Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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" Then William should not urge you to go," I said.

" He does not. You heard him call it a wild notion ; |j^^
thinks I can stay at Dene." *^'

" And why can't you ? We have one lot in life, Roger ;
I ought to know."


" Mr. Weir is a ruined man ; or if he is not now, he must
be before many weeks are over. John Hervey knows it, and
came to tell me of it. Does it startle you, Ursie ? " and he
put his arm round me, and drew me close to him, and kissed

" No," I answered, " it does not startle me ; nothing that
I could hear of Mr. Weir would. But his wife — Miss Mili-
cent," — my heart was full, I could not say more ; and John
Hervey's story and my own words came to my mind re-

" It's bitter enough for them," he said ; " but we must
think of ourselves, Ursie ; or, at least, I am bound to think
of you."

" And we can't help them ? " I said.

" Not without doing ourselves harm, so far as I can see
now. At least, I can't."

" But I can, and that is what Mr. Harvey meant," I
said, " when he talked to me."

" John Hervey is against your going with me," was his
answer. " Whatever he may have said about Mrs. Weir is
only second in his thoughts; his fii'st notion is that you
are safer in England, at least for a while. William and
Leah, — they all think so.'*

" And Roger thinks what ? " I said ; and I leaned my
hand upon his shoulder, and partly raised myself, that I
might look into his face, and see clearly what he meant.

" Roger is a fool ! " he said, in a husky voice. " Ursie,
I can't live alone."

All the love which had been lying deep in my heart for
years seemed, at that moment, to gather itself up into one
overwhelming torrent. " Let the whole world be against me,
and I will go ! " I exclaimed : " God made us brother and
sister ; He taught us to love one another, and it can't be His
will that we should part."

He pressed me to him more closely, but he did not

" Is it not true ? " I continued eagerly. " Have you any-
thing to say against it ? If God has joined us together, why
are we to be put asunder ? "

" That is said of husband and wife, not of brother and
sister," he replied.


"And if I were your wife, you would take me with


9 »

" I should feel it my duty," was the answer.

It was my turn then to be silent; neither of us, indeed,
spoke for some seconds. At last I said, bitterly, " A wife
couldn't love you better that I do, Roger ! "

" May be not," he replied. The words must have struck
him as cold, for he added, " You love me a thousand times
more than I deserve, Ursie, but that is no reason why I am
to take advantage of you to lead you into hardships."

" I shall walk iuto them with my eyes open," I replied,
" I am not a girl now, I am a woman ; I know what I can
bear — everything, Roger, except that you shouldn't love me."

" Then you have little enough to fear in life," he said ;
" but, Ursie, it won't do to think only of our love. There is
a safer rule, though not such a pleasant one, — what we can

" I shall be no expense to you," I replied ; " and every
one knows how useful a woman is in a new country."

" Yes, in some ways ; but it is all an experiment. If I
take you, I must pay your passage, and fit you out, and all
our travelling will be doubled, and I must be more careful
as to lodging. If I go by myself, I may find a shelter any-
where, I shall not care where I am ; but if I have you with
me, I shall never bear that you should want comforts ; and
then, if the scheme should fail, there will be the expense of
coming back again."

" Then why go at all, if it is to fail? " I said, rather per-

" Because it's the best opening a man in my circum-
stances can have."

" And if you were married, you would still go, and take
your wife ? "

," Even so ; a family man has a much better chance in a
new country than an old one."

" But you are not married, and you have no family."

" No reason why I mayn't be married some day, you
know, Trot," and he laughed.

" No reason," I answered quietly ; but it seemed that a
dagger went through my heart.


I don't know whether Roger suspected it, but he went
on : " There is no good in looking on into the future, Trot ;
we have lived very happily hitherto, and, please God, we will
be happy yet. My wife's wedding clothes are not made, nor
likely to be ; and, in the meantime, there is nothing I want
but Ursie : and if all goes well, by this time twelvemonth
I may be writing to you from over the sea, asking you to come
to me ; and then I don't think you will say no. And you
know," he added, " that a wife, if I had one, couldn't take up
so much room but what there would always be a corner for

He was a man ; he did not know a woman's heart, and he
thought he had comforted me by those words.

" Then it is settled ; you are going," I answered ; I could
not bring myself to say thank you for what he had been oflfer-
ing me.

