FARRELL HAD DECEIVED her. For weeks he'd been sending bleak progress reports from Boston. The chandlery was in worse shape than Ruth had portrayed. He complained it was near impossible to keep Isaac's generous fingers out of the till. Each time he'd won agreement, Isaac would find a charming way to circumvent (more…)
A Daughter Of Liberty
January 26, 2019
FARRELL HAD DECEIVED her. For weeks he'd been sending bleak progress reports from Boston. The chandlery was in worse shape than Ruth had portrayed. He complained it was near impossible to keep Isaac's generous fingers out of the till. Each time he'd won agreement, Isaac would find a charming way to circumvent (more…)
January 15, 2019
"WHAT A WONDER of a life you've lived, Diana dear," Mrs. Walsh said. "Perhaps my great-grandmother could equal you. Although I doubt it . . . She had a wilderness upbringing for a time. But she always had a house full of servants, so I'm sure it was not the same."
So was Diana. Servants? Hah! The fact Anne Walsh's gramer was assured a house disqualified her. But Diana didn't say this. You would have to have a heart of ice to mock a woman as sweet as Anne Walsh.
Anne was a small woman—just Diana's size—in her middle years. She had the face of a cherub, with lips like a bow that were always untying into a smile. Anne had a lovely full figure she fussed over as too fat and matronly, and wore billows for dresses to hide. Despite their difference in age and background, Mrs. Walsh and Diana became fast friends. Mrs. Walsh urged Diana to reside with her until she hired permanent lodgings. Diana refused this kind offer. She needed freedom of movement for her plans as much as she needed friendship. A lovely old boarding home was found, offering ample room and respectability. Meanwhile, Anne Walsh and her husband took Diana under their wings. Especially Anne.
With idle chatter and pleasantries, the woman kept hidden a mind as sharp as her husband's. But Diana noted that whenever Anne Walsh had an opinion to express, her husband listened, and always took her advice. Her kindly manner could deceive. Diana had watched her watching other people and caught the look of cool appraisal when sizing up a boaster. After weeks in her company, Diana knew that Anne Walsh passed on her views—many times unfavorable—to her husband. In short, she was a woman whose friendship was hard won, and therefore of immense value.
Still, she had many eccentricities. Like her love of nature—especially birds. The fact that Mister Peale—painter of revolutionary heroes, and keeper and owner of the city's fabled museum of American natural history—had actually raised and bred two hummingbirds, was of more import to her than the ratification progress of the Constitution. The states would either ratify it or they would not. General Washington would be president, or not. Life would go on, with or without the presence of these elements.
The high drama of the previous summer was still on everyone's lips. The meaning of General Washington's silence during the proceedings was still being debated. Madison's role as impresario and architect of the final document could still spark heated words, or worse. To Anne, the Congress had done nothing more than survive one of the hottest summers on record by drinking enormous quantities of punch.
"Every one of them was drunk," she sniffed one day when she and Diana were discussing the matter over tea. "Except possibly General Washington. Certainly not that thin-lipped little toad, Mister Madison. No wonder he carried the day. He was the only man among them sober. If the business had been turned over to women—and don't peep a word of my views to Mister Walsh—it would have been settled in a few days.
"There's talk—and money settling on that talk—that Congress will find a home here. In our city. You mark my words, Diana, if that happens, it will be our ruin."
But the matter of the hummingbirds in Mister Peak's museum . . . now that was progress of the grand scale, just as news of hunters or encroaching civilization threatening a feathered creature's existence was proof all mankind was at heart evil.
"Why, we don't even know how many species there are with any certainty," she wept, "and we've already killed off some. What if there are as many as two hundred—I believe the number to be slightly more—but by the time we learn it, there are only one hundred left? What tragedy our children should not see them!"
Diana had laid siege to Anne's lack of taste and style almost on first meeting. It took time to convince her she had an excellent figure which should be displayed to its best advantage. Which meant chopping away at the material Mrs. Walsh draped about herself until a woman's form emerged. Diana then instructed her seamstress on methods of defying the dictates of bustle and hoop.
Diana would live to see a time when underwear took on scandalous connotations, but in this day it was not considered unseemly for an outfit to reveal chemise or petticoat. Anne's choice in these things was dull, but with coaxing, Diana convinced her to buy delicately made and patterned small clothes, which could nod their provocative little heads at the world through artful slits and dips and tucks.
Diana's greatest success had just come out of the seamstress's shop. It was a walking dress—a costume Mrs. Walsh had always avoided because she said on her short form it made her look dumpy. This was not the case in Diana's design. The dress fell above the top of the toe and was slightly clinging to better display her rounded form. It featured a long robin's-egg-blue kerchief that exposed Anne's lovely white shoulders, slipped under her bosom, where it was tied with a ribbon, and extended to either side, where it was secured to the dress itself, which was silver in color. The kerchief continued to the back, where it formed a tasty outside bustle. (No, Anne, dear. We'll dispense with one underneath. You don't need help in that part of your anatomy.) She helped Anne choose a hat to set the whole thing off—wide-brimmed and trimmed with gauze and ribbon. But she talked her out of the frizzy hairdo favored by the young ladies of Philadelphia and instead guided her to a softer look, which framed Anne's face in a romantic portrait.
The improvements in Anne's wardrobe were greeted enthusiastically by her husband. He showered the two with compliments, Anne for her renewed beauty, Diana for her art. He needn't have said a word. Diana's ego had already been boosted by Mister Walsh's more private reactions. The couple had been going about all starry-eyed of late, with many sweet whisperings and furtive touching. It was obvious to her that although their long marriage was childless, it wasn't for lack of effort.
* * * *
Although the city Anne and Michael Walsh introduced Diana to would grow enormously during her lifetime, it would always retain its heart and basic form. Her first impressions of Philadelphia—no matter how romantically tinged—proved correct. This was the place to make her stand. But it wasn't until fall that Diana became confident enough to trust her business instincts.
Meanwhile, she had a city to investigate, a future life to ferret out. Mister Walsh had a carriage waiting outside the boardinghouse each day for Diana and her sons. She began the morning full of enthusiasm and ideas; by night they had all drifted into vagueness, like the reverse side of bad embroidery.
The first physical feature that struck Diana about Philadelphia was how flat it was. Flat and swampy, except for a slight rising tilt in the lands to the south. The city consisted of a few square miles between the Schuylkill and the Delaware, and owed its prosperity to the natural sheltered port the Delaware provided—the Schuylkill was useless for anything but small craft—plus the great road that led out beyond its western boundaries to Lancaster County, Chester, and beyond. Within a few years of her arrival, the road became the Lancaster Pike, the finest paved highway in America, connecting Philadelphia with the headwaters of the Ohio River.
There were a few foundries in the Schuylkill Valley that smelted iron with native hardwoods. It was a region that would soon see countless foundries, forges, and ironworks up and down the valley. From the Middle Ferry at the Schuylkill until just beyond Broad Street, there wasn't much to the city. Although the streets in this area were broad and straight and crisscrossed with alleys and courts, they were sparsely populated by the poor. Their homes ranged from Irish thatch-and-wattle straight from the Old Country, to pine shacks, to roofed-over holes.
