Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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by asking if Mrs Temple was likely to remain long in the neigh-

' I have persuaded her to stay for three or four days, Ursula.
She has never seen this part cf the country, and she wishes to
do so very much, but she cannot be at the hotel. She cannot
bear it ; it is noisy, and she is not strong.'

' Persons who travel can scarcely expect to meet with the same
quietness they have at home,' I replied ; ' but I never heard any
complaint of the hotel, ma'am.'

' Mrs Temple docs not complain. She says, very rightly, that
the worst accommodation is better than creatures like ourselves
deserve. Indeed, she made me ashamed of being so particular
myself. I hope you will forgive me, Ursula, if I have ever given
you trouble by it. I have been very much spoiled.'

I saw a tear glisten in the poor lady's eye, and I ventured to
take her hand, and say, ' Dear ma'am, if you will please not talk
so, twenty times the trouble would be nothing in return for the
goodness and kindness you have shown to me for years.'

158 I ■■ ULA.

'Ah ! but, Ursula, it is not right to let the mind rest upon
these trifles. Mrs Temple is not fanciful as I am. When 1 told
h r that I was afraid the bed in Milicent's room might be hard,
she assured nic she could s!lc;> upon the ground if needful.'

rhaps Mr Temple m ty be more fidgety, ma'am,' I ob-
served ; for I could not help noticing bow entirely the good
itleman was put aside, even by Mrs Weir.

' Ah ! Ursula, Mrs Temple has done so much for her husband
in that respect, as well as in many others. She says that lie i a
nged man since she first knew him. He has no wish for fine
carpets and curtains, and soft beds, and sofas. He desires no-
thing but quietness. That is an excellent influence for a wife to

Mrs Weir sighed, and I knew that she was in her heart re-
proaching herself for having encouraged her husband in extra*
\ ance by her own fancifulness.

' They will find the room small, ma'am,' I said ; 'and I don't
quite know what to do about the dressing-room. Fanny and I
had thought of filling it with the things we couldn't put else-

A harassed look came over Mrs Weir's face ; it always did
when there was the least fuss about arrangements. Her brow
contracted, and there was a heavy darkness across her eyes. 1
it would not do to make more objections.

'You can fill my room, Ursula, if you like. I am not going
to be so particular as I have been. What docs it signify ? I
shall soon be out of this world.'

' l!ut those who love you, dear ma'am,' I said, 'will take care
that you shall be comfortable whilst you are in it. Please don't
trouble yourself ; we shall manage, I dare say ; and it won't be
for long, I suppose.'

' Only for two day?, Ursula. Mrs Temple is obliged to be at
home. She is making preparations for a charity bazaar ; so she
cannot stay. I have promised to look over my things, and see
what I can spare for her. I was just thinking, when you came
up, that you might, if you would, be kind enough to unpack one
of my boxes, and help me to choose.'

I am afraid I felt very unwilling ; but as I did not venture
actually to say ' No,' I replied that, if I might be allowed, I
would rather wait just now, for I had to go to see about dinner.

'Thank you, by and by will do very well ; or, perhaps, Cotton
will bring the box.'


Already in my mind I saw Mrs Temple fingering all the pretty
little toys and ornaments in which Mrs Weir found pleasure, and
my heart swelled, so that I really could not answer. But there
was no escape. Mrs Weir's mind, I could see, was possessed
with the notion of giving up something she cared for. What
that tiresome woman had been saying to her, I was unable to


1 ISS MILICENT took possession of the attic, in spite of
1 ' J- all I could say, and Mr and Mrs Temple were put into
her room ; and, as it seemed, were likely long to remain there.
As for going away in two days, I was sure from the beginning
what that would come to. If ever there was a woman who
might be called a burr, it was Mrs Temple. Once let her come
near you, and, as Miss Milicent said, she would stick to you
through everything. You might cast her off one minute, and
think you were rid of her, and the next you were sure to find her
clinging to you again. When the two days were over, she de-
clared herself to be wonderfully better for the sea air, and Mrs
Weir was very pleased, really so, I do believe ; she was pleased
at anything which did good. Mrs Temple was pressed to stay.
I remembered the charity bazaar ; but if there were really going
to be one, there was certainly no hurry in preparing for it. Not
but what it was still talked about. Mrs Temple was always
collecting sea-weeds out of doors, or cutting up bits of card-
board in doors, liking, she said, to employ her time usefully ;
and I take it for granted it was all useful, for even Miss Milicent
was drawn in by her, and made to search for stones and speci-
mens, as Mrs Temple called them, all which were to go to the
charity bazaar.

