Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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I had always been accustomed to tell him every trouble as it
arose; and I had no doubt of his taking part in this, for he
never failed to mention Jessie in his letters, and to beg that I
would remember him to her. Poor fellow! before Christmas
came, he was beginning to be very homesick, for troubles had
come upon the gentleman he was with, and so in a measure
upon him. Yet he wrote cheerfully, and seemed quite resolved


to be brave and bear the hardships well, and in time he said
there was no doubt that things would be brighter. At any rate,
he might work independently whenever he chose. I tried not
to see that he said less about having me with him. The possible
idea of remaining away from him longer than a year was so
dreadful, that I would not face it. I bore the worries of Sand-
combe well enough in the hope of a speedy end, but I did not
know what I should do if there was any prospect of their being
a lasting burden. Taken separately, indeed, they were but trifles,
but put together they were sometimes very heavy.

Busy times were the pleasantest. Leah was in good humour
whenever she was roused to be very active ; and one of the most
peaceful seasons I ever remember whilst I was with her, was in
November, when the whole house was at work for two days,
salting meat and melting lard. It was all to be done at once,
so there was no leisure for grumbling ; and as it happened,
Esther Smithson made herself remarkably useful, and was in
consequence hired for extra work in the afternoon ; and Leah
even said to me that she thought I must have taken pains with
her, for she was turning out a very handy girl. This pleased
me, I own, for certainly I did take a good deal of pains with
Esther in one way and another ; and though she had some
faults which it was very difficult to overcome, I could see that
at any rate she had not gone back since she worked at Sand-

My time and thoughts were occupied more and more every
day with Sandcombe, and I dare say it was right that it should
have been so, but there was a place in my heart still, which was
filled with remembrances of Dene and care for Mrs Weir. How
soon portions of one's life become like a dream to one ! I was
living scarcely more than a mile and a half from Mrs Weir, I
heard her name constantly, there were opportunities for going
over to see her tolerably often, yet by the time Christmas arrived
I felt quite removed from her. The days when I used to be
allowed to go and sit with her, and read to her, and nurse and
c mfort, and be useful to her, seemed like the days of my child-
hood, calm and bright, happy with an untold happiness, but too
indistinct to give me the feeling that they had once formed part
of my own existence.

Yet nothing had occurred outwardly to alter Mrs Weir's
kindly feelings towards me, and I could not with truth say that
they were altered ; but she was living with Mrs Temple at


StoneclilY, and this put mc always on my guard when I was
with her, lest what I said should be repeated, and then taken

up and turned against me, I was not so open, therefore, as I
used to be, and no doubt Mrs Weir found it more difficult to
talk to me. There was a kind of floating mist between us, and
though I loved and honoured her too much ever really to alter
in my feelings towards her, yet I confess it now vexed me to
know that 1 was at Mrs Temple's mercy; and every now and
then I could not help perceiving symptoms of distrust which
went to my heart.

But there was one person who, I must say, never chai
11. r showed the slightest symptom of change. Miss Milii
I I had lived together rather in the cat-and-dog style at
ne ; but we liked c;;ch other at heart, and now that we were
no longer in danger of mutual interference, I think we began to
see more clearly our respective good points.

One thing I certainly did wonder at very much. I used to
imagine Miss Miliccnt such a determined person ; one whom it
was impossible to lead, who would go her own way, and that
often a very strange way. But 1 begin to think that people who
self-willed and troublesome in temper, are often as tired of
their own humours and oddities as their friends can be ; and as
willing, but lor their pride, to give way, if they meet with a will
stronger than their own.

The day before Christmas-eve I was asked over to Longside.
Mrs Kemp wished me to go the next evening, but there were
sons against it ; one which concerned only myself. I wished
to have a quiet time before Christmas-day. Mr Richardson 1

riven some cautions and directions about preparing for
Christmas, which I was desirous, if possible, to attend to, for I
was beginning to be more careful not to neglect advice upon
these points. Being so much alone tended to make mc thought-
ful. I always made a point of telling Leah what I meant to
in the way of going for a walk, or drinking tea with a friend ; it
was due to her, though she had no absolute control over m. ;
but it was a sore trial sometimes ; she had such a provoking way
of suggesting difficulties. 1 often felt, when I had gained my
point, as though I had been struggling through a furze bush,
and was pricked all over.

'Going to Longside!' she exclaimed, that day after dinner,
when I happened to mention Mrs Kemp's invitation. 'Why,
i '11 be frozen ! There must be snow before long.'


' Not much appearance of it at present,' I said ; ' the sky is

' And you can't set off till late, for I have kept Esther here to
help this afternoon.'

