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When Meaulnes first arrives at the local school in Sologne, everyone is captivated by his good looks, daring and charisma. But when Meaulnes disappears for several days, and returns with tales of a strange party at a mysterious house and a beautiful girl hidden within it, he has been changed forever. In his restless search for his Lost Estate and the happiness he found there, Meaulnes, observed by his loyal friend Francois, may risk losing everything he ever had.
About The Author
Henri Alain-Fournier was born in La Chapelle d'Angillon in 1886. His first novel Le Grand Meaulnes was published in 1912. He was killed in action on the Lesuse in 1914. His second novel, Les Miracles appeared posthumously in 1924.
He came to our place one Sunday in November 189–.
I still say 'our place', even though the house no longer belongs to
us. It will soon be ﬁfteen years since we left the neighbourhood,
and we shall certainly never go back.
We lived on the premises of Sainte-Agathe upper school. My father
(like the other pupils, I called him 'Monsieur Seurel') was in charge
of both the upper school, where they studied for the teaching
certiﬁcate, and the middle school. My mother took the junior class.
A long red house, with ﬁve glazed doors shrouded in Virginia
creeper, at the far end of the little town; a huge courtyard with
shelters and washing places which opened at the front towards the
village through a large gateway; on the north side, the road beyond a
little barred gate leading to the railway station, three kilometres
away; to the south and at the back, ﬁelds, gardens and meadows, with
the outskirts of town beyond them . . . There you have a sketch plan of
the dwelling in which the most poignant and anguished days of my life
were spent, the dwelling where our adventures ebbed and ﬂowed, breaking
like waves on a solitary rock...
The transfer lottery – a decision by a school inspector or a
departmental pre´fet – had brought us there. One day, towards the
end of the holidays, long ago, a peasant's cart, going on ahead of our
goods and chattels, set my mother and me down in front of the little
rusty gate. Some kids who had been stealing peaches from the garden ﬂed
silently through gaps in the hedge. My mother, whom we called 'Millie',
and who was the most methodical housewife that I have ever known, went
directly into the rooms full of dusty straw and immediately announced
in despair – as she did at every move we made – that our furniture
would never ﬁt into such a badly designed house. She came out to conﬁde
her troubles in me and, as she spoke, gently wiped my little face,
blackened by the journey. Then she went back to make an inventory of
all the doorways and windows that would have to be replaced if the
quarters were to be made habitable . . . And I, meanwhile, under a
large straw hat with ribbons on it, stayed back on the gravel of this
unfamiliar courtyard, waiting, ferreting around in a tentative way by
the well and under the shed.
At least, this is how I imagine our arrival today; because whenever
I try to recapture the distant memory of that ﬁrst evening, waiting in
our courtyard at Sainte-Agathe, what I remember are, in fact, other
times of waiting, and I see myself with both hands resting on the bars
of the gate, anxiously looking out for someone coming down the main
street. And if I try to visualize the ﬁrst night that I had to spend in
my garret, between the ﬁrst-ﬂoor storerooms, what I recall are actually
other nights: I am no longer alone in the room; a great, restless,
friendly shadow wanders back and forth along the wall. This whole,
peaceful landscape – the school, Old Martin's ﬁeld with its three
walnut trees and the garden, ﬁlled every day from four o'clock onwards
by visiting women – is forever enlivened and transformed in my memory
by the presence of the person who caused such an upheaval in our
adolescent years and who, even after he had gone, did not leave us in
Yet we had already been there for ten years when Meaulnes came.
I was ﬁfteen. It was a cold Sunday in November, the ﬁrst day of
autumn, suggesting the winter to come. All day, Millie had been waiting
for a carriage from the station that was to bring her a hat for the
cold weather. In the morning, she missed Mass, and I, sitting in the
choir with the other children, had looked anxiously towards the bell
tower, right up to the sermon, expecting to see her come in with her
In the afternoon, I had to go to Vespers by myself.
'In any case,' she said, to cheer me up, brushing my child's outﬁt
with her hand, 'even if the hat had arrived, I would certainly have had
to devote Sunday to adjusting it.'
In winter, that was how we often spent our Sundays. In the morning,
my father would set off for some distant pond shrouded in mist, to ﬁsh
for pike from a boat, and my mother, retiring until nightfall to her
dark bedroom, would darn her simple clothes. She shut herself up in
that way because she was afraid that someone or other, one of her
friends as poor as she was, and as proud, might catch her at it. So,
after Vespers, I would wait in the cold dining room, reading, until she
opened the door to show me how the clothes looked on her.
That particular Sunday, an event in front of the church kept me
outside after the service. The children had gathered to watch a
christening in the porch. On the town square, several men, dressed in
their ﬁremen's jackets, had formed columns and were stamping their feet
in the cold as they listened to Boujardon, the ﬁre chief, getting
entangled in the complexities of drill...
The baptismal bell stopped suddenly like a peal of festive bells
that had mistaken the time and place. Boujardon and his men, their
weapons slung across their backs, were jogging away with the
ﬁre-engine, and I saw them vanish round the corner followed by four
silent boys whose thick soles crushed the twigs on the frosty road down
which I did not dare follow them.
The only life left in the village was in the Cafe´ Daniel,
where you could hear the customers' mufﬂed voices rise and fall. As for
me, hugging the wall of the great courtyard that separated our house
from the village, I came to the little iron gateway, a little anxious
at arriving late.
It was half open and I saw at once that something unusual was afoot.
