THE INDIANS—SEVENTY-NINE braves and two white renegades—came again a year later. They intended but one thing: to obliterate Cherry Valley. The frontier war had gone on too long. Atrocity begat atrocity; murder, murder. Sullivan's army had torn the guts out of the civilized Iroquois and their Susquehanna Valley granary. Forty-one Indian towns were destroyed, including the Great Seneca Castle, their citadel. Thousands of Indians fled to Canada as refugees. Hundreds more were. dead. Dripping scalps swung from the belts of American soldiers—and no one seemed to give a damn if the scalps were those of men, women, or children.
Moses was splitting logs back of the former Bishop farmhouse when four raiders came out of the brush, keening war cries. He froze—and the first Indian was on him, knife lifted. Moses reflexively hurled his heavy maul, and the Indian's chest crunched. Moses ducked a war lance and grabbed his axe. He brushed the next lance thrust aside and slashed the brave down. A pistol barked behind him and a third brave sagged. The last Indian spun and ran. Moses knew nothing of what had happened. Just that he was standing there, his brother beside him, hurriedly reloading a fired pistol. The bodies of three men lay around him. Moses saw the blood on his axe, and dropped the tool. "The springhouse," Aaron shouted, and they were both running.
Diana, Farrell, and James Emmett were already underground when the two blacks exploded down the steps. They huddled in the darkness—waiting for the hatch to open once more. It did not. At dusk they chanced out. Smoke pillared the sky. The abandoned fort, the blockhouse and church inside it, were aflame. The few buildings left un-burnt a year and a half before were crumbling ash, including the Bishop farm. But the Shannon farmhouse was unburnt. Diana thanked God for Emmett's perversity in having built over a rise. The Indians must not have seen the sprawling building. She was sure the two footprints in the yard could not have come from Indians. Otherwise, the house certainly would have been put to the torch. There could be no other explanation.
Eight settlers were killed in the attack. Twice that many were taken prisoner and driven away to Canada. History would record this as the end of Cherry Valley. The books would say that for the rest of the war the valley's ruins were tenanted only by creatures of the wild. That is not what happened.
* * * *
"You know who I am," Diana said. "I am the crazy Shannon widow." There was a slight ripple of amusement. Diana looked out from her porch at the thirty or so people in the farmyard. They were a strange group. They were the people of Cherry Valley. They did not exist—at least as far as the comfortable record books of the rich were concerned. Their names might appear on the magistrate's rolls. But probably not even there. They were the ones who squatted on unworked land; the failed redemptionists; the landless. There was a knot of French-speaking farmers: Canadian Huguenots. There were three or four Christianized Indians. There were others whose business was beyond any law. Smugglers. Criminals. Even a couple of certified hermits. They'd stayed in Cherry Valley because there was nowhere else to go.
"I guess we are all that's left of Cherry Valley," Diana went on. "That does not trouble me. I came here to stay. This land is mine. There is not an Indian, a Britisher, or a gentleman who can drive me off. I grew up in a village where there were what they called gentry. People who owned land. People who owned people. I would not," Diana said carefully, "piss on any of their beards if their faces were afire."
Diana had taken careful note of the more creative blasphemers around the Black Lamb as well as her own Emmett's ability with obscenities. Again amusement—and agreement. "Now, they are all away, fighting their war. The valley belongs to us. We can—and must—help one another."
A large rough chortled: "I'd be honored to help you, little lady." Diana leveled him with a look as lethal as grapeshot. The rough stepped back into the crowd.
"Some of us have seed. Some of us have supplies. More of us know how to do a task, and can teach others. Some of us would like to read and cipher. I can teach that. We need a marketplace. We do not need the merchants to take their share, telling us how much flax a baconer is worth, do we? I have a springhouse down at the crossroads. We could meet there two times a month."
"Cherry Valley's a day's travel away for me," a man in homespun said.
"We will build down there. Build an inn."
"Innkeepers ain't known for bein' Samaritans," came from a skeptic.
