Monthly Archives: October 2020

Letters from Armorica- Books (31 March 37 AF)

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My dear M. Fournier,

I am delighted to hear from you, mon ami. And I am even more delighted to learn that you have a new stock of books from the publishers in Yorke, for I must tell you I am in dire need of Cumbrian literature!

Yes, the word "dire" is a strong one, but nothing else will suit the case. For I am to tell you that I have two young apprentices here, Luc and Bastien, and between them they have devoured all of the books we have available to us.

It is Luc who is doing most of the actual reading, mind you; for Bastien is still learning to read and speak Cumbrian, though he is proceeding apace. Such a surprise he was to me! My Amelie found him for me; he was to be a help for me around my shop, and something of a guard. I feel quite strange using that term, "guard," but you will remember what happened to me last year—no, my goodness, almost two years ago now!—when that man Trout abducted me for use in some scheme against the Crown. And so I have been advised by His Lordship to take precautions.

And so my Amelia found me Bastien, who is a bastion in truth: tall, broad, taciturn, and devoted—and possessed, I was surprised to learn, of a mind and a talent quite at odds with his stolid appearance. I found Luc reading to him and beginning to teach him the Cumbrian language, and discovered that Amelie had found me not only a guard and a helper, but a new apprentice.

But you can see my problem. Luc and Bastien are eager to learn, but they have read everything we have, in both Provençese and Cumbrian. Aye, and they have re-read all of it as well!

And now you tell me that you have expanded your stock of Cumbrian books immeasurably, and I could not be more pleased. I believe you know what you have sent me already; I should be delighted to receive anything new. And not just works of fiction, though I admit I should like to renew my acquaintance with Becker's Banister novels, but also anything you have about the natural and philosophical sciences, and especially about mathematics! I shall teach them forming myself; but I would not have them ignorant of anything in the world.

Please, also send us such Provençese works as seem good to you. Many of my people here in Bois-de-Bas are more comfortable in Provençese than in Cumbrian—some hardly speak two words of it—and so I must improve my grasp of it. And besides, it makes Amelie happy for me to read to her in her native tongue.

I suppose—I suggest this with the greatest diffidence—that you might arrange to send me some volumes from M. Harte's stock as well: something more adventurous and exciting than Dorchester Cellars. If you can find some that are not too lurid, you know. For boys will be boys, and though I know that Luc will struggle manfully through the Banister novels, asking me countless questions, I should like to able to hand him something more restful—for both of us. Something by M. Lapin, perhaps, or another writer of his ilk? I read him in translation, as a boy, and I admit I should like to meet D'Artisan in his own language. "One for all and all for naught!"

Dreaming of swordplay, I remain,


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Letters from Armorica- Father Investigates (25 March 37 AF)

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The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

13 January 1015

My dearest cousin Armand,

I beg of you to forgive me for not writing last week. All was in a whirl, but we are quite all right now.

Brother Edward trotted dutifully back to London after the New Year began, carrying news of my supposed enchantment with certain officers of the 2nd Hussars; and far from yielding the motherly but stern letter which I had feared, his news brought upon me a descent by my dear Papa and a fatherly but stern lecture!

He greeted me warmly on his arrival, and bade me join him for mulled wine in the library—for other than his manner he was cold clear through. I have been spending most of my time in the library, fortunately, so the fire was going apace; the drawing room would have been unpleasantly dank.

I sat in the deep arm-chair I had taken for my own; he stood by the fire with his wine until his shivers had quite stopped, and then took his place behind his desk. "His" desk, I call it, as if he had spent any amount of time there in living memory! "So, Amy my girl," he said, "what is all this that Edward tells me about you dangling after officers?"

I sighed dramatically, casting my eyes to the ceiling in the most affected way I knew how. "Oh! Oh! How I long to live in garrison, upon cold toast and weak tea and bully beef!" I cried. "What joy to live in a cold tent, waiting by a tiny fire for my husband to return from playing whist with the other officers in the mess hall while the rain and snow falls outside. Oh! to live in mud amid the thunder of cannons and the rumble of drums! Can anything else be so romantic?"

As I finished this speech I clasped my fluttering hands to my bosom and cast my father a coy glance before restoring my normal mien and having a sip of my wine.

Father's lips quirked a trifle, which I was glad to see, but all he said was, "Don't try to gammon me, Amy. Out with it!"

"Very well, Father," I said. "I have met Lieutenant Pertwee exactly twice, once at the Grimsby's and once at the Willoughby's. He did seem quite pleased to see me again, though I have no notion of what might be going on in that tiny brain of his, and I assure you I have done nothing to encourage him. I should think he is similarly pleased with everyone he meets. As for Lieutenant Archer, I have met him only the once, which should have been plain even to Edward, and it was Miss Willoughby who was making up to him, not I."

"So there was nothing for Edward to be concerned about it, then?"

"Nothing at all, Father!"

