Letters from Armorica-Penny Dreadfuls (12 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today has been particularly quiet for a Sonnedi, for it has been deeply, deeply cold these last days, colder than I've ever seen it here in Bois-de-Bas. Everyone has remained at home, mostly huddled in one room for warmth—even in households with more than one wood-stove or hearth, for the firewood must be made to stretch until spring.

The Sunday routine has been the main constant in my life in Bois-de-Bas—divine service in the Church, Sonnedi dinner with friends, and then, of course, the hot springs—but today that routine was broken. Were Pére Georges still with us everyone would have come to Mass regardless of effort, but as he left on Lundi well before the weather turned, our service was but sparsely attended. Madame Truc was most shocked, but as Amelie said to me, one cannot miss Mass when there is no Mass.

Then, after services, M. Gagnon sadly informed us that he and Mme. Gagnon would not be hosting midday dinner, as the temperature in their dining room was below freezing and they dared not heat it. It would have been a sad disappointment had it been a surprise. And then, most tellingly, no one went out to the hot springs. At least, we didn't; and none of those I met at Church were planning to do so either.

Everyone gathers in one room, I say; and that room is usually the kitchen. If you plan to keep only one room heated and one fire lit, it makes sense that it is the room where the food is! That is what we did: Amelie and Anne-Marie and I, and Madame and Jacques-le-Souris, and young Luc. It is not a large room, but we made do, with Amelie and Anne-Marie near the stove and the rest of us at the kitchen table. I had Luc collect the heating blocks from each of the beds in the house, and by keeping them by us I am sure we were much cozier than average for Bois-de-Bas.

Well, except for Patches the Demon-Goat, I suppose, who remained outside in her pen; but as her pen is now insulated by drifted snow, and she herself by her new goat armor, I suppose even Patches is cozier than average.

There are always little tasks to be done, even in winter, even indoors; but today being Sonnedi we instead passed the time by making as merry as we could. Indeed, we spent most of the day by taking turns reading aloud from some of the books we received from my friend M. Fournier in Mont-Havre.

I would have preferred something Cumbrian, some Dikkons or perhaps Thomas Becker, and perhaps Amelie might have as well. But Luc has only been learning his letters this past month, and in his native Provençese—though of course he will need to learn to read and write in Cumbrian as well. As he has been most diligent, Amelie insisted that we read something suitable to his age and taste, which is to say one of the Provençese penny dreadfuls M. Fournier acquired for us from M. Harte. I regret to say that these books are also suitable to Amelie's age and taste, for she devoured them once they arrived and returns to them often.

For our first book she picked Janvier et le Mouron Pourpre, a tale of attempted assassination, swordplay, and romance set in a past and most unsettled age of Provençese history. Janvier, I may say, isn't the first month of the year, but rather the name of the hero, Michel Janvier, a dashing swordsman and member of the royal guard. The author (if I may use so exalted a term) has penned many books about Janvier, all with titles that begin with Janvier et: Janvier et le Empoisonneur de Gascon, Janvier et le Crapaud Argent, and Janvier et la Mademoiselle du Morte being but three others that came in the same shipment. The books are stirring, lurid, and soon read, and having finished one, one soon wants to begin the next, that is, if one can stomach them at all.

The volume in question concerned a highwayman known as le Mouron Pourpre, the "Purple Pimpernel". This worthy began his career of crime by rudely accosting minor Provençese nobles in their carriages and relieving them of their goods. This was just in the nature of things in those days, and caused but little comment; but when he began robbing them in their homes, and then, during one such invasion, abducted a young lady, a near relative of the Duc d'Avignon, le Roi sent his favored agent, Michel Janvier to find her and put a stop to the Pimpernel's doings. Our hero discovered a vast scheme to assassinate le Roi and see Michel hanged for it, but of course he put a stop to it at the last minute, running the Pimpernel through with his sword and rapier wit, before carrying the young lady back to Toulouse with a smile and a leer.

I believe it was meant to be rapier wit; but perhaps the author simply failed to remove the training button from the point of the rapier.

I say we took turns reading, but mostly it was Amelie and me. When I passed the book to Jacques he just smiled and passed it along to Madame Truc; and when Madame Truc came to the passage in which our Michel flirts with the serving girl in the tavern in Saint Rémy she turned bright red and handed the book back to me.

"Such a thing in my house, I would never tolerate," she said. "It is of all things the most scandalous." Jacques just chuckled.

Luc turned bright red as well, I noticed, and neither he nor Madame would look at me as I finished out the scene. It was mild enough for all that, but strong drink for those not accustomed.

And so we passed the day, finishing that book and one more, in which Michel Janvier foils yet another obscure and overcomplicated scheme to bring down le Roi; and when we were done I left the two books on the corner of the table rather than returning them to the bookcase in the parlor. If I am not tempting young Luc to virtue, at least I may tempt him to read!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Goat Handles (9 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is now deep winter; the snow is piled high around the houses, we live by lantern light all the day, and we visit each other by walking through tunnels in the snow. Only when we get out of the village proper can we travel about up in the light—when the day is fine, which often it isn't, and so mostly we don't. There's not much to do: we get few deliveries for the shop this time of year, having to make do with what's in store (which is why we have such a large store-room). My forming work is easy, being limited only by the raw materials I have at hand and my own know-how, so I am busy enough; but for the most part we in Bois-de-Bas spend our time working on small things and visiting each other to complain about the weather.

