A LADY NAMED ROSE
The worst snowstorm of the season began the evening of the annual Ice Carnival in January. It started innocently enough, with light flurries that melted even before touching the ground, but would soon escalate to a blizzard the likes of which Rose hadn't seen in years and--considering the events that would take place--would remember the rest of her life.
Rose huddled on a bench apart from the rest of the revelers. Over her bloomers and brassiere (no corsets for her anymore), she wore a slip, stockings, shirtwaist and skirt, a cashmere sweater, a brand-new down-filled coat--a Christmas gift to herself, scarf, wool hat, earmuffs, mittens and thick-soled galoshes. And still she was cold.
"Rosie, you're missing all the fun!" Angelica hollered as she glided by on the frozen surface of Sunset Lake.
"Oh, I'm just fine!" Rose yelled back.
But she wasn't fine. All those innocent people, glibly coasting along with absolutely no concept of the menace underneath their feet. One hairline crack and one of their number would be gone--swallowed in a freezing embrace...
"Rose? Why aren't you skating?" It was Vincent, ruddy-faced from the exertion and the cold. Rose stared at her blankly. "You look positively ill. Why don't you come get a hot chocolate, it'll warm you."
Rose gladly allowed herself to be lead away to the tent where refreshment tables displayed all sorts of delights. Her stomach growled, and she realized with a start that she hadn't eaten since breakfast due to anxiety over the upcoming event. It happened every year.
A short while later, after gorging on a hot dog with a generous helping of sauerkraut, a funnel cake dipped in powdered sugar, AND the hot chocolate, Rose was ready to retreat to her bed in the dorm, but Vincent had other plans for her.
"I need you to be my partner in the sled race," she announced.
"Vera wanted to skate," Vincent explained. "And you looked so lonesome sitting there by yourself."
That was how Rose ended up sledding down the side of a hill and falling off--on her bottom--in a bank of old snow. She tried to stand but with all the heavy clothing weighing her down, she only managed to roll over on her side. This set off a fit of hysterical laughter from Vincent, infectious laughter that spread to Rose and to all the other participants in the race. For a moment, with fresh snowflakes on her cheeks, hat askew, and the warm glow of paper lanterns lighting the scene on the lake, Rose was a child again.
She turned to Vincent to suggest that they right the overturned sled and have another go at it. Her friend had grown silent and was watching the skaters with a puzzled frown.
"Rose," she asked, "what's the matter with Charlotte?"
Charlotte had been keeping pace with Vera and Angelica, but was now lagging far behind. She stumbled a few times as they watched, but the other skaters were oblivious.
Charlotte had been looking rather wan the past few days, and had reverted to her old eating habits. After swearing Rose to secrecy that morning, Vera confided that Charlotte hadn't heard from Arthur in a week.
Just as Rose was about to respond to Vincent's question, Charlotte pitched forward and collapsed on the ice.
Someone screamed. Several skaters rushed to Charlotte's aid; a few knelt at her side.
Rose and Vincent were on their feet and running to the scene within seconds. On the ice, Angelica and Vera realized what happened and reversed their course. As they looked on, two men (male guests were allowed for the Ice Carnival) hooked Charlotte's limp arms around their shoulders and gently guided her back to shore. Apparently, someone had been able to revive her.
Once she was safely off the ice, Rose, Vincent, Angelica and Vera surrounded her protectively. Vera, ever the level-headed one, began to unlace her roommate's skates. "She's shaking," she commented. "Let's get her out of the cold right away!"
Another student inquired, "Does she need a doctor?"
Charlotte, who had thus far said nothing, shocked them all with her reaction. "No!!! I'll be fine, thank you."
She continued to rebuff offers of assistance and struggled to her feet. Gradually the onlookers drifted away until only Charlotte and her friends remained. She tried to convince them that she was capable of reaching the dormitory on her own, but they all insisted upon accompanying her.
Vera forced Charlotte to lie down under a warm coverlet, and Rose and Vincent returned to the carnival for some hot chocolate for her. One of Vincent's professors cornered her and engaged her in conversation before they could leave, so Rose returned to Charlotte's room alone.
A visibly shaken Vera met her at the door.
"Vera, what's wrong--" Rose stopped short and gaped at Charlotte, who was rocking back and forth, knees drawn to her chest. Her chignon had come loose and strands of disheveled hair covered her face. She whimpered like a child who'd been threatened with punishment.
"I can't have a baby!" she cried. "I can't! My father will beat me!"
Rose turned first to Angelica, who was seated in a corner and refused to meet her eyes; then to Vera. Neither of them had ever looked as frightened as they did at that moment.
The three of them held a whispered conference in the dark comfort of Rose and Angelica's room, long after Charlotte had succumbed to sleep.
"Is she certain?" Rose asked.
Vera nodded. "She went to a doctor in town."
"Does Arthur know?"
"Why do you think he's disappeared?" Vera's voice was laced with scorn and fear. "She told the scoundrel the minute she suspected and now it seems he's run off."
