Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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She sat down, leaned her two elbows upon the bed, and disre-
garding every thought of convenience or comfort for me, pre-
pared herself to begin a long story. Louise was with Mrs Weir,
that was my only consolation, and I collected my largest stock
of patience.

'You know, Ursie, matters are bad with us, and have been
so for a long time. My father spent money faster than he got it.
My mother had more whimsies than there were minutes in the
year. I dare say I was not better myself. But people must
live ; my father must live. When he came abroad he took some
money with him ; they said he ought not to have done it, but he
says he must have starved without it. Then he made friends, —
whether they are friends or not, I can't say, he calls them so ;
that M. Dalange is one. He engaged with them in a kind of
wine business ; I suppose it is speculation, but it seems all right
enough to me. Mr Macdonald and Captain Price have money
in the same business, and they are growing rich. You see,
Ursie, I couldn't come home, because my father's money was all
gone in this business, and my money, which was sent to me, was
all he had to live upon. That is how the case stood. I believe
it would all have gone right except for Monsieur Dalange. I
haven't any faith in him. I believe he is a rogue. But we
aren't rich, though we thought we should be, and now all will go
to the ground unless there is some help ; and there is no one to
help but me and my mother ; and I think, Ursie Grant, it is a
good thing you are come, after all, though I didn't think so last
night, for now you can persuade my mother to do what she should
do, and give her assistance to get us all straight again. You see,
when she has done this, things will go on well, and we can go
and live where we choose. I think, perhaps, if we went to the
Pyrenees it would do, for my father likes mountain air, and so
do I, and my mother will be freshened by it.'

If a gulf had opened beneath my feet, I could scarcely have
been more alarmed than I was at the maze of wilfulness, folly,
selfishness, — and I had great reason to fear, roguery, which this
speech revealed to me. Miss Milicent fixed her eyes upon me,
and when I did not answer, touched my arm : ' You understand
now, Ursie, don't you ? It is all clear.'

'No, Miss Milicent,' I said. 'I don't understand; or at


least I hope I don't. Mrs Weir has only just sufficient to keep
her in comfort, and I believe you have not more You don't
mean to say that you would persuade her, or allow yourself,
to risk money in schemes of which you know nothing, and
conducted by such people as Mr Macdonald, Captain Trice,
and this Frenchman, whom you own yourself you believe to
be a rogue.'

' But I do know about the scheme, Ursie. I have had the
whole thing explained to me, and there will be profit for us in it,
there must be by and by. Only just now help is wanted. You
don't think me a fool, do you ?'

I kept my thoughts to myself. ' Miss Milicent,' I said, • these
are matters in which I can have no voice or judgment. As far
as I am concerned, I can only say that to trouble Mrs Weir with
them might have most fatal effects. She ought at least to have
time given her to recover herself, after the anxiety she has had ;
and then the whole thing ought to be a matter of consultation
with her friends and the lawyers. It is not for a person like me
to interfere at all about it.'

'Hut I hate lawyers,' she exclaimed. 'I have made a vow
never to have anything to do with them. They are a greedy,
grasping race, and 1 choose to settle my own affairs without

' Of course,' I said, ' no one can interfere with your own affairs,
Miss Milicent, but Mrs Weir's are different ; and it seems tome,
if you will allow me to say it, that we women sometimes make
mistakes when we think we can engage in business which pro-
perly belongs to men.'

' I don't know anything about "properly belongs," I know
what I have done and will do. Ever since I was twenty-one I
took my own course, and I am not going to be fettered now.'

' And do you have no advice ?' I said.

' Yes, people who understand much better than lawyers would,'
she replied. ' IJut we won't talk about it, Ursie Grant; I sec
you put your face against it.'

ainst mentioning the subject to Mrs Weir,' I said; 'and
indeed, Miss Milicent, you may think me taking too much upi n
myself, but if it came to the point, I would, upon my own re-
sponsibility, cany Mrs Weir back to England this very day,
rather than she should run the risk (f having it named to her.'

I wis bold — almost to the point of impertinence, yet I knew
well the person with whom I had to deal ; —the will which could


only be governed by an assertion of power beyond its own, but
which was taken by surprise when that assertion was made, and
sank beneath it almost without a struggle.

Miss Milicent was quite silent for some seconds ; then looking
up at me fiercely, she said, ' It's a mess.'

