The Gilded Hour Page 17

Anna roused herself a little, her brow furrowing as if she were remembering some crucial task left undone.

Sophie wondered if she was going to finally talk to her about Cap. This morning she had planned to draw Anna aside to get whatever news there might be to share, but for once Anna had risen first. She was already in the kitchen when Sophie finally roused, deep in conversation with Margaret and Mrs. Lee, who had had a never-ending list of questions and an even longer list of grievances, because Anna had failed to observe the very things they most wanted to hear about the costume ball. Sophie would have been amused, under different circumstances.

Cap was dashing, Anna had told them. His costume was something Spanish dancers wore for a formal performance; he had had it made in Spain when he visited a few years ago, very elegant and understated and emphasizing his long, wiry form. His spirits were good; he had laughed at the outrageous stories told by his cousins; she even recounted one of the stories herself, something to do with a goose, the color of goose shit, and Mrs. Decker’s treasured Aubusson rug. Anna described the more ridiculous costumes, answered endless questions about the house, the draperies, the carpets, the furniture and fireplaces and pictures and sculptures. She recounted the names of all the friends who had stopped to visit with Cap, what costumes they wore, and all the conversations she could remember. She did not say, did not need to say that Cap had kept himself apart, touched nothing and no one, permitted no one to come near, and wore his gloves all night. Nor did she talk about his health, the one thing Sophie wanted most to hear.

Instead Anna recollected quite suddenly that she had patients to see, and she was off. Sophie didn’t see her again until she arrived at the front entrance to the Tombs at just before two in the afternoon, and they walked together into the courtroom. She would have to wait until Anna was ready to talk, as difficult as that was to do.

With some effort she pulled her thoughts together and turned to her cousin.

“You are very far away in your thoughts. Difficult case?”

Anna frowned extravagantly. “I have to say, that’s not the question I was expecting.”

“But I would like to know, nevertheless.”

“A new mother came in this morning, she can’t be more than fifteen. Stillbirth, and I think she might have been unattended. That she didn’t die is a mystery. One of the worst fistulas I’ve ever seen, severe damage to the bladder and urethra.”

Tearing was not uncommon when a young girl, slight of frame and undernourished, gave birth unattended to a child of even normal size. In such cases patients were often in such extreme pain that they had to be anesthetized before it was even possible to examine them.

“But at least there wasn’t a delay,” Sophie said. As bad as an obstetric fistula could be, women often didn’t come for treatment out of shame and embarrassment. They hid themselves away, as unwelcome as lepers in their own homes, swallowing agony until infection had turned into peritonitis and there was nothing to be done.

“Three hours in surgery,” Anna said. “And I’ll have to go in again. Tomorrow, if she’s strong enough. I fear she won’t last that long.”

She turned toward Sophie; her gaze was diagnosis sharp. “I wish you’d just go ahead and ask what you really want to know.”

“And I wish you’d just go ahead and tell.”

After a long moment Anna said, “He is in decline. He won’t admit to much pain, but the signs are there.”


“Not that I could see in his mouth or on his face. Not yet.”

Sophie was so long in trying to organize her thoughts into coherent sentences that she was startled by the cry of the bailiff bringing the room to order and announcing Judge Micah Stewart’s court in session.

The judge came out of the antechamber, his head of snow-white hair standing out not just for its abundance but for the contrast to a mustache and brows that were still a carroty red. He paused before taking his seat, looking over the spectators, nodding to bailiffs and roundsmen and colleagues. Then his gaze came to rest on Anthony Comstock, and even from halfway across the room Sophie saw the disdain darken his expression.

“Mr. Comstock,” Judge Stewart said in a dry voice that still managed to fill the room. “Up to your old tricks, I see.”

•   •   •

IF IT WEREN’T for the seriousness of the situation Anna would have enjoyed watching Judge Stewart sparring with Anthony Comstock. Comstock could not hold his temper or keep his opinions to himself; what he lacked in rational argument he made up for with posturing, thundering rhetoric, and Bible verses, a tactic that was not serving him well.

