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Virginia on the Eve of Revolution

By Jack McLaughlin

Copyright © 2008 by John J. McLaughlin

All rights reserved.

Cover illustration is The Minute-men of the Revolution,

published in 1876 in New York by Currier and Ives,
courtesy of the Library of Congress.

ISBN-10 1440444900
ISBN-13/EAN-13 9781440444906

Published in the United States by Custom Book Publishing

Virginia on the Eve of Revolution
Chapter 1

On a warm spring afternoon James Leslie rode at an easy trot along the Richmond
Road, past the College of William and Mary, to Duke of Gloucester Street in
Williamsburg, with its familiar mile-long double row of shops, taverns, and residences,
all converging at the distant Capitol Building. The street was heavily trafficked with
riders, carriages, carts, and pedestrians. General Court had been in session for a month
and the Assembly was to convene the following week, so the population of the town had
more than doubled, as it always did during “publick times,” as the biannual court days
were called.
Leslie turned to the John Wayles house on the corner of Nassau Street, a short distance
from the college, and saw with relief that a servant was standing outside the kitchen. He
had not known whether the Wayles family had arrived in town yet from their family seat,
The Forest, and feared he might have to seek a bed at one of the already-crowded taverns
or inns. In the stable at the back of the property he found a Wayles servant, Goliah, who
greeted him with enthusiasm and helped him from his mount.
"Let me fetch the master," he cried and ran with a rheumatic gait to the house. John
Wayles hurried to the stable, to greet his younger friend. He was portly, red-faced, loose-
jowled--a jovial man of large appetites. Wayles was a highly successful Williamsburg
lawyer and land speculator; he rented the Nassau Street house every year during publick
times, which drew every planter, merchant, and lawyer of any substance to town. He
was a widower with four daughters and he usually brought them to town for the social
whirl connected with the court and assembly meetings.
He met Leslie with outstretched arms: "By God, it's a joy to see you well," he cried.
"You look no less fit than when I last saw you three years ago, though you're thinner by a
stone, I'd say. Have you found nought to eat in your travels?"
"The inns and ordinaries in the western country are barely to be endured, John, and at
times I had to survive on the generosity of farmer's wives, or on game. But I'm sure
Sarah's cookery will fatten me up."
"It will that, for as you can see, it's added some to my girth," said Wayles slapping his
stomach. "Your gelding appears well enough fed, however. Is this the mount you spoke
so fondly of?" He allowed the horse to nuzzle his hand.
"Yes, this is Argus, as fine an animal as any you'll find in all America," said Leslie,
running his hand affectionately through the horse's mane.
"I've heard that selfsame remark from every man that owns a horse," Wayles laughed.
"To be sure, every man's horse is a nonpareil, but this creature is notable not only for
his beauty but for his character. He's not large, as you can see, but he's uncommonly
swift, and for fierce determination, courage, dependability, and stamina, he's not
surpassed. He can hold a light canter through most of the day without winding."
"You named him for the mythical monster?"
"No," Leslie smiled, "it's a personal caprice. He's named for a butterfly, if you can
believe it. The common Blue carries the Linnaean nomenclature Argus, and in certain
light this fellow's gray coat takes on a bluish hue. Hence, he became Argus. Such
conceits are childish, I know, but it pleases me that this sturdy animal, certainly no
Pegasus, is nonetheless winged in name."
Leslie removed a saddlebag with his specimen collection; he was a serious
lepidopterist and his journey through the Shenandoah Valley and then eastward to
Williamsburg had been in search of rare butterflies. He was a muscular young man, with
dark hair tied in a queue, intelligent gray eyes, and a white scar that slanted across his
right cheek. When he was not chasing insects he was a traveling agent for his father's
merchant business, Leslie and Wallace of Boston. He was also a Captain in the
Massachusetts militia. It was as a merchant that he had passed through Williamsburg
three years ago on the firm's brigantine, the Caroline, and had spent time with Wayles
and his family.
Leslie accompanied Wayles to the parlour of the house for Madeira where his host
explained that he was alone; his daughters were not to come from The Forest until the
end of the week. James's arrival was therefore felicitous; they would have time together
before the house was turned into a female bedlam. At James's inquiry about the
condition of Mrs. Skelton, the eldest of Wayles's daughters, he was told that coming to
Williamsburg would be a world of good for her.
"And you too, James, will be a good antidote for her melancholy; she's always found
your company agreeable."
"I was truly distressed at learning of the death of Mr. Skelton—at so young an age. In
the short time I knew him during my last visit I found him to be a gentleman of spirit and
"Patty will be glad to hear it from you, James. Unfortunately, she's not been able to
place the loss behind her, and it's been harmful to her health. Her full recovery depends
on her rediscovering society and its pleasures."
Over a dinner of roast mutton, Leslie related his adventures in the Shenandoah Valley:
settlers he met, a brush with Indians, and his success in gathering insect materials. They
talked and drank well into the night.
When he awoke next morning, Leslie found that Wayles had already gone to a
meeting of the court. After breakfast, he dressed carefully and made his way to the
James City Courthouse where he hoped to see the colony's most famous speaker in
action. Wayles had told him that Patrick Henry was arguing a case, and Leslie was
anxious to observe him, for Mr. Henry was one of the main reasons he had come to
James City Courthouse, a rundown building of Williamsburg brick, was on Market
Square, directly down Duke of Gloucester Street from the Wayles house. Next to the
building stood a scaffold and pillory where justice reached inside the courtroom could be
quickly dispatched outside.
Patrick Henry strode into the courthouse trailing a string of well-wishers—farmers,
mechanics, and apprentices. Leslie knew him only by reputation, that he was a man
admired by the low and middling ranks for his backwoods manners and lack of gentrified
airs—and a magnificent courtroom voice. He was curious to see Henry perform.
He had been warned by Wayles that the courtroom would be crowded, and it was.
There were no seats or benches in the spectator section, so Leslie stood next to an open
window, for he knew that the crowded room would soon become uncomfortably warm.
On the whitewashed walls were several portraits of colonial officials; at the front of the
room, on a raised platform were the highback seats of the gentlemen justices. Behind
these, on a wall of paneled wainscoting, hung the King's Arms. Leslie noticed that
among those in the quickly-filling room were a number of women, some of them well-
dressed, standing together in whispering clutches. Several had small children standing
between their knees. The appearance of so many women was unusual, for the county
courtrooms Leslie had visited were all-male enclaves; women typically had little
concern with the law unless they were defendants.
Standing next to Leslie was a young workingman with a worn shirt, a leather apron
over his frayed breeches, and shoes coated with Williamsburg street dust. In his hand
was a folded piece of foolscap; a pencil was stuck through bright red hair above his ear.
Leslie turned to him: "Excuse me; I'm a stranger to Williamsburg and have never before
attended a session of the County Court. Is it the custom for so many ladies to appear in
the courtroom?"
