Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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It would be useless to attempt a description of all that hap-
pened when we first went to live at Dene, and I have put
into the account of that morning's walk over the grounds
nearly all there is to say about the place, and added some
things which fitly ought to have come in further on. But I
write just as the thoughts enter my head, and should not be


able to get on fit all, wberc there is so much to say, if I were
to take too much time to consider.

We settled ourselves into our little house — Roger and I —
and Sarah came as it had been agreed, and two days after-
wards Roger took me over to Compton to the clergyman
there, and arranged that I was to go to the village school.
Sarah had a sister, about twelve years old, who went, and
she was to take care of me. I know some people thought it
strange that I should be sent to mix with everybody's chil-
dren, and declared that my father and mother would never
have allowed it if they had been living. But William and
Roger both knew what my parents would have wished better
than the world did, and Roger has often told me that the
things he heard about the schools in Hove made him very
unwilling to place me at one. He wanted me, he said, to
grow up useful, and to know my place in the world, and
from what he could see of the girls who had gone to those
boarding-schools, it was just what they had never been
taught. They were always trying to get out of their place.
It took a good many years, and a good deal of experience
too, to enable me to understand entirely all that Roger
meant by that. As for my own wish, I was so glad to
escape being sent away from Roger, that I would have borne
real sufiering rather than be sent to a boarding-school in
Hove. And I was quite happy at Compton, every one was
very kind to me. The clei-gyman came to see us and
instruct us himself, and I was taught to read, and write, and
cypher, and do needlework, in a way which lias been an ad-
vantage to me all my life, and — much more than that — I was
made to look upon religion as the one thing to be considered
above all others. That is the best lesson any one can
acquire ; all others are easy afterwards ; and I thank God
that He placed me so early under the care of those who had
learned it themselves, and so were well able to teach it to me.

I had some weeks at school, and then came harvest time
and holidays, when Mrs. Mason gave me employment at
home, and when I was allowed to enjoy myself by taking a
book up to the seat on the top of the bank, and sitting there
all alone by myself, reading or listening to the chirp of the
grasshoppers, and the songs of the birds in the plantation. I

Vol. T— 2


liked that seat better than any other, partly, I believe, be-
cause no one else seemed ever to think about it ; but there
was a pleasure too in being close to the down, feeling that I
might, if I chose (though I never really wished to do so),
wander all over it, and even go across St. Anne's hill, to
the great cliffs above the sea-shore, and there find a vessel to
carry me all over the world. I had many fancies of that
khid from the books I read. Heading was quite my snare ;
I did so delight in it, and so I do to this day. When Mrs.
Mason gave me work to do, I used to carry it to the upper
seat, fully meaning to do it, but if I had a book at my side,
I spent more minutes than I ought in looking into it between
whiles. Some books I had from the school-library at Comp-
ton, and Mrs. Mason let me have some old magazines, which
I was never tired of, though I knew most of the stories
nearly by heart.

September came, and I went to school again; and just
about that time there was a bustle at Dene ; putting the
garden in order, and cleaning out the rooms, and arranging
the furniture, because Mr. and Mrs. Weir, and Miss Miliceut,
were expected for two months.

A grand time it seemed to be for Mrs. Mason and Fanny.
As for me, I cried terribly, because I thought the family
would take possession of the garden, and the plantation, and
all the places I liked, and that I should never be able to go
near them. I complained to Roger, but he would not
encourage me in such nonsense. He said that if I was a
good child, I should never want pleasures, and if I was a
naughty one, I should not deserve them.

It was Saturday afternoon, so I had not been to school ;
but I sat in the kitchen mending my clean things, which had
just come from the wash, and Sarah was busy sweeping up,
and putting things in order for Sunday. We heard a cai*-
riage come up the road, and I jumped up and said, " Here's
Mrs. Weir," and Sarah ran to the door, and stood there
with the broom in her hand. We had not heard for certain
that they would come on that day. There was a chance
that they might have stopped till Monday; — but we were
sure it could be no one else, because, although there was a
right of footway through the grounds, no carriages had any


business along our road, and nothing with wheels ever came
by it, unless it might be every now and then Mr. "Weir's
light cart, going over the hill to Compton or Hatton.

