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Chateau Charals

by Lesley Raymond 10 months ago in humanity

The Estate

The Forest

The forest swayed gently in the wind as the clouds that floated above Melanie invited her to jump across them. The forest at the edge of the Charals Estate was the most enchanted place. To Melanie, the sparkling dew on the trees in the early morning looked like fairy jewels that added to the magic of the morning.

The first memories Melanie had of the forest were with her father. With him by her side, she first saw the fairy lights rising up through the forest as if they were beckoning her to a part of the world that only she could see. When her father asked her if she could see the fairies, she was sure she could. Even after the war, as she looked out of her bedroom window towards the forest, she could see the forest fairies dancing in their very own castles.

As she stood in the forest contemplating how much fun it would be to jump on clouds, a familiar voice pulled her out of her thoughts. “Are you ready to go back to the house Melanie? I’ve got a couple of fish from the stream for supper.” She turned meeting Grandaddy’s sharp blue, sparkling eyes. Mr. Charals Sr. would be 60 years old tomorrow, but his ability to hold an endearing presence anywhere he stood had not yet faltered. Melanie flashed Grandaddy Charals her usual grin as she took his arm to set down the familiar path back to the Chateau. “You’re always so lucky with supper Grandaddy,” she laughed.

As they walked arm in arm, Mr. Charals thought fondly of the past when both of his granddaughters would spend days together running amuck in the forest. As they had grown up, Melanie’s sister Catherine had developed a passion for reading and immersed herself into a world of books. That had left Melanie’s passion for exploring the forest hers to enjoy with him. Catherine loved books, and while Catherine had often got lost in a book as she propped herself up against a tree, Melanie explored the forest with Grandaddy. Nowadays, Catherine loved to spend time in the expansive library which was the second largest room in the west wing of the Charals Chateau. The library smelled like the books which wound up the wall on ornate wood shelving and settled into comfortable dust at the edge of a beautiful oval stained-glass ceiling.

As they continued their walk to the Chateau, Grandaddy became chatty. “Melanie, it’s my birthday tomorrow. Do you remember the first birthday party we had by our favourite tree, the one with the fairy door?” he said as he winked at her with a mischievous grin “How could I forget Grandaddy, do you want to do it again tomorrow? Have a picnic by the tree again?” Grandad Charals indulged Melanie with most things that she asked for. He delighted in her never-ending imaginative stories which were an escape from the many changes that had taken place at Chateau Charals since the war. Dr. Joseph Charals had lost his life in the war, and Mrs. Charals now worked most days trying to sell off assets for the upkeep of the estate. They both tried to keep the grim post war realities away from Melanie.

Before Joseph Charals left, Mr. Charals Sr. had stumbled across the intricately carved fairy door decorated with crowns and fairies, lovingly made by Joseph Charals to indulge Melanie in her imaginative stories about the fairies in the forest. He had tried his best to keep his son’s memory, and Melanie’s imagination alive, while things at the Estate were grim. Mrs. Charals had not been fond of Dr. Charals encouraging Melanie to tell imaginative stories rather than learning to read, but Joseph had insisted that the magical time he had before being called up was worth it, and Melanie would have plenty of time for books.

Just as Grandaddy and Melanie approached the house, Melanie ran ahead and burst through the back door of the big kitchen with excitement. “We’re having a picnic for Grandaddy’s birthday tomorrow,” she sang cheerily. “Down by the fairy tree, mummy. It’ll be just like old times.” Melanie met her mother’s worried eyes. “It’s okay Mummy, Grandaddy caught fish today.” We can all take the afternoon to celebrate his birthday.” “Melanie, Catherine and I are inventorying the library tomorrow. We are selling some of the books that we,” she paused “don’t have room for.” Melanie was the youngest and most protected from the grim reality of post war depression.

That evening, Melanie sat in her room looking out on the familiar estate lawn as she got lost in her thoughts and saw the lights of the fairies floating to their castles in the forest. “If only she could live in their castle, where no-one was worried about selling things,” she thought. She watched out the window as dusk fell and the tallest tree in the forest, the fairy tree, cast a shadow on the green blanket of trees spanning to the east.

The morning hustle of Chateau Charals was busy. Melanie had pleaded with Mummy to get up early to make a cake, which Mummy said had to be without eggs. Melanie couldn’t imagine why anyone would want an egg in a cake anyway, but as long as there was cake, she was happy to help with the fun picnic. She thought about picking some purple wild flowers to decorate the cake. Mummy had gone into the library while the cake baked. Melanie just had to tell her about the flowers. She brushed off, ran through the great hall and burst into the library. Melanie stood there with flour on her cheeks as she met an important looking man in a black suit. Melanie stared up at him and wondered why anyone would choose to wear all black. “Melanie, please don’t burst in like that,” said Mummy. The man momentarily moved his kind eyes from his lowly perched glasses to Melanie and went back to writing in his small black note book. Melanie watched him as he delicately wrote and folded important papers into the black elastic on the back.

