Read CHAPTER FOUR - A PROPOSAL of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

All looked so easy and bright in the future that it seemed harsh on the part of Fate to crush out hope after hope.  All appeared so promising when Hazel had discussed her position with Mr Geringer, and then during the next few months bit by bit the morsels of blue sky were blotted out of her horizon, till all above her seemed cold grey cloud, and her life a blank.

First then was her mother’s health to battle for, and to comfort her when they had to move to furnished lodgings and manage without a servant.

“Yes, it will be better,” said Edward Geringer to himself with a smile.  “Let it work.”

He had thought the matter out thoroughly ­for the family, save for a little consideration displayed by the creditors, were absolutely penniless; and he let them go into lodgings, and waited to be asked for help.

The first appeal to him was about Percy, the son; and he responded willingly, advising sensibly and well that the lad should go into some City office and fight his way in the world.

Hazel sighed, for she had hoped for more schooling and then a career at college, in spite of her talk of her brother’s working.  So Percy went into the office of Suthers, Rubley, and Spark, the sugar-brokers, and came home grumbling every night.

It was hard to bear, for it upset poor weak Mrs Thorne, who sympathised with her son, and talked of the degradation, and sighed and petted him, calling him her noble boy, inveighing against Fate, and making the lad ten times as discontented with his position as he had been before, and so increased the load on Hazel’s shoulders just at a time when she was nearly broken-hearted.

For it was unmistakable:  Archibald Graves, the true, the sterling, the handsome, the best of men, had been yielding to home-pressure.  Old Graves said it was preposterous.  The girl was right enough, but he was not going to see his son throw himself away and set up a home with a penniless girl so as to keep her mother and family as well.

Archibald Graves was indignant at first, then he thought it over.  Hazel was the nicest and dearest of girls, but certainly Mrs Thorne only wanted a vowel left out of her name for it to describe her exactly.  He did not like Percy either, whom he thought “a spoiled young cub.”  Then there were more words with his father; introductions to friends of his sisters, especially to one Miss Pettifer, who was reputed rich, and so on, till Archibald Graves, in following his own likings, set it all down to his father’s stern orders.

He told himself that he was only doing his duty in ceasing his visits to the Thornes, and after nearly breaking her heart, pride came to Hazel Thorne’s help, and she grew pale and sterner of face as the weeks passed, and no Archibald, while Edward Geringer came regularly, called her his dear child, and went away smiling and praising himself for his self-restraint.

It is needless to go on describing Hazel Thorne’s troubles during these months, when, in addition to the suffering produced by the falling away of one to whom she had looked for help, there was the attendance on the querulous, sick, thoughtless mother, always complaining of her fate and the fact that a lady should be brought down to such a life.  There was Percy to combat when he talked of throwing up his situation, “appointment” he called it ­the children ­the little sisters ­to teach, and, above all, the battle to fight of finding money, and lowering her pride to accept help from relatives who gave grudgingly when unwillingly appealed to.

Mr Geringer had thoughtfully placed money in her hands twice.

“The result of a little speculation in which I was engaged with poor Thorne, my dear child,” he said; but that failed fast, and as Hazel toiled on at her task of giving lessons to three or four pupils she had got together, she looked blankly forward at the future, and wondered what they all would do.

It was nearly six months since her father’s death, and she could not conceal the fact from herself that they were rapidly going down-hill.  Instead of Percy being a help, he was an expense; and everything depended upon her.  Under the circumstances, the only prospect open to her was to start a school; but while the grass was growing the steed was starving, and she used to look with envy at the smart well-dressed mistress of the national school hard by, with her troop of girls who came pouring out at noon; and at last came like an inspiration the idea ­why should not she get a post as mistress?

To think was to act, and she boldly called on the mistress, who sent her away terribly dejected, with the information that at least a year’s training in the system, however well educated the would-be teacher might be, was absolutely necessary.  Hazel, however, obtained a good deal of information as well, ready to ponder over ­how she might either go to Whitelands or to Smith Square, Westminster; what would be the cost; the probabilities of her obtaining a school afterwards; the salary; etcetera, etcetera.

She went back in despair, for how could the money be obtained to pay her expenses and keep house as well, while the idea of obtaining a school at the end of a year’s training, with a certain salary and a comfortable home, seemed so Eden-like a prospect that the difficulties to be surmounted appeared to grow.

Like all other difficulties, however, they began to shrink when boldly attacked.  Hazel wrote to two or three relatives, as a forlorn hope, and they who had before only doled out a few pounds unwillingly, jumped at the chance of getting the indigent applicant off their hands, and after a consultation, wrote to her saying they were so pleased with her efforts at self-help, that amongst them they would subscribe the funds for paying her fees, at the training institution and for maintaining Mrs Thorne and the children for a year, or such time as Hazel should get a school.

