Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) online

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to us, and was then only a tiny brook, became quite a broad
stream, and deep enough to float vessels. We could follow
it till it reached a little seaport a few miles from Hove, and
trace beyond it a blue line of sea, appearing here and there,
as the land rose or sunk. There was an opposite coast, too,


in that direction, and wc could plainly distinguish the houses,
looking like white dots, and the great chalk-pits, like patches
on the sides of the misty hills. I was never tired of the
view ; yet it was not so grand as the open sea, and the white
cliffs from St. Anne's ; and I think it gave me more thoughts
of the world. It made me picture to myself men, and women,
and all their cares and troubles, and hopes for things which
belong to earth ; but the sea seemed to have come at once
from God, and to belong to Him alone. When human beings
passed over it, they left no mark behind them. One view
was like Time and the other like Eternity. In former days
there had been a little chapel on St. Anne's Hill ; an oratory,
I believe, it was called. It was connected with some old
ruins in Compton village, which are now built into barns and
granaries, belonging to the Abbey Farm. I have been told
that some one of the monks who lived in the abbey, used, in
old times, to be sent to the chapel on St. Anne's to say
prayers, and to put lights in the tower as a warning to the
vessels when they came too close to the shore. In after
years a regular light-house w^as built there, but it has fallen
quite into decay. It was not worth while to keep it up, for
thick mists from the sea often rest upon the Hill, and in the
stormy night the gleam from the light-house could seldom be
seen. Only the stones scattered upon the green turf, and a
portion of the lower walls, remain ; and a gooseberry-bush,
which grew in the little garden belonging to the light-house,
is the sole mark that any care had ever been taken to make
such a place habitable. But the eight-sided tower of the
oratory stands as firm as ever, — the walls dark grey, and
brown, and green, where lichens have covered them ; whilst
the foundation of the chapel can also be traced without diffi-
culty. I have heard people wonder, as they talked about
the oratory, what could make any person content to live
there ; and I have heard them say, too, that there was much
evil in the days when it was used, and that we are more en-
lightened. I dare say they are right. I am very thankful for
the blessings granted me, and I would not, for all the world,
go back to times when I could not read my Bible for myself ;
but I can never think that the watchers in the oratory kept
less guard upon their lights, because they knelt by them and


said their prayers ; and I have myself rested against the
wall, on the steep side looking over to the sea, and prayed
with a deeper feeling, because I felt that the spot was like
a church, and liad been made holy by the devotion of those
who stood there before me.

But I must not linger so long describing Sandcombe Down,
and the view from St. Anne's, only they are mixed up with
so many things which happened in my cliildhood, that it is a
pleasure to me. The evening that I walked over to Dene
with Roger, we turned quite away from St. Anne's Ilill, and
went to the other end of the long ridge, towards the north.
That, too, was a marked spot, for a stone pillar had been placed
upon it to note the visit of a foreign emperor to I-Cngland. I
had sometimes been as far as the pillar when I went over the
ridge to Compton, or came back from it ; but I was always stop-
ped there by Mr. Weir's grounds ; for just above Dene the side of
the down was very steep, and formed a deep hollow, which
]\Ir. Weir had planted thickly, making winding walks among
the trees, and separating the j^lantation from the down by a
light iron fence.

A broad, smooth, sloping path, cut along the side of the
hill, in the green turf, was the nearest way from Sandcombe
Farm to Dene. Furze and beautiful red foxgloves grew there
in plenty; their look, and sometliing in their scent, will often
come before me even now, and make me feel as if there must
be something young in me Avhich can never die. Perhaps it
belongs to that part of myself which is to live again in
Heaven. This patli went very gradually down the side of the
hill, and then a white gate gave admittance to the grounds of
Dene, and to a broad road at the foot of the plantations, which
led by the back of the liouse to the entrance.

