Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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and I was not sure, indeed, whether he heard them, for he was
just then lifting the tea-kettle from the hearth. He saw, how-


ever, that Jessie was discomposed, and made an effort to put
things comfortable again ; in fact, both he and William treated
her like a petted child, and I could not blame them for it, though
I felt in my own mind that it was bad for her.

There were several things to attend to after ten, and I suc-
ceeded in making Jessie help me a little, and then I gave her
some needlework, and persuaded her to go to bed early, as she
had slept badly the previous night. I am sure I felt as kindly
towards her as possible, and wished to do everything I could to
make her happy again, but, knowing her disposition, I felt that
the less fuss made about her the better. And this manner of
treating her. it seemed, did not quite please either of my brothers.
As soon as she was gone up-stairs they began.

' Ursie," said William, ' I think you are rather hard upon poor
Jessie. You set her to work as though she was your servant.'

' I only wanted to employ her,' I replied. ' It was better for
her than sitting still and thinking.'

' When people are in trouble they can't always make up their
minds to work,' said Roger ; and he threw down the newspaper,
as though he had a good deal to say upon the subject.

' Jessie certainly is in a good deal of trouble,'* I said ; ' no one
feels it more than myself; and I would do my very utmost to be
kind to her ; but I don't think you can know quite so well as I
do what is best for a young girl. I am sure she feels obliged to
me for giving her something to distract her thoughts.'

' You put her on a footing with Martha,' said Roger. 'She
might not thank you so much for that.'

'O Roger!' I exclaimed, and I felt the colour rush to my
cheeks ; ' you don't mean that Jessie could have an unkind
thought of me for that. Why, I help Martha myself every even-
ing. There is not a thing I asked Jessie to do which I would
not have done willingly.'

' Only, my little Trot has not known what sorrow and changed
fortunes make others feel,' said Roger, kindly ; and he came
round to me, and leaning over my chair, kissed me.

I turned my face up at him, and endeavoured to smile ; but
my spirit was roused, and I said, ' Perhaps neither you nor I
know that, for we have both been tolerably prosperous. But,
Roger, if Jessie's fortunes are changed, there is all the more
reason why she shouldn't be spoiled.'

'You women are always hard upon one another,' exclaimed


Tears of vexation filled my eyes. There was nothing I dis-
liked more than that kind of haul nature which tries to subdue
sorrow by not allowing that it exists ; and I had been waiting
upon Jessie all day nearly, in one way and another, doing little
kindnesses, and putting myself out of my way in a manner my
brothers had no notion of; and the very reason why I asked her
to help me that evening was that she might feel herself at home.
But if they had an impression I was hard, it was no use to
argue about it, so I made rather a light answer, and said, ' We
will ask Jessie this day six months which she thinks her best

' She is not likely to be here then,' said William. He spoke
somewhat shyly, as though approaching a disagreeable subject.
'Have you had a letter from the lawyer?' exclaimed Roger,
turning round shortly.

'A long rigmarole,' said William, drawing a paper out of his
pocket ; ' but the upshot of it is that, when all the debts are paid,
there will be little enough of a legacy left.'

This was the first approach to a statement of Jessie's position
which I had heard, and I begged William to explain it more

' Has Mrs Morris died so very poor?' I inquired.
'Not so very poor,' answered William shortly ; 'but Jessie is
not her daughter.'

How stupid I had been, not to see at once how matters stood!
Of course, whatever there might be which was not left to Charles
Morris would most probably belong to William himself, in right
of his wife.

'Then Jessie has nothing,' I observed; and I suppose my
tone showed my disappointment, for William answered di-
rectly —

' V u must remember, Ursie, that Jessie has no real claim
upon any one, and that Mrs Morris did for her more than could
have been expected in bringing her up. She has left her a legacy
of a couple of hundred pounds, and with her pretty face she'll
soon make her way in the world.'

'Hut has she two hundred pounds?' said Roger, who had re-
turned to his newspaper.

'The debts may not be so much as we think,' answered

Roger stood up, turned his back upon William, and faced the
fire. A fev minutes afterwards he k ft the room.


Neither William nor I spoke. William sat broodingly by the
hearth, and I worked very fast. Presently, when I saw William's
head fall back, as though he was asleep, I went out to find Roger.
He was in the large parlour, sitting there alone in the dark. I
only discovered him by hearing him cough. He laughed when
I cnme in with the candle in my hand, and said the little parlour
was so hot.

