Read CHAPTER THIRTY NINE - WILLIAM FORTH BURGE MAKES LOVE of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Mr William Forth Burge’s heart gave a big throb, and his red face assumed a mottled aspect as he went out to the front to welcome Hazel Thorne, who shook hands warmly; and her pale face lit up with a pleasant smile as he drew her hand through his arm and led her into the handsome breakfast-room, his heart big with what he wished to say, while he asked himself how he was to say it, and shrank trembling from the task.

“Yes, my sister’s quite well,” he said, in answer to a question.  “She’ll be here directly; and I hope the little girls are quite well.  When may they come and spend the day?”

“It is very kind of you, Mr Burge,” said Hazel, giving him a grateful look; “but I think they had better not come.”

“Oh!  I say, don’t talk like that,” he cried.  “My dear Miss Thorne ­”

He could get no farther.  He had made up his mind to declare his love, but his heart failed as he mentally told himself it would be madness to ask such a thing of one so different to himself.

“She’ll go away again, and I shall have said nothing,” he thought.  “It can’t never be, for she’s too young and nice for me.”  And then, as is often the case, the opportunity came, and, to his own astonishment, William Forth Burge said, simply and honestly, all that was in his heart leaving him wondering, in spite of his pain, that he had spoken so truthfully and well.

“You have always been so kind, Mr Burge,” began Hazel, “that I shrink from letting you think I impose upon your good nature; but one of my girls is down with a very serious illness, and I have come to ask you to help her poor mother in her time of trial.”

“Help her?  Why, of course,” he cried, leaving his chair and crossing to take Hazel’s hands.  “Is there anything I wouldn’t do if you asked me, Miss Thorne?  My dear, don’t think I’m purse-proud ­because I tell you I’m a rich man; for I only say it so as you may know there’s plenty to do good with; and if you’ll come to me, my dear, and let it be yours or ours, or whatever you like to call it ­there it is.  You shall do as you like, and I’ll try, and I know Betsey will, to make you as happy as we can.”

“Mr Burge!” cried Hazel piteously as she rose to her feet.

“Just a minute,” he pleaded.  “It isn’t nothing new.  It’s been growing ever since you come down here.  Don’t be offended with me.  I know I’m twice as old as you, and more, and I’m very ordinary; but that don’t keep me from loving you very, very dear.”

“Don’t ­pray don’t say any more, Mr Burge,” cried Hazel appealingly.  “I ­I cannot bear it.”

“No, no; don’t go yet, my dear,” he cried.  “If you only knew what a job it has been to work myself up to say this, you wouldn’t be so hard as to stop me.”

“Hard!  Pray don’t call it hard, Mr Burge.  I grieve to stop you, for you have been so truly kind to me ever since I came.”

“Well, that isn’t saying much; my dear.  Betsey and me was kind ­I say that ain’t right, is it?  I know now ­Betsey and I was kind because we always liked you, and I thought it would be so nice if some day or other you could think me good enough to be your husband.”

“Dear Mr Burge, you cut me to the heart, for I seem as if I were so ungrateful to you after all that you have done.”

“Oh, no!” he said quickly; “you’re not ungrateful.  You’re too pretty and good to do anything unkind.”

“Mr Burge!”

“You see, it is like this, my dear.  I’m not much of a fellow; I never was.”

“You have been the truest and kindest of friends, Mr Burge; and I esteem you very much.”

“No!  Do you, though?” he cried, brightening up and smiling.  “Well, that does me good.  I like to hear you say that, because I know you wouldn’t say anything that was not true.”

“Indeed, I would not Mr Burge,” said Hazel, laying her hand upon his arm; and he took it quietly, and held it between both of his.

“All the same, though,” he went on dolefully, “I am not much of a fellow, though I’ve been a very lucky one.  I never used to think anything about the gals ­the ladies, and they never took no notice of me, and I went on making money quite fast.  I used to think of how prime it would be to have a grand house and gardeners down here at Plumton, and how Betsey would enjoy it; and then what a happy time I should have; but somehow it hasn’t turned out so well as I thought it would.  You see, I’ve been a butcher ­not a killing butcher, you know, but a selling butcher; and though the gentry’s very kind and patronising, and make speeches and no end of fuss about everything I do or say, I know all the time that they think I’m a tradesman, and always will be, no matter how rich I am.”

“But I’m sure people esteem you very much, Mr Burge.”

