Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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" Listen to me, Ursie," she continued, and she leaned
her clenched hand on the table, and bent forward with
eagerness. " I had to talk to that man yesterday, and he
was not sober, and he called himself our friend, the friend of
the family, and he wanted to shake hands — who was to bear
that ? "

" He was not the more your friend for calling himself
so," I replied.

" But he is," she added, bitterly, and she walked away
suddenly to the other end of the room. " You are an honest
girl," she added, returning, and placing both her hands on
my shoulders. " You won't think lower of us because our
name is Weir ; I was proud enough of the name once," she
added, in a lower tone.

" Indeed, Miss Milicent," I said, " you know well enough
that it is an honour to me to do anything I can for you.
You have only to tell me what. I am very sorry you were


so annoyed yesterday with seeing that disagreeable man, but
perhaps you won't have to do it again."

" I shall though, Ursie. I must go there again. There
is a great deal to arrange with him. He knows all my
father's concerns."

The veins in her forehead swelled as she spoke the words.
I gazed at her in surprise. Such proud feelings I had never
remarked in her before, and yet I could scarcely call them
proud. In her place I should have felt as she did, and not
blamed myself. Mr. Weir had once been a gentleman,
honoured and respected. She could never forget that.

" Mr. Richardson, or Mr. Temple, would see him for you,"
I began ; but she interrupted me.

"No, Ursie, no spies, no strangers, none but his daughter
shall hear of him. And I couldn't talk to any one but you,"
she added, as large tears coursed themselves down her cheek.

Poor thing ! Words can't express how sorry I felt for her,
but I could not understand why she should choose me to talk
to. It came out, however, very soon.

" You know all, Ursie," she said, " the difficulties and
tempers ; my mother's ways, and Matilda Temple's ; you un-
derstand it. I can't go and tell Mr. Richardson every thing ;
and I trust you, Ursie; I trust you with all my heart." .

I gave her my hand, and she grasped it heartily.

" The trouble is about helping him," she continued.
" This man says he wants money, and that he is going to
join in a business— wine-selling, I think ; but I don't put
faith in what is told me ; only he declares, my father is so
poor now, if he could have help he would go on steadily.
What does Lieutenant Macdonald mean by steadiness ? "

" You must not trust Lieutenant Macdonald," I said.
" If Mr. Weir is found, some one else must go and see him,
and judge what is really the state of the case."

" And who ? " she exclaimed. " My mother ? ''

" Oh, no ! Miss Milicent, never. How could you think
of such a thing ? "

" Then I ? By myself ? Leaving my mother with Matilda
Temple? I have thought about it."

For the moment it seemed the only plan. Yet for her to
go abroad alone, it was next to impossible, and I said, " You
would not trust Mr. Temple, I suppose. Miss Milicent ? "


" Trust a baby in long clothes ! Ursie, where are your
senses ? "

" John Hervey ! " I exclaimed, as with a sudden inspira-

She sat down, and leaned her head upon her hand. I
heard her murmur to herself, " He knows him ; he can't
think worse of him."

" John Hervey knew Mr. Weir years ago. Miss Milicent,"
I said. " He would respect and help him for the sake of
those old times."

Her countenance worked with a conflict of feeling ; but
presently she said, quite calmly, " If he could go he must be

" His expenses must be paid," I said. " He woidd give
his time, I am sure, if possible."

" Matilda Temple holds the purse-strings," observed Miss

I was silent — that subject was beyond me.

Miss Milicent sat lost in thought ; her cogitations seemed
to come to no satisfactory termination, for, after a silence of
at least five minutes, she said to me abruptly, " You will go
up-stairs and see my mother, Ursie. She knows you are here.
Not a word about plans remember. Under any circumstances
she can't go."

I left her. My suggestion would, I knew, work better in
solitude than if I was with her ; and with a slow step, very
diff'erent from that with which in former days I had been ac-
customed to seek Mrs. Weir's presence, I went up-stairs and
knocked at the door of her sitting-room.

" Come in," said the gentle voice, which always sounded
more sweet to me than any other. " Oh! Ursula, it is you !
How are you ? Will you sit down ? "

Mrs. Weir pointed to a chair, and then turned away her
face, and I saw her take up her handkerchief to wipe away
the tears which filled her swollen eyes.

