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"Are you Dolley Madison? Or, like, Martha Washington or something?" one of the boys edging toward the front of Allison Leigh's tour asked. He was about nine or ten, still awkward, but obviously determined to create some havocno doubt to avoid embarrassing himself in front of the few other teens and preteens on the tour.
A taller, older boy, maybe twelve, who might have been his brother, nudged him. "You idiot, they're both dead, and she's alive. And she's hot, buddy. She's way too hot even in that getup to be one of those old ladies." The second boy tried to look mature. He reminded Allison of a very young Adam Sandler. The boys were part of her tour, which included a mix of ages. Summer was just drawing to a close and families were still on vacation.
She heard someone behind her choke back laughter; it was Nathan Pierson, longtime board member for the nonprofit organization that now owned the Tarleton-Dandridge House. They'd had a meeting in the attic, where a small office was located. Cherry Addison, the remaining descendent of the Dandridge clan, had already moved on, spike heels clicking. Ethan Oxford, their eldest member, had politely made his way through the crowd. Nathan and Sarah Vining were the last of the four board members to leave the house.
Nathan grinned and winked at Allison as he approached. Sarah hurried to catch up with him. She was a wisp of a woman who had given herself frown lines worrying about the board's every move, while Nathan was the opposite, always certain things would work out. He was a slim and stately man in his forties, not exactly a father figure, more like a cool-uncle figure. And he was amused.
Ally shot him a warning glance, but he kept grinning as he stepped past her. When he looked back and winked again, she forced a smile to her lips and turned her attention back to the group.
"Well, thanks, I think," she told the boy who'd spoken. There was nothing like having a few young kids on the tour, giggling and not the least bit interested in the history of the Tarleton-Dandridge Houseor the nation, for that matter. They didn't want to be here and were going to be thorns in her side if she didn't do something quickly. Ghost tours were the answer in situations like this.
To most kids an old house just seemed stuffy and boring. She understood how they felt, even though she'd always been the odd kid out herselfa history nerd, as Julian liked to call her. She was from Philadelphia; she'd gone to Boston for her bachelor and master's, and to New York for her doctorate, but she loved her own city almost as if it were a friend with whom she'd grown up. From the time she was little, she'd gaped at Independence Hall and marveled that she could stand in the same place where some of the greatest men in American history had stood.
She surveyed the crowd and concluded that the two boys were indeed brothers, dragged along on a historical jaunt by their parents, the attractive couple a few feet back.
"Actually, my name is Allison Leigh, and the person I'm dressed to portray is Lucy Tarleton. And," she added teasingly, "she's supposed to haunt the place, so I'd be careful if I were you." She took a step closer to the taller of the two brothers. "She wants you to know your history."
He grinned and struck a swaggering pose. "I wouldn't mind meeting up with a hot ghost," he said. "And I know all about her. Lucy Tarleton, that is. We went on a ghost tour last night! She was a spy. Like a Hairy Mata."
"Mata Hari!" his dad whispered, shaking his head in amusement but setting a hand on the boy's shoulders. "Sorry!" he murmured to Allison.
"It's fine," Allison assured him. She turned back to the boy. "Great, then you're in the know," she said gravely. "You could meet up with Lucy today. Or maybe the ghost of Lord Brian 'Beast' Bradley, who is said to have murdered several patriots in cold blood, among them Lucy Tarleton."
"Ghosts? Bring 'em on!" the boy shouted.
"Todd," his father chastised. "Keep it down."
"It's all right. Everyone loves historic ghost stories," Allison said. She did like kids and understood that they were going to be, well, kids. She just wished people would recognize the human toll of war and what history could teach them.
She stepped back to welcome her entire group of fifteen. "Good evening," she said loudly, "and welcome to the Tarleton-Dandridge House, here in historic Philadelphia!"
Trees swayed gently in the breeze, and the air had taken on a sweet chill that might have been the promise of rain or merely the slow descent from summer into fall. Dusk was coming, and with it, a soft fog. They hadn't shortened their hours at the mansion yet, but the last tour was usually out while there was still a glimmer of light in the sky.