One thing of note: even in the poor section, the city was as clean as a Dutch housewife's kitchen. Every morning and every evening the women and their unwilling children were out scrubbing steps, holystoning the board sidewalks— brick, or even white marble in the nicer areas—and actually washing down the flagstone streets on their hands and knees. It would be five years before Diana learned there was more behind this cleanliness than a charming Quaker-influenced custom.
No one visited Philadelphia in those times without being stunned by the main market area, and Diana was no exception. Philadelphians bragged the High Market was the largest of its kind in all the states. There was no exaggeration. It ran a full mile—eight squares—down the High. More remarkably, the whole thing was entirely roofed over. On main market days all but foot traffic was barred by the chain men, who also hustled a fistful of pennies parking and minding carriages for their owners.
The official market days were Tuesdays and Fridays, but actually every day was Market Day in Philadelphia—including Sunday, when an enlightened ordinance allowed the delivery of fresh milk. In a letter to Ruth, Diana told how she saw the milk being brought to market in churns. But not ordinary churns. These were "white as curd and bound with copper hoops, and as bright as hands and clean sand can make them."
There were also spontaneous market days when a fresh boatload of provisions arrived from the West Indies or France and the whole city would be turned out by the great market bell. A bell alerted people to the arrival of mail, and they'd rush to the central delivery area with their shillings—or even empty-handed—to loiter about and hear other people's news. Another event was the arrival of the stage, and the folk would hurry to the Indian Queen Hotel to see what famous person was arriving.
The High Market was exceptionally clean, with all the benches and stalls scrubbed white. Even the meat was clean, well-cut and laid out on tables covered with constantly changed white cloth. The butchers presided over their stalls, nodding and smiling at the crowds, looking like brawny, red-faced angels in the white linen frocks that covered their clothes. There were vegetables of every variety, and also fruit, which included oranges from the Indies; fish and shellfish—especially the oysters; game right from the hunter's pocket; butter and cheese; and spices and herbs from far afield, "fit to flavor any dish or cure any ailment."
She was also struck by the orderliness, especially after the confused squalor of New York. "Everyone has a place assigned to them" she wrote to Ruth in Boston. "The butcher his table, the woman her stall . . . and there is no one moving about except the public, who come and go throughout the day from nine o'clock of the morning till nine that night . . . and all in great order, with only a little prompting from the chain men. ..."
There were other markets in the city, but the one on High Street would remain her favorite. With one exception: the Southwark Market by the Delaware. But only on what was known locally as Jersey Market Day. Anne tried to describe it to her, but kept succumbing, lapsing into honks of laughter. Finally, she gave up and took her friend to see for herself.
Diana met the ladies from Jersey that day. They were overgrown, shapeless businesswomen who were accomplished bargainers in the morning, but grew friendlier and less tight-fisted as the day progressed. This was because, as Anne said, they had a "fondness for the comfortable, which you can spy for yourself as that great jug of jack they keep under their stools. Mark my word, dear, they'll nip at that jug until they're well corned and fast asleep where they sit. Then watch the fun begin."
A hefty snore fluttering the lips of a face as round as a melon and purple as a plum. The first snore brought the plunderers. The second the thieves. The third the saucy children who plagued the area. Diana watched as two of them sauntered up to a cake stall. Behind it, Mrs. Plum Face, arms folded on a vast bosom, chins tucked under her shawl, lips in a dainty quiver of sleep. One child snatched, then the other. They would have gone undetected, but a neighbor of Mrs. Plum Face raised a howl. This brought Plum Face to her feet, sputtering and wailing as the boys took to their heels. And off she went after them, like a Spanish galleon, sailing into first one stall then another, until the boys were gone and she collapsed in weeping self-pity on the ground. But another Jersey woman—you could make them out, Anne said, because they are thicker than they are long, and their faces are like the Lady Moon at the full—brought her a jug of comfort. Soon the incident was forgotten in a big boozy embrace.
Now to the shops, Anne sang, and off they went to the district sprawling along Chestnut. A profusion of merchandise filled the long, low windows that projected into the street. Dry goods were strewn along the brick sidewalks. Flannels, cloths, muslins, silks, and calicoes hung over doors in whole pieces, or draped down on either side of the pavement. Other materials were stacked in rolls all down the street, pure heaven for a seamstress. There were barrels of sugar and raisins and coffee and dried fruit, intermingled with shoe shops, jewelers, saddlers; china, tin, iron, and copperware; and grocers with goods from every hill and creek in the land.
Anne giggled and pointed to the fine young men lined up to see the daily parade of beauties, who vied with hoop, bustle, and big flowered hat for their attention. Diana couldn't help but imagine how she would nip here, tuck there, and blouse out there, and tsk, tsk, don't you think the color a touch drab and matronly, Madame?
To James Emmett, the best time was night, when the little man went around with his small can of oil, bag of tools, and a short ladder over his shoulder. James never tired of watching the man. The lamplighter would clean the glass of each streetlight, trim its wick, top it off with oil, and light it with his long match. This went on for street after street, until the whole town glowed. Now the shops gave off a magic gleam. Especially those filled with silver, or worked glass, or the medicinal stores with their beautifully colored potions in even more beautifully colored bottles of every shape and style, filling row after gleaming row until the whole window throbbed with light.
The ever practical Farrell most admired the homes. He noted that the best residences—including the Walshes', who lived a few houses down from the eminent Dr. Benjamin Rush—were near the city center, especially in the Walnut area between Third and Fourth streets. Farrell loved to stroll down these avenues. The homes were of elegantly handcrafted brick, shaded by beautiful buttonwoods and willows and other native trees. Farther west, toward the Schuylkill, were the less elegant, but comfortable homes of the tradesmen. Like those of the rich, these residences were also tree-shaded against the city's stifling summers.
Through all this Farrell remained his humorless, but dependable self. His lack of humor made conversation dullish, but when Diana thought about James Emmett, she supposed this was a blessing. Now there was a boy who had humor stuffed into him like a great bag of pudding that kept swelling and swelling until it burst in every direction. The child was curious about anything not good for him. She'd already caught him experimenting with tobacco, spirits, gaming, and even a girl—his breeches down to his knees and his bony behind sticking out, and him brandishing his little thing as if he knew what to do with it.
Yes, she punished him. Sometimes she feared she was too strict. But then just as she was considering some other approach, off he would go again, committing a transgression whose only answer was a licking. But it never seemed to do any good. No matter how much he was punished, James Emmett never relented. Never said he was sorry. Not that he was sullen, or resentful. Oh, no, not James Emmett Shannon. The boy would bide his time, then come up to you with a great soft smile on his lips, love in his eyes and an embrace to melt a snow witch. It was as if you were being forgiven for not realizing all he did was as necessary as breath itself. And he pitied you for not understanding.
Only Farrell had some control over James Emmett, although who actually was doing the controlling could be debated. Regardless, Farrell's protectiveness of his half brother was one of the few things that made him human. He was stern with the child, but seemed to know his fears and needs more than Diana. Although the two were nothing alike, Farrell usually anticipated his brother. If he didn't, and the error threatened disaster, James would throw himself on Farrell's mercy. This would result in a stern lecture, which the child listened to in all apparent seriousness. Then would come the inevitable rescue. Sometimes this would mean intercession with Diana. Most likely, Farrell would cover up the trail James Emmett left.
