Chapter 162819597

See chapter in newspaper

Chapter NumberVIII
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1885-11-14
Page Number1038
Word Count3521
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser (NSW : 1871 - 1912)
Trove TitleA Little Minx. A Sketch
article text


A Little Minx.


By A. C.


Thus did the little ninx commence her work of concilia andshewentonasshebegan. Mr. Prendergast, when hymnbook subject was closed, and she meekly asked im -what she was to do, bade her hear the class their catechism. She opened her prayerbook accordingly, ranged the little fellows —all of whom -had tho iinnression that

school was a sort of game of play to-day — around her, and made them repeat the time-honoured formula, while she endeavoured to explain its meaning as they went along, as Jack had instructed her to do. ' Now, you know,' Mrs. Brown heard her say (catching the sense if not the words), when the 'duty towards thy neighbour'* was being dealt with, 'this catechism was written a good many years ago, when people wore not all free men as they are now- You don't have any 'betters' in these days, and ? lowly' isn't quite the word to use. No, you are just to bo honest and kind, and not mean and selfish — don't you eee ?— and no persons are your betters Just because they are richer or higher up in tho world than you, unless they have become so by being more industrious. They are not better at all. But you know that, you Aus tralian boys ; your fathia-s have told you all about that. It is only the pood people who are better than the bad people — that's all. And to do your duty in the state of life to which it has pleased God to call you — that is all very well, of course ; but you must try to get into other states of life — to work hard, and learn everything, and keep always tiding and pushing on, and not be too contented. Content ment is a very bad thing ; it means laziness and stupidness, and laziness is the worst sin that little boys can be guilty of, or very nearly the worst.' By-and-by the Archdeacon strayed round to the shady comer, interested to Bee the young teacher's head bent jlown, and her pupils all clustered round her lap, listening to something she was telling them with rapt attention. He peeped over her shoulder and saw her Spanish fan spread out upon her knee. He inclined his ear and dis covered that she was giving the little boys a graphic and blood-curdling description of the bull-fight thereon de picted. ' Well,' he said, feeling that he ought to remonstrate, but not finding it in his heart to do so, 'how are you getting on i' ' Oh, very well, thank you,' she leplied, sweetly. '? I am just telling them a little story.' ' I hope they have not been troublesome ? ' frowning at the little boys, who did not attempt to conceal then- dis ' gust at the interruption. 'Not at all; they are good as gold.' And she patted the nearest curly head with her pretty hand. ' ' That's light,' said the Archdeacon ; and he passed ( on to speak to his Mife, who had peremptorily beckoned ; him. . i 'Joeiah,' said Mrs. Brown, 'I must insist on Mrs. Primrose being made to teach those children properly. , You have no idea how Bhe has been going on. It is per- ; fectly shocking.' ; . ' Oh, my dear,' said the Archdeacon, apologetically, ? ?' she is new to it yet. She hasn't got into the 'way of it, . Prendergast will tell her. He's a very good superintendent, , you know, and we oughtn't to take those things out of his ? hands.' . ; ' Mr. Prendergast isan idiot,' said Mrs. Brown. ' And,' , she added (ehe tried to restrain herself, but could not), 'so , are you. I shall talk to Mr. Primrose about her.' Josiah stole away, and soon after the signal was given for closing the school. The marks were set down, the tickets and cards distributed, and other matters of routine attended , to. Grace returned to the harmonium, and the List hymn was given out : , - ; Standing by a purpose true, , 1 Heeding Godfe command, nonour them, thte faithful few, { All hail to Daniel's band! j Chorus. . . Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone ! ' Dare to have a purpose fimil ?'-. . ! Dare to make it known ! ?'- 1 This was a favourite hymn in the Church of England * Sunday-6choolatWooroona,asitisinsomeothersdiatlcould' ' name. There was one verse in particular that was con- ' sidered deeply impressive, judging from the emphasis that ' was kid upon it : , . i | IMany giants, great and tall, . - ? - Stalking through the land. Headlong to the earth would fall ? , . If met by Daniel's band! j Nancy sang with the others, in a clear and sweet soprano, but ( her eyes laughed at the superintendent as ehe did so. They , said, as plainly as eyes could speak, ' How can you tolerate j bucIi nonsense ?' And the question was sufficiently con- , fusing to call the colour to the youthful cheek of Mr. Pren- ( dergast. ? . ? i But Mrs. Brown, intercepting the roguish glance and j the answering blush, saw — well, saw much more than there j was to see, as is the way of jealous women. She commu- j ideated her impressions to the -Archdeacon some half-dozen j hours later. ' '' . .^ 3 ''If tliere is one thing more- than another that makes me , sick,' she remarked vehemently, 'it is to see married ] women ogling young men. It is bad enough when young , girls do it, thank goodness, our dear children don't know , the A B C of such practices! I trust in heaven they . never will- and they shall not if I can prevent it. Ah, J poor Mr. Primrose, I'm sorry for him. If 6 a pity the ( bishops don't exercise some authority over those young men j in matters of that kind ; it would be all the better Cor them j and for the Church at large. They should either not be , allowed to marry until they Attain years of discretion, or it , should, be insisted that they make a proper choice, and not j bring scandal on the. cloth, as they do now.' j The Archdeacon, in his shut sleeves, with his sacerdotal « waistcoat unbuttoned, was winding liis watch at the dress- - ing-table ; he listened to his wife in silence until this ope- j ratioa was concluded, and then mildly asked her what she 1 was talking about. „ .. .. , .. ] 'What am I talking about ?' ehe repeated, with quick i anger, as if he had prodded her with a pin. 'You know i very well what 1 am talking about— that little vulgar minx, - Mrs. Primrose, and her goings-on this afternoon — making j eyes at Mr. Prendergast right across the room — after flirt* t ing with him the whole of schooltinie. . A pretty example t for the children, truly 1 I never was more shocked and t disgusted in my life.' f I The' Archdeacon had known all along what she meant, c and) so was not agitated by thi6 explanation. He said he t didn't think Mrs. Primrose was vulgar. i 'No, I dare say not — I dare say not;' retorted Mrs. 1 Brown, with scorn. ' Tour tastes and mine are very dif- r ferent, Josiah, in many things. I like to see a woman and t s, clergyman's wife modest and gentle and well-bred. I g like to 'see her thinking of her duty and* her husband, and devoting herself to them.' a 'Ob, «o do I,' returned the Archdeacon, withevi- i dent sincerity. ' You and I are perfectly agreed so \ far ns that goes, Maria. You express mv sentiments t exactly.' ' t *' laen, why do you encourago her to be so bold and s impudent ? You— ;a man of your age, and a father of i gipwn up children — why do you let her behave so and do c nothing to check her V \ ' My dear, it is not my business ? ' i -' Not your business, and you an archdeacon, and she t the wife of your own curate !' I ' And, even if it were, I see nothing wrong with her be- t haviour. She is just young and iighthearted, and she i hasn't been used to our ways— that's all. As to making eyes, yon shouldn't say such things, Maria; you shouldn't, i

