Chapter 162821850

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Chapter NumberIV
Chapter Title
Chapter Url
Full Date1885-10-31
Page Number962
Word Count4247
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. A SKETCH.


Chaptrb IV.

When service was over, the leading families showed no hurry to leave the church. The churchwardens and vestry men felt it their duty to exchange a word with the Arch deacon upon parish matters, which were very pressing and interesting in these early days of his incumbency, and like wise to extend the right hand of fellowship to the new eorate and to give him a sort of semi-official welcome. The wives naturally waited for their husbands, aided and supported them, so that there was quite a crowd of gossips on the footpath between the vestry door and the parsonage

garden gate, and several dinners threatening to spoil before they separated. This had happened every Sunday since the Browns1 arrival ; but Colin Mackenzie, though the leading parishioner of all, had never been one of the lingerers. He did not like a crowd (of that sort), he did not like gossip ('cackle,' as he called it), and he shunned all church business except that of giving money — to the great regret of the Archdeacon — and would on no account be ' let jn ' for any responsibilities in the way of parochial ad inhustration. He was a man of peace, he said, and a long experience had shown him that there were no such quarrel some people as church people when they attempted to work together on behalf of their church. His groom used to slip out ere the last 'Amen' had died away, and put the horses to in a trice ; and the parsonage ladies would hardly be able to get through the vestry before the waggonnctte had vanished in a cloud of dust tip the Darriwell-road. But on this occasion, though the horses were in and all the servants seated in the carriage, the master was in no haste to start. Be seamed to want to say good morning to Mrs. Brown and to exchange a greeting with his old friend, Jack. But Jack, convoyed by fhe Archdeacon, was sur rounded by a group of leading townsmen, portly and prosperous tradesmen, pillars of the local church, who monopolised him for the present; and Mrs. Brown was engaged in introducing Mrs. Primrose to those worthy gentlemen's wives. It seemed hopeless to attempt to get at either without swamping himself; and meanwhile the Darriwell horses, unaccustomed to delay, were fidgeting and fretting themselves into a fever under the hot sun. Still he hung around, until it struck Grace Brown that he was waiting to speak to her, and she thereupon tripped across the grass to shake hands with him. ''What did you think of the sermon P' she asked, as they stood together a little apart from the rest. The young man was puzzled. He said he didn't know — he thought it was much like other sermons. ' Not like papa's,' said Grace, smiling. 'But still very good— very good indeed. I like Mr. Primrose ex ceedingly.' ' He certainly has improved very much,' said Colin, with an absent air. 'And what do you. think of her?' demanded Miss Brown. They were both gazing at the inch or two that vas visible of the bride, who looked like a child amongst the solid matrons who hemmed her in. Mr. Mackenzie was prompted again to say he didn't know, but he heldine tongue. '/think she is charming,' said Grace, with energy. Encouraged by which bold opinion, her companion inti mated that he did consider her rather nice-looking, upon the whole. ' So English!' exclaimed Grace, fervently. 'Yes,' he responded; 'she has an English look about her.' ' Such a perfect lady !' ' Yes ; she is very lady-like.' ' You ought to stay, and be introduced to her, knowing her husband as you do. How tiresome those people are, keeping us like this ! I wish they would go. Dear me ' ^ —turning round suddenly—' what is the matter with your m horses?' There was a sudden commotion in a distant part of the church grounds. A farmer whose spring-cart was wont to stand beside the Darriwell carriage during service time had just harnessed up and was driving off; and the fiery pair that were accustomed to lead the way, under whose very . noses he set forth with a jogging cktter over the grass, were so affronted by the circumstance that they could not contain their indignation. They first plunged, then swerved violently to one side, then stood on their hind legs, and, coming1 down to earth in a reckless mminar, smashed the pole. 