"Chapter X." 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.
AN EVENING AT NORBURY PARK
MRS. PHILLIPS, writing to her sister Fanny, remarks: "Friday, December 21, we dined at Norbury Park, and met our French friends."
We can imagine the company arriving on that Christmas evening at the beautiful mansion of Norbury, and fancy we see Mr. and Mrs. Lock receiving them in the great "Picture Room," whose decorated walls and ceiling would form a quaint background to such a scene. "The room," writes one of the artists who painted it long ago, "represents a bower or arbour admitting a fictitious sky through a large oval at the top, and covered at the angles with trellis-work, interwoven with honeysuckles, vines and clustering grapes. . . . The sides of the room are divided by eight painted pilasters appearing to support the trellis roof and open to four views. That towards the south is real - the other three (representing lakes and mountains) are artificial. [The sun is depicted as setting on the western side of the room] and [Page 97]
[Page 99] when," remarks the artist, with enthusiasm, "the natural hour corresponds with the hour represented, there is a coincidence of artificial and natural light, and all the landscapes both within and without the room appear illumined by the same sun."
"Dinner over, M. d'Arblay came in to coffee before the other gentlemen," writes Mrs. Phillips. "We had been talking of Madame de la Châtre and conjecturing conjectures about her sposo: we were all curious, and all inclined to imagine him old, ugly, proud, aristocratic - a kind of ancient and formal courtier, so we questioned M. d'Arblay, acknowledging our curiosity, and that we wished to know enfin, if M. de la Châtre was digne d'être l'épouse d'une personne si aimable et si charmante que Madame de la Châtre." He looked very drolly, scarce able to meet our eyes; but at last, as he is la franchise même, he answered: "M. de la Châtre is an excellent man - an excellent man; but he is brusque comme un cheval de carrosse."
"We were in the midst of our coffee when St. Jean came forward to M. de Narbonne and said somebody wanted to speak to him. He went out of the room; in two minutes he returned, followed by a gentleman in a great coat, whom we had never seen, and whom he introduced [Page 100] immediately to Mrs. Lock by the name of M. de la Châtre! The appearance of M. de la Châtre was something like a coup de théatre; for, despite our curiosity, I had no idea we should ever see him, thinking that nothing could detach him from the service of the French Princes.
"His abord and behaviour answered extremely well the idea M. d'Arblay had given us of him, who in the word brusque rather meant unpolished in manners than harsh in character.
"He is quite old enough to be father to Madame de la Châtre, and had he been presented to us as such, all our wonder would have been to see so little elegance in the parent of such a woman.
"After the first introduction was over, he turned his back to the fire, and began sans façon a most confidential discourse with M. de Narbonne. They had not met since the beginning of the Revolution, and, having been of very different parties, it was curious and pleasant to see them now, in their mutual misfortunes, meet en bons amis. They rallied each other sur leurs disgraces very good-humouredly and comically; and though poor M. de la Châtre had missed his wife by only one day, and his son by a few hours, nothing seemed to give him de l'humeur. He gave an account of his disastrous journey since he had quitted the Princes, who are themselves reduced to great distress and were unable to pay him his
[Page 101] arrears; he said he could not get a sous from France, nor had done for two years. All the money he had, with his papers and clothes, were contained in a little box, with which he had embarked in a small boat - I could not hear whence; but the weather was tempestuous, and he, with nearly all the passengers, landed and walked to the nearest town, leaving his box and two faithful servants (who had never, he said, quitted him since he left France) in the boat. He had scarce been an hour at the auberge when news was brought that the boat had sunk.
"At this M. de Narbonne threw himself on his seat, exclaiming against the hard fate which pursued all ses malheureux amis!
"'Wait a bit,' cried the good-humoured M. de la Châtre, 'I have not finished yet. We were informed that no one had perished and that even the contents of the vessel had been saved.'
"He said, however, that, being now in danger of falling into the hands of the French, he dared not stop for his box or servants; but, leaving a note of directions behind him, he proceeded incognito, and at length got on board a packet-boat bound for England, in which though he found several of his countrymen and old acquaintance, he dared not discover himself till they were en pleine mer.
"'And, you see,' he remarked, 'there is no end to my unlucky adventures; for the first thing I [Page 102] hear on my arrival at this place is that my wife left for France yesterday, and Alphonse this very day, and God knows if I shall see him again for forty years to come.'
