Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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h, the very feeling of life was enjoyment ; and even William,
who came in about this time from the farm, and joined me,
seemed to regain his spirits under its influence. He leaned over
the gate, straining his poor dim eyes, and fancying he saw, and
being almost certain he heard them coming, whilst he talked to
me of the comfort of having Roger with us, and : Jessie

for her thoughtfulness in having written often ; and it did me
good to heat him. His was a much more thankful, contented
mind than it used to be.

'There they are, I am sure those are the wheels now, Ursic,'
he exclaimed. ' They are at the top of the lane ; — hark ! don't
you hear ?'

No, I heard nothing but the noises of the men with the cows
and horses in the farm-yard. But William's ear was sharper
than mine. He was right A turn in the lane had hid th m
from us ; but in a few seconds the chaise was seen, coming
slowly down the hill. William threw open the gate and went

' Hollo ! stop ! what are you going round there for ? '

Roger was driving the chaise into the yard, but he drew uj>,
I jumped out, and before speaking to us turned round to h Ip

' Well ! my good fellow ! welcome home again. And, Jessie,
I may have a kiss now,' and William sized Roger's hand, whilst
i. kissed Jessie, and then shook both their hands again, scarcely
able to express his delight.

'Trot! my little Trot!' Roger disengaged himself from
William, and gave me a bear's hug, and then stood aside whilst
I welcomed Jessie. ' How arc you, dear Jessie ? Arc you very
1? Have you had a long journey? You must want your
t It is quite ready for you.' The words were cold to my own
ear;, I hope they were not so to hers. Wc went in at I den


gate. Jessie put her arm within Roger's, and went first, William
and I walked behind.

' She is a little tired,' said Roger, turning round to me as we
went in-doors. ' We had such a day of business and sight-seeing
yesterday, but we were determined to see everything. To-night
she must go to bed early, and have a good rest.'

' As early as she likes,' I said, ' only we will give her some tea
first. I am afraid, Jessie, you won't find everything quite com-
fortable in your own room. I thought the new chest of drawers
would have been sent to-day, but that stupid Thompson at Hove
has disappointed me.'

' Never mind, we don't care for chests of drawers, do we, love ?'
said Roger. ' Home is the thing. Run up-stairs and take oft'
your things, and then come down to tea. And, Ursie, if you
will just not let her unpack her boxes to-night. What are you
burdening yourself with that for?' he added, as Jessie took a
large brown paper parcel in her hand ; ' all you will want now
will be the small carpet-bag.' Jessie said there w^as something
particular in the parcel, she must have it, and Roger then took
it from her, and went up-stairs with it. He had left the carpet-
bag, and as it was small I carried it up myself.

1 If you will rest it here, Ursie,' said Roger, pointing to a
chair, but not offering to lift the bag, ' I can unlock it, for
I have the keys. I wouldn't trust her with them/ he added,

' How pretty the flowers are,' said Jessie ; 'and how pleasant,
and bright the room looks, Ursie ; you must have taken a great
deal of trouble about it.'

Roger gave me a kindly smile. ' She is a good, little Trot,' he
said. ' The flowers are not quite so grand, Jessie, as those we
saw in London, are they ? Such a sight, Ursie, in Covcnt
Garden ! I took Jessie there quite early ; but she will tell you
all about it, all we have seen and done. A capital traveller she
makes, and she remembers everything.'

' Ursie, dear, you look tired,' said Jessie, when Roger went
away ; ' I am afraid you have been working too hard for us.'

I did feel very tired, but I evaded an answer. I don't think I
felt inclined for pity, and I went down-stairs.

'The place of honour for you, Jessie,' said William, as he drew
out an arm-chair for her, when she entered the room ; Jessie
placed herself in it at once. ' She does not look much the
worse for her fatigue, does she?' said Roger, gazing at her with


a satisfaction which he did not endeavour to conceal. 'That
gown is the one Mrs Kemp gave yen, love, is it not? You
must tell her how useful it has been;' anil he stretched out his
hand and smoothed down the frills, — an action which I could
tind no fault with, but which gave me a most uncomfortable

' by the by, I have some news to tell you about Mary Kemp,'
said Jessie ; ' wc heard it in the waiting-room to-day, just as wc
were starting.'

* A'uout John Hervey, rather,' said Roger ; ' that old uncle of
his is dead at last, and has left him five thousand pounds, to say
the least.'

