Read CHAPTER FORTY FOUR - MRS THORNE RECEIVES of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Hazel Thorne’s illness came like a shock to Plumton All Saints, and the opposing members of the committee, who had been instrumental in gaining her dismissal, looked angrily one at the other, as if that other one was specially to blame.  The Reverend Henry Lambent sent down messengers to know how Miss Thorne was progressing, and later on sent the same messengers to the Burges’ for news.

“Will you not go down and see Mrs Thorne, Rebecca ­Beatrice?” he said, one day, appealingly.  “This is a troublous time.”

“We had already felt it to be a duty, Henry, and we will run all risks in such a cause.”

There was not the slightest risk in going to the schoolmistress’s cottage, and the sisters went down, to find Mrs Thorne weak and almost prostrate with illness and anxiety, but ready to draw herself up stiffly to receive her visitors.

“Cissy, Mabel, place chairs for these ladies,” she said.  “Miss Lambent will perhaps excuse my rising.  I am an invalid.”

Rebecca bowed and glanced at her sister, who made her a sign to proceed.

“We have called, Mrs Thorne, knowing you to be in so sad a state of affliction ­”

“To offer a few words of condolence,” said Mrs Thorne, interrupting her.  “It is very neighbourly and kind, I am sure I am sorry poor Hazel is too unwell to be here to receive you as well.”

“What insolence!” muttered Beatrice.

“Condolence is hardly the word,” said Rebecca stiffly.  “We are very much grieved about Miss Thorne, especially as her illness has come almost like a chastisement for her weakness in her discharge of her scholastic trust.”

“Oh!  You are alluding to the school trifle she did not pay over to the collector at the time,” said Mrs Thorne haughtily.  “It is a pity that so much should have been made of so trivial a matter.”

“Trivial, Mrs Thorne!  Your daughter’s conduct ­”

“Has always been that of a lady, Miss Lambent.  Ah! you single ladies don’t know, and of course never will know, the necessities of housekeeping.”

Beatrice winced.

“I used that money as I would small change, and I must say I am surprised at Mr Lambent or his sisters, or the school committee, or whoever it is, being so absurdly particular.”

“Particular, Mrs Thorne!” cried Rebecca, aghast.

“Yes; it is very absurd.  By-the-way, I may as well observe that I have this morning received a letter from my late husband’s solicitor, telling me that fifteen hundred pounds, the result of some business arrangement of his, are now lying at my disposal at the bank; and if you will send the properly authorised person down I will give him a cheque.”

“Mrs Thorne!” exclaimed Rebecca, whom this assumption of perfect equality ­at times even of superiority ­galled terribly, “we came down here to give you a little good advice ­to say a few words of sympathy, and to bring you two or three books to read, and ponder over their contents.  I am surprised and grieved that you should have taken such a tone.”

“I beg your pardon, Miss Lambent,” retorted Mrs Thorne, who was very pale and much excited; “allow me to tell you that you are making a mistake.  I am not in the habit of receiving parochial visits.  They may be very acceptable to the poor of your district, but, as a lady, when another lady calls upon me, I look upon it as a visit of ceremony.  You will excuse me, but I am not well.  My daughter’s illness ­my own ­ rather tells upon me.  You will excuse my rising.  I beg your pardon, you are forgetting your little books.”

She picked them up from the table, and held them out; the top one was “The Dairyman’s Daughter,” in paper cover.

The Lambent sisters had risen, and were darting indignant looks at Hazel’s mother before she drew their attention to the books they were leaving upon the table; now their anger was hot indeed.

“We brought them for you to read,” cried Rebecca indignantly.  “They were for your good.  Mrs Thorne, your conduct is insolent in the extreme.”

“Insolent in the extreme,” assented Beatrice.

“I am too unwell to argue with you, ladies,” said Mrs Thorne loftily.  “Cissy, my child, take those into the kitchen, and give them to one of the school children as they come by.  Mabel, my dear, bring mamma a glass of water.”

She took not the slightest further notice of her visitors, who looked at one another for a few moments, and then left the house, marching by the window with stately stride, while Mrs Thorne leant back in her chair, saying to herself ­

“Next time they call I hope they will remember that I am a lady.”

That same evening, as she sat alone, she drew the letter of which she had spoken from her pocket, and read it through again, the second perusal giving her fresh strength and increasing dignity.

“I shall certainly insist now,” she said musingly, as she refolded the letter and tapped her left forefinger with the edge, “upon Hazel entering into a matrimonial alliance with Edward Geringer.  He is older, certainly; but what of that?  He is rich and loves her, and will make her an admirable husband; and when, by-and-by he leaves her, she will still be young and handsome, and, what is better, rich, and not left, as I have been, at the mercy of the world ­Lambents and people of that class.  Yes, I am in a position now to insist, and I shall write to Edward Geringer at once.  Perhaps his coming would have a favourable effect upon Hazel’s illness ­a foolish, weak girl, to persist in going to that house when I so strongly advised her not.”

Mrs Thorne sat musing and building her chateaux en Espagne, while the children amused themselves in the garden.

“Yes,” she continued, “I am once more, I am thankful to say, no longer dependent upon charity, nor yet upon poor Hazel ­weak, foolish child!  It is a pity she should have grown so conceited and arbitrary on finding herself at the head of affairs.  Ah, these young people ­these young people!  But I will not blame her, for a great deal was due to the teachings of that training institution.  I noticed the change in her directly.  It did so put me in mind of young Penton, when he received his commission of ensign in the 200th Foot.  He had just the same short, sharp, haughty way that my Hazel assumed, poor child!  Ah, well! we have nearly got to the end of the school teaching, and it will be a lesson for us all.  It was against my wishes that she took it up ­that I will say; and it has been very hard upon me to bring me down to the companionship of such a woman as Mrs Chute.  I wish I had never seen her, for I should never have thought of using those school pence if it had not been for her.”

Mrs Thorne smoothed down her black silk apron, and sat thinking for some time before exclaiming ­

“Yes, I will write a cheque for the amount and send it in a note, with my compliments, to Mr Lambent.  It will be the most ladylike way of proceeding.  The children shall put on their best hats and take it up.  It will be better than trusting the money to the school children or the post.  I will do it at once.”

The poor, weak woman smiled with satisfaction as she took out the thin oblong book that had been sent to her that morning, and wrote out a cheque for the amount due for the children’s school pence, carefully blotting and folding it, and placing it in a sheet of note-paper inscribed, “With Mrs Thorne’s compliments.”

“Of course it ought to go to Mr Piper; but I shall send it to the vicar, and he must pay it himself.  Good gracious!”

She had just directed the envelope to the Reverend Henry Lambent, when she saw him pass the window; and as she sat listening, her heart beating heavily the while, there was a gentle tap at the door, which was standing open, and the vicar’s voice said softly ­“May I come in?”

“Yes; I ­that is ­Yes, pray come ­in, Mr Lambent; but if you have called on account of your sisters’ visit to me this morning, I ­”

“My visit was to you alone, Mrs Thorne,” said the vicar gravely.

“But I must protest against any such visits as your sisters’!”

“My dear Mrs Thorne,” said the vicar sadly, “I have come to you, a lady who has known great trouble, as a friend.  My dear madam, I have a very painful communication to make.  Your daughter ­”

“Not worse, Mr Lambent?” cried Mrs Thorne piteously.  “Don’t say she’s worse!”

There was a painful silence, and then the vicar sighed heavily as he said ­

“Her state is very dangerous indeed.”