Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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me if she had seen or heard anything she disapproved. Could
Jessie's acquaintance be carried on secretly ? — and if so, what
could be the motive ?

As I thought, I almost made up my mind at once to write out
all my fears and suspicions to Roger. I hoped he would under-
stand, and trusted he would be merciful. But again I hesitated.
The ground upon which a husband and wife stand, is known
only to themselves. All other persons are placed in certain re-
lations to each other, which may be calculated according to
some general principles of human nature ; but marriage forms,
as it were, a new combination, which no one but the individuals
themselves can be acquainted with. The fact of the tie being one
of choice, like that of friendship, and yet indissoluble, like that
of birth, puts it beyond the reach of ordinary laws. Each case
must be dealt with separately ; and what chord in Roger's
breast I might touch by insinuating the slightest doubt of his
wife's perfect openness in all her dealings with him, I could not


venture to predict. Generous, loving, and forgiving, as he would
be to me his sister, there might; be a depth of wounded feeling
with regard to his wife, which might even render him unjust.

i, Jessie herself, could be the only person safely to suggest
ie's faults.

It must be left for the present, for a few weeks, — it could not,
should not be more. Once in Paris, with John Ilervev to sup-
port me, Miss Miliccnt must be forced to open her eyes to the
wrong course she was pursuing. She must be compelled to
;rn to England with Mrs Weir ; whose morbid mind would,
I hoped, be satisfied, at least for a while, now that she had once
seen her husband, and proved to him her willingness to join him.
What was to come after that, 1 could not at present think. Per-
haps some plan might be arranged for a meeting at certain
times, — once a year, or not so often, — anything that would
satisfy Mrs Weir ; and yet enable her friends to w.a
her, so that she and Miss Milicent might not be ruined by their
tess, and Mr Weir's wild and selfish speculations. I
need not trouble myself with thinking of all that distant future, —
only, go home I must, the very first moment I could be spai
Till then, — prayer and faith. What would the world be without
them ? I turned back to the inn, and went up-stairs, inquired if
Mrs Weir was ready to return, and found Mr Weir engaged in
giving her an account of his illness, and Miss Milicent placing
cushions at the back of her chair. She looked placid, but v<
weary ; yet I was satisfied. When I remembered her condition
in that dark bedroom in London, I felt we had done wisely.


TIME moves slowly when one is describing ; but not so
slowly as when one is waiting and expecting. We wi re
detained at Andclymore than a week. Our luggage was ret:
to us the day after we lost it, and we then regularly establish) d
ourselves at the inn. Mr Weir regained his strength with

ble rapidity ; but his illness had been severe. Ever.
Mrs Weir drove over to si e him, sat with him for about a quar-
f an hour, asked the same questions, and heard the same


answers, and returned to lie down on her bed, and be nursed for
the remainder of the day.

With the discomforts of the little inn, the smallncss of the
rooms, the increasing cold of the weather, and the absence of
the niceties to which Mrs Weir had been accustomed, it would
have been very hard to bear but for the prospect of removal. In
Paris, Miss Milicent assured her mother they should be quite
comfortable. She evidently believed that Mrs Weir was going
to stay there for a permanence, and that I intended to remain
and take care of her. I did not endeavour to undeceive her. I
lived in the hope that all would be made easy by the arrival of
John Hervey.

M. Dalange went the day after my conversation with him —
that was no slight relief to me — but Miss Milicent informed me
that we should probably meet him again at Paris, and that per-
haps Mr Macdonald would join us. A pleasant prospect ! But
they could scarcely be more disagreeable to me than Mr Weir,
whose satirical politeness made me feel every day more and
more how entirely I had made him my enemy. But I cared for
none of them. I did not think of any of them. My one object
and interest was Mrs Weir ; and the attentions which she
claimed were very engrossing. I was by no means satisfied
about her. Not that I regretted for a moment having brought
her abroad ; it was the one hope which remained ; it had been
tried under medical sanction, and, no doubt, to a certain extent
it had succeeded. Mrs Weir's mind could scarcely be said to
have been strengthened, but at least it was calm. There was
nothing, however, which indicated any permanent return to the
state in which she had been even a year ago. We could not
induce her to work, or occupy herself in any way ; and she would
listen to no reading except the Bible. It was beautiful, though
in some respects mournful, to see how this one pillar of strength
supported her weakened intellect. The contrast was so great.
The very clearness of her faith, the fulness of her comprehension
on the one subject of religion, made the shattered condition of
her mind upon all worldly matters only the more painful. It
was like that rare gilt of simple belief which we sometimes are
permitted to see developing itself in a little child, shut out by
illness from all instruction, or even from communication with
the world about it, and so living, by the grace of God's Spirit
working on the vividness of its infant imagination, in the reali-
ties of the world unseen. They who have never watched such a

