Around eleven we sat down to lunch and chatted about their boys and ours, and how nice it would be for them to meet and spend time together.
"We fully intend on bringing them over to see Europe in the next year unless something happens to derail our plans," Ally promised. "You'd be welcome at our place, as well. I know our boys would enjoy showing yours around," Ally offered.
"We've been thinking of an American holiday trip, the boys except perhaps Newt, are too old for Disneyland but there are other things to see I'm sure," Clara agreed. "We may have to take you up on your kind offer."
"I have to ask, is Hamish a family name?" Ally inquired?
"Why yes, it is," Clara replied. "It comes from both families, my great grandfather and Burma's grandfather were both named Hamish. We were forbidden from naming him after either of our fathers. Burma's father was Nigel and he hated it and my father carried a similar disaffection for the name Morris. Michael is named for Burma's best friend in school. And Newton for my favorite uncle. What about Carter? Where did you get his name?"
"It was my father's name, he died in an accident on the farm. He was a wonderful man. Rob is going to adopt him when we return home. I'll be adopting his three boys at the same time," Ally shared.
"That's wonderful Ally; Rob has a big heart, doesn't he?" Clara added.
"He does indeed," Ally said softly.
"Well then lads, time for chores, Rob and I will be out to see your progress in a bit," Burma encouraged.
Each of the boys kissed his cheek and went up to change into working clothes.
"I didn't hear any complaints, what sort of chores do they perform?" I asked.
"Stable work mostly, Michael is very good with tools so he does repairs, and Hamish and Newt have an affinity for the animals and they deal with a bit of shoveling and feeding. We have full time stable hands but I like the boys to keep their hands in. I think it gives them a bit of grounding. It's hard to be a pompous ass when you're holding a scoop shovel full of dung, eh?" Burma chuckled.
"Our boys have embraced ranch life, they also help with chores that some of our neighbors need doing. Brandon comes from a farming background but it's new to Kelly. He loves it and he's learning a lot about plants and animals. Carter is the same way; we recently started keeping chickens and he was put in charge of them. He's very good with them although we haven't harvested any of the fryers yet," I supplied.
"If he likes eating chicken he needs to know where it comes from," Burma put in.
"Oh I agree, and I'm sure he'll adjust but he's quite young. Brandon will probably discuss it with him before I have the chance," I concurred.
"I think I've finally acquired something that will turn you green with envy, would you like to see it?"
Burma was right, I had only seen one Bentley Speed Six and never a coupe bodied example. It was a 1930 model and bore a strong resemblance to the Blue Train Bentley of legend.
"It's gorgeous, I'll bet it set you back a bit. Is that a real Gurney Nutting body?" I inquired.
"Some cash and some careful trading achieved the goal. The man who owned it was ravenous for a DB2 Drophead so that was the lion's share seen to. The DB was a white elephant and a money hole. Every time I drove it, something failed and it just took all the fun out of owning it. I'd offer you a ride but we've just prepped it for a concourse in Brighton," Burma apologized.
"Perhaps next time, let's have a look at her," I suggested.
"My guess is they're in the old barn visiting Burma's mistress, eighty plus years and she's still bringing the lads to their knees," Clara chuckled at her reply to Ally's inquiry.
"The four wheeled variety of siren I'll bet," Ally grinned.
"Would you like to see the gardens up close? Only I have some bulbs to prepare for planting and I don't want them drying out," Clara invited.
"Certainly, perhaps an extra pair of hands will help," Ally volunteered.
Instead of planting bulbs, Ally volunteered for the somewhat difficult job of dividing Acanthus roots and spreading them in the shaded bed.
"Is this what you had in mind, Clara?" Ally inquired.
"That's wonderful Ally, you seem to know your way around a garden. Would you care to help me in the Dahlia beds?" Clara requested.
The Dahlias needed topping and a few suckers removed. Clara refilled the beer bowls. They attracted the snails and those snails died happy.
"I do hope you can come back with the boys, I think they would get on famously with our brood," Clara expressed.
"I'll get to work on that as soon as we get home. They still have a bit more of the school term left but I'm sure we'll work something out. It has been a tumultuous year for all three of them. Ally took Clara through Carter's school closing and what had been done about that. Kelly's story was next and they adjourned for tea in the conservatory.
