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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-Four Scene 2
“Ma’am,” John said, rising, “some Friends delivered a chicken. It hangs by the side door. It is gutted, but needs plucking and cooking.” He looked at her meaningfully. Earlier amid her morning chores, she had forgotten to prepare dinner, so they had lunched on porridge and biscuits.
Her pulse raced at his intent gaze. Had he grown more handsome or was it only her longing? “I used to know how to make a delicious chicken stew with dumplings.”
“Dumplings?” He looked intrigued.
“Yes, I learned how in Rumsveld an old friend taught me. It was one of her specialties.” The thought of leaving the quiet farm clawed her suddenly. Her future lay in the hands of her husband now, something that was never far from her mind. She turned away, stricken.
“Well, your biscuits passed muster,” he conceded.
“Thank you, sir, I hope you will find my dumplings satisfactory also,” she returned lightly, hiding how low her spirits had dropped. “Jean Claude, are you coming with me?”
“No, Mother, I want to stay with the men.”
Christiane looked up at her husband. Why don’t you ever speak of the future, our future? Even if you spoke of England, that would give me some idea of your plans.
“Good. We can use his help,” he answered.
“I think there are two more sheep,” Jean Claude said. “We need to check on them too.”
Smiling as much as she could, she patted her son’s shoulder. “Supper will be ready at dark, John.” Her use of his first name was coming easier, no doubt due to the Quaker dislike of titles. Would John soften toward her, begin using her name once more?
“Very good, ma’am.”
She stepped away and retrieved the chicken. Inside Sarah Anne sat dozing in the rocking chair by the low fire. Christiane quietly found a basket to hold the feathers and settled herself near a window for enough light so she would not miss any of the small pinfeathers. Carefully she worked, glancing out the window now and then.
She realized then how unexpectedly content she was sitting here plucking a chicken. Her family had come together. Her son accepted her and John. Sarah Renee had her own father and would never suffer the stigma of illegitimacy. Now one last matter to be resolved lay between the two of them. John had married her to be with his child–true. But he showed himself willing to cooperate in unusual circumstances. She would be agreeable and patient and perhaps in time… Dear Lord, I am grateful for this reunion. But what will happen next?
“Mama!” Sarah Renee called from the steps.
“Hush,” Christiane cautioned. “Come down quietly. Sarah Anne and Josiah are napping still.”
The child hopped down the steps, humming.
“You may play with the toys in the box, but try not to knock over the blocks.”
“Yes, Mama.” The little girl went cheerfully over to the large box. Soon she had built a house of blocks and was playing with clothes-pin people while Christiane prepared the stew and set it to simmer.
Finally the late-winter sunlight dimmed to the point where Christiane rose and lit two tapers, one on the mantel and one on the table. Once more she leaned over her fragrant stew, bubbling on a hook on the hearth.
The kitchen door opened. The two men and boy came hustling in. “It is beginning to drizzle again,” John said. He carried an arm load of wood as did the other two. Deftly they piled it against the wall. “Will this hold us till morning, Sarah Anne?” he asked.
“Yes, looks enough.”
Jean Claude went over to the cot and sat on the side opposite his grandmother. “Grandpa,” he said softly to Josiah, “Mother and I found the first lamb this spring. It is all white.” He turned to his grandmother. “I wish he could have been there.”
“Yes, thy grandfather always has loved little ones of any kind.” She smiled down at her husband. Jean Claude leaned over and rested his head on Josiah’s chest for just a moment. Seeing this small act of love nearly carried Christiane into tears. She quickly turned and stirred the fire with the poker.
“Brother, will you play with me?” Sarah Renee asked.
“Ma’am, that certainly smells delicious,” Alfred murmured admiringly.
“Thank you, Alfred.”
“May I assist you in any way?”
“No, thank you. Come to the table, everyone. Dinner is ready.” They all took their places. Sarah Anne looked to John. “John, would thee give thanks for us?”
Surprising Christiane, he nodded and they all joined hands. “Heavenly Father, thank Thee for the meal we are about to eat and the hands that prepared it. Amen.”
Christiane was somewhat anxious about her stew, but a few bites assured her that she had remembered the recipe well. Compliments were murmured and she could not help, but smile. Sarah Anne joined in the companionship of the meal and then carried a bowl of stew to feed Josiah.
“I’m so glad thee made dumplings, Christiane. It has always been one of Josiah’s favorites.” Then she turned to her husband. “Josiah, thy dinner is cool enough now and I know thee will enjoy it.” Without waiting for any response, since one was impossible, she gently raised his head with pillows and carefully spooned the rich stew into his mouth. As Christiane watched this, a desire for the same closeness with her husband moved her. The firelight and candles lent a snug feeling to the dark room. Spring rain pattered down softly on the window panes.
Little Sarah went to stand by the bed and watch the proceedings. “Is he very sick?” she asked solemnly.
“In a way. I don’t think that he is in great pain, but he cannot speak to us or move much. Does thee know what he would say if he could?”
“What?” the little girl asked.
“He would tell thee how happy he is to meet thee. He has wanted thy mother to bring thee home for a long time.”
Sarah Renee watched the grandmother a bit longer and then she joined her brother on the floor by the fire’s glow. Her simple block house became more elaborate with her brother’s help. He claimed two of the clothes-pin people and a story soon progressed, involving both children, using different voices for different characters. After Josiah was fed, Sarah Anne sat in her rocker and began knitting. Alfred sat on the settle in the shadows and Christiane and John relaxed at the table still, observing the children. The room quieted then except for the crackling flames and the children’s voices.
Pushing away concern about her marriage, Christiane drifted into a dreamlike state, no doubt her fatigue contributed to this.
“Christiane, I have prayed for this for years,” Sarah Anne murmured. “We are altogether at last. ‘Commit thy way unto the LORD; trust also in him; and he shall bring it to pass.'”
Christiane heard the words. Had this good woman’s prayers made the difference, brought this coming together? Glancing at her husband, Christiane found him looking at her. Without thinking, she smiled shyly. He looked directly at her and then nodded. What did that nod mean? She couldn’t find the strength, the courage to ask. Should she just let the matters flow? Or should she ask the question about the future that festered inside her? She couldn’t decide.
Soon it was time for bed. Drowsily Christiane roused herself to shepherd the children to bed. At the foot of the steps, she looked back and found John’s gaze on her again. What was he thinking? This husband of hers?
Sarah Anne’s prayers. Do you have someone praying for you? I know I do. What a blessing.–Lyn