Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula : a tale of country life (Volume 1) online

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so soon.

" You won't stop now, Roger," I said ; and I tried to
di'aw 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 jMr.
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 care. I felt that if people would only let me live
there undisturbed with Roger, I should have nothing else to
desire. Now there were always interruptions ; Roger was
ordered about, and people found fault with him. I did not
think it could be so always. And then I went off" into a
dream of what might happen by and by, of a time when he
was to be master and I was to wait upon him. I never really
thought I should leave Dene, I was too happy there ; and yet
I had a notion that Roger and I were one day to have a
farm together, when he was to trust, and consult me, and let
me help him in everything. For I was to be first in all
ways ; others were to respect and look up to Roger, but no
one was to love him like me. I did not think that at all a
selfish notion ; I was sure I could make him so happy. My
fancies were interrupted by the sound of voices at the foot of


the little rough flight of steps, which led from the garden to
the upper seat. A few moments afterwards Mr. Weir made
his way through the shrubs, followed by Roger and a man,
whom I guessed directly to be the stranger just announced.
I was not inclined to run away ; my impulse almost always
was to turn and face Mr. Weir, as I might a bull, to show
that I did not care for him. I had a kind of notion that he
was born to be every one's enemy, and that I was to rise up
in defence ; so I remained in my place, only standing, because
I had always been taught to be respectful. But Mr. Weir
took no notice of my being there, which was very provoking.
I thought I would have answered him so boldly, if he had
asked what business I had at the upper seat. He seemed to
be full of business ; he did not even stop to take breath,
though he had come up the steps very fast, but he went on
talking, and pointing to the down, and saying something
about rent, and value of land ; and then William's name was
mentioned, and I saw Roger's face change. I doubt whether
any one would have noticed it except myself, but I knew
every turn of his likings and dislikings always. Mr. Weir
gave no time for an answer for some seconds ; but when he
stopped at last, the strange man replied. Mr. Weir turned
sharply round directly, and listened with his head bent for-
ward, and his nose looking exactly as if it was watching for
what was coming. What made people call it handsome, I
can't think. His face was that of a bird of prey ; not an
eagle — it was not noble enough for that — but some that I
have read of.

" I shouldn't like to give my opinion in a hurry, sir,"
were the first words I heard the stranger say ; and his voice
had such a pleasant sound, that I looked up at him with quite
a new feeling.

He might have been three or four years younger than
Roger. His face was not one which showed age ; the com-
plexion was so clear and ruddy, and the eye so bright and
laughing. He was not a gentleman ; at least, he had not the
same kind of manner as Mr. Weir; his clothes were of a
different make, and his words came out quickly and more
harshly. But he was more up in the world, I should have
said, than Roger ; probably he had had a better education


and seen more of things and people. I could perceive that
he was not at all cowed by Mr. Weir, which made me like
him directly; and the way in which he glanced at Roger
gave me a notion that he knew what he was worth. I don't
think, indeed, either of them could have looked at each other
and doubted, for two honester faces I never saw.

" Perhaps, sir," said Roger, speaking to Mr. Weir, " Mr.
Hervey and I had better walk over the hill together, and
then we can talk over matters."

Mr. Weir seemed only half pleased. I was terribly
afraid he would offer to come too ; but he had not much of an
excuse for that, whatever his wish might have been ; so he
just said, in an off-hand way, " Well, well, if you like it.
Let me see you again, Hervey, when you come back ; " and
then he turned off and went down the steps.

" Now, Trot, run on before us," said Roger, opening
the gate upon the down. I would rather have remained
close to him, but I always obeyed him, and I kept at a dis-
tance in front, looking for foxgloves — which I could not find,
it was so late in the season — and every now and then making
myself a little bed amongst the fern, till Roger came up,
when I ran on again. At the top of the hill, near where the
paths branch off on one side to Compton, and on the other to
Sandcombe, Mr. Hervey and Roger stopped. Roger pointed
to Compton ; " The best part of the property lies down there,"
he said.

"It looks compact," observed Mr. Hervey. "It is a
thousand pities to cut it up ; but I suppose where a lady has
a fancy, there is nothing else to be done."

Roger said not a word in reply.

" She must have had a good property of her own," said
Mr. Hervey.

