Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 21 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 21 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Leah had been in and out of the parlour all the afternoon, doing
rirst one thing and then another; and a few words with her, and
the farm-house sounds, which I always liked particularly, pre-
vented me from feeling lonely, especially as I was very intent
upon my work, wishing to finish it that evening. Presently
I. ill came in to me in a hurry, and said, ' Ursie, there's a
chaise coming down the lane ; I do think it must be the Kemps.
I wish you would just go and skim the milk for me, for Martha
is too busy, and you must mind and bring in cream enough for
If it is the Kemps, they will be sure to stay.'

This was a little instance of the kind of thing Leah was con-
stantly doing. She knew the Kemps always carne particularly
to see me, and that I should be vexed at missing any part of
their visit, but she still seized upon them as an excuse for mak-
ing me do her duties. I said nothing, however, but put down my
work directly, and went to the dairy, looking up the lane as I
scd through the yard, and seeing Mrs Kemp and Mary in the
chaise, and John Hcrvcy driving them, as was natural.

I was detained longer in the dairy than I intended, for Martha

- untidy in her ways, and I happened to sec the bucket which
ihe man was going to use for the evening milking, and it was not
erly washed ; so I had to find fault, which was what I very
much disliked, as I always felt that fault-finding ought never to
be the business of more than one person in a house. Martha
was cross, to >, and would do just contrary to what I wished.
She saw visitors, and knew they were likely to give her work and
keep her in the house, and I was sure she wanted to be out of
irs gossiping, a thing which she particularly liked, and I

pecially dreaded. Altogether it was as much as half an hour
before I could get back to the parlour.

L h made a kind of apology when I went in, and said she


did not think I should have been kept so long ; ' but you need
not mind so much, Ursie,' she added, 'for Mrs Kemp has come
to drink tea.'

' I did not say that,' replied Mrs Kemp, good-naturedly ;
'though a cup of tea never comes amiss. But the days are
beginning to close in, and we must not be late, especially as we
are driving.'

John Hervey laughed, and said that was a slur on his driving.
He could make his way over the hill at midnight, he was sure ;
and if he could not, the horse could, which was better.

' Fogs are worse than darkness, I always think,' said Mary
Kemp ; ' and there is one coming up now, I do believe.'

No one had noticed it before, yet it was already quite thick ;
but that was the way with those sea fogs, they rushed over the
hill all of a sudden, and then cleared away, as it seemed, without
any cause.

' I thought, Ursie,' said John, ' that you might have been at
Compton lately, which was one reason I had for coming here.
I have not been there myself, I can't tell the time when.'

' Mrs Weir is going to take Stonecliff, so William heard in
Hove, on Saturday,' said Leah. ' But Ursie is so close, we
have not heard it from her, even if she knows it.'

Mr Hervey only remarked that he never believed one half of
what he heard in Hove.

' Had not I better go and see about tea ? ' I asked, for I wanted
an excuse to go away. I never liked talking about Mrs Weir
before strangers.

' Perhaps you might as well,' said Leah. ' Here is the key
of the closet. I wish you would bring in some of that pound
cake which William is so fond of. I should like Mrs Kemp to
taste it.'

' Pound cake of your making, Ursie ? ' asked Mrs Kemp.

' Yes,' I said. ' It was one of Mrs Mason's receipts ; but
Martha was careless with the oven, and it is rather burnt.'

' Martha is enough to plague one's life out,' said Leah. ' If we
were not going to try this new girl from the Compton school, I
should tell William we must send her away.'

' When is your new girl coming ?' asked Mrs Kemp.

'To-morrow, I believe; isn't it, Ursie? It is Ursie's concern.
She has undertaken to teach her.'

' Not quite,' I replied. ' I said I would look after her as well
as I could in the morning, but I never promised more.'


1 1 shall wish \ou joy if she is like our ^irl, Ursie,' said Mary
Kemp ; 'she is duller than dull; Kitty Hobson was a treasure
to her.'

'And what lias become of Kitty?' asked Leah.

' She's gone to be kitchen-maid at Mr Stewart's,' replied Mrs
Kemp. ' I knew the cook, and she promised to look after her,
and I have great hopes that Kitty will turn out well.'

'More than I have,' said Leah; 'but girls are all alike. I
dare say we shan't find this new one any better than the rest.'

