Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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one troubled one's self about false reports, life might be miserable.
I thoroughly frightened Macdonald last night, and I have good
;on to believe that he will never venture to repeat his false-
hoods. If he does, I have the means of punishing him in my

n hands. But he said something abmit your sister-in-law
which unfortunately is true. She did write to him when j
were away. It was from her that he learned what your move-
ments were likely to be, and by that means they were com-
municated to M. Dalange.'

'Begging your pardon,' I said, 'I think you are under a
mistake. Jessie wrote one note to Mrs Price, part of which I
saw. It was sent, I believe, to Mrs Temple, by whom I don't
know, with the long letter from Mr Macdonald, which you your-
self read in Paris. There was a thoughtless observation in it
about my influence with Mrs Weir, and Jessie is very sorry she
made it, but as for anything more of consequence having tran-
spired through it, I am all but certain that it is impossible.'

' I wish I could believe it,' said John, earnestly. ' I wish to
my heart I could believe it. Put Macdonald, as you know, talks
about it, and it is unquestionable that everything you and I

mned was told immediately to Macdonald, and through him
to his French friend, who came to Paris expressly, because he
knew that I was daily expected, and was afraid that I might be
working against him. Mrs Temple also, as you are aware, was
sent there in the same way. It is a pity that you were not more
cautious in what you wrote.'

'It is a pity/ I replied, 'yet what I said was very little;
'ling, indeed, that I can remember, except that we meant to

ve certain places on certain days, and that Miss Miliccnt was

ng to consult you about some of her affairs. And I wrote
quite privately to Roger, thinking, of course, that nothing which
was mentioned would go beyond our own circle. It never
entered my head to s iy, " I J n't show it to Jessie.'"

' It did go beyond your own circle,' said John, 'but that is not
your fault, Ursie. Only, indeed, I am very sorry about your

' But it is not true,' I said ; 'forgive me for speaking hastily,


Mr Hervey, but I can't help it. It is all an exaggeration.'
Then recollecting the short conversation which had passed
between myself and M. Dalange at Andely, I added, ' M.
Dalange once mentioned Jessie to me, and implied she had
been staying at Dene, and that was entirely untrue. He
thought, too, that I was a great friend of Mrs Price, which was
another complete mistake. You see, one cannot depend upon
any of them.'

' M. Dalange,' replied John, 'only wished to find out whether
Macdonald was playing him true or false as to the persons from
whom he professed to get his information. With regard to the
note you mention, I can tell you how Mrs Temple got it. It
was through the people who took Stonecliff. Mrs Price pressed
an acquaintance with them, as I understand, and they, coming
into a new neighbourhood, and not knowing anything about the
residents, let her make up to them ; and so, by degrees, as they
grew more intimate, I suppose, they talked about Mrs Temple,
and Mrs Weir, and ail the family, and Mrs Price put them up
to her notion of what was going on, and through them alarmed
Mrs Temple, who, I believe, is a distant relation. The object
of it all, of course, was to have you recalled.'

'I suppose it must have been so,' I said; ' but what motive
could Mrs Price have had to interfere at all in the matter?'

' First of all, she hates you as much as she hates any one on
the face of the earth,' said John. ' You have kept aloof from
her, and made other people do the same ; and she has never
forgiven Jessie's marrying into your family ; and if she could do
you an injury, and make Roger and Jessie miserable, she would
be only too glad. But besides this, I pretty well know that her
husband was in a certain degree mixed up with Macdonald's
speculation, and it was a matter of importance to her, therefore,
to get hold of Miss Milicent's money, which, as long as you were
there to watch, could not be done. But all this, Ursic, is com-
paratively nothing ; I must again go back to the fact of the
accusation against your sister-in-law, and say that it ought to be
contradicted at once if it is untrue ; and if it is net, the sooner
it is crushed the better.'

' It is not true,' I again said.

' Well, then, some one must get a direct acknowledgment that
it is false from Macdonald himself. Now, Ursie, if you think I
might venture, I believe I could do so, and this very day. Mac-
d. a all leaves Dene to-morrow.'

5=6 . /.

' I don't know,' I said. ' To interfere without Roger's cons* at I
I don't quite sec how it could be done.'

