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 him. But then he would assure Diana he only required a bit more time. The potential for the business was great, he said. He only needed a means to exploit it more fully, then leave the day-to-day operation in Samuel's capable hands.
At first Diana was sympathetic. She could imagine dear, dumb Isaac, wrinkling his brow as Farrell spoke. Nodding at the wisdom falling from his nephew's mouth. And he would agree. Oh, Lord, would he agree. Yes, I see it now, he would mourn. You've shown me the way. Ah, if only I had a bright lad like you at my side all these years, we would have whipped the world, nephew. Whipped the world.
There would be no flummoxing in this. For that moment as he feverishly paced the room, brimming with newfound energy, Isaac would believe. A moment later he would forget. And it would be business—all bad—as usual. Ruth would be no help. Diana'd met few people of either sex who were as big flibbertigibbets. She was the most amiable woman in the world, but she had this way of drifting through life, closing her eyes when there was some obstruction, and trusting to God that somehow she would avoid it. Diana loved them both and knew they were as well-matched a couple as any two people could be.
In a way, Isaac was Ruth's strength. If she could get his attention for only a moment, Isaac would do anything Ruth required. And unlike most men, Isaac would never dream of ordering his wife around. If Ruth held a view that he or others opposed, then be damned to all of us, love. Do it your way. If it turns out wrong, well, bless you, at least your conscience will be clear.
Their daughter Mary had wed a shipping clerk who took to drink whenever there was a downturn at the harbor. The word drifted back that Joe O'Donnel was laying hands on Mary. Isaac showed up at the clerk's door and horsewhipped him so badly the man was abed for a week. It was said by the neighbors that from that point on, the fellow would jump from his skin whenever a passing coachman cracked his whip.
It was true there were few things to admire in Isaac. But what few there were, Diana admired vastly. So she was tolerant of the many delays. And she didn't catch Farrell's deception. Perhaps it was because of her affection for Isaac and Ruth. Or perhaps because she was still in shock from the summer of terror.
It was Farrell himself who revealed the deception. A letter came so thick, it cost five dollars to retrieve. The first part was page after page of black confessions, Farrell beating his breast, donning a hair shirt, flogging himself for his lies. Could she ever forgive him? And he could never blame her if she refused.
The situation boiled down to this: the business was hopeless. He'd known it from the beginning. The chandlery wasn't even worth selling. Far better to close it and make a settlement on Isaac and Ruth. It wasn't all Isaac's fault. People liked him, trusted him. He was good at drawing new trade. No, the real fault lay with Boston. The city was constantly depressed. Even when the money flowed elsewhere like a great river, in Boston it was less than a trickle down a creek.
Very well. But Diana had a better solution. She had been thinking of starting a chandlery in Philadelphia. And she realized her own far-flung affairs were nearing the bursting point. She would soon need much help. Loyal help. Which meant family. As she read Farrell's confession, she resolved to pluck the entire Shannon clan out of Boston.
Then she turned the page to see why Farrell had been lying to her. It seems there was this girl . . .
…Her name was Constance O'Hara, and she was the most wonderful girl Farrell believed ever existed. So pure, so admirable in every human trait, Farrell wanted to shout her name from the mountaintops. Diana found herself giggling. Constance? Constance? She could imagine the echo. She could also imagine the woman her Farrell would love. Some hawk-faced spinster. Diana knew the woman would drive her mad, disapproving of everyone's views except her own. Butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. She wouldn't lift a finger at the smallest chore; as helpless as any female who had existed since the time of Eve.
It was all very un-Farrell-like. Especially the remaining part, which begged for her quick permission to marry. If it were anyone else but Farrell, Diana would assume from the frantic tone that there had been some heavy dallying in the meadow. Well, maybe she was wrong. Maybe . . . But Farrell? Impossible!
Diana was wrong. She met Constance at the wedding a few weeks later. All her preconceived notions went out the window. She was a pretty, dark-haired little bundle that approached her and offered a hand in greeting.
And the first words out of her mouth were to call her Connie. "I hate Constance," she said, "and Connie isn't much better. But at least with Connie you know I might have a glass of ale with you if asked. It might also give you an inkling of my views ... A Constance would never allow the word 'obedience' to be removed from the marriage ceremony. But someone named Connie would agree with the modern view. You'd have to hit me over the head to get me to say it."
Diana burst out laughing. Constance O'Hara—correction—Connie O'Hara, was incredible. Flashing eyes. Sparkling wit. Even in repose there was a smile on her face. She found humor in any situation. Just before the ceremony she sidled up and gave Diana a grin and turned in profile to pat the flat little stomach beneath the white wedding gown. "I don't show too much yet, do I?" she said. But it was with a giggle. Not real concern.
Things grew odder as Diana got to know Connie. Little comments about the courtship. How Farrell had overwhelmed her with passion. She never had a chance to keep her knees together, she said. Diana was incredulous. Farrell? Tripping a girl into the hay? Overcoming Connie's maidenly fears? She had to keep looking at him to make sure they were talking about the same young man. Yes, there he was. Farrell. As tight-lipped as ever. But then Connie would slip up behind him on some small pretext. And from the yelps Farrell would give, Diana was sure she had just pinched him ... or worse.
Connie proved to be no opportunist looking to snare a man for his money. Or, more correctly, Diana's money. She was the only child of Tom O'Hara, a tavern keeper who owned The Coachman, one of the finer establishments of its kind in Boston, always alive with young men and women attending the many fashionable levees and assemblies. This gave Connie a keen business mind—obviously one of the first things that had attracted Farrell. Diana saw her trim little figure, heard the saucy laugh, and corrected herself. No. Not the first thing.
At the reception, where she met Connie's mother and father—and they were just as genuine and light-spirited as their daughter—she pulled James Emmett aside. He was fifteen, towering over her, gangly, neck crooked, elbows askew—and he seemed to be getting handsomer with each passing month. But he was still just as full of mischief, and his lips twitched in amusement as his mother searched for the correct words. "How did they, uh . . ."
"Meet? At an assembly. The O'Haras had a dance a week or two after we arrived."
"Oh. That's nice. Then, uh . . ."
"It was amazing, Mother. They spoke for the first time at the punch bowl. I was standing right there with Farrell, and then she walked up. Suddenly, it was as if I never existed. They only had eyes for each other. It was like that the whole night. Then Connie invited him to dinner with her father and mother. One thing led to another. They had a picnic."
"A picnic? Oh, I see." As if that explained anything. But she didn't know how to go on. Trust James Emmett to take the initiative.
"Farrell rented a carriage and they went for a ride in the country. Then there was a big storm. And they were, uh . . . forced to take shelter. Honest, Mother. You can ask Mr. and Mrs. O'Hara."
