The Gilded Hour Page 75

“That is a very long time.”

“He’s still alive,” Miss Branson said. Her gaze was far away, but her tone was matter-of-fact. “The first Mr. Malcolm. Ninety-four years old but still spry, the kind of elderly gentleman who seems just as dry and tough as gristle.” She glanced at Anna, who nodded that she understood.

“But terribly absentminded about everything outside his business. Even when I first knew him, Mr. Malcolm could never remember birthdays—not even his own—or anniversaries or invitations, and he mixed up his children, running through all the names until he hit the right one. Jacob-Hans-Jeb or Amity-Ruth-Josie, just like that. They laughed it off, though I think when the children were little there were some hurt feelings, now and then. I didn’t see it at first but as I got older I realized that it wasn’t really comical, how much passed him by. How many small good things in his life went unnoticed.”

She turned her head to watch the activity on the bridge for a moment, and then she picked up her story again. “He was a strict taskmaster, but not mean. Never mean. Gruff but good-hearted, is how I think of him. My own father died young and I felt the lack, so I sometimes pretended that Mr. Malcolm was my father. I think the idea came to me because he always remembered my name, you see. His daughters he couldn’t keep straight, but he knew my name. And that made me think I was a little special.”

Anna was fairly sure that Miss Branson had had no visitors, though she had been admitted to the hospital the previous Saturday.

“I sent word, Monday morning. Paid a messenger to take a note to say that I was here and couldn’t come in. Didn’t hear back but after—after you told me my situation I thought I should write again, but maybe not. They might be closed up for the celebration. They might.”

Anna drew in a deep breath and held it. The simplest of stories, and her heart was beating so fiercely she could feel the pulse in her wrists. A physician had to keep some distance, but once in a while a simple story would catch her unawares, sliding like a needle through a crack in a thimble to embed itself deeply, without warning, in tender flesh.

Miss Branson was looking at Anna with an expression that couldn’t be identified. Not pain or sorrow or regret, and nothing of anger. Anna could not rail against an insensitive and cruel employer in the face of such placid acceptance. She certainly could not disturb the woman’s peaceful state of mind, not now or ever.

“Things never quite turn out the way you imagine, do they,” Miss Branson said, her voice low and almost amused in tone. “You have to pay attention to the moment in your hands, before it’s gone.

“Now, would you have any use for my hats? I don’t like to leave my bills unpaid, and you have looked after me very well.”

•   •   •

ANNA CHANGED INTO the summer-weight frock she had brought with her, brushed out her hair and put it up again in a loose chignon on the back of her head, changed her shoes, and picked up the straw boater that would protect her from the sun on the river. She regarded herself in the mirror. Margaret was fond of pointing out that Jack had done wonders for Anna’s complexion, making it more of a subtle accusation than a compliment. Anna saw that it was true, her color was high and her skin clear. She wondered if sexual frustration could be as invigorating as sex itself, wondered what Margaret would say to this question. The idea put a smile on her face. She hadn’t been alone with Jack for a very long time, but that would change soon.

It was just after one and he would be waiting downstairs. She was suddenly very impatient to see him, and had to remind herself that it would not fill patients or staff with confidence to see a doctor skipping down the hall. She thought in passing of Maura Kingsolver, the surgeon coming on shift. Fortunately there were no pending surgeries that she had to be informed about. It seemed as if Anna might really get out of the hospital on time.

Jack was talking to Mr. Abernathy in the lobby. He stood with his hands in his pockets, rocking back on his heels, his chin lowered to his chest. A powerfully built man at ease in his own skin, listening closely to an old man’s story. He had been raised in a household that valued stories and the people who told them. It was one part of what made him good at his work.

He was wearing a beautifully cut suit that fit him perfectly. A summer-weight wool of a deep buff color, his jacket was open to reveal a checked vest buttoned over a soft white shirt and a copper-colored silk tie in a loose bow around a standing collar. His sisters’ influence, and one way in which Anna could never compete; she paid little attention to fashion and was satisfied to let her aunt and cousin choose for her. As they had today, because it wouldn’t have occurred to her that the clothes she wore at the hospital were not right for an afternoon on the river. Or not until it was too late to go home and change.

