Category: children


He was the runt of the litter.   His mother was a beauty queen with many prizes to her credit.

She had not been an enthusiastic participant in her mating with a much older dog at a distant kennel.  Her resentment had grown during her pregnancy and her owners had watched her very carefully during the whelping.  It was feared that she might decide to devour her puppies.

The thought might have crossed her mind, but she chose to just glare balefully at any human who came into sight.  Humans had betrayed her.  She, a prizewinning pedigree Pekinese bitch, who could trace her ancestors back to intimate companions to emperors, some of whom had even been suckled by the aristocratic ladies of the Court, had been humiliated.

She had been taken away from her territory, dumped unceremoniously into a strange room, and before she had had time to adjust to her new surroundings, That Dog had invaded her space.  And her person.  She had tried to refuse, both haughtily and very firmly, but it was his territory, so she had had to submit.  She could have fought him, but she was too frightened.  And bewildered.  Why had her humans done this to her?

The smell of him had lingered, even after her next shampoo.  It came back in waves.  Even now, after the birth of her puppies, she could still smell him.  Then there was The Runt.

He was much smaller than the others and she just knew that there was something wrong with him.  It wasn’t his size, nor the fact that his nose jutted out slightly – a hideous fault, which certainly didn’t come from her side.  (There was obviously bad blood in That Dog.)  It was something more subtle.  She couldn’t quite put her paw on it, but she knew that he shouldn’t be encouraged to live.

She tried to prevent him suckling.  Somehow, he managed to sneak to a teat while, exhausted, she was taking a well-earned nap.

After the puppies’ eyes had opened, humans started to visit the new mother.  They ooh-ed and ah-ed over the puppies – and ignored her completely.

Before her maternity, she had been the kennel’s star attraction.  Torn between indignation at being ignored and maternal pride, she decided that it was time to examine The Runt’s case more closely.

Apart from The Nose, everything about him was perfect show material.  His legs were beautifully bowed, his eyes bulged as they should, his socks were just the right height, his rusty markings were beautiful, his tail curled as it ought.  He was small of course, but the unavoidable defect was indubitably those few millimetres of Nose.  The perfect Pekinese nose is flat against the face, and this one wasn’t.

However, it wasn’t his physical appearance that repelled her.  It was something else.  A feeling.  He had to go.

She tried suffocation.  Pekinese jaws open to a surprising (and often very frightening) size.  She wrapped them around the runt’s neck and held her mouth shut.  She didn’t try to bite.  She just waited.  A kennel maid saw her and, with much shrieking, alerted the owners.  The Runt was removed from her jaws and she was accused of trying to bite off his head.  Which was quite untrue.  The time for eating him would have been at his birth.  It was much too late now.

She made a second attempt at suffocation a few days later, but was again thwarted.  After that, she was constantly watched, so she gave up trying to rid the world of her defective offspring.

***

My parents visited the kennel and were introduced to the now weaned Runt.  He had a very aristocratic pedigree name, but Daddy christened him Cheng with an acute accent on the “e”.  I don’t know why.  Was he trying to make the name sound French?  If so, why?  I don’t even know why he chose a Pekinese.  The only possible reason which comes to mind is that our next-door neighbours had a Pekinese.  An affable gentleman whose bulging eyes became completely blind and were further damaged by the poor old thing constantly running into things while roaring around the yard.  He was eventually helped to a merciful end.  However, when Cheng arrived home, our canine neighbour could still see and was very interested in the puppy next-door.

***

Cheng had been in our home for a few days and was poking his head into every cupboard he could reach, as soon as it was opened.  Mummy was kneeling in front of the open saucepan cupboard and Cheng’s head was inside.  Mummy sneezed.  The sound echoed through the cupboard and Cheng screeched, shot across the room, and cowered up against the wall, near the back door.  He was in the corner sitting on his backside with his front paws pawing the air.  Later, Mummy taught him to “clap hands” while in this position – a variation on this first pawing of the air.   However, he avoided going near the open saucepan cupboard again.

***

Cheng once appeared in a play.  I don’t remember the name of it, but the lady who carried him onstage (he was playing her lap-dog) was Miss Lorna Taylor.  I called her Auntie Lorna because, in our family, children did not address adults by their first names.  It was disrespectful.  Close family friends were given the honorary title of “aunt” or “uncle”.  Everyone else was Mr, Mrs or Miss.  We didn’t know any Lords, Ladies or knights at the time.

Cheng was usually taken home after his last scene in the play.  However, on the last night, he was allowed to take his curtain call with the rest of the cast.  Auntie Lorna carried him onstage and the audience applauded – and so did Cheng.  He sat up in Auntie Lorna’s arms and “clapped hands” with all his might.  The audience went wild.  It was his greatest moment.  He quite stole the curtain call from the other actors.

