Read CHAPTER TWENTY FIVE - THE VICAR IS SYMPATHETIC of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Faint, pale, and utterly prostrate after a long and wearisome day in the school, heartsick at finding how vain her efforts were in spite of everything she could do to keep the attention of her pupils, Hazel Thorne gladly closed her desk, and left the great blank room, where three of the girls were beginning to sprinkle and sweep so as to have the place tidy for the following day.

The air had been hot and oppressive, and a great longing had come over the fainting mistress for that homely restorative, a cup of tea; but in spite of herself, a feeling of bitterness would creep in, reminding her that no such comfort would be ready for her, leaving her at liberty to enjoy it restfully and then go and take a pleasant walk somewhere in the fields.  For she knew that the probabilities were that she would find the little fire out, and the dinner-things placed untidily upon the dresser, awaiting her busy hands to put away, after she had lit the fire and prepared the evening meal.

There would be no opportunity for walking; the household drudgery would take up her time till she was glad to go to bed and prepare herself for the tasks of another day.

To make matters worse, Mrs Thorne would keep up a doleful dirge of repining.

“Ah, Hazel!” she would say, “it cuts me to the heart to see you compelled to go through all this degrading toil ­a miserable cottage, no servant, and work ­work ­work like that dreadful poor woman who sewed herself to death in a bare garret.  Oh, I’d give anything to be able to help you; but I’m past all that.”

“I don’t mind it a bit, dear,” Hazel would cry cheerfully, “I like to be busy;” and if ever the thought crossed her mind that her mother might at least have kept the little house tidy, and the children from mischief, or even have taught them to perform a few domestic offices for the benefit of all concerned, she crushed it down.

All the same her life was one of slavery, and needed no embittering by her mother’s reproaches and plaints.  Of late she had grown very cold and reserved, feeling that only by such conduct could she escape the criticism of the many watchful eyes by which she was environed.  There was very little vanity in her composition, but she could not help realising the truth of her mother’s remarks, and this induced her to walk as circumspectly as she possibly could.

Turning languidly, then, from the school on this particular afternoon, she was about to enter her own gate, when she became aware of the presence of Mr Chute who hurried up with ­

“You haven’t given me your pence to change for you lately.  Miss Thorne.  I haven’t offended you, have I?”

“Offended me, Mr Chute?  Oh no,” she replied.  “I will count them up to-morrow, and send in the bag to your school.”

“Oh, no; don’t do that,” he said hastily.  “Girls are honest enough, I dare say, but you shouldn’t put temptation in their way.  I’ll come in and fetch them.  I say, what a lovely afternoon it is!”

“Yes, lovely indeed!” replied Hazel, “but the weather seems tiring.”

“Oh, no, it ain’t,” he said sharply.  “That’s because you’re not well.”

“I’m afraid I’m not very well,” said Hazel; “I so soon get tired now.”

“Of course you do.  That’s because you don’t go out enough.  You ought to have a good walk every day.”

“Yes; I believe I ought,” replied Hazel.

“It’s going to be a lovely evening,” said Mr Chute.

“Is it?” said Hazel wearily.

“Yes, that it is.  I say ­it’s to do you good, you know ­come and have a nice walk to-night.”

“Come ­and have a walk!” said Hazel wonderingly.

“Yes,” he said excitedly, for he had been screwing himself up to this for days; “come and let’s have a walk together.  I ­that is ­you know ­ I ­’pon my soul, Miss Hazel, I can’t hardly say what I mean, but I’m very miserable about you, and if you’d go for a walk along with me to-night, it would do me no end of good.”

“Mr Chute, I could not.  It is impossible,” cried Hazel quickly.

“Oh no; it ain’t impossible,” he said quickly; “it’s because you’re so particular you won’t.  Look here, then ­but don’t go.”

“I must go, Mr Chute; I am tired, and I cannot stay to talk.”

“Look here:  will you go for a walk to-night, if I take mother too!”

Hazel had hard work to repress a shudder as she shook her head.

