Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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the drawer of my work-table, Ursula ? I think you will find
them there.'

The patterns were found and discussed; and one was chosen.
The shawl was to be white, with a pink border. Mrs Weir
threw herself into the idea with an animation which I fancied
she had entirely lost, and before I left her I doubt whether the
pain of parting with Jessie was not almost counterbalanced by
the pleasure of working for her.

Jessie and I had but a few words together before I left the
house, — and they were of no importance. I did not at the
moment remember that I had intended to have spoken to her on
the subject of Mrs Temple's hints, for other cares were pressing
on me. I had bound myself to Mrs Weir, by giving her
sympathy and encouragement, in a way I did not perceive till I
found myself walking alone over the hill, and able to think
quietly upon what had passed. I was sure my words would not
be forgotten, and I scarcely wished they should be. That inter-
view had given me a more painful impression of the state of
Mrs Weir's mind, and the necessity of some interference, than
I had ever had before. Of course I did not believe that Mrs
Temple was willingly worrying Mrs Weir out of her senses. No
doubt she had a good deal of reason on her side. But she was
acting selfishly, and on a system ; and persons who work upon
others on system seem to forget that God has willed there
(should be infinite variety in this world, both in nature and ia



human beings, — and that to suppose that what suits one will
th refore suit another, is simply m king ourselves out to be
wiser than God. Mis Temple, I knew, was strongly imbued
with the belief that all persons' nervousness, except her own,
could be cured by severity. I had often heard her say so ; and
Mrs W'cir, in her simple timidity, acquiesced in the notion, and
took the discipline bestowed upon her as medicine, — very dis-

r cable, but quite right for her to submit to ; only unfor-
tunately it did her no good. Y t wh n I say that I had a pain-
ful impression of the slate of Mrs Weir's mind, I do not mean
to imply that I thought she was going out of it. I had no idea
of the kind. Mrs Weir saw all things truly — there was no dis-
tortion of facts, and no absence of the power of reasoning upon
them. Even in her weakest, most irritable, and excitable
moments, there never had been anything of that nature. It was
merely that she was possessed (if I may so express myself) by
one idea founded upon reason ; and from bodily weakness, and
an absence of self-discipline, allowed it to assume an exagge-
rated importance. Keeping this to herself in no way lessened
the evil ; rather it increased it, for the thoughts upon which we
brood in secret arc tenfold more oppressive than those which we
openly discuss. The crushing and killing which Mrs Temple
recommended would, I was sure, be of no avail. A thou, lit
which has a rational foundation cannot be killed ; all we can
do with it is to give it light and air, and sec it in its true pro-
portion. Mrs Temple treated poor Mrs Weir's conscientious
scruple, about being absent from her husband, as she would one
of those absurd, irrational fancies which are sometimes allowed
to try p' rsons otherwise perfectly reasonable, and which can
only be destroyed by a vigorous effort of the will. Crush these
for a time, and reason itself steps in afterwards to prove their
follv. But to reason against reason is useless ; and when
conscience and reason act together, the difficulty becomes in-

I am putting down now the result of long observation. I had
none of these thoughts on the day when I walked back from
Stonccliff to Sandcombe, for, as I said before, I had been act-
ing on instinct rather than reflection ; but I could not help
seeing that I had committed myself more than was perhaps
prudent I had held out to Mrs Weir the hope that something
would be done to enable her to rejoin her husband, and I had
explicitly told her that I would see her frequently, and that she


might depend upon me for comfort. Whether wise or unwise,
I must keep my word, and that against any objection or inter-
ference on the part of Mrs Temple. Very much troubled I was
as I thought of this, and when my mind turned to my usual
adviser, Roger, I was met by the dispiriting conviction that I
could not expect to gain his full sympathy, and scarcely his
attention, and I resolved not to attempt it. It is unfair to try
any individual beyond the ordinary limits of human power ; and
a man in love is always to be looked upon as free, for the time
being, from the claims of extensive sympathy ; not however from
any principle of right or duty, but as a concession to that known
infirmity of which we all partake. The knowledge of this fact
was painful to me, but I felt safer and happier in not putting
Roger to the test than in doing so with the risk of failure. I was
already beginning to look upon him as subject to the same
weaknesses as his fellow-creatures.

