Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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oftener than her friends knew. I could not bear to think it of
her, for she was true by nature, though sometimes inclined to

j) things back from fear. But vanity and love of amusenv
will lead to so much evil, which no one has any idea of at first.

I left her to go and explain to Leah why I had returned ; but
when I entered the parlour I found no tea prepared, — not even
the tea-tray put out, — and the room looked so cheerless ! The
lire had cone out, and some one had been trying to re-liyht it ;
for a few sticks were lying about, and the coal-scuttle stood in
the middle of the room. I went to the kitchen, and found no
one, but I heard voices in the distance, loud and angry ; they
came, I was nearly sure, from the dairy, and I went there to see
what was going on.

It was so dark that I stumbled over something which was
lying on the ground at the door; it was like part of a bri 1
dish, and my I t went into a pool, whether of milk or of water
I could not see. Leah and r were in the dairy. They did

not perceive me ; Leah was in what I can only call a towering
passion, a thing rare for her; she was bitter and cross, but not
generally passionate. I heard my name mentioned. 'Miss
Grant lets you do it, does she ? You are not to attend to Miss
Grant, you tlcnd to mc, I am your mistress. But you'll

leave me; I don't keep good-for-nothing girls, who tell hes!'
And then Esther rejoined, not very respectfully but very ear-
nest 1 ;.-, denying thi t she had said anythin which was untrue;
and waa immediately contradicted by Leah with fresh thr ats <<i
ng turned off instantly. What was the beginning or likely to
be the end of the quarrel, I could not see ; but I was quite sure


that Esther had been kept at work later than was right, and that
she would have a long, dark walk over the hill by herself, if some
one did not take thought for her ; so I quietly drew back, and
made my way into the farm-yard, and told Sam Hobson, Kitty's
father, whom I knew I should find at work there, that he was
not to go without having a word with me first. He was a steady
man, and lived near the Smithsons, and I was sure he would see
Esther safe home. Then I went back to the dairy. Leah had
left it, but I found Esther sobbing at the door. She told me her
gric\ ance. She had washed the milk buckets carefully, as I
ordered her, and cleaned the ladles, and prepared everything for
the milk when it was brought in ; and she was going to scour
the pans that would be wanted the next morning, when she was
called away by Martha, and sent on a message across the fields,
which took her more than a quarter of an hour. When she came
back she found some milk, which had been put into a brown
pan, spilt, and the pan itself broken to pieces. She had no more
to do with it, she said, than I had ; and she went directly and
told Martha, but Martha didn't believe her, neither did Mrs
Grant. No one else, they said, had been near the dairy, and it
must have been her doing ; and so they wanted to make her
confess it. ' But I wouldn't tell a story for them, nor for the
Queen ! ' exclaimed Esther, indignantly. ' I didn't do it, and if
they were to cut my head off, I wouldn't say that I did.'

There was one point, however, in which Esther no doubt was
wrong ; it was part of her usual carelessness ; she had been
always told to shut the dairy door when she came out, and this
had been forgotten. But she owned it at once. She was a
thoughtless girl, but not given to falsehood. I had no doubt
myself that the mischief was done by the cat, and I made her
fetch a candle, and we went into the dairy together. I pointed
out the marks of the creature's feet on the boards ; Esther was
satisfied then, she thought the trouble was over. As for the
threatening and the scolding, she had been used to them from
one or the other all her life, and I doubt if she considered it
possible to get on without them. She had learned to look upon
herself as fated to do wrong. As she once said to me, ' Please,
Miss Grant, I was born to go crooked.'

I was very provoked with Leah in my own mind for having
raised such a storm, without having given herself the trouble of
inquiring into the case, but I supposed it would all be right
when once I had explained matters. I did not understand Leah,


however; perhaps I should more truly say I did not understand
human nature. There is no saying how far we are all at times
tempted to depart from what is just, from the shame <>f allowing
that we have been unjust. When 1 went in, 1 s kneeling

down before the parlour fire trying to re-light it. Esther had
brought damp sticks, and they would not catch ; the shavings
were buriicd out, and there were only a few scraps of pap r to use

' It was too late to get to Longside, Leah,' I said, by way of
explanation, ' so I am come back. Can't I help you ? There's
a Weekly Messenger in the drawer, which I suppose may be

'You'll please let that stay,' was the reply. 'There's an
advertisement in it which William wants to have kept. It's all
that girl's fault — green sticks like these ! They won't light for
a twelvemonth.' Leah caught up the matchbox, rubbed her
last match, and found that it wouldn't go off, and then tossed the
box upon the table, and sat down in William's leathern arm-
chair with her arms folded. I went out to the kitchen, and
brought back some more shavings, and another box of matches.
' Certainly,' I said, as I gathered up the green sticks, 'it is very
tiresome. There are plenty of dry faggots in the wood-house, I

' This sort of thing won't go on,' said Leah, not at all hastily,
but in a tone which to me was much worse.

