Monthly Archives: September 2017

Letters from Armorica, 27 Juin 33AF


I had an adventure yesterday that I think will amuse you, being much more the sort of thing that would happen to you.

Late yesterday the senior clerk asked me to run up to the port and check on Jean Baptiste, one of the other junior clerks. He works at the Suprenant & Fils warehouse at the port, and only comes into town every few days to keep the ledgers up to date. He should have been here yesterday afternoon, but he didn't come. This isn't one of my normal duties, but the office boys were all out on other errands, and M. Bardot was worried, so off I went.

He wasn't at the warehouse, and after several hours I tracked him down to the back room of the Zorba, a tavern near the port that mostly serves the dock workers. Seems he'd started come in around mid-morning and started drinking heavily. He got a bit unruly, and there was something of a brawl.

You'd think that the dock-workers might resent a clerk drinking in their bar, but you'd be wrong. Jean wasn't a regular there (or anywhere, really) but he was known and respected around the port. And besides that, the dock-men had all heard the news.

It seems that Jean's fiancée, a young lady named Marie, had—very publicly—run off that morning with the mate from an Illyrican freighter. The dock-men in the bar all took Jean's side, being against foreign sailors by nature, as you might say; and the brawl started when a lad from the same sky ship unwisely came into the Zorba for a drink. Jean Baptiste threw a punch at him, missing him completely and nearly falling over; the sailor quite naturally belted him a good one; and after that the melée became general. The invader was repelled, with a certain bit of damage to the furniture, and the barkeeper tossed Jean into the back room to sleep it off.

Well, I couldn't leave him there. Suprenant et Fils wouldn't appreciate the scandal, and besides, if he woke up in the bar he'd probably start drinking again.

I couldn't shift him by myself, so I fetched Jacques-le-Souris from Madame Truc's, he being an understanding fellow with a great appreciation for the feelings of a young man whose girl ran off with a sailor, and no stranger to drink himself, what's more, and between the two of us we managed to get him out of there.

I didn't know where Jean lived, so we couldn't take him home. After a bit of thought, and much arguing with Jacques, who thought I was taking my life in my hands, I resolved to smuggle him into my room at Madame Truc's. We'd get him cleaned up and let him sleep it off.

You can imagine how that went. Jacques checked that the coast was clear and all that, but still, we were halfway down the corridor to my room when Madame Truc appeared. I swear, I think she must have the Gift.

She looked like an oncoming winter storm. "Monsieur Tuppenny," she said in tones of the coldest, "what is this that you are doing?" I admit I cringed, because she only used such a formal mode of address as a sign of her extreme displeasure. Usually it was "Armand, mon fils." I saw my coveted seat slipping all of the way to bottom of the table, but I stood my ground—so far from having been out roistering, I was on a mission of mercy.

"Madame Truc," I said, "This is Jean Baptiste. He's my fellow clerk from Suprenant et Fils." Her expression softened a bit when she heard me speak, I guess because I sounded cold sober. Which I was. "He found out this morning that his fiancée ran off with an Illyrican sailor."

At that her eyes blazed, and she muttered something that might have been "La putain!" under her breath, though I am sure I must have misheard. And after that she was all business. "Armand, mon cher fils, to M. Suprenant you must report, and that the most quickly. Jacques and I shall take care of this poor young man."

I was rather hoping to avoid any of this coming to M. Suprenant's notice; it had been made clear to me that public drunkenness and carousing was well beneath the dignity of any clerk at the firm of Suprenant et Fils, and I didn't want Jean to lose his position over a faithless wench. The only hope was to get the bookkeeping taken care of promptly, as there was no telling what had gone at the warehouse in Jean Baptiste's absence.

The sun was quite down when I reached the port, and I found the warehouse abandoned except for the senior warehouse man, a fellow named Morel. He was nearly frantic, and didn't calm down even a little bit when I introduced myself. "I've done my best, M. Tuppenny, but M. Baptiste left this morning and I'm no clerk. I tried to fill in the journal for each load, and I'm sure I made a hash of it. But what was I to do? And M. Baptiste is not here to lock up, and I want my dinner. It's been a day of the most long, M. Tuppenny."

I inspected the journal, which was indeed a mess, and with a ruthlessness I did not know I possessed made him go over it with me until I was sure what each of his entries meant. I dismissed him after that and spent the next hour copying the entries clearly and in a legible hand; then I struck out the entirety of Morel's work and initialed it carefully. There'd be no hiding this from M. Bardot or M. Suprenant! I was in a mood as I carried the journal through the dark streets back to Suprenant & Fils.

M. Bardot was waiting in his office, seated at his desk, reading a book by the light of an oil lamp. He took in the journal and stains on my coat, which I'd acquired when helping Jean Baptist to Madame Truc's, and in silence held out one thin hand. I gave him the journal, and waited, hardly breathing, as he inspected it.

He closed it after several minutes, and looked back at me. He was clearly awaiting an explanation.

"His fiancée," I began, but he held up one hand, and nodded.

