"Chapter I." by Constance Hill
From: Juniper Hall: A Rendevous of Certain Illustrious Personages during the French Revolution Including Alexandre D'Arblay and Fanny Burney by Constance Hill. London & New York: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1904.
A PASTORAL PRELUDE
IT is a summer's afternoon. A Surrey valley lies before us, silent in the warm, sleepy sunshine. A lark is singing over head, and the air is filled with the scent of hay. The lazy Mole winds slowly beneath its vault of spreading boughs and its fringe of white hemlock and red campion. Above the river rise the wooded slopes of Norbury Park, while, on the further side of the valley, towers Box Hill, its patches of chalky cliff catching the rays of the western sun.
In old times the pilgrims, on their way to Canterbury, trod this ground. They came over the North Downs, and, descending into the valley through a dip in the hills, crossed the Mole by a foot-bridge which bore the name of Pray-bridge. A field hard by is still known as Pray-meadow. The ruins of a chapel, on the slope of the Downs, mark the pilgrims' halting-station, and give the names to Chapel Lane and Chapel Croft.
We fancy we see the long motley procession, [Page 2] with its pack-horses and mules, slowly moving across the valley and ascending the hill on the
further side. As the pilgrims pass out of sight, another vision arises, and we see here, in this same valley among its green lanes and sunny pastures, foreign faces and foreign figures, and we [Page 3] listen to a foreign tongue! Who can these strangers be? Their rapid utterance and eager gesticulations, combined with their airs of courtly elegance, can surely belong to but one nation? Yes, they are French; but what has brought them to our shores?
A great turmoil is surging beyond the Channel; the French Revolution, so nobly begun, has now entered upon its dark and tragic stage and all good men and true, thrust out of power, are being hunted down like wild beasts. It is some of these very persons who, just escaped from the guillotine, have sought safety and shelter in our peaceful valley - and, as our eyes rest upon the woods of Norbury Park, we rejoice to think of the hearty welcome given by its owner to these strangers. We think, too, of the no less hearty welcome given by the dwellers in a modest cottage at the foot of that park - the near relatives of our authoress, Fanny Burney.
It is a circumstance to strike the imagination - this little colony of émigrés, with their high sounding names, famous as statesmen, as orators, or as writers - dropped down, as if from the skies, on to this quiet country side! We seem to hear the echo of their brilliant talk, coming across a space of more than a hundred years. We catch the words of eloquence of Madame de Staël and the cynical jests of Talleyrand, and can distinguish [Page 4] the voices of Narbonne and of Matthieu de Montmorenci, of Malouet, of Jaucourt, of Lally-Tollendal, of the Princesse d'Hénin, of Madame de Broglie, of Madame de la Châtre, of Girardin and of General d'Arblay.
Let us approach nearer to this goodly company - we have the means of doing so - and can meet them both in France and in England in spite of the intervening century.
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