The international bestselling author of Into the Wilderness makes her highly anticipated return with a remarkable epic about two female doctors in nineteenth-century New York and the transcendent power of courage and love…
The year is 1883, and in New York City, it’s a time of dizzying splendor, crushing poverty, and tremendous change. With the gravity-defying Brooklyn Bridge nearly complete and New York in the grips of anti-vice crusader Anthony Comstock, Anna Savard and her cousin Sophie—both graduates of the Woman’s Medical School—treat the city’s most vulnerable, even if doing so may put everything they’ve strived for in jeopardy.
Anna's work has placed her in the path of four children who have lost everything, just as she herself once had. Faced with their helplessness, Anna must make an unexpected choice between holding on to the pain of her past and letting love into her life.
For Sophie, an obstetrician and the orphaned daughter of free people of color, helping a desperate young mother forces her to grapple with the oath she took as a doctor—and thrusts her and Anna into the orbit of Anthony Comstock, a dangerous man who considers himself the enemy of everything indecent and of anyone who dares to defy him.
With its vivid depictions of old New York and its enormously appealing characters, The Gilded Hour is a captivating, emotionally gripping novel that proves Sara Donati is an author at the height of her powers.
A Seattle Times Best Book of 2015!
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||6.20(w) x 9.20(h) x 1.70(d)|
|Age Range:||18 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Quinlan Household on Waverly Place
Aunt Quinlan: retired artist; widow of Simon Ballentyne and Harrison Quinlan
Anna Savard: physician and surgeon
Sophie Savard: physician; originally of New Orleans
Margaret Quinlan Cooper: Aunt Quinlan’s adult stepdaughter
Henry and Jane Lee: groundskeeper and housekeeper; in their own residence
The Verhoeven/Belmont Households on Park Place and on Madison Avenue
Peter (Cap) Verhoeven: attorney
Conrad Belmont: attorney; Cap’s uncle
Bram and Baltus Decker: Cap’s first cousins; twins
Eleanor Harrison: housekeeper
The Russo Family
Carmine Russo: Italian factory worker, widowed; Paterson, N.J.
Rosa, Tonino, Lia, and Vittorio Russo: his children
The Mezzanotte Family
Massimo and Philomena Mezzanotte: originally of Livorno, Italy; florists; University Place at 13th Street
Ercole Mezzanotte and Rachel Bassani Mezzanotte: originally of Livorno, Italy; horticulturalists, apiarists; Greenwood, N.J.; their adult children with families
Giancarlo (Jack) Mezzanotte: detective sergeant, NYPD, and his sisters Bambina and Celestina Mezzanotte; 45 East 13th Street
Oscar Maroney: detective sergeant, NYPD; 86 Grove Street
Archer Campbell: postal inspector; his wife, Janine Lavoie Campbell, and their children; 19 Charles Street
*Anthony Comstock: secretary, New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; postal inspector
Sam Reason: printer; his wife, Delilah; Weeksville, Brooklyn
Sam Reason: their adult grandson, also a printer
Giustiniano (Baldy, or Ned) Nediani: former newsboy
Father John McKinnawae: priest and social reformer
Sister Francis Xavier: procuratrix, St. Patrick’s Orphan Asylum
Sister Mary Augustin (Elise Mercier): nurse, St. Patrick’s Orphan Asylum
*Sister Mary Irene: Mother Superior, the Foundling
Lorenzo Hawthorn: coroner
Michael Larkin, Hank Sainsbury: detective sergeants, NYPD
Dr. Clara Garrison: Woman’s Medical School
*Dr. Abraham Jacobi: Children’s Hospital
*Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi: faculty, Woman’s Medical School
Dr. Donald Manderston: Women’s Hospital
Dr. Maude Clarke: Woman’s Medical School
Dr. Nicholas Lambert: forensics specialist, Bellevue
Neill Graham: intern, Bellevue
Amelie Savard: daughter of Ben and Hannah Savard; midwife; off Bloomingdale Road
*Asterisk indicates historical character
EARLY ON A March morning on the cusp of spring, Anna Savard came in from the garden to find a young woman with a message that would test her patience, disrupt her day, and send her off on an unexpected journey: a harbinger of change wearing the nursing habit of the Sisters of Charity, standing in the middle of the kitchen.
Anna passed four eggs, still warm from the nest, into Mrs. Lee’s cupped hands, and then she turned to greet her visitor. The young woman stood with her arms folded at her waist and hands tucked into wide sleeves, all in white, from a severe, unadorned bonnet tied tightly beneath her chin to the wide habit that fell like a tent to the floor. No more than twenty-three by Anna’s estimation, hardly five feet tall and most of that composed of sharp corners: a chin that came to a point and a nose and cheekbones to match, elbows poking out at noncongruent angles. Anna was put in mind of a nervous and underfed chicken wrapped up in a napkin.
“Sister . . .”
“Mary Augustin,” she supplied. She had a clear voice, all polite good manners, and still there was nothing timid in her manner.
Anna said, “Good morning. How can I help you?”
“I was sent to fetch the other Dr. Savard, but it seems she’s not in. Her note said to wait for you.”
People who came so early to the house were almost always looking for Anna’s cousin Sophie, who worked among the poor women and children of the city. For a scant moment Anna thought of lying, but she had never learned the art, and there was the promise she made to Sophie.
“The other Dr. Savard is attending a birth,” Anna said. “She told me you might come and I agreed to take her place.”
The pale forehead creased and then, reluctantly, smoothed. Clearly she had strong opinions, but had been schooled to keep them to herself. She said, “Shall we go?”
“Yes,” Anna said. “But I have to write a note first to say I won’t be in this morning.”
“While you do that,” said Mrs. Lee, “I’m going to feed Sister Mary Augustin. If I don’t, I’ll have to explain myself to Father Graves in confession.” She took in the nun’s hesitance but pointed at a chair. “I know that you wouldn’t want to lead me astray. So sit.”
Fifteen minutes later, finally ready to go, Mrs. Lee took the note to be delivered to the hospital and delivered a statement in return.
“Your cousin Margaret wanted to talk to you about your costume for that ball.” She said that ball as she would have said the fires of hell.
“Margaret should talk to Aunt Quinlan if she’s worried. She’s the one who made all the arrangements for my costume.”
Mrs. Lee’s small round face could produce a tremendous depth and variety of wrinkles when she was irritated, as she was now. “And what is a proper young lady, almost thirty might I add—”
“I’m not yet twenty-eight, and well you know it.”
“—an educated woman of good family, an unmarried lady, a physician and surgeon, what business do you have at a ball on Easter Monday—Easter Monday!—given by that greedy, vainglorious Vanderbilt woman? Why—”
“Mrs. Lee.” Anna interrupted in her sternest tone, tempering it with a smile. “I made Cap a promise. Would you want me to disappoint Cap?”
All the irritation crackling in the air was gone, just that simply. Mrs. Lee loved Cap; everybody did. Muttering, she marched back to the stove.
“You and your auntie with your heads together,” Anna heard her say. “Only the good Lord knows what will come of that. And on Easter Monday.”
• • •
ANNA SET OFF at a brisk pace along Washington Square Park and then, realizing that Sister Mary Augustin was almost running to keep up, stopped.
“Please don’t slow down or we’ll miss the ferry,” she said. “I can run all day.”
“We’ll be there with five minutes to spare, even at this pace.”
A flicker of doubt chased across the angular features. In the sunlight her complexion was like buttermilk, with a scattering of freckles and eyebrows the deep red-brown of chestnuts. Anna tried to remember if she had ever seen nuns wearing bonnets before, and then let the question go.
Sister Mary Augustin was saying, “And may I ask how you know that?”
“I grew up here, and I walk almost everywhere. And I have a clock in my head.”
“A clock,” Sister Mary Augustin echoed.
“A talent for time,” Anna said. “The ability to keep time without a timepiece. It’s a skill a surgeon must develop, you see.”
“Surgeon?” The little nun looked both confused and horrified, as if Anna had claimed to be a bishop. “But I thought—isn’t your cousin—”
“The other Dr. Savard specializes in obstetrics and pediatrics. I’m primarily a surgeon.”
“But who would—” She stopped herself and two spots of red rose in her cheeks. She was pretty, Anna noted, when she forgot to be solemn. She wondered how much information she could supply without causing Sister Mary Augustin to fall down in a faint.
She said, “Women generally prefer a woman, physician or midwife or surgeon, when they are very ill or in labor. If they have a choice.”
“Oh,” Sister Mary Augustin said. “You operate on women only. That makes more sense.”
Anna said, “I am qualified to operate on anyone, but I am on the staff at the New Amsterdam Charity Hospital. Just as the other Dr. Savard, the one you hoped to find, is on staff at the Infant and Children’s Hospital and the Colored Hospital. And yes technically, I am not allowed to operate on men. Or so says the law.”
After a moment Sister Mary Augustin said, “I suppose my training is quite narrow. I’ve never even seen a surgery.”
“Well, then,” Anna said. “You must come by and observe. And we are always in need of trained nurses, if you should ever rethink your”—she paused—“calling.”
For a moment Mary Augustin was struck speechless by such a shocking suggestion. Sister Ignatia would be outraged, as Mary Augustin herself should be outraged, but instead she was struggling with a sudden blossoming of curiosity. She had been in this terrifying, exciting city for less than a year; during all that time questions had piled on top of questions, none of which she could ask.
But here was someone who would not scowl at her if she put one of those questions into words. Someone who would likely even answer. She could ask this Dr. Savard what kind of medicine obstetrics might be, and how it was that a woman could become not just a physician but a surgeon. Hot on the heels of this came the realization that Sister Ignatia was right, it was a mistake to let curiosity run riot. It would drag a person to places best left unexplored.
And she still could not stop watching this very odd and unsettling woman doctor—surgeon, she corrected herself—from the corner of her eye.
It seemed to Mary Augustin at first that Dr. Savard was wearing makeup, and then realized that it was simply vivid coloring that rose and retreated in her cheeks as they walked into the wind. Her mouth was a deep shade of pink, but the full lips were also a little chapped. She wore her dark hair smoothed back and twisted into a coil underneath her very practical hat, without the stylish bangs that most young ladies wore these days. As Mary Augustin—Elise Mercier, as she still thought of herself and always would—would wear, were such a vanity allowed. She resisted the urge to touch the faint pox scars on her forehead.
With her strong features and high coloring, few would call Dr. Savard pretty, but it was an interesting face with intelligent eyes. And she was clearly well-to-do; the neighborhood, the four-story house of a light-colored stone, the heavy oaken front door with carved lilies and cherubs, lace at the windows, all spoke to that. But both of the Savard cousins had given up a life of leisure for medicine.
Sister Ignatia would tell her to turn her attention elsewhere. The rosary, for example, which swung at her waist with each step she took. If she could get up the nerve, the first question she would ask the lady doctor would have to do with her clothes.
Dr. Savard wore garments of the very finest materials, beautifully tailored but without ornament and as austere as any nun’s habit. Her hat was dark blue lined in gray; a matching, widely cut coat fell in folds straight from a high yoke below her shoulder blades to the top of sturdy boots. Her leather gloves were of a deep glossy black with small brass buttons at the wrist. She carried a bulky leather bag as all doctors did, and she let it swing a little at her side as she walked.
There was an occasional glimpse of skirts swirling back and forth with every step she took, very oddly. That Dr. Savard was not wearing a bustle was not such a surprise—few women who worked with the sick bothered with fashions. But the way the skirt moved puzzled her. Mary Augustin’s own skirts swung wide with every step, so that the toes of her boots peeked out, first one and then the other. Dr. Savard was walking just as fast, but her skirts seemed to restrain themselves to a much smaller arc. With a start she realized that the lady doctor was wearing a split skirt, like a man’s trousers or sleeves for the legs. Widely cut so that she could walk without constriction, but trousers, without a doubt.
In the midst of Lent Father Corcoran had given a thunderous sermon on the Rational Dress Society, which he took as proof of the continuing decline of the weaker sex. He predicted physical illness, infertility, and damnation. To her surprise and unease, Mary Augustin saw that such skirts were not immodest, no matter what Father Corcoran or His Holiness Pope Leo himself might say. They looked, she could admit to herself at least, both modest and comfortable. Something so shocking and interesting and once again, she would have to keep her questions to herself.
As they walked Dr. Savard greeted almost everyone by name: the street sweeper and the baker’s delivery boy, a young girl minding a sleeping baby swaddled in quilts and tucked into a crate, a pair of laundry women arguing in Gaelic. She called out to a very grubby newsboy to ask after his mother and got a smile in return, everything taciturn chased away in that moment Dr. Savard spoke to him.
In Washington Square the trees were reaching toward spring, fat buds putting out the first pale green to shimmer in the sun. The city was full of such contrasts: beautiful homes on wide streets lined with linden and elm and plane trees, and tenements so filthy and overcrowded that the stench filled the throat with bile. Little boys dressed in velvet toddled along under the watchful eye of nannies in spotless aprons, and a half-naked child crouched down to watch maggots roiling in the open belly of a dead cat.
Every day Mary Augustin asked herself what she had imagined when she was first sent to this great noisy city. In theory she had understood what it meant to take in the poorest and most desperate; she knew that many of the infants would be sick unto death and few would survive their first year. But she had never understood what it meant to be truly poor before she came to this place. Every day she was frightened, overwhelmed, and at the same time consumed by curiosity, needing to understand things that could not be explained.
She cast a glance at Dr. Savard and wondered if it would be a very terrible sin to talk to her, and what penance such an act of defiance would earn once she put it into words in the confessional.
Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I asked unseemly questions of a well-bred, overeducated lady in split skirts. And I listened to the answers.
At the corner of Fifth Avenue they came to an abrupt halt while oxen pulled two huge drays through the intersection. Florid red lettering on the first one declared that the profusion of potted trees—some twice Mary Augustin’s own height, at least—came from LeMoult’s Conservatory. The second dray had a lighter load: buckets and buckets of flowers, gorgeous deep colors and lighter spring shades. On the side of this wagon was a smaller sign:
Mary Augustin couldn’t help staring, but then she was not the only one.
“I wonder what that’s about,” she asked in a voice low enough to be ignored. Dr. Savard looked at her and lifted a shoulder. “The Vanderbilts,” she said. “And their costume ball.”
She had ventured a question and got an answer, but that only brought a hundred more questions to mind. If this went on much longer, Mary Augustin told herself, her brain would be riddled with question marks, hundreds of little hooks set so deep they’d never let go.
• • •
THERE WAS A small market at the Christopher Street landing, but most of the stalls had already closed for the day and the ferry was ready to board. A great throng of people were waiting to cross the Hudson to Hoboken: workmen of every description, farm women hung about with empty baskets and exhausted babies, towing young children on braided strings, still whey-faced as they shook the winter off. Draymen leaned on towers of crates or huddled in groups that belched tobacco smoke.
In the middle of all that, a nun who had been identified as Sister Ignatia stood waiting for them. She was the exact opposite of Sister Mary Augustin, from her habit—everything she wore from bonnet to shoes was a stark black—to the round cheeks and sturdy frame. Anna wondered what the difference in color was meant to convey—young or old? Good or bad? And had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.
The ferry let out a shrill blast of its whistle, which saved the trouble of another awkward introduction.
On deck, voices rose high and higher still to overcome the noise of the water and wind and the engines. German, Italian, Yiddish, Gaelic, French, Polish, Chinese, and still other languages Anna didn’t recognize, all in competition. Inside the cabin it would be far worse and so Anna began to look for a spot on the open deck upwind of the smoke and cinders, but Sister Ignatia had other ideas. She cast a stern eye in Anna’s direction and so she followed, suppressing a sigh. Somehow Sister Ignatia managed to make her feel like a first-year medical student, always waiting to be told what she had done wrong.
The cabin air was thick with coal smoke, rapidly aging fish, souring milk, pickled cabbage, wet swaddling clothes, and above all of these, sweat. The smell of hard work, not unpleasant in and of itself.
“Now,” said Sister Ignatia, leaning close to talk directly into Anna’s ear. “How much do you know of what is before you?”
That this nun found it within her authority to question a qualified physician did not come as a surprise. Anna might have said, I have seen and treated smallpox many times, or, I have vaccinated hundreds of men, women, and children and even a priest or two. Or, In the four years since I qualified, I have signed some five hundred death certificates, more than seventy percent of which were for children less than five years old.
