The Gilded Hour Page 59

The small face came around quickly, color rising to flood her cheeks.

“No,” she said. “Not at all. Mother Superior says that the order encourages talent and potential where they find it.”

“And they need to take you out of nursing to do that? You have nothing to say about it?”

“Cheerful obedience is a daily struggle,” Mary Augustin said, her tone less steady now.

Anna bit back the response that came to mind. There was no need to distress the girl any further, but neither could she simply forget the look on her face, the deep sadness she saw there.

“The change in my duties will make it easier for me to help look for the Russo brothers,” Mary Augustin offered, as if she needed to console Anna.

As a girl, Anna had often been told that she didn’t know when to retreat. Uncle Quinlan had likened her to his terrier called Bull, who weighed no more than ten pounds but stood up to other dogs as though he were three times the size.

“It’s not really a fault,” he had explained to her in his patient way. “Or it’s not a fault in his nature, I should say. It’s built into him, like the shape of his ears. But it is my responsibility to make him understand that it is often better to retreat and live to fight another day.”

Many years later Anna often thought of that conversation, which had taken place on a sunny winter morning when she had been deeply frustrated by a math problem. It had taken time for her to fully learn the lesson he meant to teach, one that she drew on now: it would do no good to badger Mary Augustin about something so clearly distressing to her. She would put it aside for the moment, then. For the moment.

Once Jack had turned his attention back to the road she took the opportunity to look at him more closely. He had taken off his coat and folded his shirtsleeves up to just below the elbows. This was shockingly informal of him, and completely reasonable given the heat. He teased her about the fact that she attended meetings of the Rational Dress Society, but he was a member himself, whether he wanted to acknowledge it or not.

And still she had to admit that it was a distraction to have him sitting there in the bright sunshine, his wrists and forearms in plain sight. The human body was no mystery to her, after all, and should not demand so much of her attention. Just a few days ago she had spent hours operating on the hand and forearm of a brawny sixteen-year-old with an arm shot full of splinters, pulling them out of muscles and tendons. She knew how a man’s wrists and arms were put together, and there was nothing unusual about Jack Mezzanotte. His wrists, broad as they were, twisted and flexed in exactly the same way as her own.

Which only sidestepped the fact that she was attracted to him in every way a woman could be attracted to a man, and he was leaving tomorrow for Chicago. A week or ten days, no amount of time at all. He would be back before she even began to miss him. But she hated the idea of his being gone, which made her realize, once and for all, that Jack Mezzanotte was nothing like Karl Levine, or more exactly: that she had been one person with Karl, and was becoming someone else with Jack.

She had liked and admired Karl for many reasons. He had a slow, thoughtful manner that masked a hot intelligence. He made her laugh. He was kind. He was unattached and not interested in a permanent relationship because his primary interest in life was medicine, and it demanded all his energy and attention. He knew that she would be in Vienna only a short time.

Before she had known him a week Anna had decided that he was her opportunity to experience that act which was at the center of so much of a woman’s life.

Most important, she realized now, was the fact that they were both utterly consumed by work, which meant they had something else in common: ignorance. Two people who knew everything about the anatomy and physiology of the human body, about procreation and sex except, as it turned out, how to make it work. To mean something. She came away mystified and confounded both, with more questions than answers. Just looking at Jack gave her ideas about those unanswered questions.

She had left Karl to go on to Berlin without hesitation or qualms, and he seemed to have recovered just as easily. At the New Year she had had a card from him, all collegial politeness, and she had felt only a moment’s guilt that she had not thought to write.

“Dr. Savard?” Sister Mary Augustin touched her shoulder, and Anna saw that the Foundling and its hospitals had come into view. It was an impressive sight, a central large brick building of some eight stories with two connected wings, and on either side of those wings, separate brick buildings, each four stories high.

“On the far right is St. Luke’s, the new children’s hospital.” Mary Augustin pointed with her chin. She seemed to think Anna had never been here before, but the girl took such enjoyment in sharing information that it would have been mean-spirited to stop her.

