The Gilded Hour Page 74

She went from room to room and then outside into the garden, almost as large as her aunt’s, but terribly overgrown. The symmetry made it clear that this property must have once belonged to the Quinlan parcel, and according to Jack the plat book confirmed that. Both buildings constructed in 1840 by Jonathan Quinlan, Harrison Quinlan’s grandfather. In her second marriage Lily Bonner Ballentyne had married into a family with a shipping fortune and, more rare still, an appreciation for beauty.

“Mr. Lee will need help to bring this garden back to order,” Anna’s aunt murmured.

“There are Mezzanotte cousins and nephews enough to help,” Jack said to her, but he kept his gaze on Anna. “Mr. Lee can have his pick of an army of gardeners.”

Anna walked away from them into waist-high weeds, scanning the brick wall and then pointing. “There’s where the garden door was taken out and bricked over. Could that be restored, do you think?”

“It could,” Jack said. “I would put it at the top of the list so you can come and go easily. It will be safer for the girls too.”

She swept around, her eyes so bright that he thought for a moment that she might be on the verge of tears.

“How soon can it be brought into order, do you think?”

“I’ll talk to the attorney tomorrow. We can start renovations next week, after we make plans and talk about a budget. If that’s what you want to do.”

She strode toward him. “Of course it is,” she said. “It’s exactly what I want. You’re exactly what I want.”

Jack heard Aunt Quinlan moving away and the door closing behind her just as Anna walked into his arms.

She said, “First on that list of things to do is to get a room together where a person can take a nap.” And then she sneezed, three times in a row.

“Good idea,” Jack said. “Unless we want these weeds mowed down first.”

She sneezed once more, a triplet of high quick spasms that made him laugh out loud.

•   •   •

ON THE WAY uptown later in the afternoon, Anna asked the question she could hold back no longer. “How long have you had that house up your sleeve?”

He shrugged. “Just since yesterday. I saw a mover’s wagon pulling away from the curb and I asked some questions. This morning I talked to the attorney and made an offer. What?”

“Before you asked me?”

“It would have sold to someone else before the day ended. Did I misstep?”

“No,” she said, quite truthfully. “You stepped perfectly.” And after a long moment: “This will be difficult for your sisters.”

Jack touched the small of her back to steer her around a group of girls playing with a jump rope. “There may be a way to lessen the sting.”

She glanced up at him. “You are full of surprises today. What are you thinking?”

“Ask for their help. Unless you want to handle the furnishing and decorating yourself, of course.”

That made her laugh out loud. “Do you think they’re so easily distracted?”

“Ask them and find out. But be prepared, the first question they are going to ask you—”

“A date for the wedding.” She sighed.

“Such enthusiasm,” Jack said dryly.

She pressed his arm. “If the house can be ready, I would say late summer. Will that serve?”

“No,” Jack muttered. “But it will have to do.”


THURSDAY MORNING ANNA woke at dawn, full of energy, and left the house without eating anything at all; to step into the kitchen would mean being caught up in the frenzied preparations for the party on the East River or the wedding. All the way to the New Amsterdam, Anna kept tripping over the idea that Sophie and Cap would be getting married in just one day’s time.

Anna had avoided dwelling on what it would mean to be without her cousin for months or even years, but now she could think of little else. There was a lot of letter writing in her future, but she had discovered that she liked writing letters to Jack, and she thought writing to Sophie and Cap might be a good thing, a way to sort through all the changes ahead.

She reminded herself that she had patients to see. She tried to remember the last time she had been unhappy to have to work, and could not remember a single instance. She wondered what it said about her that at almost twenty-eight years old she had never even imagined staying away from work. There were, in fact, more interesting and even more important things in her world.

There was Cap, who would board a ship tomorrow and never come home again. Anna imagined him wrapped in blankets and looking out into a world of winter blues and whites, the cold clear air and perfect silence of the high Alps.

The urge to turn around and go spend the day with Cap and Sophie came over her and had to be dismissed; she would see her patients and then spend the afternoon and evening on the East River. The party would be a great deal of fun, everyone talking and laughing, and the noise of the celebration on the bridge would overwhelm all else. Sophie would not be there, but Jack would.

At one he would fetch her and they would go to meet the rest of the family at the ferry dock and then she would be free for an unheard-of three and a half days: not on duty or on call until Monday. After the wedding her time was her own, to spend dozing in the garden or more likely, in the new house answering questions about window hangings and linen closets while Jack and his cousins began putting bigger things to rights and his sisters went to work on the sewing machine they had already determined must be installed before everything else.

By the time Anna reached the New Amsterdam she had reconciled herself to the day ahead and could turn her mind to rounds with her students, to a scheduled surgery and a meeting, and to seeing three patients who were in decline.

She left her most difficult case for the end of the workday, so that she didn’t have to feel rushed. The patient was a fifty-nine-year-old woman, unmarried and without family, who would die sometime in the next day or two because she had ignored a cut on the sole of her foot too long. Anna had amputated, knowing that it was almost certainly too late, and so it had turned out to be. Rachel Branson had led a quiet, even peaceful life, but her death would be neither of those things.

•   •   •

ANNA FOUND HER patient sitting quietly, her hands folded over the newspaper in her lap while she looked out the window. Her bed was at the very end of the surgical ward, which provided her with a little more privacy and a view.

Miss Branson was flushed with fever, her brow and throat damp with sweat. Pain had taken up permanent residence in her face, drawing creases down her cheeks and along her mouth. Anna reached for the chart that hung at the foot of the bed and made a note for an increase in her pain medication. She hoped that Miss Branson would slip into a coma before the pain outstripped every relief medicine had to offer.

Then she sat down on the single chair, holding the chart against herself.

“I’ve been watching the bit of the new bridge I can see,” Miss Branson told her. “Such a lot of excitement, rushing back and forth. The president is there, according to the newspaper. It’s a wondrous thing.” She raised her face to look at Anna. “Are you going to the celebration?”

“Yes,” Anna said. “Later this afternoon.”

“With friends?”

Over the time she had been practicing Anna had learned how to deflect personal questions without giving offense, but she found herself wanting to talk to Miss Branson.

“With my family. It’s a busy time for us. Tomorrow my cousin is getting married and she’ll be sailing for Europe with her new husband right away.”

“Oh, that sounds lovely,” Miss Branson said. “Fireworks and a spring wedding. I wouldn’t know what to do with my excitement.”

“It is exciting,” Anna agreed.

After a long moment Miss Branson said, “I would have liked to see the fireworks.”

“You have a good view of the sky from this window,” Anna said. “You should be able to see them.”

A thoughtful look passed over the older woman’s face. “Maybe,” she said finally. She seemed to rouse herself purposefully. “I have a little savings,” she said. “I’ve written out instructions for the bank, to release those funds to the hospital to pay for my care and—afterward.”

Some people needed to talk about practical matters, unwilling or unable to let go of details. Miss Branson outlined her arrangements for her small apartment and what would become of her things, and Anna listened without interrupting her.

“But really what I wanted to tell you is that I have some lovely hats,” she was saying. “Do you think you might like to have them?”

Startled, Anna marshaled her thoughts, but Miss Branson held up a hand to forestall Anna’s answer. “They are my own work, the best of my work. I started in a milliner’s shop when I was just eight years old. Six days a week, from seven in the morning to seven in the evening. At first I swept floors and at thirty I was the designer. I trained under old Mr. Malcolm and then I worked for his son and finally his grandson. My whole life in that one place. Fifty years in the same shop on the same street.”

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