As the winter snows threaten, I need to draw my interviews at Du Noroît Stud to a close. Arranging the final interviews has been a challenge – as head groom, Odette Fedon has a schedule that seems like 24/7, while I was beginning to feel that Armand Sabatier was as evasive as a wolf. Is that why he’s called Loup, French for wolf? However, he has finally agreed to talk on the understanding that he has the right to remain silent. (Although there are ways to unravel the mystery, here.)
Bonjour Armand. Many thanks for agreeing to talk about yourself. First, what was your life like growing up in France?
My childhood will always be a precious memory, even if life was hard for mes parents with four children. Our farm in the Cevennes provided more than enough to feed us well: l’agneau – the lamb, vegetables, and les châtaignes – chestnuts that my mother even used for bread. The region is beautiful, especially in the autumn with the trees. But it’s all no more. Just memories.
What went wrong? Did your parents lose the farm?
Non, but to see us educated they had to take other work and rent out the farm, as it wouldn’t sell. Now they live in Montpelier, je pense. My older brother, Laurent lives there but the rest of us… moved away.
This is all before ‘Spiral of Hooves’ begins? What made you leave?
Back in my teens I dreamt of helping the environment by finding safer ways of doing things in the Cevennes. I managed to get a degree in Biodiversity, Ecology, Evolution at the University of Montpelier, but then I… changed… careers.
A change of direction? In what way? Positive one, I hope.
Merde, je souffre. It hurts to remember. Just know that I failed badly, and betrayed the trust of my closest friends. The price was too high. Even now the guilt is too much… but I had to run. I still pay for mon erreur.
You came here to escape? Or to build a new future?
Especially in the Fall, this area reminds me of the home I abandoned. And my past is… buried. Gilles has given me a chance of… something better. Here my degree was a means to move on.
Is that why your new friends see you as a bookworm?
You misunderstand. The books and my qualifications are the future. Here I can forget… and move on.
But Roman Boissard believes that “the scruffy academic is a born criminal” because of your evasive manner. He wants your “contract terminated”. Yet, the others trust you. Are you concerned?
Non, Gilles always supports his friends. As he says, we are a team and when we move to his stud in England, we will be out of Roman’s way. Life will be better.
Fenburgh Stud, the one he found with Odette Fedon? So she’ll go as well and I can interview her there. Perhaps she won’t be so busy.
Exactement, she works too hard… as does Lina. I worry about them, but there is little I can do.
But you gave Lina a dog for protection. And although she sees Gilles as the hero, she sees you ‘Loup’ as his sidekick. By the way, why the nickname?
[Armand closes his eyes] Was it because I was stealthy? Perhaps. I forget. It’s just a name, but I like the idea of being a sidekick, un assistant. Peut-être, like Gilles’s Watson, as at university where I tried to help. Or maybe I’ll be like Sam in your favourite book. Although at what cost? Does somebody have to die again? Is this a murder mystery? I suspect that I will find out, too late as usual.
What sort of danger do you fear? Are you suggesting that you might be the one committing the crime? Or perhaps you’re a victim? Apologies if that is dragging up the past you want to forget.
[Armand shakes, then breathes slowly.] Too late, it already haunts me. I have learnt to count death as an unwelcome but ever present companion. The dead lurk in the shadows… as if I’m to blame for them all. Yet death can confront us at the end of a gun, crossing the street or riding a horse.
I assure you that Armand Sabatier will be remembered, even if death comes back. Sorry, but it is an essential part of you. However, I will change the subject and ask who is your favourite author?
Merçi, and I will accept my fate, even if I have to reluctantly use force again. As for the author, my apologies it’s not Tolkien. It has to be someone French – you know French authors have won more Literature Nobel Prizes than those of any other nation. It’s tempting to quote one of those, but instead I will choose Marcel Pagnol. He wasn’t just a writer, but excelled in almost every genre – memoir, novel, play and film. Peut-être, you know him from ‘L’Eau des Collines’, the series based on his 1952 film ‘Manon des Sources’, which was remade by Claude Berri in 1986. Je suis désolé, I am sorry I’m getting all academic.
Except that is how everyone sees you. Don’t apologise. Just tell me, what are your three most prized possessions?
A photo of Cabrillac, where I grew up – customs wouldn’t allow me to bring a dried leaf into Canada. And I have two pieces of jewellery to remind me… [Armand lowers his head, tears forming in his eyes].
My apologies for dragging the past up, again. Merçi Armand, this has been a fascinating and insightful interview.
Non, merçi pour tout, it is not good to hide my guilt, especially when death still stalks me. Better to face what I will become. Maybe England will be an opportunity to absolve myself of my failure.
‘Spiral of Hooves’ is a murder mystery set against the competitive horse world. For further information click here.
Odette Fedon, Head groom at Du Noroît Stud
Peter Tanner, Architect & Trainer (England)