The Disappearance of Jeremy Meredith

"The Disappearance of Jeremy Meredith"

An Oscar Tremont Mystery 

by Cameron Trost 

It was a dreary November evening, shortly after our return from Australia to my wife’s hometown in Brittany. Louise was having dinner at her sister’s house in Le Pouliguen, the boys in tow, and I was wrapping up a case of no real interest at all, except for the considerable and much needed financial recompense. Changing countries is inevitably both a tiring and costly affair, even when you’ve already done it once or twice before, and it was reassuring to have found a case so soon. Private investigators rely on an established reputation and a solid client base in order to make a living from their craft, neither of which I had here. Louise had managed to land herself a job with a local shipping company before even setting foot in the country, thus taking a good deal of stress out of the move, and permitting us to rent a charming townhouse close to the beach. I didn’t have a sea view from my study, but when the window was open, salty air and the cries of gulls reminded me just how close we were. That evening, however, the window was shut tight. Cold Atlantic wind was driving rain against the pane and howling as it exposed gaps in the slate roof. I almost didn’t hear the knock at the front door, but as soon as it had registered, I quickly navigated my way down the narrow and uneven staircase, my right hand acting as a rudder and the banister as the channel.

I opened the door to find that the brave visitor was a young woman in a yellow fisherman’s coat. Her pale face told of confusion, and her eyes asked a hundred questions.

She parted her lips to speak, but I hastened to usher her in and push the door closed against the relentless wind.

‘Thank you,’ she whispered, slipping her hood back to reveal a curtain of curly red hair.

‘English?’ I asked, noticing her thanks hadn’t been offered in French, and that her intonation sent my mind wandering towards the West Country.

She smiled faintly. ‘Yes, from Dorset originally. What about you, Mr Tremont?’

‘I’m Australian.’

‘I’d assumed you were British. You’re a long way from home.’

‘I am indeed, although I feel at home here most of the time.’

She allowed herself a more confident smile, and it was clear that we understood each other.

‘I must apologise for coming unannounced.’

‘No, you really must not,’ I assured her. ‘Nobody would venture out in this weather without good reason. I’ll stoke the fire and pour you a glass. What would you like? I don’t have any Pimm’s, I’m afraid.’

She smiled again, almost laughed, despite whatever was bothering her, and I silently congratulated myself.

‘I’ve been in France for several years now and have readily adopted the drinking habits this side of la Manche. Would a Kir Breton be too much to ask?’

‘Not at all.’

I put another log on the fire and told her to make herself comfortable, before preparing her Kir and pouring myself a double whisky.

‘Cheers,’ we said, raising our glasses and looking each other in the eye. She was a charmer, the kind of woman you could just contemplate distractedly and lose track of time, but what occupied my mind was the mystery she contained. Make no mistake about it, nothing is more stimulating than a good puzzle.

‘Tell me everything,’ I instructed her.

She sipped her Kir, flicked a twist of hair off her face, and began.

‘My name is Harriet Meredith and I need help solving the disappearance of my father. Three years ago, he vanished while walking along the coast just west of here. You mustn’t think I’m naïve. I accept that he must no longer be with us. He was a loving father, and as solid as a rock, not the kind of man who’d run off to some tropical island with a young mistress. I’m sure he either put a foot wrong and fell into the sea that night or met with foul play, and, to be frank with you, the latter is far more plausible, because he knew the coastline here better than any stretch of land in the world, even the Jurassic Coast of his own Dorset. Do you remember hearing about my father’s disappearance, Mister Tremont?’

‘I do not. You see, I wasn’t in the country three years ago, but I will bring myself up to speed if I decide to accept your case. Please, go on.’

She seemed a little taken aback, but she sipped her Kir and continued.

‘No trace of him has ever been found. The entire coastline was searched, even the sea caves where smugglers used to hide their ill-gotten wares, but nothing showed up. I haven’t stopped looking for him, nor will I, not until I solve the mystery of his disappearance. I owe it to him, and I owe it to my poor mother, who is the shadow of the woman I once knew.