"Oh, I believe it," Diana lied.
"It was an old farmhouse. The people wouldn't let them in. But they got leave to use the barn. I guess it was comfortable. They were gone two days."
Diana gave James a sharp look. He was amusing himself with her. But he was keeping it hidden, except for the light in his eyes. James Emmett was growing up. Just as, apparently, had Farrell.
The wedding was in early January. Diana left alone for Philadelphia shortly after, with the understanding the entire clan would join her in two months. She hurried home to make plans. The new chandlery. A few business ideas she could investigate now that she would have more dependable people to operate them. And room for everyone to live. Diana thought the first thing she'd do was buy a house for Farrell and Connie. A big house. With a nursery. If her instincts were correct, the nursery would be sorely needed.
This time Diana was right. Seven children followed. In eight years.
* * * *
Jack Reilly was his name and he was a master weaver from Donegal. He had fled Ireland two years before, and his only possession besides the clothes on his back was an ancient two-bar treadle loom. For a time it was the most famous loom in the city.
She'd been introduced to him by Mrs. Kenrick, also from Donegal, who said Reilly was the greatest weaver in a region where mere excellence was considered mediocre. But she warned Diana that Reilly was an artist, given to black moods and absolutes. The yellow fever had cut so heavily through the city's textile force that Diana had no hesitation in seeking him out. She needed another weaver. Artistic temperament be damned.
He lived and worked in a one-room basement apartment near Tenth and Lombard, just down from the alms house. There was snow on the ground, and a brisk wind stabbed through her heavy cloak as she made her way down the steep set of stairs. Despite the cold, the door stood ajar and Diana leaned into the gloom, a hesitant hand raised to knock on the jamb. Deep inside she could hear the creak of a treadle and the whiskering back-and-forth rasp of the shuttle as someone smoothly passed it through the warp. Then another creak and a dull thud as the batten fell and then rose again for another pass.
Gradually, she made things out. There was a great fire in the far corner of the room. Mounds of coal stood on either side, with a shovel propped against the mantel, and Diana swiftly totaled the cost of such warmth and wondered how a weaver—especially a moody, difficult one—could afford such comfort.
Vaguely she made out the loom—polished like a chalice and gleaming in the fire. On the other wall she saw the shadow of the weighted warp hanging in its harness, like the web of a marvelous spider. She could see the progress of the weaver in the shadow. The hand holding the shuttle getting ready, the sound of the treadle pushing threads forward, the shadowy hand hurling the shuttle through the warp to be grabbed by the other hand. Treadle down. Treadle up. And the shuttle flew back again.
The outline of a head appeared in the shadow. The weaver. Without speaking, she edged deeper into the room. She could make him out now, the firelight shading his features into dark hollows. His hair was thick and curly and black. His eyebrows were heavy and met nearly in the middle, over a strong nose that was once perfect, but now lightly crooked at the bridge. The chin was square and firm and smooth. The weaver worked naked to the waist. Thick muscles played at his chest and back as heavy arms directed the hands to their delicate task. Sweat rolled freely down his skin, and he glistened as if coated in oil like some ancient wrestler. But his skin was fair. As fair as a maiden's. She had never in her life seen so beautiful a man.
Another step forward. Her foot scraped against a discarded shuttle. She froze, heart hammering. Fear? No. Something else. The movement stopped. The huge head lifted up. She saw his eyes now. Black. Under long dark eyelashes a woman would sell her soul for.
"Mrs. Shannon." Flat. And that was all.
"Would you be Mr. Reilly?"
He nodded. A little impatient. Absently fingering the warp for imperfections, tying off a broken thread. No embarrassment at his naked torso. Waiting for her to speak her piece and leave so he could get back to work.
"Mrs. Kenrick said you might be wanting employment. I pay well. By the piece. And I expect I can provide you more work than you have time."
He nodded again. Absently. As if he were only vaguely interested. He pulled an oily rag from his back pocket and began polishing the loom, smoothing here and there and into secret places where the dust might gather and foul the action. Then out came a bit of beeswax. Stroking and caressing. So tender. As if the wood were his lover . . . and suddenly Diana wanted to be under those stroking hands. The room closed in on her. She could barely draw a breath, and felt hot and confused. The look of him. And all the silence . . .
Then she was angry. What a rude man! To barely acknowledge her. She had come all this way to offer him work. Well, if he didn't care, why should she? "I'll come back some other time," she said. "When you're not so busy."
Diana turned for the door. She heard a small sigh from him, then the treadle creaked and the shuttle began to fly again. As if she had never come. This was too much. She whirled in the doorway. "If you were so busy," she snapped, "why did you ask me to come?"
"What?" The hands had stopped moving again. The brow was furrowed. Puzzled.
"I said, if you were so busy—if you had work enough-why did you tell Mrs. Kenrick to have me come by?"
"Busy? No . . . I'm not so busy. This"—he waved vaguely at the loom—"is for my rent. Mister Beadle said I could make some cloth for his wife. For the rent."
He stared at her. Eyes glowing in the fire. For a moment Diana thought some secret was passing between them. The head lowered and he went back to his task.
"So you do need work. Do you weave twill?"
"Aye. Twill. Nice and tight, and it falls without a crease when I'm done with it. And satins. We like to do a satin weave."
He caressed his loom—one part of the "we."
"I work my own hours," he said. "And I won't put up with poor quality thread. Give it to another weaver. Or send it back to the spinners. Okay, missus?"
She was too bewildered by his manner to get angry again. "Don't you want to know the pay?" she asked.
"It'll be fair," he said. He went back to his loom, shutting her out as if he had closed the door.
The wind was brisker when she left. She shuddered and pulled her coat tight . . . but not against the wind.
* * * *
Diana had often remarked that widowhood produced a strange effect on men. When she was still a girl, she thought it was because men assumed that once a woman had been introduced to regular sex, she couldn't do without, and the death of her husband would leave her panting like a bitch in heat, with no will of her own when there was a fat cock about to pleasure her.
Widows, therefore, became fair game for any man. And that same man was doing the woman the favor of her life by stealing a kiss, pinch, or even throwing her on her back and taking the whole slice whether she agreed or not. When a widow said no, she really meant take the decision from my poor confused hands. Do me as you will! Now Diana also believed this thinking concealed a larger arrogance: most men couldn't bear the thought that any woman could live independently. Rule her own life. Make her own way. Somehow, widowhood—particularly if it involved a widow with looks, or money, or both—was a black mark on all manhood. A threat to the greatest degree to sacred masculinity.
