Read CHAPTER THIRTEEN - THE VICAR’S SYMPTOMS of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

The Reverend Henry Lambent was born when his mother was in very bad health, and the consequence was that he had to be brought up “by hand,” which in those days meant by spoon, and, as the reader is most probably in utter ignorance of the process, it shall be described, as even the wisest may have something to learn, and there is always a possibility that information, however small, may some day be of service.

In bringing up by hand ­i.e. by spoon ­take a moderate portion of rusks, tops and bottoms, nursery biscuits, captain’s biscuits, or similar highly-baked farinaceous preparation, boil soft, add milk and sugar to suit baby’s taste ­for babies have taste, and can appreciate sweets and show disgust at bitters as well as the best of us ­then mix and beat to the consistency of cream, and by testing on the lips get it to the right heat ­just moderately warm.  Next, take the baby, lay it softly upon its back; coo, simmer, and talk soft broken English to it while a diaper bib is placed neatly beneath its chin, tightly, so as to confine the arms and fists as well; then take the preparation, about half a small teaspoonful at a time, make believe to eat it yourself by putting it in your mouth, and taking it out again, so as to be certain that it will not burn, and then apply it to the baby’s lips.

[Note. ­This placing in the feeder’s own mouth has been objected to on the plea that it will drive an observant baby frantic, making it imagine that it is about to be robbed of its rights; but the plan is to be commended on the ground of safety.]

Do not be in a hurry, nor yet be appalled at the difficulty and slowness of the operation, for as a rule seven-eighths of the preparation gets spread over baby’s cheeks and chin, portions even reaching to the wrinkles of the neck; for here is where a clever feeder shines in the deft management of the spoon, which is inserted here, drawn there, and all with the delicacy of a barber with a keen razor, till every moist portion has been scraped away, and has disappeared through the little pink buttonhole-like apology for a gate which leads to the road to digestion.  Keep up the cooing and repeat.

This is the genuine old-fashioned way, dating from a very early year after the world’s creation.  In fact, it seems evident from the discovery of bone spoons, roughly fashioned, in caverns, that some of the cave-dwellers practised it, the preparation used for nurturing the very early baby being most probably marrow out of an auroch’s leg-bone, or, maybe, the brains of the mégathérium, which may account for the wisdom that has come down from our ancestors, who knew everything, while we are ignorant in the extreme.

Now we have changed all that, as the French say, and the very modern babe is supplied with somebody’s patent infants’ food, out of which everything noxious has been eliminated.  Such preparations are advertised by the dozen, and when cooked there is no more old-fashioned spoon, but the food is placed in a peculiarly shaped bottle fitted with hose and branch like a small fire-engine, from the indiarubber tube of which baby imbibes health very seldom.  For what with neglect in cleaning the apparatus, putrescent particles of milk, fermenting yeasty paste, and the like, the infant becomes an infant prodigy if it manages to escape the many disorders incidental to early childhood, and can be exhibited as a specimen brought up by the bottle, which slays as many as that effected by people of larger growth.

No unwashed feeding-bottle slew the Reverend Henry Lambent, for your modern hookah-pattern food imbiber had not been invented when he was born.  He was reared as aforesaid, honestly by hand, but his nurse must have made a mistake in the packets from which she obtained his supplies, and in place of biscuit, ground arrowroot, or semolina, have gone in the dark and used the starch with an effect that lasted even unto manhood.

Stiffness is a mild way of expressing the rigidity of the Vicar’s person.  Rude boys made remarks about him, suggesting that he had swallowed the poker, that he was as stiff as a yard of pump-water, and the like.  Certainly he seemed to have come of an extremely stiff-necked generation, as he stalked ­he never used to walk ­down the High Street towards the schools.

The Reverend Henry Lambent had been taking seidlitz powders every morning since the school feast.  Not that he had feasted and made himself ill, for his refreshment on that day had consisted of one cup of tea and a slice of bread-and-butter ­that was all at the feast; but since then he had been nervous, hot-blooded, and strange.  He had had symptoms of the ailment before the day of the school-treat, but they had been more mild; now they had assumed an aggravated form, and the seidlitz powders brought him no relief.

And yet he had tried them well, telling himself that he was only a little feverish, and had been studying a little too hard.  He had taken a seidlitz powder according to the direction for use as printed upon the square, flat box ­that is to say, he had mixed the contents of the blue paper in a tumbler of cold spring water, waited till it dissolved, then emptied in the contents of the white paper, stirred, and drunk while in a state of effervescence.  He had dissolved the contents of the blue paper in one glass of water and the contents of the white paper in another glass of water, poured one into the other, and drunk while in a state of effervescence.  He had dissolved the contents of the papers again separately, and drunk first one and then the other, allowing the effervescence to take place not in the tumbler.  Still he was no better, and he almost felt tempted to follow the example of the Eastern potentate who took the whole of the contents of the blue papers first, and then swallowed the contents of all the white papers afterwards; but history tells that this monarch did not feel any better after the dose, so that the Reverend Henry Lambent was not encouraged to proceed.

