Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) online

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I felt it best to cut the matter short. I don't think I was
gracious ; though I wished to be. " It's best to take one


step at a time in such matters, Miss Miliccnt," I said. " We
won't settle anything about Compton now. There is no know-
ing what may happen. Roger may be off to a new home,
and wish me to go with him ; so it would not do to make an
engagement. But as for staying, I will do my utmost for the
time being to help set matters right here, and work for Mrs.
Weir in any way she wishes it ; and food and lodging will be
quite an equivalent."

Her face changed. " That is as you think, not as I
think," she said ; and she held out her hand to me.

I took hold of it. Her large, strong fingers held mine
quite in a gripe. We gave each other a hearty shake. " You
will do my mother good, Ursie Grant," she' said.

" Then I shall do myself good, and make myself happy,"
I said, earnestly ; " for there is no one I would serve sooner
than Mrs. Weir." And so we parted.

I had settled upon the nest step. I did not repent it,
even when I thought the matter over quietly by myself.
Aftffer all, there was a good deal of self-pleasing in that notion
of mine, that I could never be away from Roger. Whatever
the end of it all might be, he would manage very well without
me for a time. William would give him a home at Sand-
combe, and Leah was less likely to complain if she had only one
of us quartered upon her. And I had decided, without ar-
guing backwards and forwards, and consulting my own wishes.
I had determined to do just the thing put before me as a duty,
and not to think of consequences ; and I was beginning to
learn — what I have since been tauglit thoroughly by long expe-
rience — that when a person is in a puzzle, being come to a point
in life where many roads meet, and there is no sign-post, there
is no greater mistake than to try and direct yourself by
your reason. It won't help you at all ; for ten to one but it is
biassed by inclination. Neither are friends very likely to
help ; for they can, for the most, only decide according to
what you tell them. The first little sign of duty that comes,
if it is only in the way of setting your house to rights, or
casting up your accounts, is the sign-post set up by God's
Providence ; and when that is done. He will be sure to open
the way wider, if you have only patience to wait. But we
are all apt to overlook the little duty, and think we will attend


to it when we have settled the great one ; and so we set out
on the wrong road, perhaps never to regain the right one. I
might have argued with myself for hours whether it was best
to stay at Dene or go wherever Roger went, and not have
come to a conclusion ; or, if I had, I should not have been
satisfied that I had decided rightly. But Miss Miliceut's
oiFer, and the knowledge that I might help Mrs. Weir, seemed
to me to be Grod's sign-post, and I was thankful that I had
made up my mind to follow it.

I bustled about all the afternoon, trying to prevent my-
self from over-thinking ; but there was no heart in what I
did, for was not everything to be upset and undone before
long ? About five o'clock I laid out the tea-things, expect-
ing Roger to come in, and I took a pleasure, though it made
my heart ache all the while, in putting some stocks, and
sweet-briar, and a rose or two in a flower-jar which Jessie
Lee had given me about a fortnight before. I thought
whether such flowers grew in Canada, and it seemed as though
I could scarcely live without something bright and sunshiny ;
but I turned away from the subject, and ran across to the
house for a minute, to ask for Mrs, Weir, and see if there
was anything I could do for her. Mrs. Mason was making
her a cup of coffee ; so I took it up, and we had a few minutes'
conversation, — not about anything particular, but there was
something in her way of speaking which made me feel how
glad she was to have me about her, and I went back com-

Roger was coming down the hill on horseback as I left
the house ; the horse was quite hot, so I knew he had been
riding fast, not to be late for tea. He called out to me
directly, to say he was sorry he had kept me waiting ; and
then he jumped off, and led his horse away to the stable. I
did not go after him, for I was ashamed of my impatience ;
and besides, Roger never liked to be made to tell things
before his own time, — very few men do. Presently he came
in, looking very warm, and pushing his hair off his forehead.
He sat down just for a moment, and then he jumped up, and
said he should go into the back kitchen and wash his hands ;
he was not fit to sit down to tea. I let him go, but it seemed
a terribly long time before he came back. He drew a chair

Vol. 1—6*


to the table, and began cutting some bread. I gave him his
cup of tea, but it didn't please him, and he took up the milk-
jug, and poured out an ocean of milk, only slowly, almost
drop by drop, looking at it intently all the while.

