Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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trust her with all her faults, all her short comings, to Him
who alone knew her heart, its trials and struggles, but rather
I turned with a bitter self-distrust to my own position.

Who was I that I should venture to rule others, when
conscience told me I had so little rule over myself ? When
for the first time I sat at the head of William's table, as the
acknowledged mistress of his household, it was with a feel-
ing very difierent from that which had led me to criticise
Leah's arrangements in other days. I had continually
failed in humility, in gentleness, and charity. I had obey-
ed, — but from necessity, not from a willing heart, and the
first qualification necessary for those who would govern well
is the power of obeying well. It seemed as though it were
meant to punish and humble me, that all my duties presented
themselves in confusion, — one interfering with another, my
own will and William's perpetually coming in contact, and
claims from without, and anxieties from within, pressing
upon me, so that there were moments when I felt inclined
to sit down with my hands folded, and let others take their
way, merely because I had not the spirit to try and make
them go mine.

It was about a fortnight after Leah's funeral — that pain-
ful time succeeding a great shock, when we try to look upon
the present and the past as one, and find that God has
placed a great gulf between them, which in this world can
Vor. L— IB


never be bridged over — I thouglit I would steal a few mo-
ments of quietness to think of all I wished to do, and to alter
the arrangements whicli in Leah's time I had found fault
with, and said that if I were at the head of aifairs they
should be different. These were many ; some, of course,
more important than others, but all requiring consideration
and contrivance.

The men and boys who slept in the house were left en-
tirely to themselves. They were placed together in an old
part of the house, reached by a staircase, which led to the
women-servants' rooms as well. So there was no one to look
after them.

I had heard through Martha that they were often very
profane in their language, and that if a boy, fresh from
school, with good habits, knelt down to say his prayers, they
would mock him till he gave up the practice. I had spoken
about this to Leah ; I had told her that at least she ought to
take Martha away from the risk of such company. But I
was always put off with a laugh at my particularity, as it
was called. What had done very well for the Sandcombe
servants for thirty years, I was told, would surely continue
to do for them for thirty years to come. This was a thing
to be remedied at once, and yet I was met instantly by a
difficulty as to fitting up what was now a lumber room, for
Martha, and so bringing upon William expenses which he
would consider unnecessary. Sunday was another burden
upon my miud. Martha never went to church in the morn-
ing, so that she had no opportunity of receiving the Com-
munion, even if she had wished it. I had several times of-
fered to remain at home myself, but she would not hear of
it. I could do as I liked now, but if I was not at church, I
was sure William would never trouble himself to think about
the men or see if they were there. In fact he was very ir-
regular in his own attendance, remaining at home on the
least excuse, and I had strong suspicions that the men often
took advantage of this, and went to public houses, and got
into bad company, on a Sunday. It was impossible for me
to be at home and at church too, and wherever I was^ I
seemed compelled to leave something neglected. As for
Sunday reading, the men, if they read at all, followed Wil-

UK SUL A . 291

Ham's example, and spent tlieir time in spelling over a news-
paper. I thought I might do something to help in that way
by bringing them together, and asking Mr. Richardson to
lend me some interesting book to read to them, but I was
very ignorant, and shy too, and fancied I should never have
courage to begin, even if William were to allow it, which
was doubtful.

But the thing I had most set my heart upon was having
family prayers. They were managed at Longside, and I
earnestly desired to have it so with us. In the morning,
indeed, when the men were all out in the fields, only Farmer
Kemp's own family and the in-door servants could attend ;
but, in the evening, all who slept in the house met in the
room where the maids sat, and where most of the needlework
was done ; and then Farmer Kemp regularly read a chapter
in the Bible, and had prayers.. I remember hearing him
describe the difficulty he had iif beginning the practice, and
how the men only made a mock of it ; but he persevered,
and now there could not be a more well-behaved congrega-
tion in a church, than that which met at Longside every

But Farmer Kemp was master there, and had all his
family on his side. William was master at Sandcombe, and
would be entirely set against the notion. The fulfilment of
my wish seemed a great way off, and I had but few things
externally to help me in the meantime. Sandcombe was so
far from Mr. Richardson, and from Compton Church, that I
could gain but little comfort from them. I saw Mr. Richard-
son every now and then, but I could not go to him to talk
over my every-day difficulties ; and as for church, I could
very seldom go, except on Sundays. The services were too
early and too late, and the utmost I could hope was to manage
the walk occasionally, on the saints' days, when there were
prayers and a short sermon at eleven, and when I might have
/flffusincss to take me to Compton.

