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After the plain manner in which the Reverend Henry Lambent had shown himself disposed to take the part of the young schoolmistress against his sisters, the attacks made by Rebecca and Beatrice were not so open; but they found many little ways of displaying in a petty spirit that they were by no means her friends.

Ladies by birth, it was hardly to be expected that they should stoop to pettiness, but years of residence in a little country place with few people of their own class for associates, and that mutual friction which is an imperceptible popular educator in manners, had made them what they were, and disposed to grow more little of mind as the years went on.  Their lives were too smooth and regular, too uneventful.  A school examination, a blanket club, and a harvest festival, were the great points of their existence, and though they visited in the parish, and were supposed to make themselves acquainted with the cares and sorrows of the poor, their calls were made in a perfunctory spirit, and they did not possess that simple power of appealing to the heart which wins the confidence of rich and poor.  Unfortunately, then, they grew narrower as their years became more, and, at the same time, from the want of some good, genuine, honest troubles to take them out of themselves, acidity began to cark and corrode their natures, and work a considerable change.  If Rebecca Lambent had met with a man who possessed good firm qualities and been married, she would doubtless have turned out a quiet matronly body, ready to smile at trifles, and make the best of things; but unfortunately the right he had never presented himself, and Rebecca had become a thorough district-visiting old maid, as narrow as could be, and ready to look upon a child who had not read “The Pilgrim’s Progress” as on the high road to destruction.

Beatrice Lambent’s heart was still tender.  Rebecca said that she quite hated men.  Beatrice thought the declaration quite suitable, as far as her sister was concerned, but her own hatreds were directed at the other sex, and Hazel Thorne was made the scapegoat in her eyes to bear the sins of others.  For as the days glided by, she felt a growing dislike to the young schoolmistress, who was always committing some grievous error, her last being that of accepting the glass of water offered to her by George Canninge.

It would be going far to say that Beatrice Lambent would gladly have put poison in that water had she dared, but certainly she would gladly have dashed it in the recipient’s face.

It was terrible to her that George Canninge ­the hope to which her somewhat ardent imagination was now clinging as probably the last likely to come in her way ­should take so much notice of this stranger girl, finding in her an attraction that asked from him the attentions he would in an ordinary way have paid to the vicar’s sister; and more than once she had shed tears on Mrs Canninge’s breast, when that lady bade her be of good cheer, and not to take any notice of these acts.

“It is a mere nothing, my dear Beatrice,” said Mrs Canninge.  “George is naturally very chivalrous, and he seems to have taken it into his head that this girl needs his help and protection.”

“But it is so cruel to me,” sighed Beatrice.  “If you could let him think it caused me pain, he might not act so again.”

“My dear child,” replied Mrs Canninge, “you do not know my son so well as I. Poor boy, he is very headstrong, and fond of asserting himself.  Depend upon it if I were to attempt to lead him towards you, the consequences would be disastrous.  We should be setting him from sheer obstinacy towards this girl, who by-the-way appears to me to be either very innocent and weak, or else crafty and clever to a degree.”

“But surely you cannot think she dare aspire to a thought of your son wishing to be attentive to her.”

“Oh no, my dear child.  That would be impossible.  But there, do not trouble yourself about it.  You will see that George has forgotten all about her in a few weeks.”

Beatrice promised that she would not trouble, but went on growing more exercised in spirit day by day.  She took herself to task also about several little acts of pettiness in which she had detected herself, and made a vow that she would not be so contemptible again, but preserve towards Hazel Thorne a ladylike dignity of manner that would be more in keeping with her position as sister of the vicar of Plumton All Saints.

Human nature is, however, very weak, and the nature of Beatrice Lambent was a little weaker.  She had always her sister Rebecca at her elbow ­a lady who was rapidly becoming the incarnation of old-maidish pettiness and narrow-minded local policies ­and strive how she would, Rebecca’s constant droppings kept wearing a nature which, though desirous of being firm, was not hardened like unto stone.

The sisters attended the schools with their old readiness and every now and then, as if something within prompted her to be constantly watching for a chance of attack, Beatrice found herself making unpleasant remarks to or of Hazel Thorne and then going home angry and bitter, as she realised how ladylike and quiet the schoolmistress remained under every attack.

