Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 30 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 30 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I could better have borne to see a stranger there. Persons are
very fortunate whose tempers are not perverse, — mine always
was so. As in looking through a telescope, I generally had to
make two or three twists with my mind before I could see things


EVENTS followed each other quickly about that time. It
was not more than ten days after the drive to Longside,
that William was off to London to consult an oculist. Farmer
Kemp and Roger were frightened about him, and they frightened
me too ; and between us we persuaded him, though not without
much difficulty, to go. What chiefly alarmed us was the fact,
that my father's sight had been very bad before his death ; and



it was sai<l that if he had lived he would almost certainly have
been blind. Something of the same tendency, \vc feared, might
be inherited by Willi ni. A cold would scarcely hue produced
Such consequences, if there was not some predisposition before-
hand ; and William was so extremely careless about himself,
that we had no hope of his adopting even ordinary remedies,
unless he was put under strict discipline. He was extremely
unhappy, and, beyond measure, fidgety, when he was ill ; but
for all that, he would never do what he was told in order to
get better.

As it happened, he could not have gone at a better time, since
Roger was at hand to attend to things in his absence ; and we
were satisfied as to his comfort when away, for he was to be at a
house belonging to Mrs Mason, formerly of Dene. She had,
within the last year, given up being housekeeper, and taken to
let lodgings. I knew she would look after him; but I made him
promise that if any operation was to be performed, or if he should
be at all ill, I was to be sent for immediately. Oh, that promise ;
though I urged it earnestly, it fell upon my heart like lead, for I
knew that God was binding me to William by ties of duty and
kindness which it would be sin to break.

The effect of William's departure was to bring me to a positive
decision in my own mind as to Jessie. If I should be called to
London, she could not stay at Sandcombe. This seemed the
simplest and easiest way of putting the case before her ; and I
was most thankful for it ; for up to this time we had been so
occupied with William, and so anxious about him, and indeed
Jessie had made herself so useful in reading to him and writing
for him, that I do not know what I should have done without
her. I had heard, again, of Mrs Temple's plan of a kind of
companion for Mrs Weir, from Mrs Richardson, who kindly
came over to see us when she knew of William's trouble, and I
found, as I had expected, that the new person was to take the
place of Cotton, and only to have a girl besides to help her. I
could not help fearing that Cotton might have got into disgrace
by admitting me to Stonccliff, or perhaps by some incautious
complaints ; but it was useless to vex myself about it, for I was
quite tied to Sandcombe, and could not possibly have found time
to walk over and inquire about it. I felt for poor Mrs Weir
very much, as I knew that Cotton would prove a loss that it
would be almost impossible to replace.

The day that Mrs Richardson called, which was two day*


before William went, I mentioned Jessie to her, and asked if she
thought it likely she would do for the situation. Her youth
seemed the great objection, but it was not a very serious one, as
there were elderly servants in the house, and Mrs Richardson
seemed glad of the idea ; but I begged her not to say anything
about it, for I felt in my own mind that I had a hard task before
me in bringing Jessie even to think of it.

My hope was that I should have Roger to support me. His
common sense, I thought, would make him see the necessity of
the case directly, and I introduced the subject the very day
William left us. It was after dinner, and Jessie was gone out
of the room, and I knew she was likely to be busy for half an
hour or more, so I began : 'Jessie looks much better ; don't you
think so?'

'Yes; quite a different person. It is your company which
has done her good, Trot.'

'Time and occupation, rather,' I said. 'She has not much
of my company ; and if I am called to London, she will have
less of it ; we must make haste and find something to suit her
before that.'

I saw that the notion had struck Roger for the first time.

' I thought she was going to live here,' he said, quickly.

'No; who dreamed of such a thing?' I exclaimed. 'Not
William, I am sure.'

'He never said anything to the contrary.'

'Because it is not his way to take business upon himself
which does not belong to him. He knew that I should be on
the look-out for something for Jessie.'

'And have you found anything?' inquired Roger.

' I have heard of something,' I said. ' Mrs Weir wants a
person to read to her, and look after her, half a companion and
half a lady's-maid. What do you say ? Will it do ? '

' I am no judge,' he replied, and he took up his hat, which
was on the table, and left the room.

