Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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The expression of his face I shall never forget. I can't describe
it ; I don't know what it said, but it was so ghastly, — so ter-
rible, that I uttered a faint scream, and caught the letter from

The address was, ' Lieutenant Macdonald, Dene.' The writ-
ing was Jessie's.

I examined the others ; they were all alike. There must have
been at least a dozen.

RoGfer and I looked at each other, but we said not a word. I
referred to the post-mark, it was nearly illegible. ' They must
be old ones,' I said. ' Won't you look ? '

Without answering, he collected all the letters together, went
to his writing-desk, took out a sheet of paper, and carefully folded
them within it, sealed the packet, and directed it, whilst I stood
by him, and then put it in his pocket. The address was ' For
Jessie Grant ; from her husband.'

He did not look at Jessie again, but left the room.


ABOUT ten o'clock Joe Goodenou^h returned with the doctor.
I went to tell Roger of it. He was in a little spare room
close by mine. He came out directly. I did not notice any
alteration of manner greater than the circumstances of Jessie's


illness would account for easily. We were both present when
John Hervey told the story of where he had found her, lying
senseless at the bottom of the steep bank. He supposed she
must have missed her footing in the dusk, and fallen. William
made the awkward remark that he could not see what business
she had there, and inquired of Roger whether she had been at

' Yes,' was the short reply, and the tone was such as to silence
even William.

Roger did not go up-stairs with us, but when the doctor had
seen Jessie he waited for him in the passage, and I heard him ask
Mr Harrison what he thought.

'She has had a bad accident,' was the answer; 'you must
take great care of her ; especially if there should be symptoms of
fever. I will come over again to-morrow.'

This was all we could get from him. There was no intimation
whether we had anything to fear.

William remarked, when Mr Harrison was gone, that Roger
took it very quietly. John Hervey came up to me, and said,
1 Ursie, can you let me tell you what I have done ? '

We went together into the large parlour. I sat down, pre-
pared to hear what was painful. John began, nervously : ' I am
troubling you, Ursie ; I would not do it now, but it may be of
consequence. See,' and he drew a paper from his pocket ;
' Macdonald has retracted every word about you and me, he
won't retract about Jessie.'

' Let it go,' I exclaimed. ' Mr Hervey, it is very miserable.'

' Very,' he said, kindly, but with a certain shyness of manner,
as he added, ' You won't mind my saying I feel for you.'

I wanted comfort so very, very much ; I felt as though I must
have it at all risks, and I held out my hand to him, and answered,
' O Mr Hervey ! you have always helped us in other troubles,
but you can't help us in this.'

It seemed that he was afraid to accept my friendliness, and he
rather drew back, and said, ' Her accident maybe a blessing; it
will keep her quiet, and the gossip may blow over.'

' But it "won't set all right with Roger,' I exclaimed : ' and
that is all I care for.'

' All ? ' he said, in a tone of surprise.

' Yes ! ' I repeated, ' all. There is nothing to be said of
Jessie which any one but Roger has a right to take notice of.'

And then, as the words escaped my lips, the remembrance of


kct of letters flashed across me, and a sudden feclii j • f
i lint terror came over mc, which made m 1 m b < : : in my chair,
and put my hand up to my head.

John did m I appear to see what I was suflR ling. I am sure
was keeping a strict guard over himself, and so indeed was 1
now. His cautiousness made me ashamed of the feeling which
1 had for one moment expressed. Hi me what was to be

said to Roger. I had not thought of this before, and it was
a serious difficulty. I longed to escape the task, but it was
cowardly, and I said, ' Leave it to mc, and I will manage it ;'
then I stood up to show that the interview was over, and John
wished mc 'good night,' and we parted.

I was standing by Jessie's bed, as I heard the farm-yard gate
close, and knew that he was gone. I did not understand before
how dreary my heart could be without him.

The opportunity for mentioning the result of John 1! r
interview with Mr Macdonald was not given me, as Roger must
have guessed it without being told; he never exchanged one
word with me upon that subj< ct or the letters, and of course 1
could not introduce the matter.

