The Gilded Hour Page 85

She said, “Do we have to have wallpaper?”

He let out a relieved sigh. “Maybe together we can convince my sisters that we don’t. I’d get a headache looking at any of those every day.”

“Tell them—never mind, you shouldn’t have to speak for me. I’ll take them to a friend’s house that I admire. Maybe that will be enough.”


She looked at him closely. “You sound surprised.”

“Not in the least,” he said. “I’m just remembering you told me once that you didn’t have many friends.”

“It’s very rude of you to remember everything I say.” She made an effort to sound severe and produced only an indigent huff. “And I do have a few friends. This one’s name is Lisped; her daughter went to school with us at the Cooper Union. Annika married a Swede and moved back there, but her mother is still here.”

“Wait, you and Sophie went to the Cooper Union? I thought they only taught classes for adults.”

“The institute has a class for the children of faculty members. Aunt Quinlan taught drawing and painting, Cap’s uncle Vantroyen taught engineering, and Annika’s father taught mathematics. That’s how I met Cap, at a lecture the grown-ups went to hear, before we even started school.”

“You’ve never told me much about any of this.”

“Haven’t I?” Anna considered. “I don’t think the stories are anything out of the ordinary. We were overindulged, I suppose, when it came to school. Any curiosity was to be encouraged, and everything was a game, from mathematics to Latin. We took every opportunity to go off on our own to explore. Annika and her brother Nils sometimes joined us.

“But my point was, I very much like her mother’s house. Lisped is someone I admire greatly. If there’s time to go visit, I wonder if your sisters would be shocked.”

“They might surprise you.”

Anna thought, That would be nice.

For a long time they didn’t talk at all, and Anna was free to take in the ocean air and the sun on the water, and the promise of what just might turn out to be a perfect day. Little by little she was aware of her mood floating away from her to disappear without a trace. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, put her head on Jack’s shoulder, and fell asleep. It was such a deep sleep that she was disoriented when he woke her an hour later, his breath on her ear sending a shiver running up and down her spine.

He said, “Vanderbilt’s Landing, Savard. Rise and shine.”

•   •   •

“YOU KNOW, YOU could call me Anna at this point,” she told him as they made their way from the ferry landing to the Stapleton train station. As they walked she was scanning the shoreline and all the mansions that overlooked the sound, the homes of men who traveled to Brooklyn or Manhattan by ferry, mornings and evenings.

He said, “You still call me Mezzanotte for the most part.”

“Because I like the sound of it. If your last name were Düsediekerbäumer or Gooch or Quisenberry—” She shrugged.

“You would never have talked to me at all?”

“Well,” she said, stepping neatly away. “Of course I would have talked to you. But I couldn’t marry someone with the name Düsediekerbäumer. In fact, it’s odd that I’m marrying anybody at all. I didn’t think I ever would.”

She was in a lighter mood, even playful, but not far beneath the surface she was still exhausted. Standing next to him on the platform she almost swayed in the breeze, blinking owlishly in the bright sun.

“What about Anna Mezzanotte, do you like the sound of that?”

She jerked and came fully awake. “Um,” she said.

Jack had wondered if this would be an issue, if she would resist taking his name. He hoped he wouldn’t have to convince her, because this was one point on which his parents—his father, most especially—would balk.

“I have a suggestion,” he said before she could think how to respond. “But let’s wait until we’ve found our seats.”

As soon as the train jerked its way out of the station she said, “Your suggestion?”

“As a doctor, you will want to remain Dr. Savard, I understand that. But at home, and when children come along—”

“They would have your last name, of course.” Relief flooded her expression. “I thought you would be unhappy about—my professional name.”

He shook his head, thinking, Pick your battles. He said, “At home you’re one woman and at the hospital, another.”

She collapsed, boneless, against her seat back, and yawned again. “I don’t seem to be able to keep my eyes open.”

“Then sleep,” he said, leaning a shoulder toward her in invitation. “Anything exciting happens, I’ll wake you up.”

She laughed, rubbing her cheek against his jacket as if to find the right spot. “I wonder what would count as exciting on Staten Island. A deer on the tracks?” She had other questions about the route—if the train line ran close along Raritan Bay, whether there might be time to walk on the beaches later—and then she was asleep again without waiting for comment or answers.

He put his arm around her to hold her steady against the sway and lurch of the train and looked up to see that they were being observed by two old women—farmers’ wives, almost certainly, by their faded sunbonnets and aprons. Watching Anna sleep as attentively as they might have watched a play on the stage. Sleep robbed her face of its fierce intelligence and turned her into nothing more or less than a woman in the full blush of her youth at rest, innocent, almost otherworldly. Then the women turned to look out the window, and the moment passed.

For a moment Jack weighed the idea of getting the Times out of his valise, and then remembered the article just under the fold on the front page, where Anna’s name figured so prominently. She might not have seen it. He hoped she had not. Even more, he hoped she hadn’t seen the Post or any of the other rags that were having such a good time dissecting the Savard women. Tomorrow would be soon enough for all that, or the day after. For today they were free of everything and everyone.

They traveled along Raritan Bay for a while, slow enough to take in long stretches of dunes that revealed and then hid the shore where oystermen were hauling nets. On the horizon he could just make out boats like smudges of paint shimmering in the sun.

According to the train schedule the journey would take an hour, which Jack soon realized was more a fanciful guess than a statement of fact. He watched passengers amble along to get on and off as if they had never heard the word timetable. At one stop the conductor sat himself down on a convenient pile of luggage and launched into what looked like a serious conversation with the stationmaster, pausing only to light his pipe. So close to Manhattan, and a different world altogether, different from Greenwood, too, in ways he couldn’t quite pinpoint except that Greenwood was home.

Stapleton was a proper town, but the rest of the interior of Staten Island would be like this: farms, forest, wilderness. The next stop was in a village spread out around the train station like an apron: pretty, slightly tattered, and very quiet but for the huff of the train engine. A stand of tulip trees cast shade over the road where a leggy girl in wooden clogs was herding a couple of goats along the road. The baby balanced on her hip had one small fist knotted in the sleeve of her dress.

On the other side of the train tracks orchards spread out, apricot and plum and cherry in bloom, swaths of white and pink and red as far as he could see.

The stops were ten or twenty minutes apart, interrupted for long stretches for no apparent reason. Every station was simpler and smaller than the one before, with less of a village around it. The stretches of forest got longer, crab apples scattered between cedar and gum trees, their petals floating on the breeze. Passengers came and went, greeted each other, and talked in the way of people who knew each other’s parents and grandparents, secrets and foibles. Anna slept through all of it, unaware.

He had been told that Pleasant Plains was the stop closest to the new mission at Mount Loretto, but Jack bought tickets for Tottenville, two stops on, a more substantial village and the final train stop on the southernmost shore with another ferry station, this one with service to Perth Amboy in Jersey. In Tottenville he hoped they would be able to find lunch and directions and a livery stable to rent a horse and trap and then, finally, a hotel, if fate was kind.

When the conductor came through calling out Tottenville, end of the line, Tottenville! Jack got some basic information: the name of a restaurant where they could get a good lunch, and, when Jack mentioned they would be going to Mount Loretto, the news that Father McKinnawae had gone to the city just this morning, traveling north to the ferry on this very train. He wouldn’t be back for a couple of days, some kind of emergency at his Mission of the Immaculate Virgin, but then wasn’t that always the way with those street arabs. McKinnawae was a saint, papist or not, and you couldn’t convince Tom Bottoms any different.

“There’s nobody at Mount Loretto at all?” Jack asked.

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