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

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family troubles, because it destroyed anything like sympa-
thy between the mother and the daughter ; and so each went
her separate way and grew more and more strange, and wed-
ded to her own fashion. Miss Milicent always took care
that I did my work properly ; and she taught me many use-
ful things ; amongst others, to knit stockings 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 dress-maker. 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 Gompton,
sent me common dresses to make up, and spoke for mc 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 paying my own expenses, and as I saved him a ser-


vant, and even gained something by assisting Fanny at the
house when Mr. Weir was at Dene, there was no notion
of sending me away to earn my own living, which was what
I dreaded more than anything.

Of course when I became so busy with my work I had
but little time for reading, though I never gave it up en-


Things went on in this quiet way for a long time. But
some alterations were made in the place : a billiard room
was built over the store house, and a sitting-room and
two small bedrooms were added to the house ; and some
shrubs planted to enlarge the grounds. The billiard room
helped greatly to amuse Mr. Weir when he and his friends
came down. He took much more kindly to Dene after it
was built, but I don't think it improved him. He grew more
irritable and restless, and the people whom he brought with
him were not such as were likely to improve him. Eating,
and drinking, and billiards, were the occupations at home,
and when they went out shooting they mixed with persons
who were not equal to them by birth, and whose characters
did not stand well in the county. Young Mr. Shaw, of
White Hill, was invited to Dene every now and then, and
the family held up their heads in consequence, and thought
themselves very grand ; and the girls dressed more smartly
than ever, and talked of Mr. Weir as though he was quite
one of themselves. But I knew better than that. Mr.
Weir would not have spoken to any one of them but for some
object of his own, for a prouder man never lived.

All these things, however, affected me but little. I used
to hear of what went on from Jessie Lee, who was quite one
with the Shaws, but I followed my own ways, and lived at
Dene without much to trouble me, till I was two and twenty.
Roger was then thirty-six ; quite an old man, and an old
bachelor too. People used to laugh, and say that I should
be a rich heiress, for Roger was surely making money all
this time, and as he was certain never to marry, it would all
be left to me.

U E S U L A . 71

They thought he had an easy place and a quiet life.
Little they knew of all the things he had to vex and fret
him. Mr. Weir was a most tiresome man to deal with : he
had as many minds as there are days in the year ; one week
he would have things done and the next week he would not ;
and what was worse, he changed not only about things but
people. How he kept on so long with Roger was surprising,
only I believe that he felt Roger was careful, and by looking
after his affairs made money go farther than any one else
was likely to do. But as for other people, such as the gar-
dener, and the imder-gardener, and the labourers, and even
the gamekeeper, it was a perpetual one going and another
coming ; and Roger had to give fresh orders and directions
to each new person, because it was Mr. Weir's will that
everything should be done through him. I have often heard
William counsel him to give it up and try something else,
but Roger only laughed, and said, " Where is there a place
without trouble in this world ? I know the worst here, and
I don't know it elsewhere." " A rolling stone gathers no
moss," was one of his favourite proverbs, and it often helped
him to decide when he was in difficulty ; but there is no
question that it was a very trying life.

The summer that I was two and twenty, Mrs. Weir ar-
rived about the middle of August, looking extremely ill, and
Miss Milicent not in her usual spirits ; but there was no Mr.
Weir. We settled down into om* usual ways : Miss Mili-
cent busying herself with the house and the garden, and go-
ing over to Compton to talk to Mrs. Richardson about the
school ; and Mrs. Weir living to herself, curled up in her
easy chair, working for the poor, never going out, and re-
quiring me to go and read to her every evening at five
o'clock; but Mr. Weir's name was scarcely mentioned by
any one, and even Roger seemed to take it as a matter of
course that he was not coming, though he never told me

