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Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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' Every one is complaining and talking, and saying a great deal
which had better not be said. Jessie, my dear, if you are tired,
you had much better go to bed.'

' But I should like to wait and hear what you have to tell,'
said Jessie.

' Nothing, my dear, nothing,' said Roger, ' except that there
has been a run upon a London bank, which you won't under-
stand anything about.'

' I know that people are very often ruined by such things,'
said Jessie.

' We are not ruined, my dear, nor any of our friends ; so you
need not distress yourself about it ; but go,' and he lighted a
candle for her.

I think she felt as though she was treated like a child, and I
felt the same, and was a little inclined to blame Roger for carry-
ing on the old system of making her a plaything. But no one
would have thought this night that there was any idea of play in
his mind ; and as soon as Jessie was out of the room both
William and I exclaimed, ' There is something, Roger ; for pity's
sake, let us have it out.'

' If the world could have its tongue stopped !' he said, quietly
helping himself to a mutton chop, very much as though he had
no appetite for it. ' That scamp, Mr Macdonald, and John
Hervey have had a quarrel.'

'A quarrel,' 1 exclaimed, — 'what about?' — and my heart
beat very fast as a host of absurd fears and fancies crowded into
my mind.

' It is almost more than I can tell, — what about,' — replied
Roger. ' I didn't hear the beginning. They were in the

2 K



5 1 4 URSULA.

coffee-room at the Red Lion, — your name was brought in,
Ursic.'

I started from my seat. ' Mine ! my name brought in by Mr
Macdonald.'

' Don't be frightened, Trot,' said Roger, speaking with forced
quietness, 'the man's a rogue, and every one knows it, and the
utmost he could say against you was that you had kept poor
Mrs Weir from falling into his clutches ; and for this I thought
John Hervey would have knocked him down.'

' He needn't have troubled himself to do that,' I said ; ' .Mr
Macdonald is beneath the notice of any right-minded person.'

' Quite,' said Roger ; ' but he was insolent, and half-tipsy, and
there was no knowing how to deal with him.'

Roger's manner was strange still. I did not feel as though he
had told us all.

' I wish it hadn't happened on a Saturday, and at the Red
Lion,' said William ; 'reports get about so oddly. But tell us
all about it. I don't understand.'

' I shall only vex Trot,' said Roger, kindly ; ' and the thing is
past now.'

' I would rather hear,' was my reply ; ' I may have to defend
my own cause, so I may as well know what accusations are
brought against me.'

Still Roger hesitated. ' I think I had better leave it to John
I Icrvcy,' he said ; ' I begged him to come over on Monday and
explain, and he promised he would. He took your part gallantly,
Trot.'

' He would be sure to do that,' said William. ' If it wasn't
that we have all been thinking him in love with Mary Kemp up
to within the last month or two, I should have said that he had
a considerable fancy for Ursie.'

This was more than I could endure, and the idea of a long
private explanation with John Hervey upon matters so nearly
concerning myself, actually made me treml

' I don't choose to wait till Monday,' I said ; ' I wish to hear
all there is to tell to-night. I shall not sleep the worse for it,
Roger, for I have nothing on my conscience.'

' Nothing,' he said, patting my shoulder affectionately. ' I '11
answer for that, and so will any one who ha n my little

Trot as long as I have. But at the best you will only ■ I a rig-
marole story from me, Ursie. I went into the coffee-room, and
found John Hervey and Mr Macdonald at high words. As far



URSULA. 515

as 1 could gather, the conversation had begun about banks and
speculations, and Macdonald boasted, so I was told, of some of
his, not rightly knowing, as you may believe, what he said ;
and John Hervey took him to task, being aware that they were
not much better than frauds. I told him afterwards that he
would have done better to let the man alone ; but he said, he
felt it right to speak out, because of some present who were
listening, and might have gone away with a false impression.
Well ! Macdonald got angry, and was impertinent, and accused
John in return. I heard that myself. He was not enough in
his senses to make what he said quite plain, but the upshot of
it was that you, Ursie, and John Hervey had been in league to
defraud poor Mrs Weir, and had actually got a large sum of
money from her.'

I laughed ; the idea was too absurd to make me angry.

' It wouldn't signify if there had been no one by to hear,' said
William ; ' but I suppose the room was full.'

' There were two or three men there, most of them Macdonald's
friends, and they backed him up.'

