In a retired part of the County of Sussex there is a village (for what I know to the Contrary) called Evelyn, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots in the south of England. A Gentleman passing through it on horseback about twenty years ago, was so entirely of my opinion in this respect, that he put up at the little Alehouse in it and enquired with great earnestness whether there were any house to be lett in the parish. The Landlady, who as well as everyone else in Evelyn was remarkably amiable, shook her head at this question, but seemed unwilling to give him any answer. He could not bear this uncertainty—yet knew not to obtain the information he desired. To repeat a question which had already appeared to make the good woman uneasy was impossible—he turned from her in visible agitation.
‘What a situation am I in!’ said he to himself as he walked to the window and threw up the sash. He found himself revived by the air, which he felt to a much greater degree when he had opened the window than he had done before. Yet it was but for a moment—the agonising pain of doubt and suspense again weighed down his spirits.
The good woman who had watched in eager silence every turn of his countenance with that benevolence, which characterises the inhabitants of Evelyn, entreated him to tell her the cause of his uneasiness. ‘Is there anything, Sir, in my power to do that may relieve your griefs? Tell me in what manner I can sooth them, and believe me that the friendly balm of comfort and assistance shall not be wanting; for indeed, Sir, I have a sympathetic soul.’
‘Amiable Woman,’ said Mr Gower, affected almost to tears by this generous offer, ‘this greatness of mind in one to whom I am almost a stranger, serves but to make me the more warmly wish for a house in this sweet village—what would I not give to be your neighbour, to be blessed with your acquaintance, and with the farther knowledge of your virtues! Oh, with what pleasure would I form myself by such an example! Tell me then, best of Women, is there no possibility? I cannot speak—you know my meaning.’
‘Alas! Sir,’ replied Mrs Willis, ‘there is none. Every house in this village, from the sweetness of the situation, and the purity of the air, in which neither misery, ill health, or vice are ever wafted, is inhabited. And yet,’ (after a short pause) ‘there is a Family, who tho’ warmly attached to the spot, yet from a peculiar generosity of disposition would perhaps be willing to oblige you with their house.’
He eagerly caught at this idea, and having gained a direction to the place, he set off immediately on his walk to it. As he approached the house, he was delighted with its situation. It was in the exact centre of a small circular paddock, which was enclosed by a regular paling, and bordered with a plantation of Lombardy poplars and Spruce firs alternatively placed in three rows. A gravel walk ran through this beautiful shrubbery, and as the remainder of the paddock was unencumbered with any other timber, the surface of it perfectly even and smooth, and grazed by four white cows which were disposed at equal distances from each other, the whole appearance of the place as Mr Gower entered the paddock was uncommonly striking. A beautifully-rounded gravel road without any turn or interruption led immediately to the house. Mr Gower rang—the door was soon opened.
‘Are Mr and Mrs Webb at home?’
‘My Good Sir, they are,’ replied the Servant; and, leading the way, conducted Mr Gower upstairs into a very elegant dressing room, where a lady, rising from her seat, welcomed him with all the generosity which Mrs Willis had attributed to the family.
‘Welcome best of Men—welcome to this house, and to everything it contains. William, tell your Master of the happiness I enjoy—invite him to partake of it. Bring up some chocolate immediately; spread a cloth in the dining parlour, and carry in the venison pasty. In the meantime let the Gentleman have some sandwiches, and bring in a basket of fruit—send up some ices and a basin of soup, and do not forget some jellies and cakes.’ Then turning to Mr Gower, and taking out her purse, ‘Accept this, my good Sir. Believe me; you are welcome to everything that is in my power to bestow. I wish my purse were weightier, but Mr Webb must make up my deficiencies. I know he has cash in the house to the amount of an hundred pounds, which he shall bring you immediately.’
Mr Gower felt overpowered by her generosity as he put the purse in his pocket, and from the excess of his gratitude could scarcely express himself intelligibly when he accepted her offer of the hundred pounds. Mr Webb soon entered the room, and repeated every protestation of friendship and cordiality which his Lady had already made. The chocolate, the sandwiches, the jellies, the cakes, the ice, and the soup soon made their appearance, and Mr Gower having tasted something of all, and pocketed the rest, was conducted into the dining parlour, where he ate a most excellent dinner and partook of the most exquisite wines, while Mr and Mrs Webb stood by him still pressing him to eat and drink a little more.
‘And now my good Sir,’ said Mr Webb, when Mr Gower’s repast was concluded, ‘what else can we do to contribute to your happiness and express the affection we bear you. Tell us what you wish more to receive, and depend upon our gratitude for the communication of your wishes.’
