Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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" I must go to Dene first," she answered with some hesi-
tation; " I promised Mrs. Price to see her to-day."

" It would be better to write to Mr. Macdonald first," I
said. " If he is at Dene, as I suppose, it will be awkward
meeting him before you have written."


" He is not likely to be there. The gentlemen were all
to be out shooting. That is why I promised to go. I must
keep my word. Now, give me your hand and we'll run ; "
and she drew me witib her to the brow of the hill.


I WOULD not run down St. Anne's Hill, for it was a
great deal too steep to be safe, and Jessie knew better than
to attempt it ; but she was in such a state of excitement, that
really she scarcely knew what she said. When we reached
the foot of the hill, I again urged her returning to Hatton.
As to going through Dene myself, I did not like the idea, for
my acquaintance with Mrs. Price had dropped since her mar-
riage, and I did not desire to renew it, neither did I know how
she was likely to look upon such an intrusion. Jessie could
not understand my scruples. She was so at home at Dene
herself, that she fancied every one else must be the same.

We went on in the direction of Dene, neither of us hav-
ing quite made up our minds what to do, and I trying to
persuade Jessie that it was more fitting for her at once to go
back to Hatton, and put the case before Mrs. Morris, when,
as we reached the little sheep-path leading off the down to
Compton, who should we see coming up but Miss Milicent,
dressed in a kind of loose great-coat and a close beaver bon-
net, and helping herself to mount the hill by the aid of a
heavy stick.

" Ursie Grant, is that you ? " she called out. " Stop, will
you? I want you."

She came up looking flushed and excited, but somewhat
cautious, as she saw Jessie.

" I thought you were alone," she said, in a tone which
Jessie could scarcely help hearing, and which made her stand
aside for a few seconds, and then, to my great annoyance,
walk on slowly by herself towards Dene. I called out after
her, " Just wait, Jessie; I shall not be a minute."

" Yes, you will be, I have a good many things to say to
you," said Miss Milicent. " Who is that girl ? "


" A kind of cousin of my sister-in-law, Miss Milicent,"
I replied. " If you will excuse me, I must not let her walk

" Why not ? She is no baby. Where is she going ? "

" I am not quite sure ; perhaps to Dene. "

" To Dene ! That is just where I am going, and you are
going with me."

" Indeed, Miss Milicent, I don't know," I said, taken
quite by surprise. " I will walk with you to the gate ; but
I can't say about going in."

" It is going in that I am bent upon. I have a great deal
to say to you, Ursie Grant. Can't that girl walk on instead
of waiting ? She is a very pretty girl. I like her face."

It was a face to like, especially at that moment. There
was so much thoughtfulness in it. I could see that Jessie
was having a struggle with herself. She was almost deter-
mined to go back to Hatton. If we had but been alone I
should have persuaded her.

" That is your way," I said to her, laughingly, yet in a
tone I knew she must understand, and I pointed to Hatton.

" And this is our way to Dene," said Miss Milicent, lead-
ing me to the beginning of the sloping green pathway on the
side of the down. " I am not going there to pay a visit —
only on business, and you can let Mrs. Price understand

Jessie caught the word Dene. " Then you are going to
Dene, Ursie," she said.

" Ursie Grant and I are both going there," said Miss
Milicent. " She knows Mrs. Price, and I don't ; though I
have had dealings enough with her of one kind and another."

" I knew Jane Shaw ; I don't know Mrs. Price," I re-
plied. " She is too fine a lady for me. Miss Milicent ; and, in-
deed, she will be likely to receive you much better without me."

" I know Mrs. Price very well," said Jessie, with scarcely
concealed satisfaction at having what she considered a grand

" Do you ? Then you will be just the person to say what
I want," said Miss Milicent ; " only you will just let Ursie
Grant and me walk aside and have a little talk together."

It was most unfortunate. My first impulse was to leave


Jessie and Miss Milicent to manage their visit as they could,
and make my way at once to Longside ; but then I was so
afraid to trust Jessie alone, knowing how easily she might be
persuaded to stay and see Mr. Macdonald again ; and even
if her present intentions were good, which I was not sure of,
I could not for a moment have depended upon them, if she
were placed in the way of temptation. Care for him she did
not, but she might be flattered by his admiration, and touched
by his expressions of affection ; and how many women marry,
and make themselves miserable for life, under no greater in-
ducement !

