A Conversation for A Place to Call Home
Minorvogonpoet Started conversation Nov 15, 2020
The next morning, Michel woke early. He had not slept well, tossing and turning in the straw. He was worried about the question Henri had asked the previous evening. What were his future plans? Even if they were able to stay for a while, he recognised their presence was threat to Henri and his family. Perhaps it was his responsibility to construct a plan for where they could go in the longer term. It was difficult to know, because the war was dragging on and could take an unpredictable turn. Danger could be waiting for them, whichever way they went. However, Henri had called him irresponsible and the jibe stuck. He climbed down the ladder, and opened the barn door. The air was still cold and dew lay on the grass but the sun was glistening on the duck pond. He crossed the farmyard to the well, drew up a bucket of water and carried it back to the barn. As he washed as well as he could, he heard Jeannot crying and Danielle's voice comforting him.
“Danielle,”He called. “There's water here for washing. It's the best I can do.”
After a while, Danielle appeared among the straw, with Jeannot in her arms.His heart filled with love for his wife and child but he knew there were limits to what he could do for them. He climbed the ladder, and took Jeannot from her.
Once Danielle had washed herself and Jeannot, he said “We'd better face Henri and Cecilie.”
“A bit of breakfast might be nice.”
They walked across the farmyard, stepping over the ruts with care and opened the kitchen door. Henri was sitting at the kitchen table, while Cecilie stood at the range, boiling a pot of water. Annette was lying in her basket not far from the hearth. There was a jug of milk on the table, a rustic loaf and some butter. The farmhouse looked like a haven of stability.
“Help yourself,”said Henri.
Michel sat down, with Danielle next to him, with Jeannot in her lap. They spoke little as they ate bread and butter, and Danielle cut slices and handed them to Jeannot for him to chew. As Cecilie made some substitute coffee, Michel was aware of the strain in the atmosphere.
In the end, Henri spoke. “Cecilie and I have decided. You'll have to move on this morning.”
Michel put his coffee cup down. “You're not prepared to let us stay here?”
Henri shook his head. “ I don't want to risk my own family.”
“What risk is there here? The farm is a long way from Caillac. The police aren't going to come looking here.”
“They might. They know I'm your brother.”
Michel looked at Cecilie, who had turned away to pick up Annette. She didn't look at him and he realised he could not depend on her support.
“Yes, I am your brother. If you were in trouble I'd help you out.”
“But I'm not, because I take sensible decisions.”
Michel felt anger flare. “Look, in Northern France, I saw lots of ruined farm houses. The war came to those people. They hadn't done anything to deserve it. It might come here.”
“I'll take that risk, but I don't want the risk of you being here. You’ve put yourself outside the law.”
“What law? The ones the Germans dictated to them. Foreigners, Nazis, the army I fought against.”
Michel stood, red in the face ,and the thought of knocking his brother down where he stood crossed his mind. But he knew it was hopeless. Henri could be very stubborn once he'd made up his mind.
Danielle touched his sleeve. “Let's go. We're not wanted here. We'll find something else.”
“Come on then Danielle. Bring Jeannot and we'll go.”
Danielle stood, wiped Jeannot's face with her handkerchief, and picked him up. “Thank you for your hospitality. Maybe one day we'll be able to return it.” There was a waspishness in her manner which Michel had never seen before.
Michel walked to the door and opened it. He waited until Danielle had left, then stopped and looked back at his brother and Cecilie. “I'm finished with you now.”
Danielle climbed into the lorry and sat in the passenger seat, with Jeannot in her arms. He was crying in earnest now and she could do little to comfort him except hold him close and kiss his face and hair. She knew Michel was furious, from the red colour of his face and the way he clenched the wheel as he drove away from the farm. He didn’t look back once, although it was the place where he’d grown up. It was difficult to hold back despair. Although she knew the area now, she had no idea where they could go that would be safe. And there was always the danger of running into check points or gendarmes with nothing better to do than stop passing lorries. She decided not to ask Michel where they were going, in order to avoid annoying him further.
