Letters from Armorica, 14 Août 33AF

Dear Marc,

Things are unsettled here in Mont-Havre, and the future looks bleak. I presume that the news has come to Bois-de-Bas of the troubles we have had from pirates: the Cannondale taken, and other ships missing altogether. M. Suprenant no longer whistles when he comes in in the morning, and my work here is nearly at a stand-still. Indeed, I am nearly at a stand-still, myself, and I hope I may presume on your hospitality if I find I must leave Mont-Havre.

Even my esteemed Madame Truc wears a face of the most long these days. Many of her boarders, her jeune hommes as she calls us (never minding that some are as old as she is) are involved in the shipping trade one way or another. It is as though Mont-Havre has been blockaded, and if it goes on many of us will need to seek other employment. How can she find positions for all of us at once? The burden of this riddle is wearing her down, and the evening meal has become a sad and depressing affair.

It is the worse for her in that most of her jeune hommes are tolerably recent immigrants to Armorica. What happens when a town such as Mont-Havre experiences hard times? The long-time residents pull in their horns and bar their doors, so to speak, and take care of their own; and the newcomers are left to their own devices. It is sad, and most unfortunate for me, but one can't really blame them. But it is a great trial to Madame Truc, who has devoted her life to helping other mother's sons since she has none of her own.

And yet I do not think I shall rush away from Mont-Havre. I am still employed—just—and I wish to hold on to my job as long as I can.

In the mean-time, Governor Francois is organizing what he calls les Observateurs: not a militia, as such, though I suspect that he has some such thing in mind as well, but volunteers to watch the skies. There is much fear that the pirates might stage a raid on Mont-Havre, and with the small boats we are told they used against the Cannondale they could attack anywhere, not just at the port. Sentinel posts are being raised all over town—quite literally posts, bronze wood logs thirty or forty feet in length, set vertically with a ladder and a kind of box at the top. They are high enough that an observer can see to the horizon on all sides, and have an alarm bell in case the pirates are seen.

I have signed up for this service, as you will have guessed, though I do not expect the pirates to do the kind of raiding the governor is worried about; why should they come to Mont-Havre and raid house-to-house when they can take entire ships already full of valuable cargo? But Armorica is my home now, and I want to show willing; and to the side, I think M. Suprenant will be more inclined to keep me on if he sees me working for the security of his family.

Madame Truc is pleased with me, at any rate. My first shift is this evening—fortunately it is not cold this time of year—and she has promised to send me off with a jug of coffee and other provisions to keep me awake and well fed during the long night.

Please do let me know if I may come to you. Be assured, I know that for your part the answer must always be yes; but I am well aware that you are not yet master of your own house. My best regards to Elise!

Your friend,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 13 Août 33 AF

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I am writing to you as I usually would, though I have no idea when I will be able to send you this letter: the expected Courier's Guild packet has not arrived, and shipping through the port of Mont-Havre has decreased alarmingly.

Two weeks ago a sky freighter approaching Mont-Havre was attacked and captured by pirates, of all absurd and alarming things. The crew were put off in small boats, all but two whom the pirates killed in their initial attack. Since then, a number of ships have not arrived as expected; we do not know whether they have been taken, or whether their owners held them at their previous ports of call.

The effect on the colony as a whole is not too bad, so far. Armorica is largely self-sufficient, except in the area of luxuries and some manufactured goods, and so long as the pirates do not begin attacking towns as well as ships we shall certainly not starve. However, it will go hard for those of my new countrymen whose livelihood depends on shipping. My friend M. Fournier says he has stock for a few months before he will need to close up shop, and of course my employer, Suprenant et Fils, is directly involved in the shipping trade and has already been hard hit.

M. Suprenant himself called me into his office this morning. He was most apologetic, but he felt he must warn me that it might be necessary to let me go: I am the newest member of the staff, and while I am not least, outranking as I do the flurry of office boys and messengers, those same office boys and messengers are all members of M. Suprenant's extended family.

