Thursday, September 5, 1765—3:30 P.M.
“Take your hand off me, sir! How dare you!”
As I stepped off the gangplank to set foot, once again, upon my native continent, a wave of nausea unexpectedly overwhelmed me. Reeling, I had reached out and taken hold of the one stationary object in the vicinity—the shoulder of a tall, spare, scowling gentleman standing on the quay. Having been so long at sea, without illness, I’d smugly forgotten how I sometimes suffer this relatively mild affliction, which manifests itself in a few minutes of dizziness and disorientation upon reconnection with dry land. “Mal de terre,” I’d christened it, though the sailors call it “sea legs.”
“I beg your— Ooh!” Once again, my legs nearly buckled.
“Well, just sit down on the ground, for— I say, don’t I know you?”
Oh no! Woozily, breathing heavily, I focused upon the be-wigged fellow with the youngish face—and groaned again. Of all people! “Mr. Kempe!” I exclaimed weakly.
John Tabor Kempe, though but five years my senior, is the attorney general of the royal province of New York. We had had some necessary, but not particularly comfortable dealings with each other three years ago. “Dordrecht! Thomas Dordrecht, no?” he said, frowning.
“Yes sir. I do beg your—”
“Come on, there’s a bench just over there.” He grasped my elbow, an expression of annoyed dutifulness on his face, and escorted me to it, ten yards away, where I sat with great relief. “Are you going to be ill?”
“I don’t think so. Thank you very much, I shall be fine in a few—”
Though his eyes were fixed on the ship’s deck and the gangplank, he seemed disposed to make conversation. “You’ve been abroad, I collect?”
“Yes sir. Over two years.”
“Indeed! You were factoring goods for Mr. Leavering, I presume?”
Hmph! Impressive, that he recalled that association. “Only on the first leg, Mr. Kempe. My permanent connection to Castell, Leavering, & Glasby was severed before I left—business conditions being so abysmal—but they arranged for me to market a load of flaxseed in Belfast, which I managed to exchange for a great quantity of finished linens.”
“Then I proceeded on my own.” He looked bored. “The passage I had from Belfast to Bristol was scarier than either trip across the Atlantic. Normally, it’s less than two days; for me, it was the worst five—”
“So you spent the rest of your time in England? Did you get to London?”
“I was in London for fifteen months, Mr. Kempe,” I replied, feeling my equilibrium returning by the second, “then I went on to Holland, Flanders, and France.”
“My word!” He raised his eyebrows, as if reluctantly acknowledging that he was impressed. “Did you have business in all those places, Mr. Dordrecht?”
I smiled ruefully. “I was attempting to create business, Mr. Kempe. It is, I’m afraid, far easier said than done.”
“Of course. Particularly in these troubled— Will you be resuming employment with Mr. Leavering, then? Is that why you’ve come back?”
“Would that it were so, sir,” I admitted—too forthrightly. “The sad fact is, I’ve no immediate prospects, once I sell off the few goods I bought in Europe.”
“Ah.” He grimaced, as if wondering how demented I must be to return in such circumstances. “I say, can you tell me what day your vessel departed? I am most anxious for the latest news from home.”
So that’s what he’s doing here! I had to smile: I too was anxious for news from home, but now I was home, at long last. Kempe, I recalled, had been born in England. “We departed from Portsmouth on July the second.”
“Ah,” he shrugged, apparently disappointed. “The Royal Charlotte arrived last Saturday, having left direct from London on July sixth.”
I had enquired about traveling on the Charlotte, but found it well beyond my means. “A faster ship, it appears.”
“Yes. Well then, if you’ll excuse— Mr. Dordrecht, perhaps you can tell me if you were able to gauge the mood of the— Of at least the mercantile classes?”
The man must indeed be eager for news, if he seeks my observations. “Ah, well, the English in general seem far more exercised by the fate of Mr. John Wilkes than they do over any injustice their Parliament has done to the American colonies with its Stamp Act. Not that I can—” I was about to say I couldn’t blame them for objecting to Wilkes’ treatment, he having been driven abroad merely for expressing in print irreverent opinions of H.M. such as every one of royal George’s subjects freely lets fly nightly in the taverns. However, I was interrupted by a lusty call of “Tom Dordrecht!” by a voice I recognized, one of few friends whose inveterate use of my nickname I tolerated.
“Marinus!” I rose and waved, my unsteadiness almost gone. As he bounded, grinning, across the road, his long brown hair, loosely caught behind his nape, bouncing against the back of his smudged, open shirt, I noted an increased girth to his chest and musculature, a solidity that indicated the full arrival of manhood, and wondered—given that Marinus Willett and I are exactly the same age—if others would perceive similar changes in me.