In a week the house had settled down as though Mrs Temple
had lived there, and meant to live there, always. But it was just
the contrary with me ; having her there opened my eyes to one
thing — that I was not so necessary to Mrs Weir as I imagined.
It was not a pleasant discovery, but it made me see how selfish
I might be, even in what appeared to be my best feelings. What
Mrs Weir Avanted was a little sympathy and amusement ; and
when she could obtain this, her life was tolerably comfortable ;


sh wa ■ like a child, accustomed to live just for ihc day, and
to trust evi rything to others. The very weight of the cans and
griefs which had burdened her for so many years, I belie 1

ced her to this. Her husband liar! made her helpless, and
kept her so; and now nothing roused h r ex< pt some great
call of what she considered duty, such as that whi< h had made
h r dwell so much upon the thought of rejoining Mr Weir. If
it notion were to come up again, I knew she w irLc us

all by her energy ; but now she was sinking down into a kind
of life which sometimes made me think of the beautiful sea ane«
moncs found upon the shore— half vegetable and half animal
— moving their long feelers, and searching, as it were, for some-
thing, they scarcely knew what ; yet contented to remain in one
peace, and appearing to find a kind of solace in spreading th
selves out in the sun, and taking thankfully the light and air
which God, in His wonderful Wisdom, h id provided for them.

It is happy for us, I am sure, that we d the same

comfort. 1 should never have found mine where Mrs Weir did,
in Mrs Temple's soci ty ; but in s tying this, i don't in the least
mean that I was, therefore, in any way better or wiser than Mrs
Weir — quite the contrary. It wis the very goodness and sim-
plicity which I never could attain to that made her take for
reality what always seemed to me mere outside show. Mrs
Temple showed herself to me the first night I ever saw her ; she
was oil her guard then, and the impression I had of her remained
by me. Perhaps, but for that, I too might have been deluded by
her. But I don't know ; there is something in true kindness and
goodness, which I fancy can never be counterfeited. All the fine
talking and appearance of sympathy, which Mrs Weir had such
faith in, sounded to me hollow from the beginning ; and I could
not but see by Mrs Temple's words and ways that she had one
great besetting sin, which, as far as I could discover, she w. s
totally blind to. She was a thoroughly mean woman about
money matters. She had not been well, and she wanted change
and sea air ; that was the history of her visit to Compton Heath ;
and as days went on, I saw that she had made up her mind from
the beginning to come and quarter herself upon Mrs Weir, not

one or two nights, but for a month, or six weeks, or any
time that might suit her. But she would not have said it for
the world. No, all the time it was, that she was so anxious to
go, only her aunt pressed her to stay, and seemed to enjoy a
little sympathy and affectionate companionship so much, that


fifially, in her distressed state, — a state worse than widowhood,
— she could not make up her mind to leave her.

It was all quite true about Mrs Weir ; she did like it, at least
in a certain way, and for a time. To me, it was just like having
a wet blanket thrown over me to hear Mrs Temple converse,
especially when she touched upon serious subjects. I never
knew what to say, or which way to look ; and though I could
have listened to Mrs Weir for hours, when she talked to me in
her earnest, simple way, I never heard one of Mrs Temple's set
speeches without feeling as though I wished a trap-door could
open in the floor, and I might sink down and hide myself. But
dear, good Mrs Weir took it all in like a sermon. She was so
sincere herself that she could not suspect others of make-believe ;
and constant sorrow, and thinking of serious matters, and living
in that strange, dreamy way, out of the world, made her prepared
at all times for subjects which came to other people with a shock
and a jar.

Miss Milicent and I had a little conversation upon this sub-
ject one day. It was after we had been at the Heath about three
weeks, and I had received a letter from Roger, saying he had
finished his business in London, and was coming down the next
week to Sandcombe, and asking if I could go over and see him,
if it was only for a few days. As things were, it struck me, that
I might just as well make my move once for all. There might
never be a better moment ; and that afternoon, when Miss Mili-
cent came into the kitchen to give some orders, I determined to
propose it to her. I was standing there, showing Cotton how to
make Mrs Weir's coffee, — for Jenny Dale, though she was pretty
well again, and able to cook, had never managed to make coffee
to please Mrs Weir.

