Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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Cotton. He began telling me that Mrs Weir was very ill, that
she had had a bad night, that she did not see any one, — but
Cotton gave him a tap on the shoulder, and sent him off to the
kitchen, and, even before he was out of sight, exclaimed, ' Little
rascal ! — he would say his face was copper-coloured for six-
pence ! '

1 Isn't Mrs Weir ill ? ' I said. ' Can she see me ?'

Cotton replied by stepping out into the road, and looking up
and down it.

' She is gone. That is her purple bonnet. Now, Miss Grant,
if you wish to come, you must make the most of your time.'

'What does it mean, Cotton?' I exclaimed, 'I don't under-

'Don't ask questions, and you won't have answers. At any
rate, seeing you will do my mistress good, for yours will be the
first face belonging to any one out of the house that she has
caught sight of for the last three weeks'

' Has she been so ill as that?' I inquired.

' Only learning to be quiet, she will tell you,' said Cotton.
1 Before I would put up with such folly ! But we aren't all made
alike, that is one blessing.'

I followed her, greatly perplexed and pained.

'Mrs Weir's sitting-room was wanted for any stray visitors,
whispered Cotton to me, as she saw me look round the lobby at


the head of the stairs, not quite knowing where I was to be
taken to. ' She has Mr Temple's little dressing-room fitted
up for her now, and her bedroom is along the passage to the

1 It is not comfortable for her, is it?' I asked; and Cotton
shrugged her shoulders, and answered, ' We must like what is
given us, when we are not mistresses in our own house.'

Mrs Weir looked a least a year older since the last time I had
seen her. Her complexion, naturally so singularly clear and
smooth, had become withered and sallow, and her eyes were
heavy ; but she was much more self-controlled, and if I could
have felt that her appearance and manner were natural, I might
have fancied there was a change for the better.

1 You find me in a new room, Ursula,' she said, as Cotton left
us, and I sat down beside her. ' It must seem strange to you.'

Yes, it was very strange, so cold-looking, and comfortless !
Nothing but Mrs Weir's work-basket, and a Bible on the table ;
no flowers even to brighten it.

' I have been here since Milicent left me,' she continued. ' My
niece wished me to be near her ; and she has friends coming to
see her, so that the house will be full.'

' It doesn't look like your room, certainly, ma'am,' I replied.

' You miss the little ornaments ; but they were better in the
visitors' room ; and, you know, Ursula, all things increase in
value when they give pleasure to others.'

' This room is very small, ma'am,' I observed, ' and I am
afraid you will feel the draught from the door.'

' My niece has lent me a thick shawl, and I put it on when I
feel the cold. You see, Ursula, I am not fit to travel, because I
do feel things so much. My niece tells me that.'

Her voice faltered a little, and I heard her murmur to herself,
1 It is right : God help me ; it is all right.'

' You will be better, ma'am, when you have heard from Miss
Milicent,' I said ; ' her being away must make you anxious.'

' I ought not to be anxious, Ursula. I have so many bless-
ings ; and I could not go. Milicent will do without me — she

always does without me, but it is lonely, and I wish ' she did

not finish the sentence.

'What do you wish, dear ma'am ?' I asked.

' Nothing, Ursula. God has taught me that I must have no
wishes,' and Mrs Weir folded her little hands together, as a child
would do in prayer.


' Only perhaps it would do you good, just to say out your
wish, ma'am,' I said ; 'even if you don't think it right to en-
courage it.'

' No, Ursula ; no wishes, no longings.'

' Some, dear ma'am,' I exclaimed, 'some we must have, whilst
we live upon earth.'

' If God would grant me to see my duty dearly,' she answered ;
' I try to understand what they tell me — yes, I try. But, Ursula,
a wife has a great duty to a husband.'

' No one would wish you to go to Mr Weir now, ma'am,' I an-

'That is what is said. Is it true, Ursula? I made a vow
once. Does God forget our vows?'

'He does not wish us to do what is impossible, ma'am,' I re-
plied, 'and your friends judge rightly, I am sure, in telling you
that you would do harm to yourself, and no good to Mr Weir,
by insisting upon joining him.'

' You say so, do you ? you arc like them all, but I forgot — I
am to be quiet. Cotton ought not to have brought you here, it
was wrong. My niece would not like me to see you, and she
knows what is best. But I am quiet— only if they would tell
me why they allowed Miliccnt to go without me. Ursula, I will
pray. God will help me if I pray.'

