The Gilded Hour Page 94

Cap said, “If you wanted to get married in a hurry you didn’t need to go off to Staten Island. You could have done it at City Hall with less fuss.”

“We didn’t go to Staten Island thinking we’d get married,” Jack said. “That was just fortunate timing and my good luck.”

“They went to talk to the priest about the littlest Russo boy,” Sophie reminded Cap. She turned to Anna. “No success?”

“We didn’t find Father McKinnawae,” Anna said, and then hesitated, her face turned toward the closed door. “What are those voices I’m hearing downstairs?”

Sophie shrugged at her apologetically. “You knew Auntie couldn’t help herself.”

“Everybody? The whole household is here?”

“Your people too,” Cap said to Jack. “You never said your father was a giant.”

Jack’s expression had been calm, almost sleepy, Sophie thought, but his head came around with a jerk.

“My people?”

“Your sisters, and your parents,” Sophie said. “Aunts, uncles, a couple brothers. I didn’t catch all the names.”

Anna gave a small shake of the head, and then she laughed.

“We thought we were so clever,” she said. “That will show us.”

Jack put a hand on her neck and kissed the top of her head. “Between my sisters and your aunt it was inevitable. None of them has any self-control when it comes to a party.”

“They love you,” Sophie said. “We love you. And we’re all happy for you.”

Cap said, “You’d better go down before they storm the castle, but tell us first about what happened on Staten Island. You didn’t find your Father McKinnawae, but something happened, I can tell from Anna’s expression.”

Anna said, “We can’t talk about this with the Russo girls in the house. Not a word about Father McKinnawae or Staten Island. Not today. Maybe not ever.”

“You found him,” Sophie said. “You found Vittorio?”

Anna nodded and Jack studied his shoes. Another set of complications, something Sophie hadn’t anticipated.

“You’re right,” Cap said. “This is a discussion for another day. Go on now, there’s a party waiting to get started in the garden. Come back up here when you can,” he added. “That will be time enough to talk about the inquest and the Campbell boys.”

Sophie froze where she stood.

From the door Anna looked back at her. “Of course he’s read the papers. You know how he is.”

“She did her best to keep them from me,” Cap said. “But all she had was Mrs. Harrison helping her, while I had Mr. Vine on my side, and Mr. Vine has a checkered but quite useful past when it comes to smuggling.”

•   •   •

IN THE HALL outside Cap’s room Sophie said, “I did try to hide the news from him. Or I suppose I was trying to hide it from myself. I can’t bear to think about those boys.”

Anna put an arm around her shoulder and kissed her cheek. “Sophie, I don’t mean to be unfeeling, really. I am terribly worried about the Campbell boys, but I’m asking you to put all that aside for just a little while. I’m about to meet my parents-in-law and I can’t think of much else.”

“Come on then,” Jack said with a resigned smile. “Let’s put you out of your misery.”

“I don’t even have time to change into better clothes,” Anna mumbled, but she let herself be led downstairs.

“We’ve been outmaneuvered,” Jack said, squeezing her hand. “Let’s surrender with our dignity intact.”

•   •   •

THE FIRST THING Anna noticed as they walked into the garden was Rosa and Lia, each of them hopping in excitement, their arms full of flowers. They hurtled themselves toward her, and she crouched down, arms spread, to catch them up. She thought, Your brother is healthy and well and I’m sorry I can’t say even that much to you. Instead she hugged them and kissed their cheeks and took the bouquets they thrust at her, fat pink and white peonies so full of scent that she sneezed, and set the whole party to laughing.

When she looked up Aunt Quinlan was there, leaning on her cane. Anna went to her, this small woman as fragile as an iron rod, unflinching and absolute in her love and devotion. She pressed her face to her aunt’s and drew in a deep breath. There was nothing to say, because she couldn’t put what she was feeling into words.

“Come now,” her aunt said. “Let me have a look at this husband of yours, and then we’ll sit down with your new family.”