As a result, my crew of older men who play checkers and gossip in the front part of my workshop is if anything larger in bad weather than in fine, though it takes them a little longer to gather. If I go down first thing I can usually count on having the workshop to myself for an hour or so, except for Luc asleep under the bench.

I was much taken aback, then, to enter my workshop this morning and discover that the pot-bellied stove in the front of the shop was already quite hot (for we bank it at night); and not only that, the settee was occupied by a reclining form wrapped in a blanket. We do not lock our doors at night in Bois-de-Bas, so anyone might have entered in search of shelter, and welcome to it; but why not come to the front door? The settee is comfortable enough to sit on, for a hard wooden bench, but I should not like to sleep on it.

The figure roused as I entered, and sat up; and I found that it was Jacques-le-Souris. The freshly married Jacque-le-Souris, who should have been in bed in quite another part of the house altogether with his new bride, Madame Truc.

Though I suppose she is no longer Madame Truc, but to call her Madame Le Souris is unthinkable (Madame not being mouse-like in the slightest) and also wrong, because "le-Souris" is only a nick name. In fact, I have just this minute realized that I do not know what Jacques' full name really is. How odd.

For a man who had spent at least part of the night on a wooden settee, Jacques looked surprisingly cheerful.

"Eh, I know, Armand," he said placidly. "It is her way. Back in Mont-Havre, you remember, she would send me down to a lower spot at the table when she was displeased with me, or cast me out altogether for a day or two. Now, all she can do is make me sleep somewhere else." He shrugged. "We are who we are, even now that we are married. C'est bon."

"But what did you—never mind, Jacques. Best you return to bed, before Amelie rises. Perhaps Madame will have forgiven you by now."

He nodded, and gathering his blankets about him he made his way from the room as dignified as a prophet.

After that I rousted out Luc and sent him to go feed Patches the goat, snug in her new pen, and got to work. We broke our fasts an hour or so later, when Amelie rose, and it was late morning before I realized how quiet my workshop was. Luc was in the main shop for his lessons with Amelie; Jacques was presumably still in bed; and none of my other gentlemen had appeared.

What could be keeping them? Had the snow tunnel to our porch collapsed? It had been a cold, quiet night, with no new snow, so far as I could tell. I went to the front door of my workshop to take a look, and when I opened the door, I found Patches the goat reclining on the porch with her back to it. She looked up at me with her weird goat eyes and made that horrible rasping noise she makes; and then, to my horror, begin to get to her feet. I slammed the door.

"Luc!" I called.

"Oui, monsieur?" came his voice from next door, followed by the sound of footsteps. He opened the door from Amelie's shop and stuck his head through.

"Luc, did you leave the goat pen open?"

His eyes got big.

"O non, monsieur. Jamais! Patches, she is fierce!"

"She is also on the porch. Go get your gear and take her back to her pen."

He took a deep breath. "Oui, monsieur."

That was one mystery solved, but several more in its place. First, how was Patches getting out of her pen? Second, how to keep Patches in her pen? Third, how to keep her from terrorizing my neighbors when she did get out?

I sat down on the settee by the pot-bellied stove, and pondered. I'd been considering the problem as a sometime keeper-of-goats; perhaps it was time to consider the problem as a master former.

Perhaps I could harden her pen in some way, to prevent her from doing whatever it was she was doing to escape? But more importantly, since locking down the pen was liable to involve much trial-and-error, how could I mitigate her nasty horns and highly abrasive coat in the meantime, so that she would less of a danger to the clothing, skin, and flesh of anyone who mer her unprepared?

The second being the more pressing problem, I found some scraps of leather and got to work; and by early afternoon I'd found a solution. I called Luc, we both donned our protective gear, and we went out and measured her. We escaped bruised but otherwise unharmed. Then I got busy with shears and Amelie's heaviest thread and needle, while perusing a few pages of my grimoire that I had never thought to actually use; and at the end of the day, we dragged Patches back to her pen (for she'd gotten out again) and dressed her in her new garments of hardened leather.

I say "hardened," but that's misleading because I had taken care to keep the leather supple. "Strengthened" might be a better word; or perhaps, "goat proof". Patches now wore a kind of surcoat of leather on her body, attached by hardened straps around her front and middle so that there was no way for her to rid herself of it. Now bumping up against someone would no longer tear holes in their garments.

I'd also attached close-fitting leather covers to her horns and hooves, hiding the sharpness away from the world. The horn covers I attached permanently, bonding them to the horn; and better still they were joined at the top by a length of hardened wood wrapped in hardened leather, so that horns and handle made a kind of upside-down "U" shape. A similar wooden handle was affixed to her leather surcoat approximately in the middle of her back, giving the unlucky goat tender two convenient handholds by which to drag her back to her pen.