'The women-servants screamed— so did Grace; and there were exclamations from the footpath, and a general scamper of everybody towards the scene of the accident. ' Don't make a row,' said Colin, quietly; 'you'll only frighten the horses, and there's no harm done.' Nor was there. The pole was broken, and the carriage was rendered useless until another could be put in ; but that was nothing-^-the most trivial of mishaps. It could be left in the town to be mended, and sent for during the Week, and the servants could get a trap from the livery atables. As for him, he would walk home. An ordinary buggy wouldn't hold them all, and a walk would do -''? good. ' Not in this weather,' urged Mrs. Brown. ' You must not think of it Stay to dinner with us, and the girls shall drive you back in the afternoon. Now do, it would really be no trouble whatever. Besides, then you could have a Calk with Mr. Primrose. This in .Mrs. Primrose. Mrs. Primrose — Mr. Mackenzie. A neighbour of ours, my dear, and an old acquaintance^ your husbandV' So Mr. Mackenzie, when his servants and the townsfolk had dispersed, sauntered into the sunny parsonage garden at Mrs. Primrose's side. He was glad to find that she and Jack were to dine with the Browns as well as himself, and Ids anticipations of a pleasanter visit than usual were fully realised. Jack was not talkative — he had always been a shy boy and dull company— and whatever he had to say was more or lees of a professional nature, and wddmwd to the Archdeacon ; but the bride was very bright and lively, and abjured 'shop' absolutely. She was delighted to meet some one who had been her dear Jack's friend, and who knew Ffligiund and Cambridge, and who had been to the very same places on the Continent that she had ; and the two chatted all dinner-time about these things that were interesting to their two selves, without noticing that they thereby reduced their hostesses, who had not shared the experiences discussed, to comparative fnlpn/y nn/j unim portance. But no mention was made of topics proper to the day and the young lady's position, until the meal, which had been delayed beyond its usual hour, was over; and then Mrs. Brown solemnly and meaningly drew out her watch and announced that it was half -past 2. 'Of course you will like to see the Sunday-school,' she said, addressing her young, guest. Nancy responded readily that she would like to see it very much. ' It may be as well to begin your duties mere at once,' went on Mrs. Brown, whose tone was not quite go cordial as it had been. ''We have reserved a class for you.' But at Out Nancy tamed quickly, and looked at her husband. It so happened that she had never yet taught in a Sunday-school, and had a great dread of the responsibili ties involved in doing so. Jack, who was not dull where she was concerned, answered the appeal promptly: 'Do as yon like, dear,' said he. 'You needn't, of course, unless you wish.' It was very plucky of hbn, and a great relief to her. It also pleased Mr. Mackenzie mightily ; he thought better of Jack Primrose than he had done yet. But Grace and IiOttis stared in blank surprise, and their mother asked herself v Whether she had heard aright. This from a curate and a estate's wife, whose business it was to teach in the Sunday school and to do anything else that they were bidden! It was&ore than she could stand. She had been getting 'aggravated' all dinner-tuae, and now it seemed to her that it was expedient to put her foot down. 'It is scarcely a matter of choice in the case of Mrs. Primrose,' she said, with excessive dignity, combined with excessive aflaulitr, ' In her position, of course, she will j

