Chapter 43 – Cordes-sur-Ciel France

The next morning they turned the boat around and headed towards Bristol, stopping one more night along the waterways. All too soon, they had arrived back in Bristol, had collected their hire car and were on the road to London to catch a flight to Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, where they were to be met by the couple they would be housesitting for. Molly had found Fleur and Phillipe on a house sitting website, before they left New Zealand. After several emails, they had arranged a video call. It felt like meeting old friends, they had so much in common and were all very comfortable with each other. As it was when Molly and Will arrived at Toulouse-Blagnac Airport, where  Fleur and Phillipe were waiting for them. It took just over an hours drive north-east to reach their small farm, which was only a short distance from the village and an easy ride by bicycle. The scenery was nothing like Molly had ever seen before. Will took several video recordings on his iPhone along the way, to add to his video diary of their trip.

Fleur and Phillipe’s home was a 600 year old farm house. On the 25 acre farm there were 5 horses, numerous free-ranging chickens, ducks, & pheasants, 2 dogs and a cat. After unpacking the car, Phillipe showed them around the property whilst Fleur prepared something for them to eat. There was a brand new Landrover 4WD and a cute pale green vintage Citroen for Molly and Will to use. On the property was a section of the old Roman roads, and a private archeological dig, which they were welcome to explore when the workers were on-site. The farm had a large organic garden which provided for the local restaurants and cafe’s in addition to the families needs and had 5 gardeners to take care of it. Molly and Will were only required to look after the animals and participate in the gardens if they wished. 

The farm house was an old white-washed cob building with a steep thatched roof, restored and well maintained. Downstairs was a lounge room, with massive aged oak beam supporting the rooms above in the middle of the low ceiling which divided the open plan kitchen-dining space and the lounge room. There were comfy lounges embracing the fireplace, thick sheepskin rugs covered the flag stone floors. The kitchen had the original open fireplace that took up most of the end wall. Within this was a caste iron stove, above it was a large wooden mantle, which ran the length of the wall and also acted as a lintel which supported the wall above the fireplace. The kitchen bench, made of an old worn oak slab had a round copper sink fitted into it. The walk-in pantry was the size of a small room, filled with local and homegrown produce. Looking out the tiny panes which made up the window over the sink Molly saw a cottage garden, filled with herbs and fruit trees heavy with fruit, not quite ripe enough to eat.  Their bedroom was one of three up a narrow set of stairs and overlooked the stable and cobbled yard, where 5 French Cobb horses were kept at night. Being summer, the days were deliciously warm, but the nights were much cooler, occasionally requiring a fire to warm the house. 

The workers were busy harvesting vegetables from the gardens, part of which were to be taken to the cafes and restaurants in the small town. They were to join the family for morning tea, a daily routine Molly and Will were required to continue, prepare and share with them each day. Today, their neighbours were also coming to share the meal. Each of them brought a dish to contribute. They were so friendly and accommodating, curious to meet Molly and Will. It was very easy for them to feel at home here. The house was full of life and everyone was very relaxed, nothing was an effort. Most of the conversations were spoken in French, with the occasional use of English for Molly and Wills inclusion. Both of them only had basic school French language experience, but they all communicated easily. The room was filled with light-hearted laughter.

The next morning they woke to see the horses looking up at their window, waiting for their breakfast and to be set free into the fields to graze and play.  Fleur and Phillipe had left early before sunrise, to drive to the airport. They felt confident in leaving Molly and Will to take care of their animals. After releasing the horses, mucking out the stables, feeding the cats, dogs, and chickens, Molly was keen to go exploring. Will was keen to help in the garden, so Molly headed out adventuring on her own. The Village was 1km down a cobbled road, lined with ancient elm and willow trees, a small stream ran alongside of it.  Coming into The Village, the narrow road was lined with stone walls. She did wonder what to do if confronted by an oncoming vehicle, and was glad that she had decided to walk into town instead.

