Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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as I walked up the stone passage. I went straight to the little
parlour and knocked, thinking I should be sure to find Leah

1-6 URSUJ .1.

there. It was William who said ' Come in ;' and, when I went
in, I found them both together, looking as though something was
very much amiss.

Leah broke out directly, scarcely allowing time for William to
shake hands ; 'Here is a fuss, Ursie ; Jessie has been as good
as brought up by us, and now mother is going to take her quite
away. So that we are not to depend upon her any more. It is
too hard, after all the trouble I have had with her ; but mother
complains of feeling lonely.'

This was not surprising, for Mr Morris had died shortly before,
and Mrs Morris had left the farm, and was living in a comfort-
able little house in Hatton, whilst her son was trying farming
in a distant county.

' I thought we shouldn't be allowed to keep Jessie much longer,'
said William ; 'especially now Mrs Morris is ill.'

' It is only rheumatism ; she will be well enough before long,'
said Leah ; ' and, of course,' she added, seeing, I suspect, that I
looked a little ashamed of her cool way of talking ; ' I shouldn't
mind giving her up for a time, just till mother is well ; but I had
put off getting extra help, quite depending upon Jessie ; and
now there is hay-making scarcely over, and harvest coming on,
and ever so much to be done, and I have not a creature to look

My heart sunk ; I saw which way things were tending, and I
don't think I knew till then how I dreaded the notion of a home
at Sandcombe. I made no answer, and Leah went on with her

' The new girl wants a sharp eye upon her, and I can't be in
two places at once, and Jessie looked after the dairy, and took
the poultry quite off my hands, and was a very fair cook, thanks
to my teaching. It is too hard that she should be taken from
me at a moment's notice.'

' Another girl will only be another mouth to feed,' said William,
decidedly. ' We have too many about the place already ; Farmer
Kemp docs with one, and I don't see why we shouldn't.'

Leah bit her lip, and observed that she had not married to be

ide a slave, and have the Kemps thrown in her face always.
Mrs Kemp had Mary to help her, and she was worth fifty girls.

' Well, then, here is Ursie,' said William, trying to look very
good-natured and disinterested. ' She is coming to make a
home here, and I am sure she will be willing enough to work for
her board.'


A fair proposal it was ; but Roger would not have said it. I
answered, cautiously, ' You must not depend upon me, William ;
Mrs Weir wants me to stay with her.'

' Stay with Mrs Weir ; why, she has scarcely butter enough
for her own bread, much less for yours,' exclaimed Leah. ' You
are not going to be such a goose, Ursie, as to stay with her ! '

' I suppose I am not likely to get much more than butter here,'
I replied, laughing. ' You are not going to hire me as your ser-
vant ; neither you nor Mrs Weir are. In both places I should
be required to work for my board : and at Mrs Weir's I might
have time to make a little money over and above for myself, by

'And what is to hinder you from having time here ? ' replied

'Jessie had none,' I answered. ' If I am to work as hard as
Jessie, I shall not be better off.'

I could not help saying this, for I had always felt that it was a
shame for them to put so much upon Jessie, and not let her have
any help when they could very well afford it.

' She does not want to come,' said William, speaking to Leah,
in a vexed tone ; ' that is the long and the short of the matter.'

He was quite right ; but I ought not to have let it out. I was
wrong, as I always was when I did not like things or people.
No wonder that I was often called ungracious. I tried to correct
myself, and answered, ' Please don't say that, William ; the long
and the short of the matter, as you call it. is, that it is my duty to
do the best I can for myself during Roger's absence. I have a
fair supply of needlework now, and could get more, and that is
what I have to look to to keep me in clothes, unless I take from
the little I have laid by, which is against Roger's wish and my
own too. Wherever I go I must either be paid for my services
or have certain time to myself, and it would only be deceiving
you to pretend to come here and take Jessie's place, when I could
not take Jessie's duties.'

' Then what did you think of doing if you came here ?' asked
Leah, sharply.

I I had not thought much about it,' I replied. I could not say
more, for my voice was quite choked.

I think William perceived what I felt, for he said, in a tone of
excuse, 'Of course, Ursie, we should not talk of your working
for your board if we could help it, and if we didn't know it would
make you more comfortable. But we are sure you would never


bear to be a burden, and this has been a bad year, you see ; the
hay is poor, and little enough of it ; and turnips want rain ; and
our wheat is not looking half as well as that on the other side of
I love; and, whit with the repairs of the cottages, and the
lawyers expenses which have come from Roger's whim, I am
likely to find myself short at Christmas. I thought you and
,er would have understood this, and would have been willing
to lend a helping hand.'

