Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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If William and I had in the least understood each other,
we could never have gone on as we did during the nest few
weeks. We were both veiy unhappy, but if we had ex-
plained the cause of our unhappiness we must inevitably
have quarrelled and separated. As it was, we lived lives
apart, but without disagreement. The very absence of any-
thing like real sympathy enabled us to avoid the subjects
which would have jarred, for we kept upon the surface of all
things. In my self-conceit, believing that I had more thought,
intellect, and principle, than Leah, I imagined at first that I
could eventually fill her. position, even in William's estima-
tion, for his love for his wife was by no means an overpowering
affection ; but I was soon convinced to the contrary. As there
is " a time for every purpose under the heaven," so I believe
there is also a place for every person. The great man can-
not fill the little man's position ; self-sacrifice cannot make
up for the absence of congeniality. Not that I was great,
nor that my life was one of self-sacrifice. I only used the
expressions by way of illustration. Leah's likings and dis-
likings, her pleasures and pains, even her temper and fancies,
were part of William's home associations ; and therefore ne-
cessary to him. I believe I actually fretted him by trying to
make no complaint of the servants, nor to say sharp things of
my neighbours. The watchfulness which I was striving to
acquire was stagnation to him, and I was too sad at heart to
be able to cheer him by talking much upon other subjects.
I had Jessie Lee with me whenever she could be spared, as
much for William's sake as for my own. The meals and the
evenings were so quiet and silent, I was thankful to have
some one to bring forward new subjects of conversation, and
Jessie was generally bright and amusing in her way, and
seemed glad to be with me. She was not, however, in her
usual spirits, but that could scarcely be expected, for she
was very affectionate, and felt Leah's death extremely.
"Whether there was any other cause of melancholy I could
not make out. As to StoneclifF, there was still the same


talk, week after week, of ]\Iiliccnt's going abroad, but the
journey was always put off. When a woman will follow her
own fashions, instead of those marked out for her by the
common sense of others, it is surprising what a mine of diffi-
' culties she is likely to sink into. No one without seeing
would have believed the fancies which Miss Milicent gave
way to respecting her French journey ; whims about her
boxes, her dresses, which way she was to go, how she was to
guard against the weather — it was as if she was the first
person who had ever crossed over to France. She took it
into her head to come frequently to Sandcombe, under pre-
tence of asking mo what I thought about her plans, but not
in the least meaning to listen to what I said. She took up a
good deal of my time in that way, but I did not care so much
for that. I had always a very kindly feeling towards her,
but what I did dislike was the frequent mention of Lieuten-
ant Macdonald's name in Jessie's presence. There is noth-
ing like talking of people to keep up an interest. Even if
disagreeable things are said, it helps to I'etain them in one's
recollection, and gives one a kind of interest in them ; and
Miss Milicent of course could not always be complaining of
the Lieutenant's habits and character. Most frequently she
spoke of him in reference to some information he had given
her, and then I saw Jessie colour up, and listen eagerly.
Once or twice, too, Miss Milicent had taken Jessie over to
Dene with her, because she said she liked a companion, and
this kept up the Dene intimacy ; and, moreover, at last, Mrs.
Price actually came and called upon nie, pretending she was
bound to return the visit I had paid with Miss Milicent. I
could not understand that in the least, until John Hervey
put me up to it. " Mrs. Price," he said, " is not noticed by
any of the country gentlemen's families, and, as she finds
Dene dull without company, she falls back upon her old
friends." I was not flattered by the reason, but it did not
trouble me much. I was not bound to return the visit, and
I never did.

It was March before Miss Milicent was ready to set ofi" on
her expedition. Up to that time I had only twice been at
Stonecliff, and then had not been permitted to see Mrs.
Weir. I had tried, however, to show that I thought of her,


by sending her little presents of fresli eggs and vegetables.
I hoped she had thena and knew they came from me, but Miss
Milicent always seemed in a mist as to what was done with
them, or indeed with anything which once entered the house
at Stonecliff. The second week in March, as I was in the
kitchen putting up a little basket of things to be left for ]\Irs.
Weir by Esther Smithson on her way home in the evening,
William came in from the fields looking very serious, and said
to me, " Do you know, Ursie, I have had bad news. I can't
make out whether it is quite true, but our Hatton boy «ays
that Mrs. Morris is very ill. Have you heard it ? "

" No," I replied ; " and we should have heard it certainly.
There can't be anything in it ? "

"I should think not," he answered; "but WiW declares
that his father was sent ofi" to Hove for Mr. Sutton."