'I was in hopes/ he said, 'that it might be the easiest way.
1 have Macdonald under my thumb, and, in his sober senses,
he knows that full well. I could without difficulty bring him

ore a court of justice for being mixed up with the French-
man's frauds. Anything that I insist upon his doing he will
do, when he is sober, that is. And I am now going to Dene
with the full determination of making him sign a paper retract-
ing every word he had the audacity to utter against you and me
last night. If you were quite sure, quite certain that the accu-
sation against your sister-in-law is as unfounded as that brought
against us, I could easily force him to retract it at the same

If! In spite of Jessie's protestations and Roger's happiness,
and the absence of anything that could be called proof to the
contrary, I hesitated ; and John perceived my hesitation, I am
sure, but he could not bear to notice it. Neither could I bear
to allude to it.

' I think,' I said, after a few moments' consideration, ' that
you may very fairly tax him with exaggeration, and with having
implied that his intelligence came direct from Jessie, when in
fact he only learned it through Mrs Price. More than this I am
afraid we cannot demand, for Jessie was incautious, and the
1 tier to Mrs Price ought not to have been written at all.'

' It will be a great deal if we get that,' said John. ' Ursie, if
you can only stop the acquaintance with Mrs Price, you will
do a kinder act both toward Roger and Jessie than you at all

I made no answer, for I felt very desponding.

'You are displeased with me, I am afraid,' he continued. 'I
am interfering.'

His tone woke me up from a kind of dream. We were leaving
facts ; and feelings were dangerous ground.

Speaking quickly, and rather coldly, I said, 'Oh ! no, indeed.
You are very good to take so much trouble. I am sure Rogei
and we all shall be extremely obliged to you.'

It went like an arrow through me to see the pained expression
of his face. He took up his hat, wished me good-bye, and did
net even say that I should hear from him.

As the door closed behind him, my impulse was to rush after
him, to beg him to return, to tell him that I thought him the


best, kindest, truest of friends ; that I 'trusted him as I had
never trusted any one except Roger; that if I could only see
him happy I would be contented to be unhappy myself for the
remainder of my life. But marry him ! No, I had not come to
that yet.


ROGER came to me at the school, and walked with me to
church. He was not so comfortable as when I left him in
the morning. Jessie, he said, was so extremely depressed ; she
seemed to take so very much to heart the having been spoken
of in that public manner, even by a person whom every one
despised. 'And I am afraid,' he added, 'that a few words of
mine may have increased her unhappiness. Poor little thing !
she is so timid ; and you know, Ursie, I have not been ac-
customed to deal with women of a timid mind, and what I
feel I express strongly. I left her at last very miserable, be-
cause of something I said about the trust I had always hitherto
placed in her, and the full confidence I had in her word ; and
she seemed to fancy that it implied some change now. I
should scarcely have made up my mind to go away from her,
only she put herself into a perfect agony about my missing

' It certainly must be very strange to you,' I said, not quite
knowing what other remark to make. ' You have had so very
little to do with women.'

' Nothing, nothing at all, so to say ; for I always felt, Trot,
that you stood upon your own ground, and did not want petting
and humouring. Lately I have thought,' — and he paused,—' I
don't know that I have been quite wise with Jessie ; she has
been such a child to me always.'

4 Perhaps,' I said gently, for I was not sure that he would be
pleased to find me agreeing with him, ' it might have been better
to put her in a more decided position of authority, and to have
given her more responsibilities. But then, to be sure, that has
been tried since I have been away.'

'Not exactly,' he said, in a quick tone ; 'she might have done
better, probably she would, if you had not been expected home
every day, as it were. But matters of business were put off—


and — I suppose it is natural — she likes going out. Young
i ; don't they?'
I could almost have laughed,— it was a simplicity with whi< h
one would have been really inclined to find fault, but that it

arose from an intense humility. He did literally feel quite ig
rant about women, and was in a constant dread of being hard or
exacting with his young wife.

' Dear Roger,' I said, ' you must really cease to look u
ie as a young thing, as you call her. When a woman marries
she takes upon herself certain responsibilities; and, whatever
her youth may be, she can't shake them off. And you will not
mind my saving that Jessie would be much hap] ier in the end
by being made to fulfil her duties than by being assisted in the
endeavour to avoid them. And if,' I added, ' my being at Sand-
combe in any way stands in the way of this, I needn't say to you
that, let it be what pain it may to part, I shall be the first to
propose it.'

