The Gilded Hour Page 132

She was already opening the envelope.

Dear Anna and Jack,

We are arrived here in reasonable good health and are, I think, settled. Or as settled as we can be. I know Anna will want all the details about the clinic and treatment plan, but for the moment I will just say that I am very satisfied that Dr. Zängerle knows what he’s doing and has some promising ideas.

The journey was almost more than Cap could bear, and for the first two days I feared the trip was a mistake that would take a quick and unhappy end. Then on the third day he rallied, as he has done so often in the past. Now he is distinctly cranky, and what a fine thing it is to have to listen to complaints about the rug on his lap and the sound of cowbells coming from higher pastures in the night. I said I found the cowbells oddly comforting, an alpine counterpoint to the screech of the omnibuses he slept through so easily at home. That made him smile. No one here is put off by his mood, and thus he has already given up on it.

This morning we sat on a wide balcony overlooking the mountains and valley below, the air cool and refreshing and the sun mild enough to be pleasant. I was reading aloud from a newspaper, when I realized that he had fallen asleep. He looked no older than seventeen, one arm thrown up over his head and his face turned away from me.

For one moment I thought he had gone. That he had slipped away without a word of farewell, and I sat struck dumb. I remember thinking I shouldn’t begrudge him a peaceful end to such a terrible and drawn-out illness, but in my heart I was so angry at him for going without me. Then he stirred, and my heart began to beat again.

Now, many hours later, I realize that this trip is as much for me as it is for him. I am learning what it will be like, and when it does happen, I think I will be able to bear it.

This letter was meant to offer you the kind of comfort I took from the day’s events. I hope I have succeeded.

Tomorrow or the next day I will write with more details. In the meantime ask the girls about their letter. They have a story about a cow in the garden and the very, very ugly dog who sits next to Cap at every opportunity, tail thumping hopefully for the tidbits Cap gives him.

We are together, and content to make the most of the time left to us in this beautiful place.

With great affection and love from both of us.
Your Sophie and Cap

Postscript. Cap instructs me to say that he wants news of the Campbell situation, gossip from Waverly Place, and a report on how you find marriage. I just want to know that you are happy.


ON FRIDAY MORNING Jack asked Anna over breakfast if there was a difficult case that was robbing her of sleep. It was true that she was sleeping badly, but she had made every effort to keep her restlessness to herself.

“Nothing so worthy,” she told him. She thought for a moment and chose her words carefully. “Life is so full, it feels like a waste of time to be sleeping.”

“What we need is a rainy Saturday,” he said. “With no chance of being called out on an emergency. You might remember then how nice it can be to spend time in bed. I could remind you.” He waggled both brows at her.

She made a face at him. “You’re not talking about sleeping.”

“I am. Maybe not exclusively, but sleeping—” He stopped and smiled widely. “In between.”

“So then, Detective Sergeant. Order up a rainy Saturday, would you?”

Mrs. Cabot came to refill their coffee cups and Anna reminded herself to send Jack’s aunt Philomena a thank-you note for finding them the housekeeper. She had sent three; Mrs. Lee had interviewed them one by one and hired Eve Cabot, a Yankee of the first order, born and raised in Maine, an excellent housekeeper and cook. She moved into the bedroom off the kitchen with one suitcase, a pot of violets she put on the windowsill above the kitchen sink, and Skidder, a genial Jack Russell terrier who hung on every word she said.

Anna liked Mrs. Cabot for her dry humor, her refusal to be taken aback by the oddities of the household, and the easy way she was with the girls.

“Anna,” Jack said, and inclined his head toward the pocket watch he had put on the table.

She jumped up, kissed Jack’s cheek, gathered up her things, and rushed out, but not before Ned came in the kitchen door. He had had his breakfast under Mrs. Lee’s watchful eye, and now would allow Mrs. Cabot to feed him too. It made them happy, and he lived for nothing so much as pleasing the women who fed him.

