Of all wars, surely, the American Revolution is the most baffling. After all, the British were hardly ogres. History has known, and will continue to know, crueler and darker tyrants. The colonists were wealthy by Europe’s standards. Yet, they risked all to be rid of the pesky British.

Fragments of that strange war are scattered everywhere on the Main Line of Philadelphia. At Valley Forge, Washington’s Army, over a harsh and unforgiving winter, became a fighting force. Rebel Hill, now a tony condo complex, is where sympathizers with the Revolutionary cause gathered. And on Widow’s Peak, soldier’s wives were deserted, according to legend, by husbands bedazzled by lovelier Southern women--the angry wives huddled together for comfort, I suppose.
So, it is an odd business, history. Although, there’s history, and then there’s history, as my mother would say. Sometimes, it is the forgotten that captures the imagination--the abandoned Yorkers came from somewhere else--that was the point of being there. But on the Main Line, people traced their families back many generations, and seemed puzzled when anyone left. They wanted to die where they had been born.

Prudence Tisdale perked up. “New York!" she exclaimed, starry-eyed. Decades younger than the other members, Prudence also adopted the style of the faded cardigan and sensible shoes--perhaps it was a Quaker trait.

“I thought I might do tours," I said.

Prudence said, shyly, “I’ve always handled the House tours. You know, my family’s been involved with Brooks House for generations, from the start."

Mr. Beamish noted breezily, “Prudence is our Curator, too, isn’t that right?"

Sensing Prudence’s irritation, I threw out all notions of tours. Improvising, I said, “I think you need a social media program--a Facebook Page, a twitter feed, all of that. I can put that together for you."

He slowly repeated these new and foreign words. “Social Media, Facebook, Twitter. Hmm." He chuckled, self-consciously, at the mere mention of these new-fangled notions.

To my surprise, Prudence was receptive to my suggestion. “I’m on Facebook, and there’s a lot we could do. Lots of interesting facts we could post. You know, some say the Captain’s wife, Georgina, was an English sympathizer."

“Well, she was English," I said. “He was the rebel."

“Exactly," said Prudence, sadly.

“You’re right, though, I can put together content about people who lived in the house, or even the town, soldiers who fought alongside the Captain, things like that and I can take some pictures of tombstones or whatever," I said, figuring something was better than nothing.

“You have my blessings," said Evan Beamish since blessings were all he had to give.

Walking out with Prudence, I noticed a carved mahogany tea table in the hallway. Its exquisitely carved top was supported by slender clawed legs curling upwards as if alive. The carving’s leaves and vines twisted in an effortless manner--and its flowers seemed to have bloomed just then.

My mother had been involved in the antique furniture business. While I lacked her expert eyes, I knew something of early American furniture. In the grand colonial period, there had been only a dozen or so carvers in Philadelphia’s world of cabinetmaking.

“This is a very fine piece," I said.

Prudence had been pleased. “Yes it is. It’s a new acquisition, true Chippendale style, probably from about 1760, we think. We believe it might be the Garvan carver of Philadelphia. We’ re proud we could get it."

“As you should be--it must be worth a small fortune," I said. The Garvan carver had vanished early, leaving few pieces.
And Prudence had blushed, turning pretty as she did. She was, underneath the faded cardigan, an old-fashioned beauty whose face should have been framed by a lovely silk bonnet. It was troubling to think of her cloistered in The Brooks House.

That week, I toyed with my little assignment. To make life easy, I began with churches and cemeteries. Apart from offering picture-postcard views, they had the virtue of being easy to find.

Navigating the Main Line, with dozens of roads all named Gulph, was a nightmare.

Not far from my own house was the green and hilly Calvary Cemetery--a bustling place where joggers zoomed past tombstones. Rumors were that well-heeled members of the Philadelphia mob found their resting place at Calvary, which seemed to explain the cigarettes and scotch left as tributes to the dead.

At Calvary, as I searched for old graves on the hills, I met a girl with short dark hair and a serious face. I guessed her to be a senior in high school or maybe a little older.

We stood a moment by an old grave before she recited, theatrically, “Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me."

I knew the signs of young heart-break, as unmistakable as the lines of Emily Dickinson--and felt certain that her sadness had nothing to do with death. “It’s not a sad poem if you read it carefully,--I said watching her intelligent face register my comment.

Having caught her attention, I added, “He wasn’t worth it, cheer up."

I hoped she would not collapse in a puddle of girlish self-pity. She did not disappoint. “He wasn’t worth it all!" she said. Then calmly, she introduced herself. “I’m Lena Towers. I’m going to be a writer, I’m already a writer."

It started to rain, and I ended up driving her home, which was nearby. As we drove, she told me that her parents were divorced--a friendly divorce in her words--and she divided her week between her artist father and her lawyer mother.

After a few sharp turns, we landed in one of pocket-sized neighborhoods of Gulph Mills, where Washington camped before marching to Valley Forge.

A tall man with graceful posture greeted us--he seemed to dance rather than walk.

He was a double. It was not the first time I had met a double. They appeared from time to time--apparently, my double worked in Manhattan. Years ago, I used to meet my boyfriend’s double in Philadelphia. He even wore the same brand of sneakers.

