Los Angeles Times
City of Dreams: A Novel of Nieuw Amsterdam and Early Manhattanby Beverly Swerling
In 1661, Lucas Turner, a barber surgeon, and his sister, Sally, an apothecary, stagger off a small wooden ship after eleven weeks at sea. Bound to each other by blood and necessity, they aim to make a fresh start in the rough and rowdy Dutch settlement of Nieuw Amsterdam; but soon lust, betrayal, and murder will make them mortal enemies. In their struggle to survive in the New World, Lucas and Sally make choices that will burden their descendants with a legacy of secrets and retribution, and create a heritage that sets cousin against cousin, physician against surgeon, and, ultimately, patriot against Tory.
In what will be the greatest city in the New World, the fortunes of these two families are inextricably entwined by blood and fire in an unforgettable American saga of pride and ambition, love and hate, and the becoming of the dream that is New York City.
Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times A whopping saga...whose every strange chapter teeming with bizarre medicine, slave uprisings, executions, thriving brothels, and occasional cannibalistic Indians brings forth shocks of recognition.
Publishers Weekly The tapestry of early American society is hung out for a fresh viewing in this ambitious historical novel...[An] engrossing, generously imagined tale.
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Read an Excerpt
She'd been his wife for nearly three days, but Van der Vries hadn't touched her. "I will not claim my marital rights until after you're rid of your...embarrassment," he told her. "I'm sure you will appreciate my consideration and act accordingly."
Sally wasn't sure what acting accordingly meant until he showed her the room at the front of the house. "Prepared especially for you, my dear. If there's anything you need that you do not have, tell me."
Crocks, vials, jugs, jars -- a few even of rare and precious glass -- dosing spoons and scales, a brazier for heating small quantities and a fireplace for large ones...there was nothing lacking in the manner of equipment. "I have need of plants to simple with." Sally had made no attempt to keep the scorn from her voice. "Perhaps you have forgotten that, mijnheer."
"No, mevrouw. I have not. Hetje, come."
The slave came in carrying a bushel basket filled to the brim with the seed capsules of poppies. "I wish you to make as much laudanum as you can, but be sure and save enough seed for further planting. I'm thinking of buying a field at the end of the road for the purpose. If that is not possible, we will uproot the orchard."
Laudanum. That's what this was all about. Her skill in making it and Jacob Van der Vries's lust for the strange and compelling dreams it induced. As long ago as Roman times herbalists such as Pliny had written of the dangers of sipping the juice of the poppy. Sweet pleasure that leaves pain and destruction behind...Laudanum had set them on this road to hell, but Sally saw no choice except to follow it.
At least until the child was born.
Sally knew Van der Vries's mind as she'd known Lucas's. Her husband, God help her, intended to kill the baby the moment it left her body. She knew, too, that she would defeat them both. Her child would live. The answer lay in the practice of her craft. The room at the front of the house on Pearl Street would be her refuge.
Lucas tried three times to see her. He picked his moments, watching until he saw Van der Vries leave the house, but twice his knock went unanswered. He was sure Sally was inside and that she knew it was him, but short of breaking in there was nothing he could do. The third time, Hetje came to the door.
"Hetje, thank God. I wish to speak with my sister. Tell her I'm here."
The slave shook her head. "Mevrouw tell me no, barber. Mevrouw say you can't come in."
"She's got to see me, Hetje. I have to explain."
"Mevrouw told me to tell you she's the physician's wife now. Doesn't matter to her what a barber thinks about anything. Mevrouw say every barber in Nieuw Amsterdam can drop dead this very minute and it means nothing to her."
"Indeed. Well, you can tell her the message is clear. How is she, Hetje?"
"Mevrouw be a little tired, barber. She got the ague."
"So that's the story Van der Vries is putting about, is it? She has the ague."
"Mevrouw be well soon. See everybody then." Hetje spoke the words as if by rote.
Lucas leaned toward the black girl. "Hetje, you and I, I believe we understand each other. We both know that sometimes you have to do things you hate. Tell my sister for me this was one of those times. Say I'm sorry. That I'll do anything I can to make amends. Swear you'll tell her."
Hetje nodded. "I be -- "
"Hetje! Shut the door and come inside."
Sally's voice. She was probably sitting on the stairs, listening to every word. Lucas tried to push past the slave, but she was ready for him, stiffened against his assault. "Mevrouw say you can't come in, barber. She say I'm not to let you in."
