Whitehall before the cobwebs.
I have long promised you, my dear grandchildren, to arrange my recollections of the eventful years that even your father can hardly remember. I shall be glad thus to draw closer the bonds between ourselves and the English kindred, whom I love so heartily, though I may never hope to see them in this world, far less the dear old home where I grew up.
For, as perhaps you have forgotten, I am an English woman by birth, having first seen the light at Walwyn House, in Dorsetshire. One brother had preceded me—my dear Eustace—and another brother, Berenger, and my little sister, Annora, followed me.
Our family had property both in England and in Picardy, and it was while attending to some business connected with the French estate that my father had fallen in love with a beautiful young widow, Madame la Baronne de Solivet (nee Cheverny), and had brought her home, in spite of the opposition of her relations. I cannot tell whether she were warmly welcomed at Walwyn Court by any one but the dear beautiful grandmother, a Frenchwoman herself, who was delighted again to hear her mother tongue, although she had suffered much among the Huguenots in her youth, when her husband was left for dead on the S. Barthelemi.
He, my grandfather, had long been dead, but I perfectly remember her. She used to give me a sugar-cake when I said ‘Bon soir, bonne maman,’ with the right accent, and no one made sugar-cake like hers. She always wore at her girdle a string of little yellow shells, which she desired to have buried with her. We children were never weary of hearing how they had been the only traces of her or of her daughter that her husband could find, when he came to the ruined city.
I could fill this book with her stories, but I must not linger over them; and indeed I heard no more after I was eight years old. Until that time my brother and I were left under her charge in the country, while my father and mother were at court. My mother was one of the Ladies of the Bedchamber of Queen Henrietta Maria, who had been enchanted to find in her a countrywoman, and of the same faith. I was likewise bred up in their Church, my mother having obtained the consent of my father, during a dangerous illness that followed my birth, but the other children were all brought up as Protestants. Indeed, no difference was made between Eustace and me when we were at Walwyn. Our grandmother taught us both alike to make the sign of the cross, and likewise to say our prayers and the catechism; and oh! we loved her very much.
Eustace once gave two black eyes to our rude cousin, Harry Merricourt, for laughing when he said no one was as beautiful as the Grandmother, and though I am an old woman myself, I think he was right. She was like a little fairy, upright and trim, with dark flashing eyes, that never forgot how to laugh, and snowy curls on her brow.