Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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carrying out, was as to the outward behaviour of the men who
worked on the farm. Both William and Leah had a great
notion of being respectable, and anything which created a
scandal, ,or made people talk about them, was dreaded. And
yet they would often keep men about them whose characters
were known to be bad, and who did untold mischief to others.
This arose, in a great measure, from Leah's indolence, and
William's dislike to face anything disagreeable. There wore
one or two men about whom I had heard things which made me
urge William to rid himself of them ; but he never would inquire
into the stories, and Leah always said that the men were not her
concern, and so they worked on, and every day I was sure that
they were doing harm, especially to the women and girls, who
were often employed in the fields, and heard their bad language,
and saw their evil ways. Once, when there was a press of
work, and a lack of hands, it was proposed to send Esther into
the fields, but I managed to prevent that myself. I felt that I
was in a certain way answerable for her to Mrs Richardson,
and I could not bear to think of her being corrupted by such

It struck me that if I could only inquire, and find two steady
labourers to take the place of those whom I wished to turn off,
I might, without much difficulty, bring William to agree to it,
and this would be the beginning of what I hoped might at length
prove a great amendment.

I sat alone, as I before said, planning all these changes, when
I was interrupted by William. He was accustomed now to
wander into the house many times in the course of the day. No
particular business brought him, but he was restless,— always
thinking to ease the burden at his heart by change. Just at
first, I thought that he had come at the right moment, and I was
upon the point of opening out my wishes to him, but I remem-
bered how he disliked changes, and I knew, too, that old govern-


ments arc very jealous of new ones, and so I thought I would
delay, or, at least, sound my way before I made any propositions.
And it was fortunate that I did, for I should surely have met
with op] osition. He was bent upon an arrangement of his own.
Poor fellow! he wanted the appearance of a settled state of
things, even if he could not have the reality, and he was come to
make a proposal to me, he said.

I did not like the sound of the word, but I answered: 'Any-
thin.,', William, by which I can be a comfort to you, you know I
shall be very glad to do.'

' It would be comfort for yourself too, Uisie,' he said, 'you
know you have your own living to get in the world, at least there
is little enough for you without, and you may just as well make
your money with me as with any one else. I would give you a
fixed sum by the year, and you might be able to put something
away out of it.'

So strangely blind we are ! It will scarcely be believed that
up to this moment, I had never put before myself the fact, that
Leah's death might be the means of separating me from Roger
for ever.

My heart seemed to rise up In my throat and choke my voice.

William thought I was touched by the feeling of the great
change which had come over us. He said to me kindly, ' It
would be the best thing for us both, Ursie. We understand
each other, and shall get on very well together. Things can't
be as they were, but we must make the best of them.'

'And Roger?' I exclaimed.

'Oh ! Roger will marry,' was his careless answer ; 'he is sure
to many in that out-of-the-way country.'

I rose up, and turned away my face from him, whilst I held up
my work to the window under the pretence that 1 could not see
to thread my needle, though in fact I only wanted time to re-
cover myself, I spoke to him after a few seconds, I think quite
calmly. ' It is very kind of you, William,' I said, 'to wish to
m ike a fixed agreement that shall continue, but it might not be
quite wise. Only as long as I stay with you, I should be very
much obliged for an allowance, because now that I have to look
after everything, I can't give any time to needlework.'

As the words came from my lips, I felt how cold they were,
seemingly ungracious and unthankful, and William longing, as
I could see, for something to turn to and be fond of. I tried to
make them better. I said he was always kind to me, that I was


sure we should manage very well if we had to be together. I
turned my sentence in the way I thought most likely to please
him, but I could not say what I knew he wished to hear : ' Wil-
liam, it will make me happy to live with you.'

He was a proud man, and shy, as proud men often are. He
was thrown back by me, and he could not make a second ad-
vance. ' You shall do as you like, Ursie,' he said, ' I don't wish
to put constraint upon any one. I thought it would be wise to
place things on a regular footing, but if you like better to con-
tinue as you are, living, as it were, from hand to mouth, why, you
must please yourself.'

