14th June 1941

Douglas and Emile took a trip to Cahors to visit the diocese archives, where they discovered a number of unusual things. Firstly, it was apparent that Abbot Chretien – the last Abbot of the old monastery before the fire destroyed it in the 1500s – was something of a legendary local figure. Legend had it that if one walked into the woods keeping the spire of the village church at your back, the Abbot’s ghost would appear to you and bless you.

Furthermore, the eccentric and mysterious Father Milo seemed to hold the Abbot in high regard, for the Abbot featured heavily in Milo’s redecoration of the village church – not only was the statue above the entrance a representation of the Abbot, but the figure of Satan in the mural of Satan tempting Christ was based on the Abbot. (With Milo standing in for Christ and the woods standing in for the kingdoms of the Earth, this made the implications of the mural downright startling.) The duo also learned that Milo’s architectural activites hadn’t stopped with the church restoration, but had extended to building a folly in the countryside near the village – specifically, a tower offering magnificent views of the local area.

Additionally, the pair were excited to discover a book written by the monks of the Abbey – The Revelations of Saint Sereneus. A meandering treatise combining a hagiography of the saint, an encyclopedia of gardening, and allegorical thoughts on attaining mystical union with God through literal and metaphorical gardening, the copy was marred by having a section from the end cut out with a straight razor. The elderly priest in charge of the archives was heartbroken to hear of the vandalism, for the pages included detailed pictures and illustrations of the Abbey gardens. The damage must have happened at some point after the last individual noted as reserving the book for extended study returned it – that person being none other than Malo, Section N’s quarry.

Lastly, it was discovered that Jacques Martin had changed his name before marrying Helena – and his previous name happened to be that of a man wanted in Paris in connection with a string of pre-War bank robberies.

10th-13th June 1941

After working out a cover story involving the three of them going on a day trip to Cahors to visit the cinema there, only to be caught out by nightfall and unable to return home due to the curfew, the SOE agents returned to town on the morning of the 10th and spent the next few days working on patching up their cover. Fortunately, due to Patricia having already charmed local gendarme Henri Jourdan, she was able to mostly deflect the authorities’ attention.

The next substantial incident highlights the divisions within the partisan cell. Leon Ferrand, the de facto second in command of the cell, called for a meeting to discuss how best to use the supplies from the airdrop. The meeting eventually took place in the cider cellar at the Toulons’ orchard. Present were Albert Toulon and his son Pierre, Leon Ferrand, cell leader Jacques Martin and his wife Helena Martin, Giscard Bressan (the partisans’ main contact with the black market), and SOE agents Belson, Douglas, and Emile.

Ferrand proposed that the partisans immediately produce explosives and use them to bring down the Decharette copper mine, reasoning that as the primary facility of interest to the Germans they would lose interest in the town if it were destroyed – the meagre copper it produced would make the expense of excavating the mine if it caved in scarcely worth it, but at the same time was still supplying the German war effort, and since “seismic activity” had already been reported it should be trivially easy to make it look like an earthquake.

Emile and Douglas both had objections to this logic. For Emile’s part, he realised that what Ferrand was proposing in terms of disguising the use of explosives was simply not going to be possible – a plan which would only seem viable to someone without much demolition experience. (For one thing, experienced miners would recognise the smell of explosives in the wake of the blast.) Douglas raised the more basic objection that such an act of sabotage would be more likely to bring down additional German attention on the town, rather than convincing them to go away – and even if the explosion could be contrived at a time when no miner would be endangered, suspicion would surely fall on Louis Valoir and other friends of the partisans working at the mine. Douglas and Emile were also presumably mindful of SOE’s plans for the ANTIQUARIAN network as a safe harbour to drop agents and material.