' I am willing, quite willing,' I exclaimed, ' I wouldn't be
indebted' — I was going to be ungracious again, but something
brought the thought of Mrs Weir and her patient gentleness to
my mind, and I added quietly, ' If I do come to you, William, I
don't think you will ever find me unwilling to lend a helping
hand to the utmost. I should be bound to do it, just as I was
bound to help Roger. But it would be foolish to promise to
take a girl's place, or do the things Jessie did, because I should
require to have some time to myself in the afternoons. That is
all I meant to say.'

'And that would do very well, Leah, wouldn't it?' said
William, and he walked to the door, and waited with the handle
in his hand, impatient to be gone.

' If Ursie wasn't so uppish, she would have seen long ago that
it was all wc wanted,' said Leah. ' I don't understand myself
what all the fuss has been about.'

'Nor I neither,' said William, and he came back and kissed
me. ' You know, Ursie, if I was a rich man you should have a
home here as long as you liked just for the asking.'

'Thank you, William. When Roger and I arc in Canada,
whether we are rich or poor, you shall have a home without the

William went off quickly, trying to hum a tune, which, some-
how, I don't think came quite easily. Leah turned to me rather
sharply. ' What did you mean, Ursie, just now, by saying you
were going to st^.y with Mrs Weir, when she won't have a house
over her head ? Dene is to be sold, and the whole estate is
mortgaged up to its full value and over, and there is to be a sub-
scription raised for Mrs Weir amongst her friends, and Miss
Milicent is going out as a governess.'

I burst into a fit of laughter, which made Leah quite angry
' It is very well for you to laugh,' she said, ' but it's true. I had
it from the best authority ; of course they don't tell you every-
thing, why should they ? But you will find it so ; and as for


your notion ofliving with Mrs Weir, you might as well think of
living with the man in the moon.'

' I am not sure that I shan't think of living with him soon,' I
replied. ' There will be a chance of hearing less gossip and
more truth there than here. Jane Shaw, I suppose, told you
this nonsense.'

' And she is more likely to know than any one else,' answered
Leah, 'seeing she is to be mistress of Dene.'

I waited before answering, for, often lately as I had heard
Jane's prospects spoken of, I could not yet make up my mind to
take the notion patiently.

' The wedding is to come off the end of September,' continued
Leah, anxious to pour out all she knew. ' Captain Price's
sisters and an aunt are coming, and a good many gentlemen
friends, and Jane is thinking already about her dress, Jessie
says. I don't believe, though, for my part, that Dene will be
ready for them by that time. There will be a good deal to do
with papering, and painting, and furnishing, after the old lady
is gone. Jane says she is not going to be particular, and they
can wait for the new dining-room furniture till next year, but I
don't fancy they will when it comes to the point. By the
by, Ursie, you must be upon your best behaviour, and
remember to say Miss Shaw now. Jessie tells me Jane quite
expects it.'

I I am very willing,' I answered. ' She would never have
been Jane Shaw to me, if I had not known her from a child.
Is there anything I can do for you in Hatton, Leah ? I am
going on there to get a few things for the house.'

' Nothing ; unless — well, you might, perhaps, carry a parcel
over to Jessie. She left a gown here and a pair of shoes.'

One of the farm boys lived at Hatton, and might very well
have taken the parcel, but I was unwilling to appear unkind.
Besides, it saved Leah a penny ; for the child might have
expected something for his trouble. I knew she would not
forget that.

'And when are you coining, Ursie?' was Leah's gr.,cious
invitation at parting.

' I will let you know when I have settled about Mrs Weir, !
I replied. 'Good-bye,' and, burdened with my parcel, I

I made my way up the cart-road to the top of the down, and
then sat down to rest for a few minutes, and if I could, to think.



