Dear Aunt Maggie,
I am taking advantage of the current truce to write you and tell you how am I doing. Doubtless you have been waiting for word, and I must first explain why you hadn't yet received any. Several weeks ago I sent a letter to my father, a letter of the utmost importance. I think it quite likely that he will have burnt it unread and unmentioned; but knowing my father's temper as I do, I expect the event will not have passed unnoticed by my mother.
I have enclosed a sealed copy of that letter. If you have reason to believe that my earlier letter went astray, please take it to John Netherington-Coates at the Former's Guild…at some time when you know that my father is not present. All you need do is give him the letter and explain the circumstances, for he is a smart man and he will know what to do. Yes, I know he is my father's chief rival in the guild…but the results of that will be on my father's own head.
I must repeat: this is of the utmost importance, to both myself and to the Cumbrian branch of the Former's Guild. Do not fail me, I beg you!
And now onto the news. I have fetched up in a rustic but charming village called Bois-de-Bas, a place of farmers and small-holders and grottos and hot springs. I have enclosed a drawing of the town and its setting, as best as I can render; I think you will agree that it is a lovely place.
I am wonderfully happy here. This might surprise you, after my upbringing in the big city of Yorke; or perhaps it might not, knowing me from my birth as you have. But happy I am. I have a place here, a fine one; and you are to know that I have married. Her name is Amelie, and she is lovely (of course). She is also strong, and skilled, and thoughtful, and kind. She is of Provençese background, as you might expect—but I must add to that that the Armoricans are sternly and stoutly independent, and not lackeys of le Maréchal.
More: my Amelie is in an interesting condition, as I have heard you call it, and in September I may have news of a blessed and wonderful event to share with you. I would have preferred to wait and speak of it at that time—but perhaps the truce will not hold, and I should wish my mother to know.
An amusing story for you. The homes and shops here in Bois-de-Bas are timber-framed, just as in the towns and villages of Cumbria, though here the timbers are of bronzewood; but where Cumbrian homes would fill in between the timbers with lath-and-plaster, here homes are are sheathed with overlapping planks of chêne-pierre, an Armorican tree that looks something like a Cumbrian oak but has a harder wood with a closed grain. It seems shockingly extravagant to me; but chêne-pierre is abundant here, and as families and farms grow we must harvest a great deal of it. It sheds the rain and snow without any need for paint, and in time fades to a lovely, durable gray sheen. This is how you must picture the dwellings in my sketch—for the most part.
Housewives seem to be just as house-proud in Armorica as in Cumbria, so far as I can tell. Mme. Pôquerie is the wife of our cabinet-maker; the Pôqueries are as well-off as anyone in town. A month or so ago M. Pôquerie acquired a small quantity of yellow paint—by accident, I believe, in an order of supplies from Mont-Havre—and having no better idea what to do with it used it to paint the window sills and frames on the front of his house.
This simple act has led to a frenzy of near-riot proportions. Every house-wife in our little village now insists on having "colored windows," the brighter the better. (This has led to much business for the keeper of the village store, the one who orders such things from the city, and for this he is duly grateful.) I believe it was Mme. Simard, the butcher's wife, who first insisted on having a "colored door" as well, by which she meant just the door-frame. She was roundly castigated for her extravagance by all and sundry; and then, of course, there was another flurry of orders for paint. Then Mme. Gagnon had her husband paint their entire front door a quite amazing red, and the whole circus began again.
Thus far no one has considered painting an entire house—or at least no one has publicly admitted it, the cost of paint and its transport being prohibitive. Someday soon, I expect someone here in Bois-de-Bas will find a way to make their own colored paint…and that will set off another war between those who are willing to settle for the less expensive local paint and those who insist on the "proper" paint from away. It is quite an entertaining spectacle.
Please give my best regards to my mother and my cousin Jack!
Your loving nephew,
photo credit: Biscarotte push… via photopin (license)