The Gilded Hour Page 129

Veterans of the last war were so common on the city streets that their scars and missing limbs were almost invisible, but this man’s injuries could not be overlooked. His left arm had been amputated near the shoulder and the left side of his head was distorted, with a round indentation over the ear that Anna estimated to be an inch deep at its center.

“Mr. Stone?” Oscar’s tone was friendly, unremarkable, respectful, perfectly gauged.

The smile widened to show shiny pink gums with no teeth at all on the left.

“Guten Abend,” he said. “Ich bin Heinrich Steinmauer. Wer seid Ihr?”

Then Mrs. Stone was there, her hand on his shoulder to guide him back into the house. She murmured to the old man in German, and he nodded, smiling at her with great affection.

“Mrs. Stone,” Jack said. “We have a few questions regarding Janine Campbell’s death. May we impose on you for a short while?”

She glanced over her shoulder, unsettled, and then back at them.

“He’s worst in the evenings,” she said. “My husband, Henry. The evening isn’t a good time for him.”

“He was very polite to us,” Anna said.

“But his mind is wandering. He forgets. He imagines he’s back home in Munich, where he grew up. We changed our name to Stone years ago, but he forgets even that.”

Oscar said, “Would you like us to come back tomorrow?”

Anna was surprised at Oscar’s solicitous tone, something she hadn’t heard from him before.

She said, “No, no. Please come in. If we sit quietly with him in the parlor while we talk he will probably be fine. But he’ll speak German to you, please be aware.”

Anna might have told her that she spoke German, but she didn’t want to draw more attention to herself. Instead she said, “He was wounded in the war?”

“July of sixty-one, at Bull Run.”

“My brother died at Bull Run,” Anna heard herself say.

Both Jack and Oscar turned to look at her. Maybe it was the tone of her voice, or the fact that she had yet to tell Jack anything about Paul.

In the parlor Jack lowered his head to speak softly into her ear. “Is this too much, then?”

Anna answered Jack by taking a seat on a sofa that creaked with age. The cushions were ancient but carefully mended at the corners and backed with embroidered antimacassars.

While Oscar tried to make himself comfortable with a chair far too small for his bulk, Anna watched Mr. Stone, who sat in a rocker by the window with a small dog in his lap. He was talking to the dog in a way he might have talked to an old friend or a brother who simply didn’t talk very much. She heard him mentioning a carriage going down the street with a single piebald horse, a neighbor who seemed to have forgotten his hat, children chasing fireflies in the new dark.

The dog seemed to understand it all, looking obediently where his attention was directed. His tail gave a thump whenever a name was mentioned, as if to comment.

Oscar was saying, “Now, I believe you said that you left to visit your sister on the day before Mrs. Campbell’s death. Is that right?”

“Yes, that’s right. In Albany.”

“That’s a long way to go for a one-day visit. You’d almost have to turn around and come back within a few hours. You were home on Thursday morning?”

A little color had begun to creep into her face, but she nodded.

“Did you go to the train station with Mrs. Campbell and her sons that Wednesday?”

“Yes,” she said. Her voice was hoarse now, and she cleared her throat. “To help with the boys. Why do you ask?”

“Mrs. Stone,” Oscar said. “Where are the boys you helped Mrs. Campbell hide away?”

The room was completely silent but for the ticking of the mantel clock. Anna, as surprised as Mrs. Stone seemed to be, watched the older woman’s face flush and then drain of all color. Her fingers were working in her skirts, gathering the fabric and then smoothing it, again and again. Jack and Oscar waited patiently, nothing to read from their faces, no judgment or disapproval.

Mrs. Stone cleared her throat again. “What do you mean?”

“I would like to know where the Campbell boys are. Archer, Steven—”

Mr. Stone turned toward them.

“Kommen die Buben heut’ abend?” There was real excitement and pleasure in his expression. “Kommen die Buben endlich?”

“Nein,” said his wife. “Noch nicht.”

