Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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anything prettier I had seldom looked upon. Then the dress-
maker was so civil, and made so much of her, and showed her
such a number of pretty things, while she held in her hand a
five-pound note, Roger's gift that morning, to be spent upon
anything which took her fancy ! Older and wiser heads than
hers have been placed in the same position, and felt themselves
excited and elated. I did not blame her ; only, — if she had not
been Roger's intended wife !

We might have had luncheon at a friend's house ; but, think-
ing we should lose time, we agreed to go to the pastry-cook's ;
and, as Jessie was tired, we sat down in the little inner room to
eat our veal patties. A glass partition separated us from the


other part of the shop. I sal with my back to it, for I dislilo <\
being seen ; but Jes lie ('.row her chair so as to be able to ioi 1:
through it, and very amusing remarks she mule upon the
pi rsons who came in.

' Did you ever see such a bonnet, Ursie ? Just look, if it isn't
exactly like a coal scuttle ? It must have been made before the
flood. And that little gentleman, with the red hair and the
moustache ! What a pair they arc ! I hope they won't come
in here ; I don't think they will He is talking to such a hand-
some officer now,— and, — well, I do think that is Mrs Trice just
come in. I must go and speak to her.'

She started up. I laid my hand upon her arm.

'Jessie, I won't have Mrs Trice brought here.'

I am afraid my tone was angry. Jessie sat down, and was
silent ; but she laid down her knife and fork, and gazed through
the glass.

' Do turn away,' I said, ' they will see you.'

I I can't help it if they do,' replied Jessie, in a tone of annoy-
ance. ' If we have luncheon in a public shop, wc must take our

'They won't stay long,' I said ; ' they are only buying sugar-
plums for her little nephew ; and you know it would be very
awkward for me to see Mrs Trice, because I have never returned
her visit.'

' She wouldn't mind that ; she is not at all particular,' said
Jessie. ' She has been so kind to me, Ursie, I can't give up the
acquaintance, so you had better speak to her at once, for you
will be obliged to do so before long.'

There was truth in this suggestion, but it did 'not make me
feel more amicably towards Mrs Trice to discover that the
intimacy which I had so long striven to avoid, might be forced
upon me by Jessie's marriage.

Jessie took my silence, I suppose, for assent and approval,
for without saying anything more, she suddenly walked into the
outer shop. Mrs Trice started ; there was no great cordiality
in her manner.

'Jessie, my dear, you here? What a wonder! Where did
you come from ? ' She looked at the officer, then at Jessie, hesi-
tating, I thought, whether she should introduce them to each
other ; and Jessie looked also, and seemed to expect it, — but
Mrs Trice apparently determined against it. She said some-
thing to Jessie in an undcr-tone, which I could not hear, and I


yaw Jessie change colour. I suppose it was On accouht of an
allusion to her marriage.

' You have taken us by surprise/ I heard Mrs Price say, and
Jessie made a low, timid answer. Mrs Price drew her nearer to
the inner shop, and away from the rest of the party, and then
continued, ' I have friends here you see, but it is no use to
trouble you with introductions. You have taken a different

' I hoped we should always be friends,' I heard Jessie say.

' Oh yes ; friends, of course. But a married woman, — it will
be quite different : — in short, I am disappointed, Jessie, and you
know I have reason to be.' Mrs Price spoke with the tone and
manner of wounded affection. Jessie's eyes were raised to her
with a look of wonder and vexation.

' 1 don't mean to be severe, my dear,' continued Mrs Price,
'but really, after the opportunities I have given you, — the ad-
vantages you have had, — and knowing as you must know, — but
I won't talk of that. Poor fellow ! his fate is a hard one.'

I just heard Jessie say, ' I did not think he would care,' and
then I walked forward and presented myself before them.
Jessie's countenance expressed relief; Mrs Price's pride. I
spoke as though the meeting was accidental and indifferent,
asked after her husband, and made an observation upon the
weather, and then begged Jessie to finish her luncheon, for we
had still a good deal of shopping to do.

' Pay for us, will you,' said Jessie, ' whilst I eat my patty.'

