FAMILY GATHERING  13.7.2002

GRÄNNI HER YOUTH LIFE STORY

GRÄNNI ERINNERUNGEN 3 – englisch

 

The journey to Dover and from there to Calais, across the Normandy until Brest and Morlaix seemed to be like a journey to the end of the world. I left the train at Brest full of grief, anxiety and I felt harassed as I was entering an unknown future. Nobody met me at the station. Full of grief I sat on my shabby, squalid luggage and cried. This brought me an unusual, astonishing and consoling relief. It was more effective than tears. After a short while I saw a princely carriage arrive. It was pulled by two black horses and accompanied by a farmhand as well as a coachman who sat on the top of the carriage. Out of this almost frightening but luxurious wagon emerged a lady who, after glaring around, caught sight of a waiting lonely girl.  “You are Miss. Brewer?” Was her question in French language? Surprised by her distinguished appearance, I was not even able to utter one word. I only nodded with my head.

We travelled across endless green fields. Sometimes yellow cornfields emerged on the horizon. The silence inside the coach was now interrupted by the countess: “In your reference letter you described yourself as very humble and further to this small and thin. You forgot to mention, your prettiness!”

Slowly the darkness crept over the countryside and it seemed to kill all the colours and life. In my tiredness, I did not realise, that suddenly we passed through an immense iron entrance gate and drove slowly along a chestnut avenue. In the twilight the castle of which I had always dreamed emerged. It was old, frightening and dark. The carriage stopped at the main entrance and many servants and service staff received us.

After that long, tiring but impressive journey, I woke up next morning quite fresh and relaxed. I sat upright in my bed, as a servant knocked at the door and brought me the breakfast. I felt as if I was in heaven. Never before had I enjoyed such a breakfast. A big mug full of tasty, steaming coffee and slices of brown bread covered with a thick portion of butter made me feel like a princess. The wonderful, tasty creamy milk floated in the coffee. The delicious bread and the sweet butter were like a surprise sent from heaven. Bearing in mind that I was brought up in a very modest, poor family. Somebody’s knocking at the door suddenly interrupted my thoughts. A maid entered; her task was to accompany me to the countess salon. This was over decorated with sumptuous wall hangings and rich embroidery. “I called you my dear, to inform you that your duty here is to teach my 8 years old son, Rudolf, using the English language. I wish that you speak with him only in English and of course with the best English accent. That’s all”. She bowed her head to a servant, who accompanied me out of the room. She then introduced me to the governess of the young Duke called Blanche Duprex. “Did you survive your audience with the duchess in her elegant salon?“ Was her first question?

 

Together we strolled across the huge fabulous park. “You will not stay here for a long time” In her voice was a note of grieve. “Why not? “ Was my wondering question. She answered in a mysterious and unbelievable way. “Because of the duchesses situation, beautiful little girl”. “ Is the duchess so dreadful and selfish?” “ Just wait and see!”

A little later in the afternoon Blanche called me to the young Duke to give him his first English lesson. As I crossed a huge hall I noticed at the end of it a very tall man. Astonished and with a questioning glance I looked at Blanche and at her blushing cheek. She tightly pressed my hands. “This is his Royal Highness.“ She whispered with some agitation. “Imagine he is a descendent of the King and each drop of his blood is highly aristocratic.

With a certain relief and to my astonishment I found him to be warm, open and trustworthy. This was contrary to the duchess: she was cold, frightening and whenever I met her I felt a certain chill on my skin. He acted like a gentleman and certainly understood his privileged life. I don’t know why, the following sentence written by Shakespeare came into my mind whenever I saw him: “…and above all dangerous are these kind of men!”

 

The days went and came. I gave English lessons to the young Duke, enjoyed the excellent meals and tried to avoid the cold glances of the Lady of the house. In privacy I tried to imitate her naughty and distant manner. Sometimes I knitted or went for a swim in the azure blue sea. From time to time I noticed, that the Duke was smiling at me in a friendly way. During the autumn the castle was the meeting point for hunters. I was full of joy at being able to see all the gentlemen give up their stiff ways and enjoy themselves. They spread a warm and friendly atmosphere throughout the house.

 

One evening the Duke decided to take a trip to the island of Ouessant to meet the farmers there. He stated: “To make the journey more official, I wish to be accompanied”. He first looked at his wife who immediately refused; Blanche mentioned her propensity to travel sickness. He was quite upset about the ladies reaction but finally he looked at me: “And you?” “Yes, I would be pleased to join you”. I knew that the island was a forlorn spot and the access to it was quite dangerous, but I didn’t want to miss the adventure. In reality, the weather was so stormy and the sea so rough that the crossing made me so sick and I only recovered again when I felt soil under my feet. The fishermen’s life on the island was not easy at all, but the Duke gave them hope, encouragement and sympathy. He well understood their worries and their painful life. In the mean time the sea calmed down and the way back was an unforgettable adventure. We sailed towards the setting sun, which was disappearing into the sea. The sea, the land and the sky seemed to glitter with gold and I tried to grasp with my hands a little bit of that richness.

The New Year’s Eve celebrations were an important event. The guests arrived in the most fabulous fancy dress and it all looked like an unbelievable dream. Blanche and I enjoyed with great pleasure this gathering. To my surprise one of the gentlemen asked me for a dance.

 

Blanche immediately escaped and as I followed her, I looked into the grim, warning face of the Duchesse.

The young Duke made extremely good progress with his English conversation. He was a nice, gentle boy and looked more like his father with brown eyes and blond unstyled hair. I wished I could take him into my arms and flee with him to my parents home, where laughing and happiness meets.

An incident happened one day as I walked alone across the park. The Duke suddenly appeared before me. He led me into part of the garden where the most beautiful, flowering rose bushes was located. He broke off one of the scented red roses and offered it to me with the words: “Like you my dear, the rose is living just one short morning”. The same evening the Duchess called me in to her salon and explained that I had to return home for good. I was a little at a loss. I was brought up in a convent school, my conscience told me that I hadn’t done anything wrong and was really surprised by the Duchess attitude. Did my beauty provoke a certain jealousy? Impossible, that couldn’t be the reason for sending me home. I always made certain that my curls didn’t cover my eyes and I was always dressed in a modest black dress.

The same carriage and the same horses brought me back to the station on the way home. However, the child who travelled this time was different. She had discovered that honesty, consciousness and openness were not always appreciated. – But – at the last moment, and before leaving the castle, the Duke decided to travel with me to Brest. A slow smile spread over his face and he handed over to me a bag full of money and added: “Bye, Bye and au revoir, little ray of sun!”

All my sisters were waiting for me at the railway station. The welcome was overwhelming. The youngest asked for souvenir gifts. I told them that the money I had earned would be a reward for my parents for all their love and understanding. At home my father and mother embraced me so much that I forgot the unhappy departure from the castle and its inhabitants.

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