"Chapter XXV." 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 ROYAL GUEST IN MICKLEHAM
DURING the summer of 1798 the d'Arblays received visits from some interesting French friends.
"M. la Jard," writes Fanny, "spent nearly a week with M. d'Arblay. He was Minister of War at the 10th of August, and his account of his endeavours to save the unhappy oppressed King on that fatal day by dissuading him from going to the cruel Assembly, and to defend himself in his palace, is truly afflictive." The King's decision made, it was La Jard who was deputed to conduct him in safety to the hall of the Assembly. He had already shown his devotion to Louis XVI., for on June 20, when the mob rushed into the royal apartments of the Tuileries, it was La Jard who, by placing the King in a recess in the wall and himself standing between him and the rioters, had saved his life.
"La Jard's own escape," continues Fanny, "was wonderful. He was concealed a fortnight [Page 248] in Paris. . . He had a principal command, before he was raised to the Ministry, in the National Guard under Lafayette and with M. d'Arblay.
"M. Bourdois also spent a week here twice. He was born and bred at Joigny, and therefore is dear to M. d'Arblay by earliest juvenile intimacy, though the gradations of opinions in the Revolution had separated them; for he remained in France when M. d'A. would serve there no longer. He became aide-de-camp to Dumourier, and is celebrated for his bravery at the battle of Jemappes. He is a very pleasant and obliging character, and dotingly fond of little Alex, from knowing and loving and honouring all his family; and this you will a little guess is something of an avenue to a certain urchin's madre. Besides, I like to see anybody who has seen Joigny."
M. d'Arblay was related to the family of Bourdois on his mother's side. He had an uncle of that name still living who was "inexpressibly dear to him," who had been "his guardian and was his best friend through life." But no relative bearing the name of d'Arblay now existed save "his own little English son."
"Before leaving," writes Fanny, "M. Bourdois brought hither M. le Comte de Riece, the officer whom M. d'Arblay immediately succeeded at [Page 249] Metz, and a gentleman in manners, deportment and speech, such as rarely is to be met with; elegantly polite and well-bred; serious even to sadness, and silent and reserved; yet seizing all attention by the peculiar interest of his manner.
"As soon as he entered our book-room, he exclaimed, 'Ah, de Narbonne!' looking at our drawing; and this led me to speak of that valued person, with whom I found he had always been much connected. He corresponds with him still, and [after speaking] of his hard fate and difficulties, told me he had some money of his still in his hands which Narbonne could call for at pleasure, but never demanded, though frequently reminded, of this little deposit. But when I mentioned this to M. d'Arblay, he said he fancied it was only money that M. de Riece insisted upon appropriating as a loan for him; for that De Riece who is [very rich] is the most benevolent of human beings and lives parsimoniously in every respect, to devote all beyond common comforts to suffering emigrants! . . . M. d'Arblay says he knows of great and incredible actions he has done in assisting his particular friends. I never saw a man who looked more like a chevalier of old times. He accompanied M. Bourdois here again when he came to take leave, and indeed they left us quite sad."
A family recently settled in West Humble, of [Page 250] the name of Dickinson, had called on the d'Arblays. "A gentleman, who seemed to belong to them," writes Fanny, "but whom we knew not, was yet more assiduous than themselves to make acquaintance here. He visited M. d'Arblay while working in his garden, brought him newspapers, gazettes extraordinary, political letters with recent intelligence, and exerted himself to be acceptable by intelligence as well as obligingness. M. d'Arblay, at length, one very bitterly cold morning, thought it incumbent upon him to invite his anonymous acquaintance into the house. He knew not how to name him, but, opening the door where I was waiting breakfast for him with Alex, he only pronounced my name. The gentleman, smilingly entering, said, 'I must announce mine myself, I believe - Mr. Strachan'; and we then found it was the printer to the King, who is Member of Parliament, son of the Andrew Strachan who was the friend of Johnson, and the principal printer of 'Camilla.'