He gave me a searching look, and so I was forced to add, "I do not deny I took a deal of pleasure in their presence, Father; for life is so very slow here in Wickshire, and I see so few people. But I was not dangling after them, nor will I. I am not at all inclined to once again put myself into a false position."

He pursed his lips thoughtfully, and sipped his wine, and then made as if to speak, but I fear I cut him off in a most unfilial way.

"No, Father," I said, holding up one hand. "I do not wish to speak of That Man. I have quite forgotten him. I wish only to remain here in peace until the ton have forgotten as well."

He put his cup down on the desk. "That may take some little time," he said. "For he has not forgotten you, and speaks of you often, so Edward tells me."

"I make no doubt that he does, and more I will not say."

Nor will, I Armand, for I can just imagine Him blackening my name. "Such a lovely girl; I confess I am quite pining for her. A pity she proved to be so unstable." For it must be that I am in the wrong, not He. Never He! Such a thing could never be borne!

I do not at all see the end of this, Armand. It may be that I shall have to settle for some farm boy, some squire's son, or perhaps live in garrison in truth.

Oh, but I must not given in to my fears, or I shall make myself quite miserable!

Father then read me a lecture about the honor of our family name, and about preserving my reputation, and this and that, as he was bound to do, I suppose, having come all that way; but in the end I was able to persuade him that I am unlikely to become attached to any of the gentlemen of my present acquaintance, and that Edward was being his usual fat-headed self. Not that either of us put it in quite those terms, but I believe we understood each other very well.

Father stayed with me two days, on the second of which we had tea with Squire Willoughby and his wife, and then he returned to London. I quite like Squire Willoughby, I find, though I shall have to give you an account of him in another letter; he is a bluff, hearty, good-natured man. Perhaps a squire's son would not be so bad after all.

Your loving cousin,


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Letters from Armorica- Stourness (11 March 37 AF)

First Letter

The Elms, Wickshire, Cumbria

30 December 1014

My dearest cousin Armand,

It has been such a week!

Wednesday was Christmas, of course, which we kept quietly, Edward and I. Yes, indeed! Edward appeared on the 24th with my pair of matched bays and my mother and father's best wishes; and he was accompanied by Tom Cotton, one of Father's grooms from Yorke, now promoted to coachman.

So I have a carriage, and I have horses to pull it, and I have a coachman to drive it (for surely I never had need to learn to drive a carriage when I was in Yorke); and as I greeted Edward the first real snow of the season was falling all around, deep and crisp and even as the carol has it. However, Tom Cotton has assured me that the sleigh is quite in order, if unlovely, and will be quite usable for this season whenever it should be required.

Edward, I may say privately to you, Armand, was both a comfort and a trial. A comfort, of course, for I have been lonely here in Wickshire, I who am used to living in the bosom of my family and participating in all of the life of the City; and I do love Edward; but he can be so stuffy, Armand, and he hasn't the least notion as to why I pushed He Whose Name I Shall Not Remember into the duck pond. And I quite fear to tell him, for if I did word would get to Jack, and Jack might take it in mind to call the blackguard out. Which would be a horrible thing, I assure you, for he would need to return to Cumbria from Armorica, abandoning his post with Lord Doncaster, and so threaten his future career; and if he were killed, I should have lost my brother, and if the Never To Be Sufficiently Forgotten One were killed, there would, I assure you, be Consequences.

All this would follow if I were to get the circumstances into Edward's thick head; which I fortunately I am not likely to be able to do even if I wished to, you know, for he does insist on thinking the best of everyone, and he is quite starry-eyed when it comes to—

But I have said too much. No good could come of it, is what I mean to say, Armand, no good could possibly come of it.

The Willoughby's carriage arrived on Friday to take me to tea, and as Edward was present to escort me I presumed to bring him along, heartlessly leaving Miss Derby at home. I do feel quite guilty with regard to Miss Derby, you know, for she sees so little diversion, and though her task is to be a companion for me, I fear I have been no sort of companion for her.

In the event, I found I had done right; for Mrs. Willoughby greeted him quite cheerfully, and bade him welcome, and we were also joined by Lieutenant Pertwee and another officer, Lieutenant Archer.

Lieutenant Pertwee greeted me with a smile, which caused Edward some dismay—I know, because he stood slightly taller, and looked solemn, which just goes to show how thick-headed he is. Having Jack for a brother, I assure you I have no desire to have an officer to husband!

Lieutenant Archer, I may say, is something else altogether. He is not tall, but lean, with dark hair and a point to his chin; and of a reserved nature, for he said but little, being almost as grave as Edward. I could tell that Miss Willoughby was taken with his appearance, and the few words he did let fall gave me no reason to judge her for it.

"Milton's replacement, don't you know," said Lieutenant Pertwee. "A fine fellow, too, for all he don't say much."

"Lieutenant Pertwee is too kind," said Lieutenant Archer.

"Is this your first post, Mr. Archer?" Miss Willoughby asked.

"Yes, miss," he said. "It is a family tradition. My uncle served in the 2nd Hussars in the last war."

"You are your father's second son, then, I gather," said Mrs. Willoughby.