Having experienced this attitude for half her own life, it was with no surprise at all that she saw all the men scramble around the widowed Dolly Todd like bears going silly at a lightning-blasted honey tree. In many ways it was harder on Dolly than it had been on Diana. Beyond her own strong will, circumstances had protected the young Widow Shannon. There really weren't that many eligible men about when she was at her most vulnerable. Secondly, Diana had almost no friends—and certainly no family—to pressure her. Lastly, it was difficult for a man to maintain the posture of the great protector in the wasteland that was Cherry Valley. That same man couldn't assure his own scalp's safety, let alone a woman's.
Like Diana, Dolly was beautiful. Perhaps more so. But she was also well-born. And her husband had left her rich. Although he had been a struggling young lawyer when he died, his parents' death had left a large estate. Solely owned by Dolly. This was a far greater enticement than just a suddenly accessible honey tree. This was a whole forest of such trees. Marriage to Dolly would provide her lovely body for the bed, wealth for investment or leisure, and the powerful influence of her family's name.
The men laid siege to Dolly's mother's house. Not just the young and well-formed and single. Lifelong bachelors, their legs wrapped against the swelling of the gout, were handed down from carriages by their servants or slaves. Bankrupt cripples.
Even the Turkish ambassador pursued her for his harem—which already held eleven wives. He was turned aside by the sight of one of Dolly's cooks, a woman who easily weighed three hundred pounds. When he spied her, he left off his wooing of Dolly. "My God," he breathed, "she's as beautiful as my first wife. A burden fit to stagger a camel." Only some skilled quick talk from Mister Burr kept the diplomat from chasing the cook all through the house.
The siege went on for months. Outwardly, Dolly appeared to be flattered by all the attention. Invitations to dinner and theater and dances flooded her doorstep.
"What do I do, Diana?"
"Yes. I know that's what you would do. And have done. But . . . I'm not so strong. I must think what John would have me do. I have our son to raise. John would want to see us both protected, wouldn't he? And . . . forgive me, Diana, but isn't it going against the nature of things? Being without a man?"
"I suppose it is," Diana said. "At least I thought so for any number of years. I would awaken in the night, from some terrible dream. I couldn't remember the dream, but I knew it was . . . about Emmett. Besides a stray child, there was no one in bed with me during those moments. No one to tell my doubts, or to console me. I would lie awake for hours mourning my fate. Wondering . . . No, not wonder. At those times I was sure all I was doing was in error.
" 'Foolish woman,' I would admonish myself. 'A man could take care of all of this. A strong man could lift the burden. Or would know instantly from his vast and superior knowledge exactly what must be done and how to go about it.' Whereas I always had to work from ignorance. Each task and decision was made with difficulty. And I was usually wrong the first time. Sometimes the second. Or the third. It was so grueling, and humiliating. To get it wrong so many times, before I could get it right."
She stopped, memories of those long nights flooding back. Memories as recent as . . . the night before last. She picked up the teapot with shaking hands, then set it down again, quickly, as she realized that Dolly was silently weeping.
The death of her husband was difficult enough for Dolly to bear. But the same stroke that cut the life from her husband had also taken her infant son. Diana found it remarkable Dolly was even able to speak. To do something so sensible as to seek advice—whether she took it or not. Diana knew women who had gone mad and shut themselves into a room for life after the death of a child. Or even gone after the rest of their children with an axe.
She did her best to ignore the weeping. She pushed aside the tea and poured two glasses of wine. When Dolly was done with tears, Diana had her drink the wine. And then poured her more and went to fetch a scented kerchief to wipe away the tears. Diana waited until all was calm again.
"Do you really want my advice, Dolly, dear? Or just a sympathetic ear? I'm quite willing to provide either, or both. You are a dear friend and it pains me to see you this way."
"Your advice, Diana," Dolly answered. Quite firm. But Diana knew it a lie. She gave it anyway.
"Do nothing," she said. "There is no need to make any kind of decision just now, pro or con. Of the many choices you have, the one that can harm you not at all is to wait. And that is my advice."
Dolly agreed this was the wisest course, indeed. She could see now that no course could be simpler. Dolly would wait and rest and smother young Payne Todd, her surviving son, with love. She would politely accept a few invitations, and politely spurn the rest.
Dolly was back within the month. A man had been introduced to her. No, introduced was not the correct word. Aaron Burr had personally carried this man's request that he be permitted to call on Dolly. He was an important man. A rich man. Older by seventeen years. And one of the greatest heroes of the Revolution.
"And you didn't refuse," Diana said. A statement, not a question.
Dolly hadn't. They had met. And he was courting her now with a passion so furious, all the other men had been frightened away. Despite his age, he was a bachelor. A condition, he said, he was anxious to end now that he had met the beautiful Dolly Payne Todd.
"Do you love him?"
Dolly didn't answer. It was a stupid question anyway. This woman was in no condition to define the term, much less apply it to herself.
"You don't have to marry anyone, Dolly. You're one of the most intelligent women I've ever met. I've never known you to forget a face or a name, and all the little particulars about the smallest person, no matter how briefly met. And this is only one of many talents. You have funds to do as you wish. Become an artist, a poet, or writer. Start a business. Come into business with me. You can do anything you wish, Dolly, dear. Anything."
Dolly thought about this for a long time. They shared another glass of wine while she thought. Then: "You're probably right, Diana. Except . . . it's different for you. As different as flax and silk."
"In what way is it different?" Diana asked, exasperated. "If I could do it, why can't you? In fact, it should be easier. Considering who you are."
"Exactly why it is harder," Dolly said. "You see, the greatest difference between us is this: you had no choice, Diana. Really. Think about it. What else could you have done?"
Diana had no answer. Dolly left no wiser than when she came. She agreed on one course, at least. To continue to wait. To avoid a decision as long as she possibly could.
But Diana had her doubts how long she could delay. She wouldn't have believed it, but according to the gossip, James Madison made a very ardent beau.
* * * *
The debt collectors put Jack Reilly in prison. He was the Master Weaver of Donegal, but with no head for money. He bought food when hungry, drink when dry, and fuel when cold. It didn't matter a whit that his pockets might be empty, he put what he wanted on account with any merchant who would let him.
The weaver was as easy with his meager funds to his neighbors as he was with the merchants and stall keepers. On those rare days when he had a few coins to click together to thin a debt, the first person he met who seemed in need was as likely to be graced with his silver as his debtor. He ignored threats or cajoling, and it was only a matter of time before the piper would come to collect his final due.
