Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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meantime, I thought that Jessie would manage tolerably well, if
he could, for a little while, let her have some additional help in


the kitchen, so that she might chiefly have to superintend and
give orders.' I said this particularly, because he was beginning
to be anxious about her health. Next spring there might be a
little Jessie, and I knew this fact would make him anxiously care-
ful about her, and think she ought not to do anything ; whereas
occupation would be the greatest safeguard she could have. I
sent, also, a few lines to William, that he might not think him-
self forgotten ; and I wrote to John Hervey, telling him all I
thought he would wish to know, and adding a kind word about
Mary. When I had despatched all these letters, I felt that my
English business was done. I had then only to think of France
and Miss Milicent, to whom I sent a few lines, telling her she
might expect her mother very shortly, but that I could give her
no fixed day for our arrival. Louise, the new maid, however,
assured us that Andely was a respectable town, and we should
be sure to find accommodation there. What was to be done
afterwards depended much on Mr Weir's state.


WE crossed to Havre on a calm night. Mrs Weir bore the
journey to Southampton better than I anticipated ; but
she was very tired when we got on board the steamer, and I
persuaded her to go to bed immediately. I found her docile as
a child, and, generally speaking, with a clear comprehension
of all that was being done and said ; only, now and then, espe-
cially when suffering from any kind of physical exhaustion, the
nervous excitement returned, and she would talk hurriedly and
incoherently. When this happened, I took no notice, except by
giving her a soothing draught, recommended by Dr Green, which
quieted her for a time, and, indeed, put her into a kind of torpid
state, but he had urged me on no account to use it often. ' His
hope was,' he said, ' that change of scene, and absence of mental
worry, would, by degrees, in a measure restore her nerves, with-
out any such assistance. She was likely to prove a good sailor.
If she was not, it would do her no harm.' The matter was in-
different to him, but it was not so to me, for, as I had never been
on the sea before, I had great misgivings on my own account,
nnd, feeling very dizzy and uncomfortable, it was no slight relief


to tr.e to rcc Mis Weir asleep in her berth, under the care of the
new maid, Louise, and to be able to go on deck for a little fresh
air myself. There were but few passengers, and scarcely any
foreigners. No one cam ! near me to interrupt me, and as long
as I stayed on deck I really enjoyed myself. The sky was bril-
liant and cloudless ; the sea so calm that one star was reflected
in the water as though it had been the moon. I was more at
peace than I had been since I left Sandcombe. I wis not, in-
i d, free from uneasiness, and that of a serious kind, but my
home cares were necessarily, for the time being, put away, and
sense of powcrlcssncss is sometimes a great rest. As it grew
1 ite, I went down into the cabin. A berth had been provided
for me just above Mrs Weir's, and I clambered into it and slept,
not a comfortable sleep, for the incessant noises of the ship dis-
turbed me greatly, and whenever I woke certain very disagree-
able sensations reminded me that I had better not attempt to
move. But there was something in the novelty which lessened
discomfort, and a strange, awful, yet pleasureable feeling, in
looking out of the port-hole upon the wide waste of waters gleam-
ing in the moonlight It carried me back in imagination to St
Anne's Hill, and the times when I had looked from it upon the
same sea, and thought it the image of eternity ; and that unknown
and endless existence seemed nearer to me than it had ever been
before, for I felt that there was indeed but ' a step between me
and death.' I woke very early, dressed myseif quickly, and was
prepared to wait upon Mrs Weir before Louise, who was but a
bad sailor, was able to leave her berth. The luggage was trusted
to her, so she went on deck to look after it, and I persuaded Mrs
Weir to follow as soon as she could ; but she shrank from the
thought of strangers, and fancied it impossible to mount the nar-
row stairs. When at length I succeeded in persuading her, I
regretted having done so, for the confusion was, to my inexperi-
enced eye, hopelessly bewildering. We were just about to land,
and some strange Frenchmen, with cocked hats, and swords,
were on the deck, giving orders as if they were lords of every
one, and people were calling from the shore, and answering
from the ship, and rushing hither and thither, with boxes, bags,
and trunks, and every now and then addressing me in sen-
tences made up ol two English words to six French ones. 1
could only obey Louise, who, at intervals, came up to us, saying,
' Sit still, sit still ; don't be impatient,' and I should have sat
there till night if I had not been told to move, and so, I think,