It was the only time Farrell would lie. Diana had never chastised him for this, or even told Farrell she knew he was lying. Because if she did—if she confronted him, broke him—she wasn't sure what, or who, would be left.
One day after the Jersey Market, Diana and Anne had taken the boys for an outing on Front Street. A lovely stroll on a riverfront packed with ships and people and bargains from everywhere. Suddenly Diana noted a Great Absence of James Emmett. Fortunately, so did Farrell. He looked about with a start, then noticed Diana doing the same. More eye-darting, and then a sigh of relief. "There he is, Mother," he said, pointing vaguely at a crowd of people. "You go on. I'll fetch him."
Go on, they did. Fetch him, he did not. For a long time. Just past the point of worry, as Diana was trying to turn Anne about without alerting her, she spied Farrell. And James Emmett, coming from quite another direction. She saw Farrell shaking a finger at the child, James Emmett hanging his head in shame. More lecturing. More head hanging. Then James fumbled in his pocket and handed an object to Farrell, who looked nervously about before stuffing it away. Then Farrell hustled James down a side street and out of sight. A moment later they'd both appeared, this time walking from the correct direction. James's face was as innocent as an angel's as he joined her on the stroll.
That night she searched Farrell's clothing. A small, wooden object fell out. It was a carving of a man and a woman, in naked embrace, and carved in such stark detail that Diana flushed in shame. And then the flush disappeared as she marveled at the craftsmanship. And their features, not rutting rictus grins. She saw, or imagined, tenderness . . . brought to life by soft burnishing. She thought of the hand that had brought out such emotion with each stroke of emery. And in a slip of a dream it became Emmett's sweet stroking. . . . She shuddered, suddenly cold, and replaced the figurine.
* * * *
The priest was a fiery old man in purple vestments. His name was Father Coogan and he held the congregation spellbound as he led the faithful through the mysteries of the mass.
St. Joseph's Church at Fourth and Walnut was a plain building, a square, drab edifice with only a tower and bell to prove it a church; no different from any built by the Protestant faiths. Ostentation was distrusted in these days of Republicanism, and there was nothing about the church to test this view. It sat upon land owned by the lay members of the congregation—also like the Protestants.
Inside there was no elaborate statuary, only hard pews, and a cross above a thin, pine tabernacle without even a simple carving to show it held the Sacred Host. The drabness of the church, however, gave way to a mystical hue the moment the priest entered and the mass began. The atmosphere was heavy with incense, the silence thick as fog; so that each Latin phrase falling from the priest's lips had a romantic, ghostly tone. During the blessing of the Sacrament, small bells chimed, chalices rang like larger bells, and the leaves of the great book the priest read from rustled—all with unnatural loudness.
Diana sat quietly in her pew, feeling as out of place as if she were attending the Presbyterian church in Cherry Valley. She knew she was witnessing a rare thing. Few people outside this city had ever seen a simple mass, much less a full-blown ceremony with lovely vestments for the priest, laymen to attend him, and a worshipful congregation that knew every step of the way—with enough churchly Latin at hand to decipher the holy words the priest spoke.
St. Joseph's was one of two Catholic churches in Philadelphia. It was nearly fifty-five years old when Mister and Mrs. Walsh took the Shannon family to the services. Before that Catholics in Philadelphia gathered at the home of Elizabeth McGauley on Nicetown Road for the plain, communal services and shared reading of prayers that Emmett had described to her.
Elsewhere, as Mister Walsh had said, intolerance kept the choices for Catholics slim. After all, there were perhaps no more than thirty priests in the whole country. In all of America there were 35,000 of the faith, Mister Walsh had said, and of that number, possibly 7,000 resided in Pennsylvania.
The mass was well-attended, but Diana's friends had reserved places ahead of time, so with a bit of squeezing she, Farrell, and James Emmett were made at home.
Prior to the service the first thing they noticed was a long line going up the far aisle. It stopped at a small door. Anne said it was people for confession. Diana saw Farrell raise his brows at that. He whispered a question to Anne, and she explained that Catholics confessed even their most dire sins to the priest in private, that the priest was sworn never to reveal the shame, and that a penance was set afterward. Once it was performed, absolution for the sin was assured.
From the look on Farrell's face, Diana could see he was impressed with this system, although she didn't know why. What possible sin could Farrell imagine was marring his young soul? Now, if it were James Emmett—she looked at her youngest son. As usual, he was squirming and paying little attention to anything. Ah, well. At least he was quiet.
Finally the mass began and Diana lost her direction in the dead language liturgy. She could see there was a rhythm to it that everyone else could follow, but it made no sense to her.
Later she asked Mister Walsh why they just didn't use plain English. Knowledge of Latin, he said, was the boast of noble, lettered men. This she thought pretentious, and a danger as well, because it hinted at a class system. This was a new nation, with theoretical equality. The language of the common folk—the vernacular—would be better. Mister Walsh agreed and said many others felt the same way. This included Father John Carroll of Maryland—one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence—whom everyone said was sure to be named by the Pope as the first bishop in America.
"They want no one to have the notion," Mister Walsh said, "that we do the bidding of a foreign monarch. But it's a battle I fear has been lost, once and for all. Some say— and I mean the common folk you spoke of—that Latin makes them feel special, that great secrets are being divulged to them, and them only. Personally, I believe they love the ceremony more than the Lord."
Little bells called the freshly innocent—Anne and Michael among them—to the altar, where they partook of the Host. This was followed by the gospel. Then a sermon in English. It was a thundering good one, too, Diana observed. Sinners were warned, hellfires were pumped up with scriptural bellows, and the repenters were praised. After that there were more odd mutterings by the priest, the big book and the chalices changed places for some reason, and the mass came to its conclusion.
Diana thought it was all very refreshing, but mainly because it was a new experience. Now that she had seen it, however, she had no desire for repetition. This was an attitude of hers she would have to watch. If she was too disdainful in front of her sons, she would be hard-pressed to keep her promise to Emmett that they would be raised in his faith.
James Emmett burst away as soon as the service ended. For a change, Farrell was not right on his heels, dragging him away from potential mischief. She saw Farrell had hung back. He was gazing at the tabernacle, his eyes wide, and there were tears welling up. Diana tugged at him to go, but he pulled away before he realized it was her plucking at his shirt.
He looked up at her, so full of emotion he seemed about to burst. "Didn't you feel it, Mother?" he asked. He rushed on before she could answer. "At first, I was a little bored, to tell the truth. Then, when the priest began speaking, I got interested in the Latin. I was trying to make out some of the words—it's not that hard, you know. A lot of them seem the same as English. I got so interested, I lost the time until communion.
"The priest was praying over the bread and wine for communion when I started thinking about what was really going on. That wine was becoming the blood of Jesus Christ . . . our Savior. And the bread became his flesh ... I thought, how could that be?"
Diana frowned, thinking of Farrell's trouble with all fictions, no matter how well meant. To this day he mocked Hamlet for its ghost. What was happening here, with her hard-headed practical son?
"Then it—I don't know—it suddenly made sense. No. Not sense." He stumbled for words, his face flushed with effort. Then: "He forgives you, Mother. He really does."
Farrell lapsed into silence, but she could see the thoughts swirling, swirling.
"What, Farrell? Forgives you what?"
"Brian," was all he said.