I might well find it prudent to move away from Mont-Havre into the countryside; I am still considering. In the past I have had you write to me care of the Guilde du Courriers here in Mont-Havre; I was trying to make it harder for an agent of my father's to find me. That seems less of a worry, now, so I think it will be best if in future you write to me at Truc's boarding house on the Rue de Montpelier. If I move away, Madame Truc will know how to send your letters on to me.

Best love to my mother!

Your nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 32 Juillet 33 AF

Dear Jack,

There was a most uncommon occurrence up at the port yesterday—but I find I must explain a few things.

Armorica is a young colony, as you know, and so has little foreign trade of its own. We export a few things and import a few things—the trade grows every year—but rarely entire shiploads. And yet the port is surprisingly busy. It develops that Armorica is conveniently placed, and many sky freighters stop here in passing to take on wood and water, even if they are not carrying cargo to Mont-Havre. Most of our foreign trade gets packed into the nooks and crannies of such passersby.

So a freighter was expected in from Hanondorf, and my friend Jean Baptiste was at the dock waiting to see if the Cannondale (for that is the freighter's name) might have any small business for Suprenant et Fils when two lifeboats descended from the clouds instead.

At first he thought that the freighter had broken up in a storm, but the truth is both better and worse. It seems that the Cannondale was attacked by pirates, a most shocking thing! They descended out of the Abyss in a swarm of small craft, settling on and around the quarterdeck and killing the captain and first mate in moments. The remainder of the crew were held at knife-point and given the choice of dying or taking to the lifeboats.

Piracy! I have never heard of such thing happening in modern times. There were many ships taken in the skies near Provençe during the Troubles there, of course, but that was a matter of war rather than piracy. It is very strange; and the strangest thing is that none of the pirates uttered a word. They communicated with the Cannondale's crew solely with gestures and leers and threatening motions.

No one seems to know where they could have come from. None of the Old Worlds tolerate pirates in their spheres, nor would any of the colonies, not by choice at any rate. And yet, they must have come from somewhere: there is neither food nor water in the Abyss between worlds, save what we bring with us.

Jean Baptiste thinks that some ship's crew must have mutinied, and then run across an unknown world while fleeing through the Abyss; or perhaps the other way around, perhaps a storm drove them onto a new world, and rather than reporting it they have chosen to keep it for themselves, turning to piracy as a means to acquire the materiel they will need.

Madame Truc is much concerned that the pirates might attack us here in Mont-Havre, and so are many others in town, but I think that it isn't likely: Mont-Havre is quite a large place, and fore-warned is fore-armed. We should have no trouble in running off any number of pirates. But I am concerned about the effect of piracy on the merchants here (not to mention the effect of piracy on the Courier's Guild—I pray you will receive this letter in due time); and our smaller towns and villages have no such protection. I believe I must send a note to my friends the Frontenacs.

Your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 25 Juillet 33AF

Dear Aunt Maggie,

I dined with M. Fournier the bookseller again this past week, a simple meal of ox-tail soup and crusty rolls. As we ate he spoke further of his plan for the literary domination of Mont-Havre by means of selling books to speakers of Cumbrian.

I brought with me a list of Cumbrian authors and titles, both recognized classics and more modern works—everything I could remember from my own shelves at home. I listed as many of Thomas Becker's books as I could recall, including all of his Dorchester books; vast swathes of Dikkons, including The Mystery of David Silverfish, Ethel, and The Pirate's Daughter; and Whelkie's The Sunstone and The Gentleman in Scarlet. Nor did I neglect the Cumbrian drama, as the people of Mont-Havre greatly enjoy the theater of an evening. I especially encouraged him to acquire copies of Maltspire's First, Second, and Third Folios. Master Maltspire is not much thought of in Yorke these days, but I have always enjoyed him; and from what I have learned of the Armoricans I think he will speak to them in a way that the jaded of Yorke can no longer hear.

