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La Belle Christiane
2011 copyright by Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Ten, Scene 2
Just three days later on Sunday morning, Christiane sat very straight on the backless bench in the meetinghouse. Her heart pounded with apprehension. Next to her sat Sarah with Jean Claude on her lap. Josiah was across the Quaker church, sitting with the men. Everyone around her was calm and quiet. None of them suspected her hidden distress. The spare white meetinghouse was nothing like the Cathedral at Notre Dame where she had often worshiped in Paris. Where were the altar, the statues and the candles flickering in the semi-darkness?
Clenching her hands in her lap, she glanced back to the double doors where last year she had–sick with fever–collapsed. How different were her circumstances this year. But during the past few days with them, the Richardsons appeared to see no change in her from last year. Also having to help Sarah with the laundry, scrubbing, and cooking had reminded her vividly of a life she had been relieved to leave behind. Added to these, her troubled re-union with her son made her long to be back at the Continental headquarters doing her usual duties.
A tall attractive man entered alone, grasping a worn Bible. His and Christiane’s eyes connected for a fraction of a second. Then she looked down at her hands. Finally all seemed to be assembled. Christiane waited–for what she really did not know–some kind of beginning, but there did not seem to be any, just a heavy silence. Even at his age Jean Claude felt it, stopped squirming and settled back into Sarah Anne’s lap. Christiane waited and waited. After awhile her apprehensive feelings slipped away. Sitting in silence did not seem sacrilegious or very religious for that matter.
A voice cut through the silence. Christiane’s head snapped up and saw that the tall man who had come last had stood up to speak. Christiane realized that she was the only one who had turned to look at him. Quickly she looked back down at her hands self-consciously. Was he the priest? Why wasn’t he at the front? His voice was strong and pleasant. He read from his Bible with a strong, deep voice,
For thee has broken the yoke
that burdened them
and the rod that beat their shoulders.
Thou hast defeated the nation
that oppressed and exploited thy people,
just as thou defeated the army of Midian long ago.
The boots of the invading army
and all their bloodstained clothing
will be destroyed by fire.
He cleared his throat and began to speak,”This passage from the prophet Isaiah, chapter nine, has haunted me this week past. Though I cannot support the violent means that the Rebels are using, I cannot help but sympathize with their desire to send foreign soldiers away from this free land.”
Though nothing was said in answer, Christiane was aware of a subtle disapproval that flowed through the congregation. She knew that the Quakers did not support the Revolution and she still could not understand why. Unconsciously she sighed softly and shook her head.
Still no liturgy began, but periodically and without introduction men or surprisingly women would stand up and speak. Some quoted scripture; some merely spoke what they believed in their own words; a few prayed.
Then one white-haired old farmer stood up and clutching a cane with both hands. His voice crackled with age, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God. John Mark, I was a friend of thy grandfather and thy father. Thy reading troubles me. I know young blood runs hot. Some of our number have already been seduced by this conflict. I would hate to see thee follow their fate.” The old man remained standing as though waiting for a response. His watery gray eyes fixed on the first speaker of the day.
John Mark rose and faced his accuser. “Friend, I do not think that I am being seduced by this conflict. I only speak what I feel. Whether we approve of this Revolution or not, it will alter the course of the history of this continent. I also think that if the British win that the outcome will not mean more freedom, but less.”
“What does thee propose?” The old man shot back keenly. “Are thee saying that we should enlist in this war?”
Christiane held her breath.
“No, thee knows I do not, but I do think that we could take up a collection of clothing and foodstuffs for the families of soldiers who remain here while their men are away. Winter is coming and many of them are in need.”
The old man stood for a moment. “That is a different matter. I am sure most of us would be glad to help any in need,” he said quietly and sat down. Again Christiane felt an unspoken answer go through the congregation. This time it was one of approval. After many more minutes of silence, a woman rose and said a short prayer. Christiane realized that it must be some sort of signal because people stood and began leaving. Was the service over? When had it begun?
This is the first time Christiane attends a Quaker worship service. What made it difficult for her to “get into” it? Have you ever thought about what a person who had never attended your particular church would think of what they sat through? That can be an eye opener!