Read CHAPTER ELEVEN - TOUCHING THE SENSITIVE PLANT of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

It was Burns who wrote his wish that some power would give us the ability to see ourselves from other people’s point of view.  If Hazel Thorne had received this gift she would not have remained so steeped in ignorance, but gazing at herself through Beatrice Lambent’s eyes, have seen that she had been guilty of an almost deadly sin.

For what could have been more heinous than for “a young person in her station in life,” as Miss Beatrice afterwards said, to presume to take the squire’s arm, an arm that Beatrice looked upon as sacred, and thought quite polluted by the touch of one who was only a schoolmistress, and consequently not likely to possess feelings similar to her own?

All the same, though, Hazel did touch the sacred limb, and allowed herself to be taken into the drawing-room, which Mrs Canninge had just entered, and was now presiding at a tea-table.

“You’ll let me do that for you, Miss Burge,” she had said.  “You must be tired out.”

“Well, really and truly, Mrs Canninge, my poor legs do ache to such an extent,” said Miss Burge confidentially, “that I feel a’most ready to drop.”

“That you must, indeed,” said Mrs Canninge, smiling, as the little body toddled to a large cane arm-chair, and plumped herself down so vigorously that the cane chair uttered a loud protest, and after giving way in an elastic manner, kept on uttering little squeaks and creaks, somewhat after the fashion of Miss Feelier Potts, as it made efforts to recover itself.

Meanwhile little Miss Burge sat there smiling gratefully, and enjoying her rest, as she gently rocked herself to and fro rubbing her hands in regular twin motion backwards and forwards along her aching legs.

“You see, Mrs Canninge ­and sugar, please ­three lumps.  Yes, I always take cream, it do improve the tea so ­you see my brother takes so much interest in the schools, and he’d set his mind upon the boys and girls enjoying themselves, that it would have been a sin and a shame not to have done one’s best to help him; but, oh my!  It has been a job.”

“I’m sure you must have worked like a slave, Miss Burge,” said Mrs Canninge, handing the tea, “and we ought all to be very grateful to you and your brother.”

“Oh, it isn’t me, my dear,” said Miss Burge (fortunately neither Miss Lambent nor Beatrice was at hand to hear Mrs Canninge addressed as “my dear") ­“it is all my brother.  He hasn’t a bit of pride in him.  He says, you know, Mrs Canninge, he first learned to read and write at Plumton School, and it’s been so useful to him that ­”

“Excuse me.  Miss Burge, I have not my best glasses with me, is not this Miss ­Miss ?”

“Thorne, yes, Mrs Canninge, and it’s very kind of your son to bring the poor dear in to have some tea.”

Mrs Canninge looked rather curiously at Hazel Thorne, as her son brought her into the drawing-room.  If she had been plain and ordinary looking, Mrs Canninge would have thought nothing of the incident; but then Hazel Thorne was neither plain nor ordinary, and, what was more, she did not seem in the slightest degree oppressed by the novelty of the situation, but chatted quietly to her companion, who was the more conscious of the two.

“Oh, here is my mother,” he said.  “Mother dear, I have brought you an exhausted slave; pray feed and rest her, or she will be throwing off the Plumton chains, and escaping to some place where they will treat her better.  Miss Thorne, this is my mother, Mrs Canninge.”

“I am very glad to know you, Miss Thorne,” said Mrs Canninge quietly; and Hazel looked her full in the eyes before lowering her own, and bending slightly, for there was a something in Mrs Canninge’s way that was different to her son’s.  George Canninge had spoken to her as if she were his equal, while his mother had smiled, spoken kindly, and hastened to pour out some tea; but Hazel felt and knew that it was not in the same way as she would have spoken and acted towards one of her own set.

The shade of difference was very slight, but it was marked, and George Canninge noted it as well, though it was lost upon little Miss Burge, who turned to Hazel, and began to prattle away directly.

“Ah, that’s right, Mr Canninge, I am glad you have brought Miss Thorne in.  She has been regularly fagged to death.  I never did see any one work so.”

“Miss Thorne has been indefatigable,” said the squire; “and, by-the-way, Miss Thorne, I think your mamma is somewhere here.  I’ll go and find her.”

Hazel was growing cold, but this little gentlemanly attention made her smile again as she bowed her thanks, and George Canninge was just leaving the room, when a familiar voice was heard, and Mr William Forth Burge appeared with Mrs Thorne, handing her in very carefully, and talking loudly all the while, as he brought her into a place where he was sure there would be no draught, and then fetched her some tea and cake.

“Well, Mr Burge,” cried George Canninge, for he felt conscious that his mother was freezing the current of conversation, “what are we to call it, a success or a failure?”

Mr William Forth Burge opened his mouth and stared, but for a few moments no words came.

“I ­thought it was a big success, Mr Canninge, sir,” he said at last.  “I meant it to be, you know.”

“And so it is.  It is the grandest and the jolliest school-treat I ever saw, and if the young dogs and doggesses are not ­”

“Har ­ha ­ha ­ha ­ha ­ha!”

“Why, what are you laughing at?”

“That’s a good one, sir.  Young doggesses, sir,” roared Mr William Forth Burge; but only to become preternaturally solemn directly, as he saw that no one else even smiled.

“I was only going to say that if they don’t feel grateful for all this kindness, they ­”

“Oh, there’s Mr Chute outside, I told him to come in and get a cup.  You won’t mind for once, Mrs Canninge, and your son, will you?  It’s a holiday-time, and I want everybody to be pleased.”