‘You’ll want to know what brings me here so urgently tonight. Well, I’ve just had the strangest encounter with an old mariner down at Le Café du Port. The bar was crowded and everybody was shouting, but this old fellow must have heard one of my friends use my name and recognised me as the daughter of Jeremy Meredith. He’d had a few too many Ricards, but I managed to understand that he’d once overheard a couple of men discussing what had happened to my father, right there in a corner of the bar. It was several months ago, he told me, and he didn’t know them, but he remembered one of them saying there was a man who knew Jeremy Meredith’s fate. Augustin Maillot was the name. One of them had said that only Augustin Maillot held the key to the Englishman’s disappearance, and then he’d fallen silent and grown sullen. His companion had asked him who the devil he meant, but the only reply he made was to say he’d had too much to drink and he ought to get himself home, just in case his wife was there waiting for him.’

‘Augustin Maillot,’ I repeated. ‘Does the name mean anything to you?’

‘I’m afraid not. I told him so, and he must have seen that I was unsettled. He shrugged and frowned apologetically, and I thanked him for letting me know. At that point, I got online and tried to find out who this Maillot was, but nothing relevant came up, then I did a search for private investigators and found you, an English-speaking sleuth right on my doorstep. I hope you agree it was right of me to come straight away.’

‘Absolutely, and I would be pleased to accept the job.’

With that, I poured another round of drinks.

Experience has taught me that time is of the essence when it comes to missing persons cases, so a delay of three years was a serious setback. It was perhaps that very fact, along with the peculiar nature of the assignment, which made it so difficult to refuse.

Miss Meredith went on to provide me with a thorough description of her father, and I was able to imagine an Englishman of comfortable means who had taken early retirement and moved to Brittany, accompanied by his wife and daughter. He enjoyed duck hunting, collecting antiques, sharing a glass of brandy with neighbours, and walking coastal paths. Somewhat of an avid walker myself, I decided that, in the morning, I would follow the stretch of coast he had frequented, not because I expected the police had missed any clues three years ago, but out of a hope that the undertaking would put me in the poor devil’s skin.

‘I ought to be going now, Mister Tremont.’

‘Are you ready to brave the storm again? You’re more than welcome to wait it out.’

She gave me a quizzical look, prompting me to clarify.

‘My wife will be home shortly. I could drive you home.’

She smiled, evidently somewhat amused. Her green eyes were as enigmatic as the sea.

‘I’m not afraid of the storm. There’s no safer weather for a woman to walk alone at night, and, when I get home, I’ll take a long warm bath.’

I helped her into her coat and opened the door, releasing her into the elements, watching as she disappeared.


The sun was timid the next morning, climbing listlessly into an unwelcoming sky scarred with wispy clouds. The wind had died down and the rain had ceased, but sodden soil and fallen twigs along the coastal path bore witness to the storm’s passage. I had walked this stretch of the coast before, I was certain of that, but not in many years. The path hugged the clifftops like a faithful lover, allowing me to look down onto the empty beaches below, where the mouths of sea caves were immune to the ashen light of the dawning day, and limp seaweed lay on the coarse sand.

The rhythmic squelching of my hiking boots and the murmur of the waves accompanied me, and salty air filled my nostrils and nipped at my cheeks. As I walked, my eyes scanned the landscape, registering every detail, while every conceivable scenario went through my mind.

Jeremy Meredith knew his way along this path, and, from the picture his daughter had painted of him, he wasn’t likely to have slipped over the edge like a drunken teenager or cocky Parisian holidaymaker.

What then?

I kept walking, step after step, recalling the dark motivations I had unearthed in the hearts of men over the years, trying to imagine which might have been behind his disappearance.

The path veered inland, continuing through a gloomy grove, while, to the left, a staircase hewn into the cliff face led down to a tiny beach. Harriet had told me that this was where her father always turned back.

