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A VILLAGE ROMANCE.
BY MISS MITFORD.
It was on a rainy day, late in last November, that Mrs. Villars came to take possession of her new residence, called the Lodge, a pretty house, situated within the boundaries of Oakhampstead Park, the pleasant demesne of her brother-in-law, Sir Arthur Villars, and generally appropriated to the use of some dowager of that ancient and wealthy race.
Mrs. Villars was an elderly lady, of moderate fortune, and excellent character. She was the widow of a dignified and richly-beneficed clergyman, who had been dead some years, and had left her with three promising sons and two pretty daughters, all of whom were now making their way in the world to her perfect satisfaction ;-the daughters happily and respectably married; the sons thriving in different professions; and all of them as widely scattered as the limits of our little island could well permit, so that their mother, disencumbered of the cares of her offspring, had nothing now to prevent her accepting Sir Arthur's kind offer, of leaving the great town in which she had hitherto resided, and coming to occupy the family-jointure house at Oakhampstead. To inhabit a mansion in which so many stately matrons of the house of Villars had lived and died, was a point of dignity no less than of economy; and beside, there was no resisting so excellent an opportunity of gratifying, amidst the good archdeacon's native shades, the taste for retirement and solitude, of which she had all her life been accustomed to talk. Talk, indeed, she did so very much of this taste, that shrewd observers somewhat questioned its existence, and were not a little astonished when, after dallying away the summer over take-leave visits, she and her whole establishment (two maids, a posy-chaise, a tabby-cat, and her scrub Joseph) left C., with its society and amusements, its morning calls and evening parties, for solitude and the Lodge.
Never was place or season better calculated to bring a lover of retirement to the test. Oakhampstead was situated in the most beautiful and least inhabited part of a thinly inhabited and beautiful county; the roads were execrable; the nearest post-town was seven miles off; the vicar was a bachelor of eighty; and the great house was shut up. There was not even one neighbour of decent station, to whom she might complain of the want of a neighbourhood. Poor Mrs.Villars! The last stroke, too,--the desertion of the park, - was an unexpected calamity; for, although she knew that Sir Arthur had
never resided there since the death of a most beloved daughter, after which event it had been entirely abandoned, except for a few weeks in the autumn, when his only son, Harry Villars, had been accustomed to visit it for the purpose of shooting, yet she had understood that this her favourite nephew was on the point of marriage with the beautiful heiress of General Egerton, and that this fine old seat was to form the future residence of the young couple. Something, she learned, had now occurred to prevent a union which, a few months ago, had seemed so desirable to all parties--some dispute between the fathers, originally trifling, but worked up into bitterness by the influence of temper;-and all preparations were stopped, Harry Villars gone abroad, and the great house as much shut up as ever. Poor Mrs. Villars, who, after all her praises of retirement, and her declared love of solitude, could not, with any consistency, run away from this “ Deserted Village,” was really as deserving of pity as any one guilty of harmless affectation well can be.
The good lady, however, was not wanting to herself in this emergency. She took cold, that she might summon an apothecary from the next town; and she caused her pigs to commit a trespass on the garden of a litigious farmer, that she might have an excuse for consulting the nearest attorney. Both resources failed. The medical man was one of eminent skill and high practice, whom nothing but real illness could allure into constant attendance ; and the lawyer was honest, and settled the affair
of the pigs at a single visit. All that either could do for her, was to enumerate two or three empty houses that might possibly be filled, and two or three people who would probably call when the roads became passable. So that poor Mrs. Villars, after vainly trying to fill up her vacant hours—alas! all her hours !—by superintending her own poultry yard, overlooking the village school, giving away flannel petticoats, and relieving half the old women in the parish, had very nearly made up her mind to find the Lodge disagree with her, and to return to her old quarters at C— , when the arrival of a fresh inmate at the next farm-house, gave an unexpected interest to her own situation.
Oakhampstead was, as I have said, a very beautiful spot. Its chief beauty consisted in a small lake or mere without the park, surrounded partly by pastoral meadow grounds, and partly by very wild and romantic woodland scenery, amongst which grew some of the noblest oaks in the kingdom. The water did not, perhaps, cover more than thirty acres ; although a length disproportioned to its breadth, a bend in the middle, and, above all, the infinite variety of its shores, indented with tiny bays and jutting out into mimic promontories, gave it an appearance of much greater extent. Rides and walks had formerly been cut around it; but these were now rude and overgrown, the rustic seats decayed and fallen, and the summer-houses covered with ivy and creeping plants. Since the absence of Sir Arthur, neglect had succeeded
to care ; but a poet or a painter would have felt that the scene had gained in picturesqueness what it had lost in ornament. A green boat, however, and a thatched boathouse still remained in excellent preservation, under the shadow of some magnificent elms; and the chimney of the boatman's cottage might just be seen peeping between the trees, over the high embankment which formed the head of the lake. The only other habitation visible from the water was an old farm-house, the abode of Farmer Ashton, whose wife, formerly the personal attendant of the late Lady Villars, had soon been found by her surviving relative to be by far the most conversable person in the place; and if the many demands on her attention, the care of men, maids, cows, calves, pigs, turkeys, geese, ducks, chickens, and children, would have allowed her to devote much time to that unfortunate lady, her society, would doubtless have proved a great solace and resource. But Mrs. Ashton, with all her desire to oblige Mrs. Villars, was enviably busy, and could only at short and distant intervals listen to, and, by listening, relieve the intolerable ennui of her seclusion.
Now, however, a fresh inmate had made her appearance at the farm : a young woman, whom Mrs. Ashton called Ellen, and introduced as her niece; who having much leisure (for apparently she did nothing in the family, but assist in the lighter needle-work), and evincing, as far as great modesty and diffidence would permit, her respectful sympathy with the involuntary recluse,