"I always knew Rob was a good soul but he really lives his code doesn't he?" Clara remarked.
"I had never met anyone like him. He can't be bullied and he doesn't embarrass easily either. But I can get a rise out of Brandon or Kelly any time I like," Ally chuckled.
"I think Carolina would have liked you and vice versa, Ally."
"I've heard quite a bit about her from Rob's friends, I think I would have liked her for sure," Ally agreed.
Rob, Burma and the boys walked back together with the boys pausing in the mudroom to shed boots and trousers and don casual shorts.
"Did you get to meet my husband's green mistress, Rob?"
"I did, and I have to say she can't hold a candle to you. You two are sure to take a ribbon at Brighton. The Wimbledon concourse as well, I suspect. It's a beautiful piece of machinery."
Clara grinned demurely and took Burma's hand. "At least I know where he is in the evenings," she chuckled.
"Free time boys, get a snack and remember to dress for dinner. We like seeing those ridiculously expensive blazers," Burma announced with a chuckle.
"We will, Daddy," Newt answered for the three of them.
"It's my plan to run you down to the train around nine and then I can go on from there and talk to a vendor about some equipment. Are you looking forward to Paris?" Burma put forth.
"I think Ally is, it's not my favorite but Ally's never been. I have a great hotel booked and then we'll hit the Loire Valley and visit my stepson Henri and his family. It has been a while since I've visited," I replied.
After our chat, I took a stroll to the fountain and found Michael contemplating the water. He smiled broadly when he turned and saw me. I was able to learn about his triumphs and the things that were giving him difficulty. He had won a medal and a cup in separate competitions. He was far and away the best cellist on campus and Newt was doing remarkably well with his piano skills.
"Frizz can barely carry a tune, he doesn't sing much because his voice keeps moving around. I suppose the same will happen to me and I'll have to drop out of the boy's chorus. I'll miss the singing but not all the practices. I'll have enough free time to do something else like history projects or something. Directors are fickle, as long as you can sing you're adorable but once your voice cracks, they can't shift you fast enough. You end up feeling like a brown banana," Michael giggled.
"I know it seems that way, it will depend on a number of factors. Some instructors want you to continue singing through the change. It's a gradual process and on the other side, you end up in another range. But if you'd rather do something else, you should. It's a tough choice I know but if you talk it over with your dad, he'll have a suggestion or two. He went through the same thing," I prompted.
"Thank you Uncle Rob, I'll email you about my decision once I've talked to Daddy."
"Are you staying here or will you walk back with me?" I asked.
"I'll come with you. Thank you for listening and making suggestions. Most adults dismiss our worries but you never have," Michael sighed.
"I'm sorry to say that most adults don't really listen very well, they're usually just waiting for you to stop speaking so they can spew rubbish at you about being strong and toughing it out. They've completely forgotten how vulnerable and alone you feel at your age," I assured him.
He took my hand and squeezed and we walked back to the house.
At dinner, the subject of conversation came around to nicknames.
"They don't call you Frizz at school do they?" Burma inquired.
"No Daddy, they call me Badger-Bear, have done that since that village yob went after Newt," Frizz explained.
We can wear our blazers in the village now without anyone trying us on now," Michael added.
"It's true, even us lower form boys don't get any trouble going to the sweet shop. They think all the older boys are like Hamish," Newt piped up.
"So what do they call you, Michael?" I asked.
"Yewman, I'm fairly good with the old long bow like they used in the 1300's. I used one in competition once but they asked me not to do it again because it went all the way through the targets and the bales behind," Michael grinned.
"After he won the cup, he put on a demonstration and had three arrows hit the target at nearly the same time," Hamish recalled.
"Hamish and Newt are very good with the recurve bow and the compound; Newt wants to learn the longbow once he's strong enough," Michael shared.
"So you're good with any number of bows then, eh, Michael? Including the cello bow," I teased.
"That's the funny part of the school name. I spend more time bowing the cello than bending my longbow," Michael grinned.
"I haven't a school name yet, although some of my classmates that have been in the canoe call me Redcloud," Newt contributed.
"How about "Scalper?" Hamish asked.
"No, that's not really something a Native American would have done. The Dutch taught them to do that when they hired one tribe to fight a tribe that wouldn't do what they were told," Newt responded.