I heard Lena saying, “Dad, this is Renee, I met her at the cemetery. And this is my dad, Noah Towers." It distracted me, his double-ness--or, more accurately, the memory of double-ness, since I had not thought of either man for years. I explained myself. “It’s not as bad it sounds. I mean, meeting in a cemetery. It’s just a project I’m working on, for a historical society."

Noah smiled in a familiar way. “Doesn’t sound like anything to me--nothing bad about cemeteries.

I just get worried about Lena spending so much time alone."

Lena was embarrassed. “Dad, please. Not now."

I said, “There’s nothing wrong with Lena." And we entered the house.

What I saw was unsettling. The furniture and even the objects in the rooms seemed, to my eyes, replicas of those at The Brook House--Delft plates, braided rugs, even the maps seemed disturbingly similar. It took a few seconds to adjust to what I saw--and then, I spotted a mahogany carved table, in every graceful detail the same as the one at The Brooks House.

I lightly touched the surface of twisting vines and leaves. “If you don’t mind my asking, do you know where you found this table? The carving is exceptional."

Noah was about to speak, when Lena jumped in. “Dad’s a real artist. He’s the real deal. It’s his." He made every bit of it. He kissed the top of Lena’s head.

I tried to sound as if it were of no consequence. “Are there others for sale?"

Noah answered with equal airiness. “I’m not the world’s most prolific guy--you can ask Lena’s mother. But there are some other pieces. Maybe in a while, maybe I might have some new things, then. You could come back, maybe, take a look."-

He smiled in the way that men can. Lena turned away from him and stared sulkily out the window.

I sensed some private grievance against her father. I shot Noah a glance of sympathy, and then asked, “Would you allow me to take some pictures, just for reference? I mean your house has so many beautiful things." And that is what I did.

Next morning, I felt compelled to reveal my suspicions to Prudence. Noah’s table might or might not be a problem. But, its very presence implied that The Brooks House collection might have forgeries.

Fakes were a perennial problem for museums--and the sooner they were revealed, the better. Large sums of money were involved in acquisitions, and if questions of authenticity arose later, it would spell disaster for a small museum like The Brooks House.

I showed Prudence pictures of the rooms and the carved table. “The pictures aren’t that clear, but you see what I’m talking about. The carving on the table looks almost exactly the same. And it is definitely not authentic, that much I know." I avoided mentioning Noah Towers, since that might have complicated the discussion.

She seemed shaky, “We have every document. I’ve worked to make sure of that. I’ve spent years of my life making sure everything’s in order at the House."

I hated to see Prudence unhinged. “Everyone knows all the work you’ve done here. No one doubts you. I wasn’t suggesting anything like that, Prudence, I never would, ever."

She turned a bright red. “I think your imagination is getting out of hand."

I had no wish to argue with her, and conceded. “You have a point." And so I left her with the pictures--before I had inspected the carved table at The Brooks House.

Then, only days after my visit, came the great fire at The Brooks House. After the blaze calmed, little remained where the House had once stood. The entire collection went up in smoke. It was said the fire was caused by Prudence Tisdale’s carelessness. She had left a stove burning, which was the ostensible cause of the accident. Of course, there was insurance on the collection, which was a relief to the members.

“Prudence Tisdale was never careless in her whole life. I think it was arson," I told Lena Towers. I was beginning my habit of strolling through Calvary Cemetery--and there, I met Lena. I appreciated her
lively mind, even then.

“Arson doesn’t make sense! Prudence Tisdale wouldn’t do that. Women like her don’t do stuff like that," Lena scoffed.

“I’m not sure. She seemed scared by the pictures I showed her. I think she thought she’d be accused, somehow. Her family’s been involved with that house forever."

Lena seemed unimpressed. “People don’t accuse nice women of setting fires. And didn’t you tell her that you’d come back to see us?"

Indeed, I had returned to check myself, the next day--since memory and photographs could be unreliable. But, in the altered light, I was less secure in my judgment; and I knew my own eyes were not my mother’s. Now, the wood of the table seemed less burnished, and its twisting vines less magical or fluid. I chalked it up to a plain and simple error on my part.

“I meant to call, but I was embarrassed, I guess," I admitted, now, to Lena. “I don’t know how I got so mixed up."

Lena said, slyly, “Daddy has that effect on just about all women. He can’t help it."

“All women? All of them?" I asked, amused at the way she adored her father.

“Well, you and Prudence Tisdale, to name two," said Lena, pausing for effect. “Especially Prudence. She gets mixed up pretty easily."

I laughed, “Maybe, maybe not."

I felt no pressing need to learn whether Prudence Tisdale had been enchanted by Noah or his gracefully carved table or, as seemed likely, both. The marriage between Noah and Prudence, later that year, seemed to settle the question for all practical purposes, or at least to my satisfaction.

When Prudence Tisdale-Towers launched her campaign to rebuild The Brooks House, I was among the first donors. My fortunes had taken a turn for the better, so I could afford to be generous. A plaque in the foyer lists my name as one of the Founding Members of the New Brooks House--as I am now, of course.

So, there’s history, and then there’s history. And, I believe that the New Brooks House will create a history as interesting and mysterious as that of the Captain’s--even more so. Surely, the Captain himself would expect no less of us. After all, he fought a long and bloody war for the pursuit of nothing more than happiness.


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