"Just so, ma'am."

"Have you any prospect of seeing service abroad?" I asked. "My brother was in Andaluz and Provençe with Lord Doncaster, as he now is."

"It is not likely, miss," he said, with a rueful smile.

"No promotions in peace-time," said Pertwee with a laugh. "It's too bad, is what it is. Mustn't repine, though!"

"I do hope that wicked Marshal does not kick up any more fuss," said Miss Willoughby. "The thought of you fine gentleman going into danger makes my heart quiver!"

"Never fear," said Pertwee. "Raised to it, you know. Being under fire is what Archer likes best."

The good lieutenant made no demur, but his reserve deepened.

I rather think it was Archer's fine profile that made my friend's heart quiver, and I may say I do not judge her for it. The Grimsbys will be pleased with him, too, for his manner of speech revealed him to be a gentleman not just by breeding by also by upbringing, and where there is proper upbringing there is a good fortune, you may depend upon it. Or so said Mrs. Willoughby after the two men left us, Armand—you needn't look so shocked at me, for I am only reporting. For my part, I wonder what expectations a second son might reasonably have, past the expense of his his commission and whatever allowance he might be given.

But he is a fine looking man, and his manners would be unexceptionable even at Harrison House, provided his dancing were up to scratch. But of course I was not able to determine the quality of his dancing at tea time.

Alas, we are not to have a ball, or not soon. Mrs. Willoughby is in favour, mind you; but, she says, the weather is too chancy at this time of year, and that we must wait until spring. Spring! It seems so far off!

It was quite a pleasant outing, even if Edward did lecture me all the way home on the unwisdom of allowing my heart to be captured by an officer, no matter how fine he looks in his regimentals.

"It will not answer, Amelia, truly, I tell you, it will not answer. And how you can think of it, after—"

And there he stopped, for even Edward is able to see daggers when they are looked at him.

He assured me repeatedly that he had only my best interests at heart, which is quite true, and which I have never doubted; and I fear he has made himself certain that I am longing to be courted by one or the other of them, for nothing I said to the contrary made any impression. What an opinion he must have of my good sense! It is too lowering. And worse, I expect I shall be hearing from Mother by return of post.

Your loving cousin,


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Letters from Armorica- Distance (9 March 37 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

Thank you for passing along His Lordship's plans. A proper canteen at the encampment (which I suppose I must now refer to as "The Fort") will aid matters greatly; and yes, I am confident that some enterprising fellow will open a tavern nearby as soon as the weather permits. It is the time between now and then that concerns me. But please inform His Lordship that I conveyed his words to the leading men of the town this afternoon (you needn't mention the hot springs) and they were much comforted.

Leon has written me; he has a line on grand-blaireau pelts from St. Denis, one of the newer settlements to the west of Mont-Havre, and he suggests that it would be a fine thing to make our "wagon coats" out of blaireau fur. I am forced to agree, given Tuppenny Wagon's pre-history on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau (not that we will talk about that). He is making arrangements with a tailor to design the coats, and should have the first few in short order. Winter is nearly over; but I have suggested to him that we should give some away to our earliest customers now and plan to sell them when the weather turns cold this coming autumn. In this way, we can get the wagoneers to drum up business for us.

I am shocked and surprised to learn that you have heard nothing about Amelia from either her or your parents. It isn't as though you are out on maneuvers; letters should reach you as soon as anyone in Armorica, and probably sooner than most since they could come by government packet. I begin to wonder whether more went on than Amelia has said. Or, perhaps, they considered it no matter worthy of note. But I am concerned.

Yes, Jack, I know: I am always concerned. It seems to be my usual state these days.

What impresses me even more, however, is the rapidity and regularity with which I have been receiving her letters: two months from time of writing, smack on the dot, and more or less weekly. When I first came to Armorica the Courier's Guild ran only two packets, the Herbert and the Robert between Yorke and Mont-Havre; and as the trip took two months each way, we saw one or the other about every two months. Now someone (I do not even know whether it is the Courier's Guild) has packets arriving once a week; and they are speedy enough that a letter can get from Wickshire to Yorke to Mont-Havre to Bois-de-Bas in those same two months. It is a veritable fleet! Of course, His Lordship has been good enough to ensure prompt mail service between Mont-Havre and Bois-de-Bas; it would not be the same to other towns in this part of Armorica.

I have now written to Amelia, assuring her of my pleasure at hearing from her, and inquiring if there is anything I may do to be of service; not that there likely is, at this remote distance. And course it will be four months before I might receive any direct response.

For the first time, Jack, this strikes me as a hardship. Armorica's remoteness from Yorke was always its great attraction to me—though I have found others, since, of course; Amelie is by my side as I write, and Anne-Marie and Margaret Elise are playing at my feet. I have made a good life here, Jack; but now, for the first time since I arrived, I wish that it were possible to more speedily exchange letters with Cumbria, and perhaps even to visit.

It is a foolish dream, of course. The Abyss is what it is, and cannot be argued with.


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