I have finally found Bertrand, who I have been looking for these many weeks.
I had been thinking and pondering about his future ever since I called for him to come to me in Mont-Havre last summer. He has been such a help to me, and is such an able young fellow, though unskilled; and I fear that I have made his life very much harder. His father, M. Laveau, is a foolish and angry man; and when the Provençese troops withdrew and we were able to return to town from L’Isle de Grand-Blaireau, Bertrand was so full of M. Tuppenny this and M. Tuppenny that that M. Laveau thought I was trying to transfer his son’s affections to myself. I spoke to him at the time, and did the best I could to smooth it over; but it seems that my existence has continued to rankle.
After we returned to Bois-de-Bas from Mont-Havre, Bertrand simply vanished. Even Luc did not seem to know where he had gone. I kept my eyes open for him, but did not approach M. Laveau for fear of throwing fuel on the fire.
And then, two days ago, Luc came to me with a message arrow in his hand—and one not of my making. He seemed distressed.
“You’ve been busy,” I said, taking the arrow and examining it. It was simple, as such arrows are, more the suggestion of an arrow than an arrow one might shoot from a bow. I could tell at once that it had been properly made and formed. “Have you tried it?”
“Oui, maître, I have. It was from Bertrand. He is very ill, and has no one to help.”
“So you do know where he is?”
Luc looked down. “Oui, maître. Je suis désolé.”
“Poppycock. You’re not a bit sorry, Luc. You’re worried about Bertrand, and pleased that you gave him some message arrows. You did give him more than one? And a message board?”
“You’re too sharp for your own good, Luc, but I supposed I must be pleased at your skill. Now, tell me about Bertrand.”
It was a brief tale, quickly told. I had called for Bertrand to come to Mont-Havre; and he had come without his father’s leave, without even asking for his father’s leave. This was very bad; and when we returned to Bois-de-Bas his father accused him of horrible things, and cast him out.
He was ashamed and humiliated, and afraid to come to me; but he spoke with Luc, and remembering some of the tales we had told during the war he found shelter against the winter in the hunters’ caves east of Bois-de-Bas, the place where we had made a decoy against the Provençese, hunting and fishing in the increasing cold.
“But now he is sick, and has no more food.”
“You have more arrows? Send him a message telling him that we are coming.” And then I went and found Jacques Poquêrie in his workshop and asked him to organize a rescue. We left early yesterday morning in M. Tremblay’s sleigh, Jacques and Luc and I, stopping frequently to trim back branches to clear the way, for the snow was still many feet deep—and how I wish I had a sky-wagon in good working order, for we could have been there in a few hours and back in time for dinner!
We found him some distance into the cave, feverish and wrapped in skins and the remains of an old blanket. He had managed to keep a small fire going, and had been melting snow for drinking water, but he was bony and shivering. He lay on his side, clutching Luc’s last arrow to his breast, and was hardly able to look up at us.
Luc sat by his side and fed him water and biscuit while I built up the fire. Jacques brought the two horses into the cave and attended to their needs—we were glad for their warmth—and then hung skins against the draft. I made soup, and gave Bertrand willow bark against his fever. I had brought the willow bark from our shop, which doubles as our village pharmacie. I shall have to see about finding a proper doctor for Bois-de-Bas; folk medicine and midwifery are all very well, but it is past time we should have a doctor of our own.
And then we settled in for the night. Bertrand was in no state to tell us his story, and we did not press him. Jacques and I kept the fire going through the dark hours; and after the sun rose we carried the invalid out to the sleigh and returned to Bois-de-Bas.
I would have brought Bertrand to our home and made room for him here, but Jacques said no. “There is gossip that does not reach your ears, Armand. It will be better if he comes and stays with us tonight. And tomorrow I think I will go and pay a call on M. Laveau, n’est-ce pas?“
“Is that wise? Perhaps we should leave it for now, and address it at the hot springs next week.”
He laughed harshly. “A man who drives his son away to die in the snow, Armand, what should be done with a man like that? I know what the men will say at the hot springs even if you do not. And as for you, you should take no notice. It is beneath your honor.”
“Are you sure, Jacques?”
“Mais oui. Leave it to me.”
I do not know what Jacques proposes to do, for he would not tell me. But at least Mme. Poquêrie will take good care of Bertrand.