Although Hetje was strong, Lucas could easily have overpowered her. But he saw no point. Not until Sally's attitude softened. After she was rid of the savage's child. "You're sure she's all right? That sod's not abusing her in any way? If he ever does, Hetje, you must tell me immed -- "
"Mevrouw a little tired from the ague." Hetje was staring past him, looking at some point in the air over his left shoulder.
Lucas turned to go. He was halfway down the path when he turned back. The black girl was still standing in the door, but this time she was looking directly at him. "Hetje, the poppies that grew on my land, near my cabin...After the petals dropped, the seed capsules were all harvested in the middle of the night. That was a few days after my sister married your master. You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
"Mevrouw be a little tired from the ague."
"Very well," Lucas said softly. "Tell her what I said. Tell her I'm sorry." He walked down the long path between the apple trees and let himself out Van der Vries's front gate and onto Pearl Street.
Hetje watched until the gate closed behind the barber, then turned to look for her mistress. Mevrouw Turner was no longer in the hall. The slave went to the simpling room. "The barber be gone, mevrouw. He told me to tell you he -- "
"I know what he told you. I heard every word. And believed not one of them. Pass me that ladle."
The laudanum was almost ready. The poppy seeds had been steeping fifteen days with ripe apples and dried currants. The brew was semi-liquid and covered in froth. Sally dipped the ladle to the bottom of the crock and lifted a bit of the mixture to her nose. The smell was perfect, rich and heady, with the distinct odor of yeast. "It's ready for straining. You'll have to help me with this part. Carry the crock over there to that table. Hetje, where do you buy the doctor's meat?"
"At the shambles market on the Brede Wegh, mevrouw. I be going early in the morning. Get the very best. You want me to pour this stuff into that cloth?"
"Into the straining muslin, yes. Carefully, so you disturb the sediment as little as possible. From now on you are to buy meat in the afternoon. From the butcher on Hall Place, Hetje. And tell me everything you observe when you're there."
Sally had never before made such a quantity of laudanum at one time. When she finished decanting it she had four crockery jugs of the pale gold liquid. And one more jug made of glass, tightly corked, carefully wrapped, and hidden beneath a loose board in the floor of the simpling room. She was careful to put it there when she was sure none could see her, not even Hetje.
From the first day she'd arrived at this place as Jacob Van der Vries's lawful wife, she'd known that the young slave was prepared to be her ally. But if there was one thing the last few months had taught her, it was to trust no one. Not the Indians she'd thought were her friends. Not the minister who said he served Almighty God. Not the brother who had protected her all her life, until he sold her for sixty guilders. But you, my darling child, can trust me. I will not fail you.
Jacob Van der Vries had no reason to look for a hidden supply of laudanum. He looked instead at the jugs lined up on the counter in the simpling room he'd prepared for his new wife and trembled with delight. "Excellent, my dear. Excellent. I take it the quality is up to your standards?"
"I've made none better."
"Excellent," Van der Vries repeated softly. "Perhaps after the midday meal I will sample a bit. Just to be sure it is fit for my patients."
They ate early, at Van der Vries's insistence; it was just past two when Sally took her place opposite him at the table. The meal was silent. Sally had initiated no conversation with Jacob Van der Vries since the moment the minister pronounced them man and wife. When he spoke, she answered; otherwise she kept her lips clamped shut. Mostly, he was silent, too, except to inquire after the laudanum. Now that it was made neither had anything to say to the other.
Hetje brought the food and set the dishes in front of them. They ate.
Sally took only as much as she needed to keep the baby healthy and strong, and gagged even on that. She had to force each mouthful past the lump of rage and misery that lodged somewhere between her heart and her throat. Normally Van der Vries was a hearty eater. Today he had a few mouthfuls of venison and pumpkin and beans, then jumped to his feet. "I have eaten more than enough. I believe it is a good moment to test your laudanum, wife. Bring me some."
"A spoonful?" She made herself sound chastened and compliant. "In some hot water perhaps?"
"Two spoonfuls." Van der Vries smiled. "And I require no water. A fair test."
She went to the simpling room and came back with a small tin cup containing the viscous yellow liquid. He grabbed it from her and gulped it down. Ten minutes later he was sitting in his study, puffing dreamily on his pipe, staring into the empty fireplace and smiling a vacant, happy smile.
Sally stood in the door and watched him for a bit, keeping her hands clasped over her belly all the while. Finally she turned away.
She went to the kitchen. It was small, dominated by the fireplace and the bake oven built into the wall beside it. Hetje was there, cleaning up after the meal. Sally sat down on the stool beside the table in the middle of the room. "The venison you served for dinner was excellent, Hetje. Did you get it at the butcher shop in Hall Place as I told you to?"
