Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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hyena," I said, and I could not help laughing, vexed though
I was. " She would never come over me, you will excuse
my saying so."

" i)on't boast, Ursie ; you have never had to do with her.
You see if she is not come to quarter herself upon us for a
month, and neither you nor I, nor any one will be al)le to
say her nay."

" But indeed, Miss Milicent," I exclaimed, " it ought


not to be. She will drive Mrs. Weir out of her senses. It
is mj belief that it was seeing her helped to make the poor
ladj faint yesterday."

" If she was dying, Matilday Temple wovild stick by her,"
exclaimed Miss Milicent; " and talk good all the time, till
she thought herself a saint, and made my mother think so

" And where are Mr. and Mrs. Temple to sleep, Ma'am ? "
I asked.

" I shall take to the attic," said Miss Milicent.

" Oh ! no indeed," I exclaimed ; " that must not be. Miss
Milicent. There is my room, quite ready. I will move my
things in a minute, and the attic is quite as good as I shall

" It won't be, Ursie Grant," she replied, catching hold of
my arm, as was her habit ; " my mother won't allow it, and,
what is more, if she would I would not. When you came
to help us in our troubles we promised you a comfortable
room, and we aren't going to have it taken from you by any

" Only if I give it up, it is not taken from me," I said ;
" and, indeed, Miss Milicent, it is not fitting ; I could not
stay here, with you sleeping in the attic, and me in the room

She would make no reply, but went off, and I heard her
tell Fanny to come and help carry her boxes up-stairs.

It touched me, I confess. I did not believe she had so
much thought, but it made me very uncomfortable ; for really,
as I said, it was unfitting, and I had a kind of fear that it
would make mischief.

I took the opportunity of going up-stairs to Mrs. Weir,
under pretence of carrying away the luncheon, and, fortu-
nately, I found her by herself Cotton had persuaded her
to>get up and dress, and she was sitting by the window.

" I was not prepared to see you there. Ma'am," I said ;
" I fancied you wouldn't get up till the afternoon."

" I feel better, thank you, Ursula, and lying in bed only
weakens me ; besides, I have had a visitor."

" I was afraid Mrs. Temple would have been too much
for you, Ma'am. Seeing her did you harm yesterday."


" No, Ursula, it only startled me a little. Mrs. Temple
is a very good woman, and when she talks to me, she re-
minds me of many things which I am too apt to forget."

" Indeed, Ma'am," was all I could say.

" She has been very well brought up," continued Mrs.
Weir, " and she has done a greau deal for her husband. He
was very extravagant as a young man, and she has quite
cured him, and now he gives all his money to charities. He
owes her a great deal."

" And no doubt she takes care to make him pay it," was
the uncharitable thought which crossed my mind, but I an-
swered by asking if Mrs. Temple was likely to remain long
in the neighbourhood.

" I have persuaded her to stay for three or four days,
Ursula. She has never seen this part of the country, and
she wishes to do so very much, but she cannot be at the
hotel. She cannot bear it ; it is noisy, and she is not

" Persons who travel can scarcely expect to meet with
the same quietness they have at home," I replied ; " but I
never heard any complaint of the hotel. Ma'am."

" Mrs. Temple does not complain. She says, very rightly,
that the worst accommodation is better than creatures like
ourselves deserve. Indeed, she made me ashamed of being
so particular myself. I hope you will forgive me, Ursula, if
I have ever given you trouble by it. I have been very much

I saw a tear glisten in the poor lady's eye, and I ventured
to take her hand, and say, " Dear Ma'am, if you will please
not talk so, twenty times the trouble would be nothing in
return for the goodness and kindness you have shown to me
for years."

" Ah ! but, Ursula, it is not right to let the mind rest
upon these trifles. Mrs. Temple is not fanciful as I am.
When I told her that I was afraid the bed in Milicent's room
might be hard, she assured me she could sleep upon the
ground if needful."

" Pei-haps Mr. Temple may be more fidgety, Ma'am," 1
observed ; for I could not help noticing how entirely the
good gentleman was put aside, even by Mrs. Weir.


" Ah ! Ursula, Mrs. Temple has done so mucli for her hus-
band in that respect, as well as in many others. She says
that he is a changed man since she first knew him. He has
no wish for fine carpets and curtains, and soft beds, and sofas.
He desires nothing but quietness. That is an excellent in-
fluence for a wife to exercise.