For, calling up the whole strength of her character, Hazel had determined to persevere.  She had several times been so cruelly mortified by the treatment of the sisters that she felt that she must go; but this was her first school, and she knew that she was bound to stay there a sufficient time to obtain good testimonials for a second.

The vicar came down on the day following the examination, and told her that the inspector had expressed himself greatly disappointed at the state of the school.

“I am sorry to say, Miss Thorne, that he casually let drop his intention of speaking rather hardly respecting our state, which ­I am afraid I must tell you his exact words.”

“If you please, sir,” said Hazel quietly; and she raised her eyes with the strange effect of making him lower his, and speak in a quick, indirect way.

“He said that the state the school was the more to be deplored from the fact that we had secured a young lady of evident power of teaching.  The object lesson, he said, was most masterly, and therefore ­”

The vicar stopped and raised his eyes for a moment to meet the dear, candid look that seemed to search his soul.

“Pray tell me all, sir.”

“I ­I hesitate.  Miss Thorne,” he said, “because I do not think the inspector’s opinion was just.”

“I thank you, sir,” said Hazel gravely.

“He ­he suggested that you could not be giving your heart to your work, and that in consequence the children were far more backward than in either of the neighbouring schools.”

“It must be from want of ability, sir,” said Hazel; “for I cannot charge myself with neglecting my duties in the slightest degree.”

“Exactly.  I am sure of it.  I know you have not, Miss Thorne.  I merely repeat the inspector’s words as a kind of duty, and I leave it to you to make any alterations you may think best in the direction of your teaching, for I sincerely hope that we may have a better account to show on Mr Barracombe’s next visit.”

He smiled gravely, bowed, and went away with a longing desire to shake hands, but this he kept down, and walked hurriedly home.

The vicar’s sisters were not so agreeable in their remarks upon their first visit after the inspection.  They did not attack Hazel with rebuke upon the poor way in which the girls had shown up, but condoled with her in that peculiarly aggravating manner adopted by some women towards those they do not admire.

“We were so sorry for you, Miss Thorne,” said Rebecca; “my heart quite bled to see how badly the children answered.”

“And it seemed to me such a pity,” said Beatrice, “that they will be so inattentive to the many orders you must have given them about their needlework.  Did it not strike you as being exceedingly grubby?”

That word “grubby” was brought out in a way that was absolutely wonderful.  The pronunciation was decidedly Parisian in the rolling of the r, and Miss Beatrice seemed to keep the word upon her tongue, turning it about so as to thoroughly taste how nasty it was before she allowed it to pass forth into the open air.

“The girls do make their work exceedingly dirty before it is done,” said Hazel quietly.  “I deeply regretted, too, that they should have answered so badly.  I am afraid that it was often from their not understanding the questions.”

“Oh, I don’t think that, Miss Thorne,” said Rebecca, with a kind of snap.  “You’ll excuse me, I set it down to their ignorance.”

“And yet, Miss Lambent, I next day asked the girls as many of the inspector’s questions as I could recall, and they answered them with the greatest ease.”

“Oh, really, Miss Thorne, I cannot agree with you there,” said Beatrice, with an unpleasant smile.  “If they could answer you, why could they not answer the inspector?”

“From inability to understand him, ma’am.”

“I could understand every question.  Rebecca, could not you!”

“Every word, sister.  I thought Mr Barracombe singularly clear and perspicuous.  The very model of a school inspector.”

Hazel bowed.

“I shall try very hard to make them more ready in their answers by another time,” she said with humility.

“I hope you will, I am sure, Miss Thorne,” said Beatrice, “for it must have been very painful to you, even as it is to us, to know that you have had a bad report of your school.  May we ­do you object to our taking a class each for a very little while?”

“Which class would you like, ma’am?” said Hazel gravely, in reply.

“Oh, whichever you please, Miss Thorne; we never like interfering between the mistress and her pupils, and wish to be of help so as to get the children on ­do we not, Rebecca?”

