Archive for the 'Claire Ferguson + Rebecca Florisson' Category

The Baron

The Baron


Director Bertold likes to sneak over the old servants’ stairs up to the attic in the main building, where spiders doze comfortably between the rafters. He hides from his assistant between wooden crates and furniture, and reads newspapers dating back to 1762. On Wednesday mornings he makes a half-hearted attempt to catalogue the trinkets and oddities Baron Etienne left behind, but inevitably he only spends his time unwrapping and re-wrapping, shifting items from crate to crate. Mere trifles; slices of mummified falcon, human scalps, Chinese ink-jars. He imagines stories for them all. His mind, like the attic, has always been a kind of wonderland.

Castle Den Haar now belongs to Vereniging Natuurmonumenten and day trippers, but when Bertold closes up at night, walks the silent halls and checks the rooms, he strains to hear the footsteps that have come before him. He’s never seen a ghost, no matter how his romantic nature wishes for it, so he takes the common occurrence of creaking doors and whistling under the eaves of the towers and spruces those up with some supernatural glitter when his ten-year old grandson comes to visit Bertold at his workplace every Wednesday after school. Jan rides his bike over the paths of the English gardens, leaving deep grooves in the neatly raked gravel. Not one of the seven languages the audio tours have to offer can explain the patterns he makes, or the rush of pain-love Bertold feels when Jan is half an hour late this week, an hour late the next.

Bertold pulls out the biscuits and the soda he knows Jan likes and takes him on excursions to the 1900s. He imagines for the boy an army of servants that used to be employed in the kitchens, makes him believe they are present on the eve of a party amidst all the bustle, makes him believe they can taste the pastries and the sauces and the expensive brandy and that they can hear the shots of the pheasant hunt filtering in through the coloured glass. Bertold is glad he can still make the boy’s eyes, flat grey-green like the land, go wide and deep with awe.

In that look Bertold finds proof that he is still a useful man. In those eyes and that half-open mouth he tries to store the Castle’s stories, her magnificence, her heart. Bertold has carried the Castle’s heart with him right underneath his own ribs for over thirty-five years, but soon he’ll be retired. She’ll fade out of him like the ancestors have faded out of her walls. When he wipes fingerprints off the glass casings around vases and cutlery, he fears he will become one of the many antiquities, merely a name on a sign, subject to cursory glances.

Any sign of impatience from Jan makes him tremble, turns him into a tottering old fool, but right when his anxiety turns unbearable the Baron surfaces. The Castle, who unites in herself all the ages, comes to Bertold’s aid and allows him to touch heart with the Baron, that good man with his tasseled uniform and his intelligent deep-brown eyes and that curious tilt to his moustache which suggests to Bertold that the Baron always secretly remained a child at heart. The tremulousness steadies, dissipates and the words come easily from Bertold’s mouth, for they are not his own. He talks about the turn of the century, living it; about being a real child of the fin de siècle. Power back then had resided in London, industry in Berlin, the future of good and evil in Vienna. When he speaks he has no fear, but he also doesn’t know if he’s happy. Is it happiness when he knows it cannot last?

Bertold is never more content than on that late afternoon when Jan and he sit side by side on the large stone entrance steps, lions at their back that carry the family crest. They slurp cup-a-soup from paper cups and Bertold lets the boy lecture him on proper text etiquette, what it means to close with three x’s instead of a smiley. That’s the only time Bertold almost feels like he’s a native in Modern Land.

At closing time when he’s sure he’s alone, he pulls the Baron on over his own skin. He gets the strange padded housecoat from the oak wardrobe in the drawing room, strokes his non-existent moustache, and tries out phrases he thinks the Baron might have said, imagining the astounding wrestling match between old dreams and the new world. The Baron participated in both world wars, even had his right foot shot off, so Bertold hobbles around on his left leg and cusses out the Germans. He nearly swipes an Etruscan vase off its perch when he is playing behead-the-Nazi, which isn’t even historically accurate. The Baron would have shot them instead, but Bertold likes the feeling of the old family sword in his hands. Always, when he wanders through the rooms in that housecoat he is aware his time is running out, soon he must re-fold the housecoat and the Baron, leave them in a wardrobe and a picture frame. Through the large bay windows of the Baron’s old study, Bertold notices that when the night trudges on, the yellow spots of the city are encroaching more and more upon the Castle’s horizon.

Those mornings in the attic nothing matters of that matters. Here, Bertold has all the time in the world, he’s got portable magic at his fingertips. He shifts through the treasures of a lost age, transporting himself with the feel of Indian coins in his hands, a piece of Roman sewer pipe, an apple-drill of sheep bone, a tiny bottle with the wedding-cake of Edward VII, a stuffed chimpanzee, sold to the Baron as the mummy of a two-hundred year old man, a piece of wallpaper from Napoleon’s death chamber, a medieval flute from the Rhine. Hunched over a wooden crate, he imagines civilisation thundering towards him over broad roads, fringed on either side by the half-dark labyrinthine little streets, crossings and dead-end alleys of the Baron’s lost era.






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