"No, Your Honour, it's not," the young man replied, the expression of deference
coming as naturally as breath itself, for his questioner was by dress and manners
obviously a gentleman. "The reason so many ladies is here is because of Mr. Waller, the
Baptist preacher. Many of them's his followers and they're uncommon upset at his being
brought before this court."
"Are they indeed? Is this the cause that Mr. Henry is to argue?"
"Yes, sir; it's inspired much talk about town, for the Baptists are a noisy, ranting lot
and—begging your pardon, sir . . . I trust you're not one of them."
Leslie smiled. "I'm not. Allow me to introduce myself—James Leslie of Boston in
Massachusetts. And you are?"
"John Timothy Pinkney, sir. Tim I'm known by—I’m journeyman to Mr. Rind,
printer of Rind's Virginia Gazette."
"I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. . . . Aren't you working today?"
"I'm at work this very instant, sir. Because there's so much interest about town in the
appearance of Mr. Waller before the court, I'm to write a paragraph about it for the
Gazette. I occasionally get my bit into print," he added with a touch of pride.
"Does Mr. Henry's appearance as attorney for Mr. Waller have something to do with
that interest?"
"It does too, sir," Tim replied with a grin. "Mr. Henry is Hercules himself to the
common and middling sort in town, and even to many of the gentry that's willing to
overlook his raw dress and manners for the cut of his ideas. Strange to say, he's more
admired in some of the other colonies than here in Williamsburg—because of his Stamp
Act Resolutions, I mean. We get newspaper exchanges at the printing house and I'm
proud to see his name mentioned in prints of the other colonies more often than the
governor himself."
"You're an admirer, I see."
"I am too, sir; I make no denials. And you'll be an admirer also, I warrant, when you
hear him speak."
The magistrates entered and took their seats behind a worn mahogany railing. They
were all dressed formally in bob wigs covered with a tricorn hat, and in gowns,
something Leslie had never before witnessed in a county court where the magistrates
were more likely to appear in their daily working clothes. An elderly uniformed clerk
then called His Majesty's court into session: "Oyez. Oyez. Oyez. Silence is
commanded in the court whilst His Majesty's justices are sitting, upon pain of
imprisonment. All manner of persons that have anything to do at this court draw near
and give your attendance. God save the king."
There were seven magistrates, an unusually large number; normally no more than two
or three were present.
"Is it because of the Baptist minister's cause that so many magistrates sit today?"
Leslie whispered. Tim said it was.
Cases were brought before the court quickly; most of the accused were not
represented by an attorney, and most pleaded guilty and threw themselves on the mercy
of the court. "An't please your Honours, I most humbly prays Your Honours' forgiveness
and mercy" was the litany they recited.
At length, the clerk called Richard Waller before the bench and read the charge
against him—disturbing the king's peace at an unlawful assembly. Waller stood erectly
as the charge was read. He was, Leslie calculated, a man in his late fifties, his face lined
and tanned like a farmer's. He wore an old grizzle wig and a respectable black waistcoat.
The chief justice was Henry Blair, a member of one of Virginia’s richest and most
politically well-placed families.
"Do you desire to be represented by attorney?" he asked.
"I do, if it please Your Honour, by Mr. Henry."
"Very well. Mr. Harkin, would you oblige the court by relating the circumstances
which prompted the accused to be charged?"
John Harkin, sheriff of James City County, was tall and heavy-waisted, a former
shopkeeper who had come to his position through political friendships. He was the
image of petty authority as he stood before the magistrates—smug and self-satisfied. Yet,
this attitude concealed a tightness in the bowel and a dry mouth; he was not comfortable
facing Patrick Henry in this courtroom. He was a poor speaker, and Henry had the
powers to make a man with much more wit than he possessed look like a fool. What's
more, he could feel the hostility in the courtroom from the Baptists that Waller had
brought to support him. Most were rabble, but there were several persons of rank
amongst them.
"On the sixteenth of April, Your Honours," he began, "I was let to know that an
unlawful meeting was being held in the meadow by the Capitol Landing road; just
outside town it were. I rode out there, with Mr. Bright by me, and found this man,"
pointing at Waller, "preaching to some three or four dozen men and women. There was
even a few niggers amongst 'em.
"I ordered him in the king's name to stop such unlawful preaching because it's against
the laws of the county for any unlicensed person to hold public services. I further told
him that by meeting for such services he was breaking the king's peace and subject to
He gave this address in a wooden voice; he had obviously rehearsed it.
"And what was the response?" Blair asked.
"He said, Your Honour, he was following the laws of God by speaking His word, and
that he would desist for no man—them were his very words, Your Honour. Whereupon,
I rode into the gathering—taking care not to harm a soul, Your Honour, for there was
some gentlemen and ladies of quality amongst 'em—and seized the defendant. I was
forced to give several stripes with my whip before he would agree to arrest. I then took
him without any further broils to the gaolhouse to await bail. And that's the whole truth
of the matter, Your Honour."
"Mr. Henry, do you desire to respond to Sheriff Harkin's charges?"
All eyes turned to Henry. Leslie watched the celebrated lawyer closely as he stepped
forward to confront the sheriff. He was singularly unimpressive in either his countenance
or dress. His face wore the rugged, lined look of a farmer or backwoodsman—angular,
long-nosed, with heavy brows and dark, sunken eyes. He was a tall man, but was bent at
the shoulders as he stood before the sheriff.
"You have related to this court, Mr. Harkin," he began, "that you came upon Mr.
Waller in a meadow outside town, and that he was speaking before a few dozen men and
women of Williamsburg . . . that you rode up to him and demanded that he cease his
unlawful assembly, and when he refused to do so you gave him several stripes with your
"I did."
"Exactly how many times did you lay your whip upon Mr. Waller?"
The sheriff shuffled his weight uneasily. "I believe it was no more than six times I
struck him upon the back, and them not particular brisk."
"Even so . . . you lashed him six times upon the back. It was six, you're certain?"
"I am."
Henry had spoken in no remarkable way during this exchange, Leslie observed. He
wondered whether the stories of his oratorical skills were like so many prodigious
accounts; when observed first-hand they proved to be vastly exaggerated or outright lies.
"And upon whose recommendation did you seek out this unlawful assembly, Mr.
Harkin? Was it not upon the urging of certain vestrymen of Bruton parish?"
The sheriff looked a bit uncomfortable at this query, but replied that he had received
complaints by certain gentlemen who were offended by the sight of such heathenish,
Anabaptist ranting next to the public highway.
"Ah," Henry breathed, "certain gentlemen were offended," and he glanced knowingly
at the magistrates.
Tim leaned over to Leslie and whispered, "he's playing off several of the magistrates
against each other. The vestrymen have been fighting amongst themselves over what to
do about the uncommon large number of Baptists entering the parish. Four of the
magistrates belongs to the vestry."
"And what was it that Mr. Waller was preaching, Mr. Harkin? Can you tell the
honourable magistrates, if you please?"
"It was my understanding he was preaching from the Gospels."
