This Charming Man

To Charm: To bewitch, beguile, enchant, or influence someone into one’s control as if by magic.

“Quelle magnifique façon de voyager!”

Adrien exclaimed making known his agreeable disposition toward our mode of transportation. I was to ascertain from such a proclamation that he, perhaps, had never ridden in a motor carriage previously. Upon deeper inquiry I was to be proven quite correct on that account.

“Am I to understand, then, that you have never traveled by motor car before this?” I asked by way of polite conversation.

“Non, mon Seigneur. This is tré extrodinnaire!” Said Adrien while he charmingly addressed every chance movement that occurred about the carriage as we progressed.

I failed to see the diversion, alas. As I made mention before, I was not enamoured, at the time, of motoring. The primitive cars of those days were loud, malodourous affairs that did not lead one to great exertions of delight, at least not by me. Also in that day, there was a general dearth of boulevards and avenues suited for motor cars. Cobble stones were the rule and they better suited horses and well floated carriages than stiff shocked automobiles. My dental work had been quite challenged by the rattling of our car as I remember.

It did, however, grant two great advantages: it was novel and it was fast. This made it so pedestrians and slower horse-drawn traffic felt it necessary to make way for our metallic elephant thus expediting our transit from the train station. Within ten short minutes we arrived at Piccadilly none the worse for wear. Also, the bright shine in Adrien’s beautiful hazel-gold eyes, after enjoying his first motor carriage trip, was sufficient to induce me toward repeating the car’s performance as many times as would make him smile.

God help me, that day I fell for Adrien so completely and with such alacrity that it was terrifying. All that he was and all that he did was completely and utterly charming to me. His merely brushing a touch of his dark auburn wind-blown hair away from his eyes was enough to entertain me for several melting moments.

But also within those moments, I was loathe to let my true feelings be known to this Frenchman. I knew him not at all and so I felt that to fall in love with one that I had just barely become acquainted was, on its face, a fanciful foray into utter madness. All sense and sensibility forbade such nonsense. A little child would be hard pressed to enter into such an extraordinary narrative even before bedtime.

Yet, when we finally came to a halt and he stepped down out of the motor car, Adrien surprised me once again with his disarming gallantry. He proceeded to extend his gloved hand to clasp mine and he gently eased me down out of the black metal contraption as if I were a fair damsel or said diminutive boy-child. I fully expected our driver to supply such services, but it was Adrien who insisted.

When he clasped my hand he held it firm and then hesitated in letting it go once I had safely descended from my traveling perch. With the same fastness as he held my hand so did he hold my gaze. For an eternal moment our eyes held each other’s in an hypnotic spell. By the divine power of that spell all my loathing and thoughts of madness fell away into a fairytale fantasy become reality. Indeed, within that moment of our all too short lives together our immortal souls touched and made the voiceless pact that not even by death would we ever part.

The charm had been set and the spell was completed. I was to be forever snared within Adrien’s golden web and my Heaven could never be complete without him by my side.

“Shall Oi, tahyke ye luggage up, me Lordship, Sire?” The grate of a very low common accent born of White Chapel, obviously, broke me from Adrien’s hypnosis almost painfully. It was true that I found my most accomplished motorists in London either from Soho or White Chapel. Alas, such finds oft came with unforeseen costs over and above the odd crown needed to purchase such services. A certain tax had to be laid upon my poor nerves levied by my having to endure the wretchedness of the ‘Cockney’ accent. Upon all of God’s Green Earth I would be hard pressed to find a more deleterious assault upon the English language. Even Americans with their ‘corn krake’ whine and dutiful ‘munching’ of their ‘Rrrrs’ cannot compare to the horror that is Cockney!

“I canno’ understahnd zis man, mon Seignior. S’il vous plaît, que dit-il?” Adrien asked of me looking entirely lost, blessed was his soul. I made a gesture that assured that nothing the driver was saying was important in the least and all was well. Adrien simply blinked at me and then the Driver as if remembering the truth that all Englishmen are mad as hatters.

“Very good, Driver. Do take them up. Mr. Geoffreys will receive them.” I dismissed the creature to his work and found myself soothing Adrien with a touch to his shoulder.

(In the French: “I feel I must apologize for some of my countrymen, Adrien. There seems to be more ways of ruining English here in London than in the whole rest of the British Raj combined.”) I attempted to explain feeling almost embarrassed for the driver’s hideous noise.

(“Ah, it is just the way of the butterflies and the parrots from distant shores, my Lord. All the varieties of the world bring God joy in their profusion made by His sacred hand. So must it be with the tongues of men, I must presume, especially in the wilds of places like London and Paris. I cannot tell you how many amazingly piggish oinks I have had to endure from the Provençal. The women of Aix verily cackle like geese! Yet, they all find their way to Paris where I must still make for them bread. Égalité, no?”) Adrien’s combination of using such beautifully flowering French to disparage an equally unflattering destruction of his language by his own countrymen made an unexpected bond between us that was a pure accord. We had an understanding only those of Nobility could possibly understand.

“Then I am most happily assured that we have an understanding leastwise regarding the defacement of our two proper languages.” I answered in my high English to meet his high French.

