Back to the Index Page


Nettie by Alfred G. Sayers


Nettie was a bright, fair girl of fifteen years of age, tall and graceful in movement and form, and resolute in character beyond her years. She was standing on the departure platform of the L. &N. W. Railway at Euston Square, watching the egress of the Manchester express, or rather that part of it which disclosed a head, an arm, and a cap, all moving in frantic and eccentric evolutions.

Tom, her brother, two years her senior, was on his way back to school for his last term, full of vague, if big, ideas of what he was going to be when, school days over, he should “put away childish things.” “Most of our fellows,” he had said loftily, as he stood beside his sister on the platform a few moments before, “go into the Army or Navy and become admirals or generals or something of that sort.” And then he had hinted with less definiteness that his own career would probably combine the advantages of all the professions though he only followed one. But Tom soon dropped from these sublime heights to more mundane considerations, and his last words concerned a new cricket bat which Nettie was to “screw out of the gov'nor” for him, a new pup which she was to bring up by hand under his special directions, and correspondence, which on her part at least, was to be regular, and not too much occupied with details about “the kids.”

Nettie sighed as she turned her steps homewards, and her handkerchief was damped by at least one drop of distilled emotion that bedewed the rose upon her cheek. Poor Nettie, she too was conscious of a destiny, and had bewildered thoughts of what she was going to be! She had opened her heart on this subject to her brother Tom during the holidays; but she had not received much encouragement, and at the present moment she was inclined to murmur at the reflection that the world was made for boys, and after all she was only a girl.

“What will you be?” Tom had said in answer to her question during one of their confidential chats. “You? why, you—well, you will stay with the mater, of course.”

“Yes; but girls do all sorts of things nowadays, Tom,” she had replied. “Some are doctors, some are authors, some are——”

“Blue-stockings,” responded the ungallant Tom. “Don't be absurd, Net,” he added patronisingly; “you'll stay with the pater and mater, and some day you will marry some fellow, or you can keep house for me, and then, when I am not with my ship or my regiment, of course I shall be with you.”

Poor Nettie! She had formed an idea that the possibilities of life ought to include something more heroic for her than keeping house for her brother, and she had determined that she would not sink herself in the hum-drum of uneventful existence without some effort to avoid it; and so it happened that that same evening, after doing her duty by the baby pup and Tom's new cricket bat, she startled her father and mother by the somewhat abrupt and altogether unexpected question,—

“Father, what am I going to be?”

“Be?” repeated her father, drawing her on to his knee, “why, be my good little daughter as you always have been, Nettie. Are you tired of that, dear?”

But no, Nettie was not tired of her father's love, and she had no idea of being less affectionate because she wanted to be more wise and useful, and so she returned her father's caresses with interest, and treated her mother in the same way, so that there might be no jealousy; and then, sitting down in the armchair with the air of one commanding attention, harked back to the all-absorbing topic. “You know, father, there's Minnie Roberts, isn't there?”

“What if there is?” replied her father.

“Well, you know she's going to the University, don't you, dad?”

“No, I didn't.”

“Well, she is. Then she'll be a doctor, or professor, or something. That's what I should like to be.”

Mr. Anderson looked from his wife to his daughter with somewhat of surprise on his face. He was a just man; and he and his wife had but recently discussed the plans (including personal sacrifices) by which Master Tom's advancement was to be secured. Really, that anything particular needed to be done for Nettie had hardly occurred to him. He had imagined her going on at the High School for another year, say, and then settling down as mother's companion. His desire not to be harsh, coupled with his unreadiness, led Mr. Anderson to temporise. “Well, little girl,” he said, “you plod on, and we'll have a talk about it.” Nettie was in a triumphant mood. She had expected repulse, to be reminded of the terrible expense Tom was, and was to be, and she felt the battle already won. Doubtless the fact that Nettie was heartened was a great deal toward the success that was unexpectedly to dazzle her. She worked hard at school, and yet so buoyant was her spirit, that she found it easy to neglect none of her customary duties at home. She helped dust the drawing-room, and ran to little Dorothy in her troubles as of yore; and Mrs. Anderson came to remark more and more often to her husband, what a treat it would be when Nettie came home for good. “You can see she has forgotten every word about the idea of a profession,” said that lady; “and I'm very glad. She's the light of the house.” Forgotten! Oh no! Far from it! as they were soon to realise. The end of the term came—Tom was expected home on the morrow, Saturday. In the afternoon Nettie walked in from school, her face ablaze with excitement. For a moment she could say nothing; so that her mother dropped her work and wondered if Nettie had picked up a thousand-pound note. Then came the announcement—“Mother! I've won a Scholarship!”

“You have?”

