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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty Scene 5
The men were leaving for the war again. On the steps of Mt. Vernon, Mrs. Washington, Christiane, and Sarah Renee had watched them ride away. Far down the lane General Washington paused and turned for one more look back at his home. He waved again and Martha returned it. Then he was gone around the bend. At that moment Christiane asked herself the same question he must have asked himself. Would it be another six years before he saw home again? And more importantly would he finally come home victorious or defeated?
The women stood a long time. At last they could not even detect the dust from the leaving party. The butler, housekeeper, and other servants appeared and waited, obviously to be of comfort. “Christiane, I believe I will visit the cabins today. I have been so busy that I have neglected them. Oney,” the lady addressed her maid, “go fetch my herb basket please.”
“I want to go, too,” Sarah stated.
“If your mother agrees.”
Sarah turned to Christiane, silently asking permission.
Christiane nodded absently. “Yes, go ahead. Be a help, not a hindrance.” Christiane turned and went in, wandering into the quiet west parlor. The past four days had been so hectic that she had had little time to think about the import of her grandmother’s gift.
She stood beside the ivory-brocaded draperies and light blue walls and looked out at the green and amber hills behind the manor. What to do about her future? She now had the wherewithal to proceed with her life, but what was her life destination? All the jewels in the world could not buy her what she really wanted–Sarah’s legitimacy. Only one man in the world, the major, could give Sarah that and, since he was already married it was even beyond his power.
The door behind her opened. “Mr. Evan Marsh,” Breechy announced and then withdrew.
She turned, hiding a frown. “Good morning, Mr. Marsh.”
“Good morning, Mrs. Kruger.”
“Mrs. Washington is making her rounds of the cabins.”
“So I was told. But it does not matter since it is you I came to see.”
“Oh?” She was surprised and then wary. “Would you be seated please?”
“Thank you.” They sat across from the cold hearth on matching brocaded chairs. He looked up at her face and studied it carefully. She took his interest calmly, waiting for him to start the conversation.
Finally he spoke, “Madam, I will state my purpose in coming directly. I believe the time has come for me to ask you to marry me.”
Her mouth opened slightly.
“Do not feign surprise. I believe that I have made no real secret of my interest in you.”
“Yes, but we have never really–”
“Behaved like sweethearts? No, we have not. The situation has been an unusual one. I, for one, did not entertain the idea of marrying again till the past year or so. I was content merely to watch you. I expected you to rouse yourself and be off about your life. But you have cut yourself off from society and I know that the only reasons that you allowed me to become acquainted with you is that I called often and was an old widower, one who could not be tainted by association with a ‘scarlet woman’.”
She pursed her lips. “It is nothing to be made light of.”
“Why not? You made a mistake. You became pregnant out of wedlock and gave birth to a very beautiful child. It is a very old plot. Don’t you realize that it is only because you are a woman that society is shocked?”
“It does not matter whether others have done it or not,” she answered soberly. “And it does not matter whether I am male or female. I did wrong and my Sarah will pay for it.”
He looked at her searchingly. “You have always shown yourself a clear-minded woman. I like that. You say that little Sarah will pay. Well, she need not. I will be frank. I am a wealthy man. My first wife died barren. I have no living relatives, save a few distant cousins in England. Marry me. I will adopt Sarah and raise her as my daughter. I am forty-nine years old which makes me about thirty years older than you. I could live another twenty years. I could die tomorrow. I would be a considerate husband and an affectionate father. You have all to gain and naught to lose.”
She returned his frank look. She had known of his interest in her and wondered what outlet it would take. “May I be frank also?”
She looked him straight in the eye. She had not wanted to open this whole subject. But she would tell him what she thought. Perhaps her frankness would discourage him. “Thank you for not asking me to be your mistress. I wondered if you would.”
He smiled wryly. “Would you have accepted?”
“No,” she replied, not amused.
“Will you marry me then?”
She paused. “No, your proposal is generous and makes excellent sense, but no. I thank you, but I cannot.”
“Why?” He lifted an eyebrow.
“Because once before I accepted a marriage proposal because it was convenient and advantageous. I have made mistakes, but I refuse to repeat them.”
“You believe then it’s wrong to marry me merely because it would be a wise decision?” He lifted one eyebrow. “You believe in marrying only for love?”
“Don’t make it sound ridiculous. Marriage is more than a business relationship, more than a weighing of credits versus debits. More clearly I cannot put my reasoning. But would it be right for me to say: Evan Marsh is a good catch, so I better snare him while I can.”
He laughed loudly. “I love your honesty. Frankly it is what attracted me to you first. Well, I will accept your ‘no’ for the time being, but the offer will remain open.”
“I wish you would not. I doubt I will change my mind.”
“And I believe you may in time. And I have time. Leah has been gone almost four years. At first the county widows pursued me, but they have all given up, thank God. So I will bide my time and see if you will reconsider.”
“Very well, suit yourself, Mr. Marsh. I believe, you will anyway.”
“That’s true, but I will ask you one favor.”
“I would like you to call me Evan.”
She looked up at him. This whole exchange had been impertinent in her eyes and she wanted to put it at an end. She had no intention of marrying Mr. Evan Marsh. Suddenly feeling saucy, she stood up. “Very well, Evan. Good day, Evan.” And with perfect posture and grace walked out of the room. His amused laughter echoed behind her.
I like Evan. How about you?–Lyn