The Gilded Hour Page 103

The whole room seemed to lean forward as Sophie left her seat and approached the dock. Even when she had taken her place, there was an expectant hush. Jack had the idea that they would be disappointed, if they were looking for drama. Sophie was utterly calm, her expression neutral. She wore a gown of leaf green, some kind of figured brocade, Jack thought, cut loose in the style his sisters called rational, for some reason he had never been able to pinpoint. The only jewelry she wore was a brooch at her throat and most probably a ring or two, but like Anna she hid her hands with gloves.

Her manner was polite and professional as she answered questions. There were a lot of them, far more than Anna had gotten from the jurors. And they were more personal, about her childhood and the reasons she came to New York, her experiences of the war.

Abraham Jacobi changed direction and asked her very specific questions about her training as a doctor, and she answered those questions with more warmth.

“You are in private practice,” Stanton said to her. Not a question, by his tone.

“I am attached to the New Amsterdam and the Colored Hospital as well as a number of clinics and infirmaries,” she corrected him. “And I am sometimes called to consult on difficult cases.”

Stanton gave her a doubtful look. “Oh really? And who calls on you for your”—he paused—“expertise?”

Just a flicker of anger on Sophie’s face, but before she could answer, the doctor who ran the German Dispensary spoke up.

“She has consulted on a number of cases for me,” he said. “And with great success.”

Stanton made a muffled, disbelieving sound, and Thalberg took the chance to say more.

“Dr. Savard Verhoeven is especially skilled when it comes to problematic presentations. I have seen her manage deliveries I thought impossible. She is also an excellent diagnostician and professional in all her dealings.”

Before the conversation could be taken any further, Hawthorn interrupted.

“In that case,” he said. “I would like to hear Dr. Savard Verhoeven’s diagnosis of Mrs. Campbell’s condition.”

The room was very silent while Sophie considered, her gaze on her own folded hands.

Finally she looked directly at Hawthorn and spoke to him alone. “She gave birth to a healthy boy when I attended her on Easter Monday. Her labor was long but not particularly difficult. It was her fourth full-term delivery and she coped quite well. The word diagnosis is used when there is some kind of disease or injury. A woman who is pregnant and gives birth without trouble is not ill or injured in any way. What I can say is that I noted symptoms of extreme melancholy and even depression in Mrs. Campbell after the birth of her son.”

“And that is unusual?”

“Not in and of itself,” Sophie said. “Women react in different ways to giving birth. But Mrs. Campbell was very forthright about her feelings.”

“She told you she was unhappy.”


“In what way?”

Sophie paused. “She talked about her husband’s insistence that they have six boys. The idea frightened her, because she believed he would not—” She cleared her throat. “He would not desist in his attentions until he had reached that goal. She said it was a competition he had going with his brothers.”

“Which brothers?” asked Comstock, as if to catch her up in a lie.

“She didn’t say,” Sophie answered him. “She only said ‘his brothers.’”

“Did she tell you she was frightened?” asked another juror, the one with the beard the color of tobacco juice.

“She said that it would kill her to have another baby too soon, that she couldn’t bear the thought.”

“She was asking you for contraceptives,” Comstock announced to the room.

“Yes,” Sophie said. “She was.”

“And you gave her—?”

“Nothing,” Sophie said, quietly. “Because of the laws that forbid me to provide her with the help she needed, I gave her nothing, and now she is dead.”

“She is dead because she violated the laws of God and man,” Comstock shot back at her. “She reaped the terrible harvest of her sins. And somebody helped her, at least as far as providing the information she needed. Was it you?”

Conrad stood to speak, his voice projecting easily through the room. “My client has rights under the law, and I am here to see that they are protected.”

Hawthorn said, “Mr. Belmont, I assure you, we see eye to eye on this matter. Now, Mr. Comstock. Dr. Savard Verhoeven has not been accused of any crime, nor is there any evidence to indicate that such an accusation is forthcoming. Mind your manners, sir.”

