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Ursula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) online

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for me. I suspect she felt for me because I was an orphan,
for she had known herself what it was to be brought up
without father or mother. Perhaps it might have been that
which made her so careful about the young girls who came
to her as servants, or had anything to do with the farm-work.
I have often known people object to take girls who have been
at farm-service, thinking they might have learned evil there,
but it was never so with Mrs. Kemp's girls ; she made her-
self their friend, and kept them out of temptation, as she
would her own daughters, until it began to be considered
quite a recommendation in the neighbourhood to have worked
at Longside.

" Early, Ursie, but always welcome," was Mrs. Kemp's
greeting, as she smoothed down her white apron, and pulled
down and fastened the sleeves of her dress, which she had
turned up, 1 suppose, whilst assisting in the kitchen. What
a round, bright-coloured, good-humoured face hers was! quite
pretty still, and almost young. I could not help kissing her,
though kissing was not very much in my way with most


" Farmer and I spent a good half-hour, this morning,
talking about you and things at Dene," continued Mrs.
Kemp, drawing her chair close to mine. " I should have
been up myself, only I thought it might be taken for a lib-
erty, as I don't go there often ; so I sent Mary, making sure
she would see Mrs. Mason, if she could get a glimpse of you.
What can we do for you now ? "

" Nothing," I said ; " nothing now, at least. Roger is
gone to talk to Mr. Richardson about it all."

My face must have shown my feelings, — though, the
moment before, I had made a strong resolution against be-
traying them.

" Ah ! poor child ; yes. — Dear heart ! don't take on so.
Roger can't go to a better friend. So it is all up with you,
is it ; and you must leave Dene ? I thought as much, poor
child — poor child ! "

" I don't know; I can't say what we must do," I ex-
claimed ; and the sorrow rose up in my heart, like a great
wave about to rush in upon the shore. But it broke in-
wards, and I was thankful for it.

" He will find another place ; you will have a home
again very soon," continued Mrs. Kemp. " Such a trusty,
worthy young man as he is, and knowing so much about
everything ! Not that it will be like Dene, where you have
lived so long."

" I shan't care for anything," I said, " as long as Roger
and I are together." I could not allude more clearly to the
Canada project without knowing whether Roger would
like it.

But the world always knows more of one's affairs than
one suspects ; and Mrs. Kemp jumped to my meaning in an

" Ah ! then it's true ! " she exclaimed ; " and he's bent
upon going off by himself. But he mustn't do it, Ursie ; he
must think of you."

" He does think of me," I answered, quietly. " It is that
which keeps him back now. He is gone to talk it over with
Mr. Richardson."

" And he will take out a wife with him, I suppose," con-
tinued Mrs. Kemp, thoughtfully ; " or he will find one there
for the asking. Well ! young men must settle themselves."



My heart sank. Mrs. Kemp, with all her sympathy,
was like the rest of the world ; she could not enter into
griefs out of her own line. A happy wife herself, she was
unable to comprehend that any pang could be caused by the
prospect of seeing others happy also.

I faced the subject boldly, and, in a proud tone, I said,
" If Roger wants to marry, and go to Canada, he may de-
pend upon it I shall never be the one to stand in his way."

" You might go with him, whether he is married or not,"
said Mary.

Mrs. Kemp interposed. " No, Ursie ; don't be tempted
in that way. When people marry, they are best left to them-
selves ; especially at the beginning. After they have gone
on some time, and become used to each other's ways, and
learnt all there is to learn, a sister, or an aunt, may fit in
well enough, particularly when there are children, and rela-
tions can make themselves useful. But at first setting off,
depend upon it it's best to give young married folks a push
into the world, turn them round three times, and leave them
to shift for themselves. Having no one else to turn to, they
are forced then to keep close to each other."

" As if they wouldn't do it naturally," said Mary, with a
shy laugh.

" That is as may be," replied Mrs. Kemp, laughing her-
self; "I am not going to let you girls into those secrets.
Only one thing I will say to you, that if you do get a good
husband, you will love him better at the end of twenty years
than at the beginning, let his faults be what they may."

Mary was silent. I felt that she was probably thinking
of John Hervey, and something like a pang of envy crossed
me ; for I was sure of him, at least, that, know him ever so
long, one should only learn to honour him the more.