When we were finished, Patches looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before; but I am confident that she presents much less of a risk to others.

I shall have to find some better solution before the weather warms up, as I fear that wearing the leather coat will be bad for her in the heat; but this will be a help while we figure out how to escape-proof her pen.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- A Wedding (5 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been remiss, quite completely remiss, in not recording the on-going story of Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris. Not that you care, of course; but myself, in the future, I will want to remember the details.

Looking back, I see that it was almost a month ago that I suggested to Jacques that perhaps Madame Truc had been waiting for him to declare himself. He did, I gather, in his fumble-fingered way; and there followed a week of searching gazes and pondering expressions (and much less banter and badinage than I am used to from them). Amelie and I pretended not to notice, of course, and it was by mere chance that I happened to overhear the denouement, as it were.

"Jacques," cried Madame Truc, "what is it you are doing? Following me about, with the greatest constancy, adjusting the chairs and offering me pillows? It is of the most tiresome!"

Jacques' response was abashed, most unlike him, but I mentally applauded him for his perseverance:

"But, Madame Truc, je t'aime, n'est-ce-pas?"

"Naturellement, petit Jacques, for who could not? It is of all things the most reasonable," she said. "I see that I must give into your demands, or peace, there will be none for me! But you must stop this foolish pillowing behavior."

But of course it wasn't that simple, for Madame Truc was a fine lady from Mont-Havre, and she knew what was due her, she did, and so she told him. It was fine for Amelie and I to marry in quite a fly-by-night way (as indeed we did, for the village conspired that Amelie and I should spend the night under the same roof during a snowstorm, which would quite ruin her reputation if we did not marry post haste; and so we stood up together in the Church the next Sonnedi, and did so again some months later when next the priest came to Bois-de-Bas). For we were young and foolish and rash, she said. But Madame Truc was a grown woman, she was, and was not about to rush into anything!

And so they announced to us over supper a couple of weeks ago that they planned to marry "as soon as is convenable"; and then poor Jacques had to pack his things and go off and stay with Marc and Elise on the farm, for Madame Truc would not remain a single night under the same roof with him until they were wed properly, by a priest, for she had her reputation to think of!

It is really a thing of the most foolish, as Madame herself would say; for she has lived under the same roof as Jacques-le-Souris these many years, and no one would doubt the devotion the pair have for each other. And more, Madame's reputation is quite strong enough, even after such a short time as she has been in Bois-de-Bas, to overcome any number of social proprieties. She is a force of nature, she is, and the folk of our village are accustomed to paying all due respect to such, living closer to nature than do the folks of Mont-Havre. And indeed, making the announcement in Church of a Sonnedi is really all that local proprieties require!

But that was not good enough; and so I breathed a sigh of relief when Pére Georges arrived in Bois-de-Bas yesterday. We never know when to expect him, for his circuits depend on the weather and many other things; but he was here, and sooner than I would have expected. Amelie immediately went to Madame Truc and told her that she and Jacques could be wed the following day.

"So soon? But my trousseau, it is quite unfinished."

"Nevertheless," said my Amelie with great firmness. "For it is the most unfair to keep poor Jacques waiting, now that Pére Georges has come. I saw him in Armand's workshop yesterday, and he looked quite miserable to be parted from you like this!"

And so Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris made their vows today, and are sharing a room; and it is to be hoped that tomorrow I shall be able to resume the use of my study.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Town Hall (29 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been pondering much over the last couple of weeks, about town government, proper hygiene, and social contact. Also, I seem to have acquired a goat.

Regarding access to the hot springs, I have determined several things.

First, our newcomers will never be fully assimilated into our town so long as they are excluded from the springs. It is the one place where everyone has time to chat. Anyone may speak to anyone in the springs.

Second, excluding anyone from the comfort of the springs during January in Bois-de-Bas is more cruel than I can say. It is the one place in town (outside of one's bed) where one can truly be warm all over at this time of year.

Third, there really is no way to accommodate everyone at the same time. There are more grottos, and more hot water, but the early settlers had no difficulty identifying the two largest and most comfortable, and there is no real way to enlarge either of them. Possibly we could build a much larger bath house adjacent to the springs, and supplied by them…but that would necessitate demolishing a number of homes. And, in fact, there would be plenty of room if only we did not insist on seating everyone at once for town meetings.

No, we have two choices: either we must continue to accord all newcomers a second class of citizenship—and I may say that the good men of Bois-de-Bas all looked rather sheepish when I broached this notion at the springs this afternoon—or we must find another place in which to conduct business.

The obvious answer is a kind of town hall, big enough to hold everyone at once, if for limited periods of time. And if it is hard to heat in the winter, at least our business shall be conducted swiftly! Though I might consider building a warming block into the seat of the presider's chair….

I proposed this this afternoon, and was immediately told that this is the wrong time of year for building—as if I couldn't see that for myself, what with the snow all around. So I told them to think on it, and discuss it with their wives, and we will address it again when the weather is warmer.

