Chapter 6. Too Many Questions[Chapter 7 will be available on January 1, 2015]
Vanessa clutched the phone in her cold hand, waiting to hear if she had to give up the little scamp. Jackie, the vet's assistant, said the heir, Jacob Lay, had called their office looking for Charlie. When she told him that Vanessa had been given custody and had taken the dog on a trip to France, he got upset and hung up. Now they'd received a letter from his attorney demanding to know exactly where Vanessa was staying as Mr. Lay needed to contact her. Jackie asked, “Is it OK to give him your address and phone number?”
Vanessa felt sick. If this Jacob Lay was Mr. Carr's heir he was entitled to the dog but she hated to think of losing Charlie. However, no matter how attached she was to the dog, she had to do the right thing.
“It's all right. You can give them my contact information. Maybe he just wants to know if I'm taking good care of Charlie.”
After hanging up, she sat in the little alcove to calm herself. Lucy walked up to her. “Is everything all right?”
“Oh yes, someone just needed my address here. Let's get Charlie and go for that walk on the grounds.” Vanessa forced herself to smile. No point in worrying anyone else about her fears, which might be false—as most of her fears were.
The stone chateau lay in the midst of a beautiful park, surrounded by acres, maybe miles, of sleeping lavender bushes. Vanessa kept the exuberant dog on a leash in case he decided to run off. It was the same sturdy leash attached to the glitzy collar he'd been wearing the night she rescued him. It was silly, but she felt superstitious about changing them. She thought the dog had brought her good luck since she got the invitation to France the same night she found him. Now he pulled her along the gravel paths that wound through the grounds.
Lucy bent to shake a small stone out of the clog she'd put on for their walk. “If you were wearing roller skates, Charlie would move you like a train locomotive. You wouldn't have to spend any of your own energy. Just hang on.”
“Do you have any pets here? I haven't noticed any.” Vanessa wondered if all French chateaus came equipped with French poodles.
“No, we don't. When we first took over the running of the lavender farm and factory, we worked such long hours we thought we didn't have time for animals. And now that we have more leisure, I guess no one has felt the need for a pet.”
“Did Michelle, you, and Jack all grow up here?”
“Yes, but when our parents died, there wasn't much money. And we had to stick together to survive. The French inheritance laws are very strict. We did not want to have to sell the place at a loss and then just divide up the proceeds. Together we could build something, apart we had nothing. I think one of your states has that as a motto, United we stand, divided we fall.”
Vanessa laughed. “That reminds me of American history in school. I think it comes from the time of our revolution, which if I remember correctly was helped by the French.”
“France and America have always been friends, although sometimes we have our little disagreements, just as family members do.” Lucy pointed out.
“Speaking of family members getting along, or not, do you all live here all the time?” Vanessa was curious how this extended family shared their lives. She knew back home everyone seemed to want their own space.
“Yes, but the house is big and as we became adults we each took over a wing. But I don't want to bore you with all our housing arrangements.”
“No, I find it fascinating. The ground floor with its large, comfortable drawing room and enormous dining room must be shared by everyone....Oh, and the kitchen, too, I suppose.”
“Yes, that is correct. Also on the ground floor are several rooms for Edmund and the other live in help. On the first floor, which you call the second, are the family's rooms. Michelle as the oldest child took over our parents' suite in the central wing with two bedrooms and a study joined by a bath and dressing room. That suite overlooks the lavender fields, Michelle's very deep love. Her husband's mother, has her own two room suite with bath across the hall from them. She overlooks the entrance courtyard and loves being able to keep track of our comings and goings. The central wing is also where your guest room is.
“And, if I'm not too nosy, where do you and Jack live?
“I'm a morning person so I'm in the east wing to see the rising sun. And Jacques being a night owl is in the west wing with a view of the setting sun.”
Vanessa felt she had been curious enough for one morning. She turned her attention to the gardens they were walking through. “It seems all the wings have beautiful views of these surrounding grounds. Even now, in autumn, when not much is in bloom, they are lovely.”
“Well, since this is basically a farm, we felt we needed to spend our time, labor, and money on the income producing lavender fields. For our private enjoyment we focused on boxwood hedges and similar, low upkeep greenery and on stone garden features. We don't need a full time gardener to keep up with them.”
“Do you have a kitchen garden?”
“Oh, yes, and its Jacques' other passion. As a good cook, he wants fresh produce so took over developing and caring for it.”
Jack was developing into quite the Renaissance man. Vanessa looked forward to getting to know him better during her after lunch cooking lesson.
Lunch was a casual affair. If you call three courses casual. Vanessa was relieved they didn't eat in the large, grand dining room. Instead the family, including Jacques, gathered in a small room, cheerful with white washed ceiling beams, salmon colored walls and yellow wooden chairs with rush seats. The window curtains were a floral pattern of yellow, salmon, and white. A small bouquet of green leaved branches was a simple centerpiece. Again, Michelle was at the end of the table opposite her husband Wilhelm. A carafe of cool, white wine and one of water were on the table.
At each place, on a small white plate, was a hard cooked egg, thin sliced, and fanned out with a drizzle of what proved to be home made mayonnaise sauce. Family members discussed what their morning activities had been while concentrating on eating. Edmund and an unnamed kitchen helper removed empty plates and brought out a second course of fresh fish, lightly fried, on a bed of watercress and parsley, with a side of green beans and chestnuts. The plates were small and the amounts were tiny compared to American serving sizes. Vanessa had been worried about what three course lunches would do to her waist line. But she felt she could relax and enjoy the dessert, whatever that turned out to be.
Before that was served, a disagreement grew between Jack and his brother-in-law, Wilhelm. Not knowing French, Vanessa didn't understand the problem, she could only hear the voices getting louder. Michelle murmured, “Assez,” and nodded towards their guest. The argument stopped.
The fish plates were replaced with small crystal bowls filled with chopped apples and raisins, a dollop of crème fraiche on top. Vanessa never knew healthy food, except for the fried element of the fish, could taste so good. She later learned olive oil had been used for the fish, so even that was good for you.
Lucy suggested she might retire to her room for a brief rest before she met with Jacques in the kitchen. Charlie wasn't up there. Edmund had probably put him in the enclosed area outside the kitchen door with a large bone for gnawing and a comfortable rug. Vanessa felt she was too keyed up to rest, instead she opened her computer to start her blog. When faced with an empty document page, her mind went blank. She finally decided she cold start by describing all the meals she'd had so far, and perhaps comparing them to what she normally ate. It'd be fun to e-mail her observations to Sylvia.
After Vanessa's 'rest', Lucy led her into the huge kitchen. Its size a leftover from when food had to be provided for a huge family and a huge staff. When Jack saw Lucy, he slammed his towel down on the wooden table in the center. “Keep that cochon, Wilhelm, away from me. If I hear one more time, his ridiculous suggestions, I shall bury a clever in his fat head.”
Vanessa was startled. And then realized he had spoken in English to Lucy. Did he want Vanessa to know his feelings about Wilhelm? But why?
To be continued on January 1, 2015