Read CHAPTER THIRTY - MR BURGE IS BUSINESS-LIKE of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“I am the last person in the world, Rebecca, to interfere,” said Beatrice, as she busied herself making a series of holes with some thick white cotton, which she wriggled till something like a pattern was contrived; “but I cannot sit still and see that young person misbehaving as she does.”

“I quite agree with you, dear, and it shocks me to see into what a state of moral blindness poor Henry has plunged.”

“Ah!” sighed her sister, “it is very sad;” and she sighed again and thought of a certain scarlet woman.  “What would he say if he knew that Miss Thorne openly sent letters to Mr William Forth Burge?”

“But they might be business letters,” said Rebecca.

“Miss Thorne has no right to send business letters to Mr William Forth Burge,” said Beatrice angrily.  “If there are any business matters in connection with the school, the letter, if letter there be ­for it would be much more in accordance with Miss Thorne’s duty if she came in all due humility ­”

“Suitably dressed,” said Rebecca.

“Exactly,” assented her sister. “ ­to the Vicarage and stated what was required.  Or if she wrote, it should be to the vicar, when the letter would be in due course referred to us, and we should see what ought to be done.”

“Exactly so,” assented Rebecca.

“Mr William Forth Burge has been a great benefactor to the schools; but they are the Church schools, and, for my part, I do not approve of everything being referred to him.”

“I ­I think you are right, Beatrice,” assented Rebecca; “but Mr William Forth Burge has, as you say, been a great benefactor to the schools.”

“Exactly; a very great benefactor, Rebecca; but that is no reason why Miss Thorne should write to him.”

“I quite agree with you there, Beatrice; and now I have something more to tell you, which I have just heard as I came up the town.”

“About the schools?”

“Well, not exactly about the schools, but about the school-cottage.  I heard, on very good authority, that the Thornes have a young man staying in the house.”

“A young man!”

“Yes; he arrived there yesterday afternoon, and Mr Chute, who was my informant, looked quite scandalised.”

“We must tell Henry at once,” cried Beatrice.

“Of what use would it be?” said Rebecca viciously.  “He would only be angry, and tell us it was Miss Thorne’s brother, or something of that sort.”

“It is very, very terrible,” sighed Beatrice, “Of what could Henry be thinking to admit such a girl to our quiet country district?”

Just at the same time their brother also was much exercised in his own mind on account of the letter that he had seen in Hazel’s handwriting directed to Mr Burge, and he was troubled the more on finding that she should appeal to Mr Burge instead of to him ­the head of the parish, and one who had shown so great a disposition to be her friend ­for even then he could not own that he desired a closer intimacy.

The Reverend Henry Lambent knit his brows and asked himself again whether this was not some temptation that had come upon him, similar to those which had attacked the holy men of old; and as he sat and thought it seemed to him that it could not be, for Hazel Thorne grew to him fairer and more attractive day by day, and, fight hard as he would against those thoughts, they grew stronger and more masterful, while he became less able to cope with them.

And all this time Mr William Forth Burge, the stout and plain and ordinary, was working away on Hazel’s behalf.  He was showing the business side of his nature, and any one who had studied him now would easily have understood why it was that he had become so wealthy.  For there was a straightforward promptness in all he did that impressed Percy a good deal; and when, after keeping him for some hours at his villa, wondering what was to happen next ­hours that were employed in copying letters for his new friend ­the said new friend announced that they were going up to London, Percy, with all the disposition to resist obeyed without a word, and followed to the station.

“Don’t seem very well off,” thought Percy, as Mr William Forth Burge took a couple of third-class tickets for London.

He read the boy’s thoughts, for he said sharply ­

“Six shillings third class; eighteen shillings first class.  Going this way saves one pound four.”

Percy said, “Yes, sir,” and subsided moodily into the corner of the carriage opposite to his companion, and but little was said on the journey up.  Mr William Forth Burge took the boy to a quiet hotel, and wrote a letter or two, as it was too late to do any business that night.  The next morning Percy was left in the coffee-room to look furtively over the sporting news in the Standard while his new friend went off to see Mr Geringer, who, on hearing his business, seemed greatly displeased at any one else meddling with the Thornes’ affairs; and though he did not refuse to go with his visitor to intercede for Percy, he put him off till the next afternoon, and Percy’s champion left his office chuckling to himself.

“Asks me to wait till next day,” he said, “so that he may go and see the state of the market for himself.  Won’t do, Mr Geringer, sir.  That’s not William Forth Burge’s way of doing business.”  And he went straight to the firm, gave his card, and was shown in to Mr Spark, a dull, heavy man, remarkable in the business for his inertia.

Yes, of course they should prosecute Percy Thorne, if that was what the visitor wanted to know; and if the said visitor wanted to know anything else, would he be kind enough to be quick, for Mr Spark’s time was very valuable?

“Quick as you like, sir,” said Mr William Forth Burge, who showed the new side of his character.  “I’ve been in trade, and I know what’s what.  Now, sir, I’m the friend of the boy’s sister; father dead ­mother a baby.  Business is business.  Prosecute the boy, and you put him in prison, and spend more money; you get none back.  Forgive him, and take him on again, and, if it’s fifty pounds, I’ll pay what’s lost.”

Then followed a long argument, out of which Mr William Forth Burge came away a hundred pounds poorer, and with Percy Thorne free to begin the world again, but handicapped with a blurred character.