'And what did you do?' I said; 'you couldn't stand by
quietly and hear such atrocious falsehoods uttered about your
sister ? '

'You had a champion in John who needed no support,' said
Roger ; ' but you needn't fear, Trot, but that I gave all the help
in words I could— till ' — he hesitated —

'Till what?' I asked. 'Speak out, Roger, I am able to stand
up against anything Mr Macdonald may say.'

'Till' — and Roger's voice grew quite hoarse and hollow — 'till
he declared that my wife had told him everything, and that he
could produce letters from her in proof ; and then I gave him
the lie direct, and turned him out of the room.'

I was silent. William exclaimed, ' Bravo ! '

Roger rose from the table, took out a memorandum book, and
began to make some notes in it. There was an awkward silence,
and I asked if he had finished his supper.

' Yes, quite.'

I cleared the table, and the servants were called in to prayers.

Roger read as calmly as usual ; there was no indication in his
voice of any trouble in his mind, but when I looked at his face
as we rose from our knees, I felt I dared not ask him any more
questions, and I bade him good night. My kiss must have told
him what I could not express in words.



q. URSULA.

I beard him come up*stairs very scum after mc. I was not
surprised at that, for William was not likely to pi rceive that
< ruin subjects could not be approached, and Rog< r would be

thankful to escape from him. Jessie's room joined mine ; I

a wished that it did not, for I could not help sometimes

hearing the tune in which she and Roger conversed, tin.;: 'i i >

words were intelligible. I tried n t to listen this evening, but

the very effort seemed only to increase my natural quickness of
I. aring. First came a few light observations, then something
like an anxious inquiry from Jessie, and grave words in answer.
Questions and replies followed quickly, and at last a lo:
si eech from Roger, in a voice which struck mc as though he
were trying to keep his feelings under control. A quick, faint
answer fr&m Jessie succeeded, and a burst of hysterics.

The next minute Roger knocked at the door of my cham
' Ursie ! Trot ! can you let me in ?' and I admitted him. lie
looked very much distressed and frightened.

'Have you any sal volatile? Can you go to Jessie? Poor
little darling ! I ought to have prepared her better, but she
would know. That good-for-nothing wretch ! but I won't think
of him. Go to her, Ursie ; you can manage her.' lie followed
me into Jessie's room ; I forced her to take the medicine, and
spoke to her rather decidedly upon the necessity of controlling
herself, and for a moment she was calm. Rut when Ro
addressed her in his gentle, tender way, the excitement returned
again. 'Just leave her to me,' I said at last, 'we shall do
nothing while you arc here. Go down-stairs, and when she is
better again, I will call you;' and after some hesitation, and
many words of fondness, he consented, and Jessie and 1 were
left alone.

As I had expected, she recovered herself then, at least to a
certain degree, but this was no common attack of hysterics. I
could insist upon her being quiet, and she was so, but when she
sat quite still, the expression of her face d tii most in-

tense mental suffering. After seeing her comfortably in bed I
was going to tell Roger that she was better, when she grasped
my hand, and said in a faint voice, ' Ursie, you know.'

'Yes,' 1 said, gravely, ' indeed I know ; but it may be betti r
not to talk to-night.'

' Stay, stay,' she exclaimed, fancying I was going to leave her.
' 1 have told him. Ursie, he knows that the only letter that
could have been meant was to Mrs Price.'



URSULA. 517

'Was it really?' It might have been hard in me, but there
was doubt in my tone. Yet she was not indignant.
' ' Yes, indeed, indeed ; O Ursie ! I am very miserable.'

'Why ?' I asked ; and still there was a lingering suspicion in
my mind. ' Is Roger so angry at your having written foolishly
to Mrs Price?'

' Oh ! no, no ; he has forgiven ; he does not think— Ursie, it
really was to Mrs Trice.'

' You have told me so before, dear Jessie,' I replied. ' I con-
fess I am relieved, for Mrs Temple herself showed me when
I was in Paris a portion of the letter which I suppose was
alluded to, and certainly gave me to understand, though I did
not believe her then, that it had been written by you to Mr
Macdonald.'

' It was a letter I wrote to Mrs Price once when she was in
London,' said Jessie. ' It was very foolish of me to say what I
did, but she was always asking about you ; and I did not mean
any harm, Ursie, indeed I didn't.'

'It was foolish,' I said, 'but not, of course, the same as it
would have been if you had written about our private affairs to
Mr Macdonald. Jessie, dear, if you have told all, go to sleep
now, and to-morrow talk the matter over quietly with Roger.
Don't be afraid.'

