Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 6 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 6 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Miss Milicent, for she never talked about what she did. Mrs
Morris took care of the eating, and Mr Morris provided some
wonderfully strong ale, and saw that there was plenty of wine
for those who liked it. and spirits for any who had a fancy for
something more powerful. But Leah was the person who kept
everything going ; at least, as long as she was there. She was
not at all shy, and, what was more to her praise, she did not
pretend to be ; so she talked to one and the other, and told them
where they were to sit, and what they were to do ; and even
helped to marshal them round the breakfast-table after they
came back from church. She could put her hand to anything ;
and William looked on as pleased as possible, feeling, I am
sure, that he had made a capital bargain in marrying such a
good manager.

Roger was very merry too ; and as for me, I laughed and talked
with every one ; especially 1 made acquaintance with some of the
Shaws, of White Hill. Jane Shaw was but two years older than
myself, and being the only two children who were bridesmaids,
we were put together at breakfast ; and Jane told me all about
her home, and how they kept a phaeton, and had a beautiful
best parlour, with pictures in it, and wax flowers under a glass
case : and then she made me look at her pocket-handkerchief,
and admire the pretty lace round it ; and showed me a bracelet
of large white beads (Roman pearls she called them), and a gold
brooch, which her mother had given her to wear. She talked in
a very silly way, and was so set up that she made me boast in
my turn, and I forgot what Roger had said about not gossiping,


and described how beautiful Dene was, and how I was in the
habit of going to see Mrs Weir, and reading to her. Jane Shaw
was very curious, like every one else, about Mrs Weir. The
only people who could tell her anything about her, she said, were
the Kemps, of Longside ; and they didn't know the Kemps now.
She had not spoken herself to Mary Kemp, though they stood
close together in church.

' Is Mary Kemp here ?' I asked.

' Oh yes ; just across the table down at the lower end ; dou't
you see? She was talking to little Jessie Lee just before break-
fast. You must know her.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things were a little dull after she was gone, though Charles
Morris did get up and make a speech, in which he said that he
hoped all the bridesmaids would be married before that time next
year. Jane Shaw and I laughed, because it seemed such a droll
notion for us children, but I don't think any one else did. I


suppose they had all heard it too often, for I believe the same
thing is always said at weddings.

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

Jessie was frightened at first, but Roger had such a way with
children, they never could hold out against him ; and when he
had smoothed her little soft cheek with his great hand, and
carried her in his arms to the top of the room, she was quite
won ; and he managed to twist her round wherever she ought
to go, and ran with her down the dance and up again till we
were all in fits of laughter, and Jessie most of all. I don't re-
member much about my partners : I began with Charles Morris,
and one of Jane Shaw's brothers ; and after that I think I
danced with Mr Ilervey, for he was staying at Longside, and
was going to settle in the neighbourhood : so he had been
asked to the wedding, principally to please Roger, who had
made great friends with him. Altogether it was a very plea-
sant day, and when Leah was gone I enjoyed it heartily ; but
while she was present I fancied she was watching, and would
find fault with me. We had a supper at eight o'clock,
and by ten every one was gone. Roger, Mr Hervcy, and I,
drove home over the down, in the Sandcombe tilted-cart,
which Roger had borrowed for the purpose. Mr Hervcy
was going to sleep in our little room inside the kitchen, for
he had business at Dene the next day. A beautiful drive we
had, and when we reached the top of the long lane, leading out
of Hatton, and were on the ridge, just under St Anne's, the moon
shone out quite bright, and we could see the white cliffs over the
sea nearly as clearly as if it had been daylight. I wanted Roger
to let me climb to the top of St Anne's, and look at the moon-


light upon the water, but he said it was a great deal too late, so
we only drove across the down slowly, Roger being afraid of the
ruts, and were soon within the plantation gate. I believe I had
talked a great deal more than I ought all the way, for Roger
looked a little grave when. I wished him good night, and said,
1 You have a whirligig head, Trot ; it 's well there is not a wed-
ding every day to turn it.' Mr Hervey seemed to think him
rather hard upon me. 'It is a very merry little head anyhow,'
ne said. ' I don't know who has a right to complain of it, Ursie.
Brother Roger would be very dull without it.'

