Amelia: A Story in 7 Chapters
Some of Jane Austin's Juvenilia selections are quite amusing. If you think that she leaves important scenes out of her novels, you should try reading "Amelia Webster." Jane Austen's own words are in bold, and my interpretation of what happened 'between the lines' is in regular print.
an interesting & well-written Tale is dedicated by Permission
to Mrs. Austen by Her Humble Servant
Amelia Webster --- Matilda 'Maud' Hervey
Henry Beverley --- George Hervey
Benjamin Barr --- Sarah 'Sally' Hervey
John 'Jack' Huntley --- Thomas 'Tom' Cavenaugh
Letter 1: To Miss Webster
My Dear Amelia
You will rejoice to hear of the return of my amiable Brother from abroad. He arrived on Thursday, & never did I see a finer form, save that of your sincere freind
Matilda reread the contents of her note, not quite satisfied with the amount of information included but knowing that she had to leave room for her friend's response. Amelia, although her bosom friend, was a notoriously poor correspondent. This method of sending and replying on the same bit of paper seemed to give at least passable results.
"Are you writing to that friend of yours?" a teasing voice asked.
Matilda looked toward the window where her brother was setting up his telescope. It seemed that the prospect from his own room was unsatisfactory as it only looked upon the garden, whereas her window faced the front of the house and therefore afforded a view of the street.
"If you mean 'Miss Amelia Webster', yes," she said primly. "She is a very fine young woman and dear to my heart." She had broached the subject of Miss Webster several times but her brother had not been a willing listener.
George gave her a lop-sided grin. "I have been home less than a week and you are already playing the matchmaker. Dear Maud, would you be rid of me so soon?"
"Of course not, Brother, but you and I are so alike that I am sure Miss Webster would easily gain your love as well." Matilda folded and sealed the note and rose to stand beside the telescope. "I thought this was for observing the constellations..."
"It cost Father a pocketful of coins and I thought I would get our money's worth if I used it during the day as well."
She bent to look in the eyepiece and saw nothing but sky. "What can be so interesting?"
George nudged her aside and adjusted the view. "What is our Sally doing?" he asked as he stepped away to make room for his sister.
Matilda was rewarded with the sight of their younger sister, Sarah, who aimlessly wandered along a path and exhibited a rather dejected air. "Languishing, I expect. You know," she added, "she has the loveliest brown hair."
"Miss Webster has lovely brown hair."
George shrugged and looked at Sarah again.
"The poor dear is languishing," Matilda sighed.
"No, silly goose, Sally! She is pining for her beloved."
"Sally has a beloved?"
"Shh! Father and Mother do not know of it, only I do." Matilda beckoned him closer. "She does not know that I know but I do."
"Well, who is it then?"
"You attended school with the fellow, Mr. Benjamin Barr."
"'Blinkey'? Our sister is in love with 'Blinkey' Barr?"
Matilda gave her brother a little disgusted shove. "That was years and years ago," she corrected. "He is now doing quite well for himself at Burney & Coats," She named a law office in London.
"I bet he still blinks," George scoffed. Benjamin Barr had been terrible in school sports. He couldn't keep his eyes open long enough to hit a ball.
"One hardly notices," Matilda replied. "He is older now and more confident and so, does not display the nervous habits of his youth. Of course, he has thick glass in his spectacles, but he uses them mostly for reading."
George was busy finding other things to look at with his telescope and did not comment.
"Miss Webster has the most delightful brown eyes."
"I'm certain that she does..." he said as he fiddled with the instrument. He glanced up, "But I am not interested in this paragon of womankind."
Matilda became silent. She knew when to desist.
"What of yourself?" her brother asked.
"What do you mean?"
"Do you have a lover hiding in the bushes as well?"
Matilda shook her head, "No."
"Do I sense an air of rejection?"
"Not really. He did not know that I existed."
"Who is this blind man?"
Matilda shrugged, "Mr. John Huntley. Miss Webster and I were introduced to him and his friend, Mr. Thomas Cavenaugh, at an assembly last fall."
