Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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them as she went on.

Up-stairs, Mrs Weir's bed-room was what I should have called
pretty and neat ; but she would doubtless see fifty things that
were wanted. It was a good size, which was the most important
point in my eyes, and had a cheerful look-out towards the south-
east, and a square window like the drawing-room. There was a
dressing-room to it, besides another good-sized room for Miss
Milicent, over the dining-room ; and a little room which I was to
have, and two attics.

I took off my bonnet and shawl, and then I went down-stairs
and called Polly to come and help me clear some of the rubbish
from the passage and the stairs. But it was growing dark, and
we had scarcely begun our task, when Dale came back from
Compton with the Doctor, who looked grave about Jenny, and
said she must be well looked after, and he would send her some
medicine, and come and see her again the first thing in the morn-
ing. I could not leave her without Polly after that, so I sent the
child to sit with her, and went on with my work by myself.

I was standing a minute to rest myself, and looking out of the
drawing-room window, trying to make out what was impossible
to see because of the darkness that was coming, when I fancied
I heard the front door bell ring. I listened, but not hearing it
again, I thought it must have been my mistake ; presently, how-
ever, I caught the sound of footsteps, and, going out into the pas-
sage, I saw two persons there, a little gentleman and a stout
lady, strangers.

' Is Mrs Weir at home ?' said the gentleman, in a meek voice.

1 You had better ask for my cousin, my dear,' said the lady.
' We want to see Miss Weir,' she added, not waiting for him to
answer. ' This is Mr Temple, and I am Mrs Temple, and we
are just come. You had better go at once and announce us ;
now, my dear/ and she walked past him to go forward to the
drawing-room. The gentleman followed.

' Mrs Weir is not here, ma'am,' I said, as soon as the oppor-
tunity for speaking was given me.

' Not here ! ' she stopped short ; ' very provoking ! You
should not have brought me, my dear,' she added, addressing her
husband. ' You should have come first to inquire. I told you
there was just the chance of not finding them. I am quite ex-

148 I RSVLA.

The lady threw herself down in the arm-chair, her flounoM
spreading out, so as to make her three times the size she
naturally. To judge by her brilliant complexion, high colour,
and clear sparkling eyes, she was not likely to be overcome
fatigue, but appearances arc deceitful. The gentleman, who had
been gifted by nature with a very meek countenance, which he
had vainly endeavoured to render fierce by the help of a sandy
moustache, stood by her submissively. She handed him a little
bag, which she carried in her hand, and he took out a scent-
bottle, and gave it her, though I don't believe he thought she was
going to faint any more than I did.

' I am very sorry there has been any mistake, sir,' I said, 'but
Mrs Weir is not expected till to-morrow. 1 am just come over
myself to put things in order for her.'

' We can have beds here, I suppose?' said the lady.

'I am afraid, ma'am,' I replied, a little surprised, I must con-
fess, at such a bold request, 'it could not be without Mrs Weir's

' I thought that being Mrs Weir's relations there might have
been some accommodation for us,' said the gentleman.

'And Mrs Weir would wish it, I am sure,' replied the lady;
1 in fact, we quite reckoned upon i!.' She spoke angrily, and was
evidently not at all inclined to faint now.

'I am very sorry,' I repHed, 'but I could not take it upon
myself, without Mrs Weir's permission ; and indeed there is no
room properly ready, except just where I am to sleep myself.
Mrs Weir had no notion you were coming, sir.'

' It was a sudden thought,' replied the gentleman, 'but'

'Young woman,' interrupted Mrs Temple, 'you will be s
for being uncivil to us ; your mistress will be much disple.i
when she hears of it. I am Mrs Weir's favourite niece. This
gentleman is come to transact most important business with her,
and he is not accustomed to disrespect ; he never puts up with
it. You had better at once go and prepare the rooms, and <;ct
us some tea, for we have had a very long journey. This is a
most out-of-lhe way place ; I wonder how any one can think of
living in it,' she add I ng to her husband.

' I am afraid I could not get tea to suit you, ma'am,' I replied.
' I don't know what there is in the house, and you will find
everything very comfortable at the hotel, if you will please to go
there to-night; and no doubt Mrs Weir and Miss Miliccnt will
make everything easy to-morrow.'


'My dear— what do you — what do you think?' said ^lr

' That I shall stay where I am,' she replied. ' The hotel is not
to be put up with ; it is too full. That room we were shown into
was a mere hole.'

