Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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withdrew myself from him, saying : 'I'm very wicked, Ro.j;er,
I know. You ought to hate me, and you will, for I hate

' You arc jealous, Ursie,' he replied, gravely. ' I suppose I
ought to have been prepared for it. But I thought you loved
ie so well, that \ou looked on her as a sister already.'

'Look on her!' I exchimed. 'Yes, Roger; but what is


that? You would know if you were a woman ; but you can't—
you are a man.'

'Then, perhaps, I had better not try to know,' he said, in the
same grave tone ; and he stood up to leave me. I could not
bear that. I took hold of his hand, and looked piteously in hi?
face. My heart was so full, I felt as though it would burst.
' O Roger ! love me,' I said. And he stooped down and pressed
his lips to my forehead, and I threw my arms round him and
kissed him as in former days, with the yearning tenderness of
my exceeding love ; and then the cold blank fell upon my heart
again, and I knew that I had said farewell to that first joy of
my youth for ever.

I had strong, passionate, exaggerated affections, but I had also
a certain share of right principle and common sense. And what
was often almost equally important to me, I was keenly sensible
of the slightest absence of sympathy, or want of perception of
the nature of my feelings in those with whom I lived. I might
give way to an outburst of grief or joy under the pressure of
excitement ; but the slightest change of voice, or shade of in-
difference in manner, restored me to my self-possession ; and I
could then quietly take out my feelings, as it were, and looking
at them by the light in which they were seen by the world, keep
them under stern control, and compel myself for the future to
show only so much as my friends could comprehend and ap-

After that interview with Roger, I felt lowered in my own
eyes. He could not understand, neither would others. To be
so distressed at the idea of a brother's marriage with a person
whom I had known, and in a certain way loved all my life, must
to the world be a simple absurdity, — more especially when
Roger was about to remain in England instead of making for
himself a home in Canada. Many, probably, will scarcely be-
lieve that I would rather have been parted from him for years,
with the full conviction that I was first in his affections, and
that I could still look up to him without distrust of his judg-
ment, than have lived with him for the remainder of my life,
under present circumstances, in the most perfect English home
that could be offered me. But so it was. I said it to myself in
so many words, and then I added : ' That is my view of the
case ; now I will see what is required of me by the opinion of
the world.'

I must prepare myself first for congratulations; and self-


respect and feeling for Roger and Jessie demanded that I should
receive them cheerfully, in the spirit in which they were offered.
Let the bitterness be what it might, no one must know it.
Another trial, and perhaps a worse one, would be the necessity
of a thoroughly cordial, affectionate meeting with Jessie. That
must be gone through immediately, the sooner the better. When
I understood her view of her future position, I should be better
able to determine in what way to regard my own ; and there
must be no further exhibition of feeling with Roger. Either it
would deaden his affection, or make his home wretched. I had
been weak, but he should be taught to look upon the feeling as a
temporary jealousy ; he should never be reminded how deep was
the wound he had unconsciously made. I looked at all these
necessities calmly, and with somewhat of a feeling of strength.
To be without aim or purpose in trouble, that it was which tri -1
me. When I had once made up my mind what I was to do, and
what I should be called upon to struggle against, I could be
comparatively satisfied ; and I prayed now that God would help
me to keep my resolution, for I knew that my stumbling-block
was self-confidence.

About eleven o'clock William was accustomed to come in from
the field, and take a glass of ale and a bit of bread. He liked
rather to linger about then and talk, for he was beginning, poor
fellow ! to feel the clays long. I knew that would be the time
when I must hear what he might have to say about Roger and
Jessie, — how naturally the two names seemed already to run
together ! — and I took my needlework into the parlour about ten
minutes before the time, and sat down waiting for him. He came
in, drank off his <dass of beer, and began upon the subject at
once. ' Well, Ursie, what do you say to the new plans ? odd
enough, aren't they?'

' Not odd that Roger should stay in England,' I said. ' It is
the best thing that can be done, and as to Jessie'

' She is not the kind of girl I should have thought would have
taken his fancy,' continued William. ' But one never knows.
Yet somehow, Ursie, I think if it was not for you he miijht find
he had made a blunder.'

'Jessie will learn how to manage things, I dare say,' I said ;
' and it gives her a home.'

' Yes, it does that ; and — well, it might have been worse.
Only I looked to his marrying a woman with some money.'

