The Cub and the Old Lion (1)
June 11, 1839
Silistre[1], Bosnia-Rumelia

Leopold Prince of Wales scratched his face. His beard was coming in thick and black. People seemed to think he was growing it to impress the locals. The truth was, someone had stolen his shaving-kit last week. He supposed he should have expected that. This land was famous for its bandits. He wasn’t the only one—a lot of men who’d served in America had beards, although he’d heard it was because the shaving-soap had kept running out.[2] And honestly, it was nice to have one less thing to bother with in the morning, especially with such a big bother in front of them right now.

The Duke of Wellington gave the prince a knowing look. “Not quite what you signed on for, is it, lad?”

Leo, speaking in something just below a shout—His Grace was almost deaf—said “They said I should have some military experience. They didn’t say how much.”

Wellington laughed, then turned back to look at the impressive and terrifying vista.

They were on the north wall of a hill fort just south of town. The town of Silistre occupied a nub of land on the south bank of the Danube, overlooking where the great river split into separate streams on its way to the sea. It was one of the world’s Megiddoes, places where you could safely predict that one day a great and famous battle would be fought because armies had already fought so many battles there over the course of history that it was just a matter of playing the odds.

And according to what Prince Leopold had been told, there had already been three events that could be called “Battles of Silistre” just within the past twelve months. One of them had been the battle eleven months ago, in which the Russians took the town and fort away from the small garrison of Turks and Bosniaks. Another, three months after that, had been the battle in which two battalions of Arabs tried and failed to retake it. The third had been the surprise attack six weeks ago, in which Sultan Husein’s men, alongside Arabs and British soldiers, had retaken the fort after the local Bulgars had allowed the Russian garrison to find and requisition a particularly large amount of plum brandy.

Now there was a force of Britons, Arabs, and the Sultan’s army holding the fort and surrounding hill. (Mostly the hill—this many men wouldn’t have fit inside the fort.) The plan had been for them to link up with the French and Austrians and help them establish supply lines from the Aegean ports to Wallachia, give the Wallachians the Woolwich rockets and teach them how to use them, then send the prince and his guard back to Thessalonica where they’d be out of harm’s way.

The problem with that plan was the gigantic Russian army holding the town.

And the other bank of the river.

And the island in the river.

It hadn’t been a complete surprise, of course—scouts had reported this army days in advance—but the Arabs and the Sultan’s men wouldn’t abandon this hilltop, and if they had to fight that army, this was the strongest place to do it. And their allies were still coming. Better to fight here than be defeated in detail. Better, but not good.

“They’ve got both banks covered,” said Wellington. “Or to put that another way, their backs are to the water in two places at once. And there are Italian gunboats on the river.”

Wellington gazed to the northwest. Somewhere across the river and over the horizon, the French and Austrians were coming. They were supposed to be here already, or by this evening at the latest. “Napoleon the Second,” said the Duke. “If he’s anything like his father, the Russians are in for it.”

Whatever had happened to Wellington’s hearing, his peripheral vision was as sharp as ever. He saw Leo’s surprised glance in his direction.

“Surprised to hear me say that, lad? He was the greatest general of the age—this age, past ages, any age. And I think he’s been dead long enough it’s safe to speak the truth. His one weakness—everyone has a weakness—was that his campaigns were too perfect. He built them of iron, like steam engines. If one piece broke, there went the whole structure. I built mine of rope. If something broke, I tied a knot and kept going.”

Leo nodded. The younger Napoleon was untested, but everyone had heard good things about Radetzky—and the Wallachian king Ludovic, who was accompanying them. And of course they had Wellington. And they would need all the military genius they could get, because there had to be hundreds of thousands of men on the Russian side. The Sultan’s men, the Arabs, us, French, Austrians, Wallachians, Italians… can even a seven-nation army hold that many Russians back? I suppose we’ll find out.

Everyone back in London had seemed to think he needed to take part in this war. He’d thought so himself. Why was that? The greatest soldiers he’d known growing up were the Duke of Wellington and his own father, in that order. Had either of them ever told him going to war would be good for him? That it would make a man of him?

