Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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she said. 'God's love' the prayer was unfinished, the

breathing became scarcely audible ; then it ceased, and Miss
Milicent threw herself upon the bed with the bitter cry, 'O
mother, mother ! '



I NEED not describe in detail what followed that hour of
sorrow, — for sorrowful indeed it was, — most sad and
desolate. Yet I could not think of myself when I saw Miss
Milicent's grief. She sank under it completely. All the energy
of her nature was turned into repentance, and she exaggerated
her own neglects as much as she had hitherto excused them.
Mrs Temple came every day and took all arrangements upon
herself. I think she imagined I should wish to interfere, but
my task was over ; and I had now but one desire, to be
permitted to stay till I had seen the remains of my dear and
most honoured friend laid in their last resting-place. It was
my hand which assisted in laying her in her coffin, and strewed
over her a few late flowers, and mine was the last loving eye
which gazed upon her sweet face before it was shut out from our
sight for ever.

Dear lady ! whether we think it or not, we all by our lives
preach a sermon, either of warning or example. Hers could
never be forgotten.

It was very hard for me to turn from the stillness of that death-
chamber to plans for the business of life ; still more hard to feel
that the seas would soon roll between me and the last home of
one of the best of friends. If Mrs Weir had died at Stonecliff,
I might have tended her grave myself; and the occupation would
have brought back to me her holy counsels and her simple
faith, and urged me forward on the path to heaven. But it
was not to be, and I could but pass beyond this temporary
separation on earth, to the hope of an eternal reunion in a
better world.

During the few days that followed her mother's death, Miss
Milicent had kept closely to her room, refusing to admit any
one. On the day of the funeral she appeared, looking very ill,
but quite quiet and self-controlled. Mr Temple and she were
the chief mourners. Mr Weir dared not appear. I felt how
much more worldly show than sincerity there is in such public
demonstrations. Mrs Weir's death was nothing to Mr Temple ;
to me it was a lifelong sorrow ; yet I was obliged to keep in the
background, and to remember that no one, not even Miss
Milicent, could understand the depths of my grief. When we
returned home, Miss Milicent called me into her room, and


seizing hold of me before I was aware what bhc was going to

do, kis ed me, and said, 'Ursic, thank you ; ' and then fitting
down on her black trunk, gave way to a violent burst of giicf.
I let it have its course, and it ended as suddenly as it had
UK, She dashed away her tears, and confronting me, said,
abruptly, ' Ursie, I am going to live with Matilda Temple.'

I was startled. I had thought of what her future would be,
and had supposed that, of course, she would join her father.

' Look,' she continued, and she drew a letter from her pocket,
and her lip quivered, ' my father won't have me.'

She had expressed the fact broadly, but it was so in reality.
As I had often suspected, Mr Weir was encumbered by his
daughter's presence. He took advantage of his present un-
toward circumstances to inform her of it. The letter was like
himself, not uncourteous, not unkind, but utterly selfish, whilst
putting his determination entirely upon the ground of considera-
tion for her. He said his movements were uncertain : he might
be obliged to encounter many roughnesses which would not suit
her ; Mrs Weir's death would place Miss Miliccnt in possession
of a comfortable income, which he had no doubt she would be
willing so to manage as that he himself should have enough to
subsist upon, without becoming a burden to his friends. This
was, perhaps, reversing the common order of things, which re-
quired that the parent should support the child, but after the
many misfortunes which he had met with in life, it was his only
resource. He required very little, only sufficient to give him
the ordinary comforts of life without care ; — and then he named
a sum which took away at least two-thirds of the small addi-
tional income which Miss Miliccnt would now inherit in addi-
tion to her own slender fortune. But she was too generous to
think of this. If he had asked for it all, she would have given
it cheerfully. What really distressed her was his wish to live
alone. She was fond of him, and overlooked his many faults,
and flattered herself that during the last year she had added
materially to his happiness. To find that she had not only by
her advice and encouragement assisted in bringing him into
difficulties, but that she had failed to increase his comforts — and
this was most clear from the tenor of his letter, — was a most
bitter blow. Poor thing ! I felt for her from the bottom of my
heart, and the way in which she clung to me, as though I was
the only person in the world who had the slightest affection for
her. touched me inexpressibly.


