The cat is now out of the bag, or at least his nose is peeking out of the mouth of the sack.
When we reached the hot springs this afternoon, Marc led me down a different path to a pool I had not seen before. It was provided with the usual wooden benches, and it was close enough to the place we usually bathed that we could hear the other men talking but far enough away that we could not make out their words. It looked just the spot for a private discussion, and I wondered what was on Marc's mind. We hastened into the water, for the air was cold.
"Why are we here instead of in with the others?" I asked, but Marc shook his head.
"Just be patient, mon frere, and enjoy the water."
Voices rose and fell in the distance, and it had just occurred to me that private discussions worked both ways when we were joined by Onc' Herbert. He descended slowly and deliberately into the water, much as he did everything else, and fixed me with that piercing eye of his.
"Who?" he asked. I stared at him, speechless. Whatever I'd been expecting, it wasn't an interrogation.
"He means—" began Marc, but Onc' Herbert held up his hand, and Marc fell silent.
I felt more than usually naked. "It's quite all right, Marc, I know what he means." I looked at Onc' Herbert. "What have you already figured out?"
He raised an eyebrow. "Hard worker. No farmer. Good with goats." He chuckled a bit, to my surprise. "On the run. From what?"
"M. le Gouverneur," I said. He waited, and eventually I said, "And my father."
"He knows that, Armand. You told me that much on the ship," said Marc.
"Who?" said Onc' Herbert.
I took another deep breath. "My name—my real name—is Armand Massey. My father is the head of the Former's Guild in Yorke." That shut them up. "And yes, I'm a former, too, though I can't legally practice without registering with the Guild in Mont-Havre."
To forestall any doubts Onc' Herbert might have, I raised my hand out of the water and brought forth a light. Marc and his uncle watched it floating above my palm in a silence tinged with awe. After a moment I made it go away.
"You can do that," said Marc, "and you've been tending our goats?"
"It was better than tending my father's ambitions," I said. "I always liked forming, but just being a former wasn't good enough for my father. I always had to take his position into account, and I always had to be careful to do just the right things so that I could step into his place in my turn and spend the rest of my days preventing others from taking it from me." I shook my head. "That's no kind of life. I hated it." I looked across the grotto at the light coming in through the trees. "If I could have moved to some Cumbrian town and set up my shingle as a small-town former, I think I'd have been perfectly happy. Or even on Danver Street in Yorke. But Father would never have stood for it."
"The Guild in Mont-Havre?" said Onc' Herbert.
I shook my head. "I considered that, but I couldn't be sure they wouldn't ship me back to Yorke, just to do my father a favor. And as a newcomer, and a Cumbrian, I had no guarantee of a welcome." I grimaced. "If I'd told them who my father was, they'd have fallen over themselves to let me in…but of course I wasn't going to do that."
Onc' Herbert nodded. "Tuppenny?"
"My family is wealthy, and I turned my back on all that. I figured, well, at least I'd always have Tuppenny to my name."
Onc' Herbert snorted, then considered me for a few moments. "Bois-de-Bas?"
"I like it here," I said. "It's beautiful. I like the hot springs. I like the people. I think I could be happy here." I shrugged, and grimaced again. "But as you say, I'm no farmer, and I don't want to tend goats for the rest of my life."
"You've stuck with them for months without complaining," said Marc. "The rest of us can't stick them for more than a few days at a time."
I looked at him in horror. "But I hate those damn goats. You mean the job usually rotates?"
"Armand, everybody hates 'those damn goats,'" he said, while Onc' Herbert chortled silently. "You've made the whole farm very happy."
Onc' Herbert's shoulders continued to heave for quite a time. At last he said, simply, "Bon." and climbed out of the pool. I began to follow, but Marc shook his head.
"Bide," he said, so I tried to relax and enjoy the hot water. Deep voices rose and fell in the distance, and then rose all together and fell silent before relapsing into a murmuring rumble.
"Now we can go."
So we got up and joined the other men in the main pool. No one said anything, though many smiled; and more than one of the men slapped me on the back on the walk back to the farm.
photo credit: mattvaux7 Autumn Forest via photopin (license)