Elizabeth Missing Sewell.

Ursula; a tale of country life online

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'(live them to her, Ursic. I have never looked at them. I
never will. From this hour the subject shall never be mentioned
to her again.'

Jessie watched my face,— she caught the note from me and
leal it twice. As she gazed at me in bewilderment, I put the
packet into her hands. She broke the seal.


The expression of her countenance was not fear or sorrow, but
a cold, calm despair.

4 You see,' I said, bitterly ; 'there is nothing to fear, — he has
not read them.'

Without replying, she rose from the sofa as if a new impulse
of strength had been given her, and moved towards the door.

' You will not find him,' I said, and I tried to prevent her from
going out. She sat down again quite still, — upright.

The baby began to cry, but she took no notice ; her face was
quite stony. I felt frightened, and thought I would rouse
her. 'Shall I put them away for you?' I said, taking up the

Her only answer was, ' Let me go to him.'

' No,' I said, 'he will come to you, if you wish to see him, —
shall I call him?'

She did nothing to stop me, and I went down-stairs. Roger
was waiting below. I motioned to him to follow me. When he
stood at the threshold of Jessie's room I drew back.

' No,' he said, quietly. ' Ursie, I have no secrets,' and he
went in after me, and stood waiting for Jessie to speak.

It was like a dreadful dream to me. I looked from one to the
other, — but there was no hope or comfort in either face.

Twice Jessie tried to speak, and each time her voice was

' Roger,' I said at length, ' she has done very wrong, but she
will acknowledge it.'

He pointed to the note. ' I have said it — I know nothing.

' Speak to him,' I began, turning to Jessie, 'tell him'

But Roger stopped me : ' Ursie, I cannot hear, — I wish for
no extorted confidence. Jessie, from this moment the past is

The sound of Jessie's own name seemed to break the spell
which bound her. She drew near to Roger, and laying the
letters before him, said, though without the least softening of
the stony expression of misery, ' Read them.'

He pushed them from him.

'It is just, — right,' I exclaimed; 'Roger, you must read

' They can make no difference,' he said, coldly.

Jessie turned to me imploringly.

'He has been deceived, Jessie,' I said; 'you must forgive

2 M

546 I r RSl LA.

Roger moved as if to 140, but Jessie caught his arm. 'Will
you bo unjust?' she said.

He took up one of the letters and opened it, but the papef
seemed to be burning to his touch.

' Read, Ursie, 1 said Jessie, 'read them all, every word; they
were written long ago, all except one.'

She sat down, hiding her face in her hands.

Roger's eye glanced rapidly over the first letter, — then he
proceeded to read the others, slowly, in the manner of a jud
receiving evidence. As he read, he handed each letter to me.
No one spoke, the baby had censed crying, and the only sound
heard was that of the rustling paper ; and still Jessie never
looked up, as wc sat before her, perusing these evidences of her
folly and dec it.

They were letters written to Mr Macdonald, after the time
when I had fully understood, from what she told me, that she
had refused him ; and they were carried down to within one
week of her acceptance of Roger. They were childish and
foolish, complaining of the interference of her friends, and the
hardness of her fate ; and although there was no open declara-
tion of her feeling for Mr Macdonald, there was certainly enough
in them to make any man suppose that she was much attached
to him. Besides these there was one short note, written after
her marriage, begging him to return the letters.

The last letter was read by Roger and laid upon the table. I
ventured then to glance at him. His countenance was unaltered,
except for its ashy paleness, and the look of his eye, which made
me tremble. I gathered the letters together, and mehanically
said, ' Thank you, dear,' and then I stooped down and kissed
Jessie. Indeed, I pitied her so much, I could not do otherwise.
She turned aside from me, and, slowly rising, went and stood
before Roger.

' I have deceived you.' she said firmly, ' but not as you think.
You asked me if I could give you my full, fiee affection, and I
said 'Yes.' It was true; true then, as it is now, true in the
sight of God. Roger, I have never loved any one but you ; but,

Ursie ! ' and she turned to me, and leaning her head upon my
shoulder, sobbed convulsively, 'you warned me, and I would not
listen. I did not care for Mr Macdonald, but I liked having his
letters, and writing, and flirting; so I would not say entirely "No ;"

1 r at least, though I did say it, I still let him believe I was noli
in earnest. Tilings went on much farther than I ever intended.