His debtors got together and totaled the sum he owed. It equaled the price of his loom. Give us the loom, they said, and we'll call it square. It was my father's loom, he answered. And before that, his father's. The loom is as dear to me as life itself. And so he refused. Give them the loom, the judge said, and the matter will be settled. Again the weaver refused, and he hid the loom where no one could find it.
Their implorings turned to anger. Especially since the news of his refusal spread among the working folk. He became a minor hero: the great Irish weaver who dared the law for the sake of his ancient loom. This could not go on. The System was being jeopardized. So they put him in prison. A stone cell eight by eight. With no one for company but the jailer. Only bread and thin stew for nourishment. He would be let out, they said, when he released the loom.
Then I'll stay till I die, Jack Reilly said. But he did not mean he would sit in this cell for forty years or more. The instant he said it, he began to refuse food. Days became a week. Then another. If no one intervened soon, he would be dead. Diana knew the creditors. They would not relent.
More than anyone, Diana understood why he would never part with his loom. She'd not gone to his shop since that first time. She employed him, but sent someone else with the order and the materials. She paid the same way. The work was marvelous. He was quick, but his quickness did not harm his art in any way. Diana had never seen such cloth come from any loom. It was almost magical in its feel. Her seamstresses said the needle and thread slipped through it. In any joining there was barely a seam. When the scissors approached it, the cloth seemed to part at a touch, like Moses commanding the sea. But she never personally congratulated him. Or even sent a note. He wouldn't care or appreciate it, she told herself. Which was the truth. But it wasn't the reason she never went to that dark cave with its great fire that he called a shop.
She knew the real reason. Jack Reilly was too dangerous. They had not spoken more than a dozen words or so, and yet Diana knew that if he'd asked at that moment, she would have stripped off her dress and petticoats and laid down for him on the rough ticking of his bed on the floor. Since that meeting, she'd spent too many nights aching for his touch. Dreamed of it. Even during the day—in a quiet moment—desire would suddenly flash. It would vanish just as quickly, but she was left shaking and drained from the violence of her emotions. No, she would keep away from this weaver. It was the wisest course.
It wasn't as if after Emmett she'd never had another lover. She was too practical a person not to realize that the itch sometimes had to be scratched. But they were always, hasty affairs. Rarely more than a night with a handsome stranger passing through the inn. She was the soul of discretion when these affairs occurred, and she had the knowledge—thanks to Abigail Fahey's tutoring—never to get caught out with a swollen belly.
But the weaver was different. This wasn't an itch. It was an obsession, one she was determined to deny herself. When Jack Reilly went to prison, she knew she had lost. But Diana held firm. Then she learned he was starving himself, and it became more than a battle of wills—although it was her will alone doing the fighting. She was sure the weaver had never given her a thought.
Diana sent funds to pay off his debts, and Reilly was released and went back to his loom. She waited then for him to send some word of thanks. Or an acknowledgment of any kind for what she had done. All this was without reason, because the last thing Diana told herself she wanted was contact of any kind with the man. It was better this way. He would ignore her, and she would become so angry at his selfish soul that she would be done with him once and for all.
Then she could bear it no more. She used the excuse of an important but urgent order for a wealthy customer.
She waited until dusk, gathered up the materials and marched to his shop off Lombard Street. She would present the order, all the while never mentioning the debt of his freedom. She would be cold and aloof, and when done, would march out again as quickly as she had come. It was a test, she told herself. An important test she was sure she would pass. And once passed, she would never have to face it again. But under her dress she wore silk. And in her bag she carried the little sponges and vials of unguents Abigail had taught her to prepare.
Reilly was at work at his loom just as before, the fire roaring and the great shadow of the loom's harness cast on the opposite wall. Once again he didn't notice her until she stood before him. But this time he didn't ask her business. In fact, he didn't speak a word. He just stared at her with his dark and glowing eyes. His torso was as bare as before, but now the fair skin pinched at his bones from his self-imposed starvation. She could smell the scented oil he used to wipe his loom.
She spoke his name, and he flinched like a bee had stung him. "What do you want with me?" he asked.
Now it was Diana who didn't answer. For the first time she felt in command. She took him by the hand and led him to the pallet on the floor. He gave her no resistance as she pulled him down to it, and then tugged off what he wore. She didn't make love to him, she consumed him. As if it were she who had sat without nourishment all that time in the prison cell. When they were done, she fetched a pail of steaming water from the fire. She washed his body from head to toe. And the whole time he uttered not a word, nor made a motion to either help or resist.
She made love to him again. But there was no real satisfaction in it. She lay under him, willing him to speak her name, give any sign of tenderness or awareness that it was she who was there for him. Not just any woman, but she alone. The orgasm was violent. But she bit her lip until it bled to keep from calling out his name. Diana crept home just before dawn, swearing it was over. The itch had been scratched, and she would go back to that place no more.
It was useless. She returned. And returned again. The affair was humiliating, but there didn't seem to be anything she could do to stop. The opposite seemed to be true. The more she had him, the more she wanted. And he treated her no better. Rarely speaking. Staring that stare of his. Forcing her to make the first move. She did everything she could to please him. Fetched food from the marketplace and prepared it with her own hands. He ate without comment. She cleaned the room, built the fire when it grew cold, gave him money so he would never want. Nothing she did seemed to touch the man.
The situation was getting dangerous. She was too well known to keep up such a long affair. Especially since the fever. She was the brave Widow Shannon who had stayed with her staff until the end, taking her chances with everyone else. And wasn't it Mrs. Shannon who had brought in the wagons from the farms to ease their misery? People she had never met would smile at her now when she passed, almost tugging at their forelocks in respect—which angered her Republican soul. She was Diana Shannon, no better or worse than any other man or woman. Wasn't she?
Then one day she was granted her greatest wish. Jack Reilly acknowledged her.
They were lying on the pallet after making love. The weaver was puffing on a cigar she had brought him and sipping at a glass of fine brandy. He turned on his side to speak. "This can't go on," he said. "Not this way. It's no good."
Her heart jammed against her breast. Was he sending her away?
"I think we'll marry," he said. "Yes, that would be best."
Diana was stunned into silence. Marriage? Was this the next step? She hadn't taken it that far. But . . . she had never even said she loved him. And he had certainly never given her a sign that he felt anything at all.
"The dress shop is a good business," the master weaver said. "I'll keep it going. But the rest ... no time, woman. I'll sell it off. Should make a tidy sum. How much do you think it would fetch?" It was the longest speech Jack Reilly had ever made to her. And it was the last.
Without another word, Diana got out of the bed and put on her clothes. She went home—it was early for a change, not long after the eight o'clock watch. She drew a long hot bath, spiced it with perfume and soft oils, and immersed herself. She lay in it for a long time, going over her feelings bit by little bit. Like a person who had just taken a frightening fall, and was now gingerly testing her bones for damage. There was none. She was tired. And regretful that she had been a fool. But it was over.