The carriage stopped. It was closed, so that we could
not see who was within. Mrs. Mason and Fanny came out
in a great hurry, and made many curtsies ; and then the
footman (there was a grand footman, dressed in a drab-
coloured coat, with red trimming, and a coachman like him,
only stouter) opened the door, and an elderly gentleman got
out, and walked straight into the house, with his chin up in
the air, not stopping to speak to any one. I noticed nothing
about him but his nose — and somehow, whenever I looked at
him afterwards, that was the only feature which ever caught
my eye. It seemed to have a way of speaking, as most
people's eyes speak. A lady followed ; very upright and
well-formed she was, but so small — she might have been
taken for a child, when one only looked at her back. She
had a sweet face, though it was very sallow and sickly ; and
her bonnet was made in an old-fashioned way, to come over
her forehead and protect her eyes, which seemed very weak.
Mrs. Mason helped her out of the carriage herself, putting
an arm round her for support, and then the lady shook her
so heartily by the hand, it was quite pleasant to see ; and
she patted Fanny gently on the shoulder, and I think asked
some questions about Roger, as I saw her turn round and
look towards the cottage. Mrs. Mason must have said
something to please her, for she nodded her head slowlj",
several times, as if she was quite satisfied. She seemed
willing to stay and talk more, but Mrs. Mason prevented
her, and went with her into the house, just as I saw a large
foot, with a boot like a man's, protrude from the carriage.
The footman stood back, and so did Fanny and the coach-
man ; it seemed as if they could not make room enough for
what was coming. Yet it was not such a very large body ;
when Miss Miliccnt stood upon the ground, she was scarcely
more than five feet six, and stout in proportion ; but the very
way in which she put her head into the cai'riage, and out
again, and called the footman, and tossed a parcel to Fanny,
and gave an order to the coachman, all, as it were, in one
breath, made one feel at once as though the world was not


big enough for her. It was some seconds before I quite de-
termined what she was like. She must have had a great
fancy to be a man, for certainly she had taken pains enough
to make herself look as like one as a woman's dress will
allow. She had on a stuff gown, made very short, and a
loose black jacket, with no white collar, nor anything of that
kind to make it pretty ; only a red handkerchief tied round
her neck. Besides, she wore a black straw bonnet, with a
plain white border in the inside, and not a bit of ribbon or
flower. Her face was like Mr. Weir's, only smaller, and
without quite such a nose ; but she had eyes to make up for
it, so sharp, they were in constant motion, and they danced
about as though they had a life of their own, quite independ-
ent of Miss Milicent herself, and were determined to see
everything there was to be seen in this world.

I thought the trunks would never come to an end. The
coachman wanted to carry some of them into the house, but
Miss Milicent would have them all taken from the carriage
first. She kept every one waiting upon her, and I could not
help fancying she took a pleasure in occupying just double
the time needed. But the business was finished at last, and
Miss Milicent was able then to stop and speak to Fanny,
which she did in the same sort of way as I have seen a law-
yer question a witness in a court of justice. Fanny curtsied
at every answer, but she would fain have run away, I am
sure, and she did after a while move to one side, as a kind
of hint to Miss Milicent to go in-doors. But instead of that,
what should we see but Miss Milicent coming across the road
to the cottage ! Sarah threw down the broom, and ran oif
to hide herself in one of the out-houses ; I thought it mean
to follow her, and I did not see what cause I had to be afraid
of Miss Milicent, or of any one, if I was not doing anything
wrong; so I went back to my seat to finish darning my
stocking, but I own my heart beat rather fast.

