Read CHAPTER THREE - HAZEL'S TROUBLES of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

About a year and a half before Hazel Thorne had the task of conducting her school for the first time to Plumton church, she was in her home at Kensington, leading the every-day pleasant life of the daughter of a stockbroker, who was reputed among his friends as being “warm,” that being the appropriate term for a man who is said to have a pretty good store of money well invested in solid securities.

“Fred Thorne will buy mining shares for you, or shares in any bubble that is popular at the time; but catch him putting his coin in anything doubtful.”

That is what people said; and as he had a good home at Kensington, and gave nice, quiet little dinners, he and his were pretty well courted.

“Well, yes, I don’t mind, Archy,” said old Graves, the wholesale cork merchant of Tower Hill.  “Hazel Thorne is a very nice girl ­very pretty and ladylike, so I suppose we must swallow the mother for her sake.”

The boa-constrictor-like proposition was naturally enough taken by Archibald Graves in its slango-metaphorical sense, and slango-metaphorically Mrs Frederick Thorne was swallowed by the whole of the Graves family, and she did not agree with them.

For Mrs Thorne was not a pleasant woman.  Tall, handsome, and thoroughly ladylike in appearance, she was very proud of having been considered a beauty, and was not above reminding her husband of the fact that she might have married So-and-so and What’s-his-name, and You-know-whom, all of which gentlemen could have placed her in a better position than that she occupied; and as she grew older these references were more frequent.  Each child she had seemed to be looked upon by her as a fresh grievance ­a new cause for tears, and tears she accordingly shed to an extent that might have made any one fancy this was the reason why the Thorne home generally seemed damp and chilly, till Hazel entered the room like so much sunshine, when the chill immediately passed away.

Gradually growing weaker in act and speech, the unfortunate woman received a shock which completed the change that had been gradually heretofore advancing, for Fred Thorne ­handsome, bright, cheery, and ever ready to laugh at mamma’s doldrums, as he called them ­went out as usual one morning to the City, saying that he should be back a little earlier to dinner that day, as he had stalls for the opera.

“I’ll come back through Covent Garden, Hazel, and bring you a bouquet,” he cried merrily.

“You need not bring flowers for me, Frederick,” said Mrs Thorne, in an aggrieved tone.  “I am growing too old for flowers now.”

“Too old?  Ha, ha, ha!” he cried.  “Why, you look younger than ever.  Smithson asked me the other day if you and Hazel were my daughters.”

“Did he, Frederick,” said Mrs Thorne, in a rather less lachrymose tone.

“To be sure he did; and of course I am going to bring you a bouquet as well.”

He bought the two bouquets, and they were kept fresh in water, taken to pieces, and spread over his breast, as he lay cold and stern in his coffin:  for as he was carefully bearing the box containing the flowers across Waterloo Place on his way home that evening, there was a cry, a shout, the rush of wheels, and the trampling of horses; a barouche came along Pall Mall at a furious rate, with two ladies therein clinging to the sides, and the coachman and footman panic-stricken on the box.  One rein had broken, and the horses tore round the corner towards Regent Street as if mad with fear.

It was a gallant act, and people said at the inquest that it saved the ladies and the servants, but it was at the sacrifice of his own life.  For, dropping the box he was carrying, Fred Thorne, a hale strong man of five-and-forty, dashed at the horses’ heads, caught one by the bit and held on, to be dragged fifty or sixty yards, and crushed against the railings of one of the houses.

He stopped the horses, and was picked up by the crowd that gathered round.

“Stop a moment, he wants to say something ­he is only stunned ­here, get some water ­what say, sir!”

“My ­poor ­darlings!”

They were Fred Thorne’s last words, uttered almost with his last breath.

The shock was terrible.

Mrs Thorne took to her bed at once, and was seriously ill for weeks, while Hazel seemed to have been changed in one moment from a merry thoughtless girl to a saddened far-seeing woman.

For upon her the whole charge of the little household fell.  There was the nursing of the sick mother, the care and guidance of Percy, a clever, wilful boy of sixteen, now at an expensive school, and the management of the two little girls, Cissy and Mabel.

For the first time in her life she learned the meaning of real trouble, and how dark the world can look at times to those who are under its clouds.

The tears had hardly ceased to flow for the affectionate indulgent father, when Hazel had to listen to business matters, a friend of her father calling one morning, and asking to see her.

This was a Mr Edward Geringer, a gentleman in the same way of business as Mr Thorne, and who had been fully in his confidence.

He was a thin, fair, keen-looking man of eight-and-thirty or forty, with a close, tight mouth, and a quick, impressive way of speaking; his pale-bluish eyes looking sharply at the person addressed the while.  He looked, in fact, what he was ­a well-dressed clear-headed man, with one thought ­how to make money; and he found out how it was done.

That is hardly fair, though.  He had another thought, one which had come into his heart ­a small one ­when the late Mr Thorne had brought him home one day to dinner and to discuss some monetary scheme.  That thought had been to make Hazel Thorne his wife, and he had nursed it in silence till it grew into a great plant which overshadowed his life.

He had seen Hazel light and merry, and had been a witness, at the little evenings at the house in Kensington, of the attentions to her paid by Archibald Graves.  He knew, too, that they pleased Hazel; and as he saw her brightened eyes and the smiles she bestowed, the hard, cold City man bit his lips and felt sting after sting in his heart.

