The Lost Domain

All that morning I had watched the storm gathering over the mountains. By early afternoon, when I bundled myself into an old coat and went out to check doors and gates, it had already swept right across the valley. It was as though I was looking out at an over-exposed still from a black and white film, everything was either too vivid white or jagged black. The only colour, indeed the only movement, was across the valley where one of the trucks they had blown up during the night still blazed. It must have carried fuel of some sort. From here I could see a bright pinpoint of red and a black, oily plume that was already merging into the leaden sky. I checked my watch, then went back inside to sit by the kitchen window with a favourite book I didn’t read much.

Little over an hour later I heard a gate slamming in the wind. I pulled on my still damp coat and went to latch it shut once more, then took a moment to lean on the top bar and look at the tracks already disappearing under fresh snow. The wind was even stronger now, but I could see nothing else moving.

‘You can come out now,’ I said without turning round.

The voice that answered was quiet, barely more than a whisper, and seemed to me to carry an ineffable sadness. ‘Pierre said.’ He went no further. I waited a moment, then nodded.

‘Better come inside.’

Two men followed me into the stone-flagged kitchen. The younger went immediately to the old stove. The older, the owner of the sad voice, took a moment to stand in the doorway and check the room out carefully, then he looked outside once more and shut and bolted the door.

‘I remember rooms like this,’ he said, ‘when I was a child.’

‘I have coffee,’ I said. ‘Not very good coffee, but the best I could get.’

‘Please.’ The younger man spoke for the first time, his voice hoarse as if he had difficulty forming the word. I had a close look at him as I got the pot off the stove. He had a thin, sharp-featured face, with lips so pale they almost disappeared, shadows under the eyes and a sweaty sheen on his forehead. He moved to make room for me, and winced.

‘Wounded?’

‘He’ll live,’ the older man replied.

‘But?’

The older man regarded me for a moment, then bowed ever so slightly. ‘But we need a place to stay. A couple of days at least.’

‘Not here.’

‘I know that.’

I looked out of the window. The sky, still heavy with snow, was now so dark it was getting impossible to tell whether it was day or night. ‘The Germans won’t be here before morning, not in this. But they will come.’

‘I know that,’ the older man repeated. His face was thin and deeply lined. In the warm light of the kitchen I would guess he was in his fifties, perhaps a little older. He took a cup of thick, black coffee from me and sipped it appreciatively. Our coats were already beginning to steam. The kitchen was filled with the smell of damp wool and coffee. He sniffed, and his eyes narrowed in a faint smile. ‘It’s good sometimes to remember.’

‘It’s poverty you’re recalling,’ I said. ‘If I had money I’d have left long since, or at least done something to this house.’

He finished the coffee, set the cup down carefully on the table, and slowly unbuttoned his coat. The mismatched jacket and trousers underneath had long since seen better days. ‘I take your point,’ he said. ‘But still, memory does hold its elusive treasures.’

‘I should offer you a madeleine, perhaps?’

At that, he laughed, something I would guess he did not do often.

‘How long before we should move on?’ He looked across at his companion, who now slumped in one of my battered rattan chairs, his left leg held out at an awkward angle, and the laughter left his face in an instant.

‘I know a place you can stay,’ I said, surprising myself. ‘It’s not far from here, but I don’t think the Germans will find it. We should go,’ I checked the sky once more, ‘maybe an hour, when it’s fully dark. If your friend is up to it.’

‘I didn’t know.’

‘Nobody does.’

‘Pierre didn’t …’

I held up my hand to stop him.

He looked at me shrewdly for a moment, then went over to the younger man who now seemed to be asleep. ‘He’ll be fine. He’s tougher than he looks.’ There was real tenderness in his voice.

I poured another coffee for the two of us then retreated to my window seat. ‘Known him long?’ I asked.

‘Since this war began. What’s that? Two years? Three years? He’s saved my life. I do the same for him.’ There was a long history carried as much in the unemphatic quietness of his voice as in the words themselves.

We drank in a surprisingly companionable silence for a while, then I asked: ‘And you?’

‘Me?’ He looked surprised. He nursed his cup, looking down at the stone floor. ‘Me,’ he repeated, as if the question had taken him a long way away, ‘I’m dead.’

I didn’t know what to say. There was nothing I could say. Was this some curious joke? But his expression, when at last he looked up at me, was deeply unhappy.

