The Dogs: a rabelaisian “lycisque orgoose”, black, some ten years old, who answers to the name of Gemma; an enormous male, beige-and-tan, called Rex; a little Pugh dog two years of age, who answers - or doesn’t answer depending on his mood - to the name of Flashy. Flashy seems to accumulate all the vices: homosexual with one, disquieting the other, attacking the youngest of the children, of whom he is visibly jealous, curling up in his mistress’ lap, his four feet in the air, jumping onto his master’s knees in order to smell the perfumes of Arabia (Colonel B. was in fact stationed in Cairo, Colombo, Singapore, etc.).
The Cats: one of them is not an accepted citizen; called Hennie (= honey, in Yorkshire dialect), 20 years of age, too weak to get up, matted coat, shrill voice, moaning away, but apparently unrivalled when it comes to “taking away” a piece of meat left on the table, unattended.
Dunsa Manor (contd.)
It is a kind of physical joy putting enormous pieces of anthracite, straight from victorian England, on the grid of the fire-place. Of soft appearance, they burn surprizingly cheerfully, while the “favourite pointer may sit by the fire and stink at leisure”. “Dunsa Manor” rises up at east Layton, in the middle of three hundred hectares of land. Maurice B., His Majesty’s colonel, disembarked on D-Day in Normandy during the assault waves at 7.30 AM and is glad, he says, not to have been among the very first.
His neighbour, the colonel Mac Millan, comes hunting on a Saturday morning. Big, strong, redfaced, “Kagatos” in the words of the Greeks of the classical period. At coffee-time he confides to us that he descends from an old French family of bankers (Pinatel or Pignatel) related to the Cossé-Brissac, one of whom had been the “boy-friend” of the Dubarry.
Colonel Mac Millan has just treated himself to a Renault R16, metallic grey, on which he is paid many compliments. A few months ago, the army presented him with a journey round the world: Tahiti turned out to be the highlight of his tour; he was magnificently received there by the French army. As for hunting, colonel Mac Millan is particularly unskilful. Today (in honour of his guests?) he “downed” two pheasants walking in the tree-lined avenues and exchanging confidentialities. Colonel Mac Millan is more puffed up about it than the peacock who is pacing up and down the terrace of the manor, all the more so because his old friend and hunting adversary
colonel B. has also “downed” two (“very exceptionally”, confides his son between two doors). The two champions pay each other compliments, while the ladies, invited to the scene, admire the eleven pieces laid out on the gravel (a wild duck among them) in front of the main entrance to the Manor, watched by Flashy with perfect indifference.
In the bathroom on the ground floor, the young hostess has left her leggings, night-blue, with discreet pink ornaments. Flashy will perhaps discover some exotic perfume there.
The day after Christmas (Boxing Day), when the presents are given, invited to lunch at Bedale at the Bs’. This is also the day of the big hunt of the year. Black coats, red coats, white jodhpurs, top hats for the gentlemen, riding caps for the ladies whose thighs and backsides sit so tightly in the material that one could take them for males, if it wasn’t for the fold at the crutch, which, under the immaculate white, hardly hides the sex “admirably curved” and the object of pleasure of this “Prix Femina”, the beautiful Anita’s confidant.
After the meal, in the smoke-room, between two rude pieces of bragging, T.B. decrees: ”They see us as gentlemen in top hats, raping the daughters of the poor”. Not a bad description !
In the church of Ravensworth, Pastor Row, although born and bred in Yorkshire, is considered somewhat haughty by the locals. In his sermon he relates in detail how, at Christmas, he helped a neighbouring parish, but he explains it in such a way, that one could think of a miracle there; now, the anglican church does not believe in miracles. Does he take himself for the old priest Peter Gillighan of W.B. Yeats ?
Pastor Row, who has just lost his wife six months ago, finds comfort with two other parishioners who, every year, decorate the church with passion: their two children drowned eleven years ago in one of the romantic lakes so dear to William Wordsworth and to his sister Dorothy who lived at Dove Cottage from 1799 to 1808.
The verger takes the collection: green banknotes, red banknotes, big pieces of silver clutter up the plate. The verger, brother of a neighbouring baron, presents the fruit of his collection to the pastor who bends down in order to better examine the takings from behind his strong spectacles (we are in Yorkshire), then presents the offering to the red light of the holy sacrament.
During the meal, the other evening, J.B. spoke of Bertrand Russell, “charming man”, with whom she had the opportunity to telephone when working in journalism. Immediate response from her mother-in-law: “I hate people who have no faith!”.I make J.B. laugh (in an aside) by confiding to her that on hearing this remark “I was shaking in my ‘Church’s shoes’ ” .
J.B.’s father, a brilliant physician who left Cambridge “with honours”, boss of an advanced surgical unit, also disembarked on D-Day, flanked by a psychoanalyst who accompanied the landing craft in order to see from close by the effects of the disembarkment on the troops’ morale. The psychoanalyst is the only one among the tourists of that day to have asked J.B.’s father for “something for the nerves”. Dr B jumped on a mine a little later: he now devotes himself to fishing, to hunting and to ... whisky.
At Dunsa, during a conversation, by the fireside, with colonel B. about the quality of English shoes, the makes to be recommended, we agree on two or three big names. Colonel B. asks me how I manage to achieve the shine on the black shoes I am wearing on my feet. I reveal the recipe (if there is one) of the damp cloth, first coated with shoe-polish. We are losing ourselves in such excesses of sophisticated argumentation that we are treated as snobs (sine solo), which is a bit much in a country where, allegedly, a duchess can be recognized by her shoes.
The night before, having stained my Hush Puppies (American ones) with mud, the colonel insists that they be given to Mrs D., the cook, for cleaning up. Next morning I find my Hush Puppies (“better than new”) on my doorstep outside, but I had learnt in the meantime that Mrs D.’s domain was the kitchen only (basic, my dear Watson !), whence my very great confusion.
The Dogs :
At the no. 22 bus stop, where I am waiting, a group of lycéennes of the lycée Molière turns up. We board. The doors are shut, but the bus does not pull out, in order to leave the lane free for a fire-engine with siren blaring. Under their shining helmets the baby faces of the young firemen, one of them stroking a brown spaniel crouched on his knees. And the young ladies bursting out laughing: “he takes his dog, he takes his dog” ! I think the little dog goes to the fire with his master in order to find any trace of gas and that he has the aspect of a good serious worker, aspect a bit sad of all those doggies who must earn their living. I also see again this dog for the blind who had stopped in front of a letterbox in place Michel-Ange-Auteuil at his mistress’ request and who desperately looked up at ... me, seeing that she did not see the desired object. I was nearly ashamed (I was ashamed!) of encroaching on this kind friend’s job.
The Dogs : (contd.)
As I am walking slowly down Avenue Beethoven, window-shopping, I suddenly feel a blunt and soft shock against my leg. A dog assures me of his affection. What a wonderful thing, this unknown dog who abruptly tells me: “I love you” ... As someone has said: “ We do not always know that we are loved, but we know almost always when we are not” .
Editions SOUBIE 2003
12230 - L’HOSPITALET DU LARZAC - FRANCE
Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)