After we had gone over my list, M. Fournier went on to complain about the cost of importing books from the Old Worlds. Even the cheapest volumes, as sold by M. Harte, are priced out of a common laborer's reach. Properly bound volumes on good paper are affordable only by the wealthy…or, I suppose, by eccentrics like myself. As a merchant, M. Fournier wishes to sell many more books, specifically many more than M. Harte; as a lover of books, he wishes to sell much better books than M. Harte, at a price that working men can afford.

I asked him whether he had considered printing books locally. He had, of course. But he says it would be an ambitious undertaking to print even one book, and that for two reasons: typesetting, and the cost of procuring manuscripts.

Paper is available, of course, as witness the ledgers I deal with each day, and there are printing presses enough for handbills and broadsheets and the like. But the printers of Mont-Havre are all accustomed to printing individual pages. None of them have sufficient type to typeset an entire book. Type must be ordered from abroad, and is exceedingly expensive. (One could, of course, typeset a single page, print many copies, and then reuse the type to set the subsequent page, and so on until the book is complete. But that would make subsequent printings as expensive as the first…or to wasting a great deal of paper if a print run didn't sell.)

In Yorke, and I imagine in Toulouse as well, I gather that books are printed not from movable type but from plates, one plate per page. A page is typeset, and a suitably proficient member of the Former's Guild produces a plate from the typeset page. It is tedious work, I am reliably informed, but also a steady income. But formers are few in Mont-Havre, much in demand, and not accustomed to such work.

And then, as to manuscripts, there are no authors in Armorica, at least not yet; and as the founding charter of the colony, written before the Pont Neuf set sail with the first load of colonists, requires that the colony respect Provençese copyrights, M. Fournier cannot simply print his own copies of the books he imports, even if the printing capability were available. It is not that he has qualms about Provençese copyrights, he told me, but that the Guilde du Papeterie in Toulouse might choose to sue him in an Armorican court…or, worse, refuse to sell him any more books.

It has perhaps not escaped M. Fournier that there is no such requirement in Armorican law with respect to books printed in Cumbria.

Your nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 18 Juillet 33 AF

Jack,

I'm delighted to hear from you, and a little befuddled as to how to answer, since I think I've answered most of your questions in letters you had not received when you wrote me but should certainly have received by now. Let me tick them off briefly, just to make sure; then on to news.

Yes, I really have moved to Armorica, or I would not have received your letter.

No, I do not know what Dad will say, or, indeed, has said; he has forbidden Mum to correspond with me. However, I can well imagine, as can you.

Yes, it's a disappointment to everyone in the family but you. You are a great comfort to me, Jack.

No, I'm not starving in a ditch; I'm a clerk in one of the leading shipping firms, and doing adequately well.

Yes, I have met a number of young ladies—or, at least, danced with them in the park.

No, they have no sisters to whom I can introduce you, nor would I, you foot-slogging old reprobate.

Yes, actually, I do like it here. I like it here very much, somewhat to my surprise. The original attraction was simply that Dad had no reach here, and was unlikely to follow me; but the air is clear, the surroundings are beautiful, the girls are pretty, and I can be my own man here.

Moving onto news, I should clarify something. In my last, I indicated that I'd achieved the stellar distinction of sitting in the first seat on the left at Madame Truc's table. I would not want you to think that this is my permanent status; far from it. As I have explained, one's position at Madame's table depends on her favor and the quality of your room, which is to say the size of one's weekly rent. My usual place is three spots up on the right (one or two spots better than I deserve, given my rooms), and I returned there willingly enough the following day. The seat at Madame's left hand is a seat of special favor exceeded only by the spot at her right hand; and as the spot at her right is open only when Jacques-le-Souris has incurred her disfavor, being able to sit there is usually of little significance. Often, indeed, everyone just shifts up the table by one.

The spot on the left, on the other…. That is to say, being granted the privilege of sitting to Madame's left is always a sign of special favor for it means that everyone else must move down a spot, which is by no means a popular thing. And in particular, it means that M. Sabot must be moved down a spot, and that is of all things to be avoided without suitable cause.

