Chapter 162819310

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162819310
Full Date1885-10-17
Page Number830
Corrections0
Word Count3519
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

FICTION.

A Little Btinx, A SKETCH.

By A. C.

Cjiai'TEh I.

Archdeacon Brown wanted a curate — -nothing more. He had everything else that a reasonable archdeacon, in the first freshness of his shovel hat and gaiters, and the first flush of gratified ambition, could desire — for the present. His new parish considered itself one of the best in the diocese ; his congregation was prosperous, intelli gent, liberal, and still aglow with ardent welcome for him and his family ; his parsonage, which that congregation had enlarged and improved on purpose for him, regardless of expense, was the most comfortable house imaginable; and his wife was cheerful and amiable in her new surround ings, calling him 'Archdeacon' whenever she spoke to him (than which no term of endearment had ever been sweeter in his ears when theyjweic young together), and promising to be satisfied at last 'with the state of life to which it had pleased God to call her.' Fer Mrs. Brown, like himself, had not been a contented person ; and her discontent had expressed itself in those feminine 'wavs' which are so

subversive of domestic comfort and nuptial peace — whereas his had made no one unhappy. Perhaps it is unkind to mention the fact that 'both of them had ' risen' — risen such a long way that the very memory of their fathers and mothers was gone beyond recall ; because the new parishionei-s were not aware of the circum stance, and if they had been would have attached no importance to it. Archdeacon Brown was their own arch deacon, the first they had had at Wooroona : and he was also their new incumbent, their new broom, their potential paragon, the long-desired regenerator of the parish, which had suffered from the shortcomings of all his predecessors ; and they would not— at thiB auspicious moment — have heard a word to the discredit of him or his. They opened their arms to him, and to his wife, and to his daughters — they took them all to their hospitable and enthusiastic hearts ; and they did not care what the church debt ran up to so long as the Browns were lodged and provided for in a befitting manner. They doubled the stipend with a stroke of the pen, they enlarged the parsonage to a capacity equal to the accommodation of a boarding-school, reckless of the cortain consequences (in the shape of oft-repeated tea meetings and a weary sequence of bazaars) ; and they gave the archdeacon a new mahogany pulpit with a red velvet cushion on it for him to preach in m church, and for his own use and possession a piano and a drawing-room carpet, a load of wood, a pig, a clutch of chickens, and a house-dog. And they lont him a horse, and they lent him a milch cow; and, in short, they made him as comfortable as cir cumstances permitted. There only remained to procure him a curate, who should take the rough bush-work off his hands, and enable him to conserve his precious strength and utilise it to the best advantage. Inquiries were set on foot, which resulted in the selection of tht Rev. John Primrose for the post. ' I believe,' wrote the bishop to the archdeacon, ' that you will find him just what you want, and I shall be glad, for my part, to place him with you for a year or so in ' order that he may acquire experience and undergo a. proper training in bush work before I entrust him with an independent charge. I fear he is not very strong, for the object of his coming to Australia is to benefit his health, but no doubt your beauti ful climate Mill soon set him up and counteract the slight consumptive tendency that I hear is all he suffers from. My commissary scnds'me the best accounts of his character and abilities. He is a gentleman and an M.A. of Cam bridge, and he has done well during the two years he has been in orders, as you will see by the testimonials I enclose. I expect him by the next moil, and will send him up to you as soon as he arrives. He brings his wife with him.' There was much more in the bishop's letter, treating of stipends and other business matters, but nothing of any interest compared with this paragragh. It was read aloud in the family circle and ereated a great sensation. _ ' His wife ! ' ejaculated Mrs. Brown and her two daughters in a breath, looking at each other. This was the first thing that struck them. 'Dear me,' said the mother with a disconcerted air,

