Smoke River Family(3)

By: Lynna Banning

 “Thank you,” she breathed. She gazed at him and waited.

 “I—forgive me, you were not expected so soon.”

 “Did you not receive my telegram from St. Louis?”

 “Yes, I—” He had read it three times but he could not remember what it said.

 “I left earlier than I had planned. I wanted to...” Her eyes looked shiny. “I wanted to see Celeste’s grave. And the baby. I came to see the baby.”

 “Of course.” He had not been able to revisit his wife’s grave site. After watching them lower the coffin into that dark hole that day, he doubted he would ever be able to visit. The pain behind his eyes throbbed.

 “This is most awkward,” she said. “If you do not mind, I need to sit down.”

 He guided her to one of the straight-backed chairs in the wide hallway that served as his waiting room. “Sam, bring some tea.”

 “No, please. I am quite all right now.”

 He tipped up her chin and peered into her chalk-white face. “And some sandwiches,” he called. “You look half-famished, Miss Von Dannen.”

 “Yes, I am, now that I think about it. I was in such a hurry to get here, you see.”

 Zane nodded. He did not see. She had not come for the funeral; the wire he’d received had explained she was away on tour. Still, she must be anxious to see the baby.

 Sam appeared with a tray of tea and a plate of tiny sandwiches, the kind he served when Zane skipped too many meals or spent too many long hours at the hospital.

 “Come into the dining room, Miss Von Dannen.” Zane guided her to an upholstered chair at one end of the carved walnut table. She fell on the sandwiches at once and he poured the aromatic tea into the blue china cups. Sam had used the good china, he noted. It reminded him of when Celeste— His hand shook, and he clattered his own cup back onto the saucer.

 She ate in silence, and he sipped his tea and watched her. Couldn’t help watching her, in fact. She was a bit older than Celeste, more settled somehow. Less excitable. Then he remembered that Winifred Von Dannen was a professor of music in St. Louis, at the same academy where Celeste had studied. Of course, someone of her stature would not be young, at least not as young as his wife had been. In fact, Winifred Von Dannen was well-known in the East. A pianist, like Celeste.

 “I was more hungry than I thought,” she said. She replaced her cup on the blue-flowered saucer and looked up, straight into his eyes. The ripping inside his chest tore at him. She looked so much like Celeste.

 “Now,” she said. “May I see the baby?”

                       Chapter Two

 The doctor paused outside one doorway in the spacious upstairs hall, laid one hand on the brass knob and hesitated. Winifred waited. Did he have some intimation of why she was really here?

 “I think she is asleep,” he said softly. “At least for the moment.”

 “Oh?” Winifred knew absolutely nothing about babies.

 “She rarely sleeps through the night,” the doctor explained.

 Ah. That would explain the dark circles beneath his tired gray eyes. He looked as if he had not slept in weeks. Months, perhaps. But of course there was his grief, too.

 For a moment her throat grew tight. She had been in Europe when she had heard the news of her sister’s death. She had cried and cried for weeks. But a man losing his wife...she could scarcely imagine such anguish. Even for a man she detested.

 The doctor quietly opened the door and preceded her into a warm, comfortable room with a large bed and a paper-strewn desk under the window. Oh! This must be his bedroom.

 Next to the quilt-covered bed stood a white wicker bassinet on wheels. He gestured toward it. “She sleeps in here so I can hear her when she cries at night,” he said. “She likes to be rocked.”

 Holding her breath, Winifred tiptoed forward. A tiny face peeked out from the pink flannel blanket, her eyes wide open. Blue-green, just like her own and Cissy’s. Winifred’s heart did something odd, and a clenching feeling under her breastbone left her short of breath.

 “She’s so beautiful,” she murmured. Tears stung her eyes.

 “Yes.” He smoothed a long, slim forefinger against the pink-and-white skin of the baby’s cheek. “Her name is Rosemarie.”

 “Rosemarie,” she breathed. After their mother.

 “Rosemarie... Winifred,” he added after a slight hesitation.

 Winifred’s tears spilled over. “Cissy named her after me? Really?”

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