Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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would make allowance for the worn and fretted feelings, which
to others would have appeared only unreasonable murmurings,
gave me a sense of freedom and confidence which I had never
before enjoyed. So, by degrees, I began to understand the
difference between the influence of religion as a duty, and as a


personal affection. Through the door which had bfen opened
by disappointment religious love stole into my heart ; and when
at length it nestled in the empty chamber, the peace accom-
panied it, left no room for regret for the ed earthly
ings which had d< parted for ever.

But I write as if all had been easy, as though when my
was broken, I could at once turn and raise an altar to the true
God. It v. so. There was an enemy ever at hand, .

there is one still, striving to | the entrance of the holy

affection which was henceforth to be my joy. That enemy was
myself, my old, impatient, hard-judging self, urged and stimu-
lated doubtless by the Evil Spirit who is wailing- to destroy us.
All that I have recorded of myself must plainly show how much
I had to fi-ht against. Even when I judged rightly, I erred in
the manner of expressing my judgment. I have heard that I
used to be called angular, and I have learned to look upon
angularity as a great offence. In that last conversation with
Mrs Kemp, though I really had tried to keep down my irritable
feelings, and though she had said nothing which ought to have

ivoked them, yet I had spoken so as to stir up the unkind nature
within me, and aggravated myself merely by the expression of
my own opinions. And this was continually the case in talking
to Roger ; I was beginning to feel that he felt it, and that he
avoided the subjects on which we might differ in consequence.
One hasty sentence destroyed the effect of twenty gentle ones.
So, again, this sharpness of mine gave a bias to the view which
I took of all that ! ie did. I was very clear and

decided in my self-government, and I carried out the same prin-
ard to others, and was never contented till I Lad cut
and apportioned, as it were, every one's conduct, and settled
under what head each action was to be placed. Having i n e
made out to my own satisfaction that Jessie had no strict guid-
ing principle of duty, and that Roger was weak in his affection
for her, I allotted their various actions to these motives, and for-

I that there might be others, far better, which were influencing
them. For instance, when Jessie read to William till she was
tired, I said to myself, 'she docs it because she likes it
than looking after the servants.' I did not remember th it, no
doubt, she had an anxious wish to do something for her hus-

:;d's brother in his helpless state; and wh< n Roger to k her

out with him, and left me to attend to the duties at home, I said

llowing out his unwise system of indulgence. I


did not consider that it is a husband's duty to make life pleasant
to his wife if it lies in his power.

This was not a state of mind favourable to Christian charity,
and it was therefore of necessity opposed to the love of God. I
look back upon it now with great regret, and with only one
comfort, that I was never blind to it, and never indulged it. On
that day after the talk I had had with Mrs Kemp, I went to my
room feeling discontented with myself without having anything
positively to lay to my own charge, only being conscious when
I took up my Bible, as I was accustomed to do, to read the
Evening Psalms, that a mist was floating between myself and
my Saviour ; that I could not come into His presence with that
clearness of conscience, and quietness of spirit, which are essen-
tial for the enjoyment of His love. Of course there was only
one thing to be done, to pause at once and inquire, with
God's help, where the fault lay. Mrs Kemp had suggested
it. I went over in my own mind all that had passed since
the period of Roger's engagement, and saw as I had never
seen before how false had been the relation in which up to
that time I had placed myself with regard to him. I faced
the future, its possible trials and certain vexations, and owned
that there was but one way of meeting them ; to put away
self once and for ever, to consider the good of others first,
and my own feelings second ; to act, in fact, justly and truly in
the new familv relations which had been formed, recognising;
every claim, however distasteful, and then to trust that God
would, in His mercy, heal the wound which had been made, by
making me dear to Roger and Jessie, not merely from natural
affection, but from the consciousness that I was their truest and
kindest friend, and therefore essential to their happiness. When
this point had been gained I was able to attend to my reading
and prayers, and after they were ended I went down-stairs, and
finding Jessie waiting upon William, took the opportunity of
telling her that she was a much bettor sister to him than myself,
for I had scarcely seen him all day. Jessie's face brightened as
with sunshine when I said it, especially when William joined as
lavishly in her praises. Whatever other faults Jessie might have,
there was certainly no temper or angularity in her.

