Monthly Archives: February 2019

Letters from Armorica-Rich Fools (26 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has been an eventful week, and so I have had little time (or interest) in writing. It is hard to find a time for writing anyway, with so many people in the house. Anne-Marie is getting bigger and becoming more interesting every day, and Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris are ever present—and that is just the evenings!

But the first snows came a couple of days ago, and buried our house up to the windows; we had to dig our way out in order to go to divine services these last two days. It is snowing again, and so all is hushed; and what with the cold and the effect of the hot springs this afternoon, Madame and Jacques both went to bed early.

Separately, of course. I really must persuade them to marry, if only to make better use of our living space!

So it is quiet, and Anne-Marie is asleep, and Amelie and I have the parlor to our selves. There is a small fire, so that we are warm and cosy; and so it is time to write about the past week or so.

It has been busy, as I say. Back on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau I formed some heating blocks out of metal to heat water in the bath-house, and some out of wood for heating our homes and tents when it got cold and we didn't dare show any lights or smoke. The wooden blocks weren't completely satisfactory, as they could not put out as much heat as the metal ones without catching fire, but they were better than nothing. It occurred to someone last week—I am not sure who, but I suspect Madame Pelletier, who, it seems, always has her eye on her comforts—it occurred to someone, I say, that the wooden blocks would be ideal for warming beds on cold nights, and so much safer than warming pans filled with coals from the fire!

Which is true, of course, which is why Luc and I had made some for the beds here in our house. I suspect Luc of talking a bit more than he ought—as an apprentice, he ought not be speaking of the craft to outsiders.

But the cat is out of the bag; and I could hardly refuse to fill the demand, especially after Amelie told me about the horrible fire that consumed the senior Gagnon's cottage some years ago.

The blocks I made on the island were just that: simple blocks of crêpe de chêne, with squared-off edges and all splinters smoothed away, and then formed to give off heat. The wood was on-hand, and easily worked, and there was no need for more than that in the spartan setting of a war camp. For our use here at home, though, I made them out of bronzewood, and formed them into flattish disks with rounded ages, rather the shape of warming pans. Made properly they give off a comfortable degree of heat, not hot enough to burn the skin, and Amelie found that she likes leaving them in the bed all night long; but the square edges of my original blocks were uncomfortable on the feet, and the soft wood didn't wear well under that kind of use. So I made them out of bronzewood, a labor of love, and now everyone else wants bed heaters made out of bronzewood too!

Ah, well. The current demand will keep us fed through the winter.

Then there are the daily distractions, which I expect will only pick up in coming weeks: with the two wood-stoves in my workshop, it is likely the warmest public spot in town.

Come to that, how is it that Bois-de-Bas has no inn, no public house? We shall have to see to that come spring, if only to avoid expanding the size of my workshop!

Being head-man has been different than I expected, at least so far. I was fearing having to sit in judgment over tales of thievery or worse, but it hasn't been like that. Even with the new folks in town, it seems that one just doesn't do that here on the frontier. Oh, there are stories, but they all go back to the earliest days of the settlement. The offenders quickly left town, and in a box as often as not.

No, it's been an issue not of petty thievery but of petty feelings.

Some while back, before the Provençese soldiers came, there was a fashion for brightly painted doors and window frames here in town. The houses here in Bois-de-Bas don't really need painting; they are all built of bronzewood timbers, with chêne-pierre cladding on the exteriors, and neither kind of wood requires painting to stand the weather. But Mme. Poquerie had some extra paint, and painted her window frames yellow, and a kind of frenzy began.

At the height of it Mme. Gagnon had had her husband paint their entire front door a brilliant red, and the soldiers had found it irresistible; from the looks, they spent much of their free time throwing knives at it. The underlying wood isn't much scarred— chêne-pierre can stand a great deal of abuse—but the paint job is in an awful state. Mme. Simard, the butcher's wife, lives across the way; she began the trend of "colored doors" by painting her doorframe (leaving the door itself alone), and Mme. Gagnon painted her entire door to do her one in the eye. But a doorframe isn't much of a target, and so the soldiers mostly ignored it; and so Mme. Simard has been lording it over Mme. Gagnon and teasing her about the damage to her fancy door.