" Not at all settled," he replied ; " it depends partly upon
William, and getting the money together. You know now
a good deal is laid out upon his farm, and I don't want to
put him to inconvenience. That is one reason why I said
nothing to you ; I felt the plan might never come to anything ;
and there was no use in troubling you before the time."

" You would not have treated your wife so," I said, re-
proachfully. He was very quick at catching any change in
my voice.

" Oh, Ursie ! — jealous ! " He laughed, and patted me on tho
back, as though I had been a child.

My pride was touched ; and I drew back from him. " I
only wish," I said, " to have common trust placed in me. If
I am worth anything, Roger, I am worth that ; and I have
never kept back a thought from you."

" Nor I from you, Ursie," he answered, gravely. " It
shouldn't have been so now if I had guessed for a moment
that you would take it to heart. As to a wife, the notion is
too silly to talk about. Twenty wives wouldn't do for me
what my little Trot has done." And then he gave me what
I used to call one of his bear's hugs, and I prayed him to be
merciful ; and said, laughing, yet being more inclined to cry,
that I wouldn't wish him a worse punishment than one wife ;
for he did not know the least about women's ways, and he had
been quite spoilt.


" True, perhaps, Ursie," he said, thoughtfully ; and I felt
comforted, though not happy.

We stood together for some minutes afterwards, watching
the glimmering of the moonlight which was just beginning to
mark a path upon the sea. I think we were both glad to for-
get for a while that there was anything else to be thought
about. The light streamed doubtfully at first, seeming to
catch only the crests of the waves ; and then a cloud passed,
and it was quite hidden, and a deep shadow rested upon the
water ; from which, after a few minutes, broke forth at inter-
vals glittering lines and bright islands of pale glory, till at
length once more the moon rose high and clear ; and the broad
sparkling pathway was traced in one unbroken flood of silvery
light across the ocean.

" Do you see it, Ursie ? " said Roger ; and he pointed to
a tiny vessel making its way across the Ocean. " How
lonely it looks ! "

" Not lonely," I said ; " there is another following it.
Now they are coming into the light ; they are close together."
I heard Roger sigh.

" They are going in the same direction," I added ; " they
must be bound for the same port. If storms come they will
help each other. You would not part them, Roger ? "

" It is growing very late, Ursie, we must be going," was
his only answer. We left the shelter of the ruined Oratory ;
and as the cold breeze was felt on the open hill, Roger said
earnestly, " I shouldn't feel the chill, Ursie, if you were not
here to share it. It may be better to be lonely after all."


I WAS awakened next morning by a loud knocking at the
cottage door. It must have been about half-past five o'clock,
for I was very sound asleep, and I always woke by myself
before six. I waited to hear if Roger would move, and not
hearing him, I supposed he must have dressed and gone out
before, and as quickly as I could I went down-stairs myself,
thinking that most likely it was Fanny come over from the
house for something she wanted.


When I opened the door I saw not Fanny but Miss Mili-
cent. "Why didn't you come, Ursie," she said; " I have
been knocking till I was tired. You are wanted ; my
mother has had a bad night, and says she must see you di-
rectly. It is too bad for a girl like you to lie in bed so
long." Miss Milicent, I suppose, thought that because I
worked harder I needed less sleep than she did. I could see
she was like myself, only just out of bed, for she had wrapped
a loose kind of man's great coat round her, the sleeves hang-
ing down helplessly on each side; and some locks of verj
dishevelled black hair escaped from under her garden-bonnet.
I had learned to answer her, I am afraid, a little in her own
tone ; so I said, " Does Mrs. Weir want me before I am
dressed. Miss Milicent ? "

" She wants you at once ; I have been up with her half
the night. Why weren't you at home last evening ? she
wanted you then."

" T had business at Sandeombe," T said ; " I am sorry
Mrs. Weir wanted me last night, but I will be over as soon
as I can be now."

'• And I shall wait for you," said Miss Milicent ; " but
mind what you say to her, Ursie ; she can't bear to be con-
tradicted ; you mustn't put her out, or she will be worse."

