A Daughter Of Liberty

The Yellow Fever Crisis Worsens

December 27, 2018

Tags: Historical, Fiction, Valley Forge, Burning Of Washington, Philadelphia

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

IT WAS JUST after midday on Wednesday, August 21, that Diana received a message from Mister Walsh urgently requesting her presence. She put on a heavy walking dress and high boots for the short journey. She drew on long gloves and pinned a heavy veil to her hat, so not an inch of flesh was exposed. She loaded a cotton swath with penny royal and dabbed every possible gateway with the strong-smelling oil.

Diana knew what lay outside. It wasn't the stifling heat she was guarding against. Some said Philadelphia was the hottest port town in the nation, even hotter and more humid than Savannah. Diana didn't doubt this, but she saw the weather as just a condition no one could change, so there was no sense in complaining. Besides, she noted the most vocal of the complainers seemed to be the rich. They could spend the summer in one of the cool luxury homes along the Schuylkill, or even flee to kinder climes. Diana had to stay. She had a business to run. More importantly, she had many people who depended on her. What would they do if she left? How would they eat? Provide for their families? No, for the working class there could be no escape, no matter how unpleasant or intense the season.

There was one thing about this summer she detested. She knew it was silly and leftover childhood nonsense fear. But it was there just the same.

Mosquitoes disgusted her. The thought of one of them piercing her flesh and sucking her blood almost made her violently ill. It was because of Nate Hatch, and one of his favorite summer jests. In the long, sultry afternoons after a storm, he would sit on the stoop drinking with his friends, slapping at the mosquitoes that prized this weather. He would drink and talk until he became bleary, flushed, and full of that touchy kind of humor that borders quick anger. When he was ready for his little joke, he would hush everyone to silence and demand loudly that they sit quite still. Then he would bare a fat, hairy arm to the buzzing insects. They would alight by the scores. Then he'd suddenly tense, trapping their beaks in his flesh. He'd laugh, waving his arm about like a great prize. Then he would smash all but a few. His arm would run with blood, trickling through the thick black hairs and mingling with the beads of sweat. The others he would let escape. There would be greater laughter as the insects bumped about, stunned from the alcoholic brew they'd sucked in along with his blood.

The first time Diana witnessed this jest, she'd been quite small. He had spied her at some menial task, shushed his companions, and called her over to see. When he began slapping at the beasts and the blood ran, she had screamed and ran to Gramer Fahey, where she was sick all over the floor. The old woman tried to tell her it was just Nate Hatch being a fool. But little Diana was inconsolable. She couldn't get the blood and the mosquitoes and Mister Hatch's mocking laugh from her head. It was a joke he'd terrorized her with ever since that day.

Now that she was the mistress of her own home and business, she saw no reason for torment. When the sultry season came, she ordered the windows covered with muslin doused with penny royal. She even went so far as to use a trick that Gramer Fahey had taught her. The wrigglers that became mosquitoes, the old woman pointed out, lived in standing pools of water. A little oil applied to the water would cover the surface with a thin scum, and the wrigglers would smother. It was a remedy Diana had carried out with a passion. If she spotted the smallest little puddle in the court or her gardens, or if she saw the little wrigglers swimming about in a rain barrel, Diana would run to fetch the oil. And she would gleefully murder every one of them.

Her friends' house was a twitter of servants when she arrived. All was in disorder, with small groups huddled about, whispering and casting dark looks at the staircase. Diana was met by Beth, Mrs. Walsh's personal maid. The woman's eyes were red-rimmed from weeping. She quickly led her up the stairs and tapped softly on Anne's bedroom door, which was flung open with such haste that Diana jumped back, startled. It was Mister Walsh. His face was drawn and gray, bare spots on his face stubbled from a too quick shave. His dress was uncharacteristically disheveled. His eyes were as red as the maid's.

He tried to speak, but his voice came out a croak. He shook his head, and Diana realized he was fearful he would break down if he tried to speak further. He wavered in front of her, struggling, then drew her into an embrace so desperate she could barely breathe. Diana didn't draw back. She let him hold her until he recovered and drew away.

"She's sick," was all he said. In such a trembling voice that Diana needed no other description.

"How long?"

"Three days. But it might as well be weeks for the toll it's taken. I wanted to send for a doctor, but she refused. She . . . Please, Diana . . . She asked for you."

She pushed past him into the room. Anne had aged twenty years. She lay unconscious in her bed, twisting and turning, uttering low moans. Diana touched her, the skin feverish. Anne's eyes opened at the touch. They were glazed and yellow at the edges. Then they sharpened as she recognized her friend. A hand moved toward Diana's slowly, as if it were a painful weight the arm could hardly bear. Fingers touched, then squeezed. She took a breath to speak, but all that issued from her lips was: "Diana ..." Then she was still. Her eyes closed again. So soft was the whisper, and so sudden the stillness, that for a second Diana feared her friend had died and her soul had taken flight.