I was in a greater perplexity than before, for I felt as though I
had been drawn on farther than I intended. My only thought
in going over to Sandcombc was to find out whether William
and Leah really wished me to stay with them, and were likely
to be in any way hearty about it. In tliat case, and if they had
thrown themselves at all into my position, I could have tall.
over everything openly and easily. But this fashion of bar-
gaining, and making the most of me, threw me back upon
myself. It was no use to ask advice of people who were
only bent upon seeing things their own way, for their own
advantage. I could, indeed, write to Roger, but it might make
ill-will between him and William to explain what I felt, and
that would never do, especially just as he was going away
from England, perhaps never to come back again. If a dis-
agreeable thing is to be done, the fewer people there are con-
cerned in it the better. Moreover, at the bottom of my heart
lay a doubt as to what Roger would say. He would very
likely tell me that it was a safe home, and that I had better be
patient and bear up, and it would soon be over, and I should
join him in Canada.

But that would be his man's way of looking at the great end,
and not seeing the little steps by which it is to be reached ; and
1 never shut my eyes as he did to the possibility that the day
for me to join him in Canada might never come, and that the
step I was going to take now was one which must have an in-
fluence upon my future life.

I hated Sandcombc. I really don't think the word is too
strong. I did not hale William and Leah, but I hated all their
ways of looking at things.

When I was with them I felt, as it were, unable to breathe. I
had to think of every word I said, and check even the tone of
my voice, lest I should show the feelings which would rise up in

te of myself, and must, I knew, give offence. A room to
myself in a cottage would have been Paradise compared to a
home at Sandcombc And there was Mrs Weir in great
trouble, and wanting me ; and even Miss Miliccnt setting
her heart upon having me. There seemed no question which
would be the best. Let William and Leah, and even Roger,
say what they might, I would up my mind to remain with

Mrs Wi

If only I had not disliked Sandcombc quite so much ! It WAS
the one thing which made me pause.


As I sat upon the hill, meaning every minute to walk on, and
yet tempted to rest a little longer, I heard the soft sound of
horses' hoofs upon the turf. Two men were cantering across
the down, from the direction of Hatton gate. As they came
nearer I knew them to be Farmer Kemp and John Hervey.

They passed me at first without knowing me ; but, immedi-
ately afterwards, I heard John say, ' Why, there is Ursie Grant !'
and he turned his horse and rode up to me, and the farmer
trotted up after him.

' Here, all alone, lassie ! ' called out the farmer, as he drew in
his horse. ' I should never have expected to see you sitting
doing nothing, so early in the day.'

' Only resting,' I replied, and I stood up. ' I have been to
Sandcombe, and I am going on to Hatton.'

' And carrying a good-sized load with you,' said John, looking
at Jessie's parcel.

' Not a very heavy one,' I answered, and I smiled a little ; but
I suppose the smile was not a very hearty one, for the farmer
changed his tone directly, as he said, ' You are not doing well
for yourself, Ursie ; you had much better come down to Long-
side, and have a talk with my good woman ; it will do you more
good than thinking.'

' I have some things to buy at the grocer's, at Hatton,' I said,
' and here is Jessie Lee's parcel to be taken to her; I don't think
I can come to Longside to-day.'

' It wouldn't take me ten minutes to ride back with the parcel,'
said John, very good-naturedly; 'but I don't know so well about
the grocer. What is to be done there, Ursie ? My housekeeping
has been on a small scale hitherto, so I am not up to the needs
of a family.'

' Then it is time you should learn,' said the farmer, sharply,
but laughing as he spoke. ' Don't you think so, Ursie ? It is
not every man who has a wife he can trust to manage her own

' He is a foolish man who marries a wife he can't trust,' I

John laughed merrily, and said I had made a good answer, and
he quite agreed with me ; and if ever he married a woman who
couldn't go to the grocer's, he should think he deserved the fate
cf a fool.

' The fate of George Price, Esq., when he marries Miss Jane
Shaw,' said the farmer, twirling his whip in the air. ' If ever


there was a mail bent upon riding to ruin, full gallop, it s that
young jackanapes. There must be something in the air of Dene
that's catching. But come, Ursie, hand up your parcel to John,
.uid turn back with me. I can walk my horse, and you shall
tell me about Roger.'

It was a great temptation ; a kind word and a friendly thought
were so specially dear to me just then ; but I was in a difficulty
as to managing my purchases at the grocer's.

John Ilcrvey noticed my hesitation. 'Shopping and all,' he
said, ' I can manage it, Urhi .'

' I have known you long enough to be sure of that,' I replied.

