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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-Four Scene 4
The rest of the day flowed by Christiane. She went through the motions of planting, cooking supper, bathing her daughter, and putting her children to bed. All the while her mind chewed on the experience of the afternoon.
Finally she sat in her night dress on her side of their bed. Staring out the moonlit window across from her, she stroked her hair with her ivory-handled brush. Over and over again Sarah Anne’s words went through her mind, intensifying Christiane’s agitation, the tension she guarded from view.
Her husband came in and quietly closed the door. “Jean Claude is really doing well with his reading,” he commented as he sat down with his back to her to take off his shoes.
Christiane made an interested noise and surreptitiously massaged the worsening ache over her heart.
He continued to talk idly about the evening’s reading lesson while she continued to brush her hair, dealing with her confusion. At last the candle was snuffed and the bed dipped as he lay down. “Good night, ma’am,” he bid her civilly.
Something in his matter-of-fact tone sliced her in two. Unexpectedly tears threatened. She popped up and stepped to the window, trying to conceal her distress. Why was she crying? Why would a child’s quarrel upset her so?
“Is there somewhat the matter?” he asked quietly.
She shook her head.
There followed a deceptive calm then as Christiane stood in the moonlight pooling by the window, clutching the sill. Her tears refused to be denied. She struggled to remain silent. She was at a loss as to what to do. She could not got to bed. Her trembling would give her away. She could not go downstairs and disturb Sarah Anne, so she stood, gripping the sill, swallowing tears.
“Something is wrong.” John had come up behind her and his voice startled her. “You are trembling. What is it?”
“I don’t know,” she gasped miserably, “I can’t seem to stop crying.”
Gingerly from behind, he put one hand on each of her arms.
Christiane looked up at him over her shoulder. Tears obscured her vision, but his look of concern melted her resistance. She knew why she was crying. She wanted him to love her again as he had in Philadelphia. “It’s all my fault,” she blurted out and then wept harder, more hopelessly.
He tightened his grip on her arms and pulled her back against him. He could feel her soft hair against his chin. How he had missed her softness against him. “What do you mean?”
“I spoiled everything. You loved me and I spoiled it.” She was too upset to care what she said.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t want to be treated like a guest. I want to be a real wife.” Then she gasped and her tears abruptly ended .
John held her arms still and felt her lean back against him. Her distress made him bold. “And what prevents you from being a real wife?”
“You don’t want me,” she said plaintively.
“Who told you that? You are the one who said you hated me.”
“I know. It was awful of me. I have regretted saying those words a thousand times.” She wiped her tears with her trembling fingertips.
“Yes,” she said miserably, rubbing the ache over her heart.
John had kept his distance as well as he could. He’d wondered in the weeks since their marriage, if her heart had softened. He’d told himself that he would be content with peace and harmony with his wife, a quiet home for him and their child. But was that really true or had he just made himself believe it? She was his wife, his legal wife. But he’d wanted more, but had hesitated.
Hope bobbing up within, he squeezed her arms gently and let his face dip into her luxuriant hair. Deeply he inhaled the natural scent of her with that hint of lavender. With satisfaction he felt his body tighten with desire. He felt again the wonder that being near her. Of course he wanted to make love to her. Whispering her name, he placed small kisses down the side of her neck, pushing back her hair with his lips. His arms went around her possessively. This is my wife.
She rotated within his embrace and pressed herself against him, encircling him with her arms. “Oh,” she breathed.
Their lips met in a kiss of reunion, gentle at first but then through it, they pitched headlong into passion. He pulled her more tightly to him. How had he waited this long to hold her? The desire to make love to her was pushing him to his point of no return. “Christiane, please.” The words were wrenched from him.
A sharp intake of air nearly choked him.
“Stop,” she finished.
He swung her into his arms onto their bed, exultant. She smiled up at him. He pushed her back against the large feather pillows. She threw her arms around him, tugging him down to her. The urgency of wanting her–completely–overwhelmed him. I love you, Christiane. He bent his head to her soft skin….
Afterward, they lay against one another, replete and tangled in the sheets. Burying his face in the crook of her neck, he gloried once more in the softness of her. “Nothing separates us now, wife. And never will again.”
She kissed his ear. “I behaved terribly to you at Mt. Vernon and Philadelphia.” Her low voice curled through him. “How can you forgive me?”
“We will put the past away and forget it.” He kissed her palms, one and then the other.
“I love you so,” she murmured, “I just wish…,” she stopped, suddenly afraid her careless words might spoil this reconciliation, this closeness.
“What is it?” he asked, looking up.
“Nothing. Nothing.” She looked away, hiding from him.
“I think something. Christiane, tell me. I promise I will not be angry.” He placed small kisses along her hairline, coaxing her to the truth.
She hesitated, then she looked up at him sadly. “I just wish things could stay the way they are.”
“What do you mean?”
“Easthaven,” she whispered, her eyes downcast, her heart wrenched.
So they’d come to the heart of the matter. At last. “Christiane,” he began quietly, “you forget I have been in America almost ten years myself. I am afraid I would be a foreigner on the streets of London now. When I left England, I was merely escaping sad memories, guilt and my father. But now I don’t know. It is odd how one’s thinking can change.