Not in so many words. His father had said, “They made me a colonel, then a general—honorary, of course—long before I was old enough to fight. I fought the French when they seemed invincible[3] and we won, but it was nothing like I’d imagined.” He remembered what Wellington had said, more than once: “If being a soldier improved a man’s character, I never would’ve had to hang any of mine. But a man who has a voice on decisions of war and peace should know what war is, and you can’t learn that from books.”

It hadn’t quite been any direct advice from them. It had been a feeling, just from looking at those two men and being in their presence, that if he wasn’t willing to subject himself to some of the same risks that they had, he would be a much lesser man than they were.

He’d heard that the young always thought themselves immortal. Apparently that feeling didn’t last to the age of twenty-two. Certainly he hadn’t thought much about the possibility of death at Lamia—but then, with the way the Greeks had fled in panic at the surprise attack, there hadn’t been much need to.

Now… he kept thinking of Julie, and not just because he wanted to be in bed with her at the earliest opportunity. He loved her. It had been an arranged marriage, not like his parents’ once-in-a-century royal love match, but Julie was a joy to be around. Her slight accent, her warm brown eyes, her sputtering laugh at his jokes… he wanted to see what their children would look like. And yes, he wanted to keep the dynasty going.

And speaking of the dynasty, there was Christian Duke of York to think about. Chris, whose clothes had to be specially made because he reacted to any sort of irregularity in the fabric along the inside as though a scorpion were crawling over that part of his skin. Chris, who when asked by the Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh how he felt about Mother and Father’s twentieth anniversary, had said, “I think we should use leaf springs on the coach instead of leather braces.”[4] (Which was probably a good idea, but not the sort of comment that Silly Billy could possibly have been expecting.) Chris wasn’t the most eccentric person in the British aristocracy—not even now that old Slice-of-Gloucester had passed on[5]—but as king, he would surely cost the monarchy whatever power it still had, because there was no overlap between the political duties of the king and the things he could keep his thoughts pointed at.

I could never do that to Chris. I may have teased him—more often than I should have—but dropping the duties of the heir in his lap would be an act of cruelty. And even more than that, Julia also deserves better. I must survive this battle. I must get back to her.

“Remember this, lad,” said the duke. “Nothing’s ever certain in war. Anyone can win, and anyone can lose. Remember that. Because that army—that giant mass of men—that army can lose too.”

Somewhere down there, horns were blowing. The Russians were preparing to attack. Most of the battles in this war had been paltry affairs, forgettable except to those who had the bad luck to be in them. This one looked to be one for the history books.

It was an honour Leopold Prince of Wales could have done without.

Valerian Madatov was dead. Alexander Arkadyevich Suvorov, who had been serving as ambassador to Italy until the outbreak of war, was not the general his namesake and grandfather had been and was expending the motherland’s strength in futile attacks on the passes of the Carpathians. Vasily Perovsky, who had been in charge of the war effort in Bosnia-Rumelia since Madatov’s death, was under siege in Bucharest. Count Ivan Paskevich was preoccupied with suppressing the Polish rebellion, while Aleksei Yermolov was running the Russian army in the Persian war.

So it was Grand Duke Nikolai himself who led the army of 420,000 men south from Kishinev and along the Danube. His plan was to force the Allied armies into a decisive battle and crush them with overwhelming force—or, if they didn’t oblige him, to split up his army and rebuild the garrisons until his control of Wallachia and the Bulgarian lands could no longer be contested.

At Sillistre, his army was divided into three unequal portions. One portion surrounded him on the island in the Danube. One portion waited on the north bank of the river. And one portion—the largest—held the town itself.

This was the portion that attacked on the afternoon of June 11. Between 180,000 and 200,000 Russians charged uphill a force of 40,000 Britons, 20,000 Arabs and 30,000 Turks, Bosniaks, and loyalist Bulgars. The failure of the Russian attack can be attributed to two factors.