In the meantime, it appears that I shall have to construct a solid pen for Patches the goat, if only as a matter of self defense, for it appears that I shall never be rid of her. Over the past weeks I have found her on my roof; I have found her at my door; I have found her at the hot springs; and this morning, I found her at my bedside, affectionately taking the night's whiskers off of my cheek with her tongue—along with a certain quantity of skin.

Amelie is darning the holes in my nightshirt as I write these words; the quilt, alas, will take longer to replace, as will my nerves.

I am not sure how Patches opened the front door to the house, but open it was; and so was the gate to the goat pen at Marc's farm; and somehow she had managed to gnaw through the leather-bound chain used to restrain her.

I say that I have found her in these places, but it is entirely more correct to say that in each case Patches has found me! What has brought her to this misguided affection for me, I do not know, nor what I might have done to foster it. It certainly was not my intent to do so! But it seems that I must now give her house room, for Marc is done with fetching her home, he tells me; and I can only hope that if I give her a pen behind the shop and visit her frequently that perhaps I will not find her in my bedchamber of a morning.

At least I will not have to milk her myself: that is what apprentices are for!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Monsieur Laveau (22 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has taken me almost two weeks, but I have finally had a talk with Bertrand's father, M. Laveau. The Laveau's live at the far end of the village from us, and though I have several times set out in that direction I always seem to be stopped by someone else before I get there. More than that, though I have caught sight of him at the church and the hot springs he has avoided my eye, and slipped away before I can speak with him.

One of the perquisites of my position in Bois-de-Bois, however, is the use of a private chamber in the hot springs—I chamber I know from my own interview with Onc' Herbert, shortly after I came to the village. This afternoon I went there when I reached the springs, leaving it to Marc to snag M. Laveau and bring him to join me.

He was both hangdog and sullen when Marc led him in, and sat down on the bench in the hot water in silence.

After Marc left, I said, "M. Laveau, I want to speak to you of your son Bertrand."

He still didn't look at me, but he muttered, "He's my son, not yours."

"Yes, I was afraid it might be like that. But I said I want to speak to you of him, not about him. As you say, you are his father, and it is not for me to come between you."

He looked at me suspiciously out of the corner one eye, not turning his head.

"M. Laveau, has he spoken to you about his time on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau?"

"Oui, and all about you!" He looked like he wanted to spit, and I am sure that if we had been outside he would have.

"Let me tell you of him, instead. First, you probably imagine that he strays over to my workshop to see me. Nothing could be further from the case."

"Merde."

"I speak truly. During his time on the island he became close friends with my apprentice, Luc. I assure you, at the hour when Bertrand comes to see Luc, I am warm in my bed, moi.

"But more importantly, let me tell you about his service. You have much to be proud of."

And then I told him about the flock of boys, and Bertrand's leadership of them, and how they kept watch for the village and helped out in so many other ways. By the end of my tale, M. Laveau was facing me, and shaking his head in amazement.

"Bertrand is not the same boy who was sent to the island for his own safety," I concluded. "He grew to an extraordinary degree during our time there. I have not spoken to him about it myself, but from what I have overheard I think he chafes at being treated like a child."

M. Laveau bridled at that, a bit, but I waved it away. "It isn't for me to say, M. Laveau. But if he were my son I believe I'd load him down with adult responsibilities—real ones, that matter."

And at that I bowed my head to him, rose and left for the main chamber. And so we shall see.

Next letter
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photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Two crayfish by Julie de Graag (1877-1924). Original from the Rijks Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Legless (19 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

O! I am sorry to hear about your leg! But at least I need no longer worry that you might have died in the fighting—or worse, that His Majesty might send you to pacify his new province of Armorica. Yes, I fear that will come, now that Cumbrian troops are fighting in Provençe. Le Maréchal is done for, it seems to me, and my wife's motherland can no longer hope to hold onto its possessions abroad.

It may well be that my new countrymen would welcome Cumbrian rule with open arms; Le Maréchal is not popular here, at least in my own little locale. But it would also depend on the weight of His Majesty's rule here. There will be but little love where there is no intent to be loved.

But enough of that. You want news—and as you have given me more news of the situation between Cumbria and Provençe than I have had in many months, as well as the excellent news of your own good (if slightly truncated) health, why, I must do my best to repay the favor.

It is hard to know where to begin, for I have been writing you letters in my head (and sometimes in my journal) this past year. I have no memory of what I've told you and what I haven't. So let me begin at the beginning.

I left Cumbria not quite two years ago. I settled first in Mont-Havre; and then, when Le Maréchal began his war I joined my friends Marc & Elise Frontenac in a country village called Bois-de-Bas. (But clearly you know that much, for your letter reached me here!) Here I met my wife Amelie, and with her took over her father's shop on his passing, and so moved up from goatherd to shopkeeper. And then two things happened that have had effects I never would have anticipated.

First, I discovered that the Armorican Former's Guild (the Confrerie des Thaumaturges, as they call it here) was defunct. Several masters came here from Toulouse in the early days of the colony, but the survivors soon returned to Provençe—and that meant that I, your cousin Armand, would by guild law be the head of the Armorican guild! If, that is, I were a master rather than a journeyman. I immediately wrote to my father and your mother, have two arrows to my bow; and now (after I still do not know what machinations) I have my master's chain and indisputable seniority. Astonishing! (If you could make some quiet inquiries to find out exactly how it happened, I'd be grateful. No one is talking to me about it, and so I still don't know whom to thank.)