Jacques Martin tended to agree. Whilst he supported the idea of setting up an explosives lab (indeed, the Martins would offer one of their sheds to contain it), he had envisioned using the partisans’ contacts to distribute explosives to other partisan cells – so their handiwork could be used against higher-priority targets across France. Helena agreed with Martin, perhaps swayed by the idea that attacking the mine could hurt her brother Louis. Pierre Toulon strongly agreed with Ferrand – the pair tended to see eye to eye on most issues, having been firm friends at university in Paris – but Pierre’s father Albert counselled caution. Giscard, for his part, didn’t contribute to the argument either way, perhaps seeing more profit in appearing neutral. With a clear majority of the cell siding against him, Leon reluctantly agreed that the explosives were not to be used against the mine, for the sake of keeping order within the cell.

The other issue discussed at the meeting was Belson’s mission – to infiltrate the occupied region of France with the camera dropped by SOE (now repaired by Emile) and document the current state of the docks at Bordeaux, to establish whether any remnants of the French fleet were still stationed there. It was proposed that the partisans themselves could arrange to do that – Albert suggested that they should at least try to smuggle a camera into the occupied zone, whose presence in luggage could at least be explained away if the camera weren’t discovered in a truly suspicious context, before trying to smuggle explosives, which would be intrinsically suspicious if found.

Douglas tried to reassure Leon and Pierre that even such apparently passive activities were still useful to the war effort; Pierre’s temper became frayed and he snapped that the partisan cell was becoming a mere tool of British intelligence. Stunned silence ensued, and it seemed that the emotional tension would snap into an all-out row when suddenly another “sonic attack” took place – the cider-bottles rattling in their racks and the occupants of the basement departing in a rapid and orderly fashion.

During the evacuation Douglas and Emile both noticed two things. Firstly, whilst most of the partisans were simply leaving in an orderly fashion, Helena crossed herself, suggesting greater piety (or superstition) than most of the others possessed. At the same time, Albert and Pierre both made the same unusual hand gesture – a subtle gesture, which Douglas and Emile wouldn’t have paid any heed to had only one of them done it, but as they both performed the same gesture it seemed undoubtedly deliberate. In the aftermath, most of the partisans seemed to be trying to brush over and forget the incident – a not unusual coping mechanism for an incident without apparent rational explanation – but the Toulons seemed to be worried about it, but equally rebuffed any attempt to discuss it. Douglas and Emile began to suspect that the Toulons might be members of the local cult.

The pair then radioed the SOE to give details of the aircraft crash, and contacted N to appraise him of the investigation so far. N suggested that if there really were an age-old cult in the region, their activities would have left some mark on the historical record, and it might be an idea to start hitting the books. The priority was still to find Malo; dealing with the cult one way or another would depend on assessing whether their activities would help to restore Europe to the pre-war status quo or not. He also pointed out that although Mademoiselle Decharette had been seen entering the forest, they hadn’t seen anyone else accompanying her, which made him suspect that the cult had an inner circle directing it from within the forest and an outer circle meeting somewhere else, with Reni as a link between the two. N also made a curious prediction: that the party would receive game-changing news during Church on Sunday 22nd, and that on that day they had best be prepared to put across the impression of being good citizens of Vichy France…

9th June 1941

The next major event as far as the ANTIQUARIAN network was concerned was the disastrous airdrop of 9th June 1941. It was another full Moon, and with the SOE agents aiding the partisans it should in principle have been even easier than the first drop. However, the combination of the weather over the woods abruptly becoming turbulent and what seemed (based on what Patricia had heard over the radio, which she was operating to keep in contact with the pilot) to be another strange sonic/gravitational attack focused on the plane itself, disaster struck; the package of supplies and SOE agent Belson were blown wildly off course to the south, whilst the plane itself suffered catastrophic engine failure and ended up crashing to the north of the forest.

Realising that the Germans would come south to investigate whether anything had been dropped once they realised that it was a lone RAF plane that had crashed, the partisans and SOE agents headed back into the village to try and find the supplies first, trusting that Belson would fall back on his training and stay hidden until they could find him. Eventually it turned out to have fallen in the back garden of a village home – thankfully, most of the villagers were still sound asleep.