would Mrs Weir, for she seemed quite cowed by the bustle. How
at last we got on shore, and found a carriage, and were placed in
it, with our luggage, I have never been able to tell. I only know
that we did manage everything, and without much difficulty, and
that we were driven through some narrow streets to the hotel
which Dr Green had recommended; and I know also that I
could have been very much amused, that I was so indeed, at
intervals; only I was so occupied in thinking of Mrs Weir. It
came over me, I remember, as we turned away from the port, and
I looked back upon the sea which separated me from England,
that perhaps after all we had made a mistake.

And certainly there was some reason to fear it that afternoon.
Mrs Weir was so tired and ill, it was useless to think of going on
farther the same day, though we had landed about seven in the
morning. Louise said she would require a rest of several days ;
but I was sure that a settled delay in one place would increase
her illness, unless she was actually unable, from bodily weakness,
to attempt the journey. I nursed her all the morning, just as I
should have done in London, reading her to sleep, and talking
till I was nearly worn out ; and it was not till late in the afternoon
that I could leave her for half-an-hour, just to walk round the
town and see what the place was like. But even that half-hour
did wonders for me, — it was better than sleep, or reading, or
anything that could have been offered me to distract my thoughts.
It was like a new fresh life. The quaintness, and prettiness, and
strangeness of everything, were a perfect cordial to my spirits.
I went back to the hotel with all kinds of absurd things to tell
Mrs Weir, and feeling as though I had purchased a new book
which I was sure would interest her ; and by and by, greatly to
my wonder, she made me push the sofa, on which she was lying,
close to the window, that she might look out and see the curious
things I had been talking about. Louise must have been quite
surprised at my delight. She knew little about Mrs Weir, and
France was her native country, though she had lived chiefly in
England. To me the sight of Mrs Weir, pointing to a Nor-
mandy cap, worn by a peasant who passed underneath our
windows, brought one of the most hopeful feelings I had ever
experienced. Our next day's journey was by railway to Rouen.
Dr Green had recommended our trying short distances, so as to
avoid over-fatigue, and to give Mrs Weir an opportunity of be-
coming interested in the places we passed through. His advice
was certainly wise, for on the second day Mrs Weir was so

2 E


roused by the novelty of everything, and so calmed by the
thought that she was at length going to her husband, that she
was at intervals quite as well as when I last saw her at Stone-
cliff. We arrived at Rouen early, and with her usual unselfish-
;, she made a point of sending me out ; and I am afraid 1
took advantage of the permission to stay longer than I ought to
have done, as it was nearly dark when I returned. But 1 left
Mrs Weir inclined to sleep, and Louise with her, so that 1 was
not anxious ; and really the beauty and strangeness of the place
made me quite forget how time went. I should have been
tied at w. liking about in a foreign town by myself, so the
mistress of the hotel very good-naturedly sent one of her little
boys, who had learned to speak a few words of English, with me ;
and with his help, I made my way through numbers of narrow
streets, looking into churches and public buildings as I went
along, till I was in a maze of bewilderment and delight All I
really wanted was to have Roger with me, that I might now and
then give vent to my excitement, and say, 'Do look, how beauti-
ful ! or how droll !' I believe I did catch hold of my little com-
panion once or twice, to his great astonishment. One th
though, I could not reconcile myself to, and that was the dirt.
Yet even that was unlike English dirt ; if it had been, I don't
think I could have endured to stay in the place. Rut it had a
look of its own, quite different from anything I ever noticed, or
could have imagined, — a kind of suitableness it was, which made
me feel as though Rouen would not have been Rouen without it ;
and I laughed at it to myself as I walked along the street, and
when I went back to the hotel, tried to for-et it. As to the
churches, I can't in the least describe properly the effect they
had upon me. Having seen nothing but Compton church, and
Ilatton, except once, when being in London for a few days, I was
taken to St Paul's and Westminster Abbey, they came upon me
at first like buildings that could not belong to this world, — they
were so vast and beautiful. Then as 1 hurried through them,
such odd things struck my eye, — tawdry images, and little
candles, and artificial flowers, — and such a very dirty pavement,
— I was quite surprised. Neither did I know what to make of
the people who were in them ; some seemed very earnest at their
prayers, and others were looking about all the while they were
repeating them. I thought that, perhaps, I had better not try
and form any opinion, for it was impossible in that short peep
that I could understand about their religion. I should have


liked very much to stay and say my prayers in one of the
churches myself, but I was afraid people would notice me; and
I thought, too, that perhaps no one was allowed to do so except
Roman Catholics. As I could not speak French, and my little
companion was only able to understand short sentences, it
seemed better to leave the matter.