She looked at Mister Walsh, who seemed as if he were about to rush headlong from the room, screaming wildly for help. And so, with a confidence she did not feel, she rose from the bed and began issuing a stream of orders. ". . .Go to the apothecary on Seventh Street . . . I'll need the bark . . . only the freshest will do . . . laudanum . . . the same . . . tell the cook . . . the very best broth ... I want it hearty . . . and fruit . . . again, fresh . . . boiled to a soup and chilled…"

Soon staff and Mister Walsh were running about to do her bidding. She turned back to Anne to start thinking what she really needed to do. First, it was plain Mister Walsh was not happy with this arrangement. He wanted a doctor. And he wanted him now! Specifically, he wanted Dr. Alexander, to whom he paid thirty dollars a year insurance to treat his family. Diana knew the man to be a disciple of Dr. Rush, a confirmed believer in massive bleeding and purging. Anne and Diana had talked about Michael Walsh's faith in modern science and medicine. It was a faith both felt unjustified, especially Diana. She had witnessed more people killed or injured by doctors' cures than made whole. Anne had made her promise if she ever really fell ill, to dissuade "dear Michael from summoning a powder wig who will lay me in an early grave with his remedies."

The trouble was, although Diana knew much about country medicine, and had been forced to depend solely on her knowledge most of her life for the good of her family and friends, she felt herself far from expert. The great problem she had right now was if she tried to call in someone with more expertise, Mister Walsh would overrule her. Dr. Alexander would come, with his purges and his emetics and plasters so hot, the skin would blister and scar.

At this moment it was Diana, or . . . Ah, but you're here, Diana Shannon. And you must act. So, displaying a confidence that she didn't feel, she set about her task. She had the maids haul in a tub and fill it with icy water. She undressed Anne herself and helped lift her into the bath. There was only a sigh from her friend and she remained unconscious. Diana had Beth bring in pans of hot water, and she washed Anne's hair and dried it tenderly.

She had the sheets and bedding changed and the mattress turned. They lifted Anne from the bath, dried her and placed her on the bed. Diana sent for spirits and rubbed Anne's poor, frail body. Almost immediately the fever broke and the chills and sweats set in. Diana had her wrapped tightly in a sheet. When her supplies came, she had a soothing tea made up with a camomile base, which she dribbled through Anne's parted lips. She also sent for Madeira and mixed in a little laudanum. This she coaxed Mister Walsh into drinking. A preventative, she said. Actually she just wanted him out of her way.

As the hours progressed, she got some broth down her friend. Then the cold fruit soup to ease her constricted bowels. And water. So much water Anne groaned with the effort. But in time the padding she had placed beneath her was soiled and changed and soiled again. Diana stayed all night and most of the morning. By the time the midday sun pressed through the open windows, Anne's eyes were open. And she was weakly alert.

In the parlor, Mister Walsh thanked Diana profusely, calling it a miracle. She told him flatly not to talk nonsense. Anne was strong, she said. She would heal herself.

Diana left directions for her treatment. The fever would return, she was sure of that; but in theory it should be milder. And if treated properly, should finally disappear.

"It's the way of the flux," she said. "It has to run its course before it can be coaxed out." She gave stern orders she was to be sent for if Anne's condition took a turn for the worse.

A weary Diana dragged herself back the few blocks to Elm Court. Nothing was changed outside. The air was still stifling. The dust still billowed up from cartwheels. The mosquitoes buzzed about in clouds thicker and blacker than that dust. People sat on their porches, or on the curbs in front of their shops, hardly moving in the intense heat. Halfheartedly brushing away insects that fed on them. Panting like dogs. But, after many weeks of drought, this was all quite normal.

What was making her uneasy? There was nothing remarkable about Anne's flux. Midwives and barbers and healers were always kept busy this time of year. Although she'd heard this summer was more severe than most. What was so different? So ominous?

When she reached her court, she realized what it was. A bell was tolling. For a funeral. Were there more funeral bells ringing of late, or was it her imagination?

* * * *

Diana was exhausted. All she wanted was to float away the filth from the streets in a hot bath, then fall into her bed to sleep. But the uneasy feeling persisted. She called her staff together.

There was Mrs. Leclerc, the head seamstress, high-strung and nervous, but sound, in Diana's judgment. The burly, aged Mister Park was her driver, loader, and general handyman, along with his two not too quick, but strong and willing sons. There was real strength in her housekeeper, Miss Graham, a rangy, middle-aged spinster who took no nonsense from anyone, especially James Emmett.

Finally, there was her cook, Mrs. Kenrick, a tubby, salty little widow of a ship's carpenter.

"What is the trouble, missus? Is it your friend, the dear Mrs. Walsh? Is she still unwell?" This from Miss Graham.

"She's doing better, thank you," Diana said. "And it's not about her. And I'm not sure if there's trouble or not. . . ." Her voice trailed off, uncertain. Her people looked at one another, worried. They'd never seen Diana uncertain.

"It's probably nothing," Diana said. "I'm being a child and letting my imagination go spooking in the forest. But . . . when I was returning home, I heard funeral bells ..."

" 'Twas only Paul Read. The old man who owned the Drunken Squab down Water Street way," said Mister Park, a man who knew his tavern keepers. "Died of the flux, I believe. No one will miss him, I suspect. He was a surly sort. And mean-spirited. He'd only buy a round when we threatened to take our business elsewhere." He gave a brisk nod at this, as if it was only to be expected that such a man was the special mark for the Reaper.

"But haven't there been more funerals of late?" Diana asked.

"No, missus, I don't believe it so," said her housekeeper. "Four or five a day at most, I should think. No more than usual. Especially in this heat. Which, as any thinking person knows, is nearly as hard on the old as a harsh winter." Miss Graham sniffed at Mister Park. She was of the opinion he lacked this natural talent. Although not as much as his sons.

