Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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ingly, would not finally be brought to the point of insanity ; and
Mrs Temple, partly from impatience, partly from wrong judg-
ment, had allowed herself to speak of Mrs Weir, before her, in
a way which so strongly implied hi r having no power of ju< -
ment upon any point, that Mrs Weir herself believed it, and
even alluded to her own state as one which must end in a still
stricter control.


I am not going to detail every little thing that Mrs Weir did
or said in this our first interview, or every method I took to
shake her from her morbidness ; it would be only tiresome ;
and, moreover, I have no such faith in my own knowledge in
these matters, as to be at all sure that I acted always judiciously.
On the contrary, as I sat with her that afternoon trying all kinds
of experiments, sometimes succeeding, and very often failing, I
was more than once inclined to think that I was going 0:1 a
wrong system ; or that, at any rate, if my efforts were based on
a right foundation, they were attempted too late to be of use.
Between seven and nine o'clock Mrs Weir went back to her old
moaning state, only now and then stopping to cry bitterly, and
say that she had neglected all her duties, that God would never
love her, and that every one had left her ; and then wandering
off into some strange fancies, in which I, who knew her so well,
could trace an association of ideas of things which had struck
her in her reading, especially in the Bible, — all connected with
her over- scrupulousness of conscience, — but which, certainly,
to any person hearing only the disjointed sentences, would
have sounded very much like the dreamings of a bewildered

It was a sad, sad evening. When I saw Mrs Weir asleep,
about half-past eleven, quiet and peaceful for the first time for
so many hours, I could scarcely have grieved if I had been told
that she was never to wake again.


MRS WEIR rose very late the next day. I saw John
Hervey in the morning, and heard that he was to leave
London in the afternoon. He was in a great hurry, and we
said only a few words about Mrs Weir. He begged me to stay
as long as I could, and promised to ask Mary Kemp to help
Jessie with advice as to how to manage things at Sandcombe.
I did not tell him how earnestly I wished Mary could give
advice upon other and more important matters. Before he left
me I sent an affectionate message to Mary, and told John I was
glad he was going back to her, and he owned that it would be a
eomfort, It was pleasant to think that there were, at least two


persons in the world likely to be happy that clay. Mrs Temple
kept herself aloof from mc, and it was awkward enough in the
morning, for I did not know where to sit or what to do ; but
after Mrs Weir was dressed, and when Dr Green had paid his
visit, I was told that I was to remain in Mrs Weir's room, and
I accordingly took my work there, and also finished a letter I
had begun to Jessie. Mrs Weir was not much better than when
I fust saw her. She sat by the fire, as on the preceding day,
not working or employing herself; but, following out my id
of taking everything naturally, I made no remark upon this, but
only told her that I had to send a letter home, and hoped she
would not think I was taking a liberty in writing it in her room ;
and then I left her for a while to herself.

Perhaps it was a good thing upon the whole that I was hurried
and interrupted in my letter to Jessie ; it made what I said more
forcible, and prevented me from enlarging upon facts which
might have irritated her. All I could say was that I had noticed
some things which had made me unhappy and uneasy, because I
could not understand them, that if I did her injustice in thinking
she had anything upon her mind, she must forgive me ; but that
I earnestly entreated her, if she had, to tell mc what it was, that
at least I might comfort her, even if I could not advise her ; and
then I mentioned what I had heard and observed on the night of
the party. I said nothing about her telling Roger, for 1 knew I
should only have a vague answer, and that it never would be
done; but I did hope that she might possibly place confidence
in me. I concluded very affectionately, and assured her that her
happiness and Roger's would alone have induced me to enter
upon the subject.

I don't think I had much hope of obtaining a satisfactory
answer, but I had cased my conscience, and I was then able to
give my undivided attention to Mrs Weir. I must add, however,
that I enclosed a note to Roger, telling him all the particulars he
would want to know, besides the few facts I had written on the
preceding evening, and, adding, that my letter to Jessie was on a
little business, and I did not wish him to sec it. That was, to
my mind, the safest way of dealing with a reasonable being like
Roger, who must know that cases might arise in which things
could be said to his wife which could not be mentioned to him.