464 I WSl L. f.

phenomenon are not likely to believe in its existence. They who
have, treasure it silently in their hearts as a token sent from the
' better land,' not to he exhibited, but to be kept in store against
the hour of temptation, liven now, in these weary days of delay,
deprived of her usual comforts, with perpetual little annoyances
as regarded food, and warmth, and careful attendance, there was
one sentence always ready from Mrs Weir's lips, 'God sends it,
1 rsula ;' and when she had said this, there was no more thought
of complaint. She would lie on her bed waiting, till my patience
was quite exhausted, whilst something was being prepared for
her which had been ordered, and misunderstood, or forgotten.
Several times I wished her to let me try my own English cookery,
but the habit of submission and endurance which she had learned
during her hard discipline under Mrs Temple was now so fixed,
that I could not persuade her to allow it. ' What was sent,' she
said, ' that she would take ; ' and once or twice, when unknown
to herself I had contrived some little delicacy which I thought
she would fancy, she discovered it with singular quickness, and
observed, gently, but reproachfully, 'Ah! L'rsuln, you would
make me troublesome as I used to be ; that is not right ;' and I
could scarcely persuade her to touch it, except by looking vexed
and disappointed. The feeling was not reasonable, not like com-
mon sense, yet it seemed to me to belong to some sense which
was higher and better — only, perhaps, it required to be trans-
planted to another world.

I had no news from home except a few lines from Roger, who
was never in the habit of writing long letters. He told me
everything was going on well, and that Jessie had been into
Hove, but nothing else except about household and farming
concerns. From John Hervvy I had a short note, saying that
he hoped to be in Paris in the course of the next week or ten
days, but that he could not fix the exact time.

When Miss Milicent found that he had really agreed to her
proposal, I think she became a little frightened as to the step she
had taken, but I did my best to reassure her, for every day made
me see more and more that if she was allowed to follow her own
guidance, or place herself in Mr Weir's hands, great mischief
would follow. After receiving John's letter, I urged our departure
for Paris as soon as possible. The change I hoped might be
serviceable to Mrs Weir, and it was a very dreary, uncomfortable
life \vc iv< re living at the little inn.

Movement was delightful to Miss Milicent. She was in high


spirits on the morning we were to leave Andely, and took all the
arrangements of the journey on herself. We went back to Gaillon
in the shaky carriage which had lately been hired for Mrs Weir,
and sent Louise with the luggage by the little omnibus ; and
very different the road seemed to me, when viewed by the light
of a bright sun, from what it was on the evening of the dreary
journey which brought us to Andely. I felt exceedingly thank-
ful, that so far my plans might be said to have prospered, for
whatever might be the event as regarded the object for which I
had left England, at least I hoped to be instrumental in saving
Miss Milicent from further folly.

We were to take possession of the same rooms at Paris, which
Mr Weir and Miss Milicent had before occupied. Miss Milicent
assured me they would be very comfortable for her mother, and
I was obliged to trust to her. I believe the woman of the house
promised as many bedrooms as could be wanted; but, not
understanding French, I could only leave these things to others,
and content myself with paying — and very fast the money went.
When I was told that a French franc, so like our English shil-
ling, was tenpence, I fancied everything in France must be cheap,
and certainly they made us pay wonderfully little at Andely ; but
I soon changed my mind when we arrived at Paris.

The journey was short and easy, and Mrs Weir bore it very
well ; and though she did not take much notice of anything her-
self, she sat quiet and allowed me to look about as I wished. I
was in the first-class carriage with her, for Miss Milicent would
not undertake the charge of her father and mother both, and,
indeed, I think it would have been more than she could manage,
though it troubled me a little to find how Mrs Weir depended
upon me, and I thought how I should ever manage to leave her.

