Last week I told you that my summer story was nearly at an end, but the news was met with so many messages and emails, asking for it to continue a little longer that today I bring you chapter six, and next week really will be the last chapter!
Thank you for being such wonderful readers. There isn’t a day that has passed since I started my blog, when I haven’t been grateful to have such generous and interactive visitors coming to the blog!
Thank you also to Jeanne McKay for having added so much enjoyment to my story with her stunning watercolours. If you are interested in buying any of the original artwork, you can contact Jeanne here. Thank you also to Heather Robinson, for keeping my t’s crossed and my grammar straight.
So here we go, for those who missed the past 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.
in part five we watch Bob discover the house for himself, and see his wife in a new context. We leave them in the shepherds hut on the mountain just as a heavy storm breaks overhead …..
Enough light came in through the open door of the old stone barn for them to see that the building was just one simple room with a bed, a table, two wooden stools and a set of shelves in the corner of the room filled with a few books, a couple of plates and glasses. The floor of the hut appeared to be beaten earth. Everything looked a little dusty now but it was obvious that in its time the hut had been kept spic and span.
There was a small window opposite the door and a low fireplace on the wall to the right. A big basket of firewood and pine cones stood in one corner and an easel was propped up against the wall beside it. “This must have been Paul’s hideaway,” said Catherine. “I remember in his journals he mentioned a shepherds hut where he came to paint when the weather got too hot in the summer. He said it is was always a little cooler and quieter up here.”
The thunder sounded again, even louder this time and a cool wind suddenly picked up as torrential rain started to strike against the side of the small building. Catherine gave a squeal and quickly pushed the door closed, rubbing her bare arms. “Brrr, it’s colder than I had expected.” Bob took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders, then opened the interior shutter on the window so they could admire the storm playing out before them.
For a while they stood silently side by side, in awe of the beauty and drama of the storm. The rain was falling heavily and the sky was a dark inky blue, lit up regularly by flashes of lightning that illuminated the whole hillside for a fraction of a second.
“Well, I’d say we’re stuck up here for a couple of hours at least, so we may as well get comfy.” Bob turned his attention to the fireplace. “Sure hope this thing isn’t blocked up.” He stacked a small pile of twigs and pine cones on the hearth and struck a match from a box he found on the mantel. The flames took quickly and for a moment a thin line of smoke headed into the room, then suddenly lifted up the chimney flue, drawing brighter flames in its wake. “ That’s good, now I can make us a real fire.”
In the meantime Catherine turned her attention to the food. She took their supplies out of the basket and laid them on the wooden table. She had thought to pack a pocket knife, a clean tea cloth and a corkscrew. She was about to wipe clean a big plate from Paul’s shelf, but on closer inspection it needed a little water. “Well, we have plenty of that” she joked, as she opened the window and stretched her arm out as far as she could to rinse the plates and glasses in the rain. Chuckling to herself, “Never thought I’d do that,” she wiped the plate dry then lay out the cheese and hams. With her knife, she cut good sized pieces of the bread and then planted the knife upright in a large piece of cheese. She wiped the glasses dry with her cloth and opened up the bottle of wine.
The heavy rain and the stone walls made the air feel damp and she realized they would appreciate getting closer to the fire, rather than sitting at the table.
The bed was made up with a couple of pillows, an old striped mattress and three patterned Provençal boutis or old quilts, folded neatly at the foot of the bed.
She shook out one of the quilts and lay it on the ground in front of the fire. Then she put the bread and the cheese and meats on a big board and sat it on a wooden stool in front of the hearth. Bob had popped outside the door to bring in some logs that were stacked in a shelter on one side of the barn.
“Well, look at this,” he smiled as he came back inside, “all we’re missing is candlelight and soft music.”
Catherine had to smile, her improvised meal did look pretty in front of the flames in the fireplace and as the afternoon passed and the rain grew heavier, it was true that the light was fading.
“Well, if it’s candlelight you want, I’m pretty sure that Paul would have thought of that.” She pulled out a drawer on the side of the table and sure enough, there was a box of matches plus five white candles, along with a small enamel candle holder.
“Voila, Monsieur,” she put on a French accent as she lit the candle, “and ‘eez zair anyzing more zat Monsieur requires?”