In The Village were several businesses, a cafe and patisserie where they sold coffee, breads and pastries, a grocery store providing local produce, a hardware store which was surprisingly well stocked, a petrol station and mechanic, and of course a tavern. But there was one shop which surprised her – a dressmaker and milliner, providing bespoke clothing and hats. Fleur had insisted on Molly visiting this shop in particular. The lady who owned it had been working from the premises since she was a child, helping her mother and grandmother. She was in her 80’s now and people still travelled from Paris to be fitted out by her. The building was of an old-fashioned cob structure, a combination of shop and cottage, purpose built this way many, many years ago, by her Great Grand Father. The walls were whitewashed, with a thatched roof (similar to the house they were staying in.) The front door was painted a pale green and it had four small window panes in the top section of it, just below this in the middle was a large caste iron handle in the design of a flower. Molly had to lower her head to step through the door and across the well-worn stone tread of the doorstep. It was like stepping back in time. She welcomed Molly at the door, as if she had been expecting her arrival, (maybe Fleur had mentioned she was coming, Molly thought) and was keen to show Molly her craft. Tiny in stature, she was well proportioned, her white hair swept up into a French Twist at the back of her head, a string of pearls around her neck and matching earrings. Beneath her floral bibbed apron Molly caught a glimpse of a well-made, pale jade green dress. On her feet were the most petite, elegant emerald green slippers, embroidered with pearls and gold beads. Her English was minimal as was Molly’s French, but they communicated well without the use of many words. They were both able to exchange names, and Olivia showed Molly each of the important items in her beautiful shop. Surprisingly the inside of the shop was very well lit. To the right of the door were several Bentwood chairs around a small low octagonal shaped table, to the left was a chaise lounge upholstered in rich red tapestry, directly inside the door was her cutting bench, with it’s beautifully waxed oak top, years of use evident in its surface. Behind this were several adjustable dress makers mannequins, and a range of sewing machines, one was a treadle, another was electric and she had an overlocker as well. Inside, the thick walls were lined with whitewashed render and oiled timber dado from the floor to part the way up the wall. There were many mirrors of every shape and size, accentuating the minimal light coming from outside and the lamp-styled lights, illuminating the room, and creating the sensation of it being a larger space.  The small paned windows were deep set with thick wooden  sills and shutters pushed neatly to the sides of the windows.  From the ceiling hung two old oil lamps, having been converted to electricity. It was timber lined with a pressed metal ceiling rose above each lamp, which would have provided ventilation for the original oil lamps. The old lady was playing swing time music, uplifting and cheery. The room had a mixture of fragrances, linseed and beeswax polish, and the sweet scent from the huge bunch of sweet peas and peonies in a large handprinted urn-type vase on a small polished wooden plant stand in the corner. The back wall was filled with a large timber rack, displaying rows and rows of beautiful fabrics, some vintage, but all of exquisite quality, linens, cottons, and woollens. Molly’s heart raced as her eyes scanned the many patterns and colours. In the corner beneath the stairs was a change room, framed with thick rich red velvet drapes, the fabric matching that of the chaise lounge. One window looked out over the fields towards the farm they were staying at, and just a glimpse of the snow-capped Pyrenees mountains beyond to the south. The other bay windows faced the cobbled street of The Village. Out the front was a pale yellow painted vintage bicycle with a sign decorated with neat script writing which said ‘Bienvenu. Entrer s’il vous plait.’ (Welcome. Enter if you please)  There was a small wood-stove visible through a low doorway which led into her house at the back and upstairs, where her bedroom was at the top of the stairs. Tantalising aroma’s from the kitchen beckoned Molly, where on the wood-stove a pot of soup brewed nicely, and fresh bread baked in the oven.

But Molly’s attention was distracted from all of this by the door opening suddenly, bouncing the bell at the top which rang loudly. In walked a young woman in a beautifully designed 1950’s styled floral dress with a full knee-length skirt, lined with a petticoat, her long honey-coloured hair fell to her waist in large loose curls, scooped back from her face with a wide white head band, matching the white belt on her dress. 