I made no reply.

' I shall go over to Compton to-morrow,' she continued, 'and
tell Mrs Richardson so. I can't have liars in my house. They
will look a long time before they see any more of my money for
Compton school, if that is the way thy bring their girls up.'

I was afraid I should only irritate her more by answering, but
I could not hear a false accusation without trying to put it ri
so I explained what had really been the case about the mil!:.
All I gained in reply was, 'Very likely ; it might be true, or it
mightn't ; but Esther was a girl who wasn't to be trusted. She
could not even lay a fire. She never remembered a thing that
was told her ; and if she didn't break the dish herself, she was
the cause of its being broken, and that was just as bad. So im-
pertinent she was too, — and such a. quantity of milk spilt, —
Mrs Weir must go without it, there wouldn't be a drop for 1.
— old customers must be attended to first.' These and many
more remark 5 ;, eqmlly annoying, I had to bear in the best way


I could, and that I thought was silently ; but silence only made
matters worse. When Leah found herself uncontradicted, she
turned her wrath upon me. It was all my doing, I was at the
bottom of every mischief; it was I who had insisted upon taking
Esther; I, who had taught her badly — indeed, had entirely
neglected her. If I could have believed her, my love of going
about visiting was the cause of the mishap in the dairy, and the
green sticks, and the extinguished fire.

I was not unaccustomed to such accusations. I went on
trying to make the fire burn, and by the help of the bellows
succeeded at last, so that the room was quite cheerful with a
blaze ; and then I set out the tea-tray, and brought in the bread
and butter, and put out some cake for William, Leah all the
time not taking the least notice, but sitting moodily apart. At
length, when she found she could not get a word from me, she
went up-stairs.

I give no credit to myself for forbearance. It was simply a
matter of necessity. If I had said one word, I must have said a
hundred. I was, in fact, so angry that I could not trust myself
to speak. Perhaps, with such a violent temper as mine was
naturally, and a principle of religion which had not, as it were,
come to its full growth, this was as much as I could expect.
But it would have been better if I had learned to turn my
wrathful feelings into prayers. I might not then have heard all
the bitter things Leah said, and I am sure I should not have
treasured them in my heart as I did. I went up-stairs to find
Jessie, and gave vent before her more than I ought to have
done, and that did me no good, especially as Jessie was inclined
to take Leah's part, partly, I think, because she felt vexed with
me for not having flattered her more.

After a while, I sent Jessie down to explain for herself why
she was there, and to make tea if she was wanted, and presently
I heard her talking away quite cheerfully to William. I could
not make up my mind to go down myself, but there I sat close
to the window, looking out upon the heavy clouds which came
floating across the sky, tinged with a faint glow from the sunset.
I was better in some degree, for I had tried to pray for a
few moments when Jessie left me, and my temper was quieter ;
but I could not forget what had passed, and my thoughts were
gloomy as the. deepening twilight. Mrs Price, Leah, Jessie,
Esther, all seemed going the wrong way ; some from one cause,
some from another. And there was no way of doing good. I

/■■/.. I.

thought I was to be useful to Esther, but she was to be taken
away from ine. I wished t<> save Jessie, but she depended u]

than upon me. I bad cherished a 1 ■ ame

to Saudcombe, of persuading William, if i h, to look upon

things in a different way, but I did not see that I bad the
htest influence. William was not at all more const, at . t
church because I went twice. He took the Sun
for settling the accounts just the same, and never read anythi
but the Mark Lane Express or the Ilo-.-e Advertiser; and the
way things went on about the farm and the servants was not
altered in the least. My life seemed quite thrown away. And
as to my own temper and principles, I had only to look at myself
at that moment and see all the angry, proud, revengeful feelings
which were struggling for the mastery, to be quite sure that
there was very little improvement in them. If I had only re-
mained with Mrs Weir, I said to myself— and I went n(f in
thought into a consideration of what might have been the conse-
quence, both to her and myself, when Jessie ran up-stairs to bring
me down to ten, saying that William was tired of waiting.

