Where the Light Enters: Excerpt 2

January 1, 1884

Dear Auntie, Dear every one of you,

The Swiss greet each other on New Year’s Eve with this saying: ‘Rutscht gut rein ins neue Jahr!’ If I understand correctly this means ‘I wish you a good slide into the New Year,’ which I suppose makes sense, given the snow and the mountains and the amount of Schnapps consumed during New Year’s Eve celebrations.  For some reason no one can explain, pigs are considered good luck at the New Year, and thus this small offering in India ink rather than pink marzipan.

Aunt Quinlan is not, I trust, sliding anywhere, but sitting snug in the parlor wrapped in the blue shawl that brings out the color of her eyes, with the rest of you gathered all around. How we would like to be there with you to wish you good health and happiness in this new year 1884. With all my heart I wish those things for you.

Cap was especially sad to miss Mrs. Lee’s traditional New Year’s Eve turkey dinner. Apparently that particular bird is unknown in the Alps. But do not fear: we are served good food in abundance. Mrs. Fink is not quite so talented as Mrs. Lee, but still we are eating regularly and very well.

All is calm just now, as Cap is napping. Pip is tucked up against Cap’s shoulder with his nose pressed against the pulse point just below the left ear, an attentive little dog with the instincts of a nurse. This means that I have a short while to write without pauses for cross examination.

Do you remember how Cap told us he wouldn’t miss practicing law? As it turns out, he could only make that claim because he knew he would still have me to practice on. Whatever I write, to whomever I am writing, if I don’t send it off to the post before he realizes what I am up to, he insists that I read every sentence to him. His contribution to my letters consists of suggestions for alternate phrasing and, on occasion, challenges to my reasoning, memory or grammar. More than once I have been tempted to throw the ink pot at his head (this seems to be a family tradition, established by Aunt Quinlan shortly before her first marriage when she hit Uncle Ballentyne in the forehead with some kind of pot, if I remember the story correctly). Fortunately Cap always stops just short of inciting me to violence. And then he finds some way to make me laugh.

We might have known that a stay in a sanatorium, no matter how secluded and hemmed in by alpine glaciers, would not put an end to his curiosity. Even the mycobacterium tuberculosis bacillus has not accomplished so much. He is still working his way through the clinic’s medical library and every publication that deals, however peripherally, with diseases of the lung. At this point I believe he knows as much about tuberculosis as I do. Luckily Dr. Zängerle is better informed than I.

If Cap is not strong enough on a given day to hold a book, I am pressed into reading aloud. Even when he can read and write for himself, my assistance is required for interrogation on medical terminology (though that happens less often as his studies progress). This often involves forays into Latin and Greek etymology and anatomical texts and illustrations. His lungs are failing but his mind is as acute as ever.

Your letter dated December 9th arrived this morning, taken down so diligently by Mrs. Lee in her careful script. Today we also had a letter from Conrad about the custody hearing. The news is distressing, to say the least. If only I had something useful to say or contribute beyond the letters I write. Until there is some decision from the court I will assume that things will take a reasonable and just end, and the children will stay on Waverly Place with Anna and Jack, where they belong.

I’m sorry to say that my weekly report on Cap’s condition is also not what I would hope. A few days ago his right lung collapsed. In an otherwise healthy person, a collapsed lung will often right itself in time, with bed rest and breathing exercises. In advanced pulmonary tuberculosis it is quite common, far more critical, and rarely resolved. In Cap’s case the collapse was not fatal because Dr. Zängerle was so quick. With Dr. Messmer’s assistance he inserted a drainage tube between Cap’s ribs and into the pleura, with the end result that his lung did re-inflate. The tube remains in place despite the fact that there are serious complications that could arise from this artificial opening, but as you are aware, medical science is an exercise in constant juggling of risks and benefits.

What all this means, as I think you will know, is that he is not improving. I can admit to you that I never believed that alpine air and fortified nutrition would reverse the damage to his lungs, but I did hope that it would slow the progress of the disease. As it may have done. In any case, I am where I belong, here with him. He will leave me too soon, but until that day I will make the most of every moment.

Cap is stirring. It is a relief when he is able to fall into a deep sleep; for that short time he looks more like the boy I first met when I came to Waverly Place almost twenty years ago. He was so alive, I could never have imagined him like this. Now I must close this letter before he demands that I read it to him.

With all my love and affection your devoted niece, cousin, auntie and friend  



Post Script: We have had a letter from Margaret, who is in Greece with her boys. Travel does seem to suit her very well.  There was also a long letter from Lucy, with news of her latest adventures.

Post Script for Mrs. Lee:  The sight of your handwriting on an envelope gives us both such pleasure. Most of all we look forward to the small notes and observations you provide in the margins. It is almost like hearing your voice, which might be the thing I miss most. Please give our love to Mr. Lee and your family.

And for Lia: To answer the question added to the end of Auntie Q’s last letter, yes, the housekeeper’s name really is Hannelore Fink. In German ‘fink’ doesn’t mean the same thing that it does in English.

Where the Light Enters: Excerpt 2

JANUARY 13, 1884


Sources close to the investigation and hearing on the custody of the Russo orphans provided transcripts of some of the testimony taken in Judge Sutherland’s chambers. In particular the interview with Rosa, the eldest of the Russo children, provides background and context which has been otherwise missing from the public exchanges. A verbatim excerpt from the transcript of Mr. Falcone’s questioning of the orphan Rosa Russo follows.

