Armand’s First Letter. Amelia’s First Letter.
3 Madrigal Court, Yorke
7 July 1017
First off, my condolences on the death of your late, unlamented patriarch, may we rest in peace. One mustn’t speak ill of the dead, I suppose, but he led you a not-so-merry chase for so many years! I was delighted when you ran off to Armorica, delighted when he was shut up at the Guild Hall, and delighted again now that he is gone for good. If it weren’t for Aunt Jane’s wholly unaccountable sorrow, I should be delighted right clear through!
As it is, I called on Aunt Jane this afternoon on my way back from the War Records Office, to do a stalwart nephew’s part in this time of grief—and I fear she is in some distress. Yes, the wagon-works, yes, your family, yes, your guild duties, yes, I know; but you’d best get your grandmasterly self home post-haste. I trust it will not take as much prodding as it did to get you to run off to Armorica in the first place.
Meanwhile, as to my duties at the War Records Office—and yes, I used the word “duties”. To make sense of the records of the late war I first had to put them in proper order, and before I could put them in proper order I had to clean up all the mud, as you’ll recall; and then I found that I needed a better way to store them, and old Melliman asked me to propose a solution; and then I discovered that I needed to make an index and asked Melliman for guidance; and the long and the short of it is, he put me on the payroll. It’s a modest sum, truly, but Melliman is a creaky old gent—and crusty with it, I may say—and he has no staff to speak of.
The long and the short of it is this: His Majesty’s government most diligently manages all of the bureaucratic folderol that relates to the, shall I say, fiscal aspects of keeping the Army and Navy up to scratch; but as to the history of past wars, His Majesty’s government mostly cannot be bothered. They pay just enough lip service to keep Melliman in residence, but no more.
And so, much that should be done remains undone. Melliman assures me that the details of our involvement in the Hanondorfer-Provençese war are resting in a slovenly heap of mail bags in the back of a broom cupboard, quite untouched since the parties declared their truce some some forty-odd years ago.
So I am a bit of god-send to him, and he is grateful in his grudging and cantankerous way.
As to my afternoons: I have, as yet, made no progress on my publisher’s desired narrative of the war, that is, in terms of actual pages written, for I am still submerged in the boggy bean fields of my source materials. But I am going great guns on the less discreet tale that Lord Doncaster requires from me; for that I need no more than my own recollections. Though I did lunch with Caldwell this past week, which was a great help.
You’ll remember Lt. Caldwell; when I last wrote I’d left him up to his neck in mud, the self-inflicted punishment for having snubbed his sergeant. He soon learned better, and thereafter we were bosom companions through the rest of the war—until my injury, you know. You might say that Caldwell and I parted ways shortly after my leg and I did the same.
More than that, I suppose. You might even say that Caldwell was my good right leg for a period of time; for I don’t think I should have gotten off the battlefield without his aid.
But we had a merry time of it at his club—I got no writing done that afternoon—and he put me in mind of a number of incidents that had quite slipped my memory, like the time we found Jenkins helping a widowed Provençese farmwife with her chores. Seems she found him trying to liberate a chicken, and she so put the fear of God into him that she had him scrubbing her floors and mucking out the stables.
He was a quivering mess when we found him, the widow’s tongue being sharp as sharp—for the hen he’d tried to lift was her best layer. She did let him go with a chicken in the end, though not that one. Pour encourager les autres hens, I suppose. Some people are born to be sergeants, it seems.
I lost track of Jenkins after that; but Caldwell tells me that Jenkins looked the widow up when the fighting was over, and ended up married her. “I’ve done my twenty,” quoth Jenkins. “I’d as soon buy a farm this way as t’other. Aye, we’ll ramble on together right enough.”
More to the story than that, of course, including a broom, two buckets, a pincushion, and a deranged stoat—but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
Your dutiful and very slightly less penurious cousin,
Photo by JOHN TOWNER on Unsplash