just lore it.' 44 'Would you really? So you think it wouldn't be too too unpleasant for you, afterwards V' ' Why should it be made unpleasant for me ? 16 not Jack your own old college friend? ' 'No; that was Harry.' ' If s all the Bane. Jack is Harry's brother ; they are both Primroses, ana I am one of them. I think it a most natural arrangement. Besides,' laughing, ' I do believe I should do it better than they could, though I say it that shouldn't.' 'I am very sure you would,' rejoined Colin, with emphasis. 44 1 should just revel in those lovely great rooms of yours,' she went on, stretching out her hands as if to enjoy the sense of space that the idea suggested ; 4- I should fancy myself a great lady for once, and that would be charming. I have often wanted to know what it felt like. And I have got a really sweet dress. I was afraid I should never have a chanoe to wear it. A pale blue satin, covered all over with white Lice, with fan, and shoes, and everytfringto match. Oh, you must let me bo the mistress, if Mra. Dennison can't come.' ' All right, X will,' said Colin. ' It is what I wanted from Hie first, only I was afraid to ask you.' And at the very next full moon, less than a month later, ? Mr. Mackenzie did have his ball— the first large entertain ment he had given since his wife's dcath(and she was a proud woman, who would' not 'mix' with tha Wooroona people) ; and Nancy Primrose was the lady of The house for the occasion. She and Jack went to Darriwell the day before, and stayed there till the day after, and all the great establishment was at her disposal as if it had been her own. The insult thus put upon Mrs. Brown, who was the Arch _ deacon's wife, amd upon Mrs. Hard castle (not that she * would have countenanced such sinful frivolity, but still it was due to her to be asked), who had nursed Colin as a baby, and known his mother, and upon the other matrons of the district, who for years had lived there and been his friends, was not discovered until the great night arrived; when the sight of Nancy in her blue satin at the ball-room dopr.attended by their host aadatitled globe-trotter who was staying with him, and Mr. MaekenEieTs murmured remark to one and another that ' Mra. Primrose, his old friend Jack's wife,, had been eo kind as to come and help him,' revealed the state of things. And then was Nancy, indeed, torn limb from limb, and shred into little bits, if not by savage tooth and naiL by the more cruel weapons of jealous women's tongues. Itt needed but this to complete the measure of her iniquities. She was a radiant vision in her young, fair beauty— she had never been more fatally attractive ; and they called her opprohious fllftfrirgi «'*''«, which ii»i-l»«j that foa men frho admired her (and they did, every one of them, and eould not conceal tike fact) were the victims of unholy spells. She wore a delicious dress, made to perfection and suiting her marvellously; and they said the cut of her bodice was positively indecent and that the pearls round her white neck wen sham ones. She danced every dance {no matter who sat out, she waa never without a partner) ; and they wondered to one another what the bishop would say if he could eee the wife of one of his clergy going on in that way! She gave order* to the servants with a cool Msuranee and assumption of authority that plainly showed she- waa more familiar with Mr. Mackeasie and his house titan she should be. And she laughed and chattered in sueh an extraordinary manner -' rowdy,' Mra. Brown called her ; she was sorry to sally her lips with such a vul gar expression, but really it was the only word that could describe Mrs, Primroses conduct), and. her eyes were so bright, and her cheeks were eo Hushed, that it was very evident «h« fa-fl ff»Vgn more flnwnipBgiift than was good for her. Three separate I'-'fs did Mrs'. Brown see the bufler fln tar glass at supper, *iid who was to tell how much she hi»clTiflfl ^nrfog flff, evening P In short, the rod was pickled' enough, by tide time, and' it was now laid on with at least 20-woman power. 