Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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and very dirty too. So also was the passage, and it was a w< rk
of great difficulty to take Mrs Weir to her room ; which, how-
ever, when we reached it, was tolerably comfortable. Mrs Weir
lay down on the bed perfectly exhausted. I bathed her face
with water, and gave her eau-de-Cologne ; but the very first
thing to be thought of was something in the way of refreshment,
and I sent Louise to order some coffee for her directly, whilst I
gently prepared her for the fact that Mr Weir was not in the
house, and that further inquiries must be made respecting him
I found, as I had always done, that the shortest and simplest
way of proceeding was the best. Mrs Weir, with all her ccccm
tricities, was still to be governed by reason and truth, and I said
to her th it ' God had sent her a trial, for that we had made a


mistake in coming to this inn. Mr Weir was at some other
place, but we should, I hoped, soon find out where. In the
meantime she might know that she had done her duty in trying
to join him. No doubt we should soon learn where he was.'
She was distressed, as I feared she might be, but to be told that
she had done her duty was strengthening to her. She said to
me, in a feeble voice, 'Yes, Ursula, I tried to do my duty ; my
niece told me it was not my duty, but you thought it was, and
Dr Green too, and I am come. I think I will try to sleep ;
when you have found my husband you will wake me.'

Whatever the end might be, that was better than the mournful
depression, and though a foreboding of sorrow came over me, I
had no regret for the step we had taken. Finding Mrs Weir so
quiet, I left her for a few minutes and went down-stairs.


I FOUND Louise doing what I wished 1 had been able to do,
asking questions which might lead to some information about
Mr Weir. She told me that she could learn nothing except that,
a few weeks before, two gentlemen, one French and the other
English, with an English lady, had passed through the town,
and slept there one night. No one seemed to know what had
become of the English people, but the Frenchman was staying
at a farm-house, some way beyond Little Andely. The clue was
worth something. I recollected the unpleasing-looking man
who had been our fellow-passenger in the omnibus, and thought
he might be the Frenchman alluded to. Most probabiy also I
should find Mr Weir and Miss Milicent at the village through
which we had passed ; at any rate it was worth while to try. 1
asked if there was any carriage which would take Louise there ;
but we had arrived at a most unfortunate moment. A fair was
being held at Vernon, a neighbouring town, and not a vehicle
of any description was to be had, except the little railway omni-
bus. The oldconducteur, as I found he was called, came to my
assistance. ' He was going back,' he said, 'to the station, and
should return. He would put Louise clown at Little Andely,
and call for her on his way back.' Nothing could be better,
and I hastened up-stairs to Mrs Weir, to comfort her with the



intellig ace, if necessary. I found her restless. She was over-
tired, and wanted her coffee. I would not tell her what we were
going to do till she had taken it. The peasant girl brought it
up, without milk, in three small cups, — also three liqueur glasses
and a tottle of brandy. All were set down on the corner of a

I table. I could have laughed heartily at the arrangement,

but the suggestion was good. I poured a tcaspoonful of brandy

into the coffee, without telling Mrs Weir what I was doing, and

I her to drink it like medicine. She was so docile, I

seldom had any trouble with her on such points.

Very different from Louise ; when I proposed to her to go in
the omnibus to Little Andely, she flatly refused. ' It was too

.' she said, ' and no use. The English people were not there ;
they would have been heard of if they were. She had be n
hired to wait upon Mrs Weir, not to obey me ; and she was very
tired, and had a dreadful headache, — in fact, she felt quite ill ;

and' I was not inclined to hear more. I had but a limited

authority, ami no time to exercise it, even if I had not felt that
Louise, from her knowledge of the language, was in a great

tee my mistress. The omnibus was at the door, and the
conducteur would not wait. Mrs Weir, who had learned what
we wished to do, was becoming roused and uneasy by the dis-
cussion and the delay. She urged me to go myself, and there

3 no alternative. Not disputing the point with Louise, — for
a dispute is generally a loss, unless you have the power of
enforcing obedience, — I departed. A few words of French I
did know ; 1 had learned them from a conversation-book, wh'u.h 1
had studied at intervals during our short journey ; and when I
was set down at the door of a small inn in Little Andely, I was
able to ask, though with what kind of pronunciation I will not