' It depends upon what you expect,' said Mrs Kemp. 'One
can't put old heads on young shoulders, and so one must make
up one's mind to take trouble, and look after them, else of course
they will go wrong. I was obliged to be strict with Kitty, for
when she came to Longside first, she was out in the yard talk-
ing at all hours ; but my Mary took her in hand, and gave her
plenty to do, and saw that she did it, and sent her to bed early,
before the men and hoys had their supper, and by the time she
left us, we hail worked her out of a good many of her idle ways.
Then, to be sure, I must say Mary has a way with her,' added
Mrs Kemp, with a mother's pride. 'She used to make the girl
read to her on Sundays ; and now and then Kitty sat with
lu r and helped in the house needlework, and that gave her a
notion of being more tidy and respectable in her ways. It was
giving her a lilt in the world, which, I suppose, is what we all

I had lingered to hear what Mrs Kemp was saying, hoping to
gain some hints for myself, but I saw Leah look impatient, and
indeed time was running on fast, and, much against my inclina-
tion, I went to get tea.

I did not notice that John lb rvey followed me, but, as I was
taking the cake out of the closet, he came behind me, and quite
startled me by offering to carry it for me.

4 You don't want me,' he said, laughing, as he noticed my look
of surpri

'To tell the truth, I don't think I do,' I replied ; 'Leah is not
1 of having persons spying about her cupboards.'

'I don't want to 1 ok at the cupboard, I only want to have a
few words with you, Ursie ; and there is no chance of our being
alone, that I can sec. Have you heard about Mrs Weir and

' Since you ask,' I replied, ' I must needs say I have ; but it is
no business of mine.'


He stood thinking; then he said, 'It won't do, Ursie, and it
ought to be prevented.'

'Who is to prevent it?' I asked. 'What business have
either you or I with it ? '

'With me it's just this,' he answered. 'Airs Wor's family
have always been very kind to my family ; and if it was not for
them I shouldn't be where I am. She is left here to manage
for herself, with no more knowledge than a baby what to do ;
and Miss Milicent not much wiser; and so, if one sees them
likely to make a blunder, one would fain, if one could, stop

' If you mean as regards money,' I said, ' Miss Milicent is not
likely to be misled there ; she has a sharp eye.'

' Not so sharp as Mrs Temple,' said John ; ' she will squeeze
every penny out of them, if they live together, and make her
share of expenses a third, instead of half. I know her of old,
for I have had dealings with her. Ursie, you must try and talk
over Miss Milicent.'

' Not I,' I replied ; ' I have given up trying to talk over any
one. The world must go its own way.'

A cloud came over his face. ' That is not as you used to talk,
Ursie,' he said. ' I remember the time when you would have
made any venture to be of use to such a friend as Mrs Weir has
been to you.'

' That was when I was young,' I replied, trying to laugh,
though my heart was heavy. ' I have grown wiser since.'

' It can't be wisdom to let people go to ruin without stretching
out a hand to save them,' he replied.

'Who is to say it is ruin?' was my answer ; 'I am sure I
couldn't. Indeed, Mr Hervey, we must leave Mrs Weir to
manage her own concerns ; or, if any one is to interfere, it can't
be myself.'

'It won't be me,' he said, rather quickly. 'Well! Ursie, I
didn't think you were so changeable.'

I turned round upon him at the word. 'Changeable!' I ex-
claimed ; ' I am sure I have never shown myself so.'

' One week bent upon living with Mrs Weir, and the next not
troubling yourself to go near her, and not willing to put yourself
out of your way to serve her,' he said ; ' I don't know what you
call that but changeable.'

' I know what I call fault-finding without reason or know-
ledge, Mr Hervey,' I said ; for, my proud temper being roused,

2i 4 URSULA.

I couKl not brii If to explain what made mc seem change


He turned off with a laugh J but I noticed that, instead of
going back to the parlour, he went out into the garden ; and my
conscience reproached me, for I knew I had been wrong. Still
he had no business to take me to task in that way ; and it was
talking in ignorance to suppose that I had any power to pre\
.Mrs Weir and Mis Mdiccnt from doing whatever they wish d.
I fancied that I had some right to be cross with him, and I was
cio -. and said to myself that, with all his good-natured looks
and ways, he was much more fond oi ordering and correct
than Roger. So far, Mary Kemp was well fitted to him. She-
would obey him without a word. As for me, I had not yet
thoroughly learned to obey any one.

Leah was quite put out when I went back ; I had been so long

;ing tea. She asked me what I had been doing.

'Talking to John Hervey,' said Mary Kemp, laughing; 'I
saw them together.'