'Wouldn't you be afraid?' she said. 'Wouldn't you really

care ? '

' Not if it was merely a thoughtless letter to Mrs Price.'

1 But if— Ursie, I did not speak at once, when Roger asked
me to assure him that it was all false,— and his look— oh ! it was
so terrible.'

' Terrible, without cause, then,' I said. ' Jessie, you wrong
Roger by being so afraid of him.'

'You would be afraid if you were like me ; but you are his
sister, not his wife.'

' And, as a wife's love is greater than a sister's,' I said, 'so
should her confidence be greater also. Jessie, dear, you have
had something upon your mind for months, — you have acknow-
ledged this to me.; I don't ask what it is, but I entreat you to
take advantage of the present opening, and confess everything to
Roger.'

She turned her face away from me, and I heard her murmur,
' I could have told you.'

' Then let me hear,' I said ; ' but remember, Jessie, that



5i3 URSULA.

Roger must know at last, and who is to tell him so well as your-
self?'

'I didn't mean — I didn't think about it. O Ursie ! they
have used me cruelly.'

'I suppose you mean Mrs Price and Mr Macdonald,' I said.
' I could not be surprised at anything they did.'

' So unkind !' persisted Jessie, ' to turn my words against me,
and bring you into difficulty ; 1 never thought they would have
so.'

She was wandering from the important point, and I recalled

h t. ' Don't trouble yourself about anything that concerns me,

r Jessie,' I replied. 'Nothing which Mr Macdonald can

say will affect me, for my conscience is free, at least on all

ts in which he can have any concern.'

' Free !' murmured Jessie. 'Oh ! how happy.'

' And you may be happy too, dearest Jessie,' I said, ' if

She interrupted me.

'Happy! Oh! never, never. Ursie, you don't know. He
can't forgive.'

'He can and will forgive everything,' I replied. 'He must
do so,' I added, rather weakening my own words, for I felt as
though there might be some things, — deceit amongst them, —
which it would be almost impossible for a husband to forgive, at
least, in such a sense as to feel the same trust as before.

She took up the expression.

' He must ! but if he shouldn't, Ursie, it would break my
heart.'

Just then Roger knocked at the door rather impatiently.
Jessie trembled all over.

'Take courage,' I whispered ; 'pray that you may be helped.
Dearest Jessie, it can but be worse by delay.'

' I can't, Ursie ; stay with me ; don't leave me.'

Another knock. I forcibly withdrew my hand, kissed her
tenderly, and, with a prayer that God would aid her, turned
away.

The voices in the room adjoining mine were again heard; the
tone of the conversation was lower than before ; at times it seemed
to cense, and then it began again. I could gain nothing from it.
I lingered and waited, — cold, and tired, and uneasy, — expecting I
scarcely knew what, and at last went to bed.



URSULA. 519



CHAPTER LXXVII.

I DREADED the next morning more than I can tell. All the
time I was dressing I was trying to guess what trouble
might be in store for me, but Roger's face, when we met at
breakfast, was a cordial to my heart. He was always very
happy on a Sunday. He had a knack, which I could never
attain, of putting aside anything which troubled him, and never
allowed himself to be distressed with earthly cares on the one
day of heavenly rest ; and to my great astonishment, his cheer-
fulness on this morning was particularly marked, and his first
words were —

'Jessie has slept well; she is rather tired though, and not
going to get up to breakfast;' and then he added, 'she is a
forgiving little woman, she won't let me give that fellow, Mac-
donald, the dressing he deserves. But I must make him eat his
own words, for her sake, though really no one, except his worth-
less companions, would believe anything he said.'

' I suppose I may go to her after breakfast,' I observed.

'Yes, if she is awake ; but I promised not to let her be dis-
turbed, as she was still drowsy. She won't be able to go to
church to-day, and I think I shall stay and read to her now, and
go myself in the afternoon.'

I can't say how strange it was to me that he could take what
had happened thus quietly. I fancied him so sensitive that the
least imputation on his wife would have driven him nearly wild.
It was evident that something had occurred to make such
thoughts secondary. He insisted upon carrying up Jessie's break-
fast himself, and stayed with her for some time. When he came
down he said she complained of a little headache, and he thought
it was better perhaps to let her be quiet, and for me not to go to
her. William went out before church, and I had several things
to attend to. Roger took up a book in the parlour, but I soon
saw him saunter into the garden, and pace up and down the
middle walk in the sunshine. When I was ready for church
I joined him there.

