The Baron de Geramb

The French obtain Geramb’s extradition from Denmark, and he is thrown into Hamburg Prison.  In five nights, he writes five memorandums to d’Aubignosc, the Regional Director of the Police.

Each memorandum is more violent than the preceding one, with the English being the objects of this violence.  His hate for Napoleon had been real, he explains, but it was only… disappointed love, and he now dreams only of serving him… with his 24,000… Cossacks!

D’Aubignosc, astounded, has him transferred to Paris where, closely guarded, he enters Widow Dupeyron’s maison de sante, which is a sort of pension house for big, recalcitrant children, with no authorised outings.

This place, which up until now has been completely unremarkable, quickly becomes the neighbourhood’s centre of attention.  When his companions in captivity refuse to sing Napoleon’s praises, he sends a large part of the furniture through the windows, and on one particular day, a celebratory fire that he has lit in the Emperor’s honour almost burns down the whole building.

From his prison, for it is a prison, he manages to make a great many acquaintances, and a painter even executes a portrait of him kneeling in the Tuileries asking Napoleon for Justice.  He dedicates it to Marie-Louise with a plea in his own hand written in…  eleven languages.

One day, Widow Dupeyron’s nerves snap, and that same evening he is thrown into a cell in the Vincennes donjon.  The shadow of these high walls then bathes him for long months.

In isolation, he knows nothing about the Malet conspiracy, the Russian campaign, or anything else which is happening in Europe.

Then, one night, there is a great upheaval in the donjon.  People are running, calling to each other.  The door to his cell opens and he is pushed into a fiacre with barred windows.  An elderly man, visibly deranged, is already there in the company of two gendarmes…  The one that he takes for a madman murmurs between two prayers:

“The Allies.  The Allies.  They are near.”

Both of them find themselves inside the lugubrious La Force Prison for another few weeks, and one fine day, all the doors open:  it is the end of the Empire.

For Geramb, it is the beginning of new problems for now he is homeless, in the streets of Paris.  Finished, desperate, penniless, to the point of having to contact the penitentary administration who had omitted to give him the last month of his political prisoner loan of one hundred and twenty francs.

For two years, his name is not heard.  As if the cold of his cell had frozen his petulance forever…

Then suddenly, he appears in a report from the Prefect of the Mayenne.  The Prefect has heard that a “certain Geramb”, former prisoner of the State, is in the service of the monks of the Port-Salut convent.  He, so reserved, so discrete, so quiet, has chosen to pursue his career with the Trappist monks.  It won’t be too long before he goes back to his usual habits.

On the wall of his cell, he paints a great skeleton with this written near it:

“Perhaps this night”

and a little lower this motto:

“Remain silent, suffer, and die.”

The Prior of Port-Salut tries in vain to moderate the ardour of the neophyte Brother Marie-Joseph.  As the convent is poor, he scours the surrounding castles where his success is prodigious.  He rhythms on the piano a waltz of louis which build up under his begging monk’s frock.  He dances, sings romantic songs, and draws tears from the bodies of the pretty ladies of the manor.  The story of his adventures particularly fascinates the most worldly, and he even applies himself to literature, in between the exercises of piety which appear sincere.  In 1835, he recounts his trip to Jerusalem in a book.  It becomes a best-seller.

All his gaiety has returned, tempered, however, by real apostolic zeal, which will not prevent Monsieur de Cheverus, who meets him at this epoch, from describing him like this:

“Try to imagine a powder keg under the hood of a Trappist monk.”

In 1837, he is in Rome, preceded by a flattering reputation:  all on his own, he has succeeded in amassing a fortune for the different convents which have welcomed him.

The Pope receives him, he seduces all of the great Vatican dignitaries.  One day, Gregory XVI exclaims seriously:

“We are two Popes now, Father Geramb, and myself!”

The Holy Father even gives him the responsibility of carrying a gold candle to Queen Amelie in France, on his behalf.  So, here he is in full Abbot costume, his floating mantel negligently passed over his shoulder, the short mitre on his head, climbing the staircase at the Tuileries.

Brother Marie-Joseph, Baron de Geramb

An engraved portrait of him circulates in Paris.  He is represented in a religious robe, with a long beard, partly bald head, his eyes, with little glasses, raised toward a crucifix.  His hand is placed on a skull.  Underneath, are the words:

“Great God, in the name of Jesus-Christ, misericord!”

This is the last tangible sign that he leagues to his contemporaries and to posterity.  This fabulous adventurer, who was considered the greatest talker in Europe, this giant of mysterious origins who lived adventures more astonishing than the heroes of Sue, of Balzac and of Alexandre Dumas, is soon completely silenced.

He dies in Rome, on 15 March 1848, the General Procurer of the Order of the Trappists, mourned by all the monks of silence.

***

Geramb’s successive disappearances, the relative poverty of the available documents, and in particular, the mystery of his origins, give a rather blurred image of him, which adds even more spice to his adventures.

***

He really did exist.  All sorts of documents emanating from the newspapers of the epoch, from national police archives, from the general biography of the clergy and from the national archives prove it.

***

To be continued.

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