Authors: Michelle Wan
Michelle Wan, the author of
, was born in Kunming, China. She was raised in the United States and has lived in India, England, France, and Brazil. She and her husband, a tropical horticulturist, visit the Dordogne annually to photograph and chart wild orchids. They live in Guelph, Ontario.
ALSO BY MICHELLE WAN
TO ORCHID-LOVERS EVERYWHERE.
AND TO MARG, JENNY, AND ANNE,
VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE.
This book drew on the help, kindness, and encouragement of many people. I thank them all. Special acknowledgment is owing, however, to certain individuals. In France,
un grand merci
to: Bob and Mary Woodman, Michel and Marie-Sylvie Renard, Marie-Léontine Carcenac, Ginette and Louis Ducourtioux, Bruno Dalle, Patrick Lemesle, Marie-Pierre Kachintzeff, and Garry Watt for their friendship, wonderful food experiences, and for helping me to get the language right and understand so many things about life in the Dordogne. I am also grateful to Nicole Levy for her assistance with things legal and notarial; Charles Amiguet for information on hunting; and Didier Ribeyrol for input on the French Gendarmerie. I would be remiss if I did not single out, among the above-mentioned, Patrick for his invaluable guidance on police procedures; and Marie-Pierre, Garry, and Michel and for their kindness and generosity in helping me to nail down facts and fine-tune details. My gratitude to all of you.
Closer to home, I wish to thank Allan Anderson for his botanical expertise and for helping me to find places where Canadian Slipper Orchids grow; Margaret MacKinnon, David Antscherl, and my husband, Tim, for their critical review of the draft; Frances and Bill Hanna not only for their wise input and support, but for naming this book; and my sister, Grace, whose encouragement and wonderful house inspire me.
I also used a number of botanical, nonfiction, and other resources in researching this novel. In particular, I wish to recognize the scholarship of the following authors: Phillip Cribb (
The Genus Cypripedium
); Alec M. Pridgeon, Phillip J. Cribb, Mark W. Chase, and Finn N. Rasmussen (
Genera Orchidacearum, Volume I
); Holger Perner (personal communications); Pierre Delforge (
Orchids of Britain and Europe
); Mark Kurlansky (
Salt, A World History
); Mark Girouard (
Life in the French Country House
); Michel Louis (
La bête du Gévaudan
); and Claude Seignolle (
Contes du Périgord
). Any distortions or errors that may have occurred in making the leap from fact to fiction are mine.
As always I end with deepest thanks to Tim, the love of my life and friend of the path, who goes with me every step of the way.
This work of fiction takes place in the Dordogne (dor-DOHN-yuh), a
in southwestern France where the wooded countryside in spring rings with the cuckoo’s call and where wild orchids still bloom. The characters in this book are entirely fictitious, and invented places jostle with real ones. The Sigoulane Valley and the places in and around it are imaginary. The orchids, with the exception of one, exist and are endangered. Please respect them and their habitat. Above all, rejoice in their beauty.
The man in the greasy beret dropped his burden to the ground. He glanced over his shoulder. As usual, he, André Piquet, was up to no good. Nothing serious, mind. Just the kind of routine skulduggery that the Piquets, a noted clan of
, generally practiced.
With a quick slash of his hunting knife, André severed the cord that secured the mouth of the sack. It sagged, spewing some of its contents over the damp litter of pine needles and last year’s fallen leaves. Sheathing the knife, he upended the sack. Smelly kitchen peelings mixed with dried maize tumbled to the ground.
, the tough wild pigs that hunters in the Dordogne prized above all game, was frowned on as unsportsmanlike, not to say damned sneaky. The idea was that the
, which roamed freely through the deep valleys and dense forests of this region of southwestern France, became accustomed to feeding at the baiting stations, with the result that,
when the hunting season opened,
, you had a ready population of pigs in place for the kill. If you were quick off the mark, you could bring down an animal or two before anyone got wind of what you’d been up to. It was the Piquets’ guiding principle. Do it the easy way, secretly and fast, and your neighbor would never be the wiser. Also, it meant not having to share out your kill, taken on the quiet like that, with other hunters and local residents.
As he rolled up the sack and stuffed it under his jacket, André heard a sound. He looked about him. The woods in early evening were chill and gloomy. It occurred to him that everything was uncommonly still. Normally starlings and crows made a racket around this time. Suddenly he felt a little nervous. Was someone spying on him? Or maybe it was the speed with which the darkness was moving in.
Again, his ears caught the noise, a kind of scraping that was not the drilling of a woodpecker, or the creaking of branches in the wind. It seemed to be coming from somewhere to his right. Now curiosity vied with caution. Treading softly, he pushed through the thick undergrowth in the direction of the noise. He parted a curtain of pine branches and stepped into a small clearing. What he saw outraged him: a juvenile boar, freshly killed by the look of it. It lay head-on to him, one of its underdeveloped tusks driven into the dark, rough earth.
André, thrust suddenly onto the unaccustomed moral high ground, gave vent to his disgust. Baiting pigs was one thing, but hunting out of
season, especially if someone beat you to it, really went against the grain. Funny, though, he hadn’t heard a shot. And there did seem to be an awful lot of blood about. The ground all around was churned up and soaked with it.
Then he realized that the wild pig had not been shot. Drawing closer, he saw that it had been brought down by something that had slashed its haunches, severing the hindquarter tendons to disable it before going in for the kill. Feeding had already begun, for the belly had been partly torn open, the slippery guts spilling out. André whistled through a gap in his stained front teeth. Whatever it was had to be big. A boar, even young, was a tough adversary for most dogs. Maybe a pack of dogs? he wondered. He hunkered down for a closer look, balancing on the balls of his feet.
It was then that the long gray form came on him, hitting him from behind with tremendous force. He sprawled forward, driven face-down into the blood-wet earth. He felt a visceral shock as something ripped deep into the flesh of his shoulder.
“Nom de dieu!”
André shrieked. A hunter, he knew the ferocity of the wounded boar, the dangerous valor of the stag at bay. Never had he encountered anything like the savagery of this attack. Desperately he rolled over, shielding his face and throat with one hand while attempting to free his knife from its sheath with the other. He stood no chance against it. With a snarl conceived in hell, the creature came in for the kill.