'You will be much better off there than here, ma'am,' I
answered. ' There is no one to wait upon you here but my-

' And I suppose you know how to wait ?' she answered.

' Not very well, ma'am. I am not Mrs Weir's servant. I
only came over for a time to help arrange things for her, and
I have much to do to-night ; I don't think I could possibly
undertake it.'

'Extremely uncivil!' exclaimed the lady. 'I shall go up-
stairs and judge of the state of the house for myself.'

' If you please, ma'am,' I replied, but I did not offer to show
her the way ; I was quite confounded by her coolness.

' My dear,' — she beckoned to her husband to follow, and he
went after her quite tamely. I heard her stumble over a box at
the doorway, and hard work I knew they would have to make
their way up-stairs, such a number of things were lying about ;
but it was all so much the better for me, for it gave me time to
think, and whilst they were gone I sat down to consider what
was to come next. A very odd business, certainly, it was.

Mrs Temple's name I had heard often enough, but I had never
understood that there was much kindness between her and Mrs
Weir, at least since her marriage, when there had been dif-
ferences about money matters. What business she had to come
troubling for Mrs Weir just at this time was more than I could
guess. Of course I was unwilling to do anything disagreeable,
but as to their sleeping in the house that night it was out of
the question. Mrs Temple was so long away that it is my
belief she must have gone up to the attics, but down-stairs she
came at last.

' The room over this will do very well ; you can make up the
bed, and we shall not expect to have everything perfect. The
dressing-room will be large enough for Mr Temple when you
have moved out the boxes.'

' I could not well put you into Mrs Weir's room, ma'am,' I re-
plied, ' it is kept for her ; and the boxes, I fear, are too heavy to
be moved. I am sorry to be unaccommodating, but if you w ill
please to go to the hotel to-night, Mrs Weir will be here to make


her own arr nts to-morrow. I must ask you to excuse my

ng you now, as I have work to
When I had said this I walked out of the room, for I was not
going to discuss the point with her any furl

I heard them talking to each other, the lady's voice becoming
louder and louder, as she seemed to be trying to convince h r
husband of something against his will ; I did not go near thcin,
however, but went up to see Jenny and give her her medici
and then, as she seemed better, Polly and I set to work again by
candlelight to clear away the rubbish. At last, when more th
a quarter of an hour had gone by, Polly saw the: wn the

passage and out of the house door, and so we were rid of them.

I can't say I was comfortable ; I did not know how 1 could
have done differently, but I had been quite put out of my usual
way. Ever since I could remember, I had been tiught to ti
persons according to their station, and though I was proud and
wilful, yet I had a natural feeling of respect for persons better
born and educated than myself. Even when Miss Miliccnt pro-
voked me to speak out, as she sometimes did, it was more that
I caught something of her off-hand tone before I was aware of
it, than that I had the slightest intention uf being uncivil ; but
Mrs Temple made something rise up in my heart quite unlike
any other feeling. It was not for myself, I really think. She did
n t know who I was, and if I had tried to make her understand,
I don't suppose I should have succeeded. But, besides the in-
convenience of her request, she had claimed as a right what

:i asked as a favour, and this was what I
had never been accustomed to. Mrs Weir used to say to me
sometimes in former days, ' Never take a liberty with any per-
son, Ursula, and never let any one take a liberty with you ; and
a you will know how to behave in every position in which it
y please (loci t . 1 ci you.' I am sure she acted upon the
ice herself, for all the time I was with her she never for
that I had my own cl urns to respect and consideration, in spite
y inferi ion.

i asking questions about the visitors, and would
c run out into the road after them, to look at them, if I
would have allowed her ; but I stopped her directly, and told
her nothing. We worked on till nearly nine o'clock, and then
I thought it was time to send her to bed. Dale had had his
supper, and was gone up-stairs; so I had the kitchen to myself,
and I ctirred up the fire, which had been let down again very


low, and sat down, listening to the howling of the wind, and the
dash of the waves upon the shore ; and thinking how much I
should have to tell Roger when we met again. As a pleasant
end to the evening, there was no milk in the house, and no
butter, — so my hope of a warm, comforting tea, came to nothing ;
but I contented myself with some bread and cheese, and a glass
of beer, and after seeing that Jenny had everything she wanted,
I went to bed, and, being quite tired out, soon fell asleep.