' I don't quite see why that should prevent me,' I replied.

' Only that you know she always gets into a scrape, if you
are not by to look after her. She and Martha never hit it off

' I am afraid they must learn to do so,' I said. ' I can
scarcely undertake to be Esther's guardian all day.'

' Martha trusted her to wash the milk-buckets, and clean the
pans, last time she stayed,' continued Leah, 'and she did it
disgracefully. I shall be obliged to see to it myself next.'

' I will give her a caution if you think it necessary,' I replied ;
'but perhaps it would come better from you, as you are the
mistress. I did not know, though, that it would be necessary to
keep her, as there is not so very much to do.'

' Really, Ursie, you are enough to try the temper of a saint,'
exclaimed Leah. ' Not much to do ! with all the dairy-work and
the poultry, and tea, and supper, and the day after to-morrow
Christmas-day ! '

I tried not to smile, as I answered, ' I did not think of putting
you to inconvenience ; my work, as you know, does not interfere
much with yours in the afternoon.'

' No, indeed, it doesn't ! ' exclaimed Leah ; ' you sit in the
parlour with your needle till you have not the least idea of what
is going on in the house. If you were mistress, as I am, you
would soon see that it does not do to go gadding about the
country whenever the fancy seizes one. Esther is not to be
trusted with the dairy-work at all,' she added, in an under-tone.

' Well, then ! let Martha undertake to scour the pans,' I said,
' and Esther can do something else.'

'Martha has her hands full,' replied Leah.

'If you like,' I said, 'I can have an eye to the milk-buckets
and the pans before I go. There is no difficulty in the matter,
except Esther's carelessness.'

' I don't know what difficulty you would have greater,' ob-
served Leah ; ' and it is nonsense of you, Ursie, to talk of
waiting to look after her ; why, you wouldn't be off before dark ;
and how are you to come back again ? You can't think of
bringing Farmer Kemp out at night to walk such a distance,
and I am sure you ought not to come alone.'


' Mary said her father would not at all mind the walk,' 1
replied ; 'and it" it should be a bad night, he would drive me

h made no reply, but just as she was going out of the
room she turned round, and said, 'I wish you just to rememl
Ursie, that if there are complaints about the milk and butter, it
won't be my fault.'

I could have found it in my heart at the moment to give up
ray visit, anything seemed better than to have to bear these
t. units, but I knew that I should gain nothing by yielding. Leah
would only have called me perverse, and determined to make
myself a martyr. I resolved, though, that she should have no
real cause for complaint, and therefore I went to Esther, and
took her myself into the dairy to show her exactly what she was
to do, telling her especially that she was to give herself plenty of
time, so as to have the pans quite ready for the new milk when
it should be brought in. There really was nothing else of any
consequence to be attended to, for as to the preparations for
Christmas-day, 1 had been busy with them all the morning, and
William was not so bountiful to his people as to require much to
be done for them.


LEAH kept out of my way, and did not say good-bye to me.
-* I went off with a mixed feeling,— a light heart from the
prospect of my holiday, but a heavy one from the thought of the

nstant fret of temper which I was to bear, — no one could say
how long. The light-hearted ncss, however, won the day by the
time I had reached the top of the Down, and could look over
the sea, with the white waves curling and tossing as they rushed
in upon the shore. I stood for a few moments to enjoy the

ht, and then finding I had more time than I expected, I took
it into my head to go to the summit of St Anne's Hill, and stand
by the ruined oratory, as I had done on that evening when
i i first told me that we might be parted. I went up so
(|iiickly that I was quite out of breath, and when I reached the
tower, I rested against the wall to recover myself. I did not
know that any one was near till I heard a little cough, and when
I looked round the corner I saw Jessie Lee.


Like myself, she was leaning against the tower with an open
letter in her hand, which she was trying to read ; but the wind
caught it every instant, so that she could scarcely manage it.
' You had better come round this side, and not face the wind in
that way, Jessie,' I said, gently, not wishing to startle her.

But she did start, and stand up, and the colour came to her
cheeks and mounted up todrer forehead, while she crumpled up
the letter in her hand, and tried to hide it.

' I didn't mean to frighten you,' I said ; ' but I was going to
Longside, when the fancy took me to run up here for a few
minutes and look round. The air on St Anne's always does
one good.'

'Yes, it is very fresh. I didn't know you were going to
Longside. I think I must say good-bye;' and Jessie moved

But I called after her. ' Don't run off in such a hurry,' I
said, as she came back ; 'it is not often that we meet now,
Jessie ; you are always gay or busy.'

' Sometimes ; I am not busy now,' she answered, stopping

'Only gay?' I said.