"I am not one, either," Diana agreed. "Lodgings can be paid in kind. Or by work. One day this war will end. What we have then is how the gentlemen will treat us when they crawl back."
"And mebbe they won't be let back."
"Believe that if you like," Diana said. "But they have the army now. I do not see why they would not have the soldiers then as well. Dream what you want. I dream as far as this winter."
"So we build again," a woman said. "What about the Indians?"
"Does any one of you have anything an Indian would want? A scalp, perhaps. But I would think that would be a pricey trinket in the getting. Ransom us to Canada? I do not have a rich relative to pay ransom. The ones I have would just spit and say glad to see the last of her. What else? Thieves do not bother poor folk like us. There is nothing to steal." She waited. No one seemed to have anything else to say. "Think on what I said. In two weeks I will have a market at the crossroads. Those who care to, may come."
The crowd broke up into small groups, arguing, agreeing. Diana, Moses, and Aaron served pannikins of rum, one per person. She did not want to put the lie to being poor, and some of these people would think having more than one drink of rum still in the jar as wealth beyond comprehension.
Two weeks later there were fifteen people at the crossroads. Two cows, one heifer, six chickens, five measures of homespun, and an Indian tomahawk were traded. It was a beginning.
Diana Shannon was seventeen years old.
* * * *
The Continental Army laid the foundations for the inn. A patrol of twenty men moved through the valley, one very young, very green, very scared subaltern in the lead. Like his equally raw corporal and eighteen privates, he came from Albany. They had been ordered to scout from Cherry Valley down toward Unadilla. They were sure Indians by the thousands lurked on their route. Diana knew there were Indians out there, beyond the valley. Perhaps twenty or so.
She invited the patrol to camp for the night outside her farmyard. Over a very proper tea, she told the officer she might have a solution to his problem. In Cherry Valley lived this famous ex-ranger, she said, a very private man, badly scarred by what happened in the wars with the French. He owed her a favor.
Diana was sure she could convince the man to take the scout to Unadilla, unseen by the red barbarians.
How long would that take? Perhaps a week, Diana said. The subaltern may have been a novice soldier, but coming from Albany, he had an excellent idea that no one does anything for free.
"While you're waiting," Diana answered smoothly, "your men could be of service to me. I am building an inn down at the crossroads. I have but two males to assist me." The officer frowned. "I was once told by the commander of the garrison here," she went on, "that it was very important for soldiers to keep busy. The devil making work for idle hands and that. And Colonel Alden—of course, I am but a woman—I thought most clever."
The bargain was struck. Diana hunted down an impressively bearded old fur hunter and gave him instructions. He would get a full jug of rum for his services. "The rum beforehand."
"1 am not that much of a fool. And for the love of Jesus, don't let yourself be seen around the valley. Remember, you are supposed to be scouting in Unadilla."
By the time the old man returned, the foundations were laid, the framing up, and half the lapped wall cladding pegged in place. The subaltern started back for civilization, happy with a report that Indian forces beyond the Wyoming were scattered. His troops were equally delighted. Not only had they not marched themselves barefoot, but they'd not gotten massacred, either.
That was how the inn began. It was finished in bits by landless men wanting lodgings after market, poor travelers who preferred not to speak their reasons for being on these deadly trails, the occasional merchant's convoy, and by Moses and Aaron.
* * * *
Robert M'Kean would never return to Cherry Valley for "his" Diana. A dispatch rider told her of Major M'Kean's death, leading troops at the battle of Durlock, in the summer of 1781.
* * * *
Diana's offer to teach any interested parties how to read and write met with only limited success. Some adults showed up for a few sessions, then decided learning was too plaguey difficult. Others saw no use in the art: "If m'da and granddad before him didn't have need for ciphering, why do I?" Some wanted their children to learn—but balked when they realized learning was keeping them out of the fields and away from their daily tasks. The Huguenots were interested, until they realized Diana could not teach them to read and write in French.
