Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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touched her husband with the driving-whip, " my dear, are
you ready ? We must call again another day ; or perhaps, —
tell Mrs. Grant I should wish to see her if she should be
coming over to Compton in the course of the next week."

I curtsied, and Mrs. Temple drove off.

Was it not irritating ? — and she professing herself to be
so wonderfully good, so Christian-like. It would have made
me doubt whether anything like real religion and humility
were to be found in the world, if I had not known persons
like Mrs. Weir, and Mr. and Mrs. Richardson. Curiously
enough, Mrs. Temple always came over me as something
new. It takes a long time to make one believe that persons
with high professions can really be self- deceivers, and when-
ever I was away from Mrs. Temple, I took myself to task for
disliking her as I did, and suspected it might be my own
fault that we were not friends. " Perhaps," I sometimes
said to myself, " if I was more in earnest, I should enter
more into her ways of going on, and understand them bet-
ter." But it was no use to scold myself; one meeting was
enough to make me turn from her as much as ever.

But the thing which worried me now far more than Mrs.
Temple's ungraciousness, was the thought that Mrs. Weir
and Miss Milicent were so entirely under her influence, and
that they could so have forgotten their old kindliness for
me, as to make such a great change as that of moving from
the Heath to Stonecliff, and joining housekeeping with Mrs.
Temple, without troubling themselves to let me know that it
was a settled plan. I dare say they had spoilt me in a meas-
ure in former days, and made me too much their friend ; but
I own I felt as though I had been dealt unkindly by, and
my first impulse was to take my revenge by not helping them
in return. Leah was little likely to upset the arrangements
of her dairy, to please either Mrs. Weir or Mrs. Temple, and
though I had said truly that the butter could be bought at
Hove, I had a strong suspicion that it was nearly always
caught up at once by old customers. But I was in a better
mind than that beiore Leah came home. I had an old


habit, I don't remember exactly when or how I began it, of
reading the Evening Psalms about that time in the day, and
when I had put out the tea-things, I went up to my room
and took out my prayer-book as usual, and somehow or
other the very act of doing it made me feel what a sinful
temper I was indulging. There was a hard struggle before
I could overcome it, but God helped me, and I gained the
victory, and that same evening I tried, though unsuccessful-
ly, to persuade Leah to alter her market arrangements to
suit them. I was vexed at having failed, but satisfied at
having made the attempt, and never suspected that any fault
could be laid at my door.


Christmas came. It would take too much time to note
all that happened before, though there was a good deal in
different ways, both at home and abroad. Jane Shaw was
married ; that, I think, was the greatest event of all. Of
course I was not asked to the wedding, but Jessie Lee was ;
and very pretty she looked, as I was told, and very much no-
tice she had in consequence from Captain Price's gay friends.
Her little head was sadly turned, for the time, by the
flattery she received. She came over to us once or twice
dressed so handsomely, that I really felt ashamed for her ;
but she took what I said to her about it very properly, and
if she did not alter her ways, at least she was not angry with
me for trying to induce her to do so. She was a great deal
at Dene, which was what I disliked more than anything.

Mrs. Morris and Leah quite changed their tone about
her, when they found how much was made of her there.
Instead of a drudge, they seemed resolved to turn her into a
young lady ; and to own the truth, she played the part bet-
ter than many who set up for being well born and well bred.
What kind of society there was at Dene I could not well
understand. No one whom we knew, except Jessie, ever
visited, or even went there, unless it might be now and then
on business ; but rumours reached us which were anything


but satisfactory to me, though William and Leah appeared
to think little enough about them.

Leah was possessed with the idea that I was jealous of
Jessie ; and so, if I ever made a remark upon anything I
had heard, or repeated any of the stories which now and
then came to my ears, I was only half believed. Leah
could not see as I did, that the very fact of having Jessie's
name mixed up with people like Captain and Mrs. Price,
whom every one was talking about, was to her disadvantage.
I relieved myself, when I was very much worried with this
sort of thing, by writing it all out to Roger. I had always
been accustomed to tell him every trouble as it arose ; and I
had no doubt of his taking part in this, for he never failed to
mention Jessie in his letters, and to beg that I would remem-
ber him to her. Poor fellow ! before Christmas came, he
was beginning to be very homesick, for troubles had come
upon the gentleman he was with, and so in a measure upon
him. Yet he wrote cheerfully, and seemed quite resolved to
be brave and bear the hardships well, and in time he said
there was no doubt that things would be brighter. At any
rate, he might work independently whenever he chose. I
tried not to see that he said less about having me with him.
The possible idea of remaining away from him longer than a
year was so dreadful, that I would not face it. I bore the
worries of Sandcombe well enough in the hope of a speedy
end, but I did not know what I should do if there was any
prospect of there being a lasting burden. Taken separately
indeed they were but trifles, but put together they were
sometimes very heavy.