"Yes, mevrouw. I always be doing everything you and the master tell me to."
"I think not," Sally said softly. "Only when it suits you."
"Hetje be a good slave." The girl set to wiping the table with long sweeps of her strong arms. "Mijnheer and mevrouw never have no cause to beat Hetje."
"I will never beat you," Sally said quietly. "You have my sworn oath on it. And I will do everything I can to see that" -- she could not bring herself to say "my husband" -- "that he doesn't beat you either. In return, Hetje, will you help me?"
"Hetje be a good slave. Hetje do everything mevrouw tells -- "
"Enough, Hetje. I am in this place because I have no choice. Exactly as you are. And I am going to have a child." Hetje stopped cleaning the table. She carried the crumbs to the wooden barrel in the corner and disposed of them. Finally she turned around. "What you be wanting me to do, mevrouw?"
"Tell me what you discovered at the butcher shop."
"There be a lot of talk in that place, mevrouw."
"What kind of talk? Is my brother -- "
"I hear nothing about the barber. It be the butcher they talk about. He went away last month and no one seen him since. His poor wife be doing everything by herself. And her eyes be all red from weeping."
"Weeping? Marit Graumann? Over Ankel Jannssen? I don't believe it. Everyone knows that pig was a drunk who treated her abominably."
"I don't know nothing about that, mevrouw. But her eyes be half closed with crying. That's plain enough. And she look ill."
"And no one truly knows where her husband has gone?"
"That's what I be hearing in the town, mevrouw. No one knows. Two of the burgomasters and the sheriff search the whole house up and down and find nothing. They say the butcher's clothes be gone as well. And that he be saying for years he be going to sail away on a rum ship. Going to the islands, maybe."
"And my brother, the barber? What do they say of him?"
"Nothing, mevrouw. I don't be hearing nothing about the barber."
Sally drew invisible lines on the table with one finger. She didn't look at the other woman. "Shall I tell you something, Hetje? A secret? I think I shall. My brother, Lucas, and the butcher's wife are lovers. They have been lovers for well over a year. I thought it for a time, but I wasn't sure. Then one day, before the siege, I followed Lucas to a secret place in the woods up near the Collect Pond, Hetje. I saw the things they did to each other, my brother and the butcher's wife. You would not believe them."
Sally stopped speaking. Hetje was staring at Sally with her great black eyes and it was as if she could see into her soul. "You be poisoning your heart with what you watched," she whispered. "You watch another couple loving and it poisons -- "
A loud and insistent pounding cut off Hetje's words. The two women rushed to the hall. "It must be him," Sally said breathlessly. "The laudanum's made him mad."
"Not the master," Hetje said. "Somebody be beating on the front door."
"Dear God, maybe it's a patient. He's in no condition...Answer it, Hetje. Tell whoever it is the physician is not here. Say he won't return until this evening." Sally stepped back into the shadows near the kitchen. "Very well, now, Hetje. Open the door."
A man stood on the stoop, back lit by the late afternoon sun. Sally had to squint to see him, but she could hear him plain enough. "English warships!" he shouted. "Four of them. Just sailed into the harbor. Tell your master. And stay inside with your doors well bolted."
Colonel Richard Nicolls demanded the town in the name of Charles II, King of England. Stuyvesant presented him with a letter reviewing the Dutch claim to the territory. Nicolls refused to read it. "You may write what you wish, sir. If the town is not surrendered in two days' time it will be shelled."
The fort was crumbling. After the latest Indian war, there were fewer than sixty soldiers; no replacements had come from Holland. There was a reasonable amount of ammunition for the soldiers' muskets, but almost none for the town's cannon. The English terms were generous. The residents of the town could retain their property and worship as they chose. The governor hesitated, tormented by his fierce loyalty to the Dutch West India Company. The colonists had no such scruples. They demanded capitulation.
There were well over two thousand people in Nieuw Netherland. Not even Peter Stuyvesant could stand against the will of so many. He signed the terms of surrender on the eighth day of September, 1664, then retired to his extensive bouwerie beyond the Voorstadt, north of the wall. Nearly everyone else stayed where they were and went on with their lives, the only differences being that now they were ruled by the brother of the English king, James, Duke of York; Fort Orange had become Albany; and Nieuw Amsterdam was New York. And being English was suddenly an advantage. Of sorts. Under some circumstances.
"Been living with the Dutch for some time, have you, barber?"
"Three and a half years here in the colony. Since June of 1661. Before that I was in Rotterdam."
