Two mishaps, an act of kindness, and three or four strokes of good luck!
I went in for breakfast precisely at seven, and one of the sisters was waiting for me. She was a friendly, gentle soul, and we chatted over breakfast. I had thought that the old house must have been a home for old nuns, but no, they were still very active. I had been feeling sad at the thought that they were all alone in this retirement home without any family to visit them, but no, she assured me that they were still very busy with their garden, their meetings, and their work with the aged, who must have been younger than they were. I left with the impression that they weren't experiencing any regrets at their present predicament.
Having made a detour to stay with the sisters, I headed east and rejoined the GR. Engrossed in a telephone conversation with my dear wife, I somehow missed a sign, and obliqued in the wrong direction. To cut a long story short, I lost any advantage I had gained the night before by venturing a little way on today's journey.
Finally, I arrived at Brioux-sur-Bouronne, and had a coffee at a bar with Wifi. Its regular clientele were much younger than I, but the young man obligingly turned down the loud, unfamiliar music. I continued on.
At Villefollet, I sat down and ate my lunch on a bench in front of un terrain de boules, an area of ground where the French play pétanque, their game of bowls. Various posters informed me that several tournaments were coming up, but now, all was silent. I could see with my mind's eye the old men throwing the metal balls as I had seen them so many times in village squares. And I could hear their metallic clink. A couple of days ago, I had laughed at a sign which prohibited the playing of boules after ten o'clock at night. The residents must have had trouble getting to sleep, not because of young people with their rock music, but the old with their bowls.
After lunch, I telephoned to reserve a place at the gite, and congratulated myself on carrying out a successful conversation on the phone, a difficult task for me. Then I pressed on.
An hour later, I couldn't find my phone! I must have left it on the bench at Villefollet. A piece of folly indeed at that town! What to do? I decided to ask the next person I saw to drive me back. Or perhaps I would find a taxi. I had noticed them from time to time on the highway. A little later, the GR crossed a busy road. I waited for five minutes. No taxi. I gave up and walked on. I now entered a forest, the loneliest part of the chemin since Paris. A beautiful walk, but I was too anxious to enjoy it. I must have walked for another hour before I arrived at Villedieu. Deserted. Then I saw a man leave a house and walk out to his truck, a tiny little Citroen. I ran up to him and started to explain my problem. "You want me to drive you?" he said.
He was a short, rather chubby, somewhat unshaven man, and, as I was to see, very gregarious.
I was optimistic. It would still be there. The terrain de boules would be deserted until the next tournament. But when we arrived, half a dozen people were sitting on the bench. And no phone. My driver knew most of the players and there was much shaking of hands. He explained my predicament. Everyone jumped up and down and looked under the bench. Still no phone. I was most apologetic at having wasted his time. Then someone suggested phoning my number. He did, and someone answered. She had my phone, and would meet us at the Mairie. All the joueurs de boules were most excited. They had taken on my problem as their own.
And so had my kind driver. He was quite happy to wait at the Mairie for perhaps 15 minutes before the woman arrived. As we waited, various people drove by in cars and on tractors. More shaking of hands. He knew them all.
And then she arrived. She hadn't found the phone under the bench. She had found it on the chemin, the GR. It must have dropped out of my pocket somehow. Or rather, her dog had found it. She had been out walking her dog on the path I had taken. He must have thought it was a piece of red meat. I thanked him profusely. He was in the back of the car. She had been planning to take my phone to the Mairie next time it opened, which was only once or twice a week in these little villages, and wasn't going to answer the phone, because she didn't know how. But something made her open it up and she pressed various buttons. She was as happy as I was at the outcome. She had a daughter in Halifax, and loved Canada.
My Good Samaritan drove me back to Villedieu, and offered to drive me the extra five kilometres to Aulnay. I declined, and tried to pay him for everything he had done for me. He refused and drove off, and I walked on, reflecting on the kindness that he and the others had shown me. For all of us, this would be a petite histoire. For me, as I'm recounting it to you now. For the lady who brought back the phone, to her daughter in Halifax. For the joueurs, for whom it might have been the big event of the day, or week. And for my driver, who helped out a pilgrim, and would tell the story to all his mates.
Now here's the thing. I hadn't seen a rambler or a dog walker on the chemin for three days, but she happened to be walking along at that time with her dog. And he happened to draw her attention to my phone. And she happened to reply to the ring. And, of course, I had happened to find someone willing to drive me.
At Villedieu, just before I found the kind man who drove me, I had met another pilgrim, Frank, a Parisian. He had been most sympathetic to my plight. I ran into him again at the gite, and we had a beer together. He is a croyant and was most interested in my story.
"It's the magic of the Camino," he said, "a miracle. And the name of the town where you found your driver? Villedieu!"