I had made tea one evening, and Roger and I were sit-
ting down comfortably together, when we heard a knock at
the door, and I went to open it. Mr. Hervey was there, I
shook hands with him, and welcomed him gladly, for he was
now quite an old friend. He was often at Dene on business,


and we met frequently at Longside, the Kemps being his
relations, and indeed it had been said that he was going to
marry Mary Kemp. He often came in in this way un-
awares, so we were not surprised to see him, and we asked
him, as a matter of course, to sit down and take a cup of tea
with us. I noticed then for the first time that he was flur-
ried. He answered rather quickly that he had not time, he
had just a few words to say to Roger, that was all. I got
up to go away, but Mr. Hervey prevented me,' and he and
Roger went together into the parlour. It was dull to drink
my tea alone, so I put the teapot upon the hob, to keep it as
warm as I could, and went to my work. I was making a set
of shirts for Roger, and I was obliged to snatch all the
spare moments I could. I happened to be sitting with my
back to the light, but presently a shadow darkened the
window, and before I could turn round to see who it was, I
heard Jessie Lee's gentle little voice, saying, " Good evening
to you, Ursie. Why are you all alone ? "

I went to the window to speak to her, and ask her what
she had come for, but I drew back vexed, for Jane Shaw
was with her, and though William and Leah found no fault
with the acquaintance, I never could bear it.

" So you don't know me," said Jane, laughing a little
angrily. " We don't see too much of each other, certainly,
but I should not have thought we were quite such strangers ! "

I opened the window to answer for the sake of civility.
I knew I had no right to show my dislike rudely ; and yet
I think any one who had looked at Jane Shaw, would have
understood what it was that I could not bear in her.

A bold, cunning looking girl she was, yet not ugly. She
had beautiful hair, which she wore in large long curls; and
though her skin was freckled, it was very clear. She had a
low forehead, which I disliked, quick grey eyes, and a small
mouth, with very thin lips ; but she set up for being pretty,
and because of that spent all her money upon dress ; and I had
heard her say that she was quite determined to marry a gen-

Jessie looked like a little angel by her side, — so young,
and sweet, and simple, — only rather too smartly dressed to
please me.


" Where do you come from ? " I asked, for want of some-
thing better to say.

" We have been to Hove," answered Jessie. " I wanted
to do some shopping, and Aunt Morris (she always called
Mrs. Morris aunt) gave me a holiday. We went in the
chaise ; and coming back, Jane and I had a wish to walk
over the down to Hatton, instead of going round by the
road ; so the boy drove the chaise, and we came on by our-
selves. Jane is going to sleep at our house to-night."

This was a very straightforward history, yet it did not
please me. All I could say was, " I don't think I should
have chosen such a long walk after a day's shopping ! "

" Mrs. Weir is here, isn't she ? " asked Jane, carelessly
and leaning against the window, determined, I could see, not
to move.

" Yes, she and Miss Milicent came about six weeks ago,"
I replied.

" Oh ! and not Mr. Weir. That must be good riddance
for you. But I heard in Hove that he came last night."

" Hove people know more about our concerns than we do
ourselves, then," I said.

Jane laughed, and answered in a sharp, conceited way,
" Mr. Weir might not think fit to tell you all he means to
do : but take my word for it, he will be down soon."

" May be," I replied. " He will find everything ready
for him if he does come ; " and as I spoke I made a little
movement as though to shut the window, to give Jane a no-
tion that she might go. Then a feeling of self-reproach
came over me because I had been uncivil, and I forced my-
self to say, " Perhaps you would like to come in and take a
cup of tea. Roger and I were just sitting down, only Mr.
Hervey called and interrupted us."

" Well, Jessie, what do you say ? " exclaimed Jane, in
her off-hand way ; " it would be a good plan, I think."

She had not the graciousness to say " Thank you," but
Jessie was very prettily grateful, and afraid they were giv-
ing trouble.

I put the teapot upon the table again, and cut somo
bread ; and, knowing that Jessie was fond of sweet things, I
went to the cupboard and took out a pot of marmalade, some

Vol. 1—4


which Mrs. Mason had taught me to make, and which had
been much praised.

Jane had a sneer ready for everything. " You live here
in comfort enough, Ursie," she said. " But what will you
do when Roger takes to himself a wife ? "

" I shall see when the time comes," was my short reply.

Jessie was quick in knowing when subjects were unpleas-
ant, so she said, merrily, " Ursie is Mr. Roger's wife ; he
doesn't want any other."

" Trust him for that," replied Jane ; " Roger Grant is
not made of different stuff from other men; is he ? "

" Perhaps I think he is," was my answer, half in joke
and half in earnest ; for I could not have a tiff about Roger
with a girl like Jane Shaw ; " but," I added, " one thing I
know, that when Roger does take a wife, it will be a sensi-
ble one."

