Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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Come away : for Life and Thought

Hero no longer dwell ;

But in a city glorious,
A great and distant city, have bought

A mansion incorruptible.






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IT is pleasant to remember the events of years gone by. I
shall try to recollect those of my own life. I may not be
able to put down everything regularly, but some things that
have happened cannot be forgotten, and these will help rne to
others. Mrs Weir was very kind in teaching me as she did
when I was a girl. I suppose she never thought of the use
I should put my learning to ; and perhaps, after all, it may
not be of use. I took little heed to advice which was given
me when I was young, and so, perhaps, no heed will be given
to me when I tell of my mistakes and difficulties. But time
goes on fast, and I would fain, if I could, act up now to what
Mrs Weir used to say, in her gentle way : ' Ursula, my child,
we must do good in our generation.' God knows, I have done
little enough in mine. I may not always have fallen short
wilfully, but there is not much comfort in such a thought when
one sees what has been neglected, except as regards one's self
and the hope of forgiveness. Anyhow, I can but strive to make
up for it, and the thought of having striven may be a comfort
when I come to die.

I must begin at the beginning, the time which I can first re-
member. That was when we all lived at Sandcombe — my father,
and mother, and William, and Roger, and I ; — but I don't know
much of those days. The farm must have been very different
then from what it is now, and people's ways of going on must
have been different too. I remember my mother always wore a
cotton or stuff gown, with a coloured handkerchief folded over
her neck, and used to get up at four o'clock in the morning, and




help about all kinds of things which \vc should leave to the
maids, and I can quite well recollect going out with her to see
the cows milked, and her teaching one of the dairymaids how to
churn the butter ; but almost everything else is gone from mc,
for I have known Sandcombc since, and so the notions 1 have of
it are confused. My father and mother died when I was about
six years old. My father was taken first ; he had been failin
long time : he caught a cold from being overheated at harvest,
and never recovered it, and my poor mother took a fever soon
after, and was ill for a month, and then she went too. It was a
great grief to mc, though I could not understand it properly.
My mother was a very good woman, and taught mc in the bost
way she could ; but she had never had much learning, and was
always busy, and so 1 had been left a good deal to my own
ways, and was spoiled and very headstrong. The only person who
could manage me properly was my brother Roger, and I don't
know how he did it, for he was never quick with mc as William
was, but somehow I loved him more than any one else from the
time I was a baby. They used to say, that when I was in arms,
if I cried, they always gave mc to Roger to be quieted ; and I
suppose the same feeling grew up with mc afterwards : yet in
those days I could not have known properly what there was to
love in him, and there were some tilings about him which might
naturally have frightened mc. lie was a very tall, large-made
man, quite noted all round the country for his strength, — the
best rider and cricketer to be found for miles. lie had a power
of work which was quite wonderful ; up in the morning with the
labourers, and later to bed than any of us, and never seeming to
want sleep as others did. His manner, though kind, was rough,
and his voice was rather harsh. He spoke out his mind plainly
when called upon, but at other times he was much given to
nee. These things were not likely to win a child's heart ;
but there is something, I am sure, which God gives to such little
ones to teach them whom they may trust; and so it was that not
a baby ever came into the house but it would go to Roger at
once. It was his fancy for children which they felt, I sup-
pose, for he was curiously fond of them. He had a tender way,
indeed, with everything which was put under his care, or made
to loan upon him : colts, and kittens, and puppies were hij
d( light, when he could not get hold of a child. It was such a
pleasure to him, I imagine, to feel his own great strength by the
side of their weakness. I don't think he was ever happier than