"Much recollection of the many messages of business which had passed between us, while unknown, during the printing of that long work, made me smile also at his name, and we easily made acquaintance."
Fanny received news about this time that her sister Susan might possibly come over from Ireland, to pay a short visit to her family. The [Page 251] unsettled state of that country had long been causing them great anxiety on her behalf, and the joy of this intelligence was so overpowering "that I appeared," writes Fanny, "to my poor Alex, in deep grief from a powerful emotion of surprise and joy, which forced its way down my cheeks.
"The little creature, who was playing on the sofa, set up a loud cry, and instantly, with a desperate impulse, ran to me, darted up his little hands before I could imagine his design, and seized the letter with such violence that I must have torn it to have prevented him; then he flew with it to the sofa, and rumpling it up in his little hands, poked it under the cushions, and then resolutely sat down upon it . . . . He could not express himself better in words than by merely saying, 'I don't 'ike 'ou to 'ead a letter, mamma!' He had never happened to see me in tears before. Happy boy! - and oh, happy mother!"
* * * * *
And now, my beloved Susan," continues the writer, "I will sketch my last Court history of this year.
"The Princess Amelia, who had been extremely ill . . . of some complaint in her knee . . . was now returning from her sea-bathing at Worthing, and I heard from all around the neighbourhood that her Royal Highness was to rest and stop one [Page 252] night at Juniper Hall [Hill], whither she was to be attended by Mr. Keate the surgeon, and by Sir Lucas Pepys, who was her physician at Worthing."
The word "Hall" in the above letter is evidently a misprint. Juniper Hill was the house recently taken by Sir Lucas Pepys and his wife, Lady Rothes. It stands upon the slope of a hill, its grounds stretching down to Mickleham Church. Madame d'Arblay, in one of her letters, contrasts its prominent position in the landscape with that of the house formerly occupied by M. de Narbonne and his friends, which was sometimes, she says, called Juniper Hole from its standing in a hollow of the hills.
"I could not hear of the Princess approaching so near our habitation," continues Fanny, "and sleeping within sight of us, and be contented without an effort to see her . . . . So infinitely sweet that young love of a Princess always is to me, that I gathered courage to address a petition to her Majesty herself, through the medium of Miss Planta, for leave to pay my homage." A ready consent having been given a note was next despatched to Lady Rothes for her leave to pay the visit. "I intimated also," continues the writer, "my wish to bring my boy, not to be presented unless demanded, but to be put into some closet where he might be at hand in case of that honour."
Little Alex had already been presented to the Princess Amelia, as well as to the other members of the Royal family, when taken by his mother to the "Queen's house" in town. The child had been rather awed by the unusual surroundings of a palace, but his heart had gone out instantly to the sweet-looking young girl who had taken him in her arms and played with him, making him forget all his shyness.
"It was the 1st of December," writes Madame d'Arblay, "but a beautifully clear and fine day. I borrowed Mr. Lock's carriage. Sir Lucas came to us immediately, and ushered us to the breakfast-parlour, giving me the most cheering accounts of the recovery of the Princess. Here I was received by Lady Rothes."
In former times the approach to Juniper Hill was on what is now the garden side of the house. There, upon a broad terrace overlooking a wide view, stands a porch of classic design, supported by fluted columns and reached by a double flight of curving stone steps, once the main entrance. Here Fanny and her little son must have alighted.
After she had had some pleasant chat with former colleagues of the Court, who were now in attendance on the Princess Amelia, "Lady Albinia," she writes, "retired. But in a very few minutes returned and said, 'Her Royal Highness desires to see Madame d'Arblay and her little boy.' [Page 256]
"The Princess was seated on a sofa, in a French-grey riding-dress with pink lapels, her beautiful shining fair locks unornamented. Her breakfast was still before her and Mrs. Cheveley in waiting, She received me with the brightest smile, calling me up to her, and stopping my profound reverence by pouting out her sweet ruby lips for me to kiss."