" Mary Kemp, I suppose," said Jane, laughing.

" No," observed Jessie ; " Mary is going to be married
to Mr. Hervey."

" Is that true ?" I asked eagerly. " I have heard it said,
but never knew whether to believe it, as neither Mrs. Kemp
nor Mary owned it."

" Miss Brown, the dress-maker, declared it was true to-
day," replied Jessie. " I went there to have my new dress
fitted, and she told us that she believed Mary Kemp's wed-
ding clothes were ordered."

" Mary Kemp is a very good girl," I replied, " and she
will make a good wife. I hope they are going to live near."

" More than I do," observed Jane ; " one set of Kemps
is enough in a neighbourhood. What nonsense do you think
old Kemp is about now ? Father says he will be the ruin
of the farmers, if he goes on as he does."

" Giving his labourers a shilling a week more ? " I asked,
rather sharply ; " that was his last offence, I know."

" Spoiling the labourers," exclaimed Jane. " Joining
with Mr. Vincent, the agent, and making Mr. Stewart throw
away all his money upon their cottages. Father wanted a
new scullery and coal-house put on for us, and he spoke to
Mr. Vincent about it, and the answer was, that he didn't
think it could be done this year, because Mr. Stewart had a


plan for rebuilding most of his cottages, and giving them all
two bed-rooms. Such nonsense, when the labourers have
gone on with one for the last fifty years, and never com-
plained ! And who is at the bottom of this, but Farmer
Kemp, with Mr. Richardson, of Compton, to back him ?
They have been working at Mr. Stewart for months. And
there are we, cramped up without a decent place to wash up
the dishes in; and obliged to turn the wood-house into a
coal-hole, merely because it is Farmer Kemp's fancy that his
carter should have two bed-rooms."

" Mr. Richardson was over at Sandcombe talking about
it, when I was staying there last," said Jessie. " William
Grant has two or three cottages of his own, hasn't he, Ur-
sie ? I knew Mr. Richardson was begging him to see about
adding to them, and Leah got angry ; and, when he was
gone, said she wished clergymen would keep to their business
of writing sermons, and not trouble themselves with mat-
ters which didn't concern them. By the bye, Ursie," and
Jessie spoke out quite brightly, as having escaped from a
tiresome subject, " do you know of any girl that will suit
Leah, to help in the dairy ? She told me if I happened to
see you I was to ask. She talked of coming over herself
about it ; the girls she has had lately have turned out so

" They all turn out badly for that matter," said Jane ;
" it is in their nature, father says ; and he never expects
anything better."

" So Leah says," continued Jessie. " She declares they
have no sense of what is decent, and that there is no keeping
them in order. Remember, Ursie, I have asked ; so it is off
my conscience." Jessie stood up and put on her bonnet.

Jane waited still. She had a quick eai*, and I suspect
she caught the sound of the voices in the parlour, and thought
Roger and Mr. Hervey were coming in ; and so they were.
Their conversation had been much longer than was proposed,
and it did not seem to have been very pleasant, to judge by
their looks.

" Good evening to you, Mr. Hervey," said Jane, going
up to him. " I did not expect to see you, though I might
have done so ; you are here so often."


" Business, Miss Shaw," replied Mr. Hervey, quickly,
and a little sharply ; " it must be attended to, you know. I
won't stay now, IJrsic," he added, speaking to me, — he al-
ways called me Ursie, having known me from a child, — " as
you have company."

"Nay," I answered, "you must have some tea; I have
been keeping it hot for you ; and Jessie and Jane Shaw have
finished, and they are going to walk over the hill to

Roger had been standing by the window, thinking. He
turned round then, and said, " I am going to Sandcombe ; if
they would wait a few minutes, I might see them part of the
way ; and, Ursie, you could come, too. "

It was a temptation. I seldom had a quiet walk with
Roger, except on Sundays ; and I was not sorry to keep Jes-
sie from being alone with Jane Shaw, though it might be
only for half an hour.

Jane tossed her bonnet ofi", and laughed, and said she was
always willing to have good company ; and, since they were
to be a merry party, it would be as well for Mr. Hervey to
join them, " Unless he has business elsewhere," she added,
with mischief in her look.

