The Gilded Hour Page 98

Coroner: We have another question from someone in the gallery. Dr. Garrison, is it?

Dr. Clara Garrison: Mrs. Stone, I’m a physician and a professor at Woman’s Medical School. May I ask, did you ever notice any signs of instability in Mrs. Campbell? Some of the questions before the coroner’s jury have to do with her state of mind and her sanity. You saw her almost every day, as I understand it. Would you have an opinion on this?

Mrs. Stone: Hard work never killed anybody, that’s what my mam used to say, but it can grind a woman down to dust. Janine was tired and her spirits were low but I never heard her talk crazy or do anything but what she always did, housework and tending to the boys. She was a good mother, too, and her boys adored her. Some women take things out on their children, but Janine handled them different. She could get what she wanted with a soft word. And that’s the way she was, she worked hard, day in and day out and she looked after those boys—

Coroner: This is very difficult, I understand. Take a moment to gather your thoughts.

Mrs. Stone: She said to me once that her own father was too eager with the rod, and that she wanted something else for her boys. She didn’t have an easy life and she swallowed down more than her fair share of bile, but was no more insane than I am or you are, Dr. Garrison.

Coroner: Thank you, Mrs. Stone; you’re excused.

•   •   •

ON THE WAY home from the inquest Monday evening Anna went over the long list of things she needed to do, all of which involved other people. Aunt Quinlan and Mrs. Lee would want to hear about Staten Island and about the inquest, Jack’s parents would be expecting them to call after supper, and once there, his sisters would raise the subject of the new house. Anna was curious, she could admit to herself, about Jack’s mother. It was odd to look forward to and dread something at the same time, but what she found oddest of all was this idea of herself as a daughter-in-law. As someone with parents, when for all these years she had been without. Anna realized that she had always assumed she wouldn’t marry, specifically because she had trouble imagining herself with a family that included parents and brothers and sisters. And now she had all of that.

But what she wanted to do was slip between cool sheets and fall asleep in a breeze from an open window. She wanted to sleep for days on end, and to wake up when the whole sorry business of the inquest and the missing boys had been resolved. She wanted sleep in order to put Mrs. Stone’s testimony out of her head, and at the same time she wanted to bind all those words together into a club and hit every man in the room over the head with it. Because they hadn’t really understood the story behind the story, and what Mrs. Stone was trying to tell them about Janine Campbell’s life. Mrs. Stone had called herself plain-speaking and blunt, but she had wrapped every observation in the language of well-brought-up women, with the result that none of the men had any real sense of the anger and frustration that drove Janine Campbell.

She wanted to sleep, and she wanted Jack sleeping beside her. Instead she had to resign herself to an evening of talking, one that started over supper. Then Sophie joined them, and Anna felt much better. She had come especially to hear about Vittorio Russo, something Jack’s parents made possible when they took the little girls off to be fed by his aunt Philomena and coddled by a house full of Mezzanottes.

“And to speak Italian,” Mrs. Mezzanotte had explained. “They miss the language.”

For once Margaret didn’t seem to mind letting them go off without her, but then she wanted to hear about the youngest Mezzanotte boy as well.

Jack told the story in a very ordered, very complete manner that struck Anna as unlike him, until she realized that this was how he presented a case to his superiors, the men who judged his performance and made decisions about his career. It was a change from the way stories were usually told around Aunt Quinlan’s table, but then it was a serious subject.

“He’s a beautiful child,” Anna said when he had finished. “Dearly loved. The picture of rude good health.”

At the startled look on Jack’s face aunt Quinlan laughed. “A family turn of phrase,” she said. “Sophie’s great-grandmother used it for children who were thriving and content.”

“Then it fits in his case,” Jack said.

He turned to Margaret, who had been silent throughout the story.

“You’ve spent more time with the girls than anybody. Do you have any thoughts on how to proceed?”

