Was I possessed? The effects of solitude, perhaps? My nerves had always been fragile. But the verse in question was right there in my notebook for all to see, and differed by not a single word from the one in the ledger. There was no room for doubt. In my examination of the manuscripts, I had proceeded in order; besides, the ledgers were numbered. The first four, which I’d read, were stacked on the desk to my right. The fifth, which I was partway through—well, when I set it down, it was usually to my right as well. The sixth was still in the armoire, leaning against the eight, since I had the seventh in my hands. There was no way I could have read these lines before. Of course, the possibility remained that they might have been published in some journal I’d come across before. And so they’d have come back to mind when I visited the farm… But no, I didn’t believe it. I was sure of my memory… and my wits? Like most men, I had always ruled and been ruled by my folly in equal parts. Or so I told myself. No, some divination had happened, perhaps even osmosis, but I had never read these lines before this day.
That afternoon, as I was rereading ‘Ananke’, or ‘All Things to All People’, I paused to examine the unknown author’s handwriting. It was of an absolute, improbable consistency: every a just like the ones before and after, no tisten on a t darker than another. I don’t know what an expert would have made of it, but I for my part could imagine no creature of flesh and blood behind these impeccable words and lines. That afternoon, little by little, the certainty crept over me that this oeuvre born of nothingness was waiting for its author. An empty shell, it would welcome the first consciousness to dare, like a hermit crab, slip inside and make itself at home.
The next day—Saturday—and Sunday morning, too, I refrained from reading. I’d decided not to resist anymore. The adventure would lead me where it wished; I gave myself over to it. Around four, as I made my way dutifully to my landlady’s, the fear touched me, ever so lightly, that with a word, a name, she would bring the fragile scaffolding of my predestination crashing down. Deep down, I was already certain no such thing awaited.
I was received with little cries of delight. I held out my flowers, my petits fours, my bubbly; was met rapture and gratitude. There were very nice old men excited by the presence of a “young Parisian writer” among them. For a moment I was ashamed of the fuss they made over a status I felt was usurped. And yet I played the game. I couldn’t let my landlady down, nor jeopardize my chances of getting the explanations I hoped for from these good people. I was a good guest, trying hard to win their confidence with the anecdotes I invented as needed. I steered the conversation toward my landlady’s former tenants as much as I could. I soon saw this was a dead end. A trust-funded radical socialist, a professorial couple (physics, chemistry)… I switched tactics. An editor considering an anthology of forgotten authors had tasked me with scouting for him. The provinces were always brimming with hidden talents. Couldn’t they help me flush out a few? Brows creased all around me. Well, there’d been that doctor’s son… Yes, he’d played at being a writer one whole winter, then packed it in. Let’s see… there was also Mr. Dagre. A serious author, to be sure. His monographs on the region. Oh yes, especially A View of the Universal Exposition from Eparvay, or his poems, quite fine and sensitive, Dawns in Eparvay. These drew a blank with me. Relieved, I promised to read over Mr. Dagre’s writings attentively, as well as the prose poems of young Dominique, published in the local high school’s journal, Echo.
I didn’t dare monopolize the conversation too much. A gentlemen with a red ribbon wished at all costs to tell me about the day the recruits left Eparvay in July 1915, and I had to listen. Then the old lady played piano and I joined the choir of trembling voices as they sang, “I know a church / in a village fair / the river reflects / its steeple there.”