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Boys of the Ages by  Laura Woolsey Lord Scales

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PIERRE AND A DAUGHTER OF FRANCE

THE FRENCH LOVER OF THE BEAUTIFUL

[164]

P
IERRE'S mother, the Countess Clothilde, was very gay and very pretty and very charming. That was to be expected, for she was a lady-in-waiting to a princess at the court of King Louis. There everyone, it seemed, was charming and light-hearted and merry. The great palace of Versailles where they lived was gorgeous with paintings and gilded panels on its walls and with gilded chairs and tables about the rooms. And around the place were terraces crowned with statues and groves of oranges and chestnuts, and gardens where the play of fountains filled the air with music. It was a world of poetry and delight that would satisfy any lover of the beautiful. The painters painted it over and over again, and if they did make pictures of others than the elegant gentlemen and ladies of the court, they dressed them up too,—in pretty clothes and in all the colors of their own fancy until them made work seem like fun and to be poor like a play. So for the court the care and hard work of the world were all hidden behind laughter and veiled with beauty.


[Illustration]

THE PALACE OF VERSAILLES AND THE GARDENS

[165] Yet underneath all her gayety an occasional care did come to trouble the Countess of Clothilde. There was her need of money; for if one lives at the court of a king where all is gold and glitter, one must have fine clothes and glitter too. She had to keep sending word to her place in the country, which she never even visited herself, to tell her peasants that they must work harder and send her more money. And, too she had Pierre to bring up without help from his father, since his father had died when the baby was a few days old. Of course she had an old nurse who really took all the care of him, and now that he was no longer a baby, she had had him brought from the château in the country to the palace, and with other children of [166] the court he had lessons under an old tutor. He was a dear though mischievous little fellow who did not always do what was expected of him.

One afternoon the Countess Clothilde was called from her merrymaking in the garden with the other lords and ladies by the old nurse, who was wringing her hands and sobbing. Pierre was lost. All day old Nanna and the grooms had been searching for him, but he was nowhere to be found. That was bad news. The Countess Clothilde was alarmed. Yet she could do little to help, for she had to go to be dressed in her brocade and jewels ready for the court ball that night. The king was just back from his hunting and everyone was summoned. She went to the ball and to hide her trouble put on her best mask of gayety, but soon she did not need to pretend. Her little Pierre was the talk of the evening. Monsieur le Marquis de Vernous, who had been with the king on his hunt, came up to her, a fine figure with his powdered hair and satin clothes. "Look out, Madame la Comtesse," he said, "that baby of yours, gare, but he has spirit! He is an enfant terrible. Some day you will really lose him."

"My boy! Pierre? You've seen him! Tell me, is he safe?"

"Safe and deserves a medal for gallantry, Madame. Seldom in battle have I seen more fearless conduct." He went on to tell her that when they were riding home from the hunt, in a field far from the palace he saw something moving and supposed it to be a fawn. The [168] hunting had been poor, and on the chance he let loose his dogs, but happily spurred on his horse after them. "And there, Madame, if you please," he said, "there in the midst of the pack, jumping and barking around him, I found your Pierre. He was holding them off, a dauntless chevalier indeed, but I, I confess it, Madame, I was frightened. Yet he is safe, without harm. I brought him back myself in front of me on my horse."


[Illustration]

THE HUNTS OF LOUIS XV

This is one of a series of tapestries of the Hunts of the King


When the Countess herself took the time to question and scold her small son, she found him happy and unrepentant. "I had to go to see the pretty horses all together," he cried. "In the stables they stand too still, but out there, oh, how they danced and pranced! It was so pretty, mother. I want to go to hunt."

After that, Pierre was a great favorite. The gentlemen talked of his courage, and the ladies all spoiled him; so that whenever he dared he ran away from nurse and lessons into the gardens where the lovely ladies were. He was a real child of the court, in love with every gay and pretty thing. At last, though he was barely ten years old, the Countess Clothilde had to send him away to school. He went up to Paris to the very school which the young Marquis de Lafayette had just left. There he lived in a dreary little room not much better than a cell, with no window and only an opening in the door to let in the air. He learned some Latin and mathematics, but the things he really liked were the lessons in fencing and horsemanship, in manners and all the etiquette of the court,—how [169] to make his bow, how to pick up a lady's fan, how to be a perfect courtier. As the years went by and a new Louis and his queen, Marie Antoinette, came to reign at Versailles, he had mastered these things so well that all the ladies declared he would be a great favorite with her majesty, who more than ever loved everything elegant and pretty.

