July 2, 1793Penzance, Cornwall
She was very late.
Julianne Greystone practically leapt from the curricle, having parked it before the milliner's shop. The Society's meeting was next door, in the public room of the White Hart Inn, but every space in front was taken up already. The inn always did a brisk business in the afternoon. She rechecked the curricle's brake, patted the old mare in the traces and quickly tied her to the post.
She hated being late. It wasn't her nature to dally. Julianne took life very seriously, unlike the other ladies she knew.
Those women enjoyed fashion and shopping, teas and social calls, dances and dinner parties, but they did not live in the same circumstances as she did. Julianne could not recall a time in her life when there had been days of leisure and frivolity; her father had abandoned the family before her third birthday, not that their straits hadn't already been dire. Father had been a younger son, without means, as well as a wastrel. She had grown up doing the kind of chores around the manor that her peers reserved for their servants. Cooking, washing dishes, carrying in firewood, ironing her brothers' shirts, feeding their two horses, mucking stalls
. There was always a chore awaiting her. There was always something left to do. There was simply not enough time in any given day, and she found tardiness inexcusable.
Of course, it was an hour's drive from her home on Sennen Cove to the city. Her older sister, Amelia, had taken the coach that day. Every Wednesday, come hell or high water, Amelia took Momma calling on their neighborsnever mind that Momma did not recognize anyone anymore. Momma wasn't well. She rarely had her wits about her, and sometimes failed to recognize her own daughters, but she loved to visit. No one was as adept at frivolity and gaiety as Momma. Momma often thought herself a debutante, surrounded by her merry girlfriends and chivalrous suitors. Julianne thought she knew what it had been like for her mother to grow up in a home filled with every luxury, where she was waited upon hand and foot, in a time before the Americans had sought their independence, a time of only occasional wara time without fear, rancor and revolution. It had been a time of absolute splendor and indifferent and lavish ostentation, a time of blatant self-indulgence, a time when no one bothered to consider the misery of the common man next door.
Poor Momma. She had begun to fade away from them shortly after Father had left them for the gambling halls and loose women of London, Antwerp and Paris. But Julianne wasn't sure that a broken heart had caused Momma to lose her mind. She sometimes thought it far more simple and mundane: Momma simply could not manage in the dark, threatening circumstances of the modern world.
But their physician said it was important to keep her out and about. Everyone in the family agreed. So Julianne had been left with the curricle and their twenty-year-old mare. An hour's drive had become two.
She had never been more impatient. She lived for the monthly meetings in Penzance. She and her friend, Tom Treyton, who was as radical as she, had founded the society last year, after King Louis XVI had been deposed, and France had been declared a republic. They had both supported the French revolution from the moment it had become clear that great changes were afoot in that country, all in favor of easing the plight of the peasantry and middle class, but neither one had ever dreamed that the ancien regime would eventually fall.
Every week there was another twist and turn in France's crusade for freedom for the common man. Just last month, the Jacobin leaders in the National Assembly had staged a coup, arresting many of their opposition. A new constitution had resulted, giving every single man the vote! It was almost too good to be true. Recently the Committee of Public Safety had been established, and she was eager to learn what reforms it might soon bring about. And then there were the wars on the Continent. The new French Republic meant to bring liberty to all of Europe. France had declared war on the Haps-burg Empire in April of '92. But not everyone shared Julianne's and Tom's radical views and enthusiasm for France's new regime. Last February, Britain had joined Austria and Prussia and entered the war against France.
Julianne had been about to wave over the livery boy from across the street and ask him to water her mare. At the sound of the strident voice, she tensed and slowly turned.
Richard Colmes scowled at her. "You cannot park here."
She knew exactly why he meant to confront her. Julianne brushed a tendril of strawberry-blond hair away from her face. Very politely, she said, "It is a public street, Mr. Colmes. Oh, and good afternoon. How is Mrs. Colmes?"
The milliner was a short, pudgy man with gray whiskers. His wig was not powdered, but it was fine, indeed, and otherwise, his presence was impeccable, from his pale stockings and patent leather shoes to his embroidered coat. "I will not condone your society, Miss Greystone."
