Monday, April 6, 2009


About myself. I was born in 1868 in Perpignan where my father who hailed from the region of the Pyrenees and was of Franco-Spanish lineage was in practice as a notary and a partner in a prosperous law firm, not that I remember him at all clearly because he was killed in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War. He was a reserve cavalry officer and had been re-called to the colours in France's hour of need. He died a hero's death my mother was told. She bore her loss stoically. She was Spanish or rather Catalan and an orphan at the time of her marriage to my father. They had met when he was on business in Barcelona where she was working as a governess in the house of his client. He had been smitten by her dark beauty and carried her off in a whirlwind romance to Perpignan. At the war's end when things were settled down it was revealed that my father had brought the law firm and of course his partner to near ruin through embezzlement of clients' monies to satisfy his gambling losses and the needs of a series of mistresses. When all this had become public knowledge my mother fled precipitately from Perpignan to escape the ensuing scandal and found refuge for us in the household of a distant cousin of hers (her only living relative I was told) in Vaulx-en-Velin a small town on the outskirts of Lyon. All my mother said to me later was that this change in our situation was necessitated by my father's death; only when I was approaching manhood did I hear the true story. This "cousin" of hers, Francisco Lopez Ferrero Saenz, was an old man who lived a very reclusive, frugal life in a modest villa in a secluded part of town with extensive but rather neglected grounds around which he would take his daily walk accompanied by a large dog which looked fierce but in reality was more like a household pet. Other than that he spent most of his time in his library which was extensive. About once a month however he would go into Lyon on business accompanied by Hutier, a big powerful old soldier, who was manservant, coachman, and general odd-job man. Once a month also a group of twelve men would come to the villa and proceed with Tio Francisco to a detached building in the grounds which resembled in some ways a chapel but without any outward religious symbols. Their conclave's lasted for several hours. On occasions an old man in the dress of an Orthodox Jew would pay him a visit and they would spend several hours in the library together. During this time the library was barred to me and the household staff and the door firmly locked. Despite having an air of shabby gentility Saenz was in truth an extremely wealthy man who had inherited a large share in a family fortune originally made in the silver mines of Bolivia....Soon after her arrival my mother assumed the role of chatelaine...The old man insisted that I call him Tio Francisco, literally Uncle Francisco but with a wider meaning in Spanish family usage... So I grew up in his household and I had a free run of the house and grounds (except the detached building mentioned) providing I did not get in his way. From the age of seven however he acted as my tutor and laid the foundations of my education. He was a strict schoolmaster and a disciplinarian and not above using physical means to correct my shortcomings so that under his regime I became a quick and diligent student. His lessons were supplemented by my reading in his library to which I also had free access except for certain cases which were kept locked. I read widely. At the age of twelve I was sent to the best Lycee in Lyon and remained there until I received my baccalaurate at age eighteen. From there I proceeded to the University of Paris, with Tio Francisco's consent and encouragement and in addition a generous allowance, to study law. Before I went he told me that he found me an admirable young man of great potential and promise and that he was going to make me his heir on the one condition that I add the name Saenz to my existing one. I gladly consented. It was also at this meeting that he told me of my father's criminal conduct and that he Tio Francisco as a man of honour had made good the losses to my father's creditors when he had learned of them from my mother.In Paris I started out a model student but soon a multitude of distractions began to exert their influence over me. I became more interested in Literature, Art and Music than the Code Napoleon and the Digests of Justinian and I was inordinately proud to see some of my attempts at writing published in the more ephemeral journals and through these I gained a limited entree into Parisian intellectual life. Being not unhandsome I also acquired a mistress, a pretty grisette (naturally) called Antonietta... Despite all this I still managed to do enough work to pass my first year examinations creditably. I went back to Vaulx for the summer vacations. A great change had come over Tio Francisco he was in the last stages of a wasting disease and he died three weeks after my homecoming...Under his will he had left me the villa and grounds and a goodly portion of his personal wealth. This was to be in trust for me until I reached the age of twenty-five but I would receive an enhanced allowance until then. So at the age of nineteen I became a wealthy man...

No comments:

Post a Comment