Mr Richardson was my only resource, and I determined to go
over to Compton the first day I could, and put all I knew and
felt before him. Even if he could not help me, I should then
have at least the satisfaction of feeling that I was not acting
entirely on my own responsibility.

I reached home just in time for tea. Roger and John Hervey
met me at the farm-yard gate. Roger's face was full of eager
expectation. He wanted me to come with him at once, and tell
him all that had passed. John Hervey said, as Roger walked
away, ' I hope they will be happy, Ursie. You don't want me to
congratulate you.'

My heart bounded with a sense of relief. I looked up at him
and said, 'Thank you, Mr Hervey, that is like a friend.'

He said not another word, and walked into the house, but I
was brighter that evening than I had been since I heard of
Roger's plans, for I felt that there was still some one in the
world who understood me.


MR RICHARDSON was away attending upon his father,
who was dying. Such was the information given me
when I went to Compton to see him. I must manage, then, as

3 t o URSULA.

best I l ithout his advice, and after some consideration I

felt that it might be well to be bold, and make u >e of Julie's
affairs as an excuse for seeing Mrs Weir frequently. If I did
not appear to perceive Mrs Temple's dislike, I hoped it mi
not actually be exerted against me ; and if I c< uld interest Mrs
Weir, and help to keep her quiet, I might even become neces-
sary. At any rate I would try. I thought too of Jessie much
and anxiously. Mrs Temple's hints were by no means for-
gotten. I pondered upon them deeply, and again thought I
would call upon her to explain them, lint she had spoken
proudly and angrily, and the more I considered what had
passed, the less weight I was inclined to attach to her words.
Jessie's life was no mystery. I seemed to know what she had
done and said, I could almost add what she had thought, from
childhood. Her intercourse with Mrs Price and acquaintance
with Mr Macdonaid were the only things which I could really
disapprove, and I knew much better than Mrs Temple how fir
ihese had been carried. To make inquiries would be implying
suspicion, and might involve explanations which I did not feel
myself at liberty to give.

Neither could I say anything to Roger. I had always felt
that before people are engaged one is free to offer general
warnings, but that afterwards nothing but indisputable facts
can justify interference. A man cannot break his promise be-
cause he hears what he ought to have been aware of before he
made it. I had great trust, too, in Jessie herself. I saw no
reason for thinking that anything serious was amiss. She had
always given me her confidence, and the little air of secrecy I
had observed in our interview at StoneclifF was accounted for
by Mrs Temple's suspicious temper and prejudice. No douLt
Mrs Temple disliked Mr Macdonaid and Mrs Price, and
thought that Jessie was unwise for having them for her friends.
So did I. Put Je-sie knew this already. It could do no good
to make a fuss about the matter, just at the moment when
the acquaintance was likely, as I hoped, to be entirely broken
off. Altogether I thought it better to say nothing, except
continually to urge upon her the necessity of treating Roger
with perfect openness. If she would do this, all would be
well, and I could not but believe that as she knew him better,
his gentleness and sympathy would win mere and more upon
her affections, and lead her to confide every thought and feeling
to him.


So I went on, not blindly, not happily, but trying to make the
best of a state of things which I felt could not be mended.

In six weeks only from the day of their engagement, Roger and
Jessie were to be married. I suppose if the marriage had been
the event which above all others I most desired, there would stdl
have been some aggravations attending it. The mere upsetting
of household arrangements, the discussions, the preparations, the
little thoughtlessnesses and exclusivenesses, if one may use the
word, of two persons who are all in all to each other, and feel
that, for the time being, they are the pivot on which the world
turns, must alone give rise to annoyances. But in my case there
were other and much more serious causes fur vexation. I say
nothing of my own individual feeling with regard to Roger. I
have already expressed it. If it is not understood, no words of
mine will cause it to be so, and if it is, no further explanation
will be needed. But as day after day went by, and I had fresh
opportunities of studying Jessie's character, I became more dis^
heartened and perplexed at the ignorance of Roger's choice, and
the difficulties which were in preparation both for him and me.
If I could have seen why he fell in love with Jessie, I fancied I
could have been happier. But it was a moral problem which I
was wholly unable to solve. A problem also was my future
position at Sandcombe.