'We all know what one vindictive female can do in the way of humbling a rival, if she makes up her mind to it; thesya * tematio combination of a score of them is' amply urresiBti fck. An archangel could i»t stand up against it It Is no cm toaay, in such a case, that innocence will vindioate stedf and that right will triumph mner or later! that is Bonsense-^theycbtio such thing. From thathoor Nancy's iatew« twaled, «adnoene(ofallthwe BHm*h«»e kmd hearts bled with pity *or her.jmd wh»4id indeed laakethe fives of their wives and daughters a burden, to 4hem fta- her ^jfcs when opportunity offered) was able to aave her - 8h»feeeame vaguely 'anpopular' (and how much Chat word means only a woman can tell); the people whodid not know her personally , and were unacquainted with her spe^ ?ifie crime*, ana there never was smoke without fire, and ,ttat Mrs. Primrose would not be so generally diaUkei if there was not good cause for it She found herself treated with open neglect— gradually cokl-ahoaldered out of all ??defy save that of the poor cottage folk; and they looked askance at her, fcarisgdroak attbewollof local gossip, like everybody else. All the country aide heard. and spake ef her with raised eyebrows and equivocal miles or une qwafial shakes of fte head; eren^he msbop, in his palace Jinndred&of miles off, sighed and wondered what hesnould dt wita poor young PrimroBe— Jww be could reconcile U

with his conscienee to afflict any parish with such an incubus as that -unfortunate wife — whom hehadnever seen, but who, he was told (on the test authority) was a dissolute and godless woman, who drank. jChaftbb. XIII. Nancy's enemies did not leave her in doubt as to the nature of the charges they preferred against her, and, though she was very-Mll©f oamprehsasion at first, whenshe did understand the ipw'»c of their dark hints and strange actions, she was stricken with shame and pain to her feearrs core. She was crushed as completely as they could have desired. They would have had seme mercy (beisg, .in truth, fairly good natored women, when their better f ee&ngs wen appealed to) had she shown hsw deeply she felt her hurt — had she humbled herself, in short, to admit defeat; but this she wsnld not do, by any means. She was a little person of spirit and temper, and she behaved accordingly. She gave sundry pieosB of her mind to them, as occasion offered; she contemned their vulgarity, their coarseness, their small-mindedness (all flu unladylike vices that they were certain they did not possess) in terse and vigorous language that was not easily forgotten, and that could not be remembered without a sting. She walked about disdain fully, with her head up in the air ; she still came to church in the most charming dresses (as winter approached, in a real and lovely sealskin jacket) ; and, while she coolly re garded the ladies between the eyes or over the tops of their bonnets, she smiled — gravely, it is true, but with unabated friendliness — full in the faces of ihe gentlemen when they took of their hats to her. Consequently the ladles hated her without scruple, and persecuted her without remorse. Nothing else was to be expected. But, though she kept so brave a front to the foe, ehe bled inwardly, in a way they had no idea of. She could have borne some of. the affronts that were put upon her, without serious suffering. The Btory that she 4- took too much ' (originated by Mrs. Brown in the Darriwell ball room, but nevermore to die out while the name of Primrose was re membered) made her angry enough, but also set ber laugh ing immoderately ; and the accusation of being irreligious she considered (or said she considered) rather a compliment than otherwise, coming from a lot of such self -religious Pharisees. But the scandal that wasjnore peculiarly scan dalous—the deadly arrow that a woman's hand can speed so well, and which always makes its worst wound in the health iest flesh— went home to the quick, and festered and rankled night and day, and poisoned all her piece. Innocent little flirt that she was, made so by nature and not by art, mean in g no harm by her conscious fascinations and unconscious blandishments — brought up in the decorous freedom of a well-ordered English middle-class house — she tasted the fruit of the tree of vicious knowledge for the first-time in her life, and it disagreed with her terribly. Not only was she overwhelmed with the outrageous wrong that was done her, but she had no wholesome trust in herself anymore. Men were no longer the pleasant comrades they had -been ; eke smiled at them still, because she could not help it, but she shrank from them too. All her intercourse with them and with the world was spoiled, and the flavor of life was taken away. Added to this trouble, which fretted the colour from her cheeks, and the flesh from her bones, was another — no less active in its ill effects. She did not suffer alone ; her dear Jack was a vicarious victim, in spite of her assertion that he could never be made accountable for her misdeeds. When she said that, she didn't know what die was talking about He was as de voted to her as ever, and as inordinately proud of her ; he never saw a fault in her, nor supposed that anyone eke did or