But there were a few triumphs. Both Moses and Aaron persisted. Aaron learned fairly readily, but Moses sat for many hours, staring blankly at the primer in front of him. He could understand that the letters C, O, and W represented an animal. But how—and why—should the addition of a fourth letter looking like a snake, mean two, three, or a whole herd? Farrell would watch Moses's perplexity in frustration. To him it was perfectly obvious—the word was not, of course, the thing itself, but there was no difference. Both were equally real. Just as numbers were—six plus seven was thirteen. Thirteen cows, cats, Indians, or just thirteen, were the same. Then one day Moses got it. The squiggles on the page in front of him swam into focus—and made sense. "Whales in the Sea,/GOD's Voice obey" he suddenly shouted—making Diana jump a yard and a half. Moses could read.
* * * *
Part of Farrell's education was reading aloud to Diana each afternoon while she prepared dinner. He knew the words— or puzzled them out easily. But his pronunciation was awful. Diana made the mistake of giggling once, at Farrell's reading—". . . Children in the Midft of New-England itfelf . . ." and the boy instantly went into a sulk, refusing to read again for several days. "Why do they put an F in a book, and you are supposed to read it as an S?" Diana could not answer, other than that was the way it was done. Farrell had little appreciation for tradition. Actually, she thought, it was a good question.
Farrell would read anything. As long as it was the truth. The matter came to a head over William Shakespeare. They'd finished Romeo and Juliet without any problems, although Diana suspected Farrell was keeping his mouth shut since he saw how much his stepmother enjoyed it. Hamlet was the sticking point. He'd read the title suspiciously. "Was this man a real prince?" Diana didn't know. Farrell stopped reading within two pages.
"There's a ghost," he announced.
"I don't believe in ghosts."
Diana erred at that point, snapping in exasperation, "It is just a story."
"Then why should we read it? If it did not happen."
"Because," Diana tried, "we can learn from it."
"How? We aren't in Denmark. And we don't have any kings or princes. Why not the Henry Vee-Eye-Eye-Eye play? He was real." Diana decided the argument wasn't worth it—for the moment—and thought it was time for Farrell to start learning Roman numerals. But the discussion wasn't over for the boy. The next day he announced he had read further into the play. "They kill somebody by pouring poison in the porch of his ears. My ears don't have porches. And I do not believe you could kill somebody like that. And even if this Hamlet was real, how did Shakespeare know how he talked? He was English, you said, so how could he know how to speak Den-marky?"
Hamlet—and any other Shakespeare play not labeled a history—went down to defeat. It was not worth the battle.
* * * *
A trapper paid for his lodging with the promise of furs that spring on his return, and a bottle of wine he'd been given. The wine was mostly vinegar—but it came packed in newspaper. Diana deciphered what she could. One paper, the New York Packet of October 25, intoned: "Be it remembered, that on the seventeenth of October, 1781, Lieutenant-General Earl Cornwallis, with above five thousand British troops, surrendered prisoners of war to his Excellency General George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the allied forces of France and America! Laus Deo!" It sounded as if there had been a noble victory, Diana thought. Maybe the war was ending.
But the war dragged on. Raiders and Indians still struck travelers and isolated farmhouses. The man or woman who strayed more than a minute's run from a weapon or barred door was still easy prey. In spite of the times, Diana's inn prospered. Merchants occasionally traveled the roads, with heavy escorts. City folk, they were uncomfortable without a solid roof over them when night came. The bulk of Diana's clientele, however, arrived by night; deserters, runaways, hunters. These paid, most often, with labor. They were put up in a part of the inn that had a double-barred door between it and the Shannon quarters. When men like these were around, either Moses or Aaron tried to stay fairly close to the inn.
Then there were the preferred customers: men with ready carbines and tomahawks, and a brace of pistols on their saddles. The cargoes lashed to their pack animals would often be covered with canvas. Men who were taciturn about where they came from and where they were headed. Generally they arrived at night, after sending a lone rider to the inn to make sure there were no troops around. Smugglers. They paid well—either in trade goods or in money. If in goods, they were very careful to tell Diana what a fur or a bolt of cloth would be worth in Albany or Niagara, and that Diana should not take any offer below that price.
