The Gilded Hour Page 16

“Dr. Savard is right,” he said to his partner, though he kept his gaze fixed on Anna. “It is a shame for the roses to go to waste. Let me put at least a few to good use.”

He stopped in front of her, so close that she could feel the heat of him. One brow quirked up, as if to ask permission; Anna could have stopped him with a word or a raised hand. But she didn’t. She raised her face and looked at him to show that she was not intimidated or frightened or even embarrassed, and then she canted her head slightly. An invitation.

His attention was on her hair, one finger moving in a curve just over the silver hair clasp that Sophie had fixed there earlier this evening. Such a light touch, but she felt it moving down her spine in clear notes. Very gently he slid the stem into place, paused to consider, and moved it slightly. And then he stepped back and smiled at her.

“This rose is called La Dame Dorée. The breeder was trying to achieve the perfect white bourbon rose, but he didn’t succeed. When they open you’ll see that the inner petals are a very pale pink at the edge. The color isn’t perfect, but the scent is truly beautiful. And before you ask, we sell these wholesale, a hundred for ten dollars.”

He said, “I don’t know your first name.”

Her voice came hoarse. “Liliane. But I’m called Anna.”

There was nothing untoward in his expression or tone, and still she felt his regard. This morning she had been a different creature to him, only nominally female. That had changed, or more exactly, Countess Turchaninov had changed that. Anna found that this both irritated her and gave her a perverse pleasure.

She said, “Your hands will smell of La Dame Dorée all night.” Shocked at the impulse to put her face to his palm to test this assertion, she stepped away. “Pardon me, I have to go back to my friends.”

Then she slipped through the door into the hallway and out of sight. As soon as she had turned a corner she stopped and leaned against the wall to catch her breath.

Anna touched the rosebuds in her hair with a tentative finger, sure for one moment that she had imagined the whole odd encounter in the walled courtyard.

•   •   •

MR. LEE WAS waiting with the carriage at one thirty, a time worked out carefully to make sure Cap did not overextend himself and that Anna would be able to see her patients the next day. Helping Cap into the carriage, Anna thought of the day ahead of her—surgeries and then Dr. Garrison’s trial—and all the excitement and high spirits left her immediately.

Cap had begun to cough into his handkerchief even before they were outside. Now he collapsed into the seat, turned his whole body into the corner, and hunched over, shaking violently with each paroxysm. If he turned to her, Anna knew that she would see that his face and neck were drenched with sweat. His complexion would have darkened to purple with veins standing out on his forehead and temples and in his neck. And there would be blood.

He wanted no help and would be angry if she offered, and so Anna gave him the privacy he needed. She closed her eyes and reached for the calm she had trained so hard to achieve. Cap struggling to breathe; there would be no worse sound in the world.

Finally he sat up a little straighter, folded his handkerchief in the shadows and out of her line of sight, and immediately pulled another out of his pocket, a fresh white flag in the darkened carriage. He blotted perspiration from his face.

He said, “Thank you for coming with me.” His voice came very soft and hoarse.

A minute passed and then another.

“She misses you,” said Anna. “I don’t think you are ever very far from her thoughts.”

He said nothing, but he had heard her. His head dipped a little more in her direction, an invitation to tell him the things he wanted to hear. But because Anna could not give him what he wanted so desperately, she said nothing at all.


DR. GARRISON’S TRIAL was about to start, and Anna was running late. Sophie paced back and forth in front of the Hall of Justice; she wanted to go in and find a seat, and she wanted to run in the opposite direction.

People called this place the Tombs, an appropriate nickname for a building that exuded a miasma of open crypts and leaking sewers. Sophie was sure that anyone who spent any real amount of time in one of the offices or courtrooms or—worse still—jail cells must come away with sickened lungs and an aching head.

Children playing on a beach understood that sand castles must give way to water and wind even as they were being built, but the men who built the Hall of Justice had simply ignored such inconvenient truths and put it directly over a swamp. As a result the building had begun to sink before its doors ever opened. It continued to decompose like a living thing, even as people came and went, oblivious or deadened to the atmosphere.

