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´╗┐Title: Country Lodgings
Author: Mitford, Mary Russell, 1787-1855
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Country Lodgings" ***

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COUNTRY LODGINGS

By Mary Russell Mitford


Between two and three years ago, the following pithy advertisement
appeared in several of the London papers:--

     "Country Lodgings.--Apartments to let in a large farm-house,
     situate in a cheap and pleasant village, about forty miles
     from London. Apply (if by letter post-paid) to A. B., No. 7,
     Salisbury-street, Strand."

Little did I think, whilst admiring in the broad page of the Morning
Chronicle the compendious brevity of this announcement, that the
pleasant village referred to was our own dear Aberleigh; and that the
first tenant of those apartments should be a lady whose family I had
long known, and in whose fortunes and destiny I took a more than common
interest!

Upton Court was a manor-house of considerable extent, which had in
former times been the residence of a distinguished Catholic family,
but which, in the changes of property incident to our fluctuating
neighbourhood, was now "fallen from its high estate," and degraded
into the homestead of a farm so small, that the tenant, a yeoman of
the poorest class, was fain to eke out his rent by entering into an
agreement with a speculating Belford upholsterer, and letting off a part
of the fine old mansion in the shape of furnished lodgings.

Nothing could be finer than the situation of Upton, placed on the summit
of a steep acclivity, looking over a rich and fertile valley to a range
of woody hills; nothing more beautiful than the approach from Belford,
the road leading across a common between a double row of noble oaks, the
ground on one side sinking with the abruptness of a north-country burn,
whilst a clear spring, bursting from the hill side, made its way to the
bottom between patches of shaggy underwood and a grove of smaller
trees; a vine-covered cottage just peeping between the foliage, and the
picturesque outline of the Court, with its old-fashioned porch, its long
windows, and its tall, clustered chimneys towering in the distance. It
was the prettiest prospect in all Aberleigh.

The house itself retained strong marks of former stateliness, especially
in one projecting wing, too remote from the yard to be devoted to the
domestic purposes of the farmer's family. The fine proportions of the
lofty and spacious apartments, the rich mouldings of the ceilings, the
carved chimney-pieces, and the panelled walls, all attested the former
grandeur of the mansion; whilst the fragments of stained glass in the
windows of the great gallery, the half-effaced coats of arms over the
door-way, the faded family portraits, grim black-visaged knights,
and pale shadowy ladies, or the reliques of mouldering tapestry
that fluttered against the walls, and, above all, the secret chamber
constructed for the priest's hiding-place in days of Protestant
persecution, for in darker ages neither of the dominant churches was
free from that foul stain,--each of these vestiges of the manners and
the history of times long gone by appealed to the imagination, and
conspired to give a Mrs. Radcliffe-like, Castle-of-Udolpho-sort of
romance to the manor-house. Really, when the wind swept through the
overgrown espaliers of that neglected but luxuriant wilderness, the
terraced garden; when the screech-owl shrieked from the ivy which
clustered up one side of the walls, and "rats and mice, and such small
deer," were playing their pranks behind the wainscot, it would have
formed as pretty a locality for a supernatural adventure, as ever
decayed hunting lodge in the recesses of the Hartz, or ruined fortress
on the castled Rhine. Nothing was wanting but the ghost, and a ghost of
any taste would have been proud of such a habitation.

Less like a ghost than the inhabitant who did arrive, no human being
well could be.

Mrs. Cameron was a young widow. Her father, a Scotch officer, well-born,
sickly, and poor, had been but too happy to bestow the hand of his only
child upon an old friend and fellow-countryman, the principal clerk in
a government office, whose respectable station, easy fortune, excellent
sense, and super-excellent character, were, as he thought, and as
fathers, right or wrong, are apt to think, advantages more than
sufficient to counterbalance a disparity of years and appearance,
which some daughters might have thought startling,--the bride being
a beautiful girl of seventeen, the bridegroom a plain man of
seven-and-fifty. In this case, at least, the father was right. He lived
long enough to see that the young wife was unusually attached to her
kind and indulgent husband, and died, about a twelve-month after
the marriage, with the fullest confidence in her respectability and
happiness. Mr. Cameron did not long survive him. Before she was nineteen
the fair Helen Cameron was a widow and an orphan, with one beautiful
boy, to whom she was left sole personal guardian, an income being
secured to her ample for her rank in life, but clogged with the one
condition of her not marrying again.

