All the characters in the books are described by their fellows, and even if the portraits are not always flattering (for example Colin’s admiring reference to Margot having a ‘voice like a heron and tits like cannonballs’) I have tried to maintain sufficient balance for the reader to determine for himself where the truth might lie.

There are, however, a few little vignettes I have extracted from the archives, as much for the light they shed on the speaker as the insight they give into the characters concerned:

Jacques on Colin Lefebvre, the blacksmith’s son

Colin didn’t mean any harm, he just never had much imagination. I liked that about him really, he was sort of solid. It was partly how he looked, I suppose. He always had that square build, and even his head looked flat because his hair seemed to lie across it rather than bounce up like other people’s. He had that red face too, even back then, I think he used to scorch it from being so close to the fire.

Stefan on Marcel Dubois, the young corporal who leads the resistance movement

He’d an educated voice, he could read and write, and strange as it seems, he even had opinions. They were unusual opinions, mind you, he was an unusual lad altogether. His father was killed at Casale, the family died of poverty and plague, but there wasn’t a grain of bitterness in that man, not a scrap. Blond hair like an angel, mind like a philosopher, and a professional soldier clean through.

And finally, more for what it says about village life than the man concerned, here is

Jacques on Bettremieu, the big Flamand who joins the Occupied Army

Bettremieu was a bit of a character really, he was one of the most popular men in Dax. He’d just turned up one year out of Artois and got taken on at the Home Farm, and naturally people were wary of him at first because he was Flemish. But round that time M. Legros had this cock he thought the world of, he called it Chanticleer II after its sire who’d won prizes and stuff, but the thing is it wasn’t right in the head, it used to start crowing about three in the morning.

The problem was M. Legros had this huge faith in it, so there was all the farm hands having to crawl out of bed in the dark just because Chanticleer II said they should. The men at the Home Farm just hated that cock, they used to look at it strutting smugly in its pen and you could tell they really loathed it. Then one morning there was a little hole in the wire and all the hens were all right, but all that was left of Chanticleer II was just a few pale feathers drifting in the air. M. Legros went round with a gun all day looking for foxes, but that evening one of the men happened to be passing Bettremieu’s shack and got a good whiff of roasting chicken. Bettremieu never said a word, but he was the toast of Dax that night, and a good many nights after. We had Chanticleer III now, and he was much better, but M. Legros didn’t think so. He used to shake his head sadly and say any old cockerel knew when morning was here, but Chanticleer II was special because he could sense it two hours before it happened.


Bernadette Grimauld