Jack left us this morning after an extended stay; word came that His Lordship needs him in Mont-Havre, as well he might. It was the longest Jack and I have been able to spend together since we were boys, and we spent it as you might expect: up until all hours talking, drinking just a little too much, and making the rounds of the village—for everyone here wanted to meet the hero who lost a leg fighting Le Maréchal.
Truly he was welcomed, and more than welcomed. He spent several days in my workshop while I worked, talking with my covey of older men and swapping outrageous stories with Jacques-le-Souris until they were all howling. The old men spoke of him to their families, which led to a stream of folks coming by to catch a glimpse of him, and to be introduced; and that led to invitations, and after a few days had passed I seldom caught sight of him between breakfast and supper. He had won their heart with his sacrifice, and they won his with their welcome.
When he first came, Jack was inclined to be sensitive about the remains of his leg, and morose with it when he was off his guard—for Jack has always understood his duty to his friends and family, to be of good cheer and keep up appearances. But I could see it in his fatigue at the end of the day, and the look in his eyes when he turned to go. I invited him to join us at the hot springs on the first Sunday afternoon he was with us, and he declined. “No one would care to see this,” he said, with an overly casual wave downwards. I fear he spent the afternoon brooding.
But the folk of Bois-de-Bas are no strangers to serious injury—they hardly could be, given the rigors of building a new home in the forests of Armorica. They take it in stride, if I may use so inappropriate an expression; and an injury honorably received is a source of respect rather than revulsion, just as an injury foolishly received will be a source of humor (in others) for the rest of the person’s life.
“You could cut a wide swathe her in Bois-de-Bas,” I told him. “You’re a handsome fellow, and charming with it, and the leg is neither here nor there.”
“That last bit is true of a certain,” he said. “I can’t find it anywhere.”
“But don’t, please,” I said. “Cut a swathe, I mean. It’s a small town, and I live here.”
He nodded, but he seemed more cheerful after that. And though he spent time with many families with daughters, I didn’t hear his name linked with any in particular.
We had Marc and Elise to dinner, and visited them at their farm; and I saw Elise and my Amelie whispering to each other in the corner and giving Jack the occasional look. I didn’t inquire as to what they were discussing. It was obvious enough, and besides, there are things man is not meant to know.
Yesterday I was told by several men of the village that I must be sure to bring him to the hot springs after our divine services, and to my surprise he came willingly. He seemed to know most of the men sitting near us by name, and when he told the crowd that he must leave in the morning they drank round after round to his health. Jack being Jack, he showed no effects from it on the walk home.
“I don’t suppose you’d care to pursue a career as an innkeeper?” I asked him as he gathered his things this morning. “We have no proper inn here in Bois-de-Bas, and you have the temperament for it. Also the capacity.”
He chuckled. “Wouldn’t that set the cat among pigeons back in Yorke! It’s bad enough that you’ve flown off as you have, but at least your father can tell himself you’re extended the reach of the Cumbrian Former’s Guild. But for me to descend to being a tavern-keeper! My parents would never live it down.” His eyes got a faraway look. “Attractive idea, though. But no, that’s a sergeant’s retirement, not a lieutenant’s, and anyway I think His Nibs has grander plans for me back in Mont-Havre.”
And now he’s off to whatever work “His Nibs” has for him. When he had passed out of sight, Amelie turned to me. “He must return soon, n’est-ce-pas? Perhaps you should visit him in Mont-Havre.”