Read CHAPTER TWENTY THREE - NOSEGAYS ARE NOT ALWAYS SWEET of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Please, teacher, I’ve brought you some flowers.”

Hazel Thorne turned round, to find that the speaker was Feelier Potts, who was holding up a goodly bunch of roses, snapdragons, rose bay, and other homely flowers tied up with some considerable amount of taste, save that the band which held the blossoms against a good background of ribbon grass was a long strip of flannel list, that made the bunch bulky and strange.

There was a curious, half-defiant, half-smiling look in the girl’s face, as she handed the nosegay, and Hazel hesitated for a moment, and looked severe, for it was as if the flowers were meant as a peace-offering or bribe, to act as a passport in connection with Miss Feelier Potts’ evasion on the previous day.

Feelier saw the look, and was drawing back the nosegay with her expressive young face full of chagrin, but she brightened directly as her teacher smiled, took the flowers, smelt them, and said ­

“How sweet!  Thank you, Ophelia.  Will you be kind enough to go indoors for me, and ask for a jug of water to place them in?”

“Yes, teacher,” cried the girl excitedly, and she rushed off, to come back with the jug, into which the flowers, after being relieved of their flannel outer garment, were placed, and then stood upon the corner of the desk, while from time to time that morning Feelier’s eyes twinkled as she glanced at the post of honour occupied by her present, and then gazed triumphantly round at her fellow-pupils, whispering every now and then ­

“I gave teacher them flowers.”

Mr Samuel Chute also saw those flowers through the opening between two shutters, and he noted how from time to time Hazel went to her desk and smelt the roses.  This fired him with the idea that he must make Hazel the offer of another bouquet himself, and he concluded that, by the way in which those flowers were received, he might tell how his love affairs were likely to prosper.

For they did not seem to progress so well as he could wish.  Time back he had determined that the last person in the world for him to marry would be a schoolmistress.  His idea was to “marry money,” as he termed it, a notion highly applauded by Mrs Chute, who gave it as her opinion that her son was a match for any lady in the land.  But when the new mistress rose upon the horizon of his view he altered his mind, and concluded not only that he would marry a schoolmistress, but that the schoolmistress he would marry was Hazel Thorne.

“You do as you like, Samuel, of course,” said Mrs Chute; “but to my mind she’s not good enough for you.  But you do as you like.”

Mr Chute made up his mind that he would do as he liked, and among the things he determined to do as he liked about was the giving of a bouquet, only he did not know how to compass it; for flowers of a superior kind were not plentiful at Plumton All Saints, and the only way to obtain anything at all chaste was to apply to Mr Canninge’s gardeners at Ardley, or to Mr William Forth Burge’s, or the rectory.

This was awkward but unavoidable, and, besides, he said to himself.  Hazel Thorne would never know whence they came.

So Mr Chute made a mental note re flowers, and then went on with his lesson-giving, while Feelier Potts, who was wonderfully quiet and well-behaved, went on dilating about her present and rejoicing in the grand position of donor of flowers to the manager of the school.

How quickly passing are our greatest joys.  Just as Feelier was confiding to a girl in the second class, now seated back to back, that she gave teacher them flowers, there was a loud dab at the panel of the door, and directly after a rattling of the latch, as a fierce-looking woman walked straight in, exclaiming loudly ­

“Where’s my gal?  I want that gal of mine.”

Feelier Potts saw the stout fierce-looking woman, whose aspect indicated that she had been washing, enter the schoolroom, and knew perfectly well who she was and what she wanted, but Feelier sat perfectly still, and ready to disown all relationship, probably from a faint hope that she might rest unseen; but it was not to be, for, as the stout woman raised her voice and exclaimed again, “Where’s my gal?” fat Ann Straggalls, with the most amiable of intentions, and prompted by a notable desire to do the best she could to oblige, exclaimed loudly ­

“Please, Mrs Potts, Feelier’s here.  Oh ­oh!  Please, teacher, Feelier ­oh my! oh!”

Ann Straggalls was howling loudly, for, just as she finished her announcement of Feelier’s whereabouts, that young lady threw out one youthful leg, and delivered a sharp kick on Ann Straggalls’ shin, the kick being the sharper from the fact that the class of boot worn by the Potts family was that known as “stout” and furnished with nails.

“What is the matter here?” exclaimed Hazel, hurrying to the spot.

“Oh, it’s that gal of mine,” said Mrs Potts, also hurrying up from another direction.  “You just come here, miss.”

“Please, teacher, Ann Straggalls’s been telling tales.”

“Please, teacher, she ki-ki-kicked me.”

“You come here, miss,” cried Mrs Potts, who had not the slightest veneration in her nature; and she made a grab at her daughter, who avoided it by a backward bound over the form upon which she had been seated, and keeping several girls between her young person and her irate mamma.

“Mrs Potts, I presume?” said Hazel.

“Yes, my name’s Potts, and I’m not ashamed of it neither,” said the woman.  “I want my gal.”

“Will you have the goodness to come to the door and speak to me?” said Hazel.  “I cannot have the discipline of the school interrupted like this, Mrs Potts.”

