When I was 10 years old, my mother forced me to learn horseback riding. Every Thursday afternoon I went to the stables for my lessons. I hated it. The stables belonged to the Duchess of L. She was in her eighties and always rode sidesaddle, perfectly erect and wearing an elegant black tricorn hat. Her husband, the late duke, descended from the famous minister of Charles VII. The minister, as we know, was reputed to have played a decisive role, if not that of mastermind itself, in the arrest and execution of Joan of Arc. He was jealous and afraid of the heroine. It seems he had been cursed, and it was predicted that the last of his name would be burned alive and die without child.
The family still existed in the 20th century. The duke was enamored with a lady of the English aristocracy. The two were very much in love. She invited the duke to spend the weekend at her English estate while her husband was traveling. The duke hurried to England. Unfortunately, the husband caught wind of the tryst. During the night, while the duke and the lady were in the midst of their nocturnal affair, the husband set fire to his own home. The wife escaped but the duke was burned alive. He had no children. The duke’s widow, the sidesaddle instructor of my youth, was the last to carry his name.