So when the boys at school talked together of what they would do when they were men, Pierre naturally said, "I shall be a gentleman-in-waiting at the court." But Guillaume, one of the older boys, shook his head. "When we are men, it well may be that there will be neither court nor king." Neither court nor king! The boys howled him down and threatened to mob him. But Guillaume went on, "Can't any of you, even you spoiled darlings here, feel what is in the air? Did you suppose all the world was a picnic like Versailles? Have you never heard of the peasants who slave and starve in the country while the court blows soap-bubbles? How long do you think they'll keep it up? A month's work and it buys my lady a pretty fan! A fan for her and no food for them!"

"What nonsense you talk, Guillaume," said Pierre, "I haven't been in the country, to be sure, since I was a baby, but I've seen Boucher's pictures, and the peasants are as jolly as anybody."

"Pictures! He's seen Boucher's pictures!" jeered Guillaume. "And he thinks they're the real thing! Get along down to the country, you fellows; it's time [170] you did, though your dainty souls will have a shock. Magic words are running around here—liberté et egalité."

"Liberty and equality! And what might they mean?" Pierre and the other boys asked in chorus as they shrugged their shoulders scornfully.

"Mean? They mean fewer joujous for my lady and more bread for the farmer. We'll all be saying them soon, unless we want to hang for it."

"Not I," sang out Pierre. "No ugly old world like that for me! Coarse black bread instead of my lady's pretty little fan! Bah!"

"Look out, then!" Guillaume retorted. "Liberté et egalité!  You're likely to hear them any minute."

"Liberty and equality!" The very next day Pierre heard them. He had stolen away from school to buy oranges of his favorite vender on the street. She kept her golden fruit well piled and wore bright colors herself and her voice rang out in jolly fashion as she cried her wares: "Oranges, oranges! Come buy!" So Pierre always went to her, and she like everyone else was usually ready to pet him. But today she was full of new talk. The king was making one of his rare visits to Paris and the streets were decorated with fine lords on horseback and bright ladies peering out daintily from their sedan chairs, as strong porters carried them clear of the dirt and tumult.


[Illustration]

GOING TO MARKET, BY BOUCHER

Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


"Aye," said the orange-woman, with a toss of her head, "my lady rides today. But tomorrow,— [172] liberté et egalité. Do you hear that, my boy? Learn quickly to say it, too,—for soon things will change. For by what right has she her fine clothes and jeweled chains, and I—nothing? Tell me, then," she defied Pierre.

It was Guillaume's talk over again, and Pierre though only fourteen was angry. A boy brought up at court could not put up with such talk. "By what right?" he cried. "Because they belong to her, of course,—like sunshine to a flower, like their gold skins to these oranges of yours. She is herself sweet and pretty! Eh bien, she shall have sweet and pretty things."

"Ah, shall she?" scoffed the orange-vender, and Pierre lost his temper. "Would you, then," he cried "have all the world ugly like yourself?"

Then something happened. Whether it was accident or whether the orange-woman did it, Pierre never knew. A sedan chair came close beside them, and at the moment a pretty lady in her high-feathered headdress and gleaming jewels leaned out of her window to wave her fan toward a gentleman behind her. Suddenly her fan fell into the street. Quick as a thought Pierre darted out to pick it up. But a workman standing by was in his way and in his hurry Pierre ran head on into him. It made the man angry, and he gave Pierre a fierce blow on the head, but Pierre somehow rallied, flung himself upon the fan, picked it up and handed it to the lady with his most courtly bow. A brillian smile rewarded him, and he was well content.

