Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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custom, or even justice and religion, will in the end become
law, because people will have become accustomed to it. If
Miss Milicent had been told the first night of Mrs. Temple's
arrival, that she could ever have endured the prospect of
living with her, she would have said it was impossible.
Watching the course of the world, I have often thought, that
if we could see the devil himself frequently, we should at
last learn to like him.


And so I went back to Sandcombe, — with what feelings
of vexation and disappointment there is no need to say.
Miss Milicent pressed my having tea, but I had no heart to
stay. Perhaps I was more worried than I ought to have
been ; and if I could have thrown off all care for Mrs. Weir
and her concerns, it might have been the happier for me.
But it was not in my nature to do that ; I did really love
her ; I would have done anything in my power to comfort
her ; whilst I dare say there was something of wounded pride,
in the knowledge that now I was no longer necessary to her.
As an especial aggravation, came the consciousness that with
all her goodness she was very likely to be prejudiced, and
that nothing would be more easy than for Mrs. Temple to
continue to insinuate things to my disadvantage, — even as
she had already begun. I had said nothing to Miss Milicent
about the broken chess-man, I felt ashamed of justifying my-


self from such a charge ; but I made up my mind not to go
to the Heath again for some time, lest I might give some
fresh cause of otfence ; and especially I resolved to wait until
some more settled plan had been decided about Stonecliff.
I had no confidence in Miss Milicent's tact or discretion ;
and I was sure that what I said was likely to be repeated to
Mrs. Temple, and by her to be turned in some way against
me. The visit did me good, however, in one way ; it kept
me from pining after my former life, and enabled me to sit
down more contentedly to my duties at Sandcombe ; and
these soon became quite sufficient to occupy me thoroughly.

Leah, as I expected, took kindly enough to the notion of
a school-girl coming to help, — that was the way she talked
of it, and I could not put any other idea into her head,
though I knew well enough that the help which a girl of
that age could give was much less than the trouble of look-
ing after her. Still I felt it was right to aid Mrs. Richard-
son if possible. The three head girls in the school were to
go out at once. Mrs. Kemp was to take one ; another was
to work at the Parsonage; and Esther Smithson was to
come to us. The plan was not actually carried out till after
harvest, when we were obliged to have extra help. Up to
that time we had a girl on baking and washing and brewing
days ; but the maid and I managed to do all the rest of the
work, of course with the assistance of Leah ; who, to say the
truth, was not so much a fine lady as selfish and disposed to
be lazy. I did not dislike the life ; indeed I should have
been fond of it, if I had been living with people who under-
stood and gave me sympathy. But it was all business and
money-getting from morning till night ; the very clods of
earth seemed to be looked at only with the thought of how
they might be turned into bank notes and gold. Yet it was
only for a year, I said to myself, and when I had received
Roger's first letter, telling me he had arrived in Canada, and
was making himself useful to the gentleman who took him
out, and looking out for the best means of settling himself
permanently, I felt as if half the time of separation was

One thing I felt about Sandcombe was that it was very
out of the way. To be sure the same might have been said


of Dene, but there I had interest enough in the place and the
people, never to wish to go further, except to Longside,
where I was always welcome. At Sandcombe, though Leah
often went out, and sometimes had friends to tea, there were
none whom I cared particularly to meet; and indeed, as
often as not, Leah would make the excuse of my being at
home for William and herself to go out and leave me

It was about half-past four o'clock one afternoon, just in
the beginning of September ; I had been sitting at work by
myself, making a silk jacket for Jane Shaw, whose wedding-
was to come off in about three weeks, and who had asked me
to do some little things she had not time for herself, and did
not choose to put into the hands of a town dress-maker. I
was enjoying being alone, and counting the days till I could
hear again from lloger ; Leah had been in and out of the
parlour all the afternoon, doing first one thing and then
another ; and a few words with her, and the farm-house
sounds, which I always liked particularly, prevented me
from feeling lonely, especially as I was very intent upon my
work, wishing to finish it that evening. Presently Leah
came in to me in a hurry, and said, " Ursie, there's a chaise
coming down the lane ; I do think it must be the Kemps.
I wish you would just go and skim the milk for me, for
Martha is too busy, and you must mind and bring in
cream enough for tea. If it is the Kemps they will be sure
to stay."