In his great kindness, his wish to make everything easy for
every one, Roger was always saying that his marriage would
make no change in the family. William was the master, I was
the mistress, Jessie and he would live with us, and would do
everything in their power to help us ; but they had not the
slightest wish to interfere. And Jessie was lavish in her pro-
mises, and, I am sure, perfectly sincere in her intentions. But at
the very moment Roger was saying this, he was directing all that
went on, both with regard to money matters and the management
of the farm. William was becoming every day more unfit to look
after his own affairs, and Roger was the responsible person not
only in little daily matters, but even in actual business. He had
thrown some of his money into the farm, laying it out in ways
which were considered advantageous, upon the express under-
standing, and indeed the written agreement (for he was parti-
cular enough in such ways) that when the new lease was made
cut, which it would be, according to Mr Stewart's promise, very
shortly, it was to be in his name. He would then be the master
of Sandcombe, and his wife of course would be the mistress, and


what was I to be ? I put the case before him, and to my cx-
cee ling surprise found that he actually would not sec any diffi-
culty in it ; — though, if he had been an indifferent person, the
awkwardness would have been as evident to him as the sun in
the heavens! lie said that I was wishing to draw lines where
no lines could be drawn ; that all would work well if left to itself ;
where people loved each other as we did, it must do so ; that
Jessie had the highest opinion of my judgment, and would l.e
entirely guided by me; that ho felt the same; and he addul
that he could not have thought of marrying with any idea of
turning me out of the place which I had always held. As to
names, they were nothing. What did it signify who was call 1
mistress ? Neither Jessie nor I had any foolish love of power,
and for his own part he had not the slightest doubt of our
working together delightfully. Much more he said of the same
kind, and at the conclusion he left me with the conviction
impressed more than ever on my mind, that names constitute
one of the greatest moving powers of this fallen world ; that
every name implies relations and duties ; and that to assume the
name when we are unable to fulfil the duties belonging to it is to
involve ourselves in inextricable confusion and wretchedness.

I did not say so to Roger, but I went to Mrs Kemp. It was
just a fortnight before the wedding was to take place. The next
day Jessie was to leave Mrs Weir, and come to us. I felt I
must have my mind made clear upon this subject beforehand.
Not that Jessie was likely to think about it, but I was quite sure
she would feel ; and persons who feel and don't think are the
most difficult of all to manage. I had also a little business to
settle with Mrs Kemp, as to the young person who was to fill
Jessie's place. Mrs Kemp, in her kindness, had exerted herself
to find one, in order that Jessie might the sooner be set free, and
Jessie had given me some messages for her successor, and begged
me to talk to her about Mrs Weir, so that I had to arrange a
meeting with her. Strange it was that such duties should fall to
my share, but I was, as I had anticipated, necessary just then at
Stonccliff. Mrs Temple could not bear me, but she did not
hesitate to make use of me ; and as long as Mrs Weir was
quieted by talking to me about the white shawl with the pink
border, she put up with my presence. I think she began to feel
that she might strain her authority over Mrs Weir too far.
But enough of this ; even Mrs Weir was but secondary at that


Mrs Kemp, like John Hervey, had never congratulated me
upon Roger's intended marriage. She did not approve of Jessie
Lee well enough to do so. But I think that just at first she had
fancied that having Roger with me in England would make up
for any disappointment. A very happy, prosperous, married
woman herself, she did not quite picture to herself the vexations
that a marriage may bring upon the persons only indirectly con-
cerned in it. Her simple, good sense, would, however, I was
sure, understand them the minute they were put before her. Of
course I did not intend to speak to her of my own peculiar feel-
ing for Roger. There was no one to whom I could open my
heart upon that point, unless — it may seem strange, but I could
have talked to Mrs Weir, if she had been well enough to listen.

I entered upon my subject immediately with Mrs Kemp. It
was not a pleasant one, so the less delay the better. ' I am
come,' I said, ' to consult you about the future. We are going
to begin a new life at Sandcombe, and I should be glad to know
how best to carry it out.'

' Surely, my dear,' said Mrs Kemp, and she rubbed her spec-
tacles, put them on, and took up her work — signs that she meant
to give me time and attention. ' Where is the difficulty ?'