"How very, very unfortunate! We were all truly sorry for him; however, he went on gaily enough, laughing at ses amis les constitutionnaires, and M. de Narbonne, with much more wit and not less good-humour, retorting back his raillery on the parti de Brunswick.
"'Eh bien,' said M. de la Châtre, 'each in his turn. You were the first to be ruined. You framed a constitution which could not hold water.'
"'Pardon me,' cried M. d'Arblay with quickness, 'it was never tried.'
"'Well, it was set aside all the same; there is no question about it now,' said M. de la Châtre; 'and there is nothing left for all of us to do but to starve merrily together.'
"M. de la Châtre mentioned the quinzaine in which the Princes' army had been paid up as the most wretched he had ever known. 'It was a time of grief, of suffering, and of despair, impossible for you to imagine. Of 22,000 men who formed the army of the emigrants, 16,000 were gentlemen - men of family and fortune, who were now, with their families, destitute.'"
This sudden disbanding took place upon the [Page 103]
[Page 105] retreat of the Duke of Brunswick before the victorious army of the Revolutionists. General Custine, who had seized Worms, Spire, Frankfurt, Wurtzberg, and Mayence, was threatening Coblentz. There Louis XVI.'s brothers were living in fancied security surrounded by their pigmy court - a court as full of etiquette and ceremonial as that of the Grand Monarque himself! When the news arrived of the invaders' approach a general flight commenced not only of the Princes and courtiers, but of all the inhabitants of those regions bordering the Rhine, and so thronged were the roads with carriages, horsemen, and waggons, that the whole route from Mayence to Cologne, we are told, resembled the busy thoroughfare of a city. The soldiers of the émigrés' army, repulsed on all sides, wandered from place to place begging their bread, while their officers were but little better off.
"M. de la Châtre mentioned two of the officers," continues Mrs. Phillips, "who had engaged themselves lately in some orchestra where they played first and second flute. 'They are the envy, I assure you, of the whole army,' said he, 'for, generally speaking, we soldiers can do nothing whatever but fight.'
"'The Princes,' he said, 'had been twice arrested for debt in different places - that they [Page 106] were now so reduced that they dined the Comte d'Artois, children, tutors, &c. - eight or nine persons in all - upon one single dish; and burnt de la chandelle parceque les bougies coutaient trop cher.'
". . . M. de Narbonne asked how he (M. de la Châtre) had been able to travel, since his money and clothes had been left behind.
"' Most fortunately,' he replied, 'I had my purse with me, but on reaching London I had to apply to a tailor for clothes, for I was informed at my inn that if I walked about in the suit I was then wearing, I should be a public laughing-stock.
"'Well, the tailor made me this waistcoat that you see, et ces culottes' (in a low voice, but laughing, to M. de Narbonne). They were, I must tell you, of the most common and cheap materials; but M. de Narbonne, interrupting him gravely but very good-naturedly, said, 'Eh bien, you can go anywhere as you are now. In this country people can go where they like in such an attire.'
"'You see this overcoat,' replied M. de la Châtre, who continued the whole evening in it, 'the tailor made it also. But as to my coat there was no time to make one as I could not wait longer (in London). He therefore lent me his own coat.'
"'What, the tailor?' [Page 107]
"'Yes, certainly - you see it is quite becoming.'
"There was something so frank and so good-humoured in all this that, added to the deplorable situation to which he was reduced, I could almost have cried, though it was impossible to forbear laughing."
Fanny Burney, from her home in Chelsea Hospital, was following the Mickleham émigrés with eager interest, an interest which she could not overcome, in spite of prejudices engendered by her life at Court, which made her suspicious of reformers as a class and inclined to believe that a king must always be in the right.
"Your French colonies," she writes, "are truly attractive. I am sure they must be so to have caught me so substantially, fundamentally, the foe of all their proceedings while in power. . de la Châtre has my whole heart. I am his friend, not only upon the pleas of compassion, but upon the firm basis of principle. My heart ached to read of his 22,000 fellow sufferers for loyalty. I like, too, his brusque and franc character.
. . . "Poor M. d'Arblay's belief in perpetual banishment is dreadful . . . . (His) speech should be translated and read to all English imitators of French reformers. What a picture of the now reformed! . . . I am glad M. d'Arblay has joined the set at Junipère."
1 Gilpin's "Observations on the Picturesque in Art."
1 See Daudet's "Histoire de l'Emigration."
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