Read CHAPTER TWENTY NINE - “I’M VERY GLAD YOU’RE IN TROUBLE.” of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“I’m very glad you’re in trouble, Miss Thorne,” said Mr William Forth Burge, as he took the chair in the little parlour which Hazel placed for him, Mrs Thorne, not being dressed to her own satisfaction, having escaped into the kitchen, where her son was seated, sulky, and with his countenance full of gloom.

“Are you?” said Hazel, smiling sadly.

“No; not glad you’re in trouble, but that you’ve felt that I could help you,” said the visitor, suddenly recollecting that Hazel was standing, and rising to put a chair for her in turn.

“I am so lonely here ­so helpless,” said Hazel after a pause, for she hesitated to begin and lay bare the trouble that was at her breast.

“Well, don’t say lonely, Miss Thorne,” said the great man.  “I’m sure my sister and me has always felt a sort of longing to be neighbours, and to be friendly.  For don’t you think because I’m a rich man that it’s made a bit of difference in me.”

“I felt your kindness so much, Mr Burge,” she replied earnestly, “that I ventured to ask for your advice and help in this very great trouble.”

“That’s right,” he exclaimed, his admiration and respect for the speaker shining out of his honest eyes.  “I’m a very plain, common sort of man, my dear, but I’ve had lots of business experience, and p’r’aps I can help you better than some people would think.”

There was a pause here, for Hazel’s tongue seemed to refuse its office.  Her visitor’s manner was so tender and kind, as well as respectful, that it touched her to the heart, and she looked at him piteously, as if imploring him to give her time.

“It’s a good big bit of trouble, I can see, my dear,” he said quietly.  “Give yourself time and speak out; and if William Forth Burge can help you through with it, you may feel that it’s as good as done.  Suppose I try a bit of a guess ­just to help you like.  Now, is it money?  Don’t be offended at my saying so, but is it money, now?”

“It is about money,” faltered Hazel, making an effort.

“I thought so,” he said, brightening up and rubbing his hands softly.  “Then don’t you worry a bit more, my dear; for my sister Betsey’s got lots of money saved up, and there’s nothing wouldn’t please her better than putting your bit of trouble all right for you.”

“I must explain to you, Mr Burge,” said Hazel.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he said gently.  “It might hurt you, perhaps; and, dear heart alive! why should you make yourself miserable about such a thing as money!  Now, just you look here, my dear Miss Thorne.  I’m going straight home, and I’ll send down my sister Betsey, and you just say offhand to her what will put it straight ­fifty, or a hundred, or two hundred, or whatever it is ­and she’ll have it in her ridicule, and the job’s done.  There, I shall make you cry if I stay, and I don’t want to do that, you know.  Good-bye.  God bless you!”

He had started up, and was standing, hat in hand, holding out his hand to her, which she took and held while she tried to speak.

“No, no, Mr Burge,” she said at last.  “Let me tell you all.”

“To be sure you shall,” he said soothingly.  “There, there! don’t be afraid to speak to me, my dear. ­Just you say to yourself, `William Forth Burge is an old friend of mine, and I’d trust him with anything, and he’s just the man to go to when I’m in trouble.’”

“You are very kind,” faltered Hazel, fighting hard to be brave.  And at last she told him the story of her brother’s lapse.

“The young dog!” he cried angrily; and his voice was raised.  “How dare he do such a thing, and disgrace you and his mamma?  I ­I could thrash him well.”

“It is so terrible ­so shocking a thing.  I don’t know what to do, Mr Burge.  I feel so helpless:  for the people, his employers ­seemed to hint at prosecution.”

“Is ­is he in there?” whispered Mr William Forth Burge, winking one eye and pointing with his thumb at the door.

“Yes; he is in the next room,” replied Hazel.

“I shouldn’t wonder a bit,” said the visitor very loudly.  “I should say they are sure to prosecute and put him in prison.”

The moment after he nodded and frowned and winked at Hazel.

“Let’s frighten him a bit,” he whispered.  “Let him think he is going to be in great trouble, and it will make him remember.  But you give me the people’s names, my dear, and I’ll set my lawyer on to ’em; and don’t you worry yourself any more.  I’ll square it all for you, and make it right.”

