One Summer In France – Episode 49

Lucas negotiated his way out of the crowded car park and drove up through the village.

“What kind of emergency is it?” Libby asked.

“A collie about to give birth. Its owner, Eliane, is in her eighties and does tend to panic. When we get there everything will probably be proceeding as normal.” Lucas shrugged. “But I couldn’t leave Eliane to worry.”

There was no mistaking Eliane’s cottage when they reached the hamlet where she lived. It was the only cottage with lights on and the door open.

“Shall I come in with you?” Libby asked. “Or would you prefer for me to wait outside?”

“Come in with me. I might need your help.”

Lucas opened the boot of the Delage and took out a large Gladstone-type bag and another smaller one.

“My emergency kits. I haven’t got a full range of stuff in here, just basic things really. Here’s hoping the dog doesn’t need a caesarean.”

Lucas called out to Eliane as they walked into her cottage. She was sitting in a low chair quietly talking to Etoile, her collie dog, who was lying on lots of newspapers on top of a folded blanket, panting and straining hard. Three tiny black shapes lay alongside her.

Lucas dropped to his knees and gently began to examine the dog.

“Everything looks and feels normal,” he said, looking up at Eliane and smiling. “How long has Etoile been in labour?”

“Four hours,” Eliane said. “The last pup came about half an hour ago.”

Bon. The final one is on its way now.”

Libby held her breath as she saw the tiny black and white face of the pup push its way out into the world. A female, it was the smallest of the litter, and Libby watched, fascinated, as Etoile licked and cleaned it.

“She’s beautiful,” she whispered.

Once Lucas was satisfied that everything was as it should be, they said goodnight and returned to the car.

“It was as I thought,” Lucas said. “Eliane panicking. I am désolé our evening was spoiled by a non-emergency.”

“I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. I’ve never seen a puppy being born before,” Libby said as they strapped themselves into the car. “I wanted to smuggle that little female one away with me.” She glanced at Lucas. “What do you think Eliane will do with the puppies? She won’t keep them, will she?”

“She’s probably got a couple of local farmers ready to take them – especially if the father is a working collie.” Lucas slipped the car into gear. “Right. Let’s get you home.”

The roads were deserted and it seemed to Libby mere minutes before they were pulling up in front of the auberge and the evening was all but over.

“Would you like to come in for a mug of hot chocolate in case you get another call out later?” she asked, getting out of the car.

“Thank you. Hot chocolate would be great,” Lucas agreed.

They stood companionably in the kitchen waiting for the milk to warm.

“Thank you for this evening. I really enjoyed it.”

“Bon. So did I,” Lucas said. “Next time I will take you for dinner to my favourite restaurant.”

Libby smiled.

“Sounds good to me.” So they were going to see each other again, were they, she thought with a smile.

Stirring hot chocolate granules into the warm milk, she paused as car lights flashed past the kitchen window.

“Evie’s home,” she said. “I hope she’s enjoyed her evening, too.”

Lucas glanced out at the car which was now parked outside the gîte.

“That’s Pascal’s car,” he said, surprised. “She’s spent the evening with Pascal?”

Libby shrugged.

“She didn’t say. But why are you so surprised if she did?”

“His mother is very demanding. She’s a nice lady but leans on Pascal a lot, especially since her husband died. He’s had to put his own life on hold.”

Libby gave the mugs a final stir before handing one to Lucas.

“I hope it’s hot enough.”

“Merci.” To Libby’s surprise, instead of taking a sip, Lucas put the mug down on the work surface before taking her by the hand, pulling her gently towards him and giving her a tender kiss.

Libby prepared and served breakfasts to her guests the next morning on auto-pilot. When they’d all finished and left for the day, she stacked the dishwasher and switched the coffee machine on again before making her way over to the gîte. The rest of her chores could wait for an hour or so.

Evie was rapidly becoming the closest thing she had to a friend and she was desperately in need of talking to somebody about the events of last night. And, if she was honest, she also wanted to hear how Evie’s evening with Pascal had gone the night before.

When Evie did partially open the door, Libby sensed she’d interrupted something. She’d never seen her friend so dishevelled before, with wrinkled leggings, baggy T-shirt and her hair all over the place.

“I’m sorry to barge in. I just wanted to say the coffee’s on if you’d like one. But if you’re busy . . .”

“I am just exercising my ankle,” Suzette said. “I will shower and come over, oui?”

The door closed.

Thoughtfully Libby checked on the chickens before she went back indoors. Evie was definitely not herself this morning. Had something happened with Pascal last night?

But when Evie walked into the auberge kitchen 10 minutes later she was back to her normal charming self. Fitted black jeans and a white scooped neck top had replaced her earlier outfit and her hair was combed into its usual immaculate style.

Libby did a double take at her friend’s hair. Surely she was wearing a wig? Absently she poured the coffee.

“Did you enjoy the jazz festival last night?” Suzette asked.

“It was great. Lucas had an emergency call-out that turned out not to be an emergency, and that was great, too,” Libby said, trying to ignore the suspicion that was suddenly running through in her mind.

“And you? Your dinner date?” she continued as she mentally began to add up all the things she knew about Evie. An injured ankle. Lived in Paris. She said she’d been ill recently and watched her weight ferociously. Was her wig a disguise?

Suzette smiled.

“I had a nice time. Libby, why are you looking at me like that?”

Libby took a deep breath.

“You’ll probably think me mad, but I have to ask you anyway. Are you by any chance Suzette Shelby, the famous missing ballerina?”



Margaret Scott

Margaret is a sub-editor within the Production Team on the "Friend". Her main job is to work on the stories and make sure the magazine leaves us in its best possible guise. When not doing that, however, she either has her head buried in the old “Friend” volumes or is out and about giving talks or going on Warner trips (fab!). She hates cheese.