'I should like to speak to you, if you please, Miss Milicent,'
I said, 'if you are not busy.'

' Yes, I am busy ; I always am,' she answered, and true enough
it did appear that she ought to be busy, even if she was not, for
it would have taken full ten minutes, rightly, to put herself tidy.
She had been down upon the shore, getting sea-weeds, and crabs,
and crawling things, to be placed in a glass, for Mrs Temple ; I
suppose for the charity bazaar. Such a mass of mud on her
short tucked-up dress, and such boots ! and the pockets of her
loose jacket stuck full of stones and shells, and her bonnet all
awry ; if I had not seen her nearly the same every day, for the
last fortnight, I don't think I could have kept from a smile.



But I tried to be very respectful, knowing my temptation the
! I said, ' I wouldn't trouble you if you are really
busy, Miss Milicent, but I have had a letter this morning, and I
thought I should Like to talk to you about it.'

' A Letter, have you ? Oh ! '

Miss Milieent's look grew softer. She took a real interest in
;er, and must have guessed the letter was from him ; but she
still went her own v.

' I want some brown pans, Jenny,' she said, ' fiat pans ; and
where is the sc.i-water Dale brought up from the shore? 1 [i
arc beautiful things to be cared for,' and she uncovered a bat!.
and showed a mass of slimy-looking coloured jelly, lying upon
stones and sea-weeds, with tiny crabs and periwinkles, and all
kinds of uncouth creatures, crawling about amongst them.

'They things had best have stayed where they were born, it's
my opinion,' said Jenny ; ' they don't look natural-like here.
What am I to do with them, Miss Milicent?'

As she spoke, Jenny poked one of them with a skewer, and
then started back, declaring ' she wouldn't, for the life of her,
have anything to do with it. If she might put it in the pot and
boil it, she wouldn't so much care, but live jelly was what she was
not used to.'

I brought the pans from the scullery myself, and Miss Mili-
cent and I moved her creatures, as she called them, into it, and
then, as they began to unfold in the clear water, Jenny ventured
to look in upon them, and, in spite of her declarations, that
' th :n't canny, and she couldn't abide them,' we left her

standing by the pans and poking them about with the skewer.

All this time Miss Milicent seemed to have no thought for my
business, but when her own was finished she said, ' Now, Ursie
(irant, if you choose to come to the dining-room, I can see the
1 tier,' and away she walked, expecting me to follow her.

We weal into the dining-room, and she shut to the door.
'Well ! what is the mischief?' she began.

'That linger is coming to Sando Miss Milicent, and I

think it is time for me to be going,' I replied.

ti have taken an uppish fit, have you?' she replied. 'I
thought it would come to this ; Mrs Temple said it yester-

[rs Temple !' I exclaimed.

' Yes ! she is a sharp woman, though not after my fancy in all
things, She said she saw it in you the first night she came;


URSULA. ie 3

and I have a doubt that you were not too civil to her then,
Ursie Grant.'

I was upon the point of explaining, but I remembered that
evil words multiply by being taken up and cut to pieces, like the
creatures Miss Milicent had just brought into the kitchen, so I
let Mrs Temple's unkind remarks pass, and answered, 'You
would scarcely have said that, Miss Milicent, if you had
known all that went on. But I don't know what I have done
to make you or any one call me uppish. It can't be be-
cause I talk of going away, for that has been settled ever since
I came.'

' I knew how it would be,' persisted Miss Milicent, in her odd
way, carrying on her own words just as though I had not spoken.
' Matilda Temple said she was sure you would never go on long,
dining in the kitchen with old Dale and his wife, and not having
a place to sit in except your bedroom. She was wrong, though,
in one thing, as I told her, for it was my own will to go to the
' attic'

' O Miss Milicent !' I exclaimed, 'how can you listen to Mrs
Temple ; did I ever complain ? '

' No ; but you are going away.'

' But not for that,' I replied, and I felt the angry colour rush
to my cheek. ' If there is one thing I hate more than another,
it is taking upon one's self to have airs, and being above doing
what is kind and helping. I would dine with old Dale, and sit
in my bedroom from this hour till the day of my death, if it was
my duty, and could comfort any one, much more be of use to
Mrs Weir, and you know it, Miss Milicent. You don't really
believe Mrs Temple ; if you did, it would be a hard struggle
with me to keep from walking out of the house and never
entering it again.'

