Tag Archive: XXth Century


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.

***

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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.

The Devil’s Footprints

The strange beings who people our folklore could perhaps be inspired by real events, like the one that occurred in Devonshire in 1855.

It is 7 February 1855.  The whole of England’s South-West has been swept since morning by an appalling tempest.  Wind of unheard-of violence is uprooting trees, taking off roofs, blowing down belfries and ripping out gravestones in the cemeteries, leaving tombs open and coffins scattered.

Barricaded inside their houses, the inhabitants of Devonshire are terrified.  Some would later say:

“It was an infernal night, the wind was screaming like a thousand witches…”

Suddenly, around five o’clock in the morning, the wind calms, the noise stops and snow begins to fall heavily.

This silence, after the torment, worries all who have not slept a wink that night.  One of them would say,

“We had the impression that there was some sort of threat hovering…  With my wife who was trembling with fear huddled against me, we were afraid of something supernatural.  Everything was really strange that night.”

It is in Blayford that it all unfolds.

Around six o’clock, a high-pitched, terrifying howl suddenly erupts near the village.  A dog’s howl which is heard for about a kilometre all around.  The good people huddle under their eiderdowns.  Then, once again, there is silence.

Around eight o’clock, Dawn breaks and the inhabitants of Blayford fearfully open their shutters.  Snow is no longer falling, but the countryside is all white.  Many times, the villagers of the little English town have seen this spectacle upon rising and they have always found something marvellous about it.  Today, inexplicably, they feel anguish.  A woman, unable to clearly explain her unease, would say:

“Bad luck seemed to be floating over us…”

Despite this, that same morning, a farm hand goes to have a look around to see the damage caused by the tempest.  He then notices some strange footprints.  Footprints of a kind that he has never seen and which correspond to no known animal in the region.  They look like a little horse-hoof and pierce the snow with mathematical regularity.  The farm hand, very intrigued, follows them across the fields and soon arrives beside the tattered remains of the dog who had howled so atrociously in the early hours of the morning.

He bends over it and notices, stunned,

“that the poor animal had died from wounds which could not have been made by either a man or a beast”…

He runs back to alert the village, saying:

“Come and see!  There are some strange footprints.”

The inhabitants of Blayford rush out and see that the farm hand has not lied.

Further, at that same moment, throughout the whole of Devonshire, peasants are discovering the same footprints in the fresh snow.

They extend over more than 160 kilometres.

The journalists of the County of course write about the phenomenon, remarking that the footprints, which are like dots on rigorously straight lines, each measures ten centimetres in length by seven centimetres in width, and that they are very regularly twenty-five centimetres apart…  One journalist writes:

“These footprints don’t stop anywhere.  Whatever it was, the unknown creature walked on hooves in short, leaping steps, in an inexplicable fashion without stopping nor resting, and it covered here more than thirty kilometres during the tragic night of 7 February, crossing rivers, climbing the walls of several houses and walking on the roofs before finally arriving at the little village cemetery without daring to enter it…”

Zoologists soon come from London to examine these strange prints which remain visible in the frozen snow.  None of them manages to identify the animal who had travelled all over South-East England – always in a straight line.

The mysterious “Devil’s Footprints”, drawn by a witness and published in “The Illustrated London News” on 24 February 1855.

One of them writes a few days later in the Illustrated London News:

“This mysterious visitor generally only passed once down or across each garden or courtyard, and did so in nearly all the houses in many parts of the several towns above mentioned, as also in the farms scattered about;  this regular track passing in some instances over the roofs of houses, and hayricks, and very high walls (one fourteen feet [4.50 metres]), without displacing the snow on either side or altering the distance between the feet, and passing on as if the wall had not been any impediment.  The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected.”

Another notes that

“two inhabitants of one community followed a line of prints for three and a half hours, passing under rows of redcurrant bushes and fruit trees in espaliers;  losing the prints and finding them again on the roof of houses to which their search had led them”.

Farther on, he adds that these prints

“passed through a circular opening of about thirty centimetres in diameter and inside a drain of 15 cm;  finally, they crossed an estuary around 3,500 kilometres wide”…

A third writes:

“These footprints are strange, for the snow is completely removed, as if it has been cut by a diamond or marked by a red-hot iron…”

Naturally, many hypotheses are emitted by both journalists and scholars who study the case.  Some are extravagant.  Someone suggests that these strange marks could have been made

“by a balloon dragging its tethering ring at the end of a rope”.

