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| Category: || General Fiction |
Posted:|| February 25, 2019 Views: 907|
Chapter 42 of the book The French Letter
Chapter 42: Blackberries and Mushrooms
"A Rude Awakening"
Charles is back at his cottage in Wiltshire, taking time out from investigating the mystery behind the French letter, and enjoying a day or two of solitude.
The last paragraphs of Chapter 41
Now there was no doubt in my mind that I would take up Brockenhurst's proposal. I decided there and then that I would ring him in the morning.
Bloody internet, I thought as I climbed the stairs. It never seemed to work properly down here in the valley. The place was in a time warp, tucked away from all the trappings of modern life. I smiled to myself. That, of course, was a large part of its charm.
The following morning, I woke with a start. I had opened my bedroom window for some fresh air when I went to bed and one of the honeybees that inhabit the wall cavity must have drifted in for a dawn reconnaissance. Perhaps he was attracted by the autumn flowers Mrs Wilkins had put on the dressing table to welcome me home. I was subconsciously aware of the buzzing as he flew around before settling on my cheek, half-waking me from a torrid dream involving a desert scorpion.
It's possible the dream was a delayed reaction to Helen's teasing in Rue Gabrielle a few days ago. I remembered with chagrin, her provocative taunts about what James Bond would have done if a beautiful lady insinuated herself around him and stuck a gun in his back. Incongruously, I was reminded that I'd left my electric toothbrush in Paris.
I opened one eye carefully, fully expecting this moment to be my last but was relieved to find my potential assailant was a comparatively benign little bee. I coaxed him onto my finger and carried him to the window, gently releasing him onto the riotous blooms of the climbing rose that covered the honey-coloured stonework immodestly with splashes of crimson.
I loved that rose - the Don Juan. What an appropriate name for the profligate rambler. It took my mind back to Montmartre and the Moulin Rouge. I wasn't sure if the diaphanous figure lurking there, in a dark corner of my imagination, was Helen or Kayla. I luxuriated in the uncertainty for a whole minute before slipping out of my reverie and taking a long, deep breath. Already, the sun was burning through the early mist and the stillness in the air held promise of a fine day ahead. Time to be up and doing.
It was too early to ring Brockenhurst and, in any case, I was in no mood to spoil such a perfect day with thoughts of mystery and intrigue. At this time of the year there would be mushrooms in the fields and berries in the hedgerow. A walk before breakfast was called for. The distant cry of a cockerel up at Dovecote Farm settled the matter. I salivated at the prospect of breaking my fast with blackberries and cream and maybe a mushroom omelette.
Besides, I wanted to thank Mrs Wilkins for her kindness. It would already be too late to catch old Jack Wilkins himself, unless I happened upon him ploughing in preparation for winter frosts. He would have finished milking more than an hour ago.
It wasn't long before I had my hickory cane and straw hat from the porch and was striding up Primrose Lane with a wicker basket in hand and a tune in my heart. A pair of hedge sparrows squabbled under a blackthorn like lovers having a tiff but flew off at my approach. Soon I came to a patch overgrown with brambles and scrambled through the hedge to the sunny side. Thorny tendrils stretched out to catch my coat. They scratched my arms unmercifully as I reached in to pluck the lush berries. I only managed to gather a scant bowlful to take back to the cottage. Empurpled hands and lips were evidence of where the majority had ended up.
My picking was arrested by the cheeky alert of a yellowhammer from high in the branches of a hawthorn. People describe his call as 'a-little-bit-of-bread-with-no-cheeeeese', which I think fanciful, but it served to remind me that I should pick up a piece of Nancy Wilkins' famous Wiltshire Blue, along with anything else that took my fancy in the farm shop.
I wondered what had caught the bird's attention, for he didn't seem to have been in the least concerned by my presence. I glanced up the lane and saw Jack approaching, with a shotgun under his arm. He didn't look happy.
I waved my hat at him and called out, "Good morning to you, Jack. A fine day it is, too."
"Aaarr! So it's you, is it?" he growled. "I seed there was a berry-moucher trespaasin' down this way and thought to see him off. There've been a few of them vandals or varmits by here this week. A man can't be too careful."
