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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-One Scene 2
Four chilling hard days of riding had come and gone for the quartet: Major Eastham, his man Alfred, and the Americans: Lieutenant Farnsworth and Sergeant Brown. They had travelled up the coast, stopping at Williamsburg to bank three hundred pounds sterling in the name of Sarah Renee Kruger. They had crossed the James and the York Rivers and then, starting at Middlesex County, the Rappahannock River became their guide. Finally they had reached the Potomac. The autumn was well into its prime. As they journeyed, the gold, scarlet, and brown leaves drifted onto their shoulders and fell to the brown earth around them.
It was a hostile party. John decided at the end of the first day that Washington had hand-picked the two men from the Continental Army that hated English nobility the most. Therefore, all communication was done grudgingly and in single syllables. As they rode, thoughts and feelings buzzed through the major’s mind and heart. He did not want to see Christiane, but he did want to see Christiane. A letter would have been preferable. All he wanted was to know the answers to two mysteries. What facts had she learned? And why had she left? The pain of her betrayal of him, though numbed by time, awoke and shredded his heart all over again. Still there was a fascination about seeing her, being near her again, that he could not deny.
Farnsworth dropped back and came alongside John. “Sir,” he managed to say in complete disrespect, “we will reach Mt. Vernon within the hour.”
The major nodded. Without conferring, they all quickened their pace.
It was mid-afternoon. Thoughts of hot tea and golden, buttered toast urged them on. They had passed a number of beautiful estates and had viewed with pleasure their stateliness and elegance, so the first glimpse of Mt. Vernon was no surprise. John thought of the many times he had heard his fellow officers disparage Americans as country bumpkins. He wondered what Cornwallis himself would say upon seeing Mt. Vernon.
They rode up to the house. Farnsworth dismounted and went quickly to the doors. He had barely touched it when the door opened. The old butler asked, “Yes, sir?”
“Lieutenant Farnsworth of the Continental Army with a communication from General Washington.”
“Very good, sir. Would you and your party come in please? Mrs. Washington will see you.” Grooms had already appeared. They took charge of the horses and directed the sergeant and Alfred to the kitchen. The major slid down and stretched his cramped leg muscles.
Suddenly a little girl popped out of the doorway. “Hello!” she called cheerfully. She looked up at Farnsworth who ignored her, so she skipped over to John. “Hello?” she repeated hopefully.
“Hello,” he replied absently, dusting himself with his hat, and then he looked down into her upturned face. The impact was so great that his knees became weak.
It was his mother’s portrait, alive and in miniature. He had never given any thought to Washington’s claim that his own daughter was at Mt. Vernon. He had deposited the cash at Williamsburg as a necessary payment to see Christiane. But a miracle had been granted him. Christiane had borne him a child. And so he would not doubt it, God had signed his name to her. Even a fool could not miss it.
“Mistress Sarah Renee, these gentlemen have come from the general. I am taking them to the parlor,” Breechy said gently.
“I’ll help,” she said. With that she reached up, took John’s hand. “Come along.”
Farnsworth went on ahead. Breechy and the major flanked the child on each side as they entered the house. John still could not speak, but he managed to keep pace with the bouncing, chattering little body beside him. They entered the parlor. “Gramma Martha! Gramma Martha! Company is here!”
The lady of the house sat on a sofa of ivory brocade. “Hello, gentlemen, welcome to Mt. Vernon.”
“Lady Washington,” Farnsworth displayed all the courtesy that he had withheld for the past four days. “I have a letter for you from General Washington.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. Please warm yourself by the fire.”
Major Eastham stood, holding Sarah’s hand. He pulled himself together, doffed his tri-corn hat, and bowed. “Allow me to introduce myself, madam. I am Major John Eastham of His Majesty’s Army.” With that, he handed her his letter of introduction.
If she were puzzled, she gave no outward sign. “Major, please make yourself comfortable.” She turned the butler, “Breechy, please ask to have tea served early. Sarah, why don’t you show Major Eastham what you learned today while I read my letter.” The lady motioned him to a place in an adjoining chair.
Sarah lifted a slate and chalk from Mrs. Washington’s lap. “I learned to write my name today,” the child reported shyly. “Want to see?”
Carefully she scraped S A R A H for him. “See? My name. Sarah. S.A.R.A.H.”
“Well done,” he said. Tentatively he brushed his hand down her dark straight hair, so like his own as a child. She looked up at him soberly, but did not pull away.
“That’s not all my name. I am Sarah Renee. I’ll learn that next time.”
“I’m sure you will.”
“Do you know any rhymes please?”
“Yes, Gramma Martha and my mother tell my rhymes.”
“Where is your mother?” The words nearly caught in his throat.
“Out riding Penny. Will you tell me a rhyme?”
“Would you like ‘Mary, Mary Quite Contrary’?”
“Yes.” So he began reciting nursery rhymes to this child, his child. He was surprised that they came back to mind so easily. How long had it been since he learned them at his nurse’s knee? He had never pictured himself reciting ditties to his own child and he was unexpectedly bathed in a warmth he had never known. I am a father. I have a daughter. What he had longed for suddenly was his.