"I see. Get on with them, do you? Speak the language?"
The Englishman turned a few more of the papers on his desk. The two men were in the former Stadt Huys. It was now called the City Hall, but the window at the far end of the room still looked out toward Hall Place. Not close enough for Lucas to see anything, but he kept gazing over the other man's shoulder nonetheless, in the direction of Marit's shop.
"They tell me you're a surgeon as well as a barber." Witherspoon, the man asking the questions, wore the latest fashion -- a powdered wig and a pale blue satin waistcoat and dark blue velvet breeches. Called himself secretary to Nicolls, who was now the governor of New York. "I hear you're an expert stone cutter. And that you are, as well, adept at setting broken bones and cutting away tumors."
"I am well trained in my craft, Mr. Witherspoon. And you seem to know a good deal about us for a man who's been here less than a week."
"The value of taking a census, Mr. Turner. One hears so much."
"Yes, I suppose that's so. Now, if that is all, I'll -- "
"Of course, mustn't keep you. Just one last thing. Did you learn your trade in Rotterdam? Among the Dutch?"
"No, sir. In London. With the English Barbers' Company." There was no doubt in Lucas's mind that Witherspoon already knew as much. The Company published lists of its members every year, had been doing so for nearly a century. Men who became secretaries to colonial governors were the sort who made themselves familiar with such lists.
Witherspoon smiled. "Rare in these modern times, isn't it, to be both a barber and a surgeon? I mean, if one is apprenticed to the English Company?"
"Then New York is indeed fortunate," Witherspoon said softly. "One barber who is also a surgeon, and a physician as well. Who, as luck would have it, is married to the barber's sister. That's correct, isn't it?"
"And you, sir -- as yet, you are unmarried?"
"I see." Witherspoon put down his pen. "Very well, you may leave." Lucas turned to go. "There's just one other thing, Mr. Turner. Since you're an Englishman by blood and birth...In some ways Governor Nicolls finds this a strange place. One would expect the Dutch church to hold sway, but it appears there are, as well, Sabbatarians, Antisabbatarians, Singing Quakers, Ranting Quakers, Jews...It boggles a man's mind. I'm told there are even a few Papists."
"I believe that's true."
"But Stuyvesant...The word is that he's as stubborn a believer in his own religion as any you'll meet. Do you not, barber, find that a strange combination of circumstances?"
Lucas took a few steps toward the other man's desk and pointed at the window. "Out there you have a town founded with one intent: the earning of money. If whatever God you pray to assists you in that aim" -- Lucas shrugged -- "then the Dutch West India Company made you welcome. Believe what you like, and keep quiet about it. More important, get on with business."
"And you find that acceptable?"
"I find it less unacceptable than some other creeds. There are none starving in this place. And in general, the peace is kept."
Witherspoon smiled. "A fair measure. The general peace. You are intelligent, barber. And as I said, an Englishman. That is a fortunate combination. I think you will not mistake my meaning when I ask you to keep your eyes open. And to have a quiet word with me if any here in New York seem to be particularly unhappy about His Grace's rule."
"What I have been trying to explain, sir, is that the people of New Ams -- New York are not much interested in who rules back in Europe. They will be content if you can keep the savages in their place, do not tax them unduly, and let them get on with their lives."
"Which, according to you, involve largely the creation of wealth."
"Fair enough. But if you should note anything else -- anything you judge untoward -- you will find Governor Nicolls to be most accommodating to his friends, Mr. Turner."
Lucas calculated rapidly. Seize the opportunity when it presents itself; the concept had served him well before. "There is one man you might wish to keep an eye on. Name's Jan Doncke. A few months back he was suggesting the Dutch colonists declare war on the English."
"Thank you. We shall be wary of Mr. Doncke."
Fair enough. It was something to keep them occupied until they found out Doncke was a doddering old fool and no one paid him any mind. "One other thing as well, Mr. Witherspoon. A question about English legal practice." The man behind the desk nodded, waiting.
"If a man deserts his wife," Lucas said softly, "disappears with no warning, and no provision made for her well-being, how long must it be before the woman is declared a widow and free to marry again? The Dutch say seven years. Is English law the same?"
Witherspoon made a tent of his fingers and peered at Lucas over the top of them. "An interesting question, Mr. Turner. Personally, not being schooled in the law, I have no idea what the answer might be back in London. Of course, Governor Nicolls is in complete charge in New York. Here the law is what he says it is."