All the assumed self-control was over. Her hands trembled
violently. I took hold of them to keep them still, but she did
not seem to think of my presence as, with her eyes closed, she
poured out her prayer with all the simplicity of a child, and the
earnestness and devotion of a saint. She prayed for submission,
for guidance, for humility, and charity. 1 could with difficulty
follow the course of her thoughts. There seemed to be a burden
upon her heart, which she could scarcely find words to expn

After a few moments she lay back upon the sofa. I thou
she was faint, and offered her a bottle of salts, but she would not
take it. ' No, Ursula,' she said, ' I am better now, I will not
talk any more ; and you had better go.'

' I can't leave you alone, >,' I r< pli< d.

'Cotton will come to me, and my niece wiil return. I would
rather, Ursula.'

' Rather,' meant duty, not inclination, I was sure, and I felt
very determined. ' I was in hopes, ma'am,' I said, ' that I might
have stayed a little with you to tell you about my brother Ro r
— the one who went to Canada, you know— he is come baek.'


Her eyes quite brightened at this little bit of news from the
outer world. She said eagerly, ' O Ursula ! that must be very
pleasant ; will you not tell me about it ? Was that why you
did not come to see me ? My niece thought you had forgotten

' I have had a great deal of trouble, ma'am,' I said, and I
began to give her an account of Leah's illness, lengthening out
what I had to say, so as to gain her attention thoroughly, and
it was quite curious to me to watch the effect my little story had
upon her. She laid her hand upon mine when I spoke of the
sorrow that had come upon us, smoothing it kindly, and looking
at me at the same time intently, and though she grieved with me,
and tears stood in her eyes, yet the haggard look passed from her
face, until I told her how I had watched Leah, and nursed her,
and been with her at her death. Then it came back again most
painfully, and she said, ' You have done all you could, Ursula ;
you have nothing on your conscience, and now God has sent
you a reward.' The words gave me a pang, as I thought how
little they were deserved. I changed the subject, knowing what
was in her thoughts, and spoke of Roger, but I could not seize
upon her attention again, and as she looked towards the door
nervously, I felt that I had been there long enough.

I rose to go, promising to come and see her again, but I had
no response. It almost seemed that she wished me not to
come, for she only said, ' Yes, Ursula, when you have time ; but
you are very busy, and you have your brother.'

I aid not notice the change in her manner, and insisted upon
placing the cushions comfortably, and throwing a shawl over her,
as in the good old days at Dene. Just as I was leaving the room
I said, ' I think I must send you over a few crocusses and snow-
drops, ma'am, from Sandcombe. You don't seem to have any,
and you used to like them so much.'

' O Ursula ! thank you, indeed that will be so kind ; but my
niece would like some for the visitors' room, if you could spare
them. She says we must all try and make that pretty and com-
fortable for her friends.' I made no more offers. If it had been
possible to be angry with Mrs Weir, I think I should have been

Cotton was keeping guard in the lobby. I was going down
stairs, but she hurried me away to her own room — a little attic.

' I shall get into a scrape for this,' she said ; ' but I couldn't
help it. I couldn't bear it any longer by myself


' I don't understand it all,' I said.

' How should you, or any one who doesn't live in the house ?
I thought Mr Richardson might have been of use, but she's too
much for him.'

' She ! who ? Mrs Weir ?'

' No, no ; how foolish ! Mrs Temple. She keeps him at .inn's
length. Ever since Miss Milicent went has he been trying to get
in, and never succeeded once.'

' But why not ?' I exclaimed ; 'why shouldn't he come?'

'Just sit down, and I'll tell you ;' and Cotton gave me a chair
and seated herself on a trunk, delighted, as I perceived, to have
some one to whom to pour out her troubles. It seemed that
ever since the first news had been heard of Mr Weir, Mrs Weir's
nervousness and fidgets, as Cotton called them, had increased
tenfold. It was the old feeling which we had battled with at
Dene, only much more vehement. Mrs Weir could never have
loved her husband, latterly she must have been very unhappy
with him ; yet she had kept herself up by the one principle,
which was, in fact, all the strength of mind she possessed,— a
sense of religious duty. But for this she might long ago have
been considered incapable of judgment upon any subject. I
suppose, naturally enough in her state of health, the principle
had become exaggerated. She was morbid in her conscientious-
ness, but still it was the only thing to rest upon in dealing with
her. In the present instance I gathered from what Cotton said,
that she might have been managed easily enough but for Miss
Milicent's wilfulness. If any one else had been sent to find Mr
Weir, and inquire into his condition, Mrs Weir would, at least
for a while, have been satisfied ; but the moment Miss Milicent
talked of going, Mrs Weir became excited, and said she must go
too,— and the idea so possessed her that it became a kind of