(“Oui, most assuredly. Perhaps, if I may be so bold, we can improve each other’s use of our respective languages. I could not hope but to have a better teacher in the English than a true Englishman of Pedigree.”) Adrien’s tactful placing of yet another hook upon me was lost to my knowing at the time. It was only later in my years of reminiscing that I discovered that hook . . . still firmly implanted there where my French still flowers.

“This would please me. I hold no vanity toward my French. It could always do with improvements brought about by soft correction.” I offered demurely with my implication that I should not be treated like a schoolboy by a French master and his sharp flicking baton.

“Zoftly iz ‘ow ah do all things, mon Seignior.” With that Adrien offered me a sidelong wink that quite got the perspiration running under my tightening collar.

Calming my passions sufficiently so that I could comport myself in some semblance of a gentlemanly fashion, I proceeded with Adrien in tow to the Georgian sculpted red door of my flat. Mr. Geoffreys, smartly dressed as always in his coat and tails, greeted me with practiced graciousness while at the same time scanning my odd guest with his typical elder’s xenophobia.

After acknowledging Geoffreys presence and allowing him to collect our coats and my hat and cane I made my cursories. “Mr. Geoffreys, will you be so kind as to have Catharine arrange for accommodations for my guest Monsieur D’Saint Michele. Have her appoint it in the Parisian style. Allow for flowers to be placed. Lilies, irises, and roses will be sufficient. They are to be rotated daily. Have Catherine use her mother’s shop as florist per usual. That will be all.” I issued my commands.

Adrien, though he looked somewhat disturbed by my ‘excesses’ on his behalf had the sensitivity enough not to challenge my authority among my domestic staff.

My apartments were rather limited as compared to those rooms I had been accustomed to at Temple House, but in an assortment of ways they suited me better, frankly. ‘Cosey’ might be a more common term best applied to my Piccadilly accommodations. They were humble by my standards but to Adrien they seemed like Versailles.

“Mon Dieu! But zis place iz quite respectable, no? C’est très impressionnant!” Adrien said in quiet reserve despite the enthusiastic content of his statement. There was so much UN-common about Adrien. It was as if his mother had taught him gentility even though he had to work as was the way of things in ‘Republican’ France since the Revolution. The nuances of his behaviour greatly intrigued me. I had been exposed to many French and most were unpleasantly provincial and ‘Nouveau Riche’ in their bearing. Bougouise, was the term used. A strange ‘Middle’ class that had developed that seemed to be what ruled France. Merchants and Financiers all grounded in the basest of occupations . . . money husbandry. Money: the necessary evil of the Old Age and the greatest of aspiration in the New. These Bougouise had wealth, but they had no breeding and they showed their lack of couth wherever they went. Most disagreeable.

Oddly, though fixated with the same desire for ‘equality’ as the French, the Americans bore their Republicanism with a more spiritual nobility. I had the great fortune of meeting an American Statesman once when I was a young Peer in the House of Lords and was very impressed by the strength of his presence. His very character lent him his nobility. His family had become wealthy by the sweat equity of their brows, but they had learned how to bear that wealth with discipline and reserve. His name was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and even after the dreaded polio had crippled him, he still held a stately grace that often put our monarchs to shame at times. He would later prove my nation’s saviour.

Adrien reflected this nobility, but inflected it with the French panache of ancient sensibilities toward refined taste and even more refined courtesies. In this light I found the urge, most irrepressible despite my own refinements, to ask after this sense of Adrien’s noblesse.

“Surely you jest! These are mundane apartments afforded upon a junior barrister’s earnings, nothing more. When in Paris you must visit salons far better appointed than these. Is that not so?” I probe while pouring two small crystals of port to warm ourselves against the deepening chill the coming evening was bringing with it.

(In the French: “Indeed not, mon Seignior. This is a Qing Dynasty vase here. These are first edition Byrons and Blakes. Also as well, to good taste, an original signed first print of Hugo’s great ‘A Tale of Two Cities’. This is a Lalique custom glass made exclusively for your family I am presuming as it has no model inscription. Upon closer inspection I see it is tinted lavishly using a gold process. This must be £1000 Sterling just for this! All your crystal seems to be Waterford or Baccarat, thirty-two percent lead from the fire in them. . .”) I had to interrupt Adrien with a chuckle.

“Alas, one cannot fool a man of culture can one?” I handed Adrien his crystal of port (Baccarat of course). He swirled it, and then used his exquisite roman nose to catch the bouquet.

(“Taylor Fladgate, Tawny. I like this! A very English thing to do drinking porto any time of the day!”) Adrien finished looking the wine over and finally sipped it with a sucking sound that some might consider terribly uncouth, but only to those that know nothing of wine. Adrien knew wine almost Biblically!

“Ehh! Quite zweet, but complex.” Adrien made a rather beguiling look of disgust at the port’s sweetness. I was to find he always preferred dry complex wines as opposed to saccharine ones. A particular Chateau in the Central Loire made a pinot noir that his family, apparently, had bought for generations. He used to remark that his blood was eighty-five percent pinot noir. Not being a mosquito I could not be made to verify such a claim, but it would not have surprised me if it was true.