But Le Maréchal's spies read my letter, and his troops came looking for me, presumably so that I could use my skills in support of his war. That led to a fraught situation or two, and in the aftermath I found that the folk of Bois-de-Bas were looking to me for leadership—not solely to me, you understand, but somehow I acquired responsibilities, a great many responsibilities, completely on top of my normal work. I won't put the details to paper, not when the future of Armorica is so uncertain; but I hope one day you will come to us, and then I am sure we shall see the night out with our tales!

But the upshot of these things is that now I seem to be more or less the mayor of Bois-de-Bas. It is an unofficial position, with no high seat but a particular spot in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon, no courtiers but a collection of old men who occupy the front of my workshop the rest of the week, and no pomp whatsoever; but it is real enough. The previous "mayor" was my friend Marc Frontenac's uncle Herbert de Néant, who was killed by the Provençese cochons. (Having met them, I'm sure you understand what I mean by that term.) Marc and I were more or less his lieutenants during the hostilities, and I rather wish Marc lived in the village proper rather than on what used to be Onc' Herbert's farm, because then he might have gotten the job instead of me.

How you must be laughing at me right now! Truly, I hope you are; though I made light of it above, I know how the loss of a leg must be affecting you. I do hope you will manage to come to us, though it make your dear mother despair! There is work for you, and young ladies for whom your loss would be a badge of honor rather than a liability. And I should deeply like it if my little Anne-Marie could know my favorite cousin.

Your affectionate cousin,

Armand

Next letter

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Sunday Will Never Be The Same, by Dawn Eden Goldstein

Don McLean asked, "Can music save my mortal soul?" In Dawn Eden Goldstein's case, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"; but as regards her immortal soul, the answer is far otherwise.

Sunday Will Never Be The Same is a spiritual memoir, the tale of Dawn's journey first into Christianity and then into the Catholic Church; it is also the tale of Dawn's journey from childhood sexual abuse and PTSD through depression into health; and it is a love story.

It is the story of Dawn's love for rock'n'roll and her life as a rock journalist and historian—an avocation that kept her alive during her deepest depressions; and it is the story of Dawn's love for Jesus, the only one able to love her as she had always wanted to be loved.

Dawn's book is not a sales job; it isn't, "My life was awful and then I met Jesus and now everything is hunky dory!" Far from making your life more comfortable, becoming a practicing Christian often makes it harder; Dawn lost multiple jobs because of her pro-life interests (and a personal bungle or two). Nor is this the dewy-eyed memoir of a very new convert. I wouldn't trust the story if it were.

This is a personal story for me. Back in the early 'oughts, when the blogosphere was so new and all, Dawn had a blog called The Dawn Patrol and I had a blog called The View from the Foothills. The blogosphere was a small pond back then. It was possible to know most of the major blogs and get to know many of the major players, and we did. (Probably few here remember The Truth-Laid Bear's blogging ecosystem, but as I recall I was a "finny fish" at one point—not a mammal, but not bacteria either.) Point is, I was one of Dawn's readers, and we exchanged e-mails on a number of occasions.

And so, in a way, I was there for many of the events this book relates. I remember Dawn's days at the New York Post, and her Chesterton pilgrimage to England, and her posts about Planned Parenthood, and the awful video company. It was on Dawn's blog that I first learned what clinical depression looks like.

Dawn's stories resonated with me, because I was on a journey as well. Raised Catholic, I'd become an Episcopalian when I got married; but in 2003/2004 it was clear to Jane and I that that couldn't last. Dawn's blog was one of many that influenced me on my way back to the Catholic faith (I returned to the Church in the fall of 2007; Jane was confirmed Catholic the following spring). Now Dawn's a professor of theology, and I'm a Lay Dominican who teaches RCIA. Who'da thunk it?

In short, I found Dawn's book to be a nostalgia trip as well as an interesting and enjoyable read. If I have a complaint, it's this: in novelistic terms, she concludes her book at the climax and leaves out the ending. There are loose threads I wanted tied up. Is she still in therapy? Is she still dogged with depression sometimes, or is that now a thing of the past? What about her relationship with her mother?

But, you know, life is like that. It goes on. Faith in Christ brings joy and the hope of salvation, but it doesn't solve all of our problems. (St. Paul had a "thorn in his flesh" to the end of his life, and Christ's grace sufficed for him.) As satisfying as it would be to have all threads tied up neatly, all problems resolved, and happy-ever-after in the offing, that's not how life works. We are all pilgrims on the road; we are all works in progress; and any personal memoir can be only a chapter of the final work.

Anyway, I liked it. Recommended.

Letters from Armorica- Growing Pains (15 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The goat came back today.