I could bear it no longer. " Well ! " I said.

"Well! Trot." ■

He smiled so pleasantly, I could almost have believed it
was a dream that trouble was at hand.

" Come out to Canada to see me this time next year,
Trot ? "

" Then it's settled," I said.

" Yes, settled."

I must have cut my piece of bread into twenty bits before
I tried to speak again. Roger laid down his knife, and
stretched his hand across the table.

" Shake hands, little woman ; we will have merry days
yet, please God."

" Merry days for you, perhaps," I exclaimed, bitterly.
" You are a man, and you like change."

" I like doing what comes to me as right," he said, grave-
ly ; " and so do you. Trot, when you let yourself think. I
have talked it all over with Mr. Richardson. He has known
other men go out, and do well ; and he thinks I have a better
chance than most. I have a fair sum to begin with, and it
will go farther there than here."

" And so you are all for making money," I said. " That
was never your line before, Roger."

He was very patient with me. He saw that sorrow made
me perverse.

"Well! yes," he said, and he laughed; "I am all for
making money, — not for money's sake, but for money's worth,
— that I may be of use in the world, and do a few things I
have a fancy for. When your wedding-day comes, Ursie,
you shall have no cause to complain, because your brother
Roger set out in life with a wish to make money."

That was too much for me. I jumped up and kissed
him, and then I rushed away to the window.

When I came back, we were able to discuss matters
quietly. He told me that Mr. Richardson had entered into
the business very kindly, and had given him a good deal of
information, having some relations in Canada. He had lent


him a book, too, which would help him in some ways ; but
the thing he most advised was that Roger should go up to
London, to consult with a person whom Mr. Richardson
knew, who had been himself in Canada, and had made money
there. What was even more to the point, Mr. Richardson
had advised Roger not to be too shy of asking William for
any money he might want. It might cause him a little
trouble to raise it, but it was Roger's right, and if he gave
up a good prospect of doing well merely from over-scrupulous-
ness, the time would come when both he and William would
repent it. This advice had helped Roger a good deal, I
could see.

" A second conscience is a great help, Ursie," he observed
to me, as he finished what he had to say of his visit. " I had
a fear of being hard, and selfish, and pressing my own wishes
against William's. But I suppose Mr. Richardson may be
right. To be just to oneself may be the first step towards
being just to others. Only it is difficult to know where jus-
tice ends and selfishness begins."

" It can't be with you, Roger," I said ; " you have not a
grain of selfishness in you."

" Not so sure of that, Ursie," he said. " Mr. Richard-
son gave me a hint this afternoon. He told me T was too
fond of seeing every one happy about me ; and so could not
make up my mind to give pain, even when it was needful :
and after all, that is only another kind of selfishness."

" That was when you were talking of me," I said.

" Partly of you, partly of William and Leah. They will
be sadly put out ! "

" And what shall I be ? "

He came round me and patted me on the shoulder. " A
stout-hearted woman, who will bear whatever comes, and
be patient."

" Then Mr. Richardson says I am not to go ? "

" Not for a year ; you will come then, if all goes well,
and I determine to settle there. But Mr. Richardson advises
me not to be hasty. He thinks his friend in London might
put me in the way of finding some one who would let me join
with him in managing and working for a year, and so give
me time to look about me. He says, what is very true, that
to leave one's country and one's relations in a hurry, may be


a thing to be repented of all one's life. If I do stay, I must
send for you : and there are plenty of people coming out
continually, who will take care of you on the voyage ; and I
can easily run down and meet you wherever you land."

I was silent.

" What are you thinking of? " asked Roger.

" Why, that you are a man, Roger, and are turning round
to a new life, and liking it ; and not knowing in the least
what I shall feel the long year when you are gone, — all by
myself, — no home."

" Sandcombe," he said; — but his voice was low, almost
as though he was ashamed of saying it.

" And you would like Sandcombe, yourself ? " I said,

He thought for a moment, — I saw he was annoyed. But
the cloud passed over; and he answered with such a kind,
honest look, — I never saw the same in any one else, — " No,
I should not like it. Trot ; and it is much harder for you to
stay than for me to go. But there will be an end."

