Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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I was called away, and there was no time to undertake Jessie's
defence ; but I felt as though a clue had been given me, a: I
throughout all the remainder of that evening's excitement, I was
upon the one object of following it.

Jessie, Mrs Price, and Mr Macdonald, were never for five
minutes absent from my thoughts or my watchfulness. I
that Jessie appeared to have recovered herself, but that her eye
was restless, and her cheek flushed, and I noticed that Roger's
entrance made her shrink from Mrs Pri e, evidently unwilling
t he should see them together. I noticed that she gave herself
up almost exclusively to .Mrs Price's friends, dancing twice with
the strangers, and only once with any of her old friends, and at
List I saw her stand up with Mr Macdonald, looking at the
same time, frightened and nervous, but t dking as was her wont,
all the time to cover her awkwardness. And, towards the end
of the dance, I observed also that she became much graver, even,
1 might have said, unhappy ; whilst there was something in his
manner which implied, not liking certainly, but satisfaction and
triumph. Mary Kemp might be right, but jilt him ! No, Jcsde
certainly was free from that charge. And what could be his
revenge ? Oh ! if Roger could but see with my eyes, if he

URSUL/t. 411

could only be alive to the weakness of Jessie's character, and
keep her from those who might lead her to deceit. But he saw
nothing except that his wife was winning, and lovely, and devoted
to him. He was the only person in the room that night, — I
felt it with uneasiness and dismay, — who did not perceive that
some strong tie had been formed between Jessie and the inmates
of Dene which, whether it existed with or against her will, could
tend neither to his happiness, nor to her own goodness and

About eleven o'clock we were ready for supper. Mrs Price
went in first, and Jessie with her of course. I stayed behind to
take care of the second party. So I lost sight of her. Supper
was a long business. I was very tired and glad to remain quietly
by myself for a few minutes in the great parlour. Farmer Kemp
came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder : ' Asleep, lassie ;
you ought to be waking.'

' My business is nearly over,' I said, ■ I may begin to think of

' Not yet,' he said, earnestly. ' What can that flaunting
woman and her friend be talking about to your pretty little

I looked round ; they were close to the open door. I was
behind them, and I could not see their faces. When I moved, I
caught sight of Jessie's countenance, sadly anxious ; Mrs Price's
sarcastic, the other was hidden. I heard Mrs Price say, ' I
really must go and put on my cloak, it is late.' She went
up-stairs, and Jessie stayed behind ; she did not notice me, — I
could have said, indeed, that she was too engrossed to noti e
anything except the person before her. ' O Mr Macdonald ! ' I
heard her say, in a low, hurried voice; 'it is not honourable,
and they can be nothing to you now.'

I did not catch his answer.

'You have deceived me,' I heard Jessie add; 'you said they
were destroyed ;' and then, seeing me, every trace of colour left
her cheeks, and she rushed away.

Mrs Price's departure was quickly followed by others, only a
few lingered round the supper-table till after twelve. Farmer
Kemp and his wife, and Mary, were the very last. William sat
in the corner of the room fast asleep, while Roger and Jessie were
attending upon the friends who were just going. We heard the
repeated 'Good-byes' and 'Thank you,' and 'We have had
such a pleasant evening,' and Jessie's voice was cordial, and

4 12 URSULA.

Roger's full of ;h satisfaction that eveiything had passed

so well, and then they came back into the little parlour


'Here is a scat for you, little one, in the arm-chair,' said
cr. lie placed Jessie in it, and brought her a footstooL
' You are tired out, I know ; but so well you did everything !
Didn't she, Ursic? I don't know when we have had such a jolly
evening. What do you like to have, love? A glass of wine is

' I like to have you next me/ said Jessie, ' I d tn't want any-
thing else ;' and her tired face resumed its bright look, as Roger
lauj sat clown at her feet, and asked Farmer Kemp to give

her a bit of chicken, and he would sec that she ate it. The farmer
cut the chicken as he was desired, but directly afterwards turned
to me.

'Somebody else wants looking after,' he said; 'you've I
upon the move for how many hours, Ursie ?'

' I am too tired to reckon,' was my reply.

Roger jumped up from his seat, and came up tome. 'Are
you really so tired, Trot?'

'Really,' I said, 'is it surprising ?' and I laughed a little.

' Tired with thinking of every one but herself,' said Mrs Kemp f
kindly, for she was extremely fond of me.

