The Gilded Hour Page 146

Anna paused, thinking, and decided to depart from the truth in this much. “I don’t actually know. They would be middle-aged, if she does.”

Another small nod. “Despite what you were told, Amelie Savard was not a midwife.”

Anna raised a brow, as much invitation as she could trust herself to give.

“She was an abortionist in the model of Madame Restell. You have heard of Madame Restell? She lived in a mansion on Fifth Avenue.”

“Ah,” Anna said. “I haven’t kept up with the laws.”

“There are still abortionists about,” Mrs. Smithson said. “But they don’t come in here. They wouldn’t dare. We alerted Mr. Comstock about the Savard woman, and she left town, just like that.” She snapped her fingers.

It would not do to show emotion at this moment, no matter how blatant the lies and misrepresentations about her cousin. But neither could she leave it completely alone.

“I wonder what a lady does when she has too many children, and no way to feed them. Do the physicians on your list help in that kind of situation?”

Color rushed up Mrs. Smithson’s face so quickly that Anna was taken aback.

“If you came here for that purpose, you have indeed come to the wrong apothecary. I suggest you leave now.”

She reached out to take back the two sheets of paper in Anna’s hands, but Anna saw her purpose and stepped back from the counter.

“You mistake me,” she said, firmly. “I am not looking for an abortionist. I asked a question, and you have insulted me on that basis. Do you regularly abuse and condescend to your customers?”

“I—I—” A hand crept up to her face and then pressed into her mouth. Through her fingers she said, “I apologize. Most sincerely. I overreacted and I apologize.”

Anna stayed where she was, her expression frozen.

“It’s a sensitive subject. I do apologize, Mrs.—”

“Apology accepted.” Anna made her voice as cold as she could. “And now I wish you a good day.”

•   •   •

ANNA HATED WISHING people a good day. She found it insipid and insincere, and never used the expression. Except just now. Because if she hadn’t said I wish you a good day she would have said something far more colorful. She would have called Mrs. Smithson a lying, sanctimonious bitch. Anna said it now in her head.

Now at least she understood why Amelie had given up her midwifery practice. Hundreds and hundreds of children delivered safely, mothers sustained and kept healthy, and all that was left of the goodwill accumulated over those years was this one idea. If Mrs. Smithson had started talking about the color of Amelie’s skin Anna would have called her a bitch, and worse.

As soon as she was around the corner and out of sight, she began to shake. Her hands trembled so that at first she couldn’t even get the lists she had been given into her reticule. Then she stood quietly and made herself take three deep breaths.

When she looked up she saw the little coffeehouse that sat on the corner where Greenwich, Christopher, and Sixth Avenue converged opposite the Jefferson Market. Before the war she had come here sometimes with Uncle Quinlan. He liked the tobacconist on the next block, and so she would come along first thing and they would have breakfast together. As far as Anna knew, the place had no name, and never had. She sometimes heard it called the Jefferson Market coffeehouse or the blue coffeehouse, and sometimes the French coffeehouse, because the owners had moved down from Montreal and spoke French to each other.

The idea of going home to more chamomile tea was insupportable. Anna crossed Sixth Avenue once again, stepping quickly out of the way of a dray and then a cab, waiting while a stream of people descended from the elevated train platform. She thought again of home. She thought of coffee, and was newly resolved.

It was a small place, very busy, very plain. The wife took her order—coffee and toast—and didn’t seem to recognize Anna, which was what she had hoped. It would be very unfortunate if Mrs. Smithson came in here at exactly the wrong moment and heard someone call her Dr. Savard.

The coffee was served in the French way, in a cup like a bowl, milky and slightly sweet. Anna sipped and watched people coming and going, up and down the stairs to the train, across Greenwich to the market, across Sixth to the shops. Two roundsmen came in and were greeted congenially; news and a few bad puns were traded. There was talk of a robbery on the next block, windows broken but little of worth taken. An old man found dead in Knucklebone Alley, another man had lost his job at the refinery, and a third, disgusted with the city, had packed up his family and moved to Ohio.

