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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Lucas leaned forward and wiped the governor's face with a corner of the bedding. Half a minute, maybe less. The wave of agony abated. Stuyvesant drew a few deep breaths. "This operation..." He whispered the words, his strength sapped by the pain. "How long will it take?"

"Forty-five seconds," Lucas said. "Start to finish. You can time me."

The governor stared into Lucas's eyes. "I will. Forty-five seconds? You're certain of that?"

"I am."

Stuyvesant flung back the covers. "Took them forty-five minutes to do this." His right leg had been cut off at the knee.

Lucas looked down at the stump, then at the face of the man in the bed. Pain had hollowed his cheeks, but when their eyes met Stuyvesant did not look away. Finally Lucas nodded. He turned to the woman beside the door. "Bring some rum, mevrouw. He must drink as much as we can get down him."

Anna Stuyvesant stepped out of the shadows. "There is no rum in this house."

"Then send someone to get some. Your brother cannot -- "

"Yes, I can." Stuyvesant's voice, sounding firmer than it had, trembling less with agony. "I must. I take no drink stronger than ordinary ale."

"But under the circumstances..." Lucas looked again at the stump of leg.

"Not then, either," Stuyvesant said quietly. "I fear the Lord more than I fear pain, barber."

"As you wish. But perhaps I can satisfy both masters. If you will excuse me for a moment..."

Lucas stepped into the narrow hall. Sally was there, sitting at the top of the stairs, clutching her basket and the small leather box that contained his instruments. She jumped up, pressing her bundles to her, her narrow face shriveled with anxiety. "How is he? Can you help him without cutting?"

"No." Lucas was sweating. He wiped his forehead with the sleeve of his black jacket. The accumulated filth of the journey left a dark mark. "God help me, I must remove the stone."

"But -- "

"There is no 'but.' If it doesn't come out, like as not he'll drown in his own piss."

"What if he dies of the pain of surgery? What if he bleeds to death?" Her voice was an urgent whisper.

"This man can bear suffering." Lucas looked anxiously toward the bedroom door. "He's had one leg cut off at the knee, and he doesn't take more than an ale to quench his thirst. No strong spirits, not even to dull the onslaught of the knife and the saw. As for bleeding to death, I must see that he does not. Say your prayers, girl, and give me my instruments."

"Lucas, if anything happens, what -- "

"Nothing is going to happen. Except that mijnheer the governor will think I'm the greatest surgeon since Galen."

"But you're a barber, Lucas. In heaven's name, your surgeon's instruments are what got us hounded out of London in the first place."

"I know. But we're in Nieuw Amsterdam, not London. We must take our chance when it presents itself. See if you've any stanching powder in your basket."

Sally hesitated.

"Do it, Sal. Otherwise I'll go ahead without it."

A few seconds more. Finally she began pawing through her things. "Yes, here it is." She held up a small pottery crock. "Stanching powder. A fair supply."

"Excellent. Now some laudanum."

Sally shook her head. "I have none. I swear it, Lucas. I only brought a little aboard, and we used -- "

"Damnation! Look well, Sal. If any's left, I can use it to advantage."

After a few moments groping, she produced a tiny pewter vial of the kind she'd used to store the last of the chamomile powder. "This held laudanum. But it's empty."

Lucas snatched the container, uncorked it, sniffed, squinted to peer inside. "A drop, perhaps. It will be better than nothing. Aye, I can see a drop or two at the bottom." He recorked the vial and slipped it into the side pocket of his breeches, then turned back to the bedroom. "Wish me luck, Sal. And stop up your ears. But don't worry, the shouts won't go on for long."

Copyright © 2001 by MichaelA, Ltd.

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