No mother could have been more thoughtful, tender, helpful,
than he was in the long weeks of nursing which followed Jcs
accident. He sat up at night, gave her all her medicine, moved
her pillows, watched her, whenever he was able to give up his time
to her, with an unremitting attention ; but the ghastly look of
wretchedness never left his face, and, by degrees, I saw it settle
into a fixed impress, which s* t wrinkles in his forehead, and
marked dark lines about his mouth, so that persons who saw him
only for a moment were heard to say, ' Roger Grant's anxiety
for his wife is breaking his heart.'

There was cause for anxiety, independent of any secret grief.
Jessie was more ill than any person I had ever up to that time
seen, who was not very near death. SI w us all, especially

Roger ; but I think she scarcely had a clear recollection of any-
thing which had pr.sscd immediately before her accident. At
any rate she was too weak to allude to it. She was hovering
between life and death, and the doctor said that the birth of her
child would certainly, according to al! human calculation, deter-
mine the point. In the meantime the slightest agitation would
1 e fatal. Every one was very kind to me. Mis Kemp and
Mary cimcovcr to sec mc frequently. Mary's marriage was to
take place sooner than had been anticipated, and though th< y


were, in consequence, very busy, they always found time to spare
for me. I made Mrs Kemp tell me all she heard. I thought it
was right to know what kind of impression had gone abroad
respecting Jessie's accident. Some remarks I was sure would be
made, from the stories repeated by the servants. Mrs Kemp told
me she had heard all kinds of contradictory things. Some quite
absurd, such as that Jessie and Roger had quarrelled, and she
had run away from him, and had gone to take refuge with Mrs
Price. The fact that she had been at Dene that Sunday after-
noon was undeniable, for the servants had admitted her into the
house, and said she looked scared and wild, so that they were
quite frightened to see her. There was another corroboration
of that circumstance, which I knew only too well. No doubt,
excited and distressed by Roger's expressions of confidence,
knowing that at the time of her marriage she had deceived him,
and that her letters could at any moment be produced against
her, — she must have felt that at all risks they were to be obtained
and destroyed.

This was a probable reason for her conduct, but was it all ?

John Hervey came to see us much more frequently. He was
still just as constrained in manner, but his was such a kind heart,
that at any sacrifice to himself he would have clone whatever he
thought might add to another's comfort. And there were many
things in which he was now of the greatest use — giving Roger
help in matters connected with the farm, and undertaking
business for him which might lie at a distance. Nothing was a
trouble to him, and many times my heart smote me as I felt what
use I made of him, and yet what a poor return I could offer him.
Thanks, only thanks and gratitude ; so I said to myself still ; and
I thought I was sufficiently careful over my words and actions,
and never showed how much I rested upon him, lest my manner
should be misinterpreted. I think there was something of pride
within me, which forbade me to acknowledge to myself that he
was becoming at all dearer to me. He was so unlike my ideal
of what I could love ; so different from Roger ; so much more
approachable ; and resembling every one else ! And then I had
often made up my mind that it would be quite impossible forme
to love any one as well as I once loved Roger, and anything
short of that would be unsatisfactory. I had long set myself
down as a confirmed old maid, and I did not choose this notion
of myself to be disturbed. It was all very well in theory ; quite
natural and necessary, so it seemed to me ; but I had left out one

538 ,r/. /.

most important item in my calculations— the knowledge «.f John
Hcrvcy's love. I did not think about it ; I even tried to put it
entirely aside ; but whenever in moments of dreariness I looked
round the world for comfort, and amongst all my friends and
relations found none, not even Roger to love me best, I turned
uneasily to the true, honest, devoted heart, which one word or
look might, as I knew, make my own possession for ever ; and
t ■ thought of being the wife of John Ilervcy no longer strip k
me as an impossibility.

But I am wandering on too far. Those feelings were of slow
growth, and very secretly developed in my own sight ; and as
day by day went on, each brought its burden to occupy my mind ;
whilst Roger's face was alone sufficient to make me feel as
though it were a sin even for a moment to dream of future happi-
ness. I heard often from Miss Milicent, and the accounts were
upon the whole satisfactory. She enjoyed the travelling, and
was learning, as she said, to put up with Mrs Temple. Rut
there was no feeling which would enable them to live together
f r a continuance ; and in every letter Miss Milicent reverted to
the hope I had held out of being able at last to establish herself
in a home of her own at Compton.

