Footsteps of the Father – Novel Serialisation – Ep 25

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In My Father’s Words – Directory

Footsteps of the Father – Novel Serialisation – © Brian Matier

Chapter Fourteen

Episode 25 – Final Episode

It was a sombre journey home, the storm tossed two day sea passage to Ascension Island and the long air flight home.  Steven had not recovered from the confidence shattering effects of his dreams, and Caterine was lost deep in the depression of her vision of an unclear and very frightening future.  They had come down from the heights of hope they had enjoyed on top of Table Mountain, and the joy of their marriage to a deep black valley, the sides of which they could not see, let alone scale.

They had not grown apart, but they had little to communicate to each other, little with which they could offer mutual comfort.  Both Caterine and Steven sensed that Armageddon was imminent, but its face was not discernible.  Even their ritual of joyous reunion with Tigger lacked its usual sparkle, and the cat seemed to recognise this, settling down in silence as Caterine and Steven mechanically went about the routine of returning home.

Steven checked his mail, opening first a letter from the Metropolitan Police.

“It’s the 1st of November,” he told her over his shoulder.

“What is?”

“My disciplinary hearing.  Friday 1st at 1400, 2 PM.”

“That’s good,” but her voice was flat.  It was not the matter uppermost on her mind.

He picked up another letter.  “This is from France.”

She looked up.  “Is it for me?”

He turned the envelope over.  “No, it’s for me, from the Institut Napoleon.”

He opened the envelope and pulled out the single page letter, which was in French.  He had some difficulty in understanding it and he handed it to Caterine.  “Can you translate, please?”

She scanned the letter quickly.  “It’s an invitation, to a seminar in Paris next week.  It’s an annual thing and they want you to accept an award on behalf of your father, in recognition of his work on the better understanding of Napoleon.  Next week, on Wednesday, at the Sorbonne.  It’s signed by Jacques Hulin.”  She looked at him and handed back the letter.  “I don’t want you to go.  Let them send the award.  You are not to go to Paris, Steven, please don’t go.”

“Why?”  He was scared now, frightened by the vehemence in her voice.

“Because this is it, this is what I have been seeing for weeks now.”

“Seeing what?”

“Blackness, just blackness.  It means death, I’m sure of that.  I do not want you to go.”

“I’ve got to go.  It isn’t just for me; it’s for my Dad.  I can’t refuse; I must go.  Anyway, you know I need to see Hulin to discuss this stuff about de Montholon.  Everyone says he’s the expert.  Perhaps we can put this de Montholon business to bed, at last.”

It was their worst ever argument and it went on for days.  Neither would change their mind, and the rift between them got wider and wider.  She refused to come with him and Steven made his lonely arrangements to go to Paris.  She refused to drive him and he was forced to hire a taxi.  On the morning of departure the taxi arrived and he left, an angry disillusioned man, as his wife refused to kiss him goodbye.

“Caterine, I will be back tomorrow evening.  I cannot run my life on the basis of something you believe you can see in the future, or on my own crazy dreams.  If there is something out there, I must confront it, or I will run away from everything else in my life.”

“Please don’t go, Steven, please.”

“I must go.”  He leaned over to kiss her and she pulled away.  Angrily he climbed into the waiting taxi.

She watched the taxi climb away up the hill, towards the town, the same hill up which they had walked so many times.  He was going out of her life, she knew that, out of her life forever.

The following day she sat drinking coffee in the kitchen while Tigger curled around her legs seeking food.  Steven had not phoned the previous evening and she had not phoned him.  There was the sound of the letterbox on the front door rattle and mechanically she went to pick up the mail.  There was only one letter, from the University and she opened it without interest.  It contained a note from Charlie Ramsay paper-clipped to an ageing newspaper cutting.  She read the note and then reread it quickly.

“Caterine, this must have dropped out of one or other of the old doctor’s journals.  Hope you are well.  Regards to Steven.  Charlie.”

The Times.  Paris.  Saturday.

British man shot in Paris

It is reported here that a British man, Dr John McCann,

was shot in the street in Paris yesterday.  Eyewitnesses

report that Dr McCann was shot twice while walking in

the Rue de Rivoli, near to the Paris Hotel de Ville.  It is

further reported that the victim was taken to the Mater Dei

Hospital, where his condition is not known.

Dr McCann is a well-known figure in British medical

circles, employed as a Senior Surgeon at St Thomas’s

Hospital in London.

Dr John McCann served throughout the Peninsula War,

and at Waterloo, where he was wounded.  After the War,

Dr McCann was in the employment of the East India Company

for several years.  It is understood that he visited Napoleon

on St Helena, and it a confidante of His Grace, the Duke of

Wellington.

Her hand went to her mouth, and her stomach heaved.  “Oh, my God.”  The darkness was closing in all around her.  “Oh, God.”  She must speak to him.  With trembling fingers she keyed in his mobile phone number, and Steven’s voice came to her.

“Hi, this is Steven McCann.  I can’t take your call, please leave me a message and I will call you back.”

Caterine howled in anguish.  “Steven, Steven, please speak to me.”