I did not expect Mr. Hervey to agree, but he did, with-
out requiring any pressing, and I felt quite cross with him,
thinking how soon a man could be taken in by a forward
woman. He and Roger drank up their tea quickly, and
scarcely ate anything, saying they would wait.for supper. I
left Jessie to take my place, and pour out the last cups of
tea, and went to put on my things ; and when I came down
again, I found that Jane had possession of Mr. Hervey, and
was trying to find out from him all she could about Mr.
Weir, when he was expected, and why he didn't come. She
took it for granted that he knew all, and I saw from his man-
ner that there was more in his mind than he chose to tell ;
but he warned her off admirably, not letting her know any-
thing he chose to keep to himself, and yet joking all the
time, so that she could not be angry.



"We were to have separated when we reached the top of
the down, at the end of the turf road, but the evening was
so pleasant we were tempted to go on farther, instead of
turning down to Sandcombe. It was Jane who proposed it ;
she said we might cross the down to Hatton lane, and then
Jessie and she would soon be at home. Roger was doubtful;
and whilst Jane was standing urging him, Mr. Hervey whis-
pered to me, '' Can't you come on, Ursie ? I have a word to
say to you."

I walked on a few paces, being sure Roger would follow ;
Mr. Hervey and I kept in front. He did not speak till we
were at some distance from the others ; then he said, " You
are not likely to be startled at news as some people are, so I
may as well tell you at once that there is trouble coming,
and that Roger may be wishing you to leave Dene."

" Trouble upon us — money trouble ! " I exclaimed, and
I felt my heart sink, in spite of what Mr. Hervey had said.

" Not trouble upon you, and not money trouble, at least
as far as you are concerned," he replied. " But I told
Roger I should like to have a little conversation with you,
and show you part of my mind upon the subject, as regards
Mrs. Weir, and he was willing I should, though as yet we
don't see matters quite alike."

" He is going over to Sandcombe to talk to William," I

" Yes ; he trusts him as a prudent man, which is natural
and right ; and he would save you, if he could, from things
which might give you pain. But you are not one to care for
pain, if by bearing it you can be a comfort to any one."

" And by staying with Mrs. Weir I may be a comfort to
her," I said. I seemed to understand it all in an instant.

" A woman is a help to a woman, let her be who she
may ; and Mrs. Weir has been very kind to you, Ursie."

" Very," I said ; " I never had a better friend."

" And she needs a return," he continued. " Ursie, did
you ever hear Mrs. Weir's history ? "


" Only by bits. Mrs. Mason has let out a little, and
some things I have guessed at."

" Some things are clear as daylight," said Mr. Hervey
sadly ; " but there is a good deal behind which only a few
know, which I should never have known, but that my father
was Mr. Weir's bailiff, and had a great deal to do with his
affairs, and his father's before him, and so we have become,
as it were, part of the family. If I tell you now, Ursie, it
is not that you may talk about it all, only that you may be
the more inclined to be kind and understanding."

" Of course," I said ; " it will all be buried as in .the
grave, except with Roger."

Mr. Hervey paused for a moment ; then he said, " You
know that Mrs. Weir is a second wife ? "

" Yes," I replied, " and I was told also that the first
Mrs. Weir had less money than her husband expected."

" So it was said," he replied ; " but she left him enough to
give cause for his being considered rich, in spite of his extrav-
agant habits; and, as perhaps you know, our Mrs. Weir
brought him money also. She was a Miss Mayne, and not
above nineteen when she first knew Mr. Weir ; very lovely,
like a little fairy, I have heard my father say ; one can easily
fancy that from what she is now. She had money of her
own, left her by her grandmother, and she was made a great
deal of, — spoilt indeed by having everything she wished for ;
naturally she was full of fancies, and, being delicate, they
humoured her in them; and because there was money at
hand to buy everything, there seemed no reason, at first
sight, why she should not have what she wanted. Poor
thing ! she has lived to know that there are some things
which no money can buy."

" And did she marry Mr. Weir when she was only nine-
teen ? " I asked.

