Gaspard Hauser

On the following days, as Gaspard Hauser becomes accustomed to the little room that has been prepared for him in the West Tower, memories start coming back to him.

And these memories are quite astounding.

As far back as they go, they remind him only of the cold of an underground gaol lit by an inaccessible ventilation opening.  He still thinks to be wearing the short pants of humid leather that are never changed, to smell the straw of his plank bed, the roughness of which, through a simple unbleached shirt, has doubtless definitively curved his spine.  A basin, at the foot of his bed, mysteriously emptied at night, a jug of water and a piece of bread, are the only things that are familiar to this troglodyte.  And then there is the “Black Man” as he calls him, the Argus of his den, half torturer, half teacher, of whom he speaks in fear and who, in the last weeks of his reclusion, taught him to write his name and to mumble:  “I want to be a cavalier.”.  A few days before his liberation, he also taught him to walk, by pushing him and carrying him in his cavern.

Finally, on the Monday of Pentecost 1828, after having made him traverse a vast forest near Nuremberg, supporting him when he is too tired, the “Black Man” points to the faraway towers of the city, and says to him, before disappearing into the bushes:

“Go towards this great village.”

A few hours later, Gaspard comes across the two cobblers.

What do the good people of Nuremberg make of this extraordinary, romanesque story?

Most of them are convinced of its veracity, because of the impression of total frankness that its hero communicates.

Very few people who visit his room during the first months, to look at him as if he were a side-show in a fair, in an attempt to recognize him, have any doubts before his limpid eyes and that totally candid air.

The young man is given a sort of preceptor, the excellent Professor Daumer, in whose home he is soon placed, and the bourgmeister of the city, Herr Binder, goes to work with great generosity to facilitate anything that could contribute to the return of Gaspard to the society of men.  He has his theory on the child, assuring that he had been the victim of a kidnapping, and he sends out, urbi et orbi, notices to obtain information from all who have any knowledge of the kidnapping of a baby between 1810 and 1814.

He receives a pile of letters,  messages, testimonies, which suscitate a lot of others.  The progress of Gaspard, who now speaks fluently, and even prettily plays the clavecin, exacerbates the interest of the scholarly and grand worlds, which are sorting through the Gotha, hunting for an imitator of Louis XVII who could perhaps be “Europe’s orphan”.  Which is what the journalists and shopkeepers of the old continent are now calling him.

For, with the favourable conclusions of Feuerbach, President of the Royal Court of Justice and the most eminent criminologist of his time, along with the request from a great English aristocrat, Lord Stanhope, who wants to take Gaspard to England to give him a princely education, there are now, throughout Europe, innumerable subscribers to gazettes whom the story of Gaspard Hauser deeply moves.

Two years go by in this way, which the civilized world of the time uses to embroider on the myth of the good savage, incarnated by Gaspard.

Gaspard Hauser

The inhabitants of Nuremberg have become gradually used to the young man’s presence.  He is a model young man, discrete, affable and rather solitary.  His days are spent in outings to the city’s Orangerie, in philosophical conversations with Pastor Fuhrmann, in diverse reading, thanks to which he avidly reconstitutes this world which was missing to him for such a long time.

And then, one evening, he who is so punctual, is late for dinner.

Anguish takes hold of his tutor who starts to search for him in the garden and the surrounding streets.  Finally, he is discovered, lying on the last steps of the cellar.  He has a big wound on his forehead.

While he is being transported onto a bed, he regains consciousness and murmurs:

“The Black Man…  The Black Man…  the chimneysweep…”

Gaspard has been aggressed by a mysterious man, dressed in a black cape.  He saw his face in black too and that is why he thought he recognized a chimneysweep.

The “Black Man” had told him that he had to die, before hitting him.

News of the attempted murder spreads throughout Nuremberg and, from there, throughout the whole kingdom.

President Feuerbach exults and, before the ampleur of the controversy, Louis I of Bavaria, himself, orders an investigation with 500 florins reward “to whomever would provide information, a simple clue”.

Gaspard’s wound is not very serious.  Some therefore conclude that he is only a simulator…

Why this interest from the King, himself, in an affair which is, after all, a simple Police matter?

Of course, there is talk about an exceptional incident which has overflowed Bavaria’s borders.

There are also stories, and even a solidly argued thesis now, about Gaspard’s princely origin…  The great Feuerbach is the most zealous defender of this thesis, which the aggression by the “Black Man” permits to establish, according to him, more solidly than ever…

***

Stephanie de Beauharnais, first cousin once removed of Empress Josephine, adopted daughter of Napoleon, and wife of the Grand Duke Karl-Louis of Bade.

Stephanie de Beauharnais came into the world as, in Paris, the walls of the Bastille are collapsing.  The daughter of a first cousin to General de Beauharnais, Empress Josephine’s first husband, her early childhood is filled with flights and privations.

When Napoleon, on the eve of mounting the throne, learns of the existence of this cousin who is living obscurely, he becomes indignant and decides to adopt her as his daughter.

Soon she is a Highness, ranked above all the other Princesses, and even above Napoleon’s sisters.  The Emperor, putting in place a matrimonial politic which had so well succeeded with other sovereigns, intends to see her marry the Crown Prince of Bade.

He so wants her to sit on this throne that, when his nieces bully the young girl about etiquette, he sits her on his knee, telling her in front of the entourage:

“Come!  No-one will make you get up from here!…”

What a disappointment when the fiance appears at Court!

Karl-Louis of Bade has a rather ungracious face and, as well, he is not at all fashionably dressed.

With his powders and his long wig a marteaux, he looks as if he has escaped from the Old Regime.  And sad-faced as well.

He agrees to have his hair cut like Napoleon’s hussards.  Stephanie finds him even uglier.

The mariage takes place with a pomp which has to surpass, the Emperor says, that of the kings, and soon, pretty Stephanie enters the Grand-Ducal Palace of Karlsruhe – four hundred bedrooms lined up under the lugubrious Lead Tower, a poor man’s Versailles, with even less comfort – and what plotting goes on there!

***

To be continued.

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