‘Give me then your house and grounds; I ask for nothing else.’
‘It is yours,’ exclaimed both at once; ‘from this moment it is yours.’ The Agreement concluded on and the present accepted by Mr Gower, Mr Webb rang to have the carriage ordered, telling William at the same time to call the young ladies.
‘Best of Men,’ said Mrs Webb, ‘we will not long intrude upon your time.’
‘Make no apologies, dear Madam,’ replied Mr Gower. ‘You are welcome to stay this half hour if you like it.’
They both burst forth into raptures of admiration at his politeness, which they agreed served only to make their conduct appear more inexcusable in trespassing on his time.
The young ladies soon entered the room. The eldest of them was about seventeen, the other, several years younger. Mr Gower had no sooner fixed his eyes on Miss Webb than he felt that something more was necessary to his happiness than the house he had just received.
Mrs Webb introduced him to her daughter. ‘Our dear friend Mr Gower, my love—he has been so good as to accept of this house, small as it is, and to promise to keep it for ever.’
‘Give me leave to assure you, Sir,’ said Miss Webb, ‘that I am highly sensible of your kindness in this respect, which from the shortness of my Father’s and Mother’s acquaintance with you, is more than usually flattering.’
Mr Gower bowed. ‘You are too obliging, Ma’am—I assure you that I like the house extremely—and if they would complete their generosity by giving me their eldest daughter in marriage with a handsome portion, I should have nothing more to wish for.’
This compliment brought a blush into the cheeks of the lovely Miss Webb, who seemed however to refer herself to her father and mother. They looked delighted at each other. At length Mrs Webb breaking silence, said, ‘We bend under a weight of obligations to you which we can never repay. Take our girl, take our Maria, and on her must the difficult task fall, of endeavouring to make some return to so much beneficence.’
Mr Webb added, ‘Her fortune is but ten thousand pounds, which is almost too small a sum to be offered.’ This objection however being instantly removed by the generosity of Mr Gower, who declared himself satisfied with the sum mentioned.
Mr and Mrs Webb, with their youngest daughter took their leave, and on the next day, the nuptials of their eldest with Mr Gower were celebrated. This amiable man now found himself perfectly happy; united to a very lovely and deserving young woman, with an handsome fortune, an elegant house, settled in the village of Evelyn, and by that means enabled to cultivate his acquaintance with Mrs Willis, could he have a wish ungratified? For some months he found that he could not, till one day as he was walking in the shrubbery with Maria leaning on his arm, they observed a rose full-blown lying on the gravel; it had fallen from a rose tree which with three others had been planted by Mr Webb to give a pleasing variety to the walk. These four rose trees served also to mark the quarters of the shrubbery, by which means the traveller might always know how far in his progress round the paddock he was got. Maria stooped to pick up the beautiful flower, and with all her family Generosity presented it to her husband.
‘My dear Frederic,’ said she, ‘pray take this charming rose.’
‘Rose!’ exclaimed Mr Gower. ‘Oh! Maria, of what does not that remind me! Alas, my poor Sister, how have I neglected you!’
The truth was that Mr Gower was the only son of a very large family, of which Miss Rose Gower was the thirteenth daughter. This young lady whose merits deserved a better fate than she met with, was the darling of her relations—from the clearness of her skin and the brilliancy of her eyes, she was fully entitled to all their partial affection. Another circumstance contributed to the general love they bore her, and that was one of the finest heads of hair in the world. A few months before her brother’s marriage, her heart had been engaged by the attentions and charms of a young man whose high rank and expectations seemed to foretell objections from his family to a match which would be highly desirable to theirs. Proposals were made on the young man’s part, and proper objections on his father’s—he was desired to return from Carlisle where he was with his beloved Rose, to the family seat in Sussex. He was obliged to comply, and the angry father then finding from his conversation how determined he was to marry no other woman, sent him for a fortnight to the Isle of Wight under the care of the Family Chaplin, with the hope of overcoming his constancy by time and absence in a foreign country. They accordingly prepared to bid a long adieu to England—the young nobleman was not allowed to see his Rosa. They set sail—a storm arose which baffled the arts of the seamen. The vessel was wrecked on the coast of Calshot and every soul on board perished. This sad event soon reached Carlisle, and the beautiful Rose was affected by it, beyond the power of expression. It was to soften her affliction by obtaining a picture of her unfortunate lover that her brother undertook a journey into Sussex, where he hoped that his petition would not be rejected, by the severe yet afflicted father. When he reached Evelyn he was not many miles from the castle, but the pleasing events which befell him in that place had for a while made him totally forget the object of his journey and his unhappy sister. The little incident of the rose however brought everything concerning her to his recollection again, and he bitterly repented his neglect. He returned to the house immediately and agitated by grief, apprehension and shame wrote the following letter to Rosa.