The factory towns near Hoboken seemed to always be on the brink of a new epidemic: smallpox, yellow fever, typhoid, influenza, measles, mumps, whooping cough, sometimes overlapping. There were measures that would have put an end to many such episodes, but the mill owners saw no reason to invest in the lives of the workers; there were always immigrants eager for a place in the silk and thread factories. It was only the intercession of the Department of Health that had brought about any change at all.
Now the mill owners were supposed to supply hot water and soap—hygiene was the first line of defense in all matters of communal health—and see to it that newly arrived immigrants had clean drinking water and were vaccinated before taking up work. A few mill owners even complied, for a little while at least. But the epidemics still came, as regular as the seasons. With the result that Anna now sat on a ferry bracketed by nuns.
To Sister Ignatia she said, “Vaccinations are not difficult. As long as there are translators to help explain, I anticipate no trouble. I am assuming there will be enough vaccination quills wherever it is we’re going.”
“Vaccinations.” Sister Ignatia sent a sharp look to Sister Mary Augustin, and when she spoke again her German accent had thickened. “Who is telling you of vaccinations?”
Anna paused. “Wasn’t Dr. Sophie supposed to go with you to vaccinate the mill workers?”
Once the face framed by the bonnet had been very pretty and still was, in the way of many immigrants from northern Europe. Round-cheeked, flawless skin, eyes of a grayish blue. In this case there was also a chin set in the way of a woman who did not tolerate sloppy habits. Clearly irritated, she said, “We are the Sisters of Charity. It is our mission to see to the welfare of orphaned and abandoned children.”
Anna managed a small smile. “Well, then,” she said with deceptive calm. “What is it you need me to do?”
“We are fetching the children whose parents died in the last smallpox outbreak, but the law says no one is being allowed to cross into New York without—”
“A signed certificate of good health,” Anna finished for her. “Italian orphans?”
“Yes,” said Sister Ignatia. “But you needn’t worry; Sister Mary Augustin has been studying Italian and Father Moreno will be there to translate, as well. Unless you speak Italian?”
“No,” Anna said. “Too busy with physiology and anatomy and bacteriology. But I do speak German. I studied in Berlin and Vienna both.”
Had she imagined Sister Ignatia would like this reference to her mother tongue and homeland? The older woman pursed her lips in a decidedly unhappy way.
From Anna’s other side Sister Mary Augustin said, “What is bacteriology, Dr. Savard?”
“Study of the origin and treatment of a certain class of disease,” Anna said, relieved at the change in subject.
“Bacteriology,” said Sister Ignatia, “is nothing to do with us, Sister. We do God’s work among the poor children of this city and do not presume to aspire to anything else.”
Another time Anna might have taken up this challenge. She had sparred and debated all through her education and beyond, often with people as intimidating and inflexible in their certainty as Sister Ignatia. A woman practicing medicine had many opportunities to hone her debating skills. But they were within sight of Hoboken, and in a few minutes she would have to take on dozens of children who had lost everything, as she had herself at a tender age.
There had never been a moment’s uncertainty about her own future, but the best these new orphans could hope for was a place to sleep, food, basic schooling, and the chance to learn a trade or enter a convent or seminary.
A bell was ringing on deck, and all around them people gathered their packages and boxes and baskets and began to move.
Anna picked up her Gladstone bag and moved with them.
• • •
OUR LADY OF Mercy Church lacked the fine statues and gilded angels and stained-glass windows of the bigger Catholic churches in Manhattan, but it was full of light and very clean. Even the cavernous basement smelled of lye soap and vinegar with no trace of rot or mold.
To this unusual state of affairs came the presence of some thirty children, all of whom stood quietly, as if it were a matter of life and death not to draw attention to oneself. Anna took stock and estimated that the oldest children were no more than eleven, while the youngest were not even out of clouts. And all of them were underfed and hollow-cheeked, confused, frightened.
At the front of the room were three tables: Anna’s station, where she would conduct her examinations and write the health certificates; a table piled with used clothing watched over by a tall, gruff-voiced nun who wore a tight wimple underneath a gray veil and who was never introduced, and Sister Ignatia, who ruled over soup and bread.
The first boy to stand before Anna to be examined clasped a bundle in his arms as though he expected her to grab it away. A piece of paper had been pinned to his shirt, which Sister Mary Augustin took and smoothed out to read on the open page of the heavy register book on a stand.
“Santino Bacigalup,” she reported. “Twelve years old. Both parents and two sisters died in the epidemic last week.” She squinted as she made notations.
Anna took in the hard set of the boy’s mouth and his unblinking gaze. She had the idea that if she were to reach out to touch him, he would lash out like a feral cat.
Sister Mary Augustin said a few words to him in Italian, and he answered in a storm of syllables that left her blinking.
“What was that about?” Anna asked.
Sister Mary Augustin held out an open hand and shrugged. “I wish I could tell you.”
“He wants to go home to Sicily,” said a voice behind them. Anna was examining the boy’s abdomen and didn’t look up. This must be Father Moreno, who had promised his help as a translator.
The priest was saying, “He has grandparents and a married sister in Palermo. He wants to go back there. It’s what his father said he should do before he died.”
The priest asked a question and the boy’s face lit up with happiness and relief. When Anna put her stethoscope to his chest and listened, he paused, only to let go with another stream of Italian as she nodded her permission. While the conversation went on between the boy and the priest, she palpated his abdomen and lymph nodes.
He was undernourished but very strong, as tough as a bundle of twisted wire. Through the priest Anna confirmed what she could see for herself: Santino had not been vaccinated, but somehow he had evaded the smallpox that robbed him of his parents and sisters. While the priest continued his conversation with the boy, Anna walked across the room to a surprised Sister Ignatia.
Anna said, “That child hasn’t had his smallpox vaccination.”
Sister Ignatia frowned. “And this is important just at this point in time?”
“Is it important?” Anna took a moment to summon a reasonable tone. “If his parents had been vaccinated, they would be alive and he wouldn’t be here frightened half out of his mind.”
Impatient, Sister Ignatia shrugged. “We cannot change the past, Dr. Savard.”
“But we can do something about his future. If you had just told me this morning, I could—” Anna stopped herself. “Never mind,” she said, and before Sister Ignatia could speak: “Tomorrow I will be at your door as soon as I have finished with my own patients, and I will vaccinate that boy and every child—every one—who requires it. Should it take all day and all night.”
• • •
SANTINO BACIGALUP WAS still in deep conversation with the priest when Anna returned.
Except the man who straightened to address her wasn’t a priest. Instead of a Roman collar he wore the clothes of a man used to heavy labor. A tall, well-built man with a heavy beard shadow and unruly dark hair that fell over his brow.
He said, “This boy wants to work. He’ll work to earn his passage home to Italy.” His expression was neutral, or, she corrected herself, simply unreadable.
“You are—” Anna began.
“Giancarlo Mezzanotte,” he said, inclining his shoulders and head very briefly, as if her insistence on his name was untoward. But then he made a visible effort to soften his expression. “Please call me Jack. Most people do. Father Moreno was called away to give last rites, and he asked me to help here with the orphans.”
His English was fluent and without any Italian inflection that Anna could hear. More than that, there was something about the way he expressed himself that belied the clothes he wore and his callused hands.
Anna touched the boy’s head, and he looked up at her.
“Is there no possibility of finding work for him here in New Jersey?”
Mr. Mezzanotte leaned down to speak to the boy again. When he rose he said to her, “There may be something. I will talk to Father Moreno.”
There were bellyaches and sore ears, rashes and ringworm, head lice and broken teeth. A girl of eight had the vaguest of rales in one lung while her older brother had a shallow puncture wound on his calf that was infected. While Anna cleaned and bandaged it, the boy told the story of how he had fallen down a long flight of stairs, consulting with Mr. Mezzanotte to get just the right phrases. His expression was so studied and sincere and his manner so studiously dramatic that Anna might have laughed out loud. When she did not, he shrugged. A philosophical actor with an audience that would not be won over.
Few of the children were so eager to talk. These quiet ones she treated with as much gentle efficiency and respect as she could muster, answering questions with the thoroughness she herself had appreciated as a child. She looked up to catch Sister Ignatia watching her with an expression that was, for once, devoid of impatience. What she saw there was curiosity and surprise and a particular kind of empathy that made Anna vaguely uneasy for no good reason at all.
• • •
THE LAST CHILDREN came in a group of four. The oldest was a nine-year-old girl carrying an infant against her shoulder while she nudged two more forward. Rosa, Tonino, Lia, and Vittorio Russo all had masses of curly, dark brown hair and fair eyes that stood out against skin the color of lightly toasted bread. According to the note, their mother had died in the epidemic, and a distraught father had turned them over to the church and disappeared. No one had any idea where he might be.
Rosa Russo stood very straight with the younger children gathered close by, her free left hand on her brother’s shoulder.
“I am American,” she announced before any questions could be put to her. “I was born here. We all were born here. I have perfect English,” she said in a rhythm that contradicted her claim.
She was a slight child in a dress two sizes too big, but despite ragged hems and collars, all four of them had been scrubbed vigorously, necks and faces and hands as clean as Anna’s own. There was a dignity about her, in the line of her back and the tilt of her head. Frightened beyond all comprehension, but determined, first and foremost.
“Come,” Anna said, gesturing them forward. “I promise I won’t hurt you. Come.”
Her voice quaking for the first time, the girl said, “We must go to find our father.”
“I understand,” Anna said. “But if you want to look for your father in Manhattan, I have to give you a certificate.” She held up the printed form. “Otherwise they won’t allow you across the river.”
“There are other places to cross,” the girl said calmly.
“Yes, but how will you get there? Do you have money to pay for the ferry?”
After a long moment Rosa shepherded the two middle children before her.
The older boy was very somber but cooperative, while the little sister chirped and talked nonstop, mostly in Italian with a smattering of English. When Anna’s attention slipped, two small cool hands landed on her cheeks, and she looked up to find herself almost nose to nose with a very serious Lia Russo.
The little girl dropped her voice to a conspiratorial whisper and said, “Hai occhi d’oro.”
“She says you have golden eyes,” translated Sister Mary Augustin.
Anna smiled. “My eyes are brown and green, and sometimes they look golden depending on the light.”
This time Mr. Mezzanotte stepped in and translated for Anna.
Lia shook her head, firm in her opinion. “D’oro.”
“Well, then,” Anna said. “Let me use my gold eyes to make sure you’re healthy. Can you take a deep breath and hold it?”
When Mr. Mezzanotte leaned over to explain, Lia drew in a breath so fiercely and with such drama that her eyes crossed. She was healthy, and Anna was relieved. What she didn’t know and couldn’t tell was more complicated: did the child not know her mother was dead, or did she simply not understand what the word meant?
Finally Anna turned to Rosa Russo, who presented herself and her infant brother with an expression that was meant to be composed.
Anna said, “May I hold your brother while I examine him?”
“Mama says, no. Mama says—” She paused. “Mama said you will take him away from us, and we must stay together.”
Anna considered, and then she leaned forward and lowered her voice.
“My mother died on the day I turned three, and my father a few weeks later. Every day I think about them, and what they would have expected of me.”
The girl’s eyes focused on Anna’s face, looking for something specific there, some answer. “Did you have brothers and sisters to care for you?”
“A much older brother, who was away at school. Too young to raise a little girl. So an aunt brought me here to raise with her family.”
“Your brother let you go?” Her expression was torn between shock and disdain. “Why would he give you away?”
“It was a difficult time,” Anna said, her voice catching. “Much like this time is for you all.”
“There is no excuse,” said the girl. “He should not have let you go. Where is he now?”
“He died,” Anna said. “In the war.”
“He should not have left you,” Rosa said, almost incensed. “He failed you, but I will not fail my sister and brothers.”
Sister Mary Augustin cleared her throat, ready to speak up in defense of a brother many years in his grave, someone she had never known and could not imagine.
Anna said, “Rosa, I hope you are right. I hope you can do for your sister and brothers what my brother couldn’t do for me.”
• • •
BY MIDAFTERNOON ANNA was back on the ferry with the sisters and the healthier orphans, half of whom had had their hair cut almost to the scalp to stop the spread of lice. The children who were ill—a possible case of tuberculosis and another of measles—had been left in New Jersey to be cared for, though no one could tell Anna exactly what that meant, to her disquiet. Also absent was Santino Bacigalup. Mr. Mezzanotte had arranged work for him on a farm somewhere in the countryside.
When Father Moreno returned, he voiced the same objections to this arrangement that Anna had heard from Sister Ignatia, in a tone only slightly less irritated. The pledge of a significant contribution to the poor box finally swayed him.
The priest looked at her suspiciously. “Are you trying to buy forgiveness for some sin? The Church no longer sells indulgences, Dr. Savard.”
“I’m not Catholic, Father Moreno. I would guess my idea of sin isn’t much like yours.”
She blotted the bank draft she had written out on his desk and handed it to him.
“And Sister Ignatia? Who will explain this to her?”
“I suppose it will fall to me,” Anna said. “I hope that will count as sufficient penance.”
The priest’s mouth quirked, stopping just short of a smile.
“The boy needs to be vaccinated,” Anna said. “Before he goes to his new employer. That is possible, I trust?”
Father Moreno said, “It will be arranged.”
As she was leaving he called to her, and Anna paused in the doorway.
“I don’t doubt that your concerns for these children are real and your intentions good,” he said. “But you are more like Sister Ignatia than you might like to admit.”
• • •
ON THE FERRY, surrounded by the children and the other passengers, Sister Ignatia did not hesitate to raise the issue of the Bacigalup boy. “You interfere,” said the older nun. “You interfere in ways that could have terrible consequences.”
“Doing nothing has terrible consequences, too,” Anna said calmly.
“Do not congratulate yourself. This is not a charitable act.”
“Of course it isn’t,” Anna said.
Sister Ignatia pulled back a little, surprised.
“No one ever does anything out of charity,” Anna went on. “Every choice we make benefits ourselves directly or indirectly. Even if it looks like a sacrifice, the alternative would be unbearable in some way. If I hadn’t helped I wouldn’t sleep well, and I need my sleep.”
Gray eyes moved over her face, looking for some clue that would account for such an odd and disturbing philosophy. “Such cynicism is unattractive in a young woman.”
“That may be. But it is necessary for a doctor and a surgeon.” Anna tempered her tone with a small smile.
After a moment Sister Ignatia said, “It was a mistake to ask for your help. I won’t do it again.”
“That would probably be best,” Anna agreed. “But I will still come and make sure everyone is vaccinated.”
• • •
ONE BENCH FARTHER on, Giancarlo Mezzanotte was in deep discussion with Rosa Russo. Wedged between the man and girl were Tonino and Lia, while Rosa still carried the infant.
There was something familiar about the man’s posture, though Anna was certain she had never met him before. When he inclined his head toward Rosa to listen more closely, she realized that he held himself like a doctor taking a patient’s history, weighing and measuring each piece of information, not because he thought the child was lying, but because her tone and expression told him more than her words ever could.
It was an odd thought. The man was still dressed in his work clothes; he might be a carpenter or a stonemason or even a mill worker himself, but unlike most men of her acquaintance, he had a talent for talking to children. Which probably meant he had children of his own or had grown up with many brothers and sisters. Or as an orphan.
He looked over his shoulder as if she had reached out to tap it and raised one brow. Somehow he had heard her unvoiced questions.
Anna gave a brief shake of her head. When he turned away again she asked Sister Mary Augustin the question she couldn’t hold back. “What kind of farm is Santino Bacigalup going to be working on?”
But Mr. Mezzanotte had heard her. He turned around again, hooking his elbow over the back of the bench to speak to her directly. He had a very deep and resonant voice, but he still had to raise it to be heard. “I sent him to my parents. They are floriculturists and apiarists. Beekeepers.”
The urge to tell him that she knew the meaning of apiarists and didn’t need a definition was strong, but she bit down on it, banishing with it the long list of questions that sprang to mind. Such as, if this man farmed in New Jersey, why was he on his way to Manhattan? And why did he speak as though he had been educated for work other than farming?