The major exception was Jean Leandres. Son of the local librarian (Adele Leandres), Jean was known to the SOE agents thanks to his local infamy as the village troublemaker, regularly in one form of trouble or another with the authorities. As the ANTIQUARIAN network arrived at the garden, they saw Jean fleeing, and Douglas gave chase. Weighed down by the rifles and ammunition he’d stolen from the crate, Jean was caught by Douglas, who after a tense confrontation convinced him to hand the materials over. Jean clearly assumed that Douglas was involved with the resistance, but also clearly realised that the authorities would be more inclined to believe a respectable doctor than someone who’d already been butting heads with them.

After tasking the partisans with concealing the materials dropped in the crate – guns, ammunition, equipment and chemical precursors suitable for setting up a small explosives production operation, and a camera which had broken in the fall- the SOE agents headed south to attend to Belson. Having come down in a vineyard, Belson had suffered a rough descent, breaking his right ankle and spraining his left leg and left wrist. Belson had managed to cut himself free from his parachute and crawl to a roadside ditch to hide. Finding him in a delirious state, the agents decided to avoid going back to the town and instead haul him to the Toulon orchards, where the Toulons could look after Belson.

It took a good while to cut across country quietly enough to avoid unwanted attention – either from Germans or territorial farmers! – but they were eventually able to make it to the orchards, where Pierre and Albert readily agreed to look after Belson. For his part, Belson was rambling about the sensation of a giant eye fixing itself on the aircraft from the centre of the forest. But there was no time to worry about that: the next morning, the party were informed that their absence had been noted by the Germans who had come to search the town – and an impromptu search of their house had caused the Germans to comment both on Patricia’s reading material and Douglas’ extensive collection of watches. Though Belson and the dropped materials had been saved, the party now had the Germans’ attention…

26th-27th May 1941

A crucial incident in the ANTIQUARIAN investigation took place on the Monday that Emile moved into the house with Patricia and Douglas. Whilst talking with Douglas in his first aid room down the mine, the room appeared to be the epicentre of some sort of unusual phenomenon – both men felt a pain in their ears and a vibrating sensation, as objects vibrated on the shelves. Some sort of sonic attack, perhaps?

Either way, the epicentre appeared to be the medical bay, but men in the surrounding areas of the mine felt some of the peripheral effects and assumed it was an earth tremor. The mine was evacuated as a precaution (incidentally stalling production on grounds the Germans couldn’t reasonably fault) and Douglas and Emile took the opportunity to sweep the mine for anything that seemed unusual. They found it in the form of a trail of goat-like footprints – prints suggesting a bipedal gait – that led down a disused side passage in the old Roman-era portion of the mines. Finding nothing else of interest, they returned to the surface.

With production shut down for the day in case the tremor proved to be the harbinger of more powerful seismic activity, the party found themselves at a loose end, but were invited by Claude Decharette to join the family for dinner that evening. Popping into the village’s restaurant to buy some wine for the dinner, the party encountered Oberstleutnant Rupert Klier, the commander of the German forces stationed north of the demarcation line, who was having himself an expansive lunch following one of his regular meetings with the mayor (ostensibly held to check in on how Klier’s men were behaving when they came down to visit the village on leave). Klier grilled the party on why the mine was closed, but accepted the explanation offered on safety grounds. (After the war, Klier’s personal journal was seized and revealed that he figured that the local anger if he forced the miners to work to the point where accidents started happening would be too steep a price to pay for the paltry ore the mine produced.) The party couldn’t help noticing that Klier had been reading an English-language copy of The Devil Rides Out.

