Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

. (page 14 of 28)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

suit your owu wishes, which are natural enough and right
enough in their way. If you settle to stay with Mrs. Weir,
because she can't do without you this year, you will have just
the same reason for staying with her next year ; and a much
stronger one, because you will have made yourself more
needful to her. But you would be unwilling, I suppose, to
remain then."

" It would be out of the question," I exclaimed ; " I must
go to Roger."

" And, any how, — if Roger were to marry, and yet offer
you a home, — ^you would go to him ? "

" Yes, I must. I could never live away from Roger."

" But there would be just the same claim, as far as Mrs.
Weir is concerned," said Mrs. Kemp.
^ " She is not my relation," I observed.

" No ; that is just what I was thinking. She is not a
relation ; she is a claim and a duty when you like it, but not
when you don't like it."

I felt the colour mount to my cheeks.

" Then you would never have one put friends before re-
lations," I exclaimed, " let the friends be never so kind, and
the relations never so cross ?"

" I would try to take life as God has made it," was the

" And go to Sandcombe?" I continued.

" Perhaps not just yet. I think it is all very true that
Mrs. Weir wants a little comfort now ; and I would stay and
give it her if I could, for a certain time ; may be a month
or six weeks, or any time you choose, till she is settled in her
new home. But, Ursie, if you will take my advice, you will
be careful not to put yourself too forward in some things.
You arc not Mrs. Weir's daughter."

" No," I exclaimed, and I laughed. " Fancy if she or
Miss Milicent were to hear you say that ; as if it could be
possible. Why the Weirs arc as proud as princes."

" Pride goes to the wall when folks are in need of com-
fort," said Mrs. Kemp. " But, putting aside that, it is a

152 U E S U L A .

thing I have learnt from a good many years' thought and
trouble, that to take other persons' duties from them is a
course which never has God's blessing upon it. People say
— I don't ask you, for it is wrong to pry — but people do say
that Miss Miliccnt is not as careful of her mother as she
might be, and as she ought to be. There can't be a worse
sin in a quiet way than that, Ursie ; and if you help her to
continue in it, why you will share the guilt."

This was quite a new way of looking at the case, and it
touched my conscience ; forTE knew that lately Miss Milicent
had left oft" doing many things for her mother which at one
time she had been accustomed to attend to.

" And so you think I should do harm by staying," I ex-

" It is just this," continued Mrs. Kemp ; " I think the
question for us to consider is scarcely ever whether we shall
do harm or good anywhere, — for I don't believe we can
judge about it ; but only to find out where God sends us,
and then go."

" Of course ! of course ! " I exclaimed. " "Who ever
wants anything else ? "

" I should have said," replied Mrs. Kemp, " that most
of us think first where we wish to go, and then look to see
if God hasn't sent us, and that makes all the difference.
Mr. Richardson preached a sermon about Balaam last Sun-
day, and Farmer and I, when we came home, both said we
thought we had been Balaams many times in our lives."

" And I am like Balaam now, then," I said, half-amused,
yet half-angry.

Mrs. Kemp laughed a little to, as she answered, " Well !
there is the relation — a very near one — a brother, willing to
have you, and wishing it ; and there is his wife left withojit
help and society, and likely to find you useful, and there is
lloger looking upon Sandcombe as your natural home, and
leaving you under William's care. It was not you who or-
dered these things."

'' Nor I who ordered Mrs. Weir's troubles," I replied.

" No ; but God made you William Grant's sister, and
Miss Milicent Mrs. Weir's daughter. That is as much as
to say one is to help one, and the other the other."


" And I am to take Jessie's place, then," I said. " I
shall not do much for myself in that case."

" Oh, Ursie ! you were always a contrary child," ex-
claimed Mrs. Kemp, in a vexed tone. " Don't you see that
a difficulty about that would alter the whole case. William
and Leah must understand. If they won't give you time
to work for yourself, and Mrs. Weir will, why that settles
the question at once ; not because of your liking or dis-
liking, or thinking you will be better or do more good in
one place than another; but only because God has so or-
dered it, that it is needful for you to do something for your-
, self, that you mayn't be using up the little that is put by
for a rainy day, and so at last come to be a burden on your

I knew that quite as well as Mrs. Kemp ; it was just
Avhat I had said to Leah, but somehow it did not come
home to me pleasantly. I would so much rather have gone
to Mrs. Weir with the idea of helping her than of doing
what was good for myself

I sat still for some seconds and thought ; then I got up
and said, I was very much obliged for the advice, and I
would think about it.

