Check to Your King
Chapter Two — Document in Exile
Document in Exile
To begin the history of a life with the words “I don't know” seems, perhaps, odd.
On second thoughts it is insufferable. One must then resort to strategy. This is best done by the immediate imagining of a stage, on which the puppets can do a little explaining for themselves.
Ring up the curtain….
To the fore of the stage a staring notice-board bears the legend, “London, A.D., 1804.” The darkness is no kindly twilight, but pea-soup fog. Softly, from chimney-pots, high iron fences, and tall, discouraging buildings in Berwick Street, drift the deciduous yellow leaves of this vapour, piling up in a great sad dream valley, as though centuries of autumns lay perished there. Between the street's facades of veiled grotesquerie slouches a boy of eight years old. Look at him quickly, we have only a minute: yes, perhaps some resemblance to a scared rabbit, with his enormous and terrified hazel eyes, the wisp of chestnut hair pulled over his high forehead….Our Charles, none other.
No. 35 Berwick Street. For a moment he gazes about with a trapped expression, like one of the shy and youthful damned constrained against his will to make the devil peevish by hammering on the gates of hell. The door slams open; he is beckoned into the most undignified hole in London, to wit, the Sponging-House, politely transcribed for posterity as the Debtors' Prison.
* * * *
One's horizon is always being enlarged. Here is Papa in prison. page 5 But does one inevitably want this enlargement? Sometimes little horizons seem the safest…the tent bounded by the four bandy legs of the sitting-room table, the worn hearth-rug, overcast with the golden ghosts of flames. The horizon is larger if one opens the door and ventures into the corridors, but then there are the old ladies with terrible teeth and knobs of hair, old ladies with bony fingers. They are Papa's pensionnaires. If they pay their rent, they are invariably on the point of leaving the house. If they don't pay, they stay for ever; and Maman, though her bosom heaves indignantly when she is alone with Charles, is afraid of them face to face.
Looking through the window of one's attic bedroom, one sees another horizon. But it is cold, with little bits of soot, like fly-specks on an old painting. The street, centuries ago, made a weary joke and had itself christened New Road. It was never new, however; not as warm new-laid eggs are new, or even with the red but fascinating newness of new babies, of whom Charles knows something, since God sends him small brothers in an apparently unending stream; and how they are to be supported Maman never knows; Papa only when he is in his sanguine mood, which results in such unexampled trouble.
The large red horses, plodding down New Road, lift up their tails and supply the middle of the street with piles of steaming straw-coloured manure. One feels it is somehow indelicate of them, a situation demanding that one should look away. But the sparrows, friendly on the sills of the attic windows, take it in a jolly spirit. Sparrows are the soul of London.
Other things happen in New Road: things like the faded passion in the smell of violets, as a flower-seller trundles his barrow past; tragic, humped, unshaven things, dragging their aimless limbs by, shrouded in rags; waif things, as when the little girls appear at five in the morning to whiten the doorsteps of the wealthier houses, a ha'penny the doorstep. The lamps are still guttering dimly then, and along run the little girls, so small, with such white faces and such great eyes, that they are like a sad breed of fairies. (Forests grew here once, even in London. The forests were hacked down; the fairies had to make the best of it, like us, the émigrés.)
There was horizon-widening of a different sort when Papa lifted the lid of the piano and played. Strong, steady sweeping notes, like the battle of a swimmer against mighty waves. Despite all the talk, the enthusiastic gatherings of minor Royalists who still drifted in when Papa had any money to spend, page 6 Charles felt most certain that his father was a Somebody when he played the piano.
And now Papa is in prison. Not a bad prison of its kind - the enemies and detractors of the Baron de Thierry would say it was too good for the old fraud. No toads nor rats. Scourge and torture kept well in the background. Fleas, perhaps. A tiny room, bare of everything but bench and deal table on which are cheap paper, ink-horn, quills and two mean tallow candles. Already Charles knows his papa well enough to suspect that, once give him writing-materials, little else is necessary.
