Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

. (page 8 of 28)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

knees to be merciful ; but his answer was that not an angel
from Heaven should persuade him, and he kept his word."

" And was Mr. Henderson ruined ? " I exclaimed.

" Yes. His friends came forward at the last with offers
of help, but it was too late. His agony of mind, aggravated
no doubt by all he had gone through before, brought on a
brain fever, and he died."

Silence followed for some seconds.

Then I said, " She stayed with her husband still ? "

" For better for worse," replied Mr. Hervey. " There is
no other choice."

" I must have left him," I exclaimed. " There could be
no law to bid one stay with such a monster."

" Mrs. Weir was wiser than you, Ursie," he continued ;
" she knew well enough that peace is only to be found in the
way of duty. But that grief made her what she is. It
wrecked her health and prevented her from paying attention
to her child. It shook her mind in a certain way, — or
rather, I should say, it so affected her nerves, that for a time
she seemed stunned, and unable to take in common affairs.
She has recovered in a measure, but the bodily weakness re-
mains, and you must have remarked yourself, that she seldom
speaks like a person who has an interest in this world's con-
cerns. Only now and then, when any special case is brought
before her, if one is with her alone, her vigour of character
seems to return."

" I should scarcely have said she had any vigour naturally,"
I observed.

" You are mistaken then ; she has a great deal. It shows
itself now in a singular way : one might suppose that she
would have become neglectful of her husband after he had
shown such disregard to her feelings ; but, on the contrary,
she is, as you must know, even morbidly anxious to bo obe-

VoL. 1—4*


dient to him. Conscience, particularly as regards him,
seems the only thing which is left thoroughly alive in him."

" Perhaps," I said, " she feels that she deceived him by
the very act of marrying him."

" It may be so," he replied. " At any rate, duty to her
husband is the one ruling object of her life now : not its
motive though, Ursie ; there is no heart in what she does —
how can there be ? "

" How indeed ! " I replied : " but," I added, as I thought
of Miss Milicent, " that must all have taken place many years

" So many," answered Mr. Hervey, " that most persons
have forgotten the circumstances, if they ever knew them ;
and Mrs. Weir is generally considered now only an eccentric,
nervous invalid. Yet it is not her life only which has been
affected by them, but Miss Milicent's also. She was allowed
to go her own way, and at last became too much for her
mother. She was clever and energetic, and Mr. Weir found
her useful in many ways, and brought her forward, and at
last she took up independent notions of her own, and quite
looked down upon her parents."

" Not upon her father ? " I said.

" Yes, upon them both ; for she was quick enough, and
good enough, I will say that for her, to see through Mr.
Weir. It seems, Ursie, that when we put our hearts into
our work it will tell in some way or other in the end, what-
ever blunders, we may make. Sorrow, through God's grace,
made Mrs. Weir very religious, and whatever else Miss Mili-
cent might laugh at in her mother, she never laughed at that.
Only, unfortunately, she made a bad use of the respect which
she could not help feeling. She despised her mother for
thinking too little of this world, and her father for thinking
too little of the next."

" She has turned out to be disagreeable enough between
the two," I said.

" Yes ; though there is better stuff in her than you might
fancy : but she is not likely to be much comfort to either if
trouble should come ; which is the reason, Ursie, why I
wanted you to be near Mrs. Weu-, if it could be, at least for
a time. She would have more help from you than she would
ever get from her daughter."


" But what is coining ? " I asked quickly.

" That is what I can't say," he replied. " I am not at
liberty; and I don't want to urge you against anything
which Roger and William may consider right : but they will
be likely to think most of you, and I want you to think a
little of Mrs. Weir. I told Roger I should say this to you,
and he did not object."

" I will stand by her through everything," I exclaimed.
" She has been as kind to me as a mother."

" And you won't repent it," he replied. " There is great
comfort in this world in being able to help those who can't
help themselves."

I answered heartily, " Yes," and I felt the colour rush
to my cheek, whilst my heart beat very fast. I could have
fought against an army just then in defence of Mrs. Weir.

Mr. Hervey laughed a little, and said he felt I was a
host on any one's side ; but I think he had deeper and sad-
der thoughts in his mind, for he stood still, thinking and
looking grave, which was very unlike him, and quite started
when Roger, and Jane, and Jessie came up bantering, and
asking what made us keep so far ahead.