Before the close of that day I saw clearly that I could not
hope to retu.n to Sandcombe as soon as I had intended ; at
least if I was to be of any permanent use to Mrs Weir. Dr Green


thought her better, more interested and collected in manner, when
he talked to her ; but he said, what we all knew, that anything like
recovery would be a work of time. He told me, when I happened
to see him alone, that he saw I was exercising a good influence,
and he begged me to stay. He said the same to Mrs Temple
afterwards, but she would not second his words. The moment
she felt a little less anxious, the old jealousy and dislike began
to return. John Hervey, before he left me, had promised to see
Mr Macdonald and obtain from him the information which I
had failed to extort about Mr Weir, as we both agreed that we
must get Miss Milicent back at all hazards, as soon as she could
leave her father. I sat in Mrs Weir's room all the morning, but
in the afternoon I left for about an hour, and went out. The
change was desirable for her and for me. She did not like my
leaving her, which I thought a good sign. Mrs Temple gave me
a commission for a knitting-box, and I contrived that she should
talk about it before Mrs Weir, and made some difficulty in the
ir.att.ej of choice, merely to prolong the conversation. I wanted
to let a breath of fresh air into the shut-up mind. Afterwards,
when I returned, I brought three or four boxes to look at. Mrs
Weir did not seem to remark them when I laid them near her,
but when Mrs Temple had made her choice, she asked to see it,
and said it was pretty, and the words were like music to me. At
the time when I had noticed, the evening before, that her spirits
began to fail, and her mind to grow weak and confused, I begged
Andrews to let me have my tea, and, seeing me enjoy it, Mrs
Weir was persuaded to take a little herself, and I am sure it
did her good. She kept up much longer, and liked, I saw, to
hear me talk ; and when at length she grew tired and began to
cry, and say strange wandering things, I stopped her, by pro-
posing to read a Psalm to her, and then the maid came and she
went to bed. But how long was this state of things to last? and
what could I decide upon doing ?

I worried myself with the question at night, and in the
morning felt how worse than vain and useless had been my

Three letters were brought to me ; one from Jessie, one from
John Hervey, and a third from Miss Milicent. Jessie's was
opened first, and with a trembling hand.

' My dearest UrSIE, — It is very kind in you to write to me, and
if you were here, perhaps, I might be able to talk to you, for I


am not very happy, but you know I cannot express myself in a
■r ; I have not been taught how ; and I dare say I shall do
very well, and when things are gone by there is not much good
in saying anything about them. I have had a bad headache all
day. Roger is gone to Hove. Esther broke a glass bottle I
morning. Two of the little chicks are dead, we cannot think
how. I am, your very affectionate sister,

'Jessie Grant.'

Little comfort, indeed, there was in that! The words 'not
very happy' went to my heart. But writing was evidently u -
less. I had forgotten that Mrs Weir had taught me to express
myself easily and correctly, and that Jessie had had no teaching
.it all. To think of gaining her confidence by letter was like
seeking to obtain entrance into a blocked-up house. I turned
to John Hervey's letter; a feeling, which I could not explain,
made me keep Miss Miliccnt's to the last.

'Dear Ursie,— Mr Weir is lying ill at a little inn, at a
place called Andcly, in Normandy ; that will be Miss Miliccnt's
address. I can get nothing out of Mr Macdonald, but I be^in
shrewdly to suspect that he and Captain Price have money
embarked in the same speculations as Mr Weir, and that the
object in keeping Miss Milicent there is to persuade her to throw
her little fortune into it, which she is as likely as not to do. I
hope some one will be able to interfere, though I don't see how
it is to be done, unless she can be brought back to England. I
(ndy saw Mary for a minute last night ; she is very well, and will
be much cheered by news I have had. I trust you are getting
on well. In haste, very sincerely yours,

'John Hervev.'

That was easy to comprehend, except, what did he mean by
the news which had cheered Mary ?