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


I MUST give but a slight sketch of the events which followed
the wedding, and indeed of the next few years. William and
Leah came back to Sandcombe, and Leah settled herself down as
mistress of the farm, and carried everything with a high hand,
which yet could not be complained of, as she certainly was a good
manager, looking so carefully into everything that no one dared
to cheat her. She used to boast that she had never lost even an
ounce of dripping from the time she first became housekeeper.
It was not a good kind of training for William. He was too
much inclined to be close by nature, and now that his wife
encouraged him in it he was even less openhanded than before.
Lie was hard upon his labourers, and grumbled a good deal if
there was any talk of raising their wages. One severe winter, how-
ever, there was an outcry all round the country, and then Leah
persuaded him into being more liberal ; for, hard though she was,
she had a great notion of doing what the gentry did. This was after
a public meeting about the state of the agricultural population,
as it was called, when Mr Stewart, of Hatton, got up and made a
long speech, and said it was a crying sin that the labourers should
be kept down as they were. William rented some land of Mr
Stewart, and was afraid to offend him, so the labourers had a
shilling a week more after that ; and Leah made a great boast of


it, and declared they were ruining themselves to keep the people
from starving. I heard her say it myself one day, when she had
come over to Dene, on her way to Longside. As I saw her scat
herself in the little pony-chaise, and wrap herself up in her great
fur tippet, I could not help thinking that if the poor were to wait
till she denied herself even one luxury for them, they were likely
to die of want.

Yet Leah and I were apparently very good friends. She was
quick enough in understanding, and I think she soon saw that I
was not to be put upon, though I was a child, and that Roger
would not allow it. The only way in which she showed she did
not like me was, by the difference of her manner to me and
Jessie Lee. Jessie was very often staying with her, — it bright-
ened her up, — for Sandcombe was a lonely place, and there
seemed to be no prospect of any children to make it merry. I
don't think either Leah or William cared much about this, for
children would have been an expense and a trouble, and they were
not naturally fond of them ; but still in the winter time, Leah
liked to have some one about when William was busy, and so she
often persuaded her mother to send Jessie over to her. It used
to provoke me, I must confess, when I heard her say, drawing
up her head and shaking her curls, ' I have just sent for poor
little Jessie ; it will be a help to mother to be rid of her for a while,
and we mustn't grudge the expense.' 1 knew well enough that,
when Jessie was away, Mrs Morris was sad for want of her, and I
knew too that Leah made full use of her when she was at Sand-
combe, and took good care that, if she was an expense in one way,
she should be a saving in another. The girl who helped in the
kitchen was always sent away when Jessie came ; and though Leah
liked her cousin to dress herself in her best, and sit in the parlour
in the afternoon, in case Mr Stewart, or the Shaws, or the clergy-
man from Hatton should call, yet she made her work like a scrub
in the morning. Jessie had a meek temper, and never complained,
and upon the whole I don't know that she had much cause. She
was an orphan, and left without a penny, and the Morrises had
quite adopted her ; and if Mrs Morris was at all in fault in the way
she brought her up, it was that she spoiled her. She was fond
of Jessie for her good-nature, and proud of her for her beauty.
Many pretty children don't grow up pretty ; but this was not the
case with Jessie. It was quite impossible not to notice her; she
had such a bright complexion, a good nose and mouth, and such
very soft blue eyes, with a kind of beseeching look in them, which


