Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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manner, to be no trifle, but a deep, fundamental flaw at the root
of a person's character, which there are ten chances to one will
in the end lead him quite astray.'

He was right, I felt, and I could have talked more to him, only
dinner was ready. I gained a new notion of him from that con-
versation, more like what I used to have of Roger. He was not
apt to come out with thoughts, though he was very quick, and
shrewd, and infinitely good-natured. One thing I forgot to
mention, he told me that Mrs Temple was actually making in-
quiries for a tenant to take the remainder of her lease at Stone-
cliff. That threatened a speedier removal than I had calculated
upon, and it worried me not a little.

Jessie, that day, was full of her party : she called it hers and
talked of ' what I wish,' 'what shall I do,' quite naturally.
Roger laughed at her a little, and reminded her that they must
both ask Mrs Housekeeper's permission, meaning mine ; and
then she would turn round to me very pleasantly, and ask me
what I thought about things, which if I objected to would, I
knew, be carried against me by the mere power of her pretty
entreaties. Still I did object sometimes, because I considered
it right ; but I don't feel at all sure that I did it as I ought to
have done, or without showing annoyance. The great question
was whether it should be only a common tea-party and supper,
or whether we should try to get up a dance. I preferred the
tea-party ; it was more what we had been used to. I thought,
at first, we should not have enough for a dance. Besides, I had
a dread of beginning that kind of thing for Jessie ; her head was
so easily turned ; and if we set the example, others would be
sure to follow it, and then there would be constant going out,
and the regular farm life would be quite interrupted. What I
wished was to ask a few neighbours at a time to drink tea, or
even to dine, if we liked it, and entertain them in the old-
fashioned way ; perhaps with a rubber of whist, if they were
elderly people, or with forfeits and games if they were young. I
should not have cared either if we had chosen to send for a
fiddler, and dance just amongst ourselves when the evening came,
but the thing I disapproved of was the notion of giving a large
dancing party ; and this I saw was what William and Roger
both disliked also in their hearts, only to humour Jessie, they
would not openly object.

John Hervey quizzed her, declaring that she wished to show
off like Mrs Price ; and asking her how she would send out her

2 A

3:o LA.

invitations ; whether she meant to be 'at home ' on such an
evening, as he had heard the great London people were. She
bore his bantering extremely well, and seemed rather to enjoy
it than otherwise. I wished I could enjoy it too, but things
were too serious underneath all this joking. I felt they so little
knew, any of them, the mischief they were doing her ; Ro r
would have seen it if he had looked upon her as a responsible
on, with serious duties to attend to, and he would then have
objected strongly to all the fuss, and trouble, and upsetting of
our ordinary life. But I was the manager and mistress, and the
farm would, he knew, go on just as well whether Jessie went out
and gave parties, or stayed at home quietly. His trust in me
was unbounded, and the more he trusted the more he was in-
duced to indulge his wife.

I carried my point so far that Roger at last took my side in
saying he should not like to ask people to a regular dance, and
William supported us ; but when we began to talk over the
guests to be invited the numbers mounted up so fast, that I felt
tolerably certain how r tl ir would end. Jessie, I was sure,

was longing to ask Mrs Price. She gave several hints about it,
but Roger did not take them, and I pretended not to understand
them, fur I thought it better to talk the matter over with her
when wc were by ourselves, and when I might be able to show
her quietly the unfitness of such a proposal, which as likely
as not might give Mrs Price offence. We were lingering over
the dinner, talking, and I was beginning to feel a little impatient,
having a good deal of work before me for the afternoon, when
her Smithson came running into the room, in a great hurry,
to tell us that there was a horse coming down the lane at
such a pace, she thought it must be running away, the gentle-
man did not seem able to stop it. One of the parlour windows
looked towards the lane, and we all hurried to it, and saw,
as Esther had described, a horse at full gallop coming up to the
farm ite.

'He will be thrown,' said Jessie in a frightened tone.

