Friday, 25 March 2016

The Maid From Orleans

She came from Orleans, the one in France, sometime in the late 1800s.

She had worked in her father’s bakery in a little place near the cathedral. She had kept her mouth closed all those years but left her eyes and heart open. Not for her was the option of settling down with a local boy and bearing him children. She wanted more from life, much more - more than Orleans could ever hope to provide for her.

Every Friday her father would give her a few Francs for her contribution to the family business – he would say ‘merci’ and kiss her on the forehead, then he would hand over most of the money to her brother – after all he was the male and, as such, was due a larger share of things.

She, on the other hand, would place most of her wages in a sock which she kept under her bed. She would keep back a few centimes to buy herself some lemonade, but the bulk of her money was to go on her dream of escaping.  

On the day that she was twenty-five (and without telling a soul), she stepped on a train to Paris and vowed not return to Orleans. She never told the family where she had gone, although she did hear a little later that they believed she had run away to America with a soldier. Neither of those facts were true of course, but it did give her an idea; once she was finished with Paris she would head to the New World.

She took to Paris as Paris took to her; they were bosom friends. The girl had been made for such a city and at such an exciting era.

In no time at all she found work in a beautiful perfume and fashion store on the grand street that was named Boulevard Haussmann. She was as beautiful as the avenues of Paris and she quickly attracted many gentlemen callers. Although she would sometimes agree to an evening supper with a man, she would never take it seriously as she was destined for other worlds.

One day she found a well-dressed man staring at her from several angles. He would look at her, smile, walk a few paces, turn, then look at her again. Indeed he had the impudence to walk over to her, grab her chin and look at both sides of her head.

“Magnifique!”  He declared, then handed her a card and told her to be at his rooms at 7 in the morning.
“Do not be late, I am wery, wery busy.”

Much to her surprise, she did what he said and appeared at his rooms at the allotted time. The apartment was made up of a series of areas all covered in drawings, and sculptures and all of the same subject, a woman holding a book of some sort.

The man pushed her over to a corner and told her not to move.
“Under no circumstances must you move, I am wery busy indeed.”

When it was time for her to go to work at the store, she started to fidget and the man became impatient.
“What is wrong with you?” He asked.

She told him that she was expected at work within the hour. He tutted.
“Forget such things, my child, I am going to make you immortal.”

He threw money at her feet, more money than she had ever seen in her life and he told her that she could pick it up at the end of the session. When he was finished with her she would never need to work again, he told her. She would be the most famous woman in the world.

For several weeks, this was her routine. She would go to the man’s rooms early in the morning and she would stand and pose until late in the evening. He would pay he a large amount of money and she would hide it all in a box under her bed.

About five weeks in to the work, she developed a cough which sometimes was nasty and sometimes not. It would annoy the man from time to time, enough for him to dismiss her and tell her to come back when she was better.

In the late Autumn, the man told her that he had no more need of her and that she was dismissed.
“I will be in contact when it is all ready,” he said.
“When what is all ready?” She asked.
“You will see, you will see.”

Her health grew worse and the doctor advised her to return to her family in Orleans. She would not do that.

One Saturday morning a strange little man came to her door and said that she must accompany him to see her sculpture. He took her to a park where the head was being exhibited before it was to be shipped as a gift to the United States of America.

There in the middle of the park was her face looking out across the grass.

Within the month she died of consumption. She never made it to the United States the way she had hoped and planned, but her face made it - and it would look out to sea and welcome those seeking shelter for a very long time indeed.  

Bobby stevenson 2016

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