I longed to go near her, and show that I was sorry for
her, but I could not make the first advance. I could only
say, " Miss Milicent tells me, Ma'am, that you have had a bad

" Kather disturbed, Ursula. I never sleep well now. I


thought I should have done well to take a sleeping-draught
before I went to bed, but my niece did not like it."

" You used to take it occasionally, Ma'am, if I remem-
ber," I said.

" Yes, occasionally ; it is a very bad habit. My niece says
I ought to cure myself of it ; and she never takes such things
herself, though she is very nervous, and lies awake half the

A pause followed. Not knowing what to say next, I re-
marked, without thinking what I was saying, that I was
afraid Miss Milicent had a cold dark walk, the last evening.
She was out so late,

" Milicent is always out late," replied Mrs. Weir. " She
is away all the day. I don't see her, I only see my niece,
and no one ever comes to call, except Mr. Richardson, and he
has not been to see me so often as formerly."

" Perhaps your friends don't know you would like to see
them. Ma'am," I replied.

" Perhaps so, Ursula ; but people change. I did not think
they would. I thought if they loved me once they would
love me always. But we are not to put our trust in human
friends ; my niece tells me that."

" But indeed, dear Ma'am," I exclaimed, rather hastily,
" I don't know where we are told to distrust them."

" I do not remember any verse, Ursula," replied Mrs.
Weir, quietly; " but God teaches us by experience ; only it
takes a long time to learn the truth."

" I hope it will take a very long time before you learn to
distrust me, dear Ma'am," I said ; " if I might be so bold as
to consider myself your friend."

" Did I say distrust, Ursula ? I did not mean it ; but
young people go away and forget, and we ought not to ex-
pect that it should be otherwise."

I could not help understanding this, and yet I did not
know how to take it up.

Mrs. Weir continued, still in the same mournful tone
which was her nearest approach to anger, " My niece has
sent some messages to Mrs. Grant, Ursula, about the butter,
but I dare say you were too busy to attend to the orders."

" What orders ? " I could not remember any, and I said


" It does not signify, it will do no good to vex ourselves
about such trifles," added Mrs. Weir. " I told my niece that
I did not care about it. I was only sorry, Ursula, because
I thought you would have managed it for me, but I am sure
you could not help it ; I was only hurt for the moment ; "
and she held out her hand to me kindly.

Just for an instant I thought I would try and explain,
but any one who had looked at Mrs. Weir would have seen
that explanation upon any subject then must be useless.
Even this little fault-finding had put her into a state of ner-
vousness, which was quite painful. I could only take her
hand, as she offered it me, and say heartily, " Dear Ma'am,
you will never understand how things are till I can come
back and stay in the house a little, and look after you."

Her sad face lighted up with such a bright smile for a
second, but it clouded again, and she said, gravely, " Oh,
Ursula, if you ever came to live with me I should want you
to speak quite plainly, and tell me everything, and you would
not like that. You know you did not like to tell about the
little broken chessman."

I felt stung to the quick ; that she should remember that
trifle, and take it up so wrongly too ! It must have been
dinned into her ears every day, or she would surely have for-
gotten it long ago !

Mrs. Weir saw that I was vexed, and with her usual im-
pulse of kindheartedness, tried to do away with the effect of
her words, by reminding me how well I used to nurse her,
and what a comfort I had once been to her. But she could
not deceive me. I felt chilled, and I confess I was unjust
to her. I forgot her weak health, and the ease with which a
person in her state may be worked upon, and attributed the
misunderstanding to fickleness. " I am afraid, Ma'am," I
answered proudly, " that you can have but little pleasure in
the company of a person whom you suspect of not speaking
the truth, so I had better go." I stood up, intending to wish
her good morning, but she looked at me with an earnest, even
an imploring gaze, as she said, whilst every limb seemed to
tremble with agitation, " Then, Ursula, you do not care for
me any more than my other friends do."

I caught hold of her hand and kissed it. " Dear Ma'am,"


I exclaimed, " Indeed I don't understand you. Nobody
cares for you more than I do, if you would only believe it,
and not listen to the unkind things which are said against
me. Who could help loving you ? " I added.

