Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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' Roger is a fool ! ' he said, in a husky voice. ' Ursie, I can't
live alone.'

All the love which had been lying deep in my heart for years
seemed, at that moment, to gather itself up into one overwhelm-
ing torrent. ' Let the whole world be against me, and I will
go ! ' I exclaimed ; ' God made us brother and sister ; He
taught us to love one another, and it can't be His will that we
should part.'

He pressed me to him more closely, but he did not answer.

'Is it not true?' I continued, eagerly. 'Have you anything
to say against it ? If God has joined us together, why are we to
be put asunder?'

' That is said of husband and wife, not of brother and sister,'
he replied.

' And if I were your wife you would take me with you ? '

' I should feel it my duty,' was the answer.

It was my turn then to be silent ; neither of us, indeed, spoke
for some seconds. At last I said, bitterly, ' A wife couldn't love
you better than I do, Roger ! '

'Maybe not,' he replied. The words must have struck him
as cold, for he added, ' You love me a thousand times more than
I deserve, Ursie ; but that is no reason why I am to take
advantage of you to lead you into hardships.'

' I shall walk into them with my eyes open,' I replied. 'I am

84 • URSULA.

not a girl now, I am a woman ; I know what I can beat — every-
thing, Roger, except you shouldn't love me.'

1 Then you have little enough to fear in life,' he said ; ' but,
Ursie, it won't do to think only of our love. There is a safer
lulc, though not such a pleasant one, — what we can afford.'

'I shall be no expense to you,' I replied; 'and every one
knows how useful a woman is in a new country.'

'Yes, in some ways; but it is all an experiment. If I take
you, I must pay your passage, and lit you out, and all our travel-
ling will be doubled, and I must be more careful as to lodging.
If I go by myself, I may find a shelter anywhere, I shall not care
where I am ; but if I have you with me, I shall never bear that
you should want comforts ; and then, if the scheme should fail,
there will be the expense of coming back again.'

' Then, why go at all, if it is to fail ?' I said, rather perversely.

'Because it's the best opening a man in my circumstances
can have.'

'And if you were married, you would still go, and take your

' Even so ; a family man has a much better chance in a new
country than an old one.'

' But you are not married, and you have no family.'

' No reason why I mayn't be married some day, you know,
Trot,' and he laughed.

' No reason,' I answered, quietly ; but it seemed that a dagger
went through my heart.

I don't know whether Roger suspected it, but he went on :
' There is no good in locking on into the future, Trot ; we have
lived very happily hitherto, and, please God, we will be happy
yet. My wife's wedding-clothes are not made, nor likely to be;
and, in the meantime, there is nothing I want but Ursie : and if
all goes well, by this time twelvemonth I may be writing to you
from over the sea, asking you to come to me : and then I don't
think you will say no. And you know,' he added, 'that a wife,
if I had one, couldn't take up so much room but what there
would always be a corner for you.'

lie was a man ; he did not know a woman's heart, and lie
thought he had comforted me by those words.

'Then it is settled; you are going,' I answered. I cotdd
not bring myself to say thank you for what he had been offer-
ing me.

'Not at all settled,' he replied; 'it depends partly upon


William, and getting the money together. You know now a
good deal is laid out upon his farm, and I don't want to put him
to inconvenience. That is one reason why I said nothing to
you ; I felt the plan might never come to anything ; and there
was no use in troubling you before the time.'

' You would not have treated your wife so/ I said, reproach-
fully. He was very quick at catching any change in my voice.

' O Ursie ! — jealous ! ' He laughed, and patted me on the
back, as though I had been a child.

My pride was touched ; and I drew back from him. ' I only
wish,' I said, 'to have common trust placed in me. If I am
worth anything, Roger, I am worth that ; and I have never kept
back a thought from you.'

'Nor I from you, Ursie,' he answered, gravely. ' It shouldn't
have been so now if I had guessed for a moment that you would
take it to heart. As to a wife, the notion is too silly to talk
about. Twenty wives wouldn't do for me what my little Trot
has done.' And then he gave me what I used to call one of his
bear's hugs, and I prayed him to be merciful ; and said, laughing,
yet being more inclined to cry, that I wouldn't wish him a worse
punishment than one wife ; for he didn't know the least about
women's ways, and he had been quite spoiled.

' True, perhaps, Ursie,' he said, thoughtfully ; and I felt com-
forted, though not happy.