' only two years in orders, and married already !' '? it seems very — queer ,' said Grace, the eldest daughter, expressing the sense of unexpectedness which for the moment pervaded them all, ' Most unnatural,' said Charlotte, the j'oungest, with a gay laugh. ' A curate is always supposed to be at the service and disposal of his incumbent's daughters. I quite looked to have liim to play tennis with, and to escort me out and about, and in due time to offer me his hand and heart.' ' Why you more than me:' demanded Grace, quickly. ' Hush, my dears,' said Mrs. Brown ; ' don't talk non sense. I should liave been veiy sorry to see either of you thinking of marrying a curate. So far it is a good thing that Mr. Primrose is out of the question — his being married will doubtless save us many annoyances. Though I doubt,' looking at her husband, ' whether the parish will approve.' ' I can't see how it con matter to the parish,' said the archdeacon. Mrs. Brown mode no rejoinder; she was very thoughtful. ' And do you think it is a good thing to have a man of that sort i' she presently inquired. 'A Cambridge M.A., you know — some people moke such a fuss of a university degree ? ' ' Oh, they don't know anything of university degrees here — it is all the same to them.' The archdeacon spoke a little irritably, which was not his habit. Having begun his sacerdotal career in the Weslcyan denomination, and never having seen the inside of a university himself, he had a prejudice against univer sity men, and understood his wife's suggestion that there might be objections to having one as his parochial coadjutor. At the same time he was flattered by the hishop'Bchoice, and pleased to be entrusted with the training of Mr. Primrose. ' It is a great thing to have a gentleman to work with you,' he said, smoothing bis silk waistcoat complacently. 14 It is — it is,' assented Mrs. Brown, who hod also recognised the compliment paid to her archdeacon's rank and merits. ' It will make a great difference to us all, as he must necessarily be so much about the house. And if Mb wife is nice,' she added, hopefully, ' it will be pleasant for the girls, very pleasant and convenient in many ways.' They made up their minds that bis wife would be nice — as an ' English. ' lady she was almost bound to be — and that her domestic companionship and parochial assistance would be of the utmost value. They waxed quite fervent in their anticipations of the many ways in which she might be utilised, and of the great acquisition that she would be. And when they had done talking together they went out to return calls and to tell all the leading families of Wooroona about it ' It will be so nice to have a lady who is English,' said Mis. Brown, repeatedly, as she went frjQni house to house; 'the ordinary stamp of curate's wife I really could not have put up with. ' And the leading families, though more or less prejudiced in favour of local produce, as a general ruje, agreed that it was certainly an advantage In a curate's wife to have been brought up at home. They suggested that it might be an advantage in a curate also, 'since colonial clergymen of the archdeacon's pattern were not to be picked up every day. Upon the whole it was manifest that Mrs. Primrose was to be kospit abiy received, though of course not with the eclat that had attended Mrs. Brown's arrival. The air was still resonant with the enthusiasm engendered by that event, and it was too early to get up steam again above a moderate pressure. Chatter II. i She arrived on Saturday evening. In the morning the archdeacon received a letter from her husband, in which that gentleman begged to thank Mrs. Brown for so kindly inviting him and his wife to the parsonage until they could establish themselves in a home of their own, and to inti mate, with polite regrets, that they had made other arrangements. Mrs. Primrose thought it would give less trouble if they went to on hotel at once, and the landlord of the Black bwan had their rooms ready for them. He 'topped to call upon the archdeacon in the evening, and was '??rely at his service for the following day. There was no mu 'tu of travelling arrangements, and altogether the mentu. ., ^ agnate to jfo.. Brown. 7?\jnkt . *'*II't tlie5r oome *° '^ wnen *«ey i110^ we expect them?' die .*&* 'aperiouBly demanded. 'AndW

