Read CHAPTER SIXTEEN - A MATCH-MAKING MAMMA of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Don’t you think, George, that dear Beatrice looks rather pale and thin?” said Mrs Canninge.

“Who ­Beatrice Lambent?” said the young man, raising his eyes from his paper at breakfast.

“Yes, dear; very thin and pale indeed.”

“Now you mention it yes, of course; but so she always did.”

“Slightly, George; and there was a delicacy in the tinting of her skin ­ liliaceous, I might say, but she was not pale.”

“Bravo, dear!  That’s a capital word.  Do for a Tennysonian poem ­`the Lay of the Liliaceous Lady.’”

“I was speaking seriously, my dear,” said Mrs Canninge stiffly.  “I beg that you will not make those absurd remarks.”

“Certainly not, dear; but liliaceous is not a serious way of speaking of a lady.”

“Then I will not use it, George, for I wish to speak to you very seriously about Beatrice Lambent.”

The young man winced a little, but said nothing.  He merely rustled his newspaper and assumed an air of attention.

“I don’t think that dear Beatrice is well, George.”

“Tell Lambent to send her off to the seaside for a good blow.”

“To pine away and grow worse, George.”

“To the interior, then, mother.”

“To still pine away, George.”

“Try homeopathy, then.  Like cures like.  Send her into Surrey amongst the fir-trees ­pine to cure pine.”

Mrs Canninge sipped her coffee.

“Or get Miss Penstemon to give her a few pilules out of one of her bottles ­the one she selected when I came down on the Czar last year at that big hedge.”

“When you have ended your badinage, my dear son, I shall be ready to go on.”

“Done.  Finis!” said George Canninge promptly.

“I have been noting the change in dear Beatrice for some time past.”

“I have not,” said the young man.  “She always was very thin and genteel-looking.”

“Extremely, George; but of late there has been a subdued sadness ­a pained look in her pensive eyes, that troubles me a good deal, for it is bad.”

“Perhaps she has some trouble on her mind, dear.  You should try and comfort her.”

I could not comfort her, my dear.  The comfort must come from other lips than mine.  Hers is a mental grief.”

“Why, you don’t mean to say that she is in love?” said George Canninge, laughing.

“I mean to say that the poor girl is suffering cruelly from a feeling of neglect, and it grieves me very, very much.”

“Send the swain for whom she sighs to comfort her, my dear mamma.”

“That is what I am seeking to do, George,” said the lady, looking at him meaningly.  “Don’t you think it is time you threw off this indifference, and ceased to trifle?  You are giving pain to a true, sweet woman.”

“I!  I giving pain to a true, sweet woman?  Absurd!  My dearest mother, do you for a moment suppose that I ever thought seriously about Beatrice Lambent?”

“It has been one of my cherished hopes that you did, George, and I know that she feels your cool indifference most keenly.”

“Nonsense, dear!” he cried, laughing; “why, what crotchet is this that you have got into your head?”


“Yes, dear ­crotchet.”

“I am speaking in all seriousness to you, my son.  George, your behaviour to Beatrice Lambent is not correct.”

“My dear mother,” said the young man firmly, “do you mean to tell me that you honestly believe Beatrice Lambent cares for me?”

“Most assuredly, George.”

“Poor lass, then!  That’s all I can say.”

“Why, George, have you not led her on by your attentions for these many months past?”

“Certainly not!  I have been as civil and attentive to her as I have been to other ladies ­that is all.  What nonsense!  Really, mother, it is absurd.”

“It is not absurd, George, but a very serious matter.”

“Well, serious enough, of course, for I should be sorry if Miss Lambent suffered under a misunderstanding.”

“Why let it be a misunderstanding, George?  Beatrice is handsome.”

“Ye-es,” said the young man, gazing down at his paper.

“Well born.”

“I suppose so.”

“Thoroughly intellectual.”

“Let’s see:  it’s Byron, isn’t it, who makes `hen-pecked-you-all’ rhyme to `intellectual’?”


