Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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thoughts enter my head, and should not be able to get on at all,
when there is so much to say, if I were to take too much time to

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

I had some weeks at school, and then came harvest time and
holidays, when Mrs Mason gave me employment at home, and
when I was allowed to enjoy myself by taking a book up to the
scat on the top of the bank, and sitting there all alone by myself,
reading or listening to the chirp of the grasshoppers, and the
songs of the birds in the plantation. I liked that seat better than
any other, partly, I believe, because no one else seemed ever to
think about it ; but there was a pleasure, too, in being close to the


down, feeling that I might, if I chose (though I never really
wished to do so), wander all over it, and even go across St
Anne's Hill, to thegreat cliffs above the sea-shore, and there find
a vessel to cany me all over the world. 1 had many fancies of
that kind from the boohs I read. Reading was quite my snare ;
I did so delight in it, and so I do to this day. When Mrs
M.i son gave me work to do, I used to carry it to the upper seat,
fully meaning to do it, but if I had a book at my side, I spent
more minutes than I ought in looking into it between whili .
Some books I had from the school-library at Compton, and Mrs
Mason let me have some old magazine?, which I was never tired
of, though I knew most of the stories nearly by heart.

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

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

It was Saturday afternoon, so I had not been to school ; but I
sat in the kitchen mending my clean things, which had just come
from the wash ; and Sarah was busy sweeping up, and putting
things in order for Sunday. We heard a carriage come up the
road, and I jumped up and said, ' Here's Mrs Weir,' and Sarah
ran to the door, and stood there with the broom in her hand. 'We
h id not heard for certain that they would come on that day.
There was a chance that they might have slopped till Monday ;
but we were pure it could be no one else, because although there
was a right of footway through the grounds, no carriages had
any business along our road, and nothing with wheels ever came
by it, unless it might be every now and then Mr Weir's light
cart, going over the hill to Compton or Hatton.

The carriage stopped. It was closed, so that we could not see
who was within. Mrs Mason and Fanny came out in a great
hurry, and made many curtsies ; and then the footman (there
was a grand footman, dressed in a drab-coloured coat, with red
trimming, and a coachman like him, only stouter) opened the


door, and an elderly gentleman got out, and walked straight into
the house, with his chin up in the air, not stopping to speak to
any one. I noticed nothing about him but his nose, — and some-
how, whenever I looked at him afterwards, that was the only
feature which ever caught my eye. It seemed to have a way of
speaking, as most people's eyes speak. A lady followed ; very
upright and well-formed she was, but so small, — she might have
been taken for a child, when one only looked at her back. She
had a sweet face, though it was very sallow and sickly ; and her
bonnet was made in an old-fashioned way, to come over her fore-
head and protect her eyes, which seemed very weak. Mrs Mason
helped her out of the carriage herself, putting an arm round her
for support, and then the lady shook her so heartily by the hand,
it was quite pleasant to see ; and she patted Fanny gently on
the shoulder, and I think asked some questions about Roger,
as I saw her turn round and look towards the cottage. Mrs
Mason must have said something to please her, for she nodded
her head slowly, several times, as if she was quite satisfied. She
seemed willing to stay and talk more, but Mrs Mason prevented
her, and went with her into the house, just as I saw a large foot,
with a boot like a man's, protrude from the carriage. The foot-*
man stood back, and so did Fanny and the coachman, it seemed
as if they could not make room enough for what was coming.
Yet it was not such a very large body ; when Miss Milicent
stood upon the ground, she was scarcely more than five feet six,
and stout in proportion ; but the very way in which she put her
head into the carriage, and out again, and called the footman,
and tossed a parcel to Fanny, and gave an order to the coach-
man, all, as it were, in one breath, made one feel at once as
though the world was not big enough for her. It was some
seconds before I quite determined what she was like. She must
have had a great fancy to be a man, for certainly she had taken
pains enough to make herself look as like one as a woman's dress
will allow. She had on a stuff gown, made very short, and a
loose black jacket, with no white collar, nor anything of that
kind to make it pretty ; only a red handkerchief tied round her
neck. Besides, she wore a black straw-bonnet, with a plain white
border in the inside, and not a bit of ribbon or flower. Her face
was like Mr Weir's, only smaller, and without quite such a nose ;
but she had eyes to make up for it, so sharp, they were in con-
stant motion, and they danced about as though they had a life
of their own, quite independent of Miss Milicent herself, and