“I see I neglected to introduce you properly,” Sister Ignatia said dryly. “Dr. Savard, this is Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte. Of the New York Police Department.” Her jaw set hard, as though she had to bite the words off to let them go.
An unexpected turn, but it made sense to Anna. He had a natural authority and an air of quiet competence. What he lacked was the condescension that she had encountered in police when she dealt with them professionally.
“I was under the impression that most of the detectives are Irishmen.”
He flashed a smile that changed the very shape of his face. A wide, honest, open smile that felt to Anna like a physical touch.
He said, “That’s true, the police force is primarily Irish.”
“Just as most physicians are men,” said Sister Ignatia, which put an end to the conversation.
Anna had the distinct feeling that the older sister liked the detective sergeant and thought well of him. More than that, she seemed to believe that he needed to be protected from her, Anna Savard. She might have calmed the nun’s uneasiness by assuring her that she had no interest in the detective sergeant, and even if she did, she had never learned how to flirt with any degree of comfort. It occurred to her then that she wished she could flirt with him, just to see Sister Ignatia’s reaction.
Sister Mary Augustin brought her out of her thoughts. “I’m glad Detective Mezzanotte is here to explain things to the little girl. To prepare her. It’s terrible when it comes as a surprise.”
Anna’s attention shifted to the four Russo children. Despite Rosa’s sincere intentions, they would not be able to stay together. The orphanages were segregated by sex, so that Rosa and her sister would go in one direction while her brothers went in another. Most likely they would lie to her to make the separation less troublesome, Anna was well aware. They would tell her that she’d see the boys again soon.
People told lies to children as they told fairy tales, with complete certainty that disbelief would be suspended. Rosa Russo was not likely to be so easily misled. Anna wondered if she would lash out or beg or weep, or if she would keep her dignity as a way to protect the three children she saw as her responsibility. She would fight, that Anna knew with certainty.
The agents of the health department were waiting at the dock, middle-aged men with great showers of facial hair, scowling even before the first of the orphans came onto the dock.
Anna set off at a brisk clip, not stopping to take leave of anyone at all.
• • •
AFTER FOUR YEARS of study at the New York Woman’s Medical School and another four years in the clinics, hospitals, asylums, and orphanages of Manhattan, Sophie Élodie Savard had earned the title of doctor. And still, when the door of the clapboard house on Charles Street opened to her knock, Sophie introduced herself to the man standing there without any title at all.
Archer Campbell had an unruly head of red hair and skin that was almost translucent, as tender as a child’s. He was a slight man, the kind who would never grow fat no matter how well he ate. His hands, large and as hard as a drover’s, were ink-stained.
A man might be distracted or distraught or coolheaded when his wife was in labor, but Mr. Campbell seemed mostly irritated. He scowled to learn that the doctor whose fees he had been paying was not coming. Instead there was a woman, and worse still: a free woman of color, as Sophie had been taught to think of herself as a girl in New Orleans. One with a calm, professional demeanor who was well spoken and willing to look a man straight in the eye.
Mr. Campbell was the kind who would have just closed the door in Sophie’s face had the note she held out not tripped his curiosity. This one was scrawled under the letterhead of the New York Women’s Hospital and was short to the point of rudeness:
My dear Mr. Campbell:
Miss Savard is come in my place because I have been unavoidably detained. She is an excellent practitioner with much experience, and she asks only half my fee.
Dr. Frank F. Heath
As was usually the case, the combination of the low moan issuing from the back of the house, the note, and the lowered fee bought her entrance.
Sophie glanced back at the driver who had brought her. She had paid him to wait an hour in case she needed to send for assistance, but she wouldn’t be surprised to find him gone as soon as she turned her back. She would have to send Mr. Campbell himself, if it came to that. It almost made her smile to imagine the affronted face he would make if she had to give him orders.
The house was small but beautifully kept, nothing out of order, every surface polished, fresh curtains at the windows. While Sophie went about the business at hand, her patient’s husband blustered at her and muttered to himself, his eyes turning again and again to the clock on the mantel as he paced up and down, chewing on a cigar stump. He wouldn’t allow her to close the door to the room where his wife labored, and so he was there every time she looked up. Sophie wondered whether it was his wife’s labor or the fact that he had no place to sleep that accounted for his growing irritation.
“The first three gave her no trouble.” He stopped in the doorway to interrogate her some hours later. “Why is this one taking so long?”
“This child is very large,” she told him. “But your wife is strong and the baby’s heartbeat is steady. It will just take longer than you might have hoped.”
It was a relief when he left for work.
Mrs. Campbell said, “I never wanted Dr. Heath. He’s so rough.” She had an accent Sophie thought of as New England, her vowels abrupt and all r-sounds clipped away. “I wanted a midwife, but Mr. Campbell”—she glanced into the empty hall and still whispered, as if her husband could hear her from anywhere in the city—“Mr. Campbell thought the wife of someone of his high position must have a doctor.”
Because there was nothing she could say to such a statement, Sophie asked instead about swaddling clothes and clouts and a basin.
“You sound strange,” Mrs. Campbell said to Sophie. “Not American.”
“French is my first language.”
Sophie turned in surprise.
“I was born and raised in Benedicta, in Maine,” Mrs. Campbell said. “Lots of Francophones in Benedicta, but I moved to Bangor when I was fifteen, and I gave it up for English.”
Sophie said, “I came here as a child from New Orleans.” She hoped that the contraction that began to peak would distract her patient from this line of questioning, but Mrs. Campbell picked up where she had left off.
“I’ve never seen anyone with your coloring. Your eyes are such an odd shade of green, and your skin—”
“I am a free woman of color,” Sophie interrupted. And at the blank expression Mrs. Campbell gave her: “My grandparents were French and Seminole and African, but I have never been a slave.”
A frown jerked at the corner of Mrs. Campbell’s mouth. “Not white,” she said. “But your hair—they’ve got a name for somebody like you, I just can’t—”
Sophie interrupted. “I was very young. I remember almost nothing of New Orleans.”
Which was a lie. She had been ten full years old when she left the city of her birth, and she remembered far too clearly what New Orleans had been, the smell of seawater and bougainvillea, how cool the tile was under her feet when she played in the courtyard, the children’s rhymes that still came to her now and then when she was very tired. She remembered the sound of her father’s voice and the way he cleared his throat before he said something he thought would make her laugh. She remembered her mother’s tone when she was happy and when she was worried and when she decided she had enough of work and wanted to go exploring and Sophie to come with her. She remembered the baker’s wife who came from the islands and told stories of the Iwa of Saint-Domingue, and Jacinthe who had only three teeth but ruled the kitchen and could make the servants tremble with a look. She remembered the quality of light that fell across her bed when she woke in the morning.
She remembered the war and the way the ground shook and the air itself seemed to scream. And when the worst had passed and everything and everyone was gone, she remembered the day Mrs. Jamison came to fetch her away from home. They boarded the steamboat Queen Esther on the big wide muddy green Mississippi and she watched the city disappear behind her.
Sophie would not share her story with Mrs. Campbell because people—most especially white people—born and raised in the north could not, would not understand what New Orleans had been. Sophie hardly understood it herself.
But her unwillingness to answer questions roused her patient’s suspicions. Between contractions she wanted to know how long Sophie had been a midwife, how many births she had attended. A deep line had appeared between her brows. “You do have training, I hope. Dr. Heath wouldn’t send someone without training.”
“Yes,” Sophie said, unable to keep the sharp edge out of her voice. “I am a fully trained physician.”
There was a startled pause. “Oh come now,” Janine Campbell said with a half laugh. “You don’t believe that yourself.”
Sophie could have recited the names of the seven black women who graduated from medical schools in Philadelphia and Montreal and New York before her, but it would do no good; she could no more relieve Mrs. Campbell of her willful ignorance than her labor pains. Instead she said, “I’m going to make you some tea that will help move this child along.”
• • •
MIDMORNING SOPHIE PUT a large, very loud boy with tufts of gingery curls in his mother’s arms. Mrs. Campbell, panting still, lay back against the pillows and closed her eyes.
“He’s a fine healthy baby,” Sophie said. “Alert and vigorous.”
“He is disgustingly fat,” said his mother. “I wanted a girl.”
The baby rooted and found the nipple; she arched her back as though to dislodge a pest and let out a small shuddering sound.
As Sophie worked to deliver the afterbirth Mrs. Campbell lay staring at the ceiling and ignoring the infant at her breast. From the window Sophie had opened came the sound of the street on a busy Monday morning. Horse carts, omnibuses, hand trucks; knife sharpeners and fishmongers calling out for customers, the wind rocking the spindly apple trees that took up most of the tiny yard behind the house. Nearby a dog barked a warning.
Sophie hummed to herself while she bathed the baby, cleaned his umbilicus, dressed and swaddled him. He was solid and hot and full of life, and he had been born to a mother who could see him only as a burden.
There were tears running down Mrs. Campbell’s face to wet the pillow when Sophie put her child back into her arms.
Women cried after giving birth for all kinds of reasons. Joy, relief, excitement, terror. Mrs. Campbell’s tears were none of those. She was exhausted and frustrated and on the edge of the dark place where new mothers sometimes went for days or weeks. Some never returned.
“I don’t like to cry,” she announced to the ceiling. “You’ll think me weak.”
“I think no such thing,” Sophie said. “I imagine you must be very worn out. Do you have no sisters or relatives to help you? Four little children and a household is more than anyone should have to manage without help.”
“Archer says his mother raised six boys and never had a girl to help. He told me so when he first came courting, back home, that was. I wish I had thought it all through right then and there. I’d still be working at the Bangor post office. In my good shirtwaist with a sprig of forsythia pinned to my collar.”
The most Sophie could do for her was to listen.
“The worst of it is, he wants six sons of his own. It’s a competition with his brothers, and I fear he won’t let up. He’ll keep me breeding until he’s satisfied. Or I’m dead.”
As Sophie worked, Mrs. Campbell told her things she would be embarrassed to remember in a few hours. If Sophie said nothing, the new mother would be free to forget about the secrets she had whispered, and to whom she had said them.
Mrs. Campbell was drifting off to a well-earned sleep when she suddenly shook herself awake.
“Have you heard about Dr. Garrison?”
Sophie was glad she was facing away in that moment, because it gave her a chance to school her expression.
“Yes,” she said. “I’ve followed along in the newspaper.”
There was a long silence. When she turned around Mrs. Campbell said, “If you are a physician, could you—”
“No,” Sophie interrupted her. “I’m sorry.”
Mrs. Campbell heard only the regret in Sophie’s voice, and she pushed harder. “Another one too soon will kill me, I know it. I have money saved—”
Sophie set her face in uncompromising lines as she turned. “By law I can’t even talk to you about contraceptives or—anything similar. I can’t give you a name or an address. If you know about Mrs. Garrison, you must know that the mails are not safe.”
Mrs. Campbell closed her eyes and nodded. “I do know about the mails,” she said. “Of course I know. Mr. Campbell makes sure that I know.”
Sophie swallowed the bile that rose into her throat and reminded herself what was at stake.
WHEN THEY HAD shepherded the children off the ferry, Mary Augustin let out a sigh of relief to discover that there were three omnibuses waiting for them. Even better, as far as she was concerned, were the four sisters who had come to help with almost thirty desperately frightened and unhappy children. Ten children and two sisters in each omnibus was manageable. Sister Ignatia was difficult in many ways, but she had no equal when it came to planning.
Mary Augustin had just crouched down to encourage a trembling and teary six-year-old called Georgio when an older man came off the ferry, walking very slowly. As soon as he was on solid ground he simply sat down where he stood and began to fan himself with his hat. There was sweat on his brow and his color was ashen. This might be simple seasickness or something far worse; Mary Augustin tried to get Sister Ignatia’s attention, but at that moment a scuffle broke out in the crowd of people waiting to board for the next crossing.
Two dockworkers stood nose to nose shouting at each other, both of them strapped with muscle and both decidedly drunk. Punches were thrown and bystanders darted out of the way, some laughing and others looking disgusted, while all the time the old man sat and fanned himself and tried to catch a breath. Mary Augustin divided her attention between moving the orphans farther away and the old man who might be having a heart attack, and so she only saw what came next from the corner of her eye.
One of the longshoremen shoved the other with such force that he went staggering back with an almost comical look of surprise on his face. Bystanders jumped out of the way of his pinwheeling arms, and in fact the man seemed to be losing momentum when his feet got caught up in someone’s canvas sack. In his last desperate attempt to regain his balance he flung out both arms, and one fist slammed into Salvatore Ruggerio, eleven years old, newly orphaned, who had gone closer to watch the fight but now stood frozen with shock.
Man and boy went over the edge of the dock, backward. There was a single heartbeat of utter silence, and then the crowd erupted.
Sister Ignatia was shouting, her voice like a bullhorn over the noise. “Move the children! Get them away!”
And still Mary Augustin hesitated, turning to watch as three men, one of them in the long navy coat of a patrolman, jumped into the water. Just beyond him the old man Mary Augustin feared was having a heart attack had jumped to his feet to watch the drama, as nimble as a boy of ten.
• • •
ONE OF THE omnibuses had already left and so Mary Augustin got her charges onto the second one as quickly and calmly as could be managed. She was hesitating about whether to go see if she was needed on the dock when Sister Ignatia came marching up and grabbed her by the elbow to turn her around.
Her color was high but otherwise she wasn’t even breathing hard. “The boy knocked his head. That patrolman”—she pointed with her chin—“wants the third bus to take him and that idiot drunkard to St. Vincent’s.” She paused as if an unwelcome thought had come to her and then shouted over her shoulder, as forceful as a general.
“Officer! We’ll take the boy to St. Vincent’s and nowhere else! Do you understand me?”
The patrolman, young enough to be Sister Ignatia’s grandson, swallowed visibly and nodded, but she had already turned her attention back to Mary Augustin. “So you’ll have to get all the rest of the children into this bus. Sister Constance will come along and you’ll just have to squeeze together. I’ll see about the boy—” She hesitated.
“Ruggerio,” Sister Ignatia echoed. “And send word when I’ve spoken to the doctors. Now get these children away. They’ve seen enough.”
• • •
ROSA RUSSO CONFRONTED Mary Augustin as soon as she had climbed up into the omnibus. Anger and sorrow and disappointment all vied for the upper hand, but anger won.
“My brothers,” she said. “They took my brothers away.”
The separation had been inevitable, but it would have been handled more sensitively if not for the chaos on the dock.
Mary Augustin said, “There are two buildings at St. Patrick’s. One for girls and one for boys. You can see the boys’ building just across the way, and that’s where your brothers will be.”
At least to start, Mary Augustin added to herself.
Since she had come to the orphan asylum she had seen children handle such separations too often to count. More often than she cared to remember. Some of them were too numb to react at all, while others collapsed or struck out. Rosa simply stood her ground. Her eyes were swimming with tears but she didn’t allow them to fall. She seemed to be struggling to say something, or not to say something.
“Come sit by me,” Mary Augustin said. “And I’ll answer your questions as best I can.”
But Rosa went back to sit next to her little sister, the two of them sharing their seat with other girls.
It was just then that she realized that the omnibus had turned from Christopher Street onto Waverly Place. She was wondering if the driver knew where he was supposed to take them when Washington Square Park came into view and she made her way forward to the box, swaying with the jerking of the bus over paving stones.
The driver was no more than a boy, but he handled the horses with ease and took no offense at her question.
“Your little ones need quieting,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road and the traffic. “Upset as they are. I thought I’d take them through the park, distract them a little from that sad business at the ferry.”
It was something Mary Augustin had yet to figure out, how it could be that some city dwellers were so coarse and rude, while others showed tremendous kindness and generosity of spirit. She thanked the driver and went back to her place, signaling to Sister Constance that all was well.
And in fact the children had quieted. All of them were turned toward the windows, leaning against each other to make the most of the space available, pointing to things they couldn’t name. With some effort, she summoned her Italian and tried to put names to things they asked about.
They pointed to trees and walkways and children being pushed in prams, to the houses that lined Waverly Place, tall redbrick homes that must look like palaces to children who grew up in tenements.
Rosa Russo wanted to know what kind of people would live in such a place, if they were kings and queens.
“Just people,” Mary Augustin told her. “Families.”
Her eyes narrowing, Rosa said, “Do you know any of those families?”