Always? I wondered.

I descended the stairs into that intimate pocket nestled between land and sea and wasn’t yet halfway down when I looked up to behold a magnificent manor crouched atop the headland at the opposite end of the beach, which was a mere matter of feet away. Another set of stairs, this one with an old iron gate to which a propriété privée sign was affixed, connected the beach to a neglected rose garden that filled the tight space between the cliff and the manor.

Don’t ask me to put my finger on it. I would if I could. Suffice to say that reason and logic are not the be-all and end-all of the investigator’s toolkit. Instinct has a role to play, and from time to time, that role is the lead.

How long I stood there, I can’t say for sure, but that building had caught my attention. I raised my binoculars to study it more closely. It was a stately home of grey stone with red shutters, all of which were closed, and red gable trims. Although by no means in a state of disrepair, there were some signs of neglect. For instance, vines and lichen had been allowed freer rein than would be conventionally considered acceptable.

Walking in Jeremy Meredith’s footsteps became somewhat of a ritual for me. Whenever I needed to be alone and to think the facts of a case through, I would return to that stretch of the coast. With each rise and fall of the rocky land, and each twist and turn of the path as it negotiated monoliths, chasms, and copses of stubborn trees, my imagination grew bolder and my mind more acute. In this way, the mystery of the Englishman’s disappearance helped me solve a dozen other puzzles, some with which, no doubt, you are already familiar.

I didn’t abandon the case of Jeremy Meredith, not only because his widow and daughter were counting on me, but also due to my unyielding urge to know. The prospect of never fathoming so murky a mystery bothered me immensely, and any armchair psychologist would immediately comprehend the personal nature of my obsession.

A new angle of attack or the shadow of a doubt occurred to me from time to time, and I would invite Harriet Meredith over to re-examine the facts while we took our aperitif. But it never led anywhere. I simply couldn’t drag myself out of the mental quagmire. Despite all my efforts, the name of Augustin Maillot and the fate of Jeremy Meredith endured as reminders of my limits, taunting me during those quiet moments when there wasn’t a sound to be heard, like the whispering of a ghost on a lonely night.


As so often is the case when evidence is scarce, it was a chance meeting that delivered the breakthrough, but not until six years after Harriet Meredith had first come to me for help.

It happened one winter’s afternoon, after walking the coastal path with my sons. We had reached the small beach, and, undeterred by the merciless buffeting of the bitterly cold wind, the boys were running about and taking turns at hurling a tennis ball at each other. A misjudged throw, a particularly virulent gust of wind, a well-timed dodge; they all coincided to cause the ball to miss its mark and hit the only other person on the beach. The elderly man had his back to us and his gaze was drawn to the turbulent sea.

I jogged over to him and apologised.

‘Not at all,’ he replied, picking the ball up and tossing it to me.

‘It’s a magnificent manor perched up there, isn’t it?’ I ventured, nodding towards the headland and wearing an expression of admiration that wasn’t completely unauthentic. My previous attempts at gleaning information out of local residents had always met with failure.

‘Yes, I suppose so. It’s the Lozac’h home.’ He studied my face, evidently waiting to see if I reacted to that name. When I didn’t, he continued. ‘It’s indeed a fine old manor, but it’s a dark place. The custodian is a right devil of a man.’

‘It’s inhabited?’

‘No, it doesn’t seem to be. Rumour has it Old Lozac’h lives abroad these days, and his children never set foot on the grounds. It wouldn’t surprise me to find it on the market before long.’ He looked me up and down. ‘It might be beyond your means, I suspect.’

‘No doubt. In any case, I’m a superstitious man,’ I lied.

He turned to the house and scowled.

‘She was an angel,’ he muttered to the wind.

Then, turning back to me, he asked, ‘You’re not from around here are you?’

‘I’m Australian.’

He raised his eyebrows. ‘I don’t think I’ve ever met an Australian before. I thought I could detect a slight accent, if you don’t mind my saying so. At any rate, your French is excellent.’

