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La Belle Christiane
2011 Copyright by Lyn Cote
All rights reserved
Chapter Twenty-Three Scene 3
“Come thy tea is ready and I’ll slice thee bread and cheese.” Sarah Anne gathered them all around the big table. Two candles flickered atop pewter candlesticks. Heavy mugs of rich creamy tea awaited them, along with bread and cheese, and fresh butter in a dish.
“Now we can talk. When did thee receive my letter?” Sarah said as they all sat down.
“Nine, no ten days ago,” Christiane replied.
“Thee made good time then.”
“Sarah Anne, this is my husband, John Eastham.”
“Welcome, John,” the woman said warmly.
He bowed slightly where he sat. “Thank you, Mrs. Richardson.”
“Please call me Sarah Anne.”
“Thank you. I will,” he answered and helped himself to the food.
“And this is little Sarah Renee?” the woman asked.
“Yes, I’m Sarah Renee,” the little girl answered for herself. “Do you have any jam please?”
Sarah Anne chuckled. “No, but how about a sprinkle of sugar on thy butter bread?” The little girl nodded and ate happily.
Alfred and Samuel came in. “It is starting to drizzle,” Samuel said.
“Then thee arrived just in time. Christiane, what is thy friend’s name?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. This is Alfred. Alfred, this is Sarah Anne,” Christiane said.
“Come to the table, Alfred. Thy mug is waiting for thee.”
Alfred hesitated. His expression said that he had never broken the bounds of his propriety before.
“Come, Alfred,” Eastham ordered quietly. Alfred sat down uncertainly and gripped his mug.
“Help thyself to the bread and cheese,” his hostess offered.
“Thank you, ma’am,” Alfred murmured.
“Please call me Sarah Anne.” She smiled. “Christiane, John, this is our dear friend Samuel Thomas.” The man smiled and went back to the rocking chair near the fire. “Friends from meeting have been taking turns spending a day or night with me. I have not been alone since Josiah was struck.”
“How did it happen?” Christiane asked, hurting for her friends.
“He was out in the barn,” Sarah Anne replied matter-of-factly. “I expected him right back and when he didn’t come, I went out to see what was taking so long.”
“Has he improved any?” John went on.
“Can he speak?” John asked.
He nodded. “It may come back in time. I have known a few older people near my home that suffered strokes.”
Sarah Anne nodded. “Christiane did not let me know that she intended to marry.”
“I was just recently re-united with Christiane.”
Christiane spoke softly. “He is Sarah Renee’s father.”
“Well, the Lord be praised. My prayers are answered. Now both thy children will have a true family.” The woman smiled.
Christiane was touched. Her dear friend could rejoice for her even though Josiah lay ill.
“You talk odd,” Sarah Renee took time out between bites to say.
“No doubt I do sound odd to thee, little one, but soon thee will be accustomed to it,” the Quakeress answered, unruffled.
“Sarah Renee, do not speak in such a saucy way to your elders,” Christiane scolded.
“I am sorry, Mama.”
“You are forgiven,” the old Sarah said.
“We have the same name,” the little girl observed.
Christiane broke in, “Sarah Renee, you were named for Sarah Anne and another dear friend named Sarah.”
Christiane looked into Jean Claude’s eyes then. He had been watching her all the while. He was the same brown-eyed, dark-haired, beautiful child he had been three years before. Now he was so tall, a boy no longer a babe. His eyes were so serious that suddenly she smiled at him. “I am so happy to see you, my son.”
He nodded. Then he leaned over to Sarah Anne and whispered. “Thee must speak to thy mother thyself,” she instructed him.
“Does thee have any other children?” he asked shyly.
“No,” Christiane replied, “just you two.” She had not thought of his speaking as a Quaker. He seemed to want to say more, but all he did was look sideways at John. “Jean Claude, in all the rush of coming, I haven’t introduced you to your stepfather,” Christiane said, looking over into her son’s upturned face. “Sarah Anne explained to you that I was away because of the war, didn’t she?”
“Well, Sarah’s father was away because of the war, too. He had just come back to us right before we received your grandmother’s letter. Jean Claude, this is your stepfather, John Eastham.”
Reaching across the table, John offered his hand to the lad. The boy took it and shook it solemnly. “Jean Claude,” John asked, “what would you like to call me?”
Christiane was surprised by the question, but kept still.
The lad thought awhile. “What does she call thee?” he asked, pointing to his sister.
“I call him father,” Sarah Renee piped up.
“My father is dead,” Jean Claude said quietly.
“Jean Claude, when I married your mother, I became your father by law,” Eastham said.
The boy looked up at his stepfather’s face. “Thee are my father, too, then?”
“Then I will call thee father. If thee are my father, it wouldn’t be proper to call thee, John.”
“That will be fine, son.” The two nodded and smiled at each other. Christiane sent her husband a timid look of gratitude.
“Are thee all filled?” Sarah Anne asked. “I have some raisin cake a friend brought this morning. Shall we have some now?”
“Goody!” Sarah Renee clapped her hands. “Do you like cake, brother?”
“Of course,” he said, looking as though it were a silly question.
The squares of the rich brown cake were meted out. Christiane accepted more tea and began to relax. The homecoming had been more satisfying than she had dared to hope and now the fatigue of the day was making her drowsy. She let the conversation flow around her. Finally she roused herself as Sarah Anne urged everyone to bed. Soon she found herself in the old couple’s bedroom upstairs, alone with her husband. Sarah Anne preferred to sleep on a cot near her husband and she had sent them up together with a cheery goodnight.
The candle flickered as they gingerly undressed and wordlessly took their places in bed. The candle was snuffed and she lay staring into the dark. Her thoughts tumbled around in her mind. Gratitude for being with Jean Claude almost swept her into glad tears.
But concern over the Richardson’s troubled her. How long would she be able to stay and help them? They had given to her so freely. She wanted to repay them, had to. But everything hinged on the man beside her. He had been kind, but how deeply would these concerns weigh with him? And most of all how could she become his wife in reality? She sighed. Her body ached with fatigue.
“Good night,” he said politely.
“Good night, my lord,” she murmured. At this a small teardrop wet her eye. When, how could she break through his polite kindness?
My face is RED! I didn’t realize until I read Margie’s Friday comment that I had repeated one scene. Too embarrassing. My apologies. However, this is the last scene of the second to last chapter. Wednesday we begin THE END!-Lyn