The conversation wandered to different subjects after
this. Mrs. Kemp made me tell her everything I could
about Mrs. Weir, — everything, that is, which could be told
without betraying secrets. I found that the state of Mr.
Weir's affairs had been suspected — almost known for certain,
indeed — in the neighbourhood many weeks before ; and it
had been no matter of surprise to any one but myself, that
Mrs. Weir and Miss Milicent should come to Dene without

UK SUL A. 119

Many stories were afloat, — most of them of a disagreeable
kind, — and such as made it doubtful whether he could ever
show his face in England again ; but that which Mrs. Kemp,
and the farmer also (for he came in and joined in the con-
versation), took most to heart was, the prospect of the Dene
estate falling into the hands of Captain Price.

Whilst poor Mrs. Weir lay on her bed, unable to take
any thought for her affairs, the world had arranged them for
her, and in a very likely, sensible way, according to its own
ideas. Captain Price had a good deal of ready money, and
he was going to marry Jane Shaw; and. Jane lived near
Dene, and Dene must be sold, or else Mrs. Weir would have
nothing to live upon. These facts were undeniable ; so the
kind world put them all together, and settled the business
comfortably ; and most of our acquaintances looked at Jane
Shaw, and thought she was luckier than one girl in a thou-
sand ; and Farmer Kemp and his wife looked at Dene, and
the tenants and labourers, and sighed.

I sighed too, when I heard Farmer Kemp talk that
morning. He was a man who could not rid himself of an
idea when once he was possessed of it, and who could scarce-
ly help forcing it, perhaps, now and then, a little at the
wrong time, upon other people. But being so earnest, he
caught those who otherwise might not have listened ; and
this morning, though I came to Dene full of my own fears
and Mrs. Weir's sorrows, I still was carried away by what
he said, so as for a time to be interested by it.

Of course people who have a hobby of any kind, try to
make you believe that the one thing upon which they have
set their hearts is the remedy for all evils. Farmer Kemp
was so bent upon his scheme for improving the labourers'
cottages, that, to hear him talk, one might have fancied that
if poor people had sufficient space for their families to live
decently, there would be no evil left in the world.

But putting aside that which I .suppose is the weak point
with us all, he certainly did open my eyes to several things
which I had never thought of before. He made me see how
persons, brought up respectably, may sink into actual vice
from the want of a comfortable home ; how the wife leaves
her neat habits, and becomes slovenly, because she finds it


useless to try and be tidy, when the wet comes in at the
roof, and the floor is damp, and the windows are broken, and
she cannot get them mended, and the children are sickly
from cold and draughts, and huddled together in one room,
and perhaps three or four in one bed. And he showed me
also, how the husband leaves his fire-side, because he finds
no comfort there, and goes to the ale-house, and so takes the
first step on the road which is to lead him and his family to
ruin of body and soul ; — and how the boys, as they grow up,
are driven away from home by the dirt, and quarrelling, and
confusion, and lounge about in the lanes with idle compan-
ions, and are at length led into great sin ; — and how the
daughters grow bold and forward, from being forced to live,
as it were, in public, and so IodC the sense of all which makes
a woman modest and respectable, and become a disgrace and
burden to their families. All this, and much more, Farm-
er Kemp put before me, — and I listened, for I could not
help it, though my thoughts wandered oflF at times to Roger
and Mr. Richardson, and the conversation on which all my
plans in life were to depend. The subjects were not so very
far apart as they seemed. If I did not go to Canada with
Roger, I might have to live at Sandcombe with William and
Leah ; and there were more cases than Kitty Hobson's which
I felt sure would trouble me if I was with them. I knew
that William had a good many cottages in his own hands,
and that the general opinion was that he was a hard man to
his labourers. After talking to Farmer Kemp, it seemed
more impossible than ever to be happy witb him and Leah.

I dined at Longside. Mrs. Kemp would not let me go,
and I waited, expecting Roger every minute, but he did not
come ; and I made up my mind, at last, that he had gone
home over the hill, instead of coming back for me. As it
was by that time nearly half-past twelve, and Mrs. Kemp
pressed me much to stay, it seemed better that I should.
Roger, I knew, would eat his cold meat alone, without
troubling himself about me, and I must confess that it was a
great relief to me to be with people of my own class, who
could understand and feel for me.