‘Thank you. I endeavour to do Moliere’s tongue the justice it deserves. Can I ask what happened? My wife tells me an Englishman went missing in these parts several years ago.’

That got him thinking.

‘Quite so. The fellow just disappeared, no doubt lost his footing at the cliff edge and was claimed by the sea.’

‘That has nothing to do with the manor,’ I reminded him.

‘No, that incident doesn’t. I was thinking of the lady of the manor.’

‘Claimed by the sea as well?’

‘Claimed by the devil, I say. He used to beat her, always behind closed doors, but you can tell when a woman’s being abused, even if she does her utmost to hide it. No trace of her was ever found, so the convenient conclusion was drawn.’ He stared at the sea, and the wind howled. ‘She’s an unforgiving mistress, the sea, and has taken her share of lives, but she shouldn’t be used to conceal the darkness in the hearts of men.’

I knew what the answer to my next question would be and was able to fill in the gaps in the story, all except for one essential detail.

‘When did this happen?’

‘A good few years ago now, perhaps eight or nine. In fact, it would have been around the same time as the Englishman vanished.’

He gazed at the manor and nodded thoughtfully, and I got the impression he would have preferred it if I hadn’t dragged those dark memories back to the surface, but I also suspected he spared a thought for Madame Lozac’h on a regular basis.

I didn’t bother asking him about Augustin Maillot, because I was now certain the name would mean nothing to him, and that the incongruous question would only serve to make him suspicious of my motives. I had already pushed my luck, and there was no point drawing further attention to myself.

‘It looks like rain. I’d better get the boys home.’

He pursed his lips and bid farewell with a curt gesture somewhere between a wave and a salute.

We hurried back home, and along the way, except for during one short phone call, I chatted casually with the boys.

‘There’s no longer a shadow of a doubt,’ I told Louise as I stepped through the front door. I helped the boys out of their coats while I waited for her to catch my drift.

‘The manor?’ she asked almost immediately.

‘That’s right. I’ll tell you more when we have a minute to ourselves.’

She promptly secured that minute with the aid of four mugs of hot chocolate. We let the boys drink theirs in front of the television, and we stayed in the kitchen like scullery maids in a costume drama. I told her what I had learned at the beach.

‘That does seem to confirm your suspicions,’ she admitted. ‘But it also means that your main suspect may have escaped justice.’

‘The suspect may be beyond my grasp, but not the mystery, which is what matters the most.’

There must have been a mischievous twinkle in my eye, or maybe it was just that years of sharing my work with me had enabled her to predict my course of action.

‘I take it you want my permission to break your promise?’

‘I do, ma chérie. If you decide not to give it, I’ll try my utmost to concoct another way, or I’ll let the mystery remain unsolved, as it has been these past years, however difficult that may prove for both Harriet and myself.’

She tilted her head to one side and held my gaze. ‘Emotional blackmail, Oscar. That hardly suits your style.’

‘Well, this is an emotional case, on several levels.’

She didn’t reply at first. Of course, she understood perfectly. This was second only to the mystery.

‘You’re out of practice, and you don’t have the necessary tools,’ she warned.

‘I know, but I’ve been going through the motions in my head for months, and that was based on the more problematic premise that the manor was occupied.’

‘Harriet’s going with you, isn’t she?’ Her question was followed by a knowing smirk.

I raised my eyebrows as I sipped hot chocolate.

‘There’s more?’ She read my silence. ‘It’s all set for tonight, isn’t it?’

‘You know me so well.’

‘You have my permission to break your promise just this once, but be careful, and keep it professional.’

‘Thank you,’ I whispered. ‘What exactly do you mean by keep it professional?’

She gave me a blank stare.

‘She’s a lovely woman, but I’ve never given you cause to question my faithfulness, have I?’

‘No, you haven’t. It’s just that, I don’t know, you’ve never had a client like her before. I know there’s a little spark between the two of you, and I don’t want it flaring up with the case coming to a head.’

