Letters from Armorica-Penny Dreadfuls (12 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today has been particularly quiet for a Sonnedi, for it has been deeply, deeply cold these last days, colder than I've ever seen it here in Bois-de-Bas. Everyone has remained at home, mostly huddled in one room for warmth—even in households with more than one wood-stove or hearth, for the firewood must be made to stretch until spring.

The Sunday routine has been the main constant in my life in Bois-de-Bas—divine service in the Church, Sonnedi dinner with friends, and then, of course, the hot springs—but today that routine was broken. Were Pére Georges still with us everyone would have come to Mass regardless of effort, but as he left on Lundi well before the weather turned, our service was but sparsely attended. Madame Truc was most shocked, but as Amelie said to me, one cannot miss Mass when there is no Mass.

Then, after services, M. Gagnon sadly informed us that he and Mme. Gagnon would not be hosting midday dinner, as the temperature in their dining room was below freezing and they dared not heat it. It would have been a sad disappointment had it been a surprise. And then, most tellingly, no one went out to the hot springs. At least, we didn't; and none of those I met at Church were planning to do so either.

Everyone gathers in one room, I say; and that room is usually the kitchen. If you plan to keep only one room heated and one fire lit, it makes sense that it is the room where the food is! That is what we did: Amelie and Anne-Marie and I, and Madame and Jacques-le-Souris, and young Luc. It is not a large room, but we made do, with Amelie and Anne-Marie near the stove and the rest of us at the kitchen table. I had Luc collect the heating blocks from each of the beds in the house, and by keeping them by us I am sure we were much cozier than average for Bois-de-Bas.

Well, except for Patches the Demon-Goat, I suppose, who remained outside in her pen; but as her pen is now insulated by drifted snow, and she herself by her new goat armor, I suppose even Patches is cozier than average.

There are always little tasks to be done, even in winter, even indoors; but today being Sonnedi we instead passed the time by making as merry as we could. Indeed, we spent most of the day by taking turns reading aloud from some of the books we received from my friend M. Fournier in Mont-Havre.

I would have preferred something Cumbrian, some Dikkons or perhaps Thomas Becker, and perhaps Amelie might have as well. But Luc has only been learning his letters this past month, and in his native Provençese—though of course he will need to learn to read and write in Cumbrian as well. As he has been most diligent, Amelie insisted that we read something suitable to his age and taste, which is to say one of the Provençese penny dreadfuls M. Fournier acquired for us from M. Harte. I regret to say that these books are also suitable to Amelie's age and taste, for she devoured them once they arrived and returns to them often.

For our first book she picked Janvier et le Mouron Pourpre, a tale of attempted assassination, swordplay, and romance set in a past and most unsettled age of Provençese history. Janvier, I may say, isn't the first month of the year, but rather the name of the hero, Michel Janvier, a dashing swordsman and member of the royal guard. The author (if I may use so exalted a term) has penned many books about Janvier, all with titles that begin with Janvier et: Janvier et le Empoisonneur de Gascon, Janvier et le Crapaud Argent, and Janvier et la Mademoiselle du Morte being but three others that came in the same shipment. The books are stirring, lurid, and soon read, and having finished one, one soon wants to begin the next, that is, if one can stomach them at all.

The volume in question concerned a highwayman known as le Mouron Pourpre, the "Purple Pimpernel". This worthy began his career of crime by rudely accosting minor Provençese nobles in their carriages and relieving them of their goods. This was just in the nature of things in those days, and caused but little comment; but when he began robbing them in their homes, and then, during one such invasion, abducted a young lady, a near relative of the Duc d'Avignon, le Roi sent his favored agent, Michel Janvier to find her and put a stop to the Pimpernel's doings. Our hero discovered a vast scheme to assassinate le Roi and see Michel hanged for it, but of course he put a stop to it at the last minute, running the Pimpernel through with his sword and rapier wit, before carrying the young lady back to Toulouse with a smile and a leer.

I believe it was meant to be rapier wit; but perhaps the author simply failed to remove the training button from the point of the rapier.

I say we took turns reading, but mostly it was Amelie and me. When I passed the book to Jacques he just smiled and passed it along to Madame Truc; and when Madame Truc came to the passage in which our Michel flirts with the serving girl in the tavern in Saint Rémy she turned bright red and handed the book back to me.

"Such a thing in my house, I would never tolerate," she said. "It is of all things the most scandalous." Jacques just chuckled.

Luc turned bright red as well, I noticed, and neither he nor Madame would look at me as I finished out the scene. It was mild enough for all that, but strong drink for those not accustomed.

And so we passed the day, finishing that book and one more, in which Michel Janvier foils yet another obscure and overcomplicated scheme to bring down le Roi; and when we were done I left the two books on the corner of the table rather than returning them to the bookcase in the parlor. If I am not tempting young Luc to virtue, at least I may tempt him to read!

Next letter

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