She wanted to bristle but she smiled sweetly instead. "It is hardly my society," she began.
"You founded it. You radicals are plotting the downfall of this great country!" he exclaimed. "You are all Jacobins, and you meet to exchange your terrible plots right next door. You should be ashamed of yourself, Miss Greystone!"
There was no point in smiling now. "This is a free country, sir, and we are all entitled to our views. And we can certainly meet next door, if John Fowey allows us to do so." Fowey was the innkeeper.
"Fowey is every bit as mad as you!" he cried. "We are at war, Miss Greystone, and you and your kind support the enemy. If they cross the Channel, you will no doubt welcome the French army with open arms!"
She held her head high. "You are simplifying a very complex issue, sir. I support the rights of every maneven the vagabonds who come to this town begging for a decent meal. Yes, I happen to support the revolution in Francebut so do a great many of our countrymen! I am keeping company with Thomas Paine, Charles Fox, Lords Byron and Shelley, to name just a few of the distinguished minds who recognize that the changes in France are for the universal good of mankind. I am a radical, sir, but"
He cut her off. "You are a traitor, Miss Greystone, and if you do not move your curricle, I will do so for you." He turned and stalked into his shop, slamming the door behind him. The glass pane rattled, the bells jingled.
She trembled, feeling sick inside her stomach. She had been about to tell the milliner just how much she loved her country. One could be a patriot and still support the new constitutional republic in France. One could be a patriot and still advocate for political reform and social change, both abroad and here at home.
"Come, Milly," she said to the mare. She led the horse and carriage across the street to the livery, hating the recent dispute. With every passing week, it was becoming harder and harder to associate with her neighborspeople she had known her entire life. Once, she had been welcomed into any shop or salon with open arms and warm smiles. It wasn't that way anymore.
The revolution in France and the subsequent wars on the Continent had divided the country.
And now she would have to pay for the privilege of leaving her mare at the livery, when they did not have change to spare. The wars had inflated the price of food stuffs, not to mention the cost of most other sundries. Greystone did have a thriving tin mine and an equally productive iron quarry, but Lucas invested most of the estate's profits, with an eye to the entire family's future. He was frugal, but they were all frugalexcept for Jack, who was reckless in every possible way, which was probably why he was such an adept smuggler. Lucas was in London, or so she thought, although it was somewhat suspicioushe seemed to be in town all the time! And as for Jack, knowing her brother, he was probably at sea, running from a customs cutter.
She dismissed her worries about the unexpected expense, as there was no avoiding payment, and put aside the recent and unpleasant conversation with the milliner, although she might share it with her sister later.
Hurrying forward, she wiped dust from her freckled nose, then slapped it off her muslin skirts. It hadn't rained all week, and the roads were impossibly dry. Her gown was now beige instead of ivory.
As she approached the sign posted beside the inn's front door, excitement rose up, swift and hard. She had painted it herself.
Society of Friends of the People, it read. Newcomers Welcome. No Fees Required."
She was very proud of that last line. She had fought her dear friend Tom Treyton tooth and nail to waive all fees for memberships. Wasn't that what Thomas Hardy was doing for the corresponding societies? Shouldn't every man and woman be allowed to participate in an assembly meant to promote the cause of equality, liberty and the rights of man? No one should be denied their rights or the ability to participate in a cause that would liberate them because he or she couldn't afford the monthly dues!
Julianne entered the dark, cool public room of the inn and immediately saw Tom. He was about her height, with curly brown-blond hair and pleasant features. His father was a well-to-do squire, and he had been sent to Oxford for a university education. Julianne had thought he would reside in London upon graduation; instead, he had come home to set up a barrister's practice in town. Most of his clients were smugglers caught by the preventive men. Unfortunately, he had not been able to successfully defend his past two clients; both men been sentenced to two years' hard labor. Of course, they had been guilty as charged and everyone had known it.
Tom stood in the center of the public room, while everyone el...