Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

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

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with her, he would as soon think of parting with his right
eye ; many thanks to William, though, for proposing it.

No : I might have many trials in store for me in life,
but a home with Leah Morris I felt certain was not to be


Three weeks after that, William and Leah Morris wero
husband and wife. They were married at Hatton Church,
and a grand day was made on the occasion. A party of


five-and-twenty went to church — most of them Leah's rela-
tions — for we had scarcely any living near enough to be
asked ; and there were six bridesmaids dressed in blue gauze
and white bonnets ; and Leah herself in a figured lilac silk,
with flounces which stood out like a hoop, and a pink bon-
net. I was one of the bridesmaids, the youngest, and so
made much of; and I almost forgave Leah for becoming my
sister-in-law, when I found myself in such a grand position.
The day was fine, and everything went off well. Leah was
a capital manager — much better than Miss Milicent, for she
never talked about what she did. Mrs. Morris took care of
the eatmg, and Mr. Morris provided some wonderfully strong
ale, and saw that there was plenty of wine for those who
liked it, and spirits for any who had a fancy for something
more powerful. But Leah was the pei'son who kept every-
thing going ; at least, as long as she was there. She was
not at all shy, and, what was more to her praise, she did not
pretend to be ; so she talked to one and the other, and told
them where they were to sit, and what they were to do ; and
even helped to marshal them' round the breakfast-table after
they came back from church. She could put her hand to
anything; and William looked on as pleased as possible,
feeling, I am sure, that he had made a capital bargain in
marrying such a good manager.

Roger was very merry, too ; and as for me, I laughed
and talked with every one ; especially I made acquaintance
with some of the Shaws, of White Hill. Jane Shaw was
but two years older than myself, and being the only two
children who were bridesmaids, we were put together at
breakfast ; and Jane told me all about her home, and how
they kept a phaeton, and had a beautiful best parlour, with
pictures in it, and wax flowers under a glass-case ; and then
she made me look at her pocket-handkerchief, and admire the
pretty lace round it ; and showed me a bracelet of large
white beads, (Roman pearls she called them,) and a gold
brooch, which her mother had given her to wear. She talked
in a very silly way, and was so set up that she made me
boast in my turn, and I forgot what Roger had said about
not gossiping, and described how beautiful Dene was, and
bow I was in the habit of going to see Mrs. Weir, and reading


to her. Jane Shaw was very curious like every one else,
about Mrs Weir. The only people who could tell her any-
thing about her, she said, were the Kemps, of Longside ; and
they didn't know the Kemps now. She had not spoken her-
self to Mary Kemp, though they stood close together in

" Is Mary Kemp here ? " I asked.

" Oh, yes; just across the table, down at the lower end;
don't you see ? She was talking to little Jessie Lee just be-
fore breakfast. You must know her."

" I have played with her sometimes," I replied, " but not
often ; and I don't know Jessie Lee."

" Not know her ! Well, that is to live shut up ! Why,
Jessie is a cousin of your own."

" A cousin of mine ! " I stared at her in astonishment.

" Yes, to be sure ; she is Leah Morris's — what a shame
of me to forget ! — she is Mrs. Grrant's cousin's child ; and
she is going to live with the Morrises. She is not much
more than a baby, for she is only five years old ; but she has
been away lately, because Mrs. Morris has been to busy to
attend to her."

" I saw Roger playing with a child," I said ; " but I
didn't know who it was ; he always takes to babies."

" The Morrises make fuss enough about her,'' continued
Jane. " You should see how she comes to church, with her
little round hat and white feather. They will make her quite
conceited ; and there is no need, for she is that already. She
is a regular beauty."

Our conversation was interrupted just then, for Leah
stood up to cut the cake, and there was a great drinking of
healths and cheering ; and afterwards, Leah left the table,
and Mrs. Morris went with her to pack up the last things in
her travelling-box, and a few minutes afterwards she came
back to say goodbye. She and William were to go, that
afternoon, to Hartwell, a town about eight miles beyond
Hove ; and the next day they were to proceed to London,
where they were to spend a fortnight with an aunt of ours and
some of Leah's relations.