-, 'Y r.-t-il des Anglais ici ? ' My old friend, the conducteur,
waited to hear the answer ; he knew my . and was inti p

d in it. But the reply of the landlord of the inn was long,
and utterly uninti . We stood looking at each other,

miking grimaces and signs. 1 opened m\ conversation-bo
In my perplexity, I had a notion that if I could spell the English
words to him he would understand them better, and I actuali-
zing out the letters ; and then left off, laughing at my
own stupidity, and again put the question, ' Y a-t-il des Anglais
ici?' This time I had an English answer. The Frenchman
from the farm-house made his appearance from some little salon
near the door, and informed me that he spoke English well, and


that he could tell me everything-. What did I want ? As to
speaking English well, the gentleman was under a mistake, but
it was well enough for my purpose, and I inquired directly for
Mr Weir. A change came over his countenance — distrust and
uneasiness were shown. He began asking me questions, instead
of replying to mine ; but I would tell him nothing, not who I
was, nor where I came from, nor whom I was with. I gave him
no clue of any kind, only I said I must see Miss Milicent. He
seemed more satisfied when I mentioned her, but he was still
disinclined to admit me into the house. 'Miss Weir,' he
said, 'was gone out ; she had walked somewhere ; he thought
it must be to Chateau Gaillard, the castle on the hill. He
advised me to go after her ; ' and with a tolerably civil bow,
he turned away from me. If I had been confidential with him,
he might have told me all I wished to know, but I disliked his
face. I felt sure he must be one of Mr Weir's speculating
friends, who were leading him again to ruin and dishonour. I
would not trust him with the knowledge of what I had heard
about Mr Weir and his illness. Whatever there was to learn I
would hear from Miss Milicent herself; and knowing that I
could find my way to the castle which I had seen on our road
from the railway station, I set forth by myself. It was but a
little distance, and I soon reached the foot of the hill. The
castle looked very different on a near approach — much grander
than I had imagined. It stood on a steep promontory ; a
winding path along the grassy hill led to the summit. I
hurried up. If I did not find Miss Milicent there, at least I
might discover which road she had taken. The ascent was
difficult, and I was out of breath before I stood on the summit
of the green hill, with the great keep of the castle immediately
before me. But I could not pause to rest. Scrambling over
the huge masses of stone, I made my way into the ruin ; and,
through the broken arch formed by the massive wall, looked
down upon a scene so lovely that for the moment it took from
me all thought of anything except its beauty. The strong-
foundations of the castle were partly cut out of the solid
rock, partly built up with even masonry. At its base lay the
little village of Andely, and beyond flowed the Seine, crossed
by a suspension bridge, and winding its way through a bright
valley bordered by low hills. The glorious colours of sunset
were lighting up the wide expanse of the sky, and steeping the
atmosphere in a rich glow which seemed scarcely to belong to


earth. It was a kind of ma;;ic picture seen through the frame-
work of the ruined arch. I felt that the castle must have a
his: ing to far-off ages, and in comparison of whii h

my petty cares and interests must be worthless even in my own
eyes. But I was not caring for myself then, I was thinking
of and acting for others ; and there is a greatness in that con-
usness which r ven the smallest anxieties of moment.

Even at Chateau Gaiilard, after the first burst of admiration,
I thought only of Mrs Weir and Mi s Milicent I turned from
the view, walked round the walls, peeped into caverns w!
1 ight have been dungeons or stables, and at length, on a point
( i the hill overlooking the road by which I had ascended,
stumbled upon a person dressed in a stuff gown, red handker-
chief, and straw bonnet, standing with her hands in the poi k t
of her cloth jacket ; — Miss Milicent, — the same, precisely the
same, so it seemed to me, as when we had parted on St Anne's
Hill. We recognised each other at the same instant.

I thought she might be startled, but no, she merely tossed
up her arms with a momentary surprise, and came wp to me,
holding out both hands. ' Ursie Grant ! where have you
dropped from ? I am glad to sec you. You have come when
I was looking for you ;' and she shook my hand almost pain-
fully in her heartiness.

' How is Mr Weir ?' was my first hurried question.

She did not answer it. ' You arc come alone, to be sure,' she

• No,' I replied. ' Mrs Weir is at Andely.'

Miss Milicent's countenance expressed great consternation.
' I wrote you word, Ursie Grant, that Andely was not a place
for my mother ; I said you were to keep her at Rouen. You
have done wrong.'

Mi s Milicent might have written, but certainly I never re-
ceived the letter, and we had all trusted to Louise. I again
inquired how Mr Weir was.

