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

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to do so. I knew this, and it satisfied me, and I looked no
deeper. I did not see that there was at the bottom of my
heart a love of rule and independence, even underneath my
apparent submission. . I could not give up my own will,
merely because it was ordered by God's providence that I
should do so. I dearly loved to feel myself my own mis-
tress, and wherever I was placed, I was inclined to criticise
and find fault with any person who claimed authority over
me ; and all this did not appear to me wrong. I had but one
desire — that things should be done in the right way. I for-
got that it was necessary also that they should be done by
the right person.

And so again as regarded independence of character, the
wish to provide for myself, and make my own way in the
world. These were dispositions in which I saw no harm and
suspected no danger. They had worked well hitherto. They
had, I knew, been a great assistance to Roger, and very much
lessened his anxiety in parting with me. They had given
me a position in Mrs. Weir's household, and enabled me to
be of far greater use to her than I could have been if I
had merely done as I was told, without offering an opinion,
or showing that I was able to work out my own path. I
could not help feeling that I had gained a standing for my-

U E S U L A . 209

self in the world, even beyond my age, and it seemed to me
that I Lad nothing to do but to go on as I had begun, and
all must be well. For several years past, day by day, insen-
sibly to myself, my self-dependence had increased. If I had
continued with Mrs. Weir, gaining influence over her and
her household, it must have gone on increasing, and who can
say what the end might have been.

We are often warned against our besetting sin. I am
not at all sure whether we do not need a much stronger
warning against our besetting characteristic. One thing I
am sure of, that the inconsistencies and weaknesses which I
have marked in some of the best persons I have ever known,
have arisen from some tendency in the natural disposition, in
itself innocent, but which altered the right balance of the
character. Too much hope, or too little, too great excita-
bility, too great rapidity in forming opinions, too great fear
of giving pain, too much caution ; many such peculiarities
there are, which are no doubt necessary as forming the par-
ticular features of every individual character, and yet which
require in each case especially to be watched and guarded

In my own case I knew that I had a great love of inde-
pendence ; when it became wilfulness I was scolded and
punished for it. Yet it was only because it was wilfulness;
no one would have thought of punishing me for liking inde-
pendence. It would have been very unjust and unfair to do
so ; but then no one thought of whispering in my ear : —
" Take care that your love of independence does not become
a fault by blinding your eyes to duty."

It may be said that religion ought to have set all that
right, and so no doubt it ought ; but how few become
thoroughly religious at once. ^Vo may think ourselves con-
verted because we have gone through a certain state of sor-
row and repentance, and no doubt such feelings are very
often the beginning of a holy life, but they arc by no means
tlie end. lleligion must, I imagine, be witli us all a matter
(if growth ; and as to myself, I do not remember that I ever
had any of those seasons oi excited feelings which I know
that many pass through. Times there were indeed when I
was more penitent, or more earnest, or thankful, but it wad


all in a quiet way — Roger's way — in which there was very
little talking about feelings.

In some respects I dare say this was a snare to me, for
there are dangers wherever one turns. I was likely to go to
sleep over my duties, or do them in a slovenly manner, and
this would naturally hide from me many of the lesser evils
of my character. It is only when we are heartily zealous in
our wish to please God, that we search deeply into the secret
corners of our hearts, and through His grace are enabled to
discover and root out the weaknesses and infirmities as well as
the secret sins which lie hidden there. My life had hitherto
been too peaceful to reveal to me the necessity of such an
examination. Where there was little contradiction there
was little to struggle against, and though by no means well
satisfied with myself, I certainly had much to learn as to my
own deficiencies. And at that time religion with me was
more a matter of duty than of love. I can now see, through
God's mercy, that duty is but a stepping-stone, one without
which we can never reach the point at which we should aim,
but which cannot by itself raise us to the height from which
Heaven will be always in our view. Sorrow and disap-
pointment in this world had their work to do in me before
I could be brought to feel that the religion for which God
has created us is not merely a law of obedience but a spring
of happiness, — happiness in the consciousness of that deep,
satisfying grateful love which makes the heaviest trial and
the most self-denying discipline a joy, when submitted to for
Christ's sake.