“Boy-and-girl love,” he muttered though, when he was alone.  “It will not last, and I can wait.”

So Edward Geringer waited, and in his visits he was in Hazel’s eyes only her father’s friend, to whom she was bright and merry, taking his presents of fruit and flowers, concert tickets, and even of a ring and locket, just as one of her little sisters might have taken a book or toy.  “Oh, thank you, Mr Geringer; it was so good of you!” That was all; and the cold calm, calculating man said to himself:  “She’s very young ­a mere child yet; and I can wait.”

And now he had come, as soon as he felt it prudent after the funeral, to find that he had waited and that Hazel Thorne was no longer a child; and as he saw her in her plain, close-fitting mourning, and the sweet pale face full of care and trouble, he rose to meet her, took both her hands in his, and kissed them with a reverence that won her admiration and respect.  “My dear Hazel,” he said softly.

She did not think it strange, but suffered him to lead her to a chair and saw him take one before her.  He was her father’s old friend, and she was ready to look up to him for help and guidance in her present strait.

For some minutes they sat in silence, for she could not trust herself to speak, and Geringer waited till she should be more composed.

At last he spoke.

“Hazel, my dear child,” he said.

“My dear child!” What could have been kinder and better!  It won her confidence at once.  Her father’s old friend would help and counsel her, for she needed the help much; and Archibald had seemed since those terrible days to be thoughtless and selfish instead of helpful.

“I have come to talk to you, Hazel, on very grave matters,” Geringer went on; and she bowed her head for him to continue.  “I have to say things to you that ought by rights to be spoken to your mother; but I find here that in future you will be the head of this household, and that mother, brother, sisters will turn to you.”

“Poor mamma! she is broken-hearted,” sighed Hazel.  “I shall try to do my best, Mr Geringer.”

“I know you will, Hazel, come what may.”

“Yes, come what may,” she replied, with another sigh.

“Shall I leave what I have to say for a few weeks, and then talk it over?  I can wait.”

“I would rather hear it now,” replied Hazel.  “No trouble could be greater than that we have had to bear, and I see you have bad news for us, Mr Geringer.”

“I regret to say I have ­very bad news.”

“Tell me,” said Hazel sadly, as she gazed in her visitor’s face.

“It is about the future, my dear child,” he said slowly; and he watched the effect of his words.  “You and your brother and sisters have been brought up here quite in luxury.”

“Papa was always most indulgent and kind.”

“Always,” assented Geringer.  “There, I will not hesitate ­I will not go roundabout to tell you.  I only ask you, my dear Hazel, to try and bear with fortitude the terrible news I have to inflict upon you, and to beg that you will not associate it in future with me.”

“I shall always think of you as my father’s most trusted friend.  But pray, pray tell me now, and ­and ­I will try to bear it as I should.”

She was choked now by her sobs, and as Geringer tenderly took one of her hands, she let him retain it while he spoke.

“My dear Hazel,” he said, “your late father always passed for a wealthy man, but I grieve to say that of late he had embarked in some most unfortunate speculations.”

“Poor papa!”

“They were so bad that at last all depended upon one change in the market ­a change that did not take place till after his death.”

Hazel sobbed.

“If he had lived two days longer he would have known that he was a ruined man.”

Hazel’s tears ceased to flow, and Geringer went on: ­

“I grieve, then, to tell you, my dear child, that instead of leaving his family in a tolerably independent state, my poor friend has left you all penniless.”


“Yes.  Worse; for this house and its furniture must go to defray the debts he has left behind.  It is terrible ­terrible indeed.”


“Yes, dreadful,” he said, gazing in her face.

“Is that all?”

“All?  All, my child?  What do you mean?”

“Is that the terrible trouble you said that you had to communicate.”

“Yes, my dear child,” he exclaimed; “it is dreadful news.”

“But it is only money matters,” said Hazel innocently; and her face lit up with a pleasant smile.  “I thought it was some dreadful trouble ­some fresh misfortune.”  And as she sat looking him full in the eyes, her quick imagination carried her on to the time when Archibald would ask her to be his wife.  His father was rich, and they would have a nice, bright little home somewhere, and mamma and the little girls would live with them.  Percy would come home during his holidays, and they would be as happy as the day was long.  Certainly, she did shrink a little at the thought of mamma and Archibald; but then she knew he would be as self-denying as herself, and he would do anything for her sake, of course.

She was brought back to the present by her visitor.

“You do not think this so great a trouble, then!” he said.

“Oh, no!” cried Hazel.  “It only means going to a humbler house:  and of course Percy and I will set to work to make mamma happy and comfortable.”

“Of course,” said the visitor dryly.

“And Percy is growing into a man, and he must take an office and do something in the City; and I must do something too, Mr Geringer ­teach music or painting.  You will help me, will you not!”

“In any way.  In every way I will devote myself to your service.  You will allow me?”

“Indeed I will,” she said, placing both her hands in his.  “Papa always said you were one of his best friends, and to whom could I look better than to you.”

“Trust me, Hazel, and you shall never repent it,” he cried warmly ­so warmly that he saw a half-alarmed look in the young girl’s face; but he succeeded in chasing it away by his after-display of tender regret and reverence; and left her comparatively happy and at rest.