Κυριακή, 15 Ιουλίου 2012

I, The Londoner




 Once upon a time, there were two countries, England and France, two cities, London and Paris. Was Paris the place of light or the place of darkness? Were the French rich or poor? Miles away οn the island of King George lll, in the country of Lords and Dukes there was peace and safety in the streets of London. Or maybe not? The rumors had it that thieves, murderers and prisoners thrived in the alleys of the English capital. Was it  true or just malicious lies of the enemies? It was the year of Our Lord 1775.
         1775. London Suburbs. Somewhere in Oxford Street. Two ladies, two aristocrats, the Duchess and Marchioness of Oxford are about to attend the court against Charles Darney an immigrant and traitor. The Court of Old Bailey.
               “Kristine dear, you’ve been told about the tea time. It must be served at five o’clock sharp. And you’re already three minutes behind. Make sure this will never happen again, for your sake dear! Servants. You offer them a decent life can imagine only in their dreams. Sleazy and worthless beings they are. I wonder why I deal with them, I the Duchess of Oxford.  I’ve given them numerous privileges but they are still disrespectful. They whisper all the time behind my back. They call me a shrew!  For Goodness sake! I Augusta Agatha of Oxford! A woman with virtues and classical education! A woman who inspired poets to write poems praising her beauty. It is unbelievable for a woman of that noble rank to bother herself with these worthless people. But they constantly keep whispering, mumbling and talking about a revolution rising in France, the country of filth and iniquity. It is impossible. My husband Duke Edward Ernest of Oxford is in regular contact with the successor of the Crown, Prince Charles Henry who assures us that everything is under control. Of course it is. His Excellency would never, ever allow something like a revolution to happen in our Kingdom. It is not like us to foster rebellions. I can’t even think about it. The time is quarter past five. In a short while, I will have dinner with Anne Margaret the future Princess of England. I wish I were her. She is getting married to the successor of the Crown, Prince Charles Henry, in October. How lucky she is. I have been living in this tower almost three years now. My life with the Duke is quite dull, but who cares! Other people have decided for my life. It was my destiny to come here and live in this tower, to marry the Duke and become the Duchess of Oxford. I heard that the French rebels, Jacques, conspired boldly to intrude the Saint Elysser, murder the King and Queen and all the aristocrats and noble men as well. Unbelievable! They cannot possibly achieve this. Who are these humble men who dare to commit such things? It is ridiculous. But what if those scoundrels affect the people of our Kingdom? What if they try to eliminate us? Dear God! There is no use thinking about such things. Under no circumstances would his Excellency ever allow this to happen. Duke Edward Henry, my beloved husband, would never let things change! I Augusta Agatha the Duchess of Oxford  would never, ever, let myself leave this wonderful tower. I will be here having my tea every day sharply at five o’clock, exactly after my ride. My life will go on here, among the lowest servants. I will have lunch every day at 2 o’clock with the Duke. Everything will be according to my plans. Someday I will give birth to a daughter who will get married to the Crown Prince. I will vigorously contest against anybody who wants to overcome me. I will fight for my state, tooth and claw. I swear to our Lord I will trample anyone who will try to take advantage of me or my family. I am Augusta Agatha, the Duchess of Oxford and that’s how I will remain. Foolish I am. What kind of lamentable things am I thinking of. For Goodness sake! Nothing will happen. Everything is and will be under control. Time is up! I have to get ready. I have to attend the court against a traitor. Charles Darney I think his name is. He will pay for his sins. Death is the conviction for treason. Fortunately after that I’m invited for dinner. The future Princess wants to discuss with me the details about her upcoming wedding with the Crown Prince. How lucky she is”.
