Saturday, April 12, 2014

Sally of Monticello: Founding Mother
the story continues...


84

After the show we strolled the short distance to Nancy’s home.
The town fathers had ordered the installation of street lanterns, so it
was a safe walk.
David was still up, reading. He rose as we entered and bowed to
me. Nancy was right. I’ve seldom seen him in any other role than
storekeeper, but here, relaxing at home, he seemed a treasure of a man.
She went to check on their youngest, Agnes, and returned
apparently satisfied. “I’ll fix tea.”
“The kettle’s ready,” David said with his characteristic accent.
“Miss Sally, come sit by the light. Tell me about Animal Magnetism.
Something to do with the disputed theories of my countryman, Herr
Mesmer. Isn’t that so?”
We sat. “Yes. I had just arrived in France when a royal
commission discredited Mesmer’s theory. Nobody oozes a mysterious
fluid that captivates other people.”
“You reject the concept of charisma?” David asked.
“No, I reject that charisma has a physical quality. I’m no
authority, but I’ve spent the better part of my life in close company
with a scientist. Thomas fears that charlatans may use Mesmer’s ideas
to exploit their patients.”
Nancy rolled in a cart carrying tea service and a tray of little
cakes. “You two are turning a funny play into something serious.
David, buy tickets. Take Tommy and Jane. You’ll laugh your kishkas
loose.” As she poured tea she said, “Sally thinks we’re meshugge,
living together openly, inviting the law down on us.”
David looked at me and raised his eyebrows.
“I know what the word means, David. Yes, the thought crossed
my mind.”
“Crossed your mind?” Nancy said. “You came right out and said
it. But I told you I have a plan.”
“You promised to startle me. What sort of plan?”
The cakes were apple strudel, but with more flakiness and a bit
of honey.
“The census taker was here,” she said. “We declared David to be
head of the household. Now it’s official—we’re a family after more
than thirty years of maintaining two homes. But we’re now
unacceptable.”
Hearing that distressed me. “There’s never before been a protest
about you two,” I said, “maybe because, living apart, you avoided
drawing overmuch attention. There are others in town who mix but
stay inconspicuous.”
Mentally I counted my niece Sally Bell and grandniece Betsy
Farley, each living with a white man in Charlottesville. And Nancy’s
brother James had actually married a white woman here, Susannah
Harlow—legally.
From nervous stress and confusion I found myself biting into
another strudel. Truth be told, I was the last person who should have
been talking about remaining inconspicuous. By now the entire
English-speaking world has learned my name, if not also the Frenchspeaking. I was thankful Nancy didn’t remind me of that.
She said, “It’s because David and I are prospering. For that they
see us as flaunting our relationship. There’ll be a grand jury.”
“Oh, my God.” I almost choked on the pastry. I set down my
cup. “A grand jury.” I covered my face with both hands and shook my
head.
David said, “Nancy, you’re frightening her. Tell her the good
part.”
“The good part? Sally, stop screwing your face up like you’re
ready to cry. They’re not—going—to win, hear? We’re going to
prevail.”
“But the law—”
“The law, the law,” she said, mimicking. “The law be damned.”
“How can you say that?”
“You put your finger on it when you said ‘never a protest.’ We
have seven children. Tommy’s thirty-one, Jane’s twenty-four. A
couple of the younger ones have even attended white schools. If David
and I behaved so offensively, why didn’t somebody step forward and
charge us with a crime before now?”
David said, “We consulted lawyers. Even if the grand jury
charges us, we’re confident the courts will throw it out. They let it go
too long.” He shrugged. “Nancy’s right. We’ll prevail.”
I returned a polite smile.
I wasn’t going to say it, but lawyers were often wrong.
I’ve been the companion of one for thirty-two years, starting
soon after I told him a few things he was wrong about.