1 Yes, but I think I left my gloves on the table,' I said, making
an excuse that I might net leave her alone again with Mrs
Price ; and I went back with her to the inner room. I lingered
there, watching till Mrs Price should leave the shop, but she
was now engaged with the little spoiled boy, who could not make
up his mind what lozenges he liked. I saw there was no hope
of being rid of her, and as Jessie's luncheon was ended we went
back again. I had the money ready in my hand, that we
might not be detained, and I stood between Mrs Price and
Jessie, laid the sum on the counter, and turning round directly,
saw Mrs Price slip a note into Jessie's hand, and heard her say,
in a low voice, ' You will see it has been a hard matter to say

Jessie's colour was crimson one moment, the next she became
perfectly white. She hurried out of the shop without another
word. We went across the street to a stationer's to buy some


paper. Then, whilst I was choosing what I wanted, I observed
her take up a book under pretence of looking at it, and slipping
the note between the le '. . r» ad it, as I suppose she imagined,
unperceived. After that she seemed quite to have recovered
herself, and we finished the remainder of our busint kly,

and at half-past five met Roger and were driven back again to

As I sat in the back scat of the chaise, I pondered ninny
things in my mind ; most especially how far one could be at
liberty to found uncomfortable suspicions upon mere trifles. 'J
result of my deliberations I communicated to Jessie when I fol-
lowed her that night to her room.

I began at once. 'Jessie, I have something upon my mind.
\> u know I am always outspoken, so you must let me be so now.
I don't like Mrs Price, and I don't like what she said to you in
the shop to-day. I could not help hearing it.'

' I don't like her as I used to do,' replied Jessie. ' I felt to-
il. iy, Ursic, that you were right about her, and that I was


' I am glad of that,' I continued. ' She is underhand, and I
think she might lead you into mischief if you were to see mui h
of her.'

' I am sure of it, and I don't mean to see much of her,'
Hcd Jessie.

I paused— and thought of the note. 'You don't intend to
keep up anything like a correspondence with her, of course,
then,' I ventured to say.

' Oh dear, no ! We have never written to each other except
about little matters of business.'

Surely that was enough to satisfy mc — yet I added one caution

' I shall be glad when you have learned to like only those whom
Roger approves of. He could never like Mrs Price.'

' lie told me so, this evening,' she replied. 'Indeed, Ursie, I
quite feel with him.'

I could but ki-s her, and tell her that if she was guided by her
husband, she would go safely and happily through life, and with
a lighter heart I went down-stairs to say a few words to Roger.

We discussed the affairs of the day ; the purchases and orders,
the wedding guests, the household arrangements. Just as we
had finished, he said to me, 'I have had such a charming talk
wi'.li Jessie to-night, Trot. I wish you could have heard it. She


is so simple, just like a child, and yet with such capital good
sense. She quite sees all that you and I see in Mrs Price.'

4 I think she does,' I replied. ' She said as much to me just
now, and I am very glad, Roger, that she can talk out to you
about everything.'

' I don't believe she has a thought kept back,' she replied.
'Even about that stupid Lieutenant Macdonald she came out
freely, though some girls might have been shy. I don't know
why I should call him stupid, though,' he added, laughing, 'as I
am sure I never had any cause to be jealous.'

' It was a silly business,' I said, though feeling greatly relieved ;
1 Mrs Price was at the bottom of it. She grows worse and worse
to me. I can bear with her when she forgets herself, but when
she puts on the fine lady, as she did to-day, I have scarcely
patience to look at her.'

' She is odious,' he exclaimed. ' Did Jessie look very sweet
in her wedding-dress ? I want her to let me see her in it before
the day.'

' We won't forestall pleasure,' I said ; ' at any rate, Roger, you
may be satisfied with having a very pretty wife.'

' And a very good one, Ursie ' — and he became suddenly
grave. ' I am not quite such a fool as I seem, though when I
look at her' — he stopped short, and then added : ' if I did not
think that my choice was good in God's sight, I could give her
up even now.'

Fears, suspicions, warning ! where could they be after that
speech ? I went to bed, and to sleep.


"^HE twelfth of June was as brilliant a day as ever dawned
-L upon this fallen earth. If it is pictured in my memory in
shades of darkness, the fault is mine and mine alone. I could
scarcely have had more than four hours' sleep the night before.
I went to bed very late, and I was up again soon after sunrise.
Even now I can recall the soft beauty of the morning mists
floating over St Anne's ; the glittering of the dew on the turf, the
clear song of the birds, and the fresh scent of the warm air pass-


ingover the down. And I was with Rogfir at Sandcombe ; the
home of my infancy. I was to live with him there for years —for
life, if so 1 willed. The prayer I had often made was granted,
but so ns to be my trial, not my joy.