Catherine stood still beside a stacked pile of her favourite books. “Why are you giving those away?” asked Melanie. She went over to the books that her sister’s hands lay on. She could see a tear on Catherine’s cheek. “But you can’t have these books,” shouted Melanie, “they are my sister’s books.” The man in the black suit’s face softened a little as Melanie stood in front of her sister guarding the books on the table. “Would you like to keep a book for your sister?” asked the man. “Yes, I would,” said Melanie indignantly as the flour on her cheeks fell softly amongst her tears onto the table. “You can pick one then. Hurry up.” Melanie looked around the expansive library. The sun was shining through the stained-glass window and Melanie could see the fairy lights landing on books at the top of the library ladders. Melanie ran to the ladder, and followed the fairy lights to a book on the very top shelf. Melanie grabbed the book just as the light changed and the fairy disappeared. “This one Catherine, the fairies told me to pick it,” shouted Melanie. Catherine smiled up at her little sister. “Of course Melanie, if the fairies picked it, it will be the best book.” Mummy smiled at Catherine with a tear in her eye. “I’m going to take it to the picnic for Grandaddy to surprise him with his cake. It’s going to be the best day. “

Melanie had gathered everything for the picnic basket and wrapped the book up in a tea towel like it was a gift. It was an ornate brown book with golden swirls drawn along the edges. The middle of the book cover had two crowns etched on it in gold and silver with leaves and delicate ferns and forest foliage surrounding them. Melanie was running out to meet Grandaddy at the majestic front stairs leading to the Estate lawn. She passed by the man in black who was now in the grand room capturing their lives in his small black note book. Grandaddy was bidding him a solemn goodbye when Melanie reached him.

Melanie gave Grandaddy the biggest smile as they descended the grand steps. They reached the fairy tree which had been her best kept secret since Daddy left for war. Melanie set out the picnic blanket creating a light gust of wind that rustled the leaves on the ground. Mr. Charals was lost in thought. This would be the last picnic before winter, and likely the last winter at the Charals Chateau. There was nothing more he could do. What had Joseph Charals meant when he wrote saying that they would be provided for? Mr. Charals had searched and enquired, but to no avail. His mind was pulled back to the present by Melanie’s singing. “Happy Birthday to you Grandaddy!” her sweet voice rising above his thoughts. “I’ve got cake!” They sat down beside the fairy tree. The familiar little door had been darkened by the weather over time and the carvings had darkened into creases in the wood.

Melanie was busy setting the cake out. Can we invite the fairies Grandaddy? I’ll knock on the door and they’ll open it.” Grandaddy smiled with his kind blue eyes. “Ok Melanie, knock on the door and the fairies shall come out,” he teased. Melanie was busy clearing the darkened mud and leaves from around the door. “It has to be perfect, just like it was before.” Mrs. Charal and Catherine were arriving to join in the birthday picnic with their bravest smiles. Melanie took the top off the cake container and presented her beautiful fairy flower cake. They sang happy birthday like there was no other care in the world. “I have a present for Grandaddy and Melanie. I got the man in black to let me pick it and the fairies helped me!” exclaimed Melanie excitedly as she took the golden crowned book out of the tea towel wrap that she’d attempted to hide it in. Granddaddy took the book in his hand and rubbed his hand over the two crowns and foliage embossed ever so slightly above the book. “It’s beautiful,” whispered Grandaddy as a thousand thoughts flooded his mind of his son who he had lost in the war, and the fairy door that was etched in the tree, carved with the same crowns depicted on the front of the book. The forest seemed to freeze in time for Mr. Charals who frantically, without a word, took his pocket knife to the edge of the fairy door. Melanie was shouting “Stop Grandaddy, you’ll hurt the fairies.” Mr. Charals stopped his frantic attempts realizing how it must look to his precious Melanie. “Melanie, my dear, I’m letting the fairies out to join us.” Grandaddy continued to carve out the door that had sat weathered in the forest. He pried open the damp wood door to find a box inside. “It’s a fairy box!” exclaimed Melanie who stood beside her sister and mother with excited anticipation.

Grandaddy took the box out with shaking hands and handed it to Mrs. Charals who slowly undid the latch on the box. Melanie was sure fairies were going to fly into the forest, released from a fairy box kept buried by an ogre. She was chatting about what the forest would be like once they’d freed the fairies. Mrs. Charal and Grandaddy stood in complete silence, as they reached into the box and counted 20 one-thousand-dollar notes. “Twenty thousand dollars,” uttered Grandaddy. Melanie stood silently; a tear slowly falling down her face. “But where are the fairies?” Mrs. Charals and Catherine were also crying. Melanie knew that they finally believed in fairies too.


Lesley Raymond

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Lesley Raymond
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