Monthly Archives: January 2018

Letters from Armorica- The Engagement (21 Novembre 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

You won't ever read this, because I don't dare send any letters and so I'm writing it in my journal—but I need to tell somebody about what happened today, and explain it to them, so that maybe I'll understand it myself. You're elected, because you're the only one of my correspondents with whom I can speak freely.

Yesterday I was asked to go to the Fabré's shop this morning and begin instructing Amelie Fabré in her letters and in the keeping of books. (Pretend that I've been able to tell you about the Fabrés and their shop, Jack, and about Amelie.) M. Fabré is very unwell, and Amelie will need the instruction to be able to manage the shop when he is gone. I have become a bit fond of Amelie, and wanted to help as best I could. But today didn't turn at all as I had expected.

I presented myself at the shop this morning, having walked the miles from Onc' Herbert's farm, prepared to do my best to begin instructing Amelie. Letters I know, Jack, and even words and sentences and paragraphs, but what I know about the keeping of books is limited to making neat entries in journal ledgers, as I learned to do in the store room at Suprenant et fils. The bookkeeping proper was of course done by the more senior clerks. I was hoping I could pick up a little from M. Fabré himself, and study how the books went together, and maybe Amelie and I could muddle through.

M. Fabré evidently had the same thought, for he was waiting at the counter with a collection of ledgers spread out before him. He looked tired and ill, and not entirely pleased to see me, but he waved me around to his side of the counter and opened one of the books to a page showing a column of names.

As he began to speak he was overcome with a fit of coughing. I pounded him on his back as gently as I could, not knowing what else to do; and then Amelie came, gave me a worried smile, and led him off to his bed. So much for learning from M. Fabré, Jack! So I leafed through the books in front of me as I waited for her to come back, trying to make sense of them.

The first thing I noticed was that the entries were written in three different hands. The earliest entries were in a rounded, stylish hand that might have graced the kinds of invitation I used to receive in Yorke. Then, midway through 28 AF, the entries began to made in a second hand, legible but crabbed and ugly, the hand of a man who did as little writing as possible. But all of the most recent entries, going back perhaps a year, were in a plain, simple hand: tidy, with no pretensions, but easy to read. I looked through all of the ledgers on the counter, which were of divers kinds; all showed the same pattern.

When Amelie emerged from her father's room, she found me seated in an easy chair in their small parlor. She stopped, and studied my face.

"You have been looking at the books, M. Tuppenny."

"Yes, I have," I said. "And I think we need to talk."

"Bon. I shall make tea." She bustled into the kitchen, and returned a few minutes later with a tray on which I found a pot of tea, a small pitcher of milk, a bowl of sugar, and two cups, all in the proper Cumbrian style. I looked up in surprise; I had not seen such a thing since I left Yorke.

She looked up at me from under her eyelashes as she poured. "You are to feel at home, non?" she said.

"Ah. Thank you."

I sat back in my chair and sipped; and if the tea wasn't quite like I would have gotten at my mother's table, it was still better than the harsh, black fluid that passed as tea at Onc' Herbert's. Amelie took her cup and waited for me to speak.

"Your father's note said that you needed to be instructed in bookkeeping and your letters," I said, baldly, "and yet I find that you have been doing all of the bookkeeping for the last year, and doubtless know more about it than I do. It is you who should be teaching me, not I you."

"C'est vrai, M. Tuppenny," she said, nodding. "And I shall—if you wish it."

"But why? Why ask me to come instruct you when you don't need instruction?"

She sipped her tea, and continued to look at her cup as she decided how to answer me. At last she looked up and studied my face for another moment.

"I think you would be happier if I spoke plainly, n'est-ce pas?" she said.

"Yes, I would."

She nodded, and took a deep breath.

"Mon pere, he is dying. I cannot run this shop on my own. It is, how would you say, a two-person task." In that moment her pretty face looked more drawn than ever. I could see the strain of her father's declining health—and the strain of this conversation, which I think wasn't going as she had expected.

And here's where you'll laugh at me, Jack. You, I know, would have swept Amelie into your arms, said all of the comforting words you could think of, made extravagant promises, some of which you might actually have meant, and used the word "lass" a great many times. But me, Jack, I don't have your experience or your easy way with the ladies; and do you know, Jack, I don't believe I want to. So I handled it my own way: business-like, as seemed appropriate to the circumstances.