Instantly, he grasped my shoulder and began vigorously shaking my hand. As he crowed, “Where the devil have you been? I haven’t seen you in—” I had just enough time to perceive how very rough his hands were … before my friend so abruptly went rigid that my breath was taken from me in surprise. Three seconds passed. “Mr. Kempe!” he said, glaring icily, not offering his hand.
“Willett,” Kempe stated, equally bluntly, barely nodding, not offering his hand either.
Was it February? I thought it was a fine, fresh, sunny afternoon in September! Evidently there was no need for me to make introductions. Before I could venture any emollient remark, Kempe said, “Congratulations on your return, Dordrecht. Take good care!” and strode away, quickly lost in city traffic.
Marinus Willett stared after him, mouthing the words, “Rude bastard!” Astounded, I was equally beginning to wonder about him … when he shook himself and asked if Kempe had come to greet me.
“No no, my meeting him was just as accidental as my meeting you,” I replied, slightly irked by the question. “What on earth was all that about?”
The grin reappeared. “Bah! Nothing, nothing!” He pointed to the ship. “You just got off this? You were in England?”
“Yes, but I also—”
“That’s right, my brother told me that! Hey, I’ll be you don’t even know that we are both uncle to the same healthy little lass!”
Introduced through our friendship, Willett’s younger brother Roderick had courted and wed my favorite sister Lisa. “No!” I shouted, delighted. “Finally! When? When?”
“Uhh … oh yeah, three weeks back. The fourteenth—the same day the Bostonians had their rampage,” he added gleefully, “though we didn’t know that at the time.”
The Bostonians had a rampage? “What did they name the child, Marinus?”
“Uhh … Katryne! After the godmother, your mother’s friend.”
A curious choice—but I liked it. “Katryne Willett! Very pretty!”
“And she is, too! Takes after her mother, not my side of the family!”
“Hah!” I elbowed him in the ribs as we chuckled.
One of the ship’s black sailors approached us, carrying my portmanteau, and knuckled his forehead. “Mistah Dodrick! Cap’n sent me tell you. Cargo shifted. Won’t get yours out this aft’noon. T’morrah, prob’ly.”
“None of my goods damaged, I hope?” I said anxiously.
“Cap’n don’t think. Shift more aft, next to hatch.”
“Aha. I’ll check back in the morning, then. You lads be careful with my stuff. I’ve some real fragile items in there!”
“Aye sir. We careful!”
“Oh … rats!” I grumbled as he loped back up the gangplank. “I suppose it was too much to hope to get it settled today.”
“You have cargo aboard?” Marinus asked.
“Aye. Oddments I bought with the last of my savings that I think will be wanted over here. Two pianofortes, a clarinet, some cloths, some carpentry tools. A set of four Chippendale chairs!” I added, recalling that he was in furniture.
“How’d you afford that?”
“Each of ’em has something wrong with it, and the milady couldn’t tolerate them. Got ’em for a song.”
“I can fix them, Tom! I can match the wood, match the color, match the finish!”
“I was planning to take them to Mr. Cooper, my cousin Charles’ father.”
“Let me at them first. They’ll be good as new! And they’ll sell, too. Rich folk still have money here, even if no one else does!”
That was the intuition I’d been counting on, based on the news from America and my correspondence, but it was odd to hear the incorrigibly optimistic Willett express it with such a bitter edge. “Well … first I have to find myself a place to stay, Marinus.”
“What’s wrong with your old boardinghouse? Hasn’t burned down, that I’ve noticed.”
“Uh, Marinus, please don’t publish this, but I can’t afford my old boardinghouse right now. Until I sell off some of the things I’ve brought in, I have to stretch every last farthing.” Maybe even after I sell them, I thought grimly.
“Huh! Well, what are we standing here for? We’ll come up with something if we put our heads together. Look, I’m done with my chores. Let me buy you a glass. We’ll raise one to little Katryne!”
It was far too good an offer to pass up.
* * *
Just crossing Front Street and walking three doors up to the nearest public house, we were, to my surprise, accosted by two beggars. Times had been bad in New York when I left, but … Nothing like Europe, of course, but still upsetting. Marinus gave each a small string of wampum; I had nothing that could be spared.
“Beggars?” I asked, once we’d toasted our niece and quaffed the first long, grateful swallows.
“Aye. Rotten state of affairs. Sometimes I think the Parliament means to beggar the lot of us!”
“Mr. Leavering always said that business invariably retrenches after a war, that it’s to be expected and will pass, sooner or later.”
“Oh? Well, I wager he’ll be singing a different tune the next time you see him. It’s the taxes, Tom, and their confounded rules. You have read through the Stamp Act, I trust?”
“I only got to it on the crossing. I was in Amsterdam last winter, and traveling all spring.”