'No, Ursie, never, never,' he exclaimed eagerly; 'it is
your home always. But you are right; yes, you arc right; I
do believe, in other ways, I have been a fool. I don't blame
her, poor darling ! she was a child ; I could not have expected

He became very silent after this. We were drawing near the
church, and with his usual feeling of reverence, he was doubtless
preparing himself to enter rightly upon the service. As I kn< '.t
by him, I Ik aid the words of the confession repeated, oh ! so
fervently, with such deep, deep humiliation. I felt that he was
crowding into it all the errors of which lie felt himself to have
ben guilty in his conduct towards Jessie. If there was one
prayer on my lips uttered that afternoon more earnestly than any
r, it was that God would eave to them both the ' peace whi< li
the world cannot give ; that their hearts might be set to o
His commandments, and their time be passed in rest and

When that prayer was made, I was comforted by the feeling
that any unkind jealousy I might once have felt was melting
away under the influence of true and unselfish affection.

It was growing dusk before we left the church, for we had a
christening and a long sermon, and the days were short. As
we walked back, I told Roger what had passed between John
Hervey and me ; and he agreed thai it mi ;ht be better for John
lo interfere in the matter than for him. He could scarcely do it,


he said, without making what, perhaps, would be an unwise fuss ;
and he had no such hold over Mr Macdonaldas John possessed.
We referred also to the conversation just before church. Roger
was an energetic person in dealing with himself. He never, like
some people, sat looking at a fault, and thinking that by looking
he was destroying it. The moment he perceived anything to be
amiss, he steadfastly set himself to subdue it ; and now, having
begun to perceive that his love for Jessie was more self-indulgent
than self-denying, — for that was the root of the matter when the
case was examined, — he was determined to correct the evil with-
out delay. He and I talked over many little ways in which we
might bring Jessie round to a sense of her true position in the
family, working at our object by degrees, for we both felt that it
would not do, especially in her present weak state, to make any
sudden change. ' By and by,' said Roger, 'if it please God all
should go well with her, there will be a claim upon her which no
woman can put aside, and so she will naturally learn to be more
managing, and exercise greater authority. I only hope, Ursic,
she won't come in your way.'

'There is not much fear of that,' I said. 'I can mark out
certain duties which ought to belong especially to me, and those
I can attend to ; and you know, Roger, it is the principle we
want from Jessie, more than the actual work. When she has a
baby to attend to, she won't be able to do so much in other ways,
but as long as she feels herself responsible, it will not signify.
You mustn't quarrel with me,' I added, ' if sometimes I let
things go wrong, just to show her that if she does not attend to
them nobody else will. It seems to me rather spoiling a person,
whether it may be Jessie or any one else, always to finish what
is left undone. There are so many who are quite satisfied to see
duties performed without troubling themselves to ask who does
them. As I once heard Farmer Kemp say, " One-third of the
world takes two-thirds of the world's duties, and the other two-
thirds share the remainder between them, and so the work is
done, and every one thinks he has had his right share.'"

Roger laughed a little, and said the farmer was always severe
upon idlers, but no doubt he was right ; adding, ' I can't thin':,
however, that there is any lack of will for work in my Jessie.'

I agreed with him in a certain way, but I did not enter into
what I felt to be the essential difference between Jessie's view of
life and mine. With me work was the object, and amusement
the accident of existence; with her, amusement was the object,

2 L


and work the accident Roger would quite have agreed with

me, but lie would not have been pleased to be told that his wife
differed. He was feeling very tenderly towards her, having dis-
covered, as he supposed, in his own wrong management, the
Cause of all which of lntc had disturbed him ; and in his noble
unselfishness, being thankful to take the whole burden of blame
upon himself, so that he might but spare her.

Roger and I entered the house together. I went into the
parlour to warm myself, and have a little chat with William;
and Roger, finding Jessie not there, ran up-stairs to her. I was
afraid she was not so well, for William said she had kept to her
room all the afternoon. We had said but a few words when
Roger came down again. ' Jessie must be in the kitchen,' he
observed, ' she is not up-stairs.'

