Letters from Armorica, 27 Juin 33AF

Jack,

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,

Armand

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photo credit: Mike Miley New Oak via photopin (license)