“Bonjour Madame Olivia!” She greeted the old lady in a cheerful, melodious voice…and then continued with a whole rapid conversation in French which Molly was unable to decipher. Amused, she sat down quietly on the chaise lounge and watched. Excusez-moi, s’il vous plait! (Olivia whispered something quietly to which the young woman’s eyebrows raise and she replied “Oh pardon moi! (She turned and addressed Molly in perfect English) I do beg your pardon.” Holding out her hand elegantly, Molly stood up to return the greeting. “Hello, I am Maeve. You must be Molly?” She leaned forward to whisper in her ear, “Madame Grace told us you were coming!” Molly was flabbergasted and could not hide her surprise at this, to which Olivia replied quickly in French something that sounded to Molly like, “don’t treat me like an idiot, I know who Madame Grace is, she too has visited me! Humph!” Olivia retorted, crossed her arms and pouted dramatically, then all three of them burst into laughter.

A splattering sound came from the kitchen and Olivia exclaims, “Oh mon Dieu!” and trotted out to the stove to save the soup from boiling over, shouting something over her shoulder at the other girls. Molly looked at Maeve questioningly who replied, “she says the soup is ready! Come and eat.” The three of them sat down at the small worn pine table bleached by years of scrubbing, positioned beneath the window in the tiny kitchen. Olivia served them each a bowl of soup and placed a plate of thick slices of freshly baked bread and a pat of butter on the table, and insisted they start to eat. There was the silence of pure culinary delight as the women shared lunch. Molly took in the aromas of the soup and hot buttered herb bread before even tasting it. It was like nothing she had ever had before, words to describe it failed her as she got lost in the delicious experience of eating home made French Onion soup, served in brightly coloured, hand painted bowls and crusty bread on matching side plates together with  bone handled silver cutlery. She soaked up the whole experience.

With lunch finished, Olivia cleared away the dishes, explaining that the girls were  not to do the cleaning up, please! “My English….umm…rusty. But I remember some. It come to me,” she explained. Molly had no idea why she was actually there and was curious to know more. Especially since there was the hint of knowing Grace. Olivia excused herself from the room, and Molly looked to Maeve for an explanation, she just shrugs her shoulders, not knowing what the old lady was up to either. The stairs creaked overhead as Olivia came down them slowly and cautiously, calling out to Maeve to clear the table. In her hands was a photo album, which she placed on the table. Opening the book to the first page, there were old sepia photographs of people she explained to be her Great Grand Father and Mother, together with her grandmother as a child, standing outside of this shop. Turning the pages, skipping through other pictures, she found one of another little girl, to which she explains, “moi Maman, une petite fille.” (My mother as a little girl). Turning more pages, there is a picture of Olivia as a child standing next to her mother, eloquently dressed, her hair in ringlets, outside the front of the shop, the year is 1939, and she says one word in English – “War”. A sadness swept over her face and her eyes welled up with tears. “Pardon moi!” She sniffled and blew her nose ever so unladylike! Maeve placed her arm around the old lady to comfort her and explained to Molly in English that Olivia’s father was killed in the war. She sighed deeply and turned the page, the sadness replaced by the look of satisfaction. There was a picture of her standing on a cat walk receiving an award. It was the early 1960’s, and she was being acknowledge for her unique designs, modelled in Paris, London, Milan and New York. Again she sighed, but this time with the fond memories of a elegant, extravagant lifestyle which had breezed through her life. She had chosen to remain in her little shop, despite the insistent offers from Chanel to join their team of designers and dressmakers. She loved her life in The Village, and stubbornly stayed put. And so the fashionistas of the world found their way to her, and before each new season people from the fashion industry would take over The Village, to be fitted out for the coming events and return several weeks later to have their photos taken in these outfits out in the countryside or they would use The Village as props for magazine shoots. The locals would watch with curiosity, and were well prepared for these event, each of which spread out over a couple of weeks. They would team together at the Tavern and cook up a feast each night, enjoying their visitors and the entertainment they provided for each other. These dinners would go on into the early hours of the next day, and not many surfaced until 10am or later, ready for the best coffee, croissants and danishes from Le Patisserie Petite. 