The sweat poured off Sally. The contractions were still quite far apart, but when the sharpest of them came she gritted her teeth to keep back the screams. In between she swallowed her moans and clung to Hetje's hand. The slave never moved from her side. She wiped Sally's brow and murmured comfort. "You doing just fine, mevrouw. That baby going to be just fine."
"What about him?" She looked toward the hall.
"I keep telling you, mevrouw. Master not be back yet. He say he not be back until it be time for his dinner."
"That's two hours from now," Sally whispered. "Maybe the baby will be born before then."
"No," Hetje said. "You be just at the beginning, mevrouw. A first baby takes a while to get itself born. But you don't be worrying. Hetje be doing everything exactly like you said."
"You made the pie? The way I told you?"
The other woman chuckled. "I made a beautiful pie, mevrouw. With pigeon and apples and currants. And good and plenty of mevrouw's special sauce. The master going to enjoy his dinner today. Oh, yes."
Sally squeezed Hetje's hand. "And sleep for hours after it. Enough time to..." Sally couldn't speak the words. Her eyes filled with tears.
Hetje stroked her forehead with a damp cloth. "Don't worry, mevrouw. Everything going to be fine. This baby's going to be fine."
"Hetje, have you...have you ever had a child?"
"Three, mevrouw. I be eleven first time they put me with a man."
"They put you. Did you care for him, Hetje?"
"Never saw him except for that one week up in the slave compound. He did it to me, and then they took him off someplace and I never laid eyes on him again. Nine months after, I be having me a little girl."
"Where is she? What did -- " Another contraction took Sally's breath away. She clung to Hetje's hand and bit her lips to keep back any sound.
"You got to breathe, mevrouw. Breathe deep each time the pain comes."
Sally gulped air. Twice, three times. The pain ebbed. "What about your little girl?" she asked. "Where is she, Hetje?"
"Never saw her after she was four," Hetje said. "That be when they sold her. I never knew where."
"Oh, God. Hetje, I'm so sorry."
"Had two little boys, too. One died of the cholera when he be two. The other one got sold when he be five."
"And each time...The fathers...You didn't..."
"It always be like the first time. They put me with men when they wanted me to have a baby. That's how it be in the compound, mevrouw. Men and women live separate. Everyone do their work by day, and by night -- " Hetje broke off. The two women looked at each other. "'Course, it might have been different with me," Hetje added. "I be born to free folk."
The black woman nodded. "My mama and papa be having a little farm up in the woods. In them swamplands around Minetta Brook. Governor before this one, Kieft, he wanted folks not be Indians to be living between the town and the trouble. Kieft gave my mama and papa a little ground to work and build a cabin on. Gave 'em papers, too. Said they could live free long as they gave the governor a fat pig once a year. And came into town to work whenever he needed them."
The slave wiped Sally's face with a cool cloth. "Thank you, Hetje. I don't understand. If your parents were free, why -- "
"The papers don't say nothing about children, mevrouw. A man and a woman living free with old Governor Kieft's papers, their children got to go to the slave compound if that's where they be needed. That's what happened to me. I be needed. They said eleven was time enough. They said they needed more stock, so I couldn't just be let stay fallow."
Sally squeezed the black woman's hand. "I'm sorry for all your troubles, Hetje -- " She gasped at the next contraction. "Hetje, what if my baby is -- "
"You stop worrying yourself, mevrouw. Your baby going to be fine. Sure to be a woman with enough milk for your baby in the compound. They won't let your baby die. Babies in the slave compound be valuable. Worth a lot of money once they got a few years behind 'em. That be the important thing, mevrouw. You keep thinking on that. Your baby going to live."
At four A.M. -- after Hetje tied a sheet to the head of the bed so her mistress could cling to it and scream only silently, after Sally had labored nearly seventeen hours -- she pushed her child into the world.
"Be a little boy, mevrouw!" Hetje put the infant on his mother's stomach. "A beautiful little boy!"
Sally struggled to raise her head. "A boy...Is he all right, Hetje?"
"He be perfect, mevrouw." The child gave one sharp cry as she spoke.
Sally struggled to sit up. "Hetje, don't let him make any noise. He mustn't -- "
"You quiet yourself, mevrouw. Everything be exactly how it should be. This baby be fine. Got everything he's supposed to have, and he can shout besides." Hetje was tying off the cord in two places as she spoke. "I be going to cut this thing now, but don't you worry. Ain't be hurting none." Hetje put her heavy shears between the two knots and snipped. "There, that be done. You didn't feel nothing, did you?"
"Nothing." Sally's voice was weak with exhaustion. She put her hand on the infant's back. "A boy," she whispered. "My son. Hetje, where is the master? Maybe he heard the child cry. Run out to the hall and check."