' Who is to be mistress ? ' I said. ' Roger thinks there can be
two mistresses. I think there can't be.'

Mrs Kemp smiled. ' He would not like that there should be
two masters, my dear. And I dare say he would quote the Bible
to prove that the thing is impossible.'

I dare say he would, but he is very kind, and does not like to
hear that I am to be turned out.'

' Yet it must come to that, and it seems to me, Ursie, that
when a wound is to be made, it is kinder to do it with one cut
than with half-a-dozen ; but men are very tender-hearted.'

' I wish they were not,' I replied. ' If Roger had come to me
at once, and agreed with me how things were to be, he might
have been a great help to me. As it is — trying to make things
easy, which can't be easy — he has left me to bear the burden
alone. For I must see all truly,' I added.

' Quite right, my dear,' and Mrs Kemp patted my hand
approvingly. ' As the farmer sometimes says to me when I
grumble, " Patty, we are to fit our wishes to our circumstances,
not our circumstances to our wishes." If Roger marries, and
upsets your household, he must learn to look the change full in
the face.'


'Or I must,' I said; 'for I don't expect much fr im liim ' I
am afraid I said it a little bitterly. Mrs Kemp th< light that 1
alluded to his choice of a wife, and she answered, ' It may turn
out better than you expect, my dear. Marriage brings troul
and if people arc good for anything, trouble brings improvement.
Jessie may be a very different person as a wife from what she
has been as a girl ; though to say she is what I thought Roj i
would have chosen, would be saying what is not true.'

' Why did he choose her?' I exclaimed.

' Well, my dear, there may be a good deal said for him. I
don't know that he is different from most other men. Looking
upon the world with my old eyes, it often seems to me that
women are like the blocks in a barber's shop, which each man
dresses up to suit his own fancy. The block may be worth
something, or it may not be, it matters little for the time being.
What the man falls in love with is not the reality, but the ap-
pearance ; so it happens that the cleverer, and better, and more
kind-hearted a man is in himself, the more danger probably there
is of his making a blunder in his choice, because, you see, he has
such a charming notion of what a woman ought to be, all ready
prepared in his mind, that he has nothing to do but to fit it to
the first girl he meets, of a right age, and look, and manner, and
there is his perfect wife, ready made.'

I sighed. It seemed to me just what Roger had done.

'Jessie isn't like you, my dear,' continued Mrs Kemp.

.' No, indeed,' I continued. 'Dear Mrs Kemp, I may say it
to you, — I could not to any one else, — I have loads of faults,
terrible faults ; but I do think I have done more for Roger's hap-
piness than Jessie ever will or can do.'

'Time will show, my dear,' was the reply.

'But,' I said, — 'please don't think me conceited — I have more
sense than Jessie, and I certainly know more of the world,
and how to manage ; and I believe, too, that I have more fixed

'Excellent qualities, Ursie, my dear, for a sister ; but I sup-
pose a man like Roger wants something else in a wife.'

' He wants a pretty face,' I exclaimed, ' and a winning manner.'

' Not so much the face as the manner, my dear. Roger is so
strong in himself, that he doesn't want any one to make him

' And I am too strong for him,' I replied.

'Perhaps so. in You zee you can • lone, and act


for yourself, and form your own opinions, and you have away of
putting them out strongly ; and these are very good and useful
qualities in a sister, or a friend, but they don't suit all men in a
wife, especially not a strong man like Roger, with such a tender
heart. What he wants is something to pet.'

It was very true. Roger's tender-heartedness had been his

'Well!' I said, 'the deed is done, or all but done: the only
thing now is to make the best of it, and I don't think that will
be by following Roger's plan, and having two mistresses.'

' Certainly not, Ursie ; at hast so far as I have had any
experience. As the farmer says, whatever you do in life, ray
dear, take care that you plant your foot upon ground which has
a sure foundation ; if you don't, before long you will find yourself
standing above an earthquake ; and there is no sensation more
unpleasant, as I have been told.'

' But how to manage it ? ' I said. ' Roger won't hear of it, —
he is almost angry when last 1 talked to him. I don't think it
will do to insist upon it.'