' ( )f course he will make up to Mary Kemp at once,' said

' I an; not so sure of that,' I replied. ' They go on very oddly,
and I know they are not engaged, for Mrs Kemp told me so
herself. She only thinks they like each other.'

' And you have never said anything to Mary,' asked Jessie.

'No; how could I? If she was not engaged, how could I
ask her whether she cared for him ?'

' I should have found it out somehow,' said Jessie. ' I always
thought there was a regular engagement.'

'Women can't understand waiting and fearing,' said Roger;
and he laughed.

' It is the fact of there being no engagement which puzzles
me,' I said. ' Mary is the last person to let a man dangle on,
paying her attentions, without coming to any conclusion. She
has no vanity in her.'

'That is saying more than I would say for any woman,'
observed William.

' I don't know that women are more vain than men,' said
Roger; 'and if they arc, they have more cause to be, haven't
they, Jessie ?'

Jessie laughed, and blushed, and gave no direct answer,
merely remarking that Mary Kemp was better than most people.

'I think you must know more about the affair between her
and Mr Hervey than any one else,' I said, addressing her; 'I r
I remember it was you who set the rumour afloat, and I have all
along half credited it, because you told me it was so.'

' ?\Irs Price, not I,' said Jessie. ' She is given to gossip, and
she always declared they would many.'

'Time will show if we wait long enough,' observed Roger,


'and m the mean season, we will give them both our best wishes.
Jessie, love, you are not eating anything. Have some more tea-
cake ; this is just the kind you like.'

Jessie helped herself to a small piece, but Roger insisted upon
her taking what was left, which was little enough. William and
he never touched such things, he said, and as I had made the
cakes, I was likely to have had enough of them, so the chief duty
devolved upon her.

My face was nearly hidden by the urn. Jessie peeped round
it and said, ' He is very unfair upon you, Ursie. I don't at all
see why, having made the cakes to please me, which I am sure
you did, you are not to enjoy them ; do have some.'

I shook my head, and murmured something ; but I did not
venture to do more, and making an excuse to fetch some sugar,
I left the room. Turning into the large parlour, I put down the
candle upon the table, closed the door, and walked up and down
the room.

To be vexed about such trifles ! to care for Roger's not offering
me a piece of cake, or letting me carry a carpet-bag, or omitting
to notice my flowers. I could not have believed it was in me.
And to be irritated with Jessie, and her little kind thoughtful-
ness ; — it was actually mean. Did I indeed so dearly love
power, that I could not submit to common civility from her,
because I had hitherto considered it my place to show rather
than to receive attention ? But it was not power that I cared
for ; I felt sure it was not. If Roger had only recognised that I
had worked for him ; if he had only said that he knew I had
done all to please him, I hoped I should have been satisfied.
But he was engrossed with his one object, and what could I
expect ? Jessie's thanks and attentions were galling, because
he was silent.

I could not comfort myself ; I could not even set myself right
by owning that I was quite wrong. The feelings were so mixed.
They were selfish and unjust, and yet not without cause. I
waited for a few minutes, just sufficient to recover my composure,
and then with a hard feeling of endurance, under which lay a
quick irritability, ready to spring forth at the least provocation,
I returned to my place at the tea-table. I had not been missed.
Roger was giving an account of his London experiences, and
calling upon Jessie to corroborate them ; and she was adding
little comments and anecdotes, which helped to amuse William,
and made our evening brighter than it had been since she left


us. They talked fast and merrily, and seemed satisfied wiih my
attention, as I now and then added a word, whilst I helped the
servant to carry away the tea-things, and then went to look after
some other household matters.

It must have been merely a fancy of R . . th '. J -sic was
tired. She chatted on as though she had only just risen from a
good night's rest, and moved about quite briskly. A little while
before prayers, fur instance, Roger was telling us something
about an exhibition they had seen, and wishing he had a book
that he had bought, which described it ; he said he was too lazy
to go and search for it.

Jessie started up in a moment. ' I will go ; let me go, Ri
I know just where it is.'

1 le smiled kindly upon her. ' No, love, I can't let you trouble
yourself; we will look at it to-morrow.'

; Let me go,' I said ; 'where shall I find it ?'

'I cant describe where, exactly,' said Jessie; 'though I can
guess, for I packed all his things myself. I suspect it is hidden
with some other treasure?, between your second-best coat and
your wedding waistcoat, Roger,' she added, laughing, as against
his orders, she ran up -stairs.