The words seemed to strike her like a mockery ; she turned
round upon me quite* sharply. 'You didn't use to be fond of
sneering, Ursie.'

' I never meant to sneer, Jessie,' I replied ; ' I only repeat what
others say.'

'And I thought you knew better than to believe the world's
talk,' she answered. ' No one can call Hatton a gay place.'

' Not Hatton but Dene,' I said. 'You must own, Jessie, that
Captain and Mrs Price keep open house.'

' It is their concern, not mine,' she answered ; ' why should
people talk about me ? '

She spoke hastily ; but I suspect she was not entirely vexed
that people should talk of her, in whatever way it might be.'

' We must live in the desert, if we mean not to be talked about
in this world,' I said ; ' and even then I suppose people would be
troubling themselves to gueas why we went there.'

'And that is why I wonder you take any heed to what you
hear about me, Ursie,' continued Jessie ; ' you know so well how
foolish it all is.'

'I am not quite so sure of that,' I said, gravely. 'I don't
think, Jessie, that any girl's name is ever mentioned lightly,



unless she herself 1ms given cause for it ; at least, that is what
Mrs Kemp has often .said to me, and Roger used to tell me the

Jessie stood with one foot forward, wishing, I could see, to
run away from mc, but at the mention of Roger's name she drew
it bnck, and her fingers seemed to grasp more firmly the letter
which she held.

' Roger wasn't well when you last heard from him, was lie?'
she said in a careless tone.

' Not very ; the cold tries him. I must go out to him as soon
as I can to take care of him.'

1 lie will want that,' she said.

^ ; he takes very little thought lor himself.'

1 But he likes Canada?' continued Jessie.

' Yes, in a way ; it will never be like England to him ; he
cares so much for his old friends.'

Jessie looked up thoughtfully. 'You tell him all the gossip
about them, I suppose, Ursie.'

' I tell him what I hear ; sometimes truth, sometimes gossip,
just as it may happen.'

' And he believes it, of course ? '

' He believes what I tell him is true.'

'And if people say ill-natured things about me, he takes them
for fact then,' said Jessie.

' He takes for fact what I say is fact,' I replied ; ' that Jessie
Lee is too much at Dene for her happiness or for her good

' My good name ! ' she exclaimed ; and her eyes, usually so
sweet and soft in their expression, flashed like lightning. ' 1 tell
you what you may say to him, which will put a stop to any
remarks upon my good name or my bad.'

She waited a moment, — began to speak, stopped, and at length
exclaimed, 'Jessie Lee is going to be married;' and, scci
I suppose, that I looked rather incredulous, she thrust her letter
into my hand, saying, impatiently,' Read it ; read it.'

I turned away from the wind, and opened the letter; Jessie
watched me intently.

The handwritin difficult to decipher ; she thought I had

reached the conclusion before I had made out the meaning of
the first four lines.

'Well!' she said, 'it's all true, — plain; no mistake, Ursie.'
Still 1 read on ; when at length I came to the concluding words,


I folded up the paper again, and gave it to Jessie without

' You see,' she said, ' it is an offer.'

' Yes ! an offer.'

'And a very proper one. I shall be the wife of Lieutenant
Macdonald, of the Marines. Roger will have nothing to say
against that,'

The tone of her voice was strange ; there was more pique
than pleasure in it. I thought I would try an experiment with

' No, Jessie,' I said, ' you will not be Mrs Macdonald.'

' Why not ? Who is to hinder me ?

' Yourself. You don't know anything about Lieutenant Mac-
donald that is good, and what is more, you don't care for him.'

' As for caring, he is very polite ; you can't find fault with his

'Yes, I can,' I said. 'It is the letter of a man who has not
a particle of respect for you, and thinks he has nothing to do
but to flatter you ; and, Jessie, you know as well as I do, that
Lieutenant Macdonald's habits would make any woman miser-
able. Who would marry a drunkard ? '

' You may just tell Roger that it is going to be,' she said,
laughing. ' It will be a fine subject for your next letter.'

I was provoked more than frightened. With all her folly, I
believed that Jessie had too much real respect for goodness, thus
deliberately to throw herself away ; but then her vanity, — it was
such a fearful stumbling-block. I could not let her leave me in
this wild mood.

' Jessie,' I said, and I caught hold of her dress, and made her
listen to me. ' You were always fond of teasing, but this goes
rather beyond what one can bear. You can't mean really to say
"Yes" to this man ; but you will do a very wrong thing if you
don't at once say " No."'

' I don't know why I should,' she replied. ' You see, he says
that if I cannot at once like him, he will be content to wait for
what time may do.'

'And for what purpose?' I inquired. 'Do you think he is
going to reform for the love of you ?'

