Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 14 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 14 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

touched my conscience; fori knew that lately Miss Milicent
had left off doing many things for her mother which at one time
she had been accustomed to attend to.

'And so you think I should do harm by staying,' I ex-

' It is just this,' continued Mrs Kemp ; ' I think the question
for us to consider is scarcely ever whether wc shall do harm or
good anywhere, — for I don't believe we can judge about it ; but
only to find out where God sends us, and then go.'


' Of course ! of course ! ' I exclaimed. ' Who ever wants any-
thing else?'

' I should have said,' replied Mrs Kemp, ' that most of us think
first where we wish to go, and then look to see if God hasn't
sent us, and that makes all the difference Mr Richardson
preached a sermon about Balaam last Sunday, and Farmer and
I, when we came home, both said we thought we had been
Balaams many times in our lives.'

' And I am like Balaam now, then,' I said, half-amused, yet
half angry. .,.

Mrs Kemp laughed a little too, as she answered, ' Well !
there is the relation — a very near one — a brother, willing to
have you, and wishing it ; and there is his wife left without
help and society, and likely to find you useful, and there is
Roger looking upon Sandcombe as your natural home, and
leaving you under William's care. It was not you who ordered
these things.'

' Nor I who ordered Mrs Weir's troubles,' I replied.

' No ; but God made you William Grant's sister, and Miss
Milicent Mrs Weir's daughter. That is as much as to say one
is to help one, and the other the other.'

j And I am to take Jessie's place, then,' I said. ' I shall not
do much for myself in that case.'

' O Ursie ! you were always a contrary child,' exclaimed
Mrs Kemp, in a vexed tone. ' Don't you see that a difficulty
about that would alter the whole case. William and Leah must
understand. If they won't give you time to work for yourself,
and Mrs Weir will, why that settles the question at once ; not
because of your liking or disliking, or thinking you will be
better or do more good in one place than in another ; but only
because God has so ordered it, that it is needful for you to do
something for yourself, that you mayn't be using up the little that
is put by for a rainy day, and so at last come to be a burden on
your friends.'

I knew that quite as well as Mrs Kemp : it was just what I had
said to Leah, but somehow it did not come home to me pleasantly.

I would so much rather have gone to Mrs Weir with the idea
of helping her than of doing what was good for myself.

I sat still for some seconds, and thought ; then I got up and
sa'.d, I was very much obliged for the advice, and I would think
about it.

' Ah ! Ursie, lassie ; you are not inclined to see the matter my


imed Mrs Kemp, 'and I am sure I would fain sec it
yours if I could ; but you will never help Mrs VVcir if you begin
by being a bone of contention with your own illations.'

' I will think about it ; I dare say you are right Dear Mrs
Kemp, I don't mean to be ungrateful, but I am very unhappy.'
1 could not help saying it, and the good woman laid hi I hand
upon mine in a fondling way, and said she was so sorry ; and
then we had a long talk about Sandcombe, and the ways ofgoi
on, and how I might help in mending matters if I went there ;
and before we parted I felt I might be just as useful there as
with Mrs Weir, and was heartily glad that the point was to be
settled by William and Leah, and not by me.

There was little doubt what the end would be now ; in fact, the
next day, a few words with William, who came over to Dene to
see me, decided it. I could do fairly well with him when I had
him alone, and he was kind enough in his way of putting things,
and told me that Leah was quite willing to agree to the plan of
my having time to myself after dinner, if I would only make my-
self useful in the morning, and look to the dairy and poultry, and
see a little to the cooking. I had a misgiving that I should be
put upon still, and I asked how Leah was going to manage about
the other things which Jessie had been accustomed to attend to ;
but I found that they had settled to have help from a girl who
was to come every now and then, when she was wanted ; and, as
William said, Jessie was not always with them, and so, if I was
there, Leah would not be really worse off than before.

He looked quite pleased when everything was arranged, and
talked so much about Sandcombe being my home, and how he
had always wanted me to come, that before he went away I
really did begin to think he had been very good-natured and
brotherly about it, and I am quite sure he thought so himself.
But when he was gone — oh dear ! Happily I had not much time
for thought, except to be thankful that, at any rate, I had not
pleased myself.