The first was the superior firepower of the British. Their revolvers could maintain a rate of fire some three times that of their Russian counterparts, despite the disparity in numbers. Wellington was well supplied with Woolwich 38s, which he had intended to give to the Wallachians for use against the Russians. Now he could cut out the middleman.

The second factor—and one which would prove decisive over the course of this battle—was the Russian command structure. Nikolai was what modern business managers would call a nondelegator[6]. He saw to every movement of troops in his huge army, every order for resupply or reinforcement. Implementing all the lessons of war the Russians had learned fighting Napoleon and the Ottomans, he took pains to ensure that their baggage trains arrived with the same supplies they’d started out with, minus only what was necessary to feed the crew and draft animals. He made sure the front line was kept strong, never allowing noble officers to keep too many troops attending on them.

It is a tribute to his attention to detail that Nikolai was able to coordinate an army of this size by himself. The problem was that none of his generals or colonels (other than the trusted Prince Alexander Sergeyevich Menshikov, who was on the north bank) felt empowered to attack or retreat without orders, and though Nikolai sent orders with the intent of causing a mass attack on the fort, his messengers sometimes arrived at their destinations a half hour or more apart from each other—when they arrived at all. The Italian Marines often picked them off while they were crossing the river. The result was a steady drumbeat of charges that wore the Allies down but was never enough at any one time to overwhelm them. By the time Nicholas had thought of simply delivering a single message to the whole army—“attack at 7 p.m.”—they were too tired to attack effectively.

And Prince Menshikov couldn’t be spared, because by 5 p.m. the wing of the Allied army under Napoleon II, Radetzky, and King Ludovic had arrived. Between the 80,000 Austrians, the 60,000 French, and the 35,000 Wallachians, they had the 120,000-strong Russian army on the north bank outnumbered. Menshikov was busy organizing a defensive line, which successfully held off the allies until sunset. He was also calling for fresh supplies of powder and shot.

At 8:30 pm, just when the whole battle had seemed to go quiet, Napoleon II launched a new attack along the riverbank. This attack out of the setting sun took the Russians by surprise, and the massed Francotte revolver fire of the French was every bit as effective as Wellington’s.

But the “Twilight Charge,” as the Moniteur would call it (recalling the Midnight Charge at Nancy) was only the first step. Just when Menshikov was starting to rally the Russians in the fading light and the French were badly overextended and pressed against the Danube, Marshal Damrémont[7] ordered his rockets to fire. These were Maëstricht rockets, similar to Congreve rockets but with the rear nozzles modified to resemble the American Henry-Hunt. They weighed up to 50 kg, and they were loaded with gunpowder and white phosphorus. Although the Americans had the dubious honor of introducing this French invention to the world’s battlefields two years earlier, more of it was used in this single engagement than the Americans had even manufactured during the War of 1837.

The sudden appearance of this new weapon threw the ranks of the Russians into confusion. Worse, only half of the 1,000 or so rockets were fired at the army—the other half were fired at the fleet of Russian boats on the Danube, which were still being unloaded. The explosion of a boatload of powder killed Prince Menshikov instantly, throwing the army on the north bank into utter confusion. The clouds of white smoke, illuminated from within by white light, silhouetted the Russian soldiers and left them easy prey for French and Austrian riflemen in the darkness to the northwest…

Burim Kelmendi, This Time We’ll Get It Right: A History of the Post-Ottoman Balkans and Interventions Therein (Eng. trans.)

[1] Silistra, Bulgaria
[2] I’ve heard something similar happened during the Crimean War IOTL.
[3] The Battle of Kulm in 1813
[4] Leaf springs are a kind of suspension system. In 1836, Charlotte and Leopold celebrated twenty years of marriage with, among other things, a family ride through London in the Gold State Coach—a vehicle not at all designed for comfort. His Grace was thirteen at the time.
[5] Prince William Frederick, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh, survived to 1838 ITTL.
[6] Micromanager
[7] Charles-Marie Denys de Damrémont, Marshal of France and (on this mission) Guy Who Makes Sure the Boy Emperor Doesn’t Screw Up.
I admit I am a bit disappointed that we didn't get to see Wellington and his men get a glorious send off by the Republic.