We entered Paris about half-past two, or nearly three o'clock.
Miss Milicent was highly excited. ' Now, Ursie, look — do you
see ? here is the station. We shall stop directly. You keep
with my mother. Father, don't you trouble yourself, I will see
to the luggage, and will come after you with it.' And the
moment the train stopped, Miss Milicent jumped out, called a
cab, or what in London we should say was a cab, made her father
and mother, Louise and myself, get into it, gave the direction to
the driver, and sent us off. What we were to do without her I
could not tell ; but she would not hear my expostulation, and
away we drove through the streets of tall houses, gay with shops,
and crowded with people — and my head was distracted with

466 /. /.

the noise, and my thoughts reverted unci mfortably to the lug-
e, Left in the charge of Miss Miliccnt. I don't think I half
enjoyed that first sight of Paris, except in recollection. We
stopped in rather a narrow street, and entered a curt-yard. A
woman appeared from a little room like the bar-room at an hotel,
which opened into it, and there was some talk with Louise, and
on we went into an inner court, in which one or two pen; le were
standing, idling about. Louise knocked at a green door, and
made some more inquiries ; but Mr Weir, seeming quite at
home, entered, telling us to follow. Such a dirty, uncarpetcd,
winding staircase as we had to mount ! It was as though all
the little boys in Paris had been amusing themselves that morn-
ing, by running up and down with muddy shoes on. I hope Mrs
Weir did not notice it, but the way in which she put her foot upon
the first step made me fear she did. At the top, however, it was
better, the lobby was wide, and when we opened another door we
were in a dark but clean passage.

' This will be your room, my dear,' said Mr Weir, as he threw
open the door of a little sitting-room with rather a grand air. I
had expected something very pretty ; but my dismay was great
when I saw a cheerless-looking apartment, with a polished floor,
a small table in one corner, looking as though it had come there
by accident, a chiffonnier, a {ew chairs, and a window looking
out upon the leads of the neighbouring house. 'And this will
be your bedroom,' continued Mr Weir, with the same grand air
which reminded me of the time when he had been accustomed
to show off the beauties of Dene. There was more hope in the
bedroom; a French bed always looks comfortable; and there
were besides one or two ornamental vases, and a little clock, and
some artificial flowers, and a sofa ; and the window fronted the
court-yard, in which were a few plants. Mrs Weir might make
herself at home there. Put that dreary salon ! It quite weighed
upon my mind. It need not have done so, however; I don't
think Mrs was able then to remark anything, she was too
<1, and I only had to put her upon the sofa, and make her
rest herself, till the e came. Mr Weir soon left her, which

was a blessing ; his presence always oppressed her. I hoped she
would fall asleep, but she was restless, and I was a little afraid
she might be feverish. At last, however, she did close her eyes,
and I was just thinking how glad I was, when a great noise was
heard outside the room, the door was burst open, and in came
two with boxes, followed by Miss Miliccnt. ' There, Ursic ;


now haven't I managed well ? Mother, how are you ? Louise,
where is Louise ?' and away hurried Miss Milicent, leaving the
two Frenchmen behind her. They stayed, evidently not for a
moment thinking they were in the way, talking and moving the
boxes about, and going out into the passage and bringing in
more packages, till Miss Milicent and Louise returned, and in-
creased chattering went on, and another man, I believe the
master of the house, was called up to settle some question about
payment. It nearly drove me frantic, till I heard Mrs Weir's
gentle voice say, — < Ursula, if they would be kind enough not to
speak quite so loudly I should be glad. My head is aching.' I
could not be frantic then, even for her.


