La Belle Christiane
By Lyn Cote
All rights reserved.
Chapter Two, Scene Three
The April day had started with a cool, gray dawn. But now Christiane felt a tiny thread of perspiration trickle down her back. Just as the weather had changed unexpectedly so had the day in the little village. The pastor from Oriskany had arrived to marry a young couple and the whole village of Rumsveld had turned out for the afternoon ceremony, performed on the village green.
Christiane shifted Jean Claude from her right hip to her left. Sarah leaned over and took him. Christiane smiled her thanks. Across from her stood Jakob. Ever since the afternoon Jakob had told her his story, they’d tried to behave normally in each other’s presence. But they had not fooled Sarah who was even now glancing back and forth between the two of them. And Christiane herself was having trouble keeping her eyes from straying to Jakob.
He would have drawn looks anywhere with his dark blond hair tightly pulled back into a club at the base of his neck, his broad shoulders, the smooth line of back. His tanned face and neck stood out in contrast to his white dress shirt and he exuded strength and vitality. But most of all, he’d opened his life like a book and shared it with her. She couldn’t prevent him from leaving soon. But how could she just let him go?
The wedding ceremony ended with the bashful groom kissing his bride. Then several men came up, pulled the groom away. Before long, he was being tossed up in a blanket to the sound of hurrahs. The bride was also taken prisoner, surrounded by the women who sang a silly song about love and courting that Christiane had never heard. Then the men let down the breathless and rumpled groom from the blanket. Twin brothers brought out fiddles and couples formed the circles and squares for dancing.
The impromptu wedding party amazed Christiane. She had never been to a frontier gathering and she could not seem to take it all in. Years before in Paris she had been allowed to make appearances at the beginning of her grandmother’s balls, partly to show off the next Pelletier and partly to accustom her from childhood to perform at such festivities. So a party to her meant the sedate music of the minuet and the cultured behavior of noble guests. This was nothing like those affairs. The unabashed gaiety of the dancers here was in complete contrast to the highborn pose of boredom.
She took a seat in the shade of a group of elms, the gathering spot for the grandmother’s and the babies. Smiles and nods greeted her and Sarah. When she sat down, Jean Claude whimpered and began falling asleep.
As she watched the dancing, Jakob slipped away and went to the far side of a nearby barn. Why he was going there? As though to answer her unspoken question, Sarah murmured, “The men are passing the jug over there. They will want to congratulate the groom and toast him, do ya see?” Christiane nodded and listened to the flow of women’s chatter. Then Jakob was in front of her.
Smiling with mischief, Sarah lifted the sleeping Jean Claude from Christiane’s arms and shooed her away. “Go have fun. Dance while you can.” Christiane took Jakob’s outstretched hand hesitantly. Could she dance with Jakob as if he weren’t leaving on the morrow?
Jakob led her through the steps of the rollicking dance. As the gaiety around them mounted, he looked more and more pensive. His story had connected them in this indefinable way and continued to heighten, sharpen her awareness, her attraction to him. Through all the reels, the rasp of his rough hands on her palm, arm, and waist intensified the same sensation as though her flesh were reaching for him. Just the same as the last time he’d touched her.
Tom and others claimed her for dances too. But always she could feel Jakob’s gaze on her, marking her, keeping her blood running warm and liquid through her veins. Finally the coolness of dusk crept upon the celebrants. At the end of a dance, Jakob whispered, “Be ready to follow my lead.”
He drew her away into the shadows. When they reached the cover of a thicket, Jakob turned and gathered her into his arms. As if she’d waited for this for days, she buried her face against his throat. “Jakob,” she whispered, her voice quavering.
“Marry me,” he murmured, fanning her with his warm breath. “Marry me, Christiane.”
He smothered her caution with a reckless kiss. Then he lifted his lips the barest fraction. “Marry me.”
“But you’ll be leaving–”
“I come back in winter. Maybe the war be over by fall–”
“Marry me, Christiane.” He prevented her reply with his lips.
Crushed against his unrelenting strength, she was tempted with a promise of fullness she’d never experienced. Her heart had never pounded like this when her late husband had embraced her, coaxed her. It was as though she were held together with tight wire springs, and Jakob’s touch, kisses, loosened the spirals that held her together. She felt if he did not stop, she might come apart.
His kiss drew all that remained of her denial. “Yes,” she gasped, “yes.”
Then she became a channel for warm, lush currents and she clung to him, her only solid anchor. The lush night sounds, the distant music, the scent of the pine, the filmy light from the moon over them became a part of them as Jakob held her close and whispered his love. She sighed. He kissed her deftly, leisurely, fully.
“Now we find the parson,” he said at last.
She answered with a tender smile. He pulled her with him through the dusky shadows. He’d lulled her doubts but with each step, they flew up like sparks. Jakob was leaving for war tomorrow. She’d accepted that. What she couldn’t accept, what froze her to her marrow, was a fresh spurt petrifying dread. Soldiers could die. Would she end up being Jakob’s widow too?