Busy times were the pleasantest. Leah was in good hu-
mour whenever she was roused to be very active ; and one of
the most peaceful seasons I ever remember whilst I was with
her, was in November, when the whole house was at work
for two days, salting meat and melting lard. It was all to be
done at once, so there was no leisure for grumbling ; and as
it happened, Esther Smithson made herself remarkably use-
ful, and was in consequence hired for extra work in the af-
ternoon ; and Leah even said to me that she thought I must
have taken pains with her, for she was turning out a very
handy girl. This pleased me, I own, for certainly 1 did take


a good deal of pains with Esther in one -way and another ;
and though she had some faults which it was very difficult to
overcome, I could see that at any rate she had not gone back
since she worked at Sandcombe.

My time and thoughts were occupied more and more
every day with Sandcombe, and I dare say it was right that
it should have been so, but there was a place in my heart
still, which was filled with remembrances of Dene and care
for Mrs. Weir. How soon portions of one's life become like
a dream to one ! I was living scarcely more than a mile
and a half from Mrs. Weir, I heard her name constantly,
there were opportunities for going over to see her tolerably
often, yet by the time Christmas arrived I felt quite removed
from her. The days when I used to be allowed to go and
sit with her, and read to her, and nurse and comfort, and be
useful to her, seemed like the days of my childhood, calm
and bright, happy with an untold happiness, but too indis-
tinct to give me the feeling that they had once formed part
of my own existence.

Yet nothing had occurred outwardly to alter Mrs. Weir's
kindly feelings towards me, and I could not with truth say
that they were altered ; but she was living with Mrs. Temple
at StoneclifiF, and this put me always on my guard when I was
with her, lest what I said should be repeated, and then taken
up and turned against me. I was not so open, therefore, as
I used to be, and no doubt Mrs. Weir found it more difficult
to talk to me. There was a kind of floating mist between
us, and though I loved and honoured her too much ever really
to alter in my feelings towards her, yet I must confess it now
vexed me to know that I was at Mrs. Temple's mercy ; and
every now and then I could not help perceiving symptoms of
distrust which went to my heart.

But there was one person who, I must say, never changed,
nor showed the slightest symptom of change. Miss Milicent
and I had lived together rather in the cat-and-dog .style at
Dene ; but we liked each other at heart, and now that we
were no longer in danger of mutual interference, I think we
began to see more clearly our respective good points.

One thing I certainly did wonder at very much. I used
to imagine Miss Milicent such a determined person; one


whom it was impossible to lead, who would go her own way,
and that often a very strange way. But I begin to think
that people who are self-willed and troublesome in temper,
are often as tired of their own humours and oddities as their
friends can be ; and as willing, but for their pride, to give
way, if they meet with a will stronger than their own.

The day before Christmas-eve I was asked over to Long-
side. Mrs. Kemp wished me to go the next evening, but
there were reasons against it ; one which concerned only my-
self. I wished to have a quiet time before Christmas-day.
Mr. Richardson had lately given some cautions and direc-
tions about preparing for Christmas, which I was desirous,
if possible, to attend to, for I was beginning to be more care-
ful not to neglect advice upon these points. Being so much
alone tended to make me thoughtful. I always made a point
of telling Leah what I meant to do in the way of going for a
walk, or drinking tea with a friend ; it was due to her, though
she had no absolute control over me ; but it was a sore trial
sometimes ; she had such a provoking way of suggesting diffi-
culties. I often felt, when I had gained my point, as though
I had been straggling through a furze bush, and was pricked
all over.

" Going to Longside ! " she exclaimed, that day after
dinner, when I happened to mention Mrs. Kemp's invita-
tion. " Why ! you'll be frozen. There must be snow be-
fore long."