‘The last foolish attempt to end all wars,’ he said, and there was no hint of bitterness in his voice. ‘1914. I was listed as killed within weeks of joining up. When I found out it seemed,’ he paused as if searching for exactly the right word, ‘sensible to stay that way. Besides, there was something I wanted to find, and it freed me up for the search.’

‘What was it?’

He shook his head.

‘And did you find it?’

‘No.’ A pause. ‘Not yet.’

It was time to move on. I carefully washed the cups my visitors had used and hung them in their place on the rack, but I left my own cup beside the sink. Then I found a sack and stuffed a loaf of bread and some cheese into it. Meanwhile the dead man, as it seemed appropriate to term him, gently woke his companion. The younger man got stiffly to his feet, swayed for a moment then nodded grimly. He looked, if anything, paler than before.

‘It’s cross country,’ I said. ‘Not easy. Are you going to manage?’

‘Have to.’ It came out as a groan.

‘I’ll take care of him,’ the older man said, and began making sure the younger man’s coat was properly buttoned.

I shook my head, then held out the sack of food. ‘Take this and wait outside,’ I told him, ‘I want to make sure there’s no sign you’ve been here.’

To take the sack he had to come close to the window. As he did he noticed the book I’d been trying to read earlier. He froze, very deliberately turning his head away so I couldn’t see his expression. It was a matter of seconds only before he turned back to me with a false smile and seized the sack of food. Neither of us said anything. I picked the book up and slipped it into its place on the shelf. Then I went round the room, checking for any signs they might have left. Satisfied at last I went out and found them sheltering under the overhanging roof of a barn I’d never got around to repairing. The younger man leaned back against the wooden wall, but the older was keenly watching the gate that led out to the road.

I went over to the gate to check the latch, and as I did so had a good look up and down the road. There was no sign of any recent movement.

‘Not even the Boche will be out on a night like this,’ I said under my breath as I went back past the barn. ‘With any luck. Come on, we go this way.’

I led them across the yard, along a narrow track that edged one of my fields, and into the woods. The fresh snow, already beginning to freeze, crunched loudly underfoot. With the wind, it was the only sound. The temperature had fallen dramatically while we were inside, and the fierce wind made it seem even colder. My coat, already growing heavy with the snow crusted around its skirts, felt inadequate for the conditions, and my two companions were if anything even more poorly dressed. Fortunately, as we got further into the woods we got some shelter from the wind. Here, too, I felt I could risk using my torch, at least in the roughest spots. We followed a shallow gulley then had to descend a steep slope beside what, in warmer months, was a pretty little waterfall. Even in the best of times this was not an easy track, but now, under snow and ice, it became punishing. Just once, at about the half-way point, the younger man cried out. We stopped, held our perilous positions unsteadily, and gazed wildly around for any response. Then I lost my footing and slithered the rest of the way down the slope. The other two almost immediately followed and we landed in a wet and untidy heap at the bottom. The older man instantly had a hand over his companion’s mouth in case the other might scream in pain, but though the younger man’s eyes were wide, his features pulled into a rictus, he made no sound.

And I realised the older man suddenly had a pistol in his hand. He saw my expression and leaned towards me. ‘If they catch me, I’m dead anyway. I might as well take some of them with me.’

I looked at the still forest that surrounded us. The slope above us looked more like a miniature avalanche had struck than that three people had descended. There were no animal noises. The wind had died down. There was a cathedral-like calm about us. I turned back, facing the gun not the man. ‘How many ways are there for you to be dead?’

He thought about that for a while, then shrugged. ‘I haven’t counted.’ But he made the gun disappear inside his coat. ‘We should be moving.’

‘How is he?’

‘He’ll be better out of the cold and snow.’

But it took a while for the younger man to get back on his feet, and he had to lean heavily on his companion. I noticed how violently he was shivering. Fortunately the way was easier for a while, along a narrow valley floor, and the heavy clouds had broken up enough for a bright moon to occasionally light our way. But then we had a long, steady upward climb, not difficult but tiring, and we had to halt several times to give the younger man a chance to catch his breath. As we neared the shoulder of the hill, however, it was the older man who more often called for a rest. When we stopped for the fourth or fifth time, a little below the brow, I asked if he was all right.

‘Of course, I’m fine,’ he said quickly, but he wouldn’t meet my eyes. After a pause he continued, ‘No. I don’t know. There’s something, call it intuition, a presentiment, but I feel something is waiting.’ Another pause, then he said, more firmly, ‘No, this is ridiculous. Come on, let’s get moving.’

