A Conversation for A Place to Call Home

Chapter 24

Post 1

Array

Danielle

Danielle allowed herself a look back at the house that had become an important part of her life. To her relief, there was no sign of Guillaume and she hoped he hadn’t yet discovered her disappearance. It was only a short distance from the house to the railway station, but it took Danielle a longer time to walk than she expected. At one, Jeannot was growing heavy to carry, and he was beginning to speak. It delighted her to hear his attempt at words, but it slowed her progress. Autumn was coming, some of the leaves on the plane trees which lined the road were gold and a few had fallen onto pavements and road surfaces. “Leaf,” she said to Jeannot and pointed.
As she approached the station, she saw Vichy gendarmes in the forecourt. She told herself to keep walking, to give the impression of confidence. The gendarmes watched her but said nothing. It was a plain clothes official who asked for her papers. She took them out of her pack and offered them without making eye contact. The official waved her past.
Danielle hurried into the station and across the concourse, hoping there would be no further questions. There were other people travelling: farmers and their wives, other women with children and men with briefcases. “Choo choo train,” she said, pointing at the engine, which was producing a cloud of steam.
“Choo choo” said Jeannot.
She took Jeannot out of his sling and put him on her lap, where he sat and looked around. An older woman with a bag followed Danielle into the compartment, and they were joined by a man with a briefcase. The woman smiled, showing a mouth with several teeth missing. Danielle smiled in return, but told herself to trust no-one.
“I'm glad these trains are running,”said the woman. “I had to go to Agen and, do you know, the main line was blocked. No-one said why.”
“Terrorism,”said the man with the briefcase.
Danielle glanced at him. Was he some kind of official? She knew terrorism meant resistance activity. The sort of thing Michel might have been involved in. She couldn't afford to express any sympathy with the resistance, so she said nothing. Instead, she allowed herself to wonder what Michel was doing. When she remembered her encounter with Guillaume, she looked down to conceal the tears rising in her eyes. Michel would understand, she told herself. It was not her fault.
For a moment, she imagined Michel confronting Guillaume, with his revolver in his hand. She dismissed the image, as any kind of violence or threat of it would almost certainly have been counter-productive. Guillaume was the sort of person who had contacts with the Vichy officials.
The railway line followed the bank of the Garonne for several miles, before turning east towards Montauban. On reaching the town, Danielle picked up Jeannot and her bag of belongings and stepped out of the train. As she did so, she and the other passengers were met by a group of Vichy gendarmes.
“What’s happening?” she asked a young gendarme.
“There's a blockage on the line,” he replied curtly. “You'll have to wait.”
Danielle guessed that the word blockage meant further sabotage. She realised that she ought to be pleased that the Resistance were making an impact but, for her their success meant delay and uncertainty. Although she was prepared to wait in the station, Jeannot started wriggling and screaming in his sling. She let him down onto the concrete and held his hand while he tried to walk towards a pigeon strutting nearby. The pigeon flew away, Jeannot started crying and sat down on the dirty ground. Danielle fished in her bag for the last apple, cut it up and handed him a piece.
After a while, the people who had been standing uncertainly in the station began wandering out.
It looked as if there would be a very long time to wait if she stayed on the station. Danielle picked up Jeannot and wandered out onto the stretch of cobbled road outside. There were people standing around, while others had resorted to sitting outside a café, with bottles of wine and chunks of bread. As Danielle stood, undecided, the sorrows of the past overwhelmed her and tears flowed.
The woman whom she'd seen on the train gave her sleeve a tug.
“Don't cry, Madame.That lorry driver over there is prepared to give me a lift to Montauban, but he wants paying. Are you going that way?”
Danielle looked at the burly man standing by an old lorry and felt reluctant to trust him. However, her companion seemed confident and two women were safer together than she would be on her own with Jeannot.
“Thank you. I'd be glad of a lift and I've got a little money.”
“Good. I'm Gabrielle Blanc.”
Danielle followed as Gabrielle climbed onto the lorry, which then clattered away across the cobbles. Danielle wondered if she would be asked to explain her journey and started thinking up plausible stories. To her relief, Gabrielle announced she was feeling hungry, so Danielle shared her remaining food between Jeannot, herself and her new companion. They sat and munched bread and cheese and only exchanged a few words with the lorry driver.
The driver dropped his passengers at the station in Montauban. Having said goodbye to Gabrielle, Danielle stopped and consulted her hastily sketched map. The road she needed to follow ran north, close to the River Aveyron. She set out and, after a while, saw the river lying in a blue loop to the left. After leaving the river, the road ran between fields where wheat had been harvested, then climbed to a little village on a hill. With Jeannot on her back, it felt a hard walk. The village proved no more than a cluster of houses round a church, and a little green beneath a line of plane trees. The houses were built of the grey local stone and looked as if it had grown from the rocks. Beside the church, stood a rather larger house with a garden which had been given over to growing vegetables: lines of cabbages, onions and lettuces. This would be the place. She had been nervous when Charlotte at the children's house had suggested she stayed at the house of a Protestant pastor and his wife, but Charlotte had been reassuring. The couple had made it clear they would accept any refugee.