I heard about this while I was working; the old men sitting around the front of my shop were gossiping about it, and laughing a great deal. But it was a problem, one said: "The Gagnons ate at home alone last Sonnedi rather than share space with the Simards, and that isn't right." Eventually one of them asked, "What do you think, Armand?"

I'd had time to think—if you don't let your mind go about its business when you're shaping bronzewood, you'll go mad—so I had an answer ready.

"I guess you all know that my father is an important man back in Yorke, where I come from," I said. "He's always been very concerned with appearances. He always had to have clothes made of richer cloth than any of the other guild-masters, and I remember him replacing our front door for one that was fancier than the neighbor's, and gloating about it at the dinner table. But you know," I shrugged, "he never got along with anyone, and he was never happy with anything. I like it better here in Bois-de-Bas, where people help their neighbors."

Our home isn't painted except for the sign that says "Tuppenny's," and of course I was wearing my work clothes, which were simpler and rougher than those of any of my listeners. I've no doubt that word will get back to the ladies that they are acting like rich fools from Yorke.

In the meantime we've placed an order for paint with Suprenant et Fils; but the demand for it is much greater in Mont-Havre than it is here, and what with that and the snow we won't get any until spring at the earliest. By then, with luck, it won't matter.

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photo credit: Simaron Red on a rainy day via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- The Gathering Place (15 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is all as I have feared.

Everyone smiled broadly and greeted me warmly at divine services this past Sonnedi morning. It was the same at Sonnedi dinner at the Tremblay's—and I was made to sit at M. Tremblay's right hand, with Amelie by my side. It was a worrying thing, for never before had I sat much above the bottom of the table.

Precedence, I have found, is very important to the Provençese settlers of Armorica. I saw this at Madame Truc's table back in Mont-Havre, of course, and it is the same here. But Madame had only to consult her own desires and the events of the day, for hers was mostly a gathering of strangers; but here it is a thing I have never understood, a thing of a complex of relationships and shared experience and favors given and favors owed and old feuds and old alliances, none of which am I familiar with.

I said as much to Amelie on our way to the hot springs.

"Naturellement, mon cher," she said. "And that is why." But she wouldn't say anything more.

And then, in the hot springs, I was made to sit at Onc' Herbert's corner of the grotto, in Onc' Herbert's own place. There was much hooting and many broad grins as Marc escorted me there and sat me down. It is a spot with a clear view of the rest of the grotto, and from which my voice could be clearly heard throughout if I raised it event a little. I discovered this when I sat down and found that the water in that spot was rather hotter than I expected, for I made some exclamation or other. There were cheers and many rude gestures, and Marc said to me, "Bien sur, Armand. We would not wish you to be too comfortable." But he sat down to my right, where I am sure the water was not much cooler.

For what it was worth, no one called upon me to pronounce judgement on anything. The will of the village had been made plain in the most concrete possible way; and the business of the day being concluded, I was left to stew in peace.

As I stewed there, in mind as in body, I tried to remember how Onc' Herbert had behaved. He rarely spoke, that I recalled, at least not to everyone. The hot springs are a social place, so of our course everyone chats to those around them, and there is a certain amount of to-ing and fro-ing. But sometimes the conversation becomes general, and everyone quiets down and listens. At those times Onc' Herbert listened with the rest; and at length would ask a question or two; and a little later might have something to say on the matter. Then he might answer some questions, and the general conversation would break down into smaller groups again.

"It wasn't that Onc' Herbert was in charge," I said to Marc. "It was that everyone trusted him."

"He was in charge, mon ami," said Marc in my ear. "He was in charge because they trusted him, "n'est-ce pas?"

"I see I shall have to work on my reliability," I said, and Marc thumped me on the shoulder.

And these last few days, things have been appearing in my workshop. My workshop is typical for Bois-de-Bas, being built to a pattern: a front door, a broad space for customers, a counter, and the workshop proper behind that, where I have tool racks, a work bench, and other appurtenances of the former's profession, and not the least welcome, a wood-burning stove. The space in front of the counter had remained largely empty, for I seldom had more than one customer at a time.

When I entered it on Monday morning, I found Jacques Poquêrie installing another wood-burning stove in the corner. When I returned from my midday dinner with Amelie and Anne-Marie, I found that a low-backed settee had been placed below the windows, facing the counter. A rocking chair soon joined it, and a low table with a chess set.

