Jean smiled and said sotto voce, “Not you, ma petite. You I can live without.”
Anger took her color and he wondered what he had ever seen in her. Walking past her, he took down a trihorn antler from the mantle.
“What are you doing,” Anton shouted. “That’s mine.”
“A trophy? These are as common as rocks. What makes this one so special?”
Anton said nothing.
Jean measured the antler against his cane, then tossed the cane into the fire.
“This is the horn that tore out my leg. You’ve said so many times, so it is reported to me. Very well, let the beast who crippled me provide my cane. I say that I own this antler, n’est-ce pas?”
Slowly Anton nodded, looking as if Jean had cut the thing from his body.
Jean turned at the door. “It is fitting that I should have this. A payment of debts. I always pay my debts.
“And others always pay their debts to me.”
Perhaps it was the foolishness of youth that impelled Jean to do it, but he didn’t think so. Youth has no monopoly on foolishness. Jean never mentioned the incident to anyone, nor ever again mentioned his “accident”. Within the small community there was no one who didn’t know the story. He carved a bone handle at the base of the antler and never walked with any other cane.
He could have lived on his past work and on sympathy, but that was not his way. He could not say that he did not despair or that he was not bitter. He railed at his weakness, at the fates, and at the untrustworthiness of his friends. Yet he kept his feelings to himself.
Jean would never walk straight again; therefore he could not hunt, for he was in no condition to hunt alone and no one would trust his life to a crippled hunting partner. Not even his father or brothers would have been so foolish. So be it.
The colony was only twenty years removed from an advanced, mechanized civilization, and the colonists were farmers. Yet few native plants would grow on their irrigated farms, and the vast herds were their true livelihood. To be a hunter was to be a man.
To be unable to hunt was to be emasculated.
Putting it so crudely was unfair to a subtle state of affairs, but it was true.
This, too, Jean had to accept, or at least to find a way around. It was for that reason that he took back the antler. A highly symbolic act.
That Anton had allowed Jean to take it without challenging or killing him on the spot was an admission of guilt. Jean could have ruined him with the story, but did not. Yet he walked with the antler cane and speculation followed him. Several times someone asked if Anton had given him the antler, but Jean never answered and no one pressed him. The very question bordered on insult and no one risks a challenge unnecessarily.
Jean went to Levi-Stuer’s smithy, limping along the street in the dry, cold winter sun. The old man admitted him and closed the door against the cold. Levi-Stuer had been born and raised on Bordeaux; judging by his age, Jean felt that he must have been about forty when the Lydia arrived. He had taught himself the art of gunsmithing from the computer’s memory banks, aided, some say, by Jandrax. Jean had never known how much of the Jandrax legend to believe.
Jean leaned the antler against the wall, accepted the mug of chota, and told Levi-Stuer that he was ready to learn his trade. more tomorrow