That evening they were back at Plumton.

“But there’s going to be no prosecution, or anything of that sort, Miss Thorne; and, till we hear of something to suit him, he shall stop at my house and do clerk’s work in my office.”

“But I feel sure you have been paying away money to extricate him from this terrible difficulty, Mr Burge,” cried Hazel.

“Well, and suppose I have,” he said, smiling; “I’ve a right to do what I like with my own money, and it’s all spent for the benefit of our schools.”

“But, Mr Burge,” cried Hazel eagerly, and speaking with the tears running down her cheeks, “how can I ever repay you?”

“Oh, I’ll send in my bill some day,” he said hastily.  “But as I was going to say, Master Percy shall stay at my place for the present.  I could easily place him at a butcher’s or a meat salesman’s, but that ain’t genteel enough for a boy like him.  So just you wait a bit and ­”

“See,” he would have said, but all this time he had been backing towards the door to avoid Hazel’s thanks, and he escaped before his final word was spoken.

“There’s something about that man I don’t quite like,” said Mrs Thorne as soon as their visitor had gone.

“Not like him, dear?” cried Hazel wonderingly.

“No, my dear; there’s a sort of underhandedness about him that isn’t nice.”

“But, my dear mother, he has been up to town on purpose to extricate Percy from a great difficulty, and, I feel sure,” said Hazel warmly, “at a great expense to himself.”

“Yes, that’s it!” exclaimed Mrs Thorne triumphantly.  “And you mark my words, Hazel, if he don’t try to make us pay for it most heavily some day.”

“Oh, really, mother dear!”

“Now, don’t contradict, Hazel, because you really cannot know so well as I do about these things.  Has he not taken Percy to his house?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Then you will see if he doesn’t make that boy a perfect slave and drudge, and work him till ­Well, there now, how lucky!  What can have brought Edward Geringer down now?”

Hazel turned pale, for at her mother’s exclamation she had turned sharply, just in time to see Mr Geringer’s back as he passed the window, and the next moment his knock was heard at the door.

“Well, my dear,” exclaimed Mrs Thorne, as Hazel stood looking greatly disturbed, “why don’t you go and let Mr Geringer in?  And, for goodness sake, Hazel, do be a little more sensible this time.  Edward Geringer has come down, of course, on purpose to see you, and you know why.”

Further speech was cut short by the children relieving their sister of the unpleasant duty of admitting the visitor, who came in directly after, smiling and looking bland, with one of the little girls on each side.

“Ah, Hazel!” he exclaimed, loosing his hold of the children.

Hazel tried to master the shrinking sensation that troubled her, and shook hands.  Her manner was so cold that Geringer could not but observe it; still, he hid his mortification with a smile, and turned to Mrs Thorne.

“And how are you, my dear madam?” he exclaimed effusively as he took both the widow’s hands, to stand holding them with a look that was a mingling of respect and tenderness, the result being that the widow began to sob, and it was some little time before she could be restored to composure.

“I had a visit,” he said at last, “from a gentleman who resides in this place, and upon thinking over your trouble I have engaged to go with him to-morrow afternoon to see poor Percy’s employers; but I felt bound to run down here first and have a little consultation with you both before taking any steps.”

He glanced at Hazel, and their eyes met; and Hazel read plainly that she was the price of his interference to save Percy, and as she mentally repeated his letter, she met his eye bravely, while her heart throbbed with joy as she felt ready to give him a triumphant look of defiance.  He started, in spite of himself, as Mrs Thorne exclaimed ­

“It is just like you, Mr Geringer ­so kind and thoughtful!  But Mr William Forth Burge has settled the matter with those dreadful people.  They kept a great deal of it from me, but I know all, now it is well over; and it is very kind of you, all the same.”

“I try to be kind,” he said bitterly, “but my kindness seems to be generally thrown away.  Miss Thorne, I am going to the hotel to stay to-night.  A note will bring me back directly.  Mrs Thorne, you must excuse me now.”

He spoke in a quiet very subdued voice, and left the house, lest they should see the mortification he felt and he should burst out into a fit of passionate reproach, so thoroughly had he hoped that, by coming down, he might work Percy’s trouble to his own advantage, and gain so great a hold upon Hazel’s gratitude that he might still win the life-game he had been playing so long.  But this was check and impending mate, and had he not hurried away he felt that he would have lost more ground still.

He walked up to the hotel in a frame of mind of no very enviable character, fully intending to stay for a few days; but on reaching the place he found that it was possible to catch the night-train back to town.

“Better let her think I am offended now,” he muttered.  “It is the best move I can make;” and he went straight back to the station, so for the present Hazel saw him no more, and to her great relief.

Percy only came to the cottage once a week, saying that Mr William Forth Burge kept him hard at work writing, and he should be very glad to get a post somewhere in town, for he was sick of Plumton, it was so horribly slow, and Mr William Forth Burge was such a dreadful cad.

Percy’s stay proved to be shorter than he expected, for at the end of a month he was one morning marched up to Ardley, and brought face to face with George Canninge, who was quiet and firm with him, asking him a few sharp questions, and ending by giving him a couple of five-pound notes and a letter to a shipping firm in London, the head of which firm told him to come into the office the very next day, and was very short, but informed him that his salary as clerk would begin at once at sixty pounds a year, and that if he did his duty he should rise.