Leah was not in the room. Tea was poured out, and she did
not come ; and when William went up to her, he brought back
word that she had a headache, and was lying on her bed.
William was in very good spirits, rather merry than otherwise,
lie was pleased to have Jessie there, and joked her about Dene,
and especially, to my great annoyance, about Lieutenant Mac-
donald. I rather imprudently carried on the subject, by repcat-
what I had heard of him, and especially of his habit of
drinking ; and William, really, I believe, for the mere amuse-
ment of contradicting, took his part, and made light of it, saying
that it was what all young men would do if it came in their way,
only some had the cleverness to conceal it. I was sure, and I
told him so, that he was wrong. I don't believe that cither
Ri ger or John Ikrvcy ever did such a thing, and William him-
self was always sober from a boy. It vexed me that he should
say such things before Jessie. It is so bad for any one to have
a low opinion of others ; and, moreover, it has always been a
puzzle to me, how persons can talk lightly of such a habit as Mr
Macdonald's. Putting aside the evil in this world, the Bible
nlways classes it with the worst sins. To hear a drunken scene
turned into ridicule, is to me like hearing people laugh about the
:1. It makes me shudder. But then, the world would say I
am i ticular.


When Jessie went up-stairs to take Leah a cup of tea, I made
a remark of this kind to William, and brought him to agree with
me. I did not like to tell him how matters really stood between
Jessie and the lieutenant, but I said enough to put him on his
guard, and make him feel that to encourage Jessie in thinking
about such a man was very unwise, to say the least. There was
something in William which I could always reach when I had
him to myself. It was not goodness or principle, I am afraid, but
it was a kind of straightforwaixl sense and perception of truth.
Selfishness blinded him whenever he did see things crookedly.
The provoking thing was, that one never could depend upon
him. He might agree with everything that was said one minute,
and the next he would go and act directly against it.

Jessie, when she came down, said that Leah's head was very
bad, and she thought she had caught cold standing about in the
dairy ; I offered to go up to her, but Jessie thought I had better
not. She did not exactly say that Leah was too much put out
with me to see me, but I was certain it was so. It did not strike
me, however, that there could be much the matter, for Jessie
told me that Leah had talked about a dinner party which she
thought of giving the week after Christmas, and a card party
had been mentioned too. Generally speaking, but little visiting
went on round Sandcombe, the farms were so scattered ; Wil-
liam and Leah, however, always gave rather a grand party at
Christmas time, and Leah went out a good deal then, sometimes
as often as twice in the week.

Jessie cared little for dinner or cards, what she wanted was a
dance ; but she could not bring Leah round upon that point, she
said, and I own I was not very sorry for it.

We sat rather long gossiping over the fire after tea. When
William went out to look round the farm, Jessie very good-
naturedly offered to see to one or two things which I was in the
habit of attending to, and left me at my work. But presently
she came back with a note in her hand. It had been brought,
she said, from Stonecliff, and the man was waiting to know if
there was any answer.

' Let him go and warm himself by the kitchen-fire, Jessie,' I
said, ' it will take some time to read this ; and perhaps you will
just look out a pen and some paper for me, in case I should have
to write.' I drew the candle near and began to read. No spec-
tacles were required; Miss Milicent's letters might have been
distinguished from each other, half across the room —


' I went away from you to-day In a hurry, Ursie Grant, but
why did not you come after me ? I expected you. There is a
great deal to say to you ; more than I can put on paper to-night,
I. untenant Macdonald was half-tipsy, I d n't thin'; he knew
what he was saying. Come over to-morrow morning if you c
and if you can't, come to-morrow afternoon. Matilda Temple
nplains of the Sandcombe butter; I don't cat butter myself.
My mother has had a bad nervous attack ; Matilda Temple 1
n with her all the afternoon. As I said, she won't let her
to my father. I should like to know how much we arc to believe
of the news. I should not like to live in France, but it might
he better than Stonecliff. Matilda Temple means to go and hear
the school-children examined at Hatton to-morrow. It is not her
parish, but it will take her out of your way, if you come over.
If you hear of any one who wants sea-anemones, you may send
me word ; 1 shall give mine away if we go to France.