“Oh, mamma, mamma, sunshine at last,” cried the girl, and trembling, weeping, and laughing hysterically, in turn, so great was her joy, she read the letter, which came upon Mrs Thorne as a surprise, her child having kept her quite in ignorance of the plans to prevent disappointment.

“Then, I think it very disgraceful, very disgraceful indeed, Hazel,” said the poor woman indignantly.  “They ought to be ashamed of themselves.”

“Ashamed, dear mother!”

“Now, don’t you turn against me in my troubles, Hazel,” cried Mrs Thorne.  “What have I done that my own child should begin to degrade me?”

“Degrade you?  Oh, my own dear mother!”

“There ­there again!  I don’t care how low we are forced by the cruelty of my relatives, and your poor dear papa’s.  I will never forget that I am a lady.”

“Surely not, dear,” said Hazel soothingly.

“Then why will you persist in calling me by that low, common, degrading term ­Mother?”

“Dear mamma, I thought it better under the circumstances.”

“No circumstances could excuse it, Hazel,” said Mrs Thorne with dignity.  “Percy never speaks to me like that; and by-the-way, my dear, Percy says he must have a new suit:  his mourning is getting so shabby, he is quite ashamed of it, and I’m sure my heart bleeds every time I see the poor boy go out.”

“Yes, mamma, we will see what can be done,” said Hazel, suppressing a sigh.

“And as to that national school business,” continued Mrs Thorne, “it is disgraceful.  Write and tell cousin Jane and her husband that, however low we may be reduced by poverty, my daughter will never forget that she is a lady.”

“But, mamma dear,” said Hazel gently; “it was entirely my idea, and I wrote for their help.”

“You ­you, Hazel ­my child ­propose to go to a common training school, and then accept a situation to teach a pack of dirty poor people’s children?  Oh, what have I done ­what have I done to be called upon to suffer this new ­this pitiful degradation!  What have I done?”

It was hard work, but by degrees poor Mrs Thorne was brought round to think that perhaps ­perhaps ­she would go no farther ­it might be less degradation to accept an honourable post and do a great duty therein of helping to make so many girls better women by careful training, than to live in indigence as a kind of respectable pauper, subsisting on the assistance of grudging friends.

So the poor, weak, proud woman at last gave way, and the preliminaries being arranged, Hazel was about to leave home for the training institution full of hope, when there was a change in the state of affairs.

All this had taken place unknown to Mr Geringer, who was quite startled when he heard the plans, for they ran counter to his own.

It had been quite in keeping with his ideas that the Thornes should taste the bitters of poverty, and know what being impecunious really meant.  The poorer they were the easier would be his task.  Matters had gone on swimmingly.  Their position had had its effect upon the Graves’s, and his rival, as he called Archibald Graves, had left the field; six months had passed, and Hazel had grown to look upon him as a very dear friend, though not as a lover, and he had come to the conclusion that the time was now ripe for asking her to be his wife; in fact, he had had thoughts of speaking at their last meeting, but had been put off!  Now he had come to find Mrs Thorne alone, and after a certain amount of preliminary, was about to speak, when the lady fired off her views and took him by surprise.

“Go ­to a training institution ­become a schoolmistress!” he cried.  “My dear Mrs Thorne, it is impossible.”

“Exactly my words,” said the lady. “`Hazel, my dear child,’ I said, `such a degradation is impossible.’”

“Quite impossible,” said Geringer; and then he drew nearer and talked for some time in a low voice to Mrs Thorne, who shed tears and sobbed greatly, and said that she had always looked upon him as their best and dearest friend.

“I have waited, you see,” he continued, “for of course if I had felt that dear Hazel really cared for this young Graves I should have said nothing, and I fully know my deficiencies, my age, and such drawbacks; but I am tolerably wealthy, and I can give her all she has lost, restore her nearest and dearest to their proper place in society ­almost to the position they formerly held in the world’s esteem.”

Mrs Thorne thought they were words of gold, and at Geringer’s request she not only readily promised to prepare Hazel, but that all should be as he wished.

L’homme propose, as the French proverb has it and things do not always turn out as he wishes.  Mr Geringer, after the preparation Hazel received from Mrs Thorne, proposed and was refused.  Hazel said it was impossible, and such was her obstinacy, as Mrs Thorne called it, she refused to become a rich man’s wife, and insisted upon going to the Whitelands training institution, condemning her unfortunate mother to a life of poverty and degradation, her brother to toil, and blasting her young sisters’ prospects, when she might have married, had her carriage, and all would have gone as merry as a marriage bell.

That was Mrs Thorne’s view of the case, and she kept up her protests with tears and repining, winning Percy to her side till he was always ready to reproach his sister.  Hazel bore all, worked with all the energy in her nature for the year of training, was fortunate in getting a school after a few months’ waiting, and was, as we found her, duly installed in the little schoolhouse, her brother being boarded with some humble friends in town.