I intended to stay close.
The Diderots were avid churchgoers, but indifferent farmers. They knew little of how to properly manage an estate of any kind, and their eldest son was a poor steward. He had openly argued with his father, that they had too many mouths to feed and did not need to take any others in.
They needed help, my help, and I did not mind giving it... at a distance. Doing that, I was able to observe my Rossignol, and to keep an eye on her.
I saw that Rossignol and her sister and mother had already begun to make changes where they could, around the household, as well as to the farm and its workings with the livestock, while I labored in their fields, teaching them what I could, of managing a vineyard and of animal husbandry in general.
In exchange for my board, and to be close to Rossignol where I might see her, I would labor at the most menial of tasks, as I pleaded to the eldest Diderot to be allowed to stay. I needed no pay.
He leapt at such an offer, but was cautious, telling me he would give me a week to prove myself, extending it to a month, and then deciding that he had nothing to lose by taking me on.
I was to sleep above the livestock, with the other laborers.
The widow was sad to see me leave, but I still helped her from time to time.
It was hard for me to trust anyone or anything at first. Even in the fields my sword was never far from me. I would not be taken off guard again.
Rossignol was advanced in her pregnancy by then. I prayed for her all of the time.
Then one day, I did not see her. She’d given birth.
I rejoiced to learn that she had delivered safely. Two infants; a boy, and a girl. Both were said to be doing well and so was their mother. I was elated. I smiled again. I sang. I whistled... until I noticed that I was attracting attention, with smiles and nudges.
Soon after, she had the boy christened, Bernard Guillaume, and the girl, Bernadette Rossignol. This time, I wept with joy as I worked. I had something to live for again.
I was able to turn my hand to many things, including reviving their smithy, as well as repairing their vats, for receiving their grapes. They made almost indifferent wine compared to what I had been used to, and I vowed to try and change that too.
Soon, other families were bringing their forge repairs to me, and I shod their horses; those who had it done. I began to contribute in a significant way to the farm operation. The father appreciated it, and even the eldest son, who wanted to learn.
The years passed.
I watched our children grow and take their first steps, but I dare not approach them. I could, however, make wooden toys for them with the tools available to me. A toy wooden cart with wheels that turned, for Bernard, and a wooden doll, for Bernadette, along with other bits and pieces of puzzles, games, and devices.
I am not sure anyone knew where they came from.
I slowly lost my distrust of others, but not for strangers. I did not mind being seen as taciturn, or dark, if it kept others away from me or asking about me. They soon learned enough to leave me alone. I had a short temper for nosy busybodies, and I always carried a knife with me, leaving my sword under my pallet. Others knew better than to go anywhere near that, or my private belongings... which I had gradually accumulated by then.
I did some ironwork for the church, and in return I was given some parchment and some drawing sticks and the means to make ink.
I learned to draw. I was given more parchment, which I rolled up and kept in a wooden tube, out of the sight of others. I also kept a private journal, which no one else knew about. I lived many lives that few knew about.
I could not sleep, seeing too many faces floating through my dreams, hearing screams. It was in those hours that I drew or wrote, working in the back of the smithy with candles that I’d made myself, from stubs that the Priest had also given me, and that I’d scraped off the table I’d been given to repair.
I made myself a crossbow, and began to hunt as I was used to doing, often bringing deer in, from the surrounding woods. There were pigs too but they were less easy to approach with there being so many of them observing everything.
“Who are you really, Vachon? You are not a common farmer.”
Others were noticing things.
Some of the young women there took an interest in me until I gently parried them and discouraged them.
I was married. That ring was around my neck, along with that most precious crucifix that Rossignol had given me as we had married.
It was another mystery about me for them to wrestle with.
I was careful to never remove my shirt, no matter how hot it was in the fields or the Smithy, and to reveal that crucifix that Rossignol had given me that day, or for others to see those wounds that might identify me to her .
I am sure they regraded me as reclusive and even deranged in some way, but I seemed to be harmless.
I worked in the vineyard and I was joined by both Bernard and Bernadette one day after they’d wandered away from their mother.
They were about six years old by then. I watched them closely as they played around me, running in and out of the vines.
Over the years, I had grown complacent, even careless.
There was a pig charging down upon us, upon them... one of those I had been hunting. Other workers were running out of its way, seeking safety from its tusks.
The children were exposed.
I had time only to throw myself in its way and meet it head on. I was angry again. It was that old anger, driven this time by the need to protect my children, even if it were to cost me my own life.
I drove into the side of that pig as it tried to run past me, grabbed its leg, vowing never to let go as it turned on me with an angry squeal and went at me with its tusks.
Farm work had made me fit and strong again.
I had reason to live... in those children... and I knew what I must do.
I grabbed it under its throat and I lifted it, holding its head away from me, bringing its back down, with all of my force across the wheel of the wheelbarrow I was working with, breaking both the wheel, and the pig’s back.
I cut its throat and turned as another charged at me.
By then other laborers were running in to deal with it, but it was already done.
With my knife in my hand, it hadn’t stood a chance.
I was on my feet, dazed, standing in front of the children, guarding them with my own body, waiting for the next, but there were no more.
Others led the children away, soon picking them up and retreating to the house, as others moved in to deal with the bodies of the pigs, and to see to me.
They would be good eating over the next few days.
They had seen me as I had once been, and it concerned them to see what I had done so easily, though they knew me well enough not to be afraid for themselves as they led me away to check my wounds and to wash the blood off me.
I heard Bernard in the distance. He had not been so afraid as to become speechless.
“Mama... Henri killed a pig, two of them, with his bare hands when they charged at us. He is very bloodied.”
I let others see to me, but I noticed after that, that Rossignol watched me as I worked. The children soon gravitated back to me... feeling safe with me.
I knew I could not stay here. My feelings for the children and for Rossignol would soon betray me, and then the old trouble would begin again.
I left before first light the following morning.