Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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you must leave Dene ? I thought as much, poor child !— poor
child ! '

' I don't know ; I can't say what we must do,' I exclaimed ;
and the sorrow rose up in my heart, like a great wave about to
rush in upon the shore. But it broke inwards, and I was thank-
ful for it.

' lie will find another place ; you will have a home again very
soon,' continued .Mrs Kemp. 'Such a trusty, worthy young
man as he is, and knowing so much about everything ! Not
that it will be like Dene, where you have lived so long.'

I shan't care for anything,' I said, ' as long as Roger and I


are together.' I could not allude more clearly to the Canada
project without knowing whether Roger would like it.

But the world always knows more of one's affairs than one
suspects ; and Mrs Kemp jumped to my meaning in an instant.

'Ah ! then it's true ! ' she exclaimed ; 'and he's bent upon
going off by himself. But he mustn't do it, Ursie ; he must
think of you.'

' He does think of me,' I answered, quietly. ' It is that
which keeps him back now. He is gone to talk it over with
Mr Richardson.'

'And he will take out a wife with him, I suppose,' continued
Mrs Kemp, thoughtfully ; ' or he will find one there for the ask-
ing. Well ! young men must settle themselves.'

My heart sank. Mrs Kemp, with all her sympathy, was like
the rest of the world ; she could not enter into griefs out of her
own line. A happy wife herself, she was unable to comprehend
that any pang could be caused by the prospect of seeing others
happy also.

I faced the subject boldly, and, in a proud tone, I said, ' If
Roger wants to marry, and go to Canada, he may depend upon
it I shall never be the one to stand in his way.'

'You might go with him, whether he is married or not,' said

Mrs Kemp interposed. ' No, Ursie-; don't be tempted in that
way. When people marry, they are best left to themselves ;
especially at the beginning. After they have gone on some time,
and become used to each other's ways, and learned all there is
to learn, a sister or an aunt may fit in well enough, particularly
when there are children, and relations can make themselves
useful. But at first setting off, depend upon it it's best to give
young married folks a push into the world, turn them round
three times, and leave them to shift for themselves. Having
no one else to turn to, they are forced then to keep close to
each other.'

'As if they wouldn't do it naturally,' said Mary, with a shy

' That is as may be,' replied Mrs Kemp, laughing herself ; ' I
am not going to let you girls into those secrets. Only one thing
I will say to you, that if you do get a good husband, you will
love him better at the end of twenty years than at the beginning,
let his faults be what they may.'

Mary was silent. I felt that she was probably thinking of


John Hervey, and something like a pang of envy crossed m
for I was sure of him, at least, that, know him ever so long, one
should only learn to honour him the more.

The conversation wandered to different subjects after tin's.
Mrs Kemp made me tell her everything I could about Mrs
Weir, everything, that is, which could be told without betraying
secrets. 1 found that the state of Mr Weir's affairs had be n
suspected — almost known for certain, indeed — in the neighbour-
hood many weeks before ; and it had been no matter of surprise
to any one but myself that Mrs Weir and Miss Miiiccnt should
ie to Dene without him.

Many stories were afloat, — most of them of a disagree, ble
kind, — and such as made it doubtful whether he could e\er
show his face in England again ; but that which Mrs Kemp,
and the farmer also (for he came in and joined in the conversa-
tion) took most to heart was, the prospect of the Dene estate
falling into the hands of Captain Price.

Whilst poor Mrs Weir lay on her bed, unable to take any
thought for her affairs, the world had arranged them for her, and
in a very likely, sensible way, according to its own ideas. Cap-
tain Price had a good deal of ready money, and he was going to
marry Jane Shaw ; and Jane lived near Dene, and Dene must
be sold, or else Mrs Weir would have nothing to live upon.
These facts were undeniable ; -so the kind world put them all
together, and settled the business comfortably ; and most of our
acquaintances looked at Jane Shaw, and thought she was luckier
than one girl in a thousand ; and Farmer Kemp and his wife
looked at Dene, and the tenants and labourers, and sighed.

I sighed too, when I heard Farmer Kemp talk that morning.
He was a man who could not rid himself of an idea when once
he was possessed of it, and who could scarcely help forcing it,
haps, now and then, a little at the wrong time, upon other
people. Put being so earnest, he caught those who otherwise
might not have listened ; and this morning, though I came to
Dene full of my own fears and Mrs Weir's sorrows, I still was
carried away by what he said, so as for a time to be interested
by it.