Only when Roger asked me to marry him, my eyes seemed to
open ; I had never thought it could be, it seemed too great
happiness. I told him I was wicked, and that I should disap-
point him. I could not say anything else. I thought if I confessed
to him what I had done, and if he were to see the letters, he would
suppose I cared for Mr Macdonald, — and I did not really. I
was afraid it would turn his heart from me, and so I said nothing
about them. When I was married, I thought Mr Macdonald
would destroy the letters, and everything would be forgotten.
He promised me he would ; he wrote me a note saying so.
Ursie, you will remember my having it. Mrs Price gave it to
me when we were together in Hove. But he was false to me, he
kept them, and I think— I am nearly sure — Mrs Price made
him do it. She talked to me about them, and frightened, and
made me miserable ; and I could never get them back. Some-
times they were promised me, but they were never given. Oh !
it has been so wretched ! so wretched ! They both forced me
to do whatever they liked, for they said that at any moment they
could make Roger hate me. When you were away, Ursie, they
were always forming plans for me to meet them, and be with
them, and requiring me to tell everything I knew about you, and
what you were doing in France. I knew I ought not, but I
dared not refuse. I felt as though I was a spy upon you, but I
could not draw back. At last — I don't know how I did it — I
was nearly mad — that night that Roger came from Hove, and
the next day— the Sunday — it seems all misty, but I got the
letters. I think Mr Hervey had been there and frightened
them ; I don't know — only' — her voice became forced and
hollow — ' I told them I would never return to my home without
them ; and it was true, I would have died first.

She paused, faint and breathless.

' Confession was all that was required, from the beginning,
dear Jessie,' I said.

' And I would have confessed,' she said, sinking into a chair,
and clasping my hand, whilst still keeping her eyes fixed upon
Roger. ' I meant then to have told all ; I would have done so
now, lately, but, Ursie, I knew he had them. I saw it in his

'And the note which I saw in Paris,' I said, doubtfully ; ' was
that really not to Mr Macdonald ?'

' Indeed not, indeed it was as I told you ; but I equivocated.
I was obliged to send messages, and answer questions : he did

543 URSULA. many things from mc, though I never wrote, except that
one note, which you have seen, — never, that is, since I have hcen
Roger's wife. O Ursie ! won't you believe me ?'

Poor child ! it was impossible not to believe her then. But
what wretchedness had vanity and want of moral cour.
ln'i night upon her !

' Speak to him for me, Ursie,' she whispered ; 'tell him I will
go where lie likes, he shall never see mc again ;' and as she said
the words, I saw her glance at the cradle, and a shudder shook
her frame.

I went up to Roger. ' She has confessed all,' I said ; ' Roger,
it is for you to forgive.'

He answered, ' I have told her ; the past is buried.'

'Not buried, but forgiven !' exclaimed Jessie, and she threw
herself at his feet; 'else let me lave you.'

1 Buried,' repeated Roger. ' We are man and wife, and none
ran part us.'

' Roger,' I said, ' God docs not deal so with us.'

' Forgiveness means confidence,' was his reply.

'I do not ask confidence !' she exclaimed. ' O Roger, no!
Distrust me, watch me, I will bear it all, all, — everything. I
will thank you, and bless you. Only, can you never love me
again ?'

His face expressed agony, yet not relenting. She held him —
she clung to him — her look was piteous in its anguish. When
still he turned from her she slowly arose, and, going to the
cradle, lifted her baby from it, and again kneeling before him,
s lid, in a tone of quiet despair, ' Roger, I am its mother.' I saw
him bend down and kiss her; I watched the large tears fall
upon the face of his unconscious child, and heard him say,
' Jessie, may God forgive us both ! ' — and then I left them.


I WALK ED that afternoon to St Anne's Hill. I stood by the
tower of the oratory, and gazed over the sea towards the
white cliffs, and the dim island in the far distance; and I locked
upon the tower of Compton church, and the cottages in the vil-
lage, and the remains of the ruined abbey; and, as 1 looked, my


thoughts travelled back through my life, and I read it as it had
been in the pages of a book. I thought how changed I was
since those early years when I had first learned to love the view
from St Anne's , how then it had been associated with but one
interest and one affection, and how that affection had dis-
appointed me, and the hopes which I had cherished had
crumbled into dust. I remembered my own character as it was
then, and I saw how, by means of that disappointment, I had
been chastened, and trained for higher duties, and truer views
of my position in the world.

