Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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gate ; yet the relief only lasted for a few moments. I felt so
provoked with Jessie for her weakness ; so annoyed at having
my engagement for the evening interfered with ; so anxious
too, for Miss Milicent, who was still striding on at a man's
pace before us.

I kept Jessie's arm within mine, but without talking to
her. Really I did not know what to say. After a few mo-
ments I looked at her, and saw she was crying. My heart
softened towards her then ; I said, gently, " You are not
sorry you kept your promise, Jessie, are you ? "

The tears only came the faster for the inquiry. I re-
peated it.

" I didn't keep it," she exclaimed. " I can't keep any-
thing or do anything that's right, Ursie ; you had better tell
Mr. Roger so at once, and then he will give me up as good
for nothing."

Her thoughts were dwelling then upon Roger. I noticed
it, but it did not strike me as unsafe or unwise. It was like
the feeling of a child for a parent.

" Neither Roger nor I will give you up, Jessie," I said,
" not for all the world. But if you don't want to run the
risk of making j^ourself miserable for life, you must keep out
of the way of temptation. Dene is not a fit place for you.
Jane Shaw wasn't over careful in her conduct as a girl, and


she is not any better, that I can hear, now that she is mar-
ried ; she has very few women friends, and the men are a
bad set, as you quite well know, and it would just be ruin to
you in all ways to be mixed up with them."

I waited for her to assent, but she only said, after a mo-
ment's pause, " Then Mr. Roger wouldn't like to see me

" Yes, he would like it very much," I answered, " if you
were to marry respectably ; so would all who care for you."

" I don't believe that any one who is respectable, as you
call it, will ever take up with me," exclaimed Jessie. " If
Mr. Roger thinks I have a bad name, so will others."

She longed for me to contradict her, I am sure, but I would
not do so just then. She was out of conceit with herself,
and wished me to say something civil that might put her in
again ; but though I was very sorry for her, I was certain it
was good for her to feel that her careless ways had done her
harm in people's opinion. Besides, I had no wish to go on
talking about Roger. I felt I had not been wise in saying
as much as I had about him. Jessie was so fond of being
talked about, even in the way of being scolded, that it only
increased her vanity to remind her that any one was anxious
about her, especially a person whom she so much respected
and looked up to as Roger. I cut the conversation short by
saying that I must run on and have a few words with Miss
Milicent. That, however, was not so easily accomplished.
Miss Milicent had walked on so fast that I could not over-
take her, and when I began to consider, though I thought it
very strange in her to go off from me in such a sudden way,
I saw it was no business of mine to thrust myself upon her.
Instead of following her, therefore, I came back to Jessie,
and proposed that we should both make the best of our way
to Sandcombe. How disappointed I felt at losing my visit
to Longside I can't say ; and I thought how they would be
expecting me, and once or twice was sorely tempted to go
there after all ; but it would never have done to take Jes-
sie ; it would quite have cut up our evening. If I had
wished to have any talk with Mary I must have left Jessie
alone, or burdened Mrs. Kemp with her, and that I should
have disliked extremely, for she was not over pleased, as I


well knew, with the character that Jessie had gained for
herself. One has no right to put people together till one is
tolerably sure they are willing to be friends.

Moreover it was not a fixed engagement at Longside. I
was always obliged to say I would come if I could, but they
must not expect me for certain. I could never answer for
what might happen with Leah to detain me at home.


A STORM of hail came on just when we were off the
Down, which made me the more glad that I had decided to
return. It had been gathering for some time, but I had not
noticed it much, having my mind given to other things. It
would have drenched us thoroughly long before we could
have reached Longside, and I should have been sorry for
this, more for Jessie's sake than my own. I was strong and
able to bear all weathers ; but Jessie was of a weak consti-
tution and often taking cold.

" They will be just sitting down to tea, Jessie," I said,
as I took her up-stairs to my room, that she might leave her
bonnet and shawl there ; " they will be surprised to see us."

Jessie was disinclined to go down ; she looked pale and
tired, and proposed to wait where she was till the hail was
over, and then walk to Hatton. But this I would not hear
of. She could sleep, I said, very well in my bed ; and one
of the farm boys who lived at Hatton, would carry a mes-
sage to say where she was. " I am sure, Jessie," I added,
" that whenever you are at Dene, Mrs. Morris doesn't expect
you back till she sees you, and so she won't be in any fright
about you, knowing that you set off with the intention of
walking there."