For a little while he led the way, until we crested the hill and he turned to look back at me.

‘This way,’ I said, indicating how the track curved around the shoulder of the hill and led down the other side. It was easier going now; the track had once been a road, and though there was little evidence remaining now, the surface was more even, the slope more gentle than we had so far experienced. The younger man seemed to become stronger, as if he could sense our destination was within reach, but the older started to hang back again. I could tell he was peering ahead, trying to spot what lay before us, but I knew that even in broad daylight the old house was hidden by the trees until you were almost at the door.

There came a moment when we reached a gap in the trees and we could make out the shadowy bulk of the old house and its outbuildings. He stopped then and said sharply, ‘No!’

We had taken longer on the journey than I had anticipated, so I turned to him and said, rather brusquely, ‘We’ve no time for this. I need you settled and to be back home before dawn in case the Germans come calling.’

The house had been finally abandoned at least twenty years before, but even before that old trees had been allowed to grow tall all around it so that we couldn’t even make out a silhouette. Nevertheless he didn’t take his eyes off it. ‘Where is this place?’

‘From all I hear, the family lost their money before the last war. My farm was part of their estate originally, but they’d gone long before I moved here. I never knew them.’

‘Their name? No, it doesn’t matter, it’s the wrong place. Has to be. It doesn’t make sense for it to be here.’ His face was shadowed, I couldn’t make out any expression. But the sadness I had first heard in his voice was even more noticeable.

The younger man had trudged a short way ahead of us, but he stopped now and turned to look back. ‘Please …’ he said. At that the older man rushed to his side and put an arm around him as if to stop him falling.

‘It’s in a pretty bad state,’ I said, ‘and you’ll be sharing the place with rats and other wildlife. But you’ll be dry, and you should be safe for a few days.’

The older man looked as if he was about to say something, but he just nodded.

The approach road led between the crumbling remains of a low wall. There might once have been a gate here, but there was no sign of it now. Water gurgled invisibly through a culvert somewhere below our feet. Cobbles underfoot were the first sign that we had reached the courtyard. One end of the house on our left had fallen down and a structure only gradually acquired substance out of the rubble. There was a low building ahead of us, a continuation of the house that had once contained the kitchen, and to our left were what had probably once been stables. I led them towards the kitchen, the most complete part of the house, but the older man touched my arm lightly.

‘No,’ he said, ‘up there.’ He gestured towards what I had assumed were stables. ‘There are rooms, at least there’s a room, up on the first floor.’

There was something in his voice, both eager and afraid, that made me certain I’d just been led into a trap.

He sensed me tensing and his hand on my arm tightened. ‘No, it’s all right. At least … it doesn’t make sense … I’ve never been here, but I know the place, I know there’s a room up there.’

There was a small door in the corner. It was unlocked, opening outwards to reveal a narrow flight of steep wooden steps disappearing into darkness. I risked using my torch; the stairs were whole and grey under years of undisturbed dust.

‘Wait here,’ I said, ‘I’ll check it out.’

Silently the older man reached into a pocket and offered me his gun. After an indecisive moment I shook my head.

‘What would a farmer be doing with a pistol like that?’

I tried the first step, it held. I climbed slowly, my back pressed against the rough stone wall, trying to divide my attention equally between the door at the top of the stairs and the two vague figures just visible in the open doorway below me. The fourth step creaked. I froze, listened; I could hear planes drifting past lazily far overhead but no other sound. I tried the next step. Two other stairs creaked without obviously disturbing anything, though once I heard a scittering that was probably a rat. When I reached the door at the top of the stairs I realised I had been holding my breath. I paused, tried to breathe slow and deep for a few moments. The position of the door meant that when I opened it I would be plainly visible to anyone in the room. For a moment I considered going back down and insisting we went to the kitchen area which I knew, part of me was still certain there was a trap awaiting me inside the room. Then, in one sudden motion that allowed no second thoughts, I shoved the door open.

And in that same instant there was an explosive sneeze from down below.

I collapsed. Something small ran across me. A bird cried out and I heard wings flapping. The black room remained still.

‘Sorry,’ the younger man called out softly. ‘The dust.’

Realising how much I was shaking, I got warily to my feet and, because there wasn’t much point in further secrecy, shone my torch into the room. It was empty. The bare wooden floor looked sound. There was a narrow bed, still covered with a tattered cloth, pushed against the far wall. A table, with a single chair, stood under the shuttered window. A few boxes were scattered across the floor as if someone had begun to pack things away and then left in a hurry.