I might have been vexed at Roger's coldness at any other
time ; but just then I really could not think about myself at all.
' We must send Jessie to bed at once,' I said ; ' she will be quite
knocked up if we don't.'

' And leave you to set the house right, I suppose,' said Farmer
Kemp. ' Well, there is nothing in this world like a good heart
for v. oik. Come, mistress!' and he spoke to his wife, 'since
going is the order of the day.'

Mrs Kemp had her bonnet and cloak on, and was quite ready,
so was Mary. I put one or two other wraps round them, for the
t was cold.

As I was doing this, Mary Kemp said, in a low voice, ' Have
you any ncte, any message, for John llcrvey ? Perhaps I shall
be writing to him.'

' None, thank you. I have not had time to think about

I fancied Mary looked rather blank, but my attention was
drawn to another matter, for Roger said quickly, 'A glass of
water, Ursie ; quick ! Jessie is faint.'


Her head was leaning back, and she was deadly pale, but she
had not fainted away.

Roger was alarmed, I was anxious, Mrs Kemp was quite cool,
and took it as a matter of no consequence. We all stood by
looking at Jessie.

' She has been talking, and laughing, and standing about more
than is good for her/ said Mrs Kemp, 'but she will be quite
well to-morrow. Now, my dear, if you feel better, let Roger take
you up-stairs.' And before Jessie seemed to be quite aware that
she was able to move, Mrs Kemp had gently forced her to stand
up, and, supported by Roger, she left the room. 'Good night,
Ur'sie, my dear, and go to bed, and to sleep, as quickly as you
can,' said Mrs Kemp, as I went out with her into the passage.
'And don't worry yourself, if you can help it, about things which
can't be helped or mended.'

' And keep an eye upon that giddy little woman, Ursie,' added
the farmer. ' Depend upon it, if you don't, she '11 get you all
into a scrape some day, through that flighty friend of hers.'


I SLEPT but little, in spite of my fatigue. Thoughts of Jessie
were haunting me ; not the hard thoughts which Farmer
Kemp might have had. There was no such vanity in her now
as would make her disobedient to Roger, that I was convinced
of ; whatever folly she might be led into would be the conse-
quence of some difficulty in which she had involved herself by
past imprudence. Mrs Price had no real affection for her, but
was making up to her for purposes of her own ; perhaps wishing
to show that she was not entirely overlooked by persons of re-
spectability ; perhaps — and just as likely — merely because she
knew that we had set ourselves against the intimacy. Mr
Macdonald, if he had ever really been attached to Jessie, which
I very much doubted, clearly disliked her now ; yet it seemed to
me as though he and Mrs Price had her in their power, and
were in some way tyrannising over her. And how this might
end was, I confess, a very anxious and uncomfortable thought.
Jessie was so weak, and so painfully deficient in moral courage,
that I could never feel sure of her. Some deception there must

4 i i URSULA.

have been already, and more there might be ; and with her

i orance and thoughtlessness, she would easily, without the

it intention of real evil, be led to do and say things which

would materially injure her in the eyes of the hard-judging

world. I trembled for Jessie, but I was miserable for Roger.
Even now, if he could sec and know all that I knew, he would
in all probability discover that his trust in his wife had be n
blind and mistaken, and how could I prevent the evil from going
further? — how could I induce Jessie to be open, with that p
feet openness which is the only security for married happiness,
when she knew, even better than myself, that the acknowledg-
ment of any past deception must shake Roger's confidence, and
would almost necessarily be a great trial to his affection ?

Jessie was not the person who would risk a present suffering
for the sake of avoiding a greater future evil. Rather she would
go on contriving, and evading, and delaying, and intending,
keeping her eye upon truth in the far distance, and forgetting as
she did so that she was following the untruth which stood im-
mediately in her pith.

An effort, however, must, I knew, be made at once. I had
discovered quite enough to give me cause for demanding an ex-
planation, and if she hated me for it, I still must have it. It
was with this full intention that I went down-stairs to our late
breakfast — yet one which was too early for Jessie. She did not
make her appearance. Roger was up and out before I was
ready, and William and I breakfasted together. The post came
in before we had finished. There was a letter for me in John
Ilervcy's handwriting; but William had some business letters,
and I was obliged to read them first, and put my own aside. I
was kept talking about things in which I felt no interest for
more than ten minutes, and then, finding that William would
not allow me any silence, I carried off my letter to read alone.
It required but a few moments to get through it, but it left me in
a state of bewilderment. It was written in pencil, and dated
from the house of Mrs Weir's physician.