Other things have become clouded in my memory, but I
can quite remember my feelings as Roger opened the white
gate, and said, " Now, little one, we are at home." I had a
fancy that the whole place belonged to us, that we were in
some way raised in the world, and yet I looked round with a
grave wonder, and kei)t close to Roger's side, fearful tliat I
might be trespassing if I went a step to the right or the left.
The word trespass was a very awful one to me. I had seen
it set up on boards in Mr. Weir's plantations, and it was


mixed up in my mind -with visions of a dismal dungeon, and
bread and water.

lloo-er went up to the house-door and rang at the bell. A
girl answered it, and then there came out a stout old lady,
dressed in black silk, with a very gay cap on her head : as
grand as a queen she seemed to me. She patted me on the
shoulder, and spoke civilly to Roger. He went aside with
her, and they talked for some minutes. I thought at first
she must be Mrs. Weir herself, but as we turned away to go
a little farther down the carriage-road, Roger told me that
she was Mrs. Mason, the housekeeper, who had the care of
everything in the house, as he was to have the charge of every- '
thing out of it. I found afterwards that Mrs. Mason lived
there, more that she might have a home, being an old servant
of the family, than for any other reason.

The stables were very near the house, on the opposite
side of the carriage-ro ad. They, and the coach-house, and a
kind of barn, in which things could be stored away, being all
built of good stone, formed quite a grand set of buildings.
There was a large clock over the coach-house, — very much
needed, for Dene was a most out of the way place. Compton
was three miles off by the road, though only a mile and a half
by the cart-track over the hill ; and that was only a village. It
had no shops nor anything of that kind. The nearest gentle-
man's house must have been four or five miles distant from
Dene ; whilst Hove, which was the only place we could get
anything from, was seven miles off: so there was great need
of the clock to keep x;s all regular and punctual.

Next to the coach-house, joining it indeed, but nearer to
the house, a set of rooms had been built, and these we were
to have. I cannot say they were anything very grand. Cer-
tainly they were nothing like the farm-kitchen at Sandcombe.
They did not look as if they belonged to a regular house ;
and I cou.ld not understand what Roger meant when he open-
ed the door, and Avent into the little kitchen, and sat down in
an arm-chair, looking round him half sad and half pleased. I
asked him where we were to go next.

" No further, Ursie ; this is home. We'll be very jolly
here, little Trot." And then he took me upon his knee, and
covered me with kisses. I don't think he liked me to see his


face. He must have thought a good deal of Sandcoinbe, and
my father and mother, and old times, and it was very solitary
for him. I was no companion, though he did love me so

The next day a girl was to come to look after me, but
there had been some mistake about the time, and she was not
there to meet us. Because of this we were to go over to the
house and have our tea with Mrs. Mason. So when Koger
had unpacked some of the things, and I had tired myself
with running up and down the steep flight of stairs to look at
the bedrooms, we went across to the house. I should say first,
however, that we had a very comfortable lodging upon the
whole. Besides a tidy parlor, a kitchen, and two bed-rooms,
and a closet in which another bed could be put, there was a
little room within the kitchen^ where a servant might sleep
if it were necessary. But the plan was for the girl to come
for the day only, as she lived at a cottage quite close ; so the
kitchen room was only likely to be used as a place for

Neither water nor soap had been provided for us, and wo
went across to the house just as we were when we came from
our walk. I did not think of such things, but Roger did.
He was wonderfully neat in his ways for a man who had so
much rough work to attend to. He resembled my mother,
who was famed for tidiness and cleanliness. I dare say, too,
he knew what Mrs. Mason would like, for we were no sooner
inside the house, than she took me up-stairs to her bed-room,
a very comfortable one, near the kitchen, and made me put
myself to rights, and wash my hands and face before we went
down to tea.

We had our tea in the kitchen. Mrs. Mason had a little
sitting-room to herself, but it was very small, and so, indeed, was
the house, though it appeared grand enough to me just at first.
Mr. Weir only used it for a few months in the autumn, when
he came for shooting, and there were not many contrivances
for comfort in it, and very little space for servants. But I
knew nothing about such matters that first night, and only
felt it to be very strange and pleasant to be sitting by Roger's
side, eating lard cake, drinking tea out of pretty brown cups
with gilt edges, and able to watcli Mrs. Mason, as she sat be-

18 URSULA. ^

fore the tea-board, in lier black silk dress, looking grander than

Roger and Mrs. Mason talked about a great many things
which I did not understand, and their tea lasted much longer
than mine ; but when I was tired of sitting up and listening,
they let me get down by the hearth, and play with a tabby
kitten, and Mrs. Mason made the girl bring a cork and a
string, and tempt the kitten to run after it. I did not remark
anything that went on, till I heard Roger say, " I never knew
that both the ladies were coming." That made me attend.
I don't know why. I could not think who the ladies were,
and I was always rather curious. Mrs. Mason looked grave
and odd, and answered, " Yes, both of them. Miss Milicent
used to say she didn't like the place, but she has turned
quite round now. She's a queer one. You may thank your
stars, Mr. Grant, that you are not likely to have anything to
do with her."

