Letters from Armorica- Shopkeeping (31 July 36 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Amelie and I have had our first serious squabble—and it came to me as a complete surprise. It was all about our shop—the village shop, not my workshop.

When I first married Amelie, she and I ran the shop together. Then it came out that I'm a former, and we added my workshop; Amelie ran the shop counter, took orders, and so forth, and I did forming for the townsfolk. Then came the children, and war; Marc and Elise ran the shop for a period of time, while we were away on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, and once we returned we sometimes asked Jean-Baptiste and his Brigitte to help out at the counter.

But Tuppenny Wagons is now taking most of my time; and with the children, Amelie has less time for the shop; and Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte need something more regular than occasional work. So I thought, well. What if we were to sell the shop to Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? It would be good for them, and good for us. We'd need to build a new home, of course….

But Amelie hates the idea. I can't find words to describe how much she hates it. It all came out in a tumble of words—the shop is all she has left of her father—she was raised to work!—it is her home. I backed down quickly, for I was horrified that I had made her cry, and went out to Tuppenny Wagons to talk with Marc.

To my surprise, he too reacted with horror to my idea, though without the yelling and crying.

"Jamais!" he said. "You mustn't do that, Armand!"

"And why not?" I am afraid I was quite cold and stiff.

"Because it is what your father would do."

I began to ask him what he meant by that, and then the sense of it hit me and I was silent.

Marc led me out of our big barn of a building to where a bench had been placed overlooking the sweep of land to the west, the road to Mont-Havre cutting through the middle of it, and sat the two of us down.

"You have been forced to think à ton pere of late," he said. "You have been demanding, devious, skillful in your dealings with Lord Doncaster.C'est bon, for it has been what Tuppenny Wagons needs. But it is not what you need,mon cher, and it is not what Amelie or the children need from you."

I must have looked rather stricken, for Marc put a hand on my shoulder and spoke to me gently.

"The people of Bois-de-Bas love you, Armand, because you came here from la grande ville of Mont-Havre—and before that from Yorke!—but you were not hautain, ne pas prétentieux. You were willing to work, and did not complain. The people of Bois-de-Bas have not forgotten your time with the goats, mon cher. And then once you married Amelie you began to do everything you could for your neighbors. And you did it well, tres bon, and without thinking it made you important."

"I begin to see," I said.

"C'est vrai," he said. "And now in dealing with Lord Doncaster you have found that you must act like your father, wise as a serpent and mild as a grand-blaireau. It is a skill, Armand, and you do it well, but it is not you."

"Have I been acting like my father at home, do you think?"

"That you must ask Amelie," he said. But Amelie talks with Elise, and Elise talks with Marc, and from the look in his eye I could see the answer was yes. "But there is more," he said.

"That isn't enough?"

"Just a little more, Armand. The people of Bois-de-Bas are proud of you, but most do not see you daily. If you sell the shop and build a grande maison—for it would be grande, n'est-ce pas?"

I nodded.

"If you did that, they would begin to think you are—how do the Cumbrians put it? Too big for your britches. Non, you must keep the shop." He nodded decisively. "And your workshop. If you wish to keep their respect, you must remain where they can see you."

"But what about Tuppenny Wagons?"

"It is not to worry. I will be there, managing things day-to-day; and much of what you do you can do from your workshop. For you must design new things, and train Luc and the other apprentice you have not found yet, and be available to your neighbors. Oh, you need not be there every day. Luc is becoming a fine young man and can attend to it while you are here at the wagon-works."

"Yes, I see. But what about Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte? I had also hoped to provide them with steady work."

"Ça va. Brigitte may help Amelie run your shop, for, vraiment, she needs the help; and as for Jean-Baptiste, well, Tuppenny Wagons needs a bookkeeper, n'est-ce pas? For surely you and Amelie have no time for it."

I sat there quietly for a time, watching the sun as it approached the horizon, and Marc sat with me. Then I rose.

"I expect I need to get home to Amelie," I said.

"C'est vrai," said Marc, and slapped me on the back. "I shall look for you here in three days."

Amelie was waiting when I returned home. She apologized for acting like a shrew—which she had not—and I apologized for acting like my father.

"Ah! Ah!" she cried. "Is that him? Is that what he is like, ton pere?"

I nodded grimly.

"And that is why you came here and married me," she said, smiling through her tears. "Ne t'inquiète pas," she said, "I shall recognize him next time, and tell you so."

"You had better," I said. Then I told her of my conversation with Marc, and we agreed to invite Jean-Baptiste and Brigitte to share the noon meal with us tomorrow and talk about our futures.

Dear Lord, save me from the shadow of my father.

Next letter

photo credit: LCAT – La Caverne Aux Trésors Monts esthètes via photopin (license)

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