' I think that is just one of the reasons why he has thought


of h?r,' I replied, remembering an expression which Roger had
let fall when lie told me that he could not, even for Jessie, have
married to leave me to struggle alone. ' He felt for her, I am
sure '

' He had no cause to do that,' answered William, quickly.
' He knows she has as much as she had a right to expect — more,
indeed ; and we have all been very kind to her. If my poor
Leah had been her sister twenty times over, she could not have
done more for her. But Roger always was crotchety from a
boy. However, he is going to marry her now, and there is an
end of the matter.'

William hurried away much sooner than usual ; and that was
all the help or consolation I was to receive from him. I began
to feel very lonely, not the less so because I was setting out for

In the afternoon, Roger came to me and gave me a note to
take to Jessie. How to manage my visit I could not tell. First
I thought I would go direct to Mrs Temple ; then I decided that
it would be a breach of confidence with Jesste ; and again I was
perplexed as to what I s' h .ould say to soften the trouble to Mrs
Weir. The very thinking about these things did me a great
deal of good, and by the time I arrived at Stonecliff I was as
little excited, and as much fidgeted, as a person need be who
wishes to act wisely under trying circumstances. There is
nothing so good for preserving the balance of common sense as
a dose of matter-of-fact worries.

' I want to see Miss Lee,' was my address to the saucy little
page who opened the door, and I spoke in a determined tone, to
assure him there could be no doubt as to my gaining my point.

' He did not know ' — pages never do know — ' whether such an
interview was possible.' But I urged him to decision by insist-
ing that, if I could not see Miss Lee, I must see Mrs Weir, or
Mrs Temple, or some one ; and I made my way into the,
and seeing the door of the little breakfast-room open, and know-
ing that it was very seldom used, I said, ' I \\ ill just wait here,
and you can let Miss Lee know that I want to see her.'

He stared at me, but finding that I was not open to any im-
pressions of awe, he left me.

I confess I felt uncommonly nervous. I sat down and tapped
my foot upon the floor, then I stood up and looked at the pictures
on the wall, then I walked to the window and watched a boy
weeding one of the flower-beds, and at last I went to the door


and listened. Distant sounds in ihc kitchen, those were all I
could hear, and I thought the page had proved faithless, and was
upon the point of seeking him out and expostulating, but a light
footstep came along the passage at the top of the stairs, and the
next minute Jessie had thrown herself into my arms, her face
covered with blushes, as she exclaimed — 'OUrsiel isn't it too

How thankful I was for her excitement, I really could not
attempt to say. It saved me completely. I don't believe she in
the least suspected any coldness on my side. She was so full of
her own delight, that it never entered her thoughts that every
one else was not to be delighted too. And then Roger was to
stay in England, and she was to live at Sandcombe, dear Sand-
combe ; she had never loved any place so well, and I was to be
with her, and to be her sister. She was in a perfect ecstasy of
happiness. I didn't know whether it was hard in me to think
that this childish exuberance was not quite the tone I should have
desired for Roger's wife, but of course I did not attempt to check
her. All th tt I really had set my heart upon discovering was
the full extent of her feeling for him. Even this it was not easy
to obtain : she was surprised, grateful, flattered, and rather awe-
struck. ' She could not have supposed it possible,' she said,
' so good he was ! so much respected, and so much older too !
At first she could not believe it. Love him ? — oh, yes ! — she
loved him better than any one else in the whole world, and she
knew that I loved him so much too, and we should all live
together, that was the delightful tiling : and to have a home of
her own would be so nice, though she should be very sorry to
leave Mrs Weir who had been so kind to her.'

Oh dear ! I don't know what there was in it all which made
my spirits sink lower and lower, till at length even Jessie herself
remarked that I looked grave, and inquired if anything was the
matter, and if I felt ill.

1 No,' I said, 'not at all, only a little tired with my walk ; and
you know, Jesaie, these are exciting days.'

'Very. I lay awake for hours last night. It seems so very
strange. Did you ever think, Ursic, that Roger could be fond
of me ?'

'We arc all fund of you,' I answered evasively.

'Yes, to be sure, and we have known each other all our lives.
Rut then he is so superior. Do you know, I think I am a little
afraid of him ; and I told him so.'