But this explanation appears absurd.  How could a metal ring tear apart the Blayford dog;  and by what miracle could this ring, attached to a balloon blown by the wind, leave perfect prints, disposed in a straight line and regularly distanced at 25 centimetres?…

A journalist suggests that it could be marks left by a kangaroo who had escaped from a menagerie.  The zoologists reply that it is extremely rare that kangaroos leap on only one leg, and that they haven’t any hooves, anyway…

Other investigators try to explain the presence of these marks by an atmospheric phenomenon.  It is pertinently replied that no-one had ever yet seen an atmospheric phenomenon leave hoof-prints…

Finally, none of the hypotheses emitted having been retained, the newspapers publish the embarrassed words of zoologists, physicists and meteorologists.  One of them, Doctor Williamson, goes as far as writing this:

“These millions of prints constitute an absolute enigma.  Neither a man, nor an animal, nor a machine is capable of leaving such marks.  This phenomenon is inexplicable.  Consequently, the best thing, in my opinion, is to forget it.”

A surprising declaration, coming from a scholar.

But the Devonshire peasants do not forget, and they give a name to these mysterious marks:  they call them The Devil’s Footprints…  A name that is not very scientific of course, but which still remains.  And it is by this name that Historians continue to designate them today…

***

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, consulted the English Press of the epoch and was able to note that, for two months, February and March 1855, all of the English newspapers published articles, investigations, interviews and sketches on what was called at the time the “mysterious Devonshire holes”.  He adds that a number of authors have studied this case.  Charles Fort, who called himself an “amateur of the unusual and scribe of miracles”, consecrated a chapter of his Book of the Damned to them, as did Jacques Bergier and the Info group in Le Livre de l’Inexplicable

***

They give no explanation and only emit hypotheses.  Some speak of sea birds, hailstones, field-mice.  But there is no bird, nor field-mouse whose feet end in hooves.  As for hailstones, has anyone ever seen any fall in a straight line, twenty-five centimetres apart?…  A modern author had another idea:  he suggested that these marks could have been left by an extra-terrestrial who landed from a space-ship…  Guy Breton says that he is not hostile a priori to this kind of explanation, but that this person would have had a strange way of walking.  On top of which, he must have been very small to have been able to pass through openings of a diameter of thirty centimetres…

***

So, we come back to Charles Fort’s explanation.  He said with humour:

“These prints could only have been made by a thousand one-legged kangaroos wearing a very small horseshoe…”

In other words, we don’t know.

***

There have been some absolutely identical marks left in Scotland in 1839, in the Kerguelen Islands in 1840, in the United States in 1908, in Belgium in 1945 and in Brazil in 1954…  So, you see, the Devil walks around his estates.  After all, he is called the Prince of this World…

***

A man from the past – part 2

This story was found by Jacques Bergier who read about it in an American parapsychology magazine and contacted Captain Rihm.  By this time, the Captain had retired, but he perfectly remembered the essential details of the case, which allowed Jacques Bergier to resume it in his work Le Livre du Mystere.  Later, Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, took up the investigation and was able to obtain, thanks to journalists who gained access to the Police files, some precisions which Bergier did not have.

***

The problem can be resumed in two points:

1.  A man mysteriously disappears without a trace in New York on the evening of 14 June 1876.

2.  An individual, having the features and clothes of the missing man appears, no less mysteriously, in a crowd on Broadway on the evening of 14 June 1950.

Did the man from 1876 leap into the future?

We know that the first fact relates indubitably to Rudolf Fentz Senior.  The second, however, does not necessarily imply a “reappearance” of the 1876 person.  There could be other explanations.

A collective hallucination has to be excluded because the body of the man run-over in Times Square was autopsied and buried.

***

Broadway around 1860 was a calm neighbourhood with provincial charm.

There is the possibility that a friend of the Fentz family, knowing of Rudolf Fentz’ disappearance, decided to play a practical joke.

This hypothetical person would have dressed up in similar clothes to the missing man, in 1950, would have mingled with the crowd on Broadway, would have drawn attention to himself by his strange comportment and would have committed suicide exclusively so that the Police, when they find the dollars and papers dating from 1876 in his pockets, would be placed before an insoluble enigma.  That seems a bit far-fetched.