Miss Milicent took no notice of my hesitation, but telling
Jessie to go on to the white gate, and wait for us, she planted
herself deliberately in my way, and said, in an under tone,
" We have had news of my father, Ursie."

" Indeed ! " I exclaimed. I must have changed colour
from surprise, for Miss Milicent added directly, " You look as
white as my mother did. She shook like an aspen leaf, and
went into a fit. She would have gone quite, if Matilda
Temple had not scolded her."

" Oh ! Miss Milicent, scolded her ! " I exclaimed ; " who
could do that ? Poor lady ! no wonder she was upset."

" No wonder, indeed. If you had been there to see it !
We had such a scene ! But Matilda Temple didn't carry
the day, though she tried hard for it. She would have kept
the letter from my mother if she could."

" And you heard from Mr. Weir himself?" I said.

" No, only from a gentleman abroad who has seen him,
and knows where he is, and tells us that if we want to hear
more of him we must find out a Lieutenant Macdonald. He
is at Dene, Ursie, and that is why I am going there."

It was a most incoherent story. I could make nothing of it,
and I had to ask many questions before I found out the whole.
John Hervey, it seems, had been doing for Mrs. Weir what
he wished me to do ; he had been keeping his eyes and ears
open for any thing which might interest or be of use to her.
It was through some acquaintance of his that a rumour came
of Mr. Weir having been seen somewhere in France — in Paris
I think it was. John said nothing, but he made inquiries, and
at length he found out an English gentleman who had lately

258 U B SU L A .

been in company with Mr. Weir, but knew nothing of his
history, or how he was living, or what he meant to do — only that
he had with him a Lieutenant Macdonald, who at that time
was upon the point of starting for England. " Mr. Hervey
is clever enough," continued Miss Milicent, when she had
reached thus far ; " and he put two and two together, and
made out at last that the Lieutenant Macdonald mentioned
in the letter was the same who is now at Dene ; whereupon
he wrote to me to tell me, — a very civil letter it was ; not
at all putting himself forward ; he is a young man who knows
his place, and does not interfere. But when I had read it, I
made up my mind I would just go over to Dene myself, and
see Lieutenant Macdonald, and hear all he has to say. I
may as well take in some fresh air for strength before," she
added, as she turned round to the wind, thrust her hands into
her coat-pockets, and opening her mouth, drew a long breath,
as much I am sure to help her mind as her body,

I did not dare say I felt for her. She never would have
borne that, so I remarked quite coldly, " It would be more
proper for Lieutenant Macdonald to call upon you. Miss
Milicent. No doubt he would be quite willing to give him-
self the trouble."

" I don't know what is proper or what is not, Ursie
Grant. I have lived long enough, and seen folly enough, to
put propriety out of the question."

" But it would have been easier for you to have seen him
at Stonecliff," I observed. " There are such odd people some-
times at Dene."

" If they are odd they are more like myself," she replied ;
'' and I'll tell you what, Ursie, you don't know anything
about it. There is Matilda Temple, at Stonecliff, with eyes
and ears in every corner of the house ; and my mother's door
locked against me and open only to her. No ! whatever I
learn shall be by myself, without her interference."

" Of course you know best, Miss Milicent," I replied,
" but it would not seem to me that Mrs. Temple was likely
to interfere in anything which concerned Mrs. Weir; she
could have no object in it."

" Then you don't know her, Ursie, and you are an inno-
cent baby, which I never thought you before, for you never


gave a truer warning than when you said we had better not
make one with Matilda Temple."

" It was you who thought so first, Miss Milicent," I said.
" You always told me you distrusted her."

" And so I did, and so I do. How I ever came to give
way to her I can't think. I do believe, Ursie, we don't any
of us know in the least what we are like."

There was more thought in the remark than I quite saw
then. I answered, indifferently, " I suppose we can't know
till we are tried. But things won't last long as they are.
Miss Milicent. I think you told me one day, that Stone-
cliff was only taken for a year."

" And what is to happen to us before the year is over ? It
is only just begun, and if we go on at the rate we are going
now, we maybe without a penny before it is ended."

I felt uncomfortable when Miss Milicent said this. I did
not think I was the person to hear about the money affairs of
the family, but Miss Milicent was so strange ; she could be
as close as possible at times, but if the impulse once seized
her, and she felt confidence in the person to whom she was
talking, everything came out at a rush. I looked towards the
white gate to give her a hint that we must hasten on, but
she never took hints.

