By Myfanwe Resident, 2019-08-27
Another day of walking. My bare feet now dirty, sore and bruised. My body as well. I had not bathed in days and my food was low. Unable to read the written signs at crossroads or turns or outside estates, I had long ago lost direction. And I saw no other people. Yes, field workers in the distance tending to their labors harvesting wheat or corn or fruit trees. I dare not approach for fear of being labeled “vagabond” or worse …. “thief”. And so, I walked on keeping to myself, thinking of my family and praying they were well and safe.
Near to sunset, weary and forlorn, I passed a grand estate and came to a dead end. A high wall with large blue doors stood before me marking the end of the road. I simply could not go on another minute. Lost and dejected, I wandered a bit off the road into a stand of Elm trees where I set about setting out a meager camp. I ate the last of my bread and cheese saving the last ripe peach for the morning. I do not know how long I sat there under the whispering Elms as the evening breeze rustled the leaves over my head, but it could not have been long before I was fast asleep.
When I awoke in the early morning I was surprised by a man standing over me and looking quite stern. He was obviously well off for his clothes spoke of wealth and power. Before I could rise to present myself in a proper manner he spoke. His voice was firm yet had the slightest hint of sympathy woven through it. He spoke very formally as would, I suspect, most Lords who owned prosperous estates.
“Who are you and what are you doing on my land?” he asked then added before I could speak. “Trespassing is punishable by a fine or by prison. You do not look to be able to pay a fine, so I suppose it will be prison then.”
Another man, not so well dressed, stood a few steps behind him eyeing me in a very stern manner. I imagined him to be the groundskeeper or perhaps the sheriff?”
Not wishing to appear unmannerly or rude I spoke quickly and told him my story as to how I came to be in this place at this particular time. I held nothing back and related every detail of my predicament. I then placed myself at his mercy.
For some long minutes he said nothing only exchanged looks with the other man who seemed to have an opinion on the subject. The two walked off a short distance and held a quiet conversation both glancing in my direction from time to time as if assessing my worth or perhaps deciding my fate for I could not ascertain their intent.
For myself I stood still as wood, my eyes lowered, praying for mercy. To have traveled so far only to find myself imprisoned for trespass would bring shame not only to myself but to my family and would, of course, destroy my youth and any prospects the future might hold for me. I determined that, if need be, I would throw myself at his feet and beg on my knees for mercy. As it turned out, however, that would not be necessary.
Their conversation ended the two men had reached a decision and approached. I, in turn, curtsied low holding it with my head bowed as I awaited my fate. The owner of the estate spoke in a clear voice and with obvious authority.
“I am Louis-Francis de Beauharnois, owner of domaine and castle de Champs-sur-Marne and these lands surrounding us are called Antiquity. This man you see with me is Zeph Milos estate manager. Rise young lady and follow us”
I did as I was told and followed the two men through the main gates and into the estate proper. Never before in my life had I seen such beauty. The main house and adjourning buildings were magnificent in their splendor. The surrounding grounds were meticulously appointed and well kept. I fear I was gawking at the sight when the two men suddenly veered right passing through two tall doors and into a small courtyard surrounded by low buildings. I hurried to catch up as they entered one of the buildings.
Inside the building were two adjourning rooms. The high ceilings and walls were painted white and the floor was inlaid tiles. I followed the two men into one of the room where six small beds were arranged along the walls. A privacy screen blocked the view of a large tub that I assumed was for bathing.
His Lordship (I am not well educated in proper titles) indicated the rooms saying. “This is the dorm where the workers sleep and bathe… the next room over is for cooking and eating and has a fireplace for warmth in the winter.” He paused as if to see what my reaction might be.
I glanced around the room with a bewildered look upon my face for I had no idea why he was showing me this room until he spoke again after seeing my confusion.
“I have determined that, instead of turning you over to the constable, that you will instead be employed by me to work my fields. There is a shortage of good workers and it is my decision that you will better serve our community and my house by working here rather than languishing in prison. This is not negotiable. You will sleep here. You will be paid the sum of one copper for each field harvested. Do you have any questions?”
I was speechless. Could I be more fortunate than to be shown such mercy and such generosity? I could not think of any words to express my relief or my gratitude for these rooms offered a poor farm girl such luxuries that hitherto were unheard of. Instead I curtsied low and, bowing my head, offered … “Mon seigneur, je ne peux pas exprimer ma gratitude. Merci pour votre miséricorde et votre gentilesse”
On his part he waved his hand saying with a smile. “Yes, yes. Of course. Now. If you prove to be as good a worker as you claim, I have a close friend in another part of the country who can also use a good worker. Should you prove yourself here I will send you there to help her as well. Now, come and sign a paper that will indicate you have accepted this position and are part of my household staff. If you cannot write you may put an X which will serve as your signature.”
Several moments later I had placed an X on the paper provided and His Lordship then handed me over to the estate manager who showed me the fields and provided me a small meal of bread, cheese and simple wine. I sat on the ground and, as I ate, thanked God for my good fortune.
To be continued….
By Myfanwe Resident, 2019-08-21
A spoken tale as I do not yet know how to read or write and for this I beg your indulgence.
I was born a poor French girl to a poor family of farm workers. My Papa is a fine man, a gentle man, a wise man who knows much about life, its wonders and its sufferings. He has worked hard all his life and has earned the respect and gratitude of those both above him in station and below. He is a fair man, an honest man and has kept his family fed and warm and safe. And he is forever in love with my mama.