I noticed my footprints in the dust around the door, then swung the beam of my torch across the floor. There were no other prints, other than rats nothing had visited this room in years.

I called down to my two companions, ‘Come on up.’ Then I continued my exploration. The shutters on the window were closed, but a couple of slats had fallen from them, it would be easy to see out, not so easy to see in. I played my torch across the roof beams, I could see no obvious holes. I was a little concerned, though maybe also relieved, that there were no obvious hiding or defensive places in the room, but then with luck they wouldn’t be needed.

The younger man came in first, his face so drawn his breathing so laboured that I was surprised he had been able to climb the stairs. I immediately grabbed his arm and led him over to the bed. I’d had no chance to check whether it was damp, or even solid, but right now he just needed to sleep and that was the best bet. The bed held under him. ‘All these years,’ I said over my shoulder to the older man, ‘and I never even knew this room was here.’

There was no answer.

I turned. He was standing in the doorway staring into the room with an expression that at first I thought was one of simple dread. Only later, as I recalled the scene, did I realise there was something else underlying the dread, something that might have been wonder or even joy. I’m not sure how much he could see of the room. Other than my torch the only light came from the moon reflecting on snow and filtering through the closed but broken shutters. Yet it seemed the whole room was presented to him in all its detail. No, I was being fanciful. I shone my torch in his face, dazzling him. He blinked and seemed as if he was waking up.

‘Are you all right?’ I said.

‘Maybe it wasn’t here,’ he replied, answering my previous question. ‘Maybe it’s only here, now, for this moment.’ He placed a curious, bitter emphasis on the word ‘here’.

‘But you knew it was here. You directed us.’

‘Did I? But I’ve never been here before. Not here. It’s the wrong place.’ He gave a snort that may have been a laugh. ‘The wrong time. It’s too late now, how can I …’ He looked wildly around. ‘How can I …’

I looked down. The younger man, amazingly, was asleep, his face was relaxed for the first time and he seemed even younger than I had previously thought.

‘It’s a good place,’ I said. ‘Safe, dry, you’ve got food,’ I indicated the sack the older man had dropped just inside the doorway. ‘You should have plenty of warning if anyone comes near, but this place is out of the way enough that probably no-one will. You should be okay for a day or two at least. And I’ll be back when I know it’s safe.’

He looked puzzled, as if he couldn’t quite make sense of what I was saying. Then, very slowly, he said, ‘Yes, of course, a …’ he paused ‘good place.’

I went up close to him, my upturned torch giving his face a demonic look. ‘I don’t know what this place is to you, what you are or are not remembering, but this isn’t the time. You need to stay here and now, there’s too much depending on it. Your friend …’ I let the sentence trail away.

He looked across at the sleeping man. ‘It was always going to be like this,’ he said, and his voice had the deep sadness I had first heard … was it only a few hours before. ‘You spend your life – waste your life, really – looking for something. And when you find it, it’s the wrong place, the wrong time, there are other demands, and’ he shook his head, raised a stubby finger to rub at his cheek ‘and you’re no longer sure what it means any more.’

‘I must go. I need to be home before the Germans get there.’

‘Of course. Thank you.’

I turned off my torch, made my way carefully to the top of the steps. ‘Look after your friend,’ I said. It felt awkward saying it, but somehow I had to remind him why he was in this place which had such a strange effect on him.

‘He’ll be fine. I promise.’

Something made me hesitate a moment longer, but I knew I couldn’t stay. He followed me down the stairs. At the bottom, as I peered cautiously out into the courtyard we realised it had started snowing again. ‘Good,’ I said, ‘that should help cover our prints.’

‘But it’ll make your journey harder.’

I looked closely at him in the milky moonlight. He grabbed my hand. ‘Thank you,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry for how I behaved. I was just taken by surprise, I suppose. But we do appreciate all you’ve done. And I don’t even know your name.’

‘Safer that way.’

‘Yes, but not so friendly.’

He smiled, and I suddenly realised how easy it would be to fall under his spell. I pulled my hand from his grasp. ‘I must go. Take care.’