"Sorry to hear that, Jack. I was on my way up to your place when I got tempted by the wayside. I remembered this spot from last year as being a good one for blackberries."
"That it is, and you've been helping yourselve to a few by the looks of it!" Jack laughed - a rich, deep country laugh that exposed the gaps in his crooked teeth. "You're welcome to them, Mr. Brandon. More than welcome."
"I thought you'd be out ploughing this morning, Jack."
"Not today, Squire. 'Ave you forgot? 'Tiz market day at Chippenham and I shall be off there by the by. I've one or two poddy calves for sale, with winter coming in."
"Then it's lucky for me I ran into you before you left. I was on the lookout for a few mushrooms for my breakfast. You'd be just the man to tell me if there's any about."
"Breakfast? It'll be more like lunch by the time you get home. You townsfolk are all the same. Miss the best part of the day, you do, then complain you haven't enough time to get things done. Anyway," he looked at me conspiratorially, "I might be able to help you. I do know a place, but you mus' promise not to breathe a word."
"On my oath."
Well, there's a good few of them at the edge of Druids Wood, down by Uncle Tom's tree..."
"You mean the Ypres Oak?"
"Aarr, that be the one. I know I can trust you, Mr Brandon. Just cut a few to meet your need. There's some that'd root them out by the basketful if they knew they was there. Then that'd be the end of it."
I valued my friendship with dear old Jack Wilkins and was always careful not to abuse it. There'd been times in the past when I'd helped him out and, in the old country way, he and Nancy had been grateful. They welcomed me into a community that was always distrustful of strangers. I could have lived there for fifty years, and still not been a local - not in the true sense of the word. Some of the families traced their roots back to the Middle Ages.
I didn't get back to Moonrakers until past ten o'clock. The weather had turned by then. A fine mist of rain brought out the aroma of leaf mould as I trudged back through Druids Wood with my basket laden. It had been good of Jack to tell me about the mushrooms, but I knew he wouldn't have done if they'd been morels. There's a limit to friendship!
There's nothing quite like a morel. Their little conical brain structure conceals a flavour that almost matches the truffle. Thinly sliced and sautéed in butter, they are fit for a king. Sadly, the elusive little fungoids were not in season at this time of the year. If I found any in the Spring, I promised myself that I'd take a few of them up to Dovecote Farm.
Spring, I thought - that's a long way off. Who knows what might happen between now and then?
I finished washing up my breakfast things and was contemplating what I might do with the rest of the day, when the phone rang. It was Brockenhurst.
|The book continues with What's in a Name?. We will provide a link to it when you review this below.|
List of characters:
Charles Brandon - the narrator, a well-known travel writer.
Jack and Nancy Wilkins - a Wiltshire dairy farmer and his wife.
Sir David Brockenhurst - a chance acquaintance, met at St Pancras Station
Helen Culverson - a woman of some mystery, also a travel writer, whose relationship with Charles is complicated by her relationship with Jeanne Durand.
Kayla Culverson - her older sister, who disappeared somewhere in Bangkok.
Madame Jeanne Durand - a French magazine editor, who was involved in a serious accident, and seems also to be involved with international drug trade.
Mr Bukhari - a Pakistani businessman
Madame Madeleine Bisset - Helen's landlady in Paris
Monsieur Bellini - a denizen of the French Underworld.
Dr. Laurent - a veterinary surgeon in Versailles.
Father Pierre Lacroix - vicar of the Versailles Notre Dame church.
Madame Lefauvre - an old woman living in Versailles - the town gossip.
Francoise Gaudin - an intellectually disabled woman living in Versailles.
Alain Gaudin - brother of Francoise, a gardener at Monet's house in Giverney
Estelle Gaudin [deceased] - mother of Francoise and Alain, a prostitute
Mademoiselle Suzanne Gaudin [deceased] - Alain's grandmother, to whom the mysterious letter of 1903 was addressed.
Colonel Neville Arnoux [deceased] - of whom we may hear more later.
Gaston Arnoux - an unknown quantity at this stage, a dilettante. Owner of an art gallery in Paris.
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