' I should have given in to her,' I exclaimed, as Cotton told me

' So should I,' she replied. ' Mrs Weir is just one of those odd,
nervous persons, who can do wonderful things when they have
their own way, and can't stir an inch when they have not.
I hvard Mr Richardson say this myself to Mrs Temple. He did
all he could to keep Miss Milicent from her wild scheme, and I
know he put before her the harm all the fuss was doing her
mother, — but you might as well have talked to a stone wall ;
and ther he took the other tack, and turned to Mrs Temple,


hoping something might be managed to satisfy Mrs Weir, — and
there was another stone wall.'

1 He must have had enough to do with them all,' I said.

' You would think so if you had known everything that went
on ; how we used to be kept up, night after night — Mrs Temple
preaching to my poor mistress about patience, and trying her so
that she must have been better than Job if she had not been
impatient, and at last sending her off into hysterics ; and Miss
Milicent coming in in the middle, with worries about her boxes,
and what she should take, and what she should leave behind,
and never seeing that the very mention of packing set Mrs Weir
off worse than ever.'

1 Mrs Weir is quiet enough, now,' I said.

' Hasn't she been tutored, — fairly tutored and trained into it ?
But the trouble is not over.'

' I suppose Mrs Temple did only what she thought was for
the best,' I said.

Cotton gave a little contemptuous laugh. ' Why, Miss Grant,
you are not taken in by her, are you ? She thinks it the best for
herself that Mrs Weir should stay, there is no doubt of that. If
she did not, my poor mistress would have been off for France,
or for Australia, or for any other country, by the next packet.'

' I don't precisely see what good it can do Mrs Temple to
have Mrs Weir here,' I said, 'she can be only a trouble.'

'There is a house to be kept up,' replied Cotton.

' Yes,' I said, ' but Mrs Weir's income is very small.'

' Not so small but that it helps Mrs Temple pretty consi-
derably ; that I know from good authority,' continued Cotton.
' And just see in what a style \\ e have things — footman, and
page, and pony-carriage, and gardener. Mrs Temple didn't live
in that way in her own home, and she would not live so here, if
it was not for Mrs Weir's help. She has all the money in her
own hands, and she doesn't choose it should go out of them.'

' Still,' I said, not choosing to own to Cotton how much I
agreed as to her opinion of Mrs Temple, ' it was best for Mrs
Weir to stay.'

'That mayor mayn't be,' replied Cotton. 'As you yourself
said just now, Miss Grant, when her heart was so set upon it, I
should have run the risk. But I wouldn't quarrel about the plan,
only the way it has been managed. If ever there was a hard
gaoler, it's Mrs Temple. You must have seen enough yourself tt>
make you guess that.'



'I see that Mrs Weir is afraid of Mrs Temple,' I said, 'and I
don't like her being moved into that small room, and not having
everything comfortable about her.'

'Oh! that's sacrifice, discipline/ exclaimed Cotton; 'I know
the words by heart, for I've he. nil nothing else since we came
to StonecliiT. If it's possible, Miss Grant, for a woman to make
her way to heaven by proxy, depend upon it that woman's Mrs
Temple. Why, there isn't a duty that she has to perform which
she doesn't make someone or another do for her. Miss Mili-
ccn t — she sees the poor for her, and goes to the school ; and Mr
Temple, he pays her visits, and writes her letters; and Mrs
Weir finds money for charity, and does poor-work, and gives up
all her little comforts to make things pleasant to the visitors,
and Mrs Temple counts up all that is done, and takes the sum
total to herself.'

' I can't bear to hear you talk so, Cotton,' I said. ' I don't
believe it can be true.'

'Just come here for a month, and see if it isn't,' exclaimed
Cotton. 'A month ! why, you 'd find it out in a week ! I have
; ^one in and out of the room whilst visitors have been there, and
have heard her go on— 'We do this, and we do that' — till you
wouldn't believe it, but I have been almost taken in myself; and
no wonder my poor mistress is.'