could, and Nancy was incapable of the cruelty of open ing his dull eyes, merely to have the comfort of his sym pathetic indignation. His reading of the situation was that colonial people were different from English people, the two being unfitted to get on together, and that Mrs. Brown was a more than ordinarily pronounce* specimen of the typical incumbent's wife. If he had any clearer in sight into the state of things, he did not acknowledge it. But it was plain to him and to everybody that he did not 'get on.' Nobody fraternised with him, nobody courted him ; he plodded through his work without encouragement and without enthusiasm, and every time he sought change and preferment lie was unsuccessful — churchwardens and vestrymen and ? facing families unanimously declining him with thanks on behalf of their respective parishes, and if ho did not know why he was alone in bis ignorance. Nancy knew rihere were plenty of hints in the air which she could understand if£he. could not), and she sufferred accordingly, sometimes raging in futile wrath against her and her dear Jack's enemies, and sometimes blaming herself heartbrokenly for not being what a minister's wife should be, and having thereby caused all their joint misfortunes. In short, she fell upon evil days (as this is only a sketch of her experiences at Wooroona I will not describe them further), whiah lasted in gray uniformity from the early summer, when Mr. Mackenzie gave his ball, to the middle of the winter afterwards; and then it seemed to- her that the last gleam of light 'was finally quenched out of her life, and mat she and happiness bade good-bye for ever. Jack got wet through, one stormy Saturday night, when riding home, fagged and weary, from his crash services; caught a severe cold that he could not get rid of; was laid up for a few weeks, and — suddenly and just when she thought he was beginning to get over* it— died. People had got accustomed to hie fragile looks and his constant cough ; they regarded his frequent colds (for he always called them colds) as incidental to winter weather and the habits of his profession. .Seeing him constantly, they did not mark the gradual fining away of flesh and gradual increase «f hectic colour, the lower and lower droop of narrow shoulders, the deeper and deeper hollowing of bony temples ;and eye sockets ; and when they heard, a week after his wetting and a month before his death, that he was confined to the house, unable to take duty as usual, they were sorry but not anxious, and certainly not alarmed. They said he never would take proper care of himself, and that he ought net to have ridden home in the rain ; he should hive stayed where he was till morning. And they further said that it was all the fault of that little minx, who demanded his return every night for her own satisfaction, and never thought of the unnecessary fatigues that she laid upon him. So that it was a painful surprise and shock to them to find, a few days later, that his case was considered serious, and its subsequent termination filled them with genuine grief. On {hat very Sunday of his first absence from church, Dr. and Mrs. Lloyd, returning home from evening service, found Nancy in their sitting room, pacing rapidly tip and down. She had on an ordinary house dress and a garden hat, no gloves, no 'seal skin jacket — only an old woollen comforter of Jack's to protect her from the outdoor cold; and her eyes were swelled and sodden with recent tears. 4'0h,' she said, when the doctor appeared, 'will you- come and see him? he is so ill! 'He says he is not, but I know he is. He is in pain— my poor boy! and he breathes ss badly. For two nights he has had no &leep& and I can't bear to see him going on Uke that and getting no better. It breaks my heart. Oh, do, do come ''^ do something for him.' 41 Why didnt you send for me before f' asked the doctor. He was looking at her with both friendly and professional eyes, noting everything at a glance. She was worn and paltL. .wanting the pretty T^pom and brightness that was her. special grace; butliB thought her,' in' her wifely hive and grief, more charminr than #wpv.- 'You have not been tnVfnp care of your aB&Uh,*Mhe said, jitdckly. ' You will yngyy yourself '*. ** yritt ^oirtittitttt?^ c * ' On, never mind me,' said Nancy, impatiently; ** It is him we most think of.' - . « You should not have come out in those thin, shoes, with the roads as damp as they are. ? We shall have you laid up to a dead certainty, if you are not more careful,' which seemed to him a far more serious misfortune than anything that could happen to Jack. 'Never nund, nevermind,' she repeated. 'Will you come and see him now. Dr. Lloyd F He would not give me leave to call yon. in before.' 'Certainly; certainly,' -he responded;' 'when I have ; got you a glass of wine and something more to put on,' and ' he whispered to his wife, who nodded and flashed out of the room, and. swiftiy returned with a fur-lined cloak and a pair 'of goloshes. ' ': And did Mrs. Uoyd object to see her husband lavishing these attentions upon Mrs. Primrose P-r-to see him preparing to dep^ with a^akiiw into toe dart night? Not at all. TP|«TT_.hpf*T)JL ffl^jff', .- yy? ^noharjfableneas, dissolved into uutt y11*^ fl**ft fljuflPPfflr^ * llflt a Icbcc of tbem remained