One of Napoleon's most celebrated contemporaries/foes fighting alongside his son, quite the world.

I feel a bit sorry for the Russians; it seems near every TL i read their 19th century ambitions in the Balkans and such never work out.

So with Britain now fully focused on the war and Russia seemingly set for a defeat here I wonder how long this war will go on?

I wonder what Wellington will do if he survives this war? Finally retire to write memoirs or something? Back to his post in Ireland?

Leo seems a good sort. Taking these things seriously and picking up on what his father and the Iron Duke were telling him about the virtue of going to war as such. A man who won't take bloodshed and and the men who shed it lightly it seems. Nit a real read on his politics yet, but it sounds like he doesn't want the Crown to lose anymore power on his watch even if he's not the type to push back on that front.

And we find out a bit more about little Prince Chris. The lad certainly doesn't seem "normal", but he's hardly a scandal after what George IV put the royal family through. Still Leo's worries have me worried for his safety. I so want to see him as Prince Viceroy of Canada and alter as a competent British King!


how is the dutch situation resolved ? France and England would not have fought together if the situation was not settled
"Give me Napoleon, or give me night!"

A rather dramatic turnaround and I do wonder how the young Emperor feels about fighting alongside the man who'killed' his father. Rather amusing to see Nikolai have similar command flaws as Wellington, but amplified thanks to the sheer scale if the forces involved. Good update and now the question arises as to if peace will follow.
how is the dutch situation resolved ? France and England would not have fought together if the situation was not settled
I'll get to the Dutch resolution when I do the big end-of-1839 series of posts. Let's just say the agreement won't make anybody completely happy.
The Cub and the Old Lion (2)
Although the Italian force was the smallest one in terms of raw numbers, it was critical to Allied success. Italian gunboats destroyed what was left of the Russian army’s river boats at dawn. Without them, the three parts of Nikolai’s army were cut off from one another. In addition, Nikolai himself and the hundred thousand men on the island—which he had placed there as a reserve—were now effectively under siege.

What happened on the north bank that morning was closer to a massacre than a battle. Russian generals tried and failed to coordinate a response, or simply sat waiting for orders that could not come, while the Emperor, Radetzky, and King Ludovic expertly demolished their formations, rolling them up wherever they formed a line, pouring artillery and rocket fire into them wherever they formed a square or cluster. By 10 a.m, what was left of this part of the Russian army was fleeing north along the riverbank in disorder.

The situation on the south bank that morning was more precarious. The Allied army under Wellington’s overall command formed a single target, and the Russian generals on this bank had by now figured out how to coordinate their own assaults. At times, ammunition shortages meant that the Russian army had to forgo the volley and perform bayonet charges into British fire, but charge they did, again and again. Even the Prince of Wales, whose safety Wellington and Dean-Pitt were both doing their best to ensure, sometimes had to draw a musket.

Shortly before noon, Italian gunboats began shelling a stretch of the Silistre riverfront. This was not so much to inflict damage on the Russian army as to provide cover for the French army, which was crossing the Danube on boats. The Russians facing the riverbank had the same problem they did facing the British on the hill—slow rate of fire, not enough shot—and the additional problem that all their artillery was pointed up the hill and could not possibly be dragged through the narrow, twisting streets of Silistre in time to thwart this attack. Nonetheless, the French took over 4,000 casualties crossing the Danube, including Marshal Damrémont[1]. And when they entered the town, they found that its many stone houses were excellent defensive terrain for the Russians.

The Russian counterattack forced Napoleon onto the defensive, but could not dislodge him from his bridgehead in the north of the town. And by chance or by design—and French biographers to this day claim that the younger Napoleon was showing some of his father’s genius—the French were a block away from the largest Russian stockpile of food, powder, and shot. Until these supplies could be repositioned somewhere safer, the highest priority of the Russian army was defending them. So both the French and the British held out for several more hours, until help arrived from a new direction.

