the paradise stones – a winter tale – part three - MY FRENCH COUNTRY HOME


Here is the last chapter in my winter tale, or rather our winter tale since I have to admit that this story has been mostly written by my daughter Ella, and I am thrilled to have discovered her talent for telling a good story!

In case you missed the first two chapters; in the first installment we see Elsa arrive in Paris and accidentally lock herself out of her rental apartment.  Rescue comes to her when her elderly neighbour calls her in to shelter from the rain and lends her a spare key to the apartment.   She meets the lady’s grandson, and briefly explains why she is visiting Paris, namely to research the story of the Paradise Stones, that were lost from a beautiful necklace many years ago and which she wishes to include in a show in New York.

In the second chapter Elsa meets Celestin, an elderly gentleman, living in a chateau just outside of Fontainebleau, and who explains how the stones were detached from the original necklace.    He tells her that he is in possession of the missing stones but frustratingly, he is not yet ready to show them to her.

Chapter Three

The next morning, Elsa got an early start, she hadn’t been able to get much sleep after her encounter with Celestin. She felt heavy-hearted and melancholic. She left her apartment at the crack of dawn, with her notebook and handbag, and wandered the streets of Paris. Her grandmother had told her so much about the magic of Paris; waking up in the morning and now Elsa could see it with her own eyes. And just as she had been told, it did seem like a ballet. A unique performance, that only early risers could witness. A very intimate party. The butchers having their meat delivered in the empty Parisians streets, the bakers opening their small backdoors for a little fresh air after a long night of baking, the terraces being set up by the elegant Parisian waiters.  On every street corner there seemed to be the fresh smell of coffee and croissant and in the cafés she could see young and older working men drinking their espresso coffees at the counter while reading a newspaper.
Once again, wandering those streets, Elsa felt exactly in the right place, as if Paris was mending her broken night and aching heart. She walked for hours before grabbing a late breakfast on the l’Ile Saint Louis. She heard the bells from Notre Dame strike midday: “I’m not too far from my flat,  I’ll head back , change and shower then treat myself to a nice lunch in St Germain  …. and anyway, I may never see those Paradise Stones, but I do know they exist, no one else ever got this far, Mum would be so happy, and proud .. ”   As she turned the corner onto her street, the rue de Paradis, she recognized the old car that had driven her to the chateau the day before.  She caught her breath, walking towards the car, can it be true? Marcel,  the chauffeur, was standing in front of the car, looking up to her building. She walked up behind him.
“Hello, Marcel, I believe you have the wrong window! » she said laughing. “Ah bonjour Mademoiselle Elsa, you are here!  Wonderful, we thought we had missed you.” He seemed relieved and even smiled back to the young lady.
Elsa looked surprised :”We?!” at that moment, she heard the car door open. Victor came out smiling, he bent forward and kissed her hand hello. A second door opened, smoke came out of the car, she recognized the cigar smell from the day before. From the far side of the car emerged Celestin.   He moved carefully, he wore a  hat on his head, and held a stick with an ivory handle.  He was  impeccably dressed.  Standing still, he took a long look at Elsa : “You are difficult to track down, Mademoiselle Elsa. An old heart like mine can’t take this much adventure any more.”
Elsa couldn’t contain herself, with her biggest smile, she ran into Celestin’s arms as if she had know him her entire life, and gave him a huge hug. A tear ran down her cheek and she whispered in his ear : “Celestin, I am so happy to see you, my heart has been aching all night since our encounter, thank you so much for coming back. » he replied in a whisper, « My heart has ached too, for too long now, it’s time for us to mend it.  He patted his pocket.   I have brought something for you.”   He pushed her back, holding her by both arms, taking an other long look at her, and wiping the tears from her cheek. ” Now will you ask an old man inside for some tea ?”   Elsa, relieved and happy; nodded with her head : “Yes of course. ” Full of emotion, she looked through her handbag, searching for her apartment key : “Oh no, not again !  I am so clumsy, it seems like .. “
