Chapter 162822332

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article162822332
Full Date1885-11-07
Page Number982
Corrections0
Word Count4151
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

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A Little Minx. A SKETCH.

By A. C.

Chai'tbu VI.

Thus did tlicsc two uncongenial spirits disc-over their mutual antipathy ere a day was over. And the intelligent reader will not need to be told that a week was quite long enough to develop incipient hostility into open and acknow ledged war.' l-uring that first week Mrs. Primrose liad a sort of social

ovation, ner surprising air ui uibuiwiuju euuivij un expected as it was), lior still more surprising- fashion of dressing herself, and tlie fact tliat Mr. Mackenzie of Darri well tailed upon lier on Monday, and was reported to be connected witli her in some way. combined lo lift lior entirely out of the position tliat had bwn tacitly assigned to her 'and to give her ail instant and unique popular! ty. 'Everybody.' called. The leading families tripped each other up in the lobby of the Black Swan in their haste to be the first, or im liear the first as possible, to offer her countenance and attention ; and whereas the gentlemen, according to immemorial custom, had been represented by their cards at the parsonage on a recent similar occasion, they now showed an almost unanimous disposition to sacri fice themselves and accompany (heir womenkind in per son. Mr. Hardcastle, the police magistrate, in blue frock- j coat and belltopper, escorted his wife and daughters, j and Dr. Lloyd, Mrs. Lloyd, aud Dr. Debenham, his fiiBter, Miss Debenhnm. ' Tlie banker were not behindhand, nor were the wealthy ti-adesfolk ; and the Mayor himself, an extensive miller * and fanner, owning a fine house on the outskirts ol' the town— a Mayor who set ihe highest value upon his civic rank and personal and pecuniary worth— did not disdain to honour the curate's wife in a similar manner. Mr. Arnold, the married lawyer, did not go with Mrs. Arnold, but he followed lier ; and Mr. Prendergast, his professional brother, paid his bachelor respects also in course of time. None of them let the week run out, and most of them went on Tuesday and Wednes day, during several hours of which days Nancy's little sitting-room was crowded to its utmost capacity. She ap i .feared delighted to see them all, one just as much as another. She was neither shy and formal, nor bold and presuming; but smiled and chatted with a bright and cheerful self-possession and air of enjoyment that capti vated everybody— and especially her male guests. She was young and pretty, she was beautifully dressed, she was accustomed to society and to being made much of therein ; well might she be charming! It was no credit to her. But of course she got the crcdit of it, just as a plain woman, who has never known admiration and success, gets the blame of being awkward and dull, though she cannot help it. 'A sweet, amiable, unaffected little thing, and a perfect lady, every inch of her,' said the husbands and fathers, when speaking of Mrs. Primrose afterwards in the bosom of their families ; and the wives and daughtere temperately, and with a few slight feminine qualifications, agreed that she was so. And she was treated accordingly, invitations flowed in, offers of assistance, gifts of fruit and flowers ; all the hospitality for which the country was*' famous was ? 4 lavished upon her, and upon her husband for her sake. Mr. Arnold took her for a drive on Wednesday evening, to show her the country : Dr. Lloyd took her for another on Thurs day, for the same purpose ; Mr. Hardcastle fetched her on Friday to play tennis with his daughters and a few select gentlemen of 'the town ; and a picnic to the waterfall, which was the lion of the district, was organised for Saturday in her honour. By the time Sunday came round again she knew and was known by every person of consequence in Wooroona and neighbourhood, and was the heroine and favourite of the hour. All this was gall and wormwood to Mrs. Brown. Only a few weeks back she had been the popular idol, for whom nobody could do enough ; only the other day her girls had been the admired ones whose praises were on every roan's tongue and in every man's eye ! And now, to have this impudent little minx, this mere curate's wife, thrusting herself forward and arrogating all the attention to herself — it was too revolting! 