' As ill as he need be, and better than I expected he would
be. I would rather have had the Grand Turk here than my

' Mrs Weir is very quiet, and very easily managed,' I said ;
'she puts up with things in a wonderful way. I don't think,
s Milicent, you would have kept her away, if you had been
with her.'

' I don't know ; you are all idiots. Cut I think,— yes, I


am glnd you are come, Ursie. I like women after all;' and
Miss Milicent's voice softened, and she put her hand on my
shoulder with a movement as nearly caressing as any she ever
indulged in.

'You have been very anxious about Mr Weir/ I said. ' Is he
out of danger ? '

' Yes, so they say ; and high time he should be. France isn't
a place to be ill in, Ursie. They have no curtains to their beds.
I don't care for that, but my father does ; and — but where are
you going to sleep to-night? There's no room for you where
we are.'

I told her we were at Great Andely, and explained our mis-
fortune about the luggage. She scarcely seemed to think of that,
but answered, 'Not close, that's a good thing; but you blun-
dered, Ursie, you had no business to come at all. People only
put up with things here because they want to see this old castle.
I have seen it now till I am tired of it. I had rather look over
upon the sea from St Anne's Hill.'

'Then why not come back, Miss Milicent?' I said; 'you
know you are wanted.'

' You are a girl of no sense, Ursie Grant ; you are always
asking, " Why." Sensible people don't need to ask, "Why;"
they know without asking. There are more reasons than I can
tell why I can't come home.'

' Mrs Weir's state is very sad,' I said.

' You needn't tell me that, Ursie ; you think it isn't upon
my conscience, but it is. All I want to know is, which is
one's right hand, father or mother, for that is to be the most

She was bent upon standing on the defensive ; I could not
argue with her, and only asked some particulars of Mr Weir's
state. In her blunt, wandering way, she told me that he was
able to sit up, the fever had left him, and he was suffering only
from weakness ; she hinted at mental worries, but was not open
about them. When she last wrote, it seemed, Mr Weir had been
anxious about himself, and some feeling for his wife had touched
him, and occasioned the message which had been sent. 'But
I don't know what he will say now,' added Miss Milicent : ' he
is not prepared for her, and he takes things queerly ; I can't at
all answer for him.'

' He will be in no mood to find fault with Mrs Weir,' I said,
'when he sees her. She is greatly changed.'

44 f' URSULA.

I think my lone must have struck Miss Miliccnt. She an-
BV I, 'You didn't make me think that.'

' I tried to do so, Miss Miliccnt. I have said everything I
coidd think of to make you aware of it ; but it appears to mc
that words have no meaning of their own, but only according to
the mind of the person who receives them.'

' You are right there ; yes, you are right, certainly. But I
wish you hadn't come. My mother's whimsies won't be attended
to by French people.'

I answered, ' Mrs Weir has no whimsies, as you call them, left
now, Miss Miliccnt. She has been trained to overcome them.
Hers has been a hard life of self-denial of late.'

'Ah ! Matilda Temple ! It's her doing.'

' Is it ?' I said ; I could bear her blindness no longer.

She turned round upon mc, sharply. • Have it out, Ursie.
What is it you mean ! '

' I would rather not tell you, Miss Miliccnt,' I said; 'I would
rather you should come and see Mrs Weir and judge for

She shrank back. 'My mother is my mother, Ursie, and I
don't forget it : but I can't do for her what you can. 5

' Miss Miliccnt, you might, and you must. Excuse mc for
saying it. I have brought Mrs Weir here. She is now in your

She stamped her foot upon the ground. ' Ursie Grant, you
forget yourself. It is your own will, your own act and deed.'

'I have followed medical advice,' I said. 'When Mrs Weir
is with her husband and her daughter, she ought to want for

Miss Miliccnt was silent for some seconds. She bit her lips
and frowned. Then she said, shortly, ' You go back, I suppose,
by to-night's train ? '

' No,' I said ; ' I go back when I feel that I can leave Mrs
Weir with safety and comfort. When that will be, Miss Miliccnt
depends upon yourself.'

Without replying, she turned from me, and descended the hill.
I followed her. She strode forward for nearly a quarter of a mile.
We were drawing near the village when she stopped suddenly.
'Who's doing your work at Sandcombc?' she asked.

'It is done as it can be,' I said ; ' I have been obliged to
leave it.'