" Ah, Ursula," she replied, and her lips quivered, " peo-
ple have left off loving me since I came to Compton. My
niece knows the world, and she showed me that my friends
cared for me when I lived at Dene ; but they have left me
now. I ought not to mind it. I have my niece, and she is
very good to me. She says I shall never go away from her ;
but, Ursula, do you know," her voice sank, as she looked
timidly round the room, " we have had news — news of my
husband — Mr. Weir. Do you not think I ought to go to
him? Do not answer loudly ; they hear sometimes."

" There is no one to hear now, Ma'am," I said quickly ;
" but I think, if you will let me say it, that you had better
not trouble yourself about Mr. Weir just now. You can
wait till you learn more about him, and then by and by you
can go if it should seem right."

" By and by," she repeated ; " yes, soon, that would be ;
if my niece would allow it. But I ought to go, Ursula, I
am his wife, only Mrs. Temple thinks it wrong. I shall tell
her what you say."

Poor lady ! all her old loving confidence in me was re-
turning, and as I perceived it, every remaining feeling of
annoyance on my side vanished. I sat down again, I felt I
might comfort and soothe her, and I was happy. But the
door opened, and Miss Milicent entered.

" Mother, have you finished talking to Ursie Grant ? " she

" Do you want her, Milicent ? I shall be sorry to say
good-bye. She is so kind in coming to see me."

" There is no time to spare. Mother. Matilda Temple
will be back directly. I must have you, Ursie."

" Matilda is coming now, I think," said Mrs. Weir.

No one else had heard the footstep, but Mrs. Weir was

Miss Milicent beckoned to me. " Come, Ursie, come, we
are better out of the way."

" If you please, I will wait and see Mrs. Temple," I re-
plied, for I was resolved not to be abashed by her.


There was a pause on the staircase ; Mrs. Weir's old
feeling of restraint seemed to have returned. She said ner-
vously, " Good-bye, Ursula; you will come again some day,
when you have time."

Even she then wished me to go, and I went. I passed
Mrs. Temple in the lobby, and received from her a bend of
the head, so slight as scarcely to -be noticed. A feeling came
over me as though I had left Mrs. Weir in the hands of a

" I have settled, Ursie," exclaimed Miss Milicent, as she
led the way to the study, and closed the door behind her.
" I won't be indebted to any one, I will go myself"

I could not tell what to reply, and Miss Milicent added,
hurriedly, " Don't object; I can't bear objections."

Few people can, I thought to myself; but the scheme
was mad.

" I shall go," she continued. " I know a person who
will go with me, an old servant. She has been in France ;
she travelled with us eight years ago. I shall talk to Lieu-
tenant Macdonald again ; perhaps he may be more sober. I
must go, Ursie. I must have my own way."

Who would doubt that ? Miss Milicent ought to know
more of the difficulties than I did, but they crowded upon
me. It seemed an expensive plan, taking two people instead
of one. I doubted if Miss Milicent would know how to
help her father when she was with him. I believed that
such matters of business required a man's head to arrange
them. I thought that to leave Mrs. Weir was giving up a
first duty. I was sure that trouble would follow if Mrs.
Temple was allowed to go her own way so entirely without
check. But Miss Milicent was totally undisciplined ; what-
ever she took into her head must always be carried through ;
and at the bottom of the decision there lay — I don't believe
she saw it, but I am not the less sure that it was there — the
desire to escape from a wearisome life, the struggle of con-
science, and contact with Mrs. Temple. Any duty rather
than that which was at hand.

I believe it is so with us all at times.

I continued to put in my word of advice, and that rather
boldly. "Miss Milicent," I said, "you do not know under


what circumstances, or in what company, you may find Mr.
Weir ; it may be very unfitting for a lady to go where he is."

She would not hear me. It was all nonsense, she said.
Where there was a will there was a way. She didn't know
what fear was, and as for the opinion of the world, she cared
not a whit for it. That very afternoon she should write to
the servant, and inquire wether she could go.

I had nothing to ofi"er in reply. I could but say that I
hoped she would consider the matter well before she decided
upon it. She disliked the appearance of opposition, and when
I proposed to leave her, she was glad that I should go.

Something seemed to strike her just at last about her
mother, for as I was going away she said, holding my hand,
and speaking very earnestly, " You will be near, Ursie, if my
mother wants anything; and you won't mind Matilda Tem-
ple's humours."

It was a satisfactory thought to Miss Milicent, but it was
anything but satisfactory to me.


