Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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by her into anything like deceit, Jessie might risk Roger's
happiness and her own for ever.

To say that I was as light-hearted when I went down-stairs

4 oo URSULA.

as I was when I came up, would be far from the truth. Happily
my burned hand was a sufficient reason for being rather subdued,
and every one supposed I was in pain, and blamed Martha
for her carelessness accordingly. For myself I scarcely found
it in my heart to blame her. Though I said that Mrs Price's
words might only refer to some past trilling matters, I still had
the dread that mischief might lurk beneath, and so I could not
be too thankful for the accident which had led to my being pre-
1 for it.


WE had not been a very punctual household lately, Jessie's
gaieties had interfered. Lut William was determined
that everything should be in time on this day, and gave us no
rest with his cautions about it. Jessie went up to dress at
three o'clock, but I was not able to get away from the kite hen
till half-past three, and even then I left it rather with fear,
and was obliged to say that I would be down again to see
that all was ready before dinner was taken in. I was decidedly
the head servant and not the mistress now, — for Jessie was
called upon to receive the guests, and I had to work till the last

It was a good thing that I made up my mind to my posi-
tion beforehand, because, having done so, I was not annoyed
at it. My best dark-green silk dress was soon put on, with a
temporary apron over it, in case I should Lave anything m ie
to do in the kitchen ; but Jessie's dress was a much more im-
portant affair.

I am afraid I was a little like Roger, and inclined to spoil her
in some ways, I was so pleased to see her look pretty ; and
though I strove not to show that I thought much of her beauty,
I was always watching to see what people would think of her
when she came in and out of a room.

The art of dress, too, I think, generally goes with beauty. It
is not that pretty people always think so much of what they shall
wear, but that it is a kind of instinct with them.

I am sure I might have tried for months, and I should never
hive turned myself out to look in the slightest degree as well as


Jessie when she went to the parlour dressed in her delicate wed-
ding silk. I stood looking after her as she ran down-stairs, and
when she was out of my sight, remained still in the same position
thinking about her, not happy thoughts, but tender, loving ones,
— more so than she or Roger fancied. Hardness, severity, angu-
larity, — they were all on the surface. There was a place deep
down in my heart for Jessie.

Mr and Mrs Brown were asked to please William. I should
have been better satisfied myself if they had been left out, we
should have been such a snug party with only the Kemps ; but
perhaps it was better as it was on the whole, for we had one
great disappointment. John Hervey, who as a matter of course
had been asked also, did not make his appearance. We waited
for him nearly a quarter of an hour, and then fearing the dinner
would be spoiled, we thought it better to sit down. William was
put out, more by the delay than by John's absence, but he kept
his temper, as most of us can before strangers. Jessie took the
top of the table, and did the honours very well. It was the first
time since her marriage that we had had anything like a dinner
party, and I fancied she would be nervous and ask me to carve ;
but she seemed fully to understand her right place, and many
pleasant compliments were paid her by old Mr Brown, which she
seemed quite to enjoy. Mrs Brown praised her for the way the
dinner was sent up, and for the sweet things, which certainly
were very successful. They happened to be all my making, and
Jessie said so, colouring, as though she was rather ashamed to
own it.

' It is not every one that has such a right hand,' said Mr Brown,
thinking he must be civil to me.

' No, indeed,' replied Jessie. ' Ursula is a great help, I don't
know what I should do without her.'

'What, indeed?' I thought to myself, and I was almost
tempted to say that a person with so many engagements as Jessie
wanted a right hand to keep die house straight ; but, of course, I
did not say it, and the conversation went on about housekeeping
and farm troubles, and servants, in all which Jessie bore her
part as though she v/as quite at the head of affairs ; whilst
whenever any little matter went wrong, she quietly turned to
me to put it right, as I can fancy the Queen would do to one of
her ladies-in-waiting. It was one of Jessie's peculiarities that
she could fit herself into any position in which she might be
placed, and now I could see that Roger was quite pleased with

2 C

402 URSt/LA.

and proud of her, — she was so attentive and hospitable. Nothing

was said at dinner which at all touched upon Dene, but wh< n

dessert was pi iced on the table, M n prais-

sonu cowslip wine, which she declared reminded her or

s me she had tasted elsewhere ; but she could not remember

where, and at last she said, that she thought it must have b

at Dene.

Mrs Kemp looked up surprised. ' I did not know you ever

went there,' she said. 'I shall think better of Mrs Trice if she

h ;s such steady friends.'