'The : te had better be opened, Roger,' said William, but
before he had spoken, Roger had gone out. He was not in
time, however ; the hor^e curie to a sudden and violent stop,
and the shock threw the rider upon the ground, with his head
against the gate. We were naturally v ry much alarmed, and
all except William ran out directly. Put before we reached
the spot we heard the farm men saying there were no bones


broken, the gentleman was only bruised, and we soon saw him
sitting on the bank, holding his head with both hands, but
otherwise apparently not much hurt. I knew him directly — it
was Mr Macdonald ; and Jessie knew him too, and kept, as I
observed, a little in the background. He did not seem to re-
mark any of us particularly, but thanked us generally for ou 1-
anxiety, and said he would mount his horse again and ride back
to Dene. It was a stupid business, the animal had taken fright
at a wheel-barrow.

I earnestly hoped that Mr Macdonald would do as he proposed,
but Roger, I suppose, thought it inhospitable, and pressed him
to come in and have a glass of wine.

' Not wine, I hope,' was my whisper to John Hervey as we
stood apart : ' do let him go ; Roger knows nothing about him.'

John smiled, and putting himself forward, said : ' With such a
bruise as Mr Macdonald has, the kindest offering would be oint-
ment and bandages. I don't know whether there are such things
at Sandcombe.'

'At any rate, rest won't hurt any one after such a fall,' said
Roger, rather in a persisting tone. ' Jessie, will you just go in,
and tell Wrlliam that Mr Macdonald is coming.'

John Hervey and I cast despairing glances at each other ; he
seemed amused, so was not I. Mr Macdonald rose from his seat
on the bank directly he heard Jessie's name, and going up to her,
shook hands, and said he had not known her, he hoped she would
excuse it, but his head was in such a state of confusion ; and he
put his hand up as though he was in pain.

Jessie curtsied and looked very awkward, — and urged nothing
about his going into the house, till Roger mentioned it again ;
and then both she and I were obliged to say something, merely
that we might not appear inhospitable. But I confess I did it
with a bad grace ; and when Jessie went on before, I walked
behind with Mr Hervey, and left Roger to entertain our new

He made himself agreeable enough in the house, perhaps the
fall had cleared his head ; and when I could get over my innate
dislike to him, I was obliged to own that Jessie was not so abso-
lutely to be condemned for having liked him. Roger, after a
while, went off with John Hervey, and told Jessie to do the
honours ; so she took her work and sat down in the parlour, —
and I did the same, though it was very inconvenient to me.
Mr Macdonald must have stayed nearly an hour, talking all the


time, though still complaining of his head. A good deal passed
between hiiu and Jessie about people whom I only knew by
name, but it was all in a light way ; though I thought I could
perceive something like pique in his tone, and Jessie was nei
vous and short in her answers. If I had not known how affairs
had once stood between them, I should not have noticed any-
thing particular. But I was provoked with Jessie for sending a
message to Mrs Price through him, and still more provoked with
William for saying, as Mr Macdonald bade him good-bye: ' You
have found your way to Sandcombe once, sir, accidentally. I
hope the next time you will come on purpose ; wc shall always
be very glad to see you.' The moment he was gone I could not
help expressing what I felt, and saying that I thought a man with
Mr Macdonald's known habits was not desirable company ; but
William only laughed, and told me that if I was so strait-laced,
I must needs shut myself up entirely. And then, I suspect, being
a little conscience-stricken, he called to Jessie, and asked her to
fetch the newspaper and read to him, — and so the conversation
was stopped.

But I was not going to let the matter rest. I went to Roger
that same evening, when he came back from Hatton, — not telling
him exactly that I wanted to talk to him, for I don't think men
like that, they always think something must be going wrong in
money matters, — but entering upon the subject accidentally, as
it were, as we strolled round the garden. ' Mr Macdonald,' I
said, ' stayed a long time, and made himself more agreeable than
I expected.'

1 Yes,' replied Roger. 'He is a good kind of inoffensive young
man. I don't half believe what the world says of him.'

' I was wondering about it myself, this afternoon,' was my
reply. ' But I am afraid it is all but too true, and I was sorry
on that account that William asked him to come again.'

'Arc you?' said Roger, and he thought a little. 'Well! 1
don't know that I am.'

' He won't suit you,' I said.

'No, not at all,' and Roger laughed. 'But you know, Ursie,
when one has done a man an unkindness, without meaning it,
one is not sorry to have the opportunity of showing him a civility.
I couldn't have pressed him to come to Sandcombe myself, but
I am not sorry that William did it.'

'He has no right to think it an unkindness/ I said ; 'you had
as much ii ;ht to fall in love with Jessie as he had.'