So it wasn't the funeral bells. Still, with no letup in sight for the drought, Diana decided it was time to take a few extra precautions she'd had in mind for some weeks now. She explained what she wanted done and her reasons for it, so as not to unduly alarm her staff. The longer the drought, she said, the higher the market prices. She wanted to be prepared for as long a spell of harsh weather as possible. Also, Mrs. Walsh's illness reminded her of how many afflictions could strike the unwary during especially hot summers. Even so, the shopping list she laid out had them all raising startled eyebrows. There were so many supplies required that several trips would be needed.

The water level was falling in the well, she noted, so she also set Mister Park the task of deepening it. This was to be done immediately. She also wanted a good supply of those medicinals her garden didn't provide. If there was flux about to trouble her staff, she wanted to be prepared. She was too tired to hear them all out after she was done. She left them at the kitchen table, rattling on about their tasks and what assistance would be required from one another.

Her room was upstairs and overlooking the garden. An ancient elm shaded the room, so that even in the stillness it felt remarkably cool. All she wanted was sleep. The bath would wait. She stripped off her clothing, doused a soft cloth with scented spirits and dabbed herself all over. It brought instant relief. Coolness. She even imagined a touch of a chill. She pulled down the covers and crawled into bed, pulled a sheet over herself and fell into a deep sleep.

She awoke with a start just before dawn. Her heart was hammering as if she had just had a bad dream. Her throat was sore and raspy. Her limbs were aching and heavy, her skin dry and hot. She wanted badly to get up for a glass of water, but for some reason she found it impossible to move. For a moment she was frightened. Her senses seemed to be warning her. But of what? Was there something just beyond the door? She struggled to get up again. But then a great feeling of lethargy overtook her. Almost against her will, she was swept back to sleep.

But this time she dreamed constantly. Snatches of dreams, each one oddly troubling. Bits of innocuous conversation. But all of them loaded with peril just beneath the surface. Once she thought Miss Graham was trying to awaken her. Diana protested. But the woman kept tugging at her. Trying to tell her something. Something urgent.

"Is it Mrs. Walsh?" Diana thought she asked. But Miss Graham shook her head. Mumbled to her. Mumble. Mumble. Tug some more. Then the tugging became the sheet being pulled back around her and tucked in.

"What is it, Miss Graham?"

"Yellow fever," she said. At least that's what she thought she said.

"No it's not," Diana said, matter-of-factly. "Just a chill. A summer chill. Let me sleep."

"Yellow fever," Miss Graham said once again.

Would the woman never stop! Then a cold cloth was draped over her eyes and everything was comforting darkness again. The last thing she heard was the buzzing mosquitoes outside her window. The buzz grew louder and louder, until she could hear no more. The next time she awoke, there was a heavy thundering outside. The crack of lightning. The sound of a heavy downpour. She opened her eyes briefly. The curtains were closed, but she could hear the rain battering against the sill. The sill. The one that needed caulking. She must get up to see. Call Mister Park if it wanted fixing.

Miss Graham was asleep in a chair near the bed. What was she doing here? Why wasn't she in her own room? Then Diana realized it was the middle of the day. But which day? She knew she had been asleep for . . . well, a long time. Since she came back from Anne's house. She wondered how her friend was. On the table next to her bed, she saw a cup of tea. Was it for her? Of course it was. She touched the cup. Cold. But she was so thirsty, she didn't care. She lifted the cup to her lips and sniffed. Lemon tea. That's good. And something else. Brandy. Better. She drank it down, and was surprised there was no resistance from her sore throat. Then she realized her throat was fine now. In fact, she felt well all over. Except for this confounded sleepy feeling she couldn't shake.

She thought about waking Miss Graham. But the woman seemed so tired, poor dear. No, let her sleep. And in just one minute, I'll get up myself. Come on, woman!

You have a business to oversee. Get up and get about it. Yes. But just a small nap first. And then I'll . . .

* * * *

She didn't come fully awake again until Monday. It was August 26. Diana's diagnosis had been correct. She had only suffered a severe case of the summer chill. The storm was no dream. It had rained heavily for two days, but the drought had instantly seized the city in its hot grip again.

The incident involving Miss Graham had also been no dream. Her housekeeper had come to awaken her with urgent news. But then she had found her mistress desperately ill, and had nursed her and coaxed her back to sleep.

But what was the news, Miss Graham? What was so urgent? Farrell sick? James Emmett in trouble? A ship in port with goods at bargain prices?

"No, missus. It was in the papers. Everyone's dying! Yellow fever, missus. Yellow fever."

It began with chills, a desperate headache, and a rapidly climbing temperature. The bowels and bladder refused to work and so the chamber pot remained empty. This condition lasted several days, then the patient usually made a rapid recovery. In other words, yellow fever began as no more than a mild case of the summer flux.

Herbalists and wandering quacks did a brisk business in purgatives, restorers and tonics. But they were soon overwhelmed by what followed. The fever came back full force. The patient began vomiting black blood from internal hemorrhages. The skin turned bright yellow. Then came the typhoid state: stupor, deep depression, dry brown tongue, incontinence, a pulse rapid but weak, a sudden and frightening wasting. The stink of the sickroom was overpowering. Then the body turned a purplish hue. Death came within twelve hours. One symptom the doctors noted accompanying the disease was tiny, angry eruptions on the skin. They were usually inflamed, sore, and they itched. They looked like small bites, and no one could account for their presence.

* * * *

Diana's imagination hadn't regressed to childhood. She had heard more funeral bells than usual. On Thursday twelve had died. Thirteen on Friday. Saturday seventeen. Miss Graham wasn't sure about Sunday. Besides the weekend storm, the city had been put into a panic by the plague.