She laughed as she turned back towards Bob with the candle alight in her hands but was caught short by Bob’s expression. He was looking at her intently, a gentle smile on his lips and a tender look to his eyes. ”Yes, actually there is. Put the candle on the table, and come over here.”
Bob reached out his hand for Catherine’s and gently pulled her towards him in front of the fire. “This is all that I require…right here, my wife in my arms. And you know what?….it’s all I’ve ever really needed.”
He bent over his wife and kissed her tenderly. She nearly pulled away to laugh and answer with some smart remark but instead she gave into his kiss and returned the tenderness. Their embrace was long and then they held each other, hugging tightly.
“Oh Cath, why has it been so long since we felt like this? What happened, when did we stop taking notice of each other?”
“I don’t know, Bob, I’ve been thinking about you all the time, ever since I got here. I would so love for us to have a fresh start. You know we still have many good years ahead of us. We have everything we need to be happy together.”
They kissed again, and again. Bob lifted her into his arms and then knelt down to lay her on the quilt in front of the flames. He stood up, crossed the room to get a pillow and shook it gently before lifting Catherine’s head and putting the pillow beneath her hair. For a long moment they looked at each other, then slowly Bob unbuttoned Cath’s shirt and then his. He leant over her and kissed her again.
As the fire burnt steadily, they made love slowly and gently, in a way they hadn’t known in years, possibly ever. They had all the time in the world, in fact there was no notion of time. They were alone in the universe, on a Provençal quilt, in front of a sweet smelling fire. They dozed for a while enlaced in each others arms and woke and made love again, then lay for a while staring at the flames.
“I think that has given me an appetite,” said Bob chuckling, “is this food just for decoration or are we allowed to tuck in?” Catherine smiled and pulled the stool towards them and together they shared the simplest and most delicious meal of their lives. As they ate they talked – about themselves, about the food, about nothing in particular.
With half the bottle of wine gone and a good part of their picnic, their lips found each other again and their bodies came together with that same intimacy and knowledge, until they finally fell asleep, an additional quilt over the two of them and didn’t stir until the following morning.
Catherine was woken by the sound of her husband putting more wood onto the fire. An early morning light filled the room. She rubbed her eyes and looked around her, she looked down at the quilt, then smiled and laughed gently, “Oh yeah!” Bob laughed, “Yeah, that was quite an evening Honey. I’d say that the French air suits us pretty well.” He bent down and kissed her hair.
“I found a coffee pot while you were asleep and some very old coffee in a jar, do you want to risk it?”
“But how will you make coffee without water?” Catherine may have been only half awake, but she knew that she hadn’t seen a tap the night before.
“While you were sleeping I went for a little walk. I figured that if Paul came up here now and again, he wasn’t hauling water with him, so there had to be a spring somewhere. Guess what, I walked fifty yards along the path and bingo! A beautiful clear spring, that flows into a sort of stone basin, pretty neat actually.”
Catherine pulled her clothes on while Bob made coffee over the fire. They drank the brew out of small ceramic bowls from the shelf and shared the remaining bread. Considering how long it had been there, the coffee tasted surprisingly good. The sun was shining now, and the hill was bathed in a beautiful light that you only get after a big storm.
Coffee in hand, they walked around the outside of the hut, admiring the old stone work, the heavy shingle roof and the fantastic view. “You know what I was thinking Cath, while I was sitting out here alone this morning?” She looked up at him, waiting for him to continue. “I was thinking that the huge old house down there is just too big for us, it feels too fancy. We’d be lost in there, we’d never manage to use all those rooms. But this place …this place is different. If I knew I had a really special place like this to come to, I think I’d come back pretty often. Wouldn’t take that much to fix it up a bit, give us the basic comforts without wrecking the beauty of the place, and by road we’d still be close to the village.”
Catherine was surprised. “But what about Paul’s house, it can’t just stand empty, what do we do with that?”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to figure it out, together. Talk to the kids too, see what they think. There’s no rush…we’ll make the right decisions.”
Catherine leaned in against his shoulder, “You know Bob, in his letter, Paul said I may fall in love with the South of France, but nobody could have guessed that thanks to his gift I would fall in love with you all over again.”
If you missed part one of this story you can catch up here,