Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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civilly as I could, ' that I had tried to do it right.'

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

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

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


* Ursi.ii.. is yftUf name, is it not, my little dear?' said Mrs
Weir, and she put one of her slender arms round me, and kissed
mc on the forehead.

' Ursie, they call me, ma'am,' was my answer.

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

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

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

Some minutes passed before the bell was answered, and I
amused myself in the meantime by looking round the room. It
was wonderfully changed from what it had been when the family
were away. I could not think where all the pretty things had
come from. Such bright covered books there were on the round
centre table, and flowers, and a carved paper-knife, and a beauti-
ful little box inlaid with mother-of-pearl ; and, on another table
in the corner, a curious cabinet, with figures of animals in front
of each drawer, and some strange figures standing by it with
white dresses and copper-coloured faces — Indians I believe they
were. The best chintz curtains, too, had been put up, and the
striped coverings of the chairs taken off. All looked surpris-
ingly neat and pretty ; and the prettiest thing of all was Mrs
Weir's work-table, placed by her arm-chair. It was a tiny
table made in squares of black and yellow wood, and scooped
into hollows round the edge, and on it stood the loveliest
white work-box, lined with blue, and having a row of mother-
of-pearl reals of cotton, and silk winders, with coloured silks
beautifully wound, and a pin-cushion with the pins placed in
rows, as straight as though they had been put in by rule. It
was just fitted for Mrs Weir ; scissors, and thimble, and silver
bodkin, and smelling bottle, so small and bright, and new-
looking ; and on the same table was a little china flower-basket,


holding a white moss rose, a carnation, and a bit of lilac verbena,
with a sprig of myrtle, and a piece of scented geranium. Only
one thing in the whole room looked unsuitable, and that was a
large work-basket of coloured straw, put down upon the floor
by the window, and out of which peeped what I am sure was the
heel of a knitted stocking. That could never have belonged to
Mrs Weir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

' You shall not have them, my child ; we shall do better per-
haps without.'

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

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



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

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

This time Mrs Mason took me into the drawing-room with
her. I observed that she was very thoughtful about Mrs Weir,
and anxious in her way of talking to her ; but it was rather as
if she regarded her as a child not able to manage for herself.
Mrs Weir looked better since she came ; she had more colour
in her cheeks, and Mrs Mason noticed this with much pleasure,
and both of them praised the air of Dene, and said there was
no place like it, in which I quite agreed. I was made to say
the hymn I had been learning at school during the week, and
then Mrs Weir said she should like to hear me read. I kn ..•
it was tea time, but I was afraid to say it ; so Mrs Mason
lighted a wax candle, placed in a beautiful little silver candle-
stick, for it was growing dark, and I took up the Testament
which Mrs Weir had put into my hand, and turned over the
pa^cs to find the Twelfth Chapter of St Luke, that being what
I had been told to read. I had only finished the first three
veiscs when wc were interrupted. The step was so loud that,
before I looked up, I thought it must be Miss Milicent; but it
was Mr Weir, and I felt very frightened, for it was the first


time I had seen him so near. He stalked in and sat himself
down in the arm-chair without speaking.

' Go on, Ursula,' said Mrs Weir, taking no notice of her hus-
band ; but her voice was less firm than it had been a minute

Mrs Mason was going away.

'You had better take the child with you, Mason,' said Mr

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

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

' " Much study is a weariness to the flesh," is it not ? ' said Mr
Weir, sarcasticall)'.

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

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

' Oh ! He wants me to lower his rent for some land, because
he is going to be married,' continued Mr Weir, addressing his
wife. ' He is mistaken if he thinks I am likely to do anything
to encourage matrimony.' A light, hollow laugh followed the

I did not hear Mrs Weir answer, for Mrs Mason hurried me
out of the room.

' Who told Mr Weir that William was going to be married V
I exclaimed, eagerly, as the door was shut behind us.

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

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

' Little folks have no right to hate any one,' said a loud voice,
issuing from the pantry, which we were just at the moment
passing. Miss Milicent appeared with her sleeves turned up at
the wrist, and a bunch of raisins in her hand. ' It will be a very
good thing for you, Ursie Grant, to have a sister-in-law to keep


you in order. Your brother Roger spoils you, and I have told
him so. Mason, there are not raisins enough for dessert ; why
weren't they sent for from Hove ?'