The storm had turned the dusty streets into a sea of mud. Despite this, hundreds of people had fled the fever. Entire wagonloads of personal belongings were left stranded in the muck as the well-off or unattached poured out of Philadelphia. As the weeks went on, the flood grew to even greater proportions. Employees and servants were abandoned without funds or means of getting any. And even if they had the money, there was little to buy. The market stalls were empty. Rotted fruit, vegetables, and animal carcasses were left lying in the gutters. Water was getting scarcer by the hour, since the countryside had also panicked and no water carts dared to cross the Schuylkill.

Meanwhile, the death toll was growing. Even as she and Miss Graham spoke, Diana could hear the church bells ringing. As soon as one stopped, presumably as the dead were lowered into their grave, another bell took up the mournful tolling. Miss Graham said people had become so fearful, the city fathers were considering banning the bells. As if that would hold back death itself. She said when coffins passed, people were slamming their doors and windows to shut out the plague.

"What else are they doing?" Diana asked.

Old public health laws were dusted off and put into action. Houses were ordered thoroughly cleaned and whitewashed, gutters flushed with precious water, sidewalks and streets scoured. The scavengers had been ordered to make daily pickups of garbage to reduce the number of breeding spots for the fever. Bonfires were also being lit. Tobacco and gunpowder burned on every street corner. Diana thought all this made good sense. Clean the city. Purge the air.

There was a sudden rolling crash, as if the storm had come back with three or four times the fury. All over her household, Diana heard shrieks of alarm. But she knew it wasn't thunder. It was a terrible sound she knew too well. For a moment she had an almost uncontrollable urge to flee to the safety of her root cellar. But this wasn't Cherry Valley. There was no threat of war or Indians.

She rushed out of the house, Miss Graham in her wake, and sprinted across the cobbled court street to the entrance. As she reached the corner, she saw the uniforms. It was a squad of soldiers, hauling a cannon. They would march in unison for ten or twenty yards, fire the cannon into the sky, reload, march on, stop, fire another volley. With each volley, windows shattered and old brickwork rattled loose and showered to the ground. Up and down the street people were shouting and screaming. The heavy scent of gunpowder was laden with the sickly, overpowering smell of tobacco from a roaring bonfire down the street.

A voice came from a few feet away. Diana turned to see a man sitting astride his horse. A gentleman. From his dress, he had just returned from a long journey. He was bewildered, asking what was going on. Before Diana could answer, shutters flew open overhead. She looked up to see a wild figure. A middle-aged man in his nightdress, his hair standing straight up on his head.

"Is that you, Mister Niven?" he shouted.

The man on the horse said he was.

"Why in God's name have you come back?" the man screamed. "It's the plague! Flee, man, flee!"

Without a word, Mister Niven swung his horse about and fled. At the corner he had to pull up fast, his horse pawing air and wheeling to the side. Another kick and the horse squeezed frantically past a hearse bearing a load of fever victims, and then was gone.

The coach was black. The driver in rags. A starveling no doubt, so hungry that he was willing to dare a nightmare to ease the one he was living. As the coach approached the soldiers, a young officer shouted for the driver to stop. The coach came on. The officer shouted again. Still it came on. Closer. The squad wavered. Now the officer was shouting at his men. But the coach still came, creaking forward with its fearful burden. The squad broke and ran. The officer stood there helpless beside the cannon. The coach passed. After a moment the officer walked away. There was nothing else to be done.

Diana turned back into the court. She would put her household in order and then see about Anne.

* * * *

The Walsh house was barred and shuttered. No one answered to the bell. Diana knocked next door. She spoke to a woman through shuttered windows. The woman didn't know anything. She thought Anne had died. Down the street, another conversation through barred windows. No, Anne had recovered, this person said. It was Mister Walsh who had died. Still another said both were well and had fled the city, taking all their servants. This made more sense, but not fully. If they had left, either Anne or Michael would have stopped to see her. Diana went home again, sure, at least, both were alive.

* * * *

Once again Diana called her staff together. The atmosphere was entirely different. No easy, but respectful jollity, or casual sniping at one another. And they were all dressed in their best clothes. Bathed. Coiffed. In Mister Park's case a few lonely strands of gray hair were slicked to his bare skull with water. Their faces were frightened. Eyes bruised from lack of sleep. All were silent. Waiting for what she would say.

Diana was surprised when she had learned that almost her entire household was intact. Few had bolted the city. At first she thought it was out of loyalty to her. This was only partly the case. As she looked at them, she realized they had no place else to go. No gardened farmhouse in the country. No summer place by a cool stream. No faraway relations with provisions to share beyond the immediate family. Now they fully expected Diana to issue final orders, then close up the house and go. Mrs. Leclerc sobbed softly, was patted to stillness by Miss Graham.

Diana asked if her orders had been carried out, the pre-visions bought and stored, the well deepened, the medicines stocked. Yes, all this had been done, Miss Graham assured her.

"I am schooled in keeping accounts, madam," Mrs. Leclerc said, voice rasping from crying, her skin an unhealthy pallor beneath its lovely light chocolate hue. "To which address should I post them?"

Diana pretended surprise. "Why, nowhere," she said. "I'm not going anywhere."

There was instant relief all around the table. A chorus of stage-whispered "I told you so's." Diana waited until they were quiet again, Miss Graham sweeping the small gathering with hot eyes that said she doubted least of all.

