Strangers came most often. Dark-skinned women and others, milky pale, most of them of middle years but one quite young and beautiful.
Hannah said, I don’t believe in O’seronni angels, go away and let me sleep. The young woman said, Finish this broth and I will go, but let me assure you first I am no angel. Then another face, this one immediately familiar though she had not seen the man in many years. Quick dark eyes underscored by shadows, strong nose and chin, hair cut unfashionably short, shot with gray.
She said, “Did you die of drink, Dr. Savard?”
He laughed, and that was when Hannah understood that she was awake, that she would live, and that she had failed Jennet completely.
At first the periods of wakefulness were short, but Hannah found that if she fought for more than her body was ready to give her, she paid in another lost day.
“Malaria,” Dr. Savard told her. He must be forty now, and Hannah found that the ten years had mellowed him in some ways but not all: He was still plainspoken when it came to his medical opinions. “And pneumonia of both lungs on top of that. I thought more than once that we would lose you.”
“Indians don’t get malaria, I’ve been told,” Hannah said.
“A hypothesis you have disproved.”
He looked very healthy, which was a bit of a surprise. She told him as much.
“Things change,” he told her with his old acerbity. “I no longer drink, and you, I see, are out of the habit of dining with senators.”
His transformation was due, Hannah saw, to the attentions of the woman who nursed her, a Quaker by her dress, and Dr. Savard’s wife. Julia Savard was of an age with her husband, a neat, pretty woman whose hands were red and rough with hard work, but whose way of speaking marked her for the daughter of a privileged family. She was also the mother of the beautiful young woman who came every day to feed Hannah broth and tea. The girl seemed pleased to see Hannah recovering, if for no other reason than she had one more person to talk to. Rachel was sixteen and in need of a confidant who was not her mother or her stepfather or, worst of all, her young brother.
While she was with Hannah, Rachel talked constantly in a light, easy way that was distracting and comforting both. She told Hannah the story of her life thus far, and more important, what lay ahead of her: courtship and marriage. It seemed that such things were much more complicated in New Orleans than they had been in Manhattan.
“It has been a lesson in humility,” Rachel told Hannah. “And one my mother says was overdue. At home—in Manhattan—a daughter of the Livingston line was always sought after, but here—” She flicked her fingers toward the window. Her manner was studiously dismissive, but Hannah saw the confusion and unhappiness the girl did not really mean to hide.
“You are not Creole,” Hannah said.
“I am not French.” Rachel sniffed. “If it weren’t for the fact that my uncle Livingston married a Creole lady, I would be received only by the wives of the American merchants and lawyers.”
When Julia finally realized how Rachel was spending her time in the sickroom, she would have put an immediate stop to it, had Hannah not insisted.
“She does me a world of good,” Hannah said. “I’m learning quite a bit about the way the city works, or fails to.”
Hannah found it easy to talk to Julia, who understood without explanation what a disaster this illness had been for Hannah. Rachel needed to talk about fashion and the parties given by her aunt Livingston, and Hannah needed to talk about the fact that by falling ill she may have cost her cousin everything. And then the fever bore her away again.
In the next days she took note of very little beyond the constant struggle to breathe with lungs that seemed to be filled with hot water. She could make sense of nothing, least of all why there should always be someone forcing more liquid into her mouth. As if the world were not wet enough; as if she were not already in danger of floundering.
When her head began to clear and she realized that she was getting better, that she would survive, she began to worry again. And she came to understand how patients fell in love with their nurses, because the sight of Julia at her
door filled her with a weepy gratitude. She was always calm and good-humored and endlessly understanding of what Hannah needed before she could even think how to ask; she brought cool water and sweet tea to drink, warm water and fine milled soap to wash away sweat and the stink of illness, and newspapers that she read out loud in her clear, precise way.
It was during one of these sessions that Hannah finally recognized Julia. She had tilted her head, which was wrapped with a wealth of dark blond braids that peeked out from under a neatly folded linen cap, and the sun struck her face in a certain way. At that moment Hannah made a connection she might have seen earlier if she had been well.
“You are Dr. Simon’s daughter.” It was at Valentine Simon’s Manhattan clinic that Hannah had studied under Dr. Savard, the summer she had learned how to vaccinate against smallpox. “But I thought—” She stopped herself, suddenly unsure of her memory.