[173] But the blow on his head had been a hard one, and Pierre fell ill with fever and delirium. He knew nothing until weeks later he opened his eyes in a strange room, once fine but now faded and dull compared with the bright rooms of Versailles. Everything was still. There were no rumblings of carts and no shrill street cries as in Paris. He was in the country at the old family château, where with old Nanna his mother had sent him to get well. He got well slowly, and it was the dreariest life he had ever known. There was nothing to do; he was not allowed to hunt; there was no good horse to ride, and there were no people to talk to. On all sides of the château stretched fields and woods and pastures with only the peasants at work in them. Such people he had never seen. They certainly were not like Boucher's pictures. They were coarse, clumsy, stupid creatures, bent over as they walked, dressed almost in rags, with legs and feet bare, and their faces were heavy, without expression. "Who are these?" he asked old Nanna.

"Your people," she answered. "It is they who work the ground for Madame la Comtesse and for you. They are made to do your will."

"But why are they like this?" Pierre cried.

"Ah, they know nothing. They are but beasts," old Nanna said, with the contempt of a city woman for the country, and for the moment Pierre let it go at that.

When he was well enough he walked about in the fields for the sake of having something to do. Close at [174] hand the people disgusted him even more, for they were so dirty and rough, and they seemed to like him as little as he them. It was a rude contrast to his dainty past. Yet to roam the country was all he had to do. He could not appreciate its beauty, for a boy brought up in the artificial splendor of Versailles had not eyes to see the loveliness of this smiling land of Touraine, with its gleaming rivers and green fields, its wooded hills and little hamlets nestled into the landscape.

He was dreadfully bored and longing for any kind of change, when one day he crossed a narrow footbridge, so narrow that two could hardly pass, and coming toward him he saw a little boy, hair matted like thatch on a cottage roof, hands and feet caked with dirt, clothes few and foul. Must he, Pierre, rub against such a creature? All the dreariness of the past days seemed to turn into disgust. Before he knew what he was doing, he shouted, "Get out of the way!" and started to kick the boy. But he felt a hand pull him and before he turned to look he somehow guessed whose it was. There stood a girl whom he had often seen and wondered about, though he had never spoken to her. She was older than himself, a peasant, like the others, yet different. For she held her head high, and there was a light in her eyes. Though she had a short skirt and bare feet, she walked with a natural grace, and as she walked she often sang a little tune. She always courtesied to him respectfully, not avoiding him as the others did. Now it was she who challenged him.


[Illustration]

SHEPHERDESS KNITTING, BY MILLET

Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


[176] "What—what,—by what right?" Pierre stammered, though in spite of himself he was admiring her courage.

"By what right?" she echoed in low, sweet tones. "Liberté et egalité!  Is he not, like you, a son of France?"

Liberty and equality,—there was the watchword turning up again! Pierre, surprised, stepped aside and the girl and the little boy passed on. He went home, and as he thought it over, he became less surprised at what she had done than at his own feeling toward her. She interested him. There was something of authority about her as well as charm, and he wanted to see more of her. Her name was Michelle, he learned; her father was an old tenant on the place, and—what was strange—people said she knew how to read, a thing almost unheard of among the peasants. He fell into the habit of passing near where she tended the sheep. Always she bowed politely, without a word.

One day she had a book in her hand, and Pierre went up to her. "What do you read?" he asked.

"The story of France," she answered quietly. "Always I read of France, poor France, which is always on my heart."

"Poor? Why call France poor?"

She looked at him for a moment with wide eyes, then answered simply, "Because the people have not enough to eat. They work and suffer, and the queen spends all they have. It is not just. She must stop."

[177] "But would you have all the world like them?" asked Pierre with a shrug, waving his hand toward the reapers in a neighboring field.

"No, not like us," Michelle corrected him, "for we are dull through working all the time to give the queen her pretty chains and toys. That is why I say it is not just. And it shall change."

"But," said Pierre, "you do not understand. If you had ever seen! If you could know something about the beautiful world, as well as about just bread!"

"The beautiful world!" she caught her breath. "Do I tend my sheep here all day and not know what beauty is! The lovely earth, our river in the sun, the great white clouds like flocks of my own sheep, the sower as he swings across the fields! Ah, monsieur, are not these beautiful, too? Do I not know? It may be there are many kinds of beauty."