“But the shame ­the disgrace!” cried Hazel.

“It’s no shame or disgrace of yours, my dear,” he said.  “You couldn’t help it.  I had three boys in my place at different times as was bitten that way.  Lots of ’em are.  A silly young dog!  He deserves to be well flogged.  But just you leave the thing to me, and I’ll put it right.  But what are you going to do with him afterwards?  You can’t keep him here!”

It was a question Hazel could not answer, for like a blow the idea came to her that by his act of dishonest folly her brother had lost his character, and that the chances were greatly against his obtaining further employment.

“Ah!  You don’t know,” said Mr William Forth Burge cheerfully.  “You can’t think.  It is a job, isn’t it?  Sometimes, my dear, I have thought that boys are a regular mistake.  They’re a terrible lot of trouble, unless they make up their minds to be very careful and particular, and that they don’t often do.  But never you mind.  We’ll see if we can’t set it all right by-and-by.  We’ll get him out of the scrape first, and then see what’s to be done with him afterwards.  Now, suppose I put down who the people are; and you may as well give me the letters you talked about. ­That’s right.  Now wait a bit.”

Mr William Forth Burge’s coat was buttoned very tightly across his chest, and he had some difficulty in getting at the breast-pocket; but he extricated therefrom a large metallic paper pocket-book, such as would be used by a commercial traveller about to receive an order, opened the clasp, found a suitable place, and fixed it by placing the elastic band of the pocket-book round the leaves, after which he moistened the tip of the pencil between his lips from habit, and proceeded to enter the day and date of the month.

“Nothing like doing these things in a business-like way, my dear,” he said, as he wrote on, asking questions and making his notes, ending by saying: 

“Now, suppose we have in the young fellow.”

“Have him in?” faltered Hazel.

“Yes; let’s have him in and give him a bit of a talking to.  Don’t you think it will be best?”

Hazel thought for a few moments, and in that brief space she seemed to realise exactly what Percy would say, and how he would resent being taken to task by their visitor.

Mr William Forth Burge guessed her thoughts, and nodded and smiled.

“You’re afraid I shall be too hard upon him.  That’s just the way with worn ­I mean ladies.  You’re too gentle and kind ­just like your nature.  Why, my sister, Betsey, she’d come here in a case like this, and she’d tell that brother of yours that he was a very naughty boy, and mustn’t do so any more, and there would be an end of it; only it wouldn’t do any good.  For, bless you, my dear, if you talk like that to a boy who has been a bit out in the world, he’ll pretend to be very sorry and that he’s going to be quite square, and as soon as you’re out of sight he’ll grin at you and think how soft you are.  Now, suppose you fetch him in.”

For answer Hazel rose and went to the kitchen, where she found that Percy had tried to secure himself by taking his two young sisters one upon each knee, and holding them there as a sort of armour of innocence against attack.

“Percy, there is a gentleman in the next room wishes to see you.”

“Oh, I can’t go ­I daren’t go!” the boy said excitedly.  “What does he want?”

“Surely, Hazel, my dear, you are not going to expose poor Percy to insult,” cried Mrs Thorne.

“Mamma,” said Hazel firmly, “I have asked Mr Burge to come down here and help me in an endeavour to settle Percy’s affairs.”

“Settle his affairs!  Oh! surely, Percy, you have not been such a bad boy as to go and get into debt?”

“Yes, mother,” said Hazel quickly, as she responded to the boy’s imploring look, “Percy has behaved badly, and entangled himself with a very serious debt and Mr Burge is going to see what can be done.”

“Then you’ve been a bad, wicked, thoughtless boy, Percy!” exclaimed Mrs Thorne in a whining voice; “and I don’t know what you don’t deserve ­ going spending your money in such a reckless way, and then taking trust for things you ought not to have had.”

“Don’t you turn against me, ma,” whimpered the lad.

“But I must turn against you, Percy.  It is my duty as your mamma to teach and lead you, and when you are going wrong to scold you for being naughty.  Now, put those children down directly, and go upstairs and brush your hair, and then go and see Mr William Forth Burge, who will, I dare say, being a very respectable sort of man, talk to you for your benefit.  Hazel, my dear, make my compliments to Mr William Forth Burge, and tell him I am much gratified by his calling, but that I never receive till after three o’clock.  Tuesdays and Fridays used to be my days, but of course one cannot be so particular now.”