Things were a little dull after she was gone, though
Charles Morris did get up and make a speech, in which he


said that he hoped all the bridesmaids would he married be-
fore that time next year. Jane Shaw and I laughed, be-
cause it seemed such a droll notion for us children, but I
don't think any one else did. I suppose they had all heard
it too often, for I believe the same thing is always said at

Roger was Mrs. Morris's right hand when Leah was
gone. It was quite a new thmg to see him come out in that
way. He and Charles Morris did all they could to make
people merry, and as soon as the breakfast was cleared away
(it was called a breakfast, but in truth it was a dinner), a
fiddler, who had been sent for, was brought in, and we all
stood up to dance. I was made to begin, because I was
William's sister, and very pleasant I thought it to be at the
head of the country dance, though I knew little enough of
what I was to do, and could never remember whether I was
to give my right hand or my left across. Roger would not
dance at first : he said it was not in his way, and there were
plenty without him; but just at the last, when every one was
laughing at him, he caught up little Jessie Lee, and declared
she should be his partner.

Jessie was frightened at first, but Roger had such a way
with children, they never could hold out against him; and
when he had smoothed her little soft cheek with his great
hand, and carried her in his arms to the top of the room, she
was quite won ; and he managed to twist her round wherever
she ought to go, and ran with her down the dance and up
again till we were all in fits of laughter, and Jessie most of
all. I don't remember much about my partners : I began
with Charles Morris, and one of Jane Shaw's brothers ; and
after that I think I danced with Mr. Hervey, for he was
staying at Longside, and was going to settle in the neigh-
bourhood ; so he had been asked to the wedding, principally
to please Roger, who had made gi*cat friends with him. Al-
together it was a very pleasant day, and when Leah was gone
I enjoyed it heartily ; but while she was present I fancied
she was watching, and would find fault with me. We had a
great supper at eight o'clock, and by ten every one was gone.
Roger, Mr. Hervey, and I, drove home over the down, in
the Sandcombe titled-cart, which Roger had borrowed for


the purpose. Mr. Hervey was going to sleep in our little
room inside the kitchen, for he had business at Dene the next
day, A beautiful drive we had, and when we reached the
top of the long lane, leading out of Hatton, and were on the
ridge, just under St. Anne's, the moon shone out quite
bright, and we could see the white cliffs over the sea nearly
as clearly as if it had been daylight. I wanted Roger to
let me climb to the top of St. Anne's, and look at the moon-
light upon the water, but he said it was a great deal too
late, so we only drove across the down slowly, Roger being
afraid of the ruts, and were soon within the plantation gate.
I believe I had talked a great deal more than I ought all
the way, for Roger looked a little grave when I wished him
good night, and said, " You have a whirligig head, Trot, it's
well there is not a wedding every day to turn it." Mr.
Hervey seemed to think him rather hard upon me. " It is
a very merry little head anyhow," he said. " I don't know
who has a right to complain of it, Ursie. Brother Roger
would be very dull without it."

That was kind of Mr. Hervey, but not so kind and
true as Roger's remark. My head was like a whirligig, and
it was a good thing that I was not likely to be put much in
the way of such excitement as I had that day.


I MUST give but a slight sketch of the events which followed
the wedding, and indeed of the next few years. William
and Leah came back to Sandcombe, and Leah settled her-
self down as misti-ess of the farm, and carried everything
with a high hand, which, yet, could not be complained of, as
she certainly was a good manager, looking so carefully into
everything, that no one dared to cheat her. She used to
boast that she had never lost even an ounce of dripping from
the time she first became housekeeper. It was not a good
kind of training for William. He was too much inclined to
be close by nature, and now that his wife encouraged him
in it he was even less open-handed than before. He was


hard upon his labourers, and grumbled a good deal if there
was any talk of raising their wages. One severe winter,
however, there was an outcry all round the country, and
then Leah persuaded him into being more liberal ; for hard
though she was, she had a great notion of doing what the
gentry did. This was after a public meeting about the state
of the agricultural population, as it was called, when Mr.
Stewart of Hatton, got up and made a long speech, and said
it was a crying sin that the labourers should be kept down
as they were. William rented some land of Mr. Stewart,
and was afraid to offend him, so the labourers had a shilling
a week more after that ; and Leah made a great boast of it,
and declared they were ruining themselves to keep the peo-
ple from starving. I heard her say it myself one day, when
she had come over to Dene, on her way to Longside. As I
saw her seat herself in the little pony-chaise, and wrap her-
self up in her great fur tippet, I could not help thinking
that if the poor were to wait till she denied herself even one
luxury for them, they were likely to die of want.