Mrs. Weir sighed, and I knew that she was in her
heart reproaching herself for having encouraged her hus-
band in extravagance by her own fancifulness.

'' They will find the room small, Ma'am," I said ; " and
I don't quite know what to do about the dressing-room.
Fanny and I had thought of filling it with the things we
couldn't put elsewhere."

A harassed look came over Mrs. Weir's face ; it always
did when there was the least fuss about arrangements. Her
brow contracted, and there was a heavy darkness across her
eyes. I saw it would not do to make more objections.

" You can fill my room, Ursula, if you like. I am not
going to be so particular as I have been. What docs it sig-
nify ? I shall soon be out of this world."

" But those who love you, dear Ma'am," I said, " will
take care that you shall be comfortable whilst you are in it.
Please don't trouble yourself; we shall manage, I dare say;
and it won't be for long, I suppose."

. " Only for two days, Ursula. Mrs. Temple is obliged to
be at home. She is making preparations for a charity ba-
zaar ; so she cannot stay. I have promised to look over my
things, and see what I can spare for her. I was just think-
ing, when you came up, that you might, if you would, be
kind enough to unpack one of my boxes, and help me to

I am afraid I felt very unwilling; but as I did not ven-
ture actually to say " No," I replied that, if I might be al-
lowed, I would rather wait just now, for I had to go to see
about dinner.

" Thank you, by and by will do very well ; or, perhaps
Cotton will bring the box."

Already in my mind I saw Mrs. Temple fingering all the
pretty little toys and ornaments in which Mrs. Weir found
pleasure ; and my heart swelled so that I really could not


answer. But there was uo escape. Mrs. Weir's mind, I
could see, was possessed with the notion of giving up some-
thing she cared for. What that tiresome woman had been
saying to her, I was unable to imagine.


Miss Milicent took possession of the attic, in spite of
all I could say, and Mr. and Mrs. Temple were put into
her room ; and, as it seemed, were likely long to remain there.
As for going away in two days, I was sure from the begin-
ning what that would come to. If ever there was a woman
who might be called a burr, it was Mrs. Temple. Once let
her come near you, and, as Miss Milicent said, she would
stick to you through everything. You might cast her off one
minute, and think you were rid of her, and the next you were
sure to find her clinging to you again. When the two days
were over, she declared herself to be wonderfully better for
the sea air, and Mrs. Weir was very pleased, really so, I do
believe ; she was pleased at anything which did good. Mrs.
Temple was pressed to stay. I remembered the charity
bazaar ; but if there were really going to be one, there was
certainly no hurry in preparing for it. Not but what it was
still talked about. Mrs. Temple was always collecting sea-
weeds out of doors, or cutting up bits of card-board in doors,
liking, she said, to employ her time usefully ; and I take it
for granted it was all useful, for even Miss Milicent was
drawn in by her, and made to search for stones and specimens,
as Mrs. Temple called them, all which were to go to the char-
ity bazaar.

In a week the house had settled down as though INIrs.
Temple had lived there, and meant to live there, always.
But it was just the contrary with me ; having her there opened
my eyes to one thing, — that I was not so necessary to Mrs.
Weir as I imagined. It was not a pleasant discovery, but
it made me see how selfish I might be, even in what appeared
to be my best feelings. AVhat Mrs. Weir wanted was a little
sympathy and amusement ; and when she could obtain this,
Vol. I.— 8*


her life was tolerably comfortable ; for she "was like a cliild,
accustomed to live just for the day, and to trust everything
to others. The very weight of the cares and griefs which
had burdened her for so many years, I believe, forced her
to this. Her husband had made her helpless, and kept her so ;
and now nothing roused her except some great call of what
she considered duty, such as that which had made her dwell
so much upon the thought of rejoining Mr. Weir. If that
notion were to come up again, I knew she would startle us all
by her energy ; but now she was sinking down into a kind of
life which sometimes made me think of the beautiful sea
anemones found upon the shore, — half vegetable and half
animal, — moving their long feelers, and searching, as it were,
for something, they scarcely knew what ; yet contented to
remain in one place, and appearing to find a kind of solace
in spreading themselves out in the sun, and taking thankfully
the light and air which Grod, in His wonderful Wisdom,
had provided for them.

