Excerpt from City of Dreams by Beverly Swerling, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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City of Dreams

A Novel of Early Manhattan

by Beverly Swerling

City of Dreams
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2001, 591 pages
    Jun 2002, 592 pages

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"It is part of the question. The other part is the precise nature of your trade. Is it true that, though they belong to the same Company, London barbers and surgeons do not practice the same art?"

Lucas heard Sally's sharply indrawn breath. "Officially yes, mevrouw. But the two apprenticeships occur side by side, in the same hall. A man interested in both skills cannot help but learn both. I am skilled in surgery as well as barbering. What is it the governor requires?"

The woman's eyes flicked toward Sally for a moment, as if she, too, had noted the gasp. A second only; then she dismissed the younger woman as of no importance. "I believe my brother to be in desperate need of a stone cutter, barber."

Lucas smiled.

Finally, for the first time in weeks, he felt no doubt. "Pray God you are correct, mevrouw. If it's an expert stone cutter your brother needs, he is a fortunate man. He has found one." Lucas turned to Sally. She was white-faced. He pretended not to notice. "Come, Sal. Bring my instruments. I've a patient waiting for relief."

Word was that Peter Stuyvesant ruled with absolute authority and that any who questioned him paid a heavy price. Right then, ashen, sweating with pain, the man lying in the bed looked small and insignificant.

Lucas put his hand on Stuyvesant's forehead. The flesh was cold and clammy. "Where does it hurt, mijnheer?"

"In my belly, man. Low down. Fierce pain. And I cannot piss for the burning. My sister is convinced it's a stone."

Anna Stuyvesant was in the room with them, huddling in the gloom beside the door. Some mention had been made of a wife, and when they arrived Lucas had heard the voices of children, but none had appeared. He'd seen only a black serving woman -- from what he'd heard of this place she was probably a slave -- and the man in the bed. And, in control of all, the sister. Obviously married, or had been, since the clerk at the dock had called her mevrouw, but one who, following the Dutch fashion, hadn't taken her husband's name. Looked like the type who wouldn't take willingly to his cock, either. Lucas was conscious of her fierce glance drilling a hole in his back.

He leaned closer to the patient, observing the clouded eyes, the pallor, the sour breath that came hard through a half-open mouth. "Judging from the look of you, mijnheer, Mevrouw Stuyvesant may be right. And if she is, if it's a stone, I can help you. But..." He hesitated. Afterward, some men thought of the relief, and were grateful. Others remembered only the agony of the surgery, and those hated you forever. God help him and Sally both if the governor of Nieuw Netherland hated him forever.

"But what?" Stuyvesant demanded.

"But it will hurt while I do it," Lucas said, choosing not to dip the truth in honey. "Worse than the pain you're feeling right now. After the operation is over, however, you will be cured."

"If I live, you mean."

"The chances are excellent that you will, mijnheer."

"But not certain."

"In this world, Mijnheer Governor, nothing is certain. As I'm sure you know. But I've done this surgery dozens of times."

"And all your patients lived?" Wincing with pain while he spoke. Having to force the words between clenched teeth.

"Perhaps six or seven did not, mijnheer. But they were men of weak constitution before the stone began plaguing them."

Stuyvesant studied the Englishman, even managed a small smile. "I am not a man of weak constitution. And you, you're a strange one, barber. Despite your mangled Dutch, you speak like a man with his wits in place. But the way you look, not to mention how you smell...Ach, but then my sister tells me you only just got off the Princess, so per -- "

The pain must have been savage. The Dutchman gritted his teeth so hard Lucas thought he might break his jaw. The sweat poured off him.

Copyright © 2001 by MichaelA, Ltd.

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