***

Cheng was my first dog and I loved him.  After a few years, he started biting anyone who entered his yard, including me.  He would come roaring down from the other end and fasten his teeth onto my calf.  I would drag him along with me as I walked.  Mummy was worried about it but, after he bit my face, his days with us were numbered.

For some time, he had been refusing to allow anyone to groom him and his long fur was matted.  We had bite marks on our hands from our attempts to even cut out some of the knots.

One day, I came home from school to find my mother in tears.  She had called the R.S.P.C.A. to take him away.  I thought that I would never forgive her.

She told me that, when the people had come for him, he had sat up and “clapped hands” for them.  The lady had said to Mummy, “How can you bear to part with him?”  Mummy had explained about the biting and refusal of grooming and recommended that they find a home for him without children.

***

It has been suggested that he might have suffered brain damage when his mother was trying to destroy him.  I now think that he could have been missing performing and was depressive.

***

I don’t know where he went.  I never saw him again.

I remember there being a photo of him onstage during his curtain call.  The photo was taken from the wings.  However, I haven’t been able to find it, and I don’t remember any other photos of him.

***

Charles IX of France.

In Spring 1574, there is plotting everywhere and the troubles which are shaking the kingdom demand an urgent solution for the future.  What is going to happen to the young monarch?  Will his mother, Catherine de Medicis, renounce all authority over the kingdom?

Cosme Ruggieri, the Queen Mother’s astrologist, convinces her, for whom her dynasty’s interests pass before all else, to hold the darkest of ceremonies of divination, the ceremony of the talking head…

On the night of 28 May 1574, we are at Vincennes inside one of the castle’s nine towers, the one still called today the Devil’s Tower.  The Queen Mother is there, with two of her inner circle and her son who, breathless, is shivering with fever and can barely stand.  An altar has been erected and is covered in a black cloth.  A statue, draped in a triple black veil, represents the Mother of the Shadows, the goddess of suicides and madness, the divinity for whom the Mass is to be served.

Catherine de Medicis.

Candles, also black, light this altar on which there is placed an ebony chalice, filled with coagulated blood and two communion wafers, one white, the other black.  The man who is going to say this Mass is an apostate monk, converted to magic…

Into the middle of this lugubrious meeting a little boy of ten advances.  He is a kidnapped Jewish child who has been prepared for a long time for this communion.  He has been dressed in a white gown, is as beautiful as he is innocent and is waiting to receive God.  The magician begins the service by planting on the altar a long dagger, the handle of which represents a snake, then he recites invocations to the Virgin, launches anathemae to the God of the Christians, and consecrates the wafers to Satan.  The child, who doesn’t know what is happening, joins his hands and closes his eyes to receive the white wafer on his tongue.  But he has barely taken  communion than one of the infernal priest’s assistants plunges a dagger into his neck.  Then it is the dull clang of a sword which rings on the altar stone:  the child has just been decapitated and the magician brandishes this poor, little, innocent head and places it on the black wafer in a big, silver paten…

Bewitchment seance organized before Catherine de Medicis by Cosme Ruggieri.

The young sovereign has been forewarned.  It is at this precise instant that he must lean over and ask the head a question.  The head would answer him, and reveal all the future to him.

Trembling, this unnatural Prince approaches and asks his question in an unintelligible voice.  They wait.  Appalling silence.  Finally, a sigh escapes the child’s dead lips and they think that they hear that this sigh signifies:

“I am forced to do it!…  I am forced to do it!”

That is all.  Then the sound of a body falling.  It is the King, already agonizing, who has just fainted.  Salts are applied and he is brought to his senses.  He struggles and lets out appalling screams:

“Take that thing away from me!  Take that thing away from me!… “

He is rushed back to his bedchamber.  He is now delirious, he sees blood everywhere, he is sinking into a river of blood.  He spends the next two days like this in terror and hallucinations then dies on 30 May.  He was barely twenty-five years old.  At the autopsy, it is seen that his heart was all shrivelled, as if it had been exposed for a long time to fire…

***

This is a true story.  The bronze bewitchment was reported by the Spanish Ambassador to France, Don Francis of Avala, who on 8 June 1569 told the story to Phillip II, with the precision that “every day, the Italian watches the nativity of the three persons and his astrolabe, then tightens and loosens  the screws”

As for the Mass of the decapitated head, it was related in detail by the great jurist Jean Bodin, the author of La Republique and founder of modern Economics.  He was also the Secretary of the Duke of Anjou, Catherine de Medicis’ last son, therefore well-placed to know about it.  Jean Bodin had only one fault:  he absolutely believed in witches and recommended that the most rigorous punishments be meted out to them…

***

The Saint-Barthelemy Massacre was basically only a big, ritual sacrifice.