The irate lady was about to make an angry retort, but that word “discipline” was too much for her.  Mrs Potts had a husband whose weakness it was to have “bad breakings out” at times.  Not varieties of eczema, or any other skin disease, but fits of drunkenness, when he seemed to look upon the various branches of his family as large or small kinds of mats, which it was his duty to beat, and, from his wife downwards, he beat them accordingly whenever they came within his reach.  The consequence was, that from time to time he was haled before the magistrates, and cautioned, and even imprisoned, the justices of the peace telling him that as he was so fond of disciplining he must receive wholesome discipline himself, and considerately upon the last occasion giving him a month.

Now Mrs Potts objected to marital punishment, but it was short if not sweet, and when it was over Potts went to work.  She objected, however, much more to magisterial punishment, because it fell upon her.  If Potts was fined, she suffered in the housekeeping money by running short, and if on the other hand he was sent to prison, while he was lying at ease and fed on bread and water, a pleasantly lowering diet for a man of his inflammatory nature, she had to set to work and earn by the hard use of soap, soda, hot water, and much rubbing, the necessary funds to buy food for the youngsters’ mouths.

Discipline, then, had a very important ring to her ears, and she became amenable directly to the quiet words of authority, following Hazel meekly to the door, going through the process of wiping a pair of very crinkly, water-soaked hands upon her apron the while.

“Another time, Mrs Potts, if you will knock at the door, I will come and talk to you, for, as the mother of children, you must know how necessary it is to preserve discipline amongst the young.”

“Which well I know it, miss; but I’m that aggravated with that limb of a gal, that if I don’t take it out of her I shall be ill.”

“What is the matter, then!” cried Hazel.

“Matter, nuss?  Why, everything’s the matter when that gal’s got her own way.  Here did I tell her, only this morning, that, as I’d got to stop at the wash-tub all day, she must stay at home and look after the little bairn, and what does she do but take my scissors and cut off every flower there was, and tie ’em up and slip off.  I didn’t know where she’d gone to, till all of a sudden I thought it might be to school; and here she is.  And now I would like to know what she did with them flowers.”

“Flowers!” said Hazel, as a thought flashed across her mind.

“Well, there now, if that ain’t them upon your desk, nuss!  That’s my love-lies-bleeding, and London-tuft, and roses.  Oh, just wait till I get hold on her.  Did she bring ’em to you, miss?”

“Yes, Mrs Potts; she brought me the nosegay.  I am very sorry that she should have done such a thing without asking leave.”

“I ain’t got much about the house that’s nice to look at,” said the woman, gazing wistfully at the flowers; “and she’s been and cutten it all away.  But only just wait till I get her home.”

“Don’t punish the girl, Mrs Potts,” said Hazel quietly.  “I think it was from thoughtlessness.  Ophelia knew I was fond of flowers, and brought them for me.  I will talk to her about it.  Indeed I am very sorry that she should do such a thing.”

“Well, miss, if so be as you’re fond o’ flowers, and will give her a good talking to, why I won’t say no more about it.  Ah, you bad gal!”

This was accompanied by a threatening gesture from the stout lady’s fist, which, however, did not seem to cause Miss Feelier Potts much alarm, that young personage only looking half defiantly at her parent, and as soon as the latter’s eyes were removed, indulging herself by making a few derisive gestures.

“You will take the flowers back with you, Mrs Potts.  I am very sorry.”

“Which I just won’t, miss, so now then,” said the woman sharply.  “If you like flowers, miss, you shall have ’em; and if you could make a better gal of that Feelier, I’m sure there ain’t nothing I wouldn’t do for you.  And now, as my water’s all getting cold, I must be off!”

“But you said that you wished Ophelia to come home and help you.  I don’t like the girls being kept away, but of course it is her duty to help you at a time like this.  Ophelia Potts.”

“Yes, teacher; please I wasn’t talking,” said Feelier sharply.

“Come here.”

“No, no, miss, you let her ’bide, and when I’m gone just you give her a good talking to.”

“And you will not punish her, Mrs Potts?”

“No, miss, I’ll leave it all to you;” and, quite tamed down by the quiet dignity of the young mistress, Mrs Potts returned to her soap and soda, and the little “bairn” that Feelier was to attend enjoyed itself upon the doorstep, off which it fell on an average about once every quarter of an hour, and yelled till it was lifted up by its mother’s wet hands, shaken, and bumped down again, when it returned to its former sport with its playthings, which consisted of four pebbles and an old shoe, the former being placed in the latter with solemn care, and shaken out again with steady persistency, the greatest gratification being obtained therefrom.

Meanwhile Hazel had an interview with Feelier, who listened attentively to “teacher’s” remarks anent the objectionable plan of stealing other people’s goods when a present is intended in another direction, all of which Miss Feelier quietly imbibed, and, mentally quoting the words of common use with her brothers, she said, “She’d be blowed if she’d bring teacher any more flowers, so there now!” while on being allowed to go back to her place she solaced herself by giving Ann Straggalls a severe pinch on the arm, and making her utter a loud cry.