Olivia continued in French and Maeve translated for Molly into English, “And so now we are here today, with you. Ah, this brings me to the juicy parts….Madame Grace!” Olivia closed her eyes and nodded her head quietly. She continued with Maeve’s help as translator, “will you join us for a seance?” Well, you could have knocked Molly off the chair with a feather, the look of surprise taking her breath away. “A seance? I-I…don’t know,” Molly hesitate, feeling unprepared, but could not resist with the two women looking at her like excited children waiting to go to the circus. “Oh ok, ok, yes!” Molly replied giving in to the pleading faces. Olivia, clasped her hands together with excited anticipation, her eyes sparkling whilst she frantically cleared a space on her cutting table, she looked like an excited child moving swiftly and easily through the kitchen and up the stairs. They could hear her rummaging around up there, muttering as if she was talking to someone. Then they heard a squeal of delight, and she raced back down stairs almost panting and gesticulating excitedly, her eyes  sparkling brightly. She was so animated. Amidst her passion, she stopped, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. More collected now, she carefully and thoughtfully set up the Ouija Board, said a prayer and lit a candle. Placing four chairs around the end of the bench, she turned to Maeve and Molly, and invited both girls to sit with her around the board. As they held hands, she said another prayer, inviting their guides and ancestors to join them, then opening her eyes she indicated for all of them to place their index finger gently on the planchette, to close their eyes and just breathe. After awhile, she asked in perfect English, “Are we blessed with the presence of Madame Grace?” To which the planchette moves towards the word ‘yes’.

“Are we blessed with the visual presence of Madame Grace?” To which the planchette again moves towards the word ‘yes’. They all felt the temperature in the room increase, and Molly felt slightly unsettled. Through her closed eyes, she could see the light increasing and could not longer resist a peak. There in the other chair…was Grace Forrest! Olivia welcomed Grace to their circle, grateful for her presence. Molly was at a loss for words! How can this be – that these women knew of Grace? And how could Grace be here in this room, when Molly thought she was not permitted to leave The Attic. Grace said nothing, just smiled knowingly and nodded her head in acknowledgement to all three of them.

Olivia addressed their guest, “ Madame Grace, is there anything in which you wish us to know?” To which Grace replied, “I would love a cup of coffee and a croissant!” And the four of them burst out laughing with surprise. “Really, that is what you want?” asked Maeve. Grace nodded her head, and said, “Oh what I would do for one just now, and maybe a nip of Cognac?” She looked slyly at Olivia, whose face lit up, remembered to contain her excitement before leaving the circle to check that this was approved of, and Grace bowed her head in response. From the cupboard beneath the cutting bench Olivia produced a half full bottle of Cognac and four small glasses, Molly watched on still astonished at the request of this woman from the World Between Worlds. The four of them raised their glasses in a toast, “Salute” and all four women, knock back their liquor, savouring the warm citrus flavours. Grace continued, “Ah, now for some of that amazing coffee and pastries I know you have already prepared Olivia!” who nodded her head knowingly and headed to the kitchen to take care of this.

Molly turned to Grace questioningly, “What are you doing here?” She whispered.

“Do you think I am just for you?” she laughed lightly, her laughter like the sound of tinkling crystal. “Oh my precious girl,” she responded to Molly’s pouting face, patting her hand affectionately. “There are so many who know of me, whom I have visited over the eons. You are just beginning to meet up with some of them!” Olivia interrupted the conversation by bringing in a tray laden with a coffee pot, four small cups and a plate stacked with hot croissants. Grace looked to Olivia, “Merci! Olivia! Have you shown Molly the photo album?” 

“Yes, yes I have, but not that  photo, not yet…..” Her voice faded as she got up to retrieve the album. Opening the book, she turned to a page with a photo of her as a teenager and standing just behind her left shoulder was a ghostly image of Grace!” She reached over and patted Grace’s hand, looked to Molly and said, ‘She is my guardian angel too.” And Maeve nodded her head and says, “yes, yes and mine too!” 

Molly sat back in her chair stunned. How can this be? Grace laughed at Molly again. “It is very funny to see you so surprised! Oh my dear, you are just beginning to get a glimpse of the bigger picture!” She said, dabbing the last of the buttery crumbs from her plate with her finger and licked it loudly, satisfied with the experience of eating food. “Thank you Olivia, it was delightfully delicious.” She then blows a kiss to each of them and with a flash of light, Grace was gone. Olivia recited a closing prayer, giving thanks for all in the Spirit World who had assisted them. The three of them sat back in their chairs, pleasantly surprised, a little overwhelmed but grateful for the common bond that now united them all, across the oceans, and across Time and Space. 

