The Gilded Hour Page 108

“But that day, as soon as I came in the door I knew there was trouble. The boys were sitting at the kitchen table like so many poppets. Big eyes, like they knew they had a hiding due. My oldest boy was holding the baby, trying to keep it quiet.”

“If you’d just go on,” said the coroner. “Tell the story as it comes to you.”

Campbell frowned. “There’s not much to tell. She had lost track of time, she said. She had a headache. She got headaches now and then, but my belief is, you work through the pain. Don’t let it get the best of you. But she did. That Tuesday night, she did. Put cold meat and bread out, something I wouldn’t tolerate normally. A man needs a hot meal. But I made do. She cleaned the kitchen, took care of the boys, and sat down with the mending.”

“Did she say anything about arrangements for the next day?”

“She asked if she could take the boys to my brother’s farm.” A flush of color appeared on Campbell’s cheeks. “So she could get the house cleaned proper. I almost said no and by God, I wish I had.”

Anna could almost hear the unease around her in the gallery. Most of the onlookers had been disposed to feel sympathy for Campbell, but his brusque manner was making that difficult. Even Comstock looked unnerved.

“She seemed unwell, that Tuesday evening.”

“As I said.”

“You didn’t call a doctor.”

“Rich people call a doctor for every little thing,” he said. “The rest of us make do. She said she’d be right in the morning, and I believed her. And so she was. Now I’m thinking nothing failed her at all. It was just her way of putting me off the scent, not asking about things being out of order.”

Hawthorn gave a doubtful low hum. “Tell us about that Wednesday morning.”

Campbell didn’t try to hide his impatience. “She went about her business, as she always did. Breakfast and seeing to the boys and so forth. Getting them ready for the train.”

“Did you see her off at the Grand Central Depot?”

“Look,” Campbell said. “It was nothing out of the ordinary. I went to work; she got herself and the boys to Grand Central by omnibus. I don’t hold with cosseting. My mother raised six boys to good men, and she did it with the Bible in one hand and a hickory switch in the other.”

“All right,” said Hawthorn. His tone was short. “Then we’d like to hear about Wednesday evening when you got home.”

“She was in bed,” Campbell said. “Vomiting into a basin, curled up under the covers. So I got my own dinner—cold meat, again—and read the paper like I always do. I heard her moving around some and so I went to check and she was trying to get a bottle of laudanum open. I opened it for her, and I went back to my paper and then to bed. That was at about nine.”

“Did Mrs. Campbell wake in the night?”

“I slept in the boys’ room. It was her idea, thinking I shouldn’t catch the bug that had her so sick.”

From the jury Dr. Stanton cleared his throat. “You didn’t notice blood, I take it? There would have been a great deal of it.”

Campbell looked distinctly uncomfortable. “She told me she had her monthlies, and I left it at that.”

Abraham Jacobi said, “Were you disappointed to hear that Mrs. Campbell’s menses had started?”

For the first time Campbell looked confused. “I don’t follow you.”

“We heard testimony that you were hoping to increase the size of your family as quickly as possible. Something about a wager with your brothers. The news that your wife wasn’t with child, then, was that a disappointment?”

Beside Anna, Sophie went very still while Campbell’s neck and face flooded with color.

“That’s a private matter. Who told you that? Whose testimony?”

“Mr. Campbell,” said Hawthorn. “Please answer the question.”

Campbell’s head was turning as he scanned the gallery, moving from face to face. Sophie sat quietly, composed, unwilling to let Campbell read anything from her expression, once he found her where she sat.

“Mr. Campbell.”

He turned back to the coroner with clear reluctance. “I wanted a big family,” he said. “She knew that before she married me. She wanted the same.”

Dr. Thalberg said, “She never expressed doubts?”

“Doubts?” Campbell fairly spat the word out. “What do doubts have to do with anything? Man proposes, God disposes, so goes the saying. A woman raised right knows that, and accepts it as her duty.”