■ Y new acquaintances did not intrude upon me the next
morning. I suppose they had had enough of me. Polly
said she saw them going down the cliffs to the sea ; but that
was all I heard of them, and nearly all I thought about them, for
there was business enough to take up every moment. Work as
hard as I, and Dale, and Polly, and Williams the carpenter, and
a girl from the village, could, it seemed as though the house
never would be straight by the time Mrs Weir arrived. I was
most anxious that it should be, for she was one of those persons
with whom first impressions are everything ; and if, on coming
to the Heath, she was to see the place untidy, I knew well
enough she might take a prejudice which nothing would over-

Jenny was still quite ill, though the doctor spoke less gravely
about her than he did the night before. But it was useless for
her to think of moving ; and I had all her work to attend to as
well as my own. Mrs Weir was to come to dinner, and a roast
chicken was to be provided for her. Dale, and Polly, and I,
dined off some cold mutton, without potatoes, and but little
leisure we had to eat that.

About four o'clock the fly drove up to the gate. Williams
had only time to gather up some of the carpentering tools, and
rush out of the drawing-room window, whilst Polly carried away
in her lap every scrap of litter she could see, befoi'e it was at the
front door. My heart beat quite fast. It came over me all at
once what a dreary thing the new home would be to Mrs Weir ;
and when the flyman let down the step, and I went forward to
give her my arm, I scarcely had courage to look in her face.


But I had no reason to be afraid. Mrs Weir was not B per-
son to give way in great trials. She rested her hand upon my
arm, but I did not feel it even tremble ; and, when she stood
up n the ground, the first words she said were, '(lod is \<
good, Ursula ; He gives us friends to receive us everywhere.' I
hoped Miss Milicent would have come with her into the drawing-
room, but she always left her mother to me when I was there, so
I took the poor lady in myself. The strangeness of € j thing
did then rather overcome her, and she sat down and cried a
little, but they were very quiet tears, — not at all like those of a
person who considered herself suffering from a great grief. She
brightened up after a few minutes, and began admiring the room,
and saying how comfortable it was. She was always gracious
and thoughtful when people had been working for her. And
then I thought of telling her a little about the time it had taken
to put everything in order, thinking by that means to distrait
her thoughts. It was all very awkward and odd ; I could not
tell what to do next, and I was wishing to be in half a dozen
places at once. But my work was soon settled, for in walked
Miss Milicent, and with her Mr and Mrs Temple.

I can't say how cross I felt. Just at the very moment Mrs
Weir wanted to rest and be alone ! And Miss Milicent not to
know better than to bring them straight into the drawing-room
without notice ! But it was exactly like her.

'Mother,' she said, and she went up to Mrs Weir, 'here is
Matilda Temple, and her husband, too. They have been wait-
ing to see you.'

.Mrs We ir looked up as though in a dream; she made no

Mr Temple held back, but his wife urged him on. 'I am
afraid we have called at an awkward moment,' he began.

' Only it was impossible to resist the temptation,' interrupted
Mrs Temple. ' Being in this part of the world, we felt you
would consider it so unkind, my dear aunt, if we passed the
house without coming in. And our time is so short, — only till
to-morrow, — and there is so much to see, — such lovely scenery;'
and then, putting her head a little to one side, and twisting her
mouth, she added, ' Besides, it is so sweet to meet the friends
one loves.'

I watched Mrs Weir's face all the time Mrs Temple was
speaking, expecting to see something of anger or annoyance in
it. But not the least ! As gently and sweetly as ever, shs


answered, ' I was not quite prepared to see you, Matilda ; but
Milicent and I will do our best to make you and Stephen

'We must make ourselves welcome first, mother,' said Miss
Milicent, bluntly. ' Cousin Matilda, I think you and Stephen
had better go now, and come again by and by.'

' It is a very short peep,' said Mrs Temple.

' Ursula ; ' Mrs Weir turned to me. ' I think I feel rather tired.

Matilda, you will excuse me. I am a little' Her voice

failed her, and she looked extremely pale.

' Faint,' said Mrs Temple ; she came forward to push me
aside, and support Mrs Weir's head.

But I kept my place.

' If you will excuse me, ma'am,' I said, ' I think Mrs Weir is
most used to me ; and, Miss Milicent, if you would be good
enough to pour out the sal volatile, and if Mrs Weir might be
left quite alone.'