Naturally, it's a much more outrageous thing to arrest a baron and clap him in gaol than if he were a common man, and, from the way Maman talks, the least Monseigneur the Comte d'Artois will do when he hears of it is to have the whole rascally English nation whipped at the cart-tail. On the other hand, in a frightening way, it does give more life to those old tales of which Papa is so full: the tale of the king whose head was cut off, of the queen who played at shepherdess, and the dauphin shut in the temple. At thought of the lost prince, favourite dream-playmate, tears of mingled pity and excitement for all prisoners rush to little Charles de Thierry's eyes. “Papa, Papa,” he stammers. The old Baron, seeing his son émotionné, would not dream of losing the moment. Instantly he makes a speech….
The old fraud, his enemies would say, and do say. There are bills everywhere. Ah, such bills! Butcher, baker, candlestick-maker—one can only suppose that he has hypnotised the lot of them. His reply to any charge is magnificence itself. “What would you have? One is not born to it. I am not a lodging-house keeper, I am a Baron.”
God knows, indeed, whatever inspired the old gentleman to begin with his lodging-house; one of those extraordinary and perverted visions which keep popping in and out of his brain—and while they last, mind you, they glow like roasting chestnuts. Maybe he saw the lodging-house as a rencontre for Royalist intrigue. He would love that; he flourishes on intrigue like a bed of nettles. Or else, in his view, his title and romantic circumstances were sufficient to guarantee pensionnaires of the gentler sort. But the actuality…! If the Baroness de Thierry is terrified of her guests, not less so, in his way, is her husband. “Figure to yourself,” he cries. “They ask, the English, for boiled mutton in the middle of the day. C'est incroyable!” And then, if he puts his nose out of his bedroom to venture along to the lavatory, he is sure to hear another door slam, and to catch a glimpse of a nightcapped page 7 head, suspicious as a snail's, retreating into safety. “The virgins,” he says, helplessly; “they consider, it seems, that I wish to seduce them. Nevertheless, they wear flannel night-gowns. The English are not practical.” His hands wave again; he mutters, “Figure to yourself.”
The little Baroness looks almost shrewish. Figures are the bane of her life. God keeps sending the little ones. First Caroline, when they had barely fled from France, and were tarrying awhile in the Netherlands. That was well enough*—the child was born at the Orange palace of Lackeu. She mightn't have been, it is true, but she came prematurely; and the good young Prince and Princess of Orange could not bring themselves to request the Baroness de Thierry to move, when she had actually, and with such determination, started her labour.
Then Charles, in London. After him, in succession, Francis, Louis, Frederick, little Cecil. At the thought of Cecil, her tired hands go to her eyes. The house in New Road killed Cecil. There was typhoid in the place; the pensionnaires decamped, mostly without paying their rent; and the end of it was an infant corpse under a sheet soaked in disinfectant. Children of exile … it is easy to understand that they might be better accommodated in heaven.
Do we see, then, in cellar cool at Berwick Street, an old knight disarmed? Look again at the ink-horn. Among many uncertainties one unfailing de Thierry trait stands out plainer than Cleopatra's Needle. No de Thierry, given the use of writing-materials, may be considered forlorn. They adored writing pamphlets.
The great pen flourishes, swoops like an eagle on the defenceless paper.
To His Royal Highness,
Brother of Louis XVIII,
King of France.
In this life arise painful circumstances which call for the sort of explanation honour now compels me to bring beneath the eye of your Royal Highness. Only to yourself and to my King need I render account for my conduct, which has ever been to uphold throne and Church. My devotion lies with the illustrious family of the Bourbons. That deep love, graven on my heart as on the hearts of all my family, has been the cause of unjust and slanderous reports which secret enemies have had the wickedness to put page 8 forth about me. Always, they cry, I thrust myself to the fore. Far be it from me to deny this truth, but it should be looked at in daylight, not in the colour given by jealousy. A score of times I have come near losing my life. Why are they not in like case? I have never thrust myself forward here, in the nest of the French Republic's envoys. Always in my works and speech I have made plain what now I write, that my device has most constantly been, “God and my King.”