' Vis,' I replied ; ' Mr Ilcrvey came out after me, and wc had
a few words together ; but I should have been quicker, only the
water did not boil.'

' 1 don't think it boils now,' said Leah, pouring out a cup of
tea. 'There's no strength in the tea. Come, Mrs Kemp, take

>:r seat ; and, Mary, there's a place for you. Ursic, just run
out into the yard, will you ? and tell William to come ; he 's sure
t i !• ■ there.'

1 did as I was asked, and turning the corner of the house
sharply, I came full upon John Hervey.

• Friends, Ursie ?' he said, and he held out his hand to me.

' Friends, if you will,' I answered ; 'but I didn't know we were
enemit s, Mr Hervey.'

'Well! not quite enemies,' he said, smiling; 'only just in-
clined to snap at one another. Hut, Ursie, you will have a
thought for Mrs Weir, if possible?'

II'- seemed the most pertinacious man I had ever met with,
the most determined to carry his point ; and so, out of a in
-pint of contradiction, I answered: 'I have a great many
thoughts for Mrs Weir always, Mr Hervey. Whether I shall
have many words is quite another question.'

' You arc a perverse body,' he said, lightly ; and he went into
the house, leaving me vexed that I had not been able to vex him
more. It was not that I didn't like and respect him heartily


but I believe nothing provokes us women more than to find that
we can't teaze when Ave wish to do so.

Tea was rather hurried over, for the fog was becoming heavier
William said they had better wait for the chance of its clearing
off after the sun went down, but Mrs Kemp thought the farmer
would be fidgety, and they had better get home as soon as they
could. She pressed me very much to go and spend a day with
them at Longside,but Leah declared I couldn't be spared. The
new girl was coming, and I should be wanted to teach her.

' Look after her, more than teach her, Ursie,' said Mrs Kemp
to me, in a low voice, which Leah couldn't hear. 'And, lassie,
if you can with truth, give her a little praise at first setting off.
The farmer says it 's needful for us all, as capital to begin the
world with.'

Mary Kemp was anxious to go ; she was rather a coward, and
if the fog continued, she declared they were as likely as not to
miss their way. But, in spite of all she could say, Mr Hervey
would linger to say a few words to me about Roger. I had for-
gotten my perverseness, and was very glad to talk to him upon
the subject nearest my heart, but I could not help thinking that
he was not as mindful of Mary as he might have been, and it
gave me the first really uncomfortable feeling I had ever had
about him ; a misgiving lest, after all, he might be selfish, and
even rather cold, in spite of his hearty, pleasant ways.


ESTHER SMITHSON was at Sandcombe the next morn-
ing by half-past six o'clock : that was as early as could be
expected, for she had a good way to walk. Leah took it as a
matter of course that I was to be down-stairs to look after her,
and I was not sorry for it, as it enabled me at once to arrange
her work, so as to put her to that which was most fitting for her.
I found her untidy, but clever and willing. From the first I was
determined that she should not be made a mere drudge to wait
upon the men, and Martha and I had a little fight upon the
subject that very morning, but I gained my point. My mother
would have been particular about me, and it was my duty to be
particular about Esther, all the more because she came of an idle


family, and was likely to have a bad example set her at home.
But I was not to have my own way quite so easily. When the
morning work was over, and William, and Leah, and I, sat down
to dinner, Leah said to me, ' Well ! (Jrsie, what do you think of

ther ? is she likely to do ?'

'It is early to judge,' I replied, 'but she seems willing and
handy. She set out the bre ikfa t things quite cleverly.'

' Set out the breakfast things !' exclaimed Leah ; ' you don't
mean to say she ha. been in here tins morning ? ' and she L< m ■!:• d
round the room with a turn of her lip, as though she had seen
something disagi

' It was part of her business,' I said ; ' I saw how she did it,
and took care that she was tidy and clean in her ways ; and I
found her very willing to learn.'

William spoke now, and quite in Leah's tone. 'I must tell
you once for all, Ursic, for it is better to come to an under-
standing plainly, I don't want your dirty, slatternly school-girls
fussing about in my parlour. They have the kitchen and the
scullery for their proper place, and I must beg you will keep them

' But Esther is come to learn to be a servant,' 1 said, ' and she
can't learn if she is not put in the way.'

' She is come to make herself useful,' said Leah, ' and specially
1. i t ike the odds and ends of work, which you, and I, and Martha,
don't choose to do.'