No news of Mrs Weir, beyond the fact that Mrs Temple had
taken her to London ! A hundred anxious fancies crowded into
my mind, all based upon that one speech of Mrs Kemp, that they
might probably carry her to a lunatic asylum. Being very

392 URSI LA.

ignorant of the ways of the world in such cases, I did not know
that this is more easily said than done, and I was certain that,
when nervous and excited, Mrs Weir was quite strange etioi

to induce any one to think that she was out of her mind. Not
liking to interfere myself, I persuaded John Hervey to make
fiiends with the woman who was left in charge of Stonecliff, and
by her means, as she sometimes wrote to Mrs Temple's maid, to
let me know what was going on. Miss Milicent's silence dis-
turbed me a good deal, I feared my last letter must have gone
astray, and I remembered what she had said about visiting
Normandy, and thought it probable that might interfere with
our having tidings of her for some time. Mr Richardson thought
the same when I went over to Compton, and, finding him
turned, told him exactly how matters stood, and why I \\:s
uneasy. He was a very cautious man, and did not let out much
of his mind to me, but I could discover that he did not think I
was anxious about Mrs Weir entirely without cause, and he
said that he would himself write to Mrs Temple, and make in-
quiries, and would let me know what she said. He had no
idea himself, that anything was amiss with Mrs Weir beyond
nervousness, but he felt that unwise treatment might at last
bring on the malady which Mrs Temple had often hinted to
him she feared.

With this I was obliged to be satisfied, and there was not much
leisure for indulging useless anxieties, as my attention was claim d
by the preparations for the party, which interfered in no slight
degree with the ordinary business of the farm. Indeed, since
Jessie had gone out so much, it was almost more than I could
do to keep things straight, and I often over-worked myself, not
liking to ask for extra help, lest it might begin a system which
in the end would be ruinous to Jessie's good principles, even if
:cr could bear the expense. Jessie did now often say herself
that I had so much to do ; but I knew she would not care if there
was another servant, and, once used to a certain number, she
would never think she could do with less. We were to have a
dinner for the Kemps and one or two of our particular fiiends
first, and the rest were to come in the evening, and having only
the two parlours to put every one into, there was a good deal of
difficulty in the arrangements. But Jessie saw none. The small
parlour, she said, would do for dinner; it would not signify being
a little crowded ; we could bring in the round table from the
other room, so that there would be plenty of space for the dishes,


and everyone would understand how it was; and then we could
put the kitchen benches round the wall in the large parlour; and
if there were not enough, we might borrow some, and so accom-
modate all in the evening; and whilst people were amusing them-
selves there, the little parlour might be cleared out for tea, and
for any of the old people ; and afterwards supper might be laid
out in it. All this betokened a deliberate intention of dancing ;
for, without this, there was no reason why we should all crowd
in such a way into the small parlour ; and at last I taxed her
with it, laughingly, saying I saw what she was aiming at, and
she had much better own it at once, or we should make some
great blunder.

She turned round to Roger, who had been listening to her
plan with a face half-grave, half-pleased, being amused, as I
could see, with her ingenuity.

' I knew Ursie would not allow it, Roger,' she said.

'Please, dear Jessie !' I exclaimed, 'indeed, that is such a
false way of putting it. Roger, will you only say what you
wish ? '

' To please every one,' he replied, with a smile ; ' which is just
what you will say, Ursie, is impossible ; and so, I suppose, it is.
But it seems to me we are rather in for a dance, though we have
not given out that it is to be one.'

' Well, then,' I said, lightly, for I felt it was no use any longer
to fight the question ; ' if we are to do it, we must see to some
things at once, — music, for instance.'

' The fiddler from Compton will do quite well,' said Roger.

'He scrapes so,' said Jessie, looking disappointed. 'I said
something to Mrs Price the other day, and she told me that when
they gave their party at Dene, they sent for a man from Hove,
who played beautifully, and, with the piano, they had charming

' Dear Jessie ! ' I exclaimed, ' did you really talk to Mrs Price
about the party?'

'Yes. Why shouldn't I?'

' It is so awkward to consult a person about a thing which she
is not to take part in.'

