Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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affairs to think much about it. It was very selfish of me,' I
added, for my heart reproached me ; ' but, indeed, Mr Hervey,
setting aside Mrs Weir, there are other cares which may be my
excuse. And then I had never heard of Mr Bennett. He is
like a man from another world.'

'He saw Mary six months ago,' replied John, 'and said


nothing, because he had nothing to offer. But Mary, as it
seems, lost her heart to him, and when he did propose, the
thing was soon settled.'

'And you have not been in love with Mary all your life,
then ?' I asked.

He looked at me with an expression so wondering, earnest,
and anxious, it seemed to thrill through me. 'O Ursie !' he
said, 'have you thought it possible ?' He paused, Mrs Weir's
bell rang, and I rushed out of the room.

John Hervey loved me ! I suppose there is no woman to
whom such a consciousness comes for the first time, without some
feeling of pleasurable excitement ; but the next moment, in my
case, brought a pang of deep and most painful regret. The
feeling was not returned. Yet my heart beat quickly, — my head
was dizzy with emotion ; and, as I entered Mrs Weir's chamber,
I could scarcely summon sufficient presence of mind to answer
Miss Milicent's hasty question, whether Mr Hervey had brought
any tidings of her father.

'I think, if you please, you had better go and ask, — he will
tell you everything, and I can wait here,' I said ; and I hurriedly
took my place at the bedside, and motioned to Miss Milicent
that I was willing to remain. She left me, and I was alone, able
to think. Yes, he did love me ; I saw it clearly as though writ-
ten before me. I traced the feeling through the course ot years.
I felt that it had been constant and increasing. I knew that
there were times, when, unconsciously to myself, I might even
have given it encouragement. And I was excited, flattered,
grateful, but I had nothing except gratitude to offer in return.
John Hervey had not been the idol of my imagination, I had
bestowed but few thoughts upon him. His presence or absence
gave me nothing but a passing pleasure or pain. It seemed cold
and cruel. I thought I had deluded him, and I pictured to
myself his disappointment, and longed — no one can tell how
earnestly — to comfort him. Just for an instant, it even crossed
my mind whether we might not be happy together, for as
a friend I could have rested upon him, and found pleasure
and support in his society. My dread ot giving him pain was
so great, that I could have made any personal sacrifice to avoid
it. And life with John Hervey as a companion, would never be
unhappy. But there was something required beyond this, and
the very effort I made to think of him as my husband proved
that it could never be my duty to accept him.


And then I smiled scornfully at myself as I remembered that
1 was thinking of rejection before the offer had been received
It was unmaidenly and unwomanly. But no ; it was not so. I
was but facing that which I believed to be a truth, and which, if
I returned to say good-bye, would, I felt assured, be expressed.
One moment, if I had remained, and 1 should have heard the
full outpouring of his feelings, and have been called upon to
accept or reject him. I have heard that there arc some womi a
who look upon such events as triumphs, and who, in the grati-
fication of their vanity, forget the pain they arc inflicting, and
rejoice in the opportunity, for once afforded them, of placing
themselves in a position superior to men. God knows, I say it
in all sincerity, I am in no wise freer from vanity, or more
thoughtful or tender-hearted than the generality of my sex ; and
yet this feeling of triumph is one into which I cculd never enter.
A man's grief is so very terrible to witness, and surely there is
nothing but exceeding pain, in seeing those to whom nature bids
one look up, humbled, under any circumstances, whether of pain
of body or anguish of mind. It is a false position, and as such
it can never be a rightful cause for triumph. But be this as it
may, I had received from Mrs Weir, years before, a counsel
which now came to my aid, and which would alone have been
sufficient to guide me as to the course I was to pursue. ' Re-
member, Ursie,' she once said to me, when talking of the possible
difficulties of my future life, 'if it should ever happen that you
perceive the affection of a worthy man before he has declared it,
and find yourself so circumstanced that you cannot accept him,
save him, if possible, the pain of being rejected, by never giving
him occasion to make the offer. It may be less flattering to
yourself, but it is more generous to him.' I had but little time
lor thought now. I expected Miss Milicent every instant to
return, but my resolution, though made hastily, was not, I hope,
therefore, unwise. I would not see John 1 1 ervey again, and I took
up a piece of paper, and wrote inst

' My dear M ey,

' I am so very tired, having been up all night, that I really think
I must go and lie down, and not wait till you and Miss Milicent
have finished your conversation. Please not to think it unkind.
I hope you will have a pleasant journey. Give them all my best
love at home. I do trust to be there before long.