July 14th– Evelyn
My dearest Sister,
As it is now four months since I left Carlisle, during which period I have not once written to you, You will perhaps unjustly accuse me of Neglect and Forgetfulness. Alas! I blush when I own the truth of your Accusation. Yet if you are still alive, do not think too harshly of me, or suppose that I could for a moment forget the situation of my Rose. Beleive me I will forget you no longer, but will hasten as soon as possible to the Castle if I find by your answer that you are still alive. Maria joins me in every dutiful and affectionate wish, and I am yours sincerely
He waited in the most anxious expectation for an answer to his letter, which arrived as soon as the great distance from Carlisle would admit of—but alas, it came not from Rosa.
Carlisle July 17th
My Mother has taken the liberty of opening your Letter to poor Rose, as she has been dead these six weeks. Your long absence and continued Silence gave us all great uneasiness and hastened her to the Grave. Your Journey to the Castle therefore may be spared. You do not tell us where you have been since the time of your quitting Carlisle, nor in any way account for your tedious absence, which gives us some surprise. We all unite in Compliments to Maria, and beg to know who she is–
Yr affec:te Sister
This letter, by which Mr Gower was obliged to attribute to his own conduct, his Sister’s death, was so violent a shock to his feelings, that in spite of his living at Evelyn where illness was scarcely ever heard of, he was attacked by a fit of the gout, which confining him to his own room afforded an opportunity to Maria of shining in that favourite character of Sir Charles Grandison’s, a nurse. No woman could ever appear more amiable than Maria did under such circumstances, and at last by her unremitting attentions had the pleasure of seeing him gradually recover the use of his feet. It was a blessing by no means lost on him, for he was no sooner in a condition to leave the house, that he mounted his horse, and rode to the castle, wishing to find whether his Lordship, softened by his Son’s death, might have been brought to consent to the match, had both he and Rosa been alive. His amiable Maria followed him with her eyes till she could see him no longer, and then sinking into her chair overwhelmed with grief, found that in his absence she could enjoy no comfort.
Mr Gower arrived late in the evening at the castle, which was situated on a woody eminence commanding a beautiful prospect of the sea. Mr Gower did not dislike the situation, though it was certainly greatly inferior to that of his own house. There was an irregularity in the fall of the ground, and a profusion of old timber which appeared to him ill-suited to the style of the castle, for it being a building of a very ancient date, he thought it required the paddock of Evelyn lodge to form a contrast, and enliven the structure. The gloomy appearance of the old castle frowning on him as he followed its winding approach struck him with terror. Nor did he think himself safe, till he was introduced into the drawing room where the family were assembled to tea. Mr Gower was a perfect stranger to everyone in the circle but though he was always timid in the dark and easily terrified when alone, he did not want that more necessary and more noble courage which enabled him without a blush to enter a large party of superior rank, whom he had never seen before, and to take his seat amongst them with perfect indifference. The name of Gower was not unknown to the Lord. He felt distressed and astonished; yet rose and received him with all the politeness of a well-bred Man. The Lady, who felt a deeper sorrow at the loss of her son than his Lordship’s harder heart was capable of, could hardly keep her seat when she found that he was the brother of her lamented Henry’s Rosa.
‘My Lord,’ said Mr Gower as soon as he was seated, ‘You are perhaps surprised at receiving a visit from a man whom you could not have the least expectation of seeing here. But my Sister, my unfortunate Sister, is the real cause of my thus troubling you: that luckless girl is now no more—and tho’ she can receive no pleasure from the intelligence, yet for the satisfaction of her family I wish to know whether the death of this unhappy pair has made an impression on your heart sufficiently strong to obtain that consent to their Marriage which in happier circumstances you would not be persuaded to give supposing that they now were both alive.’
His Lordship seemed lost in astonishment. The Lady could not support the mention of her son, and left the room in tears; the rest of the family remained attentively listening, almost persuaded that Mr Gower was distracted. ‘Mr Gower,’ replied his Lordship, ‘this is a very odd question—it appears to me that you are supposing an impossibility—no one can more sincerely regret the death of my son than I have always done, and it gives me great concern to know that Miss Gower’s was hastened by his. Yet to suppose them alive is destroying at once the motive for a change in my sentiments concerning the affair.’