' I did say I wished she could come ; but I didn't exactly
invite her,' said Jessie, in a hurried tone.

' And what answer did she make, my dear ?' inquired Roger,

'She had an engagement for that evening,' replied Jessie, 'so


it was out of the question. But you both look at mc as if I ha 1
dune something very wrong. Mrs Price is not comin .'

' It would have been better to have consulted Ursie before you
said anything,' replied Roger.

1 Ursie doesn't like Mrs Trice,' said Jessie ; ' and, Roger, dear,
I didn't mean any harm ; but it came quite naturally, when 1
was there, having known her so many years, and she having
been always so kind to me. And, besides, if we visit, I don't see
why she is to be left out.'

It was a difficulty, certainly ; and Roger, with Jessie by his
side, was not likely to solve it. I could only be thankful for the
engagement. But we were not to be set free from Dene quite so
easily, fur Jessie added, ' I had a note from Mrs Price just now,
saying that she thought she could put off her engagement, and I
was going to ask what answer I had better send back, only we
began talking about other matters.'

'You never told me anything about this before, my d
said Roger, so gravely, that I thought if I had been Jessie I
should have been frightened.

She answered, nervously, ' I forgot it when we drove home
that day, and it has scarcely entered my head since ; and as Mrs
Price was not coming there was no need to think of it.'

' Put there is need now,' I said. ' May we sec the note,

Her manner showed hesitation : she did not seem to know
where she had left it.

' You had better go and find it, my dear,' said Roger, and he
sat himself down in a kind of determined attitude, which I knew
meant that he was considerably put out.

Jessie went off. We remained silent for some moments.
Then I said, ' It is awkward ; but she cannot be expected to see
things as we see them.'

Roger made no answer ; and I did not venture any further
remark. Just as we heard Jessie's step in the passage, however,
he said, 'You and I should probably have done the same, Ursie.'
And when Jessie entered, he went up to her, and took the note
out of her hand with a good-humoured smile, quite as though
nothing was the matter. He read the note aloud : —

' My dear Jessie, — I find I can alter my day for dining in
Hove, and as it would be great fun to see your first party, I have
a notion of driving over, with as many gentlemen as I can bring,
which I know will make me welcome. I don't know whether I


shall persuade Macdonald to come ; but, anyhow, you may ex-
pect your affectionate friend, 'Jane Price.' ,

Roger laid down the note, and I caught it up.

'Gentlemen!' I exclaimed. 'I am sure we don't want any
of Mrs Price's gentlemen here. What does it all mean ?'

' It means what a good many people think a good deal of,'
said Roger, laughing. 'We ought not to quarrel with Mrs
Price for a word, Ursie. But this threatens more than we were
prepared for.'

' I don't think Mr Macdonald will come,' said Jessie, and I
thought she looked very uncomfortable.

' There is something else scratched out,' said Roger, ' which I
suppose refers to him, only it is not honourable to try and
read it.'

I took the note from him, — I really don't know why, — certainly
with no intention of making out what had been erased. Then
I laid it down, and accidentally looking at my fingers saw that
they were slightly stained with ink. The erasure was a fresh

The feeling that came over me I shall never forget. I looked
at Jessie, and my head seemed dizzy with doubt. Was it possible
there could be any deception in her ?

No, it was impossible. That sweet, smiling, confiding face
could not be a mask, and she was even now making all the
amends in her power for the foolish thing she had done, by taking
upon herself more than the blame which Roger was inclined to
give her.

'It was very wrong in me, I know,' she said; 'I ought to
have asked first, but the wish came into my head, and was out of
my mouth, before I had time to consider ; and I repented directly,
and was so glad when Mrs Price said ' No.' It was quite a relief
to me, and then it all passed away as if it had never happened,
and I thought of mentioning what I had clone, but I forgot it.
That is all I have to say, but I am very sorry, very sorry indeed.
Please, dear Roger, forgive me.'

It was but a small fault. No wonder that Roger forgave it
easily, with such a look of happy, trusting love. I could see then
why he had kept such a guard over himself— that he might not
show anger till he had heard the whole story. He was a man of
singular self-command, and had tutored himself so that he never
to my knowledge said a word to repent of.