I say this of myself, because I feel that to many my feel-
ings of religion, at the time of which I am writing, may
appear unsatisfactory. They were so, I grant. They were
unfolding, but as yet they were only in the bud. All I will
venture to say of them is, that I believe they were of the
right kind. There was a deep perception of my own un-
worthiness, a hearty wish to serve God, a watchfulness
against all the faults of which I was aware, a spirit of thank-
fulness for my daily blessings, and I hope some perception
of the infinite love shown to us all in our Redemption. I
speak of this latter feeling doubtfully, because it seems to
me now that it is one which persons are often slow in attain-

U K S U L A . 211

ing, especially wlien, as in my case, the growth of religion
has been unaccompanied by great fears or an overpowering
sense of sin, and consequent relief in the consciousness of
pardon. If I can judge at all of myself, I see my own sin-
fulness now much more fully than I did then, and so I hope
I am more penitent and more thankful ; and yet I can
scarcely say that I am more in earnest.

I walked over to the Heath in a very unhappy state of
mind : lonely, — I could not be otherwise, when I thought of
the long separation from lloger, — and fretted and perplexed
as to my present duties ; how far I was bound to give in to
Leah in consideration of her being William's wife, and that
he was giving me a home ; and how far I was called upon to
stand up for my own right, and the agreement which had
beei* made as to my time before lloger went away. But as
I drew near the Heath, other thoughts forced themselves
upon me. I met Mr. Temple as I was going along the side
of St. Anne's HiU. He was coming up from the cottage,
and had moved a hurdle which was in his way, and as I drew
near he kept it open for me. He was a civil little gentle-
man, and i liked as well as pitied him, so I thanked him very

" You are going down to the cottage, I suppose," he

" Yes, Sir," I replied. "I hope I shall find Mrs. AVeir
pretty well."

" I have not seen her to-day," he said. " There have
been visitors, and she has not been down-stairs."

" More visitors ! " 1 thought to myself. " They will kill
poor Mrs. Weir between them soon."

" A little pleasant society does her good, I think,'' con-
tinued Mr. Temple. " She has been much better since my
wife and I came."

" She is getting over her trouble a little, I hope, Sir," I
said, for I did not like to agree with him, though there was
some truth in his words.

" I think, if we could find a house to suit us, we miglit
remain here some time longer," observed Mr. Temple, lie
looked at me askance ; he never seemed to have courage to
look any one in the face. I made no reply, and ho went on,


" The climate suits Mrs. Temple so well, and we were just
thinking of giving up our house in the north. Do you know
how many bed-rooms there are in that house on the lower
road—' Stonccliff,' I think they call it ? "

" No, Sir, I don't," I replied, and I made a movement to
go on; but Mr. Temple was determined to have his talk out.
I believe he always kept what he had to say till he found
some one to expend it upon, when he was out of his wife's

" Mr. Richardson says it is cold in the winter," he ob-
served ; " did you ever hear that it was considered so ?
You must know this part of the country well, for you have
lived here all your life."

" The houses at Compton are all new, Sir," I answered ;
" I don't know much about them ; but it must be very cold
for a delicate person like Mrs. Temple. The wind cuts round
the corner of the cliff, and she would find the roar of the sea

" I don't think she minds that," he said ; " it is a good
house, I believe, and — but, however, I won't keep you ; if
you see Mrs. Temple, tell her I have walked over to Dene."

I suspect a fit of caution and fear of his wife came over
him at the moment, and sto2)ped his communicativeness, for
he rushed away, not waiting to put the hurdle back, and I
watched him climbing the hill by the help of his walking-
stick, and then continued my walk.


A THORN had been planted in my mind, a very large one,
though not so large as it might have been if T had been liv-
ing with Mrs. Weir. I only half believed what Mr. Temple
said, for he was a very blundering man, and IMrs. Temple
was just as likely as not to have put the notion into his head,
only for the sake of employing him. She was always plan-
ning something for him, and as soon as it was settled undoing
it again. But if there were any truth in it, it would be ill
news indeed, as far as I was concerned : and even as rcQ-arded


Mrs. Weir, I bad a great dislike to the notion of her being
taken in by any one, even though it made her happy for the
time. I have always so dearly loved the truth in all things,
and would rather know it and face it both in persons and
circumstances, however unpleasant it may be, than live in the
pleasantest dream that could be granted me. But I don't
think this was quite Mrs. Weir's case ; a little dreaminess
and imagination were necessary to her.