Not long after the French crossing, Radetzky had ordered the Austrians to cross the Danube several kilometers to the west, out of sight of the Russians (and not depending on the Italians, whose grudge against the Austrian Empire was undiminished). He then took a curving course northeast and brought the whole weight of his army against the handful of Russian regiments south and west of Wellington’s position. From there, he went into the town itself, fighting street by street and block by block alongside the French. Not to be outdone, Wellington joined the fight.

Under these circumstances, the Allies found it nearly as hard to coordinate as the Russians did. What made the difference in this part of the battle was the superior Allied supply lines. Neither the French, nor the Austrians, nor the British ever ran out of powder or ammunition. Again and again, Russians would find themselves fighting range with edge[2] and taking the resulting casualties, but they inflicted many of their own…

Burim Kelmendi, This Time We’ll Get It Right: A History of the Post-Ottoman Balkans and Interventions Therein (Eng. trans.)

June 13, 1839
Silistre, Bosnia-Rumelia

“DON’T CHARGE, damn your eyes! They want to fight up close! Don’t give them what they want!”

Wellington couldn’t hear whatever the young lieutenant colonel said in response—he hadn’t quite learned the trick of reading lips, and the noise of this battle had destroyed all that remained of his hearing. He didn’t care. The Russians were trying to charge up this little alleyway in the face of British fire. The cure for that was more British fire.

“Does this look like the bloody playing fields of Eton? We’re NOT HERE TO FIGHT FAIR! Keep shooting!”

Without sound—even gunfire—the battle felt strange and not quite real. And in these narrow streets, the clouds of gunsmoke were more of a hindrance than they would be in open fields, and they lingered longer, leaving him nearly blind as well as quite deaf. It didn’t matter. He could hold all the elements of the battle in his mind. To the southwest, up the hill, was the fort where they’d been stuck for over a full day. The heir to the throne was still there, safe and sound. Good. One less thing to worry about.

Somewhere to the east, past the Russians was the Danube. In the Danube was the island. There were a hundred thousand men on that island. They had everything the Russians here didn’t have—competent leadership, an intact command structure, and all the supplies they needed… and it didn’t matter. A few weeks cut off from resupply and Grand Duke Nicholas would be dining on stewed leather with the rest of his army.

Between him and them were the Russians, and he could see no sign of them emerging through the smoke. In fact—he squinted—they seemed to be retreating into the alleyways, out of the line of fire.

“NOW go forward! Slow march! Watch the alleyways.” Wellington led the way, keeping his horse at a walk. The point of running was to close the distance with your enemy before he could reload. Under the circumstances, best to save your energy for fighting. Besides, trying to run down a street strewn with bodies and slippery with blood was a bad idea for man or horse.

Wellington cleared the gunsmoke, keeping his musket at the ready—it might have a slower rate of fire than the new-fangled revolvers, but he knew how to use it. From a window somewhere further down the street came a muzzle flash, and someone punched him in the chest… or so he thought for a moment, until he looked down and saw the wound.

Of course. They’re not complete fools. They’re almost out of powder, so they give what they have to the riflemen, who can do the most with it. I need to warn my men about this. He tried to draw breath for an order.

And couldn’t.


“What’s the news?” From the look on General Dean-Pitt’s face, Leopold knew it had to be bad.

Which was strange. From up here, it had sounded like they had won. The noise of the fighting kept getting further and further away. It felt shameful to admit this even to himself, but Leopold wasn’t sorry about that.

“We’ve won, Your Highness. What’s left of the Russian army has fled along the south bank. They’re still more or less intact as a unit, but they can’t come to the defense. But… you might want to sit down, Your Highness.”

Leopold did so. Someone’s dead. Or injured badly.

“The Duke of Wellington is dead.”

Leopold blinked.

Then blinked again.

Then drew a breath.