We were to be a small party. Mary Kemp and I were to be
the bridesmaids, and Mrs Kemp had promised to come Ov«r
early to help me with the preparations for breakfast. Some of
i ir friends were to meet us at Compton church, and come back
with us, and after breakfast Roger and Jessie were to drive ii
Hove, and take a fly from thence to a small village, a kind of
watering place, about ten miles off. Roger meant to take Jessie
to London afterwards, but he wished to have a Utile quiet with
her first. So the day was mapped out. There was so much
household business to be attended to, that I could not dress,
myself for the wedding at once, but I put on my common gown,
and went down-stairs to help Martha, and look to the poultry
and the dairy just as usual. There was nothing to make me f< 1
the change that was coming upon me, except the weight at my
h< ait, and the sight of ihe chairs put in order against the great,
round dining-table in the large parlour. That had been done
the night before ; Roger and Jessie had helped to place them, and
had passed many jokes as to where every one should sit. Their
voices seemed still to linger in the empty room.

About half-past seven I went up to help Jessie, but she was
not ready for me, and I strolled out into the garden to gather
some flowers for her to put in her dress. Roger was there before
me for the same purpose. He greeted me tenderly, so indeed as
I can never forget, and we took a turn round the garden
together ; but we neither of us seemed to know what to say to
e ich other, and when he had put his flowers together, he said he
would take them up to Jessie himself, and he went auay and
left me.

' William came out, groping rather than walking, for his
eyes were failing him almost entirely. I could not let him be
alone, and I joined him. He was afraid that we should be late,
I he complained of Jessie's want of punctuality, and said he
was sure she would drive Roger frantic, if she went so, and at
1 st he came so fidgety that I was obliged to go in to hasten
Jessie. I found her standing before the glass, with her dress on,
ready to be fastened. When I gazed upon her, so young, fresh,
lovely, and loving, a spring of fondness welled up, as it were,
from the depths cf my heart, and, as I kis.^d her, I whispered,


1 Jessie ! you look as though you would make Roger happy,
and I am sure he will make you so.'

She turned her soft eyes upon me earnestly. 'Do you think
I can make him happy, Ursie ? I am afraid he may have made
a mistake.'

I smiled. ' It is too late to think of that,' I said ; ' he must
take his chance.'

Still she was grave. Instead of moving so that I might dress
her, she went on : ' He thinks better of me than he should
Ursie, have you told him all my faults ?'

' He has known you long enough to find them out,' I answered.
' At any rate, they must be left for the present. William will
be so vexed if we don't go down.'

'Mrs Temple would give me a worse character than I give
myself,' persisted Jessie.

I became a little impatient, and answered : ' Dear Jessie, you
have chosen the worst moment possible for such a subject. You
should have made your confessions before.'

'It came over me last night,' she said. 'I couldn't sleep.
But, Ursie, I love him dearly. That is the chief thing, isn't it?'

' ^ r es, indeed, it is all he asks now, except confidence.'

' I told him about Mr Macdonald,' she said, ' all I could. I
think he understands.'

'If he doesn't, you must make him. There is nothing in it to
pain him.'

' Oh, nothing ! nothing ! It was all folly. I am ready now '
please dress me. I am so glad you say it is nothing.'

Her face brightened into its usual light-hearted expression.
She made me fasten her mantilla with the gold brooch, which
was William's gift; and clasp the hair bracelet, which was mine;
and then with a merry step she ran to the head of the stairs,
returning to say, — ' Ursie, you are to be my wisdom, Roger
declares, and I am to do everything you tell me.'

I was pleased. I don't think I knew then how little human
wisdom can aid in a struggle with the temptations of a sinful

The farmer and Mrs Kemp, Mary, and John Hervey arrived
just as Jessie was ready. They came over in the farmer's double
chaise. I was very glad to have them all with me ; they took
off much of the duty of being in good spirits, — the most trying
duty a person can have to perform ; and I left William, and the
farmer, and John to have their jokes, whilst I went with Mr*

354 ^''' s ' ' - '■

mp and M.ry to show them how we had arranged for the
p rty after church. Mrs Kemp had brought over some sweet
things in the chaise,— jelly and blanc-mange, which she and
iv had made for me. I was quite satisfied with the look of
the breakfast when it was laid out. Rogei lingered about by
himself, for Jessie was gone up-stairs. We are expecting the
fly every minute. I longed to be with him, and yet I was afraid.
At la't I did summon i ourage, and I went and said, with a little
laugh, as I put my hand on his shoulder, 'Arc 3 j unpa-

ticnt ? We can't have many minutes to wait.'

lie turned round to me quietly, and said, ' People arc not
impatient, I'rsie, when they are quite satisfied, 1

There was no room for sympathy, and I moved away.

lie was the only man I ever saw who did not look scared on
his wedding-day.