“St. Anne’s—the lying-in hospital—is on the far left nearest us, and in the center the offices and classrooms and the orphan asylum itself. The convent and the new chapel are behind the main building; you can’t see them from here. This is where I trained.”

Anna hadn’t thought to ask about her training, but clearly Mary Augustin wanted to talk about it.

“Two full years,” Mary Augustin said. “And then I was assigned to the orphan asylum at St. Patrick’s, just before this new hospital opened. I haven’t been back since.”

Anna told her, “It’s been a while since I’ve been here too. I’m looking forward to touring the hospital.”

Over his shoulder Jack said, “Where do we start?”

Mary Augustin looked surprised at this question. “Everything at the Foundling begins and ends with Sister Mary Irene,” she said. “Nothing happens without her approval.”

•   •   •

THERE WAS A cradle in the vestibule of the main building, one Jack had heard about but never seen. A cradle like any other, at first glance, but for as long as the Foundling Hospital had existed—first on Twelfth Street and eventually in this out-of-the-way spot—there had been a cradle like this one where anyone could leave an infant, for any reason. Young girls without husbands, women with too many children to feed or no place to sleep, distraught husbands and fathers, anyone of any faith could leave an infant here to be taken in by the Sisters of Charity. Most of them didn’t identify themselves, and few ever returned to reclaim their children.

There were other orphanages for those who didn’t want their children raised Catholic, but it was Jack’s guess that for many, baptism was not too high a price for what they got in return: a place to leave a child and know it would be well taken care of.

They followed Sister Mary Augustin through a set of doors and down a hallway to an office where a young nun sat at a desk, copying out a passage from a book with medical illustrations. The conversation between the sisters was so quiet and brief that he had no idea what was happening, beyond the fact that they both left the office without a word of explanation.

Anna immediately bent over the book on the desk to look at it more closely. “Earlham and Jones,” she said. “Childhood Diseases.”

“You sound doubtful.”

She tore her gaze away from the book to look at Jack in surprise. “Not at all. This is a standard text, though the edition is quite out of date. She’s reading about damage to the inner ear and causes of deafness. Many children are written off as idiots because nobody thinks to check their hearing.”

“I’m familiar with that,” Jack told her. “My sister Bambina—the youngest—didn’t speak until she was three. Everybody thought she might be deaf, but then one day when we were eating she turned to me and said that if my fork touched her plate even one more time, she would stab me in the hand. And she said it so clearly and with such passion, there was no doubt she meant it. We all sat there with our mouths hanging open.”

Anna liked this story, he could tell by her smile.

“I think Bambina and I would get along,” she said. “But her name doesn’t suit her, does it. Baby?”

“Baby Girl,” Jack corrected. “It’s not all that unusual a name in Italy.”

She was trying not to pull a face. “But it doesn’t suit an assertive woman who stands up for herself.”

“You’d rename everyone if you had the power,” Jack said.

“No I wouldn’t. Your name suits you.”

“And your name?”

She gave him a half grin. “It is a solid, no-nonsense, appropriate name for a physician who happens to be a woman.”

Then Mary Augustin was back. Jack noted how animated the little sister was, as if this were a long wished-for homecoming. Which, he supposed, it must be, for her.

“Sister Mary Irene can see us in an hour. I’m supposed to give you a tour in the meantime. If you’d like?”

To turn down this offer would have wiped the smile from Mary Augustin’s face, and so Jack followed the two women out into the hall.

•   •   •

AT THE DOOR of the new children’s hospital Anna paused to gather her thoughts. Small infirmaries like this one were sometimes well run, but most she had come across failed the most basic test: strict adherence to antisepsis procedures as developed by Pasteur and Lister. The sisters were excellent housekeepers, but the first outbreak of measles or diphtheria would make the difference between a thorough dusting and maintaining a sterile environment painfully obvious.

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