1 We were to start from Rouen about twelve o'clock the next
day, to go by railway to Gaillon, and from thence to Andely.
What kind of place this Andely was I could not make out.
Louise declared it was f very well, very good, — I need not make
myself to fidget, — we should get on beautiful.' But then she
had adopted this tone about everything we had seen since we
landed in France. Even the dirt of Rouen was in her eyes
sacred. My chief comfort was that Mrs Weir was able to put
up in a wonderful way abroad, with things which would have
distressed her for days at home. The bodily fatigue, and the
calmer state of her mind, caused her to sleep better ; and this
quieted her nerves. I was not going to allow myself to be
anxious, for that would do no good ; and moreover, I trusted
implicitly to Louise. At the railway stations she managed
everything ; I only undertook the charge of Mrs Weir. So it
was that the next day, when we were prepared to set off, I left
the luggage in her care, and sent her to have it registered before
Mrs Weir and I arrived. Greatly to my annoyance, I found
her at the station gossiping with some friends whom she had
met. I disliked the notion of her having any acquaintances ;
but I could not exactly find fault. She assured me everything
was right, and I took my seat with Mrs Weir, leaving Louise to
follow in a second-class carriage. I don't think a railway
journey is ever pleasant ; and it was provoking to find every-
thing abroad so much like what it is in England. Mrs Weir
had little to amuse her, and sat quiet, with that depressed air
which I so much dreaded. I tried to attract her attention, but
she did not care for the view, which was very pretty, though
we passed through the country so quickly that the pleasure
of looking at it was much lessened in consequence. We went
along the banks of the Seine, which wound in and out so that
we could not always tell on which side the railway was carried.
A range of low hills bordered it on the left bank, and there were
openings between them, showing glimpses of what I thought
would be very lovely valleys ; but wherever there was any
Cultivation, the country looked dreary from the absence of


hedgerows ; and there was a want of trimncss in the way the
land was farmed, which I was sure would shock Roger's i
Besides, I did not at all like the little long strips of fields, like
cottagers' gardens. It did not seem as though there could be
any people in France holding the same place as Farmer Kemp,
and William, and Roger. But there again, as it was with the
churches, perhaps I was no judge about it. Louise told me thai
people in France are obliged to divide their property equally
amongst all their children, or at least, I believe, the eldest son
has two shares. The notion of an equal division pleased me at
first, for it appeared just ; but when I thought it over, it seemed
as if, in the end, the property which a person might have would
be cut up, and the portions become less and less, until all would
be poor together.

The distance to Gaillon was not great : when the train
stopped, I got out quickly, collected the cloaks and shawls,
helped Mrs Weir to alight, led her to a scat, and then looked up
for Louise. She was standing quite calmly, waiting for I knew
not what. The train rushed off. I went up to her, ' Louise,
where is the luggage?'

' Oh ! quite right,' was the reply, ' it is always right in
France.' I turned away contentedly, but recollecting that wc
were not to stay at Gaillon all night, I went back, and asked
where we were to find a carriage to take us on to Andely.

' It will come quite in time, don't trouble yourself, there is
one in communication,' and Louise walked away from me, and
began talking to a Frenchman. I was not satisfied, there was
no sign of either carriage or luggage ; Mrs Weir was beginning
to feel chilly, and in spite of the commendations of Louise,
I felt in my own mind that a French railway station is not
always as comfortable as an English one. I put a cloak round
Mrs Weir, and then looked again at Louise, her countenance
expressed the utmost consternation. She rushed up to me,
wringing her hands. 'Ah! the luggage! the luggage! it is
gone, the stupid wretch, not to have known — not to have heard!
I told him.'

'Who? what?' I exclaimed. ' The luggage gone? you told
me it was all right.'