' I have a thought, Ursie,' she wrote to me, in a letter dated
from Dresden, ' of settling myself some day at the Heath, i
don't know where the money is to come from, for I have not a
penny to spare, having just paid two shares of our journey here,
because Matilda Temple said it was fair, as she only came for
me, that I might see the pictures. I don't care for pictures
enough to pay so much for them ; but that is no matter— any-
thing to keep the peace ; and I don't forget that in former days I
spent money to please myself, and so it is not to be wondered at
if now I am obliged to do it to please others. But you see, Ursie,
ive a double share of hope to what some people have ; and so
I believe that somehow the way will turn up for what I wish. In
the meantime, I satisfy myself by thinking about it ; and if it
does not come at last, why, no doubt there will be something else
in its stead. I am obliged to think ; n this way, or Matilda
Temple's doings would drive me daft.'

The Heath would be a very pleasant home for Miss Milicent.
I already fancied I saw her established there ; but she, like
myself, had probably an ordeal, to pass before rest could 1":

.\nd what did Jessie feel all this time ? That was a question


which I put to myself many times, but to which I never found
an answer. I think her weakness and the feeling of illness
must have been such, that she could scarcely have collected her
ideas sufficiently to think, in any strict sense of the word ; other-
wise she could scarcely have borne Roger's presence ; still less
have endured his waiting upon her with that quiet, sad thought-
fulness which made me wretched whenever I saw him approach
her. She went through the forms of religion. Roger read a
little to her every day, and prayed with her ; and Mr Richardson
came very frequently, and once proposed to administer the Holy
Communion ; but she seemed to shrink from this, and no one
ventured to press it upon her ; the doctor had given such strict
injunctions about keeping her from anything that might agitate
her. It was a relief to Roger, as I fancied, to have it delayed ;
and so it was to me in a certain way. If she was not conscious
and penitent, it would have been such a mockery ; and yet it was
very terrible to see her gliding on, as one might say, to what
might too probably be death • and never to be allowed to hint at
anything, past or present, which might reveal to us the state of
her mind, burdened as we knew it must be. How often I thought
then of the warning not to put off repentance to a sick bed. I
had heard it so many times in sermons, but it never touched me
in the way it did then.

And with all this great uneasiness about Jessie's state, was
mingled so much true affection. I don't speak of Roger. No
earthly being, I am sure, could penetrate into the depths of the
love which he still felt. His was a heart which might break,
but could not change ; but for myself, Jessie was to me really a
younger sister ; her faults did not shock me. I had known them
for years. Even their bitter consequences were scarcely a sur-
prise to me, and now, as I saw her lying so helpless and suffering,
waiting, like a criminal under sentence of execution, for the hour
which might bring death, and a death for which I could not but
fear she was unprepared, every tender feeling of sympathy was
increased a hundredfold, and there were moments when I knelt
beside her bed in anguish of spirit, praying that God would yet
be merciful to her, and pardon, and spare her.



A ND so lime went on, and \vc thought we were all ready, and
l\ believed that every possibility had been provided against.
le one sat up with her every night. I had taken my turn,
and, feeling very much worn out, went to bed, leaving the nurse
with Jessie. I must have slept very soundly. I think I had
an indistinct consciousness of unusual sounds ; but no one
came to call me, and, though generally on the alert at the le
disturbance, it was dawn before I awoke, and, starting up with
a sudden impulse of anxiety, hurried to Jessie's room. The
door was ajar. I saw Roger kneeling by the bedside, his eyes
fixed upon Jessie's face, stamped with the impress of death.
The nurse was standing with her back towards me. As I softly
i ntered, she turned round, and laid in my arms her litde burden,
— Jessie's baby.

I don't think at the first moment I quite understood what had
pened ; it seemed all so unexpected, so bewildering. I gave
back the baby to the nurse, and went round to Roger, and knelt
down by him, and put my arm round him ; but he had no look
or voii e for me. As though by his steadfast gaze he could arrest
the hand of death, he remained still in the same posture, with
Jessie's hand clasped in his, his face as pale, his form as motion-
less as hers. I beckoned to the nurse to give me the infant

ain, and asked what had been done about the doctor.