Miss Milicent made her way into the parlour, and I went
up-stairs again to dress as quickly as I could. It was not
very unusual for me to be called in this way, though it was
seldom quite so early. They all knew I was an early riser,
and Mrs. Weir every now and then sent for me the first
thing to do something for her which she could not trust to
her daughter. I must confess that she was at times a little
given to whimsies. But Miss Milicent's manner gave me an
idea of something more than ordinary, and my conversation
with John Hervey had frightened me about what was com-
ing upon the family. I could not dress half as quickly as I
wished, my hands shook so, and Miss Milicent called to me
twice before I was ready. I would not go, however, without
my prayers ; they were a little shorter than usual, but they
comforted me with the feeling that I had trusted myself and
others to God's guidance for whatever might be coming
upon us.

Vol. 1—5


" I have been looking at your furniture, Ursie," said Miss
Milicent, when I came down-stairs again. " Your room is
crowded; that sofa would be much better round by the

" Thank you, Miss Milicent, but it does very well where
it is ; it is never used ; and Roger and I like to sit close to
the fire ourselves when it is cold."

" If it's no use, why don't you get rid of it ? you might
sell it for as much as four pounds, and the money would be
useful to you in many ways."

" I dare say it would," I answered, " but Roger and I
like the sofa; it was my mother's."

I felt sorry when I had said the words. I always was
sorry in those days, when I let out anything of feeling before
Miss Milicent. I opened the door for her to go out, and she
went on before me, not taking any heed to my observation.
Before she reached the house she turned round and said, " If
ever you want to part with the sofa, I think Mrs. Richard-
son would be likely to buy it of you ; she wants one."

I do believe Miss Milicent meant it kindly, but it was
beyond my patience to bear, or rather it would have been, if
I had not made it part of my prayer to be able to put up
with her. I answered, " Thank you," very shortly, and kept
at a distance from her, that she might not have the opportu-
ty of saying anything more. We went up-stairs to the
lobby, and there something seemed to strike Miss Milicent,
and she beckoned me to come to her into the peacock room.

There were the birds roosting on the trelliswork ! Lit-
tle they knew of the cares of life, and much I was inclined
to envy them.

" I suppose, Ursie, it may be as well to tell you one
thing," said Miss Milicent, throwing open the window and
sitting down by it ; for the room had been shut up some
days. " My mother has had some uncomfortable news, and
she may talk to you about it. But you are not to encourage
her. It is nothing in which you or any one else can do any
good. Just try to draw away her thoughts, and if she wants
you to read a chapter in the Bible or so, I suppose you can
stay for it."

I answered that I would willingly do what I could. I


had Roger's breakfast to get ready, and the kitchen-fire was
not lighted, but I would remain to be a comfort to Mrs. Weir
as long as was possible.

" Fanny can go over and light the fire," said Miss Mili-
cent, " and she can get your brother's breakfast, too."

" Thank you," I replied, " but that would not quite suit
Roger, I am afraid; I must go myself, if I can."

Miss Milicent sat considering, which was not at all com-
mon with her. Presently she said, " You are very much
given to your own ways, Ursie Grant. It strikes me you
might as well take a little thought for others. My mother
has been vei-y kind to you."

" Very indeed," I said ; " I wish always to show my
gratitude ; I will do all I can for Mrs. Weir, but I am afraid
I can't put aside Roger."

" It is not wise of you, Ursie. Some day he will put you
aside when you aren't thinking of it."

" I am willing to wait till the day comes," I replied ;
" but we are wasting time, now, Miss Milicent."

Strange to say, that was a fact she needed often to be
reminded of. Busy though she was from morning till night,
she frittered away more time than any person I ever met

She stopped again in her persevering way, just as we
came to Mrs. Weir's door, and said : " You know that when
Roger Grant marries, you will be obliged to leave him."

" Yes," I said, very coolly ; but if she had given me a
blow, I could not have felt the proud colour rush to my cheek
more quickly.

I opened the door of Mrs. Weir's room, and held it for
Miss Milicent to pass, and in she went like a rush of wind,
straight up to her mother's bed, and drew aside the curtain,
without a word of preparation.

That was going against one of Mrs. Weir's peculiar
fancies. She never liked to be looked at in bed, unless she
was dressed for it, and had on her pretty white muslin dress-
ing-gown, trimmed with lace, and her best cap. " I have
been over to Ursie Grant, mother, and she is come — here she
is." Miss Milicent pulled aside the curtain still farther.

" That will do, Milicent. The light troubles me." Mrs.