«P Perhaps the improvement which I had the greatest chance
« carrying out, was as to the outward behaviour of the men
who worked on the farm. Both William and Leah had a great
notion of being respectable, and anything which created a
scandal, or made people talk about them, was dreaded. And

292 U K S U L A .

yet they would often keep men about them whose characters
were known to be bad, and who did untold mischief to others.
This arose, in a great measure, from Leah's indolence, and
William's dislike to face anything disagreeable. There were
one or two men about whom I had heard things which made
me urge William to rid himself of them ; but he never would
inquire into the stories, and Leah always said that the men
were not her concern, and so they worked on, and every day
I was sure that they were doing harm, especially to the wo-
men and girls, who were often employed in the fields, and
heard their bad language, and saw their evil ways. Once,
when there was a press of work, and a lack of hands, it was
proposed to send Esther into the fields, but I managed to
prevent that myself. I felt that I was in a certain way
answerable for her to Mrs. Richardson, and I could not bear
to think of her being corrupted by such company.

It struck me that if I could only inquire, and find two steady
labourers to take the place of those whom I wished to turn
ofi", I might, without much difficulty, bring William to agree
to it, and this would be the beginning of what I hoped might
at length prove a great amendment.

I sat alone, as I before said, planning all these changes,
when I was interrupted by William. He was accustomed now
to wander into the house many times in the course of the
day. No particular business brought him, but he was rest-
less, — always thinking to ease the burden at his heart by
change. Just at first, I thought that he had come at the
right moment, and I was upon the point of opening out my
wishes to him, but I remembered how he disliked changes,
and I knew, too, that old governments are very jealous of new
ones, and so I thought I would delay, or, at least, sound my
way before I made any propositions. And it was fortunate
that I did, for I should surely have met with opposition. He
was bent upon an arrangement of his own. Poor fellow ! he
wanted the appearance of a settled state of things, even if he
could not have the reality, and he was come to make a pror
posal to me, he said.

I did not like the sound of the word, but I answered :
" Anything, William, by which I can be a comfort to you,
you know I shall be very glad to do."


" It would be comfort for yourself too, Ursie," he said,
" you know you have your own living to get in the world, at
least there is little enough for you without, and you may
just as well make your money with me as with anyone else.
I would give you a fixed sum by the year, and you might be
able to put something away out of it."

So strangely blind we are ! It will scarcely be believed
that up to this moment, I had never put before me the fact,
that Leah's death might be the means of separating me from
Roger for ever.

My heart seemed to rise i\j) in my throat and choke my

William thought I was touched by the feeling of the
great change which had come over us. He said to me kindly,
" It would be the best thing for us both, Ursie. We understand
each other, and shall get on very well together. Things
can't be as they were, but we must make the best of them."
" And Roger ? " I exclaimed.

" Oh ! Roger will" marry," was his carelc-^s answer ; " he
is sure to marry in that out of the way country."

I rose up, and turned away my face from him, whilst I
held up my work to the window under the pretence that I
could not see to thi-ead my needle, though in fact I only
wanted time to recover myself. I spoke to him after a few
seconds, I think quite calmly. " It is very kind of you, Wil-
liam," I said, "to wish to make a fixed agreement that shall
continue, but it might not be quite wise. Only as long as I
stay with you I should be very much obliged for an allowance,
because now that I have to look after everything, I can't give
any time to needlework."

As the words came from my lips, I felt how cold they
were, seemingly ungracious and unthankful, and "NV^illiam
longing, as I could see, for something to turn to and be fond
of. I tried to make them better. I said he was always kind
to me, that I was sure we should manage very well if we had
to be together. I turned my sentence in the way I thought
mo.«t likely to please him, but I could not say what I knew
he wished to hear. " William, it will make me happy to live
with you."

He was a proud man, and shy, as proud men often are.


He was thrown back by me, and he could not make a second
advance. " You shall do as you like, Ursie," he said, " I
don't wish to put constraint upon any one. I thought it
would be wise to place things on a regular footing, but if you
like better to continue as you are, living as it were from hand
to mouth, why you must please yourself."

No, this was not at all what I liked. I must have things
put on a regular footing, as he called it, if I was to remain
with him ; but the sacrifice which this might involve, I was
not prepared" for.