Martha observed all this and then opened her letter.
3, November 1781
Something that neither you nor I had anticipated
has occurred. Sarah Renee’s father has come forward of
his own accord. You see before you Major John Eastham,
Sarah’s father in person. You can imagine my surprise
upon discovering that Christiane had been involved with
an English officer.
He came to find out where
Christiane was. Somehow he knew of our connection to
her. He was evasive about his relationship with
Christiane, but admitted to being on intimate terms
with her in Philadelphia over Christmas of 1777.
He also denied, at first, fathering her child
but, of course, the resemblance is unmistakable. He
finally agreed to assume responsibility for his child.
I have demanded that he make a sizable deposit in
Sarah’s name at a bank in Williamsburg. He will not be
conducted to you until he has done so.
He has also denied being married and has sworn
his oath as a gentleman that he is not. I wish to
believe him, but since Christiane and Sarah Renee’s futures
are at stake, I intend to make certain. I am going to
write to Will in London and ask him to investigate the
matter for us.
I only had a brief interview with this major. I
will leave to your good judgment whether or not an
alliance between them is advisable. If he does not
marry her, at least, he will have made provision for
The days go on, dearest. I only wish I could
personally conduct the major home to Mt. Vernon.
With truest affection,
When Martha was done, she carefully examined the major. Yes, the resemblance was striking. She went into deep thought all the while keeping the Englishman in view. Tea arrived.
John found it difficult to make small talk for all his attention was focused on his daughter. Her every movement, every word, every nuance was glorious to him.
Without warning, Christiane opened the door and stepped in.
Eastham recognized immediately the velvet riding habit that Lagneaux had designed for her in Philadelphia.
She was walking quickly, looking down while pulling off her riding gloves. “I am sorry. Breechy said tea is already served and that we have military company. I did not realized that I had stayed out so long.” She looked up and smiled.
“That is all right, my dear,” Mrs. Washington replied smoothly. “I had tea served a bit early.”
Lt. Farnsworth and Major Eastham rose.
Christiane’s smile was replaced by a look of pure shock. Her mouth opened and closed, but no words came. Finally one word became audible, “You.” It was filled with accusation and anger. “You.”
Mrs. Washington remained unruffled. “I believe that you and Major Eastham are already acquainted. This other gentleman is Lt. Farnsworth.” Farnsworth made his most elegant bow and was completely ignored.
Christiane’s mouth remained open and she trembled with emotion. She wanted to scream at John, strike him, but she could not move. Till suddenly she could stand to be near him no more. She whirled and left the room, her riding skirt billowing out behind her like the tail of a kite. Her footsteps clattered away on the polished wooden floors and steps. She rushed into her room and slammed the door. She leaned back against it, breathing in deep gasps. Icy drops sprang up on her forehead. Her heart raced.
He was here! In this house! In her haven! Her mind kept pace with her pounding heart. Forgotten memories, sensations gushed through her. How had he found her? Why had he come? Her head ached and she felt weak with anger, ill. She bent over the basin on her dressing table, thinking she might be sick. The waves of nausea finally passed and she lay down. She reached up and pulled the cord to summon her maid.
Dolly came in blithely and then stopped at the sight of her mistress. “Miss Christiane, you be sick?”
“Dolly, where is Sarah?” Christiane asked weakly.
“She still be having tea with the comp’ny.”
Christiane moaned slightly. “Dolly, go get Sarah and bring her to me.”
Dolly, wide-eyed, bobbed and hurried out.
Breechy entered the parlor. “Mrs. Washington? Dolly says that Miss Christiane is indisposed and that she would like her daughter to come to her.”
Mrs. Washington looked at John speculatively. “I will come myself, Breechy. Have Dolly take Sarah up to her room please.” The child pouted, but was led away.
“Major and Lieutenant, make yourselves at home. Breechy will provide anything you need.” She rose and the men rose politely. “There are usually only the three of us. Because of Sarah’s age dinner is at seven. Good day.” She walked out and went directly to Christiane’s room.
Christiane looked up from where she sat, crumpled on her bed. “Mrs. Washington–”
“Here. Read this,” Mrs. Washington answered, putting her husband’s letter in Christiane’s face.
“Read it.” She sat down. Her face was sober.
Christiane raised herself on one elbow and read the letter. She read it again. Finally she breathed one word, “Liar.”
The older woman sat calmly across from Christiane. “Are you so sure?”
“You do not know him as I do,” Christiane answered. Her mouth twisted into an unpretty smile. “He is an amazing actor.”
“Well, that may be true or it may be false. I have watched him with Sarah. He seems sincerely taken with her. Time will tell, I suppose.”
“What do you mean?” Christiane’s tone rose, shrill.
“The letter to Will. It takes time to get a letter to and from England. It may take Will some time to find out the truth. We must just be patient.”
Christiane handed back the letter without further comment, but her stormy expression said much.
So is John married or not? And the winner of Christine Lindsay’s Shadowed in Silk is Margie Mijares! Christine will contact you Margie and ask whether you want the book in electronic or print form.–Lyn