"John Huntley...Huntley...do you mean Jack?" her brother asked, vaguely remembering someone at university with that name.
"I would not know. Perhaps."
"And so, this Mr. Huntley met you and proceeded to ignore you?"
"Well, to be fair, he and his family were visiting from the north and he spent most of his time with the Cavenaughs, the family they were staying with..."
"Then, a greater fool is he," George replied kindly, "for he will not find a fairer flower the length and breadth of England. And if your Miss Webster has half of your attributes, I would agree to meet her tomorrow."
"Would you?" Matilda asked excitedly.
George realized his blunder. "Fortunately, you are here and she is there," he laughed, for the Herveys had removed themselves to their summer estate and the Websters were yet in Town.
Matilda had no retort, but much to think about. As she called for the maid, she mentally composed what to write in her next letter.
Letter 2: To H. Beverley ESQ
I arrived here last thurday & met with a hearty reception from my Father, Mother, and Sisters. The latter are both fine Girls -- particularly Maud, who I think would suit you as a Wife well enough. What say you to this? She will have two thousand Pounds & as much more as you can get. If you don't marry her you will mortally offend
George went whistling through the lower rooms and deposited his letter on the hall table.
"What are you so cheerful about?" Matilda asked as she came down the stairs.
She passed the hall table and espied the letter. "Henry Beverley....who is he?"
"Haven't I mentioned him? A swell chap that I met in France. We traveled around together a bit. I may go into Town for a few days next week to see him."
"Town is insufferable now. Why don't you invite him here? I am certain that Father and Mother would like to meet him."
George shook his head, "No, the country isn't really his style and I doubt that you would like him very much."
Matilda's eyes widened at the thought. "I find it difficult to believe that you would like someone whom I could not."
"Well, you know, he is so well-traveled and experienced and full of himself. You would probably find him a bore."
"Did you find him boring?"
"No, actually, but, it's different among men. He was a capital travel companion, though. One day, when we were at Mont St. Michel...." He colored slightly. "Well, that is another story...."
Matilda's interest was piqued for George had never been devious in his life, at least not with her. She waited for more.
George shook his head, "He really isn't our sort..."
"You like him well enough to go to Town to visit him."
George stood before his sister, a hand on each arm, and looked into her eyes. "I know you better than anyone, Maud. Believe me, you would not like Henry Beverley. Now, enough of this nonsense. Let's go tease Sally out of her doldrums."
Letter 3: To Miss Hervey
Believe me I'm happy to hear of your Brother's arrival. I have a thousand things to tell you, but my paper will only permit me to add that I am y affec Freind
Amelia signed her large loopy scrawl, knowing that her friend would probably be unhappy for her paucity of words but soon it would not matter. For next week, she and her family were going to Bath and she almost had a promise from Father that they would call on the Herveys enroute. It would be so much better to tell her friend all the news in person, and then she could see the handsome George Hervey for herself. For Amelia believed everything that Matilda said and trusted her opinion in all things. Ever since their first meeting, she had heard of the wise and wonderful George and she could not wait to meet him.
Dreamy-eyed, Amelia sorted through her belongings in preparation for the sojourn at Bath. George would be tall and brave and, just like the heroes in her favorite novels, he would be willing to lay down his life for her.
"Mother says that she would not be at all surprised if the Websters stopped by on their way to Bath," Matilda informed her brother. "Before we left, Mrs. Webster told her they would be leaving on the 26th -- that's only a few days from now."
"I shall probably be in London by then. How unfortunate..." George bemoaned but not very convincingly. He moved the telescope apace with whatever he was watching.
Matilda sighed impatiently at her idiotic brother and left the room.
"I wonder where she is going now?" he mumbled, but he did not mean Matilda.
