Read CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN - THE FACTS of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Several things interfered with Hazel’s obtaining a good night’s rest.  She had given up her bedroom to Percy, and the little sofa was cramped and hard.  But had she been in the most luxurious of beds, Hazel Thorne would not have slept well, for she was haunted by the angry, vindictive look of Mr Samuel Chute, and troubled by his threats.  Next there was the shame and mortification of knowing that her mother’s weak words had gone home, and were being used against her.  Then the quiet deference of the vicar and his peculiar way made her uneasy as she went over and over her interview with him, and recalled the smallest matters of his reference to Mr Chute.

Lastly there was Percy’s sudden arrival, and the battle she found herself having with the idea that, in spite of his apparent frankness, the boy had not told her all.

At last, towards morning, she dropped into an uneasy sleep, in which she dreamed that Mr William Forth Burge had told her he loved her, and that he would provide for Percy and make her mother a comfortable home, if she would be his wife.

In her trouble she awoke suddenly, to find that it was morning; and, unwilling to tempt sleep again, she rose, dressed, and prepared the kitchen and sitting-room for the breakfast before going upstairs and softly awakening the two little girls, who, under her tuition, had become adepts at dressing each other in turns.

Whispering to them to be silent and not awaken their mother, Hazel stole down again, and went to the door to glance up the street, for it was nearly half-past seven, and she had a strange fancy that a letter would arrive that morning.

Sure enough, before another ten minutes had passed away she saw the postman coming down the last row of houses towards the schools, and she was about to hurry out and meet him, when, through the wire window-blind, she caught sight of Mr Chute, who stepped out and received a letter from the postman, with whom he at once entered into conversation.

Hazel, from where she stood, could see everything that passed, and that Chute stretched out his hand to take a large blue envelope from the postman’s hand; but this the rustic official refused to allow.  He, however, permitted the schoolmaster to peruse the address, and that of another letter, before going on with his delivery.

Hazel felt that he was coming there, and she opened the door in time to stop his heavy thump.

“Two letters, miss ­big ’un and little ’un,” he said, thrusting the missives into her hand.  The next moment Hazel was reading the directions, both of which were to her mother.

One was from Mr Geringer ­she knew his hand well.  The other, the large blue envelope, was probably from Percy’s employer.  She had expected that letter; and, yes, there were the names on the back, stamped in blue letters in an oval, “Suthers, Rubley, and Spark.”

Hazel stood hesitating as to what course she should pursue.  She held in her hands, she knew, the explanation of Percy’s return home.  If the letters contained painful revelations her mother would suffer terribly.  Ought she to let her see the news without reading it first?

Of late all the correspondence had fallen to her share, and Mrs Thorne, when a letter had arrived, had been in the habit of saying, “Open that, Hazel, and see what it is.”

She hesitated a few minutes, and then opened the blue envelope.

The letter was short and stern in its diction, saying that knowing Mrs Thorne to be a lady of good family, and one who had suffered much trouble, the firm had felt it to be their duty to write to her before taking further proceedings with respect to her son, who had, they regretted to say, abused the confidence placed in him, and been guilty of embezzlement, to what amount they were not prepared to state.

Hazel stood with her brow wrinkled, gazing straight before her for some minutes before, with a weary sigh, she opened the second letter ­Mr Geringer’s ­which endorsed the information contained in the first, and finished as follows: ­

“It is very terrible, my dear Mrs Thorne; and, for my poor friend’s sake, I deeply regret that his son should so soon have shown a disposition to go wrong.  It comes the harder on me because I was the cause of his going to these people, who took him entirely upon my recommendation.  I regret your position, of course, and beg to assure you of my deep sympathy.  Had we been related by marriage, I should have felt it my duty to see the lad through his difficulty, the result, I find, of folly, he having entered upon a course of betting upon horses.  As it is, you must excuse me for saying that my credit will not allow of my having my name mixed up with the transaction.”

He remained, as a matter of course, Mrs Thorne’s very sincere and attached friend; but, all the same, he had given Hazel a severe stab in the course of the letter, which again placed her conduct in an unsatisfactory light.  Was she always to be accused of standing in the way of her mother’s and brother’s prospects?  And as she asked herself that question, quietly folding the letters the while, she could not help seeing Mr Geringer’s selfishness showing through all.

But what was to be done?  The people evidently meant to prosecute Percy, and at any moment he might be taken into custody.  She knew enough of the law to see that he was in a very perilous position, and if her mother knew, she trembled for the consequences.

“I am glad I opened the letters,” she thought; “but now I know, what shall I do?”

A host of ideas passed through her brain, for the most part wild, impossible notions, that could not be carried out.

Percy must escape ­go away somewhere; but how, and to what place?

This was unanswerable; and besides, she knew that sooner or later, the police, if in search, would be sure to find him.

No; he must stop and face it out ­it would be the most honourable proceeding.  But she wanted help ­she wanted some one to cling to in this hour of difficulty; and to all intents and purposes she was alone, for it was impossible to ask her mother’s aid and guidance at a time like this.

What should she do?

Mr Geringer?

No; his letter showed how her refusal rankled in his breast, and if she appealed to him he might wish to make some bargain with her to act as a payment.

Mr Lambent?