She took a moment to pat her mouth dry with her napkin, and then she cleared her throat. Margaret appreciated good manners and respectful gestures, and Jack gave her both. In return she answered with more candor than Anna would have anticipated.

“I do have an opinion,” she said. “But I’m afraid I’ll offend you, as a Catholic.”

Jack said, “I’m not Catholic. I was never baptized, but that’s a longer story for another time. Go on and say what you’re thinking.”

Margaret studied him for a moment. Anna could read her expression very easily: she was fighting the urge to ask him for details. Margaret needed to put him in a box marked Lutheran or Protestant or Baptist; it would never occur to her that he might be something other than Christian. But Jack respected her opinion in the matter of the Russo children, and so she restrained her curiosity.

“From everything I’ve read about the Church of Rome, I can’t imagine that they’d allow a child to be taken away from a good Catholic home to be brought up in such an unconventional household as this one. It could take months or years and might even go to court, and that without much hope of success. Worst of all, the girls will have to live through it all. They are just starting to really come into their own, but this—this would set them back. The knowledge that their brother is nearby but cut off from them would be more than Rosa could cope with.”

Sophie said, “There’s also the boy himself, and the family to think about. We might well do more harm than good, in the greater scheme of things.”

This morning, getting ready for the day on one side of the room while Jack dressed on the other, Anna had hoped that going back to work would be distraction enough to keep her mind off Vittorio, but the image of him in his adoptive mother’s arms stayed with her while she saw patients and met with her assistants and students and answered mail.

Even in Judge Benedict’s courtroom her thoughts kept wandering back to Staten Island. And not to the good things—the excellent things—that had transpired, but to the little boy who was no longer lost, and still, not yet found.

She said, “I promised Rosa I would try.”

“You have tried,” her aunt said. “Are you feeling guilty?”

Anna felt Jack’s gaze on her, waiting, patient. “Not guilty exactly, but to make myself feel better I would have to cause a lot of other people great distress. I’m not so self-centered as that.”

Aunt Quinlan nodded, pleased with her.

Jack said, “I’ll approach Father McKinnawae. Just to be sure of what we think we know. And in the meantime—” He paused, and Anna could almost see the question hovering there, unspoken: What will you do with the boy if you get him?

“I won’t be here to deal with the results of your decision,” Sophie said, as if Jack had spoken out loud. “But I will be back, and I will do whatever needs to be done. I would gladly take on all three children, if it comes to that.”

“You’d give up your profession?” Margaret’s tone was unapologetically doubtful.

“I don’t know,” Sophie said. “But it’s a possibility.”

Anna didn’t like that idea at all, but she understood, too, that Sophie would want something to come home to, when Cap was gone. She wondered if her cousin was even aware of this herself.

When Jack announced that he would see Sophie home and then spend a little time with his parents, Anna was so happy to go off to bed that she could barely contain herself. She kissed him good-bye in the front hall, and tried to think of something to say. Be quick. Be careful. Hurry home. Must you go? None of those things would come out of her mouth.

“Married barely two days and you’re eager to get rid of me.”

She was relieved and surprised both by the way he was smiling at her.

“Savard, you need a little time to yourself. I’m not offended. I’ll try not to wake you when I come in.”

Anna went to bed, and slept.

•   •   •

AS THEY GOT into Cap’s carriage—Sophie’s carriage, now, Jack reminded himself—a police runner dashed up and handed him an envelope. He put it away in his pocket without looking at it, but she had not missed the exchange.

“From Oscar,” he explained. “It can wait.” Which wasn’t exactly true, but he would act as if it were.

Sophie looked distracted, and he was fairly sure he knew why. Still he waited for her to ask.

“Do you know anything about the Campbell boys that isn’t in the newspapers?”

He shook his head. She didn’t believe him, he could see it, but why should she? Men lied to women all the time, and called it protection or concern for their sensibilities when really what they wanted was an end to the questioning.

Prev Next
Free Novels Read Online | Read Wuxia Novel | Read Xianxia Novel