The Gilded Hour Page 161

“That would be me. Alan Timbie.” He came down two steps to shake hands, gesturing to the young woman to join him. “This is my daughter Miranda, one of our teachers. We are expecting the Humbolt family, but you aren’t the Humbolts, are you?”

They introduced themselves and then waited as Alan Timbie turned to his daughter and they had a conversation in sign language.

To Anna and Jack he said, “We have a new student arriving within the hour, but I can talk to you until they come, if you like. I’m quite curious about what brings a New York Police Department detective sergeant to our door.”

They sat down in a waiting room while Jack described Tonino, saying nothing of his circumstances beyond the fact that he had been separated from his family. Anna watched for some reaction, but the director’s expression revealed nothing but polite concern. When Jack had finished Timbie nodded.

“We have a boy here who fits your description, but I don’t think he’s the child you’re looking for.”

Anna said, “Could we see him, just to be sure?”

He showed them to a large common room with open windows on two walls that faced a small wood of birch trees. There was a young man signing to a group of three boys while a fourth boy sat by himself with a picture book in his lap. About seven years old, he seemed on the face of things to be healthy: his color was good, his cheeks rounded, he was dressed appropriately for the season, his clothes neat, if much mended. His hair had been dampened and parted and combed into submission, furrowed as neatly as a newly plowed field. He was staring blankly at the book in his lap, like a child on the verge of sleep.

Anna felt Jack’s attention focusing on the boy and the shock of recognition, exactly like her own. Tonino Russo, without a doubt.

The director was saying, “We call him Jimmy. I don’t believe he can hear you, but please talk to him, if you like.”

Jack cleared his throat and called across the room in a voice gone slightly hoarse.

“Tonino. Your sisters are looking for you. They miss you.”

Nothing. Not the slightest shimmer of recognition. Jack nudged Anna’s arm, gently, and she tried, piecing the Italian together carefully.

“Rosa has been searching for you everywhere. Lia asks for you every day.”

The boy turned his face away.

Jack walked toward him, quietly, slowly, and then crouched down, his hands on his knees. Now the boy did look at Jack. He took in his features, watching his mouth as he talked, his voice lowered so Anna couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Tonino looked at him with a kind of detached politeness, nothing of hostility or interest in his expression.

“He’s not a difficult child,” said the director to Anna. “If you can make him understand what is expected of him, he complies without complaint. But he isn’t quite in the world, if I can put it that way. He’s hiding in his head. It’s not a medical term—”

“But it’s very apt,” Anna said. “He doesn’t try to communicate at all? He can’t be provoked?”

The director shook his head. “Not that any adult has ever observed.”

“Mr. Timbie,” Anna said. “This is the boy we’ve been looking for. He doesn’t speak English, which explains at least in part why he doesn’t try to communicate. The shock of losing his parents and then being separated from his sisters and brother has wounded him in a very fundamental way.”

Jack came back then, his hands shoved deep into his pockets and his expression troubled.

“Let’s go back to my office,” the director said. “I’d like to hear the whole story in detail, and we can discuss how to proceed from there.”

Walking away from the classroom, Anna took Jack’s arm. She said, “Children are resilient. Rosa and Lia will draw him out. It’s not too late.”

Jack put his hand over hers and gave a grim smile. “I’m glad to hear it.”

Anna thought, But you don’t believe it.

•   •   •

IT TOOK A good while to tell the whole story, from the time the Russo children had lost their mother and been surrendered to the church by their father, what had happened at Hoboken and then at the Christopher Street ferry terminal, and finally the long weeks of calling on asylums and agencies and offices in search of the two Russo boys.

“Then we heard indirectly about a boy fitting Tonino’s description through a Mrs. March.”

“Our teacher, Mrs. March? Hope March?”

Anna nodded. “And here we are.”

Mr. Timbie had been taking notes during the whole conversation, pausing now and then to ask for a clarification. His manner was professional, courteous, and opaque. At the same time he reminded Anna of Jack when he was thinking like a police detective: there were things going on beneath the surface that he would not divulge until it suited him.

Jack said, “I have a question for you, if I may. How is it you ended up taking in an orphan? This is a school, as I understand it, and not an orphanage. Or do I have that wrong?”

“We board most of our students, and have some space for charity cases. Deaf children, orphaned deaf children especially, don’t do well in asylums, and so we agreed to keep him when the police officer brought him to us on the first of May, I believe it was.”

Anna glanced at Jack and he put a hand over hers where it rested on the arms of the chair.

“You’re sure of the date?”

“I can check the records, but I know it was in the first few days of May because he came right after two of our older students left us. Otherwise we wouldn’t have had room. Why do you ask?”

“Tonino went missing on the twenty-sixth of March,” Anna said. “Where was he before he came to you?”

“I have no idea,” the director said. “I’m not even sure which police officer brought him to us. The gap in time is troubling.” He looked at them and then down at his notes and then went on, almost reluctantly.

“The boy is scarred. There is evidence that he was beaten severely on his back, from knees to shoulders. Just barely healed, most of the lash marks.”

Jack spoke up, and Anna was glad because she could not.

“He was examined by a doctor?”

“Yes, our resident physician. Dr. Warren. He’s not here today, or you could talk to him directly. Tonino is better nourished now and less anxious than he was when he arrived, but not much less. We do what we can, but in cases like this—”

“We understand,” Anna said. “Far too well. I am on the staff at the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital, Mr. Timbie. We see children who have suffered every kind of abuse and degradation.”

Jack said, “You must agree that together we are well suited to care for a child with a history like Tonino’s.”

“In theory, yes,” the director said. “But it does bother me that the boy doesn’t seem to recognize you. You still want to take him?”

“We would like to take him,” Anna said. “Being reunited with his sisters is probably the best way to reach him, now.”

“Then there is paperwork to be done,” said Timbie, getting to his feet. “It must be handled according to the law. You may start while I’m checking in the new student.”

•   •   •

MR. TIMBIE SENT for a notary, arranged for paper and ink and pens, collected forms to be filled out, and went off to greet his new student. Anna paced the room while these arrangements were being made, stopping to look at framed diplomas on the wall. Mr. Ambrose Timbie had graduated from the National Deaf-Mute College in Washington, D.C., some fourteen years ago. His diploma had been signed by President Grant, which struck Anna as very odd.

“Our son, Ambrose,” said an older woman as she came into the office, followed by Miss Timbie with a tea tray. “He was in the first graduating class at the National College, and now he is the head teacher here at the school. Both our children are deaf, you see.”

“Rubella?” Anna asked.

Mrs. Timbie nodded. “We nearly lost them both, but you see how well they have turned out.” She put down the papers she was carrying and signed briefly to her daughter, who grimaced.

“I embarrass her,” said Mrs. Timbie with an affectionate smile. “Now, while you’re filling out papers, I thought you might like some coffee.”

•   •   •

ANNA SAT ACROSS from Jack, and they began to sort through the paperwork. For a good time the only sound was the scratching of pens.

“They want a statement of purpose. I think they are asking whether we plan to adopt him legally.”

Jack said, “That same question applies to Rosa and Lia.”

“Of course. I suppose I’ve been waiting to resolve the situation with the boys before raising the subject. It’s a little odd,” she said. “Not an hour ago we were talking about the possibility of a pregnancy next year, and now we’re talking about three children ages five, seven, and nine, all at once. I was aware from the start that it would come to this, but I made that decision before—”

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