" Ah ! Ursie, lassie ; you are not inclined to see the mat-
ter my way," exclaimed Mrs. Kemp, " and I am sure I
would fain see it yours if I could ; but you will never help
Mrs. Weir if you begin by being a bone of contention with
your own relations."

" I will think about it ; I dare say you are right. Dear
Mrs. Kemp, I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I am very
unhappy." I could not help saying it, and the good woman
laid her hand upon mine in a fondling way, and said she was so
sorry ; and then we had a long talk about Sandcombe, and the
ways of going on, and how 1 might help in mending matters
if I went there ; and before we parted I felt I might be just
as useful there as with Mrs. Weir, and was heartily glad that
the point was to be settled by William and Leah, and not
by me.

There was little doubt what the end would be now ; in
fact, the next day, a few words with William, who came
over to Dene to see me, decided it. I could do fairly well with


him alone, and he was kind enough in his way of putting
things, and told me that Leah was quite willing to agree to
the plan of my having time to myself after dinner, if I
would only make myself useful in the morning, and look to
the dairy and poultry, and see a little to the cooking. I had
a misgiving that I should be put upon still, and I asked how
Leah was going to manage about the other things which
Jessie had been accustomed to attend to ; but I found
that they had settled to have help from a girl who was to
come every now and then, when she was wanted ; and, as
William said, Jessie was not always with them, and so, if I
was there, Leah would not be really worse off than before.

He looked quite pleased when everything was arranged,
and talked so much about Sandcombe being my home, and
how he had always wanted me to come, that before he went
away I really did begin to think he had been very good-
natured and brotherly about it, and I am quite sure he thought
so himself. But when he was gone, oh dear ! Happily I
had not much time for thought, except to be thankful that,
at any rate, I had not pleased myself.


Mrs. Weir's new house was not exactly in Compton ; it
might have been pleasanter for her if it had been. She
would have been nearer the church and the parsonage. I
don't know that I could describe the situation well to any
one acquainted with the neighbourhood, and who did not know
the kind of country that lay on the other side of St. Anne's
Hill, between it and the sea. But supposing a person was
standing on the top of St. Anne's facing the sea, and then
was to go down the hill on that side, he would come to the
top of a steep, jagged cliff, broken into uneven ledges, bare
and sharp, except where here and there some green plant had
taken root in the crevices, and managed to grow in spite of
the fury of the south-west winds, which, in these parts, are
the fiercest winds that blow.

Before coming to the top of the cliffs, it seems that there


is nothing between them and the sea, but on reaching the
edge there is a sight which makes a stranger start. For
below lies, not the sea, but a broad tract of land, tossed up
and down in little hills and valleys. It is scattered all over
with huge rocks, which look as though giants had thrown
them about in their play, and it slopes down in a steep de-
scent towards the top of a second range of cliffs. This range
cannot, of course, be discovered immediately underneath the
upper cliffs, but it can be traced towards the west for many
miles, forming the outline of Compton Bay. A dreary-look-
ing country it is, but it has a charm even for that very
reason. As a child I only saw it occasionally, and always
thought of it as connected with haunts of smugglers, and wild
storms ; roaring waves, and shipwrecks, and heavy sea mists,
gathering over the hills, and shutting out the light which
was the only hope of the seaman's safety. It must have been
a fierce time on earth when the land sank away from the upper
cliffs, and the great rocks were hurled down, and the streams,
which have now worked their way through the lower cliffs,
and formed deep chasms, first began to flow. But those days
are not within the memory of man that I ever heard. Yet
even now it is solemn to stand and think of what once has
been. When I first remember that part of the country it
was, so to say, unknown and untraversed. There was no
road through it. Persons wishing to go from Hatton to
Compton had to go up Hatton lane, and over the hill ; only
foot-passengers went over the cliffs, and with them it was a
difiicult task to find their way, especially on a dark night.
They might stumble among the rocks, or wander to the edge
of the cliffs, and be over before they were aware of it. Some
people, at that time, thought it an unsafe country to live in,
and said that the rocks would fall again ; but there was little
enough really to fear, though certainly things did seem ter-
rible to those who were unaccustomed to them.

