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Thunder on the Right
The Hôtel du Pimené, Gavarnie, takes its name from the great peak of the High Pyrenees in whose shadow, at early morning, it lies. Beyond the palisade of trees shading its front courtyard runs the road from Lourdes; behind the hotel and below it, in a gorge of the rock on which it is built, roars and tumbles the River Gave, on its way from the high corrie of the Cirque to the slow, winding courses of the Low Pyrenees. The dining-room windows give on to this little gorge, so that anyone sitting at table may look straight down on to the damp slabs of the bridge that leads to the skirts of the Pic du Pimené.
At one of these windows, on a blazing fifth of July, sat Miss Jennifer Silver, aged twenty-two, eating an excellent lunch. This was not her first visit to France, and she was savoring that heady sense of rediscovery which that country wakes perpetually in her lovers. And the little dining room, with its chattering cosmopolitan crowd, its exotic smell of good food and wine, and the staggering view from its windows, presented a cry quite astonishingly far from Oxford, which was Jennifer's home ... Perhaps, however, not such a very far cry after all; for, from the next table, where sat two middle-aged women, tweeded and brogued in defiance of the lovely southern morning, came snatches of a conversation which smacked decidedly of the newer alchemy.
"My dear Miss Moon" -- a morsel of truite maison, exquisitely cooked, waved in admonition on the end of a fork -- "gravity separation of light and heavy constituents, as you know, is believed to be essential to the production of such banding. That shown by these particular rocks appears to be of the rhythmic type, the small-scale rhythmic type."
"I quite agree with you, Miss Shell-Pratt." Miss Moon dug into her trout with the dogged efficiency and artistic appreciation of a bulldozer. "Indeed, as Steinbascher and Blitzstein have it in their admirable Einführing in die Ursprünge der Magmatiten durch Differenziationen, the troctolites ... "
But here the waitress, a pretty dark-haired Bordelaise without a word of English, brought the croquettes de ris de veau à la Parmentier, the pommes de terre sautées, and the petits pois en beurre, and Jennifer, not unnaturally, missed the remainder of fascinating exchange. She was making again the wonderful discovery that simple greed is one of the purest of human pleasures. The food on the journey had been pleasant and adequate, but little more; this, she thought, helping down the sweetbreads with a mouthful of topaz-colored wine, was a sufficiently promising start to a holiday somewhat oddly conceived. . . . She remembered Gillian's letter in her pocket, and the slightest of frowns crossed her face. That could wait: she had resolutely refused to worry during the ten days since she had left Oxford, and she was not going to begin now that she would soon be seeing Gillian herself.
But, all the same, as the meringue Chantilly succeeded the sweetbreads at her table, and the hypersthene gabbros succeeded the troctolites at the next, her mind began, in spite of herself, to turn over the events which had led up to her arrival this morning in the little Pyrenean hotel.
Jennifer, whose father was the Bullen Professor of Music at Oxford, had lived most of her life at Cherry Close, the lovely old house whose high-walled garden backs on to St. Aldate's, right under the bells of Christ Church. She was an only child, but any loneliness she might have felt came to an end when she was seven, for then her half-French cousin Gillian, who lived in Northumberland, came, on the sudden death of her parents in one of the first air raids of the war, to live with the Silvers. She was with them for almost six years, a welcome answer to Mrs. Silver's problem of finding what she would have called "a suitable companion" for Jennifer. At the end of the war Gillian married one Jacques Lamartine, who had been stationed with the Free French near Oxford, and soon after left England behind for the headier climate of Bordeaux, her husband's home.
So Jennifer at thirteen was once more alone at Cherry Close. She attended, daily, a small expensive private school near her home, and was sent for a final year to an even more expensive finishing school in Switzerland. This latter adventure beyond the walls was the only one which Mrs. Silver, with her unswerving devotion to the standards of a fading age, would have tolerated. One was "finished," one came home, one was brought out, one was suitably married ... this had always happened in Mrs. Silver's world and she had never thought beyond it. If Jennifer herself had any ideas about her own future she never mentioned them. She had always been a quiet child, with a poised reserve that her mother mistook for shyness, and a habit of accepting life as it came, happily and with a characteristic serenity that Mrs. Silver (herself voluble and highly strung) found insipid. Mother and daughter got on very well indeed, with a deep affection founded on almost complete misunderstanding.
Professor Silver knew his daughter rather better. It was he who at length insisted (emerging briefly from a Bartokian abstraction to do so) that since she was coming home to live in Oxford she might as well pursue some form of study. Mrs. Silver, abandoning her delightful -- and, she knew, impossible -- dreams of drawing rooms, was brought finally to agree, finding some consolation in the fact that Jennifer chose to study art rather than one of the more unwomanly of the sciences.
So Jennifer came home again to attend art school and live at Cherry Close. It was not to be supposed that those high walls would be left long unstormed, for Jennifer at eighteen was growing very lovely indeed ...Thunder on the Right. Copyright © by Mary Stewart. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.