At this response, Henry's entire face seemed to undergo an alteration. He slowly drew
himself erect to his full height, which Leslie now observed was well over six feet; his
brows raised and his eyes appeared to burn in their sockets as he fixed them on his
"What sir!" his voice suddenly boomed at what seemed to be three times its former
pitch, "he was preaching the Gospel?" Here there was a sustained pause. "The Gospel of
the Lord . . . Jesus . . . Christ?" The final three words rang through the room like a cry to
"This man had the audacity, you tell us, to stand under God's blue heavens, with the
Creator's earth beneath his feet, and the Maker's breeze upon his brow and preach—"
another long pause—"the Gospel of Jesus Christ?"
Henry waited, allowing the words to produce their effect.
"Perhaps . . ." he began again slowly, "perhaps it was the Sermon on the Mount he
preached, where the Lord Jesus Christ himself spoke before a multitude—under God's
blue heaven, with the earth beneath his feet, and the Maker's breeze upon his forehead."
He now strode before the magistrates, who had, with Henry's sudden outburst,
stiffened to attention, as if they were themselves members of that sacred congregation of
which he spoke. "And for this, sir, you lashed the defendant, even as the Saviour Himself
was lashed for speaking the truths of His Father in heaven."
His voice had now been reduced to a dramatic intensity.
"Lashes, sir . . . lashes!"
The words came like a serpent's strike. "For speaking the Gospel of the Lord Jesus
Christ!” A pause. “Is this the royal colony of Virginia, where persecution is banished
from the earth? What has become of us, oh God, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is met
with the lash . . . lash . . . lash . . . lash . . . lash . . . lash!"
As he intoned the word repeatedly every person in the courtroom counted the six cuts
of the whip on Waller's back. Leslie found his mouth had opened as he counted with the
rest of the courtroom. The final "lash" came after a long pause and was spoken in a
barely audible whisper. With it, Henry's posture wilted, as if he had received the stripes
on his own back. He turned from the magistrates and addressed the sheriff, who was now
"What is to be next, Mr. Harkin? Shall our children be dragged from their beds for
saying their prayers? Shall wives be pilloried for teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ to
our sons and daughters?" He again straightened, and after a pause, his voice reaching its
heights of power: "Is the Inquisition descended upon Virginia's shore? Are we become a
land of Popery?" The hated word struck at the justices with a visible impact. Henry then
turned directly to the spectators in the courtroom.
"Is it His Majesty's desire, that if one of his subjects chooses to speak the words of the
Lord Saviour under the Creator's own skies . . . that such a man be beaten like a common
criminal? If certain men, women, and children—from simple piety and devotion—
choose to assemble to hear these sacred words, is it His Majesty's will that they be
threatened with horse's hooves and held up to public ridicule and contempt? Is this His
Majesty's desire?" A long pause, and then turning back to the magistrates: "Upon mine
word and honour, sirs, His Royal Majesty is no heathenish Turk, but a Christian monarch
who reveres the Gospel even as you and I." A murmur of assent rolled through the
"And pray, sirs, what threat is Mr. Waller to the parish? He builds no temple to rival
Bruton Parish Church; he collects no tithes . . . seeks no office . . . speaks no insolence to
the Crown. He is a temperate man, an honest man, a humble man, a good man—a man
who desires no more than to honour the king, respect his magistrates, and worship his
God as he list."
Then Henry raised his eyes to the ceiling lifted his arms above head in supplication:
"Is this a man deserving of lashes—lashes upon the back?" The word "lashes" was again
hissed. Then he let his hands fall as he ran his gaze over the faces of the seven justices,
meeting the eyes of each in a momentary sharp gaze.
"Your Honours, you have this day sentenced to the pillory several men who have
spoken in a lewd, blasphemous, or defamatory manner. And this court was just in its
decision, for no land can permit the language of the cock pit, the dice table, and the
brothel to offend the ears of persons of rank and respect. But what of a land that allows
the words of the Gospel—the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ—" Henry's voice soared
as he proclaimed these words "—to be made equal to those of the brothel? Are both to be
joined in the pillory? Are Mr. Waller's readings from the sacred Bible to be punished
alongside the calumny and curses of the drunkard?"
Henry then postured himself erectly, his arms straight at his side, his chin raised, his
head now turned to the rapt courtroom audience.
"It must not be so! The Bible and the brothel are not the same, sirs. Let this court
proclaim it to all . . . the sacred psalms of the Bible and the obscenities of the brothel
shall never receive equal footing in this Christian land. . . . Never, sirs! Never!"
As the final word reverberated through the courtroom, Henry stepped back. The
spectators exploded into applause, foot stomping, and shouts of "Huzzah!" They were
joined by those outside the courtroom—twice as many as those inside—pressed around
the front doors and every window of the building.
The clerk of the court shouted for order but the tumult continued for several minutes.
In the meantime, the magistrates huddled together at the front of the courtroom. In the
other cases, a few nods were enough to signal agreement or dissent; now, however, there
was a heated, whispered debate among the justices. At length, the magistrates returned to
their seats and Henry Blair cleared his throat, and to a courtroom that had now become
hushed with expectation, announced, "it is the judgment of this court that the defendant,
Richard Waller, to the charge of disturbing His Majesty's peace is found . . . not guilty."
Now the courtroom erupted in celebration. Henry shook hands with the smiling
Waller and the two men retired from the courthouse surrounded by Waller's wife and
three children, and a circle of well-wishers. The clerk, unable to control the shouts and
"halleluiahs" of the spectators, called a recess and the courtroom emptied onto Market
Throughout Henry's performance, Leslie had watched and listened with unfeigned
admiration. Like every other person in and outside the courtroom, he had been held
spellbound by Henry's brief but dramatic speech. It was not simply the power of the
voice, or the histrionic gestures and attitudes, Leslie observed. Nor was it the content of
the argument. In truth, there was no legal argument at all, nor was there recourse to
statutes or precedent. There was no reference to Coke or Littleton, no Latin quiddities or
conundrums. Come to think on it, he had uttered not a single Latin expression. Perhaps
he knows no Latin, Leslie conjectured; I'd not be surprised. No, it was not a single thing
at all that accounted for his virtuosity; it was a full orchestration of varying effects that
was the mark of his genius.
Tim had been taking notes throughout the trial . When it was over, he turned to Leslie
with a wide grin. "Ain't disappointed you, has he, sir?"
“No, by God, he hasn't," Leslie replied "He is indeed a modern Cicero--or perhaps
more a tragedian upon the stage."
"He has a bit of the actor in him, ain't he, but it's that golden tongue that never fails to
win the prize. 'Are the psalms of the Bible to be made equal to the obscenities of the
brothel?' Oh, that was choice. Choice."
"A nice figure."
As they followed the crowd from the courtroom, Leslie asked, "May I set you to a
tankard of ale, or must you return to the printing shop?"
"Return I must, sir, but not before I've detoured myself with your kind offer."
