Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

. (page 31 of 56)
Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 31 of 56)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

she has to wait upon Mrs Temple. She sits before the glass,
when she is dressing, fidgeting with her hair, and her maid
standing behind her, just as though there was nothing else in
the world to be thought of but that she should look her best,
and the morning is gone before one has time to look round. I
will do anything in the world for Mrs Weir ; but I would
rnther fifty times over scrub the floor than attend upon Mrs
Tempi .'

'You must keep your own ground, Jessie,' I said. ' It is the
onlv way with Mrs Temple. But take care to be respectful to

' I am that, I think,' said Jessie, 'and the servants tell me I
am a favourite ; but it is not home, Ursie.'

That was the root of the matter ! and I don't think there was
any want of affection in my manner then, as I tried to console
her, telling her that Sandcombe was a home whilst I was in it,
and that God would never leave her without one if I were re-
moved from it. The way in which she listened to me made me
feel what Mrs Weir was doing for her, leading her to the right
comfort, and showing her by example that religion is a dress to
be worn every day, and not kept for Sunday. It was the one
thing Jessie needed to give her strength, — and how charming
she would be if she had it ! only I wished I could be quite sure
that nothing was kept back from me. Roger, like me, noticed
Mrs Weir's influence. He and I went with Jessie half across
the down, and we talked about serious things, chiefly about a
sermon upon trust which Mr Richardson had preached that after-
noon. His remark to me afterwards was, 'A written sermon may
be good, Ursie, and a spoken one better ; but an acted one is the
best of all. Jessie has gained a whole year in thought and prin-
ciple since she has been with Mrs Weir.'

I was not sure myself whether it was so much as a year, but
time woulu show*.



THE Saturday after that I went into Hove for some shopping
and marketing, and Mary Kemp with me. I stopped at
Longside on my way back, and had a cup of tea, and sent the
parcels home in the chaise, intending to walk myself. We ex-
pected the farmer and John Hervey to come in about the same
time, and I hoped that Roger might make his appearance too, as
he also had been into Hove ; but, finding they were late, I did not
like to wait, and set out to walk home alone, leaving word for
Roger that I meant to go through Dene. The Prices were, I knew,
absent, so I thought I might take their road, which shortened
the way. I never ventured on such a liberty when they were
at home, though there was in fact a right of way through the
grounds for every one. The place was kept in good order, and
as I had not seen the garden for some time, I asked the gardener
if I might go in at one of the little gates of the shrubbery and
walk round. The plantation, which I remembered as a collection
of stunted shrubs, intersected with sandy walks, was now grown
into a little copse of thick trees, pleasantly shading the house.
Passing through it, I crossed the turf and went down to the
lower pond that I might have a full view of the garden. The
foliage of the trees was beautifully fresh and green ; the flower
beds on the sloping lawn were filled with roses ; the turf was as
smooth as on the day I first looked upon it, smooth as no other
turf ever was in my eyes. There stood the low stone house with
its bow windows, and trellised verandah sheltered on one side by
the steep, woody bank, in which was cut the rough flight of steps
leading to my favourite seat ; whilst behind rose the darker mass
of trees planted in the hollow of the down, and the stone column
above them raising its head, as it were, to meet the white clouds
which floated majestically across the summer sky. It was very
lovely and intensely quiet. The fountains were not playing, so
that there was not even the plash of water to break the stillness ;
and when the old clock over the stables struck six, it gave no
impression of a disturbing sound, but only of a solemn voice
bidding me mark and ponder upon the silence.

I took off my bonnet for coolness, and sat down upon a bench
to rest, for I was very tired. My thoughts carried me back to
the days gone by when Dene was my home. They were thoughts
that seemed to have no direct purpose. They might rather be


called attempts at recollection, which were almost like a dream,
there was so little connection in them. But they were /cry
pleasant, even though some sadness mingled with them. I
indulged them, not thinking how time was going on ; so little
conscious indeed of what was passing at the moment, that before
I was aware of a footstep I felt two hands on my shoulders and
a kiss on my forehead, and, starting up, saw Roger behind me.

'How could you frighten me so?' I exclaimed. 'I did not
know you were near.'

' I thought it was the kindest way,' he said. ' It ought not to
frighten you ; I always came upon you so when you were a child.'