We have sat in the very parlour where this meeting must have taken place. The room, with its delicate Adam decorations, its carved chimney-piece of coloured and white marble, and its tall arched and recessed windows, is unchanged by the passing of a century; and as there happened to be in this parlour a large old-fashioned leather-covered sofa, the whole scene rose before our eyes, and we seemed to see the girlish figure of the Princess, then just turned fifteen, seated upon it in her graceful riding attire.
"She desired me to come and sit by her," continues Fanny, "but I seemed not to hear her, and drew a chair at a little distance. 'No, no,' she cried, nodding, 'come here; come and sit by me here, my dear Madame d'Arblay!' [so] I seated myself on her sofa . . .
"Her attention was now turned to my Alex, who required not quite so much solicitation to take his part of the sofa. He came jumping and skipping up to her . . . with such gay and merry [Page 257] antics that it was impossible not to be diverted with so sudden a change from his composed and quiet behaviour in the other room. He seemed enchanted to see her again, and I was only alarmed lest he should skip upon her poor knee in his caressing agility.
". . . Lady Albinia soon after left the room, and the Princess, then, turning hastily and eagerly to me said: 'Now we are alone, do let me ask you one question, Madame d'Arblay. Are you - are you - [looking with strong expression to discover her answer] - writing anything?'
"I could not help laughing, but replied in the negative.
"'Upon your honour?' she cried earnestly, and looking disappointed. This was too hard an interrogatory for evasion, and I was forced to say - the truth - that I was about nothing I had yet fixed if or not I should ever finish, but that I was rarely without some project. This seemed to satisfy and please her."
Soon afterwards Madame d'Arblay and her little son withdrew.
'Camilla Cottage was being furnished by degrees and with as little expense as possible. Dr. Burney had offered to provide a carpet for the best parlour, and Fanny writes to him on September 1 (1801):
"The carpet! how kind a thought! Goodness [Page 258] me! as Lady Hales used to say, I don't know what for to do more and more! But a carpet we have - though not yet spread, as the chimney is unfinished, and room incomplete. Charles brought us the tapis - so that, in fact, we have yet bought nothing for our best room, and meant - for our own share - to buy a table . . . and if my dearest father will be so good - and so naughty at once, as to crown our salle d'audience with a gift we shall prize beyond all others, we can think only of a table. Not a dining one, but a sort of table for a little work and a few books en gala, without which a room looks always forlorn."
The Doctor now offered to present two small tables to the cottage. There is an unpublished letter from Fanny, preserved in the Burney family, respecting this gift, which we give here. It is dated West Humble, September 6, 1801:
"Magnificent, my dearest padre, quite magnificent, will be the two noble card-tables! I remember them perfectly . . . . They will do a thousand times better than any Tavolina . . . so if my beloved father can spare them, I know not any furniture I should like so well. We have two exact places for them - 'as natral as if they were alive' - on the two sides of our fine room; and if you will come and use them - not at whist though - what a pleasure to us! I think no room [Page 259] looks really comfortable, or even quite furnished, without two tables - one to keep the wall and take upon itself the dignity of a little tidyness, the other to stand here, there, and everywhere, and hold letters and make the agreeable.
"Last week we had a long and very social visit from the two Miss Berrys and their father, brought to us by Mr. and Mrs. William Lock. They were very lively, very cordial, and very agreeable, and renewed our former acquaintance with an earnestness of cultivating it in future that was flattering in the highest degree; pressing to see us both at Twickenham and in town, and obviating all maternal objections by assurances they had a bed just fitted for Alex.
"They inquired much after you and were very pleasant. I could not but recollect Lord Orford's speech when he first presented us to each other, which was at Lady Hesketh's: 'There!' said he, having named us, 'now I have put you together you can't help getting on.'"
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