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)