" No ! When she knew him first she was in love with
somebody else ; a young gentleman named Henderson. He
was a clerk in one of the public offices in London, and likely
to rise in the world, but he had nothing of his own then ex-
cept his salary. Every one saw they were attached to each
other. The parents put no obstacles in the way of their
meeting, and I believe there was a kind of understanding


that if they both continued in the same mind they were after
a while to be married."

" And why did they not marry ? " I asked.

" Because Mr. Weir came in the way, I suppose he
must really have taken a fancy to Miss Mayne, for he pro-
posed to her only eight months after his first wife's death."

" Enough to make her refuse him at once," I exclaimed.

" And so she would have refused him, no doubt, if she
had been left to herself," replied Mr. Hervey. " But her
father interfered. He liked the notion of a rich son-in-law
better than a poor one, and what was more, he was a selfish
man, and as it turned out afterwards, had involved himself
in diflBculties, out of which Mr. Weir undertook to help him,
and so poor little Miss Mayne was sacrificed."

" It is all very well to say," I replied ; " but it never
seems to me that any woman is justified in marrying a man
whom she cannot love, let her parents urge it ever so much."

"Well! you are right," answered Mr. Hervey; "but
when a person is put on the rack one must not be severe in
one's judgment ; and, from what I have heard, they set poor
little Miss Mayne on a kind of rack. False stories of young
Henderson were brought to her, and she was made to believe
he was going to marry some one else ; and that, and her
father's urging, and Mr. Weir's attentions, — for he knew
well enough Jiow to make himself agreeable, — at last won her

" And did Mr. Henderson say nothing for himself ? " I

" They managed it all when he was out of the way. He
had been se»t abroad for a time on some matter of public
business, and whilst he was absent the aflfair was settled."

" But he might have written," I said.

" They took good care that his letters should never reach
her ; yet she did hear from him at last. A note from him
was given her, I have been told, on the day of her marriage,
just as she came back from church. You can fancy, Ursie,
what a wedding-party that was. My mother watched the
carriage drive through the town, when Mr. and Mrs. Weir
went oif on their journey, and anything so ghastly as Mrs.
Weir's face she has said she never beheld."


" Poor thing ! " I exclaimed ; " I wonder how she could
bear it. I should have died."

" Life is made of tougher threads than you think, Ursie,"
said Mr. Hervey, " and I suppose we all in a way grow used
to our sorrows. Just at first, too, Mr. Weir was not unkind
to his wife ; she lived near her home, and had her old friends
about her, so there was a good deal to soften her lot."

" But Mr. Weir is not kind to her now,'' I observed.

" No ; he grew jealous without the slightest cause, except
that he knew his wife had been attached to young Henderson.
They met — Mr. Henderson and Mrs. Weir, I mean — for the
first time at some gay party in London, and though I have
heard it said again and again that no one could find the least
thing to blame in their manner to each other, yet no doubt
Mr. Weir perceived that there was pain on both sides. And
so he grew angry and irritable, and I dare say she, having
been spoilt, was not always wise in her mode of dealing with

" She may not have been wise," I said, " but she must
always have meant rightly."

" Everybody believed that of her. But Mr. Weir is a
strange man, Ursie. If he dislikes or suspects once, there is
no overcoming the prejudice. And so he deliberately set
himself — at least, that is what people declare — to ruin young

" Wretch ! " I exclaimed.

" Not far short of it," replied Mr. Hervey. " I have
that opinion of him, Ursie, that, but for the sake of Mrs.
Weir, I would never have done an hour's business for him.
But I dare say he would make a good excuse foi*, himself ; it
was all in the way of law, and therefore he called it justice.
Mr. Weir was engaged in some speculations, — he is always
speculating, — and in the course of them, he and young Hen-
derson were mixed up in the same concern. Henderson was
not a good man of business, and ignorantly entered into some
engagements which he could not conveniently keep. He
begged for time ; and there was no doubt that with time he
would have overcome his difl&culties. But his relations were
poor, and he had no one to help him. Mr. Weir urged the
person with whom he was connected to press him. Hender-

URSULA. ^ 81

son was in despair, for he was a strictly honourable man, and
at last he ventured to write to Mrs. Weir and ask her to
intercede. There was an allusion in this letter to past days,
but not a word which might not have been published in the
market-place. Yet Mr. Weir's anger was terrible. They
say that Mrs. Weir even went so far as to beg him on her

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