The Gilded Hour Page 158

“Or he might be deaf,” Jack said.

They looked at each other, and Jack saw something flash across her face, sudden insight or determination or both.

“We could go tomorrow, if we leave early enough.”

Jack took a deep breath, and then another. “That’s what we’ll have to do. But we can’t say anything to the girls.”

“Or Margaret,” Anna agreed. “Or anyone. Another disappointment so soon would be very hard on the girls. Aunt Quinlan has a saying at times like this. ‘Don’t go looking for trouble, it will find you soon enough without you shouting out an invitation.’”

Anna lay awake for a very long time, thinking of the very nature of trouble or bad luck or whatever name you wanted to use. More than that, she wondered why the idea of finding Tonino should strike her as trouble. In the end she fell asleep thinking of Rosa, who wanted this brother back so very much. She had such high expectations of what it would mean to be reunited with him, when in fact the boy she remembered was gone, even if they brought him home with them tomorrow.


AT SEVEN JACK went to hitch Bonny to the Rockaway for the last-minute trip to the school for the deaf. Anna followed, yawning into her palm. She had been determined to get a good night’s sleep and had failed almost completely.

In the stable Bonny nickered at Jack and presented her head for rubbing. Another female under his spell, Anna thought and then watched as he snuck a lump of sugar out of his pocket and pressed the flat of his palm to her mouth.

“I saw that.”

He winked at her. “Jealous?”

Anna made a face at him and went off in search of Mrs. Lee’s coffee, walking through the garden. If she was really fortunate, the girls would be off with Margaret for what she called their morning constitutional. Otherwise she would be overwhelmed with questions about her plans for the day, none of which she could answer honestly.

With the door and windows all open the smells that came from the kitchen reminded Anna of Thanksgiving, an odd thing for the last week of June. Mrs. Lee had been cooking and baking for days, and had prepared so many things to take with them to Greenwood that Jack had arranged for his cousins to transport it all in one of the shop delivery wagons. Now Mrs. Lee was in a rush, putting the finishing touches on everything from a ham to an assortment of pies.

Anna said, “We don’t have to bring enough food for the whole crowd, Mrs. Lee,” and recognized her tactical error before the last word was out of her mouth.

Mrs. Lee lowered her chin to her breast to peer at Anna over the top of her spectacles and delivered one of her lectures, short and to the point: She, Anna Savard, brought up in this very kitchen and reminded every day since she was three years old the importance of good manners, should realize that the Weeds and Roses folks could not call on the Mezzanottes empty-handed.

While Anna listened she poured herself a cup of coffee and milk and tried to look repentant.

From her spot at the kitchen table Aunt Quinlan said, “Leave her be, Anna. You know she’s not happy unless she’s feeding people. And don’t you look pretty. Where are you two off to this morning, anyway?”

“It’s a secret,” Mrs. Lee said. “Jack came by earlier to ask Henry could they take the Rockaway. Detective work.”

Anna hooked a warm roll from a pan that had just come out of the oven, and jumped back before Mrs. Lee could smack her hand.

“It’s not a secret,” she said. “But it’s too complicated to explain just now.”

“Is that so.” Mrs. Lee’s expression narrowed.

“I promise to tell all later,” she said, and pressed an impromptu kiss on the old lady’s cheek.

“Get on with you.” Mrs. Lee flapped her hands, but she was smiling. “I got work to do.”

“A calf to butcher? A last-minute ten-layer cake?”

“Anna,” her aunt said. “If you can spare a few minutes, I had a letter from Sophie yesterday.”

Anna sat down, her mood gone.

“I know how you’re feeling,” her aunt said. “It takes courage to open Sophie’s letters. So let me just tell you, Cap is stable. That low-grade fever is still hanging on, but his spirits are good. He doesn’t complain about food or even treatments, and sleeps a great deal.”

“And Sophie?”

“You know your cousin, she doesn’t write about herself.”

“Stories to tell about the folks in the village—” Mrs. Lee interjected. “Ignorant as they are.”