Part Two (Conclusion)
Letter 4: To Miss S. Hervey
I have found a very convenient old hollow oak to put our Letters in; for you know we have long maintained a private Correspondence. It is about a mile from my House & seven from yours. You may perhaps imagine that I might have made choice of a tree which would have divided the Distance more equally -- I was sensible of this at the time, but as I considered that the walk would be of benefit to you in your weak & uncertain state of Health, I preferred it to one nearer your House, & am y' faithful
Sarah Hervey quickened her step, wondering just how long it would take to traverse seven miles. She glanced at the sun which seemed to be jumping high into the sky. The walk would become over warm shortly. Well, it would do her good. Benjamin said so.
"Sally, wait up!" George called out as he ran across the lawn. "Where are you going?'
"I am only going for a walk," Sarah replied.
"Then I shall come with you," her brother offered promptly. "I have not had enough exercise since returning home."
Sarah was nonplussed by his eagerness to join her and did not know what to say. George, though, was never at a loss for words and entertained her quite well for the first mile. He patted his brow with a crisp white linen handkerchief. "I say, Sally, it's getting a bit warm. Shall we head back?"
"You may if you wish," she suggested. "I intend to go just a little farther."
George regarded his younger sister with some disbelief. "Really, Sally, I don't think it would do for you to overtax yourself in this heat."
"Walking is good for my health, George. I was ill, you know."
"You had a cold."
"Well, it was a severe cold, and kept me inside for many days."
"I have never heard of anyone walking to get over a cold."
"Walking is good for everything," Sarah replied testily.
Suspicion began to dawn in George's mind. Surely she would not even consider...... but why else would Sally choose a rather dull, straight walk toward the outskirts of London when there were many lovelier and shadier vistas closer to home? "You are right, of course," he replied cheerfully. "I cannot allow my sister to outdo me. I shall continue to walk with you." He anticipated Barr coming into view at any moment and Sarah's almost inaudible sigh of distress only confirmed his conjectures.
A mile passed and then another. Sarah was beginning to look quite white around the gills and George was not fairing too well himself. He had loosened his cravat long ago. Finally, he stopped in his tracks. "I shall go no further," he announced.
Sarah continued to stumble along.
"And neither shall you," he said irritably, jerking her back. His sister was so tired that she burst into tears. George was immediately contrite. "Come along, Sally, there is a tree over there. Let's rest for a minute and talk about this walk we are on."
Sarah did not have the strength to resist and allowed her brother to propel her over to the shade tree. She slumped down gratefully.
"Now, tell me what this is about," George commanded. Sarah would not give away her scheme even yet. "I know that it has to do with Benjamin Barr," he finally retorted. "Are you meeting him somewhere?"
Sarah shook her head.
"Then what is the purpose of this madness?"
Sarah slipped her hand into her bag and drew out the letter. A quick perusal was enough to raise George's considerable ire. The long return walk that ended with him carrying his sister up the stairs did not diminish his feelings. Fury almost blinded him as he saddled up a horse and it kept him company all the way to the designated 'mail box.' He waited impatiently for the male member of the secret duo and was rewarded by the sight of Benjamin Barr himself, coming along in the twilight. Only then, after he had landed a solid punch in the middle of that disgusting face, did his anger ebb and then quickly fade to nothing.
He gave Barr a hand up from the ground and offered a clean handkerchief for his nose. The young man was still stunned somewhat from the blow but gradually the realization of what or who hit him, dawned. "Hervey!" he choked out. "I...I..." In the blink of an eye, all of the old feelings of ineptness came back to haunt him.
"What are your intentions toward my sister?" was the gruff response.
"I....I love her..." Barr stammered. "When I have enough money put by, I want to ask her to marry me."
George raised his eyebrows skeptically. "Your foolish idea nearly killed her this afternoon."
Barr blanched at the thought of his dear Sally, deadly white and motionless. "I... I... would never wish to harm her. I have to work until late and did not have time to go the farther distance. She had all day to walk it -- I did not think it would overtax the girl."
George snorted, "A lot you know about women!" He shrugged his shoulders, "Be that as it may, for some unfathomable reason, she loves you in return, but this secretiveness must end....at once."
Barr's eyes widened in fear, "Oh no! We are not...I am not in a position to...Your father would never...It would be the end of..."
