Thursday, 8 March 2007

Chapter 41

Harry returned from the ‘bank’ in a good mood. He found Danny, still hard at work, jotting down references for the certificates they needed.

“Anyone call?” he asked, not bothering to take his hat and coat off as he sat on the chair opposite Danny, who was in front of the old IBM. Harry thought he looked at home there.

“Yeah – a ‘Julian’ called. Said he’d found the record you looking were for. Said there was no need to ring him back, unless you need to.”

It looked as if young Danny Longhurst had been right, then. ‘Only’ the census data held by the major genealogical research companies, plus a limited number of microfiche copies, had been altered.

“How’s it going, kid?” Danny shot a glance at Harry that said ‘Careful!’, but he’d already decided he’d have to accept it if Harry occasionally lapsed into familiarity. It seemed to be just how Harry worked.

“Last one,” he said, looking back at the PC screen and scratching another reference on his notepad.

“I still don’t see how we’re going to get these certificates in less than a week – unless you’re planning to camp out down at the Family Records Centre in London, Harry. Even that’s going to take five days,” Danny said.

“I’ve got my sources, Danny. Someday I’ll let you know all about them. But now isn’t the right time. Just give me the list.”

Danny handed him the sheet of references, as Harry picked up the phone. He watched as Harry punched the numbers in, but all he caught were the first five digits: ‘01704’ – enough to know he was dialing Southport, and enough for him to work out that Harry had a fast-track to ordering certificates.

“It’s George,” Harry said – obviously a code, Danny realized, as Harry proceeded to reel off the reference numbers. You had to admire the guy! However he’d done it, Harry had got an insider at the GRO. How much was that worth, he wondered?

As soon as he’d read out the references, Harry hung up. No small-talk, Danny noticed – just a plain, business arrangement.

Harry stood up. “Time we went to see Stan, Danny. Get your coat,” he said, as he made towards the door. “We’ll take the back way out,” he said, “it’s quicker.”

*

Let me take you to France. I know it’s hard work keeping up with this story – one minute we’re in Harry McFry’s nicotine-laden office in Birkenhead, the next we’re in a flat in north London, or maybe at a health centre in Thirsk, North Yorkshire. Families are complicated – that’s just the way it is, I’m afraid. But we really do need to visit France if we’re to properly understand Lillian McFry’s tale, so please indulge me.

Philippe Bergerac is an old man. Fifteen years younger than Lillian, but 87 is still quite an age, by anyone’s standard. I’d be happy to reach it. Maybe you already have, in which case you will know it can bring its fair share of problems. He doesn’t remember things like he used to – it’s a problem that comes to us all. But you might remember that Lillian had a letter from him.

He doesn’t work anymore (and we shouldn’t be surprised at that), but when he did he was a fisherman, a survivor of the wild waters of the Bay of Biscay. Philippe spends his days sat on a stool, outside his cottage in the old quarter of the town of St Jean de Luz, in the far south-west of France, basking in the sun and acknowledging passers-by with a shake of his old walking stick. He might not remember that today is the day he has to visit the hospital, but soon enough an ambulance will turn up in the road, and he’ll head inside to collect his coat. But for now, his mind wanders across the night, between the wars, when he’d met Lillian.

It was a rare day when he didn’t think about the beautiful Englishwoman, and her baby, and the dark, storm-tossed seas on which their boat was cast. He had been trawling that night, his knuckles frozen against the heavy north winds that had whipped the bay into a frenzy of waves and spume. If it seemed a lifetime ago, he knew it was. At first, he hadn’t seen the tiny boat, thrown against the horizon, but then – amazingly – he’d caught sight of it and turned to his brother who was at the wheel of their boat, pointing his frozen finger at the top of a huge wave that seemed about to envelope the tiny boat he could see. The Basques are renowned for their seamanship, or the story you are reading may well have taken a different course. Only five minutes passed, (even if, to Lillian - who saw the lights of the fishing boat as it turned toward her - it seemed like hours) before they were beside her, reaching across to grab the infant she held out to them. To Philippe, unmarried, childless fisherman that he was, it seemed a miracle to be holding this tiny thing in his arms, and then to be passing it to another crew member, before grasping Lillian’s hand, and pulling her aboard their boat. And then there was the man, who had to be hauled aboard, too, his grip forceful but, somehow, grateful at the same time.

Safe within the bowels of the fishing boat, surrounded by crates of the hake they’d caught that night, Philippe learned their story.

1 comment:

Apple said...

Bergerac? hmm Back to the drawing board for me. And I was thinking I was so smart too. :)