Miss Miliccnt's letter was less scrawling than usual : the date
was Andcly : —

' Dear Ursie Grant,— I have had two letters from you,
both at one time. French people don't trouble themselves much
witli the post. My father is very ill, and I can't come home
anyhow. We left Paris about a month ago, and have been at
a great many places since, but now my father is so ill, we can't
move about. He has a fever ; the doctor, I think, says he is
bctt r. but he talks odd Fr< nch, and as I am not well up in the


language, I don't always understand him. I wish my governess
had taught me French better, but she didn't know I should go
abroad. If my father doesn't get better, he must get worse ;
that is why I should be glad to have a friend here, but there is
not any woman I know in France who would come ; indeed, I
don't take to women generally, and have made most friends
with men. If my mother's trustees, who are always trouble-
some, were here, I should like to talk to them. There are ways
of making money in France which there are not in England.
My mother would do well to think of this. Perhaps, if you were
to talk to her about it, it might rouse her up. I always found
that when we settled up accounts, she put herself more in a fuss
than at other times. I like French ways, they are so indepen-
dent. The other day I sat down on a box at the railway station
and mended the braid of my dress, and nobody looked at me. I
sit up with my father at night ; it is very lonely. I am sorry
Matilda Temple worries my mother so much ; I always knew
she would. My father might have done without me at Pans,
but he could not here, so it is all well I came. He was very
kind, and took me travelling about to see Normandy. We
walked a good deal, which is how he caught the fever. I think
when he gets better we may go into Brittany. He will want
change, but if I am to stay with him I must have that money
my aunt left me put into my own hands. I mean to write to the
lawyer about it. I don't think my father is so well to-day. You
will see why I can't come home. Mr Macdonald wrote to my father
lately on a little business ; he says he often sees you and your
pretty sister-in-law. People said she would have married him
if she had not married your brother. But she has made the
best choice, for Roger Grant is an honest man. I keep my
eyes and ears open, as is necessary, and I am never taken in by
any one. Good-bye, Ursie Grant : you must quite see why
I have done right, and I shall be obliged to you to write and
tell me so.

' I am, your sincere friend,

' Milicent Weir.

' P.S. — I only want to be in England for a doctor for my
father. I never was down-hearted before, but this is a very out-
of-the-way place. I shall write to my mother, and tell her about
my father, and that will explain all. He has been talking of her
and sent her a message.'


I had tliis letter open in my hand, when Mrs Temple knocked
V. my bedroom door and immediately entered. Her quick eye
taught the handwriting directly.

' You have h id a letter, I see, from Miss Weir.'

'Yes, ma'am ; she informs me Mr Weir is very ill, and says
that she intends writing to Mrs Weir. May I ask if she has
done so ? Miss Milicent tells me that her father has b<
talking of Mrs Weir, and has sent her a message.' I came to
the point at once ; it was the only way in dealing with Mrs
Temple, to take her unprepared.

She hesitated, stammered, began a negative, then suddenly
changing her tone, said, confidentially, ' I think, — yes, I believe,
there may be a letter; but in Mrs Weir's present state, it will
ii t do to alarm her.'

' Perhaps, ma'am,' I said, ' being alarmed may do her good.'

'Oh no! impossible. With her shattered nerves, quiet
is the one important point. I could not answer it to Dr

It was an opportunity for being bold, and I was resolved to
take advantage of it. 'If you will excuse my saying it, ma'am,'
I replied, ' it seems to me that quiet has been tried upon
Mrs Weir already, without much effect. What comes in the
ordering of Providence may be better for her than any plan of

' But Mr Weir is ill, you say ; surely you don't intend to take
upon yourself the responsibility of telling Mrs Weir. If you
do, I put the case out of my hands entirely. I will have nothing
to do with it, — nothing. It is the height of imprudence ; I must
send immediately for Dr Green.'

' I have no wish to tell Mrs Weir anything, ma'am,' I said ;
' but if I were left to myself I should take what seems to be sent
in a natural way ; and as Miss Milicent has written, I should
give the letter.'

' Milicent's letter! — and with a message in it! — Mrs Weir
will be frantic. She will say instantly that she must go.'

'And I should let her go, ma'am.'

Mrs Temple turned away from me, and walked to the other
end of the room. Then facing me suddenly, she said, 'And
who is to go with her ?'

I made no answer, for I could think of none.