"But you don't need forgiveness for that, Farrell, dear," Diana said as gently as she could. "You weren't responsible for what happened to poor Brian."
Farrell looked up again, his eyes a tempest. He started to speak, but emotion overcame him and he just shook his head. "I'd like to come again," was all he said.
There was no reason for Diana to say no. She should be happy at this turn of events. Wasn't a church an important ritual in raising a child? Why did she distrust this so?
How could she deny him? And for what reasons? Diana said he could.
From that day forward, Farrell became the most devout member of the congregation. He went at religion as he did everything—at full force. In not many years he was as knowledgeable as the priest, if not more. Church became the center of him. Even James Emmett came second.
The oddest thing in his behavior was that as the mystical part of him rose, the practical side grew as well. In business he was still all facts and double totted-up figures.
Ah, well, Diana thought. If it comforts him, what can be the harm?
* * * *
In matters of finance, Mister Walsh was a disciple of patience. He constantly counseled and supported Diana to take her time in setting a future course. Just as he had counseled others since the end of the Revolution.
"Anyone could see difficult times were ahead and hurry would court disaster," he said one night. "It cost sixty million dollars to rout the king. All of it debt with no means to pay.
"Who was responsible? Congress? How were they to raise the funds? No law required it, and without a law, no one has yet volunteered to be the first to make the gesture. The small authority we granted gave us Shay and his rebellion.
"The states? Bah! They can't get funds for a bridge, much less a road of any length. No, the war debt will not be assumed by the states. That's why we must suffer these infernal lotteries. We have no other means of launching a civic program."
Diana listened intently, soaking up every bit of information. Mister Walsh smiled at her gently through his pipe fumes—seeing real talent in the young, pretty face, thinking what a fine son she would have made Anne and himself.
A cough from Anne brought him back to his point.
"But where we bought uncertainty for our sixty million, we also purchased opportunity," he said. "A little care. A little reason. And unless God smites thee, a profit will result."
Mister Walsh had kept his own counsel all those years. Especially the last four, when hard times had settled over the land as each state struggled to make sense of its own highly individual economy.
Alone, he believed, the task was nearly impossible. "You saw the result," he said, "when talk grew serious that we must all unite under one banner. To act in concert. Just talk of unity stirred the fires of hope . . . happy times, again. Just from talk, if I may repeat myself. Now, with ratification fever upon all the states, let us see what real action can do!"
"You present a lovely view," Diana said. "And I pray that it is real, and not the product of the fever you mentioned."
Mister Walsh sighed. Diana was correct in thinking he painted too glowing a picture. "Damned ignorant fools," he muttered. "Money is at the root of it. Just as money is the way out."
"I don't see the connection, if you please, Mister Walsh," Diana said.
"No, of course you don't, my dear," Anne broke in. "Michael prides himself in obscurity in matters of philosophy. This is because he has a notion that in the laws of finance, all things can be explained."
"Well, not all," Diana said. She knew some mysteries of life had nothing to do with money. But with a few tragic exceptions, she couldn't think of any. In a flash she eliminated one of those exceptions. It was money—or the lack of it—that killed Emmett. Just as sure as Frenchy McShane.
"Go on, then," she said to Mister Walsh.
"I said we must act in concert," he resumed on cue. "But we have a host of laws that prevent this. And the laws are different state by state. Why, in some of the places I travel, if my religion were revealed, I could be cast out, or worse. They fear because our spiritual leader is in Rome, that we Catholics are under the influence of some foreign devil of a monarch. Never mind how many of us took up arms and stood side by side with other Patriots. Our mettle somehow remains unproven, our Republican ideals and loyalty in question.
"In other towns, they would tax me at twice the rate of other citizens. Should I deny my Savior? Or withhold my business? Must Michael Walsh suffer the thrice-crowing cock? But I am a fortunate man. I have money to choose the countenance of saint or sinner, and let God be the judge when I'm done."
"At least you can afford that luxury," Diana said.
She did not mean this archly. To her the lesson of the Apostle Peter had always seemed incomplete. What of the two Marys? Whore and mother. No cock crowed for them. And it was they who rolled the stone from the grave. But Peter was rewarded in this world for his cowardice. The two Marys had to await the hereafter. But that had always been her trouble with religion. Gentle words, but muddled thinking. Of course she believed in and feared a higher power. But in her experience it always came with tomahawk or gun. Or was simply represented by a body of men who could change her life with a nod and a quill scratch on paper.
So that was what she meant by her comment. Mister Walsh was as secure in his home as he was in his beliefs. To Diana, the two went together. The afterlife was for the rich, or hopeless.
Mister Walsh plunged on, warming up to his favorite topic, the plight of the Average Man. "If you are poor, you can be compelled to take a master, who may use you and pay you as he wishes. If you are in debt, you can be placed in prison, or condemned to be chained to a barrow to collect the offal from the streets. On the land, the practice of tenancy can require you to toil for another's profit.
"And then there is the keeping of slaves. Illegal by the laws of God and man in all the civilized world. Which by definition does not include many of our sister states. Why, it was only outlawed two years past in New York! And here we are, the most modern people since the days of Athens, in the waning days of the eighteenth century, eighteen hundred years since the birth of our Lord and Savior."
Ah. Finally. Mister Walsh was nearing his goal.
"I submit to you, Diana Shannon, that in all those years since He died for our sins, we have made less than an inch of progress in matters of humanity. And most of that is recent. And most of that when we told the king to go to hell!
"So, yes, I see hope in unity. Despite the ills I mentioned. For in this land a pact was made for Freedom. The rich were the architects of the Revolution, true. But they could not accomplish it without striking a bargain with the poor. And now the rich have no choice but to see that bargain is kept."
It had not been kept in Cherry Valley, Diana thought. Or in Boston, where Ruth struggled to keep her optimism. Not even here, in Philadelphia. The City of the Enlightened, where the beggars swarmed behind the carts and gobbled the raw grain that fell in the filth. Or the Irish teagues who stayed eternally drunk at the waterfront taverns. The king was gone, but the order remained. And Diana believed her only hope was to build a wall so high and thick that not even Joshua's horn could bring it down.
Mister Walsh's views were pretty thoughts, in keeping with the times, if Diana was to judge from the free-spirited conversations she had heard during her journey. Here they all were, a few desperate souls abandoned on a narrow coastline with a great unexplored and dreaded wilderness at their backs. And if they could all put aside their narrow interests, that elusive and magical Grail of Freedom would be theirs.
But who was to define this Freedom? To Mister Walsh, it was the happy pursuit of fair profit. The farmer Shay agreed with that principle, and federal troops were sent against him. The printers in Philadelphia defined it as six dollars per week. They got it. But the next time they struck—especially if the commodity were more precious than the production of broadsides—would the fates smile so sweetly? For the desperately poor, a full plate would suffice. And a bit of fire. For the indentured and the enslaved, Mister Walsh's definition might take on philosophical tones again: Dignity. Ah, but fire and food were easier to win.
Some pursued this elusive freedom in distant forests and field. But it still had to be won at someone else's expense— the Indians. Or even the poor pigeons of passage that Anne mourned, shot from the rooftops by the hundreds of thousands as they soared to their winter homes.
Diana gave no hint of these thoughts as she looked at her mentor and smiled. He was quick to respond. "Do you see my point?" he said anxiously. "Do you agree?"
