La Belle Christiane
By Lyn Cote
All rights reserved.
Chapter Two, Scene 2
Two weeks later
Standing in the doorway of Sarah’s barn, Christiane, pulled up her single braid so that she could feel the spring breeze on her neck. Though small patches of snow still lingered in shaded spots, the warm wind swept billowy white clouds northward across a perfect, blue sky. The wild grass was green again from recent showers and the trees had unfurled tight little buds. On this spring day, now seventeen years old, she felt delightfully alive, but somehow unsettled.
She’d just finished milking the cow. During the harsh gray winter, sitting on the milking stool and leaning her cheek against the warm cow’s furry hide, had been comforting. Physical evidence that she and her son had a home again and that had been enough. Now the restlessness that had begun that evening a few weeks ago unfurled inside her. And somehow it was all tied up with Jakob Kruger. Deep in her thoughts, she did not notice Jakob until cleared his throat in front of her.
“Kleines Frau, I think you would like these. I find them this morning just inside my clearing.” He pushed a small, uneven bouquet of wild flowers into her hands.
Christiane inhaled their pungent, wild fragrance. Her hesitant smile answered him. “They smell like spring.” Though no man had ever given her flowers before, she knew what this attention meant. Avoiding Jakob’s eyes, she bent her face above the blooms once again. “Thank you, Mr. Kruger,” she said in a prim tone.
“You are welcome, kleines Frau.” His voice caressed her.
She knew a she should get away from him, but she could not think of a way to excuse herself without appearing rude.
He rested one moccasined foot on the door sill in front of her. “It is a beautiful day, ja?”
She slid a bit to the right, preparing to leave. “Yes, it’s hard to believe winter has finally ended, Mr. Kruger.”
He continued to smile and in spite of herself, she liked the way the skin around his eyes crinkled. Approaching the point of leaving, she asked, “Did you want to see Sarah about something?”
“No, I come only to bring you flowers.”
His bold response startled her. She couldn’t stop her cheeks from coloring. “I have thanked you for them, so I will bid you good day,” she said with precise courtesy. Lifting the full milk pail, she tried to step past him.
His outstretched arm arrested her.
Her chin lifted. “Was there something else?” Her words stiff.
“Yes.” His rough hand reached over to support her arm, which held the pail of milk. She opened her mouth to ask why and found she couldn’t speak. His eyes held hers and she watched, mesmerized, as his face drew nearer, nearer. Then he pressed his warm, dry lips to hers.
“Pull away,” her mind instructed. But pure amazement filled her, her eyes still wide open. Her late husband’s kisses were a distant memory. Had they ever held sway over her like this?
“Mr. Kruger,” she whispered his name against his lips, giddy with a sudden rush of sensations.
“Kleines Frau,” he whispered back and began a second kiss. She closed her eyes and drifted against him. Finally he spoke, “Kleines Frau, I ask you a favor.”
His voice rumbled through her. “What?”
“I wish you call me Jakob.”
Through half-closed eyes, she studied him and how she’d relaxed against him. What had he asked? The words came back to her. This request was a step toward intimacy. I should say no. He’s almost twice my age and I haven’t known him long. Instead of denial, she felt her lips form the word “yes”.
“I wondered what was holding back the milk being brought in,” Old Sarah’s wry voice boomed across the yard between the tavern and its barn.
Christiane jerked back. If Jakob’s hand had not steadied her grip on the milk pail, she would have spilled it. As it was, a few drops spilled and trickled down her bare ankle into her moccasin, pitching her back to reality.
She wrested her arm from Jakob’s grip. “I’m sorry, Sarah,” she said, taking a step past him.
“Sorry, Sarah,” Jakob echoed, sounding not a bit sorry. He leaned back against the door jam and folded his arms across his chest.
From the corner of her eye, Christiane observed his nonchalant pose and self-satisfied expression. She would have liked to slap it from his face. And she should have. How could she have let him slip under her intentions and kiss her?
Several minutes later still inwardly fuming, Christiane sat on the stoop of the inn, concentrating on stitching a small shirt for Jean Claude, who was crawling on the wild grass nearby. Coming outside, Sarah sat on a ladder-back chair beside her. Had she seen Christiane letting Jakob kiss her? Christiane wondered if Sarah would have more to say. Or she corrected herself, what more would Old Sarah have to say?
A few moments in the golden sunshine passed. Sarah broke the silence. “So you have a man courting you?”
Christiane sat still, contemplating the word, “courting.” She’d have been an idiot not to recognize Jakob’s interest in her. But somehow the word, “courting” turned Christiane stomach inside out. “Do you really think he is courting me?”
“Course.” Sarah snorted. “That kiss should have told you that. And I see the way he looks at you. Like a farmer looks at the grain he’s about to harvest.”
To give herself time to think, Christiane picked up her chubby son and nuzzled him. He squealed with delight. The truth, a straight arrow, came to her. I don’t want anyone courting me.
Then she voiced her reason aloud to herself as well as Sarah. “My first marriage was arranged. This time I want to choose. What if I make the wrong choice?”
“Picking a man ain’t easy. Though most don’t think about it much. They just do it as a matter of course, do ya see? And some poor women just don’t have many chances. But you, yes, you will have choices.”
Christiane pondered this.
Then Sarah said, “Jakob has a good head on his shoulders. I have to admit that if I were in the market for a man, I would be looking Jakob over as a good choice.” The old woman chuckled at herself.
“Sarah!” Christiane slapped her friend’s knee as though scolding a child. Then her tone abruptly became serious as she voiced one of her concerns, “He is too old for me, don’t you think?”
“He’s only in his thirties. And age don’t mean much. Jakob is a strong, a hearty man. I’m certain he would be around many a year more.”
“But I would want more of a family,” Christiane said cautiously. Didn’t age affect that?
Sarah snorted again. “Don’t worry about Jakob. He’s man enough to take care of any woman. His wife was a sweet woman, but she was barren after Jon and that’s all there was to it.”
“I suppose age is not the best reason to marry someone or not,” Christiane conceded with honesty. “My first husband was younger than Jakob and he has passed already.”
“Aye, there are no guarantees in life. That’s a fact.”
“But Sarah, Jakob doesn’t have time to court me if he goes ahead and joins Washington’s army.” This brought a confusing mix of relief and tension. Christiane’s lungs tightened and her heart jigged.
Sarah let the subject go. Companionable silence ensued. Overlaying Christiane thoughts, the unbidden face of the English captain momentarily floated before her and the memory of her cheek against the wool of his red coat. She’d known Captain Eastham only a day, less than a day, much less than a day. Why did she continue to think of him? She waited, but no answer came to her. Where are you, Captain Eastham? Do you ever think of me?
Sarah broke into her reverie. “Just remember you don’t have to be in a hurry. Jakob isn’t the only bachelor in New York Colony. Word is getting ’round about you. Now that the weather is better, others will come looking. You know what they say, ‘Marry in haste and repent in leisure’.”
Good advice surely. I’m not ready yet. “I think I should wait another year. I’m in no hurry.”
Sarah grinned. “But your callers may be.”
“Then they will have to learn patience, won’t they?” Christiane answered with a saucy grin. They shared a chuckle over this. Then Christiane scooped up her drowsy son to take him in for his nap, leaving Old Sarah outside absently fanning away stray mosquitoes.