We were at Hatton Lane gate then, and there we were to
part company. Mr. Hervey and I were a great contrast to
the others. They were so merry, and Jessie said they had
had a delightful walk. As she stood leaning by the gate, not
willing, I could see, to go through, and saying good-bye to
Mr. Hervey, I thought what a pretty picture she would make,
and I made Roger remark her, and he looked pleased that I
should notice her kindly, and said that she was too nice a
girl to be left to Jane Shaw ; he wished I would become her
friend. I took but little notice of his words, for I had no
thought to give to any one but Mrs. Weir.


Roger and I went back to Sandcombe alone. Mr. Hervey
had some business at Compton, and walked home that way.
William was out in the yard giving orders to one of his cart-


ers ; but he left off directly he saw us, and made Roger go
with him to look at a new threshing machine which was
just put up. He told me I should find Leah in the house ;
so I went in.

I found her in the little parlour, alone and working. I
think she was not sorry to be interrupted, for she was very
gracious, and wondered why I had not been to see her

I told her I had been busy, what with keeping the cot-
tage in order, and cooking, and needlework, and that now
the family were at Dene, there was more than usual to at-
tend to.

" You should not make yourself a slave, Ursie," she re-
plied. " Jane Shaw and I were talking about it the other
day. She says, and I quite agree with her, that the Weirs
treat you as nothing better than a servant, and that if you
were to hold your head higher, you might have as much re-
spect paid you as she has."

" A little more, I hope," was my answer.

" You need not be so proud, Ursie. I don't see what
right you have to look down upon the Shaws in the
way you do ; it is not at all fitting for a girl of your age."

" I don't want to look down upon any one," I replied ;
" it is the Shaws who look down upon me. And, you know,"
I added, laughing, " if people will walk about in stilts, one
is forced to do the same to be even with them."

" The Shaws are higher in the world than you are, or
are ever likely to be, whilst you live shut up at Dene," con-
tinued Leah. " I don't mean to approve of all Jane does ;
I told her the other day that she went into Hove too often,
and made herself too much noticed by her smart dress."

" Yet you don't object to Jessie's going with her," I said.

" Jessie's doings are not my concern," replied Leah. (It
was not strictly tru6, for she really had more control over
Jessie than any one.) " Not but what if they were, I doubt
if I should think it wise to stop her, when every now and
then she has the chance of a little pleasure. She must
look out for herself. She will have to make her way in the
world, and we must give her the opportimity of gaining


" Or a husband," I said, sharply.

But Leah was not put out. " Yes, or a husband ! It
would be a very good thing for Jessie to be married, — there
is no doubt of that ; — and she is more likely to meet with
persons who will take to her if she is allowed to see a little
of the world, than if she stays all the year at Hatton."

Leah said this so boldly that, for the instant, I was
caught by her words, and felt she might have truth on her
side ; but a second thought brought me round to my former

" For twenty husbands," I said, " I would not go to
Hove on a Saturday, to flaunt about the streets with Jane
Shaw, and have all the idle folks in the country gossiping
about me."

" You are jealous, Ursie," said Leah, with some meaning,
" Jane Shaw is handsome enough and clever enough to have
persons going after her who would never look at you."

" Very likely," I said, carelessly, not choosing to show
that I was annoyed ; though I must own that, as Leah spoke,
I glanced at the old mirror over the fireplace to see if I was
really so plain that no one would ever look at me.

" We won't talk about it," said Leah, in a quiet, pro-
voking tone, which I knew meant that it was not worth
while to argue with me. " You will be sorry some day for
your bitterness against the Shaws. Is Roger come over
upon any particular business ? "

" I think he is," I replied. " We walked over the
down to Hatton Gate before we came here, with Jane Shaw,
and Mr. Hervey, and Jessie ; and, now I think of it, Leah,
Jessie asked me to recommend you a girl for the dairy if I
could. Is Kitty Hobson going away ? "

I said this rather to divert Leah's attention from Roger's
business ; and it served my purpose. She answered quickly,
" Kitty went yesterday ; she turned out good for nothing,
and I could not keep her. It is the case with them all. I
wonder sometimes what is the good of all the learning the
girls get at school ; it does not teach "one in twenty to be

I could not help thinking there might be some fault in
the teaching of the girls after they left school. Leah had


only lately sent away an upper servant who was a great deal
worse than idle, and whose character she well knew, but
whom she kept because of her cleverness. Kitty Hobson
had been under her, and no doubt had learnt much evil from

I hesitated, and then I said, " Kitty must have had a
bad example since she left school."