Before I reached the house, I saw the visitors who had
been mentioned ; they were Mr. and ]Mrs. Richardson, and
they, and Mrs. Temple, and Miss Milicent were standing
together in the sweep. I think Mr. and Mrs. Richardson
were just going after paying their visit. I tried to make my
way to the back door without being noticed, but Mr. Rich-
ardson saw and came after me to inquire for Roger, and then
Miss Milicent followed.

" So it's you, at last, Ursie," she said. " I made sure
you had quite forgotten us ; and there has been my mother
fidgeting to see you every day. You knocked down one of
the little ivory chessmen when you took out those nick-nack
follies the other day."

" Did I, Miss Milicent ? " I exclaimed, very much sur-
prised and vexed, and not at all recollecting at the moment
ou what occasion I had meddled with them.

'' And Matilda Temple was to have had them for the
charity bazaar, but they are no good now," continued Miss
Milicent. " Not that I care much for that," she added,
laughing, and speaking to Mr. Richardson. " Charity ba-
zaars are not much in my way. Are they in yours ? "

He looked grave, and said he did not mind having things
made privately and sold for charity, because many persons
could give work and time who could not give money ; but
he did dislike turning what was called charity into an amuse-
ment, and having tents, and music, and young ladies to sell
the things at absurd prices, and in fact making it just as
much a worldly entertainment as a ball or a play. It was
as much as to say that people would not give their money
without having a return. There was a verso in the Bible
Avhicli fllwa3-s came to his mind when he heard of bazaars.
lie paused a moment, and when Miss Milicent insisted


upon hearing it, he quoted David's speech to Araunah the
Jebusite : " Neither will I oifer burnt offerings unto the
Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing."

Mrs. Temple came up just as Mr. Richardson was speak-
ing, and I was afraid there would be a long discussion. I
felt a little awkward and out of my place, but I did not like
to move away, not knowing where exactly to go. I was re-
lieved when Mrs. Richardson joined us, and interrupted the
conversation by addressing me. I think she felt, like my-
self, that an argument with Mrs. Temple might be disa-

" Ursula," she said, " I am really glad to see you. I
think you may help Miss Weir and me in something we have
been planning."

" Oh ! yes, Ursie can help better than any one," said
Miss Milicent ; " and she will take a girl at Sandcombe, I
am sure. I think, Mrs. Richardson, we might as well let
her have Esther Smithson ; she is the most troublesome gud
in the school."

" I should be very happy to assist in any good work,"
began Mrs. Temple, coming forward, and rather pushing her-
self before me.

" Thank you," said Mrs. Richardson : " but this is a
business which only concerns parishioners. Happily, Sand-
combe is in Compton parish, so that Ursula still belongs
to us."

" Your dear mother will be wanting me, Milicent, I am
afraid," said Mrs. Temple, in a whining voice, which she
always adopted when speaking of Mrs. Weir. " Mrs. Rich-
ardson, I am afraid I must leave you."

She was very short in her manner, and I saw she was
displeased. I don't know whether Mrs. Richardson remarked
it, but I am sure we all breathed more freely when she was

" Could you walk down the road with us a little way,
Ursula ? " said Mr. Richardson. " I am afraid we must be
going, for I have an engagement at home in half an hour."

" Ursula will be tired," remarked Mrs. Richardson, who
never forgot to be thoughtful.

If I had been tired I should have gone with them, they


were always so pleasant and kind; but, as it happened, I
really was not tired, the air on the hill had been so refresh-

Miss Milicent followed without being asked.

" What we were talking of, Ursula," said Mrs. Richard-
son, "was the school."

" The Sunday-school, Ma'am ? " I inquired. " I am afraid
I should scarcely be able to walk over from Sandcombe as I
used to do from Dene."

" Not the Sunday-school, Ursie," interrupted Miss Mili-
cent, before Mrs. Richardson could answer, " but the day-
school. We have a plan for the girls. We mean to make
good servants of them. They are not to be such good-for-
nothings as Kitty Hobson and her set."