when he could take me up in his arms and carry me out to the
yard, and set me on the back of one of the huge waggon-horses,
and make it carry me round the field. He and the horse seemed
to be so entirely of one mind ; and when he saw I was not
frightened, he would pat me on the shoulder, and say, ' There 's
a Trot ! ' — it was his pet name for me, — ' she '11 make a woman
after all !' He had a great notion that women were not to be
cowards, and I don't think I was a coward about anything but
the dark ; I never liked that. All this alone, however, would
never have made me feel for Roger as I did when I grew up.
But when I began at all to understand things, I felt that there
was something about him different from most other people,
beside his tender heart and his great strength. William was
kind too, and a strong, bluff-looking man, with a hearty, good-
natured manner ; but the two brothers were quite unlike. In
those days we did what is seldom, I believe, done now ; we dined
at the same time as the servants, in a little room opening out of
the kitchen, which has since been altered. When William came
in to dinner every one had to make way for him, and he had the
best of all there was put before him, and nothing was thought of
till he was cared for. It was all very proper, for he was the
eldest and the master ; but then he took it so much as his right,
and never seemed to consider whether others were comfortable
so long as he had what he wanted himself. But Roger never
forgot any one. Before he sat down he had a kind word, though
it might be rough-spoken, even for the little girl who helped in
the dairy, and whom he never saw except at meal-times. He
was a little hasty, and so was William ; but Roger always said
he was sorry, and William never did. They had different ways,
too, of doing kindnesses ; William made a fuss about his, and
talked as if he was afraid they would be forgotten, but I don't
think Roger ever knew when he was kind ; it came to him as
easily as eating or drinking. He was not, like some people, put
out by being thanked, but he laughed as though it was strange
to him that what he had done should be thought of any conse-
quence. There were deeper things, besides, which made the
difference, — things which I can see into now, though I could
only feel them then. William would give out an oath some-
times, when he was very angry ; but let Roger be provoked to
the utmost, yet a bad word never passed his lips. He had the
fear of God before his eyes more than any man I ever knew :
not in talking, — he was shut up about religion to grown-up people,


and seldom came out about it at all, indeed, except to children,
— but he made everybody feel it, in a way which was wonderful.
When William had let out an oath, he would beg Roger's pardon,
as though he had been a clergyman. After my mother's death,
Roger was the person who took care that I should remember to
o.-.y my prayers, and learn my Catechism. He was fond of read-
ing himself, and liked to see me take to it, and when I was a
\ ry little thing, he used to hear me read a hymn on Sunday,
and then, when I was older, a chapter in the Gospel, and when
I had done, he would set me on his shoulder as a reward, and
carry me round the kitchen. He was more my teacher in those
days than any one. I had a kind of nurse to look after me, but
she had work to do besides, and she was very ignorant, only a
labourer's widow, who had never been to school. I might have
grown up like a little heathen but for Roger, for I was so young,
and so tiny of my age, that my brothers did not like me to go
across the down by myself to school, either to Compton or
Hatton ; and Sandcombe was a very lonely place, there were
no older children near who could take me with them. The plan
was talked about sometimes, and the clergyman from Compton
called several times, and said it would be a good thing ; but
William always put it off, and declared there was time enough,
before me. Thus I went on till 1 was nine years old, without
having had any teaching except what 1 had learned first from my
mother and then from Roger. But I knew a great deal, for such
a child, about pigs, and horses, and cows, and dairy-work, and
that might have been as good for me as books ; for I had such
a natural liking for learning, that when 1 was put in the way of
it, I took to it at once, without any trouble, and the liking has
stood by me all my life.

1 lived at Sandcombe, never thinking of a change, for what
child ever does think of it ? Roger was all in all to me, and I
had no thought of being parted from him. So it was, that it
came upon me one day suddenly like a thunderbolt, that there
was an idea of his leaving us. I don't think 1 quite believed it,
— it seemed like an impossibility, — but it frightened me without
my understanding it, and 1 jumped upon his knee (he had been
playing with me just before 1 went to bed, and he was sitting
inside the great open hearth in the inner kitchen), and put my
arms round his neck, and said he was rather Roger and Brother
Roger, and I would go wherever he went, and no one should
take me from him.