' Ye?, right, it is right ; it was registered for Paris. It is
gone there.'

I did not in the least understand, and it was some time before
I could be made to do so. Louise, in her inexcusable carelessness,


had told one of her friends to have the luggage registered instead
of attending to it herself. He had blundered, and thought from
something she said, that she was going on to Paris : so the lug-
gage had not been taken out at Gaillon, and whilst we were
standing and quietly looking on, our boxes and bags were rushing
away from us at the rate of twenty miles an hour. I believe
what aggravated Louise more than her own foil)', was my stupidity
in not being able to make out why the registering was of such
consequence. French railways were things I was only just
beginning to comprehend. For the future, however, I felt I
must exert myself, and learn to manage matters my own way, so
I left Louise to meditate upon her provoking negligence, and
explain to the station-master that he must telegraph for the lug-
gage, and walked away to see what hope there might be of finding
a carriage to take us on to Andely. A very tiny omnibus was
standing at the station ; by it was an old, sunburnt, gray-headed
Frenchman, dressed in a kind of blue smock-frock, with a long
whip in his hand. My heart sank. Louise came up. ' Is that
our carriage?' I asked.

' Oh ! yes, a very good carriage ; what can be expected better
at a country station ? You have always omnibuses in England.'

Very true, but Mrs Weir was not accustomed to travel in
them. The old man pointed to the vehicle, intending we should
get in. Louise was about to do so, but I stopped her. ' I don't
think it will do,' I said ; ' I don't think Mrs Weir can go in
that thing, and no luggage, and not knowing what sort of place
Andely is. She can't do it.' Misfortunes seemed to crowd upon
me, and I could have found it in my heart to begin reproaching
Louise again.

'You will find nothing else/ said Louise; 'there is not a
carriage to be had,' and she appealed to a man near her, who
went forward and opened the omnibus door to assure me there
was no alternative. There really was no time for deliberation.
We might perhaps have slept at Gaillon, but if the luggage
did not reach us, what should we do? and at Andely, there
would be Miss Milicent to help us. I did not suggest a diffi-
culty to Mrs Weir, for I had found by experience that it was a
bad plan, but going up to her, I said, ' There is a strange little
carriage waiting for us, dear ma'am, I am afraid it won't be very
comfortable ; but we shall soon be at Andely now, it is only a
few miles.'

She w^as too tired and too depressed, even to answer me, but


taking up her travelling I . he put her arm within mine and
walked very slowly to the omnibus. I saw she moved feebly, and
it struck me that perhaps after all we had better not go on, but
when I just said to her, " Suppose, ma'am, we ask if we can
have beds here ? ' her face of distress made me feel that it
would not do to suggest it. All that tiresome railway journey,
and the delay had given her time for thought, which was the
worst thing she could have. We drew near the* omnibus. I
was about to help Mrs Weir in. A Frenchman's head peeped
out, then another, and another ; we were actually to travel eight
inside. And the men were stout farmers, a greater perplexity
to me than anything I had yet seen in France, my notion of a
Frenchman having always been that of a skeleton, kept alive by
thin soup and sour bread. It was not chilly in the omnibus ; I
let down the window to admit a little fresh air, and my French
neighbour immediately drew it up again, and when I appealed to
Louise to explain that it was bad for Mrs Weir, she said it was
no use, French people did not live in draughts like the English.
We waited at the station, I suppose for outside passengers, till I
was quite tired, but at last the horse neighed, and the driver
smacked his whip, and shouted and yelled, and off we set jolting
over the rough road.

Mrs Weir's pale face of endurance made my heart sad ; the
heat was becoming very oppressive, and I had a dread of her
growing faint. We had gone but a very little way, when we
stopped at the bank of a river, the Seine, as Louise informed me.
What was to be done then ? Even Mrs Weir turned her head
to look, but the old driver took it very composedly. A ferry-
boat was waiting for us ; omnibus and horse, and Frenchmen,
and ourselves, by dint of pushing and pulling, and shouting, were
all put on board, and launched forth into the middle of the river.
How odd I thought it, how my mind turned to Sandcombe, and
Roger, and Jessie, and Mary Kemp, and John Hervey, when I
looked on the broad river, and then on my novel companions, and
remembered that I was in the middle of the Seine, with Mrs
Weir under my charge, I need not attempt to say. Louise had
sunk from irritability to sullcnncss, and was pondering, I hope,
witli repentance, upon her carelessness. Mrs Weir was pale, and,
1 was afraid, frightened, for she held my hand very tight. The
Frenchmen chattered fast, and at the highest pitch of their
voices. There was no beauty in the river, nothing to divert one's
thoughts from the unpleasant contemplation of the present and


