The Gilded Hour Page 152

But Jack had gotten a particular look, one she had learned to recognize as unvoiced disagreement. The next day he introduced a young patrol officer he liked and trusted to the Lees. With their approval Jack hired him to stand watch while they were gone. Mrs. Lee was so touched that for once she couldn’t find a single thing to say, but Aunt Quinlan didn’t hesitate; she pulled him down to kiss one cheek while she patted the other. Anna wondered why they had never thought to do something similar in the past.

So they were going to Greenwood. Anna knew they had put the visit off too long already and that nothing short of an earthquake would be an acceptable excuse for staying away. What she couldn’t explain to herself was how nervous the whole thing made her until Aunt Quinlan pointed out that a big party with a lot of people would be easier than a small supper where she had everyone’s attention.

“We need to get an anniversary gift,” Aunt Quinlan said now. “How many years have your parents been married, Jack?”

He stared at the ceiling while he subtracted. “Massimo was born on the twenty-fourth of June in . . .” He looked at his niece, who was waiting for this question.

“Eighteen forty-four.”

“So they were married on the same day in eighteen forty-three; that would be forty years ago.”

“They don’t want presents,” Chiara added. “We don’t give a lot of presents.” She said this a little wistfully.

Anna was thinking about forty years of marriage, what that might be like in the year 1933. If there would be children and grandchildren and a party. She thought sometimes about children, a subject Jack hadn’t yet raised in any serious way. Why that might be was unclear, and not something she wanted to contemplate just now.

“What are you thinking about?” Rosa asked her. “Your face is all scrunched together.”

Anna started out of her thoughts. “I was thinking that I’d like more of that apple cobbler, unless somebody else has beaten me to it.”

“Your appetite is restored,” her aunt Quinlan said.

“After days of toast and tea and clear broth, I could eat the tablecloth.”

The girls found this very funny, as if they hadn’t had the same diet for days.

Margaret said, “What time are you leaving on Sunday?”

The discussion shifted to the logistic challenge of getting them all to the Hoboken ferry in time. They were a party of—the girls counted on their fingers, noisily, and came up with the astonishing number of ten, counting Bambina and Celestina. Eleven, if Ned came too, as the little girls were hoping. The plan was to leave Sunday morning and return to Manhattan late on Monday.

“Are there beds for all of us?” Aunt Quinlan asked again.

“Yes,” Chiara said, smiling broadly. “Room enough.”

Rosa was asking Chiara about the Mezzanotte grandchildren; she wanted names and ages and maybe even a chart that would tell her who got along and who didn’t. It seemed now that Rosa had survived the trip to Mount Loretto and the shock of losing Vittorio. She had always been a serious child, and now just enough of that had lifted to see what might become of her if she could learn to let her brothers go.

She wasn’t healing, that was the wrong word. She was coming to terms with loss. As Anna had never been able to do.

•   •   •

SLEEPLESS, RESTLESS, IMAGES and snatches of conversation tumbling through her head, Anna decided that she would go read in the parlor. In the day the room was sunny, but there were gaslights, and a good chair, and a rug to put over her legs if the room was chilly.

Though Jack was a deep sleeper she moved very quietly, swung her legs over the side of the bed, and sat up.


She lay back down again. He rolled to his side and yawned at her. The curtains weren’t closed all the way, so that she could just make out his features by the faint light from the streetlamp.

“I didn’t mean to wake you.”

“Why not?”

“Because you need your sleep.”

“So do you.” He ran a hand down her arm. “The tension is rising off you in waves.”

“I’m going to go read until I’m too tired to stay awake.”

“Not yet,” he said. “Just rest next to me.”

His hand traveled up and down her arm, the lightest of touches.

She said, “I don’t want to talk about that dream.”

He hummed at her, his broad fingertips barely brushing along her skin. When she was about to say that it was no use, she would go read in the parlor, he made a soft shushing sound.

“I have a question that isn’t about your brother, and I want you to think about it before you answer.”

She drew in a deep breath. “All right.”

“Why did you feel so drawn to Rosa as soon as you met her?”

Others had asked her this question, but she had never answered it truthfully because, she knew this much, she didn’t know the answer. She thought back to that day in the church basement in Hoboken, all the frightened and anxious and angry children and Rosa, holding on with all her strength to her brothers and sister. As if they were all that kept her afloat. She was going to find her father. She had promised her mother. She would keep the family together, come what may. Anna had listened closely and watched her face, knowing that none of those things would happen. They were orphans and Italian, and they were about to be tossed into a whirlwind.

She said, “I was that determined too, once upon a time. When the telegram came saying Paul had been wounded in battle I tried to run away. I thought that if I could get to Virginia and find him in the army hospital he would get better.”

“How far did you get?”

“Not very. Uncle Quinlan caught up with me at the corner, on my way to the omnibus. I was six years old. I screamed and kicked and bit, but he never scolded me. He just carried me home to Aunt Quinlan and they sat with me while I howled.

“That evening Uncle Quinlan left for Virginia. Later Auntie told me he would have gone under any circumstances, but I still think that he went for me. The irony is that Paul was dead before Uncle Quinlan got there, but there was no way he could have known that and so he went around the field hospitals, asking. That’s how he caught typhus. He died not two days later and they both came home in coffins.”

Jack seemed to hesitate. “You blame yourself for your uncle’s death.”

She turned on her side to look at this man who was her husband. “I blame Paul. I blame Paul because when our parents died he swore he would always take care of me and never leave me, that when he grew up he’d have a house and we could live there together. And just three years later he broke his word and went to war. He was the most important person in my world. He knew that, but he left me to go to war when he promised he wouldn’t, and he died when he said he wouldn’t, and he took Uncle Quinlan with him. Uncle Quinlan was the only father I remembered.

“Everyone thinks that I was mourning my brother. That I’m still mourning him, but that’s not true. I was consumed with anger. I couldn’t say his name, I didn’t want to see his likeness, I hated him for leaving me. And I couldn’t say that, not to anyone. Not even to Aunt Quinlan. It was unsaid until Sophie came, but she understood without words.

“All these years people tiptoe around me when the subject of my brother comes up. It’s almost funny, sometimes. And the thing is, I’ve tried to stop, but I can’t feel any other way.”

She drew in a breath like a hiccup and turned away to lay an arm over her eyes. Her whole body was shaking, but she was powerless to do anything but let it happen. She was afraid to look at Jack, sure to see disappointment and disapproval where there had been no doubt.

•   •   •

JACK MADE HIMSELF take three deep breaths and reached for her. She came to him trembling, pressed her face against his shoulder, and wept.

When she was quiet he said, “I don’t know if it would be any comfort to me if I were in your place, but I can guarantee that your brother died thinking of you and full of regrets. You were so young, Anna. He was young too, but old enough to know that he had failed you. He made promises he couldn’t keep because he thought that would make you happy.”

She swallowed hard. “All these years I was so angry at him, so unforgiving, and then I went and did the same thing to Rosa that he did to me.”

Jack sat up, pulling her with him, holding on to her shoulders so he could look into her face, tear streaked and swollen.

“You are too rational a person to really believe that. You promised to look for the boys, and you’ve done that. You’re still doing that. Rosa doesn’t hate you. Anna, Rosa and Lia will love you for as long as they live.”

He pressed his mouth to her temple. “And so will I.”


ROSA CAME TO breakfast on Friday morning, without Lia. She stood very formally before Anna, her expression almost sorrowful as she put a folded piece of paper on the table.

“Will you read this, please?”

Anna could feel Jack watching them, but she kept her gaze focused on Rosa.

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