Read CHAPTER NINETEEN - VISITORS TO THE BURGES of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

It was quite like old days, Hazel thought, as George Canninge walked beside her up the drive to Mr William Forth Burge’s door.  There was no assumption of gallantry, not a word but such as a gentleman would have addressed to a friend.  But he chatted to her pleasantly and well; laughed about the enjoyment of the school children, their great appreciation of the feast; and introduced the general topics of the day, drawing Hazel out so that, to her surprise, she found herself answering and questioning again, as if George Canninge were some pleasant friend whom she had known for years.

“Ah, Miss Burge, how are you!” he cried cheerily.  “I found Miss Thorne on the way here, and I thought I ought to come and say a word as well, for I’ve not seen you since the feast.”

“I’m so glad you did come, Mr Canninge,” said the little lady, shaking hands very warmly, as she led the way into the drawing-room after kissing Hazel affectionately.  “You don’t know how we have talked about you.”

“Slanders behind my back.  Miss Burge!”

“Bless my heart, sir, no.  Why, it was all about how you did go on and help at the school feast, making such fun and games for the poor children; and it all seemed so strange.”

“Strange, Miss Burge!” said Canninge.  “May I ask why!”

“Because we’d always heard that you were so proud and ’orty like, sir, when you’re really about the nicest gentleman I ever met.”

“Do you hear that Miss Thorne!” he cried merrily.  “There, I shall go home as proud as a peacock.  Oh, here’s Mr Burge.  What do you think your sister says!”

“That we’re very glad to see you, Mr Canninge, sir; and what will you take!”

“Nothing but courteous words, Mr Burge, after your sister’s compliment.  She says that I am really about the nicest gentleman she ever met.”

“And she means it too, sir.  She never says anything she does not mean.  She’s done nothing but talk ever since about the way you pleased those children, sir, at the feast.”

“Well, poor little things, why shouldn’t we try and give them a treat now and then ­a real treat!  I like to see them work hard at school, and work hard when they play, not taken out to be marched up and down, and disciplined, and made miserable.  Miss Thorne, you must forgive me if I am going against your views.”

“Indeed, you are not,” replied Hazel.  “I am very new and inexperienced over teaching, but I thoroughly believe in hearty, wholesome play being a necessary part of a child’s education.”

“Hear, hear!  Hee-ar! ­hee-ar! ­hee-ar!” cried Mr William Forth Burge, beating the drawing-room table loudly with a book.

“I quite agree with Miss Thorne there,” said Canninge; “and as to what I did the other day ­well, really, I enjoyed it as much as the children.”

“So did I, Mr Canninge, sir,” cried Burge.  “It was a regular treat, sir; and they shall have another and a better feast next year, please God I live.”

“No, no, fair-play’s a jewel, Burge,” said Canninge heartily.  “None of your haughty millionaire assumption.”

Burge stared.

“They shall come up to Ardley next time, and I’ll see if I can’t beat you.”

“What! you’ll have the schools up to your place, sir, next year!”

“To be sure I will; and I’ve got an idea in my head that will take the shine out of your treaty for I’ll have a display of fireworks.”

“There, Betsey, I never thought of no fireworks; and we might have had a regular show off.  I never thought of them.  Oh!”

“You could not have made the children happier, Mr Burge, if you had remembered the fireworks,” said Hazel, coming to the rescue.  “They thoroughly enjoyed themselves.”

“Well, I meant ’em to.  Miss Thorne; I meant ’em to, indeed.”

“I agree with Miss Thorne,” said Canninge, “and my first step will be to come here for your help.”

“And you shall have it too, sir, hearty; that you shall.”

“You will come and take off your things now, my dear,” said Miss Burge then.  “Mr Canninge will excuse us, I’m sure; and, bless me, if here isn’t Mr Lambent coming up the drive.”

George Canninge felt disposed to go, but thought he would stay, and waited; while the bell was heard to clang, the steps of the servant followed, and a short colloquy was heard, resulting in the vicar leaving his card, and turning away.

“Why, he ain’t coming in,” said Mr William Forth Burge, running to the door, and then halfway down the drive.

No; he would not come in, the vicar said quietly.  Not to-day.  He only wished to know if Miss Burge was well, and he walked away, frowningly thinking of George Canninge’s horse, which he knew well by sight, as the groom was walking it slowly up and down by the entrance to the stable-yard.

He had not seen it till he was close up, and he felt disposed to turn back, but it was too late.  He had heard from the servant that Hazel Thorne was present as well, and he parted from the giver of school treats soon afterwards, feeling bitter at heart and low-spirited more than he could account for at the time.

“He wouldn’t come in,” said Mr William Forth Burge, hurrying back into the drawing-room panting and looking warm.  “I told him you was here.”

“Busy, perhaps,” said George Canninge quietly, though he told himself directly after that it was an absurd remark, for if the Reverend Henry Lambent had been busy he would not have devoted the day to making calls.

“Well now, you must excuse us, Mr Canninge, for brother will talk to you while we go upstairs.”

“I must ask you to excuse me too,” said George Canninge, rising and thinking of the vicar’s visit, which it was certainly strange should have been paid at the time Miss Thorne was there.  “My horse is hot, and I must not leave him any longer.  I met Miss Thorne on the way, and the sight of her reminded me of my want of civility in not coming sooner.  Now I’ll say good-day.  Miss Burge, I shall never forget your compliment.”

“Which it was not a compliment at all, sir, but just what I honestly thought,” replied Miss Burge, shaking hands.

“Then I shall esteem the remark all the more,” he said, smiling, and delighting the little lady by his frankness and hearty way.  Then, turning to where Hazel was standing: 

“Good-day, Miss Thorne,” he said; and there was something so frank and matter-of-fact in the way in which he shook hands that Hazel’s eyes brightened; and he went away, mounting at the door, and walking his horse down to the gate, with stout Mr William Forth Burge holding on by the mane, and talking loudly the while.

George Canninge’s replies sounded manly and ready enough, but all the time he was thinking of Hazel Thorne’s sweet ingenuous smile, and he rode away at a brisk canter, as if he meant to go over Samuel Chute, seeing only that there was some one by the side of the road, for he was picturing that smile, and more than once he repeated to himself the words: 

“Only a schoolmistress!”

Then, after a pause, as he was well clear of the town: 

“Well, what of that?  It is a most worthy pursuit and she is a thorough lady in every word and look.”