BEFORE I had been many days in Paris I was inexpressibly
thankful for the back rooms and the court-yard. The
noise in the streets was distracting ; a loud clatter, far worse than
the continual rumble in London. If I had been alone, and wish-
ing only to amuse myself, of course it would have been different.
I should have willingly borne the noise for the sake of seeing
everything ; but amusement was by no means in my thoughts.
I went out once or twice with Miss Milicent at her mother's re-
quest ; but I could less and less bear to leave Mrs Weir. She
was becoming very weak. The weight which had oppressed her
mind seemed now to be doing its work upon her body. In
London I should have said that she might have lived for years,
—a saddened, dreary life. In Paris, as I watched her day by
day, it seemed as though the breath of her existence was but the
nickering of a light flame, soon about to be extinguished for
ever. I doubt if any one saw it but myself. Mr Weir, in his
extreme selfishness, no sooner found himself settled in tolerable
comfort, and living at the expense of another, than he seemed to
set aside anything like care or thought, and to turn his atten-
tion only to the easiest means of whiling away the time which
hung heavy upon his hands. He was expecting M. Dalange,
and, as I soon understood, Mr Macdonald. When they arrived,
no doubt he fully anticipated gaining his point with his wife, and
plunging again into speculations. In the meantime, he rose very


late, and went out as much as he could, taking Miss Milicent
with him ; she herself, as I perceived, being only too willing to
go. It surprised me less, as I saw more of Paris, that Miss
Milicent should have had such a twisted sense of her duty
whilst living there. It is a city to make one forgetful. There is
in it such a tone of living for this world's pleasures. To think
of self-denial and self-discipline when walking through the
Boulevards, or driving up the Champs Elysdes, seems as much
out of place as a sermon in a ball-room. No doubt there arc
very good and earnest people to be found there : it would be ex-
tremely uncharitable to say the contrary. But as in London the
chief thought seems to be how best to transact worldly business,
so in Paris the one ever-present object appears to be how to fu.d
worldly amusement.

I dared not sound Mrs Weir as to her wishes for any future
plans. I could only divert her mind, and occupy it as best I
might for the present, hoping that when John Hervcy arrived, I
should see my way more clearly. I had written home again,
and hoped, now that we were in Paris, I might hear frequently
and more regularly, if I set a good example. One disadvantage,
however, I found, was likely to arise from being moderately
within reach of England. I was not as before free from Mrs
Temple's interference. She wrote to me almost immediately on
my arrival in Paris, complaining that I did not consult her, or
tell her anything, and calling herself very ill-used. In return I
reminded her that I had given her all general information,
and for medical particulars begged to refer her to Dr Green,
to whom I had written fully. Mrs Temple was one of thooc
persons who can only be controlled by men. There was a hint,
almost a threat, at the end of one of her letters, that if I was n t
more communicative, she should think it her duty to follow us
to Paris to see how matters were going on ; but I would not
dwell upon the idea, hoping it was only a mode of venting her

A thankful day it was for me when I heard that John
Hervcy might be expected in Paris the next evening. The
news came in a businessdikc note to Miss Milicent, and a very
great excitement it put her into. She came to me as I was
sitting in Mrs Weir's room after breakfast, and beckoned me to
the door. ' Here, Ursie! here,' she said in a loud whisper, whii h
I knew Mrs Weir particularly disliked. ' What is to be done?
He is coming. I am not prepared to see him ; you must settle it.'


I left the room, closing the door behind me. ' John Hervey,
do you mean, Miss Milicent ?' I said.

'Yes; come here, Ursie,' and she drew me into a tiny bed-
room, originally meant for a dressing-room, the chief furniture of
which, besides the bed, consisted of a large black trunk. ' You
see, I have said nothing to my father ; and what is to be done
with Mr Hervey when he arrives ?'

' He will go to an hotel, no doubt,' I said. ' He does not ex-
pect to be received here.'

' What folly you talk, Ursie Grant ! He could sleep in the
passage, if sleeping were all. But who is to begin business with

' You, Miss Milicent,' I said. ' Mr Weir is never out of his
room till twelve o'clock. You will have a couple of hours in the
morning quite undisturbed.'

She did not wish the difficulty to be surmounted so easily. ' I
mightn't be ready for him at that time ; and I don't see how I
am to explain matters. He had better wait and talk to M.
Dalange and Mr Macdonald.'

' That may be necessary. But he must hear some statement
from you first, Miss Milicent.'

'Must! must! It is all a mistake, Ursie. You had better
never have advised me to send for him.'