" Dene, and the Abbey Farm, and some more land out
by Hove ; a good fifteen hundred a-year altogether," replied

" And all to be sold ! Well, it is a fortunate thing we
have only our business to do, Mr. Grant, and needn't trouble
ourselves with anything beyond."

Roger hesitated ; he seemed to be considering what he
might say. At length it came out hastily, " Mrs. Weir

Vol. 1—3

60 U B S U L A .

would rather it should be mortgaged than sold. That is be-
tween ourselves."

« Oh ! " It was a very long " oh," which must have

signified a good deal. Mr. Hervey's open face became grave,
and he added, " So there are two minds. I guessed that."

"And I don't think he can sell it," continued Roger.
"I don't think the trustees would let him do it."

" Fortunate that, perhaps," was the answer. " Well, at
all events, we will go over the property to-morrow, Mr.
Grant ; nothing preventing."

They shook hands heartily. Mr. Hervey went back to
Dene, and I caught hold of Roger's hand, and asked him
what mortgaging and trustees meant.

" What I hope you will never be troubled with. Trot.
Now let us have a run down the lane, or they will have done
tea before we get there." He lifted me over the gate into
the lane, and followed almost before I could turn to see if he
was coming, and then we had a race, in spite of the rough
stones, to the entrance of the farm-yard.


Roger was right ; we were nearly late for tea. The maid
was carrying the urn into the large parlour just as we
arrived. I felt bound to be on my best behaviour the mo-
ment we were shown into the room, for this parlour was never
used except on special occasions. It was a very good-sized
room, but not in general very cheerful-looking. The walls
were a pale greyish blue ; a few prints in black frames were
hung against them, and there was a looking-glass in a carved
oak frame over the mantelpiece. On one side of the fire-
place was a book-case, with glass doors, and on the other an
old cracked spinet. A mahogany dining-room table, covered
with a red cloth, stood in the centre of the room, and large
black horse-hair chairs were ranged in a very orderly way
against the wall. Besides, there was a great arm-chair, and
a foot-stool worked in cross-stitch in green and red, and a
screen with a green parrot upon it, which had always been a


great delight to me. I don't recollect anything else. We
never used the room except for a party.

William had certainly done his best to make it look
comfortable this eveniug. The table was spread for tea, with
the best china tea-service, and a large trencher with loaves of
brown and white home-made bread upon it ; and there was a
ham at the bottom of the table, and two pots of marmalade,
and honey ; and the butter was put out in a glass dish, which
had been a wedding present to my mother ; and in the centre
there was a gay cup filled with dahlias and china-asters. A
person might have been very willing to say " Yes," when
asked to become the mistress of such a comfortable house as
William's ; that is, if comfort only was to be considered.

Mrs. Morris, and Leah, and her brother Charles, were
standing up by the window when we came in. William was
pointing out something in the garden. He looked round
rather awkwardly as the door opened; but he welcomed
Roger heartily, and kissed me, saying he had nearly given us
up ; and then he pushed me a few steps forward to where
Leah was standing, and said, " Ursie must be grown out of
your knowledge, Leah. How long is it since you have seen
her ? "

" Well, I don't know ; two years nearly, I should think.
To be sure, she is grown; she is getting quite a great girl."
I could feel Leah's eye surveying me from head to foot,
though just for the first moment I had a shy fit, and could
not look at her : shyness, however, was not much in my way,
except when I had a great respect for people ; and by the
time she had taken in everything belonging to me, from the
ribbon on my bonnet to the thickness of my walking-boots,
I was able to confront her in return. People said she was
handsome, with her black curls, and high colour, and flash-
ing eyes ; if she was, I would rather have looked upon
something ugly. There was not a trace of anything like
softness, either in her face, or her voice, or her manner, or
anything about her. She was not ill-tempered looking ; but
one saw she could be in a passion if she chose ; and it was
quite certain that if she did choose, it would always be about
something that concerned herself. That day she did seem so
entirely well pleased with herself ! And, perhaps, she had


reason to be. There she was, conscious of a fine face and a
fortune of two thousand pounds, and a good deal more to
come, dressed out in a bright blue silk dress, — what is
called a Waterloo blue, — and a fancy straw-bonnet, and a
smart shawl, and come to visit her husband that was to be,
and to be made much of, and to say what she liked or what
she did not like. It was enough to turn anybody's head ;
not that it turned Leah's, for she was then what she always
was ; neither more nor less wrapped up in her own concerns ;
only it is so happened that circumstances made it appear as
though she was.