Arriving at the dinner engagement, the party enjoyed the company of Louis Valoir, Claude Decharette, family patriarch Raimond Decharette and Reni Decharette, Claude’s beautiful younger sister. Maria Decharette, Claude and Reni’s mother, had apparently disappeared some years ago, and the party had also inferred that Malo – the object of the party’s investigations for N – had had some interesting discussions with Raimond before his own disappearance, and the party wanted to see what they could get out of Raimond. He was evidently not at ease discussing the matter of Maria in front of his children, and for their part they didn’t want him dwelling on it, but evidently the party were able to gain his trust, for after dinner he took Douglas and Emile aside (as Patricia distracted Reni and Claude departed to give Louis a lift home – apparently not concerned about the possibility of having to spend the night at Louis’ place due to the curfew) and told them an extraordinary story.

Taking the pair out onto the veranda of his mansion, which afforded a picturesque view of the monastery ruins and the forest, Raimond told the duo to watch a certain gap in the trees at the periphery of the woods. Sure enough, a shape that may have been a human figure appeared there momentarily before withdrawing into the forest. Incredibly, Raimond asserted that the figure was none other than the long-lost Maria, who he alleged had been hiding in the forest since her disappearance over a decade before!

Raimond explained that Maria had been a member of a pagan cult – a cult with ancient roots in the local area. She had made it very clear to him that he could not join her in this secret worship – it was strictly for locals only, and whilst the Decharette family had saved the town’s economic prospects when Raimond’s father moved into the area and reopened the copper mine, Raimond was still too much of an outsider to be considered for membership. A practical man, he had thought nothing of it, since aside from calling Maria away every New Moon her activities with the cult didn’t really seem to spill over into their married life. But then she disappeared to live in the forest, and Raimond was warned off in no uncertain terms from trying to follow her. Raimond had never met any of the other cultists – at least, not knowingly – but thye had demonstrated that they could get access to Raimond’s home trivially by leaving notes in places where only someone with access to the interior of the mansion would be able to get them.

Terrified of the cult coming after his children – even with Claude all grown up and Reni just hit 18 – Raimond didn’t make any investigations himself, but he did prompt Malo to look into these matters once he realised that Malo’s own investigations might cause him to cross paths with the cult. However, Malo’s disappearance only doubly convinced Raimond of the cult’s power, and since then he has publicly maintained the stance that Marie is almost certainly dead, and any belief he had expressed to the contrary previously was simple grief.

Meanwhile, Patricia was having trouble getting the measure of Reni, who seemed to brush off any efforts to get to know her. On a hunch, Patricia stuck her head in Reni’s bedroom en route to visiting the bathroom, and noted that Reni had laid out warm clothes and hiking boots – an eccentric choice to change into after dinner. Comparing notes as they departed the Decharette mansion, the investigators realised that the New Moon was that evening – and decided to watch the mansion to see if Reni were planning on heading to the cult meeting.

Sure enough, Reni emerged from the house a short while after the lights went out, and strode off towards the forest, passing by a small cairn on the way in. Progress into the forest proved difficult, however; an intense fear gripped Emile as the party was just about to pass beyond the outer periphery of the woods into a denser region and caused him to flee, and almost did the same for Douglas except for Patricia’s intervention. As Douglas and Patricia attempted to follow Reni into still deeper regions of the forest, the premonitions of doom became overwhelming for them, and some cruel trick of the forest caused them to be separated.

Each party member, after being separated from the others, discovered something interesting on their way out of the forest. Douglas encountered a camp of German soldiers who had been killed through some unknown agency which has crushed them, contorted them, or turned them inside-out unpredictably, and appeared to have detonated their ammunition in its cases. Searching the area he was able to find a logbook, which Patricia was later able to translate – as well as obtaining some significant war-related intelligence, it told of how the soldiers had gone into the woods for a “training exercise” that was more of an excuse for some relaxation, entering the woods from the occupied zone, only to find that at the end of their weekend break they couldn’t leave the forest, and as the days wore on they became convinced that some malevolent force was watching them. Douglas fled the area when the camp came under the influence of a more intense version of the phenomenon which had occurred down the mine – this time intense enough that it caused bleeding from Douglas’ ears and made the remnants of the German soldiers wheel around like debris caught in a cyclone.