"I be out to the hall ten times in the past hour, mevrouw. Mijnheer be sleeping before and he be sleeping now. I told you, he ate that whole pie all by hisself. Didn't leave even one crumb on the plate."
"Yes, yes, you told me." Sally laid her head back. She knew she wouldn't be able to fight the exhaustion much longer. Hetje reached for the child. "Got to take him now, mevrouw. Got to get him cleaned up and wrapped up."
"Hetje, is he..." She was too tired to see. Too frightened to trust her judgment. "What color is his skin, Hetje?"
"Nice dark little boy, mevrouw. Blackest hair you ever saw."
"Good," Sally whispered. "That's good. Dark. It will be better for him."
A few moments later Hetje placed the swaddled child in Sally's arms. Sally pressed him to her. She could feel his heartbeat against her heart. The way it had been for these nine months. "My sweet baby son," she whispered. "My darling boy." The baby was tightly wrapped. Only his face showed, red and wrinkled, and a fringe of straight black hair. Sally kissed his forehead. She hugged him close.
Hetje peered into the dark beyond the window. "Mevrouw, the watchman passed this way a little while past. He be coming again soon. Better if I go before it starts getting to be morning."
"Yes, I know. Only a few minutes more." She held the child close. Dear God, how could she let him be taken away?
Hetje went to the door of the bedroom and cracked it open. The only sound was that of the snores coming from the study. "He still be sleeping, mevrouw. This be the best time for Hetje to leave."
"Yes," Sally whispered. "The best time." She kissed her son once more. "Have your life, little one. I cannot raise you, but I swore I would not let them kill you and I have kept my promise." Then, without another word, weeping silent tears, she gave the boy to Hetje.
"Well now," Hetje whispered to the child she had hidden beneath her shawl, standing on Pearl Street as the muffled dark gathered itself to fight off the dawn. "Looks like you and me be all alone out here. Only thing has to happen now be for Hetje to decide where to take you."
There was no moon, only starlight. Hetje opened her shawl a bit and peeked at the face of the infant. The redness of birth was already starting to fade. "A little white boy," she whispered. "I be telling mevrouw you were a dark baby, because that be what she wants to hear. That be what we were counting on, the mistress and me. Since you had a white mama and a red papa, you were going to be a dark baby and I could slip you into the slave compound and no one ever be sure where you came from. But now...What Hetje be doing with this little boy nobody be wanting? You got any answers for me, little white baby?"
The child continued to sleep.
Lucas stared at the infant in Marit's arms. "He's what?"
"A foundling. Sent to us by God. I'm sure of it. I've never conceived, Lucas. I doubt if I -- "
"Where did you get him? When? How are you feeding him?"
The baby cried. Marit leaned forward and kissed the tiny face. She held the child close and began rocking back and forth. "Hush," she whispered. "Your voice is too loud, Lucas. You are making him cry."
"Marit, I have to know what -- "
"I opened the door and there he was. First thing this morning. It was barely dawn. And I am feeding him with milk from my neighbor's cow. Look, I'll show you." Marit dipped a corner of a piece of cloth into the bowl of milk on the table beside her. She put the cloth to the infant's lips. He sucked eagerly. "See, he is a smart boy, our Nicholas. He knows -- "
"Our Ni -- Marit, listen to me. We are to be married this afternoon, less than three months since...since you are without a husband. That is already a huge concession. Since no minister will perform the ceremony, a justice of the peace will preside. That is a second huge concession."
"You told me Governor Nicolls has made it legal anywhere in New York for a couple to be married by a justice of the peace."
"Yes, he has. That doesn't mean the people are going to accept it."
"The English are in charge now." She dipped the cloth in milk a second time and gave it to the baby. "The people have to accept what the English say."
"They have to act as if they accept it, but they don't -- "
"Look, Lucas, at his eyes. Wide apart like yours. And his forehead is like yours. I think he looks like -- "
"Marit, what are we going to do if people stop coming to me for treatment?"
"You are the only real surgeon in New York, the only one people trust."
"There will be many more now that we are an English colony. Marit, please, we cannot keep this child. It is madness."
Marit held the baby closer. When she looked up at Lucas her large blue eyes were shiny with tears. "Whatever Ankel did to me," she whispered, "whatever he threatened to do to me, I would not stop loving you. I risked everything because I love you so completely, Lucas. Now I love this child the same way. He is the only son I will ever have. How can you ask me to give him up?"
Lucas knelt beside her. "Only because it's so dangerous, my love. Because it will put us in so much peril."