Sometimes they even paid in money. Not paper—by now it took nearly two hundred dollars in Continental paper for one dollar in specie, and a damned fool willing to make the trade. State paper was worth even less, up to 1,000:1. Diana hoped Mister van Ruysdael's idealism and faith in paper money had not included his entire fortune. When cash payment was made, it could be in a dizzying variety of coinage. Perhaps dollars. Or, just as likely, thalers, doubloons, pistoles, joes, pistareens, moidores, or Johannes. To make matters somewhat more complicated, silver coins would frequently be cut into halves or quarters to provide the exact amount. Slowly she accumulated a cache.
Farrell was the only one who knew where it was. Diana treated the boy almost as if he were an equal. It may have been a mistake. Certainly he took whatever she said quite literally. But she had to have someone to talk to, and Farrell was completely dependable. Especially at watching James Emmett.
He was quite a child. James Emmett's babyhood was a chronicle of discoveries and near disasters—fire at one and a half (minor burns); kettles at two (Farrell pushed him away as the boiling water splashed); the springhouse steps a month later (bruises); bulls that summer (dragged screaming out of the pen by Diana); deer that autumn (trying to pat a doe that had leapt into the back garden, the deer shot by Aaron before its hooves slashed James Emmett down); and so forth. Somehow they survived. But Diana could not take the next step. Not until there was peace.
* * * *
Four men brought the news. The war was over. America was free. The British army was still in New York: "Let them have the Tory stronghold and rot." But in the spring a preliminary treaty had been approved and a truce proclaimed. Congress immediately began disbanding the expensive army. Diana put the four men up, refusing payment. Not that any of the four had hard coins. "They let us go. We're what they call furloughed," one of the ex-Regulars explained.
"Did they pay you?"
That produced bitter laughter. "They say they'll come to that. But they let us keep our muskets as a bonus," one man said.
"The hell with their bonus, the hell with their pay, the hell with their army, and the hell with the whole damned Congress." This from the oldest of the four, a man wearing a corporal's epaulette. "They'll talk, and argue, and probably end by giving the officers some kind of money. Although what manner of money, is my wonderment. Continentals? I'd rather have this Brown Bess." Diana remembered what Emmett had told her about his treatment when discharged in the war with the French.
"I have all I want out of this war," another man said. "Four limbs, two eyes, and a mind that still remembers how to plant." Diana went for another round of cider, wondering if soldiers would always be forgotten the moment a war ended.
Farrell was in the kitchen with James Emmett. "I heard them. Do you think they're lying? Is the war done with?"
"I believe them."
"So we do not have to worry about Indians? Or cow boys?"
"I don't think that will change."
"Then there is still a war. For us."
Diana couldn't argue. She could only mourn the fact that the boy had known nothing but war since he was two years old.
* * * *
In October the rider came boiling up to the inn. He was one of the French-Canadians, and had driven his horse hard through the fall storms. Diana fed him a mulled cider, and sorted through his French/Indian/English babble. General George Washington himself was coming to Cherry Valley.
He was right now coming on the road from Cana-joharie. Him, General Clinton, Old Isaac Hand, and others were visiting the frontiers.
"Why would they come to Cherry Valley?" Diana wondered skeptically. "No fort, no church, no rich society here."
The Frenchman looked a little puzzled. He hadn't bothered to wonder.
"You saw General Washington?"
No. He hadn't. But he'd run into somebody on the road who said his brother had. Diana considered, then called herself seven kinds of a damned fool and put herself and the boys in motion. Would General Washington like her inn? What did generals eat? Or drink? Aaron interrupted the scramble with some questions: "This Washington. He's rich. And comes from Virginia, eh? Rich men from down their own slaves."
"What's that got to do with anything?"
"My brother and I stay clear of slavers. Maybe it would be nice to see the General. But it sounds like a chance we'd rather not take. Besides, we've got fencing to go up back of the barn."