Watching the sky and feeling the breeze, Allison Leigh thought she didn't mind the long days at all, even if she was tired tonight. Of course, a lot of what she did was by rote and she could do it in her sleep, but she was fascinated by history, and adored the old historic house where she worked as a guide when her teaching schedule allowed. Summers generally meant full-time guiding. She liked people, too, especially children and young adults, and valued the opportunity to show them where the fate of a nation had been decided and to discuss both the Colonial era and the Revolution itself.
On most busy days the other three guides did their share of the tours. Annette Fanning, a good friend as well as coworker, had left early, scheduled for a root canal. Jason Lawrence was leading the tour group just ahead, dressed in the manner of the British dandy, Lord Bradley, who'd resided in the house when the patriots had fled. Julian Mitchell, the fourth guide employed by the private nonprofit corporation that owned the house, had disappeared around lunchtime. He was an effective guide, but he was also running around auditioning with his band, and had a tendency to show up late or disappear early. With the last of the school-age crowd going through at the tail end of summer, his lack of responsibility was irritating, but this tour was it for the nightand then she'd be ready to close up and go home. They all liked Julian; he was just driving them crazy.
"Watch out! A ghost's going to follow you home," a young man in the crowd whispered to the boys. He smiled, looking at the young woman with him, his wife or girlfriend, as if watching the boys because he might want a few of his own one day.
"I don't think ghosts follow you home," the younger of the two brothers said bravely. "I mean, they're supposed to haunt a place, right?"
"Maybe they can follow you home!" his brother teased. "They can go through walls, can't they?"
"Stop it!" the younger one said.
His brother made chicken sounds.
Allison clapped her hands to draw their attention back to the tour. "The Tarleton-Dandridge House is open to help you understand the Revolutionary War and the occupation of Philadelphia, not to send ghosts home with anyone," she announced. "So, we'll start with a brief history, although I'm sure you know most of this. Philadelphia was the first capital of the United States. And the Declaration of Independence was written and signed here. But by that time, shots had been fired in Bostonand the British navy was occupying Staten Island. What you may not realize is that the First Continental Congress worked here before they decided on independence. At first, they were seeking a means to achieve
can someone tell me?"
Oddly enough, it was her swaggering young beau, the older brother, who raised his hand. "No taxation without representation!" he said.
"Very good. So, since it looked like the royal foot was coming down to punish the colonies for their revolt against taxesand they'd already risked being hanged for protesting lack of representation, the next step was to go all the way. Make the stakes worth the consequences, in other words. But it wasn't the citizens of Philadelphia who were eager for war, or at least not all of them. Remember, this area was settled by the Quaker William Penn. He granted the city its charter. Those who believe in the Quaker creed are and have always been antiwar and antiviolence, but by the time of the American Revolution, this was a city of about thirty thousand, all mixed in their beliefs and backgrounds."
"Yeah! They were ready to fight for freedom!" the older boy said.
She nodded. "By then the colonies had formed the Second Continental Congress, so a fight for independence it became. But Philadelphia would pay the price. The British wanted the capital. According to their logic, if you took the capital, the rest of the upstarts would fall apart and surrender. However, General George Washington had learned from his Indian wars, and he waged a different kind of warfare. Still, we lost many battles and, as I said, Philadelphia and her residents paid a heavy toll."
She seemed to have won over the boys, which pleased her, and they were looking at her intently now rather than gawking.
"Gentlemen, if you will?" she asked the two brothers.
They actually seemed nervous as she walked back to the podium by the gate. She took out two mock Colonial muskets and gave them to the boys. The male guides carried exceptionally accurate reproduction muskets, but to entertain young adults before entering the house, the guides used mock-up plastic muskets.
"Now, how would you feel if I put you twenty feet apart and told you to shoot at each other? Do you think it would make a lot of sense?"
"You shoot enough and.I guess we could hit each other," the taller boy said. "Eventually."
"Maybe," the younger brother added.
She nodded. "Muskets of the day weren't great on aim. For every shot, a man had to load his powder, tamp it down and hope the enemy wasn't upon him before he could fire again. What are your names?" she asked the boys.