“Would you care for another vintage? I brought a few Beaujolais from Temple House if you would prefer that?” I offered already falling into Adrien’s enslavement of my doing for him all things that could bring joy.

“Unnecessary. Zis is quite superb enough for me. You ‘ave been already too kind.” Adrien continued to sip his wine and in a more quiet way. His manner of etiquette, as he sat so straight and sipped his wine so thoughtfully, had sent an unexpected shiver through me, as I recall. At once, he was a gentle peer to me in my estate while at the same time he conveyed a sweet innocence that bespoke of the quiet demeanour of an alter boy taking tea with the bishop. It was so utterly charming! No other word could fit and yet I risk redundancy in my continued use of the word here.

(“The painting there above the hearth: it is most beautiful! Quite not in the French or Flemish styles. Not of the Dutch either. It looks very English! Who is the subject and who painted it, may I ask?”) Adrien looked dreamily at the portrait of my mother. It is my most cherished possession next to the diamond cufflinks Adrien bought me eons ago. I still cache both in my Treasure Room at Temple House.

“That is the portrait of Lady Spencer-Temple, my mother. Thomas Phillips was commissioned by my father to capture her beauty. He did so stunningly. My father had it put into storage after she passed as it only served to prolong his anguish. I took possession of it when I made my move here and with his blessing.” I said with distance. A thing of beauty, the portrait was also a thing of great pain. Phillips had captured my Ma Ma just before she would become pregnant with my baby sister. Nine months later . . . both would be gone.

(“I am deeply sorry that you have lost your Maman. I too lost mine to tuberculosis a few short years ago. Such a loss takes a part of a person and it saddens me that you have had to bear with me this injury in yourself.”) He came to stand by my side as we gazed at the stately portrait. His closeness, I remember, brought unexpected comfort.

(“The portrait there, though, shows Dame Temple as one very young. You must have been quite young yourself when this was painted.”) Adrien observed adroitly.

Despite my reserve I revealed the truth of the painting. It is one I cannot but divulge in the pure light of day for any shadow of deception would have sullied my mother’s memory as well as the cross she was forced to pass on to my shoulders upon her death.

“I was perhaps all of four or five years of age when she was taken. Alas, it was from what was to be my greatest joy that my greatest sorrow would come. My mother was to bear me a baby sister: Marchioness Elizabeth Ariadne Spencer-Temple. The good Lord took both from me that day before my full understanding of such a loss could be comprehended. My father had to explain what death was to me and to attempt to comfort the resulting grief. I believe that broke him completely after being already partially shattered by the death of his beloved and a very much anticipated daughter. My father died that day too . . . inside.” I downed my port in a great swallow in an effort to help pinch off the bolder that had managed to lodge itself into my throat.

The attempt at this English continence of feeling was a failure before Adrien. The French are a people of great formality and reserve in discourse, but they have no objection to attending to feelings that need expression. Passion bubbles in a simmer always just below the surface calm rather like molten custard under a thin skin of crust.

With usually unpardonable forwardness, Adrien reached a hand to gently fondle my shoulder. I turned to face him to rebuke him but found instead my harsh words freeze in my foolish gullet. The liquid amber of his eyes glistened with the welling of tears. One escaped his long lashes and found it’s way down his near flawless bronzed cheek.

“Good heavens! Whatever is the matter?” I remember exclaiming in shock and concern.

“Oh, mon bel ami, comment tu as souffert! If only I could take such pain from you.” Adrien said with a catch in his throat. It was a heartbroken sound that could come from only one place . . . a place of love.

I remember a sweet haze cover me and then fill my eyes. I remember feeling his other hand take hold of my other shoulder in a firm, but gentle grasp. Before my own eyes turned to murk, I remember seeing streams of tears come from both his golden eyes and down both cheeks. I saw a quiver in his perfect bow lips and a slight flare of his nostrils. He sniffed a sob back and then I allowed it . . .

I allowed Adrien to embrace me for the first time and then to hold me as I let forth a shameful litany of my own sobs into the refined material of his morning jacket. I felt a hand take the back of my head to hold it close to his bosom as once my own mother did for me as a small child.

I cried just like that child as did he and we did so in each other’s arms. We did so, because we were made by God to do so.

This charming man. This strange and enchanted being began, that day, to give me the love I had always longed for and for which I hungered as a love starved stray dog might after a lifetime homeless.

“I – I must apologise. I . . . I don’t know what could have come over me. How absurd!” I remember saying trying to regain my mask of composure. But, Adrien only took that mask from my hands and cast it away.

“Never again shall you apologise when your heart speaks. I ‘ave come, now I zee it, to listen to your heart and attend to it.” Adrien said to me completely disarmingly. I suppose my mouth must have hung open in positive shock at this utterance.

It must have, because it made it all that much easier for Adrien d’Saint Michele to kiss me upon that mouth and then for me to hold that kiss.

It was my first kiss of that kind and there would never be another of its kind for me. It is a kiss that still holds me as I can still feel it there. It is a souvenir attached right there, on my lips, right in the very nerves enervated by my brain which is constantly reminded of Adrien’s love by my beating heart.

Published February 14, 2019