MRS WEIR'S new house was not exactly in Compton ; it
might have been pleasanter for her if it had been. She
would have been nearer the church and the parsonage. I don't


know that I could describe the situation well to any one un-
acquainted with the neighbourhood, and who did not know the
kind of country that lay on the other side of St Anne's Hill,
between it and the sea. But supposing a person was standing
on the top of St Anne's facing the sea, and then was to go
down the hill on that side, he would come to the top of a steep,
jagged cliff, broken into uneven ledges, bare and sharp, except
where here and there some green plant had taken root in the
crevices, and managed to grow in spite of the fury of the south-
west winds, which, in these parts, are the fiercest winds that

Before coming to the top of the cliffs, it seems that there is
nothing between them and the sea, but on reaching the edge
there is a sight which makes a stranger start. For below lies,
not the sea, but a broad tract of land, tossed up and clown in
little hills and valleys. It is scattered all over with huge rocks,
which look as though giants had thrown them about in their
play, and it slopes down in a steep descent towards the top of a
second range of cliffs. Tins range cannot, of course, be dis-
covered immediately underneath the upper cliffs, but it can be
traced towards the west for many miles, forming the outline of
Compton Bay. A dreary-looking country it is, but it has a
charm even for that very reason. As a child I only saw it
occasionally, and always thought of it as connected with haunts
of smugglers, and wild storms ; roaring waves, and shipwrecks,
and heavy sea mists, gathering over the hills and shutting out
the light, which was the only hope of the seamen's safety. It
must have been a fierce time on earth when the land sank away
from the upper cliffs, and the great rocks were hurled down, and
the streams, which have now worked their way through the
lower cliffs, and formed deep chasms, first began to flow. But
those days are not within the memory of man that I ever heard.
Yet even now it is solemn to stand and think of what once has
been. When I first remember that part of the country it was,
so to say, unknown and untraversed. There was no road
through it. Persons wishing to go from Hatton to Compton
had to go up Hatton Lane, and over the hill ; only foot-pas-
sengers went over the cliffs, and with them it was a difficult
task to find their way, especially on a dark night. They might
stumble among the rocks, or wander to the edge of the cliffs,
and be over before they were aware of it. Some people, at that
time, thought it an unsafe country to live in, and said that the

1 4 o URSULA.

rocks would fall again ; but there was little enough really to, though certainly things did seem terrible to those who were
unaccustomed to them.

Perhaps the country looks all the more wild from the contrast
with that which immediately adjoins it. For, to the cast of St
/.imc's Hill, just beyond Hatton, the land turns towards the

ith, and the warm sun shines full upon it. The ground is
tossed about still in every direction, and huge rocks lie scattered
upon it. But thorns, and chestnuts, and ash trees have spr>;
up amongst them upon the greensward : ivy has climbed up the
leilgcs of the jagged cliffs ; primroses cluster upon the banks;
cowslips glitter on the turf; and masses of hyacinths may be
seen in glades, half hidden by the foliage of the thick trees, and
through which the jutting masses of gray rock peep out upon
the open sea, sparkling with silver and blue, some hundreds of
feet beneath them.

A lovely scene it is. There is a verse of a very different
country, which often comes to my mind when I think of it. ' It
is a land which the Lord thy God careth for. The eyes of the
Lord thy God are always upon it, from the beginning of the
year even unto the end of the year. Sometimes it has even
seemed to me that heaven itself can scarcely be more beautiful.
But that is, doubtless, the thought of my ignorance, and the love
which I bear to all things connected with the memories of my

But I must go back to Compton and Mrs Weir. I have said
that in former days there was no direct road from Hatton to
Compton ; a few years, however, before the time of which I am
writing, it had been determined to make- one under the upper
cliff, at a great expense, and, as some persons thought, uselessly.
That, however, was soon to be proved to be a mistake. Some
speculating people bought up part of the land, and buiit an
hotel and lodging-houses upon it, and Compton Heath, as the
place was called, was likely to become, in time, an inhabited part
cf the world. It signified little enough to Mrs Weir where she
went, for she was not likely to move out of the house often, when
once she was settled in it ; yet I could not help wishing that she
bad something more quiet and homedike to look out upon than
that broad sea, without a ship to be seen upon it, and the bare
rocks upon the Heath. There was, indeed, a beautiful view of
the white cliffs in the distance ; but everything immediately
about the place, though grand, was desolate — except, indeed,