'You see !' exclaimed Mrs Temple, ' it is an impossibility ; it
has been so from the beginning. People have taken upon them,


I know, to condemn my course of action ; things have been said,
—very unkind things, — unjustifiable ;' — and she fixed her eyes
upon me, — ' but the moment any other course is proposed, in-
surmountable difficulties are discovered. Mrs Weir is but a
child, and must be treated as such. She is worse than a child,
indeed; there can be only one end to this sad business. Miss
Grant, you are but playing with Dr Green, in pretending that
you can do anything. You know as well as I do how long
this evil has been going on ; the sooner Mrs Weir is placed
under strict control, the better it will be for herself and for her

I had scarcely listened to the greater part of this tirade, my
thoughts had been centred on one point. When Mrs Temple
had finished I made no reply, beyond remarking that I hoped
the case was not quite so sad ; and assuring Mrs Temple that I
would take no responsibility on myself without Dr Green's per-
mission, I begged her to excuse my leaving her, and went down-
stairs to Mrs Weir.

As I sat in the room working, and trying to talk, my mind
was revolving the difficult answer to Mrs Temple's question. It
was one for which I felt I must be prepared before I could urge
my wish with regard to the letter. Certainly to tell Mrs Weir
that her husband was dangerously ill, and then to shut her up
as before, would be merely driving her frantic. But on the
other hand, to keep the intelligence from her, and at last, per-
haps, have to inform her that he was dead, was a probability
frightful to contemplate in its effects. Mrs Temple's objection
I believed to be based principally upon an obstinate belief in
her own system. In Mrs Weir's present state it could no longer
be a point of importance to keep her in the house. She was an
incessant anxiety, and medical expenses were running away with
any advantage that might be expected from sharing housekeep-
ing. The one natural way of solving the difficulty would be to
offer to go to France myself ; and a short time before, I should
have proposed it without a moment's hesitation. But through
all this painful time of trouble on Mrs Weir's account I had one
thought, more painful, more anxious, than any other, — it con-
cerned Jessie. To picture her as unhappy, awoke a feeling
which I scarcely knew to exist. She had become dearer to me
than I was at all aware of. Her gentleness had won upon me.
Her very ignorance and seeming helplessness had formed a tie
between us ; above all, she was Roger's wife, and now that the


first bitterness of disappointment was over, that was a claim

upon my affection which I could not but feel I longed to he

at Sandcombe again. Since the ice was broken, I thought I

: wonders with her,— console, advise, guard her, —

ive all, bring her to openness with Roger. If left to herself,
I had fears of continued decepti in, thoughtlessness, extrava-

icc, weak yielding to Mrs Price's influence; all likely to le id
to irretrievable mischief between her and Roger. Unhappy ! so
early in her married life ! It seemed that I must go back i i
her. Rut it was not to be. Dr Green came before I couid

ke up my mind what was to be done. I saw him alone, and
put Mrs Weir's case before him. He took my view. There
was a visible improvement since my arrival ; and he was inclined
to think that it would be wiser to act according to the natural
course of events. 'No excitement,' he said, 'could be worse
the dreary melancholy into which Mrs Weir had fallen.
Of course, I was prepared to go with her, if she wished to join
her husband.' He took it as the simplest, easiest thing in the
world — as though I had no claim, or interest, or occupation,
a; art from Mrs Weir. I believe he rather imagined — so little
did he know of my circumstances — that I was accustomed to
wait upon and manage persons whose minds were diseased. I
did not contradict him, because I felt it would be hopeless to
make him see as I saw ; and when I hesitated, he was so sur-
prised, and so hasty, that my courage quite failed me in talking
to him, and I only stood still and listened to what he said.

Mrs Temple came in, and the question was discussed with her,
and being thoroughly provoked, she naturally threw all the bur-
den upon me. ' The idea was to her,' she owned, ' quite prepos-
terous ; but she could only bow to Dr Green's opinion. As I
advocated the scheme, and had so much confidence in my own
powers, I was the ft person to carry it out. She wished it to be
understood that it was entirely against her judgment, and from
this moment she repudiated all responsibility as regarded Mrs
Weir. As for me, I was very young ; I had no experience ; I
was perfectly ignorant of the French language ; I was weakly
indulgent in my treatment of Mrs Weir ; but it was useless to
say anything ; in fact, all had been said that could be ; but no
one considered her opinion.' I can't go on any further. Mrs
Temple talked for at least five minues without pause, scarcely
stopping to take breath. At the end of this time, Dr Green,
who had become perfectly cool, whilst listening to her, remark 1


quietly, that I had shown so much judgment already, he could
not believe but that I should be equal to any emergency. Mrs
Temple left the room haughtily, and he went on with some
more inquiries and directions concerning Mrs Weir.