" Grod grant it ! " I said; " but it mayn't be the end we
are looking for."

" It will be God's end, any how," he replied.

He walked across the room to a table which stood in the
corner, by the dresser ; — my mother's Bible always lay upon
it; the old Bible out of which he showed me the pictures on
a Sunday afternoon, when I was a little girl. He turned to
the parting of David and Jonathan ; it was a favourite
chapter of his. " Look here, Ursie," he said, as he brought
the book to me and pointed to the last verses ; " other people
before us have had to part. Just read me the verses ; I like
them best in your voice." And I read : " And as soon as
the lad was gone, David arose out of a place towards the
south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself
three times : and they kissed one another, and wept one with
another, until David exceeded and Jonathan said to David :
Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the
name of the Lord, saying : The Lord be between me and
thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he
arose and departed; and Jonathan went into the city."

I could not talk any more of business after that ; but I
went up to my own room and prayed, and had a good cry.



The next two months were a perfect whirl. As fast as
anything was settled, it seemed to be unsettled ; and every
one's plans seemed to interfere with those of another. Day
after day, Roger arranged to go to London, and see the
Canadian gentleman, Mr. Green, who was Mr. Richardson's
friend; but as surely as he had decided to go, so surely
something happened to prevent him. And all this time he
was working at William to get the money-matter settled ;
and William was hanging back and raising difficulties. At
last, when it seemed the matter would never come to an end,
Farmer Kemp ofiered to let William have the money, if he
would give him the same interest and the same security
which had satisfied Roger; and then there really was no
longer any reasonable excuse. I am sure Farmer Kemp did
it out of mere love to Roger ; for he and William were not
even as much friends as they used to be. The fret about the
cottages was always going on ; and Leah made matters worse,
for she was angry because Mrs. Richardson and Mrs. Kemp
had takeu up Kitty Hobson. I did not trouble myself much
about Kitty, nor about any one just then, except Roger and
Mrs. Weir. When I was not thinking of one, I was of the
other. Roger approved of my plan of staying at Dene as
long as I could, but how long that would be was a very
doubtful matter. There was a report that Mr. Weir was in
France ; and then Mrs. Weir was wild to go to him ; but the
next day it was contradicted. A week afterwards, some one
declared he had been heard of in America, and the week after
that it was France again ; always something new, and always
something uncertain ; — and at last Mr. Richardson and Miss
Milicent consulted together, and agreed that the only thing to
keep Mrs. Weir quiet was to put out of her head entirely the
notion of going to her husband. Till that was done there
would be no coming to a conclusion about anything else.

Dene, as I think I have said, was Mrs. Weir's own prop-
erty, settled upon her so that the creditors could not touch
it ; but it was not a place she could live at, and there was


nothing to be done but to sell it. A good thing it was, so
every one said, that there was some one at hand ready to buy
it. Captain Price came forward from the first, with a good
ofier for the house and grounds, not the whole estate, he was
by no means rich enough to buy that, for his fortune had
been very much overrated. The lawyers talked of trying to
obtain more by an auction in London, but Mrs. Weir's trus-
tees would not consent. It would bring additional expenses,
and after all they could not expect more than the fair sum
which Captain Price was willing to give. The interest of
this, and a little money belonging to Miss Miliceut, which
had been left her by her grandmother, would, it was hoped,
enable them to live with tolerable comfort,

Mrs. Weir was as passive as a child all the time the dis-
cussions were going on. I think it provoked Miss Milicent.
She once said to me that she thought it quite wicked to take
everything for granted in that way. How did her mother
know she had a penny ? she never took the trouble to ask.
It was very true that God fed the sparrows, but if the spar-
rows didn't open their mouths, no food would ever get down
their throats.