" No doubt," said Leah, misunderstanding me. " Her
parents are people of no thought, and the cottage is a perfect
pig-stye ; and they live altogether more like pigs than human
beings. As for Kitty, she never had a notion of behaving
like a decent girl. Martha says it was a disgrace to be with
her. If Mr. Richardson would look after his school, and
not spend his time in planning new cottages, we shouldn't
hear the tales of Compton that we do."

" It must be a hard matter to learn decent habits when
they are all crowded together in that fashion," I said ; " how
many in a room are there ? "

" Hobson, and his wife, and Kitty, and Charles, and the
baby. Lately, they have put Henry Hobson to sleep in the
little out-house."

" And it is William's cottage, isn't it ? " I asked.

" Yes ; more's the pity. Mr. Richardson was over here
last week talking to William, in a way that I thought very
impertinent, about building another room, and at last Wil-
liam was quite put out with him, and said plainly that it
was no use doing anything for people like the Hobsous. He
might have said that it was no use giving money to Mr.
Richardson's school. He told me afterwards, indeed, that
he had more than half a mind to withdraw his subscription,
— you know we pay five shillings a-year to Compton
school ; — and I think he will be right since Kitty Hobson
has turned out so badly, for it's a shame to think that she
was brought up there."

Leah always had right on her side, in her own opinion,
but I could not help feeling for Mrs. Hobson, who was a
hardworking woman, and not at all strong, and I secretly
made up my mind that I would go and see her, and inquire
into the story before long. Perhaps, between Mrs. Rich-
ardson and the Kemps, something might be done to give


Kitty a helping hand, for I only understood, from what
Leah said, that she was unsteady and careless in her

Leah was peculiar in her ways of management in all
these matters. She allowed things to go on as they might
for a long time, and then suddenly, without warning, a girl
was turned oflf. I felt with her that it would not do to keep
one who was not well-conducted, and I had often wondered
at the carelessness which some of the farmers' wives showed
about their servants, but I did think that some pains ought
to be taken first to bring them into the right way. Leah
saw that I took a different view of the case from her, and it
made her cross. She said, pettishly, that she wondered
what William and Roger could have to talk about so long,
she should go and see, and she left the room.

I felt very sad when I was left alone ; what Mr. Hervey
had told me about Mrs. Weir rested in my mind, and I had
a feeling that changes and trouble were coming upon me.
But even more than this, it always put me in low spirits — at
least as far as anything could, for I was very cheerful natu-
rally — to be at Sandcome.

There was something about it which so often brought to
my mind the story of the rich man and Lazarus. How
William would have laughed if I had said so to him ! He,
rich ? — why, he believed himself to be just struggling to
keep his head above water. A high rent to give for his
laud, upon which sums of money had been spent, his stock
to be kept up, his labourers to be paid ; to say nothing of
taxes, enough to ruin a man — land-tax, and poor-rate, and
church-rate, and taxes for houses and servants. — it was ab-
surd to speak of being rich ! And besides, if he was well
off one year, who was to answer for the next ? Everything
depended upon the weather, which, if it did well for one
crop, was sure to do badly for another. What was good for
hay was bad for turnips, — that every one knew. To hear
William talk, you would have thought it was only by a
miracle he was saved from the workhouse. But, in spite of
all, the Bible story would return to me. There was Leah,
after her day's work, sitting at ease in her comfortable lit-
tle parlour, having had a good dinner and tea, and expecting


a good supper ; finding for herself just employment enough
to prevent time from hanging heavy on her hands — for there
was a new bonnet lying cm the table, with the ribbon beside
it with which it was to be trimmed — no one to interrupt
her ; people about her willing to do what she told them ; a
nice little chaise ready to take her where she liked to go ;
a cart and a waggon ready to be sent for whatever she chose
to order ; a husband whose great fault and misfortune was
that he let her have her own way. If it was not being rich,
it was being quite comfortable without riches.