Yet Leah and I were apparently very good friends. She
was quick enough in understanding, and I think she soon
saw that I was not to be put upon, though I was a child, and
that Roger would not allow it. The only way in which she
showed she did not like me was, by the difference of her
manner to me and Jessie Lee. Jessie was very often stay-
ing with her, — it brightened her up, — for Sandcombe was a
lonely place, and there seemed to be no prospect of any
children to make it merry. I don't think either Leah or
William cared much about this, for children would have been
an expense and a trouble, and they were not naturally fond
of them : but still, in the winter time, Leah liked to have
some one about when William was busy, and so she often
persuaded her mother to send Jessie over to her. It used
to provoke me, I must confess, when I heard her say, drawing
up her head and shaking her curls, " I have just sent for
poor little Jessie ; it will be a help to mother to be rid of
her for a while, and we mustn't grudge the expense." I knew
well enough that, when Jessie was away, Mrs. Morris was
sad for want of her, and I knew too that Leah made full use
of her when she was at Sandcombe, and took good care that,


if she was an expense in one way, she should be a saving in
another. The girl who helped in the kitchen was always
sent way when Jessie came ; and though Leah liked her
cousin to dress herself in her best, and sit in the parlour in
the afternoon, in case Mr. Stewart, or the Shaws, or the
clergyman from Hatton should call, yet she made her work
like a scrub in the morning. Jessie had a meek temper, and
never complained, and upon the whole I don't know that she
had much cause. She was an orphan, and left without a
penny, and the Morrises had quite adopted her ; and if Mrg.
Morris was at all in fault in the way she brought her up, it
was that she spoiled her. She was fond of Jessie for her
good nature, and proud of her for her beauty. Many pretty
children don't grow up pretty, but this was not the case with
Jessie. It was quite impossible not to notice her ; she had
such a bright complexion, a good nose and mouth, and such
very soft blue eyes, with a kind of beseeching look in them
which touched one's heart directly she looked at one. No
one would have thought that she had come of common
parents, and indeed her mother was quite a lady ; but she
married badly, and fell into poverty, and then her own rela-
tions cast her off, and she was obliged to depend entirely
upon the Morrises. Jessie bore the mark of her origin in
everything she did and said. It used almost to startle
me sometimes, if I happened "to go over to Sandcombe early,
and found her busy at house work, to hear her speak and
ask me how I was, and inquire for Roger. The voice
was so sweet, I could have thought it was Mrs. Weu* talking
to me, only that there was no melancholy in it. I don't
think Jessie knew what melancholy meant. Her high
spirits, indeed, sometimes carried her away too fai", but she
was never boisterous. I was always fond of her, though
I could not make her much of a friend,' for we did not
care for the same things. She had very little education ;
reading she did not much care for, and I don't think she
would ever have written and spelled correctly, but that
Charles Morris one day found out her ignorance, and took
her under his own teaching. They seemed to think she
would learn everything naturally, and she managed to make
a fair show, though really she could do little well beyond