'Yes,' I said, 'a great mess, and, Miss Milicent, if you trust
to yourself to get out of it, you will only sink the deeper.'

'And who is to help me out, Ursie? Not you — you wouldn't
stretch out your hand to help a dog.'

' It is a man's business, Miss Milicent,' Vas my reply, 'a man
who has a head for figures, and could advise Mr Weir and
you, and be up to the arts of these people whom you suspect.
A man it ought to have been from the first,' I could not help

She caught me up there. ' I know what you mean — I know
what you are always cutting at, but I don't give in. My father
liked to have me, and we have had a good, pleasant time, and
shall come all right by and— only ' a look of extreme per-
plexity came over her.

' I am afraid things are awkward now,' I said, venturing to
complete her sentence.

' Yes, that 's the whole of it, and if you can let me have five
pounds, it can be settled between my mother's accounts and

Poor thing ! I felt for her deeply, for it was a great struggle,
— she had such a proud spirit ! and it was hard to be obliged to
make the recpiest to me.

But it was still harder to me to reply. ' I am afraid, Miss
Milicent, I have no money to give. I have only what may be
wanted for Mrs Weir's own expenses, and for that I am answer-
able to Mrs Temple.'

' Matilda Temple ! control my mother's money — and mine 1
For it is mine, too ! Ursie Grant, you don't know what you are

' You left Mrs Weir's affairs in Mrs Temple's hands, Miss
Milicent,' I said.

She was stung to the quick. ' And I was an idiot for doing
so,' she exclaimed. ' But I trusted to you,' she added, looking
reproachfully at me.

' Indeed, then,' I said, 'you trusted to a person who had no
power, and could have none. But, Miss Milicent, it is not for
me to show you where you may have been wrong ; only, just at


I isent, you will see yourself that my hands arc tied, and if I
hed it ever so nuich, I could do nothin u.'

wish it,' I heard her mutter to herself, and I I
up the words and said —

• You are right ; I *'. m't wish it.'

med her forehead upon her hands. I went on : — 'If
J could help you, as you ask me, it would only be help for the
moment ; and if you embark more money in these speculations,
i will only, so it appears to me, run the risk of losing it.
Indeed, Miss Milicent, I cannot but feel there is only one cour c
for you, and I should thin' Id be th< tr Weir; at

once to send for some persons whom you can trust, put every-
thing into his hands, and be guided by his advice.'

She looked up scornfully.

'And where am I to send ? To the moon ? Are wise coun-
sellors to be had for the asking?'

'They won't be had without the asking,' I replied; 'and I
suppose it needn't be a lawyer.'

' It won't be,' she said, nodding her head at me, with a kind of
angry smile.

'Then it must be some one else,' I said.

' And who ?' She put the question triumphantly.

'John Hervey,' I replied. I spoke on the impulse of the
moment, — chiefly, 1 believe, because I had once before named
him to Miss Milicent, and that he was always associated in my
mind with the thought of Mr Weir. I had no sooner mentioned
him, than innumerable objections suggested themselves to

Miss Milicent was too angry to argue. 'Pshaw!' sh
claimed. 'John Hervey is your idol. Do you think my father
would talk to him ?'

I felt piqued. 'John Hervey is an honest man,' I said, 'and
has a good, clear head for accounts ; and he is one, also, who has
been always accustomed to business, and has had a good deal of
his own to manage, especially of late. I should think, Miss Mili-
cent, you might go farther and fare worse. At any rate, he is a
friend, and a true one.'

I touched her there. She gazed at me with moistened i
and said, ' Ursie, if I believed that, I should be thankful.'

'lie is one, most truly,' I repeated. 'lie has been at the

lorn of most of the thoughtful things which have been done

for you and Mrs Weir of late, Miss Milicent. If you could


bring yourself to confide in him, you might bless the day on
which we have had this conversation/

She stood up suddenly. ' You have pens and ink, Ursie ;
where are they?'

'There is no hurry,' I said; 'surely you will go back and
consult Mr Weir.'

' I will consult no one ; I have had too much of consultation
already. And that French rogue in the house, too, expecting to
be told everything ! John Hervey would be murdered before he
got here, if it was thought he was coming.'

I did not dread quite such tragic consequences ; but I did see
that it might be better not to put either Mr Weir or his friend
on their guard by letting the idea be known. Miss Milicent
scrawled a few lines, and put the paper into my hands, telling me
that I was to write, and explain more fully. She had only said
she wanted to see him.

