Going There is a short story collection within an account of the challenges and joys of a trip to the Riviera and Switzerland undertaken in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
Title: Going There: Tales from the Riviera and Beyond
Author: Donna Fletcher Crow
Publication Date: December 3, 2023
Genre: Travel Memoir / Short Story Collection
In the summer of 2021 my daughter-in-law and I slipped through a brief window of sanity in a world driven mad by the Covid pandemic. Our purpose was to see my granddaughter Jane to a summer program in Monaco, then back to her ballet school in Switzerland. In spite of restrictions, protests, and nail-biting worries, the result was a marvelous experience.
I invited characters from my mystery series to join me in my imagination and have their own adventures in each setting. Their encounters are: Nice: “The Crime of Passion”; St Tropez: “The Mother Decrees”; Villefrance-sur-de-mer: “The Ghost Boy”; Monaco: “Fracas in Monaco”; The Loire Valley: “The Old Winemaker”; Saint Gallen: “Whispers of Legend”.
The final coda is “Home Another Way” As 2 years later I return from quite a different trip aboard the Queen Mary 2 and my characters join in the celebrations as worlds coincide.
More information on the book GOING THERE: TALES FROM THE RIVIERA AND BEYOND can be found at https://www.amazon.com/Going-There-Tales-Riviera-Beyond-ebook/dp/B0CPHBRVJH?ref_=ast_author_mpb.
Le Garçon Fantôme
(The Ghost Boy)
The taxi stopped on the gravel driveway before the pink and white confection of Villa Ephrussi and Elizabeth clapped on her wide-brimmed straw hat as she scrambled out into the bright sunshine while Richard paid their driver. The scene was stunning every direction she looked with gardens extending from the chateau before them on to glimpses of the shining blue Mediterranean beyond their mountain perch.
“Oh, Richard, this is…” her voice trailed off. Richard had already crunched past her toward the entrance to the villa. She sighed and followed.
The rooms, filled with antique furniture and art treasures, followed one another in a square around the central patio of Verona marble where Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild had welcomed her guests. Each room was a mini museum of elegance. Their fellow tourists followed the same path, exclaiming over each new display of the eighteenth century opulence in rooms designed for luxurious entertainments: The grand salon with tables for the games Béatrice loved to play; the small salon, designed for after-dinner conversation.
Regardless of the grandeur around her, though, part of Elizabeth’s mind held back. Should they have come on this trip? It had seemed such a good idea when they planned it a few months ago: Time away together from Richard’s responsibilities at the boys’ school in Oxford, a chance for her to do some research for her articles on literary figures… Somehow, it didn’t seem to be working out.
Richard strode up the staircase to the first floor and Elizabeth followed. Here were the rooms for the baroness’ guests. Elizabeth paused at the blue bedroom, admiring the delicate scrollwork of the panels adorning the walls. She smiled at the tiny porcelain bird set amid the flowers of the Meissen chandelier. Elizabeth’s guide sheet told her that Béatrice had placed it there with her own hands.
She pointed it out to Richard. “Isn’t it charming that she took such personal interest herself ?”
“Mmm,” he said and moved on to the tapestry room.
Elizabeth followed, but her mind was not on the priceless Gobelins depicting romantic scenes by Boucher. Richard’s curtness still stung. How long had he been like that? What had happened to the closeness, the sense of teamwork they had always shared? What had happened to him? Where had the twinkle in his eye gone? His playfulness, even?
The beauty began to blur in Elizabeth’s mind by the time they descended to The Apartments of Béatrice, surely fit for Marie Antionette herself. Bedroom, dressing room, bathroom… escritoire, tables, settees…
It was in the boudoir that Elizabeth focused on two small pieces of furniture set apart from all the rest. A pair of elegant child-sized chairs. She gazed at them in silence for some time. Were they just interesting objet d’art the baroness picked up on a whim somewhere in her world travels? Their central placement in her own, personal space, seemed to say otherwise. Had she purchased them after her marriage, for the home she and Maurice maintained in Monte Carlo—the square-shaped one for a son she hoped to have; the one with rounded back and curving arms for a longed-for daughter?
