In a chateau. there is a library and an old man. I know where and when, but let me preface the story for you. There is a book. It says something like this:
“Until the fifteenth century European men and women could rarely do more than wonder at what lay outside their own continent and the circle of nations which ringed the Mediterranean sea. Subsahara Africa was blocked by a desert wasteland and the path down the Red Sea to Ethiopia, India, and the far east was the monopoly of Moslem traders. The route which Marco Polo had taken overland to China was expensive and hazardous, itself a monopoly of the Ottoman sultans except where even their strong rule was challenged by bandits.
There was the sea, and the Mediterranean was a rich province of the Italian city states; but the Atlantic was another matter indeed. It is vast and it is stormy. True, Viking longships had sailed upon it, but the galleys of the Mediterranean powers and even the high caravels, gallasses, and galleons of Spain and Portugal were at hazard if they dared it. Few captains would risk their boats for long out of sight of land until around 1450 when two instruments, perhaps known to the ancients and certainly known in the orient were reinvented or brought to Europe. These were the marine compass and the astrolabe. With these devices, the new charts that were then appearing, and a brave crew, discovery became possible.
Hence the Americas. In the following three hundred years that same curiosity which spurred adventurers to the new world also touched men of calmer minds. They avidly read the reports of sea captains and the scientific journals which by the seventeen hundreds began to appear in drawing rooms across Europe. They tried to fit it all together into their own world, adapting new ideas in agriculture and invention to their estates yet holding to the past also. Nation states were developing around the stronger kings. The once powerful lords of former days were becoming courtiers, advisors, and often mere ornaments to the powerful monarchs. For the first time critical analysis replaced repetition of myth in the recitation of history. Edward Gibbon’s massive study of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was the most popular book of the mid eighteenth century. The cloaked anticlericalism throughout that work would blossom in the writing of Voltaire and the philosophes.”


I see a man, Eddie. He is Le Compte Raymond Francois Villehardouir De Champagne and he lives a life of simple loyalty to the crown untroubled by the politics at court, for which reason the King did not require his presence at court but indulged the count’s wish to remain at a small family chateau with his books and his cat. He has spent most of this day in the fields with what he considered his own very extended family. Truly, the children could be bad and sometimes he had to judge and punish petty thieves, lechers, and those who would be bullies if they were allowed their heart’s desire, but with most of the peasants who worked his various estates, and especially this one at Marmande, he enjoyed, and truly they enjoyed, a very familial relationship. Under carefully chosen overseers and a seneschal whom his own father had groomed for his duties when Armand and he had been children together, the farmers and workmen performed in sturdy fashion those duties necessary to keep the estate efficient. In turn the count took seriously his sworn duty to defend and protect his villeins from bandits, to guard the chastity of the girls when they wished it, and, of course, to provide a good blacksmith, miller, and priest. His own needs were modest for with the death of his sons in battle and of his dear wife many years before of the fever, the count had few other wants than to buy a new book from time to time. At his death the estates would pass to his brother or nephews. They were good knights, better lords than many, and his mind was not terribly troubled for the future safety and happiness of the rest of the “family.”
Now it was early evening, late afternoon actually, but the hour seemed later for the count was quite tired and the sun had dropped behind a hill. Raymond got up from the chair in which he had been reading the latest volume of Gibbon to come from the English presses. He stood at the window wondering whether to further strain his failing eyesight by reading under candlelight. No. Mister Gibbon can wait, he decided. That man is very hard on the Church. Perhaps the priests are right in condemning him. Some things are best unexamined. It’s all in the past and cannot be changed. In front of a fireplace his cat sat upon the pillow provided to warm her underside. The two were growing old together.
“What do you think, Furface, ah? You live in the present and are ignorant but contented. I have all my books but really know no more than you about the whys of things.
“But that is not the way for humans, is it? We carry all the wrongs of centuries past as prejudice and whatever good things befall us we make into religion. Ah, Religion? Too often simple superstition. … I’m becoming as much a cynic as Mr. Gibbon, Cat. But truly, religion should not be a matter of rewards and punishments and looking for miracles, but of gratitude for being, ah Cat. I think too much. Enough. Some supper, hum? I believe there is still some roasted rabbit. Enough for us, ah? Where is Marie? No; not to bother her. She’s probably outside. We can eat later, Ah. Be patient. Let Marie enjoy what remains of the day.”
The count picked up the old cat who did not resist and Presently they began to fall asleep upon a day bed that each spring he would have moved from near the fireplace to before a large window whose shutters he now kept open all day and all night. That had been done eight weeks before. The past few days had been more than warm. Summer was upon the estate once again. How many more summers, Raymond wondered, will I survive? Many? He had reason to hope for he was still not very enfeebled. But still, as the holy Bible says, the Lord comes like a thief in the night.
A little of the failing sunlight and a light breeze off some fragrant honeysuckle lay softly on the old knight like a child’s blanket. Outside his window the bees that fed upon the honeysuckle droned softly. Then Marie tiptoed into the room and quietly knelt beside his bed.
“I belong to you as your fields belong to you,” she whispered in the lowest of low voices; A sweet voice so small that the sleeping knight would not have heard it at all were she not touching her lips to his very ear.
“No one has ever said that to me, Marie. Not even my dear departed wife, the mother of our poor sainted boys.” The old man thought for a moment. “Perhaps no one has ever said that to anyone before. It is a beautiful thing you said.”
“I’m happy that you like my phrase though you have neatly changed the subject.”
“I am not so subtle, Marie. I have never been good with words. Plain talk is all I can do. Perhaps that’s why Louis doesn’t want me at court. My talk tends to the plain and the honest.”
“Will you have me?’
“You are so young. It was so good of your father to send you here to care for an old man. …”
“That was a year ago, Milord. Papa sent me to care for an old friend. But I have fallen in love on my own counsel.” Marie stood for a moment, then slipped out of her sandals and lay down beside her lord. She was still dressed in a pale green dress, the color of the great lawn and embroidered by her own hand with wild flowers. Count Raymond wrapped an arm around the young girl and they slept close awhile until his pendulum clock chiming in the great hall awoke him. Furface was looking steadily at the count, sitting on his chest with her paws upon his shoulder. The cat began a rumbling purr and touched her cheek to his.