1 Dear Ursie,—
1 1 have but five minutes to save the post. I have seen Mrs
Temple, Dr Green, and Mrs Weir. Mrs Temple is frightened,
and not without cause. But they all say that if you could come
up you might be of great use, for Mrs Weir is always asking for
you, and they can't tell how to satisfy or keep her quiet. I said


plainly to Mrs Temple that she must undertake your expenses,
and she is prepared to do so. Only don't delay. If you can
be here to-morrow by the train which comes in at 3.2;, Mrs
Temple's maid will be at the station to meet you, and I shall be
there too, if I possibly can. If you can let Alary Kemp know
that you have heard from me, do. It will explain my not writing
to her, but she shall hear to-morrow.

' Very sincerely yours,

'John Hervey.'

Thoughts of Jessie were for the moment chased from my
mind as though they had never been ; and no wonder. I had
but one hour to prepare myself. Go, of course I must. The
hopes of comfort which I had held out to Mrs Weir were a claim
upon me, putting aside every consideration of early kindness.
When anxiety for Jessie again presented itself, I could only de-
termine to write to her. I went to Roger and consulted him,
talking over what should be done in my absence, and settling
nothing, because I did not imagine I could be detained more
than a few days. Then I packed up my small box, wrote a line
to Mary Kemp, ran up to Jessie's room, and finding her in bed,
sat down and said all I could think of. and forgot everything I
most wished to remember, except that I did beg her to keep
clear of Mrs Price ; and, at nearly the last moment, examined my
purse, found I had not sufficient money for my journey, and had
a long, tiresome business in explaining to William — for I never
mixed my accounts with Roger and Jessie — what I should want ;
and, at length, just as the clock struck nine, found myself driving
into Hove, on my way to London. Roger would have gone with
me, but I would not allow it. I had travelled alone when I came
back from my visit to Mrs Mason, a year or two before, and
knew what I was to do, — and for us both to have been away
from the farm would have been extremely inconvenient. He
was most affectionate and understanding, and begged me to
write the very moment I arrived, that they might have a letter
the next morning.

All railway journeys are very much alike, unless there is the
pleasant variety of breaking your limbs or being crushed to
death, and my journey was in no way remarkable, except that I
had very silent companions, who gave me a sufficient oppor-
tunity for meditation. We reached London at 3.25 precisely.
Mrs Temple's maid, whom I knew by sight, was standing on the


platform of the station, and behind her was John Hervcy. He
greeted me as though we had not met for weeks.

'A glad sight, Ursie ! I began to think whether you would
come ; but you arc always to be depended on. Of course you
are going at once to Wimpole Str<

'Yes, I hope so; but I must have a few words with you first.
What shall we do with Andrews ?'

1 Leave her with your box and the cab till you are ready. She
won't mind waiting. These are strange times, Ursie.'

John gave his directions, which Andrews seemed to think
quite natural, and then turned aside with me. We sat down
an instant, but I could not bear that, and we paced the platform.

' Now, tell me,' I said ; ' what is the true state of the case ?'

'I can't make out, neither can the doctors; that is wh
have sent for you. Mrs Temple insists upon it that Mrs
Weir's mind is quite gone, she really thinks so, and is frightened.
The doctors say " No ; " and I should say " No," as far as bi
ness is concerned. She had some affairs to settle with me
yesterday, and was very fairly collected and sensible. But she
cries all day, eats nothing, and every now and then answers so
strangely that really it is difficult to believe that she is sane.'

' But I don't see what I am to do,' I said.

'She wants a soothing influence; that is what Dr Green
declares. You know I came to London yesterday. I saw him
then at Mrs Temple's ; he wanted to find out from me what
kind of state she was in for business. Afterwards, I had a
private talk with him, and put him up to a good deal which he
had no notion of before. He felt that Mrs Weir was not in good
hands ; but there was no moving her. At last a bright thought
struck me, and I mentioned you. He caught at the notion, and
Mrs Temple came, and it was proposed. She set herself against
it, as you may imagine. I think her manner was quite sufficient
to show the doctor what she really is, and he was more deter-
mined ; and, at last, he carried his point.'

'So, I am come quite against Mrs Temple's wish,' I said.