It would be tedious here to establish my own descent and that of my wife. I will take only the liberty of recalling to your Royal Highness that it was one of my forefathers who replaced the Seneschal de Molac, and, at the famous Battle of Pavie (February 24th, 1525), saved the life of a French king by laying down his own life. The King did not then reproach him with thrusting himself to the fore. Those incapable of a like devotion would heap on him ridicule, such as they have heaped on me for more than forty years; a ridicule which does not blush to accompany its sneers with the vilest calumnies, even against Madame de Thierry; not against her virtue — that, not the boldest dare dispute — but concerning her birth. Yet your Highness knows that Madame her mother was daughter to the Marquis de Monbion, officer of the Gendarmes of the Garde. She married M. de Laville, inspector of wide districts, and a man whose probity is vouched for on all reports. The Queen had the goodness to award Mademoiselle de Laville a pension of 1200 livres for her education, and a few years later gave to her brother the consulate of Dront-heim, in Norway. It was with their Majesties' consent that I obtained Mademoiselle de Laville's hand, and after our marriage we were presented together to our King and Queen, who said to us, “Be happy.” I thanked her gracious Majesty for that pension of which I have spoken. “I do not withdraw my favours except from those who no longer deserve them,” she answered. “The King and myself will do everything possible for your happiness.”
Little Charles, bored with the muttered words of what is a very old tale to him, lets his mind wander back to his mother, that former Mademoiselle de Laville of whom Papa writes.
“Charles, Charles, you're to attend at once on your father. Your father is writing an appeal to Monsieur. Your father says you must take the papers to the printer's….” And that final “Charles!” wailing after him just when he's on the door-mat. The little Maman opens her arms with a dramatic gesture, revealing her bosom: needing a safety-pin, but still rounded and white page 9 — an odd thing, considering the number of little ones God sends. He rests his face there a moment, her mouth touches his cheek. Many things go into that kiss: Affection, worry, fear, the vaguely improper humour of the stranded and desperate, remorse that life isn't spoiling little Charles, as our eldest sons ought to be spoiled.
“They won't cut off my heat at the prison?”
“Silly cabbage.… Here in England, they haven't even a guillotine.”
She forbears to mention how readily, with their own rough dexterity, they will hang, draw, and quarter you on the briefest acquaintance.
Prison without guillotine and executioner seems out of all tradition to Charles. Rubbing his eyes, he tries to make out the signs marking off this tiny room as a real cell, and suddenly has it. The candles, stinking tallow, where the de Thierrys, in their worst days even, had wax. There were wax candles, their flames budding like little miraculous snow-roses, at that unlucky memorial service, which had really precipitated all this trouble….
The old man, staring through the wall at the face of a young queen who had been gracious, sees other pictures. Pictures and memories; nothing else left until the end.
The fiddles in the darkness strike up their deuced melancholy wailing, very softly. “O Richard.… O mon roi….”
It is too late, my sentimental Blondels. King Richard is very dead; no deader, however, than your King Louis XVI will be when this Paris mob has done with him.
Paris, beginning the final decade of the eighteenth century. The avalanche grows ready to fall. Among the Bourbonists, a little less important than he thinks himself, but not to be surpassed in brutal energy, is the young Baron de Thierry, recently married to a Mademoiselle de Laville. At his house some of the deputies have formed a habit of dropping in. He sets himself to weed out the destructivists from those still Royalist at heart, pumping them for all he is worth. He wheedles his way into the dens of the rising bureaucracy. (“Always,” cry his peevish critics, “de Thierry thrusts himself to the fore.”)
Comes the opportunity for a more spectacular part. At the moment when the Gardes Françoises abandon their king, the little Baron claps wings to heels and runs to the houses of Versailles' loyal gentlemen. “It is necessary to guard our King!” he cries. “Drawn swords in hand, if we can't get muskets!"