" We were to share housekeeping," she continued, " but
— I don't know how it is, I am sure — I have no means of
ordering matters, and there are so many little things put
down to my mother. I don't believe she wants them, but
Matilda says she does. Matilda boasts she keeps within her
own income ; if she does it must be by eking it out with ours."

" Perhaps," I ventured to say, " if there is news of Mr.
Weir, it might be the occasion of making a change."

" I don't say, perhaps," she replied. " I say it must be ;
only Matilda Temple will work, and work, at my mother to
prevent it. Now she has her in her hands she won't let her
go easily, you may depend upon that. That was why she
wanted me not to show Mr. Hervey's letter. It was all pre-
tence saying it would upset my mother. We had a regular
battle about it, and I told her a bit of my mind. We are
not the better friends for that. Depend upon it, Ursie, it is
a trying life we have of it ; " and, for almost the first time
since I had known her, I heard Miss Milicent sigh.


It was her own doing, all to be attributed to her neglect
of her mother, which had paved the way for Mrs. Temple's
influence, but it was not my place to reproach her with it ;
and, I fancied she was beginning to feel it.

" Mr. Richardson talks to me about looking after my
mother," she continued ; " he is always throwing me back
when I want him to give me more parish work. I don't see
what business he has to interfere. As I tell him, he can't
know the ins and outs of a family. My mother wouldn't
have me with her if I wished it."

" I am sure Mr. Richardson means kindly," I remarked,
" whatever he may say. He has been a good friend to Roger
and me, at least."

" Well, of course, yes ! and I dare say I may be wrong,
but that won't mend matters now ; and, Ursie, I don't like
your always taking side against me."

I only laughed a little ; there was no good in arguing with
her or contradicting her. Besides, time was getting on.
The sun was sinking low, and already there was a yellow
gleam over the bay, and a mist gathering behind the white

" If you please. Miss Milicent," I said, we really must be
going on. Jessie has to return to Hatton, and you will find
it lonely walking back to the Heath. Are you quite sure you
had not better wait, and call at Dene to-morrow ? "

" I am quite sure that, if it must be night before I am
back, I will see that Mr. Macdonald to-day," she exclaimed.
" Since you are like the rest of the world, Ursie, you can go
your own way. That young girl and I can manage without

She strode on for some distance, and had nearly reached
the white gate, when she stopped, turned round to me as I
was following her, caught hold of my hand, and grasped it
with the firm clutch, I can call it nothing else, which was
peculiar to her, and said, " I am like a hack-horse tired,
Ursie. Every one is setting at me to go their way, but you
will forgive."

She would not wait to hear what I had to say in answer,
but, pushing open the gate before Jessie could do it for her,
she entered the grounds of Dene.



Dene was very little altered. I could not tell whether
I was more glad or sorry for that. It would have been a
great pain to see the old familiar walks destroyed ; but then,
to look upon them with such changed associations ! I won-
dered how Miss Milicent could bear it. She went on
bravely, and, as it seemed, carelessly, only I don't think she
allowed herself to look about much ; and she did not speak a
word, but walked before us by herself.

Jessie, pleased to show her intimacy, said she should run
round by the verandah, and tell Mrs. Price we were coming.
Miss Milicent and I went to the carriage entrance.

A footman, in very gay orange-coloured livery, opened
the door, but he was almost immediately followed by Jessie.
I thought she was going to put herself forward to welcome
us, but she had better tact than people would have given her
credit for, knowing her thoughtless ways. She came up to
Miss Milicent, and said, " I thought, Ma'am, perhaps you
would like to know that Mrs. Price has a visitor with her."

" Thank you ; I shall not keep Mrs. Price more than a
minute. Ursie, where are you going ? " and Miss Milicent
looked back after me.

" If you have private business with Mrs. Price, Miss
Milicent, I could wait here very well," I said, in an under

" Private, with her ! " was the answer, in a loud whisper.
" You know I am not come to see her."

" You had better let your mistress know that Miss Weir
would be glad to speak to her," I said aloud to the servant,
for I was resolved that Mrs. Price should not think I had
called upon her for my own pleasure.

" The dining-room is empty, I am sure," said Jessie to
me ; and the man took the hint, and ushered us in. I can't
say how Uncomfortable I felt ; it was so very awkward to be
there, and I could not see why Miss Milicent had insisted
upon it ; only, I suppose, she disliked the visit, and thought
that I should help to make it go oflf well.