'You won't love him the less for that,' I said; 'and, Jessie, I
will tell you this about Roger, there is nothing in the world that
you need fear with him except not being open upon all points ;
you won't mind my saying that, will you ?'

' No, of course, we are sisters.' But Jessie did not look quite

' I don't know any one who can understand things, or make
allowances as he can,' I continued. ' But then he must have
full trust placed in him.'

' He is strict,' said Jessie.

' Strict with himself, and that makes him appear strict to othei
people. But only try him, Jessie. Say out everything to him,
and then see if all will not go smoothlv.'

She did not speak directly ; when she did, it was merely to
say that she was longing for Mrs Weir to know everything :
Roger was so impatient for all to be settled, but she did not like
to mention it herself.

Something — it was very trifling — in her manner gave me the
impression that she was turning away from a disagreeable sub-
ject. I had a strong inclination to pursue it whether she liked
it or not. If I had loved her heartily, I should have done so,
but I stood upon doubtful ground. So I only replied by a
remark upon Mrs Weir's health.

Jessie's face was bri-ht again directly. Mrs Weir, she said,
was much worse than usual, and there had been a fuss with Mrs
Temple. She did not, of course, know what it was all about,
but she had an idea that it had something to do with money and
a letter from Miss Milicent. She had heard Mrs Temple say
there would be no money forthcoming, and the only thing to be
done was to leave Mr Weir to go to ruin again his own way.
And then Mrs Weir had been very nervous, and cried a good
deal, and Mrs Temple had scolded her.

It was not a very hopeful condition of affairs, considering the
communication I had to make. I should only be adding to the
family disturbance. Yet I felt that in justice to Roger I must
not delay.

* I must see Mrs Temple, Jessie, dear,' I said, ' and tell her
everything : I promised Roger I would.'

She blushed painfully. ' Must you ? I had not thought of
that. She will be angry, and— but it is very kind of you,
Ursie ; you always help me out of difficulties.'

'And I must see her at once,' I said, ( if she is in the house.'


Jessie was not quite in such a hurry ; lIic lo iked, but did not
move towards the door. 'Will you go?' I add

' Yes ; but, Ursie, Mrs Temple is not very good-natured, you
know that.'

'Better than you do, perhaps; though I don't see what her
good or ill-nature can have to do with the present business.'

' I don't think she has liked me quite so well lately ; you 1.
what I told you about the letters.'

1 I know everything, dear Jessie ; I know Mrs Temple fifty
times better than you do, only go now, and ask if I may s\
with her.'

'And if she should say unkind things, you won't believe
them,' continued Jessie.

' I will believe nothing of which there is net proof,' I said ;
'but one would think you were afraid of being accused of
murder? If there is anything to tell, why not say it to me
now ?'

'Oh! there is nothing; nothing, you misunderstand. It is
all foolishness,' she exclaimed. ' I kit Mrs Temple was angry at
my going over to Dene one afternoon, when Mrs Weir let me

take a walk, and she has been cross ever since, and then' I

think Jessie meant to say more, but at that instant Mrs Temple
entered the room, and Jessie hurried away without saying even


I HAD not spoken to Mrs Temple since the day when I had
my interview with Cotton, and I was sure that she must have
felt herself injured from the fact of my having seen Mrs Weir
then without her permission, to say nothing of my having been
the recipient of Cotton's complaints. But possessing a clear
conscience upon these points, I able to look her boldly
in the face, and I curtsied, and said that I hoped I had not
come at an inconvenient time, but I had a little business with

' It would be better, another time, if you were to send word
beforehand when you wish for an interview,' said Mrs Temple,
standing, and making me stand also. 'Miss Lee is much en-
gaged, and Mrs Weir is not as well as usual.'



' I am sorry, ma'am,' I replied, ' but I had also something to
say to yourself, if you could be so good as to spare me a few

She took out her watch.

' I have an engagement almost immediately, perhaps you will
let your communication be brief.'

' It is soon made, ma'am,' I replied. 'Jessie Lee is engaged
to be married to my brother Roger, and as she will be wishing
to leave Mrs Weir almost immediately, I thought it better to let
you know.'

A cloud came over Mrs Temple's fane as though I had actually
done her an injury. 'Very singular!' she exclaimed; 'Miss
Lee gave me no idea of any plan of the kind. I have not been
treated fairly.'

