Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
9 October 1016
My dear cousin Amelia,
What a glorious day I have had!
We completed construction of my new packet, the Amelie, this week, and after some initial trials in the vicinity of Bois-de-Bas, we—meaning my dear Amelie and I, along with Bastien and one or two workmen as the crew—took her on her maiden voyage to Mont-Havre. Normally the journey takes two days, on foot or by wagon; we completed it in part of a morning!
We settled into a mooring at the harbor atop Mont-Havre, just near the office of the Guilde du Courrier, where I had made an appointment with M. Fondantier, the local guild representative.
This was entirely the idea of M. Suprenant. “Armand,” he said to me, “moi, I know trade. You, you know forming. Mais, le péril des Abysses? What do we know of that? Or about shipping, and hiring crews? Non! We will sell your packets. Laissez les Courriers les voler.”
“But what if they won’t buy?”
“They will buy. Here is what we must do….”
And so we did. We called on M. Fondantier at his office, where we were met by M. Suprenant; and we invited him to lunch aboard the Amelie.
He had heard of me, of course, and about the Amelie, and was eager to see “Tuppenny’s Folly,” as one of the papers had named my lovely vessel. I could see that he was expecting a slapped together montrosity, and he was visibly surprised when we escorted him into the spacious cabin, and to an elegantly set table. We settled him with his back to the stern windows, “For the view is well known to you, monsieur,” and had an excellent meal, ably served by Bastien and one of M. Suprenant’s sons.
The Amelie began to move as soon as we were seated, to M. Fondantier’s surprise.
“I beg your pardon, but we could not remain at our mooring for the duration of lunch,” I said. “The harbor master was most firm. We are moving to a more appropriate spot.”
“Oh, bien sur,” he said.
During the meal we discussed all manner of things, especially the late war, and the changing times in Mont-Havre; and when the meal was over Amelie rose and left us to discuss our business.
“M. Tuppenny,” said M. Fondantier, “I am grateful for this fine meal, and your excellent company,” and here he nodded also to M. Suprenant, “but I fear you have come in vain. The Guild, she sells reliability as well as speed; we are most conservative. We will stick to our existing fleet, I think.”
“I am most sorry to hear that, M. Fondantier,” I said, cheerfully. “Yet I am sure you will not object to my giving you a tour of the Amelie? For I am the most doting of parents, I assure you.”
“Bien sur,” he said, smiling. “Lead on, s’il vous plaît.”
“Let us begin with the deck,” I said, and led him out of the cabin.
M. Fondantier came to a full stop as we emerged into the sunlight; for the Amelie was no longer in the harbor, but well on the way back to Bois-de-Bas!
“But where are we?” he said, clearly bewildered.
“If you look astern you will see Petit Monde; and we shall soon be over Honfleur. And, you will note, we are here with no sails, no shouting, no stamping of sailors’ feet, and have maintained a perfectly even keel.”
He looked at me, stunned. I could see him begin to grow angry at my high-handed ways; and then he looked around, and seemed to consider.
“Perhaps you would like to see the yard where Amelie was constructed?”
He nodded slowly. “And meanwhile, you will show me the remainder of this excellent vessel.”
I may say, he was most attentive.
On our voyage back to Mont-Havre we settled down to some of my Amelie’s pie.
“Now, you must see, monsieur, that we are in a situation tres difficile,” said M. Suprenant. “As a merchant, I can assure you that many will pay, and well, if they could cut the time to Provençe down to a month, perhaps less. And we can build more packets like the Amelie. But who is to fly them?”
“We are not a shipping line,” I agreed, then cocked my head at M. Suprenant. “Though of course I have learned to do more difficult things.”
“There is much in what you say,” said M. Fondantier. “But though you say Provençe, you say nothing of Cumbria?”
“I have enemies in the Shipwright’s Guild in Cumbria,” I said. “and no vessel I might build is welcome there. And yet, when the merchants in Cumbria see how trade is increasing in Provençe, and how all their messages to far-off places are routed through Toulouse….” I shrugged.
“I must consult,” he said as we let him off at the harbor in Mont-Havre. “But we will speak again, I think.”
And what more could I ask for?
Your delighted cousin,
Photo by Jordan Wozniak on Unsplash