A free translation from Filip De Pillecyn’s 1952 novel, Harry Kümel’s 1969 film and personal memories
It was a wet morning. He arrived at the grey, rectangular building in time for breakfast. It was, he supposed, Lent. The husband and wife who owned the boring, desolate house had not seen him for years, or indeed had ever met him. They were married now. Mr. H was enjoying his breakfast, although it was too early to enjoy the wine that accompanied it. He looked out of the window into the grey cobbled courtyard. A white horse, a staircase, a few lights on in the house, who else was staying? Mr. H went up to his room, his maid René carried up some of the cases. He unpacked, a pocket watch, a box of jewellery, paperwork, letters, another pocket watch. He looked out of the window again, his bedroom was higher than the breakfast room. On the white horse was a young man, a beautiful blonde young man. His bare feet hanging against the horses course pale hair. The man looked up, their eyes met.
Mr. H was in an antique bookshop looking for vellum bound original volumes of fables from his childhood. He was searching for the story of the beautiful princess, who having been exiled from her court, was living on a rock in the desert, surrounded by ferocious lions and guarded over by a monkey wearing a red and yellow jesters outfit. She had been born with a star on her forehead. Mr. H looked up at the beautiful blonde boy. He slid his hand along the wooden banister searching for a splinter. The shop wad lined with thousands of books he would never read. The boy was gone. His bare feet having left feint marks on the tiles. “I keep dreaming about you”.
Mr. H unpacked another pocket watch. He had collected one from every place he visited, like some people do T-shirts. He picked out another one. Its face was entirely black, onyx, with only a small one-centimetre diameter clock face in the middle. He hung it above the locked chest René had just pulled up the stairs.
The grey house stood alone in a flat expanse of fields. After they had marred the couple had no choice but to live in the desolate estate of a dead relative. They could not afford a place of their own, and fancied playing Lord and Lady of the manor. They had stables and staff. The house was a focal point for anyone who happened to live nearby, the centre of the local social network. They were glad Mr. H had come. Their son rarely got to see anything of the outside world.
Mr. H lay in bed enveloped by a long white night dress, huge amounts of sheets and layers of blankets. They had left dinner for him on a tray outside the door, which René had brought to his bedside. It was the perfect time for wine. He was in pain after the long journey and was late with his next letter to mother. She probably wouldn’t worry. But Mr. H brought routine into his life so others wouldn’t.
7th July 1850
My Dearest Mother,
I haven’t written to you for a long time. It has been years, but I’m coming to the end mother.
My friends in Den Haag tell me you are fine. I hope you understand why I had to leave home. But I am OK mother.
I’m sorry for all the terrible things that have happened. I am now a lonely man, you don’t know how lonely. Ever since that awful night. You vowed never to speak to me again, and after father died. Mother, I know my life won’t go on much longer. Do you have to hear about my death from strangers?
It is not our family’s way to ask for forgiveness, I only ask that you answer this letter.
It was late or he was tired. The wine had made him tired. The sheets smothered him to sleep as René watched over him.
He kept ringing the doorbell. He could see someone was in. There was a light coming from the top floor window. He shouted up. Someone was coming to the window. He awoke in pain. He took some pills and returned to sleep under the watchful eyes of René. He tried to return to the townhouse. Who was at the window? He felt a throbbing in his ears, then heart. There were too many people in this dream. He looked into the mirror and noticed the star that had appeared on his forehead. Again he awoke in pain. This time, as it was already six o’clock he decided not to return to sleep. He ordered René to fetch him some breakfast and prepared himself for the day.
As he was pulling on his boots he felt anxious, as though someone was approaching his chambers, someone he didn’t know. There was a scuffling at the door and in stepped the boy, his hosts son.
“You are to teach me of things beyond this estate,” he said. Mr H. touched the boys face and agreed.
The boy told of how, rather than being born to his mother and father in this square, grey house, he had in fact been found. One of seven children in a small lifeboat, off the Dutch coast, presumably left to die by seafaring parents who couldn’t cope with the responsibilities of septuplets. He was the only one who had survived so they had called him Etoile Luck. Mr. H believed none of the story, but was enthralled by the boy’s imagination.
Etoile showed Mr. H the surrounding fields, stables and brook. The fast moving yet tiny stream fascinated them both. They sat on its banks staring at the water. Mr H. told Etoile that he knew the word for water in eight different languages. As they got up to leave Mr. H leant against a tall tree. He caressed it,
“This tree looks like my grandfather”
René was unimpressed with her masters infatuation with the boy. In a fit of jealousy she endeavoured to contact Mr. H’s mother.
Mr. H’s mother was brought the telephone by her butler. He had been serving him for years. When told that the caller had news concerning his son he was intrigued. He had no heard from him since they had parted ways when he was eight years old, after father had died. Mother sporadically received wining ranting letters, but never replied.
“Are you Mr. H’s mother?” whispered the voice.
“I have news concerning your son”
“Why doesn’t he ring himself?”
“Do you want to know where he is?
“Not particularly. Why have you phoned? Who are you? What do you want?”
“I am his companion, we have been together for years, and he is getting into trouble”
“Goodbye”, Mother was not interested in being contacted whenever his son got into a spot of difficulty. He hung up the phone and sunk back into his wicker chair, smiling.
René felt nauseous. She vomited on the floor and locked herself into her room. No one noticed. Hours later she sat next to the window, it had begun to drizzle slightly. She noticed that the square grey building wasn’t so desolate. She noticed people moving behind windows. A man ran out of a door on the left across the cobbles and disappeared into another door. He was carrying a pitchfork. The phone call had wrenched her free, she could now break her silence.
“Your son is most charming,” said Mr. H nodding towards the beaming parents.
“I would like to take him into town, to the theatre”. They all agreed, although Etoile had never left the house and its grounds before.
The room was very dark and René had not brought up his nightcap. Mr. H wrestled with his stomach and his sheets. A rumble of thunder sounded like a distant train, and he prepared himself to dream. There was a storm that night. Mr. H wished he could just hide away from the outside world.
“I kill men,” said Mr. H “It’s true” he continued. Since a young age all men who had crossed his path had been left permanently damaged. He thought back to Johan and the shooting.