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Chapter 6: Stalin’s Library

It was on a fine spring day just as the strawberries were blossoming that Thomas-Jean Barracult took to his bed. He said that as he was now in his ninety-eighth year he had a right to rest. When the mayor came to visit him, Thomas-Jean announced that he intended to leave the village something of great value. Speculation swept over Banios like a sudden wind up from Africa, hot and impatient, turning this way and that in its excitement. Even Marcel Fontan who kept sheep in the Lacaze came down to find out what was happening. Gisèle de Saint Phalle spat out her cigaretto and said that, as Thomas-Jean had spent his entire life only milking two cows twice a day and had never been outside the village, he could hardly have a fortune. But she was wrong. While it was true that Thomas-Jean had lived all his life from selling the milk, he had made one trip outside the village and he was rich thanks to Stalin.

Long before Gisèle de Saint Phalle had been born, Thomas-Jean had attended the 1928 Communist Party Conference in Warsaw. When he came back, he would stand outside the church on Sundays and make speeches about Communism and the glory of the Red Revolution to anyone who would listen. After the first week, no one was interested. One Sunday a journalist from a national newspaper passed through the village on his way to mountain-climb and listened to Thomas-Jean. The result was an article headlined Is this the Nation’s Last Revolutionary? Someone of high rank in Russia, perhaps even Stalin himself, decided Thomas-Jean should be rewarded for his loyalty. So, for fifty years a small pension had arrived in cash, neatly tucked into a brown envelope with a Russian stamp. Thomas-Jean had never spent a penny of the money. He put it in a box in the loft above his cows.

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