Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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her vigour of character seems to return.'

' I should scarcely have said she had any vigour naturally,' I

'You are mistaken, then; she has a great deal. It shows
itself now in a singular way ; one might suppose that she would
have become neglectful of her husband after he had shown such
disregard to her feelings ; but, on the contrary, she is, as you
must know, even morbidly anxious to be obedient to him. Con-
science, particularly as regards him, seems the only thing which
is left thoroughly alive in her.'

1 Perhaps,' I said, • she feels that she deceived him by the very
act of marrying him.'

'It maybe so,' he replied. 'At any rate, duty to her hus-
band is the one ruling object of her life now ; not its motive


though, Ursie ; there is no heart in what she does — how can
there be ? '

' How, indeed ! ' I replied ; ' but,' I added, as I thought of
Miss Milicent, ' that must have taken place many years ago.'

'So many,' answered Mr Hervey, 'that most persons have
forgotten the circumstances, if they ever knew them ; and Mrs
Weir is generally considered now only an eccentric, nervous
invalid. Yet it is not her life only which has been affected by
them, but Miss Milicent's also. She was allowed to go her own
way, and at last became too much for her mother. She was
clever and energetic, and Mr Weir found her useful in many
ways, and brought her forward, and at last she took up inde-
pendent notions of her own, and quite looked down upon her

' Not upon her father ?' I said.

' Yes, upon them both ; for she was quick enough, and good
enough, I will say that for her, to see through Mr Weir. It
seems, Ursie, that when we put our hearts into our work it will
tell in some way or other in the end, whatever blunders we may
make. Sorrow, through God's grace, made Mrs Weir very re-
ligious, and whatever else Miss Milicent might laugh at in her
mother, she never laughed at that. Only, unfortunately, she
made a bad use of the respect which she could not help feeling.
She despised her mother for thinking too little of this world, and
her father for thinking too little of the next.'

' She has turned out to be disagreeable enough between the
two,' I said.

' Yes ; though there is better stuff in her than you might
fancy ; but she is not likely to be much comfort to either if
trouble should come; which is the reason, Ursie, why I wanted
you to be near Mrs Weir, if it could be, at least for a time. She
would have more help from you than she would ever get from
her daughter.'

' But what is coming ? ' I asked, quickly.

4 That is what I can't say,' he replied. ' I am not at liberty ;
and I don't want to urge you against anything which Roger and
William may consider right ; but they will be likely to think
most of you, and I want you to think a little of Mrs Weir. I
told Roger I should say this to you, and he did not object.'

' I will stand by her through everything,' I exclaimed. ' She
has been as kind to me as a mother.'

' And you won't repent it,' he replied. ' There is great com*


fort in this world in being able to help those who can't help

I answered heartily, ' Yes,' and I felt the colour rush to my
check, whilst my heart beat very fast I could have fought
against an army just then in defence of Mrs Weir.

Mr llervey laughed a little, and said he felt I was a host on
any one's side ; but I think he had deeper and sadder thoughts
in his mind, for he stood still, thinking and looking grave, which
was very unlike him, and quite started when Roger, and Jane,
and Jessie came up bantering, and asking what made us keep so
far ahead.

We were at Hatton Lane gate then, and there we were to part
company. Mr Hervcy and I were a great contrast to the others.
They were so merry, and Jessie said they had had a delightful
walk. As she stood leaning by the gate, not willing, I could see,
to go through, and saying good-bye to Mr Hervey, I thought
what a pretty picture she would make, and I made Roger remark
her, and he looked pleased that I should notice her kindly, and
said that she was too nice a girl to be left to Jane Shaw ; he
wished I would become her friend. I took but little notice of his
words, for I had no thought to give to any one but Mrs Weir.


ROGER and I went back to Sandcombe alone. Mr Hervey
- had some business at Compton, and walked home that
way. William was out in the yard, giving orders to one of his
carters ; but he left off directly he saw us, and made Roger go
with him to look at a new threshing machine which was just
put up. He told me I should find Leah in the house; so I
went in.

She was in the little parlour, alone and working. I think she
was not sorry to be interrupted, for she was very gracious, and
wondered why I had not been to sec her lately.

I told her I had been busy, what with keeping the cottage in
order, and cooking, and needlework, and that now the family
were at Dene, there was more than usual to attend to.

