The Gilded Hour Page 131

“Anything,” Mrs. Stone said.

“Do you happen to know if Mrs. Campbell ever traded at Smithson’s, the druggist across from the Jefferson Market?”

At Mrs. Stone’s blank expression Anna said, “Never mind, it was just an idea.”

“But I do know Smithson’s,” Mrs. Stone said. “It’s where my mother traded and where I go. When Janine first moved down here from Maine I took her there too, to introduce her. It can’t be Mr. Smithson who hurt her. He’s as gentle as a lamb and just about as strong. And retired, too, since last year.”

“I didn’t mean to suggest that Mr. Smithson had anything to do with Mrs. Campbell. It’s something else, that may be related.”

“Is he in trouble?”

“Nobody is in trouble,” Jack said. “Except the person who operated on Mrs. Campbell, and we don’t have any idea yet who that is. But if you think of anything she might have said, no matter how small—”

“I will come see you. Or write to you, if we are already away. When do you think we could leave here? I do need to get back to the boys. And Henry misses them so.”

Oscar said, “Could you leave now?”

Mrs. Stone’s expression stilled. “We don’t have much luggage, and it’s been packed for weeks. Do you mean it?”

“I do. I can put you two and Montgomery somewhere safe tonight and tomorrow I’ll see to it you get onto the first steamer headed in the direction of Sakonnet Harbor. I’ll need a half hour or so, so sit tight. Jack, you’ll want to stay.”

Anna could almost hear the silent discussion that went back and forth between them. No doubt Campbell had seen them entering the Stones’ house, and by now he would have suspicions. Anna was glad Jack was staying behind.

Oscar grinned. “I won’t be long,” he said. “You’ll be free of Campbell before you know it.”

•   •   •

A FEW MINUTES later when Mrs. Stone had gone to check over their luggage, Anna said, “Do I want to know what he’s up to?”

Jack shrugged. “You never know with Oscar. He can be inventive, on both sides of the law. But he’ll get them to Rhode Island and Campbell will be none the wiser, you can put money on that much.”

“We set out to find an answer to one question and instead we found the answer to a different one altogether.”

Mrs. Stone came back into the parlor, her agitation and excitement plain to read in the way she sat and then jumped up again.

Anna said, “Will your husband have trouble adjusting, do you think? You’ve been in the city for a long time.”

The older lady sat down again. “He loves those boys so, I don’t think he’ll care where he is.”

She looked at her husband, who had fallen asleep in his rocking chair. “All these years I have missed the Henry I married, but just now it’s better this way. He hardly understands what’s happening, but you should have seen him as a young man. He had a gift for numbers, he could add and multiply and divide in his head, big numbers, too. And he was so strong, it was a joy just to watch him working. When he first came from Germany he came to see my father—he was from Munich too—to ask about work. He came into the shop, and I was at the counter helping a customer. He smiled at me, and that was that.

“As a girl I hated that we spoke German at home, but Henry made me glad of it, that I could talk to him. I was the one who taught him English, and he made good progress. With other people it was harder sometimes.” She smiled with such sweetness that she looked much as she must have the day Heinrich Steinmauer came into her father’s shop so many years ago.

“Once he wanted to buy a fish for supper—” She stopped. “It’s an old story, you won’t want to hear it.”

Jack said, “I’m always up for a good fish story.”

“Yes,” Anna said. “If you don’t tell us I’ll be wondering for days.”

Mrs. Stone started again. “We were at the Fulton Street market because Henry wanted fish for his supper. There was a big trout he liked the look of, but the fishmonger wanted a dollar for it, and Henry thought it was too much. You see, the fishmonger was rude because of us being German; that used to be even worse than it is these days. So they got to arguing and they both dug in, like bulls. ‘A dollar,’ says the fishmonger. ‘One American dollar.’ Now back then when Henry lost his temper his English got lost too. So he’s yelling in his big deep voice, ‘That is a shame! A shame!’” She pushed out her chest and thumped it manfully.

“And everybody was looking at us and the fishmonger, but Henry was too mad to notice. He bellows, ‘Behold your fish! I can become a fish myself for two bits, just around the corner!’”

Anna laughed, a great bark of laughter that would have embarrassed her in other company. Jack’s expression was vaguely confused, a man who dearly wanted in on the joke and would have been glad of the reason to laugh. For some reason Anna couldn’t explain, that made her laugh all the harder.

•   •   •

THAT EVENING AS they got ready for bed, Jack expected Anna would talk, finally, about her brother. Some small thing that would be a start, the first crack in the dam that held back all the sorrow that ate away at her still, so many years later.

It was the last night they would sleep under her aunt’s roof. Tomorrow night they would go to bed in their own place. He liked the idea of a fresh start, getting the worst and saddest memories out in the light of day.

But she went about getting ready for bed, talking about the surgery she would perform in the morning, the hiring of a housekeeper and cook, where she would find the time for Italian lessons, wanting to know if Jack would be in court this week, if he was scheduled for night duty. She didn’t mention Mrs. Stone or Archer Campbell, and Jack had the idea that she needed to talk to her aunt before they took up the subject.

He loved watching her when she didn’t realize she was being studied. There was economy in every movement and she managed still to be graceful, in the way she bent from the waist to sweep her long hair to one side, her fingers moving rapidly as she began to plait, working each twist with precision until a long rope fell down her back, and orderly as a rosary but for the stray hair that escaped to curl on her neck, another at her brow.


He started, coming back to himself with a jerk.

“Sorry,” he said. “My mind wandered.”

One side of her mouth quirked so that a single dimple popped to the surface. She knelt on the edge of the bed and bowed down to kiss his cheek, his temple, the corner of his mouth.

“Let me guess where it wandered to,” she said, and hiccupped with laughter when he grabbed her wrists and flipped her onto her back.

“Wait,” she said. “Wait, there’s something I need to ask.”

He kissed her soundly until he felt her begin to forget what she had been wanting to say, and then he drew away and settled beside her.

She hated to surrender control, or had always hated it. He liked to think that she was coming to see that occasional surrender had its rewards. He watched her make a concerted effort to return her breathing to something more normal.

“Forgot already?”

She elbowed him, hard. Then she sat up again, cross-legged, and faced him.

“Bambina. She is so bad tempered at times, really terrible.”

“So I hear.”

“From the girls?”

He nodded. “They are very concerned. They like Baldy-Ned—”

“Oh, no.” Anna put a hand over her mouth to smother a laugh.

“It’s your fault,” Jack said. “Baldy wasn’t a good enough name, so you saddled him with another one. The results are already out of your control. So I was saying, they’re afraid that Bambina scared Baldy-Ned away, and they like him.”

“He’s very personable with the girls.”

“He’s personable with girls of all ages.”

That made her pause. “Bambina never met him before today.”

“That doesn’t seem to matter. He’s got a way of looking at young women that turns their heads. In Bambina’s case that means she’s going to go on the attack.”

“Something has to be done.”

He turned toward her. “You’re afraid that if he’s around more she’ll do what, exactly?”

Anna frowned.

“You don’t need to worry about him. He’s had a lifetime of standing up to far worse than Bambina.”

“That’s just it,” Anna said. “She’s too fragile for the kinds of games he plays.”

“Bambina. Fragile?”

She shook her head. “Never mind. I see that the male mind is not nimble enough to deal with this situation.”

“But yours is?”

“Of course. Wait,” she said, as he reached for her.

“I completely forgot to say that there was a letter from Sophie and Cap yesterday. There were separate letters for everybody, and this one for you and me. I waited to read it with you.” She leaned back to take an envelope from her bedside table. “Do you want to hear it?”

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