“No,” he said, shaking his head sadly, “they don’t.  It’s the money they think of.  You esteem me, my dear, because you’ve just told me so, and nothing but the truth never came out of those pretty little lips.  They don’t think much of me.  Why should they, seeing what a common-looking sort of fellow I am?  No:  don’t shake your head, because you know it as well as I do.  I ain’t a gentleman, and if I’d twenty million times as much money it wouldn’t make a gentleman of me.”

“And I say you are a gentleman, Mr Burge ­a true, honest, nature’s gentleman, such as no birth, position, or appearance could make.”

“No, no, no, my dear,” he said sadly; “I’m only a common man, who has been lucky and grown rich ­that’s all.”

“I say that you are a true gentleman, Mr Burge,” she cried again, “and that you are showing it by your tender respect and consideration for a poor, helpless, friendless girl.”

“No:  that you ain’t, my dear,” he cried with spirit; “not friendless; for as long as God lets William Forth Burge breathe on this earth, with money or without money, you’ve got a friend as’ll never forsake you, or say an unkind ­lor’, just as if one could say an unkind word to you; I couldn’t even give you an unkind look.  Why, I don’t, even now, when what you’ve said has cut me to the heart.”

“I couldn’t ­I couldn’t help it, Mr Burge,” she cried.

“I suppose you couldn’t, my dear; but if you could have said yes to me, and been my little wife ­it isn’t money as I care to talk about to you ­but the way in which I’d reglar downright worship you, and care for them as belongs to you, and the way in which you should do everything you liked, and have what you liked ­There, I get lost with trying to think about it,” he said dolefully, “and I go all awkward over my grammar, as you, being a schoolmistress, must see, and make myself worse and worse in your eyes, and ten times more common than ever.”

“No, no, no!” she cried excitedly; “I never, never thought half so much of you before, Mr Burge, as I do now.  I never realised how true a gentleman you were, and how painful it would be to say to you what I now say.  I do appreciate it ­I do know how kind and generous you are to wish to make me your wife ­now, in this time of bitter disgrace.”

“Tchah!” he cried contemptuously; “who cares for the disgrace?  I’d just as soon believe that the sun and moon had run up again’ one another in the night as that you had taken the beggarly school pence.  Don’t say another word about it, my dear:  it makes me mad, as I told Miss Rebecca and Miss Beatrice yesterday.  I said it was a pack of humbugging lies, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves for believing it.  I know who had ­”

“Hush! oh, pray hush!” cried Hazel piteously.

“All right, my dear, mum’s the word; but don’t you never say no word to me again about you having taken the money.  It’s insulting William Forth Burge, that’s what it is.”

Hazel looked up sadly in his face, which was now scarlet with excitement.

“I thank you, Mr Burge,” she said simply; and then, smiling, “Am I not right in saying that you are a true gentleman?”

“No, no no, my dear; you are not right,” he replied sorrowfully.

“But I am!” she cried.

“No, my dear, no; but I know you think you are; and if ­if you could go on thinking that I was just a little like a gentleman, you’d make me very happy indeed, for I do think a deal of you.”

“It is no thought ­no fancy, Mr Burge; but the truth.”

“And if some day ­say some day ever so far off ­though it would be a pity to put it off long, for a fellow at my age don’t improve by keeping ­I say if by-and-by ­”

“Mr Burge ­dear Mr Burge ­”

“I say ­say that again.”

“Mr Burge,” said Hazel, laying her hands in his; “you have told me you loved me, and asked me to be your wife.”

“Yes,” he said, kissing her hand reverently, “and it’s been like going out of my sphere.”

“It would be cruel of me not to speak plainly to you.”

“Yes,” he said dejectedly, “it would; though it’s very hard when a man’s been filling himself full of hope to find it all go ­right off at once.”

“It is my fate to bring misery and trouble amongst people,” she sobbed, “and I would have given anything to have spared you this.  I respect and esteem you, Mr Burge, more than I can find words to say; but I could never love you as your wife.”

He dropped the hand he held, and turned slowly away that she might not see the workings of his face; and then, laying his arms upon the mantelpiece, he let his head go down, and for the next few minutes he stood there, with his chest heaving, crying softly like a broken-hearted child.

“I cannot bear it,” muttered Hazel, as she wrung her hands and gazed wildly about the sumptuously furnished room, as if in search of help; for the troubles of the past had told upon her nerves.  She felt hysterical, and could not keep back her own tears, which at last burst forth in a wild fit of passionate sobbing, as she sank into the nearest chair and covered her face with her hands.

This roused her suitor, who took out his flaming orange handkerchief, and used it freely and simply, finishing off, after he had wiped his eyes, with a loud and sonorous blow of his nose.