I sat down again, wondering at the change which had come
over the world, and which had transformed the thy. respectful
Jessie Lee, scarcely able to look upon Mr Roger without awe,
into the attentive, but free and merry little wife. She came
down again, bringing with her the book, and also a note, which
Martha had just given her for Roger from Mr Stewart of

'What is there in it?' she said, and she peeped over his

lie smiled and held it for her to read. 'Nothing of conse-
quence, you see. I will go over some day soon.' lie put the
r in his pocket, and went on tali about the exhibition.

If I felt chilled and jarred, pcrha ry he excused, \\Lv.n

it is remem that hitherto I had b en the petted and privi-

leged person to whom Roger turned on every occasion, and
that now I could not consider myself at liberty to go to his room,
or inquire the contents of a note, without something like an

Yet Jessie was right in all she did ; that was the greatest
grievance of all, for if so, surely I must be wrong.

The first week of Jessie's return was unsettled. She had her

URSULA. 3<5j

things to unpack, and Roger was coming to her upon one excuse
or another every hour, taking her with him to see this, or give
an opinion upon that. He did not put me aside, but he was
continually remembering me, and this must always be painful to
one who has been accustomed to be thought of. We had a
good many visitors, and wine was handed round, and wedding-
cake eaten ; and Jessie looked very pretty, and behaved very
pleasantly. She seemed quite in her fit place, as she sat up in
her best silk dress to receive the congratulations, and I felt
myself in mine as I waited upon every one. If I could only
keep her a doll, and work for her, my task would be easy. But
Mrs Kemp's admonitions sounded in my ears, and as many
days went by, and the excitement of the return went off, I felt
that we must all face our new positions, and follow out life

And how to begin ? I made my first effort on a baking-day.
We were very busy as usual, but I heard something about a
drive for Jessie in the afternoon, and I knew that she was up-
stairs doing something to her dress in preparation for it.

I sent Esther Smithson to her, to ask if she would be home
late, and whether Jane, our little school-girl, was to be kept to
help clean up the kitchen.

Esther brought me back word, that if I would just settle the
matter, Mrs Grant would be obliged. It was uncertain how late
she should be.

Upon this, I went up to Jessie, and found her at her work,
and, as it happened, Roger with her. He had come in from the
farm only a few minutes before.

'What do you want, Trot?' he said, cheerfully, as I entered
the room. ' She is a bird of ill omen, Jessie, isn't she ? always
full of business.'

' Mine is an easy business, for once in a way,' I said. ' I only
want to make Jessie say what she wishes.'

'Anything that you wish, Ursie, I am sure,' said Jessie. 'You
know a great deal better than I do. Do you think, Roger, we
shall have time to go round by Stonecliff, if we set off at half-
past three ? '

'We will try,' he said ; ' I know you have set your heart upon
going to Mrs Weir.'

' If you do go that way/ I said, 'you might just stop and see
little Jane's mother, and talk to her about the child's coming
earlier in the mornings.'

3 r >4 URSULA.

' If we pass the cottage, we can,' answered Jessie ; 'but I am
not sure that we shall go tli t road.'

'What is little Trot thinking of?' said Roger, patting mc on
the shoulder, and noticing, as I suppose, my grave face.

'Only,' I said, lightly, 'that if Mrs Grant docs not give licr
own orders, people won't understand that they are bound to obey
ih em.'

'.Mrs Grant has such an excellent substitute,' said Jessie,
laughing. 'She docs not want to give orders. Why, Urate, you
know twenty times more about housekeeping than I do.'

• Then isn't it time you should learn?' I said.

'She will learn from you,' said Roger, quickly; 'she can't
h ive a better teacher. You know I told you, Ursie, that no one
wanted to turn you out of your place.'

'But I may want to vacate it,' I said, and then observing that
Roger and Jessie both looked rather uncomfortable, I added,
'At any rate, I don't like to fill it entirely by myself; so, Jessie
dear, do tell me how long ycu think you shall be out this after-
noon, and whether you would wish us to keep Jane.'

' I suppose she may as well stay,' said Jessie, 'if you think it

' There is a good deal to do,' I said, ' because of the baking.'