"I didn't flee the Indians in Cherry Valley," Diana said. "Nor the soldiers. None of them drove me out. I stayed. I prospered. And everyone with me prospered as well." She paused for effect. "If the Indians couldn't roust me," she said, "I'll be damned if I'll be put to flight by the fever. At least you die with your hair on."

There were only four people in the room besides herself. But the shouts and cheers of joy sounded like a crowd coming to its feet at Mister Ricketts's circus. Diana had a bottle and glasses brought in, and they sat about the table, talking and joking like old tavern chums.

Diana joined in, laughing and jesting. But it was a sham. Not everyone had prospered at Cherry Valley. Far from it. She looked about the table and wondered how many faces would still be there when it was all over. And wasn't even that thought selfish on the face of it? Foolishly so. When it was over, would she even be here to see?

NEXT: The Never-Ending Battle

Yellow Fever Devastates Philadelphia

December 16, 2018

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

IT WAS A year people would look back on and swear they saw the dark times coming. Diana had to admit the signs were plentiful for those who wished to claim them. For the superstitious, the scientific, or religious, there was a host of cause and apparent effect to fuel any side of any argument. The winter of '93 was unusually mild: there was no snow, the frosts were moderate, and the creeks and streams hadn't frozen. In January the weather was so warm, people lay on their backs, shielding their eyes from a dazzling sun, to watch Monsieur Blanchard—the famed French balloonist—ascend from the prison yard and float over the city and across the Delaware.

In early April the fruit trees were blooming, and Mrs. Walsh commented excitedly that the birds had returned from their winter homes two weeks early. Even the old people couldn't recall a time when the passenger pigeons were so numerous; the carts in the marketplace were so overflowing with them—a dozen went for less than a penny. Much later, some said the presence of so many pigeons was a sure mark that the air was stagnant and foul.

May was very wet, and day after day a dismal driving rain from the northeast turned roads into a thick muck. Residents kept their fires burning later than usual. The streams overflowed their banks, creating marshes and swamps where none had been before. Alleys in the low areas were awash in filth.

June was suddenly hot. It was followed by the hottest, driest summer in memory. Rivers sank to rivulets. Marshes became stagnant pools when the creeks dried up. Drainage of streets and the less than adequate sewer system ceased. Firemen were called out to flush the gutters, and pits were dug at Fourth and High to receive the runoff, leaving thick scummy ponds. Fish entrails and animal corpses putrefied in the marketplace. On the Delaware, retreating tides left a stinking mass on the muddy banks. A horrible odor oozed up from the docks and all along High Street.

The dry spell became a drought. The drought a disaster. Out on the farms, Diana's women friends sent word the pastures had dried up, the grain shriveled. And their men were being overcome by the heat in the fields. Closer to town Diana saw men walking along dry creek beds usually waist-deep with water. All around them hung clouds of mosquitoes, buzzing and leaving streams of blood on naked flesh as the men slapped at them.

There were other foreboding signs. Dr. Rittenhouse had seen a comet in the constellation of Cepheus. Oysters were watery and inedible. Lightning shattered an ancient and noble oak in Kensington. In Ipswich, a midsummer hailstorm smashed windows, stripped the fields of their grain, and denuded whole orchards of fruit, while a few miles away all was calm and sunny. Animals were stricken with strange diseases, like the "yellow water," which afflicted horses in Jersey and cows in Virginia. For the human residents of Philadelphia, there had been outbreaks of mumps, flux, and scarlet fever.

For those who read the entrails of the political body, there was the presence of the Congress, which had taken up temporary quarters in Philadelphia until land speculators—including President Washington—had completed a new capital on the Potomac. Or that a federal bank had been created amid great controversy and settled in Lord Penn's city. Or that the Anti-Federalist—Democratic-Republican, sniffed Mister Walsh—party had been formed and quickly gained the upper hand in both houses of Congress.

More omens came in July when Philadelphia had some unexpected guests. First one ship, then another descended upon the city. They were filled with refugees from the West Indies. Sick, and gaunt and hungry, they were mostly from the French island of Santo Domingo. They told terrible stories of three years of warfare. There was a great revolution in the Sugar Islands. Carnage and slaughter. Whole towns were destroyed and great merchant houses brought to ruin.

There were tales of a pestilent fever ravaging other islands—also in revolt. Grenada, Dominica, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and even Barbados were stricken. As were Antigua and all the Leewards. They told of how the great port of Cap Francois had burned against the sky as they sailed to their escape. But that wasn't the end of their ordeal. There were agonizing voyages on ships stalked by fever. People were packed into cabins by the droves during the night, while during the day they sat on the decks under the hot sun until their skin blistered and peeled and blistered again. So quick was their haste to flee, they had little clothing, or food or drink aboard.

Mrs. Leclerc, a mulatto seamstress whom Diana recruited—more out of pity than need—told her it was then the English privateers struck. They gathered like sharks off a whaling ship, armed with the legal fiction that they had the right to search and confiscate contraband from the French ships. On Mrs. Leclerc's ship, a group of pirates had robbed everyone of what little they had managed to carry away. They found a cargo of wine, bound for America, and seized that. Finally they had taken off five black girls— "barely children," Mrs. Leclerc wept—for their pleasure and eventual profit. Two days later another privateer descended on them. They were angry because there was nothing left. And so they took the clothing and belts from their bodies. In final revenge they took off the water casks and sank them in the sea.