' He may,' said Jessie. ' Men do reform sometimes.'

' But women are worse than mad who marry upon the chance
of reformation,' I said. ' Jessie, even if you cared for him, there
is not one of your friends who would consent to the marriage.'

2 :8 URSULA.

i I don't want consent,' she replied, 'at least, not yet ; there is

no hurry.'

'Indeed, Jessie,' I exclaimed, 'you are mistaken. There
is no baiting between yes and no in a case like this. If you
don't mean to marry him, you have no business to keep him
hanging on.'

' 1 don't say that I shall not marry him, 1 she replied.

'Well, then, you will talk to Mrs Morris, and Leah, and your
friends, and if they approve, you will say "Yes."'

'Perhaps "Yes," perhaps "No." I can't answer for what I
may do.'

She provoked me so that I jumped up, and spoke, I am afraid,
hastily: 'Jessie,' I said, 'this is wicked trifling. People talk
lightly of love and marriage, but they are very serious matters,
and we shall have to answer before God for the way in which
we manage them. If Lieutenant Macdonald was a man whom
you could respect, I could understand your hesitation. But he
is a drunkard ; his character is notorious. You know you have
told me about him many times.'

'He says he is very fond of me,' said Jessie ; and there was
more real feeling in her tone than I could have imagined possible
in connection with such a man.

I saw at once what was working in her mind. 'Jessie,' I saiel,
gravely, 'what is the love of a bad man worth ?'

'Nothing, nothing; only, Ursic, it is very pleasant to be

All the flippancy and pervcrsencss of her manner had vanished,
and she leaned her head upon my shoulder and cried bitterly. I
lit of Longsidc, and felt I should be late, but what could
I ? ' Dear Jessie,' I said, 'it is very pleasant to be 1
there is no doubt of that, it is what we all long for. But love
alone won't make you happy, and, what is more, such love as
this won't last. Lieutenant Macdonald may possibly think he
cares for you much, but I am quite sure that he cares for himself
. He won't give up his wine and his bad companions to
I se you.'

' Perhaps he will, if I ask him,' persisted Jessie.

' But you have no right to ask him, unless you mean to do
something for him in return ; unless you have made up your
mind to marry him, and that, you know, you have not. And. at
all events, one thing is clear ; you are bound to be open with Mrs
Morris in the matter, and to do nothing without consulting her.'


Jessie stood twisting the letter into various shapes. Presently
she said, rather bitterly, ' You are not lonely as I am, Ursie.'

' Not quite, I have Roger ; but he is away.'

' That is nothing ; he thinks of you more than of any one else ;
he loves you best.'

Why was it that a creeping misgiving seemed to glide through
my veins, and chill my answer ? I merely said, 'Yes, I suppose
he does.'

' Suppose ! you know it, you are sure of it,' exclaimed Jessie
eagerly. ' If I had a love like Roger's Ursie, I could go through
the world without a wish. I would work, slave, bear torture,
anything to be loved first — best.'

' But not by Lieutenant Macdonald,' I said. 'A drunkard !
O Jessie, think ! ' and I myself shuddered unconsciously at the

She put her arm within mine without saying another word,
and we moved away from the tower. Then she stopped, and
said, 'Which way are you going, Ursie ?'

' Over the hill, to Longside. I ought to have been there half
an hour ago.'

' We can walk together, then, and you can go through Dene ;
no one will notice.'

' Not together,' I replied, 'if you are bound for Hatton.'

' I must go to Dene first,' she answered with some hesitation ;
'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 with 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

2 3 o URSULA.

knew what sht said. When we readied the foot of the hill, I
again urged her returning to Hatton. As to going through Dene
elf, 1 did not like the idea, for my acquaintance with Mrs
Price had dropped since her marriage, 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, and she fancied every one else
must be the same.

We went on in the direction of Dene, neither of us having
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
1 i.itton, 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
( 1" loose greatcoat and a close beaver bonnet, 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 cau-
tious, 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 f< r
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 alone.'

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

' I am not quite sure; perhaps to Dene?'

1 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 si with herself. She was almost determined to go back


to Hatton. If we had but been alone, I should have persuaded

' 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, leading 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 busi-
ness, and you can let Mrs Price understand this.'

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

' Ui^ie 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 replied.
'She is too fine a lady for me, Miss Milicent; and, indeed, she
will be likely to receive you much better without me.'

' I know Mrs Price very well,' said Jessie, with scarcely con-
cealed 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.'

I was most unfortunate. My first impulse was to leave Jessie
and Miss Milicent to manage their visit if 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 temp-
tation. 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 inducement !

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

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 22 of 56)