Diana put herself and the boys into their best and struck out for where the Albany road came into Cherry Valley. She was swearing a little at being such an optimist. But supposing the General came—and she did not see him? There were thirty or more people waiting, near the ruins of the fort. They waited a very long time. An hour after dusk, even the most credulous conceded that the General was unlikely to make an appearance. Diana collected a disappointed Farrell and James Emmett and sloshed off through the rain, back toward the inn. She wondered if Washington was really at Canajoharie. Or Albany, even.
But she realized, rather suddenly and cynically, that in twenty years or so, after Cherry Valley rebuilt itself, the General would have been there. With probably every dignitary that the tale-teller could think of. Moses and Aaron, she concluded, were the only people in Cherry Valley who had the slightest intelligence—even though they thought in peculiar ways.
* * * *
"Believed you might be interested in these, missus," the man said. He dropped three things on the table. Diana having just come in from the glaring summer light outside, squinted at them in the dimness. At first she thought they were furs. They looked to be three mops, long, shiny, and black, ending in a whitish knot. Diana's stomach lurched. Scalps. She swallowed hard.
"What makes you think that?" she managed.
"They're Senecy," the man said. Even across the great tavern table, Diana could smell the reek from the man's sweat and poorly tanned leathers. "Senecy're what kilt your boy. Emmett's boy." Diana waited. "Easy takin'," the man boasted. "They come out of the forest. 'Peared like they was waitin' for me. Said they wanted to parley. Said they wanted to come an' start tradin' with us." The man guffawed. Diana realized the stink was coming from the scalps as well as the hunter. "Said they wanted to come to our market."
Diana forced her eyes away from the table. "Why?"
"Said you're a friend. Said they know how Emmett got hisself kilt. Revengin' somebody they said was Dooval or somethin'. Said that's why you didn't get burnt last time they come through." Very suddenly Diana was back, digging the graves in that desolate farmyard below Albany. She'd seen no one watching. All she had left in the farmyard were the scratched words on the wooden cross over Emmett's grave.
"They said there'd been a conference up to Fort Stanwix. Said bunch of our chiefs stood up an' told th' Iroquois they been beat. They backed the wrong horse, an' that's th' way it is. Said the Injuns gonna have to knuckle under and live by our rules. Haw! Then they tol' me Cornplanter— he's the Senecy chief—stood up in council. Said th' Six Nations gotta 'commodate with the whites. Learn to farm an' like that. Dam' fool that he is."
"I tol' 'em that sounded fine with me. Said we oughter palaver. Waited till they set spears down, and kilt 'em. What the hell else you think I was gonna do? Redmen ain't nothin' but lyin' killers, anyway."
* * * *
That was the summer that Moses and Aaron left. She argued with them. No one had heard of nor seen the Loyalist Hopkins. And the committee had granted her the land. "I wonder if that was ever put in writing," Aaron said.
"How could that matter? Colonel Campbell was sitting that day. And he is a fair man."
"He is. A fair white man." Diana understood. She may have been blind to the fact that Moses and Aaron were of a different color than others. And certainly that they were runaways was a positive note to her. "All it would take," Moses continued, "is one bounty seeker. As far as we know, a slave remains a slave unless freed by his master. And that . . . that man in Boston would never free us, nor would any of his heirs."
"You are worrying unnecessarily."
"Are we? Probably you are right. Probably Moses and I could remain on the land. Perhaps even purchase it from you, if a deed is recorded. Both of us want to marry some day. And have children. What rights will they have? Congress seems to have no concern for men of color."
"But in Canada . . . there's still lords and ladies and redcoats," Diana said.
"But no slaves," came the retort.
A week later they were packed and ready to leave. With them went two horses, a cart, and a good percentage of Diana's carefully husbanded money. "If things do not happen as you hope," Diana said, "you are always welcome here."
"We thank you. Maybe one day we shall return. Or our sons may. When America fights the rest of its war."
Diana, Farrell, and James Emmett watched the wagon until it was out of sight. James Emmett was crying. Farrell did not cry or say much until Diana was putting the boys to bed. "Why," he asked, "is everyone always leaving? And why are we staying?"