housework and trimming a bonnet. The life she led was too
busy for her to feel the need of anything more, and she had
so much petting and loving from every one, that she was
ignorant of any want in herself I don't know quite what
it was which made her so loveable. No one could have
called her sensible, and she was very much given to dress and
gaiety when she could meet with them ; but even when she
provoked me with her silliness one minute, I could not help
being fond of her the nest. She had such a way of saying
she was sorry, and she wished she was as good as I was. I
suspect that won upon me, for I dearly liked to be looked
up to. Besides, I must say that she was very grateful ; the
least little kindness touched her ; and though Leah had been
ever so hard upon her, I believe she would have worked her
fingers off for her, because she was a Morris. She always
said the Morrises were the best friends she had in the world.
What did Jessie more harm than anything else was the
acquaintance with the Shaws ; but I may leave that for the
present. It will be better to put down a few things about
myself and Dene first. The property was not sold, as people
said it was going to be ; but it was mortgaged, for how much
nobody knew — or at least if Roger knew he never told. If
it had been sold I suppose we should have been obliged to
move, but as it was, we remained on year after year. Towards
the end of every summer, Mr. Weir and his wife, and Miss
Milicent, came regularly, and stayed till nearly winter : and
I learnt, by degrees, to look forward to this as the pleasant
time", in spite of Mr. Weir's pride and Miss Milicent's fussi-
ness. My delight was to be with Mrs. Weir, and this was not
strange, for she was exceedingly kind, and did more for me
in the way of education than I could possibly have expected.
I had gone on learning what I could at Conipton school, and
upon the whole I think I was very well taught, and not at all
backward for my age ; but by the time I was fourteen, there
was not much else which the mistress could teach me ; and
then Leah tried to persuade Roger to send me for a year to
Hove, and to pay for it out of the money that had been put by
for me. I don't think William would have allowed this, for
though, as I have said, he was close by nature, he was not at aU
wanting in affection, and the money had been intended as a


nest egg for me, and so he would have wished it to remain in-
creasing till I grew up. But his opinion was not needed as
Roger stopped the notion at once ; and now that I lived with
him, his will was law.

When at last I was really too old to go to Compton school
any longer, Roger thought it might do to send away Sarah
and give me the house work to look after. Leah objected
to this : she said I was not born to it ; that I had always
been accustomed to a servant, and she thought I should have
one still : but Mrs. Mason took Roger's side, and said it was
a very good plan ; and Fanny should help me at the cottage,
and I might help Fanny at the house, and she would look
after us both.

That was one of the greatest helps Roger had in his care
of me. I think he would rather have sent me to school than
have left me at home with no one to think about me ; but
Mrs. Mason kept me very strict, never letting me make ac-
quaintances without her knowing it ; and taking care that I
should have no idle time upon my hands for gossiping and
folly. There was very little variety in my life. Once Mrs.
Mason took me to London to stay with her for a week at a
friend's house, and I saw all the chief sights, and had a glimpse
of a world which did not please me half as much as Dene,
though for the time I heartily enjoyed it; but this was all
the change I had for several years. I might have found it
a dull life, and required more for my happiness but for Mrs.
Weir. Mrs. Kemp, of Longside, was very kind to me, and
Mary Kemp and I became great friends ; but neither of them
could quite give me what I wanted and found in Mrs. Weir.
Books were still, as they had always been, my great pleasure,
and as long as I could go to the upper-seat, — close to the
down, and hidden by the shrubbery and the plantation trees,
and read, I had no wish for anything else in the world. Mrs.
Weir soon found this out ; but she only noticed and helped
me in my taste by degrees. It seemed as if she was afraid
of showing that she took much interest in anything ; and
for some time I was always sent away, if I was iu the draw-
ing-room when Mr. Weir came in. But by degrees I gained
a better footing.

Mr. Weir delighted in hearing anythiDg he possessed ad-
mired ; he cared little what it was that was liked, or who it

^ URSULA. 67

was that liked it, all he wanted was to hear people say " Oh !
how beautiful ! " And so it happened that Dene being dull
at times when no one was staying in the house, he used to
amuse himself, when I was quite young, with seeing my won-
der and pleasure at the garden and the fountains, and the
peacock and peahen, and the pea chicks, and the goldfish. It
was a very honest pleasure on my part ; I was never tired of
holding out bread to the peacock, and seeing him stretch out
his beautiful long neck and snatch it out of my fingers ; and
I don't think the pleasure of finding the feathers ever grew
less ; and being naturally rather free spoken, I used to say
out what came into my head, and this made Mr. Weir laugh.
I believe we are all grateful to persons who make us laugh,
whether they are men, women or children ; and I can imagine
that Mr. Weir was so particularly, for his was not a laughing
nature, if his countenance spoke truth. There was a sneer
upon it almost always, and sneers and hearty laughter don't
go well together. When Mrs. Weir found out that her hus-
band was not likely to interfere, she made me be more with
her. Before I left school I was in the habit of spending a
great part of Saturday, after I had mended my clothes, ifi
reading to her, and at such times she chose books which were
likely to improve me, history, and lives of celebrated people,
and such things; but what she liked most was to read her
favorite bits of poetry to me, and to make me learn them.

