Warminghurst, West Sussex, England
William Penn woke early one Sunday in the fangs of a headache. He rolled toward the window, seeking relief in the sunrise, but its glare sent a pulse of pain through the back of his eyes. William stretched the puffy skin under his eyelids and grumbled. It was a loud grumble, making a vulgar noise as it bubbled his phlegm and shook his cheeks. He grumbled for the spots to leave his sight, and he grumbled for his skull to stop throbbing, and he grumbled to ask God why he had purchased such large windows.
Across the bed, William’s wife Gulielma yawned. Her name, Goo-lee-EL-ma, was the Latin form of her father’s name, which was also William. This curiosity led strangers to mistake her for the eccentric of the couple. Gulielma sat and pulled off her nightcap as William let out another sonorous grumble. He fell back to his pillow with sorrowful eyes. “My dear,” he whined, “I slept poorly again.”
She looked down patiently. “Yes. I was beside thee.”
“I spent eight months in a frigid cell once, facing a martyr’s grave, and I was content. Now a featherbed leaves me restless.” William stroked her knee through her chemise. He rarely mentioned his stays in prison, but when he did it was usually to prove he was a righteous man. “I was a righteous man, Gulielma. Perhaps the Almighty rewards his champions with easy sleep. Does that mean I have lost His favor? Am I not righteous?”
“T’was many years ago, William. Perhaps thou art simply old.”
He snorted. “Old? Fie on that. My wart of a father conquered Jamaica at thirty-four years, and I am but thirty-five.”
“And still surpassing handsome.” Gulielma leaned down and kissed his bare head. She rose from bed and rang a bell on her dresser. The door opened, and her maid and William’s valet entered the room. The servants set to work, the maid helping Gulielma dress while the valet urged William out of bed. William resisted, muttering scripture. While he stumbled to his feet, Gulielma peered through the window. She found two footmen setting up benches on the lawn. “William,” she warned, “Thy guests will be here soon.”
William heard her and a new tension creased his face. He waved for the valet to begin their routine. William and Gulielma were leaders of the Religious Society of Friends, a group of Christians whom most called Quakers. In truth, most called them fouler names than that. The Friends were not loved in England. They were seen as heretics, traitors, nudists, and agitators for every sort of villainy, and mobs often drove them from their meeting halls. Friends avoided this by meeting when their neighbors were busy, such as during Sunday Mass. The Friends had no Mass and refused to acknowledge Sundays, believing the calendar was pagan, but they still found it a prudent time for worship. They also found it prudent to worship on a private estate, so when the Friends of Sussex needed refuge, they met Sunday morning at the Penns.
When the pressure behind William’s eyes began to diminish, the valet was struggling to pull his tight breeches over his hips. With no means to accelerate the process, William’s attention wandered to the account book on a nearby table. He used any excuse to retreat into his books lately, and he couldn’t resist picking it up now and thumbing a few pages. Soon William was crossing the room while he was dressed, reading bills or scribbling on maps, forcing his valet to chase him with his clothes. By the time this game reached his shoes, William was clutching a quill and paper under his chin, writing a letter to a friend in Parliament. He narrated to Gulielma as he wrote, sharing his disdain for certain lords with a wag of his quill.
Gulielma nodded and occasionally offered a hum to sound intrigued. She had long ago mastered the art of half-ignoring her husband’s rants. Lately he only talked about America, and she was sick of America. Instead she focused on her posture as her maid tightened her second petticoat.
William was still talking about surveyors or some other trifle when the valet bought out his wig collection. He laid down his letter to inspect them. His wigs weren’t the mountains of curls so fashionable in London, each costing many pounds. The wearers of large wigs committed the sin of vanity. William’s wigs were short, five-shilling things to warm his head, as he had lost all hair to the pox as a boy.
When her petticoats were finished, Gulielma looked across the lawn again. The footmen had placed several more rows of benches. She asked, “Art thou ready to attend our Friends this morning, William?”