And be damned to the Master Weaver of Donegal!
* * * *
The course of lust, Diana thought, was far easier than love— at least love as it was meant in this romantic age of fluttering and flirting and long letters protesting undying affection until the end of time.
Dolly held fast to her strategy of delay. She told Diana Mister Madison had begged for her hand in marriage. Swore to her she was the moon and the stars to him. That he had never loved and would never love another, and that to be denied would doom him to a life of despair. Dolly had yet to answer.
She had made one great change. Mister Madison had been encouraging her to be more of a creature of fashion. She should be a modern woman and exchange her white Quaker costumes for all the glorious things she spied daily in shop windows.
Dolly took to high fashion like a peacock denied its feathers since it first cracked the egg. She became one of Diana's best customers, putting all the knowledge she had won by pressing her nose to the window into practice. In a few short weeks she was one of the best-dressed women in Philadelphia. Her only regret was that it had taken so long for her to see it.
Diana knew it was over then. Besides, the pressure had increased to the bursting. Mrs. Martha Washington, wife of the great George, had called Dolly to the President's House only a few days before. Dolly was a frequent visitor there— her sister, Lucy, was married to George Steptoe Washington, the president's favorite nephew. Lucy lived now at Harwood Estate in Jefferson County, Virginia.
Dolly told Diana that Mrs. Washington had pressed her on the matter of her engagement to James Madison, and implied strongly that she and the president would look favorably on the match.
"What did you tell her?" Diana asked.
"That I wasn't sure. But she just said to never mind. There was no hurry. And that she and the president were certain that in the end I would make the proper decision."
"And what is that decision, Dolly? Do you have a clue?"
"No, I don't," Dolly said. "But I can't wait much longer."
She didn't. In September she and a party of gay celebrants rode their carriages to Harwood. Riding beside hers was Mister Madison, and people said he cut a dashing figure on horseback. They were married at her sister's home. The president and his wife were in attendance.
Diana made Dolly's wedding gown.
FAMILY TRADITION HAD it that "golden times" dawned for the Shannons after Diana gathered the clan under one roof. With "Elm Court as her engine and the family at her back"—as Isaac liked to tell it—she "built a glorious machine I ain't seen the likes of in all my years of wander." Elm Court prospered. She not only bought the remaining leases on the court, but her enterprises spilled down Tenth Street to the High, backed up all the way to Chestnut and then filled the little alleys and courts in between.
What she didn't buy and rebuild, she encouraged others to snap up. Especially if the endeavor were complementary to her own. She loaned people money to get started, or became a silent partner. She lost money so rarely that she waxed philosophical when she did and called it just "the cost of doing business." Diana encouraged her employees to take cheap long-term leases in the area and then helped them build homes. She saw it as a means to provide comfort and stability for her workforce, and also improve the value of her own holdings with small investment.
As time passed, some of her people started their own businesses—sometimes even in competition with her. Once again Diana was philosophical. She saw no betrayal in this— "all they owed me was a decent day's work, and they gave me that, so the ledger is clear"—but as the natural order of things. The more competition, she believed, the more new markets would be opened. Gradually the dressmaking side of her business became less the core. Its earnings were credible and continued to grow, but they were overshadowed by Diana's other efforts.
There was the chandlery on the waterfront, where she installed Samuel and his family. A much mellowed Isaac was encouraged to make use of his considerable charm, and with careful management the store became a success. Enough so that Samuel soon found himself running her blossoming riverside trade, ranging from warehouses to a fancy tavern. If she hadn't been pregnant most of the time, Connie would have been perfect to put in charge of the tavern. Mary proved adept at this, but only after Diana had driven off her husband.
Joe O'Donnel had given a great speech of weeping repentance to the entire family, and was allowed to join Mary and the children in Philadelphia. Joe was quiet for months, then Diana learned from a courthouse friend he'd been inquiring among the greedier lawyers in town about forcing his husbandly rights of possession. It was sheer coincidence that shortly afterward he was arrested outside a whorehouse—on a Sunday morning. Mary's husband was given the choice of the stocks and then prison, or the stocks and making himself scarce from the city. O'Donnel wisely chose to leave, clinking some of Diana's coins in his purse as he went.
Mary opened up considerably after his departure. She appeared ten years younger—her look of constant gloom turned to unrelieved cheer—and proved so adept at the tavern business, it became hers to run. Not all went well with the Conners: Samuel lost his first wife to childbirth, a second to the flux—only months after the wedding—and remarried a third time to a woman who seemed too mean not to have a long life.
Connie proved to be one of those rare women whose health and beauty seemed to grow with each pregnancy. It didn't hurt that Diana hovered over her like she was a daughter. Connie benefited from everything Diana had learned from Gramer Fahey on. Although she refused any methods of preventing pregnancy, Connie followed Diana's advice on diet and personal care, and her complexion and figure remained the envy of her friends.
Her first child with Farrell was a son. True to her broad hint to Diana, Luke Shannon was born a little over six months after the wedding. She bore a succession of daughters, naming them after the months they were born in: April, then February, then January, followed by September, July, and finally another boy. She and Farrell named him David.
Their last child was a girl again. Also born in April. Farrell worried at this like it was an old bone a dog couldn't let go. Two Aprils in a family was an impossibility. But all the girls had been named for the months! What were they to do? Connie went along with this for a while, frowning and pretending that it preyed on her mind at least as much as Farrell's. Came the christening, Connie laughed and named the child Susan.
"But, why Susan?" asked an alarmed Farrell.
"It reminded me of April," she shot back.
"April? April? What does April have to do with Susan?" Farrell whined.
"Simple," Connie answered. "Susan is April's sister." It was one of those legendary Connie answers to which only a fool would respond. When it came to humor, Farrell may have been dim. But not so dim that he didn't know when to put a pin through his lips.
Where Farrell was concerned, Isaac would see no wrong. Despite Farrell's frustration as he struggled with the chandlery in Boston, the two men took a great liking to each other. Oddly, Farrell was the father figure in the match. Isaac weighed every word he said as if it were gold. And Farrell was as protective of his uncle as of his half brother, James Emmett.
"He's a hard man to get to know, our Farrell," Isaac would say. "But it's well worth the wait. And look at him now that he's married Connie! I'm not saying he's gone so far as to master the jig. But I've spied him tapping his feet to the tune! That's a marked difference in the lad, if nothing is!