She didn't. She also wanted to ask how far her enlightened friend would take this business of equality. He said he was with the Radicals, or near to it. That all men—not just the propertied—should have a say in the nation's affairs. Did that mean in his Utopia, the freed man of color would have that right? Possibly. But what about her own sex? She doubted it. What if Diana married? Would Mister Walsh agree all her worldly goods were hers and hers alone, to be shared with her husband as she saw fit? Or would he agree with the law, that it would all belong to that man, as if he had earned it himself?
She looked over at Anne, who was watching her husband with loving eyes. Diana decided not to ask.
"I suppose you're right," she said.
RISING OUT OF THE ASHES, DIANA TAKES WING
January 8, 2019
THE DEATH TOLL mounted daily as the crisis worsened. Residents were stunned the great storm from the northeast brought no relief from the fever. Some thought it was the stagnant air, trapped over the city since winter, now replaced by equally foul solids from the inland ether. A few blamed it on the shipload of spoiled coffee that had been dumped on the docks. The city ordered this removed, but weeks went by with no action because there was no one to carry out the orders. Others said the infection was carried by the refugees from the French islands. Others held this to be nonsense. Yellow fever could not be transmitted by one person to another.
Dr. Benjamin Rush said the cause was the climate. His theory was listened to as intently as were his prescriptions. He was America's most prominent doctor, educated at Edinburgh University, published author, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and a noted educator and reformer. As far back as Hippocrates, Rush noted, doctors had said mild winters followed by drought brought great illness. It was an observation borne out by previous outbreaks of the yellow fever in Philadelphia; although it had been many decades since the last, and that had been far less deadly. Also, that epidemic had ended after a large storm. Why not this time?
Diana and her people huddled in Elm Court watching the city's social structure collapse.
Most members of the Congress were already on summer holiday. But the heart seemed to go completely out of the residents when President Washington reluctantly agreed to return to the safety of his home in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson left the city for a home along the Schuylkill, and then spent most of his time writing cynical letters deploring the discomfort of the house that had been made available to him. One by one the few other great national leaders took flight.
Soon the courthouses were nearly empty. City offices closed. Only the mayor, Matthew Clarkson, and a few other council members dared death by remaining in town to fight the plague. But all efforts seemed so puny.
Daily, Diana walked down empty streets to the offices of the Federal Gazette. Andrew Brown was the only publisher to remain in the city. The Gazette was the sole source of news. Diana knew she looked like a specter on those daily walks, draped head to toe and heavily veiled, reeking of penny royal, drifting through dust which stood as deep as two feet in some places. No one ever spoke to her. The few people on the streets would go to great extremes to avoid another human being. No handshakes. No greetings. When a person saw another, he would make a wide berth.
At the Gazette she heard deplorable tales. Husbands abandoning stricken wives of many years. Mothers deserting ailing children. Helpless old people left to starve. Stranded servants too frightened to fetch water from the street. Diana, a close and cynical student of human nature, did not doubt these stories.
Although the cannon fire had ceased, the eerie silence that had enveloped Philadelphia was occasionally broken by crashing musket fire when frightened householders tried to purify the atmosphere with their guns. Everywhere there was the smell of smoke and rotting trash. Corpses of cats littered the alleys; killed by the foul air, it was said. Businesses were shuttered. The entire harbor out to the sea was choked with ships filled with cargo no one would unload. The captains had no other markets for their goods.
More refugees arrived. But this time they were denied entry and quarantined on the Delaware pesthole known as Mud Island. Hospitals barred victims with fever symptoms. The city was forced to take over Mister Ricketts's empty amphitheater for the ailing paupers and their orphaned children.
Doctors argued heatedly on methods of treatment. Sometimes, Diana thought, there were as many theories as victims.
Dr. Young and his adherents insisted the only course was massive purges and blistering on the wrists and back of the necks. Others added dust baths to this remedy, and injections of wine. Or chewing garlic. Or constant doses of vinegar and tobacco. Camphor was also considered a preventive, and the city was filled with people—especially children—whose throats were raw from breathing noxious fumes.
But mainly it was Dr. Rush's method of treatment that prevailed: intensive purging followed by equally intensive bleedings. As week folded into horrible week, he increased his purging and bleeding and urged his colleagues to follow suit in impassioned letters to the Gazette. He assured all he was seeing success by taking a quart of blood at a time, repeated several times a day. Diana remembered the late Dr. Franklin had mocked that the great fevers plaguing the Sugar Islands hadn't ceased until the last physician had fled or died. In her view, it was no jest.
But no matter what anyone did, people kept dying. Two hundred or more burials a week. Hundreds more lay decaying in their homes because no one would come to fetch their corpses.
On Saturday, September 7, a bonfire set to ward off the fever was left unattended. It spread to Mister Kennedy's soap factory, which burned to the ground, taking an adjacent stable and warehouse with it. A few brave souls came out to fight the blaze, blankets soaked in vinegar draped over their heads. But it was no use. The incident spurred orders from Mayor Clarkson to end the bonfires. The orders were ignored. The fire was the major event in the city that day. The plague toll was a by now commonplace twenty-five dead. For the Jews in the community, the day had special bleak significance. It was Rosh Hashanah, the new year of 5544 on their ancient calendar. It was mentioned in the Gazette that only a handful were left to celebrate the day with Rabbi Jacob Cohen.
Diana would remember that Saturday for a different reason. For her it was the day of an unusual request. Mrs. Leclerc wanted time off from her duties. A silly request, since there were no duties for a seamstress to perform. Then she told Diana why. It had been noted by the African Society's leaders, Absalom Jones and Richard Allen, that no person with black skin had been infected. The word was spreading through the city that men and women of color were immune. Mister Jones and Mister Allen were urgently asking for volunteers to tend the sick and bury the dead. Black volunteers.
Mrs. Leclerc wanted to be one of those volunteers. "Everyone has been so kind," she said. "I lost everything. Family. Friends. My possessions, which I care nothing for. But here ... I have found a new life. I feel I must do something to repay—"
She burst into tears. She was terrified of what she was about to do. Especially since Diana's court seemed a haven. Not one person who lived under her roof had taken sick, although no one could say why. To leave such apparent safety would take great courage. More, Diana feared, than poor Mrs. Leclerc could provide. So she told her no. Firmly.
She thought of Moses and Aaron. God—whoever, or whatever that might be—certainly never granted them any immunities to compensate for their exile among people of fair skin. They caught all of the common diseases, including the childhood illnesses of Farrell and James Emmett, Diana told Mrs. Leclerc. In her experience, tropical skin offered no special protection.
The woman greeted this with visible relief. Strange. Diana had just informed her that she was as vulnerable as the rest of them. Still, she was no longer the victim of her conscience. Mrs. Leclerc could die along with the rest of them. For one week the black residents of Philadelphia rallied to their white employers and neighbors. They eased the desperately ill to their graves. Nursed people in conditions of unbelievable filth and squalor. Cared for their orphaned young. Fed them from dwindling supplies in their own kitchens. Drove the funeral coaches. Tenderly lifted rotting corpses into coffins. Wielded the shovels in the graveyards. And commended their souls to their Maker.
On Saturday, September 14, forty-eight people died. Among them were six blacks. The occasion was marked by a meteorite which fell in Third Street.