Mary bit back her smile. “Not in these houses. But down the street”—she pointed down Waverly—“you see the building with the towers?”
“A church,” Rosa said.
Mary Augustin was sure it wasn’t a church, but neither did she know what such a grand building might be. The driver rescued her by calling over his shoulder.
“That’s New York University,” he said. “Looks a lot like a church, I’ll grant you that.”
“Rosa,” Sister Mary Augustin said, “I do know somebody who lives just ahead, and so do you. Dr. Savard, who examined you before we got on the ferry. She lives a little beyond the university, with her aunt and cousin in a house with angels over the door, and a great big garden, as big as the house itself. With a pergola. And chickens.”
There was absolute silence while Rosa translated for the other children, and then a dozen more questions came shooting at her. Mary Augustin answered and Rosa translated while the horses plodded forward under trees heavy with buds just beginning to open to the sun.
• • •
THE DUTY SERGEANT at 333 Mulberry looked up through a twisted thicket of graying brows and ran his gaze over Jack Mezzanotte, from beard stubble down to the highly polished shoes and back again. Then he shook his head slowly, like a long-suffering teacher.
“Better get a move on, Mezzanotte. They’re about to start the meeting without you.”
“Had to change,” Jack called over his shoulder as he sprinted up the stairs two at a time. Really he should have stopped to see the barber—he ran a hand over the bristle on his jaw—but better unshaved than late. He paused long enough to make sure that his collar was straight and slipped into the back of the room, where thirty of New York’s detectives sat talking among themselves, steadfastly ignoring the men at the front of the room.
He found a chair next to his partner in the last row. Oscar Maroney had a dearly held theory, one Jack had never been able to disprove: it was best to be humorless and forgettable while in the station house. Invisibility was a valuable skill that had to be practiced. But today Maroney was violating his own rule, because the expression on his face was anything but blank. Oscar was not just unhappy, but unhappy in a way that he would not be able to keep to himself.
“Brace yourself, Jack.” Maroney could summon, temper, or banish his brogue as needed, and now it simmered just below the surface. “Comstock’s on the hunt for victims. Pardon, I mean volunteers.” He wrinkled his substantial nose and lifted a lip at the same time so that his mustache jumped. He had a wide range of insulted, angry, accusatory, and reproachful expressions, and he used more than a few of them now.
Jack turned his attention to the front of the room, where the captain stood leaning against the wall, arms folded, chin on his chest. Front and center was the focus of Oscar’s hate. Anthony Comstock, dressed as he always was, summer and winter, in a black wool suit somber enough for a pulpit.
The postal inspector was a squat, solid plug of a man with muttonchop whiskers that stood out like bristles on the face of a boar, a shiny pale pate, and a small mouth as well defined as a woman’s. He had the censorious gaze of a bantam rooster, his eyes darting back and forth, ready to draw blood to keep his flock in line. Eager to draw blood. He was a bully of the first order, the worst Jack had ever seen in a career populated by bullies.
Baker knocked on the wall to get their attention, and Comstock threw his shoulders back and raised his arms like an orchestra conductor.
“My name and mission will be well known to you,” he began. “I am Anthony Comstock, senior inspector of the Society for the Suppression of Vice and special agent to the post office by appointment of the postmaster general of the president’s cabinet. I’m here to talk to you as officers of the law about a matter of grave importance.”
He drew in a ponderous breath that filled his cheeks and escaped with a soft hiss.
“Any God-fearing, thinking man knows that lust is the boon companion of all other crimes. In their wisdom the Congress of this great country has vested me with the responsibility to stop the posting, sale, loan, exhibition, advertisement, publishing, dissemination, or possession of the obscene and profane. You will all be familiar with the kinds of materials I’m talking about—” He paused, brows raised, as though he hoped someone would contradict him. Jack saw now that there was a small box beside him on the desk on which he rested a fist as if to keep some vermin safely within.
“His own personal treasure chest,” Maroney said in a low voice, following Jack’s gaze. “The Larkin brothers are determined to have it before he leaves the building.”
There were five Larkin brothers on the force, two of them sergeant detectives sitting in the front row, two more roundsmen on duty somewhere in the city, and the youngest new to the force. Good officers, for the most part, but irreverent practical jokers of the first order, a leaning that would have cost them friends if they had not practiced on each other with such obvious enjoyment. But they couldn’t be called incorruptible.
Of course, Comstock was by far the biggest crook, and worse, he was spiteful, vengeful, and mean to the bone. In Comstock’s case Jack could not begrudge the Larkins whatever larceny they were planning.
Comstock was saying, “It is also my duty to seize any drug or instrument of any kind that may interfere with conception or bring on abortion. Items I have seized range from informational booklets to objects made of rubber and designed for immoral purposes. The punishment for the guilty is severe. Anyone engaged in these pursuits is subject to a sentence of hard labor for a minimum of six months and a maximum of five years, and a fine of up to two thousand dollars.”
He paused to survey the room. Most of the squad looked back at him as if they were deaf and hadn’t taken in a word, while a few others—Maroney among them—were openly contemptuous.
“In the last years we agents of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice have seized and destroyed more than twenty-five tons of obscene tracts and photographs, six hundred pounds of books, some twenty thousand stereopticon plates, almost a hundred thousand rubber articles, six hundred decks of indecent playing cards, forty thousand pounds of aphrodisiacs, and eight tons of gambling and lottery materials.” He looked around the room but did not find the acknowledgment he believed his due. He coughed nervously and went on in a grimmer tone.
“Today I am here to recruit detectives to assist in fighting an epidemic that is raging across this country. A disease being spread by medical practitioners themselves. And not just charlatans or low men, no. Doctors, nurses, druggists, and midwives supply information and instructions on contraceptive methods to any woman who asks—and worse, they will sell syringes and rubber caps and the like without compunction or shame.
“And then there are abortionists. I have been able to bring only a small portion of these criminals to justice. It is a slow process. Regrettably slow. Our success rate must be improved, by whatever means necessary.” He smirked, openly prideful. “You’ll remember the abortionist Madame Dubois, I’m sure.”
Jack had allowed his mind to wander off to other matters, but with the mention of Madame Dubois his attention snapped back to Comstock. The man had hooked his thumbs in the lapels of his coat and was rocking back and forth on his heels, delighted with himself.
“Rather than submit to the authority of the court,” Comstock went on with his satisfied smirk, “Dubois put a bullet in her brain and saved us the cost of bringing her to trial. She was not the first such sinner to end her own life, and if I have my way, she will not be the last.”
Oscar jumped to his feet.
“And you call yourself a Christian, you sanctimonious overweening godforsaken bag of shite!”
Oscar was a big man with the look of a brawler, the kind who dealt out pain but didn’t feel his own broken knuckles and torn flesh until the storm was done. Comstock, shorter and softer, still didn’t flinch, which went along with his reputation as a brawler of another kind. He carried a pistol, and he liked to use it.
Baker put a stop to it with a shout. “Maroney!”
Oscar’s posture relaxed just enough to let Jack know he was in control of himself. Then he turned on his heel and pushed past the row of men on his way out, cursing in the most spectacular manner. The door slammed behind him with such force that the glass in the windowpanes rattled.
“Did you hear that man?” Comstock barked at Baker. “I demand that he be officially reprimanded for his foul and profane language!”
“That’s one of the officers who found your Mrs. Dubois in a bathtub full of her own blood,” Baker said. “His first day on the job, it was. Now why don’t you just get on with it. We don’t have all day.”
Comstock huffed, his mouth twitching. With a voice gone hoarse he said, “I’ll do that, but assured. I’ll report him for his profanity and you for failing to check it.” He scowled expressively at his audience, as if he had demonstrated an important lesson they should remember.
“As you are aware,” he went on, “police officers do not always see through the elaborate screens set up by these medical practitioners who are so contemptuous of the laws of God and man. But I believe that detectives are equal to this challenge and I would like all of you to volunteer to serve as agents of the Society for the Suppression—”
Baker said, “The time, Mr. Comstock.”
Comstock whirled around to glare at Baker—captain of New York City’s detective squad—as if he were a young boy caught with his finger up his nose.
“Captain Baker! You agreed to let me address the detectives. There is a meeting of the society this evening and new volunteers must attend.”
“And I specifically told you that you could not ask for volunteers, not tonight. More than half these men are working double shifts and none of them will see their beds until tomorrow. They are on special assignment.”
“Special assignment? Special? By whose definition? May I remind you, Captain, that the Congress of the United States has vested me with—”
“Inspector Comstock! Inspector!” he roared, spittle flying. “You will give me my title!”
“Inspector Comstock,” Baker said, coolly. “Allow me to answer your questions one at a time. I find it hard to believe you don’t know what’s happening on Fifth Avenue tonight. The Vanderbilts’ costume ball begins in a few hours. A third of the city’s uniformed officers will be there to control the crowds, and more than half these detectives will be patrolling the area in plain clothes. Those orders came to us by order of the mayor, the governor, and the senators of the state.”
Comstock’s fleshy mouth jerked and puckered. “Where are your priorities, sir? Do you put the petty concerns of the dissolute rich above the welfare of the youth of this city? These men are not needed on Fifth Avenue, I can assure you. Where are your morals?”
“My morals are as sturdy as your own,” Baker said dryly. “And my priorities are set by my superiors. I suggest you take this up with them, because I cannot accommodate you or your society.”
• • •
IN THE DETECTIVES’ squad room Maroney sat slumped, his legs stretched out before him like felled trees. A cigar was anchored beneath a mustache as glossy and thick as a badger’s pelt.
Jack said, “Sometimes I regret the captain’s sangfroid. I think with very little effort he might have caused Comstock’s head to explode just where he stood. An opportunity missed.”
“I would have liked to see that.” The cigar jerked with every word.
Jack sat at his desk to contemplate the stacks of paper needing his attention.
“I’m sure we could sell tickets at a premium to see that baboon’s head fly apart like a pumpkin,” said Maroney. “Set up chairs for the audience. Parasols, for the splatter.”
“The man has friends,” Jack reminded his partner.
“Not true,” Maroney said. “He has lackeys. He has compatriots. He even has admirers. But if he didn’t carry that pistol in his vest and the postmaster general in his pocket, he’d be easy enough to squash. As it is I wait daily for someone to put a bullet in his noggin.”
Jack said, “You’re forgetting about the Young Men’s Christian Association and his Society for the Suppression of Vice.”
Maroney waved his cigar like a magic wand that could make short work of such pallid adversaries. He was hoisting himself up and out of his chair when the door flew open and Michael Larkin dashed in, Comstock’s box of confiscated dirty pictures clamped under one arm. Without a word to either of them he leapt onto a desk, unlatched a high cupboard with one hand, and shoved the box in with the other.
Larkin was sitting at the same desk bent over a piece of paper when a patrolman came in, not a week in uniform. The kid ducked his head apologetically.
“Baker wants the whole station house searched,” he said. “Can I come in?”
He made a quick and superficial job of it, only glancing in Michael Larkin’s direction before he excused himself again and left.
There was a long silence.
Maroney cleared his throat. “Michael, my friend. Not on duty tonight?”
“No,” came the answer. The eldest of the Larkin brothers looked up at them and winked. “All of a sudden I’ve got quite a lot of reading to do.”
“Just out of the blue,” said Jack.
“Fell into my lap,” Larkin agreed amiably. “So to speak. Would you care to have a look yourself?”
Jack leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the desk. It had been a long day, starting at dawn in the greenhouses at home. He thought of the ferry, of ferocious Sister Ignatia and the orphans, of the lady doctor. Savard, they had called her.
He bent over the report in front of him but his mind stayed focused on that unusual face, Elizabeth or Mary, Ida or Edith or Helen. He fished the city directory out of a drawer and flipped through the pages until he found two listings: Sophie E. Savard and Liliane M. Savard living at the same address. Another mystery. One he would be looking into as soon as he could get away from Oscar.
• • •
WHEN ANNA CAME within sight of Washington Square she realized how tired she was. Surgery was hard work, physically and mentally exhausting, but even the most challenging case had nothing on Sister Ignatia and a crowd of orphans.
Coming home was like shedding a coat with bricks loaded into every pocket and sewn into the hem. The tension that had collected in her shoulders and back began to abate even before the house came into sight. Some days she might lament the demands of her profession, but she loved the house and garden on Waverly Place without a single reservation. During the year she spent in Europe, Anna had worked herself to exhaustion every day so that she could sleep at night in strange houses in stranger cities. In the end she had learned a great deal, about both surgery and herself. She belonged here, and nowhere else.
Anna went around the back, past the small carriage house and stable and the icehouse, stopping in the garden to say hello to Mr. Lee, who was turning soil in a steady, studied rhythm. Mr. Lee was a serious, fastidious, and deeply affectionate man. He had taught her how to tell weed from seedling, to button her shoes and tie a slipknot, how to slip eggs from under a hen without being pecked, and he knew a hundred ballads that he was happy to recite or sing. With a perfectly straight face Mr. Lee had taught her and Sophie a dozen tongue twisters that still made them laugh. Anna knew that if she was patient, he would observe things in his quiet way that he meant for her to hear.
Now he looked at the sky and predicted that contrary to appearances, winter had not given over. It was an odd turn of phrase, as though the winter were a bear getting ready for a long hibernation. To his shovel he remarked that neighbors who had already begun to clear away mulch would regret it. One more hard frost was coming, and it would take every unprotected tender new thing in the world. It would mean the end of the crocus and delicate Turkish tulips that had begun to raise their heads, a scattering like jewels all through the fallow beds and lawn.
Mr. Lee was seldom wrong about the weather, but just at the moment Anna couldn’t worry about such things. Not while she stood in the garden, knowing that in another month it would be warm enough to sit in the pergola in the soft shadow of blossoming apple and tulip trees.
The garden was her favorite place in the world. As a little girl, before Sophie, she had had the garden to herself until the war took that away, too. When their father fell in battle, Uncle Quinlan’s grandchildren were at the house most days, and from them she had learned what it meant to share more than toys and books and stories.
Someplace along the way Anna had fallen into the habit of calling Aunt Quinlan Grandma, but the summer she turned nine Uncle Quinlan’s grandson Isaac Cooper, just a year older, had taken it upon himself to correct her. In a quavering and still strident voice he made himself clear: she had no grandparents, no parents, nobody, and he would not allow her to claim his grandmother as her own. To Anna she could be nothing more than Aunt Quinlan.
She hadn’t been a child given to weeping or one who retreated when play got rough. What kept her temper in check was the look on Isaac’s face, and the brimming tears he dashed away with an impatient hand. Anna told herself that he hadn’t really meant to be so mean; he had lost father and grandfather and two uncles to the war, after all, and news of his father’s death had come not three months ago.
Beyond that, he was both wrong and right. Isaac’s mother was Uncle Quinlan’s daughter and Aunt Quinlan’s stepdaughter, which meant that Isaac and Levi were not related to Aunt Quinlan by blood, as Anna certainly was. On the other hand, it did no good to pretend that she still had what was lost, and so she kept the sting of Isaac’s words to herself.
But Aunt Quinlan knew, because Isaac himself told her. He went to her, teary eyed, righteous in his indignation that Anna would try to take his grandmother from him. Anna never knew what Aunt Quinlan had said to him, how she had put his mind to rest, but that evening she called Anna into her little parlor, gave her a cup of hot chocolate, and waited while she sipped it. Then she simply pulled Anna into her lap and held her until the tears came and finally ended, leaving her boneless and trembling.
Anna said, “I want Uncle Quinlan back.”
“So do I,” said her aunt. “I still hear him coming up the stairs, and it’s always a terrible moment when I realize it was just wishful thinking. You know he would have come home to us if it had been in his power.”
Come home to us. To us.
Anna nodded, her throat too swollen with tears to allow even a single word.
Then Aunt Quinlan had hugged her tighter. “You are my own dear little sister’s sweetest girl,” she said. “And you belong here with me. When we lost your ma and then your da, every one of us wanted you, all the brothers and sisters. But I was the lucky one, you came home with me. And you may call me anything you like, including Grandma. My ma, your grandma, would have wanted you to, and I would be honored.”
But Anna couldn’t. After that summer the word wouldn’t come out of her mouth, whether Isaac was there or not. From then on the woman who was as good as a mother and grandmother to her was Aunt Quinlan, no more or less.
