Custom Search

HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel Links

Black Hole

Short Story by Les Furnanz  October 1, 2009

Page 3 - Noon

The twelfth-century tower of Marcilhac's abbey ruins shined golden in afternoon light. They were the sole clients on the restaurant's covered terrace. Raphael had suggested a bottle of local Cahors wine to accompany the lamb stew, or gigot. It had not taken long for David to feel comfortable. They discussed how Raphael's father had cared for the leased land and how he followed his father's example. To this day he used the ancient cazelle, a small mortarless stone shelter, on his plateau fields when he tended sheep for week-long stints in warmer months.

David felt it was a good time to broach the issue. He started cautiously, "I had not known of this property you are leasing... not until the day my father died. Why would he have kept this hidden from his own family?"

"Perhaps he felt it would be worrisome, even embarrassing. He and your mother left France just after the war, when it was so difficult for this valley's residents to survive. He was probably unable to sell the property, so a leasing arrangement was beneficial to my father and provided income to yours. Maybe he felt he'd abandoned his roots. It is something you will never know for certain."

David nodded, "My dad was not able to communicate very well when he passed on and I had a hard time understanding everything. He mentioned a cave. Did your father ever talk of this?"

Raphael paused. "My father never mentioned it until his last days. On his death bed he also surprised me. He told a tale of a grotto on your property. I don't know what to make of it. He seemed confused. I too wondered why he kept this to himself for so long."

"We should share what we have learned," said David. "Tell me your tale. I'll tell you all I know. Perhaps some insight will come from this."

Raphael looked David in the eye seemingly assessing what to say to this heir, the stranger in the village. "My father was sworn to secrecy by your father. It seems both men felt the cave to be valuable. Only when he was dying did he tell me. He didn't want the potential of the cave to be lost. This is now your property, but you must tell me more before I feel confident to continue."

David knew he needed Raphael as an ally; he sensed his honesty. "I'm sure you understand my reserves," he started. "Yes, my father said the cave was valuable due to prehistoric art. A landslide had covered its entrance just before Germany invaded France. The Germans did not occupy this land, but my father was involved in the Resistance movement in addition to farming. To him it was sickening to see his crop markets controlled by Germans and his countrymen living under invaders' guns. My father intended to someday reopen the cave and realize his dream of having its prehistoric art available for the world, as at Pech Merle. By the time the war ended he and my mother had me as their firstborn. Unable to make ends meet, Dad took us to the U.S. He developed a leasing arrangement with your father, with the understanding that he would one day return. This is all I know."

"My father also saw the cave as a boy, just before the war," responded Raphael. "He explored it with your father. He told me that the figures of animals are incredible, red and black, and very large. They exchanged vows to keep the cave a secret until your father was ready to tell the appropriate people. Then came the landslide and soon thereafter the occupation. The cave became just a dream for my father, as for yours. What did your father ask of you regarding this cave?"

"To realize his dream, find the cave, enlist a government agency to support it, open it to the public." David tilted his head, talking with a tone that indicated skepticism.

"It could be a treasure to France, all of Europe. But even if found there is the challenge of enlisting support. So far Pech Merle is the largest cave and the only cave of the Célé and Lot Rivers open to the public. Its neighboring village of Cabreret adopted it and has benefited. But that is unique." Raphael nodded at the cliffs. "There are scores of grottoes along the Célé. You may have noticed houses perched in cliffs in the next village, Saint Sulpice. Their facades are built directly on small caves; they are troglodyte homes. Unfortunately visitors have damaged most of their art over the ages. And our own small village of Marcilhac has limited funds, as does our county, Lot, let alone France's national government."

David thought for a while, and then asked, "Have you heard of other caves lost to landslides and later recovered?"

"Pech Merle is the best example. Many scientists believe the reason the cave is so well preserved was the scree covering its entrance for thousands of years. You must visit the cave and learn its story of discovery and development."

David nodded agreement. The rich lamb dish took his attention for a moment. After some more food and wine he offered, "I will visit Pech Merle this afternoon. I want you to know that I plan to continue leasing the sheepherding lands to you. I want you as a partner to find the cave and open it to the public. If all is eventually successful, only a corner of the property will be needed to provide access. You can continue to graze your herd on my property."

"Thank you," said Raphael. I admit I've been worried about this. I feel I should raise my lease payment to you after so many years. I'm sure we can come to an agreement. But I'm jumping ahead. I must first help you find the cave, the art. My son, Michel, would be very interested in helping us. He does not yet know of the cave, but he has been an avid historian of Célé grottoes. And he has taken up caving... seventeen years old, full of adventure. Last week he was in a neighbor's grotto exploring for a full day. And I am a caver myself, although not as active as I'd once..." His voice trailed off as he watched two men approaching. David recognized Jules and Arnaud who had walked in on him yesterday.

"Well now," said Jules. Don't you two look friendly? You wouldn't be discussing the cave, would you? What are your plans, boys?"

"I think it best if you went on with your day's errands," said Raphael. He looked Jules and Arnaud straight on, one after the other, and then stared straight into Jules's eyes.

Both Jules and Arnaud fixed their gaze on David. "Anything interesting on that map you found yesterday?" asked Arnaud.

David stared at him, unblinking, until Arnaud turned his gaze to Raphael. "These boys aren't being very helpful," he rattled to Jules. "We'll be sure to return the favor." He and Jules turned to leave. Over his shoulder he added the parting comment, "The cave lies under our property too." They were soon out of view.

"What is the story of this father and son?" asked David. "They seem to know about the cave, but Dad told me that he and your father were the only ones who knew. They're cued onto me; they caught me finding the map to the buried grotto in the old barn. The old man said he'd explored the cave with my father."

"He was lying... not unusual for him. But, you're right -- they have a sense of what you're doing. Not sure how they figured it. It may be that he saw our fathers at the cave before the landslide, forty years ago. I think he's just fishing. Been my neighbor since I can remember and I've had to steer clear of him. He's got a history of connection with bad fortunes for many people. The son Arnaud has a real evil streak. We need to watch them both."

"I'm spooked," David said, "and time is passing. We've got to keep this to ourselves for now. Hold off from telling your son yet. The issue of government support is the biggest barrier. I've got to feel that out. Let me know if you have any ideas. If we can see a path, we can get serious about finding the cave and its art."

"Let's talk again after you visit Pech Merle," toasted Raphael. "Now, let's enjoy the rest of our meal."




HOA LogoDestinationsTravel MallTravel Links