' And where is he to come ? ' I inquired. ' Here ? '

'Here? No. Why should we stay here? When my father
can move, we shall go back to Paris, — if we don't go to

So wild and vague she was still, and there were so many
questions to be settled ! I made another effort after something

' Mrs Weir must see Mr Weir to-day,' I said.

'Well! Yes, I suppose so.' But Miss Milicent said it un-

'But he must not mention money to her.'

' I can't say. People are waiting to hear what we determine.'

' If he does/ I replied, ' he will bring on an attack of nervous
excitement, which may end no one knows how.'

' I can't answer for him,' was Miss Milicent's rather sullen

' But you really must answer for him, Miss Milicent/ I said.
' What is the use of sending for John Hervey if you are to de-
termine what shall be done before he comes ? As for Mrs Weir,
she is not now in a state to form a correct judgment about her
own affairs ; and if anything is forced upon her now, I will be the
person to come forward and say it is illegal.'

Whether I had a right to threaten in this way I had not the
least idea, but I was driven to it, and Miss Milicent, who was as
ignorant as myself about all law matters, was frightened by it.

'We have no money for the present time, unless something is


done,' she muttered in an undertone. ' M. Dalange will advance
some wh< n we have signed the agreement,'

Her inconsistency exasperated and alarmed mc ; I said, 'Miss
Milicent, upon one condition, I can help you, at least for the
present. Let Mr Weir engage that nothing shall be said to
Mrs Weir about money for the next three weeks, until, that is,
she has recovered from her journey, and do you promise yourself
that you will enter into no engagement with these speculating
men till you have seen John Hcrvcy. Mr Weir and yourself cm
in that case join Mrs Weir, nnd your expenses will be paid by
mc, acting for Mrs Weir, for the present, and can be repaid
when your affairs nrc more settled. I think,' I said, ' I am not
going beyond my limits by offering this.'

A door of relief seemed opened, but it was to Miss Milicent
rather than to mc. At the moment, it seemed to me, that if I
had had an idea of this troubled sea into which I was to be
thrown, I never should have ventured to bring Mrs Weir aw.iy
from England.

Miss Milicent, however, saw everything by the light of her
own eyes. She had come to mc evidently in such perplexity,
that the very thought of escape seemed the escape itself.

' If they could have present help, her father,' she said, ' would
promise, — yes, she could make him promise, she was sure; he
was in such a fret, he did not know how to get on from day to
day, and he had been so ill, and was longing so to go back
to Paris. Now we should all go there directly. And M.
Dalange, — she did not know what could be done about him,
but he must wait ; she thought she could put him off, and when
John Hcrvcy came he would see things clearly, he would not be
like mc, afraid to risk a penny ; and then the money which was
wanted would be advanced to M. Dalange, and the business
would go on well, and they should all grow rich together.'

I did not contradict her ; I only tried to impress upon her
more strongly, that nothing Mas to be said to Mrs Weir, and
afterwards I suggested as civilly as I could that she should leave
me to dress. She went down-stairs into the public room, for
Mrs Weir was not ready for her, and I dressed as quickly as
possible, feeling half asleep, and extremely tired, but seeing a
great deal of work before me.



I COULD never be said to have known Mr Weir. When he
was at Dene, I seldom even saw him latterly ; when I did,
it was rarely that he spoke to me. I had a strong prejudice
against him, partly arising from his unpleasant manner, but
more from all that I had heard of him ; and when there is this
kind of natural aversion, it is almost sure to be perceived and
returned. And Mrs Weir's arrival was the last thing which her
husband was likely to desire. It would interfere with his plans,
and trouble his daily comfort ; and he knew enough of my con-
nection with his family to be aware that 1 had been instrumental
in brinsrinc about the meeting. It was not likelv, therefore, that
anything that I could do would find favour in his eyes. Most
especially he was likely to resent the idea of my imposing con-
ditions upon him. I felt my position to be extremely awkward,
and with a feeling of nervous dread, such as I had rarely ex-
perienced, I found myself in the afternoon in a little shaky
carriage, the only one which could be met with in the place,
accompanying Mrs Weir to pay the long anticipated visit to
her husband. Miss Milicent, after seeing her mother for a few
minutes in the morning, had gone back to prepare Mr W T eir for
what was to come, and I would willingly have persuaded Mrs
Weir to wait till another day, but now that she was a little rested,
her earnestness upon the subject was returning, and I dared not
delay ; especially as I had received a few lines from Miss Mili-
cent, since our interview, telling me that her father had consented
to the meeting, and gave his promise as I desired. Money must
indeed have been much needed at the moment, or Mr Weir
would never have bound himself so readily to an agreement
which stood in the way of his schemes, but having been given, I
had no right to doubt that it would be kept.