We stood together for some minutes afterwards, watching the
glimmering of the moonlight which was just beginning to mark
a path upon the sea. I think we were both glad to forget for a
while that there was anything else to be thought about. The
light streamed doubtfully at first, seeming to catch only the crests
of the waves, and then a cloud passed, and it was quite hidden,
and a deep shadow rested upon the water ; from which, after a
few minutes, broke forth at intervals glittering lines and bright
islands of pale glory, till at length once more the moon rose high
and clear ; and the broad sparkling pathway was traced in one
unbroken flood of silvery light across the ocean.

'Do you see it, Ursie?' said Roger; and he pointed to a
liny vessel making its way across the ocean. ' How lonely it
looks ! '

'Not lonely,' I said; 'there is another following it. Now
they are coming into the light; they are close together.' I heard
Roger sigh.

' They are going in the same direction,' I added ;. ' they must

86 f RSULA.

be bound for the same port. If storms come, they will help each
other. You would not part them, Roger?' .

'It is growing very late, Ursie, we must be going,' was his
only answer. We left the shelter of the ruined oratory; and as

the cold breeze was felt on the open hill, Roger said earnestly.
' I shouldn't feel the chill, Ursie, if you were not here to share it.
It may be better to be lonely after all.'


I WAS awakened next morning by a loud knocking at the
cottage door. It must have been about half-past five o'clock,
for I was very sound asleep, and I always woke by myself
before six. I waited to hear if Roger would move, and not hear-
ing him, I supposed he must have dressed and gone out before,
and as quickly as I could I went down-stairs myself, thinking
that most likely it was Fanny come over from the house for
something she wanted.

When I opened the door I saw not Fanny but Miss Milicent.
'Why didn't you come, Ursie,' she said ; ' I have been knocking
till I was tired. You are wanted ; my mother has had a bad
night, and says she must see you directly. It is too bad for a
girl like you to lie in bed so long.' Miss Milicent, I suppose,
thought that because I worked harder I needed less sleep than
she did. I could see she was like myself, only just out of bed,
for she had wrapped a loose kind of man's greatcoat round her,
the sleeves hanging down helplessly on each side ; and some
locks of very dishevelled black hair escaped from under her
garden-bonnet. I had learned to answer her, I am afraid, a little
in her own tone; so I said, 'Does Mrs Weir want me before I
am dressed, Miss Milicent?'

' She wants you at once ; I have been up with her half the
night. Why weren't you at home last evening? she wanted you

'I had business at Sandcombe,' I said; ' I am sorry Mrs Weir
wanted me last night, but I will be over as soon as I can be


'And 1 shall wait for you,' said Miss Milicent; 'but mind


v/hat you say to her, Ursie ; she can't bear to be contradicted ; you
mustn't put her out, or she wi^l be worse.'

Miss Milicent made her way into the parlour, and I went
up-stairs again to dress as quickly as I could. It was not very
unusual for me to be called in this way, though it was seldom
quite so early. They all knew I was an early riser, and Mrs
Weir every now and then sent for me the first thing to do some-
thing for her which she could not trust to her daughter. I must
confess that she was at times a little given to whimsies. But
Miss Milicent's manner gave me an idea of something more than
ordinary, and my conversation with John Harvey had frightened
me about what was coming upon the family. I could not dress
half as quickly as I wished, my hands shook so, and Miss Mili-
cent called to me twice before I was read)'. I would not go,
however, without my prayers ; they were a little shorter than
usual, but they comforted me with the feeling that I had trusted
myself and others to God's guidance for whatever might be com-
ing upon us.

'I have been looking at your furniture, Ursie,' said Miss
Milicent, when I came down-stairs again. ' Your room is
crowded ; that sofa would be much better round by the fire-

'Thank you, Miss Milicent, but it does very well where it is ;
it is never used; and Roger and I like to sit close to the fire our-
selves when it is cold.'

' If it 's no use, why don't, you get rid of it ? you might sell it
for as much as four pounds, and the money would be useful to
you in many ways.'

'I dare say it would,' I answered, 'but Roger and I like the
sofa ; it was my mother's.'

I felt sorry when I had said the words. I always was sorry in
those days, when I let out anything of feeling before Miss Milicent.
I opened the door for her to go out, and she went on before me,
not taking any heed to my observation. Before she reached the
house she turned round and said, ' If ever you want to part with
the sofa, I think Mrs Richardson would be likely to buy it of
you ; she wants one.'