' He must be here directly,' was the reply ; 'he was sent for,
but he must have been out elsewhere.'

' Can nothing be done ?' I asked.

The nurse shook her head.

' Have you no hope? '

She drew mc aside, that Roger might not hear, and whispered,

I t d wn by the fire. Martha was in the room also. She
the baby from mc. But 1 would not part with it.
A new, clinging affection had, in a moment, sprung up within
me ; it seemed all that was left to give mc comfort.

The doctor came. He spoke to the nurse and to Roger. I t
apart and watched whilst he inquired into Jessie's state. I think
I was the first person who saw the expression in his countenance,
which told that he did not despair, and I uncovered the face of
my little treasure, and pressed a kiss upon its velvet forehead,


whilst I whispered a prayer of unutterable thankfulness. As I
glanced at Roger, I saw that his hope was not like mine ; he had
too much depending upon the issue.

Jessie's life hung upon a thread. We had known that for many
weeks ; but the fact had never been present to us as it was during
the few days which followed the birth of her child. It was a sus-
pense continued without interruption from hour to hour, for there
were no seasons of rallying, or of any visible improvement ; only
one stagnant condition, if one may so call it, about which the
utmost that could be said was, that it was not entirely devoid of
hope. And during this time, the care of the child, making ar-
rangements for a nurse, watching over it, even loving it, seemed
to be left entirely to me. I think that to Roger it must havo
seemed the herald of its mother's death ; for when the nurse once
forced him to take it in his arms, and said he might be proud of
his little daughter, who would no doubt grow up to be a comfort
to him, he kissed it fondly, and then put it from him, as though
he could not bear to look at it.

After the first week, the doctor spoke more cheeringly, and
told us that the worst was over. The news brought joy to every
heart at Sandcombe, except, as it seemed, to Roger's. Relieved
he was, and thankful ; but there was a deepening gloom on his
brow which no effort could shake off, and I saw that by degrees
he kept away from Jessie's room, except when some one else was
there ; whilst, whenever the remark as to the child's likeness to
its mother was made before him, he turned it oft" with a laugh
which actually grated upon my ear. I longed to make him talk
to me ; I felt that perhaps together we might extract some
comfort from the facts which we both knew, and sometimes I
thought whether he would not be justified, under the circum-
stances, in opening the letters, and satisfying himself as to the
extent of the deception which had been practised upon him.
But that was not like Roger. With his power of self-control,
his strength of will and endurance, he would have borne the
torture of the drop of water falling upon his head moment by
moment, and never by the slightest impulse of impatience have
striven to hasten the hour appointed for the cessation of his

The only comfort I had was that I believed I thoroughly
understood him, and knew exactly what he feared. To have
been deceived — that was his bitterness ; and if Jessie had laid
herself open 10 the worst condemnation of the world, the heart

s ._ URSULA.

of a man like Roger could scarcely have been more utterly


That particular time was more distressing to me than any
which went before it. In great danger there is great excitement.
There was none now. The future lay before me chill and blank
both for Roger and myself, for if he was miserable how could I
Lie happy ? The explanation with Jessie, which at a distance I
had sometimes fancied might succeed in restoring confidence,
must, I felt, as we approached it, end wretchedly ; and as Jessie

idually regained her strength, 1 had a cowardly feeling of
relief each day that the subject was delayed, and yet a longing,
at times almost uncontrollable to rush into it at once, and hear
and know the worst.

So I think it must have been with Jessie hkewise. Yet I
could not tell whether she was summoning courage to speak to
Roger, or whether indeed she perfectly remembered all that had
happened before her illness. Her reserve was most painful, and
sometimes I thought it was becoming a fixed habit of mind which

»uld end in complete depression. Her baby was the only thing
she seemed to live for ; for her fear of Roger was evident. At
times I could have been almost jealous of her claim upon the
child. It was the first baby that had been given to us as a family,
and many probably will understand how great is the feeling
which such circumstances may create. Every night before we
went to bed William made me take him to the cradle, that he
might kiss the little thing as it lay asleep ; and most touching it
was to observe the softening of his rough features, and the
lowering of his voice, as he bent over, straining his darkened
eyes to catch just the outline of its little form. For myself it
was Roger's child, and when I' held it in my arms and felt its
tiny fingers helplessly clasping mine, a thrill of unspeakable ten-
derness passed over me, which, though it could not have been a
mother's love, must have been something very nearly approach-
ing to it.