' Don't call us friends,' replied Mrs Brown ; ' it was only that

my husband went over there accidentally to p:iy some money,

and there came on a pouring shower, and so we were obliged to

take shelter, and then Captain Price offered us cake and wine,

which was more than his wife would have done ; if I don't do

her wrong in saying it.'

' I think you do wrong her,' said Jessie, quickly. ' She is very

kind-hearted, and would make friends with any one who would

be friends with her.'

'Oh! yes, well, I dare say,' and Mrs Brown looked a little

awkward, ' I forgot ycu and she were cronies ; indeed, I thought

that would be all over now.'

' My wife knew Mrs Price when they were both children,'

observed Roger, before Jessie could speak again ; 'and as she

is good-natured we must be civil, which is the reason why we

have asked her here this evening.'

A general blank seemed to fall upon the party. Mrs Brown
looked at Mrs Kemp, and murmured something which sounded
like ' No doubt, it is all right.' But it was evidently not all
right in her estimation, and the silence became so uncomfortable
that I lost my presence of mind, and began pressing Mrs Kemp
to take some apple jelly when she had some already on her plate,
and poured out a glass of sherry for Mary Kemp, though she had
fur currant wine. Roger, I saw, was fully aware that
the announcement he had made was disagreeable, but he was not
in the least cowed by Mrs Brown's stiff manner. Having once
made up his mind that it was right to ask any one to his house,
lie was very indifferent as to what might be said about it ; but I
perceived he was vexed when Jessie, for want, I suppose, of
something to say, went on to boast of her intimacy at Dene, to
describe the place and the alterations, and to talk of the persons
she had rly met there. Some of them, I suppose, laying


claim to the title of gentlemen and ladies, but not such as we had
been accustomed to respect.

' My dear,' he said at last, ' those days are over. You were
Jessie Lee then, you are Jessie Grant now,' and Mrs Brown
pursed up her lip, and looked at Mrs Kemp with a matronly
smile of approbation, which seemed to say, ' That is right. I
am glad the husband can assert his authority over the giddy
young thing.'

Mrs Kemp, Mary, and Mrs Brown went into the large parlour
as it grew dark, whilst Roger and his other friends stayed to have
their talk over public matters. There were so many little trifles
still to be seen to that I was glad to have them all quietly dis-
posed of, and I called Jessie into the kitchen, to arrange one or
two things about the supper, which Martha and Esther would be
likely to forget. When I went back to the parlour and Jessie
was gone up-stairs, Mrs Kemp and Mrs Brown were in full talk,
but they stopped directly I went in. Mary was sitting silent as
usual. I fancied she was out of spirits because of the disap-
pointment about John Hervey.

' They will be here soon, I suppose,' said Mrs Kemp, making
room for me to sit down. ' Come and warm yourself, Ursie, you
won't be so well able to do that presently.'

'Thank you, I said, ' but I have been out in the kitchen,
which is like an oven.'

1 1 wish you would come,' said Mrs Kemp, looking round to
see that I was alone. 'Now, Mrs Brown, just tell Ursie what
you have been hearing, it will come better from you.'

'I dare say she knows,' replied Mrs Brown; ' unkind
words fly fast, and I am not the one to wish to make them go

'It's no unkindness to give a warning,' said Mrs Kemp;
' and Ursie is quite safe.'

' Well ! all I would say is, that if your brother Roger does
the w r ise and respectable thing, he won't let Mrs Price bring
herself and her idle friends to Sandcombe. His wife has been
too much with them already, and when it 's well known that there
was flirting going on with that Mr Macdonald, whom people
said last year she was sure to marry, up to the last moment
before she turned round and said ' Yes ' to your brother, you
will understand that the world will talk of her as one of the
Dene set.'

' People say what is false ! ' I exclaimed, though as I said the


word a ; ing of d t through inc. 'After Mrs Morris's

i :',i. i rectly here, and www. from us to Mrs

triple, where she was kept so close that if she \ to

1 'cue twice during the whole time it is more than I can ans\
fi r.'

' May be. I trust it isn't true,' said Mrs Brown. ' You know,
my dear, I don't want to vex y< .1 shouldn't have said it if

it had not been for Mrs Kemp's wi h; but hearing thing 1
do from everyone, 1 can't help getting inklings of strange doings

metimes, and it docs scan to me a pity that, after all the
stories that has gone abroad about Mrs Price and her gjbings

. she should be asked to Sandcombe just the first party that a
young person like Mrs Roger Ljivcs.'