“Really!” For a second, I thought he might inquire about my travels. Given that I’ve had no few adventures over the past twenty-eight months, I was disappointed not to be invited to trumpet my experiences.
But my old friend seemed too preoccupied to concern himself. “This is so much worse than anything they’ve done before. Worse than all their interference with our trade during the war. You’ve been away—what?—two years? You must have read about the Molasses Act? The—”
“Oh yes, I—”
“The British seem to think we never paid a penny into the war effort!”
“Oh they do think that, very definitely, Marinus. I could never dissuade—”
“Well, you can imagine how very convenient an assumption that is for their politicians! The more they can load onto us, the less they have to tax their own!”
“Uh huh,” I agreed cautiously.
“Then came the Currency Act. And then even after they hit us with the Stamp Act this spring, they’ve passed a Quartering Act that says we have to pay for all the army’s provisions!”
“Yes, I heard about that before I—”
“The infuriating thing about that is, the whole rationale for keeping the army at such strength is supposedly to protect the frontiers, yet some of them are sitting right here in New York City, as if we’re in any danger of being scalped in full sunlight!”
“I dimly recall there was some fracas with the Indians?”
“The Hurons, yes—Pontiac, the chief. But that’s all been over for nearly a year, and it was way, way out west—it started even beyond the Ohio country. And it wouldn’t have happened at all if they’d just left the redskins alone, and not insisted that they venerate Great White Father George instead of Great White Father Louis!”
I was dumbfounded—as much by my friend’s vehemence as by the situation he related.
“So the upshot is, instead of asking us to contribute to the army’s upkeep, as they’ve always done in the past, they’re telling us we must contribute. And they’re assessing us in a manner that will drive all our commerce further into the ground.”
“That was my reading, too, Marinus. But you know, the English pay stamp taxes themselves, and it doesn’t seem to annoy them half as—”
“The English pay taxes to the English Parliament, which is elected by the English people. We pay taxes aplenty to our own Assembly, which represents us, for better or worse.”
“Usually for the worse!”
“Ha, I’ll grant you that!” he said, finally cracking a smile. “But the point is, in the hundred years since they booted out the Dutch, they’ve never presumed to command us to pay them taxes, and we’ve always shelled out for them when we’ve seen they needed it. But if they can get away with one peremptory demand for our money, even one that at first seems negligible, you have to grant that they’ll be back for more the following year!”
“In for a penny, in for a pound sterling!”
“And that’s what tops it, Tom. Thanks to that Currency Act, all of these stamp taxes are going to have to be remitted in specie—and there’s next to none to be had on the whole American continent!”
“What happened to all the coin the soldiers and sailors dropped here during the war years?”
“Gone, Tom. Some of the major merchants were shaking their heads over it at the meeting.”
“An irregular meeting, open to all the freemen of the city. Some want to formalize it, call it the Sons of Liberty.”
To cover my bemusement over the entire idea, I mumbled, “Oh, after the phrase in Colonel Barré’s speech, I suppose?”
“Aye. The notion is, we have to work together to fight this monster down. You must join this!”
Marinus’ use of the imperative seemed to suggest that he was deluded that he and I were still, respectively, the lieutenant and sergeant of our provincial regiment. “I must join this?” I said archly.
He caught himself. “Well, you should join it!”
I hope my rolling eyes conveyed that I considered the restatement only a marginal improvement. But I was barely an hour back in America, and hardly wished to make a fuss.
“I think you’ll want to be a part of this, Tom,” he persisted. “Amazing things are suddenly happening here! Just a week ago Monday, the man who was to be New York’s stamp commissioner resigned—after what happened in Boston—and then—”
Before I could ask what had happened in Boston, he’d rushed on.
“Then some of us met the Royal Charlotte last Saturday, and cornered a man who’d gone over to England to secure a tax-collecting post for his son, and made him foreswear it on the dock!”
“You made him foreswear it?”
“It’s amazing what ten dozen men can do, if they all scowl at once!” I had to smile. “No, we didn’t touch him, Tom. We just made it clear that nobody was going to do any business with him if he didn’t tear the commission up right in front of us.”
“And he did?”
“Yes sir, he did indeed.”
A young fellow I didn’t recognize, whose back had been to us, appeared to notice Willett and was trying to get his attention.
Marinus turned as I pointed him out. The fellow was nodding his head in the direction of the door. “Ah. A member of the committee!”
“Something must be afoot. I’ll have to go.” He chugged down the last of his glass.
“Great to see you, Tom! I’ll be in my shop tomorrow. Bring those chairs over, and Cooper will never know they had a blemish!”
“I— Well, thank you for the beer, Marinus!”
“Oh hey, friend!” And he was gone, engaging in earnest conversation with the young fellow as they walked out.