'They were sent for, Miss Milicent,' replied Mrs Mason;
' only the carrier is not come back.'

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

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

' And he has a great many things to bring out for ourselves,'
I added, proudly.

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

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

Mrs Mason spoke as though she was saying it to herself ; but
I took up the words and replied, ' I can't tell what Miss Milicent
means, only she is very cross.'

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

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

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

' Find some one else in his stead,' replied Mrs Mason, care-
lessly. ' Roger is not every one, you know, child.'

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


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

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

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

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

' I don't care about it,' I said, gloomily. ' But I hate Leah

'That is said like a very silly little girl,' answered Roger;
' and it must not be said again.' He looked more stern than I
had ever seen him.

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

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

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

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

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

' Of course they would,' he said, and he laughed ; ' but I mean
to make myself so useful, Ursie, that they shan't very easily find


one to take my place. That is the true way to go on, if you
want people to value you. But it is not the value we put upon
one another, but what God puts upon us, that is of consequence,'
he added, and the Sunday look, which seemed to take him quite
away from earth, came over his face.

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

1 We will say our prayers, both of us, and try,' he answered ;
' that is the sure way. But, Ursic, you must know what to pray
about. You like dearly to make every one go your way ; that is
r fault.'
'Yes,' I said; and I thought for a moment, 'but if I could
have things my own way, I would not be like Miss Miliccnt. I
would make every one love mc.'

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

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

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

' May be I have given up too much already,' he said ; ' I am
not so sure, Ursic, that you wouldn't be better living away at

I put my hand before his mouth as the words escaped, ' You
promised— you told me,' I exclaimed ; but he interrupted mc.
' No, Ursie, I did not promise, I said we would try.'
' But we have tried, and I am going to be so good, I don't
mean to be in a tantrum once again all the next month. O
Roger, Roger, I should die if you sent mc away!' I clung to
him, and my tears came very fast, but they were not angry as

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

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

' That is not very likely, Ursie ; but there are many changes
in this world, and it is well to be ready for them.'
' lint you would not love any one more than me, ever?' I said;


and I raised my head, which had been resting on his shoulder,
and looked him full in the face.

' Not more, Ursie, no, not more.' His tone did not satisfy

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

' No one, indeed ; little Trot knows she is Roger's darling.'

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

He only laughed and kissed me.


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


bonnet I was told it was, with such smart flowers on the outside ;
it was much finer than any the vicar's wife ever wore. I don't
mean that hearing of these things made me like Leah ; I did
not find that any one liked her, but I thought it a grand thing
to be connected with her ; and as I was not going to live
with her, it signified little to me then what she was in other

■cr asked for a holiday for me one Wednesday, when the
marriage was quite settled, that I might go over to Sandcombe
witli him and drink tea, and sec Leah, for she and her mother
were to be there. Roger managed all his business earlier on
purpose; and I had put on my Sunday frock, and we were just
setting off, when a message came, saying that Mrs Weir wanted
to see Roger directly. It was Fanny who gave the message, and
as wc happened to be standing close by the kitchen door, she
told me to go in and wait till Roger came back. I sat down in
a chair watching the cook getting the dinner ready, when in came
Mr Weir. ' What have you got for dinner?' he said, speaking
out quickly. Cook answered that Miss Miliccnt had ordered a
couple of chickens. ' They will be over-roasted. I must put off
dinner. Come to me for orders, not to Miss Miliccnt ;' and he
stalked out of the kitchen, as if he had been too condescending
in putting his foot into it.

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

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

'I could put up with Miss Miliccnt,' replied the cook. 'I

would rather any day be scolded than looked at. I5ut he !— it's

• than mortal woman can bear. And to see how he treats

his poor wife ; and she, as they say, quite taken in by him at the


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

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

'You won't stop now, Roger,' I said ; and I tried to draw him
on. But in vain ; he would stay to listen ; and we heard the
carriage drive up to the house ; and almost directly afterwards
the footman came panting up the hill to beg Mr Grant to go
back, just for a few minutes.

It was so vexatious ! I said to Roger that we had much better
leave Sandcombe till another day ; they would have finished tea
before we got there ; and he was half inclined to agree with me,
only he did not like to disappoint William. Down he ran again,
and I went inside the little wicket-gate, opening upon the upper
seat in the garden, and there I seated myself to wait for him.

So still and quiet it all seemed, — so far away from any vexing

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 4 of 56)