" Suppose you ride over and see," I said ; " it would be
the shortest way."

William was of a perverse disposition; he never liked
having things suggested to him. " I don't know about leaving
the men," he replied ; " they always go wrong when I'm

" Well, then, wait till they come in to their dinner," I
said. " As for your own, they will give you some at

" Not if the old lady is ill," was his answer. " There will
be no one to get it."

" I could go myself, if you liked it," I observed.
He went to the window and looked out. " The clouds are
coming up very stormy away to the west ; you can't walk."

" But I could be driven," I said, " if you could spare Joe
Goodenough for the chaise."

" Just what I can't do, as it happens. I have sent Joe
Goodenough to Hove."

" Well, if it is so, we must even wait," was ray answer.
" 111 news flics apace, so if there is anything amiss, we may
be sure it will reach us before night."

" Wait and get a character for unfeelingness all round the
country," replied William. " I don't want to do that. I shall
see about it. I suppose I must try and go myself."^

He went oif to do what I was sure from the beginning ho


meaBt to do. I should have preferred going myself, for if
Mrs. Morris was ill, I was more likely than "William to be a
comfort to hei\ But what he said about walking was very
true. I should certainly be caught in a storm. The kitchen
window looked to the west, and over St. Anne's hill and the
reach of down below it the clouds wei'e like ink. There was
a driving wind, which perhaps might serve to keep the rain
oif for a time, but it was sure to fall heavily before many
hours were over. I went out after William, to beg him to
put on his great-coat, but he would not listen to me, though
he shivered as he stood talking to one of his men, and said it
was bitterly cold. I saw him set oif, and warned him to
make haste back ; the sky looked more threatening than ever,
but it tempted me to go to the top of the lane, that I might
see it gathering over the sea. I walked by the side of AVil-
liam's horse, telling him to be sure and bring back word if
Jessie was uneasy, and if I could be of any use ; and after
watching him across the down till he was out of sight, I stood
still and looked round me. It was a glorious sight from the
top of the hill. The waves were tossing furiously in the
bay ; the white breakers glittering for a moment, as the sun
j^ierced the masses of clouds, and then disappearing beneath
the heavy shadows which swept over the sea, covered the cliifs,
and rushed across the land, like demons of darkness.

From infancy it had been a delight to me to watch a
storm; even thunder and lightning excited far more than
frightened me. The spectacle of the vast Power over which
human beings had no control, raised my thoughts above earth.
It was as though I was no longer the weak, ignorant girl, of
no account even in the eyes of my fellow-creatures, but a be-
ing of a higher race, permitted to draw near and watch the
wonderful workings of Grod's Wisdom. The feeling had been
encouraged by Roger. Often, as we stood together in former
days upon St. Anne's hill, when the rough winter winds were
rushing past us, I have heard him murmur to himself the verses
in the psalms which speak of " the Lord that commandeth
the waters : " " the glorious God, that maketh the thunder."

The words came back to me now ; and as I looked at the
wild waves breaking upon the line of red shingles, I continued
them aloud : " It is the Lord that ruleth the sea ; the voice


of the Lord is mighty in operation : the voice of the Lord
is a glorious Voice."

" Is it you, Ursie Grant ? " said some one, tapping me on
the shoulder.

" Miss Milicent ! I beg your pardon ; I didn't see you."

" How should you ? I came from behind. What are you
doing here ? "

" Watching the storm," I said ; " it will soon come to

'' But not stay, I hope. I go to-morrow, Ursie."

" Not in such weather, surely ! " I exclaimed.

" Yes, Ursie ; I must be off anyhow."

" Oh ! Miss Milicent, are you right ? "

" I don't know ; I must do what I have set my mind to
do ; and what does it signify, Ursie, storm or no storm, one
shall reach the end somehow."

Her tone was so excited, that I turned to look at her
with anxiety.

" When we do what is put before us, we needn't be afraid,
I suppose," she continued ; " and if the end cuts us short, it is
God's will, and no matter whether it be by storm or fever."