“It is very kind of you,” she said quietly; “but I cannot go.  Good afternoon, Mr Chute.”

“You’re going in like that because you can see Lambent coming,” he said in a loud voice, and with his whole manner changing; “but don’t you get setting your cap at him, for you shan’t have him.  I’d hang first; and, look here, you’ve put me up now ­haven’t I been ever since you came all that is patient and attentive?”

“You have been very kind to me, Mr Chute,” said Hazel, standing her ground now, and determined that he should not see her hurry in because the vicar was coming down the street.

“Yes, I’ve been very kind, and you’ve done nothing but trifle and play with me ever since you saw how I loved you.”

“Mr Chute, you know this is not the truth!” cried Hazel indignantly.  “I have tried to behave to you in accordance with my position as your fellow-teacher.”

“Then you haven’t, that’s all,” he cried fiercely.  “But you don’t know me yet.  I’m not one to be trifled with, and there ain’t time to say more now, only this ­you’ve led me on and made me love you, and have you I will ­there now!  Don’t you think you’re going to hook Lambent, or Canninge, or old Burge; because you won’t.  It’s friends or enemies here, so I tell you, and I’ll watch you from this day, so that you shan’t stir a step without my knowing it.  I’m near enough,” he added with a sneer, “and when I’m off duty I’ll put mother on. ­Oh, I say, Hazel, I am sorry I spoke like that.”

“Good-day.  Miss Thorne,” said the vicar, coming slowly up with a disturbed look in his face.  “Good-day, Mr Chute.”

“’Day, sir,” said Chute, standing his ground, while the vicar waited for him to go.

“You need not wait, Mr Chute,” said the vicar at last; and the schoolmaster’s eyes flashed, and he was about to make an angry retort; but there was something in the cold, stern gaze of the clergyman that was too much for him, and, grinding his teeth together, he turned upon his heel and walked away.

“Mr Chute is disposed to be rude, Miss Thorne,” said the vicar with a grave smile, as he laid his gloved hand upon the oak fence and seemed to be deeply interested in the way in which the grain carved round one knot.  “I beg that you will not think me impertinent, but I take a great interest in your welfare.  Miss Thorne.”

“I do not think you impertinent, sir,” she replied; “and I have to thank you for much kindness and consideration.”

“Then I may say a few words to you,” he said gravely; and there was an intensity in his manner that alarmed her.

“I beg ­I must ask” ­she began.

“A few words as a friend.  Miss Thorne,” he said in a low, deep voice, and the grain of the oak paling seemed to attract him more than ever, for, save giving her a quick glance now and then, he did not look at her.  “You are very young.  Miss Thorne, and yours is a responsible position.  It is my duty, as the head of this parish, to watch over the schools and those who have them in charge.  In short,” he continued, changing from his slow, hesitating way, “I feel bound to tell you that I could not help noticing Mr Chute’s very marked attentions to you.”

“Mr Lambent,” began Hazel imploringly.

“Pray hear me out,” he said.  “I feel it my duty to speak, and to ask you if it is wise of you ­if it is your wish ­to encourage these attentions?  It is quite natural, I know ­I do not blame you; but ­but after that which I saw as I came up, I should be grateful, Miss Thorne, if you would speak to me candidly.”

Hazel longed to turn and flee, but she was driven to bay, and, after a few moments’ pause to command her voice, she said firmly ­

“Mr Chute’s attentions to me, sir, have been, I own, very marked, and have given me much anxiety.”

“Have given you much anxiety?” he said softly, as if to himself.

“When you came up, Mr Chute had been making certain proposals to me, which, as kindly as I could, I had declined.  Mr Lambent,” she added hastily, “you said just now that I was very young.  I am, and this avowal is very painful to me.  Will you excuse me if I go in now?”

He raised his eyes to hers at this, and she saw his pale handsome face light up; and then she trembled at the look of joy that darted from his eyes, as, drawing himself up in his old, stiff way, he raised his hat and saluted her gravely, drawing back and opening the gate to allow her to go in, parting from her then without another word.