No, this was not at all what I liked. I must have things put on
a regular footing, as he called it, if I was to remain with him ;
but the sacrifice which this might involve, 1 was not prepared

' William,' I said, 'you must let me think this over by myself.
We are all in a bewilderment now. I don't think we either of
us know what we wish or want. A month hence we may tell

He looked at me for a second, tried to whistle as he used to do
when half angry and half astonished, broke off abruptly in the
middle, and went away.

As I ran up-stairs to my own room, I heard him giving some
orders in a loud, strained voice, and then I saw him walk off
with lonsr strides across the fields.


I HAD greatly pained William, and at the very time when I
was most anxious to give him consolation. But how could
it be otherwise ? Was it possible, was it in any way to be ex-
pected, that I should entirely sacrifice my own happiness for the
sake of being what after all could only prove a secondary com-
fort to him.

This was the question which I put to myself, when I was once
more alone, in my own chamber, with my door bolted, and
kneeling before God that I might be the better able to answer it
in all sincerity,


Time was passing on rapidly, in a very fc v months I might
expect, if not to sec Roger in England, at least to receive my
summons to Canada. Was I to say ' No' to it ? Could I leave
Roger to face loneliness in a distant land ? After all he had done
for mc, would it not be selfish, ungrateful, to draw back and
allow him to toil on, away from home, friends, every early asso-
ciation of happiness, to fall ill, perhaps, and die, and none to
comfort him ?

I wept most bitter tears as I conjured up the spectre of the
evils which might be lurking in the dimness of futurity. But
there was another side to the case. Roger was young, healthy,
and full of hope ; likely, as I had so often b>:cn told, to marry.
He had not gone to Canada for me, but for himself. If he sent
for me, it would be because I had no home but his. The tie
between us was voluntary. If I were called upon to break it by
a stronger claim, he would be the first to yive it up.

And William was my brother also, an elder brother, suffering
from a grief which Roqer hid never known. He had a house-
hold dependent upon him, and no one to manage it ; duties in-
cumbent upon him, which, without help, he would find the
utmost difficulty in fulfilling ; and he had been kind to me when
I most needed it, he had taken me into his home when I had no
other home. If I had not been happy there, it was from no in-
tentional neglect on his part. He might be a selfish man, but
he was never deliberately unkind. Could I put aside his claim
as slight? It was the revival, in another form, of the difficulty
which had so greatly troubled me when I left Dene ; but it
touched me more closely, for it was a question of separation,
not for a year, but, probably, for ever.

God forgive me if I found the cross He had laid upon me too
hard to bear ; if, for a while, I again pondered the case, striving
to escape from the decision of my conscience, and convince
myself that Roger was to be my first consideration, and that it
was less a question of my own wishes, than of the comparative
happiness of my brothers. I was young then. I had made a
duty to myself of my affections, and I had not learned that,
unless supported by -the claims of the work set before us by God,
affection is not a duty but a temptation.

Before I had in any way reached the end of my deliberation,
I was called down-stairs to speak with John Hcrvey. I had not
seen him since the day of the funeral, but I had been expecting
him constantly. He seemed now so much a part of ourselves


that I was comforted at the thought of talking to him, though I
did not feel that I could ask his advice.

'How is it with you to-day, Ursie?' he said, kindly, as I
entered the room, ' and how is William ? '

' William is rather better,' I replied. ' He is in the fields
looking after the men. Do you want him ? '

1 1 can't do him any good, I am afraid. Time will do that
through God's help; but I have a letter for you, Ursie.'

'A letter!' I jumped up and caught it from his hand. He
turned away as I tore open the seal.

1 Dearest Trot, — I send you some hearty good wishes for
Christmas-day, as I am writing to John Hervey upon a little
business. You shall hear more soon. Lots of thanks for your
last letter ; nothing keeps a man up like hearing from home.
We have had rather a bad time here. Mr Pierce has been very
ill, and is so now, and I have been good for nothing myself.
Please God, though, we get through this winter, we shall all be
better off next. John will tell you about my work. I have not
time for more. God bless you always, my little Trot. From
your very loving brother,

Roger Grant.

' Love to William, and Leah, and all friends.'