'We must make the best of the business, now,' he said ; 'and


396 7 7,/.

if Mrs Price and the — what must we call them, Ursie ? — come,
they shall have the best welcome I can give. All the more be-
cause the vibit is not likely to be repeated often. Jessie,
Sandcombc and Dene were never made to run toj . md so

I 'm sure you will remember, and let your communications with
Mrs Price be kept within careful limit .'

lie was quite enough in earnest then to satisfy even mc, and
Jessie, I perceived, was rather awed by him.

'Ursie quite feels with me, I am sure,' he added, turnir, I •
me just as he was leaving the room, 'and you will do well to
consult lur upon all points.'

He did not lcok at me, and I was thankful for it. The very
ment he was gone, I went up to Jessie, and with the note in
my hand, pointing to the erasure, said: 'Jessie, the ink was not
dry. You scratched that cut yourself.'

Her check flushed, she paused, then answered, 'Yes, I
scratched it out. It was only, "he is not sure whether he would
be welcome," and I thought Roger would not understand, or
would ask questions, and I can't bear t Iking of it at all.'

The explanation was not satisfactory, and I answered, ' 1<
understands most things. Even if he did not, it would be better,
Jessie, to annoy him than to make a mystery.'

' Well, yes, I dare say you arc right,' and she went away.

She did not like my advice I saw, neither did I like her way
of dealing with Roger. I was more really anxious about her
that dav than I had been at alL


WEDN-ESDAY morning, the day of the party, arrived. It
was a bright and calm day for the beginning of October,
and I was glad to think that our friends who came from a dis-
tance would not be annoyed with wind and rain. Though I
may seem to have set my face so much against the party, and to
have complained of the work it caused, it must not be imagined
that in my heart I at all disliked it. Every one, unless very
v. ell-disciplined, is apt to grumble more or less ; — I don't mean
that as an excuse, but a fact, — and when one is telling a story
the little black dots of troubles stand out more clearly in one's



mind than the bright lines of pleasure. But I really liked the
bustle, and was delighted when I found the whipt-creams turn
out as well as they did, and enjoyed teaching Jessie to make the
cake, and she and I and Roger had quite a merry half-hour,
setting out the supper table, and describing all the dishes to
William, whilst he, poor fellow ! was pleased and glad to think
he should meet so many of his friends. And then there was to
be the cosy dinner first of all, with the Kemps, and old Mr and
Mrs Brown, who had taken Hatton Farm, and I got quite into
the spirit of the party before the day came, and rejoiced in the
sunshine as much as Jessie herself. We were to dine at four
o'clock ; I did not like to have the dinner earlier, not knowing
what we should do with the guests all the afternoon. Roger
had given in to the notion of having the Hove fiddler for the
evening, but he would not go to the expense of a piano, though
Jessie urged it. About expense or show he always had his own
way. All the morning I was very busy, and Jessie too, more so
indeed than we need have been, for Martha, whose temper was
never very good, took it into her head to be particularly contrary
in all her ways, and gave us more trouble than was necessary.
A piece of boiled beef, a pie, and some roast chickens, with
sweet things, was to be our dinner, and the beef I knew would
take a long time before it was properly done, but all I could
say I could not persuade Martha to have it ready for boiling
at the time I had named, and I had lost a good deal of my
power over her since she had learned to call Jessie mistress, so
that I could only beg, not order. At last Jessie came to me in
despair, begging me to go once more and see about it myself, for
Martha had let the fire go down, and then had heaped up such
a quantity of coal, there was no heat in it, and all she could get
from her was, there was plenty of time, and it would do very well.
I was setting out the dessert, but I left it directly, and went into
the kitchen, and Jessie undertook to finish what I had begun.
'You will never do without bellows, Martha/ I said; 'just go
and fetch them ; ' and when they were brought, I knelt down
before the fire and began to blow. Martha's temper grew worse
at every puff. She kept near me, putting herself in my way, and
leaning over the fire to stir something in a pot. I told her, that
if she did not take care she would upset the saucepan, but my
words were not attended to, and whilst looking round to see what
the weather was like, I heard a cry, and at the same moment the
hot water poured down upon me. Happily the greater portion


fell upon my dress, but Martha, of course, screamed as though I
I been killed, and brought in Jessie, and Esther Smithson,
and the charwoman, and William, and a man from the yard, all
< r to know what was the matter. I believe I was the only
quia person in the kitchen. I was burned, and in a good deal <>(
pain, but ?t might have been much worse. Thanks to Martha's
tire, the water was not actually boiling, and if I covered up
my hand at once with cotton wool, I knew I might save myself
from any great suffering. .My chief thought then was for I

led beef, and I would not near of Jessie's attending to me ; ' 1
could manage,' I said, 'very well for myself.'

