Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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trace beyond it a blue line of sea, appearing here and there, as the
land rose or sunk. There was an opposite coast, too, in that
direction, and we could plainly distinguish the houses, looking like
white dots, and the great chalk-pits, like patches on the sides of
the misty hills. I was never tired of the view ; yet it was not so
grand as the open sea, and the white cliffs from St Anne's ; and
I think it gave me more thoughts of the world. It made me pic-
ture to myself men, and women, and all their cares and troubles,
and hopes for things which belong to earth ; but the sea seemed
to have come at once from God, and to belong to Him alone.
When human beings passed over it, they left no mark behind
them. One view was like time and the other like eternity. In
former days there had been a little chapel on St Anne's Hill ;
an oratory, I believe, it was called. It was connected with some
old ruins in Compton village, which are now built into barns
and granaries, belonging to the Abbey farm. I have been told
that some one of the monks who lived in the abbey used, in old
times, to be sent to the chapel on St Anne's to say prayers, and
to put lights in the tower as a warning to the vessels when they
came too close to the shore. In after years a regular lighthouse
was built there, but it has fallen quite into decay. It was not
worth while to keep it up, for thick mists from the sea often rest
upon the Hill, and in the stormy night the gleam from the light-
house could seldom be seen. Only the stones scattered upon
the green turf, and a portion of the lower walls, remain ; and a
gooseberry bush, which grew in the little garden belonging to the
lighthouse, is the sole mark that any care had ever been taken
to make such a place habitable. But the eight-sided tower of
the oratory stands as firm as ever, — the walls dark gray, and
brown, and green, where lichens have covered them ; whilst
the foundation of the chapel can also be traced without diffi-
culty. I have heard people wonder, as they talked about the
oratory, what could make any person content to live there ; and
I have heard them say, too, that there was much evil in the
days when it was used, and that we are more enlightened. 1
dare say they are right. I am very thankful for the blessings
granted me, and I would not, for all the -world, go back to


times when I Could not read my Bible for myself; but I can
never think that the watchers in the oratory kept less guard
upon their lights, because they knelt by them and said their
prayers ; and I have myself rested against the wall, on the steep
side looking over to the sea, and prayed with a deeper feeling, be-
cause I felt that the spot was like a church, and had been made
holy by the devotion of those who had stood there before me.

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

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

ler things have become clouded in my memory, but I can
quite remember my feelings as Roger opened the white gate,
and said, ' Now little one, we are at home.' I had a fancy that
the whole place belonged to us, that we were in some way raised
in the world, and yet I looked round with a grave wonder, and
kept close i r's side, fearful that I might be trespassing if

I went a step to the right or the left. The word trespass was a
very awful one to me. I had seen it set up on boards in Mr
Weir's plantations, and it was mixed up in my mind with visions
of a disnv 1 dungeon, and bread and water.


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

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

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

' No farther, Ursie ; this is home. We '11 be very jolly here,
little Trot.' And then he took me upon his knee, and covered
me with kisses. I don't think he liked me to see his face. He
must have thought a good deal of Sandcombe, and my father and
mother, and old times, and it was very solitary for him. I was no
companion, though he did love me so dearly.

The next day a girl was to come to look after me, but there


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

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

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

Roger and Mrs Mason talked about a great many things which
I did not understand, and their tea lasted much longer than mine ;
but when I was tired of sitting up and listening, they let me get
down by the hearth, and play with a tabby kitten, and Mrs
Mason made the girl bring a cork and string, and tempt the
kitten to run after it. I did not remark anything that went on,
till 1 heard Roger say, ' I never knew that both the ladies were
coming.' That made mc attend. I don't know why. I could


not think who the ladies were, and I was always rather curious.
Mrs Mason looked grave and odd, and answered, 'Yes, both of
them. Miss Milicent used to say she didn't like the place, but
she has turned quite round now. She 's a queer one. You may
thank your stars, Mr Grant, that you are not likely to have any-
thing to do with her.'

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

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

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

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

Roger objected because of the trouble, but he was soon over-
ruled. Mrs Mason liked children, and was very good-natured ;
so she called Fanny, and told her to take me up to the little back
room and put me to bed.

' Miss Milicent's room, ma'am, did you say!' asked Fanny,
who was rather deaf.

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

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


and then he would hear mc repeat my verse before I went tz

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

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

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

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

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

A strange noise woke me very early in the morning ; a harsh,
scrooping sound, which amused, and yet a little frightened mc,
and made me sit up in bed to listen. When I could not under-
stand where it came from, I jumped up and ran to the window
to look out. A light fence of trellis-work was just below, — a
screen for a little area in front of the pantry, — and on this trellis-
work roosted a peacock and peahen. My delight ! how can I
possibly express it ? There they sat, the peacock proudly turning
his beautiful purple neck on all sides, and his long tail, spotted


with glittering eyes, drooping over the fence ; and the peahen
looking so quiet and gentle, and beautiful too, only seeming not
to wish to be noticed because she had such a grand companion.
I believe I screamed with delight, I was told so afterwards ; and
Fanny always declared that I begged to be allowed to open the
window, and pull only one feather out of the peacock's tail, for
he had so many I was sure he would never miss it. I know
myself that the peacock and the peahen seemed like the fairies
of the place to me then, and for years afterwards ; and even now,
if I could have money to throw away upon fancies, I should be
tempted to have some always with me, in the hope that they
might bring back the feelings of unbounded gladness, which are
by this time almost forgotten.

It was a sunshiny morning the first day at Dene. Roger went
out directly after breakfast to his business of looking after things,
and I was left with Mrs Mason and Fanny. For that one day I
was to run about and do as I chose ; but Mrs Mason put on a
grave face as she said that idleness was not good for little girls ;
and it was settled that Roger was to take me over to Compton
the very first day he could spare the time, in order that I might
have my name put down for the school.

