Read CHAPTER FORTY FIVE - A BREACH OF PROMISE OF MARRIAGE of The New Mistress A Tale , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Hazel seemed to have borne the moving well, and the doctor smiled his satisfaction at seeing his patient in such light and cheerful quarters; but the days had gone on without change.  Night and day there had been the same weary, restless wandering of the fevered brain ­the same constant talking of the troubles of the past; and little Miss Burge sobbed aloud sometimes as she listened to some of the revelations of Hazel’s breast.

“Poor dear!” she said, and she strove to give the sufferer the rest and ease that would not come, as hour by hour she watched the terrible inroads the fever made in her care-worn face.

“She’s getting that thin, doctor, it’s quite pitiful,” she said; but only to receive the same answer.

“Wait till the fever has exhausted itself, my dear madam, and we will soon build up fresh tissue, and you shall see her gain strength every hour.”

But the fever did not exhaust itself, and in spite of every care Hazel’s state grew critical indeed.

“If I might only see her, dear,” said Mr William Forth Burge; “if I might only speak to her once.  I wouldn’t want to come in.”

“No, Bill dear,” said the little woman firmly; “not yet.  The doctor says it is best not, and you must wait.”

“Does ­does she ever in her wanderings ­a ­a ­does she ever speak about me, Betsey?”

“Yes; sometimes she says you have been very kind.”

“She has said that?”

“Yes, dear; but she is not herself, Bill dear.  She’s quite off her head.  I wouldn’t build up any hopes upon that.”

“No, I won’t,” he said hastily.  “I don’t expect anything ­I don’t want anything, only to see her well again.  But it does me good to think she can think of me ever so little while she is ill.”

“You see, dear, it’s her wandering,” said his sister; “that’s all.”

“But tell me, Betsey, tell me again, do you think she will get over it?” he said imploringly.

She looked at him with the tears trickling down her face, but she did not answer.

“He comes, you see, and smiles and rubs his hands, and says, `She’s no worse ­she’s no worse, Mr William Forth Burge, sir;’ but I can’t trust him, Betsey, like I can you.  There,” he cried, “see:  I’m quite calm, and I’ll bear it like a man.  Tell me, do you think she’ll get over it?”

“Bill dear, I can’t tell you a lie, but I don’t think there’s any present danger.  I do think, though, you ought to send for the poor girl’s brother, and let him be down.”

William Forth Burge uttered a low groan, for he read the worst in his sister’s eyes.

“I’ll send for him directly, dear,” he said; and he rose and staggered from the room.

It was in the morning, and the message for Percy to come down at once was sent; after which, in a dull, heavy way, Burge stood staring before him, trying to get his brain to act clearly, as he asked himself what he ought to do next.

“I think I ought to go down to her mother,” he said softly; “and I will.”

In this intent he went softly out into the hall, when little Miss Burge came hastily down the stairs, and her brother gasped as he placed one hand upon his side.

“Bill ­Bill,” she whispered excitedly, “she is talking sensibly, and she wants to see you.”

“Wants to see me?” he panted.  “No, no; she is wandering, poor girl!”

“No, no, dear,” cried little Miss Burge, clinging to his arm; “she has asked for you hundreds of times when she was wandering, and I wouldn’t tell you ­I thought it wouldn’t be right.  But now she’s quite herself, and she’s asking for you to come.”

“But ought I,” he said, “in my own house?”

“Yes ­now,” whispered back his sister.  “But Bill dear, she’s wasted away to a shadow, she’s weak as weak, and you must not say a word more to her than if she was a friend or you were her brother.”

“No, no,” he said hoarsely.

“Come, then.  She wants to speak to you, and it may do her good.”

Trembling with excitement, William Forth Burge softly followed his sister up the stairs, trying to smile and look composed, so as to present an encouraging aspect to the invalid, telling himself, heartsore though he was, that it was his duty, and that it would have a good effect; but as he entered the room and saw the change that had taken place, he uttered a low groan, and stood as if nailed to the floor.