'Still the injured woman tried to bear it, knowing how much it was for her interest to do so, without betraying what she suffered more openly than she could help ; and she was tolerably successful for a littlo while. Mrs. Primrose received her callers and made her new acquaintances without that support and assistance which she (Mrs. Brown) had been prepared to render, and pursuoi a consistent course of disrespectful independence calculated to demoralise the parish and to bring die office of Archdeacon into contempt ; and Mrs. Brown said nothing. At least, she said nothing to the arch-offender, and not much to the meek accomplice ; it will be understood that she spoke her mind to her spouse in those hours when he had no option but to listen to her, and that freely. If she had not thus naturally relieved herself, she would have given way somewhere In a wrong place veiy early in the week. But she bore up until Saturday. She had her dignity to think of, and likewise her dear children. Since Mrs. Primrose might be useful to Grace, the mother would bear her own wrongs uncomplainingly. So she said, poor woman, and so she tried ? but she could not do it. She was not accustomed to self-abnegation, and she was too old to begin the practice of it now. And she had a temper, like a vicious unbroken horse, that could never be trusted to obey the curb, for all it looked so sleek and smooth. So on Saturday she broko out. It was early in the day ; Mr. Primrose wont to the parsonage to consult the Arch deacon upon Sunday business, ana asked his wife to go with him. ' The ladies are always inquiring after you,' he said, ' and I'm afraid they feel a little neglected.' ' I'm sure I don't see why they should,' replied Nancy. ' They have only been to see mo once, and I have been there three times at least.' But she put on her hat and gloves, and accompanied liim readily. She was in high Bpirits, anticipating the delights of the coming picnic, for which she had prepared '; and hor fair and sunny face, and her little figure, trimly belted into the neatest and freshest of cotton 'frocks, looked bonnier than ever. ' I cannot stay long,' she said, after greeting Mrs. Brown, whom she found alone, in hex' offensively easy and airy manner. ' The Hardens ties and a few of their friends are going to take me to see the Falls, and ore to fetch me from the Black Swan at 11. I must not keep tlieui wait ing.' 'What — out again!' exclaimed Mrs. Brown, lifting her eyebrows and smiling unpleasantly. It was indeed a ?mill* turned sour, curdled with the venom of maternal jealousy; for the Haxdcastles bad not asked Grace and Lottie to join their party. 'Out again!' she repeated, almost with a snort. 'Why not?' inquired Nancy, scenting battle. 'Can one do better than be out in such' lovely weather}' ' ' Yes, one can,' was the prompt rejoinder. ' One can think of one's duty before one^s pleasure, sometimes.' ' My husband likes me to go, though unfortunately he can't go with me,' said Nancy. ' I think I am doing' my duty when I am doing what he wishes.' 'It doesn't follow that, because he is your husband, he is the wisest man in the world, docs it ?' said Mrs. Brown, i pretending — and it was indeed a mosfc. transparent pretence 1 — to be playful. 1 ' No, cftv* Mrs. Primrose. 'I'm happy to say he ] doesn't set up for being a pope, as so many young clergy- ? men do. If he had been one of that sort, he wouldn't have i had me. Dear old Jack, I don't want to see him any J different from what he is, except stouter and stronger.' * - ' He looks dreadfully delicate^' said Mrs. Brown, veer- 1 inp- off on a fresh tack ; ' but I expect he is one of those - unselfish people who would rather work themselves to death i than let anyone help them, unless the help is volunteered ' and given willingly.' 1 'Oh, now I see what you mean,' said Nancy, with cheerful candour ; 'you think I ought to stay and help ] Jack instead of going to the picnic? But he has only j a funeral at 3, and his sermons to get ready for to morrow. I'm afraid I should be more hindrance than help ] to him -at either of those employments.' ' He has visiting to do, and you ought to visit with him i and make yourself acquainted with the people.' -There was an unvarnished rudeness in the tone and pur- - port of thlsiipeech which acted upon Nancy's temper ; for, i * * '&?* JHS&: T