Puzzled—and frankly, a trifle hurt—I slowly drained the rest of my glass, wondering what it was that could call a man so compellingly from the side of an old chum without exchanging news of his business, his wife and son, mutual friends—and without explaining the shocking hostility between himself and John Tabor Kempe. Willett seemed as intent on his new project, whatever it was, as he’d been when we were bearing muskets in earnest, thrashing through the woods near Ticonderoga.
But the war was over.
On standing up, I suffered a recurrent bout of the sea legs. The whole tavern swirled about me for thirty seconds as I clutched the table and the chair. It lasted just long enough for me to wonder if it was a portent that I had returned to a world gone mad.
But I dismissed the thought as soon as I got outside and inhaled a fresh northeasterly breeze.
I had no time for idle fantasy. My immediate need was to find myself lodging in the two hours of daylight that were left. Marinus had suggested I look in the new area of the West Ward known as the Church farm—so-called because the tract belonged to Trinity Church, which had astutely divided it into parcels small enough that the “middling sort” could afford to build there.
But before heading to the west side of the city, I stopped by the Brooklyn ferry and wrote a quick note to my family in New Utrecht, trusting that some worthy traveler would be found to deliver it.
Had New York City changed during my absence? Of course, it constantly changes. Old structures had gone missing, new ones were in their place. Quite a bit of new construction was in progress, notwithstanding the complaints of my correspondents about the dearth of commerce. Redcoats were back, but though their numbers were fewer than in the war years, I sensed they were less welcome.
At length, asking around, I located the Nugents, a shy bricklayer and his garrulous wife, whose small, brand new home on Reade Street served them, their six children, and another lodger, but who nonetheless had an attic room to spare. It would be hot in summer, cold in winter, but at least, unlike a room in a basement, it would not be prone to flooding when it rains.
* * *
Charles Cooper leant back from the table, and smiled slyly. “You’ve changed, Cousin Thomas,” he asserted. “Despite your straitened circumstances, you seem altogether more in command, more self-possessed.”
I nodded warily as the waiter removed our dinner plates. One never knows where Charles’ mercurial train of thought will be leading.
“Dare we speculate that you are no longer a virgin?”
I’d been just wary enough that I avoided choking on my beer. As he so often does, Charles evoked both amusement and impatience. One wondered why he, of all people, assumed I’d been a virgin when I departed America! But despite his being perhaps my most intimate friend, I had no intention of discussing any dalliances with him—however interesting he might find them. I do trust he lacks malicious intent, but the man’s a notorious gossip. And further, a clandestine publisher of political chicanery. “I can hardly dissuade you from speculation, dear cousin,” I replied, choosing my words carefully but expressing them as blandly as I could manage, “but I regret that Sejanus will have to subsist on more mundane grist from my mill. For example—”
“Oh my!” pouted the often-feared author of pseudonymous letters to newspapers. “But it’s high time!”
Look who’s talking! I thought. Charles is eight years older, unwed, and far more adept than myself at withholding his private affairs. “You needn’t concern yourself, Charles—though I’m grateful for your solicitude!”
“One could interpret your reticence in many ways, Thomas,” he observed cagily.
“I daresay one could, couldn’t one!”
Be damned if I need yet another relative interfering in my private affairs! My mother, sisters, aunts—all have been writing in a panic to see me married and encumbered with children. Each has the one perfect lass already picked out for me. And now this libertine capon—how I wish he’d at least get a new wig!—is equally clamorous to see me un-settled.
Charles swirled his Madeira and sighed with an infuriating, all-knowing smirk on his face. “Well, at least tell me this. Did you have yourself any fun, while you were in Europe?”
“In two years?” I said, laughing, “I should hope so!” But that was insufficient to satisfy my cousin. “There were points high and low, of course, Charles, but in fine, I very much enjoyed my time abroad.”
He means well, I reassured myself, as he finally appeared ready to forego seeking further titillation.
“I’ve retired Sejanus, incidentally, Thomas. Wrong choice in the first place. Nasty piece of work, the historical Sejanus. Now I write as Leisler’s Ghost—and I’d appreciate equal circumspection about his identity!”
He’d stumped me. Oh yes: Jacob Leisler had led a rebellion against New York’s powers-that-were at the time of England’s Glorious Revolution—and gotten hanged for his pains.
“Thomas?” His arched eyebrows were prompting for a response.
“Oh, of course, Charles, of course!”
“Dank u,” he said, relaxing and showing off what little Dutch he has. “You were asking what has transpired in Boston, I believe?”
“Yes!” At last we revert to a less sensitive topic! Merely the future of the British Empire was now in discussion.
