Read CHAPTER THIRTY ONE - ANOTHER TROUBLE of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

It was, some will say, a childish, old-fashioned way of keeping cash, but all the same it was the plan adopted by Hazel, who every week dropped the amounts she had received from the school pence, after changing the coppers into silver, through the large slit of an old money-box that had been given her when a child.  It was a plain, oak-wood box, with ordinary lock and key, and the slit at the top was large enough to admit of each week’s shillings and sixpences being tied up in note-paper, in the ladylike way adopted by the fair sex ­that is to say, a neat packet is made and tied up with cotton.  After the tying up Hazel used to put the amount it contained upon the packet, enter the said amount in a memorandum-book, drop the packet through the slit, and lock up the drawer in which the box reposed.

During the early portion of her stay at Plumton, as previously shown, Mr Chute went on changing the pence for her from copper to silver, but after a time Hazel felt a certain amount of diffidence in charging the schoolmaster with the task, and made an arrangement with the grocer and draper of the place, who readily made the exchange.

Then there was the monthly payment to the blanket fund, which was also placed in the same receptacle, after being duly noted; and there were times when Hazel thought that it would be a good thing when she could get rid of an amount that was rather a burden to her, and she even went so far as to think that she would ask Mr William Forth Burge to take charge of the amount, but for certain reasons she declined.

It was no uncommon thing for Hazel to run very short of money for housekeeping purposes, and several times over it would have been a great convenience to have made use of a portion of the school pence and replaced it from her salary; but she forbore, preferring that the sums she held in charge should remain untouched as they had come into her hands.

After expecting for what seemed a very great length of time, she at last received a beautifully written but ill-spelt letter from one of the churchwardens, requesting her to send him in a statement of the amounts received for the children’s pence, and to be prepared to hand over the money at a certain appointed time.

The letter came like a relief to her as she sat at dinner; and upon Mrs Thorne asking, in a somewhat ill-used tone, who had been writing that she was not to know of, her daughter smilingly handed her the letter.

“It was such a thorough business letter, dear, that I thought you would not care to read it.”

But Mrs Thorne took it, read it through, and passed it back without a word.

“I think you seem a good deal better, dear,” said Hazel, smiling.

“Indeed, I am not, child,” replied Mrs Thorne sharply.  “I never felt worse.  My health is terrible:  Plumton does not agree with me, and I must have a change.”

“A change, dear?” said Hazel, sighing.

“Yes.  It is dreadful this constant confinement in a little poking place.  I feel sometimes as if I should be stifled.  Good gracious, Hazel! what could you be thinking about to come and live in a town like this?  Let’s go, my dear, and find some occupation more congenial to your spirit.  I cannot bear to go on seeing how you are wasted here.”

“My dear mother!” exclaimed Hazel wonderingly.

“I repeat it, Hazel ­I repeat it, my dear!” exclaimed Mrs Thorne excitedly.  “You are not fit for this place, and the wretched people down here do not appreciate you.  Let us go away at once.”

“But, my dear mother, it is impossible.  I should, even if I thought it best, be obliged to give some months’ notice; and besides, it would be ungrateful to Mr and Miss Burge, and to the vicar, who is most kind and considerate.”

“Oh yes; I know all that,” whimpered Mrs Thorne.  “But all the same, we must go.”

“Must go, mother dear?”

“Yes, child ­must go.  It is a cruelty to you to keep you here.”

“But I have been so well, mother; and I seem to be winning the confidence of the people, and the children begin to like me.”

“Oh yes ­yes ­yes; of course they are bound to like you, Hazel, seeing what a slave you make yourself to them.  But all the same, my dear, I protest against your stopping here any longer.”

“My dear mother,” said Hazel, rising and going to her side to bend down and kiss her, “pray ­pray don’t be so unreasonable.”

“Unreasonable? ­unreasonable?  Am I to be called unreasonable for advising you for your benefit?  For shame, Hazel ­for shame!”

“But my dear mother, suppose I accede to your wishes and decide to leave:  where are we to go?  I should have to seek for another engagement.”

“And you would get it, Hazel.  Thousands of school managers would be only too glad to obtain your services.”

Hazel shook her head and smiled.

“No, mother dear; you are too partial.  Engagements are not so plentiful as that.  Think it over, and you will look at the matter differently.  We have not the means at our command to think of moving now.”

“But we must leave, Hazel, and at once,” cried Mrs Thorne excitedly.  “I cannot and I will not stay here.”

“But it would be unreasonable and foolish, dear, to think of doing so under our present circumstances.  For the children’s sake ­for Percy’s sake, pray be more considerate.  We must not think of it at present.  After a time, perhaps, I may have the offer of a better post and the change may be such a one as you will like.  Come, dear, try and be content a little longer, and all will be right in the end.”

“Hazel,” cried Mrs Thorne angrily, “I insist upon your giving up this school at once!”

“My dear mother!”

“Now, no excuses, Hazel I say I insist upon your giving up this school at once, and I will be obeyed.  Do you forget that I am your mother?  Is my own child to rise up in rebellion against me?  How dare you?  How dare you, I say?”

“But my dear mother, if we decide to leave, where are we to go?  Where is the money to pay for our removal?  You know as well as I do that, in spite of my care, we are some pounds in the tradespeople’s debt.”

