The second chapter of a short story about a girl who finds herself unexpectedly stranded in France, and ends up in Burgundy. The first chapter is published here. Thank you for your kind comments about the first chapter last week, I hope you enjoy this one.
After a delicious breakfast the next day, Donna set off in search of the Chateau de Beaurocher. She had dressed carefully in her new pants, sweater and shoes, and she smiled at herself in the mirror.
“Très français Madame!” she thought.
The weather was looking a little unpredictable, and she did not know what her day might bring, but in her new outfit she felt ready for anything.
Donna hoped to visit the chateau of depicted in the painting she had acquired the day before, and she was planning on stopping somewhere nice for lunch. The rest of the day was an open book, a fact that she liked a lot.
As she wasn’t in a hurry, whenever she came across a pretty view or an interesting looking village, she pulled over and stepped out of the car to take photos and explore. Before she knew it, the morning had passed, so she decided to have lunch before visiting the chateau.
The restaurant her hotel had recommended turned out to be a great choice. A cosy bistro in a beautiful countryside hotel, the Hostellerie de Levernois. Donna made a mental note – “a good place to stay if I come back here.” With the cold weather outside, she let herself be tempted to an onion soup followed by a delicious boeuf bourguignon. Aware that she was driving, she only had a small glass of wine and then rounded up her meal with a coffee.
While waiting for the bill, Donna checked the distance to the chateau. To her surprise she realized it was only ten minutes away from where she was. She set off immediately, determined to drive directly without any further distractions.
In the car, the painting she had bought the day before was in the passenger seat beside, and she smiled to see in reality how accurately it depicted the countryside. After a rhythmic mix of vineyard and forest, the windy road brought her around a corner and through a set of large iron gates, behind which the chateau was finally revealed. Donna gasped; it was a lot larger and more austere than she had imagined.
The huge building looked fairly inhospitable in its winter backdrop. At this time of year, there were no climbing roses nor greenery to soften the silhouette. Slightly intimidated, Donna hesitated before getting out of the car.
Leaving the painting in the car, she took her coat and bag and made her way to the door which displayed a discreet sign that read ‘Accueil‘, or reception. Inside the large hallway entrance, she found a young girl seated behind a desk. The girl was reading a book, presumably to pass the time, as there appeared to be no other visitors in sight.
The girl spoke some English and gave Donna a little guide of the chateau, while kindly explaining to her that it wasn’t possible to visit certain parts.
“When you ‘ave finished ze chateau, I will show you where you can go to see our wine cellar, and if you want, you can taste zee wine,” she said.
Donna considered mentioning the painting in her car but thought better of it. This young girl was just a local student, working to earn a little extra money. The antique painting would hold no interest for her.
Reading the guide, Donna discovered that the chateau was 16th and 17th century and had remained in the same family since construction. She raised her eyebrows. It was hard to imagine how it must feel to inherit a place like this. She looked up at the high ceilings, intricate carved woodwork and painted panels. “Ugh, just the upkeep must be a nightmare!” she thought.
Donna walked up a wide, monumental staircase and entered a bedroom. The room was quite dark, but the original decor was beautiful. Donna had never seen anything like this room, and since she was alone, she took the liberty of sitting down on a chair near the door and taking in the scene.
The walls were lined with painted wooden panelling. The ceiling was also painted, and in the centre of the room stood a large four poster bed made of a dark wood with intricately carved bedposts. There were details everywhere – from the painted designs, to the ornate fabric, to the specific colour palette.
Donna thought again about what it would mean to a family to maintain and live in a property like this. As she wandered around the various bedrooms, she noticed there were fireplaces in each and suddenly realised that she was not at all cold in the house. “So they can afford to heat the place, that’s a good sign I guess,” she mused.
A long corridor connected the various bedrooms, with held more dark furniture and painted panels. The wooden floors were fairly simple, and everywhere was clean and tidy. Wandering downstairs, Donna intended to explore further when she noticed a door wide open to the exterior. Her curiosity got the better of her.
The door was an unusual format with a mullion beam central between two dark red doors. The light spilled inside, over the patterned floor, and the resulting mix of formality and whimsical was quite surprising. Donna walked outside and turned around to face the building to get a better look.
Standing there, staring up at the chateau walls, its many windows and the wide doors beckoning her inside, she wondered how many others had done the same throughout the centuries. How many young brides had come here to discover their new home? How many coach and horses had drawn up outside the entrance?
“Amazing …” she whispered to herself.
“I’m glad you think so,” came a voice behind her. Donna jumped out of her skin, so lost in her thoughts that she hadn’t heard anyone approach. She turned around to face the intruder, and to her great surprise, she found herself facing Henri Belloi.