Stories of talking heads have always been part of the florilege of magical beliefs, although we don’t know their origin.  It is also known that Gerbert, the Pope of the year 1000, was reputed to have built a talking head, which had the gift of revealing the future.  But this was, of course, only a legend founded on this pontiff’s vast knowledge in Astronomy and Mathematics.  In the XIIIth Century, Albert the Great is said to have also had such a head as well as an automaton, capable, it was believed, of human behaviour.  This belief was also part of the bewitchments of the Middle Ages and has its origin in the immense scientific knowledge of Albert, to whom Chemistry owes discoveries of the greatest importance:  gold refining, the treatment of sulphur, the action of acids on metals, etc.  Like Gerbert, he passed for a wizard and the confusion that was made at the time between science and magic also explains that were attributed to him the paternity of the Grand and the Petit Albert, the collections of popular magic, the success of which persisted , in the Occident, for half a millenium.

***

To conciliate evil powers, Catherine de Medicis wore permanently at her neck a big talisman made from human blood, billy-goat blood and metal which had been melted during a favorable astral conjunction.  She lived surrounded by magi, deviners and astrologists, and it is on Ruggieri’s indications that she had built in the Soissons hotel an octogonal tower orientated on the cardinal points, whence her favorite magician could observe the stars and do his horoscopes.  A column of this still exists, nearly thirty metres high, included in the walls of what is today the Bourse de Commerce in Paris…

***

Catherine de Medicis permanently wore this cabalistic talisman made from human and billy-goat blood.

Ruggieri would survive almost thirty years longer than Catherine de Medicis and would remain the unmoveable oracle of several great princes of the kingdom.  Charles IX’s brother, Henri III, also given to black magic, would use him to send spells to the ligueurs and their chiefs, the Guises.  Not without success, since the two most illustrious representatives of this Roman Catholic family, for a long time more powerful than the kings of France, are assassinated, at the end of numerous acts of bewitchment.  The Guises returned the favour:  every day, the faithful were ordered to Notre-Dame to pierce wax effigies representing the royal family, there…  Henri III had brought from Spain at great expense all the grimoires of magic which are in fashion at Phillip II’s Court…  to make counter-spells!

The whole of France would believe that the regicide dagger which killed him in 1589 had been placed in Jacques Clement’s hand by larvae, magically formed during hate ceremonies.

***

Hate ceremonies are one of the essential ingredients of black magic, the final goal of which is vengeance, the awakening of interior negative powers, with their cortege of unhealthy desires, as opposed to white magic, of which the aim is to heal and to uncover secrets which can transform life in a positive manner.

***

Ruggieri was to be found at the side of Concini and Marie de Medicis, after the assassination of Henri IV, who didn’t much like his magic which he called “effeminate foolishness”…  To Concini who would occultly govern France for three years, he taught magic and was even more popular at Court after he predicted Henri IV’s assassination, having already tried to bewitch him.  Implicated in a witchcraft trial, he once more survived, but was very wary from then on and would live from the sale of almanachs which were very popular with the little people, who were superstitious.  He wrote them under the name of  “Querberus”.

Finally, he died very old, and despite the insistence of his protector Concini, the Archbishop of Paris refused him a christian burial, having his body thrown into the road.  The wise man didn’t care anyway, for he believed in neither God nor the devil but only, as the good Florentine that he was, in the power of the greats, and in daggers and poison.

***

Ruggieri was the standard-bearer of that generation of clever adventurers who appeared in France, destabilized by the Wars of Religion.  But more than his magic, it was his intelligence and his strength of character, without counting his absolute cynicism, to which he owed his career.  More than any other, he was able to make his own these words from the frightening Leonora Galigai, Concini’s wife, who at the moment of being condemned to death, declared proudly to the judge:

“My spells were the power that strong souls have over weak souls!”…

***

Heather, aged 15, with her 13 year old sister.

Auntie Heather was born on 6 October 1918.  Her mother and father, my grandparents, had been courting for six years when they finally married on 5 January 1918.  This was because Pa (short for Papa, later for Grandpa) refused to marry while the other men were away at war.

Grandma had very nearly stood him up on their first “appointment” as she called their dates.  She had confided to a work colleague that she wasn’t really attracted to him and thought that she wouldn’t go.  Her colleague had encouraged her to meet him, saying “You never know, you might like him.”  Much later, she had confessed this hesitation to her husband, who had replied, “I knew where you lived!”