This was a little instance of the kind of thing Leah was
constantly doing. She knew the Kemps always came par-
ticularly to see me, and that I should be vexed at missing
any part of their visit, but she still seized upon them as an
excuse for making me do her duties. I said nothing, how-
ever, but put down my work directly, and went to the dairy,
looking up the lane as I passed through the yard, and seeing
Mrs. Kemp and Mary in the chaise, and John Hervey driv-
ing them, as was natural.

I was detained longer in the dairy than I intended, for
Martha was untidy in her ways, and I happened to see the
bucket which the man was going to use for the evening milk-
ing, and it was not properly washed ; so I had to find fault,


which was what I very much disliked, as I always felt that
fault-finding ought never to be the business of more than one
person in a house. Martha was cross, too, and would do just
contrary to what I wished. She saw visitors, and knew they
were likely to give her work and keep her in the house, and
I was sure she wanted to be out of doors gossiping, a thing
which she particularly liked, and I especially dreaded.
Altogether it was as much as half an hour before I could get
back to the parlour.

Leah made a kind of apology when I went in, and said she
did not think I should have been kept so long ; " but you
need not mind so much, Ursie," she added, " for Mrs. Kemp
has come to drink tea."

" I did not say that," replied Mrs. Kemp, good-naturedly ;
" though a cup of tea never comes amiss. But the days are
beginning to close in, and we must not be late, especially as
we are driving."

John Hervey laughed, and said that was a slur on his
driving. He could make his way over the hill at midnight,
he was sure ; and if he could not, the horse could, which was

" Fogs are worse than darkness, I always think," said
Mary Kemp ; " and there is one coming up now I do

No one had noticed it before, yet it was already quite
thick ; but that was the way with those sea fogs, they rushed
over the hill all of a sudden, and then cleared away, as it
seemed, without any cause.

" I thought, Ursie," said John, " that you might have
been at Compton lately, which was one reason I had for
coming here. I. have not been there myself, I can't tell the
time when."

" Mrs. Weir is going to take Stoneclifi", so William heard
in Hove, on Saturday," said Leah. " But Ursie is so close,
we have not heard it from her, even if she knows it."

Mr. Hervey only remarked that he never believed one
half of what he heard in Hove.

" Had not I better go and see about tea ? " I asked, for
I wanted an excuse to go away. I never liked talking about
Mrs. Weir before strangers.


" Perhaps you might as well," said Leah. " Here is the
key of the closet. T wish you would bring in some of that
pound cake which William is so fond of. I should like
Mrs. Kemp to taste it."

" Pound cake of your making, Ursie ? " asked Mrs.

" Yes," I said. " It was one of Mrs. Mason's receipts;
but Martha was careless with the oven, and it is rather

" Martha is enough to plague one's life out," said Leah.
" If we were not going to try this new girl from the Comp-
ton school, I should tell William we must send her away."

" When is your new girl coming ? " asked Mrs. Kemp.

" To-morrow, I believe ; isn't it, Ursie ? It is Ursie's
concern. She has undertaken to teach hei*."

" Not quite," I replied. " I said I would look after
her as well as I could in the morning, but I never promised

" I shall wish you joy if she is like our girl, Ursie," said
Mary Kemp; " she is duller than dull; Kitty Hobson was
a treasure to her."

" And what has become of Kitty ? " asked Leah.

" She's gone to be kitchen-maid at Mr. Stewart's," re-
plied Mrs. Kemp. " I knew the cook, and she promised to
look after her, and I have great hopes that Kitty will turn
out well."

" More than I have," said Leah ; " but girls are all
alike. I dare say we shan't find this new one any better
than the rest."

" It depends upon what you expect," said Mrs. Kemp.
" One can't put old heads on young shoulders, and so one
must make up one's mind to take trouble, and look after
them, else of course they will go wrong. I was obliged to
be strict with Kitty, for when she came to Longside first, she
was out in the yard talking at all hours ; but my Mary took
her in hand, and gave her plenty to do, and saw that she did
it, and sent her to bed early, before the men and boys had
their supper, and by the time she left us, wo had worked her
out of a good many of her idle ways. Then, to be sure, I
must say Mary has a way with her," added Mrs. Kemp',


with a mother's pride. " She used to make the girl read to
her on Sundays ; and now and then Kitty sat with her and
helped in the house needle-work, and that gave her a notion
of being more tidy and respectable in her ways. It was
giving her a lift in the world, which I suppose is what we all

I had lingered to hear what Mrs. Kemp was saying,
hoping to gain some hints for myself, but I saw Leah look
impatient, and indeed time was running on fast, and, much
against my inclination, I went to get tea.