* Unkindness is not perhaps the right word ; but it must make
a man feel odd to see the person who has carried off just the very
thing which he had wished for. And if, under such circum-
stances, he can meet one with an open hand and an open heart,
why, I think it is to his credit.'

1 The credit of his taste, perhaps,' I replied ; ' I don't know
that it says quite so much for his feeling.'

' You would like a little jealousy,' he said. • I think women
always do. But I never was jealous myself, Ursie, and I don't
understand jealousy in others '

' How can you tell that you are not jealous,' I said ; ' you, who
were accepted the very first moment you made the offer.'

' Well ! that is true. But one thing I know, Ursie, that if I
had had the slightest notion that Jessie doubted about her feel-
ing for me, — if there had been any other person for whom she
had even the inkling of a preference, I would have waited three,
six, twelve months, and would at last have given her up entirely,
rather than marry with the chance of finding that my wife had
made a mistake.'

' Then you are jealous,' I said.

1 No, not in the least. It would not have been from jealousy,
but the wish to see the woman I loved happy, whether it were
with me, or with any ether person.'

' You say more than many would,' I replied.

' I say what I believe every honourable man, not eaten up by
selfishness, feels, if he does not say it. You may not put faith in
me, Ursie, but Jessie did.'

An uncomfortable misgiving came over me. ' You mean,' I
said, ' that Jessie assured you she hid never cared for any one
but you ?'

' I did not ask her the question. I was not going to search
into all the secrets of her little heart in days gone by. I had no
right to do so. But I did ask whether at that time she felt her-
self free to give me a full, undivided affection.'

'And she answered, yes ?'

' Of course, heartily, yes. If she had not, we should not now
have been man and wife. More than that, of her own accord,
afterwards she assured me that the only person who had ever
paid her any decided attention was Lieutenant Macdonald, for
whom she had never felt anything approaching to real regard.
You see, Ursie, it would be too silly now to turn round and be


'Too silly, indeed,' I said; but an impression of something
disi ined on my mind. I was tempted to say, ' I

suppose you know that Mr Macdonald actually proposed to
Jessie?' but I was prevented by the dread of interfering in the
slightest degree between husband and wife, — a dread first incul-
cated by Mrs Weir in bygone days, and since deeply impressed
upon me by experience. Roger saw that I was not satisfied, but
his thoughts took a different direction from mine. He fancied
that in some way I did not do justice to Jessie.

' I think, Ursie,' he said, 'that you scarcely understand Jessie.
You look upon her as a child still, and seem to wonder that I
should treat her as a woman.'

' Xo, indeed/ I replied ; ' I only think that she is young.'

: Not so very much younger than you are ; and I am sure no
or.e can behave more discreetly than she does.'

What could I say ? It would have been irritating to tell him
she had not yet been tried. So I made no reply, and Roger was
pained, and thought I was cross; and thus we separated.

The invisible barrier which had lately been growing up
between us, was by degrees becoming visible. Jessie took
apparently very little interest in Mr Macdonald, and scarcely
mentioned his name. I saiel to her in the evening that it was
strange he should have been brought to Sandcombe in that way,
for it certainly must have been unpleasant to him ; and her reply
was, ' Oh, he must have forgotten all that nonsense now.' But
as soon as she said the words, she trieel to change the subject ;
and I, being determined to satisfy myself upon one point, con-
tinued it.

' I am glad Roger knows about it all,' I said. ' It is so much
better not to have secrets from a husband.'

' Oh yes ; much better — much' —

'And,' I added, 'they met very pleasantly and cordially, con-
sidering that Mr Macdonald was a disappointed man.'

'I don't think he took his disappointment much to heart,'
replied Jessie.

' I suppose Roger knows he actually made you an offer?' I said.

' No — yes — no. I told him everything generally.'

The answer did not please me. ' Dear Jessie,' I said, 'you
won't mind my telling you that Roger likes to hear things par
ticularly, not generally. It can't make any difference to you or
to any one, his knowing this fact ; and yet it is just one which
he might be annoyed to think was kept from him.'


' I can't go back to the old subject,' said Jessie. ' I hate it,
and, as you say, it won't make any difference.'

