THE EBONY TOWER
A Collection of Short Stories
By John Fowles
THE EBONY TOWER
A Personal Note
The Ebony Tower
Et par forez longues et lees
Par leus estrange et sauvages
Et passa mainz felons passages
Et maint peril et maint destroit
Tant qu’il vint au santier tot droit
– CHRETIEN DE TROYES, Yvain
David arrived at Coлtminais the afternoon after the one he had landed at Cherbourg and driven down to Avranches, where he had spent the intervening Tuesday night. That had allowed an enjoyable meander over the remaining distance; a distant view of the spectacular spired dream of Mont St Michel, strolls round St Malo and Dinan, then south in the splendid early September weather and through the new countryside. He took at once to the quiet landscapes, orcharded and harvested, precise and pollarded, self-concentrated,
exhaling a spent fertility. Twice he stopped and noted down particularly pleasing conjunctions of tone and depth – parallel stripes of water-colour with pencilled notes of amplification in his neat hand. Though there was some indication of the formal origin in these verbal notes – that a stripe of colour was associated with a field, a sunlit wall, a distant hill – he drew nothing. He also wrote down the date, the time of day and the weather, before he drove on.
He felt a little guilty to be enjoying himself so much, to be here so unexpectedly alone, without Beth, and after he had made such a fuss; but the day, the sense of discovery, and of course the object of the whole exercise looming formidably and yet agreeably just ahead, everything conspired to give a pleasant illusion of bachelor freedom. Then the final few miles through the forest of Paimpont, one of the last large remnants of the old wooded Brittany, were deliciously right: green and shaded minor roads with occasional sunshot vistas down the narrow rides cut through the endless trees. Things about the old man’s most recent and celebrated period fell into place at once. No amount of reading and intelligent deduction could supplant the direct experience. Well before he arrived, David knew he had not wasted his journey.
He turned off down an even smaller forest road, a deserted voie communale; and a mile or so along that he came on the promised sign. Manoir de Coлtminais. Chemin privй. There was a white gate, which he had to open and shut. Haifa mile on again through the forest he found his way barred, just before the trees gave way to sunlight and a grassy orchard, by yet another gate. There was a sign-board nailed to the top bar. Its words made him smile inwardly, since beneath the heading Chien mйchant they were in English: Strictly no visitors except by prior arrangement. But as if to confirm that the sign was not to be taken lightly, he found the gate padlocked on the inner side. It must have been forgotten that he was arriving that afternoon. He felt momentarily discomfited; as long as the old devil hadn’t forgotten his coming completely. He stood in the deep shade staring at the sunlight beyond. He couldn’t have forgotten, David had sent a brief note of reminder and grateful anticipation only the previous week. Somewhere close in the trees behind him a bird gave a curious trisyllabic call, like a badly played tin flute. He glanced round, but could not see it. It wasn’t English; and in some obscure way this reminded David that he was. Guard-dog or not, one couldn’t…