I was obliged to speak plainly, and Mr Temple took the
hint, walked to the dcor, and looked back, expecting his wife to

' Yes, go, my dear,' she said, nodding her head at him, ' I
shall come presently ; she will be better : it is only fatigue-
nervousness. I dare say the pleasure of seeing us was a little
too much. I shall come presently. Don't wait for me, my

I made sureJVIiss Milicent would have burst out then. She
was not usually so cowed ; — but no — she went out of the room,
and sent Cotton in, and left her and Mrs Temple and me to-

No doubt it was fortunate for me that we were obliged to think
of Mrs Weir instead of ourselves, or Mrs Temple and I might
not have been such good friends. We had a difficult matter to
bring Mrs Weir round. It was full a quarter of an hour before
she recovered enough to speak, though I don't think she ever
quite lost her consciousness. Mrs Temple was sensible and
helpful enough in what she did, but the nonsense she talked
was not to be imagined. She seemed to think it was quite for-
tunate that she happened to be there, and declared several times
that she couldn't think how we should have managed without
her. ' But all things were so providentially ordered,' she said. I
don't believe it once entered her head that she had worried Mrs
Weir by thrusting herself upon her at a wrong time.

154 VLA.

At 1 t, wh ;. it v.. a q i ■■ a of taking Mrs Weir up-stait*, I
made n stand. Cotton and I knew very well what t > do ; and
Mrs Temple should not come, I was resolved. I whispered to
Mrs Weir to beg her to go ; and the poor lady, in a very I
voice, thanked her niece as though she had done the most Si
denying act possible, and hoj ed to be better, and sec her again
in the evening.

I did not think even then that we should have got rid < f her ;
hut she twisted her mouth, and said it was a delightfu
to be permitted to help a friend ; and then she kissed Mrs V,
and departed.

All that evening Mrs Weir kept her room. Mr and
Temple called again, but I urged Miss Milicent to send th'. m
down word that her mother was not well enough to see th
and so they were not admitted. And, as they were to go the
next day, I pleased myself with thinking we should be left to
arrange our own affairs without interruption, and that, if Mr
Temple had business to talk over, he would just spend an hour
with Mrs Weir in the morning, and there would be an end of it.
But little I knew of Mrs Temple.

Mrs Weir was better the next morning ; and a message came
over from the hotel to say that Mr Temple would like to sec her
if she was able. What passed I don't exactly know. It was not
a very long talk, and I don't expect it was one of much conse-
quence, except that Mr Temple was anxious to put in a claim
for some old debt, of a couple of hundred pounds, which, now
that the Dene estate was sold, he thought might as well be 1
off. A letter to the lawyer would have managed the business
just as well, as far as I could ever understand ; and, as to Mrs
Temple being a favoui > Milicent herself told me that her

cousin Matilda had been the torment of the family for the last
ten years, though her mother had always been willing to think
the best ( f '

Whilst .Mr Temple was with Miss Milicent, Mrs Temple in-
sisted upon going up-stairs to sit with Mrs Weir, and it was no
use for me to try and prevent it, as I had to be in the kitchen
looking after the cooking, Jenny being still too ill to move or do
anything but sit up for about an hour, and there being no one at
id to take her place. I wondered to myself at what time Mrs
Temple and her husband meant to go, and wished I could see a
fly drive up to take them away, for I had a misgiving that we
should have no peace till they were gone ; but just as I had Mrs


Weir's luncheon ready, raid was putting it on the tray to be
taken up-stairs, down came Cotton from Mrs Weir's room.

' Well ! Miss Grant/ she said (I was always called Miss Grant
by the servants because of its being more respectful), ' what are
we to do now ? I should like to know how the house is to hold
us all,'

' What is the matter ? ' I asked. ' Why won't the house hold
us all to-day, as well as it did yesterday?'

'We filled it yesterday,' she answered ; 'and when there are
two more to be put in, I won't undertake to say where they are
to be quartered.'

' Two more !' I said, and I felt very uncomfortable.

' Mr and Mrs Temple in the back room, and Miss Milicent in
the little room, and then what is to become of you, Miss Grant ?
I would make a stir about it, that I would. I would not submit
to be put up in the attic'

' They can't come,' I said ; 'it's nonsense.'

' They will come,' she answered, 'and it's no nonsense.'

