Everything was crazy now. The young men wanted to take authority, forgetting that they, too, would grow old someday. It could not be that way, but how was he to stop it; though there had been few women – and too many of them had been lost to the others – those remaining had been fertile, and the younglings outnumbered their elders two to one.
Everything was crazy, but that young Dubois was the craziest of all, he and his bastard rifle. The council of hunters had demanded that Anton retrieve that weapon to be used in the hunt, ignoring the fact that young Dubois had contributed five rifles to the council and had made ten of those Levi-Stuer was renting. Fools! They should be honoring Dubois, not angering him. He had proved himself a man in the hunts, and further in his confrontation with Anton’s eternally damned son. They counted him half a man because he was crippled, but such misjudgment always backfires. If they had treated him right, he would have made rifles for the next twenty years, becoming the single most important man in the community and vastly augmenting the colony’s tenuous hold on civilization.
But they had not honored him; they had reviled him.
Worse, their attitudes had so affected the impressionable young femmes that he was now without a mate. The asses! They should have banished young Anton and made Dubois a present of that slut Chloe.
Dumezil swung heavily away from the wall and worked his way down the ladder. Jean Dubois was his nephew, his sister Angi’s son; why could worthless young Anton not have been more like him?
Lucien Dubois answered the door personally. Anton could hear Lucien’s daughter working in the kitchen and could smell boiling meat. It was a sharp, rancid smell – year-old meat from the permafrost cellars. Soon there would be fresh meat to eat. Of all the things lost in coming here, Anton missed most the good French cooking of Bordeaux. Here there were not a dozen edible plants and a half-dozen edible species of animal. With such plain fare, eating had ceased to be a pleasure.
Lucien looked bad. Of course, Lucien always looked bad, thin to the point of emaciation, weak – tuberculosis probably. He should leave the household before his sons and daughter caught it, Anton thought, but where would he go? Still, Lucien seemed more distressed than usual.
“Lucien, old friend, you look troubled. What is it?”
Dubois motioned him to the wood and leather chair that sat by the fire, taking a stool before his honored guest. “It is my son, Jean. He has gone.”
“Gone? Gone where? Where could he go?”
Lucien shrugged. “Who knows? He has been very bitter lately.”
Anton nodded. “Perhaps he is keeping liaison; he has no wife. Maybe some great hunter is all talk and no manhood?”
Lucien looked puzzled, then took his meaning. “No, Anton, he is really gone. He took the gig, the one with sails, and left two nights ago.”
Now this was news in a town where little ever happened. Anton was offended not to have heard. “Why was I not notified?”
“Why should you be? He committed no crime. If he wanted the gig, it was his. He was a man. He hunted so that we could have meat and he made rifles so that the colony would be stronger. Whatever I have is his if he wants it.”
At mention of the rifle Dumezil was reminded of his mission. “The bastard rifle, did he take it with him?”
“Of course, he was never without it.”
This was bad. While the rifle was technically Jean’s, the hunter’s council wanted it and they would make things hard for Jean when he returned.
If he returned. more tomorrow