"And you and your father are trying to recruit me," I said, and she looked up sharply. I smiled a little. "I've known it since I came to help with the inventory, and I'd been suspecting it for weeks before that."

She blushed, hotly, but simply said, "Oui."

"But why me? And why the foolishness about me teaching you?"

She looked surprised.

"But why? To save your pride, of course. It is one thing for you to teach me, but quite another for me to teach you."

"My pride, eh? If I were concerned about my pride I'd have stayed in Yorke." She looked a question at me. "I see I'll have to tell you about it, and sooner rather than later." She nodded. "But again, why me? I know there are many fine-looking young men here in Bas-de-Bois; I see them at the hot springs every week. Me, I'm a stranger, and I have nothing."

"Mon pere, he has always wished for me to marry an educated man." She shrugged. "There are many young men here, but of educated men, none at all. Until you." She looked down, then back up at me. "Mon pere, he has taught my letters well enough to read the labels on the boxes and the names in the ledgers, and he has often read stories to me in the evenings. Mais vraiment, I should like to learn to read them for myself."

"But is that enough? You know nothing of me. I might be a cad, or worse."

"Non!" she said, emphatically. "You are a hard worker," she said. "You do the meanest jobs without complaint, though you are from a fine family in Yorke. You are of the most educated, and you are no farmer. If you are to stay here in Bois-de-Bas, you must have a place, a place better than a cot in the attic of Herbert de Neánt's farm. And you have always spoken to me with kindness."

I thought back to my interview with Onc' Herbert in the back-corner of the hot springs. Oh. Did the whole village know what was going on here? I began to think that they did.

Then she looked at me in such a frank manner that it made me blush. You know how it is at the balls in Yorke, Jack, you've been to enough of them. Both the mammas and the daughters look at us like prime beef, judging of our wealth and consequence. This was something quite different, and much more personal.

"And you are quite handsome enough," she said, and dimpled. "And I—" and here she waved a hand at herself. "Am I not pleasing to you?"

I think I blinked rapidly several times. "Oh, yes," I said and blushed even more furiously.

"And so what is so difficile? Do you not wish to remain in Bois-de-Bas?"

I looked at my tea cup. In fact, I rather thought I did wish to remain. But the whole situation was very odd, Jack.

"This is not at all how it would have been done in Yorke," I said mildly, looking up. "I'm afraid I'm a bit flustered."

"Is it that I am too business-like?" she said, voice rising. "Am I not good enough for you?"

"On the contrary, Mlle. Fabré," I said. "You misunderstand me.

In Yorke I would be attending balls and parties, and all the society mamas would be dangling their daughters in front of me, hoping to make an eligible catch. I'd meet every young lady, all of them dressed in the finest, all of them in their best looks, all of them with their eye on my family's fortune and power. And then, when they were ready, my father and mother would decide which one I'd pick. I never expected to have much of a say in it myself."

And then I looked Amelie in the eye. "Not one of those young ladies would care that I work hard, that I am no grumbler, or that I am educated. Nor would any of them speak to me so frankly." I shrugged, feeling a bit of a fool. "Well, do you know, I think I rather like it." She dimpled again.

Yes, Jack, I can hear you laughing at me. I know, Jack, I'm hopeless.

"Well, then," she said.

"But your father…he doesn't seem to like me very much."

"He likes you well enough. He knows what we are about."

"But would I make you happy?"

"Would you intend to make me happy?" she asked in return.

"I should certainly try."

"Then I think you will succeed, mon cher M. Tuppenny, for you are a hard worker." And she nodded. In that moment she reminded me of Elise speaking to Marc, and I felt a wave of something come over me.

"Let me tell about myself, then," I said, "for I doubt you have heard the full story."

"C'est bon. But for this we will need more tea, and also cakes."

We talked for the rest of the day, with Amelie rising to greet the occasional customer, and in the end it was all decided. I would continue to come every day, and in the mornings she would teach me the books and how to run the shop; and in the afternoons I would work with her to improve her reading, and also to speak Cumbrian (for we had been speaking Provençese all the day).