' I was wrong, Ursie,' she said, and she stretched out her
large hand, stained with the marks of the mud and sea-weed
she had been handling, and gave me something between a pat
and a shake. ' But it comes over me, and that's the truth, and
if Mr Temple and Matilda weren't here, I think I should run

' I fancied you didn't like their staying,' I observed.

' No, I had rather have you than them, any clay, but I had
rather have them than nobody. Don't you see how quiet my
mother has been since Mrs Temple has taken to being with


'Jut for the time,' I said ; 'but Mrs Weir must sec through
it some day, Miss Milicent, as you and I da'

'She may, and she mayn't ; anyhow, it helps for the time.'

'O Miss Milicent!' I exclaimed, 'can you bear to see the
good lady deceived, and made to rest upon another, when you,
her own flesh and blood, that could be everything to her, are
close at hand ?'

I had never spoken so plainly before, and I was afraid how
my words might be taken. Miss Milicent winced a little, but
she had a way of turning off from any subject she disliked, and
making an excuse by finding fault with some one else. That
how she managed to deceive herself upon this one point, and so
I suppose it is with us all.

'My mother is very queer, Ursic,' she said, 'as you well
know, and ever since I can remember, she has looked for comfort
out of her own family. The doctors say it 's health, and I dare
say it is ; but whether or not, I can't please her, and if she
chooses to be taken in by Matilda Temple, why she must be.'

' But it will work some harm in the end, for certain,' I said.
' You don't trust Mrs Temple yourself, Miss Milicent.'

' Not I, not for a moment ; yet she is not such a hypocrite as
you think, Ursie. She humbugs herself just as much as she
does other people.'

That was seeing deeper than I should have given Miss Mili-
cent credit for, and I asked her what she meant.

' Why, just this,' she replied ; ' I have lived a good deal with
Matilda Temple, and seen how things went on. She was very
badly brought up as a child, left quite to her own ways. She
never knew how to be honest and open like others, and she
loved nothing but herself. Then her mother died, and she went
to live with a kind of cousin, a Mrs Frcrc, a ;^ood woman — yes,
a good woman, if ever there lived one upon earth, but one who
was always lecturing and talking of religion. I could not endure
her fashion of going on myself, and 1 ran away from her when-
ever I saw her, yet I respected her. But with Matilda it was
different ; she learned to talk the same as her cousin, and Mrs
Frerc thought her an excellent, good child, because she could
quote texts, and said she liked to hear sermons, and Matilda
thought so herself, and she thinks so now, and nobody lias ever
told her differently. She has her notion of goodness, and she
acts up to it.'

' If she had read her Bible, she might have found out that it


was not the right notion, I should have thought,' was my reply.
' To be sure, I have seen but little of her, but her ways do strike
me as being shabby.'

' Shabby ! she is the shabbiest woman, and the proudest, in
England,' said Miss Milicent, ' and the cleverest, besides. We
must take all our dose of religion, Ursie, that we know ; but I
suppose we like to take it our own way. Matilda Temple wraps
up hers in talk, and makes it a good size, and then she swallows
it whole, and so it never tastes unpleasant.'

I did not answer directly — I could not. It came over me
with such a terrible dread, that we might all be doing the same
in some way or other. I could see it in Miss Milicent herself,
clear-sighted though she was to Mrs Temple's shortcomings,
and there was I, perhaps as great a self-deceiver as either.

Miss Milicent continued, 'It is not to be wondered at that
Matilda Temple should think much of herself. There's her little
husband obeys her like a black slave.'

'And it is true, then,' I said, 'what Mrs Weir told me, that
she had saved him from being extravagant?'

' Oh yes ! saved him from that, and from a great deal else, and
made him nearly as shabby as herself; only I must say one thing
for him, it goes against the grain.'

' Really, Miss Milicent,' I exclaimed, ' you do surprise me. If
you think of your cousins in this way, how can you bear to have
them here ? '

' Because anything is better than being forced to give in to
another person's fancies all day, Ursie Grant. I must have
liberty. It is bad enough anyhow, to be set down in a corner of
the world like this, but if I am to sit in-doors week after week,
and talk twaddle, I shall fall ill. That is the truth.'

' Yet there are some hours when Mrs Weir likes to be alone,'
I ventured to say.

' Maybe, but you don't understand ; no one can. Parents and
children, and brothers and sisters, are not like other people. I
dare say you think I am undutiful ; I dare say I am.'

