Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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naturally hide from me many of the lesser evils of my character.
It is only when we are heartily zealous in our wish to please God,
that we search deeply into the secret corners of our hearts, and
through His grace are enabled to discover and root out the
weaknesses and infirmities as well as the sins which lie hidden
there. My life had hitherto been too peaceful to reveal to me
the necessity of such an examination. Where there was little
contradiction there was little to struggle against, and though by
no means well satisfied with myself, I certainly had much to
learn as to my own deficiencies. And at that time religion with
me was more a matter of duty than of love. I can now see,
through God's mercy, that duty is but a stepping-stone, one
without which we can never reach the point at which we should
aim, but which cannot by itself raise us to the height from which
heaven will be always in our view. Sorrow and disappoint-
ment in this world had their work to do in me before I cotdd be
brought to feel that the religion for which God has created us is
not merely a law of obedience but a spring of happiness, — happi-
ness in the consciousness of that deep, satisfying, grateful love
which makes the heaviest trial and the most self-denying dis-
cipline a joy, when submitted to for Christ's sake.

I say this of myself, because I feel that to many my feelings of
religion, at the time of which I am writing, may appear unsatis-
factory. They were so, I grant. They were unfolding, but as
yet they v. ere only in the bud. All I will venture to say of them
is, that I believe they were of the right kind. There was a deep
perception of my own unworthiness, a hearty wish to serve God,
a watchfulness against all the faults of which I was aware, a
spirit of thankfulness for my daily blessings, and I hope some
perception of the infinite love shown to us all in our Redemption.
I speak of this latter feeling doubtfully, because it seems to me
now that it is one which persons are often slow in attaining,
especially when, as in my case, the growth of religion has been

190 I RSULA.

unaccompanied by great fears or an overpowering sense of sin.
and consequent relief in the consciousness of pardon. If I cm
judge at all of myself, I sec my own sinfulness now much more
fully than I did then, and so I hope I am more penitent and
more thankful ; and yet I can scarcely say that I am more in

I walked over to the Heath in a very unhappy state of mind :
lonely, — I could not be otherwise, when I thought of the long
separation from Roger, — and fretted and perplexed as to my
j 'resent duties ; how far I was bound to give in to Leah in con-
sideration of her being William's wife, and that he was giving
me a home ; and how far I was called upon to stand up for my
own right, and the agreement which had been made as to my
time before Roger went away. But as I drew near the Heath,
other thoughts forced themselves upon me. I met Mr Ten:
as I was going along the side of St Anne's Mill. lie was coming
up from the cottage, and had moved a hurdle which was in his
way, and as I drew near he kept it open for me. He was a civil
little gentleman, and I liked as well as pitied him, so I thanked
him very heartily.

' You are going down to the cottage, I suppose,' he said.

'Yes, sir/ I replied. 'I hope I shall find Mrs Weir pretty

'I have 'not seen her to-day,' he said. 'There have been
visitors, and she has not been down-stairs.'

ore visitors!' I thought to myself. 'They will kill poor
Mrs Weir between them soon.'

'A little pleasant society docs her good, I think,' continued
Mr Temple. 'She has been much better since my wife and I

' She is getting over her trouble a little, I hope, sir,' I said, for
I did not like to agree with him, though there was some truth in
his words.

' I think, if we could find a house to suit us, we might remain

re some time longer,' observed Mr Temple. He looked at me
askance ; he never seemed to have courage to look any one in
the face. I made no reply, and he went on, 'The climate suits
Mrs Temple so well, and we were just thinking of giving up our
house in the north. Do you know how many bedrooms there
in tl t house on the lower road — " Stonecliff," I think, they
it ? '

, sir, I dor.*t,' I rcplk d, and I made a movement to go on-


but Mr Temple was determined to have his talk out. I believe
he always kept what he had to say till he found some one to ex-
pend it upon, when he was out of his wife's sight.

' Mr Richardson says it is cold in the winter,' he observed ;
' did you ever hear that it was considered so ? You must know
this part of the country well, for you have lived here all your

'The houses at Compton are all new, sir,' I answered; 'I
don't know much about them ; but it must be very cold for a
delicate person like Mrs Temple. The wind cuts round the
corner of the cliff, and she would find the roar of the sea trouble-

' I don't think she minds that,' he said ; ' it is a good house, I
believe, and — but, however, I won't keep you ; if you see Mrs
Temple, tell her I have walked over to Dene.'

