“Wherever you go – go with all your heart”
Confucius (500 BC)
1963, 12th of July, I was twelve years old. After the trip to Sark, I could not forget what my father had told me. It made me so angry to think about it. How could he be so stupid as to fall in love with this Swedish girl? I felt so sorry for my stepmother, whom we called Aunt Helene. To add insult to injury, his new girl friend was also called Helene. I kept thinking about it over and over again.
Charles and I really loved Aunt Helene, she had been a wonderful stepmother to us, and always treated us as her own children. How could my father hurt her in this way? On that the boat trip to Sark, somehow I knew something was wrong. I thought it was some financial problem that was bothering him. My father didn’t look very happy. He seemed to be so nervous and upset at the time. He told us that he was having some problems with his company in Switzerland. My father was a LLoyds name: his company insured large ships and aeroplanes and other projects. At that time I didn’t want to listen to his financial worries. I just wanted to enjoy our day out with him. Sadly, I didn’t realize that this was going to be the last time I would ever have with him.
The spring vacation passed by quickly. Dingding did her best to make me smile, for I was very worried about what was going to happen to my father and Aunt Helene. I was afraid that they may get divorced.
Lucinda, my youngest sister, was born on February 14th, Valentines Day. She was a lovely baby and her father, John Roberts, was delighted. Jane and Sally our new stepsisters were also very happy about it. They came to see their new sister.
To take my mind off my father, Dingding began to teach me how to look after the baby. She gave me the warm milk bottle and asked me to feed my new little sister. When I held her in my arms, she was warm and cuddly. Sometimes Dingding allowed me to take the baby out for some fresh air in the pram. We went for a walk to the surrounding land that was around Vinchelez. Walking outside in the fresh air, listening to the birds singing helped me to forget about all the worries I had. The spring vacation was soon over so Charles and I returned to our boarding schools in England. Spring was in the air, and the buds of the flowers were beginning to slowly open. The clear warm sunshine had turned the fields a beautiful green. The sun was beginning to get low and the afternoon light brought long shadows onto the school lawn.
One day late in the afternoon in July, I was thinking of the time when Charles and I first met Aunt Helene. We had spent a wonderful summer together in Switzerland at their house in Anieres. Both Charles and I had been entranced by Aunt Helene, our new step mother at the time. One day I asked her, “Why do some people marry and stay together and other people get separated?” She answered, “Sometimes people just can’t get on with each other.” “Don’t you worry,” she went on, “your father and I love each other, so we hope to be together for ever and ever!” She smiled. Suddenly she put some Russian music on the record player and began to dance Cossack Russian style. Flinging her legs high, laughing, her long blonde hair swung from side to side as she danced in the sitting room. Charles and I joined in and we could not stop giggling. Helene was always so much fun to be with. Remembering more happy times, I began to smile.
It was a lovely warm summery that Saturday afternoon. I always loved to go for long walks in the school gardens, for most of the students were away with their parents at home at weekends. While my thoughts were worrying about my father I suddenly got this strange feeling, like a message from him. I suddenly could hear his voice calling me as if he was trying to say goodbye. I ran down the garden path, which led back to the school grounds. My heart was beating fast. I felt as if I was in a dream. His voice said, “Venetia I’m going away, don’t be sad I will always watch over you.” Frightened, I ran through the school’s playing fields into the school building. I took off my navy school coat and ran upstairs to my bedroom. “Something must have happened,” I thought. “Something terrible has happened.” Clutching my brown Teddy bear I began to pray that my father was all right. He sounded so far away, I felt that he was slipping away to an other world.
A few hours later, the Matron at school knocked on my bedroom door. I was lying on my bed reading a book. Everything was quiet inside the school building as there were no classes that day. Matron told me that she had just received a telegraph from my stepmother that my father had sadly passed away in the late afternoon in Geneva.
I was so shocked. “So that’s what my father was trying to tell me!” I thought.
My world crashed around me, I felt life was too cruel and, like a garden snail, I withdrew into my shell. It was the end of the school year in England. Gale force winds were blowing in the evenings. I felt very alone and bewildered about life. I could not understand the reason for living if we had to experience so much sadness. I began to feel that I was destined to lose anyone who I came to love. I woke up each day, feeling listless, depressed and not in the mood to converse with anybody.
At that time I felt as if nobody really cared about me. During the following year I sometimes went to classes, but, as I did not want to participate in any of the other school activities, I spent most of my time in my room staring out of the window, looking at the pink roses and these huge dark green cedar trees growing in the distance near the black wrought iron gates. My friends thought it best to leave me alone and so I used the time to read many of the classical novels that my father had loved to read to me. I was hoping that the stories would give me some respite from the pain that I was experiencing.
It was at this time that I began to think that I just didn’t fit in with the values and ideals of the upper classes. In English the word “noble” has two meanings. One is to be a member of the aristocracy, a person of high birth or rank. The other, which seems to me to be more real, is nobleness of mind, character and spirit. Someone who has an exalted mind, a spirit that scorns the petty and the base, and who would never do anything dishonorable is truly noble. I couldn’t agree with the people around me, who thought that just because of their title of family blood, they were superior to other people. “It’s what you do in life that is important,” I thought.
My father had died when he was only 42 years old. Strangely enough in Japan, people are believed to have to be very careful about their health when they become forty-two years old. It’s a time when you may become sick.
The golden sunlight was streaming through the wooden sash windows, lighting up the pale blue painted walls. In my room there was a cream painted wooden wardrobe with a matching chest of drawers with an iron bed and a wooden chair. On the pale blue walls, I had put up posters of my favorite pop group, The Beatles, and had lots of photos of my family on the walls. I liked to study and I liked the daily schedule of boarding school, where everything was regular. It made me feel safe.