were determined to see everything there was to be seen in this

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

In she came, without knocking at the door, and I felt quite
affronted, and just for a moment could not make up my mind to
rise from my seat. She caught me up for it directly. ' Little
girls ought to learn to be civil,' she said, 'when ladies take the
trouble to come and see them ! What are you about there ?
Mending your stockings ? Very good work, but you don't do it
properly. You should draw the stitches together first.' To my
dismay, she took a pair of scissors, cut a little hole deliberately in
my Sunday stocking, and then, catching the needle from my
hand, unthreading it in her haste, sat down to show me how to
bring the edges together again. I was so angry, I could have
pricked her fingers with the needle when I gave it back to her
threaded. I am nearly sure I gave it a little poke with that
intention, but she did not seem to feel it, and, taking up the
stocking, made me come quite close to watch her, whilst she
went on talking all the time. ' Who taught you to work ? You
ought to know better. How old are you ? Nine and a half? —
you don't look more than six. You can't have had any pains
taken with you. Now, attend, do you see ? first one stitch, then
the other — drawn together closely ; that makes the hole smaller.
You must darn it over afterwards. I shall make them tench
darning in that way at Compton school. Don't forget ! I shall


come and see you again, and find out if you have attended to
what I say. If you are a good child, I shall give you some of
my stockings to mend. Now get up and open the door ; you
always ought to open the door for ladies. They don't teach
you at all good manners at Compton school ; I shall see
about it.'

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

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

Roger entered just at that moment. When he saw me in tears,
he came up to me in his kind way and took me upon his knee ;
but he could get nothing from me except that Miss Milicent had
been to see me, and cut a hole in my stocking, and I hated her,
and if she lived at Dene I should run away.

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

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

We sat down to tea, and after a little while Roger began ask-
ing me again about Miss Milicent. I was not angry with him
as I was with Sarah when he laughed as I told my grievance.
Roger often laughed at things which other people cry about, but

26 I '/■

I told him he wouldn't have liked it if it had been his Mocking,

he had had to darn it.

• I h mid not have Kked it, I .. may be, but I would have
n it as it was meant.'

' It x\., to tease me,' I said, and I felt my face quite

red again.

made no answer. I saw he was vexed, and I put di
my bread and butter, and threw my arms round his neck, and
called him 'dear Father Roger.'

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

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

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


SUNDAY was the plcasantcst day in the week to mo. Roger
walked with me over the down quite early, and left me at
the Sunday-school, and went himself to see an old aunt, my
mother's sister, who was very infirm, and could never go out ;
and there he stayed till church time. I sat with the schoolchil-
dren in church ; but Roger's seat was very near, and I could sec
him, whenever I looked up, with his eyes upon his book, and
that made me look upon mine. Otherwise there was a good deal
to teach one to be inattentive : the boys sat close to us, and were
very troublesome ; slyly pulling at each other's books, and whis-
pering, and then the master would reach over into the middle of
them with his stick, and give a sharp tap, which just as likely
touched the good ones as the bad. The girls were not any better
than the boys. I was often tapped myself, though I don't really
think I deserved it so much as some of the others. There was
such a trouble, too, about repeating the responses. Some would
speak out, and some would not ; and every now and then one


boy took it into his head to shout ; and down came a message
from the master, that if he did, he should be caned ; then we all
grew silent, and there came another message, that if we didn't
speak out we should be locked up. It was trying to know how
to keep straight amongst it all ; but what did me most good was
to see Roger standing there, so still, and grave, and earnest
looking, and his face different, in a way, from what it was at
other times. It was a very dear face always to me ; though his
skin was not smooth, and his hair brushed neat like a gentle-
man's, I often thought I would not change it for the handsomest
picture I had ever seen. But on Sundays, in church, another
look was given to it, as if all in it that had been gathered from
the toil and care of life had been taken away. It came across
the one day, when I noticed him just as he rose up from his
prayers, that if I were to see him in heaven, he could scarcely
be anything different.