Perhaps the country looks all the more wild from the
contrast with that which immediately adjoins it. For to
the east of St. Anne's Hill, just beyond Hatton, the land
turns towards the south, and the warm sun shines full upon
it. The ground is tossed about still in every direction, and
huge rocks lie scattered upon it. But thorns, and chestnuts, and

156 U B S U L A .

ash trees have sprung up amongst them upon the greensward ,
ivy has climbed up the ledges of the jagged clifl's ; primroses
cluster vxpon the banks ; cowslips glitter on the turf ; and
masses of hyacinths may be seen in glades, half hidden by
the foliage of the thick ti-ees, and through which the jutting
masses of grey rock peep out upon the open sea, sparkling
with silver and blue, some hundreds of feet beneath them,

A lovely scene it is. There is a verse spoken of a very
different country, which often comes to my mind when I
think of it. " It is a land which the Lord thy God careth
for. The Eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it,
from the beginning of the year even unto the end of the
year." Sometimes it has even seemed to me that Heaven
itself can scarcely be more beautiful. But that is, doubtless,
the thought of my ignorance, and the love which I bear to
all things connected with the memories of my youth.

But I must go back to Compton and Mrs. Weir. I
have said that in former days there was no direct road from
Ilatton to Compton ; a few years, however, before the time
of which I am writing, it had been determined to make one
under the upper cliff, at a great expense, and, as some per-
sons thought, uselessly. That, however, was soon proved to
be a mistake. Some speculating people bought up part of
the land, and built an hotel and lodging-houses upon it, and
Compton Heath, as the place was called, was like to become,
in time, an inhabited part of the world. It signified little
enough to Mrs. Weir where she went, for she was not likely
to move out of the house often, when once she was settled in
it; yet I could not help wishing that she had something
more quiet and homelike to look out upon than that broad
sea, without a ship to be seen upon it, and the bare rocks
upon the heath. There was, indeed, a beautiful view of the
white cliffs in the distance ; but evei-ything immediately
about the place, though grand, was desolate ; except, indeed,
the garden ; but even that was new, and not likely to be
kept in very good order by the old man who was in charge
of it. He and his wife had the care of the place before Mrs.
Weir took it, and they were to live there still, and the
woman was to do the cooking, and the man the gardening.
Miss Milicent and I went many times backwards and for-


wards over the hill, from Deue to the Heath, before we had
made the place at all what we thought Mrs. Weir would
think comfortable. Mrs. Richardson helped us as well as
she could : but she was busy in the parish with the poor peo-
ple, and at home with her children, and had but little time
to spare ; and, indeed, it would have been unfair to expect
her to do much. I found the neighbours very kind ; the
people at the hotel lent us a helping hand, and the Lieuten-
ant, at the Preventive Station, and his wife, took an interest
in our goings on. I don't know how Miss Milicent became
acquainted with them, but somehow she managed to know
every one ; and I was rather glad to think that when she and
her mother were settled in that out-of-the-way place, they
would have a man friend near to apply to in a difficulty.

I had never yet told Mrs. Weir exactly what my plans
were, but I had given her to understand that I could not live
with her for a continuance, and she took the notion more
quietly than I had expected. As she said, she never looked
forward, and I was with her for the time, and that was
enough. But Miss Milicent was different. I had a strug-
gle with her especially, the day before all was arranged for
the move. I was to go over to the Heath in the afternoon,
and she and her mother were to follow the next morning.
First of all I had thought that it would be better to stay and
help the poor lady to the last at Dene ; but Mrs. Kemp's
hint was remembered, though I did not like it when it was
given. Cotton, the lady's maid, was going to stay, so that
Mrs. Weir would have all the help in the way of dressing
and nursing that she usually had ; and no doubt it was Miss
Miliccnt's duty to look after her mother herself. She
managed it in a certain way before I was even known to them,
and so she ought to be able to manage it still. I said as
much as this to her, only I hope civilly, when she suggested
that it would be better for her to go and sleep at the Parson-
age that night, and walk up to tlie Heath early the next
morning, and get everything ready by the time her mother
and I came in the aftcrnoou.