“But the evidence indicates that Mrs. Campbell performed an abortion on herself,” said Hawthorn.

“If that’s so,” Campbell said with great deliberation, “then she lied to my face and she’s burning in hell, where she belongs.”

There was a moment of shocked silence in the courtroom.

Jacobi said, “Where do you think your sons are? Do you have any sense of what’s become of them?”

Campbell’s whole face contorted. “If what you’re telling me about my wife is true, then I’d put nothing past her. Maybe she stole away and killed them, to spite me.”

Anna felt flushed with heat. Whatever they had imagined about Janine’s home life, it had been far worse. Casual cruelty and callous indifference could destroy a woman as effectively as fists.

“Then let me ask one more question,” Abraham Jacobi was saying. “Assuming for a moment that your sons will not be returned to you, did you have no idea that your wife held you in such contempt, that she was angry enough with you to do such unspeakable things?”

Campbell stood up suddenly, and so did Anthony Comstock. “The man is not on trial,” Comstock said. “You are making grave accusations without the least bit of evidence.”

“Your own tactics, Comstock. Come home to roost,” noted Dr. Thalberg.

“I beg your pardon!” Comstock bellowed. “How dare you!”

“Sit down, Mr. Comstock, and remember the seriousness of this inquest,” said Hawthorn. “Mr. Campbell, you too, sit down immediately.” He paused to take a deep breath.

“You may find Dr. Jacobi’s question insulting, Mr. Campbell, but it is a reasonable question. If your wife was so deeply unhappy and disturbed enough to do the things we’re talking about, where did those feelings originate?”

Finally, Anna thought. Finally.

•   •   •

THE DEBATE WENT on and on, it seemed to Anna, but nobody in the gallery moved a muscle. It was as good as a theater production, one with an excellent director. Her opinion of Mr. Hawthorn grew to considerable proportions as she watched him play the jurors off each other and off Campbell, stepping in exactly when things began to escalate too quickly, providing small jolts when things began to lag.

On her pad she wrote, no history of mental illness she admitted to and French Canadian and save the rod.

Mrs. Campbell did not approve of harsh physical punishment, it seemed. Her husband offered this as evidence of her deceptive character; because, he suggested, there was nothing gentle about a woman who could wrong him the way she had.

Anna had had more than her fill of Archer Campbell when the coroner declared the inquest at an end and cleared the courtroom of everyone but the jury. The hallway, already crowded with reporters, doubled in density. In the tumult of the crowd Anna stayed very close to Sophie, her Gladstone bag bumping against her leg as people pressed forward around islands of reporters who stood scribbling madly on paper held open against a palm. Perspiration was running down her back and sides, and she had never wanted to see an open window as much in her life as she did at that moment.

“Sophie Verhoeven.” A reporter pushed in front of them, his face lowered so that the brim of his hat would have touched Sophie’s forehead, had she not shoved him away.

“Don’t you want people to know—”

“What I want,” Sophie said, “is for you to remove yourself immediately. Immediately.”

Anna took her by the arm and pulled her aside. “Jack, there.”

He was easy to spot in a crowd, a head taller than the tallest man. Anna gave a very solid push in his direction, and Sophie followed.

“Let’s go,” Jack said. He used his body to create a protective wall, a passageway that moved with them. He opened a door and gestured them into another hallway, this one empty and dim and cool.

Anna leaned against the wall for a moment to catch her breath. Sophie stood very stiffly, her mouth pressed hard shut and streaks on her cheeks that had only one origin.

“Oh, Sophie.” Anna put a hand on her cousin’s elbow, and Sophie turned to her, pressed her face to Anna’s shoulder, and wept as though the world had ended.

To his credit, Jack stood back and let them be. Anna smiled wanly at him over Sophie’s head.

“She should have killed him,” Sophie said finally. “And saved herself.”

Anna fumbled a handkerchief out of her sleeve and wiped Sophie’s damp face. “In a just world, yes.” She felt very close to tears herself, until she saw Jack’s face.

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