Instead of going home over the down, I went round by
Hatton, and up the stony lane. It was a long walk, but I
had a little shopping to do in Hatton. In the grocer's shop,
I met Mr. Hervey. I told him where I came from, and that
I was on my way back to Sandcombe ; and he offered to walk
with me. He had been over to Hatton on business of his
own, but he was going back to Longside, to be present at the
giving away of a loaf of bread to all the families who lived
in Farmer Kemp's cottages, and to all his labourers and boys.
It was an old Christmast-eve custom ; and there was to be a
dinner for the labourers the next day, so there was enough to
do at Longside ; and Mary, I heard, was very busy, and
very provoked with me for not having gone to her the even-
ing before.

All this was told me as we walked slowly up Hatton lane ;
but John Hervey had something else in his mind, and I had
something else in mine j and yet we neither of us liked to

UR'SULA. 285

speak of it. He could not tell me of his private news about
Mr. Weir, and I could not tell him of Miss Milicent's plans,
though I knew he would be likely soon to hear of them.
We were much more silent than usual, and once or twice I
cut him rather short in something he was saying, — not
meaning it, but merely because I was thinking of other
matters. It never struck me that he might notice my man-
ner, till we parted ; then he said in a marked tone, " We
used to be great friends, Ursie, and have a good deal to say
to each other, — but somehow times seem changed."

My colour came, not because I was angry, but ashamed.
. I really had never regularly made up with him since the
evening we had that little fuss about Mrs. Weir and my

" I didn't think you had a memory for old grievances,
Mr. Hervey," I said, laughing a little awkwardly; "I am
sure if there is a change it is not in me."

" There are no grievances, Ursie," he replied, more
gravely than I expected ; " only if I am a friend once, I am
a friend always."

" And so am I, I hope," was my reply ; " we are making
a great deal out of nothing, Mr. Hervey."

" Yes, it is nothing," lae said ; " nothing to you, Ursie.
There is no reason why it should be anything else. Good-bye,
I didn't mean to say anything disagreeable."

He held out his hand, and I shook it very warmly, for I
liked him heartily. But he was cold-mannered still. I told
him to give my love to Mary, and to bring her over to see
me as soon as he could. But he made no promises, and it
rather provoked me to see him so odd and moody.

He could scarcely have left me more than two or three
minutes, when I heard a voice calling behind me, " Ursie,
stop ! Ursie, why don't you stop ? " William was coming
after me.

" What is the matter ? " I said, turning round slowly.

Instead of answering me, he asked quickly, " Who was
that with you ? "

" John Hervey," I replied ; " look, he is going along the
down now;" and without another word, William was off
like a shot. I thought it strange, and waited to watch what


would pass between them. William overtook Mr. Hervey
in a few seconds ; then I saw them talking together in a great
hurry, and to my surprise, John Hervey changed his path,
and was away towards Compton in less time than I could
have thought possible.

William rejoined me. " He's gone for the doctor/' he
said ; " it was better than my going. Ursie, she is desperately

" She ! — who ? " I exclaimed ; whilst all the blood in my
veins seemed chilled, and my heart for a second stopp ed

" Leah ! — Haven't you heard ? It is worse every hour."

" It ! — the fever ! — I didn't know she had any ! "

" You have not been near her," said William, bitterly.
" It was coming on when you went off this afternoon."

I said not a word for myself If he had told me I had
killed her I should have acquiesced.

" Jessie has been with her," continued William ; " we
should have sent for you, but we expected you in every

" I wish with all my heart you had sent ! " I exclaimed.
" I could have been back nearly an hour ago. But — I don't
understand — it was a cold, nothing else."

" Nothing else that you knew," said William ; " but I
thought it wasn't all right this afternoon myself; and if you
had been there, I should have made you go to her. Jessie
is such a child, she is not fit for anything. The fever has the
upper hand now, she is wandering."

" Leah is always feverish when she has a cold," I said.
" She may only be a little more so than usual."

" You can judge for yourself," was William's answer, and
he did not say another word as we hurried across the farm-
yard and into the house.

I rushed up to Leah's room, drew aside the curtain, and
looked at her. William was right ; she was desperately ill.