as I have said before, she had a temper too. It had lain quiescent but uneasy, like a dog -Teased with Hies ; but now, goaded lo sudden impatience, spi-.uig up to bark and bite. ' Mrs. Brown,' said the young lady peremptorily, 'you may remember I told you on Sunday that I recognised no authority on the part of this parish or anyone in it to dictate to mc. My own husband is the only person with the faintest shadow of a light to question or control my con duct, and he does not wish me to do those things, not as a general rule and a matter of course. He doesn't be lieve in women putting themselves forward and interfering in men's business; and especially he doesn't believe in their being hustled here and there, aud made common use of, as if they were public property. He agrees with me. A clergyman's domestic life and all belonging to it is as entirely apart from his professional life as that of a lawyer or a doctor, and as sacred from outside interference. It is just because the clergy forget this, and let themselves be led by tho nose and mixed up with women in everything, that tliey are so little respected,'' pi-oceeded Nancv, with an explanatory and impartial air. ' They have becomc half women themselves, and that is why the laity sit on them and despise them.' What Mrs. Brown said to this it boots not to tell. I think words failed her for once in her life ; at any rate, she could not command .them as she would have desired. But, liko the immortal parrot that we have all heard of bo often, her speech was no measure of the thoughts that burned wilbin her. And. after all, she said quite enough for the purpose. CUAPTER VII. Of course tliey patched up a peace— a sort of peace. Mi-. Brown, wlien her inge was expended (at about 1 (/clock a.m. on the following morning), was induced to admit in lier heart, though she would have died sooner than do so with her tongue, that the archdeacon was right in his opinion tliat there was no ground for appealing to the bishop ; mid Mrs. Primrose, when she went off for her picnic, with a proud carnage of her head and a sense of satisfaction pervading her whole being, prudently resolved that she would not make her dear Jack uneasy by telling him what had happened, and that she would do what in her lay to mitigate the inevitable consequences. She would conciliate the ' old cat,' as far as was consistent with dig nity, and not make a vulgar quarrel of it until she was obliged. hi pursuance of this virtuous intention, she said she would go to the Sunday school and teach that class which had been set apart for her — if Jack would just be good enough to tell her ho«\ The two were having their lunch at the Black Swan after morning church (not having been asked to the parsonage to-day), and the curate was to start at 3 o'clock on a long journey to take an evening service in the bush. He could not therefore give her his support in her undertaking, but he said he would take her to the school before he left, and introduce her, and ' put her in the way of it;' and he was much gratified by the expression of her wish to give the services tliat he would not have asked for against her wish. So,, when their meal was ended, he instructed her in the general rules and customs of Sunday schools, and gave her an outline of the subjects she would be required to expound ; and then they set off to the school house together. The bell had not begun to ring, and there were more children outside the building than in it. Very few teachers had arrived, and none Irom the parsonage ; ' but the busi ness of the afternoon was being prepared for by the super intendent, Mr. Prendergast, the junior solicitor, who was a very good young man. To him John Primrose advanced as lie was sorting out his class-books on his desk, and Nancy, recognising a friend (and, let me say, an admirer), began immediately to feel at case. 'Oh, Prendergast,' said Jack, shaking hands, 'I've brought Mrs; Primrose to help you. Though she's a par son's wife, she hasn't been used ~to teaching in Sunday schools, but she thinks she'd like to tiy. It's only to be an experiment ; she's not to go on with it if she doesn't like it. I always let her please herself in those things, you know.' Mr. Prendergast acquiesced readily and cordially. He was a good young man, with the orthodox parochial ideas, but to him also Mrs. Primrose was Mrs. Primrose, and not to be confounded with the everyday curate's wife. ' Of course, of course,' he said. ' It is only too good of her to think of helping us. I am afraid you'll find tbe place very hot and uncom fortable, Mrs. Primrose ; it has an iron roof, you see, and no ceiling under it. But I must try to find you a shady corner if I can.' He looked round the loom anxiously ; the reverend John