Mrs. Leclerc counted herself passing lucky. Other ships, and their passengers, simply vanished. In storms? On an uncharted reef? Or at the hands of "privateers" whose pillaging had been so monstrous they could afford no witnesses?

This stirred many a patriot's breast in Philadelphia, especially those opposed to Lord Washington's policy of neutrality, who sought war against the British for all the bloody Indian raids they were encouraging along the frontiers. The people of Philadelphia fed and housed these refugees. A thousand or more settled there—sorely testing a city already bursting the seams with a population of 55,000. Fund-raisings were staged. Fifteen thousand dollars alone was brought in by Mister Ricketts, who had built a wondrous circus just up from Diana's place. It was his last event of the year, and everyone who was anyone attended, including Diana and her friend Dolly Todd.

Yes, there was a great outpouring of charity. And no little sympathy. But Philadelphians didn't quite take these refugees into their heart of hearts, Diana noticed. No one was quite sure what to make of them. The exiles were mostly white and (formerly) rich. They professed Republican ideals and support of the revolutionaries in France and hatred for the British king. But the good folk of Philadelphia could not ignore the basis for their great misfortune. They were slaveholders, one and all. Their wealth had been founded and maintained on the ownership of other human beings. Which put in doubt their Republican fervor.

Not that black citizens of Philadelphia were looked at as being equal. Bigotry was a condition as common as all those pigeon bodies in the High Market. It was an ideal that was being tested here. A high principle. Slavery was a despised practice the civilized world condemned. Not to be confused with the reality that a man or woman of tropical hue had best step aside when encountering a fair-skinned better.

The generous, but frosty welcome of these refugees was eased somewhat by the fact that anything to do with the French was the current rage in the United States. Newspapers were already beginning to publish some items in that language. Salons and fencing studios were opened. Assemblies and balls were French-themed. And, to Diana's delight, so were the fashions. Waistlines were being pinched in, chemises spouting expensive lace froth, bodices a-dropping, and earrings a-dangling.

The refugees did their best to fit in. They were a little edgy in this strange new city with its frightening windows that opened up and down like a guillotine. But they mostly made the best of it. Still, the sudden presence of these foreigners was called the final and most compelling sign by the latter-day prophets of doom.

Yes, there was evidence enough for any who chose to be wise. After the fact. It was a wisdom Diana never claimed. Actually, she said, as far as she was concerned, 1793 had been one of the best years on record.

Women of means flocked to her house on Elm Court.

They came with fat purses and left with leaner ones, but glowing with pride in her colorful costumes. There wasn't an assembly or event that didn't see at least one person wearing a dress of Diana's design. The sewing and fitting rooms she'd built were soon outgrown, and she'd leased several other buildings in the court to expand. She now employed spinners, weavers, and seamstresses by the score all over the city.

It wasn't only for the rich that she designed. Just as Mister Walsh had predicted, the Lancaster Pike was bringing people to market who had once rarely left their farm. Tempted by the patterns Diana sent along with the young peddlers she financed, and remembering her own constantly repeated invitations, the farm women cozened their husbands into stopping at her shop on the way to market. They were flattered because Diana treated them as importantly as any grand city woman. She gave them coffee and tea and nourishment. Worried with them over their needs for church, or wedding, or christening. Taught them how to disguise ample waistlines, or smooth callused hands with gentle balms and lotions. Remembering the woman and daughter she had seen plodding along that dusty road into Philadelphia, she even had made up as gifts bright little sacks decorated with flowers to carry their shoes.

Situated as she was on High Street, well above the main market, Diana saw these women before they had turned their raw goods into coin, which was quickly snapped up by the hawkers and thieves who preyed on their kind. She and Farrell set up a barter system: so many birds, or a pig, or bushels of grain, for such and such item or items of clothing. This led to a profitable resale business. She and Mister Walsh had even invested in a stable and saddlery shop at the end of the court to care for the farmers' animals and harness. Now they were building a warehouse to hold the goods their joint enterprises were bringing in.

Much more was possible. She could see a time when a blacksmith and carpenter would be necessary. A bakery might also bring more profit if she turned the grain into flour and then bread instead of just selling it straight out.

Yes, it had been a most rewarding year. And it was all because of the dolls.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime idea. And like ideas that plunge forward like a cockerel let loose among a new flock of shapely hens, it came not piecemeal, but as a whole vision.

She saw the dolls fully dressed in her designs. She saw them carried to her spacious and well-appointed salon by ladies as anxious as those hens when they spied the cockerel. She saw those ladies fingering expensive cloth and buying without thought of price. She saw her spinners at their spindles, the weavers at their treadles, the needle makers extruding the fine flawless wire they would pierce so exactly and burnish so smoothly that her seamstresses would smile and nod and blush when complimented on how well they kept their hands. And the fabrics, oh, the fabrics! Cottons and linens as soft as silk. Silks so light a bolt would weigh less than a pound. Dyed with colors only dreamed of in the gods' royal courts.

But she went at it with characteristic caution, spending the best part of a year on her plan. She ordered dolls in a number that had the Cogleys gasping and barely objecting to her bulk-rate offer. She hunted close and far afield for the cloth, sending back any goods that didn't meet her standards. She sought out the best men and women in the crafts for her purposes. A few came to live with her. Others took her coin to hold themselves in readiness when her orders came. They would work in their own homes, paid by the piece, but so handsomely that no upstart competitor would find it possible to cozen them away.