' Yours very sincerely,

'Ursula Grant.'


It was painfully cold, almost ungracious, after the interest he
had taken in me, but I felt as though the very coldness was his
safeguard. If he could be quite assured of my indifference, his
thoughts would turn into another channel, and, young as I was,
I had had sufficient experience to be aware that the food of love
is hope. Destroy the one, and the other will most probably die.
How anxiously I listened after Louise had taken the note, very
much fearing that he would insist upon seeing me again — and
yet, womanlike, longing to be forced into saying something
more kind ; and how, afterwards, when I heard Miss Milicent
speak to him in the lobby, and counted his footsteps descending
the stairs, a perverse, injured feeling took possession of me, and I
alternately blamed myself for the foolish vanity of my suspicions,
and accused him of wounded pride for having so quickly
accepted my note, every one who knows the weaknesses and
inconsistencies of the human heart will easily imagine. Any-
how, the deed was done. I was never to know his feelings, and
vanity must from thenceforth be contented to sleep in ignorance,
whether the love that had been rejected was a truth or an

I do not know whether it may appear selfish or unnatural, but
it was not till John Hervey had left the house, — as I learned
from Miss Milicent, without any word of remembrance or ques-
tion as to my plans, — that I recollected I had still an unopened
letter from Roger to read. Then, as I once more sat alone in
my chamber, with an indescribable feeling of dreariness and
disappointment at my heart, I opened it, and in a few moments
I was transported back to Sandcombe, satisfied, quite satisfied,
that I had done rightly.

' My dearest Ursie, —

I I have not written to you lately, because I have been con-
stantly expecting you home. We none of us thought, when you
left us, that you would be away so long. I don't wish to hurry
you, or make you uncomfortable, but I want very much to see
you. When I was in Canada I did not mind being away from
you so much, because it was necessity, and you were coming out
to join me ; but Sandcombe is different, and there are a good
many things about which we should like your opinion. It may
look selfish to write in this way, when you are so usefully em-
ployed, and I had a battle with myself before I made up my
mind to say anything, but I don't speak for myself only, though


I could do so. Wc lived so many years together, dear Trot, and
they unc very happy ones. Women are said to have braver
hearts than men, and I begin to think ii must be true, for you
can (1 ) better without mc than 1 can without you. I am a
man of few words, and very often I can't say things when I wish
to do so ; but you have been a chief blessing to me, and may God
reward you for it, and make you happy. I am afraid at times I
have vexed you, especially of late; but there' has been DO la< k
of love. I sorely want you home.' The rest of the letter con-
tained merely some details about the farm and housekeeping, but
Jessie's name was not once mentioned.

Leave Roger and Sandcombc, and marry John Hcrvcy! If
the most devoted love that ever mortal felt had been offered me
in compensation, I could not then have accepted it. There was
a tone in Roger's letter, a quiet, sober sadness, which spoke to
mc of his disappointment far more than words. It was only dis-
appointment ; there was no anxiety. If there had been he would
have mentioned it openly, for he hated mysteries; but it was a
sadness which I fancied he did not himself comprehend, and
which he seemed to turn tome to explain and soothe. He was
very childlike in some of his ways, at least with those whom he
quite knew and trusted; his expressions of affection were always
so simple and straightforward, and his penitence was the same.
When he did anything wrong, or which he considered wrong, he
owned it in a few words, and always without any excuses. I felt
now as though he was no match for Jessie ; as if, with all his
manliness and sense, and knowledge of worldly things, he was
too innocent and true to be on his guard against the deception
of a woman's weak, vain heart, and the gentler feelings which I
had lately bestowed upon Jessie were turned into bitterness, as I
thought once more how unworthy she was of him.