Marit reached for his hand and placed it on the baby's chest. The infant was entirely swaddled in flannel; only his tiny face showed. Lucas could feel the small heart beating beneath the soft cloth. The child seemed strong, healthy. "Your son," Marit whispered. "Sent to you by God." Lucas knew what she wanted him to feel but he did not feel it. There was for him nothing but risk in this tiny creature Marit had so quickly come to love. "No," he whispered. "Not my son, Marit."
He stood up and walked to the window. It was nearly three. Most people had gone home for their dinner. Hall Place was deserted. "Have you considered whose child he might truly be?"
"No. And I do not care, Lucas. God placed him on the doorstep for me to find. He is to be our son. Nicholas Turner."
Lucas sighed. "I see God told you the boy's name as well."
Marit shook her head. "Do not mock me, Lucas. Listen to me: if we do not keep him, we will be turning our back on God's gift. Terrible things will happen to us. We have been fortunate so far. We have...We have done everything we had to do and suffered no ill consequences. But if we do not share our luck with this little boy, everything will change."
"Marit, how are we to explain a newborn? What are people to think?"
"That Ankel left me with child," she said calmly. "And who can prove differently?"
"But no one saw you with child. No one -- "
"No one noticed. They noticed only my constant weeping these months since -- "
"The onion wife," he said softly. He'd been teasing her with the phrase since she began keeping a peeled onion in the storeroom, inhaling the fumes until tears streamed down her cheeks and she looked like a grieving widow.
"Yes," she said, smiling at him. "The onion wife. But no longer, Lucas. After today, the joyful, contented wife of the barber. And the mother of Nicholas."
"Ankel Jannssen's legacy," Lucas whispered. "Very well, so be it."
Van der Vries searched the entire house, from the simpling room to the attic. When he was finished he went again to stand at the foot of Sally's bed. "Tell me once more what happened."
"My labor began. Hetje helped me. The child was born dead. This morning at four of the clock. I did not wish to look at the corpse. Hetje got rid of it for me."
The slave was kneeling beside the fireplace meanwhile, laying the logs for a new fire. Van der Vries walked over to her. "What did you do with the child?"
Hetje looked up at him. "Mevrouw said she don't want it be buried anywhere around here. So I be tying a rock to that baby and go down by the wharf and throw it in the sea. No one never going to see that dead baby, Master. You don't have to worry about that. Only the fishes be going to -- "
Van der Vries began unbuckling his belt. "Let's just see if you tell the same story after -- "
"No!" Sally struggled to sit up in the bed. "You must not beat her. The baby is dead. You wanted it gone and it's gone. What else can you want to know?"
"That I'm not being duped," Van der Vries said softly. "That my wife and my slave are not taking me for a fool."
"We are not." Sally looked directly at him. "And beating Hetje, or me for that matter, will do nothing to sweeten the atmosphere in your household, Jacob Van der Vries. It will not make your simpling room more productive."
"Ah yes, my simpling room. That raises another question. Why I slept so soundly for so long. Not even in my own bed, but in my chair. How did that happen, mevrouw? Have you any notion?"
"Hetje knows that you enjoy the brew I make from poppies. She did not know it was not for use in cooking. I have explained to her. It will not happen again."
Van der Vries looked from one woman to the other. "See it does not," he said finally. Then: "Hetje, leave us. I wish to speak privately with the mevrouw."
Van der Vries waited until the door closed; then he approached the bed and suddenly, without warning, threw back the quilt. Sally cowered. "Stay where you are," Van der Vries commanded.
She half raised herself on her elbows, staring up at him. Van der Vries spent some time looking at her, though he did not disturb her nightdress. Finally he put his hand on her belly. It was still swollen, though considerably smaller than it had been, and soft and flabby where before it had been hard. "I feel no heartbeat," he admitted.
"In God's name, how could you? I told you, the child was born dead some nine hours past."
"Yes, you told me." He took his hand away. "Very well. The matter is closed. We will discuss it no further. Governor Nicolls is giving a reception for the townspeople next week. I wish you to attend with me. It does a man no harm to have an English wife in these times. You have turned out to be a greater asset than I ever imagined, mevrouw. Well worth sixty guilders."
Sally didn't see him for two days. Then, on the third night after her child had been born, as she lay staring at the ceiling, trying to imagine how she was going to bear the rest of her life, her door opened. Van der Vries stood there, carrying a candle.
"Ah, you're awake."
"Yes. What do you want?"