There was some truth in this, and I thought I would try
and rouse Mrs. Weir a little, when I had the opportunity.
And that came soon enough ; Farmer Kemp's oifer was
accepted, and Roger was to go up to London early the next
week to see Mr. Green ; and then Miss Miliceut proposed
that I should go over to the house and stay there. One
reason was because I might not like sleeping at the cottage
alone, and another because Mrs. Mason was going away, — a
source of greater regret to me I think than to Miss Milicent.
I liked Mrs. Mason very much, and never forgot the first
evening of my coming to Dene, and how kind she was, and
the tea Roger and I had with her. We had been good
friends from that day, and I owed a great deal to her, and I
hope I was grateful, though I was not what might be called
fond of her. She was strict, and had not much warmth at
the bottom, though a great deal of kindliness at the top. I
did all I could for her by helping to pack her boxes, and
trying to understand about the accounts and other things
which she had left not quite settled, and on Saturday morn-


ing I said good-bye to her, and she went off in Farmer
Kemp's light cart, which was to take her to Hove; from
thence I think she was going to London, to be housekeeper
in some great family. It was the first departure, and it
made the place seem very lonely.

I don't like now to recall the last Sunday with Roger at
Dene. Some troubles there are in life which it is rather
pleasant to look back upon, one feels so glad to have escaped
from them. But there are others which arouse a feeling of
pity for oneself, such as one might have for another. I
remember having read a story of a lady who cried over her
own funeral, and really I could almost cry over my mourn-
fulness on that Sunday. There was the last walk to Comp-
ton Church over the down, and the meeting with William
and Leah, and the busy gossip of the neighbours, who came
up and talked to us after the service, as if it was the com-
monest thing in the world that was going to happen to us.
And then William would make us go back with him to
Satidcombe and dine, and kept us so long there that we were
late at Church in the afternoon, and I felt that Roger was
fretted with himself for giving in. But we had a quiet time
afterwards, and a comforting talk as we walked back to
Dene, when it was growing cooler, and there was a breeze on
the hill just enough to give motion to the light fern-leaves
and the crimson foxglove-bells, and to lift up the hot mist
which had been hanging all day over the sea, and show the
sparkle of the waves in the bay, and beneath the white cliffs.

They are there still, — the ferns and the foxgloves on the
green hill, the white cliffs, the broad blue sea, — but they
have never looked to me since as they did on that evening.

The peacock screamed as we entered the Dene shrubbery.
I should not have remembered it, but that it made me silly,
for I burst into tears, and Roger, seeing Miss Milicent in
the road, told me to leave him, and turn into the walks in
the plantation, under the hill, till I could get right again. I
did not go far away, but remained watching him through
the trees, and when Miss Milicent was gone, I ran home as
quickly as I could.

There was little to be done in the way of preparation for
Roger's journey, so we had a nice long evening together,


talking a good deal more of things past than of things to
come. We neither of us liked to dwell much upon them ;
and we were to meet again, we Jioped, before long, and then
our way would bo made clearer. Now we were like chil-
dren groping about in the dark.

" Yet not quite the dark," was Roger's last speech to me
as we took our candles to go to bed. " God always gives us
light enougli for the next step,"

The next day Roger was gone, at least from Dene, and I
was going ; but whither was the question ? I felt it ought
to be settled soon, and that very afternoon I set myself to
the task of bringing Mrs. Weir to look her aifairs full in the
face, and see what she was doing, and what others were do-
ing for her, and what she would wish to have done her-
self. Miss Milicent, I think, had made a mistake in one re-
spect. She had managed everything for her mother so long,
that Mrs. Weir was completely out of the habit of managing
for herself, and now Miss Milicent was inclined to turn
round and reproach her for it.

Poor lady ! she looked quite surprised, when I said to
her as I carried her cup of coffee into the drawing-room,
about five o'clock, " You must have enough to do, Ma'am, to
settle your mind when there is so much to be done. I wish
I could help you."

" I leave it all," she replied. " It will come right — as
right as it can. Do not stand, Ursula. Thank you ; please
put down the coffee, and there is a seat ; the evenings are
very long."

" But growing shorter, Ma'am," I said : " a fortnight
yesterday past the longest day ; and then there will only
be six weeks more of what one may call summer."

" I do not look forward, Ursula."

" Only when you are obliged, I suppose, Ma'am. Miss
Milicent tells me you think of removing to the new house
that is just built at Compton."

" It it were God's will, I would not wish to move any-
where, Ursula, except to my grave. I am only burdensome ;
I can do no good."

" Not perhaps in the way you would like, Ma'am," I re-
plied. " But if we have life given us, I take it for granted


there is some purpose in it, if it is only to exercise others in

I really did not mean anything particular. I intended
only to answer her own words, though, when I had spoken, I
saw I might seem rude.