looked at his watch. ' I'm afraid I must be running off,' said the latter. ' Do you mind, if I leavo you, Nancy dear? You'll be all right with Prendergast. You'll take care of her, Prender gast, won't you ? ' 'Certainly,' replied the superintendent, fervently; 'I'll take every care of lier. Sho will be quite safe with me' — as if Nancy were a helpless baby that couldn't run alone. ' Sit down^ Mrs. Primrose, don't tire yourself standing.' He placed his own official chair, die only one in the room, which was furnished for ordinary mortals with benches and stools, for her to sit on, and then stood before her like a courtier before a queen to ask her what she would like best to do. 'Mi's. Brown said vou had arranged a class forme,' said N#ncy, drawing a little Spanish fan, on which was pictured a bullfight, from her pocket, aud fanning her sun-flushed face. 'O yes,' returned the young man, indifferently; 'she did suggest the second girls— Miss Charlotte has been teaching thorn. But perhaps you wouldn't care for a class of that kind '( They are big girls in their teens, some of them are out in service*, you find them rather a handful, I fancy.' 'Oh, pray don't give me big girlB,' cried Nancy. ' Don't give me girls at all — give me boys. 1 love boys. Let he have some nice little curly -headed 'scamps, the real bad little boys, you know — the littles pickles that you can't manage. .1 can manage them. Boys always do what I tell them,' said Nancy, complacently. ' Well, it seems to me they must bo queer boys if they don't,' said Mr. Prendergast, with irrepressible feeling, and Nancy laughed ; and they became very good friends. ' If you like boy6 best, boys you shall have,' said the superintendent, with an air of stern -determination ; and presently, as the bell began to ring and the room to fill with children, and teachers, he went round and pulled all the ex isting arrangements to pieces, in order to make that one which Nancy desired. The second girls were left to Miss Charlotte, and half a dozen other teachers were summarily transposed , so that, when Mrs. Brown entered, Nancy was comfortably settled in the shadiest corner, seated upon the only chair, and surrounded by a picked dozen of nice little boys, varying from nine to twelve years of age, ' doing her duty' with examplaiy conscientiousness, and finding con. siderable enjoyment therein. Mrs. Brown was accustomed to come into school, as into church, at the very last moment, accompanying her arch deacon — a symjwlical action — when all was ready and awaiting them. She did so on this occasion, and conse quently lost an opportunity that would have been veiy valuable to her. The bell had ceased, her daughter Grace had seated herself at the small harmonium, the roll was being called, and she sailed to her seat at the head of the first class without noticing that her enemy was present. But ere she had been seated two minutes, her eagle eye, scanning the whole assembly, lit upon distract ingly pretty little figure of the curate's wife, upon the newly-formed class, upon the position of die superinten dent's chair — a chair which had never been moved from the rostrum for her accommodation ; and she could hardly contain herself. With difficulty she sat until the last name was shouted and answered to, her nostrils dilating and her bosom heaving with impatience; and then she jumped to lier feet and marched back to the superintendent's desk. *' You have put Mrs. Primrose in the wrong place, Mr. Prendergast,' she said loudly. ' The second girl's class is to be hers.' ' I know,' said the young man apologetically; 'but Mrs. Primrose preferred boys.' ' It's all right, my dear,' said the Archdeacon, with a soothing motion of the hand; ' she likes boys brat.' 'But what has that to do with it?' Mrs. Brown imperi ously demanded, forgetting for the moment where she was, in her rage with two such weak and foolish men. ' We are

