Synopsis of Country Neighbours , vols. 2 and 3 of Tales of Fancy (1816-20) by Sarah Harriet Burney; Claire Murley, May 1998
This tale, which takes up the last two volumes of this three volume set, is dedicated to Princess Elizabeth and contains references to other authors. On the title page there is a quote from Romeo and Juliet along with the alternative title of the novel, The Secret. Gray is quoted and his poetry is discussed by characters later in the novel, and there are several references to Shakespeare: volume three starts with a quotation from A Winter's Tale; one character reads The Merchant of Venice; and characters look at a painting of a scene from King John as another character reads the relevant passage. There is also a reference to the literary magazine, Edinburgh Review.
The novel itself opens with a narrator looking back at diaries she started writing as a sixteen year old. Now forty years old, she believes the arrival of her brother's daughter to stay is likely to make her keep a journal again. It begins with an account of what took place just before her niece arrived at Hazleford, Staffordshire, home of her father, Sir Geoffrey Stavordale; her mother; herself (Anne); and her two sisters.
A letter was delivered to the family from Anne's brother George in Florence telling them that he had a sixteen-year-old daughter, Blanch, whose mother had died and whom he wished to send to their care. Sir Geoffrey and Lady Stavordale were shocked, having not even known their son had married, but agreed to accept the girl. Also due to arrive in the neighbourhood were Sir Reginald Tourberville, owner of Eastvale; his sister, Viscountess Earlsford; her son, Lord Earlsford; and her son from her first marriage, Mr Tremayne.
Soon after Blanch arrived to stay at Hazleford, the family were invited to a dance at the house of Mrs Crosby. It was held in honour of Lord Earlsford, whom Mrs Crosby had once nursed through illness. With Lord Earlsford was his tutor, Mr Lloyd, and later Mr Tremayne and his friend Mr Westcroft arrived, to the delight of Anne's flirtatious sister Philippa.
One Sunday, Lady Stavordale, Blanch and Anne walked to Storriton to hear Lloyd's service. There was an elderly gentleman there whom they did not recognise. After the service, as they began to walk home in the rain, his carriage drew up and he offered them a lift. The stranger was Sir Reginald Tourberville.
At a dinner at Hazleford, Lady Earlsford and Sir Reginald, though siblings, did not appear to be close. Also there was Jane Tourberville, Sir Reginald's granddaughter, who was staying at Bovil Court, Lady Earlsford's home. The Stavordales noticed that Sir Reginald seemed to be fascinated with Blanch. The next day Mr Westercroft told them of Sir Reginald's sadness of not having a male heir to carry on the Tourberville name. His only surviving son was living in France and unlikely to return.
Anne and Blanch were by the river at Hazleford one day when Blanch noticed Tremayne about to cross a rotten bridge with his horse. She rowed quickly to him and rescued him after the bridge gave way and he fell into the water. Tremayne became ill from his dunking and stayed some days at Hazleford. One night, when Blanch was singing, he climbed from his bedroom to watch her. Anne suspected that he was pretending to Lady Earlsford that he was more ill than he was so he could stay near to Blanch.
Soon after he had returned to Bovil Court, Tremayne told Anne he wanted to marry Blanch, but that his mother wanted him to marry Jane. Sir Reginald was keen for him to marry Blanch, and told her that it did not matter that her mother's family were not of high birth. She was invited to spend a few days at Eastvale with Sir Reginald's other guests, Lady Horatia Tracy; her daughter, Helen; and her fiance, Lord Glenmore. At a dance, Blanch was pursued by Lord John Alcester, and Tremayne, being jealous, avoided speaking to her. Just as Anne had reconciled them, Tremayne was called away by the unexpected arrival of Charles Tourberville. Blanch returned to Hazleford where Helen became a frequent visitor, reporting that Charles Tourberville was ill and drinking heavily, and that Sir Reginald was very troubled.
Charles Tourberville's butler brought a letter to Clavering, the maid Blanch had brought from Italy. They spoke in Italian and Signor Antonio questioned her about some papers she had been given by George Stavordale to deliver to a lawyer in London. Clavering was suspicious and told him nothing.
After Jane Tourberville had agreed to marry Mr Lloyd, Tremayne and Blanch became engaged. On a visit to Eastvale, Blanch saw a portrait and exclaimed that the beautiful woman in it was her mother. Sir Reginald was shocked and told Blanch that her mother had brought shame upon his family and that he could never see her again.
Lady Horatia explained to Anne that eighteen years previously, Blanch's grandfather, an artist, had come to England and become friends with Sir Reginald, who fell in love with his daughter, Aurelia. In Windsor she had met his eldest son, Joscelin and they had fallen in love. Joscelin had been his father's favourite and Sir Reginald was enraged when he eloped to Italy with Aurelia. Charles Tourberville had deliberately contributed to his father's poor opinion of Aurelia, and Joscelin was killed at a young age in a duel with a friend of Charles.
Aurelia then married George Stavordale quickly, encouraging speculation about her character and whether she had legally been married to Joscelin. Although Tremayne still wanted to marry her, Blanch said she could not, as her background would always be questioned. Tremayne left for London, and Clavering discovered that the receipt for the papers she had left in London was missing and suspected Antonio of stealing it.
George then arrived unexpectedly at Hazleford with his new wife, a childhood friend of Anne's who had been widowed several years earlier. When George heard that they suspected the receipt had been stolen, he was very concerned and, after unsuccessfully trying to see Charles Touberville, he left for London. He returned with Tremayne, who had prevented Antonio from being able to obtain the papers from the lawyer, securing them himself.
The papers proved that Aurelia and Joscelin's marriage had been legal and that Joscelin was Blanch's real father. As he died, he had asked George to protect his wife and child. He sent proof of their marriage to Sir Reginald at the time, but this had been intercepted by Charles. George had taken in Blanch and her mother until her death, when he sent Blanch to Hazleford. Charles had known that Blanch was Joscelin's child and had returned to Eastvale planning to make sure her mother's identity was exposed to ruin her chances of inheriting. Blanch was reunited with Sir Reginald and now that her mother's name had been cleared, she married Tremayne..