During the First World War, Australia’s soldiers were all volunteers.  Pa had volunteered but, although he passed muster on height and chest measurement, his request had been refused.  He wouldn’t say why.  Later, when the War dragged on and thousands of men were being killed or wounded, height and chest measurements were lowered and Pa thought that he might be accepted this time.  He was refused for the second time.  Grandma used to say that men who had volunteered and been refused should have been given some sort of badge to wear so that they didn’t receive dirty looks from passers-by in the street.  Pa played sport and looked like a strapping young man who just didn’t want to go to war.  After his death, Grandma found his application papers with CARDIAC written across them in red.

Heather at the beach.

So Grandma, who, at the age of sixteen had refused her first offer of marriage, finally had to wait until she was twenty-nine before being able to tie the knot.  Pa was thirty-five.

Their first child was born nine months and one day after the wedding, at home with the assistance of a midwife.  Grandma’s pregnancy had been a bit rough and so had the birth, but mother and daughter were doing well, even if both were very tired after the ordeal.  Grandma managed to say to the midwife, “I just saved my good name!”  To which the midwife snapped, “You would have saved your good name if she had been born three weeks ago!”

While Grandma was still weak, one of her husband’s aunts paid her a visit and enquired about the baby’s name.  Grandma replied that she was to be christened “Brenda”.  The aunt exclaimed, “Brenda!  Brenda!  Brindle!  Brindle cow!  If you call her Brenda, I’ll call her ‘Cowie'”  So Grandma, in her weakened state, agreed to change the name, and my aunt was named Heather Catherine.  Relatives sent white heather to her from Scotland the Brave.

Heather with her future husband.

When Grandma had recovered sufficiently to go for a walk with her baby in the perambulator (later shortened to “pram”) “an old biddy up the street” (Grandma’s words)  admired the little one, then proceeded to say insinuatingly, “My daughter had her baby one year after her wedding!”  Grandma rose to her full height of five feet two inches and replied icily, “Well, my daughter was born nine months and one day after my wedding!”  Put that in your pipe and smoke it!

The little girl had her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes but her features were those of her father.  Later, a dark-haired hazel-green eyed sister came along and Pa, who would have loved to have fathered a son, refused to allow Grandma to risk her life a third time to try to have a boy.

Heather with her father and mother on her wedding day.

The girls grew up in a two-bedroom brick house, with a dog and an enormous aviary in the backyard.  The birds were Pa’s but the dog was everyone’s.  She was a black Pomeranian who loved to taunt the biggest dogs she could find on her walks, then, when chased by them, leap into Grandma’s arms and let her deal with them.  Grandma was not amused by this.  She wasn’t afraid of dogs, but an angry German Shepherd, still being insulted by the black curly bundle in her arms, was not a reassuring encounter.

The girls shared a bedroom and this arrangement displayed its limitations when the younger of the two went into a depression (known as a nervous breakdown then) and piled all the blame for her state on her sister Heather, who was twenty years old at the time.  Not only did young Heather have to assume the burden of her mentally ill sister at this time, the antagonism lasted for the rest of their lives.  Her sister continued to systematically blame her for everything that had gone wrong with her life and eventually stopped talking to her.  At the same time she did everything that she could to try to turn the rest of the family against her.  Fortunately, not always successfully.  Auntie Heather maintained a dignified silence through it all.

The family (left to right) Heather’s sister (my mother), me at 14, Grandma, Heather’s husband, her daughter at 10, and Heather.

Despite these problems, which hadn’t yet reached complete maturity when I was born, Auntie Heather became one of my godmothers.  She was consulted, including by her sister, my mother, for questions concerning the correct way to dress for a particular event.  The sisters even collaborated as a medical first-aid team during the Second World War.  Auntie Heather always knew what the text-book said to do and my mother always knew how to do it.  Things didn’t go as well when they tried to reverse the roles.  The whole family was on first-aid alert duty on the night that the Japanese attacked Sydney Harbour.  The siren was at the end of the street, a few houses away.  On the bus, on their way to work the next morning, the girls thought that people were joking when they heard them talking about the attack and the siren going off.  They had slept through the whole thing and could have been fined for it.

Same people, different places. We’re all a bit older.

Auntie Heather was the matriarch of the family.  She outlived her parents, her younger sister, her husband (a high-ranking Free Mason) and her only child, my cousin.  She died last Friday, 29 June, and will be cremated tomorrow, 4 July 2012, in Sydney.

She is survived by her four grandchildren and her son-in-law, but I am the only one left who knew her when she was a young woman.  Which is why I have written this.  All of the people in these photos, except for me, are now deceased.

