"Robichaux," du Reine protested, half-heartedly, as Robichaux half-pushed him through the back door to the small bedroom where du Reine slept.
"What the devil is wrong with you?" Robichaux hissed.
"Trenier is going to call you out. That's the only woman I've ever seen him be even slightly interested in. You might have allowed her to be the only woman you did not practice your questionable charms on."
"I am not practicing my charms on her," du Reine retorted, keeping his voice low. "She showed up here."
"That's even worse. You should have thrown her out by the scruff of her neck, even if she did come to proclaim her love. You can't duel Trenier. He's the best shot in the parish. And he'll be just furious enough with you not to miss."
"I am not dueling Trenier. There isn't anything to duel over. I don't want Miss Tucker. And she doesn't want me. She was looking for someone else."
"Who?" Robichaux asked, skeptically.
"I wonder if one of you would escort me to Mr. Trenier," inserted Clara Tucker, sweetly, from the doorway to du Reine's bedroom.
Du Reine's eyes widened, and he bounded toward the door. "It is highly improper for you to be in here," he said, and shoved her unceremoniously out before shutting the door on her.
Robichaux had his head tilted in thought. "Is she looking for Trenier?" he asked, in disbelief.
"I don't know. Although I'm beginning to think it's possible."
"How does she know who he is?"
"I'm not so sure she does. But she is behaving strangely. It's possible she has a fever."
"Well, you're a doctor. Does she have a fever?"
"It could be that she's just insane."
Robichaux regarded the closed door thoughtfully, then made up his mind. "I'm taking her to Trenier."
"I wouldn't recommend that."
"Why not?" demanded Robichaux, impatiently. "You saw the way he looked at her, didn't you? It would be like handing him happiness on a platter."
"You're not thinking of Trenier. Trenier is different from you and me. We fall in love with the same force of habit that we put on a hat when we leave the house. You said it yourself. Trenier never behaves this way. He won't do this halfway. Trenier's not the sort. He doesn't enjoy idle flirtation. He doesn't see the point. He'll offer for the piece of fluff in twenty seconds flat."
"And you think she would make him a bad wife?"
"I have no opinion on that. I know nothing about the girl. I think she won't be his wife, however. She's betrothed to another. And we may not like Perkins but to an American girl like Clara Tucker he's quite the catch. Her parents would disown the girl before they let her drop Perkins for Trenier. And how many girls do you know who take kindly to being disowned?"
Robichaux was silent for a second. "Maybe-"
"No ‘maybe,'" snapped du Reine. "When we have our hearts broken, we get drunk and find another girl in the span of an hour. When Trenier gets his heart broken, it is not going to be so pleasant, I guarantee you. And I'm not cleaning up the mess. Are you?"
Robichaux regarded him, looking rebellious and unconvinced. "I'm not sure it's right to keep her from him. If she's come here expressly seeking him, I'm not sure it's-"
"Take her home, will you? Take her home, and if you're thoroughly enchanted with her, then we'll get her to Trenier, okay?" du Reine didn't wait for the answer. He pulled open his bedroom door. Clara Tucker was standing immediately on the other side of it, so close to it that he walked into her, trodding upon her foot, before taking a hasty step backward. Her arms were folded, and she regarded him with narrowed eyes.
"Who," she asked, grandly, "is going to take me to see Mr. Trenier?"
Had he thought those eyes so wide and innocent and blue? Fool. He did not even bother to apologize for running up against her. He was finding the persistent woman irritating. "Monsieur Robichaux," he clipped out, "is going to take you home." He could hear the French edge in his voice become more pronounced in annoyance.
Clara opened her mouth to protest. Then she caught the look that Robichaux cast on du Reine. It was a largely inscrutable look, but it was at least a look of disagreement. Du Rene was proving irritatingly single-minded in his unhelpfulness. Maybe it was time to focus on Robichaux. "Fine," she said, abruptly. "It was lovely to meet you, Dr. du Reine." She offered him her hand automatically.
"Yes." He sent her a sardonic smile as he bowed over it. "Likewise."
