Now that I sit and reflect on the day, I have a feeling that I'm being managed. I'm not sure I like that.
But maybe I do. I suppose I shall have to make my mind up one way or the other, and before too much time has passed.
I was about to go and do battle with the goats this morning, just after dawn, when Marc came and found me. I think Armorican goats must be different than Cumbrian goats. I have never heard anyone utter a word against Cumbrian goats. But these goats, these fiends in bestial form, you must outface them and intimidate them before you can milk them, and if you are wise you wear padded leather armor while you are doing it. It does not help as much as one might think, and I have often longed for steel plate.
But Marc found me before battle was joined, and told me that Unc' Herbert had something else for me to do today: he was sending me into the village.
"If he says so," I said, "Though it isn't the usual day for that," I said. "Could you harness Marguerite while I get out of this stuff?"
"You won't be taking the cart, either," he said, smiling rudely at me. "M. Fabré needs some help today. The cart can't be spared, but…."
"I can," I said. "What's it about?"
"I can't say," he said, grinning even more widely. "Perhaps they have some goats they need tending. Or maybe worse."
"You might make a career in Toulouse with a sense of humor like that," I said, and handed him the milk buckets. I was a little dismayed to see that he took them cheerfully enough. Then I got out of the armor and went and got cleaned up a bit—because you don't get cleaned up before you tend to the goats—and set out to walk the few miles to the village. It would have seemed a long distance back in Yorke; now it was just one more usual walk.
I gave Amelie a brief smile when I entered the shop, but M. Fabré was waiting for me. "Bon.", he said. "It is inventory time, n'est-ce pas?" He didn't look well, more worn than usual, with a pinched look about the eyes.
I thought about the rows of shelves in the back room—very high shelves, some of them.
"Let me guess. You want me to update the ledger while you count the items on the shelves?" I said.
His face darkened a bit. "Non."
I smiled back at him. "I thought not. That's a pity, as I've discovered I'm quite good with ledgers. Where do you want me to start counting?"
That got a snort of surprise, but his face lightened again, and he said, "Bon. This way."
I followed him around the counter, Amelie blushing as I passed, and into the store room at the back.
It was a long day, and long before the end of it I was glad of the hard manual labor I'd been doing at Onc' Herbert's farm. I was up and down ladders and moving boxes and counting items small and large and calling them out to Amelie's father. Some of the boxes—usually on the highest or lowest shelves—looked like they hadn't been touched or dusted in years. By the end of the day I began to wish I'd done more hard manual labor at Onc' Herbert's farm.
Several times I had to stop while M. Fabré had a coughing fit. I wanted to ask him if he'd seen a physician, but there is no real physician in Bois-de-Bas.
We stopped for dinner at midday. The Fabré's home was in the same building as the shop, but to one side rather than above as would have been the case in Yorke or Mont-Havre. Amelie served, and while we ate M. Fabré asked me about my time in Mont-Havre.
I gave them the whole story—working at the docks, living with Madame Truc, keeping inventory ledgers at Suprenant-et-fils. I glossed over some of the details of Jean-Baptiste's adventure as not being fitting for a young lady (and certainly not in the presence of her father), but from her giggles I think she managed to fill in the gaps.
"C'est bon," he said at last, and we rose and went back to work. I made sure to thank Amelie. And then, at the end of the day, I plodded on back to Onc' Herbert's farm, aching in every bone.
Marc was waiting for me. "So," he said. "You look very tired. Were there worse things than goats?"
I thought of Amelie's smile when I said goodbye. "Non," I said. "C'est bon." And then I went to get cleaned up for supper.
photo credit: wuestenigel Happy goat via photopin (license)