Copyright
Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

. (page 4 of 28)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 28)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


home, and I hoped she did not notice me at first. Her
tongue was going so fast about fences and ditches : I believe
she thought she knew as much about them as Roger did. I
passed her and went indoors, and had just taken off my bon-
net and begun to learn my lessons for the next day, when
wide open went the door, and in she came by herself. " So,"
she said, " little body, how did you manage your work on
Saturday ? " It was not an ill-natured voice after all, and



36 URSULA.

Roger's words were remembered ; so I answered, as civilly as I
could, "that I had tried to do it right."

" Very good ; let me see. Did you wear the stockings
yesterday ? have you got them on to-day ? " Before I could
speak again, she had caught up my foot, and pulled off my
shoe to look. Couldn't I have kicked her ! I wonder I
didn't ; but I sat quiet, not trusting myself to speak. She
spied the hole directly. " Pretty well considering. I shall
send you some of my darning for a pattern. Saturday is a
holiday ; you shall come and work with me on Saturdays.
Mrs. Weir wants to see you. Come across with me, I shall
take you to her, and there is something to spend in sugar-
plums ; I suppose you like sugar-plums." She tossed six-
pence into my lap, and I believe I said " Thank you." I
did not dare return it. I followed her across the road to
the house. Her step might have been a giant's stride, and
she went straight from one point to another, like an arrow.
It seemed as though she would have knocked down a wall if
it had come in her way. We went in by the kitchen, and
Miss Milicent looked in as we passed to tell the cook to be
sure not to let the mutton be over-roasted, and to take care
that there were mashed potatoes, browned, for Mr. Weir, and
plenty of wine sauce with the pudding. The cook had a very
short manner and scarcely answered her. The family dined
late, and there was a great smell of the dinner in the passage,
which made Miss Milicent grumble a good deal ; indeed she
had not left off talking about it when we reached the drawing-
room door.

" Mother ! I have brought Ursie Grant to see you ! "
That was the way I was introduced, and Miss Milicent gave
me a push, which, I suppose, she meant to be gentle, and left
me standing shyly in the middle of the room.

Mrs. Weir looked even less, half-buried as she was in her
arm-chair, than when I had seen her standing. It was not
merely that she was short and thin, but her features were
singularly small, — her bones slight, like those of a child, and
her hands so white and delicate, it appeared as though the
least rough touch would have broken them. She reminded
me of what I had read of fairies, and the soft, low voice,
which bade me come near and say, "How do you do ? " pleas-



URSULA. 37

ant, and kind though it was, came forth in a slow, precise
way, quite different from anything I had ever hoard before.

" Ursula is your name, is it not my little dear ? " said
Mrs. Weir, and she put one of her slender arms round me,
and kissed me on the forehead.

" Ursie, they call me. Ma'am," was my answer.

" Ursie, or Ursula, it is a very good name. There has
been one Saint Ursula; I trust that you may be another."

I stared at her. She said it as if she certainly believed
that it was possible, and even likely, I should be a saint ; and
my notion of a saint was of some one whose business it was
to read the Bible and say prayers all day. I replied, " If
you please. Ma'am, Roger says that if I am ever anything, he
thinks I shall be a dressmaker."

Mrs. Weir did not laugh, — that was one peculiarity about
her, — she took everybody's words just for what they meant.
She only answered, " I can explain my meaning when we arc
better acquainted. Ring the bell, Ursula," and then she took
up again the work which she was doing, which was a little
cotton frock for a child, and I stood silently by her side,
waiting for what was to come next.

Some minutes passed before the bell was answered, and I
amused myself in the meantime by looking round the room.
It was wonderfully changed from what it had been when the
family were away. I could not think where all the pretty
things had come from. Such bright covered books there
were on the round centre table, and flowers, and a carved
paper-knife, and a beautiful little box, inlaid with mother of
pearl ; and, on another table in the corner, a curious cabinet,
with figures of animals in front of each drawer, and some
strange figures standing by it Avith wliite dresses and copper-
coloured faces ; Indians I believe they were. The best
chintz curtains, too, had been put up, and the striped cover-
ings of the chairs taken ofi'. All looked surprisingly neat
and pretty; and the prettiest thing of all was Mrs. Weir's
work-table, placed by her arm-chair. It was a tiny table, made
in squares of black and yellow wood, and scooped into hollows
round the edge, and, on it, stood the loveliest white work-box,
lined with blue, and having a row of mother of pearl reels of
cotton, and silk winders, with coloured silks beautifully wouud^