In she came, without knocking at the door, and I felt
quite affronted, and just for a moment could not make up my
mind to rise from my seat. She caught me up for it direct-
ly. " Little girls ought to learn to be civil," she said, " when
ladies take the trouble to come and see them ! What are
you about there ? Mending your stockings ? Very good


work, but you don't do it properly. You should draw the
stitches together first." To my dismay, she took a pair of
scissors, cut a little hole deliberately iu my Suuday stocking,
and then, catching the needle from my hand, unthreading it
iu her haste, sat down to show me how to bring the edges
together again. I was so angry, I could have pricked her
fingers with my needle when I gave it back to her threaded.
I am nearly sure I gave it a little poke with that intention,
but she did not seem to feel it, and, taking up the stocking,
made me come quite close to watch her, whilst she went on
talking all the time. " Who taught you to work ? You
ought to know better. IIow old are you? Nine and a
half ? — you don't look more than six. You can't have had
any pains taken with you. Now attend, do you see ? first
one stitch, then the other, — drawn together closely; that
makes the hole smaller. You must darn it over afterwards.
I shall make them teach darning in that way at Compton
school. Don't forget ! I shall come and see you again, and
find out if you have attended to what I say. If you are a
good child, I shall give you some of my stockings to mend.
Now get up and open the door ; you always ought to open
the door for ladies. They don't teach you at all good man-
ners at Compton school; I shall see about it."

See about it ! — yes. I felt, indeed, that she would see
about it, and so should I. I opened the door for her be-
cause she stood waiting for me to do it, but I closed it be-
hind her instantly, and rushing back to my stocking, tore
out all the stitches she had put in, and tossed the stocking
across the room.

Sarah came back and saw me kicking my feet against a
chair to vent my rage. She laughed, which made me still
more angry. I began to scold because she had gone away
and left me. " The tiresome woman Avouldn't have dared
cut a hole in my stocking," I said, " if you had been here; "
and I ran to the other end of the room, caught up the stock-
ing, and thrust my finger through the hole, making it lialf as
large again, and when Sarah still would do nothing but laugh,
I leaned my head upon the table, and fairly cried with tern
per and vexation.

lloger entered just at that moment. When he saw mc
iu tears, he came u]) to mc in his kind way and took me upon


his knee ; but he could get nothing from me except that
Miss Milicent had been to see me, and cut a hole in my
stocking, and I hated her, and if she lived at Dene I should
run away.

He must have been very much puzzled, but he knew
pretty well what I was like when I was in what William
used to call one of my tantrums ; so instead of trying to
talk to me, he just said, " My little Trot will be better up-
stairs for a while; " and then he took me up in his arms and
carried me to my room, and shut the door and left me.

I was not sulky, — that was never part of my disposition,
— only terribly passionate. I stamped and screamed a good
deal at first, but no one came near me, and at last I went to
the window, and had my thoughts turned by watching the
servants finishing the unpacking of the carriage, and by the
time Roger came back I was quite quiet, and sorry for hav-
ing been so naughty, and he took me down-stairs again.

We sat down to tea, and after a little while Roger began
asking me again about IMiss Milicent. I was not angry with
him as I was with Sarah when he laughed as I told my
grievance. Roger often laughed at things which other peo-
ple cry about, but I told him he wouldn't have liked it if it
had been his stocking, and he had had to darn it.

" I should not have liked it, Ursie, may be, but I would
have taken it as it was meant."

" It was meant to tease me," I said, and I felt my face
quite red again.

Roger made no answei*. I saw he was vexed, and I put
down my bread and butter, and threw my arms round his
neck, and called him " dear Father Roger."

That always softened him. He gave me a great hug in
return, but still he did not speak, till I touched him and ask-
ed him what he was thinking about.

"Nothing, Trot, that you can understand now; but it
wouldn't be such a hard world to live in, if people looked
more at what is meant, and less at what is done."

He was very silent after that, as was his wont, and when
tea was over he went out again, and I took up my stocking
and tried to mend it in Miss Milieent's fashion, feeling some-
how, from what Roger had said, that I had been hard upon