' You will find some cotton wool in my second drawer,' ob-
served Jessie, as I left the kitchen, 'if you happen to have nore
of your own.'

It was a happy suggestion, for I had not bad sufficient experi-
ence to keep a quantity of wool to provide against scalds and
burns, so I went directly to Jessie's room. My hand b

nful, 1 wrapped the wool round it at once, instead of carrying
it off, and sat down by the dressing-table to rest, for I was more
flurried ai.d frightened than I quite knew at first. Jcs -, 's
work-box was on the table, and opening it to find a bit of t
I saw Mrs Price's note laid in it, apart from the envel
Merely for the sake of neatness, I put the note into its cover. As
I did so, my eye fell upon some words which I read without
thinking, under the belief that they referred to the party. ' I
have much to say to you, for I can't understand you after the
1 tti rs I have seen. I shall be glad to hearwhat you have to
for yourself. I only saw the letters yesterday.' It was m
startling than the scalding water, more painful far than the 1;
of the burn. 1 sat with the envelope in my hand thinking on i:,
asking myself what it could possibly mean, whilst every la'
fear and suspicion rose up within me to increase my perplexity.
I low to satisfy myself, was my difficulty. To doubt is the n

of all the offences which can be committed against family
union. If Jessie once imagined I doubted her, all my influence
over her, and I had much, would be gone instantly. And what
it was I doubted or suspected, I could not tell. Jessie had ci
tainly been silly and vain before her marriage, and I could i
that she was silly and vain still, but I could not imagine fa r
deceitful, and her love for Roger it was absolutely impossible to
question. I had seen her much lately when thrown with differ-
ent persons, and made a centre of interest and attraction, and


though she might be excited and pleased by the attentions she
received, I always noticed that her eye sought Roger's, and that
she was never satisfied unless he was near. He himself was so
certain of this, that he would have laughed to scorn the notion
that she had a thought or feeling which was not shared with him.
And yet here was proof positive that she had. Mrs Price's
words referred to something which he knew nothing of. And
then Jessie's hesitation, and the words which had been erased.
There must be a mystery. My heart sank within me. If it
were only a case of want of confidence, thoughtlessness, girlish
folly, yet if it shook Roger's mind, if it opened his eyes to the
fact that he had made a mistake in his choice of a wife, what a
life-long disappointment would be in store for him.

I was left to myself for nearly twenty minutes ; it was sup-
posed that I was suffering pain and unable to work. I was
suffering pain indeed, but of a very different kind from any which
was suspected. But the quietness and solitude were very useful
in soothing my perturbed mind, and before I again went down-
stairs I had made up my mind what was to be done ;— nothing.
The whole thing might be a trifle, at any rate it was evidently
past. I would not make Jessie angry by inquiring into it,
especially as she would be very likely to misunderstand the
means by which I had gained my knowledge ; but I would watch
carefully all that went on ; I would guard against anything like
intimacy with Mrs Price ; I would be very kind and affectionate
to Jessie ; and then, when I had fully gained her affection, and
made her forget her conviction that the marriage was not entirely
agreeable to me, I would some day discreetly lead the subject
round, and if possible bring her to an explanation. By that
time, for I felt it would be a work of time, she and Roger would,
as I hoped and believed, understand and be so necessary to each
other, that any confession of past youthful folly or„ imprudence
would be a less shock to him.

The one thing I dreaded was Mrs Price. An unprincipled
woman is much more dangerous than a bad man. The one is
generally an open, the other a secret foe, and a young person
like Jessie is so easily won upon, so willing to trust and be led,
whilst there are no natural cautions to teach prudence and
reserve. If once thoroughly influenced by Mrs Price, and led

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 38 of 56)