When I rose to leave, I said, "Now should I speak with your father?"

She shook her head. "He knows."

"Or with the priest—but you have no priest here in Bois-de-Bas. What about the bans?"

"There will be a priest here soon enough, in the spring."

"But—well, the year grows late. If I come every day, one of these days we shall get snowed in, and I shall be forced to overnight here. What about your reputation? I should seem forced to marry you then."

She came to me then, and put her hands on my shoulders, and there was a warm and wicked look in her eyes.

"Mon cher Armand, do you not yet understand? Mon pere, he wanted for me an educated man, but also a gentleman of Provençe. He has said so many times, and all the village knows it. He has refused several offers. So. You will come every day to teach me, to save your pride. And then you will be caught by the snow to save his pride, and the pride of the disappointed young men. And then, well," and she smiled shyly but with a frank promise that made me wish for snow. "And the next Sunday we will stand together in the Church, and in the spring we shall stand before the priest, but we will be married already. And all will have been done decently and in order."

"It all seems quite complicated to me."

She shrugged. "It is a village, Armand," and again I was reminded of Elise Frontenac, who had made the same observation the previous Sonnedi. But she'd said it to prevent me from sitting with Amelie in the church, because then everyone would think—oh. But of course, Elise would have been in on it. Can't have me jumping the gun, Jack, isn't that what you soldiers say?

"So what you're saying is, everyone wants and expects us to marry, but to save everyone's face it has to seem like a necessity."

"Mais oui! Have I not been saying just the same for hours? Sometimes you are very slow, mon cher."

"Things are done quite differently in Yorke," I said, enfolding her gingerly in my arms. "But I think—" and she cocked her head at me, and I kissed her for the first time. "—I think we shall be very happy."

And that, Jack, is how I finally came to be engaged at last. Do neglect to pass it along to my parents, won't you? I can hardly think they'll understand.

Your bemused but delighted cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica- Village Life (20 Novembre 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It looks like my life is changing again. I've been expecting it, more or less, but not so soon.

I went back to my usual routine after helping M. Fabré with inventory at the shop two weeks ago: doing my chores, driving the cart to the village for supplies, and attending divine services, followed by dinner at the Gagnons and the hot springs. The warmth of the hot springs grows ever more pleasant as the weather gets colder, while the walk to and from the hot springs grows ever less so. We have had a bit of snow, but nothing that remains for more than a day or so. Marc tells me that when the snow gets deeper, the younger men delight in climbing out of the hot springs and leaping into snow drifts. He's not looking forward to that any more than I am.

Sonnedi has come and gone twice in that time. The Fabrés were absent from divine services on the first of them, not a good sign, but I saw Amelie and her father on the second. M. Fabré looked more worn than usual, stooped by the cold. Amelie smiled at me across the village square, but she looked tired. I think it is more than age with M. Fabré; I think he is ill, perhaps with some wasting illness.

My eyes followed them as they entered the village church, and Elise, Marc's wife, said to me, "Be careful what you are about."

I looked down at her, walking between Marc and I. "What do you mean?"

"You are thinking of joining them in the church. If you sit with them, everyone will know that you are courting Mlle. Fabré."

"They will? But—"

"Mais oui. And if you were not, then you will be, from the moment you sit down. I hope you have a ring."

"But—"

"It is a village, Armand. To sit with her in church, that is as good as a promise. And have you spoken of this with M. Fabré? For it would be most impoli to surprise him with such a thing. It would be to presume upon his good wishes."

"Oh. I suppose joining them for dinner after services…."

"In summer, on the green, that is not so strong a statement. But now, when all dine en famille with close friends, and you a newcomer…." She shook her head. "Non, non, I think you must sit with us today." I glanced over her head at Marc, who was hiding a broad smile and carefully not looking at me. "But do not despair, mon cher Armand. For no doubt you will be taking the cart to the village this week and may speak to him then." And she nodded decisively.

I took the cart to the village the day before yesterday, and despite Elise' teasing as I left I did no such thing.

Amelie was at the counter when I entered, looking as tired as I had ever seen her. M. Fabré was nowhere in evidence. Amelie told me he was ill, but that she was sure it would pass. It always had before. She did not seem convinced of it. We loaded the cart in silence, and I helped her with a few things in the storeroom that were beyond her strength, and I came back to the farm.