William was deciding between two wigs and didn’t respond. He finally choose a wig, which his valet set on his scalp.
Gulielma cleared her throat and tried again. “Dost thou hear me, William?”
“Yes, love,” he muttered, picking up his letter and quill.
Gulielma sighed. She wanted to release a more powerful, more gratifying sigh, but her maid was now lacing her bodice, and it was unwise to exhale deeply while one’s bodice was being compressed. Gulielma waited until the laces were tied then gestured for her maid to stop. She joined William and laid a hand on his shoulder. “What troublest thee, dear?”
He huffed. “Art my cares so evident?”
“William.” She gestured at his loose papers strewn across the table. She didn’t mention that he spent most waking hours hunched over his papers nowadays. She merely said, “There are more fitting times for these worldly concerns.”
“I know, but I have a thousand irons in the fire. I must work them while the furnace is lit. Thou knowest the king has accepted my petition.”
She knew the king had accepted his petition. He reminded her several times a day.
He continued unbidden. “I am so close to claiming our promised land. This will be providential for the Friends. Providential for us! Providential for all the suffering of England, of all Europe perhaps.”
“And will the fruits of thy smithing be needful to save England and all Europe this morning?”
“And do thy Friends need thy spiritual balm this morning?”
“They do.” William’s shoulders fell, and he put the letter down again. “Pray tell, how fare the footmen?”
“Finished, or nearly so.”
He bent to peek out the window. “Truly?”
Gulielma reached up and tipped his wig forward, covering his eyes. “Cursed be she that maketh the blind to wander astray.”
“Deuteronomy. And it reads ‘cursed be he‘.” William smiled despite himself. His wife was the only soul who would dare tease him with scripture.
Gulielma returned to her maid to finish her outfit. “Do hurry, dear,” she said over her shoulder. “Thy flock will wander without thee.”
He gave her an agreeable grumble as he fixed his wig.
Gulielma was right: it wouldn’t do for William to be late receiving his guests. He forced himself to ignore the lure of his papers as his valet fetched his coat. Most gentlemen owned coats in several bold colors. William’s coats were all gray. Like large wigs, colorful outfits were a vanity. However, William saw no sin in quality fabric, and the price of this coat surpassed his valet’s annual salary.
He shrugged into the coat while Gulielma reviewed her outfit in their mirror. She pulled at a hem and adjusted her sleeves. William stood beside her and checked his reflection as well. As they preened, she gave him another reminder, “Many will seek thee afterward. The Browns have a nephew arrested in Crawley. They will beg thy intercession.”
“I will offer any service, Gulielma.”
“And Samuel Wentworth is still imprisoned. His wife has asked whether thou hast spoken with the magistrate.”
“And the widow Granville must raise bail for interfering-”
“I will attend to them, Gulielma. It-”
He was interrupted by a sharp knock at the door.
“Friend William! Friend Gulielma!”
“Yes?” answered William.
Their butler entered. In most houses, a servant who addressed the master and mistress with such insolent familiarity would be dismissed, but the Penns encouraged it.
“Ye have a visitor. One Lysander Fenwick, representing the banking house of Fenwick and Colbrooke.”
William was shocked. “What?”
Gulielma scoffed. “The audacity. A money scrivener accosting thee on a Sunday.”
“Sundays don’t exist, dear.”
“Yes, but he doesn’t know that.”
The butler ignored the debate. “The visitor requests thy presence on a matter of some urgency.”
“Indeed,” said William. “I shall see him presently.”
“As thou wilt.” The butler retreated from the room.
Gulielma pointed at William. “Pray thou mind the time. For tis’-”
“Yes, yes, the meeting. I will mind it.” William beckoned his valet to bring out his hat. It was plain and black, not a memorable hat, but he would not remove it for any man alive, not on pain of death.
William put on the hat and left the bedroom. Descending the stairs and crossing the hall, he found his young daughter Letitia playing a clapping game with the nanny. He kneeled to bid them both good morning. Letitia squealed and ordered him to join their game, but he declined.