Of course people who have a hobby of any kind try to make
you believe that the one thing upon which they have set their
hearts is the remedy for all evils. Farmer Kemp was so bent
upon this scheme for imp roving the labourers' cottages, that, to
hear him talk, one might have fancied that if poDr people had


sufficient space for their families to live decently, there would
be no evil left in the world.

But patting aside that which I suppose is the weak point
with us all, he certainly did open my eyes to several things
which I had never thought of before. He made me see how
persons brought up respectably may sink into actual vice from
the want of a comfortable home ; how the wife leaves her neat
habits and becomes slovenly, because she finds it useless to try
and be tidy, when the wet comes in at the roof, and the floor
is damp, and the windows are broken, and she cannot get
them mended, and the children are sickly from cold and draughts,
and huddled together in one room, and perhaps three or four in
one bed. And he showed me also how the husband leaves his
fireside because he finds no comfort there, and goes to the ale-
house, and so takes the first step on the road which is to lead
him and his family to ruin of body and soul ; — and how the
boys, as they grow up, are driven away from home by the dirt,
and quarrelling, and confusion, and lounge about in the lanes
with idle companions, and are at length led into great sin ; —
and how the daughters grow bold and forward, from being forced
to live, as it were, in public, and so lose the sense of all which
makes a woman modest and respectable, and become a disgrace
and burden to their families. All this, and much more, Farmer
Kemp put before me, — and I listened, for I could not help it,
though my thoughts wandered off at times to Roger and Mr
Richardson, and the conversation on which all my plans in life
were to depend. The subjects were not so very far apart as they
seemed. If I did not go to Canada with Roger, I might have to
live at Sandcombe with William and Leah ; and there were more
cases than Kitty Hobson's which I felt sure would trouble me if
I was with them. I knew that William had a good many cot-
tages in his own hands, and that the general opinion was that
he was a hard man to his labourers. After talking to Farmer
Kemp, it seemed more impossible than ever to be happy with
him and Leah.

I dined at Longside. Mrs Kemp would not let me go, and I
waited, expecting Roger every minute, but he did not come ; and
I made up my mind at last that he had gone home over the hill,
instead of coming back for me. As it was by that time nearly
half-past twelve, and Mrs Kemp pressed me much to stay, it
seemed better that I should. Roger, I knew> would eat his cold
meat alone without troubling himself about me, and I must con-


fess that it was a prcat relief to mc to be with people of my own
class, who could understand and feel for mc.

It was a different kind of comfort from that which I often felt
in conversing with Mrs Weir. It pave mc a feeling of breathing

fresh air, but it did not raise me up as talking to Mrs Weir did.
Mrs Kemp showed me how to make use of this world, Mrs Weir
how to despise it. Both were good in their way ; but Mrs
Kemp's lesson was the first and easiest, and it strikes mc that it
is the one first taught us by God.

We had a little conversation about Kitty Hobson after dinner,
and I was glad to find that Mrs Kemp meant to give her a trial,
though Leah had cast her off.

It had been upon my mind that something should be done for
the girl, knowing that Leah had taken no pains with her, and
turned her off without proper warning, but I had been too much
occupied with my own troubles to form any plan for her. Mrs
Richardson, it appeared, considered her not by any means hope-
less, and had persuaded Mrs Kemp to take her, and put her
under a steady dairymaid, who would sec that she did her work,
and keep her out of harm's way. I think, having so few poor
pie near me to care for, had made me more particular about
those whom I did at all know. I never could rest till I had done
for them all that seemed to lie in my power, though that was
little enough. But, as Mrs Kemp said, ' If you can only stop the
stone before it begins to roll down, you may keep it safe ; when
once it has set off, there is no checking it.' Kitty Hobson might
be on the brink of everything that was bad ; but she was as yet
only on the brink. So I was pleased to hear that she was
to be at Longside, and I told Mrs Kemp that, if she went on
well, I thought I had a stuff gown I could give her as an encou-

I felt better and brighter after having settled this little
matter, — more able to look trouble in the face. Helping others
always gives one a feeling of strength ; at least, I have found
it so.