In the half hour she took to drink her coffee people came and went: more police, shoppers, a doctor she recognized from the Northern Dispensary just down the street. He didn’t notice her and she couldn’t remember his name.

Three finely dressed older men came in, all of them in shining good health, polished and buffed. One had a walking stick with a jewel embedded in its head. Anna guessed them to be judges from the district courthouse behind the market. They were sure of themselves in this less-than-first-class neighborhood, but then, who would dare rob a judge surrounded by police officers? Anna had known some very handy children who could have managed to pick such pockets, but the cane would be harder to nick.

She counted out fifteen cents for her toast and coffee, added a nickel for a tip, made sure of her reticule, and left, inclining her head to one of the judges, who bowed from the shoulders. As she left the coffeehouse another stream of people came down the stairs from the elevated train platform. Businessmen and lawyers, most likely on their way to one courtroom or another; an irritated middle-aged woman with three school-age boys, and at last one elderly man, moving slowly. His cane was well used and not for show. Step by step he felt his way down, his posture exacting.

There was something in his face that spoke of joint pain, barely kept within the bounds of what a person could tolerate and stay upright. Anna knew this look from her aunt and felt a swell of empathy. She wondered if his hips were the problem, or his knees, or both.

He must have felt her gaze, because his head came up and he looked at her directly. One corner of his mouth twitched and then curved downward, as if he had seen something objectionable. It was not surprising that he’d take offense; medicine had instilled some very bad habits, and one of them was staring at people trying to diagnose what might be wrong. She had been staring. She hesitated, wondering if she should speak to him or if that would make things worse. Turning away she felt him watching her, repaying her in kind.

A glance over her shoulder showed him still standing on the stairs, one hand on the banister. As she looked his frown deepened and he thumped with his cane, very deliberately. Once, twice, three times, like the gavel of a judge.

She put the old man out of her mind, and Mrs. Smithson immediately took his place. Of course she would have to tell Jack about their conversation and she considered how best to do that while she walked. The plain truth was the best option; she had let her curiosity get the best of her.

That thought was still in her mind when she got home, ready to confess, and found that Jack had been called back to Mulberry Street and wasn’t expected before early Thursday morning, most likely when Anna had already left for the hospital.

Her mood deflated, she ate a bowl of Mrs. Cabot’s broth and a few crackers, drank what seemed like another quart of tea infused with honey and lemon, and took a few minutes to write a message for Ned to take to the New Amsterdam: she would be back at work tomorrow at half past six.

“I’m going to go sleep for a few hours,” she told Mrs. Cabot. “But call if someone needs me.”

There’s was a half smile that Anna already recognized as Mrs. Cabot’s quiet opposition.

“Oh ayuh,” she said. “That’s just exactly what I’ll do.”

•   •   •

WHEN JACK GOT to Mulberry Street he found Maroney, Sainsbury, and Larkin sitting around the table listening to Nicholas Lambert, who was going over his notes on the rest of the autopsies.

So Jack leaned against the door and listened, his chin on his chest.

Lambert was saying, “Of the eight cases, the first two are significantly different, but there are similarities enough to group them all together as the work of one person. I have to write up the last three reports and a summary of my findings, but I thought you’d want to hear this much right away.”

Oscar said, “It’s good to know what we’re dealing with. Any ideas about the person responsible?”

“Do you mean who it might be?” He shook his head. “It could be anyone. Whoever is doing this must have learned how to present a normal face to the world. The most I can say is that this is the work of someone familiar with human anatomy, and well versed in how to cause maximum damage and pain. Whoever he is, I hope he steps in front of an omnibus before he gets around to harming another woman.”

When he had gone they sat staring at each other for a long moment. Interviews with cabbies, hotel employees, hospital staff had all come to nothing, and neither had the letters written to the doctors advertising in the newspaper. This thought was still in Jack’s mind when Sainsbury looked up and said, “This may be a stupid idea.”

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