"Listen, Barr, our father is a sensible fellow and was not always prosperous himself. If you come to him as a man and tell him of your plans for the future, he will respect you for it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I can guarantee that he will hear you out. He may choose to withhold his blessing for other reasons...such as your foolhardy disregard for my sister's welfare...but he will be fair."
Barr lowered his eyes before such accusations. He had been very foolish. He could see that now. "I...I'm sorry, Hervey, I..."
"I am not the one to apologise to," George declared. "You will get cleaned up and present yourself at our home at your earliest convenience and apologise to Sally --- after you have talked to my father."
"But...but...I haven't the money for a horse..."
"Why should that be a deterrent? 'T is only eight miles...."
"This is the only way you will ever see my sister again."
The man nodded reluctantly, "I can see that you mean what you say."
"Until your visit, then," George said, and he went to mount his horse. He led it over to where Barr still stood. "By the way, Barr. If you ever show my sister any hint of disrespect in the future, I will not hesitate to bury my fist in your face again."
Barr stood there for a long time, blinking madly and wondering how he was ever going to induce Hervey to accept him as a brother-in-law. But he would! He squared his shoulders, "I do love her! I'll show him..."
"Today is the 26th and you are still here," Matilda teased.
"How could I miss the opportunity to meet Miss Webster and still live with you?" George laughed. "When do you expect her?"
"I don't know really -- anytime soon. I think I will go out on the lawn and await her arrival. Would you like to come with me?"
"No, you should greet your friend on your own. There will be time enough for introductions."
Matilda dimpled and gave her brother a grateful smile. At least he would meet the young woman.
George cleaned the parts of the telescope and put it back together, then scanned the area for anything of interest. "Aha!" He almost fell back to the floor when he saw Mr. Benjamin Barr come sauntering up the road and sporting two still-blackened eyes. He guffawed at the spectacle until it came to him that Sally did not know what had transpired, nor his part in it. "Lord, she will think I nearly killed him!"
He considered going downstairs to greet the young man and to suggest that Barr use his room to refresh himself. (The poor fellow did look close to exhaustion.) But then he saw Matilda step out just as Barr reached the yard and he knew that his sister would see to his needs. Sure enough, Matilda turned back to accompany Sarah's would-be suitor into the house. "Even better!" George decided for Matilda would certainly eavesdrop as much as she could get away with. Then she would come upstairs and apprise him of the situation.
George raised the telescope back up to street level and his attention was immediately caught by the passing of a carriage. One of the occupants, a young lady, seemed to be transfixed by their yard. Her eyes darted here and there, looking for something or someone. Suddenly, it came to him, She must be Miss Webster! But....their carriage was not slowing to turn in. It sped right past as though stopping had never been its intention.
George sat back on his haunches. The young woman had a decidedly lovely face framed by brown hair and what could have been brown eyes.... It had to be Miss Webster!
Later, after they had discussed all of the other events of the afternoon, George said tentatively, "I am sorry that your friend did not come."
"Me, too," Matilda fretted. "You so would have liked her."
"I should not have liked her at all. She seems a flighty sort. You cannot count on her correspondence, and she would not stop even though she was at your very doorstep." George did not tell his sister that he had seen her.
"She is not like that at all!" Matilda cried passionately. "She is the sweetest, kindest person in the world."
George shrugged. "Then, perhaps her parents would not stop," he suggested.
Matilda nodded, "I can well believe that -- her father is very moody. He probably wished to gain Bath before the children unnerved him."
George smiled gently, "So, tell me more about your friend. I am sorry that I had teased you about her. You have said that she is beautiful and good...is it too much to hope that she be intelligent as well?"
Matilda made as though to throw a pillow at him. "You are incorrigible!" she declared, "and so, I shall tell you nothing. It is your loss."
Her brother moved closer to her and put on a dramatically sad puss. "I am sorry, Maud. You are so easy to have fun with. Please don't stay angry with me."
