Can you believe this is already part five of my summer story?! A tale of a woman we could all be friends with, who unexpectedly inherits a house in the south of France, and sets off to discover a part of the world she had never visited, and along the way discovers herself too.
If you would like to catch up then you are welcome to read the previous chapters:
in part one Catherine learned of a mysterious inheritance in the South of France:
in part two despite her husband’s reluctance she travels to France alone to discover the house that is now hers,
in part three she begins to understand that her great uncle Paul, who left the house to her was also a respected painter and artist
in part four, Catherine finally reads the letter that Paul left for her and takes some big decisions.
Today we will discover whether Bob will really come to join her ….
The morning following her chat with Antoinette, Catherine found a message on her phone:
Cath honey. Something came up at work that I couldn’t reschedule. Am booked on a flight leaving Saturday, arrive Nice airport Sunday afternoon. Wondering what I’ll find when I get there.
She re-read the message several times, it was normal that Bob would feel wary. Not only was he coming to a country he knew nothing about but also he was seeing his wife in a new role – more adventurous, unpredictable. The fact that he was coming at all was a big step in the right direction and maybe meeting up like this, so far from home would be a good thing ….“But then again” she sighed, “it could all go horribly wrong!”
The few days before Bob arrived flew by. She decided to wait for him before exploring the rest of Paul’s house but in the meantime she became more familiar with the little town of Callianes.
In one of the narrow side streets that led off from the market square, she discovered a row of small shops that she silently dubbed “the essentials.” First there was a butcher, who on her very first visit told her his name was Jean. He was medium height, rosy-cheeked and had a sparkle to his eye. His pride in his trade was evident in the way he displayed his meats and hams and sausages behind the squeaky clean glass counter. He joked with all his clients, especially the ladies and loved to make suggestions for their lunch or dinner each day, “ …Un petit roti de porc Madame Bergeron, votre mari serait très content…” She soon discovered that he had a locally-cured dry ham that was to die for and totally delicious served alongside a ripe, sweet smelling melon.
The melon in question had to be bought from Chantal. She owned the fruit and vegetable store and also sold a small selection of Provençal wines. Everything about her was very ‘french’ with her blue eyes and dark well cut hair. She generally wore no make up and wore jeans and a white shirt with an apron tied neatly around her slim hips. Yet even dressed so simply and without fuss she still looked very chic and feminine. Chantal spoke a few words of English, explaining ‘I once go to Calfornie, très beau.”
The boulanger didn’t speak a word of English but it didn’t matter. His bread was delicious, his croissants made Catherine sigh with delight and each morning she stopped by to buy a fresh baguette. On Sunday morning the line to buy his patisserie came out the shop and a few yards down the street as clients waited patiently to buy a fruit tart or a selection of petits fours for their family lunch.
In the same street, there was a coiffeur and Catherine made an appointment to have her hair done the day before her husband arrived. She had worn her hair long for years. Some grey hair was mixed in with the light brown and although she didn’t want to start coloring it, she had decided to take inspiration from many of the French ladies she saw and go for a more gentle, feminine cut. The hairdresser spoke no English but she quickly understood that Catherine was wanting a change and gave her a book of hairstyles to leaf through. She found a picture that she liked, the hairdresser approved her choice and nearly two hours later a transformed Catherine emerged from the salon, her head held high and a contented smile on her face.
By the time that Sunday came around and the taxi drew up to take her to the airport to pick up Bob, she found herself as excited and nervous as if she was on a first date. She dressed carefully that morning, ran her fingers through the new shape of her hair, dabbed a little perfume behind her ears and applied her new lipstick. Instead of the heavier eye shadow that she had used for years, she simply ran a soft brown pencil above her eye lashes as she had seen the girls at the perfumerie do and added some mascara. She looked in the mirror, pleased at her no fuss but pretty appearance.
As the taxi drove to the airport in Nice, she had time to reflect on all that had happened since she first arrived just ten days ago. It felt like a lifetime and she felt like a different woman, or maybe just a truer version of herself.
The taxi parked outside the airport and promised to wait for her in the same spot. With a spring in her step she walked briskly into the terminal, looking for the arrivals board.
She sat down until the flight was announced then moved forward to stand opposite the sliding doors from where her husband should emerge. Passengers started filing through and after a short while later she spotted Bob walking tall, looking all around and pulling a small suitcase on wheels behind him.
He glanced at Catherine but kept moving. She called out “Bob!” He turned around, searching for her. “Bob, I’m right here”, she smiled…. and he frowned. “Cath?!” He drew closer. “Cath? Wow! Honey, I didn’t recognise you, look at you, you look so different. I thought you were some chic French gal.”
Catherine laughed and guided Bob out of the airport to the taxi. But before they slipped into the back seat, she reached up and hugged him tightly, a tear in her eye. “I’m so glad you are here, I have so much to tell you.” He hugged her back and whispered, “I’m glad to be here.”
The drive back to Callianes sped by with Catherine talking non-stop, telling Bob about the notaire, about Jocelyne and Antoinette but less about the house and not mentioning the paintings. Not yet. She wanted to leave Bob the pleasure of discovering the house in his own way, and she didn’t know how much of their conversation the taxi driver could understand, so she preferred to be discreet until they were alone.