No; she could not ask him.  He was most kind, but she shrank from appealing to him.  She dared hardly think of him, and dismissed him at once; for, set aside the exposure and the lowering of her position in his eyes, he frightened her.  And then there were his sisters, who would be sure to know.

Archibald Grave’s father?

No; she dared not appeal to him.  And when she began to run over the list of her relatives, there did not seem one likely to take a step to help her in this terrible strait ­help her, for everything seemed to fall upon her shoulders.

“What shall I do?  Whom shall I ask?” she said half aloud; and, as half prayerfully she asked the question, there rose up before her the round, simple, honest face of Mr William Forth Burge, smiling at her as was his wont and seeming to invite her to ask his help.

“Oh no; it is impossible,” she said half aloud, as Mr Chute’s words of the previous evening came back to her mind.  “I could not ask him.  What would he say?”

But all the same, she could not help thinking of his amiability, the interest he had taken in her and hers, and that even if she dared not herself ask him, there was a mediator in the person of Miss Burge, who, gentle, amiable little body that she was, would readily espouse her cause.

“But what are they to me?  It would not be right to ask them.  I dare not ­I cannot do it.”

Just then the two children came dancing down to leap up at her and kiss her, making her sorry for their sakes that her face wore so dismal a look.  But it did not trouble them.  It was, “How long will breakfast be, sis?” and then they were off out to look at their little gardens, to see how much the plants and seeds had progressed during the night.

Hazel went through another phase of troublous thought while the children were in the garden, and the kettle was singing its homely song; and as she thought she stood waiting to make the tea so as to carry up Mrs Thorne’s cup, which was always partaken of before that lady attempted to rise in the morning.

Just as the tea was made there was a step on the stairs and, looking very sleepy and red-eyed, Percy came into the kitchen.

“Morning, Hazel,” he said rather sheepishly, as he looked at her in a half-penitent curious way; but he made no offer to kiss her, nor she him.  “I say, what time does the post come in here?”

“The post Percy?” said Hazel quietly, as she went on preparing Mrs Thorne’s tea.  “Do you expect a letter?”

“Yes,” he said.  “I’ll go out and meet the postman, and see what the place is like.  Letters’ll be here soon, I suppose?”

“Not till to-morrow morning,” said Hazel, watching his changing countenance.

“Not till to-morrow morning!” he cried wonderingly.

“No; there is only one delivery here a day.  The postman has been.”

Percy was taken aback, and he stood staring, unable to find words and to meet his sister’s stern, angry look.

“Percy,” she said at last, “are you trying to be a man?”

“Of course I am,” he said quickly.  “Every fellow at my time of life tries to be one.”

“Would it not have been more manly, then, when I invited your confidence last night, if you had told me frankly the whole truth?”

Percy’s jaw dropped and he stood gazing at her with a vacant, pitiful expression.

“Then a letter has come this morning,” he said.

“Two letters have come this morning,” she replied, “and I know everything.  Stop!  What are you going to do?”

“Cut,” he said sulkily.  “It is of no use to stay here.”

“Do you think the police would not find you if you went away?”

“Police!” he cried, turning pale.

“Yes.  Your employers warned us in the letter that they had not settled yet what they should do since ­since ­oh, heavens! is it true? ­they found out that my brother was a thief.”

“No, no ­not a thief, Hazy!  ’Pon my soul, I only borrowed the money.  I meant to pay back every shilling.  I made sure that I should win, and I never meant to steal.”

“You committed theft of the worst kind, Percy.  A common thief breaks in and steals; he has not been trusted with that which he takes.  You had been; and you not only broke your trust but stooped to the basest ingratitude as well.”

“Yes, I know, Hazy,” he cried hoarsely, and with his lips white; “but tell me, does my mother know?  Oh, for pity’s sake, don’t tell poor ma!”

“Do you think it will pain her more than this discovery has pained me?”

“Is that why she isn’t down?  Has it made her ill?  I meant to have been first and got the letters; but I was so dog-tired last night I overslept myself.  I say, Hazel, does she know?”

“She does not know yet; but she must know.”

“No, no! pray don’t tell her!  You mustn’t ­you shan’t tell her!” he cried.  “It would only be making bad worse.”

“And how am I to account for your absence when you are fetched away?”

“I say, Hazel, is it so bad as that?” he cried piteously.

“Yes; I am afraid so.  There is no knowing what steps your late employers may take.”

“Set of beastly cads!” muttered Percy.

“For objecting to their clerk’s dishonesty!  Shame on you, if you have any shame left.”

“And now you turn against me, Hazy!” cried the lad.  “I did think last night that you were sorry for me and meant to help me.”

“I am sorry for you, ­sorry that you could have disgraced yourself and us to this terrible extent I feel it bitterly that you should have kept back what you did last night; but that cannot be changed now, and ­”

“Isn’t breakfast ready?” cried Cissy, coming to the door.  “We are so hungry.”

“Yes, dears, come in,” cried Hazel cheerfully.  And the little party, after Mrs Thorne had been diligently attended to, sat down to the homely breakfast, Percy making a pretence of being too much troubled to taste anything, but ending by eating with all the heartiness of a growing lad; while it was Hazel who just managed one scrap of bread and a cup of tea, as she sat thinking of what proceedings she had better take.