I did not notice that John Hervey followed me, but, as I
was taking the cake out of the closet, he came behind me,
and quite startled me by offering to carry it for me.

" You don't want me," he said, laughing, as he noticed
my look of surprise.

" To tell the truth, I don't think I do," I replied ;
" Leah is not fond of having persons spying about her cup-

" I don't want to look at the cupboard, I only want to
have a few words with you, Ursie ; and there is no chance of
our being alone, that I can see. Have you heard about Mrs.
Weir and Stonecliff?"

" Since you ask," I replied, " I must needs say I have;
but it is no business of mine."

He stood thinking ; then he said, " It won't f .vsie,
and it ought to be prevented."

" Who is to prevent it ? " I said. " What business have
either you or I with it ? "

" With me it's just this," he answered. " Mrs. Weir's
family have always been very kind to my family ; and if it
was not for them I shouldn't be where »I am. She is left
here to manage for herself, with no more knowledge than a
baby what to do ; and Miss Milicent not much wiser ; and
so, if one sees them likely to make a blunder, one would
fain, if one could, stop them."

" If you mean as regards money," I said, " Miss Mili-
cent is not likely to be misled there ; she has a sharp eye."

" Not so sharp as Mrs. Temple," said John ; " she wUl
squeeze every penny out of them, if they live together, and
make her share of expenses a third, instead of half. I know


her of old, for I have had dealings with her. Ursie, you
must try and talk over Miss Milicent."

" Not I," I replied. " I have given up trying to talk
over any one. The world must go its own way."

A cloud came over his face. " That is not as you used
to talk, Ursie," he said. " I remember the time when you
would have made any venture to be of use to such a friend
as Mrs. Weir has been to you."

" That was when I was young," I said, trying to laugh,
though my heart was heavy. " I have grown wiser since."

" It can't be wisdom to let people go to ruin without
stretching out a hand-to save them," he replied.

" Who is to say it is ruin ? " I replied ; " I am sure I
couldn't. Indeed, Mr. Hervey, we must leave Mrs. Weir to
manage her own concerns ; or, if any one is to interfere, it
can't be myself"

" It won't be," he said, rather quickly. " Well ! Ursie,
I didn't think you were so changeable."

I turned round upon him at the word. " Changeable ! "
I exclaimed ; " I am sure I have never shown myself so."

" One week bent upon living with Mrs. Weir, and the
next not troubling yourself to go near her, and not willing to
put yourself out of your way to serve her," he said ; " I
don't know what you call that but changeable."

" I know what I call fault-finding without reason or
knowledge, Mr. Hervey," I said ; for, my proud temper
being roused, I could not bring myself to explain what made
me seem changeable.

He turned off with a laugh ; but I noticed that, instead
of going back to the parlour, he went out into the garden ;
and my conscience reproached mo, for I knew I had been
wrong. Still he had no business to take me to task in that
way ; and it was talking in ignorance to suppose that I had
any power to prevent Mrs. Weir and Miss Milicent from
doing whatever they wished. I fancied that I had some
right to be cross with him, and I was cross, and said to my-
self that, with all his good-natured looks and ways, he was
much more fond of ordering and correcting than Roger. So
far, Mary Kemp was well fitted to him. She would obey
him without a word. As for me, I had not yet thoroughly
learnt to obey any one.

238 U K S U L A .

Leah was quite put out when I went back, I had been so
long getting tea. She asked me what I had been doing.

" Talking to John Hervey," said Mary Kemp, laughing ;
"I saw them together."

" Yes," I replied ; " Mr. Hervey came out after me, and
we had a few words together ; but I should have been
quicker, only the water did not boil."

" I don't think it boils now," said Leah, pouring out a cup
of tea. " There's no strength in the tea. Come, Mrs. Kemp,
take your seat ; and Mary, there's a place for you. Ursie,
just run out into the yard, will you ? and tell William to
come ; he's sure to be there."

I did as I was asked, and turning the corner of the house
sharply, I came full upon John Hervey.