38 URSULA.

and a pincusliion with the pins placed in rows, as straight as
thougli they had been put in hy rule. It was just fitted for
Mrs. Weir : scissors, and thimble, and silver bodkin, and
smelling bottle, so small and bright, and new-looking; and
on the same table was a little china flower-basket, holding a
white moss rose, a carnation, and a bit of lilac verbena, with
a sprig of myrtle, and a piece of scented geranium. Only
one thing in the whole room looked unsuitable, and that was
a large work-basket of coloured straw, put down upon the
floor by the window, and out of which peeped what I am
sure was the heel of a knitted stocking. That could never
have belonged to Mrs. Weir.

The footman answered the bell. Mrs. Weir was not in
the least impatient because she had been kept waiting so
long. She said to him just as gently as when she was speak-
ing to me : " Richard, some ginger wine and sweet cake, if
you please ; " and Richard went away and returned with a
wine decanter and a plate of cake placed on a silver tray.

" Will you pour out a glass of wine, Richard, and hand
the cake to little Ursula Grant ? It will not do you harm,
my child."

I drank off the wine, not at all sure that I liked it, and
put down the glass quickly on the tray.

Mrs. Weir slowly raised her eyes : " You are too rapid,
Ursula. If you like to take your cake home, you can."

" Thank you, Ma'am," I caught at the permission directly,
and looked towards the door.

" You are wishing to go ; that is very natural ; but you
will come and see me again, I hope."

The tone was cordial and kind, and yet it seemed that
Mrs. Weir was trying to prevent herself from showing all
she felt.

Something came over me which made me say, bluntly, " I
shall like to come. Ma'am, but I don't want wine and
cake."

" You shall not have them, my child ; we shall do better
perhaps without."

" Thank you. Ma'am," I said again, as heartily as thougli
she had promised me a present. " I can always come at this
time, when I am back from school," I added.



URSULA. 39

Such a smile came over IMrs. Weir's face ; so sweet and
yet so sad. I could have found it iu my heart to climb up
into her lap, as I did into Roger's, when he looked grave, and
entreat her to tell me what it meant. But she was too much
a stranger for me to venture ; and even if I had known
her better, I don't think I should have done it. Tears rise
quickly, for they are near the surface, and human love can
comfort the grief from which they flow ; but such a smile as
that was from a depth below which God only could reach.

That had been a very short visit to Mi-s. Weir, and little
enough had been said by either of us ; but yet I looked for-
ward to going again. Of course people would say that, in
spite of my refusal of the cake and wine, I secretly hoped to
have more ; but it really was not so. I felt, directly I spoke
to Mrs. Weir about it, that she meant what she said, as I
meant what I said, and that we should be friends without
any things of the kind.

As I was at school nearly all day, thci*e was but little
spare time after I returned for anything but learning my
lessons, and tea, and talking to Roger, and doing a little
needlework before bed time ; but I managed during the
course of the next week to run over to the house for a few
moments, whilst Sarah was trying ^to make the water boil,
and cutting the bread and butter ; and each time with the
hope of being called into the drawing-room again to see Mrs.
Weir. But I kept my wish to myself, for Mrs. Mason was
very shut up about the family, and never encouraged me to
talk about them ; though she was extremely good-natured to
me in other ways. It was Saturday, however, before I went
again; the family had been at Dene a week then, but it
seemed a month to me, the place was so changed ; and I had
such a feeling of new things and people to care about and
think of, though it was so little that I saw of any one.

This time Mrs. Mason took me into the drawing-room
with her. I observed that she was very thoughtful about
Mrs. Weir, and anxious in her way of talking to her; but it
was rather as if she regarded her as a child not able to man-
age for herself Mrs. Weir looked better since she came;
she had more colour iu her cheeks, and IMrs. Mason noticed
this with much pleasure, and both of them praised the air



40 URSULA.

of Dene, and said there was no place like it, in which I quite
agreed. I was made to say the hymn I had been learning at
school during the week, and then Mrs. Weir said she should like
to hear me read. I knew it was tea time, but I was afraid to
say it ; so Mrs. Mason lighted a wax candle, placed in a
beautiful little silver candlestick, for it was growing dark, and
I took up the Testament which Mrs. Weir had put into my
hand, and turned over the pages to find the Twelfth Chapter
of St. Luke, that being what I had been told to read. I
had only finished the first three verses when we were in-
terrupted. The step was so loud that, before I looked up,
I thought it must be Miss Milicent ; but it was Mr. Weir,
and I felt very frightened, for it was the first time I had seen
him so near. He stalked in and sat himself down in the arm
chair without speaking.