Weir's voice was very weak, and she drew the coverlid over
her face.

" It's only because you keep the room so dark always,
mother," replied Mis Milicent. " If you would leave off
having the shutters closed at night, you wouldn't be so
fidgety. Ursie can't see to read, nor to do anything in this
owl's light."

" I wish to talk a little to Ursula, alone, Milicent. I
beg you to leave us. Is Ursula there ? "

I drew near, and as I did so, managed to draw the
curtain so as partly to hide Mrs. Weir, and make her feel
that I was not looking at her. Miss Milicent flustered
about the room (it is the only word I know to express what
I mean), putting the chairs straight, and moving things from
the dressing-table.

" I wish to be quiet, Milicent. I should like those things
to be left," said Mrs. Weir, plaintively.

" You can't see, mother ; you went to bed in such a hurry
last night, that Cotton had no time to put anything away."

Mrs. Weir resigned herself to her fate, and let her head
fall back on the pillow.

" I will see to it all. Miss Milicent," I said, going up to
her, " if you will just kindly leave it. Else I may be obliged
to go back to Roger before Mrs. Weir has had time to talk
to me."

" Well, yes ! I settled that Fanny should go over and
light the fire. I shall call her and tell her so."

A most happy thought ! It took Miss Milicent away,
and she departed, slamming the door so violently, that I
observed poor Mrs. Weir put her hand to her head, showing
that the noise gave her pain. We heard Miss Milicent about
the house for at least ten minutes afterwards, up-stairs and
down-stairs, ordering one and another. No matter whom
she had to meet, there was the great coat, with its helpless
hanging sleeves, and the garden-bonnet to cover her.

Mrs. Weir waited for some seconds to assure herself that
the room was free from Miss Milicent's presence, after which,
she said, " Now, Ursula, if you please, sit down ; " and I placed
a chair just behind the curtain, and sat down. " Thank you
for coming," she continued. " I should have preferred not


sending to you till after I had had my breakfast, but Milicent
desired it."

" Miss Milicent thought I should be able to do some-
thing for you, Ma'am," I said, " and I should be very glad if
I could."

" You are very good, Ursula. I feel it. Will you
kindly look for my other cap, and the little light shawl in
the left-hand drawer ; you know which I mean ; and, perhaps,
if it would not trouble you, you would just give me my hand-
glass, and draw aside the window-curtain a little, a very
little. Milicent would open the shutters quite, though I
begged her not."

These were very common little duties, I had often per-
formed them before, for Mrs. Weir was very thoughtful about
her maid, and whenever she kept her up at night, took care
that she should have time to rest in the morning. I gave
her the glass, and the cap, and poured some water into a
very pretty china basin, with a pattern of green leaves and
acorns round it, and handed her the sweet-smelling soap, and
the soft-fringed towel, feeling all the time as if I was waiting
upon a child, or even something more tender and delicate —
something which would be likely to break if one touched it ;
her little hands and arms were so thin and white, and her
fingers so taper. She had but few grey hairs, and her com-
plexion was still very transparent. I don't think she
showed her age at all, except in the marks beneath her eyes.

" Now, my Eau de Cologne, if you please, Ursula ; and I
should like the little table to be brought nearer, and will
you put the flowers so that I may look at them ? and the
purple morocco Testament. I thank you ; that is quite
right; no one ever does just what. I wish as you do."

No one except Miss Milicent had known Mrs. Weir's
ways as long as I, and it had taken me a good while to learn
them. As for Miss Milicent, it was a matter of continued
surprise to me, that she and her mother had not separated
years before.

" I should like you to read to me, Ursula, but I am afraid
to take up your time ; perhaps I had better talk to you

" If you please, Ma'am," I said. And now that Mrs.


Weir was in a measure dressed, I ventured to place my chair
so that I might see her more plainly.

I noticed, then, that her eyes were heavy, and her eyelids
red, showing that she had been crying, but she was trying to
look happy. She was able to control herself wonderfully.
I thought that, perhaps, if anything painful was to be said,
it might be as well to let her prepare herself for it, so I
offered to read the second morning lesson for the day. I
knew that would soothe and give her strength more than
anything I could suggest.

She listened with great reverence and attention, as was
her wont, and when I had ended she said, " Thank you, Ur-
sula, it has done me good. Whatever there is to bear, it
will not be for long, and there is a bright hope beyond."

