The Gilded Hour Page 102

“I’ll take it, sir.”

Anna could not let herself smirk at Comstock, and so she smiled at the clerk and thanked him.

She turned the pages of the pamphlet deliberately, slowly, and then handed it back to the clerk.

“I have seen pamphlets on hygiene, of course. Not this exact pamphlet, but others like it.”

“Isn’t it true that the hygienic measures described in that pamphlet are also used to induce abortion?”

“If there is a discussion of abortion in that pamphlet, I didn’t see it.”

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

Anna decided to give him the information he so clearly wanted. She said, “I have treated women who flooded themselves with lye soap, carbolic acid, rubbing alcohol, gin, quinine, bleach—the list is very long and the results are often ugly. Women with a little more money sometimes take medicines. Most of them are nothing more than weak tea; others are as bad as arsenic. Many women try three or four times with such medicines and then seek help elsewhere. The very poor care for themselves. They use straws or wires or bougies, almost any kind of spoon or slender, long instrument. Rubber tubing, metal probes, whalebone stays from old corsets. Your pamphlet addresses none of these things. And as far as I could see, it provided no instructions on terminating a pregnancy. Does that answer your question?”

Comstock met her gaze with sputtering animosity. He said, “I have no further questions at this time.”

“Then let’s move on,” the coroner said.

Anna turned toward him. “If I may suggest a solution to the question on the table?” Without waiting, she went on. “Dr. Lambert could speak to the question of how capable women are of injuring themselves. Dr. Lambert?”

Lambert’s whole face contorted with surprise, but he spoke to Anna directly. “I think this point won’t be settled without a second postmortem. The remains?”

“The Bellevue dead house,” said the clerk.

Anna sat back, clearly satisfied to have achieved exactly this outcome. The coroner seemed less pleased, but he didn’t try to object. The jury would go to the morgue and the inquest would reconvene at four.

Conrad leaned forward and touched Sophie’s shoulder. “Go with them,” he said. “Your testimony will be compromised if you don’t.”

Sophie inhaled a sharp breath. The idea of a second autopsy in the damp recesses of the Bellevue dead house was unwelcome. It wasn’t so much the smells of putrification and mold, or the water that leached into the walls from the East River; those things were never pleasant but could be coped with. It was the idea of the men in the jury gathered around Janine Campbell, poking and prodding when she had been through so much already. But she would have to be there. With a female physician present the others would be utterly professional and focused on procedure. She only wished she could ask Anna to come along, but it was too much of an imposition.

Then help came from another quarter. Mary Putnam waved her closer, took Sophie’s hand, and shook it firmly. Small and wiry, a plain woman who could be transformed and animated into something more when she had a medical issue to debate. Mary Putnam had also been one of their professors at medical school. Her expertise as a physician and a scientist was unquestioned, even by the most unapproachable male doctors. She was without a doubt the most exacting instructor Sophie had ever encountered. Together with her husband they made a formidable team. And they were both here.

Sophie reminded herself that she could reveal every facet of the Campbell case to Abraham and Mary Putnam Jacobi without hesitation or fear, because she had given the best treatment there was to offer.

“I’m coming too,” Mary Putnam said. “The more female practitioners present, the better.”

“Will it be possible to keep Comstock out of the room?” Sophie asked.

“It will be possible,” she said. “I will see to it.”

•   •   •

SOPHIE AND MARY Putnam left with the jurors and the coroner to make the trip to Bellevue while Anna stayed just where she was. She said good-bye to Conrad and his law clerk and spoke to the friends who had come to lend support, but she never moved from her seat.

Finally the reporters approached her, but she sent them off with a sharp shake of the head. She had no answers for them, but she did have an unanswered question of her own, one that had been growing in her mind since her aunt put it there: Ubi est morbus?

It was the right question to put to the jury, and she had come very close to saying as much. Then Comstock had interrupted her with his outrage over that pamphlet, one he claimed to have found in Mrs. Campbell’s dresser. Nothing Comstock had to say was a surprise, but the pamphlet had been something of a shock, because she really had never seen it before.