" Not much appearance of it at present," I said ; " the
sky is clear."

" And you can't set off till late, for I have kept Esther
here to help this afternoon."

" I don't quite see why that should prevent me," I re-

" Only that you know she always gets into a scrape, if
you are not by to look after her. She and Martha never hit
it off together."

" I am afraid they must learn to do so," I said. " I can
scarcely undertake to be Esther's guardian all day."

" Martha trusted her to wash the milk-buckets, and clean
the pans, last time she stayed," continued Leah, " and she
did it disgracefully. I shall be obliged to see to it myself


" I will give her a caution if you think it necessary," I
replied ; " but perhaps it would come better from you,
as you are the mistress. I did not know though that it
would be necessary to keep her, as there is not so very much
to do."

" Really, Ursie, you are enough to try the temper of a
saint," exclaimed Leah. " Not much to do ! with all the
dairy-work and the poultry, and tea, and supper, and the day
after to-morrow Christmas-day ! "

I tried not to smile, as I answered, " I did not think of
putting you to inconvenience ; my work, as you know, does
not interfere much with yours in the afternoon."

" No, indeed, it doesn't," exclaimed Leah ; " you sit in
the parlour with your needle till you have not the least idea
of what is going on in the house. If you were mistress, as
I am, you would soon see that it does not do to go gadding
about the country whenever the fancy seizes one. Esther is
not to be trusted with the dairy-work at all," she added, in
an under tone.

" Well, then ! let Martha undertake to scour the pans,"
I said, " and Esther can do something else."

" Martha has her hands full," replied Leah.

" If you like," I said, " I can have an eye to the milk-
buckets and the pans before I go. There is no difficulty in
the matter, except Esther's carelessness."

" I don't know what difficulty you would have greater,"
observed Leah ; " and it is nonsense of you, Ursie, to talk of
waiting to look after her ; why you wouldn't be off before
dark ; and how are you to come back again ? You can't
think of bringing Farmer Kemp out at night to walk such a
distance, and I am sure you ought not to come alone."

" Mary said her father would not at all mind the walk,"
I replied ; " and if it should be a bad night he would drive
me back."

Leah made no reply, but just as she was going out of the
room, she turned round and said, " I wish you just to re-
member, Ursie, that if there are complaints about the milk
and butter, it won't be my fault."

I could have found it in my heart at the moment to give
up my visit, anything seemed better than to have to bear


these taunts, but I knew that I should gain nothing by yield-
ing. Leah would only have called me perverse, and deter-
mined to make myself a martyr. I resolved, though, that
she should have no real cause for complaint, and therefore I
went to Esther, and took her myself into the dairy to show
her exactly what she was to do, telling her especially that
she was to give herself plenty of time, so as to have the pans
quite ready for the new milk when it should be brought in.
There really was nothing else of any consequence to be
attended to, for as to the preparations for Christmas-day, I
had been busy with them all the morning, and William was
not so bountiful to his people as to require much to be done
for them.


Leah kept out of my way, and did not say good-bye to
me. I went off with a mixed feeling — a light heart from the
prospect of my holiday, but a heavy one from the thought of
the constant fret of temper which I was to beai- — no one
could say how long. The light-heartedness, however, won
the day by the time I had reached the top of the Down, and
could look over the sea, with the white waves curling and
tossing as they rushed in upon the shore. I stood for a few
moments to enjoy the sight, and then finding I had more
time than I expected, I took it into my head to go to the
summit of St. Anne's Hill and stand by the ruined oratory,
as I had done on that evening when Roger first told me that
we might be parted. I went up so quickly that I was quite
out of breath, and when I reached the tower, I rested against
the wall to recover myself. I did not know that any one
was near till I heard a little cough, and when I looked round
the corner I saw Jessie Lee.

Like myself, she was leaning against the tower with an
open letter in her hand, which she was trying to read ; but
the wind caught it every instant, so that she could scarcely
manage it. " You had better come round this side, and not
face the wind in that way, Jessie," I said gently, not wishing
to startle her.

Vol. L— 11*


But she did start, and stand up, and the colour came to
her cheeks, and mounted up to her forehead, while she
crumpled up the letter in her hand, and tried to hide it.