I let the note fall upon my lap, and burst into tears. John
Hervey drew near, frightened. ' Is it ill news?' he said, ' there
was nothing particular in mine, except about Mr Pierce.'

I could not answer him, my tears came so fast. Perhaps it
was the careless mention of Leah's name which had opened the
flood-gates of my sorrow.

John took hold of the note, and I put it into his hand to read.

' He has been ill,' was the only remark he made upon it, ' but
he tells me he is better.'

' He is not better,' I exclaimed, passionately, ' I know what
he means by putting things in that light way. I must go to him
and nurse him. He is nothing to you, Mr Hervey, but he is
my all — my all ! ' I repeated ; and it gave me a kind of fierce
pleasure to feel that there was nothing in the world I loved
like him.

• Perhaps you would like to see my letter,' said Mr Hervey ;
* there doesn't seem much amiss from that, as far as Roger is
concerned, though I should be afraid about Mr Pierce; and you


see he says that if anything were to happen to him, it might be
a great drawback.'

I seized the paper almost without thanks. I would not let
Mr Hcrvey read it to me. There was a pleasure in letting my
eyes rest upon the letters which Roger had formed. I waded
through two pages of farming business, understanding nothing ;
then I came to a few words about himself, less than what he had
said to me. I found no comfort in them.

' Ho doesn't complain,' said John.

1 He never docs,' I replied.

' Spring will be coming soon,' he continued, ' the worst will
be over.'

'And winter will be coming again,' I answered, 'but he won't
spend it alone.'

' You are bent upon going to him, then,' said John, in rather
an anxious tone.

' I am not only bent upon it, I must do it.'

' I thought you mi^ht have stayed a little while with William,'
continued John. ' He will be much put to without you.'

I shrank from the suggestion. ' William will get a house*
keeper,' I said; 'and Roger wants me, and I promised him
to go.'

'And you wish it?' said John, and his eye rested upon me
with an earnest gaze, which for the moment puzzled me.

1 Yes,' I exclaimed, 'of course I wish it. Who is there that
can be to me what Roger is ? Who took care of me when I was
a child, and gave me a home, and watched over me, and taught
me? It was not William, Mr Hcrvey; you know that as well
as I do. If he had been all I had to depend upon, I might have
been at this time working for my bread in service, or starving
upon dressmaking. If William wants me now, it is for his own
good, not for mine.'

' There is certainly more gr.ititude due to Roger,' said Mr
Hcrvey. He stressed the word gratitude. It fretted me.

'Gratitude!' I exclaimed. 'No, Mr Hcrvey, it is not gr.iti-
tude. I am grateful to Farmer Kemp, to Mr Richardson, to
you, to any one who has done me a kindness. I have something
more than gratitude for Roger.'

' Don't trouble yourself to be grateful to mc,' he said,

I scarcely heeded his words : ' You can't understand,' I ex-
claimed ; 'no one can,'


'Yes,' he replied, in a tone of singular calmness, ' I can
understand. You love Roger better than any one else in the

4 1 love him better than my own life,' I said. ' I would be
thankful to sacrifice every hour of my existence to him. I wish
for nothing better than to live with him always. There are many
kinds of love in this world, Mr Hervey, I don't see how we are
to measure them. I only know that a sister's love for a brother
may make earth a Paradise. Dene was my Paradise,' I added,
in a lower tone.

I did not look at John Hervey as I spoke, my gaze was riveted
upon Roger's letter.

When, however, John said, touching the paper, 'May I have
it?' I gave it to him reluctantly, and then raising my eyes, I
was for the first time struck with the expression of his face. It
was strangely pale, and there was a look in it as though it had
been cast into a mould — a kind of stony look. I did not like to
ask him what was the matter. As he folded up the letter, he
said to me, abruptly, * I came over for another purpose. Miss
Weir is going to France ; I suppose you know it.'

' I had heard of it : I did not know it was a fixed plan.'

' I hear that she has engaged a servant, and has had directions
from Mr Macdonald.'

' Miss Milicent is mad !' I exclaimed.

'Not far from it. She leaves her mother to Mrs Temple's

' It will be safe care,' I said.

' It may be,' he replied.