“I will mind the word of the Lord my God,” thundered Comstock. “I will mind the laws of this great country. You, sir, are in no way equal to either of those authorities.”

“But I have been appointed coroner and this is my inquest,” said Hawthorn mildly. “If you will not desist, I will remove you from my jury. And that I swear to God.”

Comstock’s whole body was shaking in anger. For a moment Jack wondered if he would lose his infamous temper and be thrown out, but then he took his seat and crossed his arms over his chest.

Sophie said, “I am happy to answer the question. I did not give Mrs. Campbell contraceptives of any kind, nor did I give her information on how to end a pregnancy. I did remind her that the law would not allow it.”

Abraham Jacobi said, “And when she came to your office a month ago?”

“Yes. At that visit she was convinced that she had already fallen pregnant. She may have been right, but it was far too early for any clinical signs.”

The man from Bellevue leaned toward her. “You did a thorough manual examination? What were your findings, exactly?”

“I observed no changes to the cervix or the uterus. Changes to the breasts would be difficult to determine, as she was still nursing. But there was ample evidence of recent sexual activity, in line with the history she gave me.”

Hawthorn wanted clarification, which made all the doctors in the jury shift uneasily. Sophie didn’t seem to notice.

“Mrs. Campbell told me that her husband resumed sexual activity almost immediately after she gave birth. She used the phrase ‘morning and night’ to describe his attentions.”

“Coroner Hawthorn!” A man in the gallery struggled to his feet with the help of a cane.

“There’s a question in the gallery,” said the clerk. “Your name, sir?”

“I am a retired physician. Cameron. James McGrath Cameron, and I do have something to say. I cannot believe that a woman is allowed to speak of such private matters in a public court of law. What a man does with his wife in the privacy of his home is no one else’s concern or business, and certainly not a matter for discussion here, by a—a—woman, no less. Shame on you, sir, for allowing it.” With a triple thump of his cane, he sat down again.

Hawthorn cleared his throat. “Dr. Cameron. The witness is a fully trained and qualified physician, and she was answering a question put to her by another physician. That is why we are here, to look at the evidence—all the evidence. That is why the general public has not been allowed admission. If you find it disturbs your sense of propriety, I suggest you leave this courtroom now.”

Cameron jumped up again and began to make his way up the aisle toward the exit, stabbing down with his cane with each step. “I will do just that,” he said, his voice rising. “But I want it on the record that I protest. Such things are not discussed in public. I am going home to my supper.”

“I wish you a good evening.”

The door closed behind Dr. Cameron before the sentence was out of Hawthorn’s mouth. He let out a deep sigh. “Dr. Savard Verhoeven,” he said. “I assume you are familiar with the concept of puerperal insanity?”

Sophie agreed that she was.

“Have you ever seen a case in your own practice?”

“I have seen women lose touch with themselves and the world after a difficult birth. Sometimes a woman will exhibit behaviors that would generally be regarded as insanity. While in training I observed a patient who was so disoriented after the birth of her third child that she was confined to an asylum, primarily because she imagined that God was speaking to her so loudly and insistently that she couldn’t sleep.”

“And what became of that patient?” asked Hawthorn.

“She is still in the private asylum, to the best of my knowledge.”

“And tell us now, did you see any such symptoms in Mrs. Campbell? Please take your time in answering if necessary.”

“I don’t need time to consider,” Sophie said. “I can tell you that Mrs. Campbell was greatly distressed, desperately unhappy, and that she was consumed with anger. But she was in her right mind.”

“Consumed with anger?” asked Stanton, a queer half smile on his face. “Consumed with anger at whom? Her husband? The father of her children?”

“Yes,” Sophie said simply. “Mrs. Campbell was very angry at her husband. I saw no evidence that she was a danger to herself or her sons, but I would not have been surprised to learn that she hurt her husband. In her mind, he was the source of all her troubles. And to be truthful, Dr. Stanton, I see a good deal of logic in her view of things.”

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