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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

 
 
"Company for Supper"
 
"Pass the biscuits, please."  The dish was quickly passed to their father, but mouths were too full at first for much conversation
 
It was an ordinary breakfast for the Fulkerson family.  Everything on the table came from their place, all 450 acres they had cleared, even the sugar from their thousand sugar maples.  The soil was so rich, the spring so unfailing, that there was always plenty for their large family or to share with travelers along the mail Carolina-Pennsylvania wagon road, the one that ran from the Moravian settlements on the Yadkin River up the Warrior's Path where the Roanoke River breeched the Blue Ridge and then up the Shenandoah Valley.  Half of their twelve children were grown and gone, but six were still at home. 
 
Finally, their stomachs were full enough to slow down to allow easy conversation.    
 
"Was there any news from your trip to Abingdon yesterday?  That was a hard days ride, twelve miles there, twelve miles home." His wife asked leisurely.
 
"You said you would probably stay in town, Pa. What changed your mind?   We can handle the chores for you, you know," Issac the oldest at home said.
 
The father pushed back from the table and wiped his mouth with his cloth tied around his neck.  "As a matter of fact, I did pick up some news.  It has our sleepy little town quite in a stir."
 
"Well, what is it?" His sixteen year old daughter Mary was on the edge of her seat always ready for some excitement.
 
"I hope it's not another Indian raid, God help us," his wife Mary worried.  I can't bear to lose another one of my children to the Indians like my dear Jacob.
 
"Nope.  It's something rather unexpected in our neck of the woods.  Seems like some travelers stopped over for a couple of nights to have some work done on their saddles."
 
"Who were they, Pa?"   Even twelve year old Catherine was curious.
 
Major James Fulkerson looked around the table finding every set of eyes on him expectantly.
"Well, I met these gents and invited them to dinner tonight." 
 
"Who are they, Pa?   Where are they from?"  eight year old Abram asked.
 
"France."
 
"My stars!  I hope they aren't here to rile up the Indians against us again," his wife worried.

"No, they are just passing through, but kinda interesting fellas."

"I thought you and your troops ran the Frenchies out of these parts, Pa," wondered Issac.
 
"Do they speak English?" eleven year old Thomas asked.
 
"Yes, I think we'll have a very interesting dinner conversation tonight."
 
"Who are they, dear, and how many are coming?"
 
"It is Louise Philippe Duc d'Orleans and his two brothers Antoine and Louis Charles.  They have been exiled and their father guillotined during the Reign of Terror.  However, Philippe is still in line for the throne of France if political circumstances change."
 
"My stars and garters!" his wife sank back in her chair fanning herself. "You invited them here?"
 
The girls were open mouthed and wide eyed at the thought of French royalty here and at their mother's language they had never heard from her strict Methodist lips.
 
"Of course, dear.  Who better than us to provide a good meal."
 
"Tonight?"
 
"Yes.  Whatever you usually make will do fine.  Your cooking is always the best."
 
"Girls!" their mother practically shrieked.  "We have to get busy!"
 
"Thomas, you ride to your sister Hannah's and ask her to come help me and bring all her best silver."
 
"And ask her to bring me one of her pretty dresses.  I don't have anything to wear!" the sixteen year old worried.
 
"Frederick, you ride to the Sharps, Hannah's in-laws.  He was born in Bruce's castle and can advise me on the proper way to entertain royalty. Tell him, I mean ask him, to bring his wife to help me, and they will be welcome to stay to dinner as well.  Ask Mrs. Sharp if she's willing to bring her best dishes."
 
"Abram, go find all the eggs you can.  Be careful.  I will need every last one."
 
"Girls, I need you to start cleaning, the best cleaning you've ever done in your life.  First we must laundry the bed linens in case they stay over.  Your sister can help me cook when she gets here."
 
Major Fulkerson threw back his head and laughed.  "I haven't seen troops this well ordered since my last campaign.  You children obey the General and step to it!"  He saluted his wife and ducked out.
 
In between the scrubbing of floors and windows, and the extra laundry and cooking like all the days of the week poured together, the girls practiced their curtsies.  They almost forgot to allow time to bathe and put on their Sunday-go-to-meeting best before their guests arrived.  The house was full of good smells, fresh flowers, fruit from the orchard and nuts from the woods, with cold water from the spring, and a table spread with a clean cloth and sparking silver and pewter dishes.  An heirloom dish here and there added a special touch that awed the family even if it wasn't enough to impress royalty.  The clopping of horse's on the road spread like the static electricity before a lightning strike.
 
