15. Nothing as Dramatic as Sieges and Plague

From the time they first arrive, Valeria keeps a kind of community journal, a record of significant events. Over time, it will provide a record of when plantings occurred, and events like first rain and first frost. Only she adds to it or consults it, though sometime Tereus will ask her what her records show.

After a few months, she begins to add personal notes in a separate section, using a cypher she creates. This was a common practice of scribes and archivists during the Great Divide and the First Civil War, and though she has few personal observations to record — certainly nothing as dramatic as their anguished observations of sieges and plagues — she does it to offer homage, and as a bit of a private joke.


Perhaps the greatest surprise is that some of us, at least, have found a measure of peace here. The physical labor is unfamiliar and unremitting, and everything must be planned and coordinated to a shocking degree. Of course there is a traditional weekly and seasonal order to what might be called women’s farm work — cooking, canning, baking, sewing and mending, washing and ironing. I’ve taken some pains to research this and implement it. It’s too difficult to recreate that wheel, and I don’t expect to improve much upon tradition. To my amusement, Tereus researched the traditional rhythm of planting, harvesting and livestock care, too. He had the benefit of detailed almanacs, of course.

I think it was Karl Marx who declared that human beings should spend four hours a day on intellectual labor, and four on physical, and spend the rest on leisure. I agree with his proportions, but for amateurs like us, the working hours must be doubled, and therefore consume not only leisure, but opportunities to relieve and dress oneself. By “intellectual labor” I assume he meant researching homemade laundry detergents and bleaching agents; I haven’t had much time for dialectical analysis, though I have found myself laughing over an ancestress’s bitter remarks about the difficulty of darning and writing by the light of an oil lamp.

We are isolated, so we’re thrown back on our own resources for entertainment. Again, this suits some of us quite well. That is, it suits me, and it suits Tereus. I’m satisfied to read and write and play the occasional game of cards or charades. To my surprise, Tereus amuses himself and the rest of us, playing on the pianoforte, singing, and proposing parlor games. He knows endless variations on any common card game. He whipped all of us soundly at picquet a month ago, and has devoted his time since then to teaching me to count cards at blackjack, and improving Valerius’s game of five-card stud. He has his own studies, as well. I knew in theory that he’d continued his scholarship over the years, but it’s amusing to see him sitting over Homer, stroking and nibbling his quill, considering how best to translate passages he’s previously neglected in the Iliad.

The case is more difficult for Lavinia. She’s no farm wife, poor dear, and she hasn’t cultivated abilities that would allow her to amuse herself during the long evenings. She pines for the gaieties of the social season, and for the languid social round of Liamelia, which allows one to toy with artwork and opera and the latest scandalous volume, but that doesn’t require actual mastery. She’s no hand at housework, or at any of the manual labor required, and she’s not able to instruct or amuse the children. It surprises me that Tereus thought she could adapt to this life. As I write this, I realize that it didn’t occur to him to consider her needs. They haven’t a single taste or thought in common, and he gave up trying to please her long ago. That’s sad, because she’s a simple creature, and easily pleased. Also, on a farm it’s impossible to live the parallel life common to urban husbands and wives.

Lucius is ill-suited to the life we lead, as well. He dislikes manual labor — is too delicate for it, really — which seems funny in a former cavalry officer. I don’t think he misses the social round of the embassy, though he may pine a bit for the camaraderie of the Foreign Office. I think he realizes that his skills aren’t needed here. So much of his time was devoted to smoothing over conflicts and avoiding disaster! Now that Tereus is fully and cheerfully occupied, Lucius’s usefulness is greatly reduced.

It also pains him to be thrust into a thoroughly subordinate role. Tereus is good at everything — physical labor of all kinds, planning, managing and organizing the others — and I think this discourages and frustrates Lucius.

I’m surprised I’m as happy as I am. I have intellectual resources, of course, and the children to care for. The children thrive, and though we don’t have a nurse or governess, it’s easy to give them little chores and tasks. I find that I enjoy the concrete tasks of housewifery. I have always tended towards the practical, possibly because I lack ornamental value. It’s more than that, though — I thoroughly enjoy the practical, day-to-day, work — the cooking and cleaning and making nice, and also canning and baking.

For a linked table of contents, listing all of the Shelawn family adventures, click here.


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