The gate-sentries supply a score or two of rifles, and within a day, under leadership of the Commandant, M. de Poix, the page 10 Gentlemen's Guard of Versailles has been formed. “In which,” he writes, with conscious virtue, “I wished merely the rank and title of Captain.”
One drama leads to another. Here we have the Baron de Thierry beguiling the populace into stripping themselves of jewels and gold watches for something he refers to vaguely, though passionately, as “the cause of the people”; here rescuing the Comte d'Artois. His Majesty, with the Comte de Provence and the Comte d'Artois (the “Altesse Royale” of the Baron's passionate appeal from his sponging-house), leave the assembly, to proceed to a chateau. Preceded by the deputies, Baron de Thierry also makes his departure. At the palace gates he espies a group of brigands, armed with stones and brickbats, and crying with one accord, “It is necessary that we kill the Comte d'Artois!” “Down with d'Artois!” and other slogans of the sort. On the whole, a none too original idea, since d'Artois, from birth to death, remained the implacable autocrat, wholly out of sympathy with the people.
Already the deputies, quitting the palace, were in the Avenue de Paris. De Thierry raced after them, recalled them, and, bidding them link arms, thus formed two rows, between which slowly advanced the royal party. At the high iron gates reserved for royalty, the mob thronged and eddied, and made remarks. The Baron skipped ahead of his King, crossed the rifles of two Swiss guards against the grille, and held them there until the party had passed.
(“His Royal Highness, Monsieur, now rightful King of France, will not, I feel sure, have forgotten this. It was then that the King said to me, “Withdraw, my dear fellow, you will be killed.' Far from reproaching me with thrusting myself forward, he had the goodness that evening to send M. de Saugest to my home for news of me.”)
A discussion is arranged between the King and General la Fayette. Drawn swords in hand, the Royalist “gentlemen of goodwill” march afoot as bodyguard to the King's carriage, two chevaliers of St. Louis clinging to the great gilded doors as the state coach trundles through Paris. Parisians and monarch meet.
(“It was at this moment that M. Bailly, offering the King the keys of Paris, spoke those all too significant words, the most cunning and ominous expression of Jacobinism. ‘Henri IV conquered his people,’ he said. ‘Today, the people conquer their King.”’)
At five, Louis takes to the road again. The Paris guard link up page 11 with that of Versailles around the gilded coach. His Majesty begs to thank his gentlemen for their services. “It grows late, my family will be anxious.” he adds, his eyes darkening. “Already I have sent three couriers to the Queen.” “Try to march faster, His Majesty is hungry,” whispers the Duc de Vilquier to the sworded and sweating bodyguard. But, though an attempt is made to break into a trot, the Parisians swarm around the coach, forcing it to proceed at snail's pace. At Sèvres they fall in with more of His Majesty's loyal guards. The palace is reached at last, and how strangely mockery mingles with the moment's enthusiasm, as the Parisians roar, “Long live the King!”
Bread and flour are now of unexampled scarcity. Behold the Baron de Thierry perched on the seat of a lumbering blue wagon, whipping up his horse for Versailles, with a load of the precious wheat. Versailles is to be provisioned at any cost; King Louis has given carte blanche to his gentlemen (who never again see the colour of their money). The Parisians steal the Versailles conveyances, but de Thierry triumphantly brings three cartloads of grain to the palace doors. In the city, where the famished pillage every baker's shop, a determined effort is made to hang one baker, the Sieur Fontain, of rue Notre Dame, for his indiscretion in selling rolls to the Court. The Baron de Thierry contrives the escape of this worthy, then distributes several bushels of grain among the prowlers outside the palace gates, and offers money to those who look hungriest. “They listened to reason,” he writes, with a lack of logic which is superb in its way.