For Hazel was changed indeed.  Her cheeks were sunken and her eyes looked unnaturally large, but the restless, pained expression had passed away, and the light of recognition was in her eyes, as she tried to raise one hand, which fell back upon the coverlet.

He saw her lips part, and she smiled at him as he stood there by the door.  This brought him back to himself, and he went hurriedly towards the bedside.

“It was selfish of me to ask you to come,” she said softly; “but you have both shown that you do not fear the fever.”

“Fear it, my dear?  No!” he said, taking her thin white hand, kissing it, and making as if to lay it reverently back upon the coverlet; but the fingers closed round his, and a thrill of joy shot through his breast, as it seemed for the moment that she was clinging to him.

“How am I ever to thank you enough?” she said, in a faint whisper.  “Why have you brought me here?  It troubles me.  I feel as if I should make you suffer.”

“But you mustn’t talk now, my darling,” whispered little Miss Burge.  “Wait till the doctor has been, and only lie still now and rest your poor self.”

“Yes ­rest,” she said feebly ­“rest.  I feel so easy now.  All that dreadful pain has gone.”

“Thank God!”

She turned her eyes upon the speaker with a grateful look and smiled faintly, motioning to him to take the chair by the bedside.

“Don’t leave me,” she whispered.  “Yes; keep hold of my hand.  You have been so kind, and I seem to see it all now so plainly.”

“But my darling, you must not talk.  There, just say a word or two to him, and then he must go.  I’m going to ask the doctor to come and see you now.”

“No:  let him wait.  I must talk now.  Perhaps to-night my senses will go again, and I shall be wandering on and on amongst the troubles once more.”

“Then you will be very still, dear.”

“Yes; I only want to lie and rest.  Don’t leave me, Mr Burge.  Hold my hand.”

There was a sweet, calm look upon her face as she lay there, holding feebly by the hand that tenderly grasped hers, and her eyes half-closed as if in sleep.

From time to time William Forth Burge exchanged glances with his sister, but the looks he received in return were always encouraging, and he sat there, care-worn and anxious, but at the same time feeling supremely happy.

An hour had passed before Hazel spoke again, and then it was in a dreamy, thoughtful whisper.

“I’ve been thinking about the past,” she said, “and recalling all that has been done for me.  I cannot talk much; but, Mr Burge, I can feel it all.  Don’t ­don’t think me ungrateful.”

“No, no,” he whispered, as he bent down and kissed her hand; “I never could.”

“I was thinking about ­about when you asked me ­to be your wife.”

“Yes, yes, my dear!” he said eagerly; “but I was mad then.  It was only an old fellow’s fancy.  I could not help it.  It was foolish, and I ought to have known better.  But we know one another now, and all you’ve got to do, my dear, is to grow well and strong, and find out that William Burge is man enough to do what’s right.”

She lay thinking for some little time, and then he felt that a feeble effort was being made to draw his hand closer to her face, and yielding it, once more a wild throb ran through his nerves, for she feebly drew his hand to her cheek and held it there.

“I was very blind then,” she said in a whisper; “but I am not blind now.”

She spoke with her eyes closed, the restful look intensifying as the time glided on.

After a while the woman who had acted as nurse announced the coming of the doctor, who brightened and looked pleased as he saw the change.

“Yes,” he said; “the fever has left her.  Now we must build her up again.”

And after satisfying himself about his patient’s state, he beckoned Miss Burge from the room, and gave the fullest instructions as to the course to be pursued, promised to come in again that evening, and went away.

The day glided on, and William Forth Burge kept his place by the bedside, feeling that it was his by right; and then, at times, suffering from a terrible depression, as he told himself that he ought to go, and not presume upon the weakness of one who was in his charge.  Hazel lay with her eyes half-closed, apparently in a restful, dreamy state, rousing herself a little when her tender nurse administered to her food or medicine, and then turning her eyes for a few moments to the occupant of the chair by the bedside, smiling at him sadly, afterwards, with a restful sigh, letting her cheek lie against his hand.