touched one's heart directly she looked at one. No one would
Iiave thought that she had come of common parents, and indeed
her mother was quite a lady ; but she married badly, and fell
into poverty, and then her own relations cast her off, and she
was obliged to depend entirely upon the Morrises. Jessie bore
the mark of her origin in everything she did and said. It used
almost to startle me sometimes, if I happened to go over to
Sandcombe early, and found her busy at house work, to hear
her speak, and ask me how I was, and inquire for Roger. The
voice was so sweet, I could have thought it was Mrs Weir talk-
ing to me, only that there was no melancholy in it. I don't
think Jessie knew what melancholy meant. Her high spirits,
indeed, sometimes carried her away too far, but she was never
boisterous. I was always fond of her, though I could not make
her much of a friend, for we did not care for the same things.
She had very little education ; reading she did not much like,
and I don't think she would ever have written and spelled cor-
rectly, but that Charles Morris one day found out her ignorance,
and took her under his own teaching. They seemed to think
she would learn everything naturally, and she managed to make
a fair show, though really she could do little well beyond house-
work and trimming a bonnet. The life she led was too busy
for her to feel the need of anything more, and she had so much
petting and loving from every one, that she was ignorant of any
want in herself. I don't know quite what it was which made her
so lovable. No one could have called her sensible, and she was
very much given to dress and gaiety when she could meet with
them ; but even when she provoked me with her silliness one
minute, I could not help being fond of her the next. She had
such a way of saying she was sorry, and she wished she was as
good as I was. I suspect that won upon me, for 1 dearly liked
to be looked up to. Besides, I must say that she was very
grateful ; the least little kindness touched her ; and though
Leah had been ever so hard upon her, I believe she would have
worked her fingers off for her, because she was a Morris. She
always said the Morrises were the best friends she had in the

What did Jessie more harm than anything else was the ac-
quaintance with the Shaws ; but I may leave that for the present.
It will be better to put down a few things about myself and Dene
first. The property was not sold, as people said it was going to
be ; but it was mortgaged, for how much nobody knew — or al


least if Roger knew he never told. If it had been sold I suppose
we should have been obliged to move, but as it was, we remained
On year after year. Towards the end of every summer, Mr Weir,
and his wife, and Miss Miliccnt, came regularly, and stayed till
nearly winter; and I learned, by degrees, to look forward to this as
fee pleasant time, in spite of Mr Weir's pride and Miss Milicent's
fussiness. My delight was to be with Mrs Weir, and this was
not strange, for she was exceedingly kind, and did more for me
in the way of education than I could possibly have expected. I
had gone on learning what I could at Compton school, and upon
the whole I think I was very well taught, and not at all backward
for my age ; but by the time I was fourteen, there was not much
else which the mistress could teach me; and then Leah tried to
persuade Roger to send me for a year to Hove, and to pay for it
out of the money that had been put by for me. I don't think
William would have allowed this; for though, as I have said, he
was close by nature, he was not at all wanting in affection, and
the money had been intended as a nest egg for me, and so he
would have wished it to remain increasing till I grew up. But
his opinion was not needed, as Roger stopped the notion at once;
and now that I lived with him, his will was law.

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

That was one of the greatest helps Roger had in his care of mo,
I think he would rather have sent me to school than have left me
at home with no one to think about me ; but Mrs Mason kept me
very strict, never letting me make acquaintances without her
knowing it ; and taking care that I should have no idle time upon
my hands for gossiping and folly. There was very little variety
in my life. Once Mrs Mason took me to London to stay with her
for a week at a friend's house, and I saw all the chief sights, and
had a glimpse of a world which did not please me half as much
as Dene, though for the time I heartily enjoyed it ; but this was all
the change I had for several years. I might have found it a dull
life, and required more for my happiness, but for Mrs Weir. Mrs
Kemp, of Longside, was very kind to me, and Mary Kemp and J


became great friends ; but neither of them could quite give me
what I wanted and found in Mrs Weir. Books were still, as
they had always been, my great pleasure, and as long as I could
go to the upper seat,— close to the down, and hidden by the
shrubbery and the plantation trees, and read, I had no wish for
anything else in the world. Mrs Weir soon found this out ; but
she only noticed and helped me in my taste by degrees. It
seemed as if she was afraid of showing that she took much in-
terest in anything ; and for some time I was always sent away
if I was in the drawing-room when Mr Weir came in. But by
degrees I gained a better footing.