It was a different kind of comfort from that which I often
felt in conversing with Mrs. Weir. It gave me a feeling of


breathing fresh air, but it did not raise me up as talking to
Mrs. Weir did. Mrs Kemp showed me how to make use
of this world, Mrs. Weir how to despise it. Both were good
in their way ; but Mrs. Kemp's lesson was the first and easi-
est, and it strikes me that it is the one first taught us by

We had a little convei-sation about Kitty Hobson after
dinner, and I was glad to find that Mrs. Kemp meant to
give her a trial, though Leah had cast her ofi".

It had been upon my mind that something should be done
for the girl, knowing that Leah had taken no pains with her,
and turned her off without proper warning, but I had been
too much occupied with my own troubles to form any plan
for her. Mrs. Richardson, it appeared, considered her not
by any means hopeless, and had persuaded Mrs. Kemp to take
her, and put her under a steady dairymaid, who would see
that she did her work, and keep her out of harm's way. I
think having so few poor people near me to care for, had
made me more particular about those whom I did at all
know. I never could rest till I had done for them all that
seemed to lie in my power, though that was little enough.
But, as Mrs. Kemp said, " If you can only stop the stone
before it begins to roll down, you may keep it safe ; when
once it has set off, there is no checking it." Kitty Hobson
might be on the brink of everything that was bad, but it was
as yet only on the brink. So I was pleased to hear that she
was to be at Longside, and I told Mrs. Kemp that, if she
went on well, I thoughi I had a stuff gown I could give her
as an encouragement.

I felt better and brighter after having settled this little
matter — more able to look trouble in the face. Helping
others always gives one a feeling of strength ; at least, I
have found it so.

I shrank less from the mention of Canada when Farmer
Kemp and John Ilervcy spoke to me about it before I went
away. They were very kind and straightforward, as was
their fashion, but both of them agreed in advising me to stay
at home. I was sure that John was sorry when he said it,
he looked at me so sorrowfully ; and when, at length, I said
good-bye to them all, and set off on my way back to Dene, he
Vol. 1—6


walked part of the way with me, and I was able to open my
heart to hun, more even than to Mrs. Kemp, because there
were subjects connected with Dene which he knew more
about than any one else.

He was such a bright, hopeful person, that merely talking
to him did me good. And he had a kind way of turning his
mind to the things that interested one, which led one on in
spite of oneself. And then he understood Roger so well, so
much better than other people. He knew all that lay hid
under that rough, silent manner of his. When I said that
Roger's heart would break if he was left to bear trouble by
himself, he did not laugh as some might have done, he only
said earnestly, though cheerfully, " It won't do, Ursie, to
take more care upon yourself than God intends for you.
You may try to keep Roger's heart from breaking; and
whilst you are doing that, you may all the time be breaking
some other person's. What is to hinder you from running
away from him some day, and setting up a home of your
own ? "

" I have a home," I answered, eagerly. " Roger's home
is my home, and it will be mine always." I believe I said
it all the more eagerly, because something of misgiving lay
at the bottom of my heart.

John Hervey laughed as he answered, " You may change
your note some day, Ursie ; and, anyhow, it is not wise to
look to that only, for you know there are two wills to the
bargain you and Roger seem to have made ; and if, after all,
he keeps to it, he has but to send for you, and you can go to

John had a dreadful quantity of common sense. I don't
think when he was a boy he could ever have cared for the
kind of reading which had always been such happiness to me.
He never indulged in notions of what he would do if he was
in other circumstances. I am sure he would have thought
me wild if I had told him one quarter of the fancies and
wishes which had haunted me as long as I could remember.
It was just the present duty with him, and nothing bej^ond
but trust. I think that gave him his singular look of hap-
piness ; he was never perplexed what to do, because he did
what came, and left the consequences. Sometimes, when I

U K S U L A . 123

have looked upon the light, rippling and dancing on the
waves below St. Anne's Hill, I have thought that it was
just like John's sunny mind, making a clear, bright path
wherever it moved.