But a boy came from the village this afternoon, the son of the village smith, with a note from M. Fabré. The boy said that M. Fabré was somewhat improved, but not well, and Mlle. Fabré needed help.

The content of the note was a surprise to me. M. Fabré wanted me to instruct his daughter in the keeping of books, and in her letters. He had done his best, but she would need more if she were to run the shop when he was gone.

I showed the note to Onc' Herbert.

"Bien sur, you must go," he said.

"It will not likely be quick," I said. "I cannot teach her all she will need to know in one day."

"Pas de problème," he said. And as I turned to go he favored me with a slow, ponderous wink.

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Letters from Armorica- Taking Inventory (7 Novembre 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Now that I sit and reflect on the day, I have a feeling that I'm being managed. I'm not sure I like that.

But maybe I do. I suppose I shall have to make my mind up one way or the other, and before too much time has passed.

I was about to go and do battle with the goats this morning, just after dawn, when Marc came and found me. I think Armorican goats must be different than Cumbrian goats. I have never heard anyone utter a word against Cumbrian goats. But these goats, these fiends in bestial form, you must outface them and intimidate them before you can milk them, and if you are wise you wear padded leather armor while you are doing it. It does not help as much as one might think, and I have often longed for steel plate.

But Marc found me before battle was joined, and told me that Unc' Herbert had something else for me to do today: he was sending me into the village.

"If he says so," I said, "Though it isn't the usual day for that," I said. "Could you harness Marguerite while I get out of this stuff?"

"You won't be taking the cart, either," he said, smiling rudely at me. "M. Fabré needs some help today. The cart can't be spared, but…."

"I can," I said. "What's it about?"

"I can't say," he said, grinning even more widely. "Perhaps they have some goats they need tending. Or maybe worse."

"You might make a career in Toulouse with a sense of humor like that," I said, and handed him the milk buckets. I was a little dismayed to see that he took them cheerfully enough. Then I got out of the armor and went and got cleaned up a bit—because you don't get cleaned up before you tend to the goats—and set out to walk the few miles to the village. It would have seemed a long distance back in Yorke; now it was just one more usual walk.

I gave Amelie a brief smile when I entered the shop, but M. Fabré was waiting for me. "Bon.", he said. "It is inventory time, n'est-ce pas?" He didn't look well, more worn than usual, with a pinched look about the eyes.

I thought about the rows of shelves in the back room—very high shelves, some of them.

"Let me guess. You want me to update the ledger while you count the items on the shelves?" I said.

His face darkened a bit. "Non."

I smiled back at him. "I thought not. That's a pity, as I've discovered I'm quite good with ledgers. Where do you want me to start counting?"

That got a snort of surprise, but his face lightened again, and he said, "Bon. This way."

I followed him around the counter, Amelie blushing as I passed, and into the store room at the back.

It was a long day, and long before the end of it I was glad of the hard manual labor I'd been doing at Onc' Herbert's farm. I was up and down ladders and moving boxes and counting items small and large and calling them out to Amelie's father. Some of the boxes—usually on the highest or lowest shelves—looked like they hadn't been touched or dusted in years. By the end of the day I began to wish I'd done more hard manual labor at Onc' Herbert's farm.

Several times I had to stop while M. Fabré had a coughing fit. I wanted to ask him if he'd seen a physician, but there is no real physician in Bois-de-Bas.

We stopped for dinner at midday. The Fabré's home was in the same building as the shop, but to one side rather than above as would have been the case in Yorke or Mont-Havre. Amelie served, and while we ate M. Fabré asked me about my time in Mont-Havre.

I gave them the whole story—working at the docks, living with Madame Truc, keeping inventory ledgers at Suprenant-et-fils. I glossed over some of the details of Jean-Baptiste's adventure as not being fitting for a young lady (and certainly not in the presence of her father), but from her giggles I think she managed to fill in the gaps.

"C'est bon," he said at last, and we rose and went back to work. I made sure to thank Amelie. And then, at the end of the day, I plodded on back to Onc' Herbert's farm, aching in every bone.

Marc was waiting for me. "So," he said. "You look very tired. Were there worse things than goats?"