I suspect a fit of caution and fear of his wife came over him
at the moment, and stopped his communicativeness, for he rushed
away, not waiting to put the hurdle back, and I watched him
climbing the hill by the help of his walking-stick, and then con-
tinued my walk.


A THORN had been planted in my mind, a very large one,
though not so large as it might have been if I had been
living with Mrs Weir. I only half believed what Mr Temple
said, for he was a very blundering man, and Mrs Temple was
just as likely as not to have put the notion into his head, only
for the sake of employing him. She was always planning some-
thing for him, and as soon as it was settled, undoing it £g«in.
But if there were any truth in it, it would be ill news indeed, as
far as I was concerned ; and even as regarded Mrs Weir, I had
a great dislike to the notion of her being taken in by any one,
even though it made her happy for the time. I have always so
dearly loved the truth in all things, and would rather know it
and face it, both in persons and circumstances, however unplea-
sant it may be, than live in the pleasantest dream that could be
granted me. But I don't think this was quite Mrs Weir's case •
a little dreaminess and imagination were necessary to her.


Before I readied the house, I saw the visitors who had been
mentioned; they were Mr and Mrs Richardson, and they,
and Mrs Temple, and Miss Miliccnt were standing together in

the sweep. I think Mr and Mrs Richardson were just going
after paying their vis : t. I tried to make my way to the back
door without being noticed, but Mr Richardson saw and came
r me to inquire for Roger, and then Miss Milicent followed.

' So, it's you at last, Ursie,' she said. ' I made sure you
finite forgotten us ; and there has been my mother fidgeting to
see you every day. You knocked down one of the little ivory
chessmen when you took out those nick-nack follies the other

' Did I, Miss Miliccnt ?' I exclaimed, very much surprised and
• iced, and not at all recollecting at the moment on what occash n
I had meddled with them.

'And Matilda Temple was to have had them for the charity
bazaar, but they are no good now/ continued Miss Milicent,
'Not that I care much for that,' she added, laughing, and
speaking to Mr Richardson. ' Charity bazaars are not much in
my way. Arc they in yours?'

He looked grave, and said he did not mind having things
made privately and sold for charity, because many persons could
give work and time who could not give money ; but lie did dis-
like turning what was called charity into an amusement, and
having tents, and music, and young ladies to sell the things at
absurd prices, and in fact making it just as much a worldly en-
tertainment as a ball or a play. It was as much as to say that
people would not give their money without having a return.
There was a verse in the Bible which always came to his mind
when he heard of bazaars.

paused a moment, and when Miss Miliccnt insisted upon
hearing it, he quoted David's speech to Araunah, the Jebusite :
' Neither will 1 off r burnt offerings unto the Lord my Cod of
that which doth c( st me nothin

le came up just as Mr Richard; in was speaking,
and I was afraid there would be a long discussion. I felt a little
id and out of my place, but I did not like to move away,
not knowing where exactly to go. I was relieved when Mrs
Richardson joined us, and interrupted the conversation by al-
ine. I think she f< It, like myself, that an argum nt
with Mrs Temple might be disagreeable.

' Ursula,' she said, 'I am r ally glad to see you. I think

URSULA. 1 93

you may help Miss Weir and me in something we have been

'Oh yes, Ursie can help better than any one,' said Miss
Milicent ; ' and she will take a girl at Sandcombe, I am sure. I
think, Mrs Richardson, we might as well let her have Esther
Smithson ; she is the most troublesome girl in the school.'

' I should be very happy to assist in any good work,' began
Mrs Temple, coming forward, and rather pushing herself before

' Thank you,' said Mrs Richardson ; ' but this is a business
which only concerns parishioners. Happily, Sandcombe is in
Compton parish, so that Ursula still belongs to us.'

' Your dear mother will be wanting me, Milicent, I am afraid,'
said Mrs Temple, in a whining voice, which she always adopted
when speaking of Mrs Weir. 'Mrs Richardson, I am afraid I
must leave you.'

She was very short in her manner, and I saw she was dis-
pleased. I don't know whether Mrs Richardson remarked it,
but I am sure we all breathed more freely when she was gone.

' Could you walk down the road with us a little way, Ursula?'
said Mr Richardson. ' I am afraid we must be going, for I have
an engagement at home in half an hour.'