Clara Tucker turned and grandly swept out of the little office. Du Reine watched the door close behind her and told Robichaux, "Have fun."
Robichaux thought du Reine had handled Miss Tucker badly. For a man who got along so famously with women, he had very quickly gotten on Clara Tucker's bad side. Robichaux was sure he could do better. He stepped out of the office into the glare of the sun and the wall of the humidity. Clara Tucker was waiting for him, and she squinted up at him from under the brim of her straw hat.
"You will take me to Mr. Trenier?" she said.
Robichaux hesitated. Then he offered his arm. She took it but she regarded him warily, as she allowed him to lead her into the bustle of the street. "May I inquire," he asked, "why you wish to be taken to Mr. Trenier?"
Her grip on his arm tightened a bit, and he gathered she found the question unpleasant. He glanced in her direction, but the wide brim of her hat shaded her face completely from view. "It is a private situation," she said, finally, delicately yet firmly.
"You see, the reason why du Reine and I are so perplexed is that Trenier is never involved in ‘private situations' with young ladies," said Robichaux.
"You mean young ladies like me? From the American District?" she demanded, hotly.
"No, I mean all young ladies. Du Reine is the famous flirt. You seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot with him, but I promise you he can charm the angels from heaven if given half the chance. If you wish an afternoon of empty flattery, du Reine would be much more appropriate than Trenier."
She was silent for a moment. "I have business with Mr. Trenier," she announced, at length. "It is private business. I must be taken to him."
Robichaux could not figure out the game the girl was playing. If she were in love with Trenier, besotted with him, would she not have confessed it, with all her nae wonder? What was this business? What could it possibly be? Robichaux decided that perhaps du Reine was right not to bring Miss Tucker to Trenier, and walked more firmly in the direction of his townhouse. "Why are you in need of a ride back to your house?" he asked. "Where is your carriage?"
"I walked. And please do not remark on how scandalous that is. Dr. du Reine is already convinced I'm a raving lunatic."
"It's a rather long walk, in such heat," Robichaux commented, mildly.
"How else was I to get here?"
She had a point. Parents of American District girls did not normally provide them with carriages to visit the French Quarter. And that reinforced du Reine's belief that Trenier and Clara Tucker would never make a match. "And how did you find Dr. du Reine's office?"
"I asked," she answered, simply.
"You are not terribly worried about your reputation, are you?" The gossip everywhere would be that du Reine's latest had paid him a visit.
"Not at all," she replied, fiercely, as if daring him to disagree with her.
Robichaux wasn't really sure what he thought of Clara Tucker, but there was a sentiment that stole his heart. "Tres bien," he assured her, and gestured toward the entrance to his courtyard.
Clara hesitated. She had just told him she did not care about her reputation, and now she was being ushered toward an alleyway.
He understood. "Never mind. Wait here. I shall bring the phaeton out."
Was his phaeton in there? She did not understand. Curious, she said, "No, not at all," and walked steadily into the alleyway. It was very brief, and opened onto a lovely, lush courtyard, full of palm trees and rich scarlet flowers whose names she did not know. "It's beautiful," she breathed, astonished.
Robichaux glanced at her, as she tipped her head back to drink it in. "You have never been to the French Quarter before, have you?"
"Do they all have hidden gardens like this?" she asked, in amazement.
"Yes. And mine is not terribly impressive." Trenier's was better. Trenier had more money.
Clara looked at him. He was untying a pretty gray horse who was already hitched to the phaeton, speaking low, fond French at her. Clara had taken French, but Robichaux's French was quick and lilting, and she could catch only bits and pieces of it.
"There," he said, leading the horse into the courtyard, and then offering Clara a hand.
She allowed him to help her into the phaeton, but said, anxiously, as he settled next to her, "I really must speak to Mr. Trenier. In all seriousness."
Robichaux looked at her, as he guided the phaeton into the street. The alleyway was narrow; there was just enough passage. "Trenier is in the middle of a poker game. He won't take to his luck being interrupted." Robichaux thought Trenier wouldn't really mind being interrupted by Clara Tucker. But, as Robichaux still couldn't figure out Miss Tucker's motives, he thought it wiser to take her home and ponder the situation.
