Read CHAPTER SEVENTEEN - TOUCHED of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

George Canninge went straight into his study and threw himself into a chair, to lie back, his brows knit, and his eyes fixed upon one particular spot in the pattern of the paper of the room.

Then he began to think hard, and his thoughts were like one of those glorious pieces of music, in which a great composer takes some lovely, heart-stirring melody as his theme, and then weaves it in and out through the whole composition; the ear is attracted to other beauties, and fresh subjects are constantly being evoked, but the artist never forgets the sweet enthralling air which is ever-recurring, and seems to give character to the whole.

Always the same; think how he would of other matters, there was Hazel Thorne’s sweet face, and her soft eyes looking up at him at every turn.

“Am I in love?” he said at last, asking himself the question in a calm, matter-of-fact way.  “This seems very absurd, and if any one had told me that I should be thinking of nothing but a little schoolmistress day and night, I should have asked him if he took me for a fool.

“Fool!  Am I a fool?  Let’s argue it out.  Hazel Thorne.  Hazel, what a peculiar name! ­well.  Hazel Thorne is a schoolmistress, and if I asked her to be my wife, always supposing that she would accept me, the people would say that I was mad ­that I threw myself away.


“Because she is a schoolmistress and works for her living, strives hard to keep her mother and sisters, and I don’t suppose has money to spare for a fashionable dress.

“Bah!  What a creature for a man ­a gentleman of birth and position to love ­a girl who works hard, is self-denying and patient, and cannot dress well.  I’m afraid I am very mad indeed.  But that is from a society point of view.  Let’s take another.

“Hazel Thorne is refined, sensitive, perfectly ladylike to my mind, very sweet ­very beautiful with those soft appealing eyes, and that rather care-worn, troubled look; she is evidently a true woman, and one who would devote herself thoroughly to the man who won her heart.  If I could win her I believe she would think more of me than of her dresses and jewellery, horses and carriages, and consider that her sole aim in life was to make me happy ­if I could win her.”

He sat with his eyes half-closed for a time.

“No, I don’t believe that,” he said aloud.  “I don’t believe that she would accept me for the sake of my position.  I believe from my heart that she would refuse me, and if she does ­well, I shall try.”

There was another long pause, during which the thought-weaving went on, with the face of Hazel Thorne ever in the pattern; and at last as if perfectly satisfied in his own mind, he rose and sighed, saying: 

“Yes; there’s no doubt about it:  I am what people call `in love.’”

He went to the window and stood leaning against the side, gazing out at the pleasant park-like expanse, but seeing nothing but the face of Hazel Thorne, as in a quiet, dreamy way he recalled the past.

Suddenly a pang shot through him, and his brow grew rugged, for he remembered a conversation he had heard between Beatrice Lambent and his mother, wherein the former had said, a propos of the new mistress, that the vicar had been rather displeased with her for receiving the visit of some gentleman friend so soon after she had come down.

“I shall hate that woman before I have done,” he said angrily, and, crossing the room, he rang the bell sharply and ordered his horse.

George Canninge’s was no calf-love.  He was a sterling, thoughtful man, quietly preparing himself to make his position in his country’s legislature; and yet the coming of Hazel Thorne had changed the whole course of his life.  He found himself longing to see her, eager to meet and speak, but bound by his sense of gentle deference towards the woman who occupied so high a position in his esteem to avoid doing anything likely to call forth remark to her disparagement.

George Canninge mounted and rode off, leaving the care of his body to his horse, and for the next three hours he was in a kind of dream.  He rode right away out into the country, and then returned, to come back to himself suddenly, for there, the living embodiment of his thoughts, was Hazel Thorne coming towards him, and in an instant all the determinations that he had made vanished into space.

His horse seemed to realise his wishes, for it stopped, and the rider dismounted, threw the rein over his arm, and advanced to meet the object of his thoughts, whose colour was very slightly augmented as he raised his hat and then extended his hand.

“I have not had the pleasure since the day of the school feast.  Miss Thorne,” he said; and then, as if it were quite natural, they stood talking of indifferent matters for a few minutes, and Hazel let fall that she was going up to Miss Burge.

“I’ll go with you,” he said quietly.  “I like those people; they are so thoroughly genuine.  Money has not spoiled Burge.  He’s as honest as the day.”

Just then, somehow, Hazel began to think that if Archibald Graves had been speaking of the Burges he would have been sure to have turned them into ridicule and laughed at their vulgar ways.

George Canninge had no hidden thought, no object to serve in speaking of the successful tradesman as he did; but if he had studied a speech for a month he would not have found one more suited to win favour with his companion.

As they walked on, it did not occur to Hazel at first that she was being guilty of a very series lapse in the eyes of the people in Plumton All Saints.  It was so natural for a gentleman to speak to her quietly and courteously, that for the time being she forgot all about her position in life, and that this act was one that would cause a grave scandal in the little community.  King Cophetua loved a beggar-maid, and when the lords and ladies of the court found that she was good as she was fair, they all applauded their monarch’s choice; but that took place in the land of romance.  The meeting of Hazel Thorne with young Squire Canninge came about in the road leading out of Plumton All Saints, and as they walked together towards Mr Burge’s handsome villa, they were seen of several people who could talk, and who did talk, about “such shameful goings on;” they were seen of Samuel Chute, who turned green as he shrank back out of sight, but followed them afterwards at a distance; and finally they were seen of Miss Burge, who suddenly shouted into her brother’s private room: 

“Oh, Bill, do come and lookye here!  Miss Thorne’s coming up the drive along with young Mr Squire Canninge.  Muffins and marmalade ’ll do for her, but there’s nothing in the house to ask him to eat but cold mutton.”