' Ursula will be tired,' remarked Mrs Richardson, who never
forgot to be thoughtful.

If I had been tired I should have gone with them, they were
always so pleasant and kind ; but, as it happened, I really was
not tired, the air on the hill had been so refreshing.

Miss Milicent followed without being asked.

'What we were talking of, Ursula,' said Mrs Richardson,
' was the school.'

'The Sunday-school, ma'am?' I inquired. 'I am afraid i
should scarcely be able to walk over from Sandcombe as I used
to do from Dene.'

' Not the Sunday-school, Ursie,' interrupted Miss Milicent,
before Mrs Richardson could answer, ' but the day-school. We
have a plan for the girls. We mean to make good servants of
them. They are not to be such good-for-nothings as Kitty
Hobson and her set'

Poor Kitty Hobson ! She had become quite a proverb of
wickedness ; yet Mrs Kemp thought well of her.

Mrs Richardson never interrupted Miss Milicent, which was
one reason, 1 think, of her being such a favourite. She even


i 9 4 URSULA.

waited a second to hear if there was anything more coming, nn^
then she said, ' It is only an experiment, Ursula ; but you know
how badly some of our girls have turned out lately ; and Mr
Richardson and I have been thinking whether it would be pos-
sible to give them a little domestic teaching before they quite
leave school. If wc could manage it, wc might send them out
from the school with a good character, and put them at once in
respectable situations, instead of leaving them to chance places.'

' You could take one very well at Sandcombe, Ursie,' said
Miss Milicent; 'you must tell your brother about it. And
Jenny Dale shall have one too. Any girl who comes under her
will have a fair notion of cooking. I think it a first-rate notion.
If Jenny won't teach her, I will undertake it myself.'

I tried not to smile at the notion of Miss Milicent's teaching
cookery ; and, speaking to Mrs Richardson, I asked her to ex-
plain a little more clearly what she meant, for I could not see
my way to it. Mr Richardson answered, ' I think we all agree
that there is a great evil in the present state of things, Ursula,'
he said ; ' perhaps a lady can see more into it than a gentleman ;
but it strikes me that the reason why so many of our girls come
to misery is, that they are left to make their first start in the
world by themselves. They leave school, and have learned to read
and write, and do needlework, but they know nothing of house-
hold work ; and so they can seldom or never go at once into
superior service, but are sent to lodging-houses and farms : no
offence, Ursula, but you will agree with mc that ordinary farm
service is not good training for a girl.'

'Very bad,' I said, earnestly, for it had often and often
weighed upon my mind.

'Now wc think,' continued Mrs Richardson, taking up the
sentence where her husband had left it, ' that if a few persons in
the parish, who are interested in the girls, would agree to assist
us, wc might do something towards remedying this evil. Our
notion is that the ^jirls, as they grow old enough, should be sent
to some house, — say Mrs Weir's, or ours, or Mrs Kemp's, at
Longside, to work in the morning, from seven or eight till twelve;
having their breakfast, but not their dinner, and going to school
in the afternoon.'

'That is the part I don't like,' interrupted Miss Milicent
' Poor starved creatures ! why aren't they to have their dinner?'

'Because if they do,' said Mr Richardson, 'they become an
expense, and persons won't chocse to burden themselves witk


them. I would not even insist upon the breakfast. If they went
before eight they should have it, and if not they should get what
they could at home. You must remember they are not worse oh
than they would be if they were regularly at school, and our ob-
ject is to plan something which shall last, because it only touches
time, and not money. You and I, Miss Weir, might be very
willing to give the poor children a dinner every day, but Mrs
Burton, the surgeon's widow, would never be able to afford it,
and so she would never come into our plan.'

'And those who can afford it are to let the children starve for
the sake of those who can't,' exclaimed Miss Milicent. 'There
is neither rhyme nor reason in that, Mr Richardson.'

' No rhyme, I giant, but I hope some reason,' he replied. ' If
we, who can afford it, give the children a dinner, we make the
others discontented. There must be one rule for all.'

'Besides,' continued Mrs Richardson, 'there is an exception
for Saturday. You may keep your girl all day on Saturday,
Miss Weir, and give her sixpence besides, only you are not
obliged to do so if you don't like it.