It is Sunday, and after Sunday dinner the bulk of the population of Bois-de-Bas headed off to the hot springs as it usual in times of peace. I say the bulk of the population: small children, of course, do not, nor do those who care for them. (In our case, Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris stayed behind with little Anne-Marie.) But there is another group as well: those, mostly young men, who came to Bois-de-Bois during the hostilities and have remained here.

It seems that the hot springs have always been by invitation only: not as an official policy, as it were, but as a matter of custom. Marc and Elise were invited by Marc's Onc' Herbert; and I was invited by them—after Onc' Herbert determined that I wasn't above caring for his goats. The folk of Bois-de-Bois respect learning and wit, but they respect a willingness to do the dirty jobs even more. And so I was welcomed to the springs of a Sunday, all unknowing that another man might not have been.

But the young men who came to Bois-de-Bas during the hostilities and have remained here mostly have not been. A few have, those who have come to know the local families and have married or are courting local girls; but not most, and it is beginning to cause some friction. These men have fought for Armorica against le Maréchal's troops, but they are shut out from the social life of the village—and not just from the social life, of course, but the political life as well, since what passes for politics mostly takes place at the springs.

One of them, a fellow named René Desjardins, came to me at my workshop a few days ago to complain about it. I had never met him before; none of the outsiders were ever admitted to our base on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau.

I was rather inclined to invite him to the springs myself, but I was too aware of the collection of older men sitting in the front part of the shop, watching my every move. They were there for the company, and to advise me at need, but also to keep an eye on me. And though I liked René well enough at first glance, of course I knew nothing about him. So I put him off as gently as I could. "I'm a newcomer here myself," I said. "I'm stilling finding out how everything works. I'll raise the question, on Sonnedi and we will see what we will see. Come and see me next week." That got me a number of sidelong looks from the observers (and a resigned grimace from René but no actual comments).

And so, this afternoon, I asked the question: why weren't les nouveaux hommes welcomed to the springs?

There was a great deal of hemming and hawing, before one of the older gentlemen undertook to explain to me about the need for an invitation to keep the racaille, the "riff-raff" out of town.

"It's far from clear to me that these young men are riff-raff, at least not all of them," I said. "They fought for us after all."

"But if they are good young men, why have they not returned to their own places?" said M. Tremblay. "Are they not welcome there?"

"Not every place is as well off as Bois-de-Bas," I said. "Perhaps they don't wish to work for their older brothers." There was much nodding at that. "Perhaps they simply like getting truly warm in the winter," I said, waving at the steaming water. "Few villages are blessed as we are." That got me a chuckle.

I asked Marc, for he sits by me, whether an invitation to the springs had ever been rescinded: whether anyone had been barred for bad behavior?

"We've had to chuck Drunken Jacques out in the snow a time or two when he got too boisterous," Marc said, "but that's not what you mean." There was more laughter, at which Drunken-Jacques raised his leather cup and took a half-bow.

M. Rouquet spoke up. "Once, a long time ago, there was a fellow who laid hands on my daughter. We told him he was no longer welcome, and he left town in shame." Several of the other gray heads nodded at this.

"So if we let someone in and they caused a problem, we could eject them?" I said.

"Well, but," began one large fellow.

"But what?"

"But there's no more room!"

I looked around the grotto in which we sat. It was a comfortable place, a large irregular chamber in which bronzewood benches and walkways had been installed, down in the water; for no one wishes to rest their backside rough stone. And indeed, the benches were tolerably full.

"Could we extend the space? Are there other grottoes like this one?"

"Well, yes…but then they would be out of earshot. Who knows what they might decide?" There was general agreement.

Aha! If another chamber were added, it would make it harder to have the kinds of discussion we were having now; and might, I thought, even lead to factionalism! That was probably going to happen in the long run anyway, as the town grew, but I quite saw the problem.

Conversation became general as I mulled it over.

"Perhaps," I began, but no one ever heard what I was about to say next, for there was a ruckus at the entrance to the chamber. Michel Marchand, who is quite a big fellow, had been given the place closest to the entrance. No one said that it was so that he could handle any interlopers, but that was why he was there. I found later on that he'd heard a noise and when he'd gone to investigate he'd found the goat starting to chew on a basket of clothing in the hut where we men undress. The hut (for I believe I have not described it before) has a stove for warmth, and is built around the entrance to our part of the hot springs.

It was quite a surprise for him, and for the rest of us, too, for no one wants to face an Armorican goat without proper gear, let alone in the altogether.

He relayed the news; and then, of course, everyone turned to look at me.

When I peeked into the hut I saw that it was the same goat I had found on my roof on Tuesday. It was chewing reflectively on someone's small-clothes.

"You're like a bad penny," I said out loud, which was a mistake. The goat stopped chewing, the garment dangling from either side of its mouth, and looked at me. Its ears flickered, and it made a muffled goatish noise in its throat, and started towards me with every indication of pleasure.

Fortunately it had started on the basket closest to the entrance. I snatched up the nearest, a good stout wicker laundry basket with hoops for handles, and fended it off with the bottom. The clothes inside (including mine, alas) went tumbling to the floor where the goat trod on them with its muddy hooves as I retreated.