Sunday was the pleasantest day in the week to me.
Roger walked with me over the down quite early, and left
me at the Sunday-school, and went himself to see an old
aunt, my mother's sister, who was very infirm and could
never go out ; and there lie stayed till church-time. I sat
with the school-children in church ; but Roger's seat was
very near, and I could see him, whenever I looked up, with
his eyes upon his book, and that made me look upon mine.
Otherwise there was a good deal to teach one to be inatten-
tive : the boys sat close to us, and were very troublesome ;
slyly pulling at each other's books, and whispering, and then
the master would reach over into the middle of them with his
stick, and give a sharp tap, which just as likely touched the
good ones as the bad. The girls were not any better than
the boys. I was often tapped myself, though I don't really
think I deserved it so much as some of the others. There
was such a trouble, too, about repeating the responses.
Some would speak out, and some would not ; and every now
and then, one boy took it into his head to shout ; and down
came a message from the master, that if he did, he should be
caned ; then we all grew silent, and there came another mes-
sage, that if we didn't speak out we should be locked up. It
was trying to know how to keep straight amongst it all ; but
what did me most good was to see Roger standing there, so
still, and grave, and earnest-looking, and his face different, in
a way, from what it was at other times. It was a very dear
face always to me ; though his skin was not smooth, and his
hair brushed neat like a gentleman's, I often thought I
would not change it for the handsomest picture I had ever
seen. But on Sundays, in church, another look was given to
it, as if all in it that had been gathered from the toil and
care of life had been taken away. It came across me one
day, when I noticed him just as he rose up from his prayers,
that if I were to see him iu Heaven, he could scarcely be
anything difi"ercnt.

That Sunday we went into church rather more noisily


than usual ; Kit*y Dove, Sarali's sister, pushed little Johnnie
Rowe, and nearly threw him down, and Johnnie pinched
Kitty, and made her cry ; and some of the bigger girls were
whispering about it to the mistress, and begging that Kitty
and Johnnie might not sit near each other. But all of a
sudden there was a great " Hush ! " The girls left off
fidgeting, and put their hands in their laps ; and the boys
began to find out the Psalms in their prayer-books. A sud-
den fright had taken them all. I peeped out from a back
corner in which I was sitting, and saw at the church-door
Mrs. Richardson, the vicar's wife, and Miss Richardson, and
one or two other ladies who taught in the Sunday-school,
and in the middle of them Miss Milicent, — not one whit dif-
ferent from what she was on Saturday night, just the same
loose jacket and red handkerchief. The girls glanced round
at her, and the corners of their mouths went ; but not a word
was said. Mrs. Richardson and the other ladies went to
their seats ; but up came Miss Milicent to us ; her eye seemed
to take in all at one glance, and half a dozen names were out
of her mouth almost in a breath, and in a whisper so loud it
could be heard nearly all over the church : — " Mary Webb,
how's your mother ? " " Fanny Hart, w^hat d'ye mean by
coming in that fine bonnet ? " " Johnnie, you've got a swelled
face, I see ; come up to Dene, and you shall have some stuff
to do it good." "Jane, who is that little one by you ? Your
sister ? She is too young to come to church ; she won't
behave -well. Mind you all attend. Keep your eyes upon
your books ; speak out properly. I shall be looking at you.
Mrs. Richardson says you are very idle. I shall have an
eye upon you." Miss Milicent shook her head fiercely, and
turned away ; and the moment her back was towards us, and
she was out of the hearing of a whisper, such a buzz began
as might almost have drowned the clergyman's voice when
he commenced the service, but that a loud tap from the stick
came down upon the shoulders of the head boy, sounding
loudly through the church, and making Miss Milicent thrust
her head forward, and shake her hand at us, threatening a
still severer and more mysterious punishment. Yes, we were
all quiet after that; but I don't think any of us remembered
that we were bound to be so because we were in God's


When we came out of church, Roger met me, and I went
with him to speak to "William, who always came to Compton
now, that he might have a chance of seeing Roger. Before,
he had been accustomed sometimes to walk over the hill the
other way to Hattou. It was a little farther, but William
rather liked making a business of going to church. Roger
always kept to one church, and went twice if he could,
though at that time it was too far for me ; but AVilliam
never troubled himself about service in the afternoon. He
said it was the only time he had for looking over his ac-
counts. I used to fancy that it worried Roger to have to
meet William and talk to him just after church. He never
said it, but he used to answer rather shortly when William
began consulting him about the crops ; and that was not at
all his way generally. But William was a great talker, and
seldom noticed much whether any one was listening to him,
as long as he could have his say without interruption.