I do believe Miss Milicent meant it kindly, but it was beyond
my patience to bear it, or rather it would have been, if I had not
made it part of my prayer to be able to put up with her. I
answered, ' Thank you,' very shortly, and kept at a distance
from her, that she might not have the opportunity of saying any-


thine; more. We wont up-stairs to tlic lobby, and there some
thing seemed to strike Miss Miliccnt, and she beckoned me to
come to her into the peacock room.

There were the birds roosting on the trellis-work ! Little
they knew of the cares of life, and much I was inclined to envy

' I suppose, Ursie, it may be as well to tell you one thing,'
said Miss Miliccnt, throwing open the window and sitting down
by it ; for the room had been shut up some days. ' My mother
has had some uncomfortable news, and she may talk to you about
it. But you are not to encourage her. It is nothing in which
you or any one else can do any good. Just try to draw away her
thoughts, and if she wants you to read a chapter in the Bible or
so, I suppose you can stay for it.'

I answered that I would willingly do what I could. I had
Roger's breakfast to get ready, and the kitchen fire was not
lighted, but I would remain to be a comfort to Mrs Weir as long
as was possible.

' Fanny can go over and light the fire,' said Miss Miliccnt,
' and she can get your brother's breakfast too.'

'Thank you,' I replied, ' but that would not quite suit Roger,
I am afraid ; I must go myself, if I can.'

Miss Miliccnt sat considering, which was not at all common
with her. Presently she said, ' You are very much given to your
own ways, Ursie Grant. It strikes me you might as well take a
little thought for others. My mother has been very kind to you.'

' Very indeed,' I said ; ' I wish always to show my gratitude ;
I will do all I can for Mrs Weir, but I am afraid I can't put
aside Roger.'

' It is not wise of you, Ursie. Some day he will put you aside
when you aren't thinking of it.'

' I am willing to wait till the day comes,' I replied : 'but wc
arc wasting time now, Miss Milicent.'

Strange to say, that was a fact she needed often to be re-
minded of. Busy though she was from morning till night, she
frittered away more time than any person I ever met with.

She stopped again in her persevering way just as wc came to
Mrs Weir's door, and said : ' You know that when Roger Grant
marries, you will be obliged to leave him.'

'Yes,' I said, very coolly ; but if she had given me a blow, I
could not have felt the proud colour rush to my cheek more


I opened the door of Mrs Weir's room, and held it for Miss
Milicent to pass, and in she went like a rush of wind, straight up
to her mother's bed, and drew aside the curtain, without a word
of preparation.

That was going against one of Mrs Weir's peculiar fancies.
She never liked to be looked at in bed, unless she was dressed for
it, and had on her pretty white muslin dressing-gown, trimmed
with lace, and her best cap. ' I have been over to Ursie Grant,
mother, and she is come, — here she is.' Miss Milicent pulled
aside the curtains still farther.

'That will do, Milicent. The light troubles me.' Mrs Weir's
voice was very weak, and she drew the coverlid over her face.

' It 's only because you keep the room so dark always, mother,'
replied Miss Milicent. u'lf you would leave off having the
shutters closed at night, you wouldn't be so fidgety. Ursie can't
see to read, nor to do anything in this owl's light.'
i ' I wish to talk a little to Ursula alone, Milicent. I beg you
to leave us. Is Ursula there?'

I drew near, and as I did so, managed to draw the curtain so
as partly to hide Mrs Weir, and make her feel that I was not
looking at her. Miss Milicent flustered about the room (it is the
only word I know to express what I mean), putting the chairs
straight, and moving things from the dressing-table.

' I wish to be quiet, Milicent. I should like those things to be
left,' said Mrs Weir, plaintively.

'You can't see, mother ; you went to bed in such a hurry last
night, that Cotton had no time to put anything away.'

Mrs Weir resigned herself to her fate, and let her head fall
back on the pillow.

' I will see to it all, Miss Milicent,' I said, going up to her,
'if you will just kindly leave it. Else I may be obliged to go
back to Roger before Mrs Weir has had time to talk to me.'

' Well, yes ! I settled that Fanny should go over and light the
fire. I shall call her and tell her so.'