M. Sabot is a mystery to me. He is an older man, nearly as old as Jacques-le-Souris, but as unlike Jacques as a horse from a hound. He maintains a gentlemanly appearance at all times—I have never seen him without a coat and waistcoat—and holds himself so aloof from the other boarders that I have hardly ever passed two words with him. He does not seem to work, yet he can afford the nicest rooms in the house. (Jacques' position on Madame's right depends less on his lodgings and more on long acquaintance, for he was a friend of Madame's long-dead husband, and, I believe, her first roomer.) I have often seen M. Sabot walking the streets of an afternoon, going from nowhere to no place, or sitting alone in Durand Park at noon.

From his appearance and bearing one would expect him to live in a fine home, with a family; and yet he lives in Madame Truc's boarding house. "It is a tale of the most sad," is all that Jacques will tell me; naturally I haven't dared ask Madame herself.

The point is, elevating anyone to the seat on Madame's left requires displacing M. Sabot, and I have come to believe that she only does so after explaining the candidate's merits and receiving his acquiescence. It would not do to lose him as a tenant, no, no, for he is a man of the most distinct…and if he can bear to make way, no one else is likely to raise a fuss.

Certainly M. Sabot did not raise a fuss on the occasion when I took his place. Rather, he sat down beside me with the greatest dignity, and spoke only to beg me for the salt.

There's a story there, Jack. I wonder if I shall ever know what it is.

Your cousin,

Armand.

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Letters from Armorica, 11 Juillet 33 AF

Dear Aunt Maggie,

The highlight of this past week was an opportunity to dine with M. Fournier, the proprietor of the bookshop that I walk by on my way to and from Suprenant et Fils. As I had told Mum, I am diligently saving my pennies; my one luxury these days is my weekly book, which I buy from M. Fournier. I must choose carefully, given my limited budget, so I have been spending a not inconsiderable amount of time in M. Fournier's shop, browsing and talking with the proprietor. I stopped in on my way home several days ago, and while we were speaking he invited me to dine with him at noon the next day. (We take the main meal at midday here in Mont-Havre.)

You are, perhaps, surprised by the presence of a bookshop in such a rustic place as Mont-Havre; but consider, the colony is now well-established, and Mont-Havre is the center of what little civilization we possess here in Armorica. The townsfolk (for Mont-Havre is little more than a large town by Cumbrian standards) are prosperous and hard-working, and need their entertainments of an evening; and as most of the leading families came from Provençe before the Troubles they feel they have a duty to uphold Provençese high culture. Thus, we have a theater, and an opera house, and if it is all rather pretentious by the standards of Yorke it is nevertheless well-meant…and thoroughly enjoyed.

But such nights out are the exception, not the rule; and then, the leading merchants and guild-masters of the town are concerned to appear cultured and well-read, at least by local standards. That requires books, and M. Fournier is one of those who cater to this need. He was so good as to explain all of this to me over dinner, which we ate in his rooms over his shop.

It seems there are two kinds of book-buyer in Mont-Havre: those who buy books singly, like me, and those who buy in bulk. Which is to say, those who read, and those who wish to appear well-read while actually decorating their fine new homes with rows of volumes bound in fine leather. I ought not to disparage them, though, for they do read their books. At least, some of them do read at least some of their books.

M. Harte serves the former group, mostly with poorly written and cheaply bound novels my father would (rightly) dismiss as penny-dreadfuls, while M. Fournier serves the latter. As such, his stock consists primarily of the Provençese classics; and as such, he gets very few people coming in to browse. Instead, the well-to-do contract with him to provide them with a steady stream of books in fine, matching bindings; for not even the well-to-do of Mont-Havre can afford to buy an entire library at once. Thus, the quest for status and the appearance of culture provides M. Fournier with a steady, if boring, means of making his living.

I gather my visits are a welcome relief, the more so as he entered the business from a love of those very same classics. He did not, so he told me, intend to become a dealer in home furnishings! No, no, no! But so it is; man proposes, and le bon Dieu disposes.

