The Gilded Hour Page 87

She nodded in reluctant agreement. “The thing is, if they are forced back to Greenwood because of me, I’ll never have a chance to win them over. What?” she said. “You look surprised.”

“I didn’t think you ever worried about things like that. What people think of you.”

“Of course I do,” Anna said. And then, when he held her gaze for a moment: “Well, all right. I might not worry about what a store clerk thinks about my boots or what the district attorney thinks about my education, but this is your family we’re talking about. Your mother, above all. I would like her to be happy for you. Which reminds me—”

Jack tensed.

“—You must have had some pressure to marry before this point. Did they pick you out a wife?”

“As a matter of fact,” Jack said, and it was Anna’s turn to tense.

“You can’t be serious.”

“Let’s just say that I’ve been introduced to a number of young women my mother took a liking to. All Italian, of course.”

“And Jewish?”

He lowered his brow in thought. “Two of them were, if I remember correctly.”

“And you declined?”

“Of course I declined,” Jack said. “Did you think I had a wife squirreled away somewhere?”

“You didn’t like any of them?”

“I liked them well enough.”


“Oh, no,” Jack said. “We’re not going down that road.”

“Ha,” Anna said. “You opened the door, and I’m not going to let you shut it so quickly. So your mother—”

“Not just my mother. Aunts, cousins.”

“I see. So they found you a good Italian daughter, a pretty girl brought up to keep house and produce babies. So why do you think they’ll approve of me?”

“Because they are my people,” Jack said. “Because they want me to be happy, and you make me happy. It’s that simple.”

She didn’t want to smile, but couldn’t help herself. Anna wondered, in one part of her mind, why she was pursuing such a difficult subject today, of all days. As a little girl she had often provoked even gentle people to outbursts of frustration. Over the years Aunt Quinlan had curbed this impulse, so that as an adult she could resist, in most situations.

“I’m being difficult,” she said to Jack now. “And I’m not sure why. I apologize for needling you.”

Jack took this in with his usual calm expression. “You’re nervous about the Russo boy. If he is here, we could be taking him back to the city. Of course you’re nervous.”

“That might be true, if Father McKinnawae were here, but he’s not.” And Anna was thankful, but kept that to herself.

They came over a rise to see Mount Loretto—or what would one day soon be Mount Loretto—spread out before them.

There were a half-dozen buildings, some barely begun, others almost finished, set around a large square with the foundations of a brick building, most likely a church by its shape and size. Some dozen men were at work, all of them wearing rough brown robes. On the far side of the main development, more men were at work on a barn while still more drove oxen as they turned under meadow. Great piles of lumber and brick and shingles separated the clearing from a wood.

“Monks,” Jack said, before she could ask the question. “Franciscan; I think there’s a monastery not too far away. Look, it’s right on the bay.”

He pointed and Anna saw the glint of sun on water through a stand of trees.

“This is a huge undertaking. It’s overwhelming,” Anna said.

“The Catholic Church,” Jack agreed. “They move mountains when it suits them. Should we ask for a tour?”

“We’ve come this far,” Anna said.

•   •   •

THEY WERE DIRECTED to one of the buildings that was almost finished, with a makeshift office on the ground floor. One wall of shelves was already filled with overstuffed binders, all neatly labeled. Under a single window a desk was heaped with file folders and correspondence boxes. A thick wad of receipts and bills of lading and orders had been threaded onto a long nail driven through a block of wood. A small jug held pencil stubs and a few pens, the nibs in clear need of attention.

In the middle of the room a monk leaned over a table where a set of architectural drawings had been rolled out and secured with bricks. He was making notations with a pencil, working with his nose almost pressed to the paper.

He looked up at the sound of Jack’s knock, his expression friendly and welcoming. Anna let Jack handle the introductions because she was never sure of the proper protocol in such circumstances, but she was sure that the protocol was important to getting the discussion off on the right foot.