After helping the women tidy up, Molly thanked them for an amazing, more slightly mind-blowing afternoon and slowly walked back to the farm, taking the time to process what had just happened. She was on a high like never before. No drugs, alcohol, meditation or even sex could compare with this! Her senses heightened, everything around her was vivid in colour and she drank it in with all of her six senses. The following days passed so quickly, too quickly for her liking. Her head was clear, having not experienced a headache since being in France. Sleep was peaceful and she only seemed to require five hours a night, going to bed at midnight and up at 5am, ready for the next day and what it had to offer. 

The garden workers were an interesting mixture of people, some local horticulture students and some members of WWOOF (Willing Workers Of Organic Farms). Shared lunch break was from 12pm until 2pm, more than a meal it was a social experience also. Molly was never on her own to prepare, someone always willing to contribute in the kitchen, enjoying cooking and creating a meal with ingredients from the garden. Will was so inspired by these people and keen to take lots of new ideas to share with Patrick and their garden.

Lying in bed together, the night before Fleur and Phillipe were scheduled to arrive home, it was the last night in this amazing house on their own. Together they reminisced over the past week. “What’s your favourite experience Babe?” Will asked Molly.

“Wow, Will, it’s hard to decided. Each day has been awesome…” (she paused for a bit, mentally sifting through the memories of the past week) But I would have to say without a doubt, it was meeting Olivia and Maeve and the experience with Grace at the shop. That just blew me away! What’s yours?” she asked Will.

Will contemplated his personal experiences during their stay on the farm. “I guess….umm….it’s the people. I have really enjoyed their hospitality, their open heartedness and being so genuine. It just came so naturally. Yes, I have loved the people,” he replied contentedly. Looking over at Molly lying half covered by a cotton sheet, the bright moonlight pouring through the window directly onto her, her tanned skin emphasised by the background of the white bedlinen. Surrounding their bed was a mosquito net. There was magic in the warm night breeze which wafted through the open window, and he gently slid the sheet off her body revealing her dark honey coloured skin in the soft moon light. Taken by the magical romance of the moment, he kissed her hand, up her arm, and her neck, his lips finding hers also eager to be kissed, he made love with her. France had been blissful. Their lives in New Zealand seemed so far away, almost like a seperate life altogether, having purposefully had no contact with family and friends on this part of their journey. Tomorrow night they would cook up a storm for the return of Fleur and Phillipe, it being their last night in France. The following day will be their turn to go to the airport and begin their journey home.

The alarm woke them just as the sky was growing light, pulling Molly deep from a beautiful dream, of green pastures, a warm day, the smell of fresh cut hay and bread baking. It had felt so real. And then she remembered where she was, and that this was the last time they would feed the animals. She bounced out of bed, shaking Will on the way, “Wake up sleepy head, there are animals to be fed!” She sang, as she grabbed her bathrobe wrapping it around her naked body and she skipped down the stairs to the bathroom. After lighting the wood stove and putting the kettle on to boil for tea, Molly returned to the bedroom to get dressed and found that Will had fallen asleep again. He looked so peaceful, she did not want to wake him. Looking at him lying there so at ease, Molly realised how stressful it must have been for him when she was feeling unwell, being so far from home and all that was familiar to them. She felt immense appreciation wash over her and irresistibly she tickled his toes lightly, just enough to stir him from his sleep. Unbeknown to her, he had been awake the whole time and leapt out of bed growling like a bear. She shrieked in surprise and he cheekily slapped her bum. “William Ferguson!” she said sternly, but playful and with slight mockery. The shrill whistle of the kettle brought their attention to the morning. “Coffeeee!” Molly called out as she ran down the stairs again.

