The Gilded Hour Page 66



May 2nd, 1883

Dearest Anna,

Here I am in a hotel room half asleep but I’m too busy missing you to go to bed. You’re not here and yet you manage to follow me everywhere. You’ll have to explain to me how you do it.

So now for the bad news first (and it’s not about you or me, or you and me, I know how your mind works, so just put that aside). We should be leaving here on Saturday at the latest but it’s going to be another week or ten days before we can escape the clutches of the CPD. Two of the three Deparacio brothers we are here to extradite are in the hospital nursing broken bones and other injuries, and it will be at least that long until they can travel. The head of detectives tells us that an unfortunate tumble down a set of stairs is to blame, and what a shame, isn’t it, that we’ll have to stay longer than planned. Oscar wondered out loud if this had something to do with the fact that Chicago has a sizable Italian immigrant population but not one detective who speaks Italian. Bjick’s smirk was answer enough. My impulse is to put him into a room alone with the Deparacio boys for a half hour or so.

Oscar sends his best regards and bids me tell you that I am in the sourest of moods, but that he is enjoying the city and has decided that the lakefront in spring almost makes up for the stink of the stockyards.

I miss your bright face and clever mind and the feel of you, but more than missing you I am worried that you will have already talked yourself out of trusting me. You are thinking that we haven’t known each other long enough, when the plain fact is, we knew each other immediately. You must admit it to yourself at least, you looked at me on the Hoboken ferry that morning in March and you saw me. As I saw you.

So I know you, and I would wager good money that you haven’t told even Sophie that you are going to marry me. What you need is a token to remind you, and here you have it, from a Milanese jeweler on Wabash who talked my ear off, but then sold me what he says is the prettiest ring he has ever made. And I think he may be right.

You are stuck with me now, Savard, well and truly. As I am with you, and count myself a fortunate man.

Yours without doubt

•   •   •


Sunday, 6 May, evening


A strange confession to start: I cannot address you as dearest. Though I have not written the word, you should imagine it there before your name, because it is appropriate: you are very dear, and your letter was a strategic masterpiece.

It made me realize a number of things. First, that you do understand me very well; second, that you like me because of (rather than despite) my faults; and third, that you know when to appeal to reason, and when reason will hold no sway. And most important, you are able to put into words the things that I find so hard to say, and write.

The ring is lovely, very pretty and elegant in its simplicity. Sophie asks me to congratulate you on your good taste, and Aunt Quinlan says you did very well. I didn’t wear it at the hospital today, which I think you will understand as a practical and professional decision. I admit I did hesitate to put it on once I was home again. People will ask the most intrusive personal questions on the basis of a piece of jewelry, and I’m not sure yet how politely I can handle such inquisitions. Which reminds me. I am sorry that your return will be delayed, but I can be patient, especially given the amount of work to be done both at the hospital, and for Sophie’s wedding.

When your sisters came yesterday they were laden with a cask of honey and buckets of rare roses and peonies, lace and shawls and embroidered handkerchiefs and presents for the little girls. Rosa took a special liking to Celestina, who has promised to teach her how to sew and embroider. I will write more about their visit in my next letter.

On other matters, I wrote some days ago to Father McKinnawae, who is spending the summer on Staten Island preparing the new orphan asylum, asking about the youngest of the Russo children, but have no reply as yet. From Ned I have had no word in a while, and I plan to write him a note as soon as I have a moment. I had hoped to visit a few of the Catholic orphanages with Mary Augustin during your absence, but she hasn’t responded to my notes, quite oddly, I think. I don’t feel confident enough to confront nuns on my own.

One last, happier subject. You will remember that the opening ceremonies for the new bridge on the East River are scheduled for the twenty-fourth of May and will include a grand display of fireworks after nightfall. Aunt Q has had an inordinate—even excessive—love of fireworks since childhood. Some time ago she talked her grandson Simon (he is a captain in the Navy) into finding and securing a small ferry and crew to hire for the entire day. Aunt has also been writing to family members as far away as Albany, and thus far has extracted promises from many of them to join us for the celebration by spending the afternoon and evening on the ferry. Mrs. Lee is in her element, planning a picnic with food enough to provision an army.

Added to this excitement is the fact that the next day—that very Friday morning—Sophie and Cap will be married and then sail in the afternoon for Europe. Family who come for the bridge opening and fireworks will stay for the wedding and the wedding luncheon. I expect you will be on duty on Thursday and Friday, but hope you will be able to spend a few hours with us in the evenings at least. And then there are trips to Staten Island and to Greenwood to plan.

So far this week I have had a great number of badly broken bones to deal with, a half dozen fistulas and tears. I corrected a bowel obstruction and two hernias, and amputated a hand, a leg to the knee, and the toes of a little boy who stuck his foot under a dray cart on a dare. We have had an unusual number of losses in the children’s ward. I don’t like to think of myself as superstitious, but I have had more difficult cases than usual since you left, and signed more death certificates than I like to remember, certainly more than is usual for this time of year. For the sake of the good citizens of New York but mostly because I do miss you, you should come home sooner rather than later.


Postscript. I decided to wait a day and think before telling you the whole story of your sisters’ visit. I have not talked to Sophie or Aunt Quinlan about it and will not until I have had your thoughts on how best to proceed.

Your sisters were very welcome guests, I think you will know that. They were friendly and open and very polite. Everyone liked them. I liked them. I would like to say that I still like them without reservation, but this is where the trouble begins.

Sophie came in late, about an hour after I got home. I was standing just outside the parlor when Aunt Quinlan introduced Bambina and Celestina to her as Dr. Sophie Savard, Anna’s cousin. There was a short, shocked silence. Bambina especially could not hide her surprise and disquiet. She stammered and withdrew, making an excuse about finding her reticule. Celestina was composed and less abrupt, but very quiet.

I am guessing that you didn’t mention to them that not all Savard family members are white, and that this news will not be well received by your family. It occurred to me that I could take your sisters aside and explain that Sophie is my half cousin, but I was immediately ashamed by this impulse. I will not repudiate Sophie, and I will not make excuses or provide explanations to quiet bigotry. If indeed this is bigotry. I cannot imagine any other reason for what happened, but if you can provide one, I will be both thankful and relieved.

I saw not the slightest hint of prejudice in you; you treat Sophie and Mr. and Mrs. Lee with respect and kindness, and I want to believe you will not allow anyone to treat them in any other way. Jack, I do not intend to alarm you, but neither could I pretend this hadn’t happened and I can’t put aside the worry that others in your family will feel as Bambina does, or worse.

Now I need to hear your thoughts on how best to proceed. I would like to call on your sisters and raise the subject directly, but if you feel that will do more harm than good, I am willing to take your advice. I will also ask you not to threaten or browbeat them, if that is your impulse. I imagine that they will not change their minds. It will just teach them to hide their true feelings, for fear of angering you. In both our professions we see what can happen when anger is tamped down and never let vent.


•   •   •


May 9th, 1883

Dearest Anna,

My heart leapt in my chest when the desk clerk handed me your letter. Oscar mocked the smile on my face until I came away to write to you, but I was not—am not—even a little embarrassed and I only raised an eyebrow at his more colorful turns of phrase. When he puts his mind to it Oscar can fluster anybody, but today he failed with me. I think he was truly shocked.

It is a great relief to know that you like the ring. It wasn’t until I had sent it off that I realized that I was putting you in a difficult position, so let me say this clearly: never pretend with me. If I misstep, you must tell me, and I will do the same. It is one of the things I value most about you, your ability to speak plain where others hold back out of fear or manners or habit.

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