It’s Friday again, and 100-word fiction time.  The link to Madison’s page for her story is here:

http://madison-woods.com/flash-fiction/forbidden-100-words/

All of the other stories can be found by clicking onto the number next to the funny little blue creature at the bottom of this post.

The picture and my story are here:

“Ouch!  Mu-um!”

“Come along, Moira!  Keep up!”

“I can’t!  They keep grabbing me!”

“What keep grabbing you?”

“The brambles!”

Jennifer sighed.  Teenagers!

“Just rip yourself free!  They’re old clothes!”

“I’ve tried!  I’m stuck!  And it hurts!”

“Well, stay there!  If you can’t get out of a bramble bush, you deserve to spend the night in the woods!”

“You’re not going to leave me here?  Mu-um!  Come back!  I swear, it won’t let go!  Mu-um!”

Five minutes, Jennifer thought, picking and eating a ripe raspberry, oblivious to the watching predator.

She died quickly.  Now, he could take his time with the girl.

“What animal does this come from?”

Teacher says that meat comes from animals and I’m testing the story.  Daddy’s mouth is full, so Mummy answers.

“Bull.”

Daddy swallows so fast he almost chokes.

“Bullock.  Not bull.  Bullock.”

There’s silence, while I finish my mouthful.  I’m not allowed to talk until my mouth’s empty.

“What’s a bullock?”

Mummy makes a weird little bow over the table, with a big smile on her face.  She wants Daddy to answer.

Mummy had set my hair with butterfly clips. I hated it, and Daddy insisted on taking my photo.

Daddy goes into one of his long speeches, while Mummy and I continue dinner.  Mummy’s having trouble with hers.  I think she’s trying not to laugh.  Why?

Daddy’s talking about bees and flowers and seeds.  Then he switches to birds and eggs.  It’s all very interesting of course, but so far, there’s nothing about bullocks.  I’ve eaten all my vegetables and have almost finished my meat.  Are we going to have ice-cream?

I must have missed a bit of Daddy’s speech because now he’s talking about puppies and kittens.  Mummy’s shoulders are shaking.  She takes a handkerchief out of her pocket and wipes her eyes.  She’s crying?  Have I done something wrong?

Daddy’s onto lambs and calves.  Mummy goes to the ice-chest and takes out the ice-cream.  Goody!  Ice-cream!

Daddy’s stopped talking and is trying to eat his now cold dinner.  He doesn’t like it.

It’s true that I didn’t hear absolutely every word he said, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t mention bullocks.  I wait until he pushes away his plate.  He seems to have finished with the animals.  Has he forgotten the question?  I decide to remind him.

“Yes, but what’s a bullock?”

Mummy dumps the ice-cream and rushes out of the room.  Is she sick?  She’s making funny noises down the hall.

I don’t remember what happened after that.

***

Some years later, when I am in my early teens, Mummy and I go to Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.  Farmers have come to the big city to show their animals and compete for prizes, and we are having trouble moving through the throng.  The crowd parts slightly and an enormous creature comes into view.

“Mummy, look at the size of that bull!”

A farmer in front of us turns his head.  Mummy, bright pink, mutters,

“It’s a bullock.”

I look from her to the grinning farmer and back again.

“Oh…  What’s a bullock?”

The farmer’s grin broadens.  Mummy, now deep purple, snarls in a low voice,

“I’ll tell you when we get home!”

I don’t think she did.

***

Gaspard Hauser

Stephanie de Beauharnais passes her time trying to avoid her enemies’ traps, and giving five children to Grand-Duke Karl-Louis of Bade, who adores her – three daughters of marvellous health and three sons…  who die in infancy…

At the Palace, it is the wife of Grand-Duke Karl-Frederik who gives the orders.  When Stephanie enters this family, the Grand-Duke is seventy-eight years old.  Louise Geyer, his morganic wife, to whom he has given the title of Countess of Hochberg, has given him three sons who cannot succeed him.

But “the Hochberg”, as she is called, is madly cupid and ambitious.  Napoleon is not yet at Saint Helena when she obtains the legitimization of her sons.  Karl-Louis, who is weak, lets her…

The people of Bade, who don’t like the arrogant commoner, are asking questions.  Why did this little Prince, born in 1812, a real force of Nature, to whom Stephanie had given birth in great suffering, die so suddenly?  As well as her second son, four years later, who was just as vigorous?…

***

Gaspard Hauser

For Gaspard Hauser, the attempted murder of 1830 puts an end to his tranquillity.  It is bad enough that the Municipality of Nuremberg pays for him to do nothing, but if, now, he becomes the man by whom scandal arrives…!

Strange Lord Stanhope, who is in fact notoriously introverted, refuses to receive him.  He is entrusted to a certain Meyer, a brutal, suspicious teacher who holds him to be an imposter, to perfect his education.