It is happy for us, I am sure, that we do not all need the
same comfort. I should never have found mine where Mrs.
Weir did, in Mrs. Temple's society ; but in saying this, I
don't in the least mean that I was, therefore, in any way
better or wiser than Mrs. Weir, — quite the contrary. It was
the very goodness and simplicity which I never could attain to
that made her take for reality what always seemed to me mere
outside show. Mrs. Temple showed herself to me the first night
I ever saw her ; she was ofi' her guard then, and the impres-
sion I had of her remained by me. Perhaps, but for that, I
too might have been deluded by her. But I don't know ;
there is something in true kindness and goodness, which I
fancy can never be counterfeited. All the fine talking and
appearance of sympathy, which Mrs. Weir had such faith in,
sounded to me hollow from the beginning ; and I could not
but see by Mrs. Temple's words and ways that she had one
great besetting sin, which, as far as I could discover, she
was totally blind to. She was a thoroughly mean woman
about money matters. She had not been well, and she
wanted change and sea air ; that was the history of her visit
to Compton Heath ; and as days went on, I saw that she had
made up her mind from the beginning to come and quarter


herself upon Mrs. Weir, not for one or two nights, hut for a
month, or six weeks, or any time that might suit her. But
she would not have said it for the world. No, all the time
it was, that she was so anxious to go, only her aunt pressed
her to stay, and seemed to enjoy a little sympathy and aifec-
tionate comijanionship so much, that really, in her distressed
state, — a state worse than widowhood, — she could not make
up her mind to leave her.

It was all quite true about Mrs. Weir ; she did like it,
at least in a certain way, and for a time. To me, it was just
like having a wet blanket thrown over me to hear Mrs. Tem-
ple converse, especially when she touched upon serious sub-
jects. I never knew what to say, or which way to look ; and
though I could have listened to Mrs. Weir for hours, when
she talked to me in her earnest, simple way, I never heard
one of Mrs. Temple's set speeches without feeling as though
I wished a trap- door could open in the floor, and I might sink
down and hide myself. But dear, good Mrs. Weir, took it
all in like a sermon. She was so sincere herself that she
could not suspect others of make-believe ; and constant sor-
row, and thinking of serious matters, and living in that
strange dreamy way, out of the world, made her prepared at
all times for subjects which came to other people with a
a shock and a jar.

Miss Milicent and I had a little conversation upon this
subject one day. It was after we had been at the Heath
about three weeks, and I had received a letter from Roger,
saying he had finished his business in London, and was coming
down the nest week to Sandcombe, and asking if I could go
over and see him, if it was only for a few days. As things
were, it struck me, that I might just as well make my move
once for all. There might never be a better moment ; and
that afternoon, when Miss Milicent came into the kitchen
to give some orders, I determined to propose it to her. I
was standing there, showing Cotton how to make Mrs.
Weir's coflFee, — for Jenny Dale, though she was pretty well
again, and able to cook, had never managed to make cofiee
to please Mrs. Weir,

" I should like to speak to you if you please. Miss Mili-
cent," I said, " if you are not busy."


" Yes, I cam busy ; I always am," she answered ; and true
enough it did appear that she ought to be busy, even if she
was not, for it wouhl have taken full ten minutes, rightly, to
put herself tidy. She had been down upon the shore, getting
seaweeds, and crabs, and crawling things, to be placed in a
glass, for Mrs. Temple — I suppose for the charity bazaar.
Such a mass of mud on her short tucked-up dress, and such
boots ! and the pockets of her loose jacket stuck full of stones
and shells, and her bonnet all awry ; if I had not seen her
nearly the same every day, for the last fortnight, I don't
think I could have kept from a smile.

But I tried to be very respectful, knowing my temptation
the other way, and I said, " I wouldn't trouble you if you
are really busy. Miss Milicent, but I have had a letter this
morning, and I thought I should like to talk to you about

" A letter, have you ? Oh ! "

Miss Milicent's look grew softer. She took a real in-
terest in Roger, and must have guessed the letter was from
him ; but she still went her own "way.

" I want some brown pans, Jenny," she said, " flat pans ;
and where is the sea-water Dale brought up from the shore ?
Here are beautiful things to be cared for," and she uncovered
a basket and showed a mass of slimy-looking coloured jelly,
lying upon stones and seaweeds, with tiny crabs and peri-
winkles, and all kinds of uncouth creatures, crawling about
amongst them.