Patricia, for her part, found herself on a forest trail when she heard the clattering of many hooves coming in her direction. Hiding by the side of the road, she was astonished to witness a party of fauns dragging a sled. Tied to the sled was a German soldier in a ragged uniform; Patricia attempted but failed to block the passage of the sled or jump onto it, but failed, and was left powerless to help the soldier as he screamed for aid, the fauns dragging him deeper into the woods.

Emile found on the edge of the forest a tree with a curious carving, depicting a youth’s head surrounded by a curious spiral pattern. Studying the pattern, Emile thought he saw potential parallels with certain fringe interpretations of Einstein’s work on gravity, and made a copy.

By dawn the party had reconvened at the house. Emile had emerged from the forest almost immediately after the party entered, but Douglas and Patricia both ended up staying until almost dawn. This was surprising to both of them, since they had estimated they had only spent an hour or two in the woods, and Douglas’ watch showed only the passage of a couple of hours. As the party pondered the mystery, a note popped through the front door – a quick look outside revealed Reni Decharette, innocently strolling away and bidding good morning to the town’s residents. The note graciously thanked the party for attending dinner, but included a curious postscript about how nice and sensible it is to avoid Attention. Realising that they were being warned off, the party decided to work on maintaining their covers until the time came for the next SOE parachute drop.

23rd-25th May 1941

A number of incidents from prior to Emile moving into the spare room are worth noting.

On Friday 23rd May, as the electrician was finishing wiring up the house, he discovered in the loft a set of books which he brought to Patricia’s attention. These were occult books – nothing expensive or obscure enough to get very excited about, but evidently the collection of someone who knew the subject. The initials “NV” were inscribed inside the front covers.

Meanwhile, at the mine Douglas encountered Dr Saul Malik, the local general practitioner, who stopped by to introduce himself and discuss how Saul and Douglas should contact each other in the event that a mining accident or medical emergency in the local area demanded the attention of both doctors. In the course of the conversation, Douglas began to get the impression that Dr Malik was not a native French speaker – although his accent was near-perfect, there were a few slips here and there, and his pronunciation of technical medical terms were, if anything, extremely polished – as though he’d specifically practiced them. Malik also displayed a certain distaste for the fascists.

Later, as Patricia and Douglas popped into the town hall to see about registering Douglas’ details, Lilane Castile –  the head clerk – recalled that “NV” might refer to Nicolas Variel, a mysterious figure in town who had disappeared about 15-16 years ago. Reni Decharette, the mine owner, happened to stop by the town hall at that point on his way to an appointment with the mayor (one of his many doomed attempts to persuade the mayor to help him negotiate less ruinous prices for the mine’s ores from the Germans). Patricia introduced herself and, on realising that Douglas was the mine’s new doctor, Rene invited the couple to have dinner with him some time.

On Sunday 25th May, Patricia and Douglas attended church. The local church was an old medieval structure, with a statue of an abbot over the entrance – presumably one of the former abbots of the ruined monastery that neighboured the Decharette estate. They were surprised to note that the interior had apparently been extensively remodelled some years ago at what must have been great expense. Behind the altar was a large painting depicting Satan tempting Christ with the kingdoms of the Earth – but rather than being depicted by cities in a desert landscape as is more typical for such studies, the kingdoms in question were depicted by a view of the wood to the north of the town, as depicted from a high vantage point. “Satan” in the painting seemed to be modelled on the same abbot who stood above the entrance.

After the sermon, Patricia and Douglas made small talk with the priest, Father Beaumarais. a nervous and stuttering man who talked all the right talk about faith but didn’t quite seem to believe it himself. According to him, the church’s refurbishments – including the painting behind the altar – were the responsibility of his predecessor, Father Milo, who had vanished a couple of decades ago. Beaumarais vaguely recalled hearing that Milo was acquainted with Nicolas Variel, and mentioned that he had to field a lot of questions about Milo due to “treasure hunters”; apparently, Father Milo’s extravagant spending hadn’t gone unnoticed and its exact source wasn’t known, and widespread theories existed that he had discovered some old treasure from the monastery that was stashed in the area.

