The Gilded Hour Page 122

MARRIED AND SINGLE LADIES in need of medical consultation of a private and personal nature can turn with confidence to Dr. Crane, who has had the finest medical education available. Twenty years in practice. Simple removal of all obstructions to nature’s rhythms. Modern hygienic methods, safe, and discreet. Box 29, Broadway Post Office. All inquiries answered by mail within a day.

RESPECTABLE LADIES requiring specialized medical care and treatment should be aware that Dr. Weiss, a specialist in the very particular needs of the weaker sex, renowned for his kind, professional, and efficient methods, is seeing patients at his offices in the Hughes Building.

LADIES IN DISTRESS and without other recourse, married or maiden, may apply to Dr. Sanders, a physician and professor of women’s indispositions with many years’ experience. Inquiries to the Park Avenue Post Office, Box 4. By return mail you will receive a description of services offered. Specific details of your case will make a detailed response, including costs, possible.

She counted thirty ads of the same type, and estimated twice as many for pills and teas guaranteed to restore a lady’s health and circulation, a euphemism that always set Anna’s teeth on edge. As if a woman’s menstrual cycle were an ailment that required a male’s better understanding to bring under control. If she took the time to go through the dozens of daily newspapers she would find hundreds of ads that targeted the most desperate, and none of them could provide the help they claimed to offer. The reputable doctors and midwives who performed abortions didn’t advertise at all and were by necessity extremely cautious in accepting patients.

She read on, skimming the more personal and for the most part, undecipherable ads: A.Y.: all is prepared. Tomorrow at eight at the agreed place. W.G.G. Were A.Y. and W.G.G. eloping, or committing adultery, or planning a robbery? It struck her as quite understandable that people might be caught up in the mystery and intrigue of what could be taken as very short stories, ripe for development. Mrs. Lee and Aunt Quinlan sometimes talked about them as if the parties were old acquaintances.

Anna wondered what Jack and Oscar thought they might gain by going through newspaper advertisements, and if they intended to investigate every one of the practitioners who made outlandish and irresponsible claims under false names. As she folded the paper to put it back on the desk, another ad caught her eye. While she was studying it the clerk came in.

Anna nodded impatiently at the long-winded excuse for his absence and held up the paper. “Is this yours, Mr. Andrews?”

He was tall and slender to the point of emaciation, his skin livid with inflamed eruptions that a luckier person would have outgrown years since. Anna imagined very well that he never looked at his reflection if he could help it. Now sweat broke out on his brow because she had looked at him. She turned her attention back to the paper.

“You’re not in any trouble,” she said in a kinder tone. “I came in with some death certificates, and noticed the paper. I was just wondering if I might take this page of advertisements, or if that would interrupt your reading?”

He raised both hands, palms out, as if he were surrendering to a greater military power.

“Please,” he said. “Help yourself.”

•   •   •

JACK AND OSCAR knocked on Archer Campbell’s door at ten in the morning, and kept knocking until they heard him cursing as he marched through the house. He yanked the door open to glare at them, his eyes bloodshot and red-rimmed.

His sleeves were pushed up to the elbows, his hands and forearms scalded red and dripping with water and soapsuds. His trousers were wet from the knee to the ankle, and his shoes were scuffed and caked with dirt.

“What do you want?”

“A few questions,” Oscar said. His tone was not so sharp as Jack would have anticipated.

“I’ve got a few of my own,” said Campbell. “But I doubt you’ll have any answers. Fuckin useless buggers, every one of youse.”

They followed him into the house, through the small parlor and dining room to a kitchen that had been emptied of furniture, and the windows and rear door stood wide open. The room smelled of lye soap and carbolic. They stepped around a bucket and a scrub brush and followed him into the yard, where a washtub full of clothes waited.

“Get on with it,” Campbell said. “Or were you expecting cake and coffee first?”

Oscar said, “How much money did your wife take with her when she left with the boys that Wednesday morning?”

Campbell’s head jerked up. “What?”

“How much money—”

“Never mind. Why would you care?”

