Story:- Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty

Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty

‘T his is the room , madame.’

‘Ah, thank you …thank you.’

‘Does it appear satisfactory to madame ?’

‘Oh, yes, thank you

…quite.’

‘Does madame require anything further?’

‘Er—if not too late, may I have a hot bath?’

‘Parfaitement, madame. The bathroom is at the end

of the passage on the left. I will go and prepare it for

madame.’

‘There is one thing more…I have had a very long

journey. I am very tired. Will you please see that I am not

disturbed in the morning until I ring.’

‘Certainly, madame.’

Millicent Bracegirdle was speaking the truth—she was

tired. In the sleepy cathedral town of Easingstoke, from

which she came, it was customary for everyone to speak

the truth. It was customary, moreover, for everyone to lead

simple, self-denying lives—to give up their time to good

works and elevating thoughts. One had only to glance at

little Miss Bracegirdle to see that in her was epitomized

all the virtues and ideals of Easingstoke. Indeed, it was

the pursuit of duty which had brought her to the Hôtel

de l’Ouest at Bordeaux on this summer’s night. She had

travelled from Easingstoke to London, then without a

break to Dover, crossed that horrid stretch of sea to Calais,

entrained for Paris, where she of necessity had to spend

four hours—a terrifying experience—and then had come

on to Bordeaux, arriving at midnight. The reason of this

journey being that someone had to come to Bordeaux to meet her young sister-in-law, who was arriving the next

day from South America. The sister-in-law was married

to a missionary in Paraguay, but the climate not agreeing

with her, she was returning to England. Her dear brother,

the dean, would have come himself, but the claims on his

time were so extensive, the parishioners would miss him

so…it was clearly Millicent’s duty to go.

She had never been out of England before, and she had

a horror of travel, and an ingrained distrust of foreigners.

She spoke a little French—sufficient for the purposes of

travel and for obtaining any modest necessities, but not

sufficient for carrying on any kind of conversation. She

did not deplore this latter fact, for she was of opinion

that French people were not the kind of people that one

would naturally want to have conversation with; broadly

speaking, they were not quite ‘nice’, in spite of their

ingratiating manners.

The dear dean had given her endless advice, warning

her earnestly not to enter into conversation with strangers,

to obtain all information from the police, railway

officials—in fact, anyone in an official uniform. He deeply

regretted to say that he was afraid that France was not a

country for a woman to travel about in alone. There were

loose, bad people about, always on the lookout…He really

thought perhaps he ought not to let her go. It was only

by the utmost persuasion, in which she rather exaggerated

her knowledge of the French language and character, her

courage, and indifference to discomfort, that she managed

to carry the day.

She unpacked her valise, placed her things about the

room, tried to thrust back the little stabs of homesickness

as she visualized her darling room at the deanery. How

strange and hard and unfriendly seemed these foreign

hotel bedrooms—heavy and depressing, no chintz and

lavender and photographs of…all the dear family, the

dean, the nephews and nieces, the interior of the cathedral

during harvest festival, no samplers and needlework or coloured reproductions of the paintings by Marcus Stone.

Oh dear, how foolish she was! What did she expect?

She disrobed and donned a dressing gown; then, armed

with a sponge-bag and towel, she crept timidly down the

passage to the bathroom, after closing her bedroom door

and turning out the light. The gay bathroom cheered her.

She wallowed luxuriously in the hot water, regarding

her slim legs with quiet satisfaction. And for the first

time since leaving home there came to her a pleasant

moment—a sense of enjoyment in her adventure. After

all, it was rather an adventure, and her life had been

peculiarly devoid of it. What queer lives some people

must live, travelling about, having experiences! How old

was she ? Not really old—not by any means. Forty-two?

Forty-three ? She had shut herself up so. She hardly ever

regarded the potentialities of age. As the world went,

she was a well-preserved woman for her age. A life of

self-abnegation, simple living, healthy walking and fresh

air had kept her younger than these hurrying, pampered

city people.

Love ? yes, once when she was a young girl…he

was a schoolmaster, a most estimable kind gentleman.

They were never engaged—not actually, but it was a

kind of understood thing. For three years it went on,

this pleasant understanding and friendship. He was so

gentle, so distinguished and considerate. She would have

been happy to have continued in this strain forever.

But there was something lacking. Stephen had curious

restless lapses. From the physical aspect of marriage she

shrunk—yes, even with Stephen, who was gentleness and

kindness itself. And then one day…one day he went

away—vanished, and never returned. They told her he had

married one of the country girls—a girl who used to work

in Mrs Forbes’ dairy—not a very nice girl, she feared, one

of these fast, pretty, foolish women. Heigho ! well, she had

lived that down, destructive as the blow appeared at the

time. One lives everything down in time. There is always

 

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