‘My Lord,’ replied Mr Gower in anger, ‘I see that you are a most inflexible man, and that not even the death of your son can make you wish his future life happy. I will no longer detain your Lordship. I see, I plainly see that you are a very vile man—and now I have the honour of wishing all your Lordships, and Ladyships a good night.’ He immediately left the room, forgetting in the heat of his anger the lateness of the hour, which at any other time would have made him tremble, and leaving the whole company unanimous in their opinion of his being mad. When however he had mounted his horse and the great gates of the castle had shut him out, he felt an universal tremor throughout his whole frame. If we consider his situation indeed, alone, on horseback, as late in the year as August, and in the day, as nine o’clock, with no light to direct him but that of the Moon almost full, and the stars which alarmed him by their twinkling, who can refrain from pitying him? No house within a quarter of a mile, and a gloomy castle blackened by the deep shade of walnuts and pines, behind him. He felt indeed almost distracted with his fears, and shutting his eyes till he arrived at the village to prevent his seeing either gypsies or ghosts, he rode on a full gallop all the way.
On his return home, he rang the house-bell, but no one appeared, a second time he rang, but the door was not opened, a third and a fourth with as little success, when observing the dining parlour window open he leapt in, and pursued his way through the house till he reached Maria’s dressing room, where he found all the servants assembled at tea. Surprised at so very unusual a sight, he fainted, on his recovery he found himself on the sofa, with his wife’s maid kneeling by him, chafing his temples with Hungary water. From her he learned that his beloved Maria had been so much grieved at his departure that she died of a broken heart about 3 hours after his departure.
He then became sufficiently composed to give necessary orders for her funeral which took place the Monday following this being the Saturday. When Mr Gower had settled the order of the procession he set out himself to Carlisle, to give vent to his sorrow in the bosom of his family—he arrived there in high health and spirits, after a delightful journey of 3 days and a ½—what was his surprise on entering the breakfast parlour to see Rosa, his beloved Rosa, seated on a sofa; at the sight of him she fainted and would have fallen had not a gentleman sitting with his back to the door, started up and saved her from sinking to the ground—she very soon came to herself and then introduced this gentleman to her brother as her husband, a Mr Davenport.
‘But my dearest Rosa,’ said the astonished Gower, ‘I thought you were dead and buried.’
‘Why, my dear Frederick,’ replied Rosa, ‘I wished you to think so, hoping that you would spread the report about the country and it would thus by some means reach the Castle—by this I hoped somehow or other to touch the hearts of its inhabitants. It was not till the day before yesterday that I heard of the death of my beloved Henry which I learned from Mr Davenport who concluded by offering me his hand. I accepted it with transport, and was married yesterday.’
Mr Gower embraced his sister and shook hands with Mr Davenport, he then took a stroll into the town. As he passed by a public house he called for a pot of beer, which was brought him immediately by his old friend Mrs Willis.
Great was his astonishment at seeing Mrs Willis in Carlisle. But not forgetful of the respect he owed her, he dropped on one knee, and received the frothy cup from her, more grateful to him than nectar. He instantly made her an offer of his hand and heart, which she graciously condescended to accept, telling him that she was only on a visit to her cousin, who kept the anchor and should be ready to return to Evelyn, whenever he chose. The next morning they were married and immediately proceeded to Evelyn. When he reached home, he recollected that he had never written to Mr and Mrs Webb to inform them of the death of their daughter, which he rightly supposed they knew nothing of, as they never took in any newspapers. He immediately dispatched the following letter–
Evelyn– Augst 19th 180–
How can words express the poignancy of my feelings! Our Maria, our beloved Maria is no more, she breathed her last, on Saturday the 12th of Augst–I see you now in an agony of grief lamenting not your own, but my loss–Rest satisfied I am happy, possessed of my lovely Sarah what more can I wish for?–
Westgate Builgs Augst 22nd
Generous, best of Men
how truly we rejoice to hear of your present welfare and happiness! and how truly grateful are we for your unexampled generosity in writing to condole with us on the late unlucky accident which befel our Maria–I have enclosed a draught on our banker for 30 pounds, which Mr Webb joins with me in entreating you and the aimiable Sarah to accept– Your most grateful
Anne Augusta Webb
Mr and Mrs Gower resided many years at Evelyn enjoying perfect happiness the just reward of their virtues. The only alteration which took place at Evelyn was that Mr and Mrs Davenport settled there in Mrs Willis’s former abode and were for many years the proprietors of the White Horse Inn.
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Jane Austen (1775-1817) was a writer. She was best known for her novels including Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma.