Annette Vallon A Novel of the French Revolution
By James Tipton
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2007 James Tipton
All right reserved. ISBN: 9780060822217
But may you never have a revolution in this country," the tall American said.
We were dining at the grand house of my older sister and her husband. The American gentleman had come down from Paris in a golden carriage on some business regarding my brother-in-law's vineyard. I had not paid attention to what it was: I was only sixteen and fresh out of convent school.
"In France you enjoy the most graceful lifestyle in the world," he continued. "You value philosophy, literature, art, music, all the sciences, more than any culture I know, including my own," and he laughed. "But your people do not have any representation in the government. To that end, I hope they may be educated, but gradually—for if they were thrust headlong into a freedom which they have never known, it would be chaos. A revolution here would not be as it was in my country, against a foreign power; a revolution here would be . . . a disaster. But forgive me for presuming to speak on a subject of which you know far more than I. What do you think, Mademoiselle?" And his blue eyes suddenly looked directly at me.
I frantically tried to think of something, oneline from Rousseau that I had talked about with the girls because I had applied it to the despotic Sister Angèle.
"I think that since Might cannot produce Right, the only legitimate authority in human societies is agreement."
The American laughed. "That must be an enlightened convent school your parents sent you to," he said.
"I'm afraid, Monsieur, that some of us read Rousseau in secret."
"Well, for now," he said, "Rousseau may be best kept behind closed doors in France and pondered upon by fine young minds." And he turned to the men.
We were on to the duck with orange now. Our guest took a bite of the meat but held back on the sauce. I was impatient for the steaming sauceboat, placed in front of him, with its mélange of caramelized sugar, lemon and orange juices, white wine, and red currant jelly.
A servant poured a ruby wine into the one glass I was allowed at dinner. I was sure it was my brother-in-law's vintage, which he said smelled of green peppers and pea pods. He was championing a red wine in the land of famous whites. I reached for my glass, then caught Papa's eye and became aware of a curious tension at the table. Our guest, my father had told me, was the finest wine connoisseur in the New World and had a peculiarity about trying new wines. He thought they were only truly appreciated in the context of food, so he waited until dinner to make his final decisions. He had come all the way from Paris now for this moment. All his pleasant and insightful conversation, all of my sister's dinner plans and Cook's lengthy preparations, were leading to this.
The American drank some water, raised his wineglass, inspected the color within—I noticed a flame from the hearth reflected, shimmering, in the burgundy depths—swirled it gently, tipped, sniffed it—would he smell peppers and pea pods? He closed his eyes, sipped, held, and almost chewed the wine. He seemed oblivious to us, in a world of pure concentration.
I could smell the sauce, see its curling steam, and very much wanted him to pass it to me. But there was no rushing the moment. A smile gradually spread across his handsome face. He opened his blue eyes. "Monsieur Vincent," he said, "it exceeds all expectations. It must be those cool limestone caves you keep it in."
The table relaxed. Maybe he would now pour the sauce. But he held the eye of my brother-in-law. This was a moment of business transacted between gentlemen, at a table laden with duck and wine. "I will take ten cases and, with your permission, the soil samples I collected today back to Paris," the foreigner said.
I liked his hair. My father and brother-in-law had powdered wigs, and here was this bright red hair that seemed to shine in the candlelight.
Our guest lifted the porcelain boat and discreetly lavished his duck with the sauce that was now coming my way. He paused a moment and took in the fragrance. Then he returned to business. "And I will accept your offer to ship some vines to Virginia."
"I would be honored," my brother-in-law said.
"I will call it," said the American, "the Shenandoah grape."
I liked the name. "Pardon, Monsieur?"
"Could you please say that name again?"
"Shenandoah," he said. "It is the river that runs near my home. Like your great river here. It is very beautiful, and I miss it. When I think of America, I do not think of the vast Atlantic seaboard and of our victory against the British Empire; I think of one small patch of rocky land on top of a cliff overlooking the river. So you remember that, Mademoiselle," and he looked at me again, his eyes twinkling.
"Remember what, Monsieur?"
"To thine own land be true," and he smiled, and my brother-in-law asked him to sample another wine, and their conversation went on, but it isn't part of my story. Continues...
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