j not here to pick and choose, and we can't have the school ? upset every time a new leacher f-oines into it, just because ? ' Silence, children ! ' thundered the Archdeacon, though the children happened to be unusually quiet at the time; 'no noise, if you please ;' and he opened a little yellow backed hymn-book and held it ostentatiously before him. ' It's all* right, Maria — Mr. Prendergast has settled it very well. Ahem — the forty-first-hymn.' Grace began to play the tune upon her little instrument, the air was filled with the rustle of leaves of hymnbooks hastily turned over by hundreds of little hands; and there was nothing for Mrs. Brown to do but to accept the situa tion — to walk back to lier class in silent majesty, and open her hymnbook too. But her mortification was incalculably augmented by the circumstance that her own husband, her own archdeacon, had publicly insulted her. Poor, perverse, self-tormenting woman ! I hope you will spare a little sympathy for lier, my gentle reader, and not give it all to our young and happy Nancy, who doesn't need it in the least. You and I may be in Mrs. Brown's place some day — verging upon fifty, and having a little minx to deal with — and when wc arc I am veiy sure wc shall not like it. The business of the school proceeded as usual. The archdeacon, though he generally left it to Mr. Prendergast, gave out the hymn himself — presumably to cover bin retreat from his wife's attack. Nothing cither great or small Remains for mc to do ; Jesus died and paid it ull. Long long ago. Chorus : Jc-sus paid it all, Long, long ago ; And nothing either great or email llemains for me to do. When theliyinn was over a prayer followed, and then the lessons began. The superintendent sidled round to Nancy's corner to see if he could give her any assistance, and to rap the head of any little imp who should dare to be trouble some to her. lie found her re-reading the hymn that had just been snng, with a curious smile on her face. ' I say,' she remarked bluntly, ' if I have got to teach in this school, I'm not going to teach this sort of thing,' and she quoted a few stanzas in a distinct tone, that could be heard some distance off: — ' ' Doing' is a deadly thing ; ' Doing' ends in death. Cast your deadly ' doing ' down, Down at Jesus' feet ; Stand in Him, in Him alone, Gloriously complete. Now of all the immoral doctrines that ever I heard of ? !' ' But you know what it means,' Mr. Prendergast urged, with a blush. ' It is but ' nothing in my hand I bring,' in other words.' She looked at him with her pretty, provocative eyes, and then at the boys, who were staring at her, open-mouthed. 'Now, see here, you little brats,' 6he proceeded, with sudden gravity, 'just you remember this. If you don't 'do' all you can; and be 'doing' all day long, you'll grow up horrid, idle, good-for-nothing men ; and they'll put you in prison, and perhaps hang you — oh, 1 don't know what awful things wouldn't happen to you ! Never mind what the hymn-book says— you mind what I say.' Mr. Prendergast was veiy much disconcerted, but col lected himself by the time she had finished this little speech. 'Oh, Mrs. Primrose,' he pleaded under his breath, 'you mustn't talk to them like that. You mustn't teach them to question authority— at their age, too — you mustn't, really ; it would never do.' ' Well, you shouldn't mislead them,' she replied, calmly. 'If they come to the Sunday-school to be taught religion, they shouldn't have such nonsense as that put into their heads. They'd far better stay away and have a good game out of doors.' With anybody else Mr. Prendergast would have been very angry, for he was proud and jealous of his school and its system and all belonging to it ; but with Mrs. Prim rose no man could be angry. He took the hymn-book and turned the leaves over and over, smiling, in spite of him self, as he felt her eyes upon him. 'I must say,' he admitted, 'that I never cared for this collection. But it has been used here for many years, I believe, and I have found it in other schools— good schools, too ? ' He paused and looked towards the archdeacon, who happened by a strange coincidence to be looking their way. The look, though it said nothing, was sufficient to bring that venerable personage trotting to the shady corner ; ana Mrs. Brown presently saw the three seated in a group, Nancy on her (hair, the archdeacon on one of the forms beside her, the superintendent on the other, talking ear nestly together, in apparent oblivion of the presence, and even* the existence, of the dozen little boys. They were discussing the hymn-book, which, as an established insti tution, no one had ever presumed to discuss before. Nancy was saying that, if she were in their (the men's) place, she would be ashamed to have such a thing in the school ; and they were listening to her apologetically and admitting to each other that perhaps she was right, and that it might be as well to make a change ; and- they were also asking her what selection she would recommend, though they had been familiar with Sunday schools all their lives, and she had hardly entered one before.