That evening, before we separated, and as Jessie was busying
herself in putting away some of the supper-things, Roger said,
'Jessie, has Ursie been talking to you at all about her plans for
you ? '

I can't say how surprised I felt at his beginning in this sudden
way. I answered for her quickly ; ' There is no hurry ; we
r.eed not talk about it to-night.'

Jessie looked from one to the other.


' It will be no such great evil, I trust,' continued Roger ; and
he made a movement, as though be would have gone up to her,

but he stw,-; ed : ' If Ursie is obliged to go to London '

'I can go to Mrs Price,' exclaimed Jessie, whilst her eyes
sparkled with pleasure. 'She said she would be delighted to
have me.'

I glanced at Roger, — he looked pained, not angry,— and did
not answer.

' I am afraid that won't do, dear Jessie,' I said, as kindly as I
possibly could, whilst feeling more cross with her than I should
like to acknowledge. ' What you will want will be some place
where you can make a little something for yourself; and fond as
Mrs Price may be of you, I suppose she is not likely to pay you
for staying with her.' The colour mounted to Jessie's checks :
' You mean I have to provide for myself,' she said, proudly.

• Every one is better for being independent, dear Jessie,' I
said, 'and you know you have been accustomed to work all your

•Amongst my friends,' she replied. « It is a very different
thing going amongst strangers.' She looked towards Roger, as
though craving his support. He was leaning over a chair,
moving it backwards and forwards, but his countenance was

There was a momentary pause, and Jessie sat down, and the
tears came fast ; I saw him start then, but he controlled himself,
and left it to me to soothe her. I put before her everything
which I thought could calm or elevate her mind. I told her that
I could understand all her feelings ; that I did not know how
soon I might not be obliged to do the same myself, and 1 urged
her to be brave, and face the trial with a trusting heart, knowing
that God who had sent it, would enable her to bear it. Lut the
only answer I obtained was, ' It is not the same, Ursie. You
have a home and relations ; I am an orphan, and have no

I had nothing to reply, and my heart reproached me for
cruelty. Roger came to my assistance. 'Jessie,' he said, ' it is
quite true that you are an orphan, and have no home, but God
has given you true friends, who won't forsake you. "Whilst
William, and Ursie, and I live, wherever we may be, you may
always count upon us, and you won't vex us now, I am sure, by
putting yourself against what comes in the way of God's ordcr«


Still the tears fell, and at last Roger pushed aside the chnir,
and going up to her, took one of her hands in both his, and said,
4 You can't think we don't care for you, Jessie.'

The tone of his voice must have touched her, for she gave him
one of her sweetest smiles ; he still kept hold of her hand, till
something seemed to strike him, and he let it drop suddenly, and
turning to me, said, ' Tell her what you have heard of.'

' Not now,' I replied, ' not till she wants to know ; we need
not press it upon her.'

But Jessie looked up at me, and said: 'Yes, now, I may as
well know the worst.'

' It might not be so very disagreeable,' I said, ' if you were to
be companion to Mrs Weir, and read to her, and look after her
while Miss Milicent is away. You would be sure to love her.'
Even in the midst of my worry, I could have smiled at the
change in Jessie's face. It brightened in a way that was quite
marvellous, as with all the eagerness of a child, she exclaimed :
' Read to Mrs Weir ! well ! I should like that. I thought I was
to scrub floors ! Is it settled?'

'Only talked about,' I replied. 'We wanted your consent
first : but you will find some disagreeables, Jessie ; you must
think well about it.'

' Thought won't make much difference, where there is such
a brave spirit,' said Roger. ' Jessie is fit to face the world, I

'She is fit for bed now,' I observed; 'you look quite tired,
dear Jessie. Just take your candle and go, and we will say all
there is to say to-morrow, only think by yourself whether you
could bear the kind of life.' Roger lighted her candle, yet she
lingered, asking me questions, some of which I answered, but
she teased me with others, though very good-humouredly. It
must have been nearly ten minutes before I could persuade her
that I was in earnest, and did not mean to stay and talk any
more to her. It would have been useless to do so, she was ia
such a childish mood, the question cf chief importance being
whether Mrs Weir liked story-books.

' There are not many girls of her nge who would bear a reverse
of fortune like that,' said Roger, when Jessie left the room. It
would have seemed unkind in me to differ, so I said nothing.