'You should not make yourself a slave, Ursie,' she replied,
'Jane Shaw and I were talking about it the other day. She


says, and I quite agree with her, that the Weirs treat you as
nothing better than a servant, and that if you were to hold your
head higher, you might have as much respect paid you as she

'A little more, I hope,' was my answer.

' You need not be so proud, Ursie. I don't see what right you
have to look down upon the Shaws in the way you do ; it is not
at all fitting for a girl of your age.'

' I don't want to look down upon any one,' I replied ; ' it is
the Shaws who look down upon me. And, you know,' I added,
laughing, ' that if people will walk about in stilts, one is forced
to do the same to be even with them.'

' The Shaws are higher in the world than you are, or are ever
likely to be, whilst you live shut up at Dene,' continued Leah.
' I don't mean to approve of all Jane does. I told her the other
day that she went into Hove too often, and made herself too
much noticed by her smart dress.'

' Yet you don't object to Jessie's going with her,' I said.

' Jessie's. v doings are not my concern,' replied Leah. (It was
not strictly true, for she really had more control over Jessie than
any one.) ' Not but what if they were, I doubt if I should think
it wise to stop her, when every now and then she has the chance
of a little pleasure. She must look out for herself. She will
have to make her way in the world, and we must give her the
opportunity of gaining friends.'

' Or a husband,' I said, sharply.

But Leah was not put out. 'Yes, or a husband ! It would
be a very good thing for Jessie to be married, — there is no doubt
of that ; — and she is more likely to meet with persons who will
take to her, if she is allowed to see a little of the world, than if
she stays all the year at Hatton.'

Leah said this so boldly that, for the instant, I was caught by
her words, and felt she might have truth on her side ; but a second
thought brought me round to my former mind.

' For twenty husbands,' I said, ' I would not go to Hove on a
Saturday, to flaunt about the streets with Jane Shaw, and have
all the idle folks in the country gossiping about me.'

'You are jealous, Ursie,' said Leah, with some meaning.
'Jane Shaw is handsome enough and clever enough to have
persons going after her who would never look at you.'

'Very likely/ I said, carelessly, not choosing to show that I
was annoyed ; though I must own that, as Leah spoke, I glanced

76 i r/..i.

at the old minor over the fireplace to sec if I was really so plain
that no one would ever look at me.

' We won't talk about it,' said Leah, in a quiet, provoking
tone, which I knew meant that it was not worth while to argue

with me. 'You will be sorry some day for your bitterness

linst the Shaws. Is Roger come over upon any particular
business ?'

' I think he is,' I replied. ' We walked over the down to
11 itton Gate before we came here, with Jane Shaw, and Mr
Hervey, and Jessie ; and, now I think of it, Leah, Jcssi*
me to recommend you a girl for the dairy if I could. Is Kitty
Hobson going away?'

I said this rather to divert Leah's attention from Roger's busi-
ness ; and it served my purpose. She answered quickly, ' Kitty
went yesterday ; she turned out good for nothing, and I could
not keep her. It is the case with them all. I wonder some-
times what is the good of all the learning the girls get at school ;
it does not teach one in twenty to be respectable.'

I could not help thinking there might be some fault in the
teaching of the girls after they left school. Leah had only lately
sent away an upper servant who was a great deal worse than
idle, and whose character she well knew, but whom she kept
because of her cleverness. Kitty Hobson had been under her,
and no doubt had learned much evil from her.

I hesitated, and then I said, ' Kitty must have had a bad
example since she left school.'

' No doubt,' said Leah, misunderstanding me. 'Her parents
arc people of no thought, and the cottage is a perfect pigstyc ;
and they live all together more like pigs than human beings.
As for Kitty, she never had a notion of behaving like a decent
girl. Martha says it was a disgrace to be with her. If Mr
Richardson would look after his school, and not spend his time
in planning new cottages, we shouldn't hear the talcs of Compton
that we do.'

' It must be a hard matter to learn decent habits when they
are all crowded together in that fashion,' I said ; ' how many in
a room are there ? '

' Hobson, and his wife, and Kitty, and Charles, and the baby.
Lately, they have put Henry Hobson to sleep in the little out-

'And it is William's cottage, isn't it ?' I asked.

