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Country Lodgings
by [?]

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.