'Not that entirely. Dr Green frightened her at last into
thinking that you were likely to be her best friend. You will
find her tolerably civil. She is quite a different person to me,
so gracious, I don't know where I am when I am speaking to her.
Yet wishing much to have you here, I would not trust to her
writing, in spite of her promises, so I proposed to do it myself,
and she was quite willing, which was odd enough, only she has


just now taken up the line of not having a voice in any arrange-
ment. I fancy she thinks it safer as putting away all responsi-
bility. That was why I wrote you that scrawl from Dr Green's
house. He waited to make some memorandums of things I had
told him, and took me back there for the purpose. I was terribly
afraid it would be too late for the post, he kept me talking so
till the last minute. But you are come, Ursie, and the load isn't
half so heavy.'

That was natural enough ; for a very large share of it had been
put upon me by this hurried explanation. The doctor, and Mrs
Temple, and John Hervey — they all looked to me, it seemed,
and a more ignorant, inexperienced being in such matters there
could not be.

However, there is nothing like seeing no means of escape from
a difficulty, and having been brought into my present position by
God's Providence, I trusted that He would enable me to do my
duty in it, kindly and bravely.

' I shall not go with you to Wimpole Street,' said John. ' I
shall see as little of you as possible, only perhaps I shall call
to-morrow ; after that, indeed, I must go home. It won't do to
make Mrs Temple think there is anything like a plan between
us, though what it could be about is more than I can tell. But
I know she is always suspicious of something wrong, when two
people agree in opposing her. Whatever you do, Ursie, must be
done by yourself, with Dr Green's sanction. He will side with
you, I am sure. And if there is any notion of removing Mrs
Weir from Mrs Temple's care, all the servants will take your
part, for they are tired out, so Andrews tells me, with having
her there. The young woman who took Jessie's place went
away when they left Stonecliff.'

'Remove Mrs Weir,' I said; 'but where ?— what is to be
done with her?'

' I can't tell ; no one can tell, Ursie ; it all rests upon you.'
Very poor comfort, indeed ! But there was real help in John's
hearty sympathy, which I felt I was sure of under all circum-
stances. He put me into the cab with Andrews. I had only-
time to say, hoping to please him, ' Mary has your message,' and
he nodded his thanks just as we were driving off.

We rattled through the streets at a quick pace, but I wished
it had been quicker. I was beginning to feel painfully nervous.
Andrews, knowing I had only been once in London before,
pointed out all that was worth seeing, but I scarcely saw any-

' 2D

4i 8 URSULA*

thing ; — only every moment I thought the cab was going to
stop, and then my heart stopped too, and went on at an increased
rate afterwards, to make up, I suppose, for lost time. The thunder-
ing rap at the door was speedily answered. My box was taken
out, the cabman paid, and I was ushered into the house.

' Wait here,' said Andrews, opening the dining-room door,
'and I will tell Mrs Temple you arc come.' The room was
dingy ; it had a very lodging-house look, for Mrs Temple had
only taken a part of the house for a few weeks. I thought of
Dene, and the Heath, and Stonccliff, and pictured to myself
what Mrs Weir's feelings must be, shut up in this London prison.
Folding-doors divided the dining-room from an apartment at the
back of the house. As I sat thinking, a low moaning sound
came through the crevice, and soon I heard a voice — Mrs
Temple's voice — not quite so harsh as usual, but evidently
striving against impatience. Still the moaning continued. At
last I heard Mrs Temple say, ' If you will only do what the
doctor tells you — but you can't have anything you wish, aunt,
till you do.' And poor Mrs Weir, for it could be no one else, was
silent for a few seconds, and then Mrs Temple left her and came
into me, and the moaning went on as before.

Mrs Temple was changed since I last saw her. She had
passed through a good deal of trouble, and much of her statclincss
of manner was gone, it was turned into irritability. But to me
she was quite civil ; I felt, at once, that, owing to the pressure
of circumstances, I should have but little difficulty in obtaining
and keeping an independent position, if only I was not afraid to
decide and act upon my decision.

She thanked me for coming, — coldly, — but still I was thanked,
and then she began to explain her view of Mrs Weir's case. It
may be expressed in a few words. Her aunt's mind, she said,
was quite broken down, and nothing remained to be done but
to put her under strict medical care. The object in sending
for me was, that as I had known Mrs Weir so long, I might
prepare her for this necessary step, and induce her to submit to
it gently.