Jessie blushed but made no answer ; and a fear crossed
my mind, that perhaps she was in the habit of paying visits
to Dene oftener than her friends knew. I could not bear to
think it of her, for she was true by nature, though sometimes
inclined to keep things back from fear. But vanity and love
of amusement will lead to so much evil, which no one has
any idea of at first.


I left her to go and explain to Leah why I had returned ;
but when I entered the parlour I found no tea prepared, —
not even the tea-tray put out, — and the room looked so cheer-
less ! The fire had gone out, and some one had been trying
to re-light it ; for a few sticks were lying about, and the coal-
scuttle stood in the middle of the room. I went to the
kitchen, and found no one, but I heard voices in the dis-
tance, loud and angry ; they came, I was nearly sure, from
the dairy, and I went there to see what was going on.

It was so dark that I stumbled over something which
was lying on the ground at the door ; it was like part of a
broken dish, and my foot went into a pool, whether of milk
or of water I could not see. Leah and Esther were in the
dairy. They did not perceive me ; Leah was in what I can
only call a towering passion, a thing rare for her ; she was
bitter and cross, but not generally passionate. I heard my
name mentioned. " Miss Grant lets you do it, does she ?
You are not to attend to Miss Grant, you are to attend to
me, I am your mistress. But you'll leave me ; I don't keep
good-for-nothing girls, who tell lies ! " And then Esther
rejoined, not very respectfully but very earnestly, denying
that she had said anything which was untrue ; and was im-
mediately contradicted by Leah with fresh threats of being
turned off instantly. What was the beginning or likely to
be the end of the quarrel, I could not see ; but I was quite
sure that Esther had been kept at work later than was right,
and that she would have a long dark walk over the hill by
herself, if some one did not take thought for her ; so I quietly
drew back, and made my way into the farm-yard, and told
Sam Hobson, Kitty's father, whom I knew 1 should find at
work there, that he was not to go without having a word
with me first. He was a steady man, and lived near the
Smithsons, and I was sure he would see Esther safe home.
Then I went back to the dairy. Leah had left it, but I
found Esther sobbing at the door. She told me her grievance.
She had washed the milk-buckets carefully, as I ordered her,
and cleaned the ladles, and prepared everything for the milk
when it was brought in ; and she was going to scour the
pans that would be wanted the next morning, when she was
called away by Martha, and sent on a message across the


fields, which took her more than a quarter of an hour.
When she came back she found some milk, which had been
put into a brown pan, spilt, and the pan itself broken to
pieces. She had no more to do with it, she said, than I had ;
and she went directly and told Martha, but Martha didn't
believe her, neither did Mrs. Grant. No one else, they said,
had been near the dairy, and it must have been her doing ;
and so they wanted to make her confess it. " But I wouldn't
tell a story for them, nor for the Queen ! " exclaimed Esther,
indignantly. " I didn't do it, and if they were to cut my
head off, I wouldn't say that I did."

There was one point, however, in which Esther no doubt
was wrong ; it was part of her usual carelessness ; she had
been always told to shut the dairy door when she came out,
and this had been forgotten. But she owned it at once.
She was a thoughtless girl, but not given to falsehood. I ,
had no doubt myself that the mischief was done by the cat,
and I made her fetch a candle, and we went into the dairy
together. I pointed out the marks of the creature's feet on
the boards ; Esther was satisfied then, she thought the
trouble was over. As for the threatening, and the scolding,
she had been used to them from one or the other all her life,
and I doubt if she considered it possible to get on without
them. She had learnt to look upon herself as fated to do
wrong. As she once said to me, " Please, Miss Grant, I
was born to go crooked."

I was very provoked with Leah in my own mind for having
raised such a storm, without having given herself the trouble
of inquiring into the case, but I supposed it would all be
right when once I explained matters. I did not understand
Leah, however ; perhaps I should more truly say I did not
understand human nature. There is no saying how far we
are all at times tempted to depart from what is just, from the
shame of allowing that we have been unjust. When I went
in, Leah was kneeling down before the parlour fire trying to
re-light it. Esther had brought damp sticks, and they would
not catch ; the shavings were burnt out, and there were only
a few scraps of paper to use instead.