' Only, I am not a child now,' I replied, laughing, ' and so I
am not accustomed to be "come upon." Is it late? must we go ?'
and I stood up.

' Not yet,' he said, ' there is no hurry,' and he threw hill
on the grass at my feet. ' It looks very pleasant, Trot.'

'Very,' I said, and I sighed, and sat down again.

1 Very,' he repeated — ' but I would not go back to be as we

I was silent.

' I would not go back to be as we were,' he repeated. ' I would
rather take the hope of what we may be.'

1 O Roger ! ' I exclaimed, ' never. If a home in Canada were
Paradise, it could never be to us like Dene ; and you know'

' What do I know ? ' he said, and a half smile curled his lips.

I looked him full in the face, and then I brought out the words :
' You know I can never be with you.'

'Are you so sure of that, my little Trot ?' he said.

He did not change countenance in the least, except that the
curling smile seemed to spread so that he could with difficulty
repress it.

'Sure/ because of William's condition,' I replied. 'I did think
at one time that perhaps he would many again, and so I should
be set free, but I see no prospect of it now.'

'Neither do I,' was Roger's reply.

'Then I must stay,' I said. 'I could not leave him'

' No, surely.'

'And I can never live with you/ I exclaimed. ' O Roger! can
you bear it so quietly ?'

He was silent.

'Can you bear it so quietly ?' I repeated, and I felt the chok-
ing grief rise in my throat.


'Suppose I stay too,' he said. He turned round and looked
at me earnestly.

I could not speak ; I was afraid to misunderstand him.

He went on hurriedly : — ' We might do very well together,
and it might be better in many ways, and we need not leave
Sandcombe. We might be very happy ; you and I, Trot, and'
— he hesitated.

I started back, as I was about to fling my arms round his
neck, for I heard the words — ' Jessie Lee, if she will have me.'

I have tried to exercise self-control on many occasions. I
never struggled so hard as at that moment.

In a calm, forced, yet gentle tone, at least, I think it was
gentle, I said — ' Roger, dear, when did that thought come into
your mind?'

He leaned his head upon his hands, as he answered — ' From
her childhood, I believe — but I don't know, don't ask me, Ursie.
It might have been better that I had never seen her.'

The impulse I felt to speak out my thoughts was checked.
It was no dawning love, that I could battle with it. It was a
d^ep-seated affection, and I must accept it. My heart was
crushed with a pressure which few could understand, but I
said, as I passed my hand fondly over his head — ' If she will
make you happy, no one will wish that you had never seen

4 You don't like it,' he exclaimed, and he rose up.

I I can't say ; talk of yourself,' I replied. ' Had we not better
go home?'

'There is no hurry. Surely you can spare me five minutes,

Instead of answering him I walked on. He followed me.
We said nothing for several minutes, at length Roger spoke

' I don't know why I have mentioned it to you, except that I
can't keep anything from you. It may all come to nothing. I
have no reason to think she cares for me ; perhaps,' and he
paused, 'perhaps the reverse. I thought I would ask you first,
for you would know.'

? Do you mean whether she loves any one else ?' I said.

' Yes, she might, and I am so much older, — like her father, —
she may be afraid of me.'

' Dear Roger,' I said, ' those are questions which no one ought
to answer but Jessie herself. If I were to give you my opinion


twenty times over, you" would not take it. No is nc\er n">,
unless it is said by the right person.'

'And you won't give me hope?' he said.

' I will give you neither hope nor fear. If, upon due consi-
deration,' and I know that I stressed the words, 'you think that
Jessie Lee is the woman above all others likely to make you a
good, useful, sensible wife, then go and ask her yourself; you
are your own master, and she is her own mistress.'

I felt quite sure that I had piincd him, and my heart re-
proached me for my tone.

'You can't understand, Ursie,' he said, after a pause ; and a
dagger's thrust could not have given me the anguish of those
few words.

' I can ; yes, — I can, indeed,' I exclaimed, — and I spoke truth ;
for a dawn of light had broken upon me. ' It is you, Roger, —
but don't let us talk about that ; — you know how I love you, —
only be happy.'

He repeated the word happy in a doubtful tone, adding, ' One
can't be happy in suspense.'