But Mrs. Weir took my remarks so quietly ! — in the
way which made me often feel that she had only just missed
being a saint.

" You are right, Ursula," she said. " We must be con-
tent to be trials, if we cannot be blessings. But that will
never be your lot, I feel. God has bestowed upon you health
and energy, and you are willing, I know, to make a good use
of them."

" I hope so, Ma'am, I should like to make them useful
to you now, if you would let me. I shall have a fortnight
clear, whilst Roger is in London, before I shall be called to
do anything for myself, and if you were thinking of moving,
I might be able to assist Miss Milicent in packing."

" But, Ursula," she slowly raised her eyes with a
look of fear, " you are not going way ? Milicent told me she
had oflFered you a home. You could have it as long as you
liked ; and no one would ask you to do anything you did not

" It is not that. Ma'am," I replied. " I hope, if I had
duties to attend to, I should not think about liking or dis-
liking ; but I don't see my way to remaining for long, and
that is why I should be glad to help you to settle yourself
elsewhere now, before I leave."

" Milicent ! where is Milicent ? " Mrs. Weir laid her
hand upon a little silver bell, which was one of the many or-
naments of her table.

" Perhaps, Ma'am," I said, " we might be able to manage
the matter without Miss Milicent. You are the person who
must decide."

" Yes, I know — ^but Milicent, — I wish she would come."

" If you tell Miss Milicent your wish, she will agree to
it I am sure. Ma'am," I continued. " I heard her say to
Mr. Richardson the other day, that she only desired you to
go where you would be most comfortable."

" They will not let me go abroad, Ursula ; that is the
only thing I ask for."


" They don't see where you are to go to, Ma'am," I replied •,
" and whilst you are thinking about that, there is something
else to be done just before your eyes, if you will be good
enough to look at it."

" I do not object to the house at Compton," she answered,
" I never said I did, only it is far from the church."

" Yes, but not so far as this ; and Miss Milicent is a
good walker, and it does not much matter to you. Ma'am."

" No, Ursula, you are right there."

" And you would be near Mr. Richardson, Ma'am."

" Yes." Her eyes brightened. " Perhaps he would
come and see me oftener then."

" And it is better than going quite away," I continued,
whilst I watched the expression of the poor lady's face, hop-
ing to see some expression of interest ; but just then, to my
great annoyance, in rushed Miss Milicent.

" Well, mother ! — Ursie ! I am glad you are here. — I have
been over the hill to Compton, and seen the house. They
won't let us have it for less than fifty pounds unfurnished,
and seventy-five furnished. I say it is a shame ; but there
is nothing else to be had ; so I have been to Mr. Eichard-
son, and he is coming up here to-morrow, and you have only
to say yes to him, mother, and then he will see the landlord
in Hove on Wednesday, and settle it, and we can move in
by nest Monday."

Miss Milicent stuck her hands in her pockets, and leaned
against the mantelpiece. Mrs. Weir sank back in her chair,

" It was just what Mrs. Weir and I were talking of, Miss
Milicent," I said. " Mrs. Weir seems to think that Comp-
ton will be the best place."

" Of course ; there is nothing else to be done."

" And you would not prefer any other place. Ma'am ? " I

Miss Milicent looked daggers at me, and beckoned me
out of the room.

Instead of attending to her at once, I waited for Mrs.
Weir's answer.

" I do not know, Ursula ; it comes so quickly ; but it will
all be right."


Miss Milicent turned round at the door. " Ursie, there
is some packing I want to talk to you about."

I followed her ; she closed the door behind her.

" Are you a fool, Ursie Grant ? What do you mean by
putting notions into my mother's head ? The house at
Compton is taken."

" Is it quite, Miss Milicent ? " I said ; " surely it is for
Mrs. Weir to decide."

" Decide ! it is decided. She has nothing to do but to
say, yes. She is not fit for more, you see."

" You will excuse me, I hope. Miss Milicent," I re-
plied, " but it seems to me that Mrs. Weir will never be fit
to say even, yes, for herself, whilst no one gives her the op-
portunity of saying, no."

Any one else might have been angry at my boldness, but

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 12 of 28)