' Ursie doesn't know half the stories,' said Mrs Kemp, in a
l'. '.ling tone.

'No,' 1 said, 'I don't. I have always tried not to hear
them. I think that kind of scandalous gossip is odious, besi'
being wrong ; but without hearing the stories, I know quite
enough to understand that Mrs Price is not a fit friend 1 r
Jessie-. No woman who acts so as to have herself talked about
tan be.'

'Quite right, my dear,' said Mrs Kemp. ' Girls won't think
it ; but the worst thing that can befall them is for their name to
be in every one's mouth.'

'And the worst thing for a husband is for his wife to be talked
about,' said Mrs Brown, who was rather inclined to be severe.
' Your brother Roger is the hist person, Ursula, who would bear

The last indeed ! Perhaps no one but myself knew how keen
Roger's feelings would be on such a point. I don't know what
I could have said in reply, but at that moment our circle v.
disturbed by the arrival of visitors.

I went to receive them with the words ringing in my cars —
' Roger is the last person who would bear that.' The quests
arrived one after the other very quickly. Jessie came down to
do the honours, and I went to the party in the little parlour, and
1 them they must leave it whilst I made it ready for tea,
William grumbled a little at being obliged to move, and I was
obliged at last to scold and be impatient, — he and Farmer Kemp
would stay so long trying to finish an argument.

'Why, lassie, what's come to you,' said the farmer, catching
hold of me as I laughingly held open the door and told him



plainly I wanted him gone. ' She has taken to rule every cue
to-night, William, and that's not her way generally/

' She loves a bustle dearly,' said William. ' I don't believe
she is ever happy unless she is ordering something or some*

I suppose my countenance betrayed that I was not thoroughly
well pleased with the remark, for as William departed the
farmer stayed behind, and added good-naturedly, ' They may
quarrel with you, Ursie, as much as they like for ordering, but
they would none of them get on without you. But why don't
you ask my girl to come and help you ? she would rather be
here than talking grand in the parlour ; she isn't in very good
spirits to-night, the why and the wherefore I dare say you will
hear before long, only don't ask questions now, for it will upset
her, and I don't want that.'

Farmer Kemp had most unpleasantly and anxiously excited
my curiosity. Mary's spirits were so even, I was sure it must
be something very unusual which could depress her enough to
excite notice. Puttings things together, I naturally concluded
the vexation must be about John Hervey. When I went back
to the parlour I found Mrs Price arrived, and with her two Dene
visitors, not exactly strangers. Roger had met them when he-
was riding out with the fox-hounds, which he did every now
and then. Mrs Price was making much of them, sitting up at
the top of the room, looking quite like the grandee of the com-
pany. The moment I went in I felt what a mistake had been
made in inviting her, for her presence was like a wet blanket
on the rest of the party. I glanced round to see what Jessie
was doing, and was glad to find her, under Roger's care, trying
to make herself generally agreeable. My dread was that, in
spite of all she had once said to me about having changed
her opinion of Mrs Price, she would now devote herself to
her. -Roger seemed to be as much alive to that possibility as
I was, and was going round with her from one to the other,
and giving her hints as to what she should do to be civil
and kind. He was resolved, I saw, that if Mrs Price forced
herself upon us, she should find herself placed quite on an
equality with the rest of the world. Finding how things were
going on, I was relieved from a sense of responsibility, and,
following Farmer Kemp's suggestion, went to Mary, and asked
her to come with me into the parlour, and help set out tea.
Then she and 1 might stay there and make it, and Jessie nuVht


bring in different parties, as the room was too small to have
all together. Mary was only too glad, she said, to be useful,
and went back with me to the little parlour directly ; but she
had another reason for desiring to be alone with nic, for the
moment Martha, who was setting out the tea, was gone, she drew
out of her pocket a little note. ' It is from John Hcrvey,' she
said. ' I was to give it you when you were by yourself, in case
he didn't come, and I have no hope of him now.' She spoke
very calmly, but a sigh followed the words. It sounded strange
to me. Mary seldom laughed, often smiled, and scarcely ever
sighed. 'Just sec to the tea, Mary, dear,' I said, and I drew
the candle towards me hurriedly. I had a dread that the note
contained ill news.

