Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Stranger in the Garden

It is recorded in biographies of Marie-Thérèse-Charlotte of France that the daughter of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette was at times was approached by men claiming to be her brother Louis XVII. The little king had allegedly died in prison in great misery at the age of ten in June of 1795. His sister the Duchesse d'Angoulême was haunted by the rumors that he had somehow survived, as is described in the novel Madame Royale. One such incident occurred in 1816 when the princess was walking in the gardens of Versailles with her brother-in-law the Duc de Berry. The following excerpt re-creates the encounter.
At that moment, footsteps crunched on the gravel behind them. Thérèse assumed it was a member of one of their retinues coming to assure their safety. She turned and beheld a gentleman in his thirties with fair hair. His suit was so worn, it almost could be described as ragged; the innate dignity of the wearer put to flight the notion that he might be a beggar. He was a stranger, yet vaguely familiar. Of medium height, he had a full mouth, with pouting lower lip; large, deep-set blue eyes, an aquiline nose, arched eyebrows, and a high forehead. Rooted to the ground, she felt her hair stand on end. Was he another phantom of her mind? He held out his hand to her.

"Sister, my sister!" he pleaded gently.

Thérèse was surrounded by memory as by a whirlwind. She saw the distant moment when a little blond boy with blood-shot eyes had held out his hand to her, saying "Sister" in the council room of the Temple tower, surrounded by drunken guards and leering officials, where minutes before she had heard him accuse his mother of incest. The pity, horror, confusion, rage and disgust she had known in that hour of darkness returned in a flash, as if the hour were one and the same.

"Go away!" she shouted convulsively to the stranger. "Go away! It is you who are the cause of the misfortunes of my family!"

Berry's eyes widened in consternation and horror as his hand flew to his sword, but the stranger had already run into the wood. He soon vanished among the rows of trees. Berry put his arm around Thérèse, who was bent over as if from nausea, and they hurriedly departed from the gardens of Versailles.

~ from Madame Royale by Elena Maria Vidal, Chapter 18 "The Stranger"

Copyright 2000 by Elena Maria Vidal

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