“Five years completely on my own at that frontier fort did have its effect. I didn’t even realize it till I was in New York City, rubbing elbows with the newly arrived London officers. Their conversations held no interest for me and their attitudes at the time irritated me. They were so ‘superior’ to these gauche colonials. They held even colonial loyalists in disdain as though they were not Englishmen too. And the other officers did not have the manners to hide their prejudices. Though I hadn’t realized it, I had begun to give more weight to what a man did than to his family connections. I felt out of place.”
“But you stayed?” She hazarded a glance.
“Because I was an officer in His Majesty’s Army and was loyal to my king.” He tucked her against him and she lay her head on his shoulder. “I understood the rebel viewpoint, but I had my duty to perform.” A long pause ensued while he considered his words. “No matter where I live I will always be what I am, but in the future I do not feel I will be out-of-place in America.”
He went on as though she had not spoken. “The problem with my staying here now though is that technically I am still the enemy.”
“No one here seems to care.”
“They don’t really know, do they?” Her soft hair against his shoulder–glorious. “We are living in a somewhat closed community. The Quakers have taken no part in this terrible conflict, so their desire for revenge has not been raised. If we ventured out among the concerned populace, our welcome would be mixed. Some would welcome a former British major; others would welcome a chance to even scores. The tide has turned to the Americans now because of Yorktown, but the peace is not official. For now we are safe here, but we must plan our movements and future carefully for the next few years.”
“You mean then that you actually intend for us to settle in America?” she asked in astonishment.
“Of course, what did you think?”
“Of course, what did you think?” she echoed him in disbelief. “I expected to have to go live at Easthaven.”
“But I told you I did not want to go there while my father lives.”
“I know, but he won’t live forever. I thought it was just a matter of time.”
“No, it isn’t.” His tone was subdued. “Neither of us is the same person we were in Europe or at that little fort in Canada. Or even the same as we were in Philadelphia. The two of us will have to make a life together that will suit the both of us. Frankly I welcome being on a different continent. All my life I had to please my father and worry about what the county or London society would think. Well, no more. I don’t want our children put under such pressure. Do you understand?”
“Completely, and we must stay here as long as the Richardson’s have need of us.”
“Yes, our debt to them will be paid.”
Christiane pulled his face to hers and kissed him in thanks.
“Thank you, ma’am,” he murmured as he kissed her hair. “Your hair smells of lavender.”
“Of course. I have always favored that scent ever since–”
“Ever since what?”
“Ever since an English captain in a fort on the Ottawa River gave me a bar of lavender soap.”
He looked down into her eyes. “Fate does not often give a person a second chance.”
“We have had more than two. And Sarah Anne would say providence, not fate I think.”
Christiane thought of all the years, all she’d survived since she had left France. What a long and grueling journey. She felt wrung out, just remembering. “I’ve lived many lives since then.”
He traced the line of her jaw with his index finger, sending shivers through her, and then encouraged her with a look.
“I’ve always been searching for….” She fell silent, gathering her thoughts. The time to speak of what was of importance had arrived. “I left for Canada because I didn’t want to live my mother’s life–one of excess and appearances and greed. I wanted to genuinely love and settle down with one man who loved me–not care who I was at court, not what influence I could offer.”
“That’s not so strange.” He stroked her cheek.
She bent her face into his palm, reveling in his touch. “Perhaps. Good men have loved me. Jean Claude. Jakob.” She decided to omit the man she’d been engaged to when she’d fallen in love completely with John in Philadelphia, but Henry Lee had been a good man too. “But there was no peace, no settling down.”
“That’s certainly true. No peace on the frontier. No peace during a war.”
“When Jean Claude was only two, I returned here but then I left this house. That’s when we met again.” She quieted again, unsure of her words, of what was trying to come to her lips.
“I can’t regret you coming to Philadelphia.” He kissed her cheek.
Christiane nodded, leaning her forehead against his. “I can’t either. We didn’t do things in their proper order. But if we had, I don’t know how it would have turned out–our leaving for Bermuda. Maybe we had to be parted to come to this point. I have confessed my sin which led to Sarah Renee’s being born illegitimate. But forgiveness seems too much to ask, to accept. And do I deserve this happiness, to finally make a family with you?”
“Instead of denying what we’ve been blessed with, why don’t we just accept it?” He kissed her forehead, her eyebrows, one then the other. “We’ve wandered in the wilderness, fought a war. Can’t the hard times end? These past weeks I’ve pondered all that brought me, us to this place of peace. I have a family of my own at last. I don’t deserve it, but I’m going to accept it. I’ve seen too many men die. I’m not going to waste today because of how we arrived here.”
Christiane closed her eyes, resting her face against his. “Sarah Anne would probably agree. So, unworthy as I am, I will love you and live with you and be grateful to God.”
“As I will.” They clasped hands as if renewing their sacred vows. “Christiane. I will never let you out of my life again.”
She tried to answer, but his kisses smothered her words, so she responded in kind, giving herself up to the feelings, the emotions claiming her. This night and all the other nights they were given, she would no longer let anything separate her from her husband. As he caressed her, she rejoiced, praising God as she responded to her husband, the man who had loved her in spite of what she had done and said. I don’t deserve this, but thank you, God.
So the longed for reunion, reconciliation has finally come. On Friday, I will post the Epilogue which will show John and Christiane a year from now. Did you find this ending satisfying–why or why not? I really want to know!
If you’ve been reading this original manuscript, I’d really like to hear from you. Please leave a comment. I would definitely appreciate hearing from you!–Lyn