' You can act upon it, my dear, and that will be better than
insisting. To insist upon having your own way, seems to me,
most times, like giving a man a blow in the face, — he returns it
as a matter of course.'

'I don't quite understand you,' I said.

' It is just this, my dear. If you go to Roger and Jessie, and
say that you insist upon Jessie's taking her place as mistress,
whether she likes it or not, they will very probably turn round
upon you, and think you are in a pet, and they may even com-
plain, and say that it is hard to put upon Jessie duties for which
she is not prepared.'

'Not prepared?' I exclaimed. 'How has she a right to
marry if she is not prepared to undertake every duty which her
position requires of her ? '

' Women do a great many things which they have no right to
do, my dear,' replied Mrs Kemp, quietly. ' We must take them
as they are. Many girls, cleverer than Jessie, go on groping
through life, and never discover their duties, except by knocking
their heads against them.'

' Well ! ' was my only answer ; for I felt cross and dis-

'And you sec, my dear,' continued Mrs Kemp, 'that would be
a bad beginning for you all, to quarrel at the outset.'


' Then I am to give in,' I said.

'Not at all. Only don't raise the question. Take your own
view of your position, and act upon it. A person with a fi
purpose has always the advantage over one who trusts to circum-
stances to work out life.'

'It is very droll,' I exclaimed, and I could not help laughing
a little, 'to sit here and talk over with you how to make mj
second, when most people would think that my chief wish must
be to be first.'

i ! Ursie, you love truth better than power, and that's why
I love you,' replied Mrs Kemp.

'Yes,' I said, earnestly ; 'truth is the one thing I love I
and chiefest, and dearest of all things ; let me only have tl
and I am satisfied.'

' Well, then, the truth of things now is, or will be, that Roger
owns Sandcombe, and that Jessie Lcc will be his wife ; and, in
spite of all they may say to the contrary in their good-nature,
that is the position they are to hold.'

'And the position they would wish to hold,' I replied; 'at
least I speak of Jessie. I am quite certain that if I were to put
myself in any way above her, she would be up in arms before

'To be sure. A girl may be very gentle and humble in her
ways of thinking before she is married ; but let her once be
called Mrs, and notions of her own position come as a matter of
course ; and if she is weak in herself, she is likely to lay an un-
wise stress upon them. Not but what, as I said before, Jessie
may turn out much better in that way, and in others, too, than
you and I are inclined to think. We must not be hard u]

' I don't wish to be hard,' I replied ; ' but we can't help seeing
things, and I had rather not put myself in the way of wounding
Jessie upon such a point.'

' Right enough, Uut, I think, my dear, it will all be tolerably
easy, if you go to work carefully. If I were you, I should not
make the least fuss about the matter ; 1 should not, for instance,
go and tell the servants that they were to consider Jessie their
mistress ; but I should make a point of always speaking of her
as such ; in fact, I should take it as a matter of course, and I
should consult her about everything, and make her sit at the
b ad of the table, not because she is mistress, but because she is
a married woman ; and so, by degrees, you will put her in her


true place, and please both her and Roger. For they will be
pleased, in spite of all they may say to the contrary, and then
you will all be where you ought to be, and therefore be com-

I doubted as to the comfort ; but I was sure Mrs Kemp was
right, and, feeling strengthened by her opinion, I turned to othei
subjects, — first Mrs Weir, and then the preparations for the


I WENT to Hove that day week, shopping with Jessie. Roger
drove us in, and then left us to do what we wished in the
way of purchases, saying he would be ready for us about half-
past five, and we were to meet him at the King's Arms. It was
a market day, and Hove was very full. A good many carriages
were in the town, besides officers walking about, and the place
looked gay. I was not often in Hove, for, as I could not well
leave Sandcombe with no one to take my place there, I generally
made Mary Kemp do my shopping ; but when I did go, I quite
enjoyed it. Even on this day, though I must confess that I did
not feel very light-hearted, I could find a good deal of amuse-
ment in walking about ; and Jessie was entirely happy. She
had to try on her wedding-dress, — a dove coloured silk, to be
worn with a white muslin mantilla, trimmed with pink, and a
white silk bonnet, — and I really did not wonder at the pleasure
she seemed to take in twisting and turning before the glass, for

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 33 of 56)