A most happy thought ! it took Miss Milicent away, and she
departed, slamming the door so violently, that I observed poor
Mrs Weir put her hand to her head, showing that the noise gave
her pain. We heard Miss Milicent about the house for at least
ten minutes afterwards, up-stairs and down-stairs, ordering one
and another. No matter whom she had to meet : there was the
greatcoat with its helpless hanging sleeves, and the garden*
bonnet to cover her.


Mrs Weir waited for some seconds to assure herself that the
room was free from Miss Milicent's presence, after which, she
said, 'Now, Ursula, if you please, sit down;' and I placed a
chair just behind the curtain, and sat down. 'Thank you for
coming,' she continued. ' I should have preferred not sending
to you till after I had had my breakfast, but Milicent desired it.'

'Miss Milicent thought I might be able to do something for
you, ma'am,' I said, ' and I should be very glad if I could.' J

' You are very good, Ursula. 1 fe< 1 it. Will you kindly look
for my other cap, and the little light shawl in the left-hand
draw* r ; you know which I mean ; and, perhaps, if it would not
trouble you, you would just give me my hand-^lass, and draw
aside the window curtain a little, a very little. Milicent woul 1
open the shutters quite, though I begged her not.'

These were very common little duties. I had often performed
them before ; for Mrs Weir was very thoughtful about her maid,
and whenever she kept her up at night, took care that she should
have time to rest in the morning. I gave her the glass, and the
cap, and poured some water into a very pretty china basin, with
a pattern of green leaves and acorns round it, and handed her the
sweet-smelling soap, and the soft-fringed towel, feeling all the
time as if I was waiting upon a child, or even something more
tender and delicate, something which would be likely to break if
one touched it, her little hands and arms were so thin and white,
and her fingers so taper. She had but few gray hairs, and her
complexion was still very transparent. I don't think she showed
her age at all, except in the marks beneath her eyes.

' Now, my eau de Cologne, if you please, Ursula; and I should
like the little table to be brought nearer, and wiil you put the
flowers so that I may look at them ? and the purple morocco
Testament. I thank you ; that is quite right ; no one overdoes
just what I wish as you do.'

No one except Miss Milicent had known Mrs Weir's ways
as long as I, and it had taken me a good while to learn them.
As for Miss Milicent, it was a matter of continued surprise
to me, that she and her mother had not separated years be-

1 1 should like you to read to me, Ursula, but I am afraid to
take up your time ; perhaps I had better talk to you ti

' If you please, ma'am,' I said. And now that Mrs Weir was
in a measure dressed, I ventured to place my chair so that I
might see her more plainly.


I noticed, then, that her eyes were heavy, and her eyelids red,
showing that she had been crying, but she was trying to look
happy. She was able to control herself wonderfully. I thought
that, perhaps, if anything painful was to be said, it might be as
well to let her prepare herself for it, so I offered to read the
second morning lesson for the day. I knew that would soothe
and give her strength more than anything I could suggest.

She listened with great reverence and attention, as was her
wont, and when I had ended she said, ' Thank you, Ursula, it
has done me good. Whatever there is to bear, it will not be for
long, and there is a bright hope beyond.'

Then she paused, and the faint spot of colour in her cheek
went and came, as it might have done in the face of a young

' You have heard bad news, ma'am, I am afraid,' I said, for I
felt I must help her in spite of Miss Milicent's warning.

I was standing by the bed close to her. Poor lady ! she caught
my hand, and looked piteously in my face, and then she leaned
her head on my shoulder, and cried like a child. And through
her sobs came the words, ' Ursula, my husband is gone, and we
are ruined.'

' Dear ma'am, I heard something of it/ I said ; ' but it may
not be so bad as you think.'

She drew herself away from me, and a flash shot from her
eye. ' They talk of us, then, — they pity us. But why should
they not, Ursula?' and her voice was tremulous again. 'We
are all weak — weak — only mortals ! '

' Roger had heard something, and Mr Hervey, too,' I replied,
'but I don't fancy, ma'am, the news is commonly known.'

' It concerns Mr Grant, Ursula,' continued Mrs Weir, her
voice and manner becoming calmer. ' Milicent says he must
go away from Dene, and you also. She tells me we must live
in a little cottage, and not keep any servant. I don't think I
could live long if Milicent waited on me ; but I must try ; we
must all try to do what God orders. Only, Ursula, you will
come and see me sometimes?'

I meant not to be silly, and I used to think that I could always
keep my tears in, but I broke down entirely then.