***

For the moment, we have to be content with Jacques Bergier’s explanation:

“We find ourselves before a flagrant, irrefutable example of instantaneous “chronotransfer” or time travelling.”

According to him, this man would have penetrated, without knowing it, “some crack in the spatial-temporal continuum”.  This co-author of the Matin des Magiciens adds:

“Perhaps he is not the only one…”

He is doubtless alluding to the sudden and inexplicable disappearances of some people…

***

Broadway’s aspect in 1950 would have stunned a man from the XIXth Century who was used to the slow rhythm of a big village and hadn’t seen cars, skyscrapers, cinemas, television, or even electricity before.

There are people who run away, mountaineers who fall into crevasses, solo sailors who sink in the middle of the ocean, hikers who perish in forest fires and perfect crimes…

However, there are also the people who literally “disappear” before the eyes of witnesses.  Here is an example.  It is something which took place in the United States in 1880.  On the 23 September to be precise.  On this day, the weather is fine and David Lang, a farmer in the neighbourhood of Gallatin, Tennessee, is walking in a field with his wife and children.  Around six o’clock, as the sun is starting to set, the Langs come back towards the farm.  When they are less than fifty metres from the road, the children see a car belonging to Judge August Peck, a friend of the family, arriving.  They call out:

“Look!.  There’s Mr Peck!”

David Lang immediately raises his hand and calls out:

“Hello, August!”

Mrs Lang waves to him.  Then she turns toward her husband and remains stunned:  he has disappeared.  She searches all around her.  No-one.  Then she calls:

“David, where are you?”

Judge Peck leaps from his car and runs over.  He is white-faced.

“What happened to David?”

“I don’t know.  He was here a minute ago…”

“I know.  I saw him wave to me…  And I was going to respond when, before he had even lowered his arm, he had disappeared.”

Everyone then inspects the ground without finding the slightest hole, the slightest crack where the unfortunate farmer could have fallen.

For days, the terrain is tested without any trace of an excavation being found.   And no-one ever found out what happened to David Lang who had disappeared in a field, in the midst of his family, before the eyes of his friend Judge Peck…

***

It is possible that David Lang also found himself in another time.  Some scientists no longer dismiss this possibility.

***

Guy Breton concludes that eyes are opening, that Science is advancing with giant steps and that one day, it will be announced in the media as a perhaps rare, but perfectly explicable thing, that Mr Rudolf Fentz Senior did not return home one evening in June 1876, because he had been run over by a car, in 1950…

***

In 1876, the only cars that Rudolf Fentz would have seen looked like this. Nothing in these primitive engines announced the sumptuous Cadillacs which were to be seen 74 years later on Broadway.

A man from the past

On Wednesday 14 June 1950, around a quarter past eleven at night, the Broadway theatres and cinemas are slowly emptying, sending waves of spectators onto the sidewalks, when cries are heard.  A man around thirty years old, who had unthinkingly stepped onto the road, has just been hit by a car.  He is now lying in the middle of a pool of blood which is reflecting the lights of Times Square.

The people who crowd around the body then notice that the unknown man is dressed in a very old-fashioned way.  He is wearing a grey jacket with a row of buttons at the back, tight black and white checked pants, with no crease nor turned-up cuffs, and high-mounting shoes with buckles.  Not far from him, his top hat has rolled onto the asphalt…

At the morgue, a police officer empties this strange person’s pockets.  What he finds there rather surprises him.  There are:

– an obsolete bronze coin,

– a bill from a stable in Lexington Avenue with the mention:

“For the feed and stabling of one horse and for the storing of one carriage:  3 dollars”,

– seventy dollars in old money,

– a few visiting cards engraved with the name of Rudolf Fentz, and an address:  372 Fifth Avenue,

– a letter addressed to Mr R. Fentz bearing the postal stamp of June 1876.

The public servant transmits these objects to his superior who remains perplexed.

“And you say that he was wearing a jacket, checked pants, ankle boots and a top hat.  He was therefore in fancy dress.  But, when you put on fancy dress, you don’t go as far as having money corresponding to the period on you…  There is something funny here.”

“You don’t bother making fake papers either,”

says the other policeman, pointing to the bill and the letter, both perfectly new-looking with barely marked creases, which prove that they are of recent date.

