The flood has began.
The weather is warming and the snow is melting, the village will be all over mud in a week; but I do not speak of that, but of the ladies of Bois-de-Bas.
Mme. Tremblay came to my shop two days ago, holding the shards of a broken plate. Mme. Simard the butcher's wife came later that day with more. Yesterday they were followed by others.
I had been dreading their arrival, which I knew could not be long delayed; what I had not expected was their diffidence.
"M. Tuppenny," said Mme. Tremblay with an embarrassed smile, "I do not know what I have done. See, the plate, it is in pieces." As though it were somehow her fault for mishandling it, when the whole point of hardened dishes is that they cannot be mishandled.
Except, of course, they can, it seems; and M. Tremblay had been one of the first to buy my warming blocks for his household. I had my answer ready, and making a mental note to thank Luc once again for his perspicacity, I said to her, "Yes, Mme. Tremblay, I know, my Amelie is having the same difficulty. It is nothing you have done. I believe it is something to do with the warming blocks I made for your husband."
Her eyes grew wide, and more than a little indignant. "C'est impossible! I have never—" and she shook her head vigorously—"I, I have never brought them into the kitchen!"
"Nevertheless," I said, "it seems to have something to do with them. Le thaumaturgie, n'est-ce-pas? It is unaccountable." I waggled my fingers.
"Oui, oui, quite unaccountable," she said, nodding wisely as if she knew anything about forming. "So what are we to do?" Now that I had accepted responsibility, as it were, her tone was quite different: the word "we" clearly meant, "You, M. Tuppenny, you!"
"Fortunately," I said, "the weather is warming. If you will have M. Tremblay bring me all of your warming blocks, I will disable them; and if you bring me your dishes I shall harden them once again, and you should have no further trouble."
"But the blocks! L'hiver, it may return next week!"
"Yes, I know, and I hope to find out what is causing the damage so that we can prevent it in the future. But it will take me some time, and meanwhile, your dishes…." I shrugged.
She was forced to agree. "But the blocks, we have paid for them." She looked at me sharply. "You will note down in your ledger that we have returned them, and if they cannot be made safe, zut alors!" Which was quite strong language for Mme. Tremblay.
"Yes, of course. Leave them with Amelie, and she will make the necessary notations. As for your crockery and pots, you may bring them to me."
And with that she had to be satisfied; and with that I had to be satisfied.
And then I went over to the shop, and had a few words with my wife.
"Amelie, dearest," I said, "I have just discovered that Mme. Tremblay has been using some of my warming blocks as plate and pot warmers in her kitchen. Have you, just possibly, been doing the same?"
Her eyebrows flew up—not at the question, but at the degree of my husbandly inattention. "Mais, oui" she said. "It has been so cold, and to put the hot food on cold plates—brrrrrr." She pretended to shiver, which I fear quite distracted me from the main issue for a little time.
"I see," I said at length. "And I suppose you've discussed this with the other ladies in the hot springs?"
She shrugged enormously. "Mais, oui. How not?"
"Yes, I thought so. You must stop using them thus, I am afraid—it is this, I think, that has been damaging your plates."
"O!" she cried.
"Yes," I said. "And I fear the cost of it will be great for us." I told her what I told Mme. Tremblay, and she began to cry.
"O, Armand, I am so sorry, me. I was so proud of you, and so excited, n'est-ce-pas, to share my new trick with the others."
"No, no," I said, "I would have suggested it myself, had I thought of it. No, the fault is all mine. I am trying new things, do you see, and so am finding surprises. It will be a costly mistake, but we will get through it."
We comforted each other for a few more moments, until we heard a customer's footsteps on the porch.
And now the word has spread. We have had to clear a section of the store room, which is now taken up with disabled warming blocks, and my workshop is filled with baskets and sacks of crockery, and I have been working long hours re-hardening dishes.
It has been truly fatiguing, for I must inspect the dishes carefully: if they are undamaged there is no point in expending any effort in hardening them, and yet the inspection itself takes effort. My effort, my own personal effort, that is.
And yet I am glad, for one mystery, at least, is explained, and there is one bright spot. My conjectures are correct, there is some link between the hardened plates and the warming blocks; and if they can be kept separate perhaps the effect will be greatly lessened.
But other mysteries remain. What of Marc's accident with his sky-sled? Why did it fail? I had been considering that it was something of the same kind, that somehow I had exceeded some degree of balance between the number of formed objects that absorb effort, like hardened dishes, and those that consume effort, like warming blocks and sky-sleds, and so there was not enough effort available to keep the sky-sled in the air. But the effect of the warming blocks on the plates seems to be governed by proximity in some way, and Marc's sky-sled was hidden in a shed on his, away from the house-hold.
Which shed, I wonder? Was it near the animals? Perhaps, was it near the goat pen? And perhaps, has Marc been using warming blocks to keep the goats warm? Foolish behavior, if so, for Armorican goats are known to be indestructible. More likely it was the oxen, if so. I must speak to him. Would that I had thought of this yesterday, so I could have spoken to him at the springs this afternoon!
And now I must lay down my pen and pay a visit to Patches the goat in her pen lest she feel lonely in the night and break out to come visit me. Even with her protective gear it is unpleasant to find her at my bedside.
Somehow when I left Yorke I thought that life would be simpler in Armorica. A simple life on the frontier, that is what I was looking for. Adventure, perhaps, excitement certainly, but simple adventure, simple excitement, not these complexities. Goats, forsooth!