I shrank less from the mention of Canada when Farmer Kemp
and John Ilervey spoke to me about it before I went away.
They were very kind and straightforward, as was their fashion,
but both of them agreed in advising me to stay at home. I was
sure that John was sorry when he said it, he looked at me so
sorrowfully ; and when, at length, I said good-bye to them all,
and set off on my way back to Ucnc, he walked part of the way


tvith me, and I was able to open my heart to him, more even than
to Mrs Kemp, because there were subjects connected with Dene
which lie knew more about than any one else.

He was such a bright, hopeful person, that merely talking to
him did me good. And he had a kind way of turning his mind
to the things that interested one, which led me on in spite of
one's self. And then he understood Roger so well, so much better
than other people. He knew all that lay hid under that rough,
silent manner of his. When I said that Roger's heart would
break if he was left to bear trouble by himself, he did not laugh
as some might have done, he only said earnestly, though cheer-
fully, ' It won't do, Ursie, to take more care upon yourself than
God intends for you. You may try to keep Roger's heart from
breaking ; and whilst you are doing that, you may all the time
be breaking some other person's. What is to hinder you from
running away from him some day, and setting up a home of
your own ? '

' I have a home,' I answered, eagerly. ' Roger's home is my
home, and it will be mine always.' I believe I said it all the
more eagerly, because something of misgiving lay at the bottom
of my heart.

John Hervey laughed, as he answered, ' You may change your
note some day, Ursie ; and, anyhow, it is not wise to look to that
only, for you know there are two wills to the bargain you and
Roger seem to have made ; and if, after all, he keeps to it, h**
has but to send for you, and you can go to him.'

John had a dreadful quantity of common sense. I don't think
when he was a boy he could ever have cared for the kind of
reading which had always been such happiness to me. He never
indulged in notions of what he would do if he was in other cir-
cumstances. I am sure he would have thought me wild if I had
told him one quarter of the fancies and wishes which had haunted
me as long as I could remember. It was just the present duty
with him, and nothing beyond but trust. 1 think that gave him
his singular look of happiness ; he was never perplexed what to
do, because he did what came, and left the consequences. Some-
times, when I have looked upon the light, rippling and dancing
on the waves below St Anne's Hill, I have thought that it was
just like John's sunny mind, making a clear, bright path where-
ever it moved.



WHEN I reached home, I found Mrs Weir awake, and
inquiring for me. Seeing Mr Richardson had been a
great comfort to her ; but she was still in a maze, not able to
keep any one plan or idea in her head for ten minutes together,
except it might be the duty of joining her ljusband. Mr Rich-
ardson had promised to write and make inquiry about him for
her, and this was the point to which she turned continually. As
to taking any steps for removing from Dene at present, it seemed
to her an utter impossibility. Servants, and carriages, and
horses, must all be kept ; no one could tell why, except that it
must be found out first where Mr Weir was.

I am afraid, poor lady ! she tried me a little. I was young,
with a cleiy head, and strong nerves, and a good constitution,
and I found it very difficult to enter into such an anxious, unde-
cided mind, burdened and shattered as it was by long sorrow ;
and I was selfish, too, for I was very unhappy, and never could
endure suspense, and I felt, though I did not choose to own it to
myself, that my plans might possibly be determined by those of
Mrs Weir. It was so strange to me to see her sitting in her
drawing-room, with all her little comforts and pretty things about
her, and working just as usual, not seeming to know how many
important things were to be discussed and arranged. I could
almost have thought she did not fully know what had happened,
only that her eyes were so weak and red ; and every now and
then she would lay down her work and fold her hands together,
and I saw her lips move, and knew that the grief was so keen
that it could only be soothed by prayer.

Active and sharp-sighted as people called me, I had a great
deal to learn from Mrs Weir.

I spent but a few minutes with her, for it had been an idle day
with me, and I had a great deal to do at the cottage ; yet, as I
left the house, a sudden impulse seized me to run up, just for
two minutes, to the seat upon the bank, and breathe the fresh
air from the down. I went by the back of the house instead of
by the garden, for I wished to avoid being seen ; but I was riot
able to escape Miss Milicent's watchful eye, and I had scarcely
reached the little gate opening from the road into the shrubbery
before she joined me.