'Not so hot with the fire as with the conversation,' I replied.
'What is the matter, old man ?' and I rested my hand upon his
head, and smoothed his hair.

'William does not mean to do anything but what is just,' he
exclaimed ; 'but, Trot, Jessie Lee is an orphan.'

'Yes,' I said ; 'and we are the nearest friends, not to call us
relations, she has, except Charles Morris. I don't forget it,
Roger, though I did ask her to help Martha this evening.'

'And two hundred pounds is little enough for her,' he con-

' It won't keep her from working for her bread ; but she will be
none the worse off for that,' I replied.

' Only it ought to be two hundred pounds,' he continued ;
'and William says it won't be near that when the debts are

' I don't understand,' was my remark.

' Mrs Morris drew up her will herself,' he said ; ' so it is oddly
enough put together. She has left two thousand pounds to
William, as you know.'

' I was not told the sum exactly,' I replied ; 'but I knew there
was something considerable.'

'Well! there are some debts to be paid,' continued Roger.
' Mrs Morris evidently did not know how they would mount up,
so she has ordered that they should be settled from the same fund
out of which Jessie is to have her money. There is no doubt
that she meant the legacy to come first ; but she has worded it
so as to allow of the debts having the first claim. In that case
Jessie will lose half her legacy.'

'But William and Charles Morris will surely undertake to pay
the debts, if there is not enough in any other way ?' I said.

' Charles Morris says no,' replied Roger ; 'and William is all
for law and justice ; and he has had a lawyer's opinion, and the
debts are to come first and the legacy second.'

'It can't be!' I exclaimed. 'It is cruelty: actually taking
the orphan's money ! And William so well to do in the world.


and having no children,— not even like Charles Morris in that
respect :'

' It is law,' was all Roger's answer.

It came to my lips to say, ' That is harder dealing than asking
Jessie to help Martha ;' but it would have been mean to taunt
him, and besides, I was myself sorely troubled

' We musn't allow it,' I said, after a little thought ' Roger, I
have money of my own. I would rather part with every penny
of it than that Jessie Lcc should have less than was intended for

; My own honest, little Trot ! Yes, I know you would. But it
won't come to that ; there are other ways and means.'

; Not breaking in upon your money." I exclaimed. ■ You told
mc the other day of what consequence it was to you just now to
h ive every penny you could lay your hands on.'

'There is a greater consequence than that, Ursje,— to do justly
in God's sight. But I have not made up my mind. I don't know
what I shall do. Be off now ! I shall go and smoke my pipe.
It will all be right'


HAD not seen Mrs Kemp for weeks, and I thought it
-*- would do Jessie good to go out a little ; so the next daj*
being very fine, I had the chaise ordered, that I might drive her
over myself to Longsidc. I wanted, too, to make Mrs Kemp
better acquainted with her ; for I knew she was prejudiced
against her, and really Jessie seemed now so much improved,
that I felt this to be in a certain degree unfair. Roger came to
the door to see us off; he was just the same as usual, — not at all
put out, apparently, by what had passed the previous evening ;
but he said he must go over to Mr Stewart at Hatton, and have
a little talk with him about Canada business. It would not do
to be dawdling on in England much longer. That was not a
very enlivening speech to hear, just as I was setting out with
Jessie ; and she herself seemed hurt by it, and, when he was
gone, turned to me, and observed, she did not know what Sand-
combe would be like without him. It would be to her just like


losing a brother. The remark seemed to open the door to a very
important subject. From many little observations which had
dropped from Jessie, I gathered that she looked to Sandcombe
as her home. It was not unnatural that she should do so.
Partly from her disposition, and partly from the way in which
she had been treated, she really was a mere child still, leaning
upon every one, and always thinking that she should be provided
for without thought of her own. And at first I should have said
that Sandcombe would be the best place for her, at least for the
present ; but that was under the idea that Mrs Morris had left her
enough to live upon. Now, with only two hundred pounds in
the world, and perhaps not that, it was, I feared, necessary that
she should look out for some situation in which she could
work for herself. William, indeed, might make a compromise
with his conscience, and think that he atoned for what was
almost like taking possession of Jessie's little fortune, by
giving her a home for some months ; but I felt that the plan
would ,be very objectionable, even if it were proposed for a
permanence. Sandcombe could only be Jessie's home under
certain circumstances. If I were to go away she must go too ;
and if William were to die, we must both go. It would be
nothing like a reparation, however good-natured it might appear.
A wound made by injustice cannot be healed by kindness ; and I
grew indignant as I thought that William could be fidgety about
Jessie's exerting herself in a way which could not possibly be
painful beyond the moment, whilst he was deliberately making
up his mind to deprive her of at least half of the little she might
call her own.