' Yes; more 's the pity. Mr Richardson was over here last


week talking to William, in a way that I thought very im-
pertinent, about building another room, and at last William was
quite put. out with him, and said plainly that it was no use
doing anything for people like the Hobsons. He might have
said that it was no use giving money to Mr Richardson's school.
He told me afterwards, indeed, that he had more than half a
mind to withdraw his subscription, — you know we pay five
shillings a year to Compton school ; — and I think he will be right
since Kitty Hobson has turned out so badly, for it's a shame to
think that she was brought up there.'

Leah always had right on her side, in her own opinion, but I
could not help feeling for Mrs Hobson, who was a hard-working
woman, and not at all strong, and I secretly made up my mind
that I would go and see her, and inquire into the story before
long. Perhaps, between Mrs Richardson and the Kemps, some-
thing might be done to give Kitty a helping hand, for I only
understood, from what Leah said, that she was unsteady and
careless in her habits.

Leah was peculiar in her ways of management in all these
matters. She allowed things to go on as they might for a long
time, and then suddenly, without warning, a girl was turned off.
I felt with her that it would not do to keep one who was not
well conducted, and I had often wondered at the carelessness
which some of the farmers' wives showed about their servants,
but I did think that some pains ought to be taken first to bring
them into the right way. Leah saw that I took a different view
of the case from her, and it made her cross. She said, pettishly,
that she wondered what William and Roger could have to talk
about so long, she should go and see, and she left the room.

I felt very sad when I was left alone; what Mr Hervey had
told me about Mrs Weir rested in my mind, and I had a feeling
that changes and trouble were coming upon me. But even more
than this, it always put me in low spirits— at least as far as
anything could, for I was very cheerful naturally — to be at

There was something about it which so often brought to my
mind the story of the rich man and Lazarus. How William
would have laughed if I had said so to him ! He rich ? — why,
he believed himself to be just struggling to keep his head above
water. A high rent to give for his land, upon which sums of
money had been spent, his stock to be kept up, his labourers to
b? paid ; to say nothing of taxes, enough to ruin a man — land-


tax, and poor-rate, and church-rate, and taxes for houses and
servants— it was absurd to speak of being rich ! And besides,
if lie was well off one year, who was to answer for the next ?
Everything depended upon the weather, which, if it did well for
one crop, was sure to do badly for another. What was good
for hay was bad for turnips, — that every one knew. To b
William talk, you would have thought it was only by a miracle
he was saved from the workhouse. But, in spite of it all, the
Bible story would return to me. There was Leah, after her
day's work, sitting at case in her comfortable little parlour,
having had a good dinner and tea, and expecting a good supper ;
finding for herself just employment enough to prevent time from
hanging heavy on her hands — for there was a new bonnet lying
on the table, with the ribbon beside it with which it was to
be trimmed — no one to interrupt her ; people about her will-
ing to do what she told them ; a nice little chaise ready to
take her where she liked to go ; a cart and a waggon ready to
be sent for whatever she chose to order ; a husband whose
great fault and misfortune was, that he let her have her own
way. If it was not being rich, it was being quite comfortable
without riches.

l)ut it was all very proper and respectable ; there was no sin
in it. I never heard, though, that the rich man in the parable
committed any great sin : he only let Lazarus lie at his gate.

Kitty Hobson, however, was not like Lazarus ; she was good
for nothing, so Leah said. Why was Leah to trouble herself
about her? Why might not Kitty be sent back to her home, to
sleep in the little loft with her father, and brother, and mother,
and the baby ? What matter was it to Leah that the girl cotdd
not learn decent habits if she wished it ? She was good for
nothing already. What was the use of trying to keep her from
becoming worse ? When Leah lay down to sleep on her soft
bed in the wholesome atmosphere of her large room, why need
she vex herself with thinking of the little crowded attic in which
Jive living beings were to pass the night? If the rain pelted
against the window, why need she remember that there was a
hole in the roof of Hobson's cottage, and that the drops would
fall upon Kitty's bed ? If the wind blew, there were shutters
and a curtain at Sandcombc Farm, the walls were thick, and the
crevices carefully stopped. That was comfort for Leah ; and as
f>r Kitty Hobson, she was accustomed to the breezes of summer
and the storms of winter, for the cottage was so old that it


was more worth William's while to let it tumble to pieces than
to attempt to mend it.

