Harlan led the honored guest down the narrow stone passage beneath the South Dependencies, two flights below Sally’s suite. Drainage from the central cistern passed under the wing’s lower hearth and emptied into a tiled pool in a hidden chamber. As they came out of the cramped corridor they found the master of the house lounging in the heated basin with his “First Ladies”.
Thomas nodded to his old friend and adversary. Dolley smiled.
Sally leapt from the water, which sheeted down her caramel skin, dripped from her cocoa nipples, and drained from her jet curls. Before she could wrap James in her sopping embrace he doffed his cover. Harlan caught the garment as Sally’s and Jim’s flesh slapped together.
“About time you got here.” Dolley rose and kissed her husband, then the three of them settled into the tub with Tom.
“Thank you, Nib,” said Tom.
“Yassuh.” As inky as the pen point suggested by the sobriquet, Harlan hung Jim’s robe on a hook next to the others’ and trudged back up the steps.
“Shouldn’t you be in Washington to receive the delegation from Hartford?” Sally snuggled under his shoulder. “Not that I mind, mind you.”
“Let Mr Gaillard and Mr Kemper deal with them. The treaties must needs go through the Senate. ‘Twas Kemper himself chased New England from the Confederacy.”
“Which neither breaks my heart nor piques my pity. The united States were getting to be too many. We should have stopped at Appalachia. We can hold it, perhaps, at the Big Muddy.”
“Too late for that, my sweet.” Dolley laid her head on Tom’s shoulder. “The Trans Mississippi is a fait accompli three years now.”
He bristled. “The Louisiana territories are a special case, sacred and undeniable.”
“As are they all.” Jim smiled. “Still, with so many Southron Senators, New England is roundly thwarted in their mercantilist aims. Good riddance say I to Prickly Pickering and his stiff necked Atlanteans.”
“Which neither bakes my bread nor picks my roses. The pusillanimous idea that we have friends in New England worth the keeping still haunts the minds of many. Besides which, those Blue Light Federalists never cared for your central bank or your war against their mother country, n’est-ce pas?”
Jim nibbled at Sally’s neck and shoulder. “My war? My bank? ‘Tweren’t America’s? If men were as angelic as our dears, here, no banks or governments would be needed. Do none respect the President or his prerogatives?”
“Not here, Jimmy. Certainly of the united States, and by extension, of Virginia, as long as she consents. But in THIS house, I am master of all who live and breathe — except for Sally and Dolley and the cats.”
“Well said, sir.” Dolley kissed his cheek. “A wise man knows who butters his bread or spreads o’er his bed.”
“Greedy wench.” Tom reached under the water and held Dolley’s hand which had been bringing him to life. “Enough of politics, Jim. Shall we indulge in some redolent blossoms?”
“Redolent?” Dolley squawked. “Sir, we wash!”
Sally scowled at him and splashed him from across the tub.
“Not your delicious blossoms, hearts of my heart. I speak of hemp.” Tom half rose from the tub and called, “Harlan!” and settled back into the pool. “You’ll like these flowers, Jim. I’ve been cultivating them in accordance with the General’s notes. Pungent, powerful, and every bit as intoxicating as our ladies’ own delicate blooms.”
Sally splashed him again and giggled. “You silly old poop!”