We were then on the top of the down. Roger stopped irreso-
lute. I saw what was in his thoughts. He looked towards
Compton. 'Are you going that way?' I said. I turned in
the other direction, but he delayed me. ' Ursie, I can't bear
this ; you must stay and listen to me. God knows how I have
fought with myself, and He knows also how I have thought of

We sat down upon the heather, and I prayed that I might
bear what was coming. He continued : ' I told you that I had
loved Jessie from a child ; but I never deceived you. I did
not know it, — and you have been dearest always ; — you arc
dearest now, in your own way. The two affections cannot
interfere. You will not lose a brother, you will only gain a

' Please, Roger, dear,' I said, ' if you will only not think of me.
It is all right, — epiite right; but I was not prepared. I wish
only to see you happy.'

' That does not satisfy me,' he replied. ' I don't care for my
own happiness. l( I could feel that I was injuring you, Trot,
I would give up my hope at this moment, though with it I
should give up all that makes life dear ; and it lias not been till
to day that I have felt I could think of myself without injustice
to you.'


'O Roger!' I said, and the tears, which I had so long been
striving to retain, burst forth against my will; 'injustice is
such a cold, cold word.'

'But I must use it,' he said. ' It has been in my mind always,
that if I did marry, it should not be selfishly. You were my
first claim, Ursie, and if I could not have formed a new home
without turning you out of the old one, I would have lived and
died unmarried.'

' That would have been little kindness to me,' I said, — ' to
make me feel that I stood in the way of your happiness.'

' But you should not have felt it,' he replied. ' I could have
crushed my love, and I would have done so, through God's help,
and you should never have known it.'

4 You think little of a woman's penetration,' I said.

'But I have done it,' he replied. ' If I had been obliged to
return to Canada, neither you nor Jessie would ever have known
what was in my heart.'

' Not Jessie ! ' I exclaimed.

' No, not Jessie ; the climate would have killed her. I knew
it, for I asked the question of the doctor at Compton. And,
Ursie, it would have cost her no pang. She would have married
another, without any thought of me. She may do so now.'

The tone in which he spoke was inexpressibly sad and anxious.
I could but answer, though my voice seemed to fail me, 'Roger,
she must love you, you will be happy.'

A brilliant smile passed over his face. 'My precious little
Trot, always my comforter. But I want to speak more of you
now, to tell you how things have come about. William and I
talked over business matters this morning. He knows his own
state now, he is not fit to manage the farm, and he wishes me to
take it from him. That might be better than Canada, Ursie.
He will have his home with us still ; we shall be together, as we
were for those few happy weeks, when Jessie was staying with us.
And William sees things rightly as regards you, Ursie. He
knows that he must make a provision for you, and he is willing
to do so, now that he has no other claim. You will be no loser.'

I tried to stop him, but he continued : ' I must say it, because
it has been a chief thought with me. To leave you to the
chance of struggling on in the world, as best you might, after
all we have been to each other, would bring a curse upon me.
I couldn't do it, even though it were to save Jessie from a life
like it. I knew that I must see you out of the mire before I



thought of myself, and now God has opened the way to carry
out my wish. < > Ursie ! can't you say to me that you think His
blessing will be on it.'

I pressed his hand, — no words would come.

' She is not what you expected for me, I know,' he said, an-
swering what he felt to be in my mind. ' But, Ursie, I could
not love a grave, staid woman of my own age.'

' No/ I replied, ' I am aware of that. I feel what you want,
Roger ; but, — let me say it now, for I may never do so again, —
arc you sure that you know Jess

' I have seen her,' he exclaimed, ' in times of trial : I have
watched her through Mrs Morris's illness, and when she was
with us; and now, troubled as she is by her life at Stonecliff.
Whatever she may have been as a child, Ursie, sorrow has,
through God's grace, made her a noble woman.'

I could not tell him the depth of my fear that the change as
yet was not to be relied upon for a continuance. I had even
then learned that it is no part of true wisdom to endeavour to
give our own impression, to the disparagement of any individual,
when the person with whom we are conversing, and from whom
we differ, has the same facts as ourselves from which to judge.
The unfavourable opinion has no effect except to excite a
suspicion of prejudice, and the words hastily spoken leave
behind them wounds which perhaps will never be healed. What
I said of Jessie at that moment might influence the whole of our
future lives.