The entire process to Diana's success took the better part of five years. She spent an enormous sum getting her surroundings ready for the carriage trade she knew would come. The old boardinghouse was remade like new. Cracked brick and aging mortar fell before her workmen, old wood replaced and fresh paint applied, a grand front door added, along with brass work and expensive iron all about. The inside was gutted from the cellar to the attic eaves. There was a spacious and well-lit salon to receive her customers; fireplaces and chimneys installed so that not a cold draught could spoil the most isolated corner. For the homier touch, she had an enormous kitchen built out over the back gardens, which she landscaped with plants and herbs and spices that would draw comment in the dullest conversation. At first only the farm women gathered in the kitchen, but soon even some of the grandest ladies found themselves basking in its cheery glow, shoes off, feet up, gossiping freely with their country cousins.

She befriended her neighbors on Elm Court, and at her expense had the whole thing repaved with new drains and gutters so there was no chance of filthy water spattering her customers' shoes or dresses. She tore out the latrines near the well and had new ones built in a far corner. She kept them sweet with lime, and connected them to the house with an arbored walkway. She had deepened and covered the well, so she was one of the few people in town with fresh water at all times of the year. She put in another garden around the well and sprinkled the area with tables and chairs for people to take their ease. She hired servants to tend her customers' needs—housing them in apartments she'd refitted in a small building on one of her leased lots. She helped Farrell draw up a set of books so exacting it would take no more than a moment to trace the fate of a penny.

She also had James Emmett enrolled in a school with a notorious taskmaster, who guaranteed to cram his head with learning and empty his heart of its wilder stirrings. It seemed to be working. James Emmett was soon going about the house spouting Greek and Roman quotations, and the scrapes he got into were of such a minor nature, she hesitated to chastise him too severely, because there was such improvement. When he reached his teens, the scrapes seemed to stop altogether, which made her suspect the boy was only growing cannier with age. But overwhelmed by her business ventures, she adopted a "what I don't know won't harm me" attitude.

Farrell had been so taken by the Church since that first mass, he spent all his spare time studying his catechism, or helping in church affairs. He was talking about becoming a priest himself, which disturbed Diana. Besides believing it a waste, she couldn't see such a passionless young man taking up the life of the Book. Perhaps if she didn't comment beyond a "that's nice, dear," he'd grow out of it, take a wife and raise a family. Although argument number two in the matter of the priesthood also seemed to fit the situation of Farrell and marriage. What kind of a woman would have him? She imagined her son would see the marital bed as a duty to be performed as quickly and as efficiently as he did his sums.

In the months preceding her opening for business, she asked the Walshes to introduce her to society. It took no coaxing. She began attending the dances and assemblies they recommended. She became acquainted with Dr. Benjamin Rush and his family, as well as half a dozen of his colleagues. She was on social terms with the mayor, Matthew Clarkson, and especially his wife, Lydia. She met Israel Israel, the prominent tavern keeper—not Jewish, she learned to her surprise, although she soon became friendly with a host of people from the Holy Congregation Mikveh Israel Assembly. Also in her circle were the wives and daughters who had followed their husbands to Congress, although this was a transient trade and not to be depended on.

Finally, all was ready. There was not another drop of paint to spread, or errant thread to snip. So she sent out the dolls.

Their arrival at the homes of the wealthy women of Philadelphia was not a total surprise. People knew she was an expert on fashions. They had already begun to ask her advice, which she gave for free, and a few had even urged her to open a shop they could frequent. She had more than just a shop in mind, but widened her eyes in interest when the subject came up. Mrs. Walsh had been letting out broad hints about some stunning notion in the making from her lovely, young, and oh so respectable widow friend.

What was a great surprise was the costumes the dolls wore. Each was different, designed especially for the woman who received it—from color and material, to the shoes and jewelry. Each costume was familiar enough to make its potential owner feel safe, but looked at as a whole, was startlingly unique. Each doll bore a card: Diana Shannon will begin receiving at two o'clock on Monday. Below the print was a carefully inked personal message asking her "friend, Mrs. Such-and-such, to please attend, for I fear this will not be a great success, and your comforting presence would be a welcoming cure to the malady of the lonely failure sure to afflict me."

Not one woman failed to attend. Not one woman failed to buy. And not one woman was not back in the company of her friends and daughters for each fitting. Diana's success was instant. So quickly did her business bloom, she was forced to expand, then to call on Mister Walsh to accept his offer to invest, so she could expand again. Her circle of friends and acquaintances grew, although she felt more at ease in the plain company of the ladies from the farms. Their problems and complaints seemed more real to her, their victories much larger because they were hard won. Still, it was nice to walk down any street and never fail to meet at least one person who would smile and nod their greetings. It was very nice indeed to be Diana Shannon.

There was one well-born young woman, however, she became quite close to, whose company she enjoyed more each time they met. The woman in question was not a customer. She was a Quaker. And when they first met, she was called Dolly Payne.

She came to the shop in the company of a few non-Quaker friends. She was dressed entirely in white, including her little cap with pitch-black curls peeking out, and her eyes were wide and blue in amazement at wonders all around her. Wonders that her religion's custom discouraged. Yet she didn't seem envious of her friends' purchases, but instead clapped in delight as each was guided to her discovery by Diana.

