Mr Fallacy accordingly invites me to lunch. He has promised to provide the grain-fed chicken imported from the Gers by his poulterer son and also a slice of veal bought at the butcher’s of Neighbour-Borough. In exchange, he would like me to present myself in the company of a few hors-d’oeuvre (tomatoes, melons), a few fruits (peaches, apricots) and a supplement of wine (he only possesses two liters), the one from Ginestas if possible which, during the time of scarcity in July 1944, permitted the consumers’ ration of picrate in the region of Béziers to be doubled for it was impossible to bring in the new harvest and, after all, “wine does not alcoholize”, as stated by the permit holders of the Der-des-Der (1914-1918).
Arrives the builder, Mr Limebrick whom I met the previous evening in his home at Ninive (already Asia Minor !) as he was sipping some yellowish drink while waiting for the meal to be cooked. Mr Limebrick, of slight build, agile, ferret eyes, is surrounded by a wife and a sister-in-law who watch over him like a little bird fallen out of the nest when he points his beak towards the half-open door where the outline of the muscular body of a young girl in shorts and hard thighs is visible. Above Mr Limebrick’s head, in the place of honour along a wooden beam, a gun with two parallel barrels, calibre 12. So Mr Limebrick presents himself today unexpectedly in order to examine the sagged beam of the roof and to put forward a vague estimate with an upper limit of around 4 500 francs. But he won’t be able to do the job straight away, he says with irritation, he has work to the end of the world ! October, November perhaps, for the vacationists are very demanding, buying barns which they re-transform at great cost in the rustic style. The builder measures, decides, settles, advizes with this accent of Massat and this harshness which accompany the gestures of the natives of this borough lost on the boundary of the Languedoc/Gascogne who, come winter and the hay in the barns, tumble down towards the valleys to peddle spectacles or medals as far as and including Lourdes (where business is reasonable) after having spent the autumn with their stills making this plum brandy - this zwicka of the Land of the Getae - which Mr l’Escoussière stores behind his bundles of firewood and with which he abundantly dilutes his coffee, brought from the plain in a thermos flask (registered trademark gréco).
The builder stops, cocked nose, before the three wooden beds of another age, more or less clumsily sculpted and with celerity enquires about their possible estimate, for he himself will offer straight away 700 francs per piece, given that he knows a rag-and-bone man in St Couserans who will buy them from him immediately at a good price and who has asked him to watch out for any old furniture in the houses where he worked. The builder, ear pricked up, feels the wood of the staircase (“elm or cherry”), takes hold of a chopping knife to bruise the ceiling beams (“chestnut or oak”), opens the iron-door of the oven to the right of the chimney (which he declares very rustic). Mr Fallacy who has reappeared in the meantime, observes him from behind his moustache and his stylish glasses. Mr Fallacy has appreciated the chicken from the Gers which, as a good gascon, has panache, the sweet smell of the melon, the acidity of the apricots. The remarks of Mr Fallacy, four times twenty years, oscillate between aggressiveness and ribaldry when he mentions his marriage - yet his cousin had warned him ! : “Couzi nou te marides pas ; tu benes blanc é tout lagaigno, quand la néu crubis la mountaigno, Amour es fret al pays bas.” (Cousin, do not marry, you become white, your eyes full of tears, when the snow covers the mountain, Love is cold in the low land !) and his booze-ups in the hotels on the days of Fair. It is very warm : a bluish haze floats on the top of the pine-trees of the facing mountain. Mr Fallacy’s eye-lids begin to twitch and it is only when he begins to sing the “Madelon”* that he seems to regain his drive for 1914, before sinking into a merited siesta, so much did he appreciate the quality of the dishes with which the rustic table was laden : the tender lamb from Péguère which had, hardly, nibbled the grass or the young shoots of the willow-trees, and whose veins still abound in milk, the pears from Boussenac (and from his greengrocer, a former pupil of the lycée Fébus who conquered New York with his cheese), pears whose acidy flavour was corrected by the winter and which now rival with the champions of Montreuil-sous-Bois, the wild mountain asparagus, the strawberries from the woods, the bilberries of the Pine Plantation which the Hippies resell magnanimously not at cost price. Mr Fallacy does not dream. He will wake up two hours later, astonished to still see himself there, on the river bank, and this after having believed, like the monk of Montaudon, that he was rowing harder than ever before.
*La Madelon or When Madelon... (canteen woman), a “poilus” song, first performed by the singer Bach (Charles Joseph Pasquier), “tourlourou” (barracks room humour), 19 March 1914 at the Eldorado in Paris. Words by Louis Bousquet, music by Camille Robert.