Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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' 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. Put we arc 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.'

'1 do not remember any vers?, 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 1 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 expect 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 so.

' It does not signify, it will do no good to vex ourselves about
such trifles,' added Mrs Weir. ' I told my niece that 1 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 explana-
tion upon any subject then must be useless. Even this little
fault-finding had put her into a state of nervousness 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, 'O 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 chess-

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 forgotten it
long ago.

Mrs Weir saw that I was vexed, and with her usual impulse
of kind-heartedness, 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 confe ■ I was unjust to her. I forgot her
ik health, and the ease with which a person in her state may
be worked U| on, and attributed the misunderstanding to fickle-
ness. ' I am afraid, ma'am,' I answered proudly, 'that you can
have but little pleasure in the company ol on 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 sh>- said, whilst

ery 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 mc. Who could
help loving you?' 1 added.

'Ah, Ursula,' she replied, and her lips quivered, 'people
have left off loving me since I came to Compton. My niece
knows the world, and she showed me that my friends cared f r
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 mc 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 e m

' 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. 1 shall tell her what you

Poor lady ! all her old lovin g a nfidence in me was return
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 entere

'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 right.

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 replied, fori
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 nervously, ' Good-
bye, Ursula ; you will come again some day, when you have

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 gaoler.

'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, hur-
riedly, ' Don't object ; I can't bear objections.'

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

' 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 Lieutenant 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 busi-
ness 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 ; whatever she took into her head must always be
carried through ; and at the bottom of the decision there lay — 1
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
conscience, and contact with Mrs Temple. Any duty rather
than that which was at hand.

I b< lieve it is so with us all at times.

1 c ntinued to put in my word of advice, and that rather boldly.
'Miss Milicent,' I said, 'you do not know under what circum-

nces, or in what company, you may find Mr Weir ; it may be
\ rv unfitting for a lady to go where he is.'

Shewould 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
i in pi ire whether she could go.

I had nothing to offer 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.

nething seemed to strike her just at last about her mother,
for as I was goine; away she said, holding my hand, and speaking
very earnestly, ' You will be near, Ursie, if my mother wants
anything ; anil you won't mind Matilda Temple's humours?'

It was a satisfactory thought to Miss Milicent, but it was any-
thing 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 Ilervey, I told him where I came from, and that I was
on my way back to Sandcombc : 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
f of bread to all the families who lived in Farmer Kemp's
cottages, and to all his labourers and boys. It was an old
Christmas-eve custom ; and there was to be a dinner for the
>urcrs the next day, so there was enough to do at Loi ;

and Mary, I heard, was very busy, and very provoked with me
for not having gone to her the evening 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 some-
thing else in mine ; and yet we neither of us liked to 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 manner, 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 seemed 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 interference.

' 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

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

' Yes, it is nothing,' he 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 Ilcrvcy changed his path, and was away towards
Com p ton, 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 ill !'

' She ! — who ?' I exclaimed ; whilst all the blood in my veins
seemed chilled, and my heart for a second stopped beating.

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

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

'You have not been mar 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 instant.'

' I wish with all my heart you had sent !' I exclaimed. ' I
could have been back nearly an hour ago. But— I don't under-
stand — 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
quite 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 pre-
sence 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 any-
thing. 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 nil which no one else had time for.

And I, — I don't know what I felt, — I believe I was thankful
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 suspicion
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 responsible, 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 nothing more to re-
proach 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 thankful to keep him, he had
such a quick thought and ready hand in times of difficulty, — but
William objected, for he liked nothing 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 de-
lirium 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 nothing 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 belongs 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 breakfast 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, 1 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 for-
give me in whatsoever I had done amiss in my intercourse with
Leah, and to spare her, and raise her up again to live from thence-
forth 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 eternity.

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 beginning. 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 tnught 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' advice, a nurse had
been hired that she might never want attention, 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 prepare 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 trust her
with all her faults, all her shortcomings, to Him who alone knew


her heart, its trials and struggles, but rather I turned with a
bitter self-distrust to my own position.