absurd to go to the Black Swan— as if that was a proper place for them ! As for giving trouble— rubbish ! It is very nice of her to think of that, but she ought to have left me 'to know my o\m business best. If I had thought it a trouble I should not have asked them.' ' Mrs. Brawn was put out by this little act of independence — unseemly independence on the part of young people in their position — and by the frustration of her carefully con sidered plans. Nevertheless, she took a walk to the Black Swan, carrying a bouquet for Mrs. Primrose with her ; saw the landlady, overhauled the two rooms provided for the expected guests, suggested a modest menu for their dinner — dinner having been ordered for 7 o'clock — and was other wise solicitous for their comfort and welfare. She left a message to the effect that she hoped to see them at the par sonage in the evening-, and went home soothed. It was summer weather, and the days were lone. Her daughters were still playing tennis on the new-made lawn, as when she had left them an hour before, though prepara tions for the evening meal were visible through the dining room windows. She sauntered into the garden and sat down to watch them, with a smile on her face ; she thought there were no such handsome or clever girls as hers in all Australia — a natural delusion common to mothers — and was so sure of it that she did not mind saying so when in a confidential mood. Grace was tall, with too wide shoulders and a too small waist, and though her hair, eyes, and com plexion were good, her nose was short and* broad and her lips thick — features that even the blindest mother had to own were ' irregular ' and not usually regarded with ad miration. Mrs. Brown owned it, but with a confident feeling that the whole was perfect if the parts were not. 'What is it,' she would say, 'that makes the child so good looking. You see she has not a regular feature in her face, and yet one must remark her anywhere.' This was the modest way she spoke of Grace to her casual acquaint ances ; in the bosom of the family there were no reserva tions. It was boldly believed and declared that the eldest sister was faultlessly beautiful. She was herself Grace Brown, and any other nose or mouth would have spoiled her. She had no possible rival except Charlotte, the youngest. Mrs. Brown did think Lottie was as pretty as Grace, . when she was playing tennis, ana had a colour. Lottie thought so too— so did Grace. They were a Mutual Admiration Society. Charlotte was rather low in stature, but with a neat slim figure — a better figure than her sister's ; and her hair and eyes were dark, her nose straight, her lips thin, and her skin sallow and blood less. If you had asked the opinion of the leading families of Wooroona, they would have told you that the -Miss Browns — the blonde and the brunette — as they liked to be called — were nice, pretty, pleasant girls. That was the first impression they made upon the place. And so they were ; as nice, pretty, and pleasant as ordinary gills, and no more and no less. But Mrs. Brown, sitting down to look at them, was lost in admiration. She didu't know which of them looked most lovely — in her white cambric frock and with the flush and shine of excitement in her cheeks and eyes. ' Which 'r' the mother asked herself, with a heart beating high ; and it was a large question. It meant a great deal. On one side of the net the girls were playing as partners, and on the other a fine-looking man of 35 was beating them single handed, not because he wished, but because he could not help it. And what Mrs. Brown wanted to know was this : Which of them was most lovely in his eyes ? Which of them will he ask for f . For Mr. Colin Mackenzie was the great man of the parish and neighbourhood, and perhaps within the first half-dozen of the richest men of the colony — a handsome, well-connected, popular young widower, without encumbrance, and with a house that was die show-place of the district — everything in short, that Mrs. Brown could wish for in a suitor for one or other of her incomparable gills, for whom so few were worthy. He was conventionally styled a squatter, but was only so in respect of vast runs in Queensland ; all his noble property of Daniwell, three miles out of Wooroona, was his own. And he had lately returned from a course of European travel, undertaken to distract hi» mind when his first wife died, with an apparent intention to settle himself afresh, and therefore — in the course of nature— to take a second partner when he found one to suit him. The arch deacon's wife had marked him for her own, and so had Grace. 