“You aren’t the first callers to go away disappointed today,” he was saying to Jack. “I’m very sorry that you’ve come so far for no good reason.”

Brother Jeremy struck her as a no-nonsense, well-intentioned sort, and she was inclined to believe that he meant what he said. He was well over fifty, with short iron-gray hair and a sunburned nose, wide in the shoulder with great square hands that were stained with ink and paint both. He reminded her of Uncle Quinlan, she realized suddenly, but could not put her finger on why that might be.

Jack pulled out their single ace: “It was Sister Irene at the Foundling who suggested we talk to Father McKinnawae.”

“Ah, Sister Irene,” said Brother Jeremy. “You’ve left no stone unturned. I can only wish you better luck with your next visit. Now, may I give you a short tour?”

It was not unexpected, but Anna still struggled with disappointment as they walked the property with Brother Jeremy. They saw buildings that would serve as dormitories, looked at classrooms and workrooms and washrooms and offices. There was a very large kitchen where ten people could work side by side, and an attached dining hall. There was an infirmary, as yet nothing more than walls, with plumbing in place.

It seemed to Anna that any boy who had been living on the streets of the city unsure of even the next day’s meal must be content here. At the very least he would be warm and fed, and he would learn to read and write and a trade, too, Brother Jeremy assured them. “Carpentry, toolmaking, sailmaking, farming. Any boy who shows a calling will be sent on to a seminary when he’s old enough.”

Anna swallowed that fact without comment and felt Jack relax beside her.

Brother Jeremy said, “You might like to walk along the bay, while you’re here. We’ll water and graze your horse while you’re gone if you like.”

Jack offered Anna his arm, and they set off through a small wood full of birdsong and trees in new leaf. A flickering of yellow caught Anna’s eye; had Jack seen it? A warbler, he thought from the song. High in a tree was a pure white owl, and nearby, a woodpecker hard at work.

They were quiet, and Anna wondered if things would be awkward now that they had only each other to deal with. That thought was still in her mind when they came out on a narrow footpath that wound through brush and shrubs. It struck her like a drawing out of a children’s adventure story, and the idea made her pick up her pace.

Jack let out a small laugh, one that told her he was just as intrigued. Together they followed the path until it brought them to a narrow marsh where someone had put a wide board down to serve as a bridge, and beyond that point the grasses began to fall away, showing up spottily on the swells of sand that blocked their view of the beach.

Birds were everywhere, but Jack was almost as clueless as Anna about their names. Long-legged, knobby-kneed birds with narrow arched beaks like scimitars stood in the marsh waters where ducks with different markings and colors were busy among the reeds. The sound of great wings beating the air made Anna look up to see a bird as big as a man—or so it seemed—heading away from the bay with a fish in its talons. A falcon? An eagle? She had no idea, and felt the lack. She could name every bone and muscle in the human body, but she had no idea what to call the small brown birds with white bellies that strutted along like little old men.

They climbed the ridge of sand and found the ocean spread out before them. The water was deep blue and choppy, tumbling white-combed waves catching sunlight so bright that tears sprang to Anna’s eyes despite her broad-brimmed straw hat. There were boats on the horizon, too small to make out, and a little ways down the beach a small group of people were gathered around a picnic basket.

“Over there.” Jack inclined his head toward a protected spot overhung by a stand of tall bushes.

They made themselves comfortable despite the fact that they were both dressed to pay a call on a priest. Jack took off his jacket and spread it over a bush, but there was nothing Anna could shed. She was wearing her favorite summer walking dress with a shirtwaist of fine batiste, pleated from the shoulders and embroidered along the neckline, and most important, completely out of fashion because the sleeves were cut wide to give her freedom of movement. She spread the skirts around herself, layers of silk charmeuse and dimity that caught the breeze and lifted up to reveal her stockings and shoes. Her half boots were kid leather and practical for walking, but Rosa had insisted on lacing them with pale green ribbons to match her stockings.

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