"Oh, this is terrible!" Angelica lamented. "She'll have to leave school."
"She can't stay, Vera, not in her condition."
Vera spoke slowly, carefully. "I spoke with someone tonight. One of the members of the Suffrage Club works with an underground organization that distributes contraceptives to poor women in New York." She paused. "She's going to put me in contact with someone tomorrow, someone who can...take care of Charlotte's problem."
Angelica gasped. "An abortionist!"
"But, that's illegal!" Rose protested. "Charlotte could go to prison."
"I spoke with Charlotte," Vera replied. "It's what she wants. She was adamant about it."
"But what if Arthur comes to his senses and decides he wants to marry her?" Angelica persisted.
"He won't! He's a coward. And even if he did, her father wouldn't allow it. You heard what she said. Her whole family is terrified of him."
"He can't keep her from marrying Arthur," Angelica muttered, but Rose knew from experience that he very well could.
Vera went on speaking as if she hadn't heard. "I am to phone my friend at seven tomorrow morning, before we leave for breakfast, and she'll tell me how to reach the doctor."
Rose asked timidly, "Vera, are you sure you should be involved in this?"
Vera fixed her with a disdainful look that silenced her doubts for the remainder of the evening.
But privately, those doubts festered in her mind. In the wee hours of the morning she lay wide awake, listening to Angelica's restless tossing in the other bed. She knew the risk Vera and Charlotte were taking, and it could mean Charlotte's death.
It had happened to someone Rose knew in finishing school. Not a friend, just an older acquaintance, but someone she knew fairly well nonetheless. One morning she didn't show up for class, nor the next. At first, her classmates were told she'd moved away, and that was that, but then the headmistress made the somber and mysterious announcement that she'd died suddenly. And the rumors began circulating. One mutual friend of Rose and the deceased finally confided in Rose that she knew what had really happened: the girl had found herself in an unspeakable predicament, and wishing herself free of the problem, drank half a bottle of ammonia. Rose didn't want to believe her, but even with no one confirming this version of events, she knew it was true.
She also knew that she could have been in the very same predicament after the sinking. Only her solution would not have been a bottle of ammonia, but the only one she knew at the time--to turn to her mother for help. Another means of suicide, only slower and more painful.
"Rose, are you awake?"
"I'm scared for Charlotte." Angelica's voice quavered.
"So am I."
The next sounds Rose heard were the pounding of feet. People running in a panic, shouting for help...
"Rose? Angelica? Wake up!"
Angelica was shaking her. "Rose, get up! We're late!"
In her groggy state Rose became aware that someone was pounding on their door. How rude, she thought--until she caught sight of the clock on her vanity. It was nearly ten past seven.
"I locked the door to keep her out," Angelica whispered. "But she won't go away."
"Rose, it's Vera. Please let me in!"
"Don't you dare!" Angelica warned, but Rose was already at the door, lifting the latch. Vera waited in the hallway, an apologetic expression on her pale face. Behind her stood Miss Henderson.
"Still in your nightclothes?" the matron remarked, raising an eyebrow. "And I thought you ladies were improving." She moved on toward the stairway. "Better hurry," she called over her shoulder. "There'll be hotcakes and sausage this morning."
Vera slipped into their room and closed the door quietly behind her. She wasted no time in passing along the instructions she'd been given.
"He really wants to see her today?" Rose asked, incredulous.
"He wants her money," Angelica spat.
"The arrangements are made, but there's just one problem," Vera began, and hesitated.
Just then the polite knocking that they'd come to recognize as Charlotte's sounded at the door. The dark circles under her eyes attested to the fact that she'd lost sleep, too.
Without preamble, she asked Vera, "Is she going to do it?"
"Is who going to do what?" Angelica asked.
Charlotte and Vera exchanged glances, then Charlotte turned to Angelica. "I need a place to stay after...just until I'm able to travel. And you said the troupe is on tour and the boarding house is empty..."
Angelica shook her head vigorously. "NO! No, I will not let you rope me into this--this scheme of yours. We could all be arrested!"
"If anything happens--and I'm not suggesting that anything will go wrong--you can say you know nothing about it," Vera said.
Angelica turned her back and covered her face with her hands. For a moment Rose felt overwhelmingly sorry for her.
"Please, Angelica!" Charlotte begged. "I'll only ask this one favor of you."
Angelica spoke without turning back to face her. "And if anyone sees you, you won't tell them why you're there?"
"I promise, no one will ever know but us."
Angelica finally caved in, and the three women began to make their arrangements. It was agreed they would skip breakfast and catch the earliest train possible into Grand Central, as the snow was accumulating fast and there was no telling how often the trains would be running later. Rose provided them with a schedule and began hurriedly pinning up her hair for breakfast.
"Are you coming with us?" Vera asked her.
Rose paused, hands in midair. The thought hadn't crossed her mind.
She happened to glance in the mirror and caught Charlotte's eye. Her friend's weary, desperate look made up her mind.
"Yes, of course," she said.
It was a good thing she did.