Who was I that I should venture to rule others, when con-
science told me I had so little rule over myself? When for the
first time I sat at the head of William's table, as the acknow-
ledged mistress of his household, it was with a feeling very dif-
ferent from that which had led me to criticise Leah's arrangements
in other days. I had continually failed in humility, in gentleness,
and charity. I had obeyed, — but from necessity, not from a willing
heart, and the first qualification necessary for those who would
govern well is the power of obeying well. It seemed as though
it were meant to punish and humble me, that all my duties pre-
sented themselves in confusion, — one interfering with another,
my own will and William's perpetually coming in contact, and
claims from without, and anxieties from within, pressing upon
me, so that there were moments when I felt inclined to sit
down with my hands folded, and let others take their way,
merely because I had not the spirit to try and make them go

It was about a fortnight after Leah's funeral — that painful
time succeeding a great shock, when we try to look upon the
present and the past as one, and find that God has placed a
great gulf between them, which in this world can never be
bridged over— I thought I would steal a few moments of quiet-
ness to think of all I wished to do, and to alter the arrangements
which in Leah's time I had found fault with, and said that if I
were at the head of affairs they should be different. These were
many ; some, of course, more important than others, but all re-
quiring consideration and contrivance.

The men and boys who slept in the house were left entirely to
themselves. They were placed together in an old part of the
house, reached by a staircase, which led to the women-servants'
rooms as well. So there was no one to look after them.

I had heard through Martha that they were often very profane
in their language, and that if a boy, fresh from school, with good
habits, knelt down to say his prayers, they would mock him till
he gave up the practice. I had spoken about this to Leah ; I
had told her that at least she ought to take Martha away from
the risk of such company. But I was always put off with a
laugh at my particularity, as it was called. What had done very
well for the Sandcombe servants for thirty years, I was told,
would surely continue to do for them for thirty years to cowie.


'1 liis was a thing to be remedied at once, and yet I was met
instantly by a difficulty ;is to fitting up what was now a lumber-
room for Martha, and so bringing upon William expenses which
he would consider unnecessary. Sunday was another burden
up in my mind. Martha never went to church in the morning,
so that she had no opportunity of receiving the Communion,
n if she had wished it. I had several times offered to remain
at home myself, but she would not hear of it. I could do a-> I
liked now, but if I was not at church, I was sure William would
never trouble himself to think about the men and see if they
were there. In fact, he was very irregular in his own attend-
ance, remaining at home on the least excuse, and I had strong
suspicions that the men often took advantage of this, and went
to public-houses, and got into bad company, on a Sunday. It
was impossible for me to be at home and at church too, and
wherever I was, I seemed compelled to leave something ne-
glected. As for Sunday reading, the men, if they read at all,
followed William's example, and spent their time in spelling
over a newspnper. I thought I might do something to help in
that way by bringing them together, and asking Mr Richardson
to lend me some interesting book to read to them, but I was
very ignorant, and shy too, and fancied I should never have
courage to be^in, even if William were to allow it, which was

But the thing I had most set my heart upon was having family
prayers. They were managed at Longside, and I earnestly de-
sired to have it so with us. In the morning, indeed, when the
men were all out in the fields, only Farmer Kemp's own family
and the in-door servants could attend ; but, in the evening, all
who slept in the house met in the room where the maids sat, and
where most of the needlework was done ; and then Father Kemp
regularly read a chapter in the Bible, and had prayers. I re-
member hearing him describe the difficulty he had in beginning
the practice, and how the men only made a mock of it ; but he
persevered, and now there could not be a more well-behaved
congregation in a church, than that which met at Longside
every evening.

But Farmer Kemp was master there, and had all his family on
his side. William was master at Sandcombe, and would be
entirely set against the notion. The fulfilment of my wish
seemed a great way off, and I had but few things externally to
help me in the meantime. Sandcombe was so far from Mr

Richardson, and from Compton church, that I could gain but
little comfort from them. I saw Mr Richardson every now and
then, but I could not go to him to talk over my everyday diffi-
culties ; and as for church, I could very seldom go, except on
Sundays. The services were too early and too late, and th$
utmost I could hope was to manage the walk occasionally, on
the saints' days, when there were prayers and a short sermon at
eleven, and when I might have business to take me to Compton.

Perhaps the improvement which I had the greatest chance of

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 25 of 56)