Not for much longer, Diana thought. Not for much longer.
* * * *
But it was another four years before the man of Diana's dreams arrived. By then the inn was a sprawl around the crossroads. Buildings were put up or remodeled; as times grew better, money could be spent, or there were some strong backs needing work. If Diana saw her life and her work as being Cherry Valley, it probably would have been most logical to rebuild the inn from bare ground. But she did not, of course, and never had. If Emmett had lived, they would have sold the land or possibly even abandoned it and moved west. But Emmett was gone.
Diana felt herself, at twenty-five, getting old. The world was changing, and she was not part of that change. One side of her knew this to be foolish—but lying awake in predawn darkness, when the mind sees nothing but disappointment and failure, the thought was still there. It would be the city for her. Since Farrell, at fourteen, could and did manage the inn on occasion, she was willing to travel as far as Albany. He could also keep James Emmett under some kind of control. He'd continued growing as a mischief, and probably wasn't punished enough for his troublesome adventures.
The first time she went to Albany not for business, but for pure longing. There had been a man. The head of a band of smugglers. A man of quick wit, scented hair, velvet coat, silver buckles and handworked pistols which were always primed and hung on either side of his blooded stallion's saddle. Perhaps he had a wife, at home in New York. Perhaps not. She did not ask. It was enough that he made her laugh and held her very close in the silence of the night. Laughter came not nearly often enough in Cherry Valley. Life was too much a struggle, from before the sun rose until after it set, hard work and hard thought just to stay alive, and satisfaction enough at the end of the day to fall into a dreamless sleep, belly full and scalp attached.
There had been a couple of other affairs. But always Diana was careful and kept Gramer Fahey's words that New Kent—and Cherry Valley—was "not the place to spread your knees and keep your independence. But in other places there are discreet ways a woman can leap into a man's bed as eagerly as a witch to the Devil's Sabbath, and not chance her reputation." Diana was careful indeed: "And as for getting caught out, there's little reason in these times. I have means ... so that you can have pleasure without fear— wedded or not." Pleasure, yes. Companionship once, perhaps twice. Nothing more. Not that Diana Shannon wanted more. She was too busy staying alive.
But there was more to this traveling than just the freedom of being away from the careful and moral eyes of Cherry Valley. There was the feeling that just beyond her horizon, south on the Hudson, was a world where life was more than a day-by-day scrabble for mere survival. She listened to the echoes of that world aborning in many forms. The new fabrics in the merchants' shops. Sometimes an item of luxury—pewter or silver that found its way to the frontier. An exotic silk from lands beyond her geography. Sometimes a man traveling with his wife, and the wife would describe what was worn in a city. Styles that she would carry back to Cherry Valley in her mind and then sew for herself. Sometimes the result was ludicrous—or else the Philadelphia or New York style itself was ludicrous, and Diana ripped up her own stitches in half-angry, half-amused frustration.
The feeling that now was the time grew stronger. Now was the time to move on. And finally the man she'd dreamed of arrived. Robert Bolton. He was a speculator, a man who knew he was foreordained for great riches, a man who'd convinced himself he was the natural son of Midas. Such a man—firm in the conviction that riches were one deal away—was certain he knew many things. He knew roads better than the teamster, iron better than the smith, grain better than the miller . . . and inns better than the keeper. Bolton had been in Cherry Valley for two weeks. Diana heard he was attempting to purchase Thomas Whitaker's tavern, which made her use a number of choice words culled from soldiers' language. Then the sale collapsed. Mister Whitaker was entertaining a larger offer. She began hoping.
Mister Bolton made a grand appearance the next day. His sleek horse looked like it'd come from a cavalry regiment—but it needed reshoeing. His clothes were expensive—but not what Diana heard that the men in the cities were wearing these days. She had been contemplating a litter of pigs, and planning to slaughter them before the weather got warmer. Mister Bolton dismounted and introduced himself. Then he eyed the pen.
"Three months from now, and those will be fine baconers."
