Every so often a group of two, three, four or - very occasionally - five people would walk past our house from the direction of the village, staring curiously at the house, the courtyard, the car and us (if we happened to be in the courtyard at the time) as they went. They would reach the end of the pavement just beside our well, turn around and walk back towards the village, staring at us once again just as though we were animals behind a fence in a zoo. We never seemed to see the same people twice, so we guessed that they could not all be villagers we had yet to meet. Could they come from the mysterious number 13? Or was somebody organising coach tours to see the mad rosbifs?
My curiosity became too much for me and I determined to track down the source of these mysterious passers-by. The next time it happened while I was in the courtyard, I went out onto the pavement and pretended to rearrange the clematis on the fence as the group returned. I had thought of hiding behind the gatepost and peeping out from waist height, but that seemed just a little too melodramatic. From the corner of my eye I watched the group of four as they passed Mr & Mrs Onions, giving the house barely a glance. I could see no tourist coach parked in the village, so I wasn't really surprised to see the interlopers disappear into number 13. But why should the parish room of a sleepy little village attract so many visitors? Furthermore, they were, many of them, visitors from other départements according to the registration numbers of the many cars that were parked outside the house.
One evening, while eating at the village restaurant, we asked Jean-Paul if number 13 was a parish room. He told us it wasn't, and bustled away as only Jean-Paul can before we had a chance to ask him the next question: what is it, and who are the people who go there? We speculated wildly. Could they be witches? One who had come to the door had looked very much as though she could be. Or could they be a secret society plotting the reinstatement of the French monarchy? Could number 13 be a thieves' kitchen where they met to plan the next bank job?
It was a letter from one of our visitors that told us how wide of the mark we were - or how close, depending on your point of view. The people who meet at number 13 are spiritualists. But can't they see the place is about to fall down?