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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Sally went again to sit on the top step, clutching her basket in her lap, as if her simples were the only thing she had to remind her of who she was and how she came to be in this place.

The house at the corner of the fort built for the governor of Nieuw Netherland was nothing like as grand as places she'd seen from afar in London and Rotterdam, but it was the grandest she'd ever been inside. Two stories, and both of them for the living of this one man and his family and his servants. Brick outside and polished wood within. Even the wooden steps were buffed to such a gloss that when she leaned forward she could see her reflection, her face peeking over the toes of her scuffed boots.

Lucas had bought her the boots before they left Holland; he said clogs wouldn't do for such a long and perilous journey. The boots had pointed toes and laced to well above her ankles. She'd thought them incredibly grand at first, but less so now. And the sturdy Dutch folk in gilt frames looking down at her from the walls seemed unimpressed. God knew, they were not the first.

Back in Kent, in the barn behind their father's Dover taproom, the eleven Turner brats had slept tumbled together in the straw because all the beds were rented for a penny a night to travelers. There Lucas had protected her from the despicable things that befell their sisters and brothers (often with their father's connivance). There Sally believed in Lucas's quest to be better than he'd been born to be. When he taught first himself to read, then taught her, she believed. When he wrangled a barbering apprenticeship to the Company of Barbers and Surgeons by showing a member of the gentry the sketch Sally had made of the men, bare arse in the air, rutting with a boy of six beside the stable (and never mind that the child was a Turner), Sally believed. When Lucas sent for her to come to London to join him, and two years later the wrath of the Surgeons drove them both into the street, his sister believed in the rightness of her brother's aspirations. Now, when they had come so far to this strange place, and he was yet again rushing headlong into conflict with authority; now, she was less sure.

Lucas returned to Stuyvesant's bedroom. His patient lay silent in his bed, rigid with pain. The governor's sister was leaning over him, bathing his face with a cloth dipped in scented water. Lucas leaned toward her. "Send word to the barracks that we'll need three strong men," he said softly. "Make sure they're young, with -- "

"No." Stuyvesant's word was a command. "I'll not be held down."

"I didn't intend for you to overhear me, mijnheer. But I don't mean you to be held down, only held in position. It is through no lack of courage that a man twitches under the knife."

"I will not twitch, barber."

"Mijnheer -- "

"Get on with it, man. Else I'll have you hanged as a charlatan who offers hope when there is none."

Lucas hesitated, looked at Anna Stuyvesant. She shook her head. Lucas took the pewter vial from his pocket. "Very well. Please open your mouth."

"I told you, I don't take strong drink."

"This isn't drink. It's a medicinal draught made by my sister." Stuyvesant still looked wary. "Consider the size of it, mijnheer." Lucas held the tiny pewter tube in front of the other man's eyes. "Could this hold enough rum or geneva to satisfy even an infant's thirst?"

The governor hesitated a second longer, then opened his mouth. Lucas shook the single remaining drop of laudanum onto his tongue. The argument had been pointless; there wasn't enough of Sally's decoction to do any good. On the other hand, sometimes what a patient believed to be true was as good as the reality.

"That will make things very much easier," Lucas said. He even managed to sound as if he meant it. "Now, mijnheer, in a moment we must get you out of your bed and over to that chest by the window where the light's best. I'll want you to lean on the chest, support yourself on your elbows. But first" -- he turned to Anna Stuyvesant -- "bring me a bucket, mevrouw. And some cloths. And a kettle of boiling water."

Copyright © 2001 by MichaelA, Ltd.

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