I thought of Mrs Weir, her long suffering ; her patient saint-
liness, and the lesson for eternity which had been taught me
through her means. I knew that, as she had said, when speak-
ing of herself, I had not had one trial too much, not one that
could have been spared. And then my mind turned to others,
and I marked how the same discipline was being carried on with
them. I saw, or fancied I saw, how even Roger, with all his
goodness and nobleness of disposition, had suffered himself to
be blinded by feeling, and how the sorrow had now come upon
him, which, with all its mercy, was surely mingled with judg-
ment. I felt that he could never be as he had been ; that a new
life was to begin for him, and for Jessie ; a life full of watchfulness,
and effort, and self-restraint, and endurance ; and as I pondered
upon all these things, my heart insensibly became burdened with
the sense of an awful reality, a perception of that wonderful fact,
that the events of life are in themselves nothing, that they are
but the body, destined to decay ; yet that each, however trifling,
bears within it the seed that is to exist for eternity ; and I felt
that I could yield myself passively to any circumstances, whether
happy or unhappy, neither wearying myself with regrets for the
past, nor burdening myself with cares for the future, so only that
the present moment might add its grain of faith and holiness, to
the treasure garnered in the hand of God against the Great Day
of account.

At that moment I had no visions for myself of any happiness
in this world which might yet be in store for me. I thought
that I had accepted my lot from God, both as regarded myself
and those I loved ; and that I did not even wish for change ;
and in that mood of mind I descended the hill, and wandered on
over the down, till I reached the tall column at its extremity, and
was close upon the woods of Dene. There I met with John
Hervey. He had passed through the grounds, for the place was


. dj Captain Price, his wife, Mr Macdonald, the ser-
vants, were all Everything was given up to satisfy the
claims of creditors. John asked mc to go with him into the
garden, he wished to speak to the man who had charge of it.
It did not enter my mind to refuse ; what I did seemed unim-
portant, and I was less watchful and conscious with him than I
had been. Perhaps, too, I liked his society ; perhaps it was
cheering to me. Doubtless, if I had felt as I did when we
parted in France, I should have been less easily persuaded, but
I was not thinking of myself at all, and scarcely of him; my
thoughts were all with Roger and Jessie.

And so were his, at least in appearance. He made me turn
with him, and walk up and down the stone pavement under the
verandah, and then he spoke to me openly about all that had
lately occurred, lie touched upon my own feelings with regard
to Roger and Jessie. He put before me all that I had thought,
and feared, and all that I had hoped ; he seemed to know every-
thing by instinct. He told me that I had given my best affec-
tions to Roger, and demanded of him in return more than any
brother could give. He said that I had formed my ideas of hap-
piness without regard to the ordinary arrangements of God's
providence, and that in consequence I had had much to bear.
He warned me that I must prepare myself to see Roger suffer
greatly from disappointment, for that his eyes must open by
degrees to Jessie's character ; and though she might improve,
she could never be the wife whom he might naturally have
expected to find. And then he commented, and, as I thought,
erely, upon the fact of Jessie's conduct which he himself had

The subjects were such as 1 could not have imagined myself
able to endure from any one, when handled so plainly ; and yet
I did bear them from John Jlcrvey. lie had a way of putting
what he said — I think it was from his simple, honest goodness of
heart— which made me feel that he would never wilfully mis-
understand ; and he led me on till— I hope it was no breach of
confidence— I found myself telling him at last the scene which
had occurred that morning. It seemed only justice to Jessie ;
his suspicions were likely to go beyond the truth, and I could
not bear him to be hard upon her.

He heard what I had to say without interruption ; when I had
finished he paused for some moments in thought ; then he said,
"And Roger has forgive


URSULA. 55 f

* Quite,' I replied. c Quite, I believe ; I hope so.'

4 He is a noble fellow,' continued John. ' Ursie, he is bettei
than I could be.'

' And better than I could be,' I said.

' Once deceived, always deceived,' said John,

And I added, ' Yes, where one has loved.'