* * * *
From September sixteenth through the twenty-third, sixty or more people were buried each day. Some saw hope in this. The plague had to get worse before it ebbed. Now it was almost over, these optimists said. The following day was horror. Ninety-six people died. As month end neared, the toll was edging two thousand—already far more than the yellow fever outbreak of 1762.
That terrible day created a panic upon a panic. Hundreds more fled the city. The roads out, it was said, were jammed from edge to edge with wagons and livestock and foot traffic. There were stories in the Gazette of whole communities turning their backs on these people. Damning them to starvation or death by illnesses caused by exhaustion and exposure to the intense heat of the drought. Diana took bitter note of the worst of these heartless communities: Bethlehem, Nazareth, Easton, and Reading. Emmett had told her about these cruel folk. Could even he have imagined just how cruel?
On the twenty-sixth a note came from Dolly Todd. It had taken nearly two weeks to reach Diana, although the letter only had to travel a short distance from the Gray's Ferry home in which Dolly's husband had installed her and her family. Diana read it with relief. She had feared for her Quaker friend, whose pregnancy was near full term when they last spoke. The note contained the cheerful news that she had borne the child, her second son, William Todd. Dolly would be safe out of the filth of the city. The note urged Diana to join her on the cool banks of the river. It was an invitation Diana would have ignored even if she were not determined to see the disaster out. If she were going to flee, she would pick a place farther from Philadelphia than the far bank of the Schuylkill. But she took comfort her friend was out of this horror. It would be more than a month before she learned Dolly's true fate.
Her handsome young lawyer husband, John Todd, saw her to the safety of the old farmhouse and then turned back into the city. His own parents were too ill to move. They died several days later. John himself was afflicted. Delirious from the fever, he made his way across the river. And fainted on the doorstep. Dolly's mother helped her carry him into the house and placed him on a couch. A few hours later Dolly was stricken. She lapsed into a coma for several days, then recovered to learn that her husband and infant child were dead. But at least her first son, Payne Todd, survived. Years later Diana would wonder if his survival was as great a tragedy as his brother's and father's death.
For the moment, however, Diana believed the note to be good news. She saw it as a leavening to the tragic news that came the following day. A minuscule leavening, as small as the little animals that lived in the ether and somehow entered people's bodies to kill them.
It was another letter. From Mister Walsh. Diana was wrong in her belief that neither Anne nor Michael would leave without first telling her. The letter was even longer delayed than Dolly's. It was from Baltimore, where Mister Walsh had taken refuge with a cousin. Anne was dead.
The letter was rambling and hysterical. Full of guilt. Anne had seemed to recover. Then came the relapse. Exactly what followed was difficult to make out, so frantic the prose, so tear-smudged the ink. In desperation, Mister Walsh had chosen not to ask Diana for help. Although how could she have aided, sick and helpless herself from the summer flux?
In letters to the Gazette, Father Fleming had been urging his Catholic parishioners to follow the course of treatment prescribed by Dr. Rush. Only this would save them, he wrote, commenting that he himself had undergone the bleeding and it had prevented him from falling ill. Mister Walsh had sought out the good doctor. He almost turned back when he saw the scene in front of the famed physician's home. The front yard, sidewalk, and street were packed with people begging for help. Exhausted, Rush and his assistants strode through the crowd, ministering to the sick and the merely frightened as they stood. Purges were given. People vomited in the street. And always there were the lancets, plunging into vein after vein. Until the gutters ran with all the spilled blood. The blood dried in thick scabs upon the street, drawing huge clouds of mosquitoes.
But Mister Walsh had taken courage. He would have to be brave if he was to save his Anne. Dr. Rush had agreed to come. He purged her, then purged her again, until Anne's stomach constantly and involuntarily heaved and she screamed with pain from the cramps. And he bled her. Fifty ounces the first day, seventy-two the second. But he took only a pint the third day. He couldn't take more. Because Anne was dead.
The letter went on and on. Mister Walsh had become hysterical in his grief. He had left the city with only a horse and a barely packed saddlebag. But he couldn't escape what he had done. Diana could see him, weeping and beating his Catholic breast, praying, over and over: "To my fault ... to my fault ... to my most grievous fault."
"I killed her," Mister Walsh wrote in one clear, almost sane sentence. "I killed her as sure as if I had wielded the lancet myself. Oh, my darling, darling Anne . . ."
Diana knew when she saw Michael again it would be difficult to comfort him, because in one thing he was correct: he had killed her. Although he would have to share the blame with Father Fleming. But it was only his memory the two of them could blame together. Father Fleming had died of the fever as well.
But Diana would never have to face this task. In the fall, Mister Walsh's cousin would write to her. Michael became suicidal. The family had him committed to a home for the insane. He was dead before Christmas.
* * * *
Tragedy comes in threes, the folktales say. But this year they came three times three times so many more threes, it would take a mathematician of Euclid's like to count all the woes that piled up at everyone's doorstep.
For Diana, the next bleak incident came from her own household. It was her stalwart housekeeper, Miss Graham. This time there was no letter. The spinster failed to show up after four days. A little over a week into the plague, Miss Graham had informed her she could no longer in good conscience stay overnight at the Elm Court house. She had a sister fifteen years her junior, a widow with five children. They lived packed into two small rooms in a Water Street tenement. Miss Graham said—and she was firm about this— it would be necessary for her to go to her sister's home each night to help care for the children.
At the time, Water Street was the most notorious pesthole in the city. In the course of eleven days, forty people had died on Water Street, eleven in one family. Diana warned Miss Graham of this.
"If I'm to die," the housekeeper said matter-of-factly, "I'd soon it be with my own."
"Then have them come live here," Diana urged.
Miss Graham gave a sharp shake of her head. This was impossible, she said. She could not permit it.
"But why?" Diana asked.
The woman wouldn't answer. It was the way things would be, and she refused to offer a reason. So there was nothing Diana could do but grant her request.
For weeks Miss Graham arrived early every morning to work, and left for Water Street before dusk. Then, no Miss Graham. Another day passed; still nothing. On the fourth day, Diana determined to investigate. She wanted to go alone, but Mister Park wouldn't allow it. He said even in the best of times the section along Water Street where Miss Graham's sister lived was no place for a lady like Diana to dare alone. She could fire him for insubordination if she chose, but he would go just the same.
He carried his stoutest cudgel and wore his fiercest look for the journey. But Diana could tell that beneath the gnarly surface was a man as frightened as a small child. She pretended female weakness, and gripped one of his thick arms for reassurance. Soon as she laid a small hand on his forearm, she could feel his spine stiffen. His walk took on a bow-legged swagger. He growled fiercely at the few who dared to walk into their path.
It was late afternoon. The heat hung as close to the city as the swarms of mosquitoes that skimmed just past the fumes of penny royal that Diana had daubed heavily on her veil, gloves, and outer clothing. She tried to get Mister Park to follow her example, but he insisted the little biters affected him not at all. He said there was something in his blood that turned them away, and it was rare the insects made a meal on him. But within a few squares of the oasis that was Elm Court, he was already cursing under his breath and slapping at his exposed neck and face and hands.