Jacques-le-Souris spent much of today in the rocking chair, and many of the older men in the village have been in and out of the workshop all day, chatting with Jacques and with each other. I recognize all of them, of course, but many I have never spoken to, not more than two words; for it was mostly the women of the village who came to our shop proper in the short time I was at the counter there with Amelie, and there were only young folk on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau. Each of them greeted me, and gave me their names if I didn't already know them. It is fortunate that a former's training requires a great deal of memorization!

I followed my resolve to listen and say little, and spent my time hardening cookware and pondering what else I might form during this stretch of uneasy peace. It is hard to ponder when your workshop has become a parlor! But I said nothing of this, to them or to Amelie.

But she understands, of course. "It is tres difficile, je connais," she said to me last night as we climbed into bed under Old Man Blaireau's majestic pelt. "But I am so proud!"

My father shows his authority to everyone by always dressing richly and wearing his grandmaster's chain if anyone might see him. My master's chain, which I coveted so when I was younger, remains in its case; and my authority is shown by the presence of old men in my workshop and by my place in the hot springs, where, truly, any attire at all would be quite out of place. It is a strange place, compared to Yorke, Armorica is; or perhaps it is Yorke that is the strange place.

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photo credit: Martin Cathrae The Standoff via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Books and Trout (5 December 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is Sonnedi once more. We are home from the hot springs, and the first snows are falling outside our parlor window. I fear it is going to be a long, cold, and above all hungry winter, for our farmers were not able to attend to their duties as they ought during this past summer and fall. If the Provençese had not withdrawn before harvest I fear we should all have starved by February. As it is, well. Perhaps we shall come through.

Ah! I am in a dark mood tonight. Amelie is pleased—not that I am in a dark mood, but that we received a shipment of books from M. Fournier. Anne-Marie is sleeping, and Amelie is now deep in a tale of adventure by M. le Chevalier Décharné. She is exclaiming and reading me bits every few moments. The hero, one Jacques le Incroyable, has just escaped certain death in the coils of an enormous serpent.

Yes, I fear it is true; M. Fournier was forced to consult with M. Harte, and sent along some of the latter's remaining stock along with his own.

That is all well enough. But along with the books we also received a letter from Mr. Trout. It reads, in total,

My dear Mr. Tuppenny,

You have been unpleasantly distant since we last spoke—I have not heard from you this age. Please, do write in all haste and assure that all remains well with you and yours.

—T

A casual reader might think that "T" omitted a word in that last sentence; surely he meant to say, "…and assure me that all remains well with you and yours." But I fear that the word was omitted on purpose.

And yet, what shall I write him? More, now that the snows have begun, how shall I send it? I could make use of the homing board I sent to M. Suprenant, but I dare not involve him in this. To do so would not only expose him to Mr. Trout (though, as he is known to be my friend it is likely too late for that), it would reveal that we have a secret means of communication over long distances, and that is a thing we have determined to keep secret as long as possible.

Perhaps the plain truth will be enough for him: we are bedding down for the winter, we are overcrowded, and we are likely to be underfed before spring. I suppose that once the storm is past there will be someone willing to carry messages towards Mont-Havre. If only I could be sure that Trout will be content with such!

There were unusual rumblings at the hot springs today. Not all of the newcomers have yet been invited to the springs, which is a point of contention and will cause grief if we do not resolve it soon; but the reason is that the men of Bois-de-Bas are wrangling over who shall replace Onc' Herbert as the village's head man. The whole discussion is complicated by the fact that the village has never actually had a head man, not in name; the folks here have simply relied on their neighbors to do their best, and Onc' Herbert was known to be particularly skilled at leadership. But Bois-de-Bas has grown, and it is becoming harder for everyone to know all of their neighbors. The old system does not seem workable. And so some are arguing that we should have an official head man, as many other villages do.

And so we spent the baths today talking, and talking, and talking as the steam rose from the water and our fingers and toes shriveled. It would be laughable—for the water is delightful with or without the wrangling—but for the outcome. Many favor Marc Frontenac, of course, both for his leadership over the last year and his status as Onc' Herbert's heir; but Marc lives on his farm, and so isn't especially handy to settle disputes and what not. Thus, there is another camp that has settled on me of all people. I am not seen as a leader in the way Marc is; but the folks here in town do not want a leader so much as they want an advisor—almost, I may say, a magistrate: someone who lets people get on with their business but is present to settle things when they get out of hand.

