Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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thing 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 entirely.


nHHINGS went on in this quiet way for along time. But
-A- some alterations were made in the place : a billiard-room
was built over the storehouse, and a sitting-room ami 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 do him good. 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 them-
selves. 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.


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 gardener,
and the under-gardener, and the labourers, and even the game-
keeper, 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 arrived
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 our usual ways ; Miss Milicent busying
herself with the house and the garden, and going over to Comp-
ton 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 requiring 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 why.

I had made tea one evening, and Roger and I were sitting
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 in-
deed it had been said that he was going to marry Mary Kemp.
He often came in in this way unawares, so we were not sur-


prised to sec him, and \vc asked him, as a matter of course, to
sit down and tnkc a cup of tea with us. I noticed then for the
first time that he was flurried. He answered rather quickly that
lie had not time, he had just a few words to say to Roger, that all. I got up to go away, but Mr Hcrvey 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 be-
fore 1 could turn round to see who it was, I heard Jessie Lee's
gentle little voice, saying, 'Good evening to you, Ursie. Why
arc 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 ac-
quaintance, 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 her 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 fore-
head, which I disliked, quick, gray 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 gentleman.

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

' Where do you come from ?' I asked, for want of something
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 com-
ing 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 ourselves. 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

'Yes; she and Miss Milicent came about six weeks ago,' I

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

' Hove people know more about our concerns than we do our-
selves, 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 notion that she might
go. Then a feeling of self-reproach came over me because I had
been uncivil, and I forced myself 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 giving trouble.

I put the teapot upon the table again, and cut some bread ; and
knowing that Jessie was fond of sweet things, I went to the cup-
board and took out a pot of marmalade, some 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 unpleasant,
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 carries'. ; 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 docs take a wife, it will be a sensible one.'

' Mary Kemp, I suppose,' said Jane, laughing;

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

'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 Drown, the dressmaker, declared it was true, to-day,' re-
plied Jessie. ' I went there to have my new dress fitted, and she
t( Id us that she believed Mary Kemp's wedding-clothes were

' 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 en-
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 docs.'

"(living 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 ail 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 bedrooms. Such nonsense,
when the labourers have gone on with one for the last fifty years,
and never complained! 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 bedrooms.'

' Mr Richardson was over at Sandcombc talking about it, when
I was staying there last,' said Jessie. 'William Grant has two
or three cottages of his own, hasn't he, Ursie? I knew Mr
Richardson was begging him to sec about adding to them, and
Leah got angry ; and, when he was gone, said she wished day-
men would keep to their business of writing sermons, and not


trouble themselves with matters which didn't concern them. By
the by, 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 that if I hap-
pened 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 badly.'

'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 ear, 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 con-
versation 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, Ursie,' he added, speaking to me, — he always 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 Hatton.'

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 Jessie from
being alone with Jane Shaw, though it might be only for half an

Jane tossed her bonnet off, and laughed, and said she was al-
ways 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, without re-
quiring 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
tilings ; 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 manner that there was more on his mind than he
chose to tell ; but he warded her off admirably, not letting her
know anything he wished 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 Ilatton Lane, and then Jessie and she
would soon be at home. Roger was doubtful ; and whilst Jane
was standing urging him, Mr Hervey whispered 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 arc 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
/:s 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 said.

' 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 under-

' 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 extravagant
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 by her grandmother,
and she was made a great deal of,— spoiled, 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 nineteen?
I asked.
' No ! When she knew him first she was in love with some-


body 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 except 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 marri
• And why did they not marry ?' I asked.

ause Mr Weir came in the way. I suppose he must
really have taken a fancy to Miss Mayne, for he proposed 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 Hcrvcy. ' But her father inter-
fered. 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 difficulties, 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 Hcrvey ; 'but when a
person is put on the rack one must not be severe in one's judg-
ment ; 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 how to make
himself agreeable, — at last won her over.'

'And did Mr Henderson say nothing for himself?' I in-

'They managed it all when he was out of the way. He had
been sent abroad for a time on some matter of public business,
and whilst he was absent the affair was settled.'
' But he might have written,' I sa

' 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, Ursic, what a wedding
j. irty i'i it was. My mother watched the carriage drive I
the town, when Mr and Mrs Weir went off on their journey


and anything so ghastly as Mrs Weir's face she has said she never

' 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 spoiled, was not always
wise in her mode of dealing with him.'

'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 over-
coming the prejudice. And so he deliberately set himself — at
least, that is what people declare — to ruin young Hender-

'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 for 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 Henderson were mixed up
in the same concern. Henderson was not a good man of busi-
ness, 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 diffi-
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. Henderson 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 allusi n in this letter
to past days, but not a word which might not have been pub-
lished 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
knees to be merciful ; but his answer was that not an angel
from heaven should persuade him, — and he kept his u

'And was Mr Henderson ruined?' 1 exclaimed.

' Yes. His friends came forward at the last with offers of help,
but it was too late. 1 1 is agony of mind, aggravated no doubt by
all he had gone through before, brought on a brain fever, and
he died.'

Silence followed for some seconds.

Then I said, ' She slaved with her husband still ?'

'For better for worse,' replied Mr Hervey. 'There is no
oth;r choice'

' I must have left him,' I exclaimed. ' There could be no law
to bid one stay with such a monster.'

'Mrs Weir was wiser than you, Ursie,' he continued; 'she
knew well enough that peace is only to be found in the way of
duty. But that grief made her what she is. It wrecked her
health and prevented her from paying attention to her child. It
shook her mind in a certain way,— or rather, I should say. it so
affected her nerves, that for a time she seemed stunned, av.d
unable to take in common affairs. She has recovered in a mea-
sure, but the bodily weakness remains, and you must have re-
marked yourself, that she seldom speaks like a person who has
an interest in this world's concerns. Only now and then, when
any especial case is brought before her, if one is with her alone,

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 7 of 56)