" Friends, Ursie," he said, and he held out his hand to

" Friends, if you will," I answered ; " but I didn't
know we were enemies, Mr. Hervey."

" Well ! not quite enemies," he said smiling; "only just
inclined to snap at one another. But, Ursie, you will have
a thought for Mrs. Weir, if possible ? "

He seemed the most pertinacious man I had ever met
with, the most determined to carry his point ; and so, out of
a mere spirit of contradiction, I answered : " I have a great
many thoughts for Mrs. Weir always, Mr. Hervey. Whether
I shall have many words is quite another question."

" You are a perverse body," he said, lightly ; and he went
into the house, leaving me vexed that I had not been able to
vex him more. It was not that I didn't like and respect
him heartily, but I believe nothing provokes us women more
than to find that we can't tease when we wish to do so.

Tea was rather hurried over, for the fog was becoming
heavier. William said they had better wait for the chance
of its clearing off after the sun went down, but Mrs. Kemp
thought the farmer would be fidgety, and they had better get
home as soon as they could. She pressed me very much
to go and spend a day with them at Longside, but Leah de-
clared I couldn't be spared. The new girl was coming, and
I should be wanted to teach her.

" Look after her, more than teach her, Ursie," said Mrs


Kemp to me, in a low voice, which Leah couldn't hear.
" And, lassie, if you can with truth, give her a little praise
at first setting off. The Farmer says it's needful for us all,
as capital to begin the world with."

Mary Kemp was anxious to go ; she was rather a coward,
and if the fog continued, she declared they were as likely as
not to miss their way. But, in spite of all she could say,
Mr. Hervey would linger to say a few words to me about
Roger. I had forgotten my perverseness, and was very glad
to talk to him upon the subject nearest my heart, but
I could not help thinking that he was not as mindful of
Mary as he might have been, and it give me the first really
uncomfortable feeling I had ever had about him ; a misgiving
lest, after all, he might be selfish, and even rather cold, in
spite of his hearty, pleasant ways.


Esther Smithson was at Sandcombe the next morning
by half-past six o'clock : that was as early as could be ex-
pected, for she had a good way to walk. Leah took it as a
matter of course that I was to be down-stairs to look after
her, and I was not sorry for it, as it enabled me at once to ar-
range her work, so as to put her to that which was most fitting
for her. I found her untidy, but clever and willing. From
the first I was determined that she should not be made a
mere drudge to wait upon the men, and Martha and I had a
little fight upon the subject that very morning, but I gained
my point. My mother would have been particular about me,
and it was my duty to be particular about Esther, all the
more because she came of an idle family, and was likely to
have a bad example set her at home. But I was not to have
my own way quite so easily. When the morning work was
over, and William, and Leah, and I, sat down to dinner,
Leah said to me, " Well ! Ursie, what do you think of
Esther ? is she likely to do ? "

" It is early to judge," I replied, " but she seems willing
and handy. She set out the breakfast-things quite cleverly."


" Set out the breakfast-things ! " exclaimed Leah; " you
don't mean to say she has been in here this morning ? " and
she looked round the room with a turn of her lip, as though
she had seen something disagreeable,

" It was part of her business," I said ; " I saw how she did
it, and took care that she was tidy and clean in her ways ;
and I found her very willing to learn."

William spoke now, and quite in Leah's tone. " I must
tell you once for all, Ursie, for it is better to come to an un-
derstanding plainly, I don't want your dirty, slatternly
school-girls fussing about in my parlour. They have the
kitchen and the scullery for their proper place, and I must
beg you will keep them there."

" But Esther is come to learn to be a servant," I said,
" and she can't learn if she is not put in the way."

" She is come to make herself useful," said Leah, "and
specially to take the odds and ends of work, which you, and
I, and Martha, don't choose to do."

" Mrs. Richardson doesn't understand this," was my reply.
" The agreement was that Esther was to be taught."

" And she will be taught," replied Leah. " If she is a
girl of any sense, she will learn of her own accord ; and if she
has no sense, all the teaching in the world won't give her

" We have not set up a school for idiots, yet," said Wil-
liam, with a short laugh.

" It is what Ursie will set up some day, I do believe," re-
plied Leah.

" Mrs. Mason used to take a great deal of pains with me,
and I should like to do the same with Esther," I replied ;
" and as for trying to teach, unless one is willing to make
sacrifices, it seems to me nonsense to attempt it."