The "marked difference" lasted about three years. For a time, Farrell beamed under Connie's influence. He grew fat and jovial, with a broad Irish face, cheery eyes, and a dimple in his chin that Connie teased him about and he denied mightily despite the evidence for all to see. But he blushed the whole time he was denying it, and everyone knew he was secretly pleased.
It was during this period that Farrell and Connie got the habit of stopping by the chandlery in the evening, when the doors were closed, the fire warm, and Isaac and Ruth held forth until the dockside watch called the warning for decent folk to be getting on home. While there was still room on his lap, Isaac would dandle his grandchildren and grandnephews and nieces, and spin tales of distant places and dangerous events. But even when the children became too many and spilled off his lap and all around the floor, Luke Shannon always had the place of honor on Isaac's gnarly right knee.
Farrell always smiled to himself when he saw that, remembering a boy many years ago who'd lost his father. How low he had felt—as cursed as any of God's most miserable creatures—until the sailor spied his plight and made a small excuse to place him on that same knee. It was a secret he shared with Isaac. A secret they'd never spoken of. Later, when Farrell had lost himself forever in a bleak search for his soul, Isaac was the only person besides Connie who could cheer him, make him laugh at himself. It was only during those evenings at the chandlery that he would let down his guard, suspend judgment and listen to Isaac spin his wild tales with Luke perched on his knee.
Luke Shannon was enthralled with his uncle's stories. There was Cherry Valley. Isaac would tell how he wandered far across the snows to find his wife and children.
How he met Diana and begged her to come back with him to safety.
"But your grandmother would have none of it," he said. "She just coolly fired her musket over my shoulder, killing a savage as he was about to lift my hair. And calm as you please—charging her musket as she spoke—she said, 'Thank you for your kind offer just the same, Mister Conners, but I think I'll tarry a bit whilst the Indians are still tame.'
"I recall looking down the road after we left and seeing her mournful figure there. With that brave head of tempting red hair. I thought I'd never see her again. ... I was wrong, and the rest is history. Perhaps we ought to have stayed. What would things be like? Maybe the Conners would be as rich as the Shannons. Sure we would. As sure as the sun comes up at midnight, and the summer winds off the Sugar Islands tame the sea."
Like any fine tale-teller, Isaac was also a good listener. He'd set the stage for Cherry Valley, then throw the floor open to others who'd lived there. If the teller was too humble, Isaac would break in with exclamations at their brilliance or bravery, or sheer luck. Isaac always made another's luck sound like genius on his or her part. His own he described as dumb, or blind. But then Isaac always made himself the butt of his own stories.
It was at the chandlery that Luke and the other children were first introduced to their long-dead grandfather, Emmett Shannon. "It was my misfortune not to know him," Isaac said. "But you should understand this: he was a hero, your grandfather was. And heroes are born to die young. It's the tears in the blessings the Lord gives us. And Emmett was a hero, no doubt of it. Even his enemies would say so. Bastards that they are . . . excuse the language, dear."
"My grandfather had enemies?" Luke would ask. It was always the same question, but it always led to something new.
"Oh, yes, indeed he did. Tell him, Ruth. And that brute who apprenticed him. And what young Emmett did about it." And Ruth would tell the story about her brother's trick on the sawpit master.
"The Hessian," Isaac would remember. "The great weasel of a Hessian who tried to turn a kindness into his own dirty tricks. Tell them about the Hessian, Diana!"
Diana was a good storyteller as well. If Emmett was larger than life in the telling of these stories, what was the harm? To the children he was a saint, a genial rogue, a sinner, a loving husband, a man of peace, a hero who threw away his life without a thought. Emmett was none of those things. But then it would come to the moment in the tale when Diana would draw out the old leather pouch she wore about her neck. And lay the rifle ball that was her wedding ring upon a grubby little palm for inspection. For that moment, Diana would believe.
Luke soaked this in. And yes, he thought his grandfather was a great hero of long ago. But he was dead. Before him he saw his grandmother. An Indian fighter in the flesh. He hoped all the Indians wouldn't be gone before he grew up. This worried him. It must have been a hundred years ago or more. Finally, he asked Diana the crucial question: "Uh . . . Grandmother, please?"
"Yes, Luke, dear?"
"How . . . old are you?"
"Forty-one," Diana said without hesitation. She had an idea what was going on inside the boy's head. Swirling fantasies of high adventure.
But Luke still wasn't sure. "Is forty-one more than a hundred, Grandmother?"
Diana laughed and tousled his hair. "Don't worry yourself, young Luke," she said, "there'll be plenty of adventure left when you're of age. Indians and pirates aplenty. Ask your Uncle Isaac. He went a-pirating once."
Luke didn't need to be prodded. Nor did Isaac, because there was no topic of conversation more pleasing than the sea. For Luke, the fact that Isaac Conners had been a pirate put his great-uncle into the realm of the gods and ancient warrior kings. Luke soon became equally enamored with the sea. First it was the stories and his endless questioning for detail. In the early days it was asking what it was like to board a ship. Did the cutlass hurt when you held it between your teeth? How many cannonballs did it take to sink a ship? And when the ship sank, could you get it back? Later, the questioning grew more sophisticated, even expert. Luke would finger items in the chandlery and ask their names and their intention. Or he would pose a problem in navigation, or geography. This alone was enough to endear the boy to Isaac. But he was also such a bright, ingenuous lad that Isaac had to love him.
"He'll be into mischief, that one," Isaac would laugh. "He's more like his grandfather. The great rogue. Or his uncle, James Emmett. You don't mind my saying so, do you, Jim? No, I thought not. Teach your nephew cards, James. It's a talent I think this boy will have sore need of."
James Emmett was another Isaac would speak no ill of. In this, he was far worse than his protector, Farrell. Any misadventure would immediately draw a comment, like: "The lad must have had his reasons. We should try and see it his way." Perhaps it was James Emmett's natural charm. More likely, the old man lived vicariously in his adventures.
James Shannon never actually left home, he drifted away. He had no interest in business or money, except as a marker in his play or a tool to get him what he wanted. At sixteen his skill at cards and connivance cut him from the need for Diana's purse. Farrell became so busy with his own life—and later his absorption with self-pity—that he lost all control over his half brother. But sometimes James would still come creeping to Farrell's house, his clothing torn and bloody, his pockets empty, and Farrell would go to his aid just as in the old days. But those times became fewer and fewer as James roamed farther afield, then almost dropped from sight. The last time he returned, it was not for assistance. And the meeting ended in a fight—an Irish feud with the bitterness lasting until both men were dead.
The fight was over Luke. He was the first and greatest victim of the change that overtook his father. In the early days Diana blamed it on the demon that was stalking the land. A demon bearing book and cross.