Then she paused, and the faint spot of colour in her cheek
went and came, as it might have done in the face of a young

" You have heard bad news, Ma'am, I am afraid," I
said, for I felt I must help her in spite of Miss Milicent's

I was standing by the bed close to her. Poor Lady !
she caught my hand, and looked piteously in my face, and
then she leaned her head on my shoulder and cried like a
child. And through her sobs came the words, " Ursula, my
husband is gone, and we are ruined."

" Dear Ma'am, I heard something of it," I said, " but it
may not be so bad as you think."

She drew herself away from me, and a flash shot from her
eye. " They talk of us, then, — they pity us. But why
should they not, Ursula ? " and her voice was tremulous
again. " We are all weak — weak — only mortals ! "

" Roger had heard something, and Mr. Hervey, too," I
replied, " but I don't fancy. Ma'am, the news is commonly

" It concerns Mr. Grant, Ursula," continued Mrs. Weir,
her voice and manner becoming calmer. " Milicent says he
must go away from Dene, and you also. She tells me we
must live in a little cottage, and not keep any servant. I
don't think I could live long if Milicent waited on me, but
I must try ; we must all try to do what God orders. Only,
Ursula, you will come and see me sometimes ? "


I meant not to be silly, and I used to think that I could
always keep my tears in, but I broke down entirely then.

" Milicent told me last night all we should have to do,"
pursued Mrs. Weir. " When I could not go to sleep, she
talked to me about it. I dare say it was right to look at the
worst, and Milicent says she shall not care for having every-
thing to arrange ; but I think, Ursula, I might have slept
better if I had been left quiet."

" Miss Milicent is strong," I said ; " she does not under-
stand what you require, Ma'am."

" Perhaps not, I know she said only what was true ; but,
Ursula, I should not vex myself with my own trials so much,
if I knew more about my husband. Perhaps he is gone
abroad ; I ought to follow him. I ought to try and make
him happier."

"I don't think you need trouble yourself about Mr.
Weir, Ma'am," I began angrily ; but she laid her hand upon
my arm.

" I made a vow once, Ursula, to love, and honour, and
obey him. You have never made such a vow. You cannot
understand it. But it must be kept. Do you think Mr.
Grant or Mr. Hervey would endeavour to find out where my
husband is? I might join him then. I think I would
rather do so than live in the little cottage with Milicent."

I could T.ell understand that. Great self-sacrifice is
always more easy than patient endurance. " You are not fit
to go to him. Ma'am," I said, " if he is out of England.
You would not be able to bear the hardships of travelling."

" We should travel till we found him," said Mrs. Weir.
" Then we might take a house in some place where we were
not known."

I felt whilst she spoke so easily of what might be done,
how little she could know what ruin meant, and I was aware
that I had but a slight notion of it myself. I could not
picture Mrs. Weir living in any place without every comfort
about her.

She continued, " I thought perhaps, Ursula, that you
would come with us at first, if your brother would spare you ;
I told Milicent that I would ask you, but she laughed at the


" Miss Milicent knows how many things I have to keep
me at home, I am afraid, Ma'am," was my reply. It grieved
me to say this, but she talked so like a child, fancying
everything which she wished might be managed, that I saw
it was necessary to show her the difficulties in her way. I
could understand now why Miss Milicent had urged me to
divert her mind instead of encouraging her to dwell upon her
troubles. She looked very cast down, more I thought be-
cause I was so cold, than because I did not say yes ; so I
added, " Indeed, Ma'am, you must not think but that I would
do everything for you I could, though it would be wrong to
make any promise without consulting Roger, because he has
plans of his own."

" You are very kind, Ursula. I don't want to be selfish.
I told Milicent so. She thinks that we ought to stay in
England. But Mr. Weir is my husband, I must not leave
him. I should like to talk to Mr. Richardson about it. Do
you think he would come to me ? I shall pray to God, and
He will direct me."

She was very nervous and agitated, and her voice shook
painfully, though the words still followed each other slowly
and formally in the quaint fashion which was common with
her. I could do nothing for her myself, and the proposal of
sending for Mr. Richardson took quite a weight from my

She caught my hand as she supposed I was going away,
and held it firmly. " You will pi'ay for me, Ursula. I want
to do my duty, and I think you will help me, and God will

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