The plan of living with Mrs Temple, most distasteful though
it unquestionably was, seemed certainly the best that could be
arranged for the present. I think Miss Milicent found some
satisfaction in the very fact of its being painful. She was in
that unhappy, self-reproachful state of mind, in which we
naturally long to do penance, for our own comfort, without the
slightest thought of being able to make reparation or atone-

' I shall feel what my mother felt, Ursie,' she said, ' I had
rather ; if it were to be scourged I should be glad. Write to
me sometimes; don't forget me; I could not bear that. If
Matilda Temple is unbearable, I must let it out to you, only my
mother did not do it ; she kept it all in and never complained.
O Ursie, Ursie ! why was not I born a saint like her ?'

'You may be one, you know, Miss Milicent,' I said, 'if you
only go the same way to work, and you will have enough to
exercise your patience and forbearance.'

'Enough ! yes, enough to try ten thousand saints ; but I will
put up with it, Ursie. I mean to bear it, and one ought, you
know, after making friends as we have lately. But she will
worry me out of my life. She means to travel, — I like travel-
ling, I don't like anything else ; but I can't endure being

This travelling notion was a new one, and I thought it
sounded well. Miss Milicent explained that Mrs Temple
wished to remain on the continent for a year or two. It was a
plan of economy. ' And perhaps we may meet with my father
somewhere ; perhaps he may join us, — that would be a comfort,
Ursie,' said Miss Milicent, catching hold of the least vestige
which remained of her former life.

I did not throw doubts on her hopes, rather encouraged her to
look at the plan in the most cheerful light. I knew she would
have quite sufficient wretchedness to undergo when I was gone,
and she had no one to whom to open her heart, to require all the
support which a sanguine nature could give. But my mind was
certainly relieved by the present plan, and I ventured to look
further into futurity, and to suggest to Miss Milicent that if, after
her return to England, she had a fancy to live by herself, she
might take a cottage at Compton, renew her duties in the parish,
and allow me occasionally to see her, and talk over old times
and happier days. I think this prospect soothed her more than
anything else. She shook my hand with both hers, and told me

v /j LA.

that die had always felt I had been sent tu be a blessing to

them, and she wished she had followed my advice before ; tli
was no person in all the world she depended upon so thorou id .

' I was not much comfort to any one in the old days, when you
first knew me, Miss Milicent,' 1 said. 'Do you remember your
on about the darned stocking ? 1 behaved worse than you
knew then.'

! Ursie, you went my way, you were wilful ; but you
turned back soon. It was at Dene, I recolhct; those were
pleasant days ; there is no place like Dene ! '

' None,' I repeated, earnestly.

'So my mother thought,' she continued ; 'well! some day I
may go back and see it — only it may be all changed.'

'We needn't look forward,' I said; ' often places remain un-
changed for very long.'

' Some do, some don't ; I can't think Dene will. It will come
to ruin, and be forgotten like us ;' she paused. 'There! Ui
that's foryou ;' and pushing into my hand a beautiful mournii

■■;, containing some of her mother's hair, .Mi^s Milicent i
the door, motioned me from the room, and the interview endi d.
Many persons would have thought her not only strange, but cold ;
others might have said she had no religious feeling, no earnest-
ness ; but I knew her better. There was sincerity of purpose
underneath all this roughness ; a struggle with her own self-will ;
a humbling consciousness that she had done wrong; a willing-
ness to accept whatever might be in store for her in the dis-
pensation of God's Providence. It was as much as I expected.
As Miss Milicent herself expressed it, she certainly was not
born a saint, and it was hard to expect her to become one
all at once.

Mrs Temple was civil to me all this time. I believe that
which weighed with her in my favour more than any other cir-
cumstance, was the fact that Mrs Weir had not put by any
money for me, or left me any remembrance except a copy of
hop Jeremy Taylor's Sermons. I Icr fortune was entailed up< I
Miss Milicent, and with regard to any personal property,
will had been drawn up several years before, and latterly she had
been far too nervous and ill to make any change in it. I don't
remember that a thought ol what might be left me had ever
crossed my mind, but certainly I was very much relieved that
things were as they were, when I found that one of Mrs Temple's
constant fears was, that I should in some way, I really don't


know how, induce her aunt to favour mc to the disadvantage of
her relations.