' Mis Richardson doesn't understand this,' was my reply.
'The agreement was that Esther was to be taught'

' And she will he taught,' repli d Leah. ' If she is a girl of
any sense, she will learn of her own accord ; and if she has no
!, all die tea( hin ; in the world won't give her any.'

' We have not set up a school for idiots, yet,' said William,
with a short laugh.

' It is what Ursic will set up some day,' I do believe,' replied

' Mis Mason used to take a great deal of pains with me, and I
should like to do the same with Ksther,' I replied ; ' and as for
trying to tench, unless one is willing to make sacrifices, it seems
to me nonsense to attempt it.'

• Possibly,' replied Leah, 'hut we don't profess to teach here ;
the teaching his been done at Compton school. When girls go
out into the world, they must learn to make their own way.'

'Toss them in, and let them sink or swim as they may,' I


exclaimed, rather bitterly. ' Leah, that was not your case nor

' It was mine,' exclaimed Leah. ' I went my own way from
the time I left Mrs Prince's school, at Hove, and that was when
I was fifteen, just a few months older than Esther Smithson.'
She drew herself up with a proud air, as though defying anyone
to say a word against her.

I was silent ; it was no use to continue the argument, and,
after all, Leah was mistress. But, in my own mind, I deter-
mined that if I found it really impossible to be of use to the
poor child, I would ask Mrs Richardson to look out for another
situation for her.

Leah watched me narrowly after that conversation, bein"-
afraid, I could see, that I was going to make too much of Esther,
but I was careful not to offend her ; and, indeed, I did not wish
myself to be too particular about the girl. I only wanted to give
her the kind of work which would keep her out of the way of
gossiping and idle talking with the men about the farm. Esther
was much given to chattering, and, though I did not encourage
her, she told me of her own accord some things which I certainly
was much interested in hearing.

Her mother had been sent for to work at Stonecliff, the large
house under Compton Heath. It was to be cleaned and put in
order for a family who were to take possession almost im-
mediately, and Esther said was nearly sure that it was Mrs
Temple who had given all the orders. This confirmed Mr Her-
vey's information, and settled my mind as to saying anything to
Miss Milicent. If matters had gone as far as that, it would be

The news was confirmed a few days after; when, as I was
sitting alone by mysdf, at work, there was a knock at the front
door, and I heard some one say —

'Is Ursula Grant at home?' The voice took me quite by
surprise. It was Mrs Temple's. I thought I had better go out
to her. She was in a little pony-chaise ; one that belonged to the
hotel, and Mr Temple was with her. I asked them to get out
and walk in, and Mr Temple seemed willing, but Mrs Temple
declined. They must return at once, she said. She had only
called about a little matter of business ; perhaps it would be as
well to see Mrs Grant. ' Mrs Grant is not at home, ma'am,' I
replied ; for Leah had gone over to her mother at Hatton.

' Well, then ! perhaps you will do as well, if you will explain.


My dear, the pony is fidgety, just pet out and stand by its head,'
And Mr Temple, being always obedient, alighted,

A cold wind was blowing, and I was afraid of toothache, and
put my apron round my head, but Mrs Temple did not notice it,
and kept me standing in the draught. ' 1 wanted to inquire
about having butter from Sandcombe,' she said. ' I shall want
enough for rather a large family; — Mr Temple, and my
Mrs and Miss Weir, and cur servants, besides friends ! — we are
to be at StoneclittV She looked at me as though I had been an
utter stranger, who had never heard of her before.

id not appear surprised, or even interested, but merely said,
' We send our butter to Hove, ma'am, generally.'

'I suppose you do ; but of course you would be willing to
accommodate persons in the neighbourhood. We find it difficult
to procure good butter, and I am particular about it.'

' I will speak to Mrs Grant,' was my reply.

I think she was struck by the tone, for she added more gra-
ciously, 'Mrs Weir would have a claim upon you, I am sure.'

' Certainly, ma'am, my brother and I — all of us would do any-
thing we could for Mrs Weir,' I answered. ' But the butter can
always be bought at Hove.'

' Yes, perhaps so ; but I should prefer — you have a girl here
who comes from Compton school, she might bring it over.'

She was bent upon saving the carriage, I saw that in an

'The girl's hours would scarcely suit, I am afraid, ma'am,'
I replied ; ' and the butter for a large family would be a load for

'Oh ! a strong girl ; she would not care, and she must learn
to make herself useful. Mrs Richardson would wish it. She is
one of the Compton girls, I know ; there can be no difficulty.'