Poor Kitty Hobson ! She had become quite a proverb
of wickedness ; yet Mrs. Kemp thought well of her.

Mrs. Richardson never interrupted Miss Milicent, which
was one reason, I think, of her being such a favourite. She
even waited a second to hear if there was anything more
coming, and then she said, " It is only an experiment, Ursula ;
but you know how badly some of our girls "have turned out
lately ; and Mr. Richardson and I have been thinking whether
it would be possible to give them a little domestic teaching
before they quite leave school. If we could manage it, we
might send them out from the school, with a good character,
and put them at once in respectable situations, instead of
leaving them to chance places."

" You could take one very well at Sandcombe, Ursie,"
said Miss Milicent; "you must tell your brother about it.
And Jenny Dale shall have one too. Any girl who comes
under her will have a fair notion of cooking. I think it a
first-rate notion. If Jenny won't teach her, 1 will undertake
it myself."

1 tried not to smile at the notion of Miss Milicent's teach-
ing cookery ; and speaking to jMrs. Richardson, I asked her
to explain a little more clearly what she meant, for I could
not see my way to it. Mr. Richardson answered : " I think
we all agree tha't there is a great evil in the present state of
things, Ursula," he said ; " perhaps a lady can see more into
it than a gentleman ; but it strikes me that the reason why


SO many of our girls come to misery is that they are left to
make their first start in the world by themselves. They leave
school, and have learned to read, and write, and do needle-
work, but they know nothing of household work ; and so they
can seldom or never go at once into superior service, but are
sent to lodging-houses, and farms ; no offence, Ursula, but
you will agree with me that ordinary farm service is not good
training for a girl."

" Very bad," I said, earnestly, for it had often and often
weighed upon my mind.

" Now we think," continued Mrs. Richardson, taking up
the sentence where her husband had left it, " that if a few
persons in the parish, who are interested in the girls, would
agree to assist us, we might do something towards remedying
this evil. Our notion is that the girls, as they grow old
enough, should be sent to some house, — say Mrs. AVeir's or
ours, or Mrs. Kemp's, at Longside, to work in the morning,
from seven or eight till twelve ; having their breakfast, but
not their dinner, and going to school in the afternoon."

" That is the part I don't like," interrupted Miss Milicent.
" Poor starved creatures ! why aren't they to have their
dinner ? "

" Because if they do," said Mr. Richardson, " they become
an expense, and persons won't choose to burden themselves
with them. I would not even insist upon the breakfast. If
they went before eight they should have it, and if not they
should get what they could at home. You must remember
they are not worse off than they would be if they were regu-
larly at school, and our object is to pkiu something which
shall last, because it only touches time, and not money. You
and I, Miss Weir, might be very willing to give the poor
children a dinner every day, but Mrs. Burton, the surgeon's
widow, would never be able to afford it, and so she would
never come into our plan."

" And those who can afford it are to let the children starve
for the sake of those who can't," exclaimed Miss Milicent
" There is neither rhyme nor reason in that, Mr. Richard-

" No rhyme, I grant, but I hope some reason," he replied.
" If we, who can afford it, give the children a dinner, we


make the others discontented. There must be one rule for

" Besides," continued Mrs. Richardson, " there is an ex-
ception for Saturday. You may keep your girl all day, on
Saturday, Miss Weir, and give her sixpence besides, only you
are not obliged to do so if you don't like it."

" And you may want her services on some other day, for
the afternoon," said Mr. Richardson, " and then, if you ask
permission, it will be given, and you can bestow another six-
pence ; so you see there is an opening for as much extrava-
gance as you like. Only remember that you must let her
go home by daylight, or you will have the schoolmistress, and
the clergyman, and the committee down upon you, and be in
our black books for ever after."

" Well ! it's a capital plan," exclaimed Miss Milicent ;
" it will be the making of the girls. I should like to see it
begin with that lanky-haired Hetty Smithson. If it answered
- with her it would for any one."

" Ursula says nothing," observed Mrs. Richardson.

" I dare say you know all there is to be said, better than
I do, Ma'am," I replied.

" But you have objections," remarked Mr. Richardson,
rather in a disappointed tone.