Roger waited for me to reply ; but, instead of doing so, I
kissed him once more tenderly, and whispered : 'God guide you
to what is best ; I can't, Roger,' and turned away.

And I was blind, senselessly blind ! I had not seen, what was
self-evident to the eyes of others ; I was surprised at the exist-
ence of feelings which I had myself been instrumental in no
slight measure in bringing about !

I confess all ; — I can only say for myself, in excuse, that
others have done likewise. As in illness, so most frequently in
love, the persons most deeply interested are the last to perceive
the existence of dar.

But had I really. t to consider it danger? When I

rushed up to my room, and poured out, to Him who alone
could comfort me, the bitter anguish of ' the wounded spirit —
which who can bear?' was I justified in my wretchedness? Let
those fear to judge who have never been similarly tried.


Yet without doubt I was selfish and unreasonable in my love
for Roger. I had found in him all I needed to satisfy my ima-
gination and my reverence ; and my affection had indeed so
engrossed me that I scarcely thought about other men except to
feel that they were his inferiors. I may not be believed when I
say this, but it is true. But in this overpowering feeling I forgot
that I did not stand in the same relation to him. I filled the
place which in God's providence was intended to be second, and
I thought it the first ; because the first was vacant. The world
saw it. Again and again I had been told that Roger would
marry, but I clung to the image of my own love, reflected in his,
and in my heart felt myself wiser than the world. This was the
root of bitterness. If Jessie had been an angel of goodness, I
must still have been wretched for the time, for the foundation on
which I had unconciously built up my fabric of earthly happi-
ness was undermined. But the circumstances of my trial were
aggravated, as it appeared to me, a hundredfold by Roger's
choice : Jessie was unworthy of him. She might be gentle,
sweet tempered, winning in manner, anxious to act rightly, but
she was essentially inferior to him, and Roger was blind in not
perceiving it. I acknowledged his consideration, his generous
thought for myself, his singular unselfishness. I longed to be
grateful. I hoped I was so ; but his weakness I could not

As we go on in life, we open our eyes to the facts of human
inconsistency, and, knowing that all are fallible, we cease to
expect infallibility. But it is not so when we are young and the
first dawning upon the mind of a failing in one whom we respect,
is one of the most painful trials which at that age we can be
called upon to bear. When I thought of Roger as deceived,
deluded, caught by a sweet smile, and the expression of a pass-
ing wish to do right, which might never be carried into action, I
felt as though I had no longer any judgment upon which to rest.
He had erred in this case, the most important upon which a
man can be called upon to decide, and he might err in others
likewise. Even if Jessie were to refuse him, it would not comfort
me. He had loved her — that was enough. The dreariness and
disappointment which took possession of me I can never
describe. As I sat clown on a low seat by my bedside, I felt
deadened. Prayer, all powerful though it was, could not restore
my dream of human perfection. I do not know how long I re-
mained alone. It grew quite dark. I heard Martha movin"-


about below, and William's voice called out for candles, and I
thought I ought to go down-stairs to him ; but I made an excuse
to myself because of my grief. I let him stay by himself, and
fancied that I was excused from attending upon him. The moon
rose slowly over the hill, and its cold light streamed in upon my
room. I knew that Roger must soon return. I was sure he had
been to Compton, and had seen Jessie ; and I went to the
window, which looked out upon the lane, and watched for his
coming. I thought I could tell even by the way he walked
whether his mission had been prosperous. I had not long to
wait. A dark figure stood upon the brow of the hill, full in the
moonlight. Never before had I seen Roger draw near without
a thrill of untold love and delight ; now, nervous and heartsick,
I watched his footsteps, counting them as it were by the beat-
rigs of my heart, and scarcely able to restrain myself from rush-
ing out to upbraid him with his folly, and pour out the full tide of
my doubts and my complaints of Jessie, even before I had heard
his story.