Dolly returned many times. To Diana's initial amazement, she was knowledgeable in the realm of fashion. And curious. She asked Diana a thousand questions, and posed as many problems for theoretical solution. It wasn't just dresses and dressmaking she knew about. Her head was filled with facts and information rare for a woman of these times. All of which she was anxious to discuss. Although, as time went by, Diana realized that Dolly had rarely expressed an opinion of her own. Actually, she went out of her way to avoid such a situation, throwing back a generality, or leading the conversation to safer ground. Still, Diana liked her. And although they were only a few years apart, Diana thought of her as the kind of little sister she would have liked to have.

She also felt sorry for her. Dolly was from an important family that was in decline. Her father, John Payne, had once owned a great plantation and many slaves in Virginia. After the Revolution he returned home marked by the blood he had seen and the Republican spirit it had let loose. He brooded for several years. One day he suddenly came to life. He sold his plantation and freed his slaves, packed up his family and their belongings and made the perilous journey to Philadelphia, where they had permanently settled.

It was a courageous act Diana wished had been appropriately rewarded. John Payne may have been noble, but he was no businessman. He put his money in Revolutionary dollars. What was left over he invested in the starch-manufacturing industry. The dollars were worthless. The factory bankrupt. His wife Mary was forced to open their house to boarders. There was no shame in this, as far as Diana was concerned; the Paynes were vastly connected, and their boarders consisted of some of the most famous men of her time. People like Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and many other prominent members of Congress.

But Mister Payne didn't see it that way. He retreated to his room and his bed for the rest of his life. Yet he still ruled his family with an iron hand. He would call them up and issue his orders from behind closed doors. No one would ever think to disobey them. There was no resentment in this from Dolly. She was a good Quaker girl who would never question her father. She also loved him deeply, and confessed to Diana she was constantly in fear for his health. The love was returned. And so was the concern. John Payne doted on his oldest daughter. What father wouldn't? Diana thought. There were few women she had met who were so beautiful. Black hair, blue eyes, a face that was a perfect oval. She was so lovely, men would gather at corners where they knew she would pass just to get a glimpse of this Quaker maiden in her white dress and modest cap.

But Dolly wasn't all she appeared. She was capable of temper. When they knew one another well enough to confide, Diana related her own history: Emmett. The journey from New Kent. Their marriage. Emmett's death. Dolly wept, then swore a surprising oath at Frenchy McShane and said she wished she were a man so she could wipe out his kind. An amazing admission from a Quaker.

Dolly also yearned for a life that was forbidden to her—witness her interest in Diana's wares. She confessed to Diana that when she was a child her grandmother used to give her little gifts of jewelry. This was all done in secret, because her parents frowned on such things. She kept the jewelry in a little bag which she wore on a string about her neck and tucked out of sight. One day, on the way to school, she lost the bag in the woods. It was never found, because she couldn't alert anyone and get help in her search. She said she knew it wasn't very important. Especially considering the terrible things people suffer in their lives. But just the same, she said, catch her in a weak moment, with no one around to see her, and she still wept at the memory of her grandmother's lost gifts.

Then Dolly married. To a young and handsome Quaker attorney named John Todd. Although the marriage was arranged by her father, Dolly said she loved John more than life itself. Diana guessed she believed her. Or, at least, hoped it was so for Dolly's sake. Her first child was a son they named James Payne Todd. Then, in that wonderfully mild and sunny January of 1793—the year everyone later said was so full of foreboding—she became pregnant with her second. Dolly brought all of her clothing to Diana, who helped her let them out, then coaxed her into allowing her best seamstress to make alterations so the dresses didn't look like they'd just had their seams ripped open and resewn to allow for a swelling belly. Dolly was easily convinced.

The year continued. From mild, to storm, to drought. Then the people came from the Sugar Islands. Diana and Dolly went to Mister Ricketts's marvelous circus in the great wooden-domed building he had built. They cheered with all the others as Mister Ricketts rode his horse about the ring. Standing on its back. Performing unbelievable acrobatic feats, such as leaping over ten horses. He even went through the complete manual of arms with a musket while riding a horse, then fired it and hit a target so true that people gasped in astonishment.

The weeks went on and Dolly grew in size. Then gloomy news arrived from Boston. Should she have added this to the list of the signs of doom? Diana wondered later. Ruth was frantic. The chandlery was in danger because of her husband's generosity to all his sailor friends who came to visit, and sup, and drink, and borrow. She desperately needed a loan or Isaac was for debtor's prison. Diana dispatched Farrell with the money. She sent James Emmett with him, because she knew they would be tempting Satan or worse if he stayed in Philadelphia without his brother's supervision. She instructed Farrell not to turn the money over directly, but to pay the debts, take over the business until it was sturdy again, and then—when the time was right—to leave it in the far more capable hands of young Samuel. Farrell wasn't to return until this was accomplished, and yes she would be fine, thank you very much, and could do without his assistance for a few months.

Then there was the tempest in Ipswich and all that hail in so small an area. And the great Kensington oak was blasted into twelve pieces by lightning.

No one knows when the first person died. But on August 19, Dr. Benjamin Rush lost a patient on Water Street.

The diagnosis was yellow fever.

NEXT: THE YELLOW FEVER CRISIS WORSENS


Diana Is Poised To Take Wing

December 9, 2018

Tags: Historical, Fiction, Valley Forge, Burning Of Washington, Philadelphia

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

ALL THAT SPRING and all that summer she searched. She visited the textile mills in Kensington, weighing the quality and cost of the cloth produced there. She noted there were few deficiencies in grade and color. She also discovered a shortage of hand looms. What looms there were belonged to immigrant weavers (more…)