He was not seriously bad, and yet he was, if this paradoxical statement can be accepted.  He was mentally ill for the first time in his life of the complaint from which he suffered, and he was trying hard to make himself believe that his ailment was bodily and of a nervo-febrile cast.

The Reverend Henry Lambent’s attack came on with the visible appearance of a face before his eyes.  If he sat down to read, it gazed up at him from the book, like a beautiful illustration that filled every page.  He turned over, and it was there; he turned over again, and it was still there.  Leaf after leaf did he keep turning, and it was always before him.

He set to work at his next week’s sermons, and the manuscript paper became illustrated as well with the same sweet pensive face, and when he read prayers morning and evening, it seemed to him that he was making supplication for that face alone.  He preached on Sundays, and the congregation seemed to consist of one ­the owner of that face, and to her he addressed himself morning and afternoon.  If he sat and thought it was of that face; if he went out for a constitutional, that face was with him; and when at least a dozen times he set off, as he felt in duty bound, to visit the schools, he turned off in another direction ­he dared not go for fear of meeting the owner of that face.

At meal-times, when he ate but little, it seemed to be that face that was opposite to him, instead of the thin, handsome features of his sister Rebecca; and if he turned his gaze to the right there was the face again instead of the pale, refined, high-bred Beatrice.  He went to bed, and lay turning from side to side, with that countenance photographed upon his brain, and when at last toward morning he fell asleep, it was to dream always of that pensive countenance.

The Reverend Henry Lambent grew alarmed.  He could not understand it.  He had never given much thought to such a matter as marriage on his own account.  He knew that people were married, because he had joined them together scores of times, and he knew that generally people were well-dressed, looked very weak and foolish, and that the bride shed tears and wrote her name worse than ever she had written it before.  But that had nothing to do with him.  He stood on a cold, stony pedestal, which raised him high above such human weaknesses ­weaknesses that belonged to his people, not to him.

At last he told himself that it was his duty to resist temptation, and that by resistance it would be overcome.  He realised that his ailment was really mental, and after severe examination determined to quell it by bold endeavour, for the more he fled from the cause the worse he seemed to be.  It was absurd!  It was ridiculous!  It was a kind of madness, he told himself; and again he walked over to the schools, determined to be firm and severe.  Then he told himself this feeling of enchantment would pass away, for he should see Hazel Thorne as she really was, and not through the couleur de rose glasses of his imagination.

He started then, and walked stiffly and severely down to the schools, his chin in the air and a condescending bow ready for any one who would touch his hat; but instead of going, as he had intended, straight to the girls, he turned in and surprised Mr Chute reading a novel at his desk while the boys were going on not quite in accordance with a clerical idea of discipline.

The result was a severe snubbing to Mr Chute, and the vicar stalked across the floor to go into the girls’ school; but just then he heard a sweetly modulated voice singing the first bars of a simple school ballad, and he stopped to listen.

He had heard the song hundreds of times, but it had never sounded like that before, and he stood as if riveted to the spot as the sweet, dear voice gained strength, and he knew now that just at the back of Mr Chute’s desk one of the shutters had been left slightly open, so that if he pleased that gentleman could peer into the girls’ school.

The vicar did not know how it was, but an angry pang shot through him, and a longing came over him to send Mr Chute far away and take his place, teaching the boys, and ­keeping that shutter slightly down ­ listening always to the singing of that sweet, simple lay.

And then he stood and listened, and the boys involuntarily listened too, while their master failed to urge them on, as he too stood and forgot all but the fact that was being lyrically told of how ­

  “Down in a green and shady bed,
  A modest violet grew;
  Its stalk was bent, it hung its head
  As if to hide from view.”

And, as they both listened, the Reverend Henry Lambent and Samuel Chute felt that Hazel Thorne was in some way identified with that modest violet hiding from view down in shady Plumton All Saints, diffusing a sweet perfume of good works, as the song went on to tell in a way that went straight to both their hearts.

Then their eyes met.

Directly after the sweet tones ceased, and the tune was commenced again in chorus by the singing class, the modest violet now becoming identified with the strident voice of Miss Feelier Potts who absolutely yelled.

The vicar went straight out, turning to the left as he reached the path instead of to the right, for he could not visit the girls’ school then; and he walked home, telling himself that the disenchantment was complete ­there was that open shutter ­his strange feelings for Hazel Thorne were at an end ­and he paced his study all the evening, his bedroom half the night, with the sweet air and words of that simple school song repeating themselves for ever in his ears.

“Why, Henry, what is the matter?” cried Beatrice Lambent the next morning, as she came upon her brother in the dining-room, waiting for her to make his coffee.

“Matter?” he said, flushing scarlet like a girl.  “Matter?”

“Yes! you singing?  I never heard you sing before in your life.”

“Was I ­was I singing?” he said huskily.

“Yes, that stupid, hackneyed violet song, that the children shriek at the schools.”

“Was I?  Dear me, how strange!  To be sure ­yes.  The children were singing it while I was talking to Mr Chute yesterday.  We could hear it through the partition.”