When I reached home, I found Mrs. Weir awake, and
inquiring for me. Seeing Mr. Richardson had been a great
comfort to her ; but she was still in a maze, not able to keep
any on6 plan or idea in Tier head for ten minutes together,
except it might be the duty of joining her husband. Mr.
Richardson had promised to write and make inquiry about
him for her, and this was the point to which she turned con-
tinually. As to taking any steps for removing from Dene at
present, it seemed to her an utter impossibility. Servants,
and carriages, and horses, must all be kept ; no one could tell
why, except that it must be found out first where Mr. Weir

I am afraid, poor lady ! she tried me a little, I was
young, with a clear head, and strong nerves, and a good con-
stitution, and I found it very difficult to enter into such an
anxious, undecided mind, burdened and shattered as it was
by long sorrow ; and I was selfish, too, for I was very un-
happy, and never could endure suspense, and I felt, though I
did not choose to own it to myself, that my plans might
possibly be determined by those of Mrs. Weir. It was so
strange to me to see her sitting in her drawing-room, with
all her little comforts and pretty things about her, and
working just as usual, not seeming to know how many im-
portant things were to be discussed and arranged. I could
almost have thought she did not fully know what had hap-
pened, only that her eyes were so weak and red ; and every
now and then she would lay down her work and fold her
hands together, and I saw her lips move, and knew that the
grief was so keen that it could only be soothed by prayer.

Active and sharp-sighted as people called me, I had a
great deal to learn from Mrs. Weir.


I spent but a few minutes with her, for it had been an
idle day with mc, and I had a great deal to do at the cottage ;
yet, as I left the house, a sudden impulse seized me to run
up, just for two minutes, to the seat upon the bank, and
breathe the fresh air from the down. I went by the back of
the house, instead of by the garden, for I wished to avoid
being seen ; but I was not able to escape Miss Milicent's
watchful eye, and I had scarcely reached the little gate
opening from the road into the shrubbery before she joined

" What are you doing here, Ursie Grant ? I thought I
should find you at home. You have not been at home all

" No, Miss Milicent," I said ; " I had business away." I
am afraid I had always some pleasure in baffling her.

" I have been wanting you ; I have a great many things
to say to you. Are you going in now ? "

I replied, that I should be in a few minutes, and, turning
aside from the shrubbery, I walked some paces on, as though
I wished to go out upon the down.

" If you are going to walk, I will come with you," pursued
Miss Milicent.

" I would not give you that trouble," I replied ; for I
saw there was no chance of being rid of her. " If you please,
I will go back with you to the house."

" But you had business up here," she said, scanning my
face carefully. " You were looking for some one, or waiting
for some one."

" I was going to sit by myself, and think a little," I said,
quietly. Such a strange, doubting look she gave me ! And
then she said, as though she was determined to test me, " If
it is your brother you are watching for, Ursie Grant, you will
most likely find him at home. He came back from Compton,
under the down, by the gamekeeper's cottage."

" I was not watching for any one, Miss Milicent," was
my answer ; " it was as I said ; I was going to sit by my-

I am afraid that was rather a rude speech ; but she ag-
gravated me uncommonly, and I had not enough religion at
that time to enable me to keep my passionate temper under
proper control.


" It won't hurt you to go back and talk over some mat-
ters with me," said Miss Milicent, decidedly ; " and if Roger
Grant is in, he can come and talk too."

" Roger is very busy, Miss Milicent," I replied : " if
there is anything particular to be said, you had best, please,
tell it to me, and I will repeat it to him."

She stood still for a moment, putting her hand in the
pocket of her black jacket. A change came over her face, —
I noticed it though she turned aside, — a flush was upon her
cheek, and a mist seemed to rest upon her eyes. They were
not fierce eyes then ; there was a world of feeling in them,
struggling, as it seemed, to have vent. But she kept an iron
rule over herself, as she did over others, and, whatever there
might have been working within, she prevented it from com-
ing forth in her voice, as she laid her strong hand on my
shoulder, and said, " You will be leaving Dene soon, TJrsie
G-rant ; we shall not have need of you nor of Roger."

My spirit was up then, I confess, and I said, " We are
ready to go. Miss Milicent ; Roger has other work looked
out for him, and I came here only for him."

Others might well have been angry at my manner, but I
doubt if Miss Milicent even remarked it. She went on, in
her own way, " You will be finding other friends, and you
are a stirring woman, Ursie, so you won't have much time to
think about Dene."

