Sunday, December 2, 2012

My German Friend - Chapter 1

This is the unedited first chapter of my unsuccessful NaNoWriMo attempt in 2010. I managed a mere 10901 words in that year. Perhaps one day I will go back and bring the story to its conclusion.

I was born in the town of N---, in an eastern county, in the year 18--. My childhood was happy, or at least so it was for the first years of my life. My mother was strict but clearly doted on me, her eldest son and the first of her children. My father was engaged in business endeavours which often took him away from home, but when he was at home he shamelessly indulged me and my younger brothers and sisters. We wanted for nothing. I cannot in all truth say that we were among the very wealthiest people in the land, or even that my father even approximated to being an entrepreneur of the very first rank. However, his success at his commercial endeavours meant that we enjoyed a very comfortable mode of living. We lived in a fine house, waited upon by the most polite and charming of servants, slept in the most comfortable of beds and always ate the healthiest and heartiest of foods. We were not of the class of people that sends their sons to public school, but I was enrolled in the prestigious local grammar school, were I was receiving a firm grounding in all the arts and sciences that would equip me to acquit myself in the adult world as a true gentleman. As I walked home from school each day with my books, the old men would point me out and say "Why look, there goes young Master Maurice, the son of Mr B---", nodding approvingly to their fellows, for the manifest accomplishments of my father meant that he and our family was held in universally high regard throughout our town.

This, then, was the idyll in which I lived as a child on the first steps towards becoming a young man. But alas, it was not to last. As must already have occurred to many of my readers, a terrible reversal in the fortunes of our family occurred. And worse, the change was not gradual, but shockingly abrupt. I remember as vividly as though it was yesterday (though I would give anything, even my very soul, to forget) the day on which my father called us, his children, into the study, saying, in a grave tone of voice the like of which we had never before heard from him, that he had news to impart to us. My mother sat there, her face pale and her eyes already red from crying – she had been told before us what we were now to learn.

"My dear children", began my father, in a weak faltering voice, his hand displaying a tremor that he tried to disguise by firmly gripping the back of a chair against which he was standing, "I have always attempted to instill in you the importance of behaving at all times in a manner conforming to the very highest standards of morality. Would that I had followed my own precepts! I have been a d---d fool!" As can be imagined, we children started on hearing our father utter this profanity, a word of a type that would never normally make its way into his lexicon of common usage. Undaunted, he continued: "Everything I have done, I have done for you and your dear mother. But it has not been enough. Worse, the things I have done have not always been such that I could proudly stand over them. Neither have they ultimately yielded such worldly successes that we can continue to reap the benefits of sin and live in the lives to which we have become accustomed. Alas – I have abandoned the path of righteousness without even being able to enjoy the worldly blessings that should go with embarking on the roadway of damnation.

"But I am sure you do not understand me. Of course, you are my children – my dear children – too young to comprehend the full enormity of what I speak. Very well, I will try and say it all in less florid terms, and even if you do not grasp fully what I am saying, try to retain it in your mind, so that when you are older the spectre of my terrible mistakes still stands in front of you, warning you not to repeat them. And let me tell you simply the truth – my business affairs have miscarried. They were built on sound foundations, but I became more ambitious, overstretching myself beyond what even I, with my prodigious abilities, could achieve. When I began to realise that fortune was turning against me, I should have let my endeavours fall back to their due level, even at the cost of seeing our living becoming less grand than it had become. But no, instead I borrowed money to maintain the outward appearance of success. And I borrowed from everyone – from the banks, from private investors, even, God help me, from my family members and my own brothers. I took their money in the desperate hope that the addition of further capital into my projects would mean that at last the great endeavours in which I was engaged would finally bear fruit. Yet I was not a fool, for all that I have acted like one. I knew that there was by now no hope of success. My God strike me dead, but I took their money, knowing that they would never see it again. They entrusted me with their life savings, and I took them on the road to damnation with me".