That Sunday we went into church rather more noisily than
usual. Kitty Dove, Sarah's sister, pushed little Johnnie Rowe, and
nearly threw him down, and Johnnie pinched Kitty, and made
her cry ; and some of the bigger girls were whispering about it
to the mistress, and begging that Kitty and Johnnie might not
sit near each other. But all of a sudden there was a great
' Hush ! ' The girls left off fidgeting, and put their hands in their
laps ; and the boys began to find out the Psalms in their prayer-
books. A sudden fright had taken them all. I peeped out from
a back corner in which I was sitting, and saw at the church door
Mrs Richardson, the vicar's wife, and Miss Richardson, and one
or two other ladies who taught in the Sunday-school, and in the
middle of them Miss Milicent, — not one whit different from what
she was on Saturday night, just the same loose jacket and red
handkerchief. The girls glanced round at her, and the corners of
their mouths went ; but not a word was said. Mrs Richardson
and the other ladies went to their seats ; but up came Miss
Milicent to us ; her eye seemed to take in all at one glance, and
half a dozen names were out of her mouth almost in a breath,
and in a whisper so loud it could be heard nearly all over the
church: — ' Mary Webb, how's your mother?' 'Fanny Hart,
what d'ye mean by'coming in that fine bonnet?' 'Johnnie,
you've got a swelled face, I see; come up to Dene, and you shall
have some stuff to do it good.' 'Jane, who is that little one by
you? Your sister? She is too young to come to church ; she
won't behave well. Mind you all attend. Keep your eyes upon

28 I nSULA.

your books ; speak out properly. I shall be looking at you.
Mrs Richardson says you are wry idle. I shall have an eye
upon you.' Miss Miliccnt shook her head fiercely, and turned
away ; and the moment her back was towards us, and she was
out of the hearing of a whisper, such a buzz began as might
almost have drowned the clergyman's voice when he commenced
the service, but that a loud tap from the stick came down upon
the shoulders of the head boy, sounding loudly through the
church, and making Miss Miliccnt thrust her head forward, and
shake her hand at us, threatening a still severer and more
mysterious punishment. Yes, we were all quiet after that ; but
I don't think any of us remembered that wc were bound to be
so because we were in God's presence.

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

I was glad to be away from the school-children, for I saw
Miss Miliccnt go up to them again ; and I was beginning to
have a feeling that wherever she was, a scolding was close behind.
We went up the lane by the Abbey Farm, which took us to the
foot of the down, and then wc scrambled up a steep path which
was a shorter way than by the cart-track. Such a very bright
Sunday it was ! The sky and the sea so blue, and all the
country quiet, so as it never is on any other day, — a kind of
quietness which seemed as if it would creep into one's heart and
live there. How I wished that William would leave off talking
about the crops as he did; not letting one be at peace for an
instant, but pointing out first this field, and then that, and
reckoning how mu^h had been got from each, and complaining —


William always complained, when he talked of his crops— that
the rent of Sandcombe was so high, it made him much worse off
than his neighbours ! Roger bore it very patiently ; he laughed
a little now and then, and said something rather sharp in a good-
natured way ; but he never lectured William, nor let him see
that he wished to get away from him, and so William was very
fond of him, and put forth all that was in his mind quite freely.

We were at the top of the down, and there we were to pnrt
company. Roger took out his watch, observing he must hurry
home, for there would not be time else for dinner and going to
afternoon service. William waited before he replied, and then
he said, in a kind of awkward, shy way, ' I have some other
business in hand for this afternoon.' He laughed so oddly that
I caught up his words and said, 'What business, William?
People should not do business, you know, on Sundays.'

'You are a prying, little body,' he answered, quickly, though
not at all as if he was angry. ' Roger, you '11 repent it some day,
if you don't keep her in better order.'

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

' Business not lying so very near home,' continued William ;
'taking me over to Hatton perchance.'

' Going to church ?' I said ; ' I wish Roger would go to Hat-
ton Church too, and take me with him.'

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

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

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

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

* Men are. not like sheep, they don't ail run the same way,'


replied William, rather sulkily. 'So you won't give me yonr
good wishes, Roger ! '

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

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


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

She was at the door talking to Roger when I reached 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 hcrandwent in-doors,
and had just taken off my bonnet 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 Roger's words were remembered ; so I answered, as

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 3 of 56)