Lady Lavender - Page 38

“Evenin’, Jeanne. All quiet and peaceful out here?”

“Oui, all is quiet. Except for Manette reciting stories to the dandelions. Her favorite stories,” she added with a laugh. “In French.”

Rooney chuckled. “Now that’s somethin’ I didn’t know about dandelions. Understand French, do they?”

“I was about to prepare supper. Would you join us?”

“Oh, no, ma’am. I ate already at the boardinghouse.”

“Perhaps some café, then?”

Manette flung her arms about Rooney’s knees. “Oh, yes, you want some coffee, don’t you? Say yes, Rooney. Please say yes.”

“Well… Listen, Jeanne, I hope you won’t mind, but Wash sent me out to watch over you tonight.”

“Oh?” Even to herself she sounded puzzled. “Wash is not coming?”

“Yeah, well, no. He’s got some figurin’ to do for his railroad crew tonight and— To be frank, Jeanne, I’d like to roll out my pallet and stay the night, kinda keep an eye on things.”

“Ah. Of course.” With trembling hands she gathered up the wreath makings, rolled up the leftover lavender fronds in an old blanket and set it just inside the doorway.

Rooney cleared his throat. “I thought maybe we could do some talking. Maybe there’s some things I might explain about my partner.”

Jeanne stopped short at the bunkhouse door. “What things?”

Rooney wiped one hand over his sweaty forehead. “Uh, maybe we could have us a conversation later, over coffee? After Little Miss goes to bed.”

“I am not going to bed!” Manette announced.

Rooney hunched down to where she stood gazing up at him. “Why not? You afeared of ghosts?”

The girl giggled. “No, I’m not.”

Rooney’s voice dropped. “Or maybe spirits or demons that go bump in the dark?”

“N-no. I’m not going to bed because you’re here!”

Rooney straightened. “Well, now, Little Miss, I’m gonna be here for a while.” He shot Jeanne a look.

Jeanne nodded. She wanted Rooney to stay. She was not afraid of being alone at night, but she wanted to talk about Wash.

“Come inside, both of you. I will make supper. And some café.”

Rooney stepped over the threshold into the bunkhouse and snatched off his gray hat. Jeanne pointed to a hook beside the door and waited. She knew the instant he spotted her shotgun, mounted over the door; his head bent slowly and his eyes fastened on her hands.

“Yes,” she said in answer to his unspoken question. “I can shoot it.

Rooney scratched his salt-and-pepper beard. “Oh, I don’t doubt that, Jeanne.”

“What surprises you, then?”

“Just that…well, I didn’t figure you was as self-sufficient as you’re turnin’ out to be. You know, bein’ a French lady from a big city like New Orleans.”

Jeanne turned to stir up the fire in the potbellied stove.

“I am not in New Orleans, now.”

Rooney grunted and plopped onto a weathered straightback chair, then shot up, turned it around and straddled it, folding his hands on the back. Manette clambered onto the adjacent chair and pinned him with a blue-eyed stare. “I want my chair backward, too.”

Rooney laughed, then reversed the chair for her and continued his speculative perusal of Jeanne. She could tell he was studying her. She lifted the skillet onto the stove, and tried to calm the flutters in her stomach. Did he know Wash had been with her last night?

Did he know something about Wash she should know?

She fixed thin, delicate pancakes in the skillet, each one rolled around slivers of hard cheese. Fromagettes she called them. Manette gobbled down seven—seven! Mon Dieu, in six months, her daughter would grow out of any clothes Jeanne could purchase for school.

She poured Rooney’s coffee and made a diluted cup for Manette—mostly milk from Monsieur MacAllister’s cow. Little by little her head drooped onto the table, her eyelids closing.

Jeanne unbuttoned the weed-stained pinafore, wrestled a muslin nightgown over Manette’s head and tucked her under the quilt on the top bunk.

Rooney was washing their plates in the basin of water heating on the stove; the skillet he wiped spotless with a clean scrap of cloth and hung it up on the wall. Then he refilled both cups with the last of the coffee in the speckleware pot and waited for Jeanne to reseat herself at the inverted wooden fruit crate she used as a dining table.

“Manette was most active today,” she remarked. “She will sleep soundly.”

“Meanin’ we can talk now?” Rooney asked from the stove.

Jeanne sighed. “Oui. She will not hear us.”