' I could promise a pound occasionally, for Mrs Weir, ma'am,'
I said, 'but I would not undertal ;iore. The butter has

n sent to Hove now for a good many years, but of course I
speak about it to Mrs Grant.'

' I shall call again, and speak for myself,' she exclaimed. ' I
am not accustomed to incivility. My dear,' and she touched her
husband with the driving-whip, 'my dear, are you ready? We
must call again another day ; or perhaps, — tell Mrs Grant I
should wish to see her if she should be coming over to Compton
in the course of the next week.'

I curtsied, and Mrs Temple drove off.


Was it not irritating? — and she professing herself to be so
wonderfully good, so Christian-like. It would have made me
doubt whether anything like real religion and humility were to
be found in the world, if I had not known persons like Mrs Weir,
and Mr and Mrs Richardson. Curiously enough, Mrs Temple
always came over me as something new. It takes a long time
to make one believe that persons with high professions can really
be self-deceivers, and whenever I was away from Mrs Temple,
I took myself to task for disliking her as I did, and suspected it
might be my own fault that we were not friends. ' Perhaps,'
I sometimes said to myself, ' if I was more in earnest, I should
enter more into her ways of going on, and understand them
better.' But it was no use to scold myself; one meeting was
enough to make me turn from her as much as ever.

But the thing which worried me now far more than Mrs
Temple's ungraciousness, was the thought that Mrs Weir and
Miss Milicent were so entirely under her influence, and that they
could so have forgotten their old kindliness for me, as to make
such a great change as that of moving from the Heath to Stone-
cliff, and joining housekeeping with Mrs Temple, without troub-
ling themselves to let me know that it was a settled plan. I dare
say they had spoilt me in a measure in former days, and made
me too much their friend ; but I own I felt as though I had been
dealt unkindly by, and my first impulse was to take my revenge
by not helping them in return. Leah was little likely to upset
the arrangements of her dairy, to please either Mrs Weir or
Mrs Temple, and though I had said truly that the butter could
be bought at Hove, I had a strong suspicion that it was nearly
always caught up at once by old customers. But I was in a
better mind than that before Leah came home. I had an old
habit, I don't remember exactly when or how I began it, of read-
ing the Evening Psalms about that time in the day, and when I
had put out the tea-things, I went up to my room and took out
my prayer-book as usual, and somehow or other the very act of
doing it made me feel what a sinful temper I was indulging.
There was a hard struggle before I could overcome it, but God
helped me, and I gained the victory, and that same evening I
tried, though unsuccessfully, to persuade Leah to alter her
market arrangements to suit them. I was vexed at having
failed, but satisfied at having made the attempt, and never
suspected that any fault could be laid at my door.

2 20 UKSrf.A.


CHRISTMAS came. It would take too much time to note
all that happened before, though there was a good deal in
different ways, both at home and abroad. Jane Shaw was mar-
ried ; that, I think, was the greatest event of all. Of course I
was not asked to the wedding, but Jessie Lee was ; and very
pi tty she looked, as I was told, and very much notice she hail
in consequence from Captain Trice's gay friends. Her little
head was sadly turned, for the time, by the flattery she received.
She came over to us once or twice dressed so handsomely, that
1 really felt ashamed for her ; but she took what I said to her
about it very properly, and if she did not alter her ways, at least
she was not angry with me for trying to induce her to do so.
She was a great deal at Dene, which was what I disliked m
i any thin

Mrs Morris and Leah quite changed their tone about her,
when they found how much was made of her there. Instead of
a drudge, they seemed resolved to turn her into a young lady ;
and to own the truth, she played the part better than many who
set up for being well born and well bred. What kind of society
there was at Dene I could not well understand. No one whom
we knew, except Jessie, ever visited, or even went there, unless
it might be now and then on business ; but rumours reached us
which were anything but satisfactory to me, though William and
1. ah appeared to think little enough about them.

Leah was possessed with the idea that I was jealous of Jessie ;
and so, if I ever made a remark upon anything I had heard, or
repeated any of the stories which now and then came to my ears,
I was only half believed. Leah could not sec as I did that the
very fact of having Jessie's name mixed up with people like
Captain and Mrs Price, whom every one was talking about, was
to her disadvantage. I relieved myself, when I was very much
worried with this sort of thing, by writing it all out to Roger.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 21 of 56)