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But for a while they lay back on their beds in silence. No one felt like confronting the old lady just yet.
Then, at the sound of footsteps, they tu nike air max rned and saw two men standing in the entrance. They each held something in their hands, a club perhaps, or a shotgun. In the fading light it was not possible to tell. Nor could they see nike air max 90 the faces of the French brothers.
The voice was soft. “Bonsoir, Messieurs.”
As Turner got up from his straw bed he took the revolver. The corporals reached for their rifles. “Go easy,” he whispered.
“Anglais? Belges?”
“We have something for you.”
“What sort of thing?”
“What’s he saying?” one of the corporals said.
“He says they’ve got something for us.”
“Fucking hell.”
The men came a couple of steps closer and raised what was in their hands. Shotguns, surely. Turner released his safety catch. He heard Mace and Nettle do the same. “Easy,” he murmured.
“Put away your guns, Messieurs.”
“Put away yours.”
“Wait a little mom nike air max ent.”
The figure who spoke was reaching into his pocket. He brought out a torch and shone it not at the soldiers, but at his brother, at what was in his hand. A French loaf. And at what was in the other hand, a canvas bag. Then he showed them the two baguettes he him nike air max sale self was holding.
“And we have olives, cheese, paté, tomatoes and ham. And naturally, wine. Vive l’Angleterre.”
“Er, Vive la France.”
They sat at Mace’s table, which the Frenchmen, Henri and Jean-Marie Bonnet, politely admired, along with the mattresses. They were short, stocky men in their fifties. Henri wore glasses, which Nettle said looked odd on a farmer. Turner did not translate. As well as wine, they brought glass tumblers. The five men raised them in toasts to the French and British armies, and to the crushing of Germany. The brothers watched the soldie nike air max 90 sale rs eat. Through Turner, Mace said that he had never tasted, never even heard of, goose liver paté, and from now on, he would eat nothing else. The Frenchmen smiled, but their manner was constrained and they seemed in no mood to get drunk. They said they had driven all the way to a hamlet near Arras in their flatbed farm truck to look for a young cousin and her children. A great battle had been fought for the town but they had no i nike air max 95 dea who was taking it, who was defending it or who had the upper hand. They drove on the back roads to avoid the chaos of refugees. They saw farmhouses burning, and then they came across a dozen or so dead English soldiers in the road. They had to get out and drag the men aside to avoid running over them. But a couple of the bodies w cheap nike air max ere almost cut in half. It must have been a big machine-gun atta nike air max 1 ck, perhaps from the air, perhaps an ambush. Back in the lorry, Henri was sick in the cab, and Jean-Marie, who was at the wheel, got into a panic and drove into a ditch. They walked to a village, borrowed two horses from a farmer and pulled the Renault free. That took two hours. On the road again, they saw burned-out tanks and armored cars, German as well as British and French. But they saw no soldiers. The battle had moved on.
By the time they reached the hamlet, it was late afternoon. The place had been completely destroyed and was deserted. Their cousin’s house was smashed up, with bullet holes all o nike air max classic ver the walls, but it still had its roof. They went in every room and were relieved to find no one there. She must have taken the children and joined the thousands of people on the roads. Afraid of driving back at night, the cheap nike air max trainers y parked in a wood and tried to sleep in the cab. All night long they heard the artillery pounding Arras. It seemed impossible that anyone, or anything, could survive there. They drove back by another route, a much greater distance, to avoid passing the dead soldiers. Now, Henri explained, he air max and his brother were very tired. When they shut their eyes, they saw those mutilated bodies.
Jean-Marie refilled the glasses. The account, with Turner’s running translation, had taken almost an hour. All the food was eaten. He thought about telling them of his own single, haunting detail. But he didn’t want to add to the horror, and nor did he want to give life to the image while it remained at a distance, held there by wine and companionship. Instead, he told them how he was separated from his unit at the beginning of the retreat, during a Stuka attack. He didn’t mention his injury be cheap nike air max cause he didn’t want the corporals to know about it. Instead he explained how they were walking cross-country to Dunkirk to avoid the air raids along the main roads.
Jean-Marie said, “So it’s true what they’re saying. You’re leaving.”
“We’ll be back.” He said this, but he didn’t believe it.
The wine was taking hold of Corporal Nettle. He began a rambling eulogy of what he called “Frog crumpet”—how plentiful, how available, how delicious. It wa cheap nike air max s all fantasy. The brothers looked at Turner.
“He says French women are the most beautiful in the world.”
They nodded solemnly and raised their glasses.
They were all silent for a while. Their evening was almost at an end. They listened to the night sounds they had grown used to—the rumble of artillery, stray shots in the distance, a booming far-off explosion—probably sappers blowing a bridge in the retreat.
“Ask them about their mum,” Corporal Mace suggested. “Let’s get that one cleared up.”
“We were three brothers,” Henri explained. “The eldest, Paul, her firstborn, died near Verdun in 1915. A direct hit from a shell. There was nothing to bury apart from his helmet. Us two, we were lucky. We came through without a scratch. Since then, she’s always hated soldiers. But now she’s eighty-three and losing her mind, it’s an obsession with her. French, English, Belgian, German. She makes no distinction. You’re all the same to her. We worry that when the Germans come, she’ll go at them with a pitchfork and they’ll shoot her.”
Wearily, the brothers got to their feet. The soldiers did the same.
Jean-Marie said, “We would offer you hospitality at our kitchen table. But to do that, we would have to lock her in her room.”
“But this has been a magnificent feast,” Turner said.
Nettle was whispering in Mace’s ear and he was nodding. Nettle took from his bag two cartons of cigarettes. Of course, it was the right thing to do. The Frenchmen made a polite show of refusing, but Nettle came round the table and shoved the gifts into their arms. He wanted Turner to translate.
“You should have seen it, when the order came through to destroy the stores. Twenty thousand cigarettes. We took whatever we wanted.”
A whole army was fleeing to the coast, armed with cigarettes to keep the hunger away.
The Frenchmen gave courteous thanks, complimented Turner on his French, then bent over the table to pack the empty bottles and glasses into the canvas bag. There was no pretending that they would meet again.
“We’ll be gone at first light,” Turner said. “So we’ll say goodbye.”
They shook hands.③

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