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La Belle Christiane
Copyright 2011 by Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Sixteen Scene 4
“I have my reasons.” She looked up at him sorrowfully in the dim light. “I have my reasons and none of them have anything to do with you. I mean, I’m not leaving to get away from you.” She cursed herself mentally for speaking so clumsily.
He could not speak. They sat like wooden statues. The courtyard of his quarters was around them then. He climbed out and turned to help her down. He stood a moment holding her hand. “Come with me.” Keeping her hand in his, he led her to the stable, the same one where he had discovered her almost a month before.
She wondered at his purpose, but went obediently. Inside he led her to a stall near the end of the stable. Using a flint, he lit a candle-lantern that hung on the wall. A young sorrel mare looked up at Christiane. “Merry Christmas,” he said tersely.
“Penny here is your Christmas present. Since you’re leaving in the morning, you might as well take her. You will need a new mount.”
“Nancy will never carry you outside of Philadelphia. Your new side-saddle is hanging there.” He motioned to it. “And Monsieur Lagneaux delivered a riding habit yesterday. So you can go to your ‘old lady’ in style.”
Though he spoke coldly, she knew it was merely a cover and her heart wept for him. “You have done so much for me,” she murmured. “I wish I could give you what you want.”
“There is something you can do for me.”
“What?” She glanced up but couldn’t see his face clearly in the low light.
“Let us go in. We might as well be warm.” He blew out the lantern and led her into the brightly lit house.
Christmas carols were being sung in the front parlor. A harpsichord tinkled gaily in accompaniment. Officers bounced up and down the staircase, calling to one another. Silently the two of them arrived at their room. The glimmer of Christmas spirit that she’d felt had evaporated and numbness had completely overtaken Christiane.
He felt as though ice water had replaced his blood. The shell of stone that he had existed in for over six years was re-asserting itself. No. How could he live that way again?
Maybe for the last time, they sat in their chairs, contemplating the fire. “What can I do?” she asked, not looking at him.
He knew there was something holding her back. More than an old lady drawing her from him. “Tell me the truth. Tell me why you are leaving me.”
“You won’t like it. You don’t want to know,” she responded lifelessly.
“Tell me.” His pulse sped up.
“You will hate me or disrespect me or both.”
Abruptly she stood up, turning her back to him. She leaned her head upon her hands against the mantelpiece. “I am engaged to another man.” Her dispassionate tone matched his.
The words nicked his heart.”Do you love him?”
Her tone spoke of the truth. “Then I don’t understand.”
“Maybe I don’t love him, but I will in time. He has offered me marriage and a stable future. The kind of life I intend to live,” she defended herself with a complete lack of enthusiasm.
Marriage? He didn’t miss a beat. “You mean if I offered marriage, you would stay with me?”
“I know you cannot,” she said tiredly. “Your father would never approve. I am a French bastard of a notorious family, without a dowry. No English lord would want his only son to marry me.”
“I didn’t think marriage would be a factor with you,” he said, sounding uncertain as he was.
“Because of my family?”
“Yes, I suppose so. I just had not thought of it.” He paused and cleared his throat. “If you wish marriage, it could be arranged.” His voice was suddenly strong as he took the first step.
“What about your father?” she asked. “From what you said I thought all he cared about was family pride. A man like that would never sanction such a union.”
“What do I care what he thinks?” The words boiled up from the old wound. “I have not communicated with him since I left London. What I do with my life is my business. Marry me, Christiane. I would have asked you sooner if I thought it mattered.” He began to let himself hope.
She was dumbfounded by this revelation. He wished to marry her, not just form a liaison.
It was as though a blinding light illumined her heart. She would never love Henry like this. If she married Henry, it would be a marriage out of obligation, not joy. And before this realization, she could have married Henry but not now. She loved this man, this Englishman. This fact nearly stopped her heart. He was still the enemy. She took a deep breath. She turned and faced him. “There is more.”
He looked up at her.
