Read Back Bay Online

Authors: William Martin

Tags: #Suspense, #Fiction / Historical, #Fiction / Sagas

Back Bay (3 page)

BOOK: Back Bay
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“We have had enough of this rubbage!” announced Adams. He called for the guards, and three soldiers appeared at the back of the hall. Adams pointed to Pratt. “Remove this man at once.”

“There is no need to remove anyone,” said Washington.

“Mr. President, this man is speaking slander on everyone in this room,” charged Adams.

“He is speaking an opinion, sir. He has the right to be heard.” Before Adams could respond, Washington turned to Pratt. “Without undue display or unfair interruption, say your piece.”

Pratt smiled and bowed. Just as he had hoped, he had Washington’s support, and he had everyone else angry. “Thousands of dollars have been spent on that tea set, sir. Public money that might have been used to ease the burden of heavy taxes on men like me, or to help the farmers who rebelled with Colonel Shays, or to erect new buildings at Harvard College.”

Hancock slammed his hand down on the table. “Mr. President, I must interrupt—”

“We will hear the man out,” said Washington firmly.

Pratt was enjoying himself now. He glanced at young Horace, whose eyes shifted nervously from his father to the President. Pratt winked, and the boy looked again at the hem of the tablecloth. Pratt would explain it all later.

“Look around you, Mr. President,” he continued. “You see nothing but Yankee businessmen and merchants, tightfisted citizens who give nothing away without expecting something in return.”

“And in return for the tea set?” asked Washington.

Pratt took a deep breath. He was about to tap the anger of every man in the room. “They expect favors from the new government.”

“Why, that’s absurd!” announced Hancock, as he gestured for more port.

Now, Pratt ignored the Governor. “New England is the seat of American shipbuilding. The men of Boston hope their gift will put them in favor when it comes time to build warships for the new navy.”

“Mr. President,” protested Revere, “I donated my time with no ulterior motives whatsoever.”

“Certainly not,” shouted Pratt. “Your motive is clear. If the government smiles upon you, Revere and Son will make the spikes and sheathings and cast the cannon for the new frigates!”

Andrew Cabot, shipper and Revolutionary privateer, rose in anger. “Mr. President, this man makes a mockery of these proceedings.”

Pratt laughed at Cabot. “The new government may consider imposing tariffs and duties on men like you and me, unless we appeal to its head with silver tea sets.”

Two more stood to decry him, and Pratt could see the indignation rising like a spring tide.

“I am an architect,” announced Charles Bulfinch. “Am I seeking personal gain by showing my esteem for our President?”

“New York City will not be our capital forever, sir. Perhaps the President will give you the chance to deface a new city with your monstrosities.”

Elias Haskett Derby, another shipper and one of Pratt’s chief competitors, spoke out. “Mr. President, I beg hearing. Horace Taylor Pratt is not representative of the merchants of Boston.”

Others shouted their support of Derby, but Washington would not intervene. After two weeks on his inaugural tour, after two days of parades and tribute in Boston, he was finding this little controversy most amusing. He looked toward Pratt.

“I buy goods. I ship goods. I make money. Just like Mr. Derby,” said Pratt. “But I curry favor with no man.”

“Least of all the men in this room,” cracked John Adams.

“Least of all the Vice-President.” Pratt leveled his gaze on Adams and felt the anger overflow all around him.

“Dammit, Pratt!” Samuel Adams took the floor. He was the elder cousin of the Vice-President, the elder statesman of Massachusetts. “You’re a disgrace. A damnable disgrace, and I demand an apology right now.” He looked at Washington. “President’s banquet or not, no man worth his salt ought to sit here and take this!”

“Hear, hear!” Andrew Cabot turned to Samuel Adams and began to applaud. The President’s banquet erupted in ovation for
Adams, in cries for Pratt’s apology. Men pounded the table and stomped their feet like Colonials confronting the British tax collector. John Adams studied the floor and waited for the noise to end, while Hancock rang so hard on his wineglass that it shattered in his lap. Through it all, Washington stood, arms folded and face impassive, as though he expected every banquet in his honor to end with such display.