"Does this sound familiar, Rob?" Ally asked me.
"They're very intelligent guys Hon, just like ours," I returned.
After dinner, we shared photos of our boys and included Wade, Tommy and Espen. I had already deleted the pics of Wade poolside.
"They're all so handsome, Carter is absolutely adorable. Was the adjustment difficult when you joined Rob?" Clara asked.
"Not at all, he took to Rob right away and when he met Kelly and Brandon, he was ready to join up," Ally replied.
Hamish, Michael and Newton tolerated being talked about as long as they could and then excused themselves. Burma and I cleared the table while the boys rinsed dishes and loaded the dishwasher. The boys were released to carry on with their own agenda.
Burma, Clara, Ally and myself retired to the salon and chatted about all manner of things. I related the incident in which our jet was stolen and Ally spoke of our first meeting with me and her patient covered with mud.
The boys returned, collected hugs and kisses and went up to bed, we followed in an hour and turned in.
Sunday morning we packed and ate breakfast. We said our goodbyes to the children and then Burma and Clara took us into the village. It was a neatly kept place with a dozen shops and probably thirty homes, two pubs and an inn. There were also two very nice restaurants, we were told. But they were closer to the crossing which was not in the direction we were going. We meandered through the Kentish countryside skirting the M-20 at times. We passed water wheels adjacent to streams. Several oast houses were seen dotted along the lanes and carriageways. Eventually we reached Ashford and our Inn where we would meet the Chunnel train. We planned a few days in Paris and then down to the Loire valley to visit Henri, my stepson and his family.
We treated Clara and Burma to lunch and then bade them farewell. We promised to return with our brood and they promised to visit California in the future.
Ally and I wandered the neighborhood of our inn, then went into Ashford proper, stopped in at the Sainsbury's for a few supplies and made our way back to the inn by cab. We lounged the rest of the day in our room and had a wonderful dinner.
The ride to the train station was short and the train was very prompt. We were shown to our car and the trip to the tunnel took less time than I expected.
Upon arriving at Gare du Nord station I collected our luggage, found the cab boss and handed him a Ꞓ20 note and told him, "Hotel Le Bristol, please." He raised a microphone to his lips and summoned a sparkling clean Renault passenger van and we were off. I repeated our destination to the driver and his smile broadened, probably in anticipation of the fat tip at the other end. He wasn't disappointed either. It was a smooth, unexciting ride. I handed over Ꞓ50 and the hotel staff approached with baggage carts. Ꞓ10 for the bellman at the curb and another for the young man who delivered our bags later on. It was more than they were usually tipped by foreigners. The French themselves generally don't tip unless someone goes out of their way to accommodate their needs. Americans have a reputation for tipping so hotel workers have come to expect something but not a great deal. If you dine out there is a gratuity attached included in the bill.
We checked in and since I had booked there before, it was painless and our passports were returned. The young woman at the desk welcomed us back and we were shown to the lift and our room.
It was an upscale hotel and much more modern than the Claridge's had been. It was a different type of luxury. Clean lines, comfortable furniture and beds. Our suite had a comfortable sitting room with television and a Bluetooth sound system.
An hour after we arrived, Louis St. Saens called to see if we made it and suggested meeting in the hotel restaurant at 10:00 the next morning. I heard Elodie saying hello in the background. Louis was a good friend that had drafted me to help him with a situation during his time with the Sûreté nationale. It had been an engineering puzzle and it took quite a while to figure out how the vaults were being breached. Once I was able to say how, he was able to determine who, and I ended up in closed court explaining the process used by the thieves. What had cracked it was taking photos of a vault door with different light sources. Marks showed up in UV light that didn't with any other source. From that, I was able to determine their process and pass on countermeasures to the vault company to prevent future problems. The case made Louis' career and he rose quite high in the organization before transferring to the intelligence bureau DGSE. I've always suspected that he was transferred to prevent him reaching the top echelon simply on merit without the connections the other top staff traded in.
Breakfast consisted of eggs, ham and warm fresh croissants. We indulged in a glass or two of champagne and chattered away with Elodie and Louis. A few very small cakes and coffee or tea in my case and we were ready to go. We all piled into the back of a large Mercedes limo and the driver took us on a meandering tour of the area as Louis and Elodie explained the sights. After a while, the city disappeared and a motorway took us into the countryside.