I think Roger must have noticed my eyes fixed upon him,
for he stopped suddenly as he was about to reply, and said,
" It is nearly the little woman's bed-time."

"Ah! 3'es, to be sure;" and Mrs. Mason called me to
her and asked if I was sleepy.

" No," I said quickly : " Why does that Miss come
here ? " A fit of laughter followed, and something was
muttered about " little pitchers and long ears ; " but I was
not to be daunted, and I asked again, " Why does that Miss
come here ? "

" Because it's her home," said Roger very gi-avely ; " but
little children must never trouble themselves with what
doesn't concern them :" and I asked no more, for his look
showed me he was not pleased. He said I must go over to
the cottage to sleep ; but Mrs. Mason interfered. No one
was there to put me to bed, she said, and nothing was ready
for me ; she could not be sure even that there were sheets
in the bed ; for Fanny (that was the name of the girl who
opened the door for us) had been so busy, there had not
been time for her to go across and see about it. It would be
much better for me to sleep at the house ; there was plenty
of spare room.

Roger objected because of the trouble, but he was soon


overruled. Mrs. IMason liked children, and was very good-
natured ; so she called Fanny, and told her to take me up to
the little back-room and put me to bed.

" Miss Milicent's room, Ma'am, did you say ? " asked
Fanny, who was rather deaf.

" Miss Milicent's room, child ! What are you thinking
of ? The little back-room — the peacock room. You know
what I mean Miss Milicent's room indeed ! " I heard her
murmur to herself ; " there would be a fuss ! "

Fanny carried me off to bed. I whispered to Roger, as
I said good night, " Please come and see me after I'm in
bed." He was going to say no ; I suppose he thought he
had no business to go about the house as if it was his own ;
but Mrs. Mason promised me he should, and I went away
happy. Roger's last charge being that I should remember to
say my prayers properly ; and then he would hear me repeat
my verse before I went to sleep.

Fanny took me through a short passage into a little hall,
then up some narrow winding stairs to a lobby, with several
rooms opening into it. The first on the right hand side was
the peacock room.

It never entered my head to ask why it was so called ;
but, full of my curiosity, I chattered away to Fanny about
Miss Milicent all the time I was undressing.

I learnt that she was Mr. Weir's daughter, which
sounded strange to me, for I thought that Milicent was a
surname ; but I found afterwards that she was called Miss
Milicent because there was a cousin who had more right to
be Miss Weir.

I was informed also that she had a mother but no broth-
ers or sisters. Miss Weir, the cousin, Fanny said, sometimes
came to Dene, but not often. This cousin I cared very little
about, especially when I heard that she was not expected
now, and might never come again, as she was engaged to be
married to a Mr. Temple ; but I made Fanny tell me what
kind of person Miss Milicent was, and when she said
" grumpy," I was nearly as much in the dark as before. I
only guessed it was something disagreeable ; and I mixed
up Mr. and Mrs. Weir, and their daughter together, and
fancied them all like the ogres I had read of in fairy tales.


1 should have been fri-glitened and unhappy, only I was sure
that Roger was a match for them alh

Ho came to me as he had promised, and I repeated my
verse to him, and then he kissed me and said, " Grod bless
you, my little Ursie," and left me. I listened to his heavy
tread as he went down the stairs : and when all was silent I
turned and tossed in the large bed, not daring to open my
eyes lest I should see the darkness, and wishing very much
that I had been allowed to sleep in the little room at the
cottage close to Roger. But I fell asleep at last.

