By the time Jonathan Harcourt had finished his account of his exploits in the Spanish Civil War, the little clock on the kitchen wall had quietly ticked away three hours. On the table in front of him lay a dozen or so sheets of foolscap paper, covered on both sides in Colin McAllistair’s tiny, cursive script. Harcourt, Colin remembered, had looked exhausted. At a distance of a quarter of a century, he wondered (for the first time) whether, when he had arrived to interview Harcourt on that sunny afternoon in North Yorkshire, his host had perhaps only just returned from a shift in the factory where he was then working.
Now, McAllistair was trying desperately to decode those same notes on smudgy, shiny fax paper laid on the desk in his study. When had Harcourt first mentioned the medals? It must have been towards the end of the interview. He flicked towards the back of the notes, his mind awash with emotion.
McAllistair had been a typical student from the provinces, while at
Listening to Harcourt’s account had been like watching an epic movie unfurl. One moment, you were on a balcony overlooking the central Post Office in Madrid, the plaza a frenzy of activity as armoured cars, open-backed lorries decked in the red and yellow of the Republic and carrying smiling soldiers, and a constant mill of people – where had they all come from? – passed along below you. The next, you were at the back of a huge hall, listening with thousands of others to the passionate speeches of Dolores Ibarruri – the passion flower – as she rallied her fellow Madrileños to fight against the Nationalists. Moments later, you would be in a small bar, somewhere near the bullring, watching earnest men fight their corner in arguments with their equally earnest companions. But wherever you were, Colin had noticed, Lillian was beside you. He remembered envying Jonathan Harcourt that love. From that chance meeting near the
One night together in the sweet, moonlit expanse of the Parque del Buen Retiro, their own private retreat until sunrise, had sealed the twin fates of Jonathan and Lillian. Harcourt told how they woke to the mellow flute of a blackbird, perched on the branches of a nearby bush. They had discovered, improbably, that they were both born within ten miles of each other, their lives never crossing until a common cause had pulled them both to
The sun was starting to set outside McAllistair’s north