the garden ; but even that was new, and not likely to be kept in
very good order by the old man who was in charge of it. He
and his wife had the care of the place before Mrs Weir took it,
and they were to live there still, and the woman was to do the
cooking, and the man the gardening. Miss Milicent and I went
many times backwards and forwards over the hill, from Dene
to the Heath, before we had made the place at all what we
thought Mrs Weir would think comfortable. Mrs Richardson
helped us as well as she could ; but she was busy in the
parish with the poor people, and at home with her children, and
had but little time to spare ; and, indeed, it would have been
unfair to expect her to do much. I found the neighbours very
kind; the people at the hotel lent us a helping hand, and the
lieutenant, at the Preventive Station, and his wife took an interest
in our goings on. I don't know how Miss Milicent became ac-
quainted with them, but somehow she managed to know every
one ; and I was rather glad to think that when she and her
mother were settled in that out-of-the-way place, they would have
a man friend near to apply to in a difficulty.

I had never yet told Mrs Weir exactly what my plans were,
but I had given her to understand that I could not live with her
for a continuance, and she took the notion more quietly than I
had expected. As she said, she never looked forward, and I was
with her for the time, and that was enough. But Miss Milicent
was different. I had a struggle with her especially, the day be-
fore all was arranged for the move. I was to go over to the
Heath in the afternoon, and she and her mother were to follow
the next morning. First of all, I had thought that it would be
better to stay and help the poor lady to the last at Dene ; but
Mrs Kemp's hint was remembered, though I did not like it
when it was given. Cotton, the lady's maid, was going to stay,
so that Mrs Weir would have all the help in the way of dress-
ing and nursing that she usually had ; and no doubt it was
Miss Milicent's duty to look after her mother herself. She
managed it in a certain way before I was even known to them,
and so she ought to be able to manage it still. I said as much
as this to her, only I hope civilly, when she suggested that it
would be better for her to go and sleep at the Parsonage that
night, and walk up to the Heath early the next morning, and
get everything ready by the time her mother and I came in the

' Mrs Weir is used to you in moving from home, Miss Mili-


rent,' I said, 'and she is not used to me ; may be she wo
rather have yon.'

' Now, Ursie Grant, you know that is not true,' she answered ;
'whatever I am good lor, it is not nursing, and I don't want
put myself forward in it.'

'This is not quite nursing,' I replied; 'and anyhow, Mi s
Milicent, as Mrs Weir has nobody but you to look to for the
future, it won't do to be out of the habit of helping her.'

' I am so busy,' she said ; ' I told .Mr Terry (that was the pre-
ventive lieutenant), that I should be over at the Heath the t.
thing to-morrow morning, and bring Williams, the carpenter, w ith
me ; and then we would see about putting up some shelves, and
unpacking the books.'

' I can take a message to Mr Perry, if it is needful,' I s
'and I thought of sleeping in the house, and so I should be
there to sec about gelling coffee when Mrs Weir arrived. I
think I could show Jenny Dale how she likes it.'

'That old Jenny won't be able to make coffee or anything else
to suit my mother's whimsies,' exclaimcel Miss Milicent ; 'she is
as particular as a queen, as you know well enough, Ursie.'

'I could try and teach Jenny,' I said ; 'and if not, Miss Mili-
cent, you will be there the next day, and then I might show you.'

' And why can't you do it yourself, Ursie ? you are not used
to be so cross-grained.' And Miss Milicent turned round upon
me sharply, with a look as of twenty eyes put into one.

' If it was so ordered that I could wait upon Mrs Weir always,
it would be different,' I replied, 'but as I must needs leave her
before very long, Miss Milicent, it would be better and kim
surely to put some one else in the way oi ; and if

Jenny Dale can't make the coffee, and you don't like to learn
yourself, Cotton might try.'

' I tell you what, Ursie !' exclaimed Miss Milicent, angrily, ' I
don't take it kind of you to make all this fuss about going away
j al the very time we have mo: f you ; it is not what I

should have expected of you, having known you so many years,
and always been friends up to this time. It is very hard, very
hi rd, indeed.'

