It looks like my life is changing again. I've been expecting it, more or less, but not so soon.
I went back to my usual routine after helping M. Fabré with inventory at the shop two weeks ago: doing my chores, driving the cart to the village for supplies, and attending divine services, followed by dinner at the Gagnons and the hot springs. The warmth of the hot springs grows ever more pleasant as the weather gets colder, while the walk to and from the hot springs grows ever less so. We have had a bit of snow, but nothing that remains for more than a day or so. Marc tells me that when the snow gets deeper, the younger men delight in climbing out of the hot springs and leaping into snow drifts. He's not looking forward to that any more than I am.
Sonnedi has come and gone twice in that time. The Fabrés were absent from divine services on the first of them, not a good sign, but I saw Amelie and her father on the second. M. Fabré looked more worn than usual, stooped by the cold. Amelie smiled at me across the village square, but she looked tired. I think it is more than age with M. Fabré; I think he is ill, perhaps with some wasting illness.
My eyes followed them as they entered the village church, and Elise, Marc's wife, said to me, "Be careful what you are about."
I looked down at her, walking between Marc and I. "What do you mean?"
"You are thinking of joining them in the church. If you sit with them, everyone will know that you are courting Mlle. Fabré."
"They will? But—"
"Mais oui. And if you were not, then you will be, from the moment you sit down. I hope you have a ring."
"It is a village, Armand. To sit with her in church, that is as good as a promise. And have you spoken of this with M. Fabré? For it would be most impoli to surprise him with such a thing. It would be to presume upon his good wishes."
"Oh. I suppose joining them for dinner after services…."
"In summer, on the green, that is not so strong a statement. But now, when all dine en famille with close friends, and you a newcomer…." She shook her head. "Non, non, I think you must sit with us today." I glanced over her head at Marc, who was hiding a broad smile and carefully not looking at me. "But do not despair, mon cher Armand. For no doubt you will be taking the cart to the village this week and may speak to him then." And she nodded decisively.
I took the cart to the village the day before yesterday, and despite Elise' teasing as I left I did no such thing.
Amelie was at the counter when I entered, looking as tired as I had ever seen her. M. Fabré was nowhere in evidence. Amelie told me he was ill, but that she was sure it would pass. It always had before. She did not seem convinced of it. We loaded the cart in silence, and I helped her with a few things in the storeroom that were beyond her strength, and I came back to the farm.
But a boy came from the village this afternoon, the son of the village smith, with a note from M. Fabré. The boy said that M. Fabré was somewhat improved, but not well, and Mlle. Fabré needed help.
The content of the note was a surprise to me. M. Fabré wanted me to instruct his daughter in the keeping of books, and in her letters. He had done his best, but she would need more if she were to run the shop when he was gone.
I showed the note to Onc' Herbert.
"Bien sur, you must go," he said.
"It will not likely be quick," I said. "I cannot teach her all she will need to know in one day."
"Pas de problème," he said. And as I turned to go he favored me with a slow, ponderous wink.