Again there was a pause. I heard the sound of wheels, and

URSULA. 4.17

saw the little omnibus coming behind. Miss Milicent looked
back also. 'That omnibus goes to the town, Ursie ; I shall go
in it ! '

' So must I,' I said ; ' I came in it ; and, Miss Milicent, per-
haps you would remember that Mrs Weir is without her luggage,
and looks to you for help.' She made an impatient movement.
' It's a blunder from beginning to end, Ursie ; my mother ought
to have stayed in England ; I don't know what I can do for her.'
She stood in great perplexity : then hurried into the house,
telling me to moke the omnibus wait, — which, as I did not know
what to say, was a difficulty ; but the French stranger again
came to my assistance. He appeared at the door full of civility :
he was glad I had found Miss Weir. He wished he could have
accompanied me in the search ; what further help could he give
me ?

My short answers could not have been encouraging ; but he
would not be thrown back by them. After giving the message
to the omnibus-driver, he again began questioning me as to my
errand. Miss Milicent returned before I could answer, with a
bundle in her hand. She passed the Frenchman as I thought
rudely. - Monsieur Dalange, my father is going to sleep, and
does not wish to see any one ; I shall not be back till late.'
She peeped into the omnibus, saw it was empty, and motioned
me to seat myself beside her. We drove off. Miss Milicent
caught hold of my hand. ' Ursie Grant, you are a hard judge,
but you have done kindly by me. If I am odd and forgetful, I
have troubles you don't know of ; but I will see my mother.
May God help her, and me, and all of us ! Now don't talk to
me, I must think.'

And she did think, and bitter thoughts they must have been ;
for the hard lines of her marked features seem to deepen with
some intense inward feeling, whilst she clutched the handle of
the carriage door, and leaned her head out of the window,
striving, though in vain, to hide the signs of agitation. When
we arrived at the inn, she scarcely waited for the omnibus to
stop before she was out of it. I said to her that I would go up-
stairs, and prepare Mrs Weir for seeing her ; but her impatience
could with difficulty be controlled. She would not wait in the
public room, but followed me into the passage. Louise, who
did not seem to think that I had any cause to be annoyed with
her, came out of Mrs Weir's room, to tell me that she had been
asleep, and was better ; only she had been asking for me.


I forgot my anger, as entirely as Louise did its cause. Mo-
ling to her to go into her own room, I wont softly up to Mrs
Weir, who was lying on the bed, and was just beginning to tell
her that I had been successful, — when a long arm was stretched
across me, and Miss Miliccnt pushed me aside, and said, ' You
have had Ursie Grant long enough with you, mother, I am
come to know myself how you are going on ; and I have brought
you a bundle of clothes ;' and she tossed the parcel on the bed,
and stooped down and kissed her mother, roughly indeed, but
heartily. I dare say it was the best thing that could have been
done. It was not arranged as I wished, but no doubt prepara-
tion would only have made Mrs Weir more nervous. As it was,
she was startled, and looked at her daughter, as though not
quite recognising her; and the strange gaze had such an effect
on Miss Miliccnt, that she turned aside and burst into tears.

'What does she cry for, Ursula?' said Mrs Weir, recovering
herself. ' It is very kind of her to come, and it does me good ;
and now I will go to my husband.' She sat up on the bed, and
put out her hand for Miss Miliccnt to draw near.

' Mrs Weir didn't know you, Miss Miliccnt,' I said ; speaking
as naturally and brightly as I could. ' You were taken quite by
surprise, ma'am, weren't you?' I added, addressing Mrs Weir.
'I found Miss Miliccnt wandering over the ruins of an old
castle ; she had gone out to take a walk ; afterwards we met the
omnibus returning from the railway, and so she said she would
come back with me, and see you now ; and to-morrow, or next
day, you will no doubt be able to see Mr Weir, for he is much
better, and able to sit up.'

I think it must have been the mention of the omnibus which
brought us all back to a natural state. Miss Miliccnt brushed
away her tears, came up to the bed-side, and sat down ; and
Mrs Weir leaned back a^ain on her pillow. 'If you would be
d enough to tell Mrs Weir what you have been doing lately,
Miss Miiiccnt,' I said, ' I am sure she will be glad to hear ; and
1 .;!1 go and order tea, and perhaps, if you are not in a hurry,
you will just be so kind as to put the table out, and have some
with her ; I will bring up another candle and make the room
look comfortable.' I said it all as if wc had been at Dene,
and there was nothing easier than to make things comforta'
but I had great misgivings as to how it was to be managed.
One point, however, was gained. Miss Milicent and her moth r
were together, and I was sure that one interview, if only of five


minutes, would do more to touch Miss Milicent's heart than any
description that could be given.

