Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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for you.'

' Mr Richardson wished to speak to me, ma'am,' I said ; 'that
was the reason I went. I hoped you had not been told I was
come. I know you' don't like waiting.'

' I ar\ afraid, Ursula, I do not like many things. I have
wished to see you often since you went away ; but you have not
been able, I suppose, to take so long a walk.'

I was just a little chilled by her manner, and answered, ' I
have not stirred beyond the farm, ma'am, except to go to church


on Sundays. My brother's going, and the settling in a new
place, have taken up all my time.'

'Very likely, Ursula ; but you promised; I should not have
fliought so much about it else.'

The tone was a little — a very little — impatient ; but the poor,
Jear lady was on the watch, and a smile came over her face
directly after, and she held out her hand to me, and said, ' If we
did not like persons, Ursula, we should not care how long th( y
stayed away from us. Will you sit down and tell mc about your
brother ? '

And I did sit down, and told her everything I could think of;
making it, as well as I could, into a kind of story, for that was
what she liked. She was no great talker, indeed talking soon
tired her ; but she enjoyed listening ; and even when I was a
little girl, I was in the habit of describing minutely what I did
and said, yet with great exactness, for she was very quick and
particular, and always stopped me when she thought 1 was in
the least exaggerating. She used to bay to me that the habit of
exaggeration is a leak in a person's character, through which
truth, and therefore confidence, escape unnoticed. This may
seem rather contrary to what I said before of her liking to live
in a dream, but it is not so really. There is a great difference
between inventing facts and arranging them. Mrs Weir hail a
special power of the latter kind, and I think being with her had
helped me a little in the same way, for it certainly was not in me
by nature. Her eye turned to what was bright and beautiful in
i verything — mine, I am afraid, was inclined rather to the reverse.
1 1 we had both looked upwards on a summer day, her gaze would
have rested upon the blue sky, mine would have dwelt upon the

It did mc good to talk about Roger and my new life in this
way ; it was rather like reading a book, and took off the hard
■i from my troubles. For a short time I was so carried
aw ly that I could have imagined myself back again at Dene ;
but there was an end to the enjoyment very soon. The door
1) ippened to be open. I heard in the passage the kind of sweep-
ing rustle which always accompanied Mrs Temple's movements,
anl Mrs Weir's attention was immediately withdrawn from me,
and she said, a little nervously, 'I think, Ursula, you had better
explain to my niece why you were not able to come and sec me
before. She thought that it seemed unkind, but I was sure that
it was not.'

URSULA. 20 1

Explain to Mrs Temple 1 Why should I ? My proud temper
was up at the very notion. When she came in I would willingly
have left the room, but she waved her hand graciously, and said,
' Sit down, Ursula, don't let me disturb you. My dear aunt, I
have brought you your medicine.'

'It is a tonic, Ursula,' said Mrs Weir, looking at me. 'My
niece has persuaded me to try it, and I think it does me a great
deal of good.'

' I hope it may, ma'am,' I said ; though I could scarcely find
it in my heart to be pleased with any remedy proposed by Mrs

Mrs Weir smiled as she used to when I was a child, and she
wanted to put good thoughts into my head. ' I pray that it may,
Ursula,' she said ; ' and I have not had the neuralgic pain so
violently since I have tried it, so I have great reason to be

Mrs Temple chimed in with a sentence of the same kind ; yet
what I listened to with pleasure and profit when spoken by Mrs
Weir, was utterly distasteful to me when uttered by her niece.
Doubtless it was the sense of effort and a want of reality. Mrs
Weir's words were natural, Mrs Temple's forced. From Mrs
Weir, indeed, I could bear anything. She seemed always to
understand how and when to introduce religion. She never
jarred upon me by dragging it in at a wrong moment ; and I was
then much more sensitive upon that point than I am now.
Young people, with the hopes and joys of this life before them,
shrink from the sudden mention of subjects connected with death
and eternity ; but when the thought of death rises with us in
the morning, and lies down with us at night, and eternity is the
long day on which we feel that we have even now entered, there
is no moment at which a reference to them can find us un-

Mrs Weir, in her simple way, took her niece's words as being
spoken in all earnestness, but she was not disposed to say much ;
indeed, I could not help perceiving that she was less at ease
with me now than before we were interrupted. Mrs Temple,
who never thought it possible for her to interrupt any one, sat
herself down opposite to us, as though determined to listen to
what we were saying. I was resolved not to seem awed by her,
so I went on with something I had been telling Mrs Weir about
Roger, but Mrs Temple scarcely let me finish my sentence before
she broke in with —


' M rgive me for reminding you, but have you

I rsula about the chess-board? The circumstance

tO be Cl :]).'