feel it right to teach in the Sunday-school and help in the parish in every way that she can. It is expected of her, you know. I am sure the Archdeacon agrees with me; don't you, Archdeacon V' ' Oh, my dear, you and Mrs. Primrose must settle it be tween you,' said that gentleman in a gay tone, rolling up his napkin hastily, with an evident intention to withdraw. The situation stood revealed. And in a moment little Nancy grasped it. She was thought to be, and always de clared herself that she was, the most annable person in the world, and certainly she never put herself into a passion ; but s^e had as fine a temper as Mrs. Brown's, and was that lady's match in all respects. She, too, felt mat it was ex pedient to put her foot down. The Archdeacon's wife wanted her, Nancy Primrose, as a curate for hpnylf, did she? Very well; she wouldn't get her. But before she could spcaK, Mr. Unrf»»ngii» delivered T'mnp3f. It enraged him to see the attempt to 'put upon' this pretty little dainty creature (if she had been plain and commonplace he probably wouldn't have minded at all); and he felt an irrepressible impulse to protect her. ' It is a little too soon to begin yet, anyway,'' he said bluntly ; ' she wants a rest first, and time to look about her.*1 ' No,' said Nancy, leaning back in her chair, ' I am not in the least tired. 1 don't want to rest. And of course I always like to help people, whoever they may be or what ever they may want, when I feel I can do them any good. And perhaps I shall teaoh in the Sunday-school ; I wish to be useful. But I must say I object to have things expected of me that people have no right to expect. Why should they expect me to do this or that?' ' Because you are a clergyman's wife,' said Mrs. Brown severely ; ' and it is the duty of a clergyman's wife to help her husband.' ' Oh, of course it is. I quite agree with you there. It is every wife's duty to help her husband. I shall help Jack ail I can, especially as I am stronger than he is. But that's our own business — that's between him and me, and nobody eke. It doesn't concern the parish the least little bit. The* parish has no claim on me.' ' You are very much mistaken, Mrs. Primrose.' ' No,' persisted Nancy airily ; 'no more on me than, on any other woman. Do they expect the doctor's wife to be always interfering with his patients, or the lawyer's wife with his law business? — though they may copy papers oi dispense medicines and things, if they Hi™ and «»«»? hus bands like. I call it an impertinence to assume *^«*fr a clergyman's wife is not just as much her own mistress, subject only to her husband, as they are.' 'It is not the same thing at all,' the elder lady re torted sharply ; ' not in this country, at any rate.' ' Then what I say is, it ought to be, Mrs. Brown, And it will have to be, as far as I am concerned. People mustn't be pandered to. They mustn't be encouraged to be absurd and unreasonable, and—and impertinent. Do you say that the members of this congregation have any chum— any fair and just claim — on me Sr' demanded the young lady, sud denly fltuiViing her bright eyes npoiv Colin Mackenzie. ' Of course they haven't,' he returned promptly. ' Of course they have,' said Mrs. Brown in the same breath. ? .. ?' No,' said the imperturbable Nancy ; ' Mr. Mackenzie is right ; they haven't. Upon Jack they have, of course, but not on me. I am not in orders ; I am not paid — what is it, Jack? — two hundred and fifty pounds a year. If I were I would earn it, of course. But the pariah gives nothing to me, and therefore it has no right to any service from me.' Mrs. Brown remarked that that was a very low view to take of spiritual tiling. Mrs. Primrose begged her pardon, and suggested that the question under discussion was purely practical and a matter of ordinary worldly business. All she contended for was the right of fair play, which should be extended to her as to other women. She didn't say that she wouldn't like to be good, and to make herself of use in the 'world, as others did. ' Well, I have no time to waste on these discussions,' said Mis. Brown, rising in a stately manner. ' I must attend to my duties. Mr. Primrose, I think ? the Arch deacon will be waiting for you-^the school bell will ring directly-. Grace and Lottie, I will see if I cannotmanage your classes for- you, dy dearb, while you drive Mr. Mac kenzie to Darriwell — if he must go so Boon ? '? ' No, no,' interrupted that geatJoman ;? '- I said I was going to walk, and I am going to walk.