indeed. Her eyes are bright and merry, and— and bo on; she can't help that. There's no impudence, as you call it, either in them or her. She'6 as simple and innocent as a child.*' ' Simple and innocent !' echoed the virtuous matron, with one of her curdled smiles. ' I'll take care she doesn't contaminate my children with her simplicity and innocence, and so I tell you plain! v, Josiah. Oh, what blind bats you men arc! She knows how to manage you, simple and innocent as she is. Simple and innocent, indeed '.' and the curdled smile fermented into a laugh. The Archdeacon began .to grow nervous and anxious. 'Now — now, really, Maria,' he stammered earnestly, 'I'm sure you don't know what you're saying. You are just put out with her for some reason' or another — you've got a grudge against her ? ' ' I beg your pardon— not at all,' she interrupted. ' Pray don't run away with that idea. She has grossly insulted me, but that I don't take the least notice of. I am only thinking of mv children, whom I have striven bo hard to bring up well ; and I tell you I will not have them exposed to evil influences. Other mothers will feel as I do. I'm sure, if Mrs. Hardcastle knew what she was ? ' 'My good woman, don't be so absurd,' said the Arch deacon, who had been grave, but now laughed irrepressi bly. 'Hetty Hardcastle is old enough to be Mrs. Prim rose's mother*; and as for Grace and Lottie, why they must have been pretty big children when she was born. It isn't likely they'll any of them go to school to her at this time of day. And ' — taking courage from the sound of his own voice — 'I should nave thought that you, Maria, being a mother yourself, would have been glad to be kind to her — so far away from everybody belonging to her as she is.' 'I have been kind to her,' said Mrs. Brown, who, her toilet completed, was just about to say her prayers. *'l would be Jdnd to her, but she won't let nie. She delights in flinging my kindness back in my face.' 'well, at least, you need not try to injure her. Now, do promise, Maria, not to go Baying things about her to Mrs. Hardcastle and the people of the parish — do, as a favour to me.' ' I shull say what I think right, Josiah. I shall do what 1 believe to be my duty. And 1 shall tell the truth, as I have always done,' said Mrs. Brown. After which she knelt down at her bedside and became absorbed in her devotions. Chapter IX. Mrs. Brown fulfilled her by no means obscure threat. She confided to Mrs. Hardcastle her grief and anxiety in that the new curate's wife was not only an irreligious person, with no respect whatever for sacred things, but a woman, whose ' moral tone' was such as to render her a most un desirable companion for well-brought-up girls. She did not do this afi at once, nor use the forcible language to which the i Archdeacon was accustomed ; she merely dropped a hint as occasion offered, in the interests of truth and duty, that an unsuspecting friend and fellow-mother might be put upon her guard. But the seed she sowed was of that kind which seldom or never falls upon barren ground, and she knew what she was doing and made a good guess as to what die results would be. Mrs. Hardcastle was an old woman, with a natural dis taste for youth and cheerfulness, and what she called 'carnal things' generally. She was relentlessly pious, after the grim old jPjiritan pattern, and implacably hostile to all forms of religious belief and practice mat differed from her own. She loved to wear crape; she wept frequently; she was a prophet of disaster-arid doom compared with whom Jeremiah would have been nowhere; and, though not such a power as she desired to be in her own household, she had much influence and authority (as the female head of a leading family) in local church matters. Consequently she was quite ready to listen to Mrs. Brown and to see Nancy as she saw her, especially as Nancy had already incurred her disapprobation by playing tennis and wearing a white dress with blue ribbons on it, as also by fraternising with Mr. Hardcastle and the Miss HardcaBtles (who, in the opinion of the wife and mother, were of the non-elect, fore ordained to condemnation) instead of with her. And she was so unsparing in her denunciations of Mrs. Primrose's wickedness and wantonness as to shock Mrs. Brown herself, who, 'if she hated one thing more than another,' hated coarseness. For some time these two ladies