Clara frowned. The little gray mare moved through the crowd of the narrow streets. "Does he play much poker?" she asked. She was not sure what she thought of a man who sat and gambled all day.
Robichaux laughed. "No, actually. Trenier's astonishingly good at poker, but he hates it. Trenier's bored. He's usually bored in town."
"In town?" Clara echoed.
"He has a sugar cane plantation, you know. He would much rather be there."
"Is he leaving soon?" She sounded alarmed.
"No. Not that I know of. He normally spends the winter months in town. There's little to do on the plantation, and he dislikes poker but he likes other attractions here."
"Winter?" Clara scoffed. "Do you call this winter?"
"The weather will break any day," Robichaux assured her, although he was not terribly confident of that. It had been dreadfully hot for a very long time. "Winter will rush upon us, all in a day."
"Will it snow?"
Robichaux smiled, nudging the mare over Canal Street. "I doubt it."
"Then it will not be winter. When is Mr. Trenier at home?"
"At home?" Robichaux echoed, blankly.
"So I may call on him."
Robichaux looked at her in open astonishment, letting the mare find her own way for the moment. "Call on him?"
"You are betrothed."
"What of it?" she asked, without concern.
Robichaux narrowed his eyes. "Trenier is not in the habit of seducing young women."
That was too bad, thought Clara. Something was going to have to be done about that. "Seducing? Who said anything about seducing?" she asked, lightly. "La, how very scandalous you French men are." Robichaux continued to gape at her. "You will ask Mr. Trenier to call upon me, then? Please tell him it is very important business."
"Will your parents receive him?" Robichaux asked, incredulously.
"Why wouldn't they? Simply because he's French? Eleanor's parents received him at the garden party, did they not?"
Robichaux glossed over the issue of whether Eleanor's parents had received Trenier, which was not strictly true, as du Reine had rather snuck them in. But he focused on the mention of the garden party. "Did you speak to Trenier at the garden party?"
Clara hesitated. There was a bit of an opening to wriggle through here. "Yes," she lied, breezily. "Else why would I have business with him? This is far enough, thank you." She did not so much care about the scandal of the neighborhood if a strange man from the French Quarter dropped her at her house. But she did want to prevent Robichaux from persisting in his questions and uncovering her lie.
"Trenier spoke to you at the garden party?" said Robichaux, quizzically.
Clara leaned over him and tugged smartly at the horse's reins. She pulled up.
"Wait a moment," protested Robichaux, watching her pull her skirts up to an indecent height and leap lightly out of the phaeton.
"Please tell Mr. Trenier to call on me directly," Clara said, standing on the ground and tipping her head back to see him.
"But-" sputtered Robichaux.
"To give the bride his best wishes, naturally. Thank you so much. You've been very kind." She gave him a fetching smile and began to walk away from him.
Robichaux sat on the phaeton and considered following her, to badger her. But, he thought, the afternoon had been quite exhausting enough. Clara Tucker was not at all the sort of woman he normally paid attention to. She was pretty enough, but she was bossy and more than a little shocking.
She was, Robichaux thought, exactly Trenier's type.
A cold snap descended on New Orleans. Not the sort of cold snap that Tinsley would have had to endure in New York, but a cold snap nonetheless. And, as the temperature dipped below freezing, Tinsley realized that she did not have heat. For a little while, that was bearable. She bought blankets and piled them on her bed, dressed head-to-toe in wool while she was home, made lots of hot tea. But, after a week of living that way, when the cold snap showed no inclination to let up, Tinsley decided this was ridiculous. She woke up stiff from sleeping huddled in a ball to try to gather warmth. She took hot showers until the hot water ran out, and it was the only time she was comfortable in the house. As soon as the hot water ran out, she was back to being miserable.
The lack of oven she had lived with; she desperately needed heat.