“We’re trying to track down the doctor who treated her,” Jack said. “Money is relevant.”

“She never lacked a thing,” Campbell said hotly. “Her or the boys.”

Oscar glanced at Jack, but they kept their silence.

Campbell put back his head and looked up into the sky. After a long moment he said, “She took it all. One thousand two hundred twenty-two dollars, every penny I’ve saved since I started to work on the day I turned eleven.”

“You kept it in the house.”

“Show me a man who put his trust in a bank, and I’ll show you a fool. It was well hidden, that you can believe, but not well enough. It never occurred to me she’d have the guts to rob her own husband, but then as it turns out, I didn’t know her at all, did I?”

“Have you given up the search for your boys?”

Campbell’s expression hardened. “With what money? Train fares and private detectives and all the rest cost plenty.”

He glanced over his shoulder as if he were worried about being overheard.

“She planned it all out. Took the money so she could pay the doctor, the one who fixed her and did such a grand job of it. I think she already knew how things stood, that she was dying, so she paid somebody to take all four boys in. She stole my savings and used it to hide my boys from me, tied my hands so I couldn’t go looking for them proper. Miserable bitch. I’ll never get the stink of her out of my house.”

•   •   •

ANNA LEFT THE New Amsterdam and hailed a cab, headed all the way uptown on Bloomingdale Road to a little farm that had been one of her favorite places as a child. It was a trip she and Sophie and Aunt Quinlan each made once a month, but Anna had last visited in March, the week before she went to Hoboken. Amelie would not make accusations, but Anna was regretful, nonetheless.

When the cabdriver balked about going so far, she promised him an extra dollar on top of his normal fare if he would wait for her. He stopped in front of the garden gate, heavy with twining flower vines studded with blossoms as big as saucers, bright blue in the sunlight.

The farm belonged to Amelie, her cousin—her half cousin, really, who was just sixty-five but had given up her midwifery practice. These days she never left home; she hadn’t come to Sophie’s wedding, and wouldn’t have come to Anna’s, if there had been one. Amelie had withdrawn from the world, it was that simple, and more than that: she kept her reasons to herself.

At the garden gate Anna stopped a minute to look and take comfort in the fact that nothing changed here. A small barn in good repair, a pasture where sheep and a donkey and a very old horse grazed, and the small cottage surrounded by a garden where chickens scuffled and scoured the earth. The herbs that grew along the walkway—mint, comfrey, sage, thyme, tansy, pennyroyal, blue cohosh, mugwort, verbena, rue—rioted on the very edge of anarchy, which was true of the whole garden. Abundance was the word that came to mind.

“Beauregard,” she said, surprised to see Amelie’s old dog sleeping in his usual spot. She always went away thinking he’d be gone before she returned, but here he was. His eyes were milky with cataracts but his tail thumped at the sound of her voice. She crouched down to rub the crown of his head, and he flopped over onto his back to offer his belly instead.

“Doesn’t matter how old he gets,” said a familiar voice from the far side of the garden. “He demands his toll. Anna Savard, look at you.”

Anna got up and wound her way through the garden beds—cabbage, squash, carrots, cucumbers, parsnips, beans, peas, turnips—until she reached Amelie, who got up from her weeding and held out both arms.

“Beauregard ain’t the only one whose toll has to be paid. Come here and give me my due.”

Her arms were thin but she hugged Anna with all her strength. Then she stepped back and caught up her hands to squeeze them. Her hazel eyes were damp with tears, but if Anna were to point this out, she would deny it.

“Don’t you look more like Birdie every day, bless her sweet soul. Come on now, these weeds ain’t going nowhere. They’ll wait on me but I’ll bet you’re in a hurry.”

At that moment Anna would have gladly forgotten everything and everyone else just to spend the afternoon working in the garden with Amelie. It was Amelie who had delivered her, far away from this tidy farm, on the very edge of the endless forest. Anna promised herself that before the summer was out she would come for a whole day, and bring Jack with her. Jack should hear Amelie’s stories from Amelie herself.

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