Chapter 49

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July's summer glory had taken over the city and with her came long, warm summer nights and hot and dry summer days as well as Ben's twelfth birthday.

Ben's birthday had finally arrived, and it was difficult to decide who was the most excited Baldwin. Victoria loved traditions and this was to be her last twelfth birthday tradition so she wanted everything to be perfect. It would also be the last family gathering before Maude and James left for the tour. Maude was impatient to know which instrument Ben had chosen. As for Ben, he enjoyed being the center of so much attention and wild speculation. Even Matt, who always managed to wiggle secrets out of Ben hadn't the faintest idea, as he confessed to Maude that evening when she asked him.

"Mrs. Bonnin was right: men are of no use," Maude huffed in mock despair.

Matt just laughed and followed her into the living room where the rest of the family was gathered. The lights were dimmed, and candles had been lit all over the living room. Ben was sitting on a chair in the center of the room. At his feet was a large, dark case.

"We are gathered here to celebrate Benjamin's twelfth birthday," Victoria announced. "This is a very special birthday for you. You've spent the last months discovering and exploring all sorts of instruments. We will soon discover which instrument you've chosen but first, you must hear the Birthday Chant specially made for you."

Victoria stood up and started reciting:

On this special day

We're all gathered here

To light the way

To your twelfth year

James got up and continued:

A boy no longer

You're now a man

But as your father

I'll always hold your hand

As if on cue Cynthia followed with a grin:

Music is a gift

And throughout this year

You've tried all sorts of beats

And strained our poor ears

Jazmine laughed then sobered up and chanted solemnly:

Now you've made your choice

Now you will reveal

The instrument you feel

Will complement your voice

Matt said simply:

Be good to it

Entertain ears and soul

Never part from it

Finally, Maude took a deep breath and ended the chant:

Have tons of fun

Play from night til dawn

Happy Birthday, Ben

This party's just begun

They all clapped and hugged a beaming Ben with several echoing Happy Birthdays.

"I know you are all dying to know which instrument I've chosen, and you won't have to wait much longer," Ben started once the room quieted.

"Oh, come on, Ben, just tell us," Jazmine exclaimed impatiently.

"If I recall correctly, you made us wait quite some time Jaz," her father observed.

"I remember," Ben put in. "We waited so long the ice cream cake started to melt."

"That didn't stop you from downing two-thirds of that cake all by yourself," Cynthia chided.

"I didn't want it to go to waste!" Ben protested.

"This is beside the point. Ben, please proceed," Victoria urged.

He opened his case and took out his instrument. It was long vertical stick-like neck, at the top of which were two large tuning pegs and, at the bottom, a small sound box covered with python skin on the front end. Two strings were attached from the pegs to the base.

"What's this?" Jazmine asked.

"It looks like a very thin violin," Cynthia observed.

"This is an erhu," Benjamin said. "Also known as the Chinese violin. I've been taking lessons with my teacher Yu Jong, for a couple of months now, and she says I'm a natural," Ben grinned sheepishly.

"What are you going to play?" Victoria asked, her eyes sparkling. She loved discovering new instruments.

"It's called 'Ballad of North Henan Province,' which is a province in China."

He placed the erhu solemnly on his lap in an upright position, took his fiddle, and started playing. Maude understood right away why it was called a Chinese violin. Although not played the same way, its sound was close to that of a violin.

She watched Ben as he used his left hand to alter the tone of the strings while his right hand dexterously led the bow across the strings. The Ballad varied from slow to faster themes, retaining a peaceful melody that refreshed the mind, lifted the spirit, and could appease the most restless disposition. It enthralled its audience who listened in stunned silence and breathed in the enchanting notes of an instrument that had awed and amazed audiences for centuries since ancient China.

Maude curled up on the sofa, a faint smile on her lips. Ever since she'd set foot in New York City, she had discovered so much about herself. When she'd arrived, she was just a French girl in New York who spoke faltering English, had no family, no real identity, and only a limited knowledge of music. As she looked at her new family and listened to Ben's erhu she felt alive. She knew who she was, where she came from, and felt that the world was rich with different beats, instruments, and rhythms that she would spend her entire life discovering.

She also felt something she has never felt before, an acute certainty she had never before experienced, a knowledge that made her feel warm inside.

She was home.

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"A French Girl in New York" is finally completed!

Hope you enjoyed it! Thanks for following Maude's adventures until the end:)

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Au revoir, but just for now, lol!

Anna



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