Douglas noted that a number of locals didn’t appear to attend church: Saul Malik, according to Father Beaumarais, liked to visit housebound patients on Sunday so that they wouldn’t feel so alone whilst most of the community was at worship, whilst Louis Ferrand also seemed to be absent.

Patricia attempted to reach out psychically before the painting behind the altar. Although she did not sense the presence of any spirits, she did feel some oppressive force from the direction of the woods.

12th-26th May 1941

After keeping the SOE agents in a shed on the Martin farm for a day until the partisans could establish whether the parachute drop had been noticed, Network N were given a more official welcome on the evening of the 12th, when they were invited into the farmhouse to have dinner. Present were Jacques Martin, leader of the partisan cell, and fellow partisans Helena (Jacques’ wife) and Bertin Beliac, who the partisans had explained had been a French soldier who had been wounded fighting the Germans and was now working as a farmhand for them to hide out. Also present was Louis Valoir, the accountant for the Decharette mine, who the Martins assured the Network was a friend of the partisan cause.

The main order of business to discuss over dinner was how the SOE agents could establish cover identities in the town. It was suggested that they space out their entries into society a few days apart, so that anyone trying to trace their movements later on wouldn’t necessarily connect their arrivals. Since some form of employment history would be useful, and since none of the SOE members really came across as farmhands, Valoir said he would be able to arrange for the men to be employed in some capacity at the mine – Douglas as an onsite medic, Emile as a foreman.

For their part, the SOE agents had obtained falsified documentation to create the implication that they had spent the pre-war years out in French Guiana – a colony which had retained nominal loyalty to the Vichy government, but which was distant enough (and disorganised enough, due to widespread pro-Free French sentiment) that the Vichy authorities wouldn’t be too suspicious if the colonial authorities couldn’t confirm the details on the papers. Helena suggested that Patricia might masquerade as the mother of one of the men; Jacques smoothly suggested that perhaps “older sister” might be more credible, earning a hard stare from Helena. Eventually it was decided that Patricia would pretend to be Douglas’ wife, a role she enthusiastically embraced.

It was decided that Helena and Douglas would enter the town first and find lodgings, and Emile would follow two weeks later. Whilst the details were being ironed out, Leon Ferrand – the partisan second-in-command – arrived at the front door and had a brief, whispered conversation with Jacques Martin before he left; Emile was able to follow what was said and noted to his interest that Ferrand was impatiently trying to get a request for supplies to the SOE members for items he thought were needed in the next drop. Martin was firm that now wasn’t the time and sent Ferrand away.

Over coffee, the group listened to the BBC World Service (then reporting Hitler’s denunciation of Hess), and talked to Jacques about various partisans and townsfolk.

  • Leon Ferrand, who had swung by earlier, had been a student in Paris before the war. He lived with his uncle Falon Ferrand, but Falon was not considered to be suitable recruitment material for the resistance – as the town drunk he was just too unreliable.
  • Albert and Pierre Toulon were father and son, and operated the local vineyard. Albert was a solid, dependable sort but not much of a firebrand; Pierre was much more of an idealist and firebrand, and had been a student buddy of Leon Ferrand before the war.
  • Giscard Bressan was a black market contact of Jacques, who he suggested it would be best if he dealt primarily with – though a partisan, he wasn’t considered as trustworthy as the others.
  • Alain Leclerche is the local mayor and a figure of contempt for the partisans, due to his snivelling compliance with more or less everything the Germans ask of him. In particular, he is known to meet regularly with Oberstleutnant Rupert Klier, the commander of the German forces in the occupied sector on the opposite side of the dividing line from Saint-Cerneuf (off north of the woods).
  • On being asked about his opinions of the Decharette family, Louis said that Raimond Decharette was a respectable local dignitary who had carried on the work of his father (who in reopening the copper mine had revitalised the town) but who had stepped away from the day-to-day running of the business, especially after he had a “funny turn” following the death of his wife. Louis was full of praise for Claude Decharette, who as administrator was the main decision-maker at the mine these days and who was also no friend of the fascists. (Douglas noted that Louis came alive when talking about Claude to such an extent that one could imagine that there was something between them.)
  • Nobody had anything nice to say about M. Arnel, the owner of the local hotel, who is apparently widely detested in the town.