After Mrs Weir's will was read, her manner visibly changed ;
and I was not in a mood to bear malice, and was willing to
accept the alteration, and be thankful for it. I was, however,
only a useless burden to the family now, and in spite of Miss
Milicent's entreaties that I would stay just for the few remaining
days they were in Paris, I made my preparations for leaving
without delay. Mr Temple procured my passport ; Mrs Temple,
though she made no apology for her accusations, paid me the
money that was due, and said that she believed I had tried to
do my duty ; Louise gave me innumerable instructions about
the Custom-house, and Miss Milicent accompanied me to the
railway station.

The French practice, of not allowing any person to go upon
the platform except those who intend to travel, was a real trial
to us both. We lingered together as long as we possibly could,
saying very little, but each, I am sure, feeling that every moment
was crowded with dear and hallowed remembrances ; till at last,
looking at her watch, Miss Milicent drew me to the door which
led to the waiting-room, once more kissed me, muttered a hasty
' Now, Ursie, go — God bless you : ' — and we parted.

As I placed myself in the railway carriage, I felt that Paris
would from thenceforth be a dream ; that my real life lay at


THE journey was long and uncomfortable. It is surprising to
me now how I managed it as I did ; but I had received full
instructions, and having no one to think of but myself, I was free
from nervousness. That is a great help always. I suppose we
scarcely know how heavy is the burden of responsibility for
others, even when all seems to go well, until it is for a time re-
moved. It was perfect rest,, in spite of the bodily discomfort, to
lie still in my berth, as we crossed from Havre to Southampton,
feeling that I was not answerable for the well-being of any single
individual on board the vessel ; not till I had again landed on
English ground, and felt myself drawing near home, did the


cares of life begin again to press upon mc. In the interval I
had gained strength for whatever was to come. Roger to
meet me in Hove. I had written to make the appointment, not
.it the station, but in the town, where he had business ; and as

the omnibus, which took mc from the railway station, stop
at the court-yard of the Red Lion, I saw the Sandcombc chaise
just ready to be brought out. A few moments afterwards, Roger
himself appeared at some little distance down the street. I for-
got all proprieties, and ran forward to meet him.

' Well ! my little Trot ! there arc some things blessings in
life;' and Roger drew my aim within his, hurried mc on, and as
soon as wc were safe within the shelter of the inn yard, gave
mc such a greeting as I certainly had not received since I left

I looked up at him then anxiously, but he did not seem in any
way altered, his face had just the same honest brightness in
it, and as I kept my eyes fixed upon him, and said, ' I had been
away such a long, long time,' he laughed, and asked me if I
thought his hair would have turned gray in three months. I
don't know what I thought, but it was certainly a relief to see
him apparently so unchanged. I asked after Jessie ; he an-
swered me rather shortly, but not as if he was troubled about
her. ' She was very tolerably well, 1 he said ; ' she had been
doing a little too much lately ; but now that I was returned all
would be right,' and then he hurried me into the chaise, observ-
ing that we should be late home, and the nights were cold and
dark. All the way to Sandcombc we talked incessantly about
everything, and everybody. 1 said the most, but that was
natural, there was so much to tell, and Roger kept on asking
me all kinds of questions. I felt it would be unkind to trouble
him with my grief for Mrs Weir ; he would have sympathised
with it, but it would have marred the happiness of our meeting ;
and besides, the feeling was becoming sacred, it could not be
approached except at certain times, and under certain cir-
cumstances, so I dwelt principally upon things which I thought
would amuse him. He had never been in France, and was
interested in my descriptions of the people and the places I had
visited, though in truth I had seen very little, and certainly not
enough to enable me to form an opinion. ' I won't tell you what
I think about the country myself,' I said, in answer to his in-
quiry, ' for I don't seem to know it. Some things there are in it
which I like very much, and others very little, and I suppose


that is the case with most other countries that are different from
one's own. Louise has an English friend, a lady's-maid, who
declares that it "is inside out, and upside down, and all wrong;''
but that is because she was so scandalised at the way they
spend their Sundays.'

Roger laughed. ' Well,' he said, ' I don't think France would
suit me in that way, and, by the by, Ursie, you remind me that
we are getting out of some of our good ways at Sandcombe.
Jessie has been too tired, since you have been away, to hear
Esther Smithson read, and I have a fear that she is not quite so
steady as she was.'