Ursula. $

I believe those words decided my fate. My father had diea
Only moderately well off; he had his farm-stock, but not much
else. All had been left to my mother, and after her to my
brothers. I dare say it was intended to make some provision
for me, but the business was put off and never done. William
managed the farm for my mother whilst she lived. He and
Roger were both a great many years older than myself. There
had been a number of children between us, but they had all died
very young ; and I suppose this circumstance made me all the
more a pet.

After my mother's death, William proposed co keep on the
farm, and Roger stayed on for some time to help him, but some-
how it did not quite do ; William liked his own way and was
apt to speak out, and Roger remembered (I know it, because he
often told me of it in after years) that saying in the Bible, ' A
brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city ;' and so
he would not put himself any longer in the way of it, but pro-
posed, instead, that there should be some equal division of the
property made, and then that he should go forth to seek his own

That was quite Roger's fashion, — avoiding offence, he used to
call it. Some persons said he was often unwise, and could not
stand up properly for his own rights ; and there might have been
some truth in their words, but I loved him all the better for
giving up, because it was so unlike what I should have done
myself. Of all things I hated being put upon ; and when I was
a very little thing I used to strike my fist upon the table, and
say 'You dare!' when any one offended me, and I might have
gone on saying 'You dare!' till now, but for Roger.

William was honest and just in his ways, according to the
world's notion of justice, and he and Roger settled their business
very amicably, both of them agreeing that a portion should be
set aside for me ; and, no doubt, I was as well off as though the
will had been made out by a lawyer.

When William put his name to the agreement, he said out
strongly (so Roger told me afterwards), that the child should
never know want whilst he had a penny to give her. It was
very kind of him. I dare say he talked more than Roger, who
said little about things he cared for.

They put aside two hundred and fifty pounds forme, and then
Roger and William divided the rest.

And now Roger meant to leave Sandcombe. William intended


to marry as soon as he could, for he said he should never manngi*
without a 'missis' to look after things. As for me, there was a
notion of sending me to school. We were about eight miles from
Hove, the market-town. It was a very good-sized, flourishing
place, and there were decent schools in it : one was kept by a
cousin of my mother's, and it was thought that I should do very
well there. I was to come back to Sandcombe for the holidays,
and William hinted that by and by, when he had a ' missis,'
I might return and live there entirely.

er had sometimes thought of going to Canada, and sett
up for himself there as a fanner ; and no doubt he might base
done very well. But then he could not possibly have taken me
too ; and seeing me so bent upon staying with him, he began to
think of something else. I fancy also it came across him that I
might have a doubtful kind of life with William and his v.
William was all for this world, — making money; not dis-
honourably, but still making it, — and he had his eye (Re
knew this) upon a hard kind of young woman living at Hatton
Farm, two miles from us, whose father was said to be very well
to do in the world. Leah Morris was her name. Roger never
liked her, and she never liked Roger. I don't think he took
kindly to the notion of my being left under her.

lie kissed me very much when I clung to him that night, but
he made no promises; only he whispered, ' Ursic, little one, wc
will do what God tells us ;' and then he bade me go tp bed, and I
went and cried myself to sleep.

I did not see Roger again till the next day at dinner. He was
out to work too early for me ; but I always dined with him and with
William in the little parlour. The farm servants sat at a long
table in the kitchen, and we in the inner room could see all that
went on. William was very strict with his servants ; he kept
them all in excellent order; and treated them very fairly. They
had good food, and enough of it. Sandcombe bacon had quite a
name in the country; and the cheese, though it was so hard that
it almost required a hatchet to cut it, had a very good flavour
when it had been kept a little while ; and some of our friends at
Hove used to have a present of a cheese made them once a year,
they were so fond of it. It was a pretty sight enough to see the
dinner. The inner kitchen was much higher than the rooms that
are built in these days. It had a great oak beam going across it,
and there were odd things hung about the walls, — a pair of stag's
horns, and some guns, and an old leathern jack, such as people