"Say no more," he said. "M. Suprenant will see you in the morning. You may make your explanations to him."

Jean was in no case to go anywhere in the morning, having been pretty well knocked about. I reported in at my usual time, taking up my station in the back, and when M. Suprenant entered he beckoned sternly instead of giving me his usual cheery greeting. I followed him to his office, and told him the whole sad story.

He heard me out, and told me that I might return to my duties. I wanted to ask what would become of Jean Baptiste, but M. Suprenant looked so forbidding that I didn't quite dare.

M. Bardot came to me later in the day; it seems I am to be trained to work with customers at the front desk. It's a position of great responsibility, and so I was quite surprised, as I've only been with the firm a few weeks.

It wasn't until I was nearly home that I realized that M. Bardot and M. Suprenant had already heard about poor Jean's fiancée when they sent me out to find him. It was a mark of their respect for him, and a kind of test for me—and a sign of their good opinion of me, as well.

At supper, I found that I had been elevated into the highest heavens, having been granted the coveted seat on Madam Truc's left, across from Jacques-le-Souris, for at least this one evening.

Hoping this find you well,

Your cousin,


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Letters from Armorica, 20 Juin 33AF

Dear Marc,

I'm so glad to hear that you and Elise are settled in Bois-de-Bas in such an excellent situation. It must be good to have family there to support you, and to "pave the way" as we'd say back home. I'm sure that you will work your way into your own farmstead in short order.

No, I'm not still working at the port; I am now a junior clerk at Suprenant et Fils, and I live at Madame Truc's boarding house. You may safely write to me at that direction. I hadn't planned on staying here very long, but Madame Truc has taken a shine to me, and M. Suprenant pays me well enough that I am able to save for the future so long as I am not extravagant in my needs. For that, Madame Truc's serves me very well.

What that future may be I am still unsure. I am still working it out. I do not wish to remain a clerk all of my life, but I am learning a great deal about trade and imports and exports just by watching what goes on at S&F. With my connections in Cumbria and the knowledge I am gaining I suppose that some day I could set up as a merchant here in Mont-Havre. I think I could manage it. There are many inducements. M. Suprenant lives in a grand house, and has all the good things in life, or at least all of the good things that are readily available here in Armorica; and he is a good man, generous in both word and deed. I expect that I shall marry one day, and it would be good to make a fortune to provide for my family.

And yet, to be M. Suprenant seems to me to be little more than a grand sort of clerk—he needn't keep the journals and ledgers himself, but his working life is consumed by them. He comes in every morning, perhaps an hour after I must arrive, and always through the warehouse doors at the back of the building. He greets me and the warehouse-men cordially, and asks after our comfort, and then heads off whistling to his office across from the senior clerk to go over the latest transactions. At noon he dines in the hall of the Guilde du Marchandes with his peers, the owners of the other mercantile concerns, and the talk is all of harvests and storms and the price of bronzewood in the back-of-beyond. And none of it is good, open talk such as we used to have on board the Lombard. They enjoy each other's company and drink each other's health, but they fence one with another, always desiring to learn whatever will aid their dealings while giving nothing away.

It's a grand game, I suppose; but it was to avoid something like it that I left Yorke.

But the experience can only be useful, and my wages will lay the foundation for my future dreams whatever they may turn out to be.

Please, write me and tell me more about Bois-de-Bas. I am delighted by your descriptions of the woods and grottos and hot springs around which your town is built, and would gladly learn more of them; and also of the people of your town. I am a city boy, as you well know, not a countryman like yourself, and I have no taste for farming; but if there were some way I might earn my living there in Bois-de-Bas, some way I might be of use and support a family, I would gladly live closer to such an excellent friend as yourself.

My best to Elise!

Your friend,


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Letters from Armorica, 13 Juin 33AF

Dear Mum,

A couple of weeks ago I started to tell you about my job at Suprenant et Fils, and got side-tracked into talking about the local architecture and kinds of timber. It's easy to get side-tracked when there's so much here that's different from an old, established city like Yorke.

S&F is housed in a neat timber-framed building on the Rue du Champs. In the front there is a room with a counter, where a clerk sits to accept orders and payments from the firm's customers. The Guilde du Courriers has a messenger service that runs throughout the city, but as most of the larger merchants and traders are within a few blocks of S&F it is often less expensive (and quicker) to send a boy with a packet or to visit in person than to use the Guild's services.

Because the desk clerk must take in and disburse money it is a position of great responsibility, and as the newest member of the staff I have not yet been entrusted with it for even a few minutes. On the other hand, as a clerk and as a man grown I rank above the office boys, and so haven't had to run any messages. In a way it is a pity, for I should like to learn more about the other merchants in town.

The offices of Mon. Suprenant and the senior clerk are off a hall behind the counter. The senior clerk himself, Mon. Bardot, has been with the firm for many years and resides with his family in a small apartment over the offices. (At least two of the office boys are his sons.) The owner and his family live in a fine house on a shady street some blocks away.