- 1 couldn't think of troubling the young ladies. Much obliged to you all the same.' Chapter V. The parsonage family all went to the Sunday-school, and no one was left at home except Mr. Mackenzie and Mrs. Primrose. The yonng lady was quite anxious to accompany her hostess (being anxious to avoid ' unpleasantness, r' for her dear Jack's sake) ; she would like to see the school, she said— though she did not _ ' go back ' on her expressed opinion that she was not bound to associate herself with it officially unless she pleased ; but now Mrs. Brown would not hear of taking her, of course. Oh, dear no, there was no necessity whatever; she had no doubt that Grace and Lottie could manage to provide for the headless class. She begged Mrs. Primrose would amuse herself. As for Mr. Mackenzie, he seemed in a great hurry to set off to Darri well, and bade good-bye to the ladies of the house at the school-gate in a manner which implied that he was already on his way thither; but he remembered that he had not asked Mrs. Primrose at what time it would be convenient to call on her, and went back, and stayed nearly an hour longer — stayed, in short, until the Sunday scholars began to reappear. He and Nancy chatted under the verandah, and enjoyed each other's company very mnrfi, They talked about Jack's boyhood, about Harry, and the other Primrose brothers and sisters ; about the still more numerous and not less interesting Lawrence family; about Switzerland and the Riviera, Paris and Vienna, and many other places and things. Coma was refreshed by these re miniscences of youth and travel, shared by such an intelli gent and sympathetic little person ; and Nancy really did amuse herself, as Mrs. Brown had desired. The time passed swiftly for them both, and school seemed to be over almost before it had well J-egun. But ere it was quite over Mr. Mackenzie had taken his fi««i departure, and Mrs. Primrose was sauntering round the garden by herself, under her parasol, thanking goodness that she had not con sented to make headquarters at the parsonage, and at the same time tlimlrinp how- she could smooth the ruffled feathers of the formidable Archdeacon's wife, ' on account of Jack.' For herself, she had no fear of anybody ; but her poor dear boy must, of course, be considered. She had always heard in England that the curate's bete noir was sot the rector, but the rector's better half ; and she did not mean to make trouble for Jack if she could help it. So she was all smiles when the family and her husband had returned, and made herself as amiable as possible — which was very much so, indeed — to everybody. But somehow she gradually concentrated herself and her charms, not upon Mrs. Brown, but upon the Archdeacon, who had now an hour or two of leisure wherein to relax and refresh himsplfj and who had a mundane partiality for what is called 'the sex.' when represented in an attrac tive person. It was very natural. She was not a coquette —or, at least, not particularly so; but if she had the choice between the company of a man and that of a woman, all other things being equal, she was as certain to choose the former as the former was to choose her. She always had done so, and always did, and always would, to the end of the chapter. She did not reason about it; it was instinct — a perfectly innocent and healthy instinct too— which she obeyed more or less unconsciously, as|a matter of course. Wherefore, while the reverend John and the ladies Brown discussed Modem Unbelief, **'* Salvation Army, and other burning questions, in the drawing-room, the portly head of the house and his girlish guest took a protracted stroll about *hp parsonage grounds, inspected the rfiinlrona and the pig, looked into the dairy and schoolhouse, made the log jump over sticks, and otherwise pnfor*a'Hffl themselves in a trivial ««^ ploacfn^ ttibtitipt- They did not reappear until die bell rang for tea, to which meal the Archdeacon brought & rubicund BT'1 rniiirrptfifl visage, and Mrs. Prim rose a charming breasfkoot of rosebuds which ^'B own band had gathered for her. 'They were laughing when they came in, but they soon Left off that. Mrs. Brown, presumably overwrought by a angle-handed struggle with two Sunday-school classes, her own and the one that Mrs. Primrose had thrown upon ler, complained of a headache; and that headache threw a cloom over the teatable and the spirits of the whole party.

