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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-Four Scene 3
A week passed and the weather improved and so did their life at Meadow Farm. John hired a laundress and day maid to lighten his wife’s load. Content to cook and mind her children, Christiane welcome the hired help and the easing of her work. Also Sarah Anne let John take over the details of renting out the farm land for the year. A stable boy was added and helped out with the many outside chores. They all had settled into a homey pattern together. But every night, Christiane still lay on her side of the featherbed and John kept to the other side.
Today the time for planting the kitchen garden had arrived. They stood together by the recently plowed plot. At the idea of someone else planting her own garden, Sarah Anne had been shocked, so they had decided to please her and do it themselves. The children, of course, were excited. And Sarah Renee had been excused from her daily nap to join in the planting.
“Children,” Christiane instructed, recalling her own days of planting corn with Jakob, “come here. You two will take care of planting the corn hills. Here is the measuring stick. Use it to space your hills. Remember, three kernels to a hill.” The two scrambled off to their section of rows. Sarah Anne, are you sure you want to plant the potatoes?”
“Oh, aye, if I do not share in the planting, how can I share in the joy of the growing? Besides the potatoes are perfect for me. I make the holes with this old broom handle, drop the eye in, and move the dirt with my toe and step on it. I have done it this way many years now.”
“Very well. You know best,” Christiane said. “I will do the peas. Alfred, will you see to the pumpkins?”
“Very good, ma’am,” he said grimly. He accepted the sack of seeds from her.
“And what do I get to plant?” her husband inquired.
“Do you really want to?”
“Of course, shall I lounge around while the rest of you labor?”
She shook her head, but smiled a bit. “Here are the turnips then, sir,” she said lightly, “will that suit you?”
Christiane bent to the task of dropping peas in at intervals down the row nearest the fence. The vines would climb it and blossoms would decorate it. The smell and feel of the earth cast her thoughts back to Rumsveld and Jakob.
Then the sound of her children’s angry voices snapped her back to the present. She looked up just in time to see Jean Claude push Sarah Renee down onto the black earth. “Jean Claude!”
John strode over the furrows to the quarrelers, Christiane in his wake. “Now what is the problem, young man?” he demanded in a military tone.
Not intimidated, Jean Claude looked up defiantly, his hands on his hips. “She won’t do it right! She keeps putting too many kernels in.”
“I am not!” the girl yelled back. She jumped up and charged her brother. He stepped out of the way and she fell forward onto her stomach. This caused more screams of frustration.
“Now stop this,” Christiane ordered. She picked up the struggling child and shook her firmly. “Someone needs a nap.”
“No, I don’t!” Sarah Renee shrilled and began to cry.
“Baby,” Jean Claude spat out.
Without a word John reached over and picked up his daughter and carried her, still fussing, toward the house.
Christiane turned to Jean Claude. “I do not ever want to see you push your sister down again. Do you hear me?”
“But, Mother, she–”
“Don’t ‘but mother me!’ If she is doing wrong, come and tell me or your father. We will take care of it.” He looked disgruntled, but nodded. “Now go back to your planting.”
She stood for a moment then. Should she follow John in? No, it would be best to wait and see if he appealed for help. She went back to her row of peas. Mechanically she began dropping peas again, but her frown deepened. The children had seemed to get along so well.
At last her husband appeared by her side. “She was really over-tired,” he said softly. “It took me a while to get her settled down.”
“Do you think that was the cause?” Christiane asked.
“A little,” Sarah Anne interrupted. She had come close to them. They turned to look at her. “The two of thee look overly concerned.”
“But, Sarah, he pushed her down,” Christiane countered.
“I know. It is a common thing for a lad to do to his sister,” the older woman said with a wry smile. “I had six brothers so I should know. And if you expect them to always obey you, you should leave that idea behind.”
The younger couple digested this in silence.
Suddenly John smiled. “Ah,” he said, “I see what you mean.”
“Well, I do not,” Christiane said firmly, but quietly not wanting her son to hear.
“Oh, Christiane, it is a simple matter,” Sarah said. “Today Sarah and Jean Claude became brother and sister indeed.”
“By quarreling?” she asked. This exchange was unexpectedly pinching her, digging in deeply to her emotions. Why?
“One doesn’t argue with a guest, does one?” John pointed out.
Christiane absorbed this like a blow to her mid-section. When would she and John put away their painful polite civility? When would they stop behaving as if they were new acquaintances at a party?
“Aye, Christiane, rejoice. They trust one another enough now to show their true feelings,” Sarah Anne chuckled and then turned back to her potato rows.
Christiane mulled this over, trying to keep her marked reaction hidden. The planting resumed in a weighty silence.
So the honeymoon between sister and brother has ended. One more bridge must be crossed. One more scene to go!–Lyn