•   •   •

FROM THE HALL windows Sophie and Cap watched as Anna was drawn into the circle of Jack’s family, with his mother at the center and his father as tall and solid as a tree trunk beside her. Jack was very tall, but his father was a half head taller still. Mrs. Mezzanotte was straight and strong too, a woman sure of herself, with a gaze that was not stern, exactly, but missed nothing. Very much like Anna herself. Her two daughters were with her, the quiet and gentle Celestina and Bambina, younger and harder of heart, and two aunts. All of the women stepped forward to draw Anna in while the men of the family looked on.

“At least this way she doesn’t have to meet the whole family at once,” Sophie said. Most of Anna’s new family had stayed behind at Greenwood. Mrs. Mezzanotte had explained the reasoning to Sophie in her excellent English, almost as if she were apologizing for failing to produce every Mezzanotte on the continent.

She had said, “They are all of them unhappy with me, because they wanted to be here to welcome Anna into the family. But my daughters-in-law are a force to be reckoned with, and I put down my foot. I wanted her to myself for this afternoon, at least.”

For Sophie it had been an awkward introduction, because Bambina was standing next to her mother and she had heard more about Bambina than she really cared to know. But the younger Mezzanotte sister had smiled and spoken to Sophie with all good manners. Either she had undergone a change of heart, or she had been threatened with dire consequences. Sophie knew it was most likely the latter, but Mrs. Mezzanotte’s kind smile gave her some reason to think that the situation might turn out well.

•   •   •

IN THE GARDEN Jack’s father took Anna by the shoulders, eyes narrowed as if he were examining a botanical specimen, and then kissed her on each cheek, breaking into a smile so much like Jack’s that Sophie found herself laughing.

“I’ve never seen Anna so nervous,” Sophie said, still at the window. “And all for naught. They love her.”

“Italians are supposed to be shouting at each other all the time,” Cap said. “I thought there would at least be some sparks.”

Anna, who was uncomfortable with strangers and never overly demonstrative even with those she loved best, her cousin Anna was being passed from stranger to stranger like a precious but unbreakable treasure. They turned her one way and another to examine her from all sides, touched her face, ran hands over her hair. And she was smiling, answering questions and asking them, too, sometimes looking to Jack and sometimes not.

“That man is besotted,” Cap said. “And damned lucky, too.” His voice wavered, as Sophie knew her own voice might.

“Let’s go sit together,” she said. “Side by side. Can we do that, just for a little while?”

His hand came to rest lightly on her shoulder, a gentle brushing. Such sadness and resignation in his face. Sophie followed him, listening to the sounds of the party in the garden that would go on, as was right and necessary, without them.

•   •   •

ANNA PLEADED EXHAUSTION and an early start to her Monday, promised long visits and dinners and talks, tours of Roses and Weeds and the New Amsterdam, and finally with Jack’s help she was able to extricate herself from the crowd of Mezzanottes in Cap’s garden. She corrected herself: in Cap and Sophie’s garden.

Rosa and Lia made impassioned pleas to go back with them to Waverly Place but were distracted very easily by Mrs. Mezzanotte. Anna listened to a very serious discussion in Italian, and remembered what Jack had said about the comfort of hearing your own language in a strange land.

In the end they climbed into a taxi alone. They had never managed to talk to Sophie and Cap about the inquest or about the Campbell boys. Like so many things, it would have to wait.

Jack put an arm around her and she leaned into him and hummed. “I like your parents.”

“I hoped you would. It wasn’t the way I planned it happening, but there were some advantages to the spontaneous.”

“Aunt Quinlan,” Anna agreed. “She got hold of them first and paved the way. She does that a lot. She would have made an excellent ambassador.”

“Did you notice Lia?” Jack said. “She wouldn’t let go of my father. Margaret didn’t seem to mind, she was off in a corner talking to Aunt Philomena.”

“Everybody was on their best behavior,” Anna agreed. “But I still feel as if I was run over by an omnibus.”

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