“My dear mother.”

“Beatrice is amiable; has a good portion from her late uncle ­in fact, taken altogether, a most eligible partie, and I like her very much.”

“But, my dear mother,” said the young squire, “it is a question of my marriage, is it not?”

“Of course, my son.”

“Then it would be necessary for me to like her as well ­from my commonplace point of view, to love her.”

“Certainly, my dear; and that I believe at heart you do.”

“Then, your dear, affectionate, motherly heart is slightly in error, for I may as well frankly tell you that I do not like Beatrice Lambent, and what is far more, I am sure that I should never love her enough to make her my wife.”

“My dear George, you give me very great pain.”

“I am very sorry, my dear mother, but you must allow me to think for myself in a matter of this sort.  There:  suppose we change the subject.”

He resumed, or rather seemed to resume, the reading of his paper, while the lady continued her breakfast, rather angry at what she called her son’s obstinacy, but too good a diplomatist to push him home, preferring to wait till he had had time to reflect upon her words.  She glanced at him now and then, and saw that he seemed intent upon his newspaper, but she did not know that he could not keep his attention to the page, for all the while his thoughts were wandering back to the tent in Mr William Forth Burge’s grounds, then to the church, and again to the various occasions when he had seen Hazel Thorne’s quiet, grave face, as she bent over one or other of her scholars.

He thought, too, of her conversation when he chatted with her after he had taken her in to tea, and then of every turn of expression in her countenance, comparing it with that of Beatrice Lambent, but only to cease with an ejaculation full of angry contempt, “I shall not marry a woman for her pretty face.”

“Did you speak, my dear!” said Mrs Canninge.

“I uttered a thought half aloud,” he replied quietly.

“Is it a secret, dear?” she said playfully.

“No, mother; I have no secrets from you.”

“That is spoken like my own dear son,” said Mrs Canninge, rising, and going behind his chair to place her hands upon his shoulders, and then raise them to his face, drawing him back, so that she could kiss his forehead.  “Why, there are lines in your brow, George ­lines of care.  What are you thinking about!”

“Beatrice Lambent.”

“About dear Beatrice, George?  Why, that ought to bring smiles, and not such deep thought-marks as these.”

“Indeed, mother!  Well, for my part, I should expect much of Beatrice Lambent would eat lines very deeply into a fellow’s brow.”

“For shame, my dear!  But come,” cried Mrs Canninge cheerfully, “tell me what were your thoughts, or what it was you said that was no secret.”

“I said to myself, mother, that I should never marry a woman for the sake of a pretty face.”

Mrs Canninge’s mind was full of Hazel Thorne, and, associating her son’s remark with the countenance that had rather troubled her thoughts since the day of the school feast, her heart gave a throb of satisfaction.

“I know that, George,” she exclaimed, smiling.  “I know my son to be too full of sound common-sense, and too ready to bear honourably his father’s name, to be led away by any temporary fancy for a pleasant-looking piece of vulgar prettiness.”

Mrs Canninge stopped, for she knew at heart without the warning of the colour coming into her son’s face, that she had gone too far; and she felt cold and bitter as she listened to her son’s next words.

“I do not consider Beatrice Lambent’s features to be vulgarly pretty,” he said.

“Oh no, of course not, George; she is very refined.”

“I misunderstood you, then,” said George Canninge coldly.  “But let us understand one another, my dear mother.  I find you have been thinking it probable that I should propose to Beatrice Lambent.”

“Yes, dear; and I am sure that she would accept you.”

“I daresay she would,” he replied coldly; “but such an event is not likely to be brought about for Beatrice Lambent is not the style of woman I should choose for my wife.”

He rose and quitted the room, leaving Mrs Canninge standing by the window, looking proud and angry, with her eyes fixed upon the door.

“I knew it,” she cried; “I knew it.  But you shall not trifle with me, George.  I am neither old nor helpless yet.”