“Do you think that it’s one of those crazy people who refuse our modern civilization and imagine that they are living in another age?”

“Unless he’s just an actor in a play where the action takes place in 1876 and has on him the money and the different documents of this time for use in the play…”

“He would have gone out into the street in costume?”

“With actors, anything’s possible!…”

This last hypothesis, by far the most plausible, is finally retained and the police officer sends two inspectors into the Broadway theatres with a photo of the victim, while a third goes to the address indicated on the visiting cards, the telephone directories are consulted, and the fingerprints of the mysterious person are sent to the records kept in New York and Washington.

All the witnesses thought that the mysterious person who was hit by a car on 14 June 1950 was terrified by the luminous signs on Broadway, and that was why he rushed onto the road.

That evening, the policemen come back with nothing.  No actor recognized the man in Times Square, the name of Rudolf Fentz is totally unknown at 372 Fifth Avenue, the telephone directories list no Fentz and the records do not contain the dead man’s fingerprints…

The affair is then handed over to Captain Hubert V. Rihm who is in charge of Missing Persons.  This officer immediately declares:

“We have to know where this person was coming from when he so stupidly got himself run over.  Was he leaving a shop, a show, a restaurant?  Publish a drawing of him in his extravagant outfit in the Press.  Perhaps the public will give us a clue.”

The portrait appears the following day in the New York Press and a few people who were in the crowd at Times Square on 14 June, at a quarter past eleven at night, present themselves at Captain Rihm’s office.  Alas, their testimonies, far from shedding any light on the case, cloud it even more.

A certain Mrs Kinners declares:

“I was coming out of the cinema with some friends.  There were a lot of people on the sidewalk.  Suddenly, this man appeared amongst us  I remember saying to myself:  ‘Where did he come from?’  Then, I thought that it might be someone doing some publicity for a show.  I thought that he was going to distribute some flyers.  But he was looking at all the signs in lights with a frightened air which struck me.  He asked me:  ‘What’s happening?  Is there a fire?”  And without waiting for my reply, he pushed into the crowd towards the road…”

Another witness, Mr Barnett, a friend of Mrs Kinners, came to say:

“We were coming out of the cinema and I was going to take a step towards the friend in front of me when, suddenly, this person was in between us.  How did he get there?  I don’t know.  All that I can say, is that he wasn’t there the second before.  I would have seen him because of his outfit and his big cigar.  The funniest thing was his expression.  He seemed astonished when he looked at me, as if I was a phenomenon.  Then he turned his head in all directions and seemed panicked to find himself in this crowd.  Finally, he looked up at the skyscrapers and murmured:  ‘My God!’  After which, he said something about a fire and, suddenly, went towards the road, as if he wanted to flee…”

Other witnesses came to testify to Captain Rihm.  Most of them repeated almost word for word what Mr Barnett and Mrs Kinners had said about the person’s sudden apparition.  But one of them, who was at the edge of the sidewalk at the moment of the accident, brought a supplementary detail:

“When the individual arrived near the road, I noticed that he was looking at the traffic lights with a frightened air, as if he had never seen any before.  Then he seemed to discover the traffic, turned to me and said, pointing to the cars that were passing by:  ‘But what’s that?’  …He looked terrified.  Suddenly, he rushed towards the street.  I called out to him:  ‘Watch out!’  But he mustn’t have heard me.  The car had already hit him…”

So who is this strange person dressed like an 1870s dandy, who appears not to know of the existence of skyscrapers, luminous signs, traffic lights and cars?

The astonishment of 1950 New Yorkers can easily be imagined when they see a man dressed in clothes from the XIXth Century suddenly appear amongst them.

Captain Rihm pursues his investigations and finally discovers, in a telephone directory of 1939, a Rudolf Fentz Junior living at 112 East 21st Street.  He goes there and learns that this Fentz, at the time that he was living in the building, was a man around sixty who worked in a bank nearby.  One of the lodgers gives the precision:

“In 1940, he retired and left the neighbourhood.  Since then, we’ve never had any news of him.”

The policeman enquires at the bank where he is told that Rudolf Fentz died in 1945, but that his widow was still alive and living in California.

