Read CHAPTER FORTY ONE - BROTHER AND SISTERS—­REFINED of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

There was a good deal of conversation about it at the Vicarage, where it became known through a visit paid by Rebecca and Beatrice to the school, and their coming back scandalised at finding it in charge only of the pupil-teachers, who explained the reason of Hazel’s absence, and that she had sent a message to Mr Chute, asking him if he would raise one of the shutters, and give an eye occasionally to the girls’ school, which was, however, in so high a state of discipline now that the pupil-teachers were able to carry it on passably well.

“And of course Mr Chute has done so?” said Miss Lambent.

“No, please ’m; he said he had plenty to do with his own school,” replied one pupil-teacher.

“And he wouldn’t do anything of the sort,” said the other.

“What a disgraceful state of affairs, Beatrice!” exclaimed Miss Lambent; and the sisters hurried away to acquaint their brother with the last piece of news.

“I suppose, with a person of her class, one can only expect the same conduct that one would receive from a servant,” said Beatrice acidly.

“I do not understand you, Beatrice,” said her brother.

“I mean, Henry, that now she has resigned or received her dismissal, we shall only get the same amount of inattention that one would from a discharged servant.”

“For my part,” said the vicar, “I think that Miss Thorne is being hardly dealt with.”

“Absurd, Henry!” said Miss Lambent.  “We cannot say a word to you but you take Miss Thorne’s part.”

“Why not, when I see her treated with injustice!”

“Injustice, Henry!” cried Beatrice.  “Is it injustice to speak against a young person who behaves like an unjust steward?”

The vicar was silent.

“For my part,” said Rebecca, “I think she should have been dismissed at once; and she would have been, but for the opposition offered by you, Henry, and Mr Burge.”

“For my part,” continued the vicar, ignoring the past speeches, “I can see nothing more touching, more beautiful, and Christian-like than Miss Thorne’s behaviour to this child ­one of the sick lambs of her fold.”

“We are sorry, of course, for Ophelia Potts,” said Rebecca; “but she is a dreadful child.”

“A fact, I grant,” said the vicar; “and one that makes Miss Thorne’s conduct shine out the more.”

“Henry!” exclaimed his sisters in a breath.

“We are not doing wrong in staying here, Rebecca,” said Beatrice haughtily.  “I do not believe in witchcraft or such follies, but it is as though this woman had bewitched our brother, and as if he were shaping himself in accordance with her plans.”

“I do not understand you, Beatrice,” said the vicar sternly.

“I will be plainer, then, Henry.  It seems to me that you are offering yourself a willing victim to the wiles of an artful woman; and the next thing will be, I suppose, that you intend bringing her here as mistress of the Vicarage.”

“I quite agree with Beatrice,” cried Rebecca.  “It is time we left you, Henry, to the devices and desires of your own heart.”

The vicar was stern of aspect now, as he paced the library, and hot words of anger were upon his lips, but he stayed them there, and looked from face to face as if seeking sympathy where there was none.

He knew that his sisters were right, and that in following out the dictates of his own heart he would gladly ask Hazel Thorne to be his wife; but he was weak, and the more so that she had given him no hope.  His was not the nature that would have made him a martyr to his faith; neither could he be one for his unrequited love.  He loved Hazel Thorne; but she did not care for him ­he could see it plainly enough; and even had she loved him in return, he was not one who could have braved public opinion for her sake.  For the trouble connected with that money was always in his mind.  Then there was the society to which he belonged.  What would they say if he, the Reverend Henry Lambent, Master of Arts, and on visiting terms with the highest county families, were to enter into a matrimonial alliance with the daughter of a bankrupt stockbroker ­one who was only the new mistress!

Then there were his sisters.  If he married Hazel, always supposing she would accept him, he should have to break with them; and this he was too weak to do.  In imagination he had been the stern ruler of Plumton All Saints’ Vicarage for many years, and head of the parish.  But it was a mistake:  the real captain had been Beatrice, his younger sister; and Rebecca, though the elder, had been first lieutenant.  The vicar had only been a private in the ranks.

“Now we are upon this theme,” Beatrice went on, “it would be better, Henry, that the unpleasant feeling that has existed should come to an end.”

“Surely there has been no unpleasant feeling between us,” said the vicar.

“I quite agree with Beatrice ­unpleasant feeling,” said Rebecca.

“We are sisters and brother,” continued Beatrice, “and we must remain so.”

“Most assuredly,” said the vicar, smiling.

“I am speaking for Rebecca as well as for myself, then, Henry, when I tell you that we have concluded that the only way in which our old happy relations can be continued will be by separating.”

“Parting?” said the vicar, in dismay.

“Yes, Henry; by parting.  Rebecca and I have a sufficiency, by clubbing together our slender resources, to enable us to live a life of content.  A life of usefulness, we fear, will no longer be within our reach, for we shall have to leave our poor behind.  But that we must be resigned to lose, for it is time, Henry, that we left you free and were ­”

“No longer a tax upon you and an obstacle in the path of your inclinations,” said Rebecca.

“But surely ­you do not mean ­you would not leave the Vicarage?”

“We have carefully weighed the matter over, Henry,” said Rebecca, “and I do not see how, under the circumstances, you could wish us to do otherwise.”

“No, no, it is impossible!” cried the vicar, who seemed deeply moved.  “Beatrice ­Rebecca, of what are you thinking?”

“Of our duty and your happiness,” said Beatrice firmly.

“At the expense of your own,” exclaimed the vicar.

“We must do our duty,” said Rebecca with a sigh, and the sisters rose and left the room, like clever diplomatists, content with the impression they had made, and feeling that by a bold stroke they had completely riveted their old mastery.