It helps the tale if, in the reading of it, you pronounce Albert in the French way ‘Al-bair’, and know that Eleanor, despite bearing a name that comes from France, was actually English. They were both in the autumn of their years, or at least the late summer.
Eleanor had the kind of unworldliness of someone who had never had to worry about money. She didn’t actually have any, well not much, but her faith in the world coming right for her was boundless. Swiss finishing school had probably helped.
Albert (don’t forget – ‘Al-bair’) was a French peasant, a man of the soil. He was a very rich French peasant and the soil he was a man of was his own vineyard. Being a man of substance and a widower he was constantly ribbed by his friends and neighbours in Beziers: ‘You must marry again Albert, and settle down’. In reply he would explain that he was waiting for a blonde he was being sent, from the North. That is where blondes come from as you know.
Eleanor was a regular visitor to the Rookingham Centre in East Anglia where she bought the occasional antique from Roger. Rog ran an emporium stuffed with Afghan rugs, and antiques from France. His wife Sue ran the restaurant. Their relaxed atmosphere caused people to drop in just to have a coffee, browse the antiques – and see who else was visiting. It earned the name of The Vortex amongst regulars. Sooner or later you got sucked in.
In the days when a lot of English people were buying houses in France, Rog would take their furniture over to them in his big van before refilling it with antiques bought at the French ‘brocantes’ and bringing them back for sale in England. On one of her visits Eleanor asked Rog if he would ‘move’ her when she found a property she liked. She said she was heading for Beziers, for no better reason apparently than she liked the sound of the name, and the climate was warm. It so happened that Eleanor was blonde.
Eleanor sold her house, put the contents into store and gave Rog the details. The inventory started with ‘2 bricks’ and ended with ‘single bed with 3 legs’. Once you connected the two items it made sense. Had she been to Beziers? No. Was she going directly? No, she would make her way down through France with her two dogs and two cats. She offered to pay Rog up front. Sensing a degree of uncertainty in her planning Rog suggested that she paid when she sent for her stuff.
Crossing the channel, she made her way slowly south. Her finishing school French served her well and she made friends wherever she stopped. She was a great correspondent and her letters to Rog and Sue charted her course through France. Her copperplate handwriting was so good to look at that Sue kept the letters.
In one of them she told how she had met a farming family who had a house that they were having difficulty selling. The house had belonged to an uncle who had grown old and died in it and the house had grown old with him. The utilities were primitive if not dangerous, and the house was built into a hill, so on that side, the rooms had stone walls. Who would touch it? But the contents of every room had become antique over the years even if they hadn’t started that way. And the garage housed a 2CV that might have been the first one made. Eleanor knew immediately who would be interested and put the local notaire in touch with Rog. 18 months later (French property can be tricky to buy) The House in Gouex became a regular feature of Vortex conversations. But that’s another Tale.
Eventually arriving in Beziers Eleanor met Albert and Albert met Eleanor. They met when walking their dogs. Dogs are great socialisers. Soon they were walking them together. When Albert heard that she was living in a hotel, his farmer’s thriftiness prompted him to invite her to stay in his house. On an introductory tour of his estate she noticed him picking up a large snail that was in danger of being stood on, and placing it carefully to one side. His thoughtfulness sat well with Eleanor’s nature. She ran a shop in Glastonbury that catered to those who believed in the healing power of crystals. When she discovered that Albert also believed in such things, it was not long before Rog and Sue received a copperplate message asking for her furniture to be brought to Beziers. However, it seemed that the 3 legged bed was not required.
One day, when Albert judged that their relationship was strong enough, he took her to the tiny courtyard at the side of his house that was cool and sheltered from the sun. Opening a small door in the stone wall he showed her the substantial collection of large snails that were enjoying the dark, the damp and the heaps of herbs. They would, he explained, be in fine condition to be part of the feast which would mark their marriage.
Sue still has the copperplate invitation.