I saw he was too proud to ask me again to interfere in any
way ; and I smiled and said, ' You want me to look after Mrs
Weir, Mr Hervey, but you won't say so ?'

'My wishes are not likely to weigh much with you, Ursie, I
know,' was his reply ; ' but if Miss Weir goes, Mrs Weir will be
left without any friend.'

' Mrs Richardson,' I said.

' She will be left without any friend,' he repeated. ' Mrs
Temple keeps her to herself.'

' But she likes it.'

' Perhaps she does, I can't say ; but she seldom sees any one.
Mrs Richardson is constantly denied admittance.'

'For what purpose?' I exclaimed. 'It can do no harm to
any one.'


' You women arc strange beings,' he replied ; 'you arc all fond
of power.'

' Because you men give us so little of it,' I said ; 'what is rare
is always precious.'

' O Ursic ! ' he exclaimed, and he caught hold of my hand ;
'you have a great deal more power than you know, — if you were
only able'

'To do what?'

' To use it rightly, — kindly, I mean.'

I laughed a little, and said I would come to him for instruc-
tions. It seemed odd that I could laugh. I was not in the least
happy in the depths of my heart ; but laughter lies on the surface.
We had some more conversation after that about many things.
John told me little about Miss Milicent that I did not know
except that the fact of her journey was actually settled. She had
not come to him for any help, he said ; she had gone entirely her
own way. I suppose it was her pride, and the consciousness that
her friends disapproved, which prevented her from consulting
any one ; nothing else that I can imagine would have induced
her to have frequent interviews with such a man as Lieutenant
Macdonald. He, it seems, besides telling her where Mr Weir
was, had given her some instructions as to her journey; and this
kind of business had taken her frequently to Dene, where Mrs
Price made a great deal of her. So strange it was that Miss
Milicent could bear it ! But I have lived to wonder at nothing
I see in the way of intimacies. All indulged faults bring us
sooner or later to humiliation of some kind. Miss Milicent's
self-will and pride made her take rather a pleasure, I suspect, in
going contrary to the opinion of the world. She thought she
showed her contempt fur it in this way ; but we do not take
tr uble to oppose what we despise. I don't mean by this that
Miss Milicent was intimate with Mrs Price, but only that she
bore to meet her upon a footing of equality. I inquired anxiously
about Mr Macdonald, and was thankful to find that he was to
leave Dene in a few days. Our late trouble had put thoughts of
Jessie out of my mind, but they were returning again, with the
more force, because I felt myself to be in a measure holding Leah's
place. Jessie had written a refusal, so she assured me ; I did not
doubt her word, and yet I had a lingering misgiving. The one
thing which Jessie could never be made to understand was, that
she had no right to indulge her vanity, by having a double mind
in these matters ; she might refuse Mr Macdonald, but I was


rtot at all sure that she would not continue to flirt with him, and of
course in such a case a refusal would go for nothing ; especially
as I had reason to believe that Mr Macdonald sought Jessie for
something besides her beauty ; it being confidently believed by
many people that Mrs Morris was very rich, and meant to leave
Jessie a good sum of money. I was so anxious to hear of his
departure, that John promised to let me know as soon as he was
gone. I believe John thought I only wished him away, because
of his interference in Mrs Weir's affairs. We separated after
having been together more than an hour. Just before John left
me, I said, ' You are going to write to Roger?'

'Yes,' was his reply, 'and so are you.' He went to the door,
came back again and added, ' Ursie, we don't always see things
rightly when we have a strong wish.'

I knew that better perhaps than he could tell me. When I
found myself alone, I took a sheet of paper, and wrote a long
letter to Roger, telling him that I must give up all hope of
joining him at present. How I had arrived at the conclusion,
I don't know. I believe it was through contact with an honest


