[This frustratingly undated excerpt appears to mark a more formal approach for GW. There is no claret staining, nor any scrawled notes to his editor. It is also the first known written record of his foundling grandmother, Nunzia. Although she went by many surnames, which shall be examined in later papers, efforts to uncover her true name are ongoing. As always, the project page can be found on Facebook. Previous chapters can be found here.]
I have been fortunate, in my long and happy life, to see many exotic places. Often I have made lifelong friends in the most far-flung land, from the tavern keeper seeking a stranger in whom to confide his woes to the maiden who longs only for the companionship of a fellow who has seen much of what the world can offer and will, on a lonely evening, tell her of his adventures. Many’s the gentle local who has soothed this troubled soldier’s brow with a kind word, a soft touch and a glass of the finest the region can offer.
So often the tropical day can dip and cool into the coldest night and as the fires burn bright on the beaches, a fellow like me might find himself part of a cultural exchange, a moment in which worlds come together beneath the continental moon. Not with a tavern keeper, you understand; these fellows, earthy, loud opinionated… well they are the same the world over. The ladies, however, are different as the flowers that bloom in their soil.
And, back in the branches of my family tree, you will find both tavern keepers and ladies aplenty.
I am minded, as I sit here beside my own hearth, of one woman in particular, the finest of all her sex.
What a name, what a word, rich in enchantments and lyrical as a ballad. It rolls off the tongue, full of the promise of a far-off land, of olive groves and flowing wine, of fish caught in the deep blue ocean brought to the beach fire, sprinkled with fresh herbs and eaten beneath the bright white moon. It is the name of promise and beauty, of a world one could easily have forgotten beneath the rain clouds of Derbyshire.
It was the name of my grandmother, the woman to whom I owe so much of the man I am today. You will not know her yet of course, unless you are up on your tales of adventure, but I intend to put that right.
It is said that the brightest rose might bloom in the most desolate ground and so it was with Nunzia.
Anyone who remembers the unpleasantness that seized the press and crown when the Pains and Penalties assailed our every waking moment1 will have heard the name Pesaro2, but I fancy that few will remember it.
Pesaro was the place that our murdered queen, God rest her, made her home. Here, beside that sapphire blue ocean, a small royal household sprang up. Of course, we are not concerned with royalty… yet.
That shall come in time.
In that little town beside the sea was a tavern that one might pass by without a second thought, moving on to the more salubrious venues, away from this beachfront idyll. Yet within that rude place of driftwood and drink bloomed my grandmother, Nunzia, the most beautiful rose in all of Italy. If this were fiction I would tell you that life was hard but good, that the privations she faced were softened by the kindness of those who had nothing. There would be pretty benefactors and avuncular gents of charity but, in truth, there were none.
There was neither father nor mother to claim this raven-haired babe, found mewling upon the empty midnight beach, lost and alone and given over to the will of the Lord3. So wild was the sky that it was a miracle indeed that she was found at all and not swept back out and into the arms of Neptune. What calamity if she had been, for I should never have lived at all!
The babe, who came from who knows where, lay there upon the sand beneath the moon, sobbing in her sodden nightgown, no toy or comfort to be found. As she awaited her fate, one of the ladies who frequented that lowborn tavern left it with a gentleman caller, intending only to dash home across the sand and shutter her door against the storm. Instead she heard the cries of the babe and, abandoning her paramour to his own entertainments, hastened down to the bundle she had taken for naught more than flotsam washed in by the storm.
Imagine then the shock, the horror, the delight of that lady when she found not driftwood and fishing nets, but a babe, drenched and sobbing, but healthy. She wrapped the child in her own shawl and, with a whisper of thanks to the Almighty, hurried with the foundling back to the tavern to join the ever-growing family there that no doubt owed its size to the papal teachings!
That babe, found washed up on the Pesaro shore, grew into my grandmother, Nunzia, a beautiful rose amid a field of rugged, ruddy turnips. Good people they might have been, but they were not her people and who her people were, we were never to known.
When that tavern keeper’s woman found my grandmother on the beach, she was little more than a newborn but already possessed of a mane of raven black hair, thick and full and like none that might usually be seen on a child so young. There had been a storm at sea that raged for two days and nights, like the mouth of hell itself had opened and on land they watched the ships pitch and toss, sang the psalms for the souls at the mercy of the waves and prepared for the raging Poseidon to give up his dead.
Instead, there came a miracle.
And to that miracle, I owe my life dozen times over
1: GW refers to the Pains and Penalties Bill 1820. This was a failed effort by King George IV to end his marriage to Caroline of Brunswick and strip her of her titles.
2: The aforementioned Caroline of Brunswick established a scandalous residence in Pesaro when her marriage to George IV broke down.
3: Sadly and unsurprisingly, no contemporary reports can be found regarding the orphaned child found on the beach.