Dr. du Reine's office was on the busy stretch of road in Metairie that the locals called, simply, Veterans'. And he was a pediatrician. This was why Tinsley was sure he was not actually friends with James T. Trenier III. He was too much of a do-gooder. And James T. Trenier III was an evil man who wanted her to starve to death and then freeze to death just for good measure.
Dr. du Reine's waiting room was crowded with sniffling children, and Tinsley threaded through them to the receptionist. "I need to see Dr. du Reine," she announced.
The receptionist surveyed her dubiously. "Do you have an appointment?"
"No. I am not a patient."
"Then what exactly are you?" asked the receptionist, delicately, arching her eyebrows.
Tinsley rolled her eyes. "Oh, God, nothing like that. I am his tenant."
"Yes. And I have no heat."
"I think it's probably more accurate that you are Mr. Trenier's tenant, isn't it?"
They said "Trenier" with that French accent that gave every last name: Tren-ee-yay. Tinsley thought it sounded even more obnoxious when pronounced like that. "Okay," she admitted. "Maybe it is. But I still need heat."
"I will tell Dr. du Reine to tell Mr. Trenier."
"No, no. I need to see Dr. du Reine. I don't think any of my messages ever reach Mr. Trenier."
"So you don't think Dr. du Reine tells Mr. Trenier of your concerns?" asked the secretary, acidly.
"No, that's not it-" Tinsley corrected, hastily.
"Then you don't think I or my colleagues tell Dr. du Reine your concerns?"
"I-No. I think Mr. Trenier ignores my concerns."
The receptionist regarded her for a second. "Hmm," she said, finally, then, "I will tell Dr. du Reine what you have said."
Tinsley sighed and folded her arms. "I am not leaving until I speak to Dr. du Reine."
The receptionist leaned over and picked up the telephone and pressed a button. Tinsley smiled in triumph.
Then the receptionist said, "Yes, there is a woman here who is refusing to leave. Could you please send someone to remove her?"
Damn. "Okay," said Tinsley, when the receptionist hung up the phone. "I'll leave. But I'm not paying my rent this month."
The receptionist looked distinctly unimpressed by this pronouncement. Tinsley turned on her heel and marched out of the doctor's office and back to Trey's Lamborghini and sat it in for a moment, waiting for it to warm up. It would be better, she thought, to live in Trey's Lamborghini.
She drove back to St. Charles and parked the car in its protective parking spot. Then she stood for a second and regarded the house. It was a charming place to live, there was no denying it. If only she had a normal landlord who would take a little care of it. She was going to have to get a damn hotel, for God's sake. She was going to positively sue James T. Trenier III. She was going to own this house when she was done with him.
She stamped up to the back door, unlocked it, headed into the vestibule in full glory...and snapped her heel. She felt it in shock, as she pitched forward, toward the door that leaned toward the main house. She hit the door with a solid thud, and it swung open, and she fell directly through and onto the floor.
She swore on impact, then, still swearing, sat up and took off her heel, a Manolo Blahnik that had been with her for years. She sat for a second, grieving its passing, then, finally, thought to be perplexed by the turn of events. She struggled to her feet, deducing that the door to the main house had never been locked. Its catch was old, and it had been no match for her weight being thrown up against it.
Tinsley looked around her. Well, now that she was actually in the main part of the house, she might as well explore it.
The first floor was bigger than the second; that was obvious from the outside. There were a multitude of rooms with soaring ceilings and many-paned windows. The house had the same air of decreasing grandeur that the second floor had. Every room contained a chandelier dripping with dusty crystal, attached to a ceiling medallion, and every ceiling was elaborately carved or painted, visual interest in every single room. Somebody, somewhere, had spent a great deal of time on the house. But it was empty now. There was a single piece of furniture in it, a massive four-poster bed in a dark, heavy bedroom, made up with a navy-blue-and-white striped comforter, an incongruous piece of everyday life to encounter in a ghost house.
Tinsley stood in the bedroom and looked down at the bed. She found the first floor of the house a bit depressing in its emptiness. And slightly intriguing. Why would they have furnished the second floor of the house but taken everything out of the first floor? Was the second floor furnished with first floor furnishings?