In an attitude of supreme disdain, Pratt fixed his eyes on the brass chandelier above his head and put his hand on his son’s shoulder. The boy did not understand his father’s anger, but he felt the pride and defiance in his father’s grip. Instinctively, he stood.

The outcry reached its crescendo and quickly abated. Silence expanded to fill Faneuil Hall.

John Adams placed hand on hip and stood like a shopkeeper waiting for payment past due. “Your apology, sir.”

Pratt bowed to the Vice-President and then to Washington. “I apologize for nothing.”

Washington smiled. “With such temperament among the citizenry, small wonder that the Revolution started in Boston.”

“I await the President’s decision,” responded Pratt.

“Mr. Pratt,” said the President after some time, “the gentlemen in this hall, yourself included, are patriots. They would not seek favor through a silver tea set, and you insult us by suggesting that we would bestow favors for any reason. This tea set may be an extravagance, but as Mr. Adams and Mr. Hamilton have counseled, we must retain the trappings of royalty in order to establish our sovereignty in the eyes of Europe. I shall take this tea set to the President’s Residence, and I shall leave it when my term ends.”

The gentlemen of Boston applauded as delicately as maidens at a spinet recital.

“Your wish, sir.” Pratt and his son bowed graciously.

“I thank you, Mr. Pratt, for speaking your mind.” Washington smiled at both of them as they headed out of the hall.

In the doorway, Pratt pivoted back to the crowd, “Gentlemen, may I have your attention for just a few moments more. This afternoon, the
Gay Head
, a Pratt schooner, entered the harbor after thirty-six months at sea. She carried silks, spices, tea, and China
porcelain…” He paused to savor the expressions that were already forming on the faces of his competitors. “… from Canton! At this very moment, two more Pratt ships are passing somewhere in the South Atlantic, one bound for the Orient, the other laden with China’s riches and stretching canvas for Boston. I’ve won, gentlemen. I’m the first Boston merchant to establish permanent trading relations with China. Tomorrow morning, I begin the sale of the goods on the
Gay Head
. Bring cash.”

Pratt rarely noticed the weather, but tonight the brisk air, laced with the smell of salt, exhilarated him. He had done all that he had intended at the President’s banquet. He looked at his son, who was beginning to shiver. He threw his cape over the boy’s shoulders and embraced him roughly. “I was proud of the way you stood beside your father.”

“Thank you.” Young Horace looked down at the sidewalk.

Pratt lifted the boy’s chin. “Let other men count cobblestones. We carry our heads high, especially when we visit one of our ships. Would you like to see the
Gay Head

“Yes, sir,” answered the boy without enthusiasm.

“Then come along. I’m sure your mother would love a bolt of Chinese silk, and Captain Trask tells me there are gifts on board for both my sons. Playthings for Jason, an ingenious device called an abacus for you, to help you with your sums.”

He stared toward Long Wharf, but his son didn’t move.

“Why did you do it?” demanded the boy.

Pratt smiled. “It was an excellent performance, wasn’t it?”

“Performance?” The boy was shocked. “You didn’t mean all that you said?”

“Oh, I meant it. That tea set is a waste of good money, and most of those bastards are hypocrites of the first water. The only reason they gave that thing to Washington was to make him feel like a king.”

“And you insulted him for accepting it.” Horace’s tone carried equal measures of accusation and disappointment.

Pratt began to lead the boy toward the waterfront. “I had the fortitude to speak my mind. Washington will remember me long after he has forgotten the two hundred other men in that banquet hall. I made them all look like fools.”

“But you made enemies of all of them. That can’t be to your advantage.”

Pratt stopped and looked into his son’s eyes. “They were enemies to begin with, Horace. Every man is an enemy. You must always keep your enemies off balance. Never let them know what you’ll do next. Surprise them. When they think you’re leaving with your tail between your legs, turn around and tell them about the
Gay Head
. When they think you’re content, lash out at anything, just so they won’t know what’s in your head. And when they think you’re quiet, have yourself a damn good sneezing fit.”

The boy was beginning to understand.

“But always remember, Horace, whether you deal with president or dockhand, that every man shits, and every man is vulnerable when his breeches fall to his knees. Always keep them shitting over what you’re about to do, and you’ll always have the advantage.”

