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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-One Scene 3
Down in the stable the major was standing silently by Penny. He had come down to stretch his legs and be among plainer, more comforting surroundings. But seeing the horse he’d given Christiane had affected him.
“That’s Mother’s Penny. Isn’t she pretty?” Sarah had slipped in unheard.
“Yes.” He looked down at her and then stroked the nose of the horse he had taken so much time in choosing those years before. “Are you supposed to be down here?”
“Dolly said I could go out a little.”
“I see.” A pause.
“What?” he responded.
“Mama says I can have a pony when I’m six.”
She nodded very seriously.
“Will you like that?”
“Yes.” They looked at each other solemnly a long moment. Suddenly the little girl smiled. “Want to see something special?”
“My hiding place.”
He nodded and smiled in return. She held out her hand. He took it gently and she led him out.
Seven p.m. arrived. Christiane sat at her vanity. She still felt head-achy and slightly sick. How could she eat a meal with him? If she were a man, she would call him out and shoot him. She crumpled another handkerchief. At first she had agreed to dine with him only because Mrs. Washington had insisted. Did Christiane want the Englishman to know how much he upset her, her friend had reasoned. Finally Christiane had decided she wanted to have a chance to tell him exactly what she thought of him. With this in mind, Christiane peered once again into her mother’s jewel chest.
Dolly had dressed her heavy, chestnut hair to perfection. Long curls teased their way down the sides of her neck and onto her bare shoulders. She was wearing her best gown, one of deep brown satin and wide creamy lace. The rubies or the pearls, which? Finally she chose the long rope of white pearls and twisted them into a triplet. She would show him she did not need to accept pearls from him. Then she added the extravagant matching earbobs. Critically she looked down into the small mirror. The pearls glowed against her skin, accentuating it and the lace. She rose and for a moment she tried to imagine herself at Versailles being presented at court as she would have been if she had not fled to America. She would make him regret losing her. That would be her revenge.
Gracefully Christiane glided down the candlelit hall and staircase. Though it was just seven, stern autumn had already put away the sun for the night. She thought for a moment of her afternoon ride, all the crumpled auburn leaves she had raced over. Another winter coming. This Christmas she would turn twenty-two. The first time she had met the major she had only been fifteen. What a contrast between these two meetings–a rude frontier fort and a gracious dining room on a Virginia estate. She lifted her chin and stepped into the parlor.
John and Sarah Renee sat comfortably, side by side, in front of a large fire. This irritated Christiane immediately, but she pushed the emotion down. There would be no scene. She acknowledged the men as they rose, “Good evening.”
The major held Sarah’s hand and allowed himself to take in all her mother’s loveliness before he spoke, “Good evening, Christiane.”
His familiarity in addressing her by first name infuriated her, but she only smiled glacially and turned to the lieutenant.
“Good evening, madam,” he said over-politely and bowed over her hand. She allowed herself to be seated beside Farnsworth and though they made the effort of conversation, her eyes never left her daughter, who in turn never left the major’s side.
Mrs. Washington entered and soon Breechy summoned them to dinner. In the little dining room on the main floor the cozy table was set for five. The room was striking with its sea green walls and ornate mantel. Mrs. Washington was helped to her seat by John. At her request he took the seat to her right and helped Sarah up into the chair next to his. Farnsworth seated Christiane and sat to Mrs. Washington’s left. The meal began.
Christiane ate, but did not taste. She nodded and smiled to those who spoke to her, but she did not really follow the conversation. How dare he sit there and smile at her? Finally the ordeal ended. The major and lieutenant rose. Little Sarah then went reluctantly with Dolly off to bed.
“I think I will take my wine with me,” Mrs. Washington said and took Farnsworth away with her much against the usual custom of leaving the men to enjoy the wine alone.
In brittle silence, Christiane and the major moved uncomfortably to Windsor chairs opposite each other near the fireplace. “Why are you here?’ Christiane opened without introduction.
“To find out why you left me.”
“That should have been obvious. I read the general’s letter. Why are you continuing your pose of being unmarried?”
“I am unmarried.”
He raised one eyebrow. “I am not married. I told you that Mary Ann died before I left for Canada. How did you ever come to such an erroneous conclusion?”
His calm tone grated on her. She frowned deeply.
“That last morning in Philadelphia,” she began. “I prepared to go riding, but I forgot my gloves. So I came upstairs to our room. I went behind the dressing screen to find them. While I was hidden there, Alfred came in with a friend.” She stopped and looked him straight in the eyes. “They were joking about my not knowing about your wife and child in London.” There was complete silence then. “Don’t you have any quick answer, my lord?” she asked in bitter sarcasm.
