A young woman debauched by her drunken father bears his child. Both escape to Maarseille where life presents its opportunities and hardships and forms the basis of Fate's choice.
The struggle to turn Fate's decisions around is not possible until death's finality brings a close to the anguish of a young man and his mother.
Life was hard in Aix en Provençe. The village of Bouches du Rhone, one of many that made up Aix en Provençe was located some 25 kilometers from Marseille and formally supplied fruits and vegetables to that city. Later, when decent roads from the north to Marseille were built, the larger Northern farmers out produced and undersold the village farmers, who subsequently diminished their trade and expansion. Bouches du Rhone was among the small villages settled by the Romans centuries ago and still had many of the more than four hundred fountains the Romans constructed for the then capital Aix in Provençe. Forests of oak, chestnut and ash surrounded the villages and in the remaining cleared areas where the farmers grew their crops, the soil was often too acid to sustain many of the foodstuffs needed for market. The twisted and irregular lanes probably gave off the same steady aroma of garlic soup, ratatouille or daube provençal, a heavy red meat stew which the villagers seemed to thrive on when red meat was available.
Edmont Courteau, an ebullient, sandy haired farmer, staggered home after another night of debauchery, drinking with his cohorts in a tavern, located near by the Cavern de Provençe. An early morning snow, (the first of the season), made the small village look clean and picturesque. The reality, however, was an impoverished village that stood still in time when its main source of trade was lost.
Courteau was a man of the soil. Even when not planting, his gnarled hands and dirty fingernails always harbored a crescent of dirt. He would look admiringly at his strong hands and felt they were the honest tools of his body when they twisted the weeds from the rows of plants or when he hefted his hoe or rake to do other work. He used to say that the handles of his tools took on the form of his hands and were extension of himself.
Light of skin tone and coupled with his craving for drink, his face was almost beet red, while his sandy, sun bleached hair took on the luster of ripe wheat. He looked like some sheaf of wheat ready to explode into flame – so much so that his comrades referred to him as “tête flambeau”, a name he felt, distinguished him from the others and it was pronounced with great affection. For his explosive temper brooked no disagreement and his many fights seemed to be an avowal of his “hot head”. Looking around him, he regretted the arrival of winter with its cold mistral winds, its icy snow and the increase of his work to provide wood to heat the cottage.
The cottage had been in his family since the early 1700’s and had finally passed down to him. Its floor of under fired brick had always been too soft to withstand the constant walking and was a constant source of dust. It was uneven where traffic had been heavy and a source of danger if one was not mindful where one was walking. The walls were formally heavy chestnut studs and cross bracing filled in with wattle and daub. Some years before, an Uncle Claude had the walls of wattle and daub removed and filled in the studs and cross bracing with brick noggin. The combination of chestnut and brick had a very charming effect on the cottage but the roof still remained a thick, brown thatch which, while aesthetically pleasing was always in need of repair. Summertime, he could forego raindrops leaking through the thatch but winter time presented problems that were major.
The cottage measured some 7 meters x 10 meters. It was divided into two small bedrooms and one large space with fireplace on one wall; a large harvest table of chestnut; some cabinets and benches and two chairs that flanked the fireplace. It also included, thanks again to Uncle Claude, a black cast iron stove, which was used for both heating and cooking. With a good load of wood, and by leaving the doors to the bedrooms open, one could heat the small cottage adequately. The toilet was an outhouse, whose effluvia was carried away by a small stream nearby. The brick floor, cool and delightful in the summer time, was always covered in rush in the winter time and was the happy home of countless insects and small vermin.