But I was determined to make no hasty engagement. I begged
to be allowed a day to consider. ' I was by no means prepared,'
I said, ' to go abroad.' Dr Green thought that money was the
difficulty, and assured me he would undertake that I should be
sufficiently recompensed. But this was not in my mind for a
moment ; I only wished to see what was right. As I stood there,
I began weighing the conflicting claims, especially considering
whether it would be possible to find some one to take my place,
when Mrs Temple rushed into the room in alarm. Mrs Weir
had learned the news — her state of agitation was terrific, and we
must go to her directly. She looked very much alarmed, and
well she might be, for in her irritation and perverseness, she
had pretended to misunderstand Dr Green's intentions ; and
wishing, as she said, to have the business over, had given Mrs
Weir Miss Milicent's letter without any word of preparation or

I will not attempt to describe the scene we had to go through
in consequence ; it would be too painful. Mrs Weir was thrown
back to a state much worse than that in which I had found her.
She could be calmed only by strong opiates. I had no longer
any doubt where my duty lay. Leave her I could not, even to
go back to Sandcombe for a clay to see Jessie, and satisfy my
mind about her. The journey to France was a last alternative,
but it must be tried, unless I wished to have it upon my con-
science that, by refusing to go, I had forgotten the kindness
shown me in past years, and the hopes of assistance I had lately
held out, and aided in shattering the little remaining strength of
Mrs Weir's mind. I was the person commissioned to tell her that
she was going, and that I would accompany her. It was very
touching to hear her— not at first taking in the possibility —
saying, ' She was a prisoner ; she was not fit to go about ; and
she was losing her senses, her niece had often told her so. But
she should wish to go ; and Mr Weir, she thought, had sent her
a message; only, she might have dreamt about him. And he
was her husband, and God would wish her to attend to him ; but
then she couldn't go. Would God be angry with her because
she didn't ?' And, at last, holding my hand very tightly, and
saying, again and again, ' I love you, Ursula ; you are very kind


to me, and you won't be angry with inc. I love you very much;
but 1 am Losing my senses, and they will shut me up, and that

will be beat for me.' And then crying so bitterly, that it made
my heart ache to hear her. I began to feel at last as though we
were really in a prison, and that. nothing would go well with us
till wo were out of it.

Such an amount of business as I had then upon my hands
would have made my brain nearly as confused as Mrs Weir's but
for Dr Green's help. I think he saw plainly now how matters
stood, and was prepared to find Mrs Temple interposing diffi-
culties, which it would be his business to overcome. The first
thing he did was to find a trusty maid who understood French,
and to put her under my authority. He gave me instructions
himself as to passports, and railroads, and steamers, and hotels,
and gave me full directions as to any medical care which Mrs
Weir might require. Mrs Temple was seldom referred to, which
I was sorry for, since it gave her a more bitter feeling against
me, and induced her to worry her husband, who, in his good-
nature, and being rejoiced, I suspect, to be rid of Mrs Weir
made himself very useful in messages and inquiries. We had
what Miss Milicent would have called a very trying time ; and,
in the midst of all this external worry, I had my own secret
anxieties which could be mentioned to no one. I wrote again
to Jessie, urging her, by every argument and motive that I could
possibly suggest, to talk openly to Roger as she would to me,
and to throw herself entirely into his hands ; and, feeling in my
own mind that my words would be without effect, I did what,
under other circumstances, I should have shrunk from. I wrote
to Mrs Kemp, begging her, as she loved me, to keep her eye
upon Jessie, and to interfere, if necessary, to guard her from the
Dene intimacy, even at the risk of making Roger angry, and
telling her that I had very serious reasons for this request. My
words, I knew, would be open to misconstruction, and might
increase Mrs Kemp's prejudice, but she was honest-hearted and
very kind, and would act upon them. That was all I cared for
at the moment. To Roger himself I wrote, chiefly upon business
matters. He would understand, I knew, the pressing claims
which had forced me so suddenly to leave all my duties. It
would never cross his mind to blame me because he was incon-
venienced. 'I hoped,' I said, 'I should return soon, but in the

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 41 of 56)