Mary ran to the window, "I think I'll faint, Ma.  Father didn't tell us they were handsome young men.  I was expecting paunchy old Frenchmen.  Look at them!"
 
"Mind your manners and get away from that window girls.  We need to go outside to greet them."
 
The girls were glad they had practiced their curtsies and swept down on bended knee as the gentlemen passed by.  Catherine giggled.
 
"Shh, don't you dare!" her sister whispered mortified.  But Louise Philippe winked at the little girl as they entered the frontier abode.
 
"May I take your coats, sirs?" Mary asked trembling.
 
"The chairs are all pulled up to the table, gentlemen, so why don't we just have a seat."
 
Mary was so embarrassed to be seated at the children's table, but knew she would be too busy serving to sit much.  All the family were there as if it were Christmas.  Ma had made  ham, turkey with cornbread stuffing and gravy, and venison roasted outside on the fire pit.  Mrs. Sharp brought platters of fried chicken and her special rolls.  There were the fresh green beans from the garden with bacon, and dried apples.  Mary almost tripped over the long hem of her sister's borrowed dress.   She clung to every bit of conversation from their guests, their soft accent making every word delicious. 
 
She should not have worried.  Even after the food was eaten, and the dishes were done, the guests lingered long over tea. Conversation flowed as fast as the Holston River, rather their guests kept them entertained them with their adventures.
 
Louise Philippe explained how they were born in luxury in the Palais-Royal in Paris.  As the masses murmured against oppression, his father had welcomed the revolutionaries into their home as a place for meeting.  His own tutor was the Countess of Genlis who instilled liberal ideas in him from his youth.  "She even took me to the prison Mont Saint-Michel where we helped break down a prison door.  Then it was time as a member of  royalty to take my place as an officer in the military where I saw quite a bit of action."
 
His valet broke in, "He is too modest.  He was very brave taking musket balls grazing his brow as tenderly as a woman's hand, while his horse was shot out from under him.  The next day he showed bravery as well when he dove into a swift river and saved a man from drowning."
 
Mary and Catherine gasped in unison.  Mary was glad to see even her brothers were impressed judging by their wide-eyed attention.
 
"Tres jolie jeune filles!" Philippe laughed.  He waved away his attendant's praises.  Then his face sobered.  "It was 'Au revoire' to the life we knew.  My father and these my brothers were put in prison, while I made my escape.  I was only nineteen."
 
"Were they all guillotined?" little Abram asked.
 
The men burst out with raucous laughter.  Antoine said, "Oui mon petit monsieur.  I just picked up my head and put it back on.  Come, would you like to see the seam on my neck?"
 
Abram was embarrassed into silence the rest of the night, though Louise Charles slapped him on the back in good camaraderie.
 
"Bandouin my faithful valet and I went over the alps, but found we were refused asylum in Switzerland.  Our horses almost died on the heights and we sold them for bread to eat.  I had never been that hungry before.  We were even barred by monks from entering a monastery thinking we were  just more riffraff.  I slept in a barn one night but woke to a musket pointed at my face as if I were a common criminal.  I hardly dared to spend more than a day in any one place.  Finally I found a position at Reichenau teaching in a boy's school.  That's where I heard my father had been put to death.  I looked for comfort, shall we say, in the wrong place and that was the end of my teaching career."
 
Their mother put her arms protectively around her girls who had slipped in beside her, but Louise Philippe still dared to give Mary a wink. 
 
"I found out my sister Adelaide, only sixteen..."
 
"That's my age," Mary said under her breath.
 
"Yes,  you make me think of her at that tender age.  She was having to get by sewing and working wool, so I found my way to her and took her to our great aunt, Princess of Conti at Fribay, then we went on to Bavaria, Hungary, and finally to our mother in exile in Spain.
 
"Bidding them adieu, I continued my wanderings in Scandinavia and Finland where I stayed with a Lutheran Vicar."  He cleared his throat, "I was becoming a little too entangled at twenty-two, so I decided to join my brothers who had escaped to New York here in America.  And voila, here we are!  I have found the American frontier much to my liking and the government of the colonies quite impressive."
 
Abram had fallen asleep with his head in his plate when their father showed the guest to their beds.  They had to share as the family did.  The boys bedded down in the barn for the night with the oldest Issac carrying his sleepy brother out like a sack of potatoes over his shoulder.  It was said that for years after when King Louise Phillippe met someone from America visiting Paris, he always asked, "Do they still sleep three to a bed in Tennessee?"  As for Mary, she never forgot when the future King of France, a dashing twenty-four year old, kissed her hand.
 
A little glimpse from my fifth great grandparent's history.
 
"Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,
for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it."
Hebrews 13:2
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
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