I am shocked and appalled. A sky-wagon came from the village today, bearing three people I have reason to know well: Madame Truc, Jacques-la-Souris, and Jean-Baptiste. They came to the shop in Bois-de-Bas seeking shelter, for of course Madame Truc knew I had come there. Elise directed them to Onc’ Herbert, naturally, and he arranged for them to be brought to me. I could not believe my eyes.
“O, mon fils,” Madame Truc cried when she saw me. She looked tired to me, tired and worn and small. Jacques-la-Souris looked haggard and much thinner than when I’d left Mont-Havre. And poor Jean-Baptiste! It seems that when Le Maréchal’s men came they took over the port and all of its functions. All available goods were seized to support Le Maréchal’s war, and of course all of the merchants and their clerks were sent away. M. Suprenant could only help him so much, for of course it was his business at the port that was shut down; and so he fell in with a group of young men who opposed the Provençese cochons. There had followed a number of scuffles and skirmishes and in one Jean-Baptiste was wounded in the leg. Madame Truc brought him from Mont-Havre in the back of a cart, moaning and delirious.
“It was an escape of the most thrilling!” Madame Truc told me with a little of her old fire. We were sitting here, in our quarters on Le Blaireau. It occurs to me that I have not recorded this before, but it was decided (and not by me) that Amelie and I should remain here, the sloop’s interior being less drafty than anything on the island itself. Jacques Poquerie (we have too many Jacques on this island!) and his men expanded the narrow little hole the sloop’s commander had called his quarters forward into the body of the sloop, and made for us a cozy apartment, complete with a pot-bellied stove against the chill of the night. I am not at all sure where the stove came from, and have learned that it is best not to ask such questions. It is a great comfort to us, especially when I remember my first nights on board, huddled in the galley!
When they arrived Jean-Baptiste was whisked away to have his leg attended to; Bois-de-Bas remains a town of the frontier, and her people are accustomed to the sort of injuries received while felling trees and the like. I was assured that though different in origin, Jean-Baptiste’s wound is not all that different in kind, and that although he would certainly lose his leg below the knee he is quite likely to be well enough after. Provided they were quick enough, for it had grown much worse during the journey. I trust that they were quick enough, for I heard his cries as they took his leg from him.
And so it was that Madame Truc and no-longer-so-fat old Jacques-the-Mouse sat with us in our “parlor” in the stern of Le Blaireau. I escorted them in, and introduced them to Amelie. Even in her fatigue Madame Truc gave Amelie a careful looking over, eyeing her from head to toe, for of course only the best would do for one of Madame Truc’s young men; but Amelie rose (with difficulty) from her chair and advanced to meet her, taking her hands.
“Dearest Madame Truc,” she said. “Armand has spoken of you so often and so warmly. I am delighted that you thought to come to us in your need.” How many are the ways that a woman might say those words! But Amelie’s sincerity was so clear that Madame Truc simply nodded, looked me, and said, “Bon.”
It was then that Madame Truc and Jacques sat down and told us of their “escape of the most thrilling.” Jean-Baptiste had been carried back to Madame Truc’s boarding house by his friends after the scuffle, and she had hidden him away. A day had passed, a day of watchful waiting, until she began to think that his identity had passed unnoticed and that no one would come looking for him. It had, in fact, passed unnoticed, but that was no help; for the very next day a squad of Provençese soldiers came and told her to turn away all of her borders; the soldiers were to be garrisoned there from now one, and she was to see to their needs.
“All of my people, my gentil-hommes had to go,” she said. From another I might have expected tears, but Madame Truc was simply irate. “Even pauvre M. Sabot. It was too much. I had Jacques move young Jean-Baptiste to the cellar, and then sent him off with his things, as if he were leaving, but really to hunt for a cart and horses.”
“I hid them outside of the town,” said Jacque-la-Souris with a hint of a smile. He looked bad, gray in the face, and had not yet spoken much to us. “It is many years since I last hunted les grand-blaireaux, but still I know every inch of the country-side, me, what the town has not covered.”
“And then he returned by night and we fetched Jean-Baptiste up from the cellar.”
“But how did you get through town, just the three of you! Surely the cochons were keeping watch, and with Jean-Baptiste wounded—”
“It was tres difficile,” she said. “But M. Suprenant sent two of his men to help us.”
“There are many ways out of Mont-Havre,” said Jacque-la-Souris. “Le Maréchal’s men could not watch them all. It is not so hard, if you know the town. And it was very dark.”
“And now we are here,” said Madame Truc. “And moi, I do not know what we shall do.”
“First you shall rest,” said Amelie. “You shall stay with us, of course.”
“Yes,” I said, “and for as long as you like. But you know, this sloop on which we are living is not unlike a boarding house.” I shrugged. “I should not object if you chose to help with running it.”
“And my time, it is nearing,” said Amelie, “and I have no mother or older sisters to watch over me. You are welcome for Armand’s sake, but I am sure you can make yourself welcome for your own sake, n’est-ce-pas?”
At that Madame Truc brightened up, as I knew she would, for she lives to take care of others, and I knew she should hate to think herself useless.
“Et moi?” said Jacques-la-Souris.
I knelt beside him, putting my hand on his shoulder. “As for you, you old reprobate,” I said to him, “my old friend and counselor, you shall remain with us as well. They seem to have put me in charge here on this island; I shall need men of sense to advise me.” I raised an eyebrow. “And besides, what would Madame Truc do without you to take care of?”
He chuckled a very little, though it was hard for him. The journey had taken nearly all he had.
“Come with me,” I said to them. “They will have made spaces for you by now. Sleep well tonight. You are safe.”
And so they are; yet they have walked away from everything they had in the world. I shall certainly see them taken care of. But my heart is sore for them, and also for M. Suprenant and his people, and for M. Fournier. If only we had more men, and could drive les cochons from Armorica!
photo credit: DarrellR IMG_0766.JPG via photopin (license)