I was glad to be away from the school-children, for I
saw Miss Milicent go up to them again ; and I was beginning
to have a feeling that wherever she was, a scolding was close
behind. We went up the lane by the Abbey Farm, which
took us to the foot of the down, and then we scrambled up a
steep path which was a shorter way than by the cart-track.
Such a very bright Sunday it was ! The sky and the sea so
blue, and all the country quiet, so as it never is on any other
day, — a kind of quietness which seemed as if it would creep
into one's heart and live there. How I wished that William
would leave oif talking about the crops as he did ; not letting
one be at peace for an instant, but pointing out first this field,
and then that, and reckoning how much had been got from
each, and complaining — William always complained, when he
talked of his crops — that the rent of Sandcombc was so high,
it made him much worse off than his neighbours ! Roger
bore it A^ery patiently ; he laughed a little now and then, and
said something rather sharp in a good-natured way ; but he
never lectured William, nor let him see that he wished to
get away from him, and so William was very fond of him,
uud put forth all that was in his mind quite freely.

We were at the top of the down, and there we were to part
company. Roger took out his watch, observing he must

Vol. 1—2*

34 U E, S U L A .

liurry home, for there would not be time else for dinner and
gouig to afternoon service. William waited before he re-
plied, and then he said, in a kind of awkward, shy way, " I
have some other business in hand for this afternoon." He
laughed so oddly that I caught up his words and said, " What
business, William ? People should not do business, you
know, on Sundays."

" You are a prying little body," he answered quickly,
though not at all as if he was angry. " Roger, you'll re-
pent it some day, if you don't keep her in better order."

" Miss Milicent will do that," said Roger, and he laughed ;
" but I should like to know your business myself, William,
since you have chosen to mention it."

" Business not lying so very near home," continued Wil-
liam ; "taking me over to Hatton perchance."

" Groing to church ?" I said ; " I wish Roger would go to
Hatton Church too, and take me with him."

" Something to do with going to church, to be sure," said
William, laughing again, as though he had a mystery in his
mind. " What do you say, Roger ? Do you approve ? '■ The
better day, the better deed,' you know ! "

Roger considered, then said, " I would have all things go
right with you, William, if I could. But these are not mat-
ters for any to interfere in ; only I think, if you went to
church first, you might be better likely to come to a wise

" I can't go to church at Hatton," said William; "Mr.
Fowler preaches in the afternoon ; and he's a drawler, and
sends me to sleep : it's no good in the world for me to go to
church in the afternoon."

" Well, you must take your own way," said Roger. " I
only know that I find things go straighter when I put church
and such things first, than when I let them come in second ;
and so I thought it might be with you."

" Men are not like sheep, they don't all run the same
way," replied William, rather sulkily. " So you won't give
me your good wishes, Roger ! "

Roger took his brother's hand, and shook it with a hearty
grasp. His heart seemed full, and he tui-ned away, and
walked home in silence.


They thought I did not understand, but I did. That,
sharp woman, Leah Morris, lived at Hatton, and she was
going to be my sister-in-law. I asked no questions of Roger,
I knew it was a matter that vexed him ; but we had din-
ner as soon as we reached home, and then Roger went to
church again. I sat for some time in the window-seat learn-
ing my Collect and Psalm for the next Sunday ; and then
went over to see Mrs. Mason, who was staying at home to
let Fanny go to church, and had a game of play with the
kitten, and read a story out of one of the school-library
magazines, and when it was growing rather late, walked up
to the top of the down to meet Roger coming back from
church. After that I helped Sarah get tea ready : we always
had it in the parlour, and as there was no hurry for work, we
were a long time at it. I talked to Roger about scliool, and
what I learnt, and how I liked the little boys and girls; and
when we had finished, and Sarah was washing up the tea-things
in the kitchen, Roger brought out a large Bible with pictures
for me to look at, and soon after that it was bed-time. I was
very happy, but I had not forgotten all the while that Leah
Morris was to be my sister-in-law.


I DID not see Miss Milicent again till Monday evening,
when I came back from school, for I went away early to be
at Compton at nine o'clock, and always took my dinner with
me to avoid the long walk in the middle of the day.

She was at the door talking to Roger when I reached

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 3 of 28)