The Gilded Hour Page 138

She had to keep her thoughts to herself, but the girls put question after question to Jack. He answered each question honestly: no, he didn’t know when the orphans would be coming to live here; he thought that most of them must be at the mission in the city and that they would all be boys. Whether there would be room for girls as well at some point was another question he couldn’t answer. He was sure there would be classrooms, and lessons, and chores. And mass, most probably every day.

If Vittorio might be here, with the priest?

Jack answered without hesitation. Vittorio was gone away with the Mullen family, who loved him and would care for him.

Anna wondered what the girls were imagining about the interview to come, if there had ever been opportunity for them to talk to a priest outside of religious services. Because she had spoken to this particular priest. She had told him about these girls who had survived so much, and in turn he had gone to the Mullens.

The letter Anna had written and rewritten had never been mailed. Or more to the point, it had found a different target. Anna had not been able to explain the whole series of events to herself until Margaret brought out Rosa’s exercise book, every page filled to the margins with careful lettering.

Rosa had been eager to learn to read, and Margaret had worked with her every day. She was just far enough along that she could work out short, simple sentences. Mornings she would glare at the newspaper as if it were holding back secrets she was determined to discover. She would point out words she knew, and ask about others. And she did the work Margaret assigned her, and more, every day. One of her favorite things to do was to write out her own name, along with the names of all her family, father and mother and sister and both brothers.

“She’s very diligent,” Margaret said. “You see she filled this notebook in a week. I said she could use scrap paper from the bins until I had time to get her another one. I should have been more careful, but it never occurred to me—”

“You’re not at fault,” Anna said. “And neither is she. It’s not the best way to resolve the situation, but it’s done now. We’ll have to make the best of it.”

“I’m afraid I indulge her,” Margaret went on anyway.

Jack shook his head at her. “She’s curious, she wants to learn. It’s not a matter of giving her more sweets than are good for her. I think the girls are fortunate that you have so much time to spend with them.”

It was one of the kindest things Anna had ever heard him say, and it made her ashamed to have been so dismissive of Margaret.

•   •   •

AND NOW HERE they were, about to confront Father McKinnawae. When Anna thought of him she saw the unapologetic dislike and disdain he felt for her. He had warned her not to test him, and that had not been an empty threat.

He came out to greet them before Jack had brought the rig to a stop. Anna’s expression was grim, but the priest smiled broadly at her, his cheeks puffing up like pink pillows.

“Dr. Savard,” he said, all polite good spirits. “How very good to see you again. I thought you might stop by.”

For a split second Jack had the idea that Anna was going to punch the priest in the face, as hard as she possibly could. The image was so strong in his mind that he put a hand on her upper arm—and felt the flexing of her muscles.

He held out his other hand to the priest. “I’m Jack Mezzanotte, Dr. Savard’s husband. And these are our wards, Rosa and Lia Russo.”

McKinnawae had a firm handshake. He barely glanced at the girls before his gaze shifted back to Jack.

“And you are a doctor too?”

“He’s a police detective.” Rosa spoke up clearly, without hesitation, and with none of the deference Jack would have expected. Anna seemed to have lost her voice entirely but he could feel her tension, every nerve twanging.

McKinnawae said, “An Italian detective.”

“Detective sergeant,” Jack said.

One eyebrow shot up as if this news surprised him.

Jack had nothing against priests, in general. In his experience some of them were harmless, some meant to do good things but did just the opposite, a few managed to help, and even fewer took joy in raising hell out of bloody-mindedness, contempt for the world, and ego.

He would have guessed McKinnawae to be one of the better sort, given the amount of work that was going into putting together the refuge for orphans, but he saw now he had been mistaken. McKinnawae worked for the most vulnerable children, selflessly, endlessly, but at the same time he was closefisted, resentful, and protective of what he considered his own. Most of all, he didn’t like women and wanted nothing to do with them. Anna’s coming to his office had not won his cooperation; just the opposite. He wanted her to know that she had been foolish to try to outwit him. The Russo boys were not the point, as far as he was concerned.