I took a different route home, shorter and easier but more exposed. Even so, it wasn’t much more than an hour before sunrise when I reached the house. The snow had stopped again, though there had been enough to obscure our prints. Nevertheless I took some time to walk back and forth around the place, opening and closing gates, checking locks, and in the process making sure that nobody else had visited the farm during the night. Only then did I go back into the warmth of my kitchen, make myself a coffee, and settle down to wait.

The Germans arrived a little before ten, a dozen men struggling miserably up the road. I needn’t have gone to such trouble to erase any tracks from the night before, within moments they had stamped down the snow enough to cover any traces. They hammered on my door and I took my time answering, then stood back as they pushed past me and into the rest of the house. Their leader appeared to be a short, dark-haired corporal who was trying to act tough though I could see he wasn’t long out of his teens. If they really expected to run into resistance fighters on this side of the valley, surely they’d have sent a bigger patrol? I looked up startled as something crashed in my bedroom overhead. The bed had not been slept in. Would they have the wit to notice?

‘Can I help you?’ I said. During the morning I’d tried to school myself in how they might expect a genuinely innocent man to react in these circumstances, but in the event I got an appropriate level of nervousness, surprise and uncertainty into my voice without even trying.

‘We’re looking for two men. Criminals. We traced them to this region.’ The corporal spoke a surprisingly good schoolboy French.

‘You’re the first people I’ve seen for days. It gets pretty isolated up here at this time of year.’

The two men who’d gone upstairs reappeared with a shake of the head.

‘Corporal?’ One of the soldiers who’d remained in the kitchen was pulling at my still-sodden coat where it hung behind the door.

‘You are isolated, but you still go out? In this weather?’

‘Of course. I’m a farmer, there are always things to do on a farm. Even at this time of year, especially in this sort of weather. I was out before dawn checking for damage. If you have men searching the abandoned byre over the way there, tell them to be careful, I’m not sure it’s safe any more. Now, can I get something for you and your men? Coffee? It’s not very good, you understand. But you must be freezing. And tell me about these criminals. How do I spot them? What should I do?’

Everyone searching the rest of house had now returned, and several of those looking through the outhouses had also come into the kitchen, which was getting crowded. Most of them had edged as close as they could get to the stove.

The corporal ignored the offer of coffee. He held out a small, creased photograph. It was a head and shoulders shot from perhaps ten years before, to judge from the clothes, and although he was fleshier it was clearly the younger of my two visitors. I shook my head and looked up expectantly.

‘His name is Henri Dumont, a petty thief from Paris. He is now reported to be in this area. He could be dangerous. If you see him tell the military authorities straight away.’

‘Of course. Am I in danger? What has he done? And what about the other man? You said there were two.’

‘The second man, yes. He is, we think, more dangerous. There is no photograph. He goes by the name of Meaulnes.’ Then, seeing my expression, he added quickly, ‘You know this man?’

‘No. It’s just … look.’ I picked up the book I’d resumed reading that morning. ‘It’s a novel, from before the last war. The author was killed in 1914. Just an odd coincidence, don’t you think?’

The corporal snatched the book from my hand, staring at it as if it might be guilty of whatever atrocities my older visitor had committed. Then he looked around at his men. ‘Anything?’ There was a general muttering and shaking of heads. He looked at me and I thought for a moment he was going to arrest me, but he just said, ‘Okay, let’s move on.’

He still had the book with him when he left.

For a long time I didn’t move. They had left the door ajar. An icy wind swept into the kitchen. I could hear a gate creak and slam, creak and slam. After a while I realised I was shaking, though I wasn’t sure why. I tried to pour myself a coffee, but my hands were trembling and I just spilled it. Then I sat down, gripping the sides of the chair as if it would disappear from under me. The man who called himself Meaulnes had been reported killed in 1914 and was now searching for something, something he seemed to have found in the abandoned house in the next valley. No! This was ridiculous, an idle fancy born of fear and too little sleep. I dragged on my coat and went out to shut the gate, then I returned to my kitchen, locked the door and added more wood to the stove. Then I sat down and unthinkingly reached for my book. It wasn’t there, of course, and in that moment I wanted to howl like a wounded animal.