Rihm takes an aeroplane and goes to question her.  Mrs Fentz’ answers can be resumed like this:

“No, she didn’t have a son, or a nephew, or even a cousin bearing the name of Rudolf Fentz.  No, her husband had not been married before marrying her.  No, no-one in her family had a taste for fancy dress.  No, she had never lived in Fifth Avenue, but her husband, yes, when he was a child.  He had even often shown her the building in which his parents had lived.  No, she didn’t recognize the visiting cards that the Captain was showing her, but the address could well be that of her father-in-law.  1876?  Yes, that year reminds her of something:  it was the year of her husband’s birth.  Yes, she has a family photo album…”

And she shows it to him.

The Captain wants to know if there is, among Rudolf Fentz Junior’s relatives, someone who resembles his mysterious person.

After having turned several pages, he stops suddenly, as if petrified, before a photograph representing a man dressed in a jacket and black and white checked pants, with buckled ankle boots, wearing a top hat…

Underneath this old-fashioned hat, a face is smiling, and although the document has yellowed, Captain Rihm immediately recognizes it:  it is the unknown man from Times Square.

“Who is this?”

“My father-in-law;  and the baby he is holding in his arms is my husband…  I mean, my future husband…”

“Have you any other portraits of your father-in-law?”

“No, that’s the only one that I have.  The unfortunate man mysteriously disappeared shortly after the photo was taken.”

“Disappeared?”

“Yes.  His wife couldn’t stand the smell of tobacco.  So he had the habit of going for a little walk after dinner to smoke a cigar.  And one evening, he didn’t come home.  His family had a search made for him by the Police, but it was never known what happened to him…”

“Do you know the date of this disappearance?”

“My mother-in-law often told me about it:  my husband was three months old.  He was born in March.  My father-in-law therefore disappeared in June 1876…”

Very impressed, Captain Rihm returns to New York where he finds in the Police archives the list of Missing Persons in 1876.  On 14 June, the name of Rudolf Fentz, aged twenty-nine, is listed “wearing a gray jacket, black and white checked trousers, high shoes with buckles and a top hat”

***

To be continued.

“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.

***

A few months pass by and Leon Millet has become, in the Order of the Croises des Temps nouveaux, Brother Marie Bernard, of royal blood.  In Lyon, a city that has always been devoted to mysteries and where Illuminism periodically flares up between the Saone and the Rhone, it is murmured that Pope Pius XII in person has promoted him to the singular dignity of “Lieutenant of the Sacred Heart in the Kingdom of France”.

Reverend Father Collin, who was the mysterious White Prince’s friend for a while.

All throughout 1942, the “White King’s Party”, as some call it, with less than a dozen subscribers in the beginning, develops and recrutes, carried forward again by Father Collin who goes on a pilgrimage, untiringly from parish to parish, a heavy silver rosary in his hand.  However, the small crowds which he approaches in the back-rooms of community centres or inside presbyteries, mostly talk to him about the White Prince, and when this young man appears, already displaying a great flair for effect, they follow him, galvanized, as far as the next town where rumour has already assembled a few more people again.

The day after the quasi insurrectional call that he made in the Valence Cathedral, which had so frightened Monsignor Pic, the Prince is famous in at least three departements of the Rhone.  While his desire for sacrifice and his vocation as France’s saviour are stronger each day, the means for accomplishing his mission suddenly appear to be lacking.  Cardinal Gerlier, by whom he has asked to be received, takes evasive action, and some Vichy Ministers, such as Jean Chevalier, show interest in him and assure him that they grant him a long immunity, but nothing else.

The German authorities in Lyon gave the order to arrest the White Prince by all possible means.

In March 1944, the region’s main subject of conversation is the appearances of the Holy Virgin in Montvendre, which he prophesied after a pilgrimage to La Sallette, and which are followed by such manifestations that the militia makes a monstrous raid, in which he is captured with his closest dignitaries.  All five of them are locked up in Valence Prison.  When, the next day, their cell is opened in front of the chief of the local militia, so that they can be interrogated, they have inexplicably disappeared.  Their trail is found a few days later in a property belonging to Madame de Champollon, who takes them in and assures them an incognito for a while.  Prayer, ascesis, macerations and anti-hitlerian white magic occupy them for a few days, but the Illuminated cannot keep still and soon goes to knock on the door of the Convent of the Compassion in Lyon.  This is a stronghold of Lyonnaise Resistance, whose Mother Superior, Elisabeth Rivet, would die in deportation after having been atrociously tortured.  The Prince has also become a man on the Gestapo’s hit-list, but this doesn’t stop him from coming and going among Mme de Champollon’s residence, the Convent and the many assembly points, now clandestine, which he visits for his faithful followers who see that each day which passes brings them closer to the one when the keys of the Kingdom will be given to him along with the Crown.