Roger took up the plan for Jessie's going to Mrs Weir with
his usual quiet energy and good sense. He made me talk it
over again with Mrs Kemp, and suggested what I doubt if I

3 io URSULA.

should have thought of myself, that she should be the person to
arrange the business with Mrs Temple, so that no jealousy
might be excited, and that Mrs Kemp might, in a manner, be
considered as Jessie's adviser and friend. He did an excellent
deed in this. Both Mrs Kemp and the farmer had gain tl
themselves a character in the neighbourhood, which even Mrs
Temple was obliged to acknowledge; and better terms v.
made for Jessie through their mean ih in could ever have 1 ( i
obtained by me. So kind it was of Mrs Kemp to take up the
matter as she did ! but she was one of those who never let a
I rejudice stand in the way of a duty.

Jessie's money was still left unsettled. I asked Roger about
it, but he could sive me no definite answer, and merely said that
before he left England he should certainly sc : thai something
satisfactory was arranged about it. I could not help thinking
that his efforts towards placing Jessie at Stonccliff had something
to do with his sense of justice, and that he felt himself all the
more obliged to be her friend because William was inclined to
deal hardly with her. Of William himself we 1. indif-

ferent accounts. The doctor was extremely doubtful whether
anything could be done for his eyes. He was trying different
lotions, but they had no effect, — rather indeed upon the \vh
his sight grew worse, and he was becoming impatient and fretful.
Still he remained in London, but nothing was said about my
going up to him. Tidings :>f Miss Milicent were equally un-
satisfactory. Her letters, as far as I could gather from John
Hervey, and I saw no one else who knew anything about them,
were only mist and vapour, except as regarded the need of
money. John knew that, because ever since the crash of Mr
Weir's affairs, he had himself been employed to collect Mrs
Weir's rents, and do little matters of business for her, which if
they had been put into the hands of a lawyer would have run
away with a good deal of money. As far, he told me, as he could
gather from the few words which dropped occasionally from Mrs
Temple when they met on business, Mr Weir was speculating
again, and Miss Milicent was entering into his concerns and
encouraging him. They had removed to belter lodgings, and
upon the whole Miss Milicent seemed to be rather enjoying her-
self than not, and there was no talk of her returning hoi:

Every one, I suppose, has had experience of that kind of
transition, that expectant state, in which wc were at tins time
living at Sandcombe ; feeling that changes must come before


Iong r and finding ourselves, indeed, advancing sutely towards
them, yet so slowly that the progress from day to day was
scarcely perceptible. Jessie's going to Stonecliff, indeed, broke
in upon the routine of our lives ; but even that came in a way
which did not much disturb me. I had really nothing to do with
it, for I had not ventured to go over to speak to Mrs Weir about
her, lest I might do mischief. She walked over to Stonecliff
one afternoon, and Roger and I with her. There were no solemn
leave-takings, or fears, or warnings. Jessie took her new life as
she might have done the idea of a visit to Dene ; and there was
something which roused all our kindlier feelings of interest in
the simple way in which she trusted that every one would be
kind to her, and that she should be very happy, and free, and
allowed to come over and see us from Stonecliff just as she used
to do from Hatton. I could not damp her by assuring her that
it would not be so. If she made friends with Mrs Temple it
might be so. All I could say was, that the only way to find
pleasure in any life, is to set one's heart upon its duties, and so
I begged her to turn her whole mind to the wish of making Mrs
Weir comfortable.

I was sorry to part from her, and yet more happy than I
can say, to be at last quite alone with Roger. When we said
good-bye to Jessie on the top of the hill above Stonecliff, and I
put my arm within his, and we walked together over the down,
as in the old times, and I knew that we were probably to have
that evening and many others to ourselves, without interruption,
I felt a peace at my heart which seemed very near to what we
hope to enjoy in heaven.



MAY pass over many weeks. It was summer, and Roger
was with us still, detained partly by lawyer's business,
partly on account of William's infirmity, which was become very
serious. Sandcombe was cheerful with haymaking and the
prospect of a good harvest, and I was busy working hard, but
willingly myself, and leading others to do the same.