A strange noise woke me very early in the morning ; a
harsh, scrooping sound, which amused, and yet a little
frightened me, and made me sit up in my bed to listen.
When I could not understand where it came from, I jumped
up and ran to the window to look out. A light fence of
trellis- work was just below, — a screen for a little area in
front of the pantry, — and on this trellis-work roosted a
peacock and peahen. My delight ! how can I possibly
express it ! There they sat, the peacock proudly turning
his beautiful purple neck on all sides, and his long tail,
spotted with glittering eyes, drooping over the fence ; and
the peahen looking so quiet and gentle, and beautiful too,
only seeming not to wish to be noticed because she had such
a grand companion. I believe I screamed with delight, I
was told so afterwards ; and Fanny always declared that I
begged to be allowed to open the window, and pull only one
feather out of the peacocks tail, for he had so many I was
sure he would never miss it. I know myself that the pea-
cock and peahen seemed like the fairies of the place to me
then and for years afterwards ; and even now, if I could
have money to throw away upon fancies, I should be tempted
to have some always with me, in the hope that they might
bring back the feelings of unbounded gladness which are, by
this time, almost forgotten.

It was a sunshiny morning the first day at Dene. Roger
went out directly after breakfast to his business of looking
after things, and 1 was left with Mrs. Mason and Fanny.
For that one day I was to run about and do as I chose ; but
Mrs. Mason put on a grave face as she said that idleness
was not good for little girls ; and it was settled tliat Roger


was to take me over to Compton the very first day he could
spare the time, in order that I might have my name put
dx»wn for the schooh

Mrs. Mason made me help Fanny wash up the tea-things
when breakfast was over; and then she said we might go
round the garden, only Fanny was to take particular care
that I did not tumble into the pond. So Fanny and I went
forth together, first, however, running all over the house, and
peeping into every nook and corner, even into Miss Milicent's
room, which was nothing remarkably different from any
other, except that it was the largest and had the prettiest
view. Fanny said that Miss Milicent always had the large
room because of her boxes.

The house at Dene had been first a labourer's cottage ;
that was before Mr. Weir took a fancy to come there for
shooting. He built two rooms, a dining-room and a drawing-
room, not at all large, and rather square, only with a kind of
bow for the window. These rooms were on each side of the
little passage or hall, and there were no more sitting-rooms
in the house, at least when first we went there. Miss Mili-
cent's room was over the drawing-room, and Mr. Weir's over
the dining-room ; and there was another room, which was
used as a dressing-room, besides the peacock room and some
attics : that was all the house then, except the chambers over
the kitchen, where Mrs. Mason and Fanny slept. The attics
were what I liked best ; we had to go up such a droll little
staircase to reach them, and they had such a beautiful paper,
a kind of Chinese j)attern, with a bridge and some houses, and
little men and women going over the bridge. They, too,
like the peacock, were part of the fairy things belonging to
Dene, and I seemed to have more to do with them than with
Mr, Weir and Miss Milicent. The attics opened upon the
leads of the house, and the peacock had been up there and
left behind him one of his small feathers, — not one with an
eye, but with a soft feathery fringe, — such a purple green !
there is no colour like it elsewhere that I liave seen. Fanny
crept out of the window and brought it back to me, and I
have it now. Unless it was a duty, I would not part with it
for any sum of money.

Going over the house was very pleasant, but it was uoth-

22 U 11 S U L A .

ing to tlie garden ; £ind when Fanny opened the front door,
I rushed out wild with dcliglit, and scarcely heeding her as
.she called to me, in a frightened voice, not on any account to
run so fast, or I should be in the pond.

Dene stood very high. The ground sloped directly from
the house, but there was a broad pavement in front, covered
by an open verandah, which had been made by a very old
man, a country carpenter, and was esteemed quite a wonder,
for its pretty patterns and crossings. The house would have
been homely-looking on the outside, except for the verandah ;
but that gave it a look unlike other places, and the arches
made a separate frame for each portion of the country that
was to be seen from it.