Nevertheless, Danielle hesitated before she knocked at the big front door.
A middle aged woman opened the door. She was tall and angular, with straggly hair.
“Madame Poincarré?” Danielle politely.
“Yes.” She looked at Jeannot, who was scruffy, in trousers that were dirty and torn in some places and tangled hair. To Danielle's relief, she smiled. “You must be the refugees. I said we could manage two children, or a mother and child.”
“We had to leave Megere.” Danielle said.
Madame Poincarré nodded. “I wasn't expecting such a small child. It must have been difficult travelling with him. Come in.”
They walked in through a dark hallway into a good size living room. It was full of heavy furniture; several armchairs and a desk made of dark wood. A fire burned in the hearth, filling the room with warmth and a big tabby cat lay beside it.
A man entered, wearing the clothes of a peasant; rough woollen trousers, plain shirt and a jerkin. He smiled and held out his hand. “Welcome. I’m André Poincarré. I was just chopping wood. We have to do everything ourselves these days. I don't dress like this when I'm conducting services.”
He was shorter than his wife and had blue eyes that remanded Danielle of her father.
Danielle was glad to be able to sit down and let Jeannot toddle across the carpet, towards the cat, which stalked away as he approached.
Madame Poincarré had disappeared into the kitchen, but returned with a tray, laden with cups and a plate of small biscuits. She poured cups of substitute coffee, while Jeannot devoured the biscuits.
“I'm sorry we haven't got anything better,”she said.
“You should be safe here, though,”said the pastor. “This place is too small for the authorities to bother with it. “And we've got space for you, if you don't mind the attic.”
“We'd be glad of anything,” said Danielle.
Madame Poincarré led her up the stairs to the attic. It reminded her of Henri's house, as she looked up at the framework of beans supporting the roof. Although the room was large, it was sparsely furnished, with two single beds, a wardrobe, and a couple of plain chairs. There was a view from the window of the undulating countryside which they had walked across.
“I'm afraid I don't have a cot for the little one,”she said. “We were expecting rather older children. But my husband could make something.”
Danielle thought of the cot Guillaume had brought to the house in Megére and the price he’d expected her to pay for his help. She shuddered. “I'm so grateful to find a safe place to stay. And if there's anything to do to help, I'm glad to do it.”
Madame Poincarré nodded. “I'd be glad of some help. We're both busy. Andre is always working. When he's not preparing sermons or visiting parishioners, he's chopping wood or skinning rabbits.”
After Madame Poincarré left Danielle sat on the bed, with Jeannot on her lap and looked out of the window. She saw a peaceful scene of trees and fields, with a hint of blue from the River Aveyron. “Well Jeannot, we've travelled a long way and seen all sorts of strange things. But maybe we can stay here now.”


Chapter 24

Post 2

Dmitri Gheorgheni - Post Editor

smiley - applause

'Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.'


Chapter 24

Post 3

Array

I am sure there are good people in every race and religion. smiley - smiley


Chapter 24

Post 4

Fwr

smiley - applause


Chapter 24

Post 5

paulh, the apocalypse is coming, it's just late

We are getting a good picture of that part of France in that time period. Very thorough and educational, and a darned good story. smiley - applause

Where have you hidden your writing talent all these years, MVP?


Key: Complain about this post

Write an Entry

"The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers."

Write an entry
Read more