And then, if Kitty was worthless, it was no use to think of
improving her. It might do Leah some good to say her prayers
for she could knoel down quietly, and think seriously of what
she was about ; but what was the good of talking to Kitty about
prayers and the Bible ? She had, no doubt, given up any right
practice she might have learned at school. There would be her
father talking te her mother when she could have prayed ; or
the baby crying, or Charles complaining that he could not go
to sleep ; and when she got up in the morning it would be the
same, or rather worse, for they must all be dressing in the same
room, huddling on their clothes, crying out for breakfast, and
scolding Kitty because the fire was not lighted. If she had
wished to say her prayers, she could not possibly have found a
quiet moment or a quiet place. But she did not want it, — she
was good for nothing !

Le»h might have been right; but I thought of the rich man,

William came in alone, after I had been about ten minutes
by myself. He sat down in his large elbow-chair, as though
he was tired, and laid his hands upon his knees, and thought
for some seconds. Presently he said, ' Hard times, Ursie, aren't
they? '

' I am sorry you find them so,' I replied ; ' I don't know that
they are so particularly hard at Dene.'

'Just what I have been saying to Roger,' he replied. 'When
you have a certain sum coming in, be it ever so small, you are
better off than running a risk, as one must in taking a farm.'

' Is that what Roger thinks?' I inquired, hastily. ' He is come
over with some plan, I know.'

' Roger has the Canada fancy again,' replied William ; and he
fixed his eyes upon me keenly, to see by my face what I felt.

My colour may have changed ; I won't say that it did not.
But I was upon my guard to conceal my feelings : whatever
they were, they were to be told to Roger first. So I answered,
quietly, ' Has he ? He never told me about it.'

' Then he had better come and tell you now,' said William ;
and he rose up slowly from' his chair and went into the kitchen,
and called Roger and Leah, who were talking together outside
Ihe house.

J sat still. I would not appear impatient or put out ; but my


heart grew sick, and a pang went through it ; for I felt that
R.0 jer had not treated me kindly.

Roger stepped into the room first ; and before I could make
up my mind to look up and speak to him, I felt his hand laid
upon my shoulder, and heard him say, in a tone which he tried
to make light, 'There's nothing settled yet, Trot; so don't be
cast down.'

' I had rather hear it all from you, Roger,' I said, reproachfully.
' You shouldn't leave others to tell me.'

' I didn't mean it, Ursie ; I didn't mean it. It is a thought
just of an hour, — nothing more, — and it may go to the winds
before to-morrow.'

' But I may be spoken to plainly,' I replied; 'I am not a
child, and I can bear things.'

'Bravely, Ursie. Not a woman in England better,' said
Roger; 'and you should have heard it all before night; only
William let the cat out of the bag.'

' I was rather curious to see how she would take it, I must
own,' said William.

' Ursie is a sensible woman,' said Leah, sharply.

People always say one is sensible when they are going to give
particularly disagreeable advice.

'If you will speak out,' I said, ' I will show whether I am
sensible or not. What do you all want me to do ?'

' Stay and live here with us, if Roger goes to Canada,' said
Leah, bluntly. And Roger bowed his head upon his hands, for
it seemed he dared not look at me.

I don't think I answered directly ; but when I did, I know
that my voice sounded, even to myself, quite changed.

' I thank you, Leah, for speaking out,' I said. ' I will do what
Roger wishes. If I am to be a help to him, I will go ; if I am
to be a hindrance, I will stay ; — not here,' I added, quickly, for
Leah was going to praise me for agreeing with her ; — ' I will do
something to be independent ; if there is nothing else, I will go
to service.'

William uttered a low whistle of surprise. Roger only look
my hand, and held it very tight.

' Then you will be the first of the Grants that ever so de-
meaned herself,' said Leah.

'Better come with me, Ursie, than do that,' said Roger, in a
low voice.

'Yes, better indeed,' I exclaimed, vehemently; 'a thousand


times better, Roger, go with you to the'world's end, than stay
behind to be a queen. And why mustn't I go ? I have hands
and health, and care nothing for hardships. I will work to the
last hour that God gives me strength ; why mustn't I go?'

' Because it's all a chance,' said William, 'and Roger knows
it. He may just as likely be a ruined man as a rich one.'

1 Then we will be ruined together,' I exclaimed.

'That wouldn't help me, Ursie,' said Roger; and he looked
up at me with what tried to be a smile, but it was not one.