We sat down to tea ; Mrs. Morris poured it out, and
Leah sat next to William, and made me come on the other
side. She petted me all tea-time, offering me bread-and-
butter and cake. No doubt she meant it well ; but I could
not help feeling that, although I was a little girl, I had just
as much right in my brother's house to take what I liked as
she had, and more too, perhaps, for she was not his wife yet.
There was no lack of conversation. Leah was not a great
talker, but her mother was ; and we had all the gossip of
the neighbourhood told us. Even when Roger and Charles
Morris began saying something about farming, Mrs. Morris
broke in in the middle with a question to Roger.

" So, Mr. Roger, you've got very comfortable quarters, I
suppose, up at Dene ? "

" Very," was Roger's short reply.

" And all the family there now, I hear ; or at least, all
coming soon. The bride, Mrs. Temple, and her husband are
expected next week, they say."
" I have not heard."

" Isn't that capital now ? " and Mrs. Morris turned her
broad good-humoured face to William. " Your brother is
as close as a locked pantry ; — as if he didn't know everything
about the Weirs, if he chose to say it ! "

Leah took up her mother shortly. " You won't make
him tell by asking questions, mother. You'll only provoke
him to shut up more."

" There is nothing to shut up about, that I am aware of,"
said Roger. " If I knew Mrs. Temple was coming, I would
say so ; but I don't."


" Ah, well ! then they're wise in keeping their business to
themselves," said Mrs. Morris, nodding her head meaningly.
" But folks outside Dene are not quite so careful, Mr.
Roger ; and they say, — I wouldn't for the world tell it for
truth, — that Mr. Temple is not satisfied about his wife's
fortune, and is coming to see her uncle about it ; and I have
heard that Mr. Weir will have to sell part of the Dene
estate : not that I can understand myself what business he
has with it, for it is all Mrs. Weir's, settled upon her strictly,
— so Mr. Dillon the lawyer told Charles, when ho saw him
in Hove last week."

" She won't be a wise woman if she gives it up for any
of her husband's claims," said Leah.

" That is what you think, is it? " said William, laughing.
" I sui^pose that is to teach me what I may expect ; but I
am not to be daunted. Do you think there is any cause,
Mrs. Morris ? Will Leah stand aloof and say she won't
help at a pinch ? "

" Leah is a good, sensible girl, and you are not like Mr.
Weir," replied Mrs. Morris. " If you were, you might beg
pretty long before her father and I would give her to you.
Why, it's all the talk in Staffordshire, what a cat-and-dog
life they lead. Down here there is not so much known
about them."

" I suppose when I turn dog, I may expect you to turn
cat, Leah ? " said William.

" Something like it," replied Leah, a little quickly. I
don't think she fancied William's always bringing it forward
in this way, that she was going to be married, and that he
was to be her master.

" It's no wonder when they married as they did," con-
tinued Mrs. Morris. " She, just out of the school-room, and
a second wife. I heard all about it the other day, from the
Kemps of Longside. They are cousins of the Herveys in
Stafibrdshirc ; and John Hervey is a land surveyor, and
has had a good deal of business with Mr. Weir, or at least
his father had for years. Poor man, he died of low fever
about this time twelve months ago ; since then there have
been changes in the business, and I hear John is likely to
settle in this neighbourhood, close to the Kemps."

54 U E S U L A .

" Is that the Mr. Hervey that came over the hill with ua,
Roger ? " I asked ; for I had been taking in eagerly all that
was said.

" I suppose so," was his short answer ; and he pushed his
tea-cup to Mrs. Morris, and asked for another cup of tea.

" Oh ! John Hervey is here, is he ? " exclaimed Mrs.
Morris. " That makes it all clear; — you know, Charles, we
heard he was coming. Of course, then, it is quite true about
the sale of the property." She addressed herself to Roger,
but received no answer.