Elizabeth scanned the brochure she held, making quick calculations. Béatrice had married at 19, was married to Maurice for 21 years, divorced at the age of 40—when perhaps all hope of child-bearing was over? Three years later she threw herself into the grand building project Elizabeth saw all around her. And lived here alone, in spite of the lavish parties she threw. Elizabeth shivered.
Her shiver, though, was not for her imagined sterility of the inner life of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild amid her opulent surroundings. Elizabeth was thinking of their own miscarried infants and the tiny boy who arrived so early and had lived barely three hours—just long enough to receive the sacrament of baptism and be christened Richard, Jr. So long ago—some thirty years now.
She continued to stand in the middle of the room, only dimly aware of the fine objects surrounding her and of the brilliant view of sky, sea and greenery beyond the pillars supporting the wide window in front of her. Until she felt a tap on her arm.
“Ready to go to the gardens?” Richard asked.
She nodded, pleased that he had asked.
Out through the baroness’ bedroom onto the terrasse and on to the series of side gardens. Richard went on ahead, but Elizabeth stood at the information board. It wasn’t the plan of the gardens that drew her, however, but rather the photograph of Béatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild.
Having just seen the lavish elegance of the woman’s life, Elizabeth was struck by the look of child-like innocence on her face. The tiny hint of a smile—surely a rival for the Mona Lisa? The round smoothness of her cheek, the clear brow with hair held back by a plain band. But the thing that struck Elizbeth most powerfully was the look of trust in the far-gazing eyes.
The baroness couldn’t have been older than her mid-thirties when it was taken. By then, however, she would have been married to her Parisian banker husband for perhaps 15 years. Elizabeth’s mind went back to the empty infant chairs in the lonely chamber. By then Béatrice would have known that any hope she had of a family was unlikely to be realized. Or was the picture much younger—before any dreams she might have had were shattered?
Or was Elizabeth reading her own losses into what could have been collected merely as a charming curiosity? She gave herself a shake. Perhaps the globe-trotting couple was far too busy to encumber themselves with children—or even thoughts of them. Or perhaps the Parisian socialite desired nothing more than the rare works of art she traveled the world to collect and commission like her fabulous Fabergé egg.
Still, Elizabeth couldn’t shake a small feeling of sadness and disappointment behind all the elegance and stories of lavish parties. A poet had written of one when Anna Pavlova danced in the moonlit gardens to Chopin nocturnes.
Yet it was the coldness of the moonlight Elizabeth felt as their feet crunched on the gravel path past banks of flaming coral flowers to the Jardin Espagnol. Elizabeth thought they were alone as they walked the length of the placid reflecting pool until she was startled by a pebble breaking the mirror surface of the still water. She turned to see who had thrown it but caught only a flicker of movement and the hint of a shadow disappearing into the verdant greenery beyond the border.
“Did you—” she began, but Richard was already leading toward the Jardin à la Française. They were just about to emerge into the formal elegance of the French garden with its repetitive borders of pink roses outlining each formal bed around the myriad fountains when Elizabeth stopped to gaze up at an enormous urn surrounded by banks of delicate flowers. A trill of laughter made her turn, but there was no one there. Had she merely heard the splashing of the fountains playing in rhythmic patterns the length of the garden?
She hurried forward as Richard had already covered almost the length of the long garden and was about to ascend the stairway to the small, domed temple of love that overlooked the French garden. Elizabeth frowned. Couldn’t he wait for her? Surely, they should view the temple of love together? Again, she thought of how distant, impatient, even, he had seemed of late. So unlike him. She had hoped these days on the Riviera would help them find their old closeness. She sighed.
By the time Elizabeth had reached the top of the stairway to the small temple encircling the statue of the goddess Venus, there was no sign of Richard. Elizabeth consulted her map. Which of the gardens had he gone toward? The Rosarie? The curving double stairway of the Jardin Florentin? The Jardin Exotique filled with the succulents so popular in this terrain? Elizabeth looked at the picture of the prickly cacti and shivered at the thought of Richard choosing anything so forbidding.
