We left Pontorson just as the rain started, and drove east to Ducey. I was already aching with fatigue when we stopped for a coffee in a basic, modern hotel by the river, as the trees dripped and the day felt bleak. On the outskirts of the town we found a ramshackle Depot Vente. The rain hammered down on the roof, and there were plenty of rusty farming tools with wood wormed handles, but no amazing finds. Of course there persists the urge to uncover hidden treasures in neglected corners, but one must be equipped with patience and a large measure of tenacity.
On we drove to Sylvie’s warehouse to collect some items that had not fitted into Moe on the last fateful visit – worn and aged shutters and a late 18th century walnut writing desk, with a drawer that ran like silk and traces of its original grey and white paint. I introduced Sylvie to her namesake van – she looked bemused. Perhaps giving names to their vehicles is something the French consider to be a quaint habit of the English. She invited us to stay for lunch but, regrettably, we needed to get to our next appointment. Driving along high banked lanes, donkeys out grazing, wet, misty.
We pulled up outside a large barn with numerous outbuildings around the courtyard, and Monsieur greeted us. There was the usual lamenting about slow business: ”All the decorateurs who used to come every two months, we don’t see them at all now”. Monsieur took me around the outhouses, all stacked with monogrammed linens and baskets of vintage jam jars, dismantled wardrobes and rusted lanterns. I peered up into a loft space full of chairs, rush seats in disrepair and wondered out loud whether there were any rats up there. “Ah, non, it is quite safe – and besides, I am the only rat you must be afraid of,” he grinned.
A fire burned in a rough stone hearth in another room, a wheelbarrow loaded with fire wood had pragmatically been parked alongside, and he stopped to add an enormous log on the fire as we passed. One room was used by the family of cats – all the kittens descending from the kitten we’d seen there two years before. Back in the main barn I found a magnificent maie, a food storage chest, sturdy oak, a glowing golden colour, on nice legs with a lovely carved apron. “Come and eat with us next time you visit,” he said as we loaded up the van. How civilised. But declining the kind offer of tea we continued east, on very familiar territory now, leaving the rain behind us.
We’d booked into a small hotel with a red and white chequered turret in Bagnoles de l’Orne, a lovely spa town full of Belle Epoque hotels, a boating lake and casino. I have a letter dated 1895 printed with a view of one particular spa hotel and surroundings, not that much has changed. After a brief rest, and as the town was coming to life for the evening, people sitting over their aperitifs, we popped round to the very tasteful antique shop by the roundabout and stocked up on vital supplies of Napoleon III pressed glasses, linens and bottle carriers. The two beautiful owners said it would be no trouble to drop the things off at the hotel on their way home, that we should simply enjoy our evening out. Again, how civilised.