“Yes, mother,” said Hazel quietly.  “Come, Percy,” she continued, and she took his hand.

“I say, Hazy, must I go?” said the lad, wiping the perspiration from his forehead.

“Yes:  come along and be brave and respectful.  Let Mr Burge see that you are truly sorry, and I think he will try and see your employers, and make some arrangement.”

“What ­so that there shall be no police bother?” he asked eagerly.

“Yes, I hope so.”

“I couldn’t stand that, Hazy; I couldn’t indeed.  I should go and enlist or jump off a bridge, or something of the kind.”

“Don’t be foolish, Percy, but try and meet the difficulty like a man.”

“Yes,” he said, “I will.  But stop a moment.  I say, is my collar all right?  Those children have been tumbling me.”

“Yes, it looks quite right.”

“And ­must I go upstairs and brush my hair?”

“No, no; it looks quite smooth.  Now, come ­be brave and face it as you should.”

“Oh yes, it’s all very well for you, who haven’t got it to do,” he replied.  “You can’t think what it is.”

“Yes, Percy, I can; and it makes me say to you:  Why expose yourself to such bitter humiliation?  Would it not have been better to be able to hold up your head before all the world and to say:  I am poor, and occupy a very menial position, but I am a gentleman?”

“Yes, Hazel is quite right my dear,” said Mrs Thorne.  “It is what I always say to her:  Never forget that you are a lady; and I am glad to find that she does not forget my teachings.”

“I’ll come now,” said Percy.  “I ­I think I’m ready;” and, clinging to his sister’s hand, he went with her into the room where Mr William Forth Burge was seated behind his book, with his pencil across his mouth, as if it had been a bit to bridle his tongue from uttering that which he had wished to say.  He was trying to look very stern, but an admiring glance shot from his eyes as Hazel closed the door after her and then said simply: 

“This is my brother, Mr Burge.”

There was a few moments’ pause, during which Percy, after a quick look at the great man of Plumton, stood there humbled and abashed, for the knowledge of his position completely took away his natural effrontery, and seemed to have made him ten years younger than he was.  A flash of resentment came for a moment, and made his eyes brighten and his cheek colour on hearing their visitor’s salutation, but they both died out directly, for all Percy Thorne’s spirit seemed to have evaporated now.

“Well, sir,” cried Mr William Forth Burge fiercely, for here was an opportunity for crowing over a lad who was a very different sort of boy to what he had been.  He had never meddled with moneys entrusted to him, and had been content to plod and plod slowly and surely till he had made himself what he was.  This boy ­Percy Thorne ­had tried to make himself rich by one or two bold strokes ­by gambling, in fact, and this was a chance; so “Well, sir,” he cried, “and what have you got to say for yourself?”

Percy looked up and looked down, for it was evident he had nothing to say for himself, and he ended by gazing appealingly at his sister, his lips moving as if saying:  “Speak a word for me!  Please do.”

Mr William Forth Burge could be sharp enough as a business-man, simple as he was in some other matters, and he noted Percy’s glance, and softly rubbed his hands beneath the table as he rejoiced in the fact that he had been called in to help Hazel in this family matter.  Then, seizing upon the opportunity of showing where he could be shrewd and strong, he said quietly: 

“I think, Miss Thorne, you had better leave us together for a few minutes, and well see what can be done.”

Hazel hesitated for a moment, and then, in spite of an appeal from her brother, walked to the door, turning then to direct a glance at her visitor which completely finished the work that her eyes had unconsciously already done, and for a few moments after she had gone the ex-tradesman sat with his gaze fixed upon the table, completely unnerved and unable to trust himself to speak.

He soon recovered, though, and turned sharply to where the tall, thin boy stood, miserable and humiliated, resting first on one foot and then on the other, and after staring him completely out of countenance for a few moments, he showed himself in quite a new character, and gave some inkling of how it was that he had been so successful in his trade.

“Now, young fellow,” he said sharply, “I know all about it, and what a scamp you have been.”

Percy blushed again, and raised his head to make an angry retort.

“Well, scoundrel, then, or blackguard, if that other name isn’t strong enough for you.”