The city was silent. It was a silence no one could grow accustomed to. Blocks away someone hammered on a door with its big brass knocker, and Diana could hear the hammering echo all along Race Street. Almost no one was about, especially children. She knew from the Gazette and the stories from her staff that the fever had been especially cruel to children. The young died faster and in greater numbers than their elders. It was one of the many oddities of the plague—equally as odd as how few old people had been afflicted. Or that not as many women had died as men.
They found the building just past Alum Court. It sat at a crazy angle on the bank, half buried in muck and rubble. The river stink was so thick, Mister Park accepted a handkerchief soaked in vinegar from Diana. When she saw the place, Diana began to get an inkling of why Miss Graham had insisted she not meet her sister. It was set amongst a nest of dirty yellow buildings, notorious in the city as a breeding ground for whores. She entered the building pitying Miss Graham, whose sister was a whore.
Everyone was mad in this place. Mad or dead. She could smell the rotting flesh as she entered. Mister Park tried to go in front of her, but she brushed past him into the dank warren. Silence. Except for the creaking of timbers. Or the cracks of steps as she ascended the stairs. She moved by instinct, hesitating at first, then quietly opening doors and looking inside. Most of the rooms were empty. Horribly, some were not. Skeletal remains swarming with maggots. Corpses fully dressed. Others gruesomely naked. One of the rooms held a coffin set upon a pallet. It was made of expensive wood and lined with soft cloth. In it lay a woman in a revealing dress of bold red. She wore flashing beads at her throat and wrists. The woman had doused herself with what seemed like gallons of cheap perfume. A whore at final rest. Was it Miss Graham's sister?
Diana stepped in to see. And the woman rose up. Mister Park shouted a warning and leapt forward with his cudgel raised to strike. Diana jumped in between, then saw something gleam at her and ducked aside just in time to avoid a knife so sharp that, although it barely brushed her, it sliced through her dress like a whisper. Mister Park swung around to strike again, then stopped. The knife cut seemed to have taken everything out of the whore. She sagged back on the satin pillow. But her eyes were still open and angry red. Her skin was yellow with oozing sores.
Diana asked her name. She got an obscene curse for an answer. She asked for Miss Graham. Another curse. And then the children. Five, weren't there? A short silence. She asked again. More silence. The woman began babbling. Meaningless babble. Except for a few obscenities, Diana couldn't make out a word. For a moment she thought wildly of that child Emmett had tended. The child with the pox. The only one alive in a community of corpses. What was her name? Emmett was insistent she remember. It was important to the child, he said. As were the other names in the commune. As she faced the dying whore, the names escaped her. Every single one of them that she had committed to memory. Ah, well, perhaps the shock. When this was over, she would recall. Yes, she certainly would. But she never did.
"Ricketts," the whore was muttering. "Ricketts. They took 'em off to Ricketts's."
Diana knew to enter that amphitheater requisitioned for the poor was to be sentenced to death. Although, hadn't she heard it had been abandoned, the dying moved to the great, dilapidated mansion Andrew Hamilton had built many years ago on Bush Hill? In either case, she feared for the children and Miss Graham—if, indeed, the whore was Miss Graham's sister. Diana had no other options but to assume she was. She left the woman to die in peace in the final resting place she had so carefully prepared.
They retraced their steps back down Water Street, up Race, and then cut across to the High. Then past Diana's house to the circus. There were no bands to greet them this time. No crowds of eager people with shillings in their hands to press on the ticket takers. No one about at all, except a great crow sprawled noisily in a heap of dust by the entrance. It squawked at them as they entered, and Mister Park brandished his cudgel, but it paid him no mind. Inside the place was dark. The stands empty, the ring littered with garbage, bed ticking, and mounds of moldy blankets.
The last time she was here with Dolly Todd, the seats were packed until they were groaning. The wooden roof strained with the huzzahs, Mister Ricketts amazing one and all with his feats. The colors of the audience's dress flashed, colors to make a rainbow envious. But now no one could imagine there had ever been anything like a circus here. The only smell was the cloying, musty scent of stale blood and human waste.
They searched among the heaps of greasy blankets. They found two corpses, neither of them Miss Graham. Several more were lying in the stands, the fresh wounds of the lancet marking their arms. A few pitiful dribbles of blood stained the ground next to them, all that was left. Someone screamed from a side room off the stands. A woman. Mister Park and Diana rushed off.
Two black women were trying to load a middle-aged white woman on a stretcher, her skin the telltale yellow of the fever. She was begging them not to take her. Not to Bush Hill. She had survived this place, she pleaded. Let her stay. In an hour or so she would be well enough to make her own way home. As she wept and pleaded, tears streamed down their own faces as they pleaded in return: be calm, missus. They have doctors there. And medicine. Even food and drink. Help us, missus. No, no, please, missus. Don't fight us so. Finally she went limp. The black women noticed Diana and Mister Park. Not a word was exchanged. No need to. The woman had won. She was dead.
Diana and Mister Park set off for Bush Hill. They found Miss Graham. She was lying on the clumps of dead vegetation that had once been a lawn and garden. Around her were fifty others, some dead, others moaning and weeping bitterly in their misery. There was no remorse so great as that brought on by the yellow fever, it was said, and Diana knew it now to be true and no hoary folktale. Miss Graham was alive but unconscious, waiting to be carried inside to join the hundreds there for treatment. A young doctor paused over a man on the lawn to watch as Diana helped Mister Park lift Miss Graham up and over his heavy shoulders. The doctor didn't protest as they walked away. In fact, Diana thought for a moment that he looked relieved. Then he went back to work with his bloody lancet.
They carried her to Elm Court and laid her in her own bed. Diana nursed her for a week. Slowly she regained her health. Mister Park died three days later. His death was unusually swift. But it was the fever just the same.
As for the five children, Diana never found out whether they were real or part of the fiction Miss Graham had invented to hide her sister's seamy business. She tried to ask, but Miss Graham would always just stubbornly shake her head and go about her tasks in that firm, bustling manner she had.
Miss Graham stayed with Diana for another ten years, until her death by natural causes. And she never, ever was heard to speak again.
THEY BURIED MISTER Park in the Lutheran cemetery. He was a Methodist. But it was the only cemetery open. Just as Reverend Helmuth was one of the few ministers to stay with his flock to the last.
Diana quite liked the little minister. The man confessed that for a time he went through much soul searching. It seemed as if so many more Lutherans were dying than Quakers, or Catholics, or Methodists. Each day the boy he kept at the gate issuing tickets for burial saw scores of people arrive. The poor brave grave digger, a Mister Martin Brown, toiled all day burying corpses no one else would touch. The Lutheran driver was one of the few men who would lift a corpse into its box.
At first the good reverend assumed there were so many Lutherans dying because the people of his flock were relatively poor. He prayed it wasn't also because his people were greater sinners than the others. Then he realized there was no place else for people of other faiths to be buried. There was nothing else to be done but have the corpses convert to Lutheran. When he finally understood this, Reverend Helmuth ended the small charge required for burial.
Before the fever ended, one thousand would be buried in the tiny cemetery.
