Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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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 almost went
into a fit. She would have gone quite, if Matilda Temple had
not scolded her.'

232 J' I. A.

'O Mi-s Milicent! scolded her!' I exclaimed ;' who could do

that ? Poor lady ! no wonder she was upset.'

I wonder, indeed. If you bad been there to sec it ! Wc
had such a scene ! But Matilda Temple didn't carry the day,
though she tried hard for it. She would 1. t the letter

1 in my mother if she could.'

'And you have heard from Mr Weir himself?' I said.

' Xo, only from a gentleman abroad who has seen him, and
knows where he is. and tells us that if wc want to hear more i I
him we must find out a Lieutenant Macdonald. He is at D<
ie, and that is why I am going there.'

It wa a most incoherent story. I could make nothing of it.
and I had to ask many questions before I found out the whole.
I bn Hervey, it seems, had been doing for Mrs Weir what he
wished me to do ; he had been keeping his eyes and cars o
for anything 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 I.n li h gentleman who had lately been in com-
pany 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,' con-
tinued Miss Milicent, when she had reached thus far ; 'and he
put two and two together, and made out at last that the Li
tenant 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 ov< r to
Dene myself, and see Lieutenant Macdonald, and hear all he
has to say. I may as well take in some fresh air for
bi fore,' 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
I' rne that, so I remarked quite coldly, 'It would be m<
proper for Lieutenant Macdonald to call upon you, Miss Mili-
cent. No doubt he would be quite willing to give himself the

w wh t is proper or what is not, Ursic 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 sometimes
at Dene.'

' If they are odd they are more like myself,' she replied ; 'and
I 11 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 innocent
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 Stonecliff was only taken for a
3 r car.'

'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 may be 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 arc SO many little things put down to my mother. I
d n't believe she wants them, but Matilda says she does.
Matilda boasts she keeps within her own income ; if she does it
'. be by ekin ; it out with ours.'

' Perhap ,' 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 pretence saying it would
upset my mother. We had a regular battle about it, and 1 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
f r 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 busi-
ness 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 Hire Mr Rich irdson means kindly,' I remarked, 'what-
ever he may say. He has been a good friend to Ro i and me,
at least.'

'Well, of course, yes ! and I dare say I may be wrong, but
th t 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
or contradicting h r. Besides, time was getting on. The
sun was sinking low, and already there was a yellow gleam over
bay, and u mist gathering behind the white cliffs.

' If you please, Miss Milicent,' I said, 'we really must be going
on. Jessie has to return to Ilatton, and you will find it lonely
walking back to the Heath. Are you quite sure you had not
belter 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 you.'

She strode on for some distance, and had nearly reached the
white gate, when she stopped, turned round to me as I was fol-
lowing her, caught hold of my hand, and grasped it with a 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 wondered
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. 1
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 undertone.

' Private, with her!' was the answer, in a loud whisper. - Y'Hi
know I am not come to see her.'


•You had betterlef your mistress know that Mi s Weir would
be ; la 1 to speak to her,' I said aloud to the servant, for I was
Mis Price should not think I had called upon

i"i- my own p] .1 lire.

'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 fell ; it was so very awkward to be there, and I
lid not see win- .Miss .Milicent had insisted upon it J only 1
suppose she disliked the visit, and thought that I should help to
in ike it go oil" well.

J ie was very nervous and excited. She went out into the
passage to see if the visitor was going,— then came hack 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, Kor myself, I was really thankful to h:
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 1
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 figun d
green silk, rustling with stiff lining and llounces, 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, Ursula?'

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

Miss Milicent's reply was abrupt, as might be expected from
her, but there was a curious kind ot civility in the tone which I
was not used to — it seemed to throw one at a distance. I won-
d i d 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 gentlemen
here, haven't we, Jessie ?' The poor child coloured crimson.


' I wish to see Mr Macdonald,' continued Miss Milicent. ' If
he is in the house, perhaps you would let him be told that I am

'Lieutenant Macdonald! 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 disagreeable. It was Lieu-
tenant 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 Milicent,' I 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
an 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 poot Mrs Weir's time. Our groom lives in your cottage ; it


just docs, 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.'

1 sic looked proud of the commission, and hurried away,
whilst Mrs Price took me into her drawing-room, professing to
show mc 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 continually 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 circum-
stances, and now every word she said jarred upon me, and pre-
sently, 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 1 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;
Mi>s Milicent seemed likely to be kept some time, and though
we had walked over to Dene together, wc were to return sepa-
rately. Miss Milicent had asked me to come with her, because
she was a stranger.'

' Oh ! indeed ! I didn't understand. I wasn't aware why I had
the honour of a visit.' Mrs Price's manner was peculiar. I
could not tell whether she felt pleased or displeased at havi
the acquaintance renewed. Jessie brought down the shawl, and
wc went over to the cottage. Mrs Price reminded mc 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 questions about Sandcombe, and every now and
then hinted that of course I should come and sec her again. I
let her talk as she liked, not professing to be equal to her in
worldly position ; it did not distress mc 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 mc to Longsidc she would be in the way ; but I
did not choose to let her walk to Hatton alone, and still l<


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
was 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 returning
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 won-
derfully polite bend. ' I wish you good evening.'

