The following morning breakfast was laid out for me in front of the huge granite fireplace but I took my coffee onto the terrace by the wisteria in full, fragrant blossom. Such abundance. The trees were full of birds and I learned the name for blue tits, “mésonges”.
Off into the beautiful morning for a 9am appointment outside of Mortain with a dealer I’d met a couple of years previously. Monsieur was in the large yard as I drove in and greeted me with a leathery handshake. Still with very few teeth, still in his Trilby hat, he was a man of few words. The Alsation still barked and pulled at its chain. We made for the first hangar and climbed up the wooden stairs to look at farmhouse tables – still nested one into each other. Chestnut, pine, oak, walnut – with drawers, without drawers, warped tops, wormy legged – they all needed inspection. We agreed on two – a fine chestnut table on tapered legs with a rich, burnished colour, and a simple long pine table.
The son, in blue overalls, is summoned to bring round the fork lift truck. The metal door of the hangar is slid open and the two tables pushed out onto the platform. Everything I’ve bought so far has to come out of the van (this loading and re-loading takes much time, and is one of those frustrating occupational hazards with a smaller van!) “Ah, vous aimez les draps?” says the son, seeing a pile of sheets being pulled out of Moe. We carry out a sort of ballet of furniture moving and when everything is packed in with precision (the three tables have had to be nested together and then slid in all at once) the son leads me round to the back of the yard and opens up yet another hangar.
On a clear bit of concrete stands an armoire. “We just brought it in,” he said, “go on, open up the doors, you’ll be the first person to look in there for a while. The wardrobe was full, from top to bottom, with sheets and nightdresses. All embroidered with the same initials, “DM,” all folded and put away with care many moons before. The uppermost sheets had all turned brown around the edges. The son put a wooden pallet down for me to pile the sheets on as I brought them out, and then stood watching. I asked him to help me open them up and hold them against the light to spot any signs of wear. He pushed back his baseball cap: “Je n’ai pas l’habitude a ca, vous savez!” – with his thick arms and big hands, this clearly wasn’t the sort of work he was familiar with. I imagined him bringing in the wardrobe on his forklift truck, but with little interest in its contents. The nightdresses, made from linen as stiff as cornflake boxes, each with a small pair of initials in red, and lace around the neck, were less age-marked. “Well, those certainly wouldn’t do anything for me,” I heard the son remark quietly to his father who’d joined us. I pretended not to have heard.
Madame came slowly over with her walking stick, wanting me to go to her hangar! She was shooed away with “Laisse nous terminer nos affaires d’abord” – let us finish our business first. But later, when many sheets (no nightdresses) were added to the load in Moe, she returned and led me past past a couple of wrecked cars, rusting machinery and slabs of granite to her store of treasures…….