Remember me on this computer. Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link. Parisians on weekend holidays would drink aperitifs here, and before them the occasional emissary from the republic ministers and vice ministers and abbots and admiralsand in the cen- turies before them, windburned corsairs: killers, plunderers, raiders, seamen.
Before that, before it was ever a hotel at all, ve full centuries ago, it was the home of a wealthy privateer who gave up raiding ships to study bees in the pastures outside Saint-Malo, scribbling in notebooks and eating honey straight from combs. Werners favorites are ve faded frescoes on the ceilings of the grandest upper rooms, where bees as big as children oat against blue backdrops, big lazy drones and workers with diaphanous wingswhere, above a hexagonal bathtub, a single nine-foot-long queen, with multiple eyes and a golden-furred abdo- men, curls across the ceiling.
Over the past four weeks, the hotel has become something else: a fortress. A detachment of Austrian anti-airmen has boarded up every window, overturned every bed. Teyve reinforced the entrance, packed the stairwells with crates of artillery shells. Te hotels fourth oor, where garden rooms with French balconies open directly onto the ramparts, has become home to an aging high-velocity anti-air gun called an 88 that can re twenty-one-and-a-half-pound shells nine miles.
Her Majesty, the Austrians call their cannon, and for the past week these men have tended to it the way worker bees might tend to a queen. Teyve fed her oils, repainted her barrels, lubricated her wheels; theyve arranged sandbags at her feet like oerings. Te royal acht acht, a deathly monarch meant to protect them all. Werner is in the stairwell, halfway to the ground oor, when the 88 res twice in quick succession.
Its the rst time hes heard the gun at such close range, and it sounds as if the top half of the hotel has torn o. He stumbles and throws his arms over his ears. Te walls reverber- ate all the way down into the foundation, then back up. Werner can hear the Austrians two oors up scrambling, reload- ing, and the receding screams of both shells as they hurtle above the ocean, already two or three miles away.
One of the soldiers, he realizes, is singing. Or maybe it is more than one. Maybe they are all singing. Eight Luftwae men, none of whom will survive the hour, singing a love song to their queen. Werner chases the beam of his eld light through the lobby. Werner worries that the sound will knock the teeth from his gums. He drags open the cellar door and pauses a moment, vision swim- ming. Tis is it? Teyre really coming? But who is there to answer?
Spinsters, prostitutes, men over sixty. Procrastinators, collaborators, disbelievers, drunks. Nuns of every order. Te poor. Te stubborn. Te blind. Some hurry to bomb shelters.
Some tell themselves it is merely a drill. Some linger to grab a blanket or a prayer book or a deck of play- ing cards. D-day was two months ago. Cherbourg has been liberated, Caen liberated, Rennes too. Half of western France is free. In the east, the Soviets have retaken Minsk; the Polish Home Army is revolting in Warsaw; a few newspapers have become bold enough to suggest that the tide has turned.
But not here. Not this last citadel at the edge of the continent, this nal German strongpoint on the Breton coast. Here, people whisper, the Germans have renovated two kilometers of subterranean corridors under the medieval walls; they have built new defenses, new conduits, new escape routes, underground com- plexes of bewildering intricacy.
Beneath the peninsular fort of La Cit, across the river from the old city, there are rooms of bandages, rooms of ammunition, even an underground hospital, or so it is believed. Tere is air-conditioning, a two-hundred-thousand-liter water tank, a direct line to Berlin. Tere are ame-throwing booby traps, a net of pillboxes with periscopic sights; they have stockpiled enough ordnance to spray shells into the sea all day, every day, for a year.
Here, they whisper, are a thousand Germans ready to die. Or ve thousand. Maybe more. Saint-Malo: Water surrounds the city on four sides. Its link to the rest of France is tenuous: a causeway, a bridge, a spit of sand. We are Malouins rst, say the people of Saint-Malo. Bretons next. French if theres anything left over. In stormy light, its granite glows blue.
At the highest tides, the sea creeps into basements at the very center of town. At the lowest tides, the barnacled ribs of a thousand shipwrecks stick out above the sea.
For three thousand years, this little promontory has known sieges. But never like this. A grandmother lifts a fussy toddler to her chest. A drunk, urinating in an alley outside Saint-Servan, a mile away, plucks a sheet of paper from a hedge.
Urgent message to the inhabitants of this town, it says. Anti-air batteries ash on the outer islands, and the big German guns inside the old city send another round of shells howling over the sea, and three hundred and eighty Frenchmen imprisoned on an island fortress called National, a quarter mile o the beach, huddle in a moonlit courtyard peering up.
Four years of occupation, and the roar of oncoming bombers is the roar of what? Te clack-clack of small-arms re. Te gravelly snare drums of ak.
A dozen pigeons roosting on the cathedral spire cataract down its length and wheel out over the sea. Sirens wail. Search this site. Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks.
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