“Yes, mother dear, I'm the QUEEN VICTORIA SCHOLAR!” Nettie stood up and bowed.

“And what does that do for you?”

“Why, I can go on studying for my profession for three years, and it won't cost father a penny!”

“What profession, dear?”

“I don't know, mother, what. But I want to be a doctor.”

“A what!”

“A doctor, mother. Minnie Roberts is studying for a doctor; and I think it's splendid.”

“What! cut people open with a knife!”

“Yes, mother, if it's going to do them good.”

“But, my dear——”

However, Nettie knew very little about the medical profession; she only knew that Minnie Roberts went about just in the independent way that a man does, and was studying hard, and seemed very lively and witty. So detailed discussion was postponed to congratulation, inquiry, and surmise. “What will Tom say?” Nettie found herself continually asking herself, and herself quite unable to answer herself. What Tom did actually say we must detail in its proper place, which comes when Mr. Anderson and Nettie go to meet him at the station. They were both rather excited, for Mr. Anderson had, to tell the truth, felt somewhat guilty towards his little daughter over the question of the profession. While he had flattered himself that the idea was a passing fancy, she had cherished his words of encouragement, and had made easier the realisation of her dream by her steady improvement of the opportunity at hand, viz., her school work.

Tom kissed Nettie and shook hands with his father, and then it was that Nettie said,—

“Tom, I've won a Scholarship!”

And then it was, standing beside his luggage, that Tom replied,—


Though not strictly to the point, no other word or phrase could have shown those who knew Tom how much he was moved. Nettie knew. She was rather sorry Tom had to be told at all, for he had been quite unsuccessful this term, a good deal to his father's disappointment; and Nettie was sure he must feel the contrast of her own success rather keenly. They talked of other things on the way home, and directly Tom had kissed his mother and Dorothy and Joe, Nettie said, “Now shall we go and get the pup? I can tell you he's a beauty!”

“What a brick you are, Net, to think of it!” said Tom. “Yes; let's go.”

These holidays were very delightful to Nettie and Tom; that young man permitted, even encouraged, terms of perfect equality. He forgot to patronise or disparage his sister or her sex. Perhaps his sister's success and his own lack of it had made him feel a bit modest. Nettie had explained her achievement both to herself and others by the fact that she had been so happy. And she was right. Some people talk as though a discipline of pain were necessary for all people in order to develop the best in them. That is not so. There are certain temperaments found in natures naturally fine, to whom a discipline of pleasure is best, especially in youth, and happily God often sends pleasure to these: we mean the pleasure of success; the pleasure of realising cherished plans; the pleasure of health and strength to meet every duty of life cheerfully. And now Nettie began to build castles in the air for Tom. Tom would go to Sandhurst; he would pass well; he would have a commission in a crack regiment. And Tom's repentance of some former disparagement of the sex was shown in such remarks as “that Beauchamp major—you know, the fellow I told you a good deal about.”

“Oh yes, a fine fellow!”

“Well, I don't know, Net—I begin to think he's a beastly idiot. That fellow was bragging to me the other day that he bullied his sisters into fagging for him when he was at home. I think that's enough for me.” And so holidays again came to an end, to Nettie's secret delight. She hated parting with Tom, but she longed to be back at her work.

       * * * * *

Six years passed away and Nettie's career had been one of unbroken success. She had proceeded to Newnham and had come out splendidly in her examinations. Only one thing clouded her sky. Tom had not been successful. In spite of all that coaching could do, he had been plucked at Sandhurst, and the doctor had prohibited further study for the present. Nettie wrote to him constantly, making light of his failure, and assuring him of ultimate success. And now she was to make her start in her chosen profession. Before long she would be able to write herself “Nettie Anderson, M.D.” and she was then to go into practice with her elder friend, Minnie Roberts. Little paragraphs had even appeared in some of the papers that “for the first time in the history of medicine in England, two lady graduates in medicine are to practise in partnership.” Miss Roberts was already settled in one of the Bloomsbury squares, and had a constantly increasing circle of clients.

One Saturday afternoon in October the inaugural banquet was held. Nettie had a flat of her own in the house, and here the feast was spread. Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, Tom, and the two doctors formed the company. They were all so proud of Nettie that they almost forgot Tom's lack of success. There was what is understood as a high time. Who so gay and bright as Nettie! Who so gentle and courteous as Tom! (I am afraid a discipline of failure is best for some of us!) How the time flew! How soon mother and Nettie had to go to Nettie's room for the mother to don her bonnet and get back home in decent time!

“But you'll be marrying, you know, some day, Nettie.”

“Ah! time will show, mother dear,” was Nettie's answer; and then she added, “but if I do it will be from choice and not necessity.”


Back to the Index Page