" Go on, Ursula,'" said Mrs. Weir, taking no notice of her
husband ; but her voice was less firm than it had been a
minute before.

Mrs. Mason was going away.

" You had better take the child with you, Mason," said
Mr. Weir.

His tone grated upon me like a sharp saw, though it
was not rough or unlike that of a gentleman.

" Ursula was only going to read a very few verses, that
I might judge how she improves at school," said Mrs. Weir,
raising herself up in her chair, and leaning forward eagerly.

" ' Much study is a weariness to the flesh,' is it not r"'
said Mr. Weir, sarcastically.

Mrs. Weir sank back, and folded her hands one upon the
other, as she said, " Mason, the little girl may go."

I thought Mr. Weir would have relented ; but he sat
brooding over his own thoughts, whatever they were. He
did not seem to know that I was going till I reached the
door : then he called out suddenly, " Grant is your name
isn't it, child ? What have you to do with William Grant
of Sandcombe ?"

" He is my brother, Sir," I answered.

" Oh ! He wants me to lower his rent for some land
because he is going to be married," continued Mr. Weir, ad-
dressing his wife. " He is mistaken if he thinks I am likely



URSULA. 41

to do anything to encourage matrimony." A light, hollow
laugh followed the speech.

I did not hear Mrs. Weir's answer, for Mrs. Mason hur-
ried mo out of the room.

" Who told Mr. Weir that "William is going to be mar-
ried ?" I exclaimed, eagerly, as tlie door Avas shut behind us.

"Who but himself?" said Mrs. Mason, laughing.
" Didn't you hear Mr. Weir say so ? "

"But William didn't tell me," I replied; "and he
ought ; sisters ought to know before any one ; and I don't like
Leah Morris ; I can't bear her ; I hate her."

" Little folks have no right to hate any one," said a loud
voice, issuing from the pantry, which we were just at the mo-
ment passing. Miss Milicent appeared with her sleeves
turned up at the wrist, and a bunch of raisins in her hand.
" It will be a very good thing for you, Ursie Grant, to have
a sister-in-law to keep you in order. Your brother Roger
spoils 3'ou, and I have told him so. Mason, there are not
raisins enough for dessert ; why weren't they sent for from
Hove ?"

" They were sent for. Miss Milicent," replied Mrs. Ma-
son ; " only the carrier is not come back."

" The carrier must manage to be here earlier," continued
Miss Milicent. " He stays in the town, drinking; it's a dis-
grace. Roger Grant goes to Hove every Saturday ; I shall
get him to bring out the things."

" You won't find that so easy, I am afraid, Miss Mili-
cent," said Mrs. Mason. " As often as not he rides in ; and
he only goes occasionally, when it is necessary."

" And he has a great many things to bring out for our-
selves," I added, proudly.

It provoked me to receive no answer. I hoped I had
offended Miss Milicent ; but she merely said in an off-hand
way, " There will be a change before next Saturday ;" and
then she closed the pantry door in a hurr}-, and went back
to her employment of putting out the dessert, w'hich she al-
ways did herself.

" She does not mean badly," was Mrs. Mason's comment ;
" but she loves her own way desperately."

Mrs. Mason spoke as though she was saying it to herself ;



42 URSULA.

but I took up tlie words and replied, " I can't tell what Miss
Milicent means, only slie is very cross."

" Not so much so as she seems ; you will see that by and
by, Ursie. And little folks like you should never set up to
be pert and contrary."

" She makes it come all up here," I said, and I stood
still and pointed to my throat. " I can't keep it down; and
I don't think Eoger, nor William, nor any of them would
wish it. Roger is not made to be a carrier."

Mrs. Mason only laughed ; and, encouraged by not being
reproved, I ran on much in the same way, encouraging my-
self by boasting of my own pride, and saying I was not
bound to obey Miss Milicent ; neither was Roger ; and if
he was not treated well, he would go away from Dene ; and
then what would they all do ?

" Find some one else in his stead," replied Mrs. Mason,
carelessly. " Roger is not every one, you know, child."

Without answering, I let go her hand, rushed across the
carriage-road to the cottage, burst open the door, and seeing
Roger seated at the tea-table, threw myself upon his neck in
a fit of trembling passion.