They walked across the street to the Market Square Tavern, which was now full and
noisy, much of the loud talk coming from spectators at the courthouse who had sped
directly to the nearest alehouse to celebrate Henry's victory. Tim caught the eye of the
innkeeper, Thomas Craig, who found them a small table at the rear of the tavern.
"Mr. Henry's victory would appear to be a popular one," Leslie commented as he sat
on the uncomfortable bench.
"It is too, but it's mostly with the lower sorts. Many of the gentry will be frothing like
curs with vexation—begging your pardon, sir; no offence intended."
"No need to be on guard, Tim. I'm a labouring man myself; a merchant's son trying
to scrape together some business for my father's firm."
Tim, who wore a perpetual grin, looked up at Leslie, his face now serious.
"It ain't the same, is it, sir?" A pause. "It's Captain Leslie, late of Fort Niagara, ain't
"You astonish me, Tim. I've not been in town above a day and you appear to know
my life history."
The grin returned. "As I told you, Captain, I read the prints, and your exploits at
Niagara was celebrated in all the northern gazettes. Besides, any print shop is the ears of
town; we know of the arrival of a stranger within hours of his coming, and it ain't long
before we know the weight of his purse, the frequency of his laundering, who he's been
rogering, and whether he got the pox of it."
Leslie's laughter was interrupted by the bar girl who had arrived in time to hear Tim's
last remark.
"Is it pestering this gentleman you're up to with your lewd clownery, Tim Pinkney?
Why ain't you at work, instead of japing and jesting like a harlequin?"
"Peggy, my darling," replied Tim, "if your tongue was as sweet as your person you'd
be Venus herself." He reached for her hand, but she withdrew it sharply. She had a
petite, pretty face framed by a mass of dark hair tumbling from beneath her cap, but her
look was fixed in a frown.
"Keep your paws to yourself, Tim Pinkney; I'll have none of your grabbing at me."
Turning to Leslie, she said, "Good day to you, sir; what will you be having?"
"Fetch us two cans of ale, if you please, Miss."
He followed her lithe figure and swinging hips with an admiring eye. "A comely
lass," he said to Tim.
"She is that," said Tim appreciatively. "Peggy and me is sweethearts of a sort. At the
moment, however, she's vexed with me--as you clearly marked."
She brought two large "blackjack" leather tankards of ale, placed them on the table
and retreated in silence. Tim told Leslie something of his history—how he served his
apprenticeship in Philadelphia at the Pennsylvania Gazette, then worked at a printing
shop in South Carolina. He came to Williamsburg at the invitation of Mr. Rind to be a
journeyman printer on the Gazette..
"Here's Mr. Henry, himself," Leslie interrupted, nodding in the direction of several
men who entered the tavern.
"I see he's shed his Baptists," Tim replied. "Now he can have his pot of ale like a true
Henry and his gathering sat at a large table, and several of the patrons in the tavern
raised their mugs to him in salute and shouted their congratulations.
Tim took a long pull from his tankard, draining it. "I must return to my shop, Captain,
else Will Rind will come looking for me; he well knows I frequent this place."
"Before you leave, Tim, I'd take it kindly if you introduced me to Mr. Henry. I trust
you're acquainted with him."
"I am that."
Tim took Leslie to Henry's table, made the introductions and left, throwing a kiss to
Peggy as he opened the door, a gesture she returned by sticking her tongue out at him.
"May I have a word with you in private, sir?" Leslie asked. Henry nodded, excused
himself, and the two men returned to the table Leslie had shared with Tim. Leslie gave
an order of ale to Peggy.
"You must excuse me for taking you from your company, Mr. Henry, but I desired a
meeting with you and I didn't know where I could conveniently find you before you left
town. Allow me first to congratulate you on your victory in the county courthouse. I
knew of your oratorical prowess by reputation, and you didn't disappoint my
expectations--I'm become a complete admirer. I believe you could bestride the stage like
a Garrick or bedazzle a multitude like a Whitefield, so remarkable are your gifts."
Henry smiled, as if by effort; Leslie had observed that he seldom laughed
spontaneously. His face fell naturally into a grim frown; pushing the lines into a smile
appeared to be a physical effort. This seemed at odds with his reputation for frivolity,
Leslie thought.
"You mustn't give away my secrets, sir. You're quite correct in your observation that I
draw from the stage as well as the pulpit for inspiration. I study the law but
indifferently--my detractors are fond of reminding me of it--but for pleasure I read Gay,
Sheridan, Goldsmith, Rowe, and the tragedies of Shakespeare.”
"But don't you prepare your discourses, even as the clergyman prepares his sermons?"
"You ask after the art and mysteries of my trade, sir," Henry replied with his tight
smile, but he added a lawyer's coda: "Without admitting any lack of study or
preparation, I will simply state that my cunning as a speaker lies in impulse and fancy, in
ad libitum and ex tempore dicere. But I've already said too much, sir; pray don't repeat
my revelations."
Leslie lifted his tankard: "My lips are sealed, sir. . . . But now to the matter at hand.
The purpose of my requesting this interview is that I've been desired by James Otis and
Samuel Adams of Boston to meet with you to commend you on your Stamp Act
Resolutions and your continued work in opposing Parliament's revenue demands. I can't
communicate to you strongly enough how encouraging to the northern colonies were
your statements of opposition to the Crown by the colony of Virginia. The principle that
only these colonies have the right to tax ourselves, and that the surrender of this right is
the loss of our freedom—that principle inflamed the Massachusetts Sons of Liberty with
a zeal for determined opposition."
"Yes, that was my fifth resolve," Henry replied. "But you no doubt know how the
Assembly were successful in killing that particular resolve the next day."
Leslie nodded.
"Not only did they use their legal tricks to reverse the vote; I have it on authority
there were bribes involved." Henry had lowered his voice at this last statement.
He then leaned forward and his eyes took on that same intense gleam that Leslie had
seen in the courtroom: "It was me they hated. Me and my kind! The upstart Patrick
Henry from the backwoods, and his upstart westerners and new men and dissenters and
all those that ain't amongst the London-bred, gold-and-lace-wearing, land-holding
aristocrats!" He spat out the last word as if he had something distasteful in his mouth.
"I see," said Leslie. He was surprised by this open vehemence, but continued:
“Let me lay on the table, sir, what I have come here from Massachusetts to say. We
in Boston are convinced, that only by cooperation among these colonies can we ever
hope to throw off the millstone that Crown and Parliament would place on our necks.
Correspondence Committees are the instruments by which we achieve that colonial bond.
But these committees are now little more than a series of debating societies. They require
discipline and leadership—and this has not been forthcoming.”
“I agree completely, sir,” said Henry.
“Who is to lead? Which colony is the strongest, richest—most respected by Crown
and Parliament? It is not Massachusetts, sir.”
“It’s Virginia, to be sure.”
“Yet, Virginia has not provided leadership—nor forceful opposition other than your
own. It has followed rather than led.”