My father was crying now. I had never seen him cry before, and would never see him do so again. The experience was most shocking. My youngest sister herself now started sobbing quietly. I remained firm, as though I felt that as the eldest I should show some example to the rest, to not give in to the emotions raging through my breast. In truth, though, my soul was too shaken for me be able to display any emotion. I could barely make sense of what I was hearing, and was too numb to give myself over to any emotional display.

Yet my father continued. "Do you understand me, children? My business affairs have completely miscarried. I have lost everything I own. My swarming creditors will soon be upon us to take possession of this house – our home, your home – and everything in it. We are destitute now. My debts greatly outreach everything I own, even including the goods and properties tied up in the business. I will be carted off unceremoniously to the debtor's prison, where, I do not doubt, I will spend the rest of my days. But there are worse things than failure, children. Were I simply to have failed in my own endeavours, I would still be able to look people in the face honestly and say 'Yes, I failed, but I failed because I tried'. I could say that to them even if, God help me, even if I had brought destitution on you all. But for me now it is worse, far worse. I have not just brought ruination on myself, on us, but on everyone who knows and trusts me. People will look at me and say 'There he is, the nice fellow who pauperised his brothers, who took the last pennies from his aged aunts and uncles and squandered them on his ridiculous schemes'. I have not just lost my wealth and standing in society, I have lost my good name, and with it my very soul".

This last histrionic point seemed to give my father a certain renewed steadiness of purpose. "And so we must turn to the practicalities of the situation. I will go to the debtor's jail, but what of you all? I have brought ruination on my brothers, and even on the family of your poor mother, so they will be unable to help you even if they wanted to. Alas, I will have to scatter you to the four winds, entrusting you separately to the care of the few of my distant cousins that I forbeared from ensnaring in my schemes. I would love to say that I protected them out of a fear that I might one day have to throw myself on their mercy to keep you from the Poor House. But alas, it is not so; rather, these distant relatives are all too impoverished to have any funds that I could have used to delay commercial disaster, which is why you will have to be separated when you go to them – they are barely able to support themselves, and taking in even one of you little ones will stretch them near to breaking point. But maybe you will learn more from their honest poverty than from my false wealth. Your poor mother, meanwhile, will have to enter into employment as a governess to some great family.

"Banishment to the impoverished extremities of my extended family will be your fate – or rather the fate of all of you bar one. Maurice", he said, addressing me, "You are a degree older than the others, and although you were until today still in education, you are of an age when you can begin to undertake manly duties. With my ruination, your academic education must now cease, but I have managed to make other arrangements for you. There is one of my old associates in commerce who has made a good success of himself. He always preferred to invest his savings in his own enterprises, and so politely declined to throw his money into my hungry maw. Accordingly, he is still in a position to be able to help us, and he stills bear me an affection from our younger days that means he is willing to lend me some assistance. John, I have persuaded Mr Halford to take you on as a clerk in his enterprise. Let us hope that there you can learn to make your living in an honest manner".

My father did not say much more. The next day I left our home, travelling to Brimingham to commence my position with Mr Halford's enterprise. I never saw my father again.

So, how was it that I was unable to win NaNoWriMo in 2010, after this auspicious beginning? There were a couple of reasons. I turned out to be unexpectedly busy at work that November, or much busier than I had been in 2008 when I easily won NaNoWriMo. For another, November 2010 was when the Irish economy really went down the plughole; as representatives of the IMF arrived to make us an offer we could not refuse things assumed a pre-apocalyptic air now hard to imagine, and I found it hard to concentrate on anything so trivial as speed-writing fiction when there seemed every possibility that I would be destitute in a couple of weeks time. But a big problem was that writing in this kind of faux 19th century style proved a lot more difficult than I had initially imagined. I could not just churn this stuff out and had to take time to ensure that that narratorial voice did not drift away into a more modern cadence.

If anyone was really interested I could give you a PDF of the rest of what I wrote that year, though I must warn you that it does trail off a good bit before the story properly commences.

No comments:

Post a Comment