"Well! Trot! Well! how now? What's amiss? Look
up, Ursie ;" and Roger patted my head.

Rut I was not to be so easily smoothed. I poured forth
a torrent of indignation against Mrs. Mason, Miss Milicent,
Mr. Weir, William, every one ; I mixed them all up toge-
ther, making very little sense ; iDut letting it be seen plainly
that I was iis full of pride and self-will as a child of my age
need be ; though I put it all off upon my love for Roger.

The storm was allowed to exhaust itself, and then Roger
bade me dry my eyes and go up stairs, and wash my hands
and come down again quickly. I did as I was told, feeling
in a way that I had been very silly, though I would not
have owned it for the world.

Roger usually went out again directly after tea ; but this
night he sent Sarah into the outhouse, and told her to wash
up the tea things there ; and then he took me up on his lap,
and said, gravely, " I meant to have told Trot that William
was going to be married, only she has heard it before."

" I don't cai'e about it," I said gloomily. " But I hate
Leah Morris."



URSULA. 43

" That is said like a very silly little ^ii"!)" answered
Roger ; " and it must not be said again." lie looked more
stern than I had ever seen him.

I drew closer to him, trying to fondle him, but he kept
rather aloof.

" William has a right to marry whom he will," he con-
tinued ; " and if Leah Morris makes him a good wife, there
is no one to complain. And I won't have my little Trot
speaking as if she knew what was best, when she doesn't and
can't know. Yours is a bad temper, Ursie ; and it will
bring you into trouble.

" I shouldn't care ; I don't care for anything ; only for
you, Roger," I said, more humbly.

"Yes, you do, Ursie; you care for yourself If you
didn't, you would not fret me by putting yourself into these
humours."

" It was Miss Milicent," I exclaimed. " I should never
have been so cross about William, only she made it all come
up in my throat by the way she talked. They don't want
us, Roger, not Mr. '\V'eir, nor Miss Milicent, nor any of them ;
and Mrs. Mason said, that if you went away, they would
find some one to put in your place."

" Of course they would," he said, and he laughed ; " but
I mean to make myself so useful, Ursie, that they sha'n't
very easily find one to take my place. That is the true
way to go on, if you want people to value you. But it is
not the value we put upon one anothor, but what God puts
upon us, that is of consefjucnce," he added, and the Sunday
look, which seemed to take him quite away from earth, came
over his face.

It did more for mc than any talking ; and the tears came
into my eyes, as I said, " I am a very wicked child, Roger ;
will God ever make me good ? "

" We will say our prayers, both of us, and try," he an-
swered ; " that is the sure way. But, Ursie, 3'ou must know
what to pray about. You like dearly to make every one go
your way ; that is your fault."

" Yes," I said, and I thought for a moment ; " but if I
could have things my own way, I would not be like Miss
INIilicent ; I would make every one love mc."



44 URSULA.

" Not so easy that, Trot. I may like my way, and you
may like yours ; and though your way were ever so good,
yet, if it went contrary to mine, I shouldn't be pleased."

" Then you would give up," I said quickly ; " because you
always do."

He looked very grave. I said again, " You always give
up, because you are my own dear brother Roger."

"Maybe I have given up too much already," he said;
" I am not so sure, Ursie, that you wouldn't be better living
away at school."

I put my hand before his mouth as tbe words escaped,
" You promised — you told me," I exclaimed ; but he inter-
rupted me.

" No, Ursie, I did not promise, I said we would try."

" But we have tried, and I am going to be so good, I
don't mean to be in a tantrum once again all the next month.
Oh ! Koger, Roger, I should die if you sent me away." I
clung to him, and my tears came very fast, but they were
not angry as before.

He soothed me now in his own kind way ; but he said I
must not talk of dying because I might have to go away from
him. Perhaps it would be my duty by and by.

" But you are my brother," I said ; " it can't ever be right
to go away ; — only if you wished it," and I turned to him
with a sudden pang at my heart.

"That is not very likely, Ursie ; but there are many
changes in this world, and it is well to be ready for
them."

" But you would not love any one more than me, ever ? "
I said, and I raised my head, which had been resting on his
shoulder, and looked him full in the face.

" Not more, Ursie ; no, not more." His tone did not
satisfy me.

" And not so much," I added ; " no one could come into
Ursie's place."

" No one, indeed ; little Trot knows she is Roger's dar-
ling."