' I have known Roger longer and more intimately than you
have, Jessie,' I said. ' I know he has such strict notions of con-
fidence between husband and wife.'

I could not imagine why my words took such effect upon her,
but she turned quite pale, and, bursting into tears, said she was
sure I did not love her, and that I did not like her marriage.
She had felt it from the beginning, my manner had never been
cordial, and people had noticed it.

It was the most trying of all accusations, — the least admitting
of explanation. I could only say that she was wrong in listening
to such nonsense ; that I loved her very dearly, and was only
anxious for her to be happy ; and by degrees the fit of petulance
subsided ; but I could not again approach the subject of Mr
Macdonald, though it rested on my mind as a weight which I
tried in vain to shake off.


BEFORE I again heard from Miss Milicent, an application
had been made for Stonecliff ; it was to be let for a year,
and Mrs Temple was preparing to go to the neighbourhood of
London. Though I had been warned beforehand, the news came
upon me like a thunderbolt, and in a moment faults of omission
and neglect as regarded Mrs Weir, which I had never thought
of before, seemed to rise up and reproach me.

I had been placed in a very difficult position, and had it but
little in my power to serve her.

There were a hundred excuses to be made, but I felt that I
had not done my utmost for her. Latterly, especially, I had
been so engrossed in our own home affairs, that I had given her
comparatively few of my thoughts and little of my time. Partly,
indeed, this was owing to Mrs Temple, who often Interfered to
prevent my seeing her ; but Mrs Weir could not be expected to
understand this, and, whenever I did visit her, always seemed
to be so comforted by her trust in me, that it made me more
and more anxious to be of some permanent use to her. I believe


she fully believed that I was working all this time to further her
wishes, whilst 1 was conscious that I was doing and could do
nothing for her. This always made me very unh.r py, and
she was to be taken quite away from me for months, perhaps
even entirely ; for, in spite of Mrs Temple's economy, I shrewdly
suspected she had been living beyond her means, and that the
removal from Stonccliff was but the first step to larger measures
of retrenchment. If this were so, Mrs Weir, as long as she
was with her, would be the first to suffer. I pondered the matter
till I grew nervous in my anxiety, and at last I did, what lately I
had been almost afraid to do ; I went to Roger to open my
heart to him.

I found him consulting with Jessie over several notes which
had just been received, answers to the invitations to the party.
I was a little surprised to see so many, and Roger and Jessie
were surprised also. They were reckoning up numbers, and
found that if we asked any more, we should have at least ten
more than we had at first calculated upon. Jessie enjoyed the
prospect ; she liked a crowd, she said, they should be all the
merrier. Roger looked a little grave \ but turned the case over
to me.

' We are in a difficulty, Ursie,' he said ; ' I don't see how the
rooms will hold them all.'

' There is the barn,' I said, in a joking tone.

'The barn! oh! yes, how delightful!' exclaimed Jessie. 'I
never thought of that. Don't you remember, Roger, when Mr
Stewart gave his tenants' ball, we all danced in the barn ? I de-
cl ire, Ursie, you have the best head of us all.'

' But I am not Mr Stewart,' said Roger, 'and I have no

' And I did not know we were going to give a grand dance,'
I added.

Jessie's face showed her disappointment. Roger smoothed
her hair, and kissed her, as he said, ' We must keep within
bounds, dear love, or folks will laugh at us. You know I am
but Roger Grant of Sandcombe, and you are but Roger Grant's
wife. I don't think it will quite do to go to the expense of fitting
up the barn for a dance.'

' It would not be more expense than dancing in the great
parlour.' said Jessie ; ' but of course if Ursie objects'

' if Roger objects, you mean,' I said. ' I have no voice in the


'O Ursie ! as if Roger did not do everything you thought
right. Why, you know you are quite mistress here.'

1 Both are mistresses,' said Roger, quickly. ' Ursie, for the
sake of auld lang syne, and Jessie, because she has such a grand
name — Mrs Grant. You know the world will expect a great
deal of Mrs Grant,' he added, smiling fondly upon her.

'Yes,' I said, 'and so for once in a way I want Mrs Grant to
take a little authority upon herself, and order things her own
way, and leave me to go about a little business I have in hand.
Roger, can I speak with you for a few minutes ?'

He looked at Jessie, unwilling to leave her. ' You are vexed,
little one,' he said ; ' but you don't think I would say " No" if
I could help it?'