She was the most provoking of women ; but if driven up into
a corner, I knew she would manage for herself, and I was quite
resolved not to manage for her ; so I merely said that I thought
if I were in her place I should make a memorandum of anything
I might wish to say or explain to Mr Hervey ; and with this
suggestion I left her; and soon afterwards she went out with
her father. In the evening, however, before I went to bed, she
called me again into her room, and holding up a sheet of
scrawled paper, exclaimed — 'There ! it's done ; all ready ; every-
thing put down. He will understand from this better than any
lawyer would explain. And he is a sensible man. He is not
like you, Ursie.'

I never so fully comprehended before the lesson to be learned
from the practice of birds, when they bring their young ones to
the edge of the nest, and, giving them a push, force them to
discover the use of their own wings. Miss Milicent was the
strangest mixture of wilfulness and dependence I ever met with;
but I suspect that all strong points of character have an opposite
weakness existing with them.


\ I!< rv( y*s visit was ostensibly to me. That was a great
comfort to me, for it would give me the opportunity of seeing
him alone, and hearing all he hid to tell me of Sandcombe.

When I was not occupied with Mrs Weir, I was beginning to
long for home, not merely from anxiety about Jessie, but from a
it il wish to be there again.

Two days afterwards, he arrived late in the evening. Mrs Weir,
being more tired than usual, had gone to bed very early ; and I
was working in her room, watching till she was asleep. I 1
my meals in a little room, used by the people of the house for
chance purposes, a kind of waiting-room ; and I was just ex-
pecting to be called down to supper, when Louise came to tell
me that a stranger wished to speak to me. I motioned to her
to take my place, and ran down-stairs. It was a new joy to me to
meet a friend in that foreign land, and I rushed into the
room, exclaiming, — 'O Mr Hervey, this is pleasant!' and
holding out both my hands, gave his such a hearty shake
welcome, as I am sure they never received from me before. He
was much quieter than I was ; but I could not think him unkind,
for he asked so anxiously how I was, and whether I was much
worried, and was evidently so interested about me. Yet I did
not inquire in return what kind of journey he had had, which
was very selfish in me, but I began upon Sandcombe news
directly, making him laugh as he answered me, by every now
and then bursting into the middle of a sentence with the excla-
mation — ' I am so glad to see you. I don't think 1 was ever so
glad to see a friend before.'

' And so you have not brought me anything from Roger,' I
said at last, after there was a moment's pause. 'I thin': he
might have written.'

'He has not so much time as he used to have,' was the reply.
' lie is turning quite into a gay man, Ursie.'

' Not with his own consent,' I said.

' Well ! I don't know, if a man and his wife, as they say, are
one. And what is a poor fellow in Roger's case to do ?' John
Hervey did not speak lightly, though the words might have
tided so.

' Roger is strong enough to be master,' I said ; ' and he ought
to I

' It is not so easy as you think, Ursie, to be that ; especially
when a man has once set out on a wrong tack ; you won't mind
my saying that.'


e Not at all,' I replied, and in fact I felt relieved, and added :
'it has been in my thoughts, Mr Hervey, longer than you may
think, though I have not said anything.'

' I was sure of it ; Mrs Kemp, and Mary, and I, were talking
only the other evening, and saying that if you were at home we
were sure you would be vexed.'

' But why does not Mrs Kemp write to me?' I exclaimed;
' I begged her to do so.'

' I can't exactly say why, seeing I don't know what you told
her to write about ; but what she would most likely have to tell,
Ursie, would be things better explained by word of mouth than
by letter. They might be made too much of if they were written

' I dread trifles,' I said.

' So do I,' was his reply, ' especially between a man and his
wife in the first year of their married life. They are both ex-
ploring in unknown lands, and it's an anxious thing to look on
and see which way the discoveries are tending, whether to
happiness or the contrary.'

' Roger's discoveries seemed all satisfactory when I left home,'
I said.

' Perhaps they were, I don't say they are not so now. But,
Ursie, I do think that Roger must be surprised to find what a
taste his wife has for gaieties, and it's a good thing he does not
hear the remarks I hear about it.'

' People are extremely ill-natured,' I said. ' When a woman is
married, she is expected to alter her tastes and become domestic
and stay at home all at once. Now, any one may know that such
sudden changes are not in human nature.'

' And men might do well to consider that before they marry,'
said John, thoughtfully. ' No offence to our friend, Roger,
Ursie, than whom a better man does not live. But, I own, it does
fret me to hear observations made about his wife which, if they

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 45 of 56)