The view from the house, like that from the down, might,
I suppose, have been called wanting in wood ; but Paradise
could scarcely have been more lovely to Eve, when she first
opened her eyes upon it, than Dene was to me on that sum-
mer morning, and many, many others which followed. It
looked to the east, and the sun, therefore, shone full upon it.
The turf was smooth as a carpet of velvet, and not a weed
was to be seen in the bright flower-beds. In the centre of
the lawn, a fountain, which the gardener set playing to please
me, rose up like a silver thread into the air, and in the pond
round the fountain, bright gold-fish floated about, catching at
the bread-crumbs with which I was allowed to feed them.
Another pond, with an island in the centre, and a walk round
it, was to be seen still lower, but it was always a place of
mystery to me. I never reached the island, though I always
longed to do so. Beyond the garden lay an expanse of
country, such as could be seen from the down. It had one
or two market spots, an old manor farm, surrounded by trees
nearly opposite to Dene, and a church on a bit of rising
ground, and a zigzag road across a moor, — part of the high
road to Hove ; and immediately opposite was a ridge of hills,
very like Sandcombe Down, with what was called a semaphore
at the top. I believe it was used for making signals about
ships to persons a good way off. It was a view in which
there seemed always something new to find out; and espe-
cially I used to please myself on Saturdays, when Roger was
gone to Hove, by watching the carts and waggons, and horses


moving like dots over llie zigzag road, and guessing -wliicli
might belong to him. But that is going on beyond my first

Fanny led me all round the garden, and then, as we came
back, she stopped at the foot of a steep bank covered with
shrubs, which parted the grounds of Dene from the down,
and pointing to a flight of rough steps, said, I might go up
there if I liked. I ran before her, scarcely contented to
make use of the steps, but every now and then scrambling up
the bank, till I reached the top ; and there I found a seat,
and a little wicket gate, opening upon the carriage road close
to the down. Crossing the road, Fanny made me enter the
plantation, which, as I before said, filled the hollow of the
hill behind the house. We went on and on, along narrow
winding paths, sometimes stopping to rest upon a bench under
a tree, sometimes going quite to the edge of the bank, to look
down through the mass of branches, and leaves, and flowers,
which seemed to sparkle like emerald and silver, upon a
green field just at the bottom of the plantation, in which Mr.
Weir's cows were feeding ; and then we ran on again till we
came to a little summer-house ; a real house, with a table,
and some wooden chairs, and a tiny fire-place ; so cool and
pleasant-looking it was ! — but we could not go in, for Mrs.
Mason kept the key, but Fanny lifted me up that I might
peep in at the window.

It was all more happy to me far than words can tell, but
I can never by description make other people feel the same.
Fanny, though she was not much more than a child, seemed
to care little about it. All that she appeared to think of
then, or afterwards, was the gossip about the few people who
lived in the neighborhood. We passed out of the plantation
by clambering over an iron fence, and came round to the
house in a diti'erent direction, across an open bit of pasture
land, which seemed once to have foi-med part of the down.
There it was that Fanny was induced to stop, that she might
point out the cottage in which Sarah's father and mother
lived. Sarah was the girl who was to take care of me and
cook our dinner, and make our beds. They were labouring
people, she said, and they were very glad to get Sarah a
place. Sarah was to have gone to the gamekeeper's, but Lis


wife had a cousin wlio was come to help. And then she led
me a few steps on, that I might look at the gamekeeper's nice
cottage with its strip of garden so neatly kept. The game-
keeper's wife, she said, had had some tiffs with Miss Milicent,
but that was no wonder. Fanny did not think proper, how-
ever, to tell me what the tiffs were about, but wandered off
to another subject, saying, that she must take me home, for
she had to run down to Longside Farm to get some eggs for
Mrs. Mason. The people at Longside were very well to do
in the world, she informed me ; Farmer Kemp, folks de-
clared, was worth a mint of money ; and he was very careful,
not at all like the Shaws, who lived at the Manor Farm,
called White Hill, which we had seen from the garden. The
Shaws were very set-up people, and laughed at the Kemps,
and the Kemps had given up visiting them.

A good deal of this 1 knew before, and very little I cared
for it. Yet I cannot help noting it now. It was the begin-
ning of a long tale, and I think of it as I think of the little
stream that welled forth from the plantation behind the
house, and after being caught in a stone basin, where it
sparkled clear and bright, made its way, stealing by fields,
and through ditches, till it became a broad river, with which
mud and shingle and all impurity had mingled. Nothing
but the sea could cleanse that stream, and nothing but the
ocean of God's Redeeming Love can cleanse the foulnesses
that even the best must contract as their life flows forth to

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