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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Seventeen Scene 3
The stranger slid from the saddle and looked around uncertainly. One of the grooms approached. The man questioned him. The groom called to a junior officer on the porch below.
While the groom led the horse away to the nearby stable, the young officer saluted the stranger and they exchanged words. The two men turned and the young officer motioned toward the house to the windows above her. The stranger looked up then, giving her a clear look at his face. She gasped. This man was no stranger. Captain Hansen! She knew him well as his liaison duties often brought him to Washington’s headquarters.
The meeting, the important meeting, upstairs. She gasped again and her mind raced. She had to be sure it was he and that he was bound for the meeting. The two men headed toward the main entrance. If he were going up to the floor above to the meeting, he would go via the front staircase. She halted. If it were Hansen, he might identify her as easily as she had recognized him.
Quickly she drew the hooded cape around her, tying it at the neck and deftly arranging her hood. She stepped out her door and down the hall to the landing. The two men were almost to the second floor. She paused and watched them. He was the right height and build to be Hansen. As they went by her, she caught another look. It was Hansen–unmistakably. She stood rooted to the spot. Then the two men were gone, up the remaining stair and onto the third floor landing.
She sought the refuge of her own room again. Inside she leaned back against the door as though the world were spinning too fast. Hansen, a spy. She was aghast at his treason, but more horrified by the implications of his appearance here for her. What if he saw her and revealed her true identity? Without a doubt she would be arrested as a spy. The circumstantial evidence of who she was, where she was, and with whom would be too damaging.
The fears that she had had when first arriving in Philadelphia re-attacked in force and made her queasy. Her pulse pounded at her temples. Could she count on John’s protection absolutely now? Even if he did defend her, would it only cast suspicion on him–to have been intimate with a suspected spy? It could destroy his reputation for the rest of his life. I might be imprisoned or even hanged. She stood, wringing her hands helplessly.
Sternly she took hold of herself. She and Hansen must never meet here. For her own protection, for John’s reputation, she must go for now. Mechanically she brought out her new saddlebags. Carefully she packed her things, trying to make them as compact as possible.
Henry’s ring. She must have that if she were going to Valley Forge. She paused. Wouldn’t it be better to go back to the Richardsons? But she had been waylaid by traveling two days alone in the first place. She could reach the Forge before nightfall and suddenly she longed to be among familiar faces, trustworthy hearts. She fumbled in the jewel box atop the dressing table. There was the chaste garnet ring underneath the pearls and emeralds. She stood then, ready to leave. But how could she leave like this? She must leave John some word. He might think she had met with foul play.
Over to the small desk by the window she went. Taking pen in hand, she paused to think.
I have learned facts today that have deeply shaken my confidence in you.
I can only hope that they are untrue.
She was forced to pause. Somehow just writing the words: wife and child would shake her too greatly, they were too hurtful. Besides if he knew her accusation beforehand, he might be able to cover his tracks too well. Should she mention Hansen as her reason for leaving? She chewed her lip. Suddenly it occurred to her that Valley Forge would be safe for her only as long as Hansen were here. If he returned knowing of her lapse of chastity and loyalty–the very idea nauseated her.
More importantly how could she let him continue his treachery now that she knew of it? Innocent lives could be lost and the very outcome of the Revolution compromised. But he would never return if he knew she would identify him as a spy. She looked down at the paper. Quickly she added.
I must leave now. I will try to get word to you. Please inform Captain Hansen that I would hate to attend his hanging, but I will if he returns to Valley Forge–whatever the personal cost to me. Ask him if he knows Christiane Kruger. Goodbye, Christiane
That would do it. Hansen would be foolhardy to return now and she had terminated any possibility of his continued spying or future blackmail.
She felt a hard lump like coal, forming in her stomach. This note burned her bridges just as Washington had during last winter’s retreat. For a few days the chasm between John’s politics and hers had narrowed and now in a matter of hours it was wider than ever.
Another thought halted her. She would hate to leave without saying farewell to Lord Hazelton. A note would have to suffice. The pen poised over the new page. She did not have time to wait for inspiration, so she wrote:
Dear Lord Hazelton,
It grieves me to leave you so abruptly. The situation is too complex to explain. You will always be in my memories. Please do not believe any unkindness about me. I am innocent of any intrigue. Au revoir. Christiane
Quickly she sanded, folded, sealed with wax, and addressed the two papers. Then she tucked both under the large glass paperweight on the major’s desk.