" I didn't mean to frighten you," I said ; " but I was
going to Longside, when the fancy took me to run up here
for a few minutes and look round. The air on St. Anne's
always does one good."

" Yes, it is very fresh. I didn't know you were going to
Longside. I think I must say good-bye ; " and Jessie moved

But I called after her. " Don't run off in such a hurry,"
I said as she came back ; " it is not often that we meet now,
Jessie ; you are always gay or busy."

" Sometimes ; I am not busy now," she answered, stop-
ping unwillingly.

" Only gay?" I said.

The words seemed to strike her like a mockery; she
turned round upon me quite sharply. " You didn't use to be
fond of sneering, Ursie."

" I never meant to sneer, Jessie," I replied ; " I only
repeat what others say."

" And I thought you knew better than to believe the
world's talk," she answered. " No one can call Hatton a gay

" Not Hatton, but Dene," I said. " You must own,
Jessie, that Captain and Mrs. Price keep open house."

" It is their concern, not mine," she answered ; " why
should people talk about me ? "

She spoke hastily; but I suspect she was not entirely
vexed that people should talk of her, in whatever way it
might be.

" We must live in the desert, if we mean not to be talked
about in this world," I said ; " and even then I suppose
people would be troubling themselves to guess why we went

" And that is why I wonder you take any heed to what
you hear about me, Ursie," continued Jessie ; " you know so
well how foolish it all is."

" I am not quite so sure of that," I said gravely. " I
don't think, Jessie, that any girl's name is ever mentioned


lightly, unless she herself has given cause for it ; at least,
that is what Mrs. Kemp has often said to me, and Roger
used to tell me the same."

Jessie stood with one foot forward, wishing, I could see,
to run away from me, but at the mention of Roger's name she
drew it back, and her fingers seemed to grasp more firmly
the letter which she held.

" Roger wasn't well when you last heard from him, was
he ? " she said, in a careless tone.

" Not very ; the cold tries him. I must go out to him as
soon as I can, to take care of him."

" He will want that," she said.

" Yes; he takes very little thought for himself."

" But he likes Canada ? " continued Jessie.

" Yes, in a way ; it will never be like England to him ;
he cares so much for his old friends."

Jessie looked up thoughtfully. " You tell him all the
gossip about them, I suppose, Ursie."

" I tell him what I hear ; sometimes truth, sometimes
gossip, just as it may happen."

" And he believes it, of course ? ''

" He believes what I tell him is true."

" And if people say ill-natured things about me, he takes
them for fact then," said Jessie.

" He takes for fact what I say is fact," I replied; " that
Jessie Lee is too much at Dene for her happiness or for her
good name."

" My good name ! " she exclaimed ; and her eyes, usually
so sweet and soft in their expression, flashed like lightning.
" I tell you what you may say to him, which will put a stop
to any remarks upon my good name or my bad."

She waited a moment, — began to speak, stopped, and at
length exclaimed, " Jessie Lee is going to be married ; " and,
seeing, I suppose, that I looked rather incredulous, she
thrust her letter into my hand, saying, impatiently, " Read
it ; read it."

I turned away from the wind and opened the letter ;
Jessie watched me intently.

The handwriting was difficult to decipher ; she thought
I had reached the conclusion before I had made out the
meaning of the first four lines.


" Well ! " she said, " it's all true, — plain ; no mistake,
Ursie." Still I read on; when at length I came to the con-
cluding words, I folded up the paper again, and gave it to
Jessie without speaking.

" You see," she said, " it is an offer."

" Yes ! an offer."

" And a very proper one. I shall be the wife of Lieuten-
ant Macdonald, of the Marines. Roger will have nothing
to say against that."

The tone of her voice was strange ; there was more pique
than pleasure in it. I thought I would try an experiment
with her.

" No, Jessie," I said, " you will not be Mrs. Macdonald."

" Why not ? Who is to hinder me ? "

" Yourself. You don't know anything about Lieutenant
Macdonald that is good, and what is more, you don't care
for him."

" As for caring, he is very polite ; you can't find fault
with his letter."