But 1944 advances, and Lyon is liberated before Autumn.  There, where militia men and Gestapists had failed for thirty months, the FTP of Charles Tillon succeeds the very next day after the entry of the Americans into the city.  They arrest the White Prince and lock him up in a subterranean gaol at Fort-de-Francais, quite decided to guillotine him so that no crown could ever be placed on his head.  He remains there for three days, up until the Festival of Our Lady of Mercy, patron saint of captive christians.  When the local chief of the FTP wants to have him taken out of his blockhaus, it is found that it is absolutely empty, as if the walls of iron and cement had absorbed the Prince’s substance.  His friends learn that he has taken on human consistancy at the home of General Marette, who has offered him asylum.  He announces there that he is breaking off relations with Father Collin, and while his popularity is at its highest point, and thousands of his faithful followers are hoping that the dream of Restoration which he has so brilliantly incarnated is going to come true, he disappears.

Up until 1950, his adepts would do everything they could to find him again.  In 1950, they learn that the Prince might be living in Rome where he could be exercising the profession of taxi driver.  A delegation rushes there and, taking advantage of the Holy Year, mobilises the religious authorities and the French pilgrims.  News comes to them that he is in the South of France, at the home of a friend of Mme de Champollon where he has been accompanied by a Roman Carmelite nun.  When they arrive at this lady’s home, only the nun is still present.  She refuses to say where the Prince has gone, and what his activities in the Eternal City are.  Before leaving too, she does however consent to give the address of her Roman Convent, where the Prince sometimes appears.  His former companions then immediately return to Italy and go to the address indicated.  They learn that there had once been a Convent there, but that it had been demolished at the end of the XIXth Century after a violent fire.

***

Since then, there has been no news of this King who wanted to be the saviour of a Kingdom of which he later refused to claim the Crown…

But perhaps his Kingdom was not of this world?

***

The White Prince wanted to group the different forces of the Resistance by creating a new monarchy. At the Liberation, Resistants arrested him.

Some think that the White Prince might have been assassinated at the end of 1944 by the “patriotic militia”, which was indulging in a savage “epuration” at this epoch.

However, there is no proof of this.  Even though the battle for power between the Communists and all of the others, not to mention vengeances of all sorts and settling of scores, made more than one hundred thousand victims in only a few months…

***

The White Prince seems to belong to the cohort of “Great Monarchs”, who were numerous in the first half of the XXth Century.  Just before the First World War, “Felix, Henri de Valois” was announcing in Auvergne the end of time, and in the 1930s, Charles de Gimel, Louis XIX for his faithful followers, was claiming France’s throne under the name of the “Hidden Pretendant”.  At the end of the Second World War, Leon Millet – if that is his real name – is therefore an avatar of these “unfortunate kings”, Jean le Bon, Charles VII, symbols of defeated France at Poitiers, at Crecy, and, invaded, but regaining hope with the miraculous arrival of Jeanne d’Arc.

The “last of the Valois” stems from the same thing.  He was Francois, Duke of Anjou, the last of the direct line of Anjou, who died in 1584 at the age of thirty, without children.  This Prince symbolises the end of a brilliant epoch, that of the Valois, during which the kingdom’s unity was accomplished by knight-kings, called the Good, the Wise, the Beloved, all “born in the Kingdom” and from whom the History of France really began.  Before the entry into the night of the Wars of Religion, and the outside dangers which would drain again, for a long time, the unity and the authority of the State.

***

The White Prince could be compared to Henri IV or General de Gaulle.  This young man knows how to take risks, in a critical moment of France’s History, where many think only to hide, to follow the old Field Marshal or sell on the black market.  He has a presence, a purety, a charisma which make many believe in him.  A prophetic charisma or clairvoyance, perhaps a charisma of bilocation…

Like Padre Pio and a few others, the White Prince is able to be in two places at the same time.  It is therefore only his double that the militia men of both camps arrest…  The charisma of glossolalia, in a certain manner, too.  That is to say, the gift of languages or tongues, his own anyway.  Leon excels in it, much more than an ordinary, or even very gifted, young man of twenty.