It started in the hinterlands. Her peddlers brought her tales of a great religious upwelling. Frontier orators shook the sky with their voices, crying out against the materialism of the cities. They saw Satan roaming the cobblestone streets. A Satan who had set his sights on the common folk and was now marching off into the forests and plains to recruit them.
This demonic evil was personified by men like Thomas Jefferson—a disbeliever and a great devil to many of these people. Evidence of the threat was the growing power of the Democratic-Republicans.
A preacher would pitch his tent in a distant valley. The word would go out and entire families would travel hundreds of miles to hear him scald sin with his boiling rhetoric. Thirty thousand or more would come. Wagons and tents, or just campfires, spread out to the edge of the forest. At night, one peddler said, when darkness was as thick as a new quilt, you could see all the fires with their red, flickering eyes. And the spirit would come on the people like a thunderclap, voices weeping and shrieking with remorse, people collapsing on the ground, speaking in tongues. Or a sudden wave of hilarity would sweep across the crowd until the hillsides rang with all the mad laughter.
Diana was too young to know much about the "Great Awakenings" that had come before this time, although she would live long enough to understand that revivalism and national self-loathing were cyclical. As inexplicable but as certain as the killing fevers that descended upon Philadelphia every so many Summers. Regardless, when it first began, she blamed this for the troubles that had overtaken Farrell.
There was no single event or cause one could put a finger to. One moment Farrell was the comparatively jovial man Connie was nurturing into being. The next, he was austere, passing dark judgment on trifles. He attended mass with heightened fervor. He became a figure of power in the parish. However, so harsh was his view on matters of sin that even the priest grew alarmed that Farrell and his faction would drive away the common folk.
Farrell shed weight like a man being consumed from within by a ravenous worm. He stopped short of skeletal, but added to the specter of his appearance by taking to wearing black. His business judgment was the first noticeable thing to suffer. Always a cautious man, Farrell became so conservative, so critical of every detail, Diana lost faith in him. After all those years of depending on Farrell for his understanding of what she was about, this was a difficult loss to Diana. As was the realization that although she loved him, she no longer liked Farrell very much. This dislike came not from business, however, but from his treatment of Luke, and eventually, David.
The daughters—from April to Susan—Farrell left for Connie to raise as she saw fit. But he would allow no interference when it came to his view on how to deal with his sons. Connie was such a wonderfully warm and patient woman that she managed to slightly balance the effects of the harsh treatment of the boys. And it was to her credit alone they managed to emerge somewhat whole. Farrell believed in an iron hand with his sons and a sharp switch to make his points.
Luke would never forget the time he and a friend "borrowed" a skiff from the docks. It was an old and useless thing, so shot with wormholes the two small boys spent as much time bailing as sailing. Still, he thought it a wonderful adventure. They spent the afternoon playing pirate, spying out rich merchant ships suitable for plunder. With only a scrap of canvas for a sail, Luke scooted among the great ships, calling out greetings to the crews. He was hailed once by a grand captain, who shouted out an offer to join him as first mate. The day ended without incident. Oh, there were a few obscene words from the drunk who owned the wreck of a skiff when they returned it to its proper place. But Luke had left a few coppers on the bench to soothe the man's temper. It wasn't enough.
Farrell's face was black fury when he returned home. "I'm raising a thief, God forgive me," he shouted.
"We didn't steal it, Father," Luke tried to explain. "We only borrowed it. I paid him as well, sir."
"Don't lie, sir," his father thundered. "Don't add that abominable sin to your soul. You are a thief. But I see you are blind to the meaning of the word. Well, I shall teach you, Luke. It will be a lesson you will never forget."
Farrell whipped Luke until his shirt and breeches were soaked with blood. Luke learned the lesson well. The difference between borrowing and thieving. He also learned to become a skillful liar where his father was concerned.
Diana worried about Farrell's treatment of his oldest son. Luke was mischievous, although not as much as James Emmett. But small scrapes were built by his father into offenses against God and society. Although she would never openly criticize her husband, Connie was helpless in this matter. Perhaps she feared she would lose her freedom to deal with her daughters. Diana couldn't say, and she hesitated for a long time to even hint at criticism. When it came to parenting, Diana knew she stood on shifting ground. Look at her success with James Emmett, for example. Or the other child she had reared. Farrell. Diana believed herself a failure as a parent and saw this failure as fatally weakening any objection or advice she might have.
For a time only Isaac seemed to have some power over Farrell's grim moods. Even after his reconversion to Catholicism, Farrell went along with the rest of the family to those evenings at the chandlery. And Isaac could still manage a smile from him. Or an agreement to temper his punishments of Luke. Then one morning Ruth awoke to find Isaac cold beside her. He'd died in his sleep with no illness to warn anyone. The family mourned him deeply. But no one—except possibly Ruth—mourned him more than Farrell.
If he were iron with Luke before, now he was steel. As the child entered his teens, Farrell would rage for hours about the growing villainy of the young in the city. The lapse of family values. The questioning of institutions by the public. A morality that somehow had gone so astray, people were not paying their rightful debts. In proof of his point, the prisons were filled to the overflowing with debtors. So full, that people were being released after a short time with just their word to pay as bond. So there would be room in the cells for others. This, he said, was the reasoning for his firm hand with Luke and David. Someday they would thank him for it.
Diana saw no breakdown, or even a pinhole in the fabric. For some time now, she believed, the money situation had strayed off any sensible path. With few exceptions, the great cities were barely gaining in population. People were swarming to the frontiers and there were few to replace them—not since the British caused the price of passage for Irish emigrants to rise four hundred fold. There was a shortage of labor, especially skilled labor. But all along the coastline, merchants and bankers joined with the failing Federalists to keep wages at a minimum. Which required a great pool of unemployed. The docks and tenements and streets of Philadelphia were swarming with them, fighting without seeming reason, stealing at will, committing arson so they could loot freely when they were called out to quell the fire. Conditions had so deteriorated, it seemed there were more rum shops, pawnbrokers, and soup societies than people.
In Diana's view, the causes of all this were unnecessary.
But what could she do about it? She paid her own employees an enlightened wage. But this was nothing compared to the overall problem. She argued her view heatedly with other business people. But as a woman, her thoughts were dismissed. Despite her successes, most men saw Diana's abilities as a freak of nature, like the armless fiddler she saw on the river many years ago who played his tunes with his feet. So they paid her no mind.
Then Luke ran away. The first time, he was thirteen. He was big for his age, so he soon found himself aboard a coaster. Luke had a vague goal in mind: Jamestown. The last place James Emmett had written from. Luck was with the boy, and he quickly found his uncle. James Emmett was at the card tables in a tavern playing for high stakes with planters whose judgment had been impaired by inbreeding, alcohol, and sudden wealth from cotton.