Pierre looked at her surprised. Then for the first time he opened his eyes to look about him and really see the lovely landscape. A peasant with a bundle of fagots strapped on his back moved somberly across the fields, almost picturesque in the distance. Michelle pointed to him. "Now we may seem ugly to you, for we are sad and tired. But when we are free, when liberty comes, even the common man will have some time for what is pleasant and lovely. Ah, why is that day so long in coming?" she cried. "If Jeanne d'Arc would but come again and help us!" Her eyes traveled out along a brown thread of road in the distance.

[178] "Patience, I know! Patienve, I tell myself. I tend my sheep and read her story," she went on quietly, "and then I go far along on the road to Chinon, where the stone Madonna is. She is very, very old and even in Jeanne's time they say she stood there,—perhaps Jeanne prayed to her herself when she rode to the king—and I go to her and pray that soon, soon she will send someone to save France."

"Jeanne d'Arc? Who was she?" Pierre asked. "I know I've heard her name. Was she a queen or saint?"


[Illustration]

JEANNE D'ARC, BY CHAPU

"She was only a peasant girl like me. She worked hard as we all must, but she prayed often too, and one day when she was in the field with her sheep there came a light. Ah, sometimes when I am here alone with my sheep, I can see just how it looked to her. And there was a voice too which often spoke to her: 'Be good and wise and go often to church.' Jeanne heeded it, and after that, when the other children went to dance at Lady Tree or took their suppers to the fountain where the fairies were, she was thinking of the voices. Three times the light came, and then St. Michael himself stood before her. 'I come to tell you of the great pity of France,' he said to her. For you know, monsieur," Michelle interrupted her story, "that was in the days when France suffered worse than now. An enemy king had conquered all the north of France, almost down to our great river Loire, and Paris was gone, and the young Dauphin was not even crowned true [180] king, and he did nothing to save his people, but idled (close by us here) in his castle of Chinon.

"And so St. Michael came to Jeanne and said, 'It is thou, daughter of God; thou must go to save France.' Think of it, monsieur. She was ignorant, even more ignorant than I, for, as she told the angel, she did not know her A or B, she could not ride a horse or fight, and how could she save France? But St. Michael sent her St. Margaret and St. Catherine to teach her. Often they came and talked with her and directed her in all things. She had two lives then,—one when she worked for her mother, one when she saw her visions and heard her voices. And she believed all that the voices taught her; though it was so hard, she believed. That is the great thing, monsieur, to believe; then one must do. And so Jeanne made her uncle believe in her visions, too, until at last he was ready to take her to the king's officer, Robert de Baudricourt. Robert of course did not understand, and he said to Jeanne, 'I will send you back to your father with your ears well beaten.' But Jeanne only answered him, 'By mid-Lent I must be with the king even if I have to walk my legs off to the knees.'

"And she meant it, monsieur, she would have done it, and so the king's officer had to believe in her, too, and he gave her a sword and a few men to guide her to the king. All the long, hard journey through the wild lands where the enemy lay, she rode with only those few men, until at last they came to Chinon, where the [181] king was. He did not believe in her, and he thought to trick her by hiding himself among his nobles and putting another man on his throne. But Jeanne went straight to the real king. She knew him, for her voices told her. Then the king had to listen to her. He gave her armor and let her go to join the army, and she went riding on her white horse to Orléans, where the enemy was camped against us. And because she was so pure and wise and good, even the soldiers believed her, and they did what she said, and she saved the city. Then she made the Dauphin go with her to Reims, to the cathedral where the sacred oil is kept for crowning our kings. There at last he was made true king over all France, and the people turned to him and did their best to serve him and serve France.

"Jeanne died, monsieur, a dreadful death, but not until she had given us our country, our lovely France to love and care for." Michelle stopped, and her eyes traveled far away across the beautiful fields.

Pierre got up and stretched himself, as if waking from a dream. "I've heard some of that story," he said, "but I supposed it was a fairy tale. How could a girl do such things? Lead an army! It isn't possible!"

"Impossible? Yes, impossible, yet true." Michelle answered quietly. "It was because she loved France so much, and because she believed. So it must be again today. There must be someone to save France, someone to believe and love enough. Why will you not be the one, monsieur?"