Tinsley shrugged, and turned to go, then paused, as it suddenly hit her. She wasn't cold. Dammit, there was heat on the first floor. Tinsley turned and walked over to the radiator by the window. It was faintly warm. Very faintly. But at least not ice cold like Tinsley's.
Tinsley crouched, turned the knob. Immediately, it hissed in response. Tinsley, laying her hand against the radiator, felt its temperature start to increase almost immediately.
Tinsley looked at the bed.
And she smiled.
Trenier was at his desk when they walked into the back drawing room, adding up the accounts. He was tapping the quill absently against the side of the secretary and staring at the numbers, thinking hard, and when he heard them tramp in, he said, immediately, without looking up, "I am very busy."
"Counting your winnings?" asked du Reine, throwing himself upon the room's sofa.
"No, planning the spring planting," Trenier answered.
"We have an important matter to discuss with you," said Robichaux, gravely, sitting more decorously in the wing chair.
"Storyville now or later?" Trenier guessed, making a notation in the margin of his ledger.
"No, more important than when we go to Storyville," Robichaux answered.
Trenier looked up then. "Well, well," he said, and he smiled. "This is an occasion." He put the quill down and regarded them both in amusement. But they looked as grave as death. "What is the matter?" he asked, and then, as it occurred to him, "Do you need money?" They never asked him for money, although they all three knew that he had much more than they, much more than he could ever spend in a lifetime. He thought that the only reason for such seriousness would be if they had resolved to approach him for a loan.
Robichaux rolled his eyes. "No."
"Well, what is it, then? Be quick, will you? It's too hot for small talk." It was too hot for anything, he thought. A thought had been forming in the back of his mind that he might go back to the plantation. It was not his season on the plantation, but he was restless in the city, more restless even than he usually was. And the heat was oppressive.
"Miss Tucker paid a call on du Reine today."
Any thought of going to the plantation immediately vanished at the sound of her name. Trenier sat a little straighter. "What?"
"Looking for you," Robichaux continued.
"Looking for me?" Trenier repeated, and his voice sounded not at all like his own. He cleared his throat.
"You didn't tell us you spoke to her at the party," du Reine accused.
"Spoke to her at the party?" Trenier repeated, blankly.
"When did it happen? And how dare you keep it a secret how very efficient you are?" du Reine continued. "She's completely besotted with you."
Trenier stared at him. "She's besotted with me?" Well, this was delightful. If only he had any idea what du Reine was talking about.
"She says you are to call on her," contributed Robichaux, from the wing chair.
Trenier shifted his gaze to him. "Call on her?" He wished he could come up with something cleverer to say than repeating what they were saying to him.
"Yes." Robichaux's hazel eyes were flat.
Trenier tried to figure out what was going on. Why neither one of them seemed to be happy with him. Why both seemed to be quite openly angry, actually. "Why all this hostility?"
"Why didn't you tell us you'd spoken to her?" demanded Robichaux.
"Because I didn't speak to her," Trenier protested. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"She said-" Robichaux began.
"Well, I don't know what she's talking about. I only saw her, on the verandah. That was it. And you told me her name." He looked at du Reine. "And I haven't seen her since then. I don't know why she thinks she's spoken to me."
"She's mistaken again," du Reine groaned. "Damnable girl."
"What?" asked Trenier, still confused.
"She's looking for some man she fancies herself in love with," du Reine explained. "She thought he was me, until she saw me. And then she thought he was you, the instant she heard your name. But if it's actually someone she's spoken to, then it plainly is not you."
Once a horse had kicked Trenier sharply in the chest, when he had been a boy. It had been severe, questionable for a bit whether he would survive it. Trenier vividly remembered the sensation of the hoof colliding with him, and he flinched with a feeling that was dreadfully like it. For reasons impossible to explain, and that he would rather die than admit, the thought that Clara Tucker had been besotted with him had made him giddily happy for a moment, determined that the weather was beautiful and the numbers were balancing and there was no more lovely place than New Orleans at that moment. And the revelation that Clara Tucker was besotted with someone else entirely made him feel he could not spend another second in the horrid place.