It was at a crucial point in the game, but James made no complaint or gave no hint of bother when he saw Luke standing there so many miles from home. Luke knew this because he watched him carefully when greeted, and would have taken to his heels if impatience had crossed his uncle's features. Instead, James Emmett folded his hand on the spot and threw his arms around Luke, thumping him mightily and joyfully on the back. Then he swept them both out of the tavern without a look behind him as the planters raked in his silver. Some months later that same group would lose it all back to James Emmett—with a plantation thrown in for good measure.
James listened intently to his nephew's troubles. When Luke said it was his plan to join him or to seek his fortune elsewhere, he made no objection. But he asked the boy to swear a promise first. They would return to Philadelphia. Both of them would confront Farrell. James would reason with his brother, urge him to give Luke a chance. "He won't," Luke said.
"I'm not saying your father will change. I'd be lying if I even suggested that as a possibility. You just need some breathing room, Luke. And a few more years of seasoning. Then you can join me anyplace or anytime you like, and I'd be proud to call you partner!"
James accompanied Luke home. Connie collapsed in tears when she saw her son. But Farrell went to cut a stick. James stopped him and asked for a word in private. No one in the family ever learned what passed between them. There were only shouts from the closed study to give a sign. Luke sat next to the door listening. At first there were comfortable-sounding mutters from inside. But then the mutters were broken by a great shout:
"You'll not tell me how to raise my own son!" Followed by: "You! Of all people!" And then: "I've protected you your whole life and this is how I'm repaid!"
Then Luke heard Farrell shout something about, "... if our father were alive ..."
James shouted back: "... he would agree with me! You're nothing like our father ... no right to use his name ... if anyone is like Father, it's me!"
The voices dropped again. Luke could hear his uncle's tone change. Forced reasonableness. Apologies for saying things the wrong way. All the things he knew would work with his half brother, a man he had always been able to win over to his side. Farrell cursed him. A mild oath, but shocking from his lips. And Luke knew all was lost.
His uncle's voice rose in a desperate, pleading wail: "My God, Farrell! It's Brian, I'm telling you! All because of Brian. That's all. Can't you see it?"
His father screamed something unintelligible at the mention of the name.
"Don't do this, Farrell," his uncle pleaded. "Don't send me away with those words as fresh as new blood on your lips. I'll not be able to return. Ever."
Silence swelled, then a chair was flung back. Boot steps sounded to the door. It came open. James Emmett stood there for a long moment, his face as pale as if an artery had been pierced by a surgeon. He looked down at Luke, small in his chair by the door. He didn't say he was sorry. It would have done no good. He just patted his nephew gently on the shoulder and stalked out of the house. James and Farrell never came into one another's company again. Luke ran for good a short time later. This time he didn't make the mistake of looking up his uncle. Instead, he went to sea. And remained there.
The blade Farrell used on his brother was double-edged. If anything, Farrell suffered a deeper cut, from which he would not or could not recover. With his remaining son, David, he swung from even greater harshness than his rule over Luke to confused, weak pleadings. It also left him useless to Diana in a particularly difficult time.
Diana saw bleak prospects for her business so long as it relied on shipping. The constant European wars had created great volatility in the market. As the British king and French emperor flailed at one another, embargoes and seizure were the rule, not the exception. Already difficult conditions worsened. Diana looked elsewhere for ideas. And set her sights on the western trade.
She'd dabbled in it from the very beginning. But twenty years ago the West was only a few score miles from the far banks of the Schuylkill River, close enough so that immediate gain was realized when they opened the pike from Lancaster. Now the distances were so vast as to be unimaginable. Forget about the great tract opened by Mister Jefferson in his contract with the French emperor. Just over yon mountains might as well have been the moon. The costs of transport were so great, men on both sides of the wilderness were beggared even contemplating them.
What roads that existed were awful, the tolls charged immense. Even near the seaboard at least four horses were required to haul two tons over the roads. The tolls charged ranged from two and a half cents every two miles in the New England region to twenty-five cents per twelve in Virginia. Everywhere there were goods for sale, they either languished without buyers or—in the case of the far north— were traded to smugglers to be carried across the Canadian border. Diana knew firsthand how many generations those smugglers went back.
There was a renewed call to solve the situation with massive highway and canal programs. Lotteries were all the rage again. There was pressure on the Congress to provide support from its new capital in Washington. A system was proposed that would cost upward of twenty million dollars. Diana thought the program not enough. But she supported it just the same. As she hunted for a means to escape the economic mudbanks of the docks, she became skilled in the ways of river traffic and what goods were best to move along what roads existed, and how to shelter merchandise along the way. Or what distant industries might be encouraged to lighten the load of raw goods by reducing them through manufacture.
It was in the middle of this—sometime in May of 1809— that she got a letter:
My dearest friend, Diana,
I pray this finds you and your family prospering and in good health. I am anxious to hear all your news, and I promise another letter will soon follow this with a list of questions whose answers I eagerly await. I would hope we are friends of such long and deep affection that the brevity of this will in no way cause offense. The truth is, I need you desperately, Diana dear, as the president and I are overwhelmed by our new duties. I seek your understanding and assistance…
The letter went on from there. And was signed by Dolly Madison.
In the fifteen years since she'd married, Dolly had gone from a small, bright planetary object to a constant stellar presence. She was considered the most knowledgeable woman of the land in matters of fashion, and acclaimed as a skilled hostess who rescued Mister Madison's widower friend, Thomas Jefferson, from shaming the office of president by neglecting the small things that kill diplomacy faster than a cannon fired in error.
She and Diana had kept in touch during those eight years, although Diana had not troubled her with anything more than a congratulatory note since her husband announced for president, an office he'd won the previous December and assumed that March. The letter gave no firm clue on what Dolly wanted. Diana doubted that it was for her dressmaking abilities. Dolly had only to ask advice—as she had in the past—and Diana would give it freely for Dolly's own seamstresses to make up.
All the letter clearly said was the new—unspecified-duties were immense, particularly in the rough-and-tumble town that was Washington. From the descriptions Diana had heard, it sounded more like a frontier outpost than the capital of a brave new nation. She'd have to find a gentle way to respond. She had no time during these difficult days to devote herself to "dove parties"—as Dolly's little get-togethers with the wives of congressmen and diplomats were called. What on earth could Dolly be thinking? Diana serving tea to some simpering brain of soapsuds? Smelling salts at ready for those who staged a faint
A Daughter Of Liberty