Henry exhaled loudly and responded with feeling: “You must remember, sir, that the
colonies have as many differences as they have common interests. Your Sons of Liberty
have been a powerful force in Massachusetts, but here in Virginia we have no large towns
filled with seamen, mechanics, and yeoman laborers ready to take to the streets to pull
down the governor's house. Here, common labour is performed by slaves, and every
white man is either a merchant, artisan, or freeholder. And many own at least one slave.
Such men may take to Duke of Gloucester Street to object to taxation without
representation, but they are not inclined to destroy property, for they are themselves
property owners, low to middling though they be. It will take an extreme provocation to
move men such as these to confront the great landholding aristocrats who are in control
of the Assembly.”
“This is no doubt true,” Leslie replied, “but are there not great planters—men like
Richard Lee—willing to take determined action? Refusing to import British goods, for
example, would send a powerful message to Parliament.”
Henry chuckled. “You’re asking the aristocrats, sir, to act against their own self
interests for the commonweal. Yes, Mr. Lee would certainly be willing to do so—but as
for the rest, they’d as soon sacrifice their firstborn before they’d give up importing their
pipe of Madeira.”
Leslie saw he had gone as far as possible with Henry. “Mr. Adams,” he said, “has
some thoughts on how this colony might use its Correspondence Committee more
effectively. Would you be willing to receive a private communication from him on the
“I’d be very happy to receive such advice,” said Henry. Then, placing his finger
alongside his nose, he said with a grim smile, “You are sensible, Captain Leslie, that the
Crown might consider such private correspondence as conspiracy—and therefore
“In Boston, Mr. Henry, there are many of us who look behind our backs daily—and
see the shadow of a noose.”
Henry then rose, offered his hand, and said he must return to his friends.
"This conversation has been most pleasant, sir. When next you return to Boston offer
my felicitations to Mr. Otis, and Mr. Adams. We all labour in the same orchard; let us
hope our work brings forth fruit."
Chapter 2

When Kathryn Sheridan stepped from the gangway of the schooner Howard Robinson
on to the dock at Jamestown Landing on a clouded October morning she did a strange
thing. Or so thought Frances Carter who watched her from her carriage at the end of the
dock. She jumped from the wooden planks onto the beach, bent down and scooped up a
handful of sandy Virginia soil. Placing it to her nose, she smelled it deeply, and then let
it trickle from her fingers, eyes closed, her face tilted to the sky. Quickly getting out of
the carriage, Frances shouted to her, “Mrs. Sheridan?”
Kathryn looked up, and ran the length of the dock and threw her arms around
Frances in an impulsive embrace—even though the two women had never before laid
eyes on each other.
Frances held her at arms length and looked at Kathryn’s face with alarm.
“Are you well?” she asked. Kathryn’s countenance was a sickly white beneath her
straw hat. Her cheeks were pinched and sunken; shadows of fatigue rimmed her eyes.
She fingered a wisp of auburn hair from her eyes.
“I’ve been ill from the moment I stepped aboard that . . .” pointing at the ship . . . “that
hellish vessel at Gravesend. No one was ever happier to set her feet on soil again. I’ve
been puking for six weeks, night and day. Look at me! I’m a wraith.”
“I’m so sorry . . . the seas were rough?”
“The captain said it was no worse than common, but for me it might as well have been
a hurricanado. I never desire to take such a voyage again.”
Frances looked at Kathryn quizzically. She had come from London to visit for an
indefinite period. Did that mean that Mrs. Sheridan had no intention of returning? Was
she to be a permanent house guest? Frances frowned and turned to give orders to her two
black, liveried servants to fetch Mrs. Sheridan’s baggage.
The trunks and bags were tied to the back of the carriage, and during the ride to
Williamsburg, Kathryn related how a saintly fellow passenger, Mrs. McKenzie, had
nursed her daily with hot broth and cold compresses the entire voyage.
“Without her, I believe I would have hurled myself overboard to be eaten by the
fishes, I was so utterly miserable,” she said. “But excuse me for babbling about myself.
Tell me about Mr. Carter . . . and the children. Are they all well? You look in the bloom
of health.”
Although they had never met, the two women had exchanged letters before Kathryn’s
sea voyage across the Atlantic. Frances now reported that the family was in excellent
health except for Louisa who was getting over the croup. Mr. Carter was at their seat at
Nomini Hall on plantation business and would soon return. All of the children, seven
girls and two sons, were growing like summer squash.
Kathryn looked at Frances with amazement. For a woman who had been brought to
bed with an infant every one or two years of her marriage, she appeared to uncommon
good advantage. She must have extraordinary resiliency, Kathryn thought, to expand and
contract as she did with the astronomical punctuality of the tides and yet retain her health,
good looks—and her figure. Surely, her womb must suffer from fatigue, but with the aid
of her stays she looked to be a spinster.
A dark thought creased her brow. Would she ever have children of her own? She was
already twenty-three, a widow without a dowry, in a strange land with no friends except
this woman and the husband she was imposing herself on. And she was not even closely
related; Frances was but a distant cousin. As Frances chatted on about her children, their
various illnesses, their education, the differences in their characters, Kathryn was
suddenly struck with a sensation of dread, of panic. What was to become of her? How
terribly she had botched her life, first by loving foolishly, then by succumbing to the lure
of court glitter and power—and another lure as well. She had been desperate to leave
London, and now, no sooner had she stepped foot on this unknown foreign land than she
longed to be back in that filthy, despicable town with its scandals and intrigues, its
jealousies and hatreds. What was wrong with her—was she losing her mind?
She began to shiver, her heart beating wildly, then to shake uncontrollably.
“Kathryn! My dear!” Frances exclaimed, breaking in mid-narrative. “You are ill. I
must get you to bed instantly.” Holding on to her bonnet, she poked her head out of the
carriage window. She had instructed the liveried black servant to drive slowly in
deference to Kathryn’s weak stomach; now, she cried, “Hurry, George! Get to the house
as quickly as you can!”
The Carter house was one of the finest in Williamsburg, a two-story Georgian
residence located next to the Governor’s Mansion, known by everyone in town as simply
the Palace. When the carriage reached the front door, two maids were directed to take
Mrs. Sheridan to her room, undress her and put her to bed. “Send for Doctor Galt,” she
told a servant girl.
Kathryn was kept in bed by Doctor Galt for three days, during which time she was fed
a diet of soups, boiled eggs, and mutton from the kitchen of the Carter’s cook, Hettie.
She was soon up and about, and then accompanied Frances in the carriage to be
introduced to some of the town’s leading ladies. She also began taking early morning
rides in town and about the countryside with a servant—she was an excellent rider—and
within three weeks of her arrival she had regained her complexion and much of the
weight she had lost at sea. What was more important to her was that the attack of deep
despair that had threatened her very sanity had not returned. Yet, there was a lingering
unease about it, a latent fear that it could appear unannounced at any moment.