The garden might have lost its magic for her then, but for Cap. He wouldn’t allow her to withdraw. Her friend, her schoolmate, another war orphan living with an aunt. Together they spent every minute in the garden planning adventures and launching schemes, reading stories out loud, playing croquet and checkers and Old Maid and eating, always eating whatever the garden had to offer: strawberries, persimmons, quince, apricots the color of the setting sun, blackberries that cascaded over the fence in late summer heat and stained fingers and lips and pinafores. When it rained they were in the pergola, which was outside and inside at the same time, a shadowy bower that smelled of lilac or heliotrope or roses, according to the season.
And then Sophie had come from New Orleans, and together the three of them had made an island where Isaac held no sway. And so it had been long after they left childhood behind, until just two years ago.
Mr. Lee broke into her daydreams by clearing his throat.
“Do you mark me, Miss Anna?” He smiled at her, a lopsided curl to his mouth. “Don’t put away your winter things yet,” he said. “Spring’s in no rush this year, and neither should you be.”
And now she had to go into the house and have tea and then dinner, and instead of going to bed she would have to dress in the costume Aunt Quinlan had arranged for her, and go out into the night with Cap, to the Vanderbilts’ fancy dress ball. Because Cap was her friend, and he needed her.
AUNT QUINLAN’S PARLOR was comfortable and completely out of fashion; no slick horsehair sofas or rock-hard bolsters encrusted with beadwork, no bulky, heavily carved furniture to collect dust and crowd them all together. Instead the walls were crowded with paintings and drawings and the chairs and sofas were agreeably deep and soft, covered in velvet the dusky blue of delphinium in July.
Sitting together with her aunt and Sophie and her cousin Margaret, Anna was glad of the respite. For a few minutes there was no talk beyond the passing around of seedcake and scones, teacups and milk jugs.
Her stomach growled loudly enough to be heard even by Margaret, who was bound by convention and simply refused to hear such things.
She said, “You haven’t eaten at all today, have you.” Margaret was, strictly regarded, not a cousin at all. She was Aunt Quinlan’s stepdaughter, raised in this very house by Uncle Quinlan and her mother, his first wife. Two years ago her sons had come into the money left by their father, and set off for Europe almost immediately. Because Margaret missed them so, Anna and Sophie must bear the brunt of her frustrated maternal instincts.
“She’ll eat now,” Aunt Quinlan said. “Mrs. Lee, could you please bring Anna a plate of something filling?” Then she held out an arm to gesture Anna closer.
At eighty-nine the symmetry of Aunt Quinlan’s bone structure was more pronounced than ever. It didn’t matter that the skin over those perfect cheekbones worked like the finest silk gauze, carefully folded into tiny pleats and left to dry that way; she was beautiful, and could be nothing less. Her hair was a deep and burnished silver, a color that set off the bright blue of her eyes. Her very observant eyes. Right now they were full of simple pleasure to have both Anna and Sophie home for tea at once.
When Anna leaned over to kiss her cheek, Aunt Quinlan patted her gingerly. Her arthritis was very bad today; Anna knew that without asking because Auntie’s teacup sat untouched on the low table before her.
To Sophie Anna said, “Difficult delivery last night?”
“Just drawn out.” Her tone said it was a topic that should wait until they were alone. If Margaret were not here they could talk about things medical, because Aunt Quinlan was always interested and nothing surprised her. But Margaret was alarmingly weak of stomach and squeamish, as if she had never borne children herself.
“What about you?” Sophie asked. “Any interesting surgeries?”
“None at all,” Anna said. “I spent most of the day with the sisters from St. Patrick’s picking up orphans in Hoboken.”
Sophie’s mouth fell open only to shut again with an audible snap. “Sister Ignatia? Why on earth—”
“Because I promised you that if one of the sisters came to call I would go attend.”
“Oh, no.” Sophie was trying not to smile, and failing. “I was expecting Sister Thomasina from St. Vincent de Paul.” She pressed her lips hard together but a laugh still escaped her with a puff of air.
“What an interesting turn of events,” Aunt Quinlan said. She looked more closely at Anna. “You and the infamous Sister Ignatia together all day long, I wonder that you’re still standing.”
“Maybe Sister Ignatia isn’t,” Margaret suggested. “Anna might have been the end of her.” Margaret’s tone was a little sharp, as it always was when the subject of the Roman Catholic Church was raised. She folded her hands at her waist—corseted down to a waspish twenty inches though Margaret was more than forty—and waited. She was looking for an argument. Anna sometimes enjoyed arguing with her aunt’s stepdaughter, but she had things to do.
“I suppose it is funny,” she said. “We certainly . . . clashed. Now should I worry about Sister Thomasina? Did she come to call this morning?”
“No,” said Aunt Quinlan. “Apparently our daily allotment of nuns was met with the Sisters of Charity.”
Margaret cleared her throat. She said, “I had a letter from Isaac and Levi today. Would you like to hear it?”
It wasn’t like Margaret to give up an argument so easily, and now Anna understood why. She loved nothing more than letters from her two sons. They all enjoyed the letters, which were long and entertaining. This time Levi had done the writing, and they heard about climbing in the Dolomites, a difficult journey to Innsbruck, a long essay about laundry, and how each nation distinguished itself on the way underclothes were folded and how the bedding smelled.
It was good to see Margaret so pleased about her letter. And maybe, Anna reasoned to herself, maybe while she was distracted it would be possible to slip away before she remembered the ball and more to the point, the costume Anna was going to wear to the ball.
She was almost out the door when Margaret called after her. “When is Cap coming to fetch you, Anna?”
“I’m going to stop for him, as he’s on the way,” Anna said, inching away. “At half past ten. Things don’t get started until eleven.”
• • •
ONCE UPSTAIRS SOPHIE said, “The longer you make Margaret wait and wonder about your costume, the more outraged she’s going to be.”
“But she does so enjoy ruffling her feathers,” Anna said. “Who am I to disappoint her?”
She followed Sophie into her room and stretched out on the bed with its simple coverlet of pale yellow embroidered with ivy in soft gray-greens. When they were schoolgirls they did this every afternoon, meeting in one bedroom or the other to talk before they launched themselves into chores and homework and play.
Sophie took off her shoes with an uncharacteristic impatience and fell onto the bed, facedown.
Her voice came muffled. “How bad was Sister Ignatia really?”
Anna crossed her arms over her waist and considered her answer. “It’s a sorry business, what goes on with orphans. It reminds me how fortunate I was. We both were.”
“We were,” Sophie agreed. “We are.”
“I knew in the abstract, of course. But those children were terrified. And Sister Ignatia—” She sat up suddenly. “I’m going to vaccinate children tomorrow, at the orphanage. I have no idea how many.” When she had told Sophie about her confrontation with the nun, there was a small silence.
“Anna,” Sophie said. “You know there are at least ten Roman Catholic orphanages in the city, small and large. St. Patrick’s is the biggest, and it has beds for two thousand children or more.”
That brought Anna up short.
“I’ll have to come with you,” Sophie said finally. “If there are less than a hundred, we can manage.”
“And if there are more,” Anna said, “I will pay a call to the Board of Health.”
Sophie gave a soft laugh. “Sister Ignatia will regret underestimating you.”
“I doubt Sister Ignatia has many regrets.”
There was a long silence and then Sophie said, “Have you ever seen your face when you’re angry at the way a patient has been treated?”
Anna collapsed back against the pillows, and a low laugh escaped her.
“You are not saying that I frighten Sister Ignatia, of all people.”
“Of course you do.” Sophie yawned. “It’s why you’re so effective.”
“So then we’ll go tomorrow afternoon,” Anna said. “I need to be in surgery in the morning.”
“Clara’s hearing is tomorrow afternoon at the Tombs. Did you forget?”
For a long moment Anna was quiet, trying to think of a way to do two things at once in different parts of the city. She had to be at Dr. Garrison’s hearing, to show her support and respect for a colleague and former professor. There was no help for it.
“I’ll write to Sister Ignatia and reschedule for Wednesday afternoon. Unless I’m forgetting something else?”
When Sophie didn’t answer, Anna turned on her side to look at her directly. She said, “What happened today, really?”
“Mrs. Campbell asked about Clara.”
Anna felt herself tense. “And?”
“I can dissemble when necessary,” Sophie said. “I said that yes, I had read about Dr. Garrison’s arrest. And then I made it clear that I do not have contraceptives—”
“—or know how to find them or information about them, and that I observe all laws to the letter.”
Which was no protection at all, both Anna and Sophie knew. Just the previous week Clara Garrison had been arrested for the third time simply because she had answered the door to a man distraught about his wife’s health and offered him a booklet of information. But the next knock—not five minutes later—brought postal inspectors and uniformed police officers.
After Clara had been arrested and taken away to the Tombs, the inspectors had searched her home and practice in the most destructive manner possible. They found an envelope sitting in plain sight on her desk with a half dozen of the same informational pamphlets she had given to Comstock’s undercover inspector, as well as two new female syringes.
Clara Garrison had been the lecturer in obstetrics at the Woman’s Medical School when Anna and Sophie were students. She was an excellent practitioner and teacher, and utterly uncompromising when it came to patient care. Sophie had a theory that Clara Garrison had once been a nun; she had the energy, high standards, and quiet efficiency Sophie associated with the sisters who had taught her as a child in New Orleans. It was from Clara that they had learned what it meant to care for the most vulnerable.
It was Clara’s good fortune that for both her previous arrests the grand jury had simply refused to issue an indictment. This time she had not been so lucky, and tomorrow she would appear in court to answer the charges Anthony Comstock had gone to so much trouble to secure.
“I want to send a pamphlet to Mrs. Campbell anonymously,” Sophie said. “She is truly desperate.”
“Yes,” Anna said, resigned to the necessity that they do at least this much. “And then what will we do when she comes looking for pessaries or a syringe or a dutch cap?”
It was the most difficult problem they faced. A problem without a solution, and repercussions that were all too real: at one extreme another child might be born into a family of six or eight or more, living in a single room without a window or a privy. On the other extreme were the midwives and doctors who might be sent to prison or harassed until nothing remained of their careers. One day Sophie or Anna could very well misstep and end up in front of Judge Benedict, Anthony Comstock’s partner in his endless crusade against empty wombs. The two of them would smirk and frown and see to it that the defendant suffered the maximum possible embarrassment and personal and professional damage.
For a half hour she and Sophie spoke very little, drifting in and out of a light sleep. The house was peaceful, and Anna might have fallen into a deeper sleep and stayed there until morning, if not for the wail rising up the stairwell. It catapulted them out of bed and into the hall, where they leaned over the banister.
• • •
COUSIN MARGARET STOOD in the foyer with a delivery boy who was holding a flat, square box in both hands.
Brown packing paper had been torn away, revealing the gilded frame of an oil portrait familiar to everyone in the household.
“Oh dear,” Sophie said. “Isn’t that Mrs. Parker’s delivery boy? What is he doing with one of Auntie’s paintings?”
“Returning it,” Anna said. “Mrs. Parker was using it as a model for—”
“Your ball gown.” Sophie bit her lip, but the smile was there and would not be held back.
Cousin Margaret looked up and caught sight of them. “Not Countess Turchaninov!” Horrified, as Anna had known she would be.
“I’m afraid so,” Anna said.
“But you’ll be half-naked!”
The delivery boy shuffled his feet.
Margaret said, “But your aunt Quinlan said she sent Countess Turchaninov out to be cleaned.”
Anna didn’t doubt that at all; Aunt Quinlan wasn’t above misdirecting attention if it helped her with a plan.
“I believe the canvas was cleaned,” Anna told her. “Before it went to the seamstress. Mrs. Parker had it for two weeks, at least.”
Margaret threw up her hands in disgust and disappeared down the hall to the kitchen.
“I wanted to go as the warrior queen Boadicea,” Anna said on a sigh, “but Aunt Quinlan talked me out of it and into Countess Turchaninov. What there is of her.”
The boy cleared his throat. “You’ll pardon me, but I’m after getting this receipt signed. It don’t matter which one of youse signs it. It don’t matter that your countess here is wearing a night rail; if I’m not away with a signed receipt the mistress will box my ears, so she will.”
Mrs. Lee came marching down the hall, took the receipt from the boy, fished a pencil out of her apron pocket, and signed with a flourish. The boy grabbed the receipt and the coin that Mrs. Lee offered with one hand, tipped his cap with the other, and dashed down the hall to the service entrance in the rear.
Mrs. Lee looked up at Anna and shook her head in disapproval.
“I won’t be alone,” Anna reminded her. “There’s no need to worry about me.”
Mrs. Lee scowled. “If you’re Countess Turchaninov, who is Cap going to be?”
Anna lifted a shoulder. “I have no idea.”
“You can be sure of one thing,” said Sophie, her mouth twitching toward a smile. “It’s not Cap people will be looking at.”
• • •
AT TEN SOPHIE went with Anna to watch as Aunt Quinlan examined her.
She was sitting in the upholstered chair that allowed her to look out onto the street, with a gaslight flickering on the wall behind her and a book in her lap, unopened. This was the way Sophie always thought of her aunt, sitting in the high-backed chair, turning toward the door to see who had come to call.
She said, “Take off the wrap, Anna. Let me see you.”
“She promised Margaret she would wear the shawl all evening,” Sophie volunteered even as Anna undid the clasp. The shawl fell away and she caught it over one arm, the beading clicking softly.
“And wouldn’t that be a waste,” Aunt Quinlan said. She made a turning gesture with her hand, and Anna complied, catching sight of the painting of the countess, returned to her usual spot on the wall. Countess Turchaninov had blond hair wrapped in ribbons, a pert mouth like a strawberry, and a tiny dimpled chin. Anna looked nothing like her, but the gown suited her anyway.
“Mrs. Parker had to work on it full time for a week, but it was worth it,” Aunt Quinlan said. “Let me feel the fabric.”
And then, without looking up, “Have you seen yourself?”
“That’s what you’re for,” Anna said, teasing gently.
“Sophie, dear. Please turn the long looking glass this way.”
Sophie did just that and watched Anna as she examined her own reflection.
“Now tell me what you see, and do not be coy.”
“I see a beautiful gown of shantung silk the color of ripe wheat in the sun,” Anna said. “With a high waist, and beading and embroidery and clever caplet sleeves made from filigree lace interwoven with gold thread and twisted fine gold cord. The same lace forms the flowers across the bodice, which is a good thing as otherwise my breasts would be completely exposed. If I come across Anthony Comstock I’ll end up in the Tombs charged with degenerate behavior and you’ll have to bail me out.”
“Stop changing the subject,” Auntie said. “And look at yourself.”
Anna sighed and patted her breasts. “Like two loaves of bread set out to rise.”
“You are hopeless.” Aunt Quinlan laughed.
Sophie said, “The embroidery is very beautiful but Margaret is right, she is half naked.”
“Nonsense,” said Aunt Quinlan. “That’s not what people will see at all. They’ll see how lithe she is, how well she holds herself. They’ll see the line of her throat and the shape of her head. They’ll see her eyes.”
“That is also true,” Sophie said. “Few people can look beyond your golden eyes, Anna.”
The Russo children had been in her thoughts for much of the day and now she remembered Lia’s hands on her face. Occhi d’oro. The last sight she had of them was on the ferry, Rosa standing very erect with the baby on her shoulder and her free arm around Lia, as focused and determined as any soldier on guard. By now they would be separated, the girls from the boys. She had spent such a short amount of time with them, but she knew that Rosa would not admit defeat. Not easily. Not until it was forced on her.
“Where has your mind gone suddenly?” her aunt asked.
“Hoboken,” Anna said. “Italian orphans.”
There was a short silence, one her aunt would not fill with empty promises or fictions about the fate of orphans.
Finally her aunt turned to Sophie. “Please fetch the box from the dresser, would you?”
• • •
IT WASN’T OFTEN they saw Aunt Quinlan’s small but very fine collection of jewelry. Sophie opened the box and held it in front of her aunt, who pointed to a necklace and bracelets and matching hair ornament. Sophie touched the twist of small, perfect pearls intertwined with oval gold disks.
As she helped Anna with the clasps, Sophie saw more evidence of what she knew in theory: Aunt Quinlan had no peers when it came to putting a picture together.