Since Jessie went away, Esther Smithson had been regularly


hired, and another school-girl was in training, so that there wai
no over-work. William would not yet give up looking after
everything or pretending to do so ; and he stood in the way of
many of my little plans of improvement ; yet I managed to
carry out several, and I was hop ful about more. Now that
Roger was at home, the men were regular at church ; and any
cases of bad conduct in the wcclc were immediately noticed.
The boys also were kept more apart from the men, and encou-
raged by a kind word from Roger to attend to good habits. We
could not yet rival Longside in the respectability of our labourers,
but wc were advancing towards it. Roger still worked at
William about the old question of the improvement of the cot-
tages, and advanced so far as to obtain a promise that when his
eyes were better he would see about them, —a very vague pro-
mise to me, and I suspect to Roger also. All that 1 could do in
the meantime was to see some of the cottagers' wives myself,
and try to put them in the way of managing better with the
little space they had. They were inclined to think me very
interfering at fust, but Sandcombe was a place to which they
looked for help when they were ill, or out of work, and so they
did not like quite to neglect my instructions. Upon the whole,
my life at that time was very bright, more so indeed inwardly
than outwardly, for there was a hope dawning upon it which I
could not willingly allow myself to perceive, because it came
through another's trial.

With regard to Jessie, the accounts were as pleasant as
we had any reason to expect. Mrs Weir liked her, and Mrs
Temple put up with her. This was the best I had anticipated,
but I don't think it satisfied Roger. What he may have pic-
tured to himself for her, I don't know, but he thought the pi. ice
a hard one ; and I could not persuade him that any place would
be h.ird to a poor child like Jessie, sent into the world for tnc
first time to provide for herself. He worried himself about it
so much at times, that 1 was quite glad he had not more oppor-
tunities of seeing her. The time when we generally had her
with us was on a Sunday afternoon, about once in three weeks.
Mrs Weir was very particular as to her going to church, and
now and then she was allowed to walk home with us and drink
tea ; in fact, it was part of the agreement made for her by Mrs
Kemp. These were the occasions when we had an outbreak of

' It won't do, Ursie,' said Roger, coming to me one Sunday,


just as I was getting tea ready, and when Jessie was gone up-
stairs. ' It's worse than the slaves.'

'What has Jessie been telling you now?' I asked; for they
had been walking home part of the way together, whilst I stayed
behind to say a few words to Mary Kemp. ' I don't wonder at
her not being able to bear it,' he continued. ' English people
were never made to put up with spies.'

I laughed a little — ' Oh !' I said, ' I know what you are talking
about ; — Mrs Temple's way of finding out everything which goes
on in the house. It is very odious, I confess ; but Jessie is not
likely to have much to betray ; and so Mrs Temple will, one
must hope, be tired of it before long.'

Just then Jessie came in. Roger placed a chair for her next
me. ' I have been telling Ursie,' he said, ' what you were telling
me just now. It is too bad.'

Jessie's colour rose. ' Oh, it is nothing,' she said, ' nothing to
signify. Ursie won't think it of consequence.'

' Indeed I shall, Jessie,' I said, ' if there is anything unfair in
it, or unlike what a lady should do.'

' One can't have one's things to one's self,' said Jessie ; 'but I
suppose a girl like me has no right to expect it.' The tears were
in her eyes in an instant.

' Mrs Temple likes to know everything that goes on, I am
aware,' I said.

' But she need not let her servants pry into letters, and ask
impertinent questions,' said Roger.

' What is the grievance, Jessie ?' I said; ' I don't quite under-
stand.' Jessie, I saw, was unwilling to answer ; she moved to let
William pass, — for he was just come in to tea, — and made a
lijde fuss with him, wishing, I could not help thinking, to change
the subject.

I did not like to press her any farther, and some trifling
remarks were made which led at last to an observation about
Dene. Lieutenant Macdonald's name was accidentally men-
tioned, Jessie's cheeks were crimson instantly. Whether there
was anything in it more than her trick of blushing and being
conscious, I could not tell ; but I disliked seeing it. By this
time she ought at least to have been able to hear Mr Mac-
donald's name with indifference. I suppose I must have been
led into a train of thought upon the subject, or in some way
shown by my manner that I was not quite comfortable, for
Roger called me aside after tea, and said ; ' Ursie, you shouldn't

- *k


be hard upon little Jessie ; she wants some one to sympathise
with her.'