Whether from an actual decision or mere instinct Elizabeth’s feet followed the path to the Lapidaire Stone Garden filled with antique pillars, arches, and statues of magical beasts and comic human figures. At first, she was amazed that the baroness would have chosen such whimsical figures for her garden, and then she thought of the tiny smile playing at the corners of the enigmatic mouth in the picture she had studied earlier. The lady must have had a charming sense of humor that seemed to have come out to play in this garden tucked in one of the far corners of her vast property.
And then Elizabeth heard the silver laughter she thought she had only imagined before. This time far too distant from the fountains to be confused with their sound. A child’s laughter, certainly. “Hello, are you hiding from me?” She looked around. “Shall I find you?”
Surely that stirring of the bushes wasn’t from any breeze. Elizabeth set out. “Ready or not, here I come.” She took purposely crunching steps across the path, then dived between two azalea bushes still sporting a few vibrant, late blossoms. A tiny giggle and a stirring of the bushes along the higher path led her up a few stone steps between two carved exotic creatures and on toward a colonnade. Elizabeth more skipped than ran, engulfed in a sense of the freedom of childhood.
Now all was silent. Had her mischievous phantom child been scared off by her chase? Or did the quiet mean she was closer? She looked around. What should she do next? “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you. Don’t you want to play anymore?”
It was more a stirring of the breeze than any sound that made her turn. And there was Richard. Standing with his arms folded, leaning against a pillar supporting one of the comic figures. How long had he been observing her? Was his presence what had stopped the child playing? She drew breath to call out to Richard, but he put his finger to his lips and took a step forward.
Elizabeth could only hope she had interpreted his action correctly. She turned back in the direction of the last indication of her apparition. “Don’t be frightened. This is Richard. He only looks stern. He likes children, too.”
The plants between the stone gothic arches rustled and a child-sized shadow darted toward the lavabo fountain with its spouting water.
But Richard was nearer. He reached the water first, dipped both hands in and held them up, trails of silver drops falling between his fingers. He scooped another handful in a cupped hand and extended it. Was he offering a drink? Or asperges? Or merely playing?
Now Elizabeth didn’t hear laughter, but music. Was the elusive child singing or had he pulled a set of panpipes from a pocket? The sound continued, mingled with the breeze and trickling water, and Richard continued his offering. But Elizabeth didn’t move. She barely breathed. The moment was magical, holy.
Had they encountered a real child—playing a clever game? Was it all her over-active imagination conjuring up a might-have-been from her recent melancholic thoughts? Or even a forgotten scene from her own childhood?
She didn’t believe in ghosts—did she? Had the baroness, like herself, suffered loss—with the shade of that bereavement still hanging over these pleasure gardens?
Or had Elizabeth been granted a glimpse of something far greater? A future still awaiting in the next world—a world without sorrow?
The cessation of the music made her look up. She had been so lost in her thoughts she didn’t realize Richard had left the fountain and come to her. She blinked. He looked—he looked somehow younger, with a new light in his eyes that seemed to glow from within.
He opened his arms and she walked into them with a radiant smile as they closed around her.
Donna Fletcher Crow, Novelist of British History, is an award-winning author who has published some 50 books in a career spanning more than 40 years. Her best-known work is Glastonbury, The Novel of Christian England, a grail search epic depicting 1500 years of British history. The Celtic Cross is a 10-book series covering the history of Scotland and England from the 6th to the 20th century.
Crow writes 3 mystery series: The Monastery Murders, contemporary clerical mysteries with clues hidden deep in the past; Lord Danvers Investigates, Victorian true-crime stories within a fictional setting; and The Elizabeth and Richard literary suspense series, featuring various literary figures. Where There is Love is a 6-book biographical novel series of leaders of the early Evangelical Anglican movement. The Daughters of Courage is a semi-autobiographical trilogy family saga of Idaho pioneers.
Reviewers routinely praise the quality of her writing and the depth of her research. Crow says she tries never to write about a place she hasn’t visited and one of her goals in writing is to give her readers a you-are-there experience.
Donna and her husband of 60 years live in Boise, Idaho. They have 4 children and 15 grandchildren, and she is an avid gardener.