“’Tain’t being a man!” he said, in a low tone.  “I’m ’bout ashamed of myself.  It’s weak and stoopid, and what will she think?”

His face was very red now, but a bright, honest glow came into his eyes, and his next act showed how truly Hazel had judged his character and seen beneath the surface of the man.  For, giving himself a sounding blow upon the chest, he pulled himself together, and the odd appearance, the vulgarity, all passed away as he crossed to where Hazel sat, weeping and sobbing bitterly.

“Don’t you cry, my dear,” he said softly, as he stretched out one heavy hand and touched her gently and reverently upon the arm.  “I beg your pardon for what I’ve said, though I’m not sorry; for it’s made us understand one another, and wakened me up from a foolish dream.”

There was something in his voice that soothed Hazel, and the sobs grew less violent.

“It wasn’t natural or right, and I ought to have known better than to have expected it; but they say every man gets his foolish fit some time or other in his life, and though mine was a long time coming, it came very strong at last.  It’s all quite over, my dear, and I know better now, and I’m going to ask you to say once more that common, vulgar sort of fellow as I am, you are going to look upon me as your friend.”

“Common!” cried Hazel hysterically, for the bonds that she had maintained for weeks had given way at last, and her woman’s weakness had resulted in tears and sobs.  “Common! ­vulgar!  No, no!”

She caught his hands in hers and pressed them to her lips.  Then she would have sunk upon her knees and asked his pardon for the pain she had unwittingly caused, but he caught her in his arms and held her helplessly sobbing to his breast.

They neither of them were aware that the drawing-room door was opened, and that Miss Burge and Rebecca Lambent had entered, the former to look tearfully on, the latter indignant as she muttered, “Shameless creature!” between her teeth.

“What! have you made matters up, then, Bill?” cried Miss Burge excitedly as she ran forward.  “Oh, my dear, my dear!”

Her tears were flowing fast as she paused before them, trying to extricate her handkerchief from an awkward pocket and arrested by her brother’s words.

“Yes, Betsey, we’ve made it up all right,” he said.

“I ­I didn’t think it,” sobbed Miss Burge.

“No,” he said; “and it isn’t as you think, for this is our very, very dear young friend, Betsey, and ­and as I’m plenty old enough to be her father, Hazel Thorne’s going to let me act by her like one, and stand by her through thick and thin, in spite of all that the world may say, including you, Miss Lambent.”  He spoke proudly, as he drew Hazel closer to his breast, and stood there softly stroking her hair, with so frank and honest a light shining out of his eyes that it brightened the whole man.

“Sir!” exclaimed Rebecca.

“Madam!” he cried, “I don’t want to be rude; but, as your company can’t be pleasant to Miss Hazel Thorne, I’d take it kindly if you’d go.”

“And I was ready to forget my position and marry a man like this,” muttered Rebecca as she walked down to the gate.  “Oh, that creature!  She came upon Plumton like a curse.”

“Betsey, my dear,” said Mr William Forth Burge, speaking to his sister, but speaking at Hazel, “you and me never had anything kept from one another, and please God we never will, so I’ll tell you.  I’ve been asking Miss Hazel Thorne here to be my wife.”

“Yes, Bill dear, I know ­I know,” sobbed little Miss Burge.

“And while I’ve been asking her, it came over me like that I was wrong to ask her, and that it wouldn’t be natural and right.”

“Oh, Bill dear!”

“She’s been so good and tender, and kind and sensible, that it’s been like taking the scales from before my eyes, and been a sort of lesson to me; and somehow, my dear, I feel as if I was a different sort of man to what I was before.  I’m not a speaker, and I can’t express myself as I should like to; but what I want to say is, that I feel as if I was more of a man and a bit wiser than I was.”

“Oh, Bill dear!”

“I’m getting on fast for fifty, Betsey dear, and Miss Thorne here ­I should like to say Hazel Thorne here ­is only two-and-twenty or thereabouts, and she’s going to be like our own child from now, if she will, and we’re going to try and keep away troubles for the future till she wants to go away.  And now we won’t say any more about it, but let things settle down.  Stop a minute, though, Hazel Thorne, my dear; you’ve made me a gentleman, and we shall be friends.”

For answer Hazel left Miss Burge, who had been sitting by her with her arm round her waist, and, placing her hand in his, she looked him full in the eyes, seeing no longer the homeliness of the man, hearing no more his illiterate speech, but gazing as it were straight into his simple honest kindly heart.  She hesitated for a moment, and then, reaching up she kissed, him as a child would kiss one she loved.