During the meal we spoke of the book I was currently reading, Montpelier's Gaston du Monde; and after we had eaten, he explained why he had asked me to dine with him, mixing business with pleasure in the typical Armorican way. He had several reasons: the pleasure of my company and the opportunity to practice his Cumbrian first among them; for we speak in Cumbrian and Provençese by turns, for our mutual benefit. But then he came to the point.

"You, M. Tuppenny, are a young man of the most educated," he said. "It is incroyable that you are here in Mont-Havre; but that will be to my great benefit, I think. For I feel sure that you are as well read in the literature of your homeland as I am in mine."

"I can not go that far," I said. "You have many years of advantage on me. But yes, I have always read widely."

"I wish you to advise me, M. Tuppenny. My stock, it is Provençese. M. Harte's stock, the same. And yet most of our newest colonists are Cumbrian. True, they mostly go to the provinces, but that will change. You yourself are a sign of this."

I nodded. "I am something of a special case, I think, M. Fournier. But I have observed the same thing. You wish, then, to expand your stock to include works in Cumbrian."

"Exactement! You have it, my young friend. I wish to sell Cumbrian books, the best Cumbrian books. It is the future, n'est-ce pas? Moreover, I wish to get, as you would say, the jump on M. Harte. But I have no contacts in Yorke, nor am I myself familiar with the literature of your homeland."

At that point it was necessary for me to return to work at Suprenant et Fils, and so we adjourned the discussion for another day. In the meantime, would you ask Uncle George to discover for me the directions of the principle booksellers in Yorke?

My best love to Mum!

Your loving nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 4 Juillet 33AF

Dear Aunt Maggie,

Thank you for writing; it's good to hear from you. I hope all is well with Uncle George?

Now that that's covered—it's all very well for you to say that I should have spoken with you before I left, but you know as well as I do that if I had you'd have felt compelled to tell Mum, and Mum would have felt compelled to tell Dad, and Dad would have taken steps, and I'd still be in Yorke. That might have been a favorable outcome for the three of you, but it would have been a far from favorable outcome for me.

Nevertheless, you're quite right. I should have foreseen that Dad would learn of my letters and would forbid Mum from communicating with me, and I should have begun by writing to you rather than to her. Dad can hardly forbid Mum from visiting her own sister, after all, especially when you live in the same street. To do so would offend your esteemed father, and that would never do, no, no, not at all, mustn't do that, Dad would never do that. Not when Grandfather's influence and fortune are at stake!

Burning my letters on arrival, on the other hand, that's well within his authority as my father and my mother's husband, and will cause no political difficulty whatsoever. I suppose I should be grateful that he is burning them unread, and so has no notion of my nom de guerre, as they call it here.

Do I sound bitter? I suppose I am, a little. This is precisely the sort of thinking I left home to avoid having to do. Here I am merely young M. Armand Tuppenny, a lowly clerk out to seek his fortune in a new world. As the other new colonists have similar ambitions, mine pass unremarked, indeed are wholly unremarkable; it is a lack of ambition that would be worthy of note. I am unimportant enough that no one is seeking to thwart me, and I need play no one's game but my own.

Do you know, I find it quite refreshing.

Dear Auntie, you know you are my favorite of all my aunts and uncles, and I thank you for your kind offer. From now on I shall write to you, trusting that you will share my news with Mum discreetly and in such a way that she can honestly say that she is not in communication with me, while still consoling her fears and comforting her in my absence.

If you please, Auntie, could you find out how many letters Mum received before Dad started burning them? At least the first two or you'd not have known how to reach me, but I'm guessing not many more. Once I know, I'll try to fill you in on what's happened since then.

Please tell Mum that I'm doing well. I'm working as a clerk in a shipping firm, and have recently been promoted to work the front desk, a position of great responsibility as it means that I am trusted to take in and disburse money. I would not have you think that I am a mere sales boy: large sums of cash cross that desk! Tell her that I have plenty to eat and a comfortable place to sleep; I am making friends and continuing my studies. I do not intend to remain a clerk forever!

Please give my regards to Cousin Jack, and tell him he owes me a letter.