" Mrs. Weir is used to you in moving from home, Miss
Milicent," I said, " and she is not used to me ; maybe she
would rather have you."


" Now, Ursie Grant, 3^011 know that is not true," she
answered ; " whatever I am good for, it is not nursing, and I
don't want to put myself forward in it."

" This is not quite nursing," I replied, " and anyhow,
Miss Milicent, as Mrs. Weir has nobody but you to look to
for the future, it won't do to be out of the habit of helping

" I am so busy," she said ; " I told Mr. Perry (that was
the preventive lieutenant), that I should be over at the
Heath the first thing to-morrow morning, and bring Wil-
liams, the carpenter, with me, and then we would see about
putting up some shelves, and unpacking the books."

" I can take a message to Mr. Perry, if it is needful," I
said ; " and I thought of sleeping in the house, and so I
should be there to see about getting coffee when Mrs. Weir
arrived. I think I could show Jenny Dale how she likes it."

" That old Jenny won't be able to make coffee or any-
thing else to suit my mother's whimsies," exclaimed Miss
Milicent : " she is as particular as a Queen, as you know well
enough, Ursie."

"I could try and teach Jenny," I said; "and if not.
Miss Milicent, you will be there the next day, and then I
might show you."

" And why can't you do it yourself, Ursie ? you are not
used to be so cross-grained." And Miss Milicent turned
round upon mc sharply, with a look as of twenty eyes put
into one.

"If it was so ordered that I could wait upon Mrs. Weir
always, it would be different," I replied, " but as I must
needs leave her before very long, Miss Milicent, it would be
better and kinder surely to put some one else in the way of
pleasing her; and if Jenny Dale can't make the coffee and
you don't like to learn yourself, Cotton might try."

" I tell you what,Ursie," exclaimed Miss Milicent angrily,
" I don't take it kind of you to make all this fuss about going
away just at the very time we have most need of you; it is
not what I should have expected of you, having known you
so many years, and always being friends up to this time. It
is very hard, very hard indeed."

" It is not my wish, Miss Milicent," I replied, trying to


speak gently, though I must confess her tone irritated me,
"but I have taken the advice of friends. One thing T can
promise, if you will allow it — not to leave Mrs. Weir till she
is really settled comfortably at the Heath, and able to go on
by herself."

" And that will be never," exclaimed Miss Milicent. " Don't
you see that my mother is getting more full of whims and
nervousness every day ? And what am I to do with her?
She never did attend to me."

" Perhaps because you never fell into her ways," I ven-
tured to say.

" You speak ignorantly, Ursie Grant," replied Miss Mili-
cent, more quietly. " You have never known my mother as I
have. Her ways, as you call them, have been for years ways
which no one with a grain of sense could fall into, and they
would have been twenty times worse but for me. Other
people " — Miss Milicent stopped, I don't think she liked to
mention her father's name — " other people scolded her one
minute and humoured her the next; that did no good."

"It might have been better," I said, "to humour her in
the things that were rational, and try to persuade her out
of those which were not."

She waited before answering, and the colour rose in her
cheeks; then she said, " You are right there, Ursie. But
persons who humour and persuade must be made of different
stuiF from me. I can't, and that is the truth, and so I must
e'en go my way, and my mother must go hers ; and things
must be managed as they can ; though how that is to be when
you leave us is more than I can say."

I felt for her. There was something about her which
always touched me, when she changed from that sharp, head-
strong manner, to be in any way true and humble. It was a
glimpse of a beautiful, better nature, lying, as it were, at the
bottom of a deep sea tossed with tempests. And I knew too
that she must have had a great deal to bear all her life long.
Persons out of the family could put up with JMrs. Weir's
oddities easily enough, but it was not so with those whose
daily life was troubled by them. The whims of friends are
an amusement ; those of relations are trials. Only one thing
I saw then, that Miss Milicent deceived herself by saying


" can't " and " must." I believe there are not two more
treacherous words in the English language. I did not say I
would stay, though it was a strong temptation ; but I repeat-
ed again that I was very sorry for her, and that I would take
care not to leave her till Mrs. Weir was comfortable. I
added though, that she must please let me go over to the
Heath, for the work to be done there was much more fitting
for me than for her.