" They things had best have stayed where they were born,
it's my opinion," said Jenny; " they don't look natural-like
here. What am I to do with them. Miss Milicent ? "

As she spoke, Jenny poked one of them with a skewer,
and then started back, declaring " she wouldn't, for the life
of her, have anything to do with it. If she might put it in
the pot and boil it she wouldn't so much care, but live jelly
was what she was not used to."

I brought the pans from the scullery myself, and Miss
Milicent and I moved her creatures, as she called them, into
it, and then, as they began to unfold in the clear water,
Jenny ventured to look in upon them, and, in spite of her
declarations, that " they weren't canny, and she couldn't


abide them," we left her standing by the pans and poking
them about with the skewer.

All this time Miss Milicent seemed to have no thought for
my business, but when her own was finished she said, " Now,
tJrsie Grant, if you choose to come to the dining room, I
can see the letter," and away she walked, expecting me to
follow her.

We went into the dining room, and she shut to the door.
" Well ! what is the mischief ? " she began.

" That Roger is coming to Sandcombe, Miss Milicent,
and I think it is time for me to be going," I replied.

" You have taken an uppish fit, have you ? " she replied.
" I thought it would come to this ; Mrs. Temple said it

" Mrs. Temple ! " I exclaimed.

" Yes ! she is a sharp woman, though not after my fancy
in all things. She said she saw it in you the first night she
came ; and I have a doubt that you were not too civil to her
then, Ursie Grant."

I was upon the point of explaining, but I remembered
that evil words multiply by being taken up and cut to pieces,
like the creatures Miss Milicent had just brought into the
kitchen ; so I let Mrs. Temple's unkind remarks pass, and
answered, " You would scarcely have said that Miss Mili-
cent, if you had known all that went on. But I don't know
what I have done to make you or any one call me up-
pish. It can't be because I talk of going away, for that
has been settled ever since I came."

" I knew how it would be," persisted Miss Milicent, in her
old way, carrying on her own words just as though I had not
spoken. " Matilda Temple said she was sure you would
never go on long, dining in the kitchen with old Dale and
his wife, and not having a place to sit in except your bed-
room. She was wrong though in one thing, as I told her,
for it was my own will to go to the attic."

" Oh ! Miss Milicent," I exclaimed, " how can you listen
to Mrs. Temple ; did I ever complain '? "

" No ; bufyou are going away."

" But not for that," I replied, and I felt the angry colour
rush to my check. " If there is one thing I hate more than


another, it is taking upon oneself to have airs, and being
above doing what is kind and helping. I would dine with
old Dale and sit in my bedroom from this hour till the day
of my death, if it was my duty, and could comfort any one,
much more be of use to Mrs. Weir, and you know it, Miss
Milicent. You don't really believe Mrs. Temple ; if you did,
it would be a hard struggle with me to keep from walking
out of the house and never entering it again."

" I was wrong, Ursie," she said, and she stretched out her
large hand, stained with the marks of the mud and sea-weed
she had been handling, and gave me something between a pat
and a shake. " But it comes over me, and that's the truth,
and if Mr. Temple and Matilda weren't here, I think I
should run away."

" I fincied you didn't like their staying," I observed.

" No, I had rather have you than them, any day, but I
had rather have them than nobody. Don't you see how
quiet my mother has been since Mrs. Temj)le has taken to
being with her ? "

" Just for the time," I said ; " but Mrs. Weir must see
through it some day. Miss Milicent, as you and I do."

" She may, and she mayn't ; any how, it helps for the

" Oh ! Miss Milicent," I exclaimed, " can you bear to see
the good lady deceived, and made to rest upon another, when
you, her own flesh and blood, that could be everything to her,
are close at hand ? "

I had never spoken so plainly before, and I was afraid
how my words might be taken. Miss Milicent winced a
little, but she had a way of turning off from any subject she
disliked, and making an excuse by finding fault with some
one else. That was how she managed to deceive herself upon
this one point, and so I suppose it is with us all.

" My mother is very queer, Ursie," she said, "as you
well know, and ever since I can remember she has looked for
comfort out of her own family. The doctors say it's health,
and I dare say it is; but whether or not, I can't please her,
and if she chooses to be taken in by Matilda Temple, why
she must be."

" But it will work some harm in the end, for certain," I


said. " You don't trust Mrs. Temple yourself, Miss Mili-

" Not I, not for a moment ; yet slie is not such a hypocrite
as you think, Ursic. She humbugs herself just as much as
she does other people."