Charles avidly launched into a political explication—an activity in which I’ve found he excels. “We should look back a bit,” he began. “Ever since the treaty was signed—just before you left—Whitehall has been in a frenzy to pay down the spectacular debt it accumulated in seven years of battle all ’round our celestial orb.”
“Yes. The national debt was doubled, I’m perfectly aware.”
“So the politicians, led by Mr. Grenville, conceived the unprecedented notion of taxing the American colonies directly, obviating any tiresome necessity of asking our several assemblies to decide for themselves how much, or how, or even whether to contribute. Thus we had the Sugar Act, the Currency Act, and the Quartering Act in quick succession. Now each of these might be said, through extremely tendentious argument, to be a regulation of trade, rather than an assessment for revenue. Most people here, as you know, concede trade regulation as a legitimate function of Parliament.”
He’d said this last with such disdain, I couldn’t help challenging him. “You don’t?”
“Not any longer, Thomas—but that’s for another discussion. So while there were howls of outrage about these enactments from New Hampshire to Georgia, due to the unfair burden they imposed, no one really protested against them as a matter of principle.”
“That may actually have encouraged Grenville, d’ye think? After all, no one expects anyone to like getting taxed!”
“Could well be, Thomas, although the howls were pretty fierce. But the Stamp Act, now, it can’t be disguised as anything other a naked demand for cash, from an entity that has never, ever before presumed to demand it. When we first learned of it, in April, everyone was so shocked, they simply moaned and whimpered. We’d just spent two years petitioning and protesting against the Sugar Act and the Currency Act, to no effect. No one could quite believe that even more was to be foisted on us—even though Grenville had been threatening it for months. Fortunately, a fellow down in Virginia was not fooled, and—”
“Henry Patrick! I did try to catch up, with a newspaper last night.”
“Patrick Henry, the man’s name, Thomas. He induced the Virginia Burgesses to pass a series of resolutions stating that a stamp tax from Britain was simply not acceptable and, one way or another, must not be paid.”
“Huh! Outright defiance, then. I hadn’t realized that.”
“Aye, the same as you’d venture toward a highwayman!” He took a sip as I pondered the consequence to New York of defying the British Parliament. A century ago, I’d been told, the Dutch had surrendered the entire province when the city had been threatened by four naval vessels. I’d counted upwards of forty lying idly at anchor as my ship maneuvered out of Portsmouth harbor.
“Well, Virginia’s resolutions set the rest of the colonies ablaze. Certainly here, we’ve been debating how to put a stop to the tax all summer long. But it was Boston that brought matters to a head last month.”
“August fourteenth! The day my niece was born … Marinus Willett told me.”
“Of course,” Charles sighed, rolling his eyes with strained toleration. “The radical faction there put it about that everyone was to gather at noon for a ceremony, and the ceremony was to hang the stamp collector in effigy. They made quite a histrionic production of it. The governor sent the sheriff to disperse the mob, but he took one look at it—some two thousand, Thomas!—and ran off in fear for his hide.” I stared, fascinated. “They cut the effigy down and marched it through the city—passing right by the government house, of course, and then they tore down a warehouse the stamp collector had just built.”
“Then they carried the effigy up onto a hill and beheaded it! And that evening, they quite thoroughly destroyed the man’s house—he having prudently removed his family to the military garrison.”
“But that’s excessive! Surely the merchants of Boston must disapprove?”
“It’s reported that a goodly number of Boston’s merchants were in the crowd, Thomas. Dressed as workmen.”
“But … beheading a scarecrow is one thing, you know, while destroying a warehouse and ransacking a private home is quite another!”
“Well, consider: the man had agreed to be the salaried official who would coerce people into paying this tax. How much sympathy would you muster for a brigand, Thomas?”
That did place matters in a fresh light. On the road from London to Harwich, last fall, my coach had been waylaid by a highwayman. I’d been carrying all the money I had left to me, to fund my trip to the continent and back home. I’d not found much cause for dismay when another passenger had unexpectedly produced a pistol and shot the criminal dead. “What has been the consequence of all this, Charles?”
“Well, the tax collector resigned his commission the next day, to start!”
“He did? Huh. Well, that’s fine … but surely there’s been the devil to pay for the rampage? Arrests? Floggings? Executions?”
“None. The one man arrested was allowed to walk free when it became known the customs house would be pulled down if he wasn’t.”
“Such things could easily get out of hand, Charles.”
“Well, it’s arguable that they did, Thomas. Just a fortnight ago, the mob got riled again, and laid waste the mansions of three more placemen—being especially thorough on the home of the lieutenant-governor, Hutchinson.” When he saw what was undoubtedly an appalled look on my face, he added, “All three had endorsed the Stamp Act, Thomas, and each intended to profit by it.” He paused. “The word is, the leading merchants—who were indisputably at one with the mob—have since put a damper on further rioting. There’s been no report since that event.”