Lowering her eyes, she took a deep breath. There would be no going back once she shared this, the heart of their difference. “We are in the middle of a war. In wars people take sides.” Her blood throbbed at her temples. She waited breathlessly.
Finally he spoke, “This is a civil war, not really a revolution, as it is called. In a civil war, taking sides is especially painful since it is between brothers, as it were. But this war is not worldwide. There are many places where it would be merely a distant conflict.”
“I have turned my back on Europe for good.” She held her breath again.
“I was thinking more of Bermuda or Nassau.”
She was speechless. He was willing to take her in spite of their political differences. But could she turn her back on the cause she had suffered so much for? But did the cause of freedom depend on one woman? The lethargy she had felt since after dinner fled from her. She looked at him closely. He loved her. She could see it in his eyes. Could she leave everything behind for him? But she realized she had already made her decision by staying. If she had really wanted to, wouldn’t she already be at Valley Forge?
“There us one thing more I haven’t told you.” She paused. “Jean Claude and I had a son.”
“A son?” He moved as if startled.
“Yes, I haven’t been able to provide for him very well.” She looked down at the floor. “He is in the care of an older couple in New Jersey. That is why I need a secure future. I want my son with me.” After the major’s sad experiences, would he welcome her child?
“You don’t think I would make a good stepfather.” He sounded hurt.
“It’s not that,” she assured him quickly. “I just didn’t think you would want a child, any child–after what you have been through.” She stepped to his side and knelt to touch his arm.
A series of emotions coursed through him. The main one was relief. She had finally revealed to him the reasons she had held him at bay. She desired marriage. She was a rebel. She had a young son she wanted to have with her. If only she had told him sooner. Didn’t she understand that the only reason he had bought his commission was to be away from England with its memories and his father? He had paid little attention to the causes of this conflict. And a son, after all those years of wanting a child, there would be one. “How old is he?”
He looked down into her liquid brown eyes. “He would be most welcome in our home.”
“Oh, my darling,” she whispered, beginning to weep. “I love you.”
“And I love you.” A tide of warmth flowed through him, thawing him at last.
“No, you don’t understand. I have loved you all along. So many times in the last three years I have remembered you, even dreamed of you. I think I must have been a little in love with you even then.” She touched his cheek.
“I was a fool to have let you leave that day. But then I thought, well, now you know what I thought that I was unmanned. You were so lovely even then. And so special. I got quite drunk on your wedding night.”
She clutched his arm. “Are you in earnest then? We can go away with Jean Claude and make a life together. It won’t violate your conscience to leave?”
“No, it will not. What about your conscience?” he asked.
“I have already suffered enough. Besides my son needs me and I need you.”
“I have an important meeting at the end of the week. After it, I will resign my commission and we will be free to go. Five years in the wilderness and one year of combat is enough service for my king. My conscience is clear.”
“Oh, my dear.” She rested her head in his lap and he stroked her hair tenderly. “I can’t quite believe it. I fought it for so long.”
His heart beat in a regular cadence but so strongly, the rhythm echoed through him. “I fought it as hard or harder than you.”
“Why did we?”
“I can’t remember. I can’t think of anything unhappy now.” He stroked her wondrously soft face. So beautiful and now his.
“No more unhappiness for us?”
“I pledge myself to spend the rest of my life seeing to your happiness.” His voice was thick with emotion.
She took his other hand and laid her cheek on it. “I pledge the same, my love.”
He put his other hand on her cheek and turned her face to his. Leaning down, he kissed her softly on the lips. “My love, my bride, my Christiane.”
They lost themselves in each other’s eyes. The only sound was the logs crackling and disintegrating on the hearth. At last he stood and drew her gently to him. The clean smell of his shaving soap, the soft urgings of his lips, and the strength of his embrace made her weak with pleasure.
“You are mine now, all mine,” he whispered to her, fanning her ear with his breath. She gave him a dreamy smile in response, knowing that she would not sleep in her blankets by the fire this night or any other.