It is now deep winter; the snow is piled high around the houses, we live by lantern light all the day, and we visit each other by walking through tunnels in the snow. Only when we get out of the village proper can we travel about up in the light—when the day is fine, which often it isn't, and so mostly we don't. There's not much to do: we get few deliveries for the shop this time of year, having to make do with what's in store (which is why we have such a large store-room). My forming work is easy, being limited only by the raw materials I have at hand and my own know-how, so I am busy enough; but for the most part we in Bois-de-Bas spend our time working on small things and visiting each other to complain about the weather.
As a result, my crew of older men who play checkers and gossip in the front part of my workshop is if anything larger in bad weather than in fine, though it takes them a little longer to gather. If I go down first thing I can usually count on having the workshop to myself for an hour or so, except for Luc asleep under the bench.
I was much taken aback, then, to enter my workshop this morning and discover that the pot-bellied stove in the front of the shop was already quite hot (for we bank it at night); and not only that, the settee was occupied by a reclining form wrapped in a blanket. We do not lock our doors at night in Bois-de-Bas, so anyone might have entered in search of shelter, and welcome to it; but why not come to the front door? The settee is comfortable enough to sit on, for a hard wooden bench, but I should not like to sleep on it.
The figure roused as I entered, and sat up; and I found that it was Jacques-le-Souris. The freshly married Jacque-le-Souris, who should have been in bed in quite another part of the house altogether with his new bride, Madame Truc.
Though I suppose she is no longer Madame Truc, but to call her Madame Le Souris is unthinkable (Madame not being mouse-like in the slightest) and also wrong, because "le-Souris" is only a nick name. In fact, I have just this minute realized that I do not know what Jacques' full name really is. How odd.
For a man who had spent at least part of the night on a wooden settee, Jacques looked surprisingly cheerful.
"Eh, I know, Armand," he said placidly. "It is her way. Back in Mont-Havre, you remember, she would send me down to a lower spot at the table when she was displeased with me, or cast me out altogether for a day or two. Now, all she can do is make me sleep somewhere else." He shrugged. "We are who we are, even now that we are married. C'est bon."
"But what did you—never mind, Jacques. Best you return to bed, before Amelie rises. Perhaps Madame will have forgiven you by now."
He nodded, and gathering his blankets about him he made his way from the room as dignified as a prophet.
After that I rousted out Luc and sent him to go feed Patches the goat, snug in her new pen, and got to work. We broke our fasts an hour or so later, when Amelie rose, and it was late morning before I realized how quiet my workshop was. Luc was in the main shop for his lessons with Amelie; Jacques was presumably still in bed; and none of my other gentlemen had appeared.
What could be keeping them? Had the snow tunnel to our porch collapsed? It had been a cold, quiet night, with no new snow, so far as I could tell. I went to the front door of my workshop to take a look, and when I opened the door, I found Patches the goat reclining on the porch with her back to it. She looked up at me with her weird goat eyes and made that horrible rasping noise she makes; and then, to my horror, begin to get to her feet. I slammed the door.
"Luc!" I called.
"Oui, monsieur?" came his voice from next door, followed by the sound of footsteps. He opened the door from Amelie's shop and stuck his head through.
"Luc, did you leave the goat pen open?"
His eyes got big.
"O non, monsieur. Jamais! Patches, she is fierce!"
"She is also on the porch. Go get your gear and take her back to her pen."
He took a deep breath. "Oui, monsieur."
That was one mystery solved, but several more in its place. First, how was Patches getting out of her pen? Second, how to keep Patches in her pen? Third, how to keep her from terrorizing my neighbors when she did get out?
I sat down on the settee by the pot-bellied stove, and pondered. I'd been considering the problem as a sometime keeper-of-goats; perhaps it was time to consider the problem as a master former.
Perhaps I could harden her pen in some way, to prevent her from doing whatever it was she was doing to escape? But more importantly, since locking down the pen was liable to involve much trial-and-error, how could I mitigate her nasty horns and highly abrasive coat in the meantime, so that she would less of a danger to the clothing, skin, and flesh of anyone who mer her unprepared?
The second being the more pressing problem, I found some scraps of leather and got to work; and by early afternoon I'd found a solution. I called Luc, we both donned our protective gear, and we went out and measured her. We escaped bruised but otherwise unharmed. Then I got busy with shears and Amelie's heaviest thread and needle, while perusing a few pages of my grimoire that I had never thought to actually use; and at the end of the day, we dragged Patches back to her pen (for she'd gotten out again) and dressed her in her new garments of hardened leather.
I say "hardened," but that's misleading because I had taken care to keep the leather supple. "Strengthened" might be a better word; or perhaps, "goat proof". Patches now wore a kind of surcoat of leather on her body, attached by hardened straps around her front and middle so that there was no way for her to rid herself of it. Now bumping up against someone would no longer tear holes in their garments.
I'd also attached close-fitting leather covers to her horns and hooves, hiding the sharpness away from the world. The horn covers I attached permanently, bonding them to the horn; and better still they were joined at the top by a length of hardened wood wrapped in hardened leather, so that horns and handle made a kind of upside-down "U" shape. A similar wooden handle was affixed to her leather surcoat approximately in the middle of her back, giving the unlucky goat tender two convenient handholds by which to drag her back to her pen.
When we were finished, Patches looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before; but I am confident that she presents much less of a risk to others.
I shall have to find some better solution before the weather warms up, as I fear that wearing the leather coat will be bad for her in the heat; but this will be a help while we figure out how to escape-proof her pen.