When the elder Ursula told her granddaughter, our friend Marilyn, about this turn of events, she offered few details. We know that the kind teacher rescued young Ursula, treating her to toast with gooseberry jam out of the mistaken belief that Ursula had been the victim of some kind of accident that resulted in being trapped in the cellar. Somehow, a story was told (or not) to Ursula’s mother that relieved the girl of all responsibility. And somehow, the cellar key was returned to the widow’s key ring, without further kerfuffle.
None of these proceedings held the girl’s interest enough to survive the decades between the incident and the telling of the story. What enthralled her was the enigma of the cigar-like contents of the barrel.
The smell of sulphur lingered in her nose for weeks, it seemed, as she set her inquisitive young mind to determining what she had found. In that time, unimaginable by our friend Marilyn listening to the story in her own girlhood, there were few avenues open to inquisitive young female minds. A girl who lit coal fires and cleaned in the kitchen, whose only schooling was religious, whose parents were preoccupied with their own challenges, a girl like this could not simply ask: what is hidden in the cellar that gives off the odors of hell?
But, a girl like that could listen, and observe, and by observing, create the reality she inhabited. And about a month after her escape from the cellar, Ursula was reading a novel to the widow when they were interrupted by a knock on the door.
On occasion, the widow let out a room to a short-term stay. One of the gentlemen of the town who spent many an afternoon in her parlor knew this, and was at the door to request accommodation of this kind for an acquaintance of his, another gentleman who had recently completed an ocean fishing expedition. The acquaintance needed a place to stay while he sold his catch, and the widow needed to replenish her brandy supply.
An agreement was quickly struck, and Ursula would soon observe another incident that would solidify future reality.