Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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care. I felt that if people would only let me live there undis-
turbed 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 con-
sult 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 scat.
A few moments afterwards Mr Weir mule 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 pro-
voking. I thought I would have answered him so boldly, if he
had asked why I was at the upper seat. He seemed to be full ol
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
forward 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 1 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 complexion 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 e?.ch 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 distance 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

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

'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 would rather it
should be mortgaged than sold. That is between 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 mort*
gaging 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.


I"} OGER was right; we were nearly late for tea. The maid
v was carrying the urn into the large parlour just as we
arrived. I felt bound to be on my best behaviour the moment
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
grayish 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 fireplace 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 horsehair chairs were
ranged in a very orderly way against the wall. Besides, there
was a great arm-chair, and a footstool 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 any
thing else. We never used the room except for a party.

William had certainly done his best to make it look comfort-
able this evening. 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
ivedding 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, vvei'e standing
up by the window when we came in. William was pointing oul
something in the garden. He looked round rather awkwardly n$
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 : shy-
ness, 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 flashing 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 look-
ing ; 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 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

'So Mr Roger, you've got very comfortable quarters, I sup-
pose, 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 arc expected
next week, they say.'
' I have not heard.'

1 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 1 '

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 he 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
suppose 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

Ursula. 47

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,' continued
Mrs Morris. ' She, just out of the schoolroom, and a second
wife. I heard all about it the other day from the Kemps of
Longside. They are cousins of the Herveys in Staffordshire ;
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

' Is that the Mr Hervey that came over the hill with us,
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

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 disappoint-


ment in that quarter about money matters. 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.'

C 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,' replied
Mrs Morris ; 'for ever 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 be ill, because of the trouble it £ives.'
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 cause.

' 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.'

' i -cause 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


' 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 spile
against women, for he is never pleasant to them.'

' A second wife ought to have known better than to be 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 business 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 Roger. I only say what the world does ; and it is
certain she is kept like a doll, waited 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 kitchen-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 Milicent?
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 anything to her mother, rose from the table.



Mrs 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, saying 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 pro-
mised William, he said, to look at some fences which had been
put up round the yard. lie 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.

Mis Morris was only half pleased with the arrangement, I
could sec ; 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 no-
thing 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 repeating than in doing ;
and I hate a gossip.'

or 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

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 nothing of a
walk for a strong woman like Leah. She, and William, and
Mrs Morris, were deep in consultation ; and directly 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 having a new sister in three weeks' time ? '

' I have done very well without one,' was my answer. It made
me angry that they should all take it so 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 with her, he would
as soon think of parting with his right eye ; many thanks to
William, though, for proposing it.

No ; I might have many trials in store for me in life, but a
home with Leah Morris I felt certain was not to be one.



THREE weeks after that, William and Leah Morris were
husband and wife. They were married at Hatton Church,
and a grand day was made on the occasion. A party of fivc-
and-twenty went to church — most of them Leah's relations — for
\\c had scarcely any living near enough to be asked ; and there
were six bridesmaids dressed in blue gauze and white bonnets ;
and Leah herself in a figured lilac silk, with flounces which stood
out like a hoop, and a pink bonnet. I was one of the brides-
maids, the youngest, and so made much of; and I almost for-
gave Leah for becoming my sister-in-law, when I found myself
in such a grand position. The day was fine, and everything
went off well. Leah was a capital manager — much better than

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 5 of 56)