The letter shown me by Mrs Temple ! I had not forgotten it,
though with the incessant press upon my mind I had as yet found
no leisure to determine what should be done about it. I did not
choose to ask questions about it, and so expose myself again to
Mrs Temple's unkind remarks. But I could not make up my
mind to whom it was addressed, or for what purpose it had been
written. Though it had been sent to Mrs Temple through Mr
Macdonald, it was most probably part of some communication
made to Mrs 1'iicc. However that might be, it so increased my
distrust of Jessie's prudence and openness, that I think it would


have driven me home at all hazards, if I had not felt that the
time was past when her folly could do harm to others, whatever
it might to herself.


1\/T ^ WEIR'S fever increased, and she was in great danger.
i- » J- We watched her incessantly for many days. At last
she was so ill that we gave up all hope. Then there came a
sudden change, and she sank to sleep and awoke exhausted,
so that life could scarcely be discovered, yet calm and conscious
—conscious that she was dying. For there was no thought in
any of us that she would recover, and I may add, indeed, no
hope, except-— yes— Miss Milicent hoped. If ever there was
a bitter wakening to the knowledge of neglected duties, and a
wish to make amends, in the heart of any human being, it was
in hers during that period of troubled watching. We were alone
in the midst of the crowded world of Paris, without visitors or
friends, for Mrs Temple's suspicious guardianship was lessened
by her fears, and wishing apparently to have no excuse for com-
munication with what she considered an infected house, she had
left Paris, and stationed herself at St Germains, to be within
reach whenever any change should take place. One letter had
been received from her father by Miss Milicent. In it Mr Weir
made some general inquiries for his wife, and said that he was
still for the present at Brussels. And now that Mrs Weir's
consciousness had returned, the difficulty was how to com-
municate the fact that he had again left her. This, however,
was not so difficult a task as I had feared. It seems as though
God were pleased at times to bestow at the close of life a sin-
gular quietness of mind and forgetfulness of worldly anxieties to
those who have long striven to please Him. And of one thing
I am quite certain, that the habits of self-control and acquies-
cence in His will which are attained, it maybe, only through
long struggle, and with a constant sense of defeat, whilst the
spirit is in its full energy, bring forth their perfect fruit in hours
of weakness, being ripened into fulness by the sunshine of God's
more abundant grace. Mrs Weir, from her nervous, susceptible

2 I

49* URSUF.. 1.

temperament, her disappointments and sorrows, had passed a
troubled life; repose had been a blessing unknown to her.

I' n i. n externally there was little to disturb her, her over-
scrupulous conscience, and her little whims and peculiaril
had been a fertile source of unhappincss. But she had batl

h these temptations. For years she had sought to control
herself, to suffer patiently, and to feel that ' in quietness and
confidence must be her strength ;' and, latterly, forced more

trously into the conflict by Mrs Temple's ignorance of the
human heart and natural severity of character, she had brought
herself to a degree of self-denial and self-control which it was
even painful to witness. I thought it hard upon her at the time,
and, notwithstanding the result, I would not for worlds inflict
the same penance myself, neither would I advise any other per-
sons to attempt such a course of discipline. There are certain
drugs which arc dangerous poisons in our own hands, though
1, aling medicines in the hands of a wise physician; and so
there arc chastisements and trials which, brought upon us by
God's Providence, work for our eternal good, whilst, if inflicted
by our own will, they tend to spiritual pride and narrowness
of mind. If the life which Mrs Weir led under Mrs Temple's
government had been marked out by her own conscience, it
would probably have ended in some morbid delusion ; as it

, though often exaggerated, and tinctured by the peculiarities
of her character, there was to be found in it the spirit of simple
submission and humility, and the ornament of that 'meek and
quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price.'

And now it had its reward. Yet it seems to me that there is
nothing more striking, I may even say startling, than the know-
ledge of the 'much tribulation' through which those who may
truly be called the saints of God have been prepared for the
enjoyment of His kingdom. If they, so pure-minded, humble,
'. loving, required so much sorrow, what must be needed
for us, who now in health and prosperity are giving half our

it to the service of Christ and half to the service of
Mammon? As I watched Mrs Weir gradually, hourly, sink-
ing into her grave, I felt as though the hard probation of cen-
turies would never bring me to the same heavenly mind. That
was a distrust of God's grace, but it was not easy to overcome it ;
even the gentle tenderness and affection towards myself,
sh wn in Mrs Weir's every look and tone, and repeated to me
in words of live which can never be forgotten, made me only


feel the more my own coldness and the depth of my ingratitude
towards God.