I need not say what that evening was like. How in a few
hours the whole aspect of a house may be changed by the
presence of serious illness almost all know by sad experience
It was as though every person's business had been suddenly
put an end to, as if indeed it was unfeeling for any one to


attend to anything. "William sat brooding over the fire,
Jessie ran up and down-stairs on useless errands, Martha
gossiped with the men about " mistress's illness," and
Esther Smithson, whom I had kept to sleep at Sandcombe,
thinking she might be wanted, was ordered to do all which
no one else had time for.

And I — I don't know what I felt, — I believe I was thank-
ful to be busy. There was a heavy load at my heart which
would otherwise have been unendurable.

No neglect had I been guilty of intentionally. No sus-
picion of real illness, much less of danger, had for an instant
crossed my mind when I left Leah that morning ; but I had
given way to a proud temper ; she had done me wrong, and I
had waited for her to apologise, instead of taking the first
step towards reconciliation myself. I had allowed the " sun
to go down upon my wrath," and to rise upon it again, and
the ill feeling had kept me from her. I might not indeed
have been of use to her. Her husband was the person re-
sponsible, if any one was to blame, for not having sooner
perceived the serious nature of the illness ; but I could not
be innocent in my own eyes, nor, as I could perceive, in those
of William and Jessie.

John Hervey came back with the doctor from Compton,
and when he heard that it was a serious matter, he proposed
to ride over himself to Hove for further advice. William
hesitated, but I urged it ; I was resolved there should be no-
thing more to reproach myself with. John went, and was
back again with a second doctor before eleven o'clock. Then
he offered to stay all night — and I should have been thank-
ful to keep him, he had such a quick thought and ready hand
in times of difficulty — but William objected, for he liked no-
thing that put him out of his ordinary way ; and hiding his
face from danger, tried to forget that it existed.

I sat up with Leah, alone. She did not know me ; in her
delirium she complained of me, and thought I was treating
her unkindly. Once she called out for me, and said I would
not come near her. The fever increased; I expected no-
thing better ; the Hove doctor had talked of nine days before
the crisis; he was not sure, but he thought it likely, and I
summoned up my courage to bear the suspense. Such


anxieties are scarcely dependent upon affection. I did not
love Leah, but I could have willingly taken her place, and
been in her danger to save her.

Morning dawned, that freezing dreary dawn which be-
longs to the depth of winter, and Jessie stole into the room
to beg that I would go to rest. But I turned from the
thought of rest ; and when she took my place at the bedside,
I went down-stairs to give the men their Christmas break-
fast of ale and toast, the only relic of the old customs in my
mother's time.

They were respectful and sympathising in their manner, and
I felt myself among friends and was cheered ; but when I left
them, I heard their jokes go on as though nothing was amiss.
It was Christmas-day to them. It was no day to me until, as
I stood for a minute at the open window of my own room, I
heard the peal of the merry bells of Hatton church. Then
a better feeling came over me, and I knelt down and prayed
God to forgive me in whatsoever I had done amiss in my
intercourse with Leah, and to spare her, and raise her up
again to live from thenceforth to His glory.


It was not the will of God that my prayer should be
granted. Nine days afterwards, and Leah was dead. In
that short period I had lived as it seemed through years ;
for I had gazed upon death, and faced the terrors of

I cannot write about it minutely. At the time I was in
a troubled dream. Looking back, I can feel nothing but
wonder and thankfulness at the Mercy which sustained me
through the trial. For all was left to me from the begin-
ning. William was at first stunned. His wife had been in
many ways unsuited to him, she had given him many hours
of vexation, but he was used to her, and understood her ; he
had taught himself to depend upon her ; and the thought of
being left alone filled him with unspeakable dreariness. When
she was gone, he went about his daily business, but I saw


him often turn from the empty parlour, and sit down within
the wide hearth in the kitchen, and cry like a child.

People told us we had one great comfort, that after the
first everything had been done which could be ,• and it was
true. No money had been spared to give her doctors' ad-
vice, a nurse had been hired thac she might never want at-
tention, Mr. Richardson had called every day, and prayed
for her when he could not pray with her, and at the end,
when consciousness came back to her, there was the comfort
of knowing that he had done all he could to make her pre-
pare for her great change. But I could never forget the
beginning of her illness, and if she had not before the last,
said, " Good-bye, Ursie," and looked at me kindly, I think I
should have been broken-hearted.

Yet I did not dwell so much upon her, I felt I must

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 25 of 28)