' The engagement was only made yesterday, ma'am/ I re-
plied; 'we have taken the earliest opportunity of informing

'There was an agreement,' continued Mrs Temple, 'and
Miss Lee suits Mrs Weir very fairly well. I consider that I had
a right to expect more consideration.'

'Jessie will, I have no doubt, be anxious to remain with Mrs
Weir, if possible, until some one is found to take her place,'
I replied ; 'but of course I can make no promise, as everything
must depend on my brother's plans.'

'Your brother is a rash young man,' said Mrs Temple, look-
ing at me scarchingly. ' I should recommend him to inquire
before he commits himself to the step he contemplates. You
may tell him so.'

'My brother will, no doubt, be obliged to you for your advice,
ma'am,' I replied ; ' but as he is past thirty, I imagine he con-
siders himself able to judge in such a matter for himself. I should
not, therefore, like to interfere.'

'Age may not imply wisdom,' said Mrs Temple. ' Has your
brother known this young woman long ?'

' From her childhood, ma'am,' 1 replied, and turning from the
unpleasant subject, I added : ' May I ask how long you think it
will be before Jessie will be able to leave Mrs Weir, without in-
conveniencing her ?'

' I can't say. Your- brother has known this young woman
long ? Docs he know her friends and acquaintances ?'
' Nearly all of them, I believe, ma'am,' 1 replied.
'Nearly all, you believe. It would be better if it were quite


nil. 1 give the caution with no unfrieil f . Good morn-

ing. I must request you not to attempt to see Mrs Weir, she is
too ill.'

I was not to be treated in that way,— and I followed Mrs
Temple into the hall. ' Excuse me, ma'am,' I said, ' but I can't
hear hints ainst Jessie. My brother's happiness is in-

volved. If you would only be good enough to explain what you
refer to.'

' I give no explanations. I am not the person to bring for-
ward accusations. Your brother will judge for himself when he

I had no power of detaining her ; she sailed past me, — her
pony-chaise was at the door, and she drove off, leaving me to
my own conjectures. I went back to the little room, and sat for
a few moments in thought. Then I rang the bell, and asked
again if I might see Miss Lee. The message brought back was
that I was to go up to Mrs Weir's room.

I was in utter perplexity. Disobey Mrs Temple's express
wishes I could not, for she had a right to expect obedience— b::t
if Mrs Weir re: ily wanted to sec me, I might do her harm by
refusing. I sent word to Jessie that she must do as I said — she
must come to mc, and almost before I thought the message
could have reached her, she was with me. But it was onlj
entreat that I would not lose a moment, that I would go in-
stantly to Mrs Weir, for she was very ill — very stranjc — it was
impossible to know what to make of her, and Jessie was so pale
and trembling, that I could not doubt her having real cause for

' She takes it to heart dreadfully,' whispered Jessie to mc, as
we stood at the door of Mrs Weir's sitting-room.

' To heart ! you have not told her, Jessie, suddenly ?'

' You said she was to know, and I thought you were in the
house, and it was better over. But, Ursic, I never saw her in
such a way. Do go in. She will listen to you.'

I don't wonder that Jessie was frightened. Mrs Wtir was in
a perfect agony of nervous distress, rocking herself backwards
and forwards in her chair, crying like a child, — and murmuring
from time to time, ' All alone ! all alone I — yes, they all go — they
won't let me go too — all alone ! '

Jes-ic went behind her chair. I motioned to her to keep out
of the way, and went up to Mrs Weir. 'Dear ma'am,' I said,
4 you are not all alone, for there is some one here who cares for


you very much. You always used to say that you were sure
Ursula would never leave you, and you see she does not.'

She grasped my hand like a vice ; I did not know she had so
much strength in her.

' You have left me,' she said, ' there is no one but Jessie now,
and she is going too. If God would but take me — no one goes
away in heaven.'

'That will come in His good time, dear ma'am,' I said ; 'but
you have often told me that He stays with us, whoever of our
earthly friends may chance to leave us.'

' I am very wicked. God pardon me, Ursula, — I used to
love you, — now I love Jessie. I will try not to love any one

' Would not that be wrong, dear ma'am ? ' I said. ' God means
us to love one another surely. And no one has left off lovine
you. You can't think I have.'