However, she could see from the signposts they were heading south. They crossed a couple of ridges, with forests of dwarf oak on the high ground and small farms set among fields in the valleys. When they passed through villages, they kept a careful watch for signs of police or other authorities. Most of the way they saw only farmers working in their fields. Danielle began to relax, and Jeannot stopped struggling and crying and fell asleep.
A light rain began to fall, veiling road, trees and farmland in grey. When they reached a rocky ridge covered with scrub and oak trees, Michel drove the lorry off onto a bumpy track between trees and stopped. He shook his head. “To be honest, I’m not sure where to go.”
“I thought you might be heading to Toulouse.”
“I don’t know if anyone there would be able to put us up. I think it would be better to stop here for now. We’re not far from Clermont. I’ve got contacts with a resistance group that meets there and I reckon I can find them. It would be a good idea to ask if they know a place we can go.”
“Do you think the gendarmes will still be looking for us?”
“I don’t know but we’ll need those false papers.”
Michel edged the lorry into a clearing, from which it wouldn’t be visible from the road and jumped out.
“Is there anywhere dry to stay here?” Danielle asked as she stepped down from the lorry, with Jeannot in her arms.
“There's an old cottage a bit further along. It's been disused for years. Henri and I cycled here once when we were lads. We made a fire and cooked food we'd scrounged from the kitchen.” He stopped and shook his head, as if the memory had become painful to him.
Danielle followed Michel along a rocky track, until she saw an old stone cottage between the trees. He held up his hand, listened for a while and took a cautious step into the building. After a moment he turned. “It's all right. Nobody's been here for ages.”
Danielle walked in and looked round. The roof had caved in at one end and trees were growing through the hole. However, at the end where she stood, the roof beams and tiles were still in place. The limestone walls still stood firm and the floor, although covered with leaves, seemed reasonably dry. The building was screened by oak trees and scrub , making it almost invisible to a casual observer.
“We've got a bit of food left, but really only enough for today,”said Danielle.
“Tomorrow, I think we’ll go into Clermont, but then split up. You can get some more food and I’ll see if I can meet our contacts.”
She spread her coat down on the leaves, sat Jeannot on it then returned to the lorry, to gather together the bag of food and cans of clean water they had brought. By the time she returned to the house, Jeannot was crawling across the floor in pursuit of a leaf that a gust of wind had blown. She stood and watched him, amazed by the way he found amusement, despite the difficulty of their position. Provided he had the people he knew, food and drink, maybe he would be content. The thought calmed her a little. Her problem would be to keep him reasonably clean.
She stopped him eating the leaf he’d caught, sat him on the coat again, took off his soiled nappy, cleaned him up with water from one of the cans and replaced it with a clean one. She washed her own hands and face and fetched out some bread, ham and fruit.
Meanwhile Michel had left the old house and she found him pacing round the wood.
“What are you doing?”
“I'm thinking. And looking for signs that people have been here.”
“Have you found any?”
“Then come and have something to eat.”
He slipped his arm round her waist and they walked back into the ruined house together.
Michel sat down on the leaves and sighed. “I never thought when we married that we'd end up living like this, like vagabonds.”
“Lots of people have been in this position. What about those Jewish families we put up in our house? Most of them were so grateful. They'd gone through all sorts of hardships and seen some awful things.”
Michel nodded. “I've been in worse places when were fighting, that's true. But you expect it if you're in the army. You don't expect women and children to be sleeping in a ruin.”
Danielle cut pieces of bread, ham and apple into small portions and handed them to Jeannot. She watched him as he ate and thought how precious he was to her. She might not be prepared to fight for France, or even for her own home, but she’d fight to protect him, if she had to. She made a bed for Jeannot in a corner, where he was most sheltered from rain and winds. After she sung him to sleep, Michel led her by the hand to the place by the wall where they had laid a couple of blankets down for their own bed. Danielle was so aware of the precariousness of their position it made her yearn to hold Michel close as long as she could. It seemed he felt the same way. They undressed and lay together, ignoring the rain that rattled through the hole in the roof and the leaves blowing into the ruined house. They kissed , cuddled and touched, tracing hair and lips, fingers and nipples, thighs and feet, as if to remember everything about each other. They made love until they were exhausted.
Array Posted Nov 15, 2020
paulh, hiding under my bed Posted Nov 16, 2020
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