I did not believe her — I could not ; it seemed so monstrous.
Mrs Weir being just come into the house, nothing arranged,
and she herself ill and in great grief, and having lost so much
of her fortune, I thought it impossible that any persons could
have the face to accept such an invitation even if it had been

As for sleeping in the attic, I did not choose to talk about that
with Cotton. If it had been a real benefit to any one, I would
have slept in the kitchen or the scullery. It was not that I cared
for, but the notion of having that dreadful woman entirely in the
house, never to be free from her ; for the moment I did think that
I must give up, and go off at once to Sandcombe.

'The luncheon will be cold if you don't take it up at once,'
I said to Cotton, trying not to show that I thought anything of
her news.

' Not so cold as somebody's welcome should be, if I had my
will,' she replied ; ' but you are very strange, Miss Grant. I
don't think you know a bit when you are put upon.'

Cotton was wrong ; I did know very well ; but when persons
serve for love, their shoulders can bear a tolerably heavy burden.

As we were speaking, Miss Milicent came out from the drawing-
room, looking feverish and hurried. She sent Cotton away, and
then said, ' Ursie, what have we got in the house ? W T e must
have dinner at six o'clock,'


' There are some cutlets and the remains of the chicken, which
I was going to fricassee,' I said ; 'I thought, with a bit of bacon

and a pudding, that would be enough, ?»lisii Milicent, for you and


•You had better get a leg of lamb, Ursie. Mr and Mrs
Temple are likely to be here.'

' To stay, ma'am ? ' 1 said, for I thought I would have it out
with her at once.

' That is as may be,' she answered, gruffly. ' They won't stay
for my asking, but my mother is so easily talked over. She has
no more power of saying " No" than a baby. And as for Mat.. .
Temple, she would come over a hyena.'

'Then I am sure, Miss Milicent, I am worse than a hyena,' I
said, and I could not help laughing, vexed though I was. ' She
would never come over me ; you will excuse my saying so.'

' Don't boast, Ursie ; you have never had to do with her. You
sec if she is not come to quarter herself upon us for a month, and
neither you nor I, nor any one will be able to say her nay.'

'But indeed, Miss Milicent,' I exclaimed, 'it ought not to
be. She will drive Mrs Weir out of her senses. It is my
belief that it was .seeing her helped to make the poor lady faint

' If she was dying, Matilda Temple would stick by her,'
exclaimed Miss Milicent; 'and talk good all the time, till she
thought herself a saint, and made my mother think so too.'

'And where arc Mr and Mrs Temple to sleep, ma'am?' I

' I shall take to the attic,' said Miss Milicent.

' Oh ! no indeed,' I exclaimed ; 'that must not be, Miss Mili-
c. nt. There is my room, quite ready. I will move my things in
a minute, and the attic is quite as good as I shall want.

'It won't be, Ursie Grant,' she replied, catching hold of my
arm, as was her habit ; 'my mother won't allow it, and, what is
more, if she would I would not. When you came to help us in
our troubles we promise d you a comfortable room, and we aren't
going to have it taken from you by any one.'

' Only if I give it up, it is not taken from me,' I said ; 'and,
indeed, Miss Milicent, it is not fitting ; I could not stay here,
with you sleeping in the attic, and me in the room below.'

She would make no reply, but went off, and I beard her tell
Fanny to come and help carry her boxes up-stairs.

It touched me, I confess. I did not believe she had so much


thought, biit it made me very uncomfortable ; for really, as I said,
it was unfitting, and I had a kind of fear that it would make

I took the opportunity of going up-stairs to Mrs Weir, under
pretence of carrying away the luncheon, and, fortunately, I found
her by herself. Cotton had persuaded her to get up and dress,
and she was sitting by the window.

' I was not prepared to see you there, ma'am/ I said ; ' I
fancied you wouldn't get up till the afternoon.'

' I feel better, thank you, Ursula, and lying in bed only weakens
me ; besides, I have had a visitor.'

' I was afraid Mrs Temple would have been too much for you,
ma'am. Seeing her did you harm yesterday.'

' No, Ursula, it only startled me a little. Mrs Temple is a
very good woman, and when she talks to me, she reminds me of
many things which I am too apt to forget.'

' Indeed, ma'am,' was all I could say.

1 She has been very well brought up,' continued Mrs Weir,
1 and she has done a great deal for her husband. He was very
extravagant as a young man, and she has quite cured him, and
now he gives all his money to charities. He owes her a great

' And no doubt she takes care to make him pay it,' was the
uncharitable thought which crossed my mind, but I answered

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 15 of 56)