The Gilded Hour Page 89

“Here’s the doctor you were wondering about.” Jack inclined his head to a shingle that hung on the gate of a substantial house. Dr. Nelson Drake was responsible for the health and well-being of this pretty town at the southernmost point of New York State, and he seemed to be prospering. Just across from the doctor was the town court and post office, still open for business and beyond that, the Tottenville Hotel.

A block farther on they found a smithy with a sign nailed to the outside wall:


The wide doors were shut and the window shuttered, no sign of life anywhere.

They had come to the end of the little street, where they found a bench that looked out over a small wilderness and beyond that, the sea.

“We don’t even know if it’s the same Mullen,” Anna said.

Jack covered her hand with his own. “It’s harder now, isn’t it. Seeing him with a family. He looked healthy.”

“Yes,” Anna agreed. “He looked healthy and well loved. And the older sister, too. No lack of nourishment or attention.”

“Why would they have adopted?” Jack asked.

Anna thought back over all the women she had cared for, the ones who were desperate to have children, and those who were terrified by the idea. Almost every woman she knew had a story of a mother or sister or aunt who had died giving birth or shortly thereafter, or who had lost one child after another. There were women who grew shells that allowed them to survive such losses, and others who broke under the weight.

“She might have lost a child,” Anna said. “Or she can’t conceive. That’s not uncommon.”

“Was the daughter adopted too, do you think?”

Anna was surprised by the question, which hadn’t occurred to her. “She could be, I suppose. There’s no way really to know, and if she is, it’s likely she hasn’t been told and never will be told. Most people who adopt seem to want it that way.”

Jack pushed out his legs and crossed them at the ankle. “Italians don’t think like that,” he said. “We pass children around like pieces on a chessboard.”

Anna hiccupped a laugh. “What does that mean?”

He shrugged. “One family has too many kids, the sister-in-law has none, they share the wealth, so to speak, send over some kids to be raised in that household. But it’s never kept a secret. In small villages that would be impossible, and even in a city, I can’t imagine it.”

“Your parents never thought to send one of you back to Italy to be raised by an aunt or uncle?” Too late, Anna remembered the reason the Mezzanottes had left Italy, but Jack wasn’t disturbed.

“They did send me back,” he said. “They just waited until I was old enough to stand up for myself to do it.”

Anna shifted to look at him directly. “Do you mean in regard to religion, because of the way the families reacted to your parents’ marriage?”

“In part. When I left for Italy they both warned me not to let the older relatives play tug-of-war with me.”

“Did they do that? Try to win you over to one side or the other?”

He gave her a solemn look. “You can’t imagine the things Italian women will compete for. But I made my position clear right at the start, and after that they kind of lost heart, I suppose. I took the fun out of the battle for my soul.”

“You know,” Anna said. “You’ve never told me where you stand. Do you consider yourself Jewish?”

“Judaism is matrilineal. So whatever I consider myself, my mother’s family sees me as Jewish. But here’s how it worked, when I was a kid. Our parents sat us down and told us the whole story, and then they stood back. It was up to each of us to decide for ourselves. Two of my brothers married Jewish women, and the others married Roman Catholics. Some of them observe the Sabbath, some of them go to church. I can never remember who does what.”

“You are still evading the question,” Anna said.

“I thought it would be clear by now. I haven’t taken a side, and I don’t plan to. I’m happy floating in uncharted waters. I’m the odd one out in the family, not cut out for the farm, too smart for my own good. So they sent me to Italy to study law.”

“We may need a lawyer before this is all resolved,” Anna said after a long moment. “What do you think we should do about the baby?”

“Would you want to claim him?”

Anna tried to gather her thoughts, but they refused to order themselves. It wasn’t the boy she was thinking about, but his mother—the woman who had become his mother—holding him up for the world to admire. Her expression had been serene and utterly calm, as if she had no other purpose but to care for the children gathered to her.

“They haven’t done anything wrong,” Jack said.

Anna glanced at him sharply. “I never said they had. If it is him, they took in an orphan to raise as their own.”

“Not wanting to give him up wouldn’t be wrong, either,” Jack said. “He’s been with that family for two months. Would he have any memory of his real mother, of Rosa or Lia or Tonino?”

“No,” Anna said. “Or at least, I’ve never seen any evidence of that. He’s well cared for by kind and loving people, and that’s his universe. The only life he knows. Would we have to approach Father McKinnawae as a first step?”

“I think that would be the best way,” Jack said. “If we want to go that route.”

“So not this weekend, then.”


“We can take a few days to think it all through, and talk to Aunt Quinlan. But not to the girls.”

Jack said, “That’s a sensible plan.”

“Not talk to the girls yet,” Anna amended.

Jack put a hand on the nape of her neck and rocked her head gently back and forth. For a few long minutes they just sat, and then Jack cleared his throat.

It was a sound Anna knew. He had something to suggest he thought she might not like. Something important. She was trying to remember the last time she had heard him make this sound and it had just come to her—the afternoon he broke the news about buying the old Greber place—when he took her hand.

He said, “I think we should get married.”

Surprised, Anna looked at him. “Haven’t we already agreed to do that?”

He gave a small shake of the head. “I think we should get married today. Right now. By the justice of the peace at the courthouse we just passed.”

“Is this about the hotel room?” Anna said. “Because if we want to stay overnight I’m not so very uncomfortable about registering—”

“No,” Jack said. “It’s not about that. Did you want a big wedding?”

Anna had to clear her own throat. “No. Really, no.”

“Well,” Jack said, smiling. “It’s one way to celebrate your birthday. Why not?”

She studied his expression. “Is this about the Russo baby, about talking to Father McKinnawae?”

That made him laugh. He cupped her face in both hands and kissed her. A simple, chaste kiss.

“Father McKinnawae is about the furthest thing from my mind. This isn’t about Sophie and Cap or the inquest or anything but me, wanting to marry you. Today. I’m tired of waiting. I want to go to sleep with you and wake up with you. Starting today.”

“It’s a little more complicated than that, Jack. Where would we live? I can’t move out of the house just when Sophie’s going; it would be terribly disruptive to the girls and Aunt Quinlan, all of them.”

“I see that. But I could move in, just until Weeds is ready.”

Anna knew that her mouth was hanging open, and more than that, she could see that Jack was pleased with her. Because she hadn’t refused, out of hand? Because she was thinking about it?

Because she was thinking about it. Then something occurred to her.

“Your sisters? Your mother? They won’t be offended at being left out?”

“My mother, no. She’s practical. As far as my sisters are concerned, they are so wound up in transforming Weeds that they won’t much care. Really, think about it, Anna. It’s the best part. With my sisters so busy with the house, they’ll point-blank refuse to go home to Greenwood, and Mama will see the logic in letting them finish. Maybe by the time Weeds is ready, everybody will be comfortable with the idea of them staying in the city.”

Anna put a hand over her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud.

“Can you come up with any real objections?”

Slowly, she shook her head.

Jack peeled her hand away from her face, kissed the palm, and held on to it.

“Savard, if you’re not ready, all you have to do is say those three words. ‘I’m not ready.’”

Anna’s voice cracked. “What about—Monday? The inquest? Will it complicate things?”

“Just the opposite,” Jack said. “Nobody will be able to challenge my place next to you.”

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