'It is not my wish, Miss Milicent,' I replied, trying to speak
gently, though I must confess her tone irritated me ; 'but I have

ken the advice of friends. One thing I can promise, if you will
allow it, — not to leave Mrs Weir till she is really settled com-
fortably at the Heath, and able to go on by herself.'


'And that will be never,' exclaimed Miss Milicent. 'Don't
you see that my mother is getting more full of whims and ner-
vousness every day ? And what am I to do with her ? She
never did attend to me.'

' Perhaps because you never fell into her ways,' I ventured to

' You speak ignorantly, Ursie Grant,' replied Miss Milicent,
more quietly. ' You have never known my mother as I have.
Her ways, as you call them, have been for years ways which no
one with a grain of sense could fall into, and they would have
been twenty times worse but for me. Other people' — Miss
Milicent stopped, I don't think she liked to mention her father's
name — ' other people scolded her one minute and humoured her
the next ; that did no good.'

' It might have been better,' I said, ' to humour her in the
things that were rational, and try to persuade her out of those
which were not.'

She waited before answering, and the colour rose in her cheeks ;
then she said, 'You are right there, Ursie. But persons who
humour and persuade must be made of different stuff from me.
I can't, and that is the truth, and so I must e'en go my way, and
my mother must go hers ; and things must be managed as they
can : though how that is to be when you leave us is more than I
can say.'

I felt for her. There was something about her which always
touched me, when she changed from that sharp, headstrong
manner to be in any way true and humble. It was a glimpse of
a beautiful, better nature, lying, as it were, at the bottom of a
deep sea tossed with tempests. And I knew, too, that she must
have had a great deal to bear all her life long. Persons out of
the family could put up with Mrs Weir's oddities easily enough,
but it was not so with those whose daily life was troubled by
them. The whims of friends are an amusement : those of rela-
tions are trials. Only one thing I saw then, that Miss Milicent
deceived herself by saying 'can't' and 'must.' I believe there
are not two more treacherous words in the English language.
I did not say I would stay, though it was a strong temptation ;
but I repeated again that I was very sorry for her, and that I
would take care not to leave her till Mrs Weir was comfortable.
I added, though, that she must please let me go over to the Heath,
for the work to be done there was much more fitting for me than
for her.

1 44 UR. ULA.

She gave in, I do believe, because she was taken by suiprisc
to find a will stronger than her own ; and about six o'clock that
evening I took my bundle under my arm, and Left Dene never
again to return to it as my home.


HP I IE clouds were gathering and the wind was rising as I
J- crossed the down at the foot of St Anne's Hill. I thought
we should have a stormy night, indeed I was very certain of it,
for there was the noise of a ground-swell telling me so more
plainly than words. I walked on quickly, not exactly disliking
the work before me, though feeling how strange it all was. I
should have been miserable if I had gene direct from Dene to
Sandcombc, but this go-between life softened matters, and
there was something in the notion of being left to settle and
decide things for myself and for others too, and in a certain
fashion make my own way in the world, which gave me energy
As for Dene, the spirit of the place had departed when Roger left
it. I loved the old familiar scenes dearly — it would be hard to
say how dearly — but after he was gone I looked on them as upon
the face of a friend who is dead. I knew I had better leave
them, and remember them only as they were in the days of my
peaceful happiness ; and I thanked God from my heart for the
blessings He had granted me whilst living amongst them.

I made my way down a rough bank at the foot of the down,
and then along a field into the high road, and so up to Heath Cot-
tage — that was the name of Mrs Weir's new house. I mention
the path I took, because it gives me an opportunity of saying
what I did not before, that the high, broken, upper cliffs ended
just above the cottage ; they seemed to break off by degrees and
lose themselves in the slope of the down, so that the way I came
was easy enough for a young person, though the descent from
the down was very steep.

I thought, as I entered the garden, that the place was not half
so trim as the grounds at Dene. The little bit of road and the
sweep were full of rough stones, and the grass on the banks
wanted mowing. I determined that should be done the first
thing in the morning. ?.lrs Weir's neat eye would never bear

Ursula. 145

the look of the place as it was, though Miss Milicent would have
lived there for years and never have thought about it. I saw no
one at work about the garden, and when I went up to the house,
and rang; the bell, I waited a most provokingly long time for an
answer. At length a little girl appeared, Jenny Dale's grand-
child, who I knew was often with her. She stared at me with a
pair of very blue eyes, and opened her mouth, but said nothing.