As they drove, Bob listened to her but he couldn’t take his eyes off the landscape they were driving through. He was obviously thinking hard and now and again he interrupted her with a question. “So, Cath, if I understand right…you like this house, but what are you thinking, do you want it as a holiday home or what?” For the moment she kept her answers open. “Let’s get you there first of all, and then we can talk”.
As they climbed out of the car outside the tall gate, Bob whistled long and low. “Wow. You told me it was special but I wasn’t expecting this. Isn’t it a bit big for us?”
“Come on, come inside and see it first, there is so much to show you!” Catherine grabbed his suitcase and swung the gate open, smiling to herself to think how she had been in Bob’s position just ten days ago as Jocelyne and Antoinette opened up the house for her the first time.
The afternoon passed quickly as she led Bob around the house. She showed him the journals, the book about his work and finally explained the importance of the paintings stashed away in the attic. The tour complete, they went back down to the kitchen and sat down together at the long table.
Bob had started off the tour of the house all worked up about the age of the building and its value, talking about whether to sell the property or how they could possibly have a second home but now he was quieter – seeing the house for real was a different situation entirely.
“Seems like there’s a lot to think over here. An inheritance like this could change our lives Cath – I get that – but maybe first we need to work out what it is we really want at this stage in life, do we want to live so far from the kids and what is the right thing to do with all those paintings. It feels to me like there is more than just our own wishes at stake here…maybe this is an opportunity to do something good. You know, honour the memory of a good man.”
Catherine beamed. Never in her wildest dreams could she have guessed that Bob would react so calmly and so positively.
Early in the evening, Catherine brought to the table a simple meal with a bottle of wine. They talked more than they had in many years. About the house, about the paintings but also about their lives and their empty nest back home. That night they fell asleep early, peacefully, with Bob’s arm draped around Catherine’s shoulders.
The next day Catherine awoke to find an empty bed beside her. She put on a robe and went to the kitchen where there was a delicious smell of fresh coffee in the air but nobody in sight. The kitchen door to the garden was wide open and Catherine walked into the little potager and found herself drawn by noises coming from a small stone building at the end of the garden. “Bob?” she called.
He emerged through the door of the building with dust and cobwebs on his shoulders. “That great uncle of yours may have been a fine painter but he didn’t have a clue about keeping a workshop tidy!”
Catherine laughed. She could see that her practical Bob had found his own place to discover on the property and she didn’t want to spoil his pleasure. “Well, why don’t you have some breakfast and then you can start getting it all cleaned up.”
While he showered, she laid a small metal table in the garden with plates, mugs of coffee, a small basket of toasted baguette and a pot of raspberry jam that she had bought from Chantal. Bob emerged and looked at the table laughing, “Is this the French idea of a breakfast Cath, you mean I don’t get my eggs here?”
Bob ate his breakfast quickly then returned to “get that workshop in line”. Meanwhile, Catherine lingered over coffee, reveling in the sunshine and the peaceful feeling of having her husband nearby to enjoy this little bit of paradise.
As she was doing the dishes, Antoinette arrived. “Bonjour Madame, alors votre mari est bien arrivé? Your ‘usband arrive good?” “Yes, thank you Antoinette, merci, he is in the garden. Would you like to meet him?”
Just at that moment Bob walked in, holding in his hand a huge iron key with an old card tag attached to the end. “Hey Cath, look at this key will you, have you ever seen a key this size…oh!” he noticed Antoinette. “Excuse me Ma’am, my name’s Bob, bonjour.”
Antoinette gave Bob’s outstretched hand a quick and awkward shake but she had her eyes firmly fixed on the key. “Ah mon Dieu, la clef de la bergerie!” she burst out as she turned to Catherine. “Monsieur Paul ‘ouse à la montagne,” and she pointed upwards. Catherine didn’t understand, so Antoinette stepped out of the kitchen door and indicated the top of the hill behind the village, “Voila, la bergerie.”
“La berjery? “ Catherine tried to repeat the name, “You mean there is another house?”
“Oui Madame, old ‘ouse, in…montagne, two ‘ours à pied,” she walked her fingers in mid-air, “little ‘ouse, very nice.”
Catherine looked at Bob. He grinned, “Sounds pretty intriguing to me…why don’t we pack a picnic and head on up there for lunch?” She laughed, “Well, aren’t you the boy scout!”
Antoinette drew them a small map explaining how to find the path out of the village that would take them up into the hills behind. She even drew a simple outline drawing of the ‘berjery’. An hour later they walked through the village, stopping only at the bakers to buy a fresh baguette, the butchers where they chose some cured ham and sausage and at Chantal’s store to buy some peaches and a bottle of rosé. Once they left the village the path grew quite narrow and started to rise steeply. The sunshine that had heralded the start of the day gradually gave way to a dark, menacing sky.
Within an hour they stood on the side of the hill and the entire village lay at their feet. “This sure is beautiful country Cath, I have to give you that” Bob checked Antoinette’s map and they continued to rise until coming to a small plateau where they discovered the charming old stone building standing beside a large tree.
“That must be it!” Bob sounded excited. They approached the stone shack and walked around the building until coming to a little wooden door with a lock beneath the door handle. Bob reached into his pocket for the key and inserted it into the lock. As he turned the key, Catherine held her breath wondering what they would discover inside. The door creaked open and they walked inside just as a deafening clap of thunder sounded above them.
If you missed part one of this story you can catch up here,
thank you for coming back to read each week