“You can’t summarily dismiss the charges,” Comstock was saying in a patronizing tone. “The grand jury handed down the indictment, and you must proceed and allow me to prosecute this case.”

Stewart leaned back in his chair. “You might be right.”

Comstock looked genuinely surprised.

“In fact, if there were a legal indictment, you would be right,” the judge went on. “But District Attorney Wilson found insufficient cause to let you bring your complaint before the grand jury, as he told me, just an hour ago. So you snuck behind his back, didn’t you. Crept into the grand jury room like a thief in the night and approached the foreman directly with your complaints.”

Comstock sputtered. “The district attorney was very busy, and I—”

“You took it upon yourself to wheedle an indictment out of the grand jury even after you were told the case wasn’t solid enough to prosecute.”

“Judge Stewart,” Comstock began again. “Have you looked at the material we seized from Dr. Garrison’s office?”

“You ignore my question to ask one of your own?”

“If you have looked at those materials you know that the defendant’s purpose is to distribute—unlawfully distribute—immoral and obscene tracts and implements and thereby to pollute the public and cast the innocent into mortal danger. The first indictment concerns the booklet that Dr. Garrison herself pressed into Inspector Campbell’s hands, one that instructs women how to prevent conception.”

Sophie sat up straighter, craning her neck to catch sight of Comstock where he stood.

“What?” Anna whispered.

“That’s Mr. Campbell there with Comstock. It was his wife I was attending yesterday when you went off to Hoboken.”

Judge Stewart was saying, “As it happens, I have read the pamphlet you mention here. Read it twice, and nowhere did I come across the word conception. Plenty about hygiene and health, but nothing about procreation or conception or anything along those lines.”

“You read the word syringe, did you not?” Comstock demanded.


“Well, then.”

“Well, then, what?”

“You know what syringes are used for, sir.”

“I think I do, yes. But maybe it’s time we allowed the defense a word or two. Dr. Garrison?”

Clara raised her voice to be heard clearly. “Female syringes are first and last a therapeutic tool, Your Honor. The syringe is indispensable in the treatment of disease and for applying local remedies to preserve personal health. Syringes are also used in the irrigation and cleaning of wounds and body cavities—”


The judge drew back sharply. “You forget yourself, Comstock. Dr. Garrison, do you have anything to add?”

“No, Your Honor.”

Comstock’s voice rose to an indignant wobble. “But the publications Dr. Garrison distributes so freely are an incentive to crime to girls and young women!”

“I don’t see it.”

“Great evil,” Comstock shouted, “is often very subtle!”

“Too subtle for me,” Judge Stewart said. And to Anna it seemed certain that he was trying not to smile. “I find nothing unlawful here. The first indictment is hereby struck.”

“Your Honor! I am a representative—”

“Mr. Comstock. Listen closely: I do not care to hear about your society, and if you interrupt me again, I will find you in contempt.”

“If you’ll permit me to share Judge Benedict’s rulings—” He put his hand on the papers before him.

Stewart’s expression hardened. “You may not,” he said. “I am not bound by Judge Benedict’s rulings.”

“The Society for the Suppression of Vice—”

“I think you must be hard of hearing, Comstock. Unless you have something worthwhile to say, I’m going to dismiss the rest of your charges.”

Comstock grabbed a book and held it overhead, turning to show it to the room.

“Niemeyer’s Anatomy,” he bellowed. “Found on Mrs. Garrison’s shelf, plain as day. Mr. Campbell, is that not so? Did you not find this book on Dr. Garrison’s shelf?”

A man much shorter and leaner than Comstock came to his feet and removed his hat to reveal a head of frizzy red hair. “It is.”

“Independent verification,” Comstock thundered. “I submit to the court that this is an obscene publication, unsuitable for sale or purchase. Most especially unsuitable for students of any kind, even students of medicine. I refer you to color illustrations on pages sixteen and seventeen and throughout chapter four. And”—he paused dramatically—“it was printed in London.”

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