Read CHAPTER THIRTY FIVE - SISTER AND BROTHER—­VULGAR of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“Oh, Bill!”

Then an interval of panting and wiping her perspiring face and then again ­

“Oh, Bill!”

Then a burst of piteous sobbing, for poor little Miss Burge was crying as if her heart would break.

“Let it go, Betsey.  Don’t try to stop it, dear.  Let it go,” said Mr William Forth Burge in the most sympathising of tones; and his sister did let it go, crying vehemently for a time, while he waited patiently to know what was the matter.

“That’s better, my dear,” he said, kissing her.  “Now then, tell us what’s the matter.”

“Oh, Bill!  I’ve been down the town, and I almost ran back to tell you the news.”

“And you haven’t told it to me yet,” he said, smiling affectionately at the troubled little woman, under the impression that he was doing the right thing to comfort her.

“Don’t laugh, Bill dear; for you’ll be so upset when you know.”

“Shall I, Betsey?” he said seriously.  “Then I won’t laugh.”

“You see, I went down to Piper’s to order some fresh things for the storeroom, as I’d been through this morning, when Mr Piper himself came to wait upon me, and he told me he’d been down to the schools for the children’s pence for the year, and that Mr Chute had paid, and that Miss Thorne didn’t, but owned that she had spent all the money.”

“What! the school pence?”

“Yes, dear; and after a time he said that the Thornes were a good deal in debt with him besides.”

“More shame for him.  I never went shouting it out to other folks if any one was in my debt.  But, Betsey, did he say Miss Thorne had ­had spent the money!”

“Yes, dear; and it was so shocking.”

Mr William Forth Burge stood rubbing and smoothing his fat round face over with his hand for a few moments, his sister watching him eagerly the while, like one who looks for help from the superior wisdom of another.

“I don’t believe it,” said the great man at last.

“You don’t believe it, Bill?”

“Not a bit of it.”

“Oh, I am glad!” cried Miss Burge, clapping her hands.  “It would have been shocking if it had been true.”

“Did you go down and see Miss Thorne?”

“No, dear; I came to tell you directly.”

“You ought to have gone down and asked her about it, Betsey,” said her brother stiffly.

“Ought I, Bill dear?  Oh, I am so sorry!  I’ll go down at once.”

“No, you won’t:  I’ll go myself.  Perhaps, poor girl! she has spent the money because it was wanted about her brother, and she’s been afraid to speak about it, when of course, if she’d just said a word to you, Betsey, you’d have let her have fifty or a hundred pound in a minute.”

“No, indeed, Bill dear, for I haven’t got it,” said Miss Burge innocently.

“Yes, you have, dear,” he said, screwing up his face, and opening and shutting one eye a great deal.  “Of course she wouldn’t take it from me, but she would from you, you know.  Don’t you see?”

“Oh, Bill dear, what a one you are!” cried little Miss Burge.  “I’ll go down to her at once.”

“No,” he said; “I must go.  It’s too late now; but another time you just mind, for you’ve got plenty of money for that I say, Betsey:  I’ve got it, my dear ­it’s her mother!”

“What’s her mother, Bill dear?”

“Spent the money, and she’s took the blame,” he cried triumphantly.

“Oh!  I am glad, Bill.  But oh, how clever you are, dear!  How did you find it out?”

“It’s just knowing a thing or two; that’s all, Betsey.  I’ve had jobs like this in connection with business before now.  But I must be off.”

“But won’t you take me with you, Bill?”

He hesitated for a moment or two, and then said ­

“Well, you may as well come, Betsey; but mind what you’re about, and don’t get making an offer, for fear of giving offence.”

“Would it give offence, Bill?”

“Yes, if you didn’t mind your p’s and q’s.  You hold your tongue, and leave everything to me; but if I give you a hint, you’re to take Miss Thorne aside and make her an offer.”

“It’s my belief that Bill will be making her an offer one of these days,” thought little Miss Burge; “but she don’t seem to be quite the sort of wife for him, if he is going to bring one home.”

Mr William Forth Burge was not long in changing his coat and he met his sister in the hall, twirling his orange silk handkerchief round and round his already too glossy hat; after which they walked down arm-in-arm to the school, to find the head pupil-teacher in charge, and the girls unusually quiet, a fact due to the vicar being in the class-room, in company with George Canninge, both having arrived together, and then shaken hands warmly, and entered to have a look round the school.

Mr William Forth Burge and his sister both shook hands with the other visitors, and were then informed that Miss Thorne was suffering from a terribly bad headache.  She had been very unwell, the pupil-teacher said, all the morning, and had been obliged to go and lie down.

Hereupon the visitors all began to fence, the object of their call being scrupulously kept in the background, and they one and all took a great deal of interest in the girls, and ended by going away all together, expressing their sorrow that poor Miss Thorne was so unwell.

The vicar and George Canninge walked up the town street together, after shaking hands with Mr and Miss Burge, and discussed politics till they parted; while Mr William Forth Burge, slowly followed with his sister, also talking politics but of a smaller kind, for they were the politics of the Plumton people, and the great man began to lay down the law according to his own ideas.

“They were both down there about that school money, Betsey, as sure as a gun.  But just you look here:  people think I’m soft because I come out with my money for charities and that sort of thing; but they never made a bigger mistake in their lives, if they think they can do just what they like with me; so there now.”

“That they never did, Bill,” assented his sister.

“I look upon them schools as good as mine, and if there’s to be a row about this money, I mean to have a word in it, for I’m not a-going to have that poor young lady sat upon by no one.  I’ve hit the nail on the head as sure as a gun, and if it isn’t the old lady that’s got her into a scrape, you may call me a fool.”

“Which I never would, Bill,” said little Miss Burge emphatically; and together they toddled back home.