The Gilded Hour Page 126

“I remember the noise, but that’s all. We were a household of women and children and we locked ourselves in, you see. Uncle Quinlan was dead, Mr. Lee was in the army somewhere in the south, and Margaret had come to stay with her boys. We weren’t allowed out of the house during the riots, not even in the garden. Auntie wouldn’t even let us see the newspapers once it was all over.”

Jack looked almost relieved to hear this.

“So, Savard,” he said. “Where exactly are we going?”

“Patience. Just a couple more minutes.”

She would have raised the subject of the suspicious ad in the paper, but Anna had begun to doubt her suspicions and could no longer see a connection between the newspaper clippings and the deaths of three women. She would only embarrass herself, like a child who came into the hospital with a scratch and demanded a plaster cast.

Then again, Jack wouldn’t laugh at her, even if there was nothing of merit in what she wanted to show him. He would listen, and they would talk about it. Then, she was almost certain, he would put her suspicions to rest and they would go back to listen to the band and watch the children playing as the day slipped away to evening.

As they turned west on Ninth Street Jack said, “We talked to Archer Campbell this morning, Oscar and me.”

Anna was glad of the distraction. “About the money question?”

“Mostly. She had over a thousand dollars with her when she left with the boys that morning, but there was no trace of it on her person or in the house when it was searched after her death. Campbell thinks she paid somebody to take the boys in.”

Anna considered. “So you were correct, she had enough money to pay a reputable doctor. But how would she find someone to take four young boys she could trust? A thousand dollars is a great deal of money, but at the very minimum that would have to last fifteen years.”

Jack said, “We don’t know where the money went. The house was empty for a good while once the ambulance took her away, and then there’s the ambulance ride itself. I’ve arrested more than one orderly with pockets full of cash and jewelry they took off their charges. Chances are slim we’ll be able to pin anything down, but it’s worth looking at.”

Jefferson Market came into view, all the stalls empty and shuttered on a Sunday afternoon. In a few hours the aisles would be full of street arabs and the outdoor poor, who would fight to keep a spot under that leaky tin roof. A few were already standing nearby in the shadow of the Sixth Avenue elevated train tracks. At the sight of Jack they slipped away around corners.

Behind the market the redbrick bulk of the Jefferson Court House loomed, proud and fanciful both in an island of small houses and tenements, home mostly to skilled workers and small business owners.

“Now I’m even more curious,” Jack said, teasing. “You can’t mean to take me on a tour of the courthouse? The police station?”

Anna said, “No, look there.”

She nodded toward the storefronts that faced the market. A tailor, a cobbler, a greengrocer, a steam laundry. Between the grocer and the cobbler one shop stood out, a little wider than the others, the awning newer, the show windows spotless. The weathered sign was the only thing that gave away the shop’s age, old-fashioned script spelling out the name: Geo. Smithson, Apothecary.

There were dozens of druggist’s shops like it in the city, but Smithson was one of the oldest and most respected. The shop was closed on a Sunday, of course. But she had counted on that.

Jack was watching her, curious but patient.

She took the newspaper cuttings from her reticule and handed him the one on the top.

“I came across that first advertisement by accident early today. I was a little later than I should have been to the picnic because I stopped to buy different newspapers to look through.” She fanned out the other clippings for him to see.

“Of the five I bought, four had identical ads.”

Jack studied the clippings briefly, then glanced across the street to the druggist.

“What you probably don’t know,” she went on, “is that neighborhood midwives almost always have a druggist they work with, where they consult and get whatever preparations they need. Druggists keep a list of midwives who work in the area, and take messages for them. Some druggists work with only one or two midwives they trust. My cousin Amelie—I haven’t told you about her yet—worked with Smithson for more than thirty years before she gave up her practice. Another midwife took her place, her name was Sarah Conroy, but she’s retired now too. I’m not sure who’s working with Smithson now, but this—” She touched the newspaper advertisement. “This makes me wonder.”

Jack was listening closely, keeping his thoughts to himself. Anna knew her voice had gone hoarse, but she would tell all of it. She had to tell all of it.

“Amelie was an excellent midwife. People still talk about her. Sarah was just as good. And both of them would help women who came to them in trouble.”

She saw that he understood. For a long moment he considered the newspaper clipping, and then he took in a deep breath and let it go.

Jack asked, “Do you know who took Sarah’s place? Who’s working with Smithson now?”

“No, not with any certainty. But I could find out.”

“Wait,” Jack said. “Let me see if I follow your thinking. A woman comes to talk to this Smithson when she’s looking for a midwife, either to deliver her when the time comes, or to regulate her courses—” He was using the euphemistic wording from the newspaper.

“To end the pregnancy,” Anna clarified. “Yes.”

“And it’s always worked that way?”

“It’s not the only way a woman finds a midwife, but it is one way, yes.”

“And you’re thinking that this Dr. dePaul is trying to get the attention of women who come to Smithson’s for this purpose.”

“When you say it like that, it sounds very far-fetched—”

“No,” Jack said. “I see it that way too. But there are a couple of other possible explanations. First, it could be nothing more than a way to stand out from the other advertisements. This dePaul might be running the more usual kind of ad as well, he’s just casting a wider net—”

Anna managed a shaky smile. “Of course. I should have thought of that.”

“—hold on, I wasn’t finished.” He cradled the back of her neck in one hand and drew her in to him, put his mouth to her ear. “Sometimes a thing feels just a little bit off. Not quite right. That’s probably what you picked up, that feeling, because I’ve got a whiff of it too. So let’s talk to Oscar about this, put our heads together.”

A train rattled by overhead, and they stayed just as they were until it was gone. Then Anna pulled back to look at him directly. “You’re not just humoring me?”

“Hell, no,” Jack said. He gave her a grim smile. “I’ve got my faults, but I’m not stupid. You’d never stand for that, and I wouldn’t want you to.”

•   •   •

THEY WERE CUTTING across the park and almost back to the family when Jack saw that Anna’s aunt Quinlan was walking toward home, braced on either side by Elise and Margaret.

Just that quickly Anna’s expression shifted to what Jack had come to think of as her professional mask. Without discussion they both broke into a jog. By the time they caught up, Anna had managed to produce an easier smile. She said, “You are more sensible than I am, Auntie. I should take a nap too.”

Her aunt wasn’t so easily taken in. “Don’t fuss, I’m perfectly fine. Jack, take that girl back to the picnic, would you? She’s going to try my patience.”

The uncharacteristic peevish tone seemed not to alarm Anna, but to put her worries to rest. “You’ll send word if you need me?”

“Of course I will. Give me a kiss and go on. You too, Elise. And don’t argue with me, I won’t have it. A short walk will do me good. I’ll send Margaret back just as soon as I’m settled.”

Jack said, “Don’t I have any say in this?”

Four faces turned to him. He sighed in mock disappointment, leaned down, and, moving gently, lifted Anna’s beloved aunt into the cradle of his arms.

“Don’t fuss,” he said to her. “I won’t have it.” And he started down the street at a brisk pace.

For a moment he thought she was going to box his ears, but suddenly she gave a squawk of a laugh and relaxed.

“You do remind me sometimes of my Simon. I had a difficult time when I was expecting Blue, and so he carried me everywhere.” She looped an arm around his neck and patted his cheek. “I am so glad to know you’ll be looking after my Anna.”

•   •   •

IT WASN’T MORE than a quarter hour before he got back to the park, but Rosa and Lia were lying in wait and jumped out at him. He took one look at their expressions and crouched down.

“Aunt Quinlan is just fine,” he said. “Nothing to worry about.”

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