My Mother is a person everyone looks to for guidance and strength. A woman of strong faith and moral character she has born her husband two fine sons and a daughter (the youngest of the three) whom they named Margarete after Margaret of Anjou who became Queen of England. I do not yet know if it was a jest on their part to name me so, or a challenge for me to live up to her example. Time has yet to determine which it was, but I am trying my best.
I do not recall much of my early life save the fact that we, as a family, worked the Lavender fields of Provence North of Marseilles. My Father and brothers tended the fields for a wealthy, but kindly, land owner who grew vast acres of Lavender for the perfume trade. My Mother kept our small house in order and grew vegetables and herbs that she used in cooking and would sometimes to sell some of the herbs for a copper or two.
At seven years of age I was given my first job. To carry baskets of Lavender flowers from the fields to the cleaning house atop a hill that overlooked the farm. For this I received one copper per week. But what I remember most was standing atop that hill and looking down on the amazing violet blanket that covered the land as far as the eye could see. Lavender below, blue sky above…my eyes still burn with that sight. It was a happy time and in the evenings after a days work we would sit with neighbors and sing songs or tell stories and share a meal. At night I would sleep in the loft while my brothers slept outdoors or in a nearby barn in the winter.
As I grew I was given more responsibilities… I would help my mother with the small garden and with some of the cooking….but three days a week I would go with my Papa and brothers to tend the rows of Lavender. Here my Father taught me all about how to care for the plants from seed to mature plants. How to properly harvest them so as not to damage the root plant. How to protect them from the chill nights of winter and how to prepare the soil for planting new plants. I learned every step of the process from seeds to harvest. And I was happy.
When I was fifteen years of age the owner, who was a kind man as I mentioned before, offered to send my eldest brother to school so he could learn more of the business. The owner had no son’s and had taken a liking to my brother who was more than grateful for the opportunity. I, in turn, being a girl, my father saw no reason for the need for me to learn to read and write as my life would be relegated to either work or family or both. So, as my older brother went off to school, I went off to the fields. And life continued much as before… until.
This past winter a number of severe storms swept down from Northern Europe bringing with them such weather as has never been seen so far South. Strong winds, heavy cold rain that was mixed with ice but worse were the cold, cold nights. Perhaps everything might have been alright if only one of these storms passed through, but almost nine of them marched through Provence like an invading army and left in their wake … destruction.
The fields of violet and green became a battle field of dark mud. The flowers, stripped from the plants by the wind and ice lay strewn across the land. Broken plants lay flat against the earth like subjects bowing to the King of Storms. Devastation and heartbreak. Try as we might there was little to be done to save what was left. It was not long after that the owner, a kindly man as I mentioned before, sent word that the he would be forced to release from service all of the workers; for he had lost everything.
What were we to do? We had no savings nor relatives to which we could turn for aid. For several weeks we prayed for assistance and our prayers were answered … partly at least. My father had been one of the owners most loyal workers and, because my brother had become a trusted friend and protege of the owner, he was able to secure employment at another Lavender farm twenty kilometers’ to the East. But, it was a smaller farm and had only enough work for my Papa and Mama. My other brother decided to go South to Marseilles to join the Navy, which causes us a some distress, but he was insistent
I was now eighteen years of age and old enough now to be on my own. Unmarred I was free to find my own way in the world. For some days we spoke of these things and said our tearful goodbyes with promises to reunite again in the future for we were a close family, but life had handed us a challenge and we must face that challenge and survive. My Papa gave me twenty copper pieces and my Mama packed a travel sac with food. The owner had received word of a newly formed farming community some distance to the West and suggested I head there to seek employment.
With a heavy heart I set off, keeping to the main roads for fear of Highwaymen and other nefarious persons who might accost me. I walked during the daylight hours avoiding any strangers I came across although there were few. At night I would sleep a short distance off the road, sometimes in a small barn or under the protective branches of a fir tree. I ate what food I had being careful to limit myself so as to make it last longer for I did not know how long it would take me to reach my destination. I bathed in streams and sometimes picked fruit from a wayward fruit tree, but always I did not trespass or steal for both were a sin and a violation of trust.
I walked for many days, always keeping West until the land changed and the road narrowed where it passed through forested lands. More and more buildings appeared along with walls marking the edge of vast estates. I marveled at such sights for I had never seen such wealth. Once, several nobles road past on magnificent horses. So finely dressed where they that I thought perhaps my eyes deceived me. My Mama and Papa had always taught us to respect those of a higher station and my Mama had taught me a proper curtsy which she made me practice over and over until I no longer fell down from the attempt. This I did as they passed and, glancing up, I saw the gentleman tip his hat to me, but the Lady glared at me as if I were some ugly thing that had been tossed in their path. Still I held my curtsy and my eyes lowered until they were well passed.
I do not claim to know the minds of some for I understand that manners do not always flow in a downward direction, but I accept such dictates of society and hope, one day, I may be in a better position from which to change a thing or two, but that is yet to be seen. Still, as I continued on my way, my heart and my spirits were lifted for, surely among such wealth there must be employment.
I had abandoned my leather shoes for they had worn completely out from the many days of walking and now I walked barefoot along the narrow roads which always lead me West towards the Sea.
End Part 1