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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-Four Scene 1
The next afternoon Christiane and Jean Claude explored in the muddy meadows, looking for sheep. The time for lambing had come. Walking beside her son over the thick spring green grass, she felt as uncertain as a babe herself. She didn’t even look like herself. Her Mt. Vernon clothes felt too grand for this simple farm. Today she’d dressed to match her son who wore heavy sweater, knee pants, white hose, and stout shoes. She wore a navy wool dress that she’d sewn in Morristown during the winter she had met Mrs. Washington. Around her shoulders, she wore her faithful plaid shawl and a wool ruffed cap warmed her head. The breeze blew briskly across the sky, still overcast–as was her mood. So many changes in such a short time. But her strained relationship with her new husband had not budged. Often she nearly massaged the area over her heart, trying to soothe the the deep ache there.
Right after breakfast, the Friend Samuel had taken the two men on a tour and then he had left, saying that he would spread the word that Christiane’s family had come. The around-the-clock assistance evidently would end now. Back at the house, while the two Sarah’s and Josiah were napping, John and Alfred were in the barn, seeing to the stock. This had amazed Christiane. She would have expected that such labor was beneath his lordship; certainly Alfred was disgruntled at being expected to do farm chores. But they were on their own now.
Her life had also altered. Immediately after their breakfast that morning Sarah Anne had devoted herself to feeding and tending her stricken husband. Christiane had looked at the used bowls and spoons and then had risen to wash them. The harsh odor of homemade lye soap and feel of the hot water had brought back memories of Rumsveld Tavern and Morristown in Mrs. Hardy’s kitchen where she had gratefully served as a scullery maid.
As she’d dried the dishes and put them away, she’d admitted to herself that this had been a major part of why she had fled this farm that night to Philadelphia four years ago. She had longed to be a lady and escape a life of menial toil. She chuckled to herself. In fact, she ranked a lady now, Lady John Eastham, but evidently that did not protect her from carrying water and washing dishes.
“Mother, I think I see something over in those bushes,” Jean Claude said quietly, pointing to their right.
Mother! He said it without any reservation. Again she contrasted her own feelings this time to four years before. Then still a toddler, Jean Claude had been reluctant to accept her as mother. That sting rejection and the goad of her guilt for having created the situation had also been a part of why she’d run away. After all the years apart, she reveled in being close to him, being allowed into his life. Whatever the cause for his acceptance of her, John and Sarah Renee, she felt buoyant, almost lighter than air. How could one word give her such joy?
He tugged her hand, nodding for her to follow his gaze. “Yes, Mother, it is one of our sheep and she is lambing!” he exclaimed happily. Quietly and carefully they approached the ewe. Evidently this ewe did not have enough sense to come to the barn of her own accord, so Christiane and her son were here to bring the two back to the barn for extra nourishment and care. They stood silently observing as the baby lamb was expelled from its cozy nest into the muddy, chilly world. They watched as the mother painstakingly examined and groomed her infant.
“Grandpa says that human mothers have babies like this, too,” her son commented matter-of-factly.
Christiane tried to match his tone. “Yes, it is very similar.”
“What was my father like?”
The unexpected question hit her but she did a quick recover. “You look very handsome just like him.” She allowed her hand to stroke the rich brown waves that ended in a tail at the back of his head. “He was a very jolly man. And he loved to sing and tell stories. He was a very fine fur trapper.”
“He sounds nice.” He glanced up.
“He was more than nice.” She smoothed a curl behind his ear.
“Then how did we get here?”
“After your father died, I married another man, named Jakob. He came to New York City to fight the British.”
“And we came, too?” He sounded as though he knew this part, but wanted to hear her confirmation.
“Yes, and that is how you came to live here.”
“And thee helped the Revolution?” He stooped, watching the white lamb closely.
“Yes, that is why I was gone so long,” she continued the partial deception. When he was older, she would be more frank.
“That’s what Grandma said. Did thee fight like a soldier?”
“No.” She laughed. “Nothing that exciting.”
“Grandma says fighting is sad.” He stood, looking up at her seriously.
“She is right,” Christiane answered soberly. “Fighting is very sad.” She looked down at him, overwhelmed. She pulled him to her, unable to stop herself. “Oh, Jean Claude, my dear son, I have missed you. I love you so.”
He put his arms up and returned her embrace. “I missed thee, too. I asked and asked Grandma and Grandpa when thee would come home. They said thee would as soon as thee could.”
She could not answer. She merely hugged him again. The ewe, almost done grooming her newborn, bleated as if demanding their attention. The little lamb staggered to its feet, shivering.
“It’s time to take them home,” her son announced. “We must wrap the old blanket around the lamb and pick it up,” he said.
“What about the ewe?” She used the blanket as instructed.
“Oh, as long as we have her lamb, she’ll follow us anywhere.”
Blinking away the moisture in her eyes, Christiane understood her fellow mother completely. She lifted the quivering lamb into her arms.
The ewe bleated and rocked to her feet. So they wended their way through the meadow back to the barn. Even though the breeze chilled her, Christiane felt warm. She’d expected resentment from her firstborn and instead had reaped love. A part of it was due to a child’s natural acceptance, but most of the credit was Sarah Anne’s and Josiah’s. They had filled Jean Claude with their love for him and had given him an attitude of respect for her. She was very grateful.
They arrived at the barn. Alfred and Eastham stood, talking just inside. “Good day, gentlemen,” she said politely though neither was dressed as a gentleman. Both wore clothing they had purchased while traveling, much like Jean Claude’s outfit.
They bowed slightly. “Good day, ma’am,” John replied, “I see you have a new boarder for us.”
His use of the title instead of using her name dampened her mood. “Yes, where should I put mother and child?” She cradled the lamb close.
“There is a warm spot right over here. Alfred just laid it with new straw in hopes you would be successful.” He ushered them to the rear and opened the stall gate.
Christiane carried in the lamb and laid it down gently in the hay. The concerned mother hurried in after her and began examining her infant.
John closed the gate. “Did you enjoy your walk, Jean Claude?”
“Yes, Father, we saw the baby get borned.”
“Have you seen it before?” John stooped to be at eye level.
“Every year, but I like seeing it every year.” The boy grinned.
“I know what you mean.” John squeezed the boy’s shoulder.
Christiane marveled again at their ease at being together. Somehow her son in his innocence had already drawn closer to John than she had been able to. How could she bridge the gap? The ache over her heart twinged.
So Christiane begins to form a relationship with her six year old son. Do you think he will always be this accomodating?–Lyn