“How?” Even as the question left his lips, he realized how foolish it sounded. He was in the middle of the biggest battle since Nancy! How do you think? But Wellington had been at Nancy, and so many other battles, and had emerged intact. For a long time, it had seemed as though the gods of war had decided to leave him alone out of professional courtesy.

Well, obviously they hadn’t.

“A sniper,” said Dean-Pitt. “Not so different from the way Nelson died. I assure you, His Grace has been more than avenged.”

He wants to make sure I don’t do anything silly. Like try to join the fight again.

I suppose there wouldn’t be any point to it now. But what should I do instead? He wouldn’t want me to panic, but…
but it was so hard not to. The person who always knew what needed to be done was gone. Leo felt like a ship whose anchor cable had just snapped.

“So what happens now?”

“Radetzky and Louis are heading north to liberate Bucharest. Our plan is to keep guarding this bank. The French will guard the north, and the Italians will patrol the river, and between us we’ll starve Nikolai into surrender.”

Leopold nodded. Just hearing the plan did a lot to calm the lost, bewildered feeling that was threatening to overwhelm him. Concentrate on the next thing to be done. He would want that. “We should bring the Duke back to London. He’ll… he’ll need an honor guard. I think I should be the one to lead it.” Did that sound cowardly? Or dutiful?

Dean-Pitt nodded back. “I believe it would please him if you accompanied him on his final voyage.”


Leopold went on foot, in case there were any more snipers they’d missed, but he was barely paying attention on his way to the dock through the ruins of the town. A monument. With every battle he ever fought in, from Seringapatam to Silistre. Like that column they’re planning to build to Nelson, only let’s make sure this one doesn’t take 25 years. It gave him something to think about other than the sudden feeling of absence, as if a tree that had shaded him since he was twelve had suddenly been cut down, leaving him standing in a hot and pitiless light.

At the river, Dean-Pitt gestured toward the nearest gunboat. “The closest Allied ship is a French troopship off Crimea. The Italians can spare the Cotta long enough to rendezvous with them.” A small group of soldiers was already approaching, with a makeshift coffin between them.

And another one, with a similar coffin, was also coming. This one carried a French tricolour. The officer leading this squad was tall, with dark blond hair… and judging by his medals, was a little more than just an officer.

The blond officer gave a respectful nod. “Your Highness,” he said in heavily accented English.

“Your Majesty,” Leopold responded.

The Saint-Martin-de-Ré carried the prince and the emperor, along with the remains of Wellington and Damrémont and other fallen officers, as far as Malta. There Prince Leopold disembarked with the general’s body, having it transferred from the cask of camphor and brandy to a lead-lined coffin full of spirits before he embarked on the East Indiaman Kent[3] for the rest of the journey.

Prince Leopold and the Emperor Napoleon II were both friendly and outgoing by nature, and in the time spent aboard the French troopship, there was no one else on board that they could speak to on anything like an equal basis. In addition, the two young men had a great deal in common. Both were mourning the recent loss of admired mentors. Both had lost loved ones—the Prince’s infant daughter, the Emperor’s first wife. And both lived lives governed largely by the expectations of their respective societies.

So it should not be surprising that a lifelong friendship blossomed between them on that journey. As Leopold wrote to his mother, “I must confess that if our nations were not so often at odds, I should be very much tempted to regard His Majesty as an older brother…”

G. L. Smithwick, The Royals: A History

[1] IOTL he died in 1837 fighting in Algeria.
[2] I.e. fighting ranged weapons with melee weapons.
[3] Lost in a shipwreck in 1824 IOTL.
And so Wellington dies and leaves behind a young man forever going to wonder 'what would the Duke do'? Wasn't Wellington Prime Minister for a considerably longer time than he was OTL in this timeline as well? It'd be interesting to consider what his legacy will shape up to be, considering all the changes that have occurred thanks to the POD.
And so Wellington dies and leaves behind a young man forever going to wonder 'what would the Duke do'? Wasn't Wellington Prime Minister for a considerably longer time than he was OTL in this timeline as well? It'd be interesting to consider what his legacy will shape up to be, considering all the changes that have occurred thanks to the POD.