' She was not there a minute ago,' I replied, ' for I looked in as
1 went by ; but she may be in the scullery, or perhaps in the dairy.'

' She ought to keep quiet,' said Roger, anxiously. ' I must
have her in directly ;' and he hurried away.

We heard him call, and speak to the servants, and go out into
the back yard, and then he came back again. ' She is not out,'
he said ; ' she must be up-stairs ;' and now feeling a little fidgety
myself, I followed him, and we went from room to room, but no
Jessie was to be found. Roger grew very pale, very quiet, instead
of rushing from one place to another, as he had done at first,
he slowly opened every door, every closet, asked each of the
servants separately where their mistress had last been seen, and
then put on his hat and went out again. I dared not ask him
what he thought, and I returned to the parlour.

' She is taking a little fresh air,' said William, as he sat com-
fortably by the parlour fire, not in the least disturbing himself.
' I never trouble myself about these matters, they arc sure to
come right.'

'Jessie is not so very fond of fresh air,' I said ; ' all to-day she
has been feeling so unwell.'

' All the more reason that she should want air,' he replied.
' Now, I remember, I did hear the front door close, soon after
Roger went to church. I thought he might have come back for
something, but 1 dare say it was Jessie.'

' She ought to be returned then by this time,' I said ; ' hark !
what is that?'

It was Roger's voice calling in the garden, clear and full, but
sharpened by intense anxiety.


* I must go out to him,' I said ; ' I can't bear this.' And I
hurried out and joined him in the yard by the great barn.

1 She is not here ; she must have heard me if she had been,'
he said. ' O Ursie ! ' and he put his hands to his forehead, and
actually staggered against the wall, 'what does it mean?'

' She is ill, or she has taken some strange fancy in her head,'
I said. ' Are you sure, Roger, that she was not frightened at
anything when you left her ? '

' Yes,' he exclaimed. ' She was frightened at me, — at me, who
loved her better than life. Ursie, I don't know what I said to
her, but she cried, — poor child ! poor darling ! God forgive me,
I am a wretch.'

' She is gone to Dene,' I said. The words came out without
thought, and they were scarcely uttered when Roger was to be
seen in the dim twilight tearing up the lane like a madman.

It was in vain to follow him, I could not go back to William,
and I went up-stairs to my own room. There sitting down, I
strove to bring before my mind all which I dreaded.

But I could not steadily face anything. One fear after an-
other crowded upon me, all connected with Jessie's insincerity
and Mrs. Price's fatal influence. I felt certain Jessie was gone
to Dene ; but ill, weak, alone, in Roger's absence — there must
be some very strong motive to lead her to such a step ; she
must at least have reckoned upon doing it secretly.

There was deception, and Roger must know it. His delusion
would be at an end ; and where then would be his happiness ?
My heart grew faint.

I remained by myself, praying, thinking, fearing, listening, and
at last, remembering William, roused myself to the effort of
going down-stairs again. I was glad I did, for William himself
was by this time as anxious as I could be, and showing his
anxiety by giving the most contradictory and senseless orders.
Every corner and nook had been searched, both in the house
and out of it, but he insisted upon the servants going round
again, and was quite angry with me because I did not accompany
them. I could have done so willingly for the sake of occupa-
tion ; to sit still was unendurable, but my comfort was to dress
myself in a cloak, go to the front door, and hearken, catching
the hoarse murmur of the sea, and the moaning of the wind
rushing across the downs, and thinking, as the sounds mingled
with the nervous ringing in my ears, that I heard voices calling
out that she was returned.


ck came. Roger might have been to Dene and

come back ; at any rate, it could not be long before lie was with
n^. Whenever I went into the parlour, William sent me to
listen again, and at last followed himself ; and we stood together
at the house-door in silence.

William spoke first. There had been a sudden gust of wind
followed by a lull. 'A cry, Ursie ; you heard it ? '

' No,' I said ; 'it was the wind.' 1 left him, and went forward
a few paces, hearing nothing.

'There it is again!' called out William. But still all was
silent to my i

William himself, when I went back to him, thought he had
been deceived. 1 begged him to go in-doors, for it was bitterly
!, and rather reluctantly he consented, and was just turning
away when both of us at the same moment exclaimed. ' Y
there is some one.' And William called again, whilst I ran into
the house to tell Joe Goodenough to take a lantern, and go out.