' Don't trust him too far, though,' said the farmer. 'He is
well enough when there's no fun in the way, but let him get
a scent of the hounds— they are out to-day — and your parcel
would go to the winds, and the grocer's business after it. I
vow that mare understands ; she pricks up her ears at the very

' I would trust Mr Hervey, hounds or no hounds,' I said ; ' if
he undertook it he would do it.'

John's face, which was like a sunbeam generally, clouded over
f r a moment. I thought I had been too bold, and spoken as if
I was his equal ; which I was not, for he was a man when I was
a child, and I had always been taught to look up to him.

' I should not like to give you the trouble, though, Mr Hervey,'
I said. ' Mary Kemp and I might be able to walk over to Hat-
ton, late.'

The mare was becoming restive, and John jumped off
caught up the parcel from the ground. ' Now, Ursie, the iist ;
1 shall overtake you before you arc at Longside.'

I had the paper inside my glove, and I took it out and gave

it to him. He returned me such a squeeze of the hand. I cried

out, and we both laughed ; and he was mourr in, with the

parcel before him, and galloping towards Hatton Gate, before I

I time to put my glove on.

' A capital good fellow !' said the farmer, 'and a merry one,
too ! Now, lassie, step out, and my Dobbin shall step in, and
so we '11 keep together.'



FARMER KEMP and I had but little conversation upon
anything specially important to me, on our way to Long-
side. I told him what I knew about Roger's plans, but it was
little use to consult him about Mrs Weir and Leah. It was not
in his way to give advice upon such matters, and the very reason
he was taking me back with him to Longside was, that I might
talk things over with his wife and Mary. But in his honest,
kind-hearted way, he showed me true sympathy ; even when he
talked about his own concerns, such as draining, and horse-
hoeing, and drilling, he had always a word to say about Roger
and his prospects, and it cheered me to hear him speak of the
probability of his doing well as almost a certainty. Not that
Farmer Kemp knew much about Canada, or how people farmed
there ; but I was in such a maze and doubt about everything,
that I clung even to straws for comfort.

The farmer took me into the parlour at Longside, and sent
Mary to fetch a piece of cake and a glass of wine, ordering, at
the same time, a cup of ale for himself, with which he drank to
my good health and good fortune, and a husband by that time
twelvemonth ; and then he kissed me on both cheeks, saying,
' he didn't know why he wasn't to have an old man's privilege,'
and went away tramping down the passage, calling for his wife,
and singing the chorus of a harvest song.

Mrs Kemp came in soon afterwards. Mary offered to go
away, and I said nothing to prevent her, for I felt I might have
things to mention about others which might seem unkind, and
there was no need to have them poured into more ears than was

' Wall, Ursie ! so the farmer says you are come to have a
talk,' said Mrs Kemp ; and she went to the cupboard, and fetched
her work-box ; and, sitting down in the leathern arm-chair, began
to mend a pair of her husband's worsted stockings, ' Can I help
you, child ? I am willing, as you know.'

Something of a daughter's feeling towards a mother came over
me, as I drew my seat towards her chair, and rested my hand
upon the arm, and said, { Dear Mrs Kemp, if I knew what was
right to be done, I shouldn't care for anything.'

' Except doing it, I suppose, you mean,' she said.

' It would be easy enough to do, either way,' I replied. ' Roger

134 ri.A.

says it is not to be foi and the farmer tells mc it will all

come right with him and me in the end. But it is the :
time that is the difficulty, — whether to stay with Mrs Weir, or
to S.mdcombe;' and I told her .ill that had passed, and the
rs I had had about both places. She listened very kindly ;
but when I stopped she made no answer.

' Well ! ' I said, a little impatiently.

' You have it in your ! I "rsie, to stay with Mrs Weir.'

' How do you know that ?' I ask- .

' From your way of putt in s ; and I don't say but that

it is natural. Leah Grant's is not such a very tempting home,
setting aside that it is your brother's.'

' That makes it worse,' I said. ; ' if it was not my br
could put up with it ; but the aggravation of one's own relations
is past bearing.'

'Well ! it is hard, certainly; but it is God's will to give us

'And it is His will that they should act as such, I suppose,'
was my reply.

' Surely ; and I don't sec quite how William Grant and his wife
have failed. They will give you a home and be kind to you.'

'O Mrs Kemp! please — I don't think you understand at
all,' I exclaimed. ' If you had only been there and heard

' I should have snid they took things coolly,' said Mrs Kemp ;
' but I should not have thought they were wanting in duty.'

1 1 don't care for duty ; it is 1 ve I need.'