ITTL Wellington was Prime Minister for seven years.
An old man's sunset, is a young man's sunrise.

So are the wars done for now?
Some of them are still going on in various parts of the world (and has anyone decoded the message at the end of this post yet?) but they'll be in the background for a while, mostly because I'm tired of writing epic battles. (For now, anyway.)
The Dark Goddess on the Back of the Goat (1)
This was more than a century before Post v. Gilbert, and political leaders and famous figures were as well-protected by the laws against libel and slander as anyone else. Rather than silence the denunciations of Berrien and his government that were becoming a feature of life in every northern city, this encouraged the speakers not only to confine their remarks about Berrien and Calhoun to the known and provable, but to broaden their sharper critiques to include the whole Tertium Quid party and the Slave Power behind it. In Boston and Philadelphia, these speeches were welcome. Even in New York, with its many ties to the southern economy, pro-slavery sentiment rarely appeared.

In Baltimore or Richmond, on the other hand, these speakers were sometimes met with mob violence. In Charleston, they were outright forbidden. And in the spring of 1839, the Georgia militia began arresting public speakers in Washington D.C. on charges of “disturbing the peace.” All of them were released without charges almost immediately.

Several of them, including a young woman named Anna Ella Carroll, turned around and sued the militia for false arrest. They were supported in this not only by the Washington City Police (who were no friends of abolition but did not care to have their prerogatives trampled upon by the president’s hired interlopers) but by attorneys in the pay of Henry H. Stabler…

Charles Cerniglia, The Road to the Troubles: The American South, 1800-1840

July 4, 1839
Shuter’s Hill House[1], Virginia

Even from a distance, the house was impressive, and it only looked better as Anna Ella Carroll and her father reached the top of the hill to get a better look at it. She wasn’t an expert on architecture, but she could see that it was subtly different from either the plantation houses she’d seen in Maryland or Virginia or the more famous structures of D.C., though it was built of the same white and dove-gray marble as the latter. The tall, arched windows, the shallow angle of the upper roof, the three-story tower on top of the other four stories… she’d never seen anything quite like it before.[2]

And while it was smaller than the White House, it was larger than any plantation house she’d ever seen. The Stabler family had spent ten years writing a message to Virginia’s elite in tons of Cockesyville marble: You are managing farms. We are building an empire. We are not the same. The other guests were looking at them as if wondering what they’d done to merit an invitation to the Stablers’ Fourth of July party. Which was a reasonable thing to wonder.

At the gateway, Thomas Stabler was talking about the house to some of the other guests. “Rob is building a place in Kentucky, on a hill overlooking the Mississippi. Ed has a townhouse in Manhattan. I meant for this place to be somewhere the whole family can gather. Construction slowed down a little because of the war. We only finished it this spring.”

From behind him, Henry Stabler stepped out. “Mr. Carroll.” Then he took Anna’s hand. “Miss Anna.” He kissed her hand. They’d met several times already, and he’d spoken… almost as if he were courting her. Which was of course impossible. But at least he’d been talking to her rather than her father.

“You built this place all through the war?” she said.


“I dare say you were worried when the British were coming up from Port Conway.”

“Just a bit.” Anna handed her parasol to a servant as she went inside.

The inside of the mansion was even more foreign-looking than the outside. Pastel silk curtains embroidered in complicated flowery patterns hung on the windows. Every piece of furniture was of dark or reddish hardwoods carved into strange curves and waves and spirals and either upholstered with patterned silk or decorated with what looked like gilded vines.[3] Anna Ella tried not to turn her head and gawk at everything around her, and failed. Thomas Stabler was directing some other guests to something called the “Republican Purple room.”

“We’ll be watching the fireworks from the roof deck this evening,” said Henry, “but—how would you like to see the view from the tower?”

Anna Ella wasn’t sure how to respond. She did, in fact, want to see the view from the tower, but she was a little bit hesitant about being alone with a powerful man in a place where no one else was likely to be able to hear what was happening.