Mrs Weir's pale face was tinged with pink; the nearest
roai h to excitement which ever betrayed itself. ' It is of no
isequence, Matilda; I would rather nothing should be said
about it.'

' But it is right, my dear aunt ; excuse me, but such uv
Oil lit to be investigated.'

•l)o you mean, ma'am, about the broken chessman?' I

' Yes ; you see, aunt, she knows it ;' and Mrs Temple was
put quite off her guard, and spoke hurriedly. ' We have reason
to complain, Ursula, that it was not mentioned before. It was
due to Mrs Weir that it should have been, and it has interfere I
with her excellent intentions ; the little toy is quite useless now,
and it might have been turned to excellent account.'

it it does not signify, Ursula,' said Mrs Weir, gently;
'only if you had told me that the chessman was broken, I should
have been less sorry.'

' Really, ma'am,' I exclaimed, and I stood up, and I have no
doubt looked very angry, ' I don't understand you.'

Mrs Temple's voice sank to the softest tone, as she answered
for her aunt, ' Restrain yourself, Ursula. Recollect that agita-
may do harm.'
' I do not care about it, Ursula,' said Mrs Weir, her voice
. id her hand trembling. 'I had no wish to mention
the subject ; indeed, I do not care. I cannot bear to vex you.'
She took hold of my hand and looked at me quite beseechingly.
' Dear ma'am,' I said, ' you can't vex me. I could bear any-
thing from you ; but, if you please, I will go into another room
and have my say with Mrs Temple, for I must know what she
thinks, and what you think too.'

' Tl -ion for any such explanation,' replied Mrs

: • we only wish to warn you, Ursula, as you are setting
out in life by yourself, that openness and straightforwardness
will gain you more friends than the contrary line of conduct.'

'But you were in haste when you left me,' said Mrs Weir,

'and you were unhappy; I have no doubt that you did not

.mber it, Ursula ; if you please, we will think no more

I it ':'

this time I was so indignant that the very strength of my


feelings forced me to try and put a restraint upon them. ' I
have not been told yet, ma'am/ I said, ' what I have been
accused of. I imagine Mrs Temple means to say that I was like
a naughty child, and, having broken the chessman, did not like
to mention it. I may have broken it, I won't say that I did not.
I am afraid I have not the knack of handling such delicate things
properly, but I had no idea of having done it.'

' Only you knew what we meant the moment the subject was
brought forward,' said Mrs Temple, and she looked at Mrs Weir

Was it in human nature to bear such an aggravation quietly ?
I know it was not in mine ; and it was in no gentle tone that I
answered, ' If you would have the goodness, ma'am, to inquire
btfore you make charges, you would be more likely to be correct.
Miss Milicent mentioned that the chessman was broken, and
that was the first I heard of it. If you please, ma'am,' I added,
speaking to Mrs Weir, ' I will come and see you again another
day, for I am sure you are quite tired now, and I am very sorry
I have been the cause of it.'

I could not help saying this, for Mrs Weir was looking so ill
from nervousness and vexation that she quite fidgeted me. Mrs
Temple suggested that she would be the better for a little more
of the medicine, and made me pour it out whilst she gave it.
She made no answer herself to anything I had said, but treated
me coldly and haughtily, whilst Mrs Weir, whose voice was
quite faint, could only manage to say, in broken sentences : ' I
have no doubt it is right. Ursula, if you will come again soon,
I shall be better, I dare say. I hope you will hear from Mr
Grant ; you will please to let me know when you do.'

Explanation and conversation were out of the question in such
a state of things, and as for staying to help Mrs Weir, it was
simply useless. Mrs Temple had stepped into all her ways, and
the poor lady turned to her as naturally as she used to do to me.
I stood by her side a few minutes, and was asked to fetch a shawl,
but I was not allowed to put it over her. Evidently I had no
further business with her. Mrs Temple said, in a very pointed
way : ' My aunt has had too much agitation, Ursula ; she needs
perfect rest;' and all I could do was to wish Mrs Weir good-bye,
without saying another word.