'Then it was not Mrs Weir's wish to change her room ?' I

• So more than it is to cut her head off. It was all done by
Mrs Temple's preaching about sacrifice and discipline. Mrs
Temple has the command of the whole house, and goes where
she likes, and does what she likes ; and because she is in the
drawing-room all day, and does not want a sitting-room to h i -
self, she made my poor mistress fancy that it was too great a
luxury for her to have the comfortable south room, which she
chose when she came here; and so, after Miss Mnicent was
gone, and when there was actually an additional spare bed-
room, she teased her into moving into that little poky dressing-

'Miss Milicent ought not to have gone,' I could . not help

' She wasn't much good when she was here,' continued Cctton ;
'she never saw anything that went on.'

Cotton was mistaken there. Miss Milicent, I was sure, saw a
great deal, only with her awkwardness she did net know how to


remedy it. I felt really afraid for Mrs Weir, especially as
Cotton continued her tissue of complaints, which might indeed
be exaggerated, but for which I could scarcely doubt there was
a foundation of truth. She had her own special grievance,
which was natural enough ; it was one which the servants could
not help feeling — Mrs Temple's stinginess. I was aware of the
characteristic, but I confess I was not prepared for all the little
ways in which Cotton declared it was shown* The Dene house-
keeping had been lavish, wrongly, so very often, and no doubt
there was much which required correction ; but I could feel
keenly with Cotton when she described how even the char-
woman's wages were cut down, and all kinds of make-shifts
forced upon the kitchen in order to make a show in the parlour.

What I heard was very painful to me, and as for remedying
any part of the evil, I saw no way to it. For unless Mr and Mrs
Richardson were freely admitted to the house, there were none
of Mrs Weir's friends near to be aware how things went on, or
to take her part.

' Mrs Temple is very jealous of you, Miss Grant/ said Cotton,
as the conversation ended, ' and I don't know whether it isn't as
much as my place is worth to have let you in now. But I felt I
must get hold of you, and if you can come over again before long,
I '11 try and smuggle you in ; and if I can't, perhaps you won't
mind the trouble of the walk for nothing, for I assure you it 's

Cotton did not feel the difficulty which was present to me.
Mrs Temple was the mistress of the house. If she did not like
me to go there openly, I could not be smuggled in by the lady's
maid — that would be entirely against all my principles, and I
felt it would do no good in the end. If I was ever to be allowed
to be any comfort to Mrs Weir, there must be no flaw in my
conduct for Mrs Temple to seize upon. No, I must let it all
rest in God's hands, knowing that, when the time came for me
to be of use, He would open the door for me.



MISS MILICENT crossed ovci to France safely, we heard
that from John Hervey, and she was going on to Paris,
hoping to find Mr Weir there, and to be with him in his lodging,
and learn his plans, and help him with her advice. It sounded,
just at first, very dutiful and self-denying, and I believe Miss
Milicent herself thought it so ; but I hope it was not very wicked
in me, I could not help remembering that she would find more
amusement in Paris than at StoneclifF, and that if her father
claimed her on the one side, her mother had an equal claim on
the other. I was glad, however, to hear that so far her journey
had prospered, and I tried not to be uneasy about what might
come afterwards. Some persons might have wondered why I
should have cared enough for her to feel anything like uneasi-
ness ; but it must be remembered that my circle of interests
was small, and that it was in my nature to throw myself very
much into other people's concerns. An orphan as I was, and
having no sister, I suppose I kept my heart more open than I
might otherwise have done, for what befell myfiicnds, especially
those connected with my childhood. Many a heartache have
I had for Mrs Weir, which I dared not speak of to any one,
not even to kind Mrs Kemp, knowing she would not under-
stand it.

Roger's stay was uncertain. It depended upon some business
connected with Mr Pierce's affairs ; hut he had made up his
mind that it should not be more than three months ; and I
knew he would keep to this determination i( possible. We
seldom spoke of the coming final separation. Sometimes I
faced it. Sometimes I buoyed myself up with the hope that
even yet events might occur to prevent it. I would not let
myself be miserable. I only felt that I might be so. And we
had soon one engrossing thought at Sandcombe. Mrs Morris
was sinking rapidly. I was with Jessie as much as possible,
and William and Roger were both as kind and considerate as
could be desiied, willing to spire me at all hours, and to put
up with any inconvenience, so that the poor child should not be
left. It was a trial to William especially to be without me, for,
since his eyes had been so bad, he had depended upon mc a
good deal. I kept all his accounts and read the paper to him
in the evening. Roger did this when I was away, besides look-


Ing after the farm. William said to me, more than once, that
Roger was his right hand, and it would be a bad day when we
had to part with him again.