I must have looked shocked, for I always thought that if I
had a mother living I should feel it such a pleasure and an
honour to do everything for her. But Miss Milicent was better
than her word, I knew, and I am sure that her conscience re-
proached her, after she had spoken in this off-hand way, for she
went on : ' You know, Ursie, there 's no one but you that can
suit me and my mother also, and it 's the plain fact : and if w ■


can have you here, everything will go well ; and if we have not,
we must have Matilda Temple, or any one \vc can get, and take
the consequences. And who is to answer for them ?'

Without waiting for me to reply, she went away, seemingly in
a huff.

This sudden end to our conversation was like a gust of wind,
ip all my ideas, and turn a round, as it were, till I

did not know where I was. Just for one moment I

Milicent was right, and that I was answerable for whatever
i b p| ■ n, if Mrs Temple stayed and I went away; but I
soon saw the folly of such an idea. God has only given us one
conscience to take care of, and trouble enough it is to keep that
clear of offence. If I went my own straightforward way, I was
not answerable for the crookedness of other people's. And I
saw, too, what Mrs Kemp had first put into my head, that my
staying only blinded Miss Milicent more to her own duties.
I sought no more conversation, but went up-stairs to my own
room, and wrote a letter to Roger, telling him, that nothing pre-
venting, I would be at Sandcombc, if William and Leah could
receive me, that day week.


MY stay with Mrs Weir was about to terminate less pleasantly
than I had expected. I seemed to have done but little
good to her, and less to Miss Milicent, and I knew that I left a
snake in the grass behind me in Mrs Temple. But for Mrs
Kemp's warning, I might have been even more disappointed, but I
was learning (very slowly, though, for it was a hard lesson to one
of my disposition) to make doing my duty my object, without
caring for seeing the fruits. Miss Milicent was surly when she
found I was resolved to go. Mrs Temple, who had scarcely
noticed me before, became suddenly very patronising and ami-
able ; and poor Mrs Weir, to whom I broke the news as gently
as I could, cried a good deal, and said if God ever made her
rich again, she would send for me, and beg me to come back
and live with her ; but her mind was for the time finding a new
rest, and when the day of my departure drew near, she was
consoled by Mrs Temple's promise of staying with her another


fortnight. Her conscience, indeed, was a little troubled about
Mr Temple, who, she said, must find it so dull to be living
there with three ladies ; but Mrs Temple assured her, that
solitude and contemplation were his delight, and if it was so,
he certainly must have been in Paradise all the time he was at
the Heath, for he wandered about on the rocks and by the
shore all day, and never spoke to any one, except I believe to
Mr Perry, the preventive lieutenant. He was a meek man
now, and gifted with much endurance, whatever he might
have beeen formerly. I never heard him say anything in
opposition to his wife except, ' Perhaps it would be better not,
my dear.'

On the day fixed, William's cart was to be sent for me and
my boxes. It was to go into Hove first, and to come back by
Compton, so that I was not likely to leave till the evening. All
the afternoon, Miss Milicent was in and out of my room, upon
some pretence or another, talking about all kinds of things in a
rambling way, and often in a very cross tone, especially prophe-
sying that everything would go wrong when I was gone, and as
the climax of evil, declaring that neither Jenny Dale nor Cotton
would ever know how to make her mother's coffee. When the
last box was packed, and just going to be corded, she brought in
a beautiful, large prayer-book, with a very clear print. ' There
is no room for it,' she said, as she put it down upon the top of
my frilled collars.

I took it out and looked at it. She had written in it ' Ursula
Grant,' nothing more.

' O Miss Milicent ! ' I exclaimed, ' it is very good of you, and
I shall value it so much.'

' I have crumpled your frills,' she said ; ' you had better give
up wearing frills, Ursie Grant. There will be no time for
getting them up at Sandcombe.'

' I don't care about the frills,' I replied ; 'but if you would
please, Miss Milicent, to put your name in the book too, I
should be greatly obliged.'

' I have put enough to prevent its being stolen,' she said.

I could get nothing more from her. She would put the book
into the box herself, hiding it underneath, as though she was
ashamed of it, and not allowing me to say another word of

Fanny came to tell me the cart was ready, and to help me
carry down my boxes : but Miss Milicent peeped over the stairs.


and told her to go and fetch Dale,— her mother wanted mc •

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