" I should be glad, though, to feel that I was doing His
work," I replied ; " but that is the doubt to me very often,
Miss Milicent."

She stopped before answering. " Do you often doubt,
Ursie," she said, " really doubt?"

" Very often," I replied ; " I think at the time I am right.
When I look back I see I was wrong."

" That can't be a pleasant discovery," she replied, thought-

" No," I said ; " but it has come upon mc more fre-
quently than usual of late. Death makes us think, Miss
Milicent, whether we will or not."

" It is the end of the storm," she said, and a singular
look of awe crossed her face. " Ursie, if I were never to
come back, what should you say of me ? "

An exclamation of pain at the idea escaped me. She
stopped me short. "No matter for the thought, Ursie ; I
am not a bit nearer to it for uttering it. What should you
say of me ? "


" In -what way, Miss Milicent ? " I asked. " You have
been a good friend to me always."

"Pshaw ! " she exclaimed, impatiently. " What is being
a good friend ? I have not beaten you nor turned you out
of doors, — that's all. Would you say, Ursie, that I had
gone the right way through life ? "

" I think you wish to go, Miss Milicent, as I wish it my-

" I think you wish to go ! " she repeated. " I don't think
you have gone, that means. Ursie, you are a coward and a
humbug like other people."

" It is not my place," I began — but she would not hear

" It is your place to answer my questions, if it is my will
to put them. What does place mean, Ursie ? Look ! " and,
as a large drop of rain, the beginning of the storm, fell upon
her hand, she thrust it before me ; — " God's warnings touch
all alike; there is but one place before Him."

I was greatly touched by her earnestness. I longed to
speak to her freely, but the difficulty I felt was insurmounta-
ble. As in so many other cases she had committed herself
to a certain course of action, and now sought for approval.
I was not the person to give her sanction or to condemn her.

She waited patiently ; so patiently, indeed, Avith her
large, fierce eyes softened by an expression of suspense, that
the very consciousness of her presence took from me the
power of thinking correctly. I really could not answer her ;
I scarcely knew, indeed, what she wished or desired me to

" Miss Milicent," I replied at last, " If you really want
help in these matters, there are persons much more fitted
than I am to give it."

" I don't want help," she exclaimed ; "I want only truth.
Good-bye, Ursie. I shan't get it from you."

" Oh ! Miss Milicent ! " I exclaimed, and I took hold of
her dress as she turned from me ; but she would not be de-
tained. When she hurried away, I saw her put her shawl
over her bonnet to shelter herself from the rain, which was
beginning to fall fast, and as I turned to descend the hill, I
lost sight of her completely.



Often and often, in looking back upon that conversation,
I have blamed myself for not taking advantage of the op-
portunity afforded me of speaking freely to Miss Milicent
upon the mistakes I felt she was making. And yet, if I
could place myself again in the same position, I doubt
whether I could bring myself to act diiFercntly. What is
fitting is such a strong instinct in us all, unless we have been
spoilt by education. Miss Milicent had no right to make me
her judge and reprover ; though, if she had waited but a
few minutes longer, I think I might by degrees have felt en-
couraged to state my opinion more openly. As it was, I felt
that she would throw upon me the blame of having been too
cowardly to advise her. What had brought her to such a
state of mind now I could only guess. She was coming
from Compton ; it was probable that some conversation with
Mr. Richardson had made her angry, and yet touched her
conscience. I knew through Mrs. Kemp, that from tlie be-
ginning he had told her she was forming foolish plans by
herself. Most likely he had been making a last eifort to
bring her to reason, and wishing to find some support for her
own wilfulness, she had turned to me. I was uncomfortable
when I reached home, and thought a good deal about her as
I took my solitary dinner; but I was too busy afterwards to
dwell upon the subject, except when the wind rose higlier,
and I remembered what she had said about the next day,
and wondered whether she would still persist in her determi-
nation to go whatever might be the state of the weather.

There was one person, however, whom no press of busi-
ness could drive from my recollection. We were expecting
letters from Roger, the first that could have arrived since he
had heard of Leah's death. I did not believe they would come
that evening. They could not, unless some one brought them
out from Hove, and I knew no one had been sent in ; but the
bare possibility agitated me. As the afternoon closed in,
and the wind went down, and the rain turned first into .«

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 27 of 28)