Meanwhile, Patricia attempted to give Helena a palm-reading – flustering her enough to drop a hint that her marriage to Jacques was a sham on some level.

The next day, Douglas went to the mine to get his new employment set up. As Valoir (doing a credible job pretending to have never met Douglas before) filled out the forms, Claude Decharette happened to pop in. Claude was happy to employ Douglas but warned him that he would not be able to pay him as much as a mine doctor would usually be able to expect, since the Germans appropriated more or less all of the ore the mine produced for the war effort and paid a fraction of the market cost. Watching Louis and Claude’s interactions, Douglas began to suspect that whatever infatuation there was between them was mutual.

Meanwhile, Patricia spent an eventful day in town. On discovering at the town hall that the local cafe’s owner was renting out an empty house next door to the cafe, Patricia went along to make enquiries. Emilie, the waitress at the cafe, told her that the two-bedroom cottage was a little small and musty, and didn’t have electricity, but they could arrange to get power supplied in a couple of weeks and the rent was cheap. Telegrams to the owner (who was currently holidaying in Marseilles) soon put all the arrangements in place; as Patricia was sitting outside the cafe, waiting on one of the owner’s responses, the local gendarme Henri Jourdan swung by, prompting Emilie to dash indoors; having heard during yesterday’s gossip session that Jourdan was mooning after Emilie, Patricia engaged him in conversation and, by suggesting that her feminine intuition told her that Emilie shared Jourdan’s feelings, managed to gain his confidence. He arranged to come and visit Douglas and Patricia once they were established in the house to discuss the matter further with her.

As Emile passed the time in the Martins’ shed, Leon Ferrand happened to stop by to speak with him about his supply list; he handed over what was a fairly complete list of supplies for a bombing campaign. Emile agreed to pass this on to the SOE. When the agents made radio contact with HQ, they were congratulated on their successful drop and told that another one would be incoming on the next Full Moon (June 9th). In the intervening time before Emile made his debut in town, Jourdan visited Patricia and Douglas to discuss his romantic problems. Patricia’s mystic act, and in particular his comparison of Jourdan and Emilie to Anthony and Cleopatra, seemed to impress Jourdan, who (following the past-life analogy) suggested that he’d handed his Cleopatra over to Caesar; specifically, he confessed that Emilie was having a relationship with a local SS man – namely, a certain Walther Prill, who despite his paramilitary membership seemed to spend more time on archaeology than the usual work of the occupation.

When Douglas came into town he found that there weren’t any entirely empty residences left; his choices were either to stay in the hotel or to rent a spare room. Planning on renting Douglas and Patricia’s spare room in the long run, he decided to check into the hotel first, not least because Malo had stayed at the hotel himself. He quickly learned why M. Arnel was so despised – he was a rude, workshy man who gave every impression of resenting any effort his clientele asked him to go to, and fished for tips upfront. Arnel’s bookkeeping was sloppy enough that whilst he could confirm that Malo had indeed stayed there with a quick glance through the guest ledger, he couldn’t get the room number and dates of Malo’s stay. What he did manage to do was have a quick conversation with Falon Ferrand – a perennial presence at the hotel bar, apparently because Arnel was the only person in town who’d serve him alcohol – which soon turned to a rambling monologue on Falon’s part about paths and the wood and people staying at the hotel being marked men before Falon lost consciousness in a booze-induced haze.