" It was too late to get to Longside, Leah," I said, by
way of explanation, " so I am come back. Can't I help


you ? There's a ' Weekly Messenger ' in the drawer which
I suppose may be used."

'' You'll please let that stay," was the reply. " There's
an advertisement in it which William wants to have kept.
It's all that girl's fault — green sticks like these ! They
won't light for a twelvemonth." Leah caught up the match-
box, rubbed her last match, and found that it wouldn't go
off, and then tossed the box upon the table, and sat down in
William's leathern arm-chair with her arms folded. I went
out to the kitchen, and brought back some more shavings,
and another box of matches. " Certainly," I said, as I
gathered up the green sticks, " it is very tiresome. There
are plenty of dry faggots in the wood-house, I know."

" This sort of thing won't go on," said Leah, not at all
hastily, but in a tone which to me was much worse.

I made no reply.

" I shall go over to Compton to-morrow," she continued,
" and tell Mrs. Richardson so. I can't have liars in my
house. They will look a long time before they see any more
of my money for Compton school, if that is the way they
bring their girls up."

I was afraid I should only irritate her more by answer-
ing, but I could not hear a false accusation without trying to
put it right, .so I explained what had really been the case
about the milk. All I gained in reply was, " Very likely;
it might be true, or it mightn't; but Esther was a girl who
wasn't to be trusted. She could not even lay a fire. She
never remembered a thing that was told her; and if she
didn't break the dish herself, she was the cause of its being
broken, and that was just as bad. So impertinent she was
too, — and sm h a quantity of milk spilt, — Mrs. Weir must go
without it, there wouldn't be a drop for her, — old customers
must be attended to first." These and many more remarks,
equally annoying, I had to bear in the best way I could, and
that I thought was silently ; but silence only made matters
worse. When Leah found herself uncontradicted, she turned
her wrath upon me. It was all my doing, I was at the bot-
tom of every mischief: it was I who had insisted upon
taking Esther ; I, who had taught her badly — indeed, had
entirely neglected her. If I could have believed her, my


love of going about visiting was the cause of the mishap in
the dairy, and the green sticks, and the extinguished fire.

I was not unaccustomed to such accusations. I went on
trying to make the fire burn, and by the help of the bellows
succeeded at last, so that the room was quite cheerful with a
blaze ; and then I set out the tea-tray, and brought in the
bread and butter, and put out some cake for William, Leah
all the time not taking the least notice, but sitting moodily
apart. At length, when she found she could not get a word
from me, she went up-stairs.

I give no credit to myself for forbearance. It was
simply a matter of necessity. If I had said one word I must
have said a hundred. I was, in fact, so angry, that I could
not trust myself to speak. Perhaps, with such a violent
temper as mine was naturally, and a principle of religion
which had not, as it were, come to its full growth, this was
as much as I could expect. But it would have been better
if I had learnt to turn my wrathful feelings into prayers. I
might not then have heard all the bitter things Leah said,
and I am sure I should not have treasured them in my heart
as I did. I went up-stairs to find Jessie, and gave vent before
her more than I ought to have done, and that did me no
good, especially as Jessie was inclined to take Leah's part,
partly, I think, because she felt vexed with me for not having
flattered her more.

After a while, I sent Jessie down to explain for herself
why she was there, and to make tea if she was wanted, and
presently I heard her talking away quite cheerfully to Wil-
liam. I could not make up my mind to go down myself,
but there I sat close to the window, looking out upon the
heavy clouds which came floating across the sky, tinged
with a faint glow from the sunset. I was better in some
degree, for I had tried to pray for a few moments when
Jessie left me, and my temper was quieter ; but I could not
forget what had passed, and my thoughts were gloomy as the
deepening twilight. Mrs. Price, Leah, Jessie, Esther, all seem-
ed going the wrong way ; some from one cause, some from an-
other. And there was no way of doing good. I thought I was to
be useful to Esther, but she was to be taken away from me. I
wished to save Jessie, but she depended upon Leah more than