" William," I said, " you must let me think this over by
myself. We are all in a bewilderment now. I don't think
we either of us know what we wish or want. A month hence
we may tell better."

He looked at me for a second, tried to whistle as he used
to do when half angry and half astonished, broke off abrupt-
ly in the middle, and went away.

As I ran up-stairs to my own room, I heard him giving
some orders in a loud, strained voice, and then I saw him
walk off with lono; strides across the fields.


I HAD greatly pained William, and at the very time when
I was most anxious to give him consolation. But how could
it be otherwise ? Was it possible, was it in any way to be
expected, that I should entirely sacrifice my own happiness
for the sake of being what, after all, could only prove a
secondary comfort to him ?

This was the question which I put to myself, when I was
once more alone, in my own chamber, with my door bolted,
and kneeling before God that I might be the better able to
answer it in all sincerity.

Time was passing on rapidly, in a very few months I
might expect, if not to see Eoger in England, at Jeast to re-
ceive my summons to Canada. Was I to say " No " to it ?
Could I leave Koger to face loneliness in a distant land ?
After all he had done for me, would it not be selfish, ungrate-


fill, to draw back and allow him to toil on, away from home,
friends, every early association of happiness, to full ill per-
haps and die, and none to comfort him '? ■

I wept most bitter tears as I conjured up the spectre of
the evils which might be lurking in the dimness of futurity.
But there was another side to the case. Roger was young,
healthy, and full of hope ; likely, as I had so often been
told, to marry. He had not gone to Canada for me, but for
himself. If he sent for me, it would be because I had no
home but his. The tie between us was voluntary. If I
were called upon to break it by a stronger claim he would
be the first to give it up.

And William was my brother also, an elder brother, suf-
fering from a grief which Roger had never known. He had
a household dependent upon him, and no one to manage it ;
duties incumbent upon him, which, without help, he would
find the utmost difficulty in fulfilling ; and he had been kind
to me when I most needed it, he had taken me into his home
when I had no other home. If I had not been happy there
it was from no intentional neglect on his part. He might be
a selfish man, but he was never deliberately unkind. Could
I put aside his claim as slight ? It was the revival, in an-
other forru, of the difliculty which had so greatly troubled
me when I left Dene ; but it touched me more closely, for it
was a question of separation, not for a year, but, probably,
for ever.

God forgive me if I found the cross He had laid upon
me too hard to bear; if, for a while, I again pondered the
case, striving to escape from the decision, of my conscience,
and convince myself that Roger was to be my first consider-
ation, and that it was less a cjucstion of my own wishes, than
of the comparative happiness of my brothers. I was young
then. I had made a duty to myself of my afi"ections, and I
had not learnt that, unless supported by the claims of the
work set before us by God, afiectiou is not a duty but a

Before I had in any way reached the end of my deliber-
ation I was called down-stairs to speak with Jolm Hervey.
I had not seen him since the day of the funeral, but I had
been expecting him constantly. Ho seemed now so much a

296 U K S U L A .

part of ourselves that I was comforted at the thought of
talking to him, though I did not feel that I could ask his

" How is it with you to-day, Ursie ? " he said, kindly, as
I entered the room, " and how is William ? "

" William is rather better," I replied. " He is in the
fields looking after the men. Do you want him ? "

" I can't do him any good, I am afraid. Time will do
that, through Grod's help ; but I have a letter for you,

" A letter ! " I jumped up and caught it from his hand.
He turned away as I opened the seal.

" Dearest Trot, — I send you some hearty good wishes for
Christmas-day, as I am writing to John Hervey upon a little
business. You shall hear more soon. Lots of thanks for
your last letter ; nothing keeps a man up like hearing from
home. We have had rather a bad time here. Mr. Pierce
has been very ill, and is so now, and I have been good for
nothing myself. Please God, though, we get through this
winter, we shall all be better oif next. John will tell you
about my work. I have not time for more. Grod bless you
always my little Trot. From your very loving brother,

" Roger Grant.

" Love to William, and Leah, and all friends."

I let the note fall upon my lap, and burst into tears.
John Hervey drew near, frightened. "Is it ill news?" he
said, " there was nothing particular in mine, except about
Mr. Pierce."

I could not answer him, my tears came so fast. Per-
haps it was the careless mention of Leah's name which had
opened the flood-gates

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Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 26 of 28)