' I am, Ursie Grant,

'Your sincere friend,

' Milicext Weir.'

Not much of an answer could be given to this note, it was too
perplexing ; but I wrote because I would not trust to a messa
lest there might be some fret with Mrs Temple. If she knew I
was likely to be at Stonecliff, she might possibly put herself in
my way. I merely said, however, that if I possibly could, I
would walk over in the course of the afternoon, but Miss Mili-
cent must not be vexed with me if I did not come, for I could
not answer for myself ; and the man was sent back.

' Ursie,' said William to me that night, when I went to bed,
' Leah has a terrible cold ; what do you think I had better give

I recommended something warm, but I did not offer again to
go and sec her.


I WOKE the next morning with the feeling that nil the busi-
ness of the house depended upon me. I was dressed long
before daylight, and down-stairs helping Jessie to get breakfast,


because Esther came late. I went to the dairy, and fed the
poultry, and gave the orders for the day, and I made the tea,
and cut the bread for breakfast, and talked to William and
Jessie, and arranged for Jessie to stay the day, because of Leah's
being ill ; in fact, I did everything for every one, except myself.
I was in a proud mood, and I would not get the better of it. ' If
Leah does not send for me,' I said to myself, 'she may just do
without me.'

Jessie declared she was very feverish. I asked if a doctor
should see her, and William laughed at the notion. In the after-
noon, before I went over to Stonecliff, I told Jessie to go up-stairs
and let Leah know I was going. I thought perhaps that she
would wish to see me then, for there had been some more trouble
about the butter, and I knew she had a message to send. But
Jessie only brought back word that I was to tell Mrs Weir there
would be no butter all the winter. It vexed me more than I
would quite own to myself to go off and leave her, though it
would be only for a few hours, without having had a word of
peace with her, and the next day Christmas-day too, and I pre-
paring for the Communion. I actually turned back, after I
had reached the farm-yard gate, resolved to see her, but Jessie
told me she was asleep then, so it was of no use, and I continued
my walk.

Stonecliff was a much better house than the cottage on the
Heath. It had, besides, a good-sized garden, and a coach-house
and stables. A tolerably large income would have been required
to live there comfortably, for it was a kind of place which would
naturally occasion expenses.

The garden gave most trouble, for the place lay quite open to
the south-west, and the salt spray dried up the vegetation ; but
there was a glorious view to make up for it, all over the bay to
the great white cliffs, and the far distant coast, which could be
seen like a gray cloud on the edge of the sea ; and the sound of
the dashing waves, and the feeling of the fresh, free breeze, came
to one with such a gift of life, and hope, and strength — in spite
of its wildness, I could have been very fond of Stonecliff if it
had been my home.

I found Miss Milicent in a little study, opening out of the
drawing-room. She was drying sea-weeds ; but said as I en-
tered, without looking up from her occupation, ' There 's a chair
for you, Ursie ; I am glad you are come.'

' I hope Mrs Weir is better to-day, Miss Milicent/ I said.


' She may be bet:er, but she is not quieter.'

' Was the news yesterday so very bad ? ' I ventured to ask.

She pushed aside the table at which she bad la en busy, and,
turning round to face me, replied, 'Your name is not Weir,
Ur I : t, and you can't understand.'

' Pi rha] s not, entirely,' I said, 'but no one can blame you,
nor Mrs Weir, Miss Miliccnt, whatever may be wron .

' Listen to me, Ursic,' she continued, and she leaned
clenched hand on the table, and bent forward with eagerm
' I had to talk to man yesterday, and he was not sober, and
he called himself our friend, the friend of the family, and he
w. inted to shake hands — who was to bear that?'

"He was not the more your friend for calling himself so,' I

'But he is,' she added, bitterly, and she walked away sud-
denly to the other end of the room. 'You are an honest girl,'
she added, returning, and placing both her hands on my
shoulders. 'You won't think lower of us because our name is
Weir ; I was proud enough of the name once,' she added, in a
lower tone.

'Indeed, Miss Miliccnt,' I said, 'you know well enough that
it is an honour to me to do anything I can for you. You have
only to tell me what. I am very sorry you were so annoyed
yesterday with seeing that disagreeable man, but perhaps you
won't have to do it again.'

