Read CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - THE REV HENRY’S TEMPTATION of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Now it so happened that the Rev Henry Lambent, who had been greatly troubled in his mind of late concerning what he called parish matters, was out that very day making a few calls.

The parish matters that troubled him were relative to the schools, about which he thought more than he had ever thought before.  In fact if he had not allowed his thoughts to dwell upon them, they would have been directed thereto by his sisters, who had reminded him several times about the unsatisfactory state of the girls’ school.

“I suppose it is useless to say so now, Henry,” said Miss Lambent, “since the new mistress is to be made the protegee of every one in the place, but I think the sooner she is dismissed the better.  If she is not sent about her business there will be a great scandal in the place, as sure as my name is Rebecca.  What do you think, Beatrice?”

There was a minute’s pause before Beatrice replied, and then her words were uttered in an extremely reserved manner.

“I prefer to say nothing upon the question, for I do not think this young person of sufficient importance for us to allow her to disturb the harmony of this peaceful home.”

The vicar winced a little, and Beatrice saw it Rebecca’s weapon was clumsy, coarse, blunt and notched; its effect upon him was that of a dull blow.  The weapon of Beatrice, on the contrary, was keen and incisive.  It inflicted a sharp pang, and it was venomed with spiteful contempt, that rankled in the wound after it was made.  The effect was to produce a couple of red spots on his cheeks, but he said nothing; he merely thought of “this young person” as he had thought of her a good deal of late, and by comparison his sisters seemed to be petty, narrow-minded, and spiteful.  He was greatly exercised in mind, too; and had he been a Roman Catholic priest he would probably have submitted himself to fastings and other penitential exercises.  As it was, he sat alone and thought and combated the strange ideas that had taken possession of him of late.  He trampled them beneath his feet ­he would not even give them a name; but so sure as he ­he, the Reverend Henry Lambent, M.A., vicar of Plumton All Saints, went into the retirement of his study to quell the fancies that he told himself were beneath his dignity as a teacher of men and a gentleman, he thought of Hazel Thorne, and her face became to him an absolute torture.

The idea was absurd, he knew it was ridiculous, and not to be thought of for a moment, and consequently he thought of it for hours every day; dreamed of it every night.  It was his first waking thought in the morning; and in the quietude of the late evening, when he was seated alone, he found himself filling the chair before him with a well-known figure, and seeing the face smile upon his as the red lips parted, and sweet and pure, the simple little school song of the violet in its shady bed floated to his listening ears.

He told himself that it was absurd, and laughed at it, but it was a dismal kind of mirth that echoed hollowly in his ears, startling him, for he fancied that the laughter sounded mocking, and he began to recall the old legends that he had read about holy men being tempted of the emissaries of the Evil One, and of the strange guises they had been said to assume for the better leading of their victims astray.

Was he ­he asked himself ­being chosen for one of those terrible temptations?  Was he to be the object of one of their assaults?

For the moment he was ready to accept the idea; but directly after, his common-sense stepped in to point out how weak and full of vanity was such a fancy.  And he then found himself thinking of how sweet and ladylike Hazel Thorne was in all her dealings with the school children ­ how gentle and yet how firm!  And if she could be so good a manager of these children, what would she not be as a wife!

He could not bear the thought, but cast it from him, and half angrily he wished that Hazel Thorne had never come to the town; but directly after, his pale handsome face lit up with a smile, his eyelids dropped, and he began thinking of how bright his life had seemed ever since Hazel Thorne had come.

“Good-day, Mr Chute.  Yes, a nice day,” he said, as he came suddenly upon the schoolmaster, gnashing his teeth as usual, but ceasing the operation upon finding himself suddenly face to face with his vicar, who bowed gravely after replying to his salutation, and passed on.

“Why, he isn’t going there too, is he?” said Chute, looking over his shoulder.  “I hope he isn’t.  No, I don’t ­hope he is.  Why am I not asked there too?” he exclaimed angrily, as he saw the vicar pass in at the Burges’ gate.  “It’s a shame, that it is; and no more favour ought to be shown to the mistress than the master.  But I won’t have it.  I won’t stand it.  She shan’t talk to Canninge, and I’ll speak to her about it to-night.  I consider her as good as mine, and it’s abominable for her to be going where I’m not asked, and talking to the gentry like this.  Gentry, indeed!  Ha, ha, ha!  I don’t think much of such gentry as Mr Burge:  a nasty, fat, stuck-up, red-faced, common, kidney-dealing, beefsteak butcher ­that’s what he is!”

Strange to say, Mr Chute did not feel any better for this verbal explosion, but after casting a few angry glances at the house that was tabooed to him, he turned back into the fields, and began, in a make-believe sort of manner, to botanise, collecting any of the simple plants around, and trying to recollect the orders to which they belonged, but always keeping within sight of Mr Burge’s gates.

“There’ll be a regular row about this, and I hope Lambent will give her a few words of a sort,” he muttered.  “It will prepare her for what I mean to say to her to-night.  I’ll give her such a lesson.  I shall divide my lesson into three parts,” he went on, speaking mechanically.  “How many parts shall I divide my lesson into! ­Oh, what a fool I am! ­ What’s this?  Oh, it’s a cress.  Belongs to the cruciferous family, and ­Hang the cruciferous family!  It’s too bad.  I won’t stand it.  There’ll be a regular scandal about her talking to the young squire.  I don’t mind, of course; but I won’t stand it for the sake of the schools.  A girl who has been trained ought to know better.  You wouldn’t catch a master trained at Saint Mark’s going on like that with girls.”

And then somehow, with a bunch of wild flowers in his hand, Mr Chute’s thoughts ran back to certain Saturday afternoons, when three or four students somehow found themselves in the neighbourhood of Chelsea, meeting accidentally with three or four other students who did not wear coats and waistcoats; and in the walks that followed parsing was never mentioned, a blade-board and chalk never came into their heads, neither did they converse on the notes of an object lesson, or ask one another what was the price of Pinnock’s Analysis, or whether they could make head or tail of Latham’s Grammar.

“But I was only a boy then,” said Mr Chute importantly.  “Now I am a man.”