Her rides through Williamsburg showed her how small the town was compared to
London. It was strung along several mile-long avenues; the main one was Duke of
Gloucester Street, a wide thoroughfare of compacted sand with catalpa trees on both
sides, the legacy of the late Governor Francis Fauquier, who had planted them as a
beautification scheme. At one end of Duke of Gloucester was the College of William and
Mary, its main building said to be designed by Sir Christopher Wren, the re-builder of
London after the great fire of 1666. The other end was anchored by the imposing brick
Capitol Building. On both sides of the street were inns, taverns, and tradesmen’s shops.
Two other landmarks on Duke of Gloucester Street were Bruton Parish Church where the
gentry worshipped, and Market Square, an open plaza where a noisy throng of meat and
produce vendors and buyers met each morning and then vanished by early afternoon.
Robert Carter had no difficulty accepting Kathryn Sheridan into the household; she
was an unexpected source of a great deal of knowledge of London affairs, and she was
very good with the children. He was surprised at how much she knew of the inner circles
of the court. He was himself from one of Virginia’s most illustrious families and had
spent time in London when he was young, but had never been introduced to court society.
He had, however, become intimate with London’s taverns and brothels. When he
matured, he settled into the responsibilities of managing his vast Virginia lands, the
legacy of his grandfather, “King” Carter, who left, when he died, an estate of 700 slaves
and 330,000 acres of prime tobacco land in Virginia’s Northern Neck.
Carter had claimed entitlement to a place on the Governor’s Council, and married a
woman with a pedigree equal to his own. Frances Carter was the daughter of Benjamin
Tasker, who had been President of the Council of Maryland and an acting governor. She
had proved to be not only a bountiful producer of children, but her dowry had greatly
increased her husband’s wealth.
Carter was asked repeatedly by gentlemen of the town about the health of Mrs.
Sheridan, whom they heard had arrived from London ill and bedridden.
“She was but a ghost when she first appeared at our door,” he replied, “but she now
looks most killing well.” Mrs. Sheridan’s most killing features, Carter decided, were her
eyes, a span broad, moss green, flecked with emerald. They were complimented by a
nose thin and straight, a full mouth, cleft chin, and dark, lustrous hair. Her skin, to be
sure, was not as cream-like as that of Frances—she took too much sun on horseback, he
thought—but it was healthy, clear, and glowed in candlelight.
In response to close questioning from John Blair Jr., son of a fellow member of the
Governor’s Council, Carter disclosed that she had come to Virginia at the invitation of
Mrs. Carter. It was, however, Sir Richard Bladen, a London cousin of Frances’s, who
had urged her to invite Mrs. Sheridan, sight unseen, for an extended visit to America.
The reasons Mrs. Sheridan gave for her desire to remove herself from London were
vague—society in town was tiresome and repetitive, and she wished for new
surroundings “to stimulate the sensibilities.”
“Those were the only reasons she gave?” Blair asked.
Carter shrugged his wide shoulders. He was a heavy man, even featured, but with
little remaining hair.
“Since the death of her husband she’s lived in London with the Bladens. She’s a
damned good-looking woman—and uncommonly well educated. I suppose an
unattached female with her looks and wit, and Sir Bladen’s aid, could easily gain entry
into polite London society . . . and find it tedious. I know from talking with her that she
knew members of the ministry—and even some of the king’s closest circle. As for her
reasons for coming here, who knows the mind of a woman, Blair. Maybe, as she claims,
she was simply bored with London.”
To his wife Frances, however, Carter was more skeptical. There must be something
more, he said, some other reason. He had learned from Howard Lawrence, a fellow
Northern Neck planter who had also arrived on the Howard Robinson, that Mrs. Sheridan
was indeed well-connected at court. There had reportedly been a whiff of scandal
attached to her name, but nothing that sullied her reputation. Beyond that, he knew
When he relayed this intelligence to Frances he added, “anytime you’ve got an
unattached female with Kathryn’s looks and figure circulating amongst the milords of
London, there’s going to be talk, much of it from spite or envy.”
In his private thoughts, however, he repeated to himself, “where there’s smoke. . . .”
Frances was inclined to overlook any such hints of scandal, for she was delighted with
her new friend. She had feared she might be haughty and affected, given to throwing up
her London friends as vastly superior to Virginia’s provincials, but such had not been the
case at all. She rarely spoke of London; she seemed genuinely pleased to be accepted
into the Carter home and instantly charmed the household’s children with her
cheerfulness and amiability.
As her husband had reported to Blair, Frances found Kathryn to be educated beyond
any other woman of her acquaintance. She was the daughter of Henry Medfield, a
minister who, Kathryn related with a laugh, “weaned me on Homer, Virgil, and the
Bible—in that order. He was determined to educate me like the son he desired me to be. .
. . I was a great disappointment to him, I’m afraid. Not in my ability to learn, but simply
because I was the wrong sex.”
“Nonetheless,” said Frances, “I envy your education—as I’m sure anyone would .”
“Gentlemen are not disposed to admire a woman’s mind,” Kathryn contradicted.
“I’ve found that the less they think you’ve read, the more comfortable they are in your
presence. Still, I refuse to act the ninny for them, as I’ve been admonished to do by Sir
Richard. ‘Play the village idiot if you must before you recite your vows,’ he said,
imitating her uncle’s delivery, ‘then you can disrobe your mind upon your wedding night
along with your person.’”
“Don’t you desire to remarry?”
“Upon my soul, I’m in no rush for it. I’m perfectly content for a time to savour my
widowhood. I know it sounds false, but having once been shackled in wedlock, I now
relish my freedom. Besides, I haven't a farthing of a dowry, and without a portion there
are few gentlemen of quality and fortune who are interested in anything more than a
temporary attachment.” Then she quickly added, “I mean no disrespect to you, my dear
Frances, for you obviously have a calling for the marriage state and motherhood. I’ve
never in all my life met a man and woman more content with each other than you and Mr.
“But don’t you desire children, Kathryn? I can’t for the life of me imagine living
without them.”
“Yes I do, with all my heart, and therein lies my dilemma. If only it were possible to
have them without the encumbrance of a husband,” she laughed.
“Don’t under any circumstance even think of it.”
“No fear. I’ve not yet lost my wits.”
Frances wondered what Kathryn’s husband, Lieutenant Charles Sheridan, had been
like to make her so adamant about remarrying. It couldn’t have been a very happy match,
for she never spoke of it, even when Frances questioned her directly. All she was able to
pry from her guest was that Sheridan had been killed in a duel. Whenever the subject
was put to her, Kathryn begged off, declaring it was too painful to discuss.
Carter, however, had continued his inquiries and learned much more about the
circumstances of Sheridan’s death. He was accused of cheating at cards by a fellow
officer, who called him out and put a ball through his chest.
“The man was a blackguard from all that I’ve been able to learn,” he told Frances. “A
penniless Irishman, a second son with no estate. He managed to find money enough to
purchase a commission—but his only talents appeared to be women, drink, and cards.
