La Belle Christiane
By Lyn Cote
All rights reserved.
Chapter Five, Scene 2
She and Laurens followed Main as he led them where he thought Jakob would be. Very soon the sergeant began calling, ” Jakob! Jakob!” He hurried on ahead. Laurens talked to him.
Then Jakob turned to look to where the sergeant was gesturing. She saw him, flushed with excitement striding toward her across the green. Then he was there–standing in front of her.
He looked down at her in evident wonderment. “Christiane?” he asked,
“Oh, Jakob,” she exclaimed as she threw her arms up to embrace him. His responding hug was firm and long and she reveled in the feeling of his strength. His wool shirt collar rasped against her cheek as she lifted her face to receive his kiss of welcome.
“Mein Liebscen,” he murmured and her heart leaped at the longing in his voice. Several minutes passed and finally he released her, but his gaze did not leave her face. Then he asked quietly, seriously, “Christiane, why are you here? Where is Jon? Jean Claude?”
She pursed her lips, loathe to voice the death of his son. And in front of the men, strangers so near. ” Jakob,” she said, “This is Lt. Colonel Laurens who helped me find you.”
Jakob picked up her cue and went to Laurens, saluted him and expressed his thanks. Laurens departed, casting one final curious glance at her. Then Jakob returned to her. Only the sergeant remained close to them though Christiane was painfully aware ofmany strangers in this crowded encampment. I can’t tell him here. ” Jakob, please is there any place where we can talk privately?”
Jakob turned to his sergeant. “Could we use your tent, Main? Since we are in family camp, it is closer.”
“Of course, Jakob. Come along.” The old mare followed them as Main led them over to a large tent about twenty feet away. “Tildy,” he called. A woman came out directly. “Tildy, Jakob’s wife is here. I told them they could use our tent a while to talk.” The wife nodded.
” Jakob,” Main continued, “the women can get acquainted later. You and your wife go right in. Take as long as you need.” Then the couple walked away, taking the mare with them.
She and Jakob stepped into the tent and he closed the flap behind them. “I am so happy that you are here, Christiane, but why have you come?”
As she looked up at him, she felt tears threaten her. She swallowed and forced them down, but she could not speak. Walking over to him, she rested her head on his chest. His arms came around her tenderly. “Christiane, tell me please. Where is Jon? Where is Jean Claude? Why have you come?” His tone became stronger. “Christiane, tell me please.”
“I had to come, Jakob. I had to. Jean Claude is across the Hudson with a kind, older couple. They said it wasn’t good for me to bring him here,” she began, still keeping her head against him. It was cruel of her to prolong this silence about Jon. Taking a deep breath, she began again. “It happened near the end of August, Jakob. I was picking raspberries. Jon had shown me where. I was wearing these clothes so that I wouldn’t tear mine,” she said, trying to buy time. “While I was there, they came.”
“The Mohawks.” She watched cold fear flicker in his eyes; then she told him what had happened. She could not force herself to say Jon’s name, so she clung to him, hoping that her nearness would comfort him. Helpless tears oozed from her eyes. They stood that way a long time. Finally she realized that he had not said anything and that his embrace had taken on an almost wooden quality. ” Jakob?” she probed softly.
“My son is dead?” Jakob’s voice thinned to a thread. “Jon is dead?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I’m, so sorry, Jakob. There was nothing I could do. It all happened so fast.” She looked up at him then and she froze. The anguish in his eyes was horrible.
He stood, straight as always, but he seemed to withdraw from her and this sensation of distance affected her immediately.
As she watched, his eyes seemed shut against her.
“Stay here. I must think.” He released her and pushed his way out of the tent.
Christiane followed him, not knowing what to say or do. But when he didn’t even look back, she stopped, watching him stalk away.
Finally, the sergeant’s wife Tildy said softly, “You mustn’t judge him too quickly. I couldn’t help but hear. He’s lost his son.”
“I just want to be with him.” She trembled with emotion on the last word. Mrs. Main gave her a sympathetic pat on the shoulder.
When Christiane finally awoke the next day in a simple canvas tent, empty except for two other bedrolls and a trunk, the emotional upheaval of the preceding day weighed upon her like a layer of brick. Her sleep had been restless, not refreshing. Drowsily she stretched and slowly roused to the sounds around her. From outside the tent she heard in the distance a roll of drums and loud voices counting. She untangled herself from her bedroll. .
After a month of living with the Richardson’s, she felt mussed and unkempt having slept in her clothing. Changing into a nightgown was once again a luxury much above her. She pulled her bone comb from her apron pocket and groomed herself as best she could. With a deep sigh, she stepped out of the tent to confront the day. Would Jakob speak to her today?
Mrs. Main was sitting by the fire, reading from a large, black book to two young boys. “Good morning, Mrs. Kruger. There’s coffee by the fire for you.”
Christiane felt rude, but she was unable to return the kind woman’s smile. As she poured herself the strong brew, she distantly remembered a time when cafe au lait had been brought to her on a silver tray each morning. Quickly she rushed this memory out of her mind. Thoughts of the comforts of the past always came to the surface to taunt her whenever she felt especially miserable.
The two looked to be about the ages of Anson and Phillip, but were very thin. There was a natural brightness about them though that shone through. “Mrs. Kruger,” the woman said formally. “These are our sons, Michael, Jr., the oldest, and William.” Just as formally both young boys bowed to her, so she was obliged to stand and return a curtsey. “Now, sons, you may go and visit your friends, but don’t wander.”
“Yes, Mother,” they said in unison as they dashed away.
“You didn’t see them yesterday because they were with their friends. They spent the night there,” Mrs. Main explained. Then in answer to Christiane’s unspoken question, ” Jakob is drilling with the others now. The men do it once a day, though a confusion it usually seems to me. Then there’s just the waiting.”
“Yes, that’s the worst part. Just waiting to see what the enemy will do or what the General will decide to do.”
Christiane looked at the other woman, a thought occurred to her. “Why are you here, here in a military camp with your young sons? Are you visiting too?”
“We’re not visiting. And we’re here for the same reason you are. We have nowhere else to go. Michael and I are from Boston. Our home was destroyed in the rioting there. So when the English Army pulled out, we joined the army.”
“But every woman doesn’t go to war with her husband.”
“Of course not, but I had no choice. I had no relatives who could take care of me, no home, and no way of providing for myself. You, and I are just a few of a thousand or more. You are in the encampment for families. The decent women stay together for protection.”
“But your husband didn’t have to enlist.”
“Neither did Jakob. Michael wanted to and I supported his decision. We’ve worked long for independence. We wouldn’t, couldn’t back out when we were needed to fight.”
When Christiane had decided to find Jakob, she had left the future up to him. Even in her vagueness though she had not envisioned herself taking up residence with the army. I must go back to my son. But could she leave Jakob to mourn alone?
“Mrs. Kruger,” her companion intruded, “there are certain sacrifices that you may have to make for the Revolution. This is only one.”
Christiane nodded, but couldn’t look hopeful. Jakob was a fine man, but when would he let her be his consolation? And could she go against the Richardson’s advice against bringing a baby to a war?