'It is John Ilcrvey's voice,' said William, when I rejoined
him ; and my heart sank. I thought it must surely have been
I : _, r er with Jessie. Whoever it might be, the time seemed end-
less before Joe had lighted his lantern, and gone forth ; and then
I thought he moved as though his feet were clogged. ' Give me
the light ; let me take it, and you follow,' I exclaimed, throwing
my cloak over my head ; and the man did as I bade, striding
after mo as I ran up the lane. When we were at the top, and on
the green down, 1 told my companion to shout, and his call was
immediately answered. The voice came from the ri;_;ht, in the
ction of Dene ; and I went on, till I reai hed the green path-
way in the side of the down, and then ran down as hard as I
could. I saw no one ; but before I had gone about a couple of
hundred yards, a voice from amidst the furze and fern which
clothed the steep descent at the ; the path, called out,

'Holloa! who's there? Stay, will you, and lend a helping

' Mr Hervey ! ' I exclaimi

' Ursie ! ' was uttered almost at the same moment.

'Where are you? What do you want ?' I inquired.

'Are you alone? Hold the light this way.' And doing as
I was bid, whilst bending forward to peer into the darkness, 1
saw John Hervey, with something in his arms, struggling lo
make his way up the ascent.

Joe was by his side before I could tell what was to be done ;


and John Hervey called out in a cheerful voice, ' We shall do
now,— all right she will come to herself again presently.'
' What ! Jessie ? '

He made no answer, for he was breathless ; but having such
good help, in a few moments he was at the top of the bank, with
his motionless burden.

' She is dead ! ' I exclaimed in horror, as I put the lantern to
her face.

'Not at all that, ma'am,' said Joe; 'she is only in a kind of
faint. We '11 soon have her home ; ' and, with John's assistance,
he raised her again, so as to carry her more conveniently between
them, and they went on. I asked no questions, for I felt it was
not the moment.

She was taken into the house, carried up to her room, and laid
upon the bed. No doubt she had fainted, but it was a worse
state of faintness than usual. She revived for a few moments,
but only to die away, as it were, again. John and William
stiyed outside the door. I saw they were both extremely uneasy-
I heard William asking questions, but I could not attend to the
answers ; all my thoughts were given to Jessie. After a few
minutes I made up my mind to send into Hove for a doctor. It
might not be necessary, but at any rate it was safe, and Joe was
ordered to ride off directly. John Hervey said he would go out
and look for Roger, who most likely was out upon the downs.
I wanted to get Jessie regularly into bed before Roger came. I
felt he would be less frightened then. But before I could
manage this, a hasty step on the stairs, and a quick but very
gentle knock, told that Roger was returned. I opened the door,
and, without speaking to me, he went up directly to the bed, and
stood looking at his wife for some moments. She is bettej
now,' I said ; ' we will get her into bed ; and I have sent for the
doctor from Hove. You had better go down, and leave her to
me.' Still he did not answer ; but he bent down, and kissed
Jessie's poor, little, pale face, and parted her hair from her fore-
head, and lifted her in his arms, that I might unfasten her chess;
and I heard him whisper, 'Jessie, my Jessie, just smile once.'
But though she opened her eyes, it was not as though she knew
him, and they were immediately closed again.

I told Roger to go down-stairs, and said I would call him
again when I was ready.

He moved away, but it was only to go outside the door, and
prce up and down the passage.



Martha and I undressed Jessie, and put her into bed, but she
never spoke or looked at us in any way as though she was con-
scious, only she moaned a good deal, and I began to fear that
she must have met with some bad accident, although there were
no broken limbs.

' We will make the room comfortable, and then leave your
master to watch her,' I said to Martha, and I began putting
away the things, and sent Martha to fetch some more water.
Roger came into the room as Martha went out. He sat down
by the bed, and I came and stood by him with Jessie's dress in
my hand. The pocket was heavy, and I took the things out of
it and laid them on the bed, one by one ; her thimble, and a
little pocket-book, and needlecase, and pincushion, and, at last,
a packet of letters, some of which fell to the ground. Roger
picked them up ; something made me look at him just then ;
one letter was in his hand ; he was holding it to the light.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 51 of 56)