***

After the Liberation, Abbot Collin, reduced to the lay condition by the Holy Office, founded a church and became the Anti-Pope Clement XV.

He breaks off relations with Abbot Collin probably because the Reverend Father is beginning to smell rather sulphurous.  As soon as he arrives in Romans, Father Collin leads his little community toward mystical and visionary practices.  Then, he founds “The Latter Day Apostles”, with the perspective of a liberated France after a series of miraculous phenomena, of which he and his group would be the origin.  We see this when he wants to put Leon at the head of his Crusade.  Then he draws into his movement an authentic mystical clairvoyant named Madame Rivet.  She had prophesied, long in advance, the beginning of the great conflict and the invasion of France.  Before being arrested for acts of Resistance, she had also founded the feminine branch of the “Latter Day Apostles”…

***

Like Jean Moulin, she was betrayed.  Tortured for a long time, she is sent to Ravensbruck where she offers herself for the gas chamber to replace a mother.  As far as heresies go, Father Collin doesn’t stop there.  Immediately after the Liberation, he founds the “Congregation of Infinite Love” which is disavowed by the Bishop of Lourdes where he had returned.  The Holy Office confirms this sentence and reduces Father Collin to the lay condition.  Father Collin later becomes the Anti-Pope Clement XV.  He becomes famous for excommunicating the Cardinals of the Curia as well as his tax officer, who is taxing the donations that he receives a bit too much.  However, he always defends the image and the memory of the White Prince.

Even if nobody was ever able to find the White Prince again, no-one ever claimed that he was a mystifier, a crook or a madman, either.  All those who knew him and have been questioned are convinced of his good faith, his sincerity and the power of his charismas…

***

The charismas could have been the product of the epoch in which he lived.  They come from mysterious psychical forces.  Free gifts, of supernatural or supranormal origin, with often a temporary character.  It could be that the great return shock of the Liberation made them disappear.  After this, the White Prince, judging his task to be finished, might not have wanted to be only a shadow in a landscape where the light had returned…

***

The White Prince

At the beginning of Summer 1943, France is in shreds.  In the little town of Montmeyran in the Drome, there has never been so many people.  Today is the first Friday after the Octave of the Holy Sacrament, so it is therefore Jesus’ Sacred Heart which is being adored today.  Half the faithful present can’t fit inside the church.  Even the confessionals are crowded.

When the service ends, a considerable procession goes towards a calvary situated beneath the ruins of a castle.  In front of the cross, a little estrade covered in red carpet has been raised.  A very young man, with a pale complexion and of singular beauty, climbs onto it.  Over a sky blue shirt, he is wearing a white linen surplice which falls to mid-thigh and makes him look like one of those crusaders who left from here for the Holy Land, more than a thousand years ago.  The illusion is reinforced when someone hands him a heavy white standard, fleurdelysed in one corner.  In its centre, a blood-coloured heart, pierced with arrows and surmounted by a cross…

Slowly, the young man raises the emblem on high with his left arm, so that is is very visible to the crowd, then, impervious to the sun or fatigue, he holds it aloft for more than an hour, his face and torso dripping with agonizing perspiration, from the effort.  He imposes his right hand on the faithful as they file past him and gives them the flag to kiss.  The first to kneel are very young, only boys, sons of the local notables.  Afterwards, they assemble in the sacristy to enrol and become “crusading knights”, making a vow of chastity and swearing on the Missel that they would not return to their families nor take a wife, before the White Prince is established on France’s throne…

What is the aim of this crusade preached by the White Prince in the Rhone Valley, with a success which grows each day?  Kick the Germans out of France and seat himself on the throne of his ancestors, Saint Louis [Louis IX] and Charles V who was the last of the House of Anjou rulers…

A few days before this strange celebration, Jean Moulin, betrayed, had been arrested at Caluire, near Lyon.  Repression is getting worse everywhere, closed trucks unendingly take Resistants [called “terrorists” by the Germans] towards “the night and the fog”, and a few months later, 700 Patriots [still “terrorists” to the Germans] would be cut down on the slopes of the neighbouring Vercors.  It is therefore a desperate France which attempts to discern the end of the night on the white banner…

The Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral in Valence, where, in 1943, the White Prince preached a crusade to kick the Germans out of France and place himself on the throne…

