A BEAR IN THE ORCHARD
By BARRY VAN-ASTEN
Marcel Delvaux was of French descent, a member of a long and noble aristocratic family whose eminent line it is said had links back to Mary Antoinette and to the court of the Sun King, yet it had dishevelled. The family tree, like an old rose bush in a genteel landscape, had been pruned as members who aspired too high were lopped off; sometimes roots crept into pastures where they should not creep, these unfortunate bastards were blessed with the blood of nobility but are not crowned with the glory to bear the name. Of Marcel’s blood we can be sure but of his heritage we must resist the desire to splinter him into the Royal box for the Revolution ended any pretensions to any throne!
Marcel was considered quite handsome in a European sort of way with his dark hair and sun-worn complexion; he was athletically built and tall of stature with dark eyes. He was always dressed impeccably and possessed a fine and extensive wardrobe.
Marcel’s father Raymonde Delvaux had made his fortune in the wine industry, exporting to colder climates that were less fortunate to deserve the golden rays of the sun. Marcel’s mother Jean Delvaux nee L’Orette, had died during Marcel’s infancy and his memories of her were scarce but he always remembered her to be smiling and smelling of roses wearing long loose flowing dresses and floppy hats. She was taken away to walk beside the good Lord as an angel, Marcel was told, but in actual fact she died of heart failure while out riding and the good Lord had no hand in requesting her services and appointing her as yet another angel in a work place with already an over-abundance of the things! As a child at the family chateaux Marcel would want for nothing: ponies were paraded around the gardens and Marcel would ride out to the vineyard to watch the pickers; his father had even bought Marcel a pet bear which he named Mephistopheles and it was chained to a post and tormented by the young boy until it broke free and escaped and was shot dead near the outskirts of the village by all accounts. In fact, life at the chateaux was nothing short of the last days of ancient Rome with an abundance of wealth that spilt into every aspect of Marcel’s life. During his formative years Marcel was privately educated at the chateaux by an English school mistress named Katrina Holt, a very stern and overbearing lady of mature years with the remains of a face that was once possibly extremely beautiful. The elegant Miss Holt taught Marcel an eclectic timetable of subjects from art, Latin, English, history, geography and all the other nasty little lessons that wasted the golden hours of the day, but of course, Marcel was a model student and excelled in chemistry and mathematics for which he showed great aptitude.
Marcel’s younger brother Andre whose speech was like rifle shots never got on with Marcel and as soon as age permitted he was away from the family and the confines of the chateaux. He became involved with some unsavoury characters and got into some enormous debts; he was caught misdirecting funds from the company he was working for and accordingly did the decent thing and hung himself, leaving his widow and young daughter with what little dignity an honourable death can afford.
Marcel became intrigued with Catholicism and spoke with great enthusiasm about converting to the faith to his cousin Baptiste Dubois who was staunchly of the Catholic persuasion. Baptiste, who resented Marcel’s family wealth informed his younger cousin about all the magnificent benefits of becoming a Catholic and some lesser known facts about the church, for example, that within the bowels of the Vatican reside six cannibal cardinals who are fed with the flesh of Protestant virgins, and that the splendidly hirsute and syphilitic Pope Leo XII lived a somewhat secluded existence and was a confirmed lycanthrope, thus he was kept on a leash blessed by his predecessor at the time of the full moon. Then of course there was the mad Pope Paul II in the fifteenth Century who was still alive to this day, kept alive by the blood of Christ that miraculously bleeds from a Holy relic kept locked away in the Vatican. Then of course there are the Pope’s handmaidens, a select group of eunuch priests kept in a special room where their only purpose in life is to disprove the theory of life after death by eating and sleeping and bathing with the recently departed. Baptiste wished to shock poor Marcel out of his interest for the Catholic Church but all he did was create more wonder and enthusiasm in the young devotee. ‘And what else do these elect heirs of god do?’ asked Marcel.
Baptiste went on to relate all the sordid behaviour from such luminaries as the sodomitic Pope Julius II, the incestuous Pope John XII, the deplorable and unspeakable Pope Benedict IX who kept a bear as his lover and the sodomitic Pope IV.
‘Sodomy seems to be very popular within the Church!’
‘I should say, in fact its compulsory!’ declared Baptiste.