I am still hoping to avoid this fate, for I too just want to get on with my business. I said all this to the assembled men in the springs. And my supporters all nodded and said, "Yes, that is as it should be." And Marc's supporters all got considering looks on their faces. And Marc looked at me, and shook his head, and winked, and made a show of wiping sweat from his brow.

We left it open, but I fear what next Sonnedi will bring: by then, the ladies of Bois-de-Bois will have had time to tell their husbands the results of their own deliberations, and Amelie has been smiling a secret smile at me all of this long evening.

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photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Salvelin Trout illustration from The Naturalist's Miscellany (1789-1813) by George Shaw (1751-1813) via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Overcrowding (28 November 34 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Now that we have returned to Bois-de-Bas and are getting settled in for the winter, I find that we have troubles I had not anticipated, the chief of which is overcrowding. We lost very few during the hostilities, and they were mostly from the outlying farms, not from the village proper. Onc' Herbert, whom I sorely miss, is chief among those.

But we also gained. Amelie and I have our Anne-Marie, growing every day, and other children have also been born, for life goes on, n'est-ce pas , and we also have Luc, my apprentice. Marc's travails among the other villages of our region brought no few outsiders to town, as troops and liaisons, and by the nature of things some of them met local girls and chose to stay. And not least, there are my own refugees, Madame Truc, Jacques-le-Souris, and Jean-Baptiste. And winter is coming, and simply isn't enough housing for everyone.

Luc, at least, is no great difficulty, for in time-honored tradition his sleeping place is under one of the work-benches in my work-shop. Even I had to do that during my apprentice years, and much pleasure did it give my father, I do think. And Jean-Baptiste is provided for, for he has both a place and a position. He is helping to run our shop, of course, and he and Brigitte are living with Brigitte's parents—no uncommon thing in Bois-de-Bas. But Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris are necessarily living with us. I fear it is a blessing and a curse, for we have only so much room and Madame and Jacques cannot possibly share one.

I have proposed to them that perhaps they should marry, for I know them to be devoted to each other; Madame's husband died decades ago, and Jacques, his closest friend, has been Madame's support ever since, and she his. I found them sitting one beside the other before the fire, playing with Anne-Marie, and put it to them. They both of them looked at me like I was mad.

"Moi!" cried Madame Truc, "Moi, become bound to this layabout, who has never done a good day's work in all his life long? Jamais! If he had been of the most diligent he would have saved my husband from death by le grand-blaireau and I should be married to this day. Non." And she shook her head.

"Les vaches!" cried Jacque-le-Souris, a look of terror in his eyes. "But she is la femme tres difficile. I should have no rest, no more comfort. Non, mon cher, I may not. It would be the death of me!"

"Vraiment," said Madame Truc. "He is quite right, him."

And they nodded at each other with great satisfaction, and continued to dandle my daughter on their knees.

"It is not so bad," said my Amelie to me that night. "Ma mère et mon père are gone, and yours are so far away and so—" and here she grimaced "—so formidable, it will be well for Anne-Marie to have les grand-mère et grand-père near at hand."

So I am resigned to it; but we shall have to extend the house yet again come spring. I do hope M. Fournier is able to supply our needs for books, or it shall be a bleak wait.

A little further afield, there are others of Marc's troops who are excited by my sky-wagons and other innovations and who have remained in town, buzzing about the outskirts. Some wish to buy a wagon; others wish to try out a sky-sled. They come by my workshop every day hoping to wear me down. But Marc and I have taken M. Suprenant's advice to heart. Le Maréchal is not here, and we are at peace, but the war continues elsewhere. We do not know how things will shift, or who our new masters will be, no matter what the ambitious decide in Mont-Havre. And so Marc's men have gathered up the sky-wagons, sleds, and chairs and gotten them all under cover on L'Isle du Grand-Blaireau where the ghost of Old Man Blaireau may keep watch over them. Our encampment there has also been prepared for winter most carefully; it will be there for us at need. Only two sky-sleds remain in all of Bois-de-Bas; I have one, as does Marc, and both are carefully hidden.

The time will come when we are truly at peace, and then, I think, Marc's vision may be realized; Bois-de-Bas will become a new mercantile center in Armorica, and may well eclipse Mont-Havre. But we must wait until the correct moment, when war does not rage across the Abyss. That time may not be soon.

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