A few weeks later Helene came to see me at Heathfield. She brought me my father’s grey felt hat, which he always wore, and a leather attaché suitcase. I held the hat in my arms and began to cry. We both sat there in the classroom for a while and looked out of the window at the dark green linden trees swaying in the late summer breeze. I could not say anything. There was nothing to say. We both felt so much sorrow. I could not even ask her where he was buried!
She told me that before he died the divorce papers in France had almost gone through but they were yet to go through in Switzerland. Crying, she told me that daddy had flown to Geneva to try and make her change her mind.
“I was staying in a hotel in Geneva. He came to my room and begged me not to divorce him. He was very upset and promised that he would never see the Swedish Helene again. I still love your father, but due to his betrayal, I couldn’t bring myself to forgive him. I told him I couldn’t ever forgive him. So crushed, he sadly left my hotel room,” she sighed. “I then looked out of the window and saw him take a taxi. Fearing something bad was going to happen, I rushed downstairs and I decided to follow his taxi in my own car. The taxi driver took him to the airport and my car drove behind him all the way there. Suddenly the back of his head slumped down. I tried to get the taxi to stop. We arrived at the airport and the driver finally stopped and opened the back seat door. A look of alarm crossed his face and the taxi driver began to shout in French for a doctor. I jumped out of my car and rushed to the taxi. Your father had collapsed in the back seat. I took him in my arms, shaking him, trying to wake him up. There was a blank look in his eyes and I couldn’t hear any heartbeat. Then a doctor came and pronounced him dead from a heart attack.”
“Oh my darling, it’s my fault!” Helen continued, “If I had forgiven him he would still be alive. I am so sorry, he’s left us forever!” She took my hand and squeezed it, knowing the pain that was going through me. I looked at her and couldn’t say anything. I was just thinking, “How he could die so young? It was so unfair he had been such a kind and gentle man to everyone.”
Together, Helene and I went outside to have lunch at the local nearby inn called The Feathers. The lunch we had ordered came, but both of us seemed to have little appetite to eat. Helene began to tell me that, even though Daddy had died, Charles and I would always be like her own children. I asked her what she was going to do. She told me that she was still legally married to my father in Switzerland. She also told me that my father’s business company in Switzerland has gone bankrupt and that many creditors were coming to collect debts that he owed to them. The house and all the furniture would have to be sold. She was going to try and find work as an interpreter in the United Nations Organization in Geneva to try and pay back some of debts. Daddy had never spoken to us about his business and so I was horrified to hear that his business was in such confusion. “How did he manage to get into so much debt?” I asked her. “Well, one reason was that his group at Lloyds Insurance had a bad year. The year before, there was also an earthquake on some tropical island and a few ships that Lloyds had insured had sunk at the sea. This left him without hardly any capital, so he bought everything on credit, hoping that next year would be a better one,” she answered. Not really understanding what she was saying, I nodded, remembering how he had seemed so troubled the last time we saw him. “But I will try to salvage something for you and Charles if I can, so if you are ever in need you mustn’t hesitate to call me and ask,” she tried to reassure me. “No, no,” I said, “we’ll be ok, but what about you? How are you going to live?” I asked her knowing how hard it would be for her to pay back all the debts. “Don’t worry about me,” Helen answered, “I’ll manage. Russians come from hardy stock, you know!” She tried to smile and squeezed my hand. “You, Darling, must study hard and do something great in your life, for your father will be watching you from heaven. I hope he will be proud of you one day!” We finished lunch and, with very heavy hearts, walked back to the school. I had this feeling we wouldn’t see each other for many years but we promised to keep in touch and she said she would write to me about her new life in Geneva. Not wanting to say Goodbye, I hugged her and smiled. Her taxi came to the school and whisked her away down the drive. Tears blurred my vision and fell down my cheeks and I felt something in my heart being wretched apart as I knew that another person that I loved was going to go away.
Suddenly I wasn’t a child any more, the two people that I depended on most, Dudley and Daddy had gone away. I became very introspective and I liked to be on my own. I still studied very hard, but life seemed to have no meaning and I couldn’t relate to my friends, my family or the things that other teenagers would do at that age. I would lock myself up in my room and read and read, the classics, Greek myths and legends, biblical stories and would dream of the times when great masters had lived over the centuries. I began to feel more and more out of place in the world of aristocracy, fame and money. I forced myself to make an effort to keep up social appearances so that I wouldn’t displease my mother, but I always felt out of place.
Helene wrote to me every year, she spent several years working as a translator in the United Nations. She paid back all my father’s debts. She kept the summer house they had in the south of France in Ramatuelle. A few years later, she married a Swiss banker. Sadly he died in a car accident while she was driving. After that shock, she entered a catholic convent and became a nun. Before taking her final vows, she went to visit her old friend in Lyon to say goodbye. At dinner she met the Count de St. Brosses, who was amazed by her beauty and quickly proposed to her at dinner. He had just lost his wife, and he asked her if she would get married and help him to look after his children. Strangely she accepted his request and instead of entering the convent, she became a foster mother to his children, thinking that it was a message from God.
Years later, after I first and got married, I visited her in the charming Chateau called Saint Trys, near Lyon. She was living happily. All her stepchildren had grown up and she was helping to harvest the grapes to make wine. It was lovely for us to see her after all those years. She was still strikingly beautiful and full of life and love. How lucky I was to have known her. She was someone that was always with me in my heart.