“Decidedly, Beatrice.  To help you.  Miss Thorne:  certainly not to usurp your position.  I thought if we could take a class for you now and then in Scripture history it might be useful to you.  Perhaps ­I say it with all deference.  Miss Thorne, to one who has been trained ­you are not so strong in Scripture history as we are.”

“I feel my weakness in many subjects, Miss Lambent,” replied Hazel.

“Oh no, don’t say that,” said Beatrice, with a flash of her cold blue eyes.  “You are so very clever.  Miss Thorne.  We were quite struck by your object lesson.  But Scripture history, you know.  We have been always with our brother, and we have made it so deep a study that it has come natural to us to have all these theological matters at our tongues’ ends.  Catechism, too ­I think, Rebecca, we remarked that the girls were much behind in `Duty towards my Neighbour’ and `I desire.’”

“Very much so, Beatrice; and `Death unto Sin’ was dreadful.”

“So was `To examine themselves,’” said Beatrice.  “I think, Miss Thorne, we might be of some assistance there.”

“I shall be very glad of your help.  Miss Lambent,” said Hazel, who was quite unmoved.  “Pray do not think I resent or should resent your coming at any time.  No amount of time could be too much to spend upon the children.”

“That’s her nasty, cunning assumption of humility,” thought Beatrice.  “She hates our coming, but she dare not say so.”

“Is there any other branch where we might assist you, Miss Thorne?” asked Rebecca.  “There are so many girls, and you are ­you will excuse me for saying so ­you are very young, and I could not help noticing ­ pray before I go any farther fully understand that we would not on any account interfere.  As you must have seen, our brother the vicar objects to the proper duties of the schoolmistress being interfered with.”

Hazel hid her mortification, bowed, and Rebecca went on ­

“I could not, I say, help noticing that the girls displayed a want of discipline.”

“Yes; I noticed that with sorrow,” said Beatrice, giving Hazel a look of tender regret.

“And I thought if we could help you to impress upon the children more of the spirit of that beautiful lesson in the Catechism ­”

Miss Lambent drew herself up stiffly, closed her eyes, stretched out one hand in a remarkably baggy glove, and recited loudly enough for the girls to hear ­

“`To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors and masters.  To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters.’  Would you object, Miss Thorne, to the girls all repeating that aloud?”

Hazel signed to the girls to stand, when there was a rush up like a human wave, and in all pitches of voice the familiar portion of “My duty towards my Neighbour” was repeated several times over after Miss Lambent who waved her hands like a musical conductor, and gave peculiar cadences to her voice as she went on over the sentences again and again, in happy unconsciousness that Feelier Potts was saying, “Oh, Goody me!  Oh, Goody me!” in constant iteration, instead of the prescribed forms, and making Ann Straggalls laugh.

“I think that will do,” said Miss Lambent, smiling.  “If we can make the children thoroughly take to heart, and then digest mentally the beauty of those orderly words, the discipline of the school will be greatly improved. ­Sit!”

The order coming from fresh lips, some of the girls sat down, while some remained standing, and, just as Miss Lambent repeated her command with a shrill intonation, Hazel made a sign with her hand, and every girl resumed her place.

“Now, once more,” cried Miss Lambent; “stand!”

The girls rose readily, and the lady who strongly objected to any interference with the mistress, shook her head, and cried ­


The girls resumed their seats this time pretty well, and rose at the word of command.

“There, you see.  Miss Thorne, it is soon done.  I think you will be able to get them well in order in time.  Oh, by-the-way, Beatrice, did you say anything to Miss Thorne about punishing Potts?”

“No; I thought you meant to mention it.  Will you do so now?”

“You will speak to her upon the subject, I will go and take the juvenile class.”

As she spoke, Rebecca went off to the lower end of the schoolroom, while Beatrice hemmed to clear her voice.

“My sister thinks that Ophelia Potts ought to be severely punished, and held up as an example to the whole school, Miss Thorne.  Of course you have punished her?”

“No, I have not punished her, Miss Lambent; but I have talked to her a great deal.”