“Has there been anything of the sort here?”
“Nothing to match it. Yet.”
“Well, the man appointed to be New York’s commissioner resigned before anyone even asked him to! The New Jersey commissioner followed suit just this Monday.”
Charles smirked sarcastically. “Grenville’s oh-so-shrewd idea of appointing Americans to the lucrative tax commissions, rather than his own cronies, has rebounded on him, you see. He intended to mollify us, but if the panjandrums had been British, here only to bleed us for a few years and then abscond back to Albion, we’d never have been able to intimidate them!”
“Hoist by his own petard!”
“Aye. You know there’s to be a congress of the continental colonies, here, next month, to coordinate protests against the Stamp Act?” I shook my head. “None of my lot expects much of it. Concerned they’ll be too timid about it.” Charles leaned forward and whispered, “There are some here who have written that the Stamp Act is sufficient outrage to justify the independency of the American colonies!”
“What! Charles, that’s … mad! Simply mad. In England, I sometimes came across people ranting that Americans were aiming for independency, and I took pains to disabuse them, and now you’re saying—”
That infuriating smirk again. Charles shrugged. “I only report what I hear and read, cousin. The notion has not gained any great traction, I can tell you.”
“Still, just the suggestion—”
“But what has gained acceptance is the conviction that those stamps must never be employed in New York. Did you see the notice in yesterday’s Post-Boy?”
“The issue I read was a month old.”
“On the day the Act is to be effected—”
“Aye. There is to be a solemn funeral procession for Lady North American Liberty—from the common, down Broadway, to the fort. All New Yorkers who revere their rights as Englishmen are anticipated to be present.”
“Certainly that is one event I should have no objection to—”
“Ah, but you must do more, Thomas! You must join our effort to direct the protests against—”
“Stop right there, Charles!” Another “must!” “I do not respond well to imperatives, cousin!”
“I beg your pardon,” he said smoothly, after a second’s hesitation. “I only suggest you may well desire to join me and your friend Willett—and even Benjamin Leavering—in thinking through all options available to our suffering populace.”
“The Sons of Liberty, I presume?”
“Not dignified with a name, just yet—though we could do worse.” As if struck by an idea, he leant forward with both elbows on the table. “Your participation might be especially valued, Thomas, given your travels abroad and your former engagement with the shipping interest.”
Startled, I was bemused.
“And you may have the time available, given your current lack of employment.”
“Given my current lack of employment, I should spend my time seeking employment,” I protested, “lest I end up applying to the alms house!”
“Or worse, to Harmanus Dordrecht!”
Charles was only teasing, but he occasioned a convulsion of shivers: the prospect of ever having to throw myself on my elder brother’s mercy was a horror that didn’t bear contemplation. “You know what I wanted to ask you: As I stepped off the boat, yesterday, to my surprise, I came face to face with John Tabor Kempe.”
“Kempe! What on earth was he doing at the wharf?”
“Hoping for news, he said.”
Charles snorted. “I dare say!”
“We endeavored to make conversation for a few minutes, but then along trots Marinus Willett, who sees me, comes over—and all of a sudden, the temperature drops to a hard freeze! The two men were barely civil to each other! That Kempe might be impolite was no surprise, but I’ve never known Marinus to—”
“Thomas, be warned, passions are getting very high, here. You realize that Kempe is unquestionably in the Court faction?”
“What, he thinks the Stamp Act is justified, then?”
“Well, no, nobody in America thinks that—saving perhaps the supreme jackass, Governor Colden. He and that Army major who so charmingly vowed to cram the stamps down our throats with the point of his sword!”
“A redcoat actually said that?”
“Yup! The contention, I say, is all over what we should do about it. And though Kempe will not be directly administering the Stamp Act, he’s one more royal placeman who believes anything Parliament decrees has got to be obeyed, to the letter.”
“And Willett is aware of that. And Kempe, our attorney general, our esteemed public prosecutor, is all too aware that Willett is a partisan on the opposing side.”
“And considering the way in which the Crown has been whittling away at our traditional understanding of our legal process, Willett’s right to be guarded about the man.”
“I just thought it odd that Marinus would—”
“He might also be … chary of the fact that Mr. Kempe, who was penniless when he inherited his high position six years back—along with his father’s debts, his widow, and his four homely maiden daughters—is now managing nicely and engaged to marry an heiress.”
“Now seriously: Kempe inherited the position of attorney general?”
“Well, his father had been appointed to it back in England, and when he died, Governor DeLancey—”
“The late James, Senior?”
“The same. He took pity on the family and raised young John Tabor to eminence beyond that to which his experience and his admitted native application entitled him, bypassing many who were more qualified. Noblesse oblige, you know.”