IF William and I had in the least understood each other, we
could never have gone on as we did during the next few
weeks. We were both very unhappy, but if we had explained
the cause of our unhappiness, we must inevitably have quarrelled
and separated. As it was, we lived lives apart, but without dis-
agreement. The very absence of anything like real sympathy
enabled us to avoid the subjects which would have jarred, for
we kept upon the surface of all things. In my self-conceit,
believing that I had more thought, intellect, and principle than
Leah, I imagined at first that I could eventually fill her position,
even in William's estimation, for his love for his wife was by no
means an overpowering affection ; but I was soon convinced to
the contrary. As there is 'a time for every purpose under the
heaven,' so I believe there is also a place for every person. The
great man cannot fill the liule man's position ; self-sacrifice
cannot make up for the absence of congeniality. Not that I


was groat, nor that my life was one of self-sacrifice. 1 only used
the expressions by way of illustration. Leah's likings and dis-
likin-s, her pleasures and pains, even her temper and fancies,
were part of William's home associations, and therefore necessary
to him. I believe I actually fretted him by trying to make no
complaint of the servants, nor to say sharp things of my neigh-
bours. The watchfulness which I was striving to acquire w.\s
stagnation to him, and I was too sad at heart to be able to
cheer him by talking much upon other subjects. I had Jessie
Lee with me whenever she could be spared, as much for
William's sake as for my own. The meals and the evenings
were so quiet and silent, I was thankful to have some one to
bring forward new subjects of conversation, and Jessie was
generally bright and amusing in her way, and seemed glad to
be with me. She was not, however, in her usual spirits, but
that could scarcely be expected, for she was very affectionate,
and felt Leah's death extremely. Whether there was any other
cause of melancholy I could not make out. As to Stonccliff,
there was still the same talk, week after week, of Miss Milicent's
going abroad, but the journey was always put off. When a
woman will follow her own fashions, instead of those marked
out for her by the common sense of others, it is surprising what
a mine of difficulties she is likely to sink into. No one without
seeing would have believed the fancies which Miss Miliccnt
gave way to respecting her French journey ; whims about her
boxes, her dresses, which way she was to go, how she was to
guard against the weather — it was as if she was the first person
who had ever crossed over to France. She took it into her
head to come frequently to Sandcombe, under pretence of
asking me what I thought about her plans, but not in the least
meaning to listen to what I said. She took up a good deal of
my time in that way, but I did not care so much for that. I had
always a very kindly feeling towards her, but what I did dislike
was the frequent mention of Lieutenant Macdonald's name in
Jessie's presence. There is nothing like talking of people to
keep up an interest. Even if disagreeable things are said, it
helps to retain them in one's recollection, and gives one a kind
of interest in them ; and Miss Milicent, of course, could not
always be complaining of the Lieutenant's habits and character.
Most frequently she spoke of him in reference to some infor-
mation he had given her, and then I saw Jessie colour up, and
listen eagerly. Once or twice, too, Miss Milicent had taken


Jessie over to Dene with her, because she said she liked a
companion, and this kept up the Dene intimacy ; and, more-
over, at last, Mrs Price actually came and called upon me,
pretending she was bound to return the visit I had paid with
Miss Milicent. I could not understand that in the least, until
John Hervey put me up to it. ' Mrs Price,' he said, ' is not
noticed by any of the country gentlemen's families, and, as
she finds Dene dull without company, she falls back upon
her old friends.' I was not flattered by the reason, but it did
not trouble me much, I was not bound to return the visit, and I
never did.

It was March before Miss Milicent was ready to set off on her
expedition. Up to that time I had only twice been at Stonecliff,
and then had not been permitted to see Mrs Weir. I had tried,
however, to show that I thought of her by sending her little
presents of fresh eggs and vegetables. I hoped she had them
and knew they came from me, but Miss Milicent always seemed
in a mist as to what was done with them, or indeed with anything
which once entered the house at Stonecliff. The second week in
March, as I was in the kitchen putting up a little basket of things
to be left for Mrs Weir by Esther Smithson on her way home in
the evening, William came in from the fields looking very serious,
and said to me, ' Do you know, Ursie, I have had bad news. I
can't make out whether it is quite true, but our Hatton boy says
that Mrs Morris is very ill. Have you heard it ?'

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

' I should think not.' he answered ; 'but Will declares that his
father was sent off to Hove for Mr Sutton.'

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

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

'Well, then, wait till they come in to their dinner,' 1 said,
' As for your own, they will give you some at Hatton.'

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

' I could go myself, if you liked it,' I observed.

He went to the window and looked out. ' The clouds arc

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 26 of 56)