I found Miss Milicent waiting forme at the foot of the stairs :
' Come here, Ursie,' she said ; and she opened the dining-
room door. ' I want to speak to you ; you have no need to be

204 VRSUL. 1.

in a hurry, I told Jenny Dale to get you a cup of tea before you
went back.'
' It is very good of you, Miss Milicent,' I replied, ' but if you

please, I had rather go.' Instead of entering the dining-room I
drew back.

'That's perverse of you, Ursie ; I have a great deal to say to
you, and you must stay. What have you paid sucli a short visit
fur ?'

' .Mrs Weir was tired,' I replied ; 'and I think, Miss Milicent,
that having Mrs Temple and mc together was too much for

' Oil ! that is the matter, is it ? ' she exclaimed ; ' I was sure by
your face something had ^one wrong ; but Ursie, I told you how
it would be if you went away, so you have no one to thank but

•And Mrs Temple,' I could not help adding. ' Indeed, I
Milicent, 1 can't believe that anything would be wrong if she

'Come in ; why will you stand talking in the passage?' She
seized my dress, and actually forced mc to enter, shutting the
door behind her. 'Now, sit down, and hear what I have to say,
1 rsie Grant; it is all your doing, and, what is more, worse
things will come. She is rooted here ; she never would have
been that if you had remained. You would have made the house
too hct to hold her.'

I did not think that much of a compliment, I confess, but,
before I could reply, Miss Milicent continued: 'She has been
working at my mother ever since you went away, putting things
into her head; and my mother, as you know well enough, alwaj -,
takes what is given her without asking questions ; so Matilda
has had it all her own way. No use for mc to say anythi
even if I had time, ami I have been very busy. Mr Temple lis
a finding out new creatures for my ;^lass, and he and I have
been down on the shore a good deal ; and twice a week there is
a class of ploughboys and such like, who come to mc to learn to
write and cipher ; and all that, to say nothing of putting the house
to rights, has taken up more time than I can say. So you sec
there has been no one to interfere with Matilda Temple, and the
end is that she has bewitched my mother, who can't get on with-
out her. Then the servants have all been at sixes and sevens.
Cotton and Matilda Temple have quarrelled, and Jenny Dale
threatens to leave, and what is to become of us all I don't know,


for Fanny, poor silly thing, says she can't do the work she used,
because she wants time to read Mrs Temple's books. If it was
not for the girl from the school who is to come now, we might
just stand still altogether.'

I did not see what Miss Milicent meant by standing still ; 1
always had a notion that there was no standing still in this life,
— that it was always going on, in some form or other ; the
difference being only whether you drove yourself, or let others
drive you.

But Miss Milicent continued, and my ideas became clearer.
' It 's a great trouble all this, Ursie, and if you were here, as I said
before, it wouldn't have happened. But there is a new notion
come up, which Matilda Temple thinks is to set everything right,
and I should just like to know your opinion about it.'

' For Mrs Temple to go and live at Stonecliff ? ' I said.

' Now, who told you that ? How things do get about ! But
it is not that exactly. She is wild to go there herself, but she
and her husband can't go alone because of the expense ; and
she wants us to join housekeeping, and share the rent between

' Live together ! ' I exclaimed, in a tone of amazement. ' O
Miss Milicent !'

' I knew what you would say,' she replied, in a disappointed
tone. ' I told her that I was sure any one who knew the ways of
the house, — and I mentioned you particularly, — would decide that
it couldn't be. But she took the high hand then, and said she
didn't know why we were to trouble ourselves with the opinions
of this person or that ; what we chose to do ourselves was the

' Mrs Temple was right there, Miss Milicent,' I replied. ' It
could not be of consequence what I, or any one in my position,
might say, though, of course, we are at liberty to form an opinion
for ourselves, and I can't but think you would do better if you
never mentioned my name to Mrs Temple.'

' She can't abide you, Ursie Grant, and that's a fact,' said Miss
Milicent, thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jacket ; ' I
don't know what you have done to spite her.'