‘That will not happen,’ I promised her. ‘You know why I asked her along, don’t you?’

‘For an extra dash of romanticism in your nocturnal escapade?’

‘I like the sound of that, but no. It’s for a far more practical reason. I might need her to provide a positive identification of her father, circumstances permitting.’

‘Oh, I see,’ Louise said, staring into her mug.


We sat in my black Peugeot 403, parked along the coastal road, not too close but not too far from the manor. We were dressed in dark clothes, and, in much the same way as smugglers of yore, we were to follow the coastal path down to the beach. It would take us about five minutes at a leisurely, inconspicuous pace.

Despite Louise’s warning about providing the spark with fuel, I asked Harriet to agree to hold my hand once we started along the path. I also told her we ought to hold each and kiss passionately if we were interrupted by any passers-by; an unlikely occurrence. 

She nodded, and a lock of red hair slipped out of her navy blue hood.

‘Are you ready to hear my take on what happened?’

‘I’m ready. Whatever happened, knowing has to be better than the haze I’ve endured for so many years.’

I stared past her, out to the ocean. Only the foam of breakers on the furthest reef was visible in the darkness. The wind was still blowing a gale and whistling as it buffeted the car.

‘I believe your father died trying to be a hero.’

She smiled faintly. ‘That wouldn’t surprise me.’

‘There are detectives who claim there are no coincidences, but I know that’s not true. Coincidences do happen from time to time. In the case of your father, however, it’s just too convenient. The lady of the manor went missing, presumably drowned, around the same time as your father vanished. Her husband was reportedly a violent man, a devil of a man were the exact words used.’

‘Domestic violence?’

‘Precisely. It’s just a guess, as I have no evidence at all, but I’m willing to bet that your father witnessed one of these instances of violence. He would have been on the beach, alone, and perhaps saw the commotion through one of the manor’s windows. He may very well have witnessed her murder.’

‘I see,’ Harriet said quietly. ‘My father was a gentle man, not at all confrontational, yet he despised men who disrespected women. He would have acted, I’m sure.’

‘This is where the mystery of Augustin Maillot comes into play.’


‘I think Augustin Maillot does indeed hold the key to your father’s disappearance and that all will be revealed inside the manor.’

Harriet looked horrified. ‘You told me it was unoccupied.’

‘I’m certain it is.’

‘Where is Augustin Maillot if he’s not in the manor?’

‘He’s in there all right.’

‘You’re not making sense,’ she complained, and I suppose she was right.

‘You’ll see what I mean. Let’s go and put an end to this! Ready?’

By way of answer, she opened her door, pushing against the wind, and jumped out of the car.

We bowed our heads and strode along the path, hand in hand. We descended the stairs, crossed the beach, and went up the stairs leading to the manor. It wasn’t until we were right up against the heavy wooden door that I switched a small torch on. I got Harriet to hold it up to the keyhole and shield it with her hands.

She watched in admiration as I picked the lock. It was a stubborn old piece of work, but eventually, it clicked in surrender.

It was both thrilling and daunting to be inside such a grand old manor, and I reminded myself to appreciate the sensation to the fullest, for, in theory, it was to be my last infraction.

I took the torch and led Harriet upstairs. After checking that the shutters were closed, I switched another torch on and passed it to her so we could scan our surroundings together.

We were in a dining hall, complete with a long table which was bare except for two silver candelabras. There were also empty cabinets against the walls, and a dark, yawning fireplace. A thick layer of dust had settled everywhere.

But it wasn’t the furniture that drew my attention. There were paintings on the walls. I counted four in all.

‘We’re here to steal art?’ Harriet asked, and I think she may have been serious. 

‘Not tonight.’

Each painting was a portrait. There were three of men, and one of a woman. Three of them dated from the eighteenth century, and one was from the nineteenth. It was the more recent oeuvre that I decided to inspect more closely. There was a signature in the bottom right corner.