God is more merciful to us than we know in withholding the
opportunity of speech when we most desire to have it. Roger
went into the parlour, and found William there alone. I heard
him inquire for me, and he was coming up-stairs, but William
detained him. They talked together for nearly a quarter of an
hour, and in that time I had leisure to recover myself. Martha
took in supper, and I was compelled to go down. William was
suffering very much from his eyes, and was cut of spirits.
Roger exerted himself to amuse him, and we talked upon in-
different subjects ; and after supper I read a little to him out of
the newspaper which Roger had brought from I love. Then came
prayers, family prayers, — never more blessed than on that night
When I heard Roger's solemn and most earnest voice, speaking
from the depths of his heart, the bitterness and exaggeration of
my feelings died away in self-reproach, and I felt that I, not he,
had in God's sight been weak and worthy of condemnation.
That was a good preparation for what was to follow ; but the
trial was still great. Roger came up to my room — happy, so
intensely happy, he neither saw nor imagined any want of
sympathy on my part. Jessie had accepted him, with more love,
more humility, trust, and simple religious feeling than even in
his most sanguine moments he had anticipated. lie could with
difficulty bring himself to tell me how he managed to sec her.
The little details of his message, and the excuse he had made of

V&StlLA. 32s

having a parcel to give her, and the circumstance of Mrs
Temple's having gone out to dinner, — all important to me, —
were scarcely remembered. He could only say, again and again,
1 Ursie, God is too good to me ; it frightens me. She is an
angel.' And I could only reply, ' Dearest, may God grant ycu
to be happy with her !'


I ROSE the next morning at my usual hour, after a dis-
turbed night. There was but little shock in the waking, for
thoughts of Roger had been with me all night. I dressed
myself mechanically, thinking of him still. I went about my
work with this one idea present to me. Everything I saw,
heard, or did, had reference to it. A change had come over
life, such as that which I have heard described as experienced
by the man who fell into a trance, and was aroused from it after
a lapse of fifty years. I found myself grown old and indepen-
dent, and I marvelled to see that others could quietly pursue
their ordinary occupations. If I could have had my will, I
would have bade the world, at least my own little world, stop
in its course, wind up its affairs, bid farewell to the past, and
begin for the future a new life, with new hopes, and, in some
degree, new principles.

But life seldom knows such sudden breaks. We must all
pass through the period of transition, more trying to the tem-
per, if not the feelings, than the fulness of sorrow or of joy.
Roger called me to him after breakfast, and asked what I was
going to do with myself all day.

' A good many things/ I answered ; ' it is washing day, and I
shall be very busy.'

' You wouldn't have time, I suppose, for a walk. Jessie wants
very much to see you.'

' Perhaps she had better come over here,' I answered. ' I
can't see her with any comfort at Stonecliff.'

' She said she was afraid it was impossible. Mrs Weir is
more ill than usual.'

' Is she ? You never told me that,' I said, quickly.

' I thought you knew it,' was Roger's reply.


' Xo,' I said. ' I seldom go near Stonecliff now. Is J
anxious about her?'

' Slie did not seem so ; only she thought it wouldn't quite do
to a_-k fur a holiday. But that won't last long now, Ursic'

I thought for a few seconds, feeling strangely aggravated.
Then I said : ' I will try and go over in the course of the after-
noon ; but I must go alone.'

lie looked sorely disappointed. 'Yes,' I said, ' you must let
me see Mrs Weir and Mrs Temple, and tell them the state f
things ; and then if you want to see Jessie there will be no
difficulty. But it won't do, Roger, to have people making re-
marks, as they are sure to do if you don't give your reasons for
seeking Jessie's company.'

' Well/ he said, ' I suppose you are right. Nothing stops
people's mouths like being open about your affairs. And neither
Jessie nor I have anything to hide in the matter.'

' And I suppose you will tell William this morning,' I said.

'I have told him ; I spoke to him before I said anything to
you. Only I begged him not to mention the matter, because I
wanted to have it out with you myself.'

I am afraid something in my countenance betrayed the an-
noyance which I felt in my heart. William to be told before
me ! I could not have imagined it.

' You are vexed with me, my little Trot,' said Roger, kindly ;
'but I mustn't have you misunderstand. William is such a
chief person in all our plans, that if he had greatly objected, the
whole thing might have fallen to the ground. I was bound,
therefore, to find out his mind upon the matter fir-t.'

A very maiter-of-fact answer ; but it did not soothe my ru
feelings. I walked away, but he followed me. ' Ursie, darling,
the fust day of the new happiness is not to be the last of the
old, is it ?'

I answered him by a burst-ef tsars. ', lie sat down by me in
the window-seat, and drew me fondly towards him ; but the
touch of his hand was to me like the touch of cold lead, and I

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 31 of 56)