Before she could even finish her sentence she heard a voice behind her : You have lost your key again Mademoiselle! I am going to start thinking that you are doing it on purpose just for me to rescue you each time! “    She turned around and recognized the gentle face of Guillaume, the young man who saved her on her first night. “Oh Guillaume ! I may just have to marry you right here on the spot”,  she said laughing while kissing him on the cheek. “Guillaume, may I introduce you to Mr Celestin,  and his grandson Victor, and Mr Marcel their driver. It’s because of these gentlemen that I am here today.  You remember I told you, I am researching the story of the paradise stones … » she blurted out her tale,  still emotional.   Guillaume turned around. “Messieurs, ravi de vous rencontrer, je suis Guillaume .. ” he was about to give his full name, but stopped abruptly when he saw Celestin. He stared at him, shaking his hand. Victor and Elsa glanced at each other, the young girl decided to break the awkward silence :”Be careful Guillaume those emerald eyes are dangerous.”    While still shaking his hand, looking straight into Celestin’s eyes, the young man replied : “I am sure they are.. ” he turned to Elsa : “I don’t actually have an extra key for you on me, but I know where I can get one, if you would all like to follow me.”
Guillaume lead the way and  Elsa noticed he seemed a little nervous.  As they crossed the narrow street  she looked up, and saw those same curtains move at the window of the old lady’s apartment.   As they all walked into the building , Elsa suddenly had a funny feeling that Guillaume may be about to reveal the missing piece of the puzzle. They all got in the elevator, while Marcel walked up the stairs, keeping a close eye on them. The elevator shuddered to a halt and  Marcel, out of breath, opened the elevator door.  In two steps they were at  the entry of Madame’s apartment,   Elsa noticed that Celestin seemed very emotional,  she gently held his arm, and whispered : « Is everything alright Celestin?”  He looked at her, suddenly appearing fragile : “This perfume, I recognise it,…. this is her perfume .”  Guillaume turned the key, and nobody said a word, the heavy door creaked open.
Guillaume seemed just as nervous as Celestin, holding out his hand, he said: “Gentlemen, please .. ” He didn’t even have time to finish his phrase, before Celestin walked straight in to the room as if pulled by an invisible rope. He put his hat down, looked around him, walked slowly towards the silhouette standing with her back turned, the window was open and curtains were swaying gently : ” Astrid ? Astrid c’est toi, ma chérie ? ” he said in a trembling voice. He looked like a lost little boy.  Madame turned and parted the curtains.  Ever elegant , dressed in black, an impeccable turtleneck and pants, her long grey hair attached in a perfect chignon, two deep blue earrings either side of her high cheekbones. In silence, she walked up to Celestin, the old man was trembling, his eyes shining with tears, as were  hers. She faced him, and gently lifted her hand to his cheek, her blue eyes gazing in to his emerald eyes, slowly she put her hand on his heart : “I have been waiting for you Celestin. “
Elsa couldn’t believe her eyes, was this really happening ?!   She looked around, both Victor and Guillaume seemed as emotional as her.
Celestin and Astrid continued to look at each other as if they were completely alone, as if nothing else around them existed. “It’s been such a long time Celestin”,  without leaving Celestin’s eyes for a single moment, she pulled a long golden chain from beneath her rolled neck line.  At the end of the chain hung a deep green emerald. Celestin gasped, and dropped into the chair beside her.  Astrid bent down on her knees, holding his face affectionately between her beautiful thin fingers, her eyes full of tears, she whispered to him : “I always knew you would come back to me. I buried every other love before the war, knowing they would never come back.  But this stone,  this stone was our heart, Celestin, I could not lose it.   I made myself that promise, to keep you next to me, my entire life, whatever might happen. And as I had predicted, you are here. You are finally here.»
Elsa’s hands were trembling, she felt like time had stopped, as if the entire world had faded away. Here it was, the final stone, an emerald, it really existed.  For all those years,  her grandmother had been telling the truth. It wasn’t buried, it wasn’t stolen, it was something more precious than any stone in the world, the symbol of a woman’s love for a man.  Astrid had worn that heart every day, for the past 70 years, never doubting one single moment that he would be back to get her.
Elsa turned around to look at the two young men, without a word the three of them left the room, knowing the stones were reunited for good.
Six months later, we are in a chic museum in New York.    There is a gathering of well dressed people, each holding a glass of champagne and listening attentively to a young woman standing on a small stage.     ” … And that ladies, and gentlemen is the story of the Paradise Stones.   The Museum is deeply grateful to Monsieur Celestin and to Astrid de BonVouloir for letting us restore the necklace, and share this beautiful tale with you today” .   The audience clapped, Elsa looked around the gallery, smiling, accompanied by her family and friends.  The show was clearly a real success. The crowd was large, the lights were bright,  but all Elsa could see, was the necklace, the central exhibit in the show and in her mind,  her mother smiling at her.
Voilà   I hope you enjoyed this tale for the Holiday period.   Thank you for your kind comments.  

The Paradise Stones  –   Part One    –    Part Two  –   Part Three


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