At the dining-room door – the nearest of the ﬁve glazed doors
opening on to the courtyard – a woman with grey hair was leaning
forward and trying to peer through the curtains. She was small, and
wearing an old-fashioned black-velvet bonnet. She had a sharp, thin
face, now looking worn with anxiety. I am not sure what premonition
made me stop on the ﬁrst step in front of the gate when I saw her.
'Where has he gone? Oh, my God!' she was muttering. 'He was with me
just now. He has already been all round the house. Perhaps he has run
And between each sentence she tapped three times on the window, so
lightly that you could hardly hear it.
No one came to open to the unknown visitor. No doubt, Millie had got
her hat from the station and was shut in the red room, oblivious to
everything, in front of a bed strewn with old ribbons and ﬂattened
feathers, sewing, unsewing and remaking her poor hat . . . And, sure
enough, when I did come into the dining room with the visitor right
behind me, my mother appeared, both hands holding lengths of brass
wire, with ribbons and feathers on her head, not yet quite
assembled. She smiled, her blue eyes tired from working at close of
day, and told me:
'Look! I was waiting to show you...'
Then, seeing the woman sitting in the large armchair at the back of
the room, she stopped in embarrassment and quickly took off her hat
which, for the remainder of what followed, she held pressed to her
bosom, like a nest turned over in the crook of her right arm.
The woman in the bonnet, who was hugging an umbrella and a leather
handbag between her knees, began to explain, gently nodding and making
a polite clicking sound with her tongue. She had fully regained her
composure and even, when she started to talk about her son, acquired a
superior, mysterious air that intrigued us.
They had come together by car from La Ferte´-d'Angillon, which
was fourteen kilometres from Sainte-Agathe. A widow – and, as she gave
us to understand, very rich – she had lost the younger of her two
children, Antoine, who had died one day on coming home from school,
after bathing with his brother in an unhealthy pond. She had decided to
give us the elder boy, Augustin, as a boarder in the upper school.
At once, she began to sing the praises of this new boy she was
bringing us. I no longer recognized the grey-haired woman I had seen
bending over by the door a minute earlier, with the imploring, fraught
look of a mother hen which has lost the wild one of her brood.
The admiring account that she gave us of her son was quite
surprising: he loved to please her and would sometimes walk for miles
along the banks of the river, barefoot, to ﬁnd moorhens' and wild
ducks' eggs for her hidden among the reeds . . . He also set snares for
birds and a few nights ago had found a pheasant in the woods, caught by
I gave Millie a look of astonishment: I would hardly dare go home if
I had a tear in my smock.
But my mother was not listening. In fact, she motioned to the lady
to keep quiet and, carefully putting her 'nest' down on the table, got
up silently as though trying to surprise someone.
Above our heads, in a storeroom piled high with the scorched
ﬁreworks from the last Fourteenth of July, a stranger was walking
backwards and forwards, with a conﬁdent step, shaking the ceiling
and then moving on through the vast, murky lofts on the ﬂoor above, the
sound ﬁnally fading as he reached the disused assistant teachers' rooms
where we kept drying lime leaves and ripening apples.
'I heard that noise just now in the downstairs rooms,' said Millie,
in a low voice. 'I thought it was you, Franc¸ois – that you'd
No one spoke. All three of us were standing, with hearts beating,
when the door from the loft leading to the kitchen staircase opened and
someone came down the stairs, walked across the kitchen and stood in
the dark doorway of the dining room.
'Is that you, Augustin?' the lady asked.
He was a tall boy of around seventeen. All I could see of him at
ﬁrst, in the evening light, were the peasant's felt hat pushed back on
his head and the black smock with a belt around it, like schoolboys
wear. I could also see that he was smiling...
He noticed me and, before anyone could ask him anything, said:
'Are you coming into the yard?'
I hesitated for a moment. Then, as Millie didn't stop me, I took my
cap and went over to him. We left through the kitchen door and
crossed over to the shelter, which was already in darkness. As we went
along, in the last of the daylight, Iexamined his angular
features, his straight nose and the down on his upper lip.
'Look,' he said. 'I found this in your attic. Have you never looked
He had a little wheel of blackened wood in his hand, with a chain of
tattered rockets running round it: it must have been the Catherine
wheel from the Fourteenth of July ﬁreworks.
'Two of them haven't gone off, so we can still light them,' he said
calmly, like someone who expected something better to turn up later.
He threw his hat down, and I saw that he had a peasant's
close-cropped hair. He showed me the two rockets with their bits of
paper fuse that had been cut, blackened, then abandoned by the ﬂames.
He planted the stick of the ﬁrework in the sand and – to my great
astonishment, because we were strictly forbidden such things –
took a box of matches out of his pocket. Cautiously bending down, he
lit the touchpaper. Then, taking my hand, he pulled me sharply back.
A moment later, my mother came out on the doorstep with Meaulnes'
mother, after discussing and settling his boarding fee and saw, under
the shelter, two sprays of red and white stars bursting – and for a
second she could see me, standing in the magical light, holding the
hand of the tall, newly arrived boy and not ﬂinching...
Once again, she did not dare say anything.
That evening, there was a silent companion to dinner round the
family table, who ate, head bowed, untroubled by the looks that the
three of us turned on him.
ISBN: 9780141194820 ISBN-10: 0141194820 Series: Popular Penguins Audience:
Number Of Pages: 228 Published: 10th June 2010 Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd Country of Publication: GB Dimensions (cm): 18.0 x 11.2
Weight (kg): 0.15
Edition Number: 1