upon me. I had cherished a hope, when I came to Sandcombe,
of persuading William, if not Leah, to look upon things in
a different way, but I did not see that I had the slightest in-
fluence. William was not at all more constant at church
because I went twice. He took the Sunday afternoons for
settling the accounts just the same, and never read anything
but the " Mark Lane Express " or the " Hove Advertiser ; "
and the way things went on about the farm and the servants
was not altered in the least. My life seemed quite thrown
away. And as to my own temper and principles, I had only
to look at myself at that moment and see all the angry, proud,
revengeful feelings which were struggling for the mastery, to
be quite sure that there was very little improvement in them.
If I had only remained with Mrs. Weir, I said to myself, —
and I went off in thought into a consideration of what might
have been the consequence, both to her and myself, when
Jessie ran up-stairs to bring me down to tea, saying that
William was tired of waiting.

Leah was not in the room. Tea was poured out, and she
did not come ; and, when William went up to her, he brought
back word that she had a headache, and was lying on her
bed. William was in very good spirits, rather merry than
otherwise. He was pleased to have Jessie there, and joked
her about Dene, and especially, to my great annoyance, about
Lieutenant Macdonald. I rather imprudently carried on
the subject, by repeating what I had heard of him, and es-
pecially of his habit of drinking ; and William, really, I
believe, for the mere amusement of contradicting, took his
part, and made light of it, saying that it was what all young
men would do if it came in their way, only some had the
cleverness to conceal it. I was sure, and I told him so, that
he was wrong. I don't believe that either Roger or John
Hervey ever did such a thing, and William himself was always
sober from a boy. It vexed me that he should say such
things before Jessie. It is so bad for any one to have a low
opinion of others ; and moreover it has always been a puzzle
to me, how persons can talk lightly of such a habit as Mr.
Macdonald's. Putting aside the evil in this world, the Bible
always classes it with the worst sins. To hear a drunken
scene turned into ridicule, is to me like hearing people laugh
Vol. 1—12*


about the devil. It makes me shudder. But then, the
world would say I am over particular.

When Jessie went up-stairs to take Leah a cup of tea, I
made a remark of this kind to William, and brought him to
agree with me. I did not like to tell him how matters really
stood between Jessie and the Lieutenant, but I said enough
to put him on his guard, and make him feel that to encourage
Jessie in thinking about such a man, was very unwise to say
the least. There was something in William which I could
always reach when I had him to myself. It was not good-
ness or principle, I am afraid, but it was a kind of straight-
forward sense and perception of truth. Selfishness blinded
him whenever he did see things crookedly. The provoking
thing was, that one never could depend upon him. He might
agree with everything that was said one minute, and the
next he would go and act directly against it.

Jessie, when she came down, said that Leah's head was
very bad, and she thought she had caught cold standing about
in the dairy ; I offered to go up to her, but Jessie thought I
had better not. She did not exactly say that Leah was too
much put out with me to see me, but I was certain it was so.
It did not strike me, however, that there could be much the
matter, for Jessie told me that Leah had talked about a
dinner party which she thought of giving the week after
Christmas, and a card party had been mentioned too. Gen-
erally speaking but little visiting went on round Sandcombe,
the farms were so scattered, William and Leah however always
gave rather a grand party at Christmas- time, and Leah went
out a good deal then, sometimes as often as twice in the week.

Jessie cared little for dinner or cards, what she wanted
was a dance ; but she could not bring Leah round upon that
point, she said, and I own I was not very sorry for it.

We sat rather long gossiping over the fire after tea.
When William went out to look round the farm, Jessie very
good-naturedly offered to see to one or two things which I
was in the habit of attending to, and left me at my work.
But presently she came back with a note in her hand. It
had been brought, she said, from Stonecliff, and the man was
waiting to know if there was any answer.

