Trainee

Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.

Bois-de-Bas
20 December 1016

My dear John,

Thank you for your letter, and your warm welcome of Luc Touchard; I am confident that he will do well under your tutelage. Thank you also for your news regarding my father. I am torn: sorry to hear of his continued decline, but happy that he is no longer as miserable as he was.

And now we come to your journeyman, William Graves. He is everything for which I asked: he is skilled, intelligent, and, I believe, capable of learning both the practice and the theory of my new techniques—should he choose to do so.

Even in my short acquaintance with him I have found him to be headstrong, dismissive of others, and inclined to think far too well of himself. I have been forced to sit on him on several occasions, and play the stern and harsh taskmaster—to mimic my father, in fact, an irony I am reluctant to contemplate too closely for fear of what I might learn of my own youth.

I will relate one particular occurrence, content that you will be well able to imagine other, similar, contretemps. I have an apprentice here, a young man named Bastien. He is indeed a bastion of support for me, being quite large and strong. At first sight he resembles a beast of burden more than a man of sense—but one ought not judge a book by its cover, and never more so than in this case.

I had set young Graves a task, to form as best he could from my verbal description the lifting block for a sky-chair—a task that Bastien has performed many times—and lent him Bastien to assist. So far from consulting with him, Graves treated him as a useful piece of furniture, a vise, perhaps, directing him to hold this or do that and calling him hard names when he did not move swiftly enough for Graves’ liking.

Bastien took it all with his usual stolidity, though he winked at me when Graves wasn’t looking.

The formed block was, I may say, a thing of beauty: well-polished, with smooth edges and many decorative curlicues. Graves presented it to me with a flourish, and I regarded it with a jaundiced attitude that was not wholly artificial.

“Why the polish and the carving, lad?” I inquired, fixing him with my father’s sternest eye—you know the one.

“A formed product should be a thing of beauty, master.”

The words were respectful; the tone was not. It said that he was urbane, cultured, from the grand city of Yorke, while we were colonial bumpkins who could not be expected to know better.

“You’re not forming a piece of dish-ware for a rich man’s house, lad. You’ve wasted time and money on a piece that won’t be seen. Commit such foolishness again, and I shall dock your pay.”

I could see his smugness turning into a sneer as I continued.

“More than that, a formed product should be fit for its purpose, lad. This bit of frippery is good for nothing.”

The sneer vanished, to be replaced by wrath. “What’s wrong with it?”

I turned to my apprentice. “Bastien, if you would be so good as to explain?”

And Bastien did.

“The fundamental workmanship is good, so far as it goes,” he said in his accented Cumbrian. “But the degree of lift is out of proportion to the weight of a sky-chair, and the uptake of effort is far too aggressive. Any sky-chair made using this block would be difficult to control, dangerous to use, and would fall apart in a matter of weeks.” So saying, he activated the block, which rose so swiftly and struck the ceiling with such force that a rain of dust came down upon us and set Graves to coughing.

Young Graves was speechless with anger, clenching his teeth and making fists of his hands.

“Less of that, lad,” I said. “Now, fetch a ladder and bring down that block; and then take it and burn it before it shivers Mme. Tuppenny’s hardened cookware to pieces.”

He looked ready to damn the both of us to perdition, and his look promised trouble for Bastien in the future, but he did as I directed; and when he was cooler I told him that he knew nothing of the new kind of work we do here, and his ignorance was likely to get someone killed. I also warned him that he was a visitor, but Bastien was a member of the family.

Then, of course, I set him to studying the mathematics he will need to understand the relevant portions of my grimoire.

I presume you have sent him to me to complete his forming, as it were, to knock off his jagged edges and smooth what remains, in hopes that he will be less insufferable on his return to Yorke. But though he is clearly capable of learning, I am less certain as to whether he can be taught.

I shall do my best. But I fear you shall have to apply the polish and curlicues yourself.

Your bemused friend,

Armand

Next letter.

____

Photo by Hans Reniers on Unsplash

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