were Nancy's only ene mies, but it was not long before others were added to the number, which increased rapidly. The charm of novelty wore off her, as it had worn, off the Browns. WAoroona grew accustomed to her pretty face and her pretty clothes ; the enthusiasm of admiration for (them and her sub sided. Bnt while the female members of the congregation thus assigned to her her ' proper place,' the men only made more and more of her — exalted her higher and higher over the heads of their own native womankind. They did not Bool as time went on ; on the contrary, they waxed warmer. The more they saw of her the prettier they thought her, and. the grace of her becoming garments sever palled upon them. The natural consequences snsued. . ;. ' : First Hetty, the eldest .Miss Hardcastle, a plain woman af 35, who -wore schoolgirl frocks and her hair in a fringe, wm driven to desperation by the open slights of Dr. Debenham, who hi years gone by had been attentive to her, but now did not so much as see her of his own accord ; and the fire being kindled she spake with her tongue, very much as her mother did, and to the same purpose, choos ing Miss Debenham as her confidante, who was not only neglected by her brother, but by Mr. Prendergast also, as she had never been before Mrs. Primrose came. Then Mrs. Lloyd, who had recently been a bride herself, but was low (or should have been) an interesting young mother, felt it haid that her jncomparable baby should be ignored in society because everybody's interest was centred npon iho curate's wife, and that that young lady should have men as well as women to her afternoon teas while she had ao callers save Apse of .her own sex. The bankers' wives bad similar grievances, particularly 'Mrs. Grimshaw, of the London Chartered, who had once been a beauty, and, or course, believed herself to be sostQl. Mrs. Arnold was a jood, kind-hearted creature, but possessed by a keen and deetuess jealousy of every -woman to whom her husband moke; and that perfidious man* not only spoke to Mrs. Primrose whenever he got a chance, but openly betrayed bis enjoyment of the prohibited pastime.* And Grace and Charlotte Brown, pre-eminent in all respects as they had dways believed themselves, and, like Mre. Grimshaw, still relieved with unabated confidence, ' moving- in society ' [ike Juno's swans (to which they had once been likened), xrapled and inseparable — what trials had not they to bear -n account of that little minx? When they suggested taking her to Darriwell to return Mr. Mackenzie's call, she told &em carelessly that she had already been; and when Mr. Mackenzie came into Wooroona he made her drawing room his bourne and not theirs. When they went out of m evening they were no longer received like Crown Prin jesses, and were unceremoniously relegated to the back ground the moment she appeared ; and she was taken into supper before them and placed at the host's right hand, hough she was only a curate's wife and they Archdeacon's laughters. ' If they went to a tennis party, she was sure to jlay best and beat them, and the men almost fought with -ne another to get her for a partner ;. and when they put on heir smart white frocks of pique or checked muslin, she lever failed to cut them out with lawn and valencienncs. these may^seem very trivial matters to my gentlemen coders (if *I am honoured with such), but every lady reader rill recognise their real importance, and understand the gravity of the situation, Nancy did not understand it. Hardened little sinner that ihe was, with her readv wit and quick perceptions, she did lot see the enormity of her offences, as expressed in the -oiled eves of her female friends. As a married woman, enderly attached to her dear Jack, best of men and hus tands, she fondly imagined herself as privileged to do as heukedandassafe from vulgar gossip as her own grand nother at home ; indeed, she took it so much as a matter of iourse that she never even thought about it. It was the ray she had been brought up. And she had not the least dea of the sort of punishment she had incurred. While he rod was a-pickling she amused herself as usual, only a Teat deal more than usual ; for she and Jack had taken heir house, and she had all the delightful work of fitting t up to occupy her. The Mayor himself owned the house, a charming six roomed weatherboaid cottage, with bow windows, creepers,