Matilda could not look on such a woebegone countenance without breaking into laughter. "I forgive you," she giggled. As she began to describe her friend, though, she grew serious. "Miss Webster is not what some people might consider accomplished," she admitted. "She plays the pianoforte only tolerably, but her voice, though untrained, is pleasant. She is not smart in a bookish sort of way -- I doubt that she has finished anything other than one of her novels for years. She is a terrible romantic!"
George raised one eyebrow, "Do I have no standards? Why do you think she would be perfect for me? I am hardly one of those heroes in her books that would starve for the sight of her."
"She would like that!" Matilda admitted with a wry smile. "But, George, I know that you would come to love the special way she has about her. She may not know who Socrates or Spenser or even Shakespeare is, but she has such a knack for making people feel comfortable. She can tell exactly what someone needs, even before they know it themselves. I always feel good about myself when I am with her."
"Well, that is truly a gift," George agreed. "I am sorry to not have met her. But now, I must pack, for tomorrow morning I leave for London."
Letter 5: To Miss Hervey
I write now to inform you that I did not stop at your house in my way to Bath last Monday -- I have many things to inform you of besides, but my Papa reminds me of concluding; & believe me y ever&xc.
Amelia hastily folded the letter and took it down to her father who was waiting in the foyer. "Thank you, Papa!" she said, kissing him on the cheek. She had been quite disappointed that they did not visit at the home of the Herveys, but she could not fault her father. He worked quite hard at his business seven days a week and deserved some time for relaxation. She would just have to see Maud another time.
Amelia was at her dressing table, preparing to go to a musicale, when a maid entered and handed her a letter. She was very surprised to see by the address that it must be from Maud for it certainly did not resemble her handwriting.
Letter 6: To Miss Webster
An humble Admirer now addresses you. I saw you lovely Fair one as you passed on Monday last, before our House in your way to Bath. I saw you thro' a telescope, & was so struck by your Charms that from that time to this I have not tasted human food.
Amelia would have been speechless if anyone had been in the room. As it was, hot and cold flashed over her in such frequency as to make her nearly swoon. She had never thought to receive such a letter as this....and for it to be from dearest Maud's brother.... A trembling hand clutched the missive to her bosom and from thence forth, she kept the letter close to her heart.
"A Mr. Beverley is at the door, Sir. He says that he has come to see Mr. George Hervey."
Matilda almost dropped her fork at the butler's words. Mr. Beverley? How can that be? "George left yesterday to visit Mr. Beverley," she said to her parents.
"They must have somehow missed each other," Mr. Hervey decided. He turned to his servant. "Pears, ask the young man if he has supped. If not, show him where to refresh himself and then bring him here. If he has already eaten, take him to the drawing room and we shall join him there before an half hour is passed."
Pears bowed and retreated, soon returning with the young man in question.
"Good evening, Mr. Hervey," said Beverley, coming forward to greet his host. "I am Henry Beverley. Your son and I became good friends while abroad. I was hoping to find him at home. I apologise for my untimely intrusion."
"Please, sit down, young man. Yes, we are quite surprised to see you here, as George left yesterday for the express purpose of visiting you."
A very confused look came over the gentleman's face. "Yesterday? I cannot imagine..."
It did not take Matilda long to feel disposed toward liking Mr. Beverley very much. He was the opposite of everything George had implied, except that he had traveled quite a bit. A more amiable and interesting young man could not be imagined.
On Beverley's part, he had been disposed to like Miss Hervey before ever he met her, and so it was not long before they formed a mutual admiration society.
The following evening, Amelia Webster was at an Assembly when a stranger entered the rooms and immediately made his way to her side. He bowed low over her hand and when he raised his eyes to hers, she knew exactly who he was. Any impediments that the couple may have had in meeting, were quickly overcome and before the evening was out, they could lay claim to the larger part of each other's heart.
Letter 7: To Jack
As I was this morning at Breakfast the Newspaper was brought me, & in the list of Marriages I read the follwing.
George Hervey Esq to Miss Amelia Webster
Henry Beverley Esq to Miss Hervey
Benjamin Barr Esq to Miss Sarah Hervey
A passing regret, and then Mr. John Huntley tossed the note into the fire and watched it curl up and turn to ashes.
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