We drove to church,— Jessie, Mrs Kemp, Mary, and I in the
fly; and Roger, William, the farmer, and John in the chaise.
The country people had collected in the churchyard, and many
were in the church. Farmer Kemp led Jessie up the aisle, and
placed her before the altar by Rogers side.

It had all been a dream to me till then. Mr Richardson's
voice, as he addressed the congregation, telling them wherefore
they were met together, — even 'to join together this man and
this woman in holy matrimony,' was the first sound which awoke
me to a sense of reality.

No marvel that Roger was grave. There is but one thing
more awful than marriage, — and that is death.

It was but a short service, performed without blunder or
hesitation ; Jessie's voice never failed her ; and Roger, as he
grasped the small hand so lovingly given him, vowed unfalter-
ingly, with all the honest fulness of his heart, to take Jessie for
his ' wedded wife, to have, and to hold, to love, and to cherish,
till death.' The ring was placed upon her finger, the prayer
offered for the performance of that solemn covenant, and they
were joined together, and no man could put them asunder.

The words which made them one were the same which, in the
secrecy of my heart, I knew must make Roger and myself two.

It was a bitter consciousness, but it was to be put away from
me now for ever. I trust and believe there was no trace of it
in the kiss which I gave Jessie when Roger brought her up to
me and said, ' She is your sister.' I know I resolved that,
through God's help, there should be none thenceforth, in


thought, or word, or deed. A considerable bustle and confu-
sion took place when we left the church. Our friends, who
were to be at the breakfast, came up to offer their congratula-
tions, and when Roger and Jessie went off in the fly, arrange-
ments were to be made to carry back Mary Kemp and me, as
there was only one vacant place for Mrs Kemp in the chaise.
I wished, and had settled to walk, but no one would hear of it,
and at last Mr Richardson insisted upon it that we should have
his little pony-chaise, and John Hervey offered to drive us. I
don't know quite how it was, but just as we were setting off, the
farmer called out to Mary that there was a place for her now in
the chaise ; and as we had all been running to and fro like
hunted sheep, Mary jumped in, and John Hervey and I were
left behind. I was sorry for the moment, but I did not care
much about. I did not care for anything, indeed, except silence,
and that I knew John Hervey would understand. I don't think
we spoke half a dozen words all the way home ; but when he
helped me out of the chaise, he said, ' Marriages are trying
things, Ursie ; one doesn't know whether one's foot is on land
or water.'

'I know where mine is,' I said, hastily; 'on water.' He
grasped hold of my hand kindly, and I could almost have said
there were tears in his eyes.

'It is very wrong in me,' I exclaimed, ' I ought not to have
said it, but you will forget it.'

' If I can. But things often turn out better, Ursie, than we

'And if they turn out worse, there is no use in dwelling upon
them,' I said. ' Now, Mr Hervey, we are going to be very
merry.' And I ran away from him, went up-stairs, set myself
in order, — by a short prayer and a deluge of cold water to my
face, — and then re-appeared, to be the cheerful, attentive, happy
hostess of the party at Roger's wedding-breakfast.

Nothing can be more same than weddings. I have already
described William and Leah's ; and there was an oppressive
phantom-like feeling of repetition in all that went on on the
occasion of Roger's marriage. Healths were drunk and speeches
made; and many of the persons present were those who had
congratulated Leah Morris on the pleasant prospects before her
when she became the mistress of Sandcombe. If it had not been
for a glance at poor William's helpless movements, and the sight
of Jessie's pretty little face, turned so sweetly upon Roger, and


smiling and blushing with surprise whenever <dic was addressed
as Mrs Grant, I could almost have believed that Time had
flowed backwards. Almost, not quite ; when I had leisure to
think of myself, the weight at my heart told me what a burden
of experience and thought Time had brought, as it had borne
me onwards.