But it was all very proper and respectable ; there was no
sin in it. I never heard, though, that the rich man in the
parable committed any great sin : he only let Lazarus lie at
his gate.

Kitty Hobson, however, was not like Lazarus ; she was
good for nothing, so Leah said. Why was Leah to trouble
herself about her ? Why might not Kitty be sent back to
her home, to sleep in the little loft with her father, and
brother, and mother, and the baby ? What matter was it to
Leah that the girl could not learn decent habits if she wish-
ed it ? She was good for nothing already, What was the
use of trying to keep her from becoming worse ? When
Leah lay down to sleep on her soft bed in the wholesome at-
mosphere of her large room, why need she vex herself with
thinking of the little crowded attic in which five living be-
ings were to pass the night ? If the rain pelted against the
window, why need she remember that there was a hole in the
roof of Hobson's cottage, and that the drops would fall upon
Kitty's bed ? If the wind blew, there were shutters and a
curtain at Sandcombe Farm, the walls were thick, and the
crevices carefully stopped. That was comfort for Leah ; and
as for Kitty Hobson, she was accustomed to the breezes of
summer and the storms of winter, for the cottage was so old
that it was more worth William's while to let it tumble to
pieces than to attempt to mend it.

And then, if Kitty was worthless, it was no use to think
of improving her. It might do Leah some good to say her
prayers, for she could kneel down quietly, and think serious-
ly of what she was about ; but what was the good of talking
to Kitty about prayers and the Bible ? She had no doubt


given up any right practice she might have learnt at school.
There would be her father talking to her mother when she
could have prayed ; or the baby crying, or Charles complain-
ing that he could not go to sleep ; and when she got up in
the morning it would be the same, or rather worse, for they
must all be dressing in the same room, huddling on their
clothes, crying out for breakfast, and scolding Kitty because
the fire was not lighted. If she had wished to say her pray-
ers, she could not possibly have found a quiet moment or a
quiet place. But she did not want it, — she was good for
nothing !

Leah might have been right; but I thought of the rich
man, nevertheless.

William came in alone, after I had been about ten min-
utes by myself. He sat down in his large elbow-chair, as
though he was tired, and laid his hands upon his knees, and
thought for some seconds. Presently he said, " Hard times,
Ursie, aren't they ? "

" I am sorry you find them so," I replied ; " I don't know
that they are so particularly hard at Dene."

" Just what I have been saying to Roger," he replied.
" When you have a certain sum coming in, be it ever so
small, you are better off than running a risk, as one must in
taking a farm."

" Is that what Roger thinks ? " I inquired, hastily. " He
is come over with some plan, I know."

" Roger has the Canada fancy again," replied William ;
and he fi^ed his eyes upon me keenly, to see by my face what
I felt.

My colour may have changed ; I won't say that it did
not. But I was upon my guard to conceal my feelings :
whatever they were, they were to be told to Roger first. So
I answered quietly, " Has he ? He never told me about it."

" Then he had better come and tell you now," said Wil-
liam; and he rose up slowly from his chair and went into
the kitchen, and called Roger and Leah, who were talking
together outside the house.

I sat still. I would not appear impatient or put out ;
but my heart grew sick, and a pang went through it ; for I
felt that Roger had not treated me kindly.


Roger stepped into the room first ; and before I could
make up my mind to look up and speak to him, I felt his
hand laid upon my shoulder, and heard him say, in a tone
which he tried to make light, " Thei'e's nothing settled yet,
Trot; so don't be cast down."

" I had rather hear it all from you, Roger," I said, re-
proachfully. " You shouldn't leave others to tell me."

" I didn't mean it, Ursie ; I didn't mean it. It is a
thought just of an hour, — nothing more, — and it may go to
the winds before to-morrow."

" But I may be spoken to plainly," I replied ; " I am not
a child, and I can bear things."

" Bravely, Ursie. Not a woman in England better," said
Roger ; " and you should have heard it all before night ; only
William let the cat out of the bag."

" I was rather curious to see how she would take it, I
must own," said William.

" Ursie is a sensible woman," said Leah, sharply.

People always say one is sensible when they are going to
give particularly disagreeable advice.