Tenements had a stench that could make the eyes water and the gorge rise, but to Sophie’s mind the Tombs were far worse. Repeated flooding and permanent damp meant rotting timber, slimy plaster, chunks of masonry that fell without warning. The stink sat on the back of the tongue and was not easily gotten rid of, even hours later. Worse still were the jail cells below ground level, where fungus and moss sprouted from walls overpopulated with vermin and water bugs.

Anthony Comstock had arrested Clara Garrison and had her thrown into one of those cells, and more than once.

A cab came to a quick stop and Anna almost catapulted herself out onto the cobblestones, turned to stuff money into the cabby’s hand, and then grabbed Sophie’s arm to rush into the building.

The Special Sessions courtroom was cavernous and unheated, and Sophie was chilled even as she followed Anna to empty seats on the far side of the room, where, thankfully, the ceiling was not watermarked and thus less likely to leak onto their bonnets or shoulders.

“You’re shivering,” Anna said, and handed Sophie a pair of fur-lined gloves from her Gladstone bag. Sophie had never acclimated to New York weather but still regularly overestimated her tolerance for cold. Anna, who knew her better than anyone, had packed the gloves, a scarf, and even a pair of the heavy wool socks Mrs. Lee knitted for each of them every winter. Sophie was a little embarrassed, but not so vain as to pretend she didn’t need the things Anna handed her.

The room was filling up quickly, though the judges’ bench on the stage at one end was still unoccupied, as was the jury box to the right. At a slightly lower level but still well above the main floor were chairs meant for witnesses, defendants, and attorneys. Now Clara Garrison stood there with her lawyer to one side and Maude Clarke to the other, talking quietly, a small island of calm in the noise and constant movement of the gathering crowd. Clara was carefully dressed, confident and professional but unassuming. Dr. Clarke too was dressed to convey both her profession and status, but she was a smaller woman, quite matronly in both shape and persona, and thus was usually overlooked or underestimated by the men she came into contact with. The sight of Drs. Garrison and Clarke talking together was a familiar one, something Sophie had seen many times every day while she was in training. It was disconcerting to see them here, ready to be examined rather than to conduct an examination.

As Sophie looked through the room she realized that most of the prominent female physicians active in the city had come to sit in watchful support, including Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, the most demanding and uncompromising faculty member at the medical school for women.

Mary Jacobi had taken a close interest in Sophie’s education and career and had gone out of her way to support and encourage her. At first Sophie suspected that Dr. Jacobi’s interest had to do with the rarity of black women in medical school. That thought had proved wrong when she was invited to the Jacobi home to meet her husband, Abraham, an internationally acknowledged expert on diseases of children. He happened also to be the president of the New York State Medical Society, and thus wielded a great amount of influence. Mary Jacobi had presented Sophie to her husband like a prize specimen captured against all odds in the wild.

“She has a natural and quite astounding talent for pediatric and obstetric medicine,” she told her husband. He was a slender white-bearded man with a serious but kind demeanor. Gently he took Sophie’s hands in his own and smiled at her as he examined them.

“You must forgive Mary,” he had said in his heavy German accent. “She is always on the lookout for talent to nurture, but her approach can be abrupt. Now that she has brought you home you must sit and tell me about your studies.”

Sophie didn’t know if Abraham Jacobi’s acceptance and support of female physicians was a consequence of his marriage, or if it had won his wife over in the first place. What she did know was that he was one of the few male doctors who welcomed women into his lecture hall, and Sophie had learned a great deal from him even before she was introduced. She still called on the Jacobis regularly, and might have sat next to Mary if there had been space for herself and Anna.

Her cousin sat in an uncharacteristic and almost moody silence, filled with a thrumming tension. Sophie put a hand over Anna’s folded fingers and pressed. There was reason to be worried, and to claim otherwise would not help.

A small commotion near the door had heads turning to see Comstock coming in, flanked by his colleagues from the Society for the Suppression of Vice and the Young Men’s Christian Association. They marched through the room to take the seats reserved for the prosecution, all of them dressed as Comstock was in somber black wool, identical hats tucked under their arms, all of them with mustaches and beards that shone with pomade. Sophie’s dislike of these men was so extreme that she felt it like a mass in her throat.

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