William had no dislike to gossip, so he brought her back
to the point she had started from. " Well, but, Mrs. Morris,
you have not told me the interesting part about the marriage.
You know it's fitting Leah and I should hear, that we may
take warning in time." He looked kindly at Leah, but she
only smiled haughtily in return, and when he tried to give
her hand a little friendly pat, she managed to draw it away,
so that his fingers came down upon the table instead.

" The long and the short of it is," continued Mrs. Morris,
" that Mr. Weir spends money faster than he can get it, and
has done so from a boy. He had as fine a property as a man
might wish to have, some six thousand a year when he came
of age ; but he ran through nearly all of it, and then married
a Miss Le Fevre, a Staffordshire heiress. I suspect there
was some disappointment in that quarter about money mat-
ters. She had less than he expected, people said ; and the
very year after her death, he married Miss Mayne, that is
the present Mrs. Weir, who has a fortune likewise."

" He has been a lucky man," said William. " Two rich
wives ! — it's more than he deserves."

" A good deal more," continued Mrs. Morris. " As to
his first wife, he might have done very well with her ; I
never heard anything about her, but this poor thing has a
hard life of it."

" She is very strange, mother, if Jane Shaw says true,"
said Charles Morris.

" Strange or not, he is enough to make her strange," re-
plied Mrs. Morris ; " always thwarting and taunting her, and
she so ill always ! "

" That is what provokes him, I have heard," remarked


Leah, " He can't bear anybody to bo ill, because of the
trouble it gives." She cast her eyes complacently over her
own substantial figure, and I suppose it crossed her mind
that she was not likely to make William angry from a like

" Mr. Roger could tell us more about that than any one
else, I suspect," said Mrs. Morris, " only he is so prudent."

" I have seen Mrs. Weir," I exclaimed, proud of my
superior knowledge ; " and she sits in a great arm-chair, and
looks as if she was very ill indeed."

" Oh ! you are allowed to see her, are you ? " was the
general exclamation, and all eyes were directed towards me.
" Is she so very small as they say ? "

" I don't think she is above a head taller than I am," I
replied ; " but she was curled up in the chair so, I can't
quite tell."

A general laugh followed, even Roger joined in it ; but
he added, as if to give me warning, " It's no use for you to
try and tell anything about Mrs. Weir, Trot. What should
such a child as you know ? "

" But I can tell about her," I continued ; " I have looked
at her a great deal ; and I know what Mr. Weir said, — that
he shouldn't encourage anybody to marry."

" Because of what I had been asking, I suppose," said
William. " I had been talking to him, and telling him I
was likely to have hard times coming, and so I hoped he
would be merciful about the land I rent of him."

" And what did Mrs. Weir say to him, Ursie ? " inquired
Mrs. Morris.

" She did not say anything," I replied ; " only she told
Mrs. Mason to take me away."

" He interferes with her always, I have heard," continued
Mrs. Morris. " She never takes a fancy to anything, but
what he steps in and spoils her pleasure. It seems, indeed,
as if he had a spite against women, for he is never pleasant
to them."

" A second wife ought to have known better than to bo
taken in by him," observed Leah.

" She should have asked him to drink tea," said William ;
" that would have been the right thing."


" Mrs. Weir has not too much -wisdom of any kind, as
far as I can learn," replied Mrs. Morris. " I have been told
she is next door to an idiot."

I started from my seat. " Mrs. Weir an idiot ! She
was no more an idiot than I was ! She had been very kind
to me ; she had given me some cake and some ginger-wine.
I couldn't bear such things said of her."

" Silence. Ursie ! ' Little girls should be seen and not
heard ; ' " and Roger laid his hand heavily on my shoulder.
" I don't think any one who knows Mrs. Weir can call her
an idiot," he continued ; " she is as clever a woman of busi-
ness as any one might wish to talk to."

" Oh ! you are in her confidence, I perceive," observed
Mrs. Morris ; " no wonder we are so careful. But you
mustn't be angry, Mr. Eoger. I only say what the world
does ; and it is certain she is kept like a doll, M'aited upon
from morning till night, as if she was not able to take care
of herself, and pleased with pretty things set about her, as a
child might be. I know that from our cook, who was kitch-
en-maid at Dene last year. She said Mrs. Weir was a mere
nobody, and that Miss Milicent gave all the orders."