“Oh, certainly not, pray ask him in, Mr Burge,” said Mrs Canninge.  “My son and I both wish the school people to thoroughly enjoy themselves.  Miss Thorne, your cup is empty, pray let me get you some more tea.”

Hazel was about to decline, for Mrs Canninge’s words made her heart sink.  She had felt so happy during the past two hours, and a warm feeling of gratitude had sprung up in her breast towards George Canninge for his gentlemanly courtesy and attention; but Mrs Canninge was, in that quiet way that some ladies can adopt, showing her that she belonged to a different grade of society, towards whom she was acting the part of lady patroness.

For the moment a feeling of resentment sprang up in her breast.  She felt that Mrs Canninge was trying to give her a lesson ­a lesson that she did not need.

The sensation of humiliation was, however, but momentary, and smiling to herself, she quietly made up her mind to show the lady patroness that she had not forgotten her position, and did not need the lesson.

The opportunity came instantly, for Mr William Forth Burge returned, bringing in poor Mr Chute, who had been gnashing his teeth, this time with the teeth themselves, and growing more and more wroth at having been neglected.  He had worked as hard as any one, but he was not taken into the drawing-room by young squires, and petted and made much of.

Neither of the Misses Lambent came and took his arm, for they were holding aloof altogether, and pretending to be deeply interested in the prizes won by Feelier Potts and Ann Straggalls.  Taken altogether, Mr Chute was fast getting up to the point when people’s indignation boils over.  He was hungry, thirsty, tired, and suffering besides from a sudden attack of longing such as he had never felt before.  He wanted to be beside Hazel Thorne, to talk to her, though had he been by her side not a word would have come.  He wanted to look at her, and hear her talk.  He wanted to breathe the same air that she was breathing, and to see her every act and look, and she had been carried off by young Mr George Canninge, while he, Samuel Chute, who was spoken of as such a clever master, and had been so strongly recommended, was left out in the cold.

Mr Samuel Chute felt in that disposition of mind which comes over most young men some time in their vealy stage, when the whole world is looked upon as going dead against them, because they cannot possess some one particular object; when they rapidly run over the various courses that seem alone open to them, and which embrace enlisting, going to sea, to the dogs, or plunging into a river or canal ­at a time when a man is handy with a boat-hook to fish them out.

Mr Chute, then, was not happy, and although he had been asked to go up to the house to partake of some refreshment he would not go, but stalked off into the shrubbery, and gnashed his teeth for a whole minute amongst the rhododendrons, after which he went into a deeper shade where it was all laurels, and as there was no one looking, gave such a stamp upon the ground as hurt his foot in his new boot.

It was in vain that the band, invigorated by Mr William Forth Burge’s beer, was playing its happiest air, and the big drum had run wild, the trombone following suit to such an extent that it was cutting and slashing about in a way that was dangerous to the boys, while the leading comet was leading indeed ­half a bar ahead.  It was in vain that sweet music sought to woo Mr Chute back to the lawn; for a whole five minutes he would not stir, preferring to suffer in solitude.

But Mr Samuel Chute was after all human, and in spite of himself he found that he was gradually drawn to the drawing-room window.  Here he was seen by Mr William Forth Burge, who came out, seized and softened him; and as the schoolmaster was marched in he felt decidedly better, and began to think of condescending to live.

“May I give you some tea, Mr Chute?” said Mrs Canninge politely.

“If you please, ma’am,” said Chute, who felt better still on noting that young Mr George Canninge was not seated at Hazel Thorne’s side.

“Let’s see:  we must find you a seat, Mr Chute,” said Mr William Forth Burge heartily, as he glanced round.

“There is room here, Mr Burge,” said Hazel, moving a little farther along the settee, and Mr Chute’s ease was complete, for the tea he drank was the most delicious he had ever tasted in his life, and he could have gone on eating bread-and-butter for an hour.

He said very little, and Hazel Thorne had to make up for it by chatting pleasantly about the proceedings, till a message came by one of the boys, and Mr Chute was fetched away, leaving the new mistress to the tender mercies of the young squire ­at least that is how he put it; but he felt as he told himself, quite a new man.

George Canninge came to Hazel’s side as soon as Chute had gone, and stood talking to her quietly, and in a way that would have satisfied the most exacting; but he had been dealing with a sensitive plant.  At first she had seemed to rejoice in the warmth of his social sunshine, but Mrs Canninge had metaphorically stretched forth a rude hand and touched her leaves, with the result that they shrank and looked withered; and, try as he would, he found her quiet, distant and constrained.

“But she can be different,” he said to himself as at last Hazel rose, and, crossing to Miss Burge, asked her permission to go.

“Oh lor’, yes, my dear, go when you think best; for you must be terribly tired.”

Hazel assured her that she was greatly rested now, and bowing to Mrs Canninge she left the room, without disturbing her mother, who was holding Mr William Forth Burge with an eye, and recounting to him a long, true, and particular account of her early life, the position she had occupied, and the ages and dates of the various illnesses of all her children, including also the fact that her son Percy was growing wonderfully like what his father had been when she first met him at one of the Lord Mayor’s balls.

“And they do say,” sighed Mrs Thorne, “that my daughter is growing greatly like what I used to be.”

Meanwhile Hazel passed out into the grounds, where she was encountered almost directly by Beatrice Lambent, who, assuming utter ignorance of where the schoolmistress had been, exclaimed ­

“Oh, you are there.  Miss Thorne.  Pray ­pray get back to the children.  My brother has been astonished at your having left them for so long.”

People fight with different weapons to those used of old, but they are quite as sharp.