The two ideas seemed to me inconsistent. If Mrs Weir was
in a state in which by reasoning she could be brought to submis-
sion, her mind certainly could not be quite broken down. But I
was not going to commit myself in an argument before I had
had an opportunity of forming a judgment, and I begged at once
to be allowed to go to Mrs Weir.


'Presently. My aunt must not be taken by surprise,' was the
Answer ; but I repeated my request, ' If I may but be allowed,
ma'am, I should like,' I said, ' to see Mrs Weir in her natural
state, as I cannot suppose that, in her present condition, any
person's presence would have much effect upon her.' And as I
made a movement towards the folding-door, Mrs Temple no
longer opposed me.

I found Mrs Weir sitting in a small, darkened bedroom, close
to the fire, wrapped up in shawls, — her eyes fixed, and a settled
melancholy in her features. I had often seen her so before, but
only for a short time. 'Now,' Mrs Temple whispered to me,
' she is always so, except when she is crying.' I went up to her
and spoke, and she looked at me, and answered, quite recognis-
ing me, but not as if she was surprised, or pleased, or in anyway
excited by seeing me ; and presently, as I said something to
Mrs Temple, thinking to attract her attention, she began again
the moaning sound which I had heard through the folding-doors.
Mrs Temple pointed to a tray on which lay the untasted dinner,
and observed, ' There is no making her eat, she has tasted no-
thing all day.' I did not make a direct reply, for I felt it must
be bad for Mrs Weir to be talked of helplessly as a third person,
so I addressed her naturally.

' Dear ma'am,' I said, ' your dinner is ready and growing
cold ; suppose you were to move your chair, and come to the
table, and if we were to draw up the blind, there would be a
little more light. It is such a dark afternoon, and London is not
so bright as Stonecliff, is it ? '

It seemed to me as though the poor lady was quite unused
to be spoken to cheerfully. She turned towards me with a kind
of wonder, and when I said, ' Now, ma'am ! ' and moved her
chair a litde, she made no objection, but suffered me to wheel it

Mrs Temple put in a word. ' Well, aunt ! I am glad to see
you do as the doctor tells you.'

Mrs Weir looked up pleadingly, ' I don't want to eat, Ursula ;
only they will be angry.'

' Oh, dear ma'am ! ' I said, ' no one will be angry, and you
need not eat at all, unless you fancy it.'

'You are wrong, Miss Grant, quite wrong,' exclaimed Mrs
Temple, 'she must eat.'

'Mrs Weir likes little odd things, at odd times, I know,
ma'am,' I said. ' I dare say she doesn't fancy her dinner just

+ao SI/LA.

now. Should you like to hear how long I have been on my
journey, ma'am?' I added, addressing Mrs Weir again; and
without waiting for an answer, I went on, in the old fashion,
telling my story. I saw that .Mrs Tempi* t me nearly as

much out of my senses as Mrs Weir could be, for I describi d
every little trifle, in a manner so minute . ticular, as to a

^on in an ordinary state of mind must have seemed little
t of absurd.

But I gained my point. Mrs Weir listened, and at last said
of her own accord, ' You have been a long time without cati
Ursula, arc you not hungry ':'

1 was terribly afraid of taking a liberty, but I ventured to say,
'■ If I might be allowed to have a biscuit, ma'am, I think I should
like it.'

A plate of biscuits was on the table, Mrs Temple pushed it
towards me, she could do no less, and then I went a step further.
' These are such very nice biscuits, dear ma'am/ I said ; 'quite
like those we used to have at Dene ; don't you remember them ?'
I handed her the plate, and she took one, not from liking or want-
ing it, but I had touched her curiosity. She would not try a second
time, but the spell was a little broken; she felt that she could
cat ; her existence was not quite so unnatural. For that, I had
little doubt, was the secret of her morbid and melancholy silence.
She had been treated as though unlike every other person, unable
to determine or think for herself, and requiring authority to con-
trol her weakness of mind, and at length the evil which was to be
averted was actually almost produced. I do not mean to say
that there were not circumstances which aggravated the misery
of her state, or that it was erne which might not easily be mis-
t.iken ; a very little observation showed me that Mrs Weir had
gone many degrees back in her condition as a rational being
since I last saw her at Stonccliff ; but I still believed that the
mischief was more in the management than in herself. I ques-
tion whether any of us, even in the soundest state of mind, if
told we were in danger of losing our reason, and treated accord-

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 40 of 56)