" Yes I can," I said. " It is the letter of a man who has
not a particle of respect for you, and thinks he has nothing
to do but to flatter you ; and, Jessie, you know as well as I
do, that Lieutenant Macdonald's habits would make any
woman miserable. Who would marry a drunkard ? "

" You may just tell Roger that it is going to be," she
said, laughing. " It will be a fine subject for your next

I was provoked more than frightened. With all her
folly, I believed that Jessie had too much real respect for
goodness, thus deliberately to throw herself away ; but then ;
her vanity, — it was such a fearful stumbling-block. I could
not let her leave me in this wild mood.

" Jessie," I said, and I caught hold of her dress, and
made her listen to me. " You were always fond of teasing,
but this goes rather beyond what one can bear. You can't
mean really to say ' Yes ' to this man ; but you will do a very
wrong thing if you don't at once say, ' No.' "

" 1 don't know why I should," she replied. '' You see,
he says that if I cannot at once like him, he will be content
to wait for what time may do."


" And for what purpose ? " I inquired. " Do you think
he is going to reform for the love of you ? "

" He may," said Jessie. " Men do reform sometimes."

" But women are worse than mad who marry upon the
chance of reformation," I said. " Jessie, even if you cared
for him, there is not one of your friends who would consent
to the marriage."

" I don't want consent," she replied, " at least, not yet ;
there is no hurry."

" Indeed, Jessie," I exclaimed, you are mistaken. There
is no halting between yes and no in a case like this. If you
don't mean to marry him, you have no business to keep him
hanging on."

" I don't say that I shall not marry him," she replied.

"Well, then, you will talk to Mrs. Morris, and Leah,
and your friends, and then, if they approve, you will say
' Yes.' "

" Perhaps ' Yes,' perhaps ' No.' I can't answer for what
I may do."

She provoked me so that I jumped up, and spoke, I am
afraid, hastily : " Jessie," I said, " this is wicked trifling.
People talk lightly of love and marriage, but they are very
serious matters, and we shall have to answer before God for
the way in which we manage them. If Lieutenant Mac-
donald was a man whom you could respect, I could under-
stand your hesitation. But he is a drunkard ; his character
is notorious. You know you have told me about him many

" He says he is very fond of me," said Jessie ; and there
was more real feeling in her tone than I could have imagined
possible in connection with such a man.

I saw at once what was working in her mind. " Jessie,"
I said, gravely, " what is the love of a bad man worth ? "

" Nothing, nothing ; only, Ursie, it is very pleasant to be

All the flippancy and perverseness of her manner had
vanished, and she leaned her head upon my shoulder and cried
bitterly. I thought of Longsidc, and felt I should be late, but
what could I do. " Dear Jessie," I said, " it is very pleasant
to be loved, there is no doubt of that, it is what we all long


for. But lovo alone won't make you happy, and, what is
more, such love as this won't last. Lieutenant Macdonald
may possibly think he cares for you much, but I am quite
sure that he cares for himself more. He won't give up his
wine and his bad companions to please you."

" Perhaps he will, if I ask him," persisted Jessie.

" But you have no right to ask him, unless you mean to
do something for him in return ; unless you have made up
your mind to marry him, and that, you know, you have not.
And, at all events, one thing is clear ; you are bound to be
open with Mrs. Morris in the matter, and to do nothing with-
out consulting her."

Jessie stood twisting her letter into various shapes.
Presently she said, rather bitterly, " You are not lonely as I
am, Ursie."

" Not quite, I have Koger; but he is away."

"That is nothing; he thinks of you more than of any
one else ; he loves you best."

Why was it that a creeping misgiving seemed to glide
through my veins, and chill my answer ? I merely said,
" Yes, I suppose he does."

" Suppose ! you know it, you are sure of it," exclaimed
Jessie, eagerly, " If I had a love like Roger's, tlrsie, I could
go through the world without a wish. I would work, slave,
bear torture, anything to be loved first — best."

" But not by Lieutenant Macdonald," I said. " A
drunkard ! Oh, Jessie, think ! " and I myself shuddered un-
consciously at the idea.

She put her arm within mine without saying another
word, and we moved away from the tower. Then she stopped,
and said, " Which way are you going, Ursie ? "

" Over the hill, to Longside. I ought to have been there
half an hour ago."

" We can walk together, then, and you can go through
Dene ; no one will notice."

" Not together," I replied, " if you are bound for Hatton."

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