I thought of Amelie's smile when I said goodbye. "Non," I said. "C'est bon." And then I went to get cleaned up for supper.

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Letters from Armorica- The Interview (3 Novembre 33AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The cat is now out of the bag, or at least his nose is peeking out of the mouth of the sack.

When we reached the hot springs this afternoon, Marc led me down a different path to a pool I had not seen before. It was provided with the usual wooden benches, and it was close enough to the place we usually bathed that we could hear the other men talking but far enough away that we could not make out their words. It looked just the spot for a private discussion, and I wondered what was on Marc's mind. We hastened into the water, for the air was cold.

"Why are we here instead of in with the others?" I asked, but Marc shook his head.

"Just be patient, mon frere, and enjoy the water."

Voices rose and fell in the distance, and it had just occurred to me that private discussions worked both ways when we were joined by Onc' Herbert. He descended slowly and deliberately into the water, much as he did everything else, and fixed me with that piercing eye of his.

"Who?" he asked. I stared at him, speechless. Whatever I'd been expecting, it wasn't an interrogation.

"He means—" began Marc, but Onc' Herbert held up his hand, and Marc fell silent.

I felt more than usually naked. "It's quite all right, Marc, I know what he means." I looked at Onc' Herbert. "What have you already figured out?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Hard worker. No farmer. Good with goats." He chuckled a bit, to my surprise. "On the run. From what?"

"M. le Gouverneur," I said. He waited, and eventually I said, "And my father."

He nodded.

"He knows that, Armand. You told me that much on the ship," said Marc.

"Who?" said Onc' Herbert.

I took another deep breath. "My name—my real name—is Armand Massey. My father is the head of the Former's Guild in Yorke." That shut them up. "And yes, I'm a former, too, though I can't legally practice without registering with the Guild in Mont-Havre."

To forestall any doubts Onc' Herbert might have, I raised my hand out of the water and brought forth a light. Marc and his uncle watched it floating above my palm in a silence tinged with awe. After a moment I made it go away.

"You can do that," said Marc, "and you've been tending our goats?"

"It was better than tending my father's ambitions," I said. "I always liked forming, but just being a former wasn't good enough for my father. I always had to take his position into account, and I always had to be careful to do just the right things so that I could step into his place in my turn and spend the rest of my days preventing others from taking it from me." I shook my head. "That's no kind of life. I hated it." I looked across the grotto at the light coming in through the trees. "If I could have moved to some Cumbrian town and set up my shingle as a small-town former, I think I'd have been perfectly happy. Or even on Danver Street in Yorke. But Father would never have stood for it."

"The Guild in Mont-Havre?" said Onc' Herbert.

I shook my head. "I considered that, but I couldn't be sure they wouldn't ship me back to Yorke, just to do my father a favor. And as a newcomer, and a Cumbrian, I had no guarantee of a welcome." I grimaced. "If I'd told them who my father was, they'd have fallen over themselves to let me in…but of course I wasn't going to do that."

Onc' Herbert nodded. "Tuppenny?"

"My family is wealthy, and I turned my back on all that. I figured, well, at least I'd always have Tuppenny to my name."

Onc' Herbert snorted, then considered me for a few moments. "Bois-de-Bas?"

"I like it here," I said. "It's beautiful. I like the hot springs. I like the people. I think I could be happy here." I shrugged, and grimaced again. "But as you say, I'm no farmer, and I don't want to tend goats for the rest of my life."

"You've stuck with them for months without complaining," said Marc. "The rest of us can't stick them for more than a few days at a time."

I looked at him in horror. "But I hate those damn goats. You mean the job usually rotates?"

"Armand, everybody hates 'those damn goats,'" he said, while Onc' Herbert chortled silently. "You've made the whole farm very happy."

Onc' Herbert's shoulders continued to heave for quite a time. At last he said, simply, "Bon." and climbed out of the pool. I began to follow, but Marc shook his head.

"Bide," he said, so I tried to relax and enjoy the hot water. Deep voices rose and fell in the distance, and then rose all together and fell silent before relapsing into a murmuring rumble.

"Now we can go."

So we got up and joined the other men in the main pool. No one said anything, though many smiled; and more than one of the men slapped me on the back on the walk back to the farm.

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