One by one she fed the horses before letting them out of their stables, and had a personal chat with each of them. “Thank you for sharing your home with us, for playing with us and for creating an amazing experience with us. You are awesome,” she whispered in each of their ears, hugging them as they nuzzled into her. She felt emotional, teary, feeling the endings giving way to new beginnings. She had no idea what was awaiting her when they were to arrive home. She knew Anna had some news that she was wanting  to share with them in person. Molly, knowing her dear friend well, knew that she was pregnant, but did not say a word to anyone, not even Will.

After breakfast, Selene, one of the garden workers offered to help Molly and Will prepare dinner for Fleur and Phillipe. She had decided on  a leg of lamb as a slow roast together with garden vegetables in the wood fired oven, despite it being summer. They would not be eating until late, when it had cooled down from the heat of the day and the  wood-fired oven. 

It was just before 6pm when the owners of the house arrived home. There was great excitement at their arrival. Molly had the dogs and the cat sat by the front door as as Phillipe parked the car. On being greeted by her furry friends, Fleur was very impressed. “How did you do this? I cannot get them to even sit for me!”

Molly replied, “I have been doing a little training with them, something a friend of ours in New Zealand had taught me. I think you will find them somewhat more respectful now.”

“Oh thank god, Molly you are an angel!” Fleur said hugging her warmly. “Thankyou for looking after our babies. Now, a pot of coffee would go down a treat and then I shall get something together for dinner.”

“All taken care of,” Molly said proudly, as Fleur’s nose caught up with the delightful aromas of dinner cooking as they walked into the kitchen. “Oh it is good to be home!” She exclaimed. “Good god woman, the place is spotless, how did you do it? I hope you did some playing too!” Fleur exclaimed.

Over dinner they shared what each of them had been up to over the last week. It was well after midnight by the time they were all ready to retire to bed. Molly and Will did not need to be at the airport until late afternoon, their one hour domestic flight to Paris scheduled to leave at 5pm, and their connecting flight  to depart at 8pm. They were flying to London and then a direct flight to Auckland. “You both sleep in tomorrow, we shall take care of the animals, please!” Phillipe insisted.

Satisfied from a delicious dinner, dessert and several bottles of local wine, Molly and Will slept soundly, not waking until after 10am. The animals had been taken care of and breakfast was waiting for them on the kitchen table. Molly sat down next to Fleur and took her hand, “Thank you so much for sharing your amazing home with us. We are very grateful for the wonderful experiences we have had. And just to let you know,” Molly whispered quietly to her, “I did share an afternoon with Olivia, and Maeve,” Fleur squeezed her hand, her eyes bright with expectancy, she  looked at Molly and said with anticipation, “And Madame Grace?”

Molly could not believe that there was someone else who knew of her! How can this be? Looking astounded, mouth gaping open, Fleur couldn’t help but laugh at her, patted her hand, she stood up, kissed her on the forehead and put the kettle on to make more coffee, and began humming  the song ‘Amazing Grace’.

* * *

As the plane sped up the runway, Molly felt her stomach dip as they left the ground, a mixture of every conceivable emotion swept through her body, and her eyes welled up with tears. She held Will’s had tight and closed her eyes, not wanting to see the landscape below vanish. During the one hour flight, she contemplated how she was feeling and allowed it to move through her body. Sometimes it tickled and brought a smile to her face, sometimes, it felt incredibly warm and she thought she would melt, and then she was overwhelmed with an incredible sadness. Will wrapped his arm around her and she buried her face into his shoulder and sobbed, heart wrenching sobs. ‘Where was this coming from?’ she asked herself silently. ‘Grace, are you here?’ She thought.

Then Molly heard the familiar voice in her head, ‘I am always with you, always got your hand. Molly there is change coming, and remember that I am always with you, no matter what.’

Molly could feel herself spinning, her consciousness fading and the feeling of dropping through the floor. ‘Oh no not now, not on the plane’, she thought. ‘Grace, please help me.’ Molly focussed on the strength of Will’s arm around her, being aware of not fighting the sensation but to hold her attention on being here in the aeroplane. Her emotions began to settle and she felt her body relax, the spinning stopped. Looking up at Will, he smiled  and kissed her, holding her lips with his, and she relaxed a little.   

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