" Let him go and warm himself by the kitchen-fire,


Jessie," I said, " it will take some time to read this ; and
perhaps you will just look out a pen and some paper for me,
in case I should have to write." 1 drew the candle near
and began to read. No spectacles were required ; Miss
Milicent's letters might have been distinguished from each
other, half across the room : —

" I went away from you to-day in a hurry, Ursie Grant,
but why did you not come after me ? I expected you.
There is a great deal to say to you ; more than I can put on
paper to-night. Lieutenant Macdouald was half-tipsy, I
don't think he knew what he was saying. Come over to-
morrow morning if you can, and if you can't, come to-mor-
row afternoon. Matilda Temple complains of the Sandcombe
butter ; I don't eat butter myself My mother has had a
bad nervous attack ; Matilda Temple has been with her all
the afternoon. As I said, she won't let her go to my father.
I should like to know how much we are to believe of the
news. I should not like to live in France, but it might be
better than Stonecliff. Matilda Temple means to go and
hear the school-children examined at Hatton to-morrow. It
is not her parish, but it will take her out of your way, if you
come over. If you hear of any one who wants sea-anemonies,
you may send me word ; I shall give mine away if we go to

" I am, Ursie Grrant,

" Your sincere friend,

" MiLicENT Weir."

Not much of an answer could be given to this note, it
was too perplexing ; but I wrote because I would not trust
to a message, lest there might be some fret with Mrs. Temple.
If she knew I was likely to be at Stoneclifi", she might pos-
sibly put herself in my way. I merely said, however, that
if I possibly could, I would walk over in the course of the
afternoon, but Miss Milicent must not be vexed with me if I
did not come, for I could not answer for myself; and the
man was sent back.

" Ursie," said William to me that night, when I went to

276 U E S U L A .

bed, " Leah has a terrible cold ; what do you think I had
better give her ? "

I recommended something warm, but I did not offer
again to go and see her.


I WOKE the next morning with the feeling that all the
business of the house depended upon me. I was dressed
long before daylight, and down-stairs helping Jessie to get
breakfast, because Esther came late. I went to the dairy,
and fed the poultry, and gave the orders for the day, and I
made the tea, and cut the bread for breakfast, and talked to
William and Jessie, and arranged for Jessie to stay the day,
because of Leah's being ill ; in fact I did everything for
every one, except myself I was in a proud mood, and I
would not get the better of it ; " If Leah does not send for
me," I said to myself, " she may just do without me."

Jessie declared she was very feverish. I asked if a
doctor should see her, and William laughed at the notion.
In the afternoon, before I went over to StonecliflF, I told
Jessie to go up-stairs and let Leah know I was going. I
thought perhaps that she would wish to see me then, for
there had been some more trouble about the butter, and I
knew she had a message to send. But Jessie only brought
back word that I was to tell Mrs. Weir there would be no
butter all the winter. It vexed me more than I would quite
own to myself to go off and leave her, though it would be
only for a few hours, without having had a word of peace
with her, and the next day Christmas-day too, and I prepar-
ing for the Communion. I actually turned back, after I had
reached the farm-yard gate, resolved to see her, but Jessie
told me she was asleep then, so it was of no use, and I con-
tinued my walk.

Stonecliff was a much better house than the cottage on
the heath. It had, besides, a good-sized garden, and a coach-
house and stables. A tolerably large income would have
been required to live there comfortably, for it was a kind of
place which would naturally occasion expenses.


The garden gave most trouble, for the place lay quite open
to the south-west, and the salt spray dried up the vegetation ;
but there was a glorious view to make up for it, all over the
bay to the great white cliflPs, and the far distant coast, which
could be seen like a grey cloud on the edge of the sea ; and
the sound of the dashing waves, and the feeling of the fresh,
free breeze, came to one with such a gift of life, and hope, and
strength — in spite of its wildness, I could have been very
fond of Stonecliff if it had been my home.

I found Miss Milicent in a little study, opening out of
the drawing-room. She was drying sea-weeds ; but said as
I entered, without looking up from her occupation, " There's
a chair for you, Ursie; I am glad you are come."

" I hope Mrs. Weir is better to-day, Miss Milicent," I

" She may be better, but she is not quieter."

" Was the news yesterday so very bad? " I ventured to

She pushed aside the table at which she had been busy,
and turning round to face me, replied, " Your name is not
Weir, Ursie Grant, and you can't understand."

" Perhaps not, entirely," I said, " but no one can blame
you, nor Mrs. Weir, Miss Milicent, whatever may be wrong."

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