' Oh !' said Mrs Kemp, thoughtfully.

'Don't you know what I want?' I continued. 'If I am to
be left alone all this year, I must be with people who are fond
of me.'

' Oh ! ' again repeated Mrs Kemp.

I was vexed with her ; and I daresay showed it by my face,
for I would not speak.

don't be fretted, Ursie, dear,' continued Mrs Kemp,
kindly. ' You see I am not so quick at taking things in as some
people are ; and I must make out what you are aiming at before
I can lend you a helping hand. If you want to know where you
will be mo-.t cared for, that is one thing ; but if you want to find
out where it is right you should be, that is another.'

'Then yon are like Roger, and all the rest,' I exclaimed;
' you would have mc go and be a slave at Sandcombc, dancing


attendance upon Leah's whims, and not getting "Thank you"
for my pains ; and you would have me leave poor Airs Weir in
her trouble, and Miss Milicent not knowing in the least how to
manage for her. Poor lady ! she may die, for au ht I know, it
she is left to Miss Milicent's care.'

'Well ! but Ursie, child,' exclaimed Mrs Kemp, looking up in
surprise, 'she has had no one but Miss Milicent to look after
her these many years.'

' Oh ! but it was different then ; she was in less trouble, and
she had not been accustomed to depend upon me so much ; and
her husband was at home; and— it was quite different then — it
was indeed.'

'She was in less trouble,' said Mrs Kemp; 'that is true;
she must want more comfort just now. But, Ursie — then you
have a notion of living with her always.'

' I ! dear Mrs Kemp, how could such a thought enter your

' Only, my dear, you said she was becoming accustomed to
depend upon you ; and I fancied what it would be next year,
when you would probably have to leave her.'

' I must let next year take care of itself,' I replied ; ' she must
learn then to do without me.'

' Well ! yes, that may be the best way. But, perhaps, in that
case, she might learn to do without you now.' Seeing that I
made no reply, Mrs Kemp went on, taking my hand kindly, and
fixing her sweet, brown eyes on my face, as though begging me
to bear with her if she said things I disliked to hear. ' My dear,
I don't want to cross you. There is not much need to tell you
that ; but you have no mother, and I would fain be one to you.
You see, it strikes me that you have rather a twisty way of look-
ing at this matter, to suit your own wishes, which are natural
enough and right enough in their way. If you settle to stay
with Mrs Weir, because she can't do without you this year, you
will have just the same reason for staying with her next year ;
and a much stronger one, because you will have made yourself
more needful to her. But you would be unwilling, I suppose, to
remain then.'

' It would be out of the question,' I exclaimed ; ' I must go to

' And, anyhow — if Roger were to marry, and yet offer you a
home — you would go to him ? '

1 Yes, I must. I could never live away from Roger.'


' But there would he just the same claim, as far as Mrs Weir
is concerned,' said Mrs Kemp.

1 She is not my relation,' I observed.

1 No ; that is just what I was thinking. She is not a relation ;
she is a claim and a duty when you like it, but not when you
don't like it'

I felt the colour mount to my cheeks.

' Then you would never have one put friends before relations,
I exclaim id, 'let the friends be never so kind, and the relations
never so cross ?'

' I would try to take life as God has made it,' was the answer.

'And go to Sandcombe?' I continued.

' Perhaps not just yet. I think it is all very true that Mrs Weir
wants a little comfort now ; and I would stay and give it her if I
could, for a certain time ; may be a month or six weeks, or any
time you choose, till she is settled in her new home. But, Ursie,
if you will take my advice, you will be careful not to put your-
self too forward in some things. You arc not Mrs Weir's

'No,' I exclaimed, and I laughed. 'Fancy if she or Miss
Milicent were to hear you say that ; as if it could be possible.
Why the Weirs are as proud as princes.'

' Pride goes to the wall when folks arc in need of comfort,'
said Mrs Kemp. ' But, putting aside that, Lt is a thing I have
learned from a good many years' thought and trouble, that to take
other persons' duties from them is a course which never has
God's blessing upon it. People say — I don't ask you, for it is
wrong to pry — but people do say that Miss Milicent is not as
careful of her mother as she might be, and as she ought to
be. There can't be a worse sin in a quiet way than that, Ursie ;
and if you help her to continue in it, why you will share the

This was quite a new way of looking at the case, and it

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 13 of 56)