The Gilded Hour Page 134

When she had introduced herself again and expressed her condolences, she forced herself to look him directly in the eye and ask her question.

“Professor, do you have any idea who she went to for this procedure?”

He shook his head, a single sharp jerk.

“Any information would be useful for the detectives. You don’t know what part of the city she went to? How much money she paid? How she heard about his services?”

His voice came raw and rough. “I don’t know any of that. She went out in the morning. She came back early afternoon, and went straight to bed. She wouldn’t open the door to anybody. This morning when I finally got in to see her—” He pressed the heels of his hands to his eyes and shook his head. “Please, leave me in peace.”

•   •   •

JACK WAS WORKING the night shift, but there was no end of things to keep Anna busy. She could spend the evening reading journals or marking papers, and she owed Sophie a long letter. She go could visit with Aunt Quinlan and Margaret or spend some time with the little girls. What she couldn’t do was talk to anyone about Irina Svetlova.

Talking to the woman’s husband—trying to talk to him—had been a mistake, and she hadn’t even asked the most important question. It seemed unlikely that a wealthy Russian woman would ever have had occasion to frequent Smithson’s, located as it was in the shadows beneath the elevated train, but she would leave that determination to the honorable detective sergeants. They never presumed to perform surgery, and from now on she would leave the police work to them. Unless, of course, they specifically asked for her help.

With that self-admonishment clear in mind, she finished changing into casual clothes and went downstairs to find mail on the hall table. A letter from her cousin Blue, Aunt Quinlan’s oldest daughter who still lived in Paradise at Uphill House, where Anna had been born. Another from one of the Savard cousins in New Orleans. Sales offers from medical supply companies and publishers, a newsletter from the Women’s Medical Society. And one rough envelope with handwriting that was unfamiliar, rather old-fashioned and stiff.

For a moment she contemplated not opening it at all. If it was another of Comstock’s traps, it would ruin the rest of her evening. But she took it to a window to study it more closely and was able to make out the postmark, just barely. Mailed two days before in Rhode Island.

At the desk she slit the envelope open and found two close-written sheets.

Dear Dr. Savard,

I write to you because Det. Sarg. Maroney gave me your address and asked me to send word about how we are getting on.

Henry and Montgomery and me got here by steamer with no fuss at all, clear skies and calm seas, and found a Mr. Knowles who took us and our bags and boxes in his wagon to the house and wouldn’t take a nickel for his trouble. The boys (Hannes, Markus, Wiese, Günther, as we call them now, and they call us Oma and Opa) were just sitting down to supper made for them by Mrs. Barnes, whose husband sold us the house. There was such a great excitement in the kitchen, Henry with tears rolling down his stubbly cheeks for joy, and Montgomery leaping into the air like a rubber ball, and the boys all pressing together against us like they’d never let go.

They were terrible upset to hear about their mam, which is why I took so long to write this letter. It hit Hannes the hardest, but he is slowly coming back to himself. Today he took the baby on his lap and played with him and made him laugh. It does a body good to hear a baby laugh like that, from deep in the belly.

Last night Markus and Wiese both slept through the night for the first time since we brought the sad news with us from home.

Henry is enjoying the fine weather and the sea just as much as the boys do. You will recall that he is fond of fish, and he has already got into the habit of walking down to the bay when the fishermen come in to buy something for supper. He takes a dollar with him, and is pleased to bring back change.

I count myself very lucky. We needn’t fear sickness for there is a good doctor and an apothecary in town and we can pay them. Hannes will start at the little school in the village in the fall with new shoes and a primer and whatever else children need these days. The boys are my life’s work, now, and I intend to do it proper. Good food and fresh air and a bit of work around the place for each of them (excepting the baby, of course). And a hug and kiss at bedtime, the way their mam would want.

If Henry was clear in his mind he would write himself to thank you and say how much we appreciate the kindness you all showed us in our hour of need. There are good people in the world, after all. We pray every day for our dearest girl, gone forever but never forgot.