Mr. Falcone: Miss Russo, please tell Judge Sutherland about your trip to Staten Island with your current guardians.

Rosa Russo:  We went to find Vittorio, my baby brother. Mr. Lee drove us to the ferry, then we took a train and then a horse and carriage. But Vittorio was gone when we got there.

Mr. Falcone: The weather was very bad, isn’t that right? And you and your little sister were soaked to the skin and got colds.

Rosa Russo: What does that have to do with anything? We went to find Vittorio, because the bad priest took him and wouldn’t give him back.

Mr. Falcone: Miss Russo, Father McKinnawae dedicates his life to the care of orphaned children in danger. It is disrespectful to refer to him as anything but Father McKinnawae. Do you understand?

Rosa Russo: I understand that he took our brother and wouldn’t give him back.

Mr. Falcone: Did Father McKinnawae tell you that he had your brother in his care, that he had arranged an adoption?

Rosa Russo: People who do bad things don’t like to admit what they do.

Mr. Falcone: So I take that to mean that Father McKinnawae never told you he had placed your brother with an adoptive family.

Rosa Russo: You know what you need to do? You need to make him swear on the Bible and then ask him. Judge Sutherland could you please do that, make the priest swear on the Bible and then answer a question? Because his lawyer is asking me a question that only the bad priest himself can answer.

Judge Sutherland: Rosa, I see the logic of your suggestion, but for right now please answer Mr. Falcone’s questions to the best of your ability.

Rosa Russo: Yes sir. I will try.

Mr. Falcone: Now, once again. Did Father McKinnawae tell you that he placed your brother with a new family?

Rosa Russo: The bad priest never answers questions. He just asks them.

Mr. Falcone: Miss Russo, I understand that you are distraught but I will ask you to remember your manners. Let’s try this from a different direction. Why are you so sure that Father McKinnawae placed your brother with an adoptive family? Who told you this?

Rosa Russo: Nobody.

Mr. Falcone: But you must have got the idea from someplace. From someone. Was it Dr. Savard who told you this?

Rosa Russo: You can learn things without being told. You learn things by watching and listening. And reading.

Mr. Falcone: Is it possible that you overheard something about your brother Vittorio that you misunderstood, or was simply incorrect?

Rosa Russo: No. That is not possible.

Mr. Falcone: Are you familiar with the idea of ‘wishful thinking’ when you desire something so much, you imagine it to be true?

Rosa Russo: I’m supposed to be polite and respect you, but you want to trick me. It’s not fair that you try to get me to say something that will make Auntie Anna look bad when she did nothing but good things. When we came to Roses she didn’t send us away. She gave us a big bed to sleep in with warm covers, and good clothes, and lots to eat, and hot water and soap for baths and Auntie Quinlan who speaks Italian and Auntie Sophie who knows lots of stories and Auntie Margaret knows about corsets and manners and who taught me to read. And Mr. Lee and Mrs. Lee who feed us and teach us about gardens and who took us to church even when I didn’t want to go. All the bad priest did was take my brother and give him to a family and refuse to give him back to us. Make the bad priest swear on the Bible and ask him where Vittorio is, and see then who is good and who is bad. And also, that priest doesn’t like Uncle Jack because Nonna is Jewish and she is the best person in the world –

Mr. Falcone: Judge Sutherland –

Judge Sutherland: Let her finish.

Rosa Russo: Thank you. And he doesn’t like Auntie Anna because she thinks free* but most of all because she doesn’t obey him. He doesn’t like anybody who isn’t exactly like him and who doesn’t obey his rules. But I’m not like him and I don’t want to be like him. I just wanted my brother back, my baby brother who I was there when he was born and I gave mama sips of water and did what the levatrice — the midwife — said. And I promised mama when she was dying I would take care of my brothers and my sister, but the nuns lost my brothers, and all I wanted was to find them again. And now I don’t want to answer any more questions. Not until the bad priest answers some of my questions first.

Judge Sutherland: I think we’ll end the questioning for the day right here.

We at The New York Times read this transcript with great interest and some curiosity. Young Miss Russo raises a pertinent issue, and in fact records indicate that Father McKinnawae was questioned about the fate of the infant Vittorio Russo. When Mr. Belmont, attorney for the Mezzanotte-Savard family, asked whether or not the priest had any knowledge of the infant’s fate or whereabouts, Father McKinnawae declined to answer.

Editor’s Note: We believe that Miss Russo was referring to the fact that Dr. Savard is a proponent of Freethought, the philosophy espoused by Robert G. Ingersoll, “The Great Agnostic”.

Where the Light Enters

The second novel in this newer series is called Where the Light Enters. I finished writing it in October 2017, but it will be 2019 before it comes to the bookstores. Unfortunately I can’t do anything about the timing, as this is entirely up to the publisher.  I do apologize for the long wait.

In the meantime I will post short excerpts to take the sting out, I hope.

Note: this is not the actual cover of the novel, it’s just something I put together as a placeholder.

Excerpt 1: Sophie’s letter home

Excerpt 2: Article from the New York Times regarding the Russo orphans