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La Belle Christiane
2011 copyright by Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Ten, Scene 1
At the beginning of the familiar lane, Christiane stood with her mare patiently at her side. Just hours before she had left Tildy and her family at a fork in the road. Though she had urged them to come with her to spend the night at the Richardsons, they had declined. It was early November and they wanted to get to Massachusetts as soon as they could. Because of the slower pace necessary for the boys and Tildy, it might take them another two weeks or more on foot.
Christiane had offered them Nancy for good, but she knew their pride had prevented them from accepting this gift. Also since Quakers did not support the Revolution, Christiane had gotten the feeling that Sergeant Main did not want to be beholding to any of them. Christiane led Nancy up the lane. The autumn sun’s rays were shafts of light nearly level with the horizon. It had been a warm day and her mouth was dry, but not only from the dusty roads. Anticipation and nerves caused her heart to thump erratically.
Then she was at the Richardson’s kitchen door, knocking. In a few seconds the door was opened by Josiah, still straight and tall. He seemed stunned at first and then his voice boomed, “Sarah Anne! Our prayers are answered! Christiane is home!” His large arms clasped Christiane to him till his small, plump wife pushed between them.
“Christiane! The Lord be praised!” Sarah Anne exclaimed and drew her in excitedly. Josiah went out to stable Nancy and Christiane sat down while the old woman hurried about preparing tea.
“Sarah,” Christiane said, glancing around, “where is Jean Claude?”
“Napping. In fact, we all nap a bit in the afternoons. He will be down the steps soon.” She smiled and set a steaming cup in front of Christiane.
“You said in your August letter that he was talking now?” The kitchen was as large as she had remembered and even in the low light was bright with its white walls and blue curtains.
“Oh, yes, two and three words at a time now. He is quite a talkative little fellow. And so big! He has grown so fast I have had a time keeping him in clothes these months!” Christiane drank in the information, trying to imagine her infant son talking and grown large.
“Oh, Christiane, I praise the Lord for thy safe return. Thee does not know how many times Josiah and I have sat outside on the porch and looked down the road, hoping for the sight of thee.” Sarah reached for and took Christiane’s hand, but Christiane only smiled distractedly, her eyes going to the stairs. Sarah looked at her sympathetically. “He will be along soon, my dear.”
Then Christiane glanced at Sarah. “It has been so long.”
“It will be all right, Christiane. He will soon forget that thee were ever gone.” Josiah came in and sat beside his wife, beaming at Christiane. While they talked, Christiane’s eyes continued straying to the stairs.
At last she heard the sound she had been awaiting. Jean Claude was bouncing down each wooden step as he held the railing tightly with both hands. Christiane caught her breath at the sight of him.
“Toast, Gramma, toast,” he ordered.
“Very well. Give thy old Gramma a chance,” the woman chuckled.
At the sight of the stranger at the table, he halted.
“Jean Claude,” Sarah coaxed gently, “we have someone special for thee to meet.”
From the steps, Jean Claude stared at the stranger in his kitchen, his face serious at her attention. Carefully he edged over to sit by Josiah, keeping wary eyes on the intruder. Sarah began preparing the child’s toast. All the while Christiane and her son studied each other.
He had his father’s eyes, large and liquid brown with thick curling lashes. His skin was brown from the sun and silky with baby down on his round cheeks. A long narrow nose contrasted with the roundness of his face. Surrounding his face was curly, uncombed hair the color of bitter chocolate. Many feelings coursed through Christiane. Primarily though she felt pride and gratitude. The father had been taken early, but the son was handsome and well-made. “You’ve taken beautiful care of him.”
“He is a dear, isn’t he?” Sarah replied while Josiah smiled broadly.
Christiane ached to hold him, but the child continued to keep space between them though the old couple gently encouraged him not to. The evening passed. Christiane tried to relax in the circle of warmth by the fire. She felt happy to have reached her destination, but still discontented at her son’s reaction.
Finally just before bed Jean Claude approached her cautiously as she sat on the settle by the fire. He climbed up beside her and touched her hair tentatively. Christiane held her breath. “Chris,” he said, “Chris.”
“Now, Jean Claude, thee must not call–” Josiah spoke up quickly.
“Jean Claude,” Christiane asked softly, “would you like to call me maman?”
He shook his head. “Chris,” he repeated. Josiah began again to correct him.
“It is all right, Josiah,” Christiane cut in. “You can call me ‘Chris’ for now, Jean Claude.” She fingered his hair. Her touch made him scramble down. Sarah and Josiah exchanged glances which said they did not approve and Christiane was suddenly weepy and tired, ready to go up to bed.
Some of you predicted this reunion will be difficult. How will Christiane handle this? She’s very fragile now after all she’s gone through. I worry about her & I’m the author!