The Gilded Hour Page 31

“Test me, then, if you don’t believe me.”

“All right. Florence.” She said it as if she knew for a fact that the men of Florence would never kill their wives.

He smiled openly at that. “‘O perché tu ha’ammazzaho la tu’ moglie?’”

She pressed her lips together while she thought. “Of course I have no way of knowing if that’s right. You could be making it up out of whole cloth.”

He laughed, and very deftly took her hand and hooked it through his crooked arm.

“Your claim,” she began after a long pause, “is that this man was so taken by surprise to find a countryman that he let his guard down.”

“Something like that.”

“I find it hard to imagine.”

“If you found yourself on the other side of the world in a country where you were disliked and distrusted on sight and you didn’t speak the language—”

“I would learn the language.”

He glanced at her. “You would learn the language. But you would miss your own language, your people. In a crowd you hear nothing but this other language that has been so much work for you, it gives you a headache sometimes trying to follow. The people you talk to make fun of your accent, the way you turn sentences around. They insult you to your face. Then all of a sudden you hear somebody speaking your language. The language of your town and family, the language you heard around the dinner table as a little girl, or playing with other little girls like yourself. It’s like being handed a wonderful present with no warning. Suddenly you’re not alone in the world.”

She was listening closely, her head canted. “When you put it like that, yes. I can see it. To put it bluntly, you took advantage of his loneliness.”

“He killed his wife,” Jack said. “His feelings are not my concern.”

“So you only pursue Italian-speaking criminals.” Her tone was vaguely disbelieving and he wondered what she had up her sleeve.

“I never said that. I arrest all kinds of people, young and old, rich and poor. This week I arrested a banker, an associate of the Astors whose family has been here for two hundred years. For embezzlement, a rich man’s crime.”

“But your secret weapon works only with Italians.”

“Dr. Savard, do you begrudge me my professional tools?”

“No,” she said, and bit her lip. “Maybe a little. I am glad that the rest of the world is safe from your tricks.”

He lifted a brow, and saw her expression shift.

“Now you are boasting. How many languages do you speak?”

“I don’t know,” Jack lied, just to see her expression. “I’ve never counted.”

•   •   •

WHAT HAD BEEN a neighborhood of factory workers and store clerks and wagon drivers gave way suddenly, and they found themselves surrounded by the tenements that housed the workers from the turpentine distilleries and the Manhattan Gas Works. Even on a Sunday the air was heavy with the smell of coal oil, of pine sap and resin, all together a soup that made Anna think of young men with drawn faces and lungs the color of ash.

She heard herself say, “I did some of my training at St. Vincent’s. I’ve made calls in this neighborhood.”

“I wasn’t aware that surgeons make house calls.”

“I was a physician first,” she said. “My education was quite broad and thorough.” She took firmer hold of his arm and yanked, stepping sideways to draw him away from the corner where an old man was coughing so hard that a mist of droplets shimmered in the air.

“Contagion,” she said, a little embarrassed now at her temerity.

She wondered if he would take offense or find her way of expressing herself distasteful. The kind of thinking she thought she had conquered, finally, but here it was again. She reminded herself that people who shied away from her because she had a brain and a profession weren’t worth her time. A friend was someone you didn’t have to make excuses to. Someone who took you as you were. And another realization: she liked the man, and wanted him. As a friend.

She found it almost impossible to raise her head and look at him; she needed another minute to remind herself that he would have expectations that she would not be able to, would not want to, meet. But he made her laugh, and try as she might, Anna couldn’t think of another person outside her family and Cap who could make her really laugh.

They passed Twentieth Street and the neighborhood changed again. There were trees here, small parks, and children shrieking as they played. Brownstone respectability, and then the open campus of the Theological Seminary, as staid and somber as the inside of a church.

Jack stopped in front of a small property just across from the seminary. He pulled a rope and the sound of the bell echoed from deep in the house.

After a full minute he said, “This is a home for elderly nuns. They are not quick.”


“It’s called St. Jerome’s, a residence for retired religious.”

Before she could ask him what help such people might be in helping them find two little boys, the heavy wooden door swung open. The nun wore rough homespun robes far too big for a tiny frame, cinched together by a rope at her waist. Beneath her wimple her eyes were a vivid, watery blue.

As she closed the door behind them Jack said, “Sister—”

She turned her back and left them there without bothering to hear or answer his question. Anna thought she must be deaf, but then a quavering voice rose over the departing shoulder.

“He’s waiting for you.”


That made her stop and turn to display a frown that consumed her lower face. “Where else? The kitchen.”


THE MAN JACK was looking for sat at a long table reading a newspaper while he ate from a dish of olives and pickles and slices of raw onion. He held the paper so close to his eyes that when he looked up at them, the first thing Anna noticed was the newsprint on the end of a long, straight nose over an honest smile made up of teeth the color of old ivory.

“Jack,” he said, folding his paper to set it aside. “So here you are.” He looked at Anna. “Who is this young lady you’ve brought to see me?”

Anna felt Jack’s hand touch her lower back very lightly, as if to urge her closer. “Brother Anselm, may I introduce Dr. Anna Savard. Anna, Brother Anselm knows everyone who has anything to do with orphaned or abandoned children in the city.”

“I was once an orphaned boy myself,” Brother Anselm said to Anna, gesturing to a chair. He was of middle size, a little bowed with age but still strong. She wondered what it meant that the detective sergeant called him Brother, if he was something less than or more than a priest.

He was watching her as she watched him, with an open curiosity. “You lost your parents very young, I think.”

Anna paused, alarmed for no good reason.

“No need to worry, Jack hasn’t been telling stories. It was just an intuition. Children who experience that kind of loss at a very young age sometimes develop a brittleness, for want of a better word.”

“I strike you as fragile?”

“Christ save us, no.”

Before Anna could pursue this odd conversation, he turned to Jack and pointed him to the other end of the kitchen. “Tea would be welcome.” And then his attention was back with Anna. Jack went to carry out this command as if it were the most natural thing in the world, a detective sergeant of the New York Police Department making himself busy in the kitchen.

Brother Anselm said, “I was ten when we left France. Typhoid struck six days out of Marseilles and took my mother and father and three brothers. I arrived with nothing, not even English.”

Anna could hear the French in his English now, the rhythm that gave him away.

“And when was that?”

“In the year 1805. When this”—he gestured widely, to take in the whole neighborhood—“was all farmland. I’m here on Sundays to say mass for the sisters. In return for a meal.”

“You are in very good health for a man of eighty-eight years. Were you taken in by the sisters as a boy?”

“Eventually,” he said. “But enough of my history. Tell me about these children you’ve taken on, and the ones you’re looking for.”

She began to tell the story, trying very hard to summarize facts without investing too much of her own opinion or emotions. As though she were telling another doctor a patient’s case history, making sure she had all the information that could possibly be relevant.

Jack put a tea tray on the table with its stout teapot and cups, a small jug of milk, and a chipped sugar bowl. Without instruction he poured for all of them, holding up the milk for Anna’s approval or rejection.

“Well trained, isn’t he?” Brother Anselm said with an indulgent smile. There was clearly a long-standing friendship between these two that could tolerate such teasing. All his comment got from Jack was a lopsided smile.

When Anna had taken a sip of her milky tea, she folded her hands in her lap to continue with the story. Brother Anselm watched her while she talked, his gaze never wavering even when Jack added a comment.

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