' You are right, where one has loved,' he continued. ' For-
giveness is an easy matter when the heart is not wounded. So,
Ursie, I should be very cautious ; I should take a long time
before I risked my happiness in marriage. There must have
been an intimate knowledge, careful observation, the experience
of many circumstances of trial. In a matter of life or death —
and marriage in my eyes is that, and nothing short of it-
there must be no chance of failure.'

' Roger thought he was right,' I said.

« I don't blame him ; it would be very presumptuous. But,
Ursie, I could not have done like him.'

' I don't think you could,' was my reply. Roger is so trusting.'

He paused as though hurt by the remark ; then he said,
' Trust is either wisdom or folly, according as it is founded upon
reason. Let my reason be convinced that I have grounds for
trust, and I hope, I know, I could give it fully and heartily.'

I did not reply. Something in his tone and manner made my
heart beat quickly.

He turned to me suddenly. ' Don't you believe me, Ursie ? '

' Yes, yes ; but '

' But what ? '

' No one can be quite certain of what another is ; and you will
think you have found perfection, and '


' There must be faults ; marriage must be a lottery.'

* No, Ursie, no ; not always. Where one has watched, and

loved long, and waited patiently, and prayed earnestly' he


' I trust it may not be a lottery with you,' I answered, and my
voice trembled.

' It cannot be,' he exclaimed, impetuously. ' Ursie,' he paused,
and a deadly paleness overspread his countenance, ' say only the
word, and it will not be.'

I looked in his face and answered, as I laid my hand in his,
' If you do not fear, John, how can I ?'

And so we were engaged.


I wandered with John Ilcrvey through the grounds of Dene.
I listened to the plash of the fountain, the scream of the peacock,
the striking of the old clock, and the rustling murmur of the
wind amongst the plantations ; but I thought not of the joys of
my childhood, for the present was bright with the sunshine of
an unclouded happiness. I stood with him upon St Anne's Hill,
but I had forgotten my calm acceptance of life, my resignation
to its cares, and indifference to its pleasures. The sea sparkled
in the glowing sunset, and its flitter seemed the reflection of the
gladness of my heart. The breeze floated by me, and bore with
it the murmurs of a happiness which could never forsake me.
The birds winged their way to their rest, and I thought that my
i >t had begun ; and when I gazed upon the tower of the ruined
oratory, and turning to John reproached myself that I could so
dwell upon an earthly joy, he answered, ' Ursie, the love which
God blesses in its birth, can never know death.'


ONLY when I returned to Sandcombe was my mind brought
back to the perception that life is, and always will be,

People speak of forgiveness, as though it must necessarily
imply entire forgctfulness. That has always seemed to me a
mistake. We may cease to dwell upon an offence, but when it
has revealed to us faults which we never suspected — when it has
shaken our confidence — forgctfulness is impossible. New feel-
ings may spring up, but the old can never return. I think
Jessie opened her eyes but slowly to that truth, whilst Roger
saw it from the beginning. lie was at heart a brave man —
morally brave — except perhaps when called upon to give pain
to others ; and he allowed himself now no self-deceit, in a ques-
tion in which the vital happiness of his life was involved. Jessie
had disappointed him. He did not try to hide from himself the
fact. He looked at it boldly — with what bitterness and self-
reproach, what deep compassion and sympathy and tenderness,
only God can tell, and only one who knew him as I did could
inc. His manner to Jessie was quite altered. It had lost
the gentle flattering attention of the lover, and had become the


watchful, thoughtful guardianship of the father. Every want
was provided for, every necessity foreseen ; but the hasty wish
was checked, the fancy of extravagance reproved. It was his
duty to train her, for he had chosen her untrained. Some of her
faults might be called her own, but others were in a manner his,
for he had himself placed her in a position for which she was
unfitted, and then shrunk from insisting upon its duties. Now
the task of instructing her was laid upon him. It struck me
much how anxiously and conscientiously he entered upon this
duty ; with what firmness, and yet what singular humility and
self-distrust, never regretting or upbraiding, always bearing in
mind that he had marked out his own lot, and that it was only
God's great mercy and kind providence which had prevented it
from being a hundredfold more bitter.