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 Mac-
donald. ' Please be quick, Jessie,' I said, ' Miss Milicent is

Jessie looked at me half doubtful, half frightened.

' Come,' I repeated, decidedly. ' I must follow Miss Milicent'

'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.

' 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 inter-

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 weapon of persuasion
which 1 had tried successfully.

'You know, Jessie,' I said, 'yt~* told me that you did not


wish to vex mc nor any one else' I stressed the last words,
and saw that she understood them. She made a confused excuse
to Mrs Price, a half curtsey to the lieutenant, and we followed
Mi>s Milicent up the hill.

I breathed freely when I found myself outside the white gate;
yet the relief only lasted for a few moments. I felt so provoki 1
with Jessie for her weakness ; so annoyed at having my engage-
ment for the evening interfered with ; so anxious too for Miss
-Milicent, who was still striding on at a man's pace before us.

1 kept Jessie's arm within mine, but without talking to her.
Really I did not know what to say. After a few moments I
looked at her, and saw she was crying. My heart softened
towards her then ; I said, gently, ' You are not sorry you kept
your promise, Jessie, are you ?'

The tears only came the faster for the inquiry. I repeated it.

' I didn't keep it,' she exclaimed. ' I can't keep anythin
do anything that's right, Ursie ; you had better tell Mr Roger
so at once, and then he will give me up as good for nothing.'

Her thoughts were dwelling then upon Roger. I noticed it,
but it did not strike me as unsafe or unwise. It was like the
feeling of a child for a parent.

'Neither Roger nor I will give you up, Jessie,' I said, 'not
for all the world. But if you don't want to run the risk of
making yourself miserable for life, you must keep out of the way
of temptation. Dene is not a fit place for you. Jane Shaw
wasn't over careful in her conduct as a girl, and she is not any
better, that I can hear, now that she is married ; she has very
few women friends, and the men are a bad set, as you quite well
know, and it would just be ruin to you in all ways to be mixed
up with them.'

I waited for her to assent, but she only said, after a moment's
pause, 'Then Mr Roger wouldn't like to see me main

' Yes, he would like it very much,' I answered, ' if you were
to marry respectably ; so would all who care for you/

' I don't believe that any one who is respectable, as you call
it, will ever take up with mc,' exclaimed Jessie. ' If Mr Ro. r
thinks I have a bad name, so will others.'

She longed for me to contradict her, I am sure, but I would
not do so just then. She was out of conceit with herself, and
wished me to say something civil that might put her in again ;
but though I was very sorry for her, I was certain it was good
for her to feel that her careless ways had done her harm in


people's opinion. Besides, I had no wish to go on talking about
Roger. I felt I had not been wise in saying as much as I had
about him. Jessie was so fond of being ihought about, even in
the way of being scolded, that it only increased her vanity to
remind her that any one was anxious about her, especially a
person whom she so much respected and looked up to as Roger.
I cut the conversation short by saying that I must run on and
have a few words with Miss Milicent. That, however, was not
so easily accomplished. Miss Milicent had walked on so fast
that I could not overtake her, and when I began to consider,
though I thought it very strange in her to go off from me in such
a sudden way, I saw it was no business of mine to thrust myself
upon her. Instead of following her, therefore, I came back to
Jessie, and proposed that we should both make the best of our
way to Sandcombe. How disappointed I felt at losing my visit
to Longside I can't say ; and I thought how they would be
expecting me, and once or twice was sorely tempted to go there
after all ; but it would never have done to take Jessie ; it would
quite have cut up our evening. If I had wished to have any talk
with Mary, I must have left Jessie alone, or burdened Mrs Kemp
with her, and that I should have disliked extremely, for she was
not over pleased, as I well knew, with the character that Jessie
had gained for herself. One has no right to put people together
till one is tolerably sure they are willing to be friends.

Moreover, it was not a fixed engagement at Longside. I was
always obliged to say I would come if I could, but they must not
expect me for certain. I could never answer for what might
happen with Leah to detain me at home.


A STORM of hail came on just when we were off the down,
which made me the more glad that I had decided to
return. It had been gathering for some time, but I had not
noticed it much, having my mind given to other things. It would
have drenched us thoroughly long before we could have reached
Longside, and I should have been sorry for this more for Jessie's
sake than my own. I was strong, and able to bear all weathers;
but Jessie was of a weak constitution, and often taking cold.



' They will be just sitting down to tea, Jessie, 1 I said, as I
took her up-stairs to my room, that she might leave her boii. I
and shawl there ; ' they will be surprised to ee us.'

Jessie was disinclined to go down ; she look d pale and tin d,
and proposed to wait where she was till the hail was over, and
then walk on to Hatton. But this I would not hear of. She
could sleep, I said, very well in my bed ; and one of the farm
boys who lived at Hatton would carry .< ; e to say wh

she was. 'I am sure, Jessie,' I added, ' whenever you are
at Dene. Mis Morris doesn't expect you bi ck till she si <
and so she won't be in any fright about you, knowing that you
set off with the intention of walking there.'

lushed, but made no answer ; and a fear crossed my
mind, that perhaps she was in the habit of paying visits to D

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 23 of 56)