It was after dark when I decided it was safe to go out again. I’d had a little sleep, huddled by my kitchen stove, but far from being rested I felt more tired, more on edge, than ever. The day had been bright and clear, the snow had started to melt but was now freezing again. I trudged through the icy woods, falling frequently but climbing back to my feet and plodding on with a sullen obstinacy that paid no heed to my surroundings. Only when I rounded the shoulder of the hill and started down the gentler slope into the next valley did a natural wariness take over. I felt as the older man – as Meaulnes – must have done, approaching a place that was both irresistible and frightening at the same time. No, the place wasn’t frightening, it was discovering a dream that scared me. I went more and more slowly, eventually coming to a halt just above the covered culvert where it became possible to make out the shape of the buildings. There was no light, no sound, no sign of movement. A dark shadow against an only slightly paler sky, it looked as it had always looked. There was nothing magical, nothing dreamlike about this ruined house. I shook my head as if shaking away the nonsense and walked boldly into the courtyard, deliberately making a noise to alert the two resistance fighters in the room above the stable. The door was in the dark corner where the older man had pointed it out, and it opened easily onto a familiar flight of stairs. The steps groaned and sent out little puffs of dust around my feet as if I hadn’t been here less than twenty-four hours before.

At the top of the steps I paused, not sure what to do next. Did I call out and alert a possible enemy who might have found the place? Did I march boldly in and find myself on the wrong end of Meaulnes’ pistol? When I’d left here we had agreed no passwords, no secret knocks, no protocols for my return. I suppose I had imagined it would be in daylight and they would have seen my approach clearly.

In the end there seemed to be nothing else I could do except open the door and step into the darkened room. A mouse ran across my feet. Nothing else moved.

‘Hello?’ Had I come to the wrong place? Had they been discovered and taken away?

Eventually, from the darkness, a thin voice answered me. ‘Alban?’

Alban?

‘No. It’s me.’

Only now did I think to turn on my torch. The room was as empty as it had been the night before, except for the thin figure propped up on the old bed and squinting into the light. I turned the beam on my face.

‘Remember?’

Henri slumped down, turned his face up to the darkness of the roof space.

‘I thought Alban might have come back.’

‘Where is he?’

I played the torchlight more slowly about the room. The dilapidated shutters were still closed, the desk and boxes stood as they had. The chair had been moved closer to the bed. There were footprints in the dust of the floor, but it was impossible to make sense of them.

I went to sit in the chair by the sick man. The torchlight emphasised the hollows of his face, making him look more gaunt and ghastly. His flesh was pale, his eyes flickered towards me but didn’t seem to focus. A tip of grey tongue pushed between his thin lips and disappeared.

‘I know you.’ His voice was like the rustle of dead leaves.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I brought you here. Remember?’

‘Has Alban returned?’

‘Not yet. Do you know where he went?’

He was silent for a long time then. It was difficult to tell in the torchlight how ill he really was. His breathing seemed calm, I thought for a moment he’d drifted off to sleep. Then he said, slowly as if speaking itself was painful, ‘I was so hot. Alban put his coat over me and I tried to throw it off because I was so hot, but he wouldn’t let me. I think I was hallucinating. At one time I heard music, laughter. Alban stayed with me. He said he had to make sure I got well. But I could tell he was restless, he wanted to go and find where the music was coming from. So I think he must have heard it too.’

He coughed, suddenly and sharply, then fell silent again. His eyes flickered towards me, wild and afraid.

‘Is Alban here?’

‘Not yet.’

‘Did he hear the music?’

‘I’m sure he did.’

‘So I wasn’t hallucinating.’

I didn’t answer. I was wondering what Alban had heard.

‘Do you know where he went?’ I asked.

The grey tongue touched his parched lips once more.

‘He waited with me. He wanted to be sure I’d get well. He saved my life once, you know. After that, he always said he was responsible for me. But when he knew the fever had broken he left all the food and water with me. He said there was someone he was looking forward to meeting again.’

‘Who? Where did he go?’ Though I was sure I knew.

Henri just smiled weakly and said, ‘The music.’ Then he closed his eyes and his breathing became slow and regular.

I knew I was going to have to spend several days, risk discovery and who knows what danger, to tend Henri. But I also knew he was going to live. And Alban, who had called himself Meaulnes, was not going to return.

But now, while the younger man slept, there was time to look around the place. I slipped quietly down the stairs. The ruin of the house was dark and silent. The party had moved on. I would not find it here, now. But maybe, in years to come, I would find it somewhere else, if I kept looking.

 

 

Henri-Alban Fournier used the pen-name Alain-Fournier for his one novel, Le Grand Meaulnes, published in 1913. In 1914 he was killed in the first month of the war. He was not quite 28. His body was only identified in 1991.

 

Copyright: Paul Kincaid, 2014

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