She came out to me, as I was standing at my bedroom door,
having just given directions for tea.

1 1 can't stay with her, Ursie, she doesn't understand, and
she's quite changed.' Miss Milicent's face looked haggard.

'Mrs Weir will be better,' I said, 'to-morrow. Everything
that is new unsettles her.'

' But you shouldn't have come ; what shall we do here? How
will she bear it ? Ursie, you have much to answer for.'

'Not so much as if we had remained behind, and waited for
the end, which must in all probability have come,' I said.

' End ! — what end ? — what do you mean ?'

' A lunatic asylum.'

Miss Milicent covered her face with her hands, and groaned.

I did not want to distress her more than was needful. She
had taken an exaggerated view of the present evil, and no
wonder. Mrs Weir, when startled, took a long time to recover
herself. She was not by any means, as far from rational as her
daughter thought ; but, impetuous and ungoverned in all her.
feelings, Miss Milicent would not listen to me, or believe me.
Yet she could not bring herself to look at the case boldly.
Availing herself of the claim which, no doubt, Mr Weir had
upon her, she made it an excuse to hurry away. She would
return, she said, to-morrow. She would see her mother again ;
she would arrange the meeting ; she would do anything, every-
thing I wished. But she could not bear the pain ; she shrank
from the responsibility. Even yet Miss Milicent had much to


MRS WEIR took it much to heart that her daughter had
left her so soon, and I rather troubled myself as to how
Miss Milicent would get back to Little Andely, but she knew the
ways of the people, and it was a quiet part of the country ; so I
hoped she would not mind walking alone. But I was obliged to
leave her to herself, and attend to Mrs Weir, whose mind, I was
sure, was in much perplexity. Happily, after a little quiet ex-
planation, I was able to make her see how things stood. I told

2 F


her plainly that Mr Weir was at a neighbouring village, and
that she might go to him the next day if she wished it ; but I
endeavoured to convince her that, as he was better, there was no
hurry, and she need only remain quiet, and rest after her journey.
She acquiesced for the time, but I could not say how long the
mood would last Mrs Weir ate more for her tea than I
pected, which was very satisfactory. Louise and I had a kind
of supper in the public room down-stairs, and were waited upon
by the pleasant-looking Normandy peasant girl, who was over-
whelmed with delight when she found that madamc liked the
roast fowl which I took up to her, and was persuaded to taste
the wood strawberries. We might, certainly, have been in much
worse quarters, for the people were extremely civil. About half-
past nine I made Mrs Weir comfortable for the night, and left
her with the door between her room and mine open, and a little
bell by her side, that she might call me if she wanted anything,
and then I thought of rest for myself. But my troubles were not
over, I had scarcely gone to my room when I heard sounds of
merriment below, fortunately away from the side of the house
adjoining Mrs Weir's room, but very near to mine. I supposed
there might be some late guests in the house, but when I lay
down in bed the sound of a flageolet was added, and the people,
whoever they were, began to dance. And such a noise as they
made ! — stamping, shouting, laughing, singing, clapping of hands
— sleep was impossible. I lay awake, studying a book of French
conversation, by the light of a tallow candle, till nearly two
o'clock in the morning ; then there came the roll of some vehicle
to the door, and the dancers began to disperse, and I fell asleep.
It must have been eight o'clock, and the sun was shining full
into my window, when I was awakened by the touch of no very
gentle hand.

' Ursie Grant, what makes you so lazy ? I want to talk to
you.' I fancied myself at the Heath ; and, as I rubbed my eyes,
almost believed I should look out upon the cliffs and the sea.
Miss Milicent quickly brought me back to reality. 'I went off
in a hurry last night, Ursie ; I am come back to do better to-day,
but my mother mustn't come to us. My father isn't in a state
to bear it.'

I could have wished that Miss Milicent had left me time to
dress and prepare myself a little for the day's business, instead
of thus thrusting it upon me, but perhaps that was more than I
had a right to expect.


' I am afraid Mr Weir is not so well,' I said.

' I can't say ; the long and the short of the matter is, Ursie,
that I must talk to you.'

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 43 of 56)