1 What are you doing here, Ursie Grant ? I thought I should
find you at home. You have not been at home all day.'

' No, Miss Milicent,' I said ; ' I had business away.' I am
afraid I had always some pleasure in baffling her.

' I have been wanting you ; I have a great many things to say
to you. Are you going in now ?'

I replied that I should be in a few minutes, and, turning aside
from the shrubbery, I walked some paces on, as though I wished
to go out upon the down.

' If you are going to walk, I will come with you,' pursued Miss

' I would not give you that trouble,' I replied ; for I saw there
was no chance of being rid of her. ' If you please, I will go
back with you to the house.'

' But you had business up here,' she said, scanning my face
Carefully. ' You were looking for some one, or waiting for some

' I was going to sit by myself and think a little,' I said, quietly.
Such a strange, doubting look she gave me ! And then she said,
as though she was determined to test me, ' If it is your brother
you are watching for, Ursie Grant, you will most likely find him
at home. He came back from Compton, under the down, by the
gamekeeper's cottage.'

' I was not watching for any one, Miss Milicent,' was my an-
swer ; ' it was as I said, I was going to sit by myself.'

I am afraid that was rather a rude speech ; but she aggra-
vated me uncommonly, and I had not enough religion at that
time to enable me to keep my passionate temper under proper

1 It won't hurt you to go back and talk over some matters with
me,' said Miss Milicent, decidedly ; 'and if Roger Grant is in,
he can come and talk too.'

' Roger is very busy, Miss Milicent,' I replied ; ' if there is
anything particular to be said, you had best, please, tell it to me,
and I will repeat it to him.'

She stood still for a moment, putting her hand in the pocket
of her black jacket. A change came over her face — I noticed
it though she turned aside — a flush was upon her cheek, and a
mist seemed to rest upon her eyes. They were not fierce eyes
then : there was a world of feeling in them, struggling, as it
seemed, to have vent. But she kept an iron rule over herself, as
she did over others, and, whatever there might have been work-


ing within, she prevented it from coming forth in her voice, as
she hud her strong hand on my shoulder, and said, ' You will he
leaving Dene soon, Ursie Grant ; wc shall not have need of you
nor of Roger.'

My spirit was up then, I confess, and I said, ' We are ready
to go, Miss Milicent ; Roger has other work looked out for him,
and I came here only for him.'

Others might well have been angry at my manner, but I doubt
if Miss Milicent even remarked it. She went on, in her own
way, 'You will be finding other friends, and you are a stirring
woman, Ursic, so you won't have much time to think about

' I shall think about it, Miss Milicent,' I answered. ' I have
been very happy here, and Mrs Weir has been very kind.'

'And I have been very cross,' she said, bluntly ; and then she
stopped. ' But it is no use to talk of that. If I was cross with-
out cause, I am very sorry now ; and if I had cause, I will try to
be sorry when I can think it over.'

I believe I smiled ; it was such a very odd way of being peni-
tent. She went on, ' I didn't come to you to talk about that so
much, but I would just ask the question at once —are you think-
ing of goin^ r with Roger wherever he goes?'

' I can't say.' was my reply ; * it is all uncertain.'

' But you must make up your mind before long ; and what will
you do till it is settled ?'

' I have not thought about it, Miss Milicent. I can't settle
things in such a hurry.'

' Then it is a pity you didn't live before the Deluge,' she re-
plied. 'Life isn't long enough for people who think so much
before they know which foot to put foremost. I have settled ill
my matters, and my mother's too, since breakfast.'

' They may be easier than mine,' I said, 'and you have no
one but yourself and Mrs Weir to consult.'

What a foolish speech it was ! It must have seemed as though
I alluded to Mr Weir's absence ; but I don't know how it is, I
often find that if there is anything I ought not to say, I am sure
to say it.

Miss Milicent stamped her foot upon the ground and bit her
lip, but the next moment she was looking me full in the face ;
and, speaking almost angrily, she said, ' If you haven't any other
place to stay at, Ursie Grant, there is a home for you at Dene
whilst we are here, which won't be many weeks ; and when we


go to Compton, which Mr Richardson and I think is best, you
can come too, and I think you may be some good to my mother,
if you will.' The last words escaped as though against her

' Thank you, Miss Milicent,' I replied. But I couldn't say more,
for I scarcely understood what she meant.