Such was the tenant, who, wearied of her dull suburban home, a red
brick house in the middle of a row of red brick houses; tired of the
loneliness which never presses so much upon the spirits as when left
solitary in the environs of a great city; pining for country liberty,
for green trees, and fresh air; much caught by the picturesque-ness
of Upton, and its mixture of old-fashioned stateliness and village
rusticity; and, perhaps, a little swayed by a desire to be near an
old friend and correspondent of the mother, to whose memory she was so
strongly attached, came in the budding spring time, the showery, flowery
month of April, to spend the ensuing summer at the Court.

We, on our part, regarded her arrival with no common interest. To me
it seemed but yesterday since I had received an epistle of thanks for
a present of one of dear Mary Howitt's charming children's books,--an
epistle undoubtedly not indited by the writer,--in huge round text,
between double pencil lines, with certain small errors of orthography
corrected in as mailer hand above; followed in due time by postscripts
to her mother's letters, upon one single line, and the spelling much
amended; then by a short, very short note, in French; and at last, by a
despatch of unquestionable authenticity, all about doves and rabbits,--a
holiday scrawl, rambling, scrambling, and uneven, and free from
restraint as heart could desire. It appeared but yesterday since Helen
Graham was herself a child; and here she was, within two miles of us, a
widow and a mother!

Our correspondence had been broken off by the death of Mrs. Graham when
she was about ten years old, and although I had twice called upon her
in my casual visits to town during the lifetime of Mr. Cameron;
and although these visits had been most punctually returned, it had
happened, as those things do happen in dear, provoking London, where one
is sure to miss the people one wishes most to see, that neither party
had ever been at home; so that we had never met, and I was at full
liberty to indulge in my foolish propensity of sketching in my mind's
eye a fancy portrait of my unknown friend.

Il Penseroso is not more different from L'Allegro than was my
anticipation from the charming reality. Remembering well her mother's
delicate and fragile grace of figure and countenance, and coupling with
that recollection her own unprotected and solitary state, and somewhat
melancholy story, I had pictured to myself (as if contrast were not in
this world of ours much more frequent than congruity) a mild, pensive,
interesting, fair-haired beauty, tall, pale, and slender;--I found
a Hebe, an Euphrosyne,--a round, rosy, joyous creature, the very
impersonation of youth, health, sweetness, and gaiety, laughter flashing
from her hazel eyes, smiles dimpling round her coral lips, and the rich
curls of her chestnut hair,--for having been fourteen months a widow,
she had, of course, laid aside the peculiar dress,--the glossy ringlets
of her "bonny brown hair" literally bursting from the comb that
attempted to confine them.

We soon found that her mind was as charming as her person. Indeed, her
face, lovely as it was, derived the best part of its loveliness from her
sunny temper, her frank and ardent spirit, her affectionate and generous
heart. It was the ever-varying expression, an expression which could
not deceive, that lent such matchless charms to her glowing and animated
countenance, and to the round and musical voice sweet as the spoken
voice of Malibran, or the still fuller and more exquisite tones of Mrs.
Jordan, which, true to the feeling of the moment, vibrated alike to the
wildest gaiety and the deepest pathos. In a word, the chief beauty of
Helen Cameron was her sensibility. It was the perfume to the rose.

Her little boy, born just before his father's death, and upon whom she
doated, was a magnificent piece of still life. Calm, placid, dignified,
an infant Hercules for strength and fair proportions, grave as a
judge, quiet as a flower, he was, in point of age, exactly at that most
delightful period when children are very pleasant to look upon, and
require no other sort of notice whatsoever. Of course this state of
perfection could not be expected to continue. The young gentleman
would soon aspire to the accomplishments of walking and talking--and
then!--but as that hour of turmoil and commotion to which his mamma
looked forward with ecstacy was yet at some months distance, I contented
myself with saying of master Archy, with considerably less than the
usual falsehood, that which everybody does say of only children, that he
was the finest baby that ever was seen.

We met almost every day. Mrs. Cameron was never weary of driving about
our beautiful lanes in her little pony-carriage, and usually called upon
us in her way home, we being not merely her oldest, but almost her only
friends; for lively and social as was her temper, there was a little
touch of shyness about her, which induced her rather to shun than to
covet the company of strangers. And indeed the cheerfulness of temper,
and activity of mind, which made her so charming an acquisition to a
small circle, rendered her independent of general society. Busy as a
bee, sportive as a butterfly, she passed the greater part of her time
in the open air, and having caught from me that very contagious and
engrossing passion, a love of floriculture, had actually undertaken
the operation of restoring the old garden at the Court--a coppice of
brambles, thistles, and weeds of every description, mixed with flowering
shrubs, and overgrown fruit-trees--to something like its original order.
The farmer, to be sure, had abandoned the job in despair, contenting
himself with growing his cabbages and potatoes in a field hard by. But
she was certain that she and her maid Martha, and the boy Bill, who
looked after her pony, would weed the paths, and fill the flower-borders
in no time. We should see; I had need take good care of my reputation,
for she meant her garden to beat mine.

