Monday, 5 January 2009


Something was being tested by Marie-Thérèse. Whether it was my rationalism or my courage or my obedience to the whims of a spoiled daughter and a new friend I could not say. She had commanded me from the moment we met, and I now felt she had invented this test to secure her authority over me, and that if I passed or failed, I would be forever enchained to her caprices. At the same time I wanted to please her, because I already loved the haughty way she shook her black hair and the stern command in her pretty eye. And I did not want her to withdraw from my reach all the secrets of her enchanting world out of displeasure, so I knew fear had already put me in her power. No matter what horrors lay beyond those doors, I was suddenly more afraid of the enticing desire to place myself in the power of another, to acquiesce and abase myself. I remembered what M. Biancolelli had once said when he was at dinner with us, "at the Comedie Italienne we are chosen by our roles." Marie-Thérèse was offering me a role, a mask to wear in return for the pleasure of sharing her father and the theater with her. These thoughts came to me one after another in an instant, my heart pounding in my throat, yet I did not know what to do.

"Do as I say, presto!"

"Do you know what is beyond this door?"

"Si! Yes!" Still looking at me with curiosity.

"I however do not, and I like to be well armed in strange places." I searched about and found a long bolt that had fallen out of the crumbling stone wall. In my small hands it would serve as a poor weapon, but it was at least something to hold out in front of me. I concentrated on keeping it steady because once I decided on a course of action, I had started to quake violently. To hide my fear, without any further delay I pushed open the door a crack and slipped in, alone.

The room beyond the wooden door was a small, dark antechamber to a sunlit room beyond. There was a pile of rags in one corner and a strong, cold breeze that caused some motion within it. I moved toward the sunlight, my back to the wall, never taking my eyes from the stirring shape. I could hear Marie-Thérèse's voice calling my name, but I was now seized by such a paroxysm of fear that I could barely open my mouth. I watched in horror as the ragged shape in the corner began to struggle violently and then rise. From under a rotting shroud a dark malevolent eye watched me balefully, filled with hatred and spite. I ran the last few steps into the sunlight, which streamed in through two ogival windows. A great raucous screech pursued me and as I turned I saw an enormous black form bear down, its bony talons raised to seize my face. I struck out in terror with the iron bolt and fell senseless to the ground, as the creature flew past me on terrible wings and disappeared out the window with a caw.

"Yolande, Yolande, di cosa si tratta? Aiuto!"

When I came to myself, I found there was blood on my hands and face. I got to my feet unsteadily and hobbled to the pile in the corner. It was a crow's nest, filled with animal bones and coins, bits of colored string and metal buttons. "Stay where you are!" I cried to Marie-Thérèse, "do not come in!" I could hear the sound of her sobbing on the other side of the door. I poked at the crow's treasure and uncovered a large bird skull and a bit of mirror that I used to inspect myself as I wiped my face and hands with my dress. I found no scratches, but had struck my scalp when I fell and was bleeding from the crown. My hair was hopelessly tangled and clotted with blood, but my hands had stopped shaking. We were in the Tower of Jean-sans-peur, the same ancient pillar around which the hôtel de Bourgogne was propped, that I had seen from street. The windows gave a prospect of Rue Mauconseil and Rue Françoise with their milling crowds and a distant view of les Halles and l'Isle de France beyond.

"Oh, Yolande, I am afraid, Don't leave me alone!"

I returned to the door and pulled it open. Marie-Thérèse was clutching herself and quivering. I did not put my arms around her or comfort her. I looked down on her and said, "You have nothing to fear." She looked at my bloodstained dress, my wild hair, and my hands blackened with dirt, and recoiled. I pointed to the pile of bones in the corner, which she could now plainly see through the open door. Her expression changed from fear to surprise and horror. She looked at me then, and I wondered if she was about to throw her arms around me or back away. I said, "There was never anything to fear," then pushed past her on the stairway and descended. She followed me without a sound.


Enjah Mysterio said...

Such courage in the face of terror, of the unknown! It is exactly what we will all need at our moment of dying, and you have had it always. I am inspired! Once again, thank you for your memoir.

Young Geoffrion said...

Courage? Nay, it was one fear overpowering the second, a strata of terrors overlaying pure, liquid dread. I never felt less courageous in my life, and no little ashamed for letting Marie-T think I was braver than I was. But thank you for reading and commenting, Enjah, for you are what inspire me.

hba said...

You sell yourself short... to hold one's fears in check takes no short measure of courage!