That was seeing deeper than I should have given Miss
Milicent credit for, and I asked her what she meant.

" Why, just this," she replied ; " I have lived a good deal
with Matilda Temple, and seen how things went on. She
was very badly brought up as a child, left quite to her own
ways. She never knew how to be honest and open like
others, and she loved nothing but herself. Then her mother
died, and she went to live with a kind of cousin, a Mrs.
Frere, a good woman — yes, a good woman, if ever there lived
one upon earth, but one who was always lecturing and talk-
ing of religion. I could not endure her fashion of going on
myself, and I ran away from her whenever I saw her, yet I
respected her. But with Matilda it was different ; she learnt
to talk the same as her cousin, and Mrs. Frere thought her
an excellent, good child, because she could quote texts, and
said she liked to hear sermons, and Matilda thought so her-
self, and she thinks so now, and nobody has ever told her
differently. She has her notion of goodness, and she acts up
to it."

" If she had read her Bible, she might have found out
that it was not the right notion, I should have thought," was
my reply. "To be sure, I have seen but little of her, but
her ways do strike me as being shabby."

" Shabby ! she is the shabbiest woman, and the proudest
in England," said Miss Milicent, " and the cleverest besides.
We must all take our dose of religion, Ursie, that we know ;
but I suppose we like to take it our own way. Matilda
Temple wraps up hers in talk, and makes it a good size, and
then she swallows it whole, and so it never tastes unpleasant."

I did not answer directly, — I could not. It came over
nic with such a terrible dread, that we might all be doing
the same in some way or other. I could see it in Miss Mili-
cent herself, clear-sighted though she was to Mrs. Tcmplcs's
short-comings, and there was I, perhaps as great a self-
deceiver as either.


Miss Milicent continued, " It is not to be wondered at
that Matilda Temple should think much of herself. There's
her little husband obeys her like a black slave."

" And it is true, then," I said, " what Mrs. Weir told mo,
that she had saved him from being extravagant ? "

" Oh, yes ! saved him from that, and from a great deal
else, and made him nearly as shabby as herself; only I must
say one thing for him, it goes against the grain."

" Really ! Miss Milicent," I exclaimed, " you do surprise
me. If you think of your cousins in this way, how can you
bear to have them here ? "

" Because anything is better than being forced to give in
to another person's fancies all day, Ursie Grant. I must
have liberty. It is bad enough, anyhow, to be set down in a
corner of the world like this, but if I am to sit in doors week
after week, and talk twaddle, I shall fall ill. That is the

" Yet there are some hours when Mrs. Weir likes to be
alone," I ventured to say.

" May be, but you don't understand ; no one can. Pa-
rents and children, and brothers and sisters, are not like
other people. I dare say you think I am undutiful ; I dare
say I am."

I must have looked shocked, for I always thought that
if I had a mother living, I should feel it such a pleasure and
an honour to do everything for her. But Miss Milicent was
better than her v/ord, I knew, and I am sure that her con-
science reproached her, after she had spoken in this off-hand
way, for she went on, " You know, Ursie, there's no one but
you that can suit me and my mother also, and it's the plain
fact ; and if we can have you here, everything will go well,
and if we have not, we must have Matilda Temple, or any
one we can get, and take the consequences. And who is to
answer for them ? "

Without waiting for me to reply she went away, seemingly
in a huff.

This sudden end to our conversation was like a gust of
wind. It took up all my ideas, and turned them round as it
were, till I did not know where I was. Just for one moment
I thought Miss Milicent was right, and that I was answer-


able for "whatever might happen, if Mrs. Temple stayed aud
I went away ; but I soon saw the folly of such an idea. God
has only given us one conscience to take care of, and trovible
enough it is to keep that clear of offence. If I went my own
straightforward way, I was not answerable for the crooked-
ness of other people's. And I saw, too, what Mrs. Kemp
had first put into my head, that my staying only blinded Miss
Milicent more to her own duties. I sought no more conver-
sation, but went up-stairs to my own room, and wrote a letter
to Roger, telling him, that nothing preventing, I would be
at Sandcombe, if William aud Leah could receive me, that
day week.


^My stay with Mrs. Weir was about to terminate less
pleasantly than I had expected. I seemed to have done but

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