' Oh ! yes, I forgot. How stupid of me ; I ought not to have
fixed my drive for to-day ! But now it is all arranged. I suppose
it does not very much signify.'

' Not much. Will you remember to tell Jane's mother what
you have to complain of? '

' If I don't forget, I will, certainly ; and, Ursie, will you and
William try to settle a day for a party? People are asking me
out so, I must have them here in return, mustn't I, Roger?'

He smiled an assent, and Jessie, who had left her work to talk
to mc, went on with it diligently.

Roger followed mc as I went away. ' You are vexed, Ursie,
about something, what is it ? '

' Nothing, nothing,' was my answer.

' N thing has no meaning ; I must know.'

' Nothing that you can remedy ; or at least that you will re-
medy,' I said.

' Then you think me very much altered. I always have wished
to remedy what you found fault with.'

x altered, Roger. Oh no ! it was what I ought to have
known ;' but I felt myself becoming mysterious, and knew tint

VkSULA. 365

Would make me irritating, so I burst through all reserve and
prudence, and added, ' I am afraid you are going the way to
spoil Jessie.' For almost the first time in his life 1 saw him
look proud and hurt.

' That is a grave charge,' he said. I don't quite perceive what
reason you have to make it.'

' If you make a doll of her,' I said, ' you must spoil her.'

' Making a doll of her, I suppose, means making her useless.
She is scarcely that, for she is always busy.'

' Yes, with her own concerns, and I don't mean to say that she
does not help me when I ask her.'

'And when you don't ask her,' he said. ' She has taken u; on
herself entirely the duty of waiting upon William.'

' Because she likes reading aloud,' was on my lips ; but I
would not say it, for it would have annoyed him, so I answered,
' People speak of her as the mistress of Sandcombe, and there-
fore it is right that she should attend to the duties.'

He misunderstood me completely, my ill-concealed irritation
misled him as to my feelings, and he replied, ' Nobody wishes
to take power from you, Ursie ; Jessie least of all.'

' Of course, of course not, — I don't think of such a thing ; —
Roger, why can't you understand ?'

' Because you create difficulties where there are none,' he
replied ; 'Jessie is willing to make a slave of herself, if it is
needed. She will work herself to death if I will let her. All she
wants is just to be told what to do ; and, Ursie, I have quite de-
pended upon you for that.'

Quite right — quite true ! but there was a falsity at the bottom,
and I could not make him see it. Jessie went for her drive, saw
Mrs Weir, called upon little Jane's mother, came home and told
me of it, as if she had done a meritorious deed, — then helped me
in the kitchen, read to William ; and because I asked her to do
it, hemmed table-cloths after tea, and went to bed thinking, I am
sure, that she had done me a favour, and sacrificed herself to
assist me in my duties.

366 SC/LA.


MY letter from Miss Miliccnt came, though not till after con-
siderable delay. I opened it anxiously, prepared to be
prov iked if it were only by Miss Milicent's scrawling letters

upon the thin foreign paper.

'Dear Ursi e G r a n t,

' I received your letter a fortnight ago. I should have an-
swered it before if I had known what to say. Matilda Temple is
doing just what I thought she would ; I can't think why my
mother submits.

' It you were to tell her that you think it bad for my mother
to go away, perhaps she would be frightened and stay where she
is, for she does net like you, and thinks you your mind.
As to my coming home, I should do no good if I were there, for
my mother never listens to me, and Matilda Temple and I can't
help quarrelling. My father and I are going into Normandy
soon, he has some business there. If I come home at all, it
must be to get some money, for no one sends me any. I am
sorry your brother Roger has married Jessie Lee. I thought he
was a wiser man. I never had a sister-in-law, so I don't know
how I should like one. I am glad you have taken to seeing my
mother oftener. She likes you better than most people, and you
understand her whimsies. I should like to hear about the
school-children at Compton. This is a strange place, the
people's ways are so odd. As I don't go to their churches, I
very like a heathen.

' My father is out a good deal, and I only know a few persons,
but it will be pleasant enough going into Normandy. I wish, if
you hear of any one coming to France, you would send me a
pair of stout boots, such as the shoemaker at Hatton used to
make for me. I can't get such here. Paris is a very flimsy
place. I have great trust in you, Ursie Grant, and am sure that
you will manage best in ' g my mother near you.

' I am glad you wrote to me, for I don't often hear any Comp-
ton news.

