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 If the Provençese had not withdrawn before harvest I fear we should all have starved by February.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.
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.
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)