Mrs Weir asked for her husband almost the first moment that
she was restored to consciousness. Miss Milicent and I had
arranged beforehand what we should say, and we told her that
he had left Paris on account of some business, and that we did
not think he would be able to return just yet. She received the
information very quietly, and, as I thought at the time, without
suspicion ; but the following day, when she rallied for a few
hours, she called Miss Milicent to her bedside, and made her
bring a pen and ink, and write a few lines from her dictation.
They were very few, and I saw the large drops fall from Miss
Milicent's eyes as she noted down the words ; 'when they were
ended, she brought the note to me, and laying it before me, said,
1 It's no use to deceive her, Ursie. She has a quicker sight than
we have.' I read, —

' Dearest George, —
' Something tells me you are gone away in trouble. May God
help you in it ! I have never been any comfort to you. I ask
your forgiveness for this, and all my other shortcomings, and I
thank you that you have allowed me to be with you. Our
daughter, Milicent, will do more than I have ever done to make
you happy. I pray you to love and cherish her. Dearest
George, though I am a grievous sinner, God, of His great mercy,
has given me peace through Jesus Christ. I beseech Him to
give it to you also. If it had been His will, I should have been
glad to tell you myself, that I am now, and have ever been, your
dutiful and affectionate wife, Margaret Weir. His will be done.
There is a place in Heaven for all.'

After writing this note, Mrs Weir asked no questions. It
seemed as though the earthly anxiety was not allowed to linger
in her mind, and her heart was no doubt at rest, from the feeling
that she had fulfilled her last duty to her husband. I was very
thankful for this. If Mr Weir had been with us, his presence
must have been distressingly uncongenial, — and Miss Milicent
would have felt it to be so even more than Mrs Weir. All the
good that was in her came out now, — and yet in a very painful
and often strange way. Longing to nurse her mother, and do
things which might make up for her neglect, she yet put me for-
ward on every occasion, saying that she was not fit to wait upon


any one so good, — but I was determined that this state of feeling
should not continue, and I urged, and at last induced her to sit
with her mother, and read to her just the few verses from the
Psalms, or the Gospel, which were all Mrs Weir could bear to
hear. An English clergyman, who most attentive and kind,
came every day, and then Miss Milicent was obliged to speak,
and take her proper place in the family ; but when we joined in
the prayers, she kept aloof in a distant part of the room, kneel*
ing by herself, and with such a look in her face when she rose
up ! — as if the self-reproach of a whole life had been weighing
upon her. Ii was the third day after the fever had taken a turn
that I said something to her about Mrs Temple, who had come
back to Paris, and sent messages of inquiry. Somewhat of the
old spirit appeared, and she said to me hastily, 'There can't be
any message sent except that we don't want to see her. 1 should
run out of the house if she came in.' An instant afterwards she
corrected herself and added, ' Vet she might have as much cause
to turn away from me. Ursie Grant, I am a great sinner, and
you must say some prayers for me.'

I did pray for her constantly and fervently, more so than she
could possibly have imagined ; and now, seeing her thus moved,
I ventured to say, ' It might be right that Mrs Temple should
come, if she wishes it.'

She stood silent ; then said, ' Yes, send for her,' and made no
other remark.

I had no fear for the meeting now. Mrs Weir's spirit was too
near the hour of its eternal freedom to dread the presence of one
connected with the remembrance of only earthly bondage. Yet
I felt it right to prepare her, and 1 was sure that Miss Milicent
would not undertake the duty. The greater part of the day was
spent now in a torpor, which was nearly, though not quite, sleep.
Late in the afternoon she was roused a little, and I went to her
and said, 'Dear ma'am, there has been a friend anxious to see
you ever since you have been ill— Mrs Temple. She would
think it kind if you would let her come.'

There was just a shadow of pain on Mrs Weir's face ; then she
said, ' My niece is always good, Ursula, and I should like to
thank her that she let me live with her. It is right of you to
think of it.' After this she did not close her eyes again, but
seemed to be more alive to what was going on, and fearing she
might at last be restless, I sent directly for Mrs Temple, and
asked her not to delay. Yet I did not in reality expect her.