' It is a blessed day, is it not, Trot ?' he said, putting his hand
fondly on my shoulder. ' Doesn't it often strike you how quiet
everything is on a Sunday in the country, as if the very birds
and insects knew that it was a time of peace ?'

We stood still and listened. Very far off there was a soft,



52C 7Z/LA.

soothing murmur, the of the waves as they reached the

shore, but no other sound broke the stillness.

' I could not bear to be without that one sound,' he said. ' It
it is like the breathing of a human being, a sign of life which can
scarcely be called sound. And it docs not disturb one. God is
very gracious,' he added, .looking up reverently to the sky, 'to
urs like these after days of storm. lay wa a

tempest to me, Trot, but it is all past now, as thi ugh it h d
r been.'

'Except,' I said, 'that you must have an explanation with
Mr Macdonald.'

'Yes, I know ; but don't talk about him. I shall soon make
him retract. And, Ursie, he can't trouble me,— nothing can,
whilst my darling* ■ He stopped.

'Goon,' I said, and I laughed kindly. 'Don't be ashamed
to show that you are as weak as other men.'

' Well, I suppose it is weakness,' he said, like myself, 1 m ' ;
a little. ' But life would be worth little without it. And, Ursie,
when people are first married, there is a good deal to learn.'

c They are making discoveries in unknown lands,' I replied;
' t least, so John Hervey says.'

' Does he ? Well, he is right. I hope before long he may have
the opportunity of travelling on his own account. At least, if
he is sure of comiag to th • same result as myself.'

' Dearest Roger,' I said, 'no one can be so thankful as I am
tli .1 you are happy.'

lie was silent at first, but after a few moments of considcra-

:, said, 'You must not misunderstand me, Ursie. Neither

Hervey nor any one else can expect to find perfection, —

.■ love,' he added, and his tone sank as though he shrank from

saying so much even to me.

4 Jessie does love you devotedly,' I said ; 'no one can doubt
that.'

' Xo one, no one,' he said, hastily. ' But, Ursie, you women
are problems, and often make us unjust.'

' Because we are inconsistent,' I said.

' You show the worst part of yourselves in everyday life.
There seems to be a mist of petty weaknesses over you, and then
comes disappointment in consequence, till a storm arises, — th n
shine out like the sun.'

' I dare say you arc right,' I said. * And so one ought to be
thankful for the storm?'



URSULA. 521

• Most thankful ! ' he replied. ' I could say it to no one but
you, Ursie ; I never knew how Jessie loved me till last
night.'

I don't think I was ever more perplexed in my life as to what
I should answer. The whole conversation was so entirely
different from anything I had anticipated. My silence ap-
peared like want of sympathy, but I could not speak. William's
appearance at the further end of the walk was an immense relief,
and hastening towards him, I made him take my arm. Whether
Roger noticed anything uncomfortable in my manner, I can't
say. I believe he was too much at peace that morning with
God, the world, and himself, to be disturbed by any one. Even
Mr Macdonald was put aside for a future day of reckoning.

William and I went to church together. I told Roger that
possibly I might not return till after the afternoon service, for
Mrs Richardson had made a proposal to me to take a class at
the afternoon Sunday-school, and I was anxious if possible to
oblige her. With Jessie to share my duties at home, I thought
it might be managed. In case I did this, Mrs Richardson had
kindly said she would give me luncheon at the Parsonage. It
was not certain that I should be wanted till the next Sunday,
but it was as well to be prepared. All the way to church I was
obliged to talk to William, and he would bring forward the dis-
agreeable subject of Mr Macdonald. Roger, he said, bore the
matter too quietly ; the man was a rascal, and deserved to be
prosecuted for a libel. ' Roger takes to heart what was said about
Jessie, much more than what concerns you though, Ursie,' added
William, ' and that aggravates me, I confess ; for, after all, Jessie
might have been a little foolish and gossiping, but nothing worse
could be brought against her. It was not like accusing you of
fraud.'

' That notion is so simply absurd,' I said, 'that I really don't
trouble myself about it.'

' I can't help wishing that John Hervey had not made such a
disturbance,' persisted William. ' It spreads the thing; I always
thought him rather hot-headed. The only excuse is, as I said
last night, Ursie, that he certainly has a half-liking for you; why
shouldn't you make up to each other?' he added, turning round
upon me sharply.

I replied, ' Merely, I suppose, because it does not suit us.'