262 U K S U L A .

Jessie was very nervous and excited. She went out
into the passage to see if the visitor was going, — then came
back and stood at the door, — then looked out of the window.
Her eyes were constantly turning from one side to the other,
and every little noise made her start. For myself, I was
really thankful to have my thoughts occupied by her and
Miss Milicent. To sit in the dining-room at Dene, and feel
myself a visitor to Jane Shaw, would have been more than
I could have borne patiently, if I had had leisure to think
of it. Presently there was a loud talking in the passage,
some very hearty good-byes were exchanged, and then the
dining-room door was thrown open very wide, and Jane
Shaw, — I beg her pardon, Mrs. Price, — in a splendid figured
green silk, rustling with stiff lining and flounces, sailed into
the room. As for being introduced, there was no need of
that ; she was at home with us directly.

" Good afternoon. Miss Weir ; very glad to see you.
Mrs. Weir is pretty well, I hope ? — How d'ye do, Ur-
sula ? "

She was not the least altered. In spite of her handsome
dress — her hair beautifully plaited according to the newest
fashion — her rings, and chains, and bracelets — she was
Jane Shaw still. Little Jessie Lee was ten times more at-
tractive, and Miss Milicent in her rough coat and beaver
bonnet much more like a lady.

Miss Milicent's reply was abrupt, as might be expected
from her, but there was a curious kind of civility in the tone
which I was not used to — it seemed to throw one at a dis-
tance. I wondered whether Jane felt it.

" My mother is as well as usual, thank you. I ought
not to have come so late ; I must beg you to excuse it, but I
have business with a gentleman staying here."

" A gentleman, indeed ! We have a good many gen-
tlemen here, haven't we, Jessie ? " The poor child col-
oured crimson.

" I wish to see Mr. Macdonald," continued Miss Mili-
cent. " If he is in the house, perhaps you would let him be
told that I am here ? "

" Lieutenant Macdonald 1 I can't say. He went out this
morning. He may be returned. The gentlemen are not to


be reckoned upon in this shooting season, as Jessie knows."
She added in a familiar tone. " Perhaps dear, you would
just see if the Lieutenant is in the book-room ? "

I rose and looked into the library myself. A man
dressed in a shooting-jacket was lying full length upon a
sofa. His face was handsome but the expression very disa-
greeable. It was Lieutenant Macdonald ; I just knew him
by sight, and Jessie Lee in contrast with him seemed to me
like an angel.

" Mr. Macdonald is there, I think, Miss Milieent," T
said, as I drew back from the door ; " Would you wish to go
in ? " and I made room for her to pass, yet in such a way as
to prevent Jessie from being seen. Mrs. Price followed to
introduce her.

I closed the door behind them, and we heard only the
low murmur of voices.

Then I went up to Jessie. " Promise me one thing," I
said, hurriedly, " that you won't stay here, Jessie ; that you
will come home to Sandcombe with me."

She hesitated. " You must," I continued ; " you don't
know what you may be led into."

Mrs. Price's hand touched the handle of the door — I was
in agony for the answer — I don't know what possessed me,
but I added, " What shall I be able to say of you to
Roger ? "

Jessie's countenance changed in an instant. She looked
at me with a winning smile, and said, " I will do what you
wish. I should not like to vex Mr. Roger."

I kissed her. She seemed to me like a child saved from
danger. Immediately afterwards, Mrs. Price burst in upon
us. She could not have understood how or why I was
there ; indeed, I should have had a difficulty in explaining it
myself. But she was very gracious ; most unpleasantly so.
" You find the place altered since you were here, Ursula,"
she began. " We have just added a room to your cottage,
and enlarged the billiard room ; you had a small parlour, I
think, and the kitchen. I dare say you would like to go
over and see it, and you would like to see the drawing-room,
too, no doubt — Captain Price has put up some pictures, and
made it look quite different from what it was in poor Mrs.


Weir's time. Our groom lives in your cottage ; it just does
for him and his wife, and they have one child. I will show
you the way, if you like it. Jessie, dear, if you'll just run
up to my room, and fetch my shawl — not the silk one, but
the cashmere — I shall be obliged to you."