I backed into the passage, which was delightfully narrow. "Marc," I shouted. "Marc, this is your problem!" There was a murmur of laughter and conversation from behind me as Marc made his way from his spot. Meanwhile, the goat stood there and watched me. It swallowed the small-clothes, and then tried to take a bite out of the bottom of my basket. I clouted it on the head, and it made its noise again. I don't know what to call it, but it was much louder now that the small-clothes were gone, and it echoed.

I made a rush to push it out into the room. Marc snatched up a basket of his own, garments flying everywhere, and between the two of us we managed to back it up to the hut's entry way, and to hold it off while Drunken Jacques and Michel Marchand got their clothes on so they could take over while we did the same. We had a bad moment when the goat nearly got into the ladies' dressing room, and there was a lot of shouting (and cries of " Qu'est-ce que c'est?") from the ladies' grotto. But in time we managed to drive it out into the snow, and several of the men stood guard while one of Marc's men strode off to the farm for protective gear and a goat-chain.

We all got home late, with lots of washing and mending of garments to do; and we still haven't decided what to do about les nouveaux hommes. What le Bon Dieu was thinking when He made goats I am sure I do not know.

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Letters from Armorica- The Strays (10 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

We had two unexpected visitors at the shop today, two quite different visitors; and yet, there's a certain similarity between them.

The most recent storm passed yesterday afternoon, leaving the sky clear, the air still and cold, and the homes of Bois-de-Bas nearly buried in snow. There is nothing so quiet in my experience as a small village in the early hours when the snow lies thick on the ground. Certainly I heard nothing like it in Yorke, a city which is never, ever quiet, not at any time.

But perhaps because of the shrouding snow, some noises travel more easily: laughter from my workshop, and an odd knocking noise from the roof over our heads. The knocking was accompanied by another, softer noise I couldn't quite make out.

The laughter was easily parsed. It was Bertrand, of course, come to see Luc; in the merriment there was a deeper tone with a bit of a catch that I'd come to know quite well over the summer on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau. Lying there in bed I could even detect that furtive note that indicated that the boys were trying (and failing) to be quiet. I knew if I went down I'd find the two of them sitting on the floor by the pot-bellied stove, telling each other stories and drinking my tea.

This was a not infrequent event, though the reasons for it had changed. Part of it was simple friendship, of course; the friendship the two boys had forged on the island was as strong as ever. But on the island, Bertrand had been the Head Boy, the chief of all the others, and while Jean-Marc was his lieutenant, Luc had constituted his general staff. Bertrand gave the orders, and relied on Luc to be sure that they were the right orders. Here in Bois-de-Bas, though, the boys had all returned to their homes and their parents. Bertrand was still chief among them, more or less, but they were no longer on detached duty in the field, as you might say, and the superior officers were now firmly in control.

But independent command can be hard to relinquish, and where Bertrand used to come to Luc to ask for advice, now he comes to ask for sympathy. I gather from the little I have overheard that he finds his father demanding, arbitrary, and unwilling to treat him as anything other than a child. "It's all right for you," he’d told Luc. "You get to work for M. Tuppenny. Mon père thinks I am still a little boy."

And so Bertrand's presence in my workshop was not quite a surprise, but the hour was most unusual. He always has to come early or late, of course, for both boys are fully occupied by their chores and other duties during the day, but this was early even for him. I suspected that M. Laveau, Bertrand's father, must have committed some supreme enormity (in Bertrand's eyes) to drive him to our house in the cold of the very early morning.

Neither Luc nor Bertrand has ever applied to me for help in this matter; nor have I spoken to M. Laveau but once, last Novembre, when I praised Bertrand to him on our return from the island. I have been resolved not to meddle unless they asked; but now I thought that I should perhaps have a quiet word with him.

As I lay there, pondering what to do, the knocking sound on the roof grew more insistent. Amelie rolled over and said in a sleepy voice, "Cher Armand, you must go see what it is." This was easier said than done, for it took me some time to prepare to go outside, and then when I got outside I immediately had to go back inside for thicker gloves and a shot of liquid courage.

When I stepped outside the house, that soft noise I could not quite make out clarified into a high-pitched nasal bleating: the chilling sound of an angry goat. I did not delay, I did not investigate further, I did not venture out into the snow, but instead I beat a hasty retreat into the house in search of any protective gear I could find. At last I had to settle for my oldest clothing: not as warm as what I had been wearing, but the least loss if rubbing against the goat's hide tore them to shreds. Then, and only then, I went back outside.

The goat was on the roof, straddling the ridge line. I recognized it immediately by a patch of white and gray on its forehead: it was one of the ewes from Marc's small herd that I'd first met while tending the goats on Onc' Herbert's farm, and then had had to milk regularly on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau for the sake of Amelie and my little Anne-Marie. In civilized countries like Cumbria and Provençe I understand that it is often the farmer’s wife or the dairy maid who milks the cows and goats; but in Armorica it is man's work, and justly so. And sometimes the goat wins.

When the ewe saw me, it—for I cannot bring myself to call it "she"—gave a long piercing bleat, then vanished down the back slope of the roof where the snow drifts were deepest.