" I shall think about it. Miss Milicent," I answered. " I
have been very happy here, and Mrs. Weir has been very

" And I have been very cross," she said, bluntly ; and
then she stopped. " But it is no use to talk of that. If I
was cross without cause, I am very sorry now ; and if I had
cause, I will try to be sorry when I can think it over."

I believe I smiled ; it was such a very odd way of being
penitent. She went on, " I didn't come to you to talk about
that so much, but I would just ask the question at once, —
are you thinking of going with Roger wherever he goes ? "

" I can't say," was my reply ; " it is all uncertain."

" But you must make up your mind before long ; and
what will you do till it is settled ? "

" I have not thought about it. Miss Milicent. I can't
settle things in such a hurry."


" Then it is a pity you didn't live before the Deluge," she
replied. " Life isn't long enough for people who think so
much before they know which foot to put foremost. I have
settled all my matters, and my mother's too, since break-

" They may be easier than mine," I said, " and you have
no one but yourself and Mrs. Weir to consult."

What a foolish speech it was ! It must have seemed as
though I alluded to Mr. Weir's absence ; but I don't know
how it is, I often find that if there is anything I ought not to
say, I am sure to say it.

Miss Milicent stamped her foot upon the ground and bit
her lip, but the next moment she was looking me full in the
face ; and speaking almost angrily, she said, " If you haven't
any other place to stay at, Ursie Grant, there is a home for
you at Dene whilst we are here, which won't be many weeks ;
and when we go to Compton, which Mr. Richardson and I
think is best, you can come too, and I think you may be
some good to my mother, if you will." The last words
escaped as though against her inclination.

" Thank you, Miss Milicent," I replied. But I couldn't
say more, for I scarcely understood what she meant.

She twisted a large gold ring, which she wore on her
middle finger, round and round, as she always did when she
was put out. Neither of us said more for some seconds.

" ' Thank you,' means you won't stay," said Miss Milicent
at last.

" It means I must do whatever duty comes before me," I

" Well ! but if it is a duty to help my mother ? It
may be."

" I would help Mrs. Weir willingly, if I could," I replied ;
" but she is not my first claim."

" She is no claim at all," exclaimed Miss Milicent ; and
her face became crimson, and then all colour left it, and it
grew, not pale, but a kind of blueish yellow. She sat down
upon the bench.

" You aren't well. Miss Milicent," I said, drawing near.

She motioned me from her, turned away her head, and
almost to my terror I heard, as she buried her face in her
hands, something like a groan.


My thought was to go away. She was one who would
never forget having been seen to be weak and foolish. But
I need not have been afraid. She rose up again quite calm,
and said, more gently, " It is not my mother's wish, nor mine,
Ursie, to interfere with any claims ; but there is much to be
done, and a good head wanted, and my mother has been used
to trust to you ; and it seemed that, just for a while, till you
had another house over your head, you might have been wil-
ling to stay on, and see how things are going ; and so I said
it; — but if you have other claims, don't think of it. We
shall do ; we shall get on quite well. Don't think of it ; "
and she waved her hand, as I was about to speak, and moved
towards the shrubbery gate.

How proud she was ! — but how proud I was, too ! My
conscience gave me such a pang, I couldn't bear it. I caught
hold of her dress, and said, " Stay, Miss Milicent ; don't let
us part this way. I have claims, but not just now. I could

stay, if it were any good ; for Mrs. Weir " and the

thought of her sorrow came over me, and my voice trembled.

'' You would be cared for," she said, not letting herself
be moved.

" Yes ; Mrs. Weir cares for every one," I said.

" And you v.ould have board, and lodging, and "

" It is all I want," I exclaimed, hastily.

" And Fanny is to stay, to cook, and do the work ; and
you would have Mrs. Mason's rooms for the time," continued
Miss Milicent.

" Yes, yes, indeed ; I know it would be all very com-

" And you could go on with your work. Nobody would
ask anything of you, — only if now and then you had a fancy
to look in upon my mother ; — but we wouldn't interfere. We
would have you think of your own claims. And if we move
to Compton, there would be only a very small room ; it
mightn't be comfortable. We had rather you should go just
your own way."

But as Miss Milicent spoke, I saw by her restless eye
that her whole heart was set upon the plan.

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