' She might be made to read to herself, if Jessie is not able to
hear her,' I said, 'but it takes only a short time.'

' Yes,' and he became thoughtful. ' Two pair of hands are
better than one, Ursie. They will feel that at Longside when
Mary is gone.'

' When is she to be married ? ' I asked. ' She has treated me
shamefully, and not written to me once.'

'A letter is a trouble to her, I suppose, as it is to me. I be-
lieve the wedding is to come off early in April. Somehow, Trot,
I can't help thinking that John Hervey and she have made
rather a mess of it. John has altered since this affair has been
settled. He came back from France with all his spirits gone,
and looking quite ill.'

' Indeed ! ' I answered ; I did not trust myself to say more,
though I was terribly conscience-stricken.

'John says so little about himself at any time,' said Roger, ' it
is not easy to get at what he thinks, in spite of his open ways.
It strikes me sometimes, Trot, that there is nothing more deceiv-
ing in this world than that sort of manner which makes you
think you know persons thoroughly at first sight.'

Roger spoke as if he was a little aggrieved, and I taxed him
with it.

' No !' he said, ' I have nothing to find fault with, except, per-
haps, that John does not come over to Sandcombe as he used
to do, and is always busy. Change must come, I suppose, in all
ways,' and he sighed. ' I remember the time when John Hervey
wouldn't have kept back a thought from me.'

' Perhaps he finds that you keep back some from him,' I said.
* A married man is different from a single one, Roger.'

He became quite silent, and continued so for a long time. I
thought it a bad sign, and fell into a train of thought in conse-

5 jo URSULA.

nee. When we sp in, ii was only to complain of the

•Jmcss of the lane leading off the down, for wc were fast
drawing near to Sandcomb

' Is that Jessie ?' I exclaimed, as I saw in the dusk a figure
standing in the entrance passa

Not Jessie, — it was Esther Smithson. Jessie was waiting
for me in the parlour. I hurried in ; Roger followed me

' I have brought her home, you see,' he said. ' She was
punctual to her time lo a minute.'

'Not like me,' said Jessie, approaching to assist me in un-
fastening my cloak. Her tone was a little sharp.

' I don't know that I said so,' was Roger's quick reply. 'Sit
down by the fire, Trot, and warm yourself. Jessie, what have
you got for her for tea ? She must be starving, for wc had not
lime to have anything in Move.'

'There is some cold meat, I believe,' said Jessie.

' It ought to be hot,' replied Roger. ' Isn't there some broth
in the house ? You would like a basin of broth, Ursie ?'

'Yes; I really think I should very much,' I said. 'I have
learned to like potagc, as the French call it, from never having
had a dinner without it for the last two months.'

' We arc not up to French soups, I am afraid,' said Jessie,
slowly moving to the door. ' I don't know whether there is any
broth ; but I will go and see.'

' I 11 go,' said Roger, hurrying after her. 'You sit still. Jessie,
and hear all that Ursie has to tell. And where is William ? He
will be wishing to see her.'

'William was here just now,' said Jessie. ' But, Ursie, dear,
had not you better go up-stairs and take off your things, and make
yourself comfortable, and then come down and talk afterwards?'
It was the wisest plan certainly, and I followed the suggestion.
Jessie lingered over the fire, and Roger called out, ' I will take
hi r boxes up-stairs. Just see, Jessie, that tea is got ready, will
you ?' And seizing the smallest box, he carried it up before me,
and uncorded it.

' Jessie isn't strong,' he said, in a tone of apology, ' and we
arc obliged to be careful of her. She will be quite a different
person now you arc come back, Ursie'

'I can scarcely judge how she looks,' I said, 'having only
seen her by fire-light. You are not anxious about her ?'

; not exactly.' And there was the same sudden silence

URSULA. 5 1 1

as before, when Jessie's name was mentioned. Yet Roger did
not seem at all inclined to leave me. His way of lingering made
me think of Jessie's arrival after her marriage, and I don't know
what kind of feeling came over me, as he sat down on my trunk,
looking at me whilst I took off my bonnet, and not offering to go
till I said to him, laughingly, that I should think he had been
to France himself, and learned to make a parlour of a bedroom.
It was scarcely pleasure, though yet it was very pleasant, to find
him so glad to have me at home again. It was more a sense
of unfitness, as if I was receiving an affection which was not
my due.

