Bill Meilen
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Chapter Thirteen

GADDA drove smoothly, humming softly to himself. Wait until he sees. Wait until he sees how well we remember! Not for us the death of a great tradition on the say-so of an old fool!

Paul Reynal lay back, eyes half-closed, fatigued, a glass of frosted citrus juice in his hand, mien content. What a thing it is, to see the sky, he thought, how like a bird I feel, away from that damned bunker at Tulle! Draining the last of the citrus he placed the glass in the rack and reached for his wife's hand. She is older too... but the more beautiful for every year of parting than I would have imagined...

He straightened as the Delahaye swung upvalley beneath a great curved gateway reading BIR HAKEIM. Along the valley between conifers, passing here and there a vigilant guard in sun-tan uniform who stood to attention as they passed. When the house drew into sight Gadda braked snoothly and gestured. The partition slid open.

“Your new home, my General, a gift from a grateful people.” Reynal felt tears prick the back of his eyes. I did only what my honour dictated. I am undeserving of this—of such gratitude. Words would not suffice. What l did, I did for France.

Michel Gadda moved the car smoothly forward again. Now the silent crowd came into sight, rigid with respect. Reynal's mouth fell open in surprise. Catching the reaction in his rearview mirror, Gadda chuckled.

“Half of Alicante is here today, my General—the homeless colons, pieds noirs, and of course others of like interest.”

As the car drew nearer the band struck up the familiar strain of Boudin, the march of the Légion Etrangère.

The car pulled to a halt and Gadda leapt out to open the rear door, assisting Reynal out. Solange remained seated in deference to the moment.For a long time the dispossessed Général in the baggy grey suit stood on the running-board of the car, lips trembling, then his hand jerked to his brow in salute until the march was done.

Men moved towards him, faces beaming, surrounding the car, pounding him on the back or staying their distance in respect. There were all the old faces—Georges Phillipon; Peet Raman; Edouard LaMartin; Jacques (Jacqueline) Debret; Pierre Despaude; and beyond them the faces of his old Company Commanders, loyal to the end, as they had sworn to be.

The crowd fell silent waiting for him to speak. For a moment his lips worked, but no words would emerge. At last they came, as through a veil of tears he called, “Vive la France Libre!”