I did not understand a great deal, — but even when the
sense was beyond me, there was a pleasure in listening to the
sound of Mrs. Weir's voice. It came over me like the dis-
t:.nt rush of the waves upon the shingles, as I have heard it
often, when standing by the oratory on St. Anne's; or as
the sighing of the wind among the firs in the plantation, on
a beautiful summer's day, when a thin grey mist floated over
the level country, and every now and then the breeze rolled
it away, and showed the lines of sparkling blue sea, far away
beyond Hove. Tears have often come into my eyes, as I
have hearkened to those sounds, which seem so especially to
belong to God ; and they have risen again and again un-
bidden, at the first words which Mrs. Weir would read, —
startling me with a sense of something that was not of this
world, — an echo, it might be, of a voice that had been heard
in Paradise. Children feel these things, grown up people


reason upon them ; but I think children know more about
them. As time went on, and I learnt to know more of
Mrs. Weir's life, — her whole history seemed to me to be
told in the strange, sweet, sad tones of her voice, as she read
the verses in which she delighted. It was happy for me
that I was not with her always. What I did see of her was
good for me, I am sure in many ways, but to have lived al-
ways with such a person would have quite unfitted me for
my real work. Roger was a little afraid of this, and I don't
think he was sorry that I had Miss Milicent near, to pre-
vent my becoming too much wrapt up ia.JMrs. Weir and my

There was no fear of poetry where Miss Milicent has
any authority. I don't think she had ever learned a verse in
her life except " How doth the little busy bee ;" at least
that was the only thing I ever heard her repeat. How she
came to be so entirely unlike her mother, I never could un-
derstand in those days, but since I have seen more of the world,
I have thought that mothers who have any one particular
fancy, or taste, or even good principle, are apt to bring it
forward on all occasions, and so their children take a disgust
at it, and run the contrary way.

I know I have observed in religion, how persons who are
very good and earnest themselves give their children a turn
against it, by continually talking about it. Mrs. Weir
did this I suspect with her poetry. She did not see
what a different nature Miss Milicent's was ; indeed, I
don't think she was quick at understanding any person's na-
ture. She was always living in a kind of dream. One thing
I must say for her, — Miss Milicent would have been a puzzle
to any one. She was not like father, nor mother, nor cousin,
nor any one belonging to her, that I ever saw, nor, indeed,
like any one living but herself Mrs. Mason said one day
that she took after her grandmother, and that might have
been the case. When I first saw her, she must have been
about five and twenty ; but she was then as old in her ways
as she was a dozen years after. I took it upon faith, when I
first knew her, that she was a good woman, and that is say-
ing a good deal ; for no faith that was ever heard of would
have made me believe that Leah Morris was good.

It always seemed to me that Miss Milicent fancied she


was sent into the world on purpose to set it to rights;
and I believe honestly that she began with herself, as far as
her knowledge went. She was neither passionate, nor sulky ;
she always spoke the truth, and was thoughtful for the poor,
and took a great deal of pains with their children ; and as
for industry, she worked harder than Roger. I often puz-
zled myself in those days to find out what the fault in her
was, and at last I settled that she was selfish. She wished
everybody to do right, and be comfortable, but it must be in
her way. She would deny herself like a saint to carry out
anything which she thought likely to be good ; but she could
not sit still, nor keep the room tidy, nor speak low and soft,
because of her mother's wishes — whimsies, she used to call
them — that was her favourite word ; and I suppose Mrs.
Weir had a few such ; and certainly it was irritating for a
person of Miss Milicent's age to be complained of as if she
had been a child of five ; but then she ought never to have
given cause for the complaint. God had granted her quick
sense, and she should have seen her mother's little odd ways,
and made allowance for them, and valued Mrs. Weir for the
many things there were to be valued in her, not set herself
to alter them as she did. That was the cause of half the

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) → online text (page 6 of 28)