" If you will speak out," I said, " I will show whether I
am sensible or not. What do you all want me to do ? "

" Stay and live here with us, if Roger goes to Canada,"
said Leah, bluntly. And Roger bowed his head upon his
hands, for it seemed he dared not look at me.

I don't think I answered directly ; but when I did, I
know that my voice sounded, even to myself, quite changed.

" I thank you, Leah, for speaking out," I said. " I will
do what Roger wishes. If I am to be a help to him, I will
go ; if I am to be a hindrance, I will stay ; — not here," I
added, quickly, for Leah was going to praise me for agreeing
with her ; — " I will do something to be independent ; if there
is nothing else, I will go to service."

William uttered a low whistle of surprise. Roger only
took my hand, and held it very tight.

" Then you will be the first of the Grants that ever so
demeaned herself," said Leah.

" Better come with me, Ursie, than do that," said Roger,
in a low voice.

" Yes, better indeed," I exclaimed vehemently, " a thou-


sand times better, Roger, go with you to the world's end,
than stay behind to be a queen. And why mustn't I go ? I
have hands and health, and care nothing for hardships. I
will work to the last hour that God gives me strength ; why
mustn't I go ? "

" Because it's all a chance," said William, " and Roger
knows it. He may just as likely be a ruined man as a rich

" Then we will be ruined together," I exclaimed.

"That wouldn't help me, Ursie," said Roger; and he
looked up at me with what tried to be a smile, but it was
not one.

" I don't see that there is a question of ruin for any one,"
exclaimed Leah, rather contemptuously. " Roger has
money to set out with if he chooses to go, and no doubt he
will do better at first alone. What is to come after, may be
left, if Ursie won't ride the high horse, and be too proud to
find a home with her own brother."

" I am not too proud," I said hastily," and I have proved
it Who has been Roger's servant up to this time ? and
who will continue so to his dying day if he will only say
yes ? "

" A man who sets out as a colonist can't afford to keep a
servant," said William. " If Roger is bent upon this wild
plan, he must go alone, Ursie."

I couldn't understand William's tone at all. I had
fancied before that he upheld Roger's notion. He was going
to say more, when Roger started from his seat and stood up
before me. The sadness in his face was gone, and he looked
like himself, fit and willing to brave the world. " We have
not been fair upon you, Ursie," he said; "you have been
taken by surprise. We should have talked this matter over
alone, and we will do it now. Leah, you have been kind in
olfering a helping hand ; and thank you for it. Good night,
William; you shall hear more about this to-morrow." He
walked out of the room, and through the passage into the
yard, not once looking round to see if I was following him.
William seemed thoroughly vexed. Leah was only rather
grave; she just said, "I hope, Ursie, whatever you resolve
upon, you will consider the credit of the family," and then
she let me depart.



Instead of turning into the turf road to Dene, Roger
said, when we reached it, " The moon will be up in a few
minutes, Ursie; we might get to the top of St, Anne's and
look at it." These were the first words he had spoken, and
I had not interrupted his silence. I felt that he wanted
time to set himself right. That conversation had for some
reason or other disturbed him, more almost than I should
have expected. And it was a quieting walk along the ridge
of the down ; it was growing very dark, but the sky was clear,
and one or two stars were to be seen gleaming very faintly.
I could just distinguish between the trees, the Abbey Farm,
and a dark spot which I knew must be the tower of Compton
Church ; and out in the distance, where there was a glowing
sheet of yellow light along the horizon, the white clifis stood
up mistily, their outline mixing with the sky.

" Now, Ursie, give me your hand," said Roger, as we
stood at the foot of St. Anne's Hill. The way was steep ;
he dragged me up after him, taking c^re to avoid the chalk-
pit, and every now and then bidding me stop to rest —
though I scarcely needed it. When we reached the Oratory,
he made me lean against the wall. The moon had risen,
though as yet it cast no reflection ; but a pale light was
spread over the vast expanse of waters, and white curling
waves could be seen dashing upon the shingles, and scattering
their spray into the air. Roger took off his hat, and passed
his hand across his forehead.

" We may well look at the sea, Ursie," he said ; " it wiU
be the highroad between us before long."

" Never," I answered firmly ; " my mind is made up,

" But not mine. William is right ; it is a risk."

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 8 of 28)