The Gilded Hour Page 23

Jack’s attention moved to a photograph of two young girls and a boy of ten or eleven. After a moment’s study he realized one of the girls was Sophie Savard, and the other was Anna. He supposed the boy might be Cap Verhoeven, with a mop of blond hair and a grin of the kind so rare in photographs.

Oscar said, “It looks as though they grew up together like brother and sisters.”

“Not quite.” Sophie had come to help the housekeeper with a tea cart. “I was ten when Aunt Quinlan sent for me, as soon as it was safe to travel after the war. Listen,” she said, turning. “She’s so pleased to have the chance to speak Italian; see how her face lights up.”

The old lady’s language was quite formal, and by listening to it Jack knew that she had traveled or lived in Italy long ago and learned from tutors who placed more value on formal grammar than conversation, but still she had an ear for the language.

She must have felt him looking, because she raised her head and smiled at him. And took his breath away. Beautiful as a young woman, yes. The beauty had gone with the years but left something just as powerful behind.

And just then Jack heard the sound of the front door opening and closing, and then she was there. Liliane-called-Anna. Her color was high, but Jack had the idea that it was agitation rather than the weather at fault. Standing in the doorway she pulled her hat off and her scarf away to reveal the tripling pulse at the base of her throat.

She had caught sight of the Russo girls and moved forward without pausing, dropping her things as she went. The others were talking to her all at once, but Anna seemed not to hear them. She made a visible effort to straighten her back and steady her expression, but it was clear that she was shaken.

“I see we have company,” she said, her voice a little rough.

“Indeed,” said Mrs. Quinlan. “You’ve met Rosa and Lia, I believe.”

The girls were leaning forward, as interested in Anna as she was in them.

“We met in Hoboken, yes,” Anna said. “In fact, I was about to go out searching for the two of you. You have entire convents up in arms.” She crouched down in front of the girls and touched them lightly: heads, faces, shoulders.

Her aunt said, “We have other guests, Anna.” She nodded toward the alcove where Jack and Oscar stood.

Anna pivoted, her expression suddenly guarded. Jack tried to smile and found himself able to muster no more than a twitch at the corner of his mouth.

“Good evening,” Oscar said, clearly enjoying both the situation and Jack’s carefully masked interest. “Dr. Savard, I hope you will forgive the intrusion.”

A new wash of color rose along her throat and crept into her face, only to fall away just as rapidly to leave behind mottling, something Jack had seen only rarely in his life, on the faces and throats and breasts of the few women he had taken to his bed. The image took him by surprise and made him turn his face to hide his own expression, which he feared would give away as much as a woman’s blush.

Oscar was talking about Pettigrew, the children in the porter’s office at the university, how they had come to find the house. Jack heard only bits of this, he was so flustered by the workings of his own mind. Then he turned his head and saw that Anna Savard was watching him. For a split second he had the idea that she had read his thoughts and seen a picture of herself, stripped bare, in his embrace, breathless.

She smiled, a half smile, a weary but welcoming smile such as she might give anyone.

“Rosa,” she said. “You must promise me never to run away again.”

“They lost my brothers,” Rosa said with great calm. “And they don’t care.”

“Nothing was done out of malice,” Anna said. And seeing the girl’s confusion: “They did not set out to cause you harm.”

“But harm was done.”

Such presence of mind, in such a young girl.

Rosa said, “You won’t send us back, will you?”

And there was the question. Before anyone could respond, Margaret Cooper stood abruptly. “Of course not,” she said in a tone that brooked no discussion. “What these little girls need is a warm bath and a good meal, and then a bed piled high with pillows and blankets and comforters where they can sleep through the night without fear. Where they can sleep as long as they like and then have a large and filling breakfast.”

The most maternal of the group, then. The younger Savard women seemed satisfied to have their cousin take the little girls in hand. Lia, biddable, came off her chair with a thump, trailing blankets. Even Rosa got to her feet without question, her face slack with weariness now that she had finally reached her goal.

•   •   •

THEY WERE GOING into the dining room before Anna had time to make sense of the situation or her own state of mind. Or minds, because she seemed to have more than one. She was exhausted and exhilarated, angry and in the grip of an almost preternatural calm, agitated and focused. Part of that had to do with the turmoil of questions that had occupied her during the cab ride home: how to best search for the missing girls, if there were friends who could be called in to help or if that would further complicate an already fraught situation, if the police should be notified and why the Sisters of Charity had not done so already, if it would be sound reasoning to start by inquiring at hospitals, all of these questions and more. And underlying all of this, a dread that sat heavy: had she shown even minimal interest instead of just walking away from the ferry, this whole situation might have been avoided. She should have done something. Anything.

All of that, only to be relieved of the burden by the simple act of coming home to find the girls in her own parlor. The sight of them safe had worked like cold water on a hot afternoon.

And then she had turned to find Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte looking at her just when she had resigned herself to forgetting him.

He was still looking, sitting across from her at the table in her own home, quiet and observant as his partner told the story in more detail. Now that the little girls were out of the room, they talked more openly about the things that might have gone wrong but didn’t.

Anna applied herself to her food with such focus that it took a moment to realize that someone had asked her a question. Mrs. Lee stood beside her with the soup tureen, one brow raised and a quirk to her mouth that did not bode well. Nothing escaped Mrs. Lee. There would be questions, but Anna would not give her answers because a lie would be sniffed out immediately, and the truth was too tender to be handled.

Aunt Quinlan said, “Anna, did you mention Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte when you told us about your trip to Hoboken on Easter Monday?”

“She mentioned him to me,” Sophie said. “You translated for Anna, isn’t that right, Detective Sergeant?”

Anna knew that Sophie was willing to intervene on her behalf, but it was too much to ask and, moreover, doomed to failure. They would not be distracted, these old women to whom she belonged, heart and soul. She took hold of the conversation.

“Sister Mary Augustin wasn’t quite up to the challenge of so many dialects,” Anna said. “And the priest was away at—” She looked at Jack Mezzanotte directly. “The term escapes me.”

“Extreme unction,” he supplied. “Last rites.”

“So I was very glad of his help. But I first met Detective Sergeant Maroney at the Vanderbilts’ masked ball later that evening,” she added. “They were there on duty.”

Sophie had been participating in the conversation with her usual good manners, but now she stiffened slightly. To Detective Maroney she said, “Did you meet our friend Cap?”

“We didn’t have the pleasure,” he answered. “I was sorry to learn that he is so ill.” It was phrased in a way that could be taken as a question or an observation.

“He is consumptive,” Aunt Quinlan said.

Anna was glad of the change in topic, but it also confused her; it wasn’t like Aunt Quinlan to talk to strangers about Cap’s health. Something else was going on.

She was saying, “Sophie has had a letter from a specialist in Switzerland—” She raised a brow in Anna’s direction. “We planned to tell you about it this evening.”

“Hmmm,” Anna said, doubtfully. She wondered when exactly this letter had arrived. More important, she understood that she had been outmaneuvered. The subject of the letter had been brought up because the company at the table would force her to be patient and keep what would otherwise be sharp questions to herself. For the time being.

“A specialist who can cure consumption?” Oscar Maroney looked both impressed and doubtful.

“No,” Sophie said. “Not yet. But he is opening a clinic—too small to be called a sanatorium really—to launch a trial for a new therapy.”

Anna said, “We’ll have to go over the details later. That is, if Cap indicates an interest.” And there, she thought. That should be enough to end the conversation, both at this table and at any other time. Cap would have nothing to do with such a scheme. Except now Aunt Quinlan was looking at her thoughtfully, with something in her expression Anna didn’t like at all.

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