His Paris days are numbered. The little Gentlemen's Guard still turns up its nose at the tricolour, disporting itself in uniforms with cream and blue cockades, and bright buttons graven with the words, “Pro Patria et Rege”. But on November 29th, 1790, the procès instituted by the Duc d'Orléans begins, its avowed object to discover conspirators against the national welfare. Four Royalists are at once proscribed – Boucher d'Argis, Duvalnampti, Delasser, and de Thierry, who is at the moment busying himself with a secret society of King's friends, under the encouraging title, “The House of Fraternity”. That house is never builded. The first de Thierry to lose his head over Lady Guillotine does so in 1792. Before the Revolution is over, fourteen more of the family go the same way. The widowed Madame de Laville, daughter of the Marquis de Monbion, who came to Paris to see her daughter married on Marie Antoinette's bounty, met a different end. She took refuge in a Paris church; fifteen pikes pinned the terrified old woman to the altar.page 12
The Baron and Baroness de Thierry were safe in Grave when the news of Louis XVI's execution came through. Ah, what a tragedy! Weeping copiously, the organiser of the little Gentlemen's Guard arranged the first memorial service held abroad in honour of the martyr. The Hollanders joined in with the émigrés.
It was an unlucky step, that memorial service, as the Baroness de Thierry would freely have told you. The tiger has tasted blood.
The family was in luckier case than most. The Princess of Orange befriended them; the Baroness, as has been narrated, was accouched on the royal premises. When they departed for England, the baby Caroline carried around her little neck a huge gold medallion, in which was twisted a lock of the Princess's hair. Letters from the Orange household saved them from the pestering of the Aliens Office in London.
In England the father of the family was restless as a spectre on a lost battlefield — always underfoot, writing pamphlets on the Revolution, dedicating them to those Bourbons who yet survived. In London the eldest son was born, and at once assaulted with the names of Charles Philip Hippolytus. But they made something of that christening. The Comte d'Artois, by that time head of the Royalists in London, stood godfather.
Charles may have been London-born, but he was reared in a tiny travelling circus of France. From London to Bath, from Bath to Weymouth — where he was taken for Jacobin and spy — prowled de Thierry pére, succeeding in plunging the whole family into disfavour with English and émigrés alike. Shady rumours started to get about. He harassed authority for permission to revisit France, where an aunt of his wife's had left an estate which would shower gold upon him…if he could once get at it. In 1802, d'Artois gave the required permission. To France, camouflaged as an Englishman, went the adventurer, rejoicing. In Dover, his family waited with what patience they could muster for news of his execution.
Once in France, he seems to have made little effort with his English masquerade. His snuff-box flourished a miniature of the excellent King Henri IV. Providence seems at times to have kept a soft spot for the erratic de Thierry. He moved among his own kind, ghosts, men who remembered dead glories, dead faces. After six months he won back to England with unscratched complacency, and reported to a pardonably surprised Comte d'Artois that France was still Royalist at heart.
Naturally, most of the émigrés took him for a spy. The de Thierrys, father and son, did so many things obviously insane in page 13 the eyes of a reasonable person that reasonable persons, discovering them quite normal in conversation and habits, at once put them down for deep scoundrels. But honesty was always one of the few real de Thierry addictions.
That visit was the beginning of the end. People dropped him. He started the lodging-house; the pensionnaires wished boiled mutton at midday; the virgins regarded him as though they expected him to seduce them, and yet they wore flannel nightgowns. The little Baroness, it is true, would not have minded if he had seduced the English virgins, who might then have been pleasanter to her. How many times must she have taken to her kitchen, her bosom heaving, the tears welling piteously over her still pretty little face?
But lodging-house keeper was no role for the Baron de Thierry. To have, on the contrary, a real speaking part…He had it. Another memorial service, celebrating the anniversary of the martyred dead, Louis and his Antoinette.
Thomas calls himself an entrepreneur, but the fact is, he's a villain and a robber. One commits oneself to his hands. What happens? First, a series of postponements. We will have the memorial service here, we will have it there….One might run one's legs off following him. Then comes the horrible news that the French Protestants will not attend the service unless the Catholics are excluded; while the Catholics are waiting for an assurance that no Protestants will be admitted. It takes a de Thierry to handle a thing like this….