“Now she throws that in my face, when I have worked so hard to make both ends meet, and cut and contrived over the housekeeping, thinking and striving and straining, and now this is my reward!”

“I do not blame you, dear,” said Hazel sadly; “I only think it was a pity that you should have ordered goods for which we had not the money to pay.”

“And was I ­a lady ­to go on living in the mean, sordid, penurious way you proposed, Hazel?  Shame upon you!  Where is your respect for your wretched, unhappy parent?”

It was in Hazel’s heart to say, half angrily, “Oh, mother, dear mother, pray do not go on so!” but she simply replied, “I know, dear, that it is very hard upon you, but we are obliged to live within our means.”

“Yes:  thanks to you, Hazel,” retorted her mother.  “I might be living at ease, as a lady should, if my child were considerate, and had not given her heart to selfishness and a downright direct love of opposition to her parent’s wishes.”

“Dear mother,” cried Hazel piteously, “indeed I do try hard to study you in everything.”

“It ought to want no trying, Hazel.  It ought to be the natural outcome of your heart if you were a good and affectionate child.  Study me, indeed!  See what you have brought me to!  Did I ever expect to go about in these wretched, shabby, black things, do you suppose ­I ­I, who had as many as two dozen dresses upon the hooks in my wardrobe at one time?  Oh, Hazel, if you would conquer the stubbornness of that heart!”

“My dear mother, I must go and put away the dinner-things; but I do not like to leave you like this.”

“Oh, pray go, madam; and follow your own fancies to the top of your bent.  I am only your poor, weak mother, and what I say or do matters very little.  Never mind me, I shall soon be dead and cold in my grave.”

“Oh, my dear mother, pray, pray do not talk like this!”

“And all I ask is, that there may be a simple headstone placed there, with my name and age; and, if it could possibly be managed, and not too great an expense and waste of money for so unimportant a person, I should like the words to be cut deeply in the marble, ­or, no, I suppose it would be only stone, common stone ­just these simple words:  `She never forgot that she was a lady.’”

Here Mrs Thorne sighed deeply, and began to strive to extricate herself from her child’s enlacing arms.

“No, no, no, Hazel; don’t hold me ­it is of no use.  I can tell, even by the way you touch me, that you have no affection left for your poor suffering mother.”

“How can you say that dear?” said Hazel firmly.

“Nor yet in your words, even.  Oh, Hazel, I never thought I should live to be spoken to like this by my own child!”

“My dear mother, I am ready to make any sacrifice for your sake.”

“Then marry Mr Geringer,” said the lady quickly.

“It is impossible.”

“Move from here at once.  Take me away to some other place.  Let me be where I can meet with some decent neighbours, and not be Chuted to death as I am here.”

Mrs Thorne was so well satisfied with the sound of the new word which she had coined that she repeated it twice with different emphases.

“My dear mother, we have no money; we are in debt and it might be months before I could obtain a fresh engagement.  Mother, that too, is impossible.”

“There ­there ­there!” cried Mrs Thorne, with aggravating iteration.  “What did I say?  Everything I propose is impossible, and yet in the same breath the child of my bosom tells me that she is ready to do anything to make me happy, and to show how dutiful she is.”

“Mother,” said Hazel gravely, “how can you be so cruel?  Your words cut me to the heart.”

“I am glad of it, Hazel ­I am very glad of it; for it was time that your hard, cruel heart should be touched, and that you should know something of the sufferings borne by your poor, bereaved mother.  A little real sorrow, my child, would make you very, very different, and teach you, and change you.  Ah, there is nothing like sorrow for chastening a hard and thoughtless heart!”

“Mother dear,” said Hazel, trying to kiss her.  “I must go into the school.”

“No, no! don’t kiss me, Hazel,” said the poor, weak woman with a great show of dignity; “I could not bear it now.  When you can come to me in all proper humility, as you will to-night, and say, `Mamma, we will leave here to-morrow,’ I shall be ready to receive you into my embrace once more.”

“My dear mother, you drive me to speak firmly,” said Hazel quietly.  “I shall not be able to come to you to-night and to say that we will leave here.  It is impossible.”

“Then you must have formed some attachment that you are keeping from me.  Hazel, if you degrade yourself by marrying that Chute I will never speak to you again.”

“Hush, mother! the children will hear.”

“Let them hear my protests,” cried Mrs Thorne excitedly.  “I will proclaim it on the housetops, as Mr Lambent very properly observed last Sunday in his sermon.  I will let every one know that you intend to degrade yourself by that objectionable alliance, and against it I now enter my most formal protest.”

Mrs Thorne’s voice was growing loud, and she was shedding tears.  Her countenance was flushed, and she looked altogether unlovely as well as weak.

Hazel hesitated for a moment, her face working, and the desire to weep bitterly uppermost, but she mastered it, and laying her hand upon her mother’s shoulder, bent forward once again to kiss her.

It was only to be repulsed; and as, with a weary sigh, she turned to the door, Mrs Thorne said to her angrily ­

“It is time I resumed my position, Hazel ­the position I gave up to you when forced by weakness and my many ills.  Now I shall take to it once again, and I tell you that I will be obeyed.  We shall leave this place to-morrow morning, and I am going to begin to pack up at once.”