His most constant protector, Feuerbach, dies, leaving him desperate.

***

On 14 December 1833, snow is falling heavily on the city.  As he does every day, Gaspard has gone for an outing, accompanied, this particular afternoon, by Pastor Fuhrmann whom he leaves, saying that he has a rendez-vous with a lady.

Half an hour later, he presents himself before Meyer, pale, ruffled, speaking with difficulty.  A stain of blood is spreading over his shirt.

He tells his host that a man had given him an appointment in the park at nightfall, to give him some decisive papers on his origin.

The stranger was dressed in a long cloak and a top-hat.  He held out a blue purse which he dropped.  While Gaspard was bending down to pick it up, the man knifed him and fled.

A few rare people file around Gaspard’s bed.  He is ordered to tell the truth.  He whispers:

“If only I knew who hurt me, I would willingly tell you!  Do you think that I gave myself the knife wound?  Ah!  Soon you will think differently!”

Two days after that, in the evening, he raises himself up on his bed and cries out in a pitiful voice:

“Mother!  Mother!…  Come!”

A few moments later, he calms down and murmurs:

“I am tired, very tired.  But I have such a big road to travel…”

He closes his eyes.  They think that he is asleep.  He is dead…

At the place where he was assassinated, there is still today a monument on which is engraved the following formula:

“Here an unknown man was killed by an unknown man.”

***

There have been hundreds of studies of Gaspard Hauser’s story.

Among the most serious of them can be cited those of Jean Mistler, Jacob Wassermann, Fritz Klee, or the articles of Alain Decaux and the admirable film of Werner Hertzog.

They opt for often contradictory theses, the first saying that Gaspard was an imposter.  Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, is of the opinion that an imposter of sixteen who manages to fool everyone for five years, while he is submitted to thorough medical and Police examinations, is not believable.

***

In the opinion of the Medecine of the time, as well as our psychoanalysts today, Gaspard was not at all mad, clinicly speaking.  His life is marked by no disturbing act, he is basically a peaceful being, preoccupied only with learning and finding the explanation of his origin…

***

 

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

The mystery of his origin has never been solved to everyone’s satisfaction.  Far from it.

It is certain, and has been proven, that he was not, as was said for a time, Napoleon’s son…

It would seem more plausible that he was that of Stephanie.  There are strong presumptions in favour of the hypothesis that her two male children had been poisoned, by order of the Hochberg.  Or rather that there had been a substitution in his cradle , in 1812, of the son of Karl and Stephanie by the cadaver of a child of low birth, who had even been believed to have been identified.

The little Prince would have been taken to Beuggen in the South of the Grand-Duchy where he was well treated at first.  In 1819, when one of the sons of the Grand-Duke mounted the throne, the child’s condition would have changed completely.  The Hochberg had obtained from the new sovereign, whose mistress she was, the promise that he would never marry and that the way to the throne would remain open for her own sons.

From then on, Gaspard became an object of blackmail, directed against the Grand-Duke, if he forgot his promise.  The surveillance around the child then tightened, and he was finally placed under the surveillance of a certain Richter, a guard in a castle where Gaspard occupied an attic.  Out of fear of seeing him run away, Richter locked him up in a prison cell, but only for a few weeks.  Terrified by his responsibility, Richter would have finally ridden himself of him in the way that we have seen.

The problem is that this thesis reposes on a series of hypotheses…  some of which are more than hazardous.

***

All the explanations given do not, in Louis Pauwels’ opinion, take enough into account Gaspard’s attitude, when he is discovered in Nuremberg.  All the testimonies agree that he is a completely disorientated being, totally untouched in intelligence, in sensitivity, even in behaviour…

He didn’t master language at all, had no experience of the most common objects, but it only took him a few months to learn to read, to speak, to play music.  The latest Science proves that a being maintained until his sixteenth year in this state of ignorance is condemned to definitive idiocy.  He hadn’t remained in either an attic or a prison cell either, for he would have rapidly died.

Louis Pauwels thinks that Gaspard’s brain was already “formed”, “programmed” as we say today.  That it was enough to give it an initial jolt for this intelligence, catapulted amongst men, to start functioning and to achieve adult performances of an above-average intelligence…

Gaspard was not a simulator and he didn’t commit suicide.  He was more likely the product of a mad scholar, a golem, one of those robots to whom life is temporarily given by attaching a verse from the Bible onto their foreheads.  A being who came from somewhere else, in any case, which was also confirmed by the first medical examinations.

The doctors were astounded to note that his skin was that of a very young girl and that the skin on the soles of his feet was so soft and so smooth that Gaspard must have really taken his first “human” steps in Nuremberg.