Before she could think of anything to say, Henry gestured to a maid. “She’ll be happy to show you the way.”

The maid, who was easily in her fifties and rather fat, somehow concealed her happiness at escorting a guest up six flights of stairs. Anna Ella’s own young knees were starting to hurt by the time she reached the top, but there was only one chair in the little room and the maid probably needed it more.

And the view from here was extraordinary. To the northeast she could look clear across the Potomac and see the green dome of the Capitol, and the unfinished obelisk of the Washington Monument. The cupola in the roof of Stratford Hall was nothing compared to this. From here, I could watch the skies almost as well as Ellie at Mount Greylock.

If I lived here. Which isn’t going to happen. Odds are I’ll never get married[4]. I don’t have the looks, and I certainly don’t have the personality. And the idea of marrying into this family… even for a daydream, that’s too big.


Back down the stairs, Anna Ella was in a little side parlor with a glass of chilled white Luray, resting her legs. She looked up to see Henry H. Stabler refilling her glass himself. The maid was quietly dusting the spotless furniture and (Anna Ella suspected) doing chaperone duty while she was at it.

Neither of them had much skill at small talk. “Mr. Stabler, I am grateful for your legal assistance,” she said, “and for your gracious invitation…” Her voice trailed off. She wasn’t even sure if the next sentence out of her mouth should begin with and or but.

“Miss Carroll,” said Henry, “I do know better than to presume overmuch upon gratitude. You need have no fear of that. Helping you was the right thing to do, and come what may, I won’t regret it.” A knot of unease that she hadn’t even known was there suddenly untied itself in her stomach.

“And yet, here you are talking with me,” she said, “when there are many more pleasant women here that you could—” She saw that he was about to interject, and lifted a hand. “Mr. Stabler, please do not flatter me. I know perfectly well that I’m short and stout and plain and a few years older than you.”

“I would hardly call you plain.”

“Do you deny that every planter’s family in Virginia has a daughter at least as beautiful as myself? Usually more so?”

“You forget, my dear—we sell cosmetics. When I look at a beautiful woman, all I see is a satisfied customer.”

Anna chuckled.

“But I do have an… interest in you,” he continued, “and you’re quite right to ask what it is. Not every woman has the courage to engage in public speaking, the way you did.”

“And why does that interest you?”

“I must beg your indulgence for a moment.”

“About what?”

“It’s considered poor form for the rich to complain overmuch about the difficulties their wealth brings.”

“I would say so, yes. Most people would be happy to trade their problems for yours.”

“True, and you are not the first to tell me this. But my problems are… problems all the same. And the biggest problem is being surrounded at all times by a locust swarm of flatterers. Whatever idea I come up with, they’ll say it’s brilliant. Whatever dispute I’m in, they’ll say I’m in the right. They make it harder, not easier, to make a good decision.”

“Surely you can send these people away.”

“I wish it were that simple. But our family’s wealth—even proximity to it… even men of high principle can be… I will not say corrupted, but changed a little, and not for the best. They become flatterers, a little at a time. Or if they’re older, they do the opposite, playing on our youth and inexperience. And I am a young man. I don’t always trust my own judgment, and I don’t know who else to trust.” Henry clasped her hands in his. “I ask nothing of you yet. Not today. But where else in Virginia—in the world—might I find a woman who I know will tell me the truth?”

[1] The site of OTL’s George Washington Masonic National Memorial.
[2] This is the Italianate style. Picture a mansion with some of the design elements of Cliveden or Osborne House, if not quite as large.
[3] This is the Rococo Revival style. (Remember, most of what A.E. Carroll has looked at in her life has been Georgian or neoclassical, so she can be excused for feeling like she just landed in the palace of an Eastern potentate or something.)
[4] IOTL, she never did.
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Huh, well, this is very interesting. I will confess that I don’t have much knowledge of this time period and American values, so I don’t know if this is going to be a scandal or just something that’s really discussed about. Either way, it’ll be fascinating to see the outcomes.