Chapter 1: BORDERLANDS
Perhaps appropriately for a secret agent, the deceptions and confusions that surround Christine's life start with her birth [Although she was 'Krystyna' until 1941, to prevent confusion I consistently use her adopted name, 'Christine', of which, she later wrote, she was so proud]. One story has it that Christine was born at the Skarbek family estate on a stormy spring evening in 1915, and that her arrival coincided with the appearance of Venus, the evening star, in the sky. As a result she was nicknamed 'Vesperale'. In an even more romantic version of events, she was born 'in the wild borderlands between Poland and Russia', to a family that was noble, 'tough, used to invasions, warfare, Cossacks, bandits and wolves'.1 In fact Christine arrived in the world on Friday 1 May 1908. One of her father's childhood nicknames for her was 'little star', but she was born at her mother's family house on Zielna Street, in central Warsaw, now the capital of Poland. Then, however, Warsaw was technically in Russia. Poland as we know it today was not a recognized country: apart from a brief reappearance, courtesy of Napoleon, for more than a century Poland had been partitioned into three sections, each of them subsumed into the empires of Russia, Austro-Hungary and Prussia. Christine was born into a family of aristocratic patriots, loyal to a country that would not officially exist again until she was ten years old.
She was a small and seemingly frail baby, so frail in fact that her parents feared for her life, and she was hastily baptized Maria Krystyna Janina Skarbek by a local priest less than two weeks after her birth. Five years later, Christine would go through the rite a second time in Beczkowice, where her parents had moved in 1913. The record of this second event has somehow survived in the local parish archive despite a series of wars and regime changes. Written in Russian, it was dated with the Russian Julian and Polish Gregorian calendars, as both the 17 and 30 November 1913. The Church does not officially sanction second baptisms, but Christine's parents, one a rather lapsed Roman Catholic, the other a non-practising Jew, had long wanted a more elaborate celebration of their daughter's arrival than had been possible at her birth. Their move out of Warsaw had conveniently provided a new local parish priest with whom to make arrangements.
Two certificates of baptism, five years apart and showing three different dates, serve as notice for Christine's birth. But she has a single death certificate, part typed, part closely penned into the printed boxes of a Royal Borough of Kensington register office form. Here her given name is 'Christine Granville', her occupation is listed as 'former wife', and although the certificate is dated 1952, her age is recorded as just thirty-seven. Somewhere between 1908 and 1952, Warsaw and London, life and death, she had changed name and nationality, left two husbands and numerous lovers, won international honours but buried her career, and cut seven years from her life.
Christine's father, Count Jerzy Skarbek, was a charming man. Described by his cousins as darkly attractive with 'a seductive little moustache', and by his nieces as 'a very handsome man of patrician beauty', he had that enviable ability to be at once hugely popular among his male friends, and almost irresistibly attractive to women, who seemed to constantly surround him. But the Count's dark good looks were matched by his dark intentions. He was the archetypal aristocratic cad and bounder.
Jerzy Skarbek led a privileged life, typical of the landed gentry and very far from the struggle for existence faced by much of the Polish population in the late nineteenth century. The Count had been a 'master' since childhood, accustomed to having a valet and a groom. It was part of the innate order of the world. And yet, arguably, Jerzy Skarbek was not a Count at all.
Excerpted from The Spy Who Loved by Clare Mulley. Copyright © 2013 by Clare Mulley. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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