* * * *
The city was coming apart. The clocks had all stopped because there was no one to tend them. Sometimes the watch called the wrong hour the whole night because they were given the wrong time. The stories grew worse. Nurses looted patients. Hearses were sent for, and living bodies placed in coffins to avoid the bother of waiting until they were properly dead. Even heroes fell. Captain Sharp, of local Revolutionary War fame, hid himself in his room for days while his wife lay dying. The only people on the streets seemed to be doctors, nurses, bleeders, or the servants of the dead. The true heroes were the small people, many of them black. Sarah Bass, a widow Diana knew, went from home to home, nursing the sick far into the night. Another woman, Mary Scott—also black—nursed for fifty cents a day. Barely enough to keep herself alive. Many times she charged nothing. When one poor old woman insisted she name a price, Mrs. Scott answered: "... a meal, missus, on some cold winter's day." Caesar Cranchal, a friend of Mrs. Leclerc, refused all offers of pay for his help. He said it would be wrong. He couldn't sell life for money. Even if he should die himself. Which he did.
Meanwhile, misery heaped upon misery. The living starved and went about in rags, and the dead were to be envied. At least it was over. No more awful suspense. Diana finally had enough. She went to see Lydia Clarkson, the mayor's wife. Diana wasn't the only one who had decided to seize the reins if she could. There were other men and women like her who seemed to have come to the same conclusion at the same time, all of them middle-class or less. Merchants and carpenters and brick layers, salt makers and butchers; and shopkeepers like herself. Somehow order must be returned. Later, Diana thought the simultaneous decisions came because the rich and landed had fled. Ordinary people finally realized they held their fate in their own hands. Not unlike Dr. Franklin's jest about the plague ending in the Sugar Islands, she thought, when the last of the medical men had gone.
Lydia told her that scores of people had been to see the mayor. An organization was already beginning: the city had been divided into ten districts, and brave volunteers had come forward to police the area and see to the needs of the healthy as well as the sick. Streets were starting to be cleaned, the garbage carried away by scavengers—at musket point if necessary. Word had gone out all over the land for food, clothing, drink, anything at all that could be spared. No one knew if the cry would be answered. Even the greediest traders had stopped coming into the city.
A dark bit of plague humor summed it up for Diana. It seemed there were two Germantown farmers who had heard of the plague, but also had heard of the incredible prices being offered at market. They could not resist. The farmers found the city yellow as a pumpkin patch and filled with terrible odors. A breeze came up. The smell wafted over a crowd and ten fell instantly dead. The deadly wind shifted for the farmers. They ran screaming, but it overtook them. Both fell to the ground, one dead, the other senseless. The surviving farmer came to several hours later. Instantly he rushed to market, where he received five and nine for butter and four shillings for eggs. He returned home with fat pockets and sorrowful tales. The next day he loaded up his wagon again to return to Philadelphia. His wife wept and pleaded with him. How could he dare the plague again? "Be quiet, woman," he thundered back. "At four shillings an egg, I'd dare the Devil himself!"
The problem with supplies is what Diana wanted to see Lydia about. She had a plan, but she required wagons and drivers to carry it out. Lydia agreed. There was no need to consult her husband. He would support her in whatever she decided.
* * * *
Diana sent for Mister Park's sons, Bob and Little Tom. They were brutes in size and intelligence, but not in demeanor. They always had such sweet smiles on their faces that you had to forgive them their stupidities. She carefully explained what she wanted, watching closely for signs of fear. She saw nothing except dumb smiles and nods. Off they went, leaving her to feel a bit like she was sending them to the hangman. They scoured the city for Diana's lads—the peddlers. A dozen or more remained. She had packs waiting, filled to the brim with little baubles and trinkets for the farm women. All gifts.
She also sent the dolls, dressed in her finest. To each one was pinned a letter. A letter begging for help.
* * * *
On October 1, seventy died. On the fifth, Father Fleming was buried. On the seventh, the toll was eighty-two. Ninety on the eighth. More than a hundred on the ninth. The same on the tenth. And on the eleventh of October, Black Friday, 120 people breathed their last.
The weekend of the twelfth, another storm broke. It rained steadily for two days. The following two days the weather was brisk. The death toll was lighter. People began hoping the end of the plague was in sight. Then sixty died. Then eighty. And then eighty-one. At any one time, Lydia Clarkson said, at least six thousand people were ill.
Little Tom took sick and died. Diana knew it was she who had killed him. She ordered the house scoured and painted. The court itself she had flushed out with precious water. She did her best not to shiver at the mosquito swarms the water attracted. She had more oil poured on the worst of the standing pools to murder the wrigglers. But the luck that had been with her from the start seemed to end with Little Tom's death. The stable man followed. Then his assistant. Her cook, Mrs. Kenrick, became ill. But she rallied, with no apparent danger of relapse. Diana and the rest huddled in the house. Waiting. Who was next?
The first wagon crossed the river on October 21. lt was from the Widow Grubb of Chester, who clutched one of Diana's dolls in her hand. The wagon was heaped with supplies. Diana wept as the lad helped the driver unload the wagon into the city's warehouse. She prayed it wasn't the last. More wagons came, and livestock, and blankets and medicines and clothing. And not just from Diana's farm women. The city's pleas were finally being heard. Within three days, 36,000 pounds of goods had arrived, and there were more crossing the river; so many that the ferrymen were shamed out of hiding at last and the long wait on the far banks of the rivers ceased.
Like magic, it rained again on October 21. The temperature dropped to the mid-fifties and a brisk wind blew in from the seas, sweeping away the smell of smoke and the enormous insect swarms. The death toll dropped to fifty-four, then thirty-eight, then twenty-five. On Sunday, October 27, only twelve people died. The plague was over.
On October 28—again like magic—the first packets returned. People poured back into Philadelphia. Boards came off the windows of shops and houses. The heavers went back to work at the docks. The ships came in to unload their goods. Within a week all seemed normal.
The people who returned found a place different from what they had left. The streets were sparkling, the marketplace cleaner than anyone had ever seen it. The crowds of beggars had dwindled to nearly nil. The same with the poor, and the orphaned. It was no wonder, Diana thought, because most of them had died.
Some said it was human spirit that conquered the plague—people like Diana, or Absalom Jones, or Lydia and Matthew Clarkson, who finally forced their will upon the fever. Others said it was the last storm that cleared the air and ended the drought. A few said it was proof of the power of prayer—even though most of the ministers had fled their flocks.
But Diana always believed the end came for different reasons. A little over a week prior to the arrival of the Widow Grubb's wagon, Dr. Rush had been publicly branded a fool. Already his colleagues were turning their backs on his drastic cure, and had adopted far milder methods of treatment. Methods that at least allowed the body to heal itself if the fever gave it the chance. The number of deaths, she noted, plummeted from that time.
The plague's final toll was never counted. Gravestones held no clues. It was the rare person's grave that had a mark. And what of all the corpses that had no name? And never would? Some said the death toll was over ten thousand. Others mocked this, charging this figure only counted people of means. Twenty thousand was the number they favored. Diana would live to see even this eclipsed by scholars who said it was more like thirty thousand. From a city of 55,000.
Whatever the number, Diana only knew this: there was one murderer in this piece. The man who slew her friends. And thousands of others. He was a famous man. One of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. A hero. A man of science, renowned even abroad.
Before the plague, Diana didn't believe in Hell. She thought the notion superstitious. Now she believed, prayed, even, that the hell-fires burned as eternally and painfully as promised. For it, she had some fuel. A great villain she was sure would make a lovely flame.
His name was Dr. Benjamin Rush.
NEXT: The Master Weaver Of Donegal