' Let her see that I don't like her, I suppose, Miss Milicent,'
I replied; 'there can't be a greater offence than that for any

Miss Milicent laughed. ' Matilda might hate me too, if it was
only that,' she said ; 'but, anyhow, we are neither of us in her


good I •> ks just now, for I kept back in giving an opinion about
this new plan, and I said I should talk it over with you, just
because you knew my mother so much better than any one

Those blundering ways ! Miss Milicent could have done no-
thing worse, either for herself or me.

you will excuse my saying so,' I replied,'] think,"
icent, yi u m tde a mistake there. As for this new plan, ;
Uy must be the judge yourself) I don't know how the money
•.ers would answer, and I can't pretend to say whether Mrs
r would like it."
'There is no doubt of that,' she replied ; 'my mother is like
a child in giving up, and certainly Matilda docs know how
manage her. She has got her to dress an hour earlier since
you went away; and yesterday my mother actually went for a
drive for the first time since we came here. I should never have
thought of the plan for a moment, if I had not felt that it would
nely for her when the Temples were go
' Then the money question is the only difficulty,' I
" Perhaps, Miss Milicent, your lawyer could help you about that
better than I can.'

u have a twist, Ursie Grant ; you don't like the plan, and
you won't say it out like an honest woman.'

' I have no objection to saying it out,' I replied. ' I don't like
th ■ plan, Miss Milicent : but my liking or disliking has nothing
to do with it.'

It had, though ; more than I could at the moment see. Miss
Milicent's conscience was uneasy, and she wanted support. She
that she was putting case for the present before what would
■ood in the long run ; that is what many of us do.
.nd why don't you like it ?' she inquir-
' I beg your pardon if I have to speak plainly,' I replied ; ' but,
Milicent, I don't think that mixing two families togetl
r answers, unless it is so ordered by God that it cannot be
helped ; and then His blessing goes with it and makes things

'We shouldn't quarrel,' srid Miss Milicent; 'we have not

quarrelled now. I should keep house, and Matilda Temple would

. .ilt' r my mother.'

I smiled. This reversing of duties reminded me of what had

1 din my own mind when I disliked going to Sandcombc. I

help saying, 'That sounds very much, Miss Milicent,


as though you were Mr Temple's wife, and Mrs Temple was
Mrs Weir's daughter.'

' It might have been better if it had been so,' she said ; ' not
that I could have married a little man like Mr Temple ; he is
too meek ; but we get on very well together.'

' Theyare on a visit,' I replied. ' People on a visit and people
at home are very different.'

' It would give me time to help Mrs Richardson,' continued
Miss Milicent ; 'and if Matilda Temple had a larger house, she
could have a friend or two occasionally to see her, and that
would help to amuse my mother.'

Or rather, as I could not help saying to myself, save Miss
Milicent the trouble of doing it. The whole scheme seemed to
me so silly, that I had scarcely patience to talk of it. I was
silent for a few seconds, and, indeed, looked towards the door, as
though I intended to go.

' Speak out !' exclaimed Miss Milicent ; ' I know you have a
good opinion of your own judgment, Ursie Grant.'

'No, indeed, Miss Milicent,' I answered; 'I have had too
much experience of it lately to have a good opinion of it. I
could not say that the plan is a wrong one, or that it mayn't be
a comfort to Mrs Weir, or set you more free. But I do think
that it is against the v common ways of the world, and, in a
measure, of the Bible too, and so I don't think it will answer.'

' The Bible ! ' she exclaimed ; ' well, that is too foolish ! What
has the Bible to do with our taking Stonecliff ?'

' You know, Miss Milicent,' I replied, ' that when God ordered
men to marry, He told them that they were not only to cleave to
their wives, but to leave their fathers and mothers. It strikes
me that must have meant that they were to live distinct, what
we call setting up housekeeping for themselves. And being
placed in separate families, I suppose we should do well to re-
main so.'

' It is no argument at all ! ' exclaimed Miss Milicent. ' If
people were to act in that way, the world couldn't go on.'

