Jacques Gilbert, stable boy on the de Roland estate, is the main narrator in Honour and the Sword. He claims to know more about André than anyone else, and the closeness of their relationship gives this some validity. It is evident, however, that his lack of perception blinds him to much of what is going on around him, and my researches have not yet discovered whether he ever noticed the physical disability of André’s which Anne identified after perhaps an hour’s acquaintance.

It is inevitable that Jacques’ motives and affection have sometimes been questioned by other characters, especially given his unique circumstances. Personally I am (so far) inclined to believe he loved his young charge as much as he says he did, if only because his driving urge is the need to be needed. However, he could hardly be blamed if sometimes jealousy or resentment got in the way. Here, for instance, is a passage from his interviews in which he describes his early attempts at fencing with André.

I was still really struggling with it back then, I mean it’s a lot harder than it looks. I’d thought my longer reach would help, but it didn’t much because he was never quite where I expected him to be. Even when I did risk a lunge he just attacked my hand and sword arm, because of course the distance between my hand and the tip of my sword was exactly the same as his. I told him that was a silly way to fight because you weren’t going to kill a man by stabbing his arm, but the boy just said ‘If I put your sword arm out of action, I can kill you any way I like.’ So I tried sort of cramping my arm up to stop him hitting it, but that was no good, I mean you can’t attack with a bent arm, so then he started hitting me just about everywhere else, and in the end I was just standing there with all my arms and legs curled up like a dead spider, then his feet stopped in front of me and there was this disappointed voice saying ‘Oh come on, Jacques, you’re not trying’.

Bernadette Grimauld