[182] She spoke always quietly, but Pierre noticed the glow in her face, the light in her eyes, the strength of her feeling, which shook her body as the wind sways a lily on its stalk. She was not pretty like the exquisite ladies of the court, but she had a power unknown to them. Pierre, scarcely realizing what he did, turned to her and said, "What would you have me do?"


[Illustration]

STATUE OF THE MADONNA

This statue was made in France before the days of Joan of Arc. (Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)


After that they were continually together. She had lighted a little spark in his spirit, and day by day she fanned it, to kindle it into a real fire. He was only a boy, only fourteen he told her, and what could he do? But she told him he must learn, and he must love. He must learn to love the real France, not the little world of the court. She talked to him about his peasants, and made him know them, until Martin was no longer like a clod of the earth to him, but a father working [183] day and night to save his sick baby, and old André became a sort of hero, because through giving his daughter a real marriage feast he had robbed himself of any hope of meat to eat, for the tax collector had seen the feathers of the chicken he had killed and told him that a man so rich must pay bigger taxes, and now as the result André was very poor. So, under Michelle's teaching, Pierre grew interested in the people and began to understand them and to find them less dull and to want to help them. She took him on a pilgrimage to Chinon, where Jeanne d'Arc had gone to find the king, and on the way back, at the shrine of her stone Madonna, she stopped to pray for him. No longer did he find the days dreary, for he had so much to learn. But he was well again now, and his mother sent for him. He must go back to school.

For farewell, Michelle climbed with him to some uplands above the river, covered with purple heather and yellow gorse. She picked a flower of each and gave them to him. "That you may not forget!" she said. "The wild heather, that's for liberty, and the golden gorse, for equality! See the two together; are they not beautiful? They are the fair France that is to be. You will not forget?" she begged, looking at him eagerly.

Pierre took the flowers. "I shall not forget," he promised.

He went back to school, this time to the Military School at Versailles. He was glad to be back, but [184] somehow it was all changed. Was it really the same place? Had the pretty ladies always been like dolls, each one like the other one? Had it always been such a made-up sort of world?

Yet even here he found a new stir in the air. Even here the magic words had crept into the talk,—liberté et egalité. For far across the seas in America some peasants or farmers, as the nobles called them, had risen up against their king and had declared that all men alike had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and they were even then fighting to get what they believed in. The Marquis de Lafayette, who might have been the darling of the court, had braved the king's anger and was fitting up a ship at his own expense to go over and help them in their fight. "For," he said, "I believe that the liberties of the whole world are bound up in this fight in America." Pierre longed to go, too, and wished that he were old enough. But he did the next best thing; he worked hard at his business of learning to be a good soldier, and talked with Madame de Lafayette whenever he could about all that was happening in America. Then three years later, when Lafayette came home and persuaded King Louis at last to send troops and money to help the great American, General Washington, Pierre was fitted and ready to go, too. Just before sailing, he wrote to Michelle. "Tomorrow I start for America, following Monsieur de Lafayette. Liberté [185] et egalité!  I say the words after you who first taught me to think about them. You gave me the flowers, the purple heather and the yellow gorse, to make me remember them, and now to show you how I have [186] remembered I go to fight to make them come true. It is not yet for France. But after America is saved, it will be the turn of France. We shall come back and win them too for France—liberty and equality! And then we will make her the fair and beautiful land you dream of. Till then, farewell."


[Illustration]

LAFAYETTE, BY LA PERCHE

Photograph furnished by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston


Pierre made good his word. With Lafayette he fought for freedom in both worlds. After liberty was won for America, he came home to find France in tumult. The court was rocking, and the people clamoring for the right to work for themselves and live as men, not as slaves of the king. Dreadful years of revolution followed, when, seeing all in the light of Michelle's words, Pierre, like Lafayette, took his stand with the people and fought for their freedom. Though it took long, dark years, France at last, like America, became a land of liberty. And Pierre, through fighting to save it, learned more than ever how dear to him were its beautiful fields, farms and rivers, just as Michelle had seen that it would be. Patriot or lover of the beautiful,—either way,—France filled his heart.


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