“I should like to have seen my little sisters,” she said once softly, “and my poor mother; but it would be cruel to bring them here.  I should like to kiss poor Ophelia too.”  She laughed faintly here, as if amused.  “Poor child! ­so good at heart.  Poor child!”

There was another long interval of genuine sleep now, which lasted until evening, when Hazel awoke with a frightened start crying out painfully.

“What is it, my pet?” whispered little Miss Burge, bending over the bed, and parting the hair from Hazel’s hot wet brow.  “There ­there; you’re better now.”

The light of recognition came, and she darted a swift, clear look at the speaker, then turned excitedly to the bedside where William Forth Burge still sat holding her hand.

The peaceful smile came back as she saw him there, and she began speaking in a quick, excited way: ­

“I have been dreaming ­I thought I had told him it was impossible again ­that I could not; for I loved some one else.  But I do not.  It was a weak girl’s fancy.  Miss Burge, I should like to kiss you, dear; but it would be unkind.  Touch my face ­my lips with your fingers.”

“My darling, I have no fear,” sobbed the little woman; and she bent down and kissed the poor girl passionately, but only to rise in alarm, and make a sign to her brother, which he interpreted aright, and was about to rise and seek for help; but Hazel clung to his hand in alarm.

“No, no! don’t go!” she said hoarsely.  “I could not bear it now.”

“I’ll run, Bill!” panted Miss Burge; but a word from Hazel stayed her.

“No; stop!” she whispered.  “God knows best, Miss Burge.  Lift me a little more.  Let my head rest on your shoulder ­so!”

William Forth Burge raised the thin, slight form tenderly and reverently, till Hazel’s head rested upon his broad shoulder, and he held her there; but she was not satisfied till he had placed her arm so that it half embraced his neck, and there she lay, gazing with her unnaturally bright, wistful eyes in his, while the great tears slowly welled over their bounds and trickled down his heavy face.

“Miss Burge,” she said again, and there was something very strange and wild in her voice, “I was weak and foolish once; but now it is too late, I have grown wiser ­just at last.  This is going to be my husband.  In his dear memory I shall be his wife, for I love him now ­with all my heart!”

She closed her eyes for a few moments, and without a sound little Miss Burge stretched out one hand to the bell, making a sign to the nurse who answered, and then glided away.

There was a long, deep silence then, broken only by a sob from Miss Burge, who now sank upon her knees by the bedside.

Hazel’s eyes opened again, and she gazed about her wildly, and as if in fear; but the restful smile came back, and she sighed as if relieved; and again there was a long silence, during which the watchers waited impatiently for the doctor’s step.

And so the minutes glided by, and the night came on apace ­a night they felt would be black and deep, for all hope was gone.

Then Hazel spoke again, and her voice sounded clearer and more distinct ­

“I shall not hurt you now,” she said softly, and her thin, wasted hand rose from the counterpane, seemed to tremble in the air for a moment, and then nestled in William Forth Burge’s breast.  “Kiss me,” she said softly; “think that ­at last ­I loved you.  So tired ­let me sleep!”

Is there truth in the old superstitious stories that we hear?  True in their spiritual sense or no, just then a black pigeon that had hovered about the house for days alighted upon the window-sill, and the rustle of its wings sounded loud and painful in the oppressive stillness of that evening.

From the fields the soft lowing of the kine came mellowed and sweet, and from the wood behind the house a thrush sang its evening hymn to the passing day, while, as the west grew less ruddy, the soft dawn-like light intensified in the north.

It needed but one sound to add to the solemnity of the time, and that was the heavy knoll of the church bell, which rang out the curfew, as it had announced the hour from the far-back days when it was cast and blessed, and holy hands first hung it there.

Just then little Miss Burge uttered a faint ejaculation of relief, for there was a quick step upon the gravel; but ere it reached the door there was a deep sigh in the shadowed room, Hazel’s large, soft eyes grew dilate, and their light was for ever gone; another bridegroom had snatched her from her simple-hearted lover’s arms ­and that bridegroom was Death!