Letters from Armorica: Clerk (23 Mai 33 AF)

First Letter

Dear Mum,

As of yesterday morning, thanks to the machinations of Madame Truc, I am the newest clerk at the firm of Suprenant & Fils. S&F is one of the smaller merchant houses in Mont-Havre but it has a good reputation; it was one of the first to be founded and its headquarters are located on the Rue du Champs, the most prestigious business address. That wasn't the firm's first location, of course; that was a metal shack on a dirt road near the port. The Rue du Champs was surveyed less than ten years ago, and is where the more successful businesses have moved now that they can afford nicer buildings.

If you are picturing marble floors and spiral staircases with wrought iron railings, think again—no one has time for that here. Here in Mont-Havre, a nicer building is one designed by a local architect out of local materials. Most of the newer buildings here are timber-frame and plaster on stone foundations. The local bronzewood trees, of which there seem to be far too many, produce a very hard wood. It's too expensive in sawblades to shape it into planks, they tell me, but the bronzewoods have to be cleared for fields; and as they grow tall and straight with few branches they make good and durable timbers.

There are other sorts of trees about Mont-Havre, enough for building and general carpentry; many of the older buildings, including Madame Truc's rooming house, are built of a soft wood called crêpe de chêne. But timber-framed buildings are longer-lasting, and the merchants here are planning ahead.

There are townships in the provinces that have good stocks of other kinds of hardwood, very beautiful and not so difficult to work as bronzewood, but they too are growing and have need of it for their own homes and businesses. S&S imports coralwood, chêne-pierre, and beechpine from the provinces for the local furniture-makers, but only the wealthier residents can afford such things.

Most floors and roofs are of tile—there are good stocks of a fine green clay in the valleys near Mont-Havre.

So I am learning the duties of a clerk, making entries in ledgers using a metal-nibbed pen—the very latest thing here in Mont-Havre—and ink made from the galls of chêne-pierre trees. It is primitive, yes, but sustainable; it would be too costly to import modern fountain pens and ink from the manufacturies of Cumbria or Provençe.

Now that I am a clerk, Madame Truc has told me that my little room, for which I have been paying three francs a week, is of the most unsuitable. I, a young man of business, must have a finer room at five francs a week. She has just such a room newly available, and nothing will do but that I move into it as quickly as I can. I believe the major difference is that it is very slightly larger and comes with a lamp and an easy chair. But as I am grateful to her, and as my increase in pay is more than sufficient to cover it, I have chosen to go along. Madame Truc is something of a force of nature, though I believe Dad would use a stronger phrase than that.

Mum, I know that you must be bemused and disturbed by my present situation and employment, so different from in Yorke. But these are my people now, and this is my new home. I am glad to come to know them "up from the earth", as they say here.

Please write me and let me know how things are with you.

Your loving son,

Armand

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photo credit: wwarby Jim’s Wood Turning via photopin (license)