Your loving nephew,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 27 Juin 33AF

Jack,

I had an adventure yesterday that I think will amuse you, being much more the sort of thing that would happen to you.

Late yesterday the senior clerk asked me to run up to the port and check on Jean Baptiste, one of the other junior clerks. He works at the Suprenant & Fils warehouse at the port, and only comes into town every few days to keep the ledgers up to date. He should have been here yesterday afternoon, but he didn't come. This isn't one of my normal duties, but the office boys were all out on other errands, and M. Bardot was worried, so off I went.

He wasn't at the warehouse, and after several hours I tracked him down to the back room of the Zorba, a tavern near the port that mostly serves the dock workers. Seems he'd started come in around mid-morning and started drinking heavily. He got a bit unruly, and there was something of a brawl.

You'd think that the dock-workers might resent a clerk drinking in their bar, but you'd be wrong. Jean wasn't a regular there (or anywhere, really) but he was known and respected around the port. And besides that, the dock-men had all heard the news.

It seems that Jean's fiancée, a young lady named Marie, had—very publicly—run off that morning with the mate from an Illyrican freighter. The dock-men in the bar all took Jean's side, being against foreign sailors by nature, as you might say; and the brawl started when a lad from the same sky ship unwisely came into the Zorba for a drink. Jean Baptiste threw a punch at him, missing him completely and nearly falling over; the sailor quite naturally belted him a good one; and after that the melée became general. The invader was repelled, with a certain bit of damage to the furniture, and the barkeeper tossed Jean into the back room to sleep it off.

Well, I couldn't leave him there. Suprenant et Fils wouldn't appreciate the scandal, and besides, if he woke up in the bar he'd probably start drinking again.

I couldn't shift him by myself, so I fetched Jacques-le-Souris from Madame Truc's, he being an understanding fellow with a great appreciation for the feelings of a young man whose girl ran off with a sailor, and no stranger to drink himself, what's more, and between the two of us we managed to get him out of there.

I didn't know where Jean lived, so we couldn't take him home. After a bit of thought, and much arguing with Jacques, who thought I was taking my life in my hands, I resolved to smuggle him into my room at Madame Truc's. We'd get him cleaned up and let him sleep it off.

You can imagine how that went. Jacques checked that the coast was clear and all that, but still, we were halfway down the corridor to my room when Madame Truc appeared. I swear, I think she must have the Gift.

She looked like an oncoming winter storm. "Monsieur Tuppenny," she said in tones of the coldest, "what is this that you are doing?" I admit I cringed, because she only used such a formal mode of address as a sign of her extreme displeasure. Usually it was "Armand, mon fils." I saw my coveted seat slipping all of the way to bottom of the table, but I stood my ground—so far from having been out roistering, I was on a mission of mercy.

"Madame Truc," I said, "This is Jean Baptiste. He's my fellow clerk from Suprenant et Fils." Her expression softened a bit when she heard me speak, I guess because I sounded cold sober. Which I was. "He found out this morning that his fiancée ran off with an Illyrican sailor."

At that her eyes blazed, and she muttered something that might have been "La putain!" under her breath, though I am sure I must have misheard. And after that she was all business. "Armand, mon cher fils, to M. Suprenant you must report, and that the most quickly. Jacques and I shall take care of this poor young man."

I was rather hoping to avoid any of this coming to M. Suprenant's notice; it had been made clear to me that public drunkenness and carousing was well beneath the dignity of any clerk at the firm of Suprenant et Fils, and I didn't want Jean to lose his position over a faithless wench. The only hope was to get the bookkeeping taken care of promptly, as there was no telling what had gone at the warehouse in Jean Baptiste's absence.

The sun was quite down when I reached the port, and I found the warehouse abandoned except for the senior warehouse man, a fellow named Morel. He was nearly frantic, and didn't calm down even a little bit when I introduced myself. "I've done my best, M. Tuppenny, but M. Baptiste left this morning and I'm no clerk. I tried to fill in the journal for each load, and I'm sure I made a hash of it. But what was I to do? And M. Baptiste is not here to lock up, and I want my dinner. It's been a day of the most long, M. Tuppenny."