The tea-table was certainly the most comfortable sight I had
seen since I went away ; and William's welcome was nearly as
hearty as Roger's. ' Home is home, be it never so homely/ says
the proverb ; and my heart bounded with thankfulness, as I
thought of the many blessings to which I had been permitted to
return. By candle-light I was able to examine more closely the
countenances in which I was so deeply interested. William was
looking remarkably well ; but his eyes, he told me, were as bad
as ever. He was beginning to employ himself in knitting; there
were so many hours when he was forced to be within doors, and
Jessie was not able to read aloud much. Roger — I was not
satisfied about him. The happy look which had cheered me
when we first met was gone now. He had his old grave face, — the
face belonging to the latter days of our life at Dene, when he
was projecting his expedition to Canada. I could gather but little
from it, however. Roger's uniform sobriety of manner was as
repelling to curiosity as other persons' perpetual brightness.
Jessie I not only looked at, but watched most carefully. She was
a greater problem than Roger. She looked thin, and ill, and
restless, and unhappy ; but the unhappiness I knew was not
necessarily mental ; for whenever her finger ached she was
miserable. It was her manner to Roger, and his to her, which
I felt I must study, if I wished to discover how things really
stood between them ; and here, again, there was much to per-
plex me. Roger was very attentive, extremely thoughtful about
her ; no one could have been more so ; but it was a thoughtful-
ness which rather distressed me ; it seemed as though there was
too much duty in it. And Jessie was grateful, but absent in
manner, and a little inclined to take offence, as she seemed to
expect him to find fault with her.

They were the merest trifles which gave me these impressions ;

5 i2 URSULA.

no one but myself probably would have noticed them ; and we
hula pleasant, cheerful evening, and stayed up talking much
later than usual; and when at last I went to my room, I was
too tired to be kept awake even by anxiety.


I HAD made up my mind that I would have an explanation
with Jessie, directly I found myself at home. Three weeks
went by, Christmas came and passed, and the New Year opened
upon us, and still there was a mysterious silence between us. 1
hope it was not my fault ; I can scarcely accuse myself, strietly
speaking, of want of moral courage ; but Jessie had the most
singular and ingenious way of avoiding the dreaded subject ;
and twice, when we drew so near that my next question would
certainly have been an entreaty that she would open her mind
to me, she became so painfully agitated, that I actually dreaded
to make the experiment again. And all this time there was
nothing exactly to remark upon in her way of going on, but only
a half-hidden and unceasing restlessness, which made every
occupation a burden, and every conversation wcari6ome, and
which often compelled Roger to turn to me for the assistance
and sympathy which it seemed in vain to expect from her.

It was the beginning of January, a Saturday ; Roger was gone
to Hove, and we did not expect him home till late. We had our
tea, and prepared a little hot supper for him, for he was likely to
come in cold and hungry. There had been somewhat of a press
in the money-market for some weeks ; every one was feeling it,
and Roger, with all his prudence, could not hope to escape better
than his neighbours. The farmers generally were grumbling,
but Roger never grumbled, he only looked a little thoughtful,
and begged me to keep an eye upon the house expenses. We
were all listening particularly for Roger, on account of this un-
easiness in our minds, though any misgiving we had was more
for others than ourselves ; and all at the same moment caught
the sound of his horse's hoofs coming down the lane. I rather
made way for Jessie, thinking she would hurry out to meet him;
but finding she did not, I went out myself.


'Well! what news?' I said, as I helped him off with his

' Not so good as it might be, but nothing to affect us. I arn
later home than you expected, I suppose.'

I was always painfully quick in understanding Roger's tone,
lie did not wish to dwell upon the subject, and I left it to
William to ask disagreeable questions. Jessie and I laid out the
supper, and gave him some hot beer, for he was bitterly cold,
and stood in front of the fire saying nothing, very much as
though his words were frozen also.

' Eat your supper,' said William, good-naturedly ; ' and then
tell us your news. We are all willing to wait.'

' I have no money news that concerns us,' answered Roger.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 49 of 56)