Diana started to say something. Yes, in three months they might double their weight, but they also would have eaten several times that increase in slops. She merely smiled politely. Mister Bolton sidled into the subject. He had heard of Diana's inn, and was impressed . . . very impressed that a woman could run such a vast enterprise by herself.
"What is so impressive about that? Would a man be able to take it in his stride?" Mister Bolton backwatered. Of course that was not what was meant. But there was just her, and her two sons. A Herculean task for anyone. Diana invited him into the taproom and offered a punch. Eventually the conversation worked around to: Had she ever considered a partner? Someone who could provide financing. Someone with close connections to lenders.
Farrell had joined them. He started to bristle—and was glowered into silence by both Diana and Mister Bolton. "Partners fall out," Diana said. Then baited her own hook. No, she'd never considered a partner. But ... as the good sir could tell—the inn was quite large, and showed no sign of shrinking. Look how Cherry Valley is growing. Did you know, sir, there is even talk about us becoming another county? If Cherry Valley were the seat, which of course it would be, by the turn of the century it might rival Albany in size. Mister Bolton had not heard the talk of a new county. His eyes glistened.
"I have been thinking about returning to Easton," Diana continued. "But I would be afraid my inn would be mishandled if I sought out some local to run it for me." Mister Bolton looked around, and Diana could read what he was thinking. Certainly her prices were far too low. If they were raised—not too much—the rustics now lying around the benches would not use the taproom as if it were a meeting hall. What Mister Bolton seemed to see, just beyond the horizon, was a steady stream of rich people who would die to stay at this inn. The menu would change, she foresaw. There was no need to provide meals that left diners glutted and waste that would only go to the hogs. There should be more wines for these new, and undoubtedly gentle patrons. Diana was sure that the brilliant Mister Bolton could find some wine that would survive the roads, teamsters, and weather from Albany without becoming vinegar. The rum could be cut. As long as there was fusel oil, there would be whiskey made.
Eventually, after more politeness, Mister Bolton made a first, tentative offer to buy her out. This offer was quickly refused. Her inn was flesh and blood. The formal dance had begun. Bolton let her think on the possibilities, finished his punch, and left, promising to return on the morrow. Diana was not surprised he made no offer to pay for his drinks.
After he left, Farrell apologized. "I forgot."
Diana waved the apology off.
"Do you think he is in earnest?"
"The stablehand at Mister Whitaker's said his saddlebags were heavy as millstones," Diana said.
"What price do you think we can get?"
"I do not know," Diana said. "1 would dearly love, though, to peer inside those saddlebags. And then settle on an amount that would leave him but one copper for small beer."
* * * *
That was enough for James Emmett, who'd been listening from his hiding place behind the door that led into the kitchen. He would find out this information. His mother would be proud that her son helped in this momentous matter. He would be a spy, like . . . well, perhaps not like that Hale man someone had spoken of, back in the war. Not even if he got to make a speech first.
James Emmett blurred for Mister Whitaker's inn, making and then discarding plans as fast as his legs moved. James Emmett wanted more than anything else to be out of Cherry Valley. Anywhere would be fine. They could go on to the frontier, where he could become a famous Indian fighter like Boone or one of them. Or they could go to a seaport. Maybe that was the best. Boston was where his uncle Isaac was. Uncle Isaac would teach him how to be a pirate and a sailor, since Farrell didn't seem like he wanted to go away to sea anymore. Uncle Isaac would not hesitate, James Emmett thought. Especially when Mother said how proud she was of her son, and how he had crept into the evil Bolton's den and found out Important Secrets.
He made for the back entrance to the inn. He'd ask one of Mrs. Whitaker's smarmy daughters which room Mister Bolton was in. Then . . . then he'd do what had to be done. He never got that far. He spotted Mister Bolton, who was sitting outside in the garden, enjoying the balmy afternoon with a drink, holding forth to a man James Emmett did not recognize. And those saddlebags were close-guarded beside him. He did not see James Emmett. The boy crept close along the hedge. Maybe he could listen and hear something that would be Valuable. A chunk of meaty hand against leather, and a clink. Mister Bolton's voice: "Of course she will sell. A titty widow woman like that? She does not know what she has. Two years, no more than three, and that crossroads will be like a turnpike crossing. Way I read the map is that any crossroads anywhere is worth gold. She herself went and let on about Cherry Valley being a county on its own. That spells real riches, Farley.