I inspected the journal, which was indeed a mess, and with a ruthlessness I did not know I possessed made him go over it with me until I was sure what each of his entries meant. I dismissed him after that and spent the next hour copying the entries clearly and in a legible hand; then I struck out the entirety of Morel's work and initialed it carefully. There'd be no hiding this from M. Bardot or M. Suprenant! I was in a mood as I carried the journal through the dark streets back to Suprenant & Fils.

M. Bardot was waiting in his office, seated at his desk, reading a book by the light of an oil lamp. He took in the journal and stains on my coat, which I'd acquired when helping Jean Baptist to Madame Truc's, and in silence held out one thin hand. I gave him the journal, and waited, hardly breathing, as he inspected it.

He closed it after several minutes, and looked back at me. He was clearly awaiting an explanation.

"His fiancée," I began, but he held up one hand, and nodded.

"Say no more," he said. "M. Suprenant will see you in the morning. You may make your explanations to him."

Jean was in no case to go anywhere in the morning, having been pretty well knocked about. I reported in at my usual time, taking up my station in the back, and when M. Suprenant entered he beckoned sternly instead of giving me his usual cheery greeting. I followed him to his office, and told him the whole sad story.

He heard me out, and told me that I might return to my duties. I wanted to ask what would become of Jean Baptiste, but M. Suprenant looked so forbidding that I didn't quite dare.

M. Bardot came to me later in the day; it seems I am to be trained to work with customers at the front desk. It's a position of great responsibility, and so I was quite surprised, as I've only been with the firm a few weeks.

It wasn't until I was nearly home that I realized that M. Bardot and M. Suprenant had already heard about poor Jean's fiancée when they sent me out to find him. It was a mark of their respect for him, and a kind of test for me—and a sign of their good opinion of me, as well.

At supper, I found that I had been elevated into the highest heavens, having been granted the coveted seat on Madam Truc's left, across from Jacques-le-Souris, for at least this one evening.

Hoping this find you well,

Your cousin,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 20 Juin 33AF

Dear Marc,

I'm so glad to hear that you and Elise are settled in Bois-de-Bas in such an excellent situation. It must be good to have family there to support you, and to "pave the way" as we'd say back home. I'm sure that you will work your way into your own farmstead in short order.

No, I'm not still working at the port; I am now a junior clerk at Suprenant et Fils, and I live at Madame Truc's boarding house. You may safely write to me at that direction. I hadn't planned on staying here very long, but Madame Truc has taken a shine to me, and M. Suprenant pays me well enough that I am able to save for the future so long as I am not extravagant in my needs. For that, Madame Truc's serves me very well.

What that future may be I am still unsure. I am still working it out. I do not wish to remain a clerk all of my life, but I am learning a great deal about trade and imports and exports just by watching what goes on at S&F. With my connections in Cumbria and the knowledge I am gaining I suppose that some day I could set up as a merchant here in Mont-Havre. I think I could manage it. There are many inducements. M. Suprenant lives in a grand house, and has all the good things in life, or at least all of the good things that are readily available here in Armorica; and he is a good man, generous in both word and deed. I expect that I shall marry one day, and it would be good to make a fortune to provide for my family.

And yet, to be M. Suprenant seems to me to be little more than a grand sort of clerk—he needn't keep the journals and ledgers himself, but his working life is consumed by them. He comes in every morning, perhaps an hour after I must arrive, and always through the warehouse doors at the back of the building. He greets me and the warehouse-men cordially, and asks after our comfort, and then heads off whistling to his office across from the senior clerk to go over the latest transactions. At noon he dines in the hall of the Guilde du Marchandes with his peers, the owners of the other mercantile concerns, and the talk is all of harvests and storms and the price of bronzewood in the back-of-beyond. And none of it is good, open talk such as we used to have on board the Lombard. They enjoy each other's company and drink each other's health, but they fence one with another, always desiring to learn whatever will aid their dealings while giving nothing away.