‘What is it?’

‘Augustin Maillot,’ I replied. No doubt, I was grinning intolerably.

‘He was an artist?’

‘No, I don’t think so. The paint around the signature seems to be damaged, as though it has been scratched away, clumsily retouched, and the signature added.’

I took a step back and pointed my torch at the tableau. ‘In my opinion, whoever painted it was quite talented. It’s a remarkable portrait. The man is dressed in expensive clothes and wears exotic jewels of incredible value. It’s probably a portrait inspired by a story from a previous century, for the subject and the artist did not live during the same age. Look at his face. Despite all his finery, the wrinkles and scars bear witness to a life of hardship and violence. Behind him, we look down on tiny fortified islands, as though he is standing on ramparts designed to protect an important port.’

‘Do you know where it is?’

‘I do. Don’t you? It looks very much the same today.’

Harriet frowned. I’m sure the city’s name was on the tip of her tongue.

‘Augustin Maillot,’ I reminded her.

She just looked at me blankly.

I studied the portrait more closely, and ran my fingertips over it. I felt the frame, applying pressure at various points. Finally, I slid the painting to one side, but the wall behind it was untouched.

‘What are you doing?’

‘I’m trying to convince the pirate to reveal his secrets.’

‘I see,’ she replied.

‘No such luck,’ I had to admit. ‘His secrets aren’t here.’

I stepped back and looked around, trying to hide my disappointment.

Neither of us spoke for several seconds.

‘Let’s try the library,’ I said, pointing my torch in the direction of a door at the end of the dining hall. ‘Follow me.’

There was a bay window at the far end of the small library, which presumably offered a splendid view of the ocean when the shutters were open. The wall to the right was bare, except for an old leather armchair, but the wall to the left was covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. 

‘Read the titles out to me, please.’

We scoured the shelves, starting at opposite ends, and I listened to the titles she read out.

‘La Légende de la ville d'Ys.’

‘Le Comte de Monte-Cristo.’

‘Monsieur Vénus.’

‘Les Soirées de Médan.’

‘Arsène Lupin, gentleman cambrioleur.’

‘Boucaille sur Douarnenez.’

‘Les Pirates de Saint-Malo.’

‘Les Rats de Montsouris.’

‘What did you say?’

‘Les Rats de Montsouris.’

‘No, before that.’

‘Les Pirates de Saint-Malo.’

‘Yes, yes, that’s it!’ I almost yelled.

‘That’s what exactly?’

I breathed a sigh of relief, and what a sigh it was. Six years of mediocrity had finally come to an end.

‘Think about it, Harriet. We’ve finally found Augustin Maillot. The rough-faced subject of the portrait, standing proudly on the ramparts of Saint-Malo, undoubtedly made his fortune through piracy.’

‘Augustin Maillot was a pirate?’

‘No, he never existed. Augustin Maillot is a place.’

‘I get it now! Augustin hides Saint, and Maillot hides Malo.’

‘Precisely. It was just a false name used as a key. Augustin Maillot holds the key. You will notice that the remaining letters are u, g, u, i, l, t.’

‘You and guilt,’ she gasped. ‘That has to be mere coincidence.’

‘Surely,’ I agreed, walking over to where Harriet stood. ‘Coincidences exist. But it’s apt all the same, it would appear. The man your old seadog overheard that night at Le Café du Port must have been Monsieur Lozac’h making a cryptic confession.’

I placed two fingers at the top of the spine of Les Pirates de Saint-Malo and tilted the book. The loud click of a simple mechanism echoed through the library, and a section of bookshelf swung ever so slightly ajar.

A faint gasp escaped Harriet’s lips and she aimed her torch at the gap in the shelves.

‘How did you know?’

