On this Monday of Pentecost 1828, all is calm is Nuremberg, where two cobblers are returning home, drunk from all the beer that they have consumed. At the precise moment when the bell of the old cathedral finishes ringing its five chimes, the two companions suddenly stop. In front of them, leaning against a house which is already in the shadow of the two cathedral towers, they can see a very strange creature… One of them, Weichmann, firstly asks himself if it is not an old mannequin that a junk collector has placed there to signal his business. The other, Beck, follows the person who is now dragging himself ahead of them, looking more and more tired. He catches up to him and sees a young man around fifteen, covered in mud, with bushy hair under his old flat hat, and wearing scarecrow clothes. When he sees the two men, he jumps and turns a bewildered face towards them. Moved, as much by the beer as by this spectacle, Beck asks the child if he is ill and where he comes from. His only answer is a painful sigh. Beck shakes him by the arm before thinking to search his pockets. He takes out a crushed letter which he holds out to Weichmann. It is addressed to Captain von Wessnich, Commander of the 4th Light Horse Squadron, at Nuremberg.
Beck asks whether the Captain is related to the boy and receives a grunt in reply. Weichmann is beginning to find this meeting a nuisance. Beck decides that they can’t leave the child there and proposes to take him to the officer’s home.
Only the Captain’s wife is at home. A good woman, who comforts the child, sits him down on a chair and asks him all sorts of questions… He endlessly replies in such strange German that the woman takes a long time to understand what he means:
“I want to be a cavalier.”
She renounces questioning him because he appears so tired, and gives him a piece of roast meat, with a glass of beer. The adolescent turns his head away in disgust. On the other hand, he accepts some dry bread and swallows several glasses of water.
It is clear to see that it is mostly sleep that he needs and Frau von Wessnich decides to take him to the stable. The child lets himself fall into the straw and immediately goes into a deep sleep.
The Captain soon returns home and reads the letter, which says this:
“Honoured Captain, I send you a boy who wants to serve the King in the Army. He was left at my home on 7 October 1812. I am only a working-man, employed by the day. I have ten children of my own; I have enough to do to raise them. The mother abandoned this child to me. But I don’t know who she was and I didn’t contact the Police; I raised him as a Christian. Since 1812, he has not been outside the house. No-one knows where he has been raised and he, himself, does not know the name of the town, nor where my house is; you can question him about it as much as you want, he will not be able to answer you. I taught him to read and write a bit, and when he is asked what he wants to do, he says that he wants to be a soldier like his father. I have taken him as far as Neumarkt; he has to make the rest of the way alone.
Good Captain, don’t beat him to make him say where he has come from, since he doesn’t know. I took him away at night, and he will not be able to find his way back, If you don’t want to keep him, you can kill him or hang him in your fireplace.”
A note written on the same type of paper, coming from the child’s mother, it says, indicates:
“The little one has been baptised under the name of Gaspard. Give him a Surname and deign to take care of him, whoever finds him. When he is seventeen, send him to Nuremberg, to the 6th Cavalry Regiment, his father was a soldier there. He was born on 30 April 1812. I am an unfortunate girl and cannot keep him. His father is dead.”
These letters, written in the same hand by someone who has made an awkward attempt at disguising his writing, seem to be fakes. The Captain, who doesn’t want to be taken advantage of, goes to shake the sleeper. Here is our vagabond at the Post of Police where he is again assailed with questions. Once more, he says his litany, then pulls his head into his oversized jacket, with an infinitely distressed air. He looks so pitiful that the public servants renounce tormenting him any more. One of them however slips a pencil into his hand. He is mocked by his colleagues who say that this miserable child can’t know how to write since he doesn’t even know how to speak!… We’ll see tomorrow! Just put the poor dog in one of the city’s towers and let him sleep!
But as soon as he sees the pencil, the child appears to be delighted. He takes it and slowly writes with great application these two words: Gaspard Hauser. It’s probably his name, decide the policemen, who notice that, although the letters are not well drawn, like those traced by children in kindergarten, the name is perfectly spelt. Unfortunately, Gaspard’s science stops there and, when he is asked to write also where he comes from, he mumbles lamentably.
What is Gaspard Hauser’s physical aspect? He is fairly tall, he has fine skin, a fair complexion, very blue eyes and his hair is so blond that it appears silvery. Above all, there is something in his allure that appears to be perplexity, hesitancy, constraint, as if he has just, at that moment, fallen from another planet…
To be continued.