It's a grand game, I suppose; but it was to avoid something like it that I left Yorke.

But the experience can only be useful, and my wages will lay the foundation for my future dreams whatever they may turn out to be.

Please, write me and tell me more about Bois-de-Bas. I am delighted by your descriptions of the woods and grottos and hot springs around which your town is built, and would gladly learn more of them; and also of the people of your town. I am a city boy, as you well know, not a countryman like yourself, and I have no taste for farming; but if there were some way I might earn my living there in Bois-de-Bas, some way I might be of use and support a family, I would gladly live closer to such an excellent friend as yourself.

My best to Elise!

Your friend,

Armand

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Letters from Armorica, 13 Juin 33AF

Dear Mum,

A couple of weeks ago I started to tell you about my job at Suprenant et Fils, and got side-tracked into talking about the local architecture and kinds of timber. It's easy to get side-tracked when there's so much here that's different from an old, established city like Yorke.

S&F is housed in a neat timber-framed building on the Rue du Champs. In the front there is a room with a counter, where a clerk sits to accept orders and payments from the firm's customers. The Guilde du Courriers has a messenger service that runs throughout the city, but as most of the larger merchants and traders are within a few blocks of S&F it is often less expensive (and quicker) to send a boy with a packet or to visit in person than to use the Guild's services.

Because the desk clerk must take in and disburse money it is a position of great responsibility, and as the newest member of the staff I have not yet been entrusted with it for even a few minutes. On the other hand, as a clerk and as a man grown I rank above the office boys, and so haven't had to run any messages. In a way it is a pity, for I should like to learn more about the other merchants in town.

The offices of Mon. Suprenant and the senior clerk are off a hall behind the counter. The senior clerk himself, Mon. Bardot, has been with the firm for many years and resides with his family in a small apartment over the offices. (At least two of the office boys are his sons.) The owner and his family live in a fine house on a shady street some blocks away.

Behind the offices is a large space used as a warehouse, with double-doors opening onto a lane. This is where S&F keeps smaller and more expensive goods: cinnabark, fine hardwoods, blaireau pelts, and the like—the sort of thing worth holding onto until the market is favorable, or too attractive to thieves to keep in the larger warehouse at the port; and also goods for local consumption. There is a locked area with metal bars for the most precious items.

The double doors stand open all day long, and there is a near constant flow of wagons and carts coming by to pick up goods or drop them off; sometimes we have as many as six an hour.

It is my job to stand at a desk near the doors, and note down in a journal everything that comes in and goes out, and the time, and how much, and from whom or to whom, and all such manner of details. I must make all of the notes in ink, and with the greatest of care; if I make an error I must strike it out and initial the entry, and go show it to Mon. Bardot. He is not a hard man, and has been willing to make allowances for my inexperience, so I hate to disappoint him. And so I must concentrate, and think about every letter and number that I note down before I inscribe it. It is surprisingly fatiguing, and I find that I am increasingly grateful to Dad for forcing me to attend to my penmanship. I suppose he won't be much consoled by this, and I suppose you needn't tell him.

Then, at the end of the day when the doors are shut and the night watchman begins his rounds I remove to another desk in the senior clerk's office and update the grand inventory ledgers from my journal. I am also responsible for a card file that gives our whole inventory by type of merchandise, and by owner for goods owned by others that we are waiting to trans-ship.

That is for the goods held in our space here in town; there is a separate set of ledgers and a separate card file for the big warehouse at the port. That is maintained by another young man, Jean Baptiste. We have not had much to do with one another, as he spends his days out at the port and comes into the senior clerk's office only twice a week. What he finds for himself to do at the port, I've no idea; ships are not the same kind of hourly (or even daily) occurrence as the wagons are here in town.

And then, when my work is done I return the ledgers to the shelf and close the card file, and Mon. Bardot locks it all up and goes upstairs for his supper and I return to Madame Truc's for mine.

Your loving son,

Armand

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