Jessie looked proud of the commission, and hurried away,
whilst Mrs. Price took me into her drawing-room, profess-
ing to show me the pictures, but pointing out also the new
carpet, and curtains, and tables, and chairs, everything in
fact which could in the least display her wealth, and contin-
ually repeating, " We have been obliged to make such
changes. The old furniture did well enough for poor Mrs.
Weir, I dare say ; but it wouldn't suit us."

I could never have been very cordial to her under any
circumstances, and now every word she said jarred upon me,
and presently, when she began to talk of Jessie, I was more
than jarred, I was provoked. " Jessie was such a sweet girl,"
she said, " she was quite glad to have the chance of being
useful to her They saw a good deal of company, and Jessie
had many admirers. When she was well dressed, there
wasn't a prettier girl anywhere round the country. No
doubt she would marry well."

I made but a short answer ; if I had said all that was in
my mind, she might have thought me jealous ; but looking
out of the window, I observed, " that we must be thinking of
going ; Miss Milicent seemed likely to be kept some time,
and though we had walked over to Dene together, we were to
return separately. Miss Milicent had asked me to come
with her, because she was a stranger."

" Oh ! indeed 1 I didn't understand. I wasn't aware why
I had the honour of a visit." Mrs. Price's manner was pe-
culiar. I could not tell whether she felt pleased or dis-
pleased at having the acquaintance renewed. Jessie brought
down the shawl, and we went over to the cottage. Mrs.
Price reminded me again how small it was, and only fit for
the groom, and tried to impress upon me that she was a great
lady, and I was no lady at all ; and yet she asked me ques-
tions about Sandcombe, and every now and then hinted that
of course I should come and see her again. I let her talk as
she liked, not professing to be equal to her in worldly


position ; it did not distress me to be put down by her, my
only difficulty was to keep myself from looking down upon
her for other causes. But that which was more in my
thoughts than anything else was, what could be done with
Jessie. If she were to go with me to Longside she would be
in the way ; but I did not choose to let her walk to Hatton
alone, and still less could I bear to leave her at Dene. It
seemed to me as though she had been providentially placed
under my care, and that I wan responsible for her. I could
not tell what to decide. We went into the cottage, and
spoke to the groom's wife, and I looked round upon the old
familiar walls with an eye that in fact saw nothing. I could
have sat there for hours and thought, if I had been alone,
but I had no feeling whilst Jane Price was at my side.
Only for one moment, whilst she, and Jessie, and the woman,
were talking apart, the present seemed to vanish away like a
mist, and the past was all before me. Roger in his arm-
chair, the table set out for tea, the kettle standing on the
hearth, so cheerful, so peaceful ! — Oh, what a pang shot
through me ! Would such days ever return again ?

Miss Milicent came out of the house just as we were re-
turning to it. A burning spot flushed her cheek, and she
rushed up to me. " We will go now, Ursie ; are you ready ?
Mrs. Price, I am sorry to have interrupted you," and Miss
Milicent made a wonderfully polite bend. " I wish you good

The words were not thoroughly articulate, they came out
so fast, and Miss Milicent hurried on up the hill, whilst I
vainly tried to overtake her, and then looked back, and to
my dismay saw Lieutenant Macdonald issue from the house
and join Mrs. Price and Jessie. I returned to them
directly, but not before a few words had been interchanged
between Jessie and Mr. Macdonald. " Please be quick,
Jessie," I said, " Miss Milicent is gone."

Jessie looked at me, half doubtful, half frightened.

" Come," I repeated, decidedly. " I must follow Miss

" You were not going with her ; I don't know what you
mean," replied Jessie; and Mrs. Price turned upon me
hastily, and said that Jessie was intending to stay with her.
Vol. 1—12


" You promised, Jessie," I said.

" Promised, what ? She is engaged to me," exclaimed
Mrs. Price. She began, I am sure, to suspect my motive for

Mr. Macdonald had withdrawn a few paces, and I took
care that he should not have the opportunity of addressing
Jessie again, though what she had already said had been,
evidently, in no way pleasing to him. Jessie herself seemed
so irresolute, that once more I was induced to use the wea-
pon of persuasion which I had tried successfully.

" You know, Jessie," I said, " you told me that you did
not wish to vex me nor any one else." I stressed the last
words, and saw that she understood them. She made a con-
fused excuse to Mrs. Price, a half curtsy to the Lieutenant,
and we followed Miss Milicent up the hill.

I breathed freely when I found myself outside the white

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