The younger brother was Jimmy, she discovered, and the older one was Todd. She had them perform and they followed her instructions, demonstrating a manner of fighting in which they walked toward each other, and then another manner, in which one of them hid behind a tree.
"George Washington had learned well, don't you think? He knew the British could outman, outpower and outdiscipline him. So if they wanted the city, he'd take to the countryside. Back in the 1770s, for about a hundred miles all around Philadelphia, there was nothing but wilderness. Washington could abandon the city, let the British move in for a while, and the Revolutionary government could keep trying to sway the French to join us, which happened in 1778. And the British knew they could become locked in, trapped. So they in turn had to abandon the city."
Allison checked the little watch she wore on a chain around her neck, and saw that she'd given Jason plenty of time to take his group through.
"Shall we enter the house?" she said, opening the gate that led up to the handsome brick house.
"Let's go!" Todd blurted out.
She arched a brow at him. He grinned, and she smiled back.
As she led her group into the small but beautifully manicured yard, Allison told them, "The house was built in 1752 of brick and stone, in what was known as the Flemish style, with alternating longer and shorter bricks. It was built for Lucy Tarleton's father, an Irish immigrant who rose to success and attained great riches as a merchantand had no love for the British King George."
"Mad King George!" Jimmy said.
"Yes, so they called him." Allison paused on the porch, waiting for the stragglers to catch up.
"King George never set foot here, of course," she went on. "The days of kings leading their men into battle were long gone. But as for King George's war," Allison said, "there were two English brothers in control of the war effort hereAdmiral Richard Howe on the water and General William Howe on land. One thing they hoped, of course, was that many citizens would be loyal to Britain and start coming out of the woodwork when they arrived."
"And there were citizens loyal to Great Britain, right?" Jimmy asked.
"Yep. There were citizens loyal to Great Britain, although many moved to Canadathe United Empire Loyalistswhen the war began. But this city was a prize to the British, harder to obtain than they'd expected."
"The rivers weren't deep enough for the Royal navy!" Todd said. "I know that because we've been on so many history tours already!"
"Exactly," Allison agreed. "And there were numerous unseen obstacles under the water. It was difficult!
But eventually they made their way here." She continued the story she'd told so many times before. "Philadelphia fell to the British, and was held by them from September 26, 1777, through June 18, 1778. General Washington deprived them of greater victory by seeing that the city was abandoned and the Continental Congress moved to New York City. The British set up a puppet government in Philadelphia for that nine-month period. Meanwhile, the British soldiers enjoyed the warmth and comfort of some of these splendid homes, while Washington's men froze at Valley Forge. And so here, at this beautiful mansion, Lucy Tarleton stayed behind, pretending to be loyal to the Crown, throwing parties, and even feigning a romance with Lord Brian Bradleysoon to be known as 'Beast' Bradley, and soon to executewithout trial or king's commandthe lovely patriot, Lucy Tarleton. Lucy was indeed passing British secrets to General Washington down in Valley Forge. She was passionate about her cause and she was to die for her efforts, in a rare but tragically vindictive incident. Follow me."
The front door led through a tiny mudroom with cut-glass windows and then into a grand foyer. "In the city, you'll find that many businesses were on the first floors of what are now historic buildings, while the living quarters were upstairs. But here, a servant would greet guests in the foyer, and determine where they'd go. Mr. Tarleton's study was to your right, while the salon was the first room to your left," she said, gesturing in those directions. "The kitchen is still a separate house out back, which prevented a cooking fire from reaching the main house. Beyond the salon is the dining room, and it gave the servants easy access to the kitchen. The left side of the house as you face me was the entertainment area, you might say, and to your right were the family rooms. In back of the study is the ladies' parlor, and behind that, the music room. You'll see an exquisite harpsichord there that actually belonged to the Tarleton family. Upstairs, there are five bedrooms and the attic, which contained storage space and rooms for the servants. The Tarletons had five household servants who lived in the main house and a number of gardeners and grooms who lived over the carriage house, which is also preserved."
"Servants! I could use a few!" the boys' mother said, ruffling her younger son's hair.