used to drink out of in very old days ; it was given to my grand-
father, and was very much prized. And all the pots, and pans,
r.nd dishes were kept bright and clean, and the stone floor was
constantly swept and scrubbed. It was a very bright kitchen in
summer, when the sun came in, in a kind of dancing way,
through the leaves of the clematis, and the Virginia creeper, which
had been trained up the divisions of the windows. But I liked
it best in winter ; when the flames of the wood-fire in the open
hearth made the near part of the room look as if it was coloured
red ; whilst out in the corners there was a kind of goblin dark-
ness, even in the day-time. Sometimes, when it was very cold,
I used to beg to have my dinner by the kitchen fire, and then I
took a little wooden stool quite inside, under the black walls of
the hearth, and sat snugly with my plate in my lap, and the
servants turning round to look at me, and asking if I was com-
fortable, and trying to entice me out to their table. That was
all very happy. I felt myself to be cared for by every one.
But, on the day I have mentioned, I had no wish to go to the
kitchen hearth, though it was very cold for the spring season. I
kept close by Roger in the little parlour, and said nothing ; the
sight of him made me ready to cry. What he had said about
going away came back to me so sadly. He and William sat
together after dinner with their pipes, as was their custom.
William wished me away, I suppose ; for I know that when I
took my doll to play with, that I might have an excuse for sitting
by Roger's knee, he said sharply, that I must be off to the
kitchen, I was only in the way there : and I ran off, half angry,
half sorrowful, and told Deborah, the kitchen girl, that I was
come to help her to put away the things ; but all the time that
I was carrying the plates into the scullery, I was watching
William and Roger, for I was quite sure that they were talking
about something which concerned me.

And so, sure enough, they were. It was a very long conver-
sation ; and Deborah, who was rather given to be pert, said to
me, that she thought master had forgotten there was any work
to be done in the world, he spent so much time over his pipe ;
but they both came out of the parlour together at last ; Roger
looking very brimful of something important ; and before I
could speak, he caught me up in his arms, and said, ' Well,
Ursie, what do you say? will you go with brother Roger to live
at Dene?'

I don't know what I answered, for I scarcely knew what he


meant j but my heart seemed to leap up into my mouth for joy,
and I kissed him a great many times ; and he was in such
spirits, he put me on his shoulder (for I was very small, not
much bigger than many children of six), and carried me across
the room as he used to do ; whilst Deborah screamed with
fright, and William told him he ought not to make a fool of

I did not understand why we were to live at Dene till a long
time afterwards, and then no one told me exactly, but I learned
about it by degrees.

Dene was a gentleman's house lying under the down which
rose just behind S mdcombe. The two places could not have
been more than three-quarters of a mile apart ; but I had not
often been close to Dene, for whenever I went away from the
farm, I used almost always to go over the down to Compton, or
in the opposite direction along the ridge to Hatton, those being
the two villages nearest to us.

The family at Dene were only there every now and then, and
we had nothing to do with them, for they kept cows, and
poultry, and pigs for themselves, and we sent all ours to the
market at Hove.

But just at this time, it seemed, Mr Weir wanted to make
some change in the place, and had an idea that it would be a
good tiling to have a respectable head man living there, who
might look after the cottages belonging to the estate, and also
superintend things about the grounds ; and searching about for
such a person, he heard of Roger, and made him the offer of
going there.

It was not quite to Roger's taste. lie had been used to a
farm, and to more freedom in his ways. Though William often
spoke out to him when he was angry, it was not like iavin i
master over him. He could answer again, if he liked it : not
that he ever did ; but there is a comfort — I have found it my
— in feeling that one might answer if one chose. Now Mr
Weir had the character of being a stern, fidgety man, and
Roger was likely to have a good deal of trouble, and perhaps
not to please him after all ; though, if he could not, I don't
know who could. Rut then, on the other hand, there was no
risk. He would have a fixed sum, and a house to live in, and a
home for me. That told with him more than all the rest. He
would be able to keep a girl to look after me, and I might be
taught to read, and write, and cypher, at Compton School, and


he would have me always with him. It might not have been a
very wise reason for Rogers choice. Perhaps it would have
been better for me to have been sent to people who could have
kept me more strictly ; but I suppose there was something in
the feel of my arms round his neck, and the many kisses I gave
him, which touched him and made him think, as he said, that
God had given me to him, and he could not part with me. I
have felt in that way myself in after years, when a child has
seemed to love me very much. People ! say it is a woman's
weakness, but I think men have it oftener than they choose to

