Letters from Armorica- The Harvest (6 Octobre 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been a busy time. The goats are ever-present, but in addition we are beginning the harvest.

The fields are small, having been carved out of the forest, and they do not all ripen quite at once, having been planted one at a time, but still there has been much to do—and I begin to despair of getting the hang of it. Jack would be laughing at me now if he were here, the way he used to laugh at me during games at school, for harvesting the grain is quite like a game: there is a technique to it, and a rhythm, and where everyone else ends with a neat bundle of stalks I end up with the stalks scattered everywhere. By the end of Mardi I was reduced to carrying drinking water to the harvesters. I was mortified.

On Jeudi, Marc took me aside. "I've got a bit of a break for you," he said. "Someone needs to take the donkey-cart into the shop in the village for supplies, and everyone's busy in the fields."

"Everybody but me, you mean."

"Don't be so hard on yourself, mon ami," he said. "Gathering the sheaves is harder than it looks." Though he seemed to take to it well enough though I knew he had grown up in town. "Onc' Herbert asked me if you could see to it."

I'm well enough used to horses that I had no difficulty with harnessing Onc' Herbert's donkey to the cart, not so far as the straps and buckles go. Marguerite was not inclined to cooperate at first (that's the donkey's name, Marguerite), but after the goats she was not much of a challenge, and by the time we reached the village we had also reached an understanding. We were on quite good terms thereafter, Marguerite and I.

Marguerite was the one bright spot to the morning. I spent the drive to the village in a pit of despond. I'd had no news from Mont-Havre in almost a month, so I had no idea whether the war had begun or not, or whether, perhaps, normal shipping had resumed. I didn't know whether M. le Gouverneur was still looking for me, or indeed whether he had ever concerned himself with me at all. Meanwhile the list of farm chores I was not allowed to help with was growing by the week, and I could foresee a time when I would be quite unable to earn my keep. I pictured myself sleeping in a little shed, trusted only to muck out the stables.

I was expecting to find M. Fabré at the village shop—which is an wholly inadequate name for the place, I must say. A "shop" sounds like a tiny place at which one might buy a handful of buttons or a pouch of tobacco, and indeed you can do both there; but it is really more like a small warehouse. Most of the farmers do send their own carts to one of the bigger towns a few times a year; but anything else that is needed comes through the village shop.

I had been introduced to M. Fabré at the hot springs. He seemed a quiet man, worn down and with a bleak look in his eye. I was curious to ask him which of the merchants he dealt with in Mont-Havre, but we hadn't had any opportunity to speak.

We still didn't, for behind the counter was the young lady who had been trying to catch my eye after divine services. She blushed prettily.

"Oh!" she said. "It is you!"

I didn't know quite what to say to that, though I'm sure Jack would have been at no kind of loss, so I just said, "Bonjour, mademoiselle. Um, I was told to speak with M. Fabré?"

"Mon pere," she said. "He is not here. He is helping M. Tremblay with the harvest. But I may help you." And she smiled warmly.

Her name, I found, was Amelie, Amelie Fabré. I handed her the list Marc had given me, and she helped me load up the cart with the items, laughing and chattering as we worked our way up and down the rows of shelves. I found I had to work hard to keep up with her. As we worked I asked a few questions about the business, and found she had ready answers.

I was bemused all the drive back to the farm. Amelie had a fetching smile, and she was clearly no fool, and she was ever so much prettier to think on than the goats. I thought of her all day Vendredi and Samedi, and I managed to catch her eye after divine services this morning. I gave her a warm smile, which she returned in kind. She was already sitting with her father and another family I learned to be the Tremblays, or I might have tried to join her.

It is only now, as I write these words, that it has occurred to me: when Marc and Onc' Herbert sent me to speak with M. Fabré, they'd have known quite well that he would be helping the Tremblays with the harvest.

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