A week later, Marcel went to see Father Chevalier Lecomte and expressed his intention to become Catholic. The kindly old Father was pleased and asked him why he wished to be confirmed. Marcel told him that he wished to see the six cannibal cardinals and help with the importation of Protestant virgins and to assist the handmaidens in their disproval of the existence of the spirit after death; and to see the miracle of Pope Paul II and besides, he was almost sure that he was a sodomite and that a day or two with the Pope would confirm him in this. The astonished Father Lecomte turned pale then red then choked on his rosary which he had been stuffing into his mouth subconsciously. Of course when Marcel learnt that there were no cannibals in the Vatican and neither were there any handmaidens it was like the Romans hammering in Christ’s nails all over again and as you would expect Marcel lost all interest in Roman Catholicism.
Marcel grew up and took over the family wine business after his father died and lived the life of a rich bachelor. It was said that he wore hand-stitched shoes from Italy and that his made to measure suits, which by the way he only wore once, were sent first class around the world to give them an ‘air of travel’.
It was during the great festival of Bacchus that Marcel met a young woman by the name of Marie Fournier, an artist who was very proficient with water colours. Marie was intrinsically pure and honest, a deep thinker but she was always trying to catch him out for she had such a suspicious nature due to being hurt by men in the past. They would argue and she would accuse him of deception and he would say she was always looking for the ugliness in life while he was always searching for beauty!
Marie was deeply intellectual, almost frighteningly so but she pretended to be otherwise for she felt that a man should not feel too intimidated, but of course most men were, but not Marcel and it was this that brought her closer to him. She had a cruel mouth which was not very expressive and weary eyes as if they had looked into the pit of hell and digested all that is horrible and filthy, like some creature of the night, pale and voluptuous. She feared intimacy yet secretly craved it; she drew him close only to push him away again. The act of lovemaking between them was like the ultimate sacrifice; a satisfaction in the others destruction! A blind fury of sexual congress and it was over, just like the act of eating was an explosion on the taste buds and then it was over! She made him feel like that awful Pope Benedict IX, making love to her as if she were some wild yet unfeeling bear!
An abstract force held by his tenderness and her unyielding refusal to let him get close to her, to look upon her and touch her soft skin passionately for she was always digging, bloody digging for deception! The alchemist observing the chemical reaction in him, calculating every movement, gesture and every word for the Philosopher’s Stone – Lies!
He knew all this, he understood her suspicions and her jealousy and he matched her tooth for tooth in the action and re-action stakes, but he did not account for a third party, throwing a substantial brick at the serene glass-house they were building together.
This third party in this un-holy trinity was a crazed and equally obsessive young woman named Monique Verdier who was the complete opposite of Marie, unrefined and not very intelligent for she sought filth and only filth. She had come into Marcel’s world through their common interest in the occult and he thought his great stature would have some lasting effect upon Monique in the form of curing her escalating alcoholism. Monique was in the early stages of being in love with Marcel who in turn had nothing but good intentions and friendship to offer in return for he was in love with Marie. Monique, realising that any relationship was hopeless resorted to the brutality of the so-called ‘fairer sex’ and spoilt any chance for poor Marcel by concocting a web of lies about him and evoking Beelzebub himself to enter the arena and turn all his attention upon poor Marcel who was of course the innocent party. Marcel was indifferent to most things but some harmless off the cuff remark had been sharpened like a dagger, tempered with untruth and turned upon him, thrust into his back, his heart and cutting his throat for good measure! Lies!
Against such insurmountable and overwhelming odds Marcel did not wish to degrade himself further and so he retired from the battle gracefully – tant pis! But Marie and Marcel had reached some sort of understanding where by she would continue to try and manipulate him into revealing himself as some sort of dishonest and devilish creature and expose him while he basks in the glow of her superior magnificence – Lies!
This could not go on! The bitter regrets and the ending of their relationship were meant to be, it was part of Marcel’s education and Marie’s acceptance of herself for she seemed much older in soul years than Marcel; it was their history and development and nothing could change the laws of nature, Marcel would have gladly let her trample upon his cold corpse that her feet should not disturb the grass; that he would bear her name upon his heart to the grave and beyond, whatever did lay beyond! Nevertheless, the fact was established: Marcel knew that he would never see her again and he also knew that he would probably love Marie until the day he died!