'Well, Polly! how d'ye do?' I said. 'Where's Granny.
Can't I come in ? '

' Granny's bad,' was the answer.

'Bad! I'm sorry for that. I must go and speak to her.
Where is she ? '

' She 's a-bed.'

' So ill as that ? How long has she been there ?'

'Yesterday and t'other day.'

' But I saw her the day before yesterday,' I said ; ' she didn't
seem ill then. Has the doctor been here ?'

' I don't know, she's a-bed :' was the only reply I could obtain ;
so I asked no more questions, but went in.

Jenny Dale was neat in her way, and her kitchen was com-
fortably enough generally — but Polly, being left to play there,
had made it very untidy. The fire was burning low, and the
tea-kettle had been taken off it, and was standing within the
fender. A little deal table, with some crusts of bread soaked in
spilt tea, and some cups waiting to be washed, were the signs
that Dale and his grandchild had been having their meal to-
gether ; but grandfather, I was told, was gone out, and Polly
didn't know where he was gone, or when he meant to return, —
in fact, she didn't know anything except that Granny was a-bed.

'And where is Granny sleeping ?' I asked.

' Up yon !' and Polly pointed to a corner of the kitchen, where
I saw nothing but the dish-covers upon the dresser.

There was a little room over one of the out-houses, as I knew,
so I guessed what was meant ; and putting some coals on the
fire, I told Polly to wash up the tea-things, and make the place
tidy ; and up-stairs I went.

I heard a low groaning before I reached the top of the steep
little staircase, and when I entered the bed room, I had no need
to be told that ' Granny was very bad.' She was lying on a
mattress on the floor, turning and rolling from side to side,
with an attack of feverish cold and rheumatism. The wind,
which was beginning to howl every minute louder and louder,


1 1 r LA.

pou n in gusts from the liltlc fire-pla< e, close at the head

of the bed, so that she had the full benefit of it. The room Itself
was dr. i nough for a person in health ; there was but one

window, but that shook as if all the pane had been fastened to-

ther by pack-thread ; and the door would not shut close ; and
all daylong, and all night too— as I found afterwards — there w
the moan of the wind through that and the window, even on a
quiet day, — so any one may guess what it was likely to be
on a stormy one. there are many worse places in

which people sleep comfortably enough ; but I confess it i
provoke me that no one should have had the sense to move the

1 a few inches to the left, where it might have been out of the
way of the draught ; and this was the first thing I tried to i
But Jenny was in no condition to bear being disturbed even for

own comfort. She was very bad, she siid ; she didn't kn
but what she was a-going to die. Daddy (as she called her
husband) was gone for the doctor, and she hadn't no one but
the little maid to wait upon her ;— but for all I could say, she
would not have anything, or do anything, or allow anything to
1 - done for her. She would lie there with wind enough to turn
a mill rushing upon her down the chimney. When I tried to |
the mattress along myself, she cried out as though I were going
to cut off one of her legs ; so at last I had nothing to do but to
insist upon pinning a shawl across the fire-place to shut out the
draught, and leave her till the doctor came.

A comfortable beginning, and a pleasant prospect for Mrs Wc ir
the next day ! But there was all the more reason for exertion ;

d as soon as I had made up the kitchen fire, and put the lea-

tle on, that I might have a little tea instead of supper, for I
knew it would be more comforting. I went over the house to
what kind of state things were in. The drawing-room was habit-

,• enough. It was a pretty little room with a deep, square v.
dow, commanding a lovely view of the bay and the whole cl
In shape it was not so '. he drawing-room at Dene; and

furniture :d properly, I thought Mrs Weir

[ht rather take to it. Uut the dining-room was dark, ; i
1 with boxes and rubbish ; and in the passages, and up the
stairs, litter of all kinds was lying about, — just the kind of li'

ch it was impossible to know what to do with. I hope I was
net hard upon Miss Milicent, but I i I not help thinking that
it was because the last two or three tim furniture and

books had been sent over from Den^, Miss Milicent had under-


taken to see the boxes unpacked at the cottage, and had taken
things out and thrown them down anywhere, instead of arranging

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 14 of 56)