Bill Meilen
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Chapter Twelve

THE hacienda dwelling now known as Bir Hakeim lay in a heavily wooded valley to the east of Lerida, safe from intrusion. Watered by streams from the high sierras, its garden was lush with vines and old olives, orange trees and fruit bushes, whilst around the sprawling white house itself, close along the white stucco walls of the courtyard, roses lent a blaze of colour.

The driveway was lined with vehicles ranging from a WilIy's jeep to a white Mercedes 300 near the house. People came and went about the grounds. Above the gate of arched stucco flew a gold-fringed tricouleur of France, while to either side stood an armed Legionnaire in starched suntan uniform tucked into polished Ranger boots, white képi, red and green épaulettes de tradition, aiguillettes and fourragères, scrubbed white webbing throwing back the blaze of the afternoon sun.

Suddenly, from down-valley, a deux-chevaux came racing, pipping on its tinny horn. Guests began to line the drive, alive with expectation as a

bugle and drum band came marching at the ponderously slow pace of the Légion from within the courtyard, resplendent in ceremonial dress of the Sahariens, to halt with a glitter to one side of the gate. A Sergent Chef chivvied them into perfection of stance on the Place d’Armes, and stood en repos before them, face set like a rock.