Robichaux thought Trenier looked a bit white and striken. For all du Reine's flowery talk of how sensitive Trenier would be now that he had fallen in love, Robichaux thought he was doing an absurdly bad job at breaking this news to Trenier. He stood and poured Trenier a drink and placed it in front of him.
The action stirred Trenier to find a response to du Reine's comment. "Oh," he said. "Yes. If she's spoken with him, then it isn't..." Trenier tossed back the drink, thinking he was behaving idiotically. He did not know this girl. Had never met this girl. Did not even know what color her eyes were, or what her voice sounded like. "Let's go to Storyville," he announced, deciding he would have a wonderful time in Storyville.
Except that he did not have a wonderful time in Storyville. Despite all of Marguerite's best efforts, he was not the slightest bit enticed by her attributes. He stood on her balcony, smoking cheroot after cheroot, and resolving to go to the plantation as soon as possible.
For some reason, he had had more than he could stand of the city.
I think you'll like everyone," said Aimee, anxiously. "In fact, I'm sure you'll like everyone."
Tinsley looked up from where she was laying out a page of the Mignon. She smiled reassuringly. "I'm sure I will."
"There won't be many people. Just my closest friends. I just want to make sure that you feel welcome. Because you're very welcome."
"I'm fine, Aimee," Tinsley assured her, patiently. Aimee was one of those social butterflies who could not conceive of not having a boatload of friends. She worried constantly over Tinsley's lack of social life. Which was why she had seized upon the event of her birthday as an excuse to introduce Tinsley to New Orleans nightlife. Aimee made a huge deal out of her birthday. As far as Tinsley could tell, it was going to be a week-long celebration.
Mignon was a French term of endearment, Tinsley knew, an adjective used to describe something little and cute. And it fit the small weekly paper, which was both little and cute. Aside from Aimee and Tinsley, there was only the paper's owner and editor-in-chief, a Yankee like Tinsley herself who had moved to New Orleans a decade earlier, attracted by a lower cost of living. Edward Shandling ran his paper with a nonchalantness that suited a southern lifestyle and made Tinsley think that he had been right to leave the north. He was, on the surface, tightly organized, but just underneath lurked a tolerance for chaos that Aimee capitalized brilliantly on. Edward's desk was a paragon of cleanliness; Aimee had colonized the rest of the little office fiercely, with an artful disarray that looked like a film version of a newspaper office to Tinsley.
"We're going to Pat O'Brien's," Aimee continued. "I told everyone you hadn't been to Pat O'Brien's yet, and they were shocked."
Tinsley chuckled. "Are you coming, Edward?"
Aimee cast a scornful glance at the back of Edward's dark head, where he was bent over his desk. "Edward hates to have fun."
"That's exactly right," drawled Edward's voice. "Despise it."
Tinsley smiled. Aimee and Edward, she was fairly convinced, were desperately in love with each other. She was also fairly convinced that they knew this, but had, by tacit agreement, decided it would be better not to mention it.
But, as if to punctuate the point, someone knocked on the door, and Aimee answered it and returned with a large bouquet of red roses. "I knew you wouldn't forget," she told Edward, fondly, tousling his hair as she walked by him with the roses, in search of a vase.
"Naturally not," Edward replied, absently smoothing the hair she had rumpled.
Tinsley smiled at them. Whether they knew it or not, they interacted with the same easy intimacy she associated with Savannah and Matt. Tinsley suppressed a sigh. She didn't really miss home, but she missed Savannah. The christening, thank God, was fast approaching. An excuse to go home. She had gone home for Thanksgiving, but it had been a typical awkward Stewart Thanksgiving, with no one broaching the most important subject of when Tinsley would come back home. Tinsley was not at all looking forward to Christmas. But she was looking forward to Gen's christening.
And she was, she admitted, looking forward to Pat O'Brien's.
© Copyright 2017 Priscilla Darcy. All rights reserved.
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