from this moment. She put her arms round her rival and kissed her, and rubbed her cold hands, and covered her with remorseful caresses. ' You poor, poor little thing,' she murmured, compas sionately ; ' you have been in all this trouble and we have known nothing about it, and have not been near you to help you! What a lot ef hardhearted wretches you must think us! But, indeed, I'd no idea that yourhusband was really ill ; I should have come to you at once, yon know, if I had. Go with her. Evan— go and see how he is, and come and tell me. Ana if he wants sitting-up with, I'll sit up with him, dear ? ^ &c. . Nancy's persecution wasjat an end . Friends cropped up on all odes, like mushrooms after an April rain; she saw, heard, felt them, whichever way she turned ; she was over whelmed with kindness. Mrs*. Lloyd left her precious baby to a nnrsemaid while she spent whole days and nights in the sickroom; Hetty Hardcastle and Miss Debenham and Mrs. Arnold and Mrs. Grimshaw, trotted to and from the curate's cottage at all. hours, carrying broths and jellies and flowers, and everything in the shape of an offering that they could think of, and displaying the most touching anxiety to make themselves of use. Grace and Lottie Brown brought daily messages ef advice from their mother, who only did not come herself because she had not been paid the com pliment of being asked, her dignity requiring the observ ance of that little formality ; and ' kind inquiries,' accom- - panied by tittle notes of condolence or encouragement, kept the maid-of -all- work continually running to uie door. As for the men, of course they were not wanting in_ fitting: attentions at such a time! The two doctors (neither of whom intended to take a farthing fee for their trouble') were in and out at the shortest intervals, and certainly attended to poor Jack in away thatjwould have kept him from dying, had there been any sort of chance for him. Colin Mac kenzie came daily to see and sit with his old friend, and to search with his keen eyes for every chink of an opportunity into which he could thrust his powerful hand, full of in fluence and money, to contrive a lightening of the trouble that he could not take away. The Archdeacon was always calling 'on his way' somewhere — 'happening to look in' — to see how things were going on, and to impress upon Nancy that she was not to let Jack worry himself about parish matters ; which was his idea (and a very good one too) of cheering both nurse and patient ; while the bankers and lawyers, who were shy of appearing in person lest they should seem to be troublesome, asked fifty times a day (of everybody they met in the street) how the curate waa doing, and 100 times a day how poor little Mra. Primrose was keeping up. In short, they were devoted as they had always been, the only difference being that now they could say and do what they liked on that little woman's behalf, and no other woman made any objection. And so Nancy found herself surrounded on all sides by helping hands and sympathetic hearts — motherly bosoms on which to lie and weep, thoughtful heads to plan, and willing feet and fingers to execute whatever might conduce to her sick husband's comfort, and thereby . to her own, insomuch that her soul melted within her for gratitude, and ehedeelared that there never were such kind people in the whole world as the Wooroona people. But Jack died in spite ofall that was done for him. He seemed to rally towards the last— talked of taking that drive on the chance of which Colin had brought his easiest carriage full of furs and down cushions every fine morning for a fortnight — ate quite a large slice of chicken and enjoyed it^-talked of his English home to Nancy, and how he and she would go back there 'some day, and was con fidently assured that convalescence was setting in ; and then suddenly shrank and ««nfrj and went out like a burnt-up candle-wick when it falls into the hollow socket of the candlestick, with hardly a word of warning.