Jessie herself had no thoughts of the kind. She liked going
for a drive ; she liked anything, indeed, which made her feel
like a lady having nothing to do but to enjoy herself. She was
anxious that we should go over the down and through Dene in
order to reach Longside ; but I strongly objected to it. Not
liking, however, to thwart her unnecessarily, I merely said that
if we went round by Hatton we should have a longer drive ; and
this seemed to satisfy her, and she wrapped her cloak round her,
and arranged her crape veil very becomingly, and leaned back
at her ease in the pony-chaise, as pretty a picture of a young
girl as could be desired. It was very painful to have to break
in upon the dream in which I felt she was indulging, and my
heart beat fast as I said, whilst we were driving through the
outskirts of Hatton, 'Everything must seem sadly changed to

3 oo URSULA,

vou, Jessie dear ; but you will become more reconciled by and

' 1 shall try to be,' she said, 'and I ought to be when everyone
s so kind to me. But 1 shall miss Mr Roger terribly. '

1 We shall all miss him,' 1 replied ; 'unless, indeed, n were pos-
sible for me to go back with him.'

'To Canada? O Ursie !— but what would Mr (".rant do
without you :'

' I can't say ; it is difficult sometimes to know where one's duty
lies. If I were to go, Jessie, I should think a great deal about
you, and long to hear how you were getting on. I suppose th' re
are not any of Mr Morris's friends who would take care of you
for a time, until something turns up which might suit you ? '

The poor child sat quite silent. I believe she did not tho-
roughly understand my meaning, though my words sounded
s.ul to her. I drove on slowly, till I saw her take out her hand-
kerchief and wipe her eyes, and pull down the veil over her face,
and then I said : ' (iod will help you through it, dear Jessie, if
you will only look to Him.'

I had only just said the words when I heard the tramp cf
horses coming behind the chaise, and drew to one side to let
them pass. ' You have not driven very fast,' called out Roger's
cheerful voice. He was en his way to Mr Stewart's, and John
Hervey was with him. Jessie kept her face averted, and I saw
Rowr look at her intently. I am sure he quite well knew she
was crying. John Hervey came round to me at the other side,
and spoke in rather a low voice, 'They have heard again from
Miss Milicent, Ursie.'

' So far so good,' I said.

'Yes, if she can stay with him ; but it seems an odd kind of
place he is in— somewhere in the heart of Paris. She writes in
good spirits enough, but I am afraid she is going to be taken in.'

' It will be her own (loin ,' I said. ' What have you heard of
Mrs Weir lately?'

' Nothing, except that Mrs Temple is on the look-out for some
one who will neither cat, drink, nor sleep— but read to Mrs
Weir all day, and sit up with her all night, for fifteen pounds a
year. Now, Roger, we shall be late ; good-bye ;' and they both
rode off.

I don't know what had passed between Jessie and Roger ; but
I saw that Jessie had put up her veil, and it was not drawn down
again till we arrived at Longside.


Mrs Kemp was in the front of the house, feeding some tame
partridges, which the farmer had taken a fancy to have, and
they, and a number of young chickens and ducks, were gathered
about her, making her so busy that she did not perceive when
we came into the garden. Her welcome to Jessie was as hearty
as I could expect — though I could see in her manner just the
suspicion which was all the unkindness she ever indulged in.
Mary, she said, was full of work, for it was baking day — but she
would find time to have a little gossip with me ; and, begging
Jessie to wait in the parlour for a few minutes, she took me with
her to find Mary. We were no sooner, however, out of the room
than I begged her to stay and have a little chat with me first ;
not that I did not wish to see Mary, but I had a good many little
things to talk over with her.