From that fact followed two questions: what happened to the pamphlet Sophie had sent to Mrs. Campbell, and where had the one Comstock showed her come from? Which made Anna wonder what else she had gotten wrong from the start. It should have occurred to her that Mrs. Campbell would visit other doctors and midwives in the hope that someone would give her the help that Sophie would not provide.

Contrary to what Comstock and the physicians on the jury seemed to believe, women in distress could find a way to end an unwanted pregnancy, so long as they could pay for it. For every case that came to public view because something went terribly wrong, there were a hundred or more that remained a private matter. Though she had not said as much to Jack, Anna knew of three midwives and two male physicians who performed the procedure as a matter of course, and without ever having lost a mother. She knew another, who was retired, very well: her own cousin Amelie had cared for women in the city for forty years.

It occurred to her now that she didn’t know who had delivered Mrs. Campbell’s first three children. More than that, it was possible, she admitted to herself, that in her desperation Janine Campbell had put herself into the hands of a charlatan, one of the men and women who worked the darker corners of worst neighborhoods. Someone who took her money and promised results but had not the slightest training or interest in anything but the coin to be had.

Ubi est morbus?

Janine Campbell’s social standing and income made it unlikely that she had ventured into the tenements to find the help she needed. And so Anna found herself back at square one.

By the courtroom clock she saw that she had an hour and a half until the inquest reconvened. A lot could be done in that amount of time, and so she left, slipping through one of the side entrances onto the street, where she hailed a cab to take her back to the New Amsterdam. If she thought about something else hard and long enough, often the answer to a difficult question that evaded her would present itself.

•   •   •

WHEN JACK FINALLY got to the New Amsterdam he found he had missed Anna by a quarter hour. She had gone back to the Tombs, where the inquest was about to reconvene.

Oscar hailed a cab and they reached Judge Benedict’s courtroom just as the jury took their seats. From their expressions it seemed to Jack that they had not come to any kind of concord, which might mean another hour or more before the coroner closed deliberations for the day.

Anna sat in her usual spot beside Sophie, both of them in conversation with another woman Jack didn’t know. Conrad was listening closely while his clerk took notes.

Jack followed Oscar to the back of the room to stand against the wall, the usual spot for any police officers who had an interest in a trial or inquest. He watched Hawthorn, who stood behind the bench, thumbs tucked into his vest pockets while he stared at the floor. His complexion had gone the color of old cheese, and even from the back of the room the perspiration on his brow was obvious. Jack had the idea that he wouldn’t be eager to watch another autopsy anytime soon.

Hawthorn cleared his throat a number of times before he could be heard. “I am going to poll the jury on a single question, before we proceed. Gentlemen of the jury, on the basis of the evidence you have just seen, do you concur with the testimony of Dr. Savard, in which she stated her opinion that it was Mrs. Campbell herself who performed the operation to end a pregnancy?”

There was silence for a long moment, and then Abraham Jacobi spoke, his tone modulated and professional. He was not a big man, but his voice was deep and had a rasp, as was sometimes the case with men who were too free with tobacco. His German accent was strong, but there was nothing in the least inarticulate about the way he expressed himself.

He said, “I agree with Dr. Savard that the operation was done in a violent way, and I find it hard to imagine any practitioner, even a new or poorly trained one, could have done such damage. For those reasons, I am satisfied with a ruling that identifies Mrs. Campbell as the cause of her own death.”

Three of the physicians followed this lead, but the rest of the jury—Comstock the most vocal—did not. They wanted to hear the rest of the testimony, especially that of Mr. Campbell himself.

“Given the missing Campbell boys,” Stanton said, “it seems sensible to interview the father, especially.”

“Very well,” said Hawthorn. “As Mr. Campbell is still out of the city looking for his sons, we will continue with Dr. Sophie Savard Verhoeven.”

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