What progress Helen and her forces, a shatter-brain boy who did not know
a violet from a nettle, and a London-bred girl who had hardly seen
a rose-bush in her life, would have made in clearing this forest of
underwood, might easily be foretold. Accident, however, that frequent
favourer of bold projects, came to her aid in the shape of a more
efficient coadjutor.

Late one evening the fair Helen arrived at our cottage with a face of
unwonted gravity. Mrs. Davies (her landlady) had used her very ill.
She had taken the west wing in total ignorance of there being other
apartments to let at the Court, or she would have secured them. And now
a new lodger had arrived, had actually taken possession of two rooms
in the centre of the house; and Martha, who had seen him, said he was a
young man, and a handsome man--and she herself a young woman unprotected
and alone!--It was awkward, very awkward! Was it not very awkward? What
was she to do?

Nothing could be done that night; so far was clear; but we praised her
prudence, promised to call at Upton the next day, and if necessary, to
speak to this new lodger, who might, after all, be no very formidable
person; and quite relieved by the vent which she had given to her
scruples, she departed in her usual good spirits.

Early the next morning she re-appeared. "She would not have the new
lodger disturbed for the world! He was a Pole. One doubtless of those
unfortunate exiles. He had told Mrs. Davies that he was a Polish
gentleman desirous chiefly of good air, cheapness, and retirement Beyond
a doubt he was one of those unhappy fugitives. He looked grave, and
pale, and thoughtful, quite like a hero of romance. Besides, he was the
very person who a week before had caught hold of the reins when that
little restive pony had taken fright at the baker's cart, and nearly
backed Bill and herself into the great gravel-pit on Lanton Common. Bill
had entirely lost all command over the pony, and but for the stranger's
presence of mind, she did not know what would have become of them.
Surely I must remember her telling me the circumstance? Besides, he was
unfortunate! He was poor! He was an exile! She would not be the means of
driving him from the asylum which he had chosen for all the world!--No!
not for all my geraniums!" an expression which is by no means the
anti-climax that it seems--for in the eyes of a florist, and that
florist an enthusiast and a woman, what is this rusty fusty dusty musty
bit of earth, called the world, compared to a stand of bright flowers?

And finding, upon inquiry, that M. Choynowski (so he called himself) had
brought a letter of recommendation from a respectable London tradesman,
and that there was every appearance of his being, as our fair young
friend had conjectured, a foreigner in distress, my father not only
agreed that it would be a cruel attempt to drive him from his new
home, (a piece of tyranny which, even in this land of freedom, might,
I suspect, have been managed in the form of an offer of double rent, by
that grand despot, money,) but resolved to offer the few attentions in
our poor power, to one whom every look and word proclaimed him to be, in
the largest sense of the word, a gentleman.

My father had seen him, not on his visit of inquiry, but on a few
days after, bill-hook in hand, hacking away manfully at the briers and
brambles of the garden. My first view of him was in a position even
less romantic, assisting a Belford tradesman to put up a stove in the
nursery.

One of Mrs. Cameron's few causes of complaint in her country lodgings
had been the tendency to smoke in that important apartment. We all know
that when those two subtle essences, smoke and wind, once come to do
battle in a wide, open chimney, the invisible agent is pretty sure to
have the best of the day, and to drive his vapoury enemy at full speed
before him. M. Choynowski, who by this time had established a gardening
acquaintance, not merely with Bill and Martha, but with their fair
mistress, happening to see her, one windy evening, in a paroxysm of
smoky distress, not merely recommended a stove, after the fashion of the
northern nations' notions, but immediately walked into Belford to give
his own orders to a respectable ironmonger; and they were in the very
act of erecting this admirable accessary to warmth and comfort (really
these words are synonymous) when I happened to call.

I could hardly have seen him under circumstances better calculated
to display his intelligence, his delicacy, or his good-breeding. The
patience, gentleness, and kind feeling, with which he contrived at once
to excuse and to remedy certain blunders made by the workmen in the
execution of his orders, and the clearness with which, in perfectly
correct and idiomatic English, slightly tinged with a foreign accent, he
explained the mechanical and scientific reasons for the construction
he had suggested, gave evidence at once of no common talent, and of a
considerate-ness and good-nature in its exercise more valuable than all
the talent in the world. If trifling and every-day occurrences afford,
as I believe they do, the surest and safest indications of character, we
could have no hesitation in pronouncing upon the amiable qualities of M.
Choynowski.