Mrs Weir herself was the greatest lesson I could have had
upon the duty of simple faith, in times of difficulty. When I
told her that the carriage was at the door, and that she was going,
I prepared myself to see her excited and agitated. But it was
not so. She merely said, ' 1 am ready, Ursula ; God will help
me ;' and that was the first expression which gave me the idea
of the fear which I am sure was at the bottom of her heart, even
when she was most pleadingly bent upon joining her husband.
She did not speak nor look about her as we drove along, but kept


her hand in mine, and I felt it tremble very much. At last, just
as wo reached the vil) he said, 'He will not be an

Ursula; do you think^or and when I answered lightly, 'Oh: I
ma'am, what could he be angry nbout?' she received my assur-
ance with childlike submission, and never repeated the question.

Miss Milice-nt was waiting at the door to receive us. I had
never seen her look so subdued, and I thought she had had ;i
stormy morning. The inn was by no means so good as ours. It
ved me that Mrs Weir should have to mount the narrow
iicase, and I thought the stifling air would affect her breath-
ing ; but with my help she went up firmly, though slowly, only
once or twice stopping and glancing round with rather a wander-
ing, unsettled gaze, which I did not thoroughly like.

1 Here's my mother come, father,' said Miss Milicent, throwing
open the door of Mr Weir's room. I was drawing back, but M rs
Weir grasped my arm, and I led her into the room. It \
tolerably large, but very scantily furnished. Mr Weir was
sitting by a stove, with an uncovered deal table at his right
hand ; his bed was in one corner in a recess. The cold, poverty-
stricken air of the apartment was perhaps the more remarkable
to 'my eye, because I was not accustomed to the French fashion
of living without curtains and carpets ; but it was not the room
which fixed my attention, it was Mr Weir himself. He was
thin, and his face showed that he had been very ill. He wore a
loose dressing-gown and slippers. His hair was long, and his
beard had been suffered to grow ; all these things make a great
change in a man ; but no such external differences could have
given me the impression which I gained from his face. It was
sunk, lowered. As Mrs Weir, in her most childish incoherent
movements, bore the tokens of a nature which must at last rise
above human infirmity ; so did this cold, selfish man of the world
carry about with him the signs of one which must, ex>
through some miracle of mercy, eventually fall below it. It was
t thing which struck me ; yet he was a gentleman still,
rose when we entered, came forward, and kissed his wife,
in,:, 'Welcome, my dear,' and placed her in a chair by his
side, making a distant bow to me.

There was a pause. Mrs Weir looked at him steadily for a
few seconds ; then, turning round to me, asked, ' Who is it ?'

I could not answer.

' He is glad to see you, mother.' said Miss Milicent, cominc;
up to her.


'Very glad, my dear,' said Mr Weir. ' Young woman,' he ad-
dressed himself to me, ' i forget your name, perhaps you will
have the goodness to go down-stairs, and ask for a bottle of
lemonade ; it will refresh Mrs Weir.'

It was an excuse to send me away, and I was going, but I
could not free myself from Mrs Weir. 'Is it he, Ursula?' she
said in a low voice ; 'it seems so long, I think I have forgotten ;
but he speaks kindly.'

' Mr Weir is very glad to see you, dear ma'am,' I said ; ' you
know he has been very ill, so of course he doesn't look as \ ou
remember him.'

' No, Ursula ; but he may be angry with me. Perhaps now
he would wish me to go back again, and I would do it. What
God wills I would do. Just tell me, Ursula, tell me.'

I looked appealingly to Miss Milicent, but she was greatly
distressed; I saw it by the way in which she bit her lip; she
would not trust herself to speak.

Mr Weir came to my relief with the cold polish of manner
which I now so well recollected. ' I can only be flattered by
your having come so far to see me, my dear,' he said. ' It would
be uncourteous to wish you to return. All I can regret is that I
have not better accommodation to offer you ; but perhaps,' he
added, and he turned to me with a tone of proud indifference,
'perhaps, if Mrs Weir were able to remove to Paris in a few
days, you might be able to find some more comfortable lodging
for her. I suppose she is equal to the journey.'