‘I didn’t know,’ I assured her. ‘It was only a guess. The possibility of a hidden room occurred to me some time ago. After all, they’re not uncommon in grand old homes. It was only today, after the conversation on the beach, that I realised Augustin Maillot was not, and probably never had been, a living person. From there, it was a matter of logic. If the name didn’t belong to a person, it had to be connected to a thing or a place; a thing bound to open a door or a place lying beyond a door.’

‘The door to a tomb,’ she whispered, and I’ll never forget how far away she sounded at that moment.

‘Can you go through with it?’

She nodded. ‘After you, Oscar.’

I pulled the door open, surprised at its willingness, and found myself at the top of a steep staircase. My shoulders, although not a great deal broader than those of most men, brushed the stone walls of the passage as I descended. The ceiling also constrained my movements, making me bow my head as though entering hallowed ground. If I hadn’t been wearing my woollen flat cap, my scalp would have come off second best as it exposed the imperfections in the rough masonry.

Harriet stayed close behind, learning from my mistakes and enjoying the advantages afforded by her slighter build. The suspense must have been so much more terrible for her than it was for me, and to this day I remain in awe of the dignity and poise she commanded during our descent.

Neither of us articulated what precisely we were expecting to find down there, but I turned to look at her once we had entered the room and saw an expression that could only be described as one of tentatively pleasant surprise. As it turned out, we had arrived in a cellar which was roughly of the same dimensions as the library above. The longer wall opposite the staircase and the shorter wall to our left bore dusty wine racks, and it took me no more than the sweep of my torch and a cursory glance to discover that a number of liquid treasures of considerable value lay within my grasp. There were also bottles of whisky, but, ever the professional, I was determined to put work before pleasure. I turned my attention to the alcove to our right, separated from the rest of the cellar by a wall with a narrow arch.

Harriet shone her torch in the same direction as mine. Her hand started to shake as the dreadful scene registered, giving the impression that the skeletons were trembling. They were splayed on a divan, the ensemble veiled with cobwebs. One wore a soiled dress, the original colour of which was difficult to guess, and the other was dressed in a loose white shirt and grey trousers. Two pairs of slippers lay among what appeared to be the remains of countless thorny flower stems on the cobbled floor.

I laid a reassuring hand on Harriet’s shoulder.

‘I’ll take a closer look,’ I whispered, unsure what else to say.

A wine barrel stood between the divan and a large teak sea chest. It held an open bottle of Château Rouget, a glass, and a phial. The shells of dead insects lay in and around the glass and phial.

The scene wasn’t difficult to read. Lozac’h had had a heart after all. Distraught by what he’d done, the old fellow had created a shrine to his wife and descended to offer her flowers and beg her forgiveness. It had continued for years, until the absurdity of the ritual had dawned on him. Unable to go on without her, he’d eventually accepted that there was only one way to be with her again.

‘Is it him?’ Harriet asked. Her voice trembled as she pronounced that three-lettered pronoun, and there was no mistaking the fact it referred to the man she always had and always would love more than any other.

‘No, Harriet. It’s not your father, I’m afraid. Here lie the lord and lady of the manor.’

‘Oh, I see,’ she replied numbly. ‘He decided to join her.’

‘The man at the bar remembered hearing Lozac’h say he had to go back home in case his wife, who was missing, had returned.’

‘That’s what he told me, but it looks like it was an act. Lozac’h knew precisely where she was all along.’

‘She was where he’d left her. It was either a devious act, or he’d turned delusional.’

‘Where’s my father, Oscar? We still don’t know.’

She must have followed my gaze because she took a tentative step towards the sea chest but stopped when I lay a hand on her shoulder.

‘Open it,’ she told me, nodding her consent.

I walked over to the chest and knelt. There was no lock, just a latch. The hinges groaned mournfully as I lifted the lid. Reaching inside, I searched slowly and carefully, and succeeded in finding what I was after.

‘Stay there, Harriet. I’ll bring it over.’

Together, we opened the wallet and she saw the photograph on the identity card. I held her as she cried tears of both grief and relief. There would be no more not knowing for Harriet Meredith.