Mrs. Lee called up the stairs. “Carriage’s here.”
“You must give Cap a kiss from me,” said Aunt Quinlan.
“And me,” Sophie said, more quietly.
Aunt went on, “Tell him to observe closely; I’ll want to hear about all the costumes and the new house, too. Ostentatious and uncompromising bad taste, of course, but they have a good collection of paintings.”
“I can tell you about paintings and costumes too,” Anna said, a little affronted that she wasn’t charged with such a responsibility.
“Oh, no,” her aunt said. “You’ll come home and tell me who has dropsy and who looks bilious and which of the ladies are increasing and about the evidence of Knickerbocker inbreeding. I know you, Anna Savard.”
Anna leaned over once again to kiss both soft cheeks. “Yes, you do. Nobody knows me better.”
• • •
WHEN ANNA WAS gone Sophie went to sit on the low stool where she could lean against Aunt Quinlan’s knee. Very gently the old woman rested a hand on Sophie’s head, and for a long while there was just the sound of horses in the street and the fire in the grate.
Her aunt said, “Cap does love you, and he will forgive you. You must give him time to grieve.”
“That’s the problem,” Sophie said. “His time is very short.”
She hesitated for a moment and then drew a closely written sheaf of papers from a pocket.
“I had a letter I wanted to talk to you about,” she said. “It’s about Cap.”
It was almost exactly a year since the bacillus Mycobacterium tuberculosis had been isolated and identified as the infectious agent responsible for consumption, and with that Cap had withdrawn completely from his friends and family. Since that day Sophie had been writing to pulmonary specialists as far away as Russia, inquiring about promising new treatments for tuberculosis. The letter she held in her hand was the first answer that offered even a vague hope.
Aunt Quinlan had seemed very sleepy but now she roused, sitting up straighter. “From one of the specialists?”
Sophie had a moment’s guilt for keeping her aunt up, but she also knew that she would have no rest until she spoke to someone about it.
“Yes. A few months ago I wrote to a Dr. Mann in Zurich. He forwarded my letter to a Dr. Zängerle in the upper Engadin Valley.”
Sophie paused in the hope that her aunt would have something to say, as she had traveled widely in Europe and lived there for ten years as a young woman.
“It’s a very beautiful area near the Italian border,” Aunt said. “Very remote and quiet. And your letter is from this Dr. Zängerle in the Engadin?”
“He has a very small treatment facility at his own home, just five patients. A trial, he calls it. He and his wife hope to open a sanatorium if their success holds. He read the case history I sent and he’s offering Cap a spot.”
“He doesn’t have a cure.” Aunt Quinlan was not prone to unrealistic expectations or denial of hard facts, but she was also careful to mask whatever she might be feeling for fear of casting either hope or doubt where neither was warranted.
“He makes no such claim. On the other hand, his patients are much improved after treatment.”
She described the protocol, reading short paragraphs from the letter when her memory failed her.
“It sounds as though it is mostly good common sense,” Aunt Quinlan said finally. “Proper nourishment and rest and fresh air at a very high altitude. Do you think it might do Cap some good?”
Sophie raised a shoulder and let it drop. “It’s possible. Even likely, if these figures are accurate. But the real question is, could he be persuaded to go so far?” Her calm was countered by a twitch at the corner of her mouth that she could not control, the perfect demonstration of why medical professionals weren’t supposed to treat family members. In fact, she knew that if Anna were here, she would insist that they hand the whole business over to another physician.
Purposefully, she had excluded Anna, and on Aunt Quinlan’s face she could see that this fact had not escaped her.
“You can’t take this proposal to him.”
Sophie swallowed a grimace. “You know I can’t. I can’t even write to him about it; he doesn’t read my letters.”
Sophie turned her face away. “She would disapprove. She wouldn’t want him to travel so far.”
Her aunt might have challenged this assumption, but she seemed satisfied to let it stand for the moment. Instead she said, “It is true that Cap couldn’t make this journey alone. Someone will have to go with him. I can see that you’ve already sorted this through in your mind. Who are you thinking?”
“I don’t know,” Sophie said, frustration creeping into her voice. “I find I can’t think clearly about this.” An understatement of the first order.
“But you think he should go.”
Sophie took a deep breath. “I do. I can’t explain exactly why, but it feels to me like a chance worth taking.”
“You are so much like your grandmother,” Aunt Quinlan said after a while. “Medicine was more than science to her.”
“What do you mean by that?” Sophie asked, her temper welling up, something that happened so rarely that Aunt Quinlan was looking at her with both alarm and concern. But now she must go on. “Am I less of a physician than Anna, or is she less than I am?”
Aunt Quinlan did not hesitate. “It is not a criticism, but an observation. Anna is in the first line a scientist.” And then: “I see I have upset you.”
“Anna is an excellent physician,” Sophie said, her voice catching.
“She is an excellent surgeon.”
Sophie folded the letter and slid it back into her pocket, her hands shaking a little.
“You think I am being unkind, or disloyal, or both,” Aunt Quinlan said finally. “But that’s not the case. I am not finding fault in Anna; I am pointing out to you that in a case like this, you have an advantage that she does not. You understand it in the bone, you know it with a part of your mind that you deny because it frightens you.”
She raised a hand to stop Sophie’s protest. “When you say that Cap should go to Switzerland but you can’t put words to the why of it, I understand what you are trying to say. And I know that you require help. That I can provide.”
It was what Sophie wanted to hear, but it still brought her up short to hear it stated so plainly.
“He will resist.”
Aunt Quinlan gave her one of her sweetest, most disturbing smiles. “I have lived a long time,” she said. “And I have come up against walls far higher than the one Cap’s built. He’ll listen to me. He surely will.”
• • •
SOMETIMES SOPHIE DREAMED about knocking on Cap’s door. In these dreams that simple gesture caused the door to swing open, revealing rooms that had been emptied of every familiar and beloved thing, a shell as clean and cold and impersonal as an operating theater. In her dream she went from room to room desperate for some sign of him, any sign at all, and then woke, bereft.
She had loved him for as long as she could remember, but she had refused every marriage proposal for reasons she had explained, again and again, in great detail. Sometimes she felt she might give in and accept him, because she could not deny to herself that she wanted nothing more than to marry Cap. Then in the quiet minutes before sleep she would see how his whole life would change. He claimed to know what he would be giving up, but he didn’t. He simply could not. He was the son of Clarinda Belmont, a descendant of the Dutch who had founded New Amsterdam, a Knickerbocker, and all that word implied. She was a mulatto. A mongrel.
It was an ugly word. Cap could reject the mind-set that came along with it, but he couldn’t make others do the same. She would never be free of it, and their children would bear it too, an indelible mark on the skin. He could not see that truth.
Cap’s diagnosis had not changed her mind, but it had changed his. On a chilly wet day last April the truth had been waiting for her at the breakfast table.
A parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with string, in and of itself nothing unusual; it wasn’t the first such parcel from Cap or even the fiftieth. It seemed there was a packet at least once a week, sometimes addressed to just one of them, and sometimes to The Ladies at 18 Waverly Place.
Over the years there had been rare fruits, books about Mesopotamia or windmills or German philosophy, pens of ivory inlaid with pearl, confectionery, beautifully etched and painted ostrich eggs, tiny carvings from Japan, watercolors or sculptures by young artists whose work had caught his eye, a canary in a wrought-iron cage, cuttings from a wild rose, yards of lace from Brussels, bolts of figured damask from India, sheet music, concert and lecture tickets. When they protested he listened politely, nodded, and then carried on as always.
That morning Sophie’s name alone had been written across the wrapping paper. It was a slim parcel that contained a short biography of Dr. René-Théophile-Hyacinthe Laennec; a stack of lecture notes tied with string, dated the twenty-fourth day of March 1882 and titled Die Ötiologie der Tuberculose; and a letter.
The biography needed no explanation. Dr. Laennec had been a talented, widely respected researcher who died at forty-five of tuberculosis, contracted from his own patients. On the other hand, at first she didn’t know what to make of the notes. A pile of papers, closely written in a neat, sharp hand. Only after a quarter hour of reading did she realize that Cap had paid someone—most likely a medical student—to travel to Germany specifically to attend Dr. Robert Koch’s lecture on the tuberculosis bacillus. The notes—painstaking, exacting—must have been sent by special courier.
Cap left nothing to chance. It wasn’t in his nature.
She put the notes aside, and when she had gathered her courage she opened the letter. For all its brevity it cut as surely as a scalpel.
Sophie, my love,
Forgive me. After four years of earnest effort to convince you to accept my proposal of marriage, I withdraw my offer with the greatest sorrow and regret. As the enclosed will make clear, the research of the physicians you study and respect is now unequivocal. I may live a year or five, but I cannot live even a day with you without putting your life in danger. This I cannot, will not do.
She had written, to no avail. He allowed only Anna near enough in order to examine him once a month, as long as she wore a mask that had been treated with carbolic acid and observed the strictest hygienic measures. The housekeeper and maids who had served first his grandmother and then his mother would not be sent away, but he spoke to them only through a closed door of the chamber he rarely left. His secretary could sit in the same room but only at the opposite side, and turned away. A few of his closest friends were so persistent that he finally allowed them to visit if they too kept to the far side of the room where Cap himself never went, and on these visits it was Cap who wore the mask.
Cap wanted her to think of him as already dead because he thought of himself that way. In fact, Sophie woke up every day and went to sleep every night thinking about him. She missed him, she was furious with him, she mourned the time she might have had with him.
The Vanderbilt Easter Monday ball was the first time he had appeared in public since his diagnosis. Sophie wondered if his friends would realize he was saying good-bye.
• • •
ON ANY OTHER March night at eleven o’clock the north end of Fifth Avenue might be mistaken for a row of mausoleums scaled for giants. The great bulk of the new cathedral on one side of the street with schools and rectories and orphan asylums gathered around it, like chicks to a sleeping hen. On the other side, one mansion after the other, ornate, looming, as sterile as they were imposing. A wide street without a single tree or even the suggestion of a garden, just high walls and hundreds and hundreds of windows sealed shut, the eyes of the dead.
But tonight the newest mansion—maybe the fourth or fifth the Vanderbilts had put up over the last ten years, Jack couldn’t remember exactly—was awake. It seemed to glow, marble and granite reflecting the light that poured from every window. The first personal residence completely lit with electricity, at a cost that beggared the imagination. With its turrets and balconies and galleries it shone like an unwieldy and ill-begotten star set down among its dull red- and brown-brick neighbors.
A double canopy had been constructed over the Fifth Avenue entrance to protect the partygoers from both weather and the crowd of curious passersby. Footmen in pale blue livery and powdered wigs stood ready to help the guests from their carriages onto the deep red rug that ran from the huge double doors down the steps and all the way to the curb.
Tomorrow the personality of the house would retreat like a turtle into its shell; the stained glass would go dark, blinds and draperies closing off all light and fresh air.
His sisters sometimes tried to calculate how many thousands of yards of velvet and brocade and satin had gone into the draperies of even one of the Vanderbilt mansions, but the numbers quickly grew so large and absurd that they simply gave up and turned back to their own needlework. Their endless, precious, beautiful needlework.
Every evening they waited for him, sitting knee to knee facing each other over an embroidery frame. They would jump up to take his coat and offer him food and more food and again food until he accepted the plate they had ready for him. They wanted him to have the best chair by the fire, the day’s newspapers, to hear their family gossip, worries about the weather, observations on the comings and goings of the neighbors, dire predictions about the prospects of the butcher’s new clerk, admonitions about the dampness of his coat or shoes. His sisters ran his household and aspired to run him with the same painstaking and exhausting perfectionism.
From the corner of his eye Jack saw a familiar figure, a woman of at least sixty, carefully groomed and dressed to convey nothing more threatening than genteel poverty. Few would guess that a multitude of hidden pockets had been sewn into her wide skirts, ready to be filled with the fruits of the night’s labor. Jack had arrested her three or four times at least over the last year. Meggie, she called herself, but her true name was unknown, maybe even to her. He was about to step off the curbside to intercept her when a hand landed heavily on the woman’s artfully slumped shoulder. Michael Hone out of the twenty-third precinct, just two years on the force but he had the eye. She gave a heavy sigh and let herself be marched off.
“Meggie must be feeling her age,” Oscar said, coming up beside Jack. “Twenty years ago she was slippery as waterweed. She’d be halfway to Brooklyn before you realized she was gone. O-ho, look now. Tell me, would that particular fat-assed Roman emperor there be an elected official who shall remain shameless?”
For a time they amused each other trying to put names to costumes: Cardinal Richelieu and the Count of Monte Cristo, a Capuchin friar, Chinese merchants with eyes outlined in kohl, wizards, cowboys, Queen Elizabeth, the goddess Diana with bow and arrow, a trio of young women with staffs and lifelike lambs fixed somehow to their wide skirts.
“Money is wasted on some people,” sniffed a young woman whose clothes were threadbare but carefully mended. “I’d come up with a better costume than Bo Peep, you can be sure of that.”
A young man dressed as a knight of Malta followed the trio out of the carriage. Covered head to foot in hauberk and chain mail and armor, he clanked his way up the walk, listing to one side and then the other like a ship in a storm.
“Look now,” a man’s voice called out loud enough to carry over the noise. “Won’t somebody get that poor mope an anchor?”
The appreciative roar of the crowd did not slow the crusader in pursuit of his Bo Peeps, but every policeman within earshot tensed. The draft riots were twenty years ago, but it would be another twenty before they rested easy in the presence of any crowd; moods could shift from high spirits to violence without warning. Now shopkeepers and factory workers, clerks and charwomen, men with tool belts and lunch buckets, they all cooed at the sight of a cape embroidered with pearls and rubies, but people just like this had burned down the Colored Orphan Asylum and hung innocent men from light posts to vent their rage.
There was only one reliable barometer of a group ready to go sour. Jack turned his attention to a half-dozen children slinking through the crowd as easily and unobserved as cats. Six in this group, the youngest maybe seven, and if he had to guess he would identify them as part of the pack that slept in an alley alongside a German baker’s place of business on Franklin Street. The brick wall there was warmed by the ovens, which made the alley a coveted spot in the winter. It was one they had to fight to keep and could lose at any time. If there was real trouble in the air, the street urchins would disappear so quickly that they might have been an illusion.
“They’re settling down,” Maroney said. The crowd’s attention had turned to a modern-day Shakespeare whose hat kept sliding down over his eyes, so that he tripped repeatedly over his shoes. The urchins laughed, widemouthed, gap-toothed, children still and in want of amusement.
Earlier today Jack had watched more fortunate orphans being taken into the austere custody of Sister Ignatia. In shock, overwhelmed, many of them had hung back, torn between the promise of food and the numbing familiarity of the filthy tenements where their parents had died. The doctor had done a lot to calm them, her manner so matter-of-fact, without any trace of condescension or pity. Chances were a few of them would still try to slip away from the orphanage, but none of the children he had seen today would survive long on the city streets.
The Children’s Aid Society estimated that there were as many as thirty thousand orphaned or abandoned children in Manhattan, while the orphan asylums could take no more than twelve thousand at a time. The rest lived on the streets underdressed, mostly shoeless, infection- and lice- and worm-ridden. They ate only what they could steal or scrounge or beg and had nothing so grand as a tenement to call home. Most of them refused to ask for shelter at any of the charities that were there to put them up, for the simple fear they would never be allowed to leave again, or would find themselves on a train headed west and a future even more uncertain than the bleak one before them. And so they slept huddled together in doorways or perched on fire escapes, and many of them died over the long winter, defeated by hunger and loneliness and the weather.
One by one the carriages pulled up and came to a stop, and footmen and coachmen lined up to open doors and assist ladies who could not see their feet over skirts and petticoats. Then they followed the walkway lined with potted trees and statues through the marquee and into the house, where they would eat too much and drink even more.
The early high spirits had cooled a little. The crowd began to mill around, bored and eager for distraction.
Farther down the block the doors of a carriage opened suddenly. Two young men jumped down and then turned to help the ladies, all of them too eager to wait in a stuffy carriage. In response other carriage doors began to open, at first only one or two and then in a rush. Ladies in silver and buttercup yellow and blazing reds and deep purples let themselves be directed by their husbands and fathers and brothers, lifting skirts high to avoid puddles and manure and trash, giggling nervously and turning their faces away from the crowd, as if that would be enough to spare them the very attention elaborate costumes were designed to engage.