' I don't know where to take you, my dear,' she said, con-
sidering a moment : ' my room has been scoured this morning,
and the floor is damp ; you '11 take cold if you go there. But
here 's the farmer's smoking-room, do you mind going in?' The
smoking-room was very small, and near the kitchen. I believe
the farmer did smoke a pipe there occasionally, when there were
persons in the house who disliked the smell of tobacco, but it
was used for a lumber-room besides.

' Now, sit down, my dear, and say your say ;' and Mrs Kemp
placed a chair for me, and sat down herself in the window seat.
* We shan't be interrupted, and no one will guess where we

' But I must not leave Jessie too long,' I said.

Mrs Kemp looked up with some surprise. 'Are you so very
particular ? '

'Not always ; only just now, when she is in trouble.'

' Well ! yes, all right. But, my dear, what is she going to do
with herself?'

' That is the question ; — I don't know. William may ask
her to stay with us.' Mrs Kemp looked very grave. ' You
don't approve,' I said, and then, after a moment, added, ' no
more do I.'

Her face brightened up. ' I was afraid, my dear, you were
going to burthen yourself with her.'

' You don't like her,' I exclaimed, and I almost regretted that
Jessie's name had been mentioned.

' No, I don't like her, my dear. I had rather say that out at
once, and then there's not likely to be so much prejudice in it.


We arc too near the Prices to like her ; and it docs nut please
me, Ursie, you should bave so much to do with her.'

' I think — I am sure, indeed — that you believe her to be much
more mixed with the Trices than she really is,' I began.

'Very likely, m\ dear; but, as the farmer says, "a man is
known by his friends," and I suppose it's the same case with a
woman ; and Mrs Price's ways are just those which a modest,
well-behaved girl would turn from. To sec her drive by with
her smart cloak and fly-away bonnet, and two or three idle men
following, just as we are going off to church on a Sunday, is
quite sufficient for me. Jessie Lee may be an angel by nature,
yet when she goes to stay at Dene — I don't want to say any-
thing unkind — but it seems to me that she puts herself in the
way of being a fallen one.'

I don't know when I had seen Mrs Kemp so excited, and her
old-fashioned notions of propriety were quite scandalised by the
new customs of Dene. There was an exaggeration in her feel-
ing against Jessie, but I had no time to spend in arguing her
out of it, so I merely said : 'Whatever Mrs Price may be, it is
quite clear that it is our business now to take charge of Jessie,
and keep her out of harm's way.'

'Yes, if you can ; and for that end, my dear, you had better
keep her out of Lieutenant Macdonald's way.'

' There is no fear there,' I said. ' She has refused him.'

'Refused him ! has she ? Well, that's more than I gave her
credit for. Every one about here said that she had been warned
about him, but that she was determined to have him.'

'So you sec she is good for something,' I continu

' Yes ; something.'

'A good deal, if she only had some one to advise and to love

'And is that to be you, my dear?' asked Mrs Kemp, simply.

' No, I wish it could be ; but I don't think it is possible ;' and
in a few words I put before Mrs Kemp what was Jessie's posi-
tion ; not, of course, mentioning anything about William and the
legacy, but merely saying that the sum left her by Mrs Morris
was very small, and there might be claims upon it, and that at
any rate it would not support her by itself, though it might keep
her in clothes if she lived with us.

'Just as the farmer thought,' she exclaimed; 'just what he
said to me only last night. " I am afraid," said he, " that Jessie
Lee is tied on to Ursie for life."'


But I interrupted her. 'Dear Mrs Kemp/ I said, 'indeed
the farmer is mistaken ; it is what I feel must not be ; but how
to prevent it is the difficulty. I don't think men like to do dis-
agreeable things, and William won't put before her that she can't
stay with us, though he will be sure to complain if she does ;
and how I am to do it I don't know.'

Mrs Kemp pondered a little. ' You must find something else
for her to do, my dear,' she said.

'But I can't look about, and inquire behind her back, as it
were. She would think it so very unkind, if it came to her ears.'

' That is true. Nothing is ever gained in this world by not
being straightforward.'

'And then it comes into my mind sometimes whether it is
necessary after all ; whether she is not very much in the same
case that I was when I first came to Sandcombe.'

' Only, Ursie, you always knew what you had to look to, and
were set upon working for yourself,' she replied.

' Yes, and Leah wanted me, and I can manage very well
without Jessie. The only thing is, she is so little able to go

' She has two legs of her own,' said Mrs Kemp.

I smiled as I answered, ' Yes, but very weak ones.'

