The Secret of Sarek/Foreword
The war has led to so many upheavals that not many people now remember the Hergemont scandal of seventeen years ago. Let us recall the details in a few lines.
One day in July 1902, M. Antoine d'Hergemont, the author of a series of well-known studies on the megalithic monuments of Brittany, was walking in the Bois with his daughter Veronique, when he was assaulted by four men, receiving a blow in the face with a walking-stick which felled him to the ground.
After a short struggle and in spite of his desperate efforts, Veronique, “the beautiful Veronique” as she was called by her friends, was dragged away and bundled into a motor-car which the spectators of this very brief scene saw making off in the direction of Saint-Cloud.
It was a plain case of kidnapping. The truth became known next morning. Count Alexis Vorski, a young Polish nobleman of dubious reputation but of some social prominence and, by his own account, of royal blood, was in love with Veronique d'Hergemont and Veronique with him. Repelled and more than once insulted by the father, he had planned the incident entirely without Veronique's knowledge or complicity.
Antoine d'Hergemont, who, as certain published letters showed, was a man of violent and morose disposition and who, thanks to his capricious temper, his ferocious egoism and his sordid avarice, had made his daughter exceedingly unhappy, swore openly that he would take the most ruthless revenge.
He gave his consent to the wedding, which took place two months later, at Nice. But in the following year a series of sensational events transpired. Keeping his word and cherishing his hatred, M. d'Hergemont in his turn kidnapped the child born of the Vorski marriage and set sail in a small yacht which he had bought not long before.
The sea was rough. The yacht foundered within sight of the Italian coast. The four sailors who formed the crew were picked up by a fishing-boat. According to their evidence M. d'Hergemont and the child had disappeared amid the waves.
When Veronique received the proof of their death, she entered a Carmelite convent.
These are the facts which, fourteen years later, were to lead to the most frightful and extraordinary adventure, a perfectly authentic adventure, though certain details, at first sight, assume a more or less fabulous aspect. But the war has complicated existence to such an extent that events which happen outside it, such as those related in the following narrative, borrow something abnormal, illogical and at times miraculous from the greater tragedy. It needs all the dazzling light of truth to restore to those events the character of a reality which, when all is said, is simple enough.