Three hundred émigrés waited outside St. Patrick's one day in pouring rain. At last the Baron de Thierry, resplendent in his old uniform, appeared under an umbrella with key and clergyman, and triumphantly entered the church. It was all very damp, but tall white candles fluttered little flags of flame over kneeling men and women; the names of the dead were spoken in devoted voices… prayers of ghosts for ghosts.
On leaving the church, however, the Baron de Thierry was at once arrested. A carpet-weaver charged him with debt. A winemerchant, a good fellow, promptly bailed him out. But then the iniquitous Thomas spread rumours concerning the subscriptions collected for the memorial Mass, of which fund the Baron was treasurer. (This was not past understanding. Since early morning, Thomas had been besieged by both Protestants and Catholics, unanimous at least in wanting their money back.) Rumour coursed; the amount swelled to a fortune, on which the Baron, leaving his bankrupt lodging-house together with his wife and page 14 large family, was to turn Jacobin and flee at once to France.
The fact that the Baron was in bed, and his wife sitting beside him wringing her little hands and weeping piteously, did not alter the case. He was arrested, forced to appear at the King's Bench, then confined at the Berwick Street debtors' prison. He protested he could give a full account of the 76 livres collected. His enemies murmured that it was rather a little matter of 1500 livres. “Ah, quelle différence…! Ah, quel sort!” cries the accused, driving his pen into the ink-horn, and launching out into yet another paragraph of his appeal to the Comte d'Artois.
(In this year of 1936, the full text of the appeal, in the pamphlet form in which it emerged from the printing presses, still survives with the papers of the de Thierry family. And on it, in faded ink, an old man who was once the little boy of New Road and Berwick Street has traced these words: “Very important for the family. Written by my father.”)
Think what a ghostly thing is a spinet. It is a sort of nearmissing link in music, a chain of flowers between past and present. It still stands, spectral, in a few music-rooms; light hands touch it from time to time. But its silver cord is almost severed.
There is no portrait of that Mademoiselle de Laville who, by marrying the Baron de Thierry, became the mother of Our Charles. Her Christian name is nowhere mentioned; neither are the date and circumstances of her death in exile recorded. But there is a casual mention that she played the spinet.
A pair of white hands on a spinet. Nothing more.
We are now faced with a problem. Was the old gentleman who so forcefully recalled his services in this appeal to d'Artois really the victim of injustice? Was he punished too hard for peccadilloes, while fine services were forgotten? Or was he, on the other hand, a lunatic?
If we take the circumstances recorded in that appeal as gospel, we have a personage—a man of valour, however he may smack of Ancient Pistol, and, never let us forget it, an authentic baron.
Yet, for a man of the attainments to which the elder Baron de Thierry laid claim, one might have expected some break in history's conspiracy of silence.
There are some who have been definitely unkind. There is a Maurice Besson; he alleged, in an article written for the Bulletin de la Société des Etudes Océaniennes (June 1933), that our Baron, arriving in London with the titles de Ville d'Avray glowing like a comet's tail behind him, was no nobleman at all, but the nephew of King Louis XVI's faithful valet; and that he justified his claim page 15 to the “de Ville d'Avray” by possession of a wretched little shanty at that spot.
It is true that elsewhere, when he plunges into detail concerning New Zealand, M. Besson is a mine of misinformation. It is also true that, by some confusion of generations, he attributes to Our Charles (blithely unborn at the time of the revolution) all his father's adventures as well as his own, which would have made him a centenarian long before he had time to become King of Nukahiva, Sovereign Chief of New Zealand.
On the other hand, some explanation for the elder baron's fall from being the right hand of the Bourbons (as he says) to becoming the debtor of the wine-merchant and Thomas the entrepreneur does seem called for.
One can imagine it. London, following upon the incipience of the Revolution.