For a moment she scanned the room, the place where she had experienced so much joy. She had planned to leave it on the morrow, but how different was her departure now. So many emotions crowded her heart that she could not sort them out. The meeting would not go on indefinitely. I must make haste or all will be lost.
Closing the door behind her, she tried to make her way to the stable as naturally as possible. Once in the stable she summoned a groom and mounted her new mare. The groom led her out into the yard. She gathered the reins then and cast one final glance at her home for the last month. In the window on the third floor, a man was looking down at her. He waved at her. It was John. She waved in turn. Could she signal him somehow? No, he was too far from her and her feelings about him were too tangled now.
Penny pulled at the bit impatiently and Christiane left the yard without a backward look. Not wishing to call attention to herself, she moved slowly through the streets, which were still decorated for the Christmas holiday. She bid her mare Nancy a silent farewell as she passed near the widow’s street. Finally she reached the outskirts of Philadelphia. Cunningly she did not increase her speed all at once, but gradually. She had an excellent idea of the position of Valley Forge now and she wanted to avoid roadblocks at all costs. A route over the fields and through the woods would be shorter and safer.
The intervening miles went by without complications. The trim Pennsylvania farms took almost no notice of a lady out riding on the frosty day. Whenever thoughts of what the day had brought forth surfaced, she pushed them to the back of her mind. She could only deal with the journey and the cold for now, nothing more.
It was late afternoon when she finally paused at a farm yard. She could see the main road now. She turned Penny toward it. The road was sure to be in rebel hands this close to the winter quarters. She began, sorting ideas to explain her new horse, new clothes, and her arriving alone, but the anxiety and cold had paralyzed her brain.
Penny, though tired herself, seemed to sense that they were near their destination. Her pace quickened and before long the rebel camp was in sight. Christiane saw the sentry post and slowed the eager mare.
“Halt!. Friend or foe?” the sentry challenged her.
“I am expected at headquarters. I am Lady Washington’s companion.”
“Lady Washington ain’t come yet.”
“I know, but I have.” Suddenly Christiane felt totally exhausted and completely numb with the cold. “Please, private, I am unarmed woman. I am a threat to no one. Please have someone escort me to the general.”
The private looked her over once more. “You escort this here lady to headquarters.”
A gangly frontiersman by his looks, stood up. He had been squatting and warming his hands by a small fire. Not saying a word, he took Penny’s reins and started off. A brisk walk brought them to an imposing brick house. The private handed Christiane the reins and left.
Afraid she might already be frostbitten, she hitched her horse to the post herself and stepped quickly to the dark green door. She clapped the brass knocker resoundingly. The icy winds whipped and flayed her, making her feel naked and battered. A great shiver went through her.
At last the door opened. “Yes?” a large woman asked.
“I am Mrs. Christiane Kruger. I would like to see the general.”
“We weren’t told to expect anyone,” the woman replied cautiously.
Christiane wanted to scream in frustration, but she did not have the strength. A day of emotional turmoil and frigid travel had almost drained her. She made her voice firm, using a precious amount of her energy. “I am expected. The general just did not know exactly when I would arrive. I am Lady Washington’s companion and I am Captain Henry Lee’s fiancée.”
When the woman still did not open the door wider, Christiane pushed her way inside, forcing the woman to step back. “Show me to the general and have someone see to my horse please.” Christiane’s desperate determination won out.
The woman led her to a door nearby. “Mrs. Christiane Kruger,” she announced as she opened the door. Christiane stepped through the door and into the candlelight. The conversations ceased with her entry. The startled men rose automatically. She tossed back her hood and scanned the occupants.
She recognized Henry’s voice immediately. She had not expected him to be at headquarters and something in the quality of his exclamation released her emotions.
“Oh, Henry!” she gasped, rushing to his arms. “Oh, Henry.”
“Christiane, how did you get here?”
“Oh, Henry.” She wept. “I’m so terribly cold and tired.” And heartbroken, she longed to add.
General Washington came over. “Captain Lee, please escort Mrs. Kruger to the room at the top of the stairs. It has been waiting for her. I’ll order food and drink to be brought up and you must start her a fire there immediately.”
Christiane looked up as though she were about to speak.
“We will speak later, Christiane,” the general urged. “Go now please. You will feel better if you follow my instructions. Captain, stay with her till the girl arrives.” He urged them out and closed the door behind them.
He wore a thoughtful look as he rang for the housekeeper, but he spoke wryly to mask it, “Gentlemen, always remember: never question a weeping woman. It is always useless and sometimes dangerous.” There was a chuckle over this and then the former conversations resumed.