***

What killed him, was the incomprehension of men, the unsurmountable laziness of their hearts.  It is certain that Gaspard disturbed people, that he was different, totally unintelligible to his fellow men.

It takes less than that to throw the first stone…

Paul Verlaine, moved by what had happened to the mysterious adolescent, wrote “Pauvre Gaspard Hauser”.

Louis Pauwels thinks that the poet Verlaine had the best intuition of who Gaspard Hauser was.  In a ballad which was dedicated to him, he puts these words in his mouth [my apologies to those who love Verlaine – I am about to try to translate him into English]:

“I came, calm orphan

Rich only by my tranquil eyes

Towards the men of the big cities…

Was I born too early or too late?

What am I doing in this world?

Oh!  All of you, my suffering is deep

Pray for the poor Gaspard!”

***

Poetry is more and more indispensable to objective knowledge, as is shown by what is happening in the greatest American technological institutes which employ poets to contribute to the explanation and the representation of certain phenomena which are still inexplicable.

Louis Pauwels says that if you want a last argument, this one totally rational, know that the forensic doctors who practised Gaspard’s autopsy discovered that he didn’t have a human heart.  Or rather that he had a totally inverted heart, as far as it’s position and its circulatory flow are concerned…

***

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.

Gaspard Hauser, as he appeared to the two cobblers.

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.

Nuremberg, where on 26 May 1828, two cobblers saw an unknown adolescent staggering down the street.

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.

I’m not in school uniform here, but I must have been around this age.

The teacher on playground duty calls me over.

Have I done something wrong?  Can’t think of anything, but you never know.

I walk over to her, and a few girls gather ’round.  They smell blood.

“Marilyn, what country do you come from?”

Children have already asked me that question.  But this is the first time an adult has.  What’s wrong with me?  Do I look different?

“I was born here.”

“Oh.  Well, what country do your parents come from?”

My parents?  This is really serious!  Why does she think we’re foreigners?

“They were born here, too.  So were my grandparents.”

I threw the grandparent bit in for free.  How far back does she want me to go?

“I’m fourth generation Australian.”

Not quite true.  One great-grandfather was born in Wales.  But I think all the other “greats” were born here.  Close enough!

Similar questions from children never bother me.  They’re only children.  But this is a teacher!  There’s got to be something wrong with me!  I mustn’t be normal!

The bell rings, so that’s the end of that.

***

Many years later, in 2003, on Radio Haute-Angevine, in France, I tell this story to Jean-Francois while I’m his guest on Aux reveurs eveilles [Daydreamers’ Gathering Place].  He chuckles and says,

“Didn’t she mean,  ‘what planet do you come from?’ ?”

Probably.

***

I was a foreigner for nearly four decades in France.  It was my accent.  Most people didn’t know where I was born and guessed all sorts of places.  I was often English, but also Dutch, sometimes German.  Once, I was told that I spoke like the women from the North.  My mother-in-law said that I knitted like them too.  French women don’t hold their knitting needles the same way.

Once, in a bar, an acquaintance was complaining about “foreigners” coming to France.  I reminded him that I was a “foreigner”.  His reply was,

“Oh, you’re different.  You look French.”

So, apparently, foreigners are people who don’t look like you.  Which means that all men are foreigners to me.  Sounds right.

***

While being interviewed in France for State-funded courses susceptible of helping me to find work, I would be asked if I spoke a foreign language.  Having answered in the affirmative, the next question would be which one?  To which I would reply,

“French.”

“Non, non, non!  Foreign language!”

“Mais, oui!  French is my foreign language.  English is my maternal language.”

Confusion.  Fluttering of eyelashes.

“Yes, yes, of course!  We’ll just put down English.  Do you speak it, read it and write it?”

“Of course I do – it’s my maternal language.”

“Ah, yes!  That’s right!”

More confusion.  Big smiles.

To help things along, I would add that I also spoke, read and wrote French – my foreign language.

At this point, my public servant interviewer would often call for aspirin.

One last hope!  Perhaps I’m not French, nor even European, in which case, no State-funded course, therefore no more interview?

No such luck!  Dual nationality!

Make that two aspirins.

***

The photo was taken from the newspaper’s files. I had just had my hair cut short so no longer looked like this.

When I started getting into the papers in France, I was “Australian”.  I remained “Australian” until the dreadful day that Australia bowed to United States pressure to honour a treaty or two, and illegally invaded Iraq.

I was so ashamed that I was afraid to go out for days.  Hunger finally drove me to the shops.  However, people were really kind to me.  No-one mentioned Iraq in my presence and newspapers started calling me “Australian-born”, or “of Australian origin”.  I think that the French only accepted me as “French” when my other country attacked Iraq.