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

I did not understand a great deal ; but even when the sense
was beyond me, there was a pleasure in listening to the sound of
Mrs Weir's voice. It came over me like the distant rush of the
waves upon the shingles, as I have heard it often, when standing
by the oratory on St Anne's ; or as the sighing of the wind


among the firs in the plantation on a beautiful summer's day,
when a thin, gray mist floated over the level country, and every
now and then the breeze rolled it away, and showed the lines of
sparkling blue sea, far away beyond Hove. Tears have often
come into my eyes as I have hearkened to those sounds, which
seem so especially to belong to God ; and they have risen again
and again unbidden, at the first words which Mrs Weir would
read, — startling me with a sense of something that was not of
this world, — an echo, it might be, of a voice that had been heard
in paradise. Children feel these things, grown-up people reason
upon them ; but I think children know more about them. As
time went on, and I learned to know more of Mrs Weir's life, —
her whole history seemed to me to be told in the strange, sweet,
sad tone of her voice, as she read the verses in which she de-
lighted. It was happy for me that I was not with her always.
What I did see of her was good for me, I am sure, in many
ways ; but to have lived always with such a person would have
cjuite unfitted me for my real work. Roger was a little afraid of
tin's, and I don't think he was sorry that I had Miss Milicent
near, to prevent my becoming too much wrapped up in Mrs Weir
and my books.

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

I know I have observed in religion, how persons who are very
good and earnest themselves, give their children a turn against
it, by continually talking about it. Mrs Weir did this, I sus-
pect, with her poetry. She did not sec what a different nature
Miss Milicent's was; indeed, I don't think she was quick at
understanding any person's nature. She was always living in a
kind of dream. One thing I must say for her, — Miss Milicent
would have been a puzzle to any one. She was not like father,
nor mother, nor cousin, nor anyone belonging to her, that I ever
saw, nor, indeed, like any one living but herself. Mrs Mason
said one day that she took after her grandm?lh?r ; and that might


have been the case. When I first saw her, she must have been
about five-and-twcnty ; but she was then as old in her ways as
she was a dozen years after. I took it upon faith, when I first
knew her, that she was a good woman, and that is saying a great
deal ; for no faith that was ever heard of would have made me
believe that Leah Morris was good.

It always seemed to me that Miss Milicent fancied she was
sent into the world on purpose to set it to rights ; and I believe
honestly that she began with herself, as far as her knowledge
went. She was neither passionate nor sulky ; she always spoke
the truth, and was thoughtful for the poor, and took a great deal
of pains with their children ; and as for industry, she worked
harder than Roger. I often puzzled myself in those days to find
out what the fault in her was, and at last I settled that she was
selfish. She wished everybody to do right, and be comfortable,
but it must be in her way. She would deny herself like a saint
to carry out anything which she thought likely to be good ; but
she could not sit still, nor keep the room tidy, nor speak low and
soft, because of her mother's wishes — whimsies she used to call
them — that was her favourite word ; and I suppose Mrs Weir
had a few such ; and certainly it was irritating for a person of
Miss Milicent's age to be complained of as if she had been a
child of five ; but then she ought never to have given cause for
the complaint. God had granted her quick sense, and she
should have seen her mother's little odd ways, and made allow-
ance for them, and valued Mrs Weir for the many things there
were to be valued in her, not set herself to alter them as she did.
That was the cause of half the family troubles, because it de-
stroyed anything like sympathy between the mother and the
daughter ; and so each went her separate way and grew more
and more strange, and wedded to her own fashion. Miss Mili-
cent always took care that I did my work properly, and she
taught me many useful things ; amongst others, to knit stock-
ings and cut out dresses. She was clever at that, though she
chose to dress so oddly ; and Roger was glad I should learn, for
there was still an idea that it might be a good thing for me some
day to be a dressmaker. After a time Mrs Weir employed me
in doing little things for her in the way of altering dresses and
in plain needlework ; and Mrs Richardson, of Compton, sent
me common dresses to make up, and spoke for me to Mrs
Stewart, of Hatton, and several other persons ; and at last I
found I had more than enough to do ; though I never professed


to take to the occupation as a business. The comfort to me was
that I was able in consequence to help Roger in p my own

expenses, and as I saved him a servant, and even gained some-

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 6 of 56)