William found Lysander Fenwick admiring the chandelier in his withdrawing room. They were physical opposites: William was stout while Lysander loomed like a skeptical crow.
Willaim stuck out his chin. “Friend Lysander.”
As usual, Lysander Fenwick resented finding himself in the presence of William Penn. Lysander saw himself as a special class of banker, one who lent heaps of money to courtiers of good breeding. He expected étiquette, the French notion of comportment befitting the dignity of one’s company. In plainer English, it meant behavior that avoided the appearance of a braying ass, thereby not making asses of one’s interlocutors for humoring said ass. And Lysander knew no greater ass than William Penn. William was of the highest gentry yet behaved like a street preacher. His rude instance on forenames was the least of his antics. Lysander had often struggled to hide his contempt, and today he dropped all pretense. He gave a pinched smile, just short of a sneer.
“Good morning, Mr. Penn. You have a marvelous home.” He eyed the wood-paneled walls and the polished chairs, his gaze lingering on the standing clock in the corner. “I’ve never seen a clock of that design. It must be new.”
“What may I do for thee?” asked William, a touch briskly. “Thou art early if thou wantest to join our breakfast table.”
“I won’t impose, Mr. Penn.” Lysander relished his words. “I wish to discuss the matter of your loans.”
“My steward in London attends these matters.”
“Your oldest loan is three months in arrears, and a second has a payment due four days hence with no hint of payment forthcoming.”
“My steward shall be forthcoming then, I’m sure.”
Lysander let out a dry chuckle. “Doubtful, Mr. Penn. I have spoken with him on diverse occasions, and he steadfastly maintains that he cannot pay. He’s having difficulty recovering rents from your tenants.”
“He said that?”
“That and much more after a few pints. He said that upon closing your latest book of accounts in March, your cash balance had been entirely spent. Furthermore, you owe him one hundred and seven pounds, sixteen shillings, and eight pence.”
William swallowed the hot bile rising in his throat at this indignity. “And he knows I shall settle with him in time.”
Lysander glanced at the chandelier. “I suppose your purse is light from other obligations.”
“So thou hath come to Sussex at dawn to discourse over a bill?”
“I had no choice. You are most elusive, Mr. Penn. My secretary has sent many letters, most unanswered or returned with hollow promises. I can never find you in the city, though I’m told you are seen hither and yon. In desperation, I concluded that I would surely find you home on Sunday, as I heard you are in the habit of inviting company. A thousand pardons for my rascality.”
William rubbed his eyes. “Well, here I stand. What speak thou?”
“I’ve traveled here to warn you that unless we devise a plan that meets my satisfaction, I will recover what I am owed in court.”
“Court? Surely, thou jestest!”
“I do not, Mr. Penn.”
William dropped in a chair, speechless. Finally, he gathered some composure and looked up. “Thy office shall extend me another line of credit, yes? Until my tenants pay?”
Lysander shook his head. “I’m afraid that is no longer possible.”
William held out his hands. “My good man, have some decency. Have I not been a most faithful borrower?”
“Faithful? No. Begrudging, I could accept. Or indolent. Mercurial, perhaps. But even if you were the most constant of borrowers – and I emphasize that you are not – these tenant defaults plague landowners across the country. Past constancy grants no immunity, and I will not be beggared.”
William frowned. “Then what dost thou propose? There hides a scheme in thine eye.”
“You know the answer. You own several thousand acres of England and Ireland. If you cannot cover your arrears, then sell a parcel and use the proceeds. I have spoken with dealers in the city and, at current prices, two hundred good acres in Cork should suffice.”
William’s frown turned sour. “No.”
“Why not? You’ve sold before.”
“And I have no wish to sell further.”
“Then I hope your barrister surpasses your steward.”
William folded his arms. They seemed at an impasse, and after a moment of silence Lysander prepared to excuse himself.
William stood and stepped in his path. “What if the land were further afield?”
“Further than Ireland?”
“Wert thou aware I hold interests in the colonies?”