We arrived at a beautiful ancient home amid orchards and fields. It was their home and it had stood since 1730. It had been commandeered by the Germans during WWII and used as a hospital. The family had seen which way the wind was blowing and moved everything of value to a secure place and loaded the house with cheap furniture and art. Much of the contents were carried off by German officers trying to stay ahead of the Allies. The British occupied the house next and used it as an officer's retreat. The family didn't get it back until 1949. It was emptied and restored to its former glory and once that had been done, the family retrieved their household items from a cave. Louis' family had been very active with the resistance during the war, attacking German convoys and installations.
We had a tour of the grounds and found the stables were equally old and elegant. Four huge Poitevin draft horses regarded us as we passed two Merens which also showed some interest. The rest were Percheron saddle horses. I had always thought of the breed as a draft horse but bred with the right sire you ended up with the lovely dappled grey coat and a manageable sized horse that was reasonably docile and trainable. We were going to find out the next day. Louis showed us what the Poitevins were there for. A huge beer wagon was stored in a special building near the stables and was paraded through the village on special occasions, pulled by the four grey giants and loaded down with children and pretty girls in period costume. Louis always received a police escort to and from the village much to the annoyance of people who had no knowledge of the special day in the village. Elodie showed us to the formal garden where we found two little boys skinny dipping in the fountain.
Elodie asked them why they were in the fountain instead of the pool and was told the pool didn't have water that squirted in the air. We saw a harried looking young woman hurrying in our direction.
"Paulette, would you take these two back to the house and wash them down and get them dressed," Elodie requested with mirth.
Paulette assented and gathered the pile of clothes and shoes and led the nude boys back to the house.
"It's not her fault you know, it's nearly impossible to keep my nephews clothed. We're caring for them while their mother is in the hospital. She had a breakdown after my brother's death and the boys came here. They're delightful children but under no circumstances should you play cards with Jean Paul for money," Elodie explained.
"Does he cheat?" I asked.
"He's a fantastic cheat and a card mechanic. He'll dazzle you with the way he can move the deck around. Gervais is a sweet boy and very affectionate. He has yet to develop any bad habits," Louis contributed.
"How old are they?" Ally asked.
"Seven and nine, we will probably have them long term. Their mother shows no signs of improvement after a year in care," Elodie sighed. "Aside from their penchant for nudity, they are very good boys."
"Ours don't wear clothes when we swim and they walk around the place with just shoes. I have made sure Carter wears sunscreen or he burns easily," Ally put in.
"We let them go all day nude if they want when Paulette has her days off but they sneak in an hour or two wherever they can. They were raised that way and so was I," Elodie enlightened.
"Same here, we weren't prudish at all when I was a kid and it sort of stayed with me to the present day," I added.
"So Ally, what time do you want to get started shopping tomorrow morning?" Elodie inquired.
"Let's meet up around nine and we can make a plan," Ally suggested. "Do you have a preferred place for morning coffee?"
"Can we make it ten, none of the better shops open until noon and I'm not really a morning person. I'll write down a place and you can hand it to a cab driver. Will that work?
"It sounds fine to me, what are the guys doing tomorrow?"
"I will be selling a kidney to cover the expense of this shopping excursion," Louis joked. But there is a motoring meet and it starts around nine, if we leave the hotel around eight-thirty we should have no difficulties."
Elodie gave Louis a fake stink eye and giggled.
"Perhaps you can get Ally interested in a new cocktail dress, and possibly an evening gown. That's in addition to the antiques she's come here to find," I suggested.
"Don't take all the fun out of it Rob, it's better to ask forgiveness than permission," Elodie chastised.
"You misunderstand, she can spend what she likes, she's not dependent on me," I corrected.
"Oh, I see. Well that's different," Elodie responded.
"Ally, how is your French?" Elodie pressed.
"Fairly decent, I've tried to keep it current but my time in Cote d’Ivoire corrupted it a bit. I spent some time with Doctors Without Borders."
"That is so wonderful, but as long as you don't speak like a sixty-year-old woman from Jarrow, you'll do well," Elodie chuckled.
While the girls were away from the salon, I told Louis about Burma's Bentley Speed Six. I promised an introduction next time we came over. The conversation moved on to Louis’ Delage sport coupe.