" And I will be your wife. I would rather marry you
than any one else," I said.

He only laughed and kissed me.



U B S U L A . 45



CHAPTER VI.

How conversations rest in a child's mind, when no one
suspects it ! There was no reason that what Roger had said
that evening should have been remembered particularly, but
it was ; I fancied it a kind of agreement we had made that
we were to be all in all to each other; and I thought that
now, when William was going to marry Leah Morris, there
was greater cause than ever why Roger and I should love
each other. This made me try to please him more, and I
kept a stricter watch over my temper, and learned my les-
sons more carefully, so as to bring home more good marks
from school. I had much just then, I must confess, to keep
me in good humour. William's marriage was a great event,
and in spite of my hatred of Leah Morris, it interested me
very much. Besides, Leah was such a grand lady, I had
not any notion how grand, till I heard the children at school
talking of her. Some of them had relations at Hatton, and
they brought all kinds of gossip about her to Comptou.
The Morrises lived in a farm-house which was only a little
smaller than the Abbey Farm at Compton, and Miss Morris,
as Leah was always called, had been to school at Hove, and
had learnt to play on the piano, and visited the surgeon's
wife, and had been known to drink tea at the parsonage.
These were distinctions which made the village people look
up to her as somebody very much above them ; but, I think,
what came over them most was the sight of the green bonnet,
and the black silk cloak with lace round it, which she wore
at Church on Sundays. Such a beautiful bonnet I was told
it was, with such smart flowers on the outside ; it was much
finer than any the vicar's wife ever wore. I don't mean that
hearing of these things made me like Leah ; I did not find
that any one liked her, but I thought it a grand thing to bo
connected with her; and as I was not going to live with her,
it signified little to me then what she was in other ways.

Roger asked for a lioliday for me, one Wednesday, when
the marriage was quite settled, that I might go over to Sand-
combe with him and drink tea, and see Leah, for she and her



46 U E S U L A .

mother were to be there. Roger managed all his business
earlier on purpose ; and I had put on my Sunday frock, and
we were just setting oflf, when a message came, saying that
Mrs. Weir wanted to see Eoger directly. It was Fanny who
gave the message, and as we happened to be standing close
by the kitchen door, she told me to go in and wait till Roger
came back. I sat down in a chair watching the cook getting
the dinner ready, when in came Mr. Weir. " What have
you got for dinner ? " he said, speaking out quickly. Cook
answered that Miss Milicent had ordered a couple of
chickens. " They will be over-roasted. I must put oif
dinner. Come to me for orders, not to Miss Milicent ; "
and he stalked out of the kitchen, as if he had been too con-
descending in putting his foot into it.

Such a fuss the cook was in ! I never saw anything like
it. Jane, the housemaid was in the kitchen, and Cook let
out her anger to her. " It was always the case," she said;
" not a day passed, but changes were made in that way ; she
wouldn't stay, that she wouldn't. She never bargained for
master's interference. It was worse here than in London ;
she thought they had come to Dene for a quiet life, but little
enough quiet there was like to be with Mr. Weir and Miss
Milicent. And if what folks said was true " — and then she
nodded her head and winked her eyes to give notice of some
great secret.

"It is no great matter to us what folks say, that I can
see," replied Jane ; " as long as our wages are paid. I don't
see what is to trouble us, unless it might be Miss Milicent,
and her bark is always worse than her bite."

" I could put up with Miss Milicent," replied the cook.
" I would rather any day be scolded than looked at. But he !
— it's more than mortal woman can bear. And to see how
he treats his poor wife ; and she, as they say, quite taken in
by him at the beginning."

Jane was a prudent person, and I think, too, she fancied
Mrs. Mason was coming, for I saw her point to me ; and
Cook took the hint and was silent. But I had heard enough
to keep me from taking any fancy to Mr. Weir, even if I had
been so inclined.

Roger waited in the drawing-room for a long time, and



U K S U L A . 47

when he came out he said we could not go to Sandcombe
yet, he must have a word with Mr. Weir first. I saw he
was rather put out, but I never ventured to ask him any
questions about other persons' business. So he went to find
Mr. Weir, and I returned to the cottage, as he told me, to
wait till he was ready. It was half-past four before we set
off; and I thought even then we should have had something
to hinder us ; for when we reached the top of the hill, by the
plantation, and were going out upon the down, Roger looked
back and said he heard carriage-wheels ; a person he wished
much to see must be arrived, but he had not expected him



Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 4 of 28)