“I have for several years been a trustee of the Province of West Jersey.”
“You own properties there?”
“No,” admitted William.
“What of it then?”
“‘Tis but the beginning. Hath thou wondered where I’ve occupied my time of late, to elude thy search?”
“I presume your tailor.”
“The record hall of the Prerogative Office.”
“My late father loaned King Charles an enormous sum for victualing the Navy in the second Dutch war, and I have proven this loan was never repaid.”
“A happy story, Mr. Penn. But our dear king is swamped in debts that dwarf your own, and he dismissed many obligations when his coffers were full. What makes you think he’ll honor yours?”
“I would be a fool to ask for coin, so I submitted a proposal to be paid in land.”
“In New Jersey?”
“West of New Jersey. For my own proprietorship across the River Delaware. Tens of thousands of acres of fertile land to dispense as I wish.”
“A more likely reward than gold, I’ll grant, but not by much. The Lords of Trade have turned a stern eye on the colonies. They have lost their taste for pettifogger land schemes.”
“I am no pettifogger.”
“It was a compliment, Mr. Penn. No, the latest governors are all crusty bulldogs from the regiments. The king wants a pugnacious breed to batter the Indian and keep the custom house honest. Why would he offer valuable land to you?”
“My proposal has many supporters, including the Duke of York.”
“And the Earl of Sunderland.”
“The king’s brother and his pet ambassador.” Lysander was a little impressed. “Such illustrious company whispers good tidings, but Charles is willful; he won’t be flattered to act against his favor.”
“My proposal favors him.”
“It will expand English holdings.”
“He could as well install his horse.”
“Unlike his horse, I have enjoyed great success encouraging settlement in West Jersey. Land brings no profit without settlers.”
Lysander studied William, looking puzzled. Then he reached some realization and nodded to himself in too smug a manner. “Ah! I spy the shape of it now, Mr. Penn. Clever.”
“Your Friends! You forsaken Quakers, shriveled twig on the Puritan’s tree. Yes, you can rally your band of nonconformists. I daresay your little rite is sore of the lash by now. They’ll be itching to leave. And the king must be itching to prune them off. Yes, that ought to win his favor.”
William grit his teeth. “See here-”
“Verily, I stand before Moses, girding his loins to lead his people into the wilderness. Ho, yes, this circus may even succeed.” He giggled. “And when, pray tell, do you expect a royal response?”
“He has accepted my petition. I need only settle with the proprietors of neighboring settlements and a few offices of the court.”
“Ah. Well, we know how swift our court officers are,” he said, lying. “Tell me, suppose a fair wind favors you in all your engagements. When might you acquire the charter to begin selling this sweet and fertile land?”
William hesitated. “Not longer than a year. If thou wouldst extend me a loan now to cover my present debts, in a year I could repay thee double. Nay, treble.”
“Even with a royal charter and a thousand settlers at your back, there are endless misfortunes that can ruin such a venture.”
“I know my business, Friend Lysander.”
“We fain dream all the world’s gold in an empty map.”
William took a deep breath and closed his eyes, relieving a pressure that had returned. “It is a sound proposal. Wilt thou extend my credit?”
Lysander hummed, as if considering the matter. “I’m afraid your dream colony is too uncertain for us to entertain, Mr. Penn.”
“At least takest time to consider. ‘Tis a peerless opportunity.”
“You have no more time, Mr. Penn. Will you do the sensible thing or will I see you before a judge?”
William leaned heavily against the fireplace, resting his fists on the mantle. “I shall sell a parcel in Ireland.”
“Excellent. I’ll expect you in the city soon to sign the papers.”
The butler appeared at the door. “Friend William?”
William and Lysander turned to him.
“Breakfast is prepared. Wilt our guest be joining the meal?”
“Nay,” said Lysander. “I’ll take my leave, and a good Sunday to you.” As he left the room, he said, “If other gentlemen in your flock are in need of a bank, Mr. Penn, do refer them to us.” He laughed. “No doubt they need all the Friends they can get.”