' And you may want her services on some other day, for the
afternoon,' said Mr Richardson, ' and then, if you ask permis-
sion, it will be given, and you can bestow another sixpence ; so
you see there is an opening for as much extravagance as you like.
Only remember that you must let her go home by daylight, or
you will have the schoolmistress, and the clergyman, and the
committee down upon you, and be in our black books for ever

'Well ! it's a capital plan,' exclaimed Miss Milicent ; 'it will
be the making of the girls. I should like to see it begin with
that lanky-haired Hetty Smithson. If it answered with her it
would for any one.'

' Ursula says nothing,' observed Mrs Richardson.

' I dare say you know all there is to be said better than I do,
ma'am,' I replied.

'But you have objections,' remarked Mr Richardson, rather
in a disappointed tone.

' I think it might answer very well, sir, if you were always
sure of the persons whom the girls would be placed under. It
is not the mistresses, but the servants, who will stand in the

' Yes,' said Mr Richardson, ' I have thought of that.'

' If you have good upper servants, whom the girls will obey,'

ic/> URSULA,

I continued, 'it will nil be easy: but if they arc young and
flighty, tb D y will only teach the girls evil, and if they arc cross
they will aggravate them, so that they will never get on to-

'A difficulty, not an objection,' said Mr Richardson. 'If
the plan is tried in six cases and answers only in three, the t! n
are a gain. Nothing can be worse than the way things are
managed at present.'

That was true, certainly. I myself had watched Compton
girls, sent out into the world, one after another, taking the fust
place they could meet with, let it be what it might, and often
even working in the fields, because they had no opening for
service, and, in more cases than I could bear to remember, the
end had been grievous. Still I was not very hopeful as to the
present scheme. There was distance to be considered, and 1
mentioned this to Mr Richardson.

1 1 e had thought of it, he said, and no doubt it frequently might
stand in the way. The plan would be much more easily carried
out in a town, or in a small place where the houses were close
together, than in a scattered parish like Compton. ' But where
there s a will there's a way, Ursula,' he added, with a pleasant
smile. 'We want three or four persons who will set their heads
and their hearts to work, and consider what is good for the girl?,
and not what is pleasant to themselves. Then I think the diffi-
culty might be greatly obvi ited. The children who lived nearest
to you would go to you, and those who lived nearest tome would
come to me. I think, Miss Miliccnt, upon that principle, Mrs
Kemp would take Hetty Smithson, unless she can be sent to

' Mrs Kemp likes good-for-nothing girls,' exclaimed Miss Mili-
ccnt ; 'she has turned Kitty Hobson out quite new.'

' By a little kindness and care,' said Mrs Richardson. ' That
was what first put this idea into our minds. Kitty was seized
just at the right moment, and taught that she had a character,
which was a fact she had been made to doubt ; and now she
thinks it worth while to try and keep it. We want to do the
same thing for our girls, before they have reached poor Kitty's
" ne'er-do-weel " state.'

'To retain being much more easy than to attain,' said Mr
Richardson ; and then, he added, very earnestly, ' There is the
analogy of God's dealings with man, to teach us that truth :
" Members of Christ, children of God, and inheritors of the king-


dom of heaven," as the Catechism says ; we have our rank given
us from the beginning, and all our struggle thenceforward must
be to keep it.'

My mind all this time was dwelling upon Leah and Sand-
combe. I did not at all see how the plan was to work there.

Miss Milicent was rather cross because I said so little. ' I
wish, Ursie Grant,' she remarked, 'that you would speak out.
I am sure Mr Richardson would like it better, and I know I

' I can understand Ursula's feelings,' said Mrs Richardson ;
' she is taken by surprise.'

' Yes, ma'am,' I said ; ' and I doubt whether at Sandcombe we
have any one who could look after a child properly.'

'Not yourself?' said Mr Richardson.

' I am not mistress, sir,' was my reply ; and he quite under-
stood, without asking more questions.

'Well!' he said, after a little thought, ' let us make up our
minds that it will be a failure, — a failure at least, so far as that
many of the children will fail to obtain good from it, and that
the persons whom we depend upon to help us will grow weary
and give up. Still, is that any reason for not making the
attempt ? What harm can it do ? '

' None,' said Mrs Richardson.