the future. But the crossing was the work of a few Minutes, and
once more on dry land, on we went again, jogging over a narrow
cross-road. Presently we stopped at a small farmhouse, and a dis-
agreeable looking man, not a gentleman, though dressed as if he
meant to pass for one, came'out. There was certainly no room in
the inside, and I imagined there was not likely to be any on the
outside; but he was bent upon having a place, and mounted to
the top, much, I suspect, to the annoyance of the outside pas-
sengers, and certainly to ours, for the creakings and groanings of
the poor little omnibus were alarming, and made Louise put her
head out of the window and call out loudly to the driver, explain-
ing to me afterwards in English, that she had told him we were
all going to be cracked. I had calculated upon our having about
five miles to travel, and the distance might not really have been
more, but the sight of Mrs Weir's face made it appear double;
and what was the more provoking, every now and then we came
to what seemed the entrance to a village, but which proved to
be nothing of the kind. Presently one of the Frenchmen mut-
tered something in a tone which was evidently meant for the
company at large, and pointed to the window. I looked out and
saw on the right some ruined walls and a kind of castle on the
top of a hill, but there was nothing very remarkable in it, and
my heart just then was set upon rinding a comfortable, house,
and not a ruined castle, so I paid but little attention to it. Soon
afterwards we did really arrive at a village. I begged Louise to
ask the name of the place. It was Little Andely, and as Mrs
Weir heard the name she started up, drew her shawl round her,
and taking hold of my hand tried to move, but we were to be
disappointed again. Little Andely was not our place of destina-
tion. We saw passenger after passenger descend, and amongst
them the ill-looking Frenchman, but our turn was not yet. We
had still a longer distance to travel, and Mrs Weir was too tired
to be excited, when at length we did reach a kind of town, with
some streets, and a few shops, and decent-looking houses. We
stopped at the door of a little inn. My first impulse was to rush
in and ask for Miss Milicent, but alas ! I had no French know-
ledge to help me, and I was obliged to trust to Louise. I had
just helped Mrs Weir out of the omnibus, and paid the driver,
when she came back utterly disconsolate.

' No one knew anything of Miss Milicent, or Mr Weir, or any
English ; it was all a mistake, and we had left England for


I was thunderstruck, I confess, but I would not show it. Mrs
Weir clung to me trembling. I dr< idi d the effect of such news,
but she did not seem to comprehend what was said.

•Take me to my husband, Ursula,' she murmured. 'Ask

these good people where lie is? '

Loui ■ wished to explain, but I motioned to her to be silent,
and led Mrs Weir into the inn. We entered a small cofi' -
room, decked out with prettily-painted walls, artificial flow.
and a marble slab for a table. It was much better than I had
expected, but Mrs Weir could not remain there, and I told
Louise that we must be shown up-stairs. A bright-look,
French girl, with a very white cap, came forward to know what
we wanted, and Louise followed her to see the rooms. Mrs
Weir sat down on a bench. I heard her repeating some verses
of the Psalms to herself, yet in rather a wandering way, and then
suddenly she turned to me and said, ' My husband and Miliccnt
will come soon, Ursula; you must tell them to come, then 1
shall go to bed.'

I hoped she would not expect any reply, but she did, — her
tycs were fixed anxiously upon me, and I was obliged to say, ' I
must go and find them, ma'am. If you will lie down on your
bed for a little while, I will look for them.'

She trusted to me so implicitly, that she was satisfied in a
moment, and my conscience almost reproached me for decep-
tion. Yet, what could I do ? and I was sure that we could not
be quite mistaken. Some intelligence we must obtain before
long. Louise returned saying that ' the rooms were good — very
good' — beautifully clean— quite like France ; but there was
rather a steep staircase to get to them. It was certainly steep,

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 42 of 56)