Roger and Jessie did not leave us till late in the afternoon ;
that helped the day very much. Roger's thoughtfulncss was
greater than I can describe. He seemed to understand exactly
all the little things which might trouble me when I was left alone
to manage everything for every one by myself ; and he and
John Hervcy made arrangements about the wine for the evening,
and the supper for the men who were attending to the horses,
and settled, in fact, a number of things which would never have
entered my head, but which would have perplexed me if they
had taken me unawares. For the time I seemed to be more in
Roger's thoughts than Jessie, who was finishing the packing, with
Mary Kemp to help her. He was so like what he ever had been,
I could not think why I felt any difference, till some one came
up to him laughing, and said, ' Mr ('.rant, your wife wants you.'
The smile that stole over his face then made me walk away and
mix with the guests, fidget about Jessie, and keep myself in a
continual bustle till the fly drove up to the door, the luggage
was ] ut in, and — they were gone. How I talked and laughed
that evening, and did everything, indeed, like everybody else,
except eat and drink, I cannot imagine, now that I look back ;
but I know that I was told it was delightful to see me enjoy
myself, and I believe there might even have been something like
enjoyment in the excitement of feeling which forced me to exert
myself. But the reaction came. When the wedding-guests were
gone — when Farmer Kemp had given me his parting salute on
both cheeks, and Mrs K;mp and Mary had said their affectionate
good-bye, and John Hervcy had offered me a quiet shake of the
hand, which did not want words, and I was left alone with
William, and his irritable fatigue, and the burnt-up candles, and
the em; ty glasses, and the disarranged chairs — who shall won-
der th .t I stole up to my room and cried bitterly?



FOR three weeks longer I was to be the undisturbed mistress
of Sandcombe. The days were sufficiently occupied in pre-
paring for the time when my authority was to be shared, if not
entirely surrendered. I cannot say that the prospect was plea-
sant, little as I fancied I loved power. According to the old
proverb, 'The value of anything is never known till it is lost ;'
and I had not till this time been aware how much my comfort
had been increased, latterly, by having no one to dispute my
will in little domestic matters. Mrs Kemp's advice I knew to be
wise, but it was not easy to bring myself to act upon it. I could
have resigned my office at once formally, and found some satis-
faction in the sense of freedom which would follow. But to have
all the labour and responsibility, and compel another to take the
dignity of power, was trying to human nature, and especially such
a nature as mine — hasty and resolute, able to undertake great
works, or practise great self-denials, but fretting against petty
restraints, and peculiarly irritated by the difficulties involved in
the untruthfulness of a false position. Happily, however, I had
no leisure to forestall evils. Between William, and the farm, and
the kitchen, I was incessantly occupied, and had only time to go
over to Stonecliff once, to inquire for Mrs Weir. The visit was
unsatisfactory. Mrs Temple made many complaints of the new
attendant, and seemed to think that I was answerable for her
faults, because I had first mentioned her name. She did not
allow me to see Mrs Weir alone, and before I departed hinted
that great changes might soon be expected. ' Mr Temple
thought of letting Stonecliff for a time; perhaps they might
remove from it altogether. Of course, wherever they went
Mrs Weir would go also. She could not live without them.' I
made no observation at the time, but when I returned home,
without asking advice of any one, I wrote a letter to Miss Mili-
cent. It was a strong measure to take, but I felt it to be neces-
sary. For Mrs Weir to be dragged about wherever Mrs Temple
chose to carry her, and with no one to be a check upon her,
seemed to be not only cruel but dangerous in the poor lady's
present state. If anything could bring Miss Milicent to see her
duties in a straightforward way, I thought it might be such a plan
as this.

I was waiting for the answer to the letter when the day arrived


on which Roger and J ie were expected home. We had sent
the chaise into Hove for them, and tiny were to be with us about
six o'cl < ':, in time for tea, which was put ready for them in
'iir. I had gathered some flowers to make the
; >ok fresh and pretty, and made some tea-cakes which I

ie was particularly fond of. I pleased a it la

i inking that Roger would like these little attentions, and as I
wait d at the garden gate, looking up the lane by which they
v. uld conic, I almost believed that I was anticipating the m
in.; with p] :asure. It was a glorious evening, warm and yet

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 34 of 56)