Larkin family chef Claude Mondoux is one of my favorite characters in the Collective Obsessions Saga. Although he only appears in the first two novels of the series - The Advent and Quixotic Crossings - his exuberance for life, fluid intuition and deeply-felt compassion leave a lasting impression.
He was born the only son of Ysabel Amelot Mondoux in Chamonix, France on February 10, 1845. Ysabel had been a striking, dark-haired beauty in her day. She was an actress briefly, before giving birth to Claude. Her love affair with an affluent Chamonix businessman named François Durand resulted in Claude's arrival, and afterward she gave up acting to work as a maid. Claude never met his father, although he assumed the man must have been blond and tall, two characteristics Ysabel could not have given him.
Claude was an unusual and striking figure of a man. Tall and slender, he had blond hair and blue eyes, with a stylish gold earring studding his left earlobe. He was energetic, forthright, effervescent, naturally friendly and slightly effeminate, but not the least bit subservient. His sexuality remained a deliberate mystery throughout his fictional tenure in my imagination.
He worked as a chef at the Auberge du Bois Café & Chateau in France before coming to Larkin City in 1875 after the death of his mother. John Larkin found him at the Amber Whale Tavern, and hired him on the spot. John nicknamed Claude "my frog" as the years progressed. Claude had his own suite of rooms inside the Larkin mansion, located just off the massive kitchen. He became a close and dear friend to lighthouse keeper Colm Sullivan, the two of them sharing many secrets during their lifetimes.
In their later years - after Colm retired and moved to a cottage in Larkin City - Claude joined him for lunch once a week. During one of the occasions, Colm revealed to Claude he had seen the ghost of Molly Larkin in his cottage and garden. Claude begins to fear for Colm's sanity:
The afternoon waned as Claude listened to Colm talk about Molly, his apprehension increasing with each passing minute. He did not have the heart to tell Colm he was dangerously close to dementia or senility. The memories of Molly made Colm seem almost euphoric, and Claude could not wrest that away from him.
Near four o'clock, Claude seized on a lull in the conversation and rose from the garden table. It had been one of the saddest afternoons of his life, and he felt as if he had lost a little piece of his friend in the process.
"I need to get back to the mansion," Claude said as he gazed down at Colm. "We'll do this again next Saturday, oui?"
Colm glanced up at his friend. "Oui, Claude. We have a standing date, don't we?"
Claude saw the distance in Colm's eyes, the lack of focus. Before he could stop to think about what he was saying, Claude joked. "Say bonjour to Mademoiselle Mary Margaret for me."
Colm brightened. "Yes, I will. She always liked you."
Claude walked across the garden until he reached the side gate. He turned to look at Colm once more, the sight in front of his eyes stopping him in his tracks.
Colm was still seated at the garden table, but now there was another figure present. Claude saw a diaphanous image of Molly, looking just like she had before her death. She was standing behind Colm's chair, and Claude watched as she reached down and caressed Colm on the shoulders with her fingertips.
Claude blinked his eyes several times, certain he was befuddled after three glasses of sangria. But when he looked again, he witnessed Colm leaning back and gazing at Molly with a beatific smile on his face.
Claude turned and left the garden, anxious to remove himself from the dreamlike tableau.
He drove back to the mansion slowly, one thought uppermost in his mind. "Colm isn't crazy, he isn't seeing things. Mademoiselle Molly is actually with him, I saw her with my own eyes. She is real, in this moment."
Then a realization struck Claude, collaborating Colm's notion. "But she is here for his soul. She wants him to choose hell over heaven to be with her in eternity . . ."
Claude was famous for his "Zucchini Loaf" in The Advent and thereafter:
• 3 C flour
• 1 tsp. salt
• 1 tsp. baking soda
• 1 tsp. baking powder
• 3 tsp. cinnamon
• 3 eggs
• 1 C vegetable oil
• 1-1/2 C sugar
• 3 tsp. vanilla
• 2 C zucchini, grated
• 1 C walnuts, chopped
Preheat oven to 325-degrees F. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, soda and cinnamon in a bowl. In another bowl, beat together eggs, oil, vanilla and sugar. Add dry ingredients to moist ingredients; mix well. Stir in the grated zucchini and nuts; pour batter into prepared pans. Bake for about forty minutes to one hour, or until tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on rack for twenty minutes. Remove bread from pan. Allow to cool before slicing and serving.
When Claude died in 1936, he was buried in the Larkin Family Cemetery. He was the only "servant" to be so honored.
Excerpt from Quixotic Crossings ©Deidre Dalton. All rights reserved. Books in the Collective Obsessions Saga by Deidre Dalton may not be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the author. All eight books in the saga are works of fiction. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
*Author's Note: The physical appearance of Claude Mondoux is based on the late English actor Robert Addie (1960-2003). The image is not meant to be indicative of true personality traits of a real person, but rather a general idea of what I envisioned as the "outer shell" of a fictional character.
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