'Milicent told me, last night, all we should have to do,' pur-
sued Mrs Weir. ' When I could not go to sleep, she talked to
me about it. I dare say it was right to look at the worst ; and
Milicent says she shall not care for having everything to arrange;


but I think, Ursul ', I might have slept better if I had been left

' Miss Milicent is strong,' I said ; 'she does not understand
what you require, ma'am.'

'Perhaps not; I know she said only what was true; but,
Ursula, I should not vex myself with my own trials so much, if
I knew ni"re about my husband. Perhaps he is gone abroad ;
I ought to follow him. I ought to try and make him happier.'

' I don't think you need trouble yourself about Mr Weir,
ma'am,' I began, angrily ; but she laid her hand upon my arm.

' 1 made a vow once, Ursula, to love, and honour, and obey
him. You have never made such a vow. You cannot under-
Stand it. But it must be kept. Do you think Mr Grant or Mr
Hervcy would endeavour to find out where my husband is? I
might join him then. I think I would rather do so than live in
the little cottage with Milicent.'

I could well understand that. Great self-sacrifice is alwajs
more easy than patient endurance. ' You are not fit to go to
him, ma'am,' I said, 'if he is out of England. You would not
be able to bear the hardships of travelling.'

' We should travel till we found him,' said Mrs Weir. ' Then
we might take a house in some place where we were not known.'

I felt whilst she spoke so easily of what might be done, how
little she could know what ruin meant, and I was aware that I
had but a slight notion of it myself. I could not picture Mrs
Weir living in any place without every comfort about her.

She continued, ' I thought perhaps, Ursula, that you would
come with us at first, if your brother would spare you ; 1 told
Milicent that I would ask you, but she laughed at the idea.'

' Miss Milicent knows how many things I have to keep me at
home, I am afraid, ma'am,' was my reply. It grieved me to say
this, but she talked so like a child, fancying everything which
she wished might be managed, that I saw it was necessary to
show her the difficulties in her way. I could understand now
why Miss Milicent had urged me to divert her mind instead of
encouraging her to dwell upon her troubles. She looked very
cast down, more I thought, because I was so cold, than because
I did not say yes; so I added, ' Indeed, ma'am, you must not
think but that I would do everything for you I could, though it
would be wrong to make any promise without consulting Roger,
because he has plans of his own.'

' You are very kind, Ursula, I don't want to be selfish. I told


Milicent so\ She thinks that we ought to stay in England. But
Mr Weir is my husband, I must not leave him. I should like to
talk to Mr Richardson about it. Do you think he would come
to me? I shall pray to God and He will direct me.'

She was very nervous and agitated, and her voice shook pain-
fully, though the words still followed each other slowly and
formally in the quaint fashion which was common with her. I
could do nothing for her myself, and the proposal of sending for
Mr Richardson took quite a weight from my mind.

She caught my hand as she supposed I was going away, and
held it firmly. ' You will pray for me, Ursula. I want to do my
duty, and I think you will help me, and God will not forsake me.
I must remember that ; I shall see a way by and by. I hope you
will never know so much trouble as I have ; but I must go to
my husband.'

Those were the saddest words of all to me. There was no
love in them, only a despairing sense of duty. I longed to ask
her more particulars of what she had heard, but I remembered
Miss Milicent's warning, and I felt also that it would be im-
pertinent. Mrs Weir was very kind in giving me her con-
fidence, but I had no right to ask for more than she chose to

' I must go to my husband,' I heard her repeat again to her-
self, as I left the room, intending to see Miss Milicent, and beg
her to write to Mr Richardson. This time the words sounded
less sad. They came to me more as a lesson for myself. In her
anxiety, her nervousness, and helplessness, Mrs Weir had seized
upon the one point which came before her as a duty. It was a
landmark in her difficulties ; and I knew that I must do the same.
The weight pressed more heavily on my heart when I thought of
Roger and Canada ; for I could see fresh claims starting up to
keep me at home. But there is strength in duty ; it is like no-
thing else. When troubles like quicksands are all around one,
it is a firm spot on which to tread, and there is nothing so sup-
porting to one's self as seeing others plant their feet upon it and
stand up boldly. Poor Mrs Weir had done more for me than I
could ever do for her. I went back to her again for a little
while, but I was doubtful whether it was good for her to have me
much with her. Being with any one to whom she could open
her heart, excited her. She spoke freely of the money difficulties,

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 9 of 56)