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

The house at Dene had been first a labourer's cottage ; that
was before Mr Weir took a fancy to come there for shooting.
He built two rooms, a dining-room and a drawing-room, not at
all large, and rather square, only with a kind of bow for the
window. These rooms were on each side of the little passage or
hall, and there were no more sitting-rooms in the house, at least,
when first we went there. Miss Milicent's room was over the
drawing-room, and Mr Weir's over the dining-room ; and there
was another room, which was used as a dressing-room, besides
the peacock room and some attics ; that was all the house then,
except the chambers over the kitchen, where Mrs Mason and
Fanny slept. The attics were what T liked best ; we had to go



up such a droll little staircase to reach them, and they hid such
a beautiful paper, a kind of Chinese pattern, with a bridge and
some houses, and little men and women going over the bridj ,
They, too, like the peacock, were part of the fairy things belong-
ing to Dene, and I seemed to have more to do with them than
with Mr Weir and Miss Miliccnt. The attics opened upon the
leads of the house, and the peacock had been up there and left
behind him one of his small feathers — not one with an eye, but
with a soft feathery fringe — such a purple green ! there is no
colour like it elsewhere that I have seen. Fanny crept out of
the window and brought it back to me, and I have it now. Un-
less it was a duty, I would not part with it for any sum of

Going over the house was very pleasant, but it was nothing to
the garden ; and when Fanny opened the front door, I rushed
out wild with delight, and scarcely heeding her as she called to
me, in a frightened voice, not on any account to run so fast, or I
should be in the pond.

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

The view from the house, like that from the down, might, I
suppose, have been called wanting in wood ; but paradise could
scarcely have been more lovely to Eve, when she first opened her
eyes upon it, than Dene was to me on that summer morning, and
many, many others which followed. It looked to the east, and
the sun, therefore, shone full upon it. The turf was smooth as a
carpet of velvet, and not a weed was to be seen in the bright
flower-beds. In the centre of the lawn a fountain, which the
gardener set playing to please me, rose up like a silver thread
into the air, and in the pond round the fountain, bright gold-fish
floated about, catching at the bread crumbs with which I was
allowed to feed them. Another pond, with an island in the
centre, and a walk round it, was to be seen still lower, but it was
always a place of mystery to me. I never reached the island,
though I always longed to do so. Beyond the garden lay an ex-


p&nse of country, such as could be seen from the down. It had
one or two marked spots, an old manor farm, surrounded by
trees, nearly opposite to Dene, and a church on a bit of rising
ground, and a zigzag road across a moor — part of the high road
to Hove ; and immediately opposite was a ridge of hills, very like
Sandcombe Down, with what was called a semaphore at the top.
I believe it was used for making signals about ships to persons
a good way off. It was a view in which there seemed always
something new to find out ; and especially I used to please my-
self on Saturdays, when Roger was gone to Hove, by watching
the carts, and waggons, and horses moving like dots over the
zigzag road, and guessing which might belong to him. But that
is going on beyond my first morning.

Fanny led me all round the garden, and then, as we came back,
she stopped at the foot of a steep bank covered with shrubs,
which parted the grounds of Dene from the down, and pointing
to a flight of rough steps, said I might go up there if I liked. 1
ran before her, scarcely contented to make use of the steps, but
every now and then scrambling up the bank, till I reached the
top ; and there I found a seat, and a little wicket-gate, opening
upon the carriage-road close to the down. Crossing the road,
Fanny made me enter the plantation, which, as I before said,
filled the hollow of the hill behind the house. We went on and
on along narrow, winding paths, sometimes stopping to rest upon
a bench under a tree, sometimes going quite to the edge of the
bank, to look down through the mass of branches, and leaves,
and flowers, which seemed to sparkle like emerald and silver,
upon a green field just at the bottom of the plantation, in which
Mr Weir's cows were feeding ; and then we ran on again till we
came to a little summer-house— a real house, with a table, and
some wooden chairs, and a tiny fireplace ; so cool and pleasant-
looking it was !— but we could not go in, for Mrs Mason kept
the key, but Fanny lifted me up that I might peep in at the

It was all more happy to me far than words "can tell, but I can
never by description make other people feel the same. Fanny,
though she was not much more than a child, seemed to care little
about it. All that she appeared to think of then, or afterwards,
was the gossip about the few people who lived in the neighbour-
hood. We passed out of the plantation by clambering over an
iron fence, and came round to the house in a different direction,
■across an open bit of pasture land, which seemed once to have


formed part of the down. There it was that Fanny was induced
to stop, that she might point out the cottage in which Sarah's
father and mother lived. Sarah was the girl who was to take
care of me and cook our dinner and make our beds. They were
labouring people, she said, and they were very glad to get Sarah
a place. Sarah was to have gone to the gamekeeper's, but his
wife had a cousin who was come to help. And then she led
me a few steps on, that I might look at the gamekeeper's nice
cottage, with its strip of garden so neatly kept. The game-
keeper's wife, she said, had had some tiffs with Miss Milicent, but
that was no wonder. Fanny did not think proper, however, to
tell me what the tiffs were about, but wandered off to another
subject, saying, that she must take me home, for she had to run
down to Longside Farm to get some eggs for Mrs Mason. The
people at Longside were very well to do in the world, she in-
formed me ; Farmer Kemp, folks declared, was worth a mint of
money ; and he was very careful, not at all like the Shaws, who
lived at the Manor Farm, called White Hill, which we had seen
from the garden. The Shaws were very set-up people, and
laughed at the Kemps, and the Kemps had given up visiting

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


IT would be useless to attempt a description cf 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 (he 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

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 2 of 56)