I quite started. 'Sympathise!' I exclaimed. 'I do sympa-
thise to the utmost. No one can know better than I do how
hateful it is to live in the same house with Mis Temple. But
Jessie didn't tell me what the particulars of the present trouble

' You didn't ask,' he said ; ' and she is so quick in her feelings,
she will never come out to you if you don't encourage her.'

'Really, Roger,' I said, 'I can scarcely think Jessie requires
encouragement to come out, as you call it, to me, when we have
been together like relations from childhood.'

' Relations arc just the very persons to whom it is often most
difficult to talk,' he said, 'and, besides, Jessie looks up to you,
and thinks, naturally enough, that you will expect of her the
same kind of endurance which you can practise yourself.'

1 I can't say much for my endurance,' I said, laughing. ' I
know I used to go into my room, at the Heath, and bolt the
door, and walk up and down, storming against Mrs Temple.
There wasn't much endurance in that, I am afraid ; but it won't
exactly do, Roger, to say this to Jessie. You know .-he has been
a little spoiled, and always makes the most of her troubles. I
don't mean, of course, that I won't try and give her all the sym-
pathy that is reasonable.'

'The question is, what is reasonable?' said Roger.

' Well ; tell me what the case is, and then perhaps I can

' I shall leave Jessie to explain for herself, 1 he replied. ' St
always lose their point coming second-hand.'

He was a little odd in his manner ; and I am sure he knew it,
for after he had left the room, he came back again and kissed me,
and said, ' One can't expect all the world to be as wise as you,
my little Trot.'

I went to Jessie directly, for I felt that perhaps I had been a
little wanting in tenderness. She was in my room, crying, and
that alone would have made me feel gently towards her, if 1 had
been inclined to be otherwise, which I certainly uas not. All I
longed to know was that she was not in any way encouraging
thoughts of Lieutenant Macdonald. I could not be gentle on
that point, it would have been wrong.

In reply to my questions, however, I could gain only very
unsatisfactory answers. The principal grievance resolved itself


inlo the fact that she had one day found the housemaid spying
into her drawers, and that Mrs Temple had been told that she
received a great many letters, which Jessie declared to be false,
^ince then, she said, she had never received a letter without the
post-mark being examined, and hints given as to where it came

' Very disagreeable, Jessie,' I said, 'but you can't have cor-
respondents enough to make it signify, and if you don't show
that you care, the servants will soon leave off troubling you.
Nothing stops people's teasing so soon as being indifferent
to it.'

I don't think Jessie was satisfied. Either she felt herself more
of a martyr than she could bring me to acknowledge, or there
was some deeper cause of annoyance than I knew of.

She seemed once as though she was upon the roint of telling
me something more, but hearing Roger call out to her to put on
her things quickly or she would be late, she turned away, saying,
' There is no time now, I will talk of it another day.'

I urged the present moment, but the wish, whatever it was,
had left her. She went on talking upon other subjects all the
time she was preparing to go, and I gained more insight into her
present life in those few minutes than in the whole two hours

She was very fond of Mrs Weir — who, indeed, would not have
been — and I hoped that the good lady's earnestness was having
some effect upon her. Jessie said she read the Bible to her
every day, and some other books which Mrs Temple provided.
Mrs Weir had asked once for a story-book which she had
heard of, but it had never been forthcoming, and the history
books which Mrs Temple recommended made Mrs Weir's head
ache, so there was not much variety in the reading ; but Jessie
had her time fully employed in other ways. She did all the
needlework which Mrs Weir required, and some for Mrs Temple
besides. That, she said, was the most disagreeable part of her
business. Mrs Temple was so very particular, and did not care
how many times she had a dress altered. Jessie had heard some
talk of Mrs Temple's maid leaving, and she was afraid, she said,
that it might be proposed to her to take the place, besides wait-
ing on Mrs Weir.

' Impossible ! ' I observed. ' We couldn't hear of such a thing,
Jessie ; you musn't think of it.'

' I don't, you may depend upon that,' she replied. ' I said to


the cook, when she told me it had been suggested, that I should
leave at once if it was at all insisted upon. Why, Ursie, a girl
might well have two days in one to get through all her work if

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 30 of 56)