" Miss Milicent is likely to do that, whether she has to
deal with idiots or sensible women, I suspect," observed
Charles Morris ; " she would rule a regiment. But how
could such a woman have a mother like Mrs. Weir ? "

" How could Mrs. Weir have a daughter like Miss Mili-
cent? you mean,'^' said Leah. " But there is no rule that I
ever knew, why mothers and daughters should be alike."
She made a little movement as she spoke, which showed that
she had finished her own tea, and expected every one else to
finish theirs. William drank up what was left in his cup,
and never asked for more ; and Leah, without saying any-
thing to her mother, rose from the table.

5lrs. Morris laughed good-naturedly, and said they were
leaving her in the lurch, and they ought to remember that
she had been making tea for them all ; but Leah was not to
be put out of her way, and she went off with William, say-
ing that she wanted to go over the house.

Mrs. Morris motioned to me to come and sit near her, to
keep her company, but Roger made an excuse for me. He


had promised William, he said, to look at some fences which
had been put up round the yard. He should like me to go
with him, and then I could see the pigs and the new calf.
There would not be time else, as it was growing late.

Mrs. Morris was only half pleased with the arrangement,
I could see ; neither was I, for I felt, from Roger's manner,
that he was dissatisfied with me. The moment we were out
of the house, he said, " You are a chatterbox, Ursie. That
won't do if you are to live with me. What is said and done
at Dene is never to be talked of outside the gates. It is a
rule you will have to remember all your life, that when you
live with a family, you are no more to talk about their
concerns, than you would about your own. It isn't honest."

" Mrs. Morris talked ; I didn't," I exclaimed ; " and I
said nothing but what was true."

" That is no matter," continued Roger; " once for all I
say that, if you are to live with me, you are not to repeat
anything you hear. There is often more mischief in repeat-
ing than in doing : and I hate a gossip."

Roger only intended to give me a caution to be used
generally ; but he could not prevent my feeling there was
something of a mystery about Dene.

I went with him to the yard to look at the fences, and
then fed the pigs, and paid a visit to the calf; but all the
time I was not happy. When we were going into the house
again, I stopped him, and said, " Roger, you are not angry
with me ? I am so sorry."

He caught me up in his great arms, and gave me such a
hug ! — it was like being in a bear's grasp. One had only to
say one was sorry ; and forgiveness was ready directly.

Leah had her things on ready to go when we went back
to the parlour. Charles Morris had been sent to order the
pony-chaise ; for they had driven over, though it was noth-
ing of a walk for a strong woman like Leah. She, and Wil-
liam, and Mrs. Morris, were deep in consultation ; and di-
rectly I came in, Leah took hold of me as though she had a
kind of right to me, and said, " It won't be so long now,
Ursie, before you and I may see more of each other."

" Only three weeks," said William ; " what do you say,
Ursie, to have a new sister in three weeks' time ? "

Vol. 1—3*


" I have done very well without one," was my answer.
It made me angry that they should all take it go for granted
that I was to be pleased.

William laughed awkwardly ; but Leah answered, " You
will learn to do better with one soon ; " and then she walked
away to the glass to arrange her black curls.

I had managed to put all the party out by my pert speech,
and no wonder ; Roger especially was vexed, and made me
beg Leah's pardon, which I did, I fear, with a bad grace.
William said, when Mrs. Morris and the others were gone,
that I was getting beyond Roger, and he was sure I was not
kept strictly enough. It was a good thing for me, he added,
that Leah was coming into the family, for there would be
some one then to keep me in order. He could not help
thinking, indeed, that it might be well if the plan that had
been first talked about could be carried out, and if I were to
come and live at Sandcombe entirely. Of course that would
require some arrangement about expense ; but no doubt
Roger would be willing to take his share, as he had no claims
of his own.

I suppose William forgot that Roger took all the expense
at that time ; and that the claims, as he called them, were
only such as he had made to please himself. Strange to say, I
was not frightened at the proposal, I was so certain that
Roger would never consent to it. I only held his hand more
tightly, and squeezed it very hard when he said, he was afraid
that Trot did require a strict hand over her ; but she had
been much better since she went to school ; and as to parting

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