" Possibly," replied Leah, " but we don't profess to teach
here ; the teaching has been done at Compton school. When
girls go out into the world, they must learn to make their
own way."

" Toss them in, and let them sink or swim as they may,"
I exclaimed, rather bitterly. " Leah, that was not your case
nor mine."

" It was mine," exclaimed Leah. " I went my own way


from the time I left Mrs, Prince's school at Hove, and that
was when I was fifteen, just a few months older than Esther
Smithson." She drew herself up with a proud air, as though
defying any one to say a word against her.

I was silent ; it was no use to continue the argument,
and, after all, Leah was mistress. But, in my own mind, I
determined that if I found it really impossible to be of use to
the poor child, I would ask Mrs. Richardson to look out for
another situation for her.

Leah watched me narrowly, after that conversation, being
afraid, I could see, that I was going to make too much of
Esther, but I was careful not to offend her ; and, indeed, I
did not wish myself to be too particular about the girl. I
only wanted to give her the kind of work which would keep
her out of the way of gossiping and idle talking with the men
about the farm. Esther was much given to chattering, and,
though I did not encourage her, she told me of her own accord
some things which I certainly was much interested in hear-

Her mother had been sent for to work at Stonecliff, the
large house under Compton heath. It was to be cleaned and
put in order for a family who were to take possession almost
immediately, and Esther said she was nearly sure that it
was Mrs. Temple who had given all the orders. This con-
firmed Mr. Hervey's information, and settled my mind as to
saying anything to Miss Milicent. If matters had gone as
far as that, it would be useless.

The news was confirmed a few days after ; when, as I
was sitting alone by myself, at work, there was a knock at the
front door and I heard some one say :

" Is Ursula Grant at home ? " The voice took me quite by
surprise. It was Mrs Temple's. I thought I had better go
out to her. She was in a little pony chaise; one that be-
longed to the hotel, and Captain Temple was with her, I
asked them to get out and walk in, and the Captain seemed
willing, but Mrs. Temple declined. They must return at
once, she said. She had only called about a little matter of
business ; perhaps it would be as well to see Mrs, Grant,
" Mrs. Grant is not at home. Ma'am," I replied ; for Leah
had gone over to her mother at Hatton.
Vol. I— 11


" Well then ! perhaps you will do as well, if you will ex-
plain. My dear, the pony is fidgety, just get out and stand
by its head." And Mr. Temple, being always obedient,

A cold wind was blowing, and I was afraid of tooth-ache,
and put my apron round my head, but Mrs. Temple did not
notice it, and kept me standing in the draught. " I wanted
to inquire about having butter from Sandcombe," she said. " I
shall want enough for rather a large family ;— Mr. Temple, and
myself, Mrs. and Miss Weir, and our servants, besides
friends; — we are to be at Stonecliff." She looked at me as
though I had been an utter stranger, who had never heard of
her before.

I did not appear surprised, or even interested, but
merely said, " We send our butter to Hove, Ma'am, gener-

" I suppose you do ; but of course you would be willing
to accommodate persons in the neighbourhood. We find it
difficult to procure good butter, and I am particular about it."

" I will speak to Mrs. Grant," was my reply.

I think she was struck by the tone, for she added more
graciously, " Mrs. Weir would have a claim upon you, I am

" Certainly, Ma'am, my brother and I — all of us would do
anything we could for Mrs Weir," I answered. " But the
butter can always be bought at Hove."

" Yes, perhaps so ; but I should prefer — you have a girl
here who comes from Compton School, she might bring it

She was bent upon saving the carriage, I saw that in an

" The girl's hours would scarcely suit, I am afraid,
Ma'am," I replied ; " and the butter for a large family would
be a load for her."

" Oh ! a strong girl; she would not care, and she must
learn to make herself useful. Mrs. Kichardson would wish
it. She is one of the Compton girls, I know there can be no

" I could promise a pound occasionally, for Mrs. Weir,
Ma'am," I said, " but I would not undertake for more.

U K S U L A . 243

The butter has been sent to Hove now for a good many
jears, but of course I could speak about it to Mrs. Grant."

" I shall call again, and speak for myself," she exclaimed.
" I am not accustomed to incivility. My dear," and she

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 21 of 28)