After the fear of infection, which she had expressed so strongly,
I thought she would be far too much afraid. I suspect now, how-
ever, that the true cause of her keeping so aloof was not fear, but
wounded pride. As she could not take the upper hand and have
everything her own way, she chose to give up entirely, only re-
maining in the neighbourhood to watch what was being done ;
the dread of infection, I believe, was only an excuse. But the
presence of death brings truth to us all, and Mrs Temple, I cannot
but think, was in her heart too conscious of the unkindness which
she had often been guilty of, not to wish to soothe her conscience
by some last tokens of thought and affection for her aunt. She
came almost before I thought the message could have reached
her, and we went together into Mrs Weir's room. I felt kindly
towards her then for the first time in my life. How could I do
otherwise when I saw the heavenly smile on Mrs Weir's face,
and heard her say, ' I gave you a great deal of trouble, Matilda;
I should like you to say you forgive me ?'

Mrs Temple was no monster, and genuine tears of grief,
perhaps of repentance also, moistened her eyes. ' I may have
seemed hard to you, dear aunt,' she said. ' I did for the best.'

' It was all quite right ; quite right. I would not have one
trial less. We are going the same road, Matilda. May our dear
Saviour bring us both to a happy end.'

Mrs Temple kissed her, and then asked if she would like her
to pray, and the next minute I found myself joining in an ex-
tempore prayer without any shrinking or coldness. But Mrs
Temple's feeling was real ; the mode of its expression might not
suit my individual taste, but her prayer was sincere, the offering
of a heart which for the moment, was simple and in earnest, and
when we stand with a fellow-creature on the banks of the dark
stream which flows between Time and Eternity, all differences
are forgotten in the thought of the great change which ' cometh
alike to all.'

When I rose up from my knees I felt as though I had never
understood before the meaning of those words, ' And now abideth
Faith, Hope, Charity ; these three ; but the greatest of these is

The next day we received the Holy Communion together.
Mrs Weir kept up wonderfully well during the service. Mrs
Temple went home afterwards. Miss Milicent was very tired,
and lay down in her bed, and I sat with Mrs Weir. Still and
peaceful, though so worn and wasted, her face had recovered


somewhat of the expression which 1 remembered when I :
saw her at Dene; and oh, how my thoughts travelled back to the
days which 1 had spent there, whilst visions of its brightness and
beauty came to me like the remembrance of a happier and a
nolier world amidst the din of the great i ity of earth's distrac-
tions ! I think the same memories may have haunted Mr.->\\ eir
also, for, after remaining a Ion- lime silent, she raised her <
to mine, and, as they sparkled with momentary brilliancy, said
' You will go back to your home, Ursula; you will sometimes be
at Dene again. I love no place on earth but that. When you
see it, you will remember me.'

• How could I help it, dear ma'am?' I said; ' I am sure being
with you there was the first thing that seemed to set me forth on
the right road.'

' Heaven is perfect,' she continued, ' but earth is lovely and
very pleasant. Do you remember how free the birds at Dene
were — free and tame, and their songs so sweet in the wood under
the hill ? They seemed to come Vrom far away over the sea to
tell me of other lands ; but 1 shall hear the voices of an
soon ; and, Ursula, they will sing to me of heaven.'

The last sentence was scarcely audible. There had been a
sudden spring of life tor the instant, but it was dickering and
ing fast. I watched her anxiously as she leaned her head
back on the pillow. Her countenance changed a little, yet it was
not like death. As I bent over her, listening to her breathing, I
caught some indistinct words ; they told me where her thoughts
were resting, — on the one great Atoning Love which alone could
be her help. Miss Milicent soon afterwards came in. She was
more startled than I was, for she saw a greater alteration. The
contrast between the stern anguish that convulsed her face, and
the peaceful, though wasted, beauty of her mother's, I shall never
jet. I held Mrs Weir's hand in mine. We stood by the
bedside, watching for about twenty minutes. Then came the
look whiek I knew too well.

' I rsula,' I heard Mrs Weir whisper, and she tried to turn
her head, ' is Milicent here?' The large rough hand was laid
in hers. Mrs Weir's eyes I d me: 'both— blessings,'

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 48 of 56)