Jack looked up and caught her eye. His whole face came alive as he broke into a smile. He was here for her. That odd and wondrous thought was in her mind still when the wide front doors flew open with a tremendous crash that made Anna jump in place.

An ambulance driver appeared holding up one end of a stretcher, backing through the door carefully. Jack and Mr. Abernathy were there before Anna even realized they were moving, blocking her view while they helped maneuver the stretcher all the way in and then carrying it through to the examination room.

A young woman wrapped in bloody sheets was struggling and writhing to free herself while the ambulance doctor tried to put three fingers to her throat to time her pulse. The driver stood back, arms crossed over his chest, looking studiously bored. To Anna he said, “This one’s asking for a Dr. Savard.” Ambulance drivers were notoriously hard to shock and often simply rude, but Anna had no time to teach him manners.

“You’re in the way,” Anna said. “Step outside.”

•   •   •

AMBULANCE DOCTORS WERE employees of the police department, generally men newly out of medical college and in need of practical experience. Jack knew most of them at least by sight, but this one he had never met before.

“I’m an intern at Bellevue, Neill Graham. You’re Dr. Savard?”

“I’m one of two Dr. Savards at this hospital. This lady is a stranger to me. She must be my cousin’s patient.”

“You’ll have to do,” said Graham. “She can’t wait.”

Anna’s expression cleared, all her questions and confusion leaving her face to be replaced by a focused calm. She looked over her shoulder at Mr. Abernathy. “Is Dr. Kingsolver available?”

“Already in surgery,” he said. “Room two is free.”

Orderlies appeared out of a side door to scoop up the stretcher.

To Neill Graham Anna said, “It’s the first operating room on the right. Please stay with her until I get there, I’ll just be a moment.”

Then she turned to Jack.

“I’m sorry.”

He nodded, adding a half shrug. He understood very well the regret, and knew too that it would last only until she stood in front of her patient. The woman’s condition would drive all other thoughts out of her mind. He said, “I’ll go to the ferry dock to explain.”

“I’m sorry about your day too.”

She was already moving away, but she changed direction and dashed toward him, stopping short to go up on tiptoe and press a kiss to his mouth, a fleeting touch he might have imagined if not for the scent of her skin. Then she was gone, flying down the hall to the operating rooms.

Jack had almost reached the cab waiting for him when another pulled up and a man leapt down before the horses came to a halt. He wore a black wool suit despite the warm weather and a matching bowler pulled down over frizzled red hair.

“Hold on!” the cabby bellowed. “Hold on there, what about my fare?”

The man yelled over his shoulder. “Archer Campbell, postal inspector. You’ll get your fare.”

“I’ll get double my fare if you make me chase you down for it,” the cabby shouted even as the man disappeared into the hospital. “Or I’ll get the police after you, postal inspector or not!”

•   •   •

WHEN ANNA CAME in, three nurses were already going about the business of preparing the operating room and the patient, who was still struggling despite firm hands and calm words. The nurses talked to her in a studiously attentive but calm tone as they had been taught to do. As Anna herself had once learned when she was a medical student and new to this world that was now her own.

They provided Anna with information without prompting: pulse 150 and thready, temperature 104. Anna was still trying to attach the name Mrs. Campbell to a memory, a patient of Sophie’s she had been worried about—when the woman shouted.

“Dr. Savard!” And again: “Please, Dr. Savard!”

Time was of the essence but a terrified patient could not be ignored. She went to stand beside the operating table.

“I am Dr. Anna Savard. I think you must be a patient of my cousin Sophie’s. I will do my best for you, Mrs. Campbell. Can you tell me about your condition? What exactly was done?” She put a hand on the woman’s abdomen and flinched as she shrieked in pain, curling away from Anna’s touch.

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