Below shaggy eyebrows the blue eyes lowered in disappointment. “Schade,” he said. “Montgomery, die Buben kommen immer noch nicht.”

“My husband loves those boys,” Mrs. Stone said, a little stiffly. “He asks for them every day, many times. I can’t explain to him.”

“What can’t you explain?” Oscar asked.

“That they are gone away. That they won’t be back. I tell him but he doesn’t believe me.”

“Because he expects to see them again,” Anna suggested.

Oscar asked again, quite gently. “Mrs. Stone. What happened to the boys?”

She gave a sharp shake of the head and lowered her chin to her chest. When she looked up again she said, “Which one? Which one do you want to know about? Let’s start with Steven. Nobody at the inquest asked where the older boys were when the baby was coming into the world. If they had asked me I would have said. I would have told God and man about those poor boys.

“Because they were right here with us, with me and Henry. Junior and Gregory were playing with a puzzle in the kitchen and I was tending to Steven. He had bloody stripes on his legs and bottom and his back too, and it wasn’t the first time, wasn’t going to be the last, either. Their father used the buckle end of his belt to beat them with. The scars will last those boys a lifetime. And poor Junior—”

She sat back, breathless, her mouth pressed hard.

“What about Junior?” Oscar asked.

“He didn’t beat that boy near as bad as the other two. But he’d say, Junior, which one of your brothers should wear your stripes today? And made him choose. If he hesitated, both boys got the belt. To remind them who was master of the house, and that disobedience has consequences. Oh, he loved teaching that lesson. So let me ask you, Detective Sergeant, what would you have done in my place?” She looked at Oscar with something like defiance in her gaze.

“I can answer that,” Anna said. “I would have helped Mrs. Campbell get away with her boys. Far away, where he’d never find her. Is that what you did?”

“Yes,” Mrs. Stone said, her voice breaking. “But it was all for naught, now. All for naught. And I promised her I’d get them away safe.”

“Away to where?” Anna asked.

From a notebook that sat on the table beside her, Mrs. Stone took a newspaper advertisement. She read it to them in a wavering voice but Anna had the sense that she could have recited it by heart:

Rhode Island. Comfortable cottage for sale. Nicely furnished, 8 rooms besides pantry &c. with chicken house, stable & small barn all in good order. One acre land. Fruit trees, vegetable garden, strawberry bed, pasture. Good pure water & excellent well. Sakonnet Harbor. $2,000. Inquiries J. Barnes, Main St. Little Compton.

There was a long moment’s silence while Mrs. Stone tried to gather her composure. She said, “Janine wrote to Mr. Barnes and I mailed the letter. He wrote back to this address and after a few letters back and forth they came to an agreement. She bought the place sight unseen and sent the money express. I said to her, Janine, you’re taking an awful chance, but she was desperate to get the boys away to a safe place.

“The plan was that we would all live in that house together. She gave her name as Jane Steinmauer, a widow woman coming with the boys and us, her parents-in-law. Henry has never got used to the name Stone anyway, and the boys are young enough to learn to answer to new ones. We’d be like any other family, keeping chickens and a garden. But poor Janine, she never got as far as Rhode Island.”

She stopped to get her handkerchief from her sleeve and wipe the tears from her cheeks.

“I went ahead with the boys. Janine came with us to the train station by omnibus and then I took the boys by cab to the steamer office. The plan was, she was supposed to come later in the day. It made me terrible nervous. I was so worried about that cottage, maybe it would turn out to be a hovel or maybe it didn’t exist at all, but in the end she was right. It was just the way it’s described here.”

She touched the newspaper cutting. “You should have seen the boys, they could hardly have been happier if you set them down in heaven itself. The harbor and the boats and the garden and the house with a nice big kitchen.” She pressed her mouth hard, as if she were telling herself to be quiet, she had spoken enough. But the question came out just the same: “Can I ask, did Campbell go to the police saying he’d been robbed?”

When Oscar said that no complaint had been filed, she nodded.

“Janine said he wouldn’t. That he couldn’t tell the police about the money because he didn’t come by it honest.”

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