I had no doubt that something cruel and catastrophic had happened before I was even born, yet the comte and comtesse, my parents, would not tell me what it was. As a result my organ of curiosity was made irritable and I grew into the most restless and unhealthy creature imaginable—slight, pale, always climbing, prying into every drain and attic of the Chateau de Barfleur.
But consider this: Given the ferocity of my investigations, is it not half queer I did not come across my uncle's celerifere?
Perhaps the celerifere was common knowledge in your own family. In mine it was, like everything, a mystery. This clumsy wooden bicycle, constructed by my uncle Astolphe de Barfleur, was only brought to light when a pair of itinerant slaters glimpsed it strapped to the rafters. Why it should be strapped, I do not know, nor can I imagine why my uncle—for I assume it was he—had used two leather dog collars to do the job. It is my nature to imagine a tragedy—that loyal pets have died for instance—but perhaps the dog collars were simply what my uncle had at hand. In any case, it was typical of the riddles trapped inside the Chateau de Berfleur. At least it was not me who found it and it makes my pulse race, even now, to imagine how my mother might have reacted if I had. Her upsets were never predictable. As for her maternal passions, these were not conventionally expressed, although I relished those occasions, by no means infrequent, when she feared that I would die. It is recorded that, in the year of 1809, she called the doctor on fifty-three occasions. Twenty years later she would still be taking the most outlandish steps to save my life.
My childhood was neither blessed nor tainted by the celerifere, and I would not have mentioned it at all, except—here it is before us now.
Typically, the Austrian draftsman fails to suggest the three dimensions.
Could there be a vehicle more appropriate for the task I have so recklessly set myself, one that you, by-the-by, have supported by taking this volume in your hands? That is, you have agreed to be transported to my childhood where it will be proven, or if not proven then strongly suggested, that the very shape of my head, my particular phrenology, the volume of my lungs, was determined by unknown pressures brought to bear in the years before my birth.
So let us believe that a grotesque and antique bicycle has been made available to us, its wooden frame in the form of a horse, and of course if we are to approach my home this way, we must be prepared to push my uncle's hobby across fallen branches, through the spinneys. It is almost useless in the rough ground of the woods, where I and the Abbe de La Londe, my beloved Bebe, shot so many hundreds of larks and sparrows that I bruised my little shoulder blue.
"Careful Olivier dear, do be careful."
We can ignore nose bleeding for the time being, although to be realistic the blood can be anticipated soon enough—spectacular spurts, splendid gushes—my body being always too thin-walled a container for the passions coursing through its veins, but as we are making up our adventure let us assume there is no blood, no compresses, no leeches, no wild gallops to drag the doctor from his breakfast.
And so we readers can leave the silky treacherous Seine and cross the rough woodlands and enter the path between the linden trees, and I, Olivier-Jean-Baptiste de Clarel de Barfleur de Garmont, a noble of Myopia, am free to speed like Mercury while pointing out the blurry vegetable garden on the left, the smudgy watercolor of orchard on the right. Here is the ordure of the village road across which I can go sailing, skidding, blind as a bat, through the open gates of the Chateau de Barfleur.