'Dear URSIE, — I have had a note from a London doctor
asking me odd questions about Mrs Weir's being able to attend
to business. I don't understand it, and don't like it, so I am
going off myself to see what it all means. You shall hear again.
If there should be anything in which your testimony as to
Mrs Weir's soundness of mind is likely to be of use, I am sure
you would not object to giving it. A rumour has reached me
that Mr Weir is dangerously ill, at some little village in
Normandy. If I could have been with you to-night, I should
have found out something from Mr Macdonald, who, I heard
accidentally, was likely to be one of the party. He is in
correspondence with Miss Miliccnt. If you could ask him what
he knows, and send me word, I should be glad. Of course, I
am very sorry not to be one at your merry-making, though I
like Snndcombe best when you are all alone. Don't say to
any one why I am gone.

'Very sincerely yours,

'John IIekvey.'

As I folded up the note again, I remarked that Mary had
left off arranging the tea-cups, and was standing with her gaze
intently fixed upon me. She blushed when our eyes met, and I
thought she half expected me to give her the note, but I put it
into my pocket without saying anything, and she finished pre-
paring the tea, and then asked if she should go and tell Jessie it
was ready. It was as though she was glad to leave me. A
second enre frequently neutralises a first, and a third will often
prevent one from thinking of either. What with Jessie's secret
and Mary's, and anxjety about Mrs Weir, I had so much to


perple.v mc that I could do nothing but put it all aside, and
take just the business of the moment. I laughed and talked
with every one who came in, made myself, I am tolerably sure,
agreeable to Mrs Price, and behaved very civilly to her friends.
In fact, I could not properly keep any one fixed idea in my
mind, and having intended to watch Jessie, I found myself at
last quite disregarding her. Tea being over, some of the elderly
people remained in the little parlour to play whist and back-
gammon, and the young ones began to dance. I was asked to
dance almost before any one, but I was obliged to refuse,
at least for a while, since Jessie quite depended upon me
to set everything going. Roger had left her to her: elf now,
and I thought she looked a little fagged, as if such numbers
were too much for her, and I begged her to go and sit down
by Mrs Kemp, and rest a little and not talk. Mrs Kemp, I
said, would quite understand her wishing to be quiet. This was
just when a country-dance was beginning, and she left me, as I
thought, intending to do what I had proposed, but to my annoy-
ance I perceived that Mrs Price, who, I fancied, was sure to
dance, was sitting down also, and that Jessie went up to her

I noticed her but little after that for nearly half an hour ; the
dance was kept up merrily, and I went to see how all things were
going on in the little parlour, and then stayed a few minutes in
the kitchen, giving an order about supper. On my return to the
dancing-room, Mrs Price and Jessie were not to be seen. I
looked, and waited, and watched, and looked, but they were still
absent. They were gone, I felt sure, to Jessies room, that they
might have Jessie's favourite amusement — a talk. Nothing would
annoy Roger more, and Mrs Kemp, I saw, was noticing Jessie's
absence, and Mrs Brown's quick eye wandering all round the
room, as she wondered what had become of her. This would
not do. She must be brought down, and made to be attentive
to her company at all events, and I hurried up-stairs, knocked
at Jessie's door, heard Mrs Price's voice say ( Come in,' and
entering, found Jessie in a flood of tears. My consternation
need not be described, but Mrs Price came forward to explain
with the utmost coolness — ' Poor Jessie was a little over-tired,
hysterical— she had been working too hard — such a large party
was a great undertaking. If I would only leave her to her, she
would take the greatest care of her, and bring her down again
in a few minutes quite well.'

408 ' . /.

hink, if you will ne to say so, Jessie had bettor be

left to m ' I know y what is good for li r.'

' Oh ! i ,' .Hid Mrs Pric

'but Jessie herself will be the best jud •(•. Such an old friend as
I am, I think, might be allowed to stay.'

ave us, Ursie, vou must,' said Jessie, in an e:

voice. 'They can't do .about you down- irs. [ would r.ith r
. and 1 shall be i rectly ;

' I had ; ' - \m ■ 1 v ' itil ■.' J .iid ; ' you v.

do without it.'

'I want nothing, nothing,— it isn't anything. I only wish —
;e just go.'