He reportedly formed several liaisons with married woman of quality—one a duchess by
all accounts—and damaged their reputations with loose talk. . . . He seriously wounded
two men in challenges and had himself taken a ball in the arm before he was fatally shot.
From what I’ve learned, he died deep in debt.”
“Poor Kathryn,” Frances murmured. From then on, there were no more questions
about her marriage.
Carter learned one other piece of intelligence that was even more suspicious.
Although her husband left her with nothing but debts, Kathryn had not arrived at
Williamsburg without resources. She was able to draw on the agent of one of the leading
merchant houses of London for funds. And her reserve was no small amount, he learned
from his source. Where did this money come from? Surely not from Sir Richard Bladen,
for he had instructed Frances that Kathryn would arrive virtually penniless. No . . . there
was something she was not revealing.
One of her first purchases with these mysterious funds was a blooded gelding, Starfire,
named for the star marking on its forehead and its spirited temperament. It was a
magnificent animal and she rode it with breathtaking virtuosity and abandon almost every
morning the weather permitted. Carter insisted that she always ride with his groom,
Abraham, but she often outrode the aging Negro slave, leaving him to search for her by
inquiring of field hands at surrounding plantations whether they had seen "a lady riding a
big chestnut gelding." On several occasions he had been forced to return to town alone
and face the disapproval of his master.
"I just can't keep up with her no ways," he explained. "Miz Sheridan like to take that
gelding at high gallop over hedges and fences and such. Gonna fall and hurt herself
mighty bad one day. She scare me the way she ride."
In the quarter, however, Abraham related Kathryn Sheridan's riding prowess with
open admiration. "Miz Sheridan, she ride straightback with the best seat I ever seed on a
lady. Rides straddled like a man; sometimes I gets to see her white leg when I helps her
mount." He chuckled at this and slapped his thigh.

. . . Three weeks after the interment of Botetourt, Kathryn Sheridan received a note from
Richard Starke, delivered at the Carter home. It requested that she meet with him at their
usual place. Kathryn read the note with apprehension, recalling vividly Lord Botetourt's
warning about Starke. With His Lordship's death, any reason for meeting with Starke
had ended, but other than a perfunctory greeting at the funeral, she had not spoken to him
about terminating their agreement, nor of a final accounting of funds.
She considered changing the meeting to a place in town—something could be
arranged—but as the time drew near for the appointment she decided to go to the
secluded place of the Richmond Road they had periodically visited together. As she
mounted Starfire early on a chill November morning, however, she was sensible of an
unnatural foreboding, a lightness of breath and an agitation of nerves.
When she arrived at the clearing, she found Starke pacing some distance from his tied
horse. She dismounted, wrapped Starfire's reins around a tree branch and walked to
where Starke awaited her. His face was grim and unsmiling and he merely nodded at her
"This will be our last meeting, Mr. Starke," she said, taking a leather purse from the
pocket of her riding habit and offering it to him. He looked at the purse for an instant
distastefully, then swung his hand in an arc, snatching it from her and weighing it in his
"And what of your promise of preferment with Lord Hillsborough?" he asked, placing
the purse in his pocket. "You're sensible that with the death of Lord Botetourt I'm bereft
of a patron."
"His Lordship's death has also severed my usefulness to Hillsborough. I'll gladly
write to him in your behalf, but I fear that my influence with His Lordship now carries
little weight. Your best resource is Botetourt's nephew, the Duke of Beaufort, who, as
you well know, is His Lordship's heir. Your service to his late uncle may soften him in
your behalf."
"That won't do, madam," Starke replied sharply. "Promises have been made to me for
my services to Lord Hillsborough and I intend to see that they're kept."
"And how do you propose to do that?" Kathryn asked, her eyes narrowing.
"I have knowledge of Lord Botetourt's . . . personal habits—" he spoke the words with
a smirk, "—which, were they revealed to the world, would destroy his name and that of
his family. I own that Lord Hillsborough would not desire Virginia's late esteemed
governor to become the object of scorn and—"
"These are but idle threats, sir—"
"Threats yes—idle no!" Starke interrupted, his lip curled almost to a snarl. "Let me
reveal to you privately, madam, that His Lordship's great interest in the college and its
students was not limited to philanthropy. He was in the habit of inviting select students
to the Palace, where, after plying them with strong drink, they retired to his Lordship's
bedchamber and there disported in wanton and lascivious games."
Kathryn's mouth involuntarily opened and she gasped. "This is rank slander and
calumny, and I won't listen to it!" She turned to leave, but Starke clasped her wrist and
whipped her around to face him.
"It's no such thing, madam, for I was myself master of the revels that occurred and can
cite the names of the boys involved—from the best families in the colony."
Kathryn swung her free hand at his face and turned his head with the slap.
"Bloody bitch!" he cried, and twisted her arm quickly to her back, gave it a hard
wrench upward, bringing from her a loud scream of pain. He was behind her now, his
face close to her ear. "Since your usefulness to me is over, my haughty whore, I'm going
to take the pleasure from you that I've desired for some time. Do you think I've not
known of your gallantries with Townshend and Hillsborough, and the devil knows how
many more? You flaunt yourself like a duchess when you're nothing but a common
"You bloody villain! How dare you—“ she cried and twisted violently in an attempt
to extricate herself, but he answered by giving a sharp upward jerk to her arm which
brought her screaming to her knees. As she knelt sobbing on the ground, her head down,
Starke held her arm with his right hand and deliberately began to unbutton his waistcoat.
He removed it one arm at a time, changing his hold on her arm, and then tossed the coat
to the ground. He unbuckled his swordbelt and threw the belt and short sword on top of
the coat. Then he began to unbutton the front of his breeches.
When Kathryn saw this out of the corner of her eye, she made an attempt to rise, but
Starke, now breathing heavily, his face flushed, raised the pinioned arm, sending a stab of
pain through her shoulder, as if the arm was being torn from its socket.
Starke pulled down his breeches, then reached down, lifted her upright by her riding
bonnet, tore it from her and tossed to the ground. Taking a handful of her hair, he jerked
her face around until she was inches away from his flesh.
She turned her eyes up to his face, which was now a mask of raw lust, the
discoloration above his left eyebrow giving him the appearance of a demonic satyr.
"Please," she begged, tears of pain running down her cheeks, "ask of me what you will—
I'll do anything in my power. . . . If it's money, I'll—"
"Too late, whore," he snarled.
Before he could say another word, Kathryn turned and lunged with her free hand at his
stones, found one of them—and squeezed with all her strength, as if attempting to crush a
walnut in her palm. Starke let out an animal cry, kicked and flung her away, then bent
over, his hands between his thighs, moaning and turning in tight circles.
