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Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Orphaned in infancy, William Crimsworth had been meagerly supported by his mother’s brothers, Lord Tynedale and the Honorable John Seacombe. William’s brother Edward, ten years his senior, had taken over his deceased father’s mill and had prospered.

Upon his graduation from Eton, William refused to accept further aid from the uncles who had treated his mother so coldly and asked his brother for employment. When he arrived at Bigben Close where the mill was located, Edward censured his young brother for having submitted to Tynedale and Seacombe for so many years. Edward was harsh and cold in speech and act, and his pretty young wife, although inclined at first toward warmth, began to treat William in much the same way. Edward hired William as a clerk at ninety pounds a year and requested that the young man live away from Crimsworth Hall.

A grudging brother and a harsh master, Edward invited William to his house only once, along with some other mill workers, to attend a party. That evening, William met Mr. Hunsden, a flippant, wealthy mill owner who, judging Edward a false brother and a tyrant, publicly denounced him. As a result, Edward furiously dismissed William. Hearing of William’s decision to go to the Continent, Mr. Hunsden gave him a letter of introduction to a Mr. Brown in Brussels.

When William presented his letter, Mr. Brown suggested teaching as a possible career. Through his influence, William became a teacher of English and Latin in the pension of M. Pelet. Next door to M. Pelet’s day school was a seminary for girls headed by Mlle Reuter. Shortly afterward, Mlle Reuter asked William to give lessons to her girls during part of each week.

Having met Madame Reuter, a gross and droll woman, William was surprised to find her daughter, Zoraide Reuter, young and charming. William discovered that teaching young ladies was not the same as teaching young boys. Mademoiselles Eulalie, Hortense, and Caroline proved to be haughtily disdainful but at the same time coquettish. M. Pelet took a deep interest in William’s personal relationships at Mlle Reuter’s school and questioned him about his impressions of Mlle Reuter and the three young coquettes of the classroom.

William admired Mlle Reuter. When he made a weak attempt at flirtation, she did not discourage him. One night, however, William overheard M. Pelet and Mlle Reuter talking in the park about their forthcoming marriage, which M. Pelet wished to hasten and she wished to delay. M. Pelet then accused her of encouraging William, who was obviously in love with her; he described the affair as ludicrous, since she was ten years William’s senior. Mlle Reuter laughed pleasantly at M. Pelet’s disclosure and denied interest in William.

Although William knew M. Pelet to be insincere in his friendship, he did not reveal his knowledge. He did, however, attempt to overcome his attraction toward Mlle Reuter. William sensed that she was trying to regain his favor when she appealed to him to treat kindly a new pupil, Mlle Frances Henri, who was also a teacher at the seminary. William, not disposed to please Mlle Reuter, harshly criticized Frances on her first appearance. Later, he was surprised at the girl’s fine accent in reading English, and his interest turned from Mlle Reuter to Frances, who was an enigma to him. Once, taking time for private and encouraging discourse with his apt pupil, he found that the schoolmistress had been eavesdropping. William learned that the girl’s mother had been English, that she had been reared by an aunt, and that she was trying to educate herself in the hope of teaching French in England, where her present profession as a teacher of sewing would not be a stigma upon her dignity if she were also a teacher of language.

Watching Frances grow in poise and wit, William made special efforts to encourage her, until Mlle Reuter warned him that he gave Frances too much of his time. The directress seemed to hover over him constantly in an attempt...

(The entire section is 1,209 words.)