' I doubt if you will help her, my dear, by adding a wooden
one of yours,' replied Mrs Kemp.

' It may be better to go halting,' I said, ' than to tumble

' I never heard of any human creature yet that was able even
to halt with three legs,' replied Mrs Kemp, laughing. ' If you
want to make Jessie Lee strong, my dear, it strikes me you
must put her in a position in which she will feel that she has no
legs but her own to depend upon, and then she will learn how to
use them.'

'And if she should never learn, and get into mischief,' I said

'You can't think, surely, that you will be responsible,' replied
Mrs Kemp. ' We are bound to help others to walk in the right
way, and God knows how much we may have to answer for in
not doing it ; but I don't see that we are bound to break our
backs by carrying them, for fear they should wander into the
wrong ; and I suppose, Ursie, that if we do, the chances are that
we shall all fall to the ground together.'

' I was afraid,' I said, ' that I might be deciding hardly, and


I wanted another opinion. I believe I wish her to be indepen
dent, and so 1 am the more afraid of my own reasons.'

'As the firmer says: two and two make four, whether we
wish it or not,' replied Mrs Kemp, 'and we need not be afraid
to own it. In Leah's day, Ursie, things would have been dif
ferent, no doubt. She was a married woman, and had a home
of her own, and Jessie was all but brought up by her, and it
would have been her duty, no doubt, to find a place for her cousin
by her own fireside, especially as she had no children. But you
are not Leah, my dear, and you have no house of your own yet,
though I hope some day you will have, — and moreover, you are
but a young girl, having enough to do to look after yourself.
Don't you see that to take upon yourself to be answerable
for Jessie is putting upon your conscience what God never in-
tended should be there. I should say, try and find out some-
thing which may be good for her to do, and in the meantime
keep her at Sandcombe, and teach her all the sensible things
you can. I can't but think \ ou will do more for her by far in
that way than by tying her on to your apron strings, and fancy-
ing she is going ri^ht because she has not the opportunity of
doing anything else.'

' 1 tried to open the subject this morning,' I said, ' but it was

' I wish you could put something before her which she might
like to undertake,' said Mrs Kemp. 'The farmer sometimes
tells me that the quickest way of pulling down old notions is by
building up new ones. It is the plan he has gone upon in bring
ing folks to his way of thinking, about improving the cottages.
He might have talked to them for the hour, and he would not
have persuaded them ; but when they saw what he was doing
himself, they came round quite naturally. And so, Ursie, my
dear, it may be the same with Jessie, if you want her to put
aside the notions she has been accustomed to of late, and take
to others.'

A sudden thought struck me. ' I did hear of something,' I said,
' as I was coming here, but it would not do ; no, it could not.'

' Think again, my dear. My mother used to declare that
there was a " lion in her path," whenever a new notion was pro-
posed to her. Perhaps there is one in yours.'

'Mrs Tempi: is the lion,' I said, laughing. 'If it were not
for her the plan might do. .She wants some one to look alter
Mrs Weir, and read to her, and nurse her. Jessie might suit


well enough for that, for she has very gentle ways, and I think
Mrs Weir would be fond of her ; but then I know that a good
deal would be put upon her. I dare say, in fact, she would be
made to do a great deal of work besides ; I should scarcely like
to propose it.'

' No ; and yet it would be close at hand, and you could have
your eye upon her. It would be worth inquiring about ; there
might be worse plans.'

That was very true, but I did not take at all kindly to the
suggestion. Mrs Kemp urged me a little more. She thought 1
still had a lurking wish to keep Jessie at Sandcombe ; but she
was quite mistaken there. I was only glad to have another
opinion to support that which I had formed myself. We had
been talking longer than I had intended, and I was afraid I
should have but little time left for Mary ; so I proposed to go
to her, and Mrs Kemp agreed, adding, ' It seems to me, Ursie,
that you may just as well make use of this notion about Stone-
cliff to sound Jessie, and see what she thinks of doing, even if it
should come to nothing.'

The idea was a good one, and yet I was so perverse that it
made me feel almost cross. The fact was, I believe, that I did
not like the thought of Jessie's filling the place which had once
been partly marked out for myself. I would not have gone to
Stonecliff on any account, even for the prospects of waiting
upon Mrs Weir ; but it did not please me that Jessie should go.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 29 of 56)