A look of deep distress had come to the major’s face.
She took it as a sign of guilt. “Did you think you could keep it from me forever? Or did you plan to tell me when the marriage never took place? Or would you have married me falsely and never let me know?” Her voice shook, “What really makes me angry is that you would have let me bring Jean Claude along. You would have let him call you father, knowing it was a lie. How could you have been so selfish?”
He raised his eyes to hers. “Now I begin to understand,” he said slowly.
“The truth cannot be denied.”
“No, but it can be obscured by a lie. I see now that there is no such thing as a harmless lie. For this one has wounded us and our child.”
“You admit it then?” she asked very near to tears.
“No, I do not. I am unmarried.” He looked at her speculatively. “Why didn’t you come to me and confront me?”
“You were in that meeting.”
“Yes, I remember. But you mean you left on the strength of one idle comment you overheard?” His tone accused her and she hated him for it.
“You have your nerve questioning me,” she declared.
“Answer my question.”
She was stung by his attack. He dared berate her as though she had not loved him. How dare he? “I will answer, but only because I want you to know that you are not fooling me. I could not believe it at first, so I went to Mrs. Loring.”
“Mrs. Loring?” His voice was incredulous.
“Yes, can you think of anyone else who would know more than that gossip?”
“No, but I would not deem her a reliable source. Why would you?”
“Your attitude is beyond my comprehension. What does it matter who I asked? If you remember, the day was quite unusual. You and Lord Hazelton were both in that meeting and then Lieutenant Hansen, that double agent, appeared before my eyes in the yard. I could not stay once I had seen what he was.”
“I remember the day well, Christiane. Why did you flee when you saw Hansen, as you call him? Why didn’t you wait? Didn’t you have enough faith in me to know that I would have protected you no matter what?”
Her mouth gaped in rage as she struggled with herself. She would scream if he persisted in this manner. At last she mastered herself, but in a venomous voice she accused him, “You are married. Why don’t you just admit it instead of trying to put the blame on me? I was willing to turn my back on my ideals, my friends, everything, all for you! I loved you and you used me. Admit it for once and be a man.”
His face was grim. “I am deeply sorry for the pain you have suffered, but I never wished to cause you hurt.”
Trembling, she kept her eyes down and would not look at him.
“Now I will explain what you heard Alfred say. When the Revolution began, I asked for a transfer to a combat post. When I arrived, the army was already in New York. It became apparent as we stayed there that the worthy matrons of the city were husband-hunting among the staff. At the time–as you know–I did not desire the company of women. The usual precautions did not work, however, especially with one family. This mother and daughter were more than persistent. So I had a friend drop the word that I was married with a daughter in London. This did the trick and it became a popular jest among the officers. Now do you see what I mean about there being no such thing as a harmless lie?”
“I don’t believe you.” She turned her back to him.
“I am not married, Christiane. I have no proof yet, but I am not married. I told you only the truth in Philadelphia.”
“Really, my lord?” She whirled around to face him. “Sarah Renee is my proof that you lied. I did not want to believe at first that you had misrepresented yourself. I left not only to protect myself from suspicion, but also you. How does it look for an English major to be intimate with the companion of the enemy general’s wife? But later when I realized my condition, I had no choice but to acknowledge your treachery. I suppose you have an explanation for how a man unable to father children got me with child?” She dared him with her flashing eyes.
“I can only say that it was a miracle, a once-in-a-lifetime boon from the Divine. And I can only thank Him and you for my daughter.”
“She is my daughter. You have no legal right to her.”
“I will when we marry.”
Her mouth dropped open. “Marry? Why do you persist in this charade? I will never marry you.”
“Yes, you will. I will prove that I am telling you the truth and we will marry.”
“General Washington has already called your bluff.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“The general has written to his friend in London and asked that he find out the truth.” She sneered smugly. “By spring the truth of your falsehood will find you out.”
“Christiane, I am sorry that you feel that way. I regret not being with you when you needed me, but you are wrong. My innocence will be proved come spring. And come spring you will marry me. Even if you still despise me as you seem to, you will marry me for Sarah’s sake. And whatever my feelings may be, I will marry you because my only child will not be a bastard, but my legitimate heir.”
Oh, she wished she had her riding crop! How she wished to strike him for his pompous insincerity! She could stand no more and swept from the room. She could hear his footsteps following her and then they stopped. She continued down the hall and up the staircase. The gall of the man.
The course of true love never ran smooth–is that true or not?–Lyn