“Henri!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”
“Well actually, I should ask you that question, Donna. How did you find my home?” Henri asked.
“What do you mean? I mean, is this where you live? No… how can this amazing place be yours?” Donna was babbling incoherently, and Henri smiled.
She started to explain how she ended up in Burgundy when it started to rain, and Henri ushered her back inside.
“Let me offer you a coffee, and I’ll tell you more about the chateau,” he offered.
Henri led her down a corridor, away from the ‘public’ area of the chateau. The rooms were still huge, but she could feel that they were lived in; the atmosphere was comfortable and relaxed. In the large kitchen, he rekindled flames in the fireplace and invited her to sit down while he made her coffee.
“My family has been in this chateau since the 17th century,” explained Henri. “I was born here, my father was born here, as was my grandfather, and so on. And I guess one day it will be mine, and I’ll have to figure out how to live in a 17th century property while actually being in the 21st century.”
Donna looked at him. “I can’t even imagine what that would take,” she said.
“You see Donna, this domain was built at a very different time,” said Henry. “The landowners were wealthy, and they employed locals to work on the property. But it was more than just work, a property like this was the heart of a small community. The upkeep – from the maintenance of the park, to the care buildings, to the management of the servants in the house, to the tending to the vineyards – my family could not have lived here without so many people to help them. Of course in return, they received wages and lodging. But today we are in a different world, and my father hasn’t totally faced up to this new reality. If we don’t want to lose our chateau, I have to find a solution. Fast.”
The angst in Henri’s eyes was unmistakable, and Donna had to stop herself from reaching out to comfort him. She could imagine the pressure he must feel – to keep such a magnificent place alive, to carry on his family’s legacy. She couldn’t help but feel compelled to help him.
Outside the wind whipped through the trees, and through the window Donna watched them swaying in the distance. It was turbulent but somehow peaceful. All of a sudden, the shutters slammed shut loudly, and both Donna and Henry were brought back into the moment.
“Wow, it’s really picking up out there,” Donna said. “I must be getting back to my hotel before it gets too difficult to drive.”
As if the storm had heard her, the dark clouds started rolling in and the rain began. Softly at first and then quickly, in heavy sheets. Despite the chateau’s centuries-old, thick stone walls and sturdy roofing, Donna could hear it pounding down overhead. A storm against the setting sun, the sky was a deep purple, almost black.
“Nonsense,” said Henri. “You can’t possibly drive in this weather. Would you consider staying the evening? We certainly have room.” He smiled and gestured in a 360 degree motion.
Donna looked at him. Henri spoke strongly yet politely, in a way that sounded like an order, but not in the way Bill demanded her, a trait of his she so despised. She considered the offer for a moment, knowing full well that Bill would be less than ecstatic at this decision.
“You know what, why not,” Donna said defiantly. “How often do I get to stay in a chateau in Burgundy?”
“Wonderful,” replied Henri. “I’ll have one of the bedrooms made up for you and let our cook know you’ll be joining me for dinner. In the meantime, I have a bit of business to attend to – would it be of interest to you to see our library?”
“I’d love to!” exclaimed Donna enthusiastically, a passionate reader and self-proclaimed history nerd.
She followed behind Henri, admiring his height, his perfectly-tailored suit and his general air of confidence. She laughed to herself, thinking this could well be the cliche start of any horror movie, but for some reason, she felt safe with him.
After being led down a long hallway, Henri finally opened a set of doors into what Donna could only describe as the most amazing libraries she’d ever seen. The ceiling was very high, and each wall lined with rows and rows of books. There was a ladder, perched precariously in the corner, the kind that presumably rolled along to allow access to desired books that lay out of normal reach.
“Wow,” was all Donna could muster.
“I trust you’ll be able to occupy yourself here until aperitif hour?” asked Henri.
“Definitely,” said Donna. “Thank you for everything, Henri.”
He smiled and turned on his foot to leave, exiting quietly. Donna stared at the endless array of books. Where to start? Then, out of the corner of her eye, she noticed one that was slightly bigger than the rest and heavily bound, with gold lettering on the spine. Donna walked over and pulled it out, running her hand over its cover. Domaine du Chateau Beaurocher, l’Histoire it read. She turned around, looking for the best place to sit down.
Just then Donna’s phone rang. It startled her, and she fumbled with the heavy book, almost dropping it. She looked at the screen – it was Bill. Donna sighed. After a few moments, she silenced it and put it back in her pocket. “He can wait, for once,” Donna thought, and she slowly opened to the first page.
Voila my friends, you’ll have to wait until the end of the chapter to find out what happens to Donna. And whether or not that includes Henri.
If you missed the first chapter and want to catch up, please click here.
Thank you for reading me.