JESSIE had been out for the first time, wrapped in the white
shawl, Mrs Weir's wedding-gift ; the day was dcliciously
warm for the season and Roger had procured a little hand-car-


riage for her, that she might be drawn up and down the garden.
William, Roger, and I were with her.

1 had the baby in my arms as usual. We were standing
round Jessie, and I was feeling painfully that I was making an
effort to enjoy the brightness. William had lately become quite
a relief to us ; he was some one to be attended to, his spirts were
improved, and he was interested in things not connected with us,
and so gave us other subjects of conversation than those on which
our thoughts were dwelling.

Jessie did not speak at all, — Roger very little; the conversation
was kept up between William and me.

' When is Mary Kemp's wedding to come off, Ursie ? ' he asked.

' This day three weeks,' I replied, ' and she has asked me to
be bridesmaid. I should like it, only, really, I cannot afford a
new dress.'

'Why you must have that which you wore at Jessie's wedding,'
said William. ' I am sure you have not been gay enough since to
spoil it. Or if you want anything very smart, and likely to be
cheap, I advise you to go and try for some of Mrs Price's gowns.
I did not tell you, Roger, the news which Joe Goodenough
brought in just now, — that the Prices have all gone smash, and
everything they have is to be sold.'

Jessie uttered an exclamation of distress. Roger said very
quietly, ' Indeed ! ' and stood further aloof from Jessie.

'O William !' I observed reproachfully, as I saw that Jessie
was much upset, ' you shouldn't have told it so abruptly.'

'Why not?' he replied ; 'Jessie is not such a goose as really
to care for those people, and all the world have known what
must come. Macdonald is in for it, too ; so they will be all out
of the country soon, and there will be no more gossip, which will
be one comfort for you, Jessie, my dear. Your friends would
have got you into a scrape if they could. By the by, Ursie,'
he added, ' I never quite understood whether John Hervey
made Macdonald retract what he said that night at Hove. I
remember I asked, and you only gave me a kind of blundering

Roger turned round shortly,' 'Jessie has been out long enough;
it is time she should go in.'

' Would you like it, dear ? ' I asked, as I arranged the cushion
for her at the back of the chair.

' She had better go in,' repeated Roger. The tone of his voice-
struck William.



' Why, your husband is growing quite fierce, Jessie,' lie said.
' 1 would not let him be such a tyrant.'

Jessie trembl d all over, — she tried to speak, but I could not
hear her words.

' 1 have not had my question answered yet,' said William, in
a persisting tone. ' If John Hervey has not got Macdonald's
written words, Roger ought to insist upon them himself; only
he is such a tame-spirited fellow.'

I saw Roger start, and a storm of indignation crossed his face.
The expression was still there, when he drew near Jessie and
said, ' I shall take you in.' She looked up at him,— she kept
her eyes fixed upon him. It was as though she were paralysi d
by fear. I feared also, — yet Roger's momentary excitement was
quite subdued.

' I will tell you about it another time,' I said to William. 'Jut
now I must go with Jessie.' Something was wrong, William
saw then ; he asked nothing more. Jessie made me walk by her
side ; when we went into the house, and Roger lifted her out of
the chair, she still clung to me; but I had the child in my arm ,
and was not able to support her. After attempting to mount the
stairs in vain, Roger took her in his arms, and carried her to her
room. Then he left us together.

Jessie lay on the sofa. I put the baby into the cradle, and
asked if I could get anything for her. She refused ; it was not
being tired, she said,— she did not want anything ; but the
trembling agitation increased.

' You must see Roger,' I said, at length, and I looked at her
steadily. I think she must have undcistood me, for she put her
hand across her forehead, as if to clear her thoughts.

Some one knocked at the door. It was Roger ; I did Dot
dare look at him. He put into my hand a note and the packet
of letters, and went away, and I returned back to Jessie. She
had recognised his step. II r murmur to herself, as 1

opened the note, ' He won't come to me,— he will leave mo,—
( ; help me.'

The note wai written in pencil, and was scarcely legible.

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 52 of 56)