A Scent of Lavender; Part 2
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….