Anna was saying, “You told me that you would be glad to talk to Vittorio Russo’s sisters, and here they are.”

There was a jerking at the corner of his mouth. “Dr. Savard, did I not tell you that I have no knowledge of the Vittorio Russo you’re looking for? I’m sorry I can’t be of any help at all. Girls, the best you can do is to pray for your brother’s soul. He was baptized, I’m sure, and so you can think of him in heaven with your parents.”

Lia’s mouth hung open, but Jack doubted she would have been able to produce a single word. Rosa stepped a little in front of her sister and said, “Yes, he was baptized. But he’s not in heaven. He went away with a family—” She looked over her shoulder as if she could see the house where the Mullens had lived. “And you know where he is, don’t you.”

The complacent smile froze for the briefest moment, and then McKinnawae’s gaze focused not on Anna, but Jack.

“In my experience, Italian children are polite and respectful to their priests. I would have expected better.”

“All right,” Jack said, working hard to keep his tone neutral. “That’s enough. Anna, please take the girls for a walk. I need a half hour here, and then we’ll be on our way.”

Rosa looked at him with a calm acceptance that he found harder to bear than tears would have been. In Italian she said, “He doesn’t care. He won’t help.”

She walked away beside Anna without looking back.


ELISE FELL ASLEEP waiting for Anna and Jack to get back from Staten Island, and woke Sunday to a drizzling rain. The girls were in the hall talking to Margaret and Mrs. Lee.

Rosa’s tone was matter-of-fact. “I’m not going to church. Not until my brothers are found and maybe not then. Tonino keeps asking me in my dreams why we are staying away, and I tell him about that priest who stole Vittorio.”

Elise drew in a surprised breath, and held it so as to hear what came next.

“But Lia can go if she likes,” Rosa said.

“No.” Lia said. “I won’t go too.”

“You won’t go either,” Margaret corrected.

“That too. Either,” said Lia.

“Well, then,” Mrs. Lee said, all business. “That’s not a little thing, but we’ll talk about it later today. We’ll be off, Mr. Lee and me. You girls get the table set for Sunday dinner before we get back. And no peeking at the roast, we don’t need any more burnt fingers.”

Lia said, “Can I go over to Weeds to play with Skidder?”

“Not until you’ve had your breakfast,” Margaret said. “Let’s go do that now.”

With that Elise realized the time; she was running very late and would have to skip breakfast and hearing about Staten Island, too. Whatever had happened yesterday had not paralyzed the girls with anger or sorrow, and that would have to be enough for the moment.

As she half trotted, half walked to the hospital juggling an open umbrella, her satchel, and the banana Mrs. Quinlan had pressed into her hand in lieu of a proper breakfast, she thought back to herself at Rosa’s age, and what would have happened if she had announced she was leaving the Church.

Her mother and aunts would have laughed at such an announcement. If she had persisted, there would have been more serious repercussions that had to do with the paddle that hung on the pantry wall. And after that?

The confessional, to start. She would have to explain herself to Father Lamontagne. The idea was odd enough to make her smile. Father Lamontagne had been a sweet old man who had lived a long and difficult life. He would have listened patiently, and then changed her mind for her in the gentlest but most persistent way.

Not that leaving the Church would have ever occurred to her to start with. She had liked going to mass; the Church itself felt like an extension of home.

Now Rosa had announced—what? A rejection of the Church, or God, or both? Somehow she couldn’t imagine Mrs. Quinlan or anyone else in the household of freethinkers taking exception. They would ask questions, certainly, but disapproval seemed as unlikely as a whipping.

On the short walk to the hospital Elise passed four different churches: Presbyterian, Baptist, Dutch Reformed, Episcopal, and right next to the New Amsterdam, St. Mark’s. She knew where to find a Friends’ Meeting House, and not far from there, Scotch Presbyterian, Lutheran, and a Jewish synagogue. There were at least fifteen different Catholic parishes in the city, each with church and chapel, rectory, convent, and often a school, as well. New York was crowded with places to worship, but in the house on Waverly Place only the Lees and Margaret went to church with any regularity, and not to the same church, either.

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