She twisted a large gold ring, which she wore on her middle
finger, round and round, as she always did when she was put out.
Neither of us said more for some seconds.

'"Thank you," means you won't stay,' said Miss Milicent at

' It means I must do whatever duty comes before me,' I re-

' Well ! but if it is a duty to help my mother ? It may be.'

'I would help Mrs Weir willingly, if I could,' I replied; 'but
she is not my first claim.'

'She is no claim at all/ exclaimed Miss Milicent; and her
face became crimson, and then all colour left it, and it grew,
not pale, but a kind of bluish yellow. She sat down upon the

'You aren't well, Miss Milicent,' I said, drawing near.

She motioned me from her, turned away her head, and almost
to my terror I heard, as she buried her face in her hands, some-
thing like a groan.

My thought was to go away. She was one who would never
forget having been seen to be weak and foolish. But I need not
have been afraid. She rose up again quite calm, and said, more
gently, ' It is not my mother's wish, nor mine, Ursie, to interfere
with any claims ; but there is much to be done, and a good
head wanted, and my mother has been used to trust to you ; and
it seemed that, just for a while, till you had another house over
your head, you might have been willing to stay on, and see how
things are going ; and so I said it ; — but if you have other claims,
don't think of it. We shall do ; we shall get on quite well.
Don't think of it;' and she waved her hand, as I was about to
speak, and moved towards the shrubbery gate.

How proud she was ! — but how proud I was, too! My con-
science gave me such a pang, I couldn't bear it. I caught hold
of her dress, and said, 'Stay, Miss Milicent; don't let us part
this way. I have claims, but not just now. I could stay, if it

were any good ; for Mrs Weir' and the thought of her sorrow

came over me, and my voice trembled.

ii 4 URSULA.

1 You would be cared for,' she said, not letting herself be
m »ved

' Yes ; Mrs Weir cares for everyone,' I sail.

'And you would have board, and lodging, and' ■

'It is all I want,' I exclaimed, hastily.

'And Fanny is to stay, to cook, and do the work; and you
would have Mrs Mason's rooms for the time,' continued Miss

'Yes, yes, indeed ; I know it would be all very comfortable'

'And you could go on with your work. Nobody would ask
anything of you — only if now and then you had a fancy to l<
in upon my mother ; — but we wouldn't interfere. We would
have you think of your own claims. And if we move to Compt> n,
there would be only a very small room ; it mightn't be comfort-
able. We had rather you should go just your own way.'

But as Miss Miliccnt spoke, I saw by her restless eye that her
whole heart was set upon the plan.

I felt it best to cut the matter short. I don't think I was
gracious ; though I wished to be. ' It's best to take one step at
a time in such matters, Miss Milicent,' I said. ' We won't settle
anything about Compton now. There is no knowing what may
happen. Roger may be off to a new home, and wish me to go
with him; so it would not do to make an engagement. But as
for staying, I will do my utmost for the time being to help set
matters right here, and work for Mrs Weir in any way she wishes
it; and food and lodging will be quite an equivalent.'

Her face changed. ' That is as you think, not as I think,' she
said; and she held out her hand to me.

I took hold of it. Her large, strong fingers held mine quite in
a ripe. We gave each other a hearty shake. ' You will do my
mother good, Ursic Grant,' she said.

'Then I shall do myself good, and make myself happy,' I said,
earnestly; 'for there is no one I would serve sooner than Mrs
Weir.' And so we parted.

I had settled upon the next step. I did not repent it, even
when I thought the matter over quietly by myself. After all,
there was a good deal of self-pleasing in that notion of mine,
that I could never be away from Roger. Whatever the end of it
all might be, he would manage very well without me for a time.
William would give him a home at Sandcombe, and Leah was
less likely to complain if she had only one of us quartered upon
her. And I had decided, without any arguing backwards and


forwards, and consulting my own wishes. I had determined to
do just the thing put before me as a duty, and not think of con-
sequences ; and I was beginning to learn — what I have since
been taught thoroughly by long experience — that when a person
is in a puzzle, being come to a point in life where many roads
meet, and there is no sign-post, there is no greater mistake than
to try and direct yourself by your reason. It won't help you at
all ; for ten to one but it is biassed by inclination. Neither are

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 11 of 56)