“I see. But there’s never been a taint of corruption regarding—”
There was no point in continuing. Charles was suddenly not listening. He was eavesdropping on a nearby table. He presently turned back with a shamefaced grin. “Sorry! One can hardly resist any possible morsel of our town’s current scandal!”
So much for Mr. Kempe! “What scandal is that, Charles?”
“Thomas, you’ve been back on these shores thirty hours, and you haven’t yet heard?” I shrugged. “And my heavens, it’s your former employer’s wife”—I looked at him blankly—“who was murdered!”
For a horrified second, I thought he was speaking of Hermione Leavering … but Charles would never be glib about that dear lady. “Which of my former employers, Charles?”
“Oh. Aaron Colegrove, of course. His wife was found dead, horribly beaten and stabbed. Right in their backyard. Broadway, just north of Trinity Church. Middle of last week. High noon!”
“The one subject that’s taken everyone’s mind off the Stamp Act for a blessed moment!”
“I can imagine!” Aaron Colegrove is one of the city’s most prominent merchants. He’d been my employer for all of two months, back in the winter of ’fifty-nine. My friend John Glasby had worked for him for four years, but left him shortly after I’d been summarily dismissed. Not because of me, I think; rather, it was because he’d come to doubt Colegrove’s probity. “That’s appalling, Charles! You know I’ve no love for the man, he’s been associated with some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had, but I can’t recall anyone ever complaining of his wife.” Charles looked at me quizzically. “I saw her once, though I was not favored with an introduction: a pleasant-looking matron, modestly dressed, a tad on the stout side—”
“Oh!” Charles exclaimed. “You’re talking of Lavinia Colegrove.”
“Oh, but— Not her, Thomas. She died. Of pleurisy, if I recall. When? Two years ago, in the summer?”
“I left in April.”
“Ah right, that explains it. Well, not six months after Lavinia passed away, your Mr. Colegrove—”
“Please, Charles! I disown him!”
“Actually, I think it was only five months. He remarried—a sprightly lass of eighteen or so, younger than most of his children by his first two wives. That by itself set tongues wagging. The set over at the Royal Exchange were both piously disapproving and, I think, secretly envious, because the third Mrs. Colegrove was quite a feast for the eyes!”
“And it’s she who was—”
“Murdered, yes. Artemis, her name.”
“There’s really no possibility of it being an accident? Or even suicide?”
“Not with that many wounds. Rumor is the lass was stabbed a dozen times.”
I had to fight down my gorge, which was rising with revulsion. “But … why would … Have they apprehended the murderer?”
“They have a man in the jail. A sailor who’d been seen imposing himself on Mrs. Colegrove’s attentions for several weeks. Insists he’s innocent—and his claims have just enough credibility to occasion a constant public debate.” Charles looked out the window for a second, and sighed. “And there’s another complication: whoever did it—or rather, somebody—left a message.”
“No! People leave suicide notes, not murder notes!”
“That may be. Usually.”
“What did it say?”
“Big letters: ‘Liberty, Property, and No Stamps!’ ” I was baffled. “It’s a slogan, Thomas—the slogan of our committee, the opponents of the Stamp Tax.”
I whistled. “You don’t think …”
“I do not think, Thomas, that anyone on the committee had anything to do with this crime. It was clearly a crime of passion against the woman! She was—it’s only common knowledge—the sort of woman who inspires passions. The tax protesters have roughed up some men, here and there in the colonies, men who were designated placemen—tar and feathers and so forth. But no woman has ever been attacked, and no man anywhere has been permanently injured, much less murdered.”
“A clumsy attempt to cast blame aside, then?”
“Precisely. Except, of course, that the committee’s opponents have fastened onto it, and won’t let it rest.”
“They insist on taking it seriously?”
“Ugh! Where was her husband when this happened?”
“Oh he was on the high seas, Thomas. He only got back from England last Saturday. She’d been buried by then.” I gaped. “He got quite a reception. One almost felt sorry for him! First we, uh, confronted him with a demand that he renounce the commission he’d traveled across the ocean to get, then he was informed that his wife had been murdered.”
Callous. I swallowed my disgust. “What commission was that?”
“A place as assistant customs inspector, for his son James. We made him tear it up before he even got off the boat.”
“Wait. Willett was telling me … the Royal Charlotte … it was Aaron Colegrove who was intimidated?”
“Oh yes. Can’t really say I didn’t enjoy it! Young James—your age, I think—came out to greet papa—and to collect the royal benefice. He saw what was happening, turned tail on both, and has apparently decided to inspect the family’s country estate in Mamaroneck. For a few months.”