Anna waved a hand over her head, meant for both hello and good-bye, and studiously ignored the question that followed her out the door. She was almost as far as the Cooper Union when Ned caught up with her, brushing bread crumbs from his shirt.

“I don’t have time to stop,” Anna said.

After a full minute of silence she realized why he was walking along with her, and what he was waiting for.

“You are a sincere and dedicated teacher,” she said to him. “And I pay your fees happily. But sometimes Italian can’t be the first thing on my list of priorities.”

She had stopped in spite of herself, and now set off again.

He said, “What’s going on with Staten Island?”

That made her pause again, but only momentarily. “What do you mean? Jack and I got married on Staten Island.”

“There’s something more,” he said. “I heard Margaret talking about it to Mrs. Lee.”

Anna had no intention of telling Ned about the Mullen family. They hadn’t even decided on how, or whether, to tell the girls. The inability to come to an agreement was starting to fray the nerves on all sides, but Margaret was having the hardest time.

Ned said, “Does it have something to do with the Russo boys?”

That did bring her up short. “What exactly did you hear?”

“Not much.” But he looked away.

“I will strangle Margaret,” Anna said, without heat. “In the meantime we need to keep Rosa especially clear of such conversations.”

“So it is about her brothers.”

Late as she was, Anna stopped to consider this young man who was fast being drawn into both households on Waverly Place, simply by making himself indispensable. He spent his afternoons working for the Howells at the newsboys’ lodging, but the rest of the day he was busy making himself welcome among the Savard and Mezzanotte clans. He was a favorite of Margaret, who loved having a young man to mother; of Aunt Quinlan, who liked his banter and quickness of mind; of Mr. Lee, because he was as tireless as a workhorse and would turn his hand to anything; of Mrs. Lee and Mrs. Cabot, who alternately fed and scolded, ordered around and spoiled him. He was polite but more formal with Chiara and Laura Lee when they were working in the house, probably, Anna thought, because he knew the danger of showing favoritism. Jack had had more than one private conversation with Ned to be sure he understood the boundaries, but Anna hadn’t asked for details.

Bambina was the only person he hadn’t won over. When she and Ned were in the same room she made a science of expressing her dislike and disapproval in such a way that it was hard to correct or admonish her. Even this didn’t seem to worry Ned. Just the opposite.

Jack thought Bambina was jealous because the girls were so enamored of him, and Mrs. Lee agreed. “Things come so easy to him. He only has to snap his fingers and the little girls let everything else drop. We’re going to have a talk, Mr. Baldy-Ned and me.”

Everyone was talking to Ned. Anna was as sure as she could be that he would behave himself. Now it seemed like the time had come to take him into closer confidence.

“Can I trust you to do what you can to keep the girls safe and calm?”

He nodded. “Of course.”

“Staten Island does have to do with one of the boys, but it’s a very delicate situation. Telling Rosa at this point would make things much more difficult, but we do need a plan. We can talk about that tonight once the girls are asleep. I’m trusting you to keep an eye on things until then.”

He gave a sharp bow from the shoulders, as neatly as a soldier. “I’ve got to get back. Bambina is coming over to hang some curtains, and you know how she looks forward to insulting me.”

Anna watched him run off, switched her Gladstone bag to her other hand, and picked up her pace.

•   •   •

ELISE GENERALLY SAW little of Anna during the workday, and when they did cross paths she made herself small. She had begun to make some friends among the nurses and medical students; she didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that Dr. Savard—who frightened almost everyone—had taken Elise under her wing. They were likely to accuse her of getting special treatment, which was in fact the case.

But there was another truth, one she reinforced with all her energy and concentration, every day: She didn’t take advantage. She worked very hard, asked no favors, and offered her help wherever she could, both at the hospital and on Waverly Place. And still today, just as she was finishing her shift Anna sent for her. Elise found her with her advanced medical students, all of them getting ready to leave the building.

“I thought you might want to come with us,” Anna said. “To see a thyroidectomy. It’s a very challenging operation. I myself have never done one. Not yet.”

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