' I shall though, Ursic. I must go there again. There is a
at deal to arrange with him. He knows all my father's

The veins in her forehead swilled as she spoke the words. I
gazed at her in surprise. Such proud feelings I had never re-
marked in her before, and yet I could scarcely call them proud.
In her place I should have felt as she did, and not blamed my-
self. Mr Weir had once been a gentleman, honoured and re-
spected. She could never forget that.

'Mr Richardson, or Mr Temple, would sec him for you,' I be-
gan ; but she interrupted me.

'No, Ursie, no spies, no strangers, none but his daughter
shall hear of him. And I couldn't talk to any one but you,' she
added, as large tears coursed themselves down her cheek.

I'. r thing ! Words can't express how sorry I felt for her, but
I could not understand why she should choose me to talk to. It
came out, however, very soon.


'You know all, Ursic,' she said, ' the difficulties and tempt is ;
my mother's ways, and Matilda Temple's ; you understand it. I
can't go and tell Mr Richardson everything ; and I trust you,
Ursic ; I trust you with all my heart.'

I gave her my hand, and she grasped it heartily.

'The trouble is about helping him,' she continued. 'This
man says he wants money, and that he is going to join in a
business — wine-selling, I think ; but I don't put faith in what is
told me ; only he declares, my father is so poor now, if he could
have help he would go on steadily. What does Lieutenant Mac-
donald mean by steadiness ?'

'You must not trust Lieutenant Macdonald,' I said. 'If Mr
Weir is found, some one else must go and see him, and judge
what is really the state of the case.'

' And who ? ' she exclaimed. ' My mother ? '

' Oh no! Miss Milicent, never. How could you think of such
a thing ? '

' Then I ? By myself ? Leaving my mother with Matilda
Temple ? I have thought about it.'

For the moment it seemed the only plan. Yet for her to go
abroad alone, it was next to impossible; and I said, 'You would
not trust Mr Temple, I suppose, Miss Milicent?'

' Trust a baby in long clothes ! Ursie, where are your

'John Hervey !' I exclaimed, as with a sudden inspiration.

She sat down, and leaned her head upon her hand. I heard
her murmur to herself, ' He knows him ; he can't think worse
of him.'

'John Hervey knew Mr Weir years ago, Miss Milicent,' I
said. ' He would respect and help him for the sake of those old

Her countenance worked with a conflict of feeling ; but pre-
sently she said, quite calmly, ' If he could go he must be paid.'

'His expenses must be paid,' I said. 'He would give his
time, I am sure, if possible.'

'Matilda Temple holds the purse-strings/ observed Miss

I was silent — that subject was beyond me.

Miss Milicent sat lost in thought ; her cogitations seemed
to come to no satisfactory termination, for, after a silence of at
least five minutes, she said to me abruptly, ' You will go up«
stairs and see my mother, Ursie. She knows you are here.


Not a word about plans, remember. Under any circumstances
she can't go.'

I left her. My suggestion would, I knew, work better in
solitude than if I was with her ; and with a slow step, very differ-
ent from that with which in former days 1 had been accustomed
;i k Mrs Weir's presence, I went upstairs and knocked at the
r of li r sitting-room.

'Come in,' said the gentle voice, which always sounded more
swl- t to me than any other. ' O Ursula ! it is you ! How are
you ? Will you sit down ?'

Mrs Weir pointed to a chair, and then turned away her face,
and I saw her take up her handkerchief to wipe away the tears
which filled her swollen eyes.

I longed to go near to her, and show that I was sorry for her,
but I could not make the first advance. I could only say, ' Miss
Milicent tells me, ma'am, that you have had a bad night.'

* Rather disturbed, Ursula. I never sleep well now. I tin.
I should have done well to take a sleeping-draught before I went
to bed, but my niece did not like it.'

' You used to take it occasionally, ma'am, if I remember,' I

1 Yes, occasionally ; it is a very bad habit. My niece says
I ought to cure myself of it : and she never takes such things
herself, though she is very nervous, and lies awake half the

A pause followed. Not knowing what to say next, I re-
marked, without thinking what I was saying, that I was afraid
Miss Milicent had a cold, dark walk, the last evening. She was
out so late.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 24 of 56)