Yours truly,
May Steinmauer

Anna tried to remember the last time there had been a mention in the papers about the Campbell boys but could not. It was as if they had used up their portion of the public’s interest and concern and would not get any more attention unless they earned it. In a city where thousands of children lived on the streets, that would be hard to do.

On the desk in front of her she had the draft of a letter she had been meaning to finish and mail since the fruitless meeting with Father McKinnawae. She had revised it multiple times, and had yet to copy it in its final form on to her personal stationery.

Mr. and Mrs. Eamon Mullen
Tottenville, Staten Island, NY

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Mullen,

I am Anna Savard Mezzanotte, of New York city. On May 26th my husband and I met your family very briefly on the beach near Mount Loretto. Your daughter Theresa Ann introduced us to you and her baby brother, you may recall.

We hope you might be willing to grant a favor. May we stop by and visit with you one Saturday or Sunday afternoon, at your convenience? This has to do with a family connection, one I would prefer not to spell out in a letter. I realize this sounds very mysterious, but let me assure you that our designs are friendly, and we mean you only well. In all probability we will visit for less than an hour.

Of course, you may well want to check references before you reply this letter. I provide the following information to that end:

I am physician and surgeon, a graduate of the Woman’s Medical School here in New York, and registered at Sanitary Headquarters, as required by law. I am on staff at the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital. My husband, Detective Sergeant Giancarlo Mezzanotte, is on the New York City police force and is stationed at Police Headquarters on Mulberry Street. We live at No. 18 Waverly Place.

With very best wishes to you and your family.

I am most sincerely yours,
Dr. Anna Savard

She knew she needed to show the letter to Aunt Quinlan and Jack and maybe even Conrad Belmont and take advice before sending it. Anna asked herself what these people might say, if they would disapprove.

With considerable effort she tried to clear her mind and read the letter as Mrs. Mullen might read it. Would she be affronted, afraid, insulted, or simply curious? The only thing Anna knew for certain was that the situation had to be addressed soon.

She sat for a moment looking at a blank sheet of stationery. Engraved across the top in an elegant typeface was her full name: Dr. Liliane Mathilde Savard. A graduation present from Margaret. Anna had thanked her and then put the box away, only to find that she did have a use for stationery like this. It put a certain distance between herself and the person she was writing to. A private individual requesting a consultation, a colleague asking her to read the draft of a journal article, invitations to conferences and meetings, a request for a contribution to an educational fund: in each case she had to balance interest and concern with the demands on her time and energy.

The house was dim and cool and very quiet. Before she could change her mind, she got out a pen and ink and a fresh sheet of stationery. In a fluid hand she copied out the final version of the letter to the Mullens. While the ink dried she addressed an envelope. She folded the letter neatly, went over the creases with the letter opener, put it in the envelope, and set it aside.

Then she started another, far more pleasant letter, one that would cheer up both Sophie and Cap. This letter she wanted to write. A letter with answers instead of questions. She thought of them sitting on a terrace overlooking mountains and pastures, and she wrote down for them the rest of Janine Campbell’s story.

•   •   •

SHE DIDN’T REALIZE it, Elise was sure, but with a simple statement Anna had handed her what felt like keys to a vast kingdom.

“There are books and journals enough in the house,” she had said. “You’re free to take any of them to your room. You can start studying now, and you’ll be that much more prepared when classes start.”

The idea of going to medical school still struck Elise as alternately ridiculous and overwhelming, but it was now a fact. She carried the acceptance letter with its offer of a scholarship on her person, folded small and tucked in the waistband of her uniform skirt. As if it were a ticket that once lost, could never be replaced.

She began writing longer passages in her daybook, listing questions that occurred to her while with one patient or another. And now she had the books that would make it possible to start.

Early Monday a surgery was scheduled that she was now determined to watch. As a nurse she had no claim on a spot in the gallery, but as a new medical student she could at least try. Along with every other doctor and medical student in the city, in this case. Dr. Shifra Rosenmeyer would begin with an orotracheal intubation, and then move on to resecting six-year-old Regina Sartore’s retropharyngeal tumor. With surgery the little girl’s chances of survival were poor; without surgery she would be dead in weeks, if not days. But she would have a chance.

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