' No,' replied Jessie, ' only '

' Only what ? let us have it out.'

' Only Ursie does put herself against things, and if, as he
says, I am mistress '

' But you are not mistress, love. How should we get on
without Ursie ?'

' But Jessie is mistress,' I said, ' and she must learn to manage
for herself. I only want her to do it in all things, not only when
it is a question of a party.'

'You are sisters,' said Roger; 'which will settle the differ-
ence. You agree to that, don't you, Ursie?'

' Yes,' I said, but I don't think my tone pleased him. He
looked from one to the other in annoyance. I knew so well what
was passing in his mind. ' Oh ! you women, how difficult you are
to manage, with \ r our petty jealousies ! ' Perhaps I might have
retaliated with, ' Oh ! you men, how provoking you are with
your want of straightforward, moral courage !' But I could not
retaliate upon Roger, it was too deeply painful to me to feel that
in any way, even in judgment, he could be in fault.

Jessie, who really was very good-tempered upon the whole,
quickly recovered herself, and saying that she did not want to
make a fuss, no doubt we knew best, carried off her notes to
make a list of the persons who had accepted the invitation, after
which she said, she should 'go and look after William.'

'She is very good and dear, isn't she?' saiel Roger, gazing
after her as she left the room.

' I don't know what William would do without her,' was my
reply ; ' I am sure I could never rind time to read to him as she


' And yet you are not satisfied with the place she takes in the
house,' continued Roger, 'and you won't accept the joint dignity
of a sister.'

'How do you know?' I inquired, and I laughed a little,
ing to turn off the subject lightly.

' I couldn't help seeing it,' he said — 'your face always was a
••ilc. Trot.'

' Never mind what I will accept, or what I won't,' I said.
' We shall do very well if Jessie will only remember that some
day I may leave her, and that she had better practise being
mistress beforehand.'

lie thought a little upon the answer, but he did not press the
matter. I think he knew me too well to force upon me a subject
which he saw I avoided; and we began talking about Mrs Weir.
Then he was quite himself — the Roger of the olden time, full of
sympathy, understanding just what it was that troubled me, and
giving me the best advice. I was not, he said, to consider myself
responsible for the duties which others might choose to put upon
me. Miss Milicent's having said that I was to look after her
mother did not make it my business or take the burden from her,
so he begged me not to trouble myself because occupations at
home had prevented my doing as much for Mrs Weir as I could
have wished. The hopes I had held out myself were of more
consequence. He thought I had been a little hasty in leading
Mrs Weir to trust so much in me, but I was bound to help her
if I could, and he considered that I ought to go over to Stone-
cliff and S'.e her again, and if I found her seriously nervous at
the prospect of going away, I should lose no time in putting the
case before Mr Richardson, and consulting with him cither by
speaking, or writing to him if he was still kept away, upon the
best measures to be taken to bring Miss Miliccnt back, and
replace Mrs Weir in an independent home. Of course this
]• quired thought and judgment, for I was in a position which
would make it extremely impertinent in me openly to interfere.
Roger ended his advice by a hearty kiss and an assurance that
lie trusted me entirely, and did not know any person who would
manage such a difficult business better.

The praise was very pleasant, but I could not live upon it. It
elated and brightened me for the rest of the day, and Roger was
satisfied, I suspect, at seeing me in good spirits; but when tilings
rest upon a false foundation, there can be no real stability for
happiness. I had said all I d red say about the party, but when


I found Jessie still bent upon asking every one at once, I had
nothing to do but to give in, — and arrange it in the best way I
could. It certainly did provoke me to have so much trouble put
upon me, as if it was only my proper share, and I could not help
thinking that if Jessie had been in my place, she would have been
less anxious for numbers ; but I tried, I hope heartily, not to
show what I felt. The party was fixed for that day week. The
notion of the barn was given up. Roger was firm about it, and
William quite scouted the idea, and we did not say we were going
to dance ; — but when such numbers were brought together,—
especially people from Hove, who would come a distance of seven
miles, — I knew we must do something in the way of dancing, to
amuse them. I think Jessie was pleased when she heard in a
roundabout way through Martha, that every one was talking of
the grand party to be given at Sandcombe, and I was pleased so

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 36 of 56)