Behind the offices is a large space used as a warehouse, with double-doors opening onto a lane. This is where S&F keeps smaller and more expensive goods: cinnabark, fine hardwoods, blaireau pelts, and the like—the sort of thing worth holding onto until the market is favorable, or too attractive to thieves to keep in the larger warehouse at the port; and also goods for local consumption. There is a locked area with metal bars for the most precious items.

The double doors stand open all day long, and there is a near constant flow of wagons and carts coming by to pick up goods or drop them off; sometimes we have as many as six an hour.

It is my job to stand at a desk near the doors, and note down in a journal everything that comes in and goes out, and the time, and how much, and from whom or to whom, and all such manner of details. I must make all of the notes in ink, and with the greatest of care; if I make an error I must strike it out and initial the entry, and go show it to Mon. Bardot. He is not a hard man, and has been willing to make allowances for my inexperience, so I hate to disappoint him. And so I must concentrate, and think about every letter and number that I note down before I inscribe it. It is surprisingly fatiguing, and I find that I am increasingly grateful to Dad for forcing me to attend to my penmanship. I suppose he won't be much consoled by this, and I suppose you needn't tell him.

Then, at the end of the day when the doors are shut and the night watchman begins his rounds I remove to another desk in the senior clerk's office and update the grand inventory ledgers from my journal. I am also responsible for a card file that gives our whole inventory by type of merchandise, and by owner for goods owned by others that we are waiting to trans-ship.

That is for the goods held in our space here in town; there is a separate set of ledgers and a separate card file for the big warehouse at the port. That is maintained by another young man, Jean Baptiste. We have not had much to do with one another, as he spends his days out at the port and comes into the senior clerk's office only twice a week. What he finds for himself to do at the port, I've no idea; ships are not the same kind of hourly (or even daily) occurrence as the wagons are here in town.

And then, when my work is done I return the ledgers to the shelf and close the card file, and Mon. Bardot locks it all up and goes upstairs for his supper and I return to Madame Truc's for mine.

Your loving son,


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Letters from Armorica, 6 Juin 33AF

Dear Mum,

One hasn't much opportunity for merriment in Mont-Havre, not on a clerk's wages, not if you're trying to save every franc you can—as you must, if you wish to be able to take advantage of opportunities for advancement as they come by. The folk of Mont-Havre are hard-working, and have no use for layabouts; I wouldn't have my position as a clerk if I'd been seen frittering away my earnings from my work at the docks.

It makes for a tedious life: up at dawn, wash up, dress, a quick roll and coffee with Madame Truc and the other roomers, walk to Suprenant & Fils, work at my desk until noon, back to Madame Truc's for my midday meal (fortunately, it is a short walk), work until evening, supper, and then to bed. I usually have a bit of time to read between supper and bed, and I have been known to carry a book with me on my walk to and from S&F's.

My only expenses are my room and board, a few items of clothing suitable for my new station, and the occasional book. I am becoming quite well known at the bookshop of Monsieur Fournier, and as his stock comes mostly from Provençe I am necessarily working on my Provençese. My fellow roomers have taken to addressing me as Monsieur le Rat, which I'm afraid means just what it sounds like; but it is short for rat de bibliothèque, "library rat," or, as we would say, Mr. Bookworm. Alas, there are no lending libraries in Mont-Havre or I should save my francs all the faster.

However, few opportunities is not the same as no opportunities. The 3rd of Juin is the anniversary of the Deuxième Débarquement, which is to say the Second Landing, the arrival of the second colony ship to Armorica. I haven't yet learned all of the details, but the first colonists had great difficulties and hardships, as is so often the way, and the arrival of the second ship was a more than welcome relief. It is one of the biggest fêtes of the year, and it is traditional for employers to give their workers the day off with pay. Generous employers, like Monsieur Suprenant, will even give their men a few extra francs to drink their health. It would be a "rudeness of the most great," says Madame Truc, and a miserliness "of the most deplorable", not to spend them for that purpose; and in truth I had little desire to hoard them.

The celebration itself was not much different from the various guild festivals in Yorke. The center of the festivities was Durand Park, tellingly named after the leader of the colonists on the second ship. The leader from the first ship was a man named Gerard Morin; the Armoricans hold him responsible for the hardships experienced by the first colonists, but I haven't been able to get anyone to tell me just what he did. The younger folks don't know, and the older folks just snort and look aside, and (if outside) spit on the ground when they hear his name.

There were booths around the outside of the park selling food and drink, and bands played throughout the day; there was a parade in which all of the guilds took part (the Former's Guild was notable for the puny size of its float; I've had no contact with it or its members, but it seems not to be one of the major guilds in Mont-Havre). Also, there was much dancing, and in between drinking (and eating) M. Suprenant's health I danced with any number of pretty young Armorican girls.

Yes, Mum, I hear your gasp of horror quite clearly. But this is my home now, you know; and so I must necessarily marry an Armorican girl in the end. If it is any consolation, many of the girls I danced with were of families originally from Greater Britonia, and them not the least pretty.

Your loving son,


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