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Sally of Monticello: Founding Mother
the story continues...
“People will wonder,” I whispered.
We lay in the alcove after too little sleep, listening to robins’ offkey
warbles at first light—Thursday, 16th of March, 1809—the
morning following his final arrival home.
After a moment Thomas said, “Let them wonder. It’s enough we
“I don’t mean the present. I mean in the future, in what will be
history.” I yawned, then blinked purposely to wake. I moved to rest
my head on his bare chest. “Anyway, I’m glad it’s Mr. Madison’s turn
to be President. A fabulous turn of events for me, because now you’re
home for good.”
He ran a hand over my hair, down toward the small of my back.
The scent of our night’s lovemaking was heavy.
“We’ll need the tub,” he said.
“Let’s stay like this a while. I’m listening to your heart, enjoying
He sighed. “The clock above us grows more coercing by the
minute. I should bathe. Martha will be furious if I’m not ready to greet
well-wishers. They’ll come in hordes, despite muddying from late
I chose not to spoil our coziness by commenting on Martha.
“Don’t they realize,” he said with more wakeful animation, “a
man tires of so many years of public contact? That he wants to rest at
home and enjoy his family?”
I leaned and kissed him on the lips. “Poor, weary old buzzard. I
can testify you’re still game as a rooster for a man soon sixty-six.”
“Forgo testifying, please. I suppose you expect me to credit your
guidance these past twenty years.”
“Absolutely.” I scooted from the bed. “And that would now be
twenty-one.” I found my slippers, positioned his, stoked and fed the
fire, and made for the adjoining privy.
Thomas was propped on one elbow when I came out shivering. I
returned to the fireplace, still naked in the pre-dawn light and mussed
from sleep and repeated copulating.
“Look at you,” he said in a low tone. “Extraordinarily fair of
face. Firm in all your parts. As breathtaking as you were at fifteen.”
“Not quite, my love. But thank you.” I thrilled at his admiration.
I posed for a second and sucked in the tummy I’d worked to restore
after each of my eight births. “I’d still like to think that, for you, there
had to be more than my face and parts.”
He stuck out his lower lip and nodded in amused confirmation.
I ran a hand down to a messy tangle. I crossed the room to pull
the bell rope for bath water that servants below were heating. I helped
him extricate his long legs from the bedclothes, then found my
dressing gown and tossed him his. “Will you ride the bay before
“Diomede? Yes.” Thomas slid from bed to the popping of
several joints. “Please don’t forget the foot basin.”
While he was protesting the coldness in the privy, I pulled metal
tubs into position, one of them shallow for cold water that a servant
would also bring, to serve the daily ritual of chilling his feet.
“Cover yourself, Thomas. They’ll have the water here shortly.”
His dimpled half-smile showed he still enjoyed my directing.
Evidently he’d missed that in the President’s House.
Building the fire to a roar as a pair of servants poured the water,
I announced the breakfast menu. “After your ride and your meeting
with Edmund Bacon, you’ll have cold baked ham, a choice of freshmade
breads, fruit preserves, and coffee. Will that do for your first
breakfast in retirement?”
“Perfectly,” he said. “Bacon, then ham.”
I waved the servants out and said, “After that the guests will
begin to swarm.”
I’d arranged Thomas’s talk with the overseer before breakfast
rather than after. Bad news of the plantations’ finances could upset his
He lifted his feet from the cold dunking and moved to the tub,
settling in and gasping with satisfaction. As I reached for the sponge
and soap, he protested. “I can still bathe myself. I’m not that old.”
I cooed in response. “I’ve missed the joy of sponging you,
having you at my mercy. I can poke, squeeze, and tickle. But—” I
pouted. “—even at the launch of your final retirement into my care, I
may never make you tell me what I want to hear.”
This was a sticking point I’d been careful not to press past
teasing. Now home to stay, he might—or might not—feel the barb of
his inability to convey love openly. He could write of it to Martha. Her
claim was highest and her need pitiable. But make open display of
hugging or other affections? Only with grandchildren.
The threatening fact of our cohabiting unlawfully intensified my
want of spoken or whispered endearments. But I’d learned the
abstraction “love” seemed to elude his complete understanding. The
concept that was celestial in its regard by most people continued to
render Thomas awestruck and dumbstruck when trying to lift the word
from his tongue.
To make my pleas I awaited private moments such as now—if
this was privacy, for most on the heavily peopled mountain knew too
much about us. In response Thomas set aside my soft petulance with
patient charm—today with something startling.