“Not punished her, Miss Thorne!  Dear me, I am surprised.  The girl was most rude and impertinent on the inspection day.  I really wonder that you have not punished her severely.  She sets a bad example to the whole school.”

At that very moment the young lady in question was behaving most dramatically, copying every motion of Miss Lambent, who was gesticulating and shaking her head a good deal while teaching the juvenile class; but catching Hazel’s eye, the girl bent at once over her slate.

“Ophelia Potts.”

“A most absurd name, Miss Thorne!  Why could not they call her Jane or Sarah?”

“Parents have curious fancies in the names they give their children, ma’am,” replied Hazel.  “This girl is of a singular disposition, and I cannot help thinking that punishment would harden her.”

“But you saw how she behaved, Miss Thorne.  Why do you say that?”

“The girl is of a very affectionate disposition, and I think I can win her over by kindness.  She is very clever, and one of my best pupils, and I think in time she will be all I could desire.”

“I must beg to differ from you.  Miss Thorne,” said Beatrice, shaking her head.  “I have known Ophelia Potts four years, and I am perfectly sure that nothing but severe castigation will ever work a change in her.  But of course that is for you to decide.  My sister and I could not think of interfering.  We only wish, as you are so young, to offer you a few suggestions, and to be of whatever service we can.”

“I am very grateful.  Miss Lambent ­”

“Miss Beatrice Lambent, if you please,” said the lady in corrective tones.  “My sister is Miss Lambent.”

“Miss Beatrice Lambent,” said Hazel gravely; “and I shall always strive to avail myself in every way of your and your sister’s assistance.”

“She is as deceitful as can be,” said Beatrice spitefully, as they were walking home.  “That abominable humility makes me feel as if I could box her ears, for it is all as false as false.”

“Henry is perfectly stupid about her,” replied Rebecca.  “He thinks her a prodigy; but mark my words, Beatrice, he’ll find her out before long, and bitterly repent not having sent her about her business at once.”

“I can’t imagine what Henry is thinking about,” sighed Beatrice; “but he will find out his mistake.”

Somewhere about this time Hazel had dismissed the girls, and told Feelier Potts to stop back, an order which that young lady obeyed for a few moments and then made a rush for the door.


The girl’s hand was already on the latch, and in another moment she would have darted through; but Hazel Thorne’s quiet voice seemed to affect her in a way that she could not understand, and letting her hand fall to her side, she hesitated and turned.

“Come here, Ophelia.”

The girl hung back for a moment, and then, as if drawn to the speaker, she approached in a slow, half-sulky, defiant way, gazing sideways at her teacher, and seeming ready to dart off at a word.

“She’d better not hit me,” thought Feelier.  “I won’t never come no more if she do.  I’ll soon let her know, see if I don’t.”

By this time she was close up to Hazel, who, instead of looking at her in a mending way, smiled at the girl’s awkward approach and suspicious gaze.

“You think I am going to punish you, Ophelia, do you not?”

“Yes, teacher; Miss Lambent told you to.”

“Miss Lambent said that you deserved punishment for behaving badly in school, but I told her that there was no need, for I am going to ask you to help me, Ophelia, and not give me more work to do.  There are so many girls, and if they are tiresome, my work grows very, very hard.”

“The girls are very tiresome, please, teacher.”

“Then why don’t you help me in trying to keep them quiet?  You do know so much better.”

The girl looked up at her with one eye, and a general aspect as if some progenitor had been a magpie.

“I mean it, Ophelia.  You are a quick, clever girl, and know so much better.  It grieves me when you will play tricks, and make my work so hard.”

“Please, teacher, may I go now?  Mother wants me.”

“You shall go directly, Ophelia; but I want you to promise me that you will be a better girl.”

“Please, teacher, mother leathers the boys if they don’t get home in time for dinner, and dinner must be ready now.”

“You shall go directly, my child; but will you promise me?”

“If I don’t get home to dinner, teacher, I shan’t be ’lowed to come ’safternoon.”

“Then you will not promise me, Ophelia?”

The girl gave a half-sulky, half-cunning look at the speaker, and then, taking a weary nod of the head to mean permission, she darted away, and the schoolroom door closed after her with a loud bang.