In person he was tall and graceful, and very noble-looking. His head
was particularly intellectual, and there was a calm sweetness about the
mouth that was singularly prepossessing. Helen had likened him to a hero
of romance. In my eyes he bore much more plainly the stamp of a man of
fashion--of that very highest fashion which is too refined for finery,
too full of self-respect for affectation. Simple, natural, mild,
and gracious, the gentle reserve of his manner added, under the
circumstances, to the interest which he inspired. Somewhat of that
reserve continued even after our acquaintance had ripened into intimacy.

He never spoke of his own past history, or future prospects, shunned
all political discourse, and was with difficulty drawn into conversation
upon the scenery and manners of the North of Europe. He seemed afraid of
the subject.

Upon general topics, whether of literature or art, he was remarkably
open and candid. He possessed in an eminent degree the talent of
acquiring languages for which his countrymen are distinguished, and had
made the best use of those keys of knowledge. I have never met with any
person whose mind was more richly cultivated, or who was more calculated
to adorn the highest station. And here he was wasting life in a secluded
village in a foreign country! What would become of him after his
present apparently slender resources should be exhausted, was painful
to imagine. The more painful, that the accidental discovery of the
direction of a letter had disclosed his former rank. It was part of an
envelope addressed, "A Monsieur Monsieur le Comte Choynowski," and left
as a mark in a book, all except the name being torn off. But the fact
needed no confirmation. All his habits and ways of thinking bore marks
of high station. What would become of him?

It was but too evident that another calamity was impending over the
unfortunate exile. Although most discreet in word and guarded in manner,
every action bespoke his devotion to his lovely fellow inmate. Her
wishes were his law. His attentions to her little boy were such as
young men rarely show to infants except for love of the mother; and the
garden, that garden abandoned since the memory of man, (for the Court,
previous to the arrival of the present tenant, had been for years
uninhabited,) was, under his exertions and superintendence, rapidly
assuming an aspect of luxuriance and order. It was not impossible but
Helen might realise her playful vaunt, and beat me in my own art after
all.

John (our gardening lad) was as near being jealous as possible, and,
considering the estimation in which John is known to hold our doings in
the flower way, such jealousy must be accepted as the most flattering
testimony to his rival's success. To go beyond our garden was, in John's
opinion, to be great indeed!

Every thought of the Count Choynowski was engrossed by the fair Helen;
and we saw with some anxiety that she in her turn was but too sensible
of his attentions, and that everything belonging to his country assumed
in her eyes an absorbing importance. She sent to London for all the
books that could be obtained respecting Poland; ordered all the journals
that interested themselves in that interesting though apparently
hopeless cause; turned liberal,--she who had been reared in the lap
of conservatism, and whom my father used laughingly to call the little
Tory;--turned Radical, turned Republican,--for she far out-soared the
moderate doctrines of whiggism in her political flights; denounced
the Emperor Nicholas as a tyrant; spoke of the Russians as a nation of
savages; and in spite of the evident uneasiness with which the Polish
exile listened to any allusion to the wrongs of his country, for he
never mingled in such discussions, omitted no opportunity of proving her
sympathy by declaiming with an animation and vehemence, as becoming
as anything so like scolding well could be, against the cruelty and
wickedness of the oppressors of that most unfortunate of nations.

It was clear that the peace of both was endangered, perhaps gone; and
that it had become the painful duty of friendship to awaken them from
their too bewitching dream.

We had made an excursion, on one sunny summer's day, as far as the
Everley Hills. Helen, always impassioned, had been wrought into a
passionate recollection of her own native country, by the sight of the
heather just bursting into its purple bloom; and M. Choynowski, usually
so self-possessed, had been betrayed into the expression of a kindred
feeling by the delicious odour of the fir plantations, which served to
transport him in imagination to the balm-breathing forests of the North.
This sympathy was a new, and a strong bond of union between two spirits
but too congenial; and I determined no longer to defer informing the
gentleman, in whose honour I placed the most implicit reliance, of the
peculiar position of our fair friend.

Detaining him, therefore, to coffee, (we had taken an early dinner in
the fir grove,) and suffering Helen to go home to her little boy,
I contrived, by leading the conversation to capricious wills, to
communicate to him, as if accidentally, the fact of her forfeiting her
whole income in the event of a second marriage.--He listened with grave
attention.

"Is she also deprived," inquired he, "of the guardianship of her
child?"