'I shall send Roger to you,' I said, quietly, for I felt that Mrs
e, if not Jessie, was deceiving me. Jessie's voice show
neither hysterics nor faintness, but only great mental disquiet.
I left the room, heard the door close violently behind me,
hurried down the stars, and at the bottom, rushed up against
some one in the dark passage, and found myself in contact with
Mr Macdon

He made a hasty apology for coming so late, which I was too
worried to attend to; why he came at all was the question I was
most inclined to ask. I thought we had been safe from him. I
could not find it in my heart to be gracious and civil, and I don't
know what I said, until we stood at the parlour door ; then I
suddenly recollected John Hervey's note, and, seizing upon the
present moment as the most favourable 1 could hope to have,
ged for a few moments' conversation with him. lie seemed
astonished, and I thought nervous, but of course he a
and much, I suspect, to the surprise of the friends who knew or
thought about me, wc entered the room rather confidentially
Before, however, I could begin the subject of Mr
Weir, Mrs Kemp came up to me and inquired for Jessie ; was
she ill ? — tired — was anything amiss. ' Nothing,' 1 said, shortly.
'She will be down directly,' Mrs Kemp looked vexed, and drew
back. I asked where Mrs Grant was, and he put

up his eye-glass and glanced round the room.

'Oh ! I sec. 1 beg your pardon, but I will return directly;'
and he left me to go up to Jessie, who, just at that instant, came
in, her arm within Mrs Price's, as if they were the dearest
friends possible.

The meeting certainly was a curious one. I, who knew Jessie
' '.ell. could read at once in her countenance a mixture of fear,


dislike, and excitement, which she vainly endeavoured to hide
under an appearance of ease. Mr Macdonald's face was not so
well known to me ; but if 1 could at all guess its meaning, there
was a great deal of pride and spite in his heart. Mrs Price was
full of flattery and airs, making such a fuss about him, that I
could not bear to look at her, and talking so loudly that every
one was noticing her, and necessarily observing Jessie also.
This could not be allowed to continue. I felt as though I must
rush up to Jessie, and carry her away from them by force ; but
just then, the reel which had been going on when 1 came in,
was finished, and, in the general movement, Jessie was obliged
to move also, and Mr Macdonald returned to me, ready, as he
said, for our conversation. It was precisely what I did not
want, — to have a private talk with him when every one was
sitting down, and might remark upon us ; but a clear conscience
makes one bold, and knowing full well that I would never have
said half-a-dozen words to him but from necessity, I began at
once —

' You have heard from Miss Weir, lately, I think, Mr Mac-
donald, have you not ?'

' Yes, this week. I have had that honour.'

'And may I ask what the accounts of Mr Weir are ? Some
one told me he was very ill.'

' Miss Weir mentioned an indisposition — a fever, I think, she
called it.'

He looked so intolerably conceited, I turned away my head,
because I could not endure to watcli him. ' Is it a dangerous
illness?' I said.

' Well ! yes, I suppose it may be. Miss Weir's communica-
tions touch slightly upon the subject ;' and he put on a very
mysterious air.

' I suppose you would not mind giving me Miss Weir's direc-
tion,' I continued ; ' I am wishing to write to her.'

He hesitated. ' I believe Mr Weir is moving about. If you
wish that a letter should be forwarded, and would entrust it to

'Thank you,' I said, hastily; 'but it is not written. Miss
Milicent told me she should be in Normandy.'

' In Normandy? yes, she may be.'

'But you must know where she was when you last heard
from her,' I said. ' If you would only tell me that, it would
help me.'

• i i URSULA.

'It was an odd direction. French names arc difficult to re-
member, I may be able to give you the information to-mon

or the next day, — or, — I am almost afraid I may have mislaid
the It: r.'
'Or you don't wish to tell me, Mr Macdonald,' I exclaii

• I m sorry I have asked you.'

lie made a kind of bow, more in mockery than politeness,
and murmured sonv thin j about being unfortunately unable to
tify my curiosity; and then walked away.

Mary Kemp drew near to me, as I stood thinking. 'Ui
she said, 'that is an odious man. How Jessie hates him !'

' Docs she ?' I replied. ' How can you tell ? '

' From her look when she saw him. But she liked him once.
1 1 w is it she is so changed?'

' She knows him better,' I said. 'And she has Roger.'

' Yes, Roger, to be sure, that would be enough as a contrast ;
but I should be afraid if I had jilted Mr Macdonald. I should
think he would be revenged.'

The expression struck me, and I repeated it, pondering upon
it, but adding, 'Jessie did not jilt him.'

' I thought she did ; people say so.'

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 39 of 56)