A few days later, it is in the antique roman cathedral of Valence, consecrated by Urbain II, who preached the First Crusade, that the White Prince’s knights assemble.  Their chief is among them for a novaine which lasts the whole night.  For hours, he remains on his knees on the marble tiles, indifferent to the sufferings that this posture inflicts, still praying, very straight and motionless, while the most courageous of his companions have let themselves go, with no strength left, onto the benches…  This evening, he had announced a great day of mission which must culminate with a solemn service in the Saint-Apollinaire Cathedral in the presence of the Bishop of Valence…

A few days later, the cathedral is full.  Doubtless because there are never more religious people than in times of distress, but also because the whole of Valence knows that the Prince will be present.  He is sitting in the choir stalls, among the officiants, right beside the Bishop Monsignor Pic.  He rises and, wearing his white surplice, advances towards the pulpit.  Evidently, this was not supposed to happen, for the Bishop is seen to turn toward his Assessors and whisper to them.  The White Prince slowly climbs the steps which, in the centre of the nave, permit the predicator to dominate the audience.  For an instant, his blue gaze wanders tenderly over the assembly, then he leans forward and strongly grips the edge of the pulpit.  In a clear, carrying voice, he begins a sort of speech.  With such ease that at first it could be thought that he is reciting a speech learnt by heart.  But the tone, the elegance and the rigour of his words, which he underlines with appropriate, expressive gestures, soon indicate that he is a born orator.  Monsignor Pic is not happy:  he is seen to leave with precipitation his prie-Dieu and go towards the sacristy…

The inspired preacher, who is not yet twenty years old, having placed France under the protection of [the Archangel] Michael, its patron saint, assures that God is not insensible to the sufferings of the Church’s Eldest Daughter [France].  That clerics and laics, whatever their manner of interpreting Heaven’s music, must now give the Good God some help…

Then, his finger raised, like Saint Bernard calling Crusaders to attack the Infidels, he announces that the Virgin had appeared to him and that she would appear again soon in Montvendre, to announce the day of the Allied Landing.  The Bishop stands anxiously crumpling his stole in his hands.  His ordeal isn’t yet over.  With words of great elevation, the one whom the whole region now calls the White Prince or King, continues to speak of a France soon to be liberated and placed under the protection of a very christian monarchy…

Too fascinated by the young man’s extraordinary oratory talent, the audience has not seen Monsignor Pic approaching the pulpit accompanied by two priests…  But it is the peroration and, after a moment of intense silent prayer, the crowd sees the orator descend and go towards the sacristy escorted by three ecclesiastics…

The White Prince’s family is said to have spent the war at Lourdes.

It is, of course, fear of German reprisals which has led the prelate to have the prophet expulsed through the cathedral’s little door.  Thereby assuring him even greater popularity.  But from this day, the authorities begin to search for his origins and the stages of his notoriety.  It is noticed that no-one has ever succeeded in making him say where and when he was born.  His lieutenants think that his father is called Millet, although, speaking of his parents, he just says:

“My mother is of the nobility, her name is Placida de Baruete and she gave me the first name of Leon because my patron saint is the one who was able to stop Attila!”

Some think that the Millets come from Lorraine or from the Territoire de Belfort.  But the authorities, who investigate there, are unable to find the slightest clue on the Registers.  It is thought however that the White Prince’s family “retreated” to Lourdes in 1940 and that he then spent a lot of time in the miraculous grotto.  That he met there a priest, the Reverend Father Michel Collin, to whom a revelation from Heaven gave the order to found the Croisade du Rosaire et du Magnificat.  The future White Prince will be one of the first to enrol in the “Croises des Temps Nouveaux”, whose chief is Abbot Collin.  The Abbot leads his little association to Romans, where Monsignor Pic, impressed by the quality of his faith, puts the parish locality of Saint-Croix de Romans at his disposition.  The Sisters of Niederbronn are already camped there.  They have been evacuated too, and each evening public prayers are organized in the Community’s chapel.  One evening in November 1940, while the little group of faithful is beginning the Miserere, tears are seen to fall from the eyes of an alabaster Holy Virgin.  Leon is the most emotional, and Father Collin observes that, from this day on, his qualities of Initiate and Proselyte will become stronger.  So rapidly, that he thinks to make him the chief of the crusade which is going to be organized.

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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