Anna looked up in surprise, and her aunt explained.

“Sophie wrote about a little boy asking if he could see her tail.”

“The ignorance of it,” Mrs. Lee said. “She shouldn’t have to contend with such meanness of spirit. She should be home here with us where people know her worth and don’t insult her asking can they see her tail. You would never let one of your children talk to a stranger like that, Lily, and you know it.”

When Mrs. Lee called Aunt Quinlan by her first name, she had come to the end of her patience.

“I want her home,” Mrs. Lee went on. “But to get her here we got to lose Cap. I’m always wanting to ask you, Anna, will Sophie be home by the end of the summer, but I stop myself. It would be like asking when will it be that Cap passes over.”

Anna had to swallow very hard to find her voice. “She went of her own free will, Mrs. Lee. She went gladly, because she wants and needs to be with Cap. No doubt it is odd and sometimes uncomfortable for her, but Sophie won’t let anything get in the way of caring for him, you know that. If it makes you feel better, sit down and write her a letter and say what you’re thinking.”

“I’ma do just that,” Mrs. Lee said. “First thing we get home.”

“And now I have to go. I’ll see you all at Greenwood.” Her voice came a little hoarse.

“What about your satchels?” her aunt asked.

“On the back porch. Ned will fetch them when the wagon comes.” She glanced around the kitchen, but bit back a smile. “For all this.”

“You won’t be late.” As close as her aunt came to issuing a command.

“Of course not. We’ll be there in the late afternoon.”

“Late afternoon?” Mrs. Lee shook her head. “Where you going to eat between now and then? One of them little cafés where they serve out stomachache as a first and last course? Is that how you look after your husband? I swear.”

While she talked she grabbed up things and stuffed them into a marketing basket. Then she thrust it at Anna. “Lunch.”

Anna was still smiling to herself when she got back to the stable and found that they were set to leave, Bonny stomping to announce she was eager to be on the road. Jack’s face was already damp with sweat, but he looked pleased with himself.

“There’s Ned,” Mr. Lee said, pointing with his chin. “He’s unsure about coming along today. Just so you know.”

Mr. Lee had decided that Ned belonged here, that was obvious to Anna. She wondered if Ned realized as much.

Jack called out in Italian, his tone easy, but Ned’s face contorted in mock terror.

“Didn’t do it,” he called back. “Wasn’t me.”

Coming up to him Anna gave him a gentle push. “Stop pretending to be an outlaw.”

“I think I’m insulted,” Ned said, rubbing his shoulder.

Jack said, “What else do you know about Moby Dick’s wife?”

Ned’s look of surprise was genuine. “Well, let’s see. She’s from an old Dutch family in Harlem, don’t remember her maiden name. You headed up to talk to her?”

“Maybe,” Jack said. “She goes by Hope March, Mrs. March?”

“That would be Moby’s moniker when he’s plying his trade, Richard March.”

“And she teaches at the school for the deaf, you’re sure of it.”

“She teaches knitting and sewing and such to the girls.”

Anna said to Jack, “Stop interrogating him.” And to Ned: “Do you happen to remember anything else about the boy she mentioned to you, beyond his hair and eye color?”

Ned glanced down at the ground, scuffed the cobblestones with his heel, hesitating.

“Spit it out,” Jack said. “Whatever it is.”

He shrugged. “She said the kid was simple, you know. Slow. Like a lot of deaf kids, his brains got scrambled somewhere along the way. But she wasn’t mean about it. Moby always was a softhearted mope, they suit each other that way.”

“There’s more than one softhearted mope in this story,” Anna said.

“What if it is him?” Ned wanted to know.

“We’ll bring him home,” Anna said. “And your friend’s wife will get a reward. But Ned, don’t say a word to anybody, especially not the girls.”

Now he looked insulted. “I wouldn’t hurt those girls for the world.”

Anna touched his shoulder. “We know that. Are you coming to Greenwood with us?”

Jack had started to turn away, but he stopped to glance at Ned. “You’re invited, in case you need reminding.”

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