I did not feel that it was an argument ; a great deal might be
said against it ; but I did think it a kind of hint, and I knew
that it was safer to follow God's hints than man's reasons. But
Miss Milicent was not a person whom any one could really talk
to with any hope of convincing her. That one great omission in
her duties — her neglect of her mother — had warped her mind.
She never dared look her own motives in the face ; and so,


though naturally truth-telling nnd open, she had got into a wny
of deceiving herself. She did not like Mrs Temple ; she neither
trusted nor respected her ; but she liked anything better than
having her time taken up by attending upon her mother ; and so
she smoothed it all over, and thought she was only wishing to
do what would be best for every one, and make .Mrs Weir in i t
■ m fort able. She would not, however, say this, when she found
that I did not give in ; she kept on repeating that it was onlj
idea, it might never come to ai Mrs Temple might

change her mind ; Mrs Weir might not like it. But I knew in
my heart that it would come, even if it had been twenty times as
objectionable. I knew it as surely as we may all know by ex-
perience, that the proposal which is brought forward year after
year, by those who rule the nation, let it be never so contrary
to long-established custom, or even justice and religion, will in
the end become law, because people will have become accus-
tomed to it. If Miss Milicent had been told the first night of
Mrs Temple's arrival that she could ever have endured the
prospect of living with her, she would have said it was impos-
sible. Watching the course of the world, I have often thought,
that if we could see the devil himself frecpjcntly, we should at
least learn to like him.


AND so I went back to Sandcombe — witli what feelings of
vexation and disappointment there is no need to say. Mis
Milicent pressed my having tea, but I had no heart to st
Perhaps I was more worried than I ought to have been ; and if

I id have thrown off all care for Mrs Weir and her concerns,

it might have been the happier for me. But it was not in my
nature to do that ; I did really love her ; I would have done
anything in my power to comfort her ; whilst I dare say there was
something of wounded pride, in the knowledge that now I was no
longer necessary to her. As an especial aggravation, came the
consciousness that with all her goodness she was very likely to
be prejudiced, and that nothing would be more easy than for
Mrs Temple to continue to insinuate things to my disadvantage
—even as she had already begun. I had said nothing to Miss


Milicent about the broken chessman, I felt ashamed of justing
myself from such a charge ; but I made up my mind not to go
to the Heath again for some time, lest I might give some fresh
cause of offence ; and especially, I resolved to wait until some
more settled plan had been decided about Stonecliff. I had no
confidence in Miss Milicent's tact or discretion ; and I was sure
that what I said was likely to be repeated to Mrs Temple, and
by her to be turned in some way against me. The visit did me
good, however, in one way ; it kept me from pining after my
former life, and enabled me to sit down more contentedly to my
duties at Sandcombe ; and these soon became quite sufficient to
occupy me thoroughly.

Leah, as I expected, took kindly enough to the notion of a
school-girl coming to help, — that was the way she talked of it,
and I could not put any other idea into her head, though I knew
well enough that the help which a girl of that age could give was
much less than the trouble of looking after her. Still I felt it
was right to aid Mrs Richardson if possible. ■ The three head
girls in the school were to go out at once. Mrs Kemp was to
take one ; another was to work at the Parsonage ; and Esther
Smithson was to come to us. The plan was not actually carried
out till after harvest, when we were obliged to have extra help.
Up to that time we had a girl on baking and washing and brew-
ing days ; but the maid and I managed to do all the rest of the
work, of course with the assistance of Leah ; who, to say the
truth, was not so much a fine lady as selfish and disposed to be
lazy. I did not dislike the life ; indeed I should have been fond
of it, if I had been living with people who understood and gave
me sympathy. But it was all business and money-getting from
morning till night ; the very clods of earth seemed to be looked
at only with the thought of how they might be turned into bank
notes and gold. Yet it was only for a year, I said to myself, and
when I had received Roger's first letter, telling me he had arrived
in Canada, and was making himself useful to the gentleman who
took him out, and looking out for the best means of settling
himself permanently, I felt as if half the time of separation was

One thing I felt about Sandcombe was, that it was very out
of the way. To be sure the same might have been said of Dene,
but there I had interest enough in the place and the people never
to wish to go further, except to Longside, where I was always
welcome. At Sandcombe, though Leah often went out, and


sometimes had friends to tea, there were none whom I cared
particularly to meet ; and indeed, as often as not, Leah would
make the excuse of my being at home for William and herself to
go out and leave me behind.

It was about half-past four o'clock one afternoon, just in the
inning of September ; I had been sitting at work by myself,
making a silk jacket for Jane Shaw, whose wedding was to come
off in about three weeks, and who had asked me to do some little
things she had not time for herself, and did not choose to put
into the hands of a town dressmaker. I was enjoying being
nlone, and counting the days tiil I could hear again from Roger;

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 20 of 56)