It filled her family with sympathetic solicitude, but did not appear to alarm them verymuch. They took the teapot from her hands, fetched her a smelling-bottle, advised her to lie down in the evening instead of going to church, and other wise endeavoured to console her; but their efforts were un successful, which did not seem to surprise them. Nancy altogether disbelieved in the headache : she said to herself that Mrs. Brown was suffering from an attack of temper and nothing more nor lass, and that she certainly was a disagreeable old person, and would undoubtedly require a great deal of management. And the young lady began to feel bored, and to sigh for the Black Swan and liberty. She put her handkerchief to her lips, and yawned. - ' Jack,' she whispered, as they left the table, 'don't come back here after evening church.' And so of course Jack didn't, for he loved -to do as she told him. He said, when service was over and the Arch deacon hospitablyjpresBed them to come in and have some thing, that Mrs.'Pnmrose was tired and wanted to get to bed ; and 'Nancy, having been condoled with and bidden to take care of herself, shook TipTifls with the old fellow, and not less sweetly with his wife and daughters, and skipped away in the moonlight with a light heart and step. She did not go to bed for hours. No ; they found Colin Mackenzie at the Black Swan (he had been detained about the waggonette, he said) ; and that gentleman first gave them his company in their sitting-room, and then they gave him theirs on his road home, to DarriwelL It was a still and ^Timing gammer night, and the walk was delicious. The cool, clear, detioate air was like wine to Nancy's spirits, which had been temporarily under an unaccustomed restraint, and she chattered as she went along at such a rate that the men could hardly get in a word edgeways. She was in a recklees mood, as people are when they are slightly in toxicated, and she didn't care what .she said. She ' passed remarks ' upon all she had seen ana heard since her arrival at Wooroona as freely as if there had been no third person, a 6txanger to her and a resident of the place, to hear her. She was particularly free in her criticism of her late hostess, who might have been his aunt for all she knew. ' I know her,' said she, with the self-confidence of youth ; *« I kaoxr her now just as well as I shall do twelve months hence. She is an old cat, that's what die is. But I'm not going to let her spit and scratch at me. No ; I must show her from the first that that is not to be per mitted. She will never respect me if I do not respect myself, and there is nothing like beginning as you mean to go on.' ' It wouldn't be wise to quarrel with her, Naney,' the reverend John suggested, in a gentle but rather anxious tone. ' That is an altogether irrelevant remark,' she replied coolly. . ? ' Wouldn't you rather put up with a little, for the short time that we may have to stay here, ihan risk the conse quences of making enemies of people who have the power to make or mar our prospects ? ' ' Wouldn't I rather we were trucklers and timeservere? ' she retorted, intenupting him. ' My dear boy, you see in the deplorable case of Mr. Gladstone what coines of put ting up with things for fear of consequences. It is the greatest mistake in the world, and the most unprofitable in every way. No, no, let U6 Hot be pusillanimous, my love ; we should live to repent it, I assure yon. A stitch in time saves nine, Jack. If England had made a stand in Egypt when trouble began, there would be peace now instead of bloodshed and ruin. If Mrs. Brown is nipped in the bud at once, it will save us a world of discomfort in the long run. I am sure Mr. Mackenzie agrees with me, though he will not say so.' Mr. Mackenzie intimated that he was quite willing to say so, if she wished it. But it seemed to him that the was perfectly well able to dispense with his support. He thought she would manage beautifully, if she were let alone. 'Yes, I think' I should,' she modestly agreed. 'I think you may tnist me, Jack, though 'i say it that shouldn't. I shall take every care of you, you may be sure. 1 shall not drag you into it. And the more she iiates me, if 6he will hate me — of course 1 shall not encourage her to do so — the less likely is she to be nasty to you. She will not blame you on my account ; she will pity you.' 'I don't want any separate indulgence,' said Jack. ' You and I are one. It is only for your sake that I t.hinfr anything- about it.' 'Make your mind easy. Don't be afraid for me. I shan't be hurt — or if I am, I'd rather be hurt than give in to her and despise myself,' said Nancy, marching along the dusty road with tie step of a young- queen. ' I'll be very careful — Vll be as prudent as possible — I can even be magnanimous, it 1 try hard ; but'— with a lifting of her little head—'4 1 am not going to let her interfere with my comfort and independence, or any of my privileges as a free woman. Ho, indeed ; I'll see her further first.' ' She is much more likely to see you further,' said Jack. ' How?' ' She is as much the Archdeacon as her husband is, if not a little more. Isn't that the case, Mackenzie!-' Mackenzie thought it was. ' Those two are stronger than we are, you see. And a curate cam be sent packing any day if he doesn't suit.' ' Pooh! ' retorted Mrs. Primrose, with contempt. At that self -same hour Mrs. Brown, who had gone to bed with a vinegar bandage on her brow, was talking to the Archdeacon whUe he made his toilet for the night. She was giving her opinion. ' That Mrs. Primrose is a little minx,' she said, ' and will have to be taught her place. And I trust you are 'going to assist me, Josiah, and not stand by and see me in sulted in my own house, before my own children, by my own curate'6 wife, 'p'', as I was to-day.'