In time the palettes of the poor imbeciles who drank Chateaux Delvaux became more adventurous and sought something more worthy of their standing. Marcel, with no business sense or any financial understanding drove the family vineyard into the ground till it was no more. Marcel became bankrupt and upon investigation at the Chateaux the body of a young girl was found strangled in the cellars. Any more than this could and would not be spoken of for Marcel was accused of deeds so disturbing that there is no need to put such foul extremes of human behaviour into print! There was lots of talk about hideous depravity and things so unspeakable which could not be mentioned among the villagers but of Marcel there was no word for he had gone missing for over a week and the authorities were searching for him. The police spoke to Marcel’s tutor Miss Holt who had taken up a position at a nearby residence for young girls. Miss Holt spoke glowingly as to Marcel’s character and that any speculation to the abominable acts at the chateaux was not to be heeded as all forms of vulgarity were foreign and detestable to Marcel, she claimed. It seemed that the whole village had something or other to say about Marcel, those of his enemies, for they were numerous said that Marcel had gotten mixed up in the occult arts and that he was communicating with the dead and conversing with infernal spirits. In fact, this was not too far away from the truth as Marcel had indeed ‘experimented’ with ceremonial magic, namely the Grimorium Verum!
Now, Marcel was not capable of perpetrating such acts, I could find fifty or a hundred people to stand trial and confirm his integrity, honesty and general demeanour; I could summon figures from this world and the next to declare he was not a child-killer; his sister-in-law Suzanne said he was not a child-killer; his niece Ermelde said he was not a child-killer; the gardener Andre said he was not a child-killer; the local newspaper said he was not a child-killer and the Mayor said he was not a child-killer and even the local priest stepped out of his walled retreat and tore himself away from Henri the houseboy to say that Marcel was not a child-killer! Yes, God and the world knew Marcel was not a child-killer yet where was Marcel and why did he not stay to prove his innocence?
It was several years after Marcel left France and Chateau Delvaux had become a cursed place much avoided by the locals; following the discovery of three more children near the vicinity of the chateaux that the perpetrator of those horrific crimes who was brought to justice, a one Dr. Louis Marchand who had considerable access to the Chateaux and the surrounding villages for he was the physician to the murdered children; in fact, many body parts were found at the doctor’s apartment and what his intentions were was anyone’s guess. But of course, poor Marcel was unaware of such matters and remained in hiding.
Some years later in a London suburb a young family were hosting a garden party at their sumptuous home leaving the children to play in the orchard. Geoffrey Anstruther and his wife Elizabeth were part of the ‘live now pay later’ generation and they were sitting in their garden near the ornamental pond when they suddenly heard shouts from the direction of the orchard. The two children, Sylvia and Bradley came pounding into the group of adults shouting that they had killed the giant bear in the orchard. There was laughter and there were gasps and eventually Geoffrey agreed to follow the children and see the corpse of the great bear they had slain.
The children had been playing in the long grass meadow of the orchard when a large, dark figure had descended upon them with its arms raised in the air. The children were startled and Bradley threw a rock at the monster hitting its head. With a deep groan the bear fell down as the children ran away. When Mr Anstruther and the children returned to the bloody death scene Mr Anstruther, realising the awful atrocity that had occurred swiftly hurried the children away to fetch Mrs Anstruther. Geoffrey saw the figure of a man, a very dirty man with long finger nails, unkempt hair and beard wearing an oversized furry astrakhan coat. The only thing about the unfortunate devil which was not filthy was the whites of his eyes, and even they seemed a dull yellow peppered with red streaks. The identity of the man was never known because upon Mrs Anstruther’s arrival Mr Anstruther had already begun digging a hole but had they looked a little closer at the body, in fact at the signet ring he wore they would have noticed the Delvaux crest and a search of the dead man’s pockets would have yielded a faded letter from some woman named Marie, and had he looked but further still, into the heart of the fallen warrior, there in the orchard, again the name ‘Marie’ would come to light for it had been the only saving grace of poor Marcel, his only ever adventure into the existence of pure love which if not for the heavy hand of guidance from some inhuman being, may have flourished. But Mr Anstruther buried the poor wretch in the orchard where he fell and in explanation to the children and the guests he merely stated that the children had found a ferocious yet wounded badger which had to be mercifully put out of its misery. As the years and the seasons passed flowers grew and leaves fell and snow carpeted the shallow grave in the orchard and the event was just a long distant memory to the children who were now adults and married with families of their own. Yes it was all just a game a long time ago and no more was ever said about the bear in the orchard!