' Yet, Ursula, you do not come to me, and you have kept things
back from me, and you would not let me have what I wanted
from the farm, and then Cotton talked to you, and that did her
harm, and she went away, and now you are wishing Jessie to go
too. I would not have treated you so, Ursula, for I loved you
very much.'

My heart sank, and in the extremity of my vexation I burst
into tears. The poor lady softened towards me in an instant.
The sight of my distress roused her from her own.

' Do not cry, Ursula,' she said ; ' it makes me sad — and I do
not want that ; and I am going to bear it all now, for it was
wrong in me to care. Jessie Lee will marry and be very happy,
and I like people to be happy. Perhaps God will some day let
me be happy in heaven.'

I took hold of her hand, and kissed it many times. She gazed
at me,— strangely and earnestly; then she said : 'They told me
you would not help me.'

' Whoever told you that, told you what is false, ma'am,' I ex-
claimed. ' There does not live on the face of the earth a single
human being who would help you, even to death, more truly than
I, if I only knew the way.'

'Would you?' she replied, and she looked round the room

'Leave us for a minute, Jessie,' I said; and when the door
was closed, I added : ' There is no one here now to listen, ma'am,
so you can say out whatever is in your mind.' Mrs Weir hesi-

33 r > URSULA.

tated, her features worketl nervously, and I could feci the quick,
thin, interrupted beating of her pulse, as she laid her hand on
mine. ' Ursula,' she said, in a low voice, ' my husband does not
want me ; but I must go to him, or I shall die. It lies here
heavy on my heart, — but they will not think it. When they say
I must not go, God lets me be tempted. I feel bitter things.
1 am not resigned to His will, anil I strive — I strive; but the
struggle is very weary. And I have had a thought sometimes
lately, that I would «o away, all by myself. It comes to me in
the ni;_;ht, and I think I will get up and go, but it is an evd
spirit that puts it into my head. It is an evil spirit, is it not?
You know, because your mind is clear, and mine is tired; O
Ursula ! it is very tired ; but it never rests from thinking.'

I was frightened, yet I did not suppose her brain was wander-
ing, only strained ; her words were calm and her look was quiet,
though intensely mournful. My reply was from instinct, — I had
no time for reflection.

'Dear ma'am,' I said, 'I don't think it is an evil spirit that
puts the wish into your heart, for it seems to me quite natural ;
and now you have said it out to me, perhaps you will be better.'

' I ought not to have said it,' she said, turning her head
quickly. 'My niece tells me that I am to crush the wish, and
kill it, but it will not die. I have never told her of that wicked
thought, that I would go away by myself. I have told you,
Ursula, because I cannot help it. I have never told any one
else ; when you are with me I always think you love me.'

I answered as quickly and decidedly as I could, ' You don't
merely think I love you, ma'am, but you know it ; and there is
nothing in the world to hinder you from speaking of anything
you wish to me. God sees no harm in the wish to go away and
join Mr Weir, — that I am quite certain of. The only trouble is
how it is to be managed. But the way will no doubt be put
before you soon if it is right, and till it is I know you will pray
to God to give you patience.'

A smile more touching to me than tears stole over Mrs Weir's
face. ' I could wait very long with hope,' she said ; 'but, Ursula,
are you sure?' and again the look of doubt was upon her, — 'my
niece says I ought to crush the wish.'

' Say it out, dear ma'am,' I replied. ' It will die away all the
quicker for that, if it is fit that it should. You know,' I added,
and I laughed a little, 'the steam docs more mischief when it is
kept in than when it is allowed to escape.'


' I think so, Ursula. I feel better, and I will try and not
think till you come to see me again. But then you never come

' I mean to come as often as I can, ma'am,' I said; 'you may
always depend upon my doing my utmost to comfort you, and I
shall have to ask you to help me about some work, for I want to
make something pretty for Jessie when she is married.'

I was almost afraid what the effect of the allusion might be;
but it was taken quietly, though mournfully, and Mrs Weir said,
— ' Yes, she will leave me soon. She has been very kind to me,
Ursula. I should like to give her something, that would please
her, but my money is gone, — all I have to give. I must keep
the rest, you know, it is wanted.'

'You may knit her something, dear ma'am,' I said ; 'she
would value that more than anything else.' Mrs Weir's face
brightened like a child's with pleasure. ' That is a good thought,'
she said. ' I have some patterns for shawls; would you look in

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 32 of 56)