Trout has been taken, much the worse for wear—as are we all, and it is only partially Trout’s fault. We shall be returning to Mont-Havre as soon as we are able tomorrow, despite our wounds.
The plan was for His Lordship’s men to take him _en route_. Somehow he evaded them; I don’t know whether he caught sight of them and managed to sneak past, or whether he simply took an unexpected path through the woods and so came to our door unobserved. No doubt he will tell us his methods in time, but at the moment I fear he is in no shape to do so.
What is clear is that somehow he was warned. He brought no cart of supplies, but came on foot and empty handed but for a pistol, apparently intent on ensuring our perpetual silence. We were watching the road, of course, but he must have come over the fields from behind the farm house, for he was actually within the house before we were aware of his presence.
Normally when Trout was expected I would have had Bertrand waiting on the porch where he could easily scan the length of the valley; today, taking the advice of Sergeant Travers, we sat in the front room of the farm house. We each had a clear view through the window of the lane leading to the house from the road, but by sitting in the dimness of the house we made poor targets.
“For if we miss him, he might be a wee bit angry, and angry men can be a wee bit hasty,” he said.
Angry he certainly was.
“Up, both of you,” he said, and our heads whipped round in surprise. He was framed in the door to the kitchen, his pistol trained on Bertrand and his eyes on me. He was clad in his usual black. I saw Bertrand tense to spring, for he was but four feet from Trout, but he was seated and Trout was standing, and the muzzle of the pistol looked distressingly large.
“No, Bertrand,” I cried, in fear for his life, and also in hopes that one of Travers’ men might be near enough to hear me.
“Very wise, M Tuppenny,” said Trout to me; and then to Bertrand, “Get up, slowly, and back away until you are standing by your master.”
“But Monsieur—” he said, but I cut him off.
“Do it, Bertrand,” I said. “This man is not to be trifled with.” When Bertrand had reached my side I continued, “What is the meaning of this?”
“It appears that you have been naughty, M. Tuppenny. Very naughty indeed. I fear you are no longer a valuable asset.”
He cocked the pistol with his thumb, his hand trembling slightly. I had the absurd thought that he needed more practice at disposing of inconvenient witnesses when my eyes were caught by motion behind him. Was it one of Travers’ men? I blinked and trained my eyes on the gun, so as not to warn him, and then cursed inwardly as Bertrand gasped.
Trout noticed the line of Bertrand’s gaze immediately, and his pistol swung to cover him instead of me.
“Stop!” he cried, turning his head very slightly to speak to whomever was approaching him from behind. “If you come one step closer, I’ll shoot the boy!”
And then everything happened at once. A long, low form burst past Trout, knocking him violently to one side. I dove to the floor as the pistol discharged its ball into the ceiling. Bertrand, still just a little closer to the door than I, was knocked down, and as I saw him fall I heard shouts from down the road.
And then I was on the floor and a rough, wet tongue was removing the skin from my cheek.
It was Patches the goat. She was bedraggled and muddy, and her ribs were clearly visible along her flank through the holes in her tattered armor. What must she have gotten into during her long journey from Bois-de-Bas to get her armor in such a state! Past her I could see Bertrand on the floor and Trout lying in a heap in the doorway.
“Bertrand, get his pistol,” I said. He rose, holding his side; and as he did so I pushed Patches’ nose away with the utmost care, managing to lose only a little bit of skin, and stood up to take stock. Fortunately her left horn cover was still in place, so I was able to hold her off without further injury.
There was blood all along her left side, matching the gaps in her armor, fresh and quite red, and mixed with many shreds of black cloth and a bit of blue from Bertrand’s trousers. The blood proved to be Trout’s, the product of Patches catching Trout against the door frame as she burst past him. He was fortunate that it was her right horn cover that was missing, not the left, or she might have torn quite the hole in his side in her eagerness to get to me.
Bertrand was in much better shape, having only minor abrasions and a nasty bruise. It didn’t slow him down much as he found power and shot in Trout’s coat pocket and reloaded the heavy pistol.
“Well, you’ve had quite the journey, haven’t you,” I said to Patches, with, I am not ashamed to say, a rush of fondness quite out of my experience with Armorican goats.
And that was how Travers found us: Trout still in a heap, Bertrand with Trout’s pistol trained upon its owner, and me in the middle of the room holding Patches off by her left horn.
We are still at the Farm, but will be leaving sometime tomorrow. It pains me to abandon the trials I have in progress here, but I believe I have learned enough to be going on with. I shall spend only enough time in Mont-Havre to acquire the mathematics text I have been longing for, and then we shall be off to Bois-de-Bas and my Amelie and Anne-Marie. I should have left today, no matter the hour, save that we require a cart for our belongings—and to tie Patches’ lead to, for however grateful I might be for her timely arrival, I am in no way minded to lead her back to Bois-de-Bas by hand.
God send we arrive before the new baby does!
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