“The Baron de Thierry…his estate, where would that be?”
“It escapes me also. But, my dear fellow, if a man tells me he is a French baron, naturally I take it that he is a French baron. What else? French barons are about as popular as the plague in Paris, and two a penny in London. If he weren't a baron, would the chap say he was a baron? Come, now. There's everything against the supposition.”
“Yes, but it's different here in England. The English, you know, they're such snobs. They don't like anybody without money to virtual desperation, but, if it comes to the point, how much better, they reason, a baron than a butcher. And, suppose this old de Thierry is really the nephew of a valet, as I've heard it whispered…can't you imagine the expostulations? There is, I assure you, a perfect system, a sort of round game. ‘Have you the butler of my grand-aunt?’ ‘No, but I have the housemaid of your great-uncle, the one with the long nose. My cousin Derek's gardener's wife has the child of the cook, who is also the child of my cousin Derek, but, oh no, we never mention it.’ A place for everyone, you understand, and everyone in his proper place. Well, this de Thierry, he dramatises. Can one dramatise to effect while pressing trousers? If he assumes a title, it is to do what his circumstances call for.”
Some evidence, however, may be mustered in support of M. le Baron's authenticity. There are attested copies of certificates and papers: a passport, signed by M. M. Necker and M. le Comte de St. Priest, August 18th, 1789, issued to “Sieur de Thierry, Capitaine de la 18ième Compagnie de la Garde Bourgeoise de Versailles”; a certificate from M. le Marquis de Quenille, April page 16 20th, 1792, stating that “the Sieur de Thierry is in every way worthy of the regard of the Princes”, and that, arriving that year in Coblentz, he was presented to the Electoral Prince and Princess. The most interesting document is a copy of a certificate given in London, May 30th, 1797, and signed by the Comte de Vaudreuil, Grand Fauconnier de France, Chevalier des Ordres du Roi et Maréchal de Camp et des Armées:
I certify that I have seen and examined all the titles that M. the Baron de Thierry de Laville cites, and that they are in correct order and prove in plainest manner his zeal, faithfulness, and strong attachment to the King and the Royal Family, also the services he has rendered and attempted to render on their behalf: in belief of which, I sign the present certificate.
There was a time, you know, when history was peppered with virgin births. Madame the Queen was the happy mother, you were told; Apollo, Jupiter, Bacchus, old dogs of that sort, were the proud papas. Did one inquire too closely? It made the world more picturesque, and added a glamour to being cuckolded. After the French Revolution, London was doubtless the same sort of hunting-field.
Long afterwards, in New Zealand, Charles, full-blown Baron de Thierry, told legends enough of his youth, but more often of the early, poverty-stricken days than of the later ones, when some benign influence — either that of the Comte d'Artois or of a wealthy unknown — had redeemed the de Thierrys from pawn and set them down in gentle and financial circumstances in Somerset. That lodging-house! It killed off little Cecil, it frightened away the pensionnaires — for those who would bear with the typhoid and the flat pink bugs behind the wallpaper took exception to the old Baron. Only one conclusion is possible. Authentic or not — Great Auk's egg, or simple cuckoo — the Baron was no lodging-house keeper.
Perhaps it is appropriate that his son first appears out of the fog at the sponging-house door, a queer little figure, saddled with a devotion to this papa who, even after borrowing from the winemerchant, never had enough to pay both the carpet-weaver and Thomas the entrepreneur. Perhaps it is fitting that the little Baroness should stand, her bosom heaving with indignation, her tears falling roundly into the saucepans. For their son, Charles de Thierry, lies now in a grave as obscure as any day of his childhood.page 17
Somerset's sweet apple-orchards are a pleasant enough background for later youth. It is astonishing how much better things move when one has money. It restores one's faith in the aristocratic way of life.
Where that faith led Our Charles can now be followed by clearer trails. Once the many doubts and fears concerning his fledgling years have been dragged into daylight, the rest, by comparison, seems very nearly lucid.