" I think it might answer very well, Sir, if you were always
sure of the persons whom the girls would be placed under.
It is not the mistresses, but the servants, who will stand in
the way."

" Yes," said Mr. Richardson, " I have thought of

" If you have good upper servants, whom the girls will
obey," I continued, "it will all be easy; but if they are
young and flighty, they will only teach the girls evil, and if
they are cross they will aggravate them, so that they will
never get on together."

" A difficulty, not an objection," said Mr. Richardson.
" If the plan is tried in six cases and answers only in three,
the three are a gain. Nothing can be worse than the way
things are managed at present."

That was true, certainly. I myself had watched Comp-
ton girls, sent out into the world, one after another, taking
Vol. I.— 10


the first place they could meet with, let it be what it might,
and often even working in the fields, because they had no
opening for service, and, in more cases than I could bear to
remember, the end had been grievous. Still I was not very
hopeful as to the present scheme. There was distance to be
considered, and I mentioned this to Mr. Richardson.

He had thought of it, he said, and no doubt it frequently
might stand in the way. The plan would be much more
easily carried out in a town, or in a small place where the
houses were close together, than in a scattered parish like
Compton. " But where there's a will there's a way, Ursu-
la," he added, with a pleasant smile. " We want three or
four persons who will set their heads and their hearts to
workj and consider what is good for the girls, and not what
is pleasant to themselves. Then I think the difficulty might
be greatly obviated. The children who lived nearest to you
would go to you, and those who lived nearest to me would
come to me. I think, Miss Milicent, upon that principle,
Mrs. Kemp would take Hetty Smithson, unless she can be
sent to Sandcombe.

" Mrs. Kemp likes good-for-nothing girls," exclaimed
Miss Milicent ; " she has turned Kitty Hobson out quite

" By a little kindness and care," said Mrs. Richardson.
" That was what first put this idea into our minds. Kitty
was seized just at the right moment, and taught that she had
a character, which was a fact she had been made to doubt ;
and now she thinks it worth while to try and keep it. We
want to do the same thing for our girls, before they have
reached poor Kitty's ' ne'er-do-weel ' state."

" To retain being much more easy than to attain," said Mr.
Richardson ; and then he added, very earnestly, " There is
the analogy of God's dealings with man, to teach us that
truth. ' Members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors
of the kingdom of Heaven,' as the Catechism says ; we have
our rank given us from the beginning, and all our struggle
thenceforward must be to keep it."

My mind all this time was dwelling upon Leah and
Sandcombe. I did not at all see how the plan was to work


Miss Milicent was rather cross because I said so little.
" I wish, Ursie Grant," she remarked, " that you would
speak out. I am sure Mr. Richardson would like it better,
and I know I should."

" I can understand Ursula's feelings," said Mrs. Eawlin-
son ; " she is taken by surprise."

" Yes, Ma'am," I said ; " and I doubt whether at Sand-
combe we have any one who could look after a child

" Not yourself ? " said Mr. Richardson.

" I am not mistress. Sir," was my reply; and he quite
understood, without asking more questions.

" Well ! " he said, after a little thought, " let us make
up our minds that it will be a failure, — a failure, at least, so
far as that many of the children will fail to obtain good
from it, and that the persons whom we depend upon to
help us will grow weary and give up. Still, is that any rea-
son for not making the attempt ? What harm can it do ? "

" None," said Mrs. Rawlinson.

" And," he continued, " we will try to hold out a re-
ward for good behaviour. The school is not rich ; but I
think we could afford half a sovereign, if not more, to any
girl who, having gone out to work in the morning, whilst at
school, should afterwards be placed in a permanent situation,
and remain in it with a good character for a year. That
would, I hope, be a little inducement to the parents to keep
their children at school longer ; and, I confess, one of my
main hopes of good is in the fact that the girls, even whilst
they are learning to be servants, will still feel that they are
children, and under school discipline. Besides the after-
noon lessons, there will be the Sunday-school and church
for them regularly, so that their good habits will be kept

" Well, Ursie, isn't it all right now ? " exclaimed Miss
Milicent, appealing to me.

But Mr. Richardson answered for me. " Pardon me,
Miss Weir ; we won't have Ursula's assent drawn from her
unwillingly. We will try the plan, and then she shall say

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