Now I began to smile too. Normally, I might have managed some sympathy for a man in Colegrove’s predicament. However, too many vivid and unsavory recollections of him interfered, especially the fact that he’d been implicated in the gigantic fraud that had been unearthed three years ago by Mr. Daniel Sproul—who had been murdered to ensure his silence. It was John Tabor Kempe, I recalled with annoyance, who’d considered the evidence of Colegrove’s chicanery insufficient to merit further investigation. However … “Well, tell me more about what happened to this new Mrs. Colegrove.”
Charles seemed embarrassed. “Wish I knew more, Thomas. I didn’t pay that much attention to her while she was alive, and I’ve been really busy with the committee for the last month, so … I fear I may be losing my touch!”
“Well … She was quite a parcel, that one! I told you she was fine looking, did I not?”
“Aye.” And I confess it added to my interest!
“Well, to put it bluntly, her indisputable charms were more the sort that please us males rather than the ladies. Not exactly the glass of delicacy, the pinnacle of refinement, young Artemis Colegrove!”
“And her deportment matched her appearance, much to the horror of my mother and even my sister.”
Aunt Janna, I knew, was quite easy to scandalize, but if Artemis Colegrove had upset my sensible cousin Mary Cooper Fitzweiler, she must indeed have been careless of our province’s social norms. “Her family? Where was she from?”
“No one really seems to know!” Charles said gleefully. “She appeared of a sudden, at his side, just before they wed. Family non-existent! And where she came from? I’ve heard Maryland, I’ve heard Yorkshire, I’ve heard the West Indies. Her voice was so corrosive, no one could endure it long enough to guess the locus of her accent!”
“I can’t imagine Aaron Colegrove consorting openly with a woman who could not possibly enhance his stature here, much less marrying one. He—”
“He seems to have changed a bit, Thomas. Word is, his successes have completely gone to his head, and he’s become quite reckless. So far from being discreet, he invited half the city to the wedding. Trinity has never seen the like!”
“You were invited to this wedding?”
“No, but I went anyway! Sejanus—that shocking charlatan—had his last field day describing its vulgar prodigality!”
“Did Colegrove write back in protest?”
“He had the good sense—or the loftiness—not to.”
“He does sound changed. He was always a calculating swine, before.”
“Against all advice, he ran for the Common Council, last election. He spread a lot of money around and still lost spectacularly. Not even the DeLanceys would support him.”
“Hey, wasn’t Mrs. Colegrove—Lavinia, that is—related to the DeLanceys?”
“She was a DeLancey, Thomas. Of the cadet branch,” he sniffed sarcastically, “but a DeLancey nonetheless. Easy to forget, because she’d been married before Colegrove, to a fellow named Boyce. They’d both been married before. Both their first spouses were lost to the smallpox epidemic of ’thirty-nine.”
“So Aaron Colegrove has been married three times?”
“Aye. And now he’s thrice a widower!”
We each sipped our Madeira. “How many children are there by all these women?”
“Well, there were none by Artemis. But my understanding is, there are at least a dozen still living by the first two. Plus stepchildren. And grandchildren.”
“Really! You know, I knew he was married and had a family, but I never realized … they were never in sight, the few times I went to his house.”
Charles shrugged. “You know of Catskill Lumber Company? That’s run by Lambert Colegrove, the eldest son.”
“Owned by Aaron, though?”
“No. Owned by the son. Strained relationship with his father. I’ve been watching Colegrove’s businesses for some time.”
I’ll wager on it!
“There’s another son I’ve gotten to know: Timothy. Hates the old man, hates his whole family!”
“How do you know him?”
Charles sighed again. “Member of the committee. Haven’t seen him since the murder—but perhaps he didn’t want to commit the hypocrisy of shamming regret for a woman he detested.”
“So you haven’t had an opportunity to ask him what he thinks about that message on the body?”
“I wouldn’t imagine a young girl like that would have anything to do with politics. Why would anybody remotely associate her with the protests?”
“Oh, well, she famously lacked inhibition. She made a spectacle of herself during Colegrove’s election campaign, making public pronouncements of monumental ignorance and vapidity that she thought might please him. Perhaps we should be grateful to her, as it’s occasionally argued that she contributed to his defeat.”
“She sounds harmless enough,” I said. “Risible, if anything.”
“Aye, but she did persist in imposing herself on everyone—particularly after he left on his mission to Whitehall, when a dutiful wife is normally expected to retreat quietly to her hearth.”
“She constantly repeated her one great, infuriating witticism, no matter how urgently her friends begged her to hold her tongue.”
“And what was that?”
“Artemis Colegrove knew Aaron meant to capitalize on the Stamp Act, so she was all in favor of it, and loudly in opposition to its opponents.”
“She couldn’t resist telling everyone, ‘The Sons of Liberty should be stamped out!’ ”