Young Horace smiled. By the time they reached the
Gay Head
, their laughter was echoing up and down the wharf.


t precisely one o’clock on a June afternoon, Peter Fallon turned his Volvo off the main road a few miles outside Marblehead and entered a world which had existed for almost a hundred and forty years. A row of elms shielded the estate from the road, and the lawn rolled to the edge of the cliff, where a house rose out of the fog like a great white clipper. A hundred feet below, the ocean crashed against the granite coast.

The house was called Searidge. Horace Taylor Pratt’s grandson had built it as a summer house in 1843, and Pratt descendants had been living there ever since.

Fallon drove slowly across the grounds. He wanted to absorb everything about the house before he drew too close and it
overwhelmed him. Searidge stood three stories high, and a fresh coat of white paint made it seem even larger. Pilasters outlined the building in Neoclassical grace. Porticoes, pillars, and circular dormers effected a combination of majesty and simplicity that was a New England ideal.

Searidge had grown over the years. Two new wings, a solarium, and a tennis court had been added. But the house still seemed alive to the past. At the front step, two brass hitching posts awaited the master’s carriage. On either side of the walk, Chinese lions reclined in stone, monuments to the China trade that had brought them there. On the roof, a balustrade protected the widow’s walk, the platform where women once waited for their men to return from the sea. Empire builders and adventurers had lived at Searidge. Peter Fallon could feel their presence, and he envied them the exploits he would spend his life studying.

He had come to Searidge to examine the papers of Horace Taylor Pratt, one of the central figures in his dissertation and the founder of a corporation that was still a major issue on the New York Stock Exchange. He had been trying for months to contact Katherine Pratt Carrington, the seventy-nine-year-old descendant in whose home the papers were stored, but his phone calls and letters had been ignored. He had also written to the home office of Pratt Industries and requested permission to view the Pratt papers. He had received a polite rejection from Philip Pratt’s personal secretary.

When he was beginning to think that he would have to choose another New England shipper to fit into his study, “The Socio-Political Effects of the War of 1812 on the City of Boston,” he received a note from Katherine Pratt Carrington. It was brief and direct. Mrs. Carrington said she saw no reason to deny a Harvard man access to the papers of an illustrious alumnus. She specified an exact time and date. She told him how long he could stay and what papers he could study. And she said that if he were not punctual, he need not visit.

Fallon had not found the note unusual. He assumed that Katherine Pratt Carrington was another Yankee dowager, which meant she was born to money she never spent from ancestors she never
forgot. She was probably slender, wore little makeup, and dressed in clothes that might be expensive but were always sensible. She had informed opinions about everything. And she rarely allowed anyone to enter her world before careful inspection. Fallon had passed and he was happy to see the Pratt papers under any circumstances. The more he knew about Pratt, the more quickly he could finish his dissertation.

The door opened before Fallon took his finger from the bell.

“Yes?” The maid peered out.

Fallon sensed her suspicion. He understood it. He had black hair, heavy brows, and the sort of rawboned Irish face that seems to be frowning when it isn’t smiling. He knew that before he spoke, he usually made an unsettling first impression. He straightened his tie and politely introduced himself.

“I’m sorry. Mrs. Carrington is not feeling well, and she can’t have visitors.” The words sounded rehearsed, and the door slammed in Fallon’s face.

He rang the bell again. The door opened, and the maid filled the doorway.

“Mrs. Carrington specified one
. You must be mistaken,” he said.

“Mrs. Carrington does not visit with strangers. Please leave, or I shall call the police.” She spoke with an English accent that disguised her midwestern origins. She tried to slam the door once more, but something stopped her. Fallon saw the end of a cane protruding from behind the door.

“With whom are you talking, Bette?” The voice was an old woman’s.

“Mrs. Carrington, please take your cane out of the door.”

She was seventy-nine years old, white hair, a grandmother’s face, and a cameo on her blouse. Fallon wondered why she seemed so much younger. He decided it was her posture. She stood like a woman half her age. The cane was obviously an ornament.

“The young man from Harvard.”

Fallon tugged at his tie again and smiled.

“Open the door, Bette.”

“Mrs. Carrington…”

“I said open the door!” Her voice turned shrill, and she punctuated her command by driving her cane into the floor.

BOOK: Back Bay
2.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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