The uniforms and roundsmen would be here the rest of the night, but as soon as the last party guests had disappeared into the house, the detectives could be away home. As if he had heard Jack’s thought, the captain came around the corner and pointed at them.
“I need you two inside.” Baker jerked his thumb over his shoulder as if there might be doubt about where. “Talk to Beaney, he’ll point you in the right direction. Thinks he saw some rogues’ gallery faces in the crowd.”
“Dressed as priests, no doubt,” Oscar muttered. “Pranksters every one.”
Baker gave a surprised and reluctant bark of laughter and then intensified his scowl to offset that small lapse.
“You’ll stay at your posts,” he said, “until I send word.” And he stomped off, cursing under his breath.
They crossed the street, passing a carriage that had seen better days. Inside two very old ladies in powdered wigs sat waiting, their painted faces so somber that they might have been on their way to a funeral.
A couple had just stepped out of a far more elegant and fashionable carriage. The gentleman was older, his form narrow and posture brittle, and he leaned on a cane. His costume was simplicity itself: over one shoulder he had tossed a black cape with red silk lining. The red set off the tight black breeches and short jacket over a white shirt.
“I think he’s supposed to be one of those Spanish grandees,” Oscar said. And as the man turned his face to the light he let out a soft grunt. “That’s Cap Verhoeven,” he said. “Poor sod.”
Verhoeven’s eyes were a vivid bright blue, his complexion flushed. People sometimes called such extreme high color the red flag of the white death. Consumption was said to be gentle, even a romantic death, but Jack could see nothing benign in the way it dragged the strongest and most promising out of the world.
“A damn good lawyer, and strange enough for one of his ilk, fair-minded. His mother was a Belmont.”
Oscar had an encyclopedic knowledge of the old Knickerbocker families his mother had worked for all of her life.
Verhoeven had stepped back to reveal the lady beside him, one hand on his raised arm while with the other she tried to keep a shawl in place. She let out a little cry of surprise and irritation as it slipped out of her grasp and fluttered away.
Above layers of silk gauze that moved with the breeze, her shoulders and long neck were now bared to the night air. In the light of the carriage lanterns her complexion took on the shifting iridescence of abalone: golds and pinks, ivories and smoky blues. The heavy dark hair twisted into a coronet and wrapped around her head set off the curve of her cheek.
All of these thoughts went through Jack’s head in the few seconds it took the footman to catch up her shawl and drop it over her shoulders. As she half turned toward the footman to smile her thanks, he saw her face for the first time.
Oscar caught his jolt of surprise. “What? You know him?”
“No,” Jack said. “Don’t know Verhoeven. It’s the woman I recognize.”
“Huh.” Oscar could fit more doubt into a single syllable than any man alive. “Where did you make the acquaintance of somebody like that?”
“On the Hoboken ferry,” Jack said. “Surrounded by nuns and orphans.”
Oscar’s brow shot up high. “The lady doctor you told me about? What was her name—”
“Savard. Dr. Savard.”
There was a small silence between them.
Maroney said, “Let’s go see what the kitchen maids can spare us in the way of fancy food.”
But he had something else on his mind, Jack could see it. A lady doctor dressed in silks was an oddity, and Oscar Maroney’s curiosity, once engaged, had to be satisfied. For once Jack was feeling just as curious as his partner.
• • •
ANNA ENTERED ALVA Vanderbilt’s white marble reception hall at 660 Fifth Avenue on Cap’s arm, arriving late, as planned. They had missed the promenade through the house, the receiving line for which hundreds of people had to be announced, and to Anna’s quiet disappointment, the dancing of the six formal quadrilles.
Mrs. Lee had been reading about the dancing in the newspapers and was especially excited about the Hobby Horse Quadrille. She told Anna exactly what to look for: a two-part pony costume of papier-mâché and velvet that fit around the middle of the dancer. Anna could admit to herself that her own curiosity had been aroused. Now she was as disappointed as Mrs. Lee was going to be.
Coming out of the cool night into the great hall they were enveloped by overheated air thick with the scent of roses and freesia and aged oak from a fireplace large enough, it seemed to Anna, to consume a small cottage. Overhead crystal chandeliers hung from the carved arches supporting the vaulted ceiling, supplemented by dozens of electric light sconces. Indoor electric lighting was an innovation, another example of the Vanderbilts’ need to be first in everything. Light reflected off the polished marble floor and the multitude of jewels this class of people wore like war medals, embedded in buttons and hair combs, sewn onto skirts and bodices and capes, displayed on throats and wrists, fingers and ears.
So much light and warmth and noise, but marble floors and walls paneled with ornately carved stone robbed the room of any hint of welcome or comfort. At the top of a staircase wide enough for ten men to stand shoulder to shoulder there would be a gallery full of treasures gathered from all over the world: paintings by the masters, sculptures and tapestries from China and Egypt and Greece, jewels and inlaid cabinets and musical instruments. Later, if Cap felt strong enough, they could make their way up the long sweeping staircase slowly, at a suitable pace.
They followed a footman who took them on a winding route through the great hall, across salons and a gold and white music room. Every object was made of the rarest woods or finest stone or marble, gilded, carved, inset with ivory or pearl or the wings of butterflies, draped in velvet, damask, embroidered silk. It was meant to be overwhelming, and it was.
With the footman’s assistance they found the comfortable corner one of Cap’s Belmont cousins had arranged for them. Tall vases overflowing with full-blown deep red roses and honeysuckle bracketed silk upholstered chairs, a settee with a wealth of beaded and embroidered pillows, and a low table that was crowded with fine crystal wineglasses and goblets, gold-rimmed platters of crudités and canapés and caviar en croute. On a side table were more platters heaped with petit fours and tartlets topped with strawberries, far ahead of season, sugared plums and nuts, and punitions, each adorned with a V made out of gold tissue, in case the guest forgot that this was the home of a Vanderbilt.
Flowers tumbled over each other in every corner: roses, tulips, lily of the valley, freesia, whole branches of dogwood and magnolia forced into early bloom. Every greenhouse and hothouse in a hundred miles had to have been stripped bare.
In their little alcove Anna and Cap were close enough to the dancing to watch without being overrun, and Anna found herself laughing out loud at the sight. Robin Hood waltzed with a bumblebee, wings fluttering with every sweep; a Roman emperor had as partner a dairy maid; Frederick the Great danced with a phoenix, and a Russian peasant with Marie Antoinette, who, Anna noted with some satisfaction, wore a gown even more revealing than her own.
They sat watching, Anna with a flute of champagne in her hand and Cap without. He wouldn’t eat or drink and he never took off his gloves outside his own home. Now he touched his handkerchief to his damp face and throat.
“It is far too warm with the electric lights and so many people. You must drink something.”
“Only if you’ll let me drop the glass once I’m done,” Cap said, one brow raised in challenge.
“I doubt she’d miss one glass,” Anna muttered. “No matter what kind of crystal it is.”
“But an under maid may take the blame,” Cap said. “You wouldn’t like that.”
There was no evidence that the tuberculosis bacillus could be passed by touching inanimate objects, but Cap had rules for himself that were inviolate. And in truth, Anna could not fault him for his concern.
She was pulled from her thoughts by two pirates who flung themselves onto the settee in mock exhaustion. Bram and Baltus Decker were Cap’s cousins; they had read law with him at Yale and remained stubbornly devoted to him despite his insistence on physical distance. Now they fell over the food and drink with enthusiasm, interrupting themselves to comment on the champagne, the caviar, the pâté de foie gras and smoked trout mounded on toast points, on the orchestra, the quadrilles, and to relate everything they had seen and heard and thought since they had last seen Cap.
Bram flipped up his pirate’s patch and blinked owlishly. “Where is Belmont? Never mind, silly question. He’ll be here somewhere, chasing a skirt around the dance floor. Look there at that costume, who is she supposed to be? Curled-up toes, must be something oriental.”
“Reasonable guess, given the fez and the golden veil,” said his brother. Then they both turned to Cap, waiting to be told. Because Cap had a prodigious memory, and would share what he knew if prompted.
“I believe that is supposed to be Lalla Rookh of Persia,” he said.
“Damn funny rooks they’ve got in Persia,” said Baltus. “Ours are plain black.”
“Not the bird. Rookh is a title.”
“Book or play?”
“Neither. Poem and then opera.”
“Damn me,” said Baltus. “Who has the brains to write poems with one hand and opera with the other?”
“Nobody,” said Anna, who couldn’t resist the silly back-and-forth. “First it was a poem by Thomas Moore.”
“Damn Irishmen.” Baltus tipped up his champagne flute to empty it. “Bram, have we seen an opera about a girl named Rook in Persia?”
“As a matter of fact,” said his brother without opening his eyes, “we did. The Veiled Prophet.”
Baltus looked up at the ceiling, as if something there might jog his memory.
“Poisoning and a stabbing both,” added Cap, and Baltus’s face broke into a smile.
“Oh, yes. I remember.” Then he looked out over the dancers and his smile disappeared. “Just when I had a way to start a conversation,” he said sadly. “The rook has waltzed off with the pope of Avignon.”
He fell back against the cushions and snagged another glass of champagne from a waiter who stopped to offer his tray.
“Cap, I swear you’re looking very fit tonight.”
“Liar,” Cap said with an easy smile.
“I would call you more of a blind oaf,” Bram said to his brother. “It’s Anna who is looking spectacular.”
On that they agreed, toasted each other and her, and took great pains not to stare at her breasts.
“And where is the other Dr. Savard this evening?” Bram asked.
He was looking at Cap, but Anna said, “Sophie is working.” And just that simply, she was tired of half truths. “Sophie is working,” she repeated, “and she is uncomfortable in this company.”
“Uncomfortable?” Bram rumbled. “With us? Not with us.”
Anna sent a pointed look at two men who were walking by. One wore what she supposed cardinals wore, while the other was dressed as an ancient Greek.
“Old Twomey?” Bram leaned forward to whisper. “What does Sophie have to fear from that pile of rags? Who is he supposed to be, anyway? Aristotle?”
“Plato,” Anna said.
“Really? How can you tell?”
“Because Professor Twomey reveres Plato,” Anna said.
Cap caught her eye and shook his head. If the Decker twins were sober, she might undertake explaining the retired professor’s public lectures on Plato, Francis Gaulton, and the theory of hereditary genius. As it was, Cap took over.
“Bram,” he said. “Wake up. Do you see anybody here who isn’t lily white?”
Anna looked at the dancers and tried to imagine Sophie in this company. She was elegant and beautiful and exotic, as graceful in the way she spoke as she was walking across a room. Had she come with Cap tonight, no one would have cut her openly—at least not with Cap nearby—but she would have been treated with an aloof condescension, if not disdain. Anna would wager the entire contents of her bank account that Sophie could outreason and outargue anyone here—not excluding a hard-drinking former president, senators, princes and dukes, Supreme Court justices, industry giants, and a half dozen of the wealthiest men in the western world, not to mention bigoted professors of philosophy.
And if they had been willing to overlook her ancestry, they could not or would not pretend to ignore her unapologetic self-sufficiency, her unwillingness to be impressed by their self-importance. To be accepted in this company Sophie must first admit that she was not worthy of it. If she had been capable of such a thing, Cap would not have allowed it. Nor would Anna.
“Goddamn Philius Twomey to hell,” Baltus muttered. Then without explanation he sprang up and dashed out into the dance floor, his sword thumping against his leg in a way that was likely to raise bruises. He disappeared into a small crowd of young women gathered in a corner.
“He’s caught sight of Helena Witherspoon,” Bram said. “Visiting from Princeton. Cap, you’ve got to meet her; I’ve laid odds that Baltus will marry her before the year is out. There she is.”
Cap said, “A redhead. At least he is consistent.”
“And here come Madison and Capshaw.” Baltus smiled broadly. “Now we’re in for a good time.”
Anna watched Cap as he relaxed back into his chair and propped his elbows on the embroidered velvet arms. With his hands tented over the lower third of his face, the contrast between white kid gloves and the hectic color in the hollows of his cheeks and temples could not be avoided.
She dropped her gaze to the plate on her lap. She could not rest her eyes on Cap for any amount of time precisely because there was so little time left; day by day there was a little less of him, his body and mind pulling away and away on a tide that could not be turned.
• • •
MISS WITHERSPOON WAS very young. Anna wondered if she had a mother, because it seemed unlikely that any lady of wealth and standing would allow a daughter to come out in public as . . . a fairy queen? An empress? Someone with more jewels than good sense. The gown was a waterfall of gold tissue and wine-colored velvet with a row of clasps from neck to hem, circlets of diamonds with an emerald at the center of every one. Golden bracelets wound from wrist to elbow, pinned to the heavy brocade with more emerald clasps. Her hair had been plaited with ropes of black pearls, and a matching crown sat above her brow. Her waist was unnaturally narrow, the result of tight corseting from early girlhood, night and day. Anna winced to think about the damage done.
Miss Witherspoon was her father’s princess, if no one else’s, and she understood the ways of the rich. She made deep curtsies to each of them as she was introduced, her jewels flashing in the light. She listened to the introductions, looking first at Anna and then at Cap, back and forth, trying to make sense of what was outside her experience of the world.
Anna knew what was going through the younger woman’s mind, the questions that burned to be asked but could not be voiced in society. Anna had been introduced to her as a Miss Savard. It was true that Miss Savard’s manners were exactly what was expected in such company, and her gown was quite pretty, but she wore very little jewelry. More confusing still, she clearly had no husband. She was too young to be a war widow, and so, Miss Witherspoon would surmise, she must be a spinster. Far too old to get a husband, and yet she was here with Cap Verhoeven, who was regarded as exceedingly eligible husband material. The obvious fact that Cap was in poor health didn’t seem to concern Princess Witherspoon, but then women were always drawn to Cap, despite—and sometimes because of—his health.
Bram was leaning over her like any hopeful lover. Did she care for champagne? Madeira? Punch? And how lovely her hair smelled, how beautiful her complexion.
“Mr. Decker,” she said, finally tearing her gaze away from Cap to look at Bram.
“Yes, Miss Witherspoon?”
“Can you explain to me why your friend Mr. Verhoeven is called Cap? I understood his name to be Peter.”
She topped this off with a lowering of the eyes and lashes batted prettily in Cap’s direction.
“Oh, that’s a good story,” Bram said.
“Oh, it’s really not,” Cap countered.
He might have spared himself the objection, because his friends all stood up. Arranging themselves in a semicircle, they stuck out their chests and spread their legs like sailors on the high seas. Andrew Capshaw gave a tone and they broke into song.
O Captain, My Captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weather’d every rack,
the prize we sought is won.
For all their silliness they sang a very decent four-part harmony, getting all the way through the first stanza to then collapse, thumping each other’s backs, greatly pleased with themselves.
“Got that out of your systems?” Cap said.
“It’s a poem, isn’t it?” Miss Witherspoon addressed Cap directly. “Did you write it?”
There was a small silence in their circle, and then Cap answered her with his usual good grace. “You are too young, I think, to remember the assassination. The poem these idiots were trying—and failing—to set to music—was written in honor of President Lincoln a few months after his death. The poet is a Mr. Whitman.”
“Cap recited that poem at a public lecture at the Cooper Union,” Anna supplied. “It was on his eleventh birthday, just by coincidence. He recited it and brought the whole hall to their feet. How many times were you asked to repeat that performance?”
Cap cupped his cheek with a gloved hand. “I lost count at thirty or so.”
“Which is how he came to be called first Captain, and then Cap,” Anna finished. Her voice came a little hoarse, something that wasn’t obvious with all the noise of the musicians and dancers. Others didn’t notice, but Cap did; she saw it on his face. For that moment she had him back, the boy who had once been her brother.
Then Cap’s cousin Anton Belmont came sailing across the dance floor with his younger sister on one arm and one of the Schermerhorn debutantes on the other. A scramble for more chairs and champagne took a quarter hour, all the while the conversation went forward at a steady gallop, the men doing their utmost to make the girls laugh. Other friends joined them, and Anna decided she could absent herself without worry for a short while.