' I don't see that there is a question of ruin for any one,' ex-
claimed Leah, rather contemptuously. ' Roger has money to set
out with if he chooses to go, and no doubt he will do better at
first alone. What is to come after may be left, if Ursie won't
ride the high horse, and be too proud to find a home with her
own brother.'

'I am not too proud,' I said, hastily, 'and I have proved it.
Who has been Roger's servant up to this time? and who will
continue so to his dying day if he will only say yes ? '

1 A man who sets out as a colonist can't afford to keep a ser-
vant,' said William. ' If Roger is bent upon this wild plan he
must go alone, Ursie.'

I couldn't understand William's tone at all. I had fancied be-
fore that he upheld Roger's notion. He was going to say more,
when Roger started from his seat and stood up before me. The
sadness in his face was gone, and he looked like himself, fit and
willing to brave the world. ' We have not been fair upon you,
Ursie,' he said; 'you have been taken by surprise. We should
have talked this matter over alone, and we will do it now. Leah,
you have been kind in offering a helping hand ; and thank you
for it. Good night, William ; you shall hear more about us to-
morrow.' He walked out of the room, and through the passage
into the yard, not once looking round to see if I was following
him. William seemed thoroughly vexed. Leah was only rather
grave ; she just said, ' I hope, Ursie, whatever you resolve upon,
you will consider the credit of the family,' and then she let mo



INSTEAD of turning into the turf road to Dene, Roger said,
when we reached it, 'The moon will be up in a few
minutes, Ursie ; we might get to the top of St Anne's and look
at it.' These were the first words he hnd spoken, and I had
not interrupted his silence. I felt that he wanted time to
set himself right. That conversation had for some reason or
other disturbed him, more almost than I should have expected.
And it was a quieting walk along the ridge of the down ; it was
growing very dark, but the sky was clear, and one or two stars
Mere to be seen gleaming very faintly. I could just distinguish
between the trees the Abbey Farm, and a dark spot which I
knew must be the tower of Compton church ; and out in the
distance, where there was a glowing sheet of yellow light along
the horizon, the white cliffs stood up mistily, their outline mixing
with the sky.

' Now, Ursie, give me your hand,' said Roger, as we stood at
the foot of St Anne's Hill. The way was steep ; he dragged me
up after him, taking care to avoid the chalk-pit, and every now
and then bidding me stop to rest, — though I scarcely needed it.
When we reached the Oratory, he made me lean against the
wall. The moon had risen, though as yet it cast no reflection ;
but a pale light was spread over the vast expanse of waters, and
white cuiling waves could be seen dashing upon the shingles,
and scattering their spray into the air. Roger took off his hat,
and passed his hand across his forehead.

' We may well look at the sea, Ursie,' he said ; 'it will be the
highroad between us before long.'

ever,' I answered, firmly ; ' my mind is made up, Roger.'

' But not mine. William is right ; it is a risk.'

' Then William should not urge you to go,' I said.

' He does not. You heard him call it a wild notion ; he
thinks I can stay at Dene.'

' And why can't you ? We have one lot in life, Roger ; I
ought to know.'

' Mr Weir is a ruined man ; or, if he is not now, he must be
before many weeks are over. John Hcrvey knows it, and came
to tell ire of it. Does it startle you, Ursie ? ' and he put his arm
round me, and drew me cio:e to him and kissed me.


' No,' I answered, ' it does not startle me ; nothing that I

could hear of j\lr Weir would. But his wife, Miss Milicent,'

my heart was full, I could not say more ; and John Hervey's
story and my own words came to my mind reproachfully.

' It's bitter enough for them,' he said ; ' but we must think of
ourselves, Ursie ; or, at least, I am bound to think of you.'

' And we can't help them ?' I said.

' Not without doing ourselves harm, so far as I can see now.
At least I can't.'

' But I can, and that is what Mr Hervey meant,' I said, ' when
he talked to me.'

'John Hervey is against your going with me,' was his answer.
' Whatever he may have said about Mrs Weir is only second in
his thoughts ; his first notion is that you are safer in England,
at least for a while. William, and Leah, — they all think so.'

'And Roger thinks what?' I said; and I leaned my hand
upon his shoulder, and partly raised myself, that I might look
into his face, and see clearly what he meant.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 8 of 56)