I should indeed be glad to come to Mont-Havre for a chat with you…but for a chat with Lord Doncaster? Are you sure that’s wise? I wrote to you about my dinner with M. Archambault, I know I did. And I have been advised by M. Suprenant, my good friend, to keep clear of politics if I wish to thrive, and not to be seen as associated with either His Lordship or with Le Grand Parlement. I believe he is wise in this. Now, if you wish to put it about that I have been summoned by His Lordship, well. I can but obey.
Oh dear, that makes it sound like I am being balky and demanding written orders. I have heard you speak about that; and I should not wish you to think that I see either you or His Lordship in that light. Very well, I shall come to Mont-Havre, bringing a few articles of comfort to the Guild Hall; and whilst I am there I shall naturally sit down for a meal with my beloved cousin; and you shall make your case. But you must persuade me, Jack.
I must say a few words about your messenger, Sergeant Allen—retired, or so he says. Does he really mean to retire to Bois-de-Bas, or is this simply His Lordship’s not particularly discreet way of keeping an eye on me? He shall have to make his own way, Jack, for I don’t know him, at least not yet, and so cannot sponsor him. If he truly means to stay here and to open an inn he will find a welcome in the end, I think, but he will have to make his own way.
He has started well, I’ll grant him that. He spoke kindly to Amelie, and inquired for a family where he might rent a room, and listened most attentively to the old men who frequent my workshop. And he has been making inquiries as to where he might find the necessities for brewing: kegs, grain, and so forth. That was well-done of him, Jack. He will undoubtedly need to send away for some things, as indeed we all do. But there is much to be had locally, and he will please the townsfolk if he buys it here.
I gather he is a countryman from well south of Yorke, and a twenty-year man, experienced, competent, bold but not brash. He is not overly handsome, but looks quite sturdy; and I may say that the young ladies in Bois-de-Bas have a great respect for sturdy. He might, in fact, do well here if he continues to step carefully.
I think I shall come to Mont-Havre all the more quickly, as the work on our new town hall has entered its next phase. Our men have been felling bronzewood trees for the past two weeks, and will fell the last perhaps the day after tomorrow; and after that they will begin to burn out the stumps. It has been smoky enough these past weeks as they burn the sawdust and trimmings; but nothing burns as smoky as a newly cut bronzewood stump. Nor is there any way to pull it from the ground in one piece!
I asked the cutters whether one might simply build the hall with an elevated floor, and leave the stumps in place beneath. They laughed, and told me that the old stumps would be quite likely to sprout, and we’d soon find our town hall rising into the air. “My uncle tried that nigh on twenty years ago, non?” said one to me. “He built his house over a stump four feet across. Les chèvres! By summer he was living in a tree house.” “He had to build a ladder,” said another. “And add to it week by week,” said a third.
I still don’t know whether they were teasing me or not, but yesterday I walked out to the place where it happened, and of a surety I saw the remains of a small house in the top of a tree, at least fifty feet from the ground, with a bit of ladder dangling. The roof and walls were mostly gone, but the bronzewood timbers preserved its shape quite nicely.
And so this week they shall start burning out the stumps. As the town hall site is only a short walk from my home, it is quite unpleasant.
Perhaps I shall bring Amelie and Anne-Marie with me. I am sure that in her condition, Amelie would be delighted to get out of the smoke.