The Gilded Hour Page 77

Cap turned to Anna. “How many vertebrae in the human spine?”

She considered not answering, and then gave in. “Five fused together that make up the sacrum, the four coccygeal bones that form the tailbone, then seven cervical, twelve thoracic, and five lumbar vertebrae.”

“Thank you,” Cap said. “I’ll get out my abacus to add that all together later. Now I’ve been meaning to say that I’ve had a stitch in my side all day. Does that mean something?”

Anna and Sophie turned toward him, heads canted at the same angle, and hummed in exactly the same key. Then they exchanged a glance and laughed.

“You’ve figured us out,” Sophie said to Cap. “Now I will have to show you the secret handshake.”

“So he’s right,” Jack said. “You do hum when you’re asked a medical question.”

“I suppose so.” Anna rubbed a knuckle between her brows. “It’s a way to encourage the patient to talk without interrupting or giving away findings.”

“The patient doesn’t want to know what you’re thinking?”

Anna said, “Certainly. But it’s a truism that patients lie without reservation, and anything I say will only add to the confusion.”

“Patients often lie for no obvious reason,” Sophie added. “Most don’t even realize that they are lying.”

“There’s a trick to it. They tell you what’s wrong,” Anna went on, “and you have to try to sort out what’s true, what’s supposition, imagination, wishful thinking, and unadulterated prevarication. So you see, you can’t give your thoughts away.”

“I would guess it’s a lot like police work,” Cap said.

Sophie looked surprised. “In a way. People who are sick often feel guilty about work left undone or the people who need them. It’s one of the things that get in the way of figuring out what’s wrong.”

“There is some similarity,” Jack said. “There are people who will confess to any crime out of fear of the police.”

Anna thought again of her patient’s husband. “If Archer Campbell had been able to read my mind, he might well have shot me on the spot.”

Jack frowned. “What were you accusing him of in your mind?”

With some vehemence Sophie said, “A man has to be both blind and heartless to not see that the person he sleeps beside every night lives in terror.”

“That’s a strong word,” Cap said.

“Hardly strong enough. Look at what her desperation drove her to.”

Anna clapped her hands suddenly. “Too dark a subject for a beautiful summer afternoon. I came hoping for Mrs. Harrison’s wafer cake and coffee.”

Sophie got up. “I’ll tell her we’re ready.”

Halfway to the French doors that opened into the house proper, she turned back. “Cap, you’d tell me if you did have a stitch in your side, wouldn’t you?” And smiled, embarrassed, when they all laughed.

•   •   •

THEY PLAYED CARDS and talked, about the Greber house and Aunt Quinlan’s delight at the turn of events that would install Anna and Jack if not in the same house, close enough to see every day.

“It needs a lot of work,” Jack said. “The plumbing and gas lines and wall sconces have to be replaced, and none of the fittings in the bedrooms are sound. I wonder that the place didn’t burn down long ago.”

“It’s a big house,” Sophie said, the corner of her mouth curling upward. “It will take you some time to fill it up.”

Anna wrinkled her nose at her cousin. “Don’t start.”

“I’ve been wondering if you might like to put in a suite of rooms for a private practice,” Jack said to Anna.

Anna felt her mouth fall open before she could catch herself. She closed it on a click, trying to find something sensible to say in the flurry of thoughts that were racing by.

Jack raised a brow. “Not a good idea?”

“I don’t know,” Anna said. “I’ll have to think about it.”

“You are grimacing,” Cap said.

“Am I?” Anna shook her head to clear her thoughts. “I suppose I am. It’s just that there are so many decisions to make. Jack’s sisters have been bombarding me already about drapery fabrics and table linen and bedding.”

“Poor Anna,” Cap said. “Forced to choose between periwinkle and primrose, silk and brocade and linen.”

“It’s worse than that,” Anna said. “I have to talk about prices.”

“There you have it,” Cap said to Jack. “Our Anna’s biggest secret. Any merchant can overcharge her without fear of accusation. I think she’d break out in a rash before she challenged a price.”

“I’ll have to pay attention now,” Anna said. “Or I’ll bankrupt us before we get started, and send Jack’s sisters to the poorhouse while I’m at it. He says I can’t pay them or even reimburse them for materials.”

“They would be insulted,” Jack agreed. “And you won’t put them in the poorhouse. My mother has everything well in hand.”

“You see,” Anna said. “I’m doomed.”

“But you like the house,” Sophie prompted.

“Oh, I love the house and I especially love the garden. Weeds and all.”

“Then everything will work out in the end.” Sophie leaned over and kissed Anna’s cheek. “You must tell yourself that every morning and every evening. And Jack must remind you when you forget.”

•   •   •

THEY TOLD STORIES, Jack about his family and his time studying in Italy, Cap and Sophie and Anna about their childhood misadventures, most of which put Anna in a central and less than angelic spotlight. As the sun was setting they ate a light supper of lamb, new potatoes, and peas braised in cream and dressed with mint. All Cap’s favorites, which reminded Anna that it was also the last time he would sit down to Mrs. Harrison’s cooking. Her appetite left her just that suddenly, and it was hard work to get down even half of what she had been served.

When Jack went to sit closer to Cap to talk about the journey, Sophie’s mind turned back to Janine Campbell.

“She came to see me weeks ago, asking questions I couldn’t answer for fear that Comstock was behind it. She was distraught but I didn’t think she was in such despair that she would risk—what she risked. You think she aborted herself?”

Anna said, “From the angle of the puncture wounds, yes. But in the end I don’t think it’s possible to know unless whoever did it comes forward to confess, and you know that won’t happen. The coroner will have an opinion.” Anna took her cousin’s hand. “It’s a terrible thing, Sophie. But you have to put it out of your mind now. You have nothing to feel guilty about.”

“I don’t feel guilty,” Sophie said quietly. “I am just terribly sorry and sad. For her and for those little boys. And I’m frustrated, that I have to admit. I may as well have been bound and gagged when she came to see me, for all the good I did her.”

•   •   •

IT WAS HARDLY seven when Cap excused himself to retire for the night. The fireworks were still an hour off but he was wan, his hair and face damp with perspiration. They all knew what these things meant and it would do no good to point out the obvious, and still Anna found it difficult to stand back when he was so clearly in distress. If by some miracle he lived another thirty years with tuberculosis, she knew she would never be able to accept the necessity of distance between them.

She heard herself say, “Do you remember when we were little, how we napped together in Uncle Quinlan’s hammock between the apricot trees?”

“I remember you turning over so suddenly that I ended up on the ground.” Cap’s smile was faraway and sad and still Anna was glad to have raised this image, this picture of themselves as children with no worries on a summer afternoon, able to sleep in the shade of trees heavy with fruit, simply because it pleased them.

To Jack Cap said, “You’ll have to watch out for her, she’s a turbulent sleeper.”

“It will be my privilege to watch out for her,” Jack said. “Always.”

•   •   •

WHEN THEY WERE alone they sat in companionable silence for a good while.

“Sophie has always been the soul of calm in any storm,” Anna said. “She is fearless when it comes to her patients; she’ll confront anyone even against her own best interests. But after tomorrow her natural inclination to protect Cap will be underwritten by law. And I’m glad of it, for both of them.”

“You find it hard to let him go,” Jack said. “To say good-bye.”

She nodded, not trusting her voice. When she had control of it again she said, “I’ve always wondered if what Sophie experienced in New Orleans during the war took the ability to be frightened from her.”

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