and a garden round it, and lei to the young couple a) two thirds its previous rent, ' in consideration of Mr. Prim rose being a clergyman,' he said, but ' in consideration of Mrs. Primrose being the clergyman's wife' everyone else said ; and he papered every room for them, put up cup boards, stained floors, built a bathroom, and otherwise con sulted the convenience of his tenants regardless of expence and in defiance of those cherished business principles whereby he had made his fortune. And then Mr. Mackenzie sent a man from Darriwell to do odd jobs ; and the lawyers, doctors, and bankers dropped in to help, and were to be seen with their coats off hammering nails and moving the furniture about by all who passed by. Xancy had a great many ideas to carry out, and Jack was not only useless as a mechanic, but absorbed in tile business of the parish, which demanded all his time and .strength ; so she was very glad to avail herself of the assistance of those ?'dear, kind fellows,' as she called them, who were so goodnatured and thoughtful . as to offer it; and she did avail herself of it freely, without a scruple. Very happy they were, too, as thev muddled about, flushed and perspir ing, in the midsummer heat, to get that little cottage into order — into the sweet and dainty order that she liked, and which was ever after associated with it (and is to this day, though a butcher lives there now). Never had she liked the ' Wooroona people,' as she mistakenly described them in her glowing letters to her sisters, so much as in this merry time when they worked like cab horses in her ser vice, so patient, so zealous, so conscientious, so untiring ; and never before had they thought her so charming as she showed herself under these homely circumstances, trotting about in a big white apron and with her sleeves turned up, carrying great armf uls of books and treasures from room to room, looking on with delighted satisfaction at their labours for her, and brewing them delicious tea and shandy gaff and other nice and refreshing things when they were thirsty. * And so she treasured up unto herself wrath against the day of wrath, not knowing what she did. She laughed and chatted all the time more light-heartedly man ever, having no prevision of her fate. Only the men sometimes looked a little grave.