He came into the room, closed the door behind him, then walked to the bed. "I want what it is your duty to give me," he said softly. "My marital rights." He set the candle on the night table, then reached forward and threw back the quilt. "Now, mevrouw, lift your linen. I wish to see exactly what it is I have bought."
This time Sally didn't cower. She pulled the hem of her nightdress to her neck. Hetje had wrapped her breasts to keep the milk back. Van der Vries looked at the bindings and nodded. He examined the rest of her. "Skinny," he muttered under his breath. "No bargain for looks. But there are other advantages." He leaned over, blew out the candle, and climbed on top of her.
Copyright © 2001 by MichaelA, Ltd.
Meet the Author
Beverly Swerling is a writer, consultant, and amateur historian. She lives in New York City with her husband.
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This book is a superb work of historical fiction, and highly readable. Once begun it is hard to put down. It covers a period of early American history that I knew little about: the early days of Nieuw Amsterdam/New York. The story is told from the perspective of a family of healers, physicians and surgeons, descending from the original immigrant brother and sister. The graphic descriptions of pre anaesthetic surgery are not for the faint hearted. The only jarring note for me was the "bodice ripper" sex, as if the book could not stand alone as good historical fiction. If I want panting maidens and dark men with even darker secrets and checkered pasts engaging in eupehmistically phrased torrid coupling, there are shelves full of such novels in the paperback section, all displaying bare bosoms and half clothed bodybuilders. When I purchse a book with an early engraving of ships in New York Harbor on the cover I expect to read about foremasts, mizzenmasts, topsails and mainsails (Jack O'Brian where are you?) I felt as if the sex had been included gratuitously to boost sales. Other than that major irritation, I would highly recommend this book.
I absolutely loved this book. Ms. Swerling flawlessly transitioned the story from generation to generation, and kept my attention the entire time. I cannot believe some of the medical procedures that were used in the early days of our country's life. There are a few more books in the series which I have already purchased. Can't wait to get started reading them. 5 STARS, but I would give this book 10 if I could.
This is an excellent book. Ifound it so intresting that l kept thinking about it when l was not reading it The earlly mredical procedures are describbed so well that l felt l was therr. Great character developmment too. I know so much more about eafly new york 5 stars outof 5!
I loved this book...to picture NYC before the skyscrapers....in it's infancy takes the reader THERE!!!!
The book was very intriguing, and educational. I did not want to put it down. However, at times it was rather confusing because there were so many characters. I had to keep looking back in the book to figure out who the author was discussing. Once I became accustomed to her style, it was easier to read. She knows her stuff, and makes history interesting and memorable.
For all those reading some of the reviews stating these books are more "soap opera" I would tell them to go read some dry nonfiction to get the facts. Fiction is supposed to be dramatic. These books are among my favorites and recommend them often.
this book, along with the third in this trilogy, were a gift to my son. He started on the 2nd in the series, not realizing he had begun in 'the middle'. I purchased the first and third for him for Fathers Day. He was overjoyed to have them.
Discovered this when browsing new fiction, discovered it was a series and went back to start at the beginning. Wonderful "saga" of generations and the childhood of NYC. Fascinating and thought provoking look at racism, antisemitism, feminism. Characters well drawn, though at the end I lost the connections a little. Great look at the development of medicine, sort of like "The Alienist" was to criminology. I just started the second book.
I have to finish a book once I've started reading it, and this book took me months to get through. I thought I would love it because of the historical plot, but history was secondary to the soap opera drama. There are so many characters that none are truly developed and they're forgettable. Plot is sluggish at best. Great potential, awful result. I bought the sequel at the same time as I bought the first book. I don't even know what to do with it, but I won't be reading it.
This book was very interesting and entertaining - especially the historical aspects. the leaning towards soap opera sometimes got in the way of the telling of the story but it was still very good.
This was one of the best books i have ever read!It had the history of new york /early manhattan,but most interesting was how they practiced medicine in those days.Pretty horrific methods,i must say....I LOVED this book!Highly recomended.I have since reading Bev,Swerling looked for others by her,hope she writes soon .We need moore from this excellent author.
wow this author is so good! i could not put this book down. the perfect book. has love, lust, anger, betrayal and it makes you feel as if you were in the actual story!
I could hardly drop it. It is written in a way that you feel as if you are there, but not over explaining everything. I loved it so that I did not want it to end. Hopefully, she will write another book like this one. Oh, pleeeeease do it soon. The part I do not like about reading a book like this is that it will be soooo hard to find equally good story right after it.
This was a most enjoyable and fascinating book. A must read. Couldn't put it down.