'With that loyalty to one another which was cha racteristic of the family, Lottie forbore to prejudice her sister's interests by any pretensions on her own account. ' Only if he should choose me instead of you, you won't expect me to refuse him, will you Y' she would 'say some times, with her gay laugh. And Grace did not expect it, of course, though she felt it was an unlikely contingency. That he should choose one of them was a settled thing at the Parsonage (for where else would he find a lady so suit able for the position?) and it was a thing that occupied a great deal of anxious attention — as such things mostly do. It had to-be considered in connection with all other matters — even the advent of Mrs. Primrose. A curate's wife, being a wife, was innocuous as a woman, and as a chaperon she was expected to be invaluable. Many a little indulgence might be permitted in her company which the mothers could not countenance without laying herself open to injurious remarks, and many a pleasant little arrangement had been suggested for the furtherance of cherished but unmentioned designs, depending entirely upon the good offices of Mrs. Primrose. ' I have been telling- Mr. Mackenzie,' said Grace, walking by his side towards her mother when the game was over, ' that we are expecting our new curate and his wife to-night; and he says he and Mr. Primrose belong to the same college.' Mr. Mackenzie, who had arrived during her absence at the Black Swan, shook hands with his potential motherin law, while she beamed upon the pair with her maternal eyes. He U6ed to know a Harry Primrose when he was at Trinity, he said, and was told that this one Was Jack, Harry's youngest brother, who had been a schoolboy in those days. All the Primroses went to Trinity. They were a nice family. He had once spent a Christmas at their house, and it was very jolly. ' Indeed,' Mrs. Brown responded, with a broader smile and a little movement of the head — she had elaborate manners in social life, and studied her words and actions with great care, as if on her guard against something— 'that is very interesting. And what kind of boy was he?' ' Oh, a pale, lanky sort of chap. ' We used to think him rather a muff; but then he was only sixteen or so, and his sisters spoiled him. It was ten years ago or more. Of course he is quite different now.' ' I should hope so,' said Mrs. Brown. ' And do you happen to know anything of his wife ?' * ' Nothing at ail. Until Miss Charlotte told me this afternoon, I did not know there was such a person. It seems very absurd — Jack Primrose with a wife.' 'Wot at all,1^ retorted Lottie; 'Why should it bo absurd 'r1 Ithinkitlsverynice. Weareverygladshe is coming and we are going to be very fond of her. And I hope you'll be polite and call upon her and pay her proper attentions. If you do, we will reward you by taking her over to Dorriwell as soon as we can, to spend a long afternoon. You can show us the house and the gardens, and regale us with strawberries and cream, you know. It will give her plesant impression of the country to begin with.' . -'I shall be proud,' said Mr. Mackenzie. 'Though I confess I haven't a great opinion of Jack Primrose's taste. It will be very immature, I fancy.' ' Well, you wouldn't have a man of 26 married to an old woman, would you ? We hope she will be a girl like our selves, so that we can make a companion of her. And of course she will be,' said Lottie. ' J have made up my mind that she will be charming.' ' You had better stay and take tea with us,' said Mrs. Brown, who had rapidly reckoning up. the contents of her larder while this dialoguejhad been going on,' and then you will see her at once. They are to come in at 9 o'clock.' Mr. Mackenzie hesitated, being in some awe of a punc tilious housekeeper, but allowed himself to be persuaded to stay to tea. It was the first time he hod done so, though he hod had several invitations. His horse was put in the stable, he was taken to the archdeacon's room to wash his hands and brush his hair ; and the girls put on their best dresses in bis honour, while b\rs. Brown made hasty and lavish additions to the bill of fare. There was great though unack nowledged rejoicing over the event. No one believed that he had been induced to moke himself so agreeable by the mere prospect of seeing Mrs. Primrose, or of renewing: bis early acquaintance with the Eeverend John. And, after all, Mrs. Primrose did not appear, At 9

o'clock the ladies were in the drawing-room with their guest, the archdeacon having retired to his study to look over his sermon, when the door-bell rang and Mr. Primrose was announced — only Mr. Primrose — a very tall, thin, fair whiskered, delicate looking:, gentle mannered young man, in whom Mr. Mackenzie did. recognise, though with an effort, his schoolboy friend. They made him very welcome; they were glad to sec him ; they liked him ; they kept him Lite, and entertained him with wine and cake and plenty of lively conversation. But they felt aggrieved with him for not having brought his wife, and with her for not coming. ' She was tired after her journey, and was not inclined to to see anyone,' said Mr. Primrose, quite naturally. ' I left her going to bed, I was sure you would not expeet her to come when she was tired.' 'Oh, of course not,' replied Mrs. Brown, 'and I suppose we shall see her some time.' ' Certainly,' he rejoined. ' She will be quite fresh in the morning-, and will come to church with me. It will give her great pleasure to make your acquaintance, I am sure.'