She gave in, I do believe, because she was taken by sur-
prise to find a will stronger than her own ; and about sis
o'clock that evening I took my bundle under my arm, and left
Dene never again to return to it as my home.


The clouds were gathering and the wind was rising as I
crossed the down at the foot of St. Anne's Hill. I thought
we should have a stormy night, indeed I was very certain of
it, for there was the noise of a ground-swell telling me more
plainly than words. I walked on quickly, not exactly dis-
liking the work before me, though feeling how strange it all
was. I should have been miserable if I had gone direct
from Dene to Sandcombe, but this go-between life softened
matters, and there was something in the notion of being left
to settle and decide things for myself and for others too, and
in a certain fashion make my own way in the world, which
gave me energy. As for Dene, the spirit of the place had
departed when Roger left it. I loved the old familiar scenes
dearly — it would be hard to say how dearly — but after he
was gone I looked on them as upon the face of a friend who
is dead. I knew I had better leave them, and remember
them only as they were in the days of my peaceful happi-
ness ; and I thanked God from my heart for the blessings
He had granted me whilst living amongst them.

I made my way down a rough bank at the foot of the
down, and then along a field into the high road, and so up to
Heath Cottage, that was the name of Mrs. Weir's new house.
I mention the path I took, because it gives me an opportunity


of saying ■what I did not before, that the high, broken, vipper
cliffs ended just above the cottage ; they seemed to break off
by degrees and lose themselves in the slope of the down, so
that the way I came was easy enough for a young person,
though the descent from the down was very steep.

I thought, as I entered the garden, that the place was
not half so trim as the grounds at Dene. The little bit of
road and the sweep were full of rough stones, and the grass
on the banks wanted mowing. I determined that should be
done the first thing in the morning. Mrs. Weir's neat eye
would never bear the look of the place as it was, though Miss
Milicent would have lived there for years and never have
thought about it. I saw no one at work about the garden,
and when I went up to the house, and rang the bell, ]
waited a most provokingly long time for an answer. At
length a little girl appeared, Jenny Dale's grandchild, who I
knew was often with her. She stared at me with a pair of
very blue eyes, and opened her mouth, but said nothing.

" Well, Polly ! how d ye do ? " I said. " Where's Gran
ny. Can't I come in ? "

" Granny's bad," was the answer.

" Bad ! I'm sorry for that. I must go and speak to licr.
Where is she ? "
" She's a-bed."

"So ill as that ? How long has she been there ? "
" Yesterday, and t'other day."

" 13ui I saw her the day before yesterday," I said; " she
didn't seem ill then. Has the doctor been here V "

" I don't know, she's a-bed ; " was the only reply 1 could
obtain ; so I asked no more questions, but went in.

Jenny Dale was neat in her way, and her kitchen was
comfortable enough generally — but Polly being left to play
there, had made it very untidy. The fire was burning low,
and the tea-kettle had been taken off it, and was standing
within the fender. A little deal table, with some crusts of
bread soaked in spilt tea, and some cups waiting to be
washed, were the signs that Dale and his grandchild had been
having their meal together; but grandfather, I was told,
was gone out, and Polly didn't know where he was gone, or
when he meant to return, — in fact she didn't know anything,
except that Granny was a-bed.


' And where is Granny sleeping ? " I asked.

" Up yon ! " and Polly pointed to a comer of the kitch-
en, where I saw nothing but the dish-covers upon the

There was a little room over one of the out-houses, as I
knew, so I guessed what was meant ; and putting some coals
on the fire, I told Polly to wash up the tea-things, and make
the place tidy; and up-stairs I went.

I heard a low groaning before I reached the top of the
steep little staircase, and when I entered the bedroom, I had
no need to be told that " G-ranny was very bad." She was
lyicg on a mattress on the floor, turning and rolling from
side to side, with an attack of feverish cold and rheuma-
tism. The wind, which was beginning to howl every
minute louder and louder, poured down in gusts from the
little fire-place, close at the head of the bed, so that she had
the full benefit of it. The room itself was draughty enough
for a person in health ; there was but one window, but that

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 14 of 28)