' Mrs Weir will be ready to go wherever you go, sir,' was my
reply. ' It was her object in coming abroad.'

' Certainly, certainly. I am not strong yet, but I think —
Milicent, my dear, I leave you and this young woman to arrange
your plans. When they are settled, I can fall into them.'

'You will like to go to Paris, mother?' said Miss Milicent.

Mrs Weir did not directly answer, so the question was impa-
tiently repeated.

'Paris is not like this place, Ursula, is it?' said Mrs Weir,
giving her answer to me. ' My husband has been ill. I ought
to see that he is comfortable in France, but I do not know how.
Will he ' her voice trembled, and for the first time she ad-
dressed her husband directly : ' George, will you come back to
England ? '

There must have been something in that familiar name, which
touched with warmth even Mr Weir's heartlessness. It might


have been an association of bygone years, of the clays when his
wife in het simplii ity and childish awe, first ventured to address
him by it ; ii might have contrasted with the h< pis he had then
given her, and the wreck of health and happiness of which he
too well knew himself to be the cause. Be that as it may, lie
rose from his scat, drew near her, and taking her hand, said,
' England cannot be my home, my dear, but you must come and
sec me in France, ' immediately afterwards, as though ashamed
of having given way to that slight expression of feeling before
me, he added in a light tone : ' We have forgotten the lemonade.
You must have some to drink to my better health ; they have no
wines fit for such a purpose here.'

I was afraid to leave him, for I feared the subject he might
introduce; but I did him injustice. His word was given, and
he would not have dared to break it. Yet, no doubt, for other
causes he disliked seeing me in the room. I must have seemed
to him a spy and an intruder. I disengaged myself from Mrs
Weir and went down-stairs. M. Dalangc was in the salon.
The look with which he greeted me showed me at one glance
that we were enemies. I curtsied to him, and having given
the order for the lemonade, sat clown. He drew near and
addressed me in his broken English. He hoped I was well, not
the worse for my late walk ; he seemed as before determined to
make acquaintance, but my answers were short. He was not,
however, to be repulsed ; after an observation to which I made
no reply, he said abruptly,—' We have a friend, known to us
both, I think, — a Mrs Price.'

I replied that I knew Mrs Price to speak to her, — I could not
call her a friend.

'Ah! yes, I thought so.' lie did not appear to compre-
hend my denial of friendship. 'Have you seen Mrs Price

1 I know nothing of her or her concerns,' was the answer I
longed to make, but an uneasiness I could not conquer led me to
pursue the subject. 'Not very lately,' I said. ' I have not been
at my home for some weeks.'

' Indeed ! yet she interests herself much about you.'

This really was too intolerable. Mrs Price interest herself
about me, and write or talk of me to this French stranger ! It
was an impertinence not to be imagined. I hope I did not quite
show all I felt, and I know I tried to answer quietly, ' I think,
sir, you arc mistaken. Mrs Price is a very distant acquaintance,


and has no interest in me, and no concern in any of my affairs.
There must be some mistake.'

M. Dalange smiled sarcastically, ' Oh dear, no ; not at all.
There can be no mistake. Surely you are friends. I think a
sister of yours must have been staying in the house of Mrs Price.
Could it not be so ?'

' I really don't know, sir,' was my reply, and I instantly rose
and left the room. 1 walked out into the road — there was no
other place I could goto — in a storm of irritated feeling. What-
ever Mrs Price had said about me must have been in reference
to the speculations and Mr Weir's affairs. She had no doubt a
right to say anything she chose, but the mere fact of being talked
of, or written about, by those one dislikes always, I think, seems
an impertinence ; and the manner adopted by M. Dalange in-
creased my annoyance. A few moments' reflection convinced
me that it would be foolish to allow myself to take offence,
especially at a foreigner— a man whom I might never see again ;
but one fact remained, which reflection only rendered more
anxious — communications were passing between Mrs Price and
Jessie. There was no end to the intimacy. Stay at Dene she
could not, I was sure Roger would never allow it. But some
intercourse there must be, and that of a kind which betokened
more than ordinary friendliness ; and yet no one mentioned it ;
no one wrote to me. Mrs Kemp, I knew, would be on the watch,
after receiving my letter, and she would surely have written to

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 44 of 56)