It was a very different married life from that which those who
knew and loved Roger would have anticipated, for Jessie was
not changed at once. That is another mistake which we are
apt to fall into. We hear of striking events, a great shock of for-
tune, an alarming illness, some painful tearing aside of the veil of
self-deception, and think that because great feeling is aroused
great changes must follow. There may be — there often is — a
great change of principle, but the work is carried on according
to natural laws. Vanity, wilfulness, selfishness, faults which are
the growth of years, it will take years to subdue. So it is that
the true conversion of the heart in middle age will yet leave the
hard lines of an indulged evil temper strongly and painfully
marked. Jessie was willing to bear her discipline. She was
humbled and penitent ; but the old self still remained, even
whilst she struggled against it. My greatest hope of her attain-
ing to strength of character was based upon her anxiety for her
child. I remembered what Mrs Kemp had said about the way
it sobers a woman to have little helpless things to take care of;
and I thought I could see the beginning of this steadiness and
thought even now. In the prospect of my soon leaving her, she
was continually talking to me about what was to be done when
I was gone, and how she was to manage to bring up her child
rightly — to be different from herself; that was her great desire.
But I did not entirely share that wish, neither I am sure did
Roger. The old romantic love was over, but a new and more
lasting appreciation of her good qualities was dawning upon him.
Jessie, in her best moods, was very winning, and truly deserving
of all the affection that could be bestowed upon her. At this


time especially, her unselfishness made mc cling to her with a

daily increasing affection.

I don't think cither she or Roger gave one thought to them-
selves when they knew I was engaged to John Hervey, thou
the change came at a time when they could least of all spare me,
and when both of them looked to me not only for help but com-
fort. I was never made to feel, either by look or tone, or even
by a sigh, that my happiness was to be purchased at the expense
of their daily ease ; and yet they gave me all the affection which
in my most exacting moments I could demand. It is often said
that there is a great deal uf ingratitude in the world, and no
doubt there is ; but I will never believe that if a person really
tries to put self second, there is any lack of reward even on earth.
I can say with truth that this had been my object, as I can also
say with greater truth that I had constantly failed to attain it.
Witness the way in which I took Roger's marriage. Now it
seemed as though kindness, and consideration, and sympathy
were actually showered upon me. I believe Mrs Kemp was only
one degree less interested for me than she was for Mary, whose
marriage was to take place about a month before mine. The
cottage in which John and I were to live was very near Longside,
and half Mrs Kemp's time was spent in arranging about furni-
ture and alterations. She really took all the trouble off my
hands. William did what I little expected of him, and certainly
could not have asked ; he promised to give me five hundred
pounds on my wedding-day, and declared he should leave every-
thing he had equally divided between Roger and mc. With
John's consent, I arranged to let Jessie have one hundred out of
my five put aside for her at once. The question of her money
had been a trouble to me from the beginning ; and when both
Roger and she objected, and said that William would not like
it. John and I determined to have it settled upon the baby. I
felt that I must begin my married life with a clear conscience
about all such matters. I could not take William's money with
the thought that Jessie had any claim upon it. I did not mean
to let William know anything about it ; but it did come to his
ears, and he then said he would make the arrangement himself.
This pleased me as much as anything that happened then. Not
because of any saving to myself, but I was so thankful to
that he had a notion of restitution. As for the kindness of the
friends in the neighbourhood, it almost oppressed me, I had such
a number of good wishes, and such pretty i resents. But what


pleased me most of all, I think, was a parcel from Germany,
containing a note of congratulations from Mrs Temple, and
a few lines from Miss Milicent, accompanied by some speci-
mens of Swiss wood-carving, a salad fork and spoon, and a
paper knife, and a very pretty dish to stand on the table in my

Mrs Temple's note, though short, helped me to understand
the blessing of being 'in charity with all men.' As for Miss
Milicent, her congratulations were so hearty that they made the
tears come into my eyes ; whilst I felt truly humbled by the
thought of how little they were deserved. 'Dear Ursie Grant,'
she wrote, ' you have been a good sister, and a good friend, and
God's blessing is upon you, and be sure He will prosper you. I
shall say a hearty prayer for you on your wedding-day, as I have
done every day of my life for many years. People declare that

Online LibraryElizabeth Missing SewellUrsula; a tale of country life → online text (page 53 of 56)