"No. But as the sum allowed for the maintenance is also to cease from
the day of her nuptials, and the money to accumulate until he is of age,
she would, by marrying a poor man, do irreparable injury to her son, by
cramping his education. It is a grievous restraint."

He made no answer. And after two or three attempts at conversation,
which his mind was too completely pre-occupied to sustain, he bade us
good-night, and returned to the Court. The next morning we heard that
he had left Upton and gone, they said, to Oxford. And I could not help
hoping that he had seen his danger, and would not return until the peril
was past.

I was mistaken. In two or three days he returned, exhibiting less
self-command than I had been led to anticipate. The fair lady, too, I
took occasion to remind of this terrible will, in hopes, since he would
not go, that she would have had the wisdom to have taken her departure.
No such thing; neither party would move a jot I might as well have
bestowed my counsel upon the two stone figures on the great gateway. And
heartily sorry, and a little angry, I resolved to let matters take their
own course.

Several weeks passed on, when one morning she came to me in the sweetest
confusion, the loveliest mixture of bashfulness and joy.

"He loves me!" she said; "he has told me that he loves me!"

"Well?"

"And I have referred him to you. That clause----"

"He already knows it." And then I told her, word for word, what had
passed.

"He knows of that clause, and he still wishes to marry me! He loves
me for myself! Loves me, knowing me to be a beggar! It is true, pure,
disinterested affection!"

"Beyond all doubt it is. And if you could live upon true love----"

"Oh, but where _that_ exists, and youth, and health, and strength, and
education, may we not be well content to try to earn a living together?
think of the happiness comprised in that word! I could give
lessons;--I am sure that I could. I would teach music, and drawing,
and dancing--anything for him! or we could keep a school here at
Upton--anywhere with him!"

"And I am to tell him this?"

"Not the words!" replied she, blushing like a rose at her own
earnestness; "not those words!"

Of course, it was not very long before M. le Comte made his appearance.

"God bless her, noble, generous creature!" cried he, when I had
fulfilled my commission. "God for ever bless her!"

"And you intend, then, to take her at her word, and set up school
together?" exclaimed I, a little provoked at his unscrupulous acceptance
of her proffered sacrifice. "You really intend to keep a lady's
boarding-school here at the Court?"

"I intend to take her at her word, most certainly," replied he, very
composedly; "but I should like to know, my good friend, what has put it
into her head, and into yours, that if Helen marries me she must needs
earn her own living? Suppose I should tell you," continued he, smiling,
"that my father, one of the richest of the Polish nobility, was a
favourite friend of the Emperor Alexander; that the Emperor Nicholas
continued to me the kindness which his brother had shown to my father,
and that I thought, as he had done, (gratitude and personal attachment
apart,) that I could better serve my country, and more effectually
ameliorate the condition of my tenants and vassals, by submitting to
the Russian government, than by a hopeless struggle for national
independence? Suppose that I were to confess, that chancing in the
course of a three-years' travel to walk through this pretty village
of yours, I saw Helen, and could not rest until I had seen more of
her;--supposing all this, would you pardon the deception, or rather the
allowing you to deceive yourselves? Oh, if you could but imagine how
delightful it is to a man, upon whom the humbling conviction has been
forced, that his society is courted and his alliance sought for the
accidents of rank and fortune, to feel that he is, for once in his life,
honestly liked, fervently loved for himself, such as he is, his own very
self,--if you could but fancy how proud he is of such friendship, how
happy in such love, you would pardon him, I am sure you would; you would
never have the heart to be angry. And now that the Imperial consent to
a foreign union--the gracious consent for which I so anxiously waited to
authorize my proposals--has at length arrived, do you think," added the
Count, with some seriousness, "that there is any chance of reconciling
this dear Helen to my august master? or will she still continue a
rebel?"

At this question, so gravely put, I laughed outright "Why really, my
dear Count, I cannot pretend to answer decidedly for the turn that
the affair might take; but my impression--to speak in that idiomatic
English, more racy than elegant, which you pique yourself upon
understanding--my full impression is, that Helen having for no reason
upon earth but her interest in you, _ratted_ from Conservatism to
Radicalism, will for the same cause lose no time in ratting back again.
A woman's politics, especially if she be a young woman, are generally
the result of feeling rather than of opinion, and our fair friend
strikes me as a most unlikely subject to form an exception to the rule.
However, if you doubt my authority in this matter, you have nothing to
do but to inquire at the fountain-head. There she sits, in the arbour.
Go and ask."

And before the words were well spoken, the lover, radiant with
happiness, was at the side of his beloved.





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