We had all been so proud of being French when France stood up to the United States and refused to join the aggression.  The Americans wrote and said bad things about us in their media and also put a ban on the importation of many French cheeses, supposedly because the way that they were made was dangerous for American health.  However, everyone knew that it was in retaliation for not obeying orders.  So my friends and acquaintances, including in the media, all understood how I must feel about what Australia had done.

***

When I returned to Australia, firstly in 2004 to be with my dying mother, then to settle here in 2005, I thought that I was coming home.  It turns out that I left home to come to Australia.  And I’m a foreigner again.  Or still.  I don’t really know any more.

***

I’m going on three in this photo, which is a bit young for this post but it’s the only one I could find of the three of us together in the driveway – with Dad’s first car, a green Holden.

I open the front gate.  It moans.  Daddy puts oil on it sometimes and the noise changes, but it doesn’t go away.

The gate clangs as I shut it and start to climb the steep part of the driveway.  It’s easier if I pretend I’m a crab and go up sideways.

I look up as I reach the top.  Daddy’s home!  He’s at the bottom of the yard, in front of the garage.  It’s the first time he’s home before I arrive from kindergarten!

Mummy’s down there, too.  Is something wrong?

They turn to face me as I walk towards them.  No smiles.  Something’s wrong.

I stand in front of them and wait.  Mummy steps back slightly, with lowered eyes.  Daddy clears his throat.

“Did you throw milk over Owen Jessep?”

Did I what?…  Oops!  So I did…  That was ages ago!  It was morning recreation!  I’d forgotten all about it!  And it served him right, too!

I raise my chin and answer proudly,

“Yes!”

I wait for the next question, but Daddy goes into one of his long speeches:  It isn’t nice for little girls to throw milk on little boys…  and how lucky I am to have milk to drink when other little girls haven’t got any…  and how wasteful I am…  and it goes on…   and on…

The longer he talks, the angrier I get.  The  muscles in my face tighten.  Don’t listen!

I keep my head up, but my eyes look at the ground between Mummy and Daddy.  A blade of grass is growing in a concrete crack…  Something’s running towards it.  An ant?  Or a spider?  I think it’s an ant…  I’m thirsty…

Daddy pauses for breath and Mummy jumps in.

“Marilyn, what did Owen do to you?”

Well it’s about time!

“He spat in my face!”

Nasty little boy!

Mummy turns to Daddy.  Daddy’s just about to launch back into his lecture and his mouth’s open.  He shuts it, changes gear, and goes off in another direction.

Don’t know how old I am in this one but it looks about right for the post.

This time it’s all about how I’m not punishing Owen;  I’m punishing his mother, who has to wash his coat and pants, and how Daddy thinks that I should apologize to her for throwing milk over her precious little boy who spits in people’s faces!

How did he find out about it, anyway?

“Did Teacher ‘phone?”

Mummy, bright red, blurts out,

“No!  Owen couldn’t wait to rush here to tell me!  He must have run all the way!”

Daddy’s not pleased with this outburst.  He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell.  So can Mummy.

We go back to Mrs Jessep, Owen’s clothes and my apology.

I have doubts about it.  I ask hopefully,

“Is Mrs Jessep going to punish Owen for spitting in my face?”

I sense hesitation.

Daddy is certain that Mrs Jessep will take the appropriate action.

I look at Mummy.  Her eyebrows are raised and her lips are firmly pressed together.  She’s looking at the ground.  Mummy has doubts too.

Daddy’s back on Mrs Jessep’s washing and my apology.

It’s true it wasn’t her fault.  I suppose I’ll have to apologize.  Daddy’s going to nag until I do.  Bad luck he picked today to come home early!

“All right.”

Does he hear the lack of enthusiasm?  He starts off again about coats, washing and “poor Mrs Jessep”.

Mummy steers me back along the driveway to the six-foot paling fence near the laundry.  Daddy follows.

Mummy calls Mrs Jessep, who is in her laundry on the other side of the fence.

Mrs Jessep climbs onto an upturned wooden box and her head appears at the top of the fence.

Mummy tells her that I have something to say to her.  Daddy nudges me.  I take a deep breath.

“I’m very sorry, Mrs Jessep, that you have to wash Owen’s clothes because I threw milk on him when he spat in my face.”

There you are!  Perfect apology!  I didn’t say I was sorry for throwing the milk.  And I’ve told her he spat in my face.

Mummy’s proud of me, I can tell.

Daddy’s squirming a bit.

Well, I apologized, didn’t I?  That’s all he asked me to do!

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