' And,' he continued, ' we will try to hold out a reward for
good behaviour. The school is not rich ; but I think we could
afford half a sovereign, if not more, to any girl who, having gone
out to work in the morning, whilst at school, should afterwards
be placed in a permanent situation, and remain in it with a good
character for a year. That would, I hope, be a little induce-
ment to the parents to keep their children at school longer ; and,
I confess, one of my main hopes of good is in the fact that the
girls, even whilst they are learning to be servants, will still feci
that they are children, and under school discipline. Besides
the afternoon lessons, there will be the Sunday-school and
church for them regularly, so that their good habits will be
kept up.'

'Well, Ursie, isn't it all right now ?' exclaimed Miss Milicent,
appealing to me.

But Mr Richardson answered for me. ' Pardon me, Miss
Weir; we won't have Ursula's assent drawn from her unwil-
lingly. We will try the plan, and then she shall say what she
thinks of it. All we will ask, Ursula, is that you should men-

t/BSUt I.

I the notion to Mrs Grant, at Sandcombc, and try to persuade
to let us send a girl to her.'

of a refusal. Leah would like any help she

ild get when there was no eating and drinking in the case ;

1 I said at once, heartily, that I was sure there would be no

ficulty. I confess I felt very glad not to have to give an

inion as to whetht r the scheme would succeed. I had always

ii( k eye for difficulties ; and 1 thought, moreover, that ladies

and gentlemen could not will understand the ins and outs ot


The principle on which Mr Richardson acted was beyond me
i. He said something to his wife just before we parted,
which, th iugh it rested in my mind, it required a long experience
to understand.

'These are no days for waiting for perfect plans,' he said.
' Evils are crowding upon us so fast, that we must seize the first
ipon which offers itself to withstand them, so that it is one
which we can use conscicntiou-ly ; and we must be contented to
it feebly — to strike at hazard — often uselessly; yet always
with zeal, hope, and faith, remembering that '• the battle is not
ours, but the Lord'

—The plan ailudcd to has been tried successfully in different places, with
modifications according to the wants and peculiarities of the neighbourhood.


' \7"OU will find my mother in her room, Ursie,' said Miss
JL Miliccnt; and ; hc walked on with Mrs Richiudson,
I went back to the cottage alone, pondering in my own
id upon the sfmnge way we human beings have of looking at
our duties ; and uOv Miss Miliccnt could throw her whole heart
I soul into a plan for making Esther Smithson a good re-
table girl, and yet could not put herself out of her way lor
an I cheer her poor sick mother. I hope I did not forget

th t I was liable to the same kind of delusion myself.

Jenny Dale kept me talking for a few minutes in the kitchen,
before I could go up-stairs. She was full of complaints ; and I
could almost fancy that things v ere worse, because I was not


there. Mrs Temple, she said, was becoming so domineering,
there was no bearing her. She had actually taken to ordering
dinner, and came out into the kitchen every morning, and would
peer about in the larder to see after the scraps. She was very
fond of having scrap dinners for the kitchen, and did not ap-
prove of having the bits given away ; and this had nearly caused
a downright quarrel between her and Jenny; for Jenny had been
told by Miss Milicent to keep the bits, and give them to the poor
people who were down in Mr Richardson's list. Miss Milicent
had interfered, and been angry ; but I suppose she did not see
that she had no one to thank for the storms but herself. I told
Jenny plainly that I thought she ought not to give in to Mrs
Temple, but go to Miss Milicent at once, whenever such things
were done, and she promised me she would ; but she was a weak
kind of woman, and I could not reckon much upon her words.
Then she complained of Fanny, who was made much of by Mrs
Temple, because she waited upon her. Fanny was always a
little inclined to be set up, and Mrs Temple had turned her into
a kind of lady's maid, for she and Cotton had quarrelled, and
Cotton would do nothing for her. Fanny dressed Mrs Temple
in the morning, and was learning to do her hair, and Mrs
Temple talked to her all the time ; and t ^. :y, it seemed, was
beginning to think herself a great person. Oh, dear ! the mis-
chief that one tiresome woman may do in a house !

I did not say half nor a quarter of what I thought about it all,
but I went up-stairs to Mrs Weir in no very pleasant humour.
The ill-feeling vanished directly I saw her. She was by herself,
which was a great relief, and looking so sweet and kind — but
thin, and I fancied rather harassed.

' I heard you were here half an hour ago, Ursula,' she said,
as I went up to her sofa, ' and I have been hoping you would
come up to me ; but my niece said you were gone back part of
the way to the Parsonage, and I have no doubt that was pleasant

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 19 of 56)