I ran back onto the porch and opened the door to the workshop. The two boys looked up in horror at being caught.

"Luc," I said, "find me a bucket, tout-de-suite. Bring it to me here. Bertrand, we have a goat problem. I shall need you to take a message to M. Frontenac."

Their eyes widened; the horror remained. No one, not anyone, fails to take Armorican goats seriously.

By the time I close the door the goat was upon me, butting me with its head—not in anger, but also not gently. There is nothing gentle about Armorican goats. I managed to keep my feet, and was able to take the bucket from Luc when he thrust it through the barely open door.

"Now fetch me a rope!" I said.

Fortunately the goat was eager to be milked, which is not to say that the process was easy or quick. But I got it done with only a few bruises and the loss of one trouser leg, and by that time dawn had brightened the sky and Bertrand had gotten his warm coat back on. With his help I managed to get a loop of rope around the goat's neck and tie it off to a post at the corner of the house.

"Now, Bertrand, I need you to go tell M. Frontenac that I have his goat."

"Oui, M. Tuppenny. But mon père…."

"I shall let him know," I said. "But be quick—that rope won't hold the ewe for long."

I sent Luc with a message to M. Laveau; and in due course Marc and Elise drove up in their sleigh with a length of leather-clad chain suitable for leading a recalcitrant goat. We had them with us for the noon meal, and then finally Amelie, Luc, and I were able to get on with things—I with a small limp, but I counted it cheap at the price.

Tomorrow morning I shall have to visit M. Laveau in person.

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Letters from Armorica- Small Victories (8 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Of late it has seemed that every problem is mine to solve; but I find that I am mistaken, and in the most pleasant possible way. My Amelie has undertaken to teach young Luc to read! She will teach him as she herself was taught: his numbers first, and figuring, and then his letters, and then she will teach him to keep accounts. This is an unusual skill for a former, at least in Yorke where the Guild has a certain dignity, but it is quite a practical one for one in a little town in Armorica where being a former is not much grander than being a shopkeeper. A former can starve as easily as anyone else if he doesn't mind his expenses.

So he will work with her in the shop in the morning while he is fresh, and with me in my workshop in the afternoons; and then in the evenings I will resume reading aloud to Amelie, and we shall have Luc join us. If I pick the tales appropriately (or, perhaps, inappropriately, in my mother's view) I think he shall soon develop a taste for the written word.

As a result of this new program, I happened to find myself alone in the workshop with Jacques-le-Souris yesterday, a storm having kept the other elders of the village by their firesides. He was passing the time by telling me an improbable story of a tame grand-blaireau that developed a taste for cognac—a story I firmly believe he was making up as he went along. A lull came after he related an episode in which the beast got stuck in the cellar of a tavern in Old Mont-Havre, having demolished the stairs in its drunken lurchings, and so had to be extricated by a team of men with horses and ropes and a net; and during that lull I struck.

"Jacques, tell me truly. M. Truc was killed by a grand-blaireau decades ago, and you have remained at Madame Truc's side all of the time since then; but you have never married her. Why not?" I didn't look at him as I said this, but continued polishing the bed-warmer I was forming.

He tried to evade the issue. "Oh, but Armand, Madame Truc is a widow of the most fierce! You know this. Who would willingly bind himself to such a woman? Only my old friend Edmond, only he would be brave enough."

"And yet, you seem to have done so," I said.

"Moi? Oh, no, cher Armand. I am not bound to her." He started looking around the room, as if to find a means of escape. "Her husband asked me to take care of her with his dying breath, vraiment, but I am a free man, moi!. I am a rover. I go where I please and do what I please!"

"This is true, my friend. I have often heard your stories. But still…it seems that going where you please often finds you sitting on the settee in my parlor by her side." He began to sweat visibly, but I did not relent. "In fact, Jacques, it seems to me that you have been a husband to her in all ways but the most central for all of these many years."

"She is, she is, a woman of the most proper," he said.

A thought struck me.

"Jacques," I said, "how is it that you first came to be called Jacque-le-Souris, Jacques the mouse?"

"Why, Madame Truc began to call me that, some time after—"

"After her husband died?"

He nodded sadly.

"And still you did nothing?"

"She is a woman tres formidable, Armand," he said, sadly.

"C'est vrai. But still, she has had many years to accept another's offer, and she has not done so."

Jacques got a look in his eye. Clearly this was a new thought.

"Do you think—"

"That she has been waiting for you to declare yourself? I do." In all honesty, Dear Journal, I was less certain than I let on. But I continued to meddle anyway. "I do believe that you will find her in the parlor with Anne-Marie. Perhaps she might like some company?"

Jacque humphed a bit in his colorful flavor of Provençese, and tried to go back to his tale about the drunken grand-blaireau, but after perhaps a quarter of an hour of fidgeting and sweating he made a paltry sort of excuse and left the workshop.

I have no definite news to report, but Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris kept shooting glances at each other over the dinner table this afternoon when they each thought the other wasn't looking. Something has changed; and as I haven't heard Madame utter a sharp-tongued word all day it is clear she has been given pause to think. I have the highest hopes for our living situation.

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