She rose, interrupting a perennial argument about a poker game played years earlier, and excused herself. The simple truth was that if she did not have a quarter hour of solitude in the fresh air she would seal her reputation as an overeducated spinster unsuitable for company by falling asleep in the middle of the biggest social event of the decade.
It took a few minutes to find the right kind of hallway—one used by staff alone to reach the back of the house—and from there she found a door that led into an unoccupied courtyard enclosed by a limestone wall, lit dimly by a set of workroom or pantry windows. Here music and voices were reduced to an undercurrent of sound much like a mosquito shut in a nearby room, persistent but still possible to ignore. Oh, she was cranky. And for no good reason.
The space was half filled with bricks, lumber, nail kegs, a ladder, a pyramid of roofing tiles. Odder still, there were at least a dozen tall gardening buckets filled with roses of every color and shape. She took a deep cleansing breath that came to her filled with shifting fragrances: apricot, heliotrope, honey, oak moss and vanilla, musk and myrrh.
She was far happier here in the dim quiet, but Cap had always loved fancy parties like this one, the more ridiculous the better. He would be laughing about them for weeks afterward. In good health Cap would be on the dance floor or chasing from room to room to examine a painting here or a tapestry there, telling stories and jokes and the riddles he was famous for. Emptying one glass of champagne after another as he went. Sweet-talking old women and their eligible granddaughters with equal ease.
It was Sophie who should have been here tonight with him. It was Sophie he loved, and who loved him, who knew him best. When Anna thought about the impasse between them she sometimes daydreamed about tying each of them to a chair and leaving them face-to-face until they remembered how to talk to each other.
They wanted to marry, but in the end Sophie couldn’t bear the thought of what such a marriage would do to Cap, and so she refused him again and again. Anna had the idea that if he were to ask now, Sophie would say yes; she missed him terribly, as he missed her. But he would not ask.
The scent of the roses was very strong despite the cool air, and Anna thought how sad that they should be out here, unappreciated. She could take Cap a rose, a single perfect rose, and let him read into that whatever message he might.
Behind her she heard the rough strike and flare of a match. A familiar noise, nothing extraordinary about it in the course of a normal day. She turned her head and saw that a man was leaning against the far corner of the courtyard wall. He lifted the cigar to his mouth and drew on it and Anna saw the round red cinder flare in the dark. He was dark complexioned, big, dressed not in a costume but in a conservative suit, and he was watching her. Deliberately, calmly, watching her and taking in her awareness of him and the alarm that rose on her skin like a rash.
“You needn’t fear me, madam. I’m Detective Sergeant Oscar Maroney of the New York Police Department.” His tone was pleasant, his voice slightly rough with tobacco. “Contemplating a bit of larceny? A rose or two, perhaps.”
Anna wasn’t easily flustered, but she was cautious by nature and unwilling to play games with a stranger, police officer or not. She turned and walked back to the door, which was opening even as she reached for the knob.
The man who stood in the doorway was just as tall as his counterpart, and together with the solid width of shoulder and chest he seemed as all-encompassing and absolute as a wall. And oddly, in one hand he held a peach, round and full and blush-colored even in the dim light. On the edge of spring, so odd that he might have held the moon itself in one cupped broad hand. Anna tore her eyes away, took one step back, and limited herself to three words, spoken calmly but with an iron core that could not be overheard: “Please step aside.”
“Dr. Savard,” said a familiar voice. “I didn’t expect to see you again so soon.”
Anna stopped just where she was, unsure but curious, too. Almost afraid to raise her eyes to the man’s face.
Detective Maroney said, “You didn’t make much of an impression, Jack. She doesn’t recognize you.”
Jack. That small hint was enough to make her look again, to take in the flash of a smile. Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte. Giancarlo. Jack.
“Is that so?” In one smooth movement Mezzanotte sent the peach sailing across the small courtyard, where his friend caught it in an upraised hand. Then he looked at her directly, a question in his gaze.
“I recognize you now,” Anna said. “You are dressed very differently than you were earlier today, Detective Sergeant.” He was dressed impeccably, in fact. A well-cut short-tailed jacket in the current style, a matching vest. The color could not be made out in the half-light, but she thought it might be black. Nothing flamboyant, but something more elegant than she might have expected of a police detective, even one who worked in plain clothes.
Anna said, “You’re on duty?”
That overwhelming smile, again. She wondered if she still could smile herself, her face felt so oddly frozen.
He was saying, “When we met at the church I was coming from the greenhouses at home,” he said. “I was there over the weekend, and I spent the early morning trimming rose canes.”
He looked over her head to the roses, and she followed his gaze. He had said his parents were floriculturists, she remembered now.
“Those? Those are your roses?” She didn’t try to hide the doubt in her voice.
“Most of those are from Klunder’s nursery, but the very pale ones to the far right are ours. Cut yesterday, on Easter Sunday after sunset, brought in this morning before dawn.”
Because she was uncharacteristically at a loss for words, Anna said the first thing that came to mind. “How very wasteful. Mrs. Vanderbilt wanted every flower to be had, whether she could use them or not.”
Detective Maroney said, “Aha. That’s what my sister was on about.”
Anna turned to look at him.
“She wanted flowers for the Easter dinner table, but there wasn’t a daffodil or a violet to be had, so she tells me, as if I plucked them all out of the ground and hid them to vex her. The best she could find was a single rose for a dollar and a half.”
“A dollar and a half,” Anna echoed, truly taken aback. “Our nursing students pay two dollars for a week’s room and board.” She realized that her tone was accusatory, but she found it impossible to sound otherwise. To Detective Sergeant Mezzanotte she said, “Is that right, a dollar and a half for a single rose?”
“No,” he said. “Or I should say, no honest florist would charge that much, but some will make the best of supply and demand. I can tell you that last week my uncle had to pay fifty dollars for a hundred General Jacqueminot roses.”
“Mrs. Vanderbilt pays such prices,” Anna said. “Her greed means Detective Sergeant Maroney’s sister had no flowers for her Easter table. She would have valued what Mrs. Vanderbilt squanders.” She sounded pompous to her own ears but seemed unable to govern what came out of her mouth.
Instead of responding, Jack Mezzanotte walked across the courtyard and crouched down for a moment. When he stood again he had a spray of three small rosebuds in one hand and a pocketknife in the other. He trimmed thorns from the stems as he came closer.
“Dr. Savard is right,” he said to his partner, though he kept his gaze fixed on Anna. “It is a shame for the roses to go to waste. Let me put at least a few to good use.”
He stopped in front of her, so close that she could feel the heat of him. One brow quirked up, as if to ask permission; Anna could have stopped him with a word or a raised hand. But she didn’t. She raised her face and looked at him to show that she was not intimidated or frightened or even embarrassed, and then she canted her head slightly. An invitation.
His attention was on her hair, one finger moving in a curve just over the silver hair clasp that Sophie had fixed there earlier this evening. Such a light touch, but she felt it moving down her spine in clear notes. Very gently he slid the stem into place, paused to consider, and moved it slightly. And then he stepped back and smiled at her.
“This rose is called La Dame Dorée. The breeder was trying to achieve the perfect white bourbon rose, but he didn’t succeed. When they open you’ll see that the inner petals are a very pale pink at the edge. The color isn’t perfect, but the scent is truly beautiful. And before you ask, we sell these wholesale, a hundred for ten dollars.”
He said, “I don’t know your first name.”
Her voice came hoarse. “Liliane. But I’m called Anna.”
There was nothing untoward in his expression or tone, and still she felt his regard. This morning she had been a different creature to him, only nominally female. That had changed, or more exactly, Countess Turchaninov had changed that. Anna found that this both irritated her and gave her a perverse pleasure.
She said, “Your hands will smell of La Dame Dorée all night.” Shocked at the impulse to put her face to his palm to test this assertion, she stepped away. “Pardon me, I have to go back to my friends.”
Then she slipped through the door into the hallway and out of sight. As soon as she had turned a corner she stopped and leaned against the wall to catch her breath.
Anna touched the rosebuds in her hair with a tentative finger, sure for one moment that she had imagined the whole odd encounter in the walled courtyard.
• • •
MR. LEE WAS waiting with the carriage at one thirty, a time worked out carefully to make sure Cap did not overextend himself and that Anna would be able to see her patients the next day. Helping Cap into the carriage, Anna thought of the day ahead of her—surgeries and then Dr. Garrison’s trial—and all the excitement and high spirits left her immediately.
Cap had begun to cough into his handkerchief even before they were outside. Now he collapsed into the seat, turned his whole body into the corner, and hunched over, shaking violently with each paroxysm. If he turned to her, Anna knew that she would see that his face and neck were drenched with sweat. His complexion would have darkened to purple with veins standing out on his forehead and temples and in his neck. And there would be blood.
He wanted no help and would be angry if she offered, and so Anna gave him the privacy he needed. She closed her eyes and reached for the calm she had trained so hard to achieve. Cap struggling to breathe; there would be no worse sound in the world.
Finally he sat up a little straighter, folded his handkerchief in the shadows and out of her line of sight, and immediately pulled another out of his pocket, a fresh white flag in the darkened carriage. He blotted perspiration from his face.
He said, “Thank you for coming with me.” His voice came very soft and hoarse.
A minute passed and then another.
“She misses you,” said Anna. “I don’t think you are ever very far from her thoughts.”
He said nothing, but he had heard her. His head dipped a little more in her direction, an invitation to tell him the things he wanted to hear. But because Anna could not give him what he wanted so desperately, she said nothing at all.
DR. GARRISON’S TRIAL was about to start, and Anna was running late. Sophie paced back and forth in front of the Hall of Justice; she wanted to go in and find a seat, and she wanted to run in the opposite direction.
People called this place the Tombs, an appropriate nickname for a building that exuded a miasma of open crypts and leaking sewers. Sophie was sure that anyone who spent any real amount of time in one of the offices or courtrooms or—worse still—jail cells must come away with sickened lungs and an aching head.
Children playing on a beach understood that sand castles must give way to water and wind even as they were being built, but the men who built the Hall of Justice had simply ignored such inconvenient truths and put it directly over a swamp. As a result the building had begun to sink before its doors ever opened. It continued to decompose like a living thing, even as people came and went, oblivious or deadened to the atmosphere.
Tenements had a stench that could make the eyes water and the gorge rise, but to Sophie’s mind the Tombs were far worse. Repeated flooding and permanent damp meant rotting timber, slimy plaster, chunks of masonry that fell without warning. The stink sat on the back of the tongue and was not easily gotten rid of, even hours later. Worse still were the jail cells below ground level, where fungus and moss sprouted from walls overpopulated with vermin and water bugs.
Anthony Comstock had arrested Clara Garrison and had her thrown into one of those cells, and more than once.
A cab came to a quick stop and Anna almost catapulted herself out onto the cobblestones, turned to stuff money into the cabby’s hand, and then grabbed Sophie’s arm to rush into the building.
The Special Sessions courtroom was cavernous and unheated, and Sophie was chilled even as she followed Anna to empty seats on the far side of the room, where, thankfully, the ceiling was not watermarked and thus less likely to leak onto their bonnets or shoulders.
“You’re shivering,” Anna said, and handed Sophie a pair of fur-lined gloves from her Gladstone bag. Sophie had never acclimated to New York weather but still regularly overestimated her tolerance for cold. Anna, who knew her better than anyone, had packed the gloves, a scarf, and even a pair of the heavy wool socks Mrs. Lee knitted for each of them every winter. Sophie was a little embarrassed, but not so vain as to pretend she didn’t need the things Anna handed her.
The room was filling up quickly, though the judges’ bench on the stage at one end was still unoccupied, as was the jury box to the right. At a slightly lower level but still well above the main floor were chairs meant for witnesses, defendants, and attorneys. Now Clara Garrison stood there with her lawyer to one side and Maude Clarke to the other, talking quietly, a small island of calm in the noise and constant movement of the gathering crowd. Clara was carefully dressed, confident and professional but unassuming. Dr. Clarke too was dressed to convey both her profession and status, but she was a smaller woman, quite matronly in both shape and persona, and thus was usually overlooked or underestimated by the men she came into contact with. The sight of Drs. Garrison and Clarke talking together was a familiar one, something Sophie had seen many times every day while she was in training. It was disconcerting to see them here, ready to be examined rather than to conduct an examination.
As Sophie looked through the room she realized that most of the prominent female physicians active in the city had come to sit in watchful support, including Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi, the most demanding and uncompromising faculty member at the medical school for women.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for the novels of Sara Donati
"One of those rare stories that let you breathe the air of another time, and leave your footprints on the snow of a wild, strange place."—Diana Gabaldon
“Each time you open a book, you hope to discover a story that will make your spirit of adventure and romance sing. This book delivers on that promise.”—Amanda Quick
“A powerful adventure story…Gorgeous, vividly described.”—People
“Lushly written…Exemplary historical fiction, boasting a heroine with a real and tangible presence.”—Kirkus Reviews
“From page one, the action is non-stop. The more you read, the better it gets.”—Tulsa World
Reading Group Guide
1. From the very first pages of the novel, Sister Mary Augustin’s observations of Dr. Anna Savard give readers a sense of how different Anna is from her contemporaries. Discuss these differences about Anna, with regard to her profession, her dress, and her attitudes. Do these traits make her a sympathetic character, or not?
2. Anna and Sophie Savard are descendants of Nathaniel Bonner, the patriarch in Sara Donati’s “Into the Wilderness” series. If you have read that series, how do you think the women in The Gilded Hour have evolved from their ancestors? What personality traits do you see have been passed down through the generations, and what is different about the Savard women in 1883? How are Anna and Sophie alike and different?
3. Although she met many orphans in Hoboken, why is Anna immediately sensitive to Rosa Russo’s situation? How does Rosa’s plight resonate with her? Why does she feel responsible to find Rosa’s brothers?
4. The setting of New York City plays a major role in the story. What surprised you the most about New York in 1883? How would this story have differed if it was set in the South? A rural town? A European city?
5. The Gilded Hour frequently juxtaposes the very rich with the very poor, such as when Anna and Cap attend an extravagant costume ball at Alva Vanderbilt’s house, while thousands of orphans spend the night homeless. What other passages, characters, or settings illuminate the class disparities existing in New York at the time?
6. Sophie identifies as a “free woman of color.” How does this shape and inform her actions and thoughts throughout the story?
7. Why is Anna drawn to Jack? What makes them a good match, and how does the romance change Anna, if at all?
8. A theme that works throughout the novel is the rejection of society’s expectations. Discuss how several of the protagonists—Anna, Sophie, Jack, Aunt Quinlan, Cap—exemplify this theme. Are there characters who embrace society’s unspoken rules or stereotypes? How are those characters portrayed?
9. Sophie agrees to marry Cap despite his deteriorating health condition, and to accompany him to the clinic in Switzerland. How hard is this decision for her? Could you marry someone, knowing they will likely be gone within a year?
10. Were you surprised by the treatment and attitudes toward women during the 19th century? Discuss the idea of women as the “weaker sex” that permeated society during this time, particularly as portrayed by Archer Campbell and Anthony Comstock. Do you think most women were unhappy during this time?
11. When discussing the Campbell case with Anna, Aunt Quinlan poses the question “Ubi est morbus?” or “Where is the disease?” What does she mean by this? How would you answer her? How does it help Anna interpret the case?
12. Why do you think Anna agrees to let Mabel Stone take the four Campbell boys away from their father to Rhode Island, while at the same time remaining conflicted about the adoption of Vittorio Russo in Staten Island? What is the difference between the two cases? Do you believe they did the right thing in either case?
13. Elise Mercier finds the pressed roses that Anna kept from one of her first conversations with Jack, and realizes that Anna can be both an educated, strong woman, and also sentimental. Why is this duality so surprising to Elise, and what does it say about the importance of love and relationships in these women’s lives?
14. What evidence do Jack and Oscar have to support their suspicions of Neill Graham? What are your thoughts about him, his family, and his connection to the crimes being investigated?
15. In the movie version of this story, what actors would you cast to play each role, and why?
16. When looking at the many social issues highlighted in the novel, including race, class, women’s rights, abortion, crime, immigration, and health care, what idea or argument do you think the author is trying to get across? Compare the issues she presents in 1883 to those same issues in present day. What has changed? What has stayed the same?