“You do remember,” said Julia. “I wondered if you would, we met so briefly. Your uncle Spencer introduced us one day in the park that summer you spent in Manhattan. I was Mrs. Livingston then. My first husband—Rachel’s father—died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1803.”
She said all this as she straightened the bed coverings, and then she sat down on the chair beside it and folded her hands in her lap with the air of someone finishing a story she has told many times before.
“We came here when Paul’s father started to decline, more than a year ago now.”
“Dr. Savard’s father lives nearby?”
“He did,” Julia said. Her gaze shifted to her own hands, and Hannah had the idea that she might be praying, briefly. “Yellow fever, again. Both my father-in-law and his second wife.”
“That is very hard,” Hannah said.
Julia folded her hands together tightly. “There are important things to talk about, I think, now that you are stronger. I can see you are ready to leave us, or at least you think you are.”
“You have saved my life,” Hannah said. “But I must go. There are people who are waiting for me, who are depending on me. They will think I am dead.”
This speech brought on a bout of coughing. When it had ended, Paul Savard was standing in the doorway. He said, “We will send word for you, but you’re not going anywhere just now or all Julia’s nursing will have been wasted. Your lungs are barely recovered, Hannah Bonner, you know yourself what that means.”
“You don’t understand,” Hannah said. “My brother, his wife—”
Julia Savard exchanged a pointed glance with her husband, who came in to stand beside the bed.
“Then you must tell us,” Julia Savard said. “Tell us exactly what it is you need, and we will do our best to help
“Best to wait,” said Dr. Savard. “Until my brother can be found. He’s more likely to be of help to you than I can be.”
Hannah woke at the sound of voices at her door. Julia came in first, with a boy of about seven years close beside her. He had Paul Savard’s dark hair and eyes and Julia’s mouth and chin, though set in a much more resolute and willful line than his mother’s.
“Papa thought you were going to die,” said Henry Savard with all the tact of a young boy. “So just about everybody got to sit with you while they waited to see if you would. Except me, they wouldn’t let me in.”
“Henry,” said Julia and Rachel together.
He looked a little abashed. “I’m glad you didn’t die,” he explained. “Now you can tell me stories about your family and the Indians and the Ohio territory. You were there, Papa said.”
“I was,” Hannah agreed. “I do have many stories to tell.”
“Stories that will have to wait,” said Paul Savard from the doorway. “If I may introduce you, Dr. Bonner—”
There were few men in the world who would give her that title, but Paul was one of them.
“—my brother, Jean-Benoît Savard.”
Paul’s brother ducked his head to clear the doorway and came into the light.
Jean-Benoît Savard was a man who made his living out-of-doors; his hands were rough with work, and his clothes rougher still. He might be a farmer or a woodsman or a hunter; he might be a soldier, out of uniform. His silence
was not born of hesitation or good manners or even care for her fragile health, but because he was observing. In his expression she saw the same sharp intelligence that had propelled Paul through the most difficult medical education in the world, but a calm that was distinctive and his own.
Beyond those things, it was clear that the two men had not shared the same mother. Paul was white; his brother’s skin was neither black nor white nor red, but all three, like iron-rich clay mixed with earth and then stirred into a great deal of pale sand. The two brothers looked nothing alike, except for the fact that they both had very dark hair shorn almost to the scalp. This made Paul’s face seem narrow and sharp, but in Jean-Benoît’s case it gave prominence to large, deep-set eyes with hooded lids, eyes the blue-green of Caribbean waters over a sandbar, or turquoise beads wrapped around the wrists of veiled women. Shocking eyes in that particular face, with its high flat cheekbones and a strong nose and a sharply defined mouth, too full for a man but still somehow severe.
“Ben has come to hear your story. He knows this city better than I ever will,” said Paul.
“Uncle Ben knows everything,” said Henry Savard. “He knows the ciprière and the river and the swamps and the bayous and everybody who lives in a thousand miles. Uncle,” he said pointedly, “never gets lost.”
“Henry,” said Julia Savard gently.
“And my sister Rachel knows what my uncle doesn’t,”