Kathryn fell in a sprawl atop Starke's discarded waistcoat and swordbelt, the hilt of the
sword only inches from her right hand. Without a thought, she grasped the weapon,
jerked it from its scabbard, jumped to her feet, and turned to Starke, who was bent
double, twisting in agony a few feet away. Eyes wild, teeth clenched in mindless rage,
she gripped the sword hilt in both hands, her left shoulder throbbing with pain, and took
three quick steps in his direction. She swung the blade with all her strength—just as
Starke lifted his head to face her. The edge of the blade caught him below the jaw and
above his neckcloth, and Kathryn saw instantly that it was a damaging strike, for a thin,
scarlet stripe appeared suddenly across his neck.
He looked at her incredulously, as if an avenging Fury had suddenly appeared in his
sight. They faced each other for an instant, Kathryn with the weapon dangling in her
hand, Starke involuntarily bringing his palm to his neck. Then she dropped the sword,
turned and flew in the direction of her horse, while Starke took his hand from his neck
and looked unbelievingly at the fresh blood covering his fingers. When he saw her
running away, he attempted to follow, but his breeches were around his ankles. He tried
to pull them up and run at the same time, but stumbled and fell.
Kathryn reached Starfire, uncoiled the reins, pulled the animal into the clearing, and
mounted with a quick leap into the saddle. Starke reached her just as she attempted to
spur the horse forward; he caught her by the leg and attempted to haul her down from the
"You bloody-minded bitch!" he cried.
She looked down at his face in horror. His features were contorted into a cruel
grimace; the blood that was now oozing from the wound had already soaked through his
neckcloth and was saturating the top of his shirt. She yanked on the right rein, whirling
the horse in a tight turn, a maneuver that spun Starke off his feet and left him clutching at
her stirrup. She kicked her heels into the animal's ribs, and as Starfire bounded forward,
Starke's hands lost their grip; he fell to the ground, taking a blow to the head from the
horse's rear hoof. Kathryn quickly spurred into a gallop. Just before she turned into the
path leading from the clearing into the woods, she took a quick glance back and saw
Starke propped on one elbow on the ground looking after her, his hand to his neck,
shocked disbelief on his face.
Kathryn was able to return to Williamsburg without passing anyone other than an aged
Negro driving an oxcart. She rode to the Carter stable, dismounted, handed the reins to a
stable boy without a word and quickly went by a back stairway to her room. She stood
before the cheval glass and gave a startled cry as she saw herself--her hair wind-whipped
on her shoulders, her face drained of colour, eyes that had looked into an abyss.
Silla knocked on the door and asked whether she needed help to undress, but Kathryn
shouted, "No! Go away!" She pulled her clothes from her body, threw them into a corner
of the room, as far away as possible. Her mind was a chaos as she sat down on a chair
before the mirror and stared at a face she hardly recognized.
She quickly went to the armoire and found her bottle of laudanum, poured a dram,
drank it off, and poured another. Then she climbed into the bed, pulled the gauze curtain
around the sides, threw her face into the featherbed, and allowed convulsive sobs to tear
her torso.
Had she killed him? Was the terrible wound on his neck fatal? The blade appeared to
have severed an artery; if so, he must certainly die. . . . She had killed a man! Lord
Christ, don't let him die!
She sat up suddenly. Should she have attempted to send someone to aid him? She
had simply ridden off and let him bleed his life away . . . how could she have done that?
Then she recalled with a revulsion that almost made her retch, the sight of his erect flesh
thrust before her face, and his words, those terrible words. No man could say that to
her—do that to her. She would die first.
No . . . she wouldn't die; she would save her life at all cost. No man would force her
to sacrifice her life for his lust. . . . Swine! Vicious swine! At heart, they're all one—
from lowest to the highest estate. The well-born are the worst. They flatter themselves
that their name and rank grant them privilege to rape at will.
The tincture of opium soon began to affect its mutations; she felt her body and sprit
becoming more elastic, winged even, soaring away from the horror that clung to mind
and body. She began to see Starke in a different way, as one of nature's monstrosities,
demented and base—an infamous brute. Perhaps her father was wrong when he insisted
there were no demons and devils, that they were superstitions existing only in the minds
of the ignorant. Starke was a kind of human devil, a man for whom goodness was an
aberration, for whom lust was the norm, and violence a matter of no concern. She
believed he would have killed her if she had struggled too fiercely; perhaps he would
have killed her anyway when he was done with her, so she could not reveal what he did.
Why didn't she heed Lord Botetourt's warning? It made such sense—particularly after
Starke's revelations of the debaucheries with boys from the college—she knew that some
of them were no more than ten or eleven years of their age. She had denied its truth to
Starke, but now she was certain it was so. Botetourt had intimated as much in his
characterization of Starke to her. If he dies, so be it . . . he deserves it!
And His Lordship—what a false, hypocritical existence he lived. Pious and devout on
the exterior; sunk in vice on the inside. The world was corrupt—and she was herself no
better. Starke was right about her . . . she had her price for allowing men the privilege of
exploring between her legs. A parson's daughter—educated, clever, witty, comely of
countenance, a figure of consequence . . . but at bottom a whore. Precisely as Starke
stated—and yet she had killed him for it.
No, that was untrue. . . . She killed him because he tried, and fully intended, to rape
her. And perhaps strangle her as well.
Her mind was no longer untamed now; she could think clearly, but the featherbed was
a weightless carpet suspending her, as if she were floating on still water. The events of
the morning began to pass across her thoughts with a clarity and complacency she never
would have believed possible. All the fear, pain, and wild anger had been drained from
those events, and she observed them as if they were shadows on the wall of Plato's cave,
with nothing more behind them but dancing flames.
She watched herself swing the sword blade; it was as if she were an actress in a play,
moving in dream-like pantomime. Why had she picked up the sword instead of running
to Starfire to escape? It was really quite stupid; Starke might have seized the blade from
her hands and turned it on herself. It was only chance that it struck a vital part—a
gamester would give no creditable odds that such a blow would kill a man. But why did
she do it?
She had no answer, other than she was not acting within the constraints of reason. In
truth, she was probably mad at the moment. As she ruminated on this, she seemed to see
Starke's engorged part growing like Jack's beanstalk until it became a mighty tower—like
the campanile at the Cathedral at Pisa. Lord Botetourt had spoken eloquently about its
strange declination. The column of flesh seemed to throw its shadow across the fields,
shielding the sun as she gazed up at it. She saw herself at its base with Starke's short
sword, swinging at it, but the blade produced no effect at all, bouncing back, as if from a
gum tree. At length, she fell to the ground in exhaustion, staring up at the white flesh
with its distant crimson minaret—without fear or apprehension, observing it as if it were
part of the landscape.
She heard the word "whore!" reverberate from atop the column, and it echoed around
her, as if from a cavern, but this too caused her no concern. Quite the opposite; she
reached out and gathered the word in; it had become a palpable shape of fine, flesh-
coloured silk. She wrapped it around her body, feeling its smoothness and sensuality.
The images soon dissolved into a sweet, untroubled sleep that was not disturbed until
a knock at the door awakened her with the announcement by Silla that dinner was being