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La Belle Christiane
By Lyn Cote
All rights reserved.
Chapter Five, Scene 3
The day’s gray, hovering clouds matched Christiane’s mood. Since daybreak Christiane had sat, fidgeting by the fire. Finally boredom and stiffness prompted her to get up and walk. After a night of drizzling rain, the ground was slick and muddy. Her skirts dipped into a myriad of puddles, wetting the bottom of her dress, giving her the sensation of being dragged down. At last she paused at a nearby green to observe a squad at drill. The marching master and his men seemed at odds with each other. Christiane did not find it interesting, but in her dismal mood, she continued watching anyway.
Then across the green she glimpsed a cluster of officers in crisp blue-and-white uniforms. Having seen hardly any gentlemen—save Lt. Colonel Laurens yesterday–in the years since she had left France, she watched them with fascination. Her mind brought up the image of Captain Eastham for a moment. She distracted herself by watching the officers. They officers watched the drill and stopped from time to time, consulting.
Finally the group of officers approached the place where she stood. And she realized her mistake. She didn’t want to be seen, so she lowered her face and turned away.
“Mrs. Kruger,” Laurens hailed her and stepped over nearer without hesitation.
Christiane smiled stiffly in return. “Lt. Colonel Laurens.” She bobbed politely, hoping her face wasn’t smudged.
The other officers caught up with Laurens. The tallest one in the center spoke up, “Mr. Laurens, is there any difficulty?”
“No, sir, no difficulty. I was just greeting Mrs. Kruger. She has just joined her husband here.”
The other officers gave the tallest their full attention while he gave his to Christiane. “Are you going to introduce me, Mr. Laurens?”
“Mrs. Jakob Kruger, sir,” Christiane inserted swiftly.
Then somehow looking up at this tall man, white-wigged and in an immaculate uniform, brought back her careful childhood training. In consequence just as the day before, her curtsey to this officer was of the very deep, very polite one used for nobility.
“General Washington, ma’am. Your servant,” the General replied, taking her hand gently and bowing.
The fact that she was meeting the great General himself almost swept her away, but her careful training stood up well. She looked up into his face. It was not a handsome one, but the features were strong and she liked the straight line of his jaw. His eyes were penetrating her as though they divined a great deal about her also and his grip was firm and warm.
“It is a great honor to meet you, sir.” She forced the words out of a tight throat.
The General smiled and showed her a further courtesy by introducing the others, Major Fish, two captains, and a Frenchman DuCoudray.
“Mrs. Kruger is originally from Paris,” Laurens said
“How interesting. How do you come to be with us, Mrs. Kruger?” the General inquired politely as though he had nothing further to accomplish this day except pleasant conversation.
Christiane sorted through her mind swiftly. “My father and I travelled to Montreal some years ago. He was involved in some political activities there,” she said, trying to put a good face on her Irish father’s ill-fated anti-English intentions..
“Montreal?” he voiced surprise, “You have come quite a way to join your husband.”
“I had no choice our village near Lake Ontario was raided by Mohawks late in August.”
“I did some Indian fighting in my youth, so I understand your plight, madam,” Washington said in a hard voice.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw her husband approaching. Jakob arrived at her side and placed his hand possessively on her shoulder. Christiane formed her face into a smile as she glanced up at him, trying to give the appearance of a happy wife. “Gentlemen, my husband, Corporal Jakob Kruger.”
The General graciously addressed him, “Corporal, we have merely been enjoying a few moments conversing with your wife.”
Jakob saluted and replied with a smile and a quiet, “Yes, sir.”
“Have you asked your company officer to procure any extra equipment you might need?” Major Fish inquired politely.
“Yes, sir. But we still have not a tent. They said none was yet available,” Jakob answered.
“Oh, no, that won’t do! I’ll see to it that one is made available today. Apply to your officer before dusk,” the major said.
“Thank you, Major,” Christiane answered.
“Well, I fear, we must make our farewells,” the General said. “We have many pressing matters to attend to. Ma’am, a pleasure.” He paid her the compliment of again bowing over her hand. Then the officers walked away. Laurens looked back at her and smiled.
Uncertain at the change in her husband, Christiane stood, watching the officers move on, Jakob’s hand still resting on her shoulder.
Finally Jakob broke the silence, once again sounding like her Jakob. “I will pick up the tent. Stay near the Mains, ja?” She nodded, though surprised, as her husband walked away.
That night Christiane found herself in the lately procured tent. With the tent had come two folding camp stools, a kettle on feet, and two blankets. Evidently this unexpected largesse had surprised the surrounding neighborhood, for many had come to watch the raising of the tent. Tom from Rumsveld had also stopped by to recall the friends in Rumsveld they had lost. He had been very downhearted but she could do nothing but mourn with him.
Under the starlight she sat drinking at last cup of tea by the fire. Jakob, finished putting everything away, sat down beside her. It was the first time they had sat alone together since Christiane had arrived. “Christiane,” he said simply, “forgive me.”
A sob escaped her. “Oh, Jakob.” She could say no more. Tears washed over her cheeks. His strong arms wrapped her against him. She continued to weep quietly into his fringed deerskin jacket. Aware of all the eyes and ears too close, Christiane whispered, “Take me inside, Jakob. Please.”
Gently he led her into their tent. “Christiane, I’m sorry, but it was a shock. I lose not just my son, but everyone–”
“I should have stayed at Rumsveld. You asked me to and now I see why. You needed me and I left you. Never again. God as my witness, never again will I leave you in harm’s way.”
“Oh, Jakob.” She had been starved for this reunion. She kissed him and he answered with his own denied yearning. It had been such a long and lonely time apart.
Carefully he arranged their blankets for her and tucked her in with extra courtesy. There was almost no light. He slid in beside her. His strong arms held her firmly against him and he drew a long breath. “Mein kleines Frau, ich liebe dich,” he whispered. She replied with only a satisfied, little sigh. She was content at last.
The morning light filtered faintly in and around the canvas covering them. Christiane slowly became aware of it and of the warm body pressed against her back. This startled her and she jerked away.
“Liebschen?” a sleepy voice asked softly. Then she remembered Jakob was with her. She blushed at her mistake. His strong arms pulled her back to the warm nest. “Did you forget I was here?” he asked with a grin. Christiane nodded.
Sergeant Main’s brisk voice outside the tent intruded. ” Jakob, time to assemble the men.” Jakob moaned loudly in protest and was answered by a laugh. “Come on, Corporal.” Groaning and twisting, Jakob crawled out of the cocoon of blankets and stood up.
“But you haven’t had any breakfast,” Christiane complained.
“I brought him a cup of coffee if he will just come out,” the sergeant interrupted.
A quick kiss and Jakob was gone. Stretching, then snuggling deeper in the blankets, trying to keep what remained of the warmth of Jakob had left around her.
All morning her thoughts turned more and more to the Richardson’s. In light of the crowded, shabby family camp, their simple farmhouse took on the aura of paradise in her mind. And her loneliness for her son was overpowering. he two of them sat by their fire after a meager lunch. The air was softer than the night before, a short pause in the steady advance of cool fall air. ” Jakob, is there any way you could take a short leave?” she asked the question she had been planning all day. “I have to go the Richardson’s, the couple who are taking care of Jean Claude.”
“No.” Jakob and stood up again. He tossed the dregs of his coffee onto the fire, causing the flames sputter.
“You mean you can’t get a leave?” she continued as she stood, so she would not need to raise her voice.
Why do you think Jakob won’t let her go?