I was with Jessie the night that Mrs Morris died. The old
lady sank quietly, and there was much to comfort us in the
circumstances of her death ; but Jessie was heart-broken. As
I followed her into her room, when all was over, helping her
to undress and go to bed, she clung to me hysterically, ex-
claiming, ' Keep me with you, Ursie. I have not a relation nor
a home.' And she said what I knew to be, in a great measure,

We took her back with us to Sandcombe on the clay of the
funeral. It was the only place she could go to. She shared
my room ; for I did not like her to be alone. Her grief was
very touching. I had never seen anything so real and deep ;
and it brought out all the better parts of her nature. She was
earnest, humble, affectionate, and singularly gracious in her
thankfulness for everything which was done for her. I was
almost sorry to see how she clung to us, knowing, as I did,
that there might be a hard lot in store for her — a life amongst

I knew nothing for certain of the condition in which Mrs
Morris had left her affairs ; but I had a suspicion, from some-
thing which passed between Roger and William on the day of the
funeral, that it was not what had been expected. If this were so,
and if Jessie had to make her own way in the world, it would be
cruel to delude her by keeping the truth from her. I asked
Roger, but he gave me an. unusually short answer, and even im-
plied that it was not quite kind to enter upon the subject then.
I inquired of William, but he informed me the accounts were
not made up ; he could tell nothing till they were. This was a
week after the funeral.

Jessie came down-stairs and sat with us, for the first time, that
evening. Before, she had really been too unwell to leave her
room ; and I had spent a good deal of my spare time with her.
liut this was dull for William and Roger, and not good for her :
so I persuaded her at last to make an effort to join us. She cer-
tainly did look uncommonly pretty. Her black dress set off her
clear complexion ; and she had taken pains with her hair, and
made it look particularly nice ; and, without meaning to be
affected, for I am sure she was not that in the least, there was a
little shyness in her manner to William and Roger, caused, I sup-


pose, by the strangeness of her feelings, which, with her grief,
gave her the quietness and softness which she sometimes wanted
when in high spirits and good health. I asked her to come and
sit by nic at the tea-table, and, wishing to give her something to
do, be ■;.;< d her to put the sugar into the cups, whilst I went out
into the kitchen to give an order. When I came back I found
that Roger was doing it for her, and that she was sitting in the
window-seat, away from the fire, crying. It vexed me a little,
that she should give way so soon ; and, being afraid of showing
any particular sympathy for fear of makin > her worse, I merely
said, 'Come, Jessie dear, tea is ready. Here is a place for you
1 y me.'

' It will be cold there, by the door,' said Roger; 'this is your
place, Jessie ;' and not seeing that it was inconvenient to me,
as it crowded me, he placed a chair for her with her back to the

Her being there just moved William out of the seat which he
always preferred, and I did not like him to be turned out of it,
now that his eyes were bad ; and I knew lie felt the cold. I was
sure Jessie would not care, and I said, 'We will have the door
shut ; but if Jessie does not mind, that is William's place.' Jessie
was going round to the other side directly, but Roger came up
to the table, and pushed the tea-tray aside. ' Now, there is
room for both,' he said ; and as Jessie looked at me rather apolo-
gising for having disturbed me, he added, ' Oh ! Ursie does not
mind ; she can make tea just as well at one side of the table as
the other.'

It would have been foolish to mind such a trifle, but I could
not help thinking to myself, what would poor Jessie do if she had
to go into the rough world after being so petted as not to be
allowed to sit away from the fire. We were rather constrained
all tea-time ; Jessie scarcely ale anything ; and by some unfor-
tunate stupidity we were constantly bringing up subjects which
were, in a measure, painful to her.

Yet I thought myself careful. Miss Milicent's journey seemed
tolcral ly safe, and I mentioned it ; but then something was said
about Lieutenant Macdonald, and I saw Jessie blush and look
conscious, and William, with very bad tact, and forgetting my
warning, was, as usual, going to joke her about him. Only a
very few words were said, scarcely enough for Roger to notice ;

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 28 of 56)