9th-11th May 1941

Having made tenuous, indirect contact with French partisans in the area of Saint-Cerneuf-du-Bois, a village in the theoretically free Vichy zone of France but conveniently close to the border with the occupied zone, the Special Operations Executive had concluded that the region could make an ideal landing zone for providing aid to the resistance.

On the 9th May 1941 Emile Dubois, Lt. Douglas Hemsbrook, and Patricia Wilberforce were briefed by the SOE. They were chosen to form the core of the ANTIQUARIAN network, since each had specialist capabilities which would be useful both to the partisans and to future agents parachuted into the drop zone. The thinking was that Dubois’ erratic scientific training would make him an ideal maker of bombs, munitions, and other devices of sabotage, warfare and mayhem to be used against the Nazi machinery, whilst Wilberforce had the advantage of having all the right skills to be a propagandist and negotiator whilst at the same time being a decidedly unlikely spy. Hemsbrook rounded off the group’s specialist capabilities with his medical knowledge. The mission briefing given by the SOE is fairly clear that the specialists’ tasks were to gather intelligence and prepare the ground for additional personnel, rather than to immediately commence sabotage, assassination, or other operations against the occupation forces, though the possibility was left open for the SOE to provide additional orders later on.

On the evening of the 10th May, N arranged for the investigators to be transported to his headquarters near Whitehall for a discussion. N, in fact, greeted them with champagne to celebrate a minor victory for Network N; propaganda cooked up by Patricia and fed to the Germans via the “Double Cross” network of turned agents had succeeded in convincing Rudolf Hess of the occult necessity of flying to Scotland to begin peace talks. N had not merely invited the group down for a party, however; there was a mission directly related to Network N’s interests that happened to coincide with the establishment of ANTIQUARIAN. Lionel Malo, a German antiquarian of aristocratic background, had left Germany due to his disagreements with the Nazi regime and had been corresponding with N during his journeys in exile. In 1938, he arrived in Saint-Cerneuf and had sent a couple of letter suggesting he had been making progress in an investigation of the local abbey’s secret history. Malo’s letter’s had abruptly ceased after this; N asked the party to try and ascertain what had happened to Malo.

The night of Sunday 11th May was a full moon, during which time the drop attempt was made. The partisans had selected a field close to the local woodland for a landing site and had built bonfires to help guide the parachutists. Lt. Hemsbrook was able to land in the field, but both Dubois and Wilberforce’s parachutes went off-course and ended up landing in the periphery of the forest; both were able to find their way into the field without incident, and soon the group had made contact with the French partisans…

Notes on the Operation: ANTIQUARIAN files

ANTIQUARIAN was a Special Operations Executive operation in Vichy France notable for the involvement of agents of Network N. Network N was an intelligence network closely associated with the SOE, MI5, MI6, and other branches of British intelligence during the Second World War, but its origins and overall agenda are obscure. “N”, the main spymaster for the network, was not only an exceptionally well-connected individual who appeared to have been preparing the groundwork for his intelligence network years before the outbreak of war, but also had a peculiar knack for psychologically steeling his agents to face extraordinary threats.

On these pages I will be blogging a reconstruction of Operation: ANTIQUARIAN, as can best be pieced together from surviving records and recollections.

The Network N agents involved in ANTIQUARIAN are as follows:

  • Emile Dubois, a French inventor who had escaped the Nazi occupation and offered his services to the British out of patriotism, who had come to N’s attention after an experience with a curious artifact exposed during the Blitz.
  • Patricia Wilberforce, a medium who had used a combination of genuine psychic talent and charlatanry to part numerous wealthy individuals from their savings. Having come to N’s attention due to an attack on a cruise ship she had been a passenger on by devilish fish-men commanded by a distant cyclopean figure, N was able to secure her co-operation through the judicious use of blackmail. After all, her falsified seances were frauds – and her genuine ones illegal under the Witchcraft Act of 1735…
  • Lt. Douglas Hemsbrook, an Army doctor whose previous scepticism had been rattled due to overtly paranormal manifestations during one of Patricia’s seances.