What went on after that I do not at all recollect, though I
know it seemed to take a long time to settle everything. William
and Roger had a great deal to manage with the farm, and ques-
tions about money to arrange. After some talking, it was
decided that some of Roger's money should be left with William
to lay out upon the farm, and that he should have good interest
for it, and be able to claim it again, after due notice, whenever
he wished. It seemed the best plan for the time ; and William
was very trustworthy. Roger had an additional reason for being
prudent, because he was to take charge of me, and he wished to
put by my little money for the time when I should be grown up,
and keep me himself now out of his own. There was no actual
right in the matter, not what the world calls right ; yet I have
always felt that the fair way would have been for William to
have helped. But he never said anything ; he seemed to take it
for granted that Roger would manage it all comfortably. He had
a fashion of letting his own share of a burden fall upon another
person's shoulders, and never appearing to think that he was
bound to assist in carrying it. And because he kept so aloof,
people imagined at last that he had nothing to do with it. I
don't think it ever entered Roger's head that he was undertak-
ing more than his share in paying all my expenses ; and I am
sure that William never thought himself anything but a most
excellent brother.



\\ TK walked over to Dene late one bright summer's evening
V about two months after the plan had been first talk 1
about. I just remember that. I don't recollect what the country
looked like ; but it must have been very beautiful if it at all
resembled — as of course it did— what I have known it since.

The down behind Sandcombe is a Ion.; ridge, as I have said ;
but towards the south it rises up in a great hill, called St Anne's
Hill, from the summit of which there is a view for many miles
round, over the land and over the sea ; for it is very near the
not above a mile distant. The coast forms part of a Ljrcat bay,
indented by smaller ones. The shore is closed in with red sand-
cliffs, rather low, broken, and jagged ; but away to the west the
red sand changes into chalk, and the cliffs become very sti
and rise to a great height ; standing out against the sky, when
the sun shines on them, until they almost dazzle the eye ; and at
other times covering themselves, as it were, with a bluish veil of
mist, and looking out proudly from behind it. I always liked
the white cliffs very much, yet my eye never rested upon them
long, but wandered still farther, to a distant stretch of gray land,
looking like a cloud, which could be seen just where the sea and
the sky met. It was an island very far off. The shepherds on the
down, I have been told, often watch it to see whether it is clear
or misty. Whenever it is seen quite plainly, they say there is to
be a change of weather. That was not my reason for gazing
upon it as a child ; but it was a spot which I could not reach, or
hope to reach, and I had notions of a life there which should be
quite apart from trouble or care, and in which I should have the
rule, and make every one happy ; and so it was the land of my

lie low the ridge of Sandcombe Down the ground is very flat
for a long way. From the edge of the cliff it is level for miles,
cut up into corn-fields and pastures, with a few trees dotting the
hedge-rows. People have said that it is a barrendooking coun-
try, and wants wood, but it was never barren to me. There
was always variety in it. The clouds, when they drifted over the
sky, cast shadows upon the fields ; and the sun, when it burst out,
gleamed across them in long streaks of light ; and sometimes
touched the tower of a church, or seemed as if it were trying to
light up the old castle, standing on the hill close to Move. For


we could see as far as Hove, and beyond it, from Sandcombe
Down : away, indeed, to where the river, which had its source
close to us, and was then only a tiny brook, became quite a
broad stream, and deep enough to float vessels. We could fol-
low it till it reached a little seaport a few miles from Hove, and

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 1 of 56)