'Not suit you! But why shouldn't it ? He has a comfortable
income of his own, and is getting on in his business. And ii



522 URSULA,

thcie come some little Rogers and Jessies, Sandcombe won't be
lar i hold us all.'

V ry like William that was ! Putting things just in the way
most likely to fret me; and yet not imagining himself— or indi
meaning to be otherwise than very good-natured. I took the first
opportunity of ^changing the conversation, and soon afterwards
we reached the church. There arc times when past days come
back to one, seemingly without cause; and the sight of the school
children under the gallery brought to me the recollection of
Miss Milicent, and the fust time I saw her in Compton church,
dressed in the cloth jacket and red handkerchief, and trying to
awe us all into order. I felt that I should very much like to sec
her again, for my heart clung tenderly to the days associated witli
the remembrance of her ; and the loss of Mrs Weir left still a
blank at my heart, which nothing could fill. Country churches
remain for years unaltered, and Compton church was precisely
the same now as it was in those old days, except that a new
generation of little figures might be seen on the wooden benches.
I was glad to think that I should have to teach them ; it gave me
a fresh interest, and when Mrs Richardson came up to me after
the service, and said she should be much obliged if I could stay,
I was very willing to accede. William, I knew, would find his
way home with the farm people ; but just as he was setting forth,
I saw John Hervey join him, and they entered into conversation.
I was turning away to follow Mrs Richardson, and feeling thank-
ful to have an excuse for escaping from John, when Willi
called to me. ' Ursie, where are you marching to? Have you
no thanks to give your champion ?'

John's colour came up into his face, in a manner which was
perfectly distressing. Indeed, I am not sure, whether to see a
man blush is not worse than to see him shed tears. He put
out his hand, drew it back, and stammered, and at last burst
into a fit of laughter— really, I believe, because he did not know
what else to do; for certain I am there was no mirth in his
merriment.

I was very conscious, —which is a most uncomfortable feeling
at all times, — and in my wish to be quite at case, I said some-
thing which I am very nearly sure was nonsense. At any rate
it made William interpose with, 'Well ! if you two are not the
strangest beings, one would think you had never met before.
Ursie, surely you can say " Thank you," to a man who took your
part as John Hervey did last night.'



URSULA. 523

•I don't think Mr Hervey needs words,' I said; 'he must
know how grateful I am ; only it is not a very pleasant subject
to enter upon.'

' Indeed it is not ! ' exclaimed John. ' I wouldn't have a word
said, except — I am afraid, Ursie, I must ask to have a few
minutes' conversation with you.'

' We will wait till to-morrow,' I said ; feeling myself at the
same time to be the most cold, ungrateful creature living.

There was a tone of mournful bitterness in John's voice, as he
said, 'I am quite aware that I am urging you against your will,
but to-morrow it will be too late.'

' I must leave you to settle matters your own way,' said
William, 'or I shall not be in time for dinner. Ursie, I shall
send Roger to church in the afternoon, and he can walk home
with you.'

I was left standing in the road with John Hervey, the villagers
watching us. Six months ago I should no more have cared for
this than I should for being seen holding a conversation with
William or Roger ; but now it made me uncomfortable, and in
order to escape it, I said, ' We cannot stay here. Perhaps you
would not mind coming down to the Parsonage with me. Mrs
Richardson would let us have our conversation there, I am
sure.'

'Just as you wish,' he said, quietly, and we walked on
together.

Mrs Richardson was a very simple-minded person, who never
suspected any one of a double meaning, and when I went to her
and told her that Mr Hervey and I had a few words to say to
each other, and that I did not like standing about in the road,
she offered us at once to go into the school-room, whilst her
children were having their dinner in the dining-room. 'And
something shall be kept hot for you, Ursula,' she added, kindly,
' though don't be long, or you will have no time to eat it.' So
John Hervey and I were once more doomed to a private inter-
view, though happily we had a definite subject to talk about,
which I felt to be a safeguard as long as we could keep to
facts.

John began the conversation with another excuse for having
forced it upon me, but I cut him short.

' There is no occasion to say anything of that kind,' I observed ;
'you have been very good to me, Mr Hervey, in taking up my
cause, and I am only sorry that you should have been called



524 URSULA.

upon to do it. But to say that I care much for what .1 man like
Mr Macdonald may choose to assert when he is tipsy, would be
untrue, and I should be glad to be certain that you felt as indif-
>t about it as 1 do.'

* It is not for you to care, Ursie, nor for me,' he replied. ' If



Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 50 of 56)