"What she does not know is I have solid backers in Albany. Merchants who made theirs in the war and now have funds to put in the right places and to the right men. Like me. Like you, too, Farley, if you pay close mind. There's riches here. That inn . . . that's just the start. I have a very significant Letter of Intent here that promises much for the future." The rattle of parchment, and then Mister Bolton's laughter. "After the sale, maybe I'll celebrate with the widow, knowing she is no better than she is supposed to be. Join giblets as a sign of earnest." More laughter. "Here, Farley. It's your round."
James Emmett scuttled before Mr. Bolton's companion came around the corner and saw him. He went home, most disappointed. Not much of a spy. Maybe he wouldn't say anything about what he'd planned. Or maybe he would.
* * * *
By dinner that night James Emmett could keep his secret no longer. After all, had he not crept very close—close enough to hear the gold clink in Mister Bolton's saddlebags? James Emmett had a very good memory for details and no small ability to mimic his elders. Diana and Farrell sat looking at each other after the boy had been rewarded and sent off. Farrell was still blushing and angry. Even if James Emmett did not know and could not figure what "joining giblets" meant, Farrell could. Diana paid little mind. That was, after all, how any widow was thought of. She was more interested in those backers. Farrell found another thing to be angry about: "If that Bolton had seen James Emmett—"
"He would have thought him but a boy. Besides, he was but trying to help. And help he did. I think now I know our price." She named a figure. Farrell's eyes widened.
"We'll never get that."
"Get it we shall. The man has backers, who must be as foolish as he is if they were willing to put any financial commitment in writing and give it to a speculator. Into the kitchen with you. And in your best hand, I want a letter from Albany. From a friend. The friend's name is ... is Mister Duvall. His letter is full of good news. And also to introduce two men who will be arriving in Cherry Valley next month. Men who are very interested in investments. Men from . . . from Philadelphia. Shippers, they are. Who made a great fortune on the war and now are looking for somewhere to put their money."
Farrell's solemnity dissolved. "Where will we leave this letter for Mister Bolton to snoop it?"
"Somewhere in plain sight . . . when the time is right."
"What about our books?" Farrell asked.
"When we have an offer that is close," Diana decided, "he can see them."
"But they will not show—"
"Any man who can see rich people coming to Cherry Valley will see whatever he wants to see in our ledgers, and reach whatever conclusions he has already decided on." And that was how it went. Offer . . . declined. Tentative offer . . . tentative disinterest. Offer withdrawn. No response. A suddenly panicked and increased offer—possibly drawn by the fictitious letter "accidentally" left out on a table. Finally an offer was made and accepted. Diana then played her final card. The agreed price must be in specie. Not promissory letters nor paper currency. Cash. She feared for a moment Mister Bolton would fall victim to apoplexy. He stormed out of the inn. "I was afraid of that," Farrell said. "We misspent our time."
"I do not think so. Now, I wager, he is going to consult with his backers. Or so I hope."
Two weeks later Mister Bolton returned. Strictly by chance, Diana had as guests half a dozen merchants. Their heavily laden wagons were drawn up in the yard, and the merchants, looking forward to what would be—they knew— an excellent year, were spending heavily. Mister Bolton saw them, and was sure of his acumen. It took less than a day for the papers to be drawn and Diana to receive her money. The inn, outbuildings, supplies, and goodwill now belonged to Robert Bolton. Diana wondered if he would last out more than one winter. On the whole, she thought not. But that, beyond the passing regret for a place she'd given ten years of her life to, was not important. This was the end of Cherry Valley for the Shannons. Ahead lay Philadelphia.
NEXT: Journey To Philadelphia