She fumbled through his papers until she found the letter of invitation and phoned the Sorbonne.  After a lot of being pushed from one extension to another, she was finally connected with Jacques Hulin who told that Mr McCann had now left the Sorbonne, and she might like to try him on his cell phone.  She tried again, with the same result.

Steven left the Sorbonne, having had a long and fruitful meeting with Jacques who had proposed that they work together to do further research into Napoleon’s death.  He was also feeling pleased that he had gone to accept the award for his father.  It was a bust of the Emperor with a little brass plaque noting the Institut’s gratitude to Professor McCann.  People had been kind and sympathetic to him, and complimentary to his father.  The award was wrapped in bubblewrap and nestling inside a sac plastique.  The very words made him think of Caterine.  Caterine!  What had he done?  What damage had they done to their relationship, to their marriage?  Should he call her?  He took out his mobile phone and remembered that he had switched it off during the award ceremony.  Should he phone her?  No he would wait until he was on his way home.  They had both been stupid to worry; nothing had happened.

Steven changed his mind a little later, but by that time he was in the Metro and he had no signal.  He got off to change trains at Chatelet Les Halles, a station he remembered from their time together in Paris in, it seemed, an other lifetime.  On an impulse he made for the exit.  He came out of the subway facing the Novotel Hotel, where they had stayed, and a sharp pain cut through him at their present estrangement.  It would be better when he got home, he would make it up to her, and prove to both of them that their silly dreams and visions were all dammed nonsense.

He knew the way to the Rue de Rivoli and he was drawn towards it.  Why?  He didn’t know why he told himself.  “You’re lying, Steven, you know perfectly well why you are here.”   He walked slowly, trying to focus his thoughts and feelings, trying to call on his logic to explain all those dreams centred around this street.  The sun was shining in a clear blue Parisian sky and the traffic hummed around him.  People went about their business.  He arrived at the Rivoli and crossed the street to stand outside the massive Hotel de Ville.  It was getting towards evening.

Why had he been drawn here and why did the dreams persist?  He started to cross the street, to follow in John’s footsteps, to exorcise his ghost.  At once the scene changed into the all too familiar pattern.  There were the women with their skirts and parasols and the men in the knee length coats and hats.  Dr John stood arguing with a tall man outside the Hotel before storming away angrily.  The tall man signalled and the two smaller, badly dressed men nodded and followed John, one dragging his foot.  John went left in the direction of the Tuilleries and the men followed more quickly, catching up with him with every stride.

“No, no,” the words bubbled in Steven’s throat, but the two shots rang out.  John stood looking down at his own body on the pavement, the blood trickling across the stones.  He turned to look at Steven and smiled.  “Welcome, Steven.”

“No, no,” again the words escaped from Steven’s mouth.  There was John, beside the body, and behind him were Steven’s father, Arthur, Steven’s brother, his mother and Maria, and a man in an Army uniform from Wellington’s Army whom he knew could only be Major Harry McCann.  They all smiled and held out their hands.  Steven tried to turn.  “Caterine, Caterine.”  There was no Caterine, just he himself.  He turned back to the little group and held out his hand.

Caterine tried once again to call Steven’s mobile, but there was only the familiar answerphone.  “Oh, God, Steven, switch on your phone.”  She sat as the daylight began to fade.  The phone rang, its noise jangling into her brain.  Thank God.

“Steven, I have been so worried about you.  Steven, I love you and…”

The voice was French, but speaking in English.  “Madame McCann, I an Inspector Prevost of the Paris Police.”  The English was halting

Her hand went to her mouth, and an icy chill gripped her stomach.  “I am French, speak French.  S’il vous plâit, parlez Français.”

He sounded relieved and briefly told her the story.  It had been a traffic accident, crossing the Rue de Rivoli, the man was looking the wrong way and had been hit by a truck.  Mr McCann was unconscious in hospital, in a very serious condition.

“Merci, m’sieur l’inspecteur.”  She put the phone down in slow motion and stood in silence for perhaps five minutes.  She felt their baby move and crossed her arms across her abdomen in an instinctively protective move.  It would be a boy, she knew that, it would be a boy, and she knew what he would be called, Steven John Wellington McCann.  The baby moved again in an agitated way and Caterine began to cry.

“No, Steven McCann, don’t you dare die on me, on us, not now, not when we need you.  Don’t you dare die.”

A long way away as Steven extended his hand towards his ancestor’s hand he heard Caterine’s voice and he hesitated and half turned around.

“No, Steven McCann, don’t you dare die on me, on us, not now, not when we need you.  Don’t you dare die.”

Steven hesitated and turned again towards John.

“Come on, Steven, we have all been waiting for you”

Again he heard Caterine, his wife.  “Steven, don’t you dare die on us.”

Steven looked at his dead family and shook his head.  “No, I’m not ready.”  He turned his back and walked towards the sound of Caterine’s voice.

The End

In My Father’s Words – Directory

Footsteps of the Father – Novel Serialisation – © Brian Matier

Chapter Fourteen

Episode 25

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I inherited all of my fathers stories, tales, manuscripts and privately self-published manuscripts and have chosen to share them with my readership.

© Rory Matier 2019

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