“How dare” ­began Percy, scarlet.

“Eh?  What?  How dare I?  Well, I’ll tell you, boy.  It’s because I’m an honest man, and you ain’t.  There:  you can’t get over that.”

Percy could not get over that.  The shot completely dismantled at one blow the whole of his fortifications, and left him at his enemy’s mercy.  Giving up on the instant he whimpered pitifully ­

“Please don’t be hard on me, sir; I have been a scoundrel, but if you ­ you ­could give me another chance ­”

Boy prevailed, and all Percy Thorne’s manliness went to the winds.  He was very young yet in spite of his size, and, try how he would to keep them back, the weak tears came, and he could not say another word.

“Give you another chance, eh?” said the visitor sharply.  “That’s all very well, but we’ve got to get you out of this scrape first.  Your people, Suthers, Rubley, and Spark, write as if they meant to prosecute you for robbing them.”

“But I meant to pay it again, sir ­I did indeed!” cried Percy.

“Yes:  of course.  That’s what all fellows who go in for a bit of a spree with other people’s coin say to themselves, so as to give them Dutch courage.  But it won’t do!”

“But indeed I should have paid it sir.”

“If you had won, which wasn’t likely, boy.  Only one in a thousand wins, my lad, and it’s always somebody else ­not you.  Now then, suppose I set to work and get these people, Suthers, Rubley, and Spark” ­he repeated the names with great gusto ­“to quash the prosecution on account of your youth and the respectability of your relations, what would you do?”

“Oh, I’d be so grateful, sir!  I’d never, never bet again, or put money on horses, or ­”

“Make a fool of yourself, eh?”

“No, sir; indeed, indeed I would not.”

“Well, what sort of people are these Suthers, Rubley, and Spark?”

“Oh! dreadful cads, sir.”

“If you say that again,” cried the ex-butcher sharply, “I won’t make a stroke to get you out of your trouble.”

Percy stared at him with astonishment.

“It’s all very fine!” cried Mr William Forth Burge.  “Every one who don’t do just as you like is a cad, I suppose.  People have often called me a cad because I’ve not had so good an education and can’t talk and speak like they do; and sometimes the cads are on the other side.”

“I’m very sorry, sir,” faltered Percy.

“Then don’t you call people cads, young fellow.  Now then, you mean to give up all your stupid tricks, and to grow into a respectable man, don’t you?”

“Yes, sir; I’ll try,” said Percy humbly.

“Then just you go to your bedroom, brush that streaky hair off your forehead, take out that pin, and put on a different tie; and next time you get some clothes made, don’t have them cut like a stable-boy’s.  It don’t fit with your position, my lad.  Now, look sharp and get ready, for you’re going along with me.”

“Going with you, sir?”

“Yes, along with me, my lad; and I’m going to keep you till you are out of your scrape.  Then we’ll see about what’s to be done next.”

Percy left the room, and his sister came back, to find Mr William Forth Burge looking very serious; but his eyes brightened as he took Hazel’s hand.

“I am going to take your brother away with me, and I sha’n’t let a moment go by without trying to put things square.  I think the best thing will be for me to take him right up to London, and go straight to his employers; but I haven’t told him so.  If I did, he’d shy and kick; but it will be the best way.  And I dare say a bit of a talk with the people will help to put matters right.”

“But will they prosecute, Mr Burge?  It would be so dreadful!”

“So it would, my dear; but they won’t.  They’ll talk big about wanting to make an example, and that sort of thing, and then they’ll come round, and I shall square it up.  Oh, here he comes.  There, say good-bye to your sister, young man, for we’ve no time to spare.  Now, go in first.  Good-bye, Miss Thorne.”

“Mr Burge, I cannot find words to tell you how grateful I am,” cried Hazel in tears.

“I don’t want you to,” he replied bluntly, as he shook hands impressively, but with the greatest deference.  “I couldn’t find words to tell you, my dear, how grateful I am to think that you are ready to trust me when you want a friend.”

Here Mr William Forth Burge stuck his hat on very fiercely, and went home without a word, Percy Thorne walking humbly by his side, and checking his desire to say to himself that after all, Mr William.  Forth Burge did seem to be a regular cad.