          “Honey, hurry up! It’s time to go. The Cricket teacher gets upset when you’re late. The coach is waiting outside. Margaret! Margaret! Where are you? Move it! You know I hate calling out for you all the time. Richard must go training and his bag is not ready yet. You had only one thing to do. I guess it’s time we had new helpers in this house. How useless you are! I’m really tired of servants, so unreliable in our days. Disobedient and impudent they are. Anyway, I will deal with this matter some other time. I’m quite busy right now. Baroness Arlington had her first child and we are all invited to celebrate the arrival of the newborn baby. Poor Arlington! You gave birth to a girl. Gods weren’t that good to you. You’re blessed if you have boys. Maybe that is the reason why the women of my rank do not really appreciate me! They are jealous of me. I have two lads, two sons who are going to rule this country one day. Excuse me? I didn’t hear you. What did you say? You are asking me who I am! Good Lord! That is outrageous. The whole Kingdom knows me. My name is Beatrice Helena and I am the Marchioness of Oxford. Please, do not ask my age, it’s not appropriate. My husband is the Marquis Leonard of Oxford. We have two handsome sons, Richard and Samuel. We live in a beautiful castle, it was a gift from Leonard’s father. He was such a generous man. From my bedroom I can see the Thames.  The view is breathtaking. It feels like I hold London in my hands every time I look outside the window. I have no reason to be sad. I have a successful family, a loyal husband, two gifted sons. I have gold and power. I’ve mentioned my friends before, haven’t I? Stupid women. They think I don’t know. They talk about me. They say I don’t deserve either my title or the gold. They call me a filthy, poor maid. The truth is I don’t come from a royal family, I wasn’t born in a tower or castle. But I am smart, strong, stubborn. If you’d asked me a few years ago I would have told you that Gods or Luck, whatever you name it, had forgotten me. Now, I’ve changed my mind. You know, it doesn’t matter where you come from but where you end to. Trust me, I am not going to die poor. There are rumors among our people, rumors about a revolution in France.  Rumors about French people who die of hunger, rumors about people who are going to extinguish the aristocrats forever. Journalists write articles to terrify the people of England about a revolution that might arise in our Kingdom. Do you know what I think? Nobody will take away my happiness. Do you hear me? These French, filthy monsters will not steal my life. I swear to Gods, I am not going to let them hurt me or deprive from me my comfort, my title. I’ve lost my parents, I’ve slept out in the dirty and dangerous streets of London, I’ve worked as a maid. Now, look at me. The Marchioness of Oxford, living in a castle, ready to attend the court, ready to convict a man to death. Power is the key. I fought for a better future once and believe me I don’t mind doing it again”. 
              The time of the trial of Charles Darney has arrived at the Court of Old Bailey. The Londoners wish for his death. Charles Darney betrayed the country and the name of his Excellency. Or maybe not. Nobody can prove it, but his punishment can be a warning for all the ambitious revolutionaries in England. “He is a traitor! Filthy beast! Whip him.  Show no mercy. Make him regret for his acts. Make him feel the utter pain, torture him till death. Chop his head off!”
     Old Bailey’s verdict was “innocent”. Time flew and the French revolution was a fact. Jacques, the revolutionaries, stood up and fought for their rights. The King of France was murdered and on 14th July 1789 the storming of Bastille took place. The number of dead aristocrats was beyond any expectation and the fear of a possible revolution in England was greater than ever. In the “London Times” the description of the Jackerye’s acts was more than detailed. When Bastille was taken, the journalists pointed out that this was probably by far the most appalling fact in history.
     “It’s nine o’clock in the morning. It’s Sunday and I’m reading the “London Times”. I’m reading about Bastille. People were murdered. My people, noble men, Dukes, Marquises, Kings and Queens. This massacre was committed against them because of their noble origin. Humans tortured the daughter of Madame De Sompreig and killed the Cardinal in the most inhuman way. The ways the Jacquery chose to exterminate the aristocracy are far beyond any tainted imagination. Jacques fought for human rights.  And I wonder: is murdering and torturing a means of attaining human rights? Is the guillotine an instrument to achieve the freedom of human nature?”
     Duchess Augusta Agatha and Marchioness Beatrice Helena of Oxford are the voice of the Londoners as far as the French Revolution is concerned. Is their outburst an indignation about the thousands of victims of Bastille or are they feeling the fear of threat coming closer and closer to them? As they used to pray : “May my country never be infected by the domineering tyranny of Equality”.

- by Konstantina Griva & Filitsa Tsompanidou