The Gilded Hour Page 34

To Anna’s surprise it was a comfort to her, too. Wherever she was—in surgery, with students, in an exam room or a meeting—she could look at the clock and know where the girls were and what they were doing. She knew, for example, that when Margaret went in to wake the girls at eight, Lia would be confused and tearful. She would let Rosa comfort her, and then she would spend some time being comforted by Margaret while she was made ready for the day. By half past they were at the breakfast table.

Over the course of the day Lia sought out every adult on a rotating schedule to ask questions about Sophie and Anna and when they would be home.

“She’s worried about people disappearing,” Sophie said. “She wakes up missing her mother and father and brothers. It will take some time for her to realize that we won’t disappear too.”

An outsider would see a sunny little girl curious about everything; enthusiastic about the meals put before her, the toys brought out of storage in the attic, the chickens that roamed the garden; full to bursting with questions that poured out of her in a tangle of Italian and English. Lia listened closely to every conversation whether it included her or not, and fished out words she didn’t recognize to present like small puzzles. Butcher? Bustle? Weeds? Sneeze? Swallow? Slippery? Between Rosa and Aunt Quinlan she got the answers she wanted and by the third day Anna thought she had gained at least a hundred new words in English.

Rosa’s mood was far more subdued. She was thoughtful, observant, and quick to be helpful in the way of children who are unsure of their place and desperate for acceptance. Lia knew how to ask for and accept comfort; Rosa could do neither. In fact, Rosa seemed to wake up for the first time on their second full day, when she realized that Anna and Sophie were talking about finding her brothers. They began to organize the search for the boys by writing a classified advertisement to put in the papers. Rosa asked Sophie to read it to her twice.

Anyone with accurate information about the location of two missing children will receive a generous reward once they have been returned safely to their family. A boy of seven years called Anthony and his brother, three months old, called Vittorio. They may still be together, or have been separated. Both boys have dark curly hair and very blue eyes. Both went missing on Monday afternoon, March 26, near the Christopher Street ferry. Please write with details to Mrs. Quinlan, P.O. Box 446, Jefferson Market Post Office. All letters will be answered.

Rosa could not have asked, but she was relieved to find that there would truly be a search for her brothers. The advertisement was the first step, but it was the letter writing that fired her imagination.

From Father Anselm and the city Directory of Social and Health Services they had identified almost a hundred places that had to be considered. A dozen or so Anna planned to visit personally, and the rest had to be contacted by mail. Rosa sat and watched them write letters as she might have watched a play on a stage, produced for her alone to enjoy.

Now Sophie reached for an envelope, and looked up to see Rosa watching her closely.

“Almost forgot,” she said. Then she cleared her throat and read:

April 3, 1883

Reverend Thomas M. Peters, Rector

St. Michael’s Church
West 100th Street

Dear Reverend Peters,

At midday on Monday, March 26, Tonino Russo, age seven, and Vittorio Russo, age three months, arrived at the Christopher Street ferry terminal in a larger party of recently orphaned Italian children. An accident on the dock caused great confusion, and during this time the boys disappeared without a trace. I am writing to you regarding the search for these two brothers.

Both boys have Italian complexions, dark curly hair, and very blue eyes. There are no other distinguishing marks.

As the founder of the Sheltering Arms you see too many lost and homeless children to remember them each; nevertheless, I write to ask you to please keep these boys in mind. If you or anyone on your staff have seen any children fitting this description, alone or together, I would be thankful for word from you at your earliest convenience.

I am a graduate of the Woman’s Medical School and a physician registered at Sanitary Headquarters, but my concern for the Russo brothers is personal. At your request I am ready to provide further information as well as professional and personal references.

Sincerely yours,
Dr. Sophie Élodie Savard

When a letter had been signed and the envelope addressed, it went into the pile in front of Rosa, who was as attentive as a bird watching over a nest. But with every completed letter came questions.

“Will he write back?”

“I would think so,” Anna told her. “But maybe not right away.”

“Unless he knows where my brothers are.”

“Of course,” Sophie said. “In that case he would write to us immediately.”

“Or come to the house,” Rosa suggested. “He might just bring them here.”

Gently Sophie said, “We can hope for that, but you know it’s not likely.”

Rosa knew no such thing. She was making order out of chaos by pure force of will.

“I am certain we’ll hear back,” Anna said. Her tone was firmer than Sophie’s, something that did not escape the girl.

There was a moment’s hesitation. “But how do you know?”

And that was the issue, of course. They knew almost nothing and might never learn more. They could make no promises beyond the one Anna repeated now.

“We will keep trying until we succeed, or we all decide together that we’ve tried long enough.”

Tonight they had written letters to the Sheltering Arms Home, the Eighth Ward Mission, the Ladies’ Aid Society of the Emmanuel Baptist Church, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and the Home for Little Wanderers.

With every letter Anna wondered if they were helping or harming the little girl consumed by guilt and sorrow and an anger she couldn’t put into words.

When they had finished for the evening, Rosa went off to Margaret, who would see that the girls were bathed and put to bed.

“I wish somebody would do the same for me,” she said to Sophie as she reached for her own mail, still to be read and answered.

“No, you don’t,” Sophie said. “You’d break out in hives if somebody fussed over you.”

Anna ran her eyes over a letter written in an educated hand on very fine linen paper. “A referral,” she said. “From Dr. Tait.”

Sophie sat up a little straighter, and Anna went on. “A Mr. Drexel wants me to take over treatment of his wife when they arrive here from England.”

“That’s good news,” Sophie said.

“It might be,” Anna said. “If Dr. Tait remembered to tell him I’m female. He forgets that kind of thing, even if nobody else does.”

Sophie rested her cheek on a fist and struggled to contain a yawn. “If only they were all so unconcerned with gender.”

Anna would answer the inquiry, but she knew from experience what would happen: Mr. Drexel would first talk to his wife’s original physician at Women’s Hospital. Dr. Manderston would steer him back to Women’s Hospital and one of his male colleagues. Anna told herself it didn’t matter; her income was sufficient to her needs; she didn’t lack for patients, and never would. The male doctors at Women’s Hospital had little use for her or for Sophie or any of the other women who had studied medicine and taken up its practice, but most of them were conscientious physicians. If not especially insightful and dismissive of advances they themselves could take no credit for.

“I’ll never lack for work where I am,” Anna said. “I see us shuffling up and down the halls forty years from now, snapping at student nurses and torturing medical students.”

“What a lovely picture.” Sophie laughed. “But I hope there will be more to life than the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital.”

There was a small silence while they both thought of things that should be discussed. Cap, first and foremost, and what Sophie wanted for him. For them both. Anna shifted to look at her cousin more directly.

Sophie said, “Don’t, please. I don’t have any answers. I won’t have any until Cap makes a decision.”

“But your decision is made?”

“Of course,” Sophie said, almost irritably. “If he allows it, I’ll be with him until the end. Have you heard from the detective sergeant?”

“No,” Anna said.

“Not yet,” Sophie amended.

Anna didn’t want to think about Jack Mezzanotte because in truth, she didn’t know if she would see him again. On Sunday they had worked together toward a common goal, but the Russo children were her concern.

“He was helpful,” Anna agreed. “But he isn’t obligated to help. I’m not sure why he’d want to.”

“Ah,” said Sophie, and closed the subject with a grin she didn’t try to hide.

•   •   •

ON FRIDAY AT breakfast it was Rosa who asked about the detective sergeants. The fact that she was comfortable enough to ask such a question was a good sign, and one Anna couldn’t ignore.

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