' Your sincere friend,
' Milicent Weir'

Did all the world do their duty by deputy ? That was almost


my first thought when I had finished Miss Milicent's letter.
Such a quiet way of setting a claim aside, and letting it fall upon
another, was so startling that, really, it was enough to make me
think I was under a mistake — and that Miss Milicent was not
bound to come home and take care of her mother, but might
rightly leave all to me.

Persons who have a clear eye to their duties lay themselves
open, I have observed, to much more blame from the world than
those who turn away and don't appear to see them. The
standard we set up for ourselves is that which, for the most
part, people expect us to follow. As, for instance, when a man
is indolent, or extravagant, or selfish, it is commonly said, ' Oh,
yes! but what can you expect from such a man?' As if the
faults which he permitted to himself were his excuse. I found
this even with regard to Miss Milicent I believe Mrs Kemp
and myself were almost the only persons who had not learned
to say, 'Well, she is so odd and so wilful, that it does not much
signify. She must go her own way, for she will never go any
other person's.' And I know I was thought uncharitable, when
I saw that the fact of her not being able to be of use to her
mother was a fault, and could never be an excuse for remaining
away. In this free country of England, we are, upon the whole,
willing to let every one be what he chooses, so long as he gives
notice of it, that others may not come in his way. But England
is not heaven, and we English people are not angels, and I sup-
pose the judgment of the angels in heaven may be somewhat
different from ours. I was wrong, though, in saying that Mrs
Kemp and myself were the only persons, there was one other
— John Hervey ; and I had an opportunity of talking to him
upon the matter soon after receiving Miss Milicent's letter. He
was less at Sandcombe than he used to be, and when he did
come we said but little to each other. Though I felt he under-
stood my disappointment about Roger, I could not talk of it,
and he was just so intimate that there was no choice between
keeping on the surface of all things, or going deep into them.
Mrs Weir, however, was neutral ground, and I was pleased to
have his sympathy, and pleased, too, to hear a little about the
money that had been left him, and to sound him about Mary
Kemp. His feeling for her was a real perplexity to me. Like
her I was sure he did, and she liked him. They were excellent
friends and cousins, and quite at home with each other. Only
too much so, I thought, for anything more serious. The world,

368 I 'RSVI.A.

however, had so long set it down that they were to be married,
it was difficult to rid one's self of the impression. The time when
I had the longest talk with him was one day when he came
over to dine, and was to rid'.- into Hove with Roger afterwards.
I saw him by myself before dinner, and showed him Miss
Milicent's letter, about which he felt as I did, and said that I
ought not to give in so easily, but should make another effort to
put her duty plainly before her. Mrs Weir would no doubt be
pleased to have her home again, and this new plan of Mrs
Temple's was just the opportunity for breaking up the joint-
household, and settling Mrs Weir again in a home of her own.
I asked him whether Miss Miliccnt was at all necessary to her
father, but he said that from all he could learn she did more
harm than good to Mr Weir, for she encouraged his schemes,
which were fast leading him into difficulties abroad, as they
had done in England ; and having her with him was an excuse
for living in an expensive part of the town, and seeing more
company than he ought Moreover, he was always falling back
upon his daughter's money, and making her write urgent letters
for remittances, to which he could have no right except on her
account, and which prevented Mrs Weir from putting by any-
thing to pay his old debts as she much wished to do.

'Altogether, Ursie,' concluded Mr Hcrvey, ' the case is not
such a perplexing one as people choose to think ; and though it
would startle folks to hear me say it, I believe it would be
settled more justly in God's sight by a calculation of pounds,
shillings, and pence, than by any Uilk about right and wrong,
and conflicting claims, which are only determined by every
one's own fancy.'

' People don't like pounds, shillings, and pence,' I said ; 'it is
such a mean way of arranging things.'

' Very true,' he replied. ' But, Ursie, isn't it mean because
we choose to make it so? After all, there must be some gnat
use and intention in a thing which has such an enormous influ-
ence in the world as money ; it can't be only a snare. And
sometimes when I think— which you know,' he added, laughing,
' I only do now and then for a change, — but when I do think, it
seems to me that money is the representative of many chief
virtues, — justice, and generosity, and self-denial, — and that if a
man could, through God's help, keep himself quite straight with
regard to it, he would travel fast and far on the road to perfec-
tion j whilst a fault with regard to it seems to me, in like

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 35 of 56)